Beto O’Rourke’s Casual Style to be Tested by National Campaign

He doesn’t prepare speeches. He doesn’t like pollsters. And, so far at least, Democratic presidential contender Beto O’Rourke doesn’t always have the capacity to coordinate basic campaign logistics.

Just ask Des Moines County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Courtney.

Last week, Courtney got an 8 p.m. text from the frantic owner of a local cafe who heard rumors that O’Rourke planned to hold a campaign event at her business the next day. But she hadn’t heard from O’Rourke’s team. When his representatives did reach out later that night, the cafe owner was left scrambling to find a half dozen additional employees with just hours of notice to work the event.

Almost a week later, Courtney is still incredulous.

“He’s a nice candidate, and I liked him,” Courtney said. “But if he does that kind of organization, he’s gonna piss everybody off.”

Welcome to Betomania, a nascent presidential campaign that’s still learning how to balance the 46-year-old Democrat’s freewheeling style with the demands of running a nationwide political organization.

O’Rourke attracted overflowing crowds, record fundraising and tremendous media buzz for his inaugural tour as he raced across Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada over the last week. He also irritated Democratic leaders at times with a seat-of-the-pants campaign approach that may ultimately raise questions about his ability to govern.

With little executive experience to speak of, the former three-term congressman’s 2020 presidential campaign – which is essentially a multimillion-dollar nationwide company that already features thousands of volunteers and dozens of paid staff – may represent the most significant leadership test of his life.

The former punk rocker employed an unconventional approach to his 2018 Senate campaign in Texas, nearly upsetting Republican Sen. Ted Cruz with a rebellious strategy that rejected pollsters, political consultants and scripted speeches. Advisers suggest O’Rourke will eventually be more open to such conventions in his 2020 presidential bid.

But in sharp contrast to the Democratic Party’s last presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, who lost the presidency in part because of her inability to connect with voters in an authentic way, O’Rourke’s campaign is focused on a stripped-down presidential playbook that features little more than a rented van and a microphone.

His team insists that early bumps are the natural byproduct of a candidate who genuinely didn’t decide he was running until a week or two before his March 14 announcement.

“I’m not someone who’s been running for president for my life or for years,” O’Rourke said as he barnstormed through South Carolina over the weekend. “I’ve been thinking about it in a serious way for a couple of months and have been a declared candidate for 7 days, so I understand that that can pose some challenges.”

Indeed, many top-tier candidates in the crowded 2020 presidential field have spent much of the last year – or longer – building shadow campaigns of prospective staff, donors and volunteers to allow them to ramp up their presidential operation quickly. O’Rourke had never stepped foot in Iowa before launching his presidential campaign.

Aides report that he considers his wife, Amy, his most trusted adviser. But O’Rourke took a big step toward professionalizing his operation on Monday, 11 days after announcing his candidacy, by naming veteran Democratic strategist Jen O’Malley Dillon to serve as his campaign manager. She has experience on five previous presidential campaigns, most recently serving as deputy campaign manager to President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election. 

O’Rourke’s skeleton crew moved into his El Paso, Texas, campaign headquarters on the Monday before his Thursday announcement, advisers said. Most of the current 24 paid staff were hired on a one-month temporary employment agreement to start. O’Rourke’s former congressional chief of staff, David Wysong, who has no presidential campaign experience, is currently directing campaign operations.

Advisers note that the campaign is still relying heavily on its network of volunteers across the country but has received more than 6,000 applications for paid staff positions.

​Despite the challenges, O’Rourke’s campaign has attracted a flood of cash and positive media attention in the early days of his presidential bid.

He raised $6.1 million from more than 128,000 individual donors in the first 24 hours after announcing his candidacy, a figure that bested Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ $6 million and the $1.5 million raised by the next closest first-day fundraising leader, California Sen. Kamala Harris. And in the days leading up to his announcement, O’Rourke was featured prominently in media coverage, including large spreads in Vanity Fair, The Washington Post and a documentary film that debuted at the SXSW film festival.

The documentary made it clear that the candidate seeks to use the media to his advantage. Scenes showed him talking to advisers about trying to bait certain reporters into favorable coverage while complaining about having to “dance” for national outlets. In El Paso, O’Rourke critics have complained about him using the city as a prop for East Coast newspaper reporters.

Amid the success on some fronts, the inexperience is showing elsewhere on the ground in key states.

On the night before O’Rourke’s highly publicized arrival in New Hampshire, state Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley didn’t have any details about when or where to see him. House Speaker Steve Shurtleff, one of the state’s top elected Democrats, spoke with O’Rourke on the phone but could not arrange a time to meet in person.

Some people find O’Rourke’s “quirky campaign” endearing, Shurtleff said, although tracking him down can be difficult.

“It’s almost like ‘Where’s Waldo.’ Where’s he going to pop up next?” Shurtleff asked. “It’s hard for some people to plan.”

Others notice that O’Rourke’s team was taking unusual routes from event to event, which strained his schedule and prompted jokes about unnecessary travel on bumpy backroads.

“I looked at his New Hampshire schedule and said, ‘Here’s a man who doesn’t know New Hampshire,”’ said Susan Chandler a 72-year-old retired assistant principal who attended one of O’Rourke’s 11 events in the state over two days last week.

That may be the point.

O’Rourke and his team don’t yet know the states that matter most on the presidential primary calendar. He says his unorthodox approach on the campaign trail will help him connect with voters of all walks of life – especially in areas he doesn’t know. For now, he’s largely depending on an inexperienced staff and a huge collection of energized but inexperienced volunteers to guide him.

His campaign, he said in South Carolina, “is all about people and about all people.”

“I don’t care how red or rural, blue or urban the community is. Everyone in this country is important, and we want to bring forward and not leave behind a single soul in this country,” O’Rourke said. “And that’s not just how I want to serve as president. That’s how I want to campaign as a candidate.”

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First Somali-American Congresswoman Ignites Controversy in Diverse Minneapolis

Representative Ilhan Omar has a way of attracting attention.

Four months ago, the Democrat became the first Somali-American — and one of the first two Muslim women — to serve in the U.S. Congress. Her election was heralded by many as a sign of a more diverse generation of politicians coming to power on Capitol Hill.

But just weeks into her first congressional term, Omar ignited a controversy with a tweet invoking an offensive trope suggesting U.S. lawmakers’ support for Israel was swayed by money from the powerful lobbying group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Shortly after her apology for that tweet, Omar suggested in a public statement that lawmakers held a dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel.

Omar’s comments triggered two Congressional resolutions condemning hate speech. Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including senior Democratic leadership, strongly criticized Omar for making remarks that many felt crossed the line into anti-Semitism. In a speech Sunday to the opening session of AIPAC’s annual conference in Washington, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland declared that “What weakens us … is when, instead of engaging in legitimate debate about policies, someone questions the motives of his or her fellow citizens.”

The controversy jeopardized Omar’s high-profile assignment on the House Foreign Relations Committee, while giving a House freshman an unusually high-profile role in a long-running and contentious U.S. foreign policy debate over Israel and its treatment of Palestinians.

Home district

But in the Minneapolis-centered Minnesota 5th Congressional district that Omar represents, the nation’s largest Somali-American community sees the controversy differently. For the Somali-Americans who watched the election of one-time refugee Omar with pride just a short time ago, they are suspicious and troubled by the negative attention. 

“The reason there is a lot of attention on Ilhan Omar is because a lot of differences came into the Congress — a Muslim woman, a hijab woman, an African woman — a lot of differences, that’s what brings attention,” Somali-American Bashir Jama told VOA recently at Village Market, one of Minneapolis’ largest Somali malls.

“We were watching the criticism of Ilhan Omar, but we do not believe she is behaving with hatred toward Jewish people. I think that’s a misinterpretation against her,” Ali Muse, a Somali-American, told VOA.

Somali-Americans make up only part of Omar’s racially diverse district, which is overall 70 percent white and trends toward a young, urban and highly educated population. The district was the first to elect a Muslim to Congress, sending now-Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison to Washington beginning in 2006.

Jewish leaders

The district also includes the St. Louis Park suburbs that are home to a strong Jewish population. Leaders in the Minnesota Jewish community have been deeply hurt by Omar’s allegations but are also aware of the fine line they have to walk to maintain the historically close ties between the Somali and Jewish communities here in Minnesota.

“This is not an attack or critique on Congresswoman Omar because she’s a woman of color, because she’s of Somali descent, because she wears a hijab,” said Avi S. Olitzky, a senior rabbi at Beth El Synagogue. But he says Omar’s comments are particularly dangerous in a growing atmosphere of anti-Semitism.

“The language really echoed upon anti-Semitic tropes that have been used throughout the centuries, accusations of Jews having dual loyalties to foreign countries — specifically Israel — or Jews with their associations with money and buying political favor,” Olitzky told VOA.

Jewish leaders have met with Omar and her staff to follow up on her comments and inform her about the hurtful consequences. They say this controversy should be an opportunity to inform the public about damaging stereotypes and caricatures, not about cutting off informed debate over U.S. foreign policy.

“There is no reason why Israel, Palestine, the United States relationship with Israel should not be the subject of robust debate and discussion,” said Steve Hunegs, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. “That’s the hallmark of American democracy. But when we descend to ugly comments, or indulgent stereotypes, or casting aspersions, that degrades our democracy.”

Hunegs said he showed Omar and her staff a photograph of his cousin, who was killed in action fighting in World War II, to make the point that Jewish families are loyal to the United States and have made considerable sacrifices for that loyalty.

Local Jewish leaders emphasize the ongoing conversation with Omar and her staff is ultimately about seeking better representation for this diverse district while avoiding divisiveness.

“White nationalists seeking to divide natural allies of communities of color or Jewish people from Muslims, if we are challenging or fighting one another as opposed to challenging that ideology, they are able to continue to cause all of our communities harm,” Rabbi Michael Latz of the Shirtikvah Congregation in Minneapolis told VOA. 

Abdullahi Farah, the executive director of the Abubakar Islamic Center, one of the largest mosques in the Minneapolis area, told VOA the community did not support hateful speech in any form and looked forward to an ongoing dialogue in the community.

Campaign insider

Omar’s own history, first as a refugee fleeing violence in Somalia to a camp in Kenya and then emigrating to the United States, informs her perspective on democratic debate, Khalid Mohammed told VOA. Mohammed worked on Omar’s campaign last year.

“She is a war survivor,” Mohammed said. “So when you see her talking about injustices happening across the globe, it’s not because she just saying it for the sake of saying it. She deeply cares about it because she’d been through a struggle.”

He does not see Omar’s challenge to U.S. foreign policy as an attack against Jews, but a criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s increasingly harsh policies in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“When she talked about Israel, I don’t think she was going after Jewish people or their faith,” Mohammed said. “She was going after one individual — the Prime Minister of Israel and the violations that he’s been committing for a while and how the U.S. just turned its back on those policies.” 

Omar could not be reached for comment. In a March 17 Washington Post commentary, Omar said her experience as a refugee informed her desire to find “a balanced, inclusive approach” to a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

“When I criticize certain Israeli government actions in Gaza or settlements in the West Bank, it is because I believe these actions not only threaten the possibility of peace in the region — they also threaten the United States’ own national security interests,” Omar wrote.

Threats, challenges

Omar’s outspokenness has invited more than controversy. Mohammed pointed to an FBI investigation into a death threat against Omar written on the wall of a gas station in her district. Somali-Americans in Minneapolis also brought up a poster at a Republican-sponsored gathering in West Virginia linking Omar with the 9/11 terrorist attacks against the U.S. The state party denounced the sign even as Omar called it “the GOP’s anti-Muslim display.”

Ultimately, Omar’s re-election in 2020 could be at risk as voters in the Minnesota 5th weigh the consequences of a representative who courts controversy while provoking debate. The district is one of the most Democratic in the nation, meaning that a party primary challenge would be the best opportunity to unseat Omar.

Rabb Latz said that while his synagogue does not get involved in endorsing candidates, challengers are already eyeing the seat a year and a half ahead of a potential primary.

“I can probably count five to 10 off the top of my head right now of folks who are already considering running,” Latz said. 

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Trump Praises Mueller as Democrats Fume

A jubilant President Donald Trump on Monday praised special counsel Robert Mueller while fuming Democrats demanded the full release of his report on Russian election meddling, which is said to have cleared Trump of collusion with Moscow but not of possible obstruction of American justice.

Speaking at the White House, Trump affirmed that Mueller had acted honorably and that his conclusion was “100 percent the way it should have gone.”

For nearly two years, Trump had repeatedly blasted the special counsel probe as a “witch hunt.” With the investigation complete, the president said, “We can never, ever let this happen to another president again.”

On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller’s findings from the exhaustive, 22-month probe, which led to dozens of indictments as well as guilty pleas from some of Trump’s closest former associates.

In a letter to congressional leaders, Barr said Mueller concluded that Russia unquestionably meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Moscow to help him win the White House.

On the question of obstruction, however, Barr wrote, “The report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” On that basis, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that charges against Trump were not warranted.

Reaction from lawmakers

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers had sharply differing reactions.

“For the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a joint statement.

The Democratic leaders added: “Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers. The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.”

Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said on CNN, “Mueller’s report, at the least the summary that we’ve gotten from Barr, leaves wide open both the question of obstruction, and I think, makes it clear that other investigations should proceed.”

By contrast, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn urged Congress “to move on,” and that “the worst thing we could do is to get bogged down in a relitigation of all of these issues.”

At the same time, Cornyn urged the release of as much of the Mueller report as possible, consistent with Justice Department regulations and U.S. law. He also called for a review of steps taken by federal officials in launching the Russia investigation.

Full report

On Monday, Schumer urged a Senate vote on a resolution calling for the release of Mueller’s full report. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, objected, saying Barr must be given time to determine which portions of the report can be divulged without revealing classified information.

But the six chairs of committees in the Democratically controlled House sent Barr a letter Monday, demanding he turn over the full Mueller report by April 2. They also told Barr to start handing over all evidence the special counsel used to write the report.

The six Democratic leaders — five men and one woman — say Barr’s four-page summary is not sufficient for Congress to do its work. They also say Congress needs to make an independent assessment of the evidence regarding Trumps alleged obstruction of justice.

Meantime, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he hopes Barr will testify before his panel.

Graham also promised Monday to “unpack the other side of the story” of the Mueller investigation and will look into how the Justice Department started it.

During the investigation, many Democrats repeatedly stated their belief that Trump’s inner circle did collude with Russia and that the president later sought to evade justice — pronouncements that did not go unnoticed by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

“It’s hard to obstruct a crime that never took place,” Sanders told CNN. “The Democrats and the liberal media owe the president, and they owe the American people, an apology. They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction from things that impact people’s everyday lives.”

Investigation numbers

Mueller charged 25 Russians with election interference, although they are unlikely to stand trial because the United States and Russia do not have an extradition treaty.

He also has secured guilty pleas or won convictions for a variety of offenses against six Trump aides and advisers, including the president’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort; his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Barr’s summary noted that Mueller had 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents working with him on the investigation, issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, talked to about 500 witnesses and carried out nearly 500 search warrants.

Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this report.

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Mueller Vindicates Trump Claim of ‘No Collusion’

In a big legal and political win for U.S. President Donald Trump, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded in his final report that there was no evidence that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign or anyone associated with it colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the vote, according to a summary of the confidential report released on Sunday by Attorney General William Barr.

That finding was emphatic, and validated Trump’s long-standing insistence that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russian hackers and meddlers who sought to change the outcome of Trump’s presidential battle with Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state. Using Mueller’s own words, the Barr letter stated that “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice in the course of the investigation, Mueller reached no conclusion and punted the decision to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to a letter Barr wrote to top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate judiciary committees summarizing the report’s “principal conclusions.” Complicating Mueller’s challenge in getting to the bottom of the question was Trump’s refusal to answer questions under oath and instead provide written answers. Barr and Rosenstein – who appointed Mueller as Special Counsel and oversaw the investigation– concluded that the evidence developed during the investigation “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

That finding is certain to be a key bone of contention for congressional Democrats who are investigating Trump and his administration, especially given the Special Counsel’s assertion that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, tweeted that “The fact that Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report & documentation be made public without any further delay.”

​Mueller submitted his report to Barr late Friday, nearly two years after he was appointed to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. 

After combing through the report over the weekend, Barr submitted a four-page letter to Congress absolving Trump of any collusion with the Russians or obstruction of justice in blocking the criminal investigation. Barr’s letter was made public shortly after it was delivered to Congress. 

“It was complete and total exoneration,” Trump told reporters in Florida before returning to Washington Sunday afternoon. “This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to be looking at their other side.”

Here are five key take-aways from Barr’s summary of the Mueller report:

Trump was right: There was no collusion

The central question before Mueller was whether members of the Trump campaign or any other Americans conspired with Russians to tip the 2016 campaign in favor of the real estate tycoon. On that score, the Mueller report delivers a categorical vindication of the president. 

While Mueller’s investigators uncovered evidence of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, “[the] investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the summary quotes Mueller as writing.

​The special counsel interpreted “coordination” fairly broadly to include both tacit and express agreements.But he found no evidence that members of the Trump campaign accepted offers of help from Russian operatives. “There was really an affirmative ‘No’” said Eric Jaso, a former associate special counsel for the Whitewater affair during former President Bill Clinton’s administration.“If they’d gone along and said yes, that would have fallen under the tacit agreement category.”

Mueller punts obstruction of justice question

Mueller’s decision to punt the question of obstruction of justice struck many legal experts as unusual. 

The Special Counsel took up the question after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation and after Comey claimed that Trump had asked him to stop investigating his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn. 

But Mueller drew no conclusion about whether Trump’s actions during the investigation amounted to obstruction of justice, according to the Barr summary. 

“Instead, for each one of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of” whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr wrote.

With Mueller leaving the matter unresolved, it was left to the attorney general to make a determination. Barr wrote that after consulting with Justice Department officials, he and Rosenstein concluded that there was not enough evidence that Trump had committed obstruction of justice. The determination, he added, was made irrespective of a long-standing Justice Department guidance that a sitting president can’t be indicted.

​Before taking the helm of the Justice Department last month, Barr had written critically of the Mueller probe and called the investigation of Trump for possible obstruction of justice “fatally flawed.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the decision “concerning” and said he’ll ask Barr to testify before the panel in the near future. 

Jaso said the fact that Barr made the determination in concert with Rosenstein provides Barr with political cover.

“He can’t be just painted as toady of the president,” Jaso said. 

No additional indictments

The Special Counsel investigation led to the indictments of 37 individuals and entities, mostly Russian operatives and a handful of former Trump associates. In the run-up to the Mueller report, speculation was rife that the Special Counsel would announce new indictments against individuals in the president’s orbit. 

But Barr’s summary says the Special Counsel does not recommend any additional indictments in his report and says that there are no indictments under seal that have yet to be made public. 

A redacted version in the works 

The full extent of Mueller’s findings, including evidence concerning obstruction of justice, will remain unknowable until a more complete version of the report is released. In his letter, Barr indicated that he’ll share a redacted version of the full report at a future date.Barr said that he’s asked the Special Counsel to identify confidential information that must be kept classified and that as soon as “that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining” what can be released. Democrats are demanding full disclosure and vowing to compel the attorney general to comply.

Thorough investigation

Defenders of the Mueller investigation found a measure of vindication in the thoroughness with which the veteran prosecutor and former FBI director carried out the probe. According to Barr’s letter, the Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses. 

By all accounts, Mueller left no stones untouched in his dogged effort to probe whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow and whether the president sought to impede the investigation that followed. 

But Mueller appears to have steered clear of one line of inquiry that the president had said was off limits: Trump’s finances and whether the president’s business interests in Russia led him and his campaign into collusion. 

“It does not say that thirdly or furthermore we investigated whether the Trump campaign or Trump himself had a desire to ingratiate himself with the Russians which somehow made him vulnerable to this effort,” Jaso said.

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AG Barr Reports Mueller Found No Collusion by Trump or His Campaign

U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a letter Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election found no evidence that President Donald Trump or anyone associated with his campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia.

But on the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct justice by interfering with or trying to derail the Mueller probe, Barr said, “The report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr released a summary of the long-awaited report on a 22-month-long probe into allegations the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the election in Trump’s favor.

Barr sent his summary to Congress and released it to the public Sunday. Mueller delivered his report to the Department of Justice on Friday.

“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it coordinated … with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Barr’s summary said.

Barr said this is what the report concluded despite what he says were “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

“The Special Counsel’s investigation determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. The first involved attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election,” Barr wrote. “The second element involved the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election.”

Mueller charged 25 Russians with election interference. He also brought indictments against six Trump aides and advisors, including the president’s one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, his first National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and his longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

According to Barr, Mueller did not conclude whether Trump obstructed justice, turning that question over to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Barr writes that there is not enough evidence to conclude whether Trump committed the crime of obstructing justice. He said this was not based on any belief that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

“To obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acting with corrupt intent engaged in obstructive conduct,” Barr wrote.

Despite Barr saying the Mueller report does not totally clear him, Trump tweeted, “No collusion, no obstruction, complete and total exoneration. Keep America Great!”

He later told reporters that the probe was “the most ridiculous thing I ever heard … it’s a shame our country had to go through this … it’s a shame the president had to go through this before I even got elected — this was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to look at the other side.”

Numerous court decisions upheld the legality of the Mueller probe.

Barr’s summary noted that during the nearly two-year-long investigation, Mueller had 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents working with him, issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, talked to about 500 witnesses, and carried out nearly 500 search warrants.

The House voted unanimously earlier this month on a measure demanding the full Mueller report be released to the public. Many lawmakers also want to see any evidence Mueller used to reach his conclusions, especially now that Barr wrote the Mueller report “does not exonerate” Trump, even if the president says it does.

​”Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement. “Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says his panel will call Barr to testify in the near future “in light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the president.” 

Several Democratic presidential candidates — Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren — also said Sunday that a summary of the Mueller report filtered through the president’s “hand-picked attorney general” is unsatisfactory.

But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, says Barr’s letter makes it “abundantly clear, without a shadow of a doubt, there was no collusion” and says the country welcomes the findings.

One of Trump closest congressional allies, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, says Mueller did a “great job” and called Sunday a “good day for the rule of law” and a “bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”

“Now it is time to move on, govern the country, and get ready to combat Russia and other foreign actors ahead of 2020,” he wrote Sunday.

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Analysis: A Cloud Lifts Over Trump, but at a Cost

The cloud that has hung over President Donald Trump since the day he walked into the White House has been lifted.

Yes, special counsel Robert Mueller left open the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct the investigation. Yes, separate federal probes still put Trump and his associates in legal jeopardy. And yes, Democrats will spend the coming months pushing for more details from Mueller, all while launching new probes into Trump’s administration and businesses.

But at its core, Mueller’s investigation gave the president what he wanted: public affirmation that he and his campaign did not coordinate with Russia to win the 2016 election. After spending months tweeting “No collusion,” Trump had been proven right.

The findings, summarized Sunday by the Justice Department , are sure to embolden Trump as he plunges into his re-election campaign, armed now with new fodder to claim the investigation was little more than a politically motivated effort to undermine his presidency.

“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this,” Trump said. “To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”

Mueller’s investigation stretched on for nearly two years, enveloping Trump’s presidency in a cloud of uncertainty and sending him into frequent fits of rage. The scope of the probe was sweeping: Mueller issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtained nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed 500 witnesses, including some of the president’s closest advisers.

And Trump’s ultimate vindication on the question of collusion with Russia came at a steep cost.

The investigation took down his campaign chairman, his White House national security adviser and his longtime lawyer. It revealed the extent of Moscow’s desire to swing the 2016 contest toward Trump, as well as Trump’s pursuit of business deals in Russia deep into the campaign. And the Justice Department didn’t explain why so many Trump associates lied throughout the investigation.

But in the end, Mueller concluded that those lies were not an effort to obscure a criminal conspiracy by Trump and his advisers to work with Russia. There was smoke, and plenty of it — including an eyebrow-raising meeting between Trump’s son and a Russian lawyer — but ultimately, no fire.

“Good day for the rule of law. Great day for President Trump and his team,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”

Democrats quickly sought to puncture Trump and fellow Republicans’ jubilation, vowing to subpoena Mueller’s full report, which remains a secret. After spending years questioning Trump’s ties to Moscow, the Democrats’ focus is shifting to the question Mueller pointedly left unanswered: whether Trump obstructed the investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey and dictating a misleading statement about his son’s meeting with the Russian lawyer.

“The fact that special counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.

The fight for those documents will be lengthy and contentious, particularly against the backdrop of the 2020 presidential election. It will involve complex debates over the rules that govern special counsel investigations, which put a member of Trump’s Cabinet in charge of summarizing Mueller’s findings for the public, and a president’s right to keep his private discussions out of the public eye.

Previewing the case Democrats will make to get more details about Trump’s actions, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., declared: “Executive privilege cannot be used to shield or hide wrongdoing.”

For Trump and his associates, the argument will be far simpler: Democrats already tried to go after the president once and failed.

“Just as important a victory as this is for President Trump, this is a crushing defeat for Democrats and members of the media who have pushed the collusion delusion myth for the past two years. That officially ends today,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign official.

Trump’s legal troubles are far from over. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are pursuing at least two criminal inquiries involving the president or people in his orbit, one involving his inaugural committee and another focused on the hush-money scandal that led his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to plead guilty last year to campaign finance violations. New York Attorney General Letitia James is also looking into whether Trump exaggerated his wealth when seeking loans for real estate projects and a failed bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

But in the hours after Mueller’s findings were released, those investigations appeared to be a world away for Trump. As he walked into the White House Sunday night, he pumped his fist to a group of supporters and declared, “America is the greatest place on earth, the greatest place on earth.”

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Looking for Election Boost, Israel’s Netanyahu in US to Meet with Trump

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington looking for an electoral advantage from U.S. President Donald Trump’s expected formal recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the disputed Golan Heights.

Netanyahu, facing corruption charges and a tough re-election contest April 9, is meeting Monday with Trump at the White House and having dinner there on Tuesday, sandwiched around a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major U.S. lobbying group for the Jewish state.

Trump said on Twitter last week that he would recognize the Israeli ownership of the Golan Heights, the territory to the northeast of Israel along the Syrian border that was seized by Israel from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967 and annexed in 1981.

Trump’s stance breaks with long-standing U.S. policy and the international community, which considers the Golan Heights as Israeli-occupied, not a sovereign holding.  

“President Trump will sign tomorrow in the presence of PM Netanyahu an order recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

Netanyahu is lagging in political surveys ahead of next month’s election.  His main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, is speaking at the annual AIPAC convention on Monday, but only Netanyahu will be at the White House dinner on Tuesday.

Trump compared his decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights as similar to that of his decision last year to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, another stance at odds with the international community. Israel claims Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, but the Palestinians have also staked a claim on Jerusalem as their capital in any eventual creation of a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu, in the run-up to the election, has stressed his friendship with Trump.

“Our alliance in recent years has never been stronger,” the Israeli leader said last week as he met in Jerusalem with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  “It is an unbreakable bond.  It is based on shared values of liberty and democracy and shared interest to fight the enemies of democracy, the enemies of our way of life, the terrorists that prowl our airspace and our countries, and working together we have been able to achieve an enormous amount.”

Trump’s Golan Heights announcement came shortly after Pompeo visited the Western Wall, one of Judaism’s holiest sites in Palestinian east Jerusalem, with Netanyahu, the first time such a high-ranking U.S. official had visited the site with an Israeli leader.

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US Attorney General Could Summarize Russia Probe Report on Sunday

U.S. Attorney General William Barr could release his first summary as early as Sunday of special counsel Robert Mueller’s confidential report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether Donald Trump, after assuming power, then sought to obstruct the investigation.

Barr and his aides spent hours Saturday poring over the report Mueller handed them late Friday after his 22-month investigation. Barr aides say that he hopes to hand top lawmakers an initial summary after more review on Sunday and could also publicly release the same summary.

Key lawmakers, opposition Democrats and some of Trump’s Republican allies, have all called for release of the full report, but it is not clear whether Barr will do so. President Trump said last week he did not object to the full release to the public but also has said it is up to Barr, whom he appointed as the country’s top law enforcement official, to decide how much of it is disclosed.

White House aides say Trump has not been briefed on the outcome of Mueller’s investigation, a probe that has clouded almost the entirety of his 26-month presidency. The U.S. leader has dozens of times derided Mueller’s investigation as unwarranted and a “witch hunt,” while rejecting accusations that he colluded with Russia or that he tried to thwart the probe.

He is spending the weekend at his Atlantic oceanfront retreat Mar-a-Lago in Florida, playing golf, and uncharacteristically not commenting on Twitter about Mueller. On Sunday, he tweeted, “Good Morning, Have A Great Day!”

White House aides were relieved to learn one aspect of Mueller’s conclusions, that he was not recommending any further indictments that might have ensnared White House officials or Trump family members.

Mueller has already secured guilty pleas or convictions from five key figures in Trump’s orbit and indicted a sixth for a variety of offenses, including some for lying about their contacts with Russia during the election campaign or just before Trump took office in January 2017.

Trump’s one-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, has been ordered to prison to start a three-year term in May for financial crimes and lying to Congress about Trump’s efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Former campaign manager Paul Manafort has already been imprisoned for a 7 1/2-year term for financial crimes related to his long-time lobbying efforts for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts just before Trump took office with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington.

Under long-standing Justice Department policy, U.S. presidents cannot be indicted while serving in office, but can face charges once they leave office. Trump’s term in the White House ends in January 2021, but he is running for re-election next year for another four-year term.

In addition to the Mueller investigation, Trump is facing numerous investigations brought by Democrats in the House of Representatives, along with federal criminal probes in New York of his business affairs as a real estate mogul before he ran for president and the financing of his inaugural committee as he took power.

If the full Mueller report, and underlying investigative evidence, is not turned over to Congress, Democrats who control the House have vowed to subpoena it and possibly call Mueller to testify about his findings. Some lawmakers have called for Trump’s impeachment, but top leaders cautioned that any possible impeachment proceedings should wait until Mueller’s conclusions are known.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he hopes that Barr will “provide as much information as possible” on the findings, “with as much openness and transparency as possible.”

Democratic presidential hopefuls also joined the chorus of calls for the report’s release.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a frequent critic of the president, requested that Barr disclose the report “to the American public. Now.”

Kamala Harris, a senator from California, not only demanded “total transparency,” but said Barr “must publicly testify under oath about the investigation’s findings.”

The Democratic heads of six House committees wrote a joint letter to Barr Friday, saying, “If the Special Counsel has reason to believe that the president has engaged in criminal or other serious misconduct, then the Justice Department has an obligation not to conceal such information. The president must be subject to accountability.”

Mueller, a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has won wide acclaim in Washington for his impartiality, but his report is landing at a time of widespread political division in the United States, with polls showing a sharp split among Americans about Trump’s performance in office and whether he should be re-elected.

 More than a dozen Democrats are seeking their party’s nomination to oppose him in the November 2020 election. Any negative conclusions drawn by Mueller are sure to become a key talking point to voters to oust Trump after a single term in the White House.

 

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