U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s summary of findings from a two-year investigation into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia in attempts to interfere in the 2016 election has divided Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill.
The four members of Maine’s congressional delegation are calling for the release of the Mueller report, but differ in their assessment of Barr’s decision not to pursue an obstruction of justice charge.
Barr, who was appointed by Trump, provided a four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings on Sunday. Barr says that the investigation did not establish that Trump or his campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government to tip the 2016 election in the president’s favor.
He also wrote that while the report does not conclude that the president committed a crime — obstruction of justice — it also does not exonerate him.
Yet Barr is taking some heat for declaring that there isn’t enough evidence to pursue the obstruction charge without providing more of the facts that Mueller gathered during his investigation.
“I’m a little uncomfortable with the attorney general, who was just appointed by the president a couple months ago, saying, ‘There’s nothing to see here, let’s move on,’” independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine said in a video statement shortly after Barr released his summary.
King sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee that is also reviewing Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election.
Those efforts are apparently detailed in Mueller’s report, which concludes an investigation that resulted in indictments for 34 individuals and so far seven convictions. Some of the people ensnared in Mueller’s probe were in Trump’s orbit at one time or another, although none were charged or convicted for crimes related to conspiring with the Russian government.
Still, King said Barr’s summary left him with “several lingering questions,” including why the attorney general decided not to pursue an obstruction charge while also withholding Mueller’s findings on the matter.
In an interview with Maine Public Radio, King said those findings should be released.
“The attorney general said, ‘We have decided in the Justice Department that there is not a prosecutable obstruction of justice.’ But in order to assess that decision we need to see the background and that’s what Mr. Mueller provided,” he said.
King’s concern is shared by some legal experts quoted in national news reports. They question why Barr concluded there was not enough evidence of obstruction after Mueller decided not to make his own determination.
They also question why Barr seemed to base his decision on Mueller’s finding that the president was not found to be cooperating with the Russians on election interference, an issue they say is not necessarily relevant to an obstruction charge.
And now, some Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District, want to know why Barr declared the obstruction issue over.
“This is only the beginning here and there are a lot of concerns about having the attorney general tell us what we need to know about this extremely long investigation,” she said.
Speaking at the Portland Jetport before she departed to the capitol, Pingree said Democrats, who control the House, could have Barr testify under oath about his decision. That could happen in early April, according to Democratic U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Pingree said that hearing, and the release of the full Mueller report, could help clear up the dueling narratives that have emerged since Barr released his summary: one that says Trump has been cleared of wrongdoing, the other that says the public hasn’t been given all of the facts.
“The fact is the investigation did not exonerate him, specifically did not exonerate him. AG Barr repeated that in his letter. It said there was not sufficient evidence to conclude the president committed a crime. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t an awful lot of evidence,” she said.
Meanwhile, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine reiterated her previous call for the public release of the Mueller report. She said Mueller’s findings on the obstruction issue may first have to be reviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee, of which she is a member.
“The best way for that to be done, in order to protect the deliberations of the department and any grand jury matter, would be in a closed session,” she said.
Collins said Mueller’s report has likely resolved the issue of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, which she says is good news for America, regardless of anyone’s political affiliation.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine’s 2nd District said in a written statement that Mueller’s report should be made public, but did not specifically address Barr’s summary of it.
Golden also said that the public should not jump to conclusions prior to the release of Mueller’s finding, and he urged the same approach to the multiple ongoing investigations into the president and his inner circle.
Maine Public reporters Mal Leary and Willis Ryder Arnold contributed to this story.
Originally published March 25, 2019 at 5:37 p.m. ET.