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Barr defends Trump before release of special counsel's Russia report
[WASHINGTON] US Attorney General William Barr on Thursday offered a spirited defence of President Donald Trump ahead of the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russia's role in the 2016 US election, emphasising that it found no collusion between Mr Trump's campaign and Moscow.
Mr Barr, the top US law enforcement official and a Trump appointee, gave a news conference at the Justice Department as he sought to shape the narrative on a watershed day in Mr Trump's tumultuous presidency.
"President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinising his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates," Mr Barr said.
"At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president's personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion," added Mr Barr, one of handful of people to have seen the report.
The report's disclosure, with portions expected to be blacked out by Mr Barr to protect some sensitive information, is certain to launch a new political fight in Congress and on the 2020 presidential campaign trail, as Mr Trump seeks re-election in a deeply divided country.
Moments after Mr Barr concluded his news conference, Mr Trump posted an image of himself on Twitter surrounded by fog with the words: "No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats - GAME OVER."
Mr Barr said Mr Trump's personal lawyers "were given the opportunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released," a revelation certain to infuriate congressional Democrats.
Wall Street took Mr Barr's comments in stride, with the S&P 500 holding slight gains during the news conference then slipping into negative territory after it ended.
"The Russian government sought to interfere in our election process but thanks to the special counsel's thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign," Mr Barr said.
The report promises to provide new details about some of the biggest questions in the investigation, including the extent and nature of his campaign's interactions with Russia and actions Mr Trump may have taken to hinder the inquiry including his 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Mr Mueller submitted the report to Mr Barr on March 22. Two days later, Mr Barr told lawmakers the inquiry did not establish that Mr Trump's 2016 campaign team engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia and that Mr Mueller had not exonerated Trump of committing the crime of obstruction of justice. Mr Barr subsequently concluded that Trump had not committed obstruction of justice.
The prospect of the Democratic-led House of Representatives beginning an impeachment process to remove Mr Trump from office receded with the release of Mr Mueller's initial findings last month. The more detailed report to be made public on Thursday could provide fodder for some Democrats to renew the push to try the president for high crimes and misdemeanors but they are unlikely to be successful because Mr Trump's Republican Party controls the Senate, which would decide the president's fate.