Attorney General William Barr continues to frustrate Democrats over the Mueller report.
Mike Thompson, Detroit Free Press
WASHINGTON – Those involved in high-profile investigations into past presidents had a lot to say about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and the examination into whether President Donald Trump committed any crimes.
From those involved in the Watergate scandal, which led to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency, to the Whitewater probe, which led to the airing of embarrassing details about President Bill Clinton’s affair, many shared insights about the behind-the-scenes work that goes into such reports and their reactions to the contents of Mueller’s 448-page report.
The report, released Thursday, portrays a Trump campaign and White House whose operations came dangerously close to breaking the law and yields a trove of details that cast the president and his associates as both embracing the Kremlin’s assistance in their efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and attempting to thwart the inquiries that followed.
Mueller’s team did not find evidence that Trump or his associates conspired with Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election in his favor, nor could it sustain accusations that Trump sought to illegally obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.
John Dean, Nixon’s former White House Counsel who famously turned on the president and became a star witness for investigators, told CNN that Mueller’s report was more critical of Trump than previous investigations.
“I looked on my shelf for the Senate Watergate Committee report, I looked at the Iran Contra report. I also looked at the Ken Starr report,” Dean told CNN. “In 400 words, this report from the special counsel is more damning than all those reports about a president. This is really a devastating report.”
While Mueller did not conclude Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia, Dean said the conduct noted in the report was concerning. He added that he did not agree with Attorney General William Barr’s assessment that the evidence relating to the president’s efforts to obstruct the probe did not constitute a crime.
“As far as the obstruction goes, this is clear obstruction,” said Dean, a vocal critic of Trump. “If you endeavor to obstruct, and there is much evidence here of endeavor, you violated the obstruction statute.”
But others, including Ken Starr, the independent counsel who oversaw the Whitewater investigation and was tasked with investigating Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, saw things differently.
Starr, a Fox News contributor, told the network that the White House gave Mueller “unprecedented” access and cooperation and the report’s conclusions reaffirm the “integrity” of the Trump campaign.
“The president famously does not hold things back. He hated this whole thing, called it a witch hunt,” Starr said of the president’s comments about the Mueller investigation. “But … actions speak louder than words.”
He noted past investigations of presidents and that this report did not conclude Trump had committed a crime.
“Here is a key that no one should lose sight of — Bill Clinton committed crimes, Richard Nixon committed crimes. Whatever this report shows, the bottom line is no crimes are being charged by those who are charged with making that decision— that’s the Justice Department,” Starr told Fox News.
He added, “For the White House counsel to spend 30 hours answering questions of Bob Mueller and his staff is extraordinary, talk about unprecedented. That’s an unprecedented level of cooperation with a special counsel investigation.”
Robert Ray, who was Starr’s successor in investigating Clinton, told Fox Business that he agreed with the president that this report was the end of the Russia question.
“At the end of the day, the president is right: It’s game over. It’s over. Over means over,” Ray said.
He added that there was not sufficient evidence to show that Trump committed a crime and Mueller’s findings, along with Barr’s determinations, should serve as the end-all answer to the lingering questions about obstruction and Russian interference.
Ray echoed comments made by Trump, saying an investigation like this should not happen again.
“I think it’s important, mostly from the standpoint of just what the president said, to understand how this is not supposed to happen to a president of the United States — or any president of the United States — and if things need to be looked at, they should be looked at,” Ray said.
The Whitewater investigation, which had its results culminated in a similar report that became known as the Starr Report, was heavily criticized and divisive. In its aftermath, Congress let a law that allowed for the appointment of independent counsels to expire. It was later replaced a regulation allowing for a special counsel.
At the heart of Starr’s report was an array of both graphic and embarrassing details about Clinton’s sex life and his efforts to lie and hide his affair from the public.
Contributing: Kevin Johnson, Bart Jansen, Kristine Phillips and Tom Vanden Brook, USA TODAY
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