“Special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team informed Attorney General William Barr three weeks ago that they would not be reaching a conclusion on the question of whether the president had obstructed justice,” NBC News reports. “Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was also present, were surprised by this.”
Garrett Graff: “Whatever happened to the extensive testimony Mueller sought and cooperation of would-be Middle Eastern power broker George Nader, dealing with questions of foreign influence related to the Middle East? What did Mueller mean with the various breadcrumbs he left scattered throughout his hundreds of pages of court filings, like how he appeared to single out that Russian hackers attacked Hillary Clinton’s email server ‘for the first time’ after Trump made his ‘Russia, if you’re listening’ comment? Was there any significance to the arrest of Russian spy Maria Butina and her ties to the National Rifle Association, which Mueller also appeared to be probing, or was that case totally unrelated?”
“What was Mueller’s interest in the political data firm Cambridge Analytica, which worked during the 2016 campaign with Trump’s then digital media director (and now 2020 reelection campaign director) Brad Parscale? What was the truth behind the efforts of Michael Flynn associate Peter Smith—who apparently committed suicide in the early days of Mueller’s probe—to contact Russian hackers during the campaign? Why was presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner trying to set up a secure communications backchannel with the Russian government that couldn’t be heard by U.S. intelligence?”
Philip Bump: “Why… wasn’t conservative author Jerome Corsi charged by Mueller’s team after being offered a plea agreement? … What happened when former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave poll data to Konstantin Kilimnik, who was believed to have links to Russian intelligence, an issue that in February a Mueller attorney described as getting at the heart of the Mueller probe? … Who were the Trump campaign staffers who were contacted by Russians working for the Internet Research Agency? Who was the Florida congressional candidate who sought and received hacked information about his or her opponent? Who was the senior Trump campaign official who asked Roger Stone to reach out to WikiLeaks after the initial document releases in July 2016 — and who told him to make that outreach?”
Lawfare: “Depending on what’s actually in Mueller’s report, the news could get better still for the president… But Barr’s summary would also be broadly consistent with many other possible reports.”
“It would be consistent with, for example, a report that finds lots of ‘evidence of collusion’ that for one reason or another falls short of criminal conduct. It would be consistent with a report that describes conduct that falls short of the criminal standard by the barest of technicalities. It would be consistent with a report that finds that individuals associated with the president’s campaign were aware of the Russian efforts to interfere in the election, welcomed such assistance, and did not in any way warn the American public about it—but who did not take the requisite step of entering into any criminal agreement to assist the effort either.”
“It would also be consistent with a report that suggested that Trump’s principal engagement with the Russians was not over hacked emails at all, but instead about the tower he was negotiating to build in Moscow even as the campaign was going on.”
Washington Post: “Within an hour of learning the findings, Trump called for an investigation of his critics and cast himself as a victim. Aides say Trump plans to highlight the cost of the probe and call for organizations to fire members of the media and former government officials who he believes made false accusations about him, while aggressively mocking his critics and one of his favored enemies, the news media.”
Donald Trump Jr. tweets: “How this farce started and snowballed… into one the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the America should be discovered. Those responsible should be held accountable.”
Celebrity lawyer Michael Avenatti has been arrested on charges related to an alleged $20 million extortion of the athletic apparel company Nike, CNBC reports. Avenatti also is charged in a separate federal case out of Los Angeles, where he is accused of embezzling a client’s money “in order to pay his own expense and debts,” and of “defrauding a bank in Mississippi,” prosecutors said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked a non-binding resolution to make special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report public, Axios reports.
“The resolution was passed unanimously in the House. McConnell cited national security concerns for his decision to block the proposal, and argued that Attorney General Bill Barr should have time to decide what’s made public.”
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May told the House of Commons that there was still not enough support among MPs to bring her Brexit deal back for a third vote, Politico reports. “May’s government has until March 29 to win parliamentary approval for her deal, which would allow the U.K. to leave the EU with an agreement on May 22. If she fails to do, or does not hold a vote, the U.K. would have until April 12 to propose a new way forward or leave without a deal.”
Members of Parliament “tonight voted to wrestle control of the parliamentary timetable from the government to debate a series of alternative Brexit plans,” Politico reports.
“The vote clears space on Wednesday for a debate on ways out of the crisis caused by parliament’s refusal to support the Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels in November.”
“The vote sets up a frenzied 48 hours of drama which could culminate in MPs supporting a softer form of Brexit or a second referendum in a series of ‘indicative votes’ setting out their preferred way forward.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told CNN that he told the late Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) “to turn over the dossier of Trump-Russia allegations to the FBI, pushing back against President Trump’s assertions that the Arizona Republican helped fan the flames of the Russia investigation.”
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) announced that he will not seek reelection in 2020, leaving the Senate seat he has held since 2009 up for grabs, The Hillreports.
Said Udall: “I’m confident that we could run a strong campaign next year to earn a third term… But the worst thing anyone in public office can do is believe the office belongs to them, rather than to the people they represent. That’s why I’m announcing today that I won’t be seeking re-election next year.”
Inside Elections says the seat remains “Solid Democrat” for now.
“The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a bid by an unidentified company owned by a foreign government to contest a grand jury subpoena related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s now-completed inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, though the justices’ action does not force the firm to comply,” Reuters reports.
“A federal judge imposed a $50,000-per-day fine against the company, which had asked the justices to hear its appeal of a December lower court ruling that upheld a judge’s decision to hold it in contempt for refusing to fulfill the document request made in the subpoena. The company already could owe more than $3 million.”
First Read: “Given all of President Trump’s tweets yesterday and this morning on Barr’s summary of the Mueller report – ‘No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION,’ he said — it’s notable the president hasn’t condemned Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”
Politico: “Two things were quickly clear: first, the end of Mueller’s exhaustive two-year probe means the political war over whether to impeach President Donald Trump — a battle that has already begun to consume Congress since Democrats took control of the House in November — is only just beginning; and secondly, Mueller gave both sides enough to keep pounding their own message for weeks and months to come.”
“Trump may have escaped any criminal charges from Mueller’s probe, yet impeachment is clearly still on the table as far as many Democrats and progressive outside groups are concerned. For Republicans, the message from the Mueller report was clear and insistent – ‘The country needs to move on.’ Meanwhile, Democrats immediately countered with ‘Release the whole Mueller report.’ The struggle is now over which side wins that messaging war with the American public.”
Playbook: “This whole episode — costly and cumbersome as it was for Trump world — fits neatly into the contours of his political strategy. He can now say that the government — the swamp, the deep state, take your pick — spent two years trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election and couldn’t. Mueller and his gang of Democrats, Trump can say, even had to come to the conclusion that he did nothing wrong. When Democrats continue to investigate him as the election draws near, Trump can try to paint them as out of control.”
Dan Balz: “For President Trump, the finding by special counsel Robert Mueller that there was no coordination or conspiracy involving Trump campaign officials or associates and the Russians, despite myriad contacts that have been documented, was a sweet moment. He will not only savor the moment; he will stuff it down the throats of all those who claimed otherwise. The tweets in all caps began Sunday and will continue for months.”
Dan Balz: “For Democrats, the Mueller report turns upside down the politics of what lies ahead. From what seemed a position of strength, or at least the ability to stay on offense, they are now looking at the road ahead in a far more problematic position. The issue of impeachment was always in question, given House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s cautionary view. At this point, it is off the table. Beyond that are difficult questions about what investigations House Democrats should pursue and to what end.”
“For nearly two years, Democrats have eagerly awaited the Mueller report, having already connected many of the dots of contacts between Trump associates and the Russians. Now that Mueller has finished his work with no additional indictments, with a finding of no collusion and a decision of no judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, things have changed significantly. Democrats must now reckon with a far different set of political realities.”
NPR: “One potential consequence of all this is that it could wind up firing up Democrats even more for 2020. With impeachment looking less likely, Democrats will likely feel even more of a sense of urgency to get out every single vote to defeat Trump next year.”
New York Times: “The conclusion of the special counsel’s report that President Trump did not conspire with Russia all but assures that Mr. Trump’s political fate will be determined at the ballot box next year — and that Democratic voters already consumed by electability will become even more singularly focused on finding a candidate who can defeat the president.”
“With House Democrats now far less likely to impeach Mr. Trump, and Senate Republicans certain to resist removing him if they did, the president will be judged in a 2020 race sure to revolve more around his performance in office than how he won in the first place.”
“The 2020 hopefuls may not need much convincing. On the campaign trail, few of the top-tier Democratic candidates spend much time inveighing about Mr. Trump’s links to Russia.”
A new WTTW/Crain’s Temkin/Harris poll in Chicago finds Lori Lightfoot leads Toni Preckwinkle by a whopping 53% to 17% in the mayoral runoff, with another 29% still undecided.