An exoneration of the president? Democrats, legal experts say it’s too soon to tell

PHOENIX – Arizona Republicans say Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was a “witch hunt” that exonerates President Donald Trump, but one legal expert who has written a book about prosecuting presidents cautioned that it’s premature for the president to declare victory.

All sides agreed, however, that the full Mueller report must be made available to Congress and the public.

Republican Sen. Martha McSally tweeted Sunday how the nearly two-year long investigation was “wasted time” and hopes the nation “can focus on issues that move us forward like: affordable health care, good-paying jobs, and quality education.”

Also joining in on Twitter was Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, asking Democrats to “move on” instead of continuing “the witch hunt.”

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said in a statement Sunday that Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress, summarizing Mueller’s report, revealed “a complete exoneration of President Trump.”

However, Barr quoted Mueller in his letter stating “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it does not exonerate him.”

Barr also said Mueller could not render a conclusion about obstruction of justice charges and the decision was left to himself and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen most of the Mueller probe. They both determined there was not enough evidence to pursue obstruction charges, Barr said in his summary.

Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, in a response to Republicans accusing Democrats of lying about evidence of collusion before Barr released his summary, suggested in a tweet that they “wait for the report before you get on a high horse.”

Biggs continued his comments on Monday in a written op-ed for Fox News, demanding that former FBI Director James Comey and others be prosecuted for initiating the special counsel’s investigation.

“Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has been completed, it is time to seek justice,” Biggs stated. “That means fired FBI Director James Comey and others responsible for instigating this farcical investigation for the sole purpose of undermining President Trump must be prosecuted.”

Andrew Coan, a professor of law at the University of Arizona and author of “Prosecuting the President: How Special Prosecutors Hold Presidents Accountable and Protect the Rule of Law,” said, “it is far too early for the president and his supporters to declare victory on collusion.”

Paul Bender, a professor of law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, said Biggs has no legal standing to make a demand for prosecution of Comey.

“(Comey) might have made a lot of wrong judgements about things, but those aren’t crimes,” he said.

Coan said he is “aware of no evidence – and Representative Biggs points to none – that Comey’s motives for launching the investigation were partisan or otherwise improper,” emphasizing that Mueller’s probe was necessary.

“The need for a serious investigation of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia was overwhelming,” Coan said. “It was not just the FBI that thought so. It was also the Republican-led House and Senate Intelligence committees.”

None of Mueller’s actual report has been released to the public, and Biggs joined congressional Republicans and Democrats in demanding the full report be public.

“Representative Biggs is right about one thing,” Coan said. “Congress and the public need to see the full Mueller report. Only then will we understand why he reached his conclusions and what significance we should attach to them.”

The chairs of six House committees on Monday requested the full report from the Department of Justice, setting a deadline of April 2 and saying the letter Barr sent to them Sunday was “not sufficient for Congress.”

Cronkite News reached out for comment but did not hear back from the remainder of the Arizona delegation.

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