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Here’s what we still don’t know about why Mueller didn’t charge Trump with obstruction

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By Julia Ainsley

WASHINGTON — In the days and weeks leading up to Thursday’s release of the redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, few questions loomed as large as this: Why did Mueller decide not to decide whether to charge the president with obstruction of justice?

While the report gave us a window into Mueller’s thinking and the complex legal theories he used in making his decision, the question is not wholly answered. Here’s what remains unanswered about Mueller’s decision:

Would Mueller have charged Trump with obstruction had he not been the president?

Mueller’s report stops short of explicitly saying that Trump committed obstruction of justice and he would have been charged had he not been the president. But it does frequently cite a longstanding opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.

In the beginning of the obstruction portion of the report, Mueller writes, “Given the role of the Special Counsel as an attorney in the Department of Justice and the framework of the Special Counsel’s regulations, this Office accepted OLC’s legal conclusion for the purpose of exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction. And apart from OLC’s constitutional view, we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially pre-empt constitutional process for addressing presidential misconduct.”

Mueller goes on to cite other reasons why Trump could not be charged: There was no evidence of an underlying crime to establish intent, some of the evidence was ambiguous and many of the actions took place in public view. But it remains unclear how big of a factor the OLC’s opinion was in Mueller’s decision not to charge the president.

The report goes on to say that Trump’s position as president made him an unusual subject, which kept Mueller from reaching a conclusion on obstruction.

“Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment.”

Did Mueller want Congress to rule on obstruction?

Again, Mueller is not explicit on this issue in his report. But he does differ with Attorney General William Barr on the issue of whether Congress should or could be left to continue probing for criminal wrongdoing around obstruction. On page 382, the report states, “Under [the Office of Legal Counsel’s] analysis, Congress can permissibly criminalize certain obstructive conduct by the President, such as suborning perjury, intimidating witnesses, or fabricating evidence, because those prohibitions raise no separation-of-powers questions. The Constitution does not authorize the President to engage in such conduct, and those actions would transgress the President’s duty to ‘take care that the laws be faithfully executed.'”

Many have interpreted these lines and other excerpts of the report as a road map for Congress to follow if it decided to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.

What were the disagreements between Mueller’s team and Barr’s team over obstruction?

In his speech ahead of the report’s release on Thursday, Barr said, “Although the Deputy Attorney General [Rod Rosenstein] and I disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law, we did not rely solely on that in making our decision.”

The report lists 10 episodes of potential obstruction examined by Mueller’s prosecutors. It is unclear which of the 10 were the subject of contention between Barr and Mueller. But legal theories that may have been in dispute include how heavily to weigh the OLC opinion, whether the lack of an underlying crime should be considered in determining Trump’s intent, and whether Trump was rightfully exercising his executive powers by firing James Comey as FBI director.

Barr’s decision to exonerate the president on the issue of obstruction was based, in part on the inability to prove intent because there was no crime to cover up. But Mueller said there may have been “other possible personal motives” for Trump’s behavior.

What did Mueller mean when he talked about “other possible personal motives” for Trump’s behavior?

In the report, Mueller states, “The evidence does point to other possible personal motives animating the president’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events — such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’ release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016, meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians — could be seen as criminal activity by the president, his campaign, or his family.”

Mueller seems to indicate here that Trump may have thought he committed a crime and could be working to cover up those actions. But he does not establish — in bold terms, at least — whether those motivations could have led the president to obstruct justice.

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Tracking President Trump’s visits to Trump properties

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By Liz Johnstone

President Donald Trump frequently uses his luxury properties for government business and leisure, prompting ethics concerns over a president appearing to promote his private enterprise at public cost.

The NBC News digital politics team and the White House unit are tracking Trump’s visits to his properties and golf courses since his inauguration.

Where does Trump go?

Trump’s trips have mainly been concentrated in Palm Beach, Florida, where he mainly visits his Mar-a-Lago club and golf course, Trump International Golf Club. He’s spent “working vacations” at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club, and as well as a handful of days at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

He also frequents his golf course in Sterling, Virginia, near Washington, and his luxury hotel, Trump International, just blocks from the White House — and sometimes will visit multiple properties on the same day. On a July 2018 trip to the U.K., the president visited his Trump Turnberry golf property in Scotland.

How many times has Trump gone golfing as president?

Trump visited his golf clubs more than 150 times in his first official year in office, and at least 77 times in his second year in office.

However, the precise number of times Trump has actually played golf is difficult to track. His administration has tried to hide Trump’s activity, keeping his traveling press pool away and often refusing to confirm whether he has played golf. Instead, social media has become a source of crowd-sourced reporting into the president’s whereabouts.

Related: How Donald Trump’s Old Tweets Haunt Him Today

During the campaign, Trump argued that Americans should vote for him because he would rarely leave Washington. He promised that he wouldn’t go golfing or take vacations because there was too much work to do.

And prior to his run for president, Trump spent years attacking President Barack Obama for golfing and taking vacations while in office.

When does Trump visit his properties?

With the exception of extended stays at his golf resort in Bedminster, Trump usually frequents his properties on weekends. Trump has referred to his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, as the “Southern White House” — and that’s where he’s hosted foreign leaders like President Xi Jinping of China and directed the launch of a strike against a Syrian airbase.

How much does Trump’s travel cost?

The president’s trips can cost taxpayers millions of dollars because of the use of Air Force One and the expenses of the Secret Service, the Air Force, local sheriff’s departments, the Coast Guard and other agencies. However, a precise accounting can’t be made because the expenses aren’t required to be disclosed.

In February 2019, a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report said that federal agencies incurred costs of about $13.6 million for the president’s four trips to Mar-a-Lago from February 3 through March 5, 2017.

Presidents other than Trump incurred similar questions about travel costs. Much of what is known about Obama’s travel costs was obtained by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch, which aggressively sought receipts through Freedom of Information Act requests. In October 2016, the GAO issued its own report breaking out the costs of one specific trip taken by Obama, finding that a trip to Chicago and Florida cost $3.6 million.

This tracker automatically counts Trump’s days in office. When Trump arrives at one of his properties, the tracker updates accordingly.

EJ Fox, Sam Petulla, Dartunorro Clark, Jeremia Kimelman and Winston Wilde contributed.



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Brexit LIVE: Tory donors TURN ON MAY as they pay Brexiteers to SABOTAGE PM's deal

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A LEADING Tory donor has declared he and other sponsors will now support MPs who oppose Theresa May’s deal in a brutal backlash against the Prime Minister over her handling of Brexit.

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