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Mueller finds no Trump collusion, leaves obstruction open

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WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or co-ordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election but reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. That brought a hearty claim of vindication from Trump but set the stage for new rounds of political and legal fighting.

The battle began Monday as White House aides and allies blanketed television news broadcasts to trumpet the findings and claim that Trump has been the victim in a probe that never should have started.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump will let Attorney General William Barr decide whether the special counsel’s Russia report should be publicly released, though she adds that “he’s more than happy for any of this stuff to come out.”

Trump cheered the Sunday outcome but also laid bare his resentment after two years of investigations that have shadowed his administration. “It’s a shame that our country has had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this,” he said.

Democrats pointed out that Mueller found evidence for and against obstruction and demanded to see his full report. They insisted that even the summary by the president’s attorney general hardly put him in the clear.

Mueller’s conclusions, summarized by Barr in a four page letter to Congress, represented a victory for Trump on a key question that has hung over his presidency from the start — whether his campaign worked with Russia to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

That was further good news for the president on top of the Justice Department’s earlier announcement that Mueller had wrapped his investigation without new indictments. That could deflate the hopes of Democrats in Congress and on the 2020 campaign trail that incriminating findings from Mueller would hobble the president’s agenda and re-election bid.

But while Mueller was categorical in ruling out criminal collusion, he was more circumspect on presidential obstruction of justice. Despite Trump’s claim of total exoneration, Mueller did not draw a conclusion one way or the other on whether he sought to stifle the Russia investigation through his actions including the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

According to Barr’s summary, Mueller set out “evidence on both sides of the question” and stated that “while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr, who was nominated by Trump in December, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May 2017 and oversaw much of his work, went further in Trump’s favour.

The attorney general said he and Rosenstein had determined that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove in court that Trump had committed obstruction of justice to hamper the probe. Barr has previously voiced a broad view of presidential powers, and in an unsolicited memo last June he cast doubt on whether the president could have obstructed justice through acts — like firing his FBI director — that he was legally empowered to take.

Barr said their decision was based on the evidence uncovered by Mueller and not affected by Justice Department legal opinions that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Mueller’s team examined a series of actions by the president in the last two years to determine if he intended obstruction. Those include his firing of Comey one week before Mueller’s appointment, his public and private haranguing of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation because of his work on the campaign, his request of Comey to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the White House’s first national security adviser, and his drafting of an incomplete explanation about his oldest son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

Mueller’s findings absolve Trump on the question of colluding with Russia but don’t entirely remove the legal threats the president and associates are facing. Federal prosecutors in New York, for instance, are investigating hush-money payments made to two women during the campaign who say they had sex with the president. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, implicated Trump in campaign finance violations when he pleaded guilty last year.

The special counsel’s investigation did not come up empty-handed. It ensnared nearly three dozen people, senior Trump campaign operatives among them. The probe illuminated Russia’s assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt Hillary Clinton and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.

Thirty-four people, including six Trump aides and advisers, were charged in the investigation. Twenty-five are Russians accused of election interference either through hacking into Democratic accounts or orchestrating a social media campaign to spread disinformation on the internet.

Sunday’s summary — and its suggestion that Mueller may have found evidence in support of obstruction — sets up a fight between Barr and Democrats, who called for the special counsel’s full report to be released and vowed to press on with their own investigations.

“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement.

“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” they said. Trump’s own claim of complete exoneration “directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” they added.

Trump was at his Florida estate when lawmakers received the report. Barr’s chief of staff called Emmet Flood, the lead White House lawyer on the investigation, to brief him on the findings shortly before he sent it to Congress. Mueller submitted his report to Barr instead of directly to Congress and the public because, unlike independent counsels such as Ken Starr in the case of President Bill Clinton, his investigation operated under the close supervision of the Justice Department.

Barr did not speak with the president, Mueller was not consulted on the letter, and the White House does not have Mueller’s report, according to a Justice Department official.

Though Mueller did not find evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign co-ordinated with the Russian government, Barr’s summary notes “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

That’s a likely reference not only to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Donald Trump. Jr. expected to receive damaging information on Clinton from a Kremlin-connected lawyer, as well as a conversation in London months earlier at which Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was told Russia had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said Congress needs to hear from Barr about his decision and see “all the underlying evidence.” He said on Twitter, “DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work.”

Barr said that Mueller “thoroughly” investigated the question of whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia’s election interference, issuing more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtaining nearly 500 search warrants and interviewing 500 witnesses. Trump answered some questions in writing, but refused to be interviewed in person by the Mueller team.

Barr said Mueller also catalogued the president’s actions including “many” that took place in “public view,” a possible nod to Trump’s public attacks on investigators and witnesses.

In the letter, Barr said he concluded that none of Trump’s actions constituted a federal crime that prosecutors could prove in court.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Deb Riechmann in Palm Beach, Florida, and Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online: Read the letter: http://apne.ws/Am0jB94

Follow all of AP’s Trump Investigations coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations

Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo, Chad Day And Julie Pace, The Associated Press






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Trans Mountain puts contractors on notice to get ready for pipeline restart

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Trans Mountain Pipeline

OTTAWA — Construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project is set to restart in the next month, just in time for the official kick-off of the federal election.

Trans Mountain Corp., the federal crown agency that owns and operates the pipeline, said Wednesday that work on the terminals in Burnaby, B.C. is set to restart immediately, while work laying pipe on the route in parts of Alberta are on track to start within the next month. Construction contractors were told they have 30 days to hire workers, prepare detailed construction plans and mobilize equipment.

“This is a major milestone,” said Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi.

Getting construction underway likely leaves many Liberals breathing a sigh of relief, including Sohi, whose riding is just a few kilometres from the Edmonton terminal where the pipeline begins. His already shaky re-election prospects would be even tougher if the pipeline remained stalled.

The federal campaign has to begin no later than Sept. 15 for an Oct. 21 vote, but Sohi said getting shovels in the ground on Trans Mountain has nothing to do with politics.

“I know people want to link this to elections,” he said. “I have never linked it to elections. I always tell that we owe it to Albertans, we owe it to Canadians, energy sector workers and communities who rely on middle class jobs that we get the process right.”

Sohi won in 2015 by less than 100 votes, one of only four Liberals elected in Alberta in the last election. All four seats are considered in play in this election, and anger in Alberta about the struggling oil industry is one of the reasons why.

Sohi visited with pipeline workers on site in Sherwood Park, Alta., on Wednesday. He told them that 4,200 people should be working on the project before the end of the year and the new completion date is in 2022. When the pipeline was initially approved in 2016, construction was supposed to be done by the end of this year.

Sohi also said the construction is going ahead “despite the fearmongering of some Conservative politicians to tell Canadians minutes after we approved the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that the construction will never happen.”

Edmonton Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux was not impressed with the news.

“Canadians have heard time and time again that Justin Trudeau wants to get pipelines built, yet in four years he has done the exact opposite,” Jeneroux said in an emailed statement.

The Conservatives say the Liberals have killed other pipelines and now have a new environmental assessment process coming in that will ensure no more pipelines are ever approved going forward.

“These decisions are all part of Justin Trudeau’s plan to phase out Canada’s oil and gas sector,” Jeneroux said.

The federal Liberals approved the Trans Mountain expansion in 2016, but the pressure to bring the project to fruition heightened in May 2018 when the government decided to buy the pipeline for $4.5 billion when Kinder Morgan Canada backed away under the uncertainty of numerous legal challenges and political fighting. The Liberals said the government would buy the pipeline, build the expansion and sell it back to a private investor.

The court decision three months later to rip up approval threw all those plans in jeopardy.

After another round of Indigenous consultations and a new review of the project’s impact on marine life off the coast of Vancouver, cabinet green-lighted the expansion for a second time in June.

Six British Columbia First Nations and at least two environment groups have filed new court challenges against the approval.

The Canadian Press


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Huawei executive’s defence team alleges Canadians were ‘agents’ of the FBI

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Huawei Headquarters

VANCOUVER — A defence team for a Chinese telecom executive is alleging Canadian officials acted as “agents” of American law enforcement while she was detained at Vancouver’s airport for three hours ahead of her arrest.

In court documents released this week, defence lawyers for Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou point to handwritten notes by Canadian officers indicating Meng’s electronics were collected in anticipation of a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the United States.

The notes show the RCMP asked the FBI if the U.S. was interested in Meng’s luggage and that a Canada Border Services Agency officer wrote down Meng’s passcodes, while another questioned her about Huawei’s alleged business in Iran.

This happened before she was informed of her arrest, the defence says.

“The RCMP and/or CBSA were acting as agents of the FBI for the purpose of obtaining and preserving evidence,” alleges a memorandum of fact and law filed by the defence.

“The question that remains is to what extent and how the FBI were involved in this scheme.”

The materials collected by the defence were released ahead of an eight-day hearing scheduled for September, in which the defence is expected to argue for access to more documentation ahead of Meng’s extradition trial.

The Attorney General of Canada has yet to file a response and none of the allegations have been tested in court.

Meng’s arrest at Vancouver airport has sparked a diplomatic crisis between Canada and China and drawn international scrutiny of Canadian extradition laws.

She was arrested at the behest of the U.S., which is seeking her extradition on fraud charges in violation of sanctions with Iran.

Both Meng and Huawei have denied any wrongdoing. Meng is free on bail and is living in one of her multimillion-dollar homes in Vancouver.

The RCMP and CBSA did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the documents but have said in a response to a civil claim that border officials only examined Meng and her luggage for immigration and customs purposes.

Meng extradition trial won’t begin until Jan. 20, but the court documents shed light on her defence team’s planned arguments that her arrest was unlawful and for the benefit of the United States.

“These are allegations of a purposeful violation of a court order and the abuse of important Canadian legal norms for improper purposes, namely, to further the objectives of the requesting state,” the defence says.

They plan to argue that the U.S. committed an abuse of process by using the extradition proceedings for political and economic gain. Parts of the defence are comments by U.S. President Donald Trump that he would intervene in Meng’s case “if necessary.”

The seizure of electronics and questioning of Meng by border officials in Canada also follows a pattern of how Huawei employees have been treated at U.S. ports of entry.

“This targeting has included the apparent abuse of customs and immigration powers to search and question Huawei employees at various U.S. ports of entry,” the documents say.

The defence accuses officers of intentionally poor note keeping that obscures what exactly happened, including why the arrest plan apparently changed.

The documents suggest that Canadian officials initially planned to arrest Meng “immediately” after she landed, by boarding the plane before she got off. Instead, three CBSA officers immediately detained Meng when she disembarked the plane while two RCMP officers stood nearby and watched, despite their knowledge of the warrant calling for her “immediate” arrest, the defence says.

The defence argues spotty notes kept by the CBSA officers constitute a “strategic omission.”

“When assessed together, a clear pattern emerges from these materials: the CBSA and the RCMP have strategically drafted these documents to subvert the applicant’s ability to learn the truth regarding her detention,” the defence says.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press


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