Vermont’s congressional delegation on Thursday rejected U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s defense of President Donald Trump
Sen. Patrick Leahy
as “spin” and vowed to continue congressional investigations into the findings of the newly released Mueller report.
Statements by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) made it clear that while the Special Counsel Robert Mueller may be finished with his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, Congress is just getting warmed up.
"Nothing can hide that this report amounts to a formal presentment of misconduct that reached the highest levels of the Trump campaign and administration," Leahy wrote in a statement. “Members of the Trump campaign were not simply useful pawns in Russia’s attack on our elections. They were eager, unapologetic beneficiaries of Russia’s interference.”
Leahy was in Vietnam Thursday. Welch was in Colombia, and Sanders was campaigning for president, according to their spokespeople. All issued written statements about the redacted version of Mueller’s report.
Mueller found insufficient evidence to prove members of the Trump campaign conspired with Russians to interfere with the election, and Barr claimed there was “no collusion.” Barr concluded that none of the 10 actions by Trump that Mueller investigated for possible obstruction of justice amounted to a crime.
Leahy took a dimmer view of their import. Leahy took Trump to task for trying to “manipulate and delegitimize” the investigation, including by firing FBI director James Comey, and said the efforts “demean his office and demean the rule of law.”
Welch blasted as “biased and incomplete” Barr’s characterization of the 448-page report, and stressed that Congress should hold hearings to “reach independent conclusions about President Trump's conduct and how best to hold him accountable.”
Welch said he found the documented contacts Trump's campaign had with Russians to be troubling.
“The multitude of contacts between campaign and Russian operatives before and after the election is reprehensible and marks a break from the longstanding practice of shunning foreign influence in American elections,” Welch wrote.
Welch has long said he needed to see the full report before he could opine on whether Trump committed obstruction or should face impeachment.
Now that he’s seen it, Welch said that, contrary to Barr’s characterization, it
outlines “detailed and substantial evidence” that Trump and his campaign “did everything they could to obstruct and undermine the investigation.”
Welch said Congress should obtain an unredacted copy of the report and hold hearings into whether obstruction of justice in fact occurred. Barr said during a press conference that he was planning to release an unredacted copy to certain members of Congress and had no objection to Mueller testifying.
Welch concluded: “As Congress begins the next phase of this sordid chapter in American history, it is vital that we work to restore the norms of our democracy so essential to our future: respect for the rule of law, respect for our institutions, respect for the truth, and respect for the right of American voters to elect their president free from foreign interference."
Rep. Peter Welch and Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sanders, who was campaigning in South Carolina, issued the briefest and most general statement of the three.
Sanders said Congress must continue its investigation "into Trump's conduct and any foreign attempts to influence our election" and called upon Trump and Republicans to "stop obstructing the necessary work to protect our democracy."
Asked about the report Thursday afternoon, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said he hadn't seen it yet.
"We have a balanced approach in Congress at this point: the Republican Senate and the Democratic House," Scott said. "I hope we stick to the facts rather than getting into partisan battles."