U.S. President Donald Trump, after deriding special counsel Robert Mueller for months about his investigation into Trump's 2016 campaign links to Russia, said Monday that the prosecutor had acted honorably by clearing him of allegations that he colluded with Moscow.
"Yes, he did," Trump said at the White House.
The U.S. leader had dozens of times called the probe a "witch hunt," but said Mueller's conclusion was "100 percent the way it should have gone."
But Trump was defiant the day after Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller's report on the 22-month investigation, saying, "We can never, ever let this happen to another president again."
Trump said law enforcement officials who opened the investigation before Mueller's probe started in May 2017 did "so many evil things" that they should now be held to account in a new investigation. He called their actions "treasonous."
Trump, sitting alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not address Mueller's indecision on whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation. Trump said releasing the full Mueller report "wouldn't bother me at all."
Barr said in a letter to top U.S. lawmakers that Mueller concluded that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Moscow to help him win the White House. But on obstruction, Barr said, "The report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided charges against Trump were not warranted.
Barr wrote, "To obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acting with corrupt intent engaged in obstructive conduct."
Mueller had been investigating, among other Trump actions as president, whether his 2017 firing of James Comey, then the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation leading the Russia investigation before Mueller was appointed, was intended to thwart the Russia probe.
Before Trump spoke, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders claimed vindication for Trump, calling Barr's accounting of the Mueller report "a complete and total exoneration."
Sanders, appearing on NBC's Today Show and CNN, said the American public now knows "there was no collusion" between Russia and the Trump campaign to help him win the election three years ago and that he did not obstruct justice by trying to thwart the Mueller probe.
Barr said the decision that there was no legitimate obstruction case against Trump was not based on long-standing Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
"It's hard to obstruct a crime that never took place," Sanders told CNN, although such obstruction crimes have on occasion been prosecuted in the United States.
Sanders told NBC the Mueller investigation was "frankly something that should never have happened. This is a two-year waste of taxpayer time and dollars. They spent over $25 million just to find out there was nothing there. This should never happen to another president."
Trump has often attacked the Mueller investigation, but Sanders declined to say the president owed him an apology after the prosecutor cleared Trump of the collusion allegations.
"The Democrats and the liberal media owe the president and they owe the American people an apology," Sanders said. "They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction from things that impact people's everyday lives."
Trump told reporters Sunday that the probe was "the most ridiculous thing I ever heard … it's a shame our country had to go through this … it's a shame the president had to go through this before I even got elected — this was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to look at the other side."
Opposition Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, and Democratic presidential candidates seeking their party's nomination to oppose Trump in the 2020 election, are demanding Barr release the full Mueller report and the thousands of pieces of evidence his investigators collected. But it is not clear how much of the report Barr plans to disclose, pending review of confidential information in it.
Some lawmakers say they also plan to try to force Barr to testify about his decision that Trump should not be charged with obstruction of justice and also to have Mueller testify about his investigation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, said he hopes Barr will testify before his panel and "release as much as possible" of the Mueller report.
Mueller charged 25 Russians with election interference, although they are unlikely to ever stand trial because the United States and Russia do not have an extradition treaty. He also has secured guilty pleas or won convictions for a variety of offenses against six Trump aides and advisers, including the president's one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort; his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Barr's summary noted that during the nearly two-year-long investigation, Mueller had 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents working with him, issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, talked to about 500 witnesses, and carried out nearly 500 search warrants.