Now that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has reiterated that he hasn’t exonerated President Donald Trump of obstruction in the Russian investigation, Montana’s congressional Republicans say it’s time to move on, while its Democratic senator says it's time for a closer look.
Offices for the three lawmakers issued statements Thursday when presented with questions by Lee Montana Newspapers.
Staff for Republicans Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Greg Gianforte said it was time Congressional scrutiny of the report ended. Staff members would not say whether Daines or Gianforte had read the Mueller report or felt obligated to as members of Congress.
“Daines believes (Mueller’s) Wednesday press conference simply restated what was already known — Russia interfered in our elections and the Trump Campaign did not conspire or coordinate. Drawing out a one-sided partisan attack against the President would only worsen divisions and make it harder to solve problems,” said Julia Doyle, communications director for Daines. “The senator believes it’s time for the country to move on, work together, and focus on issues that are important to Montanans and this nation.”
Daines was asked whether Mueller declining to clear Trump of obstruction changed the senator’s opinion about the findings. He was also asked whether an obstruction investigation was warranted. His office didn’t answer the question and never uttered the word obstruction.
Gianforte’s response was similar.
“After two years of thorough investigations, Special Counsel Mueller said that his report is clear, that it speaks for itself, and that it would not be appropriate for him to testify before Congress,” said Travis Hall, communications director for Gianforte. “Greg believes it’s past time for House Democrats and Nancy Pelosi to move on from their unproductive obsession and work with Republicans to produce results on the issues Montanans care about – securing our border, addressing the rising cost of prescription drugs, and having good-paying jobs.”
Only Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., would directly answer questions about Mueller’s remarks and whether lawmakers had an obligation to read the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Tester has read the special counsel’s report and believes every member of Congress should, said Sarah Feldman the senator’s communications director, particularly since Mueller indicated Wednesday that any testimony he gave in person wouldn’t go beyond it.
Mueller is reluctant to testify in person, but could be compelled by subpoena.
Tester was the only member of Montana’s delegation to answer questions about the differing conclusions Mueller and Attorney General William Barr had on the matter of obstruction.
Barr concluded definitively that Trump did not obstruct the investigation into Russian election tampering, including questions about whether Trump’s campaign worked in partnership with the Russians.
Mueller said Wednesday he wouldn’t accuse Trump of obstruction given that it’s a crime for which the sitting president cannot be charged. The accusation wouldn’t have been fair. However, Mueller said “if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Tester agrees with Republicans and Democrats who have said Barr’s conclusion that the president definitively did not break the law is incorrect, Feldman said — not definitively, without further investigation by Congress. What that means is Congress needs access to documents and evidence underlying the report.
If the House concludes the president obstructed justice, the Senate’s Republican leadership should allow a vote, Tester said.
“I’ve said from the beginning that the American people deserve transparency from their government, and I’ll continue working to hold the Trump Administration accountable to provide public testimony and the Mueller report’s underlying documents,” Tester said in a prepared statement. “Congress needs to live up to its constitutional duty to follow the facts, and I hope my Republican colleagues will put politics aside and urge Senator Mitch McConnell to bring bipartisan election security legislation to a vote, so we can ensure this foreign interference doesn’t happen again.”
Trump was a hit with Montana voters in 2016, capturing 56.4% of the vote. In the past 20 years, only George W. Bush did better, twice, with Montana voters than Trump. Trump parlayed that political clout into an attempted sweep of the 2018 Montana Congressional elections, making four campaign stops for Rep. Gianforte and Senate candidate Matt Rosendale, the last a Bozeman stop just days before voting ended. On those trips, Gianforte and Daines were ever-present, and they occasionally flew from Washington, D.C., on Air Force One for rallies. Gianforte won, and Rosendale lost to incumbent Democratic Sen. Jon Tester.