The role of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election was one of the key takeaways of Attorney General William Barr's summary report on the special counsel's investigation into election meddling and possible contact with President Donald Trump's campaign, American University historian Allan Lichtman said.
Barr on Sunday wrote to Congress to summarize special counsel Robert Mueller's report, saying that Mueller "did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government."
Lichtman, a history professor at the D.C.-based university and author of the book "The Case for Impeachment" told News4 that Barr's letter to Congress on Sunday confirms that the Russian government attempted to influence and sway the result of the 2016 presidential election in favor of Trump against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"The biggest surprise to me was how little this summary dealt with a critical finding of the Mueller investigation, that is, that the Russians interfered in our election in an extensive way, in a partisan way to help elect Donald Trump," Lichtman said.
Barr wrote that Mueller's report, delivered on Friday, was divided into examining the extent of Russia's interference in the 2016 election, including potential contacts with Trump's campaign team, and into possible obstruction of justice by the president.
"The report outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts," Barr wrote.
Read the full summary report here.
Barr also specified two efforts by Russia to influence the election, including the use of a Russian organization called the Internet Research Agency to "conduct disinformation and social media operations" in the United States to "sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election."
Bar added that the second effort by Russia involved using computer hackers to gather and disseminate emails obtained from Clinton campaign members and the Democratic Party. This information was later shared through third parties, including Wikileaks.
Lichtman said this conclusion demands policy changes from the federal government.
"That is so important because it's forward looking. We now need to hear from the president exactly what he is going to do to prevent similar interference in the 2020 election," Lichtman said.
He also emphasized a few caveats about interpreting Barr's findings, warning that Barr has previously shown some bias in how he would handle Mueller's probe.
"This probe is so different from others because all we're getting is a summary," Lichtman said. "I am an historian and I look at primary sources and I know what is actually in primary sources, in this case the actual Mueller report, is often fundamentally different from what you get in a summary or a synopsis, particularly from a self-interested party like Attorney General William Barr.
And Lichtman said that Trump will benefit from this conclusion, as well as Barr's assessment that Trump did not obstruct justice during the investigation.
"On 2020, it is obviously a boon to the president," Lichtman said. "This is not the defining element of his presidency. You can't say the defining element of a presidency is 'Gee, we found he didn't conspire with a foreign power to undermine our democracy, but we're not sure about whether he obstructed justice or not. That is not the way any president would want to be remembered."