'Start Here': No collusion, but a case for obstruction of justice in Robert Mueller's report

PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks past the White House after attending services at St. Johns Episcopal Church, in Washington, March 24, 2019.PlayCliff Owen/AP, FILE
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It's Friday, April 19, 2019. Let's start here ... with a very special (counsel) episode.

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1. The case for obstruction

Twenty-two months and 448 pages later, the special counsel's report shows 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice and details how President Donald Trump sought to use top White House staffers, aides and the Justice Department to impede the Russia investigation.

"The only thing that ended up protecting the president there," ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos says on today's podcast, "was the fact that they didn't follow through on his direct orders. Had they, we might've even had a much more stark conclusion from Robert Mueller in this report."

Mueller stopped short of clearing the president.

"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," Mueller wrote. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment."

Mueller didn't take a position on any potential obstruction because he was limited by a Department of Justice rule that a sitting president can't be indicted, ABC News Legal Analyst Kate Shaw explains on "Start Here."

"He was never going to go there," Shaw tells us. "But the fact that he didn't go there is not some big victory for the president. That was never an option, as special counsel Mueller understood."

PHOTO: Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and Deputy Attorney General Ed OCallaghan about the release of special counsel Robert Muellers report, in Washington, D.C., April 18, 2019. Patrick Semansky/AP
Attorney General William Barr speaks alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, right, and Deputy Attorney General Ed O'Callaghan about the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, in Washington, D.C., April 18, 2019.

2. 'No collusion'

After the report was released on Thursday, the president said he was having a "good day" at an event for veterans at the White House, adding, "It's called no collusion, no obstruction."

Many of the special counsel's findings were linked to Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded. Mueller wrote that his team "identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign," but "did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

The Trump campaign may have been communicating with Russians, according to the special counsel, but contact isn't collusion, ABC News Senior Investigative Producer Matthew Mosk tells "Start Here."

"There was certainly plenty of contact, plenty of back and forth, but nothing criminal," he says. "What would've made it criminal would've been material support sought by the Trump campaign from the Russians and accepted by the Trump campaign."

3. So ... now what?

With the report out, Republicans are saying it's time to move on, but Democrats are arguing Mueller's findings are far more damning than what Attorney General William Barr summarized a few weeks ago.

"The Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said on Thursday.

House Democrats have also asked the special counsel to testify next month and have plans to subpoena Mueller's unredacted report. The special counsel's office declined to comment on whether Mueller would accept an invitation to appear on Capitol Hill.

If Mueller decides to testify, Stephanopoulos tells "Start Here," it'll be "the next huge event" in this saga: "I think he's going to face some pretty tough questions on why he didn't reach a final decision. And how he handles those questions before Congress, assuming he does indeed testify, I think will determine whether the congressional inquiries actually gain momentum."

PHOTO:House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) holds a news conference, April 18, 2019, in New York. Spencer Platt/Getty Images
PHOTO:House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) holds a news conference, April 18, 2019, in New York.

4. #longform

If you'd like to take a deep dive into full report, we have all 448 pages available right here.

"Start Here," ABC News' flagship podcast, offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Stitcher, TuneIn or the ABC News app. Follow @StartHereABC on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for exclusive content and show updates.

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