Enthusiasm for Russian help in a presidential campaign. Repeated attempts to thwart an investigation. Presidential praise for a mob lawyer. A White House willing to invent lies to protect the boss.
Such was the portrait painted by the 448-page Mueller report, released Thursday, that President Donald Trump is nevertheless attempting to describe as fully “exonerating” him.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his team did not find enough evidence to charge anyone in Trump’s campaign with conspiring with Russia to steal Democratic emails to help Trump’s candidacy, but the report laid out example after example of Trump and his campaign encouraging Russian agents and related actors like WikiLeaks to help him win.
And while Mueller did not charge Trump with obstructing justice by trying to stop the investigation, he makes it clear that Trump was trying to do exactly that:
“Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations. The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels. These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony. Viewing the acts collectively can help to illuminate their significance.”
Trump, his campaign and White House staff went into overdrive Thursday, returning to their oft-repeated claims of “no collusion” and “no obstruction” — despite facts laid out in the report to the contrary.
“As I have been saying all along, NO COLLUSION – NO OBSTRUCTION!” Trump tweeted two hours after the public release of Mueller’s redacted report.
“Never interfered, never refused to comply with the requests, lots of people went over there and testified, many documents produced,” top aide Kellyanne Conway told reporters in an impromptu news conference. “And that the Department of Justice has made very clear that every request they issued was actually responded to and fulfilled.”
The report itself, though, suggests the opposite. In it, Mueller states that Trump refused to sit for an interview in the investigation, and instead produced written answers that “on more than 30 occasions” claimed that he could not remember key events.
What’s more, far from “never” interfering, Mueller wrote that the only reason that Trump did not more effectively block the investigation was that some in his administration, such as fired FBI Director James Comey and former White House counsel Don McGhan, refused to obey Trump’s orders.
“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.
The report also suggests that Trump could be dealing with continued revelations regarding his campaign’s contacts with WikiLeaks for some time.
In a section describing WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta less than an hour after the publication of Trump’s damaging remarks about women in the “Access Hollywood” tape on Oct. 7, 2016, big chunks of the report are redacted and labeled “Harm on Ongoing Matter.”
Similarly, in a section describing Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, his recollection of a WikiLeaks-related conversation is also blacked out.
Indeed, Mueller’s report refers to 14 additional criminal investigations his probe has generated. Of those, only two are publicly known at this point.
The portion of the report relating to obstruction of justice, meanwhile, describes a president seemingly accustomed to working with lawyers for mobsters and criminals. In a discussion of Trump’s order to then-White House counsel McGhan to fire Mueller just a month after his appointment, it states that Trump at one point expressed anger at McGhan for taking notes on their conversations:
“The President also asked McGahn in the meeting why he had told Special Counsel’s Office investigators that the President had told him to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn responded that he had to and that his conversations with the President were not protected by attorney-client privilege. The President then asked, ‘What about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.’ McGahn responded that he keeps notes because he is a ‘real lawyer’ and explained that notes create a record and are not a bad thing. The President said, ‘I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.’”
Cohn was an aide to Sen. Joe McCarthy, who gained notoriety in the 1950s for his numerous unfounded accusations of communist subversion, and was later a lawyer to Trump and high-level Mafia bosses before he was disbarred in 1986.
Mueller’s report also provides more evidence that White House officials, in supporting Trump, resort to inventing and repeating falsehoods. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, for example, claimed on several occasions that FBI “rank-and-file” members had lost confidence in Comey. She admitted to investigators, though, that she had no basis for that claim.
“Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue,’” Mueller wrote. “She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Corney was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”
Democrats, who took control of the House after gaining 40 seats in the mid-term elections, said Thursday they intend to call Mueller and key witnesses named in the report to Capitol Hill to testify.
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