Mueller report provides intimate look inside the Trump White House

Special counsel’s report details accounts of key players, from Jeff Sessions to Hope Hicks

Former US attorney general Jeff Sessions. File photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File Photo

Former US attorney general Jeff Sessions. File photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters/File Photo

 

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report builds upon dozens of interviews, notes and communications to piece together what was happening inside US president Donald Trump’s White House.

Here are some of those scenes.

‘End of my presidency’

Then-attorney general Jeff Sessions broke the news to Trump on May 17th, 2017, that his deputy Rod Rosenstein had appointed Mueller to be the special counsel.

Sessions was with Trump in the Oval Office conducting interviews for a new FBI director but stepped outside when Rosenstein called to give him the news.

Trump slumped in his chair after Sessions returned and informed him of the appointment, according to notes taken at the time by Jody Hunt, who was Sessions’ chief of staff, and provided to Mueller’s team.

“Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f*cked,” Trump said.

Trump then turned his anger toward Sessions. “You were supposed to protect me,” Sessions recalled Trump telling him.

Trump then again bemoaned the potential fallout of a special counsel.

“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Trump then said, according to both Hunt and Sessions.

US president Donald Trump reportedly said ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f*cked,’ upon learning that a special counsel had been appointed. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
US president Donald Trump reportedly said ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f*cked,’ upon learning that a special counsel had been appointed. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

A tense meeting

Former chief of staff John Kelly detailed a “tense” Oval Office meeting he convened the morning of February 6th, 2018, to try to smooth things over between Trump and White House counsel Don McGahn.

Months earlier, McGahn had been on the brink of resigning when he said Trump told him to get rid of special counsel Mueller. Now, Trump was angry because the New York Times and Washington Post had written articles about McGahn’s refusal to fire Mueller.

“I never said to fire Mueller,” Trump began the meeting, according to McGahn’s retelling to Mueller. “I never said ‘fire’. This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House counsel.”

McGahn refused, saying that the article in the New York Times was accurate.

“Did I say the word ‘fire’?” Trump then said, according to accounts by both McGahn and Kelly.

McGahn said he responded, “What you said is, ‘Call Rod [Rosenstein] special counsel’.”

“I never said that,” McGahn recalled Trump saying.

‘The Russia thing is over’

On St Valentine’s Day 2017, Trump had lunch with then-New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Trump told Christie, who had become an ally of the president early in the campaign, that the firing of Michael Flynn, the former national security aide, was going to solve his problems.

“Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump told Christie, the governor recalled. Christie laughed and told the president he expected they would still be discussing Russia a year later.

“That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over,” Trump countered.

Christie, a former US attorney, then told the president that he should not talk about the investigation, even if frustrated, and that he was going to be stuck with the Flynn story for a long time.

“Like gum on the bottom of your shoe,” Christie said.

Sessions’ resignation letter

As Trump flew from Saudi Arabia to Tel Aviv in May 2017, he reached into his pocket and produced a resignation letter that had been written two days earlier by Sessions.

Trump showed the letter to senior advisers, including Hope Hicks, who recalled the scene to Mueller’s team.

The letter had already become a point of concern among Trump’s aides. Sessions had delivered the letter to Trump the day before, but ultimately Trump and the attorney general had determined he would remain in the job.

Then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus were concerned that Trump was holding on to the letter and that he would use it as leverage against the justice department. The two top aides decided to try to get it back.

The president had the justice department “by the throat”, Priebus said.

But when Preibus approached Trump on the Middle East trip and asked him to turn the letter over, the president insisted it wasn’t with him. Instead, Trump claimed, it was somewhere in the White House residence.

It would take another 10 days – three days after Trump returned from his trip – for the president to finally turn it over. – Reuters

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