Mueller report: Special counsel fails to clear Trump of obstruction

Congress could act on Trump’s attempts to interfere with inquiry, says Robert Mueller

April 18th, 2019: US attorney general William Barr says that special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did not find that Donald Trump or members of his campaign worked with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Video: Reuters

 

Special counsel Robert Mueller said he lacked confidence to clear US president Donald Trump of obstruction of justice but suggested Congress could take action on at least 10 instances where the president sought to interfere with the investigation.

“We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” he said in the report on his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which was sent to Congress on Thursday.

Mr Mueller also unearthed “numerous links” between the Russian government and Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign and said the president’s team “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts”, referring to hacked Democratic emails.

Mr Mueller said acts of possible obstruction include “discouragement of co-operation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons”. The 448-page report cited actions including Mr Trump’s firing of then FBI director James Comey and efforts to have then attorney general Jeff Sessions take control of the investigation.

“Our investigation found multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russia-interference and obstruction investigations,” according to the report. “The president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.”

It was a damning assessment shortly after attorney general William Barr had said in a news conference that he found Mr Trump had “non-corrupt motives”. After Mr Barr spoke, the president quickly tweeted: “Game Over.”

The report revealed how Mr Trump viewed the appointment of Mr Mueller as special counsel. When then attorney general Jeff Sessions told him during an Oval Office meeting in May 2017 that Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, had appointed Mr Mueller as a special counsel, Mr Trump responded: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f**ked!”

Mr Trump also lashed out at Mr Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, saying: “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”

A month after Mr Mueller’s appointment, in June 2017, Mr Trump tried to get rid of him, according to the report. He called White House counsel Don McGahn at home and told him to call Mr Sessions and say Mr Mueller “had conflicts of interest and must be removed”, noted the report.

“McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,” stated the report, referring to the Watergate-era firing of key law enforcement officials by then president Richard Nixon.

Two days later, the report noted, “the president made another attempt to affect the course of the Russia investigation”. He asked his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to deliver a message to Mr Sessions that he should announce publicly that the investigation was “very unfair” to Mr Trump, that the president had done nothing wrong and that he would allow Mr Mueller to “move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections”.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr Trump’s lawyers declared “total victory for the president. The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning: there was no collusion – there was no obstruction.”

But Mr Mueller’s report raises new questions about whether House of Representatives Democrats will intensify their investigative efforts – and perhaps move toward an impeachment inquiry despite earlier statements by leaders to the contrary. Many Democrats steered clear of threatening impeachment on Thursday, although prominent liberal congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez directly brought it up.

In written answers to Mr Mueller, the president – who declined repeated requests for an in-person interview – said he had “no recollection of learning at the time” that his top campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower on June 9th, 2016, after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, the president said: “I have no recollection of being told during the campaign that any foreign government or foreign leader had provided, or wished to provide, or offered to provide tangible support to my campaign.”

Mr Trump directed his staff not to disclose information about the Trump Tower meeting that included Donald Trump jnr, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Mr Mueller said evidence he collected indicates Mr Trump intended to encourage Manafort not to co-operate with the investigation and that the evidence supports the idea that Mr Trump wanted Manafort to believe that he could receive a presidential pardon.

In the written answers, Mr Trump on more than 30 occasions said he didn’t remember or didn’t have “independent recollection” in response to questions. The special counsel said investigators viewed Mr Trump’s answers to be “inadequate”.

On the underlying issue of whether the president or those around him conspired with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Mr Mueller said that “the evidence we obtained did not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference”.

Democrats have demanded Mr Mueller’s full report – without redactions made by Mr Barr – as well as all the evidence behind it. Objecting to Mr Barr’s news conference in advance of the report’s release, they demanded that Mr Mueller testify to Congress as soon as possible.

The voluminous report touches on several well-known incidents, including Mr Trump’s firing of Mr Comey in May 2017.

Mr Mueller said the White House wanted to issue a statement saying the firing was the idea of deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. But Mr Rosenstein told other justice department officials that he wouldn’t participate in putting out a “false story”, according to the report.

Still, Mr Mueller said: “The evidence does not establish that the termination of Comey was designed to cover up a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

The report said Mr Mueller accepted the longstanding justice department view that a sitting president cannot be indicted on criminal charges, while still recognising that a president can be criminally investigated.

Mr Barr had said he would withhold material in the report that touched on classified information and grand jury proceedings or could damage the reputations of people “peripheral” to the investigation. He said on Thursday that he will give leaders of several congressional committees a version of the report with no redactions except those relating to grand jury information.

The House judiciary committee voted on April 3rd to authorise a subpoena to demand that Mr Barr provide that the full report and supporting evidence. If no accord is reached between the politicians and attorney general, a subpoena could result in a legal clash that could reach the supreme court.

KEY REACTION TO REPORT

President Donald Trump’s legal team:

“The results of the investigation are a total victory for the president. The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning – there was no collusion, there was no obstruction. After a 17-month investigation, testimony from some 500 witnesses, the issuance of 2,800 subpoenas, the execution of nearly 500 search warrants, early morning raids, the examination of more than 1.4 million pages of documents and the unprecedented co-operation of the president, it is clear there was no criminal wrongdoing. Nothing withheld; nothing concealed; nothing deleted; nothing destroyed; and nothing bleached.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell:

“The nation is fortunate to have an experienced leader like Bill Barr in place to ensure maximum possible transparency while carefully protecting classified material and legally restricted grand jury information. Like all of my colleagues, I look forward to carefully reviewing the report.

Presidential candidate Kamala Harris (Democrat):

“Congress must receive this report in full along with all underlying investigative materials. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I know a selectively redacted version of the report is not sufficient for Congress to fulfil its responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight over this investigation and decisions made by Trump administration officials surrounding its conclusion.”

Democratic House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff:

“The House Intelligence Committee has formally invited special counsel Mueller to testify on the counterintelligence investigation. After a two-year investigation, the public deserves the facts, not attorney general Barr’s political spin.”

Republican Senate judiciary chairman Lindsey Graham:

“The Senate Judiciary Committee has received special counsel Mueller’s report. The committee’s review of the report is ongoing. Once again, I applaud attorney general Barr for his commitment to transparency and keeping the American people informed, consistent with the law and our national security interests. I look forward to hearing the attorney general’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1st, 2019.” – Bloomberg/Reuters