The final report by special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, but details in the 448-page document provide fodder for congressional Democrats who want more investigations.
The lightly redacted report released by the Justice Department states that President Donald Trump feared appointment of a special counsel would mean the “end” of his presidency.
But it does not say conclusively that the president tried to obstruct the probe, and Attorney General William Barr determined that the evidence did not support criminal charges.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Thursday that Barr will testify May 2, and that Mueller himself will testify shortly after that.
Nadler said congressional investigations will continue.
Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said the administration would like to see a thorough accounting of how the investigation commenced, apparently based entirely on the “dossier” compiled by a former British spy, Christopher Steele, as opposition research targeting Trump as a presidential candidate.
“Investigating the investigators is something some of the investigators think would be a good idea,” Conway told The Daily Signal, but declined to say whether she thought criminal offenses occurred.
“If you’re going to scream about transparency and accountability and investigations for two years, than I’ve got 22 months to wait to see how we got here in the first place,” she said.
“When the president says it should never happen to another president again, let’s see how we got here. How did it start?”
Here’s a look at key passages and findings from the special counsel’s report on his 22-month investigation, including instances in which Trump appeared to want to obstruct the probe.
Outstanding Questions on Obstruction
Muller presented a pattern of behavior by Trump and his associates that seemed hostile toward the Russia investigation, which the president routinely called a “witch hunt.”
But, as Barr already had announced last month, the special counsel didn’t make a determination that the actions constituted obstruction of justice.
“Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the president’s conduct,” the Mueller report states, adding:
The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, 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. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
The report also says, “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.”
In most instances, the Mueller report noted, Trump aides declined to take actions to impede the investigation—including firing the special counsel, as then-White House counsel Don McGahn thought he was told to do.
The report refers to the month after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who at the time was overseeing the Russia probe:
On June 14, 2017, the media reported that the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating whether the President had obstructed justice. Press reports called this ‘a major turning point’ in the investigation: while Corney had told the President he was not under investigation, following Corney’s firing, the President now was under investigation. The President reacted to this news with a series of tweets criticizing the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel’s investigation.
On June 17, 2017, the President called McGahn at home and directed him to call the Acting Attorney General and say that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed. 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.
The reference was to President Richard Nixon’s firing of Justice Department officials who declined to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox during his investigation of the Watergate scandal.
Barr, who took office Feb. 14, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a veteran of the Justice Department, decided that such evidence did not warrant prosecution, particularly without an underlying crime.
The Mueller report addresses the lack of an initial crime.
“[U]nlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” the report says. “Although the obstruction statutes do not require proof of such a crime, the absence of that evidence affects the analysis of the President’s intent and requires consideration of other possible motives for his conduct.”
It later adds that “many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, took place in public view. That circumstance is unusual, but no principle of law excludes public acts from the reach of the obstruction laws.”
Mueller also addressed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel policy that indicting a sitting president would greatly inhibit the executive branch.
But the special counsel threw what some Democrats might seize on as a significant bone in their efforts to impeach the president for offenses that may include obstruction of justice.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the Mueller report says.
The report lays out potential areas of trying to influence the investigation, 10 of those after Trump became president.
During the 2016 campaign, the report notes, Trump “denied having any business in or connections to Russia, even though as late as June 2016 the Trump Organization had been pursuing a licensing deal for a skyscraper to be built in Russia called Trump Tower Moscow.”
Trump’s Reaction to Special Counsel
Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, recused himself from overseeing any investigation into the Russia matter because he had a role in the Trump campaign.
After Rosenstein appointed the special counsel following Trump’s firing of Comey, Trump became concerned, according to testimony obtained by the Mueller team.
The report states that Trump told aides, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f—ed.’”
Conway told reporters outside the White House she never heard or observed the president expressing such concern. She suggested the press corps “move on” now that the investigation found no evidence of conspiracy with Russia.
The president turned his anger on Sessions, saying: “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”
Trump demanded that Sessions resign as attorney general, but when Sessions submitted his resignation, the president didn’t accept it. Sessions’ resignation letter, released Nov. 7 when Trump forced him out, was not dated.
The special counsel’s report also describes how McGahn declined to fire Mueller after he got the June 2017 call from Trump at home, during which the president said Mueller “must be removed.”
On another front, the report says Trump urged Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the Russia probe.
Trump “met with Sessions in the Oval Office and suggested, according to notes taken by a senior advisor, that if Sessions unrecused and took back supervision of the Russia investigation, he would be a ‘hero.’”
Trump asked campaign aide Corey Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions to limit the Mueller probe only to how to prevent Russian meddling in future elections. Lewandowski never delivered the message, the report says.
After news reports that Trump had asked McGahn to seek Mueller’s ouster, the report says:
The president reacted to the news stories by directing White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn told those officials that the media reports were accurate in stating that the President had directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed.
Manafort, Cohen, and Flynn
After the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn in January 2017, the report notes, Flynn deputy K.T. McFarland “declined to draft an internal letter stating that the president had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions” with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Trump also sought to prevent the disclosure of emails between his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Kremlin-connected lawyer at Trump Tower in New York. The lawyer had claimed through an intermediary that she had dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The report also notes Trump’s reactions in the cases of Flynn, one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a redacted name.
The president’s lawyer asked Flynn’s lawyer to let Trump’s team know if the president was implicated in anything. When Flynn’s lawyer declined, the report says, “the president’s personal counsel said he would make sure that the president knew that Flynn’s actions reflected ‘hostility’ towards the president.”
The report notes that Trump “praised Manafort in public, said that Manafort was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon.”
Finally, it cites problems with regard to Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who began cooperating with prosecutors, telling them that he lied to Congress about plans for a Trump Tower Moscow in 2015.
“Cohen also discussed pardons with the president’s personal counsel and believed that if he stayed on message he would be taken care of,” the report says. “But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in the summer of 2018, the president publicly criticized him, called him a ‘rat,’ and suggested that his family members had committed crimes.”
Contacts With Campaign and Russia
The Mueller probe found no evidence of a Trump-Moscow conspiracy, but said the campaign expected to benefit from Russian meddling in 2016:
Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
The Mueller report notes contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s government beyond the Trump Tower meeting:
The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations. Some of the earliest contacts were made in connection with a Trump Organization real-estate project in Russia known as Trump Tower Moscow.
Leaving Open Possibilities
Still, the Mueller report left open some hope for anti-Trump Democrats, who had held their breath for evidence of collusion.
“The investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign lied to the [special counsel’s] office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters,” the Mueller report says.
It notes the special counsel won convictions of campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, Flynn, and Cohen for lying to investigators.
“Further, the office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated—including some associated with the Trump campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records,” the report says, adding:
In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts. Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.
Reproduced with permission from The Daily Signal. Original can be viewed here. Fred Lucas is the White House correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast. Send an email to Fred. Lucas is also the author of “Tainted by Suspicion: The Secret Deals and Electoral Chaos of Disputed Presidential Elections.”