WASHINGTON (AP) — Public at last, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday that President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president. Trump was largely thwarted by those around him.
Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel’s appointment in May 2017. Those efforts “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.
After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted report made for riveting reading.
In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel’s appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.”
With that, Trump set out to save himself.
In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.
Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation “very unfair” to the president, declare Trump did nothing wrong and say that Mueller should limit his probe to “investigating election meddling for future elections.” The message was never delivered.
The report’s bottom line largely tracked the findings revealed in Attorney General William Barr’s four-page memo released a month ago — no collusion with Russia, no clear verdict on obstruction — but it added troubling layers of detailabout Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation. Looking ahead, both sides were already using the findings to amplify well-rehearsed arguments about Trump’s conduct, Republicans casting him as a victim of harassment and Democrats depicting the president as stepping far over the line to derail the investigation.
The Justice Department released a redacted version of the report about 90 minutes after Attorney General William Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings at a testy Justice Department news conference. The nation, Congress and Trump’s White House consumed the report voraciously — online, via a compact disc delivered to legislators and in loose-leaf binders distributed to reporters.
The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making but also the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.
A defiant Trump pronounced it “a good day” and tweeted a photo declaring “Game Over” in a typeface mimicking the “Game of Thrones” logo.
Top Republicans in Congress saw vindication, too.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it was time to move on from Democrats’ effort to “vilify a political opponent.” The California lawmaker said the report failed to deliver the “imaginary evidence” incriminating Trump that Democrats had sought.
But Democrats cried foul over Barr’s preemptive press conference and said the report revealed troubling details about Trump’s conduct in the White House.
“Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
He sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23” and said he’d be issuing a subpoena for the full special counsel report and the underlying materials. Barr said he wouldn’t object to Mueller testifying.
Trump himself was never questioned in person, but the report’s appendix includes 12 pages of his written responses to queries from Mueller’s team.
Mueller deemed Trump’s written answers — rife with iterations of “I don’t recall” — to be “inadequate.” The team considered issuing a subpoena to force the president to appear in person, but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle.
In his written answers, Trump said his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and that he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.
But Mueller said that within five hours of Trump’s comment, Russian military intelligence officers targeted email accounts connected to Clinton’s office.
Mueller evaluated 10 episodes for possible obstruction of justice, and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. The episodes included Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.
The president’s lawyers have said Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller’s team deemed the episodes deserving of scrutiny for potential criminal acts.
As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
Workers at a Russian troll farm contacted Trump’s campaign, claiming to be political activists for conservative grassroots organizations, and asked for signs and other campaign materials to use at rallies. While volunteers provided some of those materials — and set aside a number of signs — investigators don’t believe any Trump campaign officials knew the requests were coming from foreign nationals, Mueller wrote.
Mueller also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge any campaign official with working as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia or violating federal campaign finance laws.
Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, stressed that Mueller didn’t think the president’s obligations to run the executive branch entitled him to absolute immunity from prosecution. But to find that the president obstructed justice, he said, Mueller would have needed much clearer evidence that the president acted solely with “corrupt intent.”
“The evidence was sort of muddled,” Blackman said, adding that the president’s actions had multiple motivations.
Trump’s written responses addressed no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Trump’s legal team.
He told Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning in advance about the much-scrutinized Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made “complimentary statements” about him.
It wasn’t just Trump under the microscope. But Mueller wrote that he believed prosecutors would be unlikely to meet the burden of proof to show that Donald Trump Jr. and other participants in the Trump Tower meeting “had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful.” Nor did Mueller’s probe develop evidence that they knew that foreign contributions to campaigns were illegal or other particulars of federal law.
Barr’s contention that the report contained only “limited redactions” applied more to the obstruction of justice section than its look at Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.
Nearly two-thirds of the Russia section —135 pages out of 199— had some form of color-coded redaction. Blocked sections appeared on 22 of 182 pages in the obstruction section, and even showed up in the report’s table of contents. Barr had said that he would redact grand jury information and material related to ongoing investigation, privacy and intelligence.
Mueller: Special Counsel Probe Did Not Exonerate Trump
WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller said Wednesday he was legally barred from charging President Donald Trump with a crime but pointedly emphasized that his Russia report did not exonerate the president. If he could have cleared Trump of obstruction of justice he “would have said so,” Mueller declared.
The special counsel’s remarks, his first in public since being tasked two years ago with investigating Russian interference to help Trump win the 2016 presidential election, stood as a strong rebuttal to Trump’s repeated claims that he was exonerated and that the inquiry was merely a “witch hunt.” They also marked a clear defense to criticism, including by Attorney General William Barr, that he should have reached a determination on whether the president illegally tried to obstruct the probe by taking actions such as firing his FBI director.
Mueller made clear he believed he was restrained from indicting a sitting president — such an action was “not an option.” He did not use the word ‘impeachment” but said it was Congress’ job to hold the president accountable for any wrongdoing.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not however make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
Mueller’s statement largely echoed the central points of his 448-page report released by the Justice Department last month with some redactions. But his remarks, delivered at the department, were nonetheless extraordinary given that he had never before discussed or characterized his findings and had stayed mute during two years of feverish public speculation.
Mueller, a former FBI director, said his work was complete and he was resigning to return to private life.
Under pressure to testify before Congress, he did not rule it out. But he seemed to warn lawmakers that they would not be pulling more detail out of him. His report is “my testimony,” he said, and he won’t go beyond what is written in it.
Trump, who has repeatedly and falsely claimed that Mueller’s report cleared him of obstruction of justice, modified that contention somewhat shortly after the special counsel’s remarks. He tweeted, “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed!”
His personal attorney, Jay Sekulow, said that Mueller’s announcement “puts a period on a two-year investigation that produced no findings of collusion or obstruction by the president.”
Mueller’s comments, one month after the public release of his report on Russian efforts to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton, appeared intended to both justify the legitimacy of his investigation against complaints by the president and to explain his decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump had obstructed justice.
Indicting Trump, he said firmly, was “not an option” in light of a Justice Department legal opinion that says a sitting president cannot be charged. But, he said, the absence of a conclusion should not be mistaken for exoneration.
“The opinion says the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said, referring to the Justice Department legal opinion. That would shift the next move, if any, to Congress, and the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which would investigate further or begin any impeachment effort, commented quickly.
New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler said it falls to Congress to respond to the “crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump – and we will do so.”
On the other hand, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that Mueller “has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead.”
Trump has blocked House committees’ subpoenas and other efforts to dig into the Trump-Russia issue, insisting Mueller’s report has settled everything.
That report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to tip the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor. But it also did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice.
Barr has said he was surprised Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had criminally obstructed justice, though Mueller in his report and again in his public statement Wednesday said that he had no choice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided on their own that the evidence was not sufficient to support an obstruction charge against Trump.
Barr, who is currently in Alaska for work and was briefed ahead of time on Mueller’s statement, has said he asked Mueller if he would have recommended charging Trump “but for” the legal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, and that Mueller said “no.”
“Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office,” Mueller said. “That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view that, too, is prohibited.”
Mueller, for his part, complained privately to Barr that he believed a four-page letter from the attorney general summarizing the report’s main conclusions did not adequately represent his findings. Barr has said he considered Mueller’s criticism to be a bit “snitty.”
Read the full redacted Mueller report below:
Search Warrants Tied To Former Trump Lawyer Cohen Released
WASHINGTON (AP) — Five search warrants have been made public in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer.
The warrants are in response to requests from news organizations.
The documents reveal the wide-ranging scope of Mueller’s investigation and early concerns about possible financial connections to Russia.
The documents show how investigators zeroed in on bank accounts for a company Cohen formed and used to make hush-money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels, who has said she had a sexual relationship with Trump. Trump denies it.
Cohen says he made that payment at Trump’s behest.
Prosecutors appeared particularly interested in payments to the account that had connections to Russia.
Cohen recently began a three-year prison sentence on charges including lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.
Read the just-released search warrants below:
Mueller’s House Testimony Likely Off Until At Least June
House Democrats are backing away from plans to hold a blockbuster hearing this month with Robert Mueller after talks stalled out with the special counsel and his representatives.
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and a senior Democratic committee aide told POLITICO on Friday that there’s no Mueller hearing planned for next week, though that could also change at a moment’s notice if the special counsel said he’s ready to testify.
“I would assume not,” Nadler replied when asked whether Mueller would be appearing before the upcoming Memorial Day recess, which starts next Friday.
A Judiciary staffer later added, “Mueller could always call us and say, ‘The heck with it, I want to come in Wednesday,’ and we would make time. But at the moment, no Mueller planned for next week.”
But the prospect of a Mueller hearing before Nadler’s Judiciary panel, or a separate hearing with the House Intelligence Committee, has been stuck in limbo ever since a broader fight between Democrats and the Trump administration over access to documents and testimony tied to the special counsel’s Russia investigation.
President Donald Trump earlier this month wrote on Twitter that Mueller “should not testify” and his administration has invoked or threatened to invoke executive privilege on a range of outstanding congressional requests, including for access to a full unredacted version of the special counsel’s report and its underlying evidence.
In an interview Thursday with The Wall Street Journal, Attorney General William Barr said it’s up to Mueller to decide whether to appear before lawmakers. “It’s Bob’s call whether he wants to testify,” said Barr, who Nadler’s Judiciary Committee earlier this month voted to hold in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over a copy of the full Mueller report.
So far, Democrats and Mueller have yet to reach an agreement on the details or timing for a hearing with the special counsel. Peter Carr, a Mueller spokesman, declined comment when asked Friday about the special counsel making a public appearance before lawmakers.
Mueller remains a government employee and still has a small staff assisting him with closing down his office, Carr has confirmed. But Carr also had no further explanation for the discrepancy from an earlier comment he gave reporters in mid-March, upon the announcement that the Russia probe was over, that Mueller planned in the “coming days” to leave the Justice Department.
Congressional hearings with Mueller are expected to cover a wide range of topics, from his conclusion that he found no evidence that anyone from the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election to his decision to not charge the president with obstruction of justice.
Republicans eyeing a Mueller hearing see it as a chance to press the special counsel on the underlying motivations for the investigation and his reliance on FBI agents who shared anti-Trump text messages. Democrats, meantime, have signaled interest in pressing Mueller to see whether there’s any additional daylight between him and Barr, whom the special counsel criticized in writing for failing to “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the Russia investigation during its public rollout.
(Reporting by POLITICO)
Murder Trial1 month ago
Parents of Caliyah McNabb Found Guilty, Sentenced In 14-Day-Old Daughter’s Murder
Murder Trial2 months ago
Jurors Visit Crime Scene Of Caliyah McNabb, After Chilling Testimony From Medical Examiner On Caliyah’s Death
Murder Trial2 months ago
Murder Trial of Mother and Father In Death Of Their Child, 15-Day-Old Caliyah McNabb Begins
Execution Alert1 month ago
Tennessee and Alabama Death Row Inmates Will Be Put To Death This Evening Within One Hour Of Each Other
Terrorism2 months ago
359 Killed, 500+ Injured In Multiple Suicide Bombing Terror Attacks in Sri Lanka [LIVE]
Execution Alert1 month ago
Alabama Death Row Inmate Executed For Helping Commit A Quadruple Murder
Breaking Now2 months ago
Emergency Services Responding To ‘Incident’ In Christchurch, New Zealand
Execution Alert1 month ago
Tennessee Death Row Inmate Executed For Murdering His Wife