Attorney General William Barr on Thursday released a moderately redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, a detailed look at the investigation into Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether President Trump’s campaign was involved. The 448-page document matched much of the reporting that’s been done over the last two years on Trump associates’ contacts with Russians.
Below are some key takeaways from the report, from Trump’s initial reaction to Mueller’s appointment to lies in the White House Briefing Room.
After calling the investigation into his ties with Russia a “witch hunt” from the start, Trump was not pleased when Mueller, a former FBI director appointed by President George W. Bush, was selected as the special counsel. That appointment came in the aftermath of Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
“Oh my God. This is terrible,” Trump told then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Sessions’s chief of staff, Jody Hunt, when he learned about Mueller’s appointment. “This is the end of my Presidency. I'm f****ed.”
The account was contained in a chapter of the redacted report titled “The Appointment of the Special Counsel and the President’s Reaction.”
The account reads:
“According to notes written by Hunt, when Sessions told the President that a Special Counsel had been appointed, the President slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I'm f***ed.’” (The expletive is spelled out in the report.)
“The President became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse from the investigation, stating, ‘How could you let this happen, Jeff?’
“Sessions recalled that the President said to him, ‘You were supposed to protect me,’ or words to that effect.
“The President returned to the consequences of the appointment and said, ‘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.’"
The search for Clinton’s emails
During the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Trump publicly called for Russian hackers to find 30,000 of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails, saying, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Trump later said those comments were a joke, but the special counsel’s report found he took more serious steps.
“Throughout 2016, the Trump Campaign expressed interest in Hillary Clinton's private email server and whether approximately 30,000 emails from that server had in fact been permanently destroyed, as reported by the media,” the report found.
It further states: “Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.” While the investigators did not find coordination between Russians and Trump officials in finding the emails, or any evidence of success in uncovering them, the report concludes some of those efforts “were pursued to some degree.”
On orders from Trump, campaign staffer and eventual national security adviser Michael Flynn tasked multiple people with carrying out Trump’s wishes, including Barbara Ledeen, wife of former government-security consultant and prominent neoconservative Michael Ledeen, as well as investment adviser and Republican activist Peter Smith.
Sanders admits to lying about Comey firing
The report released Thursday also revealed that White House press secretary Sarah Sanders admitted to lying following Comey’s firing. At a May 2017 White House briefing, Sanders said the White House had heard from “countless” FBI agents who said they had lost confidence in Comey. Those claims were questioned immediately, but Sanders confirmed she had personally heard from FBI agents disappointed in Comey. In interviews with investigators, Sanders acknowledged that her comments were “not founded on anything."
Regarding Comey’s firing, the report found, “Substantial evidence indicates that the catalyst for the president’s decision to fire Comey was Comey’s unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the president’s repeated requests that Comey make such an announcement.”
The investigation began with Papadopoulos
Actually, this was common knowledge, but it could come as a surprise to Trump supporters who get their information from his speeches or Trump-friendly news sources.
For two years, Trump and his defenders have claimed that the investigation of his campaign was prompted by the “fake dossier” (also sometimes called by him the “phony dossier”) compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele. The report, which was leaked to the media after the election, first brought to widespread public attention allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence. It was one of Trump’s key talking points in making the case that the investigation was a “witch hunt,” set in motion by Democrats angry over losing the election.
The third paragraph of the report, without mentioning the dossier specifically, demolishes this argument:
“In late July 2016, soon after WikiLeaks's first release of stolen documents, a foreign government contacted the FBI about a May 2016 encounter with Trump Campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos had suggested to a representative of that foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. That information prompted the FBI on July 31, 2016, to open an investigation into whether individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities.”
Don Jr. under scrutiny
The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., was an active member of the Trump campaign. He was critical in setting up a summer 2016 Trump Tower meeting with an agent of the Russian government who was promising incriminating material on Clinton and her campaign. However, Mueller felt it would be difficult to prove that Trump Jr. knew what he was doing, which would make a prosecution difficult.
“Taking into account the high burden to establish a culpable mental state in a campaign-finance prosecution and the difficulty in establishing the required valuation, the Office decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges against Trump Jr. or other campaign officials for the events culminating in the June 9 meeting,” the report read.
The report also found that in the summer of 2017, the president tried on at least three occasions to block the release of emails related to the Trump Tower meeting. The report also revealed for the first time that Ivanka Trump may have been aware of the meeting, which was attended by her brother, husband Jared Kushner and Trump campaign chairman/convicted felon Paul Manafort.
McGahn stepped down over ‘crazy s***’
White House counsel Don McGahn exited his post after the president asked him to do what McGahn referred to as “crazy s***,” which included orders to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that “Mueller has to go.”
"McGahn spoke with the President twice and understood the directive the same way both times, making it unlikely that he misheard or misinterpreted the President’s request,” read the report. “In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit. He called his lawyer, drove to the White House, packed up his office, prepared to submit a resignation letter with his chief of staff, [and] told [then-White House chief of staff Reince] Priebus that the President had asked him to 'do crazy s***.’”
The report also notes that Trump considered firing McGahn for not denying that there had been any attempts to terminate Mueller, stating “substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the special counsel terminated, the president acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the president’s conduct towards the investigation.”
There are multiple instances in the report of Trump ordering members of his administration to take actions that would interfere with the probe — and potentially commit obstruction — and those aides ignoring him. Per the report, “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.”
In all, Mueller and his team cited 10 episodes for potential obstruction but did not file charges.
Barr’s letter understated Russia findings
On March 24, Barr released a letter summarizing Mueller’s findings. In it, he quoted the report as saying that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” While the special counsel’s report contains that language, Barr omitted telling lines that preceded it. In full, the section reads:
“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.”
More coverage of the Mueller report from Yahoo News: