What the Mueller report on the Russia investigation says about Vice President Mike Pence

Maureen Groppe

WASHINGTON – The long-awaited report from special counsel Robert Mueller provides new details from former national security adviser Michael Flynn about his lies to Vice President Mike Pence.

Flynn also lied to President Donald Trump about lying to Pence.

Confronted by the president on Air Force One about whether he falsely described to Pence his conversation with Russia's ambassador, Flynn told Trump that he may have forgotten details of his calls, but he did not think he lied, according to the report.

"The President responded, 'Okay, That's fine. I got it,'" according to Flynn's testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller.

Pence was not asked by Mueller's team for an interview but provided documents, according to a White House official.

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Flynn's testimony is part of the report's expanded version of the previously known actions that led to Flynn's firing and Trump urging former FBI director James Comey not to go after Flynn.

Trump's pressure on Comey is one of the "key issues and events" that Mueller's team considered when investigating whether Trump tried to illegally thwart the investigation.

Mueller’s office did not conclude that Trump's actions were illegal, but also pointedly refused to clear him of wrongdoing, saying "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.”

Trump also was not interviewed by Mueller's team. Instead, he provided written answers to submitted questions.

"After two years of investigation, conducted with the full cooperation of this administration, that involved hundreds of witness interviews and millions of pages of documents, the American people can see for themselves: no collusion, no obstruction," Pence said in a statement Thursday.

Flynn was one of a half-dozen Trump aides who were charged by Mueller’s team and pleaded guilty. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents on the fourth day of the administration about communicating with Russians during the transition, when the Obama administration was technically still in charge of foreign affairs.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who also was indicted, mentioned Pence in his interview with investigators. Manafort said the campaign information he shared with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska was public information. As an example, Manafort said he shared the reasons Trump chose Pence to be his running mate.

Timeline: Pence, Flynn and the Russia investigation: A timeline of key events

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, Aug. 21, 2017

Pence has been on the periphery of the two-year investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election. 

His exposure was primarily through statements he'd made that were later contradicted.

Pence had publicly announced on Jan. 15, 2017 that Flynn assured him he had not discussed the sanctions that President Barack Obama had recently imposed on Russia before leaving office.

Authorities who had monitored communications involving foreign diplomats knew that was not the case and later notified the Trump White House.

The Justice Department was concerned that Russia now had leverage over Flynn, since they could prove he had lied. The FBI also thought Flynn's conversation with Russia's ambassador could have violated a law preventing private citizens from engaging in unauthorized correspondence with foreign governments.

When White House Counsel Donald McGahn briefed Trump on the Flynn situation on Jan. 26, 2017, he was angry. 

"Not again, this guy, this stuff," former chief of staff Reince Priebus recalled him saying.

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Pence didn't find out about the Justice Department's warnings about Flynn until the Washington Post reported Feb. 9, 2017 that Flynn had in fact discussed sanctions with the Russians.

The vice president and others then sought access to and reviewed the government's information about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador, according to the report. McGahn and Priebus recommended to Trump that he fire Flynn.

Trump confronted Flynn that weekend on the flight back to Washington from Mar-a-Lago. After Trump appeared to accept Flynn's response that he didn't think he'd lied to Pence, Priebus fired Flynn the next day.

"Priebus recalled that the President hugged Flynn, shook his hand, and said, 'We'll give you a good recommendation. You're a good guy. We'll take care of you,'"  according to the report.

In a private meeting with Comey the next day, Trump said he hoped Comey could "see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Comey testified. 

Months later, Trump fired Comey, suggesting the reason was Comey's handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton's private email server.

While it was previously reported that Pence participated in a May 8, 2017 Oval Office meeting at which Trump reviewed the draft of a letter laying out reasons for firing Comey, Pence's involvement is not mentioned in Mueller's report. 

The next day, after Trump fired Comey, Pence repeated the initial White House explanation that Comey was dismissed based on the recommendation of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

According to Mueller's report, Rosenstein was upset that his memo was being portrayed as the reason for the firing.

In any case, Trump later undercut that explanation, saying he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Justice Department's recommendation, and confirmed in a television interview the Russia investigation was indeed on his mind when he made the decision.

Pence is also briefly mentioned in the report for denying during the 2016 race that the Trump campaign was "in cahoots" with WikiLeaks in releasing emails from Hillary Clinton's campaign team.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Pence told Fox News that October.

But Mueller's report states Trump's campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’ release of damaging documents about Clinton. 

The report also appears to cast doubt on whether investigators had obtained “a complete picture” of activities during the Trump campaign, saying some campaign associates offered inadmissible information and deleted “relevant communications.” Some witnesses, the report said, communicated using phone applications that don’t retain data. 

On the central question of whether the Trump campaign engaged in a conspiracy with Russia, investigators found that a number of campaign aides and advisers engaged in contacts with people linked to the Russian regime even as the Kremlin carried out a wide-ranging effort to intervene in the election.

Pence, in a January 2017 appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation, dismissed as “bizarre rumors” the question of whether anyone in the Trump campaign had contact with Russians about the election.

"Of course not," Pence said when posed a similar question by Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday. "Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?" 

Contributing: Kevin Johnson and Bart Jansen.

Report: Read special counsel Robert Mueller's report into President Trump, Russian interference

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What the Mueller report on the Russia investigation says about Vice President Mike Pence