Trump's attorney general may refuse to attend congressional hearing on Mueller report, officials says
The release of the 400-page, redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling and possible links to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is one of the most eagerly-awaited events of his first term.
Following the release of attorney general William Barr’s summary of the report last month, many have been waiting for a more detailed look at Mr Mueller’s findings.
There have been particular questions still lingering over the issue of possible obstruction of justice by Mr Trump since the release of that summary.
Here are the key points in the report, which has been split into two volumes.
The first section covered the issue of Russian election interference and the second deals with the evidence surrounding possible obstruction.
The instances of possible obstruction by the president
Mr Mueller’s report makes clear that he did not feel able to pass a traditional legal judgement on whether Mr Trump obstructed justice, but the report “does not exonerate him” with a number of episodes of possible obstruction examined. There were at least 10 such episodes, such of which will be explained in greater detail later in this article. They include:
- The Trump campaign’s response to reports about Russian support for the would-be president
- Conduct involving FBI Director James Comey, who initially led the Russia investigation until Mr Trump fired him in May 2017, and former White House national security advisor Michael Flynn
- Mr Trump’s reaction to the Russia investigation as it was taking place – including angry tweets deriding the investigation
- The president’s termination of Mr Comey
- The appointment of Mr Mueller special counsel and efforts to remove him. This includes attempts to have White House lawyer Don McGahn deny that Mr Trump ordered him to have Mr Mueller removed
- Efforts to curtail Mr Mueller’s investigation
- Efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence that could prove useful to the investigation
- Further efforts to have the attorney general take control of the Russia investigation
- Conduct towards Mr Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and another redacted individual
- Conduct involving Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen
Mr Mueller’s says at the start of the report: “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there no evidence of the facts.”
Mr Barr and attorney general Rod Rosenstein have decided that none of this evidence passes the threshold required to bring a criminal case.
The investigation team involved dozens of investigators and lawyers
At its height, the investigation had 19 attorneys, five from private practice, and 14 from the Department of Justice. There was also a number of other lawyers used to shift possible evidence. There were also three paralegal staff, nine administrative staff and more than 40 other FBI workers. There were 500 witnesses, 80 of whom were out in front of a grand jury.
Trump thought he was “f*****” after Mr Mueller was appointed
The president did not react too kindly to Mr Mueller being given the job as special counsel by Mr Rosenstein. The president is said to have “slumped back in his chair and said: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f*****.”
Trump’s campaign ‘expected’ help from Russia but nobody conspired
The report concludes that Russia definitely interfered in the 2016 election, but there was no conspiring between those on Trump’s team and people connected to Russia – despite a number of “links” between individuals.
Here is what the report says: “[T]he 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 was slowed by messages being deleted, including by Trump campaign officials
As well as numerous guilty pleas from a number of people over lies told to Congress and the FBI during the Muller investigation, the report also registers the seeming frustration of the Mueller team that a number of potentially useful communications were deleted by those investigated. This included some people in the Trump campaign.
“Some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated – including some associated with the Trump campaign – deleted relevant communications or communicated… using applications that feature encryption,” the report says.
Mueller chose not to subpoena Trump
The report states that the written responses by the president to questions from investigators were “inadequate”, including that possible questions over obstruction of justice being left unanswered.
However Mr Mueller said that due to the “late stage” of the investigation at the time, calling the president for testimony would cause a “substantial delay” and therefore one would not be issued.
Trump’s attempts to fire Mr Mueller and influence Jeff Sessions were stopped
Mr Mueller reports that aides and advisors in the White House refused to “carry out orders” from the president, preventing him from influencing the special counsel’s investigation through their own efforts.
“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,” the report says.
White House counsel Don McGahn received a phone call at home from Mr Trump on 17 June, 2017 directing him to call Mr Rosenstein and tell him Mr Mueller “had conflicts of interest and must be removed.” Mr McGahn is said to have refused and responded he would “rather resign”.
In another section, a message from Mr Trump to then-attorney Jeff Sessions about limiting the special counsel’s investigation to “future election interference” was not passed on as the White House official involved, Rick Dearborn “was uncomfortable with the task”.
Mueller decided not to prosecute Trump Jr or Jared Kushner over Trump Tower meeting
Mr Mueller decided that prosecuting either Donald Trump Jr, or White House advisor, and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner over actions in accepting and attending a meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower with a Russian national who promised damaging information about election rival Hillary Clinton.
Investigators could not prove Trump Jr or the other campaign officials at the meeting “willfully” violated the law.
The other Trump official at the meeting was campaign chair Paul Manafort, who agreed to meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The special counsel concluded that prosecuting the campaign officials present for campaign-finance violations would be too difficult to pursue.
Mueller has left door open for Congress to investigate
As part of the special counsel’s constitutional justification for its own investigation, it also points out that Congress can also apply obstruction laws in investigating and impeaching a sitting president.
“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 report states.