Trump thought Mueller would 'end' his presidency and other takeaways from the Mueller report

Christal Hayes and William Cummings

WASHINGTON – For the first time, the public got its chance Thursday to see what special counsel Robert Mueller found after nearly two years of investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and its potential connections to President Donald Trump's campaign. 

While parts of the 448-page report, which was divided into two volumes, were redacted due to grand jury information and information that could affect other probes that stemmed from Mueller's investigation, it presented an outline of how Russia "interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion." 

Although the report says investigators "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government, it identified "numerous links" between them. 

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The second portion of the report dealt with whether the president attempted to obstruct the investigation, listing out evidence and behind-the-scenes conversations that offered a look into Trump's efforts to derail the probe. 

Here is a look at some of the most noteworthy sections from the exhaustive work by Mueller's team: 

No obstruction because aides refused Trump's orders

Mueller laid out evidence in support of and against charges that Trump attempted to obstruct justice. The report explained the president's intent was at the heart of the issue. 

"Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations," the report said. But it said those efforts "were mostly unsuccessful ... largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."

Mueller said he relied on several factors in weighing potential obstruction charges. Obstruction typically relies on someone altering or destroying evidence or impairing an investigation, or urging someone else to do those things. Such cases rely on evidence that the defendant was conscious of wrongdoing. 

He noted that "based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach" a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," he wrote.

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No Russian conspiracy but campaign expected to 'benefit'

Mueller's team did not find evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the report says in its introduction that "the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." 

It noted the various contacts Trump aides had with officials tied to the Kremlin, including the notorious meeting in Trump Tower between members Trump's inner circle and a Russian lawyer before the election. 

The investigation "established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer," the report notes. 

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Read it: Special counsel Robert Mueller's 448-page report 

'This is the end of my presidency'

After Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation, Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel and tasked with overseeing the investigation.

The president, who repeatedly urged Sessions to not recuse himself, was not pleased.

“Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f-----,” Trump said, according to written notes from Sessions’ chief of staff, Jody Hunt.

Mueller found Trump's answers 'inadequate'

In his written answers to Mueller's questions, Trump said more than 30 times that he did not "recall" or "remember" or have an "independent recollection" of events. Other answers, Mueller said, were "incomplete or imprecise."

Mueller expressed frustration with "inadequate" written answers and considered whether to subpoena the president. But he decided the "investigation had made significant progress" and that he had enough evidence from other sources to determine the credibility of Trump's answers.

Mueller ultimately concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a conspiracy charge, despite the vast number of interactions between Trump associates and Russia, leaving unanswered questions that are likely to linger. Even the special counsel’s exoneration may not be enough to dissolve the suspicion of a Russia connection that has shadowed the Trump administration since its first days.

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Trump said 'Russia, if you're listening' was a joke

Trump told Mueller that his "Russia if you're listening" comment in July 2016 – in which he asked Russia to hack into Clinton's emails to find the 30,000 that were missing from her home server – was made "in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer."

Trump said he had no idea Russia was actually trying to do just that. But, according to the report, within about five hours of Trump's request Russian military intelligence agents "targeted Clinton's personal office for the first time" and "sent malicious links targeting 15 email accounts," including one belonging to a Clinton aide whose name was redacted. 

And the report said that after his "Russia, if you're listening" comment, "Trump asked officials affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails." Michael Flynn "recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails."

The investigations aren't over

The work that Mueller started is not over. An appendix to the report lists cases that will continue even after Mueller has wrapped up his work: 11 of his cases have been transferred since the bulk of Mueller's work was completed and another 14 were referred to other court districts for investigation.

Most of those 14 cases were redacted from the report and remain a secret. 

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Trump Tower meeting crime too tough to prove

The special counsel’s office considered bringing charges against Trump campaign officials based on federal campaign finance laws in connection with a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Trump campaign officials – including Donald Trump Jr. – and Russians offering "dirt" on Clinton.

"There are reasonable arguments that the offered information would constitute a 'thing of value’," as defined by federal law, the report states. That weighed whether that could be considered a conspiracy to violate the foreign contributions ban or an attempt to solicit an illegal foreign contribution.

But Mueller's team determined they didn't have enough evidence to meet the high burden of proof in such crimes and that it would be difficult to prove that the individuals acted "willfully." Also, Mueller's team concluded it would have a hard time proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the value of the promised information exceeded the threshold for a criminal violation.

Clearing up how it all began

Trump and many of his supporters in the media suggested the investigation into a possible conspiracy was born out of the dossier compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele.

But Mueller's report says it began on July 31, 2016 after "a foreign government contacted the FBI" about statements from George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos said Russians had offered to help the campaign by releasing "information damaging" to Trump's Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, the report says. 

No one 'is so high that he is above the law'

Although the president's attorneys argued that Trump should not be investigated for potential obstruction of justice, Mueller's team concluded it "had a valid basis" for such an investigation based on Supreme Court precedent. It also said "the application of the obstruction statutes would not impermissibly burden the President's performance of his Article II function to supervise prosecutorial conduct or to remove inferior law-enforcement officers."

The report continued, saying, "The protection of the criminal justice system from corrupt acts by any person – including the President – accords with the fundamental principle of our government that '[n]o [person] in this country is so high that he is above the law.'"

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Contributing: Gregory Korte, Ledyard King, Brad Heath, Kevin Johnson, Kristine Phillips, Deirdre Shesgreen, John Kelly, Kevin McCoy, Stephen Reilly and Bart Jansen.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump thought Mueller would 'end' his presidency and other takeaways from the Mueller report