From Trump Tower to WikiLeaks, the Mueller report offers window into Trump campaign, presidency

Michael Collins

WASHINGTON – Special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between the Russians and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, but the 448-page report outlining the results of his nearly two-year investigation is chock full of interesting tidbits.

The Mueller report, which Attorney General William Barr made public on Tuesday, offers enticing behind-the-scenes details about some of the more notable events of Trump’s campaign and the early days of his presidency.

It was a joke, people!

At a news conference in July 2016, Trump encouraged Russia to hack into Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s personal emails. "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said.

But Trump told Mueller he was joking. Trump said he made the statement “in jest and sarcastically” and said it should have been apparent to “any objective observer.”

Trump also told the special counsel that he had not been informed during the campaign of any efforts by Russia to infiltrate or hack Clinton’s emails.

But it turns out the Russians were listening.

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, according to the report.

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

Attorney General William Barr alongside acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein at the Justice Department on April 18, 2019.

Trump Tower meeting

A now-famous meeting between three senior members of Trump’s presidential campaign and a small group of Russians at Trump Tower in June 2016 fueled suspicions the Russians meddled in the presidential election.

Yet some key questions have remained unanswered: What did Trump know about the meeting? And when did he know it?

Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., agreed to the meeting after Hollywood publicist Rob Goldstone sent him an attention-grabbing email claiming that “the Crown Prosecutor of Russia” had information to share that would incriminate Clinton “and her dealings with Russia.”

“If it’s what you say, I love it,” Trump Jr. wrote back immediately.

But the meeting was a bust: The Russian lawyer offered just vague remarks about Russian fund-raising for Democrats and, after a few minutes, switched gears and started talking about U.S.-Russian adoption policies.

So what did Trump know? Not much, he says.

Trump told the special counsel’s office in writing that he had “no recollection” of learning about the meeting in advance. Nor did he recall knowing during the campaign that the meeting had taken place or that Trump Jr. had been in contact with Goldstone or the Russian pop star who's outreach to Goldstone was the impetus for the gathering.

Trump said he didn't even recall where he was that day, although he conceded that his calendar put him in New York City.

More: Rob Goldstone, publicist behind Trump Tower meeting with Russians, describes 'devastating' personal toll in new book

'It said too much'

Trump may not have known about the Trump Tower meeting in advance, but he eventually did find out about it and try to put his spin on what happened.

The Mueller report confirms news accounts that Trump personally dictated a misleading statement about what went on in the meeting.

On July 7, 2017, about six months into his presidency, Trump was in Hamburg, Germany, for the G-20 summit when his aides learned The New York Times was working on an article about the meeting.

The next day, on the flight home, Trump's communications director Hope Hicks gave the president a draft statement that was to be released by Trump Jr., which acknowledged the meeting came about because of the possibility the Russians might have information valuable to the Trump’s campaign.

The president, however, "directed that the statement not be issued because it said too much,” the Mueller report says. “The president told Hicks to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption.”

The final statement issued to the Times described the meeting as “a short introductory meeting” and said the participants “primarily” discussed the adoption of Russian children. It made no mention that the presidential campaign had been discussed or that the Russians had managed to get the meeting by offering to divulge dirt on Clinton.

More: Donald Trump reacts to Mueller report: 'It’s called no collusion, no obstruction'

Comey and 'what really happened'

Two days after he fired FBI director James Comey, Trump gave an interview to NBC in which he contradicted his previous statements and those of his staff on the reasons for Comey’s dismissal.

The day of the firing, the White House claimed that Comey’s termination resulted from the recommendations of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his deputy over Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

But Trump had in fact decided to fire Comey before hearing from the Department of Justice, the Mueller report confirms.

Not happy with how his aides were spinning the story, Trump decided to give an interview to NBC’s Lester Holt, telling the White House counsel’s office in advance that “the communications team could not get the story right” and that he was going to tell Holt “what really happened,” according to the Mueller report.

Trump told Holt he decided to fire Comey in part because “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

More: Mueller report documents links between Trump campaign and Russia, steps to thwart inquiry; finds no conspiracy

WikiLeaks blames a dead man

There's no one better to take the fall than a dead man, right?

After it released a trove of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta in 2016, WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange tried to place the blame on Seth Rich, a young DNC staffer who had been murdered just a few weeks earlier.

Rich, 27, was shot to death July 10, 2016, in what Washington, D.C. police say was a random robbery attempt. But conspiracy theorists have tried to tie him to the release of thousands of DNC emails that hobbled Hillary Clinton's campaign for president.

Assange and WikiLeaks made a number of statements that falsely implied Rich had been the source of the stolen emails, according to the Mueller report. WikiLeaks even offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Rich’s killer.

Asked in an interview why he was so interested in finding Rich’s killer, Assange said, “We’re very interested in anything that might be a threat to alleged WikiLeaks sources.”

But the Mueller report outlines what it says was an elaborate  effort by the Russians to obtain the emails and says that the special counsel’s investigation discredited WikiLeaks' claims regarding the source of the stolen materials.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: From Trump Tower to WikiLeaks, the Mueller report offers window into Trump campaign, presidency