WASHINGTON (AP) — Public at last, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday that President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president.
Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed people around him to try to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel’s appointment in May 2017. Those efforts “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.
After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted report made for riveting reading.
In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel’s appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.”
In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.
Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation “very unfair” to the president and say that Mueller should limit his probe to “investigating election meddling for future elections.” Sessions didn’t do so.
Flash forward to Thursday, and Trump celebrated the report’s release, telling the audience at an unrelated White House event that he was having “a good day, too. It was called no collusion, no obstruction.” He also renewed his calls for an investigation into the origins of the inquiry, saying, “We do have to get to the bottom of these things, I will say.”
The Justice Department posted a redacted version of the report online, 90 minutes after Attorney General William Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings.
The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making and at the same time the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.
Democrats cried foul as Barr held a press conference just before the release — “spinning the report” in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They sent up a chorus of calls for Mueller himself to testify before Congress, and Barr said he wouldn’t object.
Moments after Barr finished speaking, House Judiciary Chairman Nadler sent a letter requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23.”
Mueller evaluated 10 episodes for possible obstruction of justice, and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. The episodes included Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.
The president’s lawyers have said Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller’s team deemed the episodes deserving of criminal scrutiny.
As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
Mueller also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge any campaign official with working as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia.
The report included an appendix that contained 12 pages of Trump’s written responses to the special counsel. They included no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Trump’s legal team.
Trump told Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning in advance about the much-scrutinized Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made “complimentary statements” about him.
Trump said that his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and that he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.
Mueller’s team wrote that Trump’s answers were “inadequate.” They considered issuing a subpoena for Trump, but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle.