Special counsel Robert Mueller in his report released Thursday identified 10 separate instances in which President Donald Trump acted to stymie the investigation into him or his ties to Russia. Mueller’s office declined to label these instances obstruction of justice because of longstanding Justice Department guidelines against indicting a sitting president, but the report did not clear him of those allegations, either.
Mueller’s report further explains that his investigative mandate did not require him to decide whether those instances constitute criminal activity, and the report laid out why that question should be resolved by another authority, such as Congress.
The full, redacted text of the report illuminates Attorney General William Barr’s limber manipulations of what Mueller actually found.
The Mueller team explicitly rejected the very concept of “collusion” throughout its work, for example, because that media-friendly term is meaningless in U.S. criminal law. Mueller looked for criminal conspiracy instead, and found that the evidence fell short of that measure.
Barr nonetheless parroted the president’s favorite phrase and falsely attributed to Mueller a firm conclusion that there’d been “no collusion.” Barr repeated it at least four times in his Thursday press conference ahead of the redacted report’s release.
Though Barr and the president’s communications team have been hard at work spinning Mueller’s findings as a wholesale vindication of Trump’s conduct, the two-year investigation’s 2,800 subpoenas and 500 witness interviews in fact produced a record of 10 separate obstructive acts Trump committed in just over 24 months in office. Far from establishing a case against prosecuting the president for obstruction, Mueller’s report lays out his belief that the president is entitled to a fair trial like anyone else — and that even a sealed indictment would deprive Trump that right.
Taken together, Mueller’s laying out of the obstruction evidence and his rationale for punting the question of whether these were crimes to other authorities may be an invitation to Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings — the only legal mechanism available to give a sitting president a fair trial.
The special counsel added in a footnote that a president can be indicted and tried criminally after he leaves office.
If Mueller’s team had found solid reasons to decide any of these actions by the president were definitely not crimes, he wrote, “we would so state.” Instead, the facts they uncovered “prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred” in any of the 10 instances under scrutiny for obstruction.
Here, in plain English, are those 10 acts the president committed.
Trump directly asked the FBI to let ‘good guy’ Flynn get away with crimes
Trump made a direct request for then-FBI Director James Comey to let Michael Flynn, at the time his national security adviser, off the hook for lying about his double-dealing work on behalf of Russian interests while in Trump’s service. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” the president told Comey on Valentines Day 2017. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Trump fired the FBI director and said he did it to sabotage the investigation
Trump “decided to fire Comey before hearing from the Department of Justice” about whether the then-FBI leader should be terminated, Mueller’s report says. Investigators also determined the president personally inserted claims about the Mueller investigation’s scope into the letter announcing Comey’s termination, and that those claims be presented as having come from Comey himself. Trump also told Russian officials subsequently that he viewed the Comey firing as a release of the Mueller investigation’s “great pressure,” the report says.
Trump manipulated his son’s statement about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting
A draft statement from Donald Trump Jr. pertaining to emails in which the younger Trump had enthused about a Russian offer of Clinton “dirt” was originally meant to include a direct acknowledgment of the meeting’s purpose. The president ordered the phrase excised, Mueller reports, “to prevent public disclosure of evidence.”
Trump pressured intelligence officials to interfere in the investigation
Mueller found that the president was in a panic after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, which prompted Trump to become anxious over the public perception that he had ties to Russian election interference. Trump pressured intelligence figures in his government by contacting the Director of National Intelligence and CIA leadership, among others, to ask them “to publicly dispel the suggestion” that he had any connection to the Kremlin electioneering that had benefited him. He did this despite his lawyer warning him to avoid such contact, as it could constitute an obstruction of justice.
Trump repeatedly pushed Sessions to yank Mueller’s chain
Trump engaged in obstructive behavior, Mueller found, when he worked to prevent or reverse Sessions’ recusal from matters involving Russian influence-peddling through Trump campaign associates. The president tried to stop the recusal before it happened. He then “took Sessions aside at an event days later to urge him to ‘unrecuse’.” Several months later, “the President called Sessions at home and again asked him to reverse his recusal.”
In October 2017 he tried a different ploy, this time asking Sessions to open a Clinton investigation that might have taken attention off Trump’s own people. And again in December of that year, Trump summoned Sessions to the Oval Office to cajole him with the prospect that “he would be a ‘hero’” if he un-recused himself, Mueller’s team wrote. Trump had also told Sessions to intervene and direct the special counsel to only investigate future instances of Russian election meddling, not the 2016 election.
Trump tried to thwart Manafort’s cooperation with the Mueller investigation
Mueller found that Trump and his lawyers sought to influence Paul Manafort by alluding to a possible presidential pardon, though he did not use the term directly, according to one of his lawyers. Trump himself repeatedly made it clear through public statements that he did not think Manafort would “flip” on him, and that a presidential pardon couldn’t be ruled out. Accordingly, Manafort told his associate Rick Gates it would be stupid to plead, and that they would be “taken care of” by the White House.
Trump instructed White House counsel to fire Mueller…
Days after it was reported Mueller’s team was looking into potential obstruction cases, Trump phoned White House counsel Don McGahn and ordered Mueller’s termination. McGahn refused, telling associates that he planned to resign if he was compelled to follow through with Trump’s request.
…then told the lawyer to lie about it
After the New York Times reported about the president instructing McGahn to push Mueller out, Trump summoned McGahn for another meeting and instructed him to publicly deny the Times report. McGahn refused, stating that the report was accurate.
Trump instructed Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions: Curb Mueller
After McGahn refused to follow through with Trump’s request to fire Mueller, the president sought the help of former aide Corey Lewandowski. He told his former campaign manager to deliver a message to Sessions instructing him to ignore his recusal from matters pertaining to Russia and to narrow the parameters of the special counsel’s investigation to only focus on future instances of election interference.
Trump influenced Cohen’s testimony on the Moscow project
The first time the president’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen was asked to testify before Congress, he and his lawyers were in constant communication with the president’s personal attorneys, who insisted Cohen stick to the “party line,” which would include denying that Trump had any knowledge or involvement in a major real estate deal in Moscow. Cohen repeated the lie to the Washington Post. Cohen was told not to contradict the president during his testimony, and he discussed a possible presidential pardon with Trump’s personal attorney in exchange for staying on message. Mueller could not establish that Trump explicitly directed Cohen to lie, nor could he determine whether the president knew what was discussed when Cohen spoke to the president’s attorneys about his false statements to Congress.
Cohen, who was once deputy national finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, testified before Congress again and recanted, admitting that efforts to pursue Trump Tower Moscow continued late into the campaign.