Special counsel Robert Mueller outlined in the second volume of his report the investigation of President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice, laying out 11 specific instances that his team probed in their 22-month investigation.
Many of them have already been reported in the media over the past two years and will be familiar to followers of the investigation’s saga.
But the report does contain some new details about the president’s actions surrounding former FBI director James Comey’s firing, the president’s efforts to keep then Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the investigation, and his defense of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
Robert Mueller outlined in the second volume of his report the investigation of President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice
Mueller’s 448-page report was released on Thursday morning
President Donald Trump has reminded Americans in the recent days ‘no collusion, no obstruction,’ citing Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report
President Donald Trump has reminded Americans in the recent days ‘no collusion, no obstruction,’ citing Attorney General William Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report.
Before he gets into the specifics, Mueller gives the reasoning behind the obstruction probe.
He begins by acknowledging Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. But, he notes, a president ‘does not have immunity after he leaves office.’
He also points out that if people other than the president obstructed justice, ‘they may be prosecuted at this time.’
Mueller argues that the ‘strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the criminal justice system’ resulted in his team conducting a ‘thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.’
And, he notes, Congress can still prosecute Trump for obstruction.
‘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,’ he writes.
Mueller concludes by explaining they did not offer an obstruction recommendation because his team ‘determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct.’
He said the evidence about the president’s actions and intent ‘presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment.’
But, he adds: ‘At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’
Here are the 11 episodes Mueller outlined in his report:
The Campaign’s response to reports about Russian support for Trump
First, the special counsel outlined the Trump campaign’s response to reports of Russian support for the then-presidential candidate.
Specifically Mueller’s team examined the campaign’s response after WikiLeaks released a treasure trove of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.
‘After WikiLeaks released politically damaging Democratic Party emails that were reported to have been hacked by Russia, Trump publicly expressed skepticism that Russia was responsible for the hacks at the same time that he and other Campaign officials privately sought information,’ Mueller noted.
Details on the information sought were heavily redacted, citing ‘harm to an ongoing matter’ – a likely indication the situation is still be investigated by prosecutors.
Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen stands behind Trump as a group of supporters, plus vice presidential nominee Mike Pence, surround the then-presidential candidate in September 2016
The report also cited efforts by the Trump Organization to build a Trump Tower Moscow, a project former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen was working on.
‘Trump also denied having any business in or connections to Russia, even though as late as June 2016 the Trump Organization had been pursuing a licensing deal for a skyscraper to be built in Russia called Trump Tower Moscow,’ it notes.
After the Wikileaks email dump in early July 2016, the Trump campaign pushed back on suggestions it was done to help their candidate.
Then, in a July 27 2016, press conference, Trump denied having any business dealings with Russia, but Cohen told the Mueller team he spoke to the then-candidate afterward.
‘Cohen recalled speaking with Trump after the press conference about Trump’s denial of any business dealings in Russia, which Cohen regarded as untrue,’ the report states, and ‘Trump told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, “Why mention it if it is not a deal?”’
The Trump Organization, at that time, had just finished a failed pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project.
‘The Trump Organization, however, had been pursuing a building project in Moscow-the Trump Tower Moscow project from approximately September 2015 through June 2016, and the candidate was regularly updated on developments, including possible trips by Michael Cohen to Moscow to promote the deal and by Trump himself to finalize it.,’ the report stated.
Conduct involving FBI Director Comey and Michael Flynn
The Mueller team also looked at president’s conduct surrounding former FBI director James Comey and investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The controversy started when Flynn, during the presidential transition process, held two phone calls with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador to the United States, about sanctions the Obama administration imposed in response to U.S. intelligence agencies reporting Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.
‘After the press reported on Flynn’s contacts with the Russian Ambassador, Flynn lied to incoming Administration officials by saying he had not discussed sanctions on the calls,’ the report notes, adding he also lied to FBI agents about the calls.
On January 26, 2017, the administration was briefed by acting Attorney General Sally Yates that Flynn had lied to officials about his calls – including Vice President Mike Pence, who in return repeated that lie in public. She also disclosed Flynn had been interviewed at the White House by FBI agents.
The Mueller team also looked at president’s conduct surrounding former FBI director James Comey (left) and investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (right)
On January 27, the president invited Comey to dinner.
Then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told Mueller’s team that before the dinner, he told ‘the president something like, “don’t talk about Russia, whatever you do,” and the president promised he would not talk about Russia at the dinner.’
Additionally, then-White House counsel Don McGahn had previously advised Trump that ‘he should not communicate directly with the Department of Justice to avoid the perception or reality of political interference in law enforcement.’
And then White House counselor Steve Bannon suggested that he or Priebus also attend Trump’s dinner with Comey, ‘but the President stated that he wanted to dine with Comey alone.’
According to Corney’s account, at one point during the dinner the President stated, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.”
Corney responded: “You will always get honesty from me.”
As reports grew in the media about Flynn’s calls with Russia, he was eventually asked to leave.
‘On February 13, 2017, Priebus told Flynn he had to resign. Flynn said he wanted to say goodbye to the President, so Priebus brought him to the Oval Office. Priebus recalled that the President hugged Flynn, shook his hand, and said, “We’ll give you a good recommendation. You’re a good guy. We’ll take care of you.”‘
Michael Flynn resigned from the White House after it was revealed he lied about calls to the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition process
On February 14, 2017, Trump met in the Oval Office with Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and other officials for a homeland security briefing. When it was over Trump asked to speak to Comey alone.
According to Comey’s account, Trump told him: ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’
‘Comey testified under oath that he took the President’s statement “as a direction” because of the President’s position and the circumstances of the one-on-one meeting,’ the report notes.
The president later tried to create a statement that he did not ask Flynn to talk to Russia about sanctions.
On February 22, 2017, Priebus and Bannon told Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland that Trump wanted her to resign but they could make her the ambassador to Singapore.
The next day Trump asked Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email that would confirm he did not direct Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador about sanctions.
Priebus told Mueller’s team ‘he told the President he would only direct McFarland to write such a letter if she were comfortable with it. Priebus called McFarland into his office to convey the President’s request that she memorialize in writing that the President did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak. McFarland told Priebus she did not know whether the President had directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions’ and ‘later that evening, Priebus stopped by McFarland’s office and told her not to write the email and to forget he even mentioned.’
Trump also instructed Priebus to check in on Flynn and see how he was doing. ‘Priebus called Flynn and said that he was checking in and that Flynn was an American hero. Priebus thought the President did not want Flynn saying bad things about him,’ the report noted.
Then White House chief of staff Reince Priebus checked in on Flynn after his firing
Also revealed in this section of the report was the origin of Trump’s claim that Comey told him he was not personally under FBI investigation.
On January 6, 2017, Comey briefed the incoming president on the unverified allegations in the ‘Golden Showers’ dossier – the unverified allegation in the report by former British spy Christopher Steele ‘that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant.’
Comey told Muller’s team Trump acted ‘defensive’ when he brought it up so he wanted ‘to assure him that the FBI was not investigating him personally. Comey recalled he did not want the President-Elect to think of the conversation as a “J. Edgar Hoover move.”‘
The President’s reaction to the continuing Russia investigation
This section of Mueller’s report has to do with then Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation, a move that later brought Trump’s wrath up on.
‘In early March, the President told White House Counsel Donald McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing. And after Sessions announced his recusal on March 2, the President expressed anger at the decision and told advisors that he should have an Attorney General who would protect him,’ the report states.
Sessions recused himself because he had not disclosed in his January confirmation meeting two meetings he had with Russian Ambassador Kislyak before the presidential election.’
McGahn reached out to Sessions who told him he ‘intended to follow the rules on recusal.’
Trump was furious then Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Mueller probe
Trump told told White House Counsel Donald McGahn (above) to stop Sessions from recusing himself
‘Throughout the day, McGahn continued trying on behalf of the President to avert Sessions’s recusal by speaking to Sessions’s personal counsel, Sessions’s chief of staff, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and by contacting Sessions himself two more times,’ the report reveals.
Sessions told Mueller’s team that other White House advisors also called him that day to argue against his recusal.
The day after Sessions recused himself, then White House counselor Steve Bannon recalled that ‘the President was as mad as Bannon had ever seen him and that he screamed at McGahn about how weak Sessions was.’ Trump also questioned the previous presidents’ relationships with their attorneys general: ‘You’re telling me that Bobby and Jack didn’t talk about investigations? Or Obama didn’t tell Eric Holder who to investigate?’
Sessions traveled to Mar-a-Lago the following weekend where he said Trump pulled him aside and asked him to ‘unrecuse’ himself.
The President’s termination of Comey
Mueller’s team also examined President Trump’s firing of then-FBI director James Comey on May 9, 2017.
On May 3, 2017, Corney was scheduled to testify at an FBI oversight hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Then White House Counsel Don McGahn told Mueller’s team that in the week leading up to the hearing, Trump said that ‘it would be the last straw if Comey did not take the opportunity to set the record straight by publicly announcing that the President was not under investigation.’
Comey declined to answer questions about the Russia investigation at the hearing as it was an on-going probe.
The following weekend Trump went to his golf course in Bedminister, N.J., where he told aides he wanted to fire Comey. He ‘dictated arguments and specific language for the letter’ to fire him as White House adviser Stephen Miller took notes.
Mueller’s team also examined President Trump’s firing of then-FBI director James Comey (above)
After the president told his staff of his decision, aides convened an Oval Office meeting later in the week with Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. It was agreed Rosenstein would write a memo recommending Comey be fired.
On May 9, Trump received a letter from Sessions recommending Corney’s removal and a memorandum from Rosenstein, addressed to the Attorney General, titled ‘Restoring Public Confidence in the FBI.’
Trump liked what he read and ‘agreed that they should provide the foundation for a new cover letter from the President accepting the recommendation to terminate Comey.’
But he insisted the letter state that Comey ‘had informed the President three times that he was not under investigation.’
After Comey was fired Trump was unhappy with the press coverage and directed aides to go out and defend him. He also called Rosenstein and asked him to hold a press conference on the matter.
‘Rosenstein responded that this was not a good idea because if the press asked him, he would tell the truth that Comey’s firing was not his idea,’ the report noted.
The White House tried to argue it was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo that caused Comey to be fired
‘The White House maintained that Corney’s termination resulted from independent recommendations from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General that Corney should be discharged for mishandling the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But the President had decided to fire Corney before hearing from the Department of Justice,’ the report stated.
The report also revealed then-deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders lied to the media when she told them they had heard ‘the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.’
Sanders later told the special counsel’s office ‘her reference to hearing from “countless members of the FBI” was a “slip of the tongue.”‘
The appointment of a Special Counsel and efforts to remove him
Mueller also examined his own appointment to the special counsel job and Trump’s effort to remove him from office, including a demand from the president that then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the case, resign.
‘The President reacted to news that a Special Counsel had been appointed by telling advisors that it was “the end of his presidency” and demanding that Sessions resign. Sessions submitted his resignation, but the President ultimately did not accept it,’ the report stated.
When Sessions told Trump that ‘a Special Counsel had been appointed, the President slumped back in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’ m f***ed.” The President became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse from the investigation, stating, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”‘
Trump told Sessions he should resign and the then-attorney general submitted his resignation letter. The president ultimately did not accept his resignation.
Robert Mueller’s team examined efforts by Trump to have the special counsel removed
Trump sought other ways to get rid of Mueller: ‘The President cited as conflicts that Mueller had interviewed for the FBI Director position shortly before being appointed as Special Counsel, that he had worked for a law firm that represented people affiliated with the President, and that Mueller had disputed certain fees relating to his membership in a Trump golf course in Northern Virginia,’ the report noted.’
Ultimately Mueller’s appointment stood.
But on Saturday, June 17, 2017, Trump called then White House counsel Don McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed.
McGahn told Mueller’s team he ‘was perturbed by the call and did not intend to act on the request.’
McGahn decided to resign over fears Trump would pressure him to have Mueller removed. He decided ‘he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.’
Then White House counsel Don McGahn said he would resign rather than remove Mueller
He called both then chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House Counselor Steve Bannon and told them he was quitting.
McGahn told Priebus Trump asked him to ‘do crazy s***.’
Both urged him to stay. And while McGahnn ‘had not told the President directly that he planned to resign,’ when they next saw each other Trump did not ask him if he followed through.
Efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation
Mueller also probed the president’s attempts to curtail his investigation, including a June 19, 2017 Oval Office meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, where Trump directed Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions.
‘The message said that Sessions should publicly announce that, notwithstanding his recusal from the Russia investigation, the investigation was “very unfair” to the President, the President had done nothing wrong, and Sessions planned to meet with the Special Counsel and “let [him] move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections,” according to the report.
Trump asked former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski (above) to deliver a message to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions
The report also reveals how Trump’s advisers and staff simply refused to carry out his directives.
‘Lewandowski did not want to deliver the President’s message personally, so he asked senior White House official Rick Dearborn to deliver it to Sessions. Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through,’ the report notes.
Trump also told then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus Sessions needed to resign and wanted a resignation letter from him.
But Priebus told investigators he worried about the president’s request so he called then White House counsel Don McGahn to talk about it. Both men decided they would rather resign than carry it out.
Trump eventually relented on asking directly for Sessions’ resignation but spent the next several days criticizing him on Twitter.
Efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence
The report also tackles the now infamous June 9 Trump Tower meeting during the 2016 campaign where Donald Trump Jr., then campaign manager Paul Manafort and Trum’s son-in-law Jared Kushner met with a Russian official who claimed to have dirt on Clinton.
Mueller reveals the president’s efforts to cover up the meeting’s true purpose after he learned the media was investigating it.
The report examined President Trump’s effort to help hide the true purpose of the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Jr (center) and Jared Kushner (right) met with a Russian who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton
‘On several occasions, the President directed aides not to publicly disclose the emails setting up the June 9 meeting, suggesting that the emails would not leak and that the number of lawyers with access to them should be limited. Before the emails became public, the President edited a press statement for Trump Jr. by deleting a line that acknowledged that the meeting was with “an individual who [Trump Jr.] was told might have information helpful to the campaign” and instead said only that the meeting was about adoptions of Russian children,’ the report stated.
Trump told investigators in response to written questions that he ‘had no recollection of learning of the meeting or the emails setting it up at the time the meeting occurred or at any other time before the election.’
Further efforts to have the Attorney General take control of the investigation
Mueller examined President Trump’s efforts to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ‘unrecuse’ himself and over see the special counsel’s investigation.
In December 2017, shortly after former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement, Trump met with Sessions in the Oval Office and suggested ‘that if Sessions unrecused and took back supervision of the Russia investigation, he would be a “hero.”‘
Trump tried to get then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the special counsel’s probe, telling him he’d be a ‘hero’
Sessions did not budge and left the Justice Department after the 2018 election.
Efforts to have McGahn deny that the President had ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed
The report also examined Trump’s efforts to have then White House counsel Don McGahn deny reports the president ordered him to fire then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which McGahn refused to do.
Trump called the story ‘fake news’ when the New York Times broke it and asked McGahn to deny it, which he refused to do.
The president also told then Staff Secretary Rob Porter to tell McGahn ‘to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel.’
Trump also ‘referred to McGahn as a “lying bastard” and said that he wanted a record from him.’
Trump’s wanted then White House counsel Don McGahn deny reports the president ordered him to fire then Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Porter quoted Trump as saying of McGahn: “If he doesn’t write a letter, then maybe I’ll have to get rid of him.”
Porter relayed Trump’s request to McGahn, who refused to do it.
Trump later met with McGahn in the Oval Office to press him on the issue but the lawyer told him the story did not need to be corrected as it was true.
The president also asked McGahn why he took notes.
McGahn ‘responded that he keeps notes because he is a “real lawyer” and explained that notes create a record and are not a bad thing.’ The President said: ‘I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.’
Conduct towards Flynn, Manafort and (redacted)
Mueller examined Trump’s conduct toward former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort after both men agreed to cooperate with the special counsel’s team.
After ‘Flynn withdrew from a joint defense agreement with the President and began cooperating with the government, the President’s personal counsel left a message for Flynn’s attorneys reminding them of the President’s warm feelings towards Flynn, which he said “still remains,” and asking for a “heads up” if Flynn knew “information that implicates the President,”‘ the report notes.
Trump praised his former campaign manager Paul Manafort
A large portion of this section is redacted
And Trump praised Manafort in public when the jury was deliberating in his case, saying that ‘Manafort was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon.’
The remainder was redacted citing ‘harm to ongoing matter.’
Conduct involving Michael Cohen
Mueller also examined Trump’s conduct toward his former fixer, Michael Cohen.
The report examined Trump’s attitude toward his former personal attorney Michael Cohen
‘The President’s conduct towards Michael Cohen, a former Trump Organization executive, changed from praise for Cohen when he falsely minimized the President’s involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project, to castigation of Cohen when he became a cooperating witness,’ the report notes.