Mueller Spells Out Trump’s ‘Multiple Acts’ to Undermine Russia Probe

Chris Strohm and David McLaughlin
Mueller Spells Out Trump’s ‘Multiple Acts’ to Undermine Russia Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Robert Mueller delivered an exhaustive account of President Donald Trump’s efforts to head off or undermine the special counsel’s Russia probe, all but inviting Congress to take action on at least 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice.

“We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice," he said in his report sent to Congress on Thursday.

[Related: ‘Oh My God...I’m F---ed’: Trump Called Mueller Appointment the ‘End of My Presidency’]

While Mueller didn’t find an “underlying crime” by Trump related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, he said acts of possible obstruction include “discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons.”

The 448-page report summarizing Mueller’s 22-month investigation cited actions including Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and efforts to have former Attorney General Jeff Sessions take control of the investigation.

[Related: ‘No Recollection’: What Trump Said in His Written Answers to Mueller]

“Our investigation found multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russia-interference and obstruction investigations," according to the report. “The president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.”

The damning assessment was at odds with comments by Attorney General William Barr, who said in a news conference that he found Trump had “non-corrupt motives.” After Barr spoke, Trump quickly tweeted, “Game Over.”

‘Good Day’

Trump said at the White House Thursday morning that he’s “having a good day.” In a tweet late in the day, Trump scoffed at the notion he obstructed justice.

“I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted,” the president said. “I chose not to. I had the RIGHT to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t!”

In a statement, Trump’s lawyers declared “total victory for the president. The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning: There was no collusion-- there was no obstruction.”

But Mueller’s report raises new questions about whether House Democrats will intensify their investigative efforts -- and perhaps move toward an impeachment inquiry despite earlier statements by leaders to the contrary.

Read the full Mueller report

In written answers to Mueller, Trump -- who declined repeated requests for an in-person interview -- said that he had "no recollection of learning at the time" that his top campaign officials met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016, after being promised dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Further, the president said, "I have no recollection of being told during the campaign that any foreign government or foreign leader had provided, or wished to provide, or offered to provide tangible support to my campaign."

Trump directed his staff not to disclose information about the Trump Tower meeting that included Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Mueller’s report said that he considered the Trump Tower meeting to be a "prosecutable" violation of campaign finance laws, but he decided the evidence was "not sufficient" to charge as a criminal violation.

Didn’t Recall

In the written answers, Trump on more than 30 occasions said he didn’t remember or didn’t have “independent recollection” in response to questions. The special counsel said investigators viewed Trump’s answers to be “inadequate.”

On the underlying issue of whether Trump or those around him conspired with Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Mueller said “the evidence we obtained did not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference."

Democrats have demanded Mueller’s full report -- without redactions made by Barr -- as well as all the evidence behind it. Objecting to Barr’s news conference in advance of the report’s release, they demanded that Mueller testify to Congress as soon as possible. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff invited Mueller to testify, and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said he will subpoena the full Mueller report and supporting materials.

Nadler, whose committee would conduct any impeachment inquiry, said in a statement that the report "outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice."

"The special counsel made clear that he did not exonerate the president," Nadler said. "The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the president accountable for his actions."

Firing Comey

The voluminous report touched on several well-known incidents, including Trump’s firing of Comey in May 2017.

Mueller said the White House wanted to put out a statement saying the firing was the idea of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. But Rosenstein told other Justice Department officials that he wouldn’t participate in putting out a "false story," according to the report.

Still, Mueller said, "The evidence does not establish that the termination of Comey was designed to cover up a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.”

When Trump first learned of Mueller’s appointment, according to the report, he slumped back in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f---ed.”

Mueller also discussed efforts by Trump to have him fired.

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn said he resigned after Trump directed him to tell Rosenstein that "Mueller has to go,” according to the report. McGahn spoke to the president twice, making it unlikely that he misunderstood Trump’s request, it said.

"In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit because he did not want to participate in events that he described as akin to the Saturday Night Massacre" during Richard Nixon’s administration, the report said.

Trump made "repeated efforts" to have McGahn deny that he had directed him to fire Mueller, suggesting Trump was aware that his directive could be seen as improper, the report said. McGahn resigned in October of last year.

“The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," the report concluded.

Even though Mueller didn’t find an “underlying crime” by Trump related to Russia, the report said, “The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.”

Withholding Material

Barr had said he would withhold material in the report that touched on classified information and grand jury proceedings or could damage the reputations of people “peripheral” to the investigation, and the report had color-coded sections reflecting each category of deletion. He said Thursday that he will give leaders of several congressional committees a version of the report with no redactions except those relating to grand jury information.

The House Judiciary Committee voted on April 3 to authorize a subpoena to demand that Barr provide that the full report and supporting evidence. If no accord is reached between the lawmakers and the attorney general, a subpoena could result in a legal clash that could reach the Supreme Court.

“The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has said. “Congress is entitled to all of the evidence.”

Mueller submitted his final report to Barr on March 22, concluding a 22-month investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Barr released his four-page summary of the report on March 24.

Barr went beyond what’s required under Justice Department regulations by sharing any of the report. The regulations require only that he inform Congress if the special counsel was prevented from taking a significant action. Barr has said there was no such situation.

(Updates with Trump’s tweet in eighth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Steven T. Dennis, Billy House, Shannon Pettypiece and Erik Larson.

To contact the reporters on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at cstrohm1@bloomberg.net;David McLaughlin in Washington at dmclaughlin9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Larry Liebert, Laurie Asséo

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