Some of the president's most destructive instructions were repeatedly thwarted by his aides -- most prominently ex-White House counsel Don McGahn but also former campaign helpers like Corey Lewandowski.
- “Trump’s advisers rarely challenged him and often willingly did his bidding, according to the special counsel’s report released Thursday. But in some cases, they refused when Trump pushed them to the brink of committing outright crimes,” my colleagues Phil Rucker and Bob Costa report.
We know, of course, that Mueller and his team concluded that it was not their role to determine whether Trump broke the law on obstruction. Now, congressional Democrats need to make that call themselves:
- “The report suggests — though never explicitly states — that Congress, not the Justice Department, should assume the role of prosecutor when the person who may be prosecuted is the president,” per Devlin and Matt.
- “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,” Mueller’s team wrote.
- "[Barr] also misrepresented Mueller’s reasoning for not making a 'traditional prosecutorial decision' on the obstruction half of his investigation...The attorney general has implied that Mueller left that choice to Barr. In truth, the report makes clear that Mueller felt constrained by the Justice Department policy that a sitting president could not be indicted. Don’t mistake lack of prosecution, in other words, for absence of wrongdoing. 'If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president did not obstruct justice, we would so state,' Mueller’s report says. 'Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'”
- “Mueller then points to Congress, not the attorney general, as the appropriate body to answer the question of obstruction.”
OVERLOOKED: The sheer detail revealed in the report about Russia's extensive push to sabotage the 2016 election and number of contacts between the Russians and Trump advisers.
- " . . . Mueller made it clear: Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, and the Trump campaign was willing to take it,” Devlin and Matt write.
- “The campaign was intrigued by the Russian overtures, Mueller found, which came at the same time that the Russian government was seeking to tilt the outcome of the race in Trump’s favor,” my colleagues Roz Helderman, Tom Hamburger, Karoun Demirjian and Rachel Weiner report.
Also underplayed: how Russia “stoked deep societal divisions and aroused Americans’ suspicions of politicians and the integrity of the electoral process,” by my colleagues Shane Harris, Ellen Nakashima and Craig Timberg.
At the White House
MUELLER'S ALTERNATIVE FACTS: When Trump ordered White House press secretary Sarah Sanders “not to bother” with press briefings earlier this year, he argued that it was because reporters covered her “rudely and inaccurately.”
But Sanders seems to have been under tremendous pressure — along with other aides close to Trump — to invent explanations for her boss's explosive actions. Mueller's report lays bare many of those incidents in cringe-worthy detail, and largely affirms reports by media outlets like The Post and the New York Times published during the two-year special counsel probe.
- “The 448-page document is replete with evidence, of repeated lying by public officials and others (some of whom have been charged for that conduct), of the president urging not to tell the truth, of the president seeking to shut down the investigation, of a Trump campaign hoping to benefit politically from Russian hacking and leaks of information damaging to its opponent, of a White House in chaos and operating under abnormal rules,” The Post's Dan Balz writes.
- “The White House that emerges from more than 400 pages of Mr. Mueller’s report is a hotbed of conflict infused by a culture of dishonesty — defined by a president who lies to the public and his own staff, then tries to get his aides to lie for him. Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened to fire lieutenants who did not carry out his wishes while they repeatedly threatened to resign rather than cross lines of propriety or law,” the New York Times's Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman report.
Here are some examples of how truth as laid out by Mueller, in a report embraced by the president, conflicts with what the White House previously said and did, as reported by me with my colleagues Michael Brice-Saddler and Brent D. Griffiths:
1. Trump’s reaction to the appointment of Mueller by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein:
- May 2017 reality: “Oh my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked,” Trump exclaimed, according to Mueller's report per notes from Jody Hunt, the chief of staff to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
- White House narrative: “That day, White House spokesman Sean Spicer and others said the president was calm and collected about it and was looking forward to vindication,” my colleague Josh Dawsey tweeted.
2. Trump's attempts to fire the special counsel:
- June 2017 reality: The New York Times's Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman reported in January 2018 that Trump told McGahn he wanted to fire Mueller, claiming the special counsel had several conflicts of interest. Trump ultimately backed down from this request when McGahn threatened to quit, according to the Times.
- Trump's narrative: Trump brushed the report off as “fake news . . . A typical New York Times fake story,” the Times reported.
- The Mueller report: “McGahn’s attorney informed the President’s personal counsel that the Times story was accurate,” the Mueller report reads. “Accordingly, McGahn’s attorney said, although the article was inaccurate in some other respects, McGahn could not comply with the President 's request to dispute the story.”
3. Trump's termination of James Comey:
- The White House official position on why Trump fired Comey in 2017 shifted numerous times. But a viral excerpt from Mueller's report was Sanders's admission she made unfounded claims to the White House press corps to explain the termination.
- Sanders's unfounded May 2017 response, per Mueller's report: “Sanders told reporters that the President, the Department of Justice, and bipartisan members of Congress had lost confidence in Comey, " [a]nd most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director. Accordingly, the President accepted the recommendation of his Deputy Attorney General to remove James Comey from his position.”
- “Slip of the tongue” reality, per Mueller's report: “When a reporter indicated that the 'vast majority' of FBI agents supported Comey, Sanders said, 'Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.' Following the press conference, Sanders spoke to the President, who told her she did a good job and did not point out any inaccuracies in her comments. Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from 'countless members of the FBI' was a 'slip of the tongue.' She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made 'in the heat of the moment' that was not founded on anything.”
- And last night on Fox News: Sanders insisted there was some truth to her statements: “Look, I acknowledge that I had a slip of the tongue when I used the word ‘countless,’” she told Sean Hannity. “But it’s not untrue and certainly you just echoed exactly the sentiment and the point that I was making, that a number of current and former FBI agents agreed with the president.”
4. Trump's business connections with Russia:
- Trump's false claim in July 2016: “During the press conference, Trump repeated 'I have nothing to do with Russia' five times. He stated that 'the closest [he] came to Russia' was that Russians may have purchased a home or condos from him. He said that after he held the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 he had been interested in working with Russian companies that 'wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia but 'it never worked out.'”
- Mueller report reality: Trump’s assertion during the 2016 event he had “nothing to do with Russia” is directly disputed in his written responses to the special counsel’s questions. In one response, he admitted to signing a nonbinding letter of intent for a deal in 2015.
5. Carter Page's role in the campaign:
- “No role” falsehood: In 2016, according to Mueller's report, a Trump campaign spokesman told Yahoo! News that Carter Page had “no role” in the campaign after he’d traveled to Moscow that summer and met with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States.
- Reality: But in the months following March, according to the report, Page “continued providing policy-related work product to Campaign officials.”
- Examples: “For example, in April 2016, Page provided feedback on an outline for a foreign policy speech that the candidate gave at the Mayflower Hotel. In May 2016, Page prepared an outline of an energy policy speech for the Campaign and then traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota, to watch the candidate deliver the speech,” per Mueller's report.
On The Hill
DEMS COOL ON IMPEACHMENT: “Top congressional Democrats said Thursday that [Trump] sought to obstruct justice in trying to undermine the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and promised a thorough investigation. But party leaders — and even 2020 presidential candidates — stopped short of calling for impeachment,” our colleagues Rachael Bade and Chelsea Janes report.
- "Presidential candidates hoping to face off against Trump next year accused the president of misconduct but also steered clear of impeachment talk. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a self-described democratic socialist who often spurns the establishment’s caution, made no mention of impeachment," Rachael and Chelsea report.
- "The caution underscores Democrats’ long-standing skepticism that they could and should impeach the president, reflecting the party’s view that the best chance to oust Trump is in next year’s presidential election."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told CNN now is not the time for impeachment: “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months, and the American people will make a judgment.”
That statement did not go over well with some Democratic activists and strategists on Twitter:
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez went far enough as to say the report convinced her of the opposite, signing on to a colleague's impeachment resolution:
Hoyer appeared to backtrack a bit later. But Democrats across the Capitol and running for president did agree on one thing: to focus on what they view as Barr's rearguard protection of the president.
- “Special Counsel Mueller’s report paints a disturbing picture of a president who has been weaving a web of deceit, lies and improper behavior and acting as if the law doesn’t apply to him,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement. “But if you hadn’t read the report and listened only to Mr. Barr, you wouldn’t have known any of that because Mr. Barr has been so misleading.”
“No one is above the rule of law . . . unless you’re frustrated that is,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) said in his call for Barr to resign.
- Barr has agreed to testify in front of the Senate and House Judiciary committees on back to back days on May 1 and 2.
- Democrats called for Mueller to come to the Hill, with House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler immediately demanding the ex-special counsel testify no later than May 23.
In the Media
HOW THE MUELLER PLAYED ACROSS THE NATION, WORLD: The Times and Post both went with front pages entirely dominated by Mueller coverage. Both papers are also including special 16-page sections.
- New York tabloids:
- What Trump is waking up to:
IN OTHER NEWS AND WEEKEND READS:
- George Conway in The Post: "Trump is a cancer on the presidency. Congress should remove him."
- "Joe Biden Is Running for President" in The Atlantic.
- "Mueller mystery: What are the other 12 criminal referrals?" from NBC.
- "‘Tell Them Who You Tortured’: Gina Haspel Faces a Heckler, and Her Past" from the Times.
- "Putin to Meet North Korea’s Kim in Russia This Month, Kremlin Says" from Bloomberg.