One sentence in the report written by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators summarizes President Trump’s responses to their inquiries succinctly.
“We viewed the written answers to be inadequate,” it says.
It’s easy to see why.
After battling with Trump’s attorneys for months to get an in-person interview with the president, Mueller’s investigators instead offered written questions to be answered under oath. They covered four primary topic areas: the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, the Russian effort to interfere with the election, the proposed development project in Moscow and contacts with Russia or Russia-related issues during the campaign and transition. In total, the Mueller team asked 38 distinct questions with 37 follow-ups.
Trump offered 22 distinct answers. In 19 of those answers, he claims not to remember or recall some particular issue. Often, those failures to remember what happened constitute the entirety of his response.
In the past, Trump has touted his memory. In June, speaking at a news conference in Singapore, he assured reporters that he didn’t need notes about his conversation with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un because he has “one of the great memories of all time.” Unfortunately, that memory appears not to extend back to 2015, as indicated in Trump’s responses.
Here’s what he couldn’t remember when asked by Mueller.
- He didn’t recall whether he learned about the Trump Tower meeting before it happened.
- He didn’t recall whether he learned about it after the meeting took place or about the email chain that set it up or about Donald Trump Jr.'s various interactions that led to its happening.
- He didn’t recall what parts of the days before the meeting he spent in Trump Tower.
- He didn’t recall whether he spoke with Trump Jr., Jared Kushner or Paul Manafort on the day of the meeting, though his calendar showed a meeting with Manafort that morning.
- He didn’t recall any communications with the family of Russian developers (the Agalarovs) that set up the meeting after June 3, 2016.
- He didn’t recall being aware of any communications involving his son, his son-in-law, Kushner, his campaign chairman, Manafort, or any of the external people involved in the meeting.
- He didn’t recall being told that the Russians supported his candidacy during the campaign, though he was “aware of some reports indicating that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin had made complimentary statements” about him.
- He didn’t recall being told that a foreign government had offered to support his campaign.
- He didn’t recall when he learned that the emails of the Democratic Party had been hacked or learning about the hacking of emails of individuals — meaning Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta — before it was reported by the media.
- He didn’t recall being aware of people associated with his campaign having any contact with WikiLeaks during the campaign.
- He didn’t recall being told about Russian efforts to hack Clinton’s emails before reading about them in the media.
- He didn’t recall being told that WikiLeaks had emails related to Podesta before their release.
- He didn’t recall being told that his adviser Roger Stone or anyone linked to Stone had communicated with WikiLeaks.
- He didn’t recall the specifics of any conversations he’d had with Stone from June to November 2016 or ever discussing WikiLeaks with Stone.
- He didn’t recall being aware that Stone had discussed WikiLeaks with members of his campaign.
- He didn’t recall discussing a possible pardon for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
- He didn’t recall being aware during the campaign that Russia was trying to assist his campaign by posting on social media or organizing rallies.
- He didn’t recall any conversation about traveling to Russia as part of the Moscow development deal or being aware of conversations between his personal attorney Michael Cohen and any Russian government official about a letter of intent focused on that project.
- He didn’t recall being aware of people associated with his campaign — Manafort — sharing internal polling with people linked to Russia.
- He didn’t recall being told during the campaign of efforts by Russian officials to meet with him or members of his campaign.
- He didn’t recall details of when he learned about a change made to the Republican Party platform that was favorable to Russia.
- He didn’t remember being asked to attend a chess event in Russia.
That’s most of what he didn’t remember, but not everything.
What did he remember? Among other things, he did remember the genesis of his comments on June 7, 2016, that he would soon be giving a speech targeting Clinton, a comment that came shortly after his son had set up a meeting with someone who Trump Jr. thought would offer new dirt on Clinton. He did remember some of the genesis of the Trump Tower Moscow deal. And he did remember that he did not know that Manafort offered to give campaign briefings to a Russian oligarch named Oleg Deripaska.
Most or all of Trump’s denials that he remembered particular things may be true. Some may not be.
Cohen, for example, has testified that he was present when Stone told Trump about an upcoming WikiLeaks release in mid-July. Cohen also testified that he remembered Trump Jr. telling Trump that a meeting was set in early June, though he doesn’t know that the comment was about the Trump Tower meeting.
Had Mueller’s team been able to engage in an extended interview of Trump, it might have been better able to determine what the president had actually forgotten. As it stands, though, Trump’s various failures of recollection are the best Mueller’s team got.