WASHINGTON - The report from special counsel Robert Mueller III lays out in alarming detail abundant evidence against President Donald Trump, finding 10 "episodes" of potential obstruction of justice but ultimately concluding it was not Mueller's role to determine whether the commander in chief broke the law.
Submitted to Congress on Thursday, the 448-page document alternates between jarring scenes of presidential scheming and dense legal analysis, and it marks the onset of a new phase of the Trump administration in which congressional Democrats must decide what, if anything, to do with Mueller's evidence. 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.
"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.
Trump once feared Mueller could destroy his presidency, but the special counsel may instead define it. By releasing a thick catalogue of misconduct and mendacity that, if not criminal, is deeply unflattering, Mueller's report may mean long-term political problems for a president seeking reelection next year.
Still, Trump's electoral base has not been swayed by such stories in the past, and he has already claimed victory on the investigation's bottom line: no conspiracy with Russia, no obstruction of justice.
Since Mueller ended his investigation last month, a central question facing the Justice Department has been why Mueller's team did not reach a conclusion about whether the president obstructed justice. The issue was complicated, the report said, by two key factors - the fact that, under department practice, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, and that a president has a great deal of constitutional authority to give orders to other government employees.
Trump submitted written answers to investigators. The special counsel's office considered them "inadequate" but did not press for an interview with him because doing so would cause a "substantial delay," the report says.
The report said investigators felt they had "sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the President's testimony."
Trump's legal team declared Mueller's report "a total victory" for the president. It "underscores what we have argued from the very beginning - there was no collusion - there was no obstruction," they said.
In their statement, Trump's lawyers also attacked former leaders at the FBI for opening "a biased, political attack against the President - turning one of our foundational legal standards on its head."
Trump said little publicly about the report's release. At an event Thursday, he indicated he was having a "good day," and adding that "this should never happen to another president again, this hoax." Ahead of the report's release, the president lobbed a familiar attack on the investigation. "PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!" he tweeted. "The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats."
If Mueller's report was a victory for the president, it was an ugly one. Investigators paint a portrait of a president who believes the Justice Department and the FBI should answer to his orders, even when it comes to criminal investigations.
During a meeting in which the president complained about then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions's decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Trump insisted that past attorneys general had been more obedient to their presidents, referring to President John F. Kennedy and his brother, Robert, as well as the Obama administration.
"You're telling me that Bobby and Jack didn't talk about investigations? Or Obama didn't tell Eric Holder who to investigate?" Trump told senior White House staffers Stephen Bannon and Donald McGahn, according to the report.
"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," the report said.
Repeatedly, it appears Trump may have been saved from more serious legal jeopardy because his own staffers refused to carry out orders they thought were problematic or potentially illegal.
For instance, in the early days of the administration, when the president was facing growing questions concerning then-national security adviser Michael Flynn's conversations about sanctions with a Russian ambassador, the president ordered another aide, K.T. McFarland, to write an email saying the president did not direct those conversations. She decided not to do so, unsure if that was true and fearing it might be improper.
"Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn's calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President's knowledge,' " the report said.
The report also recounts a remarkable moment in May 2017 when Sessions told Trump that Mueller had just been appointed special counsel. Trump slumped back in his chair, according to notes from Jody Hunt, Sessions' then-chief of staff. "Oh my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked," Trump said. The president further laid into Sessions for his recusal, saying Sessions had let him down.
"Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency," Trump said, according to Hunt's notes. "It takes years and years and I won't be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me."
The special counsel's report on possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians to interfere in the 2016 election is extremely detailed with only modest redactions - painting a starkly different picture for Trump than Attorney General William Barr has offered, and revealing new details about interactions between Russians and Trump associates.
Mueller's team wrote that though their investigation "did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," that assertion was informed by the fact that coordination requires more than two parties "taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other's actions or interests."
And Mueller made it clear: Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, and the Trump campaign was willing to take it.
"Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," Mueller's team wrote.
The report detailed a timeline of contacts between the Trump campaign and those with Russian ties - much of it already known, but some of it new.
For example, Mueller's team asserted that in August 2016, Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI has assessed as having ties to Russian intelligence, met with Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman, "to deliver in person a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel's Office was a 'backdoor' way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine."
The special counsel wrote that both men believed the plan would require candidate Trump's "assent to succeed (were he elected President)."
"They also discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort's strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states," the special counsel wrote. "Months before that meeting, Manafort had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting."
Mueller's report suggests his obstruction of justice investigation was heavily informed by an opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that says a sitting president cannot be indicted - a conclusion Mueller's team accepted.
"And apart from OLC's constitutional view, we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President's capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct," Mueller's team wrote.
That decision, though, seemed to leave investigators in a strange spot. Mueller's team wrote that they "determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes." They seemed to shy from producing even an internal document that alleged the president had done something wrong - deciding, essentially, that they wouldn't decide.
"Although a prosecutor's internal report would not represent a formal public accusation akin to an indictment, the possibility of the report's public disclosure and the absence of a neutral adjudicatory forum to review its findings counseled against determining 'that the person's conduct constitutes a federal offense.' "
Barr said during a news conference Thursday that Justice Department officials asked Mueller "about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion."
"He made it very clear, several times, that he was not taking a position - he was not saying but for the OLC opinion he would have found a crime," Barr said.
Mueller did not attend the news conference.
Barr addressed the media before releasing the report. He made repeated references to "collusion," echoing language the president has stressed even though it is not a relevant legal term.
Barr also described how the nation's top law enforcement officials wrestled with investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice. He and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein "disagreed with some of the special counsel's legal theories and felt that some of the episodes did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law" but that they accepted the special counsel's "legal framework" as they analyzed the case, Barr said.
It was the first official acknowledgment of differing views inside the Justice Department about how to investigate the president.
Barr also spoke about the president's state of mind as Trump responded to the unfolding investigation. "As the Special Counsel's report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks," he said.
The report also said there was a critical distinction to be drawn when analyzing Trump's conduct - what he did before and what he did after The Washington Post reported in June 2017 that he was under investigation for potential obstruction of justice.*
"That awareness marked a significant change in the President's conduct and the start of a second phase of action," Mueller's team wrote in their report. "The president launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to the President, while in private, the President engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation."*
Mueller's team said those efforts included attempting to remove Mueller as special counsel, pressuring Sessions to unrecuse himself from the investigation, and using "public forums to attack potential witnesses who might offer adverse information and to praise witnesses who declined to cooperate with the government."*
The Mueller report is considered so politically explosive that even the Justice Department's rollout plan sparked a firestorm, with Democrats suggesting that the attorney general was trying to improperly color Mueller's findings before the public could read them.
Barr is preparing to testify to Congress about the report next month, and Democrats are moving to secure Mueller's testimony soon after. The attorney general also notified Congress after the report's release that a small number of senior members of each party would get a chance to review a less-redacted version of the document next week.
Democrats, who have vowed to fight to get the entire report without redactions, as well as the underlying investigative documents, immediately panned the offer, calling it a non-starter.
Prompted by a reporter, Barr responded to a call earlier Thursday from the top two Democrats in Congress to have Mueller appear before House and Senate committees. "I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying," the attorney general said.
In a letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said they wanted testimony "as soon as possible" from Mueller. And after Barr's news conference, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., released a letter to the special counsel seeking an appearance before his panel "no later than May 23."
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The Washington Post's Greg Miller, Spencer S. Hsu, Karoun Demirjian, Ellen Nakashima, Philip Rucker, John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.
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Report Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/context/robert-mueller-s-report-on-the-investigation-into-russian-interference-in-the-2016-election/?noteId=f5fe536c-81bb-45be-86e5-a9fee9794664&questionId=2b6869ce-67e8-47f9-b4d2-ddeeec37f6d4&utm_term=.7d73ce09209b
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Video: Attorney General William P. Barr on April 18 discussed the release of the redacted report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller's investigation.(The Washington Post)
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Video: Attorney General William P. Barr on April 18 defended President Trump's 'sincere belief' that the special counsel investigation was undermining his presidency.(The Washington Post)
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WASHINGTON - The moment President Donald Trump learned two years ago that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate Russian election interference, he declared in the Oval Office, "This is the end of my presidency."
Trump nearly made that a self-fulfilling prophecy as he then plotted for months to thwart the probe, spawning a culture of corruption and deception inside the White House.
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 explicitly refused when Trump pushed them to the brink of committing outright crimes - a pattern of inaction that ended up protecting the president.
Trump ordered Donald McGahn to instigate special counsel Robert Mueller III's firing, but the White House lawyer decided he would resign rather than follow through.
Trump urged Corey Lewandowski to ask then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation, but his former campaign manager only delivered the message to an intermediary.
And Trump demanded that Reince Priebus procure Sessions' resignation, but the White House chief of staff did not carry out the directive.
The vivid portrait that emerges from Mueller's 448-page report is of a presidency plagued by paranoia, insecurity and scheming - and of an inner circle gripped by fear of Trump's spasms.
Again and again, Trump frantically pressured his aides to lie to the public, deny true news stories and fabricate a false record. But their unwillingness to execute his most drastic wishes were part of what kept Mueller from making a determination about obstruction of justice.
"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," the report says. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment."
While many of the episodes catalogued have previously been explored in first-person accounts and news reports, Mueller's report is singular for its definitive examination of the events - and will not easily be dismissed by Trump and his aides as "fake news." The main actors are under oath and on the record, and the narrative they laid bare stands as a historical product with the imprimatur of a former FBI director who attained a cult status for his impartiality.
The political impact remains unsettled. Republicans were eager to turn the page Thursday, echoing the defiant refrain of Trump and Attorney General William Barr: "No collusion." But Democratic leaders insisted that Trump's conduct amounted to obstruction of justice and necessitated further inquiry, including calling on Mueller to testify before Congress.
Regardless, the Mueller report revealed how a combustible president bred an atmosphere of chaos, dishonesty and malfeasance at the top echelons of government not seen since the Nixon administration.
Trump officials frequently were drawn into the president's plans to craft false story lines. In one instance, while he was watching Fox News, Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to hold a news conference and claim that Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director based on Rosenstein's recommendation. Rosenstein declined and told Trump that he would tell the truth - that firing Comey was not his idea - if he were asked about it.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders attempted to buttress Trump's cover story. She said at a news briefing that countless members of the FBI were seeking Comey's removal, but later admitted to Mueller's team that her comment had been completely fabricated, calling it a "slip of the tongue" that was not founded on any evidence.
In yet another example, Trump dictated to communications director Hope Hicks an intentionally misleading statement for the press about Donald Trump Jr.'s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.
Trump's drumbeat to end the investigation was driven by his belief that the U.S. intelligence community's conclusive determination of Russian interference threatened the legitimacy of his election. It was, as Hicks told Mueller's investigators, his "Achilles' heel."
The report exhaustively documents the fraught relationship between Trump and McGahn. In the weeks following Mueller's May 2017 appointment, Trump repeatedly considered firing the special counsel. On June 17, Trump was at Camp David and twice called McGahn at home and directed him to call Rosenstein, who supervised the probe, and explain that Mueller had conflicts of interest and could not serve.
"You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod," Trump said on the first call, according to the account McGahn gave investigators.
McGahn did not act on the request, but Trump called a second time.
"Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can't be the special counsel," Trump said, according to McGahn. The president told him, "Mueller has to go" and "Call me back when you do it."
McGahn told investigators that he felt trapped and decided to resign. He drove to the office to pack up his belongings and prepare to submit a resignation letter. He also called Priebus and chief White House strategist Stephen Bannon and told them of his intentions, but they urged him to stay, and McGahn returned to work that Monday.
Trump's claim that Mueller had "conflicts" - a dispute over membership fees at a Trump golf course in Virginia - was called "ridiculous" by Bannon and "silly" by McGahn. The report is peppered with similar times of aides grousing behind Trump's back about his tirades and impulsive directives.
Seven months later, after the New York Times reported that Trump had ordered McGahn to have Mueller fired and that McGahn had refused, Trump instructed the White House counsel to deny it - but McGahn said he would not rebut the article.
The president was furious. Staff secretary Rob Porter told investigators that Trump told him the story was "bullshit" and that McGahn was "a lying bastard." Trump directed Porter to tell McGahn to create a written record falsely stating that the president never directed the White House counsel to fire Mueller.
"If he doesn't write a letter, then maybe I'll have to get rid of him," Porter recalled Trump telling him.
The next day, Trump met with McGahn to discuss the article. The president insisted he never told McGahn to "fire" Mueller, but McGahn said that he had told him, "Mueller has to go." Trump then harangued McGahn about there being a record of their discussions.
"Why do you take notes? Lawyers don't take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes," Trump told McGahn, according to McGahn's account to investigators.
McGahn responded that he was a "real lawyer."
"I've had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes," Trump replied, referencing a former lawyer and mentor who was disbarred for unethical conduct.
Meantime, as Trump's unhappiness with Sessions lingered into the summer of 2017, he tried several times to push the attorney general to either step down or limit the scope of the probe.
In between bursts of angry tweets about Sessions that June, he told Lewandowski he had a mission for him.
"Write this down," Trump instructed his former campaign manager, who is described in the report by Trump officials as a "devotee" who would do almost anything for the president.
Trump told Lewandowski to quietly approach Sessions, far outside of the usual chain of command, and suggest that the president would prefer that the Justice Department investigate only foreign interference in "future elections" - and to stop its probe of the 2016 campaign.
Lewandowski never delivered that message directly, reflecting his own unease with the president's request. He instead turned to Rick Dearborn, a veteran Sessions aide then working as a deputy White House chief of staff, to take the message to the attorney general. Dearborn, too, declined to do so, later telling investigators that the idea of being a messenger to Sessions made him uncomfortable.
Trump tried other ways to remove Sessions. In early July 2017, he asked Porter whether Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand was "on the team" and instructed him to sound her out about taking over responsibility for the Mueller probe and becoming attorney general. Porter told investigators that he understood Trump to want to find someone to end the investigation and did not contact her because he was uncomfortable with the task.
That same month, after The Washington Post reported that U.S. intelligence intercepts showed Sessions had discussed Trump campaign-related matters with the Russian ambassador, Trump erupted and demanded the attorney general's resignation.
Trump told Priebus that he needed "a letter of resignation on [his] desk immediately," according to the account Priebus gave investigators. He said the attorney general had "no choice" and "must immediately resign."
Trump said Sessions had to resign because of negative publicity, but Priebus told investigators he believed the president was driven because of his hatred over Sessions' recusal from the Russia investigation. Priebus consulted McGahn and they discussed the possibility that they would both resign rather than carry out Trump's order to fire Sessions, according to Mueller's testimony.
The president followed up: "Did you get it?" he asked Priebus. "Are you working on it?"
Priebus explained that firing Sessions would be a calamity, and Trump agreed to hold off and eventually relented, although he tweeted for the next several days about the attorney general, including calling him "beleaguered."
Sessions stayed on the job until November 2018, but his experience was reflective of the torment caused by Trump.
The attorney general's chief of staff told investigators that after the president tried to oust him in July 2017, Sessions carried a resignation letter in his pocket every time he went to the White House.
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Video: A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report was released to the public on April 18. Here's what's in it.(Brian Monroe,Monica Akhtar/The Washington Post)
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