For two years, President Donald Trump and his close associates contradicted, denied and dodged reports and questions of Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign. Now that the Mueller report is out, redacted as it may be, we have the chance to fact-check those public denials against what many people close to the President actually told Mueller when they were questioned by the special counsel.
Here are a few notable examples where the Mueller report contradicts public statements made by Trump and some of his associates.
Trump Jr. and the Trump Tower meeting
In July 2017, The Washington Post reported that Trump dictated Donald Trump Jr.’s statement over reporting from The New York Times that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower over the previous summer.
What they told the public: Trump didn’t dictate his son’s statement
What they told Mueller: Yes, he did.
In a statement to the Post, Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow wrote that “(a)part from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent.” Trump Jr.’s attorney told the Post he had “no evidence to support that theory,” saying that writing the statement was “a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers.”
During a briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the President “certainly didn’t dictate, but he — like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.”
However, as CNN first reported in June 2018, Trump’s legal team admitted in a letter to Mueller’s team that Trump “dictated” the initial statement from Trump Jr.
As the report lays out, top communications aide Hope Hicks told Mueller’s team that while she aimed to tell the entire story behind Trump Jr.’s meeting, Trump told her to write a statement saying the discussion during the meeting was about Russian adoptions.
Hicks wrote up the statement and ran it by Trump Jr.
The statement that emerged was also misleading in the way it characterized the topic of conversation.
What they told the public: The meeting was about Russian adoption, not about the 2016 campaign.
What they told Mueller: The meeting was promised to be about incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, but turned into a discussion on current sanctions on several Russians.
In his statement, Trump Jr. mislead the public by saying they “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” that had recently ended, “but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.” Others in the Trump coalition repeated this claim.
Mueller’s report says that Trump Jr. was enticed to meet with promises of “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” for the Trump campaign.
The meeting did start with a Kremlin-connected lawyer offering claims that the Democratic National Committee or the Clinton campaign received donations from a questionable source, but it turned into a discussion over the Magnitsky Act, which targets several top Russians with sanctions.
As the report mentions, Russia responded to sanctions by preventing adoptions of Russian children to the US. However, the conversation was about the sanctions themselves, not about adoption. Trump Jr. said the topic could be revisited “if and when they were in government.”
Trump Tower Moscow timeline
During the 2016 campaign and into his presidency, reports swirled of Trump’s potential business ties to Russia.
What they told the public: Trump had no deals or business in Russia.
What they told Mueller: The Trump Organization was pursuing a Trump Tower deal in Russia during the campaign, and Trump was aware of it.
Trump has repeatedly denied having any business dealings in Russia, suggesting time and again in 2016 that he had no deals or business in the country.
Even after new details came out last year about Trump’s role in the project, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani falsely told CNN’s Dana Bash that Trump had not signed a letter of intent, when he had.
According to the Mueller report, “the Trump Organization had been pursuing a licensing deal for a skyscraper to be built in Russia called Trump Tower Moscow.”
The report notes that not only was Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pursuing a Moscow deal in Trump’s name, but that candidate Trump was receiving updates about the project. “Trump told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet,” the report reads, “and said, ‘Why mention it if it is not a deal?’”
In his written answers to the special counsel’s team, Trump said he had “few” talks with Cohen about the deal, and said he recalled the conversations as being “brief, and they were not memorable.”
Interfering with the investigation
Many reports have come out over the past few years documenting Trump’s frustration at the Russia investigation, including his anger toward former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself, and ultimately his wish that the investigation would be called off.
What they told the public: Trump did not want to interfere with the investigation.
What they told Mueller: Trump wanted to push Sessions to limit Mueller’s jurisdiction.
The special counsel’s report suggests former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski knew Trump wanted to pressure Sessions to interfere in Mueller’s mandate, since Trump, according to the report, asked his former campaign manager in June and July 2017 to pass along a message to Sessions.
Around that same time, Lewandowski was defending the President by pointing out that Trump was allowing his attorney general and the special counsel to continue their work unimpeded.
At a meeting on June 19, 2017, Trump instructed Lewandowski to dictate a message he wanted his former campaign manager to deliver to Sessions, according to the report.
“The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing: I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS … is being treated very unfairly,” the special counsel’s team wrote in its report. “The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference,” the report continued.
At a meeting in the Oval Office exactly one month later, on July 19, 2017, Trump asked Lewandowski whether he’d yet met with Sessions to deliver that message. “Lewandowski recalled that the President told him that if Sessions did not meet with him, Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired,” the report said.
But on July 26, 2017 – just one week later – Lewandowski defended the President on “Good Morning America” by arguing he had made no attempts to pressure Sessions or Mueller – even though, as we now know, he privately knew Trump wanted to do both.
“Donald Trump is letting Jeff Sessions do his job and letting Robert Mueller do his job,” Lewandowski said after dismissing questions about whether Trump wanted to interfere with either man as “speculation and conjecture.”
The previous week, Lewandowski had asked Rick Dearborn, then White House deputy chief of staff, to relay to Sessions the message Trump had asked him to deliver.
Sarah Sanders and the FBI
It’s no secret that Trump did not like former FBI Director James Comey, and in May 2017, Sanders, then a deputy press secretary, claimed that many people in federal law enforcement had “lost confidence” in Comey.
What they told the public: The FBI lost confidence in their director James Comey.
What they told Mueller: Sanders made this up.
“There’s also another nugget of big news, as you guys may have been paying attention,” Sanders told reporters after Comey’s firing. “The President, over the last several months, lost confidence in Director Comey. The DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey. … And most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director.”
When asked about FBI agents who disagree, Sanders said, “we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
Later, however, Sanders told the special counsel that this claim was a “slip of the tongue” and a fabrication.
“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,” the Mueller report reads.
CNN’s Em Steck contributed to this report.