President Donald Trump has been, even by his own lofty standards, on a bit of a Twitter bender over the last week or so – simultaneously rejoicing in the fact that he was not charged in the Mueller report and angry at all of his critics for their unwillingness to drop the so-called “witch hunt.”
On Thursday morning, Trump launched a three-part Twitter rant about the Mueller, his former White House counsel Don McGahn and, well, all sorts of other things. By my count – with a big assist from CNN Russia expert Marshall Cohen – Trump got six facts wrong in just three tweets.
“As has been incorrectly reported by the Fake News Media, I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself. Nevertheless Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation (there was no crime), headed by a Trump hater who was highly conflicted, and a group of 18 VERY ANGRY Democrats. DRAIN THE SWAMP! Despite the fact that the Mueller Report was “composed” by Trump Haters and Angry Democrats, who had unlimited funds and human resources, the end result was No Collusion, No Obstruction. Amazing!”
Oh, it’s amazing, all right.
Now, for the facts.
1.The Mueller report made clear that not only did Trump tell McGahn to get rid of Mueller but, when The New York Times broke that news, he called McGahn into his office again to ask him to issue a statement denying that the incident had occurred. McGahn refused. McGahn spent more than 30 hours in interviews with the special counsel’s office as did numerous other members of McGahn’s office and Trump’s team. Now, did Trump tell McGahn to “fire” Mueller, or simply to get rid of him? Trump may be trying to hang his hat on the specific word “fire” but that’s a distinction without a difference.
2. Trump’s claim that he could have fired Mueller if he had wanted to isn’t exactly accurate. First of all, Trump wouldn’t be the one directly doing the firing – that would fall to the Justice Department, where Mueller was technically an employee. Second, Department of Justice regulations make clear that a special counsel can only be removed for “good cause,” like misconduct, medical reasons, or violating internal policies. And Attorney General William Barr, in his confirmation hearings, made clear that he would resign rather than remove Mueller without good cause.
3. The Mueller probe wasn’t illegal. Trump repeats this over and over again based on a spurious claim: That the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation was begun because of the opposition research document put together by former British Intelligence officer Christopher Steele. But that’s not the full picture. The counter-intelligence probe started because Australian officials warned their US counterparts that a Trump aide – George Papadopoulos – had been bragging that he knew the Russians had dirt on Clinton. When WikiLeaks began releasing hacked DNC emails, the Australians got in touch with the Americans. And then there’s the fact that multiple judges upheld Mueller’s appointment, his authority, and the prosecutorial decisions he’s made throughout the process.
4. There’s zero evidence that Mueller was “conflicted” much less “highly conflicted,” as Trump claims. Trump’s entire premise is based on the fact that Mueller once was a member of his golf club in Virginia and, when he left, there was a debate over dues owed. (As Mueller explained in his report, the decision was based on the fact that his family lived in Washington and rarely was able to use the Virginia club.) In May 2017, the Department of Justice confirmed that Mueller had no ethical issues that would keep him from carrying out the investigation fairly. “(W)e can confirm that the department ethics experts have reviewed the matters and determined that Mr. Mueller’s participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate,” said a DOJ release at the time. And, according to the Mueller report, McGahn, Trump’s own top lawyer, explained to Trump that Mueller wasn’t “conflicted.”
5. Trump’s claim that he “respectfully” let Mueller do his job is laughable. Put aside the near-constant Twitter attacks about the probe’s illegality and the alleged biases of the investigators and you are still left with a series of episodes in which Trump seemed set on disrupting the probe. As documented in the Mueller report, Trump sought to have Mueller removed, tried to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation to only future election interference, tried to force then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself in the investigation and pressured several aides to issue public denials about incidents he knew to be true. That’s a funny way of showing respect.
6. The idea that Mueller found Trump had committed “no obstruction” is disputed by the text of the report itself. Wrote Mueller and his team: “(I)f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. … Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” In the report, Mueller also makes clear that one of the reasons he did not recommend Trump be charged with obstruction is because under Justice Department guidelines a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. Therefore, Mueller didn’t even consider it.
There’s one other thing to keep in mind as Trump seeks to edit (or abolish) the established facts in the Mueller investigation: The President had the opportunity to sit down with Mueller and explain everything, and he chose not to do so. His lawyers resisted repeated pleas by Mueller for an in-person interview, eventually only submitting written answers. Why? Well, Trump’s lawyers have complained of possible “perjury trap.” You can’t lie during interviews with investigators. It’s a federal crime. (Just ask former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.) If Trump had repeated some of these lies to Mueller, we could be in a very different place right now.
Trump is actively working to mold the Mueller report and its findings to fit his own narrative. But as Thursday morning’s tweetstorm proves, the President’s narrative falls way short on facts.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen contributed to this report.