President Donald Trump spread at least four false claims Wednesday about the conclusions and costs of the Russia investigation, while pushing back against Democratic leaders who are trying to pick up where special counsel Robert Mueller left off.
Trump’s misleading comments, some of which he has repeated many times, came during a fiery Rose Garden appearance that was supposed to be about infrastructure proposals but devolved into a screed against Democrats.
Here’s a breakdown of four of the President’s false claims about the Mueller investigation.
Efforts to obstruct the investigation
Trump: “The Wall Street Journal just wrote today, just a little while ago I saw it, ‘Mr. Mueller wasn’t obstructed in any way.’ This is the Wall Street Journal editorial today.”
Facts First: The editorial cited by Trump isn’t an accurate portrayal of the Mueller report. Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction by Trump, though his hands were tied by Justice Department policies from bringing an indictment. The report also laid out how some Trump aides took steps that hampered the investigation, and others were charged with lying.
The quote comes from an editorial published Tuesday, which offered blistering criticism for Rep. Jerry Nadler, the New York Democrat who’s the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“He wants a show,” the newspaper’s editorial said. “He wants to use (former White House counsel Don) McGahn as a prop to spend three hours claiming that Mr. Trump tried to obstruct the Mueller investigation. Yet Mr. Mueller wasn’t obstructed in any way, his copious report was released for all to see, and there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.”
Criticism of Nadler aside, the portion that Trump touted was about obstruction of justice. But the claim that “Mueller wasn’t obstructed in any way” is clearly debunked by the Mueller report itself.
The report details a few incidents with “substantial evidence” that Trump obstructed, including his efforts to fire the special counsel and have McGahn lie about it to the press. Prosecutors from Mueller’s team went to extraordinary lengths to explain how they had everything they needed to charge Trump but didn’t, at least partially because of the Justice Department policy of presidential immunity.
Beyond Trump, the report said some prongs of the investigation hit roadblocks because some Trump campaign associates “deleted relevant communications” or gave conflicting information. At least three Trump associates were charged with lying to investigators, which is an obstructive act, and two others were charged with lying to congressional inquiries about Russian meddling.
Allowing witnesses to testify
Trump: “You can be transparent, or you can be tight. If you’ve done nothing wrong, being transparent is better. So, I said, ‘I did nothing wrong. Let’s be transparent.’ So that’s what you have. … All of these things. 500 witnesses that I allowed to testify. It’s a disgrace.”
Facts First: It’s true that Trump gave Mueller’s team broad access to interview White House officials and read their internal notes, which proved pivotal to the investigation. But that group represents only a small slice of the 500 witnesses Mueller interviewed. And perhaps most importantly, Trump refused multiple requests from investigators for a sit-down interview.
Whenever Trump touts his “transparency” with the Mueller investigation, he never mentions his adamant refusal to agree to a sit-down interview. While Trump made his aides available for interviews, he agreed only to answer written questions about collusion, but not obstruction. Mueller made it clear that Trump’s responses were “incomplete” and generally insufficient.
Not only that, but the President also exaggerated the number of witnesses he “allowed” to testify. If he wanted to, Trump could have invoked executive privilege or waged battles in court to prevent Mueller’s team from interviewing White House aides or reviewing their documents.
Mueller interviewed 500 witnesses, but Trump could control the testimony only of White House aides. More than two dozen Trump administration officials voluntarily gave interviews to the special counsel. The fruits of those interviews created the foundation of the obstruction inquiry.
Federal investigators interviewed hundreds of people Trump didn’t have any control over. For example, Mueller’s team spoke to Russian banker Petr Aven, conservative author and conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, and the translator at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Crimes committed by Democrats
Trump: “Here’s the bottom line. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. We’ve been doing this since I’ve been President. And actually, the crime was committed on the other side.”
Facts First: Trump’s reference to crimes committed by “the other side,” presumably Democrats, isn’t based in reality. Maybe Trump believes there were crimes, but the Justice Department hasn’t charged any of his Democratic opponents and there don’t appear to be any active criminal investigations. But six Trump associates were charged in the Mueller probe.
Trump’s explanation of the situation goes like this: Nobody on the Trump campaign did anything wrong, and the real “collusion” crimes were committed by the Democrats. That’s because Democrats funded the opposition research project that led to “the dossier,” a series of private intelligence memos, written by a former British spy, that influenced the Russia investigation.
The main problem with Trump’s rhetoric is that this isn’t where the facts led investigators.
Mueller didn’t indict Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or any members of her campaign. There were plenty of avenues for the special counsel to uncover wrongdoing by Democrats while he probed foreign influence in the 2016 election.
One prominent Democrat, former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig, was indicted by other prosecutors after a referral from Mueller, but his case is about work he did for Ukraine with Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
If Trump was right about his political opponents breaking the law, it’s a safe bet that Mueller would have brought charges. They did, however, find wrongdoing by members of the Trump campaign and some of his top allies..
Mueller’s team charged six Trump associates: his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn; his former personal attorney Michael Cohen; his campaign chairman Paul Manafort; senior campaign official Rick Gates; campaign adviser George Papadopoulos; and longtime ally Roger Stone.
Stone pleaded not guilty, while everyone else pleaded guilty or was convicted at trial.
Cost of the investigation
Trump: “These are the people that after two years and $40 million or $35 million – it’ll end up being a lot more than that by the time all the bills are paid – this is what happened. No collusion, no obstruction, no nothing.”
Facts first: It’s not clear where Trump is getting his numbers. The latest information from the Justice Department goes through September and it says Mueller-specific expenses were around $12 million. The final price tag will be higher than that, but the data isn’t public yet.
It’s important to understand the data that the Justice Department releases to the public. There are some costs specific to Mueller’s team. But there are other expenses that would have been incurred to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election even if Mueller weren’t appointed.
Mueller’s team spent $12.3 million between May 2017 and September 2018. During that time frame, the Justice Department spent another $12.9 million on Russia-related costs.
That’s a running total of $25 million, though the price tag will be higher because that amount doesn’t cover the last seven months of the investigation, which officially ended in March 2019. It’s unlikely that the final amount will reach or surpass the $40 million figure claimed by Trump.