The Mueller report is out
Special counsel Robert Mueller considered President Donald Trump’s written responses “inadequate” and sought an interview with Trump, but ultimately decided not to issue a subpoena for the interview.
Why this matters: The criticism stands in contrast to the attorney general saying Thursday the White House had “fully cooperated.”
In a report appendix, the special counsel wrote that it sought an interview with the President for more than a year, beginning in December 2017, and considered an interview “vital to our investigation.”
The special counsel agreed to receive written responses from Trump, but it "viewed the written answers to be inadequate."
"We noted, among other things, that the President stated on more than 30 occasions that he ‘does not 'recall' or 'remember' or have an 'independent recollection' of information called for by the questions. Other answers were ‘incomplete or imprecise,'" the report states.
“The written responses, we informed counsel, ‘demonstrate the inadequacy of the written format, as we have had no opportunity to ask follow-up questions that would ensure complete answers and potentially refresh your client's recollection or clarify the extent or nature of his lack of recollection,’” the special counsel added.
Why there wasn't a subpoena: The special counsel said it considered a subpoena, but ultimately decided against it because the investigation had already “made significant progress.”
“We thus weighed the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits for our investigation and report,” the report states. “We determined that the substantial quantity of information we had obtained from other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility, which are often inferred from circumstantial evidence and assessed without direct testimony from the subject of the investigation.”
After Trump publicly asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails at a July 2016 press conference, he privately and repeatedly “asked individuals affiliated with his campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” the report says.
The public request was also followed within five hours by Russian intelligence's first effort to infiltrate Clinton’s emails, the special counsel said.
They sent 15 email accounts connected to Clinton's campaign malicious links, Mueller said. This was only a small part of the broad effort the Russians made to hack the Democratic Party for damaging information and election officials.
One of the campaign people Trump asked was Michael Flynn, who later told investigators that Trump repeatedly made the request, according to the report. Flynn then tried to get Clinton’s emails and reached out to “multiple” associates — including GOP operative Peter Smith, whose efforts have been detailed in press accounts.
Why this matters: This confirms for the first time that a senior Trump campaign adviser was involved in Smith’s pursuit to find Clinton’s emails. Smith killed himself in May 2017 and left a note saying there was “no foul play.”
This seems to contradict what an unnamed Trump campaign official told The Wall Street Journal in June 2017, that if Mr. Flynn coordinated with Smith, it was only in Flynn’s capacity as a private individual.
During Smith’s shadowy pursuit of the emails, he told associates that he was working with Russian hackers. But the investigation concluded that Smith was never actually in contact with any Russians.
In emails to associates while trying to find the emails, Smith claimed he was working “in coordination” with the Trump campaign and name-dropped Flynn, Sam Clovis, Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway. The Mueller investigation established that Smith communicated with “at least” Flynn and Clovis but did not find any evidence suggesting that Smith was in contact with the other Trump campaign officials.
Mueller’s office interviewed multiple people about Smith’s efforts, according to footnotes in the report, and Flynn provided a lot of information about his role and Trump’s interest in the emails. Flynn was a marquee cooperator in the investigation and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in 2017.
Speaking to Robert Mueller about her comments following the firing of FBI Director James Comey, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders conceded she made statements to the media that were not based in fact.
Specifically, Sanders said her assertion in response to a question about FBI agents supporting Comey wasn’t "founded on anything," according to Mueller.
In a back-and-forth during a briefing, a reporter told Sanders the "vast majority" of FBI agents supported Comey.
"We've heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things," Sanders said.
What Sanders told Mueller: She said that comment was a "slip of the tongue" made "in the heat of the moment."
The controversial GOP platform change about Ukraine wasn’t done “at the behest” of candidate Donald Trump or the Russian government, according to the report.
“[T]he investigation did not establish that one campaign official's efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican Party platform on providing assistance to Ukraine were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia,” the report said.
Some background: Before the 2016 Republican convention, Trump campaign aides blocked language from appearing in the platform that endorsed the US government sending lethal arms to Ukraine and aggressively supporting Ukraine’s anti-corruption bureau, according to public reports from CNN and other outlets.
The Department of Justice released a redacted version of the special counsel Robert Mueller's report this morning. CNN is going through the document now, and we've been posting highlights here.
In the first moments the report was released, we learned that Mueller wasn't able to conclude "no criminal conduct occurred" and that the special counsel believed it had the authority to subpoena Trump — but decided against doing so. (Read more about the initial report highlights here.)
Here's what we've learned since we last caught you up:
- "This is the end of my Presidency": In May 2017, after President Trump learned from then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had appointed Mueller, Trump “slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I'm f***ed.’”
- Trump tried to remove Mueller: Trump called former White House lawyer Don McGahn at home and directed him to call the acting attorney general and say Mueller "had conflicts of interest and must be removed." McGahn refused.
- Why obstruction failed: Mueller said obstruction by President Trump failed because others refused to "carry out orders."
- Another note on obstruction: The special counsel wrote about how the President’s public comments can be considered as obstruction efforts because of his power.
Special counsel Robert Mueller provides an extensive recounting of how President Trump and his aides handled the fallout of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Russians and senior campaign officials.
The report, citing interviews with former White House communications officials Hope Hicks and Josh Raffel, says Trump directed aides on multiple occasions not to publicly disclose emails setting up the meeting. Later, the report affirms that Trump himself dictated a misleading statement to the press, saying the meeting primarily discussed adoption.
The report describes White House officials learning — sometimes with shock — about the meeting. For example, then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus first learned about the meeting in late June 2017 from Fox News host Sean Hannity (the report does not say how Hannity learned of it).
Hicks recalls being “shocked” by the emails setting up the meeting, concerned they looked “really bad.” Together with senior advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, Hicks discussed the emails with Trump, who told the group “he did not want to know about it” and refused to hear details of the matter. He said he was confident the emails would never leak.
When Trump learned the New York Times was working on a story about the Trump Tower meeting, Trump initially directed Hicks not to comment — which she said was odd, according to Mueller, “because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin.”
Later, when Hicks showed Trump a draft statement about the meeting attributed to his son, the President deemed it too revealing. He told Hicks "to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption."
Trump Jr. expressed concern about that statement, however, insisting the word “primarily” be inserted to suggest the meeting included other topics aside from just adoption.
"Boss man worried it initiates a lot of questions," Hicks wrote back to Trump Jr. Ultimately the statement was released with the world "primarily" included.
In his report, Mueller describes finding at least three occasions when Trump directed Hicks or others not the publicly disclose information about the Trump Tower meeting. Ultimately, however, Mueller determines that Trump’s efforts were only directed at keeping information from the press.
He says they would only amount to obstructive action if there were attempts to withhold the information from congressional investigators or the special counsel’s office.
Robert Mueller never found any evidence that Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos told anyone on the campaign that he was tipped off about the Russians having emails that could damage Hillary Clinton.
Papadopoulos was told in April 2016 by a Kremlin-linked professor that the Russians had thousands of emails that were damaging to Clinton, according to court filings. That wasn’t publicly known at the time. It wasn’t until months later, when WikiLeaks and other Russian-backed websites, started releasing tens of thousands of embarrassing emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.
"When interviewed, Papadopoulos and the campaign officials who interacted with him told the (special counsel’s) office that they could not recall Papadopoulos's sharing the information that Russia had obtained 'dirt' on candidate Clinton in the form of emails or that Russia could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information about Clinton," the report said.
The report continued: "No documentary evidence, and nothing in the email accounts or other communications facilities reviewed by the office, shows that Papadopoulos shared this information with the campaign."
Special counsel Robert Mueller looked at potential crimes outside of conspiracy as he investigated collusion, including crimes under campaign finance law and regarding individuals potentially acting as illegal foreign agents for the Russian government.
"Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any campaign officials as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal," according to the report.
Investigators conducted some searches of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen under this potential crime, but ultimately did not charge him with it, according to previously unsealed search warrants.
They also looked at whether the Trump Tower meeting could be considered a campaign finance violation.