Mueller Report Details Trump’s Attempts to Influence Probe

Robert Mueller (Larry Downing/Reuters)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report details ten “incidents” in which President Trump sought to curtail or otherwise affect the direction of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller’s report outlines the president’s attempts to intervene in the special-counsel probe to bring it to a premature conclusion or to affect the public perception of it by manipulating government officials’ statements. It stops short, however, of making a prosecutorial determination regarding whether Trump obstructed justice — a decision it indicates is best left to Congress.

“The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels,” the report reads. “These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony. Viewing the acts collectively can help to illuminate their significance.”

The most prominent example of Trump’s attempted intervention in the special counsel probe is his directing White House Counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller. McGahn, according to the report, flatly refused to do so and threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. McGahn then refused Trump’s directive to state publicly that he had not been ordered to remove the special counsel.

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In another example provided in the report, Trump urged then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from the probe, to reassert control over it, telling the former Alabama senator that he’d be considered a “hero” for doing so.

Trump also asked his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to ask Sessions to say publicly that the investigation was “very unfair” to the president. Lewandowski was uncomfortable with the task, so he asked another White House official, Rick Dearborn, to deliver the message, but Dearborn never complied.

In an effort to contain the fallout from the FBI’s investigation into Russian contacts between his campaign and Russia, which gave rise to Mueller’s investigation, Trump asked then-FBI director James Comey in January 2017 to stop investigating national-security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Comey, as he testified before Congress, refused to comply with that request. Trump fired Comey shortly thereafter in part, as he later admitted, over Comey’s refusal to say publicly that he was not personally under investigation for colluding with Russia to sway the election in his favor.

The reluctance to follow Trump’s orders exhibited by Lewandowski, McGahn, and Comey largely explains why Trump failed in his efforts to prematurely end or otherwise constrain the FBI investigation into his campaign, according to the report.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report reads.

Attorney General William Barr announced Thursday morning that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded based on the report that Trump could not be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. Barr based that assessment both on Trump’s motivations for intervening, which he said were not “corrupt” but rather stemmed from his frustration with the process, and on his interpretation of whether a president can be indicted for exercising control over executive-branch officials, which, he admitted, differed from Mueller’s “legal theories” on the matter.

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