WASHINGTON – The long-awaited report from special counsel Robert Mueller inside information galore evidence against President Donald Trump – finding 10 episodes of suspicious behavior – but finally final it was not Mueller’s role to determine whether the commander in chief bust the law.
“The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment,” Mueller’s team declared in the report submitted to Congress on Thursday. “At the same time, if 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.”
Since Mueller complete his investigation last month, a central question facing the Justice Department has been why Mueller’s team did not reach a conclusion about whether the president barred justice. The issue was complex, the report aforementioned, by two key factors – the fact that, under department practice, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, and that a president has a great deal of constitutional authority to give orders to other government employees.
Trump submitted written answers to investigators. The special counsel’s office considered them “inadequate” but did not press for an interview with him because doing so would cause a “substantial delay,” the report says.
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The report aforementioned investigators felt they had “sufficient evidence to understand applicable events and to make certain assessments without the President’s testimony.”
While the report marked the end of Mueller’s work, his investigation has not yet produced criminal charges against 34 people, including six former Trump associates and advisers. Multiple related investigations involving the president are ongoing.
Trump’s legal team called Mueller’s report “a total triumph” for the president.
“The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning – there was no collusion – there was no obstruction,” they aforementioned.
In their statement, Trump’s attorneys besides attacked former leadership at the FBI for opening “a colored, political attack against the President – turning one of our foundational legal standards on its head.”
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But if Mueller’s report was a triumph for the president, it was an ugly one.
Investigators paint an uncomplimentary portrait of a president who believes the Justice Department and the FBI should answer to his orders, even when it comes to criminal investigations.
During a meeting in which the president complained about then-attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, Trump insisted that past attorneys general had been more biddable to their presidents, referring to the Kennedy brothers and the Obama administration.
“You’re telling me that police officer and Jack didn’t talk about investigations? Or Obama didn’t tell Eric Holder who to investigate?” Trump told senior White House staffers Stephen Bannon and Donald McGahn, according to the report.
“Bannon recalled that the President was as mad as Bannon had ever seen him and that he screamed at McGahn about how weak Sessions was,” the report aforementioned.
Repeatedly, it appears Trump may have been saved from more serious legal hazard because his own staffers refused to carry out orders they thought were problematic or possibly illegal.
For instance, in the early years of the administration, when the president was facing growing questions concerning then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s speech about sanctions with a Russian ambassador, the president ordered some other aide, KT McFarland, to write an email expression the president did not direct those speechs. She distinct not to do so, unsure if that was true and fearing it might be improper.
“Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge,’ ” the report aforementioned.
The report besides recounts a remarkable moment in May 2017 when Sessions told Trump that Mueller had just been appointed special counsel. Trump slouching back in his chair, according to notes from Jody Hunt, Sessions’s then-chief of staff. “Oh my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency,” Trump aforementioned. Trump further set into Sessions for his recusation, expression Sessions had let him down.
“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency,” Trump aforementioned, according to Hunt’s notes. “It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do thing. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
The special counsel’s report on possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russians to interfere in the 2016 election is extremely elaborate with only modest redactions – painting a starkly different picture for Trump than attorney General William Barr has offered, and revealing new inside information about interactions between Russians and Trump associates.
Mueller’s team wrote that though their investigation “did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” that assertion was au courant by the fact that coordination requires more than two parties “taking actions that were au courant by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”
And Mueller made galorely clear: Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, and the Trump campaign was willing to take it.
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and discharged through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller’s team wrote.
The report elaborate a chronology of contacts between the Trump campaign and those with Russian ties – much of it not yet known, but some of it new.
For example, Mueller’s team declared that in August 2016, Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the FBI has assessed as having ties to Russian intelligence, met with Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, “to deliver in person a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel’s Office was a ‘backdoor’ way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine.”
The special counsel wrote that some men believed the plan would require candidate Trump’s “assent to success (were he elective President).”
“They besides discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in western states,” the special counsel wrote. “Months before that meeting, Manafort had caused internal polling information to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting.”
Mueller’s report suggests his obstruction of justice investigation was heavily au courant by an opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel opinion that says a sitting president cannot be indicted – a conclusion Mueller’s team accepted.
“And apart from OLC’s constitutional view, we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and possibly preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct,” Mueller’s team wrote.
That decision, though, seemed to leave investigators in a strange spot. Mueller’s team wrote that they “determined not to apply an approach that could possibly result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.” They seemed to shy from producing even an internal document that alleged the president had done thing wrong – deciding, fundamentally, that they wouldn’t decide.
“Although a prosecutor’s internal report would not represent a formal public accusation akin to an indictment, the possibility of the report’s public revelation and the absence of a neutral adjudicatory forum to review its collection counseled against crucial ‘that the person’s conduct constitutes a federal offense.’ ”
Barr aforementioned during a news conference Thursday that Justice Department officials asked Mueller “about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion.”
“He made it very clear, several times, that he was not taking a position – he was not expression but for the OLC opinion he would have found a crime,” Barr aforementioned.
Mueller did not attend the news conference.
Barr addressed the media before cathartic the nearly 400-page report. He made perennial references to “collusion,” echoing language the president has stressed even though it is not a legal term.
Barr besides represented how the nation’s top law social control officials wrestled with investigation Trump for possible obstruction of justice. He and Deputy attorney General Rod Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law” but that they accepted the special counsel’s “legal framework” as they crude the case, Barr aforementioned.
It was the first official acknowledgment of differing views inside the Justice Department about how to investigate the president.
Barr besides spoke about the president’s state of mind as Trump responded to the flowering investigation. “As the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was defeated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and burning by illegal leaks,” he aforementioned.
Ahead of the report’s release, the president lobbed some other attack on the investigation. “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he tweeted Thursday morning. “The sterling Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats.”
The Mueller report is considered so politically explosive that even the Justice Department’s rollout plan sparked a firestorm, with Democrats suggesting that the attorney general was trying to properly color Mueller’s collection before the public could read them.
Prompted by a reporter, Barr responded to a call earlier Thursday from the top two Democrats in Congress to have Mueller appear before House and Senate committees. “I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying,” the attorney general aforementioned.
In a letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., aforementioned they wanted testimony “as shortly as possible” from Mueller. And after Barr’s news conference, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., discharged a letter to the special counsel seeking an appearance before his panel “no later than May 23.”
Congressional Democrats have vowed to fight to get the entire report, without redactions, as well as the underlying investigative documents Mueller gathered.
The report has been the subject of heated debate since Barr notified Congress last month that Mueller had completed his work.
Barr told lawmakers he needed time to redact sensitive information before it could be made public, including any grand jury material as well as inside information whose public release could harm ongoing investigations.
Barr besides aforementioned he would review the document to redact information that would “possibly compromise sources and methods” in intelligence collection and thing that would “unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
That language suggests Barr wants to keep secret any derogatory information gathered by investigators about figures who complete up not being central to Mueller’s investigation.
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The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, John Wagner and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.