A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election hacking, Kremlin contacts with Donald Trump’s campaign and accusations of presidential obstruction of justice landed Thursday.
The tome runs to more than 400 pages. While it outlines an extensive campaign of Russian interference to help Mr. Trump win – and connections between his circle and Moscow – it concludes that the President’s campaign did not collude.
And it exposes a persistent campaign by Mr. Trump to meddle in and block Mr. Mueller’s investigation, as it declines to exonerate the President of obstruction of justice.
Trump’s campaign had numerous contacts with Russians – including an alleged spy – but it didn’t amount to collusion
Mr. Mueller reveals the full extent of a massive Kremlin interference campaign to help Mr. Trump win the 2016 presidential election. While Russian trolls bombarded social media with pro-Trump memes and misinformation, a Kremlin spy agency hacked embarrassing Democratic Party e-mails and released them through WikiLeaks.
As this was happening, several people on Mr. Trump’s campaign met with Russians and other Moscow intermediaries.
Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chair, passed internal campaign polling data to and discussed election strategy with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian associate suspected of being tied to the same spy agency that stole Democratic e-mails, Mr. Mueller found. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik also talked about getting Mr. Trump to sign off on a plan to give Russia control of eastern Ukraine.
The President’s son, Donald Jr., set up a meeting with purported Kremlin intermediaries at Trump Tower in June, 2016, in hopes of receiving compromising information on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. But Mr. Mueller found that the Russians did not provide the campaign with any substantive information.
Mr. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen, for his part, spoke with Kremlin officials to solicit their help in getting a Trump hotel built in Moscow.
But none of these contacts, Mr. Mueller found, provided evidence that the Trump campaign and the Russians were working together.
Trump aggressively sought to fire Mueller and thwart his investigation
When he learned Mr. Mueller had been appointed to investigate Russian election interference, Mr. Trump exploded. “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked,” the President said, according to meeting notes taken by Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff.
The following month, Mr. Trump twice called then-White House counsel Don McGahn on a Saturday and told him to order Mr. Mueller’s firing. Mr. McGahn refused and prepared to quit instead: He packed up his office, wrote a resignation letter and told then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus that Mr. Trump had asked him to “do crazy shit.” Mr. Priebus and former White House strategist Stephen Bannon persuaded Mr. McGahn not to leave. Mr. Trump later asked Mr. McGahn to publicly deny that Mr. Trump had asked him to fire Mr. Mueller; Mr. McGahn refused this, too.
Shortly after that, Mr. Trump told his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell Mr. Sessions to limit Mr. Mueller’s investigation to considering Russian interference in future elections only. Mr. Lewandowski unsuccessfully tried to arrange a meeting with Mr. Sessions to deliver the message, then asked Mr. Trump’s then-deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn to pass the order on instead. Mr. Dearborn opted not to take action.
Mr. Mueller also revealed evidence that Mr. Trump fired former FBI director James Comey for refusing to publicly exculpate him in the Russia investigation; that Mr. Trump’s lawyers vetted a statement to Congress from Mr. Cohen in which he lied about a prospective Trump hotel in Moscow, and later discussed the prospect of a presidential pardon with Mr. Cohen; and that Mr. Trump edited a statement from his son about the Trump Tower meeting to remove references to the promise of Russian dirt on Ms. Clinton.
The President was also fixated on Mr. Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing Mr. Mueller’s investigation. Mr. Trump repeatedly asked Mr. Sessions to “unrecuse” himself and threatened to fire him if he did not. At one point, Mr. Sessions gave Mr. Trump his resignation; the President refused to accept it, but would not give the letter back, so his staff had to spend several days trying to retrieve it from him so he could not use it to blackmail the attorney-general.
Mueller does not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice
Mr. Mueller decided not to reach a conclusion on whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice with his repeated attempts to shut down and thwart investigations into Russian election interference.
For one, he does not believe it is a good idea for him to indict a sitting president – or even openly conclude that one had committed a crime – because this would impede a president’s ability to run the government. For another, he believes it is up to Congress to decide how to handle potential presidential wrongdoing.
Conversely, Mr. Mueller says that, if he concluded Mr. Trump definitely had not committed obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller would exonerate him – and he is explicitly choosing not to do this.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mr. Mueller wrote.
ADRIAN MORROW, U.S. CORRESPONDENT
TAMSIN MCMAHON, U.S. CORRESPONDENT
The Globe and Mail, April 18, 2019