US Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s report on Russia’s role in the 2016 US presidential election on Thursday.
The release of a long-awaited report, which is nearly 450 pages long and filled with large chunks of blacked-out text, was a watershed moment in Donald Trump‘s tumultuous presidency.
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Before its release, Barr – whose Department of Justice oversaw the investigation – delivered a spirited defence of the Republican president and his actions, infuriating Democrats.
Mueller did not conclude that Trump had committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either.
Barr subsequently concluded that Trump had not broken the law, but told a news conference that Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offence”.
As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
Trump’s legal team called the results “a total victory for the president”, while Democrats criticised Barr for his handling of the report and called for the release of the full, unredacted findings of the investigation.
Here are the key takeaways from the report:
1. Trump tried to seize control, influence probe
Mueller’s report revealed that Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president.
Mueller evaluated 10 episodes for possible obstruction of justice, including Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.
The report said that in June 2017, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call the acting attorney general and say that Mueller must be removed because he had conflicts of interest.
McGahn refused – deciding he would rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.
The report also said there was “substantial evidence” that Trump fired James Comey as FBI director in 2017 due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation”.
For all of that, Mueller said in his report that he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction of justice.
“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 special counsel wrote.
The president’s lawyers have said Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller’s team deemed the episodes deserving of criminal scrutiny.
While declining to prosecute Trump for obstruction, the special counsel said such a determination could be left to the US Congress.
“Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunise a president for obstructing justice.
“The separation-of-powers doctrine authorises Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
2. Questions of collusion: ‘Not sufficient evidence for criminal charges’
As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
The report said there were numerous contacts between members of Trump’s circle and Russia and that the campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
But it said the efforts did not amount to criminal conspiracy.
“The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved US-Russian relations.
Mueller also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge any campaign officials with working as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia.
The report included an appendix that contained 12 pages of Trump’s written responses to the special counsel. They included no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Trump’s legal team.
Trump told Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning in advance about the much-scrutinised Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made “complimentary statements” about him.
Trump said that his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and that he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.
3. Trump cursed Mueller appointment: ‘This is the end of my presidency’
Trump believed the appointment of a special counsel to take over the federal probe of Russian interference into the 2016 election would spell the end of his presidency, according to the report.
When then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed Trump of Mueller’s appointment in May 2017, the report said, 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 then asked Sessions, whom he had berated for months for recusing himself from the Russia probe, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?” and told Sessions he had let him down.
Sessions, who resigned in November 2018, recalled that Trump said to him, “You were supposed to protect me,” or words to that effect, the report said.
The Republican president had bristled at the investigation since taking office in January 2017, belittling Sessions and calling the probe a witch-hunt and a hoax.
“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency,” Trump said, according to the report. “It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
4. Manafort’s efforts to monetise the campaign
Mueller found that then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s efforts to work with his former business partners in Ukraine were greater than previously known, as he tried to use his insider status on the campaign to collect on debts owed for his past work by Oleg Deripaska, an oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Shortly after he joined the campaign in the spring of 2016, Manafort directed his deputy Rick Gates to share internal polling data and other campaign materials with Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Ukrainian business partner, with the understanding that it would get passed on to Deripaska, the report said.
During an August 2016 meeting in New York, Manafort told Kilimnik about the campaign’s efforts to win the battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the report said. Trump ended up winning three of those states in the November 2016 election.
Manafort worked with his Ukrainian allies until the spring of 2018, after he had been indicted by Mueller, to promote a peace plan that would have split the country in two. These efforts did not constitute coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts to disrupt the election, Mueller found.
Manafort urged Gates not to plead guilty after they were both indicted by Mueller, apparently believing that they would be pardoned by the president if they did not cooperate with investigators. Trump’s numerous sympathetic statements before and during Manafort’s criminal trial could be interpreted as an effort to sway the outcome, but they also could be interpreted as a sign that he genuinely felt sorry for Manafort, Mueller said.
5. Mueller said he could have subpoenaed Trump
Mueller tried for more than a year to interview Trump, but in the end, Trump refused.
Trump provided written answers on some Russia-related topics, but did not agree to answer questions about possible obstruction of justice or events that took place during the presidential transition.
Mueller said he thought he had the legal authority to order Trump to testify before a grand jury, but he decided not to take that course, due to the “substantial delay that such an investigative step would likely produce at a late stage in our investigation”.