Special counsel Robert Mueller’s lengthy report made public Thursday reviewed President Donald Trump’s attempts to muddy the investigation, including efforts to tamper with witnesses, but decided not to charge the president with obstruction because there was no underlying crime and many of the attempts were carried out in plain view.
Trump, the 448-page report reveals, was panicked when he first found out about Mueller’s appointment, saying: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked,” citing testimony from then Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ chief of staff.
“How could you let this happen, Jeff?” Trump continued, telling Sessions something to the effect of, “You were supposed to protect me. … This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Mueller’s office says it weighed charging Trump with obstruction, but didn’t in part because “we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional process for addressing presidential misconduct.”
Investigators had looked at Trump’s response to reports about Russia’s support of his campaign, his firing of FBI Director James Comey, his behavior about charges against his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and his efforts to get rid of Mueller himself.
Prosecutors also consulted an opinion by DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president can’t be indicted, “and accepted OLC’s legal conclusion.”
As for whether Trump might have been involved in witness tampering, the special counsel cited legal precedent that acting “corruptly” would require proof of “conscious wrongdoing.”
The report also says Mueller did not believe he had to interview Trump because his state of mind was obvious.
“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,” the partially redacted report says. “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 judgement. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The report says the Russian government “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” and noted the Internet Research Agency, a Russian hacking and influence company, first began targeting the United States in early 2014.
Trump’s legal team issued a statement minutes after the report’s release online, calling it “a total victory for the President. The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning — there was no collusion — there was no obstruction.”
Speaking at a White House event around the same time as the release, Trump said it was “a good day.”
“This should never happen to another president again. This hoax should never happen to another president again,” he said.
The nearly the two-year investigation into Russian interference and possible obstruction of justice contains redactions made by Attorney General William Barr.
The attorney general removed grand jury material, information that would reveal intelligence sources, disclosures that could affect other ongoing investigations and information that would infringe on the privacy of those who were only peripherally involved in the probe. But some Democrats still want to see the full, unredacted report.
In a press conference before the report’s release, Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined the president hadn’t obstructed justice in part because the report found “evidence of noncorrupt motives.”
As “the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,” Barr said.
The developments came as Democrats have been aggressively pushing to see the entire special counsel’s report on the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
While Mueller turned over his report to Barr on March 22, only Barr’s four-page summary of his findings had been made public since then.
In a March 24 letter to Congress, Barr’s summary said Mueller’s investigation “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.” As for whether the president tried to obstruct justice in the probe, Mueller did not reach a conclusion.
That left the decision up to Barr and Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller. They concluded that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr’s letter said.
Barr noted that over the span of his almost two-year investigation, Mueller “issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records … made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.”
Top House Democrats had demanded an unredacted copy of the report by April 2, a deadline Barr let pass.
Mueller was appointed special counsel on May 17, 2017 — eight days after Trump fired Comey as FBI director. His investigation led to the indictment of 34 people, including Flynn, Manafort and Cohen. None of the charges directly accused anyone in Trump’s orbit of conspiring with the Russian intelligence operation to help him get elected.
The obstruction investigation started after Trump told NBC “Nightly News” anchor Lester Holt that he had fired Comey in part because of his frustration with the Russia probe, and after he reportedly bragged to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”