Mueller says Trump efforts to derail probe mostly failed

President Donald Trump gives a 'thumbs-up' as he prepares to board Air Force One, Thursday, April 18, 2019, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. President Trump is traveling to his Mar-a-lago estate to spend the Easter weekend in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump sought the removal of special counsel Robert Mueller, discouraged witnesses from cooperating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf, according to a hugely anticipated report from Mueller that details multiple efforts the president made to curtail a Russia probe he feared would cripple his administration.

Trump’s attempts to seize control of the investigation, and directions to others on how to influence it, “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote in a two-volume, 448-page redacted report that made for riveting reading.

In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel’s appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.”

With that, Trump set out to save himself.

In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would sooner resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of firings during the Watergate era.

Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation “very unfair” to the president, declare Trump did nothing wrong and say Mueller should limit his probe to “investigating election meddling for future elections.” The message was never delivered.

The report’s bottom line largely tracked the findings revealed in Attorney General William Barr’s four-page memo released a month ago — no collusion with Russia but no clear verdict on obstruction — but it added new layers of detail about Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation.

Looking ahead, both sides were already using the findings to amplify well-rehearsed arguments about Trump’s conduct, Republicans casting him as a victim of harassment and Democrats depicting the president as stepping far over the line to derail the investigation.

The Justice Department released its redacted version of the report about 90 minutes after Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings at a testy news conference. The nation, Congress and Trump’s White House consumed it voraciously online, via compact disc delivered to legislators and in loose-leaf binders distributed to reporters.

The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making but also the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.

A defiant Trump pronounced it “a good day” and tweeted “Game Over” in a typeface mimicking the “Game of Thrones” logo. By late afternoon, he was airborne for his Mar-a-Lago private club in Florida with wife Melania for the holiday weekend.

Top Republicans in Congress saw vindication, too.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it was time to move on from Democrats’ effort to “vilify a political opponent.” The California lawmaker said the report failed to deliver the “imaginary evidence” incriminating Trump that Democrats had sought.

Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said Republicans should turn the tables and “investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation.”

But Democrats cried foul over Barr’s preemptive press conference and said the report revealed troubling details about Trump’s conduct in the White House.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wrote that “one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler added that the report “outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct.” He sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23” and said he’d be issuing a subpoena for the full special counsel report and the underlying materials.

Signaling battles ahead, Nadler earlier called the investigation “incredibly thorough” work that would preserve evidence for future probes.

Barr said he wouldn’t object to Mueller testifying.

Trump himself was never questioned in person, but the report’s appendix includes 12 pages of his written responses to queries from Mueller’s team.

Mueller deemed Trump’s written answers — rife with iterations of “I don’t recall” — to be “inadequate.” He considered issuing a subpoena to force the president to appear in person but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle.

In his written answers, Trump said his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Hillary Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and said he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.

COMMENTS