Robert Mueller's Report: Congress can pursue investigation of Trump obstruction

The Justice Department released the redacted version of the report from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Here are key lines:

Trump campaign "expected" help from Russians but did not conspire

Mueller's report concludes that it "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in the election interference activities."

That's as clear as it can be, but Mueller also concluded that both the Russian government and the Trump campaign believed the other would be beneficial.

Here's how the report put it: "[T]he 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 released through Russian efforts..."

Trump asked campaign aides to find Hillary Clinton's emails

Mueller learned that after publicly saying he hoped Russia would find Hillary Clinton's deleted emails from her private server, Trump asked people associated with his campaign to find them, including a future member of his White House staff. "Michael Flynn -- who would later serve as national security adviser in the Trump Administration -- recalled that Trump made the request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails," the report says. Trump privately and repeatedly "asked individuals affiliated with his campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails," the report says. Flynn and another campaign official, Sam Clovis, were also aware of an ongoing effort by longtime Republican operative Peter Smith and former Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen to find the emails. But, the report says, Mueller "did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails."

Mueller "does not exonerate" Trump on obstruction

Mueller offers no definitive conclusion on whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice during the course of his investigation. "While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," the report says. The evidence "about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred," Mueller adds. Furthermore, Mueller makes it clear his investigators would have said there was no obstruction if they could demonstrate it: "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."

Aides refused to help efforts to obstruct

Mueller reports that because aides and advisers to Trump refused to "carry out orders," the President was prevented from influencing the special counsel's investigation. Here's the relevant line: "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." White House counsel Don McGahn received a phone call at home from Trump on June 17, 2017. Trump directed McGahn to call Rosenstein and tell him Mueller "had conflicts of interest and must be removed." According to the report, McGahn refused and said he would "rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre." That's a reference to President Richard Nixon's order to his attorney general to fire the independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. Both the attorney general and the deputy attorney general resigned rather than carry out the order.

Mueller says Congress can pursue investigation of Trump obstruction

Members of Congress will zero in on one critical section in Mueller's report. The special counsel provides a constitutional justification for its own investigation, but also points out that Congress can also apply obstruction laws in investigating and impeaching a sitting president.

Trump's written answers to Mueller's questions were "inadequate"

The special counsel viewed an interview with Trump "vital to our investigation" and even considered a subpoena but decided not to because the process could "delay" finishing the investigation. Instead, Mueller provided Trump with written questions to answer but was not satisfied with the President's responses.

"We noted, among other things, that the President stated on more than 30 occasions that he 'does not 'recall' or ' remember' or have an ' independent recollection'' of information called for by the questions. Other answers were 'incomplete or imprecise,'" the report says. "The written responses, we informed counsel, 'demonstrate the inadequacy of the written format, as we have had no opportunity to ask follow-up questions that would ensure complete answers and potentially refresh your client's recollection or clarify the extent or nature of his lack of recollection.'"

Here's the relevant line in the report: "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."

Could not prove Trump Jr. "willfully" broke law with Trump Tower meeting

Mueller did not prosecute President Trump's eldest son, Donald Jr., over his actions in accepting a meeting in June 2016 at Trump Tower with a Russian national who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Investigators could not prove Trump Jr. or the other campaign officials at the meeting "willfully" violated the law.

The other Trump officials at the meeting were Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chair Paul Manafort, who agreed to meet with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. The special counsel concluded that prosecuting the campaign officials present for campaign-finance violations would be too difficult to pursue.

"The Office ultimately concluded that, even if the principal legal questions were resolved favorably to the government, a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that Campaign officials or individuals connected to the Campaign willfully violated the law."

The report also cites Supreme Court precedent and the separation of powers to say "the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice."

Ivanka and Hope Hicks knew Don Jr. was seeking dirt on Clinton

Days before he held the 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, Donald Trump Jr. announced at a meeting of Trump campaign officials that he was pursuing a lead on getting negative information about the Clinton foundation, according to Mueller's interview with deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates. "Gates believed that Trump Jr. said the information was coming from a group in Kyrgyzstan and that he was introduced to the group by a friend. Gates recalled that the meeting was attended by Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Paul Manafort, Hope Hicks, and, joining late, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner."

Trump misled the public on the Trump Tower meeting, but it wasn't criminal

Mueller describes finding three occasions in the summer of 2017 when Trump told people around him not to mislead the press about the Trump Tower meeting. "Each of these efforts by the President involved his communications team and was directed at the press," Mueller writes. "They would amount to obstructive acts only if the President, by taking these actions, sought to withhold information from or mislead congressional investigators or the Special Counsel." In one particular instance, Trump directed White House aide Hope Hicks on July 8, 2017, to amend a draft statement from Donald Trump Jr. to give the New York Times, which would publish it along with a story breaking news of the meeting on July 9. "The President told Hicks to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption," the report reads. The final statement as published by the Times, Mueller found, "did not mention the offer of derogatory information about Clinton" or about future US sanctions on Russia, which the investigation discovered were the "principal subjects of the meeting."

Sarah Sanders misled the media about the firing of the FBI director

On May 10, 2017, then-deputy White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a televised briefing that President Trump had fired James Comey as FBI director because the "rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence" in him. Pressed by reporters to support this assertion, Sanders said the White House had heard from "countless members of the FBI." When interviewed by the special counsel, however, Sanders admitted that was not the case. "Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from 'countless members of the FBI' was a 'slip of the tongue.' She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made 'in the heat of the moment' that was not founded on anything."

Trump dropped F-bomb after Mueller got the job

    According to the report, the President said in May 2017 that the appointment of the special counsel was the "end" of his presidency. When he learned deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein had appointed Robert Mueller to investigate Russian interference, Trump apparently "slumped back in his chair and said, 'Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I'm fucked.'"

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