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Mueller Report Finds Trump Tried to Control Russia Investigation

The effort included “non-public efforts to control [the Mueller probe], and efforts in both private and public to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller found that President Trump tried to control the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and encouraged witnesses not to cooperate—but Attorney General William Barr decided that wasn’t a crime.

At a press conference ahead of the Mueller report’s release, Barr went out of his way to explain how he disagreed with Mueller’s legal theories and explain away Trump’s behavior. Barr proclaimed Trump’s innocence and justified the president’s actions as the understandable behavior of a man persecuted by political opponents.

But when the report was finally released to the public, it outlined 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice by Trump, including: ordering James Comey to drop the FBI investigation into national security advisor Michael Flynn; directing the White House counsel to fire Mueller; dictating a message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the Mueller probe; telling witnesses publicly not to cooperate; having Cohen not contradict him in congressional testimony about Trump Tower Moscow.

The president engaged in... conduct involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both private and public to encourage witnesses not cooperate with the investigation.
Mueller Report

Flynn was subsequently charged with lying to the FBI about discussing sanctions relief with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. The report found some evidence suggests Trump knew what Flynn was talking about, but investigators couldn’t establish the president’s knowledge.

Nevertheless, the report said when Trump asked Comey he hoped the FBI would stop investigating Flynn, there was no mistake about what the president wanted.

After Comey refused to drop the investigation or clear Trump’s name publicly, the president fired him in May 2017 (leading to Mueller’s appointment.) That’s when the president’s behavior entered a new stage.

“At that point, the president engaged in a second phase of conduct involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both private and public to encourage witnesses not cooperate with the investigation,” according to the report.

On Trump’s efforts to dissuade cooperation, Mueller’s report said, “if the likely effect of public acts is to influence witnesses or alter their testimony, the harm to the justice system’s integrity is the same.”

The report states Mueller did not make a judgement on whether Trump committed an offense, but adds that it does not exonerate him either.

Barr spun the findings of the investigation before releasing the report.  

The attorney general said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that the evidence gathered by Mueller “is not sufficient to establish” that Trump committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

Barr then went on to exonerate Trump’s behavior.

“And 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.

“Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims. And at the same time, the president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”

Trump immediately tweeted a gloating image of himself after Barr finished speaking. “No collusion, no obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats,” it read in Game of Thrones script. “GAME OVER.”

Barr’s words were in sharp contrast to those of Mueller himself.

“While this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mueller stated, according to a four-page letter Barr sent Congress last month notifying the end of the special counsel’s investigation.

Over the past four weeks, Barr has worked to redact portions of Mueller’s report that contained grand jury information, classified intelligence, and what he said were allegations that could disparage people who were not charged with crimes.

The nearly 400-page report will be handed over to Congress where Democrats have said they are prepared to sue the Justice Department to see Mueller’s findings in their entirety.

Mueller’s office indicted 34 people—more than any other special counsel in history—including high-level figures in Trump’s world: former senior campaign officials Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, long-time political advisor Roger Stone, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and former Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen. The Cohen case involving hush money paid to Trump’s purported mistresses was handed off to federal prosecutors in Manhattan who implicated the president in the illegal scheme.

The special counsel’s investigation started in dramatic fashion: Mueller was appointed by Rosenstein after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, an act Mueller investigated for possible obstruction of justice. Trump reportedly considered firing Mueller that summer, a veritable sword that hung over the special counsel as Trump publicly fumed about the investigation he variously called illegal or a hoax since it started.

Mueller has not said a word publicly in almost two years, creating a ravenous appetite to learn what would be in his report.

But even before the report’s release, the story of Mueller’s work was hidden in plain sight: a global conspiracy centered in the Kremlin to elect Trump as president.

In an unprecedented attack on political infrastructure of the United States, military officers in Russia hacked into Democrats’ computers, stole emails, and release them to embarrass Hillary Clinton. The plot was first hatched years earlier, according to Mueller’s team, when Russians began studying how to manipulate Americans and turn them against each other, with one key lesson being to exploit the country’s racism. Working from a “troll farm” in St. Petersburg, Russians spread anti-Clinton fake news and pro-Trump propaganda across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram—all the while Silicon Valley slept.

At the same time, Russians approached the Trump campaign with promises of “dirt” on Clinton in the form of emails and offers for Trump to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. In both cases, the offers apparently went unrealized. Mueller’s investigation also revealed Russia offered to help Trump build a skyscraper in Moscow while he ran for president—contrary to his repeated statements he had “no business in Russia”—with Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen calling the Kremlin for assistance.

Though the Trump campaign was not accused by Mueller of colluding with Russia, the investigation revealed it spoke to two figures adjacent to Moscow’s scheme. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller says is linked to Russian intelligence. (Their meeting goes to the “heart” of the investigation, Mueller’s team said in a court hearing that remains partially redacted.) Roger Stone, a former Trump advisor and long-time friend, allegedly asked WikiLeaks through intermediaries about upcoming email releases.

Finally, Mueller’s investigation exposed Washington corruption that was seen as just another way of doing business: unregistered foreign lobbying. Manafort and Gates were charged with illegally lobbying D.C. on behalf of Ukrainian political interests. Democratic power players Tony Podesta and Greg Craig were also investigated for the same violations, with Craig being indicted this month after Mueller’s investigation finished.

While Mueller’s investigation is over, his work lives on across the Justice Department, with prosecutors preparing to try Stone in D.C. and Flynn’s former business partner in Virginia. Manhattan federal prosecutors fed by Mueller’s work continue to investigate the president’s business and inaugural committee.