Obstruction or not, Mueller report shows Trump’s panic during Russia investigation

by - 3 min read

Obstruction or not, Mueller report shows Trump’s panic during Russia investigation

by - 3 min read


After a contentious two-year investigation into possible ties between U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian operatives in the lead-up to the 2016 U.S. election, the final report from special counsel Robert Mueller, released Thursday, provides insights into Trump’s state of mind during the probe.

While it found no evidence of active co-ordination or conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, and was inconclusive on the subject of obstruction, the 448-page report vividly illustrates just how panicked Trump was by the investigation.

Mueller refused to make a determination on whether the president obstructed justice by trying to interfere in the investigation. His report did, however, outline 10 instances of possible obstruction from Trump’s associates.

The report gives more details and context about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian officials, as well as the president’s increasing unease with the investigations and numerous occasions where he appeared to be interfering in it.

The report is full of behind-the-scenes intrigue, and sometimes salty language. According to notes quoted in the report, when Trump first learned a special counsel had been appointed in 2017, the president slumped back in his chair and said: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’ m f—ed.”

‘You were supposed to protect me’

Trump was agitated when then-attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing Mueller’s investigation March 2017. The president tried to get Sessions to “unrecuse” himself, and lashed out at him, saying, “You were supposed to protect me.”

The attorney general is the head of the Department of Justice and tasked with upholding the rule of law, free of partisan interests. Protecting the president is not part of the attorney general’s job description.

Four pages of the Mueller Report on a witness table in the House intelligence committee hearing room on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Cliff Owen/The Associated Press)

In May 2017, Trump asked White House counsel Don McGahn to reach out to then-acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein as part of an effort to get Mueller fired as special counsel. McGahn said he wouldn’t make the call and that Trump shouldn’t either. McGahn said it would look like he was “still trying to meddle in [the] investigation” and “knocking out Mueller” would be another “fact used to claim obst[ruction] of justice.”

In the report, Mueller said that his team sought an interview with Trump for more than a year, but the president declined.

“We considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony,” but the factors that they weighed were “the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation with resulting delay in finishing our investigation.”

Trump agreed to submit written answers, but only about the allegations of Russian interference, not on obstruction of justice. In his written answers, Trump used some variation of “I do not recall” 37 times, by CBC’s count.

This photo illustration shows an editor looking at a photograph of Barr, left, speaking about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report, juxtaposed with Trump’s latest tweet, ‘Game Over,’ in a Game of Thrones-style montage that pictures him standing in dramatic fog. (Eva Hambach/AFP/Getty Images)

The investigators said they viewed Trump’s written responses “to be inadequate.” But they determined “that the substantial quantity of information we had obtained from other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility.”

Partisan wrangling over the report, its redactions and the charges already levied against Trump’s inner circle are set to continue in Washington.

Russia investigation hurts U.S. relations with Russia

Other evidence presented in the report indicates Trump was concerned about the impact of the Russia investigation on his “ability to govern.”

Robert Mueller leaves Capitol Hill following a closed-door meeting in Washington in 2017. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

“The president complained that the perception that he was under investigation was hurting his ability to conduct foreign relations, particularly with Russia,” the report states.

The president told Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, that he “can’t do anything with Russia.” 

Mueller’s investigation has led to 37 indictments, 199 criminal charges and five guilty pleas, including from Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.

This story originally appeared on CBC