President Donald Trump spent the past few weeks braying that the special counsel’s nearly two-year investigation had “completely exonerated” him, when only he and the highly partisan attorney general he appointed knew what was in the report.
Now that Attorney General William Barr has finally released Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report to Congress and the public, we can see that it actually tells a far different story. In all, the report allots at least 78 pages to Trump’s obstruction of justice.
During the past week, Pulitzer-Prize-winning reporter Charlie Savage highlighted six specific instances of obstruction spelled out in those pages. You can follow them yourself in the Mueller report, between pages 24 and 133 in the report’s second volume.
1. Trump wanted the FBI to drop its investigation of General Michael Flynn.
In February 2017, within a few week’s of his inauguration, Trump cleared his White House office but kept FBI Director James Comey behind to ask Comey to drop the FBI’s investigation of General Michael Flynn, who had lied to investigators about his contacts and conversations with Russia’s ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The president told Comey, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
Trump has denied saying that, but Comey took detailed and immediate notes to record Trump’s words and has testified under oath about the president’s intent to stop an ongoing FBI investigation. General Flynn has pleaded guilty to the charges against him and is awaiting a court’s sentencing.
2. Trump fired FBI Director Comey to stop the investigation.
In May 2017, Trump fired FBI Director Comey. The Mueller report cites “substantial
evidence” that the reason for Trump’s action was his frustration that Comey would not publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.
The White House concocted a false story claiming that he had done so on the recommendation of senior Justice Department officials who were critical of Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation in 2016, but Trump soon admitted on TV that he had already made the decision and was instead thinking about the Russia investigation.
3. Trump tried to interfere with the Special Counsel’s investigation.
In June 2017, Trump twice asked his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to convey a private order to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had taken himself out of the Russia investigation. Trump wanted Sessions to intervene and limit Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s jurisdiction to a look at preventing future election interference, which would have ended the investigation of the Trump campaign’s 2016 links to Russia and whether Trump obstructed justice. Lewandowski did not give Sessions either message.
The Mueller report says “substantial evidence” indicates that Trump was trying “to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the president’s and his campaign’s conduct.” Reaching out to Sessions secretly through an outside loyalist, rather than relying on official White House channels.”
The report also suggests there is sufficient plausible evidence to ask a grand jury to consider charging Trump with attempted obstruction of justice.
4. Trump tried to fire Special Counsel Mueller.
Also in June 2017, after learning that he was under investigation for obstructing justice, Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to have the Justice Department fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller based on the president’s views that the special counsel had conflicts of interest that involved golfing fees. Trump backed off after McGahn refused to carry out the directive and prepared to resign in protest.
The report says Trump’s order “had the potential to delay further action in the investigation, chill the actions of any replacement special counsel, or otherwise impede the investigation.”
5. Trump pushed McGahn to deny the attempt to fire Mueller.
Trump’s attempt to fire Mueller came to light in January 2018. Trump repeatedly pushed McGahn to say that the president had not directed him to fire Mueller or to write a memo denying the reports. Although Trump threatened to fire him if he did not comply, McGahn refused, saying public reports were accurate.
By pushing McGahn to issue a statement and create a written record denying facts that he knew McGahn believed to be true, Trump’s action, the Mueller report says, “would qualify as an obstructive act if it had the natural tendency to constrain McGahn from testifying truthfully or to undermine his credibility as a potential witness if he testified consistently with his memory, rather than with what the record said.”
6. Trump encouraged Paul Manafort not to cooperate.
After the indictment of his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, Trump repeatedly dangled the possibility of a pardon and publicly praised him for not “flipping.” Manafort eventually pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with investigators, but prosecutors said he violated that deal and continued to lie to them.
The Mueller report says “there is evidence that the president’s actions had the potential to influence Manafort’s decision whether to cooperate with the government” and that his statements “suggested that a pardon was a more likely possibility if Manafort continued not to cooperate.”
Only the Department of Justice’s declaration that a sitting president cannot be indicted is preventing Trump’s being charged.