Donald Trump feared the probe into Russia election meddling led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller would doom his presidency and attempted to fire the top investigator, according to Mueller’s long-awaited report, which was finally released Thursday.
Shortly after the Justice Department made the more than 400-page report public in redacted form, Trump declared a political victory, saying with a smile: “I’m having a good day.”
“GAME OVER,” Trump tweeted earlier, using a “Game of Thrones” style montage that pictured him standing in dramatic fog.
The report, which has been eagerly awaited in the U.S. capital and beyond for months, backed up Trump’s repeated assertions that he did not collude with Russian intelligence efforts to tilt the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
However, the document – based on nearly two years of interviews by Mueller’s team with Trump’s inner circle – emphasized that the president had not been cleared of obstruction of justice.
And while emphatically stating that no Americans took part in the Russian interference, Mueller found that Trump was happy enough to gain an advantage from the dirty tricks.
This included the release by WikiLeaks of emails stolen by Russian agents from the campaign team of Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“The campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” the report said.
‘This is the end of my presidency’
The secretive Mueller probe has consumed Washington – and the first half of Trump’s first term in office – over the last two years.
Throughout, Trump has labeled the investigation a “witch hunt,” while his Democratic opponents have talked up the extraordinary idea that an American president might have been colluding with Russian agents.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2019
Now the report paints an unflattering picture of Trump in crisis mode as the scandal first hit the White House in 2017.
Intelligence services had already been looking into the Russian meddling. But after Trump fired his FBI director, James Comey, Mueller was appointed as an independent prosecutor to handle the highly sensitive probe.
“The president slumped back in his chair and said: ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked’,” the Mueller report said.
Obstruction of Justice
Trump has been largely vindicated regarding collusion, but a second allegation – that he might have attempted to obstruct justice by derailing the probe – remains far from defused.
Attorney General William Barr, who was appointed by Trump, made a nationally televised statement just before the report was released to give the administration’s spin on the results.
He explained Trump’s hostile behavior during the drama as the result of a president who was “frustrated and angered.”
This is not how an innocent person reacts and is the point of origin for many attempts at obstruction of justice. https://t.co/Oqd5VRaVm3
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) April 18, 2019
“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,” Barr said.
Mueller’s detailing of Trump’s actions leaves a murkier record.
Trump told his then White House counsel, Don McGahn, to tell the acting attorney general that Mueller “must be removed” – something McGahn refused to do.
And that, Mueller reports, was a pattern.
“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,” the report said.
And in a passage likely to be taken up by Trump’s Democratic opponents in Congress, Mueller stated that it could be up to lawmakers to determine whether Trump obstructed justice.
“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,” his report said.
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Legislators have “the authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority,” it said.
Fight Not Finished
Publication of the report – minus parts blacked out for legal or security reasons – will in theory give everyone a chance to get the full picture on a scandal that has been tangled in conspiracy theories.
But given the volcanic political temperature in Washington and the left-right chasm through the rest of the country ahead of Trump’s 2020 re-election bid, the debate over what really happened is likely to rage on.
Trump himself is supremely confident that his opponents have failed in what he claims was high-level “treason” to destroy his presidency.
“The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats,” the president said in yet another tweet Thursday, reprising many of his favorite slogans about his opponents.
Claiming that Barr has been working to hamper and whitewash the Russia report, Democrats will push for still more details and testimony in the near future – including from Mueller himself.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler tweeted.
Nadler set a deadline of May 23 for Mueller to come to Capitol Hill.