Saturday, July 11, 2020

WORLD | 18-04-2019 16:39

What you need to know: Key takeaways from the Mueller report

A redacted version of Robert Mueller’s report has been released, detailing the US special counsel’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election and instances of possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

A redacted version of Robert Mueller’s report has been released, detailing the US special counsel’s findings on Russian interference in the 2016 election and instances of possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Here are the top initial takeaways from the 448-page report summarising the Russia investigation and Attorney General William Barr’s press conference.

Mueller found many cases of possible obstruction

Mueller said he found at least 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump. The episodes included his firing of FBI director James Comey and actions to protect former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The special counsel’s investigators also looked into Trump’s efforts to remove Mueller, curtail the Russia investigation, prevent public disclosure of evidence and get former White House Counsel Don McGahn to deny the president had ordered him to have Mueller removed. They also reviewed other conduct involving Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and one person whose name is redacted.

Trump’s actions included “discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons,” the report states.

“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,” Mueller wrote.

Congress has power to act further on possible obstruction

Mueller said he lacked confidence to clear Trump of obstruction of justice but added that lawmakers have the authority to act. “We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” the report states.

“Our investigation found multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russia-interference and obstruction investigations,” according to the report. “The president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.”

Mueller couldn’t establish Trump committed underlying crime

Mueller said he wasn’t able to establish that Trump’s actions were taken to cover up Russian collusion. “Unlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” the report states.

Mueller’s team did find extensive Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including contacts with Trump campaign officials, but couldn’t establish that any American conspired in those efforts.

Mueller said an underlying crime isn’t necessary to prove obstruction of justice, and noted people have various reasons to obstruct justice.

“The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong,” he said.

Mueller considered charges over Trump Tower meeting

Mueller considered a campaign-finance prosecution over the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower among Donald Trump Jr.; Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; and campaign chairman Manafort and Russians promising dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.

The report said prosecutors decided not to press charges because they didn’t have "admissible evidence" likely to prove that the Trump officials acted "willfully," or that the information promised by the Russians exceeded the value threshold for a criminal violation.

Trump worried Mueller would end his Presidency

According to the special counsel’s report, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump in the Oval Office that a special counsel had been appointed, “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.’”

Trump became angry, according to the report, and assailed Sessions for allowing Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. “How could you allow this to happen, Jeff?” Trump asked. He added that the attorney general was “supposed to protect me,” or words to that effect, according to Sessions.

McGahn prepared to resign over push to fire Mueller

McGahn was prepared to resign as White House counsel in June, 2017, after Trump directed him to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that “Mueller has to go,” according to the report. McGahn spoke to the president twice, making it unlikely that he misunderstood Trump’s request, it said.

“In response to that request, McGahn decided to quit because he did not want to participate in events that he described as akin to the Saturday Night Massacre” during Richard Nixon’s presidency, the report said. Mueller ultimately wasn’t fired, and McGahn stayed on until October 2018.

Manafort discussed Midwest strategy, Ukraine with Russian

While serving as Trump’s campaign chairman, Manafort shared campaign polling data and its Midwest strategy with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate who the FBI assessed has ties to Russian intelligence, according to the report.

They met on August 2, 2016, at Kilimnik’s request, with Kilimnik delivering “a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel’s Office was a ‘backdoor’ way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine.” They believed that the proposal’s success depended on support from Trump, if he were elected.

According to Manafort deputy Rick Gates, the two men also discussed so-called battleground states including Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

Mueller criticises Trump for ’inadequate’ responses to questions

Mueller wanted to interview Trump in person but never got to, agreeing to let the president respond to questions in writing. In those responses, received in November 2018, Trump said on more than 30 occasions that he didn’t recall, remember or have an "independent recollection" of information asked about by the special counsel.

"We viewed the written answers to be inadequate," according to the report.

Mueller then asked again for an interview, and the president declined. Mueller considered issuing a subpoena for his testimony, but given the "substantial evidence" the office had collected and the delay that would result from litigation, he decided not to issue one.

Barr, Rosenstein disagreed with Mueller over obstruction

Barr and Rosenstein said before the report’s release that they disagreed with Mueller’s legal theory on obstruction and thought that evidence of “non-corrupt intent” also weighed against criminal charges.

Mueller didn’t make a judgment on whether Trump committed a criminal offence, saying instead he didn’t have enough confidence to clear Trump.

“The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment,” Mueller report states. “At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would state so.”

Barr has no objections to Mueller testimony to Congress

Democrats are demanding that Mueller testify as soon as possible before Congress, and Barr told reporters Thursday he’d have no objection to Mueller appearing.

Portions of Mueller’s report have been blocked by Barr, who said he held back grand jury testimony, sensitive intelligence information, derogatory information about people caught up in the probe and information relating to ongoing investigations.

Barr told reporters he would give committees in Congress access to a version of the report that excludes only grand jury information. House Democrats have said they are prepared to go to court to get the full report and all the underlying evidence.

by by Steven T. Dennis, Chris Strohm & David McLaughlin, Bloomberg

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