These are the 10 ‘episodes’ Mueller looked at in his obstruction investigation
Many of the incidents outlined were already publicly known, but the report provides fresh details on others while offering an in-depth look at a president who was described as being in a state of “panic” over the investigation.
Here’s a look at the events investigated by Mueller and his team as they tried to determine whether the president had obstructed justice.
1) The president’s conduct concerning the investigation and firing of Michael Flynn (Page 24)
Robert Mueller outlined the previously reported story that Michael Flynn was in touch with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak shortly after the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia over its alleged meddling in the 2016 election.
Amid the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn, Trump invited FBI Director James Comey to dinner where the infamous “loyalty” request was made. The report also discusses Comey’s widely reported later claim that Trump asked Comey to “see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
Mueller finds Comey’s side of the story more believable and notes that “substantial evidence” corroborates Comey’s account of the loyalty request and other conversations.
The report makes a point to lay out that Trump was warned by both Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House Counsel Don McGahn not to discuss the Russia investigation with Comey, but that Trump did so anyway.
Mueller also reveals that President Trump asked Chris Christie to call James Comey and tell him that the president “really like[s] him. Tell him he’s part of the team.”
Mueller reports that Christie found the request “nonsensical.”
2) The president asked Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the Russia investigation and asked Comey to publicly push back on suggestions the president was involved in Russian meddling. (Page 48)
Trump tried to get Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Trump first asked McGahn to contact Sessions and urge him not to recuse himself after public calls for him to do so began. After an initial first attempted failed, McGahn tried again — several more times:
“Throughout the day, McGahn continued trying on behalf of the President to avert Sessions’s recusal by speaking to Sessions’s personal counsel, Sessions’s chief of staff, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and by contacting Sessions himself two more times,” the report states.
In his argument to Sessions, Trump made comparisons to the Obama and Kennedy administrations, claiming those presidents had loyalists at the head of the Justice Department who would protect their president.
Meanwhile, following Comey’s March 2017 testimony before members of Congress in which he confirmed the existence of the Russia investigation, Trump contacted a number of intelligence officials, including several who had nothing to do with the investigation, to request they “correct the misperception that the President was under investigation.”
Mueller reports on two additional calls to Comey following the testimony in which Trump asked the FBI director “what could be done to ‘lift the cloud’ ” and said he hoped Comey would “find a way to get out that we weren’t investigating him.”
Mueller does not make a firm conclusion about Trump’s intent, pointing out that evidence exists that Trump was angered by the Russia investigation, but also that he was concerned about the probe’s impact on his ability to govern.
3) The firing of Comey (page 62)
The report details the process by which Trump announced Comey’s firing, stating that Trump and adviser Stephen Miller together drafted the letter terminating Comey over a weekend at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., resort.
Later, Trump lobbied for the support of Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions and directed Rosenstein to write a letter outlining justifications for Comey’s firing.
Around that time, Rosenstein told DOJ colleagues that “his own reasons for replacing Comey were ‘not [the President’s] reasons.’ ”
Following negative press coverage, the White House communications staff reached out to Rosenstein, asking him to put out an additional statement saying that it was his idea to fire Comey, which Rosenstein refused to do, telling colleagues he would not put out a “false story,” according to Mueller.
Mueller notes that firing Comey could be an obstructive act had it impeded an investigation, but argues that the firing the FBI director does not necessarily stop the investigations the director is overseeing. Mueller also concludes that “the evidence does not establish that the termination of Comey was designed to cover up a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.” Mueller later states, however, that evidence suggests that an FBI investigation would uncover other potentially damning facts about the president and his campaign, offering a possible corrupt intent.
4) The president’s efforts to remove the special counsel (page 77)
In the wake of Comey’s May 2017 firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia investigation.
Upon reading press reports that he was under investigation for obstruction of justice, Trump twice called McGahn at home to ask him to have the special counsel removed, claiming Mueller had conflicts of interest.
McGahn prepared to resign rather than carry out this request, but the president did not follow up on his directive to McGahn, and McGahn returned to work.
This section of Mueller’s report also establishes that Trump felt threatened by the appointment of the special counsel:
“According to notes written by Hunt, when Sessions told the President 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 [expletive],’ ” the report states.
Mueller concludes that “substantial evidence indicates that the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the president’s conduct.”
5) The president’s efforts to limit the scope of the investigation (page 90)
In a different attempt to limit the Russia probe, Trump reached out to former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask him to deliver a message to Sessions. In his notes about the meeting, Lewandowski wrote the following:
“The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:
“I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . . . is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.”
The speech goes on to say that Sessions will allow the special counsel to continue his work only as it pertains to future elections. In a follow-up meeting, Trump suggested that Lewandowski, a private citizen, tell Sessions he was fired if Sessions would not meet with him.
Lewandowski never met with Sessions to deliver the message.
Around the same time, Trump made a number of statements, including in a July 2017 interview with the New York Times, that raised questions about Sessions’ job security.
The Mueller report states that these actions from the president “could raise an inference that the President wanted Sessions to realize that his job might be on the line as he evaluated whether to comply with the President’s direction that Sessions publicly announce that, notwithstanding his recusal, he was going to confine the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference.”
6) Trump’s efforts to prevent the disclosure of e-mails related to the Trump Tower meeting (page 98)
In June 2017, Trump personally worked to limit public disclosure of e-mails that described the 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and a group of Russians.
The meeting was described in the e-mails as an effort by the Russians to share derogatory information about Hillary Clinton with the Trump campaign. After Mueller was appointed, Trump was told by his top communications adviser, Hope Hicks, to release the e-mails, advice he repeatedly rejected. Trump also personally edited a statement issued in his son’s name to the New York Times.
According to Mueller’s report, Trump Jr. and Hicks discussed what happened in the meeting during a series of text messages, and the younger Trump acknowledged that the Russians wanted to talk about Clinton.
“They started with some Hillary thing which was bs and some other nonsense which we shot down fast,’’ Trump Jr. wrote to Hicks.
Hicks replied that “the boss man worried it invites a lot of questions.”
The younger Trump insisted that the word “primarily” be inserted to suggest adoption was one of multiple issues discussed. “If I don't have it in there it appears as though I'm lying later when they inevitably leak something,’’ he texted Hicks.
Trump’s personal attorney, David Wright, wrongly denied the president edited his son’s statement about the meeting after news organizations reported that he had done so.
“Over the next several days, the President’s personal counsel repeatedly and inaccurately denied that the President played any role in drafting Trump Jr.’s statement,’’ the report reads.
Mueller concluded Trump’s actions were part of the White House communication strategy, not an effort to frustrate the special counsel investigation or fail to disclose information to Congress.
7) More efforts by the president to have Sessions take over the investigation (page 108)
In the wake of the special counsel’s May 2017 appointment, Trump called Sessions at home and asked him to “unrecuse himself” and order an investigation and prosecution of Hillary Clinton. Sessions listened to the president but did not follow either of these orders.
Mueller outlines instances throughout 2018 when Trump suggests Sessions should be taking greater control over what the Justice Department investigates, ultimately prompting Sessions to issue a statement in August defending his actions.
Some months later on the day after the midterm elections, Mueller notes, Trump fired Sessions.
Mueller concludes that “there is evidence that at least one purpose of the President’s conduct toward Sessions was to have Sessions assume control over the Russia investigation and supervise it in a way that would restrict its scope.”
8) The president orders Don McGahn to deny that the president tried to fire Mueller (page 113)
After the New York Times reported in January 2018 that Trump ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the president repeatedly tried to get McGahn to say that the president never asked him to fire the special counsel.
Trump first asked an aide to direct McGahn to write a letter to dispute that he was ordered to fire Mueller, and later followed up with McGahn in an Oval Office meeting.
“McGahn refused and insisted his memory of the President’s direction to remove the Special Counsel was accurate.”
Mueller concludes that “substantial” evidence indicates that Trump acted to “deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct toward the investigation.”
9) Trump’s actions toward Flynn, Manafort, and a redacted third name (page 120)
Mueller outlines other actions Trump took regarding witnesses to the Mueller probe: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and a redacted third individual. Trump’s personal counsel described Flynn’s withdrawal of a joint defense agreement with the president as “hostility” toward the president. Meanwhile, Mueller described a series of public statements suggesting a pardon was possible for Manafort and expressing hope that he would not “flip.”
Mueller concluded “the evidence supports the inference that the President intended Manafort to believe that he could receive a pardon, which would make cooperation with the government as a means of obtaining a lesser sentence unnecessary.” Mueller concludes in regard to Flynn that it’s not possible to determine whether Trump knew of his personal counsel’s message to Flynn because of “privilege issues.”
10) The president’s conduct involving Michael Cohen (page 134)
The president’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, initially stuck by the president in the early parts of the Russia investigation, even going as far as to lie to Congress about the progress of Trump’s Moscow Tower project. Mueller’s report finds that while there is evidence that Trump knew Cohen had made the false statements, “the evidence available to us does not establish that the President directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony.”
But later in the Russia probe, Cohen and the president broke ranks, with the president repeatedly criticizing Cohen and calling him a “rat” who was cooperating with prosecutors to avoid jail time.
Mueller concludes that “there is evidence that could support the inference that the President intended to discourage Cohen from cooperating with the government because Cohen’s information would shed adverse light on the President’s campaign-period conduct and statements.”
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.