After nearly two years of speculation and amid rampant concerns that Attorney General William Barr is engaged in an effort to spin the results of Robert Mueller’s investigation, the report (in redacted form) has been released.
Early Thursday, Barr suggested he and Rod Rosenstein disagreed with the special counsel on matters of “legal theory” with regard to the obstruction case against the president. That will be the primary focus of legal scholars, analysts, lawmakers and the media going forward.
Here are two key passages on that, from the report:
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. 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 so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.
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. The president engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.
Several features of the conduct we investigated distinguish it from typical obstruction-of-justice cases. First, the investigation concerned the President, and some of his actions, such as firing the FBI director, involved facially lawful acts within his Article II authority, which raises constitutional issues discussed below. At the same time, the President’s position as the head of the Executive Branch provided him with unique and powerful means of influencing official proceedings, subordinate officers, and potential witnesses–all of which is relevant to a potential obstruction-of-justice analysis.
And here are some bullet point highlights touching on a variety of topics:
- Mueller said he lacks confidence to clear Trump of obstruction
- Trump told Mueller that he has “no recollection” of any Russian support
- Trump told Mueller he didn’t recall learning about the infamous Trump tower meeting
- Trump was not involved in the underlying crime with respect to collusion
- Trump’s efforts to have the Attorney General take control of the investigation were reviewed by Mueller
- Mueller cites “difficult issues” with regard to Trump and an obstruction determination
- Rod Rosenstein apparently saw the White House propagate a “false story” on James Comey’s dismissal
- Mueller investigated possible efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence
- Trump, Mueller says, had “unique and powerful means” for obstruction
- Mueller concluded Congress can determine whether obstruction took place
- The special counsel also says “unavailable information” may shed further light on obstruction
- The evidence Mueller reviewed does not suggest Comey’s firing was an effort to cover up a conspiracy
- Trump told Mueller he didn’t recall learning of Putin’s support
- Trump ordered Don McGahn to deny that the president attempted to fire the special counsel
- Trump told his staff no disclosures on the Trump Tower meeting
- Mueller says Trump’s acts are capable of “undue influence” over probe, but was “mostly unsuccessful” at influencing the investigation
- Mueller told Trump’s attorneys their answers were insufficient in December
- Mueller says Trump engaged in “targeted efforts to control the probe”
- Cohen and Trump discussed the Moscow Tower project multiple times
- Mueller says he had enough evidence not to subpoena Trump
- Trump privately supported Cohen after the FBI raid
- Trump told Rick Gates that additional Wikileaks releases could be coming
- Some witnesses said Trump himself discussed the possibility of upcoming releases
- Mueller says Trump and his campaign’s advisors privately went after information related to the hacked emails
- Trump encouraged Paul Manafort not to cooperate
Notably, it appears that the “no collusion” narrative is not as clear-cut as it initially seemed. Mueller states that “we understood coordination to require an agreement – tacit or express – between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” That, Mueller says, “requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”
In other words, Mueller did not think about “collusion” and/or “coordination” in the same way as many Americans. Rather, Mueller applied it in a strict sense where prosecutors would have needed to uncover a “tacit or express” agreement to make the case.
Additionally, Mueller found a multitude of instances where campaign members had contact with Russia. To wit, from the report:
While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal. And our evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeak’s release of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation.
This is a far (far) more nuanced take on “collusion”/”coordination” than William Barr suggested Mueller served up. Here’s a key bit on George Papadopoulos, for instance:
Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Trump campaign through the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton.
As mentioned in the bullet points, Trump pressured Don McGahn not to reveal efforts to fire the special counsel. “The President reacted to the news stories by directing White House officials to tell McGahn to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the Special Counsel removed”, the report reads. Here are the details around Trump’s well-documented effort to dismiss Mueller:
On June 17, 2017 the president called McGahn at home and directed him to call the acting attorney general and say that the special counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed. McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre.
When it comes to Jeff Sessions, there were indeed instances that found Trump privately encouraging the then-Attorney General to unrecuse. To wit:
In early summer 2017, the president called Sessions at home and again asked him to reverse his recusal from the Russia investigation.
That is of course in addition to the myriad instances of Trump lambasting and maligning Sessions on Twitter and in other public forums.
As mentioned in the bullet points, Trump attempted to control what was publicly disclosed about the Trump Tower meeting. Here’s what Mueller found:
On several occasions, the president directed aides not to publicly disclose the emails setting up the June 9  meeting, suggesting that the emails would not leak and that the number of lawyers with access to them should be limited. Before the emails became public, the president edited a press statement for Trump Jr. by deleting a line that acknowledged that the meeting was with ‘an individual who [Trump Jr.] was told might have information helpful to the campaign’ and instead said only the meeting was about adoptions of Russian children. When the press asked questions about the president’s involvement in Trump Jr.’s statement, the president’s personal lawyer repeatedly denied the president had played any role.
Remember KT McFarland? Well, apparently she did not trust the president. From Mueller:
Shortly after requesting Flynn’s resignation and speaking privately to Comey, the President sought to have Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland draft an internal letter stating that the President had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak. McFarland declined because she did not know whether that was true, and a White House Counsel’s Office attorney thought that the request would look like a quid pro quo for an ambassadorship she had been offered.
Michael Cohen did in fact believe that a pardon was forthcoming – or at least initially:
Cohen also discussed pardons with the President’s personal counsel and believed that if he stayed on message he would be taken care of.
When Mueller was appointed, Trump lamented “the end of his presidency.” To wit:
On May 17, 2017, the Acting Attorney General for the Russia investigation appointed a special counsel to conduct the investigation and related matters. The president reacted to news that a special counsel had been appointed by telling advisors that it was ‘the end of his presidency’ and demanding that Sessions resign. Sessions submitted his resignation, but the president ultimately did not accept it. The president told aides that the special counsel had conflicts of interest and suggested that the special counsel therefore could not serve. The president’s advisors told him the asserted conflicts were meritless and had already been considered by the department of justice.