Special counsel considered Trump’s written answers ‘inadequate’
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — Attorney General William Barr on Thursday morning transmitted a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s highly anticipated report on Russian meddling during the 2016 presidential campaign to members of Congress, making public for the first time substantial portions of the nearly 400-page document.
The Justice Department’s release of the redacted report comes just weeks after Barr penned a four-page letter conveying the special counsel’s “principal conclusions.”
In that letter, Barr described “two main” Kremlin-backed efforts to influence the election, but states definitively that the special counsel’s office did not find evidence to suggest that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with the Russians.
The special counsel’s office made no conclusion on the matter of possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, Barr noted, but Barr himself determined that the evidence against Trump did not amount to a crime.
ABC NEWS WILL BE PROVIDING LIVE UPDATES THROUGHOUT THE DAY ON ALL THE MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS.
2:10 p.m.: 2020 candidates slam AG Barr as Mueller report sends ripples through Democratic field
Democratic presidential candidates were quick to vent their frustration on Thursday at the conduct of Attorney General William Barr, swiftly called on special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress and demanded that the full unredacted report be released to the public.
The ire directed at Barr comes after he held a press conference defending President Donald Trump’s actions and to speak publicly and take questions from journalists before the report from the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election was released.
None of the sitting U.S. senators who have declared a presidential bid voted for Barr’s confirmation.
1:31 p.m.: Insight into Trump’s written responses to the special counsel team’s questions
The answers President Donald Trump gave to special counsel Robert Mueller have finally been released as part of the redacted version of the special counsel’s report.
Trump’s willingness to participate in an interview with the special counsel, the topics of the questions and whether that interview would take place in person or in writing was the subject of a months-long negotiation between Trump’s legal team and the special counsel.
In June of 2017, the president told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl that he would “one hundred percent” be willing to speak under oath to his version of events if Mueller asked him to. Eventually, the president and his legal team backed off of Trump’s initial willingness to sit for an interview, instead advocating that the president respond to select questions in writing. Trump submitted his written responses to the special counsel on November 21, 2018.
Read his responses here.
12:12 p.m.: Trump orders White House counsel Don McGahn to deny the president tried to fire the special counsel
After news broke that Trump ordered McGahn to fire the special counsel, Trump pressured McGahn to deny that he had been directed to do so, even suggesting to aides that he would fire him unless he complied. Mueller concludes that there is evidence to suggest Trump acted this way to impede his investigation.
According to the report: “The President then directed [staff secretary Rob] Porter to tell McGahn to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. Porter thought the matter should be handled by the White House communications office, but the President said he wanted McGahn to write a letter to the file “for our records” and wanted something beyond a press statement to demonstrate that the reporting was inaccurate. The President referred to McGahn as a ‘lying bastard’ and said that he wanted a record from him. Porter recalled the President saying something to the effect of, ‘If he doesn’t write a letter, then maybe I’ll have to get rid of him’.”
Mueller concluded that “Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn’s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.”
12:08p.m.: Trump tried to block release of emails related to June 9 Trump Tower meeting: Report
In a section of the report divided into four subsections, Mueller’s team cites at least three occasions “between June 29, 2017 and July 9, 2017- when the president directed Hope Hicks and others not to publicly disclose information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and a Russian attorney. The office of the special counsel concluded that” these efforts by the president were directed at the press, adding that these acts would amount to obstructive acts only if the president sought to withhold information or mislead congressional investigations or the special counsel. On May 17, 2017, the president’s campaign received a document request from SSCI that clearly covered the June 9 meeting.”
In the analysis section, the special counsel specifically addresses the phrase attributed to Hope Hicks, “it will never get out”—in reference to the emails setting up the June 9 meeting. Hicks said she “had no memory of making” that comment and always believed the emails would eventually be leaked. The Special Counsel writes that the Hicks statement “can be explained as reflecting a belief that the emails would not be made public if the President’s press strategy were followed, even if the emails were provided to Congress and the Special Counsel.”
11:46 a.m.: Cohen had “extensive” discussions with the president’s personal counsel
The Mueller report states that Michael Cohen, President Trump’s then-personal attorney, had “extensive” discussions with the president’s personal counsel while working on his statements to Congress.
The report further lays out myriad instances of the president’s conduct with Cohen including:
–Cohen had numerous brief conversations with Trump about the Trump Tower Moscow project from Sept. 2015 onward, as well as conversations with Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. In Dec. 2015, Felix Sater asked Cohen for a copy of his and Trump’s passports to facilitate travel to Russia. By Jan 2016, growing frustrated with Sater, Cohen reached out directly to Dmitry Peskov and later had a conversation with Peskov’s assistant that he recounted to Trump.
–The day after Cohen’s conversation with Peskov’s assistant, Sater texted Cohen saying that the Russian government liked the project and invited Cohen to come visit Moscow. Cohen continued to brief Trump and Donald Trump Jr. on the project through the spring. Cohen and Sater worked to determine a time for a potential visit from then candidate Trump to Russia. The visit never happened. Cohen also decided not to visit. Cohen recounts telling trump that the project was “going nowhere” sometime during the summer of 2016.
–In January 2017, Cohen received press inquiries about Trump Tower Moscow, and told President-Elect Trump about the inquiries. He was concerned being honest about the project would not be consistent with the president’s previous comments about his relationship with Russia.
–To stay on message Cohen told a NYT reporter that the Trump Tower Moscow deal ended in January 2016. Cohen said he discussed this talking point with Trump.
–Cohen entered into a joint defense agreement with the president and others after Congress requested he testify. Cohen assumed he would be asked about allegations in the Steele Dossier. Cohen spoke with the president’s personal counsel “frequently” leading up to his congressional testimony.
–Cohen was told by the president’s personal counsel that the joint defense agreement was working well. His bills were being paid by the Trump Org. Cohen said the president’s personal counsel told him he was protected by the JDA, and he wouldn’t be if he “went rogue”
–Cohen prepared a draft letter to congress which included several false statements. That letter was circulated around and edited by members of the JDA. The president’s personal counsel also told Cohen not to make reference to an attempt to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin during the 2015 United Nations general Assembly.
–Cohen submitted his statement. He recalled speaking to the president “more generally” about his plans to stay on message during his testimony
Earlier in the day, Cohen vowed “Soon I will be ready to address the American people again…tell it all…and tell it myself!”
11:45 a.m.: The president’s further efforts to have AG Jeff Sessions take over the investigation
Special counsel Robert Mueller appears to conclude that President Trump’s actions with regard to Jeff Sessions could constitute as obstruction.
“On multiple occasions in 2017, the President spoke with Sessions about reversing his recusal so that he could take over the Russia investigation and begin an investigation of Hillary Clinton…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 could restrict its scope…A reasonable inference from those statements and the President’s action is that an unrecused Attorney General would play a protective role and could shield the President from the ongoing Russia investigation.”
11:31 a.m.: Mueller considered Trump’s answers ‘inadequate’
Mueller lays out his negotiations with Trump’s attorneys regarding an interview with the president. Mueller writes in the introductory note that they advised counsel that “a[n] interview with the President is vital to our investigation.” Mueller says that Trump “stated on more than 30 occasions that he “does not ‘recall’ or ‘remember’ or have an “independent recollection’” of information called for by the questions.” Mueller received the president’s responses in November 2018. Beginning in December 2017 they sought to interview the president on “topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction-of-justice.”
Mueller writes that “Other answers were incomplete or imprecise.”
“We again requested an in-person interview, limited to certain topics, advising the President’s counsel that [t]his is the President’s opportunity to voluntarily provide us with information for us to evaluate in the context of all the evidence we have gathered. The President declined.”
Mueller says “we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony” given that Trump would not volunteer an interview. “We viewed the written answers to be inadequate. But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report. We thus weighed to costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits from our investigation and report.”
11:26 a.m.: On looking into potential obstruction of justice
The report says while they believe they had legal authority “and legal justification” to subpoena Trump” for an interview, they chose not to due to the delay in investigation that it would cause. “We also assessed that based on the significant body of evidence we had already obtained of the President’s actions and his public and private statements … we had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the President’s testimony.”
As for retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador, the report notes: “some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.”
On the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting, the report says Trump had “substantial involvement” in the communications strategy over the Russia probe. But “the evidence does not establish that the president intended to prevent” Mueller or Congress from getting those emails to Donald Trump Jr. or other information related to the meeting.
11:16 a.m.: On looking into potential collusion
The probe “Uncovered numerous links — I.e. contacts — between Trump campaign officials and individuals having or claiming to have ties to the Russian government.”
Among the people: Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, Jared Kushner, JD Gordon, Paul Manafort, Erik Prince and Jeff Sessions. The report notes, as ABC News first reported, that Sessions, when he was attorney general, was investigated for perjury over his testimony to Congress about his contacts with the Russian ambassador.
The “collusion” report talks extensively about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting and the promise of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
The Russians reached out again after the meeting to the transition team, but the transition team did not respond.
Mueller’s team determined it would be hard to prove “campaign officials or individuals connected to the campaign willfully violated the law.”
“On the facts here, the government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful.”
“Schemes involving the solicitation or receipt of assistance from foreign sources raise difficult statutorily and constitutional questions.”
11:15 a.m.: The report has posted
The full report has posted:
10:29 a.m.: 10 episodes of potential obstruction to be disclosed in Mueller report
There are ten episodes depicting potential obstruction of justice outlined in the impending Mueller report, according to Barr’s remarks at the Department of Justice.
The special counsel did not make a traditional prosecutorial judgement on obstruction of justice, as was outlined in Barr’s letter last month.
“Instead the report recounts ten episodes involving the president and discusses legal theories for connecting those activities,” Barr said. “After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report and in consultation with the office of legal counsel and other department lawyers. The deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not subject to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.”
In Barr’s March 24 letter, he wrote that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
10:01 a.m.: Trump tweets “Game Over”
Minutes after Barr’s press conference ended, Trump tweeted “No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and radical left Democrats–Game Over,” an apparent reference to the Game of Thrones television show.
9:34 a.m.: Barr’s press conference begins
At a news conference Thursday morning, Barr said he was committed to providing “the greatest degree of transparency” that is “consistent with the law.”
“As the special counsel report makes clear, the Russian government sought to interfere in our election process, but thanks to the special counsel’s thorough investigation, we now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign, or the knowing assistance of any other American for that matter. That is something all Americans can and should be grateful to have confirmed,” Barr said.
“In other words, there was no evidence of the Trump campaign’s collusion of the Russian government’s hacking,” he said.
Barr held the news conference hours before he was set to send Mueller’s redacted report to Congress and make it public, drawing sharp criticism from congressional Democrats. Barr, after thanking Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his efforts, also confirmed that he intends to transmit redacted versions of the report to the chairman and ranking members of the House Judiciary committees.
Rosenstein joined Barr for the news conference Thursday morning.
8 a.m.: Trump tweets ahead of release
Ahead of the Mueller release, Trump tweets that the investigation is “the Greatest Political Hoax of all time!”
Trump will have the chance to watch the DOJ press conference at 9:30 this morning — the first thing on his schedule Thursday is the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier ride at 10:30 a.m. in the East Room where he is expected to deliver remarks.
8 a.m.: Topics Barr is expected to address during his presser
Barr is expected to address three topics during his press conference scheduled for 9:30 this morning, according to Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec.
Those three topics are:
- Executive privilege and whether it was involved.
- White House interactions with the Department of Justice over the past several weeks since the last letter issued by Barr on March 29.
- The redaction process.
The press conference is expected to last 20-30 minutes.
8 a.m.: Mueller arrives at office, not attending Barr newser
Mueller arrived at his office as he usually does, driving himself in his Subaru. He will not attend Barr’s news conference at the Justice Department, a spokesman said.
7:42 a.m.: Barr arrives at Justice Department
Barr arrived at the Justice Department in a two-car detail ahead of his news conference later this morning.
6:15 a.m.: Top Democrats call for Mueller to testify before Congress ‘as soon as possible’
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr’s handing of the report release has created a “crisis of confidence” and said having Mueller testify was the “only way to begin restoring public trust.”
“Attorney General Barr’s regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report, including his slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress last week, and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference later this morning — hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it — have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality,” they said.
“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible. The American people deserve to hear the truth,” Schumer and Pelosi said in the statement.
Mueller submitted his findings to the Justice Department on March 22, and Barr spent the next two days reviewing the document before releasing his initial letter to Congress.
Since then, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called for the full release of Mueller’s report.
House Democrats set a deadline for Barr to release the full report by April 2, but the attorney general declined that request, citing the need to redact sensitive grand jury material, information legally blocked from public release, information that could compromise intelligence sources and methods, and any “information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
Though Thursday’s anticipated release of a redacted version of Mueller’s report may answer lawmakers’ demands for more information, it will likely be met with calls for even more.
In a letter from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer sent just hours after Barr’s initial letter, the Democratic leaders wrote that “Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the Committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise.”
The amount of underlying documents supporting the report is expected to be substantial. In his letter, Barr wrote that “the Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants” and “interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.”
Mueller’s full report covers the scope of an investigation lead by a team of federal prosecutors that lasted 22 months and lead to 37 indictments and seven guilty pleas. Some of the cases related to the special counsel’s probe are ongoing and have since been turned over to prosecutors in U.S. Attorney’s offices.
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