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What did we learn from reading Robert Mueller’s actual report?

What did we learn from reading Robert Mueller’s actual report?
Demonstrators near the White House. (Olivier Douliery / TNS)

The secrecy around the final report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has finally been lifted, at least most of it.

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Some information was redacted by the Justice Department, but much of the 448-page report became public on Thursday. Here’s what we’ve learned.

The ball is in Congress’ court

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With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers during Article II of the Constitution, 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.

see the document

Mueller ultimately determined that Justice Department policy prevented his office from seeking to indict a president for obstruction of justice, but he left the door wide open for Congress.

His report concludes that lawmakers have the power to investigate and potentially act upon the information compiled during the Russia investigation – suggesting impeachment.

Mueller rebutted legal arguments asserted by Trump’s attorneys that a president’s exercise of executive power granted under the Constitution cannot constitute illegal obstruction. If done for “corrupt” reasons, Mueller concluded, otherwise legitimate presidential acts, such as pardoning people or ending investigations, can be reviewed. And Congress has the authority to do it.

‘This is the end of my Presidency’

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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 fucked.’ The President became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse from the investigation, stating, ‘How could you let this happen, Jeff?’

see the document

We’ve grown accustomed to the president’s tweets complaining of harassment and deriding the investigation as a “witch hunt.” But President Trump’s words here peel back the layers of braggadocio to reveal something else — fear.

“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency,” Trump told Sessions, according to the report. “It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Trump’s aides often ignored him

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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.

see the document

Although Trump raged against the investigation, his fury often turned out to be impotent. The most notable example came in June 2017, when he demanded Don McGahn, then the White House counsel, get Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller.

“Mueller has to go,” McGahn recalled Trump saying. “Call me back when you do it.”

McGahn didn’t want to carry out the order and packed up his office while preparing to resign. But the next time Trump and McGahn saw each other, the president didn't ask about the issue, letting it drop.

Trump’s bad memory

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The President 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.

see the document

Trump has often bragged about having “one of the great memories of all time,” but it seemed to fail him when he was faced with questions from the special counsel’s office. In written answers to questions, he repeatedly said he couldn’t recall details.

At one point he wrote that he couldn’t remember specifics on any conversations with Roger Stone, a longtime political advisor, over a five-month period during the campaign.

Trump’s memory was particularly fuzzy around the time of the crucial meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 between three top campaign aides — including his eldest son — and a Kremlin-linked lawyer from Moscow.

“This was one of many busy months during a fast-paced campaign, as the primary season was ending and we were preparing for the general election campaign,” Trump wrote.

The longest advertisement ever

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Cohen recalled conversations with Trump in which the candidate suggested that his campaign would be a significant ‘infomercial’ for Trump-branded properties.

see the document

This is not the sort slogan you put on a baseball cap. In interviews with investigators, Michael Cohen said Trump saw dollar signs in his presidential campaign, mainly for the free publicity it would generate for the Trump Organization.

This continued throughout the year, as Trump returned again and again to his own properties. He announced his campaign in Trump Tower, hosted primary-night news conferences at Mar-a-Lago and drew press to his Washington, D.C., hotel for a ribbon-cutting.

“Never before has a presidential campaign looked so much like an infomercial,” Politico reported in 2016. Turns out, that’s exactly what Trump had in mind.

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