By Gregg Re
Published April 19, 2019
The public release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Thursday marked the dramatic final note of a lengthy and contentious investigation, but also sparked a tinderbox of new calls for subpoenas, congressional testimony, resignations, and even impeachment proceedings -- all despite the probe's central finding that no evidence showed that President Trump's team "coordinated or conspired" with Russia.
The whirlwind moments kept coming, even hours after the report's release, as more and more revelations from the 448-page document trickled out. The White House, for its part, claimed total victory and vindication for the president who, according to the report, once fretted that the special counsel's appointment meant he was "f---ed" beyond the possibility of redemption and that his agenda would be derailed by partisan distractions.
"As I have been saying all along, NO COLLUSION - NO OBSTRUCTION!" Trump, who did not assert executive privilege to shield any sections of the report, wrote on Twitter.
Journalist and frequent Trump critic Glenn Greenwald declared on The Intercept: "Robert Mueller Did Not Merely Reject the Trump/Russia Conspiracy Theories. He Obliterated Them."
But Democrats and media outlets that long advanced the idea that the Trump campaign had treasonously worked with Russia -- and sneered with anticipation that the Trump administration would collapse -- quickly pivoted to whether the president had, instead, interfered with the now-completed investigation into such an alleged conspiracy.
Within minutes of the report's publication, House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., charged that the special counsel had provided "disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice" and, referencing the report's limited redactions, finished with a tantalizing flourish: "Imagine what remains hidden from our view."
Nader immediately called on Mueller himself to testify, and top Republicans, including Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, said they would have no objections to him doing so.
Like previous heated hearings featuring former FBI Director James Comey, counterintelligence head Peter Strzok, and ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, a moment with Mueller in the congressional hot-seat would promise to be yet another spectacle in a long-running investigative saga.
Nadler also announced he would subpoena the full, unredacted version of the Mueller report and any underlying grand jury evidence. That move set up a likely legal confrontation with the Justice Department, where attorneys worked with Mueller's team to redact legally sensitive matters concerning classified information, ongoing investigations, unnecessary personal information and grand jury proceedings.
“The attorney general deciding to withhold the full report from Congress is regrettable, but not surprising,” Nadler said during a press conference, at which he refused to rule out impeachment proceedings.
Late Thursday, the DOJ wrote a letter to lawmakers saying that select congressional Democrats and Republicans, including the chair and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, would be permitted to review -- but not publicly share -- a less-redacted version of Mueller's report in a secure setting. Only matters related to ongoing grand jury proceedings would remain redacted, as required by law.
Even without seeing the full document, some Democrats, including New York Democrat Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez vowed to sign onto an impeachment resolution, and pressed for more investigations. (Ocasio-Cortez has previously called for Trump's impeachment, including in a recent viral video in which she struggled at length to find a basis for impeachment, before claiming that Trump's tax cuts could suffice.)
However, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., cautioned against that approach. "Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point," he said. "Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgement."
Republicans, meanwhile, called the day a resounding win, pointing specifically to several portions of Mueller's findings that debunked long-held conspiracy theories and media reports that misrepresented the Trump team's contacts with Russia.
For example, notably absent from Mueller's analysis was any mention of the unverified report that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had "secret talks" with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London's Ecuadorian embassy months before stolen emails damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign were published.
Closely scrutinized communications between the Russian ambassador and Trump campaign officials at the Republican National Convention and at a speech in Washington, D.C. were "brief, public, and non-substantive," Mueller wrote.
Similarly, breathless coverage of a meeting between the ambassador and Jeff Sessions in Sept. 2016 in Sessions' office amounted to little more than a footnote in Mueller's report, which said Sessions' talks included a "passing mention of the presidential campaign."
And "the investigation did not establish that one Campaign official's efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican Party platform on providing asssistance to Ukraine were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia."
The FBI, in its warrant application to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page, quoted directly from a disputed Washington Post opinion piece which noted that a Trump campaign official vetoed a proposed platform amendment that would have called for providing lethal arms to Ukrainian forces fighting Russia, and suggested the move was a possible indicator that the campaign had been compromised.
The Trump campaign, at the time, supported providing only defensive arms to Ukrainians, and rejected a single Republican delegate's proposed platform amendment that called for providing lethal arms. Later, the Trump administration changed course and approved lethal arms sales to Ukraine.
The FBI did not provide its own independent assessment of whether the Washington Post opinion piece contained accurate information in its application to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, and did not mention that the Obama administration had the same policy towards arming Ukraine as the one Trump's team supported.
Separately, Mueller wrote that investigators "did not establish that Manafort coordinated with the Russian government on its election-interference efforts," despite reports that he shared polling data with an individual linked to Russian intelligence.
Mueller's team "did not identify evidence of a connection between Manafort's sharing polling data and Russia's interference in the election, which had already been reported by U.S. media outlets at the time of the August 2 meeting," the report stated.
Referring to a discredited BuzzFeed News bombshell report, Mueller wrote, "The evidence available to us does not establish that the President directed or aided Cohen's false testimony [concerning the Trump Tower Moscow project]," even though evidence showed that Trump "knew" Cohen had lied to Congress.
BuzzFeed has inexplicably stood by its reporting that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress in the face of mounting inconsistencies, even though the story has been contradicted explicitly by Mueller, Cohen, and every other relevant on-record source. (Late Thursday, after Mueller again debunked his outlet's reporting, BuzzFeed news editor-in-chief Ben Smith attempted to explain the outlet's reasoning without apologizing for the error.)
Summing up the positive news for his administration in the report, Trump tweeted a reference to the popular "Game of Thrones" television series, with the words, "No collusion, no obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats -- Game Over."
And White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters that Thursday was the "best day" since Trump's election, calling the Mueller probe a "political proctology exam" and the final report a "clean bill of health."
"It should make people feel really great that a campaign I managed to its successful end did not collude with any Russians," Conway said. "We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them."
Democrats, however, raised a slew of objections and charged that Barr had improperly given cover for the president. 2020 presidential contender Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., called on Barr to "resign," after Barr pointed out in his press conference that Trump's mental state -- including his apparent frustration at the long-running investigation -- was relevant to the question of whether he obstructed justice.
On collusion, according to the report, the Trump team believed it would benefit from Russian efforts and sought to share published emails that had been pilfered from the DNC and Clinton campaign, but did not coordinate with Russia on any hacking or misinformation efforts.
The report noted that Russia also sought to boost Bernie Sanders in his presidential bid.
In one notable lead that was explored, former national security adviser Michael Flynn told investigators that Trump repeatedly requested that his team find tens of thousands of emails deleted from a private server controlled by Hillary Clinton.
At a July 2016 campaign rally, Trump remarked sarcastically, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."
After that statement, Flynn contacted operatives in the hopes of uncovering the documents, according to Mueller. And Peter Smith, a GOP consultant, "created a company, raised tens of thousands of dollars, and recruited security experts and business associates,” the report stated.
Smith told Mueller's team “he was in contact with hackers ‘with ties and affiliations to Russia’ who had access to the emails, and that his efforts were coordinated with the Trump Campaign" -- a claim Mueller could not verify.
Regardless, Mueller found no evidence that the Trump team had “initiated or directed Smith’s efforts.”
Mueller also noted that Trump's written answers to his questions on the issue had been "inadequate," but that the special counsel's office nonetheless decided against issuing a subpoena to compel Trump to speak with investigators.
"We viewed the written answers to be inadequate," the report stated. "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."
Multiple media reports, and several commentators, focused on a section of Mueller's report that read: “According to notes written by (Sessions' chief of staff Jody) 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 f…….' ... 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?’"
But Mueller's report went on to make clear that Trump's concern was with losing a political mandate, not going to jail: “The president returned to the consequences of the appointment and said, ‘Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won't be able to do anything. This is the worse thing that ever happened to me.’”
Mueller further referenced several incidents described in the report in which top Trump advisers resisted or defied the president’s “efforts to influence the investigation” -- while saying those efforts were unsuccessful because of that defiance.
For example, the report detailed Trump's alleged effort to have Mueller sidelined, amid reports at the time that the special counsel’s office was investigating the president for obstruction of justice. The report detailed a dramatic moment where the president's White House counsel apparently rejected the push.
“On June 17, 2017, the president called [White House Counsel Don] 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,” the report stated, referencing the Watergate scandal.
The report noted that Trump did not follow up with McGahn in a later meeting as to whether he would fire Mueller, and ultimately decided not to terminate him.
The report also detailed the run-up to Trump's decision to fire Comey, after the FBI Director repeatedly refused to publicly confirm that Trump was not under investigation -- even though Comey had privately confirmed that to Trump.
According to Mueller's report, there was "substantial evidence" that Comey's termination had to do with his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.”
Mueller cited reports that the day after Comey was fired, Trump told Russian officials that he had “faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
Comey acknowledged in testimony last December that when the agency initiated its counterintelligence probe into possible collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government in July 2016, investigators "didn't know whether we had anything" and that "in fact, when I was fired as director [in May 2017], I still didn't know whether there was anything to it."
In remarks late Thursday, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe -- who was fired last year for making unauthorized leaks to the media and lying to investigators about them -- sounded a rare, nonpartisan note of optimism amid the brouhaha gripping the nation.
"The Mueller Report is a remarkable document – detailed, thorough, objective, and full of facts rather than rhetoric," McCabe said in a statement. "It stands as a tribute to the hard work of the team of FBI agents and lawyers who, despite the endless stream of attacks on law enforcement from this Administration, worked for two years to find the facts and the truth amidst a swamp of lies and misinformation. It shows what our law enforcement personnel – especially the dedicated men and women of the FBI – do every day on cases large and small throughout this country. We owe them our profound gratitude.”
Fox News' Jake Gibson, Bill Mears, Catherine Herridge, and Brooke Singman contributed to this report.