10 ‘Obstruction’ Episodes Special Counsel Mueller Investigated

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team examined 10 episodes as part of its investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, according to the report that was released on Thursday.

The Special Counsel ultimately declined to make any prosecutorial judgment but decided that it could investigate the president for criminal conduct.

Here are the 10 episodes they looked at — almost all of which there have already been publicly reported on:

1. Conduct involving FBI Director Comey and Michael Flynn.

The Special Counsel examined Trump’s comments to fired FBI Director James Comey about former National Security Adviser Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. Comey recorded these discussions in personal notes, which he later shared with the media to prompt a special counsel investigation into obstruction. From the report:

On January 27, the day after the President was told that Flynn had lied to the Vice President and had made similar statements to the FBI, the President invited FBI Director Comey to a private dinner at the White House and told Comey that he needed loyalty. On February 14, the day after the President requested Flynn’s resignation, the President told an outside advisor, ‘Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over.’ The advisor disagreed and said the investigations would continue.”Later that afternoon, the President cleared the Oval Office to have a one-on-one meeting with Comey. Referring to the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, the President said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’

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.

2. The President’s reaction to the continuing Russia investigation.

The Special Counsel also examined Trump’s efforts to stop former Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from overseeing the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference and any potential collusion. It also looked into Trump asking top national security officials to accurately dispel the notion that he had any connection to the Russian election-interference effort. From the report:

In early March, the President told White House Counsel Donald McGahn to stop Sessions from recusing. And after Sessions announced his recusal on March 2, the President expressed anger at the decision and told advisors that he should have an Attorney General who would protect him. That weekend, the President took Sessions aside at an event and urged him to ‘unrecuse.’

Later in March, Comey publicly disclosed at a congressional hearing that the FBI was investigating ‘the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,’ including any links or coordination between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. In the following days, the President reached out to the Director of National Intelligence and the leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the National Security Agency (NSA) to ask them what they could do to publicly dispel the suggestion that the President had any connection to the Russian election-interference effort.

The President also twice called Comey directly, notwithstanding guidance from McGahn to avoid direct contacts with the Department of Justice. Comey had previously assured the President that the FBI was not investigating him personally, and the President asked Comey to ‘lift the cloud’ of the Russia investigation by saying that publicly.

3. The President’s termination of Comey.

The Special Counsel examined Trump’s firing of Comey, noting his public references to the Russia investigation and his decision to fire Comey before getting a recommendation from his attorney general and deputy attorney general. The Special Counsel did note that Trump acknowledged that firing Comey could actually lengthen the investigation. From the report:

On May 3, 2017, Comey testified in a congressional hearing, but declined to answer questions about whether the President was personally under investigation. Within days, the President decided to terminate Comey. The President insisted that the termination letter, which was written for public release, state that Comey had informed the President that he was not under investigation.

The day of the firing, the White House maintained that Comey’s termination resulted from independent recommendations from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General that Comey should be discharged for mishandling the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But the President had decided to fire Comey before hearing from the Department of Justice.

The day after firing Comey, the President told Russian officials that he had ‘faced great pressure because of Russia,’ which had been ‘taken off’ by Comey’s firing. The next day, the President acknowledged in a television interview that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Department of Justice’s recommendation and that when he ‘decided to just do it,’ he was thinking that ‘this thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’

In response to a question about whether he was angry with Comey about the Russia investigation, the President said, aAs far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,’ adding that firing Comey ‘might even lengthen out the investigation.'”

4. The appointment of a Special Counsel and efforts to remove him.

The Special Counsel examined Trump’s reaction to the news that a Special Counsel had been appointed and that he was now under investigation, his tweets criticizing the Justice Department, and his efforts to remove the Special Counsel. From the report:

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.

On June 14, 2017, the media reported that the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating whether the President had obstructed justice. Press reports called this ‘a major turning point’ in the investigation. While Comey had told the President he was not under investigation, following Comey’s firing, the President now was under investigation.

The President reacted to this news with a series of tweets criticizing the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel’s investigation. 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.”

5. Efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation.

The Special Counsel examined an instance where Trump asked his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions to announce that the investigation was very unfair to Trump, and that he had done nothing wrong. From the report:

On June 19, 2017, the President met one-on-one in the Oval Office with his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, a trusted advisor outside the government, and dictated a message for Lewandowski to deliver to Sessions. The message said that Sessions should publicly announce that, notwithstanding his recusal from the Russia investigation, the investigation was ‘very unfair’ to the President, the President had done nothing wrong, and Sessions planned to meet with the Special Counsel and ‘let [him] move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections.’

Lewandowski said he understood what the President wanted Sessions to do. One month later, in another private meeting with Lewandowski on July 19, 2017, the President asked about the status of his message for Sessions to limit the Special Counsel investigation to future election interference. Lewandowski told the President that the message would be delivered soon. Hours after that meeting, the President publicly criticized Sessions in an interview with the New York Times, and then issued a series of tweets making it clear that Sessions’s job was in jeopardy. Lewandowski did not want to deliver the President’s message personally, so he asked senior White House official Rick Dearborn to deliver it to Sessions. Dearborn was uncomfortable with the task and did not follow through.”

6. Efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence.

The Special Counsel examined an episode in which Trump was helping to craft a response to news that his son had met with a Russian lawyer to discuss the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoptions. From the report:

In the summer of 201 , the President learned that media outlets were asking questions about the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between senior campaign officials, including Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer who was said to be offering damaging information about Hillary Clinton as ‘part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.’

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 that 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.”

7. Further efforts to have the Attorney General take control of the investigation.

The Special Counsel looked at more efforts by Trump to get Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation. From the report:

In early summer 2017 , the President called Sessions at home and again asked him to reverse his recusal from the Russia investigation. Sessions did not reverse his recusal. In October 2017, the President met privately with Sessions in the Oval Office and asked him to ‘take [a] look’ at investigating Clinton. In December 2017, shortly after Flynn pleaded guilty pursuant to a cooperation agreement, the President met with Sessions in the Oval Office and suggested, according to notes taken by a senior advisor, that if Sessions unrecused and took back supervision of the Russia investigation, he would be a ‘hero.’

The President told Sessions, ‘I’m not going to do anything or direct you to do anything. I just want to be treated fairly.’ In response, Sessions volunteered that he had never seen anything ‘improper’ on the campaign and told the President there was a ‘whole new leadership team’ in place. He did not unrecuse.

8. Efforts to have McGahn deny that the President had ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed.

The Special Counsel examined Trump’s interactions with White House lawyer Don McGahn, telling him to dispute reports that he asked him to have the Special Counsel removed. From the report:

In early 2018, the press reported that the President had directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed in June 2017 and that McGahn had threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. 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. McGahn told those officials that the media reports were accurate in stating that the President had directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed.

The President then met with McGahn in the Oval Office and again pressured him to deny the reports. In the same meeting , the President also asked McGahn why he had told the Special Counsel about the President ‘s effort to remove the Special Counsel and why McGahn took notes of his conversations with the President. McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening and perceived the President to be testing his mettle.

9. Conduct towards Flynn, Manafort

The Special Counsel examined Trump’s public comments and his lawyers’ comments about Flynn and former campaign manager Paul Manafort, after they were indicted, for signs that he was trying to obstruct the investigation. From the report:

After Flynn withdrew from a joint defense agreement with the President and began cooperating with the government, the President’s personal counsel left a message for Flynn’s attorneys reminding them of the President’s warm feelings towards Flynn, which he said ‘still remains,’ and asking for a ‘heads up’ if Flynn knew ‘information that implicates the President.’

When Flynn ‘s counsel reiterated that Flynn could no longer share information pursuant to a joint defense agreement, the President’s personal counsel said he would make sure that the President knew that Flynn ‘s actions reflected ‘hostility’ towards the President.”During Manafort ‘s prosecution and when the jury in his criminal trial was deliberating, the President praised Manafort in public, said that Manafort was being treated unfairly, and declined to rule out a pardon. After Manafort was convicted, the President called Manafort ‘a brave man’ for refusing to ‘break’ and said that ‘flipping’ ‘almost ought to be outlawed.’

10. Conduct involving Michael Cohen

Lastly, the Special Counsel examined the president’s comments on his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, which the report said switched from praise to insults when he became a cooperating witness. The report said:

After the FBI searched Cohen’s home and office in April 2018  the President publicly asserted that Cohen would not ‘flip,’ contacted him directly to tell him to “stay strong,” and privately passed messages of support to him. Cohen also discussed pardons with the President’s personal counsel and believed that if he stayed on message he would be taken care of. But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in the summer of 2018, the President publicly criticized him, called him a ‘rat,’ and suggested that his family members had committed crimes.

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