While the special counsel’s report stops short of concluding that President Trump committed crimes, it does lay out a disturbing pattern of Trump wielding his power against staff and frequently asking them to lie on his behalf.
As the investigation into Trump-campaign ties to Russia in the 2016 election unfolded, and the press reported on Trump's efforts at obstruction, the president not only lied himself but also leaned on underlings and high-level government officials to make false public statements, the Mueller report details.
Here are some of the most egregious instances that Mueller documented:
Trump pushed intelligence chiefs to say publicly that he had no connection to Russia
In March of 2017, shortly after the Mueller investigation kicked off, the president pulled Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo aside after a meeting in the Oval Office. He urged them to help turn down the heat on the Russia investigation.
Trump wanted to know: Was there anything they could do to help Trump with the investigations? He asked them to make public statements that Trump had no ties to Russia.
And Trump didn’t let things go after that Oval Office meeting. He followed up with another phone call to Coats. As Director of National Intelligence, Coats had nothing to do with the Russia investigation, and he told Trump it wasn’t his place to make a public statement about it.
So Trump, undeterred, called up NSA Director Admiral Michael Rogers. The news stories about Russian contacts, Trump said, were false. Was there anything the NSA could do to refute them? Deputy Director of the NSA Richard Ledgett, who was also on the call, told Mueller it was the strangest experience he’d had in his 40 years of working for the government.
After the call, Rogers and Ledgett wrote up a memo about it, signed it, and stored it away in a safe.
Trump tried to get Mueller fired as special counsel. Then, when the incident was reported in the press, he tried to get his staff to lie about it.
Trump pushed White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to get Mueller fired over “conflicts of interest.” A number of close advisers to the president all thought the “conflicts” were bogus — and McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the president’s bidding.
Then, when the New York Times reported in 2018 that McGahn had threatened to resign rather than push for Mueller’s ouster, Trump tried to get McGahn to make the Times run a correction on the story.
"I never said to fire Mueller. I never said 'fire.’ This story doesn't look good. You need to correct this. You're the White House counsel,” Trump said.
But McGahn told him he thought the Times’ reporting was just about on point. McGahn had interpreted what Trump said as a request to fire Mueller. Trump insisted that he “do a correction” nonetheless. McGahn refused.
Trump wanted to make it look like it was Rosenstein’s idea to fire Comey
Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over a purported lack of loyalty and his unwillingness to do anything to influence Mueller’s investigation. But in the days after the firing, Trump wanted to make it look like it was Jeff Sessions’ and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s idea to fire Comey.
The White House was going to go so far as to put out an official statement alleging, falsely, that Comey was fired based on Rosenstein’s recommendation. Rosenstein told the White House that he wouldn’t participate in putting out a “false news story,” but that didn’t stop then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer from saying, in an unplanned press conference on May 9, 2017, that Comey’s firing was all Rosenstein’s idea.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders pushed that narrative further, alleging that Comey’s firing was recommended not just by Rosenstein but also by a bipartisan group of officials and lawmakers — and even a bunch of FBI employees — who had all lost faith in Comey’s abilities. That was, Sanders later told Mueller’s team, a “slip of the tongue.” That rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made "in the heat of the moment,” but later admitted was completely unfounded.
On Friday morning, Sanders said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that the “slip of the tongue” was her use of the word “countless,” and then she doubled down: “There were a number of FBI, both former and current, that agreed with the president’s decision.” She also said that Comey was a “disgraced leaker.”
“I'm sorry that I wasn't a robot like the Democrat Party that went out for two and a half years and stated time and time again that there was definitely Russian collusion between the president and his campaign,” she added.
Don Jr. wanted to come clean about the Trump Tower meeting. Trump wouldn’t let him.
After the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and Russians, Donald Trump Jr., who had solicited “dirt” that a Russian lawyer was offering on Hillary Clinton, penned a letter to the New York Times.
In drafting the letter, Don Jr. wrote that the meeting was with "an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign." But his father edited that line out. The letter after Trump’s edits indicated that the meeting was only about adoption issues. The president, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, and Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow then repeatedly lied about Trump’s involvement in editing the letter.
Trump may not have “directed” Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, but he didn’t tell him not to, either.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former attorney and fixer, had been the point person on Trump Organization negotiations over the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow. The president was aware the negotiations were ongoing throughout much of the 2016 presidential campaign, but Trump’s official line on the matter was that they ended in January of 2016.
They didn’t. Cohen was in touch with Russians about the Trump Tower Moscow project until June of 2016.
As Cohen was preparing his testimony for Congress about the Trump Organization’s interactions with Moscow, the president’s lawyers repeatedly told him to “stay on message.”
For Cohen, that amounted to an implied directive to lie to Congress. “Mr. Trump did not directly tell me to lie to Congress. That’s not how he operates,” Cohen told Congress in February. “In his way, he was telling me to lie.”
Now that Mueller’s report is public, we know why: The evidence that Trump directly instructed Cohen to lie wasn’t quite enough for Mueller.
Mueller cited evidence that the president likely knew that Cohen’s statements to Congress were false, but that Cohen largely made the statements on his own. They didn’t find enough evidence that Trump “directed or aided” Cohen’s false testimony.
The report does, however, indicate that Cohen shared his prepared false statement to Congress with Trump’s lawyers. They signed off on them. And immediately before and after Cohen’s testimony, phone records that Mueller reviewed show he’d had repeated calls with Trump’s personal lawyers.
Trump may not have directed Cohen to lie. But Trump certainly didn’t encourage him not to.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks at a Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride event in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)