Suddenly, White House trumpets Mueller report

President Donald Trump speaks to reporters before leaving the White House. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

After denouncing the special counsel’s Russia investigation throughout its nearly two-year history, President Donald Trump greeted its conclusion with choice words: “the Crazy Mueller Report,” ″written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters,” containing “total bullshit.”

Now, suddenly, the “witch hunt” is golden, in the pivoting rhetoric of the White House.

Bristling at Democratic attempts to dig deeper into episodes of possible obstruction of justice laid out in Robert Mueller’s report, Trump’s team is pointing to the fact that Mueller stopped short of accusing Trump of a crime (and glossing over the idea that it left Congress to pursue that path as it sees fit.)

This has given rise to fulsome praise for an inquiry Trump has routinely condemned.

“It was the most thorough investigation probably in the history of our country,” Trump told reporters on Wednesday. “I say it’s enough.”

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway offered this: “The president is saying that the Mueller report is the definitive, conclusive non-partisan investigation.”

This, after Trump assailed the inquiry as a partisan, polluted exercise since its inception and, according to the Mueller report, pressed aides to stop it.

Said Conway: “You want to see the nonpartisan, definitive, conclusive taxpayer-funded, lengthy, unobstructed, unimpeded, uninterfered with investigation? You just saw it and it’s called the Mueller report.”

The switch came as House Democrats stepped up their scrutiny of Trump’s behavior and finances and the White House pushed back. A former White House official defied a House subpoena, the Treasury Department ignored a deadline for providing Trump’s tax returns and the president vowed “we’re fighting all the subpoenas” from Democratic lawmakers on these subjects.

Despite crediting Mueller with unparalleled thoroughness — and after countless false claims that the report exonerated him — Trump did not abandon his characterization of the inquiry as a witch hunt, something he’s repeated on Twitter alone nearly 200 times in less than a year .

“We just went through the Mueller witch hunt, where you had, really, 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump,” he said. “They hate him with a passion.”


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Trump felt the end was near for his presidency

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

At the moment two years ago when Donald Trump learned a special counsel had been appointed to investigate his campaign and Russia, the president responded with profane fury — and something resembling panic.

He feared his presidency, then only a few months old, was over. He berated aides for not protecting him. His cocky assurance was nowhere in sight.

The Oval Office scene that day is vividly reconstructed in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released Thursday. Mueller traces how, at perilous turns in the Russia episode, aides took the brunt of Trump’s rage yet acted to save the president from himself — at times by letting his orders go unheeded and, at least in one instance, declining an entreaty to lie on his behalf.

On May 17, 2017, Trump was in the Oval Office with his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, Sessions’ chief of staff Jody Hunt and White House lawyer Don McGahn, conducting interviews for a new FBI director to replace James Comey, whom Trump had fired eight days earlier. Sessions left the room to take a call from his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, and returned to tell the president that Rosenstein had informed him of the special counsel appointment.

“The President slumped back in his chair,” Mueller wrote in his report, “and said, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.’”

“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?’”

The reconstruction was based primarily on accounts from Hunt, with Sessions also supplying detail to Mueller’s team. Sessions said Trump asked for his resignation but when he brought him a letter of resignation the next day, the president had changed his mind.

Trump adviser Hope Hicks, describing the aftermath of that meeting to Mueller’s team, said she had only seen Trump that upset once before — when the “Access Hollywood” tape came out in the campaign, revealing Trump’s coarse comments about imposing himself on women.

Sessions had stepped away from Russia matters because his work on the Trump campaign raised questions of conflict of interest. He withstood searing heat from Trump over that move and pressure, both public and private, to reverse his recusal until he was finally forced out late last year.

Some other aides, too, refused to be compliant at major moments.

The report states that in the days after Mueller’s appointment, Trump opened an effort to discredit the special counsel, but ran into a wall from senior advisers such as McGahn, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, who was then chief of staff.

“The President told senior advisors that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest,” the report says, “but they responded that those claims were ‘ridiculous’ and posed no obstacle to the Special Counsel’s service.”

Then, a month into Mueller’s work, Trump moved to get him fired.

The report says that on June 17, 2017, Trump called McGahn at home and directed him to contact Rosenstein and tell him the special counsel must be removed.

“You gotta do this,” Trump told McGahn, according to the lawyer’s recollection to Mueller’s team.

“McGahn was perturbed by the call and did not intend to act on the request,” the report says.

Trump pressed the point with a follow-up call.

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

McGahn never did it.

And when early 2018 came around, Trump wanted McGahn to issue a denial that he’d ever been asked to press for Mueller’s removal in the first place. He summoned the lawyer to the Oval Office.

Again, no luck.

“McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening,” the report says, “and perceived the President to be testing his mettle.”


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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved