President Donald Trump and his team are still twisting the findings of the special counsel’s report on the Russia investigation.
At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr echoed Trump’s refrain of “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia, insisting that any and all allegations of collusion have been “proven false.” That’s not the case.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham also got it wrong when he asserted that special counsel Robert Mueller had asked Barr to make a ruling on whether Trump obstructed justice.
A look at the claims:
TRUMP: “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION.” — tweet Wednesday.
BARR: “The evidence is now that the president was falsely accused of colluding with the Russians and accused of being treasonous. …Two years of his administration have been dominated by allegations that have now been proven false.” — Senate hearing Wednesday.
GRAHAM, Republican senator from South Carolina: “Mr. Mueller and his team concluded there was no collusion.” — Senate hearing.
THE FACTS: Allegations of “collusion” were not “proven false” in the Mueller investigation, nor was the issue of “collusion” addressed in the report.
The Mueller report said the investigation did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, saying it had not collected sufficient evidence “to establish” or sustain criminal charges.
The report noted that some Trump campaign officials had declined to testify under the 5th Amendment or had provided false or incomplete testimony, making it difficult to get a complete picture of what happened during the 2016 campaign. The special counsel wrote that he “cannot rule out the possibility” that unavailable information could have cast a different light on the investigation’s findings.
The report also makes clear the investigation did not assess whether “collusion” occurred because it is not a legal term. The investigation found multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia, and the report said it established that “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
GRAHAM: “As to obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller left it to Mr. Barr to decide after two years, and all this time. He said, ‘Mr. Barr, you decide.’ Mr. Barr did.” — Senate hearing.
THE FACTS: Not true. Mueller did not ask Barr to rule on whether Trump’s efforts to undermine the special counsel’s Russia investigation had obstructed justice.
According to the report, Mueller’s team declined to make a prosecutorial judgment on whether to charge partly because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted.
As a result, the report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, specifically leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter or for prosecutors to do so once Trump leaves office.
Barr wrote in a March 24 letter that ultimately he decided as attorney general that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient” to establish, for the purposes of prosecution, that Trump committed obstruction of justice.
Barr subsequently acknowledged that he had not talked directly to Mueller about making that ruling and did not know if Mueller agreed with him.
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As the Russia investigation heated up and threatened to shadow Donald Trump’s presidency, he became increasingly concerned. But the portrait painted by special counsel Robert Mueller is not of a president who believed he or anyone on his campaign colluded with Russians to interfere in the 2016 election.
Instead, the Trump of the Mueller report is gripped by fear that Americans would question the very legitimacy of his presidency. Would Trump, the man who put his name on skyscrapers and his imprint on television, be perceived as a cheater and a fraud?
To Trump, his victory over Hillary Clinton was both historic and overwhelming, though he won millions of votes less than did the Democratic candidate.
If people thought he’d won with the help of Russia, that glorious victory might be tainted.
Just a month after Election Day, on Dec. 10, 2016, reports surfaced that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded Russia interfered in the election and tried to boost Trump’s presidential bid.
The next day, Trump went on Fox News and called the assessment “ridiculous” and “just another excuse.” The intelligence community actually had “no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody,” he argued.
“It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place,” the Republican president-elect added.
The president’s public narrative quickly shifted. He blamed Democrats and accused his political opponents of putting the story out because they “suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics.”
But the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election to sow discord among American voters and to help get Trump elected was his “Achilles’ heel,” one of his closest aides, Hope Hicks, would tell investigators.
In the months that followed, Trump reacted strenuously to investigations into links between the Russians and his campaign and transition teams.
Michael Flynn, who served on the transition team and would go on to be national security adviser, spoke with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. Flynn asked that Russia not retaliate against the United States because of sanctions announced by the Obama administration; the ambassador later told Flynn that Russia would hold back.
In the weeks that followed, Trump paid careful attention to what he saw as negative stories about Flynn. He grew increasingly angry when a story broke pointing out that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
By mid-February, Flynn was forced to resign.
A day later, as Trump was set to meet with FBI Director James Comey, the president had lunch with his confidant and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. He told Christie he believed the Russia investigation would end because of Flynn’s departure.
“Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over,” Trump said.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The fear — and Trump’s anger — continued for months as the Russia investigation ensnared some of his closest confidants. Over and over, he would tell advisers that he thought the public narrative about Russian election interference was created to undermine his win. It was a personal attack, he insisted.
On May 9, 2017, Trump fired Comey. Trump would later admit in an interview that he had considered “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey.
Days later, Trump held an Oval Office meeting with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House lawyer Don McGahn and Sessions’ chief of staff Jody Hunt to interview candidates to be the next FBI director.
Sessions walked out of the room to take a call from his deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. When he returned, he informed Trump that Rosenstein had appointed a special counsel to investigate possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Trump feared that his presidency, still in its infancy, could be over. And he was furious his aides hadn’t protected him.
The president slumped back in his chair.
“Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f—ed. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he said.
For months, as the Russia investigation grew and more people in Trump’s inner circle appeared to be under intense scrutiny from federal investigators, Trump became completely preoccupied with press coverage of the probe. The message was persistent: It raises questions about the legitimacy of the election.
At rallies and on Twitter, Trump decried what he said was a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
In the end, the redacted version of Mueller’s report cleared the Trump campaign of colluding with Russian efforts to influence the election.
Trump crowed that the report found “No Collusion.” But he ignored Mueller’s finding that Russian meddling was very real and was intended to support Trump’s campaign.
Did Russia’s efforts lead to Trump’s victory? Mueller doesn’t venture an opinion, much as he does not decide whether Trump committed obstruction of justice.
But how could Trump have obstructed justice if there was no collusion to hide?
The lack of an underlying crime doesn’t really matter, Mueller argued. Trump still had a motivation to obstruct the investigation — the fear that people would question the legitimacy of his election.
Somehow, The Washington Post had uncovered Michael Flynn’s secret. Somehow, it had learned that he had spoken with Russia’s ambassador the same day the Obama administration announced hefty sanctions on the country.
Now the question was raised: Had the incoming national security adviser undermined the sanctions?
Flynn was in trouble.
“What the hell is this all about?” Trump fumed to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus. Priebus called Flynn. The boss is angry, he told Flynn. “Kill the story,” he said.
Flynn, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who grew close to Trump on the campaign trail, knew it was true. Just weeks before, he had indeed discussed the sanctions and persuaded the Kremlin not to escalate the situation. But feeling the pressure of Trump’s anger after Priebus’ call, Flynn turned to his deputy.
Call the Post, Flynn said. Tell them there were no sanctions discussions. Even though she knew better, the aide, K.T. McFarland, did as she was told.
It was the first lie about Flynn’s Russia contacts. It wouldn’t be the last.
Over the next few days, Flynn repeated the lie to Priebus and others in the White House. No sanctions discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, he told Mike Pence, the vice president-elect. He said the same to press secretary Sean Spicer. And they parroted that to the public.
“They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure against Russia,” Pence said during a Jan. 15 appearance on CBS “Face the Nation.
The denials set off alarm bells at the Justice Department.
Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, an Obama holdover, and other senior officials knew the comments weren’t true. U.S. intelligence agencies, which routinely monitor the communications of foreign diplomats, had learned of Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak when analyzing the Kremlin’s response to the sanctions. The FBI had also opened an investigation into Flynn’s relationship with Russia.
Yates worried that Flynn’s lie could put him and other U.S. officials in a compromising position because the Russians could prove the American public had been misled. There was also an ongoing counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, of which Flynn’s calls were now a part of the mounting evidence.
The Justice Department’s concerns only increased when, after Trump’s inauguration and Flynn’s appointment as the nation’s top national security aide, Spicer gave his first press briefing. He had spoken with Flynn the night before, he told reporters.
The Kislyak calls weren’t about sanctions, he said. Next question.
Two FBI agents walked into the White House the next day. It was Jan. 24, 2017, and they were there to talk to Flynn.
One of them was Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence official who would later face scrutiny for his anti-Trump comments. Flynn agreed to talk with them, and when asked, denied that he told Kislyak to back off from escalating situation in response to the sanctions.
He also lied about a follow-up phone call and another matter: On Dec. 21, 2016, when Egypt pushed a resolution at the United Nations critical of Israeli settlements in Palestinian areas, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner turned to Flynn to push for the Kremlin to oppose the move. Flynn had unsuccessfully pressured Kislyak on the issue. But he told the agents otherwise.
News of the false statements to the FBI— a crime under federal law— quickly made it to Yates, who on Jan. 26, called White House counsel Don McGahn. She needed to discuss a sensitive matter.
In a meeting with McGahn and another White House lawyer later that day, Yates told him that Pence’s comments about Flynn weren’t true. Also, Flynn’s FBI interview hadn’t gone well.
McGahn, not entirely swayed by Yates, asked the National Security Council’s legal adviser, John Eisenberg, to look into the matter. He also went to Trump.
The president told him to work with Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon to look into it further. He added: Don’t discuss this with anyone else.
“Not again, this guy, this stuff,” Trump told Priebus, referring to Flynn.
Over the next week and a half, Eisenberg and McGahn gathered more information, and Flynn had a one-on-one with Trump in the Oval Office. What did you talk about with Kislyak? Trump asked. Flynn acknowledged he might have discussed sanctions.
Days later, the front page of The Washington Post would say the same thing.
The story shook Pence, who had been in the dark. A review of Justice Department documents sealed it. Flynn couldn’t have just forgotten. He had lied. McGahn and Priebus told Trump he had to fire Flynn.
That weekend, Flynn flew to Mar-A-Lago with the president. On the plane back to Washington on Feb. 12, Trump asked him whether he lied to Pence. Flynn said he may have forgotten some things but denied lying. “OK. That’s fine,” Trump responded. “I got it.”
The next day, Flynn was out.
Priebus delivered the news. In the Oval Office, Trump embraced Flynn and shook his hand. “We’ll give you a good recommendation. You’re a good guy. We’ll take care of you,” he said.
Flynn had spent just 25 days as national security adviser.
Trump had lunch with former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie the next day, which was Valentine’s Day. “Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over,” Trump told him. Christie burst out laughing. No way, he said.
“What do you mean?” Trump responded. “Flynn met with the Russians. That was the problem. I fired Flynn. It’s over.”
Flynn is going to be like “gum on the bottom of your shoe,” Christie said.
In the Oval Office later that day, Flynn was still on Trump’s mind. The president was being briefed by his top national security team. That included FBI Director James Comey, who Trump was intent on making part of “his team.”
As the meeting wrapped up, Trump cleared the room and asked Comey to remain behind. “I want to talk about Mike Flynn,” Trump said, according to Comey. There was nothing wrong with Flynn’s calls with the Kislyak, he said, but he had to fire Flynn for lying to Pence.
“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to Comey. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
Comey awkwardly sidestepped the issue. But over the next few weeks, Flynn remained on Trump’s mind.
Trump praised him publicly. Privately, he turned to McFarland, who had covered for Flynn before. On Feb. 22, 2017, McFarland, now the deputy national security adviser, was asked to resign. But Priebus and Bannon, who conveyed the message, suggested it came with a soft landing. The president could make her ambassador to Singapore.
The ask came a day later.
As reporters questioned whether he directed Flynn’s Russia contacts, Trump told Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email saying that the president didn’t order Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak.
Priebus went to McFarland, who balked. How could she write such an email? She didn’t know if it was true, she told him. She went to Eisenberg, who told her it was a bad idea. “It would also be a bad idea for the President because it looked as if my ambassadorial appointment was in some way a quid pro quo,” she wrote in a contemporaneous memo.
Priebus backed off. Forget I even mentioned it, he said.
But Trump wasn’t done. Call Flynn to show I still care, he told Priebus. Trump doesn’t want Flynn saying “bad things” about him, Priebus later recalled thinking.
In late March, news outlets reported that Flynn had offered to speak with the FBI and Congress in exchange for immunity. “Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt (excuse for big election loss), by media & Dems, of historic proportion!” Trump tweeted.
But privately, Trump asked McFarland to convey a different message. Tell him Trump felt bad for him, he said.
And he should stay strong.
On Dec. 1, 2017 Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to “willfully and knowingly” making “false, fictitious and fraudulent statements” to the FBI concerning conversations with Russia’s ambassador. He cooperated extensively with Mueller’s probe and awaits sentencing.
President Donald Trump is spreading misleading rhetoric about illegal immigration.
At a Wisconsin rally, he suggested he’s launched his plan to transport immigrants in the U.S. illegally to sanctuary cities in mass numbers — “my sick idea,” as he proudly called it. There’s no evidence that’s happening.
He’s also giving a confused outlook on the U.S. population growth, alternating between assertions that the country is too full to accept any more migrants and that it needs more migrants to fill jobs.
In the meantime, Russia kept reverberating over the past week, even with special counsel Robert Mueller’s report now part of history.
As much as Trump says he wants the United States to move on, he’s found it hard to turn away himself, as seen in a torrent of tweets and remarks railing against Democrats, trashing Mueller and painting his own actions in a saintly light.
A review of rhetoric from Trump and his team, also touching on health care, the economy and the census:
TRUMP: “Last month alone, 100,000 illegal immigrants arrived in our borders, placing a massive strain on communities and schools and hospitals and public resources, like nobody’s ever seen before. Now we’re sending many of them to sanctuary cities. Thank you very much. … I’m proud to tell you that was my sick idea.” — Green Bay, Wisconsin, rally Saturday.
THE FACTS: There’s no evidence a mass transfer to sanctuary cities is underway. He proposed the idea in part to punish Democratic congressional foes for inaction on the border, but his Homeland Security officials rejected the plan as unworkable.
Trump said this month he was “strongly considering” the proposal, hours after White House and Homeland Security officials had insisted the idea had been eschewed twice.
Sanctuary cities are places where local authorities do not cooperate with immigration officials, denying information or resources that would help them round up for deportation people living in the country illegally.
By all signs, federal officials considered the president’s words little more than bluster. His comments to the Wisconsin crowd appeared to be bluster, too.
People with knowledge of the discussions say White House staff discussed the idea with the Department of Homeland Security in November and February, but it was judged too costly and a misuse of money. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
TRUMP on U.S. population: “We need people to come in.” — rally.
TRUMP: “We have companies pouring in. The problem is we need workers.” — Fox Business interview Sunday.
THE FACTS: His position is a flip from earlier this month, when he declared the U.S. to be “full” in light of the overwhelmed southern border.
In an April 7 tweet, he threatened to shut down the border unless Mexico apprehended all immigrants who crossed illegally. But it turns out the U.S. is only “full” in terms of the people Trump doesn’t want.
Immigrants as a whole make up a greater percentage of the total U.S. population than they did back in 1970, having grown from less than 5 percent of the population to more than 13 percent now. In 2030, it’s projected that immigrants will become the primary driver for U.S. population growth, overtaking U.S. births.
TRUMP: “The Republicans are always going to protect pre-existing conditions.” — Wisconsin rally.
THE FACTS: He’s not protecting health coverage for patients with pre-existing medical conditions. The Trump administration instead is pressing in court for full repeal of the Affordable Care Act — including provisions that protect people with pre-existing conditions from health insurance discrimination.
Trump and other Republicans say they’ll have a plan to preserve those safeguards, but the White House has provided no details.
Former President Barack Obama’s health care law requires insurers to take all applicants, regardless of medical history, and patients with health problems pay the same standard premiums as healthy ones. Bills supported in 2017 by Trump and congressional Republicans to repeal the law could undermine protections by pushing up costs for people with pre-existing conditions.
TRUMP, calling Mueller’s probe a “witchhunt”: It’s “the greatest political hoax in American history.” — Wisconsin rally.
THE FACTS: A two-year investigation that produced guilty pleas, convictions and criminal charges against Russian intelligence officers and others with ties to the Kremlin, as well as Trump associates, is demonstrably not a hoax.
All told, Mueller charged 34 people, including the president’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and three Russian companies. Twenty-five Russians were indicted on charges related to election interference, accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts during the campaign or of orchestrating a social media campaign that spread disinformation on the internet.
Five Trump aides pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller, and a sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges he lied to Congress and engaged in witness tampering.
Mueller’s report concluded that Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was “sweeping and systematic.” Ultimately, Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. But the special counsel didn’t render judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, saying his investigators found evidence on both sides.
TRUMP: “No Collusion, No Obstruction – there has NEVER been a President who has been more transparent. Millions of pages of documents were given to the Mueller Angry Dems, plus I allowed everyone to testify, including W.H. counsel.” — tweet Wednesday.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: “The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.” — remarks at the Justice Department on April 18.
THE FACTS: It’s a huge stretch for them to cast the White House as being “fully” cooperative and open in the investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election and the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russian figures.
Trump declined to sit for an interview with Mueller’s team, gave written answers that investigators described as “inadequate” and “incomplete,” said more than 30 times that he could not remember something he was asked about in writing, and — according to the report — tried to get aides to fire Mueller or otherwise shut or limit the inquiry.
In the end, the Mueller report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia but left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
Also on the matter of transparency, Trump is an outlier among presidents in refusing to release his tax returns . Providing tax information as a candidate in 2016 and as president is something party nominees have traditionally done for half a century.
TRUMP: “In the ‘old days’ if you were President and you had a good economy, you were basically immune from criticism. Remember, ‘It’s the economy stupid.’ Today I have, as President, perhaps the greatest economy in history.” — tweet Tuesday.
THE FACTS: You can assume many previous presidents would beg to disagree that a good economy shielded them from criticism.
Under President Bill Clinton, whose top campaign staffer James Carville coined the phrase “the economy, stupid,” to underscore what the campaign should be about, the unemployment rate fell to 3.8% and the nation’s economy grew 4% or more for four straight years.
Yet Clinton was under independent counsel investigation for all but one year of his presidency, 1993. The House impeached him in December 1998, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, though the Senate acquitted him in February 1999. In January 1998, Hillary Clinton alleged a “vast right-wing conspiracy” to take down her husband, a widely mocked complaint about the relentless criticism the Clintons faced from the right (which extended to ridicule over the title of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book, “It Takes a Village.”)
Under President Ronald Reagan, the economy expanded 3.5% or more for six years in a row, with growth rocketing to 7.2% in 1984. Yet Reagan was dogged in his second term by the Iran-Contra investigation, which focused on covert arm sales to Iran that financed aid to Nicaraguan rebels.
Both presidents saw much faster growth than Trump has presided over, despite Trump’s faulty claim to have “perhaps the greatest economy in history.” Growth reached 2.9% last year, the best in four years, but far below the levels achieved under Clinton or Reagan. The unemployment rate touched 3.7% last September and November, the lowest in five decades, but just one-tenth of a percentage point below the 3.8% in April 2000 under Clinton.
TRUMP: “Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation (there was no crime), headed by a Trump hater who was highly conflicted.” — tweet Thursday.
THE FACTS: Trump is wrong to suggest that the FBI acted illegally by investigating him. The FBI does not need to know if or have evidence that a crime occurred before it begins an investigation.
Many investigations that are properly conducted ultimately don’t find evidence of any crime. The FBI is empowered to open an investigation if there’s information it has received or uncovered that leads the bureau to think it might encounter a crime. Apart from that, the investigation into the Trump campaign was initially a counterintelligence investigation rather than a strictly criminal one, as agents sought to understand whether and why Russia was meddling in the 2016 election.
Trump also makes a baseless charge that Mueller was “highly conflicted.” Mueller, a longtime Republican, was cleared by the Justice Department’s ethics experts to lead the Russia investigation. Nothing in the public record makes him a “Trump hater.”
According to the special counsel’s report, when Trump complained privately to aides that Mueller would not be objective, the advisers, including then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and then-chief of staff Reince Priebus, rejected those complaints as not representing “true conflicts.” Bannon also called the claims “ridiculous.”
TRUMP: “I DID NOTHING WRONG. If the partisan Dems ever tried to Impeach, I would first head to the U.S. Supreme Court.” — tweet Wednesday.
THE FACTS: He’d have a tough hearing at the Supreme Court. Justices ruled 9-0 in 1993 that the Constitution grants sole power of impeachment to the House and Senate, not the judiciary.
Under the principle of separation of powers, Congress is a co-equal branch of government to the executive branch and judiciary. The House is afforded power to impeach a president by bringing formal charges, and the Senate convenes the trial, with two-thirds of senators needed to convict and remove a president from office. The Constitution does not provide a role for the judiciary in the impeachment process, other than the chief justice of the United States presiding over the Senate trial.
In its 1993 ruling, the Supreme Court said framers of the Constitution didn’t intend for the court to have the power to review impeachment proceedings because they involve political questions that shouldn’t be resolved in the courts.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, White House counselor, saying there’s no need for Congress to continue investigating with the Mueller probe concluded: “We all know if Director Mueller and his investigators wanted to or felt that it was right to indict they would have done that. He had every opportunity to indict and declined to indict. Investigators investigate and they decide to indict, they refer indictment or they decline indictment. That’s the way the process works.” — remarks Wednesday to reporters.
THE FACTS: That’s not how Mueller’s process worked. According to the report, Mueller’s team declined to “make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether to indict — that is, do what prosecutors typically do, as Conway describes it — because of a Justice Department legal opinion that said sitting presidents shouldn’t be indicted. “Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought,” the report states.
As a result, the report factually laid out instances in which Trump might have obstructed justice, leaving it open for Congress to take up the matter or for prosecutors to do so once Trump leaves office. Mueller’s team wrote that its investigation was conducted “in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh” and documentary material available.
“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report states.
HOGAN GIDLEY, White House deputy press secretary: “He’s already denounced, multiple times, Russian involvement.” — remarks Tuesday to reporters.
THE FACTS: Trump has had it both ways, at times criticizing that involvement but more often equivocating, and long after U.S. intelligence agencies and other parts of his administration became convinced of Russian meddling. “Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,‘” Trump said of Putin in November 2017. “I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.” In February 2018, he tweeted: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said ‘it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.’”
Now he has assailed the report by Mueller, whose investigation fleshed out the audacious Russian effort to shape the election in favor of Trump and resulted in indictments against 25 Russians accused either of hacking Democratic email accounts or sowing discord in America through social media, as well as Trump associates.
TRUMP: “Isn’t it amazing that the people who were closest to me, by far, and knew the Campaign better than anyone, were never even called to testify before Mueller. The reason is that the 18 Angry Democrats knew they would all say ‘NO COLLUSION’ and only very good things!” — tweet on April 22.
THE FACTS: Trump’s wrong to suggest that the people “closest” to him weren’t called to testify before Mueller’s team.
Plenty of people close to him, including in his own family, interviewed with the special counsel’s investigators or were at least asked to appear. And of those who did, some said not very good things about their interactions with the president.
Among the advisers and aides who spoke with Mueller was McGahn, who extensively detailed Trump’s outrage at the investigation and his efforts to curtail it. McGahn told Mueller’s team how Trump called him at home and urged him to press the Justice Department to fire the special counsel, then told him to deny that the entire episode had taken place once it became public.
Mueller also interviewed Priebus, Bannon, former White House chief of staff John Kelly, former White House communications director Hope Hicks and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer who once said he was so close to the president that he’d “take a bullet” for him, also cooperated with Mueller and delivered unflattering details.
Mueller certainly wanted to hear from Trump’s family, too, even if not all relatives were eager to cooperate. His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., declined to be voluntarily interviewed by investigators, according to Mueller’s report. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spoke multiple times to Mueller’s team. One of the president’s daughters, Ivanka Trump, provided information through an attorney.
GIDLEY: “It was Barack Obama who leaned over to Dmitry Medvedev in the Oval Office and said, ‘Listen, we’ll have more flexibility when the election’s over.’” — remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: First, the conversation was in South Korea, not the Oval Office. Gidley accurately recounted the gist of what Obama was heard telling the Russian president on a microphone they didn’t know was on. But Gidley did not explain the context of the remark.
Obama was suggesting he would have more flexibility postelection to address Russia’s concerns about a NATO missile defense system in Europe. The conversation with Medvedev, who was soon succeeded by Vladimir Putin, had nothing to do with Russian meddling that would be exposed in the U.S. election four years away.
TRUMP: “The American people deserve to know who is in this Country. Yesterday, the Supreme Court took up the Census Citizenship question, a really big deal.” — tweet Wednesday.
GIDLEY, when asked whether Trump believes an accurate census count isn’t necessary: “He wants to know who’s in this country. I think as a sovereign nation we have that right. It’s been a question that’s been on the census for decades.” — remarks Tuesday.
THE FACTS: Not since 1950 has the census collected citizenship data from the whole population.
Moreover, Trump’s position that asking a citizenship question in the census is needed to “know who is in this country” ignores the judgment of the Census Bureau’s own researchers, who say that it would not result in the most accurate possible count of the U.S. population. The question is already asked in other government surveys.
According to January 2018 calculations by the Census Bureau, adding the question to the once-a-decade survey form would cause lower response rates among Hispanics and noncitizens. The government would have to spend at least $27.5 million for additional phone calls, home visits and other follow-up efforts to reach them.
Federal judges in California, Maryland and New York have blocked the administration from going forward with a citizenship question after crediting the analysis of agency experts. The experts said millions would go uncounted because Hispanics and immigrants might be reluctant to say if they or others in their households are not citizens.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has argued that a citizenship question is needed to help the government better comply with the Voting Rights Act. But the Justice Department has been enforcing the 1965 law, which was passed to help protect minority groups’ political rights, with citizenship data already available from other government surveys.
The count goes to the heart of the U.S. political system, determining the number of seats each state has in the U.S. House and how the electoral votes that decide presidential elections are distributed. It also shapes how 300 federal programs distribute more than $800 billion a year to local communities.
Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Christopher Rugaber, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Chad Day, Eric Tucker and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd
The Justice Department has informed the House Judiciary Committee that Attorney General William Barr may skip a Thursday hearing on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report if committee lawyers seek to question him.
The Democratic-run committee plans to allow counsels from both sides to ask Barr about the Russia probe after the traditional round of questioning by lawmakers. Department officials also told the committee that they opposed a plan to go into a closed session if members wanted to discuss redacted portions of Mueller’s report, according to a senior Democratic aide on the committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the confidential communications with the department.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said given that Barr had agreed to testify, lawmakers “should be the ones doing the questioning. He remains happy to engage with members on their questions regarding the Mueller report.”
Barr is scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and the House panel on Thursday. The GOP-led Senate committee is expected to have normal rounds of member questioning.
It is unusual for committee counsels to question a witness. But committees can generally make their own rules, and other panels have made similar exceptions. In a confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year, for example, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee hired an outside prosecutor to question a witness who had accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
The dispute comes as tensions have escalated sharply between House Democrats and the Trump administration over full access Mueller’s report and government witnesses who have defied congressional subpoenas to testify. Democrats have been eagerly anticipating the hearing with Barr as they try to build on Mueller’s findings with their own investigations into the president.
House Democrats have subpoenaed the Justice Department for the unredacted version of the Mueller report and underlying material gathered from the investigation. In response, the Justice Department has said they will make the full report, minus grand jury material, available to a limited group of members — an offer that Democrats have so far refused. The dispute could eventually end up in court.
A spokeswoman for the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, noted that Barr’s testimony is voluntary and criticized the Democrats for not reading the full report. “Democrats have yet to prove their demands are anything but abusive and illogical in light of the transparency and good faith the attorney general has shown our committee,” Jessica Andrews said.
Democrats have criticized Barr for drawing his own conclusion that Trump did not obstruct justice after Mueller found he couldn’t exonerate the president on that point. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Barr is involved in a “staggering public effort” by the Trump administration to put a positive face on Mueller’s findings.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has also invited Mueller to testify and subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn. McGahn was a vital witness for Mueller in the report, which recounted the president’s outrage over the Mueller investigation and his efforts to curtail it. The White House has asserted it will fight the McGahn subpoena.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
Special counsel Robert Mueller all but boldfaced this finding in his report on the Russia investigation: No exoneration for President Donald Trump on whether Trump criminally obstructed justice.
But Trump and his aides are stating that Mueller’s report did exonerate. No words from the report will throw them off their mischaracterization of it.
A look at claims by Trump and his people on a variety of subjects from the week that produced the Mueller report, which cleared Trump of criminal conspiracy with Russia, traced multiple ways he tried to interfere in the Russia inquiry to his benefit and came to no conclusion on whether those acts broke the law.
TRUMP: “The end result of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history is No Collusion with Russia (and No Obstruction). Pretty Amazing! — tweet Saturday.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “Today’s release of the Special Counsel’s report confirms what the President and I have said since day one: there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and there was no obstruction of justice.” — statement Thursday.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, White House counselor: “What matters is what the Department of Justice and special counsel concluded here, which is no collusion, no obstruction, and complete exoneration, as the president says.” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
THE FACTS: The special counsel’s 400-plus-page report specifically does not exonerate Trump, leaving open the question of whether the president obstructed justice.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mueller wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
The report identifies 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump and said he might have “had a motive” to impede the investigation because of what it could find on a variety of personal matters, such as his proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
“The evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns,” the report states.
In explaining its decision, Mueller’s team said reaching a conclusion on whether Trump committed crimes would be inappropriate because of a Justice Department legal opinion indicating that a sitting president should not be prosecuted. It nevertheless left open at least the theoretical possibility that Trump could be charged after he leaves office, noting that its factual investigation was conducted “in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary material were available.”
“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report states.
SARAH SANDERS, White House press secretary, on her statements from 2017 that many people in the FBI wanted James Comey, the director, fired: “The sentiment is 100% accurate.” — “CBS This Morning,” Friday.
THE FACTS: Her answer on this subject was far different when she gave it under oath.
After Trump fired Comey, she told reporters on May 10, 2017, that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director” and “accordingly” the president removed him. When a reporter said most FBI agents supported Comey, Sanders said, “Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things.”
But when Mueller’s team interviewed her under oath, she backed off that story. According to the Mueller report, she said it was a “slip of the tongue” to say that countless FBI people wanted Comey out, that her statement about the rank and file losing confidence in him was offered “in the heat of the moment” and that, in the report’s words, it “was not founded on anything.”
Now she’s back to suggesting that Comey was in fact unpopular in the FBI. “I said that it was in the heat of the moment, meaning it wasn’t a scripted thing,” she said Friday. “But the big takeaway here is that the sentiment is 100% accurate.”
The Mueller report says there is “no evidence” that Trump heard complaints about Comey’s leadership from FBI employees before firing him.
Mueller evaluated nearly a dozen episodes for possible obstruction of justice and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. Among those episodes was his manner of firing Comey. Mueller found “substantial evidence” corroborating Comey’s account of a dinner at which he said Trump pressed him for his loyalty.
Although Sanders attributed her remark about Comey’s unpopularity to “heat of the moment,” Trump has voiced the same sentiment. As recently as January, he tweeted: “The rank and file of the FBI are great people who are disgusted with what they are learning about Lyin’ James Comey and the so-called ‘leaders’ of the FBI.”
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR, asked if Mueller intended for Congress, not the attorney general, to decide whether Trump obstructed justice: “Well, special counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress. I hope that was not his view. … I didn’t talk to him directly about the fact that we were making the decision, but I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as attorney general to make that decision.”
THE FACTS: Mueller’s report actually does indicate that Congress could make that determination.
The report states that no person is above the law, including the president, and that the Constitution “does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice.”
In his four-page memo last month, Barr said while Mueller left open the question of whether Trump broke the law and obstructed the investigation, Barr was ultimately deciding as attorney general that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient” to establish, for the purposes of prosecution, that Trump obstructed justice.
But the special counsel’s report specifies that Congress can also render a judgment on that question.
It says: “The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
BARR: “These reports are not supposed to be made public.” — remarks Thursday at the Justice Department.
THE FACTS: The attorney general is not going out on a limb for public disclosure.
Justice Department regulations give Barr wide authority to release a special counsel’s report in situations it “would be in the public interest.” Barr had made clear during his Senate confirmation hearing in January that he believed in transparency with the report on Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign, “consistent with regulations and the law.”
BARR, saying it was “consistent with long-standing practice” for him to share a copy of the redacted report with the White House and president’s attorneys before its release: “Earlier this week, the president’s personal counsel requested and were given the opportunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released. That request was consistent with the practice followed under the Ethics in Government Act, which permitted individuals named in a report prepared by an independent counsel the opportunity to read the report before publication.” — remarks Thursday.
THE FACTS: Barr’s decision, citing the Ethics in Government Act, is inconsistent with independent counsel Ken Starr’s handling of his report into whether President Bill Clinton obstructed and lied in Starr’s probe.
On Sept. 7, 1998, Clinton’s attorney David Kendall requested that Starr provide him an opportunity to review the report before it was sent to Congress. Starr quickly turned him down.
“As a matter of legal interpretation, I respectfully disagree with your analysis,” Starr wrote to Kendall two days later. Starr called Kendall “mistaken” regarding the rights of the president’s attorneys to “review a ‘report’ before it is transmitted to Congress.”
Starr’s report was governed by the ethics act cited by Barr as his justification for showing the report to the president’s team. It has since expired. Current regulations governing Mueller’s work don’t specify how confidential information should be shared with the White House.
Starr’s report led to the impeachment trial of Clinton in 1999.
TRUMP: “We cut your taxes. Biggest tax cut in history.”— remarks Monday in Burnsville, Minnesota.
THE FACTS: His tax cuts are nowhere close to the biggest in U.S. history.
It’s a $1.5 trillion tax cut over 10 years. As a share of the total economy, a tax cut of that size ranks 12th, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. President Ronald Reagan’s 1981 cut is the biggest followed by the 1945 rollback of taxes that financed World War II.
Post-Reagan tax cuts also stand among the historically significant: President George W. Bush’s cuts in the early 2000s and President Barack Obama’s renewal of them a decade later.
TRUMP: “I believe it will be Crazy Bernie Sanders vs. Sleepy Joe Biden as the two finalists to run against maybe the best Economy in the history of our Country.” — tweet Tuesday.
TRUMP: “We may have the best economy we’ve ever had.” — remarks in Minnesota.
THE FACTS: The economy is healthy but not one of the best in history. Also, there are signs it is weakening after a spurt of growth last year.
The economy expanded at an annual rate of 2.9 percent last year, a solid pace. But it was just the fastest in four years. In the late 1990s, growth topped 4 percent for four straight years, a level it has not yet reached under Trump. And growth even reached 7.2 percent in 1984.
Independent economists widely expect slower growth this year as the effects of the Trump administration’s tax cuts fade, trade tensions and slower global growth hold back exports, and higher interest rates make it more expensive to borrow to buy cars and homes.
Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
The battle over releasing the special counsel’s report intensified as Democrats in Congress insisted Attorney General William Barr must quickly release its full findings. Barr said he’ll release at least a partial version in April.
Skepticism mounted over Barr’s four-page synopsis, which was released Sunday and found no evidence President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election. The longer it takes to release the full findings from special counsel Robert Mueller, the more Democrats, in particular, warn they will question the legitimacy of Barr’s actions.
The push came as the House moved ahead with its own oversight of the Trump administration, including an Intelligence Committee hearing scheduled Thursday on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Wednesday he was “disappointed” Barr would take weeks, not days, to release the report.
“The president has now an opportunity for weeks, it sounds like, to do these victory laps,” said Cummings, noting that Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, is among those headed to jail as a result of the probe. “Cohen goes to jail, the president runs a victory lap.”
Attorney General William Barr is combing through the special counsel’s report on the Russia probe, removing grand jury and classified information in hopes of releasing it in April and testifying to Congress.
The attorney general told the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that he’s combing through Mueller’s report and removing classified, grand jury and other information in hopes of releasing it to Congress.
Graham told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he had dinner the previous evening with Barr, who said he is willing to testify before the committee after he sends Congress the report.
Trump also has said he’s fine with releasing the findings. “The president said, ‘Just let it go,’ and that’s what’s going to happen,” Graham said.
What’s clear, though, is that Barr will miss the Tuesday deadline set by six House committee chairmen to see the full confidential report and its underlying documents. They have suggested they may eventually need to subpoena it.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said he was “very concerned” Barr would not provide the material by the time set.
Nadler upped the oversight Wednesday by placing a call to Bar. Over 10 minutes, the chairman asked whether Barr would accede to Congress’ demand for the full report by April 2. Barr said no, according to Nadler.
Nadler asked if Barr would release a report to Congress without redactions. “He wouldn’t commit to that,” the congressman said. He also told reporters that Mueller’s report was “very substantial” and fewer than 1,000 pages.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who has urged caution so as not to “throw innocent people who’ve not been charged under the bus,” is blocking legislation to force the disclosure of the Mueller report.
Other Republicans, however, insisted on Congress being able to review it. “I want to see it all,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. “I think we should see the entire report.”
The top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, was confident a full picture of Mueller’s report would emerge.
“People are going to be very surprised,” Collins said. “Barr is going to put out a lot of stuff.”
Beyond Mueller’s findings, House Democrats are pursuing multiple investigations into the president’s political, business and personal dealings, as they press on with their oversight agenda. Part of their work is to determine if anyone sought leverage over Trump, his family or associates.
Those probes, including a push to release his tax returns, are not fully dependent on whether the report backs up Barr’s conclusion. By Barr’s account, Mueller made no finding on whether the president obstructed justice. Though Barr cleared Mueller of obstruction, the question is now in Congress’ hands.
The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the Mueller report will “guide us in terms of what has been fully investigated by the special counsel, what has gone uninvestigated.”
Schiff said, “It’s very difficult to make those decisions in the absence of really knowing what’s in that report.”
The panel expects to “tailor” its investigation to focus beyond Mueller, said one member of the panel, Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn.
Releasing the report has become the immediate focus on Capitol Hill amid concerns from Democrats that what has been made public so far is tilted positively toward Trump.
Questions about Barr are amplified by his unusual role as a lawyer who advocated an expansive view of executive power, suggesting in an unsolicited letter to the administration before being hired that the president cannot be found to have obstructed a Justice Department probe.
Schiff has said Barr was all but auditioning for the job — a sentiment shared by other Democrats in Congress.
Mueller’s role as a special counsel is different from the independent counsels that investigated earlier administrations, including Kenneth Starr’s probe against President Bill Clinton. The law authorizing the independent counsel was allowed to lapse after that and Mueller, as a special counsel, conducted his work under the Justice Department.
“I would hope the attorney general would not be acting as a political operative for the president,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“The Department of Justice should not be involved in a cover-up of what’s actually in the report,” he said. “It’s great for a banana republic, it’s not great for a constitutional democracy.”
Barr wants to make sure nothing is released that could compromise national security or intelligence sources and methods, Graham said. He said Barr also told him he wants to check with prosecutors who have cases associated with Mueller’s Russia investigation. Mueller had referred cases to other federal courts as part of his probe.
Republicans have said it’s time for Congress to move on from the Russia probe, but Democrats indicated they are not worried about overreaching as they push ahead with both their oversight agenda and other legislative priorities.
“I haven’t read the Mueller report, but if it clears President Trump, I see that as nothing but a relief for our country,” said Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa.
“It’s the dream of the Founding Fathers that we have a separation of powers,” he said. “Checks and balances.”
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Andrew Taylor, Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin, Alan Fram, Mike Balsamo and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.