Sunday 20 October 2019

Trump tried to get rid of Mueller and to hinder his probe

Eleven times when president may have obstructed justice detailed as special counsel's report released

Watershed moment: President Donald Trump was in bullish mood at an army veterans' event at the White House yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria
Watershed moment: President Donald Trump was in bullish mood at an army veterans' event at the White House yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Ben Riley-Smith, Nick Allen and Rozina Sabur

Donald Trump ordered the removal of special counsel Robert Mueller after expressing fears the Russia probe would "end" his presidency, the newly released Mueller report has revealed.

The US president phoned his White House legal counsel weeks after Mr Mueller was appointed to lead the Russian election meddling investigation and said he "had to go".

US Attorney General William Barr addresses the media before the report's release. Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US Attorney General William Barr addresses the media before the report's release. Photo: REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The order, which ultimately was not acted upon, was one of 11 incidents of alleged obstruction of justice which Mr Mueller recounted in detail in his 448-page report, which was released with major editing yesterday.

Other episodes included Mr Trump attempting to limit the probe's remit and trying to put one of his cabinet members back in charge of the inquiry.

The report reveals that Mr Mueller did not clear the president over obstruction of 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," Mr Mueller's report concluded.

Kellyanne Conway, Trump's close adviser, defends the president to the media. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
Kellyanne Conway, Trump's close adviser, defends the president to the media. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

"Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.

"Accordingly, while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

The obstruction of justice findings formed half of Mr Mueller's report, with volume one looking at Russian meddling in the presidential campaign - the original reason for the probe.

Mr Mueller found that figures linked to the Russian government made a "systematic" attempt to influence the election, both by hacking Democratic Party emails and spreading disinformation to US voters. The Trump campaign "expected" to benefit electorally from "information stolen and released through Russian efforts" and some figures were "receptive" to offers.

'Checks and balances': Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
'Checks and balances': Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

But he concluded the Trump campaign had not "co-ordinated or conspired with the Russian government".

Mr Trump had proclaimed victory even before the report was published, tweeting an image in the style of TV show 'Game of Thrones' with the words "GAME OVER".

Leading Democrats criticised the administration's handling of the report - which saw Mr Trump's attorney general William Barr giving a press conference before publication.

The findings in volume two of the report, about Mr Trump's actions towards the probe and whether they amounted to obstruction of justice, contained many new details.

It revealed how Mr Trump said after Mr Mueller was appointed in May 2017: "Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f***ed."

In total, 11 separate incidents of alleged obstruction were looked at. One involved Mr Trump calling Don McGahn, at the time his White House counsel, and ordering him to remove Mr Mueller.

The president also ordered Mr McGahn to issue a statement denying he had been ordered to get rid of Mr Mueller by the president after the press got wind of the story. He refused to do so.

Mr Mueller concluded Mr Trump's attempts to limit the investigation were largely unsuccessful because those people ordered by the president to take certain steps decided not to do so.

The report also contained new details of Russia election interference.

A key focus of the investigation was a meeting on June 9, 2016, between senior campaign figures including Donald Trump Jr and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.

Mr Mueller said emails setting up the meeting showed "the campaign anticipated receiving information from Russia that could assist candidate Trump's electoral prospects".

However, he concluded the meeting did not rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy to collude with Russia.

Democrats said the report contained disturbing evidence of wrongdoing by Mr Trump that could fuel congressional investigations.

But there was no immediate indication they would try to remove him from office through impeachment.

Mr Trump appeared to be in a celebratory mood yesterday, saying at a White House event with wounded US troops that he was "having a good day" following the report's release, adding: "It's called no collusion, no obstruction."

Telegraph.co.uk

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