Saturday 21 September 2019

Trump tried to seize control of Mueller probe, report says

Robert Mueller said in his report that he could not conclusively determine that Donald Trump had committed criminal obstruction of justice.

President Donald Trump speaking at the White House (Andrew Harnik/AP)
President Donald Trump speaking at the White House (Andrew Harnik/AP)

By Associated Press Reporter

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report has revealed that US President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mr Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president.

The report said that in June 2017, Mr Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to call the acting attorney general and say that Mr Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest.

Mr McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.

For all of that, Mr Mueller said in his report that he could not conclusively determine that Mr Trump had committed criminal obstruction of justice.

The Justice Department posted a redacted version of the report online on Thursday morning, 90 minutes after attorney general William Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings.

The two-volume, 448-page report recounts how Mr Trump repeatedly sought to take control of the Russia probe.

Mr Mueller evaluated 10 episodes for possible obstruction of justice, including Mr Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mr Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.

The president’s lawyers have said Mr Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mr Mueller’s team deemed the episodes deserving of criminal scrutiny.

Mr Mueller reported that Mr Trump had been agitated at the special counsel probe from its earliest days, reacting to Mr Mueller’s appointment by saying it was the “end of his presidency”.

As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Mueller wrote: “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”

Mr Mueller also said there was not sufficient evidence to charge any campaign officials with working as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia.

The report included an appendix that contained 12 pages of Mr Trump’s written responses to the special counsel. They included no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Mr Trump’s legal team.

Mr Trump told Mr Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning in advance about the much-scrutinised Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made “complimentary statements” about him.

Mr Trump said his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Mrs Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and that he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.

Mr Trump’s legal team called the results “a total victory for the president.”

Mr Trump tweeted moments after Mr Barr concluded his news conference, with an image inspired by the HBO show Game Of Thrones.

The image included the words “No Collusion” and “No Obstruction” and then taunted Democrats with the phrase “Game Over”.

Speaking at an unrelated White House event, Mr Trump said he was “having a good day” following the release of the report.

And he said that no president should ever have to go through what he did again.

He said: “It was called no collusion, no obstruction.” He added: “There never was, by the way, and there never will be.”

He also renewed his calls for an investigation into the origins of the inquiry, saying: “We do have to get to the bottom of these things.”

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