Public at last, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation on Thursday that US President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president.
Trump was largely thwarted by those around him.
Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel's appointment in May 2017.
Those efforts “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.
“The president over the last several months lost confidence in Director Comey, the DOJ lost confidence in Director Comey, bipartisan members of Congress made it clear that they had lost confidence in Director Comey. And most importantly, the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director. Accordingly, the president accepted the recommendation of his deputy Attorney General to remove James Comey from his position,” the White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted report made for riveting reading.
In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel's appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: "Oh my god. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f---ed."
With that, Trump set out to save himself.
In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.
Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation "very unfair" to the president, declare Trump did nothing wrong and say that Mueller should limit his probe to "investigating election meddling for future elections." The message was never delivered.
The report's bottom line largely tracked the findings revealed in US Attorney General William Barr's four-page memo released a month ago — no collusion with Russia, no clear verdict on obstruction — but it added troubling layers of detail about Trump's efforts to thwart the investigation.
Looking ahead, both sides were already using the findings to amplify well-rehearsed arguments about Trump's conduct, Republicans casting him as a victim of harassment and Democrats depicting the president as stepping far over the line to derail the investigation.
The US Justice Department released a redacted version of the report about 90 minutes after Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings at a testy Justice Department news conference. The nation, Congress and Trump's White House consumed the report voraciously — online, via a compact disc delivered to legislators and in loose-leaf binders distributed to reporters.
The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making but also the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.