E. Mueller’s Inexplicably Generous Treatment of Trump’s Knowledge of Events
Another of the remarkable and unexplained conclusions reached by Mueller was that the evidence of Trump’s knowledge about Flynn’s lies about Kislyak was inconclusive. II MR-46. This conclusion seems flatly inconsistent with Trump’s statement to Christie that firing Flynn ended the Russia collusion issue. II MR-38. We are asked to believe that Flynn told McFarland that his contacts with Kislyak had averted a major policy conflict with Russia but she did not pass that on to Trump! And that neither she nor Bannon could remember this major development! This is yet another example of Mueller’s lack of aggressive approach to Trump. WHY didn’t the SCO interview Trump to get at answers to these critical questions instead of saying they had enough evidence and it was late in the investigation? It is also unclear why it mattered so much whether Trump knew about Flynn’s deception close to the time the Kislyak talks occurred.
Even more puzzling is Mueller’s conclusion that Trump’s effort to get K.T. McFarland to write an internal email saying that Trump did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak was not an attempt to have McFarland lie. II MR-48. What then was Trump trying to get McFarland to do? What is the alternative explanation for Trump’s request of her? This is another example where evidence of corrupt intent is simply written off as “insufficient” without explanation. IF SCO had interviewed Trump, questions like this could have been resolved instead of being left open and then construed as exonerating Trump.
A similar problem arises regarding Trump’s campaign to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions un-recuse himself regarding the Russia investigation. In a footnote Mueller says it was unclear that Trump was aware of White House counsel’s admonition not to contact Sessions. II MR-50, n. 289. Why isn’t Trump chargeable with constructive knowledge of WH counsel’s directive? Trump declined to read documents — does that relieve him of responsibility for knowing what was official White House policy that had been put in writing? Moreover, if the SCO had interviewed Trump, it could have gotten answers to these questions left open and ultimately construed in Trump’s favor on grounds that the evidence did not show he knew something that, on a common sense view, he almost certainly did know.
Mueller’s generous treatment of Trump continued in the discussion of Comey’s briefing of the Gang of Eight legislators in March, 2017, about the Russia investigation. Mueller said it’s “unclear” whether Trump knew about the briefing at the time, but notes taken by McGahn’s chief of staff say that “POTUS in panic/chaos.” II MR-52. How/why would Trump be in a panic if he didn’t know about Comey’s briefing of Congressional leaders? How could the president be ignorant of such developments that might have such huge impacts on his presidency and to which he had devoted so much attention in the past few months?
The Comey briefing led to one of the clearest cases of obstruction of justice, in that Trump demanded, and McGahn complied, that McGahn contact Dana Boente, then acting assistant attorney general at Justice, to publicly correct the “misperception” that Trump was under investigation. II MR-54,55. Once again, Trump insiders had failed memories of demands Trump made for intervention with the Department of Justice. II MR-5. And, there is no attempt to explain inconsistencies in other testimony from some of the same insiders, claiming Trump never ordered them to do anything wrong. These statements from NSA Director Rogers are inconsistent with the contemporaneous memo of the President’s call and of NSA Deputy Director Ledgett’s characterization of the extraordinary nature of the call. II MR-56. Why is there no consideration of these inconsistencies?
When Trump then reached out directly to Comey to ask him to relieve the impression Trump was under investigation, the Report, unbelievably, turns to McGahn’s asserted recall of what Dana Boente told him Comey had told Boente about Trump’s contacts with him. II MR-59. As usual, Boente claimed not to recall this discussion. II MR-60.
Then, in one of the most remarkable moments in the Report, Mueller drops into a footnote (II MR-59, n. 376) the reminder that White House counsel had advised Trump not to contact DOJ about the investigation. Mueller seemingly attached no significance to the extraordinary & undisputed fact that Trump on multiple occasions ignored the advice of his White House attorneys by reaching out directly to Comey to discuss relieving the pressure of the Russia investigation. WHY? This was not the conduct of an innocent man.
Mueller seemed to be impressed with the fact that the people involved claimed that they did not interpret Trump’s repeated importunings as “directives” to interfere in the investigation. II MR-60. These people were all Trump appointees and true believers in his politics, who would naturally seek to maintain favor with him by declining to interpret his repeated requests as “directives.” In any case, the real question is not what they thought, but what Trump intended and the only way to get to the bottom of that ultimately was to interrogate him, which SCO, curiously, declined to demand. Trump’s attempts to secure a champion at DOJ included personal contacts with Coates, Pompeo, Rogers and Comey. Despite that, Mueller, with his usual reticence to accept the obvious, concludes that “the evidence does not establish that the President asked or directed intelligence agency leaders to stop or interfere with the FBI’s Russia investigation.” II MR-60.
The same question arises in connection with Trump’s multiple attempts to prevent AG Sessions from recusing himself from oversight of the Russia investigation. A couple of things are clear. Trump thought the AG worked for him personally and therefore that Sessions should remain in place to do Trump’s bidding regarding the investigation. And, White House counsel tried to cut off communications with Sessions about recusal to avoid the appearance of attempted interference with the investigation. Yet, once again, Mueller states it was “not clear” that the “no contact” directive was conveyed to Trump. II MR-61. HOW is it remotely plausible that White House counsel, in a matter of seminal importance, would not have conveyed this information to the one person whose knowledge of it and compliance was the most important? Why didn’t the SCO demand Trump answer this question? He refused to do so even in writing and the SCO let him get away with it!
Mueller repeatedly and uncritically refers to Trump’s asserted belief that the Russia investigation was somehow interfering with, Miller his ability to conduct foreign policy but never discussed how that interference worked or what real impact it had on a president who, by all accounts, spent most of his time watching television and playing golf. II MR-61.
Another point of clarity in the Report is the finding that Trump lied about the basis for firing Comey. II MR-62. Why would he do that except to cover up his corrupt motive to which he shortly confessed? Trump’s lies about his conduct, in the context of his other actions, were a clear case of cover-up that could have been treated as a separate offense by Mueller if he had the aggressive instincts of a prosecutor rather than the timidity of an equivocator.
A related question – why was Stephen Miller not indicted for his role in preparing a phony letter to cover Trump’s tracks regarding the firing of Comey? II MR-64. Another related question: the final stated reason for firing Comey was pretextual. All Trump cared about was establishing that he was not under FBI investigation and that he was firing Comey because Comey refused to say that publicly. The Rosenstein/Sessions memo was constructed as an alternate explanation that Trump then adopted while still insisting, against advice, that the point about his not being under investigation be prominently included in the firing letter. II MR-67. Yet, again, no indictments were brought against any of the president’s men for conspiring and lying to cover the tracks of a discharge action plainly intended to obstruct the FBI investigation. See, e.g., II MR-70 regarding lies told by Sean Spicer, then Press Secretary about the motivation for the Comey firing.
Mueller basically gave a pass to all Trump’s enablers who accepted and acted on his directions. Michael Cohen, in later testimony before Congress, spoke specifically about how Trump rarely gave specific directions for anything. He spoke in “code,” that Cohen claimed he understood. It is beyond credibility that, by the time of Comey’s firing, the president’s men did not also understand how he “directed” what he wanted done, what he insisted upon, without ever explicitly saying so. Mueller appears to have completely overlooked this aspect of Trump’s directorial style, crediting him with innocence because there was no overt statement by him that amounted to a confession. In the future, then, Trump’s enablers have no reason to fear repercussions when they willingly follow his non-order orders.
Further evidence of Mueller’s timidity may be found in his ultimate conclusion that “the anticipated effect of removing the FBI director … would not necessarily be to prevent or impede the FBI from continuing its investigation.” II MR-74. That astonishing statement shows Mueller going out of his way to avoid the overt implications of evidence regarding Trump’s actions that were, by Trump’s own admission, intended to interfere with the Russia investigation. Why else would he have fired Comey and handled the firing as he did, including conspiring to give the impression that Rosenstein/Sessions were responsible for the firing? A seasoned prosecutor like Mueller surely knew better, but falls all over himself in avoiding the plain implications of Trump’s conduct. Moreover, even if the investigation would have been unfazed by Comey’s firing (and thus completely ignored by the surviving DOJ attorneys), the clear intent of the discharge was proven and, as Mueller’s own statement of the governing legal tests showed, an attempt to obstruct does not have to be successful to violate the criminal law.
Curiously, the Report takes a somewhat different approach to assessing evidence of Trump’s intentions when it addresses Trump’s attempts to have the Special Counsel removed. II MR-84 thru MR-90. This may be the result of superior clarity of the evidence but this is not apparent from the Report language. One explanation may be that the “committee” of lawyers that drafted the Report were assigned different sections and that each one had a different approach. The analysis highlights the fact that Trump lied publicly about whether he had tried to have Mueller removed, an approach Trump had taken to other issues but which led to Mueller equivocating about the strength of the evidence. II MR-90.
It is a fair question as to why Mueller did not indict Cory Lewandowski whom Trump chose as the go-between to direct AG Jeff Sessions to publicly speak about the unfairness of the SCO investigation and to limit its authority to future elections only. The recited evidence clearly shows that both Chief of Staff Kelly and Lewandowski himself were well aware of the impropriety of Trump’s demands and took actions to conceal his conduct from exposure. II MR 91-93 & n. 604.
Regarding the infamous Trump Tower meeting, the evidence is clear that Trump took overt actions to cover up the situation. II MR-98 to MR-107. Yes, Mueller concludes that Trump’s actions were merely part of a press strategy and not an effort to affect the SCO investigation or the related work of Congressional investigations. This is an astonishing judgment when the SCO allowed Trump to avoid testifying and be examined about this subject. It is therefore impossible to conclude that these obstructive acts did not occur. Moreover, Trump clearly acted dishonestly regarding disclosure of the information and created a misleading paper trail that could have affected decisions at SCO about what to do regarding the Trump Tower meeting. Mueller resolved all doubts in favor of Trump even in face of evidence of his lies and duplicity regarding the issue at hand.
Other instances of Mueller’s resolving doubts in favor of Trump or his people involved Trump’s effort, using his personal counsel, to have McGahn publish a statement denying that Trump had asked him to fire Mueller. Mueller resigns to a footnote and fails to explain the conflict between Hope Hicks & Gen. Kelly regarding whether the McGahn resistance story was correct. II MR-114, n. 788. Kelly, Sarah Sanders and Rob Porter all experienced memory failure regarding aspects of Trump’s demands and denials about trying to get McGahn to fire Mueller. Trump, of course, remorselessly lied to his own staff about what he had said. II MR-115. He continued to press McGahn to “correct” stories that ” McGahn repeatedly told Trump, and others, was accurate as written. II MR 116-117. Mueller resorts to the gentlest possible language when describing these activities, using phrases such as “runs counter to the evidence” as opposed to the more precise “he lied.” II MR-118.
Rob Porter played a direct role in delivering Trump’s demands to McGahn (II MR-116) but, without explanation, was not indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice.