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Here Are the Biggest Takeaways From the Mueller Report

15 minute read
By Tara Law | Video By Lauren Bogholtz |
Updated: | Originally published:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed a sweeping Russian effort to penetrate the Trump campaign in 2016, followed by frenetic attempts by the President to stymie investigations into it afterward.

In an extensive 448-page report sent to Congress Thursday, the former FBI director detailed dozens of instances in which Russian operatives interacted with Trump associates, although he ultimately found no evidence that the campaign worked with Russia in the end.

Although Russia “perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency” and the campaign “expected it would benefit electorally” from Russian hacking efforts, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report said.

When investigators began looking into Russian influence operations, however, Mueller found that Trump attempted to interfere with the investigation in a number of ways, from firing FBI Director James Comey to trying to limit its scope.

Read More: Here Are All the Ways Trump May Have Obstructed Justice

Mueller’s team ultimately declined to make a typical prosecutorial recommendation on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, although they noted that if they could have cleared him, they would have.

“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. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment,” the report said.

After reviewing the report in March, Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that they had decided that Trump did not, in fact, obstruct justice, a decision criticized by Democrats in Congress.

The report also contains a wealth of details about the Trump campaign, the Russian influence operation and the early days of the Trump Administration.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the Mueller report.

Did the president or his campaign collude with Russia?

The report explicitly says that there is no evidence Trump “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” during the 2016 election.

The investigation looked at connections between Russians and Trump associates, including attempts by people connected to the Russian government reach out to the campaign. It also scrutinized Trump’s Russian business dealings, including the Trump Tower Moscow project.

The investigation also found that although Trump campaign members communicated with members of the Internet Research Agency – the group responsible for Russia’s social media campaign – there isn’t evidence that any of the campaign officials knew they were talking to Russians.

“The Office therefore determined that such persons did not have the knowledge or criminal purpose required to charge them in the conspiracy to defraud the United States (Count One) or in the separate count alleging a wire- and bank-fraud conspiracy involving the IRA and two individual Russian nationals (Count Two),” the report said.

What did the report say about obstruction of justice?

The investigation looked into a “variety of actions” that raised obstruction of justice questions – including the president’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey; his effort to get his associates to fire Mueller; and his effort to pressure Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the case.

Mueller ultimately didn’t accuse the president of obstruction of justice, he wrote that he couldn’t rule out the possibility and declare that the president is exonerated.

The report said that Trump’s case is also unusual because the investigation didn’t find that he had committed a crime. However, Mueller said, Trump could have had a “range of other possible personal motives” including concerns about the investigation undermining his election, and uncertainty about whether certain events – such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’s release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians – could be seen as criminal activity by the President, his campaign, or his family.”

The report also suggested that the President might have been protected for a surprising reason – many of his associates didn’t listen to his orders.

The report also explained that Mueller believes Constitution makes it difficult to prosecute a president. He explained that he agreed with the Office of Legal Council’s opinion that indicting or prosecuting a sitting president would “impermissibly undermine” separation of powers under the constitution.

Trump’s response to Mueller’s appointment: ‘I’m f-cked’

According to Mueller, the president was despondent when Attorney General Jeff Sessions informed him that the special counsel had been appointed in 2017.

“This is the end of my presidency. I’m f-cked,” the President said to Sessions.

Trump ordered a White House lawyer to fire Mueller

Three days after the media first reported that Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice, the President ordered former White House lawyer Don McGahn to fire Mueller, but McGahn declined.

Trump called McGahn at his home on June 17, 2017, according to phone records. He ordered McGahn to call the acting attorney general and tell him that Mueller had conflicts of interest and needed to be removed, saying something to the effect of, “You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod [Rosenstein],” McGahn told investigators.

McGahn wasn’t worried about Mueller’s supposed conflicts of interest, and found them to be “silly” and “not real,” the lawyer told investigators.

McGahn told Mueller that he decided that he would rather resign, because he didn’t want to end up like “Saturday Night Massacre Bork” — a reference to Solicitor General Robert Bork, who fired a special prosecutor at President Richard Nixon’s request during the Watergate scandal, setting off a massive political firestorm.

The report noted that many of Trump’s efforts that could be considered obstruction of justice never came to pass.

“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report said.

Trump didn’t like his lawyer taking notes

McGahn later told former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus that the President had asked him to “do crazy sh-t.”

After reports emerged in early 2018 that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller, the President told his aide Rob Porter to ask McGahn to tell the press that he’d never received the order. McGahn again declined, telling Porter that the media reports were true.

Later, the President met with McGahn and asked him to deny that he’d been ordered to remove Mueller.

“I never said to fire Mueller. I never said ‘fire.’ This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House Counsel,” Trump said, according to McGahn and former Chief of Staff John Kelly.

Trump also asked McGahn why he had told Mueller about the effort to fire the special counsel, and also why he had decided to take notes during their conversations.

“What about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,” Trump said.

Read More: Here’s How to Read the Redacted Mueller Report

A White House spokeswoman admitted she made up a Trump defense

Sarah Sanders And OMB Acting Director Russell Vought Hold Briefing At White House
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders speaks during a news briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House March 11, 2019 in Washington, DC.Alex Wong—Getty Images

During a press briefing on May 10, 2017, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders defended Trump’s decision to fire Comey by saying that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence” in him.

A reporter then noted that a number of agents disagreed with that contention, but Sanders defended it.

“Look, we’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things,” she replied.

But under oath with Mueller’s team, Sanders conceded that she had not heard from any agents, calling it a “slip of the tongue.”

“She also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything,” the report stated.

Trump said he was just joking about asking Russia to find Clinton’s emails

The President’s written responses to the Special Counsel’s team were included in the report. Although Trump’s answers were largely short on specifics — replying more than 30 times that he had “no recollection” or did not “recall” specific information — he was more direct when asked about an eyebrow-raising comment he made during a July 27, 2016 press conference regarding Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press,” he said at the time.

After Mueller inquired about the public comment, Trump replied that he made the statement “in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer.”

Despite his insistence that he was joking, Trump later emphasized his comments on Twitter, writing “If Russia or any other country or person has Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 illegally deleted emails, perhaps they should share them with the FBI!”

Trump fired Comey because he wouldn’t publicly exonerate the President

Two days after James Comey refused to deny that the Trump was under investigation during a 2017 congressional hearing, Trump told his family and advisors that he was planning to remove the FBI Director, according to senior advisor Stephen Miller.

Soon afterward, Trump and Miller prepared a letter firing Comey.

“Dear Director Comey, While I greatly appreciate your informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation concerning the fabricated and politically-motivated allegations of a Trump-Russia relationship with respect to the 2016 Presidential Election, please be informed that I, along with members of both political parties and, most importantly, the American Public, have lost faith in you as the Director of the FBI and you are hereby terminated.”

Trump also insisted that Comey’s resignation letter declared that Trump wasn’t personally under investigation.

Trump later told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off ….. I’m not under investigation,” according a New York Times report cited by the Mueller investigation.

How are Democrats responding?

Congressional Democrats, who criticized Barr for releasing a four-page summary of the Mueller report and then for holding a press conference defending President Donald Trump on Thursday, are demanding to see the full, un-redacted report. “Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said in a statement Thursday. “The Special Counsel made clear that he did not exonerate the President,” he added. “The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the President accountable for his actions.”

On Fridaymorning, Nadler issued a subpoena for the entire report and the “underlying materials.” He wrote in a statement that it is now Congress’ responsibility to determine the extent of the president and his associates’ alleged misconduct.

“I am open to working with the Department [of Justice] to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials, however I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark, as they grapple with the duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability.” Nadler wrote


Democrats, skeptical of Barr from the beginning, pointed out the discrepancies between Barr’s initial letter to Congress and the full report. “The differences are stark between what Attorney General Barr said on obstruction and what Special Counsel Mueller said on obstruction,”House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader ChuckSchumer said in a brief joint statement, acknowledging they were still going through the report. “As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding.”

On Thursday evening, Pelosi tweeted that the report had depicted a portrait of a president who “has been weaving a web of deceit, lies and improper behavior and acting as if the law doesn’t apply to him.”


Schumer tweeted Friday that the president’s “dishonest” and “erratic” behavior was coming at the expense of the middle class.

“The Mueller report shows how dense the Trump swamp is, how dishonest this president is, and how erratic this administration is. It’s no wonder the middle class is not making progress under this administration,” Schumer wrote.


Now that they have received the report, Congressional Democrats have a decision to make. Mueller refused to either exonerate or prosecute Trump on allegations he obstructed justice, but he left open the possibility that Congress could make that determination itself.

“Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office,” Mueller wrote, adding that this solution “accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, who sits on the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, told TIME, “Mueller makes a very powerful argument that the President can be found guilty of obstructing justice and he essentially puts the ball in the court of Congress.”

Some members of Congress have signaled that they’re not in a rush to impeach. Nadler said that it was “too early” to discuss impeachment and that it is now necessary to “follow the evidence.”

Some members of the party’s progressive wing have already signaled that they would support impeachment.

Freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that she will be signing on to Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s impeachment resolution.

“While I understand the political reality of the Senate + election considerations, upon reading this DoJ report, which explicitly names Congress in determining obstruction, I cannot see a reason for us to abdicate from our constitutionally mandated responsibility to investigate,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.


What William Barr said about the Mueller report

Mueller justice report
People listen while US Attorney General William Barr holds a press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC.Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

In a press conference prior to the release of the Mueller report, Barr stressed that Mueller did not establish any cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia.

“As the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,” Barr said.

Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director Comey, as well as repeated attacks on the investigation, raised questions about possible obstruction.

Barr confirmed that he had shared a redacted version of the Mueller report with White House lawyers. House Democrats, who had expressed concern for days that the White House had been given an advanced copy of the report, were outraged to find their suspicions confirmed. Barr’s speech was “shockingly bad,” said one House Democratic aide on the judiciary committee. Nadler immediately upped the pressure on Mueller to testify before Congress – something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer had requested earlier Thursday morning – sending him a letter asking that he appear no later than May 23.

Barr emphasized that Trump had decided not to use executive privilege to withhold any material from the report, arguing that it “would have been well within his rights to do so.”

The attorney general treaded carefully when discussing the Special Counsel’s investigation into whether anyone from the Trump campaign “disseminated or otherwise played a role” in Wikileaks’ release of hacked Democratic emails. Barr specified that no one from the campaign had “illegally participated” in sending around the materials, arguing that the case would have been criminal only if the person publishing the material had taken part in the conspiracy to hack the documents.

How much of the report is redacted?

Substantial portions of the report are redacted. The omissions make certain sections – including the portion of the document which concerns Wikileaks – difficult to understand.

Redacted Mueller Report Released
A few pages of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.Tom Williams—Newscom via ZUMA Press

A few days after he released a letter summarizing the special counsel’s findings, Barr laid out four major reasons he would redact information in the report: information relevant to grand jury trials; material the intelligence community considers to be secret; information from ongoing investigations; and details that would “unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”

Barr argued that these redactions are necessary, and that the grand jury redactions in particular are required by law. Some experts say, however, that the Special Counsel should receive the entire report without redactions, and that they are an exception to the rules that protect grand jury privacy and secrecy.

Congressional Democrats have indicated that they will push for the release of the entire report. On April 3, the House Judiciary Committee authorized a subpoena for the full report, in addition to all “underlying evidence and related matters.”

Nadler said Wednesday evening that he would have no problem enforcing the subpoena “in short order” if he did not receive these documents.

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