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the mueller report
May 1, 2019

On Tuesday night, we learned that Special Counsel Robert Mueller was disconcerted enough about how Attorney General William Barr had characterized his office's report on Russian election interference and obstruction of justice that he put his concerns in writing, sending them to Barr in a letter. But the frustration was apparently mutual.

"Some senior Justice Department officials were frustrated by Mueller's complaints because they had expected that the report would reach them with proposed redactions, but it did not," The Washington Post reports. "Even when Mueller sent along his suggested redactions, those covered only a few areas of protected information, and the documents required further review." In a phone call after Barr received Mueller's letter, "Barr also took issue with Mueller calling his memo a 'summary,' saying he had never intended to summarize the voluminous report, but instead provide an account of its top conclusions," the Post says.

Three people with direct knowledge of the communication between the two men told The New York Times that "Barr and senior Justice Department officials were frustrated with how Mr. Mueller ended his investigation and drafted his report," expressing "irritation that Mr. Mueller fell short of his assignment by declining to make a decision about whether Mr. Trump broke the law. That left Mr. Barr to clear Mr. Trump without the special counsel's backing." Barr and other senior law enforcement officials also believed that Mueller's report "read like it had been written for consumption by Congress and the public, not like a confidential report to Mr. Barr, as required under the regulations governing the special counsel," the Times reports. Peter Weber

May 1, 2019

Three days after Attorney General William Barr released a four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, Mueller wrote Barr a letter complaining that Barr's memo "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions," leading to "public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation," The Washington Post reported late Tuesday.

In a call the next day, Mueller told Barr nothing in his summary "was inaccurate or misleading," Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement. Legal analysts were stunned that Mueller put his concerns about Barr's assessment down in writing.

"We are conditioned not to 'go to paper,'" Chuck Rosenberg, who was Mueller's counsel as FBI director, told Politico. "There are times you get mad, or frustrated, and think someone is making a bad decision. But you pick up the phone and call them. I think I only went to paper a handful of times in 20 years at the Justice Department. In the time I worked for Bob in the FBI, I can't think of a time he did that."

Former Justice Department inspector general Michael Bromwich called the letter "an extraordinary move" for Mueller, who "doesn't do things like this. Apparently he didn't appreciate having his hard work falsified." Former U.S. attorney Harry Litman said that "for the laconic and obedient Mueller, it’s almost like lighting yourself on fire in front of the DOJ."

We already knew members of Mueller's team were upset with Barr's characterization of their work, but "what we didn't know until today is that Mueller was pissed," legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said on CNN Tuesday night. New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman had another explanation: "Muller seems to have learned the lesson that a lot of people who have been around Donald Trump's world learned — and Mueller knows, because almost all of them were witnesses for him — that you have to put everything down on paper. This was not enough to just voice his concerns privately to Barr, there had to be a letter documenting it, and it's a stunning letter." Peter Weber

April 26, 2019

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn isn't the only person who told Special Counsel Robert Mueller that President Trump unsuccessfully directed him to quash Mueller's investigation. According to Mueller's report, former Trump campaign manager and Trump "devotee" Corey Lewandowski also described at least two episodes in which Trump directed him to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to "unrecuse" himself and hamstring Mueller, or else.

"Through a combination of missed opportunities and personal hesitation, Lewandowski never executed Trump's demand," The Washington Post recounts. "But the roughly month-long period in the summer of 2017 depicted in Mueller's report details repeated and escalating efforts by the president to stymie the Russia probe."

The timeline laid out in Mueller's report goes like this: On June 14, 2017, The Washington Post reported that Mueller was investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. Three days later, Trump called McGahn and told him "Mueller has to go"; McGahn refused to fire him. On June 19, Trump invited Lewandowski, then a lobbyist, to the Oval Office and told him to dictate a message for Sessions, who was to say publicly that Trump "hasn't done anything wrong" and he was limiting Mueller to "investigating election meddling for future elections."

Lewandowski set up a June 20 meeting with Sessions, Sessions had to cancel, and Lewandowski decided to have a White House official, Rick Dearborn, deliver the message to Sessions, his old boss. At a second one-on-one Oval Office meeting July 19, Trump again told Lewandowski to deliver his message to Sessions, and fire Sessions if he refused to comply; Lewandowski then handed Trump's message to Dearborn, and Dearborn, similarly uncomfortable, discarded the notes without delivering them. Multiple people corroborated parts of this account.

The Post explored whether this episode constituted prosecutable obstruction of justice; a former federal prosecutor said yes, an unidentified senior Justice Department official said no, not technically. Read the opposing opinions, more details about the Trump-Lewandowski interactions, and a concise explainer on obstruction at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

April 25, 2019

President Trump made some promises during the 2016 campaign: He would release his tax returns, "build the wall," "drain the swamp," protect Medicare and Social Security, and champion law and order, to name a few.

Like all presidents, he has been pretty selective about which campaign promises merit follow-through. The "wall", for example, was worth shutting down the government and sparking a constitutional crisis; his tax returns were deemed worthy of going to court and threatening a constitutional showdown to keep hidden. One of the "promises" he has tried to keep, according to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, is "lock her up," his enduring campaign chant about 2016 rival Hillary Clinton.

Mueller's report "brimmed with examples of Mr. Trump seeking to protect himself from the investigation," The New York Times reports, but it also shows at least three instances of him "trying to wield the power of law enforcement to target a political rival, a step that no president since Richard M. Nixon is known to have taken." As with many potential crimes Mueller records, Trump's orders or suggestions to prosecute Clinton were apparently ignored or redirected by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former White House Counsel Don McGahn.

Still, Trump's attempt to target Clinton "reeks of a typical practice in authoritarian regimes where whoever attains power, they don't just take over power peacefully, but they punish and jail their opponents," political historian and professor Matthew Dallek tells the Times. It appears from Mueller's report that Trump, encouraged by his Fox News allies, didn't appreciate the difference between political self-preservation and weaponizing the law enforcement tools he seems to think work for him, adds Duke University law professor Samuel W. Buell. "All of his demands fit into a picture that he believes the apparatus is mine"

You can read the details of Trump's attempts to "lock her up" in Mueller's report and at The New York Times. Peter Weber

April 24, 2019

If you ignore President Trump's Twitter rants, his public reaction to last week's release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report has looked like a "no collusion, no obstruction" victory lap. But "backstage, Trump realizes the damage the report has done, and has taken a much darker view of the post-Mueller landscape," Gabriel Sherman reports at Vanity Fair.

Specifically, Sherman says, "Trump is lashing out at former West Wing officials whom he blames for providing the lion's share of damaging information in Mueller's 448-page report," a group "known as 'the notetakers' that includes former White House Counsel Don McGahn, McGahn's deputy Annie Donaldson, and staff secretary Rob Porter." McGahn, who is cited 157 times in Mueller's report, "is receiving the brunt of Trump's post-Mueller rage," Sherman notes — a fact Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has acknowledged publicly to The New York Times.

"The thing that pisses him off is the note-taking," a former West Wing official who spoke with Mueller told Sherman. "Trump thinks they could have cooperated with Mueller without all the note-taking." Other officials who spoke to Mueller "are angry that Trump is blaming them for the contents of the report when Trump's legal team told them to cooperate," Sherman reports.

Giuliani, meanwhile, insisted that Trump's "mood is good" and his angry tweetstorms are "all very deliberate," designed "to undermine the blind adherence to what's said in the report. The report is only the prosecutors' version of what happened." Giuliani and Trump's other lawyers released their own rebuttal to Mueller's report, but people don't seem to have found it quite as compelling a read. Peter Weber

April 22, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigators followed "several meandering paths" in their two-year investigation, "propelled by discoveries of unusual interactions between Trump associates and Russians," The Washington Post reported Sunday night. Mueller uncovered a lot in his 448-page final report, but his team was left with "some unanswered mysteries, a lot of dead ends and, ultimately, a conclusion that the contacts they found did not establish a criminal conspiracy," the Post says.

Mueller's team had to grapple with a legal dispute with Attorney General William Barr over whether a president can even be accused of crimes, plus President Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. refused to be interviewed, and the witnesses they did have "were not ideal," the Post reports:

A few key players, prosecutors would contend, lied in interviews. Many were loyal to the president and echoed his rhetoric that Mueller's team was acting in bad faith. Some used encrypted applications with disappearing messages that could not be reviewed. Others were overseas, unreachable to American investigators. In some cases, their statements were only loosely tethered to the facts. [The Washington Post]

Ex-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort fits in the first three categories, and the "loosely tethered" description matches conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi, the Post reports, citing an interview with Corsi's lawyer, David Gray. Corsi had offered "tantalizing leads" about Roger Stone and WikiLeaks, but his story was never quite straight and his leads always led to dead ends, the Post reports.

Trying to get actionable material out of Corsi, "it's their biggest nightmare," Gray told the Post. "The supposed best of the best were just frankly dumbfounded by the whole situation." Corsi was not charged, he added, because after six marathon interviews, "at the end of the day, they threw up their hands and said, 'We can't use any of this.'" Read more about the obstacles Mueller couldn't get over at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

April 22, 2019

There are many reasons people who work in the White House are reluctant to take notes, and traditionally they center around protecting the president. But lots of people in President Trump's White House took notes for the opposite reason, report Peter Baker and Annie Karni at The New York Times: to protect themselves against "a mercurial, truth-bending chief executive who often asked them to do things that crossed ethical or even legal lines, then denied it later."

Some notes by Trump staffers have ended up as tell-all books, but Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report also drew from contemporaneous notes, shining new light on Trump's actions — and his strong aversion to note-taking, especially since he can no longer rely on nondisclosure agreements.

Mueller's team obtained notes or contemporaneous memos from former White House Counsel Don McGahn, his deputy Annie Donaldson, former White House Chiefs of Staff Reince Priebus and John Kelly, former Trump campaign chiefs Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski, adviser Stephen Miller, and other advisers, lawyers, and government officials. Some of them kept notes of alarming conversations with Trump in safes, according to Mueller's report.

We know Trump hated note-taking from McGahn's notes and Trump himself, who alleged in a Friday tweet that some "so-called 'notes' ... never existed until needed" and contained "total bullsh--." Trump also publicly berated former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster for taking copious amounts of notes, the Times reports.

W. Neil Eggleston, who served as a lawyer for President Bill Clinton and as president Barack Obama's White House counsel, told the Times he "didn't take notes when I worked with either president," but to protect the presidents, not make sure he wasn't "part of a criminal conspiracy," like Trump's aides. "To create records of information that was quite harmful to the president, that is really remarkable," he added. "And to do it and then stay on and continue to write them, is really something to me." Read more at The New York Times. Peter Weber

April 19, 2019

President Trump was abnormally silent in the hours following the public release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, choosing mostly to tweet quotes from his favorite Fox News commentators, and only briefly crowing about the findings during a White House event. He didn't even stop to talk to reporters on the White House lawn on Thursday, despite bragging in recent weeks about the report's "total exoneration" of him and his campaign.

On Friday, Trump changed his tone, dismissing elements of the report as "total bulls--t" on Twitter. He didn't specify which statements he considered "fabricated & totally untrue," but did appear to possibly reference former White House counsel Don McGahn, who Mueller said refused to end the special counsel investigation at Trump's request. McGahn apparently felt Trump was asking him to do some "crazy sh-t," and was also somewhat alarmed when Trump criticized him for taking notes, something Trump seemed to reference in his angry tweets. Summer Meza

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