Why you should care
Because now the public finally gets the goods.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What Happened? On Thursday, the Department of Justice released a 448-page, lightly redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report investigating Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. As previewed by Attorney General William Barr three and a half weeks ago, Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin but did not reach a firm legal conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.
The report reveals that Trump tried repeatedly through a variety of means to curtail the investigation — but that his subordinates ignored or resisted his wishes.
Much of the information in the report had already been revealed publicly. We’d heard through media leaks, for example, about White House counsel Don McGahn refusing and threatening to resign after Trump asked him to have then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions fire Mueller. Through congressional testimony, we knew Trump requested FBI Director James Comey’s “loyalty” before he was canned. And then, of course, there are Trump’s own tweets and interviews, including his floating the idea of a pardon for former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. So what’s new?
Particularly on the “collusion” side, much of the new information — or lack thereof — favors the president. For example, Mueller found no evidence that Trump had advance knowledge of the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which a Russian lawyer who offered “dirt” on Hillary Clinton sat down with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort. He also found no evidence that Trump directed a change in the Republican Party platform at the 2016 convention on arming Ukraine to make it more favorable to Russia. Instead, a campaign aide just wanted it to reflect what Trump had said publicly.
But in the 10 potential incidents of obstruction, there are notable new wrinkles about how Trump scrambled to fight the investigation. After Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation, the White House counsel’s office notes indicate that the president should avoid his attorney general: “No comms/Serious concerns about obstruction.” But Mueller documents repeated attempts by Trump to get Sessions to “unrecuse,” for which he would be a “hero.” “I’m not going to do anything or direct you to do anything,” Trump told his attorney general at one point. “I just want to be treated fairly.”
Trump often raged against Mueller’s probe, saying privately that it was “the end of his presidency.”
For example, in July 2017, he directed former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions to say publicly that the Mueller investigation was “very unfair” and limit it to protecting against future election interference. Lewandowski didn’t want to act on the request, so he asked White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn (a former Sessions aide) to do so. Dearborn declined.
“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,” Mueller’s team wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
High Crimes or No Crimes? The fresh evidence of Trump trying to obstruct the investigation gave new fodder to calls to impeach the president, even if Mueller did not recommend charging Trump with a crime. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said Thursday impeachment is “one possibility,” but he’s starting by issuing a subpoena for the full, unredacted report. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been cool to the idea of impeaching Trump unless she can get bipartisan support, which does not appear to be forthcoming. But Congress did get an implicit green light from Mueller: “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the report states.
Setting the Barr. The attorney general was able to prespin the Mueller report before its release, both in his four-page letter to Congress and at a news conference Thursday morning in which Barr repeatedly said the report found no collusion and defended the president’s state of mind early in the presidency when much of the potential obstruction was going on. “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. While critics accused him of acting as the president’s defender rather than an independent law enforcement officer, the president was likely pleased. The Mueller report details how Trump repeatedly wished Sessions was more loyal, as he perceived former Attorneys General Robert F. Kennedy and Eric Holder were to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama.
Why No Interview? Mueller criticizes Trump’s written responses as “inadequate” for including 30 instances where he could not remember aspects of the questions. An in-person interview would have put Trump at risk of lying under oath, and Mueller decided not to subpoena the president, writing that the years-long court battle would have delayed the probe too long and he had already gathered “substantial evidence.”
WHAT TO READ
“Mueller has now delivered 10 credible allegations of obstructive behavior on the part of the president. For all of Trump’s bluster, those claims are now a matter of public record, and will hang over his presidency, despite the decision of his own appointee to clear him in the matter.”
“This seems to me to be more about Democrats continuing to tell themselves a comforting fairy tale about why they lost in 2016, and where they really stand politically.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Trump Says “I’m Having a Good Day” Moments After Mueller Report Release
“This should never happen to another president again — this hoax.”
Giuliani Reacts to Details Emerging From Mueller Report
“As a practical matter, in most United States attorneys’ offices, they’d laugh this kind of thing out of court, because these people had a bias — a strong one.”
Watch on Fox News on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
What About the [Redacted] Tape? Among the many wild anti-Trump stories punctured in the report is the so-called “pee tape,” a compromising video the Russians allegedly had on Trump, according to a dossier of information compiled by ex-British spy Christopher Steele. Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze texted Cohen in October 2016: “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know … ” But Rtskhiladze told Mueller’s team he believed the tape to be fake.