NO OBSTRUCTION? NO WAY

[This post first appeared on May 1, 2019 at Dan Rather’s News & Guts]

This is the third in a series of posts by Steven J. Harper, creator and curator of the Trump-Russia Timeline, on the Mueller Report. The first two installments are available here and here.

Start with these undisputed facts: A foreign adversary launched a sophisticated attack aimed at helping Donald Trump win the presidency. His campaign welcomed the help and he won. His chosen deputy attorney general then appointed a special counsel to investigate the attack. Repeatedly and often successfully, Trump tried to undermine that investigation.

That’s not a narrative of innocence. It’s the narrative of obstruction that seeks to hinder proof of potential underlying crimes. So not only is Trump’s claim of “no obstruction” false, but his previous actions also further undermine ongoing claims of “no collusion” and “total exoneration.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s evidence would have put anyone other than a sitting president in handcuffs. Mueller acknowledges the possibility that after Trump leaves office, it still might.

The Facts

The obstruction volume of Mueller’s report opens with “The Campaign’s response to reports about Russian support for Trump,” which summarizes the Trump team’s repeated lies about its interactions with Russia. Ten categories of evidence then document Trump’s efforts to interfere with investigations into those contacts.

“Conduct involving FBI Director Comey and Michael Flynn”: The FBI caught Trump’s national security adviser lying about his Russia contacts and he resigned. Trump then pressured Comey to “let Flynn go.”

“The President’s reaction to the Russia investigation”: Trump pressured Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the investigation. He asked the directors of national intelligence and the CIA to help dispel suggestions that Trump had connections to Russian election interference. And he pushed Comey to “lift the cloud” of the investigation by publicly exonerating Trump.

“The President’s termination of Comey”: Trump lied to the public about his reasons for firing Comey, but then privately told Russians in the Oval Office that he “faced great pressure because of Russia” (which Comey’s firing had “taken off”). Eventually, he admitted on national television that his motivation was “this thing with Trump and Russia.”

“The appointment of a Special Counsel and the efforts to remove him”When Sessions told Trump about Mueller’s appointment, “the President slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.’” He blamed Sessions for not protecting him, began a relentless public and private campaign to undermine the investigation, and asked White House counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller removed.

“Efforts to curtail the special counsel’s investigation”: Trump told former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions that he should limit Mueller’s probe to investigating future elections. Then Trump told chief of staff Reince Priebus to obtain Sessions’ resignation.

“Efforts to prevent public disclosure of evidence”: Trump directed aides not to publicly disclose emails about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians. The emails promised derogatory information on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” When the press broke the story in early July 2017, Trump dictated Donald Trump Jr.’s misleading response about the meeting’s purpose. Trump’s personal lawyer denied that Trump played any role in drafting the statement.

“Further efforts to have the Attorney General take control of the investigation”: Repeatedly, Trump asked Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the Russia investigation and to “take a look” at investigating Clinton.

“Efforts to have McGahn deny that the President had ordered him to have the Special Counsel removed”: Following accurate news reports that Trump had told McGahn to have Mueller removed, Trump told McGahn to deny the story.

“Conduct towards Flynn, Manafort and [Redacted]“: Following Flynn’s resignation, the FBI continued to investigate his activities, and Trump asked advisers to encourage Flynn to “stay strong.” After Flynn began cooperating with investigators and withdrew from a joint defense agreement with Trump, Trump’s lawyer pressed for information anyway. Flynn’s lawyers properly refused. In response, Trump’s lawyer said he would make sure Trump knew Flynn’s actions reflected “hostility” toward Trump. Separately, while Manafort’s jury was deliberating, Trump publicly said Manafort was being treated unfairly, praised him, and dangled the prospect of a pardon. (Mueller’s discussion of Trump’s conduct toward a third person — likely Roger Stone— is redacted because it involves an ongoing Justice Department matter.)

“Conduct involving Michael Cohen”: When Cohen lied to Congress about Trump’s involvement in Trump Tower Moscow negotiations during the 2016 campaign, Trump praised him. But when Cohen began cooperating with the government, Trump publicly called him a “rat” and suggested that Cohen’s family members had committed crimes.

So why isn’t Trump awaiting trial? The answer is that Mueller didn’t think indicting Trump was an option.

No “Traditional Prosecutorial Judgment”

For reasons that have nothing to do with Trump’s false self-proclamation of exoneration, Mueller did not allow himself even to consider whether Trump had committed a crime:

“[W]e determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.” (emphasis supplied)

Instead, Mueller deferred to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) finding that a sitting president is not subject to indictment. But as Mueller explains, “The OLC opinion also recognizes that a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.” So Trump is not out of the prosecutorial woods forever.

“No Person Is Above the Law”

Mueller conducted “a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.” If that evidence had cleared Trump, Mueller ‘s team would have said so. But it didn’t:

“[I]f 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, however, we are unable to reach that judgment… Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Ultimately, Mueller’s report is really a referral to Congress for further action based on its role in “addressing presidential misconduct”:

 “[W]e concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”

“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.”

But regardless of what House Democrats do next, the Trump/GOP strategy is set: Falsely claim “no collusion,” “no obstruction,” and “exoneration” — and attack anyone who says otherwise. Trump survives on lies, intimidation, and the culture they create. And that may be the most important lesson of Mueller’s investigation.

NO COLLUSION? THEY’RE WRONG

[This post first appeared on Apr. 24, 2019 at Dan Rather’s News & Guts]

This is the second in a series of posts by Steven J. Harper, creator and curator of the Trump-Russia Timeline, on the Mueller Report.

Trump and his defenders claim that special counsel Robert Mueller found “No Collusion.” They’re wrong.

The executive summary of Mueller’s report includes a section highlighting evidence of the Trump campaign’s interactions with the Russians, who wanted to help him win the election. Among the items:

Deal for Trump Tower Moscow: 2015 …The Trump Organization pursued the project through at least June 2016….”

“Dirt” on Clinton from Russia: Spring 2016. Campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos made early contact with Joseph Mifsud, [who] told Papadopoulos that the Russian government had ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.”

June 9, 2016 Trump Tower Meeting Offers Russian Support: Summer 2016. …[A] Russian lawyer met with senior Trump Campaign officials Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to deliver what the email proposing the meeting had described as ‘official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary.’ The materials were offered to Trump Jr. as ‘part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.’”

WikiLeaks and US Polling Data for Russia: “On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks posted thousands of internal DNC documents revealing information about the Clinton Campaign. Within days, there was public reporting that US intelligence agencies had ‘high confidence’ that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the DNC.”

Ukraine “Peace Plan”: “[O]n August 2, 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence.” Kilimnik delivered a peace plan for Ukraine that was a “backdoor” way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine. The two men also discussed Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states. Before and after their August meeting, Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik.

Access Hollywood Tapes, WikiLeaks, and US Intelligence Community Warning on Russian Interference: Fall 2016. On October 7, 2016, the media released video of candidate Trump speaking in graphic terms about women years earlier, which was considered damaging to his candidacy. Less than an hour later, WikiLeaks made its second release: thousands of John Podesta’s emails that had been stolen by the GRU [Russian Intelligence] in late March 2016… That same day, October 7, the Department of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint public statement ‘that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.’ Those ‘thefts’ and the ‘disclosures’ of the hacked materials through online platforms such as WikiLeaks, the statement continued, ‘are intended to interfere with the US election process.’”

Putin’s Full-Court Press: Post-election 2016Immediately after the November 8 election, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new administration. The most senior levels of the Russian government encouraged these efforts. The Russian Embassy made contact hours after the election to congratulate the President-Elect and to arrange a call with President Putin. Several Russian businessmen picked up the effort from there.”

So why didn’t Mueller bring criminal charges against members of the Trump campaign?

How Much Evidence Is Enough?

Mueller’s explained his decision not to prosecute in the final phrase of this sentence:

“[W]hile the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.” (emphasis supplied)

That wasn’t a proclamation of innocence. It was Mueller’s prosecutorial judgment that there was not enough admissible evidence to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt” at trial. Justice Department guidelines required him to apply that standard.

But it also didn’t mean that the evidence was insufficient to remove a president who was unfit for office because, for example, his campaign, “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts” — which Mueller said he couldprove:

“Although the investigation establishedthat the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (emphasis supplied)

Conspiracy v. Collusion

During his Apr. 18 press conference, Attorney General William Barr said repeatedly that Mueller had confirmed Trump’s “No Collusion” mantra. The truth is that Mueller expressly excluded collusion from his analysis:

“In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of collusion.”

Mueller added that collusive behavior doesn’t necessarily satisfy the legal prerequisites for a criminal conspiracy, which “requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.” Declining to prosecute collusive behavior doesn’t equal a finding of “No Collusion.”

Spinning The “No Collusion” Bridge Too Far

At first, Trump liked Barr’s spin. But then Mueller’s actual report caught up with both of them. The truth won’t stop Trump from repeating the “No Collusion” lie. But his tweets now reveal that even he doesn’t believe it:

Trump’s last tweet is right in one respect: Regardless of the descriptive term, what Russia and the Trump campaign did during the 2016 election should never happen again.

THE MUELLER REPORT: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH APR. 21, 2019

To get past Trump’s false spin about the Mueller Report, take a look a the new Apr. 18, 2019 entry in the Trump-Russia Timeline: “Redacted Mueller Report Released.”

And if you think Attorney General William Barr is working for the people of the United States rather than as Trump’s personal Mueller Report spinner, take a look at the Apr. 18, 2019 entry: “Barr Not Bothered By ‘Spinning’ Mueller Report Before Its Release”

Here are the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:

APR. 17, 2019: Trump Tweets About Steele, ‘Witch Hunt’, ‘Dirty Cops’, ‘Crooked Hillary and the DNC’

APR. 18, 2019: Trump Tweetstorm As Barr Holds Press Conference and Releases Redacted Mueller Report

APR. 18, 2019: Barr Not Bothered By ‘Spinning’ Mueller Report Before Its Release

APR. 18, 2019: Redacted Mueller Report Released

APR. 19, 2019: Trump Twitter Rampage Continues As He Threatens To ‘Bring Justice To Some Very Sick And Dangerous People Who Have Committed Serious Crimes, Perhaps Even Spying Or Treason’

APR. 19, 2019: House Subpoenas Unredacted Mueller Report

APR. 19, 2019: Prosecutors Seek 18-Month Prison Term for Butina

APR. 20, 2019: Trump Continues to Spin Mueller Report’s Conclusions

APR. 21, 2019: Trump Twitter Rampage Continues

THE BEAT GOES ON: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH APR. 15, 2019

Here are the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security (another update that includes the Mueller Report is in coming later this week):

AUG. 16, 2017: Rohrabacher Echoes Assange: Russia Didn’t Hack Election (revision of previous entry)

MAR. 6, 2018: Assange Charged in Sealed Indictment

APR. 5-8, 2019: Trump Continues Attack on Democrats, Russia ‘Hoax’, ‘Fraudulent Russian Witch Hunt’, ‘Treasonous Acts’, ‘Mueller’s Team of 13 Trump Haters & Angry Democrats’, Nadler (revision of previous entry)

APR. 9, 2019: Trump Attacks Nadler

APR. 9, 2019: Barr Refuses to Answer Whether He’s Spoken to WH About Mueller Report

APR. 10, 2019: Trump Continues Pivot Attacking Clinton Email Investigation, Blasts Russia Investigation as ‘Phony & Treasonous Hoax’

APR. 10, 2019: Barr Says He Thinks ‘Spying Did Occur’ on Trump Campaign, Then Backtracks; Blames ‘Upper Echelon’ Leaders at FBI; Refuses to Answer Whether White House Has Seen Mueller’s Report; Nadler Responds

APR. 11, 2019: Assange Arrested; Trump Says ‘I Know Nothing About WikiLeaks’

APR. 11, 2019: Craig Indicted

APR. 11, 2019: Trump Tweets About Barr’s ‘Spying’ Comments; Retweets Rosenstein’s Defense of Barr Summary

APR. 12, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Mueller, New York Times and Washington Post Coverage of Craig Indictment, ‘Spying’ on Campaign

APR. 12, 2019: Patten Sentenced to Probation

APR. 13, 2019: Trump Attacks Democrats Over Mueller Report, ‘Crooked Hillary, DNC and Dirty Cops’

APR. 14, 2019: Trump Quotes WSJ Op-Ed Attacking Democrats

APR. 15, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘No Collusion, No Obstruction, INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS, THEY SPIED ON MY CAMPAIGN, 18 Angry Democrats, Dirty Cops, Crooked Hillary’

APR. 16, 2019: Trump Attacks Trump-Russia Probe: ‘No Collusion – No Obstruction’

 

THE MUELLER REPORT: NOT EXONERATED – Part 1 – Spinning Excerpts

[This post first appeared on Apr. 18, 2019 at Dan Rather’s News & Guts]

This is the first in a series of posts by Steven J. Harper, creator and curator of the Trump-Russia Timeline, on the Mueller Report.

It will take time to digest special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report. But this much is already clear: Beware of Attorney General William Barr’s partial sentences that have become the basis for unwarranted spin about Trump’s “exoneration.”

Conspiracy

On potential criminal conspiracy charges against the Trump Campaign, Barr’s Mar. 24, 2019 letter lifted these words for his “summary” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report:

“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Now add the lead-in that Barr omitted that provides context for his excerpt (which is in italics):

Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”(Vol. I, p. 5)

Obstruction

With respect to obstruction of justice, Barr’s excerpting was even more egregious. In his letter to Congress, he wrote that Mueller did not make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment.” But he didn’t reveal the reasons, which included a prior Official of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president may not be prosecuted.

Quoting Mueller selectively, Barr concluded: “[W]hile this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

In its entirety, the paragraph reads as follows (Barr’s excerpt in italics):

“Fourth, 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, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” (Vol. II, p. 2)

There’s more to come, including the critical distinction between a criminal investigation into the crime of conspiracy and the counterintelligence inquiry into collusion. Meanwhile, ignore claims that Mueller exonerated Trump. He didn’t. Not by a lot.

NOT DONE YET: TRUMP-RUSSIA TIMELINE UPDATE THROUGH APR. 8, 2019

The story is far from over…

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:

APR. 1, 2019: Trump Continues To Attack Democrats, Russia Investigation; Defends ‘No Collusion, No Obstruction Trump Campaign’ 

APR. 2, 2019: Trump’s Attacks Nadler, Schiff, Democrats

APR. 3, 2019: House Committee Votes to Subpoena Mueller Report

APR. 3-4, 2019: Mueller Investigators Unhappy With Barr’s Summary

APR. 4, 2019: Trump Attacks Democrats, New York Times, Schiff Over ‘Russian Collusion Hoax’

APR. 4, 2019: GOP Blocks Mueller Resolution Again

APR. 4, 2019: Nadler Requests DOJ Communications About Mueller Report

APR. 5-8, 2019: Trump Continues Attack on Democrats, Russia ‘Hoax’, ‘Fraudulent Russian Witch Hunt’, ‘Treasonous Acts’, ‘Mueller’s Team of 13 Trump Haters & Angry Democrats’, Nadler