Washington – Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report found no grounds to charge criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, but said several members of the president’s campaign team, including former campaign manager Paul Manafort, were eager for Russian help.
The long-awaited report followed a 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It details “ten episodes” involving the president and discusses “potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”
The report ,which was redacted, shows that Mueller’s team struggled with the issue of obstruction and that Trump may have been saved from more serious legal jeopardy by his own staffers, who refused to carry out orders they thought were problematic or legally dangerous.
It said investigators “were unable to conclude that no criminal conduct occurred.”
When Trump first learned of Mueller’s appointment, the president declared “this is the end of my presidency,” and tried unsuccessfully to get Mueller fired, the special counsel’s team reported. It also detailed dozens of contacts between mebers of the Trump campaign and people with ties to the Kremlin.
According to the report, Manafort, a Connecticut native, met with longtime business associate Konstantin Kilimnik —who has been determined to have ties to Russian intelligence — in New York in the summer of 2016 to discuss a Russian plan to control Eastern Ukraine.
“Both men believed the plan would require Trump’s assent to succeed (were he elected president),” the report said.
The report also said the men discussed Trump campaign strategy and shared internal campaign polling data “and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting.”
The Mueller report also says that after Manafort was indicted, the former campaign manager told former Trump political consultant Richard Gates, “the president will take care of us.”
After Manafort agreed to a plea agreement that required him to cooperate with investigators, it said, his attorneys regularly briefed the president on topics discussed with the special counsel’s office.
That resulted in Mueller’s determination that Manafort had breached his plea agreement. He is serving a 7.5 year jail sentence for conspiracy and fraud.
The Mueller report also said Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign in mid-August of 2016, following media reports about his political consulting work for the pro-Russian Party of the Regions of Ukraine. But he did not stop helping the Trump campaign, through the November election.
Some of those post-resignation contacts are documented in emails, including one that said the Wikileaks hacking of Democratic National Committee emails “provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way” that Clinton was “a failed and corrupt champion of the establishment.”
The report also said Manafort told the campaign after Trump’s election that he was not interested in an administration job, preferring to stay on the “outside” and “monetize “his familiarity with Trump and members of the incoming administration to generate business.
“Manafort appeared to follow that plan as he traveled to the Middle East, Cuba, South Korea, Japan and China and was paid to explain what a Trump presidency would entail,” the report said.
Another Connecticut native, former Trump communications director Hope Hicks, repeatedly urged the president to come clean about a key meeting with Russian agents at Trump Towers in Manhattan on June 9, 2016, but was rebuffed.
In emails to the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., an intermediary setting up the meeting wrote that “the crown prosecutor of Russia” had offered “to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary (Clinton) and her dealings with Russians.”
Trump Jr. responded “If that’s what you say I love it.”
The report said Hicks and fellow communications director Josh Raffel told investigators they discussed the emails with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, telling them the emails were damaging.
Hicks recalled “being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad,” and spoke privately to the president the next day to mention her concerns. The president told Hicks he did not think the emails would leak.
Hicks insisted she wanted to “get out in front of the story” and have Trump Jr. release the emails as part of an interview with “softball questions.”
“Hicks warned the president that that the emails were ‘really bad,’ and the story would be ‘massive’ if it broke, but the president was insistent he did not want to talk about it and said he did not want details,” the report said.
The following week, during a trip to Germany for the G20 summit, the report added, Hicks approached the president again when she learned The New York Times was working on a story about the June 9 meeting. When Hicks told the president about the story, he told her not to comment.
“Hicks thought the president’s reaction was odd because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin,” the report said.
Stan Twardy, a former U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut who is now an attorney at the Day Pitney law firm, said the report “paints a picture of a symbiotic relationship between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”
“Both got something out of it, but neither of them were conspiring,” Twardy said.
Democrats demand full report, congressional action
Despite the damning information in Mueller’s report, the Trump campaign on Thursday said it was a vindication of the president, and released a video of Democrats, including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who said the investigation would reveal wrongdoing. The campaign said it was now time to “turn the tables” on those Democrats.
“Democrats took us on a frantic, chaotic, conspiracy-laden roller coaster for two years, alleging wrongdoing where there was none,” the Trump campaign said. “But the verdict stands: no collusion, no obstruction, no wrongdoing, no crimes, and an innocent President who has continued his relentless work for the American people.”
Blumenthal, and other congressional Democrats, urged the release of a full, unredacted report and said it is now up to Congress, especially the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, to follow up on the investigation.
“While it reaches no conclusion about allegations that the president obstructed justice, it also does not exonerate Trump,” Blumethal said at a press conference in Hartford on Thursday.
“From the firing of FBI Director James Comey to Trump efforts to shut down and to interfere with Mueller’s investigation, there’s a credible case of obstruction of justice against the president,” he said.
In a press conference before the release of the report, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr defended Trump’s conduct and said the White House did everything possible to cooperate with Mueller – although it did not provide the special counsel with a key witness, the president himself.
Barr said Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election “did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign.”
Barr also said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law.”
“Mueller did not feel that he had a case as a prosecutor, but tried to lay out all the obstruction information for Congress to decide whether or not there were sufficient grounds for impeachment,” Twardy said.
The former U.S. Attorney also said “the reason that Mueller did not bring obstruction charges is that the people who would have committed obstructions were people who stood up to the president, who saved him notwithstanding his condemnation.” Those people included former White House Counsel Don McGahn who refused Trump’s order to fire Mueller.
Barr’s defense of the president’s conduct called into question the attorney general’s impartiality and was slammed by Democrats.
“Attorney General Barr is supposed to be the nation’s top impartial lawyer, not a White House spokesman. His press conference was just an attempt to spin a report nobody had read yet, and that’s really disappointing,” said Sen. Chris Murphy.
Blumenthal said he wanted to “emphasize the discrepancy between the sunshine spin that we saw from the Attorney General this morning and the detailed description of wrongdoing in this report.”
“What’s demonstrated in powerful and compelling detail in this report is nothing less than a national scandal, and this report is far from the end of the inquiry that this country needs and deserves. It is the beginning of another chapter,” he said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, said “despite Attorney General Barr’s political spin, the Mueller report details multiple instances in which President Trump attempted to obstruct justice and end the Special Counsel’s investigation.”
“What’s demonstrated in powerful and compelling detail in this report is nothing less than a national scandal, and this report is far from the end of the inquiry that this country needs and deserves. It is the beginning of another chapter.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, joined other Democrats who called for Mueller to testify before Congress.
“Despite Attorney General Barr’s unprecedented attempt to frame this report in the best possible light for the president and his administration, the release of even the redacted version today makes clear that his ‘initial summary”’of special counsel Mueller’s findings was misleading at best – and willfully distorted at worst,” Courtney said. “Even with its many redactions, the report raises serious questions and concerns that the American people deserve answers to.”
Courtney said Mueller’s testimony is clearly the only way that we will be able to determine Mueller’s true analysis of the report, its findings, and its conclusions.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, also said he wanted to hear from Mueller.
“Americans need Mueller’s account on the record, and his analysis of the report and the conclusions that were reached, not just Attorney General Barr’s narrative,” Larson said.
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, said the determinations of the Mueller report were irrelevant because the president’s actions make him unfit for office. But Hayes said she did not think Trump should be impeached.
“Regardless of the results of the Mueller report, President Trump and his administration give the American people evidence on a daily basis that we need a change of leadership,” Hayes said in a statement. “However, I believe that change should come through an election rather than impeachment.”
Blumenthal said it was “premature” to speak of impeachment.
“I really want to review this report in order to see what remedies should be pursued,” he said.
Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont was among the rare Democrats who tried to stay out of the fray Thursday.
“I got to tell you, I’m focused on Connecticut,” Lamont said shortly after the 448-page report was released. “I think we know what’s going to happen on the Mueller report. I think the Democrats will cherry pick things that are good for their case; I think the Republicans will cherry pick things that are good for their case. ”
Like most observers, Lamont predicted the Mueller report “will dominate Fox and MSNBC for the next three days and then we’re all going to complain about how much is redacted – what’s there and what aren’t we able to see.”
“All I know is I think Mueller seems to be a pretty credible guy,” the governor said.
Mirror reporter Jenna Carlesso contributed to this story.