In unflattering detail, Mueller report reveals Trump actions to impede inquiry

People pass walk by the ABC news screen in Times Square on April 18, 2019 in New York City as the Justice Department released a redacted version of the long-awaited Mueller Report which investigated Russian Interference into the 2016 Presidential election. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images/AFP)
Updated 19 April 2019

In unflattering detail, Mueller report reveals Trump actions to impede inquiry

WASHINGTON: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 US election described in extensive and sometimes unflattering detail how President Donald Trump tried to impede the probe, raising questions about whether he committed the crime of obstruction of justice.
The release of the 448-page report on Thursday after a 22-month investigation marked a milestone in Trump’s tumultuous presidency and inflamed partisan passions ahead of his 2020 re-election bid.
Democrats said the report contained disturbing evidence of wrongdoing by Trump that could fuel congressional investigations, but there was no immediate indication they would try to remove him from office through impeachment.
Mueller built an extensive case indicating the Republican president had committed obstruction of justice but stopped short of concluding he had committed a crime, though he did not exonerate the president. Mueller noted that Congress has the power to address whether Trump violated the law.
“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 stated.
Mueller also unearthed “numerous links” between the Russian government and Trump’s campaign and said the president’s team “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” referring to hacked Democratic emails.
But Mueller, a former FBI director, concluded there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump’s campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow.
Trump appeared to be in a celebratory mood, saying at a White House event with wounded US troops he was “having a good day” following the report’s release, adding, “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.” Trump, whose legal team called the report “a total victory,” has long described Mueller’s inquiry as a “witch hunt.”
Trump headed to his resort in Florida for the weekend, and on landing on Thursday night told a crowd of well wishers at the airport: “Game over folks, now it’s back to work.”
The report, with some portions blacked out to protect sensitive information, provided fresh details of how Trump tried to force Mueller’s ouster, directed members of his administration to publicly vouch for his innocence and dangled a pardon to a former aide to try to prevent him from cooperating with the special counsel.
“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 stated.
The report said that when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Trump in May 2017 that the Justice Department was appointing a special counsel to look into allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia, Trump slumped back in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f***ed.”
Attorney General William Barr told a news conference Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.” Barr concluded last month after receiving a confidential copy of Mueller’s report that Trump had not actually committed a crime.
Trump was wary of FBI scrutiny of his campaign and him personally, the report said. “The evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the president personally that the president could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns,” the report stated.
Any impeachment effort would start in the Democratic-led House of Representatives, but Trump’s removal would require the support of the Republican-led Senate — an unlikely outcome. Many Democrats steered clear of impeachment talk on Thursday, although a prominent liberal congresswoman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, embraced the idea.
“Many know I take no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn’t campaign on it, & rarely discuss it unprompted,” she said on Twitter. “But the report squarely puts this on our doorstep.”
The House, when it voted to impeach President Bill Clinton in 1998, included obstruction of justice as one of the charges. The Senate ultimately decided not to remove Clinton from office.
The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerrold Nadler, said he would issue subpoenas to obtain the unredacted Mueller report and asked Mueller to testify before the panel by May 23.
Nadler told reporters in New York Mueller probably wrote the report with the intent of providing Congress a road map for future action, but the congressman said it was too early to talk about impeachment.
“Mueller’s report paints a damning portrait of lies that appear to have materially impaired the investigation, a body of evidence of improper contacts with a foreign adversary, and serious allegations about how President Trump sought to obstruct a legitimate, and deeply important, counterintelligence investigation,” the Democratic chairs of six House committees said in a statement.

Election meddling
The inquiry laid bare what the special counsel and US intelligence agencies have described as a Russian campaign of hacking and propaganda to sow discord in the United States, denigrate 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and boost Trump, the Kremlin’s preferred candidate. Russia has denied election interference.
In analyzing whether Trump obstructed justice, Mueller looked at a series of actions by Trump, including his attempts to remove Mueller and limit the scope of his probe and efforts to prevent the public from knowing about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York between senior campaign officials and Russians.
In June 2017, Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to tell the Justice Department’s No. 2 official, Rod Rosenstein, that Mueller had conflicts of interest and must be removed, the report said. McGahn did not carry out the order. McGahn was home on a Saturday that month when Trump called him at least twice.
“You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” McGahn recalled the president as saying, according to the report.
House Judiciary Democrat Jamie Raskin pointed to Trump’s effort to get McGahn to fire Mueller and then lie about being told to do so as an area of interest for lawmakers, and said McGahn and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be valuable witnesses as the committee moves forward.
“There are these dramatic episodes of presidential attempts to interfere with the Mueller investigation, and I think people would like to hear from a number of officials involved. White House counsel McGahn jumps out as an important witness,” he told Reuters.
It also said there was “substantial evidence” Trump fired James Comey as FBI director in May 2017 due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.” The FBI headed the inquiry at the time.
Mueller cited “some evidence” suggesting Trump knew about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s controversial calls with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office, but evidence was “inconclusive” and could not be used to establish intent to obstruct.
The report said Trump directed former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask Sessions to say the Russia investigation was “very unfair.”
Barr, a Trump appointee, seemed to offer cover for Trump’s actions by saying the 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.”
“President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates,” Barr said.
Mueller’s team did not issue a subpoena to force Trump to give an interview to the special counsel because it would have created a “substantial delay” at a late stage in the investigation, the report said. Trump refused an interview and eventually provided only written answers.
The report said Mueller accepted the longstanding Justice Department view that a sitting president cannot be indicted on criminal charges, while still recognizing that a president can be criminally investigated.
The report listed 14 criminal referrals for investigation by US prosecutors but 12 of those were fully blacked out because they are open investigations.
Mueller said evidence he collected indicates Trump intended to encourage his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, not to cooperate and that the evidence supports the idea that Trump wanted Manafort to believe he could receive a presidential pardon.
The report said the special counsel’s team determined there was a “reasonable argument” that the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., violated campaign finance laws, but did not believe they could obtain a conviction.
The report cited Trump’s repeated efforts to convince Sessions to resume oversight of the probe after he had recused himself because of his own prior contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.


Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury

Updated 30 min 27 sec ago

Australia offers safe haven to Hong Kongers, sparking China fury

  • In addition to extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country, Australia threw open the door to thousands more wanting to start a new life Down Under
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decisions were taken in response to China’s imposition last week of a tough new security law in Hong Kong

SYDNEY: Australia offered pathways to permanent residency for thousands of people from Hong Kong on Thursday in response to China’s crackdown on dissent, drawing a furious reply from Beijing.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was suspending its extradition agreement with the city and, in addition to extending the visas of 10,000 Hong Kongers already in the country, threw open the door to thousands more wanting to start a new life Down Under.
Morrison said the decisions were taken in response to China’s imposition last week of a tough new security law in Hong Kong, which he said “constitutes a fundamental change of circumstances” for the semi-autonomous territory.
“Australia is adjusting its laws, our sovereign laws, our sovereign immigration program, things that we have responsibility for and jurisdiction over, to reflect the changes that we’re seeing take place there,” he said during a press conference.
Beijing shot back, condemning the Australian announcements as violations of “fundamental principles of international relations.”
“China... reserves the right to take further reactions, all consequences will be borne by Australia,” warned Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian.
“Any attempts to suppress China will never succeed.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said China’s moves in Hong Kong were discussed earlier Thursday with Australia’s so-called “Five Eyes” security partners — New Zealand, the United States, Britain, and Canada.
The new law, which followed sometimes-violent pro-democracy protests, is the most radical change in Hong Kong’s freedoms since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997 under an agreement designed to preserve its way of life for 50 years.
China has bristled at widespread global criticism of the law.
Beijing in recent months has imposed tariffs on some Australian imports and impeded trade in other key commodities in response to Australian steps to counter Chinese interference in the country.
China, Australia’s biggest trade partner and a competitor for influence in the Pacific, was notably infuriated when Canberra led calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
New Zealand is also reviewing its relationship with Hong Kong because of the new law, Foreign Minister Winston Peters said Thursday, “including extradition arrangements, controls on exports of strategic goods, and travel advice.”
Canada has also suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong, while the British government has offered more than three million Hong Kongers a broader path to citizenship.
Morrison brushed aside questions about whether the challenge over Hong Kong would likely lead to further Chinese retaliation.
“We will make decisions about what’s in our interests, and we will make decisions about our laws and our adviseries, and we will do that rationally and soberly and consistently,” he said.
He also appeared undaunted by China’s angry response, issuing a joint statement with Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe following a video summit hours later challenging Beijing’s moves to assert control over the strategic South China sea.
In a thinly veiled reference to China, the two leaders condemned “recent negative developments” in the region, including the militarization of disputed islands and the “dangerous and coercive use” of naval ships and “maritime militia” against other nations’ vessels.
Under the measures announced Thursday, 10,000 Hong Kong citizens and residents in Australia on student or temporary work visas will be allowed to remain in the country for an additional five years, with a pathway to permanent residency.
The program was also offered to Hong Kong entrepreneurs or skilled workers who wish to relocate to Australia in the future.
“If there are businesses that wish to relocate to Australia, creating jobs, bringing investment, creating opportunities for Australia, then we will be very proactive in seeking to encourage that,” he said.
The move echoed Australia’s response to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown when Canberra offered refuge to thousands of Chinese students and their families.
But it contrasts with the current conservative government’s policy of restricting immigration.
Morrison said he did not expect a rush of new visa applications from Hong Kongers, in part due to coronavirus travel restrictions.
And he added that it would be “very disappointing” if China tried to prevent Hong Kong citizens from taking advantage of the offer.