AP FACT CHECK: Trump, AG spread untruths on Mueller report
Published 8:12 am Wednesday, April 24, 2019
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is still distorting the truth about the Russia investigation , claiming exoneration from a special counsel’s report that he is also assailing as hopelessly biased.
Confronted with unflattering details in the report about his monthslong effort to undermine federal investigators, Trump over the weekend blasted special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment as “highly conflicted.” In fact, the Justice Department’s ethics experts cleared Mueller to run the two-year investigation and Trump’s own aides previously dismissed the president’s complaints as “ridiculous” and unfounded.
Trump is also claiming full vindication by the report. But while clearing Trump of criminal conspiracy, Mueller all but boldfaced this other finding in the 400-plus page report: No exoneration for Trump on obstruction of justice.
Email newsletter signup
The statements were among many misrepresentations spread over the past week by the president’s team, including Attorney General William Barr, who declared Trump innocent and suggested, inaccurately, that Congress had no role in deciding the matter.
TRUMP: “The Mueller Report … was written as nastily as possible by 13 (18) Angry Democrats who were true Trump Haters, including highly conflicted Bob Mueller himself.” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Trump repeats a baseless charge that Mueller is a “highly conflicted” prosecutor, something that Trump’s own aides have debunked.
Trump has previously tweeted and complained to aides that Mueller would not be objective, saying Mueller had interviewed for the FBI director position shortly before being named as special counsel and that Mueller had disputed some fees relating to his membership at a Trump golf course.
But the president’s aides, including then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and Reince Priebus, the chief of staff at the time, rejected those complaints as not representing “true conflicts,” according to the special counsel’s report. Bannon also called the claims “ridiculous.” Bannon indicated that while the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job. Mueller was previously FBI director from 2001 to 2013.
Mueller, a longtime Republican, was cleared by the Justice Department to lead the Russia investigation. The department said in May 2017 that its ethics experts “determined that Mr. Mueller’s participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate.” The issue had come up because of his former position at the WilmerHale law firm, which represented some key players in the probe.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee.
TRUMP: “The Mueller Report should not have been authorized in the first place.” — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Trump is entitled to that opinion. The grounds he has given, though, are at odds with some facts.
He claimed as recently as last month that the probe was hatched by Democrats after losing the 2016 election. As evidence, Trump often points to a dossier of anti-Trump research financed by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The research that was ultimately compiled into the dossier was initially financed by anti-Trump conservatives, and later by the Democrats.
But the Mueller report makes clear that the FBI’s investigation actually began months before it received the dossier.
The report notes the investigation was initiated after the FBI received information related to Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, not the dossier. Last year, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee made the same finding.
In late July 2016, days after WikiLeaks released thousands of internal Democratic National Committee documents that proved embarrassing to Clinton, the FBI became aware of a meeting two months prior between Papadopoulos and a representative of a foreign government, according to Mueller’s report. Papadopoulos claimed the Trump campaign had received “indications” from Moscow that it could assist the campaign by anonymously releasing political dirt on Clinton.
“Within a week of the (WikiLeaks) release, a foreign government informed the FBI about its May 2016 interaction with Papadopoulos,” the report stated. “On July 31, 2016, based on the foreign government reporting, the FBI opened an investigation into potential coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign.”
TRUMP: “The end result of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. political history is No Collusion with Russia (and No Obstruction). Pretty Amazing!” — tweet Saturday.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “Today’s release of the Special Counsel’s report confirms what the President and I have said since day one: there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and there was no obstruction of justice.” — statement Thursday.
KELLYANNE CONWAY, White House counselor: “What matters is what the Department of Justice and special counsel concluded here, which is no collusion, no obstruction, and complete exoneration, as the president says.” — remarks Thursday to reporters.
THE FACTS: The special counsel’s report specifically does not exonerate Trump, leaving open the question of whether the president obstructed justice.
“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 wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
The report identifies 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump and said he might have “had a motive” to impede the investigation because of what it could find on a variety of personal matters, such as his proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
“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 states.
In explaining its decision, Mueller’s team said reaching a conclusion on whether Trump committed crimes would be inappropriate because of a Justice Department legal opinion indicating that a sitting president should not be prosecuted. It nevertheless left open at least the theoretical possibility that Trump could be charged after he leaves office, noting that its factual investigation was conducted “in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary material were available.”