By Nancy Benac, Chad Day, Eric Tucker
and Michael Balsamo
WASHINGTON (AP) — A day after celebrating the release of the Mueller report as “a good day,” President Donald Trump struck a defiant tone Friday, unleashing tweets saying claims in the report by former administration officials that he tried numerous times to stop or influence the probe were “total bullshit.”
According to the 448-page report released Thursday , Trump discouraged witnesses from cooperating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf to hamper the Russia probe he feared would cripple his administration.
The report’s bottom line largely tracked the findings revealed in Attorney General William Barr’s four-page memo a month ago — no Trump campaign collusion with Russia around the 2016 election, but no clear verdict on obstruction. But the report added new layers of detail about Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation.
Tweeting on a rainy Friday from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump lashed out at people who cooperated with Mueller’s team. He said statements in the report made by some were “fabricated & totally untrue.” He alleged that “notes” some people said they took after meetings didn’t exist but were created for the Mueller investigation.
“I never agreed to testify, it was not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘Report’ about me, some of which are total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad),” Trump tweeted. “This was an Illegally Started Hoax that never should have happened.”
On Thursday, Trump had termed the Mueller report release “a good day” for him, adding that “It was called no collusion, no obstruction.”
Mueller wrote in the two-volume redacted report that Trump’s attempts to seize control of the investigation and direct others on how to influence it “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel’s appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.”
With that, Trump set out to save himself.
In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would sooner resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of firings during the Watergate era.
Two days later, Trump met with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictated a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation “very unfair” to the president, declare Trump did nothing wrong and say Mueller should limit his probe to “investigating election meddling for future elections.” The message was never delivered.
Looking ahead, both sides were are using the findings to amplify well-rehearsed arguments about Trump’s conduct, Republicans casting him as a victim of harassment and Democrats depicting the president as stepping far over the line to derail the investigation.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23.” And the New York Democrat issued a subpoena for Mueller’s complete report as well as underlying documents, including grand jury evidence, which was redacted. Grand jury evidence, including witness interviews, is normally off limits but can be obtained in court.
“We need the entire report, unredacted, and the underlying documents in order to make informed decisions,” Nadler told ABC’s “Good Morning America” Friday.
The Justice Department released its redacted version of the report about 90 minutes after Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings at a testy news conference. The nation, Congress and Trump’s White House consumed it voraciously online, via compact disc delivered to legislators and in loose-leaf binders distributed to reporters.
Trump tweeted “Game Over” in a typeface mimicking the “Game of Thrones” logo. By late afternoon, he was airborne for Mar-a-Lago with first lady Melania Trump for the holiday weekend.
Top Republicans in Congress saw vindication, too.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it was time to move on from Democrats’ effort to “vilify a political opponent.” The California lawmaker said the report failed to deliver the “imaginary evidence” incriminating Trump that Democrats had sought.
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said Republicans should turn the tables and “investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation.”
But Democrats said the report revealed troubling details about Trump’s conduct in the White House.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer wrote that “one thing is clear: Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding.”
Barr said he wouldn’t object to Mueller testifying.
Trump himself was never questioned in person, but the report’s appendix includes 12 pages of his written responses to queries from Mueller’s team.
Mueller deemed Trump’s written answers — rife with iterations of “I don’t recall” — to be “inadequate.” He considered issuing a subpoena to force the president to appear in person but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle.
In his written answers, Trump said his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Hillary Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and said he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.
But Mueller said that within five hours of Trump’s comment, Russian military intelligence officers were targeting email accounts connected to Clinton’s office.
Mueller evaluated nearly a dozen episodes for possible obstruction of justice, and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. The episodes included Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.
Sessions was so affected by Trump’s frequent criticism of him for recusing himself from the investigation that he kept a resignation letter “with him in his pocket every time he went to the White House,” Mueller said.
As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote that the campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
But Mueller said investigators concluded, “While 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.”
Workers at a Russian troll farm contacted Trump’s campaign, claiming to be political activists for conservative grassroots organizations, and asked for signs and other campaign materials to use at rallies. While volunteers provided some of those materials — and set aside a number of signs — investigators don’t believe any Trump campaign officials knew the requests were coming from foreign nationals, Mueller wrote.
Mueller wrote that investigators “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Mueller wrote that he would have exonerated Trump if he could, but he wasn’t able to do that given the evidence he uncovered. And he said the Justice Department’s standing opinion that a sitting president couldn’t be indicted meant he also couldn’t recommend Trump be criminally charged, even in secret.