An annotated guide to the redacted Mueller report

Robert Mueller’s redacted report comes after the special counsel spent more than two years investigating President Donald Trump and his associates’ possible ties to Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Mueller Report

An annotated guide to the redacted Mueller report

Here’s POLITICO’s rolling analysis of the hotly anticipated document.

The Justice Department on Thursday released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials and whether the president obstructed justice.

While the investigation did not find hard evidence of collusion, the report detailed numerous instances in which Trump tried to interfere with the probe.

We’re annotating the document in real time, pulling out the excerpts we find most interesting, and giving you the analysis you need to understand Mueller’s findings.

OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

Trump raises pressure on Jeff Sessions

Vol. 2, pg. 107

Trump made no secret of his frustration that Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation — even stating publicly that he would have never appointed Sessions had he known that Sessions would recuse. Sessions said he felt a recusal was necessary due to his deep involvement with the Trump campaign as an adviser and surrogate.

Trump considers new ways to intervene in the Mueller probe

Vol. 2, pg. 107

Vol. 2, pg. 107

Trump’s former staff secretary Rob Porter spoke with Mueller — and he revealed that Trump mused about installing other senior DOJ officials like Rachel Brand to supervise Mueller.

Story Continued Below

Trump pushes the Department of Justice to go after Hillary Clinton

Vol. 2, pg. 109

Trump went to great lengths to encourage Sessions to investigate a political enemy: Hillary Clinton. But Sessions routinely did not commit to honoring such requests, which clearly irked the president. Mueller notes that Trump’s tweets in the following days reflected his ire.

This is also the first we’re learning that Porter took contemporaneous notes about things the president said in private. But he notes that Trump specifically told Sessions he wasn’t “telling you to do anything” — which might have given Barr and Rosenstein a reason to question whether Trump had corrupt intent to obstruct an investigation. ”

Trump sought to restrict the probe

Vol. 2, pg. 112

Contra Trump’s claims of no obstruction, Mueller is again saying that he found evidence of obstruction. Specifically, Mueller says here that Trump sought to influence the investigation in a way that would “restrict its scope.”

Story Continued Below

Trump pushes McGahn to lie about his order to fire Mueller

Vol. 2, pg. 113

Here, Mueller reveals that Trump tried to get ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn to deny the New York Times story that Trump directed McGahn to fire Mueller. McGahn refused because he knew that the story was true. Meanwhile, Trump was publicly deriding the Times story as “fake news.”

Trump turns on McGahn

Vol. 2, pg. 115

This section reveals that Trump became deeply frustrated with McGahn in private, even accusing him of leaking damaging information to the media. He even referred to McGahn as a “lying bastard,” according to Porter’s contemporaneous notes, and threatened to fire McGahn.

Story Continued Below

McGahn resists Trump

Vol. 2, pg. 116

This section tells us that McGahn viewed Trump’s threats to fire him as completely empty. According to Porter, McGahn said the optics of a firing would be terrible, and he therefore refused to write such a letter denying the Times story.

Trump wants a new Roy Cohn

Vol. 2, pg. 117

Trump was clearly livid when he found out that his aides were taking notes to memorialize their conversations. The president also routinely referred to Roy Cohn as an example of someone who would protect him.

Story Continued Below

Trump tries to undercut obstruction investigation

Vol. 2, pg. 119

Vol. 2, pg. 120

In trying to determine Trump’s intent in directing McGahn to deny that he had sought to fire the special counsel, Mueller said Trump “likely contemplated the ongoing investigation and any proceedings arising from it.” In other words, Trump knew that the Times story could be part of an obstruction investigation when he tried to create a “record” stating that the Times story wasn’t true.

Dangling of pardons?

Vol. 2, pg. 123

This section deals with the potential dangling of pardons, and the idea that Trump tried to obstruct the investigation by preventing Manafort and others from cooperating. According to Mueller, Manafort spoke with Trump’s attorneys and relayed to Gates that “we’ll be taken care of” — but Manafort said the word “pardons” was not used.

Vol. 2, pg. 132

Mueller concluded that Trump sought to “encourage” Manafort not to cooperate with prosecutors through both public and private statements. Additionally, Mueller said Trump “intended Manafort to believe that he could receive a pardon,” which would make Manafort less likely to cooperate with the government.

Story Continued Below

An alternative to obstruction

Vol. 2, pg. 133

Here, Mueller is saying it was possible that Trump did not have a corrupt intent to directly influence the investigation. This is important to note when considering Mueller’s — and Barr’s — decision not to charge Trump with obstruction. You’ll recall that Trump was not asked about obstruction in his written questions.

Mueller conducted a “thorough factual investigation” of Trump obstruction

Vol. 2, pg. 1

Mueller revealed that he did consider the Justice Department guidelines that indicated a sitting president may not be prosecuted, but he said the guidance does not preclude a thorough criminal investigation from taking place. Mueller noted that a sitting president may be indicted after he leaves office, so he opted to pursue a “thorough factual investigation.”

Story Continued Below

Trump Tower Moscow negotiations

Vol. 2, pg. 134

Cohen admitted to prosecutors and to Congress that he lied about the timing of the negotiations surrounding the Trump Tower Moscow project — in an effort to “minimize the president’s connections to Russia.” Mueller goes into detail about the extent to which Trump was briefed about the negotiations during the 2016 presidential campaign, including this key note: “Cohen recalled that Trump wanted to be updated on any developments with Trump Tower Moscow…” Trump repeatedly claimed while campaigning for president that he had “nothing to do” with Russia. Meanwhile, Cohen sought to adhere to a “party line” in which Trump’s allies would deny connections to Russia.

Trump didn’t direct Cohen to lie

Vol. 2, pg. 153

Muller could not establish that Trump directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony about Trump Tower Moscow. BuzzFeed had reported that Trump directed Cohen to lie, and the special counsel’s office issued a rare denial at the time. We now know that the BuzzFeed story was inaccurate.

Story Continued Below

Trump changed his tune when he found out he was under investigation

Vol. 2, pg. 158

Here, Mueller is summarizing what his team established as “acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence” over various investigations. But many of these actions were “unsuccessful” in obstructing the investigation, Mueller notes, because Trump’s aides refused to carry out his directives. We also find out for the first time that Trump’s posture began to change when he found out that there was an ongoing investigation into whether he personally sought to obstruct justice.

Mueller cites precedents supporting congressional action

Vol. 2, pg. 171

Mueller used a separation-of-powers argument to reach the conclusion that Congress has the authority to evaluate presidential conduct that could be construed as obstruction of justice. This is yet another data point Democrats can use to support their own obstruction investigation in the House Judiciary Committee.

Story Continued Below

Mueller sets the bar high for corrupt intent

Vol. 2, pg. 178

The special counsel says there’s a “demanding standard” to determine whether Trump acted with a corrupt intent to obstruct justice. This could explain in part why Mueller was hesitant to bring charges against Trump.

The final conclusion on obstruction

Vol. 2, pg. 182

From the beginning, Mueller and his team decided that it would not make a “traditional” judgment on obstruction of justice. But prosecutors said they could not say with confidence that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice. Much of this paragraph was summarized in Barr’s controversial four-page memo from last month.

Story Continued Below

Mueller not confident the president did not obstruct justice

Vol. 2, pg. 2

Mueller indicates here that the special counsel’s team did not have confidence the president was innocent of obstruction.

Trump viewed Mueller appointment as “the end of his presidency”

Vol. 2, pg. 4

The president reacted to news that a special counsel had been appointed by telling advisors that it was “the end of his presidency” and demanding that Sessions resign. It’s another window into the president’s state of mind when Mueller was appointed — and Mueller posits that it could have been because of the investigation’s effect on his ability to govern.

Story Continued Below

Trump’s overtures to Mueller witnesses

Vol 2, pg. 7

Here’s an example of Barr disagreeing with Mueller on theories about obstruction of justice. Mueller indicates that he doesn’t believe obstruction requires proof of an underlying crime. Mueller also indicates here that Trump had been “suggesting possible future pardons” to witnesses. He said typically these acts are done in secret but Trump’s case was unusual because they were done out in the open. But Mueller said that doesn’t diminish his exposure to an obstruction charge if it had the effect of altering witness testimony of degrading the integrity of the process.

Mueller pointed to Congress’ role in assessing presidential obstruction

Vol. 2, pg. 8

This appears to contradict Barr’s claim that Mueller did not defer any decisions on obstruction of justice to Congress. Barr said previously that Mueller “did not indicate” he intended to leave the decision to Congress.

Story Continued Below

Mueller credits Comey’s version of events

Vol 2, pg. 35

Vol. 2, pg. 36

Former FBI Director James Comey said Trump asked him for a loyalty pledge during a private dinner in February 2017. Trump officials denied it but Mueller’s team seemed to credit Comey’s version of events, citing his contemporaneous memos and testimony from numerous officials who recalled speaking with Comey at the time.

White House officials lost faith in Flynn

Vol. 2, pg. 37

Top White House officials lost faith in Flynn’s honesty and concluded he couldn’t have forgotten whether he discussed sanctions in his phone call with the Russian ambassador. Then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and McGahn recommended that he be fired. After Flynn announced his resignation, Priebus told Mueller that Trump hugged Flynn in the Oval Office and promised to take care of him.

Story Continued Below

Trump asks Flynn to “stay strong”

Vol. 2, pg. 44

K.T. MacFarland told Mueller that Trump asked her to send a message to Flynn, who had just been ousted, telling him to “stay strong.”

Mueller says it’s unclear if Trump wanted to obstruct Flynn probe

Vol. 2, pg. 46

Mueller said the only way to prove intent to obstruct would be to prove Trump had a stake in the outcome of the Flynn investigation. Mueller said there was “some evidence” that Trump knew what Flynn talked about with Kislyak when Trump asked Comey to drop his scrutiny of Flynn. But prosecutors said the evidence was inconclusive to determine the president’s intent and that they knew of no information Flynn possessed that would be damaging to the president that would give Trump a “personal incentive” to pressure the FBI to drop the probe.

Trump pressures Sessions to “unrecuse”

Vol. 2, pg. 51

Trump personally pushed Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the Russia probe after repeatedly expressing to advisers he wanted Sessions to help protect him from the investigation. But Sessions testified to Mueller that he believed Trump wanted Sessions to exert control to prevent the Russia probe from disrupting his ability to govern.

Story Continued Below

Rosenstein interviewed with Mueller team

Vol. 2, pg. 66

Mueller reveals that he interviewed deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein on May 23, 2017, just six days after Mueller was appointed. Legal experts have questioned Rosenstein’s ability to oversee Mueller’s probe while also acting as a witness in the matter. Mueller indicated Rosenstein testified about his role in the firing of FBI Director Comey.

Hush money payments

Vol. 2, pg. 77

Mueller indicates here that the evidence did not establish that Trump’s decision to fire Comey may have been related to other investigations, including a probe into his personal lawyer paying two women who accused Trump of extramarital affairs to stay silent.

Story Continued Below

Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledges comments about Comey were unfounded.

Vol. 2, pg. 76

Sanders acknowledged that she gave a false explanation for Comey’s firing in May 2017, when she told reporters that “the rank and file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director. Accordingly, the President accepted the recommendation of his Deputy Attorney General to remove James Corney from his position.” It’s a rare example of a senior Trump administration official admitting an inaccuracy, and could undermine her credibility with reporters.

“I’m fucked”

Vol. 2, pg. 78

Trump’s initial reaction to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel was one of fury. Mueller, attempting to establish Trump’s state of mind, learned that Trump told allies “I’m fucked” after learning of Mueller’s appointment. He then told aides that a special counsel would affect his ability to govern.

Story Continued Below

White House aides worried Trump would try to control DOJ

Vol. 2, pg. 79

Senior White House advisers, including Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus, told the special counsel they were worried that Trump would use Sessions’ resignation letter to influence the Justice Department. “Priebus told Sessions it was not good for the President to have the letter because it would function as a kind of ‘shock collar’ that the President could use any time he wanted; Priebus said the President had “DOJ by the throat.” Trump eventually returned the letter almost two weeks later.

Mueller’s non-interview for the FBI job

Vol. 2, pg. 81

Though Trump has long contended Mueller was conflicted and had sought the top FBI job, testimony collected by Mueller’s team indicates that it was the White House that had considered asking Mueller to take the role. In fact, Mueller was initially brought in to discuss the institution of the FBI, not for a job interview, according to testimony from Steve Bannon, who also testified that any discussion of conflicts was “ridiculous.”

Story Continued Below

McGahn says Trump asked him to “do crazy shit”

Vol. 2, pg. 88

McGahn reluctantly shared with Mueller’s team that the president had, in his view, asked him to “do crazy shit” — ordering him to fire Mueller and take actions that McGahn viewed as akin to the Saturday Night Massacre. McGahn informed colleagues he’d rather quit than take those actions.

Why not obstruction?

Vol. 2, pg. 89

Vol. 2, pg. 97

Mueller describes substantial evidence that Trump’s efforts to get White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller amounted to obstruction of justice. It’s not entirely clear in the analysis why Mueller ultimately made no finding based on this evidence.

Story Continued Below

Mueller also seemed to suggest that the obstruction threshold was met in Trump’s efforts to browbeat Attorney General Jeff Sessions to intervene in the Mueller probe.

COLLUSION

Trump’s campaign knew it would be helped by Russian interference

Vol. 1, pg. 1

This is the top-line finding of the first volume of Mueller’s report, which focused on Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential collusion. Though the report didn’t find evidence that Trump campaign officials conspired with Russia, it notably confirms that the campaign believed Russia’s efforts would be a political boon as Trump faced off with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump confidante Roger Stone told the campaign about Wikileaks’ plans

Vol. 1, pg. 5

The portion is redacted here to avoid “harm to ongoing matter,” which likely refers to Roger Stone’s upcoming trial. Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Stone had told Trump about an upcoming WikiLeaks release in June 2016.

Story Continued Below

Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort discusses Ukraine with suspected Russian intelligence agent

Vol. 1, pg. 6

This is the first confirmation from Mueller that Kilimnik’s peace plan would have benefited Russia, and that the campaign continued to share polling data with Kilimnik — a suspected Russian intelligence agent — well after August 2016.

More efforts to influence Trump’s Russia policy

Vol. 1, pg. 7

A new detail about further efforts — allegedly cleared through the Russian president — to influence the incoming Trump administration through a backdoor plan, facilitated by Kushner. Dmitriev also met with Erik Prince, who had advised the campaign informally, in the Seychelles to discuss U.S.-Russia relations, according to Mueller.

Story Continued Below

A potentially notable redaction on who was investigated

Vol. 1, pg. 12

The report references an Oct. 20, 2017 Justice Department memo detailing the special counsel’s authority to investigate five individuals as part of its probe into Russian interference. Mueller’s report, however, only names three of them: Michael Cohen, Richard Gates and Roger Stone. The other two names are redacted, citing “personal privacy.”

Trump associates boosted the Russian disinformation campaign

Vol. 1, pg. 33

Vol. 1, pg. 27

Vol. 1, pg. 28

Mueller’s report reveals that “numerous high-profile U.S. persons” amplified fake Twitter accounts created by the Internet Research Agency, a company often dubbed a “troll farm” with close ties to the Russian government that was central to the country’s influence campaign ahead of the election. Among them: Roger Stone, Sean Hannity, Michael Flynn, Jr., and Michael McFaul and members of the Trump campaign.

Story Continued Below

The Russian influence effort was widespread

Vol. 1, pg. 35

This shows the extent to which the IRA was trying to promote the Trump campaign, even at one point organizing a “Miners for Trump” rally in Philadelphia. But the Trump campaign did not know that the requests for Trump-branded materials were coming from Russians.

Don Jr. and Wikileaks

Vol. 1, pg. 59

Vol. 1, pg. 60

The report confirms that Donald Trump, Jr., communicated via direct message with Wikileaks, as previously reported by The Atlantic.

Story Continued Below

Michael Flynn asked Peter Smith to find Clinton’s emails, at Trump’s request

Vol. 1, pg. 62

This at least partially resolves the Peter Smith mystery — Smith was a GOP operative who tried to solicit dark web hackers to find Clinton’s emails. Mueller says the effort was sanctioned by Trump and Flynn in July 2016, but the fact that Smith was searching for the emails around the same time that Russia was hacking the DNC seems noteworthy. This is also the first we’ve heard of Erik Prince’s involvement in the efforts to find Clinton’s emails.

Smith killed himself in May, not long after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his experience, though a suicide note left by Smith said “there was no foul play, no one assisted him, he had a recent bad turn of health and that his life insurance policy would soon expire.”

Peter Smith never met or communicated with Russian hackers

Vol. 1, pg. 65

A cybersecurity expert named Matt Tait who was enlisted by Smith to help verify the authenticity of any Clinton emails recalled in 2017 that Smith and his colleagues “were not discouraged” when Tait warned them against working with any dark web contacts who could be a front for the Russian government. But Smith appears to have been bluffing about his connections to Russian hackers anyway, according to Mueller.

Story Continued Below

Mueller investigated Trump Tower Moscow in connection with possible election conspiracy

Vol. 1, pg. 66

Mueller confirms here that the Trump Tower Moscow project was investigated in relation to a potential conspiracy with Russia to influence the election.

Cohen communicated about Trump Tower Moscow with a Soviet-born businessman

Vol. 1, pg. 70

This is a new detail. Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, discussed the Trump Tower Moscow project with yet another Soviet-born business executive whom he had done business with in the past. Rtskhiladze had helped the Trump Organization pursue talks to build a tower in Georgia and Astana, Kazakhstan. Rtskhiladze indicated he wanted to get the Russian government involved in the Trump Tower Moscow talks, according to Mueller.

Story Continued Below

Papadopoulous didn’t spread the word

Vol. 1, pg. 93

This is significant, since Papadopoulos appears to have been the first member of Trump’s campaign to learn, in April 2016, that the Russians had dirt on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. That was before news of the DNC hack was made public in June 2016.

Trump’s knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting

Vol. 1, pg. 116

Mueller does not seem to draw a conclusion one way or the other on whether Trump knew about the Trump Tower meeting beforehand or whether he learned about it afterward. He just recites what the attendees said and what Trump told the SCO in written answers, which is notably very narrow. Trump told Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning “at the time” that his associates were having a meeting “concerning potentially negative information about” Clinton.

Story Continued Below

Donald Trump Jr. tells the Russians the sanctions issue can be revisited

Vol. 1, pg. 118

This passage indicates that Trump Jr. told the Russians that they could revisit the Magnitsky Act sanctions if Trump won the presidency. This is significant given the administration’s early efforts to lift sanctions on Russia. But, according to Mueller, the Russian lawyer and lobbyist who met with the campaign tried to meet with the transition team after the election to discuss the Magnitsky Act and were unsuccessful.

The RNC Ukraine platform change

Vol. 1, pg. 123

Mueller did not establish that Trump directed Gordon, a senior campaign advisor on policy and national security, to dilute a proposed amendment to the Republican Party platform expressing support for providing “lethal” assistance to Ukraine in response to Russian aggression. Gordon was instructed by the campaign’s policy director to only challenge platform planks if they directly contradicted Trump’s wishes, according to Mueller. He felt compelled to do so with regard to the Ukraine provision because he had heard Trump say he didn’t want to start “World War III” over the Ukraine-Russia conflict. Gordon’s phone records reveal a call to Jeff Sessions’ office in Washington that afternoon, but do not include calls to a number associated with Trump, according to Mueller.

Story Continued Below

Putin ordered a founder of Russia’s largest bank to contact Trump associates

Vol. 1, pg. 146

Vol. 1, pg. 146

This section sheds light on how beholden wealthy businessmen, known as oligarchs, are to the Kremlin in Russia — and how Putin used the oligarchs as influence agents during and after the election.

Story Continued Below

A senior Russian figure tries to establish a backchannel to the Trump transition team

Vol. 1, pg. 147

Here is another example of a Russian oligarch, at Putin’s behest, scrambling to establish contact with the Trump transition team after Trump’s election. Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, was apparently focused the most on meeting with Kushner and Trump Jr., telling Nader that “Putin would be very grateful to Nader and that a meeting would make history.”

Kushner and Flynn meet with Kislyak in December 2016

Vol. 1, pg. 160

Vol. 1, pg. 161

Mueller confirms here what had been previously reported about Kushner’s attempts to set up a backchannel line to Russia using secure facilities at the Russian embassy — an idea Kislyak nixed.

Story Continued Below

Jared Kushner’s Meeting with Sergey Gorkov

Vol. 1, pg 161

In this section, Mueller outlines yet another Putin-sanctioned outreach to Trump’s transition, via an oligarch, as well as a discrepancy between Kushner and Gorkov’s version of events. Kushner told Mueller that the meeting was diplomatic, whereas Gorkov said it was to discuss business.

Gorkov apparently told an investment bank executive that his trip to New York to meet with Kushner was sanctioned by Putin, and that he’d report back to Putin upon his return. The investigation did not resolve the apparent conflict in the accounts, according to Mueller, but it also did not find evidence that Kushner and Gorkov engaged in any substantive follow-up after the meeting.

An American Alfa Bank lobbyist tries to set up a backchannel, but is rebuffed.

Vol. 1, pg. 163

This section outlines yet another previously unreported effort by the Russians — called Project A — to set up a backchannel to the transition team using Alfa Bank in December 2016. Richard Burt, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany who has done work for Alfa, reached out to the head of the Center for National Interest’s Dmitri Simes and asked if Simes could arrange a meeting between Kushner and Aven to set up a high-level communications channel between Putin and the incoming Trump administration. Simes apparently demurred, noting the heightened scrutiny surrounding Russia’s election interference.

Story Continued Below

Former Trump adviser Carter Page goes back to Russia

Vol. 1, pg. 166

This is interesting for several reasons. Why is Kilimnik telling Manafort, who by that point was also not formally affiliated with the campaign, about Page’s trip to Moscow? Why is Kilimnik keeping tabs on Page? And why is Page, who left the campaign in September 2016 after word got out about his trip to Moscow the month before, intimating to associates that he is authorized to discuss Russia policy on Trump’s behalf? Mueller does not answer these questions.

Why Mueller didn’t see crimes in the Trump Tower meeting

Vol. 1, pg. 187

Mueller’s prosecutors concluded they faced major legal hurdles in trying to prove that Trump’s aides and family members committed a crime by attending the Trump Tower meeting and expressing interest in getting dirt on Clinton from the Russians. While some liberal commentators have said such an effort was clearly an instance of collusion, Mueller’s team found that such a criminal case would face serious challenges in court and the obstacles could be insurmountable, especially since those involved were not well-versed in campaign finance law.

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