The Slatest

Obstruction Obstructed

Robert Mueller concludes Trump did his best to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation, but the president’s aides didn’t follow orders.

Donald Trump speaks into a microphone.
President Donald Trump speaks at an event in the East Room of the White House on Thursday.
Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

President Donald Trump was “mostly unsuccessful” in interfering with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, according to the redacted version of the Mueller report released on Thursday, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Here’s the crux of it, from Page 158 of the report, which concerns the president’s efforts to pressure FBI Director James Comey, White House Counsel Don McGahn, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and senior White House official Rick Dearborn:

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. Comey did not end the investigation of Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn’s prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the Special Counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President’s order. Lewandowski and Dearborn did not deliver the President‘s message to Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President’s direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President’s multiple demands that he do so. Consistent with that pattern, the evidence we obtained would not support potential obstruction charges against the President’s aides and associates beyond those already filed.

The report includes juicy details on each of those incidents. For example, while we knew Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to tell Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, we didn’t know the president had called McGahn at home to pressure him. McGahn told his chief of staff Annie Donaldson that the president called at least twice and at one point asked, “Have you done it?” McGahn told the president’s then–chief of staff Reince Priebus that Trump had asked him to “do crazy shit.”

In the case of Lewandowski, the president twice tried to get him to pass notes to Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the investigation. Trump dictated this paragraph to Lewandowski, telling him that the attorney general should read it out loud:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS … is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.

Very cool, very legal, definitely sounds like something the head of the Department of Justice would say of his own volition. Lewandowski did not pass those directions onto Sessions.

This is all great news for the president’s aides—as Mueller notes at the bottom of the long blockquote above, “the evidence we obtained would not support potential obstruction charges against the President’s aides and associates beyond those already filed.” As for the question of obstruction by the president himself, Mueller leaves that issue to Congress.