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4 dramatic moments from the Mueller report

4 dramatic moments from the Mueller report

‘This is the end of my presidency’
4 dramatic moments from the Mueller report
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One en route to Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla., on April 18, 2019.
Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The special counsel’s report was publicly released Thursday, offering long-awaited details about the investigation into potential ties between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The report, which found insufficient evidence of cooperation between the campaign and Russia to warrant criminal charges, contained plenty of redactions, but its more than 400 pages still included a number of revelations.

More: See the redacted report here

Amid the fact-finding and the legal rationale, the report also described the toll that the investigation took on Trump and chronicled private conversations between the president and his associates. Sometimes, things in the White House got heated.

Here are some of the most dramatic moments from the report.

‘This is the end of my presidency’

In May 2017, when the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, appointed the special counsel, the president issued a polite public statement, deploying a phrase that would become a refrain throughout the investigation: “There was no collusion.”

Privately, Trump had a visceral reaction.

When Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, shared the news in the Oval Office, the president slumped in his chair. “Oh my God,” he said, according to the report. “This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency,” he said, adding an expletive.

Trump then became angry and blamed Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, something he would never forgive Sessions for.

“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency,” Trump reportedly said. “It takes years and years, and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

The special counsel, Robert Mueller, ultimately agreed that there was insufficient evidence to establish that Trump or his associates engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to disrupt the 2016 election, although Mueller was less definitive on the issue of obstruction of justice.

At a news conference Thursday, Attorney General William Barr deemed the president cleared of obstruction. “There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency,” he said.

The president kept Sessions’ resignation letter in his pocket

The president angrily asked for Sessions’ resignation the day the special counsel was appointed. But when Sessions gave the letter to Trump the next day, he was in a different mood. Trump pocketed the letter, asking Sessions several times if he wanted to keep his job and shaking his hand when he said that he did. But the president did not return the letter, according to the report.

Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, were concerned that Trump had kept the letter. Priebus told Sessions that it could function as a “shock collar” and that as long as he had it, the president had the Justice Department “by the throat,” the report said.

Priebus spent almost two weeks trying to wrest the letter back from Trump, who took it with him on a trip to the Middle East. The president showed the letter to aides as they flew from Saudi Arabia to Israel, asking them what he should do with it.

Later on the trip, when Priebus asked Trump for the letter, the president told him it was at the White House. The president did not hand over the letter to Sessions until May 30, three days after he returned, with a note, “Not accepted.”

McGahn, the lawyer who took notes

According to the report, Trump sparred with Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, over a very lawyerly tendency: taking notes. After news outlets, including The New York Times, reported in early 2018 that Trump had ordered Mueller’s firing, the president tried to persuade his White House counsel to rebut the coverage. McGahn refused because the articles were generally accurate, according to the report.

Although the president denied that he said the word “fire,” McGahn replied that was how he interpreted their conversation.

During the meeting, the president quizzed McGahn about why he took notes, the report said.

“Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,” Trump reportedly said.

McGahn said he took notes because he was a “real lawyer,” explaining that they created a record.

An awkward dinner date

Trump invited the FBI director at the time, James Comey, to dinner in January 2017, one day after the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, came to the White House to discuss her concern that the national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had not been telling the truth about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

The invitation appears to have alarmed a number of Trump’s advisers, according to the report. McGahn had earlier advised the president not to communicate directly with the Justice Department. When Bannon, a senior adviser at the time, heard about the invitation, he suggested that he or Priebus attend as well.

The president declined the offer and said he wanted the time alone with Comey. According to the report, Priebus told him, “Don’t talk about Russia, whatever you do.”

The president said he would not discuss Russia. Instead, he brought up Flynn, saying that “the guy has serious judgment issues.” He also demanded loyalty from Comey.

After that exchange became public, Trump and his aides disputed Comey’s version of events, going so far as to say that Comey, not the president, had requested the meeting.

But the report said “substantial evidence corroborates Comey’s account of the dinner.” That evidence includes the president’s daily diary, which notes that he extended the invitation, as well as the recollection of senior FBI officials whom Comey told about the conversation afterward.

As the disclosure of his demand for a loyalty pledge spurred controversy, the president did not seem to understand the fuss. During a private conversation with the White House press secretary at the time, Sean Spicer, Trump denied ever making the demand, the report said.

And even if he did, the president told Spicer, “Who cares?”

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