Robert Mueller III, Special Counsel

Written by  //  July 27, 2019  //  Government & Governance, U.S.  //  Comments Off on Robert Mueller III, Special Counsel

See also The Russia probe

24 July
Mueller’s Testimony: The Baton Passes to Congress
By Scott R. Anderson, Hadley Baker, Mikhaila Fogel, Susan Hennessey, Quinta Jurecic, Vishnu Kannan, Eugenia Lostri, David Priess, Margaret Taylor, Benjamin Wittes
One notable feature of the day was that the Republicans essentially accepted the assertions of the Mueller report as factual. By and large, they did not seek to contest the facts Mueller reported, but rather attacked alleged bias and the legal significance of the facts in the document. One of the functions of the report was to establish a common set of facts, and today’s hearing—in its own peculiar way—suggests that it has done that, at least to a point.
(Lawfare) It was Mueller himself, whose performance fell short of the commanding one his towering reputation had led so many to expect. He appeared halting much of the time. He was unable to answer some basic questions. He sometimes seemed confused both about what was being asked and about the contents of the report that colloquially bears his name.
As a matter of principle, Mueller said outright that he did not want to engage Congress beyond what was strictly necessary and appropriate for him to say. But even within those self-imposed constraints, he was having some trouble.
Yet Mueller’s testimony, notwithstanding the atmospherics, was a productive exercise. Over the course of the day, he seemed to gain confidence and by the end managed to have some genuinely moving exchanges with key members on important issues. He proved sharper, and more forthcoming, about matters directly related to President Trump in the afternoon Intelligence Committee hearing than he did in the morning before the Judiciary Committee. Perhaps he had better command over the subject matter of Russian electoral interference, which dominated the second half of the day, than he did over the discussion of obstruction that dominated the first half. Perhaps it was just his getting used to the high-pressure setting of public testimony after years out of the spotlight. But by the end of the Intelligence Committee hearing, he was offering thoughts and views that went ever-so-slightly beyond the four corners of the report itself. And they are thoughts and views every American should pause over.
Even apart from that, however, Mueller’s appearance today had a significance that outstrips any single thing he said. His testimony is not ultimately important for any bombshells or any revelations—of which there were none, in any event. Its significance, rather, lies in the hearings’ initiating of the long-belated creation of an Article I record of the president’s conduct—a shifting of the investigative locus from the executive branch to the legislative branch. That should have happened months ago. It finally happened today.
… Schiff did not stake out specific next steps, but there is an obvious follow-up move for Congress in the wake of the Mueller hearings: calling fact witnesses and hearing from them directly. Where Mueller declined to answer questions or referred to his report to answer them, or declined to make judgments, that forces Congress—having heard from him directly that he won’t tell members how to render judgments or assess witnesses or assess presidential conduct—to hear from those witnesses themselves and render those judgments themselves.
That may now be happening. Shortly after the hearings ended, the Wall Street Journal reported that the House Judiciary Committee was preparing to file a lawsuit to enforce a subpoena for testimony from McGahn. Apparently the committee and the White House have been unable to agree whether his appearance would be public or private. Both parties clearly understand how significant McGahn’s public testimony could be.
The process of building a legislative record, having begun, may be acquiring a little momentum.

27 July
Mueller’s team is said to have told Congress his acuity was not an issue. Some lawmakers privately worry it was.
After Mueller’s halting, sometimes confused testimony before two congressional committees Wednesday, some lawmakers are privately wondering whether there was some truth to the rumors — and whether they were right to force him to testify against his wishes.
But some involved in Mueller’s work insist he was an attentive leader throughout the massive 22-month investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and President Trump’s attempts to impede the special counsel’s work. They say he is being held to an unfair standard because his performance disappointed those who hoped to use his testimony for political gain.
… True to his word, the former special counsel resisted saying anything that might be used as a political weapon, refusing to even read sections of his report aloud. But he also notably stumbled on several occasions, fueling criticism — and speculation — about his sharpness.
Democratic lawmakers are divided about whether they made the right decision in forcing Mueller to appear. Some — and most committee staff members — say they had no choice. While saddened by the attacks on Mueller post-hearing, they say his testimony will pay off in the long run for their investigations, as the public event allowed Mueller to publicly confirm unflattering facts about Trump that they can further explore.

24 July
Mueller all but confirmed that Trump committed obstruction of justice
it was Democrats who read parts of the report to Mueller and asked him to confirm that they were accurate. And it was Republicans who ranted and raved, accused Mueller of bias and tossed around bizarre conspiracy theories. It’s almost as though Republicans knew that the investigation did not in fact produce a “Complete and Total EXONERATION” but rather a damning indictment of the president.
The real bombshell in Mueller’s testimony wasn’t about impeaching Trump
By Karen Tumulty
(WaPo) to focus on Trump, and whether his actions constitute impeachable offenses, is to miss the real bombshell in Mueller’s testimony — the scandal that could be unfolding right there in front of us.
That was Mueller’s warning that what happened in 2016 could happen again. Asked by Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) whether Russia might be planning another attack on the integrity of U.S. elections, Mueller replied: “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.” He said “many more countries” are developing the capability to do so as well.

Live updates: Republicans attack Mueller probe as Democrats press on obstruction, Russian intervention
The former special counsel is appearing at two House hearings to address questions for the first time about his report on President Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In his opening statement, Mueller stressed three points: the special counsel’s investigation found “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference in the 2016 election, it did not establish a conspiracy between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and its inquiry into obstruction was “of critical importance.”
In response to later questions, Mueller would say more explicitly, as his report did, that the investigation did not exonerate Trump on obstruction. But in his opening statement, he stopped short of even that

26 June
Trump lashes out at Mueller, accusing him of a crime ahead of planned congressional testimony
(WaPo) President Trump lashed out Wednesday at former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, accusing him without evidence of committing a crime by deleting text messages exchanged by two former FBI officials who had expressed disdain for the president.
“Robert Mueller terminated their text messages. He terminated them. They’re gone,” Trump said. “And that’s illegal. That’s a crime.”
His comments during a wide-ranging interview with Fox Business Network came a day after Democratic House leaders announced that Mueller had been subpoenaed to testify publicly next month about his investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

10 June
Nixon’s ex-White House counsel John Dean laid out 6 striking parallels between the Mueller report and the Watergate investigation
(Business Insider) John Dean, the former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon and the star witness in the Watergate hearings, told Congress on Monday that the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is to President Donald Trump as the Watergate road map was to Nixon
The parallels he drew involved: attempts to shut down the investigations; the firing of FBI Director James Comey and “the Saturday Night Massacre”; Dean’s and former White House counsel Don McGahn’s refusals to carry out the president’s orders; efforts to exert control over the investigations; attempts to limit the disclosure of evidence; and dangling pardons to influence witness testimony.

7 June
What came out of the Mueller report? Here’s what you need to know in 6 minutes
(PBS Newshour) The report’s final conclusion is that single, complicated paragraph you may have heard before.
It reads in part: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly didn’t commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report doesn’t conclude that the president committed a crime, it also doesn’t exonerate him.”

29 May
Mueller Bows Out: What Does Congress Do Now?
(Lawfare) … the gravamen of Mueller’s comments squarely puts the question of what to do about the president’s conduct in Congress’s hands, not his own.
Mueller declared that his office had chosen its words carefully and that the report speaks for itself—his version of screaming, “Just go read the actual report!” in the general direction of Capitol Hill. And he concluded his remarks by “reiterating the central allegation of our indictments—that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
He was more explicit at times too. As in his report itself, he did not declare that the president had committed crimes. But he also made clear once again that “if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime we would have said that.” And he noted again that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel had determined “that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.” In other words, the remedy here is not the criminal justice system. The remedy is congressional in character—impeachment, if Congress considers that appropriate, but not indictment or further words from Robert Swan Mueller III.

Mueller’s statement, annotated: ‘If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so’

(WaPo) On Wednesday morning, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III spoke about his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. It was his first public statement since accepting the position. Here is a transcript of his remarks, with The Fix’s annotations. Click on the yellow highlighted text to read them.
Two years ago, the acting attorney general asked me to serve as special counsel, and he created the Special Counsel’s Office. The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.
Now, I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I’m speaking out today because our investigation is complete. The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the Special Counsel’s Office, and as well, I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life.
As he exits, Mueller suggests only Congress can ‘formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing

3 May
House Democrats give Barr deadline for access to Mueller report
(WaPo) The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has given Attorney General William P. Barr one last shot to accommodate lawmakers seeking access to a more complete version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report before beginning contempt proceedings.
In a letter Friday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gave Barr until Monday to respond to his request that the Justice Department allow more lawmakers the chance to read the fuller report as well as turn over investigative material underlying the report. Barr had released a redacted version of the report on April 18.
Earlier this week, citing a “compelling need to protect the autonomy and effectiveness of its investigations,” the department said it was “unable to provide” Mueller’s investigative files in response to a committee subpoena.
“The committee is prepared to make every realistic effort to reach an accommodation with the department,” Nadler wrote. “But if the department persists in its baseless refusal to comply with a validly issued subpoena, the committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse.”

20 April
AP FACT CHECK: Trump team’s distortions on Mueller report
(PBS) Special counsel Robert Mueller all but boldfaced this finding in his report on the Russia investigation: No exoneration for President Donald Trump on whether Trump criminally obstructed justice.
But Trump and his aides are stating that Mueller’s report did exonerate. No words from the report will throw them off their mischaracterization of it.
A look at claims by Trump and his people on a variety of subjects from the week that produced the Mueller report, which cleared Trump of criminal conspiracy with Russia, traced multiple ways he tried to interfere in the Russia inquiry to his benefit and came to no conclusion on whether those acts broke the law.
18 April

Mueller report: Justice Department releases special counsel report

(CBS News) Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election has finally been released.
The report, which comes nearly two years after Mueller began his investigation, states the special counsel’s office found no evidence President Trump or his associates colluded with the Russian government. It does not, however, come to a conclusion as to whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.
The report also details numerous contacts between Russian officials and Trump aides. It concludes the Russian government thought it would benefit from a Trump victory, and carried out an aggressive attempt to affect the election.
What the Mueller report tells us about Russian influence operations
Alina Polyakova
The original goal of the social media operations, from 2014 to early 2016, was a straightforward, KGB-style infiltration operation aimed at polarizing and destabilizing U.S. society from within.
(Brookings) The redacted Special Counsel report released this morning confirms that the Russian government, through various proxies, carried out a multi-pronged campaign against the United States before, during, and after the 2016 election.
The Mueller Report Is Out. Read It Here
(Wired) Barr had set himself wide latitude for his redactions, citing four categories of information he would strike from the report. Anything relating to grand jury proceedings—which led to a host of indictments—is off limits, as is any sensitive information that might reveal the sources and methods of the intelligence community. Barr has similarly indicated that he’ll redact anything that could affect ongoing cases, of which there are several; Mueller referred multiple investigations to prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and elsewhere. The final class of redactions was also seen as potentially the most controversial: Barr said that he would take the proverbial black marker to anything that could “unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
… in some ways, Mueller’s most important findings have been in plain view all along. The special counsel’s office has produced thousands of pages of court documents, including intricately detailed indictments that have shed light on Russian intelligence and misinformation operations, financial malfeasance of all stripes from Trump campaign associates, and more. In doing so, he has already painted a portrait of the most corrupt, criminally liable campaign in modern US history.
The final Mueller report doesn’t somehow negate those findings. In the portions Barr has let the public see, though, it does illuminate previous blind spots. Those newly revealed details may not have risen to the level of prosecution, but they do give Congress—and voters—a much clearer idea of who is in the White House, and the means by which he got there.
Mueller links Trump and campaign to 11 instances of potential obstruction
(The Guardian) Episodes of conduct Mueller investigated included president’s efforts to fire the special counsel and James Comey
Barr’s Narrative of Victimhood
The attorney general’s presentation will likely please the president, but does little for the credibility of the Department of Justice.
(The Atlantic) What possible reason did Attorney General William Barr have to hold a press conference about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report before the report was released?
It was not, based on his brief remarks Thursday morning, to instill public faith in the process, for he did little of that. Nor was it to answer questions from the press, for he did little of that as well—bristling at a few reporters’ questions before tersely exiting the stage.
Instead, Barr seemed most interested in painting President Donald Trump as a victim. Although, as has been endlessly noted, there’s no crime of “collusion,” the attorney general repeatedly used that phrase. … If those remarks made Barr sound less like the nation’s top law-enforcement official and more like a defense attorney for the president, he was just getting started. Even more remarkable were his comments on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. Put yourself in the poor president’s shoes, Barr pleaded.

17 April
Mueller Report Redactions: Will Congress Ever See All of the Mueller Grand Jury Material?
(Lawfare) … the rampant speculation about the report has focused as much about what won’t be in the public release as what will be. Here’s what we know about the redacted material: It’s separated into four categories, Congress wants it unredacted and it’s color-coded for convenience. We also know that the legal battle for information covered by one of those categories—Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e)—will be particularly thorny.
In his letter to judiciary committee chairmen Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) dated March 29, Attorney General William Barr indicated that there were four categories of material he is redacting in the version that is expected to be made available to Congress.
Nadler has indicated he intends to wait until the redacted report is delivered before making a decision about whether to issue a subpoena for the full report. He also set forth his views in a letter to Barr on April 1 regarding why the judiciary committee should be entitled to see the entire unredacted report and underlying grand jury materials.

What Donald Trump Needs to Know About Bob Mueller and Jim Comey
The two men who could bring down the president have been preparing their entire lives for this moment.
(Politico Magazine) Robert Mueller might just be America’s straightest arrow—a respected, nonpartisan and fiercely apolitical public servant whose only lifetime motivation has been the search for justice. He was the most influential and longest-serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover himself, and someone who has settled since his retirement from government in 2013 into being that rare voice-beyond-reproach that companies and organizations recruit to lead investigations when they need to tell shareholders or the public that they’ve hired the most seasoned and respected person they can find, someone who will pursue a case wherever it leads without fear or favor. He became the first FBI director to serve a complete 10-year term since Hoover, only to then see Barack Obama reappoint him for a special two-year term, a decision that required a special act of Congress and made him the only person to be appointed head of the FBI by two different presidents, of different parties. (18 May 2017)

7 April
Scrutiny and suspicion as Mueller report undergoes redaction
(WaPo) Attorney General William P. Barr is redacting at least four categories of information from the report, which spans nearly 400 pages, before issuing it to Congress and the public. Legal experts say he has wide discretion to determine what should not be revealed, meaning the fight over blacked-out boxes is likely to spawn months of fights between Congress and the Justice Department, and it may end up in the courts.
The first public confrontation is imminent, with Barr scheduled to appear Tuesday and Wednesday before the House and Senate Appropriations committees for hearings ostensibly about the Justice Department’s budget. He is expected to face extensive questioning about the Mueller report and his ongoing redaction process, though, and his testimony will be scrutinized for any sign he is trying to protect the president.

2-4 April
William Barr Seems to Be Covering Up Something Bad for Trump
(New York) Last evening, the Wall Street Journal editorialized that reporters and House Democrats were smearing Attorney General William Barr by implying that his summary of the Mueller report was anything other than completely faithful and representative. The Journal sneered at “the impression, abetted by a press corps that was fully invested in the collusion story, that Mr. Barr is somehow lying about Mr. Mueller’s real conclusions.” This was “preposterous,” the editorial explained, because Barr “surely understood on releasing the summary of conclusions last week that he would be open to contradiction by Mr. Mueller if he took such liberties.”
The editorial was published at 7:24 p.m. Minutes before, and probably too late to make any alterations, the New York Times broke the news that Barr was in fact contradicted. How could anybody think Barr would be stupid enough to lie when Mueller could expose him, asks the Journal, at almost literally the precise moment when Mueller’s team exposes Barr for lying. A Rare Mueller Leak: Some on Team Consider Report More Damning Than Barr Summary

House panel votes to authorize subpoenas to obtain full Mueller report
(WaPo) – A House panel voted Wednesday to authorize subpoenas to obtain special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s full report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, laying down a marker in a constitutional power struggle that could end up in the courts.
The panel, which has jurisdiction over impeachment, also voted to subpoena five former White House officials they believe may have received documents relevant to the special counsel’s probe.
“This committee has a job to do,” Nadler said. “The Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct. That job requires us to evaluate the evidence for ourselves — not the attorney general’s summary, not a substantially redacted synopsis, but the full report and the underlying evidence.”

Trump Suddenly Having Second Thoughts About People Seeing the Mueller Report
Strange how his tune changed so quickly!
(Vanity Fair) Why the sudden about-face when it comes to letting the public read Robert Mueller’s findings itself, rather than taking the word of an Attorney General who got the job by pre-emptively declaring that obstruction investigations are bullshit? As many have pointed out, it’s possible that after a week of celebrating, aides have successfully jammed it into Trump’s head that, no, the report does not “exonerate” him and, actually, he doesn’t come off that well in it, not that they’d ever admit it while doing the rounds on Fox News. According to New York, West Wing officials’ initial relief about Mueller not having sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia has turned to fear about “a president inclined to inflict self-harm by taking things too far.” “There will be plenty of unfavorable things about the president in the full report, which we think will eventually come out, so let’s not go overboard saying there’s no wrongdoing. Let’s move on,” a senior White House official told Olivia Nuzzi.

28 March
Frank Rich: Why the Mueller Investigation Wasn’t Watergate
… I accept and am relieved by Mueller’s finding that Trump didn’t conspire with Russia when it attacked the very heart of American democracy. The bad news is that Trump still is colluding with Russia as he attempts to destroy NATO, soften sanctions, and fulfill other items on Vladimir Putin’s to-do list. Trump may already be colluding, passively if not illegally, with Russia’s attack on the 2020 election as well by mounting, at most, a nominal effort to combat it. And there’s no reason to doubt that he will continue to ignore, deride, and delegitimize the American intelligence agencies which are tracking it. Surely his biggest takeaway from Mueller’s verdict is that, as in 2016, he can openly reap and celebrate Russia’s efforts on his behalf without having to be a participant in them. As Cold War parlance would have it, he’s a useful idiot for the Russian cause even if he’s not a Russian agent. It’s not for nothing that the Kremlin has been celebrating the Mueller report with the same hyperbolic enthusiasm as Sean Hannity.

25 March
Mueller boosters turn critical over absent Trump interview
The second guessing is a new phenomenon. For two years, Democratic lawmakers and legal experts have largely given the special counsel the benefit of the doubt
(Politico) The criticisms could presage a growing narrative in the coming weeks, as Capitol Hill Democrats push for hearings on Mueller’s findings and lean on the Justice Department to hand over more information about the investigation into whether Trump broke the law by meddling in the underlying Russia probe.
According to a CNN report on Sunday, the special counsel’s office engaged in lengthy conversations about subpoenaing the president for testimony, a debate lawmakers will inevitably ask about in the weeks to come.

Mitch McConnell Blocks Resolution to Release Full Mueller Report
(Daily Beast) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a non-binding resolution calling on Attorney General William Barr to release the full Mueller report, Axios reports Monday. The bill passed unanimously in the house, and was backed publicly by many prominent Democrats. And while Trump said releasing the full report, which was delivered to Barr this weekend, “wouldn’t bother me at all,” McConnell argued that publicizing the report in its entirety could raise security issues. Barr’s four-page summary of the report has been released publicly, but Democrats argue that it’s necessary to view the document in its entirety.

24 March
E.J. Dionne: Six takeaways from Barr’s letter about Mueller’s probe
(WaPo) Barr says he and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein “have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” The Mueller probe spanned 675 days. It took Barr and Rosenstein just two days to let the president off the hook. How did they decide so quickly?
John Cassidy: On the Mueller Investigation, the Barr Letter Is Not Enough
(The New Yorker) It took the White House about a half hour to start misrepresenting the contents of Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress about the results of the Mueller investigation. “The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction. AG Barr and DAG Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction,” Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, tweeted shortly after 4 P.M. on Sunday. “The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”
Actually, on the subject of Robert Mueller’s probe into whether Donald Trump obstructed justice, Barr’s letter said this: “The Special Counsel . . . did not draw a conclusion—one way or another—as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.” The letter went on, “The Special Counsel states that, ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’ ” Barr’s letter, however, did contain a determination that Trump’s actions—which might include the firing of James Comey, the head of the F.B.I., and trying to fire Jeff Sessions, Barr’s predecessor—failed to rise to the level of obstruction of justice. But it was Barr and Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, who made that determination. As it has done so often in the past, the White House was lying, when it said that Mueller exonerated Trump on the obstruction question.
Trump and his allies did, however, have good reason to be mightily relieved by other elements of Mueller’s findings, at least as they have been interpreted and communicated by Barr. Legally and politically, this was a very big weekend for the White House. In deciding not to recommend any more indictments, Mueller lifted a great weight from the shoulders of Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner, both of whom, on June 9, 2016, had a meeting, at Trump Tower, with a Russian lawyer who, through an intermediary, had said that she would provide dirt on Hillary Clinton. Evidently, Mueller and his investigators decided that expressing an eagerness to collude with the Russians doesn’t amount to engaging in a criminal conspiracy. As far as allegations of collusion go, the son and the dauphin seem to be off the hook.

I hesitate to say it, but Mueller’s decision not to issue any guidance at all on the obstruction question looks like a cop-out, as does his decision not to issue a subpoena to question Trump in person. In any case, the urgent thing now is to get the full Mueller report released and examine its contents. Only then will we get the complete picture of the investigation and its findings

Why Trump’s legal woes go beyond the Mueller report
By Jan Wolfe
(Reuters) The closure of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election does not mark the end of legal worries for President Donald Trump and people close to him. Other continuing investigations and litigation are focusing on issues including his businesses and financial dealings, personal conduct, charitable foundation and inaugural committee. Detailed list follows
Under the Constitution, the president, vice president and “all civil officers of the United States” can be removed from office by Congress through the impeachment process for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” The House of Representatives acts as the accuser – voting on whether to bring specific charges such as obstruction of justice – and the Senate then conducts a trial with House members acting as prosecutors and the individual senators serving as jurors. A simple majority vote is needed in the House to impeach. A two-thirds majority is required in the Senate to convict and remove.
Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy but Stops Short of Exonerating President on Obstruction of Justice
By Mark Mazzetti and Katie Benner
This is a developing story. The New York Times will be examining the findings. Check back for updates.
The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found that neither President Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General William P. Barr.
Mr. Barr also said that Mr. Mueller’s team drew no conclusions about whether Mr. Trump illegally obstructed justice. Mr. Barr and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, determined that the special counsel’s investigators lacked sufficient evidence to establish that Mr. Trump committed that offense, but added that Mr. Mueller’s team stopped short of exonerating Mr. Trump.
[Read the summary of the Mueller findings, and find live updates about them here.]

22 March
Even If Mueller Whiffs, Trump’s Not Out of the Woods Yet
By Ed Kilgore
(New York) Even if the “no more prosecutions” reports are accurate, the president’s hardly out of the woods with respect to scandals involving his presidency, his campaign, or his personal business.
The Mueller report could contain facts, leads and hints that not only cast doubt on the president’s integrity, but also give material to other, later prosecutions.
Just because Mueller considers a certain batch of evidence not grounds for a prosecution on his own motion doesn’t mean it might not create future legal and political jeopardy for Trump. Other prosecutors pursuing other angles could pick up on his findings.And to the extent the Justice Department doubts a sitting president can be indicted at all, the report could provide evidence that will sit, ticking like a time bomb, until he leaves office. … separate federal investigations of Trump’s business dealings by the staff of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York are even more potentially deadly, and they involve matters well beyond the scope of the Mueller investigation. … Then there’s the possibility of state investigations into Trump’s business and charitable operations, as the Washington Post recently explained: The end of the federal investigation into the 2016 campaign clears the path for criminal charges in multiple states. That should worry the president and the people in his circle.

Mueller Delivers Report on Trump-Russia Investigation to Attorney General (with video)
By Sharon LaFraniere and Katie Benner
(NYT) The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has delivered a report on his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election to Attorney General William P. Barr, according to the Justice Department, bringing to a close an investigation that has consumed the nation and cast a shadow over President Trump for nearly two years.
Mr. Barr told congressional leaders in a letter late Friday that he may brief them within days on the special counsel’s findings. “I may be in a position to advise you of the special counsel’s principal conclusions as soon as this weekend,” he wrote in a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.
It is up to Mr. Barr how much of the report to share with Congress and, by extension, the American public. The House voted unanimously in March on a nonbinding resolution to make public the report’s findings, an indication of the deep support within both parties to air whatever evidence prosecutors uncovered.

6 March
Why Mueller’s report might be a letdown for Trump critics
(Reuters) …regulations provide only limited guidance on the parameters of Mueller’s final report, stating that at the conclusion of his work he should provide the U.S. attorney general, the nation’s top law enforcement official, with a “confidential report” explaining his “prosecution or declination decisions.” The term “declination decisions” refers to judgments that Mueller made not to bring criminal charges against a given individual. Mueller already has brought charges against 34 people – including the former chairman of Trump’s campaign Paul Manafort and other campaign figures, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former national security adviser Michael Flynn – and three Russian companies.
The regulations require Barr to notify the top Republicans and Democrats on the House and Senate Judiciary Committees that Mueller’s investigation has concluded. The Justice Department’s policy calls for Barr to summarize the confidential report for Congress with “an outline of the actions and the reasons for them.” According to the regulations, Barr “may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest, to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions.”

26 February
Mueller scores big win as court rejects challenge to his appointment
(Politico) In a unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals turned aside arguments that Mueller wields so much power as a special prosecutor that he should have been nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate.
The appeals court judges also found no flaw in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller in the wake of the recusal of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The court said that because the attorney general can repeal the regulations used to appoint Mueller at any time, he remains under the control of a Cabinet official.

It’s Mueller’s Investigation. But Right Behind Him Is Andrew Goldstein.
(NYT) Mr. Mueller is often portrayed as the omnipotent fact-gatherer, but it is Mr. Goldstein who has a much more involved, day-to-day role in one of the central lines of investigation.
Mr. Goldstein, the lone prosecutor in Mr. Mueller’s office who came directly from a corruption unit at the Justice Department, has conducted every major interview of the president’s advisers. He questioned Donald F. McGahn II, Mr. Trump’s former White House counsel, and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, for dozens of hours. He signed Mr. Cohen’s plea agreement. He conducted grand jury questioning of associates of Roger J. Stone Jr., the former adviser to Mr. Trump who was indicted last month.

Mueller Appears After Something Really Big: Reading Between the Lines in Advance of the Special Counsel’s Report
The trick to understanding Mueller’s intentions may lie not in his hundreds of pages of previous indictments and filings, but in the material that he has omitted from them. Is the great unwritten story of Russian collusion hiding in plain sight?
(Vanity Fair) Mueller may be deliberate, but he’s not necessarily straightforward. As his investigation appears to draw to a close, the key to understanding his intentions relies not only on examining the information he has included in previous filings, but also upon considering the information that he appears to have omitted, or redacted, from them. Mueller’s 24-page indictment of Roger Stone, issued in January, revealed that the self-described dirty trickster encouraged radio host Randy Credico “to do a ‘Frank Pentangeli’”—a reference to a character in The Godfather: Part II, who lied to Congress only after his mobster brother showed up in the courtroom. But Mueller, the former Marine, also included numerous vagaries in the document. He outlined a series of cases where Stone was in contact with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks’ plans to release stolen e-mails, but did not identify said officials, in accordance with D.O.J. policy. Resultantly, we are left guessing the identity of the person who “directed” an unnamed “senior Trump campaign official “to contact Stone about any additional releases and what other damaging information [WikiLeaks] had regarding the Clinton Campaign.” In the end, the filing prompted nearly as many questions as it answered.


4 December
Mueller Is Laying Siege to the Trump Presidency
It won’t be a single news event that takes down the president.
(The Atlantic) It happens this way every time: A big news event in the Trump-Russia investigation takes place, and commentators talk about it as though a house of cards were collapsing or a row of dominoes were falling. Each time, it’s the beginning of the end. Each indictment or plea is the “big one.” And then those expectations are disappointed. The sun rises the next day—in the east, as expected—and it sets in the west, as it did the day before. The Trump presidency endures. …There is no sudden bend in the path of the investigation. There is no house of cards. The dominoes will not fall if gently tipped. The administration is not going to come crashing down in response to any single day’s events. The architecture of Trump’s power is more robust than that.
We need to stop thinking of it as a fragile structure waiting for the right poke to fall in on itself. Think instead of the myriad investigations and legal proceedings surrounding the president as a multi-front siege on a walled city that is, in fact, relatively well fortified.
Not all sieges succeed. Mont-Saint-Michel, a tiny fortified island off the coast of France, withstood English siege for the entirety of the Hundred Years’ War. If the political system does not come to care about what we are learning, it doesn’t matter how many boulders Mueller hurls against the walls of Castle Trump; the forces laying siege to it will, like the defeated Ottoman Empire after the siege of Vienna, eventually slink away into the snow

10 November
Mueller Gets a New Master
But Jeff Sessions’ temporary replacement will have his hands full trying to restrain the special counsel who has girded for this moment.
(Politico) …  Ben Wittes explains in the Atlantic that Trump can’t undo 541 days of Mueller’s work by putting Whitaker in a supervisory capacity now. Mueller has subpoenaed the hell out of the Trump universe, enlisted countless prosecutors and FBI agents in collecting and assessing evidence, and refined many of the unknown unknowns of the Russian meddling into known knowns.
One example of Mueller’s share-the-wealth strategy was his decision to hand off the prosecution of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen to prosecutors of the Southern District of New York to make sure that if anything happened to his investigation, Cohen would still face the music. Mueller “has also let other components handle matters involving core questions of Russian interference in the U.S. elections, such as the Maria Butina and Elena Khusyaynova prosecutions,” Wittes continues. By farming out prosecutions and not insisting on handling every associated case, Mueller has schooled others in the Department of Justice in the ways of the scandal and avoided charges that he’s the big foot from Washington who wants to prosecute every case that falls into his sights.
If Whitaker’s metaphor is to starve Mueller by cutting his budget, his timing is way off. Mueller is fatter on Trump evidence right now than a September grizzly gorging on a salmon run. Whitaker might be able to hinder Mueller on the margins, questioning his investigative and prosecutorial decisions and overturning any move that violates Department of Justice practices. But Mueller is smart enough to have prepared contingency plans should Trump or somebody like Whitaker attempt to thwart an ethical investigation that has already resulted in convictions or guilty pleas by several of the president’s men, including Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos.
With the Democrats taking charge of the House investigative committees starting in January, Mueller now has a national megaphone for his findings should Trump and Whitaker attempt to prematurely shut him down. As my colleague Darren Samuelsohn writes, incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Adam Schiff plans to reopen his committee’s Russia investigation. Democrats also have made plans to issue a summons to the special counsel to testify before the TV cameras should Trump attempt to short-circuit his investigation.

8 November
The Latest: Flake, Coons seek vote on bill to shield Mueller
(Associated Press via WaPost) Republican Sen. Jeff Flake and Democratic Sen. Chris Coons will try to force a vote next week on legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.
Flake announced the move Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with loyal ally Matt Whitaker. Whitaker is expected to oversee Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between Trump’s 2016 Republican campaign and Russia.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved the bill in April. It would give special counsels a 10-day window to seek review of a firing.
The senators will ask for consent to vote on the bill, but any senator can object.

30 October
Mueller Wants the FBI to Look at a Scheme to Discredit Him
The special counsel says a woman was offered money to fabricate sexual-harassment claims.
By Natasha Bertrand
A company that appears to be run by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist offered to pay women to make false claims against Special Counsel Robert Mueller in the days leading up to the midterm elections—and the special counsel’s office has asked the FBI to weigh in. “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation,” the Mueller spokesman Peter Carr told me in an email on Tuesday.
Inside the Crazy Cabal Trying to Smear Robert Mueller
A Seth Rich conspiracy pusher and fringe online figures appear to be working behind the scenes

24 August
2 of the most consequential figures in the Trump hush-money payoffs were given immunity by federal prosecutors
On Thursday night, The New York Times reported that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, unconnected to the federal prosecutors investigating the payments, were weighing possible criminal charges against the Trump Organization and those two unnamed senior officials. It’s unclear whether Weisselberg’s immunity would apply to the state-level investigation.
The Weisselberg news comes a day after The Journal reported that Pecker too had received immunity with the same prosecutors. It was later revealed that Pecker kept a safe full of documents related to the stories he killed on behalf of Trump.

LA Times Essential Politics: … FBI agents, first under the direction of Director James B. Comey and now at the behest of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, have methodically probed into possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russian agents who sought to influence the 2016 election.
This spring, the pace accelerated. Mueller moved toward the first trial in his case, brought a spate of indictments and turned over part of the growing investigation to prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. … By shifting that part of the investigation to the New York prosecutors, Mueller gave it political insulation. Even if Trump fired the special counsel — a move that would come at a high political cost, but one Trump has considered — the New York case would continue.

Eugene Robinson: Trump the mob boss wants protection
Cohen has offered full cooperation to authorities, including special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and Cohen’s attorney has strongly suggested his client might have evidence bearing on the question of collusion.

21 August
What the Manafort Verdict Means
It’s Robert Mueller’s biggest victory yet, in one of the most successful special counsel investigations in history.
By Noah Bookbinder, Barry Berke and Norman L. Eisen
Mr. Bookbinder is the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. Barry Berke is a co-chairman of the litigation department at Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel. Norman Eisen is the chairman of CREW.
(NYT Opinion) With Tuesday’s convictions in the criminal trial of President Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has struck another blow in his investigation: five guilty pleas, 32 indicted individuals, 187 charges revealing startling evidence of Russia’s 2016 attack on our democracy, and now the conviction of one of the top operators in the Trump campaign orbit. Mr. Manafort’s conviction on eight separate counts means he could spend the rest of his life in prison.
The conviction conclusively and publicly demonstrates what many of us have said since the start of the investigation: This is no “witch hunt.” It instead is one of the most successful special counsel investigations in history. Coming alongside the guilty plea by Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, implicating the president in campaign finance violations, it was a very bad day for Mr. Trump.
The conviction also shows the caliber of the foe that President Trump is facing as he decides whether or not to sit for an interview with Mr. Mueller focusing on obstruction of justice. While we had already believed that Mr. Trump was unlikely to voluntarily sit for an interview, Tuesday’s verdict makes that interview even less probable. We should now prepare for a potential extended legal battle about the scope and power of a possible Mueller-issued subpoena for the president’s testimony.


20 September
Mueller Seeks White House Documents Related to Trump’s Actions as President
(NYT) Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, has asked the White House for documents about some of President Trump’s most scrutinized actions since taking office, including the firing of his national security adviser and F.B.I. director, according to White House officials.
Mr. Mueller is also interested in an Oval Office meeting Mr. Trump had with Russian officials in which he said the dismissal of the F.B.I. director had relieved “great pressure” on him.
The document requests provide the most details to date about the breadth of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and show that several aspects of his inquiry are focused squarely on Mr. Trump’s behavior in the White House.

10 August
Report: Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort Tipped Off the Feds to Don Jr.’s Russia Meeting
(New York Magazine) Paul Manafort squealed to authorities about the now-infamous 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer, Bloomberg reports in a piece about special counsel Robert Mueller putting the screws to the former Trump campaign manager. The revelation about the meeting, which Manafort attended, is buried in a story that emphasizes Mueller’s attempt to flip the 68-year-old Trump ally and make him an asset for the prosecution.
It’s unclear when Manafort told authorities about the meeting, which is a detail of some import. But if we assume Manafort tipped off investigators about the meeting before it became public last month, then he’s shown some openness to helping out the prosecution, which may give Mueller reason to believe he can be persuaded to fully switch sides.

7 August
Why Trump Should Be Afraid With Robert Mueller on the Case
Indictment and impeachment are on the table as the special counsel moves into high gear
(Rolling Stone) Since his appointment on May 17th, Mueller, a notoriously press-shy former FBI director, has been operating behind the scenes to put together a formidable army of prosecutors, Justice Department officials and investigators. Already, Mueller’s team includes 16 attorneys, along with more than 20 staff members, and it’s likely more will be added as the investigation moves forward.
As Mueller closes in, Trump prepares his base for the worst
(WaPost) President Trump is again attacking the media this morning, and his broadsides carry a newly ominous edge: He is both faulting the media for allegedly downplaying the size and intensity of support from his base and accusing them of trying to deliberately weaken that support for him.
Because Trump is undermining our democratic norms and processes in so many ways, it is often easy to focus on each of them in isolation, rather than as part of the same larger story. But, taken together, they point to a possible climax in which Trump, cornered by revelations unearthed by Robert S. Mueller III’s probe and by ongoing media scrutiny, seeks to rally his supporters behind the idea that this outcome represents not the imposition of accountability by functioning civic institutions, but rather an effort to steal the election from him — and from them.
A Better Way to Protect Robert Mueller
President Trump has shown himself willing to go as far as the law allows him, and perhaps farther. Under existing rules, he has the power to derail the special counsel’s inquiry, and the new bills do little to change that. A tougher law is needed to keep Mr. Mueller’s investigation on track.
(NYT Opinion) Senators introduced two bipartisan bills last week to block President Trump from firing Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russian election tampering investigation. Both bills mean well, but both miss the mark. While they provide Mr. Mueller with a modicum of job security, they do not prevent President Trump from interfering with the investigation.
A better bill would provide Mr. Mueller with more than just protection against removal. At a minimum, it would require the attorney general (or the deputy attorney general in the event of recusal) to inform the House and Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen and ranking members immediately if he interferes with a special-counsel investigation. (Under the current regulations, the attorney general need not report to Congress until after the end of an inquiry.) An even stronger measure would prohibit such interference altogether, as the old independent counsel statute did. It would also eliminate the annual reauthorization requirement, and it would supply Mr. Mueller with a stable budget.

4 August
Is Mueller’s grand jury a big deal?
(WaPost) Commentators who assert revelation of a grand jury in federal court in Washington to investigate possible criminal wrong-doing is no big deal have a point. Technically, this is just one more step in the prosecutorial process, allowing for testimony under oath and subpoenas for documents. … However, in some practical and political ways the grand jury is a key milestone.
For one thing, when the grand jury starts taking testimony under oath from witnesses, we’ll have a good sense of where this is going. If the witnesses are largely or entirely people involved in Trump team members’ representations about their meetings with Russians, the decision to fire James B. Comey and the actions taken thereafter, we’ll know the emphasis is on possible obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI, lying or giving incomplete information to Congress, witness intimidation, etc. (In this regard, using a grand jury in Washington might also be seen as a step a prosecutor would take to prepare for indictments in the jurisdiction in which the alleged crimes were committed.)

3 August
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe heats up
Special counsel Robert Mueller is impaneling a grand jury in the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to The Wall Street Journal.
It’s a sign the probe is intensifying and could drag on for months.
(CNBC) Impaneling a grand jury suggests Mueller “believes he will need to subpoena records and take testimony from witnesses,” the Journal said.
It does not necessarily mean he will bring charges against Trump allies.
Former FBI Director Mueller is investigating Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin. The investigation has dogged and frustrated President Donald Trump during his first six months in office.

Even President* Trump Can’t Get the Best of a Grand Jury
Robert Mueller just opened up a new stage of the Russia investigation
(Esquire) The Wall Street Journal reported, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that the Washington, D.C. grand jury “began its work in recent weeks” and is separate from the one assisting with the probe into President Donald Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The impanelment of that jury predated Mueller’s appointment as special counsel. The empanelment of a new, separate grand jury reflects the scope of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election and whether any members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia.
… another thing about grand juries is that you have to show up. You can dodge a congressional subpoena, or finagle your way past an FBI interview, but if a grand jury subpoena gets dropped on you, unless your lawyer is very, very good, your ass is going to be in a chair and Robert Mueller is going to be looking at you.
They can’t rein it in. If Mueller wants to look at how the Trump Organization did its business with Russian interests before the president* even thought of being president, he can do that. If he wants to conduct exploratory surgery on Jared Kushner’s financial records, he can do that, too. If he wants to examine the working conditions in the Chinese factories where Ivanka’s line of shoes are made, it’s off to Asia we go. Meanwhile, congresscritters on both sides of the aisle are pushing legislation aimed at protecting Mueller from presidential retribution.

Some highly relevant background on Robert Mueller’s early education and commitment to the old-fashioned concept of ‘noblesse oblige’, so alien to the inhabitant of the Oval Office. This was posted on Facebook by Jim Schutze a friend of our friend Alex Shoumatoff, who also attended St. Paul’s.

So interesting to watch the attempt to paint Robert Mueller as a liberal Democrat. He was in my high school when I was there, two years ahead of me. I did not know him, except as the object of reverence by younger boys in the “Lower School.”
I can’t even make myself imagine him as a liberal or a Democrat. I laugh, in fact. And I do notice in his bio that he has always been a Republican.
I was there very anomalously, a cuckoo in the nest. I was a scholarship kid from the Middle West dropped by some mischievous Fate into the very heart and bastion of Waspdom — St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire, a brit-style boys boarding school.
Mueller was two years ahead of me, captain of three varsity sports teams, very tall, handsome, the apotheosis of what was called a “Paulie,” which I was not. In this country, there is no one who could more perfectly embody the old Wasp aristocracy than Bobby Mueller, as he was called at the school. Of course, that makes him exactly the kind of person Trump has hated all his life.
I also note that Mueller has spent almost all of his life in public service, which is not exactly a surprise, given the pedigree and background. St. Paul’s imbued the Paulies with a deep sense of public service based on a very old-fashioned European notion of noblesse oblige.
I never went for that. I figured I was never going to be in on the noblesse, so why should I have to do the oblige? In my old age, having been exposed more to the products of the new American meritocracy that has replaced the Waspocracy, I sometimes wonder if noblesse oblige may have been better than no oblige at all.
Trying to make Mueller into a Democrat just strikes me as daffy. And I do have a last thought. If Mueller were a garden variety Dem like me, operating out of some kind of ex-post-‘60s liberalism, Trump would have far less to fear from him. Trump’s real problem is that Mueller probably will turn out to be a ramrod-stiff ice-cube-righteous Wasp with a stiff-upper-lip disdain for people who are messy. There will be no pity.

16 June
Robert Mueller expands special counsel office, hires 13 lawyers
(CNN) Mueller has assembled a high-powered team of top investigators and leading experts, including seasoned attorneys who’ve represented major American companies in court and who have worked on cases ranging from Watergate to the Enron fraud scandal.
Among them are James Quarles and Jeannie Rhee, both of whom Mueller brought over from his old firm, WilmerHale. He’s also hired Andrew Weissmann, who led the Enron investigation. “That is a great, great team of complete professionals, so let’s let him do his job,” former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who investigated President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, told ABC News.
Fire special counsel?
As Mueller assembles his investigative team, statements by Trump’s friend Christopher Ruddy this week set off new questions.
Ruddy, who had been at the White House on Monday, told PBS that Trump is considering terminating the special counsel
But a source close to the President told CNN’s Jim Acosta that Trump has been advised to avoid such a dramatic move.

17 May
Robert Mueller, Former F.B.I. Director, Is Named Special Counsel for Russia Investigation
(NYT) The Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel on Wednesday to oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, dramatically raising the legal and political stakes in an affair that has threatened to engulf Mr. Trump’s four-month-old presidency.
The decision by the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, came after a cascade of damaging developments for Mr. Trump in recent days, including his abrupt dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the subsequent disclosure that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.
Mr. Rosenstein had been under escalating pressure from Democrats, and even some Republicans, to appoint a special counsel after he wrote a memo that the White House initially cited as the rationale for Mr. Comey’s dismissal.

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