5 key takeaways from special counsel Robert Mueller's report

The report is a trove of information about the current presidency.

May 1, 2019, 12:13 PM

While there will be no legal case brought against President Donald Trump by special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, the much-anticipated redacted report made public Thursday documented, in vivid detail, actions by members of the then-candidate’s campaign and later his administration that raised a host of political questions.

Largely Democratic calls for Mueller to testify before Congress only grew louder as the day went on, all but guaranteeing that the special counsel’s work will remain a focus of Washington for some time.

And yet, there appeared to be sighs of relief at the White House.

"No obstruction, no collusion," the president said with a smile, speaking at an event timed closely with the release of the report.

The report is a trove of information about the current presidency and many in its orbit. Here are some of the key takeaways.

On matters of obstruction and collusion

In his letter describing the Mueller report’s “principal conclusions” – transmitted more than three weeks ago to members of Congress – Attorney General William Barr made conclusive statements about obstruction of justice and Trump-Russia collusion: neither took place.

However, in the report, the special counsel’s office weighed in on the use of the non-legal term of “collusion,” saying "this Office evaluated potentially criminal conduct that involved the collective action of multiple individuals not under the rubric of 'collusion,' but through the lens of conspiracy law."

"The Office recognized that the word 'collud[e]' appears in the Acting Attorney General's August 2, 2017 memorandum; it has frequently been invoked in public reporting; and it is sometimes referenced in antitrust law...But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the U.S. Code; nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law."

On the matter of collusion, Mueller’s team listed scores of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians, including “business connections, offers of assistance to the Campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations.”

On obstruction of justice, the special counsel's office made no conclusion on the matter of possible obstruction of justice by Trump, but Barr noted, that the attorney general himself determined that the evidence against Trump did not amount to a crime.

Investigators found multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, however they conclude 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.”

Jay Sekulow, the president’s lawyer, defended the president in an interview with ABC News Thursday, claiming the president was totally exonerated. The bottom line, he said, was that “if they had an obstruction case, they would have made it. They did not.”

PHOTO: WPresident Donald Trump attends an event recognizing the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in the East Room of the White House, April 18, 2019.
President Donald Trump attends an event recognizing the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in the East Room of the White House, April 18, 2019.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

‘This is the end of my presidency. I’m f---ed.’

One of the most talked about lines in the 448-page report is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the president’s immediate reaction to the news that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate him and his campaign.

According then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions' chief of staff, Jody Hunt, the president upon learning that a special counsel had been appointed, the president reportedly slouched back in his chair and said "’Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f-----.’"

Trump was interviewing for a new FBI director with his then-lawyer Don McGahn, Sessions, who had already recused himself from the position at that point, and Hunt, who was taking notes on the meeting.

Sessions left the room to take a call and came back to deliver the news, that former FBI Director Robert Mueller had been appointed as the special counsel. In the report, Mueller wrote that Trump “slumped” in his chair.

Trump immediately lambasted Sessions for recusing himself, saying he “let [him] down."

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

PHOTO: Pages from the special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election released on April 18, 2019.
Pages from the special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election released on April 18, 2019.
ABC News

Many times over, the president was saved from potential acts of obstruction by staff

Mueller’s team inspected 10 separate occasions where the president may have acted to impede the investigation, according to the report.

Multiple times various top Trump aides sidestepped the president’s orders, including the president’s then-White House counsel Don McGahn who stopped Trump from firing the chief investigator, Mueller.

According to The New York Times, McGahn threatened to resign in June 2016 if Trump took any action to remove Mueller from his role overseeing the probe.

According to the report: "The President then directed [staff secretary Rob] Porter to tell McGahn to create a record to make clear that the President never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. Porter thought the matter should be handled by the White House communications office, but the President said he wanted McGahn to write a letter to the file "for our records" and wanted something beyond a press statement to demonstrate that the reporting was inaccurate. The President referred to McGahn as a 'lying bastard' and said that he wanted a record from him. Porter recalled the President saying something to the effect of, 'If he doesn't write a letter, then maybe I'll have to get rid of him'."

Mueller concluded that "Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn's account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President's conduct towards the investigation."

Mueller considered Trump’s written responses ‘inadequate’

Special counsel Muller lays out his negotiations with President Trump’s attorneys regarding an interview with the president. Mueller writes in the introductory note that they advised counsel that "a[n] interview with the President is vital to our investigation." Mueller says that Trump "stated on more than 30 occasions that he "does not ‘recall’ or ‘remember’ or have an "independent recollection’" of information called for by the questions." Mueller received the president’s responses in November 2018. Beginning in Dec 2017 they sought to interview the president on "topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction-of-justice."

Mueller writes that "Other answers were "incomplete or imprecise."

"We again requested an in-person interview, limited to certain topics, advising the President’s counsel that "[t]his is the President’s opportunity to voluntarily provide us with information for us to evaluate in the context of all the evidence we have gathered." "The President declined."

In the report, Mueller says, "we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony" given that Trump would not volunteer an interview. "We viewed the written answers to be inadequate. But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report. We thus weighed to costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits from our investigation and report."

PHOTO: The Mueller Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election is pictured in New York, New York, U.S., April 18, 2019.   REUTERS/Carlo Allegri     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The Mueller Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election is pictured in New York, New York, U.S., April 18, 2019.
Carlo Allegri/Reuters

What is clear? The extent to which the Russians actually engaged in interfering with the election

Not to be overlooked is the threat of Russian interference — laid out in detail in Mueller’s report with significant details about how Russians engaged directly with unknowing Americans.

The interference in 2016 was “sweeping and systematic fashion,” Mueller said, a fact that was evidenced by the indictment last year of the whole Russian troll farm behind much of the social media interference, known as the Internet Research Agency.

The group got people to take their mission beyond the feeds of social media and walk around New York City “dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask,” an act that spoke to Trump’s campaign promise that Americans will be able to say “Merry Christmas” again.

In another example from the report, Mueller detailed the way a fake group called “Black Fist” popped up, advertising as a group of self-defense instructors who would teach African Americans to protect themselves around police officers. The Russians behind the group, who were working for the IRA, even hired a self-defense instructor in New York.

The Russian social media posts were cited or retweeted by multiple Trump Campaign officials and surrogates, including Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric Trump, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale -- architect of the Trump campaign’s 2016 digital strategy -- and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn engaged with the Russian accounts.

Starting in June 2016, the IRA also contacted different Americans affiliated with the Trump campaign in an effort to coordinate pro-Trump IRA-organized rallies inside the United States, according to the report.

ABC News' Will Steakin contributed to this report.

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