Mueller Reveals Trump’s Efforts to Thwart Russian Inquiry in Highly Anticipated Report

WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III revealed the scope of a historic Russian campaign to sabotage the 2016 presidential election in a much-anticipated report made public on Thursday, and he detailed a frantic monthslong effort by President Trump to thwart a federal investigation that imperiled his presidency from the start.

Mr. Mueller, the special counsel, laid out how his team of prosecutors wrestled with whether Mr. Trump’s actions added up to a criminal obstruction-of-justice offense. They ultimately chose not to charge Mr. Trump, citing numerous legal and factual constraints, but pointedly declined to exonerate him and suggested that it might be the role of Congress to settle the matter.

The report laid bare that Mr. Trump was elected with the help of a foreign power, and cataloged numerous meetings between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russians seeking to influence the campaign and the presidential transition team — encounters set up in pursuit of business deals, policy initiatives and political dirt about Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate for president.

The special counsel concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to determine that the president or his aides had engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the Russians, even though the Trump campaign welcomed the Kremlin sabotage effort and “expected it would benefit electorally” from the hacks and leaks of Democratic emails.

The special counsel found that Mr. Trump had the authority to make many of his most controversial decisions, including the firing of James B. Comey as the F.B.I. director, by virtue of the powers the Constitution grants him. At the same time, it is a far more damning portrayal of his behavior than the one presented last month in a four-page letter released by Attorney General William P. Barr.

“The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the president sought to use his official power outside of usual channels,” the report said. “These actions ranged from efforts to remove the special counsel and to reverse the effect of the attorney general’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony. Viewing the acts collectively can help to illuminate their significance.”

In his letter, Mr. Barr announced that while Mr. Mueller had made no judgment about whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice, he had stepped in to decide that the president had not.

Mr. Barr defended his decision in a news conference on Thursday and said that some of the president’s actions were understandable given the “context” of his situation.

“There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks,” Mr. Barr said.

The Mueller report is a sometimes gripping account of a presidency consumed by a sprawling investigation, and of a president seized by paranoia about what it might unearth.

Even last summer, standing next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia after a summit meeting in Finland, Mr. Trump refused to accept that the Russians had carried out the election sabotage.

Now, the voices of doubt have mostly been silenced, in part because of two indictments Mr. Mueller secured last year against a total of 25 Russian military intelligence operatives and experts in social media manipulation. The indictments gave exquisite details about the entirety of the Russian operation — how Russians paid unsuspecting Americans to stage pro-Trump rallies in battleground states, how Russian hackers penetrated the personal email account of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman and how a pair of Russian women took a scouting trip to the United States two years before the election to gather information for the planned assault.

Just weeks into his presidency, Mr. Trump declared there had been no meetings or other communications during the campaign between his advisers and Russians or other Kremlin intermediaries. A parade of news media reports followed saying otherwise — reports that the White House denounced at the time as false but that Mr. Mueller’s report showed to be accurate.

One of the most significant was a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower set up by Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, and a group of Russians who had promised political dirt about Mrs. Clinton.

When The New York Times revealed the meeting a year later, there was a frenzied effort by the president’s aides to mislead the public about its purpose — including putting out a news release that the meeting had primarily been about a Russian adoption program.

The report stated that Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer “repeatedly and inaccurately denied that the president played any role in drafting Trump Jr.’s statement,” and that the special counsel investigated whether that meeting violated campaign finance laws. Mr. Mueller’s team found that the evidence was “not sufficient.”

Some of the meetings with Russians were a mélange of business and politics, and Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors wrapped up their inquiry still puzzled about their purpose.


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