Details of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election were released on Thursday, showing a series of incidents in which President Donald Trump took actions to impede the probe that raised questions of whether he committed the crime of obstruction of justice.
Release of a long-awaited report by Mr. Mueller was a watershed moment in Mr. Trump’s tumultuous presidency. Ahead of its release, Attorney-General William Barr — whose Department of Justice oversaw the investigation — delivered a spirited defence of the Republican President and his actions, infuriating Democrats.
Mr. Mueller did not make a conclusion on whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either.
Mr. Barr subsequently concluded that Mr. Trump had not broken the law, but told a news conference that Mr. Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the President and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense”.
In June 2017, Mr. Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to tell the then-acting Attorney General that Mr. Mueller had conflicts of interest and must be removed, the report said.
It also said there was “substantial evidence” that Mr. Trump fired James Comey as Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director in 2017 due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the President was not personally under investigation.”
Mr. Mueller cited “some evidence” suggesting Mr. Trump knew about former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s controversial calls with the Russian Ambassador before Mr. Trump took office, but evidence was “inconclusive” and could not be used to establish intent to obstruct.
The report said Mr. Trump directed former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask former Attorney-General Jeff Sessions to say the Russia investigation was “very unfair”.
Before the report’s release, Mr. Barr gave a news conference at the Justice Department as he sought to shape the narrative on the document’s findings.
One of a handful of people to have seen the report before its release, Mr. Barr emphasised, as he had said last month, that Mr. Mueller did not conclude there was collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
“President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinising his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates,” Mr. Barr said.
“At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion,” added Mr. Barr. Shortly after, he sent the report to Congress.
The report said Mr. Mueller’s team did not issue a subpoena to force Mr. Trump to give an interview to the special counsel because it would have created a “substantial delay” at a late stage in the investigation.
It said Mr. Mueller accepted the longstanding Justice Department view that a sitting President cannot be indicted on criminal charges.
President Trump declared himself fully vindicated on Thursday in the Russian election meddling controversy. “Game Over,” Mr. Trump tweeted, using a “Game of Thrones” style montage that pictured him standing in dramatic fog.
“NO COLLUSION. NO OBSTRUCTION,” a triumphant Trump wrote in his tweet. Later, he said at the start of a speech: “I’m having a good day.”
At his news conference, Mr. Barr said he was standing by his own ruling, noting that Mr. Trump had no intention to obstruct and had merely been “frustrated and angered… The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation.”