Do those rumored tapes of Trump in a Moscow hotel exist? What the Mueller report says

The full redacted Mueller report has been released by the Department of Justice. The L.A. Times is reading it and posting its findings. The report can be downloaded here.

The special counsel’s report deals with one of the most salacious elements of the Russia case in a footnote that mentions that “unverified allegations that compromising tapes” exist of President Trump taken while he was in Moscow for the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant.

Former FBI Director James B. Comey told Trump about the allegation that such tapes existed when he briefed the president-elect about the so-called Steele dossier. The dossier contained unverified information given to the FBI in 2016 about alleged Trump ties to Russia by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer. But the Mueller report says Trump may have heard similar allegations weeks earlier.

On Oct. 30, 2016, the report says, Michael Cohen, a lawyer for Trump, received a text from a Russian businessman named Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said: “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else.”

Rtskhiladze, a financier who worked with Trump’s company, told investigators that his mention of “tapes” referred to “compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated” with a Russian real estate conglomerate called the Crocus Group.

Rtskhiladze told investigators he was told the tapes were fake, but that he didn’t tell Cohen that. The Crocus Group would on the surface seem like an unlikely entity to be holding compromising tapes on Trump.

The company helped Trump put on the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow and holds substantial Russian government construction contacts, the report says. Its president, Aras Agalarov and his son, Emin, a Russian pop singer, have been friendly with Trump and his family. It was the Agalarovs who helped set up the controversial June 9, 2016, meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer claiming to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

No evidence has surfaced to prove that the much-rumored tapes exist, and the Mueller report does not say that they do.

Mueller decided not to subpoena Trump to avoid a lengthy court fight

In the end, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III never forced President Trump to testify under oath even though he considered Trump’s written answers to prosecutors’ questions “inadequate.”

Instead of following predecessors who compelled evidence from President Nixon during Watergate, and President Clinton in a scandal over his personal behavior, Mueller chose not to subpoena Trump.

With the release Thursday of Mueller’s redacted report of his 22-month investigation, the question remains: Why did Mueller forgo forcing Trump to testify about 10 incidents that came close to — and may have crossed the line into — unlawfully obstructing the probe?

At his news conference Thursday, Atty. Gen. William Barr said the White House “fully cooperated” with the investigation and provided “unfettered access” to internal documents. He said Trump at no point “deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”

3:35 p.m. | David Willman

What did we learn from reading Robert Mueller’s actual report?

The secrecy around the final report from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has finally been lifted, at least most of it.

Here’s what we’ve learned»

3:30 p.m. | Anna M. Phillips and Chris Megerian

Mueller report shows how Trump’s panic over the Russia probe worsened his situation

For more than two years, President Trump repeatedly ignored his lawyers and scratched an itch that wouldn’t go away, responding to developments from the special counsel’s investigation by trying desperately to bring it to an end.

He wanted former FBI Director James B. Comey to end the investigation altogether. Then he fired Comey, prompting the appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as special counsel.

He lashed out at former Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions — publicly and privately — for relinquishing oversight of the probe. He dictated a misleading statement about a key meeting with Russian officials in 2016 and dangled pardons to associates ensnared in the probe.

And he went so far as to direct former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller.

2:40 p.m. | Eli Stokols and Del Quentin Wilber

Five tantalizing redactions in the Mueller report

More than one-third of the 448 pages of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report include redactions of some kind.

On some pages it’s just a word or two, on others nearly all the text is redacted, setting up a tantalizing mix of what we know and what we don’t. Viewed side by side, the black-boxed pages look like a piece of abstract art or rows of old IBM punch cards.

Information redacted by Justice Department officials falls into four categories:

  • Grand jury evidence, which is subject to secrecy rules
  • Classified material from U.S. intelligence agencies or allies
  • Information that could compromise ongoing investigations
  • Details that could infringe on privacy or damage the reputations of third parties

Some of the information may one day become public. Much of it probably won’t. A select group of senators and representatives will get a chance to view a more complete version of the report, but not the grand jury information, Atty. Gen. William P. Barr said Thursday.

Here are some of the more notable samples>>

1:30 p.m. | Sarah D. Wire

Editorial: Mueller’s report makes a mockery of Trump’s claim to ‘total exoneration’

President Trump has repeatedly crowed that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report is a “total exoneration.” After its release Thursday morning, he tweeted: “No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats — Game Over.”

But the report itself, for those who bothered to read it, makes a mockery of that assertion. Even with its multiple redactions, the voluminous document made public Thursday by the Justice Department contains numerous examples of Trump degrading his office by engaging in sleazy and self-serving behavior.

Read the full editorial>>

Trump provided 33 paragraphs of answers to Mueller. His memory failed him 34 times

Trump answered dozens of questions in writing, but many of his answers were not very informative. He said his memory failed him 34 times in about 33 paragraphs of answers.

The amnesia came in different flavors. “Do not recall” — 14 times. “No recollection” — 9. “Do not remember” — 6. “No independent recollection” — 2. “Nor do I recall” — 2. “Nor do I remember” — 1.

His memory was particularly fuzzy around the time of the crucial meeting in Trump Tower in June 2016 between three top campaign aides and a Kremlin-linked lawyer from Moscow.

“This was one of many busy months during a fast-paced campaign, as the primary season was ending and we were preparing for the general election campaign,” Trump wrote.

11:44 a.m. | Janet Hook

Trump says he made Russia hacking comments ‘in jest and sarcastically’

In his written responses to questions from Mueller's team, President Trump denied that he was being serious when, in a July 2016 press conference, he seemed to invite or welcome Russia hacking into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

He told the press conference, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

Asked why he made that request, Trump wrote, “I made the statement… in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer.”

The Russians apparently didn't see it as a joke. The investigation determined that about five hours after Trump’s statement, Russian hackers targeted email accounts connected to Clinton’s personal office for the first time.

11:53 a.m. | Janet Hook

Mueller considered charging Donald Trump Jr. Here’s why he didn’t

Robert S. Mueller III’s office considered charging Donald Trump Jr. and other campaign officials with violating campaign finance laws in connection with the June 9 meeting with several Russians at Trump Tower, but ultimately decided not to do so, the report says.

That meeting was preceded by an offer of information about Hillary Clinton passed along from Russians, which arguably violated laws against accepting anything of value from foreign sources, the report said.

“There are reasonable arguments that the offered information would constitute a 'thing of value,'" the report says.

But prosecutors decided against bringing charges, saying they could not prove Donald Trump Jr. and others intended to violate the law in agreeing to the meeting.

Mueller’s lawyers also doubted they could prove the information was valuable enough to convince a jury to convict them, the report says. The information provided at the meeting by Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with Kremlin connections, turned out to have nothing to do with Clinton, and Donald Trump Jr. later described the 20-minute meeting as useless.

Rob Goldstone, a friend of Donald Trump Jr.'s who had made the original contact, had promised that the Russian was bringing incriminating information about Clinton. Instead, she spent much of the meeting lobbying the Trump campaign officials to lift the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 U.S. law bitterly criticized by the Kremlin that freezes assets of Russian officials responsible for human rights abuses, the report says.

While she was speaking, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner was messaging Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, on his phone that the meeting was a “waste of time,” the report describes. He arranged to leave early by having his assistant call him “to give him an excuse to leave,” the report said.

9:55 a.m. | David Cloud

Can Trump make cuts to his Fox News interviews?

Opinion: Democrats would be foolish to impeach

As we all devour the two-volume, 448-page redacted Mueller report, we’d do well to keep in mind a political reality. In a more stable and responsible political climate, impeachment proceedings would have begun months ago when it became abundantly clear that President Trump was trying to influence the investigation into himself, his inner circle and his campaign.

That was an unmistakable attempt to abuse power to try to protect the president’s own interests, and it should not have been tolerated.

But we don’t live in that environment. Read the full story>>

Mueller: Congress can act in ways the special counsel did not

In the report, Mueller says Congress is allowed to conduct further investigations and potentially act upon the information compiled in the Russia investigation in a way that he did not.

“We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” Mueller wrote in a legal analysis of whether Congress can pursue an investigation into the president.

Mueller wrote that a balance is needed between the president’s constitutional authority and separation of power with Congress, but that Congress is allowed to act, including pursuing impeachment. Applying that test, “we concluded that Congress can validly make obstruction-of-justice statutes applicable to corruptly motivated official acts of the President without impermissibly undermining” his constitutional authority, he wrote.

Mueller did not conclude whether there is enough evidence for Congress to pursue impeachment.

“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President 's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” he wrote.

10:42 a.m. | Jennifer Haberkorn

Trump's concern over Flynn stemmed from a very unlikely source

Even before Michael Flynn came under fire for lying about his discussions with a Russian diplomat, President Trump was souring on his national security advisor, White House staffers told the special counsel.

In a footnote in his report, Mueller wrote that Trump's concern stemmed from a very unlikely source: President Obama.

In their post-election meeting, Obama had warned Trump about how hiring Flynn might cause him trouble.

“President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than [Hope] Hicks expected,” the special counsel wrote, referring to one of Trump’s closest aides. Hicks told the special counsel that Trump felt that Flynn had “bad judgment” and was angered by inflammatory tweets that Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr., had sent.

Trump had become so upset with Flynn by the time his conversations with the Russian envoy emerged in news reports that Trump had stopped looking at him during national security meetings, another former White House official told Mueller’s team. Flynn was pushed out after less than a month, and later pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.

10:37 a.m. | Del Quentin Wilber

What Hope Hicks told investigators about the Trump Tower meeting

Hope Hicks first alerted President Trump that reporters were working on a story about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer on July 8, 2017, hours before the first news reports on the meeting came out.

Hicks told investigators she was surprised when Trump initially ordered her not to respond, since Trump “usually considered not responding to be the ultimate sin,” the report says.

Later in the day Trump rejected a draft statement about the meeting by his son, Donald Trump Jr., that acknowledged the meeting was with “an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.”

Trump then dictated a statement to Hicks that was later issued publicly by Donald Trump Jr. that said the meeting was about “adoption,” a subject that had come up in passing during the meeting because the Kremlin barred U.S. adoption of children from Russia in response to the Magnitsky Act.

“The statement dictated by the President did not mention the offer of derogatory information about Clinton," the report says.

10:36 a.m. | David S. Cloud

Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks communicated extensively over Twitter

There was an extended back and forth between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks over Twitter direct messages, according to the report.

It began when WikiLeaks hacked into the website of an anti-Trump political action committee, and alerted Trump Jr. about it. Trump Jr. passed the tip along to campaign staff and sought their advice of how to proceed. Trump messaged WikiLeaks that he would ask around about the PAC.

Soon after, WikiLeaks asked for Trump Jr.’s help publicizing allegations that Hillary Clinton had advocated using a drone to target the organization’s founder, Julian Assange. Trump Jr. replied that he had already done so. And then he asked WikiLeaks for information about its upcoming release of hacked files, which turned out to be emails stolen from John Podesta, Clinton's campaign manager. “what’s behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?” Trump Jr. messaged. WikiLeaks did not respond.

After the initial batches of Podesta emails were posted by WikiLeaks, the group messaged Trump Jr. again, writing: “great to see you and your dad talking about our publications." “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us wlsearch.tk.” The group assured it would help Trump “digging through” Podesta’s leaked communications, and noted it has just released the fourth batch of them. Two days later Trump Jr. tweeted the link to his followers.

Evan Halper | 10:29 a.m.

Read the full report

Here is an image of every single page of the Mueller report

More than one-third of the report’s pages contain at least one blacked-out word. Most of the pages have no redactions. Some are almost entirely blacked out. See the full image>>

Trump reacted to special counsel appointment with fury. ‘This is the end of my Presidency’

The report describes President Trump's initial reaction to learning Robert S. Mueller III had been appointed on May 17, 2017, to investigate the potential links between his campaign and the Russians.

The president was meeting that day with Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general’s chief of staff and White House counsel Don McGahn, interviewing potential candidates for FBI director.

Sessions stepped out of the room to take a call from Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein and returned to inform Trump that Rosenstein had tapped Mueller as special counsel.

Trump reacted with fury. “Oh, my God,” Trump said, according to notes taken by Sessions’ chief of staff. “This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”

The president became irate and berated Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation.

“How could you let this happen, Jeff?”

He told Sessions he had let Trump down and that he was supposed to have protected Trump. “Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency,” Trump continued.

“It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

8:22 a.m. | Del Quentin Wilber

FBI was investigating Flynn before his talks with Kislyak

Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security advisor, was on the FBI’s radar before his controversial conversations in December 2016 with Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador in Washington.

Flynn later lied to the FBI about those conversations, which were intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies conducting surveillance of the Russian envoy. Flynn, who was forced to step down as national security advisor after less than a month, has pleaded guilty to providing false statements to FBI agents in an interview conducted in his White House office several days after Trump took office.

Mueller discloses that the FBI “had opened an investigation of Flynn based on his relationship with the Russian government” even before he was caught on the intercepted conversations. Flynn’s discussions with the diplomat “became a key component of that investigation,” the report says.

It does not elaborate on what sparked the FBI interest, though Flynn, a retired Army general who had headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, was paid more than $40,000 to speak at the 10th anniversary gala of RT, Russia’s state-sponsored TV network, in 2015. Flynn sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin at the event.

9:23 a.m. | Del Quentin Wilber

14 criminal cases were referred to other jurisdictions

The special counsel’s report identified 14 criminal cases that were referred to other jurisdictions because they were outside the scope of Mueller's investigation, including cases involving Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, former Obama counsel Gregory Craig, and 12 others whose description was redacted.

9:01 a.m. | Janet Hook

Mueller worried that a Trump subpoena would create a long delay

Mueller decided not to subpoena the president to provide testimony when Trump declined to provide answers to written questions about obstruction of justice, limiting his answers only to questions of collusion.

The special counsel decided not to try to subpoena the president, Mueller wrote, because he worried it would create a long delay in the “late stage in our investigation.”

They also determined that they had gathered a wealth of information about Trump's actions, and prosecutors felt confident they could “make certain assessments without the president’s testimony.”

8:33 a.m. | Del Quentin Wilber

Trump’s staff didn’t carry out his orders

"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."

From Page 158 of the Mueller report

Barr repeats Trump’s ‘no collusion’ catch-phrase

Atty. Gen. William P. Barr confirmed at Thursday morning’s news conference that Russia did seek to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but said "the special counsel found no collusion" between the Trump campaign and Russians involved in that effort. His confirmation of the Russian effort to interfere with the election contrasts with President Trump's repeated statements that have questioned whether Russia was involved.

At his news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2018, Trump said that Putin had denied any involvement and that he was willing to believe those denials.

“The Russian government sought to interfere in our election process," Barr said, but the Russians “did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign.” He repeated that top-line finding several times: "The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans."

Robert Mueller sent formal request to testify

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Thursday morning formally asking him to testify before the committee “as soon as possible — but, in any event, no later than May 23.”

Atty. Gen. William P. Barr said in his news conference, “I have no objection to Robert Mueller personally testifying.”

7:41 a.m. | Sarah Wire

2020 candidates criticize Barr

Some of the Democrats’ 2020 presidential candidates immediately joined in criticism of Atty. Gen. William P. Barr for a news conference that seemed focused on presenting President Trump’s point of view rather than a balanced summary of the Mueller report’s findings.

“Very interesting press conference by Trump...I mean, Barr,” tweeted California Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Dublin).

“The American people deserve the truth,’’ tweeted Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. “Not spin from a Trump appointee.”

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called for Mueller to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee — a hearing that would be riddled with 2020 political dynamics. Members of the panel include Klobuchar, Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

7:39 a.m. | Janet Hook

Mueller's report includes 10 episodes involving potential obstruction, Barr says

Barr said special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's report detailed 10 specific actions by Trump that could have been considered efforts to obstruct justice. Mueller did not reach a "traditional prosecutorial judgment" about whether obstruction took place, Barr said, adding that he had concluded that Trump had not acted in a criminal fashion.

Barr: No objections to Mueller testifying

Barr said he has "no objections to Robert Mueller personally testifying" to Congress about his report. Congressional Democrats have called for Mueller to testify.

Barr reveals that Trump's lawyers were allowed to read redacted report earlier this week

Barr expected to address executive privilege, redactions and White House interactions

Trump kicks off the morning with angry tweets about the Russia investigation

Pelosi and Schumer are calling for Mueller to testify before Congress

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called on Thursday for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to publicly testify before Congress.

“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible,” they said in a released statement.

Atty. Gen. William P. Barr is already expected to testify to the House and Senate judiciary committees on May 1 and May 2.

What are we waiting to learn?

Why didn’t Mueller reach a conclusion on whether President Trump obstructed justice? What evidence of obstruction did Mueller find? Why did Mueller give up on interviewing Trump?

The secrecy around special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s long investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election has extended to his final report. Here are some of the key questions we still have>>

The biggest indictments, guilty pleas and dramas in the Russia investigation

Here are the milestones that have shaped the investigation — and rattled the White House. See the timeline>>

Mueller finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy but doesn’t ‘exonerate’ Trump on obstruction

In a four-page letter based on Robert S. Mueller III’s final report, Atty. Gen. William P. Barr told Congress on March 24 that the special counsel did not find evidence that President Trump or his campaign conspired with Russians during the 2016 election.

Mueller did not determine whether Trump obstructed justice, which was another focus of the investigation, yet he concluded that the evidence “does not exonerate” the president, Barr wrote in his letter to lawmakers.

The attorney general, however, decided the facts don’t show Trump committed a crime by trying to interfere with the Russia probe, a judgment that Democrats have fiercely contested and that has fueled their efforts to see Mueller’s full report. Read the story>>

Chris Megerian

Read Atty. Gen. William P. Barr’s summary of Mueller’s conclusions

The Russia investigation is over, but Russian meddling in elections isn’t

Robert S. Mueller III’s report was an arduous task, but the truly hard part will be ensuring the Russians aren’t able to pull the same blueprint off the shelf and use it in future campaigns.

A review of court filings and independent studies, as well as interviews with experts, shows that no one should expect that the end of Mueller’s work means an end to Russian political meddling. Read the story>>

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette
90°