Mueller raised possibility Trump lied to him, newly unsealed report revealsJune 20, 2020
By Katelyn Polantz, Ellie Kaufman and Sara Murray, CNN
(CNN)Special counsel Robert Mueller examined whether President Donald Trump lied to him in written answers during the Russia investigation, a possibility House Democrats have said they continue to look into even after Trump's impeachment.
With fresh detail, the special counsel's investigation also documented how several Trump campaign officials heard from the then-candidate about WikiLeaks releases that ultimately helped his campaign, a new version of the Mueller report said on Friday.
The revelations come from sections of Mueller's final investigative report, on Russian interference in the 2016 election, re-released on Friday with fewer redactions. The new disclosures largely relate to the 2016 election efforts of convicted former Trump adviser Roger Stone and his interactions with his long-time friend Trump.
There's no proof that Trump's campaign illegally conspired with suspected Russian hackers who leaked stolen Democratic files to WikiLeaks, and no Americans were charged with such a crime. Yet Mueller documented many instances where Trump campaign officials welcomed the Russians and WikiLeaks' mischief in 2016, including when it related to Stone.
"According to multiple witnesses involved with the Campaign, beginning in June 2016 and continuing through October 2016, Stone spoke about WikiLeaks with senior Campaign officials, including candidate Trump," Mueller wrote.
"The Trump Campaign showed interest in the WikiLeaks releases ... After Stone's prediction of WikiLeaks's first Clinton-related release proved true, the Trump Campaign stayed in contact with Stone about WikiLeaks's activities. The investigation was unable to resolve whether Stone played a role in WikiLeaks's release" of an October surprise to help Trump -- the release of the Clinton campaign chairman's stolen emails on the same day a tape from "Access Hollywood" showed Trump using graphic language about women.
"No wonder they kept this hidden," Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, an architect of the House's impeachment efforts and chair of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted Friday night. The House has repeatedly said in court, during and after Trump's impeachment proceedings about him soliciting political favors from Ukraine, that it wanted more details from the Mueller investigation about how witnesses described Trump's conversations with Stone. A House attempt to get grand jury detail from the Mueller investigation, which underpinned the Mueller report, is still tied up in appeals.
The political ramifications of the details revealed Friday have been blunted by time. If the details had been released when Mueller finished his investigation, they may have affected the public's perception of the findings. Almost immediately after Mueller ended his work, Trump claimed "total exoneration" and has pushed to undercut Mueller's prosecutions and the foundations of the Russia investigation.
Attorney General William Barr announced after reviewing Mueller's report he "did not find" that any Trump campaign associates coordinated with Russian interference in the election. When Barr released the 448-page report in April 2019, it carried extensive redactions. Many were marked redacted because they could cause harm to an ongoing matter -- such as Stone's trial, which was slated for later that year.
The release Friday comes after a transparency group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and BuzzFeed News pushed for the re-release of the report in court. The federal judge overseeing the case has called Barr's spin of the findings a "calculated attempt" to help Trump politically.
Despite the testimony of top Trump aides, Barr's approach to the findings has allowed Trump to proclaim "No collusion" and "no obstruction."
The President has come to Stone's defense following his conviction for lying to Congress about his campaign-time efforts, and Stone is publicly pushing for a presidential pardon before he is set to report to prison on June 30 to serve a 40-month sentence.
Despite the extent of Stone and the Trump campaign's pursuit of WikiLeaks, Mueller never answered the question of whether Stone had made contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016 or whether Trump intended to help him cover it up. The unresolved investigative threads, taken together, underscore how Justice Department officials, including Mueller, declined to bring further charges against Trump and Stone.
Trump's answers to Mueller
A key part of the re-released report Friday highlights how Trump didn't disclose to Mueller the extent of his conversations with Stone.
Trump was careful to work with his lawyers on any responses he gave to the special counsel. The President ultimately responded under oath in writing to Mueller's questions, though Mueller conceded in his final report some of the answers were insufficient.
Trump answered that he hadn't remembered discussing WikiLeaks with Stone. But Mueller found that Trump had had conversations with Stone and others about WikiLeaks, the newly unsealed report says.
"(Michael) Cohen recalled a conversation in which Roger Stone told Trump that WikiLeaks planned to release information soon, and (Paul) Manafort recalled that Trump had asked him to stay in touch with Stone about WikiLeaks," the report says. Manafort served as Trump's deputy campaign chairman and fell through as a witness for Mueller because he lied during his cooperation.
Cohen, Trump's former personal attorney, had told Mueller about overhearing Stone say over speakerphone in Trump's office at Trump Tower he had spoken to Assange about an upcoming leak. Later, Cohen recounted that Trump said to him, "I guess Roger was right," the Mueller report says.
"It is possible that, by the time the President submitted his written answers two years after the relevant events had occurred, he no longer had clear recollections of his discussions with Stone or his knowledge of Stone's asserted communications with WikiLeaks. But the President's conduct could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the President's denials and would link the President to Stone's efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks," Mueller wrote, analyzing whether Trump had obstructed justice related to Stone.
Phone call during the ride to LaGuardia
Many of the details about Stone had been kept under wraps until his trial last year for lying to Congress, witness tampering and obstruction, for which a jury found him guilty on all seven counts. Prosecutors said Stone had lied to the Republican-led House of Representatives in 2017 about a backchannel he attempted to establish with WikiLeaks to protect Trump.
The report released Friday described conversations between then-deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates and Stone about a "big" leak coming to help Trump even before Assange announced WikiLeaks' rollouts in the summer of 2016. Manafort had also spoken with Stone about his belief WikiLeaks would release emails, the special counsel wrote.
"According to Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks," the Mueller report says. "Gates also stated that Stone called candidate Trump multiple times during the campaign. Gates recalled one lengthy telephone conversation between Stone and candidate Trump that took place while Trump and Gates were driving to LaGuardia Airport. Although Gates could not hear what Stone was saying on the telephone, shortly after the call candidate Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming."
The call was a major point during Stone's criminal trial last year.
"After Mr. Trump got off the phone with Mr. Stone, what did Mr. Trump say?" prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky asked Gates at the trial.
"He indicated more information would be coming," Gates replied.
"It was, in a way, a gift that we had not sought, but was coming out," Gates added about the WikiLeaks releases during the latter half of the campaign.
Gates and former Trump top adviser Steve Bannon emphasized in their testimony at Stone's trial the campaign's enthusiasm about Russian hacks and leaks of documents to WikiLeaks dating back to April 2016. News of the hacks first broke in June 2016, and WikiLeaks started dumping the stolen documents in July 2016, on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
Trump and Stone may have discussed how Trump would answer Mueller
Another portion that was previously redacted suggests Stone may have been aware of Trump's written answers and stuck with the denial, even after Stone was indicted on charges of obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements in January 2019.
The night of Stone's initial court appearance on January 25, 2019, Stone appeared on Fox News and "indicated he had knowledge of the President's answers to the Office's written questions," the report states.
"That evening, Stone appeared on Fox News and indicated he had knowledge of the President's answers to this Office's written questions. When asked if he had spoken to the President about the allegation that he had lied to Congress, Stone said, 'I have not' and added, 'When the President answered the written interrogatories, he correctly and honestly said, "Roger Stone and I never discussed this and we never did.''"
Declination memo released
The Justice Department also released a memo on Friday between top department officials documenting that they declined to charge Trump with obstruction of justice because they believed there wasn't enough evidence.
The then-principal associate deputy attorney general Ed O'Callaghan and Office of Legal Counsel head Steven Engel wrote to Barr on March 24 recommending the evidence Mueller found wasn't enough to charge Trump with obstruction. The version of the memo released Friday is three paragraphs, spanning only two pages. It appears the Department of Justice entirely withheld at least eight pages of the memo.
"We conclude that the evidence described in Volume II of the (Mueller) Report is not, in our judgment, sufficient to support a conclusion beyond a reasonable doubt that the President violated the obstruction-of-justice statutes," Engel and O'Callaghan wrote. Barr signed his approval of their recommendation that same day -- two days after Mueller ended his investigation.
Mueller famously took issue with the department leadership's abrupt characterization, which Barr repeated in describing the findings to Congress that weekend.
Mueller told Barr after the attorney general announced the declination that the attorney general hadn't fully captured his conclusions.
"If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller later said publicly.
Mueller had documented extensive evidence in his final report in March 2019 that Trump tried to obstruct the Russia investigation in multiple ways, and declined to make a charging decision. A Justice Department policy said that a sitting President could not be indicted.