Musing about law, books, and politics

Summary of the Facts from the Mueller Report, Vol. II

June 16, 2015:  Trump announced himself as the Republican candidate for President

The press reported that Russian political analysts and commentators perceived Trump as favorable to Russia.

Feb-March 2016

By early 2016, Trump distinguished himself among Republican candidates by speaking of closer ties with Russia, saying he would get along well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and questioning whether the NATO alliance was obsolete, and praising Putin as a “strong leader.”

Beginning in February 2016 and continuing through the summer, the media reported that several Trump campaign advisors appeared to have ties to Russia.

Summer 2016

On June 14, 2016 , a cybersecurity firm announced that Russian  government hackers had infiltrated the DNC’s computer and obtained access to documents.

In a shift, Republican platform doesn’t call for arming National Convention about the Trump Campaign’s involvement in changing the portion of the Republican platform about “weapons in Ukraine” to make the platform friendlier to Russia.

On July 22, 2016, the day before the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks posted thousands of hacked DNC documents revealing sensitive internal deliberations.

Within the Trump campaign, aides reacted with enthusiasm to reports of the hacks. (Some witnesses said Trump himself discussed the possibility of upcoming releases.)

In the days that followed WikiLeaks’s July 22, 2016 release of hacked DNC emails, Trump Campaign publicly rejected suggestions that Russia was trying to help candidate Trump.

Trump tweeted that it was “[c]razy” to suggest that Russia was “dealing with Trump”and that “[f]or the record,” he had “ZERO investments in Russia.”

In a press conference on July 27, 2016, Trump characterized “this whole thing with Russia” as “a total deflection” and stated that it was “farfetched” and ” ridiculous.” Trump said  that the assertion that Russia  had  hacked  the emails was  unproven,  but stated  that it would give him “no pause” if Russia had Clinton’s emails.Trump added, “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.”

In response to a question about whether he would recognize Crimea as Russian territory and consider lifting sanctions, Trump replied, “We’ ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking.”

During the press conference, Trump repeated “I have nothing to do with Russia” five times. He stated that “the closest [he] came to Russia” was that Russians may have purchased a home or condos from him.

Meanwhile, Trump was pursuing Trump Tower Moscow deal (very lucrative for him) with Russia.

The Trump Campaign reacted to reports of Russian election interference in aid of the Campaign by seeking to distance itself from Russian contacts. 

In August 2016, foreign  policy advisor J.D. Gordon declined an  invitation to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s residence because the timing was “not  optimal” in view of media reports about Russian interference.

August 19, 2016: Manafort was asked to resign amid media coverage scrutinizing his ties to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and links to Russian business. 

When the media published stories about Page’s connections to Russia in September 2016, Trump Campaign officials terminated Page’s association with the Campaign and told the press that he had played “no role” in the campaign.

October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released the first set of emails stolen by a Russian intelligence agency. U.S. government statements directly linked the Russian hacking to Russia’s senior most officials.

November 8, 2016 Trump was elected President. Shortly afterward, he appointed Flynn as National Security Advisor.

December 10, 2016, the press reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had “concluded that Russia interfered in last month’s presidential election to boost Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.”

Reacting to the story the next day, President-Elect Trump stated, “I think it’s ridiculous. I think it’s just another excuse.”

On December 18, 2016, Podesta told the press that the election was “distorted by the Russian intervention” and questioned whether Trump Campaign officials had been “in touch with the Russians.”

On December 18, 2016 Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared on Fox News and said, “Even this question is insane. Of course we didn’t interface with the Russians,” and: “this whole thing is a spin job” and said, “the real question is, why the Democrats … are doing everything they can to delegitimize the outcome of the election?”

On December 29, 2016, the Obama Administration announced sanctions against Russia in response to Russian cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election. 

Trump viewed the sanctions as an “attempt by the Obama administration to embarrass him by delegitimizing his election.”

On December 29, 2016, Flynn—in communication with Kate McFarland—called Kislyak and asked that Russia not respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner. She briefed senior Trump officials (and Trump, but he didn’t say much.) Flynn had two phone calls with Kislyak.

January 6, 2017: Comey briefed Trump on the Steele dossier. When Trump became defensive, Comey told him that the FBI was not investigating him personally.

January 10, 2017: Buzzfeed published the Steele dossier.

Trump called the Steele dossier “an absolute  disgrace” and said, “I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we’ve stayed away. . . . So I have no deals, I have no loans and I have no dealings.  We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just don’t want to because I think that would be a  conflict.”

January 12, 2017: The Post reported that Flynn tried to “undercut the sanctions.” Trump was angry, and told Priebus to that Flynn needed to “kill the story.” So Flynn directed McFarland to call the Washington Post and provide false information. McFarland did so, even though she knew she was giving false information.

The Trump Administration made public statements denying that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions.

These statements alarmed senior DOJ officials, who knew statements were not true. They initially suspected that Flynn was lying to Trump and the administration, who repeated the lies without knowing they were lies.

January 20, 2017: Trump was inaugurated. 

January 24, 2017: The FBI, which previously investigated Flynn for other matters, interviewed him about the calls in the first week after the inauguration. Flynn told similar lies to the FBI. 

On January 26, 2017: Sally Yates, acting AG and Mary McCord (DOJ official) were concerned that his lies compromised Flynn, because the Russians knew he was lying. So they informed Don McGahn (White House Counsel) that Flynn and the Russian Ambassador had discussed sanctions and that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI.

McGahn briefed Trump, and informed him about the crimes Flynn may have committed. 

On January 27, 2017 the President had a private dinner with FBI Director James Comey. Trump’s advisors told Trump not to mention Russia and not to give the appearance that he was interfering in DOJ inquiries. Trump insisted on meeting with Comey alone. This alarmed Comey. Trump asked for Comey’s “loyalty.”

February 9, 2017: WaPo reported that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak in Dec. 

On February 13, 2017, the President asked Flynn to resign. He hugged Flynn, shook his hand, and said, “We’ll give you a good recommendation. You’re a good gu·y.  We’ll take care of you.”

On February 14, 2017, Trump had lunch with Chris Christie. Trump indicated that thought firing Flynn meant the Russia thing would be over. Christie told him no, there were ways to make the investigation longer, but not shorter. Trump asked Christie to call Comey and and tell him that the president “really likes him. Tell him he’s part of the team.” Christie thought the request nonsensical and had no intention of complying. 

Later in the afternoon of February 14, 2017, the President had a one-on-one conversation with Corney in which he said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Comey understood this as a “direction” because of the president’s position, and the circumstances of their one-on-one meeting. He drafted a memo commemorating what had happened. After that, he steps to make sure he wasn’t alone again with the president.

February 22, 2017: Trump asked Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email confirming that the president had not directed Flynn to call Kislyak about sanctions. She was also informed by White House staff that they wanted her to resign, but they were considering offering her an ambassadorship.

She refused to draft the internal email confirming that Trump had not directed Flynn to call Kislyak because she didn’t know if it was true. She also worried that the ambassadorship would appear to be part of a quid pro quo.

Late February, 2017: DOJ began an internal analysis of whether Sessions should recuse from the Russia investigation based on his role in the 2016 campaign. 

March 2, 2017: Trump called McGahn and urged him to contact Sessions to tell him not to recuse himself from the investigation. Sessions said he intended to follow the rules. Later that day, Sessions recused because the rules clearly required it given his involvement in the campaign.

March 3, 2017. In a meeting with Bannon, Priebus, and Trump, Bannon recalled that Trump was as “mad had Bannon ever seen him, and that he screamed at McGahn about how weak Sessions was.” Trump said “I don’t have a lawyer,” and said he wished he had Roy Cohn, who would fight for him while Sessions would not. Trump said that Robert Kennedy and Eric Holder had “protected their presidents.” Trump believed that JFK and Obama told their AG’s who to investigate. 

A few days later, Trump said similar things to McGahn and said he wanted Sessions to “unrecuse.”

March 9, 2017, Comey briefed “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders about the FBI counterintelligence investigation into the Russian hacking. 

This enraged Trump, who directed his anger at Sessions for recusing, saying, “I appointed you and you recused yourself. You left me on an  island.  I can’t do anything.” Sessions repeated that he had no choice, his recusal was mandatory under the rules.

On March 12, McGahn’s chief of staff, Annie Donaldson, in her notes wrote: “POTUS in panic/chaos. . .”

March 20, 2017: President said Comey was acting like “his own branch of government.” Trump was “beside himself.” He felt that Comey had given the impression that Trump personally was under investigation, and he wanted Comey to correct that impression.

March 26, 2017: Trump told NSA director Admiral Michael Rogers that “the thing with the Russians [was] messing up” his ability to get things done with Russia.”

[I took this to mean that Trump wanted to bring the US into an alliance with Russia, but he couldn’t because of the investigation.]

March 31, 2017, the press reported that Flynn offered to testify before the FBI and congressional investigators.

Late March or early April, Trump asked McFarland to pass a message to Flynn telling him that Trump “felt bad for him and that he should stay strong.”

April, 2017: Trump pressured Comey to say in public that Trump was not being personally investigated, even though McGahn had previously warned him against appearing to interfere with the investigation.

May 3, 2017: Comey was scheduled to testify before Congress. At the hearing, Comey declined to answer questions about the scope or subjects of the Russia investigation and did not state publicly that the President was not under investigation. 

May 5, 2017, This enraged Trump, who told close aides he was going to fire Comey,.

May 9, 2017: McGahn told Sessions and Rosenstein that Trump decided to fire Comey and asked for their views. Sessions and Rosenstein criticized Comey and did not raise concerns about replacing him. McGahn and Dhillon criticized the way Comey handled the Clinton email thing. The group suggested that Rosenstein and Sessions provide a written letter. Rosenstein didn’t want to include the Russia investigation as a reason, but Trump suggested it should go in anyway. Rosenstein told colleagues that his own reasons for thinking Comey should be replaced were not the same as Trump’s.

Trump wanted the letter to say that Comey had informed him three times that he was not under investigation.

That evening, Trump was unhappy with the press coverage and ordered his communication team to “go out and defend him.”

After the letter was drafted, the White House wanted to put out the story that it was Rosenstein’s idea to fire Comey, but Rosenstein refused to participate in a “false story.” 

Spicer told reporters that it was “all” Rosenstein’s idea, that the idea hadn’t come from anyone in the White House.

May 10, 2017: Morning: Trump called McCabe and told him he had received “hundreds” of messages from FBI employees indicating their support for terminating Comey.

Afternoon: Sarah Sanders, in a press conference, told reporters that the president, the DOJ, rank-and-file members of the FBI, and bipartisan members of Congress lost confidence in Comey. She said Rosenstein “on his own” came to Trump to express concerns about Comey.

Later Sanders told the Special Counsel that her reference to “countless” members of the FBI was a “slip of the tongue” and was not founded on anything.

Later, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. Later news outlets reported that he’d fired the head of the FBI. “He was crazy, a real nut job.  I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That’s taken off.  I’m not under investigation.”

Sessions and Rosenstein spoke to McGahn about the fact that the White House was “creating a narrative.” McGahn agreed that the story being given out by the White House was factually incorrect.

May 11, 2017: Trump told interviewer Lester Holt that he made the decision to fire Comey because of “the Russia thing.”

May 17, 2017: Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel. According to notes written by Hunt, when Sessions told Trump about Mueller’s appointment, he slumped back  in his chair and said, “Oh my God.  This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.” He also “lambasted” Sessions, and asked how he had let it happen. 

Trump also said, “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.”

Days following Mueller’s appointment Trump railed about how Mueller had conflicts. His advisors and others explained that the conflicts had been looked at by the ethics lawyers and they did not count as true conflicts.

June 14, 2017: WaPos published an article stating that the Special Counsel was investigating whether Trump obstructed justice. Trump took to twitter to blast the investigation. To take one example: “They made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go  for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice.”

June 17, 2017: Trump called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn was “perturbed by the call” and didn’t intend to act on the request. Trapped, McGahn knew he had to resign. He didn’t share the details with other White House staff. Pribus recalled that McGahn said Trump had asked him to “do crazy shit.”

June 19, 2017: In a one-on-one meeting with Lewandowski, Trump ordered him to take down dictation. He directed Session to give a public speech saying:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . . . is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history. 609

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution  of  the United States.  I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.

July 19, 2017: Lewandowski didn’t end up talking to Sessions, because Sessions had to cancel their meeting. Trump told Lewandowski that if Sessions did not meet with  him, he’d be fired. 

Lewandowsky told Dearborn to deliver the message to Sessions. Dearborns felt uncomfortable, did not follow up, and didn’t keep the written notes (Lewandowski kept a copy).

When it was reported in the news that Trump was considering having special counsel fired, Trump dictated a statement to Sarah Sanders, which she delivered, saying “While the preisdent has every right to fire the Special Counsel, he has no intention of doing so.”

July 21, 2017: WaPo reported that Sessions had not told the truth about his Russia connections. Trump railed against “illegal leaks.” He also Tweeted, Why isn’t the AG or Special Counsel looking at the many Hillary Clinton or Comey crimes. . .”

Trump went back to bashing Sessions and said he wanted him fired. Trump told Priebus to demand Sessions’ resignation. Priebus believed Trump wanted to fire Sessions because he’d recused himself. Priebus didn’t intend to carry out Trump’s orders. 

From Summer 2017 through 2018: Trump tried repeatedly to get Sessions to reverse his recusal, take control of the Special Counsel’s investigation, and order an investigation of Hillary Clinton.

This next part relates to the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower Meeting. 

By June 2017, the President became aware of emails setting up the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians who offered derogatory information on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” 

Late June and early July: on multiple occasions Trump directed aides not to publicly disclose the emails, and he dictated an inaccurate statement about the meeting to be issued by Donald Trump Jr. describing the meeting as about adoption.From Summer 2017 through 2018: Trump tried repeatedly to get Sessions to reverse his recusal, take control of the Special Counsel’s investigation, and order an investigation of Hillary Clinton.

October 27, 2017: A grand jury in D.C. indicted Manafort and Gates on multiple felony counts.

November 2017: Flynn began cooperating with the Special Counsel’s office. 

November 22, 2017: Flynn’s counsel withdrew from a joint defense agreement. Trump’s personal lawyer told Flynn’s lawyer that he interpreted this as “a reflection of Flynn’s hostility toward the president.” 

December 1, 2017: Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements pursuant to a cooperation agreement.

January 2018, Manafort told Gates that he had talked to the President’s personal counsel and they were “going to take care of us.”

January 25, 2018: the NYT reported that in June 2017 the President had ordered McGahn to have the Special Counsel fired based on purported conflicts of interest but McGahn  had refused, saying he would quit instead. 

January 26, 2018:  WaPo clarified the story, saying that McGahn intended to quit, but never told Trump he would quit. 

February 5, 2018: Trump directed Porter to tell McGahn to create a record to make it clear he had never directed McGahn to fire the Special Counsel. 

McGahn refused to contradict the media reports because they were true.

Trump called McGahn a “lying bastard.”

February 6, 2018,  in a Oval Office meeting, Trump told McGahn the that story did not “look good,” and McGahn needed to correct it. McGahn said the reporting was accurate. Trump asked McGahn if he would do a correct. Again McGahn said no.

February 22, 2018: A grand jury in VA indicted Manafort and Gates on additional charges.

During Manafort’s prosecution and while the jury was deliberating, the President repeatedly stated that Manafort was being treated unfairly. In press interviews, Giuliani (Trump’s personal lawyer) dangled the possibility of a pardon down the road. 

[I will put the Michael Cohen stuff in a separate chronology because Trump’s “conduct  involving  Michael  Cohen  spans  the  full  period” of the Special Counsel’s investigation.]

During  the  campaign,  Cohen  pursued  the  Trump  Tower  Moscow  project  on  behalf of the Trump Organization. Cohen  briefed  candidate  Trump  on  the  project  numerous  times, including discussing whether Trump should travel to Russia to advance  the deal.  

After  the  media began questioning Trump’s connections to Russia, Cohen promoted the “party line” (he lied) asserting  Trump  had  no  business  there.  Cohen  continued  to  adhere to that “party line” in 2017, when Congress asked him to provide documents and testimony in its Russia investigation.

In an attempt to minimize the President’s connections to Russia, Cohen submitted a letter to Congress falsely stating that he only  briefed  Trump  on  the  Trump  Tower Moscow project three times, that  he did not consider  asking Trump to travel  to  Russia,  that Cohen had not received a response to an outreach he made to the Russian government, and that the  project ended in January 2016, before the first Republican caucus or primary. 

While working on the congressional statement, Cohen had extensive  discussions  with  the  President’ s  personal  counsel, who, according to Cohen, said that Cohen should not contradict the President and should keep the statement short and “tight.” 

After the FBI searched Cohen’ s home and office in April 2018, the President publicly asserted that  Cohen  would  not  “flip”  and  privately  passed  messages  of  support to him.  Cohen  also  discussed  pardons  with  the  President’s  personal  counsel  and  believed  that  if he stayed on message, he would get  a  pardon  or  the President  would  do  “something else” to  make the investigation end.

After Cohen began cooperating with the government in July 2018,  the President publicly criticized him, called him a “rat,”  and  suggested  his  family  members  had committed crimes, etc. 

Tons more details are given in the Mueller Report. I’ve given a brief chronology.