Here’s a breakdown of Trump’s comments.
In a tweet
, Trump said the Mueller probe cost “$40,000,000 over two dark years.”
Facts First: It’s not clear where Trump is getting his numbers. The latest information from the Justice Department goes through September and says Mueller-specific expenses were around $12 million. Mueller’s final price tag will be higher than that, but the data isn’t public yet.
The Justice Department spent another $13 million
investigating Russian meddling, costs that would have been incurred even if Mueller weren’t appointed. That’s a total of $25 million, though the price tag will be higher because that doesn’t cover the last seven months of the probe. It’s unlikely that the final amount for Mueller will reach the $40 million figure claimed by Trump.
Cooperation with the probe
In a tweet
, Trump said Mueller had “unlimited access, people, resources and cooperation.”
Facts First: The White House largely cooperated with the investigation, but it’s wrong to say there was “unlimited” cooperation. Trump repeatedly refused a sit-down interview with Mueller’s team. Some Trump campaign associates “deleted relevant communications” or gave conflicting information. Others lied to investigators and were charged with obstruction offenses.
Trump submitted written testimony about Russian meddling but refused to answer any questions
about obstruction. Mueller made it clear that Trump’s responses were “incomplete” and insufficient. The President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also declined an in-person interview.
At least three Trump associates were charged with lying to investigators, which is an obstructive act, and two others were charged with lying to congressional inquiries about Russian meddling.
Mueller’s conflicts of interest
In a tweet
, Trump said Mueller was “highly conflicted.”
Facts First: Mueller did not have conflicts of interest, and Trump knows it. The Justice Department cleared Mueller of any conflicts when he took the job in 2017. Trump’s top aides told him that these perceived conflicts were “ridiculous” and were not considered true conflicts.
Trump has long claimed that Mueller was conflicted for a few reasons: Because he once sought a refund from a Trump-owned golf course, because he interviewed to be FBI director after Trump fired James Comey in 2017, and because his old law firm represented key figures in the investigation.
When Trump raised these concerns with his top aides, they “pushed back on his assertion of conflicts, telling the President they did not count as true conflicts,” according to the Mueller report.
These White House aides included former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former chief of staff Reince Priebus and former White House counsel Don McGahn, according to the report.
Legal constraints on Mueller
In a tweet
, Trump said, “Robert Mueller would have brought charges, if he had ANYTHING, but there were no charges to bring!”
Facts First: This is the opposite of the truth. Mueller’s hands were tied by longstanding Justice Department guidelines that a sitting President can’t be indicted. In his public comments this week, Mueller specifically said charging Trump was “not an option we could consider.”
Mueller made it clear in his public comments
on Wednesday that the guidelines had a significant influence on the investigation, tying his hands from the very start from even considering whether a crime had been committed. Trump is therefore creating a false narrative by asserting that Mueller “would have brought charges” if there was evidence Trump broke the law.
In fact, Mueller’s report presented substantial evidence
that Trump obstructed justice on a few fronts. But Mueller didn’t offer a conclusion on whether Trump should be prosecuted, because he was bound by Justice Department guidelines that stopped him from even considering it.
Fairness of the investigation
In a tweet
, Trump called the Mueller probe a “witch hunt,” a label he has used for two years to suggest that the investigation was unfairly targeting him and would bring him down at any cost.
Facts First: If the investigation really were a “witch hunt,” things might have been very different. But Mueller said that the facts didn’t lead him to a collusion conspiracy, and he repeatedly declined to use hardball tactics against Trump, like issuing a subpoena for his testimony.
First, Mueller went to great lengths to be fair to Trump and said there was not a collusion conspiracy. He didn’t play hardball and subpoena Trump’s testimony, and he followed the rules that restrained him from charging Trump. If this was a “witch hunt,” it wasn’t a very good one.
In his comments, Mueller stressed how it would be unfair to Trump to accuse him of a crime without Trump having a legal venue to clear his name, because he couldn’t go on trial while in office. Mueller even said it’s “prohibited” to seek a sealed indictment of Trump for later on.
Many of Trump’s top appointees and associates, like FBI Director Chris Wray and former White House lawyer Ty Cobb, have broken with the President and publicly rejected the “witch hunt” label. Even Barr rejected the term during his Senate confirmation hearing
earlier this year, specifically saying that Mueller wouldn’t be involved in a witch hunt.
Concerns about Russian meddling
In a tweet
, Trump said “Russia has disappeared” from the public debate because the Mueller investigation did not establish a conspiracy of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Facts First: The topic of Russian interference is still at the forefront of national politics.
Mueller zeroed in on Russian meddling during his public comments, solemnly saying, “I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Top US intelligence officials have warned about Russia’s continued efforts to undermine American politics. Democratic presidential candidates are bringing it up on the campaign trail, and lawmakers are asking about it at Congressional hearings with administration officials.
Trump’s handpicked chiefs to lead the US intelligence community have continued to raise the alarm
about persistent Russian meddling. And many of the Democratic candidates for president, including frontrunner Joe Biden, feature their positions on how to counter Russia on their websites.
Trump’s role in Russian meddling
In a tweet
, Trump said, “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”
Facts First: The Mueller investigation did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump and the Russians. But Trump’s tweet ignores his role in promoting the fruits of Russian hacks during the 2016 campaign, which he embraced and amplified at his rallies and on social media.
To be completely clear: Mueller never accused Trump, or any Trump aides, or any Americans for that matter, of criminally conspiring with the Russian government to influence the election.
But that doesn’t mean Trump played no role whatsoever, even if it wasn’t criminal. Instead of denouncing Russia for intervening in US politics, Trump embraced their actions
and used his platform, and his campaign apparatus, to amplify Russian meddling. He regularly cited the emails that Russian hackers stole from Democrats and gave to WikiLeaks for publication.
In his tweet, Trump seemed to accidentally acknowledge for the first time, that Russia tried to help him defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. (This is the assessment of Obama-era intelligence officials and Trump’s handpicked appointees.) But later Thursday morning, Trump walked back this part of his tweet, saying “Russia did not help me get elected.”
Mueller’s findings on obstruction
In a tweet
, Trump said, “Mueller didn’t find Obstruction either.”
Facts First: This is patently false. Mueller did uncover substantial evidence of obstruction by Trump and the report detailed how Trump’s actions crossed the legal threshold on several key episodes. But Mueller said he was prohibited from recommending criminal charges and struggled with “difficult issues” of investigating a sitting President. Instead, he alluded to Congress’ role in holding a president accountable.
The report details a few incidents with “substantial evidence”
that Trump obstructed justice, including his efforts to fire the special counsel and have McGahn lie about it to the press, as well as Trump’s efforts to influence the cooperation of several key witnesses in the investigation.
“Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations,” the report said.
Regarding the obstruction inquiry, Mueller said Wednesday
, “if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Mueller submitted his report to Attorney General William Barr, who announced in March his conclusion that Trump didn’t break the law. Trump’s tweet would have been accurate if he cited Barr instead of Mueller.
This story is being updated