If you have read the five previous articles in this series, you have my deepest respect and admiration – now you will get your reward. You’ve worked your way through an abbreviated version of the Mueller Report; I estimate the review I’ve offered is no more than 15% as long as the actual Report. That said, it’s absolutely not the same thing as reading the original. I still encourage you to do so. (And do feel free then to correct me where you discover I have been wrong.)
We have worked our way through the most astonishing Russian interference in our election and then examined 11 “considerations” of possible obstruction of justice by the President of the United States. Now we learn what’s in the appendices at the end of the Report, including the written answers the President submitted to Robert Mueller. When we’ve taken a careful look at all of that, I will close by offering my own observations to anyone who wishes to continue reading. So let’s get started!
The Mueller Report closes with three appendices:
The letter establishing the office of the Special Counsel (ho hum)
A glossary of all referenced persons (about 200, including Lester Holt), entities and organizations mentioned (about 42), acronyms used (24, including “FBI” and “NATO.”)
The President’s written answers to questions!
We’ll move directly to “C. President’s written answers.”
Here is Mueller’s introduction:
“Beginning in December 2017, this Office sought for more than a year to interview the President on topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction-of-justice. We advised counsel that the President was a ‘subject’ of the investigation under the definition of the Justice Manual – ‘a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.’ We also advised counsel that ‘an interview with the President is vital to our investigation’ and that this Office had ‘carefully considered the constitutional and other arguments raised by . . . counsel, and they d[id] not provide us with reason to forgo seeking an interview.’
“We additionally stated that ‘it is in the interest of the Presidency and the public for an interview to take place’ and offered ‘numerous accommodations to aid the President’s preparation and avoid surprise.’ After extensive discussions with the Department of Justice about the Special Counsel’s objective of securing the President’s testimony, these accommodations included the submissions of written questions to the President on certain Russia-related topics.
“We received the President’s written responses in late November 2018. In December 2018, we informed counsel of the insufficiency of those responses in several respects. We noted, among other things, that the President stated on more than 30 occasions that he ‘does not recall’ or ‘remember’ or have an ‘independent recollection’ of information called for by the questions. Other answers were ‘incomplete or imprecise.’ The written responses, we informed counsel, ’demonstrate the inadequacy of the written format, as we have had no opportunity to ask follow-up questions that would ensure complete answers and potentially refresh your client’s recollection or clarify the extent or nature of his lack of recollection.’ We again requested an in-person interview, limited to certain topics, advising the President’s counsel that ‘[t]his is the President’s opportunity to voluntarily provide us with information for us to evaluate in the context of all of the evidence we have gathered.’ The President declined.
“Recognizing that the President would not be interviewed voluntarily, we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony. We viewed the written answers to be inadequate. But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report. We thus weighed the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits for our investigation and report… We determined that the substantial quantity of information we had obtained from other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility, which are often inferred from circumstantial evidence and assessed without direct testimony from the subject of the investigation.”
So, my reader, we are about to launch into that Q & A piece. Now, if you expect – as I did – brief, concise questions with brief, concise answers, do think again. Question #1 is 859 words, 9 subsections, and 15 further subbed sections! That’s just the question. Let’s see if I can make it a bit more manageable.
1. When did you learn about the Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016, and how did you learn of it? Some of those specific queries:
a. “Did anyone show you these communications?”
b. “Did you suggest or request anyone not to discuss…?”
c. “Describe who you discussed this with…”
d. “Describe who you learned this information from…”
e. “Describe each conversation in which you were told about…”
f. “Why did you make that statement?”
g. “What did you plan to share with respect to the Clintons?”
h. “Did anyone help you draft the speech…?”
i. “Why did you ultimately not give the speech?”
j. “For the period of June 6, 2016 to June 9, 2016, what portion of each day were you in Trump Tower?” and so on
The President’s answer, in part: “I have no recollection of learning at the time… Nor do I recall learning during the campaign… have no independent recollection of what portion of these four days in June of 2016 I spent in Trump Tower… I am now aware that my Campaign's calendar indicates that I was in New York City from June 6 - 9, 2016… they do indicate that I was in Trump Tower during a portion of each of these working days… desk calendar also reflects that I was outside Trump Tower during portions of these days… I gave remarks after winning the California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota Republican primaries held that day… Widely available media reports, including television footage, also shed light on my activities. For example, I am aware that my June 7, 2016 victory remarks at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, New York, were recorded and published by the media. I remember winning those primaries and generally recall delivering remarks that evening… I have no independent recollection of any communications I had… I do not recall being aware during the campaign of communications between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Jared Kushner and any member of the Agalarov family… I have no recollection of being told during the campaign that any foreign government or foreign leader had provided, wished to provide, or offered to provide tangible support to my campaign.”
2. Russian hacking/ Russian efforts using social media / WikiLeaks [My note: This question is of great interest to me, especially since reading Volume One. So I’m going to parse it out for you: I’ll break it down into sub-parts and follow each with the President’s answer to that sub-part. I might add a few little personal comments here and there, just to keep you awake.]
a. QUESTION: Were you given advance information about the hacking of email systems of the Clinton campaign, DNC or DCCC? If so, by who, when, and what was the substance of the conversation? ANSWER: I don’t remember the date of the hacking, but I learned about it through media. I don’t recall being provided advance information.
b. QUESTION: WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails from Democratic leaders. Were you aware they had these emails? If so, with whom did you discuss it and when? After the release, were you aware there might be more? ANSWER: There was a lot of media reporting, and I might have had conversations with my staff about it. But now, 2 years ago, I recall no particulars.
c. QUESTION: Are you aware of any communication between certain of your campaign people (named) and WikiLeaks, DCleaks, Guccifer, etc.? If so, who told you, when, what? ANSWER: I don’t recall anything.
d. QUESTION: Why did you say publicly “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 30,000 emails…” Why Russia, specifically? Did you know about the hack? ANSWER: “I made the statement… in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer… Look at the transcript of the press conference if you want to know. [“I do not recall” [twice] and “I have no recollection.”]
e. QUESTION: When Podesta’s hacked emails were released, where were you? Did you know they had them? Are you aware of Roger Stone or anyone else in the campaign being in touch with Wikileaks about that time? ANSWER: I was in Trump Tower on Oct. 7, 2016. [But above, he couldn’t be sure whether he was in Trump Tower during the June 9 2019 meeting with the Russians. This is so frustrating. “I have no recollection” twice]
f. QUESTION: Were you told Roger Stone or anyone else associated with your campaign had contact with Wikileaks, Guccifer or DCleaks? ANSWER: “I do not recall being told…”
g. QUESTION: From June 1, 2016 to end of campaign, how often did you communicate with Roger Stone, and what was the nature of your conversations? How did he say he was working to help you? What requests did you make of him? Did he ever tell you or anyone else on the campaign how he was working with WikiLeaks? Did he tell you about contacts there or about forthcoming releases of information? ANSWER: “I spoke with Roger by phone throughout the campaign… I have no recollection of specifics… I do not recall discussing…”
h. QUESTION: Prior to January 20, 2017, did you have any conversations about pardoning Julian Assange? If yes, details, please.ANSWER: “I do not recall…”
i. QUESTION: During your campaign, were you aware of any efforts by Russians or other foreign individuals or companies helping you via social media or organizing rallies? ANSWER: “I do not recall…”
3. Trump Tower Moscow Project: Mueller first provides a letter of intent and Michael Cohen’s statement to Congress, and then asks about any business dealing with any Russians, knowledge of Cohen’s interaction with Felix Sater, etc. This is a 7-part question. ANSWER: “I signed the non-binding letter of intent attached to your questions… which required no equity or expenditure… I had few conversations with Mr. Cohen on this subject. As I recall, they were brief, and they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal, and I do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it… I do not recall being aware… I understand these documents have already been provided to you…”
4. Contacts with Russian and Russia-related issues during campaign [paraphrased briefly]
a. QUESTION: What did you know about Manafort’s ties to the Ukrainian government? ANSWER: I hired him because he had worked on the campaigns of Ford, Reagan, Bush and Dole. I knew he was an international consultant, but ‘I do not remember the specifics of what I knew at the time.’”
b. QUESTION: Did you know Manafort was briefing Oleg Deripaska on the progress of your campaign? ANSWER: “I had no knowledge of…”
c. QUESTION: Were you aware people in your campaign were sending internal campaign information to Ukraine or Russia and their governments? ANSWER: I do not “remember being aware of…”
d. QUESTION: Did Manafort tell you what positions Russia and Ukraine would like you to take? ANSWER: “I do not remember Mr. Manafort communicating to me any particular positions…”
e. QUESTION: Did you know Russian officials were trying to meet w/you during the campaign? [See response with answer to next question - answers were combined - gets a bit confusing}
f. QUESTION: What was your role, if any, in changing the Republican party platform re: Ukraine? ANSWER: “I do not recall being told during the campaign of efforts by Russian officials to meet with me or with senior members of my campaign. In the process of preparing to respond to these questions, I became aware… inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg Economic Forum…”
g. QUESTION: Were you actually committed to lifting sanctions on Russia re: Crimea, as you said you were? ANSWER: “I have no recollection of the details of what, when, or from what source I first learned about the change to the platform amendment regarding arming Ukraine, but I generally recall learning of the issue as part of media reporting. I do not recall being involved in changing the language to the amendment.”
5. Contacts with Russia and Russia-related issues during the transition
a. QUESTION: Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016 and, if so, by whom, when, and what reason was given? Did you attend any part of it? If so, did you interact with any Russians? ANSWER: I do not remember having been asked to attend… and I did not attend. During the course of preparing to respond to these questions, I have become aware of documents indicating that in March of 2016, the president of the World Chess Federation invited the Trump Organization to host, at Trump Tower… I have also become aware that… there were press inquiries… I understand these documents have already been provided to you.”
So end the Questions and Answers, and I am disappointingly not wiser or better informed for having gone through them. But now at least you have a pretty good sense of what the President was asked and how he responded. Finally, Mueller concludes by quickly listing the status of various cases, as follows:
Special Counsel’s Office Transferred, Referred, and Completed Cases
a. Not concluded and so transferredto DOJ and FBI: awaiting trial, awaiting sentencing, post-indictment, post-conviction, pre-arrest, investigation ongoing, etc.: 11 cases [2 redacted – the others include Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Konstatin Kilimnik, Richard Gates…]
b. Outside scope of investigation, therefore referred: Michael Cohen and 13 others, [almost all redacted]
c. Three completed prosecutions, including Papadopoulos
And with that, I’m afraid our project does not end with a bang but rather fizzles out. I have tried through these articles to give you an authentic look at the Mueller Report, as objectively and thoroughly as possible (except for those moments when I just had to make a comment!). I don’t know about you but, speaking only for myself, I feel like the Report came off rather like this:
I. Volume One: a gripping, shocking whodunnit!
II. Volume Two: an intellectual climb straight up the face of a cliff
III. Appendices: a terrible disappointment after all of that
But our goal was to come as close to the truth as possible; that, I believe, we have achieved. As we close, I’ll offer you one quirky tidbit - inexplicable and, to me, fascinating: The online version of the Mueller report I used made copying/pasting text very awkward and frustrating. I persevered because I saw no alternative. That said, in all the text I copied from the report and pasted into my notes, one word would never, ever appear in my notes: “Flynn.” I could not copy/paste that word, no matter how many times it appeared in the original report. (I’d like to think there’s a weird, intriguing explanation, but I think the system I was forced to use had trouble with the “fl” combination. Still, one can speculate… magical powers?)
Now I’m going to offer my own observations and interpretations. If you don’t want to know what I, personally, think, please stop reading here and know you’ve done the job! If you are now motivated to read the Mueller Report yourself, please do so and let me know when you’ve finished.
My Personal Response – CAUTION: This is not objective material.
My history with Donald Trump
(After all, it’s only fair to tell you where I started with the subject of this investigation long before there was a Special Counsel.) Throughout my adult life I had a vague realization that a rich and famous guy named Donald Trump existed – way beyond my realm! He was a few years older than me and a lot richer. I saw him on TV from time to time but never quite understood what his gig was. I noted he ran for president a few times; it seemed like a fun pastime for him, just something to do for a lark. I never thought of him as having any particular concern for our country or any particular expertise by which to improve it. He seemed to think he was smart, and I really didn’t care – I never took him seriously.
When The Apprentice launched, Donald Trump finally became real to me. Now I understood who he was: a rich businessman who would hire apprentices with great promise and give them a chance to learn from him. I found the TV series compelling. I thoroughly enjoyed watching ordinary young people work hard to demonstrate their skills and potential and then, each week, one of them realize a big payoff. Donald Trump himself didn’t seem to be a central figure in the show but rather “icing on the cake.” I liked Ivanka – she seemed smart and savvy. I thought Donald Jr. seemed a bit dopey. I watched the show religiously and enjoyed it.
Then The Apprentice became Celebrity Apprentice, and I lost all interest and never watched it again.
When I heard that Donald Trump was going to run for president in 2016, I assumed his run would be just like the previous ones: a short-lived publicity stunt by a wealthy guy with time on his hands – someone who gets a kick out of “mixing it up.” I never thought for a minute he was serious (and I still don’t think he was). I read in the Mueller Report that Trump is on record as stating that he ran for president because he thought it would be “good for business.”
As the Republican field grew in 2015, I took a keen interest in a few of the candidates. I thought John Kasich had integrity; he seemed like a guy who could unify the country. I had always liked Jeb Bush since he was my governor in my few years as a Floridian. I thought Marco Rubio had potential, and I was curious about some of the others. But Donald Trump? A clown. A stuntman. A flash in the pan. I almost laughed whenever he showed up on stage. Actually, I felt a little embarrassed on his behalf.
Then I began to notice how he related to the other candidates: his arrogance, his bullying demeanor, his snotty speech… I was appalled! That’s all he’s got?! When he replaced policy presentation with name-calling, I felt sure his candidacy would soon go up in smoke: Surely he couldn’t possibly be a serious contender. When he won the Republican nomination, I was convinced Donald Trump was just as surprised as I was. I thought he now saw an opportunity to get a little more mileage out of this publicity stunt before sound defeat. After all, what did he bring to the table?
Like most Americans, I believed on election night that Hillary Clinton would win and Donald Trump would go back to – well, whatever it was that he actually did. I fully believe Donald Trump expected to lose, and I am still convinced he expected that too. I say, from the bottom of my heart: This man never intended to be the President of the United States. He likes to win, sure, but he never, ever - for a minute - actually wanted the job.
And then, in the blink of an eye, the train wreck happened: We got ourselves a duly elected president (well, sort of, if you think only about the electoral college and forget about us ordinary voters) – a president without one iota of preparation for the job, without a lick of intellectual curiosity, without a work ethic if his life depended on it. He was a giant puff of nothing, just like his hair. My fellow Americans had, for reasons I cannot fathom, elected an empty-headed, self-centered bully whose only true allegiance was to himself. I cannot imagine what he thought when he actually realized the whole stunt came with an important and demanding job attached to it.
But, was I wrong?
Now, I’ve been really transparent about what I thought of Donald Trump the candidate. Once I recovered from the shock of his election, I decided I might have been wrong. If that many people had faith in him, perhaps he really would be a good president. Maybe his “business background” actually did qualify him for the work. What did I know? I gave him the benefit of the doubt – until I just couldn’t anymore. When I saw that he intended to spend his time monitoring his TV ratings and tweeting hatred and thinking up clever names to call anyone who disagreed with him, I decided my original assessment had been right.
At times I’ve felt a little sorry for him. Have you ever been in over your head? I have. It has also occurred to me that he might have a serious learning disability that prevents him from reading with any level of comfort and causes those crazy tweetsies like “covfefe” and “hamberder” and his strange discomfort with a teleprompter.
Now, having carefully read and reread the Mueller Report, I am afraid my assessment of Donald Trump has crystalized. I have lost all respect for a man who wastes my taxes watching Fox News, seeking counsel from Sean Hannity, badgering staff to protect him, sending out school-boy tweets, making completely irresponsible comments about leaders, both foreign and American, and leading rally after rally to boost his fragile ego and inflame his base. I have little regard for a man who continually criticized the former president for playing golf and now plays golf far more than he works. But most of all, I have no respect for a liar, and Donald Trump has demonstrated he has absolutely no regard for the truth. He says what is convenient and self-serving, and the truth be damned. If you don’t believe me, read the Mueller Report.
Finally, my personal take on the Mueller Report
I’ll just make a few brief observations here and then leave it to you and our fellow-Americans. I ask only that, as you read my observations and interpretations, you keep in mind that I did actually read the entire Report – most of it twice – with as open a mind as anyone can muster in today’s milieu. That said, I have no specific training to guide me in such a task; I just love to read and learn. And I certainly have my biases. So, here’s my take-away:
· Russian interference
o We Americans have no clue about the depth and extent of Russian meddling in our political affairs. We (including myself) have no idea what they’re after – what their end-game is. What we can know for sure, having read the Report, is that they are tenacious, crafty, and certainly not driven by conscience or compunction. (Caveat: Such a sweeping statement is hard to write. I’ve met Russians living here in the U.S.; I think Russian is the most beautiful language I’ve ever heard. It pains me to speak of “the Russians” without understanding exactly who in Russia is behind this master-plan. I certainly don’t intend to denigrate “Russians” as a nation.)
o I have no doubt that Russian interference continues. What we need to understand is that these Russians – whoever they are – focus on altering our perspective of our own country. They incrementally shape our thinking because they are camouflaged. (That sounds nuts, I know.)
· Trump Campaign
o Just as Donald Trump was in no way prepared to transition into the presidency – or even campaign for the job – his campaign staff, including his family, were exuberant rookies. They had no idea what they were getting in to. They were handed an exhilarating ticket to the carnival ride of a lifetime, and they determined to enjoy every swoop and swirl. They were giddy, not gifted.
o Some Trump campaign workers, like Paul Manafort, had had enough experience in international business dealings that they knew a golden goose when they saw one and were determined to get some of those eggs – period.
o Other campaign hangers-on, like Carter Page and Erik Prince, were opportunists, truly “useful idiots.”
o My impression of the campaign’s direction is that it simply bumbled along, changing leaders and support staff, altering course when a new pathway emerged, grabbing for whatever golden ring came briefly into view. I never got a sense of organization or strategic planning (but then the Mueller Report was not designed to show that).
o It is my impression that Donald Trump was not particularly engaged in the campaign. He loved giving nasty speeches and getting people to chant “Lock her up,” but I sincerely believe the inner workings of the campaign were beyond his reach. I don’t believe he knew what the hell was going on in campaign headquarters. And I suspect he didn’t think it was terribly important. The important thing was parading the golden-haired icon around town, whipping up adulation.
· Obstruction of Justice
o Do I now believe Donald Trump obstructed justice? Absolutely, yes! In every way possible! He attempted to suborn perjury, asked people to destroy evidence (or be careful not to create any), intimidated witnesses – he tried every tool in the toolkit, desperately and arrogantly.
o Donald Trump is an inveterate liar. Of course he wasn’t born that way, but apparently it’s the course he’s gradually (and probably unwittingly) adopted over a lifetime. It is clear to me that he expected others to lie – that “telling the truth” was never even under consideration. The point was to win, dominate, and be admired at all costs, and the truth be damned. As one who was trained to follow the rules and be honest and upright, I have trouble wrapping my head around such behavior.
o Yes, Trump desperately attempted to win James Comey over to his side – and then destroy him when that failed. Yes, Trump engineered a vast network of attempts to keep Flynn and Manafort and Cohen loyal. He directed staff to commit unlawful acts; to their credit, many of them refused.
o I was appalled at Trump’s brazen reliance on failed memory and naïve ignorance over and over and over: “I don’t know; you’ll have to ask him.” “I don’t remember… I have no recollection…”
Where does all this leave us? I have absolutely no doubt about Robert Mueller’s intention as he finalized and submitted his report: This is a roadmap for Congress to DO SOMETHING about this mind-boggling mess. Although he has not said it in so many words, my final impression is that Robert Mueller, through this report, is saying to Congress: I’ve laid out all the evidence. I’ve shown you where this President [he always capitalizes that word] is and is not likely to be found guilty of obstruction. I’ve demonstrated to you that the Russian government is hell-bent on some serious damage to our democracy, regardless of the ineptitude and naïve “innocence” of the Trump campaigners they targeted. Here’s all the evidence you need to begin a focused defense against Russian meddling and criminal proceedings against a dangerous President. Hop to it!
But remember: Those are my words, not Robert Mueller’s.
If you have joined me in this long, arduous search for the truth, I’d love to hear from you. Just email me through this web site.
Private citizen – taxpayer and voter