Mueller Report Describes A Businessman President Indifferent To Facts, Unwilling To Take On Tough Tasks (#GotBitcoin?)
President Trump’s aides avoided controversial orders without directly rebuffing the requests, the report shows. Mueller Report Describes A Businessman President Indifferent To Facts, Unwilling To Take On Tough Tasks (#GotBitcoin?)
President Trump in June 2017 gave his former campaign manager a directive: Tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to publicly declare that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was treating the president “very unfairly.”
Corey Lewandowski, not wanting to deliver the message himself, asked senior White House official Rick Dearborn to do so. Mr. Dearborn told Mr. Lewandowski he had handled the situation—but did nothing.
The anecdote is one of many in the 448-page Mueller report released Thursday that provides a detailed account of the inner workings of the White House, based on dozens of interviews with those who have witnessed it firsthand.
Mr. Trump campaigned on his record as a businessman who would bring private-sector efficiency to the federal government. But the Mueller report shows him to be lacking in some of what are widely perceived to be executive attributes: a willingness to take on tough conversations and personnel moves, a forthrightness in dealing with employees and the public, and follow-through to ensure that his decisions are executed.
At the Trump Organization, Mr. Trump was known for controversial orders that aides sought to avoid without directly rebuffing the requests. When Mr. Trump summoned aides in 2009 and asked them to persuade Michael Cohen, then an executive at the company, to resign, for example, they avoided the matter until Mr. Trump eventually dropped it.
A similar pattern was repeated at the White House, the report shows, particularly when it came to Mr. Trump’s repeated efforts to influence Mr. Mueller’s investigation and limit its reach. Officials and associates are shown to have disobeyed and resisted Mr. Trump’s orders, or simply ignored them, hoping he would forget. Hanging over many of the episodes is an imprecise relationship with the truth, in which aides were asked to, and at times did, make statements marked by hyperbole or without basis in fact.
Many of Mr. Trump’s efforts to potentially obstruct the investigation were unsuccessful, the report notes, because his aides didn’t carry out his orders. Mr. Trump often later backtracked on those edicts, at times denying he had ever issued them.
In June 2017, after news reports that Mr. Mueller was investigating whether the president had obstructed justice, Mr. Trump called his then-White House counsel Don McGahn and directed him to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and say that Mr. Mueller “had conflicts of interest and must be removed,” according to the report.
But Mr. McGahn thought those conflicts were “silly” and “not real,” didn’t follow the order and prepared to resign, telling then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus that the president had asked him to “do crazy shit,” the report said.
Months later, when Mr. Trump asked Mr. McGahn to dispute the firing order ever happened, the president told him: “I never said to fire Mueller. I never said ‘fire,’” the report said.
Like Mr. Dearborn, most aides rarely tell Mr. Trump no, the report found, instead opting not to follow through on his orders. While some advisers, like Mr. McGahn, prepared to resign instead of doing what the president had asked them, others, such as Mr. Sessions, believed they were on the verge of being fired.
Mr. Trump also frequently sought to blame others for his own decisions. When Mr. Trump planned to fire then-FBI director James Comey in May 2017, some of his advisers urged Mr. Trump to permit Mr. Comey to resign instead, but “the President was adamant that he be fired.”
After Mr. Comey’s firing became public, the White House asked the Justice Department to put out a statement saying it had been Mr. Rosenstein’s idea, the report said. Mr. Rosenstein said he wouldn’t participate in putting out a “false story,” the report said.
Mr. Trump and his top advisers sometimes misled reporters, the report found. After Mr. Comey’s firing, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters that “countless members of the FBI” had indicated they didn’t support Mr. Comey, and that Mr. Rosenstein decided “on his own” to review Mr. Comey’s performance. Later, Ms. Sanders told the Mueller team that her comment about FBI agents was a “slip of the tongue” and “not founded on anything.”
In another instance, Mr. Trump requested that a top White House official write a letter detailing events she lacked firsthand knowledge of. The aide, K.T. McFarland, didn’t write the letter and White House attorneys advised her not to follow the president’s instructions.
Ms. McFarland was deputy national security adviser at the time but had been offered an ambassadorship to Singapore. In February 2017, Mr. Trump asked her to draft an internal letter saying that the president hadn’t directed her boss, then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador the day after the Obama administration had imposed them.
“McFarland declined because she didn’t know whether that was true, and a White House Counsel’s Office attorney thought that the request would look like a quid pro quo for an ambassadorship she had been offered,” the special counsel concluded. Ms. McFarland was nominated to be ambassador to Singapore, but withdrew her name after it became clear she wouldn’t be confirmed.
The report also details times when the public comments of White House officials, including the president, differed from what employees told the investigators under oath.
Ms. McFarland contacted the Washington Post in January 2017 at the direction of Mr. Flynn, and told a columnist that “no discussion of sanctions had occurred” between Mr. Flynn and the Russian ambassador. “McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information,” the report said.
In one of the most publicly dissected episodes of the investigation, Mr. Trump sought in July 2017 to prevent disclosure that his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 presidential campaign after being promised the Russian government wanted to convey information that would be damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton, the report said.
On the flight back to Washington from a Group of 20 meeting, White House adviser Hope Hicks gave the president a draft statement by the younger Mr. Trump that said he had been told about “information helpful to the campaign.”
The president directed Ms. Hicks to “say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption,” according to the report, which cites Ms. Hicks and text messages between her and Donald Trump Jr.
Donald Trump Jr. urged Ms. Hicks to say that he wanted the statement to say they had “primarily” discussed adoption, texting her: “If I don’t have it in there it appears as though I’m lying later when they inevitably leak something.” Ms. Hicks told him: “Boss man worried it invites a lot of questions.”
Other episodes reveal a chief executive who appeared unfamiliar with conventional ways of doing business.
When Mr. Trump sought in January 2018 to have Mr. McGahn dispute an accurate press report, he had a question for his White House counsel.
“Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,” Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Mueller’s report, which cited an interview with Mr. McGahn.
Mr. McGahn told Mr. Trump that he is a “real lawyer,” and that notes created a record, according to the report, to which Mr. Trump shot back: “I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He didn’t take notes.”
Mr. Cohn was a hard-driving attorney best known for his role in GOP senator Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s anti-Communist hearings. He was disbarred in New York in the 1980s for unethical conduct.
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