Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report released on Thursday by the Justice Department reveals a president that frequently asked his devotees to do things that made them very uncomfortable, often going against their best instincts.
The report, which looked at the links between the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election, found President Donald Trump often relied on others to pass along or carry out his messages to defend him in the media or to fire people — especially when it involved Mueller’s investigation.
Here are a few examples:
Trump tells Hope Hicks to lie about the Trump Tower meeting
In June 2016, Donald Trump, Jr. and other top campaign officials met a Russian lawyer who wanted to share “dirt” on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
The following summer, senior administration officials learned of the existence of emails confirming the meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and senior campaign officials.
The report states that White House Communications Director Hope Hicks repeatedly wanted to “disclose the entire story,” but the president directed that she revise a statement from Trump, Jr. because it revealed too much.
Instead, she was asked to draft a statement that basically only made it seem like Trump Jr. (along with his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort) had met to discuss Russian adoption policy, as had already been reported in the press. Trump Jr. ultimately tweaked her statement adding “primarily” to the sentence about discussing adoption programs instead of “only” because he knew the emails about the meeting would leak, making it look like he was “lying.”
Hicks was uneasy about not getting ahead of the story, saying that the leaks would be “massive.” The Mueller report concludes that Trump directed her to lie about the emails confirming the meeting at least three times in the summer of 2017.
She stepped down from her position in March 2018.
Trump asked the White House counsel to get rid of Mueller
In January 2018, the New York Times reported that Trump had ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to have the Justice Department fire Mueller. The article indicated that McGahn had refused to do so, threatening to quit rather than carry out the order.
The story infuriated Trump, who had his lawyer call McGahn’s lawyer, ordering McGahn to write a statement denying that the president had ever asked him to get Mueller fired.
The president asked then-White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to ask McGahn for a written statement saying the Times piece was inaccurate, even though Porter felt this should be handled by the White House communications office. The president insisted, saying he wanted a letter “for our records” and called McGahn a “lying bastard.”
Porter complied, letting McGahn know that he’d be fired if he didn’t write the letter. McGahn declined, but met with the president the next day, on February 6.
During that meeting, Trump denied ever telling McGahn to fire Mueller. McGahn replied, “What you said is, ‘Call Rod [Rosenstein], tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel.”
The president denied he ever said that.
Trump also attacked McGahn for taking notes when he was told that their conversations were not bound by attorney-client privilege.
“What-about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes,” huffed the president. McGahn replied the he keeps notes because he is a “real lawyer” and that creating records of conversation is not a bad thing.
McGahn resigned in October of 2018.
Trump told his campaign manager that Jeff Sessions needs to defend him
Just days after ordering McGahn to get rid of Mueller, the president summoned his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski. He ordered Lewandowski to take a dictated message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had already recused himself from the Mueller investigation, much to the president’s chagrin.
Trump wanted Sessions to give a public speech defending the president and limiting the scope of the Mueller investigation to “future elections.”
According to Lewandowki’s notes, Trump wanted Sessions to publicly announce, “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 [because] he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign [with] him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact [because] I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.”
But Lewandowski felt uneasy about doing do, nor did he want to have any written trace connecting him with the errand the president had assigned to him. Trump also told Lewandowski that if Sessions declined to meet with him, that he should tell the attorney general he was fired.
After Sessions cancelled a planned meeting, Lewandowski passed the message along via a senior White House official, Rick Dearborn. Dearborn said the errand made him uncomfortable and never actually passed it along.
Sessions resigned in November of 2018 (after the president refused to accept an earlier attempt in May 2017).
By July 2017, the president knew he had to come up with a replacement for Sessions, and contacted Porter, asking him whether Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, was “on our team.”
Trump asked Porter, who knew Brand, if she would be interested in overseeing the Mueller investigation, asking him to “keep in touch” with his friend, and asking on occasion if he’d spoken to Brand.
Porter, reads the Mueller report, “understood the President to want to find someone to end the Russia investigation or fire the Special Counsel, although the President never said so explicitly.”
He ultimately did not reach out to Brand because “he was sensitive to the implications of that action and did not want to be involved in a chain of events associated with an effort to end the investigation or fire the Special Counsel.”