President Donald Trump tried to change the scope of the nearly two-year Russia investigation by limiting it to future election meddling only, special counsel Robert Mueller wrote in his report, released Thursday.
According to Mueller, Trump met with his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in June 2017. During that meeting, Trump dictated a message, which he asked Lewandowski to write down and deliver to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
The note directed Sessions to “give a speech publicly,” announcing, “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.”
Trump continued, instructing Sessions to say that he would let Mueller know that the investigation was “very unfair” and should be limited to future efforts only.
“Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States,” the memo directed Sessions to say. “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.”
According to Mueller, Trump was confident such a speech would make Sessions the “most popular guy in the country.”
Lewandowski said he would pass the message to the attorney general, but wanted to do so in person, “rather than over the phone.”
“He did not want to meet at the Department of Justice because he did not want a public log of his visit,” Mueller wrote, “and did not want Sessions to have an advantage over him by meeting on what Lewandowski described as Sessions’s turf.”
The meeting was later cancelled due to a scheduling conflict, and Lewandowski said he stowed the notes in a safe at his home. Shortly after, he contacted Rick Dearborn, a senior White House official at the time, and asked if Dearborn would relay the message to Sessions instead, because he believed Dearborn was better served for the task, given his “longstanding relationship with Sessions” and his position at the White House.
“What can I do? I’m not an employee of the administration,” Lewandowski complained at the time, according to former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus. “I’m a nobody.”
The following month, Trump met with Lewandowski again, during which time the former campaign adviser told the president the message “would be delivered soon.”
“Lewandowski recalled that the President told him that if Sessions did not meet with him, Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired,” Mueller added.
Though Lewandowski gave Dearborn a typewritten copy of the message immediately following that meeting, Dearborn never actually passed it along, saying the request had made him uncomfortable. He told Lewandowski he had “handled the situation” anyway.
The exchange with Lewandowski is a pinnacle moment in the broader Russia investigation. Trump has long maintained that Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the probe in March 2017 was the impetus for his troubles, and for months threatened to fire him. He eventually followed through on that promise in November 2018, shortly after the midterm elections.
Sessions’ replacement, Attorney General William Barr, was confirmed in February this year. Barr previously criticized Mueller’s decision to investigate claims of obstruction by the president, and has been accused of acting as Trump’s defense counsel on the Russia probe, rather than an independent monitor.