Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election concludes that Moscow used two main operations to try to impact the vote: a social media campaign that favored then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and disparaged his opponent Hillary Clinton, as well as a hacking effort targeting Clinton that published stolen documents.
While the investigation resulted in numerous guilty pleas by former Trump campaign associates for a variety of financial and other crimes, it did not find that any campaign officials knowingly conspired with Russian authorities to swing the election.
However, the report did not exonerate the president of wrongdoing.
The report details President Trump’s actions toward the FBI and Special Counsel investigations that he routinely decried as a “witch hunt,” as well as the legal reasoning for whether or not his actions constitute obstruction of justice.
The president’s lawyers declined requests for investigators to interview the president in person. Instead, they offered written answers to their submitted questions.
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The Special Counsel team wrote, “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.”
The team said that instead of waging a potentially lengthy legal battle to force the president to testify, “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.”
After detailing the president’s actions and potential legal exposure, the report ultimately declines to conclude whether or not the president committed a crime.It does suggest that Congress should be the ultimate venue for determining a president’s actions are impeachable.
“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
Russia campaign links
Investigators said they established that Russia believed it would benefit from a Trump presidency, and the Trump campaign believed it would benefit from the Russian hacking efforts. More than 100 pages of the report detail the numerous links and meetings between campaign officials and Russian individuals, starting soon after Trump announced his candidacy in June 2015.
These links include Donald Trump’s business discussions for a Moscow high rise tower that predated his presidential campaign, the contacts among various Trump campaign officials and Russian officials before his election victory, as well as the infamous June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower that involved Russian-government-linked authorities and top campaign officials.
"Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away," the report said.
After Trump won the election, investigators examined meetings involving former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and Trump allies including Steve Bannon and Erik Prince.
Investigators detailed the substance of these meetings, but they said there was not enough evidence to support criminal charges. “Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal.”
11 episodes scrutinized for obstruction
The report did not offer the president exoneration on obstruction of justice charges.
Nearly half of the report focuses on Donald Trump’s actions during the course of the investigation and whether he abused his position to try to thwart the probe of his campaign. It highlights 11 separate episodes, including Trump’s efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation and the termination of former FBI Director James Comey, which raise legal questions about the president’s conduct.
“The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The scrutinized episodes include the president asking subordinates to take steps to remove the Special Counsel and directing aides to take action to prevent the public disclosure of evidence. They also include the president’s public statements about members of his team who are under investigation.
The report says the president’s actions included “public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation.”