Lisa Desjardins: Hi, I’m Lisa Desjardins from PBS NewsHour. When special counsel Robert Mueller released
his report in March, he indicated that the report speaks for itself. But that report is 448 pages long. It is dense, and many of us just don’t have
time to read it. So my colleague William Brangham and I decided
to dig into what the report does – and does not say. We began with the question of Russian interference
in the 2016 presidential election. William Brangham: Through two years of this investigation, through
the indictment of 34 individuals, and then spelled out clearly in his final report, Robert
Mueller made one thing crystal clear — Russia attempted to interfere with our 2016 election. Here’s the last thing Mueller said. Robert Mueller: And I will close by reiterating the central
allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere
in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention
of every American. Thank you. William Brangham: And so that’s where we will start. Volume one of his report, it’s just over half
of the total report, and it deals exclusively with what the Russians did. Lisa Desjardins: Mueller lays this out, like the entire report,
essentially as a large outline, saying Russia attacked in two ways. He writes, first, that it carried out a social
media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. And, second, a Russian intelligence service
conducted computer intrusion operations against entities, employees and volunteers working
on the Clinton campaign. Translation — Russia used the Internet to
fool American voters and hackers to attack Democratic computer networks. William Brangham: According to Mueller’s report, the Russian
campaign began in mid-2014. That’s when the employees of what’s known
as the Internet Research Agency first came to the U.S. to gather the material that they
would later use in their elaborate social media postings. This is the IRA’s headquarters in St. Petersburg,
Russia. Lisa Desjardins: By the end of 2016, the Russians had set up
fake social media account that reached millions of voters aimed at promoting Trump or dividing
Americans. William Brangham: The Russians created fake hashtags, like #KidsForTrump. They bought thousands of online ads. They impersonated U.S. citizens and set up
political rallies, like a 2015 Confederate rally in Houston. They made posters like this one of “Miners
for Trump” to promote a rally in Pittsburgh in 2016. Lisa Desjardins: The Mueller report lays out how this ensnared
real American political operatives, including the Trump campaign and its allies. Donald Trump Jr. and top advisers like Kellyanne
Conway all retweeted these fake accounts. Let’s go to page 34 for an example. It shows a 2016 Facebook post from candidate
Trump himself where he thanked organizers and promoted a rally in Miami. But Mueller writes that Russians in the IRA
organized that rally, and even used a fake Facebook account to brag that Mr. Trump posted
about our event. William Brangham: According to the report, IRA staffers also
posed as American citizens and tried to communicate with the Trump campaign to ask them for assistance
coordinating some of these fake rallies. But the report notes, “The investigation has
not identified evidence that any Trump campaign official understood these requests were coming
from foreign nationals.” And Mueller’s investigators found no similar
connections between the IRA and the Clinton campaign. Lisa Desjardins: Next, the report looks at Russia’s hacking,
concluding, Russia’s largest foreign intelligence service, known as the GRU, attacked the Democratic
Party and the Clinton campaign. The investigation found the GRU stole the
password and identities of network administrators and used those to get access to Democratic
files. The report said, “The GRU’s operations extended
beyond stealing material, and included releasing documents stolen from the Clinton campaign
and its supporters.” William Brangham: To release those materials, the Russians created
online personas with names like DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 to establish a relation with
WikiLeaks, which then released these stolen files to the public. On page 45, Mueller documents how, in early
July of 2016, WikiLeaks contacted the Russians privately on Twitter, saying: “If you have
anything Hillary-related, we want it in the next two days preferable.” And then, on July 22, three days before the
Democratic National Convention began, WikiLeaks released more than 20,000 emails and other
stolen documents. It was a clear attempt to embarrass Clinton
and weaken her candidacy. Lisa Desjardins: Timing is a constant theme in this report. The week after the Democratic Convention,
Mueller writes, candidate Trump made this controversial statement —
President Donald Trump: Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re
able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily
by our press. Lisa Desjardins: Now, President Trump has repeatedly insisted
this was a joke. But Mueller writes, within five hours of candidate
Trump saying those words, the GRU targeted Clinton’s personal office for the first time. Notably, Mueller found no evidence that the
campaign knew that Russians would respond, but the report showed for the first time how
soon Russians acted after the president spoke. William Brangham: There were other new revelations in the report
as well. Mueller says the Russians directly targeted
our election systems. They used cyberattacks against private technology
firms that make election software, as well as officials in several states and county
governments. Lisa Desjardins: The question is, did the Russians’ effort
change or affect votes? Mueller doesn’t address it, instead writing
that the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and states are still investigating. One final note about this part. This Russian section is where you see some
of the most heavily redacted pages in the report, much of it blocked out because of
ongoing investigations. William Brangham: So we’ve explained how Mueller documented
Russia’s elaborate meddling — how Russia tried to manipulate voters and hack election
systems. Next, we look at how the Special Counsel details
the many interactions between Russians and the Trump campaign, and whether any of that
added up to coordination or a conspiracy. Lisa Desjardins: For more than 100 pages, Robert Mueller lays
out scores of Russian contacts with the Trump campaign or the Trump presidency. From the start, Mueller is frank about why,
to see whether those contacts constituted attempted Russian interference or influence
on the election, and whether these contacts resulted in coordination or conspiracy with
the Trump campaign. William Brangham: And Mueller’s conclusion about this conspiracy
comes right away. In the very next line, Mueller writes, “Based
on the available information, the investigation didn’t establish such coordination.” Mueller reached that conclusion even though,
he writes, there were numerous links between the campaign and the Russians, that several
people connected to the campaign lied to his team and tried to obstruct their investigation
into their contacts with the Russians. Lisa Desjardins: OK, let’s talk about specifics with these
contacts, starting with the Trump business and a big event in Russia. In 2013, Donald Trump takes his Miss Universe
Pageant to Moscow. The Mueller report points out, this is how
the Trumps got to know Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire and ally of Vladimir Putin. He owned the event hall where the pageant
was held. His son Emin is a pop singer who sang at the
event. William Brangham: Things start moving pretty quickly. Within a few months, Donald Trump Jr. signs
a preliminary agreement with Agalarov’s company to build a big Trump Tower property in Moscow. Ivanka Trump visits the country in 2014, scouting
out possible locations. Then things seem to stall. Lisa Desjardins: Until 2015. President Donald Trump: Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running
for president of the United States. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Lisa Desjardins: In June, Mr. Trump announces his candidacy. Mueller points out that, three months later,
a new effort to build the Trump Tower in Moscow begins, this time led by Trump’s lawyer, Michael
Cohen, and developer Felix Sater. William Brangham: On page 69, Mueller makes it clear that candidate
Trump knew this was happening. He writes “Cohen provided updates directly
to Trump about the project throughout 2015 and into 2016.” But Mueller stresses that, publicly, candidate
Trump repeatedly denies any such dealings. President Donald Trump: I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world, but we’re not involved
in Russia. William Brangham: Meanwhile, Felix Sater tells Michael Cohen
he’s working with high-level Russian officials. He emails Cohen, saying, “Buddy, our boy can
become president of the USA, and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on
this.” Lisa Desjardins: The Moscow Trump Tower project is just one
source of Russian contacts. Mueller outlines about a dozen of them in
total. They vary widely. Campaign aide Carter Page meets with Russians
and is paid to give a speech in Russia. Aide J.D. Gordon says he pushed for a change
in the Republican platform to water down tough language about Russia and Ukraine. Policy adviser Michael Flynn gives speeches
in Russia and has numerous contacts with the Russian ambassador, including a discussion
of softening sanctions. Foreign policy and national security adviser
Jeff Sessions also meets with the Russian ambassador. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort regularly
shares internal polling data with a man tied to Russian intelligence. And fellow Trump aide George Papadopoulos
repeatedly meets with a different man connected to Russian intelligence, who tells Papadopoulos
the Russians have dirt on Hillary Clinton. For all of these connections, Mueller gives
dates and times, often to the very minute. William Brangham: And another contact point was the infamous
New York Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016. That morning, Donald Trump Jr. tells colleagues
he has a lead on negative information about Hillary Clinton. That lead comes from a source you might remember,
the pop singer Emin Agalarov, and his father, who is tied to Putin. One of their staffers pitches the meeting
to Trump Jr., claiming they had dirt on Clinton. Trump Jr. responds, “If it’s what you say,
I love it.” Mueller’s report says this dirt from the Russians
was that two Clinton donors had broken Russian laws and laundered money. But the Russian representative can’t directly
tie that to Clinton campaign funds. The Trump Tower meeting ends with Trump’s
son-in-law, Jared Kushner, calling it a waste of time. Lisa Desjardins: On page 185, the report says “The special
counsel considered whether to charge Trump campaign officials with crimes in connection
with the June 9 meeting.” But they decide no, for two reasons. First, Mueller can’t prove that Trump’s team
knew they were acting illegally. It is against the law to take political contributions
from foreign nationals. And, two, the value of the information may
have been too low to prosecute. William Brangham: This brings us back to Mueller’s main conclusion
in this part of the report, that, despite these varied contexts, the evidence was insufficient
to show that the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with Russia. Mueller notes that collusion is not a specific
offense, that the actual crimes are conspiracy or coordination. Lisa Desjardins: One more thing Mueller points out investigators
couldn’t get all the information they wanted. Donald Trump Jr. never agreed to an interview,
the same with several key Russians. Some witnesses lied to investigators initially. Some campaign aides deleted their texts. And Mueller states the president’s written
answers were inadequate. Mueller specifically says it’s possible this
missing information could shed new light on the investigation. Lisa Desjardins: OK, so we’ve looked at the details of volume
one of the Mueller Report — about Russian interference and interaction with the Trump
campaign. Now, let’s turn to Volume II and how the Special
Counsel investigated alleged obstruction of justice. First: how did Mueller view President Trump’s
firing of FBI Director James Comey, and what prompted Mr. Trump to take that step? William Brangham: Did President Trump commit obstruction of
justice? That’s the question that takes up the final
roughly 200 pages of the Robert Mueller’s report. Mueller made headlines saying this about the
president’s actions — Robert Mueller: If we had had confidence that the president
clearly didn’t commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination
as to whether the president did commit a crime. Lisa Desjardins: That conclusion, with no conclusion on whether
the president is guilty or innocent, is where Mueller starts this part of the report. He explains his lack of action by invoking
an overriding question: Can a sitting president be indicted? On page one, his answer is no. Mueller points to Justice Department policy
that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would undermine the
capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions. Robert Mueller: Under longstanding department policy, a president
cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and
hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited. William Brangham: So, then, why investigate? The report states that a president can be
indicted after leaving office. In his report, the special counsel is thinking
of the future, writing: “We conducted a thorough, factual investigation in order to preserve
the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.” Lisa Desjardins: Mueller says the job of assessing whether
a sitting president broke the law, and what to do about it, belongs to Congress. William Brangham: So, as Mueller does in this section of the
report, let’s move on to the case for and against obstruction. Lisa Desjardins: The report sees the president’s actions in
two phases, before and after one key event: the firing of FBI Director James Comey. William Brangham: So let’s look at how the report examines Comey’s
firing. Mueller makes the case that the president
repeatedly wanted assurance that Comey was the president’s ally, and he didn’t get it. At a private dinner with Comey, the FBI director
says the president asks for his loyalty. In February, the president clears out the
Oval Office to be alone with Comey, and asks him to let go of the investigation into Michael
Flynn, the former national security adviser. Mueller’s report states Comey felt these were
direct orders from the president. Lisa Desjardins: Tension builds quickly. On March 20 of 2017, Comey publicly tells
Congress that the FBI is investigating Russian attacks on the election and any links to the
Trump campaign. The Mueller report shows the president immediately
starts contacting or relaying messages to the acting attorney general, intelligence
officials, and repeatedly to Comey himself, asking for public declarations that the president
is not under investigation. On May 3, Comey testifies before Congress
and doesn’t say what the president wants. William Brangham: The president fires Comey six days later. On page 70, Mueller writes that, on the night
of Comey’s firing, the White House wanted to put out a statement saying it was acting
Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s idea to fire Comey. But Rosenstein said he wouldn’t participate
in putting out a false story. Lisa Desjardins: That same week, the president says this to
Lester Holt of NBC News: President Donald Trump: And, in fact, when I decided to just do it,
I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. Lisa Desjardins: Now, many held that interview up as a clear
admission that the president fired Comey to obstruct the Russia investigation. But Mueller’s report says the full NBC interview
actually showed the opposite. On page 74, “The president stated that he
understood when he made the decision to fire Comey that the action might prolong the investigation.” William Brangham: Mueller’s report concludes that the evidence
doesn’t establish that the termination of Comey was designed to cover up a conspiracy
between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mueller says there’s substantial evidence
that the catalyst, the thing that pushed the president to do it, was Comey’s unwillingness
to tell the public that the president wasn’t under investigation. Lisa Desjardins: But, of course, Comey’s firing led directly
to the appointment of the special counsel and an investigation of the president. William Brangham: But when it came to possible obstruction of
justice, special counsel Robert Mueller wasn’t just looking at the firing of James Comey. We look now at other actions by the President
that Mueller investigated and whether those could be considered obstruction. Lisa Desjardins: Special counsel Robert Mueller investigated
some 10 different acts by the president for potential obstruction of justice. Some of these overlap. William Brangham: In each instance, Mueller lays out three things:
what the president did, what may have been obstructed by those actions, and what the
president’s intent was. Mueller’s conclusions range from a clear no
evidence of obstruction to cases with substantial evidence. Those cases, those with the most evidence,
center on the president’s attempts to fire or limit special counsel Mueller himself. Lisa Desjardins: The report begins this segment with an eye-popping
statement. Page 77, Mueller writes: “The acting attorney
general appointed a special counsel on May 17, 2017, prompting the president to state
that it was the end of his presidency.” William Brangham: Mueller recounts a scene in the Oval Office
that day where Attorney General Jeff Sessions tells the president that Mueller’s been appointed. And the president says, “Oh, my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m (EXPLETIVE DELETED).” Top aide Hope Hicks testifies later that she
had only seen the president like that one other time, when the “Access Hollywood” tape
came out during the campaign. Lisa Desjardins: The next day, the president was asked about
the special counsel appointment. President Donald Trump: Well, I respect the move, but the entire thing
has been a witch-hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. But I can always speak for myself and the
Russians. Zero. Lisa Desjardins: But, privately, the report says, the president
undermined the special counsel’s credibility. Page 80, “The president repeatedly told advisers
that special counsel Mueller had conflicts of interest.” But, the report says, top aide Stephen Bannon
and other key staff disagreed, telling the president they were not true conflicts and
even ridiculous. William Brangham: According to the report, what happens next
is critical. June 14, The Washington Post reveals that
the president is under investigation for obstruction of justice. According to Mueller, three days later, President
Trump tells White House counsel Don McGahn to call acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
to say Mueller has conflicts and can’t serve anymore. The president says Mueller has to go. McGahn doesn’t comply. Lisa Desjardins: Now, this is all based on McGahn’s testimony. Mueller points out the president publicly
disputes much of it. But, in the end, Mueller finds McGahn highly
credible, reporting that he reacted strongly to the president’s words. Mueller writes, “McGahn packed up his office,
prepared to submit a resume letter and told Chief of Staff Reince Priebus the president
had asked him to do crazy (EXPLETIVE DELETED).” William Brangham: Another serious charge about the president
is that he tried to block Mueller from investigating him or his campaign. On June 19, 2017, President Trump asks his
former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to take a note to Attorney General Jeff Sessions
directing Sessions to say publicly, “I am going to meet with the special prosecutor
and let the special prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future
elections,” meaning Robert Mueller wouldn’t investigate what happened in the 2016 election. Lisa Desjardins: Lewandowski never passed on that message. These acts, taken together, prompted some
of Mueller’s strongest language in the report. On page 89, he writes: “Substantial evidence
indicates the attempts to remove the special counsel were linked to investigations of the
president’s conduct.” Page 97, “Substantial evidence indicates that
the president’s effort to limit the special counsel’s investigation was intended to prevent
further scrutiny of the president’s and his campaign’s conduct.” William Brangham: Now, we realize this is a lot, but with regards
to other actions by the president, Robert Mueller found much less and sometimes no evidence
of obstruction. Take Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Jeff Sessions: Therefore, I have recused myself. William Brangham: Months earlier, he had recused himself from
overseeing this Russia probe because of his own undisclosed contacts with the Russian
ambassador. The president repeatedly pressured Sessions
to unrecuse himself and retake control of the investigation. But Mueller finds only a reasonable inference,
not specific evidence, that this was meant to protect the president. Lisa Desjardins: Next, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. Mueller investigated whether Mr. Trump floated
potential presidential pardons for them in order to influence their testimony or cooperation
with the special counsel. Mueller writes, “The evidence regarding Flynn
is inconclusive,” but, with Manafort, “The evidence indicates Mr. Trump wanted Manafort
to believe a pardon was possible.” William Brangham: And, finally, Michael Cohen. Mueller looks at whether the president directed
his lawyer to lie to Congress about plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. The report says, “While there is evidence
the president knew that Cohen has made false statements,” Mueller also writes, “The evidence
doesn’t establish that the president directed or aided Cohen’s false testimony.” William Brangham: So, we’ve gone through the report by special
counsel Robert Mueller and tried to highlight its key findings. Let’s take a step back now and finish with
a look at the investigation in its entirety. Lisa Desjardins: The Mueller report is unique in American history. At times, it reads like a novel, even a thriller. At other times, it is dense legal opinion. William Brangham: So what did it find? First, that the Russians attacked the 2016
election. The Mueller report is loaded with examples
of how Russian operatives launched what they call information warfare on the U.S. They wanted to distract and inflame voters
to benefit Donald Trump’s candidacy and to damage Hillary Clinton’s. Lisa Desjardins: And while Mueller shows the Trump campaign
worked with individual Russians, he found the evidence didn’t show any conspiracy or
coordination by the Trump campaign. President Donald Trump: There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, and none whatsoever. William Brangham: That’s been the president’s mantra ever since
Mueller’s report came out. And like Lisa said, on the collusion-conspiracy
issue, the president is right. The Mueller report doesn’t establish any such
wrongdoing. But on the issue of obstruction, Mueller doesn’t
agree with the president. Lisa Desjardins: To Mueller, obstruction is a crime of paramount
importance. He went out of his way to say that in public. Robert Mueller: When a subject of an investigation obstructs
that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s
effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. Lisa Desjardins: Mueller’s report lays out a long string of
examples where it finds evidence, sometimes substantial evidence, that the president tried
to obstruct justice. William Brangham: For example, the president asked FBI Director
James Comey to let go of one investigation. He told his White House counsel, Don McGahn,
that Mueller has to go, and later told him to lie and deny that conversation ever happened. In other cases, Mueller says what seems like
suspicious activity wasn’t obstruction, like when President Trump tried to bury emails
showing how his son welcomed a meeting with Russians who were offering dirt on Hillary
Clinton. Mueller concludes that didn’t affect the investigation. Lisa Desjardins: Overall, Mueller writes, “The evidence does
point to a range of personal motives animating the president’s conduct. Those include concerns the investigation would
call into question the legitimacy of his election and whether certain events could be seen as
criminal activity by the president, his campaign or family.” William Brangham: But, despite that, Mueller decided not to
indict the president. The reason, he said, is a Justice Department
opinion issued during the Watergate scandal. It says that a sitting president cannot be
indicted. This is internal agency policy from 1973,
not a law or court ruling. Because of this policy, on the issue of obstruction,
Mueller put his conclusion this way — Robert Mueller: If we had had confidence that the president
clearly didn’t commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination
as to whether the president did commit a crime. Lisa Desjardins: Mueller seems to understand this is not a
satisfying conclusion for anyone, saying the case raises difficult issues. But he writes, “U.S. law rests on the fundamental
principle that no person in this country is so high that he is above the law.” On the question of what to do now, Mueller
points to Congress. Robert Mueller: The Constitution requires a process other
than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing. William Brangham: He’s talking, of course, about the impeachment
process. This is why the stakes are so high with this
investigation. But the report, written as a legal document,
is tough to absorb. Lisa Desjardins: Mueller actually writes that he wants to help
readers. He does this in the appendix with a glossary
of 211 people and entities mentioned in the report, as well as the president’s full written
answers to Mueller’s questions. Both are worth checking out. William Brangham: OK, so what did this investigation produce? Mueller lists all of the court cases triggered
by his probe. So far, a total of 34 people have been indicted. The vast majority of those are Russian nationals. But the investigation also led to a three-year
prison sentence for Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen on fraud and campaign finance
violations. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort
is serving seven-and-a-half years on charges unrelated to the campaign. Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, and former
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and have
yet to be sentenced. Lisa Desjardins: Meanwhile, another big case is heading to
trial. Trump confidant Roger Stone is charged by
Mueller with obstruction and lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks and the
release of Democratic documents stolen by the Russians. William Brangham: And there are more than a dozen other ongoing
cases Mueller cites, but those are fully redacted, and we just don’t know who or what is involved. The report leaves open its most wrenching
and difficult question, whether the president himself broke the law. Lisa Desjardins: The report’s final conclusion is that single,
complicated paragraph you may have heard before. It reads in part: “If we had confidence after
a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly didn’t commit obstruction
of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal
standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report doesn’t conclude
that the president committed a crime, it also doesn’t exonerate him.” Robert Mueller: Thank you. Thank you for being here today. William Brangham: Mueller so far has spoken publicly for just
nine minutes about this report. He indicated he wants to leave the stage and
return to private life. Whatever Mueller’s future, his report remains
a challenge for America’s leaders on all sides. Lisa Desjardins: We did our best, but, obviously, this was
a 448-page report with a lot of detail. So, we thank you for watching, but we also
encourage you to look for yourself. The full Mueller report is on our website.

All of the Mueller report’s major findings in less than 30 minutes

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