Robert Mueller’s report paints a vivid picture of President Trump’s aides repeatedly ignoring or brushing aside his dictates — both in the interest of guarding the President from his own worst instincts and of protecting themselves from further legal implications.
At the same time, it portrays aides as willfully misleading the public (and, at times, each other) about his actions and mindset around some key developments.
It also characterizes deep enmity and tension between the President and his top officials, some of whom told Mueller they were themselves shocked by certain developments related to the investigation.
“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote in the report.
According to White House officials, that dynamic has been a constant undercurrent to Trump’s presidency, including on matters of policy. The report bolsters that impression, and is peppered with examples of Presidential underlings spurning Trump’s orders.
Advisers Corey Lewandowski and Rick Dearborn each declined to deliver a message from the President to Jeff Sessions saying he should curtail the scope of the special counsel’s investigation.
Lewandowski, who took dictation of the message from the President, initially told Trump he would handle the matter himself, and took steps to arrange a meeting with Sessions that would avoid any public record.
But later he passed the note on to Dearborn, who he believed would be a better messenger, without saying the President had dictated the message himself. Reading the message, Dearborn said it “definitely raised an eyebrow.”
He never passed along the note, but told Lewandowski he had “handled the situation,” according to Mueller.
In another example, then-staff secretary Robert Porter declined to contact Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand after Trump asked him to reach out to her in order to gauge whether she was “on the team” and might be interested in overseeing the special counsel’s investigation.
“Porter didn’t reach out to her because he was uncomfortable with the task,” the report states.
And Trump and then-White House Counsel Don McGahn engaged in a bitter dispute over whether Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, one that resulted in Trump castigating McGahn as a “lying bastard” and comparing him unfavorably to his onetime lawyer Roy Cohn.
McGahn refused Trump’s request to deny media reports about the firing, and later declined to draft a formal letter “for our records” that would deny the stories.