Redacted Mueller Report Reveals Trump White House In Disarray
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did not find evidence to support allegations the Trump campaign, quote, "conspired or coordinated with Russia" to win the 2016 election. But it did find 10 separate attempts by the president to slow down investigations or push out officials, including Mueller and Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Did President Trump try to obstruct justice? And the special counsel report also lays bare a White House that - well, I'm going to let NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving finish that sentence. Morning, Ron.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: A White House that...
ELVING: Let's just say it's easy to understand the record-high turnover rate.
SIMON: Carlos Lozada, the great Washington Post book critic, who won the Pulitzer Prize this week, reviews the Mueller report and says it, not any other, is the best book so far about the Trump White House and says, in so many words, Omarosa was right.
ELVING: She called her book "Unhinged" and Mueller's book has a little bit longer title. It's "Report On The Investigation Into Russian Interference In The 2016 Election." So not hard to decide which you want for the movie title. But you can also choose from some of those other books, "Fire And Fury," "Team Of Vipers," Bob Woodward's "Fear." And, of course, that doesn't even mention the scary books from two former directors of the FBI. But this Mueller report has a rather unassailable purchase on the real story, Scott, because Mueller didn't just do interviews or make calls. He had the power to subpoena witnesses, get warrants and prosecute people for perjury. Now, that's an array of tools reporters can only dream about.
SIMON: And to read the report, there are instances where administration figures - these are the people closest to the president - just flat out ignored them as if they knew not to put any trust in his words or take him too seriously.
ELVING: Yes. In fact, that has become Trump's best defense against charges of obstructing justice. His defenders can say it's ambiguous because the people he ordered to obstruct justice didn't do it.
SIMON: Our congressional correspondent Susan Davis is coming up in about 10 minutes on the Democratic response - whether or not to act on calls for impeachment. But there is clearly no bipartisan amity or trust left for the attorney general.
ELVING: It's been clear for nearly a year now that William Barr volunteered for this job by writing a 19-page memo to the Justice Department saying the whole Mueller investigation was ill-conceived. He said the president really couldn't be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. And while that memo was unsolicited at the time, it was anything but unwelcome in the eyes of the president himself. So a little later on, Jeff Sessions is out as attorney general. William Barr is in. And the Mueller investigation and the Mueller report go forward under a very different regime. And just two months after he's in power, we get this.
SIMON: Let me ask you about the president's reaction because within the space of, really, a few days, he's gone from claiming total exoneration to calling the Mueller report B.S. And, of course, he didn't say B.S. I have to.
ELVING: The president has been trying to undermine the information, in particular, that came to Mueller from former White House counsel Don McGahn. McGahn has been a kind of wild card in this from the beginning. It was reported that the president told him to fire Robert Mueller in June of 2017 and later told McGahn to deny it. McGahn did neither of those. And that's all detailed and confirmed here in this report. It's one of the 10 instances you mentioned a moment ago as possible obstruction of justice that are named in the report. McGahn is said to have sat for 30 hours of interviews with the investigators basing his testimony on the notes he took after those confrontations with the president. And now the president is on Twitter, fuming about people who take, quote, "so-called notes."
SIMON: NPR's Ron Elving, thanks for your notes.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.