WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is lashing out at current and former aides who cooperated with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, insisting the deeply unflattering picture they painted of him and the White House was "total bullshit."
In a series of angry tweets from Palm Beach, Florida, Trump laced into those who, under oath, had shared with Mueller their accounts of how Trump tried numerous times to squash or influence the investigation and portrayed the White House as infected by a culture of lies, deceit and deception.
"Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue," Trump wrote Friday, adding that some were "total bullshit & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad)."
The attacks were a dramatic departure from the upbeat public face the White House had put on it just 24 hours earlier, when Trump celebrated the report's findings as full exoneration and his counselor Kellyanne Conway called it "the best day" for Trump's team since his election. While the president, according to people close to him, did feel vindicated by the report, he also felt betrayed by those who had painted him in an unflattering light — even though they were speaking under oath and had been directed by the White House to cooperate fully with Mueller's team.
The reaction was not entirely surprising and had been something staffers feared in the days ahead of the report's release as they wondered how Mueller might portray their testimony and whether the report might damage their relationships with Trump.
While Mueller found no criminal evidence that Trump or his campaign aides colluded in Russian election meddling and did not recommend obstruction charges against the president, the 448-page report released Thursday nonetheless paints a damaging picture of the president, describing numerous cases where he discouraged witnesses from cooperating with prosecutors and prodded aides to mislead the public on his behalf to hamper the Russia probe he feared would cripple his presidency.
The accounts prompted Republican Sen. Mitt Romney, who has sometimes clashed with Trump, to release a statement saying he was "sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President."
"Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders," he said.
The report concluded that one reason Trump managed to stay out of trouble was that his "efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful ... largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."
That didn't spare those who defied Trump's wishes from his wrath.
Trump appeared to be especially angry with former White House counsel Don McGahn, who sat with Mueller for about 30 hours of interviews, and is referenced numerous times in the report.
In one particularly vivid passage, Mueller recounts how Trump called McGahn twice at home and directed him to set in motion Mueller's firing. McGahn recoiled, packed up his office and threatened to resign, fearing the move would trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of firings during the Watergate era.
In another section, Mueller details how Trump questioned McGahn's note-taking, telling the White House counsel that, "Lawyers don't take notes" and that he'd "never had a lawyer who took notes."
"Watch out for people that take so-called "notes," when the notes never existed until needed," Trump said in one of his tweets Friday. Others whose contemporaneous notes were referenced in the report include former staff secretary Rob Porter and Reince Priebus, Trump's first chief of staff.
Trump ended his tweet with the word, "a..." suggesting more was coming. More than eight hours later, he finally completed his thought, calling the probe a "big, fat, waste of time, energy and money" and threatening investigators by saying, "It is now finally time to turn the tables and bring justice to some very sick and dangerous people who have committed very serious crimes, perhaps even Spying or Treason." There is no evidence of either.
Trump, who is in Florida for the Easter weekend, headed to his West Palm Beach golf club Friday after some early morning rain had cleared. There he played golf with conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh "and a couple friends," according to the White House.
He'll spend the rest of the weekend with family, friends and paying members of his private Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach.
As Trump hopped off the steps from Air Force One on Thursday evening, he was greeted by a throng of supporters, who clamored for autographs and selfies. He repeatedly told the crowd "thank you everybody" as they yelled encouragement.
Ari Fleischer, who served as White House press secretary to former President George W. Bush, said in an appearance on Fox News that he didn't understand why Trump decided to send his tweets lashing out at former aides.
"I think it's over," he said. "If I were the president, I would have basically declared victory with the Mueller report and everything that came out and move beyond it."
Still, he said he hoped the White House had learned some lessons.
"The president and his entire team needs to realize how close they came to being charged with obstruction," Fleischer said. "Asking your staff to lie and engaging in some of the activities that the Mueller report stated the president engaged in is too close to obstruction. And that's a lesson I hope everybody at the White House takes with them going forward."
Associated Press writers Deb Riechmann in Washington and Kevin Freking in Palm Beach, Florida, contributed to this report.
For complete coverage of the Mueller report, go to https://www.apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
By ERIC TUCKER Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller's report focuses on the seminal questions of whether President Donald Trump's campaign colluded with the Russians and whether the president sought to illegally obstruct the investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is photographed Thursday, April 18, 2019, in Washington. The pages refer to former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)
But tucked into the 448-page document are vivid anecdotes and meaningful revelations about a colorful cast of characters entangled in Mueller's investigation.
Here are some:
THE EMAIL HUNT
Even as Russians hacked Democratic email accounts, a haphazard group of Americans launched a parallel effort of their own: to find tens of thousands of emails deleted from Hillary Clinton's personal email server.
It had become an object of fascination for Trump, who asked multiple people around the campaign to find the missing emails.
Among them was Trump's future national security adviser Michael Flynn, who enlisted the help of a former Senate staffer named Barbara Ledeen and Peter Smith, an investment adviser who'd been active in Republican politics.
FILE - In this Dec. 1, 2017, file photo, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn leaves federal court in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
The report documents multiple steps the two took to find the emails. Smith, for instance, recruited security experts and business associates and claimed to those he was seeking funding from that he was in contact with Russia-linked hackers.
It's not clear the bluster amounted to anything as Mueller found no evidence that any of the Americans were actually in touch with any Russian hackers or had any connection to them.
Mueller confirmed that his office investigated whether Attorney General Jeff Sessions committed perjury at his January 2017 confirmation hearing by saying that he "did not have communications with the Russians" during the campaign.
FILE - In this Oct. 15, 2018, file photo, Attorney General Jeff Sessions pauses during a news conference at the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
The statement was false because Sessions did in fact have two separate encounters with the then-Russian ambassador to the United States — once during the week of the Republican National Convention in July 2016 and again in his Senate office two months later.
Sessions would later explain that he understood the question to be narrowly focused on whether he had exchanged campaign information with Russians as opposed to having more routine interactions with them.
Mueller's report said prosecutors accepted that assertion as plausible and closed the case without prosecution.
"WE'LL BE TAKEN CARE OF"
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates were among the first of the president's aides to be charged by Mueller, accused of a broad array of financial crimes.
FILE - In this Nov. 6, 2017, file photo, Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, leaves the federal courthouse in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
For months, they stood united as co-defendants but that relationship was severed in February 2018 when Gates agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with the investigation.
The report reveals a curious encounter one month earlier when Manafort sought to dissuade Gates from cutting a deal. He told Gates that he had spoken with the president's own lawyers and that "we'll be taken care of," according to the report.
Gates went ahead and pleaded guilty, testifying against Manafort in his trial. Manafort followed suit months later by pleading guilty and was recently sentenced to more than seven years in prison.
COUNTLESS FBI AGENTS
The day after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders made a claim that even at the time rang false.
Turns out, it was.
Sanders, pressed on the president's decision to fire Comey, said the White House had "heard from countless members of the FBI" complaining about Comey's leadership and contradicting the conventional narrative that the rank-and-file was devastated by his termination. The next day, she again stood by her claim that she personally had been in touch "between emails and text messages" with a large number of FBI personnel who said they were very happy with the president's decision.
The assertion during a White House press briefing was so baffling that an exasperated reporter at one point proclaimed, "I mean, really?"
But when questioned by Mueller's team, Sanders changed her tune, saying her reference to "countless members" of the FBI was a "slip of the tongue." She acknowledged that she had no basis for a separate statement that rank-and-file agents had lost confidence in Comey.
Sanders claimed in a series of television interviews on Friday that the "countless" comment was a "slip of the tongue" and not a scripted talking point but that she stood behind her general sentiment.
"I'm sorry I wasn't a robot," she said in one of the interviews.
In the summer of 2016, the WikiLeaks founder took an unusual interest in the Washington, D.C., murder of a former Democratic National Committee staffer.
News reports had already correctly attributed the hack of DNC servers to Russia, but Assange — whose anti-secrecy website had come in possession of stolen emails — wanted to "obscure the source of the materials" that it was releasing.
To do so, Mueller says, Assange seized on false conspiracy theories that linked the hacks to Seth Rich, the slain DNC staffer.
Even though, WikiLeaks had already been in touch with Guccifer 2.0, a fictitious Russian intelligence persona masquerading as a lone hacker, Assange promoted the idea that Rich may actually have been the source of stolen emails and connected to the DNC hack.
At one point, he announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Rich's killer.
In an August 25, 2016 interview, Assange said, "If there's someone who's potentially connected to our publication, and that person has been murdered in suspicious circumstances, it doesn't necessarily mean that the two are connected. But it is a very serious matter ... that type of allegation is very serious, as it's taken very seriously by us."
In an unrelated case, the Justice Department last week unsealed an indictment accusing Assange of conspiring with former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning to crack a U.S. government password.
The report sheds new light on the aftermath of Flynn's discussion on sanctions with Sergey Kislyak, the then-Russian ambassador to the United States, during the presidential transition period.
After a Washington Post columnist disclosed in January 2017 that Flynn and Kislyak had indeed discussed sanctions, Flynn — under pressure from the president-elect — directed K.T. McFarland, who served as deputy national security adviser, to contact the newspaper and deny that sanctions had ever been talked about.
McFarland made the call even though she knew she was relaying false information, the report said.
The following month, after Flynn was ousted from the White House, Trump sought to have McFarland draft an internal letter stating that he had not directed Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak. But McFarland refused because she didn't know whether that was true, the report says.
Flynn's sanctions discussions with Kislyak were central to the investigation and he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about it.
Associated Press writer Chad Day contributed to this report.