The Russia Connection

The Report, Episode Twelve: It Will Never Get Out

By Susan Hennessey, Benjamin Wittes
Friday, October 18, 2019, 12:32 PM

Today, we released the twelfth episode of Lawfare’s narrative audio documentary, The Report, which recounts the story Robert Mueller lays out in his 448-page report.

This episode covers Trump’s reactions to two highly damaging press stories--the public revelation of the June 9th meeting with Russians at Trump Tower and the president’s later attempt to have the Special Counsel fired. It also looks at the final stages of Trump’s long-term push to get Attorney General Sessions to unrecuse himself in order to oversee the Russia investigation and also to start investigating Trump’s political opponents. The Mueller Report documents two efforts to cover up or deny these stories; one involves a press statement dictated on Air Force One and the other involves Trump’s request to Don McGahn to create a false internal record denying the true story about Mueller’s attempted firing. The Special Counsel reaches very different conclusions about what the evidence behind those two events suggests about whether the president has obstructed justice.

The first seven episodes of The Report unpack Volume I; they tell the story of Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign’s interaction and involvement with those efforts. Episode 1 covers the Russian social media operation and the activities of the Internet Research Agency. Episode 2 focuses on the Russian hacking campaign; the stealing of documents and emails from the Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and figures associated with the Clinton campaign; and the leaks of stolen materials timed to affect the U.S. election. Episode 3 covers the Trump campaign’s involvement in the distribution of hacked materials. Episode 4 tells the story of Trump Tower Moscow, which Donald Trump sought to build even as he was denying having any business in Russia, and Trump Tower New York, where Russian representatives showed up promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Episode 5 recounts the stories of three men associated with the Trump campaign and their various ties to Russia: George Papadopoulos, Carter Page and Paul Manafort. Episode 6 details backchannel attempts by the Russians to influence the Trump campaign and transition team on policy matters—an effort to reboot U.S.-Russia relations one secret meeting at a time. Episode 7 covers the special counsel’s charging decisions—which individuals Mueller decides to prosecute, whose prosecutions he declines, and the reasons for his decisions.

We turned to Volume II in Episode 8, which offers the necessary legal and factual context to understand this second half of the report on possibly obstructive activity: Why was President Trump nervous about an investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russia? What is obstruction of justice? And Episode 9 details national security adviser Flynn’s lie to federal investigators about his phone call with the Russian ambassador and the White House response to learning of that lie. Episode 9 also charts the president’s turbulent relationship with Comey, which led the two men to a fateful Oval Office encounter. Episode 10 covers Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s decision to recuse from the Russia investigation, Trump’s reaction to the recusal, and the sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey. Mueller evaluated whether those episodes, individually or collectively, met the legal requirements of obstruction of justice. Episode 11 explains Trump’s furious reaction to the news of Mueller’s appointment and the development that the president was now personally under investigation. In his anger, the president tells Don McGahn to get rid of Mueller and turns up the pressure on Attorney General to unrecuse himself, including by recruiting a loyal campaign staffer to pester Sessions.

Episode 12 is about cover-ups. It first details the Trump team’s scramble to respond to the discovery--and eventual disclosure--of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails with the Russians. Those emails demonstrated that Trump Jr. had been informed of a Russian government effort to support the Trump campaign and that he welcomed the Russain’s offer of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Trump dictated a highly misleading statement for his son to issue in an effort to clean up the mess. This episode then maps developments in President Trump’s relentless campaign to get Sessions to unrecuse and redirect the Russia investigation into Clinton rather than him. Trump takes his battle with Sessions public, berating his “beleaguered” on Twitter and in the media until, eventually, Sessions is forced out following the midterm elections. Finally, the episode covers Trump’s panicked reaction to news reports suggesting that he directed Don McGahn to fire Mueller. The President’s not only wants McGahn to publicly refute the story, but he also asks him to retroactively create a false internal memo denying that Trump asked him to fire Mueller.

The Report has now surpassed two million downloads. We hope you’ll continue to subscribe, rate and share it widely.

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