White House

3 things about Congress buried in the Mueller report

Chris Christie warned Trump firing Comey would erode his GOP support on Capitol Hill

Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, here testifying as FBI director, revealed a Trump team heavily focused on congressional investigations and sometimes-false testimony to committees. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

From President Donald Trump’s signals to his former fixer about his upcoming — and false — congressional testimony to questions about whether senior administration officials committed perjury, Congress is repeatedly at the center of key parts of the Mueller report.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team, after poring over reams of documents and conducting hours upon hours of interviews, did not find that Trump tried to withhold information from congressional investigators. What’s more, the report repeatedly describes the president and top aides as concerned with the committees that were investigating them and collaborating on how to approach dealing with those panels.

For instance, then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, sometimes an adviser to Trump, recalls a June 2017 telephone call from the president about his desire to remove Mueller. Christie advised against it “because the President would lose support from Republicans in Congress if he did so,” Mueller’s team wrote. Here are three other Congress-related things you might have missed in the Mueller report.

The Russian lawyer

Much has been made about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting that Donald Trump Jr. enthusiastically set up because he thought Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was bringing dirt on Hillary Clinton. The Trump team long claimed the meeting was about Russian adoption policy, until the president in August 2018 admitted it was to get dirt on Clinton that they never actually received.

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But Mueller’s team disclosed that she told a Senate committee that her true intentions were not to speak to Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and since-convicted campaign chairman Paul Manafort about Clinton or adoptions.

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Mueller’s report, citing Veselnitskaya’s statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee in November 2017, claimed she went to the Manhattan Trump HQ “on the matter of assisting me or my colleagues in informing the Congress members as to the criminal nature of manipulation and interference with the legislative activities of the US Congress.”

“In other words, Veselnitskaya claimed her focus was on Congress and not the Campaign,” Mueller wrote, adding this notable qualifier: “No witness, however, recalled any reference to Congress during the meeting.”

Sessions cleared

As all of Washington pored over Mueller’s 448 pages, the focus was on just how close the special counsel came to stating that the president of the United States committed crimes. But the special counsel’s team also examined whether others did, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Mueller looked at the two times Sessions told the Senate Judiciary Committee, as he did during his 2017 confirmation hearing, that “I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians.” The former Alabama GOP senator later changed his tune, saying he did have such contacts while advising the 2016 Trump campaign.

But Mueller cleared the former AG of perjury, a crime that has tripped up other Trump associates because Sessions’ oral testimony remark came “in response to a question that had linked such communications to an alleged ‘continuing exchange of information’ between the Trump Campaign and Russian government intermediaries.”

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“Given the context in which the question was asked, that understanding is plausible,” according to the report. “Accordingly, the Office concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Sessions was willfully untruthful in his answers and thus insufficient to obtain or sustain a conviction for perjury or false statements.”

‘Congressional trust’

Mueller found two instances in which White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made false statements about Trump’s decision to fire Comey, including one from the James Brady Briefing Room podium.

“We’ve heard from countless members of the FBI that say very different things,” she told a reporter in May 2017, asserting that rank-and-file agents wanted Comey ousted. But she told Mueller’s team the comment had been a “slip of the tongue,” adding that a similar remark in an interview was made “in the heat of the moment.”

She and other senior White House officials also contended lawmakers from both parties had lost confidence in Comey over his handling of the bureau’s investigation of the Clinton email server scandal. That contention, Mueller revealed, appears to have come from the same memo Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote to Trump at his behest, which he initially claimed was his basis for firing Comey — until he told NBC’s Lester Holt he was going to terminate the FBI boss anyway.

“The way the Director handled the conclusion of the email investigation was wrong. As a result, the FBI is unlikely to regain public and congressional trust until it has a Director who understands the gravity of the mistakes and pledges never to repeat them. Having refused to admit his errors, the Director cannot be expected to implement the necessary corrective actions,” Sessions and Rosenstein wrote to Trump.

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