Mueller report shows ‘fake news’ repeatedly came from Trump, not the media

President's vehement branding of reports on James Comey's firing and conversations with Russian ambassadors as false appear to be wilful cover-ups

Paul Farhi
Friday 19 April 2019 09:45 BST
Donald Trump says he's 'having a good day' following Mueller report release

If special counsel Robert Mueller‘s investigation makes one thing clear, it’s that many of the news reports that President Donald Trump branded as “fake news“ were, in fact, very real news indeed.

While Mr Mueller’s report didn’t establish a criminal conspiracy and was “unable” to conclude that obstruction of justice occurred – contrary to hours of speculation among cable-news pundits during Mr Mueller’s long investigation – it also largely validated news accounts that Trump dismissed or disparaged.

Instead, at least in the Mueller team’s analysis, the fake news seems to have flowed not from the media but from the other direction.

His report, released Thursday, cites multiple instances in which Trump and White House aides misled or lied to journalists or in public statements as the investigation was unfolding.

On the day of Mr Mueller’s appointment, in May 2017, for example, White House aides said Trump reacted calmly to the news.

In fact, according to Mr Mueller’s report, Trump’s first reaction was anything but calm.

According to notes taken by an aide, Trump responded by saying: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f***ed ... This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters repeatedly in May 2017 that she personally had heard from “countless members of the FBI” that they were “grateful and thankful” to Trump for firing FBI director James Comey.

That never happened, Mr Mueller said. He wrote that Ms Sanders later acknowledged to investigators that her comments were “not founded on anything”.

Trump also dictated a press statement saying that he had fired Mr Comey based on the recommendations of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

But Mr Mueller found that Trump had already decided to fire James Comey before Gen Rosenstein had weighed in.

Mr Trump backed down and later publicly acknowledged he intended to fire Mr Comey regardless of Gen Rosenstein’s memo after unnamed Justice Department officials “made clear to him” that they would “resist” the bogus justification, Mr Mueller said.

Incoming White House aides also lied about press accounts they knew were accurate.

Former national security adviser Michael Flynn directed an aide, KT McFarland, to call Washington Post columnist David Ignatius during the presidential transition in January 2017 and deny Mr Ignatius’ reporting about Mr Flynn’s conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Ms McFarland “knew she was providing false information” when she called Mr Ignatius to dispute his surmise that Mr Flynn had discussed removing sanctions on Russia with Sergey Kislyak. (Prompted by Ms McFarland’s call, The Post updated the column to note that a “Trump official” denied that Mr Flynn discussed sanctions.)

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Mr Trump and his aides also knocked down an accurate New York Times story in May 2017 reporting that the president had asked Mr Comey for loyalty during a private dinner several months before his firing.

Mr Trump even lied about who invited whom to dinner:

He told NBC News anchor Lester Holt in an interview that month Mr Comey had asked for it because “he wanted to stay on”.

Mr Mueller found evidence that the president extended the invitation to Mr Comey on 27 January.

On the eve of Mr Comey’s testimony to Congress that May, Mr Trump sought to raise questions about his credibility, when – as Mr Mueller found – it was Trump’s credibility that was questionable.

At the time, Trump tweeted, “James Comey better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press!”

Mr Comey’s contemporaneous accounts of his meeting with Mr Trump and corroboration from his FBI colleagues also show that another New York Times story, branded as “fake news” by the president, was true.

The Times reported that Trump had asked Mr Comey to end the investigation of Mr Flynn; Mr Mueller found “substantial evidence” that this was true, despite Mr Trump publicly saying otherwise.

Mr Trump also tried to persuade then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn to deny stories in The Washington Post and the Times in early 2018 that Trump had asked Mr McGahn to fire Mr Mueller about seven months earlier.

Mr McGahn refused repeatedly to undercut the stories because he knew they were “accurate in reporting on the President’s effort to have the Special Counsel removed”.

Mr Mueller noted that Trump “challenged” his lawyer for taking notes of their conversation.

US attorney general William Barr says there was no collusion between Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential election

“Why do you take notes?” he asked Mr McGahn, according to the report. “Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.”

Mr McGahn said he kept notes because he is a “real lawyer” and to establish a record.

Mr Trump replied, “I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.’’

Mr Cohn, who was chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy, during Mr McCarthy’s communist-hunting hearings in the 1950s, was disbarred by a New York court in 1986 because of “dishonesty, fraud, deceit and misrepresentation”.

The Washington Post’ - additional reporting by Margaret Sullivan

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