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Home https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ US https://server7.kproxy.com/servlet/redirect.srv/sruj/smyrwpoii/p2/ A Portrait of the White House and Its Culture of Chaos

A Portrait of the White House and Its Culture of Chaos



WASHINGTON – As President Trump with advisers in the Oval Office in May 2017 to discuss replacements for the F.B.I. director he had just fired, Attorney General Jeff Sessions slipped out of the room to take a call.

When he came back, he gave Mr. Trump bad news: Robert S. Mueller III has just been appointed as a special counsel to take over the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and any actions by the president to impede it. Trump slumped in his chair. "Oh, my God," he said. “This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm fucked. ”

It has not been the end of his presidency, but it has come to consume it. Although the resulting two-year investigation ended without charges against Mr. Trump, Mr. Mueller's report painted in a damning portrait of a White House dominated by a president desperate for the inquiry only to be restrained by aides equally desperate to his orders.

The White House that emerges from more than 400 pages of Mr. Mueller's report is a hotbed of conflict infused by a culture of dishonesty – defined by a president who lies to the public and his own staff, then tries to get his aides to lie to him. Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened to fire lieutenants who did not carry out his wishes while they repeatedly threatened to resign rather than cross lines of propriety or law

At one juncture after another, Mr. Trump made his troubles worse, giving in to anger and grievance and lashing out in ways that turned to witnesses against him. He was saved from accusation of obstruction of justice, the report makes clear, because aides saw danger and stopped from following his own instincts. Based on contemporary notes, emails, texts and F.B.I. interviews, the report draws out scene after scene of a White House on the edge.

At one point, Reince Priebus, then the White House chief of staff, said the president's attacks on his own attorney general meant that he had "D.O.J. by the throat. ”At another, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, complained to Mr. Priebus that the president was trying to get him to "crazy shit." Trump was equally unhappy with Mr. McGahn, calling him a "lying bastard."

From its first days, Mr. Trump's presidency struggled to reach the threat of Russia's interference in the 2016 election and suspensions of his team contacts with Moscow.

Just weeks after taking office, Mr. Trump pushed out his national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, who lied to the F.B.I. about his conversations with Russia's ambassador.

But Mr. Trump hugged Mr. Flynn, count him: "We'll give you a good recommendation. You're a good guy. We'll take care of you. ”

Mr. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, mistakenly assumed that getting rid of Mr. Flynn would derail the investigation then be led by James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director. During lunch with Chris Christie, then the governor of New Jersey, Mr. Flynn called and Mr. Kushner spoke to him

"The president cares about you," Mr. Kushner customs Mr. Flynn. “I can get the president to send out a positive tweet about you later.”

Mr. Trump was worried about Mr. Comey, too. During the lunch, he asked Mr. Christie to call Mr. Comey, a friend. "Tell him he's part of the team," Mr. Trump instructed.

Mr. Christie thought the president's request was "nonsensical" and never followed through.

Other advisers feared Mr. Trump wasn't telling the truth to the public. After a news conference at which he denied any business dealings in Russia, Michael D. Cohen, then the president's personal lawyer who had been trying to arrange a Trump Tower in Moscow, expressed concern.

Mr. Trump said that the project had not yet been finalized. "Why mention it if it's not a deal?" He said.

Trump wanted to make sure Mr. Sessions in charge of the Justice Department, and asked Mr. McGahn to tell the attorney general not to recuse himself because of his work on the Trump campaign. Mr. McGahn tried to head off to the attorney general three times, but Mr. Sessions announced his recusal that afternoon.

Mr. Trump was furious. Summoning Mr. McGahn to the Oval Office the next day, he said, "I don't have a lawyer," and added that he knew Roy Cohn, the famed just-knuckle attorney who once worked for him in New York, was still his lawyer. Mr. Trump said that Robert F. Kennedy protected John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. protected Barack Obama

"You tell me that Bobby and Jack didn't talk about investigations?" "Or Obama didn't tell Eric Holder who to investigate?"

Mr. Trump screamed at Mr. McGahn about how weak Mr. Sessions were, and Stephen K. Bannon, then the president's chief strategist, thought he was as mad as he had ever seen him.

The president asked Adm. Michael S. Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, could do anything about news stories on the Russia issues. The admiral's deputy, Richard Ledgett, who was present for the call, considered it the most unusual experience of his 40 years in government and prepared a memo describing the call that he and Admiral Rogers signed and put in a safe. Trump is about the Russian investigation with his intelligence chiefs on multiple occasions. At one point, Admiral Rogers recalled a private conversation in which the president said something like the "Russia thing has got to go away." But the intelligence chiefs said they did not feel pressured to take specific actions.

Mr. Trump increasingly focused on his ire on Mr. Comey, who during testimony on Capitol Hill on May 3, 2017, refused to answer questions about whether the president himself was under investigation.

Mr. Comey's dismissal led the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, to appoint Mr. Mueller, forms F.B.I. director, to take over the investigation. Fearing it would mean the end of his presidency, Mr. Trump lashed out again at Mr. Sessions

"How could you do this, Jeff?" He demanded. He told Mr. Sessions, "You were supposed to protect me," or words to that effect.

"Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels, the ruins your presidency," he added. “It takes years and years, and I am able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me. ”

Mr. Trump demanded that his attorney general resign. Mr. Sessions said he would, and he returned to the Oval office the next day with a resignation letter he handed to Mr. Trump.

The president puts the letter in his pocket and repeatedly asked Mr. Sessions whether he wanted to continue serving as attorney general. When Mr. Sessions finally said he did, the president said he wanted him to stay. The two shook hands, but Mr. Trump kept the letter.

When they learned about the letter, Mr. Priebus and Mr. Bannon worried that if he kept it, Mr. Trump could use it to improperly influence Mr. Sessions; it would, said Mr. Priebus, serve as a "shock collar" keeping the attorney general on a leash.

The next day, May 19, Mr. Trump left the White House for the Middle East. On Air Force One flying from Saudi Arabia to Israel three days later, the president took the letter from his pocket and showed it off to aides. Later on the trip, when Mr. Priebus asked Mr. Trump for the letter, the president claimed he did not have it and it was actually back at the White House.

Three days after the president returned to Washington, he finally returned the letter to Mr. Sessions with a note: "Not accepted."

But he did not give up trying to control the investigation, calling Mr. Sessions at home to ask if he would "unrecuse" himself and directly the Justice Department to prosecute Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Sessions refused

Trump resolved to find someone who would. On June 17, Mr. Trump called Mr. McGahn from Camp David and told him to have Mr. Rosenstein Fire Mr. Mueller because of conflicts of interest.

During a 23-minute conversation, Mr. Trump said something along the lines of: “You got to do this. You got to call Rod. ”Mr. McGahn, who along with other advisers believed that the supposed conflicts were "silly" and "not real," was perturbed by the call.

The president then called again. "Mueller has to go," he told Mr. McGahn. “Call me back when you do it.”

Mr. McGahn decided he would be resigned, not to repeat the experience of Robert H. Bork, who complied with President Richard M. Nixon's order to fire the Watergate prosecutor during the Saturday Night Massacre before going to serve as an appeals court judge. ] M r. McGahn, saying that he wanted to be more like Judge Bork and not "Saturday Night Massacre Bork," drove to the office to pack his possessions and submit his resignation. When Mr. McGahn Customs Mr. Priebus and Mr. Bannon, they urged him not to resign and he backed off.

Undeterred, Mr. Trump summoned his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to the White House two days later and dictated a message to him to deliver to Mr. Sessions that would have effectively limited the scope of the investigation to Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In the message, Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Sessions to give a speech declaring that Mr. Trump was "treated very unfairly" by the investigation. "" He shouldn't have a Special Prosecutor / Counsel b / c he hasn't done anything wrong, "Mr. Sessions was to say. "I was on the campaign w / him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b / c I was there. He didn't do anything wrong except for the greatest campaign in American history. ”

A scheduling conflict scotched the meeting, but Mr. Trump raised it again a month later, saying that if Mr. Sessions did not meet, Mr. Lewandowski should tell him he was fired. Mr. Lewandowski assured him that the message would be delivered

Hours later, the president criticized the attorney general in an interview with The New York Times. While the meeting with Mr. Lewandowski was never a hero, Mr. Sessions understood his tenuous position and carried a letter of resignation in his pocket every time he visited the White House.

Late June, presidential advisers and lawyers hosted by Donald Trump Jr., along with Mr. Kushner and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman. But the president said he did not want to hear about it.

A few days later, at the office of Mr. Kushner's lawyer, Hope Hicks, the president's communications adviser, saw emails about setting up the meeting and offering "dirt" on Mrs. Clinton on behalf of the Russian government. In a meeting, Mr. Kushner played down the encounter with the Russians, counting the president it was about adoption.

Hicks suggested getting Donald Trump Jr. release the emails as part of an interview with "softball questions." She warned that the emails were "really bad" and the story would be "massive" when it broke, but the president again said he did not want to hear about it.

On July 7, while the president was at the G-20 summit meeting in Germany, Ms. Hicks learned that The Times was a story about the Trump Tower meeting. Ms. Hicks, on the flight home from Germany, recommended disclosing the entire story, but the president rebuffed here, saying a draft statement said too much.

Instead, Mr. Trump suggested the statement say that his eldest son had attended a meeting about Russian adoptions.

Hicks then texted Donald Trump Jr. a statement asking if that was all right. The president's son wanted to insert that they "primarily" discussed Russian adoption because, as he texted to Ms. Hicks, they "started with some Hillary thing which was bs and some other nonsense which we shot down fast."

Ms. Hicks responded: "I think that is right too but boss man told it a lot of questions." Trump, who urged releasing the emails themselves, finally did the White House learned that The Times was about to publish them

Mr. Trump did not stop pressing Mr. Sessions to take back control of the investigation. On Oct. 16, president with privately with Mr. Sessions and said he should look again at Mrs. Clinton's emails. Mr. Sessions made no promises

Two days later, the president posted the first of several tweets in the coming weeks complaining that the Justice Department was not investigating Mrs. Clinton. One of the tweets concluded: "DO SOMETHING!"

The pressure on the president rose in November when Mr. Flynn's lawyer's duty Mr. Trump's team that he would be accepting in plea deal. One of Mr. Trump's lawyers left a voice mail message for one of Mr. Flynn's: “[R] emember what we've always said about the president and his feelings toward Flynn and that still remains.”

On Dec. 6, five days after Mr. Flynn pleaded guilty to contacting the Russian government, Mr. Trump pulled out Mr. Sessions aside after a cabinet meeting and again suggested he "unrecuse" himself. "You'd be a hero," he said, while saying he wasn't going to do anything. "

In January 2018, The Times reported about the president's June 2017 effort to have Mr. Mueller fired. A lively Mr. Trump pressed Mr. McGahn publicly rebut the story, but would not because the article reportedly reported the president's desires.

Mr. Trump insisted that Mr. McGahn deny it. "If he doesn't write a letter, then maybe I'll have to get rid of him," the president said, or something to that effect.

John F. Kelly, who had replaced Mr. Priebus as chief of staff, then arranged a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. McGahn

"I never said to four Mueller," Mr. Trump said. "I never said" fire. "This story doesn't look good. You need to correct this. You're the White House counsel. ”

“ Did I say the word 'fire'? ”He asked.

“ What you said is, 'Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can't be the special counsel, "" Mr. McGahn replied. He refused the president's request that he "do a correction."

Mr. Trump then complained about Mr. McGahn writing things down. “Why do you take notes? Lawyers don't take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes. ”

Mr. McGahn maintained he took notes because he was a "real lawyer" and they create a record.

"I had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn," Mr. Trump said. "He did not take notes."

But Mr. McGahn did. And so did plenty of others.


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