Thursday, May 9, 2019


I've gone back through the first section of Volume 2 of the Mueller Report, concerning potential obstruction by the President with the FBI investigation, to get a better feel for the sequence of events from the beginning of January 2017 until the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel on May 17, 2017.  Stripping out excess verbiage and reorganizing the events in the report into chronological order is a device helpful in dealing with voluminous amounts of information.  I've tried not to leave out anything material, or distort anything excerpted from the report.  The outline concentrates on what Donald Trump knew, and was telling people, at the time.

Except where noted, this timeline is based on the information presented in the Mueller Report.  All quotes, except where otherwise noted by use of brackets or otherwise indicated, are directly from the Mueller Report.   The major exception are events added, from other sources, for the period from May 10 through 17.

In effect, what you see below is the prosecution's best case regarding the events.  It takes at face value the narrative presented by Mueller without providing any opportunity for Trump or other participants to provide more context or information that counters what is set forth in the report.

January 6
Trump is briefed by Intelligence Community leaders on assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

Following this briefing, FBI Director Comey has a private one on one meeting with the President-elect to tell him of "unverified, personally sensitive allegations compiled by Steele".  Comey assures Trump the FBI is not investigating him personally; "Comey recalled he did not want the President-elect to think of the conversation as a 'J Edgar Hoover move' ".  [Comey does not mention anything regarding the origins of the dossier.]

January 10
Widespread media reports (led by Buzzfeed and CNN) that Comey briefed Trump on the Steele Dossier.

January 11
Trump meets with Intelligence Community leaders expressing his concern about the leaks and asks them whether they can refute the allegations. [Remember that Trump knew then, what we all now know, the allegations he was briefed on were false.]

January 13
Senate Select Committee on Intelligence opens investigation into possible Russian election interference.

January 25
House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence opens investigation into possible Russian election interference.

January 26
Acting AG Yates contacts WH General Counsel McGahn to discuss Flynn and possible lying.

McGahn reports Yates conversation to Trump who directs him to look into the matter.

WH Chief of Staff Priebus "recalls that the President was angry with Flynn in light of what Yates had told the White House and said, 'not again, this guy, this stuff'".

Trump meets with advisers and asks their opinions of Comey.  Consensus is "not positive" but Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats supports Comey and urges Trump to meet with him face to face.

January 27
Trump invites Comey to dinner that evening.  Trump tells Comey he is thinking of ordering FBI to investigate the dossier allegations against him.  Comey recommends he not issue the order because it would give the incorrect impression he is under investigation.  According to Comey, Trump says "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty".  Comey tells him, "You will always get honesty from me."

February 2
Senate Judiciary Committee opens investigation into possible Russian election interference.

February 6
Flynn and Trump talk.  According to Flynn, "President was upset" with him.

February 13
Flynn resigns.  Trump, "We'll give you a good recommendation.  You're a good guy.  We'll take care of you."

February 14
Trump has lunch with Chris Christie.  Tells Christie, "Now that we fired Flynn, the Russia thing is over".  Christie disagrees.  Trump asks Christie to reach out to Comey.  Christie does not.

Trump meets alone with Comey.  Regarding Flynn, Trump says, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.  He is a good guy.  I hope you can let that go."  Comey agrees Flynn is "good guy" but will not commit to ending the investigation.

March 1
News of possible recusal by AG Sessions breaks.

March 2
Trump has McGahn call Sessions to ask him not to recuse, but Sessions recuses.

March 3
A furious Trump tells McGahn he wishes Roy Cohn was his lawyer [Cohn, who worked for Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, represented Trump on many matters early in his business career], lamenting he does not have his own lawyer now.  Says Robert F Kennedy and Eric Holder protected their presidents.

March 4
Trump asks Sessions to reverse recusal.  Compares him unfavorably to Robert F Kennedy and Eric Holder.

March 9
Comey briefs Gang of Eight (Congressional leaders and heads of intelligence committees) about the FBI investigation on Russia and on subjects of that investigation.

Prior to March 20 Testimony of Comey
Trump expresses frustration with advisers about Comey "for too frequently making headlines and for not attending intelligence briefings at the White House" and that he suspects him of leaking.  According to McGahn, Trump thought Comey was acting like "his own branch of government".

March 20
In congressional testimony, Comey publicly confirms Russia investigation.  Comey declines to answer question about whether Trump is under investigation.  He also says, regarding the President, "we have briefed him in great detail on the subjects of the investigation and what we're doing."

March 21
Following Comey testimony, press reports suggest Trump is under investigation.  Trump is upset, described as "beside himself".  At urging of Trump, McGahn tries to have Comey or DOJ correct misperception that Trump is under investigation.

McGahn says Asst AG Boente tells him "it is not sustainable for Comey to stay as FBI Director for next four years".  McGahn tells Trump of the comment.

March 22
According to Coats (DNI), but not Pompeo (CIA), Trump asks them to publicly say there is no link between him and Russian interference in election.  They do not.

March 23
Trump calls Coats to complain again about Comey.  Coats says to let things run their course.

March 26
Trump calls NSA Director Rogers complaining that all this has made relations with Russia difficult.  Said news stories are inaccurate and asks if he could refute them.  Though he takes no action, Rogers does not see this as order and later testifies he had "never been directed to do anything he believed to be illegal, immoral, unethical, or inappropriate" and did "not recall feeling pressure to do so". 

March 30
Trump calls Comey:
According to Comey's contemporaneous record of the conversation, the President said "he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult".  The President asked Comey what could be done to "lift the cloud".  Comey explained "that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work".  Comey also told the President that congressional leaders were aware that the FBI was not investigating the President personally.  The President said several times, "We need to get that fact out".  The President commented that if there was "some satellite" (which Comey took to mean an associate of the President's or the campaign) that did something, "it would be good to find that out" but that he himself had not done anything wrong and he hoped Comey "would find a way to get out that we weren't investigating him".
March 31
News reports that Flynn has offered to testify in exchange for immunity.  Trump tweets "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt . . ."

Late March/Early April
Trump asks KT McFarland to pass message to Flynn telling him Trump feels bad for him and he should stay strong.

April 11
Trump calls Comey again, asking he get the word out he is not personally under investigation.  Later that day, Trump tells advisers he has twice recently reached out to Comey, and tells McGahn that Comey indicated the FBI could make such a statement if DOJ approved.

Prior to May 3 Testimony of Comey
Leading up to Comey's next testimony to Congress, Trump tells advisers to work with Comey to make public he is not under investigation.  According to McGahn, the "President said that it would be the last straw if Comey did not take the opportunity to set the record straight . . .".

May 3
In public testimony, Comey refuses to answer questions about whether the FBI had "ruled out the president of the United States."  Trump is furious over this response and with Sessions, and once again with advisers brings up Robert Kennedy and Eric Holder as examples of attorneys who protected their presidents.

May 4
Steve Bannon says Trump brought up Comey at least eight times in conversations that day, each time saying, "He told me three times I'm not under investigation.  He's a showboater".  Bannon tells Trump that firing Comey will not end investigation.

May 5
Trump tells advisers he definitely wants to fire Comey.  Asks Stephen Miller to prepare letter.  Trump wants letter to start, "While I greatly appreciate you informing me that I am not under investigation concerning what I have often stated is a fabricated story on a Trump-Russia relationship, please be informed that I, and I believe the American public - including D's and R's - have lost faith in you as Director of the FBI."   Draft prepared by Miller tracks this language.

May 8
Trump meets with McGahn, Preibus, Miller, and others regarding firing Comey.  Trump reads them first paragraph of draft letter.  McGahn says he is meeting with Sessions and Rosenstein to find out what they think.

According to McGahn, Sessions and Rosenstein criticize Comey and don't object to replacing him.  Their reaction gives McGahn "peace of mind" that the firing is not an act of obstruction.

At a meeting late that afternoon, Trump tells Rosenstein to draft a memo and to "put the Russia stuff in the memo" [that he has been repeatedly told he is not under investigation]; Rosenstein says no and Trump says "he would appreciate it if Rosenstein put it in his letter anyway".

Rosenstein tells DOJ colleagues "his own reasons for replacing Comey were not the President's reasons".

May 9
Letter from Sessions recommending Comey removal and memo from Rosenstein setting out grounds for removal [but not making recommendation].  White House counsel office says Miller draft "should not see light of day".  Trump again asks Miller to draft letter mentioning Russia.  It is unclear from the Mueller report how the final text of the letter was drafted:
I have received the attached letters from the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General of the United States recommending your dismissal as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  I have accepted their recommendation and you are hereby terminated from office, and removed, effective immediately.

While I greatly appreciate your informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the bureau.

It is essential we find new leadership for the FBI that restores public trust and confidence in its vital law enforcement mission.
Trump summons McCabe, who will be acting FBI Director, to the White House.  McCabe in response to question from Trump, says he knows the president is not under investigation.  McCabe says he has been closely involve with the Russia investigation and it will continue.

May 10
Trump meets with Russian Ambassador and Foreign Minister:
I just fired the head of the FBI.  He was crazy, a real nut job.  I faced great pressure because of Russia.  That's taken off . . . I'm not under investigation".  The President never denied making those statements, and the White House did not dispute the account, instead issuing a statement that said: "By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia's actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.  The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it." 
May 11
In an interview with Lester Holt, "The President affirmed that he expected the new FBI Director to continue the Russia investigation".

Later, after watching the Holt interview, the President tweets, "Russia must be laughing up their sleeves watching as the U.S. tears itself apart over a Democrat EXCUSE for losing the election."

These next entries are NOT in the Mueller report:

May 10
McCabe opens FBI obstruction investigation regarding President Trump. 

May 11
McCabe testifies in the Senate and Sen Rubio asks "“has the dismissal of Mr. Comey in any way impeded, interrupted, stopped, or negatively impacted any of the work, any investigation, or any ongoing projects at the Federal Bureau of Investigation? and McCabe responds "there has been no effort to impede our investigation to date."

May 12
McCabe meets with Rosenstein and recommends appointment of Special Counsel.

May 15
McCabe and Rosenstein talk again about Special Counsel.

May 16
Rosenstein brings Robert Mueller to the White House to meet with Trump as potential FBI Director.  However, by statute the FBI Director is eligible to serve only one term, for a maximum of ten years.  At the end of Mueller's earlier ten-year tenure as FBI Director it was extended for two years by a special Congressional Act and new legislation would be required if he was to be reappointed.  Trump, Rosenstein, and Mueller converse in the Oval Office.  It is not known whether the legal impediment to Mueller's appointment is raised.  McCabe has recently published a book in which he writes that Robert Mueller temporarily left his cell phone behind after meeting with President Trump in the Oval Office and that the phone “later had to be retrieved.”"

May 17
Rosenstein announces he has appointed Mueller as Special Counsel.

My thoughts:

Just as during the campaign we saw the difference between amateurs (Trump Jr and Kushner have an unproductive meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian) and professionals (the Clinton campaign works through four layers of cut-outs to successfully get damaging, though inaccurate, information on Trump from the Russians which they leak to the media and inject into the FBI and DOJ via their contacts), we see the same play out from January through mid-May now that Trump is president.  A more cautious person, someone more experienced in Washington, might have better controlled himself, and not have fallen into the traps as Trump did.  On the other hand, Trump's naivete about the process and frequently expressed frustrated reaction to the FBI's continued refusal to state publicly what he has been repeatedly assured in private - that he personally is not under investigation, along with his suspicion that those in the intelligence community are leaking information, in some instances false information, suspicions that have since proved well-founded, actually help his case that he was not involved in obstruction.

There has been a lot of commentary since release of the Mueller report that Trump's staff saved him from some of his worst instincts.  I think that true in some instances, but on two critical matters they failed him.  The first is with whatever advice he was getting to keep Comey in office as of January and to not remove him shortly thereafter. The longer Comey was there the worse things became.  The second was persuading the President to not follow his instincts in making it clear that Comey's firing was because he refused to state publicly what he was telling the President privately.  Instead the final letter inaccurately assigned the blame for the firing to Sessions and Rosenstein, an inaccuracy the President is responsible for as the one who signed the letter, but was also insisted upon by his advisors.

The historical references employed by Trump and Comey are also interesting.  On three occasions, Trump accurately complains that he does not have a lawyer willing to protect him as Robert F Kennedy did his brother, and Eric Holder performed for Obama; in fact, Holder openly described himself as President Obama's "wingman".

Comey in his testimony regarding the January 6 meeting claims "he did not want the President-elect to think of the conversation as a 'J Edgar Hoover move', a reference to the FBI Director's implied threats to Presidents (particularly JFK, LBJ, and Nixon) to release damaging information if he did not get his way.  It would be interesting to get Trump's take on this, particularly since he was schooled on politics by Roy Cohn, who knew Washington and was a cynical manipulator, well acquainted with Hoover's methods.  What did Trump think when just a couple of days after a "confidential" briefing by the FBI Director, he saw details of the salacious allegation spread across the news media; allegations he knew, and we now know, to be false?  Did he think what Comey was up to was precisely what Hoover used to do?

According to Comey's own testimony, on January 27 he tells Trump, "You will always get honesty from me."  At the same time, he was repeatedly telling Trump he was not under investigation personally, Comey was leaking damaging information to his allies in the press and documenting his actions in memos to file.  In retrospect, Comey's assurances that the President was not "personally" under investigation was misleading because what was really going on was an FBI investigation that Comey hoped would eventually lead to the President.

Finally, it is very strange that Rosenstein arranged for Mueller to visit the White House supposedly to be interviewed for the FBI Director position at a time when Rosenstein must have already known he was going to appoint Special Counsel and Mueller would be named to the position.

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