WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is still distorting the truth about the Russia investigation, claiming exoneration from a special counsel's report that he is also assailing as hopelessly biased.
Confronted with unflattering details in the report about his months-long effort to undermine federal investigators, Trump over the weekend blasted special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment as "highly conflicted."
In fact, the Justice Department's ethics experts cleared Mueller to run the two-year investigation and Trump's own aides previously dismissed the president's complaints as "ridiculous" and unfounded.
Trump is also claiming full vindication by the report. But while clearing Trump of criminal conspiracy, Mueller all but boldfaced this other finding in the 400-plus page report: No exoneration for Trump on obstruction of justice.
The statements were among many misrepresentations spread over the past week by the president's team, including Attorney General William Barr, who declared Trump innocent and suggested, inaccurately, that Congress had no role in deciding the matter.
TRUMP: "The Mueller Report ... was written as nastily as possible by 13 (18) Angry Democrats who were true Trump Haters, including highly conflicted Bob Mueller himself." — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Trump repeats a baseless charge that Mueller is a "highly conflicted" prosecutor, something that Trump's own aides have debunked.
Trump has previously tweeted and complained to aides that Mueller would not be objective, saying Mueller had interviewed for the FBI director position shortly before being named as special counsel and that Mueller had disputed some fees relating to his membership at a Trump golf course.
But the president's aides, including then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, then-White House counsel Don McGahn and Reince Priebus, the chief of staff at the time, rejected those complaints as not representing "true conflicts," according to the special counsel's report. Bannon called the claims "ridiculous." Bannon indicated that while the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director, Mueller did not come in looking for a job.
Mueller, a longtime Republican, was cleared by the Justice Department to lead the Russia investigation. The department said in May 2017 that its ethics experts "determined that Mr. Mueller's participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate." The issue had come up because of his former position at the WilmerHale law firm, which represented some key players in the probe.
Mueller was appointed as special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee.
TRUMP: "The Mueller Report should not have been authorized in the first place." — tweet Saturday.
THE FACTS: Trump is entitled to that opinion. The grounds he has given, though, are at odds with some facts.
He claimed as recently as last month that the probe was hatched by Democrats after losing the 2016 election. As evidence, Trump often points to a dossier of anti-Trump research financed by the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton's campaign. The research that was ultimately compiled into the dossier was initially financed by anti-Trump conservatives, and later by the Democrats.
But the Mueller report makes clear that the FBI's investigation actually began months before it received the dossier.
The report notes the investigation was initiated after the FBI received information related to Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, not the dossier. Last year, the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee made the same finding.
In late July 2016, days after WikiLeaks released thousands of internal Democratic National Committee documents that proved embarrassing to Clinton, the FBI became aware of a meeting two months prior between Papadopoulos and a representative of a foreign government, according to Mueller's report. Papadopoulos claimed the Trump campaign had received "indications" from Moscow that it could assist the campaign by anonymously releasing political dirt on Clinton.