President Donald Trump falsely asserted in a Twitter post on Monday that people “who were closest to me” were not called to testify as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election ― ignoring that several key witnesses had close ties to him.
The Associated Press, in a fact check of Trump’s claim, stated flatly, “The president is wrong on multiple counts here.”
In his tweet, Trump said, “Isn’t it amazing that the people who were closest to me, by far, and knew the Campaign better than anyone, were never even called to testify before Mueller.” He said the reason is that such witnesses “would all say ‘NO COLLUSION’ and only very good things!”
During its nearly two-year investigation, Mueller’s team spoke to numerous people with close ties to Trump, his presidential campaign and his administration.
One of those major players was Trump’s former personal lawyer and longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, who became a cooperating witness and was sentenced to three years in prison on charges that included violating campaign finance laws and lying to Congress. Cohen also testified before Congress earlier this year about the inner workings of the Trump campaign, and he said Trump directed him to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet about their alleged affair.
Another key cooperating witness for the Russia probe was former White House counsel Don McGahn, who refused the president’s orders to get rid of Mueller, according to Mueller’s report. After a New York Times story in January 2018 reported that several months previously Trump had pushed McGahn to fire Mueller’s orders, the Mueller report disclosed that the president tried to get McGahn to deny that he had given that directive.
Mueller’s team also interviewed White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders ― who, according to the special counsel’s report, admitting lying to the media about the reaction within the FBI to Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey.
Others offering testimony in the Mueller investigation included two former White House chiefs of staff, Reince Priebus and John Kelly, and Steve Bannon, who after playing a major role in Trump’s campaign briefly served as the president’s chief strategist in the White House.
Mueller’s report also said that Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, “declined to be voluntarily interviewed” as part of the investigation. Trump Jr. and the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were among the campaign officials who met in June 2016 at Trump Tower in New York with a Russian lawyer associated with the Kremlin. Days before the meeting, Trump Jr. received a message from a music promoter telling him a senior Russian government official was offering to provide damaging information on Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. responded saying, “if it’s what you say I love it.”
Kushner, who oversees various policy issues in Trump’s administration, met multiple times with Mueller’s team.
Trump’s Monday tweet stands as his latest mischaracterization of the findings of the special counsel investigation. He routinely has been saying it found “no collusion” and “no obstruction,” but the latter claim is incorrect.
The Justice Department last week released a redacted version of Mueller’s report, which said it “did not establish” that the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The report did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, but it did offer details of the president’s efforts to “influence” the investigation and cooperating witnesses.
The president did not mention in his tweet that Mueller repeatedly tried to speak with him, at one point scheduling an in-person interview early last year only to have it canceled by Trump’s legal team.
The special counsel reportedly threatened in May 2018 to subpoena Trump if the White House refused a sit-down interview, but the Mueller report said the special counsel’s team eventually concluded that the “substantial quality of information we had obtained from other sources” allowed it to draw conclusions “on intent and credibility” without such a face-to-face session.
Trump ended up giving written answers in November to some of the special counsel’s questions, reportedly only answering ones related to election interference by Russia and not ones related to whether he tried to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.
Along with Cohen, people within Trump’s circle who ended up facing charges stemming from Mueller’s probe include former campaign aide George Papadopoulos, former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former campaign deputy Richard Gates and Trump associate Roger Stone.