President Donald Trump escaped a subpoena forcing him to testify — despite offering only written answers that the special counsel determined to be ‘inadequate’ — because Robert Mueller’s office was wary of the ‘substantial delay’ a legal battle would cause.
Mueller’s decision to forgo a court fight to compel the president’s testimony may be one of Trump’s biggest victories during the probe and came despite the president frustrating investigators by saying more than two dozen times in his written responses that he did not recall or remember critical events during and after his presidential campaign.
‘We made that decision in view of the substantial delay that such an investigative step would likely produce at a late stage in our investigation,’ according to the special counsel’s report released by the Justice Department on Thursday.
‘We also assessed that based on the significant body of evidence we had already obtained of the president’s actions and his public and private statements describing or explaining those actions, we had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the president’s testimony.’
That includes Trump saying he didn’t recall knowing about the now-famous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower when top members of his campaign met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer to discuss possible dirt on Democrat Hillary Clinton.
‘This was one of many busy months during a fast-paced campaign,’ Trump explains in his written response, which was included in the redacted version of the investigation’s report released Thursday.
Trump did say his desk calendar indicates he met with Paul Manafort the morning of the meeting with the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Attendees at the meeting, which included Manafort as well as the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and son-in-law Jared Kushner, subsequently said nothing came of the meeting.
Trump also said he could not recall knowledge of the hacking and release of emails belonging to Democratic officials before they were publicly reported, and says he does not recall anyone associated with his campaign being in contact with Wikileaks. He also says he does not remember being told that longtime adviser Roger Stone had been in contact with Wikileaks, or that anyone associated with his campaign had discussions with any entities regarding the timing or release of hacked emails. And Trump says he doesn’t remember having any discussion during the campaign about offering a pardon to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
At some points, Trump defends his actions as motivated by campaign strategy or humor. In response to a question about a speech in which Trump called on Russia to release emails Clinton sent during her tenure at the State Department, the president wrote that he was speaking ‘in jest and sarcastically.’
But more frequently, Trump says simply that he doesn’t recall involvement in events. For instance, Trump says he doesn’t remember being involved in changing language in the Republican Party platform that watered down support for arming Ukraine, and he believes he learned about it from media reporting. Critics have suggested the softening of the language in the platform adopted at the Republican convention was evidence of an attempt to help Russian President Vladimir Putin, but the president had previously denied being personally involved in the effort.
Trump also downplayed his involvement in developing a Trump Organization project in Moscow. Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen, said he lied to Congress about work on the Russia project so that his comments would align with Trump and other campaign officials who insisted publicly he had no business in the country.
Trump says his conversations with Cohen about the Moscow project were ‘not memorable’ and that he was ‘not enthused about the proposal.’ He says he ‘vaguely’ remembers press inquiries about the incident and says he likely spoke with campaign staff or Trump Organization employees about how to respond but could not remember any particular conversation.
Trump also says he can’t recall being told during the campaign of efforts by Russian officials to meet with him, and he says he cannot remember Manafort telling him about particular policy positions Russia would want the U.S. to support.