II. FACTUAL RESULTS OF THE OBSTRUCTION INVESTIGATION
This section of the report details the evidence we obtained. We first provide an overview of how Russia became an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, and how candidate Trump responded. We then tum to the key events that we investigated: the President 's conduct concerning the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn; the President 's reaction to public confirmation of the FBI 's Russia investigation; events leading up to and surrounding the termination of FBI Director Comey; efforts to terminate the Special Counsel; efforts to curtail the scope of the Special Counsel 's investigation; efforts to prevent disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and senior campaign officials; efforts to have the Attorney General unrecuse; and conduct towards McGahn, Cohen, and other witnesses.
We summarize the evidence we found and then analyze it by reference to the three statutory obstruction-of-justice elements: obstructive act, nexus to a proceeding, and intent. We focus on elements because, by regulation, the Special Counsel has" jurisdiction... to investigate... federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel 's investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.'' 28 C.F.R. ยง 600.4( a). Consistent with our jurisdiction to investigate federal obstruction crimes, we gathered evidence that is relevant to the elements of those crimes and analyzed them within an elements framework-while refraining from reaching ultimate conclusions about whether crimes were committed, for the reasons explained above. This section also does not address legal and constitutional defenses raised by counsel for the President; those defenses are analyzed in Volume II, Section III, infra.
A. The Campaign 's Response to Reports About Russian Support for Trump
During the 2016 campaign, the media raised questions about a possible connection between the Trump Campaign and Russia. The questions intensified after WikiLeaks released politically damaging Democratic Party emails that were reported to have been hacked by Russia. Trump responded to questions about possible connections to Russia by denying any business involvement in Russia-even though the Trump Organization had pursued a business project in Russia as late as June 2016. Trump also expressed skepticism that Russia had hacked the emails at the same time as he and other Campaign advisors privately sought information[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER) about any further planned WikiLeaks releases. After the election, when questions persisted about possible links between Russia and the Trump Campaign, the President-Elect continued to deny any connections to Russia and privately expressed concerns that reports of Russian election interference might lead the public to question the legitimacy of his election.
1. Press Reports Allege Links Between the Trump Campaign and Russia
On June 16, 2015, Donald J. Trump declared his intent to seek nomination as the Republican candidate for President. By early 2016, he distinguished himself among Republican candidates by speaking of closer ties with Russia, saying he would get along well with Russian President Vladimir Putin, questioning whether the NATO alliance was obsolete, and praising Putin as a" strong leader.'' The press reported that Russian political analysts and perceived Trump as favorable.to Russia.
Beginning in February 2016 and continuing through the summer, the media reported that several Trump campaign advisors appeared to have ties to Russia. For example, the press reported that campaign advisor Michael Flynn was seated next to Vladimir Putin at an RT gala in Moscow in December 2015 and that Flynn had appeared regularly on RT as an analyst. The press also reported that foreign policy advisor Carter Page had ties to a Russian state-run gas company, and that campaign chairman Paul Manafort had done work for the" Russian-backed former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych.'' In addition, the press raised questions during the Republican National Convention about the Trump Campaign 's involvement in changing the Republican platform 's stance on giving" weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces.''
2. The Trump Campaign Reacts to WikiLeaks 's Release of Hacked Emails
On June 14, 2016, a cybersecurity firm that had conducted in-house analysis for the Democratic National Committee( DNC) posted an announcement that Russian government hackers had infiltrated the DNC 's computer and obtained access to documents.
On July 22, 2016, the day before the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks posted thousands of hacked DNC documents revealing sensitive internal deliberations. Soon thereafter, Hillary Clinton 's campaign manager publicly contended that Russia had hacked the DNC emails and arranged their release in order to help candidate Trump. On July 26, 2016, the New York Times reported that U.S." intelligence agencies ha[ d] told the White House they now have` high confidence' that the Russian government was behind the theft of emails and documents from the Democratic National Committee.',
Within the Trump Campaign, aides reacted with enthusiasm to reports of the hacks.[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER] discussed with Campaign officials that WikiLeaks would release the hacked material. Some witnesses said that Trump himself discussed the possibility of upcoming releases[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER]. Michael Cohen, then-executive vice president of the Trump Organization and special counsel to Trump, recalled hearing[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER]. recalled that Trump responded," oh good, alright,'' and[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER]. Manafort said that shortly after WikiLeaks 's July 22, 2016 release of hacked documents, he spoke to Trump[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER]; Manafort recalled that Trump responded that Manafort should[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER] keep Trump updated. campaign manager Rick Gates said that Manafort was getting pressure about[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER] information and that Manafort instructed Gates[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER] status updates on upcoming releases. Around the same time Gates was with Trump on a trip to an airport[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER], and shortly after the call ended, Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming.[ REDACTED-HARM TO ONGOING MATTER] ยฌ were discussed within the Campaign, and in the summer of 2016, the Campaign was planning a communications strategy based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks.
3. The Trump Campaign Reacts to Allegations That Russia was Seeking to Aid Candidate Trump
In the days that followed WikiLeaks 's July 22, 2016 release of hacked DNC emails, the Trump Campaign publicly rejected suggestions that Russia was seeking to aid candidate Trump. On July 26, 2016, Trump that it was''[ c] razy'' to suggest that Russia was" dealing with Trump'' and that''[ f] or the record,'' he had" ZERO investments in Russia.''
In a press conference the next day, July 27, 2016, Trump characterized" this whole thing with Russia'' as" a total deflection'' and stated that it was" farfetched'' and" ridiculous.'' Trump said that the assertion that Russia had hacked the emails was unproven, but stated that it would give him" no pause'' if Russia had Clinton 's emails. Trump added," Russia, if you 're listening, I hope you 're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.'' Trump also said that" there 's nothing that I can think of that I 'd rather do than have Russia friendly as opposed to the way they are right now,'' and in response to a question about whether he would recognize Crimea as Russian territory and consider lifting sanctions, Trump replied," We 'll be looking at that. Yeah, we 'll be looking.''
During the press conference, Trump repeated" I have nothing to do with Russia'' five times. He stated that" the closest[ he] came to Russia'' was that Russians may have purchased a home or condos from him. He said that after he held the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 he had been interested in working with Russian companies that" wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia'' but'' it never worked out.'' He explained,''[ f] rankly, I did n't want to do it for a couple of different reasons. But we had a major developer... that wanted to develop property in Moscow and other places. But we decided not to do it.'' The Trump Organization, however, had been pursuing a building project in Moscow Trump Tower Moscow project-- from approximately September 2015 through June 2016, and the candidate was regularly updated on developments, including possible trips by Michael Cohen to Moscow to promote the deal and by Trump himself to finalize it.
Cohen recalled speaking with Trump after the press conference about Trump 's denial of any business dealings in Russia, which Cohen regarded as untrue. Trump told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said," Why mention it if it is not a deal? '' According to Cohen, at around this time, in response to Trump 's disavowal of connections to Russia, campaign advisors had developed a" party line'' that Trump had no business with Russia and no connections to Russia.
In addition to denying any connections with Russia, the Trump Campaign reacted to reports of Russian election interference in aid of the Campaign by seeking to distance itself from Russian contacts. For example, in August 2016, foreign policy advisor J.D. Gordon declined an invitation to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak 's residence because the timing was" not optimal'' in view of media reports about Russian interference. On August 19, 2016, Manafort was asked to resign amid media coverage scrutinizing his ties to a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine and links to Russian business. And when the media published stories about Page 's connections to Russia in September 2016, Trump Campaign officials terminated Page 's association with the Campaign and told the press that he had played" no role'' in the Campaign.
On October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released the first set of emails stolen by a Russian intelligence agency from Clinton Campaign chairman John Podesta. The same day, the federal government announced that" the Russian government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations.'' The government statement directly linked Russian hacking to the releases on WikiLeaks, with the goal of interfering with the presidential election, and concluded" that only Russia 's senior-most officials could have these activities'' based on their" scope and sensitivity.''
On October 11, 2016, Podesta stated publicly that the FBI was investigating Russia 's hacking and said that candidate Trump might have known in advance that the hacked emails were going to be released. Vice Presidential Candidate Mike Pence was asked whether the Trump Campaign was" in cahoots'' with WikiLeaks in releasing damaging Clinton-related information and responded," Nothing could be further from the truth.''
4. After the Election, Trump Continues to Deny Any Contacts or Connections with Russia or That Russia Aided his Election
On November 8, 2016, Trump was elected President. Two days later, Russian officials told the press that the Russian government had maintained contacts with Trump 's" immediate entourage'' during the campaign. In response, Hope Hicks, who had been the Trump Campaign spokesperson, said," We are not aware of any campaign representatives that were in touch with any foreign entities before yesterday, when Mr. Trump spoke with many world leaders.'' Hicks gave an additional statement denying any contacts between the Campaign and Russia:" It never happened. There was no communication between the campaign and any foreign entity during the campaign.''
On December 10, 2016, the press reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had" concluded that Russia interfered in last month 's presidential election to boost Donald Trump 's bid for the White House.'' Reacting to the story the next day, President-Elect Trump stated," I think it 's ridiculous. I think it 's just another excuse.'' He continued that no one really knew who was responsible for the hacking, suggesting that the intelligence had" no idea if it 's Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place.'' The President-Elect also said that Democrats were" putting out'' the story of Russian interference" because they suffered one of the greatest defeats in the history of politics.
On December 18, 2016, Podesta told the press that the election was" distorted by the Russian intervention'' and questioned whether Trump Campaign officials had been" in touch with the Russians.'' The same day, incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus appeared on Fox News Sunday and declined to say whether the President-Elect accepted the intelligence 's determination that Russia intervened in the election. When asked about any contact or coordination between the Campaign and Russia, Priebus said," Even this question is insane. Of course we did n't interface with the Russians.'' Priebus added that" this whole thing is a spin job'' and said," the real question is, why the Democrats... are doing everything they can to de legitimize the outcome of the election? ''
On December 29, 2016, the Obama Administration announced that in response to Russian cyber operations aimed at the U.S. election, it was imposing sanctions and other measures on several Russian individuals and entities. When first asked about the sanctions, President-Elect Trump said," I think we ought to get on with our lives.'' He then put out a statement that said" It 's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,'' but indicated that he would meet with intelligence leaders the following week for a briefing on Russian interference. The briefing occurred on January 6, 2017. Following the briefing, the intelligence released the public version of its assessment, which concluded with high confidence that Russia had intervened in the election through a variety of means with the goal of harming Clinton 's electability. The assessment further concluded with high confidence that Putin and the Russian government had developed a clear preference for Trump.
Several days later, BuzzFeed published unverified allegations compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele during the campaign about candidate Trump 's Russia connections under the headline" These Reports Allege Trump Has Deep Ties To Russia.'' In a press conference the next day, the President-Elect called the release" an absolute disgrace'' and said," I have no dealings with Russia. I have no deals that could happen in Russia, because we 've stayed away.... So I have no deals, I have no loans and I have no dealings. We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to, I just do n't want to because I think that would be a conflict.''
Several advisors recalled that the President-Elect viewed stories about his Russian connections, the Russia investigations, and the intelligence assessment of Russian interference as a threat to the legitimacy of his electoral victory. Hicks, for example, said that the President-Elect viewed the intelligence assessment as his" Achilles heel'' because, even if Russia had no impact on the election, people would think Russia helped him win, taking away from what he had accomplished. Sean Spicer, the first White House communications director, recalled that the President thought the Russia story was developed to undermine the legitimacy of his election. Gates said the President viewed the Russia investigation as an attack on the legitimacy of his win. And Priebus recalled that when the intelligence assessment came out, the President-Elect was concerned people would question the legitimacy of his win.