President Donald Trump was not concerned about former special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election because he was under the mistaken impression that if he were to become a target of the investigation, he could just “settle” the case with Mueller’s office, according to new book chronicling the administration.
The book, Donald Trump v. the United States, is authored by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Schmidt of the New York Times. It recounts a purported conversation between the president and former White House counsel Don McGahn during the early days of Mueller’s investigation.
“At one point, as the investigation seemed to be intensifying,” Schmidt wrote, according an excerpt of the book obtained by Axios, “[Trump thought] that there was nothing to worry about because if it was zeroing in on him, he would simply settle with Mueller. He would settle the case, as if he were negotiating terms in a lawsuit.” The Mueller probe was not a civil lawsuit but a broad criminal investigation; a whole volume of the Mueller Report focused on the president and potential obstruction of justice.
Fordham Law professor and legal historian Jed Shugerman, for one, brutally panned the anecdote as a sign of the president’s legal illiteracy.
“Someone this dumb stays a billionaire only by crime, or isn’t a billionaire at all,” Shugerman tweeted.
Schmidt, who spent “hundreds of hours” speaking with current and former senior federal officials, obtained documents from special counsel Mueller’s office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Trump’s personal attorneys, and the offices of the White House counsel and chief of staff, per Axios. Schmidt also speculated that McGahn was one of Mueller’s main sources of information from inside the Trump administration, though he was unable to confirm his suspicions.
“Mueller apparently knew a great deal about what had gone on inside the White House as Trump had tried to control, frustrate, and end the Russia investigation,” Schmidt wrote. “I thought — but was not entirely sure — that one of the main reasons Mueller knew so much was McGahn.”
The Mueller Report had a lot to say about what McGahn told the special counsel. During a news interview, President Trump famously accused McGahn of lying under oath to make himself look like a good lawyer. Congressional Democrats have tried and failed to compel McGahn’s testimony ever since.
In May of 2017, Schmidt broke the news that fired FBI Director James Comey had kept contemporaneous memos of his meetings with Trump, including a record of their Oval Office meeting in which Trump allegedly told Comey, “I hope you can let this go,” with regard to the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Schmidt was also the first to report on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email account while working for the Obama administration
[image via Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
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