Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, misrepresented the facts regarding two key moments in the special counsel’s investigation of President Donald Trump and his campaign:
- Nadler claimed that the email inviting Donald Trump Jr. to “a meeting with the Russians” at Trump Tower in June 2016 offered to give the campaign “information stolen” from the Democratic National Committee. The email promised “official documents and information” damaging to Hillary Clinton, but it did not say how those documents were obtained.
- Nadler claimed Trump told NBC that he fired FBI Director James Comey “to take care of the Russian thing, in order to stop the investigation of various people associated with him.” Trump did tell NBC that he was thinking about “this Russia thing” when he fired Comey, but he added that the firing “might even lengthen out the investigation” — not stop it.
Trump Tower Meeting
Nadler, a New York Democrat, appeared March 24 on CNN’s “State of the Union” to discuss the special counsel’s investigation of the Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether those efforts were coordinated with the Trump campaign.
Two days earlier, Attorney General William P. Barr notified Congress that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had concluded his investigation and submitted a confidential report to the Justice Department. Nadler reiterated his position that Mueller’s report should be made public, and then addressed the issue of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Nadler, March 24: I mean, obviously, we know there — we know there was some collusion. We know that the president’s son and campaign manager were involved in a meeting with the Russians to receive stolen — what they thought was to receive stolen information — information stolen by the Russians from the Democratic National Committee, as part of the Russian government attempt to help Trump in the election. That’s the way the email inviting them to the meeting put it.
Nadler is referring to an email that music publicist Rob Goldstone sent to Donald Trump Jr. on June 3, 2016, that said Russian pop star Emin Agalarov had asked Goldstone to contact Trump Jr. on behalf of his father, Aras Agalarov, a Russian real estate developer.
“The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Goldstone wrote in the June 3, 2016, email. “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”
There was no mention in that email of how the “very high level and sensitive information” was obtained, legally or illegally, or what kind of information the “official documents” contained.
Further, Nadler said the “stolen information” came from the DNC. But, at the time of Goldstone’s email, the public had yet to learn that the DNC’s computers had been hacked or that Russians were suspected of being responsible for it. That first became known June 14, 2016 — when the Washington Post broke the story — 11 days after Goldstone’s email and five days after Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, then Trump’s campaign convention manager, met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others at Trump Tower. (See “Timeline of Russia Investigation” for a timeline of events.)
Nadler said that Trump Jr. and Manafort “thought” they would “receive stolen information” from the DNC because “[t]hat’s the way the email inviting them to the meeting put it.” We can’t say what Trump Jr. or Manafort were thinking at the time, but the email did not say anything about stolen information from the DNC.
We asked Nadler’s office where in Goldstone’s email did it say the Russians would provide the Trump campaign with “stolen information,” but we received no response.
James Comey’s Firing
Later in the interview, Nadler addressed the issue of whether the president obstructed justice. He specifically cited Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey as an example of possible obstruction.
Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017, and the former FBI director testified a month later that the president pressured him to end the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
In written testimony to the Senate intelligence committee, Comey said the president asked him for his loyalty at a Jan. 27, 2017, dinner and asked him to drop the Flynn investigation at a Feb. 14, 2017, meeting. Comey also said Trump asked in March and April of that year that the FBI “lift the cloud” over his administration and publicly announce that he is personally not under investigation.
Nadler, March 24: Let me say further, we know a number of things. We know what I just said. We know that the president pressured the FBI to go easy, to stop investigating Flynn and various other people. We know that he fired the FBI director, as he put it to the — to NBC, to take care of the Russian thing, in order to stop the investigation of various people associated with him.
Trump discussed his reasons for firing Comey during a May 11, 2017, interview with Lester Holt on NBC. But Nadler misrepresented what Trump said to NBC.
Trump told Holt that he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he decided to fire Comey, and that he would have fired Comey with or without Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s recommendation.
“He made a recommendation, but regardless of recommendation I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it,” Trump told NBC. “And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.’”
Trump went on to say that he fired Comey even though it might extend the FBI investigation — contrary to Nadler’s claim that Trump told NBC he fired Comey “to take care of the Russian thing” and end the investigation into people associated with the president.
Trump, May 11, 2017: When I did this now, I said I probably maybe will confuse people. Maybe I’ll expand that — you know, I’ll lengthen the time because it should be over with. It should — in my opinion, should’ve been over with a long time ago because it — all it is an excuse. But I said to myself I might even lengthen out the investigation. But I have to do the right thing for the American people. He’s the wrong man for that position.
Nadler may suspect that Trump’s motives were less than altruistic, but he’s wrong to say Trump told NBC that he fired Comey “to take care of the Russian thing, in order to stop the investigation of various people associated with him.”
Hours after Nadler’s interview on CNN, Attorney General William P. Barr sent Congress a four-page letter that summarized Mueller’s confidential report. Quoting from Mueller’s report, Barr said: “As the report states: ‘[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.'”
As for possible obstruction of justice, Barr told Congress Mueller’s report “did not draw a conclusion … as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.” Barr wrote, “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”
Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to show the president had “committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”