Trump's Helsinki summit with Putin was 'soul crushing' for Mueller's team and showed them Russia had won a 'servile' American president, new book says

US President Donald Trump (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak to the media during a joint press conference after their summit on July 16, 2018 in Helsinki, Finland.Chris McGrath/Getty Images
  • President Donald Trump's 2018 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was "soul crushing" for the special counsel Robert Mueller's team, according to a new book by Andrew Weissmann, who worked in Mueller's office.
  • Following their bilateral summit, Trump publicly sided with Putin over the US intelligence community and said he didn't see any reason why Russia would have interfered in the 2016 election.
  • The summit came days after Mueller's office indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for orchestrating a "hack-and-dump" operation to meddle in the 2016 race and hurt Hillary Clinton's campaign.
  • Weissmann wrote that after Trump sided with Putin, Mueller voiced his suspicion that if "the president was in the tank with Putin, 'It would be about money.'"
  • Trump walked his comments back amid widespread outrage, but Weissmann wrote that it was clear to him and another prosecutor in Mueller's office that the Russian government "had now gotten what it had worked so hard for: a servile, but popular, American leader."

Prosecutors and FBI agents working in the special counsel Robert Mueller's office were shell-shocked when they watched President Donald Trump publicly side with Russian President Vladimir Putin following a bilateral summit in Helsinki in 2018, according to a new memoir by the former Mueller prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann.

The Trump-Putin press conference came just days after the special counsel's office indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers on multiple felony charges related to the 2016 "hack-and-dump" operation against the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

It was the first time Mueller's team directly pointed a finger at the Russian government for meddling in the 2016 election, and it corroborated a 2017 assessment by the US intelligence community that concluded Putin ordered Russia's interference campaign.Advertisement

But days later, during the Helsinki summit, the American president stood next to the Russian leader and said he trusted Putin over the US intelligence community.

Trump said he didn't "see any reason why" Russia would be responsible for the election meddling.

"I have President Putin," Trump said. "He just said it's not Russia I will say this: I don't see any reason why it would be."
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Back in Mueller's office, the comments were "surreal" and "soul crushing," Weissmann wrote in his book, "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation," which hit shelves on Tuesday.

"By this time, Trump not only had the conclusions of the original intelligence assessment, but the incontrovertible proof" from Mueller's team "to expand on and corroborate it," he wrote. "Still, Trump said, Putin 'was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,' and that was apparently enough for him." The president's comments were "profoundly alarming" and also sparked "general amazement" for the FBI agents working in Mueller's office, Weissmann said.Advertisement

"It was like they'd built up a mountain of incriminating evidence only to watch the prosecutor suddenly decide to call off the case and go home, just because the defendant said he wasn't guilty," he added.

Weissmann continued: "The scene in Helsinki should have been stunning to the average American viewer, but for those within our office who'd poured energy into pinning down these facts, it was profoundly alarming. Here was our own president kowtowing to Putin, denying the election interference he had perpetrated on our nation and siding with a bloody dictator over a bipartisan consensus in the Senate and the nonpartisan conclusions of the IC that Putin had attacked our democracy."

The event set off "alarm bells" for Weissmann and another prosecutor in Mueller's office, Jeannie Rhee. Mueller, meanwhile, "looked exasperated" during the team's daily meeting that evening and speculated that Trump had financial reasons for caving to Putin.Advertisement

The special counsel "commented that, if the president was in the tank with Putin, 'It would be about money' — that is, that Trump was motivated by money and his fawning behavior toward Putin could be explained by his seeking to make a buck in Russia," Weissmann wrote.

Trump eventually walked back his comments following a "bipartisan uproar" back in the US, but Weissmann and Rhee both thought it was clear that the Russian government "had now gotten what it had worked so hard for: a servile, but popular, American leader," he wrote.

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