WASHINGTON — President Trump and his lawyers decided from the start to fully cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation, gambling in 2017 that they could hasten its end if they gave prosecutors unfettered access to White House aides and other Trump associates.
Instead, the 448-page report by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, released on Thursday revealed that investigators used dozens of hours of witness accounts from Mr. Trump’s advisers to paint a detailed and damaging portrait of his efforts to interfere with the investigation.
Now some of the witnesses named in the report, who have departed the White House but rely on access to Mr. Trump for their livelihoods, fear his ire. Some have begun calling current and former administration officials and others in the president’s orbit to seek clues about Mr. Trump’s state of mind, according to four special counsel witnesses who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One called friends and colleagues in the days before the report was released to see whether he could have the Justice Department redact his name from Mr. Mueller’s report, according to two people told of the matter. The idea went nowhere.
See Which Witnesses the Mueller Report Relied on Most
A partially redacted report of the special counsel’s findings released on Thursday cited interviews with 43 individuals at least 10 times.
In the time it takes to post a tweet critical or dismissive of former aides, the president can jeopardize their status as Trump insiders and galvanize his supporters and surrogates in the news media to line up against anyone who cooperated with the special counsel’s inquiry.
In Washington, lobbying firms and corporations seeking inroads to the administration and advice on how to navigate an unpredictable president who makes policy on Twitter have sought out those who worked for him.
The former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, now a consultant, has fashioned himself as someone who understands Mr. Trump. The former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II is a partner at the law firm Jones Day, which represents Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. Mr. Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has written two books that relied heavily on his access to the president.
And even if the witnesses escape Mr. Trump’s wrath for now, they could find themselves in the cross hairs later if they are called to testify on Capitol Hill as Democrats scrutinize the president. The Mueller report provided a road map for congressional Democrats, whose leaders came under increased pressure on Friday to begin impeachment proceedings when Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts called for moving toward Mr. Trump’s ouster, the first major presidential candidate to do so.
Mr. Mueller’s report laid bare how heavily investigators relied on the people closest to the president. Mr. Priebus, who is cited over 60 times in its pages, believed that Mr. Trump wanted him to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and install a loyalist to oversee the Russia investigation. Mr. Lewandowski described how Mr. Trump also urged him to pressure Mr. Sessions to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.
Handwritten notes by another White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, appear in a key part of the account of potential presidential obstruction of justice, describing an unsuccessful effort by Mr. Trump to persuade Mr. McGahn to dispute statements he made to investigators.
As those unflattering details made their way from the report into accounts by the news media, the first wave of public attacks from Mr. Trump and his legal team bubbled up. Mr. Trump tweeted on Fridaythat “statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue.”
“Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes,’ when the notes never existed until needed,” Mr. Trump said. He did not identify the witnesses he was referring to, but the report said the president had complained to Mr. McGahn for taking notes.
Mr. Trump has privately complained to aides since the report was released about the cooperation of several people, zeroing in on Mr. McGahn, whose interviews were cited 157 times by investigators, more than any of the other roughly 500 witnesses.
The president stewed about the Mueller report to one adviser after another on Friday at his golf course in Florida, dismissing the findings and making clear he was keeping track of who in his orbit had participated in the investigation, according to a person who spoke with Mr. Trump.