A handy summary of the Mueller report

It was a fine idea in principle.  Unfortunately, the Attorney General assigned the task to someone lacking in principle: himself.

Let us correct his error. Here’s my 8-page guide to the 448-page original – an item-by-item account of what’s new (or confirmed) and important. (PDF version available here.)

Russian hacking of Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton emails
This was the first of two massive efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. elections. Units of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) hacked multiple Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton campaign computers and email accounts, stealing hundreds of thousands of documents and releasing them through the GRU’s own outlets, “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0,” and later through WikiLeaks. MR Vol 1, p. 4.

Russia’s disinformation campaign                  
The second effort was spearheaded by Russia’s Internet Research Agency. The IRA had 100 people working on the election, with separate teams devoted to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. IRA-invented social media entities (such as “Miners for Trump”) organized dozens of rallies. “The IRA’s ‘United Muslims of America’ Facebook group had over 300,000 followers, the ‘Don’t Shoot Us’ Facebook group had over 250,000 followers, the ‘Being Patriotic’ Facebook group had over 200,000 followers, and the ‘Secured Borders’ Facebook group had over 130,000 followers.” What Jared Kushner recently dismissed as just “a few Facebook ads” was a disinformation campaign that reached between 29 and 126 million people altogether.

“Multiple IRA-controlled Facebook groups and Instagram accounts had hundreds of thousands of U.S. participants. IRA-controlled Twitter accounts separately had tens of thousands of followers, including multiple U.S. political figures who retweeted IRA-created content. In November 2017, a Facebook representative testified that Facebook had identified 470 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts that collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons through its Facebook accounts. In January 2018, Twitter announced that it had identified 3,814 IRA-controlled Twitter accounts and notified approximately 1.4 million people Twitter believed may have been in contact with an IRA-controlled account.” MR Vol 1, p. 14-15.

Goal of Russia’s interference
By February 2016, the IRA was seeking to promote Donald Trump and trash Hillary Clinton. “The release of the documents was designed and timed to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and undermine the Clinton Campaign.” MR Vol 1, p. 36.

The Trump campaign welcomed Russian help and expected to benefit
Trump and his team were broadly aware of Russia’s efforts, welcomed them, built a public relations strategy based on them – and repeatedly denied their existence. “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (In other words, the Trump campaign “knew there was a crime” and ‘ran toward that crime,’ as Max Bergman of the Moscow Project put it.) MR Vol 1, p. 1.

The number of Trump-Russia contacts
The Mueller report documents more than 30 additional contacts during the campaign and transition periods, bringing the total to at least 140. These include contacts with intermediaries and Wikileaks on the part of Donald Trump and 18 associates. New York Times analysis.

Why there were no conspiracy charges related to election interference
Here’s how Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic of Lawfare explain it: “The Mueller report describes, in excruciating detail and with relatively few redactions, a candidate and a campaign aware of the existence of a plot by a hostile foreign government to criminally interfere in the U.S. election for the purpose of supporting that candidate’s side. It describes a candidate and a campaign who welcomed the efforts and delighted in the assistance. It describes a candidate and a campaign who brazenly and serially lied to the American people about the existence of the foreign conspiracy and their contacts with it. And yet, it does not find evidence to support a charge of criminal conspiracy, which requires not just a shared purpose but a meeting of the minds.”

Why Josef Mifsud reached out to George Papadopoulos
Mifsud is the Malta-born “Professor” who in May 2016 told George Papadopoulos that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. According to Papadopoulos, it was only after he brought up his work for Trump that Mifsud took an interest in him. MR Vol 1, p. 83.

Mifsud’s extensive Russian intelligence ties
According to the Mueller report, Mifsud “maintained various Russian contacts while living in London” including “a one-time employee of the IRA” and “an employee of the Russian Ministry of Defense.” MR Vol 1, p. 83.

Papadopoulos informing Trump higher-ups about Russian “dirt”
We know he shared this information with two foreign diplomats, and it is hard to imagine why he would have been more discreet with the Trump campaign. Nevertheless, both National campaign co-chair Sam Clovis and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller said they could “not recall” any such disclosure, and Papadopoulos himself waffled on this point. MR Vol 1, p. 93.

Roger Stone’s outreach to WikiLeaks
Stone, a long-time Republican “dirty trickster” whose official role in the Trump campaign ended in August 2015, continued to freelance on Trump’s behalf, made it his business to connect with WikiLeaks, and claimed to have succeeded. Although it is unclear how much he learned beyond scuttlebutt, Stone appears to have had a hand in getting Donald Trump fired up about the Hillary Clinton emails.

Mueller’s office evidently learned a good deal more about the Trump-Stone-WikiLeaks dealings. That topic may be explored in the redacted portions of pages 51-59 of the report’s first volume. The unredacted bits have Trump, Cohen, Rick Gates, and Paul Manafort discussing WikiLeaks.

Stone was later key to the appointment of his friend Paul Manafort to head the Trump Campaign’s RNC operation and subsequently to serve as campaign manager. Their noncooperation with the Mueller investigation makes it hard to determine what role Stone and Manafort may have played, separately and/or jointly, in encouraging Russia’s election interference. MR Vol 1, p. 51-59.

Trump’s fixation on finding Hillary Clinton’s emails
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” Trump claimed to have been joking when he spoke those words at a press conference on July 27, 2016. But he proceeded to press Michael Flynn to go after the supposedly missing emails. Flynn recalled that Trump “made this request repeatedly.” According to the Mueller report, “The Trump Campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’s releases throughout the summer and fall of 2016… Gates recalled candidate Trump being generally frustrated that the Clinton emails had not been found.” MR Vol 1, pp. 51 and 54 etc.

The Russians may also have been listening
The report points out that “within approximately five hours of Trump’s statement, GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office.” MR Vol 1, p. 49.

Further efforts of Trump backers to get the emails
Flynn contacted Republican operatives Peter Smith and Barbara Ledeen, who both reached out to people they believed (falsely, it seems) to be Russian hackers. As Ryan Goodman of JustSecurity has noted, “Ledeen provided updates to Flynn throughout the summer of 2016. In an email to Smith, Ledeen wrote, ‘The person I described to you would be happy to talk with you either in person or over the phone. The person can get the emails which 1. Were classified and 2. Were purloined by our enemies.’ Ledeen also wrote that she thought the Clinton email server was ‘in all likelihood’ already breached and that the Chinese, Russian and Iranian intelligence servers could reassemble the email content. Smith rejected Ledeen’s proposal, but proceeded with his [own] initiative for which he ‘raised tens of thousands of dollars.’ He told others involved in that effort including the funders “that he was in contact with hackers who with ‘ties and affiliations to Russia’ who had access to the emails, and that his efforts were coordinated with the Trump Campaign.” Smith also claimed to have knowledge of WikiLeaks’ internal decision-making in his email communications with others apprised of his efforts. But the Special Counsel’s office was unable to find any evidence that campaign staffers “initiated or directed” these efforts. MR Vol 1, p. 62.

Ledeen, for her part, obtained a trove of emails that (when analyzed at Erik Prince’s expense and by her request) proved to be phony. MR Vol 1, p. 64.

Trump and the Trump campaign appeared to have advance knowledge of WikiLeaks releases
In the late summer of 2016, “Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming.” MR Vol 1, p. 54.

Michael Cohen did not travel to Prague
This was an apparent mistake in the Steele Dossier, which reported that a phone belonging to Cohen made contact with a cell tower near Prague, Czechoslovakia, during a period when (we now know) Russia had a team of hackers working there. MR Vol 1, p. 139.

Julian Assange was out to get Hillary Clinton
He told WikiLeaks associates that she was “a bright, well connected, sadistic sociopath.” MR Vol 1, p. 44.

The Trump campaign had a communications plan ready for the release of the Clinton emails
The Trump campaign became convinced that WikiLeaks would release the emails, and by late summer 2016 had developed a press and messaging strategy for that eventuality. MR Vol 1, p. 44.

Trump Tower meeting was apparently unrelated to emails or election fraud
While Donald Trump Jr. and others clearly hoped for more, the dirt offered to them by the Russian lawyer and Kremlin agent Natalia Veselnitskaya consisted of allegations about the American businessmen Bill Browder and the Ziff brothers. She claimed they had committed financial crimes in Russia and contributed some of the proceeds to the Democratic National Committee or the Hillary Clinton campaign. Veselnitskaya was seeking promises of sanctions relief in return, but the Trump side viewed her information as old news and not useful. MR Vol 1, p. 117.

No proof that Donald Trump Sr. knew about the Trump Tower meeting in advance
Mueller found “no documentary evidence” of that. MR Vol 1, p. 114.

Donald Sr. directed Donald Jr. to conceal the purpose of the meeting
Confirming previous news accounts, Mueller found that the President dictated a statement in which his son made the meeting out to be about adoption policy. The effect was to avoid mention of the two main topics of discussion – sanctions relief and the supposed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. To cover himself, Don Jr. added the word “primarily.” MR Vol 2, p. 102.

Why Donald Jr. was not charged with a campaign finance violation
Despite Don Jr’s “If it’s what you say it is, I love it” email, Mueller and his office decided not to bring charges. They cited two reasons: first, he might not have realized he was doing something illegal; second, it would be hard to prove the value of the actual dirt in question. MR Vol 1, p. 186.

Paul Manafort’s keen interest in sending polling data to Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs
Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016, initially to manage the Republican National Convention. In April or early May, he instructed his deputy Rick Gates to draw up regular campaign update memos, including internal polling data, for Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort associate described by the FBI as a Russian intelligence operative. Gates understood that Kilimnik would pass the information along to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with whom Manafort had a financial dispute. MR Vol 1, p. 129 etc.

Why did Manafort want Kilimnik to have this information?
Manafort was in desperate financial straits, and Deripaska had sued him for recovery of a roughly $18 million investment in the bungled or fraudulent Black Sea Cable deal. Gates believed Manafort sent polling data to Kilmnik partly in order to win back Deripaska’s favor and convince him not to move forward with his lawsuit. MR Vol 1, pp. 131 and 135.

What was in the polling data?
Pollster Tony Fabrizio, brought into the Trump campaign by Manafort, found evidence of surprising strength in a set of midwestern battleground states. At a meeting in New York City (see below), Manafort specifically mentioned Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. MR Vol 1, p. 130.

The Cigar Bar meeting
On August 2, 2016, Manafort and Gates met with Kilmnik at the Grand Havana Room on Fifth Avenue, a members-only club located in a Fifth Avenue building owned by the Kushner family. Kilimnik had been talking in Moscow to the ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich. He wanted Manafort to support a Ukrainian “peace plan” that would certify Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory. They also discussed the Trump campaign and its battleground-state strategy. Manafort did not want any outsiders to know about this meeting. Kilimnik used coded language to request the meeting, and he and Gates left separately. MR Vol 1, p. 130.

What (if anything) was the polling data used for?
We don’t know. The data was conveyed to Kilimnik via WhatsApp and deleted on a daily basis. The Special Prosecutor’s office failed to uncover any specific evidence of Manafort’s interest in Russian election interference and drew no conclusion about what Kilimnik, Deripaska, or Russia did with the information. Those failures are largely due, however, to what the Mueller report describes as “questions about Manafort’s credibility and our limited ability to gather evidence on what happened to the polling data after it was sent to Kilimnik…” MR Vol 1, p. 131.

According to independent research, the IRA’s Facebook ads were heavily concentrated in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two of the states narrowly won by Trump. In these and other states, we know that much of the Russian messaging was designed either to bring out low-income white voters, or to discourage African-American voters.

After leaving the campaign in mid-August 2016, Manafort remained in touch with Trump, Bannon, Kushner and Gates, and with Kilimnik and his Russian and Ukrainian associates. MR Vol 1, p. 141. Shortly before election day, according to Politico, Manafort gave Trump “pointers on how to handle the Clinton email news and urging him to make a play in Michigan.”

In other words, Manafort may have fed information to Russian intermediaries in the expectation that it would be used to bolster Trump’s chances of winning the election, and he may have helped the Trump campaign take advantage of Russia’s assistance in the closing days of the campaign. The Special Prosecutor could not rule any of this out. In that sense, the Mueller report does not exonerate Trump and Co. on the cooperation/conspiracy/collusion question, contrary to the claims made by the White House and Attorney General William Barr.

Putin’s “all hands” meeting with major oligarchs
Several weeks after Donald Trump’s surprise victory, Vladimir Putin convened what one participant described as an “all-hands” meeting of top Russian businessmen. Putin wanted them to help cultivate a good relationship with the Trump transition team and to press the issue of sanctions relief. One of these men, Peter Aven of Alfa Bank, gave an account of the meeting to Mueller’s team. Aven and Putin also had a one-on-one meeting, where Putin, according to Aven, urged him to take steps to protect his bank from additional U.S. penalties. Aven perceived this as an order, not a request, and understood “that there would be consequences if he did not follow through.” MR Vol 1, p. 146.

The Seychelles meeting
Putin’s directive sparked a “flurry” of Russian outreach efforts, including a failed attempt by Aven to set up a meeting with Jared Kushner. Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, was more successful. With the help of George Nader, an adviser to the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, Dmitriev was able to arrange a January 11, 2017 meeting in the Seychelles Islands with Erik Prince – the founder of Blackwater, an associate of Steve Bannon’s. and a funder of Republican and pro-Trump conspiracy theories. At that meeting Dmitriev referred to Putin as his “boss” and made the case for a U.S.-Russia reconciliation proposal that called for joint anti-terrorism efforts and “‘win-win’ economic and investment initiatives.” (Dmitriev also met with a Kushner friend named Rick Gerson.) MR Vol 1, 147-155.

Prince lied about the meeting
In his congressional testimony, Prince characterized it as a business trip that had nothing to do with Russia, suggesting that his conversation with Dmitriev was unplanned and incidental.

Steve Bannon also denied knowledge of the meeting with Dmitriev, and the text messages between him and Prince were deleted on both their devices
Contrary to what Prince eventually told the Special Prosecutor’s office, Bannon said he had not been informed of the meeting beforehand, and would have objected. “The conflicting accounts provided by Bannon and Prince could not be independently clarified by reviewing their communications, because neither one was able to produce any of the messages they exchanged in the time period surrounding the Seychelles meeting. Prince’s phone contained no text messages prior to March 2017, though provider records indicate that he and Bannon exchanged dozens of messages. Prince denied deleting any messages but claimed he did not know why there were no messages on his device before March 2017. Bannon’s devices similarly contained no messages in the relevant time period, and Bannon also stated he did not know why messages did not appear on his device.” MR Vol 1, p. 156.

Trump’s panic over Mueller appointment
On May 17, 2017, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the President that a Special Counsel had been appointed, Trump “slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.’ The President became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse from the investigation, stating, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?” The President said the position of Attorney General was his most important appointment and that Sessions had “let [him] down,” contrasting him to Eric Holder and Robert Kennedy. Sessions recalled that the President said to him, “you were supposed to protect me,” or words to that effect. The President returned to the consequences of the appointment and said, “Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.” MR Vol 2, p. 78.

Trump’s efforts to derail the Mueller investigation
Once it became clear that Trump’s own actions were being looked at, he made a series of attempts to end or limit the investigation.

  • In May 2017, he discussed “knocking out Mueller” with White House Counsel Don McGahn. Trump wanted McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller should not be allowed to run the Russia investigation because of supposed conflicts of interest (such as a dispute over fees at a Trump golf course). According to McGahn, Trump said things like, “You gotta do this,” “You gotta call Rod,” “Mueller has to go,” and “Call me back when you do it.” McGahn interpreted this as a presidential order to fire Mueller, and planned to resign rather than obey it, although he ended up doing neither. MR Vol. 2, p. 88.
  • In June, Trump asked Corey Lewandowski to have Attorney General Jeff Sessions limit the inquiry to the threat of future Russian interference. MR Vol 2, p. 90.
  • In July, Trump told Reince Priebus to demand Sessions’ immediate resignation. MR Vol 2, p. 94.

Additional Trump attempts to encourage lying and obstruction
The Mueller report cites a total of 10 potential instances of obstruction. In addition to those related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the above efforts to squelch the Mueller investigation, these include:

  • Coaching Michael Cohen to lie about the Trump Tower Moscow deal – to minimize its seriousness, misrepresent its timeline and downplay Trump’s own interest and involvement.  MR Vol 2, p. 19.
  • Encouraging Cohen, after his arrest, not to cooperate with Mueller’s office. In a phone call, Trump told Cohen to “hang in there” and “stay strong.” Later he tweeted: “Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!”  MR Vol 2, p. 154.
  • Praising Manafort for his noncooperation.  “I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump tweeted in August 2018. “‘Justice’ took a 12 year old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to ‘break’—make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.’ Such respect for a brave man!” MR Vol 2, p. 126
  • Having one of his lawyers tell Michael Flynn to keep the President posted on any information implicating Trump that Flynn might disclose to the Special Prosecutor’s office, and warning Flynn that his withdrawal from a joint defense agreement was a sign of hostility toward the president – and would be called to Trump’s notice as such. MR Vol 2, p. 131.
  • Hinting at a pardon for Paul Manafort. “The president intended to encourage Manafort not to cooperate with the government. He “intended Manafort to believe he could receive a pardon.”

The Mueller report pointed to these and other actions as collective evidence of a “pattern” of behavior that was “capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations.” MR Vol 2, p. 157.

Trump used lawyers, surrogates and indirect language to dodge an obstruction charge

  • Rather than explicitly tell Cohen to lie, Trump pointed out that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet, and added, “Why mention it if it is not a deal?” MR Vol 2, p. 19.
  • Cohen worked extensively with a Trump lawyer to craft his initial statement to Congress on the Moscow Tower deal. But Cohen never spoke directly to Trump during that process. “The President’s conversations with his personal counsel were presumptively protected by attorney-client privilege, and we did not seek to obtain the contents of any such communications,” Mueller writes. This, he continued, “precludes us from assessing what, if any, role the President played.” MR Vol. 2, p. 154
  • The communications between a Trump lawyer and Michael Flynn’s lawyer could have intimidated Flynn and affected his “decision to cooperate” and “the extent of that cooperation.” Because of attorney-client privilege, however, the Special Prosecutor’s office “could not determine whether the President was personally involved in or knew about the specific message his counsel delivered to Flynn’s counsel.” MR Vol 2, p. 74
  • When Trump asked McGahn to tell Rosenstein that “Mueller has to go,” etc., the President never actually used the word “fire.” MR Vol. 2, p. 86.

Trump might have been trying to obstruct justice in order to protect himself and his family against the exposure of criminal or shameful acts unrelated to election fraud
“In this investigation, the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. But the evidence does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the President’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events — such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’s release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians — could be seen as criminal activity by the President, his campaign, or his family.” MR Vol 2, 157.

Trump Tower Moscow deal was, on paper, a boondoggle for Trump
After many abortive discussions of such a project, the idea was revived in 2015 by Felix Sater, a New York-based real estate developer and longtime Trump associate. Sater negotiated a broad agreement with Andrey Rozov, CEO of a company called IC Expert, to build a skyscraper planned as the tallest building in Europe. A letter of Intent called for the Trump Organization to receive “between 1% and 5% of all condominium sales, plus 3% of all rental and other revenue. For the project’s hotel portion, the Trump Organization would receive a base fee of 3% of gross operating revenues for the first five years and 4% thereafter, plus a separate incentive fee of 20% of operating profit. Under the LOI, the Trump Organization also would receive a $4 million ‘up-front fee’ prior to groundbreaking. Under these terms, the Trump Organization stood to earn substantial sums over the lifetime of the project, without assuming significant liabilities or financing commitments.” MR Vol 1, 71.

Discussions of Moscow project continued well into 2016, while Trump was saying he had no business deals in Russia
“From the fall of 2015 until the middle of 2016, Michael Cohen spearheaded the Trump Organization’s pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow project, including by reporting on the project’s status to candidate Trump and other executives in the Trump Organization.” MR Vol 1, 67.

Was Donald Jr. subpoenaed? Did he testify or invoke the Fifth Amendment?
Not clear. In the Mueller report, a line is redacted after a sentence about his declining an invitation to testify voluntarily.

12 unknown matters referred for independent investigation?
We don’t know what they were, or how many may have involved alleged criminality on the part of Donald Trump or the Trump Organization, Foundation or inaugural committee. Equally important, we don’t know which if any investigations are being actively pursued. Those decisions are now presumably up to an Attorney General who seems to view himself as the President’s lawyer. MR Appendix D-1.

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One thought on “A handy summary of the Mueller report

  1. This is excellent. The most disturbing thing is that the lack if criminal charges has led to some focus being taken off the Russia, yes, collusion. The sentence early in the report that states that the campaign knew what Russia was doing and expected to benefit electorally from it should be enough to have people in the streets…sigh.

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