Taking stock: What Mueller’s Trump-Russia probe revealed
WASHINGTON — Since the Justice Department announced that Robert Mueller found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, President Donald Trump has urged Americans to toss the whole Russia investigation aside as a waste of time.
It’s true the special counsel didn’t find an agreement between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government to influence the 2016 election, and he decided not to make a call on whether the president obstructed justice. But Mueller did find other crimes — including some committed by people close to the president — and he exposed a coordinated assault on American democracy aimed at helping Trump win.
Over a 22-month investigation, the special counsel’s team put together perhaps the most definitive story of the Trump campaign and Russia.
As Attorney General William Barr decides how much the public will get to see of Mueller’s confidential report, here’s a guide to what the special counsel has revealed so far.
RUSSIA TRIED TO HELP TRUMP
The Kremlin directed a large-scale effort to help Trump during the 2016 election.
According to U.S. intelligence agencies and lengthy indictments brought by Mueller’s team, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a multipart influence campaign aimed at hurting Democrat Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, undermining American democracy and helping Trump get elected.
That effort included the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, Clinton’s campaign and other Democratic groups. Russian intelligence officers then coordinated the release of stolen emails and internal documents using the false online personas Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks, and later the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.
While the hacking was being carried out, Mueller has also accused a Russian troll farm, known as the Internet Research Agency, of using fake social media accounts to flood the American public with disinformation. That social media effort began in 2014 with a goal of sowing discord by trumpeting extreme positions on divisive political issues. But as the presidential campaign progressed, the Mueller team says the effort began supporting Trump and disparaging Clinton.
WikiLeaks has denied that Russia was the direct source of the material it released. One defendant in the troll farm case has denied the allegations.
PEOPLE AROUND TRUMP WERE RECEPTIVE TO THE HELP
Donald Trump Jr., Donald Trump confidant Roger Stone and Trump himself all sought to benefit politically from Russia’s efforts.
In the middle of the campaign, Trump Jr. took a meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer thinking he would be getting “dirt” on Clinton. Trump Jr. agreed to the meeting, which included Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, despite it being described to him as part of a Russian government effort to help his father.
Stone sought to help the Trump campaign benefit from damaging material released by WikiLeaks. After the DNC pointed the finger at Russia in its hacking, Stone pitched himself as a WikiLeaks insider in discussions with the Trump campaign. According to Mueller, Trump’s campaign kept in contact with Stone about the timing and content of any releases of Clinton documents that could be damaging to her campaign.
Trump himself also publicly welcomed Russia’s help. During a political rally, Trump called on Russia’s hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Clinton’s private server, saying: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
Court documents show that on that same day, Russian intelligence officers tried to hack into email accounts hosted at a domain used by Clinton’s personal office, as well as email addresses used by her campaign.
TRUMP WAS TRYING TO DO BUSINESS IN RUSSIA DURING THE CAMPAIGN
In fact, he wanted to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Court documents in the case of Trump’s longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, show the Trump Organization pursued the project even after Trump had secured the Republican presidential nomination. As part of that effort, Cohen spoke with an assistant to the Kremlin’s spokesman about finding the land and financing for the building’s construction. He also pitched Trump on visiting Russia during the campaign as part of the business proposal.
The potential deal ultimately fell through, but Cohen discussed the project with Trump and his family even as the GOP candidate was publicly claiming that he had nothing to do with Russia.
HIS CLOSE ADVISERS SOUGHT RUSSIAN BACK CHANNELS DURING THE TRANSITION
In the waning weeks of the Obama administration, Flynn had several conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., involving two issues important to Mueller. On Dec. 22, 2016, at Kushner’s direction, Flynn asked Kislyak to delay or vote against a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlements, a request Russia rebuffed.
A couple days later, President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on Russia in response to its election interference efforts. But in discussions with Kislyak, Flynn asked that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond “in a reciprocal manner.”
Putin ultimately decided not to respond in kind, which Kislyak said was the result of Flynn’s request.
LOTS OF PEOPLE AROUND TRUMP LIED TO INVESTIGATORS
His national security adviser, campaign chairman, personal lawyer and three other aides or advisers: All of them have been accused of lying to federal agents or Congress.
Flynn lied about his contacts with Kislyak. Cohen lied about the Trump Tower Moscow deal. Former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos lied about his contacts with a Maltese professor who told him the Russians had dirt on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.
Mueller also accused Stone of lying to Congress about his discussions regarding WikiLeaks, though Stone denies any wrongdoing.
BUT MUELLER DIDN’T FIND A CRIMINAL CONSPIRACY WITH RUSSIA
There were Russia contacts but they weren’t a crime.
In his letter, Barr says Mueller uncovered “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” But the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
To make that determination, Mueller’s investigation used a specific definition for “coordination.”
According to Barr’s letter, the special counsel looked for evidence of any agreement “tacit or express” between the Trump campaign and the Russian government regarding election interference.
They found none.
EVIDENCE ON “BOTH SIDES” ON OBSTRUCTION
On obstruction, Mueller decided not to decide.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mueller wrote in his report according to Barr.
Instead, the special counsel laid out the evidence on “both sides” of the question. According to Barr, Mueller left unresolved “difficult issues” of law and fact regarding whether Trump’s “actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.”
Without a recommendation from Mueller, Barr stepped in. Barr, who was appointed by Trump, says he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided there wasn’t sufficient evidence to establish that the president obstructed justice.
He stressed that the decision was based on the facts related by Mueller and not a reflection of the Justice Department’s view that a sitting president can’t be indicted.
There’s still a lot unknown about Mueller’s report.
Barr laid out the main findings and revealed the report’s title— “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” He said it is made up of two main parts, one on Russia election interference and one on obstruction of justice.
But he didn’t say what episodes the special counsel specifically evaluated or why Mueller chose not to take a position on the question of obstruction. He didn’t even say how long it is, and the Justice Department still won’t.
Barr has said he’s still reviewing what can be released to Congress. And for now, Americans will just have to wait.