Sonam Sheth – Business Insider
- The special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the Russia investigation landed with a bang on Thursday, marking a dramatic inflection point in the nearly two-year FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
- Mueller’s work is complete, but as INSIDER has previously reported, there are dozens of ongoing threads and court cases that will continue well past the report’s release.
- Still, the 448-page report — which was lightly redacted — revealed several key nuggets of information about Mueller’s findings, contacts between President Donald Trump’s associates and Russians, potential obstruction of justice, and multiple instances when Trump and those around him have lied to the public.
- Scroll down to read the 11 biggest takeaways from the Mueller report.
Thursday marked a dramatic inflection point in the FBI’s nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign conspired with Moscow during the race, and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice after he learned of the investigation.
The Justice Department released a lightly redacted version of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report in the investigation to Congress and the public on Thursday morning. The report’s release caps Mueller’s work as special counsel, but as INSIDER as previously reported — and as the report confirmed — there are still dozens of ongoing investigative threads and court cases connected to the Russia investigation that are unresolved.
Still, the Mueller report, which totaled 448 pages, revealed several key pieces of information that shed light on Mueller’s findings and potential wrongdoing by the president and those in his orbit.
Scroll down for the 11 biggest takeaways from the Mueller report and why they matter:
A footnote fuels speculation about the most salacious allegation in the Steele dossier
What was perhaps the most interesting detail in the report was buried in a footnote.
In it, Mueller quoted a Russian businessman, Giorgi Rtskhiladze, as telling Michael Cohen via text message on October 30, 2016, that he had “stopped flow of tapes from Russia” that featured compromising, and potentially fabricated, material on Trump.
The revelation reignited intense speculation about one of the most salacious and sexually lurid allegations in the Steele dossier — that the Russian government possessed video evidence of the president engaging in sexual acts involving urination with Russian prostitutes in Moscow.
Rtskhiladze said the “tapes” he mentioned referred to compromising material said to be in the possession of people associated with Crocus Group, the real-estate firm owned by the developer Aras Agalarov. Agalarov and his son, Emin, helped host Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.
The Agalarovs were also the ones who pitched an offer of Russian dirt on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign in June 2016. Rob Goldstone, Emin’s publicist, characterized the overture as being “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s candidacy. Donald Trump Jr., who received the offer, enthusiastically accepted it.
Trump’s many attempts to exert control over the Russia probe failed largely because aides refused to carry out his orders
In the obstruction probe, the special counsel found that Trump’s “efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
The special counsel then outlined several instances in which Trump ordered an adviser or administration official to do something, and they declined to do so:
- Former FBI director James Comey’s refusal to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. That decision, Mueller said, “ultimately resulted in Flynn’s prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI.”
- Former White House counsel Don McGahn’s refusal to tell then acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein to oust Mueller. McGahn was prepared to resign instead of following Trump’s order.
- Former campaign advisers Corey Lewandowski’s and Rick Dearborn’s refusal to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions telling him to constrain the scope of the Russia probe to cover only future election meddling.
- McGahn’s refusal to publicly deny reporting about Trump’s efforts to have Mueller removed as special counsel. “McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President’s direction” to remove Mueller, “despite the President’s multiple demands that he do so,” the report said.
The Trump campaign ‘expected it would benefit’ from Russia’s election interference
Attorney General William Barr quoted directly from Mueller’s report when he told Congress the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
But prosecutors prefaced that statement with a significant caveat: “The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and … the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
Barr made no mention of that finding by prosecutors in his initial summary of the report, in a subsequent letter to Congress, during several days of testimony before Congress, or at his Thursday morning news conference.
The real reason Mueller didn’t charge Trump with obstruction
By far the most interesting, and the most nuanced, legal argument in the report appears in Mueller’s obstruction findings.
He laid out 11 potential instances of obstruction by the president, but the special counsel declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment.”
On Thursday morning, Barr told reporters Mueller’s decision was not influenced by DOJ guidelines that state a sitting president cannot be indicted. He said that in fact, Mueller’s determination — or lack thereof — was prompted by the inconclusive nature of the evidence.
But in his report, Mueller did not cite the nature, or lack of, evidence as a reason he did not come to a decision on obstruction. He did, however, cite the DOJ policy against charging a sitting president.
Moreover, the special counsel’s team emphasized that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not [emphasis ours] commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
“The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred,” the report continued. “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
It is not new knowledge that Mueller’s report did not exonerate the president. Indeed, Barr quoted that part of the sentence in his initial summary to Congress of the special counsel’s findings.
But what stands out in the report is the reason Mueller states for not being able to exonerate the president.
It doesn’t hinge on a lack of evidence. Instead, the special counsel appears to determine that even if he wanted to charge Trump with a crime — and he laid out multiple instances in which the president appeared to meet the threshold necessary for obstruction — he is constrained by the current legal framework.
Mueller directly contradicted Barr on ‘collusion’
Barr told reporters multiple times during Thursday’s news conference that there was “no collusion” between Trump and/or anyone associated with his campaign and the Russian government.
But Mueller’s report specified that prosecutors used the framework of conspiracy law — not “collusion” — when determining if there was coordination between the campaign and the Russian government.
“Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” the report said. “For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in criminal law.”
Ultimately, Mueller’s team did not find sufficient evidence to bring a conspiracy charge against the campaign or anyone associated with it.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted to lying to the public about Comey’s firing
The White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted under oath to Mueller’s office that she lied to the media and the public on May 11, 2017, when she said she had heard from “countless” members of the FBI who told her they were “grateful and thankful” Trump had fired Comey two days earlier.
“Following the press conference, Sanders spoke to the President, who told her she did a good job and did not point out any inaccuracies in her comments,” Mueller’s report said. “Sanders told this Office that her reference to hearing from ‘countless members of the FBI’ was a ‘slip of the tongue.'”
The report added that Sanders “also recalled that her statement in a separate press interview that rank-and-file FBI agents had lost confidence in Comey was a comment she made ‘in the heat of the moment’ that was not founded on anything.”
Flynn told Mueller that Trump directed him to find deleted Hillary Clinton emails
Mueller’s report revealed that after Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, infamously called on Russia to “find the 30,000 [Hillary Clinton] emails that are missing” during a July 27, 2016, news conference, he asked people associated with his campaign to obtain the emails.
Flynn told Mueller that he contacted several people at Trump’s direction, including the longtime Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen and the late GOP strategist Peter Smith.
One proposed plan to obtain “missing” Clinton emails included a phase of possibly contacting foreign intelligence services to determine if anyone had hacked Clinton’s server.
“The proposal noted, ‘Even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign,'” according to the Mueller report.
The proposal was emailed by Ledeen to Smith, who declined to participate, the report said.
In response to Mueller’s written questions, Trump said he did ‘not recall’ or ‘remember’ or ‘have an independent recollection’ more than 30 times
Mueller’s team told Trump’s lawyers that the answers were insufficient and began weighing whether to subpoena the president for a sit-down interview with the special counsel.
But prosecutors ultimately decided that it wouldn’t be worth fighting a drawn-out legal battle with Trump’s lawyers over a subpoena. Crucially, they also determined that the “substantial quantity of information” they obtained from other sources allowed them to “draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility, which are often inferred from circumstantial evidence and assessed without direct testimony from the subject of the investigation.”
Paul Manafort discussed much more than just 2016 Trump campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik
Mueller’s team has already revealed through earlier court filings that Manafort, the former chairman of Trump’s campaign, shared confidential campaign polling data with his longtime associate, the former Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik.
It’s also been revealed that the two met multiple times during the campaign, that they communicated frequently, and that Manafort used Kilimnik as a conduit to the Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, to whom Manafort offered “private briefings” on the campaign.
But Mueller’s report revealed that when Manafort and Kilimnik met on August 2, 2016, in addition to discussing a Ukraine “peace plan” that favored Moscow, the two men also discussed how they “believed the plan would require candidate Trump’s assent (were he to be elected president).”
Moreover, they discussed the Trump campaign’s strategy to win over Democratic voters in key Midwestern battleground states.
The report also said Manafort and Kilimnik continued sharing polling data “for some period of time after their August meeting.”
‘Substantial evidence corroborates’ Comey’s account of a key event before his firing over Trump’s account
The former FBI director has become somewhat of a bête noire for the White House and the Republican Party ever since he was abruptly ousted from his post in May 2017.
Since then, Comey and the president have offered dueling accounts of their interactions in the days and months leading up to Comey’s firing.
Key among their disputes was Comey’s claim that Trump had asked him for his loyalty during a private dinner in early 2017.
Trump and his advisers have repeatedly denied that, and the president also indicated he did not invite Comey to the White House for dinner, telling a reporter he thought Comey had “asked for the dinner” because “he wanted to stay on.”
However, Mueller determined that there was “substantial evidence” to corroborate Comey’s version of events surrounding the dinner invitation and request for loyalty.
Moreover, Mueller also said the President’s Daily Diary confirmed he “extend[ed] a dinner invitation” to Comey on January 27. Prosecutors also pointed to Comey’s contemporaneous notes of the dinner, his conversations with senior FBI officials, and his congressional and FBI testimony as bolstering his account of the night.
“Comey’s memory of the details of the dinner, including that the President requested loyalty, has remained consistent throughout,” the report said.
Mueller referred 14 criminal matters to other US Attorneys’ offices — we only know about 2 of them
“During the course of the investigation, the Office periodically identified evidence of potential criminal activity that was outside the scope of the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction established by the Acting Attorney General,” Mueller wrote. “After consultation with the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the Office referred that evidence to appropriate law enforcement authorities, principally other components of the Department of Justice and the FBI.”
The two criminal investigations we know of that were referred by Mueller are those dealing with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, and Gregory Craig, the former White House counsel under former President Barack Obama.
The other dozen ongoing matters for now remain a mystery.