WASHINGTON — The redacted version of the Mueller report due to be released Thursday will offer the fullest (but still incomplete) view yet of how the special counsel’s office ran its investigation and what it uncovered. Attorney General William Barr’s March 24th letter purported to provide the “principal conclusions” of Mueller’s probe — namely, that there was no criminal conspiracy or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, and that Mueller chose not to make a determination about whether to prosecute President Trump for obstruction of justice, while underscoring that the investigation “does not exonerate” the president. Barr quickly concluded that, in his view, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to bring an obstruction charge. Trump tweeted that his attorney general’s letter amounted to “total EXONERATION.“
But Barr quoted fewer than 100 words of what is reportedly a nearly 400-page report. We know from court filings and reporting on Mueller’s investigation that there were myriad events, money trails and persons of interest that came under his team’s scrutiny. Those details didn’t make it into Barr’s letter, but they could appear in the redacted report and so tell us more about Trump World’s contacts (witting or otherwise) with Russia or its intermediaries, WikiLeaks’ role in the election, and what interest, if any, Mueller took in Trump’s family.
Here are seven things to watch for when reading the report.
What Trump told Mueller
The special counsel’s office never secured a face-to-face interview with Trump. Despite extensive negotiations, the most they got out of the president were written answers to a list of questions submitted by Mueller. What were those questions? How did Trump and his lawyers respond? Did any of Trump’s answers contradict evidence gathered by Mueller?
Paul Manafort and “the heart” of the investigation
In the final weeks of the probe, one of Mueller’s senior lawyers, Andrew Weissmann, appeared in court for a sealed hearing to discuss one avenue of investigation: an August 2016 meeting in New York between Manafort, the Republican super-consultant who briefly served as Trump’s campaign chairman, and a Russian business partner named Konstantin Kilimnik. At that meeting, Manafort supposedly exchanged internal campaign polling data with Kilimnik and the two men discussed a peace plan concerning Russia and Ukraine’s conflict over control of the Crimea. Weissmann told the judge that that meeting “goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel’s Office is investigating.”
In a subsequent court filing, however, Mueller’s team seemed to back away from the Manafort-Kilimnik meeting, and the entire investigation ended not long after. What happened in that 2016 meeting? Did it end up being as important to Mueller’s investigation as Weissmann initially suggested?
Mueller’s obstruction decision
In his March 24th letter, Barr wrote that Mueller had done a “thorough factual investigation” into Trump’s conduct in weighing a potential charge of obstruction of justice. Ultimately, Mueller declined to make a prosecutorial recommendation for or against charging the president. According to Barr, Mueller wrote that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Did Mueller choose not to make a decision because he lacked evidence or because he was following Justice Department policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted? What evidence did Mueller and his lawyers find that wasn’t already public? Was it strictly related to Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, or was it about something else? Did Mueller’s office decide that the president’s request to fire the special counsel — an order then-White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to carry out — was not evidence of obstruction because Mueller finished his probe?
If the past week is any indication, the redacted report will contain ample information related to obstruction of justice. On Sunday, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reported the White House is “worried” about what McGahn may have told Mueller’s office during at least 30 hours of questioning. NBC News reported that current and former White House officials were experiencing “breakdown-level anxiety” over whether what they told investigators about Trump’s potential obstruction efforts will wind up in the report.
Deutsche Bank, Trump’s lender of choice
Trump tried to shut down Mueller’s investigation in December 2017, as the New York Times later reported, after hearing that the special counsel had subpoenaed documents from Deutsche Bank. Few things seem to set off the president quite like scrutiny and investigations focusing on his bank of choice.
It’s hard to overstate how important Deutsche is to Trump’s career as as businessman. In the late ’90s and early 2000s, Trump’s reputation was in tatters after multiple bankruptcies and business failures. Wall Street deemed him too risky to lend to. The only bank willing to do business with him was Deutsche, which was trying to break into the commercial real estate market. Trump and Deutsche went on to have a lucrative and mostly amicable relationship, with the bank underwriting Trump’s revival in the real estate and golf business. By time he took office, Trump owed the bank $364 million, more than to any other financial institution.
As for those subpoenas, Trump’s personal lawyer denied that Mueller had sought documents “related to the president or his family.” Deutsche, for its part, said it “takes its legal obligations seriously and remains committed to cooperating with authorized investigations into this matter.” Did Mueller subpoena any documents from Deutsche Bank? If so, what about?
The Middle East connection
One witness who cooperated with Mueller’s probe was George Nader, a Lebanese-American fixer who acted as an emissary between the Trump White House and the leaders of two powerful Middle Eastern nations, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Nader reportedly helped organize a meeting in the Seychelles in January 2017, on the eve of Trump’s inauguration, that included Erik Prince, who founded the military contractor Blackwater; Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian businessman with a direct line to the Kremlin; and officials from the UAE. The alleged purpose of that meeting was to establish a backchannel between the new U.S. administration and Russia.
The Washington Post reported last year that Nader gave grand jury testimony as part of Mueller’s probe about the conversations between Trump’s transition team and representatives of the Kremlin. What did Nader say? Will that evidence appear in the redacted report? Does the Middle East figure into Mueller’s larger theory of the case?
What about the Trump children?
The nearest thing to evidence of Trump-Russia collusion already in the public realm is the Trump Tower meeting on June 9th, 2016. The genesis of the meeting was an email from a British publicist to Donald Trump Jr. offering dirt on Hillary Clinton that “would be very useful to your father.” The documents, the publicist said, would come from the “Crown prosecutor of Russia” and were “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr.’s now-infamous reply: “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”
What happened next is well known: Days later, Trump Jr., the candidate’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with a Russian delegation at Trump Tower, only for the conversation to focus mostly on adoption policy and sanctions. Trump Jr. voiced his disappointment at how the meeting went. Did Mueller unearth any new details about that meeting? Did Trump Jr. or anyone in the Trump campaign make other attempts to collude or conspire with Russian officials or cutouts in actions that fell short of the legal definition of criminal conspiracy or coordination?
What happened to the rest of the stolen data?
In July 2018, Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence agents for hacking the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee as well as the personal email account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. The indictment alleged that the Russians posed as a lone hacker named Guccifer 2.0 and later provided thousands of stolen Democratic Party documents to “Organization 1” — easily identifiable as WikiLeaks — for publication, effectively weaponizing those materials to damage Clinton’s campaign.
But the Russians made off with more than Podesta’s emails, some internal memos and the oppo-research book on Trump. They also took huge troves of voter turnout data, get-out-the-vote strategy documents and other election-related analytics, all of which could have guided Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign. Did Russia use that valuable data? Did Mueller find anything new about what Russian intelligence agencies did with the rest of the materials stolen from the Democratic Party?
The answers to these questions, and many more burning in the hearts of liberal America, should be revealed tomorrow — that is, if Barr hasn’t blacked them out.