Mueller Report Release: What We’re Learning From the Redacted Version – Rolling Stone
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What We’re Learning From the Redacted Mueller Report

Trump Tower ignorance, a trove of potential obstruction of justice evidence and more.

Robert Mueller, Donald Trump

Alex Wong/Getty Images; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr on Thursday released to the public a redacted version of the Mueller report. The special counsel’s findings, which were posted to the Justice Department’s website as PDF file, span 448 pages and are split into two volumes.

The first volume focuses on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign’s relationship to those efforts.

The second volume focuses on whether Trump obstructed justice prior to or during the course of Mueller’s probe, which lasted nearly two years.

An appendix reveals that there are still likely other shoes to drop: Mueller’s team has referred out 14 potential crimes for investigation; only two of them are public, while 12 appear in completely redacted form at the very end of the report.

Mueller’s investigation has dominated headlines throughout Trump’s presidency, and though he’s remained publicly confident in his ultimate exoneration, Trump was apparently well aware the investigation could be a death blow. “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked,” he said upon Mueller’s appointment, according to the report.

Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

This is a developing story and this post will be updated.

Russian Interference

The Mueller report makes clear that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, writing “the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome.”

Mueller also underscores that Trump’s campaign welcomed the assistance, adding “the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

Mueller did not, however, find enough evidence to conclude that anyone from Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russia to the extent that a criminal charge — the standard for which is high — would be warranted. “Like collusion, ‘coordination’ does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law,” the report reads. “We understood coordination to require an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference. That requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”

The takeaway? Muller writes: “the investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away. Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.”

The special counsel’s office detailed their investigation into Russian interference over the course of 200 pages. They found plenty:

The infamous Trump Tower meeting came close to resulting in criminal charges

Maybe the most notable public example of the Trump campaign’s willingness to accept Russia’s assistance was when Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a Russian delegation at Trump Tower specifically to obtain damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

In discussing its charging decisions, Mueller’s team writes: “the June 9, 2016 meeting between high-ranking campaign officials and Russians promising derogatory information on Hillary Clinton-implicates… campaign finance statutes.” The report underscores the point: “Schemes involving the solicitation or receipt of assistance from foreign sources raise difficult statutory and constitutional questions.”

Part of the Mueller team’s reasoning is redacted in this section. But they ultimately weighed against prosecution because of the difficulty in proving criminal intent: “Even assuming that the promised ‘documents and information that would incriminate Hillary’ constitute a ‘thing of value’ under campaign-finance law… a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that Campaign officials or individuals connected to the Campaign willfully violated the law.”

In essence, Mueller concluded that the trio were so clueless about what they were entering into that they couldn’t have knowingly broken the law.

“The government would unlikely be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the June 9 meeting participants had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful,” the report states. “The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context.”

The report also concluded that Trump likely did not know about the meeting: “According to written answers submitted by President Trump, he has no recollection of learning of the meeting at the time, and the Office found no documentary evidence showing that he was made aware of the meeting — or its Russian connection — before it occurred,” the report reads.

The Trump campaign wanted to get its hands on Hillary Clinton’s private emails

We learned as part of the the special counsel’s 2018 indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers that the nation attempted to hack the Hillary Clinton’s campaign the same day Trump publicly for Russia to find his opponent’s missing emails. Mueller’s report reveals that the Trump “made this request repeatedly” to members of his campaign, and that Michael Flynn, who would go on to be Trump’s first national security adviser, “contacted multiple people” in an effort to obtain the emails.

The key section on WikiLeaks is heavily redacted

One of the biggest open questions to be resolved by the Mueller report is the extent to which the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks collaborated and communicated about WikiLeaks’ publication of the emails the Russians had hacked from Democratic Party committees and the Clinton campaign. Because of the ongoing prosecution of Roger Stone, the longtime Trump associate who spearheaded the campaign’s communications with WikiLeaks, these crucial pages of the Mueller report are redacted to the point of un-readability.

Obstruction of Justice

The second volume of Mueller’s report, running close to 250 pages in length, outlines his investigation into whether Trump broke the law by obstructing of justice.

Mueller’s report — even in redacted form — breaks out 11 different categories of actions and statements by the president that the special counsel weighed as potential obstruction of justice. Those include Trump’s firing of then-FBI Director James Comey in May 2017; his efforts to curtail or shut down the Mueller investigation; pressuring then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” himself from the Russia investigation; and urging the White House’s top lawyer to deny to the media that Trump had tried to impede Mueller and more.

Here are some of the details of what Mueller’s team was able to unpack:

Comey was telling the truth about his meeting with Trump about Michael Flynn

“I hope you can let this go,” Trump allegedly told then-FBI Director James Comey during an impromptu 2017 meeting to discuss the department’s investigation into then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The hush-hush rendezvous detailed to Congress by Comey has long been one of the primary public examples of Trump’s potential obstruction of justice. Trump denied he ever discussed Flynn with Comey, but Mueller found “substantial evidence” supporting Comey’s account of what took place.

“While the president has publicly denied these details, other Administration officials who were present have confirmed Comey’s account of how he ended up in a one-on-one meeting with the president,” the report reads. “And the president acknowledged to [then-Chief of Stafff Reince] Priebus and [then-White House Counsel Don] McGahn that he in fact spoke to Comey about Flynn in their one-on-one meeting.”

Sanders admitted she lied to the press about the FBI losing confidence in Comey

Trump clashed with White House Counsel Don McGhan

The report describes how Trump raged at his senior-most aides after Sessions recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, the move that ultimately praved the way for Mueller’s appointment. The day after Sessions’s recusal in early March 2017, the report recounts, McGahn was summoned to the Oval Office and chewed out by Trump. “I don’t have a lawyer,” Trump told him. He fumed about Sessions’ recusal and “brought up Roy Cohn, stating that he wished Cohn was his attorney.” Cohn, of course, was the infamous fixer and dirty trickster who cut his teeth working for Sen. Joe McCarthy during the height of the Red Scare.

Trump also pressured McGhan into having Mueller fired. McGhan refused. “The President called McGhan and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed because of asserted conflicts of interest. McGahn did not carry out the instruction for fear of being seen as triggering another Saturday Night Massacre and instead prepared to resign. McGahn ultimately did not quit and the President did not follow up with McGahn on his request to have the Special Counsel removed.”

The special counsel’s office notes that between Comey refusing to end the inquiry into Flynn and McGhan refusing to fire Mueller, Trump may have been saved by those around him refusing to carrying out his orders: “The President’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.”

Mueller emphasized that his investigation does not exonerate Trump from potential obstruction-of-justice crimes

The obstruction volume of Mueller’s report draws on hundreds of hours of interviews with senior Trump administration officials including McGahn, Sessions and others. But the most crucial passage of Mueller’s description of his obstruction probe is his explanation for why he decided, given all the evidence he and his team had collected, to not recommend prosecuting or declining to prosecute the president for breaking the law by obstructing justice.

Principally among his reasons for not reaching a prosecutorial decision, Mueller writes, is that as a Justice Department employee, he “accepted” the department’s legal conclusion that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted.

“[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mueller states. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” 

But Mueller, known for his more conservative approach to legal proceedings, decided that the special counsel should gather and present the facts — and no more. His report recognizes “that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern.”

But perhaps more important, Mueller justifies his decision not to recommend prosecution or not because it would “potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.”

Translation: Congress, we’ve given you all we know. Now, it’s your turn to act.

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