Dispatch, Memos April 23, 2019

Mueller Report Confirms Worst Fears About Trump Campaign and Russia


The information in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is a shocking condemnation of President Donald Trump. The report sets forth facts that suggest Trump broke the law while in office by repeatedly attempting to obstruct justice. The report demonstrates that Russia interfered in “sweeping and systemic fashion” (Vol. 1, p. 1) in the 2016 election and that the Trump campaign, including Trump himself, not only knew about Russia’s efforts but actively worked to further them. The report is nothing short of an impeachment referral.

Mueller followed the model of Special Counsel Leon Jaworski’s 62-page Watergate report, which provided a “roadmap” for the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry. Like Mueller, Jaworski concluded that he could not indict a sitting president. Therefore, his report never explicitly stated that President Richard Nixon broke the law or obstructed justice. Instead, it laid out the clear facts of Nixon’s criminality. Now, Mueller has done the same, clearly outlining repeated efforts by the president to obstruct justice by impeding the Russia investigation and other investigations into his conduct.

Furthermore, Mueller unveiled that there was indeed clear and extensive collusion between the Trump campaign and a hostile foreign power and its cut-outs, which were engaged in an active attack on American democracy. His report shows numerous instances of the Trump campaign colluding with what amounted to a Russian campaign to elect Trump. These two campaigns secretly shared information with each other and supported each other in their shared goal of electing Trump. This includes the Trump campaign sharing internal polling data with an alleged Russian spy, setting up a back channel with a Russian cutout to gain information about their plans to release information stolen by Russian intelligence, and developing campaign strategy around information obtained through that back channel.

The report also makes clear that, rather than alert U.S. law enforcement to efforts by a foreign power to interfere in our democracy, Trump associates sought to cover up evidence of their collusion. Just as Russian operatives sought to mask evidence of their “active measures,” Trump associates limited the information available to the Special Counsel’s Office by lying, claiming they could not recall, invoking the Fifth Amendment, refusing to be interviewed, and deleting and withholding information, including by using encrypted messaging services. The president also used his unique ability to dangle pardons to incentivize targets of Mueller’s investigation to resist cooperating. Trump’s efforts to end the Mueller investigation may have failed, but Trump associates clearly succeeded in stymieing the Special Counsel’s conspiracy investigation.

Despite this, the Mueller report shows the Trump campaign, transition, and administration  acting in a lawless and corrupt manner. Trump’s campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, personal lawyer, and first national security advisor have all pleaded guilty.

Lastly, the report reveals that the United States is currently in an ongoing national security crisis. Mueller’s report indicates that the President of the United States is compromised by a hostile foreign power. The efforts to construct a tower in Moscow in coordination with the Kremlin during the 2016 election, and efforts to conceal this from the public during the election, remain extremely compromising. Furthermore, given all the obstruction from Trump and his associates, Russia may very well possess additional damaging information about Trump and his campaign that it could use as leverage over the president. Given the consistency of Trump’s support for Russia and deference to Russian President Vladimir Putin there remains the urgent concern that the president is under the influence of foreign power.

Congress has a duty to provide further transparency and take any steps necessary to protect U.S. national security and American democracy. The Trump campaign’s actions undermined our democracy and cannot be tolerated; if they are, a new normal will have been set regarding acceptable behavior in both political campaigns and public office. Congress must draw a line making it clear that colluding with a foreign power to win an election is simply not acceptable.

Collusion with Russia

The Mueller report outlines extensive collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian campaign to elect Trump. The content revealed is incredibly damning and troubling; the president and his associates only escaped breaking the law due to Mueller’s high standard, which would have required clear evidence of an “agreement” between these two campaigns to work together.

The SCO narrowly “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion,’” to the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russia. Bringing charges would have required direct evidence of 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” (Vol. 1, p. 2). Moreover, according to Attorney General William Barr, the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russian cutouts like WikiLeaks would only have amounted to conspiracy if those cutouts had been directly involved in the Kremlin’s criminal hacking efforts at the time they occurred. As such, the Trump campaign’s coordination with WikiLeaks and others did not meet the Special Counsel’s standard of conspiracy, nor does the clear pattern of Trump campaign officials who knew of Russia’s “sweeping and systemic” interference campaign interacting with Kremlin-linked associates.

Nevertheless, the report, even with significant redactions, shows a concerted effort from the highest levels of the Trump campaign to work in tandem with the Kremlin’s interference campaign. It provides:

  1. Evidence that these two campaigns shared the same purpose: electing Donald Trump and damaging Hillary Clinton;
  2. Evidence of the Trump team’s eagerness to work with Russia, including active encouragement of continued Russian interference;
  3. Evidence of Trump and his campaign’s knowledge and awareness of Russian activities without warning U.S. authorities;
  4. Evidence of the two campaigns secretly sharing valuable information;
  5. Evidence of Trump and his campaign’s efforts to benefit from and support Russian efforts to disseminate information;
  6. Evidence of the Trump team’s efforts to cover-up evidence of collusion and Russian campaign activities.

Examples of Collusion

Trump Campaign Links to Russian Intelligence: The Trump team had more than 100 contacts with individuals linked to the Russian government during the campaign and transition. In many of these cases, these individuals’ links to Russian intelligence were either known or readily apparent.

  • The Trump campaign continuously provided polling data and discussed the campaign’s strategy to focus on the Midwest with someone they believed to be a Russian “spy.”  Trump’s deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates believed that Konstantin Kilimnik was a “spy,” and even remarked that Kilimnik likely had a “KGB handler” (Vol. 1, p. 134). Nevertheless, Manafort and Gates continuously provided Kilimnik with internal polling data, including after Manafort left the campaign in August 2016. They also discussed the campaign’s strategy for winning three midwestern states which proved essential to Trump’s victory (Vol. 1, p. 140). They then asked Kilimnik to share the data with powerful Kremlin-connected oligarchs, most notably Oleg Deripaska (Vol. 1, p. 136).
  • Russian intelligence gave Roger Stone the Democrats’ turnout model for the “entire presidential campaign” and Stone reviewed the data. The online persona Guccifer 2.0, which was widely known to be a Russian front at the time, hacked and stole the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s turnout model and sent it to Roger Stone, who responded that it was “pretty standard” (Vo1. 1, p. 44).
  • On June 9, 2016, senior members of a Trump campaign met with a Russian government representative expressly seeking damaging information on Clinton. A representative to a Russian oligarch emailed Donald Trump Jr. saying the “Crown Prosecutor of Russia…offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary…and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump Jr. “immediately responded,” saying, “if it’s what you say I love it,” and set about arranging the meeting six days later (Vol. 1, p. 143). At the meeting, Trump Jr., Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with a Russian government lawyer, a “Soviet-born U.S. lobbyist” and alleged Russian intelligence officer, and a Russian businessman (Vol. 1, p. 116). Trump Jr. refused to be voluntarily interviewed and therefore was not interviewed by the Special Counsel’s office (Vol. 1, p. 117).
  • The Trump Campaign learned Russia hacked and stole “thousands of emails” from a suspected Russian spy in April 2016. Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos learned from Joseph Mifsud, a London-based Maltese professor with ties to Russia, that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton and had stolen “thousands of emails” (Vol. 1, p. 66). Papadopoulos not only provided other campaign officials with continuous updates about the possibility of a meeting between Trump and Putin but also told representatives of two foreign governments, the Greek Foreign Minister and the Australian Ambassador to the United Kingdom, about his interactions with Mifsud (Vol. 1, p. 93). As such, Papadopoulos and other Trump campaign officials’ claims that they “do not recall” or “remember” whether Papadopoulos told them about the stolen Clinton emails strain credulity.
  • A suspected Russian agent was on the Trump campaign. Carter Page, another campaign foreign policy adviser whom U.S. intelligence repeatedly concluded may be a Russian agent, traveled to Moscow during the campaign—with explicit permission from campaign leadership—and met with high-ranking members of the Russian government. Page knew that a Russian spy ring had sought to recruit him: After the spy ring was busted and Page was referenced as “Male-1” in the subsequent indictment, Page spoke with a “Russian government official at the United Nations General Assembly and identified himself so the official would understand he was ‘Male-1’ from the Podobnyy complaint. Page told the official he ‘didn’t do anything [REDACTION]’” (Vol. 1, p. 97).
  • The Trump campaign actively encouraged Russian interference, in signals that Russian operatives registered and responded to. Asked about reports that the Russian government was behind the release of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Trump responded, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Clinton’s email server. “Within approximately five hours, GRU officers targeted for the first time Clinton’s personal office,” sending phishing links to 15 new email accounts (Vol. 1, p. 49). Additionally, Trump Jr. responded to an offer of damaging information he understood to be directly from the Russian government by saying, “if it’s what you say I love it,” and encouraging its release later in the summer (Vol. 1, p. 113).

Trump Campaign collusion with WikiLeaks: The Mueller report shows that the Trump campaign colluded with WikiLeaks during the election while knowing that WikiLeaks was acting as a Russian cut-out.

  • Trump personally knew of WikiLeaks’s planned releases well ahead of time. “While Trump and Gates were driving to LaGuardia Airport [REDACTION], shortly after the call candidate Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming” (Vol. 1, p. 54).
  • The Trump Campaign developed a campaign plan based on their knowledge that more WikiLeaks releases were coming. “By the late summer of 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks” (Vol. 1, p. 54).
  • Trump asked to be kept informed about WikiLeaks releases. Manafort spoke with Trump after WikiLeaks began releasing emails on July 22. “Manafort recalled that Trump responded that Manafort should [REDACTION] keep Trump updated… Manafort was getting pressure about [REDACTION] information and that Manafort instructed Gates [REDACTION] status updates on upcoming releases” (Vol. 2, p. 18).
  • The Trump campaign successfully established a backchannel to WikiLeaks. By August 2016, Stone and Jerome Corsi discussed that “[REDACTION] had made a connection to Assange and that the hacked emails of John Podesta would be released prior to Election Day and would be helpful to the Trump campaign” (Vol. 1, p. 56).
  • The Trump campaign knew WikiLeaks received the information from Russia. While this point is not clearly articulated in the report, the Trump campaign was clearly aware that Russia had provided the information to WikiLeaks.
    • George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy official, was informed by a suspected Russian agent in April 2016 of the Russian theft of “thousands of emails.”
    • In June and July, the press and the US government reported that Russia had hacked the DNC and that the WikiLeaks release came from emails stolen by Russia.
    • The Trump campaign was receiving security briefings during the campaign, including about threats to infiltrate the campaign.

The narrow criminal standard Mueller applied may be sensible from a legal perspective. But the extremely high legal bar that Mueller established also creates a moral hazard that could dramatically erode our democracy. The actions and behavior of the Trump campaign amount to a betrayal of the country. Permitting such behavior during a campaign incentivizes future political campaigns to encourage or partner with foreign intelligence services to hack, steal, and cheat. This should not and cannot be the standard for acceptable behavior during our democratic process.

Conclusion

The Mueller report is the most damning official report written about a sitting president in American history. It shows the president abusing his office, obstructing justice, and running a campaign of collusion with Russia. There is now a critical risk to American democracy that foreign interference will become a “new normal” of American politics. Indeed, without strong action now, Russian interference in the 2020 election is almost guaranteed, especially with Trump both on the ballot and in charge of the US government’s response. The president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani just announced that “there’s nothing wrong with accepting information from the Russians.” Congress cannot allow foreign interference to become accepted and part of the new normal of American politics. Congress must act quickly to treat this report as an impeachment referral.