Mueller found that there was no Trump-Russia conspiracy but did not 'exonerate' the president on obstruction

Ann Heisenfelt/Getty ImagesThe special counsel Robert Mueller.
  • Attorney General William Barr delivered his summary of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s main findings in the Russia investigation on Sunday.
  • Mueller was tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election, whether members of the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the race in Donald Trump’s favour, and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he learned of the investigation’s existence.
  • According to Barr’s summary, Mueller “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” with respect to whether Trump obstructed justice.
  • But Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that Trump did not commit an obstruction-of-justice crime.
  • Mueller also found that neither Trump, nor anyone on his campaign, “conspired or coordinated with Russia” during the election, Barr said.
  • Barr also quoted Mueller as saying that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Attorney General William Barr on Sunday delivered his highly anticipated summary of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the FBI’s Russia investigation.

Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 and was tasked with investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election.

Mueller turned in his final report to Barr on Friday.

Barr’s conclusions were as follows:

  • “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'”
  • “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia” during the election.
  • Russia’s interference operation consisted of two main elements: a social-media influence campaign aimed at swaying American voter opinion and a hacking operation aimed at stealing and disseminating information to tilt the 2016 election.
  • Mueller “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation and did not draw a conclusion one way or the other. Instead, he laid out all the evidence prosecutors had collected and left it up to Barr to determine whether Trump committed a crime.
  • Barr consulted with other Justice Department officials, and he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offence.”
  • Barr and Rosenstein came to that conclusion at least in part because “the Special Counsel recognised that ‘the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,’ and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.”
  • Mueller catalogued Trump’s actions, many of which took place in public view, and his report “identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offence.”
  • There is some information contained in Mueller’s report that cannot be made public because it relates to grand-jury proceedings.
  • Mueller has not obtained any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public.

A look back: 8 guilty pleas and nearly 200 charges against 34 people and 3 entities

The FBI’s investigation began almost a year before Mueller’s appointment, after the Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos bragged to a top Australian diplomat in May 2016 that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the form of “thousands” of hacked emails.

Two months later, in July, when the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks posted a trove of hacked Democratic National Committee emails online, Australian officials informed their American counterparts of Papadopoulos’ conversation with the diplomat, The New York Times reported. The FBI began scrutinizing the Trump campaign’s Russia ties that month.

Read more:
We now know the tipping point that prompted the FBI to launch its Trump-Russia investigation

As it relates to Trump, the Russia investigation consisted of three main threads: whether there was a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to tilt the 2016 race in his favour, whether Russia had compromising information on Trump that could affect his ability to effectively govern the US, and whether Trump and his associates sought to obstruct justice after the public learned of the investigation’s existence in March 2017.

Papadopoulos is one of six top Trump associates who were charged in the investigation.

  • Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. He cooperated with investigators and served 12 days in jail.
  • The former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted of eight counts of tax fraud, bank fraud, and failure to report foreign bank accounts. He also pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy and obstruction. Manafort initially cooperated with investigators, but his plea deal was voided after a federal judge ruled that he lied to prosecutors after agreeing to cooperate. He was recently sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison.
  • Trump’s longtime former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to one count of lying to Congress. He separately pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign-finance violations as part of the Manhattan US attorney’s office’s investigation into Trump’s business dealings during the 2016 campaign. He is cooperating with investigators and is set to report to prison for a three-year sentence on May 6.
  • The former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of lying to the FBI. He is cooperating with investigators, and earlier this month prosecutors asked for a fifth time that his sentencing be delayed, citing his continued cooperation in “several ongoing investigations.”
  • The former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI. Flynn recently finished cooperating with prosecutors and is due for a second sentencing hearing after his lawyers said at his first hearing that he would continue to cooperate.
  • The longtime GOP strategist and informal Trump adviser Roger Stone was indicted on seven counts of obstruction, witness tampering, and false statements. Stone has pleaded not guilty to all counts and has indicated he intends to go to trial.

Mueller’s office also charged others who weren’t directly linked to the Trump campaign but were connected to Russia’s interference in the election.

  • 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities were charged with conspiracy, and some were charged with identity theft. They are accused of running a wide-ranging social-media disinformation campaign to either sway American voters toward Trump in the election or to dissuade Democratic voters from casting their ballots by denigrating the Clinton campaign.
  • 12 Russian intelligence officers working for the GRU, Russia’s primary military-intelligence unit, were indicted on conspiracy and hacking charges related to the theft and release of Democratic emails in 2016.
  • The former Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik, a top Manafort associate, was indicted alongside Manafort and charged with attempting to obstruct justice by tampering with witness testimony in early 2018 – months after Manafort and Gates were first indicted as part of the Russia investigation.
  • The Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Gates and another unnamed person based in Ukraine.
  • The California resident Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to one count of identity theft in connection to the indictment of the 12 Russian military intelligence officers.
  • The GOP operative and lobbyist Sam Patten was initially investigated as part of the Russia investigation, but Mueller later handed his case over to other Justice Department offices. He eventually pleaded guilty to failure to register as a foreign agent.

Dozens of ongoing threads and court cases

On Friday, after Mueller submitted his final report to Barr, a senior Justice Department official told several media outlets that the special counsel would not be recommending any more indictments or criminal charges.

Trumpworld erupted into celebration at the news, slamming the “collusion truthers” whom they said were determined to undermine the president but to no avail. They also said the fact that Mueller had investigated Trump for two years but did not charge him was proof that the investigation was a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” as the president has long claimed.

But legal experts say their celebration may be premature because the release of Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings does not necessarily signify the end of the Russia investigation. There are numerous court cases, cooperation agreements, and indictments that could drop well into the future, given the complex nature of the investigation.

Read more:
Mueller turned his final report in to Attorney General William Barr, but the Russia probe is nowhere near finished

Mueller’s office began handing off casework to other Justice Department offices – primarily the US attorney’s offices in the Southern District of New York and Washington, DC – weeks ago. Those offices are also conducting their own investigations into Trump’s and his associates’ dealings before, during, and after the election.

Both Cohen and Gates are cooperating with some of those investigations. The US attorney’s office in Washington will also take over prosecuting Stone’s case.

  • The Manhattan US attorney’s office is investigating Trump’s involvement in several hush-money payments during the election to women who said they had affairs with him. Cohen and several Trump Organisation executives are cooperating with the ongoing investigation. Trump’s longtime bookkeeper, Allen Weisselberg, also testified before a grand jury in the investigation.
  • New York federal prosecutors subpoenaed Trump’s inaugural committee for documents related to its finances. The committee has long been under scrutiny from investigators examining whether foreign governments – such as Russia and the United Arab Emirates – illegally funneled money into the operation to influence White House policy.
  • Paul Erickson, a GOP strategist and the boyfriend of the Russian spy Maria Butina, was charged by the Justice Department in an unrelated fraud scheme, and if he strikes a plea deal, it could open up new investigative threads for prosecutors.
  • The House Intelligence Committee recently sent the Justice Department the transcripts of testimony from several people who lawmakers believe may have lied to Congress, including Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump associate Erik Prince.
  • Mueller was locked in a legal battle with an unknown foreign corporation that’s fighting a grand-jury subpoena for documents and testimony. The US attorney’s office in Washington is now handling the case.
  • Prosecutors are also in a court fight with Andrew Miller, a Stone associate who’s fighting a separate grand-jury subpoena to provide witness testimony.
  • The US attorney’s office in Washington is also taking over a case involving a Russian social-media conspiracy.

Indeed, one former senior Justice Department official who worked closely with Mueller characterised the release of his findings to INSIDER as a “halfway point” in the investigation, predicting that Trumpworld’s legal troubles were far from over.

Jared Kushner and Ivanka TrumpWin McNamee/Getty ImagesJared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

Unanswered questions

Mueller’s office has shed light on many of the key questions in the Russia investigation, including the nature and extent of Russia’s influence campaign; Manafort’s deep financial ties to Russian and pro-Russian interests; the extent of the Trump Organisation’s efforts to erect a Trump Tower in Moscow and Trump’s and Cohen’s attempts to conceal those negotiations; and Stone’s continued overtures to WikiLeaks and those connected to it to find out more about the timing and release of hacked Democratic emails.

But there are still myriad unresolved threads about Trump-Russia contacts that have yet to be answered even after the release of Barr’s summary.

  • Did Stone coordinate with anyone on the Trump campaign about a WikiLeaks email dump that happened minutes after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape? In their charging document, prosecutors wrote that a “senior Trump campaign official” was directed by someone to stay in touch with the GOP strategist about WikiLeaks’ dumps. It’s not known who that official was or who directed them. Cohen also testified to Congress that Trump had advance knowledge of the 2016 DNC hack.
  • Was there any connection between Trump’s statement during an infamous July 27, 2016, press conference – “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Clinton] emails that are missing” – and the start of the Russian hacking campaign against Clinton? In their charging document, prosecutors wrote that on the same day as Trump made his overture, “the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.”
  • What was the purpose of a January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles between the Trump adviser Erik Prince and the Russian businessman Kirill Dmitriev, who is known to be an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin?
  • Why did Flynn and Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, meet with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the US, in December 2016 to discuss setting up a secret back channel between the two sides using Russian diplomatic facilities?
  • Why did Kushner meet with the Russian banker and Putin ally Sergey Gorkov around the same time? Gorkov is the head of a top sanctioned Russian bank, and Reuters reported that investigators were probing whether Gorkov offered funding for Trump associates’ business dealings if the US relaxed sanctions on Russia.
  • Why were Kushner, Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr. keen on meeting two Russian lobbyists offering dirt on the Clinton campaign at Trump Tower in June 2016 even after they were told that the meeting was “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump? The people involved have said that nothing came of the meeting and that the lobbyists instead wanted to discuss the Magnitsky Act.
  • Why did Manafort share confidential 2016 Trump campaign polling data with Kilimnik? And why did Manafort offer the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska “private briefings” on the campaign while he was spearheading it?
  • Why did Cohen meet with the Russian energy tycoon and Putin confidant Viktor Vekselberg at Trump Tower 11 days before Trump’s inauguration in January 2017?
  • Why did Ivanka Trump repeatedly try to connect Cohen with the Russian athlete Dmitry Klokov in connection to the Trump Tower Moscow project?
  • Why did Flynn lie to the FBI about his conversations during the transition with Kislyak about US sanctions on Russia?

Mueller also demonstrated a keen focus on the obstruction thread of his investigation. The New York Times reported last year on the nearly 50 questions Mueller had for Trump, which Trump in turn sent written answers to. Among other things, the special counsel wanted to know:

  • Why Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The White House initially said Comey was fired because of the way the FBI handled the Clinton email investigation, but Trump later said on national television that he ousted Comey because of “this Russia thing.” He also reportedly told two top Russian officials that firing the “nut job” Comey had taken “great pressure” off of him.
  • Whether Trump knew about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak about US sanctions and why Trump went so far to protect Flynn after he was forced to resign (one day later, Trump asked Comey to “let go” of the FBI’s investigation into Flynn).
  • Trump’s apparent role in dictating an initially misleading statement that his son Donald Trump Jr. put out after The Times revealed the existence of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian lobbyists. Cohen testified to Congress that Trump had advance knowledge of the meeting but did not provide corroborating evidence, and Trump denies the claim.
  • Why Trump was so angry at then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation. In the months following Sessions’ recusal, Trump called the attorney general “weak” and “beleaguered” and reportedly raged to his advisers about why “my guys” at the “Trump Justice Department” weren’t doing more to shield him from Mueller’s scrutiny.
  • Why Trump tried, on multiple occasions, to engineer Mueller’s removal as special counsel. In one reported instance, Trump asked the White House counsel at the time, Don McGahn, to fire Mueller but backed off when McGahn threatened to resign.
  • In a unique twist, the special counsel also focused on several tweets Trump sent out about the Russia investigation. In one tweet Mueller expressed interest in, Trump warned shortly before Comey’s congressional testimony that he “better hope there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” In another, Trump raged against Sessions for having a “very WEAK position” on investigating Clinton.
  • Mueller also wanted to know more about Trump’s tweets and statements in September and October 2017, regarding an investigation into Comey and his repeated criticisms of the former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe.

The biggest and most lingering question of all, however, makes up the crux of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation: Is the president acting as a witting or unwitting agent of the Russian government?

The bureau reportedly launched that line of inquiry after Trump fired Comey in May 2017. At the time, investigators were almost a year into investigating Russia’s interference in the election.

FBI agents had already been suspicious of Trump’s ties to Russia since his 2016 presidential campaign but, according to The Times, there were some concerns within the agency about how to approach the situation given its sensitivity. His decision to fire Comey, however, prompted them to move forward with the investigation.

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