- Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe report did not find sufficient evidence to charge anyone from the Trump campaign with illegally conspiring or coordinating with the Russian government.
- Mueller, who had been investigating Russian interference since May of 2017, identified two separate Russian-sponsored attempts to interfere in the election.
- The report said that neither the “Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts.”
- Legal experts say that while “collusion” is not itself an offence specifically denoted in the federal code, it does refer to a host of other federal offenses, including a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
- Visit BusinessInsider.com for more stories.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe report did not find sufficient evidence to charge anyone from President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign with conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 election.
Mueller’s investigation identified both an online disinformation effort spearheaded by a firm called the Internet Research Agency, and a targeted campaign that waged cyber attacks on the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign, obtaining materials later disseminated to the public by WikiLeaks.
While the report concluded that the Russian government believed they would advance their interests by interfering in the 2016 election – and the campaign believed they would benefit from the interfere – “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Upon the report’s release, Trump claimed victory with a triumphant tweet featuring “Game of Thrones”-themed image stating, “no collusion, no obstruction, for the haters and radical left Democrats, game over.”
Trump and his allies have repeatedly attacked the integrity of the Mueller probe, calling it a “rigged witch hunt” and claiming that not only was there no collusion between the campaign and Russians, but that collusion itself is not an even a crime.
“I have been sitting here looking in the federal code trying to find collusion as a crime,” Trump’s lead attorney Rudy Giuliani said during an August “Fox & Friends” interview. “Collusion is not a crime.”
Legal experts say that while “collusion” is not itself an offence specifically denoted in the federal code, it does refer to a host of other federal offenses, including a conspiracy to defraud the United States.
“It’s a red herring by Giuliani,” Bradley P. Moss, a Washington, DC-based lawyer specializing in national security, told INSIDER back in August.
“Mueller isn’t investigating ‘collusion.’ He is investigating possible coordination between the campaign and the Russians, particularly any actual crimes committed in the context of that coordination,” Moss said, adding that conspiracy to defraud the US is a crime, under 18 USC 371.
The Wikileaks contacts
The Mueller probe examined whether the contacts between Trump adviser Roger Stone and Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0, as well as radical-transparency group WikiLeaks, constituted the type of illegal conspiracy Moss described.
Stone and Guccifer exchanged several messages on Twitter in which Guccifer expressed admiration for Stone and offered to assist the Trump campaign, including retweeting a column Stone had written for The Hill accusing the 2016 election of being “rigged” against Trump.
The special counsel’s July 2018 indictment charging 12 Russian security officers for the hacking of emails from the Clinton campaign and DNC accused WikiLeaks of disseminating them with the purpose of interfering in the 2016 election.
Stone’s direct and indirect contacts with Wikileaks over the course of several months became a main focus of the special counsel investigation, with the special counsel’s office subpoenaing at least seven of Stone’s associates to testify before the Washington, DC, grand jury convened to hear testimony in the investigation.
In January, Mueller’s office charged Stone with lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering, but did not indict him on any offenses related to the conspiracy.
In the fall of 2016, Stone fired off multiple tweets that suggested he could have had advance knowledge that WikiLeaks would be releasing the hacked Clinton and DNC emails to interfere in the election.
“Trust me, it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary,” he wrote on August 21, referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
On October 1, he tweeted “Wednesday @HillaryClinton is done,” and “I have total confidence that @wikileaks and my hero Julian Assange will educate the American people soon” on October 3.
Four days later, WikiLeaks released a trove of Podesta’s hacked emails just one hour after the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump boasted about sexual assault. NBC News reported in October that one of Stone’s intermediaries between Assange, Jerome Corsi, gave Stone advance knowledge of the Podesta email dump.
Before Stone’s indictment, experts predicted that Stone could be in legal peril given the special counsel’s indictment of GRU officers, singling out of WikiLeaks, and the trove of evidence proving their contacts.
“Mere knowledge alone might not be enough to establish criminal responsibility,” Jens David Ohlin, a criminal law professor and Vice Dean at Cornell Law School told INSIDER in October about whether Stone knowing about the WikiLeaks releases could implicate him.
“However, if Stone was not just aware of what WikiLeaks was doing but actually intended for it to happen, then he could be considered a member of the criminal conspiracy and just as guilty as its other members,” he said.
Alex Whiting, a law professor at Harvard and former federal prosecutor, told INSIDER that “there is no crime of ‘collusion’ … but plenty of potential crimes within the act of collusion.”
“Russian companies and individuals have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States as a result of their alleged acts of election interference and hacking and distribution of emails,” Whiting added.
“If American citizens knowingly assisted these efforts, which could be described as ‘collusion,’ they could also be charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States.”
Whiting said there are potential campaign violations that could be charged, “in particular prohibitions on foreign contributions to campaigns if it were discovered that Americans ‘colluded’ with Russians to interfere with the campaign.”
The Trump Tower meeting
Another contact investigators examined for conspiracy to defraud and such possible campaign finance violations is the July 2016 meeting at Trump Tower. It featured Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, other officials, and Kremlin-linked attorney and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya, who promised the campaign damaging information on Clinton.
Veselnitskaya was connected to Trump Jr. through Rob Goldstone, a music publicist representing Emin Agalarov, the son of billionaire real estate developer Aras Agalarov who is closely allied to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
When The New York Times first reported on the Trump Tower meeting in July 2017, Trump Jr. initially said the meeting had nothing to do with the Trump campaign, asserting that Veselnitskaya instead came to lobby against sanctions on high-level Russian officials.
But he amended his statement several times after it emerged that he agreed to the meeting after he was offered “dirt” on Clinton. Trump Jr. tweeted out an email from Goldstone saying the information was “part of Russia and its government’s support” for Trump’s candidacy.
The Washington Post later reported that Trump “dictated” the initially misleading statement his son put out after he was contacted about the story. He later admitted the meeting was, in fact, part of an effort to benefit the Trump campaign.
Bob Bauer, a former White House counsel and current Professor at New York University, told The Washington Post in August that the federal law prohibiting accepting foreign campaign donations is extremely broad. He said it could land members of the Trump campaign in legal peril even if Veselnitskaya did not provide dirt on Clinton.
“The law prohibits Americans from soliciting foreign nationals’ assistance,” he said. “The solicitation provision is very broad. You don’t have to specifically say, ‘I really would like you to do X’; you could indicate since they have already said they want to help you out, that you’re open for business. That you actually want their support.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.