The Mueller Report and Donald Trump - Part 1: Conspiracy
Right out of the box, in the second paragraph, Robert Mueller puts down the Republican and AG William Barr's scenario that there was some sort of illicit FBI conspiracy that started the FBI investigation into the Trump Campaign. He says:
"Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of that foreign government [Australia] that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of damaging information to the Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. That information prompted the FBI on July 31, 2016, to open an investigation into whether individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities."
How much clearer can it be what the genesis of the investigation really was? Nevertheless, the Republicans continue to question the probes legitimacy in order to give Trump cover. The worst offender by far, because he is supposed to be neutral, is Attorney General William Barr. Barr is not neutral but a partisan defender of Donald Trump. Barr has read the report yet he says he is opening an investigation into how the probe started even though the DOJ Inspector General is already doing so - the question is why, doesn't he trust his IG? In Congressional testimony, Barr also said that the Trump campaign was "spied" upon, even though the intelligence community had previously said that he hadn't been. What gives? The only reasonable explanation is that it is true that William Barr is not doing his job as an impartial AG, but is firmly in the "protect Trump" camp (similar to Sen Phil Graham).
The Attack by Russia on American Democracy
The Mueller report found that, contrary and oft-repeated denials by Donald Trump, the Russian government did, in fact, try to subvert the 2016 Presidential election and that they did try to get Donald Trump elected president.
"The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."
"... the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, ..."
They tried to determine the outcome of our election through two vehicles. "First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton." and
"Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents."
These were extensive, targeted, and long-term efforts to install a candidate they felt would be favorably disposed to the Russian government. Could the Russian efforts switched enough votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin (only 90,000 were needed) to have pushed Trump over the electoral edge? Consider footnote 6.
"Social Media Influence in the 2016 US. Election, Hearing Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, 115th Cong. 13 (11/1/17) (testimony of Colin Stretch, General Counsel of Facebook)
To summarize, the Mueller Report found that:
- "...Roughly 29 million people were served content in their News Feeds..."
- This content came "...directly from the IRA's 80,000 posts over the two years. ..."
- Because these posts "...were also shared ... by people on Facebook,..." it resulted in "...three times more people may have been exposed to a story that originated from the Russian operation."
- Mueller estimated that "...that approximately 126 million people may have been served content from a Page associated with the IRA..."
- "That Facebook had identified 170 Instagram accounts that posted approximately 120,000 pieces of content during that time."
Consider those numbers - and then remember that Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania by only 90,000 votes combined. As you will see, the Russians targeted (with Paul Manafort's help?) those three states plus Minnesota (which Clinton barely won). That is only that was only Facebook and Instagram.
They weren't the only social media platform the Russians targeted on Trump's behalf. Another major app they commandeered was Twitter where IRA-controlled accounts had tens of thousands of followers, including multiple U.S. political figures who retweeted IRA-created content. Twitter latter told investigators they notified 1.4 million people they may have had contact with the IRA.
Many IRA specialists opened Facebook accounts with names like "Being Patriotic ," "Stop All Immigrants," "Secured Borders," "Tea Party News," "Black Matters ," "Blacktivist, " "Don't Shoot Us", "LGBT United", "United Muslims of America". With the huge following they developed the IRA organized rallies and other events to sow discord among Americans.
The size and effectiveness of the Russian attack on the American democracy is astounding. So was the sophistication of the attacks. For example, this narrative about how the IRA staged rallies - it is so scary:
"The IRA organized and promoted political rallies inside the United States while posing as U.S . grassroots activists. First, the IRA used one of its preexisting social media personas to announce and promote the event. The IRA then sent a large number of direct messages to followers of its social media account asking them to attend the event. From those who responded with interest in attending , the IRA then sought a U.S. person to serve as the event's coordinator. ... The IRA then further promoted the event by contacting U.S. media about the event and directing them to speak with the coordinator. ..."
IMAGINE! Russians on American soil organizing political events to get people to vote for Donald Trump. Personally, I wasn't aware of this activity other than a couple mentions buried in other news. This bothers me more than all of the other activity put together.
Conspiracy, Coordination, and Collusion
Mueller found there was lots of collusion, but not enough hard evidence to lead to a charge of legal conspiracy.
If two or more persons conspire either to commit any offense against the United States, or to defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose, and one or more of such persons do any act to effect the object of the conspiracy, each shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.
The term has no legal definition but the way that Mueller defines it is
"... 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."
Again, there is no legal definition of collusion, a term used by almost everybody, but Mueller does talk about it. We have this "Black's Law Dictionary defines collusion as "a deceitful agreement or compact between two or more persons, for the one party to bring an action against the other for some evil purpose, as to defraud a third party..."
Charging a Crime
The rule that Mueller followed to charge a crime is as follows:
"The standard set forth in the Justice Manual is whether the conduct constitutes a crime ; if so, whether admissible evidence would probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction; and whether prosecution would serve a substantial federal interest that could not be adequately served by prosecution elsewhere or through non-criminal alternatives."
Here is why Mueller had a hard time finding admissible evidence:
- "Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right ..." In those cases Mueller granted "appropriate candidates for grants of immunity."
- Some of the meetings with Russians, such as with Sessions and some campaign officials "... were "brief, public, and non-substantive."
- "Some of the information obtained via court process ..." was covered by attorney-client privilege
- Some witnesses, such as Paul Manafort "... provided information that was false or incomplete ..."
- The investigation was hindered by witnesses living abroad or documents were located outside the reach of U.S. authorities.
- Further, Mueller's team found that some of those they were interviewing or investigating had "deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records." Because of this, witness statements could not be corroborated through "comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts."
So, the question is, what else might Mueller have been able to prove had he had access to this additional information?
So what did Mueller find? He found that
"We applied the term coordination in that sense when stating in the report that the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." Bottom line - there was no legal conspiracy between Trump or his Campaign and the Russian government to use social media or hacking in order to illegally get Trump elected.
OK, so what did Mueller find? It seems everything just short of that for many people within the Trump orbit met with Russians, some very close to the effort to influence the election. In a backhanded vindication, Mueller says:
"[Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,] the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
The words between the [ ] are the ones that AG Barr omitted from his "letter". Why? They are important and leave a much different impression than the one Barr wanted to convey.
So, who colluded, but did not conspire with Russia?
- Campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos made early contact with Russian connect professor Joseph Mifsud who indicated that "... the Russian government had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.
- The next week, Papadopoulos suggested to, as it turns out, an Australian diplomat "... that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to candidate Clinton."
- Later, Papadopoulos worked continuously "... with Mifsud and two Russian nationals to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government." Ultimately, that meeting never happened.
- The Russians continued to reach out to the Trump Campaign. "On June 9, 2016 ... a Russian lawyer met with senior Trump Campaign officials Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort to deliver what the email proposing the meeting had described as "official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary." The materials were offered to Trump Jr. as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." (Close, but no cigar - even though no materials were actually provided, this IS collusion)
- (Now this example, in my mind, ought to qualify for conspiracy, why wasn't it charged?) On August 2, 2016 , Paul Manafort, (Trump's campaign chairman} "met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik "... who has ties with Russian Intelligence, or so the FBI thinks. "Kilimnik requested the meeting to deliver ... a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged ... was a "backdoor" way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine ... They also discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort's strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states ..." This is the important part of this quote - "... Months before that meeting, Manafort had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting." During these meetings, according to Richard Gates, they discussed winning states like "... Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota." Three of those states was all that was needed for Trump to squeak out a win 1
- The investigation found that Gen Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, and Paul Manafort, among several others, lied to investigators and Congress which "... materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference."
- Mueller details where Trump, Trump Campaign officials. and Trump surrogates including Donald J. Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Kellyanne Conway, Brad Parscale, and Michael T. Flynn "... recited and retweeted ..." "Posts from the IRA-controlled Twitter account @TEN_GOP ...These posts included allegations of voter fraud, as well as allegations that Secretary Clinton had mishandled classified information."
- "According to Gates, 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".- the rest is redacted because of on-going investigations.
- "According to Malloch , Corsi asked him to put Corsi in touch with Assange, whom Corsi wished to interview. Malloch recalled that Corsi also suggested that individuals in the "orbit" of U.K. politician Nigel Farage might be able to contact Assange and asked if Malloch knew them. Malloch told Corsi that he would think about the request but made no actual attempt to connect Corsi with Assange."
- Blatantly asking for Russia's help on July 27, 2016, Trump said "... he hoped Russia would "find the 30,000 emails that are missing," Trump later asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails. Michael Flynn, who would later serve as National Security Adviser in the Trump Administration, recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly , and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails." Further, Mueller found that shortly after Trump asked the Russians to look for those emails, they began such an effort.
These are but a few of the Mueller investigation's many examples of what is, in my view, attempts by the Russians to use willing and unwilling Americans to influence the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump's favor. Save for Paul Manafort, apparently those that were willing with the Russians either didn't go far enough to reach the level conspiracy or the situation didn't resolve itself, e.g. the Trump Tower meeting, in such a way as to be prosecutable. That doesn't mean, not by a long shot, that these people within and without the Trump campaign didn't "intend" to conspire - it just didn't work out that way according to Robert Mueller.
Most of them certainly "colluded", using the normal meaning of word, with the Russians they reached out to or who reached out them. Clearly, by virtue of their silence (not reporting to or lying to the FBI about the contacts with the Russians) they implicated themselves and raised many, many red flags that the FBI was required to run down - it was no "witch hunt"!!
1 Given 1) the huge headwinds Trump was facing, 2) that even he didn't think he was going to win, 3) that Clinton set up her loss with her own problems and poor campaigning, 4) Comey's last minute false-alarm announcement that Clinton was being investigated again, and 5) Trump ONLY won by less than 90,000 votes between the three blue states, does anyone now doubt that Russia succeeded in getting Trump elected?
© 2019 Scott Belford