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No Collusion, Obstruction Maybe: Key Takeaways From the Mueller Report

CC0 / / Robert Mueller (File)
 Robert Mueller (File) - Sputnik International
The long-awaited report by former FBI Director Robert Mueller took nearly two years to complete, cost over $25 million, led to 34 indictments and five convictions, and gave President Trump's opponents ammunition to accuse him of being a Russian pawn.

The two volume report is divided into sections, including a summary of the investigation, Russia's alleged 'active measures' and 'hacking and dumping' meddling campaign, discussion of alleged "Russian government links to and contacts with the Trump campaign", "prosecution and declination decisions," and a 200+ page portion on possible obstruction of justice by the president and his associates.

Conclusion: No Collusion…

Arguably the single most important blurb in the report can be found on page 5, and reads as follows: 

"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 report specified at the outset that because the term "collusion" is "not a specific offense or theory of liability" which could be found under the US criminal code, investigators conducted the probe using the concept of "conspiracy as defined in federal law," i.e. an agreement by two or more people to commit a crime or accomplish a legal end through illegal actions.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as released on Thursday, April 18, 2019, is photographed in Washington. - Sputnik International
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…But 'Russia Did Meddle'

Despite clearing Trump of conspiracy due to a lack of evidence, the report does allege that Russia did directly interfere in the 2016 election, and "in sweeping and systemic fashion." The document points to two principle Russian meddling operations: 

"First, a Russian entity carried out a social media campaign that favoured presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign and then released stolen documents."

As its evidence for the first claim, the report points to "interference operations" by the Internet Research Agency, a private St. Petersburg-based public opinion analysis firm which it claims conducted "a social media campaign designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States." Specifically, the report notes, the IRA "used social media accounts and interest groups to sow discord in the US political system through what it termed 'information warfare'." 

Crucially for the president, however, the report notes that the investigation "did not identify evidence that any US persons conspired or coordinated with the IRA."

U.S. President Donald Trump departs from West Palm Beach, Florida - Sputnik International
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Twitter released an archive of just over ten million tweets posted by 3,841 accounts the company said were associated with the IRA and the 2016 election in 2018. Bizarrely, however, the vast majority of the tweets were written in Russian (making it difficult for them to influence Americans), with Twitter later revising its summary of the archive, and saying furthermore that several hundred of the accounts previously attributed to the IRA were actually linked to suspected Venezuelan and Iranian "troll farm" operations.

In addition to the Twitter campaign, the report accuses Russia of "cyber intrusions (hacking) and releases of hacked materials damaging to the Clinton Campaign." These operations were said to have been carried out by the GRU (Russian military intelligence).

Specifically, the report claims that Russian operatives hacked the email accounts of Clinton campaign employees, including campaign chairman John Podesta. The report also alleges that the GRU hacked DNC servers and stole hundreds of thousands of documents in 2016, and disseminated them "through the fictitious online personas 'DCLeaks' and 'Guccifer 2.0'," and through WikiLeaks. 

Again, importantly for Trump, the report does not have evidence that the president or members of his campaign conspired, coordinated or coordinated with Russia on the leaks, even though he publicly "showed interest in" and "welcomed" WikiLeaks' releases.

WikiLeaks, and its founder Julian Assange have consistently denied Russian state involvement in the DNC email dump, telling US media in no uncertain terms in late 2016 that although he could not reveal the leak's source, "it wasn't a state party," thereby contradicting the report's conclusions.

Activists hold a rally in front of the White House in Washington to call on Attorney General William Barr to immediately release Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report, U.S., April 4, 2019 - Sputnik International
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The report said that although it identified "numerous links" "between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign," the evidence was "not sufficient to support criminal charges" for the conspiracy charge.  "Among other things, the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principle," the report indicated.

Five Guilty Pleas

Five of the president's associates and campaign staffers did plead guilty in the probe, mostly for crimes such as tax fraud and lying to Congress or the FBI. Significantly, none of these individuals' charges had anything to do with the probe's main purpose – the search for evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The five convicted individuals include Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer, who was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to Congress, fraud, tax evasion and making unlawful campaign contributions, including 'hush money' payments to women claiming to have had sexual relations with the president.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., arrives for a Democratic Caucus meeting at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. Schiff, the focus of Republicans' post-Mueller ire, says Mueller's conclusion would not affect his own committee's counterintelligence probes. - Sputnik International
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Other convictions include Michael Flynn, Trump's short-lived National Security Advisor, and George Papadopoulos, a former campaign advisor. Both men plead guilty to lying to the FBI. Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, plead guilty to a series of financial and tax crimes, and to foreign lobbying charges during his work in Ukraine. Manafort was given a sentence of 47 months in jail (38 months plus time served) and ordered to pay a $50,000 fine. Rick Gates, the campaign's former deputy chairman, plead guilty to financial crimes and to lying to investigators.

Obstruction? Maybe

Volume II of the report details 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump and members of his campaign, stopping short of prosecution but suggesting that Congress might prosecute the acts as crimes. The possible obstruction instances include Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, his alleged effort to fire Mueller himself, his indirect denial that he tried to fire Mueller, an alleged attempt to 'hijack' oversight of the Mueller probe, and the president's conduct with regard to former associates Flynn, Manafort and Cohen after charges were laid against them.

"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. However, we are unable to reach that judgement," the report obtusely notes. "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," it adds.

How Things Got Started

The Mueller investigation was officially started in May 2017, with the Attorney General's Office authorising the special counsel and his team to look for "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation."

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is seen on the balcony of the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, Britain, May 19, 2017 - Sputnik International
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The probe has its origins in the 2016 presidential election, and began to gather steam after the WikiLeaks' release of the DNC emails, which revealed damning evidence of possible wrong-doing by the Clinton campaign, including possible coordination with the Democratic Party executive against Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders to secure the Democratic nomination for Clinton. Soon after the leaks, the Clinton campaign began accusing Russia of meddling in the election, citing an internal audit of the DNC's cybersecurity using private firms to carry out forensic analyses allegedly pointing to Russia.

Democratic lawmakers Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Adam Schiff made a joint statement on September 2016 (before the election) claiming that Russia engaged in efforts to influence the race. On January 7 2017, just weeks before Trump's inauguration, Obama Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Moscow favoured Trump's candidacy, and that President Vladimir Putin personally ordered an "influence campaign" against Clinton and in favour of Trump, Sanders and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

The Russian government has vigorously denied claims that it meddled in the 2016 election. President Putin said the allegations were "utterly ridiculous." "Do you really believe that someone acting from the Russian territory could have influenced the United States and influenced the choice of millions of Americans?" he asked, in a testy 2018 interview with Fox News.

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