by Douglas Prutton, Attorney
Last month I summarized the first part of the Mueller Report dealing with Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. In this column I summarize the second part of the report (the “collusion” part) which addresses contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign leading up to that election. The final part of the report, concerning efforts by Trump and others to interfere with the Mueller investigation (the “obstruction” part), I hope to summarize next month.
After reviewing the evidence concerning the contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign, Mr. Mueller concluded: “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.”
In his Introduction to Volume I of the report, Mr, Mueller explains that his team did not decide whether or not there had been “collusion” between the Russians and the campaign because “collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.” Instead of “collusion,” Mueller focused on the issue of whether there was “coordination” between the Russians and the Trump Campaign, a concept from the law of conspiracy. Mueller defined “coordination” as requiring a tacit or express agreement that “requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other action’s or interests.” Thus, it is incorrect to say that Mueller found “no collusion.” What Mueller found was that there was no coordination, i.e, no tacit or express agreement, between the Russians and the Trump campaign to interfere with the election.
Mueller’s team investigated numerous contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians that coincided with the Russian social media campaign and hacking operations. These contacts included the following in chronological order:
- The Trump Organization’s efforts to develop a real estate project known as Trump Tower Moscow;
- Efforts by Trump foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulus to arrange meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government after he learned that the Russian government had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails (no such meetings actually took place);
- A meeting in June 2016 between a Russian lawyer and Donald Trump Jr., Jarod Kushner and Paul Manafort (Campaign Chairman) set up to provide information and documents that would incriminate Clinton (the lawyer did not provide such information at the meeting);
- Contacts between Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page and Russia – he gave the keynote address at the New Economic School in Moscow in July 2016 and upon returning to the US became acquainted with at least two Russian intelligence officers (Page was removed from the campaign in September 2016);
- In August 2016 Manafort met with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik (who had ties with Russian intelligence) who wanted to deliver a peace plan for Ukraine that would allow Russia to control the eastern part of Ukraine – they also discussed strategies for winning votes in Midwestern states and Manafort shared polling data then and later with Kilimnik;
- Shortly after the election, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the Trump administration;
- Shortly after Obama imposed sanctions on Russia in December 2016 for interfering in the election, incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn called the Russian Ambassador asking Russia not to escalate the situation in response to the sanctions. The next day Putin announced that Russia would not escalate the situation. Trump tweeted hours later: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin).”
- In March 2017 FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress that the FBI was investigating Russian interference in the election and links between the Trump campaign and Russia. In May 2017 Trump fired Comey. One week later the Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as Special Counsel – Trump told advisors that this appointment would be the end of his presidency.
A number of these individuals affiliated with the Trump campaign were convicted of criminal charges. Flynn pled guilty to lying about his interactions with the Russian Ambassador. Papadopoulous pled guilty to lying to investigators about interactions concerning the dirt on Clinton. Cohen pled guilty to making false statements to Congress about the Moscow Trump Tower project. Manafort was convicted of lying about his interactions with Kilimnik about polling data and a Ukraine peace plan.