- Following the release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation, there are myriad questions we still don’t have answers to.
- Mueller found no evidence that there was a conspiracy between President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians during the 2016 election, but he did not “exonerate” Trump on obstruction of justice.
- Barr said he will try to make as much of Mueller’s report public as he can, consistent with Justice Department guidelines.
- In the meanwhile, scroll down for a running list of questions we still have about the slew of contacts and meetings between Trump associates and those linked to Russia; Trump’s continued and often public attempts to exert control over the Russia probe; and the biggest mystery of them all: whether Trump acted as a witting or unwitting agent of Russia.
Attorney General William Barr released a highly anticipated summary of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election on Sunday.
Barr’s conclusions were as follows:
- “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed [an obstruction-of-justice] 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 probe 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 offense.”
- Barr and Rosenstein came to that conclusion because “that the Special Counsel recognized 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 cataloged 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 offense.”
- There is some information contained in Mueller’s report that cannot yet be made public because it relates to “matter[s] occurring before [a] grand jury.”
- Mueller has not obtained any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public.
Trumpworld celebrated the release of Barr’s summary, pointing specifically to Mueller’s conclusion that there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the election.
But even with the release of Barr’s summary, there are still myriad unresolved threads in the Trump-Russia investigation that have yet to be answered. Barr said in his letter that he will work to make as much of Mueller’s report public as he can consistent with department guidelines.
Lingering questions in the Trump-Russia saga
- Did the longtime GOP strategist Roger 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 Hillary 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 Trump adviser Erik Prince and the Russian businessman Kirill Dmitriev, who is known to be an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin?
- Why did Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, and Jared Kushner, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, meet with then Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016 to discuss setting up a secret backchannel 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, then Trump campaign chairman Paul 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 the Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik? And why did Manafort offer the Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska “private briefings” on the campaign while he was spearheading it?
- Why did former Trump lawyer Michael 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. Barr’s letter did not lay out the specific evidence Mueller included in his report. But based on prosecutors’ list of questions, 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 “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 role in allegedly 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 then White House counsel 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 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 probing 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.