Annotating Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Redacted Report

Intercept reporters analyze the redacted version of Robert Mueller's “Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Election.”

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images; Photo Illustration: The Intercept

A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation Into Russian Interference in the 2016 Election,” was released to Congress and the public by Attorney General William Barr on Thursday. The text of the report appears below, with redactions Barr said were made mainly “to prevent harm to ongoing matters and to comply with court orders prohibiting the public disclosure of information bearing upon ongoing investigations and criminal cases.”

Intercept reporters are annotating the report in updates here throughout the day.

Mueller Investigated the Infamous 2016 Trump Tower Meeting as a Violation of Election Law, but Declined to File Charges

Special counsel Robert Mueller considered whether to charge Trump campaign officials with crimes in connection with an infamous June 9, 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower in New York, according to the report. Mueller ultimately decided not to prosecute anyone in connection with the meeting.

On that day, senior representatives of the Trump campaign met in Trump Tower with a Russian attorney, expecting to receive derogatory information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. The meeting had been proposed to Donald Trump Jr. three days earlier in an email from Robert Goldstone at the request of his then-client, Emin Agalarov, the son of Russian real estate developer Aras Agalarov.

In the email, Goldstone passed along an offer from Russia’s “crown prosecutor” to the “Trump campaign” of “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to” then-candidate Donald Trump. The documents contained “very high level and sensitive information” that is “part of Russia and its government’s support to Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”

“If it’s what you say, I love it,” Trump Jr. responded. He got campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to attend the meeting.

Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen told Mueller that Trump Jr. may have told Trump about an upcoming meeting to receive adverse information about Clinton, without linking the meeting to Russia, the report says. In a written answer to Mueller’s questions, Trump said that he has no recollection of learning of the meeting at the time. Mueller did not find any documentary evidence showing that Trump was made aware of the meeting or of the Russian connection before it occurred.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who came to the meeting, had previously worked for the Russian government. She claimed that there was information showing that Clinton and the Democrats had received money stemming from illegal activities in Russia. Trump Jr. requested evidence, the report says, but Veselnitskaya didn’t provide it. Instead, she started complaining about the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. law that imposed sanctions on some Russian officials suspected of involvement in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax expert who had been investigating a massive fraud in Russia. Trump Jr. suggested the issue could be revisited if Trump were elected. Veselnitskaya tried to follow up on the meeting after the election, but the Trump team didn’t engage with her.

Mueller’s team considered whether the events surrounding the meeting constituted a conspiracy to violate the U.S. campaign finance law banning contributions from foreign nationals.

“The communications setting up the meeting and the attendance by high-level campaign representatives support an inference that the campaign anticipated receiving derogatory documents and information from official Russian sources that could assist candidate Trump’s electoral prospects,” the report says. “This series of events could implicate the federal election-law ban on contributions and donations by foreign nationals.”

Mueller “considered whether this evidence would establish a conspiracy to violate the foreign contributions ban,” the report said.  But ultimately, the special counsel decided not to seek any charges in connection with the meeting.

— James Risen

Trump Asked Aides to Undermine the Mueller Probe — and They Refused

Insubordination was a primary reason that special counsel Robert Mueller was unable to build a stronger case against President Donald Trump for obstruction of justice.

“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,” the Mueller report stated.

The insubordination came from within Trump’s inner circle.

K.T. McFarland, the deputy national security advisor, refused to write a memo stating that Trump had not directed national security advisor Michael Flynn to discuss sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. McFarland didn’t know whether that was true, and White House lawyers were concerned that if she wrote the memo, it would appear to be quid pro quo for being nominated as an ambassador to Singapore. (McFarland later withdrew from her ambassadorial nomination.)

Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, declined to act on an order from the president to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only,” according to the Mueller report.

But the report suggests that Trump may be most in debt to former White House counsel Don McGahn for his refusal to follow orders. McGahn rebuffed a series of requests from the president to limit the Russia investigation and fire Mueller.

On March 21, 2017,  two months before Mueller was appointed special counsel, McGahn contacted Dana Boente, then the acting attorney general, at the president’s urging. McGahn asked Boente if he could “speed up or end the Russia investigation as quickly as possible,” according to the report. Boente said there was no way to do that without undermining confidence in the conclusions. McGahn then dropped the request — but Trump didn’t. Trump demanded to talk personally to Boente “about the request,” but McGahn ran interference by claiming that Boente didn’t want to talk to the president about the investigation.

The Justice Department appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017 after Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. The next month, Trump called McGahn and told him to fire Mueller because of “asserted conflicts of interests.” (While those conflicts aren’t specified in the report, Trump has claimed publicly and erroneously that Mueller and Comey are “best friends.”) McGahn refused to follow Trump’s order, and in a call with Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, then the White House chief of staff and chief strategist, respectively, McGahn said he was considering resigning because the president had asked him to “do crazy shit.” But Preibus and Bannon persuaded McGahn to stay on the job.

The following year, in February 2018, the New York Times reported that Trump had asked McGahn to fire Mueller. Trump told McGahn in a meeting: “I never said to fire Mueller.  I never said ‘fire.’ This story doesn’t look good. You need to correct this. You’re the White House counsel.” McGahn refused to dispute the Times’s reporting, according to the Mueller report.

Trump then asked McGahn why he told Mueller’s office about the firing request. McGahn explained that he had to — the information wasn’t protected by attorney-client privilege since McGahn was not the president’s personal lawyer.

As they talked, McGahn took notes.

“What about these notes?” the president asked. “Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.”

McGahn told Trump that he’s a “real lawyer” — suggesting the president’s previous lawyers were not on his level.

“I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn,” Trump responded. “He did not take notes.”

— Trevor Aaronson

William Barr Massively Distorted Robert Mueller’s Opinion on Obstruction

In the introduction to Volume II of his report, dedicated to the special counsel’s obstruction of justice investigation of President Donald Trump, Robert Mueller explains that his office decided to present the facts without presenting a conclusion not because it was a close call, but because existing Justice Department guidelines prohibit the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President.

Since Trump could not be indicted for his obstructive behavior in any of 11 instances, and so would not have a chance to clear his name at trial, Mueller reasons, it would have been unfair of his office to offer the opinion, even in a private report to the Attorney General, “that the President committed crimes.”

But Mueller is quite explicit that the weight of evidence against Trump, laid out in detailed discussions of his actions in 11 distinct cases, also made it impossible to say that the president was not guilty of a crime.

If, Mueller writes, “we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

“The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent.” Mueller concludes, “prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Later in the same volume of the report, Mueller writes that his office rejected the claim from Trump’s personal lawyers that a president is exempt from obstruction of justice laws. Mueller writes that his office “concluded Article II of the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize the President from potential liability for the conduct that we investigated. Rather, our analysis led us to conclude that the obstruction-of justice statutes can validly prohibit a President’s corrupt efforts to use his official powers to curtail, end, or interfere with an investigation.”

Importantly, Mueller also hints that there is a way for the president to be held to account for his potentially criminal obstructive behavior, referring to “constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct,” with a footnote pointing to the sections of the Constitution that discuss the “relationship between impeachment and criminal prosecution of a sitting President.”

Mueller also wrote that “the separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source.”

“The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of the office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” he added.

This is all a far cry from the impression created by Attorney General William Barr, who wrote in his letter to Congress that Mueller’s decision “to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.”

Barr’s attitude, that Mueller was essentially acting as his subordinate and reported to him and not to the American people or its elected Congress, was on full display in the news conference he gave earlier on Thursday. When asked by a reporter why Mueller was not at the news conference, since it was about his report, Barr snapped that the report was not Mueller’s at all. “No it’s not. It’s a report he did for me as the attorney general.”

— Robert Mackey

Mueller Report Puts to Rest One of the More Bizarre Russiagate Storylines

It was one of the weirder stories to come out of Russiagate media coverage.

BuzzFeed reported in June 2018 that Ivanka Trump had been in contact with Russian weightlifter Dmitry Klokov, who reportedly offered to introduce Donald Trump to Russian President Vladmir Putin. Given the kookiness of Trump’s presidency and business history, the story seemed oddly plausible:

The truth is actually even more amusing, since it involves a healthy dose of what we’ve come to expect from Trump and his aides: incompetence.

In November 2015, according to the Mueller report, Ivanka Trump received an email from a woman identifying herself as “Lana E. Alexander.” The woman said she was the wife of Dmitry Klokov and was writing to offer her husband’s assistance to Trump’s presidential campaign. “If you know anyone who knows Russian to Google my husband Dmitry Klokov, you’ll see who he is close to and that he has done Putin’s political campaigns,” the email read. Ivanka Trump forwarded the email to Michael Cohen, her father’s longtime lawyer and a senior official in the campaign.

Klokov, the communications director of a large electricity company in Russia, previously served as a press secretary to Russia’s energy minister. But Cohen didn’t know who Klokov was, so he took the emailer’s advice and Googled the guy.

Cohen discovered the Russian weightlifter, also named Dmitry Klokov, and Trump’s crack legal mind assumed that he was touch with an Olympic weightlifter. According to Mueller’s report, Cohen spoke on the phone with Klokov, exchanged follow-up emails about the Trump Tower Moscow project, and discussed a meeting between Trump and “the person of interest” in Russia, presumably Putin.

The meeting never happened. Trump was elected president and Cohen ended up becoming a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe.

All the while, Cohen never realized that his contact wasn’t the weightlifter. In a footnote in the report, Mueller wrote: “During his interviews with the Office, Cohen still appeared to believe that the Klokov he spoke with was that Olympian.”

Proof that it’s hard to know what you’ll find more of in Trump World — the bizarre or the incompetent.

Paul Manafort Shared Trump Polling Data With Alleged Russian Spy and Sought to “Monetize” His Ties to the President

Mueller’s team probed the connections between former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Russia. Manafort had ties to Russia through his earlier work for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska and for the pro-Russian government of Victor Yanukovych in Ukraine.

During the campaign, Manafort stayed in touch with these contacts through Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime employee who previously ran Manafort’s office in Kiev. The FBI assessed that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence, the report says.

Manafort told his deputy, Rick Gates, to give Kilimnik updates on the Trump campaign, including internal polling data, according to the report. Manafort expected Kilmnik to share the information with others in Ukraine and with Deripaska.

Manafort also met with Kilmnik in the United States twice during the campaign and gave him campaign-related information. And Kilmnnik passed on a message from Yanukovych, who was in exile in Russia, about a peace plan that would have allowed Russia to control eastern Ukraine.

After Trump won the election, Kilimnik wrote to Manafort that the plan would need U.S. support and that it could use a “very minor wink” from Trump.

In early 2017, Manafort sought to “monetize” his ties to Trump, according to the report. He traveled around the world and was “paid to explain what a Trump presidency would entail.”

That included meetings related to Ukraine and Russia. In January 2017, Manafort met in Madrid with Georgiy Oganov, a former official in the Russian embassy in Washington who was then a senior executive at a Deripaska company. Text messages to Manafort show that Kilimnik helped arrange the meeting, which was “about recreating (the) old friendship” – ostensibly between Manafort and Deripaska, with whom Manafort had a financial dispute – “and talking about global politics,” according to the report.

Manafort also met with Kilimnik and a Ukrainian oligarch in Alexandria, Va. around the time of Trump’s inauguration. Manafort remained in contact with Kilimnik throughout 2017 and into 2018, the report found.

— James Risen

Russia’s Use of WikiLeaks Allowed Trump and his Advisers to Avoid Collusion

The decision by Russian intelligence officials to use WikiLeaks as an intermediary in its cyber campaign against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party may have inadvertently saved Donald Trump and his advisers from charges of conspiring with Moscow to win the election. The Mueller report makes clear that there was very little contact between the Trump campaign or people close to it and DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, the two online personas initially created by Russian intelligence to disseminate Democratic emails and other documents.

But once WikiLeaks got involved, Trump and his advisers were eager to make contact with the group and its founder, Julian Assange.

In effect, the GRU, Russian military intelligence, laundered its hack through WikiLeaks, which allowed people around Trump to contact WikiLeaks without facing accusations that they were working with the Russians.

Beginning in March 2016, the GRU, hacked computers and email accounts associated with the Clinton campaign, including the email account of campaign chairman John Podesta. Beginning that April, the GRU hacked the computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The GRU also targeted hundreds of email accounts used by Clinton campaign employees, advisers, and volunteers, and stole hundreds of thousands of documents.

At first, the GRU created the two online personas, DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, to disseminate the documents. The Russian intelligence service’s Unit 26165 registered the domain anonymously and paid for it with bitcoin. Starting in June 2016, the GRU posted stolen documents on The website remained in operation and public until March 2017.

On June 14, 2016, the Democratic National Committee said that it had been hacked. The next day, GRU officers created Guccifer 2.0, apparently in response to the DNC’s announcement, and the persona published its first post, attributing the DNC document theft to a lone Romanian hacker. Guccifer 2.0 continued to release documents between June 15 and October 18, 2016.

The GRU used Guccifer 2.0 to contact a former Trump campaign member, whose name is redacted in the report but who is clearly Roger Stone. The report makes clear that Mueller’s investigation didn’t identify evidence of any significant communications between Guccifer 2.0 and the individual whose name is redacted. It simply says that when the person was contacted by Guccifer 2.0 and asked what he thought of the material they were releasing, he replied: “pretty standard.”

To increase the impact of its cyber offensive, the GRU transferred many of the documents to WikiLeaks and used DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 to communicate with WikiLeaks.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange had by that time privately expressed opposition to Clinton’s candidacy, according to the report. In November 2015, he wrote to other members and associates of WikiLeaks that “(w)e believe it would be much better for GOP to win…” He added that Clinton is “a bright, well-connected sadistic sociopath.”

Mueller’s findings about the Trump campaign’s interest in what WikiLeaks had on Hillary Clinton and its efforts to communicate with WikiLeaks are heavily redacted in the report released today, but it is clear that Trump and many in his circle were eager to get whatever WikiLeaks had on Hillary Clinton.

Even with the extensive redactions, it’s obvious that WikiLeaks and Clinton’s emails were constantly on the minds of Trump and his allies.

Ted Malloch, an American who is an ally of British right-wing politician Nigel Farage, told investigators that he and Jerome Corsi, a conservative writer with ties to Stone, had multiple discussions about WikiLeaks. Malloch told investigators that Corsi claimed hacked emails belonging to Podesta would be released prior to election day and would be helpful to the Trump campaign.

Perhaps the key moment was October 7, 2016, when the Washington Post released an “Access Hollywood” audio tape of Trump talking in vulgar terms about women. Less than an hour after the audio tape’s release, WikiLeaks released Podesta’s emails in an obvious attempt to distract from the “Access Hollywood” audio.

The report discusses whether Corsi got WikiLeaks to release the Podesta emails on that day, but says investigators couldn’t confirm Corsi’s assertions that he did.

That shows that Mueller couldn’t determine a link between Trump or anyone around him and WikiLeaks’s decision to release the Podesta emails immediately after the publication of the “Access Hollywood” tape.

— James Risen

Mueller’s Large Team of Investigators Was at Work Through March

The sprawling scale of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation came into clear focus with the release of the long-awaited report today.

Mueller’s investigation involved 19 prosecutors and 40 FBI agents who delivered 2,800 subpoenas; 230 orders for communication records and 50 orders for dialed phone records (known as “pen registers”); and 13 requests for records from foreign governments. Mueller’s prosecutors and agents also interviewed about 500 witnesses — nearly 80 of them before a grand jury.

While Mueller concluded that no prosecutable offenses occurred involving contacts or coordination between Russian government agents and Trump campaign officials, the special counsel’s investigators apparently were not certain until last month that a Trump campaign supporter did not have access to Hillary Clinton’s emails prior to their release by WikiLeaks.

The investigators were interested in two files on a computer that belonged to Peter W. Smith, an investment banker and Republican activist. Smith had formed a company and raised money as part of a seemingly quixotic quest to find Clinton’s missing emails. Two email files on Smith’s computer were dated October 2, 2016, five days before WikiLeaks released emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

As part of a forensic analysis conducted last month, Mueller’s investigators determined that Smith did not have early access to the emails, despite the file dates. Rather, Smith downloaded the two files when they were publicly available on the WikiLeaks website. Smith’s use of an older version of Apple’s operating system caused his files to retain WikiLeaks’s file creation date rather than his download date. Mueller’s investigators, using the older operating system, duplicated what Smith had done and found the files retained the October 2, 2016 date.

Shortly after this forensic analysis, Mueller closed shop and delivered his report to Attorney General Barr.

— Trevor Aaronson

Before WikiLeaks Published Hacked Emails, George Papadopoulos Told Diplomat of Russian Offer to Aid Trump

President Donald Trump recently said that he wanted more information on the origins of the Russia investigation, although he stumbled over the word origins, saying “oranges” instead several times by mistake.

The Mueller report offers a straightforward account of what prompted the FBI to open an investigation on July 31, 2016: a tip-off from a foreign government that one of Trump’s advisers appeared to have had foreknowledge of the Russian effort to damage Hillary Clinton by releasing the emails of Democratic officials through WikiLeaks.

According to Mueller, the FBI investigation began after word reached Washington that one of Trump’s foreign policy advisers, George Papadopoulos, “suggested to a representative of a foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Trump campaign through the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton.”

That appears to be a reference to Papadopoulos allegedly telling Alexander Downer, an Australian diplomat he met for drinks in London on May 10, 2016, that Russia had hacked emails damaging to Clinton.

Papadopoulos had learned of a Russian hacking operation against the Clinton campaign in April from Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor who visited Russia that month to speak at a conference run by Moscow-based think tank tied to the Kremlin.

Mueller discovered that Papadopoulos also told a senior Greek official of a Russian plot to damage Clinton through the theft of emails the month before the hacking of the Democratic National Committee was reported. Given that the young adviser seemed eager to curry favor with Trump’s campaign, his claim that he did not share the same information with any of his superiors has always seemed odd.

A partially redacted section of the special counsel’s report says that all of the campaign officials Papadopoulos was in touch with at the time, including current White House adviser Stephen Miller, deny ever hearing from him that Russia had “dirt” on Clinton obtained trough stealing the emails of Democrats.

A sizable chunk of the report’s text at that point is redacted, but that section concludes: “No documentary evidence, and nothing in the email accounts or other communications facilities reviewed by the Office, shows that Papadopoulos shared this information with the Campaign.”

— Robert Mackey

Mueller Concluded Russia Did Want to Help Trump Win

President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied that Russia interfered in the 2016 campaign on his behalf, famously rejecting Hillary Clinton’s suggestion that Russian President Vladimir Putin was working to undermine her “because he’d rather have a puppet as president of the United States” than her, with the phrase: “No puppet, no puppet — you’re the puppet.”

But in the executive summary of his report, Mueller writes that although his team “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the investigation “established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome.”

Mueller adds that the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

— Robert Mackey

Before Releasing Mueller’s Report, Barr Defended Trump to the Press

Attorney General William Barr was talking to only one person in his press conference ahead of the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report Thursday morning: Donald Trump.

Barr sounded like Trump’s personal lawyer rather than the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. It might as well have been Rudy Giuliani at the Justice Department podium. Barr was showing Trump that he was a loyal soldier.

Using the kind of simple, repetitive language that we know Trump loves, Barr went over and over the same talking points: There was no collusion! He repeated that essential statement four times, just to make sure the point got across. The Russians may have hacked the 2016 election to damage Hillary Clinton and help Trump win, but “there was no evidence of Trump campaign ‘collusion’ with the Russian government’s hacking,” Barr said.

While he acknowledged that there may have been “links” or “contacts” between Trump campaign officials and “individuals connected with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign,” Barr added a carefully parsed explanation of why that didn’t matter. “After reviewing those contacts, the special counsel did not find any conspiracy to violate U.S. law involving Russia-linked persons and any persons associated with the Trump campaign.”

In other words, Barr was saying that since Mueller determined that there isn’t enough evidence to bring charges, there is nothing to see here.

When it came to evidence that Trump may have obstructed justice, Barr argued that Trump was understandably angry because he knew there was no collusion:

In assessing the president’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion. And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.

Barr noted that the president cooperated with the inquiry. “Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation,” Barr wrote.

Being angry about a federal investigation is not normally a defense against charges of obstruction of justice.

— James Risen

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