‘Prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that Campaign officials…willfully violated the law…’
(Griffin Connolly, CQ-Roll Call) Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III uncovered “evidence of numerous links” between Donald Trump campaign officials and individuals with or claiming ties to the Russian government, according to a redacted version of his final report released by the Justice Department on Thursday.
But Mueller declined to charge any of those campaign officials under conspiracy, coordination, or campaign finance laws for their contacts with Russians, because the evidence didn’t reach a prosecutable threshold.
As the investigation unfolded, Democrats and other Trump critics pointed to multiple instances of those contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russia as evidence of “collusion,” a term that Mueller points out in his report has no legal application, but nevertheless colloquially encompasses the kinds of possible violations he examined.
Here are five of those instances and what the redacted Mueller report says — and doesn’t say — about them:
1. The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer
Perhaps the most conspicuous instance of alleged coordination and collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia throughout the Mueller investigation involved the June 9, 2016, meeting between three senior Trump campaign advisers — Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner; his oldest son Donald Trump Jr.; and Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman — and a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.
Michael Cohen, the president’s former personal lawyer, has claimed that Trump knew about the meeting in advance and approved of it, which Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have denied.
Mueller declined to prosecute Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort for coordinating with a foreign agent — in this case the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya — or committing relevant campaign finance law violations.
The special counsel determined that even if prosecutors could convince a jury that the Trump Tower meeting constituted criminal activity, “a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that Campaign officials or individuals connected to the Campaign willfully violated the law,” Mueller wrote in his report.
The report does not say whether Trump himself had advance knowledge of the meeting or its connection to Russians. While former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen claimed to have been in the room with Trump Jr. when he told his father over the phone about the upcoming meeting, Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not inform his father of the meeting, according to Mueller’s report.
“President Trump has stated to this Office, in written answers to questions, that he has ‘no recollection of learning at the time’ that his son, Manafort, or Kushner ‘was considering participating in a meeting in June 2016 concerning potentially negative information about Hillary Clinton,’ Mueller wrote in his report.
Trump Jr. told the House Intelligence Committee in 2017 that the meeting lasted roughly 20 minutes, and the “dirt” on Clinton that he and the campaign had been promised amounted to a false flag to talk about other matters.
Veselnitskaya, who has links to Russian government officials, spent most of the time at the meeting advocating for a rollback of U.S. Magnitsky Act sanctions against Russia.
Veselnitskaya was charged in January with obstruction in an unrelated money laundering case.
2. Paul Manafort’s extensive Russian ties
Democrats for more than a year now have sounded the collusion alarm on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, whose extensive ties to Ukrainians and Russians from his previous political consulting work in Ukraine thrust him into the center of alleged coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In a court file unsealed earlier this year, Manafort’s defense lawyers accidentally revealed that the special counsel had evidence that Manafort shared internal Trump campaign polling data with his Russian business partner, Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties to Russian intelligence networks.
On August 2, 2016, Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates, and Kilimnik met for dinner in New York, where Manafort “briefed” Kilimnik on the “state of the Trump campaign and Manafort’s plans to win the election,’ according to Mueller’s report.
In that meeting, Manafort and Kilimnik talked about the Trump campaign’s “messaging” to voters and the “internal polling data” that Manafort had previously provided Kilimnik.
Throughout the summer of 2016 and at the August 2 meeting, Manafort and Kilimnik had also discussed a peace deal for Ukraine. At the same time Russian officials made overtures to Trump campaign officials and later during the early days of the Trump presidency proposing a peace deal in Ukraine in exchange for Trump easing sanctions the U.S. imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea in 2014.
Mueller ultimately declined to charge Manafort for conspiracy or coordination with the Russians over the data sharing, writing in his report that his office “did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campaign officials such as Manafort (and others) acted as agents of the Russian government — or at its direction, control, or request — during (the campaign).”
Manafort was ultimately convicted on multiple counts of financial fraud related to his overseas consulting work in Eastern Europe, failing to disclose that he was a foreign agent, and tampering with witnesses in the special counsel’s investigation, including Kilimnik. He was sentenced earlier this year to more than seven years in federal prison, which he is currently serving in Virginia.
3. Courting Putin and negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow during the 2016 campaign
While Russia was conducting a hacking and propaganda operation to bolster Trump’s candidacy in the 2016 presidential election, then-candidate Trump’s business associates were engaged in a months-long negotiation process to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, previous special counsel court filings show.
Former associates have alleged Trump lied repeatedly in 2016 when he said on the campaign trail he had no links to Russia, even though Cohen was conducting negotiations for the project.
According to Mueller’s report, Cohen provided direct updates to Trump about the Moscow Trump Tower project “throughout 2015 and into 2016, assuring him the project was continuing.”
Cohen twice approached Trump — once in November 2015 and again in the spring of 2016 — about traveling to Russia to help facilitate a deal.
“Trump indicated a willingness to travel if it would assist the project significantly,” Cohen told the special counsel, according to the Mueller report.
Trump ultimately never traveled to Russia for the project during the campaign.
During the same period — from the fall of 2015 through June 2016 — Trump publicly questioned the Obama administration’s hostility toward Russia and complimented the leadership of the country’s President Vladimir Putin. The deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow likely would have required approval from the Russian government.
After steadfastly denying any links to Russia during his campaign and most of the first two years of his presidency, Trump admitted to reporters in November 2018 — after Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timeline of the negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow — that he had been positioned to “possibly do a deal to build a building of some kind in Moscow.”
“There would be nothing wrong if I did do it,” Trump said of executing the Moscow deal. “I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities?”
Cohen testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform earlier this year that he felt Trump and his White House lawyers had pressured him to lie to Congress about the timeline of the negotiations for the tower, which lasted through the summer of 2016, after Trump had won the Republican nomination.
That lie is the basis for Cohen’s conviction for lying to Congress.
Trump and his adult children at the Trump Organization permitted Cohen to continue those negotiations for the Moscow Tower because Trump did not think he would actually win the primaries, much less defeat Hillary Clinton in the general election, Cohen testified.
“He had no desire or intention to lead the nation — only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the ‘greatest infomercial in political history,’” Cohen said at the February 2019 hearing.
Cohen also told the special counsel that Trump viewed his campaign as a grand “infomercial” for his real estate empire, according to Mueller’s report.
4. Trump’s ties to Deutsche Bank — and the bank’s ties to Russia
Deutsche Bank, the German financial titan that has lent hundreds of millions of dollars to Trump for real estate ventures over the years, continued lending to the president even when other banks refused.
Why? lawmakers and federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are both asking.
Deutsche has faced allegations that it helped facilitate Russian money laundering operations, leading to questions from members of Congress on whether the Russians might have financial leverage over Trump.
The House Intelligence and Financial Services committees issued subpoenas earlier this week seeking documents and information about Trump’s deals with Deutsche Bank and other financial institutions. The congressional panels are probing whether any foreign entities have backed loans Trump has received from banks for his real estate ventures over the years.
Deutsche Bank plans to comply with the “friendly subpoena,” Chairman Adam Schiff of the Intel Committee said in a statement Monday.
The redacted version of the Mueller report released by DOJ Thursday does not mention Deutsche Bank. Any information Mueller uncovered in the course of his investigation regarding such matters of Trump’s business and personal finances has been referred to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
5. Roger Stone and WikiLeaks
Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone was privy in 2016 to information that WikiLeaks had obtained — and planned to publish — a cache of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta ahead of the 2016 election.
There are no unredacted references to Stone’s interactions with WikiLeaks in the version of the Mueller report released by DOJ Thursday — except for Trump’s answer to investigators’ question that he does not recall discussing any WikiLeaks material with Stone.
Stone, who did not formally advise Trump after August 2015, still actively supported his campaign and informally offered his advice. He claimed throughout 2016 to have been in touch with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the emails, which had been hacked by a group contracted by Russian intelligence apparatus and sent to WikiLeaks in a zip file.
Stone was charged by a Washington, D.C., grand jury earlier this year on seven charges, including obstruction, making false statements and witness tampering, Mueller’s office announced in January.
According to the indictment, “a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact” Stone for more information on the WikiLeaks email dumps. The indictment does not specify who gave that original directive.
Mueller declined to prosecute Stone for coordinating with Russia on the release of the emails to affect the outcome of the 2016 election, despite Stone associate Jerome Corsi’s claim that Stone sought to hold off on WikiLeaks releasing the Podesta emails to blunt the impact of the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump openly boasted in 2005 about groping and sexually assaulting women.
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