When he was first appointed to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race, Mueller was specifically tasked with examining any contacts between the Russian government and people connected to Donald Trump’s campaign. In Barr’s letter to Congress, he quoted Mueller’s report as stating that the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The Special Counsel appointment order
(a) Robert S. Mueller III is appointed to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice.
(b) The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confined by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
Over the past 22 months, Mueller’s investigation and independent reporting revealed numerous occasions on which people around Trump sought Russian help – both to benefit Trump personally and politically. These occasions, which again did not lead to charges for the president, includedin Russia, attempts to seek on Hillary Clinton, from WikiLeaks for Trump’s benefit, and with Putin.
The investigation had also been expanded to look into concerns about whether the president was obstructing justice. Mueller’s report did not draw a conclusion on obstruction, laying out the evidence and leaving the final decision to the Attorney General’s office, which decided not to bring charges.
Barr’s letter also stated that he plans to “release as much of the Special Counsel's report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.” More information – likely including answers to some of the questions below – is expected as this release occurs.
Trump business opportunities
For 30 years, Donald Trump wanted to build in Russia. Those dreams did not end with his presidential campaign.
What we know
What don’t we know?
Donald Trump signed a letter of intent on Oct. 28, 2015, to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.Trump agreed to pursue the deal, brought to him by lawyer Michael Cohen and business associate Felix Sater, while he ran for president.
Michael Cohen asked the Kremlin for help on a project in January 2016.Cohen spoke to an assistant to Dmitry Peskov, a top aide to Russian president Vladimir Putin. He took notes about the project and agreed to speak to people in Russia about it.
Did the Russian government try to help Trump’s project?We do not know whether any Russian officials took action after Cohen informed the Kremlin that Trump was seeking help for the project.
Cohen pursued a Moscow project until June 2016.Cohen and Sater talked about Cohen traveling to a major economic forum in Russia to speak with top Russian officials about the project as Trump prepared to accept the Republican presidential nomination, according to court documents.
Did Trump’s business interests influence Russia’s efforts to help his campaign?It’s unclear whether the Kremlin’s view of the 2016 presidential race was influenced by Trump trying for years to build a tower in Moscow, including the attempt during the campaign.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Moscow project.Cohen said he lied about whether he made contact with the Kremlin, how long the project lasted and how often he briefed Trump to “minimize links” between the project and Trump.
Did Trump or other White House officials know that Cohen’s congressional testimony was inaccurate?Cohen’s lawyers have said he was in “regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel” to Trump before testifying. Trump’s lawyers have denied that the two spoke about his testimony.
Seeking damaging information about Hillary Clinton
The Trump campaign repeatedly entertained the idea of obtaining damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton from Russia.
What we know
What don’t we know?
George Papadopoulos said he was told in April 2016 that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton.London-based professor Joseph Mifsud told Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign adviser, that the Russians had dirt on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. Papadopoulos has denied that he pursued the emails. Mifsud has said he had had no knowledge of Clinton emails held by Russia.
Did Papadopoulos tell others in the campaign about the possibility that Russia had dirt on Clinton?In interviews, Papadopoulos has said he didn’t remember telling other Trump campaign aides that Russia had dirt on Clinton but could not guarantee that he did not do so.
In May 2016, Roger Stone met with a Russian national who wanted money for dirt on Clinton.A man going by the name of Henry Greenberg connected with Trump aide Michael Caputo and Stone. Greenberg asked for $2 million for the dirt. Stone said he dismissed the idea.
Donald Trump Jr. attended a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer he was told had information about Clinton.Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and campaign chairman Paul Manafort attended the meeting at Trump Tower. Told that the lawyer would offer dirt on Clinton as part of a Russian government effort, Trump Jr. wrote in an email, “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
Was the Trump Tower meeting connected to Russia’s interference in the campaign to help Trump win?It’s unclear whether the Kremlin was aware of the Trump Tower meeting and whether officials were encouraged to help Trump by his son’s willingness to meet with lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.
In 2017, Trump dictated a misleading statement for Trump Jr. about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting.Trump instructed his son to say the meeting was “primarily” about adoption when questions were raised 13 months later.
Why did Trump instruct his son to issue the statement?It has not been established why Trump released inaccurate information about the Trump Tower meeting.
In July 2016, Trump publicly asked the Russians to find missing Clinton emails.The news conference on July 27, 2016, came after WikiLeaks released thousands of stolen Democratic Party emails. In a comment he later said was a joke, Trump said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” a reference to emails Clinton deleted from her time as secretary of state.
Did the Russians try to hack Clinton’s email server in response to Trump’s comment?Prosecutors have said Russian operatives tried to hack a domain used by Clinton’s personal office for the first time on July 27, 2016, the same day of Trump’s news conference.
Leveraging WikiLeaks’s trove of information
The Democratic National Committee said it was hacked and blamed Russian operatives. But the Trump campaign eagerly touted WikiLeaks's release of internal correspondence stolen from Democrats and used it to benefit Trump.
What we know
What don’t we know?
Trump praised WikiLeaks and touted stolen emails it published.Trump talked about WikiLeaks and the stolen emails it published more than 100 times on the campaign trail, including famously declaring, “I love WikiLeaks,” amplifying the organization’s reach.
Trump campaign officials and Roger Stone sought to find out WikiLeaks’s plans.Stone made repeated efforts to unearth WikiLeaks’s plans, according to court documents. Thinking Stone had insight into the group’s intentions, campaign officials, including adviser Stephen K. Bannon, sought information from him.
Did Stone or anyone else associated with Trump coordinate releases of hacked material with WikiLeaks?Stone has insisted that he had no contact with WikiLeaks, directly or indirectly. He was charged with lying to Congress about WikiLeaks but not conspiring with the organization.
In October 2016, Trump Jr. messaged with WikiLeaks and shared a link on Twitter that the group recommended.Congress has copies of direct messages that Trump Jr. and the WikiLeaks account exchanged on Twitter beginning in September 2016. Trump Jr., at one point, tweeted a link recommended in a message by WikiLeaks. An attorney for Trump Jr. said there was nothing in the messages of concern.
Did Trump direct anyone to contact WikiLeaks or talk to Stone about his efforts?Trump said that he and Stone never spoke about WikiLeaks and that he did not direct anyone to ask Stone to contact WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
How much did Assange know about the Russian hacking efforts?Court documents state that Assange received hacked material from Guccifer 2.0, an online persona that prosecutors said was operated by Russian military intelligence. The documents did not indicate how much Assange knew about the source of the material.
Currying favor with Putin
Throughout the campaign, Trump seemed eager to curry favor with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as aides contemplated a summit between the two that could make the celebrity mogul appear statesmanlike.
What we know
What don’t we know?
Trump repeatedly praised Putin and said they would get along if he were elected.Trump’s rhetoric contrasted with much of his party as he praised the Russian president as a strong leader and echoed Putin’s talking points about NATO and the European Union.
Did Trump’s rhetoric about Putin influence Russia’s actions in 2016?U.S. intelligence officials assessed that Russia preferred Trump as a candidate. However, the extent to which Trump’s rhetoric drove the Kremlin’s action is unclear.
Papadopoulos sought to arrange a meeting between Putin and Trump.Papadopoulos tried to use his Russia-linked contacts to set up a meeting with Trump or top campaign staff members. No meeting happened, but emails show that senior campaign staff members encouraged Papadopoulos.
Manafort asked a Russian aide to offer private briefings to a Putin-linked Russian businessman.Manafort stayed in contact with Konstantin Kilimnik, who is allegedly connected to Russian intelligence, sharing 2016 polling data with him and asking that Kilimnkik offer private briefings on the campaign to Oleg Deripaska. A Deripaska spokeswoman said he has never interacted with Kilimnik.
Were Trump or other campaign aides aware of Manafort’s back-channel communications with Kilimnik?It is not known whether Manafort told other campaign officials about his interactions with Kilimnik.
Cohen and Sater tried to arrange a Trump-Putin summit.The two thought a meeting could help initiate a Trump Tower project in Moscow and would boost Trump’s campaign by making him appear statesmanlike.
How much did Trump know about Cohen and Sater’s plans?Court documents state that Cohen briefed Trump about the Trump Tower Moscow plans more than the three times he told Congress he had, but it’s unclear how much Trump knew.
GOP consultant Paul Erickson sought a meeting between Trump and a “Putin emissary.”Erickson asked a campaign aide if Trump would meet Russian politician Alexander Torshin at an National Rifle Association convention. The campaign declined.
About this story
Source: Court documents and Washington Post reporting
Originally published Feb. 19, 2019.