SPECIAL EDITORIAL – The Mueller Report: The Findings of the Special Counsel Investigation
The Mueller Report is one of the most comprehensive, thoroughly investigated, exhaustive investigations of the last two decades. This 448 page report is divided into two volumes. The first volume consists of 152 different topics and sub-topics while the second volume has 74 (including the conclusion) and four different sections of appendices.
This report outlines in amazing detail the events surrounding the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 Presidential election in the United States which was released in March, 2019. It is a chronological, step-by-step report specifying the events of this two-pronged, highly sophisticated, well-planned, organized, targeted and executed information warfare attack by highly trained Russian cyber warfare agents.
Much of the controversy surrounding this report focuses on the redaction contained throughout the report. These redaction have been authorized by the Office of the Attorney General of the United States and sections of the report are redacted for the following reasons: 1) harm to ongoing matter; 2) personal privacy; 3) investigative technique, and; 4) grand jury.
Due to the extensive nature of the report, not many people have the opportunity or interest in reading such a voluminous work. For this reason, Perspectives in Anthropology will provide summaries (overviews) of the sections that are included in the report. Those sections or sub-sections of particular interests to anyone can be found in the pdf version of the written report for more detailed information or clarification. In the near future, a follow up article will focus on just the summaries and analysis.
The entire report in pdf version can be downloaded here. A free audiobook copy of the report can be found here. This report clearly shows that a new, highly sophisticated form of warfare has been developed – Information Warfare.
II. RUSSIAN “ACTIVE MEASURES” SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN
The first form of Russian election influence came principally from the Internet Research Agency, LLC (IRA), a Russian organization funded by Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin and companies he controlled, including Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering (collectively “Concord”).2 The IRA conducted social media operations targeted at large U.S. audiences with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system.3 These operations constituted “active measures” (aKTMBHbie Meporrprumu1), a term that typically refers to operations conducted by Russian security services aimed at influencing the course of international affairs.4
The IRA and its employees began operations targeting the United States as early as 2014. Using fictitious U.S. personas, IRA employees operated social media accounts and group pages designed to attract U.S. audiences. These groups and accounts, which addressed divisive U.S. political and social issues, falsely claimed to be controlled by U.S. activists. Over time, these social media accounts became a means to reach large U.S. audiences. IRA employees travelled to the United States in mid-2014 on an intelligence-gathering mission to obtain information and photographs for use in their social media posts.
IRA employees posted derogatory information about a number of candidates in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. By early to mid-2016, IRA operations included supporting the Trump Campaign and disparaging candidate Hillary Clinton. The IRA made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Some IRA employees, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated electronically with individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities, including the staging of political rallies.5 The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation.
By the end of the 2016 U.S. election, the IRA had the ability to reach millions of U.S. persons through their social media accounts. Multiple IRA-controlled Facebook groups and Instagram accounts had hundreds of thousands of U.S. participants. IRA-controlled Twitter accounts separately had tens of thousands of followers, including multiple U.S. political figures who retweeted IRA-created content. In November 2017, a Facebook representative testified that Facebook had identified 470 IRA-controlled Facebook accounts that collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017. Facebook estimated the IRA reached as many as 126 million persons through its Face book accounts. 6 In January 2018, Twitter announced that it had identified 3,814 IRA-controlled Twitter accounts and notified approximately 1 .4 million people Twitter believed may have been in contact with an iRA-controlled account.7
2 The Office is aware of reports that other Russian entities engaged in similar active measw-es operations targeting the United States. Some evidence collected by the Office corroborates those rep01ts, and the Office has shared that evidence with other offices in the Department of Justice and FBI.
3 see also SM-2230634, serial 44 (analysis). The FBI case number cited here, and other FBI case numbers identified in the report, should be treated as law enforcement sensitive given the context. The report contains additional law enforcement sensitive information.
4 As discussed in Part V below, the active measures investigation has resulted in criminal charges against 13 individual Russian nationals and three Russian entities, principally for conspiracy to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. See Volume I, Section V.A, infra; Indictment, United States
5 Internet Research Agency, et al., 1 :18-cr-32 (D.D.C. Feb. 16, 2018), Doc. I (“Internet Research Agency Indictment”).
III. RUSSIAN HACKING AND DUMPING OPERATIONS
Beginning in March 2016, units of the Russian Federation’ s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) hacked the computers and email accounts of organizations, e·mployees, and volunteers supporting the Clinton Campaign, including the email account of campaign chairman John Podesta. Starting in April 2016, the GRU hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and the Democratic National Committee (DNC). The GRU targeted hundreds of email accounts used by Clinton Campaign employees, advisors, and volunteers. In total, the GRU stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the compromised email accounts and networks. 109 The GRU later released stolen Clinton Campaign and DNC documents through online personas, “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0,” and later through the organization WikiLeaks. The release of the documents was designed and timed to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election and undermine the Clinton Campaign.
The Trump Campaign showed interest in the WikiLeaks releases and, in the summer and fall of 2016 [Redacted – Harm to Ongoing Matter]. After [Redacted – HOM] WikiLeak’s first Clinton-related release [Redacted – HOM], the Trump Campaign stayed in contact [Redacted – HOM] about WikiLeaks’s activities. The investigation was unable to resolve [Redacted – HOM] WikiLeak’s release of the stolen Podesta emails on October 7, 2016, the same day a video from years earlier was published of Trump using graphic language about women.
IV. RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT LINKS TO AND CONTACTS WITH THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN
The Office identified multiple contacts-“links,” in the words of the Appointment Order between Trump Campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government. The Office investigated whether those contacts constituted a third avenue of attempted Russian interference with or influence on the 2016 presidential election. In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.
This Section describes the principal links between the Trump Campaign and individuals with ties to the Russian government, including some contacts with Campaign officials or associates that have been publicly reported to involve Russian contacts. Each subsection begins with an overview of the Russian contact at issue and then describes in detail the relevant facts, which are generally presented in chronological order, beginning with the early months of the Campaign and extending through the post-election, transition period.
II. FACTUAL RESULTS OF THE OBSTRUCTION INVESTIGATION
This section of the report details the evidence we obtained. We first provide an overview of how Russia became an issue in the 2016 presidential campaign, and how candidate Trump responded. We then tum to the key events that we investigated: the President’s conduct concerning the FBI investigation of Michael Flynn; the President’s reaction to public confirmation of the FBI’s Russia investigation; events leading up to and surrounding the termination of FBI Director Comey; efforts to terminate the Special Counsel; efforts to curtail the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation; efforts to prevent disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and senior campaign officials; efforts to have the Attorney General unrecuse; and conduct towards McGahn, Cohen, and other witnesses.
We summarize the evidence we found and then analyze it by reference to the three statutory obstruction-of-justice elements: obstructive act, nexus to a proceeding, and intent. We focus on elements because, by regulation, the Special Counsel has “jurisdiction .. . to investigate … federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a). Consistent with our jurisdiction to investigate federal obstruction crimes, we gathered evidence that is relevant to the elements of those crimes and analyzed them within an elements framework-while refraining from reaching ultimate conclusions about whether crimes were committed, for the reasons explained above. This section also does not address legal and constitutional defenses raised by counsel for the President; those defenses are analyzed in Volume II, Section III, iefra.
A. The Campaign’s Response to Reports About Russian Support for Trump
During the 2016 campaign, the media raised questions about a possible connection between the Trump Campaign and Russia.7 The questions intensified after WikiLeaks released politically damaging Democratic Party emails that were reported to have been hacked by Russia. Trump responded to questions about possible connections to Russia by denying any business involvement in Russia-even though the Trump Organization had pursued a business project in Russia as late as June 2016. Trump also expressed skepticism that Russia had hacked the emails at the same time as he and other Campaign advisors privately sought information [REDACTED-HOM] about any further planned WikiLeaks releases. After the election, when questions persisted about possible links between Russia and the Trump Campaign, the President-Elect continued to deny any connections to Russia and privately expressed concerns that reports of Russian election interference might lead the public to question the legitimacy of his election.8
B. The President’s Conduct Concerning the Investigation of Michael Flynn
During the presidential transition, incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had two phone calls with the Russian Ambassador to the United States about the Russian response to
U.S. sanctions imposed because of Russia’s election interference. After the press reported on Flynn’s contacts with the Russian Ambassador, Flynn lied to incoming Administration officials by saying he had not discussed sanctions on the calls. The officials publicly repeated those lies in press interviews. The FBI, which previously was investigating Flynn for other matters, interviewed him about the calls in the first week after the inauguration, and Flynn told similar lies to the FBI. On January 26, 2017, Department of Justice (DOJ) officials notified the White House that Flynn and the Russian Ambassador had discussed sanctions and that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBT. The next night, the President had a private dinner with FBI Director James Corney in which he asked for Corney’s loyalty. On February 13, 2017, the President asked Flynn to resign. The following day, the President had a one-on-one conversation with Corney in which he said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.”
C. The President’s Reaction to Public Confirmation of the FBl’s Russia Investigation
In early March 2017, the President learned that Sessions was considering rec using from the Russia investigation and tried to prevent the recusal. After Sessions announced his recusal on March 2, the President expressed anger at Sessions for the decision and then privately asked Sessions to “unrecuse.” On March 20, 2017, Comey publicly disclosed the existence of the FBI’s Russia investigation. In the days that followed, the President contacted Comey and other intelligence agency leaders and asked them to push back publicly on the suggestion that the President had any connection to the Russian election-interference effort in order to “lift the cloud” of the ongoing investigation.
D. Events Leading Up To and Surrounding the Termination of FBI Director Comey
Comey was scheduled to testify before Congress on May 3, 2017. Leading up to that testimony, the President continued to tell advisors that he wanted Comey to make public that the President was not under investigation. At the hearing, Comey declined to answer questions about the scope or subjects of the Russia investigation and did not state publicly that the President was not under investigation. Two days later, on May 5, 2017, the President told close aides he was going to fire Comey, and on May 9, he did so, using his official termination letter to make public that Comey had on three occasions informed the President that he was not under investigation. The President decided to fire Comey before receiving advice or a recommendation from the Department of Justice,. but he approved an initial public account of the termination that attributed it to a recommendation from the Department of Justice based on Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. After Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resisted attributing the firing to his recommendation, the President acknowledged that he intended to fire Comey regardless of the DOJ recommendation and was thinking of the Russia investigation when he made the decision. The President also told the Russian Foreign Minister, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off ….. I’m not under investigation.”
E. The President’s Efforts to Remove the Special Counsel
The Acting Attorney General appointed a Special Counsel on May 17, 2017, prompting the President to state that it was the end of his presidency and that Attorney General Sessions had failed to protect him and should resign. Sessions submitted his resignation, which the President ultimately did not accept. The President told senior advisors that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest, but they responded that those claims were “ridiculous” and posed no obstacle to the Special Counsel’s service. Department of Justice ethics officials similarly cleared the Special Counsel’s service. On June 14, 2017, the press reported that the President was being personally investigated for obstruction of justice and the President responded with a series of tweets criticizing the Special Counsel’s investigation. That weekend, the President called McGahn and directed him to have the Special Counsel removed because of asserted conflicts of interest. McGahn did not carry out the instruction for fear of being seen as triggering another Saturday Night Massacre and instead prepared to resign. McGahn ultimately did not quit and the President did not follow up with McGahn on his request to have the Special Counsel removed.
F. The President’s Efforts to Curtail the Special Counsel Investigation
Two days after the President directed McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed, the President made another attempt to affect the course of the Russia investigation. On June 19, 2017, the President met one-on-one with Corey Lewandowski in the Oval Office and dictated a message to be delivered to Attorney General Sessions that would have had the effect of limiting the Russia investigation to future election interference only. One month later, the President met again with Lewandowski and followed up on the request to have Sessions limit the scope of the Russia investigation. Lewandowski told the President the message would be delivered soon. Hours later, the President publicly criticized Sessions in an unplanned press interview, raising questions about Sessions’s job security.
G. The President’s Efforts to Prevent Disclosure of Emails About the June 9, 2016 Meeting Between Russians and Senior Campaign Officials
By June 2017, the President became aware of emails setting up the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians who offered derogatory information on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” On multiple occasions in late June and early July 2017, the President directed aides not to publicly disclose the emails, and he then dictated a statement about the meeting to be issued by Donald Trump Jr. describing the meeting as about adoption.
H. The President’s Further Efforts to Have the Attorney General Take Over the Investigation
From summer 2017 through 2018, the President attempted to have Attorney General Sessions reverse his recusal, take control of the Special Counsel’s investigation, and order an investigation of Hillary Clinton.
I. The President Orders McGahn to Deny that the President Tried to Fire the Special Counsel
In late January 2018, the media reported that in June 2017 the President had ordered McGahn to have the Special Counsel fired based on purported conflicts of interest but McGahn had refused, saying he would quit instead. After the story broke, the President, through his personal counsel and two aides, sought to have McGahn deny that he had been directed to remove the Special Counsel. Each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate in reporting on the President’s effort to have the Special Counsel removed. The President later personally met with McGahn in the Oval Office with only the Chief of Staff present and tried to get McGahn to say that the President never ordered him to fire the Special Counsel. McGahn refused and insisted his memory of the President’s direction to remove the Special Counsel was accurate. In that same meeting, the President challenged McGahn for taking notes of his discussions with the President and asked why he had told Special Counsel investigators that he had been directed to have the Special Counsel removed.
J. The President’s Conduct Towards Flynn, Manafort, [Redacted – HOM]
In addition to the interactions with McGahn described above, the President has taken other actions directed at possible witnesses in the Special Counsel’s investigation, including Flynn, Manafort, [Redacted – HOM] as described in the next section, Cohen. When Flynn withdrew from a joint defense agreement with the President, the President’s personal counsel stated that Flynn’s actions would be viewed as reflecting “hostility” towards the President. During Manafort’s prosecution and while the jury was deliberating, the President repeatedly stated that Manafott was being treated unfair! and made it known that Manafort could receive a pardon [Redacted – HOM].
K. The President’s Conduct Involving Michael Cohen
The President’s conduct involving Michael Cohen spans the full period of our investigation. During the campaign, Cohen pursued the Trump Tower Moscow project on behalf of the Trump Organization. Cohen briefed candidate Trump on the project numerous times, including discussing whether Trump should travel to Russia to advance the deal. After the media began questioning Trump’s connections to Russia, Cohen promoted a “party line” that publicly distanced Trump from Russia and asserted he had no business there. Cohen continued to adhere to that party line in 2017, when Congress asked him to provide documents and testimony in its Russia investigation. [n an attempt to minimize the President’s connections to Russia, Cohen submitted a letter to Congress falsely stating that he only briefed Trump on the Trump Tower Moscow project three times, that he did not consider asking Trump to travel to Russia, that Cohen had not received a response to an outreach he made to the Russian government, and that the project ended in January 2016, before the first Republican caucus or primary. While working on the congressional statement, Cohen had extensive discussions with the President’s personal counsel, who, according to Cohen, said that Cohen should not contradict the President and should keep the statement short and “tight.” After the FBI searched Cohen’s home and office in April 2018, the President publicly asserted that Cohen would not “flip” and privately passed messages of support to him. Cohen also discussed pardons with the President’s personal counsel and believed that if he stayed on message, he would get a pardon or the President would do “something else” to make the investigation end. But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in July 2018, the President publicly criticized him, called him a “rat,” and suggested his family members had committed crimes.
L. Overarching Factual Issues
Although this report does not contain a traditional prosecution decision or declination decision, the evidence supports several general conclusions relevant to analysis of the facts concerning the President’s course of conduct.
1. Three features of this case render it atypical compared to the heartland obstruction of justice prosecutions brought by the Department of Justice.
First, the conduct involved actions by the President. Some of the conduct did not implicate the President’s constitutional authority and raises garden-variety obstruction-of-justice issues. Other events we investigated, however, drew upon the President’s Article II authority, which raised constitutional issues that we address in Volume II, Section III.B, infra. A factual analysis of that conduct would have to take into account both that the President’s acts were facially lawful and that his position as head of the Executive Branch provides him with unique and powerful means of influencing official proceedings, subordinate officers, and potential witnesses.
Second, many obstruction cases involve the attempted or actual cover-up of an underlying crime. Personal criminal conduct can furnish strong evidence that the individual had an improper obstructive purpose, see, e.g. , United States v. Willoughby, 860 F.2d 15, 24 (2d Cir. 1988), or that he contemplated an effect on an official proceeding, see, e.g., United States v. Binday, 804 F.3d 558, 591 (2d Cir. 2015). But proof of such a crime is not an element of an obstruction offense. See United States v. Greer, 872 F.3d 790, 798 (6th Cir. 2017) (stating, in applying the obstruction sentencing guideline, that “obstruction of a criminal investigation is punishable even if the prosecution is ultimately unsuccessful or even if the investigation ultimately reveals no underlying crime”). Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect non-criminal personal interests, to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment. The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.
In this investigation, the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. But the evidence does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the President’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events-such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’s release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians could be seen as criminal activity by the President, his campaign, or his family.
Third, many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view. While it may be more difficult to establish that public-facing acts were motivated by a corrupt intent, the President’s power to influence actions, persons, and events is enhanced by his unique ability to attract attention through use of mass communications. And no principle of law excludes public acts from the scope of obstruction statutes. If the likely effect of the acts is to intimidate witnesses or alter their testimony, the justice system’s integrity is equally threatened.
2. Although the events we investigated involved discrete acts-e.g., the President’s statement to Comey about the Flynn investigation, his termination of Comey, and his efforts to remove the Special Counsel-it is important to view the President’s pattern of conduct as a whole. That pattern sheds light on the nature of the President’s acts and the inferences that can be drawn about his intent.
a. Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations. The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels. These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General ‘s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony. Viewing the acts collectively can help to illuminate their significance. For example, the President’s direction to McGahn to have the Special Counsel removed was followed almost immediately by his direction to Lewandowski to tell the Attorney General to limit the scope of the Russia investigation to prospective election-interference only-a temporal connection that suggests that both acts were taken with a related purpose with respect to the investigation.
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. Comey did not end the investigation of Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn’s prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the Special Counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President’s order. Lewandowski and Dearborn did not deliver the President’s message to Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President’s direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President’s multiple demands that he do so. Consistent with that pattern, the evidence we obtained would not support potential obstruction charges against the President’s aides and associates beyond those already filed.
b. In considering the full scope of the conduct we investigated, the President’s actions can be divided into two distinct phases reflecting a possible shift in the President’s motives. In the first phase, before the President fired Comey, the President had been assured that the FBI had not opened an investigation of him personally. The President deemed it critically important to make public that he was not under investigation, and he included that information in his termination letter to Comey after other efforts to have that information disclosed were unsuccessful. Soon after he fired Comey, however, the President became aware that investigators were conducting an obstruction-of-justice inquiry into his own conduct. That awareness marked a significant change in the President’s conduct and the start of a second phase of action. The President launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to the President, while in private, the President engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation. For instance, the President attempted to remove the Special Counsel; he sought to have Attorney General Sessions unrecuse himself and limit the investigation; he sought to prevent public disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between Russians and campaign officials; and he used public forums to attack potential witnesses who might offer adverse information and to praise witnesses who declined to cooperate with the government. Judgments about the nature of the President’s motives during each phase would be informed by the totality of the evidence.