Special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation without charging any conspiracy between Trump associates and the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election.
But though the investigation did not end up revealing any criminal “collusion,” Mueller’s team did unearth a great deal of newsworthy and relevant information — even only going by what’s already public.
We haven’t seen Mueller’s actual report, even in redacted form, and we don’t know his full findings. But in charging documents and court filings over the past year and a half, the special counsel has made a great many factual findings and allegations about Russian interference and Trump associates. Here are those findings.
- The Russian government did try to interfere in the 2016 election to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and benefit Trump.
- It did so through a social media propaganda operation, and by hacking and leaking leading Democrats’ emails.
- Some Trump associates seem to have had some advance knowledge of the email leaks — but Mueller did not find that they conspired with Russian government officials about the leaks.
- The Trump Organization was secretly in talks for a potentially very lucrative Moscow real estate deal during the campaign, and Russian government officials were involved. Trump and members of his family were briefed several times on the project.
- Before the 2016 campaign, Paul Manafort organized an extensive unregistered lobbying and PR operation to benefit Ukraine’s government, involving a top US law firm and two major lobbying firms. He also laundered tens of millions of dollars from Ukrainian interests into the US, and didn’t pay taxes on it. Then, once he joined Trump’s campaign, Manafort allegedly handed over Trump polling data to a Russian intelligence-tied associate.
- Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about when he’d heard that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.
- Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions.
- Trump lawyer Michael Cohen lied to Congress about the timing of the Trump Tower Moscow talks.
- Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone allegedly lied to Congress about his efforts to get in touch with WikiLeaks to try to obtain hacked Democratic emails.
- Several actions from President Trump raised obstruction of justice concerns, and Mueller’s team laid out evidence about them but declined to say whether they were criminal.
What Mueller’s investigation didn’t establish
In the Mueller report’s own words (quoted in Bill Barr’s summary letter), his investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Now, that’s a very specific statement. Could there have been conspiracy with Russians who weren’t formal government officials, such as oligarchs or people with intelligence ties? What about conspiracy with WikiLeaks? And could there have been a conspiracy that wasn’t about interfering with the election (such as, money for sanctions)? It’s hard to say without seeing Mueller’s fuller report.
But we do seem to have enough information to conclude that Mueller did not or could not back up several major allegations in the Steele dossier.
The dossier was composed of several reports written by a former British spy (who was ultimately being paid by a lawyer for the DNC and the Clinton campaign). These reports were given to the FBI in 2016, and were posted publicly by BuzzFeed News in January 2017. They played a major role in the public speculation and conspiracy theorizing over what Trump-Russia “collusion” might have entailed.
But the dossier’s bold claims seem to be false. Steele wrote that there was a “well-developed conspiracy” of cooperation between Trump and Russia, that Trump’s team cut a deal in which policy concessions would be traded for Russian leaks of Democratic emails, that Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page arranged payoffs for Trump advisers through the privatization of a Russian state-owned oil company, and that Michael Cohen traveled to Prague to pay off hackers.
All of this would seem to fit the description of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russian government in its election interference efforts. But, per Mueller, his investigation “did not establish” such conspiracy or coordination.
Mueller also did not affirmatively conclude that President Trump obstructed justice while in office (in connection with his pressures on DOJ and FBI leadership, and his firing of FBI Director James Comey). The special counsel did not exonerate Trump, either — he simply didn’t decide the issue.
That may suggest that no “slam dunk” evidence of obstruction of justice — the destruction of evidence, subornment of perjury, or witness tampering — emerged in Mueller’s investigation. Barr is on record in a 2018 memo saying all of those would qualify as obstruction of justice, if done by the president.
However, he reviewed Mueller’s findings and concluded there was no sufficient evidence to establish that Trump obstructed justice. So unless he dramatically changed his legal analysis to protect Trump, this could mean the special counsel’s obstruction evidence was more along the lines of a troubling pattern of behavior rather than a smoking gun.