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The Mueller Report Was Neither about Collusion Nor about Completed Investigation(s)

In the days since BuzzFeed released a bunch of backup files to the Mueller Report, multiple people have asserted these 302s are proof that Robert Mueller did an inadequate investigation, either by suggesting that the information we’re now seeing is incredibly damaging and so must have merited criminal charges or by claiming we’re seeing entirely new evidence.

I’ve had my own tactical complaints about the Mueller investigation (most notably, about how he managed Mike Flynn’s cooperation, but that might be remedied depending on how Emmet Sullivan treats Sidney Powell’s theatrics).  But I have yet to see a complaint that persuades me.

You never know what you can find in the Mueller Report if you read it

Let’s start with claims about how the release revealed details we didn’t previously know. Virtually all of these instead show that people haven’t read the Mueller Report attentively (though some don’t understand that two of the six interview reports we’ve got record someone lying to Mueller, and all are interviews of human beings with imperfect memories). Take this Will Bunch column, which claims that Rick Gates’ claims made in a muddled April 10, 2018 interview reveal information — that Trump ordered his subordinates to go find Hillary emails — we didn’t know.

Rick Gates, the veteran high-level political operative who served as Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016, told investigators he remembers exactly where he was — aboard Trump’s campaign jet — when he heard the candidate’s desires and frustrations over a scheme to defeat Hillary Clinton with hacked, stolen emails boil over. And he also remembered the future president’s exact words that day in summer 2016.

Gates’ disclosure to investigators was a key insight into the state of mind of a campaign that was willing and eager to work with electronic thieves — even with powerful foreign adversaries like Russia, if need be — to win a presidential election. Yet that critical information wasn’t revealed in Mueller’s 440-page report that was supposed to tell the American public everything we needed to know about what the president knew and when he knew it, regarding Russia’s election hacking.

The passage in question comes from an interview where a redacted section reflecting questions about what Gates knew in May 2016 leads into a section on “Campaign Response to Hacked Emails.” What follows clearly reflects a confusion in Gates’ mind — and/or perhaps a conflation on the part of the campaign — between the emails Hillary deleted from her server and the emails stolen by Russia. The passage wanders between these topics:

  • People on the campaign embracing the Seth Rich conspiracy
  • Don Jr asking about the emails in “family meetings
  • The campaign looking for Clinton Foundation emails
  • Interest in the emails in April and May, before (per public reports) anyone but George Papadopoulos knew of the stolen emails
  • The June 9 meeting
  • Trump exhibiting “healthy skepticism” about some emails
  • The anticipation about emails after Assange said they’d be coming on June 12
  • The fact that the campaign first started coordinating with the RNC because they had details of upcoming dates
  • RNC’s media campaigns after the emails started coming out
  • Trump’s order to “Get the emails” and Flynn’s efforts to do so
  • Details of who had ties to Russia and the Konstantin Kilimnik claim that Ukraine might be behind the hack
  • China, Israel, Kyrgyzstan
  • Gates never heard about emails from Papadopoulos
  • Sean Hannity

This seems to be more Gates’ stream of consciousness about emails, generally, then a directed interview. But Gates’ claim that 1) he didn’t know about emails from Papadopoulos but nevertheless 2) was party to discussions about emails in April and May is only consistent with some of these comments pertaining to Hillary’s deleted emails.

Once you realize that, then you know where to look for the “Get the emails” evidence in the Mueller Report: in the description of Mike Flynn making extensive efforts to get emails — albeit those Hillary deleted.

After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn-who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration- recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.265

264 Flynn 4/25/18 302, at 5-6; Flynn 5/1/18 302, at 1-3.

265 Flynn 5/1/18 302, at l-3.

The footnotes make it clear that in the weeks after Mueller’s team heard from Gates that Flynn used his contacts to search for emails, they interviewed Flynn several times about that effort, only to learn that that incredibly damning effort to find emails involved potentially working with Russian hackers to find the deleted emails. And to be clear: Bunch is not the only one confused about this detail–several straight news reports have not been clear about what that April 10 interview was, as well.

A November 5, 2016 email from Manafort — which the newly released documents show Bannon wanting to hide that Manafort remained a campaign advisor — is another thing that actually does show up in the Mueller Report, contrary to claims.

Later, in a November 5, 2016 email to Kushner entitled “Securing the Victory,” Manafort stated that he was “really feeling good about our prospects on Tuesday and focusing on preserving the victory,” and that he was concerned the Clinton Campaign would respond to a loss by “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”937

In other words, there is little to no evidence that the most damning claims (save, perhaps, the one that RNC knew of email release dates, though that may not be reliable) didn’t make the Report.

The Mueller Report is an incredibly dense description of the details Mueller could corroborate

The FOIAed documents are perhaps more useful for giving us a sense of how dense the Mueller Report is. They show how several pages of notes might end up in just a few paragraphs of the Mueller Report. The entirety of the three Gates’ interviews released Saturday, for example, show up in just four paragraphs in the Mueller Report: two in Volume I describing how the campaign made a media campaign around the leaks and how Trump once told him on the way to the airport that more emails were coming.

And two paragraphs in Volume II repeating the same information.

Worse still, because the government has released just six of the 302s that will be aired at the Roger Stone trial starting this week, much of what is in those interviews (undoubtedly referring to how Manafort and Gates coordinated with Stone) remains redacted under Stone’s gag order, in both the 302 reports and the Mueller Report itself.

Shocked — shocked!! — to find collusion at a Trump casino

Then there are people who read the 302s and were shocked that Mueller didn’t describe what the interviews show to be “collusion” as collusion, the mirror image of an error the denialists make (up to and including Bill Barr) in claiming that the Mueller Report did not find any collusion.

As I’ve pointed out since March 2017, this investigation was never about collusion. Mueller was tasked to report on what crimes he decided to charge or not, so there was never a possibility he was going to get into whether something was or was not collusion, because that would fall outside his mandate (and the law).

Worse still, in his summary of the investigation, Barr played a neat game where he measured “collusion” exclusively in terms of coordination by the campaign itself with Russia. It was clear from that moment — even before the redacted report came out — that he was understating how damning Mueller’s results would be, because Roger Stone’s indictment (and communications of his that got reported via various channels) made it crystal clear that he at least attempted to optimize the releases, but that involved coordination — deemed legal in part out of solid First Amendment concerns — with WikiLeaks, not Russia, and so therefore wouldn’t be covered by Barr’s narrow definition of “collusion.”

Of late, I’ve found it useful to use the definition of “collusion” Mark Meadows used in a George Papadopoulos hearing in 2018. In an exchange designed to show that in an interview where George Papadopoulos lied about his ongoing efforts to cozy up to Russia his denial that Papadopoulos, the coffee boy, knew about efforts to benefit from Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails, Meadows called that — optimizing the Clinton releases — “collusion.”

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like. [my emphasis]

One of the President’s biggest apologists has stated that if the campaign did make efforts to optimize the releases, then they did, in fact, collude.

The Roger Stone trial, which starts Tuesday, will more than meet that measure. It astounds me how significantly the previews of Stone’s trials misunderstand how damning this trial will be. WaPo measures that Mueller failed to find anything in Roger Stone’s actions, which is not what even the indictment shows, much less the Mueller Report or filings submitted in the last six months.

The Stone indictment suggests that what prosecutors found instead was a failed conspiracy among conspiracy theorists, bookended by investigative dead ends and unanswered questions for the team of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

And MoJo hilariously suggests we might only now, in the trial, establish rock solid proof that Trump lied to Mueller, and doesn’t even account for how some of its own past reporting will be aired at the trial in ways that are far more damning than it imagines.

Here’s why I’m certain these outlets are underestimating how damning this trial will be.

Along with stipulating the phone and email addresses of Erik Prince and Steve Bannon (meaning communications with them could be entered into evidence even without their testimony, though Bannon has said he expects to testify), the government plans to present evidence pertaining to four direct lines to Trump and three to his gatekeepers.

One way prosecutors will use this is to show that, when Trump told Rick Gates that more emails were coming after getting off a call he got on the way to Laguardia, he did so after speaking directly to Roger Stone. They’ll also date exactly when a call that Michael Cohen witnessed happened, after which Trump said the DNC emails would be released in upcoming days got put through Rhona Graff.

It’s not so much that we’ll get proof that Trump lied to Mueller (and not just about what he said to Stone), though we will absolutely get that, but we’ll get proof that Trump was personally involved in what Mark Meadows considers “collusion.”

The Mueller Report and the ongoing criminal investigations

Both Mueller critics and denialists are also forgetting (and, in some cases, obstinately ignorant) about what the Mueller Report actually represented.

We don’t know why Mueller submitted his report when he did — though there is evidence, albeit not yet conclusive, that Barr assumed the position of Attorney General planning to shut the investigation down (indeed, he even has argued that once Mueller decided he could not indict Trump — which was true from the start, given the OLC memo prohibiting it — he should have shut the investigation down).

A lot has been made of the investigative referrals in the Mueller Report, of which just 2 (Cohen and Greg Craig) were unredacted. We’ve seen just one more of those thus far, the prosecution of George Nader for child porn, a prosecution that may lead Nader to grow more cooperative about other issues. Some of the (IMO) most revealing details in the weekend’s dump were b7ABC FOIA exemptions for materials relating to Alexander Nix and Michael Caputo. Normally, that redaction is used for upcoming criminal prosecutions, so it could be that Nix and Caputo will have a larger role in Stone’s trial than we know. But it also may mean that there is an ongoing investigation into one or both of them.

In addition, investigations of some sort into at least three of Trump’s aides appear to be ongoing.

It is a fact, for example, that DOJ refused to release the details of Paul Manafort’s lies — covering the kickback system via which he got paid, his efforts to implement the Ukraine plan pitched in his August 2, 2016 meeting, and efforts by another Trump flunkie to save the election in the weeks before he resigned — because those investigations remained ongoing in March. There’s abundant reason to think that the investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and Rudy Giuliani, whether it was a referral from Mueller or not, is the continuation of the investigation into Manafort’s efforts to help Russia carve up Ukraine to its liking (indeed, the NYT has a piece on how Manafort played in Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to cultivate Trump today).

It is a fact that the investigation that we know of as the Mystery Appellant started in the DC US Attorney’s office and got moved back there (and as such might not even be counted as a referral). What we know of the challenge suggests a foreign country (not Russia) was using one of its corporations to pay off bribes of someone.

It is a fact that Robert Mueller testified under oath that the counterintelligence investigation into Mike Flynn was ongoing.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

That’s consistent with redaction decisions made both in the Mueller Report itself and as recently as last week.

It is a fact that when Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller testified, he did so before a non-Mueller grand jury. When Miller’s lawyer complained, Chief Judge Beryl Howell reviewed the subpoena and agreed that the government needed Miller’s testimony for either investigative subjects besides Stone or charges beyond those in his indictment. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of Mueller’s statement closing his investigation is the way it happened as Miller was finally agreeing to testify, effectively ensuring that it would happen under DC, not Muller.

Again, these are all facts. No matter how badly Glenn Greenwald desperately wants to — needs to — spin knowing actual facts about ongoing investigations as denial, it is instead basic familiarity with the public record (the kind of familiarity he has never bothered to acquire). At least as of earlier this year — or last week! — there has been reason to believe there are ongoing investigations into three of Trump’s closest advisors and several others who helped him get elected.

At least two of those investigations continue under grand juries, impaneled in March 2019, that Chief Judge Beryl Howell can extend beyond January 20, 2021.

Why Mueller closed up shop

Nevertheless, it is indeed the case that Mueller closed his investigation after producing a report that showed abundant obstruction by the President, but stated that his investigation “did not establish” that the Trump campaign engaged in coordination or conspiracy with Russia, including regarding a quid pro quo.

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.

I’d like to end this post with speculation, one not often considered by those bitching about or claiming finality of the Mueller investigation.

In his closing press conference, Mueller emphasized two things: he saw his job as including “preserving evidence” against the President, and he noted that under existing DOJ guidelines, the President cannot be charged until after he has been impeached.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could now be charged.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.

In Mueller’s explanation of why he didn’t hold out for an interview with Trump, he said that he weighed the cost of fighting for years to get that interview versus the benefit of releasing a report  with “substantial quantity of information [allowing people] to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility” when he did.

Beginning in December 2017, this Office sought for more than a year to interview the President on topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction-of-justice. We advised counsel that the President was a ” subject” of the investigation under the definition of the Justice Manual-“a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.” Justice Manual § 9-11.151 (2018). We also advised counsel that”[ a]n interview with the President is vital to our investigation” and that this Office had ” carefully considered the constitutional and other arguments raised by . .. counsel, and they d[id] not provide us with reason to forgo seeking an interview.” 1 We additionally stated that “it is in the interest of the Presidency and the public for an interview to take place” and offered “numerous accommodations to aid the President’s preparation and avoid surprise.”2 After extensive discussions with the Department of Justice about the Special Counsel’s objective of securing the President’s testimony, these accommodations included the submissions of written questions to the President on certain Russia-related topics. 3

[snip]

Recognizing that the President would not be interviewed voluntarily, we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony. We viewed the written answers to be inadequate. But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report. We thus weighed the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits for our investigation and report. As explained in Volume II, Section H.B., we determined that the substantial quantity of information we had obtained from other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility, which are often inferred from circumstantial evidence and assessed without direct testimony from the subject of the investigation.

I take that to mean that Mueller decided to end the investigation to prevent Trump’s refusals to testify to delay the release of the report for two years.

In his testimony, Mueller agreed, after some very specific questioning from former cop Val Demings, that Trump was not truthful in his answers to Mueller.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful.

MUELLER: There — I would say generally.

She laid out what I have — that Trump refused to correct his lies about Trump Tower Moscow, as well as that he obviously lied about his coordination on WikiLeaks. So lies are one of the things the Mueller Report documents for anyone who reads it attentively.

But Trump’s obstruction extends beyond his lies. His obstruction, as described in the Report, included attempts to bribe several different witnesses with pardons, including at minimum Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, and Stone (those aren’t the only witnesses and co-conspirators the evidence shows Mueller believes Trump bribed with promises of pardons, but I’ll leave it there for now).

So here’s what I think Mueller did. I suspect he ended his investigation when he did because he was unable to get any further so long as Trump continued to obstruct the investigation with promises of pardons. So long as Trump remains President, key details about what are egregious efforts to cheat to win will remain hidden. The ongoing investigations — into Manafort and Stone, at a minimum, but possibly into others up to and including the President’s son — cannot go further so long as any prosecutorial effort can be reversed with a pardon.

That said, some of those details will be revealed for the first time starting this week, in the Stone trial. And, if the Parnas and Fruman influence operation is, indeed, related to Manafort’s own, then Trump’s personal criminal involvement in that influence operation is being revealed as part of a parallel impeachment inquiry.

Which is to say that I suspect Mueller got out of the way to allow investigations that cannot be fully prosecuted so long as Trump remains President to continue, even as Congress starts to do its job under the Constitution. And Congress has finally started doing so.

Glenn Greenwald and David Frum Need to Stop Looking to the Mueller Report for FBI’s Counterintelligence Conclusions

There have been several public controversies in recent days that arise from the fact that there was a Russian counterintelligence investigation that no one sees tangible results of.

The most predictable came when Glenn Greenwald claimed Mueller’s purported silence about blackmail proved that any questions about it amounted to conspiracy mongering.

Glenn objects to John Garamendi wondering why Trump continues to push so hard to readmit Russia into the G-7. It’s a question raised by reports of how Trump’s private lobbying to readmit Russia undermined the G-7 even more than his more public lies and intransigence about other topics.

The leaders sat down Saturday evening for their first joint meeting — a dinner of Basque specialties at the foot of the landmark lighthouse of Biarritz. The meal started normally, with a discussion of the fires in the Amazon. It moved on to containing Iran’s nuclear threat. But it went off the rails when Trump blasted leaders for not including Russia.

Trump’s message was that “it doesn’t really make sense to have this discussion without Putin at the table,” according to a European official briefed on the conversation among the leaders.

The official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sharp discussions at the summit.

The entire 44-year vision of the G-7 gathering, according to the non-U. S. participants, is to hash out global issues among like-minded democracies. So the discussion quickly turned even more fundamental: Whether the leaders should assign any special weight to being a democracy, officials said.

Most of the other participants forcefully believed the answer was yes. Trump believed the answer was no. The pushback against him was delivered so passionately that the U.S. president’s body language changed as one leader after another dismissed his demand, according to a senior official who watched the exchange. He crossed his arms. His stance became more combative.

[snip]

But having such a forceful advocate for an authoritarian leader inside the room of democracies profoundly shaped the overall tone of the summit, one senior official said.

“The consequence is the same as if one of the participants is a dictator,” the official said. “No community of like-minded leaders who are pulling together.”

There is another possible explanation of course: That Trump is an authoritarian, which would mean that anybody who helped him get elected had a hand in fostering authoritarianism.

That said, Glenn’s argument that Garamendi was engaging in unhinged conspiracy theories by asking the question because after 22 months of investigating, Mueller “didn’t even hint that Putin ‘had something’ over Trump” he might use to blackmail him is an outright error.

First, it assumes that Mueller would have prosecuted someone if Russia’s president had blackmail material over Trump. I’m a bit confused how this would work, even in theory. Does Glenn think Mueller is going to charge the President of Russia with a crime for pressing an advantage over the President of the United States in foreign policy? Even distinguishing blackmail (what Putin would do) from accepting a bribe (what Trump might do in response), did Glenn miss the part where Attorney General Bill Barr, whom Glenn has treated as a credible interlocutor in this matter despite his authoritarian tendencies and his history of covering up Executive abuse, took an especially hard stance against indicting a President?

It is absolutely true that the Mueller Report concluded that the available information did not support a quid pro quo conspiracy, where Russia offered to help get Trump elected in exchange for favorable treatment in the future.

[T]he 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.

Some information that is known not to have been available to Mueller’s investigation includes an explanation for why Trump’s campaign manager was sharing campaign strategy with an Oleg Deripaska aide at a meeting where they also talked about carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking — directly related to the event that led to Russia’s G-7 exclusion. Mueller also was unable to get any answers from Trump about discussions of sanctions relief, extending (uniquely even for Trump’s contemptuous responses) even to discussions during the campaign. Mueller also was never able to obtain a definitive answer about whether Mike Flynn asked Sergey Kislyak to hold off on responding to Obama’s sanctions with Trump’s involvement. Mueller also did not get a solid understanding of how the Transition treated Erik Prince’s discussions with Kirill Dmitriev, because both Prince and Steve Bannon deleted their texts that would have explained their inconsistent accounts. In short, Mueller did not establish a quid pro quo. But he also did not have some of the most important information he’d need to assess the question.

More importantly, a quid pro quo amounting to the crime of conspiracy — something Mueller could charge, if it involved people in addition to Trump — is a different thing than blackmail, what Glenn explicitly refers to twice in his tweets. Short of accepting a bribe, that’s a counterintelligence question, not a prosecutorial one. And the Mueller Report explicitly says that all the counterintelligence findings were not in the report, which is by regulation limited to prosecution and declination decisions.

From its inception, the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission. FBI personnel who assisted the Office established procedures to identify and convey such information to the FBI. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division met with the Office regularly for that purpose for most of the Office’s tenure. For more than the past year, the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send-in writing-summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices. Those communications and other correspondence between the Office and the FBI contain information derived from the investigation, not all of which is contained in this Volume. This Volume is a summary. It contains, in the Office’s judgment, that information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results. [my emphasis]

If Mueller had found evidence Putin were trying to blackmail Trump, he would have treated it as a counterintelligence concern; it wouldn’t show up in the report, which is why it is so silly that Glenn suggests Mueller’s public statements would discount the possibility of blackmail. Being blackmailed is not a crime. Glenn is — as he has been since he embraced Bill Barr’s summary as a faithful report of what Mueller found — simply misrepresenting (or perhaps ignorant of) the scope of the report, even while relying on Mueller as an authority to dismiss Garamendi’s claim.

Glenn’s claims about Mueller’s silence are all the more inaccurate given Mueller’s testimony before the Intelligence Committee, which itself has a counterintelligence function. Mueller did, explicitly, state that his report does not show Trump to be an agent of Russia.

WENSTRUP: So a member of this Committee said President Trump was a Russian agent after your report was publicly released. That statement is not supported by your report, correct?

MUELLER: That is accurate. Not supported.

But that’s not what Glenn addressed, at all (and it’s also not what the the majority of concerns raised about Trump address). Glenn was making a claim about blackmail, not about being a recruited agent.

In his testimony, Mueller said something very different about blackmail. One of the biggest pieces of news that came out of that day of hearings was Mueller’s statement that the FBI continues to investigate whether Mike Flynn was susceptible to blackmail.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

That may be consistent with reports from a period when Mueller’s investigation was done that multiple US Attorneys districts had equities in Flynn’s 302s, not to mention the disclosure that Ekim Alptekin was working to influence Trump’s policies in ways that go beyond the Gulen related contact.

As to Trump, in Mueller’s longer colloquy with Raja Krishnamoorthi, he confirmed that two potential sources of potential Trump blackmail were not addressed by the report: Trump’s financial ties with Russia and Russian money laundering using Trump businesses.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director, since it was outside the purview of your investigation, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding the subject matter of your report.

MUELLER: That’s true.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For instance, since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise of blackmail by Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Those decisions probably were made in the FBI.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But not in your report, correct?

MUELLER: Not in our report. We avert to the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.

Then, in an exchange with Adam Schiff, Mueller agreed hypothetically that acting unethically, particularly if it involves lying about financial issues, could make someone susceptible to blackmail. When Schiff asked explicitly whether a presidential candidate lying about doing business with Russia could expose someone to blackmail, Mueller said he would, “leave that to you.”

SCHIFF: If a presidential candidate was doing business in Russia and saying he wasn’t, Russians could expose that too, could they not?

MUELLER: I leave that to you.

In other words, the most direct thing Mueller has said — after having laid out that if there were counterintelligence concerns stemming from Trump’s lies to hide his willingness to work through a former GRU officer and with sanctioned banks to make an improbably lucrative real estate deal in Moscow relying on the intervention of the Russian government, they wouldn’t be in his report — is that he would leave it to Schiff, or perhaps the House Intelligence Committee tasked with CI, to determine the CI implications of Trump’s lies about the Trump Tower deal. And yet Glenn is complaining about Garamendi raising the question that Mueller himself deferred to Congress.

If Glenn wants to treat Mueller as his authority (he actually wants to treat Bill Barr’s caricature of Mueller as his authority), then he needs to admit that, after acknowledging that the kinds of things Trump and his flunkies did and do may make them susceptible to blackmail, Mueller deferred precisely this issue, as it regards the President, to Congress. He sure as hell didn’t say concerns about them amounted to Alex Jones-worthy conspiracy mongering; he said the opposite.

And while it wasn’t asked in either of the Mueller hearings, the report does not treat two other areas investigators would need to review to determine whether or not Trump was making policy decisions based off a concern that Russia had leverage over him. Probably for very good constitutional reasons, the report doesn’t deal with actions unrelated to the investigation that Trump took as President, such as attempting to overturn the existing sanctions on Russia or slow-walking the further sanctions imposed by Congress. More specifically, however, the Mueller Report doesn’t treat the most alarming incidents between Trump and Russia: Trump’s sharing of highly sensitive Israeli intelligence in the same meeting with Sergei Lavrov where Trump boasted of firing Comey, Trump and Putin’s private conversation about adoptions during the period when Trump was penning a false statement claiming the June 9 meeting was about adoptions, and Trump’s backing of Putin’s claims about the DNC hack in Helsinki, even in the wake of the GRU indictment for the theft. They’re all (especially given precedents about the President’s role in classification decisions and foreign policy) legal, but deeply troubling from a national security perspective. That’s where any counterintelligence analysis of Trump’s compromise by Russia would start, and even though related events are treated in the Mueller Report, these specifically are not.

In short, Glenn’s comment, which would have betrayed ignorance of the scope of the Mueller Report back in March when he started making such claims, is an outright error in light of what Mueller said in Congressional testimony. To the extent anyone in government has made conclusions about Trump’s susceptibility to blackmail (and at least per Mueller’s testimony, FBI is still investigating related issues), that’s not something in the Mueller Report. It’s also not something Mueller deems conspiracy-mongering. Mueller’s report of their criminal charging decisions is by definition silent on that issue.

All that said, Glenn is not alone in this error. He’s joined by many critics of Trump’s coziness with Putin, too. Just this morning, for example, Axis of Evil scribe David Frum made precisely the error Glenn made, suggesting that the silence about counterintelligence issues in Mueller’s Report reflects any conclusion about it. He made it about the same topic, too: Trump’s insistence that Russia should rejoin the G-7.

A simple review of the report would explain that Mueller was primarily tasked to prosecute crimes, and a simple review of Mueller’s testimony — the only time he addressed this question explicitly — would show Mueller stating that, “the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.”

All that said, it is equally wrong to assume that Mueller’s team and the FBI counterintelligence agents colocated with it didn’t take particular steps to investigate counterintelligence concerns. Last night, in the wake of confirmation that Deutsche Bank had copies of Trump’s tax returns, there was a sketchy single sourced report on MSNBC (which Trump’s lawyer has just aggressively refuted; now MSNBC has retracted it) that unnmaed Russians had co-signed on some DB loans.

To be clear, there are reasons to suspect Deutsche Bank files on Trump and his son-in-law would show suspect behavior. That’s because an earlier NYT story relying on five sources, one of them named — said DB had flagged certain transactions. That report even said the DB declined to submit Suspicious Activity Reports on the transactions.

In the summer of 2016, Deutsche Bank’s software flagged a series of transactions involving the real estate company of Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser.

Ms. McFadden, a longtime anti-money laundering specialist in Deutsche Bank’s Jacksonville office, said she had reviewed the transactions and found that money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals. She concluded that the transactions should be reported to the government — in part because federal regulators had ordered Deutsche Bank, which had been caught laundering billions of dollars for Russians, to toughen its scrutiny of potentially illegal transactions.

Ms. McFadden drafted a suspicious activity report and compiled a small bundle of documents to back up her decision.

Typically, such a report would be reviewed by a team of anti-money laundering experts who are independent of the business line in which the transactions originated — in this case, the private-banking division — according to Ms. McFadden and two former Deutsche Bank managers.

That did not happen with this report. It went to managers in New York who were part of the private bank, which caters to the ultrawealthy. They felt Ms. McFadden’s concerns were unfounded and opted not to submit the report to the government, the employees said.

Ms. McFadden and some of her colleagues said they believed the report had been killed to maintain the private-banking division’s strong relationship with Mr. Kushner.

After Mr. Trump became president, transactions involving him and his companies were reviewed by an anti-financial crime team at the bank called the Special Investigations Unit. That team, based in Jacksonville, produced multiple suspicious activity reports involving different entities that Mr. Trump owned or controlled, according to three former Deutsche Bank employees who saw the reports in an internal computer system.

Some of those reports involved Mr. Trump’s limited liability companies. At least one was related to transactions involving the Donald J. Trump Foundation, two employees said.

Deutsche Bank ultimately chose not to file those suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department, either, according to three former employees.

That said, these sources all seem to have reviewed the actual transactions, and there’s nothing as inflammatory as a Russian co-signer. Lawrence O’Donnell’s source reportedly has not seen the documents.

More importantly, the belief there’ll be some criminal hidden grail in Trump’s finances assumes that Mueller never got any of his finances. In the same Intelligence Committee hearing, Mueller declined to comment on whether he had obtained Trump’s tax returns and other financial documents.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And of course your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: In July 2017 the president said his personal finances were off limits, or outside the purview of your investigation and he drew a “red line,” around his personal finances. Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?

MUELLER: I’m not going to get in to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Were you instructed by anyone not to investigate the president’s personal finances?

MUELLER: No.

Mueller did base some of his investigation off of SARs referrals (which, obviously, he wouldn’t haven’t obtained if DB was sitting on them until this got reported several months after Mueller’s investigation shut down); that’s where the investigation of Michael Cohen began. Any investigation into Jared Kushner’s discussions of back channels involving sanctioned Russian banks would surely have subpoenaed bank records. Furthermore, Mueller obtained at least Cohen’s Trump Organization email without asking for it from the company itself (and preserved all of it as soon as he learned about the June 9 meeting).

In other words, there’s a counterpart to those — like Glenn and Frum — erroneously making claims about Mueller’s counterintelligence conclusions based on what is in the report. That’s people assuming that certain kinds of investigation wouldn’t have happened, when we know some form of one did.

The Ongoing Question of Trump’s (and His Flunkies’) Susceptibility to Compromise by Russia

One of Robert Mueller’s most remarkable lines in his testimony to the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees last week was a follow-up in the latter hearing to a Raja Krishnamoorthi question about how Mike Flynn’s lies exposed him to compromise.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

Two and a half years after Flynn was fired, the FBI is still trying to figure out what kind of damage his venality and lies put America at risk

It should surprise no one following closely that the FBI is still looking into different aspects of how Flynn’s lies — both about Russia and about Turkey — exposed him to compromise. After all, a footnote in the Mueller Report that should describe what happened to the counterintelligence investigations into Flynn remains redacted to protect ongoing investigations.

There’s still a redaction in Flynn’s cooperation addendum that likely pertains to something that went through Mueller but cannot yet be unsealed, which I suspect is a counterintelligence investigation. In March, prosecutors in Bijan Kian’s case said at least one other district had an ongoing investigation into matters relating to Flynn (after correcting himself for saying districts, plural, had such investigations). And just recently, Kian’s lawyers disclosed that prosecutors had told them there was classified evidence showing Ekim Alptekin’s efforts to cultivate Flynn and through him, Trump, outside of his consulting company.

Prosecutors wrote to lawyers for Flynn’s ex-lobbying partner Bijan Kian that the US government was “in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant of FIG.”

Then there are the new materials released by the Oversight Committee showing how willing Flynn was to entertain a corrupt proposal to sell nukes to Saudi Arabia.

(Note, it’s a bit ironic that one of the other National Security Advisors to plead guilty to a crime spoke to Flynn of the Christmas vacation during which he had tried to secretly undermine Barack Obama’s punishment of Russia for its interference in the election spoke to Flynn of his “conviction” in the new year.)

By August 2017, Flynn was being investigated for four things, and it’s not clear we yet know all of them.

Now that Bijan Kian has been convicted, Flynn may be scot free (though the timing on his sentence will be a bit awkward, given that Judge Trenga may still overturn one or both of his convictions in early September, after Flynn’s next status hearing). But, in one of the big disclosures Mueller made last week, he revealed that the FBI is still investigating all the ways the General’s venality put the United States at risk in his short time as Trump’s top national security advisor.

And that’s just one aspect of the most important confirmations of the Mueller hearings.

When the Mueller Report came out (and even more so, when the four page Barr summary came out), denialists proclaimed that the Report (that is, the Barr summary) proved that concerns about Trump being compromised by Russia had been proven false — the substantive concern that led to the Trump investigation in the first place. The damning details of Trump’s interactions with Russia left unmentioned in the Mueller Report, as well as the descriptions of the separate FBI track of the counterintelligence investigation, already suggested that wasn’t true.

But on several different occasions, Mueller made it clear that nothing in his report rules out Trump or Flynn or several other people having been blackmailed by Russia.

To be clear, Mueller makes it clear that Trump is not a “Russian agent,” meaning the report does not present evidence that Trump is willfully doing Russia’s bidding.

WENSTRUP: So a member of this Committee said President Trump was a Russian agent after your report was publicly released. That statement is not supported by your report, correct?

MUELLER: That is accurate. Not supported.

But three other times, Mueller does not dispute and at times agrees that Trump and his flunkies’ actions pose a blackmail threat. He didn’t disagree on this point with Lou Correa:

CORREA: I may begin because of time limits we have gone in depth on only five possible episodes of obstruction. There’s so much more. And I want to focus on another section of obstruction which is the president’s conduct concerning Michael Flynn, the president’s national security advisor.

In early 27, the White House Counsel and the president were informed that Mr. Flynn had lied to government authorities about his communications with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign in transition. Is this correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

CORREA: If a hostile nation knows that a U.S. official has lied publicly that can be used to blackmail that government official, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that. I don’t disagree with it necessarily, but I’m not going to speak to — anymore to that issue.

With Adam Schiff, Mueller seemingly agreed that Flynn’s lies could expose him, though he refused to answer Schiff’s question about the President specifically:

SCHIFF: You have, I think we can all see that. And befitting the times, I’m sure your reward will be unending criticism, but we are grateful. The need to act in ethical manner is not just a moral one, but when people act unethically it also exposes them to compromise particularly in dealing with foreign powers, is that true?

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: Because when someone acts unethically in connection with a foreign partner, that foreign partner can expose their wrongdoing and extort them.

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: And that conduct — that unethical conduct can be of a financial nature if you have a financial motive or elicit business dealing, am I right?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: It could also just involve deception. If you are lying about something that can be exposed, then you can be blackmailed.

MUELLER: Also true.

SCHIFF: In the case of Michael Flynn, he was secretly doing business with Turkey, correct?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: That could open him up to compromise that financial relationship.

MUELLER: I presume.

SCHIFF: He also lied about his discussions with the Russian ambassador and since the Russians were on the other side of the conversation, they could have exposed that, could they not?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: If a presidential candidate was doing business in Russia and saying he wasn’t, Russians could expose that too, could they not?

MUELLER: I leave that to you.

But Krishnamoorthi’s full exchange with Mueller not only gets him to acknowledge that Trump lied about his Trump Tower deal (and continued to lie during the investigation), but establishes that at least some of Trump’s possible vulnerabilities because of his financial ties were not included in Mueller’s investigation.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director, since it was outside the purview of your investigation, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding the subject matter of your report.

MUELLER: That’s true.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For instance, since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise of blackmail by Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Those decisions probably were made in the FBI.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But not in your report, correct?

MUELLER: Not in our report. We avert to the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Let’s talk about one administration official in particularly namely President Donald Trump. Other than Trump Tower Moscow, your report does not address or detail the president’s financial ties or dealings with Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Similarly since it was outside your purview your report does not address the question of whether Russian oligarchs engaged in money laundering through any of the president’s businesses, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And of course your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: In July 2017 the president said his personal finances were off limits, or outside the purview of your investigation and he drew a “red line,” around his personal finances. Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?

MUELLER: I’m not going to get in to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Were you instructed by anyone not to investigate the president’s personal finances?

MUELLER: No.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. Mueller, I’d like to turn your attention to counterintelligence risks associated with lying. Individuals can be subject to blackmail if they lie about their interactions with foreign countries, correct?

MUELLER: True.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. As you noted in Volume two of your report, Donald Trump repeated five times in one press conference, Mr. Mueller in 2016 “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

Of course Michael Cohen said Donald Trump was not being truthful, because at this time Trump was attempting to build Trump Tower Moscow. Your report does not address whether Donald Trump was compromised in any way because of any potential false statements that he made about Trump Tower Moscow, correct?

MUELLER: I think that’s right — I think that’s right.

The FBI continues to assess the damage done by Flynn’s vulnerability to compromise. But Mueller didn’t say whether the FBI continues to assess whether the President’s own lies and entanglements have made him vulnerable to compromise.

That’s not to say they have — as Mueller said, the report does not show Trump to be an agent of Russia.

But the Mueller Report does not say, one way or another, whether Russia has been able to manipulate Trump by getting him to lie to America about his entanglements with Russia.