At times during his two-year investigation Special Counsel Robert Mueller seemed to be laying out a broad conspiracy case that could ensnare Trump associates in a scheme to collude with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. In fact, we wrote about that very possibility.
In the end, Mueller determined there wasn’t enough proof to make the case for a grand conspiracy, saying the two-year investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
But what he did find were extensive contacts between Russian nationals and Trump and campaign officials, who repeatedly lied about those links.
Paul Manafort and an alleged Russian spy
Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort stayed in touch with his extensive Russian contacts during the campaign via longtime employee Konstantin Kilimnik, who previously ran Manafort 's office in Kiev and who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence.
Manafort passed campaign information to Kilimnik and twice met with him in the U.S. during the campaign.
One of those meetings, in New York in August 2016, was “to deliver in person a peace plan for Ukraine that Manafort acknowledged to the Special Counsel's Office was a ‘backdoor’ way for Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine.”
December 2016 emails from Kilimnik added: “All that is required to start the process is a very minor 'wink' (or slight push) from [Trump]” an assessment Manafort said he agreed with.
“Manafort had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik”
“They also discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states,” the report said. “Months before that meeting, Manafort had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting.”
Roger Stone, Wikileaks and the DNC hacks
One of the most heavily redacted parts of the report relates to the hacking by Russian intelligence agencies of emails belonging to Clinton aide John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee — and the subsequent dissemination of those emails by WikiLeaks.
The report does, however, say that the Trump campaign “showed interest in WikiLeaks's releases of documents and welcomed their potential to damage candidate Clinton.”
The report says someone from the Trump campaign made contact with WikiLeaks but it redacts their name due to an ongoing investigation but an earlier indictment said that Trump campaign officials had directed campaign adviser Roger Stone to contact WikiLeaks.
In June 2016, the contact forecast to senior Trump campaign officials that WikiLeaks would release information damaging to Clinton and the campaign planned to make the most of the new information:
“According to [campaign adviser Rick] Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks,” the report states.
“More releases of damaging information would be coming”
Trump was fully aware of what was happening and during a car ride to La Guardia Airport he told Gates that “more releases of damaging information would be coming.”
Separately, the report says Trump asked Michael Flynn to try and find the missing Clinton emails, and while he did contact several individuals to do so, the emails were never recovered.
Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador
Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had two phone conversations during the transition period, according to the report.
First, on December 29, 2016, after the Obama administration had imposed sanctions on Russia for having interfered in the election, Flynn rang Kislyak to ask Russia not to escalate the situation — after then-deputy National Security adviser KT McFarland passed on a message from Trump.
The following day, Putin announced Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the sanctions and hours later, Trump tweeted: “Great move on delay (by V. Putin).”
“On December 31, 2016, Kislyak called Flynn and told him the request had been received at the highest levels and Russia had chosen not to retaliate as a result of Flynn's request,” the report says.
The lack of a reaction from Russia to the sanctions piqued the interest of the FBI, who it turns out were already investigating Flynn’s links to the Russian government, according to the report.
McFarland claims that some months later Trump made a request — through his former chief of staff Reince Priebus — that she draft a memo that said Trump had not instructed her to direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak. When McFarland told Priebus she didn’t feel comfortable doing so, he said: “Forget he even mentioned it.”
Michael Cohen and the Moscow Tower Project
The report details the extensive efforts made by Michael Cohen to make contact with Russian government officials in 2015 and 2016 to move the Trump Tower Moscow project forward.
The efforts to seek out a meeting with a high-level Russian official continued until January 2016, when Cohen sent an email to Vladimir Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, seeking a meeting with Putin’s chief of staff.
“I respectfully request someone, preferably you; contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals,” Cohen said in his email.
“Trump indicated a willingness to travel if it would assist the project significantly”
Cohen spoke with Trump about traveling to Russia twice: once in late 2015, then again in spring 2016: "According to Cohen, Trump indicated a willingness to travel if it would assist the project significantly,” the report said.
Cohen had taken over efforts to connect to the Russian government after Felix Sater, a Soviet-born American businessman, failed to make the connections.
In November 2015, Sater emailed Cohen promising a hook up with Putin, adding: “Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin’s team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”
In a follow-up email, Sater said: “I think I can get Putin to say that at the Trump Moscow press conference. If he says it we own this election. Americas most difficult adversary agreeing that Donald is a good guy to negotiate. We can own this election.”
Trump continued to ask Cohen about the progress of the project up to at least May 2016, and Cohen also recalled “briefing Donald Trump Jr. in the spring” — a conversation that Cohen said was not “idle chit chat” because Trump Tower Moscow was potentially a $1 billion deal.
Cohen later pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the Trump Tower project. Mueller’s report says Cohen’s initial statement was edited by members of Trump’s legal team to remove any mention of contact with the Russian government.
Cohen recalled speaking with Trump after the press conference about Trump's denial of any business dealings in Russia, which Cohen regarded as untrue. Trump told Cohen that Trump Tower Moscow was not a deal yet and said, "Why mention it if it is not a deal?”
Don Jr, the pop star, and the Trump Tower meeting
The infamous meeting at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016 was attended by not only Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., and Paul Manafort, but also Ivanka Trump, Hope Hicks and Eric Trump, according to testimony from former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates.
The meeting was arranged for the purpose of allowing Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya to convey “negative information on Hillary Clinton.”
Gates told the special counsel that Trump Jr. announced details of the meeting at a campaign meeting in the days before it took place. “Gates believed that Trump Jr. said the information was coming from a group in Kyrgyzstan and that he was introduced to the group by a friend,” the report said.
The introduction had been made by Rob Goldstone, the publicist for Emin Agalarov, a Moscow-based real estate developer and pop star.
Michael Cohen told the investigators that he had heard Don Jr. speaking with his father about the meeting on June 6 or 7 but both Manafort and Kushner said they didn’t recall anyone telling Trump about the meeting.
The meeting lasted 20 minutes according to the report, and after it became clear that Veselnitskaya was more interested in talking about the Magnitsky Act than sharing any dirt about Clinton, Kushner asked: “What are we doing here?”
Kushner then sent a message to Manafort stating the meeting was a “waste of time” and emailed assistants at Kushner Companies with requests that they call him to give him an excuse to leave — which they did.
When news of the meeting broke, the Trump Organization contacted those involved and suggested prepared statements they could make. The special counsel report says Trump sought to prevent the public from finding out about the meeting “on at least three separate occasions,” directing then-director of communications Hope Hicks and others “not to publicly disclose information” about the meeting.
George Papadopoulos and the professor
In late April 2016, Papadopoulos was told by London-based professor Joseph Mifsud that the Russian government had obtained “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails.
One week later, on May 6, 2016, Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a foreign government — which Buzzfeed reported on Thursday was Australia — that the Trump campaign had received indications from Russia that it could assist the campaign through the anonymous release of information that would be damaging to candidate Clinton.
Papadopoulos said he shared the information about Russian “dirt” with people outside of the campaign but no one could recall Papadopoulos sharing the information with people inside the campaign.
“Throughout the relevant period of time and for several months thereafter, Papadopoulos worked with Mifsud and two Russian nationals to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and the Russian government. That meeting never came to pass,” the report says.
Cover illustration: Ana Simoes/VICE News