Special counsel Robert Mueller reached an unambiguous conclusion in the final report on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election: Neither President Donald Trump nor any member of his campaign colluded with Russia.
The Justice Department released the special counsel’s report to Congress and the public on April 18, marking a definitive conclusion to the expansive probe of the president and his associates.
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” Mueller’s final report states.
Attorney General William Barr already summarized Mueller’s top-line findings in a letter on March 24. In a press conference shortly before the release of the report, Barr told reporters that Trump declined to assert executive privilege to redact any portion of the report. As a result, all of the redactions in the final document were determined by a small group from the Justice Department, Mueller’s office, and the intelligence community.
The special counsel identified two primary efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. Extensive details on each effort have already been made public in indictments Mueller filed against the Internet Research Agency (IRA) and a group of Russian military intelligence officials with the GRU. While the IRA coordinated an illegal campaign to influence U.S. voters via social media, the GRU hacked Democratic targets and published the stolen emails online, the report alleges.
In both cases, Mueller did not find evidence to suggest that any American knowingly conspired with Russia.
“Put another way, the special counsel found no collusion by any Americans in the IRA’s illegal activity,” Barr said, adding “there was no evidence of Trump campaign ‘collusion’ with the Russian government’s hacking.”
Trump, who has been a fierce critic of the investigation, celebrated the news with a series of Twitter messages.
“As I have been saying all along, NO COLLUSION – NO OBSTRUCTION!” Trump wrote.
In brief remarks on the matter at an unrelated White House event, the president also suggested that steps should be taken to prevent a similar investigation from ensnaring future presidents.
“This should never happen to another president again,” Trump said. “This hoax should never happen to another president again.”
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel in May 2017 to take over an investigation the FBI started on July 31, 2016. Rosenstein’s memo directed Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russia government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” “matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” and matters related to obstruction of justice.
In addition to the initial appointment order, Rosenstein issued two “scope” memos outlining the boundaries of Mueller’s probe. The content of the memos was secret, but is revealed, at least in part, in the final report. Rosenstein issued the first memo on Aug. 2, 2017, authorizing investigations of former Trump-campaign associates Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos. The final report revealed that Rosenstein also permitted Mueller to look into “allegations that Papadopoulos committed a crime or crimes by acting as an unregistered agent of the Israeli government” and “four sets of allegations involving Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to President Trump.”
In the second memo, Rosenstein authorized Mueller to investigate Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney; Richard Gates, business partner to Manafort; Roger Stone, a political lobbyist and Trump ally; and two other persons, whose names have been redacted since they were not ultimately charged in the investigation.
The memo also describes an FBI investigation, opened prior to the special counsel’s appointment, into allegations that Attorney General Jeff Sessions “made false statements to the United States Senate.” The memo “confirmed the special counsel’s authority to investigate that matter.”
The final report notes that Mueller identified several potential crimes outside the scope of the investigation and referred the leads to other components of the Justice Department and the FBI. Of the 14 referrals, only two are not blacked out from the final report: the Cohen case and the alleged Foreign Agents Registration Act violation by former White House counsel Greg Craig. The information on the 12 other referrals is redacted to protect ongoing investigations.