How was Mueller victim of a Russia-Trump conspiracy?

NEW YORK / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Special Council team Robert Mueller has not hinted that the investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 US election could reveal evidence of active cooperation between Moscow and the campaign of President Donald Trump.

PHOTO FILE: The trial in the US District Courthouse as jury deliberations begin in the trial of Paul Manafort, former Trump Campaigner, on charges of bank and tax fraud stemming from the lawsuit. Special Advisor Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 US Presidential Election in Alexandria, Virginia, United States, August 16, 2018. REUTERS / Chris Wattie / File Photo

This turned out not to be the case. Attorney General William Barr, who said he hoped to publish Mueller's report of nearly 400 pages this week, said March 24 to US lawmakers that the special advocate's investigation " did not establish that the members of the Trump campaign had conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in his country ". activities of electoral interference. "

True, the investigation has documented numerous contacts between the personalities of the Trump campaign and Russia, a willingness of the campaign to accept the help of Moscow and nothing indicates that the campaign told the Kremlin to stay out of the race for the US presidency.

No criminal conspiracy has been documented, according to Barr. However, during the 22 months of the investigation, the Special Council reported on the tempting statements of members of Mueller's team and the evidence disclosed in various prosecutions by the Special Council, in which a different conclusion was reached. was possible.

Frank Montoya, a former senior FBI official with extensive experience in counter-intelligence investigations, said that the words "did not establish" are commonly used in national security cases because they simply explain a prosecutable offense.

"This does not mean that a subject is innocent, which means that investigators have not found enough evidence to charge a crime," Montoya said.

The most recent indication that the special council could document a Trump-Russia plot came on February 4 during a closed-door hearing in Washington. Attorney Andrew Weissmann said Mueller was still investigating the interactions between former Trump campaign president Paul Manafort and his Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik, deemed essential to the investigation.

"This gives us an overview of what we think we are and what we think is the motive," said Weissmann, according to a transcript published a few days later, that Mueller may be on the verge of make a breakthrough. "That is going, I think, at the heart of what the Office of the Special Adviser is investigating."

Mueller's team said Manafort had shared election campaign survey data with Kilimnik, who, according to the special council, had links to Russian intelligence services. The two men also discussed proposals from a Ukrainian client to resolve the Crimean conflict in a manner favorable to the Kremlin, Mueller said.

Three weeks after Weissmann's comments, Mueller's office has gone back. She testified before a court that she had to correct her claims about Manafort's interactions with Kilimnik. The partially expurgated Court records indicated that the correction may be related to the survey data.

When Mueller's report is released – some parts being hidden by Barr, to protect sensitive information – it is not clear how much he will highlight the contacts between the Trump campaigners and the Russians. Contacts include Donald Trump Jr.'s son, Jared Kushner, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and Manafort campaigners Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos.

Intelligence agencies Mueller and US have concluded that Russia has used computer hacking and propaganda to spread division in the United States, harming Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and strengthening Trump's bid. Moscow has denied electoral interference.

A key event in the conspiracy issue was a June 2016 meeting at the Trump Tower in New York, during which Manafort, Kushner and Trump Jr. met with Kremlin lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who had offered detrimental information about Clinton. After receiving the promise of "messing up" for Clinton, Trump Jr. wrote in an email: "I love him."

Mueller accused 34 people and three Russian entities. He convicted or obtained guilty pleas from Trump's assistants, including Manafort, Flynn, Cohen and Papadopoulos, and charged Russian intelligence agents and a Russian "troll farm".

Perhaps no track of investigation seemed more promising on the conspiracy issue than Mueller's pursuit of Trump's longtime political advisor, Roger Stone, who had suggested that he had a relationship with the site Web WikiLeaks and a thorough knowledge of the dissemination of democratic couriers whose special advocate had been stolen by the Russians to hurt Clinton.

But when Mueller indicted Stone in January, the seven counts did not mention any conspiracy with Russians, and there was no allegation of any close ties to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, charged separately with conspiracy to commit a hacker intrusion related to hacking of 2010 government computers.

Mueller interviewed more than half a dozen Stone associates to determine if he had served as an intermediary for the campaign with Wikileaks. Stone's associates who spoke to Reuters suggested that Stone had trouble getting in touch with Assange rather than having an indoor track.

One example is Randy Credico, a New York comedian associated with Stone who appeared before Mueller's grand jury. The text messages seen by Reuters show that Stone sought to use Credico as an intermediary with Assange and asked him to rely on WikiLeaks' anti-Clinton research. Credico told Reuters that he had never responded to the request.

Mueller's investigation was facilitated by witnesses, including Flynn, the former national security advisor who had pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lied about his communications with the ambassador of the United States. Russia, Sergei Kislyak, in 2016, and Samuel Patten, political consultant and former business partner of Kilimnik sentenced to probation on Friday. after the prosecutors credited him with helping Mueller and other investigations.

It is unclear to what extent Mueller's inability to cooperate fully with others has prevented him from doing so.

A judge concluded that Manafort, after agreeing to cooperate, repeatedly lied to prosecutors about interactions with Kilimnik and other issues, thus violating a plea agreement. Kilimnik, accused of conspiring to manipulate witnesses with Manafort, was reportedly in Russia out of reach.

PHOTO FILE: Special advocate Robert Mueller leaves the United Nations after informing US Senate members of his investigation into a possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 21, 2017. REUTERS / Joshua Roberts / File Photo

There are also witnesses like Papadopoulos, the first former Trump assistant accused by Mueller, who initially cooperated but who became increasingly critical of the special council, especially after serving a sentence of two-week prison in December.

Montoya, the former FBI agent, said it would be up to Congress to decide whether the behavior found by Mueller justified a sanction such as the impeachment process of Congress to dismiss a president.

"The story suggests," said Montoya, "that the impeachment process does not rest on the establishment of wrongdoing beyond a reasonable doubt."

Report by Nathan Layne; Edited by Will Dunham

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