Mueller Report summary

by lemme-explain

Last month, I wrote a post urging everyone here to read the Mueller Report, if for no other reason then to be informed. I still see a lot of posts and comments by people who definitely didn’t, though. I get it — it’s 400 pages, and a lot of it is legalese. But that doesn’t mean you should swallow the lies of people like Bill Barr, who (as you’ll see below) misrepresented the Report in his summary, or various TV pundits.

I’m going to lay out a quick outline of the Report for you, so that you can more easily identify the parts that might be of interest to you and read those; or, at the very least, you can be informed about what the Report actually says. I’ll include page numbers from this searchable PDF:

Part 1 (Criminal Conspiracy)

Part 2 (Obstruction)

The version I read was the free one that comes with the Nook app; you can get free copies from several sources online, or you can pay for paper copies if that’s what you’re into. Okay, let’s get into it. Note: Some of the report is about the scope of the investigation, or defining the laws being contemplated. I’m not going to summarize those parts, because they’re pretty dry. If you think I’m hiding something, feel free to read the whole thing. That’s what I want you to do, really.

  • Part 1, Sections II & III (p. 14-65ish): Russia’s election-tampering

Summary: This portion of the Report is pretty light on Trump stuff, and heavy on Russia and Wikileaks. If you think Russia wasn’t involved in the hacking operations, or that their social media campaigns were overblown, you should read this section. It’s extremely detailed — if the evidence here is doctored, that should be pretty easy to prove in court. The Report outlines not just the people involved, but also the methods and even software used (including keyloggers, compression software, and more). There’s also evidence that both Russia and Wikileaks wanted Trump to win and operated with that motivation. Seth Rich gets a shout-out on page 48, as the Report notes that Assange was trying to imply that Rich leaked the documents.

  • Part 1, Section IV (p. 66-173ish): Links between Russia and the Trump campaign

First, a note that might seem pedantic: Mueller’s team is not investigating “collusion.” The Report makes this very clear, and brings it up multiple times: “collusion” is not a legal term, even though it’s what the press keeps saying and it’s even what Rosenstein told Mueller to investigate. Instead, the Report investigates conspiracy, which is a legal term. The Report brings this up twice, on page 2 and again on page 180:

[C]ollusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the U.S. Code; nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.

I bring this up because a lot of people like to claim that the report says “no collusion”, and I think those people probably didn’t read the report and are relying on Barr’s summary. Anyone who reads the report will know that it actually investigates conspiracy, because it comes up again and again. So if someone tells you the report says “no collusion”, that’s a tell — they probably didn’t read it.

Summary: This section of the report details all the different ways that Trump campaign members communicated with, or attempted to communicate with, Russian nationals, agents, and oligarchs. A lot of it feels like old news, because it led to indictments (for example of Paul Manafort) and the evidence was already widely publicized before the Report was released. As for the stuff that didn’t lead to indictments, the Report concludes that there’s insufficient evidence of criminal conspiracy. Page 174:

The office […] determined that the contacts between Campaign officials and Russia-linked individuals either did not involve the commission of a federal crime or, in the case of campaign-finance offenses, that our evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction.

My personal take: it seems like Putin wanted to get in touch with the Trump campaign, and it seems like the Trump campaign was open to that idea, but that it just never worked out. Many of the incidents described in the Report involve attempts at making a meeting happen, which eventually get derailed, usually because Kushner or someone else in the Trump Campaign doesn’t think the person they’re negotiating with actually represents Putin (even though they often do). Also, when things were legally gray, it seems like the Trump Campaign members just didn’t realize that (and they would have to know they were doing something criminal to be charged with conspiracy). The Trump Tower meeting is a good example (p. 110-122); Donald Trump, Jr. was famously excited to get illegal aid from Russians, and apparently made no attempt to hide that in part because he didn’t realize it was illegal. (And then the meeting turned out to be a total bust, which also makes it hard to prosecute.)

  • Part 2: The Stuff That’s Really Bad for Trump

Here’s the part that Barr outright lied about, when he said the report concluded “no obstruction.”

First of all, the Report says that Justice Department guidelines prevent it from indicting the president. Page 1:

[A] traditional prosecution or declination decision entails a binary determination to initiate or decline a prosecution, but we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has issued an opinion finding that “the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions” in violation of “the constitutional separation of powers.” Given the role of the Special Counsel as an attorney in the Department of Justice and the framework of the Special Counsel regulations, see 28 U.S.C. § 515; 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(a), this Office accepted OLC’s legal conclusion for the purpose of exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction. And apart from OLC’s constitutional view, we recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.

Secondly, because Mueller can’t indict the president, he isn’t even willing to accuse him of crimes. Page 2:

[W]e determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes. […] Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment when no charges can be brought. The ordinary means for an individual to respond to an accusation is through a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case. An individual who believes he was wrongly accused can use that process to seek to clear his name. In contrast, a prosecutor’s judgment that crimes were committed, but that no charges will be brought, affords no such adversarial opportunity for public name-clearing before an impartial adjudicator.

However, the report could conclude that Trump was innocent, and would do so if the evidence warranted it — but it does not. Still page 2:

[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. […] Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

So to sum up: the Report can’t legally accuse Trump of a crime; however, it can legally exonerate him; but, it does not. The message here is pretty clear: Mueller thinks Trump committed obstruction of justice.

Contrary to Barr’s summary, the Report points out that Trump needn’t have committed an underlying crime in order to be found guilty of obstruction. Trump defenders get this wrong a lot, so it’s an important point. Page 157:

[P]roof of [an underlying] crime is not an element of an obstruction offense. […] Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect non-criminal personal interests, to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment. The injury to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong.

What follows is a mountain of evidence, meant to be used by Congress to impeach Trump. It’s organized into eleven different instances (section II, subsections A through K — I’m not going to transpose the table of contents, read it for yourself). The Report clears Trump in one of those instances — subsection G, which concerns Trump’s attempts to hide the emails relating to the Trump Tower meeting — on the grounds that Trump wasn’t trying to obstruct the investigation with those actions. This is why you’ll hear people referring to ten counts of obstruction and not eleven. For the other ten cases, the Report does not exonerate Trump — and remember, it would if it could.

  • A quick note about redactions

When it was announced that the Report was coming out in redacted form, a lot of people — myself included — were up in arms about it. Having read the Report, I’d now argue that the redactions don’t matter. (Don’t get me wrong — I’d read the full thing if you handed it to me. But I don’t think we’re missing much.)

The vast majority are in Part 1, which is the part that isn’t bad for Trump anyway. Most of them involve either investigative techniques (i.e. “we don’t want Russia to know how we know this”) or personal matters (i.e. stuff that might be embarrassing for Trump or members of his Campaign, but that ultimately aren’t criminal). Part 2, the part that’s really damaging for Trump, is pretty clean, redaction-wise. I think it’s fair to say that Democrats in Congress who are demanding the unredacted report are just trying to score political points or put off making a yes-or-no decision on impeachment.

There you have it. If you don’t have time for the full Report, I hope you’re at least able to determine from my summary which parts would be interesting to you, and read or at least skim those parts. Remember: no matter where you lie on the political spectrum, the Mueller Report is an important primary document that you should at least understand at a high level. Don’t trust four-word summaries from Trump sycophants or cable news talking heads. Read it for yourself and draw your own conclusions, if you have time — otherwise, please don’t pretend you did, because I can tell.

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