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Mueller Report Finds No Evidence Of Russian Collusion

23 hours ago
Originally published on March 25, 2019 4:17 am
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

We're breaking down the results of the special counsel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. As we've been discussing this hour, the special counsel did not find that President Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russian government - that according to a summary of the conclusions delivered by the - Attorney General William Barr to the Congress. But one of the key questions of Robert Mueller's investigation was into the nature of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

I'm back with NPR security editor Phil Ewing. Phil, can you tell us more about that?

PHIL EWING, BYLINE: Sure. And as someone who spent a lot of the past 22 months trying to understand the story from the outside without - unlike Mr. Mueller - a team of FBI investigators working for me, just going on public comments and congressional testimony and so forth, this summary from the - Attorney General Will Barr to Congress about Mueller's findings is very interesting because it confirms a lot of what we've already understood about the story from those public sources.

The summary describes two main efforts, as it calls them. One is the campaign of social media agitation by the so-called Internet Research Agency, this office full of trolls in Russia that, in 2016, used Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and other platforms to turn up the volume as much as possible on political debate within the United States to put Americans at each other's throats even more than they already might've been because of the political season.

And this isn't described in the Barr letter, but what we know from other reporting is that included some events that took place in real life. For example, in Texas, in 2016, these Russian trolls scheduled pro-Muslim and anti-Muslim events on the same day across the street from each other. And they also intervened in actual real-world campaign events. So there was a actual campaign implication involved with that, just beyond the so-called fake news and other things on Facebook.

The second effort that it identifies is the efforts to steal material from political targets in the United States and then release it publicly to cause chaos in the American political environment. Most famously, there were the cyberattacks against Democratic National Committee - that cost the chairwoman at the time, Debbie Wasserman Schultz her job - and then, of course, later on, in 2016, the emails of President Trump's - or excuse me - Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta were released by WikiLeaks, and that caused a whole other whirlwind, as it were. And that's the limit of what this summary describes.

But it may not be the extent of the Russian interference. I've learned, as part of this coverage, to pay attention to specific words and legal documents when lawyers are involved. And this letter, for example, says there were two main Russian efforts. I've described those two, but that word main seems to suggest that, in fact, there might have been others. We know there were overtures made by Russian agents to Trump's campaign. They apparently were not reciprocated, according to this summary, which is good political news for the president.

But there have been other things that people observed in 2016 that might've been part of this interference effort. There might've been the use of money. There might've been the use of cyberattacks against state election officials trying to steal voter information or trying to affect the way people's ballots might've been cast when they actually went to vote. This summary does not describe that. So as material comes out from the Mueller investigation in its full form, whenever we see that, we're going to be looking at that very closely to see what there is new for us to learn.

MARTIN: I'm going to hear from a lawmaker in just a minute who's going to tell us, hopefully, what more he would like to learn as well. What more do you want to know, Phil Ewing?

EWING: Well, one big question that investigators, we believe have been looking at is the role that money played in this 2016 interference. And, in fact, there was some reporting last year about special counsel investigators literally stopping people in private jets landing in the United States and asking them if they were carrying money into the United States. The question was - were Russians buying ads or funneling money to candidates they supported or doing other actions based on literally taking cash and physically moving it into the U.S. and then getting into the political system? This summary by the - Attorney General Mr. Barr doesn't address that. And we don't know whether or not that took place or not. That was the subject of a lot of press reporting and speculation.

If we have these results from Mueller's office that we get to see unexpurgated or maybe in some kind of redacted form from the Justice Department, we'll be looking for that very closely. And what other things don't we know? What aspects of this were taking place behind the scenes that no one knew about because it was all clandestine and there were no news stories about it because no one knew it was happening? It's going to be a very interesting batch of material to look through.

MARTIN: NPR national security editor Phil Ewing. He's going to stay with us for the remainder of the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.