As recently as February, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team dropped hints that the inquiry into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election might unearth evidence of active cooperation between Moscow and President Donald Trump’s campaign.
That turned out not to be the case. Attorney General William Barr, who has said he hopes to release Mueller’s nearly 400 page report this week, told U.S. lawmakers on March 24 that the special counsel investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
To be sure, the investigation documented numerous contacts between Trump campaign figures and Russia, a willingness on the part of the campaign to accept help from Moscow, and no indication that the campaign told the Kremlin to keep out of an American presidential race.
No criminal conspiracy was documented, according to Barr. But tantalizing court statements by members of Mueller’s team and evidence disclosed in various prosecutions by the special counsel had suggested on several occasions during the 22-month investigation that a different conclusion had been possible.
Frank Montoya, a former senior FBI official with extensive experience in counterintelligence investigations, said the words “did not establish” are commonly used in national security cases as language merely ruling out a chargeable offence.
“It doesn’t mean a subject is innocent. It means investigators didn’t find enough evidence to charge a crime,” Montoya said.
The most recent indication that the special counsel might document a Trump-Russia conspiracy came on Feb. 4 during a closed-door court hearing in Washington. Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann said Mueller was still investigating interactions between former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his Russian business partner Konstantin Kilimnik as critical to the inquiry.
“This goes to the larger view of what we think is going on, and what we think the motive here is,” Weissmann said, according to a transcript released days later that indicated Mueller might be on the verge of a breakthrough. “This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the Special Counsel’s Office is investigating.” Continue Reading