cover image

Illustration by Mahgul Farooqui

The Mueller Report, Explained

The 400 page Mueller Report on Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia, has been released to the public. Here is a rundown of what is in it and what its findings mean. And forewarning, neither Democrats nor Republicans will be completely satisfied.

May 4, 2019

Editor’s note: This article contains explicit language.
It seems as if before anyone had actually read the thing, just about everyone even remotely concerned with U.S. politics had a partisan opinion on the full-length Mueller report.
From the get-go, Special Counsel leader Robert Mueller was hailed by Democrats as a savior of sorts, inspiring t-shirt sales, coffee mugs and baseball caps that positioned Mueller as a political celebrity, destined to be the chosen one who could bring down the “corrupt” and “illegal” presidency of Donald Trump. Democrats were certain Mueller would find just the right hidden correspondence that made it clear Donald Trump had in fact, colluded with Russia to defeat his opponent Hillary Clinton in 2016.
But that was unrealistic – or was it?
Conservative and liberal media outlets have been in a perpetual clobber-fest attempting to spin public perception of the report, to make it look as if Trump is totally innocent – which he’s not, or that Mueller’s response should warrant an immediate arrest for President Trump – which it doesn’t.
So, if neither claim is exactly correct, what does the Mueller report actually confirm?
First, the Mueller report made the intentions of the Russian government unarguably clear. The intention was in fact, to harm Democratic Party Nominee Hillary Clinton and benefit Donald Trump. This was done through calculated and targeted social media campaigns, as well as stolen documents through a successful Russian-operated hacking campaign at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
The real question, when it comes to Trump’s potential criminal action, is: did the Trump campaign assist this effort?
As detailed in the report, a number of Trump officials had questionable interactions with Russian officials, many of which hinted at possible conspiracy. Some of the most heavily investigated in the report include: First, foreign advisory panel member George Papadopoulos.
In early 2016, Papadopoulos met with a foreign professor named Joseph Mifsud, who noted himself to be “proud of his...high-level Moscow contacts.” During this meeting, Mifsud told Papadopoulos that the Russian government obtained Clinton’s emails with “dirt” on the Clinton campaign. Later, in December 2017, The New York Times reported that Papadopoulos revealed to an Australian diplomat that Russia had successfully hacked DNC emails that revealed sensitive and potentially damaging information on Hillary Clinton. This triggered an FBI investigation where Papadopoulos intentionally misguided prosecutors by minimizing his interactions with Russian powers. On Sept. 7, 2018, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, and he was sentenced to 14 days in prison. This made him the first Trump staffer to be criminally prosecuted.
Second, Chairman of the Trump Campaign Paul Manafort.
2004 was the first time Manafort had contact with Russian officials, including pro-Putin Ukrainian politician Viktor Yanukovych and his political organization the Party of Regions. Manafort continued working with Yanukovych and the Party of Regions until at least 2014. Later in 2015, Manafort was reportedly in contact with Russian government officials. This included an email Manafort sent to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian political operative with ties to Russian intelligence, encouraging him to use Manafort’s new position in the Trump administration as a point of leverage – possibly for Russia and U.S. relations. This email also included an “array of subjects related to the presidential campaign, including the hacking of the DNC’s emails.” In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Rob Goldstone met in Trump Tower with Russian attorney and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya, and other Russian officials. It was later revealed, through leaked emails, that the purpose of this meeting was to exchange damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government. On Oct. 2017, Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates were indicted on 12 charges brought by Mueller’s investigation, including conspiracy against the United States and money laundering from Russian officials. Ultimately, it was Manafort’s financial fraud that landed him in prison for 47 months following the ruling of a federal judge.
Third, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
In Sept. 2015, Cohen suggested Trump meet with Putin during the United Nations General Assembly. This meeting ultimately did not occur, nor were the intentions behind the meeting revealed. Russian advisor Felix Sater emailed Michael Cohen later that year, writing “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected…Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putin's team to buy in on this.” Sources also revealed that Cohen met with Russian oligarchs Viktor Vekselberg and Andrew Intrater, this was defended however, with the parties explaining that the meeting took place to strengthen U.S. relations with Russia. However, in May 2018, it was confirmed by multiple sources that Cohen received approximately $500,000 from a Vekselberg-connected firm. In Aug. 2018, as a result of the Stormy Daniels incident, Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court “to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a bank and two campaign finance violations… making an unlawful corporate campaign contribution and making an excessive campaign contribution.” In Dec. 2018, Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion and money laundering. Later in March, a judge ruled him guilty of lying to investigators regarding his ties to Russian intelligence. Cohen faces seven and a half years in prison for this charge.
Overall, seven Trump aides, as well as 24 Russian operatives, were charged as a result of the Mueller investigation. However, much of this was due to money laundering or lying to prosecutors and only a few were due to the distribution of confidential information. The real question investigated in the Mueller report was whether or not all these disconnected units were part of a larger effort orchestrated by the Trump campaign. Mueller declined to draw a conclusion. The exact quote reads, “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The report also goes into the actions of former FBI Director James Comey. The report makes it ultimately and completely clear that Comey was fired because of his refusal to drop charges against Michael Flynn's proven obstruction of justice as well as Comey’s refusal to disregard the Russian investigation entirely. According to the report, “In addition, the President had a motive to put the FBI investigation behind him.” This is due to the fact that an in-depth investigation may reveal actions from the campaign and Trump personally, which may be considered illegal. An actual quote detailed in the report from President Donald Trump, in response to hearing of a special prosecutor being appointed was, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”
The following sections of the report investigate the aftermath of Comey’s firing and detail Trump’s efforts to derail the investigation. According to the report, Donald Trump asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn to have the special counsel removed multiple times. The report also details the persistent efforts of Trump to pressure former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take control of the investigation.
Mary McCord, the law professor detailed in the report that brought forth evidence that Michael Flynn may have been conspiring with Russia, explains her interpretation, stating that “There’s a couple of different ways [Mueller] could have done this, if you go through the report at the end of his discussions of each one of these possible obstructive acts he then goes through… evidence… but just doesn't reach a conclusion.”
Instead of making a declarative statement, Mueller detailed all the findings and possible places for Congress to investigate if they choose to. According to Vice Media the report was like a message, “he’s laying the case out for Congress, run with it, or don’t.”
Just as interesting as the report itself, is its response and its aftermath.
On April 14 2019, Attorney General William Barr released his version of the Mueller report in a four page summary. According to critics, “[Barr’s] remarks purposefully downplayed how damaging special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was for President Donald Trump.” While Trump had initially seen a polling bounce in response to the white-washed summary, the response to the full report has been different. Trump has received bipartisan condemnation, as well as a dip in approval ratings. Former Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney even noted on Twitter that,
“It is good news that there was insufficient evidence to charge the President of the United States with having conspired with a foreign adversary or with having obstructed justice… Even so, I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonestly and misdirection by individuals in the highest office in the land including the President… reading the report is a sobering revelation of how for we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of founders.”
All in all, the Mueller report is bad news for Trump, and his initial boasting of “No collusion” on Twitter was objectively false. Still, since Mueller did not formally charge the President with any criminal action, the next steps are in the hands of Congress.
Throughout this entire mess, one thing is for certain. This is not the last time you will see the Mueller investigation in the media – not by a long shot.
Ari Hawkins is Deputy Opinon Editor. Email him at
gazelle logo