Four Ways In Which Senate Intel’s Bipartisan Russia Report Went Further Than Mueller’s

Former Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller testifies before Congress on July 24, 2019, in Washington, DC. - Mueller told US lawmakers Wednesday that his report on Russia election interference does not exonerate US Pres... Former Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller testifies before Congress on July 24, 2019, in Washington, DC. - Mueller told US lawmakers Wednesday that his report on Russia election interference does not exonerate US President Donald Trump, as the president has repeatedly asserted. (Photo by SAUL LOEB / AFP) (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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August 18, 2020 6:01 p.m.

The nearly 1,000 page report released by the Senate Tuesday morning reveals new details about Russian interference in the 2016 election, going beyond — and at times openly contradicting — the findings of the Mueller report.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released the report into Russian meddling and allegations of ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin after four years of GOP-led work investigating the issue.

The report is chock-full of new revelations that go further towards suggesting serious infiltration by the Russian government at the highest levels of the Trump campaign, and even calling Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in particular a “grave counterintelligence threat.”

The panel’s investigators, however, faced a much lower standard of proof than Mueller’s prosecutors did. As opposed to applying the criminal standard of proof — “beyond a reasonable doubt” — lawmakers “endeavored to convey a detailed accounting of relevant events, and sometimes included conflicting information that the Committee could not reliably resolve.”

Notably, the bipartisan committee not only backed several of Mueller’s findings, it went further in some of its conclusions and included damning new details about the members of the Trump campaign and their associates.

The Senate committee’s assessments were at times based on evidence provided by federal investigators. Yet the Senate panel was more candid about the substance of what that investigation covered and how it fit into the larger conclusions about Russia’s 2016 influence campaign.

Here’s a look at the fuller — and at times, more complicated — picture the Senate painted with its probe:

1. Paul Manafort’s Closest Lieutenant Was A Russian Intelligence Officer. Mueller Hedged.

Throughout the Mueller investigation, mystery surrounded a close associate of Paul Manafort’s: Konstantin Kilimnik, the Russian political consultant who received internal Trump campaign polling data from Manafort.

Mueller investigated Kilimnik, and even indicted him in 2018 on witness tampering charges. But he never publicly nailed down exactly what the longtime Manafort associate’s affiliation was with the Russian government, saying only that he is a person “who the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence.”

The GOP-led Senate Intelligence Committee took it far further. “The Committee found that Konstantin Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer,” the report reads.

Senate investigators identified Kilimnik as “part of a cadre of individuals ostensibly operating outside of the Russian government but who nonetheless implement Kremlin-directed influence operations.”

The probe bases its conclusion on “electronic communications, interviews, law enforcement information,” and categories of evidence that are redacted.

The Senate also suggests that Mueller got at least one key detail about Kilimnik wrong in his 2019 report.

Kilimnik first began working alongside Americans in the 1990s, at the Moscow office International Republican Institute — a D.C.-based non-profit that pushes for liberalizing reforms abroad.

Mueller wrote that Kilimnik joined IRI in 1998. But Senate investigators said that the report “misstates” that date. Rather, Kilimnik joined IRI in 1995 — the same year that he was discharged as a lieutenant from the Russian military.

For Kilimnik, a linguist trained at the GRU’s language academy, this means that it was a matter of months, and not years, between his departure from the Russian military and arrival at a Western think tank.

The Mueller report noted that two GOP operatives that Kilimnik was in business with, Rick Gates and Sam Patten, did not believe that Kilimnik was a spy. But the Senate report suggests that Kilimnik effectively duped them, saying that the Russian national “intentionally downplayed and mischaracterized — including in private to his associates like Patten — the profile of Russian intelligence officers and his connections to them in order to distance himself from these allegations.”

And whereas the Mueller report suggests that Kilimnik was almost a passive actor, who would periodically receive Trump campaign polling data throughout 2016 and forward it onwards, the Senate report offers a darker read on the situation.

The Senate report portrays Kilimnik as a “Kremlin agent,” actively seeking to infiltrate and compromise the American political operatives with which he ingratiated himself.

Kilimnik, the Senate suggests, solicited the polling data from Manafort. The pair discussed the data and briefings, the lawmakers believed, as a means of paying back debts to a Russian oligarch while holding out the value of the information as a way to induce Ukrainian oligarch clients of Manafort’s to repay him.

Gates, the Committee said, recalled Kilimnik peppering Manafort with questions about the polling data at an August 2016 meeting. Kilimnik, at that point, already served as a channel for the information to the former Soviet Union.

2. A ‘Potential Connection’ Between Manafort And The GRU Hacking Effort

The Senate took a far dimmer view of Manafort and his intentions than Mueller, going so far as to lightly chide the Trump campaign for doing no vetting of the longtime GOP political consultant.

Manafort, the Senate report suggests, joined the Trump campaign as a way to settle debts he had to oligarchs from the former Soviet Union.

But where the Senate report goes furthest is in approaching a conclusion about Manafort and Kilimnik’s ties to the other half of Russian interference in the 2016 election: the GRU’s effort to hack the Clinton campaign and spread the stolen emails through WikiLeaks.

Mueller wrote that he could not draw a conclusion about Kilimnik or Manafort’s knowledge of the parallel effort. The Senate, however, found “fragmentary” evidence suggesting that Kilimnik acted as a “channel” to the GRU, and that two redacted pieces of evidence point towards Manafort having a “potential connection” to the GRU campaign.

The Mueller report also took Manafort at his word in saying that he did not believe Kilimnik was a spy, saying flatly that “Manafort told the Office that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian ‘spy.’”

But the Senate investigators uncovered evidence that Manafort, while working in Ukraine in 2010, had advised his bosses to “have Kilimnik checked out so that they would not have to hold back during ‘sensitive’ conversations in Kilimnik’s presence.”

“Manafort was undeniably aware — often from first-hand experience — of suspicious aspects of Kilimnik’s behavior and network,” one footnote in the Senate report reads. “Nevertheless, Manafort later asserted to the [Special Counsel] that Kilimnik was not a spy.”

Finally, the Mueller investigators offered no motive for why Manafort lied to them about Kilimnik.

But the Senate report frames up the situation much more clearly.

His lies “effectively foreclosed direct insight into a series of interactions and communications which represent the single most direct tie between senior Trump Campaign officials and the Russian intelligence services.”

“Manafort’s true motive in deciding to face more severe criminal penalties rather than provide complete answers about his interactions with Kilimnik is unknown, but the result is that many interactions between Manafort and Kilimnik remain hidden,” the report reads.

3. Why It’s Obvious Trump Spoke To Stone About WikiLeaks — Despite His Claims To Mueller

Most of the Roger Stone details were redacted upon the 2018 release of Mueller report because of the ongoing criminal case against Stone. Once those redactions were removed, it became clear that Mueller had significant evidence that two claims Trump made in his written answers to Mueller were bogus: that Trump didn’t recall speaking to Stone during the last five months of the campaign and that Trump did not recall speaking to his campaign about Stone’s outreach to WikiLeaks. Mueller himself alluded to the discrepancy in congressional testimony.

But the Senate Intelligence report goes into much more detail about why the bipartisan group of lawmakers themselves have concluded with confidence that “on multiple occasions,” Trump had those kinds of conversations. The lawmakers pointed to phone records that backed the accounts of campaign officials who recalled Trump conversations with Stone that were apparently about WikiLeaks.

Stone had told Manafort and Gates “approximately” in May that WikiLeaks was planning to release damaging information about Clinton, according to the Senate report. Several significantly-timed Stone phone calls with Trump happened after that.

For instance, the Senate committee surfaced phone records pointing to multiple Trump-Stone conversations in June, in the days after  “Guccifer 2.0” — an online pseudonym we now know was GRU-backed — went public about hacking the DNC emails.

“Any of these calls would have provided Stone with an opportunity to share additional information about WikiLeaks directly with Trump, and given the content of his conversations with Manafort and Gates combined with Trump’s known interest in the issue, the Committee assesses he likely did,” the Senate panel said.

Trump’s apparent phone contact with Stone continued through the summer, including at key moments in the WikiLeaks timeline. The Mueller report had previously laid out accounts by Michael Cohen, Manafort and Gates of their recollections of Trump’s discussions with Stone about WikiLeaks. The lawmakers pointed to phone records that verified those accounts.

One of those calls was a Sept. 29 call between Stone and Trump that had previously been described publicly by Gates. The committee matched that account to the phone records of then-Trump aide Keith Schiller, whose phone, according to the report, Trump liked to use to “hide his communications.”

Like the Mueller report, the committee details the frustration within the campaign in early October that WikiLeaks had not released emails that had been publicly and privately hyped.

On Oct. 6 — the same day that Stone tweeted a prediction of more Clinton-related document dumps — Stone had a six-minute phone call with the number tied to Schiller. The record for that call was not previously public, even as similar phone records played a prominent role in Stone’s trial. The committee concluded that this call was “almost certainly”  with Trump, though the substance is “not known” to the committee.

“However, at the time, Stone was focused on the potential for a WikiLeaks release, the Campaign was following WikiLeaks’s announcements, and Trump’s prior call with Stone on September 29, also using Schiller’s phone, related to a WikiLeaks release,” the report said. “Given these facts, it appears quite likely that Stone and Trump spoke about WikiLeaks.”

4. The Mystery Around The Access Hollywood Tape And The WikiLeaks Dump That Followed

Like Mueller, the committee had trouble parsing an account provided to federal investigators by Jerome Corsi of what unfolded the day the “Access Hollywood” tape came out.

But the Senate panel revealed new details about Corsi’s unconfirmed claims, which suggested that Stone had a heads-up that a story about the tape was coming and that Stone instructed Corsi to pressure WikiLeaks to dump emails to counteract that. WikiLeaks released its John Podesta emails half-an-hour after the Washington Post published its story about the tape.

The Mueller report recounted the special counsel’s examination of Corsi’s claims, which was hampered by Corsi contradicting himself in his FBI interviews. Like Mueller, the committee failed to obtain evidence that would confirm Corsi’s account of Stone encouraging the WikiLeaks release.

Despite being unable to vet Corsi’s shifting stories, the committee laid out his accounts more fully than Mueller did. In one FBI interview, Corsi claimed that Stone told him to that he “[w]anted the Podesta stuff to balance the news cycle” and that Corsi should have WikiLeaks release those emails “immediately.”

The Senate report also fleshed out another element of Corsi’s account only alluded to in the Mueller report: that Corsi previewed the release of the Access Hollywood tape on a conference call before the Post story went up and that he had told the call attendees to reach out to Assange because the tape was a problem.

Echoing claims made in Corsi’s book, the Senate report suggested he could have been referring to either a call with the WorldNetDaily staff or a call with a company that Corsi advised that also included Ted Malloch, an associate who Corsi had been previously working with to reach out to WikiLeaks.

After the special counsel failed to find anyone on these calls who recalled Corsi delivering that message, the committee did not try to confirm the account itself.

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