By Suzann Thompson
Volume I of the Mueller Report makes clear that Donald Trump’s Campaign Manager Paul Manafort was compromised by some of his business relationships with Russians. Wealthy Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska had employed Manafort to “install friendly political officials in countries where Deripaska had business interests” (Vol. I, p. 131). He was the only investor in a fund created by Manafort. The fund failed, and Deripaska sued Manafort.
Manafort gave away campaign polling data to enhance his own business interests, and to convince Deripaska to drop the lawsuits. Manafort also offered to brief Deripaska on the campaign.
Manafort left the Trump Campaign, and continued promoting Russian interests. After the election, he was paid to talk about Trump’s presidency overseas.
Media groups and people linked to the Russian government were interested in Donald Trump’s campaign from the beginning (Vol. I, p. 66). As soon as he was elected, the Russian government encouraged its people to contact Trump’s campaign and transition team officials through diplomatic channels or business contacts (Vol. I, p. 144).
Within five days of his election, President-Elect Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked on the phone. Putin said he wanted to get relations between the U.S. and Russia off to a good start.
The Special Counsel’s Office (SCO) discovered that Putin held quarterly meetings with a group of around 50 prominent Russian businessmen. Putin was concerned that the U.S. might impose more sanctions on Russian businesses. He made suggestions about what might be done about this. The wealthy businessmen understood Putin’s suggestions to be instructions, and they acted on them.
Russia’s largest commercial bank, Alfa-Bank was already under U. S. sanctions. The bank’s head, Petr Aven, tried to reach the Trump Transition Team to talk about sanctions, but had no luck.
Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, another Russian bank under U.S. sanctions, met with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner during the transition. Kushner and Gorkov’s testimony about the content of their meeting did not agree.
Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, likewise tried to connect with the Transition Team. He wanted to talk with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr., but ended up flying to the Seychelles to meet Erik Prince, a billionaire business owner and Trump campaign supporter.
(The Seychelles are a group of islands in the Indian Ocean, about 800 miles from the eastern coast of Kenya. Pronounce the name: Say-SHELLS.)
Prince often visited the Transition Team offices to chat mostly with chief strategist Steve Bannon. Prince told Bannon about the meeting with Dmitriev. Bannon instructed him not to contact Dmitriev again.
Dmitriev persisted. His next contact was Rick Gerson, a friend of Kushner’s. He gave Gerson a two-page plan for U.S.-Russia reconciliation. The plan eventually reached Bannon and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Neither acted on the plan, but Dmitriev claimed it contributed to the success of the phone call between Trump and Putin.
Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak contacted the Transition Team and succeeded in meeting Kushner and Michael Flynn, the incoming National Security Advisor. Kushner told Kislyak that President-Elect Trump wanted to have a fresh start in U.S. relations with Russia. Kislyak offered to have Russian generals brief the Transition Team, but balked when Flynn suggested that they use secure communications lines at the Russian Embassy.
The U.S. Government knew in 2016 that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The Obama administration took action. Two compounds owned by the Russian government were closed, 35 Russian officials were sent home, and economic sanctions were imposed on Russia.
The Trump Transition Team thought the new sanctions would harm U.S.-Russia relations. Ambassador Kislyak reached out to Michael Flynn when the Obama administration sanctions became known. Flynn consulted extensively with other members of the team, before phoning Kislyak. They discussed several topics, including the sanctions. The Russians agreed not to escalate the situation.
“Prosecution and Declination Decisions” is the last section of Volume I and it is written in regular language. It is about whom the SCO decided to charge with crimes, and whom they declined to charge.
The section is well-organized. It explains what happened in each part of the investigation, and which laws apply. It tells what the government must prove to ensure a guilty verdict. It explains why the SCO did or did not charge certain groups and individuals with crimes.
Russian groups and individuals were charged with their role in Russian hacking and campaign interference. United States citizens were charged for providing false statements, obstructing justice, or acting as agents of foreign governments.
The Special Counsel’s Office did not establish coordination or conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.