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Inside the Mueller report, a sophisticated Russian interference campaign

The 448-page Mueller report contains copious detail about how Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, both by using social media to influence American voters with misinformation and by hacking into the Clinton campaign’s computers. Russian operatives also connected with WikiLeaks to release the stolen material. Lisa Desjardins and William Brangham share some of the key findings.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When special counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence last week, his main point was that his report speaks for itself.

    But the report is 448 pages' long. It is dense, and many just don't have time to read it.

    So we're going to spend some time every night this week digging into what the report does and doesn't say.

    William Brangham and Lisa Desjardins will be our guides.

  • William Brangham:

    Through two years of this investigation, through the indictment of 34 individuals, and then spelled out clearly in his final report, Robert Mueller made one thing crystal clear: Russia attempted to interfere with our 2016 election.

    Here's the last thing Mueller said last week:

  • Robert Mueller:

    And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.

    And that allegation deserves the attention of every American. Thank you.

  • William Brangham:

    And so that's where we will start.

    Volume one of his report, it's just over half of the total report, and it deals exclusively with what the Russians did.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Mueller lays this out, like the entire report, essentially as a large outline, saying Russia attacked in two ways.

    He writes, first, that it carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump. And, second, a Russian intelligence service conducted computer intrusion operations against entities, employees and volunteers working on the Clinton campaign. Translation: Russia used the Internet to fool American voters and hackers to attack Democratic computer networks.

  • William Brangham:

    According to Mueller's report, the Russian campaign began in mid-2014.

    That's when the employees of what's known as the Internet Research Agency first came to the U.S. to gather the material that they would later use in their elaborate social media postings.

    This is the IRA's headquarters in St. Petersburg, Russia.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    By the end of 2016, the Russians had set up fake social media account that reached millions of voters aimed at promoting Trump or dividing Americans.

  • William Brangham:

    The Russians created fake hashtags, like #KidsForTrump. They bought thousands of online ads. They impersonated U.S. citizens and set up political rallies, like a 2015 Confederate rally in Houston.

    They made posters like this one of "Miners for Trump" to promote a rally in Pittsburgh in 2016.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Mueller report lays out how this ensnared real American political operatives, including the Trump campaign and its allies.

    Donald Trump Jr. and top advisers like Kellyanne Conway all retweeted these fake accounts.

    Let's go to page 34 for an example.

    It shows a 2016 Facebook post from candidate Trump himself where he thanked organizers and promoted a rally in Miami.

    But Mueller writes that Russians in the IRA organized that rally, and even used a fake Facebook account to brag that Mr. Trump posted about our event.

  • William Brangham:

    According to the report, IRA staffers also posed as American citizens and tried to communicate with the Trump campaign to ask them for assistance coordinating some of these fake rallies.

    But the report notes: "The investigation has not identified evidence that any Trump campaign official understood these requests were coming from foreign nationals."

    And Mueller's investigators found no similar connections between the IRA and the Clinton campaign.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Next, the report looks at Russia's hacking, concluding, Russia's largest foreign intelligence service, known as the GRU, attacked the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign.

    The investigation found the GRU stole the password and identities of network administrators and used those to get access to Democratic files. The report said: "The GRU's operations extended beyond stealing material, and included releasing documents stolen from the Clinton campaign and its supporters."

  • William Brangham:

    To release those materials, the Russians created online personas with names like DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 to establish a relation with WikiLeaks, which then released these stolen files to the public.

    On page 45, Mueller documents how, in early July of 2016, WikiLeaks contacted the Russians privately on Twitter, saying: "If you have anything Hillary-related, we want it in the next two days preferable."

    And then, on July 22, three days before the Democratic National Convention began, WikiLeaks released more than 20,000 e-mails and other stolen documents. It was a clear attempt to embarrass Clinton and weaken her candidacy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Timing is a constant theme in this report. The week after the Democratic Convention, Mueller writes, candidate Trump made this controversial statement:

  • President Donald Trump:

    Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Now, President Trump has repeatedly insisted this was a joke.

    But Mueller writes, within five hours of candidate Trump saying those words, the GRU targeted Clinton's personal office for the first time. Notably, Mueller found no evidence that the campaign knew that Russians would respond, but the report showed for the first time how soon Russians acted after the president spoke.

  • William Brangham:

    There were other new revelations in the report as well.

    Mueller says the Russians directly targeted our election systems. They used cyberattacks against private technology firms that make election software, as well as officials in several states and county governments.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The question is, did the Russians' effort change or affect votes?

    Mueller doesn't address it, instead writing that the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and states are still investigating.

    One final note about this part. This Russian section is where you see some of the most heavily redacted pages in the report, much of it blocked out because of ongoing investigations.

  • William Brangham:

    Tomorrow night, we will break down Russia's outreach to the Trump campaign, how Mueller made his determination about the collusion and conspiracy issue, plus what Mueller could not find.

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