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Inside the Mueller report, a sophisticated Russian interference campaign
After nearly two years, what did the Mueller probe find? First, the 448-page report is loaded with examples of how the Russians attacked the 2016 election. And though Robert Mueller found that the Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with Russia, the report lays out a long string of evidence that the president tried to obstruct justice. Lisa Desjardins and William Brangham report.
All this week, we have been going through the report by special counsel Robert Mueller and its key findings.
We finish that series now with a look at the document in its entirety.
Lisa Desjardins and William Brangham are our guides.
The Mueller report is unique in American history. At times, it reads like a novel, even a thriller. At other times, it is dense legal opinion.
So what did it find?
First, that the Russians attacked the 2016 election. The Mueller report is loaded with examples of how Russian operatives launched what they call information warfare on the U.S. They wanted to distract and inflame voters to benefit Donald Trump's candidacy and to damage Hillary Clinton's.
And while Mueller shows the Trump campaign worked with individual Russians, he found the evidence didn't show any conspiracy or coordination by the Trump campaign.
President Donald Trump:
There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, and none whatsoever.
That's been the president's mantra ever since Mueller's report came out.
And like Lisa said, on the collusion-conspiracy issue, the president is right. The Mueller report doesn't establish any such wrongdoing.
But on the issue of obstruction, Mueller doesn't agree with the president.
To Mueller, obstruction is a crime of paramount importance. He went out of his way to say that in public last week.
When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.
Mueller's report lays out a long string of examples where it finds evidence, sometimes substantial evidence, that the president tried to obstruct justice.
For example, the president asked FBI Director James Comey to let go of one investigation. He told his White House counsel, Don McGahn, that Mueller has to go, and later told him to lie and deny that conversation ever happened.
In other cases, Mueller says what seems like suspicious activity wasn't obstruction, like when President Trump tried to bury e-mails showing how his son welcomed a meeting with Russians who were offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. Mueller concludes that didn't affect the investigation.
Overall, Mueller writes: "The evidence does point to a range of personal motives animating the president's conduct. Those include concerns the investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and whether certain events could be seen as criminal activity by the president, his campaign or family."
But, despite that, Mueller decided not to indict the president. The reason, he said, is a Justice Department opinion issued during the Watergate scandal. It says that a sitting president cannot be indicted. This is internal agency policy from 1973, not a law or court ruling.
Because of this policy, on the issue of obstruction, Mueller put his conclusion this way:
If we had had confidence that the president clearly didn't commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.
Mueller seems to understand this is not a satisfying conclusion for anyone, saying the case raises difficult issues.
But he writes: "U.S. law rests on the fundamental principle that no person in this country is so high that he is above the law."
On the question of what to do now, Mueller points to Congress.
The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.
He's talking, of course, about the impeachment process.
This is why the stakes are so high with this investigation. But the report, written as a legal document, is tough to absorb.
Mueller actually writes that he wants to help readers. He does this in the appendix with a glossary of 211 people and entities mentioned in the report, as well as the president's full written answers to Mueller's questions. Both are worth checking out.
OK, so what did this investigation produce?
Mueller lists all of the court cases triggered by his probe. So far, a total of 34 people have been indicted. The vast majority of those are Russian nationals.
But the investigation also led to a three-year prison sentence for Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen on fraud and campaign finance violations. Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is serving seven-and-a-half years on charges unrelated to the campaign. Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn both pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and have yet to be sentenced.
Meanwhile, another big case is heading to trial. Trump confidant Roger Stone is charged by Mueller with obstruction and lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks and the release of Democratic documents stolen by the Russians.
And there are more than a dozen other ongoing cases Mueller cites, but those are fully redacted, and we just don't know who or what is involved.
The report leaves open its most wrenching and difficult question, whether the president himself broke the law.
The report's final conclusion is that single, complicated paragraph you may have heard before.
It reads in part: "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly didn't commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report doesn't conclude that the president committed a crime, it also doesn't exonerate him."
Thank you. Thank you for being here today.
Mueller so far has spoken publicly for just nine minutes about this report. He indicated he wants to leave the stage and return to private life.
Whatever Mueller's future, his report remains a challenge for America's leaders on all sides.
If you missed any of our recaps of this report, they are all online.
We did our best, but, obviously, this was a 448-page report with a lot of detail.
So, we thank you for watching, but we also encourage you to look for yourself. The full Mueller report is on our Web site.
Read it here.
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