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Why ‘numerous links’ between Trump campaign and Russia didn’t add up to conspiracy

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We continue now with our weeklong look at the details of the Mueller report.

    Last night, we explained how the report explores Russia's elaborate meddling in our election, how Russia tried to manipulate voters and hack election systems.

    Tonight, we highlight Russia's contacts with the Trump campaign and what the special counsel's office could not find.

    Lisa Desjardins and William Brangham are again our guides.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For more than 100 pages, Robert Mueller lays out scores of Russian contacts with the Trump campaign or the Trump presidency.

    From the start, Mueller is frank about why, to see whether those contacts constituted attempted Russian interference or influence on the election, and whether these contacts resulted in coordination or conspiracy with the Trump campaign.

  • William Brangham:

    And Mueller's conclusion about this conspiracy comes right away.

    In the very next line, Mueller writes: "Based on the available information, the investigation didn't establish such coordination."

    Mueller reached that conclusion even though, he writes, there were numerous links between the campaign and the Russians, that several people connected to the campaign lied to his team and tried to obstruct their investigation into their contacts with the Russians.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    OK, let's talk about specifics with these contacts, starting with the Trump business and a big event in Russia.

    In 2013, Donald Trump takes his Miss Universe Pageant to Moscow. The Mueller report points out, this is how the Trumps got to know Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire and ally of Vladimir Putin. He owned the event hall where the pageant was held.

    His son Emin is a pop singer who sang at the event.

  • William Brangham:

    Things start moving pretty quickly. Within a few months, Donald Trump Jr. signs a preliminary agreement with Agalarov's company to build a big Trump Tower property in Moscow.

    Ivanka Trump visits the country in 2014, scouting out possible locations. Then things seem to stall.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Until 2015.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for president of the United States.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    In June, Mr. Trump announces his candidacy.

    Mueller points out that, three months later, a new effort to build the Trump Tower in Moscow begins, this time led by Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, and developer Felix Sater.

  • William Brangham:

    On page 69, Mueller makes it clear that candidate Trump knew this was happening.

    He writes "Cohen provided updates directly to Trump about the project throughout 2015 and into 2016."

    But Mueller stresses that, publicly, candidate Trump repeatedly denies any such dealings.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I have nothing to do with Russia. I don't have any jobs in Russia. I'm all over the world, but we're not involved in Russia.

  • William Brangham:

    Meanwhile, Felix Sater tells Michael Cohen he's working with high-level Russian officials.

    He e-mails Cohen, saying

    "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."

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Moscow Trump Tower project is just one source of Russian contacts. Mueller outlines about a dozen of them in total. They vary widely.

    Campaign aide Carter Page meets with Russians and is paid to give a speech in Russia. Aide J.D. Gordon says he pushed for a change in the Republican platform to water down tough language about Russia and Ukraine. Policy adviser Michael Flynn gives speeches in Russia and has numerous contacts with the Russian ambassador, including a discussion of softening sanctions.

    Foreign policy and national security adviser Jeff Sessions also meets with the Russian ambassador. Campaign chairman Paul Manafort regularly shares internal polling data with a man tied to Russian intelligence. And fellow Trump aide George Papadopoulos repeatedly meets with a different man connected to Russian intelligence, who tells Papadopoulos the Russians have dirt on Hillary Clinton.

    For all of these connections, Mueller gives dates and times, often to the very minute.

  • William Brangham:

    And another contact point was the infamous New York Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016.

    That morning, Donald Trump Jr. tells colleagues he has a lead on negative information about Hillary Clinton. That lead comes from a source you might remember, the pop singer Emin Agalarov, and his father, who is tied to Putin.

    One of their staffers pitches the meeting to Trump Jr., claiming they had dirt on Clinton. Trump Jr. responds: "If it's what you say, I love it."

    Mueller's report says this dirt from the Russians was that two Clinton donors had broken Russian laws and laundered money. But the Russian representative can't directly tie that to Clinton campaign funds.

    The Trump Tower meeting ends with Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, calling it a waste of time.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    On page 185, the report says "The special counsel considered whether to charge Trump campaign officials with crimes in connection with the June 9 meeting." But they decide no, for two reasons.

    First, Mueller can't prove that Trump's team knew they were acting illegally. It is against the law to take political contributions from foreign nationals. And, two, the value of the information may have been too low to prosecute.

  • William Brangham:

    This brings us back to Mueller's main conclusion in this part of the report, that, despite these varied contexts, the evidence was insufficient to show that the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with Russia.

    Mueller notes that collusion is not a specific offense, that the actual crimes are conspiracy or coordination.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    One more thing Mueller points out investigators couldn't get all the information they wanted. Donald Trump Jr. never agreed to an interview, the same with several key Russians. Some witnesses lied to investigators initially. Some campaign aides deleted their texts.

    And Mueller states the president's written answers were inadequate. Mueller specifically says it's possible this missing information could shed new light on the investigation.

  • William Brangham:

    That's the end of our look at volume one.

    There is, of course, a lot more in there, and we encourage everyone to read it. We have got a link to it on our Web site, as well as to our extended timeline about the Russia investigation.

    Tomorrow, we will start looking at volume two of Mueller's report, which deals with the question of obstruction of justice.

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