Posts Tagged ‘Trump Tower meeting’

The Mueller Report: I read it for you, but you should read it for yourself. pt. 6

June 29, 2019

The President’s Efforts to Prevent Disclosure of Emails About the June 9, 2016 Meeting Between Russians and Senior Campaign Officials

 

This part of Volume II of the Mueller Report relates more closely to the subject matter of Volume I than the other sections we have examined. Russian agents, closely tied to Vladimir Putin though not officially part of his government, approached the Donald Trump Jr. at a time when his father was the presumptive Republican nominee for President of the United States, offering him derogatory information about Hillary Clinton as part of what they described as the Russian government’s efforts to help Mr. Trump win the general election. Some of the highest level campaign workers, including Don Jr. agreed to meet in Trump Tower with these self-professed Russian agents. Don Jr. later said he had expected different information from the Russians than he received, supposedly indicating financial corruption which apparently didn’t exist given that such evidence wasn’t produced, though it remains unclear whether Don Jr. realized then or now that there was no such corruption. Apparently there was no direct discussion at this meeting of the fact that the Russians had hacked the DNC computers and were preparing to selectively release emails that would embarrass the Clinton campaign and enrage Bernie Sanders followers. Instead, after being a bit vague about what they were offering, the Russians made clear what they wanted in return for their help: relief from the Magnitsky Act, a set of sanctions imposed by the Obama administration on Russian oligarchs connected to such crimes as murder, money laundering, and the illegal seizure of Crimea from Ukraine. While Don Jr. claimed that nothing came of the meeting, shortly after this the Russians began feeding DNC emails to WikiLeaks.

A year later, after his election, Mr. Trump learned that there were emails detailing the involvement of his son, his son-in-law Jared Kushner, his then campaign manager and others in this clandestine meeting with Putin’s emissaries, including the Russians’ statement that they were acting on their government’s behalf to help Trump win and his son’s reply “If it’s what you say, I love it.” According to Mr. Trump’s written statements, he had no knowledge at the time about the meeting; he has refused to answer questions in person. At this time the meeting was being investigated as part of the FBI Russia investigation, and had in fact provided requested information including these emails. However, Mr. Trump actively sought to hide this information from the press, the American people and even from himself. For example, when Hope Hicks sought to discuss the emails with him because she thought they looked “really bad,” he replied each time that he didn’t want to know the details. While he knowingly dictated a false explanation to The New York Times about the nature of the meeting, he sought to avoid having anyone discuss the true nature of the meeting with the press, or with he himself as part of planning his press strategy. Despite warnings from Hicks and others that the actual facts would eventually leak, Trump insisted that if they just kept mum the existence of the emails would never be known and the whole thing would blow over. Discussion between Hicks, Trump and then White House spokesperson Mark Corallo of Corallo’s attempts to plant a false narrative on a conservative news site included discussion of the fact that a “document” existed which would contradict the statement Trump had written for his son to deliver about the meeting, and the belief that its existence would never get out. Eventually, the emails did leak, Trump Jr. followed Ms. Hicks’ original advice to simply release the emails and weather the storm, and the President stated that it didn’t matter because his false explanation had been given to the Times and not to “a high tribunal of judges.”

All of this certainly fits the common dictionary definition of “collusion,” meaning “a secret cooperation or deceitful agreement in order to deceive others, although not necessarily illegal.” There was the Russian government’s stated intention to help Mr. Trump win the election, efforts made on both sides to hide knowledge of this support from the public, and Russia’s stated desire to “discuss” the sanctions imposed under the Magnitsky Act. But as stated in our summary of Volume One of the Special Counsel’s report, Mueller did not feel this meeting rose to the level of criminal conspiracy, or at least he states he did not think there was evidence to prove it did. Likewise, the later claims by Trump that “I don’t do cover-ups” is clearly false, and he himself said as much. To determine whether this incident constitutes obstruction of justice, the three constitutive elements need to be considered:

  1. Obstructive Act: Mueller finds at least three instances where Mr. Trump ordered others to deny the existence of the emails about the Trump Tower meeting, and actively participated in giving false information to the press. However, Mr. Mueller notes that there is no evidence that Mr. Trump or the White House actually sought to hide the documents or the information from Congress or the Special Counsel. Instead, the stonewalling and deceit “occurred in the context of developing a press strategy,” and as Mr. Trump observed himself, lying to the press, or the American people, is not a crime.
  2. Nexus to an official proceeding: Since the information was provided to the official investigative offices which requested it, and the natural result of keeping the emails from the public was not likely to impede a grand jury or other investigation, there is no nexus.
  3. Intent: The intent was to stonewall the press, and thus prevent the public from finding out the truth about the Trump Tower meeting, as the fact that the Russian government and Trump’s own family and campaign staff were meeting together to strategize how to help him get elected would look “really bad.” However, there is no evidence that there was any intent to hide this meeting from any official scrutiny.

Thus, Mr. Mueller concludes that the actions to hide the Trump Tower meeting from the public were not themselves obstruction of justice. While there was clearly an intention to lie to the press and to voters, and while it is clear that the Trumps were well aware of and eager for Russian help winning the election, and that they were willing to cooperate with Russia to some degree, Mueller decided that none of this can be proven to violate U.S. law. While it may be embarrassing for all concerned (esp. American citizens) to admit that the President of the United States was elected with the active assistance of a hostile foreign power, and that he, his family and his advisors were aware of this and were only concerned that it might become public knowledge, the attempt to hide this was not in fact “obstruction of justice” so long as the cover-up only involved lying to the press.