The Mueller probe, Part 5: Key Questions and Omissions

Previous entries in this series:

Part 1: Recusal and Comey’s Notes

Part 2: The Firing of Comey

Part 3: Mueller’s Misfits

Part 4: Results of Mueller Probe

As concerns Flynn, the report makes no mention of a side deal with Flynn’s original lawyers and prosecutor Van Grack.  In that deal, Van Grack promised not to prosecute Flynn’s son in exchange for a guilty plea from Flynn.  The lawyers for the Mueller team told Trump’s lawyer- John Dowd- that the President was not a focus of the investigation, but two months previous, Michael Drebeen was in a Manhattan closed courtroom saying that the President was under investigation for obstruction of justice.

The impetus for the probe- be it the Steele dossier or the approaches by Mifsud and Halper- was the hacking of the DNC.  The Mueller report definitively asserted that this was a Russian effort.  But, the FBI never physically examined their computers or servers and instead relied on the report from CrowdStrike.  They likely did so since one of their own- Shawn Henry- was now the CEO of that company.  In a December 2017 interview by the House Intelligence Committee, Henry testified under oath that CrowdStrike had absolutely no definitive proof the hack was carried out by Russians.  His specific testimony stated the following:

  • “There are times when we can see data exfiltrated, and we can say conclusively. But in this case it appears it was set up to be exfiltrated, but we just don’t have the evidence that says it actually left.”
  • “There’s not evidence that they were actually exfiltrated. There’s circumstantial evidence but no evidence that they were actually exfiltrated.”
  • “There is circumstantial evidence that that data was exfiltrated off the network. … We didn’t have a sensor in place that saw data leave. We said that the data left based on the circumstantial evidence. That was the conclusion that we made.”
  • “Sir, I was just trying to be factually accurate, that we didn’t see the data leave, but we believe it left, based on what we saw.”
  • Asked directly if he could “unequivocally say” whether “it was or was not exfiltrated out of DNC,” Henry told the committee: “I can’t say based on that.”

The Mueller report states that Russian intelligence “appears to have compressed and exfiltrated over 70 gigabytes of data” and agents “appear to have stolen thousands of emails and attachments” from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and DNC servers, respectively.”  Notice the use of the word “appears” which gives Mueller some wiggle room.  The report suggests that the information was exfiltrated to a server in Illinois maintained by the Russian GRU, but the source for that server is redacted.  We are left reliant upon CrowdStrike’s assertions which, in retrospect, cannot be proven.  If CrowdStrike cannot prove Russia stole the emails, then on what basis can the entire claim be based?  

The whole purpose of the 2017 IC assessment of Russian interference in the election is predicated upon the belief that Russians hacked the DNC.  It further was revealed that CrowdStrike provided the FBI with three redacted, draft versions of their forensic analysis of the DNC server.  There is no indication that Mueller attempted to dig deeper and seek the unredacted reports from CrowdStrike and simply took it as gospel that the Russians hacked the DNC server.  

Shawn Henry came from the FBI when Mueller was director.  CrowdStrike’s founder is Dimitri Alperovitch, a vocal critic of Putin, and a fellow of the Atlantic Council, a think tank that encourages a hard line against Russia dating back to the start of the Cold War.  And guess who hired CrowdStrike to look into the DNC hack?  If you said Michael Sussman of the law firm Perkins Coie, you would be correct.  This is the same Sussman who eventually hired Fusion GPS on behalf of the DNC and Clinton campaign that led to the Steele dossier.  It is also the same Michael Sussman who pushed the theory of the “talking” servers between Trump and Russia’s Alfa bank.

These admissions by Henry under oath do not prove that Russia was not involved in the hacking of the DNC.  What they do prove is that the outgoing Obama administration misled the public by presenting uncertainty as fact.  The fact the Democrat Party and Clinton campaign employed the two firms- Fusion GPS and CrowdStrike- that put forth the key allegations of the saga (collusion and a hack by the Russians) is proof that the Crossfire Hurricane/Mueller probe was compromised from the beginning.

Another strange occurrence has been Mueller’s reluctance to discuss Joseph Mifsud.  Mifsud has widely been portrayed as a key intermediary between Russia and the Trump campaign with Comey referring to him publicly as a “Russian agent.”  Mueller’s report does not go that far, but notes connections Mifsud maintains in Russia, but never mentions those connections or contacts by name.  

The Mueller report totally ignores Mifsud’s closer ties to Western intelligence agencies.  Left out of the report is the actual wording of that infamous conversation between Alexander Downer and George Papadopolous in a London wine bar.  Downer later revealed that Papadopolous “mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the leadup to the election, which might prove damaging.”  He claims Papadopolous never used the term “dirt” and although saying the information “might” be damaging, he never told Downer what that information might be.  If this is correct and Downer’s memory is right, this means that the FBI opened an unprecedented counterintelligence probe of a presidential campaign based on a second-hand report, in turn based on a rumor, in turn based on unspecified information.

  This opens important questions that Mueller simply punted.  Did the FBI over-react on vague and useless information, or was Mifsud an integral part of a setup?  Even when Mueller was questioned about possible ties between Fusion GPS and the Russian lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting- Natalia Veselnitskaya- he failed to answer citing that the connection between the two was beyond the scope of his investigation.

Mueller refused to answer questions about Konstantin Kilimnik other than vaguely referring to him as having connections to Russian intelligence which are never specified or spelled out.  The theory goes that Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik who then passed on that information to Russian intelligence.  Andrew Weissman publicly stated that the Manafort-Kilimnik association was a key to explaining what was going on between the campaign and Russians.  While explaining that Kilimnik was at the “heart” of a “motive,” the Mueller team was aware of other evidence of Kilimnik- he was a key “sensitive source” for the US State Department in Ukraine.  The report simply mentions that before receiving the polling data from Manafort, Kilimnik met with State Department officials in DC.  If Kilimnik is a “Russian agent” or even someone with suspicious ties to Russians, why was he a source for the State Department and meeting with officials of the Department?  Had the State Department invited a suspicious person into their halls?

One of the enduring claims was that “it was all about business deals and Trump making himself richer.”  At the heart of this claim is the non-existent Trump Tower Moscow project.  That development project never went further than a non-binding letter of intent.  In fact, Michael Cohen seemed to be in charge of those efforts, not Trump, and that he reached out to someone in the Russian government in the hopes of pushing the project along.  Cohen sent an email to a general address in Russia and apparently made it as far as Putin’s press secretary, Dimitry Peskov who did not respond.  

Instead, the response came from Peskov’s deputy, Elena Poliakova who informed him the Russian “Presidential Administration doesn’t build houses.”  One doubts that if Putin and the Russians were trying to cozy up to Donald Trump, the deputy of a deputy would be crafting a response and, by Cohen’s own admission, there would be no follow up.  Cohen reached out to the Kremlin after he fell out of favor with Felix Sater who never came through with his so-called “Russian connections.”  Sater did invite Cohen to a forum in St. Petersburg conveying the impression that Peskov was actually extending the invitation.  Cohen never attended the forum. The only known source that Trump and the Russians were negotiating over the Moscow project was the notoriously unreliable Felix Sater.  Ironically, in 1998 Mueller personally approved the FBI using Sater as a confidential source in an unrelated corruption investigation.

Also overlooked by the Mueller probe- probably because it was “beyond his scope-” were the selective leaks of information to the press.  When Comey personally and privately briefed Trump on the salacious aspects of the Steele dossier, that conversation was leaked to the press which was then used as a justification for Buzzfeed to publish the contents of the dossier.  A number of people knew about the dossier and a number of people knew that Comey was going to brief Trump on it, so any number of people in the FBI, DOJ, or Trump White House could have leaked the meeting to the press.  

This was followed by someone leaking the phone conversation between Michael Flynn and Sergei Kislyak fueling speculation that they discussed sanctions relief, later proven to be false.  Two weeks later, the New York Times, based on a leak from some anonymous source, reported that US investigators obtained phone and email messages between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials.  Comey later testified the story was untrue, but the newspaper never retracted the story.

Everything in the Mueller report and his subsequent public testimony suggest that he was not the fine upstanding, ethical, hard-nosed investigator many portrayed him to be.  Perhaps he was just a figurehead who never made the key decisions.  Although determining there was no Trump-Russia conspiracy, there is no explanation why so many high-placed Obama administration officials said they believed there had been, and their actions based on these beliefs.  His report ultimately told us what did NOT happen, but never told us why, or what did happen.  Instead, he rode off into the sunset vowing his last public testimony before Congress was his last word ever on the report that bears his name.

Next: Conclusion of the spygate saga through the eyes of the participants