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Mueller report: the biggest mystery remaining

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Were any Trump associates involved in the dissemination of emails stolen by Russian hackers?

The answer, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, is … redacted.

The section of the report that discusses this topic is one of the most heavily redacted in the entire 448-page document — making this one of the biggest loose ends remaining in the Mueller probe that’s important for understanding what happened during the 2016 campaign.

One reason for these redactions is that this discussion clearly involves longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was indicted in January for lying to Congress and attempting to tamper with a witness. Stone has a trial scheduled for later this year, and court rules say prosecutors shouldn’t release information that could prejudice the trial’s outcome. Many of the “Harm to Ongoing Matter” redactions likely refer to Stone.

Stone’s indictment documented that, after WikiLeaks posted DNC emails, he tried to get in touch with Julian Assange and get ahold of their future releases. It presented some evidence he learned the group had leaks related to John Podesta coming — but the indictment didn’t attempt to tell the full story on what exactly Stone knew or how he knew it. Mueller’s report likely does explain what his investigation found out about this, but we can’t yet read it.

Now, we know Mueller decided not to bring charges against any Trump associates regarding the hacked emails. That could mean that nothing significantly untoward happened here. But it also leaves open other possibilities — that something happened that was shady but not criminal or that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges or that Mueller just flat-out isn’t sure. The answer is under those black bars.

The (unredacted) details in the Trump campaign/leaked emails section of the report

Mueller makes clear there was a Russian hacking operation that stole leading Democrats’ emails and documents, and we know much of that material was posted online by either Russian cut-outs or WikiLeaks. Volume I, Section III of Mueller’s report describes all this in great detail.

But that section includes a subhed called “Trump Campaign and the Dissemination of Hacked Materials.” The first subsection of it appears to relate to WikiLeaks, but even its title is redacted.

Mueller opens this section by writing: “The Trump Campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’s release of hacked materials throughout the summer and fall of 2016,” and then redacts the rest of the paragraph and a subsequent “Background” paragraph. These redactions likely relate to Stone, since Mueller’s indictment of Stone describes his contacts with Trump campaign officials about WikiLeaks.

Then there’s a subtopic called “Contacts with the Campaign about WikiLeaks.” Much of the details here are redacted too, but there are enough unredacted bits to make clear that it describes what Rick Gates, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen told Mueller’s investigators about Trump, WikiLeaks, and Roger Stone.

For instance, this is clearly about Cohen’s allegations — made publicly in congressional testimony in February — that he heard Stone, on speakerphone, tell Trump that he’d spoken to Julian Assange and that there would be a massive email release soon.

There’s also material from cooperating Mueller witness (and former deputy Trump campaign chair) Rick Gates, who, for instance, said that he heard Trump take a phone call, and that after it, “Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming.”

Following that, there’s a lengthy and mostly redacted section that includes material about Jerome Corsi — the author and conspiracy theorist whom Stone had asked to “get to Assange and get ahold of the pending WikiLeaks emails,” and who responded days later with an email referencing “Podesta.” (John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chair, had been hacked by the GRU, but that wouldn’t become public knowledge for two more months.)

An intriguing bit here is that an associate of Corsi’s, Ted Malloch, told investigators that Corsi told him around that time “that the hacked emails of John Podesta would be released prior to Election Day and would be helpful to the Trump Campaign.”

Then there’s a section about how, shortly after the Washington Post published the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about grabbing women by their genitals, WikiLeaks began publishing the Podesta emails.

Corsi has publicly claimed Stone knew about the tape in advance and urged him to get word to WikiLeaks to time the Podesta release with that in mind. However, Mueller writes in the report that he investigated Corsi’s allegations about that day but found “little corroboration” for them.

After that, there is a section about Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter DMs with WikiLeaks, but that’s entirely unredacted and has no new information.

Mueller may have explained why he didn’t file charges on this

There’s another relevant part in the report about this — though we can’t read it. Toward the end of Volume I, Mueller has a section explaining his prosecution and declination decisions — why he decided to charge certain people and not others. In it, he explains his charging decision about … someone who’s redacted.

The only unredacted bit in that section is a footnote that explains what it’s about: “the post-hacking sharing and dissemination of emails.” So this is certainly about the publication of the emails. It may be about Stone, or even Julian Assange. But the next two full pages about it are blacked out.

Mueller’s summary paragraphs about this topic

Finally, to get a sense of the big picture and how important Mueller considers his findings, it’s useful to take a look at the places in the report where he tries to summarize this matter — even though they are redacted. Here’s one:

That first redaction is clearly about Stone, because that’s in his indictment. The second redaction apparently refers to events between July and October 2016, so it could refer to Stone’s efforts to get in touch with Assange around that time. That is: This stuff is important and worth mentioning in a top-line summary.

Here’s another summary paragraph on the topic of the hacking. After a clause about how the investigation “established” the Trump campaign displayed interest in the WikiLeaks, the rest of that sentence — seemingly about something else the investigation established — is redacted:

At the end of the above excerpt, Mueller writes that he did charge the hackers, but then redacts the next sentence. That redaction could be his explanation for why he didn’t charge Stone (or Assange).

Finally, here’s one more summary paragraph:

These redactions again mainly seem to be about Stone. But here, Mueller writes that “the investigation was unable to resolve” something that is redacted about “WikiLeaks’s release of the stolen Podesta emails on October 7, 2016.” So this may be an admission that the special counsel’s investigation failed to get to the bottom of whatever happened here.

When will we be able to read this stuff?

If most of these redactions do relate to Stone’s pending trial, it could be a while before they’re officially revealed. That trial is currently scheduled to begin November 5.

But there are a few other ways we could conceivably learn of that information beforehand. The first is through lawsuits: Various media organizations plan to sue, hoping judges might order a less redacted version of the report released.

The second way is through leaks. The Justice Department has said they plan to show a less-redacted version of the report to key members of Congress, so if there are interesting disclosures there, they could leak out.

For now, though, one of the biggest mysteries from the 2016 campaign remains a mystery.

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