Following the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report this spring we’ve heard lots of interpretations of the report offered that can’t survive even a casual reading.

If you think the report concluded the President didn’t obstruct justice, read the report.

If you think the report found Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 United States elections, read the report.

If you were disappointed with the outcome of Mueller’s investigation because the President wasn’t indicted but you’ve haven’t read the report, do so now.

If you believe the report clears the Trump campaign of any “collusion” with Russia to help elect the President, read the report.

Get the Mueller Report in your choice of formats from Be warned the text is a product of OCR (Abby Fine Reader 11) and contains some artifacts of that process. You can also get the original scan in a PDF if you want. In the scanned text redactions appear as “Harm to ongoing matter” or other reasons for redaction.

Easily Corrected Misrepresentations

Arguments Relying on Misrepresentation of the report’s contents aren’t made in good faith; anyone making such arguments depends on their listeners not actually having read the report. That’s a pretty safe assumption on their part, unfortunately. The same principle extends to many other easily available primary sources.

The report covers:

  • Volume I: Russian interference into the US 2016 elections and investigation into coordination with the Trump campaign
  • Volume II: Evidence and legal analysis of possible obstruction of the investigation into Russian interference.

Here I’ll provide a few excerpts that should shed light on fundamental reasons for the investigation’s purpose and some basic findings.

Broadly speaking there are two strains of denialism when it comes to using the Mueller investigation as evidence: Trump supporters and some left-wing and libertarian “Russia-Gate”activists. You’ll see some overlap in the sorts of claims from both camps. I’m not talking about whether or not the President ought to be impeached or other political questions, just the content of the report and the facts it established.

A few common claims are (1) Russia didn’t meaningfully interfere with the elections (2) The investigation into Russian election interference is politically motivated and not based on real concerns (3) There’s no evidence the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia

Russian Interference

The Trump line goes : “No collusion, no obstruction,” when summing up the findings of the Mueller report. Go read it and see what you think.

Trump himself (though not most supporters) denies Russia got involved in the election. He implies the report doesn’t substantiate Russian interference. The investigation found otherwise:

The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Evidence of Russian government operations began to surface in mid-2016. .

First paragraph, Volume I, Introduction

The report covers Russian interference extensively and in detail. Read Volume I.

Anyone arguing Russian involvement in the US elections didn’t matter (whether left or right) needs to at least acknowledge evidence presented in Vol. I.

Reasons for the Investigations

Another line of attack on the Russia investigation questions the motivation for its inception, casting it as a political “witch hunt”,(Trump) The slightly more sophisticated version is that sore loser Democrats inside the government started it to hurt the President (getting close to, but not actually saying the Russia investigation has no basis.)

From the left (a small part at least) the motivation of the investigation is questioned as well, explaining it as a way to divert attention from the failings of the Democratic party, or as a scheme to re-ignite a cold war to benefit the defense industry, or other reasons.

The “Steele Dossier” was pointed to as a “fake” document that Trump surrogates claimed was used to justify the investigations into Russia. The Mueller report doesn’t say this; it has lots of documentation on when and why the FBI opened an investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia; the “Steele Dossier” isn’t given as any reason for the investigation.

In late July 2016, soon after WikiLeaks’s first release of stolen documents, a foreign government contacted the FBI about a May 2016 encounter with Trump Campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos had suggested to a representative of that foreign government that the Trump Campaign had received indications from the Russian government that it could assist the Campaign through the anonymous release of information damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. That information prompted the FBI on July 31, 2016, to open an investigation into whether individuals associated with the Trump Campaign were coordinating with the Russian government in its interference activities.

Volume I, Introduction

The report follows up on this narrative in detail.

Arguments from the left / “Russia-gate” adherents as well as Trump supporters use the Mueller report’s authority when convenient, sometimes misstating what it found or ignoring compelling evidence while highlighting the decision not to indict the President on conspiracy as proof the Russian interference story is false.

They fail to address the true and obvious reason for the Special Counsel’s investigation: Trump behaved publicly like he was trying to stop any investagation into Russia’s role in getting him elected.

He did this in many well documented meetings at the White House, Twitter posts and T.V. appearances and through his actions as President.

From the introduction of Volume II of the report:

Beginning in 2017, the President of the United States took a variety of actions towards the ongoing FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and related matters that raised questions about whether he had obstructed justice. The Order appointing the Special Counsel gave this Office jurisdiction to investigate matters that arose directly from the FBI’s Russia investigation, including whether the President had obstructed justice in connection with Russia-related investigations. The Special Counsel’s jurisdiction also covered potential obstructive acts related to the Special Counsel’s investigation itself …

Volume II describes and analyzes the “variety of actions” the President took in detail.

To be clear there were two investigations (or two phases of the same investigation): The FBI began the first in 2016 when evidence surfaced of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the US 2016 election (explained earlier.) This investigation continued through the fall of 2016 and after the election.

The second phase - the “Mueller Investigation” - began after the President’s firing of the director of the FBI James Comey (in charge of an existing Russia investigation) in spring 2017, perhaps in reaction to the public disclosure earlier that year of such an investigation.

Trump publically stated on several occasions he was thinking about the current investigation into Russian election interference when he fired the director. He told this to Lester Holt in a TV interview days after he met with the Russian ambassador and the Russian foreign minister in the Oval Office (barring American media.) During that meeting he reportedly told the two Russian officials he had put the Russia investigation to rest by firing the FBI Director. The report exhaustively lays this out.

No counter intelligence organization - the FBI investigates espionage inside the U.S. – having public evidence such as this, could ignore it and do nothing without making themselves a joke. Even if they suspected Trump was only behaving in such a bizarre manner because he felt the existing investigation threatened the legitimacy of his victory,, rather than that he truly had something to hide, the Justice Department (of which the FBI is a part) had to be seen to look into it in an independent manner to preserve their credibility if for no other reason.

Then FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s book The Threat (Amazon link) explains the FBI and other DOJ officials were concerned with more than just appearances.

Volume II of the Mueller report contains evidence of other questionable behavior by the President in addition to the time surrounding the removal of Comey as FBI director which could also justify an investigation. Go read it.

The rationale for the investigation is undeniable. You don’t need to conclude that the President coordinated with Russia and tried to obstruct the investigation into that coordination to understand that an investigation was necessary in the first place.