Five things to look for in Mueller's Trump-Russia report

April 18 (Reuters) - Attorney General William Barr has provided only a glimpse of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the inquiry into Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election, with many details expected to emerge when the document is released on Thursday.

Barr on March 24 sent a four-page letter to lawmakers detailing Mueller's "principal conclusions" including that the 22-month probe did not establish that President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign team conspired with Russia. Barr said he found insufficient evidence in Mueller's report to conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, though the special counsel did not make a formal finding one way or the other on that.

The Justice Department plans to release the nearly 400-page report on Thursday, with portions blacked out to protect certain types of sensitive information.

Here are five things to look for when the report is issued.

 

OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE: WHY NO EXONERATION?

Perhaps the biggest political risk for Trump is the special counsel's supporting evidence behind Mueller's assertion that while the report does not conclude the Republican president committed the crime of obstruction of justice it "also does not exonerate him" on that point.

According to Barr's March 24 letter, Mueller has presented evidence on both sides of the question without concluding whether to prosecute. Barr filled that void by asserting there was no prosecutable case. But Barr's statement in the letter that "most" of Trump's actions that had raised questions about obstruction were "the subject of public reporting" suggested that some actions were not publicly known.

Democrats in Congress do not believe Barr, a Trump appointee, should have the final say on the matter. While the prospect that the Democratic-led House of Representatives would begin the impeachment process to try to remove Trump from office appears to have receded, the House Judiciary Committee will be looking for any evidence relevant to ongoing probes into obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power by the president or others in the administration.

Barr's comment that most of what Mueller probed on obstruction has been publicly reported indicates that events like Trump's firing of James Comey as FBI director in May 2017 when the agency was heading the Russia inquiry are likely to be the focus of this section of the report.

 

RUSSIAN 'INFORMATION WARFARE' AND CAMPAIGN CONTACTS

The report will detail indictments by Mueller of two Kremlin-backed operations to influence the 2016 election: one against a St. Petersburg-based troll farm called the Internet Research Agency accused of waging "information warfare" over social media; and the other charging Russian intelligence officers with hacking into Democratic Party servers and pilfering emails leaked to hurt Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

With those two indictments already public and bearing no apparent link to the president, the focus may be on what Mueller concluded, if anything, about other incidents that involved contacts between Russians and people in Trump's orbit. That could include the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York in which a Russian lawyer promised "dirt" on Clinton to senior campaign officials, as well as a secret January 2017 meeting in the Seychelles investigated as a possible attempt to set up a back channel between the incoming Trump administration and the Kremlin while Democrat Barack Obama was still president.

Any analysis of such contacts could shed light on why Mueller, according to Barr's summary, "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

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WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters October 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey was officially sworn in as director of FBI on September 4 to succeed Mueller who had served as director for 12 years. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama applauds outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 as he nominates Jim Comey to be the next FBI director. Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller applauds key staff members during a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
391489 03: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a conference as he stands with Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller, left, who he has nominated to head the FBI, and Attorney General John Ashcroft July 5, 2001 the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller stands for the national anthem during a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) reacts to a standing ovation from the audience, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (C) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) during Mueller's farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures during his remarks at a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) and FBI Director Robert Mueller speak about possible terrorist threats against the United States, in Washington, May 26, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and FBI Director Robert Mueller make their way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) delivers remarks at a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Also onstage with Mueller are Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (FROM L), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director George Tenet and TSA Administrator John Pistole. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: (L-R) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. Mueller said on Thursday that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to hold confessed leaker Edward Snowden accountable for splashing surveillance secrets across the pages of newspapers worldwide. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller during their meeting in Kiev June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Efrem Lukatsky/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS)
FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) arrives for the Obama presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. Woman at right is unidentified. REUTERS/Win McNamee-POOL (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, : FBI Director Robert Mueller answers questions before Congress 17 October 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller was testifying before the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees' final open hearing investigating events leading up to the September 11, 2001. AFP Photos/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
399994 02: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller visits the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller (L) stand during the National Anthem alongside Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (C) during a farewell ceremony in Mueller's honor at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2013. Mueller is retiring from the FBI after 12-years as Director. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
399994 01: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller greets American forces on the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller, center, talks with Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 06: OVERSIGHT HEARING ON COUNTERTERRORISM--Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, before the hearing. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
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MANAFORT, UKRAINE POLICY AND POLLING DATA

In the weeks before Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was sentenced in March to 7-1/2 years in prison mostly for financial crimes related to millions of dollars he was paid by pro-Russia Ukrainian politicians, Mueller's team provided hints about what their pursuit of him was really about.

Prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told a judge in February that an Aug. 2, 2016 meeting between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, a consultant Mueller has said has ties to Russian intelligence, "went to the heart of" the special counsel's investigation.

The meeting included a discussion about a proposal to resolve the conflict in Ukraine in terms favorable to the Kremlin, an issue that has damaged Russia's relations with the West. Prosecutors also said Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with Kilimnik, although the significance of that act remains unclear.

One focus will be on what Mueller ultimately concluded about Manafort's interactions with Kilimnik and whether a failed attempt to secure cooperation from Manafort, who was found by a judge to have lied to prosecutors in breach of a plea agreement, significantly impeded the special counsel's work.

 

NATIONAL SECURITY CONCERNS

While Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy with Russia, according to Barr, there is a chance the report will detail behavior and financial entanglements that give fodder to critics who have said Trump has shown a pattern of deference to the Kremlin.

One example of such an entanglement was the proposal to build a Trump tower in Moscow, a deal potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars that never materialized. Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, admitted to lying to Congress about the project to provide cover because Trump on the campaign trail had denied any dealings with Russia.

In the absence of criminal charges arising from Mueller's inquiry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has shifted his focus to whether Trump is "compromised" by such entanglements, influencing his policy decisions and posing a risk to national security.

Some legal experts have said the counterintelligence probe Mueller inherited from Comey may prove more significant than his criminal inquiry, though it is not clear to what degree counterintelligence findings will be included in the report. Barr also has said he planned to redact material related to intelligence-gathering sources and methods.

 

MIDDLE EAST INFLUENCE AND OTHER PROBES

Another focus is whether Mueller will disclose anything from his inquiries into Middle Eastern efforts to influence Trump.

One mystery is what, if anything, came of the special counsel's questioning of George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman and consultant to the crown princes of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia who started cooperating with Mueller last year.

Nader attended the Seychelles meeting. He also was present at a Trump Tower meeting in August 2016, three months before the election, at which an Israeli social media specialist spoke with the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., about how his firm Psy-Group, which employed several former Israeli intelligence officers, could help the Trump campaign, according to the New York Times. Mueller's interest in Nader suggested the special counsel looked into whether additional countries sought to influence the election and whether they did so in concert with Russia.

A lawyer for Nader did not respond to a request for comment.

Barr has said he will redact from the Mueller report information on "other ongoing matters," including inquiries referred to other offices in the Justice Department. That makes it unclear if any findings related to the Middle East will appear in the report.

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