Top Ten Questions About the Mueller Report

Daniel Lazare examines some of the missing pieces in the special counsel’s 448-page tome on Russian interference.

By Daniel Lazare
Special to Consortium News

In January 2017, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a report about Russian interference co-signed by three other agencies — the National Security Agency, the FBI, and the CIA — that was so evidence-free that even The New York Times said it was “unlikely to change the minds of skeptics who … remember the intelligence agencies’ faulty assessments on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.”

“We assess Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016,” the report stated.  “We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump. …  We assess with high confidence that Russian military intelligence (General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate or GRU) used the Guccifer 2.0 persona and DCLeaks.com to release U.S. victim data….”

That was it.  No back-up, no substantiation, no analysis other than to point out that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton were on bad terms and that Russia hoped for better from Trump. Moreover, the report included a bizarre seven-page attack on RT, the Moscow-backed news outlet formerly known as Russia Today, for “highlight[ing] criticism of alleged U.S. shortcomings” by asserting, among other things, “that the U.S. two-party system does not represent the views of at least one-third of the population and is a ‘sham.’”  If Clapper & Co. couldn’t tell the difference between a news agency from a hostile intelligence service — or between legitimate criticism and a foreign attack — then what good was their judgment regarding other Russian government activities?

Putin and Trump: Impugned by intel.  (President of Russia)

But with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s 448-page tome on Russian interference, surely we’ve turned a corner, right?

Wrong.  Mueller’s door-stopper of a report may be chockfull of facts, but it’s also filled with the non sequiturs, loose threads and self-serving arguments that we’ve come to expect from official Washington.  It’s good on collusion, pointing out that reports of a Trump-Russia conspiracy remain unsubstantiated despite desperate Democratic efforts to spin it otherwise. 

But it’s lousy on interference, regurgitating the standard intelligence-community line that Russia “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” Simultaneously, it is remarkably incurious about how the scandal began, who propelled it along, and how it all snowballed into a mega-Watergate.

With that in mind, here are 10 questions that the report should answer but doesn’t.

No. 1: Was it Bernie in a Speedo?

Stretch: “Trillions of posts.” (YouTube)

In its discussion of the Internet Research Agency, the alleged St. Petersburg troll farm that supposedly used social media to interfere in the 2016 election, the report quotes congressional testimony by Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch stating that the company had linked the Internet Research Agency to 470 phony accounts that “collectively made 80,000 posts between January 2015 and August 2017” that may have “reached as many as 126 million persons.”

This sounds alarming.  But that’s not all Stretch said.  He also testified that American Facebook users received a total of 33 trillion posts over the same period, a figure more than 400 million times greater.  With a typical user receiving roughly 220 posts per day, he estimated that 29 million people may have come across one IRA item over more than two years and that each recipient may have then passed along to three or four others – hence the figure of 126 million.  (See Gareth Porter, 33 Trillion More Reasons Why The New York Times Gets It Wrong on Russia-gate,” Nov. 2, 2018.)

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What might that item have been?  Could it have been a cartoon of a muscle-bound Bernie Sanders in a Speedo?  A picture of Jesus arm-wrestling with a pro-Hillary Satan?  Why doesn’t the report mention the strange and inept material the Internet Research Agency put out or the less sensational figures issued by Facebook?  Is it because Mueller wants to perpetuate the myth of massive Russian interference – the kind of interference, by the way, in which the U.S. engages with other countries around the clock?

No. 2: Partial Accounting?

The report says that 3,814 Twitter accounts controlled by the Internet Research Agency may also have reached 1.4 million users.  This also sounds scary.  But what the report doesn’t say is that while the Internet Research Agency allegedly posted 176,000 tweets during the 10-week presidential campaign, that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the one billion election-related messages that Americans tweeted overall. Why not cite that number too?

(rawpixel.com/ Pexels)

No. 3: Just Another Clickbait Operation? 

The report notes that only 8.4 percent of IRA tweets were election-related.  If so, what does Mueller think the other 91.6 percent were about?  Could it be that IRA was not an intelligence agency after all, but, as it’s been argued, a clickbait operation aimed at drumming up business?

No. 4: Under-Cover Hoopla?

The report discusses Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Internet Research Agency, saying that “IRA employees, claiming to be U.S. social activists and administrators of Facebook groups, recruited U.S. persons to hold signs (including one in front of the white House) that read ‘Happy 55thBirthday Dear Boss,’ as an homage to Prigozhin (whose 55thbirthday was on June 1, 2016).”  What kind of intelligence operation calls attention to itself in such a flamboyant manner?  Is this yet more evidence that the Internet Research Agency was something entirely different?

Prigozhin: Birthday boy. (YouTube)

No. 5: Investigation by News Clip?

Although last summer’s indictment of the Internet Research Agency was silent on the question of Russian involvement in Prigozhin’s alleged activities, the Mueller report argues that his Kremlin links are strong after all.  The evidence: a New York Times article, “Yevgeny Prigozhin, Russian Oligarch Indicted by US., Is Known as ‘Putin’s Cook.’”  After nearly two years, is this all that 19 attorneys and 40 FBI agents working for Mueller could come up with – a newspaper clip?

No. 6: Another Source on GRU Hack?

“By no later than April 12, 2016,” the report continues, “the GRU gained access to the DCCC [i.e. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] computer network using the credential stolen from a DCCC employee who had been successfully spearphished the day before.”  How does team Mueller know what the GRU was up to when the Democratic National Committee refused to grant the FBI access to its computers? Does he have another source he’s not telling us about?

No. 7: More on Mifsud? 

The report’s discussion of Maltese academic Joseph Mifsud is strikingly incomplete.  After all, it was Mifsud who got Russia-gate rolling by telling President Donald Trump’s foreign-policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, over breakfast at a London hotel that Russia had “dirt” on Hilary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” It was this tip, which Papadopoulos relayed to top Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, that prompted the formal FBI investigation known as “Crossfire Hurricane” when word reached Washington.

Mifsud: Major figure minimized. (Flickr)

This makes Mifsud an important guy.  Yet the report says little about him other than he “maintained various Russian contacts while living in London” and that one such contact was a former employee of the Internet Research Agency.  Yet abundant evidence suggests that Mifsud in fact enjoyed extensive ties to Western intelligence. 

Stephan Roh, a Swiss-German lawyer who hired him as a consultant, writes in a self-published book that Mifsud has “only one master: the Western Political, Diplomatic, and Intelligence World, his only home, of which he is still deeply dependent.”  Photographs have surfaced of Mifsud with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and with Claire Smith, a top British intelligence official with whom he taught a course for Italian military and law-enforcement personnel at a private institute in Rome that Roh partly owns.

British and Russian intelligence agents normally do not team up in such a manner.  So why doesn’t Mueller mention such links?  The report also notes that Mifsud introduced Papadopoulos to an attractive young woman named Olga Polonskaya, whom he falsely billed as Putin’s niece and who offered to help set up a meeting between Trump and the Russian president. 

But why would Mifsud go to such lengths?  Isn’t Mueller curious as to whether he was trying to lead Papadopoulos into a trap? Or is this another avenue he doesn’t want to go down in order to maintain a narrative about evil Russians targeting a hapless west?

The report doesn’t mention Downer by name and also doesn’t mention Christopher Steele, the ex-MI6 agent whose 35-page “golden showers” dossier on Trump’s alleged Russia links created a media frenzy. It also doesn’t mention that The Washington Post reported that the “golden showers” section was written by a Clinton operative.  Since Steele is as crucial to the story as Mifsud or Downer, shouldn’t we know more about him as well – who recruited him, who provided him advice along the way, who fed him information?

No. 8: Something Missing on Millian? 

Sergei Millian: Steele source. (YouTube)

On the other hand, the report devotes two pages to Sergei Millian, the Belarus-American who may also have tried to lure Papadopoulos into a trap by offering to “share with you a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.” But it fails to mention that Millian was simultaneously a source for the Steele Dossier. A connection like this fairly cries out for an investigation.  Yet Mueller is apparently uninterested – why?

No. 9: Failure to Inform on Sater? 

Felix Sater: More than a mobster. (YouTube)

Mueller likewise neglects to mention that Felix Sater, the Russian-American mobster pushing Trump Tower Moscow, was an FBI informant and that Henry Oknyansky, a Russian expatriate who tried to interest the Trump campaign in still more dirt on Clinton, was as well.  Why the reticence?

No. 10: Eavesdropping on Next Administration? 

After President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on Russia for alleged election interference in December 2016, the report says: “Members of the intelligence community were surprised by Russia’s decision not to retaliate.  When analyzing Russia’s response, they became aware of [future National Security Adviser Michael] Flynn’s discussions of sanctions with [Russian ambassador Sergey] Kislyak.”

How did intelligence agents become aware of such discussions?  Were they listening in?  Is Mueller at all concerned that intelligence agencies were apparently eavesdropping on an incoming presidential administration?

One could go on – about the report’s dubious attempts to paint WikiLeaks as an arm of the GRU (see my story, The ‘Guccifer 2.0’ Gaps in Mueller’s Full Report,” April 18, 2019), about the thin evidence the report marshals in its effort to brand Paul Manafort’s associate Konstantin Kilimnik a Russia spy (volume one, p. 133), about the FBI’s attempt to use the defunct Logan Act — a two-century old law banning private diplomacy that has been dormant since 1852 — to launch an investigation into Flynn (volume two, p. 37), and so on.

But the point should be clear.  The Mueller report is an exercise in disinformation.  It generates more questions than answers about what may well have been an effort to sabotage U.S.-Russian relations and cripple the White House.

“I can’t do anything with Russia,” Trump complained after two months in office. “There’s things I’d like to do with Russia, with trade, with ISIS, they’re all over me with this.”   Did it occur to Mueller that this is just the sort of policy paralysis that a phony Russia-gate scandal was designed to achieve?

Daniel Lazare is the author of “The Frozen Republic: How the Constitution Is Paralyzing Democracy” (Harcourt Brace, 1996) and other books about American politics.  He has written for a wide variety of publications from The Nationto Le Monde Diplomatiqueand blogs about the Constitution and related matters at Daniellazare.com.

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28 comments for “Top Ten Questions About the Mueller Report

  1. Bill
    May 8, 2019 at 14:45

    Why didn’t Mueller investigate the Steele Dossier?

    • LJ
      May 12, 2019 at 16:40

      Mueller, the former director of the FBI was not put in place to question the basis of the FBI Investigation that was manufactured by his friend and successor Comey. He was put in place to validate the Investigation. If possible it was hoped that he could manufacture proof of Obstruction of Justice by Trump. There was never a basis for collusion. Trump was correct when he stated that ” It’s Bullshit. It’s suppose to make me look bad and someone else look good”. It was the American people after all that provided the only proof of the outcome of such collusion and what grey haired granny or Iron Belt loser was going to say Putin made him do it. Trump got leveraged from the git go. He thought that because there was no collusion, he was innocent. Silly man.We are all born with Original Sin. Hopefully our God or at least our sect and/or Political Party can purify our souls and deliver us from evil. Sorry, but it really is that simple. Catholic Nuns beat this knowledge into me. This message will self destruct in 30 seconds.

  2. jmg
    May 7, 2019 at 19:50

    “When they say they have ‘high confidence’, that means they don’t have any evidence!”
    — Bill Binney, former NSA Technical Director

    NSA Whistleblower Bill Binney: Intelligence Agencies Have Become American “Praetorian Guard”
    https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2018/08/15/nsa_whistleblower_bill_binney_intel_agencies_are_lying_to_the_public_and_the_president.html

    • Skip Scott
      May 8, 2019 at 07:38

      Actually it is a bit more complicated than that. Binney said the NSA had only “medium” confidence, and since they are the only agency that would have had solid evidence had a Russian hack occurred, they are the only agency that really mattered. Binney said “medium”confidence meant they didn’t have squat.

      • Early Hyacinth
        May 10, 2019 at 05:59

        Bingo! The mainstream media never raises this important point, probably at least in part because they haven’t even read the report.

  3. Robert Emmett
    May 7, 2019 at 11:56

    Particularly enjoyed this question from the article: “If Clapper & Co. couldn’t tell the difference between a news agency from a hostile intelligence service – or between legitimate criticism and a foreign attack – then what good is their judgment regarding other Russian government activities?”

    Gasbag Clapper and his hand-picked cronies started pumping out that phony baloney. Inflate the threat, conflate the cause, why the Mule could even pin the tale on Santy Klaus. But his pin was dull and the gas stayed lit, ‘til a quantum of fools believed it’s legit. Now the gas has dispersed (silent but deadly), the bag’s deflated. But the false believers still won’t be sated. Or convinced! When the guilty are all self-inter-dicted, who will be left to see them convicted?

    It’s still hard to decide if this entire enterprise was born of malicious malfeasance or stark raving dumbfuckery. Maybe some from each calum(ny)?

  4. AnneR
    May 7, 2019 at 09:30

    What the Mueller “investigation” and its succeeding evidence-free report were, I think at least in part, intended to do was to hobble all and any Strumpet efforts to engage with Russia, all and any (remote, I know) chances of Crumple bringing “back home” US troops from the perpetual war zones. And as a bonus, Mueller provided a deflection from Killary’s grotesqueness (like, in many ways, to the Strumpet’s), from the Demrats going along with the immoral and unethical tax handout to the 1 – 20% ers (including, of course, themselves), from the fact that the overwhelming majority of Demrats are as bellicose, greedy, as much a part of the ruling aristocracy and as eager to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (if not eliminate them), as pro-welfare-state for the MIC as any Republirat. And the Demrats are really chummy (word intended) with the Deep State – which only shows what arseholes they really are.

  5. Zhu
    May 7, 2019 at 01:28

    There are a Hell of a lot of Americans who want to believe nonsense that fits their prejudices. Hence the flourishing conspiracy fictions of our time.

  6. Mark M Giese
    May 6, 2019 at 23:10

    Realist wrote:

    “Mueller’s paid services of the last two years were and remain nothing more than a political device intended to extricate Donald Trump from the presidency of the United States.”

    Wholly ineffectual.

    Mueller wasn’t needed at all compared to:

    http://davidswanson.org/the-20-surest-paths-to-impeachment/

    Some of the dumbest words to have been spoken by Democrats:

    “Impeach Trump? Let’s wait for the Mueller Report.”

  7. Typingperson
    May 6, 2019 at 21:10

    Top notch, Mr. Lazare.

    Excellent questions.

    Mueller is a fixer. What he did with 9/11 and other cases that earlier posters have cited.

    Now a,bi-partisan fixer, which shows how bankrupt the Dems have become.

    He tried to square the circle on this one. Provides some meat for the crazy Dem collusionists, while keeping his a** semi-clean. Deniability.

  8. dave
    May 6, 2019 at 21:03

    It’s also worth pointing out the that the Internet Research Agency social media campaign that is supposed to have influenced the election in Trump’s favor began in January 2015 — 5 months before Trump declared his candidacy — and continued until August 2017 — 9 months after the election.

    That seems like an odd strategy for helping Trump in the election, even if all the posts had been pro-Trump and/or anti-Clinton, which they weren’t.

    But hey, I’m no “intelligence” official, so what do I know?

    • Typingperson
      May 6, 2019 at 21:13

      Yep. Cuz it was just Internet marketing. Not Russia meddling in election. So obvious.

      Funny how us regular folks get that.

  9. Gregory Herr
    May 6, 2019 at 19:01

    Well now Trump has gone and done it, talking with Putin again without sticking a finger in his eye to hold those baddies to account for their unspeakably devious interference in our reliable and uncorrupted elections.

    What is it about the word “hoax” those barking clowns at CNN and so on don’t understand?

  10. Electacountable
    May 6, 2019 at 16:36

    Squirrel……… if the masses weren’t woke by paying off overleveraged mortgages held by the banks while allowing the banks to still collect on them…. then nothing will.

  11. tom
    May 6, 2019 at 14:58

    Exactly ,more questions than answers.Hopefully Barr will get to the bottom of it.

  12. John Neal Spangler
    May 6, 2019 at 14:30

    Is this report the equivalent of perjury? The whole part blaming Russia is BS. UK and Ukraine interfered in the elections. Mueller should be prosecuted for this piece of crap.

    • Realist
      May 6, 2019 at 15:27

      Except possibly for Mr. Barr, anyone with the power to make your suggestion a reality is undoubtedly totally on board with Mueller’s confabulations. It proved impossible for Mueller to frame Trump, but nobody in Washington will object to yet another tar and feathering of Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation. In fact, in their sick minds, the unending stream of false narratives justifies continuing (nay, expanding!) their insane bellicose foreign policy and the American public is just too broke, too propagandized and too traumatized by daily events on the American Street to invest any sympathy in the quest for world peace and social justice. They never make the connection between the heinous actions of our government and the periodic blow-back that the media uses to whip up the next round of fury.

  13. worldblee
    May 6, 2019 at 14:02

    All are good questions–and all will remain unanswered by Mueller!

  14. Bob In Portland
    May 6, 2019 at 13:28

    Excellent article. But I think a lot of us could come up with ten different questions about the Mueller Report. Maybe in book form.

    By the way, I still have questions for Mueller about his prosecution of Pan Am 103. And Noriega. And the anthrax letters. And 9/11.

    • John Neal Spangler
      May 6, 2019 at 14:33

      You forgot about the FBI showing up at Sen. Wellstone’s plane crash site and saying no foul play

    • Realist
      May 6, 2019 at 15:09

      The man could have been a scriptwriter for Hollywood spy thrillers had he not chosen to write fiction for the Deep State as a career.

  15. Jeff Harrison
    May 6, 2019 at 13:14

    Mifsud is an MI6 asset. Sater is an FBI asset. Henry Oknyansky (one of his three names) is an FBI asset.

    When are the bozos in Washington going to recognize that this was a US/UK intelligence op, a psyop that most likely was conducted without the approval of the government itself. At the center of all this is the queen bee of incompetence and evil herself – Three Names.

    This is just the beginning of the out of control surveillance state.

    • Michael Shanahan
      May 6, 2019 at 21:34

      Jeff,
      It wouldn’t surprise my in the slightest that Obama went along with Brennan & Clappers’ stupid action. He always worked to please our spooks.

  16. Linda
    May 6, 2019 at 13:11

    for “highlight[ing] criticism of alleged U.S. shortcomings” — Criticizing shortcomings in your country is seen as a negative by totalitarian governments. That is NOT a negative in a healthy democracy. I rarely see this point being made.

  17. May 6, 2019 at 12:45

    Why didn’t Mueller’s team interview Assange, Murray or Binney? (rhetorical)

    • Bob In Portland
      May 6, 2019 at 13:30

      Mueller was respecting their privacy. (snark)

    • Realist
      May 6, 2019 at 15:02

      Short answer: Because Mueller’s investigation was never intended to be a search for the truth.

      Mueller’s paid services of the last two years were and remain nothing more than a political device intended to extricate Donald Trump from the presidency of the United States. In spite of much data conflation into fantastical false narratives remaining within the document, e.g., the totally unsubstantiated claims that Russia hacked the DNC’s, Podesta’s, and Hillary’s servers, fed that info to Wikileaks and ran an extensive and quite effective smear campaign against Clinton in the digital social media, Mueller still didn’t have any evidence of criminal collusion between Trump and Putin that might serve as a basis for Congressional or legal actions.

      If he had, you would have seen it up in lights and President Pence would have awarded him a Presidential Medal of Freedom for his unstinting service to save the republic. But being a career lawyer in the employ of the Deep State for most of his adult life, Uber-Spook Mueller realised that it was simply logically and ethically (the latter critical to his public credibility and fiduciary responsibilities) impossible to make that case with the pittance of lame evidence in his possession. Had he tried to force the issue, his true motives and role in this caper would have been exposed, his reputation ruined (even among the hard core apparatchiks) and he would have opened himself up to personal charges of misconduct.

      This was the same instinct for self-preservation that kicked in when Comey reopened the investigation of the Clinton servers just a handful of weeks before the election, and then quickly closed it again after he could claim due diligence and the complete absence of any alleged favoritism towards Mrs. Clinton. These charlatans are all as transparent as pure borosilicate window glass. It’s just that the public has the collective attention span of a gold fish. If RT had made the same analysis as I just did, they wouldn’t be guilty of political propaganda and meddling in America’s democracy, they’d be telling the simple truth… and doing the U.S. a big favor to expose the real villains always busy making our lives less than ideal.

      • Mark M Giese
        May 6, 2019 at 22:56

        Realist wrote:

        “Mueller’s paid services of the last two years were and remain nothing more than a political device intended to extricate Donald Trump from the presidency of the United States.”

        Wholly ineffectual.

        Mueller wasn’t needed at all compared to:

        http://davidswanson.org/the-20-surest-paths-to-impeachment/

        Some of the dumbest words to have been spoken by Democrats:

        “Impeach Trump? Let’s wait for the Mueller Report.”

Comments are closed.