The Four Clues in Mueller’s Indictment That Point to Collusion

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At almost the exact moment that President Donald Trump arrived at Windsor Castle to meet Queen Elizabeth II, at the apotheosis of his visit to Britain this week, the Justice Department announced a series of charges in Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference. Just after noon on Friday, a grand jury in Washington delivered indictments against 12 Russian military officers who were acting in “their official capacities” as members of the G.R.U., a Russian intelligence agency, for alleged crimes related to the hacking and release of Democratic e-mails. According to the Justice Department, the hacking targeted Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Democratic National Committee, and released the stolen files under the names DCLeaks, Guccifer 2.0, and another unnamed entity.

The great unanswered question is whether there are more indictments to come—and whether any associates of the Trump campaign will be charged the next time. While a handful of Americans, including Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, have pleaded guilty in the Russia probe, Mueller has yet to accuse anyone of anything like “collusion”—a fact that White House eagerly pointed out Friday in response to the latest set of indictments. Still, there are plenty of signs that Mueller is just getting started:

Russia appears to have responded to Trump’s call to “find” Clinton’s e-mails.

The most blatant indication of “collusion” has mostly been written off as a joke. During a press conference on July 27, 2016, months before the election, Trump famously urged Russia, “if you’re listening,” to “find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing”—referring to documents that had been deleted from Clinton’s personal e-mail server. Trump later said he was speaking in jest. However, the latest indictment suggests that the Russians took Trump seriously. That evening, according to the Justice Department, “the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time e-mail accounts at a domain hosted by a third party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six e-mail addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.”

It wasn’t the first time the Russian hackers had allegedly begun to probe Clinton’s campaign, but it was the first time they specifically targeted her personal office. That doesn’t mean that Trump broke any law—to have aided and abetted the hacking, Trump must also have had intent to promote a crime—a high bar for a man who makes constant “jokes” about legal violations.

Guccifer 2.0 communicated with someone in contact with the Trump campaign.

Trump or his associates could be in more of a pickle, however, if it were revealed that they had foreknowledge of the Russian hacking—and here Mueller again drops clues. According to the indictment, a figure posing as Guccifer 2.0 communicated with “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign.” In August 2016, the indictment says, “Guccifer 2.0” wrote to this person, “Thank u for writing back . . . do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” Two days later, they said, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow . . . it would be a great pleasure to me.”

In another instance, the unidentified person—widely speculated to be Trump confidant Roger Stone—responded to Guccifer 2.0. Referring to a stolen D.C.C.C. document posted online, Guccifer 2.0 asked, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person they were in contact wrote back: “pretty standard.” (Stone has denied that he is the person referred to in the indictment.)

WikiLeaks allegedly colluded with the indicted Russians.

Were there additional points of contact between the Russians and associates of the Trump campaign, using WikiLeaks as an intermediary? We already know that Donald Trump Jr., Stone, and a Cambridge Analytica director, among others, had communications with WikiLeaks—alleged by U.S. intelligence agencies to function as a Russian cutout.

In Friday’s indictment, Mueller refers to “Organization 1,” a name that presumably refers to WikiLeaks, and asserts that it was coordinating the publication of the leaked D.N.C. e-mails with Guccifer 2.0. If true, it would mean that WikiLeaks was not a neutral journalistic interest in the hacking saga, but, perhaps, an active participant.

In the summer of 2016, according to the D.O.J., “Organization 1” wrote to Guccifer 2.0, asking it to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will . . . have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” Then they added: “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” Guccifer 2.0 responded: “ok . . . i see.”

An unnamed congressional candidate asked Guccifer for hacked information about an opponent.

According to the indictment, “a candidate for U.S. Congress” contacted “Guccifer 2.0” requesting stolen information from the D.N.C.’s leaked server “on or about” August 15, 2016—the date the Guccifer 2.0 blog published a stolen D.C.C.C. memo. The memo doesn’t name a candidate involved in the conversation, or their party affiliation. But the fact that Mueller makes a note of the connection seems remarkable.

As with the other references to U.S. political actors in communication with Russians or Russian-associated entities, the special counsel’s office appears to be building a framework for drawing connections between Moscow and Trump. The 29-page indictment did not allege that any Americans had committed any crimes. But it explicitly does not preclude that possibility, either. So far, Mueller has filed more than 100 criminal charges against 32 people and three companies, but has not yet completed his inquiry. The special counsel is reportedly still seeking an interview with the president, himself, ahead of possible obstruction of justice charges in the fall.





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