The Mueller report appears to have been carefully worded by the lawyers working under former special counsel Robert Mueller, and perhaps Mueller himself, in a manner designed to inflict political damage on President Donald Trump.
Additionally, we now know that sections of the report were also selectively edited to provide damaging portrayals. Examples include the representation of the transcript of a phone call between the president’s attorney, John Dowd, and the attorney for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, a letter from the attorney of an individual referenced in the Mueller report, and a sequence of dates concerning the meeting between Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos and Australian diplomat Alexander Downer.
Lastly, there are troubling and disturbing details surrounding a heavily used witness in the Mueller report, George Nader.
What makes these examples particularly notable is that access to the underlying material used in the Mueller report is extremely limited. In each of the instances where information is publicly available—documents released in the ongoing Flynn case, a rebuttal letter from lawyers for the individual mentioned in the Mueller report, and details surrounding the Papadopoulos case—they highlight inconsistencies, thereby raising concerns that Mueller’s report may be hiding many more such problems.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) highlighted the Dowd transcript in a May 31 tweet, saying, “This is why we need all backup and source documentation for the #muellerdossier released publicly. It’s all a fraud…”
Selective Editing in President’s Lawyer’s Voicemail
Contained within the executive summary to Volume II of the report, which pertains to Mueller’s obstruction investigation, is a section dedicated to an interaction between Dowd and attorneys for Flynn.
As previously reported, “the Nov. 22, 2017, voicemail from Trump’s lawyer to Flynn’s lawyer was prompted by Flynn’s withdrawal from a joint defense agreement with Trump, in order to enter a plea agreement with the special counsel. The Mueller report states that Flynn’s attorneys returned the call the next day.”
Flynn’s attorneys reportedly told the special counsel that “the President’s personal counsel was indignant and vocal in his disagreement” and also stated that Dowd told them that he interpreted what they said to him as “a reflection of Flynn’s hostility toward the president,” Flynn’s attorneys also reportedly said they “understood that statement to be an attempt to make them reconsider their position because the President’s personal counsel believed that Flynn would be disturbed to know that such a message would be conveyed to the President.”
Notably, Dowd was never interviewed by the special counsel, who cited attorney-client privilege issues as the reason in a footnote within the report. Dowd’s voicemail was edited in the presentation within the Mueller report to appear as follows:
“I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. … [I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with … the government. … [I]f … there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, … so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests if we can …. [R]emember what we’ ve always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains …”
This somewhat menacing version leaves out important details and distorts the actual context of Dowd’s voicemail. Dowd’s full message was actually far more friendly and touched on two distinctly separate matters. Particularly noteworthy is the fact that Dowd specifically cautioned Flynn’s attorney that he wasn’t requesting any confidential information:
“Hey, Rob, uhm, this is John again. Uh, maybe, I-I-I’m-I’m sympathetic; I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t … state it in … starker terms. If you have … and it wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with, and, uh, work with the government, uh … I understand that you can’t join the joint defense; so that’s one thing. If, on the other hand, we have, there’s information that. .. implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, or maybe a national security issue, I don’t know … some issue, we got to-we got to deal with, not only for the President, but for the country. So … uh … you know, then-then, you know, we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of … protecting all our interests, if we can, without you having to give up any … confidential information. So, uhm, and if it’s the former, then, you know, remember what we’ve always said about the President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains, but-Well, in any event, uhm, let me know, and, uh, I appreciate your listening and taking the time. Thanks, Pal.”
The Dowd discrepancies were first discovered by a researcher on the internet who goes under the Twitter name Rosie Memos.
Dowd himself also responded to a fellow attorney on Twitter with a short statement on the discrepancy in the report, noting “It is unfair and despicable. It was a friendly privileged call between counsel – with NO conflict. I think Flynn got screwed.”
Dowd also issued a more formal statement, in which he noted that he had “provided to Flynn’s counsel, advice and encouragement to provide to the SC as part of his effort to cooperate with SC. SC never raised or questioned the President’s counsel about these allegations despite numerous opportunities to do so.”
In a recent interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Dowd noted, “Isn’t it ironic that this man who kept indicting and prosecuting people for process crimes committed a false statement in his own report. By taking out half my words, they changed the tenor and the contents of that conversation with [Flynn lawyer] Robert Kelner.”
The Rtskhiladze Texts
Another example of selected editing exists in a short sequence detailing communications between former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and Giorgi Rtskhiladze, who was born in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and has been a US citizen since 2017.
The Mueller report, which incorrectly refers to Rtskhiladze as a “Russian businessman,” contains excerpts of some texts between the two men:
“On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. “
Rtskhiladze said ” tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump, rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia.
Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze.
Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen.”
In a strongly worded 10-page letter to Attorney General William Barr that includes attachments with photos of the actual texts, a lawyer for Rtskhiladze walked through each allegation and provided more lengthy rebuttals. The attorney noted that Rtskhiladze indicated to Cohen “that there was nothing to the rumors of the tapes, and that he did not believe there were any tapes, nor had he seen what was on the tapes, even if they existed.”
The Mueller report also removed the word “some” from the text transcript. The original text exchange read “some tapes,” indicating Rtskhiladze did not know actual details about the tapes. Follow-on dialogue that provided context was also removed by the special counsel, but was highlighted by Rtskhiladze’s lawyer in the letter to Barr:
Rtskhiladze: Stopped flow of some tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so u know.
Cohen: Tapes of what?
Rtskhiladze: Not sure of content but person in Moscow bragging [that he] had tapes from Russia trip. Will try to dial you tomorrow but wanted to be aware. I’m sure it’s not a big deal but there are lots of stupid people.
Cohen: You have no idea.
Rtskhiladze: I do trust me.
It seems clear from the actual texts that Rtskhiladze didn’t know what was on the tapes nor did he know exactly who said they had them. Rtskhiladze’s lawyer specifically noted that Rtskhiladze “does not know and cannot identify who allegedly made the statements about the tapes.”
Rtskhiladze’s lawyer noted that this information was specifically conveyed to the special counsel lawyers, and that both the FBI and the attorneys who authored the report are in possession of all the text messages between Rtskhiladze and Cohen. He closed his letter with a demand for a “full and immediate retraction of these gross misstatements.”
Papadopoulos’s Meeting With Downer
In the sequence of events surrounding George Papadopoulos’ meeting with Alexander Downer, there is a small discrepancy in dates. Papadopoulos was a low-level adviser to the Trump campaign during the 2016 elections. His meeting with Downer, who at the time was Australia’s top diplomat in the UK, has been credited as the reason why the FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign.
The Mueller report notes that “On May 6, 2016, 10 days after that meeting with Mifsud, Papadopoulos suggested to a representative of a 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 that would be damaging to Hillary Clinton.” Joseph Mifsud is a Maltese academic who told Papadopoulos that the Russians had dirt “in the form of thousands of Clinton emails.”
Publicly available information has always shown that Papadopoulos met with Downer on May 10th—and both Downer and the Australian government appear to stand by this date.
While it might appear that the difference in dates is small, it becomes more significant in the context of two different meetings that took place on or about May 6, ahead of the Downer meeting on May 10th.
On May 5 or 6, 2016, immediately following an interview with The Times of London—in which Papadopoulos said then-Prime Minister David Cameron should apologize for calling Trump “divisive, stupid, and wrong”—two Americans from the U.S. embassy in the UK, Gregory Baker and Terrence Dudley, reached out to him and they met for dinner.
“They’re spending a lot of money on me, they’re probing me, they’re asking me about my ties in the Middle East. They’re asking me about what Trump wants to do with Russia,” Papadopoulos noted during a Nov. 2, 2018, interview with podcast host Dan Bongino. Papadopoulos said he was “just deflecting them” throughout the entire dinner.
Why did these men reach out to Papadopoulos and what U.S. agencies did they represent? And who instructed the two men to reach out to Papadopoulos in the first place?
The day following Papadopoulos’ meeting with the two Americans, he was contacted by Erika Thompson, who wrote to him: “Hi George, I would just like to let you know that Alexander Downer just wants to meet with you.” Thompson, who was previously introduced to Papadopoulos by her boyfriend, an Israeli diplomat named Christian Cantor, has been described by Papadopoulos as an Australian intelligence officer and an assistant to Downer. Sources have denied to Australian media that Thompson is an ASIS agent, but is instead a “mainstream DFAT officer.”
As Papadopoulos correctly noted in his interview with Bongino, Downer “isn’t a random low-level Australian diplomat. This man ran the equivalent of the CIA in Australia for 17 years. He was the foreign minister and he was their biggest diplomat in London.”
The discrepancy in the dates, as well as the omission of the other key meetings in the Mueller report, point to either an intent to obscure and conflate certain events, or outright sloppiness on the part of the report’s authors.
Rosenstein, Sessions Discussed Need to Remove Comey
The firing of former FBI Director James Comey features prominently in Volume II of the Mueller report, as does the role of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but again several critical bits of information appear to have been left out. The Mueller report notes that former White House counsel Don McGahn sought out the views of both Sessions and Rosenstein during a May 8, 2017, meeting that also included Jody Hunt, who was Sessions’ chief of staff:
“Sessions, Rosenstein, and Hunt met with McGahn and White House Counsel’s Office attorney Uttam Dhillon at the White House. McGahn said that the President had decided to fire Comey and asked for Sessions’ and Rosenstein’s views. Sessions and Rosenstein criticized Comey and didn’t raise concerns about replacing him.
McGahn and Dhillon said the fact that neither Sessions nor Rosenstein objected to replacing Comey gave them peace of mind that the President’s decision to fire Comey was not an attempt to obstruct justice.”
The report also noted that “Hunt, who was in the room, recalled that Sessions responded that he had previously recommended that Comey be replaced. McGahn and Dhillon said Rosenstein described his concerns about Comey’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.”
While the report does acknowledge that Hunt remembered Sessions saying he had previously recommended Comey be fired, no further details surrounding this recommendation are provided. And left out of the report was the fact that Rosenstein and Sessions had discussed the need to fire Comey as far back as Sessions’ nomination for Attorney General—and well before Rosenstein’s April 25, 2017, confirmation as DAG.
On May 19, 2017, Rosenstein testified before Congress, stating: “On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input. Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.” As for the memo he wrote recommending Comey be fired, Rosenstein said: “I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it.”
Rosenstein then testified that he had discussed removing Comey with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions prior to Sessions’ confirmation as attorney general:
“In one of my first meetings with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI. Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements, and eliminate leaks.”
Rosenstein and Sessions had both thought Comey needed to be removed as FBI director long before the president took action to fire him. Although their reasons for the need to fire Comey may have differed from the president, these opinions—likely voiced to the president directly—add additional context to Comey’s firing that is missing from the report.
Why Was Nader Allowed to Leave Country
Another issue that has arisen is the testimony of George Nader, who is mentioned more than 100 times in the Mueller report. Nader, who worked as an adviser for the United Arab Emirates, arranged a meeting between Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian national who heads Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, and Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, during the transition period following the 2016 presidential election.
The Mueller report notes that “Nader provided information to the Office in multiple interviews, all but one of which were conducted under a proffer agreement.” Proffer or “queen for a day” letters are agreements under which individuals who are under criminal investigation can provide prosecutors with information with some assurances against prosecution.
Nader wasn’t the only individual to receive a proffer agreement—both Prince and former senior White House adviser Steve Bannon were also interviewed under similar terms. Neither Prince nor Bannon has been charged or referred for any crime by the special counsel.
Although the media has frequently reported Nader as being tied solely to the Trump campaign, this description is inaccurate. The Mueller report notes that “Nader developed contacts with both U.S. presidential campaigns during the 2016 election” and ABC News reported that Nader “had frequent access to almost every White House — Democrat and Republican — since President Ronald Reagan was in office — except for the Obama White House — sources and records showed.”
Nader was arrested June 3 on charges of possessing child pornography on one of his cell phones. The sequence of events leading to his arrest is telling. On Jan. 17, 2018, Nader was interviewed by FBI agents on a matter unrelated to the current charges. At the conclusion of the interview, Nader was notified of a search warrant for his phones.
The FBI already had the serial numbers of all three phones, although one phone was mistakenly identified as an iPhone 6+, when it was actually an iPhone 7. Although not definitive, the fact that the FBI had the serial numbers of Nader’s three phones suggest there may have been some sort of surveillance prior to his January interview.
On Feb. 12, 2018, the phones were searched for evidence under the search warrant, which was unrelated to any matters of child pornography. It was at this point that the child pornography was discovered and referred to the charging agent.
On March 8, 2018, journalist Natasha Bertrand broke the story of 1985 child pornography allegations against Nader, as was recently pointed out by an internet researcher on Twitter. On March 15, 2018, the Associated Press reported that Nader had been convicted by Prague’s Municipal Court of 10 cases of sexually abusing minors and sentenced to a one-year prison term in May 2003. He was later expelled from the country.
On March 16, a search warrant was obtained by the FBI to allow for the search of Nader’s phone for child pornography; the same day, a Politico article detailed a 1991 conviction of Nader for child pornography. On April 19, 2018, a sealed complaint was filed against Nader for possession of child pornography, although Nader was no longer in the country. He didn’t return to the United States until June 3, when he was arrested. If convicted on the charges, Nader faces a minimum of 15 years in prison and a maximum of 40 years.
Representing him during what was reported as seven interviews with staff of the office of the special counsel was Kathryn Ruemmler, who served as White House counsel under Obama and had previously worked with Andrew Weissmann, a prosecutor on the Mueller team, on the Enron Task Force.
According to the Washington Post, following Nader’s initial FBI interview at Dulles Airport, “over the following weeks, Nader began to cooperate with authorities, providing grand jury testimony about his interactions with Trump supporters, according to people familiar with the matter.” Given that Nader’s cooperation with the special counsel appears to have occurred through at least February, Nader’s possession of child pornography was known to at least some within the FBI while Nader was providing testimony to Mueller’s team.
If accurate, this raises substantial questions as to why Nader was later allowed to leave the country, given the Feb. 12, 2018, discovery of the child pornography on his phone.
The larger question raised by these issues is the notable omission of critical details within the Mueller report—many of them taking place in Volume II, which deals with issues of obstruction.
If it’s this easy to uncover discrepancies with limited public information, one wonders what may exist in comparison to underlying source documents.