The Robert Mueller report is not just a tale of Trump-Russia links but also a depiction of how political operatives try to cash in on a presidential campaign.
The special counsel’s laborious dissection of various Russian contacts turned out to be Trump principals leveraging their status to try to arrange lucrative consulting contracts.
Trump associates complain that the Mueller report dedicates verbiage to innocent networking that was never tied to the investigation’s main purpose: election conspiracy. The Justice Department’s mandate to Mr. Mueller was to investigate “any links” between Trump and Russia.
Mr. Mueller portrays Carter Page, a onetime campaign volunteer who runs an investment firm, as a businessman seeking new energy deals in Russia during and after the election.
Mr. Page, like other Mueller critics, says the prosecuting team that wrote the report was stocked with biased Hillary Clinton supporters.
“The desperate Democrat liars on the Mueller witch hunt team rank high among the most hypocritical, long-term Washingtonians in the swamp, and that’s really saying something,” Mr. Page told The Washington Times. “I have never sought to make one cent from my involvement in the Trump movement, yet they themselves supported one of the worst and most dangerous criminal cabals in history. A multimillion-dollar operation.”
Mr. Page describes the “cabal” as an alliance of the FBI, Democrats and the news media.
Paul Manafort worked as campaign chairman sans salary. His long-term hope was to rekindle a steady flow of cash as a consultant to Ukrainian politicians.
George Papadopoulos, whose maneuverings in London sparked the Trump-Russia investigation, injected himself into the storyline by accepting a $3,000 research assignment from Stefan Halper. The Mueller report said Papadopoulos eventually wanted to meet rich Russians.
Mr. Halper, an Oxford professor tied to the British intelligence community, turned out to be an FBI informant. Mr. Halper, who also ingratiated himself to Mr. Page, has maintained a low profile for months. What he reported back to his handlers remains secret.
In another report anecdote, Rick Gerson, director of the hedge fund Falcon Edge Capital and best friends with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, met postelection with Kirill Dmitriev.
The English-speaking Mr. Dmitriev runs Russia’s sovereign wealth fund. He maintains a direct line of communication to Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he calls “the boss.” Mr. Dmitriev is also Mr. Putin’s connection to all things Persian Gulf.
The Russian and New York fund managers came together in late November 2016 via the national security adviser for the United Arab Emirates.
During the transition, Mr. Gerson worked with Mr. Dmitriev on a blueprint for better U.S.-Russia relations. They also talked business: a possible joint investment venture. But talks ended in March 2017, the Mueller report says.
Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s attorney turned accuser, immediately hung a shingle in 2016 as the man who could provide, for a price, deep insights into the new White House.
In the end, none of these businessmen was charged with any election crimes. Mr. Mueller said his 22-month investigation failed to establish a Trump conspiracy with Moscow to interfere in the 2016 election.
To arrive at that end, Mr. Mueller investigated Russian contacts relying on testimony, texts, emails, memos, phone calls, and train and plane schedules. The information-gathering produced a Mueller narrative that is heavy on networking and light on election colluding.
“The real purpose of the Mueller dossier … was to help Democrats impeach the president in the absence of any evidence of collusion,” said Rep. Devin Nunes of California, senior Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
“Thus the report includes a long litany of ordinary contacts between Trump associates and Russians, as if a certain number of contacts indicate a conspiracy even if no conversations actually created or even discussed a conspiracy,” Mr. Nunes said.
Here are some significant Trump players whom the media portrayed as the key to finding collusion, but who were basically looking to make money:
Mr. Mueller depicts Manafort as a seasoned wheeler-dealer determined to capitalize on his Trump association to rebuild a political consulting business. The prosecutor’s main source is Rick Gates, Manafort’s former partner who made a deal to rat on his boss in exchange for leniency.
The chronicle begins with Manafort visiting candidate Trump at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, and winning a campaign job on the spot.
“Manafort had no meaningful income at this point in time, but resuscitating his domestic political campaign career could be financially beneficial in the future,” Mr. Mueller writes. “Gates reported that Manafort intended, if Trump won the Presidency, to remain outside the Administration and monetize his relationship with the Administration.”
One tactic was to trade polling data for future considerations.
The report said Manafort, an old Republican hand who became Trump campaign manager from March to August, shared polling with his Ukrainian aide, Konstantin Kilimnik.
“Manafort did not see a downside to sharing campaign information, and told Gates that his role in the Campaign would be ‘good for business’ and potentially a way to be made whole for work he previously completed in the Ukraine,” the Mueller report said.
His new status might persuade Ukrainian officials to pay up on $2 million in debts. He also wanted to mend fences with a former lucrative client, Russian industrialist Oleg Deripaska.
Manafort emailed Mr. Kilimnik to make sure his Kiev friends were aware he was now on the Trump team. Mr. Kilimnik responded that “Yesterday I’ve been sending everything” to a Deripaska deputy.
“As to Deripaska,” the Mueller report said, “Manafort claimed that by sharing campaign information with him, Deripaska might see value in their relationship and resolve a ‘disagreement’ — a reference to one or more outstanding lawsuits.”
Manafort earned millions of dollars from Mr. Deripaska in the mid-2000s working for his pro-Russia candidates. Manafort created an investment company funded solely by the oligarch. The fund tanked, triggering estrangement and litigation between Manafort and Mr. Deripaska.
After the Nov. 8 election, Manafort went right to work.
“Manafort instead preferred to stay on the ‘outside,’ and monetize his campaign position to generate business given his familiarity and relationship with Trump and the incoming Administration,” the Mueller report said. “Manafort appeared to follow that plan, as he traveled to the Middle East, Cuba, South Korea, Japan, and China and was paid to explain what a Trump presidency would entail.”
Nowhere in Mr. Mueller’s retelling does the relationship touch on election interference.
Mr. Page ranks among the most conspicuous Trump-Russia figures. A pro-Russia energy investor who worked in Moscow as a Merrill Lynch banker, Mr. Page is the only known target of an FBI wiretap. The bureau interviewed him seven times in 2017.
Democratic Party-financed dossier writer Christoper Steele, in his opposition research, wrongly accused him of various election conspiracies. Mr. Page’s big mistake appears to be his decision to travel to Moscow in early July to deliver the commencement address at the New Economic School.
The Mueller report depicts Mr. Page as a one-man investment shop looking for Russian business.
On his personal Moscow trip, Mr. Page met with an old friend, an investor relations executive at Gazprom, the huge Russian energy firm.
“Page also met with individuals from Tatneft, a Russian energy company, to discuss possible business deals, including having Page work as a consultant,” the Mueller report said.
After his Russia visit stirred negative press stories, the campaign distanced itself from Mr. Page, who subsequently failed to land an administration job.
He traveled again to Moscow in December “in an attempt to pursue business opportunities,” the Mueller report said.
Mr. Kilimnik entered the picture as an indirect Mueller source. He wrote an email to Manafort that said, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine.”
Mr. Page had dinner with New Economic School employees. Stopping by was Deputy Russian Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich. He asked Mr. Page to facilitate links to the presidential transition.
The report narration ends there.
After undergoing months of intense FBI scrutiny, including a year’s worth of wiretaps that allowed agents to pry into all types of communications retroactive to his campaign tenure, Mr. Page faced no charges.
“The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election,” the Mueller report said.
Mr. Page told The Washington Times, “The DNC-FBI-Obama administration’s shared end objective of political sabotage proved highly successful and risked the lives of volunteer U.S. intelligence community informants like me in the process.”
The Mueller report suggests Papadopoulos, an energy consultant, always had his eye on business opportunities with rich Russians.
Mr. Mueller spends pages describing the Trump volunteer networking among London’s think tank circles to try to arrange a candidate meeting with the Kremlin. It was Papadopoulos’ alleged comment to Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer that Moscow owned dirt on Mrs. Clinton that prompted the FBI to open the investigation on July 31, 2016.
Russia had hacked Democratic Party computers and began leaking them through WikiLeaks on July 22.
The report also delves into Papadopoulos’ short-term contact with another Trump-Russia celebrity: Sergei Millian.
Mr. Millian is a Belarusian American who promoted business deals at the fringe of the Trump real estate empire. His celebrity came from being named in press reports as a secondhand source for information in the infamous and discredited Steele dossier.
Mr. Millian has denied he was a source for any information. The Mueller report said he resides outside the U.S. Investigators contacted him numerous times, but he refused to make himself available for an interview.
Mr. Millian first reached out to Papadopoulos in July 2016, and soon they were chatting about future business deals.
“On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election,” said the Mueller report, “Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian ‘billionaires who are not under sanctions.’”
The report was quoting a Millian Facebook message to Papadopoulos.
The report continues: “The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago. According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration. The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C., bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.”
There the Millian-Papadopoulos account ends.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about the timing and extent of his meetings in London. Once seen as the key to unlocking Russian collusion, he was never charged with any conspiracies.
Cohen overtly tried to cash in on his long association with Mr. Trump.
The Mueller report makes brief mention of Essential Consultants LLC, the shell company Cohen set up in October 2016. It was the vehicle for paying $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels, a porn actress who claims a one-night fling with Mr. Trump years ago.
Cohen became a cooperating witness for Mr. Mueller, who sent the Daniels payoff investigation to the U.S. attorney in Manhattan.
Cohen pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws as well as tax fraud and lying to Congress. He is serving a three-year sentence at a minimum security prison in Otisville, New York.
After Mr. Trump won the presidency, Cohen turned Essential Consultants into a place to collect millions of dollars from well-heeled corporate heads wanting advice on how to deal with the White House.
The Justice Department authorized Mr. Mueller to investigate the LLC because one corporation had ties to a Russian oligarch.
The Mueller report contains no evidence that Cohen or Essential Consultants was linked to election collusion with Russia.
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