Trump has since insisted that he was joking in that speech. But the public comments mirrored private orders. After the speech, “Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” the report states. “Michael Flynn … recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.”
David A. Graham: Mueller’s damning portrait of Trump
Two of the people contacted by Flynn were Barbara Ledeen and Peter Smith. Ledeen had been working on recovering the emails for a while already, Mueller reports. Smith, only weeks after Trump’s speech, sprang into action himself on the subject. Ledeen ultimately obtained emails that proved to be not authentic. Smith, for his part, “drafted multiple emails stating or intimating that he was in contact with Russian hackers”—though Mueller notes that the investigation “did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails.”
In other words, Trump wasn’t above dealing with Russian hackers to get Hillary Clinton’s emails. The reason there’s no foul here, legally speaking, is only that the whole thing was a wild conspiracy theory. The idea that the missing 30,000 emails had been retrieved was never more than conjecture, after all. The idea that they would be easily retrievable from the so-called dark web was a kind of fantasy. In other words, even as a real hacking operation was going on, Trump personally, his campaign, and his campaign followers were actively attempting to collude with a fake hacking operation over fake emails.
Then there are the more-than-100 pages detailing Russian contacts and links with the Trump campaign and business. Mueller looks at these through a legal lens; he’s a prosecutor, after all, looking to answer legal questions. But I found myself reading it through a very different lens: patriotism.
Mueller concludes, after detailing the contacts, that “the investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government. Those links included Russian offers of assistance to the Campaign. In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away. Ultimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.”
It is not hard to see how he came to the conclusion that charges for conspiracy would not be plausible based on the contacts Mueller describes. For starters, a number of the individual incidents that looked deeply suspicious when they first came to light do look more innocent after investigation. These include the change in the Republican Party’s platform on Ukraine at the Republican National Convention, for example, as well as Jeff Sessions and other campaign officials’ various encounters with the omnipresent former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. On these matters, Mueller does seem to have found that nothing untoward happened.