A newly declassified memo on the scope of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation relied on allegations that appeared in British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s dossier as well as threats to deploy the rarely enforced Logan Act.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham made the memo public on Wednesday as part of his investigation of alleged Foreign Intelligence Surveillance abuses and other actions taken by law enforcement during the Crossfire Hurricane investigation.
The August 2017 memo, written by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, authorized Mueller to specific investigate allegations against former Trump campaign associate Carter Page, former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The allegations against Page in the memo echoed claims made against him in Steele’s unverified anti-Trump dossier, which the FBI and Justice Department knew by 2017 had potentially been compromised by Russian disinformation. The claims leveled against Flynn reference the possibility that Flynn broke the law under the Logan Act during his discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the Trump transition period. That law was passed in 1799 and has only been used to indict someone twice, in 1802 and 1852, with no convictions.
It is the second of three scope memos. The first has already been made public, while the third remains largely classified. Mueller’s 448-page report, released in April 2019, said the Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” but it “did not establish” any criminal conspiracy between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia. No one was ever charged with Russia collusion.
The first Mueller scope memo was part of Mueller’s appointment order by Rosenstein on May 17, 2017, just over a week after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey. Rosenstein authorized Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.”
The second Mueller scope memo, issued by Rosenstein on Aug. 2 and which until now had been almost entirely redacted aside from claims about Manafort, still includes redactions related to one target who has yet to be identified.
It shows the special counsel was tasked with investigating “allegations that Carter Page committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law.” Page was never charged with any wrongdoing.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December report criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Page in 2016 and 2017 and for the bureau’s reliance on Steele’s deeply flawed dossier. Steele put his research together at the behest of the opposition research firm Fusion GPS, funded by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee through the Perkins Coie law firm.
Mueller was also told to investigate “allegations that Michael Flynn committed a crime or crimes by engaging in conversations with Russian government officials during the period of the Trump transition [or] committed a crime or crimes by making false statements to the FBI when interviewed about his contacts with the Russian government.”
FBI records released last week have been touted by Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, as exculpatory evidence heretofore concealed from the defense team. They suggest Flynn may have been unfairly targeted and now-fired FBI agent Peter Strzok and others in the FBI’s leadership stopped the bureau from closing its investigation into Flynn in early January 2017 after investigators had uncovered “no derogatory information” on him. Emails from later that month show Strzok, along with then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page and several others, sought out ways to continue investigating Flynn, including through the Logan Act.
The special counsel was additionally told to scrutinize whether Flynn committed a crime “by failing to report foreign contacts and income” on a security clearance form “that he completed in anticipation of his being selected to serve as the National Security Adviser to President Trump.” And he was authorized to investigate whether Flynn “committed a crime or crimes by acting as an unregistered agent for the government of Turkey.”
Flynn is fighting to dismiss the government’s case against him. He pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to investigators about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador and agreed to cooperate with Mueller. But after switching legal teams, Flynn told the court earlier this year that he was “innocent of this crime,” and Powell said Flynn never would’ve pleaded guilty if he’d known how much was being concealed from him.
Mueller was authorized to look into “allegations that George Papadopolous committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law.” He was further told to determine whether Papadopoulos “committed a crime or crimes by acting as an unregistered agent of the government of Israel.”
Graham also made public on Wednesday a newly declassified 204-page transcript of a Nov. 26, 2016, conversation between Papadopoulos and a confidential human source sent by the FBI. Repeated denials by Papadopoulos about Trump-Russia collusion were never relayed to the FISA court. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October 2017 to making false statements to the FBI and served 12 days in federal prison.
It was already publicly known Mueller was given the power to investigate “allegations that Paul Manafort committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election … [or] committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.” Those details were released as part of Manafort’s criminal trial.
But what had been redacted until Wednesday was Mueller’s ability to look into whether Manafort “committed a crime or crimes arising out of his receipt of loans from a bank whose Chief Executive Officer was then seeking a position in the Trump Administration.”
The third Mueller scope memo, authored by Rosenstein on Oct. 20, 2017, has not been declassified yet, although it was described in Mueller’s report. This memo expanded Mueller’s investigation to include “the pertinent activities” of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, longtime Trump associate Roger Stone, former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, and two people whose names are redacted for reasons of “Personal Privacy.”
That third scope memo also “described an FBI investigation opened before the Special Counsel’s appointment into ‘allegations that [then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions] made false statements to the United States Senate’ and confirmed the Special Counsel’s authority to investigate that matter.” Sessions has never been charged with wrongdoing.
Attorney General William Barr has tasked U.S. Attorney John Durham with investigating the Trump-Russia investigators.
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