Russian military intelligence apparently successfully penetrated an unnamed Florida county election system and gained “access to the network of at least one Florida county government.”
And that’s just one of the findings in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated report released Thursday. In the sprawling 448-page, partially redacted report, Mueller methodically laid out Russia’s efforts to sway the 2016 election toward President Trump and revealed a web of connections between some of his cohorts, a Russia-affiliated cast of characters and WikiLeaks.
Among Mueller’s findings:
A Russian spearphishing campaign successfully penetrated the election systems in a Florida county. The nation-state’s GRU military intelligence unit “sent spearphishing emails with an malware-laced Word attachment to more than “120 email accounts used by Florida county officials responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. election” in November of that year, the report said. “We understand the FBI believes that this operation enabled the GRU to gain access to the network of at least one” county government in the state.
“Unfortunately, most vendors used by election officials are not using email authentication, and neither are Florida state and local governments,” said Peter Goldstein, CTO and co-founder of Valimail. “And most email inboxes today will accept email from any sender that lacks authentication without additional identity checks. This is an obvious open door, and the Mueller report shows that the Russians were not shy about walking through it.”
WikiLeaks pushed a conspiracy theory to obscure the source of stolen Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) emails that it released with precision during the waning weeks of the 2016 campaign. Some of the most heavily redacted portions of the report deal with the whistleblower site’s efforts to weaponize DNC emails during the election. One member of the organization claimed WikiLeaks wanted to be a “player” in the election while founder Julian Assange, recently arrested and removed from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he’d sought asylum seven years ago, said “it would be better for the GOP to win” because he believed Clinton was a “bright, well-connected, sadistic sociopath.” Assange also fueled a conspiracy theory about the murder of DNC staff member Seth Rich. “As reports attributing the DNC and DCCC hacks to the Russian government emerged, WikiLeaks and Assange made several public statements apparently designed to obscure the source of the materials that WikiLeaks was releasing,” Mueller said. Evidence of a file transfer between WikiLeaks and the GRU “and other information uncovered during the investigation discredit WikiLeaks’s claims about the source of material that it posted.”
In written answers to Mueller last year, that the special counsel eventually deemed “insufficient,” Trump said he had “no recollection of being told that WikiLeaks possessed or might possess emails related to [former Clinton Campaign Chairman] John Podesta before the release of Mr. Podesta’s emails was being reported by the media.”
Members and affiliates of the Trump team courted WikiLeaks. Long-time Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone, who now awaits trial on charges stemming from the Mueller probe, bragged openly about his contacts with WikiLeaks and with Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0, a persona fronting for the GRU. The president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., had numerous contacts with WikiLeaks, at least twice publishing links to information at the organization’s request and inquiring about an reported upcoming leak. Former Trump Campaign Deputy Manager Rick Gates, who has been indicted and cooperating with investigators, said Trump said “more releases of damaging information would be coming.”
But the president wrote that he “didn’t recall discussing WikiLeaks” with Stone or anyone else in his campaign.
Interactions, but no collusion.“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in the election interference activities,” the report said, detailing numerous interactions – from the storied June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the younger Trump, Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer who was to deliver “dirt on Hillary Clinton” to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s meeting with a Russian contingent during the transition.
The report also recounts Kushner, when told by Flynn that there was no secure facility from which the transition team could be briefed by Russian generals “on the topic using a secure communications line,” asking then Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak “if they could communicate using secure facilities at the Russian Embassy. Kislyak quickly rejected that idea.
Interference in the interference probe was considerable enough to hamper investigaters. Mueller’s investigators“established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters” and that “those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.”
Some of the individuals were charged for violating “the federal false statements statute,” and the report noted that Trump tried on numerous occasions to quash the investigation even soliciting the help of former NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers to help discourage the probe, though Mueller did not charge the president himself with obstruction.
While the special counsel declined to bring charges against the president, his eldest son and some others in his inner circle regarding interactions with Russian operatives because evidence did not meet the legal standard and left further determinations on obstruction and other potential charges to Congress and the Justice Department.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report said.
After the Mueller delivered his report to the Justice Department in late March, Attorney General William Barr declined to pursue obstruction charges against the president and on Thursday contended that Trump acted out of frustration and anger rather than a criminal intent to obstruct.