Mueller Report Is About ‘Cyber Crimes’ Rod Rosenstein Says, But That’s Not What He Told Mueller To Do In 2017

The man who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel in 2017 appears to have a very different view of the Russia investigation now than he did then.

Rod Rosenstein speaks
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The man who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel in 2017 appears to have a very different view of the Russia investigation now than he did then.

Speaking to a private audience at Washington, D.C.’s elite Metropolitan Club on Friday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who appointed Robert Mueller special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation, revealed that Mueller’s report of his findings focuses on “cyber crimes,” according to a report by Bloomberg News.

Along with Attorney General William Barr, Rosenstein is one of only two Justice Department officials known to have read the entire Mueller Report, according to NPR.

But if the report of Rosenstein’s comments is accurate, then the focus of Mueller’s 22-month investigation differed significantly from the original instructions Mueller received when he was appointed in 2017 — instructions that were written and signed by Rosenstein himself. Those instructions, in the form of a one-page letter, are posted online via CNN on DocumentCloud.

In Rosenstein’s instructions to Mueller, the special counsel was authorized to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump.” Mueller was also told to investigate any “matters” arising from the investigation. The instructions of Rosenstein do not specifically limit the investigation to, or even mention, “cyber crimes.”

But Rosenstein’s reported claim that “a lot of what we see” in the Mueller report will deal with cyber crimes may not square with an assertion made in a court hearing by a top prosecutor who worked for Mueller, according to Bloomberg reporter Jennifer Jacobs on Twitter.

Robert Mueller smiles.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller focused mainly on “cyber crimes” the man who appointed him now says. Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

In a February closed-door hearing, Special Counsel’s Office Prosector Andrew Weissman expressed a very different view of the events at the “heart” of Mueller’s investigation, according to a Washington Post report.

Twice during the 2016 campaign, Trump Campaign Chair Paul Manafort met with a Russian business associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, who had been identified by Mueller as having significant ties to Russian intelligence organizations, according to The Guardian. At one of those meetings, Manafort passed internal campaign polling data to the alleged Russian agent.

The Manafort-Kilimnik secret meeting and the transfer of polling data to the possible Russian intelligence operative goes “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating,” Weissmann told a judge in the sealed hearing, according to the Washington Post report.

“That meeting — and what happened at that meeting — is of significance to the special counsel,” Weismann said.

Why Mueller would have limited his focus only to “cyber crimes” despite his broad mandate from Rosenstein, and Weissman’s claim that the Manafort-Kilimnik meetings went to “the heart” of the investigation, remains unclear.

But the four-page letter to Congress by Attorney General William Barr summarizing Mueller’s conclusions, posted online by Vox, stated that Mueller defined the Russian election interference operation to have two components, a social media disinformation campaign, and the hacking of Democratic party emails, which were then publicly released. Both of those elements would fall under the definition of “cyber crimes.”