One of former special counsel Robert Mueller's top prosecutors distorted what the former FBI director testified under oath about President Trump's written answers for the Russia investigation.
Andrew Weissmann, a former Justice Department official and FBI general counsel who has come under constant attack by the president and his allies, appeared for an interview Tuesday with MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace to react to a new Senate report that found that contacts between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia posed a "grave" counterintelligence threat.
One key takeaway Weissmann and Wallace discussed was the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report's suggestion that Trump may have lied to Mueller's team about his conversations with longtime confidant Roger Stone and others about WikiLeaks. In his written answers, Trump said he did not recall being aware of Stone or others attempting to contact WikiLeaks or other entities that the U.S. government alleges to have been used or operated by Russian intelligence during the 2016 contest.
"Despite Trump's recollection, the Committee assesses that Trump did, in fact, speak with Stone about WikiLeaks and with members of his Campaign about Stone's access to WikiLeaks on multiple occasions," the new report said.
Noting how the Senate report "elegantly" avoids using the word "lie," Weissmann said, "It leaves it to you to decide, do you really think you would forget that given how important that information became to the campaign in terms of it dribbling out, you know, throughout October?"
Wallace asked Weissmann if he had "any doubt" that Trump's answers were lies, to which Weissmann said: “No. No, I mean, just to be clear, the special counsel was asked that exact question when he testified under oath before Congress, which is whether he believed that the president’s answers in writing to him were accurate and truthful, and he said he did not think so — and I fully support that."
But that is not what Mueller said under oath.
Weissmann appeared to be mischaracterizing a high-profile exchange between Democratic Rep. Val Demings and Mueller during a July 2019 congressional hearing, during which the Florida congresswoman asked a compound question. ”Director Mueller, is it fair to say the president's written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn't answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers showed he wasn't always being truthful?” she asked.
”There — I would say generally," Mueller replied.
A source "familiar with the investigation" quickly told the Washington Post that day that "in answering ‘generally,' Mueller did not mean to agree with every phrase in that question. The Mueller report, which is the statement of record here, is what stands, and in the Mueller report, it states that the president’s written answers were 'incomplete' or 'imprecise.'" Mueller had used the phrase “generally” repeatedly throughout the hearing.
As is shown in Mueller's report, Trump told the special counsel team, "I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time."
Mueller's report accuses a number of figures in Trump's orbit of lying but does not accuse Trump of doing so, instead saying that some of Trump's written responses were “incomplete or imprecise.” Recently disclosed sections of the report show the special counsel only raised the possibility that Trump lied, while also leaving open the possibility that Trump simply did not recall his conversations with Stone from two years prior.
In fact, Mueller insisted to Congress that the "report is my testimony. And I will stay within that text."
Mueller’s team concluded that the Russian government interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion" and “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign” but “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Weissmann marveled at how the bipartisan Senate report released on Tuesday has "substantial new information" not uncovered by the Mueller team. He was particularly struck by the findings included in the 1,000-page report, the fifth and final volume of the committee’s inquiry into Russian interference during the 2016 contest, about former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who the senators said posed a “grave counterintelligence threat." It was Weissmann, often called Mueller's "pit bull" during the Russia investigation, who played an instrumental role in winning convictions against Manafort and his associate Rick Gates.
"It describes Konstantin Kilimnik, who is the right-hand man of Paul Manafort in Ukraine. It describes him as a 'Russian intelligence officer.' That is much further than he was described publicly by the special counsel’s office." Weissmann said.
Mueller's report described Kilimnik, a Russian national, as someone “the FBI assesses to have ties to Russian intelligence."
Weissmann stressed to Wallace that it is important because the Senate Intelligence Committee concludes "that it was amply justified to undertake this investigation" while Attorney General William Barr is "busy trying to argue the opposite," a reference to U.S. Attorney John Durham's criminal inquiry.
Durham and Barr disagreed with DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz's assertion that the opening of the Trump-Russia investigation was justified.
“Our investigation is not limited to developing information from within component parts of the Justice Department. Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.,” Durham said in a rare public statement in December. “Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the inspector general that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
Barr agreed, saying Horowitz's report “makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken."
Other "substantial new information" to appear in the Senate report, according to Weissmann, relates to the assertion that Kilimnik may have been involved in the hack of the Democratic National Committee, after which stolen emails were published by WikiLeaks. Specifically, the report said, "The committee obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU's hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election."
Prompted by Wallace, who asked if he personally believes the special counsel team "failed to stop" Trump, Weissmann conceded that Mueller's investigation and Congress came up short in certain matters. He also mentioned how he has a book coming out in September that promises to explain why the Mueller team could have done more in its Russia investigation.
"I wrote a book about that, that's coming out, not to plug that, Nicolle, but our job was not to stop him. Our job was to uncover the facts and apply the law to that," he said. "But I think that, for a variety of reasons, you could say that there was a failure on the part of the special counsel’s office and on the part of Congress in terms of, you know, how hard we would dig for information, and also, I think Congress can rightly be upbraided about what they did with the report once they had it. Because the facts were, or at least many facts were laid out to them that they could have taken action on."
Barr has leveled critiques at the Mueller investigation, including that it "ignored" the "possibility" that British ex-spy Christopher Steele and his flawed anti-Trump dossier "were used as a vector for the Russians to inject disinformation into the political campaign."