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Mueller report dives deep into Russian election interference – CNET

CNET

Special counsel Robert Mueller's report has been released, detailing an investigation on the Trump campaign and Russian election meddling that began in 2017. You can download the first of two volumes of the report from the Special Counsel's website here

The report, which many anticipated to be a political bombshell, was released on Thursday following a press conference with Attorney General William Barr.  

While the release is more than a summary, it's still not the full report, as the Justice Department has redacted several parts of Mueller's findings. The investigation was focused on President Trump and whether his campaign worked with Russia to help him win the presidential election in 2016. Barr earlier said that the report indicated that there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian efforts to manipulate the election. 

Shortly after Barr's press conference, the president claimed victor in a Game of Thrones styled tweet. "Game Over," the tweet, addressed to his political opponents, read.

Lawmakers remain skeptical of the report, because of the Justice Department's role in redacting multiple pages in the document, as well as Barr's input on its release. At a press conference on Thursday, Barr said he had no objection to Mueller testifying.

Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, invited Mueller to testify shortly after the report's release.

"After a two year investigation, the public deserves the facts, not Attorney General Barr's political spin," Schiff said in a statement.

Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, did not indicate that he intends on having Mueller testify, but noted that the committee would be releasing its own findings soon. 

"I look forward to presenting the American people with an accounting of the facts the Committee has uncovered as we conclude our own investigation. It is my hope to release the first of our final reports in the coming weeks," Burr said in a statement. 

The release of the report caps off roughly a year of speculation and questions about the potential involvement between Russia and members of the Trump campaign -- including the president himself as Mueller's team ran through its investigation. The ongoing drama seized the public's attention and shined a spotlight on the ways Russia was able to manipulate our electoral process -- an issue that companies like Facebook and Google and agencies like the Homeland Security are still working to shore up

President Trump and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. 

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images

The special counsel wrapped up his investigation and delivered it to Attorney General Barr on March 22, though specifics were sparse as it was not publicly released. The day after, Barr provided a four-page summary of the roughly 400-page report, which Congress members criticized for its lack of details.

Following the Justice Department's summary, the White House said the report was a "total and complete exoneration" of President Trump, but the full report was not publicly released when it made that statement.

"This should never happen again to another president," Trump said at a veterans event in the White House, calling it a "hoax."

Russian meddling

The investigation was heavily focused on the Trump campaign and its connections to Russian operatives, but the report also gave an in-depth look at how election meddling played out through technology.

The special counsel looked at how Russian hackers infiltrated the Democratic National Committee, used social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to spread disinformation and the Trump campaign's communications with Russian operatives.

As the investigation carried on, the special counsel's office announced multiple indictments, including charges against 12 Russian hackers behind the DNC's cyberattacks and 13 Russian nationals for spreading disinformation on social media, as well as the propaganda efforts' chief accountant.

While the evidence didn't point to collusion by Trump, Mueller's investigation involved several key members of his campaign, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his business partner Rick Gates, former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen, and long-time Trump associate Roger Stone.    

Stone has been accused of communicating with WikiLeaks, which published thousands of hacked emails stolen from Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic committee. Last Thursday, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was arrested from the Ecuadorian embassy in the UK and awaits extradition to the US over hacking charges. 

Tech giants have also fallen under the investigation's scope, as Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said that Facebook was working with Mueller's office, as Russian operatives used fake personalities on the social network to pose as Americans arguing on divisive issues.

Facebook was also heavily scrutinized over its Cambridge Analytica scandal, from a UK data analytics firm with consultants that worked with the Trump campaign. The firm -- which harvested data on 87 million Facebook users without their permission -- kicked the hornet's nest on privacy issues for Facebook, leading to multiple Congress hearings and changes within the company.

Mueller's investigation also questioned Cambridge Analytica's former business development director Brittany Kaiser.

The special counsel's office also scrutinized Twitter, looking at tweets that President Trump sent related to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former FBI director James Comey.

Trump has taken to Twitter to criticize Mueller's investigation, often calling it a "witch hunt" and arguing that there was "no collusion" and "no obstruction."

Russia's hacking efforts

Mueller's indictment against 12 Russian hackers last July detailed that their operations started in March 2016, as hundreds of files containing malware infected the DNC's servers.

The Russian malware stole thousands of emails, which was posted on WikiLeaks and DC Leaks, a website Russian hackers created posing as Americans. The defendants are members of Russia's military intel agency, the GRU.  

The hacked victims included John Podesta, who was Clinton's campaign chairman during the election, with 50,000 emails leaked online. The Russian hackers also bought servers to host their operations, paying more than $95,000 for setups, Mueller's investigation found.

The malware was discovered on at least 10 different DNC computers, and allowed hackers to steal passwords, take screenshots and monitor network activity. They searched for terms like "Hillary," "Trump" and "Benghazi Investigations."

The social media storm

Mueller's investigation also found that Russia was backing a $35 million operation to meddle with US politics through social media.

The budget was spent between January 2016 and June 2018, dedicated to spreading disinformation on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. It ran like a professional social media marketing campaign, with specific departments in search engine optimization and graphic design, along with a staff of hundreds who posted on social networks.

The group studied political groups on social media starting in 2014 and mimicked their tactics, Mueller's investigation found.

The group, called the Internet Research Agency, was directed to support Trump's campaign and attack Clinton, according to the investigation.

They also spent up to $60,000 on Facebook ads, and $6,000 on Instagram ads, as well as $18,000 on Twitter.

The report showed that the first ad that the IRA paid for was on Instagram, on April 19, 2016. It came from the "Tea Party News" asking people to upload photos with the hashtag "#KidsForTrump." 

The Russian state-actors would pose as Americans on divisive issues like race, gender and gun control. The goal was to create political chaos by creating intense arguments around these issues.

The propaganda campaign worked, as the IRA tricked politicians and social activists with their fake personas, targeting battleground states like Colorado, Virginia and Florida. They also used stolen Social Security numbers and birthdates of US citizens to make PayPal accounts.

You can read the report here:  


Originally published April 18, 8:05 a.m. PT.
Updates, 8:51 a.m.: Adds more detail; 9:02 a.m.: Includes responses from lawmakers. 

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