Mueller re­port shows Rus­sian diplo­mat’s ties greatly dis­torted

Sec­ond Bri­tish Trump dossier deep­ens ‘re­la­tion­ship’ doubt

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

The rum­pled, jowly im­age of Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak in Wash­ing­ton came to per­son­ify a num­ber of un­ver­i­fied Trump-Moscow sto­ries.

His con­tacts in 2016 with Trump cam­paign al­lies, the press said, pro­vided a pos­si­ble win­dow into a con­spir­acy by which a Krem­lin-Repub­li­can ca­bal hacked com­put­ers and spewed pro­pa­ganda against Hil­lary Clin­ton on so­cial me­dia.

The Robert Mueller re­port tells a far dif­fer­ent story, as is the case with other Trump fig­ures whose sup­posed collusion with Moscow never hap­pened.

It turns out that Mr. Kislyak, who left Wash­ing­ton two years ago amid the me­dia fer­vor, had rel­a­tively few Trump con­tacts dur­ing the cam­paign. The con­tacts he did have were “non-sub­stan­tive,” the spe­cial coun­sel said in his 448-page re­port.

Mr. Kislyak at­tended a Trump speech in April 2016, trav­eled to the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion in Cleve­land with 80 other am­bas­sadors spon­sored by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s State Depart­ment and vis­ited Sen. Jeff Ses­sions of Alabama in his Capi­tol Hill of­fice for less than 30 min­utes.

The press in­ten­sity mu­tated into a “Satur­day Night Live” cold open in March 2017 fea­tur­ing Kate McK­in­non por­tray­ing Mr. Ses­sions as For­rest Gump talk­ing about the Rus­sians.

If three Kislyak en­coun­ters were part of a grand Trump-Rus­sia elec­tion con­spir­acy, then Mr. Mueller and his 40 FBI agents didn’t find it.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion es­tab­lished that in­ter­ac­tions be­tween Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Kislyak and Trump Cam­paign of­fi­cials both at the can­di­date’s April 2016 for­eign pol­icy speech in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and dur­ing the week of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion were brief, pub­lic, and non­sub­stan­tive,” the Mueller re­port con­cluded.

The Mueller team fol­lowed up on sus­pi­cions that Mr. Kislyak at­tended a May 2016 din­ner at the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel hosted by a long-stand­ing U.S.-Rus­sia think tank. Mr. Ses­sions, who headed Mr. Trump’s for­eign pol­icy ad­vi­sory group, did at­tend.

Mueller sleuths in­ter­viewed din­ers, re­viewed seat­ing charts and ex­am­ined pho­to­graphs. They couldn’t nail down a Kislyak pres­ence.

Mr. Kislyak in­vited Trump cam­paign ad­viser J.D. Gor­don to break­fast post-con­ven­tion, the re­port says. But Mr. Gor­don didn’t go. Mr. Kislyak in­vited Mr. Ses­sions to din­ner, but the se­na­tor de­clined.

In sum, Mr. Kislyak seemed to be play­ing the tra­di­tional role of a diplo­mat in a for­eign coun­try. He made con­tact with peo­ple who wanted bet­ter re­la­tions with Moscow and who might some­day be in a po­si­tion to carry out a friend­lier for­eign pol­icy.

The Mayflower Ho­tel, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — April 26, 2016

A bevy of press re­ports in spring-sum­mer 2017 told of a Kislyak-Ses­sions meet­ing at The Mayflower as Mr. Trump de­liv­ered his first ma­jor for­eign pol­icy ad­dress.

The intrigue height­ened with this news: the Cen­ter for the Na­tional In­ter­est, a decades-old Wash­ing­ton think tank that pur­sues bet­ter U.S.-Moscow re­la­tions, was

Now there are two Bri­tish-pro­duced anti-Trump dossiers, deep­en­ing the pres­i­dent’s sus­pi­cions about the U.S.-U.K. “spe­cial re­la­tion­ship.”

First came Christo­pher Steele, a for­mer Bri­tish spy who main­tains close con­tacts with his coun­try’s Se­cret In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice. In 2016, from his Lon­don of­fices, Mr. Steele churned out 17 al­le­ga­tion-filled memos at the re­quest of his Demo­cratic Party han­dlers.

A sec­ond dossier, writ­ten by Kim Dar­roch, then Lon­don’s top man in Wash­ing­ton, ap­peared ear­lier this month in the Daily Mail. Like the Steele pa­pers, the Dar­roch dossier has been writ­ten in seg­ments and is filled with anti-Trump vit­riol.

Even be­fore the ex­tra­or­di­nary the or­ga­nizer. It is led by Rus­sian-born U.S. cit­i­zen Dim­itri Simes.

CNI in­vited Mr. Kislyak, who was in­tro­duced to the can­di­date and chat­ted with Jared Kush­ner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a White House ad­viser.

One press re­port said there were in­ter­cepts of com­mu­ni­ca­tions of Rus­sians say­ing they con­ducted sub­stan­tive dis­cus­sions with Mr. Ses­sions. The Alabama Repub­li­can went on to be­come at­tor­ney gen­eral and shortly there­after re­cused him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Mueller re­port foot­noted two me­dia sto­ries on the Mayflower speech: NBC News asked, “Did Trump, Kush­ner, Ses­sions Have an Undis­closed Meet­ing with Rus­sian?” And The At­lantic inquired, “Why did Jeff Ses­sions Re­ally meet with Sergey Kislyak?”

The Mueller re­port noted the Mayflower sto­ries and then knocked them down.

“Sev­eral pub­lic re­ports state that, in ad­di­tion to speak­ing to Kush­ner at the pre-speech re­cep­tion, Kislyak also met or con­versed with Ses­sions at that time. Ses­sions stated to in­ves­ti­ga­tors, how­ever, that he did not re­mem­ber any such con­ver­sa­tion. Nor did any­one else af­fil­i­ated with CNI or the Na­tional In­ter­est specif­i­cally re­call a con­ver­sa­tion or meet­ing be­tween Ses­sions and Kislyak at the pre-speech re­cep­tion,” the Mueller re­port said. “It ap­pears that, if a con­ver­sa­tion oc­curred at the pre-speech re­cep­tion, it was a brief one con­ducted in pub­lic view, sim­i­lar to the ex­change be­tween Kush­ner and Kislyak.”

The Mueller re­port fur­ther stated that it “found no ev­i­dence that Kislyak con­versed with ei­ther Trump or Ses­sions after the speech, or would have had the op­por­tu­nity to do so. Simes, for ex­am­ple, did not re­call see­ing Kislyak at the post-speech lun­cheon, and the only wit­ness who ac­counted for Ses­sions’s where­abouts stated that Ses­sions may have spo­ken to the press after the event but then de­parted for Capi­tol Hill.”

As for sus­pi­cions that CNI and Trump al­lies were part of a com­puter hack­ing con­spir­acy with the Krem­lin, the Mueller re­port came up empty: “The in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not iden­tify ev­i­dence that the Cam­paign passed dis­clo­sures, punc­tu­ated with Mr. Dar­roch’s res­ig­na­tion Wed­nes­day, Pres­i­dent Trump was deeply sus­pi­cious of the Bri­tish govern­ment’s role in in­ves­ti­gat­ing him and his al­lies about Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion.

Sourced to shad­owy Krem­lin fig­ures, the Steele dossier told a tale of deep and wide­spread con­spir­acy be­tween Mr. Trump and the Krem­lin. The doc­u­ment, com­ing as it did from some­one con­nected to Bri­tish in­tel­li­gence, gained wide ac­cep­tance inside the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Jus­tice Depart­ment.

Mr. Steele and his Moscow sources made a dozen ma­jor al­le­ga­tions against Mr. Trump. All were proved un­true with spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s March re­port on Rus­sian elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

Mr. Steele shared his gos­sip with MI6 head­quar­ters, rais­ing ques­tions about whether Lon­don’s top spies be­lieve his or re­ceived any mes­sages to or from the Rus­sian govern­ment through CNI or Simes.”

In the end, the Mueller re­port val­i­dated what Trump peo­ple said at the time: that Mr. Kislyak at­tended the pub­lic event for all the world to see, but there were no sub­stan­tive talks be­yond a few greet­ings.

Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, Cleve­land — July 18-21, 2016

Just like the Mayflower con­fab, Mr. Kislyak’s pres­ence at pre-con­ven­tion events cre­ated scores of news sto­ries im­ply­ing an elec­tion con­spir­acy.

A read­ing of the Mueller re­port tells a far less in­ter­est­ing story.

For one, Mr. Kislyak at­tended as part of a large, State Depart­ment-spon­sored con­tin­gent num­ber­ing more than 80 for­eign diplo­mats.

He at­tended a pre-con­ven­tion con­fer­ence on for­eign pol­icy and then a re­cep­tion, where he chat­ted briefly with Trump ad­vis­ers Mr. Ses­sions, J.D. Gor­don and Carter Page.

“As they ate, Gor­don and Kislyak talked for what Gor­don es­ti­mated to have been three to five min­utes, dur­ing which Gor­don again men­tioned that he meant what he said in his speech about im­prov­ing U.S.-Rus­sia re­la­tions,” Mr. Mueller said.

The Mueller re­port con­cluded: “Trump Cam­paign of­fi­cials met with Rus­sian Am­bas­sador Sergey Kislyak dur­ing the week of the Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion. The ev­i­dence in­di­cates that those in­ter­ac­tions were brief and non-sub­stan­tive.”

Sen. Jeff Ses­sions’ of­fice — Septem­ber 2016

This was another high-in­ten­sity press scrum as sto­ries im­plied a Rus­sia con­spir­acy ex­tended into the halls of the Se­nate, into the of­fice of Mr. Ses­sions, a mem­ber of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee.

The meet­ing’s im­por­tance height­ened when Sen. Al Franken, Min­nesota Demo­crat, ac­cused Mr. Ses­sions of ly­ing dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing when he de­nied Rus­sian con­tacts.

A num­ber of lib­eral news sites ac­cused crim­i­nal charges against Mr. Trump and whether they spread the ma­te­rial among the U.K. Cabi­net.

Now comes Bri­tish dossier No. 2. Mr. Dar­roch’s two years of se­cret ca­bles went straight to the For­eign Of­fice, where they were likely dis­trib­uted to the seats of power, in­clud­ing No. 10 Down­ing St.

To what de­gree they poi­soned Mr. Trump’s con­nec­tions to Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s govern­ment may be told one day.

Like the pub­li­ca­tion of the Steele dossier in Jan­uary 2017 by Buz­zFeed, the de­but of the Dar­roch dossier had im­me­di­ate im­pact.

Mr. Trump went on Twit­ter to de­clare that he was no longer deal­ing with Mr. Dar­roch. The White House promptly dis­in­vited him from an el­e­gant, CEO­filled Trea­sury Depart­ment din­ner for the vis­it­ing emir of Qatar. Mr. Ses­sions of per­jury.

A “Satur­day Night Live” sketch fea­tured Miss McK­in­non por­tray­ing Mr. Ses­sions as a clue­less For­rest Gump fac­ing per­jury al­le­ga­tions.

The Mueller re­port was much kinder to Mr. Ses­sions than were Mr. Franken, the lib­eral press or “Satur­day Night Live.” It said the way Mr. Franken framed the ques­tion was im­pre­cise.

“Ses­sions later ex­plained to the Se­nate and to the Of­fice that he un­der­stood the ques­tion as nar­rowly call­ing for dis­clo­sure of in­ter­ac­tions with Rus­sians that in­volved the ex­change of cam­paign in­for­ma­tion, as dis­tin­guished from more rou­tine con­tacts with Rus­sian na­tion­als,” the re­port said. “Given the con­text in which the ques­tion was asked, that un­der­stand­ing is plau­si­ble.”

The re­port also said Mr. Ses­sions, in a meet­ing that lasted less than 30 min­utes and was at­tended by two Se­nate staffers, con­fronted Mr. Kislyak on bad Rus­sian be­hav­ior.

“The in­ves­ti­ga­tion also did not es­tab­lish that a meet­ing be­tween Kislyak and Ses­sions in Septem­ber 2016 at Ses­sions’s Se­nate of­fice in­cluded any more than a pass­ing men­tion of the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign,” Mr. Mueller said.

Post­elec­tion

Mr. Kislyak’s in­fre­quent and brief con­tacts with Trump cam­paign fig­ures shifted into another gear dur­ing the post­elec­tion tran­si­tion.

As de­manded by can­di­date Trump, Mr. Kush­ner and in­com­ing Na­tional Security Ad­viser Michael Flynn were forg­ing the out­lines of what would be a new ap­proach to Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Kislyak went to Trump Tower and com­mu­ni­cated by phone with Flynn.

Flynn ul­ti­mately pleaded guilty to ly­ing to two FBI agents who came to his White House of­fice. He de­nied to them that he had dis­cussed sanc­tions with Mr. Kislyak dur­ing a bugged phone call.

Mr. Mueller didn’t es­tab­lish ev­i­dence that the tran­si­tion pe­riod in­volved any type of elec­tion med­dling con­spir­acy.

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