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New York Times tries to keep 'collusion' possibility alive with lawsuit for 'Alternative Mueller Report'

Andrew Weissmann
FILE – In this Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2002 file photo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Weissmann talks with the media outside the federal courthouse in Houston. Weissmann, one of the most prominent prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller is leaving the team soon, a likely indication that the investigation is close to wrapping up.(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File) PAT SULLIVAN/AP

New York Times tries to keep ‘collusion’ possibility alive with lawsuit for ‘Alternative Mueller Report’

July 15, 06:04 PM July 15, 06:04 PM

The New York Times filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeking access to the “Alternative Mueller Report” allegedly compiled by former special counsel team leader Andrew Weissmann, who publicly battled with special counsel Robert Mueller last year after Mueller’s report “did not establish” any Trump-Russia conspiracy in 2016.

Weissmann claimed in his book, Where The Law Ends, that the Mueller investigation had been limited, writing last year: “Only some of these limitations made it into the final report, as Team M [Manafort] and Team R [Russia] did not have the pen — that is, the final say. To remedy this, at least for posterity, I had all the members of Team M write up an internal report memorializing everything we found, our conclusions, and the limitations on the investigation, and provided it to the other team leaders as well as had it maintained in our files.”

The New York Times referenced that passage, telling the court it “sought a copy of the internal report done by Mr. Weissman’s team (the ‘Alternative Mueller Report’) referenced in Weissman’s book” and called it “a document of immense public interest” in claiming that “Weissman’s acknowledgment of the existence of the Alternative Mueller Report suggests that there was important facts or findings omitted from the original version.”

Mueller’s investigation concluded in 2019 that the Russian government interfered in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” and Mueller’s team “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.” The lawsuit argues Mueller “expressly declined to decide whether those contacts could be regarded as collusion.” Mueller’s report specifically noted “collusion is largely synonymous with conspiracy as that crime is set forth in the general federal conspiracy statute,” and his investigation concluded it “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The lawsuit by the New York Times describes the Mueller report as a “bombshell” and argues, “Although Mueller concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone involved with the Trump campaign with conspiracy, he stressed that the report was not an ‘all clear.’… The Mueller Report did not rule out the existence of a conspiracy to interfere in the 2016 election.”

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Weissmann’s book misled about how then-Attorney General William Barr characterized the conspiracy section of Mueller’s report, selectively quoting Barr’s letter while himself failing to quote the report’s specific relevant conclusions related to coordination and conspiracy — something that Barr did.

DOJ records released last year also show that Weissmann said he accidentally wiped the data from his government-issued phones two separate times. Notes from March 2018 noted he “entered password too many times and wiped his phone,” and notes in September 2018 indicated that he “accidentally wiped cell phone — data lost.” Weissmann denied mishandling his government-issued phones.

Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ron Johnson of Wisconsin told Attorney General Merrick Garland they are “asking the Justice Department for more information and records” after learning the DOJ “could not locate 59 of the 96 phones” used by Mueller’s team and after discovering the department “failed to review over twenty phones for federal record preservation.”

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s December 2019 report found that the Trump-Russia investigation was filled with serious missteps and concealed exculpatory information from the FISA court, and he criticized the Justice Department and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the FISA warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s “central and essential” reliance on British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s discredited dossier. Declassified footnotes show the FBI knew Steele’s dossier may have been compromised by Russian disinformation. Horowitz said FBI interviews with Steele’s main source “raised significant questions about the reliability of the Steele election reporting.”

Ex-FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith admitted in August that he falsified a document during the bureau’s efforts to renew FISA surveillance authority against Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Clinesmith was sentenced to probation in January.

Barr made now-former U.S. Attorney John Durham a special counsel last year to investigate the origins and the conduct of the Trump-Russia investigation.

Mueller defended his Russia investigation against criticism from Weissmann and others last summer and said he stood by his team and his report.

Weissmann told the Atlantic last year that Mueller “absolutely” let people down.

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Weissmann’s book trashed two major Mueller decisions. One is Mueller choosing not to subpoena Trump to testify, and the other is Mueller’s report not reaching a decision on whether Trump obstructed justice.

Mueller’s April 2019 report noted that “we determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes,” but it laid out 10 possible instances of obstruction by Trump. Mueller’s report said that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr said he and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that it was not sufficient to establish criminality.

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