Mueller Report Details Highlight Trump’s Interest in Emails Damaging to Clinton

WASHINGTON — New details from the Justice Department’s inquiry into Russian influence over the 2016 election released on Friday underscored President Trump’s keen interest in weaponizing information stolen by the Russians and funneled to WikiLeaks for use against his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.

The new disclosures also emphasized prosecutors’ doubts about whether Mr. Trump told them the truth when he was questioned during the two-year investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into Russian interference in that election and whether the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow to influence its outcome.

Over all, however, the new information shed little new light on the special counsel’s inquiry that dominated the first two years of Mr. Trump’s presidency. It was released in response to a lawsuit claiming that the Justice Department’s redactions of sensitive information in the Mueller report violated the Freedom of Information Act.

Many of the disclosures confirmed information already revealed in media reports or in criminal cases against Mr. Trump’s former aides. The public record is replete with accounts of both the Trump campaign’s efforts to use purloined emails against Mrs. Clinton and the president’s attempts to frustrate the special counsel’s inquiry, including by dangling pardons before key witnesses and targets in hopes that they would not cooperate with law enforcement officials.

The newly released details deal principally with Mr. Trump’s friend and former campaign adviser Roger J. Stone Jr., who was convicted in November of lying to federal authorities, impeding a congressional inquiry and tampering with a witness. He has been sentenced to 40 months in prison.

Mr. Stone was the Trump campaign’s principal intermediary to WikiLeaks. According to newly released passages, prosecutors suspected that the president feared Mr. Stone might incriminate him. It also shows they doubted Mr. Trump was being truthful when he stated in written answers to their questions that he did not recall ever discussing WikiLeaks with Mr. Stone during the campaign.

“It is possible that, by the time the president submitted his written answers two years after the relevant events had occurred, he no longer had clear recollections of his discussions with Stone or his knowledge of Stone’s asserted communications with WikiLeaks,” Mr. Mueller’s investigators wrote in a newly disclosed paragraph. “But the president’s conduct could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the president’s denials and would link the president to Stone’s efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks.”

The prosecutors wrote that Michael D. Cohen, the president’s former lawyer who was convicted of campaign finance violations and other crimes, told them that he overheard a conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Stone in the candidate’s Trump Tower headquarters in the summer of 2016, before WikiLeaks released its first tranche of Democratic emails stolen by the Russians.

Mr. Cohen said that after Mr. Stone promised that WikiLeaks would soon release more damaging information about Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Trump responded, “Oh good, all right.” After WikiLeaks later publicized documents stolen from the Democratic National Committee, Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump told him, “I guess Roger was right,” the report said.

The prosecutors also noted that Mr. Trump’s public comments about Mr. Stone and other witnesses and targets were an obvious signal. They “communicate a message that witnesses could be rewarded for refusing to provide testimony adverse to the president and disparaged if they chose to cooperate,” they wrote in a previously redacted sentence.

The Justice Department had withheld passages dealing with Mr. Stone in order, it said, to protect the ongoing criminal case against him. But the lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog group, and the BuzzFeed News journalist Jason Leopold challenged those and other redactions as violations of the Freedom of Information Act.

John Davisson, a lawyer for the privacy group, acknowledged in an interview on Friday night that much of the newly disclosed information “had come out, in one form or another” after the Mueller report was released. But, he said, “the delay, itself is harmful.” He also said he spotted redactions that were unnecessary and raised suspicions about whether law enforcement officials had wrongly withheld other information.

The Justice Department’s decision to release more of the text of the report came after the federal judge overseeing that case, Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District of Columbia, expressed suspicion about whether the redactions were justified and ordered government lawyers to provide him with the full report so he could review the redactions himself. The plaintiffs in the case argued there was no reason to withhold any information about Mr. Stone because his criminal case is over.

House Democrats have been separately seeking to review grand jury materials cited in the report. The Supreme Court in May blocked the release of that material while it considers whether to hear arguments in that case.

An appointee of President George W. Bush, Judge Walton has sympathized to some degree with the FOIA plaintiffs. He wrote in his March opinion that Attorney General William P. Barr’s overall handling of the Mueller report made him question the department’s motivations for redactions.

Mr. Barr had put forward a “distorted” and “misleading” account of the Mueller report findings in a fashion that downplayed the special counsel’s more damaging findings and shaped the public narrative in the president’s favor, Judge Walton wrote.

“These circumstances generally, and Attorney General Barr’s lack of candor specifically, call into question Attorney General Barr’s credibility,” he wrote — and in turn, cast doubt on the department’s statements to him that the redactions were lawful.

He said he would privately review the full text because “adherence to the FOIA’s objective of keeping the American public informed of what its government is up to demands nothing less.”

During Mr. Stone’s trial, prosecutors said that he obstructed a congressional inquiry into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election in order to protect the president. “He knew that if the truth came out about what he was doing in 2016, it would look terrible,” one prosecutor said of Mr. Stone.

The defense team argued that the entire premise of the prosecution’s case was false because Mr. Stone never had any evidence that would have hurt Mr. Trump. He merely tried to discover what information WikiLeaks had obtained that Mr. Trump could use against Mrs. Clinton before the election, they argued, and neither he nor anyone else tied to the campaign ever conspired with the Russians who had funneled that information to WikiLeaks.

After Mr. Trump attacked the prosecutors’ recommendation for a stiff prison term on Twitter, Mr. Barr intervened and the department asked for a more lenient sentence — an extraordinary reversal that stunned legal experts and department veterans. Four career prosecutors withdrew from the case in protest, and one quit the department entirely.

Mr. Stone, who is scheduled to report to the Bureau of Prisons by the end of June to start serving his sentence, has expressed hopes that the president will pardon him.

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