Amid White House claims on Thursday that there was no collusion between Russia and those affiliated with Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, Attorney General William Barr apparently left a gaping hole in his description of interactions surrounding the release of stolen Democratic emails.
In a prepared statement, Barr detailed how Russian hackers swiped internal Democratic emails and proceeded to disseminate the stolen communications via a number of outlets, including WikiLeaks. He also noted that there was no evidence showing that “anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations.”
He added that special counsel Robert Mueller’s office “investigated” whether any coordination took place, but “did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials.”
According to Barr:
The Special Counsel found that, after the GRU disseminated some of the stolen materials through its own controlled entities, DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0, the GRU transferred some of the stolen materials to Wikileaks for publication. Wikileaks then made a series of document dumps. The Special Counsel also investigated whether any member or affiliate of the Trump campaign encouraged or otherwise played a role in these dissemination efforts. Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy. Here too, the Special Counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials.
However, Barr’s description that none of the coordination took place “illegally” does not rule out other potential coordination. Most importantly, it leaves the door open to the possibility that potential coordination could have taken place between Trump campaign associates like Roger Stone and entities like WikiLeaks — coordination that could have been perfectly legal.
Given First Amendment protections, there would be nothing inherently illegal in terms of members of the Trump campaign like Stone exchanging information with WikiLeaks to schedule the release of the stolen emails. The most notable releases of stolen emails came at a politically opportune time for the Trump campaign, before a divisive Democratic National Convention and immediately after leaked audio showing Trump admitting to sexually assaulting women.
It’s possible Barr’s language was sloppier than he intended, but even the redacted version of the full Mueller report — released to the public late Thursday morning — will not clear up the discrepany. Barr said on Thursday that information relating to Stone’s ongoing case will be redacted, meaning Stone’s potential coordination with WikiLeaks pertaining to the stolen emails will still likely be unclear. According to Barr, the redactions are necessary in order to “comply with court orders.”
But some officials will at least be able to peek behind the relevant redactions. Prosecutors in Stone’s case said in a filing on Wednesday that certain members of Congress will be allowed to see the pertinent information surrounding Stone. The prosecutors noted that, due to court order, the unredacted version will “not be made available ‘to the media’ or ‘in public settings’,” leaving the holes in Barr’s statement for the foreseeable future.