Veterans of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign reacted with a mix of outrage, vindication and exhaustion after the release of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the last presidential election.
“Apparently it’s not criminal to help foreign agents carry out their plans to disrupt an election,” said campaign manager Robby Mook. “I wish instead of just relitigating the past we would spend some time crafting laws to prevent this in the future.”
Mueller’s report detailed a comprehensive effort by Russia to damage Clinton’s candidacy and repeated overtures to Donald Trump’s campaign to assist him. Mueller found contacts between Trump associates and Russians but wrote that “the investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The report also revealed Trump’s intense interest in obtaining emails that Clinton had deleted from her private email server on the grounds that they were personal in nature and not related to her work as secretary of State. Some on the right believed the missing emails would contain shocking revelations, but the Trump campaign never acquired them.
“After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would ‘find the 30,000 emails that are missing,’ Trump asked individuals affiliated with his campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” Mueller wrote. “Michael Flynn — who would later serve as national security adviser in the Trump administration — recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.”
Jesse Ferguson, a senior spokesperson on the Clinton campaign, said the “no collusion” headline belied the more damning parts of the report. “Aside from Trump’s scandal, corruption and potential criminality in the Mueller report, it also confirms that Trump got elected thanks to an extensive Russian infiltration and operation.”
And Clinton spokespeople Jennifer Palmieri and Brian Fallon tweeted that impeachment hearings ought to be opened.
"If all this same info were coming out for first time, it would be an earthquake. Impeachment hearings would be a no-brainer," Fallon wrote.
“It would be a grave mistake for the country if Democrats in House allowed short-term political concerns to get in way of conducting their constitutional responsibility to hold president accountable,” wrote Palmieri. “Abdication of such responsibilities is how democracies die.”
In a series of tweets, longtime Clinton aide Neera Tanden also said the report did not exonerate Trump, equating him to a "mob boss" and suggesting that there had been a "cover-up" over the past several weeks after Mueller submitted his report.
The documentation of the comprehensive Russian campaign made some former Clinton aides feel vindicated after they felt their warnings of Russian interference during the election year were not taken seriously enough.
The report, however, did not corroborate several of the Russia-Trump connections claimed in the so-called Steele dossier, an opposition research document funded through a law firm representing the Democratic National Committee during the campaign. Christopher Steele, a former MI6 agent hired by research firm Fusion GPS, reported that Russia had compromising tapes of Trump and that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had met Russian officials in Prague during the campaign.
The dossier’s partisan origins became a talking point for Republicans as they sought to dismiss the entire Russia probe as a fishing expedition. It set off a frenzy of reporting on Trump’s purported ties to Russia when it was first published by BuzzFeed after the 2016 election, though journalists were never able to confirm or conclusively debunk its more salacious allegations.
Mueller was able to be more definitive. The report states flatly, “Cohen had never traveled to Prague and was not concerned about those allegations, which he believed were provably false."
The special counsel’s team also looked at the allegation that the Kremlin had a recording of Trump frolicking with prostitutes in Moscow, though he did not make a determination as to whether it happened. According to interviews with prosecutors, Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze told Cohen on Oct. 30, 2016, that he had “stopped flow of tapes from Russia.” But Rtskhiladze later said he believed the tapes were fake and didn’t tell Cohen that, according to Mueller’s team.
Some Clinton hands said the report should also be a warning sign to all Democrats looking to take on Trump in the next presidential election.
“This should be a reminder to all 2020 opponents that you aren’t dealing with a normal candidate. They are playing incredibly dirty,” said Adrienne Elrod, the campaign’s director of strategic communications and surrogates.
Elrod also said the report should be used as a road map for congressional investigations rather than the end of the matter. “This is far from over.”
Some Clinton aides, however, just felt tired of looking back on the 2016 election and were avoiding reading news about the Mueller report. Asked whether they had any thoughts, one texted: “Sigh. Not really. Trying not to pay attention.”
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine