On April 18, the U.S. Justice Department released a redacted version of the “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference In The 2016 Presidential Election” -- more commonly known as the Mueller Report, after the man leading it, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller -- was released to the public.
Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded the next day, dismissing allegations of Russian interference.
"The report contains no proven evidence that Russia allegedly interfered in the election process in the United States,” the Russian news agency TASS quoted Peskov as saying.“As before, we do not accept such charges."
Peskov’s statement is misleading for several reasons. Firstly, the report is heavily redacted. According to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, sections containing information from grand juries are all redacted. Secondly, much of the evidence for the Russian interference in the election is detailed in other reports from separate investigations. For example, in 2017 a declassified version of the U.S. Intelligence Community’s report on Russian cyber-interference in the 2016 election was published. The report was compiled by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and deals with social media campaigns by the so-called “Internet Research Agency” in St. Petersburg and the hacking of the DNC email server.
“Moscow’s influence campaign followed a Russian messaging strategy that blends covert intelligence operations—such as cyber activity—with overt efforts by Russian Government agencies, state-funded media, third-party intermediaries, and paid social media users or ‘trolls,’” the report stated.
The Intelligence Community report provides considerable evidence in two annexes that follow the main conclusions.
In addition to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies, several private firms also concluded that the online persona “Guccifer 2.0” involved in the DNC email hack was not a Romanian citizen as claimed, but rather a cover for Russian intelligence operatives. When interviewed, Guccifer 2.0 was unable to properly answer questions put to the account in Romanian, leading analysts to believe those involved with Guccifer were relying on a computer translator. Guccifer also used a Russian-language VPN service despite claiming that those involved did not speak or understand Russian.
In July 2018, Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian nationals believed to be members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, in connection with cyberattacks conducted in 2016.
The other half of the interference in 2016 involved social media campaigns, which were carried out by the Internet Research Agency. Much of this activity occurred on American social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, which cooperated with authorities in the investigation. In the case of Facebook, the House Intelligence Committee found that the IRA had created at least 470 Facebook pages and bought around 3,500 ads reaching 11.4 million American users. Data from Twitter showed that more than 36,000 Russian-linked bot accounts tweeted about the election in 2016. While people can and still do debate the efficacy of this information campaign and its impact on the 2016 election results, the fact that the campaign happened and that it was linked to Russia are well-established. In February 2018, Mueller filed an indictment against the Internet Research Agency and a number of its owners and employees.
The Mueller Report references both of these issues -- cyberattacks and information campaigns. Because information from ongoing investigations and grand jury material is redacted, it's hard to say whether it actually brings to the table any new evidence about Russian interference. Among the functions of a grand jury, in the U.S. criminal justice system, are the power to “gather evidence and hear testimony”—though the process does not follow strict courtroom procedural rules.
The Mueller report concerns an investigation into whether President Trump or those working for him deliberately coordinated with Russian nationals in these examples of interference, not the interference itself. Earlier, Attorney General Barr released a four-page summary of the report, which prompted the Russian Foreign Ministry to claim that Russian interference in the campaign had been disproved. Polygraph.info showed that this was in fact false, and that the second section of that summary described Russian interference in detail.
It should be noted that Peskov uses the words “no proven evidence.” In the U.S. Justice system, evidence is presented at trial, what is “proven” is guilt. And it is unlikely the Russians who are charged will ever come to trial. We find the claim, on its whole, to be “misleading,” due to the volume of evidence presented not only in special counsel filings, but also official reports that his report cites.