In what will stand as among the most definitive public accounts of the Kremlin’s attack on the American political system, the report of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation laid out in precise, chronological detail how “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
The Russians’ goal, Mueller emphasized at several points, was to assist Donald Trump’s run for the White House and to damage Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. And the Republican candidate took notice, looking for ways to turn leaks of stolen emails to his advantage and even telling campaign associates to find people who might get their hands on Clinton’s personal emails.
“The Trump Campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’ releases of hacked materials throughout the summer and fall of 2016,” Mueller’s investigators wrote. The anti-secrecy website became the major outlet for Russia’s pilfered material, and Trump campaign staffers were engaged in discussions about pending leaks and how to capitalize on them, Mueller found.
Investigators did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians. But both sides used similar tactics. Through social media and selective leaking, the Russians stoked deep societal divisions and aroused Americans’ suspicions of politicians and the integrity of the electoral process, Mueller found.
Trump, too, tried to divide voters, exacerbating political fault lines, and he insisted that something was rotten in the way the country elects its president, calling the process a “rigged” system.