Mueller considered charging campaign aides in Trump Tower meeting but lacked evidence

Mueller considered charging campaign aides in Trump Tower meeting but lacked evidence

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' MORE considered charging Trump campaign officials with a campaign finance violation over the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, but did not think he had sufficient evidence.

Mueller’s report, released Thursday, says investigators believed that the offer of political “dirt” on Democratic presidential candidate Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton2020 Democrats target federal ban on abortion funding Hillary Clinton slams Trump for spreading 'sexist trash' about Pelosi Gillibrand seizes on abortion debate to jump-start campaign MORE could be a violation of a ban on campaign contributions from a foreign government.

That federal statute also applies to “'an express or implied promise to make a [foreign-source] contribution,'" and that the promise of damaging information meant to help Trump could be considered a “'thing of value'” under the ban, Mueller wrote.

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And the presence at the meeting of officials like former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Ex-GOP lawmaker says Trump 'illegitimate president,' should be impeached Government moves to seize Manafort's condo in Trump Tower MORE and Trump's son-in-law Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerNational commission needed to monitor and combat anti-Semitism Trump pushing for GOP donor's company to get border wall contract: report Trump family members will join state visit to UK MORE, who's now a senior White House adviser, signals that the campaign was hoping to benefit from that information, according to Mueller’s report.

“The communications setting up the meeting and the attendance by high-level Campaign representatives support an inference that the Campaign anticipated receiving derogatory documents and information from official Russian sources that could assist candidate Trump's electoral prospects,” the report says.

British publicist Rob Goldstone had reached out to Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpTrump Jr. slams Republican committee chairman: 'Too weak to stand up to the Democrats' #TrumpTantrum spreads on Twitter after impromptu press conference Trump family members will join state visit to UK MORE, the president's eldest son, to set up the meeting during the 2016 campaign. Goldstone wrote in emails that Russia had "'official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to [Trump Jr.'s] father,'” as "part of Russia and its government's support to Mr. Trump.'”

“[I]f it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer,” Trump Jr. replied.

“Trump Jr. appears to have accepted that offer and to have arranged a meeting to receive those materials,” Mueller wrote in his report. “Documentary evidence in the form of email chains supports the inference that Kushner and Manafort were aware of that purpose and attended the June 9 meeting anticipating the receipt of helpful information to the Campaign from Russian sources.”

However, the special counsel’s office “did not obtain admissible evidence” that could show to legal standards that the campaign officials knew that the action was illegal, according to the report.

Mueller's team also believed it would probably have difficulty proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the value of the promised political dirt would exceed “the threshold for a criminal violation.”

“The investigation has not developed evidence that the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban” or the federal law applying to the meeting, and “does not have strong evidence of surreptitious behavior or efforts at concealment at the time of the June 9 meeting,” the report states.

News of the Trump Tower meeting, first revealed by The New York Times in 2017, drew immediate backlash from Democrats, who argued it was evidence of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mueller concluded in his report that they investigators found "no documentary evidence" that Trump had prior knowledge of the June 2016 meeting.