The Department of Justice released a new version of the Mueller report Friday afternoon that reveals for the first time that former special counsel Robert Mueller considered charging Donald Trump Jr. with a misdemeanor “computer intrusion” crime for accessing an anti-Trump website using a password he obtained from WikiLeaks.
The new version of the report on Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election also said that Mueller declined, citing insufficient evidence, to charge the political operative Roger Stone with crimes related to the hacking of Democratic National Committee computers and email accounts. And the evidence Mueller's investigators collected “did not establish” that the Trump campaign’s then-director of national security, JD Gordon, was acting as an agent of Russia when he arranged for changes to the Republican platform "pertaining to assistance to Ukraine" during the 2016 convention.
The new version of the Mueller report contains nearly a dozen new unredacted passages and was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by BuzzFeed News in 2019. The lawsuit sought portions of the report that would reveal the identities of people Mueller considered charging and whose names were originally redacted. A lower court ruled against BuzzFeed News, which appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit last year. Today's release marks the third time BuzzFeed News has forced the Justice Department to unredact portions of the 448-page report.
The previously undisclosed passages of the document that relate to Trump Jr. say that Mueller considered whether the then-president’s son should be charged with a misdemeanor under a section of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for intentionally accessing a protected computer without authorization.
“The conduct at issue was Trump Jr.’s use of a password, supplied to him by WikiLeaks in a Twitter direct message, to access the website ‘putintrump.org’ in September 2016,” the unredacted passage said.
Although the report goes on to say that Mueller’s office could establish “each element of a misdemeanor,” the special counsel ultimately determined “that prosecution of this potential violation was not warranted.”
“In this instance, Trump Jr. accessed the website shortly before it went public using a ‘guessed’ password that, although it was sent to him individually, had also been posted by WikiLeaks to its public Twitter account, such that anyone following WikiLeaks could have gotten the same preview of the website that Trump Jr. did,” the newly unredacted passage of the report said.
The report continued: “That fact, among others, would make it difficult to prove that Trump Jr. acted to further any crime or tort or that he obtained information valued at more than $5,000 — which are the kind of circumstances that can trigger felony punishment under the statute. Given that Trump Jr. did not himself initiate the plan to access the website or guess the password, the absence of evidence that his acts caused any damage to the website or obtained valuable information, the technical nature of the violation, and the minimal punishment that a misdemeanor conviction could be expected to carry in these circumstances, the Office decided against pursuing charges.”
Stone, a Trump ally, was found guilty of lying to congressional investigators about his communications with WikiLeaks and tampering with a witness, but was later pardoned by Trump. Stone boasted to campaign staff members about his connection to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who organized the release of internal emails that had been hacked from Democratic National Committee computers.
The discussion of Gordon, a former Pentagon spokesperson, and Mueller's decision not to charge him refers to events at the 2016 Republican convention in Cleveland. Gordon flagged an amendment that rebuked Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine and called for supplying Ukrainians with lethal weapons. He reportedly said that position didn’t reflect Trump’s views on Ukraine. The platform was ultimately changed from advocating lethal weapons to advocating “appropriate assistance.” Mueller’s investigators sought to determine whether Gordon “was acting at the direction of Russia” when he had the platform amended.
In response to the new disclosure, Grant Smith, Stone’s attorney, said, “This vindicates Mr. Stone's position that he in no way participated in or had knowledge of any activities of Wikileaks and confirms what we knew all along.” Trump Jr. and Gordon did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Last November, a three-judge panel for the appeals court unanimously ruled that there is a “significant public interest” in lifting the veil of secrecy over the redacted passages and that “disclosure would also show how the Special Counsel interpreted the relevant law and applied it to already public facts in reaching his declination decisions.”
The Justice Department had argued the redacted passages should be kept from public view to protect the privacy rights of the people in question. ●