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Mueller’s Team Should Have Done More to Investigate Trump-Russia Links, Top Aide Says

“It would seem to require significant audacity — or else, leverage — for another nation to even put such a request before a presidential candidate,” Mr. Weissmann wrote of Mr. Kilimnik’s request. “This made what we didn’t know, and still don’t know to this day, monumentally disconcerting: Namely, why would Trump ever agree to this? Why would Trump ever agree to this Russian proposal if the candidate were not getting something from Russia in return?”

Mr. Weissmann explained the significance of Mr. Manafort’s interactions with Mr. Kilimnik — also a major focus of a recent bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report, which explicitly labeled Mr. Kilimnik a Russian intelligence agent — more clearly than the Mueller report did.

Mr. Mueller had strictly forbidden leaks, and the special counsel team took extraordinary care to protect the high-profile, high-stakes investigation, Mr. Weissmann wrote. They kept window blind slats tilted at an angle to keep out prying eyes, shutting out natural light. They concocted an “almost comically elaborate and surreal” plan to sneak in “through the many hidden arteries of the courthouse” to obtain a grand jury indictment without tipping off reporters.

And worried about the possibility that Mr. Trump would fire them and the Justice Department would then seal off or destroy their evidence, the Mueller team members packed their numerous applications to judges for search warrants with extensive, up-to-date details about their investigation — ensuring they backed up their work beyond the reach of the executive branch.

Ty Cobb, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, also privately promised to be a “canary in the coal mine” and provide a heads up if Mr. Trump was going to fire the special counsel team, according to Mr. Weissmann. Mr. Cobb did not respond to a request for comment.

The investigation played out against the backdrop of regular vilification of the Mueller team by Mr. Trump and his allies like Fox News’s Sean Hannity — who turned out to be in regular contact with Mr. Manafort cooking up a “smear campaign” over text messages. Mr. Weissmann, a major target, wrote that such “ad hominem” insinuations of bias appealed to emotion rather than reason.

“I am a registered Democrat,” he wrote. “Does this make Paul Manafort or any of the other 32 people our office charged any less guilty? Did Russia not attack our democracy and disrupt our election with its self-described online information warfare operation? Which facts that we alleged in our various indictments — and to which many of those we indicted, including Manafort, would plead guilty — did our attackers believe were invented as a result of our alleged bias as ‘angry Democrats?’”

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