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Five unresolved mysteries about Russian meddling in Muellers report

Over 448 pages, special counsel Robert Muellers final report covered a huge amount of ground, from Trump campaign contacts with Russian operatives to President Donald Trumps efforts to thwart Muellers probe.

But while Mueller found that the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government, he didnt resolve every mystery surrounding the Kremlins 2016 election interference scheme.

Several lines of inquiry that Mueller and the FBI — not to mention countless journalists and amateur Internet sleuths — had reportedly been pursuing went unaddressed in the copious document. They include mysterious interactions between the Trump Organization and Alfa Bank computer servers; the inner workings of the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica; and influence-peddling by Middle Eastern countries targeting Trumps fledgling administration. Other avenues, like whether compromising tapes exist of the president and what a Russian oligarch did with the internal Trump campaign polling data he was given, were left open-ended.

Its possible that some or all of these topics are being examined by federal prosecutors independent of Muellers office. Mueller revealed in his report that foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information was often transferred to FBI headquarters or field offices. Mueller also made 14 criminal referrals to the Justice Department and bureau. Only two of those referrals — involving Trumps former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig — are publicly known.

It seems clear that none of those subplots prompted Muellers team to consider bringing criminal charges. But while Muellers original mandate directed him to pursue both a counterintelligence investigation and a criminal probe, his report contains no classified information, leaving unknown to the public anything he might have discovered in that category.

Here are five of the biggest unresolved subplots of the Russia investigation:

Did a secret computer link exist between the Trump Organization and Moscows Alfa Bank?

Even before Mueller was appointed, the FBI was examining why a computer server for Alfa Bank, Russias largest commercial bank — led by oligarchs with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin — had thousands of contacts with a server used by the Trump Organization between May and September of 2016. A Slate report on the contacts based on research by computer scientists caused an online sensation just days before the election, until the New York Times reported that the FBI had concluded there could be what the paper called an “innocuous explanation” for the activity, like a marketing email or spam.

Many independent cybersecurity researchers and experts, many of whom worked at senior levels in the Pentagon, White House, and intelligence community, have continued to insist that the timing and frequency of the server activity was not consistent with an automated process. “The timing of the communication was not random, and it wasnt regular-periodic,” one researcher told told the New Yorker last October. “It was a better match for human activity.”

Innocuous or not, the server activity is not addressed in the Mueller report at all. The only discussion of Alfa Bank comes within the context of efforts by its CEO, Petr Aven, to connect with the Trump transition team in December 2016. Those efforts were apparently unsuccessful, according to Mueller, which may have led the special counsels office to dismiss the computer server activity as inconsequential. But theres still no conclusive explanation for the pinging, or why the Trump domain that Alfa was contacting abruptly disappeared two days after the New York Times notified Alfas representatives in Washington of the server activity.

Did Cambridge Analytica have ties to Russia or WikiLeaks?

One of the biggest subplots of the investigations into Russian election interference is the role the data mining firm Cambridge Analytica. But the controversial company didnt appear once in the report, despite indications that Mueller had questioned and subpoenaed former employees.

The Trump campaign hired Cambridge Analytica in the summer of 2016, and it played a key role in trying to sway voters using pilfered Facebook data during the election.

Aleksandr Kogan, a Russian-American who worked at the University of Cambridge, helped the firm harvest the raw data of up to 87 million Facebook profiles beginning in 2014, which the company then used to micro-target political ads. Theres a WikiLeaks connection, too: Alexander Nix, the companys CEO, has acknowledged reaching out to Assange in the summer of 2016 to offer his help in organizing any Hillary Clinton-related emails WikiLeaks planned to release.

Mueller subpoenaed Brittany Kaiser, the former business development director for the firm, earlier this year. She told The Guardian that she was fully cooperating. Sam Patten, a Washington-based operative who began cooperating with Muellers probe last year after pleading guilty to an unrelated charge, worked at the Oregon office of Cambridge Analyticas parent company, SCL Group, in runup to the 2014 midterm elections. And Mueller quizzed several digital experts who worked on Trumps campaign about the big-data firm, according to ABC.

Like the NRA, however, Cambridge Analytica is not mentioned at all in Muellers report. As such, it is still unclear what, if anything, the company knew about WikiLeaks plans or whether its micro-targeting efforts were coordinated with the Russians information warfare campaign.

Intriguingly, though, much of the portion of Muellers report dealing with Russias Internet Research Agency — which tasked internet “trolls” with spreading disinformation and propaganda during the election — was redacted in the final report because of potential harm to ongoing investigations.

What was the NRAs relationship with the Trump campaign, and with Russia?

Since the election, there have been numerous but vague data points indicating the Russians might be trying to infiltrate the National Rifle Association as a way to connect with Republicans and Trumps campaign.

Muellers report, however, failed to shed any light on the subject, despite media reports that the special counsel was poking around on the subject.

The first indication of Muellers interest in the potential ties came earlier this year, when former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg told CNN the special counsels team had asked him about the campaigns relationship with the NRA and the circumstances of a Trump speech there in 2015. The investigators continued asking witnesses about the campaigns ties to the NRA as recently as December 2018, according to CNN.

And last Julys indictment of Maria Butina, a Russian national who sought to infiltrate both the Trump campaign and the NRA during the election, also raised questions about the groups status as a potential intermediary between Trump and the Russians. Butina was charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the Justice Department.

Butina was the first person to ask Trump in public about his position on Russian sanctions during a 2015 event in Las Vegas, and tried to broker a meeting between Trump and her Russian handler, Alexander Torshin, at an NRA convention in May 2016.

McClatchy later reported that FBI counterintelligence investigators were investigating whether Torshin laundered money from Russia into the NRA to help fund Trumps campaign — the NRA spent $30 million to support Trump in 2016, triple what it spent on supporting Mitt Romney in 2012.

Despite the investigators interest, however, the gun-rights group was not mentioned a single time in Muellers report. And her case was handled by prosecutors in Washington, D.C., not by Muellers team.

What did WikiLeaks know about the source of the stolen emails?

Mueller did answer one lingering question about Russian election hacking — how Kremlin agents got their digitally pilfered emails to WikiLeaks.

But he didnt address the mRead More – Source