Countries other than Russia could be swept up in the fallout from Mueller report

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- "[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." That's the bottom line of special counsel Robert Mueller 's investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, according to a summary released over the weekend by U.S. Attorney General William Barr .

What exactly are these alleged Russian interference activities? Barr mentioned only two in his summary.

The first consisted of a bunch of internet trolls in Russia allegedly creating advertisements and graphics for consumption on social media, characterized by Barr as "designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election." The second involves Russian hackers allegedly hacking into Democratic National Committee computers and disseminating internal communications that laid bare the backstabbing within the Democratic Party, including how DNC members conspired against Hillary Clinton's rival in the Democratic primaries, Bernie Sanders.

Mueller had previously charged a bunch of Russians for these alleged activities, from online trolls to military intelligence officers. But let's face it: It's unlikely that any of these accused Russians will ever set foot inside an American courtroom. Therefore, any evidence upon which allegations of Russian election interference are based will never be tested. This is critical, particularly in the cyber world, since leaked CIA documents have revealed that intelligence agencies can spoof the origin of an attack to make it look like it came from a different country than the one that actually perpetrated it.

So, at the end of the Mueller investigation, we have some unprovable online hacking as the basis for allegations of electoral interference (attributed to the Russian government anyway), coupled with the inability to link President Donald Trump to its coordination.

When the alleged interference could feasibly have originated in any nation-state with an intelligence agency, perhaps the investigation never should have been launched in the first place. Unless, of course, one believes that a handful of Russian trolls who were churning out laughable ads for Facebook and Instagram actually managed to convince anyone of anything they didn't already believe --let alone that they managed to swing an election in a country of nearly 330 million people.

What if America has been dragged through this entire drama, bombarded with "Russia, Russia, Russia" for the past few years, only to learn that any collusion lay elsewhere -- but that it fell outside of Mueller's principal (and relatively narrow) "Russian collusion" investigative mission?

There's an interesting line in Barr's summary: "During the course of his investigation, the Special Counsel also referred several matters to other offices for further action."

Mueller's original mandate, according to Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, was to investigate "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump," but also "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation."

It's likely that matters falling outside the sphere of direct contact between the Trump campaign and members of the Russian government were farmed out by Mueller to the offices of other prosecutors, and that these cases could involve coordination with representatives of foreign governments other than Russia.

Heavily redacted documents from some of Mueller's court filings suggest that there are other cases involving foreign entities to which we aren't yet privy. Documentation regarding the foreign lobbying efforts of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and information about meetings that took place at Trump Tower involving Trump campaign members and representatives of foreign nations could fit within this category. There's also evidence of a meeting at Trump Tower in December 2016 between Flynn and the leader of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who has hardly made a secret of his interest in shaping the Middle East in favor of allies Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to the detriment of Iran.

Consider some of Trump's decisions and policies since taking office: hostility toward Iran, recognition of Israel's claim on the Golan Heights, moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and brushing off the bone-sawing of a member of the U.S. media inside a Saudi consulate in Turkey while the CIA pins responsibility on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Does this look like Russian collusion to you? Or does it seem as if the real foreign influence could lie elsewhere?

After two years and some 2,800 subpoenas, all we've gotten from gatekeeper Barr about the Mueller report is a declaration akin to telling us the earth isn't flat: Trump didn't work with Russian President Vladimir Putin to win the 2016 election.

However, there's a good chance Mueller stumbled onto more interesting, non-Russian influence that has yet to be fully revealed.