New filings by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Friday provided fresh clues about where the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is headed. Mueller’s filing said President Trump’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, was contacted in 2015 by a “Russian national” seeking “synergy” between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. The special counsel’s team also said Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, lied about meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, whom the U.S. government has linked to Russian intelligence. The Mueller filings made news, of course. But how much has what we know about Trump and Russia really changed since 2016? Not as much as you might think. On the Friday before the Democratic National Convention in July 2016, Russian agents released, through WikiLeaks, thousands of emails stolen from the DNC. The timing caused maximum harm at a critical moment in the Democratic contest. As campaign manager for Hillary Clinton, I appeared two days later on two Sunday political talk shows, ready for an avalanche of questions about the emails, which I got. But rather than focusing on the content of the documents, I thought it was important to discuss why they were released in the first place.
“Experts are telling us that Russian state actors broke into the DNC, stole these emails, and other experts are now saying that the Russians are releasing these emails for the purpose of actually helping Donald Trump,” I told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “The Lead.” I wasn’t offering my opinion; I was stating what cybersecurity experts had determined.
Weeks before the emails’ release, the Russian connection was already clear: The Post article that on June 14 broke the news of the DNC hack said in its headline that “Russian government hackers” were the culprits. Vice News’s Motherboard reported two days later that some of the technology used to process the stolen documents employed Russian language settings, and one username referred to the first head of Soviet intelligence.