As a document that seeks to answer the question of whether a sitting president coordinated with a foreign government to interfere with the 2016 election, the Mueller report represents the findings of a serious investigation. But that doesn’t mean some of those findings weren’t entertainingly weird. There’s enough palace intrigue in this thing to occupy a New York Times reporter’s Twitter feed for weeks. For instance, did anyone expect to find out from the much-anticipated report that Hope Hicks called President Donald Trump “boss man,” or that George Papadopoulos LinkedIn-stalked Corey Lewandowski to get into the campaign, or that, at one point, Russia commissioned a Trump-loving Santa Claus? Read on for the most bizarre, moronic, and memorable details from the 448-page document.
I’d Like to Add You to My Professional Network on LinkedIn
How did George Papadopoulos first get involved in the mess that would eventually lead to his guilty plea for making false statements to the FBI and help set this all into motion? Just the harmless-seeming, actually evil social media app that is LinkedIn. It’s where Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Papadopoulos first reached out to the campaign to get a foot in the door.
As he was taking his position at LCILP, Papadopoulos contacted Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski via Linkedln and emailed campaign official Michael Glassner about his interest in joining the Trump Campaign. On March 2, 2016, Papadopoulos sent Glassner another message reiterating his interest. Glassner passed along word of Papadopoulos’s interest to another campaign official, Joy Lutes, who notified Papadopoulos by email that she had been told by Glassner to introduce Papadopoulos to Sam Clovis, the Trump Campaign’s national co-chair and chief policy advisor.
The morning after the election, an official at the Russian Embassy emailed campaign press secretary Hope Hicks to convey a message from Vladimir Putin, and she forwarded it to Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner with the following peppy message. Just one of those pickles all publicists deal with from time to time:
Don’t want to get duped but don’t want to blow off Putin!
Hicks got wind that the New York Times was working on a story about the now-notorious June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower, and after conferring with the president, she texted Donald Trump Jr. a draft of a statement. He pushed to include more details, but Hicks responded that the president wanted to keep it vague—and in the process she called the president “boss man.”
Hicks texted back, “I think that’s right too but boss man worried it invites a lot of questions[.]
Mueller’s Supposed Trump Golf Fee Vendetta
After Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was announced, Trump insisted that the former FBI director couldn’t do the job because of several conflicts of interests. One of those supposed conflicts? Trump suggested Mueller might hold a grudge against Trump because he was unhappy about being placed on a waitlist for a refund when his family resigned from one of Trump’s golf clubs in Virginia in 2011. Trump’s advisers, including Steve Bannon, disagreed that this should disqualify Mueller from serving. But it remains that the president thinks a golf club fee refund dispute is important enough to derail a federal investigation—a good reminder that not much has changed since his cashing-checks-for-13-cents days.
In the days following the Special Counsel’s appointment, the President repeatedly told advisors, including Priebus, Bannon, and McGahn, that Special Counsel Mueller had conflicts of interest. The President cited as conflicts … Mueller had disputed certain fees relating to his membership in a Trump golf course in Northern Virginia. The President’s advisors pushed back on his assertion of conflicts, telling the President they did not count as true conflicts. … Bannon told the President that the golf course dispute did not rise to the level of a conflict and claiming one was “ridiculous and petty.” The President did not respond when Bannon pushed back on the stated conflicts of interest.
Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 12; Bannon 2/14/18 302, at JO. In October 2011, Mueller resigned his family’s membership from Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Virginia, in a letter that noted that “we live in the District and find that we are unable to make full use of the Club” and that inquired “whether we would be entitled to a refund of a portion of our initial membership fee,” which was paid in 1994. 10/12/11 Letter, Muellers to Trump National Golf Club. About two weeks later, the controller of the club responded that the Muellers’ resignation would be effective October 31, 2011, and that they would be “placed on a waitlist to be refunded on a first resigned/first refunded basis” in accordance with the club’s legal documents. 10/27/11 Letter, Muellers to Trump National Golf Club. The Muellers have not had further contact with the club.
The Other Dmitry Klokov
In fall 2015, Ivanka Trump forwarded an email to Michael Cohen from a Russian woman on behalf of her husband, Dmitry Klokov, offering assistance with the Trump presidential campaign. Cohen and Klokov would go on to discuss the possibility of a meeting between Putin and Trump. But when Michael Cohen first heard Klokov’s name, Cohen looked him up online and assumed he was the same Dmitry Klokov who had represented Russia in the Olympics and world championships as a weightlifter. He was not.
Ivanka Trump forwarded the email to Cohen. He told the Office that, after receiving this inquiry, he had conducted an internet search for Klokov’s name and concluded (incorrectly) that Klokov was a former Olympic weightlifter.
You’ve probably heard about the Internet Research Agency’s nefarious activities with social media, but the agency also did grassroots work, such as recruiting someone to walk around New York wearing a Santa suit with a Trump mask … ? Well, you never know what could influence an election!
The IRA also recruited moderators of conservative social media groups to promote IRA-generated content, as well as recruited individuals to perform political acts (such as walking around New York City dressed up as Santa Claus with a Trump mask).
“Good Evening Buds!”
In addition to its work online, the IRA organized real-life rallies, many of which promoted the Trump campaign, even if they were often not well attended. A footnote in the report points to an Instagram post that may constitute the first such rally. Its strange language—who says “Good evening buds!”?—is a likely tell that it was not organized by an American.
Instagram ID 2228012168 (Stand For Freedom) 11/3/15 Post (“Good evening buds! Well I am planning to organize a confederate rally[ … ] in Houston on the 14 of November and I want more people to attend.”).
Roy Cohn Didn’t Take Notes
In a March 2018 meeting with White House counsel Don McGahn, Trump questioned McGahn’s habit of taking notes. Trump said notes were bad because … Roy Cohn didn’t do it.
The President then asked, “What about these notes? Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.”McGahn responded that he keeps notes because he is a “real lawyer” and explained that notes create a record and are not a bad thing. The President said, “I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes.”
Frankly, a Lot More Chess Than You Would Think
Dmitry Peskov, the Russian press secretary, and Kirill Dmitriev, who was in charge of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, were eager to meet members of the Trump team after Trump won the election. So eager that they even tried to invite them to hobnob at a chess tournament? In Appendix C of the report, Trump responded to questions from the Special Counsel’s Office in writing, one of which addressed this, meaning there exists a signed document from the president denying that he was at a chess tournament.
Later that day, Dmitriev flew to New York, where Peskov was separately traveling to attend the chess tournament. Dmitriev invited Nader to the opening of the tournament and noted that, if there was “a chance to see anyone key from Trump camp,” he “would love to start building for the future.” Dmitriev also asked Nader to invite Kushner to the event so that he (Dmitriev) could meet him. Nader did not pass along Dmitriev’s invitation to anyone connected with the incoming Administration. Although one World Chess Federation official recalled hearing from an attendee that President-Elect Trump had stopped by the tournament, the investigation did not establish that Trump or any Campaign or Transition Team official attended the event. And the President’s written answers denied that he had.
This Random Russian Fashion Influencer Lady
While Michael Cohen was trying to get the Trump Moscow project off the ground, Trump “indicated a willingness to travel if it would assist the project significantly,” per the Mueller report. One possible opportunity for a trip came in December 2015 in the form of an invitation to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. It was from Mira Duma, aka Miroslava Duma, a Russian fashion influencer—she has 1.6 million Instagram followers—and acquaintance of Ivanka’s. (Ivanka was invited too.) Duma’s father is a former Russian senator, hence the political connections. Also, much of the fashion world shunned her after she used a racist slur. As far as anyone can tell, Duma’s the only influencer whose name showed up in the Mueller report—which does make her pretty influential, I guess.
In late December 2015, Mira Duma—a contact of lvanka Trump’s from the fashion industry—first passed along invitations for Ivanka Trump and candidate Trump from Sergei Prikhodko, a Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation. On January 14, 2016, Rhona Graff sent an email to Duma stating that Trump was “honored to be asked to participate in the highly prestigious” Forum event, but that he would “have to decline” the invitation given his “very grueling and full travel schedule” as a presidential candidate. Graff asked Duma whether she recommended that Graff “send a formal note to the Deputy Prime Minister” declining his invitation; Duma replied that a formal note would be “great.”
In November 2015, Trump real estate adviser Felix Sater floated the idea, in an email to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, that the Trump project in Moscow could be a way to get in good with Putin, which could then help win the election. Sater salivates at the possibility in this email, in which he addresses Cohen as “buddy” and Trump as “our boy.”
Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process. … Michael, Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, and Donald owns the republican nomination. And possibly beats Hillary and our boy is in. … We will manage this process better than anyone. You and I will get Donald and Vladimir on a stage together very shortly. That the game changer.
The Time Kushner Was Given a Bag of Soil
If you search the word dirt in the report, you’ll get a lot of results, but “soil” comes up only once: When Jared Kushner—upon meeting with Sergey Gorkov, who was in charge of a government-owned bank in Russia as well as a “direct line to Putin”—received two gifts from Gorkov in December 2016: a painting and soil from the place in Belarus where Jared’s family “originated.” So it was special soil, but it was soil nonetheless. It would probably be fun to present Kushner with some dirt.
At the start of the meeting, Gorkov presented Kushner with two gifts: a painting and a bag of soil from the town in Belarus where Kushner’s family originated.
Deep Thoughts on “if It’s What You Say I Love It”
Donald Trump Jr.’s memorable “if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” email is an important reference point for the Mueller report, coming up no fewer than six times. Below, the report attempts to explain why Trump campaign officials are not being charged with crimes, and its analysis of DJT Jr.’s memorable turn of phrase (basically a meme at this point) provides a hilarious juxtaposition of stiff, lawyerly, formal language and Jr.’s tossed-off email.
The uncertainty over what would be delivered could be reflected in Trump Jr.’s response (“if it’s what you say I love it”) [emphasis added].
A Handy Pocket Letter of Resignation
When Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017, Trump blamed Attorney General Jeff Sessions. This, in fact, is when he uttered the quote heard round the world. Right after, the president asked for Sessions’ resignation letter, but you’ll recall Sessions didn’t actually resign until November 2018. Throughout summer 2017, a game of chicken ensued, with the president deciding Sessions should stay, then taking it back and publicly excoriating him, then changing his mind again, etc. Sessions saw the writing on the wall and, from July 2017 on, carried a letter of resignation in his pocket, kind of like a pocketknife: a pocket letter of resignation. You never know when you might need one.
According to Hunt, in light of the President’s frequent public attacks, Sessions prepared another resignation letter and for the rest of the year carried it with him in his pocket every time he went to the White House.
A Promise of a Tweet
A footnote in the report goes over President Donald Trump’s efforts to maintain his good relationship with Michael Flynn after Flynn’s dismissal. Chris Christie described a phone call between Flynn and Jared Kushner he witnessed the day after Flynn’s firing, in which essential promises were made that Trump would tweet something nice about Flynn.
See Priebus 1/18/17 302, at 9-10 (the President asked Priebus to contact Flynn the week he was terminated to convey that the President still cared about him and felt bad about what happened to him; Priebus thought the President did not want Flynn to have a problem with him); McFarland 12/22/17 302, at 18 (about a month or two after Flynn was terminated, the President asked McFarland to get in touch with Flynn and tell him that he was a good guy, he should stay strong, and the President felt bad for him); Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 9 (recalling the call from Priebus and an additional call from Hicks who said she wanted to relay on behalf of the President that the President hoped Flynn was okay); Christie 2/13/19 302, at 3 (describing a phone conversation between Kushner and Flynn the day after Flynn was fired where Kushner said, “You know the President respects you. The President cares about you. I’ll get the President to send out a positive tweet about you later,” and the President nodded his assent to Kushner’s comment promising a tweet).
Every ousted Trump official’s dream.
This post has been updated to include more weirdness.