Mueller Report’s Secret Memos Mention Bulgarian Hackers in Connection with Investigation into Russia’s Interference in 2016 US Presidential Election

by Атанас Чобанов

Trump’s campaign had been seriously hunting Hillary Clinton’s missing 33,000 emails, and according to his campaign manager Steve Bannon, “hackers in Bulgaria might have them”. This emerges from the first installment of documents released by the US Justice Department and including all the materials from the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

BuzzFeed News on Saturday published these documents after filing five Freedom of Information Act lawsuits against the US government. Eventually, the US Justice Department was court-ordered to begin releasing the secret Mueller memos. According to BuzzFeed, these are “hundreds of pages of summaries of FBI interviews with witnesses, available here for the first time. Another installment will be released every month for at least the next eight years”.

“Those documents are a crucial national legacy, a key to understanding this important chapter in American history,” BuzzFeed emphasizes.

The documents, known as “302 reports,” are partly declassified summaries of interviews with key players in the 2016 election campaign that brought Trump to the White House and reveal what they have “told FBI agents about Russia, Trump, the email hack during the 2016 presidential campaign, and Trump’s associates’ handling of the special counsel’s investigation”. Among them is Steve Bannon, co-founder to the far-right site Breitbart News, the man seen as the engine behind Trump’s success. He served as White House Chief Strategist in the US presidential administration during the first seven months of Trump’s term.

A significant part of the documents is redacted, nevertheless, they speak clearly of the Republicans’ theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had orchestrated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) emails in 2016. BuzzFeed comments that the latter is “a conspiracy theory that’s persisted in right-wing circles, even after the US Intelligence Community concluded Russia was involved, and one that Trump brought up in his July 2019 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky”, the same call that triggered the impeachment proceedings against the sitting American President.

BuzzFeed points that “in a written memorandum of the July call released by the White House, Trump at one point says to Zelensky, “I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
However, it is unclear whether Trump has been interested in this Ukrainian server because it might have been used to hack the DNC emails or because it might contain the trove of the 33,000 missing emails from Hillary Clinton’s mailbox.

These are two separate topics, both present in the published documents. One pertains to the hacking of the DNC emails by Russian intelligence, later published by DCLeaks and Wikileaks.

The second revolves around the controversy over Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server for official public communications while holding the office of US Secretary of State, rather than using the State Department’s secure federal servers. An FBI examination of Clinton’s server found over 100 emails containing classified information, including 65 emails deemed “Secret” and 22 deemed “Top Secret”. A total of 33,000 emails have been deleted.

During the 2016 election campaign, the Republicans had been highly interested in being able to confirm that these emails had been archived somewhere and that they contain discrediting information.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing”

This appeal was extended by Trump at a July 27, 2016, press conference in Florida. Several hours later, Russian hackers attacked Hillary Clinton’s office computers. This fact has been established by Mueller’s probe, but he has not cited Trump’s words and has not made e connection between the two.

It is believed that the same group has attacked the DNC emails and has disseminated the thousands of stolen emails via WikiLeaks. The Mueller report accuses two military units of Russia’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff, GRU, of the attack, but does not find evidence that US citizens collaborated or that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

Nevertheless, Steve Bannon told the FBI that the Wikileaks’ documents had not been of much interest for the Republican campaign as it had rather focused on the missing 33,000 emails, hoping to get dirt on Clinton to use in the race for the presidential office. They had even discussed hiring an outside firm to find the emails.

Trump, himself, had been focused on “crooked Hillary” and the sale of the Uranium One company to Rosatom, prompting allegations of a USD 145 million-bribery scandal involving Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. For Trump and his campaign, this had been the perfect “Russian scandal” and they had thought that the 33,000 missing emails might unlock it.

Right there in the published documents, Bannon says that he thought that some hackers in Bulgaria might have this information. So far, there has been no information on “Bulgarian hackers” having been mentioned in the Mueller report and having been connected in one way or another with the hacker attack.

This is also the only mention of Bulgaria in the first published installment, but much more is forthcoming, as BuzzFeed points out.

Hillary Clinton’s mail server had been attacked several times in 2012-2014, but FBI investigators did not find any evidence of a successful hack. Attempts to attack computers in Germany, China and South Korea were intercepted, but Bulgaria has never been mentioned until now. In 2016, the US blamed Romanian hacker Marcel Lazar (nicknamed “Guccifer“) for revealing the existence of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. He was extradited to the United States and sentenced to 52 months in prison in September 2016.

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This post is also available in: Bulgarian