‘Problematic is an understatement’: Mueller excoriates Trump for praising WikiLeaks during the 2016 election

Robert Mueller

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Robert Mueller
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Leah Millis/Reuters

  • The former special counsel Robert Mueller was asked for his thoughts on President Donald Trump‘s effusive praise of the radical pro-transparency group WikiLeaks when he testified before Congress on Wednesday.
  • “Well,” Mueller said, “problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some hope, or some boost, to what is and should be illegal activity.”
  • WikiLeaks has been described as a “hostile intelligence service” and its founder, Julian Assange, was indicted on multiple counts earlier this year.
  • WikiLeaks also played a central role in the Russian government’s hacking and disinformation campaign during the 2016 US election.
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The former special counsel Robert Mueller told lawmakers on Wednesday that President Donald Trump‘s frequent praise for the radical pro-transparency organization WikiLeaks during the 2016 election was “problematic.”

Mueller appeared before the House judiciary and intelligence committees for two back-to-back hearings on his findings in the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether members of the Trump campaign conspired with Moscow in its effort.

At the second hearing, which took place before the intelligence panel, Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley repeated statements Trump made heaping praise on WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign.

“I love WikiLeaks,” he said at one campaign rally shortly before the election.

“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” he said at another. And at a campaign event on October 31, 2016, he said, “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”

Read more: LIVE: Mueller slams Trump’s attacks on the Russia probe, saying ‘it is not a witch hunt’

“Would any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?” Quigley asked Mueller, who served as FBI director before retiring from the public sector in 2013. “How do you react to them?”

“Well,” Mueller said, “problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some hope, or some boost, to what is and should be illegal activity.”

When Quigley asked Mueller earlier whether he agreed with then-CIA director Mike Pompeo’s assessment that WikiLeaks is a “hostile intelligence service,” Mueller said he did. He also noted that Julian Assange, the organization’s founder, has been indicted.

WikiLeaks played a central role in the Russian government’s hacking and interference campaign in the 2016 election.

After gaining access to the Democratic National Committee’s system in 2016, Russian operatives disseminated thousands of emails via hacker Guccifer 2.0, who leaked the information to WikiLeaks.

Read more: GOP Rep. Louie Gohmert screams at Mueller, who offers a 4-word response

Mueller’s team determined that Guccifer 2.0 was a front for the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence outfit. WikiLeaks published the first batch of DNC emails on July 22, one day before the Democratic National Convention.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange told Fox News’ Sean Hannity during a January interview that the Russian government did not provide the hacked DNC emails to him. But US intelligence agencies believe WikiLeaks has become a Kremlin propaganda tool.

A little over two months later, on October 7, WikiLeaks released a batch of emails from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta’s account. The hack of Podesta’s emails came after Trump confidant Roger Stone tweeted in August, “Trust me, it will soon the [sic] Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary”

WikiLeaks continued releasing Podesta’s emails and published nearly 60,000 messages leading up to Election Day.