WASHINGTON — In the months leading up to the publication of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report Thursday, there were reports, rumors and speculations that Russia wouldn’t be the only country mentioned in regard to foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
Israel is indeed mentioned in the report 14 times — but none of these mentions have anything to do with the 2016 election. Most have to do with an episode from December 2016 involving contacts between then-President-elect Donald Trump’s national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Russian government ahead of a UN Security Council vote on Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.
Flynn, on instructions from Trump and the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, reached out to his Russian contacts and asked them to veto the anti-settlement resolution, which the Obama administration was planning not to veto.
Later, when he was already in the White House, Flynn lied to FBI investigators about his conversations with the Russians during this episode, setting a legal trap for himself and paving the way for his recruitment as a cooperating witness by Mueller.
In other words, Flynn got in serious legal trouble while he was trying to help Trump and Kushner win the trust of the Israeli government.
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Yet there is no indication in the Mueller report that Israel itself had asked for this kind of action from the incoming Trump administration. Flynn’s contacts with the Russian government over this issue were first reported last year by the New York Times.
Another short mention of Israel has to do with George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump presidential campaign. Mueller’s investigators had suspected, at some point during their investigation, that Papadopoulos was working as an agent for the Israeli government inside the Trump campaign.
They ultimately concluded, however, that while he had significant contacts with Israelis, there was no proof he was working for the Israeli government.
Saudi Arabia's sole mention in the report appears in the chapter on possible obstruction of justice by Trump, who according to the report tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop his investigation.
The report states that in May 2017, when Trump was flying from Saudi Arabia to Israel as part of his first foreign trip as president, he showed some of his aides a copy of a resignation letter prepared by Jeff Sessions, who was his attorney general at the time. Trump had asked for his resignation after he didn’t block Mueller's appointment. He ultimately decided not to accept the resignation, though, and instead put pressure on Sessions to limit or sabotage the investigation.