How the EU broke Ukraine (with help from Russia)

Four years after the EU’s push for closer ties with Ukraine provoked Russia and helped start a revolution, the country is ravaged by war and nearly broke.

So as EU leaders gather in Brussels Friday to celebrate the Eastern Partnership, their foreign policy initiative to strengthen relations with countries in the former Soviet bloc, the central question is: Can the EU pick up the pieces?

Do not expect a clear answer.

EU policymakers have been, and remain, deeply divided. Some argue that there is a moral obligation to do more to protect Ukraine and end Russian military aggression, especially because Kiev has shown commitment to make tough changes. Others say the West has already provided too much aid, and taken on too much risk, for a country where corruption remains woven into the fabric of government and efforts at reform, particularly in the judicial, financial and energy sectors, have been far too slow.

In a bid to show continued support for Ukraine ahead of Friday’s summit, the European Investment Bank on Thursday announced an additional €37 million in financing to help prop up the country’s agriculture sector. Total financial assistance to Ukraine from the EU is now roughly €12 billion — including, in 2014, the largest financial package ever given to a non-EU country.

“We need to increase engagement with stakeholders, find the hearts of ordinary people, show they are not abandoned” — Jovita Neliupšienė, Lithuania’s ambassador to the EU

Symbolism aside, Ukraine remains in serious trouble. A new study commissioned by the European Parliament declared the Eastern Partnership to be an overall success, but also noted that 94 percent of the aid to Ukraine has been in the form of loans, saddling the country with debt that will hinder its recovery in the long term. Over the next five years, the country will have to repay €38 billion, yet there are just €5 billion in reserves in the National Bank.

The political agreement with the EU has brought “Kiev closer to the EU and other Western institutions than ever before,” the report’s authors wrote, citing a new visa-free travel regime. “In the wake of the Euromaidan Revolution and subsequent Russian challenges to Ukraine’s sovereignty, the era of geopolitical choice for Kiev is over. Still, these dramatic events have made EU and NATO membership more distant than ever.”

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, left, is welcomed by European Council President Donald Tusk to the European Council | Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

However, the report said: “Ukraine’s economic downturn — a result of post-Maidan developments, Russia’s aggression, two decades of delayed reforms, and the government’s efforts to stabilize [the] macro-financial situation — has led to serious dissatisfaction among the population.”

One senior EU official noted that Ukraine’s government expenditures had dropped in the last two years to 40 percent of GDP from 53 percent signalling commitment to austerity programs and genuine success in curtailing corruption. “They adopted health, education and pension reform in the last five months,” the official said. “To say they are reforming too slowly — by what measure?”

Difficult neighbors

Ukraine is the most dramatic, but not the only, illustration of the ambiguous results of the Eastern Partnership, which was the EU’s signature foreign policy initiative when launched in Prague in 2009.

The other five partner countries are all facing difficulties.

Armenia and Azerbaijan are still at war over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. Moldova remains in a standoff with the pro-Russian breakaway region of Transnistria. Two of Georgia’s territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are all-but-annexed by Russia. And Belarus is a largely isolated police state, despite some thawing of relations with the West.

Longtime Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, who had faced EU sanctions because of political repression in his country, was invited to the Eastern Partnership summit for the first time but declined.

EU officials generally reject claims that they bear responsibility for the political crisis that erupted in Ukraine in the fall of 2013, when they pushed hard on then President Viktor Yanukovych to sign political and economic accords with the bloc. At the same time, Moscow pressured him not to sign and threatened economic reprisal if he did.

Yanukovych formally refused to sign the agreements at that year’s Eastern Partnership summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, setting off the mass protests that ultimately toppled him. Yanukovych fled to Russia (Moscow called it a coup), and relations between the Kremlin and the West deteriorated to their worst levels since the Cold War.

The so-called Normandy format peace process, led by France and Germany since 2015, has failed to end the conflict, prompting some criticism that Paris, Berlin, Brussels and Washington have not done enough.

President of Belarus, Aleksander Lukashenko, declined his invite to the summit | Sergei Gapon/AFP via Getty Images

Despite that criticism, Friday’s summit will focus not on the Ukraine conflict but on updating a list of “20 deliverables for 2020” that the EU first developed last December, a sign that the early ambition of the Eastern Partnership program has yielded to reality.

Meanwhile, there has been ongoing debate over how much more the EU can or should do. Lithuania proposed an ambitious “European plan for Ukraine” that aims to leverage an additional €50 billion in investment over 10 years, but there is no consensus yet on implementing it.

“We need to increase engagement with stakeholders, find the hearts of ordinary people, show they are not abandoned, build capacity and resilience of Eastern Partnership countries and of Ukraine in particular,” said Lithuania’s ambassador to the EU, Jovita Neliupšienė.

“Russia does what it does, it lashes out with force against developments it doesn’t like” — Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute

Matthew Rojansky, director of the Kennan Institute, a Russia-focused think tank in Washington, said Moscow bore responsibility for the conflict, but the West was wrong in pretending that the current peace initiative had any chance of success.

“Russia does what it does, it lashes out with force against developments it doesn’t like,” Rojansky said. “Russia, with the full collusion of some very cynical actors in Ukraine, broke Ukraine.”

But he said the West needed to step up and find a way to avoid competing on Russia’s terms. “We’re playing pretend,” he said. “Once you accept that the competition will be waged on post-Soviet rules of exerting power through force, we have already lost.”


Trump to meet with Senate Republicans next week ahead of tax vote

President Donald Trump is picturd. | Getty Images

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump will head to Capitol Hill next week to huddle with Senate Republicans as they prepare to pass their own tax overhaul when lawmakers return from the Thanksgiving break.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, who chairs the Senate Republican Policy Committee, made the announcement Friday. Trump made a similar visit to the House Republican Conference shortly before that chamber passed its tax legislation last week.

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“We look forward to welcoming President Trump to the Senate again next Tuesday,” Barrasso, the fourth-ranking Senate GOP official, said in a statement Friday. “This is a historic opportunity for our conference and the president to build on our momentum to give Americans the tax relief they’ve been waiting for.”

Trump is also scheduled to meet separately with the top four congressional leaders – Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York – later that day.


Trump condemns ‘cowardly terrorist attack’ on mosque in Egypt

The al-Rawdah mosque is pictured. | Getty Images

The al-Rawdah mosque is pictured. | Stringer/AFP/Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Friday denounced the “horrible and cowardly terrorist attack” in Egypt after more than 200 people were killed in a slaughter at a mosque.

“Horrible and cowardly terrorist attack on innocent and defenseless worshipers in Egypt. The world cannot tolerate terrorism, we must defeat them militarily and discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence!” Trump tweeted.

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Attackers bombed the al-Rawdah mosque in the town of Bir al-Abd and opened fire on worshipers observing Friday prayers, most of whom were Sufi Muslims. At least 125 people were also injured according to MENA, the Egyptian state news agency.

Egypt has been working to eradicate militants associated with the Islamic State in the region. Israel, which partners closely with Egypt on security issues, also expressed condolences for the attack. Education Minister Naftali Bennett called via Twitter for “a time for international unity in the war on terror wherever it presents itself.”


Europe eats Trump’s lunch

Armed with Champagne and Parmesan, Europe is trouncing the U.S. in the multibillion-dollar battle to set the global gold standard in gourmet foods.

Brussels is accelerating international trade agreements to impose a new world order in protected delicacies, while an increasingly introverted U.S. administration under President Donald Trump retreats from global dealmaking. With even Mexico and Canada turning toward the European model, the U.S. is being outflanked by the EU at the lucrative end of the food business.

Europe’s quest for supremacy in the gastronomic Great Game hinges on intellectual property rights. Each time the EU signs a trade deal, it pushes to lock its partners into its ecosystem of geographical indications, or GIs, which protect food names traditionally tied to a certain region, such as Bordeaux wines and Parma ham.

That means non-EU farmers and exporters take a direct hit. When the EU wins protection for, say, Italian Parmesan and Greek feta in a deal with Japan, it means that Australian and U.S. dairies are barred from selling their products there under those labels. They instead have to rebrand and use labels such as “Parmesan-style,” which often turn off consumers who may see the products as unauthentic.

Europe’s Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan told POLITICO that the EU’s 3,300 GIs now represent 6 percent of food and drink production, and 15 percent of exports. The brand power of the most iconic foodstuffs, he said, had helped turn Europe into “the best food address in the world.”

If Brussels concludes all the trade deals involving GIs that it is now working on across Latin America, Australasia and China, Europe’s culinary security shield will cover markets with a population of some 2.3 billion — over a third of the world’s population.

EU big in Asia

The Asia-Pacific region is a particularly attractive hunting ground for Brussels. When Trump withdrew from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership in January, he unwittingly pumped jet fuel into Europe’s regional ambitions. The European Commission has since not only struck a landmark deal with Japan, but it is also in talks with a raft of countries once involved in TPP: Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. And it’s working on an upgrade to the Chilean and Mexican agreements. It is also closing in on a deal with the Mercosur trading bloc — Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay — and a specific GI deal with Beijing. Brussels concluded negotiations with Vietnam last year.

“TPP has been abandoned by the U.S. and the EU has rushed into the void that was left,” said Bernard O’Connor, who specializes in GIs as a managing partner at Brussels law firm Nctm.

Trump’s withdrawal from the TPP deal was particularly astonishing since Washington originally identified it as a way to fight GIs. A briefing document from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative cast the Pacific accord as a way to shield owners of existing trademarks and ward off EU-style GIs that “shut out U.S. agricultural and food producers.” America’s national dairy lobby also warned Trump that, while TPP was imperfect, it would protect against the “abuse” of geographical indications.

A Bulgarian harvester works in the vineyard of the Champagne house Pommery-Vranken on August 30, 2017 in Reims, France | Francois Nascimbeni/AFP via Getty Images

The former EU trade negotiator played down Trump’s withdrawal from TPP as a reason for Europe’s success and said countries were prepared to accept the GI system simply because they wanted to trade with Europe, or because they wanted equal protection for their own GI products.

“Our success with GIs started when the current [U.S.] administration was nowhere to be seen,” he said.

Outside observers are often bemused by the Herculean diplomatic effort that EU trade negotiators put into GIs, but the money associated with protected labels is jaw-dropping. The EU said in 2013 its trade in GIs was worth some €54 billion a year.

The figure has likely ballooned since then.

The stakes are so high that GI negotiations often require the highest ranks of government. One person familiar with negotiations recalled that former Commission President José Manuel Barroso had to repeatedly call former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper after midnight at make-or-break stages of talks with Ottawa in 2013 — all to ensure that European cheeses were properly protected. The Ottawa deal was signed three years later. 

Make America small again

For Europe, GIs are common sense: Quality products distinguished by centuries of savoir-faire must be distinguished from cheap imitations.

To Washington, Brussels’ insistence on protecting GIs smacks 0f arrogance and greed. The U.S. took in millions of poor Europeans, along with their rich and varied cuisines, during the 19th and 20th centuries, and they went on to set up thriving food businesses. In an effort to protect them, Washington insists that terms such as Parmesan belong to everyone.

It’s failing to win the argument.

Washington claims it has a system that works just as well: trademarks. But these are far broader than GIs, and are not narrowly tied to a particular place. The U.S. treats Parmesan, feta and Champagne as generics that don’t necessarily have to have been made in Italy, Greece or France.

Slabs of feta cheese are on display in Athens. The U.S. treats feta cheese as a generic product, while in Canada, new feta producers are blocked from entering the market | Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

Italian Parmesan-makers have registered several Parmigiano Reggiano trademarks in the U.S., tying the name to their own type of cheese. This type of protection doesn’t stop American food conglomerate Kraft Heinz from selling tons of grated Parmesan in the country, however.

A GI expert with experience in EU negotiations said the European model was bound to spread and dismissed the American argument that products made there were equivalent to European counterparts. “Once it has a brand, people will trust it and will know that it’s made in a certain way, with a certain care … and they are ready to give much more money for it,” he said. “The [Americans] are comparing it to something that is done without any of this care. But that is free-riding on the reputation.”

Washington concedes that GI protection is sometimes appropriate and even signed an agreement protecting wine names with the EU in 2006. It even has a few GIs of its own, such as Kentucky bourbon or Idaho potatoes.

A U.S.-based GI expert said Brussels essentially twists the arms of smaller countries to enforce its own system and boost its own food sector’s profits in exchange for access to the European market.

“It’s a crazy demand,” she said. “The EU has made a lot of progress in upping the profile of GIs as an intellectual property right.”

She added that shoppers would eventually pick the European product if they’re told it’s more authentic.

“The EU’s dream is to box out the U.S.,” said Shawna Morris, a senior director at the Consortium for Common Food Names, a lobby that fights EU geographical indications worldwide. Morris said the EU exploits its size to bully trade partners into accepting its system and cast 2017 as a “critical year” for geographical indications, as more countries look likely to side with Brussels. U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross lambasted GIs as an “artificial trade barrier” in November and accused the EU of being highly protectionist.

The EU’s bilateral trade deals make it “very difficult for the U.S. to come back subsequently and try to claw back the names that the U.S. considers generic,” O’Connor said.

But he doesn’t see Brussels as a bully.

“Is that aggression? No, it’s trade negotiation,” he said. “The EU has been very good at it.”

Snowball effect

The Commission’s recent trade crusade in Asia and Latin America has nonetheless spread heightened fear across the Atlantic. A slew of U.S. food lobbies and members of Congress wrote to the president last month demanding that he act against the EU’s promotion of GIs in Mexico, Japan and Mercosur, citing a severe threat to American business.

They also warned that governments such as Ottawa already had “carelessly given the EU virtually everything it asked for.”

“This is a critical moment,” the letter said.

An official from a country that recently signed a deal with the EU said Commission negotiators made it very clear that accepting GIs were key demands and that the deal would serve as an example to other trade partners.

Morris, from the International Consortium for Common Food Names, said Commission negotiators are famously exacting and duplicitous, going through food names line by line, while quietly seeking to protect names in translation, so that Parmigiano Reggiano and Parmesan mean the same thing.

The former EU negotiator rejected the accusation. “I hope you don’t think we twist the arm of China,” he said. “Even Canada, frankly, they are hard negotiating partners.”

A man views wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano at the Slow Food Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre on September 22, 2016 in Turin, Italy | Marco Bertorello/AFP via Getty Images

Brussels does not always achieve full protection — especially in countries with strong European diaspora communities such as Canada. Discussions surrounding feta were particularly tense, owing to the country’s roughly 250,000-strong population of Greek descent. In the end, both parties agreed to allow existing Canadian feta producers to continue marketing their products, but blocked any new market entrants — a process known as “grandfathering.”

To some, the very idea of signing away their heritage still rankles, however. “The Old World supplied the immigrants. It seems to be very weird that you’re saying that people can’t take culture with them,” said one dairy negotiator who declined to be named for fear of influencing current negotiations with the EU.

The U.S. Trade Representative argues the topic is high on its priority list. “The EU GI agenda remains highly concerning, especially because of the significant extent to which it undermines the scope of trademarks and other IP rights held by U.S. producers, and imposes barriers on market access for American-made goods and services that rely on the use of common names, such as parmesan or feta,” it said in a report this year.

Brussels insists it is attuned to these cultural sensitives and flatly rejects the accusation that it bullies others. For example, the EU agreed to protect the Portuguese name of São Jorge cheese in Canada — a hard cheese from one of the volcanic islands in the Azores, as part of the Canada trade deal. That meant that Canada’s Portuguese community could still sell a cheese marked with the English or French translations: St. George or St. George’s.

Massimo Vittori, managing director of oriGIn, an NGO that advocates GIs, said people are waking up to Europe’s concept because they feel adrift in a globalized world. “It reconciles globalization with culture and roots,” he said.

The largest prize — China — lies in wait. Brussels and Beijing are negotiating a deal that would have each recognize 100 of the other’s geographical indications. Vittori said those 100 could just be the bridgehead.

“This is just a beginning,” he said.

This article is part of the special report Leveraging Food Labels.


As he investigates Trump’s aides, special counsel’s record shows surprising flaws

When he was named special counsel in May, Robert S. Mueller III was hailed as the ideal lawman — deeply experienced, strait-laced and nonpartisan — to investigate whether President Trump’s campaign had helped with Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The accolades squared with Mueller’s valor as a Marine rifle platoon commander in Vietnam and his integrity as a federal prosecutor, a senior Justice Department official and FBI director from 2001 to 2013, the longest tenure since J. Edgar Hoover. He was praised by former courtroom allies and opponents, and by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.

But at 73, Mueller’s record also shows a man of fallible judgment who can be slow to alter his chosen course. At times, he has intimidated or provoked resentment among subordinates. And his tenacious yet linear approach to evaluating evidence led him to fumble the biggest U.S. terrorism investigation since 9/11.

Now, as he leads a sprawling investigation aimed at the White House, Mueller’s prosecutorial discretion looms over the Trump presidency.

Mueller oversaw investigations of Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, and Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, among other high-profile cases. But his tendency to command, rather than inspire, again came into sharp relief.

“He doesn’t invite disagreement,” said a former prosecutor who served under Mueller. “He’s an order-giver.”

He could be harsh on subordinates — sparking resentment when he referred privately to reassigning career lawyers as “moving the furniture.”


In 1993, at age 50, Mueller decided to try private practice again, joining Hale and Dorr as a partner in Washington, representing corporate clients.

The money was better, but Muller was unfulfilled. After two years, he returned to government service — signing on as a homicide prosecutor in the District of Columbia. It was a time of mayhem in the nation’s capital, made worse by the scourge of crack cocaine.

Mueller began working with a “cold case” squad, comprised of Metropolitan Police detectives and FBI agents, that sought to bring murderers to justice.

The squad sent applications for search warrants and subpoenas for Mueller’s review before seeking a judge’s approval. Unlike some prosecutors, Mueller “wouldn’t automatically give a signature,” recalled one of the investigators.

“He would ask, ‘Have you done your work? Do you have your facts?’ … He knew what he was asking was the way to make sure everything stood up” in court.

Building cases often entailed forging trust with victims, witnesses and suspects. Relating to both the sympathetic and the unsavory did not play to Mueller’s strengths.

“He was a gruff guy, and a lot of times, there wasn’t much warmth or ability to really build a bond or connect with a victim-witness,” said the same investigator. “There’s times when you’ve got to bond with the suspect to get what you need. His personality wasn’t necessarily the best for that.”

Nor was Mueller an easy fit with juries in Washington, especially in the freewheeling local Superior Court, where decorum is typically below what judges demand in U.S. District Court.

“In D.C. Superior Court, it’s a bit like meatball surgery. It’s a bit like a M.A.S.H. unit — it’s the unexpected,” said one of Mueller’s former colleagues. “His strength was not as a M.A.S.H. unit trial lawyer.”

Mueller, a registered Republican, moved back to San Francisco in 1998 after President Clinton appointed him U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. In July 2001, President George W. Bush nominated him as FBI director, and he won unanimous Senate confirmation. Mueller asked the White House for a delay, however, so he could undergo treatment for prostate cancer.

His first day on the job was Sept. 4, 2001 — a week before hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.

At 7 a.m. Sept. 12, Mueller, then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and other officials arrived for an emergency briefing at the FBI’s operations center. The senior agent had been given an hour to prepare while investigators were still combing airline manifests and scouring crash sites.

When Mueller asked a rapid-fire series of questions, the agent replied that accurate information was not yet “established.”

“ ‘I want answers, goddamn it!’ ” Mueller exploded, an official who was present recalled.

Mueller already was coming under siege from critics who questioned why the FBI had not prevented the 9/11 attacks. Fear spread of a “second wave” terrorist strike.

Mueller countered by announcing plans to reshape the FBI. Its first priority would be to prevent another terrorist attack — not conventional law enforcement.

The enormity of the FBI’s challenge emerged within weeks.

A handful of letters, laced with powdered anthrax, killed five people and sickened 17 others. The government closed congressional office buildings, the Supreme Court and postal facilities as the country braced for further biological terrorism.

But Mueller’s FBI struggled for nearly seven years to determine who was responsible — even as he personally managed the case from headquarters.

“The director was always the leader of the anthrax investigation, period,” said Michael Mason, former head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.

The FBI focused on Steven Hatfill, a virologist at the U.S. Army’s laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md. In January 2003, Mueller assured Congressional leaders in a closed-door briefing that bloodhounds had traced anthrax from the attacks to Hatfill.

But Hatfill had no experience handling anthrax. Nor did he have access to anthrax stored at Ft. Detrick or elsewhere. Years later, the FBI would reject the bloodhound evidence as unreliable.

After media leaks fingered Hatfill, he sued the FBI and the Justice Department on privacy grounds. In June 2008, the government agreed to pay Hatfill about $5.8 million.

Two months later, on Aug. 6, Mueller summoned senior investigators and prosecutors on the anthrax case to his seventh-floor office. The FBI would hold a news conference that afternoon, and he wanted to recap the case’s stunning denouement.

Bruce E. Ivins, an Army microbiologist at Ft. Detrick who specialized in handling anthrax, had committed suicide after his lawyers informed him he was about to be charged with murder for the letter attacks.

Evidence showed Ivins had created and held custody of a batch of anthrax traced by DNA to each of the killings. Ivins had spent hours alone in specially equipped labs just before each batch of letters was mailed.

Mueller let others hold the news conference. Some aides who met Mueller that day think he was reluctant to publicly address the missteps with Hatfill, the bloodhounds and the long delay in focusing on Ivins.

“I think he was personally embarrassed,” said one. “I would assess him as someone that can’t accept the fact that he screwed up.”


At FBI headquarters, protecting the director from embarrassment was ingrained.

A case in point unfolded in 2011 — just as the Senate was considering President Obama’s request to extend Mueller’s expiring term as FBI director by two years.

The FBI’s Inspection Division, a unit that scrutinizes bureau operations, conducted a three-week examination of the Directorate of Intelligence, a unit that Mueller created to carry out the shift in preventing terrorism.

“They inspected it, and they wrote the inspection report and it said the whole thing’s broken — set it on fire and start from scratch,” said a former official familiar with the report. Another ex-official confirmed the account.

Mueller’s top aides saw peril in following normal procedure — forwarding the report to the Justice Department’s inspector general for possible follow-up action.

“It was, ‘The director will get skewered. We’ve got to protect him, and we can’t issue this,’ ” the former official recalled.

The aides kept the report in-house, the former official said, by tweaking its language.

“Anywhere it said, ‘inspection,’ they changed it to ‘review.’ And said this was a review, not an inspection, and therefore they didn’t have to issue it to … the inspector general.”

Two years later, Mueller — without citing the inspection — informed Congress that he had restructured the Directorate of Intelligence “to maximize organizational collaboration, identify and address emerging threats and more effectively integrate intelligence and operations within the FBI.”

During his final months as FBI director, Mueller was again enlisted to help with a thorny matter in U.S.-Russia relations.

In the summer of 2013, the White House asked Mueller to negotiate the release from Russia of Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who stole volumes of classified material on U.S. surveillance operations at home and abroad. Snowden had fled to Moscow after leaking the data to journalists.

Unlike the Cold War spy cases, the U.S. did not offer a trade. The Obama administration wanted Moscow to return Snowden as part of a diplomatic “reset,” an ultimately unsuccessful effort to improve relations with Russia.

Lisa Monaco, the White House’s Homeland Security advisor, tasked Mueller to talk to Alexander Bortnikov, head of Russia’s internal security and counter-intelligence service, the FSB.

For at least a week, Mueller called Bortnikov’s office, starting at 3 a.m. in Washington. Each time, the FBI director was turned aside without getting Bortnikov on the line.

“Mueller just kept calling over there, like begging to talk to the guy,” said a former official. Instead, Snowden was granted asylum in Russia.

The unsuccessful outreach offered Mueller insight into Russian intelligence, who U.S. officials say helped hack and leak Democratic Party emails last year in an effort to undermine U.S. democracy and to help Trump’s campaign.

Investigators and lawyers who have worked with Mueller say that his legacy as special counsel will depend, ultimately, on his resolve, his integrity and especially his judgment.

“If he believes somebody has committed a crime, he’s going to do whatever he can to hold them accountable,” said a former FBI colleague. “Trump’s name or brand is not going to back down Mueller.”