Rus­sia probe en­ters sec­ond year

The Morning Journal (Lorain, OH) - - FRONT PAGE - By Eric Tucker

It was one year ago Thurs­day when Robert Mueller, the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor, was ap­pointed as spe­cial coun­sel to take over the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into pos­si­ble co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Rus­sia and Don­ald Trump’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial campaign.

The 12 months since have yielded a flurry of crim­i­nal in­dict­ments and guilty pleas, tense court ap­pear­ances, an­gry tweets from the pres­i­dent and spec­u­la­tion over what the ever-tac­i­turn Mueller al­ready knows and what he’ll in­ves­ti­gate next.

Trump noted the an­niver­sary with an early morn­ing tweet mak­ing clear his frus­tra­tion.

“Congratulations Amer­ica, we are now into the sec­ond year of the great­est Witch Hunt in Amer­i­can His­tory.. . and there is still No Col­lu­sion and No Ob­struc­tion. The only Col­lu­sion was that done by Democrats who were un­able to win an Elec­tion de­spite the spend­ing of far more money!”

Hun­dreds of pages of court fil­ings, and pub­lic state­ments from wit­nesses, have to an ex­tent pulled back the cur­tain on an ex­traor­di­nar­ily se­cre­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tion. But much re­mains hid­den from view.

A look at the last year and what may lie ahead:

WHAT IS MUELLER IN­VES­TI­GAT­ING?

There’s no doubt Mueller’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion is far reach­ing, but at its core, pros­e­cu­tors have re­mained fo­cused on two cen­tral ques­tions:

Did the Trump campaign col­lude with the Krem­lin to tip the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in the Re­pub­li­can can­di­date’s fa­vor?

And has Trump tried to ob­struct the in­ves­ti­ga­tion since tak­ing of­fice through ac­tions in­clud­ing fir­ing FBI Di­rec­tor James Comey and bad­ger­ing At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions over his re­cusal last March from the Rus­sia probe?

WHO HAS BEEN QUES­TIONED SO FAR?

A ver­i­ta­ble who’s who of cur­rent and for­mer White House of­fi­cials, as well as foreign busi­ness­men and top campaign and tran­si­tion staffers.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kush­ner, was ques­tioned last fall about for­mer White House na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn. Trump’s White House coun­sel, Don McGahn, has been in to see Mueller’s team, as have for­mer chief of staff Reince Priebus, for­mer com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor Hope Hicks, for­mer chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non, Cal­i­for­nia real es­tate de­vel­oper and long­time Trump friend Tom Bar­rack — and dozens of other wit­nesses.

In a re­flec­tion of the wide-an­gle na­ture of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and its on­go­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of foreign in­flu­ence on the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, a grand jury in Wash­ing­ton has heard from a Le­banese-Amer­i­can busi­ness­man who joined a 2016 meet­ing at Trump Tower in­volv­ing top Trump aides and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.

A Rus­sian Amer­i­can lob­by­ist who at­tended a June 2016 meet­ing at which Trump’s el­dest son ex­pected to re­ceive dam­ag­ing in­for­ma­tion about his fa­ther’s op­po­nent, Hil­lary Clin­ton, also has pro­vided tes­ti­mony.

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED SO FAR?

The crim­i­nal cases so far have not re­solved the core ques­tion of Trump-Rus­sia col­lu­sion, but they have re­vealed an in­ter­est by Rus­sians to aid Trump’s bid, and they’ve ex­posed the some­times shad­owy foreign en­tan­gle­ments main­tained by Trump aides be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the campaign.

They’ve also un­der­scored how Trump as­so­ciates were aware of Rus­sian out­reach efforts dur­ing the campaign and how at least one be­lieved Rus­sia to be in possession of com­pro­mis­ing in­for­ma­tion on Clin­ton.

An in­dict­ment against Manafort and Gates, for in­stance, ac­cused them of work­ing as foreign agents for Ukrainian in­ter­ests and fun­nel­ing mil­lions of dol­lars from the work into off­shore ac­counts used to fund lav­ish life­styles.

Charg­ing doc­u­ments in Pa­padopou­los’s case make clear that dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial campaign he was told by a pro­fes­sor who claimed pow­er­ful con­nec­tions to the Krem­lin that Rus­sia had dirt on Clin­ton in the form of thou­sands of emails.

And Flynn’s guilty plea re­vealed how, con­trary to pub­lic as­ser­tions from the White House, the in­com­ing na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser did in­deed dis­cuss sanc­tions with the then-Rus­sian am­bas­sador, Sergey Kislyak, dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod.

ANDREW HARNIK — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

For­mer FBI Di­rec­tor Robert Mueller, the spe­cial coun­sel prob­ing Rus­sian in­ter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion, de­parts Capi­tol Hill fol­low­ing a closed door meet­ing in Wash­ing­ton.

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