Russia probe enters second year
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.
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.