The Trump-Russia investigation began not long after Trump’s arrival at the Oval Office, sparking a frenzy of divisive front page stories and effectively entangling the President’s administration in a web of controversy. That said, not many people know what started this investigation or even what it’s all about, which is why we thought we’d give you a concise guide on the Trump-Russia investigation, based on all the available facts.
For starters, the man leading the inquiry is the former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations Robert Mueller. Mueller has been working with his team behind the scenes in Washington D.C. to unravel the mystery behind this investigation.
So far, four members of the Trump administration have been charged since the beginning of the inquiry, and it seems like further prosecutions are not far away. Meanwhile, Trump swears by his innocence in the whole debacle and Mueller’s team has yet to discover any incriminating evidence that implicates the President. However, since they’re still digging around for evidence there’s no telling what they’ll find at the end of it all.
What’s All This About?
Certain members of Trump’s election campaign and transitions teams have been accused of conspiring with Russian agents to influence the election in Trump’s favor.
Back in 2016, US intelligence agencies established that the US election was purposefully tipped in President Trump’s favor and against Hillary Clinton. This was apparently done through the planting of fake news stories on social media as well as several cyber-attacks, all of which were allegedly authorized by the state.
Of course, both Trump and Putin have denied these allegations, with the US President going as far as to say that this is “the greatest political witch hunt in history.”
What Contact Do We Know?
So far, it has been confirmed that 12 of Trump’s associates had interactions with Russian agents throughout the campaign and again during the transition. The CNN’s public records show that these associates had 51 individual interactions, as well as 19 face-to-face meetings with Russians that happen to be linked to Kremlin.
Some of the individuals from Trump’s campaign whose involvement with Russians has been confirmed include Donald Trump Jr., the President’s son in law Jared Kushner (who also happens to be his adviser) and the Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Michael Flynn, who is the former National Security Adviser.
While Trump fans have tried to protect the integrity of these interactions by saying that they’re a normal part of any White House campaign, a couple of Trump’s advisers have confessed to lying about the meetings, which of course raises suspicion over their intentions.
Who’s Been Charged?
So far, 32 individuals have been indicted by Mueller’s special counsel, and four of those individuals are either a part of Trump’s administration or they were a part of his election team. 25 are Russian nationals, and there are three Russian companies as well.
So far in the US, the following individuals have had indictments issued against them:
- George Papadopoulos – Served as an adviser for Trump’s election campaign
- Richard Pinedo – Confessed to committing identity theft
- Paul Manafort – Former Chairman of Trump’s election campaign
- Rick Gates – Also a campaign adviser and Manafort’s former business acquaintance
- Alex van der Zwaan – This former attorney was dishonest about his association with Rick Gates when questioned by the FBI, which led to 30 days incarceration for him
- Konstantin Kilimnik – Was once Manafort’s aide and is a Russian citizen
After Gates’ guilty plea back in February, the pressure has been mounting on his long-time business acquaintance Manafort to do the same, as they’re facing similar charges of money laundering and tax evasion.
So far, Manafort has taken a “not guilty” plea with regards to the charges he’s facing in connection to the Trump-Russia investigation. However, he has two federal criminal trials awaiting him, including one on charges of tax fraud, which is due to begin in July 2018, and another which involves illegal lobbying and money laundering.
On the other hand, Papadopoulos took a guilty plea on the charge of lying to the FBI about his Russian associations, while Flynn also pleaded guilty to similar charges involving his meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.
In addition, it’s believed that Papadopoulos tried to arrange for President Trump to meet with Russian representatives, whereas Trump himself has been known to refer to Papadopoulos as just a “coffee boy.” This is despite the fact that both Papadopoulos and Gates were part of high-level engagements throughout the campaign period.
Subsequently, the special counsel has called for both men to hand over any documents that are related to the Trump-Russia affair, and are both required to testify about their participation in Trump’s election campaign.
Why Are the Flynn Charges Important?
Flynn is the highest-ranking member of Trump’s campaign team to face charges and so far he’s confessed to lying to the FBI, which is a small charge when compared to the indictment he may have had to contend with as a private citizen that conducted business with a foreign authority.
Flynn was fired by President Trump back in February for allegedly lying to Vice President Mike Pence (surprise, surprise) about an engagement he had with the Russian envoy to the US. Perhaps Flynn’s plea bargain will help find answers to questions that have been mounting regarding Trump’s knowledge of Flynn’s association with the Russians.
How Many Investigations Are Ongoing?
In addition to Mueller’s special inquiry which is backed by the Department of Justice, there are currently four congressional inquiries into this matter, including:
- The Senate Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committees are both looking into potential interference and conspiracy between Kremlin and some of Trump’s aides.
- The House Oversight Committee is doing a thorough investigation into the connection between Russian officials and some of Trump’s contacts.
Who’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller?
Mueller is known as the longest-serving FBI director after J Edgar Hoover and is also a former prosecutor. He won his seat as FBI director by a landslide Senate vote of 98-0, and his term was further extended to 12 years by another Senate vote of 100-0.
Mueller’s team is made of seasoned FBI officers and attorneys from the Department of Justice as well as the private sector. So far, Mueller’s team has made no public comment concerning the investigation, and they’re currently working out of a very modest office located in south-west Washington.
Can’t Trump Just Fire Mueller?
Back in December, there were rumors that President Trump may try to derail the investigation by sacking the special counsel and giving Flynn a presidential pardon.
These rumors started circulating soon after the special counsel was accused of using illegal means to procure emails that implicated Trump’s transition team. However, the special counsel denied these allegations saying that they procured the emails legally.
So far, it seems like Mueller and his team are safe from being fired or replaced, as doing so might cast the President in a bad light in the eyes of Democrats who are just waiting for him to pull such a move so that they can get him impeached.
What Happened with James Comey?
Prior to Muller’s selection as special counsel, an investigation into Flynn’s connections to Russian officials was already being carried out by the FBI.
Around February 2017, a special meeting was held at the Oval Office during which the President met with Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and then-director of the FBI James Comey. According to Comey’s detailed report of the meeting, the President had asked both the Attorney General and the Vice President to leave the Oval Office before advising Comey to call the Flynn investigation off.
This unexpected turn of the events concerned Comey so much that he organized his notes from the meeting into memos which he then shared with his fellow senior FBI officials.
Not long after that, Comey was fired by the President for what he vaguely referred to as the “Russia thing.”
How Did Russia (allegedly) Hack the US Election?
While Russia didn’t exactly hack into the voting machines that were used during the elections, it did manage to hack into certain systems that allowed it to create a damning smear campaign against Hillary Clinton.
For starters, Russia supposedly sent numerous phishing emails with the intention of covertly coercing certain individuals within the Democratic Party to reveal their private passwords.
They then used these illegally acquired passwords to hack into the Democratic National Committee’s system so that they could fully disclose the internal affairs of the party as well as the Hilary Clinton campaign.
However, they didn’t stop there because these hackers went on to create fake news stories aimed at destabilizing the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. These stories were subsequently leaked to millions of unsuspecting social media users across the US during and after the election, using all the major social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
What Did Former President Obama Know?
It’s reported that an envelope marked exclusively for then President Barack Obama and three of his senior advisers, was delivered to the White House in August 2016.
This envelope reportedly contained a special memo from the CIA, which stated that President Putin had authorized and was organizing a state-backed campaign aimed at meddling with the US election.
At that point in time, the FBI had already started the Trump-Russia investigation, and this CIA memo was a further confirmation of Russia’s determination to ensure Trump’s win.
While the Obama administration had initially decided to stay silent about the memo’s revelations, they eventually issued warnings to Russian officials, and President Obama authorized the intelligence agencies to make a non-partisan statement regarding the matter.