Last August, American president Donald Trump used his favourite social media platform to vent his frustration at Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. In a series of tweets, he called the investigation “The Robert Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt,” claimed it was run by “17 angry Democrats,” and accused Robert Mueller of “conflicts of interest with respect to President Trump.” This was not Trump’s first (or last) attack against the Russian probe, but none of his attacks have resulted in action so far.
Despite Trump’s attitude towards the investigation, it has delivered results. A year after the investigation commenced, Mueller’s work has led to the indictments of 32 people and three Russian companies. Those indicted include Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Advisor. Flynn has pled guilty and is cooperating with Mueller.
What is the Investigation About?
In May 2017, Robert Mueller was appointed head of the Special Counsel Investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States election, by deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. With his team of sixteen lawyers, Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts at interfering in the 2016 election, links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
A Timeline of the Investigation
- Events related to Russian interference
- Events related to Donald Trump
- Events related to White House officials
- Indictments/guilty pleas
Spring 2014: Internet Research Agency, a St. Petersburg-based organization backed by the Kremlin, decides to target the 2016 U.S election by manipulating voters through fake social media accounts.
June 16, 2015: Donald Trump announces his candidacy for President of the United States.
July 2015: Russian government hackers penetrate the Democratic National Committee’s servers and gain access to their opposition research on Donald Trump. The hackers are also able to read all emails and chat traffic. The hackers retain access to the servers for about a year.
March 19: Russian hackers gain control of the email account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.
March: George Papadopoulos joins the Trump campaign as a foreign policy adviser. In an interview for the Washington Post, Trump calls him an “excellent guy.” While in London, Papadopoulos meets with a woman whom he believes is a relative of Vladimir Putin and has connections to other high-ranking Russian officials.
March 31: At a campaign meeting, Papadopoulos informs Trump, Jeff Sessions, and other campaign advisors that he can arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin. Trump documents the meeting on his Instagram account.
April: One of Papadopoulos’ sources tells him Moscow has “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The same month, Russian intelligence officers launch DC Leaks. The goal of the website is to release stolen emails. It will eventually be shut down in March 2017.
June 9: Trump, Jr., Manafort and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, meet with a Russian national and several others at Trump Tower. The Russians were expected to give the Trump campaign “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. There are various conflicting accounts regarding the meeting, including whether or not then-candidate Trump knew of the meeting.
June/July: DC Leaks and WikiLeaks release thousands of emails from top DNC officials before the Democratic National Convention. The emails hint that the DNC was trying to help Clinton win the Democratic primary over Bernie Sanders.
July 27: During a press conference, then-candidate Trump declares: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you can find the 33,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” He later tweets something similar. According to a later indictment, Russian hackers started targeting Clinton’s emails the same day.
Oct. 7: An Access Hollywood tape is released, in which Trump can be heard bragging about sexually assaulting women. An hour after the release of the tape, WikiLeaks publishes thousands of John Podesta’s emails.
Nov. 8: Trump is elected president.
Dec. 29: In his final days as president, Barack Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats in response to Russian interference in the 2016 election. He also imposes sanctions on Russia’s two top intelligence services.
Jan. 6: The U.S. intelligence community concludes with “high confidence” that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Both President Obama and President-elect Trump were briefed before the report became public.
Jan. 10: During his confirmation hearing, while under oath, Jeff Sessions says that he did not have any contact with Russian officials during the campaign.
Jan. 10: The now infamous Steele dossier is made public. The dossier claims that there was a “multifaceted Kremlin-directed influence campaign aimed at boosting Trump’s electoral fortunes” during the 2016 election. The dossier was compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer on behalf of Fusion GPS. Fusion GPS is a research firm that was used by the DNC and the Clinton campaign.
Jan. 24: Michael Flynn, Trump’s National Security Adviser, denies that he had discussed sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in a meeting with the FBI.
Feb. 13: Flynn resigns as National Security Adviser after less than a month on the job, due to a report from the Washington Post claiming that Flynn discussed sanctions with Kislyak, an illegal act.
March 2: After it is revealed that Jeff Sessions did have contact with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign (which he denied during his confirmation hearing), he recused himself from any potential investigation regarding the 2016 presidential election.
May 17: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who now oversees investigations regarding the 2016 election, appoints former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel. Mueller is tasked with investigating Russian interference during the 2016 election.
Oct. 30: Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his business partner Rick Gates are indicted on 12 counts, which include conspiracy against the U.S. Papadopoulos’ guilty plea also becomes public. c
Dec. 1: Michael Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI. Like Papadopoulos, he enters a plea deal with Mueller.
Feb. 20: Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer, pleads guilty to lying to the FBI regarding his contacts with Rick Gates and an unidentified individual who is tied to the Russian military intelligence (“Person A” in court documents). He will be sentenced to 30 days in prison on April 3rd.
Feb. 23: Rick Gates pleads guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators. In an unrelated move, more charges are brought against Manafort.
April 9: The FBI raids the offices of Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer and fixer.
June 8: New charges are brought against Manafort. Furthermore, charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice are brought against Konstantin Kilimnik, a former aide to Manafort who is suspected of having ties to Russian intelligence.
July 16: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin host a joint press conference, during which Trump sides with Putin over the U.S intelligence community regarding Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The next day, Trump claims he misspoke and believes the U.S intelligence community’s assessment that Russia interfered in the election.
July 27: A CNN report claims that Donald Trump knew in advance of the June 9, 2016 meeting at the Trump tower and that Michael Cohen is ready to confirm the story. Trump denies the claim.
August 5: In a tweet, Donald Trump reiterates that he did not know in advance of the Trump Tower meeting. He also writes that the meeting was to “get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics.”
August 6: At Paul Manafort’s trial, Rick Gates testifies that he and Manafort knowingly committed crimes together. Gates, earlier this year, reached a plea deal with Mueller.
August 21: Paul Manafort is declared guilty on eight criminal charges that include five tax fraud charges.
September 14: Manafort pleads guilty on two charges, including a charge of conspiracy against the United States. He enters a plea deal with Mueller and agrees to cooperate with his investigation.
October 15: According to a Vanity Fair report, Michael Cohen has spent more than 50 hours talking to Mueller’s team and the Southern District of New York’s federal court.
What To Expect Next
President Trump has claimed multiple times that the investigation is a witch hunt, and has asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the probe. However, since Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, only deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein can end it. This is unlikely to happen, given that Rosenstein supports the Mueller investigation. Therefore, unless Rosenstein is replaced with someone who wants to end the probe, Mueller is expected to remain until he is done with his investigation.
For a few weeks now it has been speculated that Mueller is preparing his final report and could be ready to present his conclusions soon. If Mueller were to release his report before the midterms, it could have an impact on the result of the election, just like James Comey’s decision to re-open the probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails had on the 2016 election. However, like for the content of the investigation, Mueller and his team have remained quiet on a potential deadline.
In the shadows of the political circus of the midterm elections, Mueller’s team continues to investigate behind the scenes – only time will tell what he concludes.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Photo by the US government, via Wikimedia Commons.