- Special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his final report into his nearly two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia on Friday.
- Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia led to the indictments of 34 people, including eight Americans affiliated with the Trump campaign or administration, and three Russian companies.
- Here are some of the major players in the Mueller probe.
Special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his final report into his nearly two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia to Attorney General William Barr on March 22.
Mueller’s investigation led to the indictments of 34 people and three Russian companies. At least one person was convicted in court. Five individuals caught up in the investigation became cooperating witnesses – three of whom are from the Trump campaign.
The Mueller probe ensnared some of the most important people in President Donald Trump’s orbit, including his campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his longtime friend and occasional adviser Roger Stone, and his former personal lawyer and “fixer,” Michael Cohen.
Here are some of the major players in the Mueller probe:
Donald Trump Jr.
Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, played a crucial role in the Russia saga at several key points in the campaign.
On May 21, Alexander Torshin, a former Russian senator from Putin’s party and a current senior official at Russia’s central bank told Bloomberg he had dinner with Trump Jr., at the annual convention for the National Rifle Association.
In early June 2016, Donald Jr. was then contacted by Rob Goldstone, a music publicist, on behalf of one of his clients, the Russian pop artist Emin Agalarov, whose father is a prominent real-estate developer with ties to Putin.
Goldstone said Agalarov could provide “very high level and sensitive information” that would “incriminate Hillary” and was a part in “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
On June 7, Trump promised “a major speech about Hillary Clinton’s crimes.” Two days later on June 9, Trump Jr., along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort, met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a top Russian lawyer and lobbyist.
Shortly before the election, Wikileaks contacted Trump Jr. several times to request for him and his father to tweet out links to Wikileaks stories about Hillary Clinton and other topics, which they did.
Jared Kushner, a current top White House adviser and Trump’s son-in-law, was involved in some of the crucial points of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.
Kushner was present for the 2016 Trump tower meeting. Additionally, during the presidential transition period, he engaged Russia’s ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak in an effort to create a secure communications backchannel between the Trump transition and the Kremlin.
Kushner reportedly proposed using Russian diplomatic facilities and resources to create the backchannel, which is not known to have actually materialised. Regardless, the meeting, which was also reportedly attended by Gen. Michael Flynn, has been probed by congressional investigators and the Mueller probe.
Roger Stone, a longtime Trump ally and occasional campaign adviser, became a central figure in the Mueller probe over his extended contacts with Russian hacker Guccifer 2.0, and WikiLeaks, the self-styled transparency group accused of disseminating hacked emails to interfere in the 2016 election.
Stone was arrested and charged with one count of obstruction of justice, five counts of making false statements to Congress, and one count of witness-tampering in January and plans to plead not guilty.
Stone sent out several tweets in the summer of 2016 that raised questions about whether he had prior knowledge about WikiLeaks’ plans to publish the hacked emails.
After The Washington Post reported that the Democratic National Committee was hacked by Russian operatives, Stone responded by writing in Breitbart in July 2016 claiming that Guccifer, “a lone hacker,” and not the Russian government carried out the hacking.
In the weeks that followed, Stone and Guccifer exchanged several messages on Twitter in which Guccifer expressed admiration for Stone and offered to assist the Trump campaign.
US intelligence officials had long suspected that Guccifer was either a real person linked to Russian intelligence or a fake persona they had created. In March 2018, that suspicion was confirmed when Guccifer accidentally revealed himself to be Russian security officer.
In July 2018, the Russian intelligence officers who had created the Guccifer profile were charged by the special counsel for conspiracy against the United States, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering in relation to the hacks of the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Clinton campaign.
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s former attorney general, was on the receiving end of heavy criticism and ire from Trump and his allies for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller probe due to his contacts with Russians during the 2016 campaign.
First, Sessions and Jared Kushner met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a reception before Trump gave a speech on foreign policy at the Mayflower Hotel.
In the speech, which was edited by George Papadopoulos, Trump vowed to improve relations with Russia by collaborating on “shared interests.”
Ambassador Kislyak said he and Sessions discussed policy matters related to Russia, which Sessions denied. US intelligence officials later described them as having had a “substantive conversation.”
Sessions, who was a US senator from Alabama at the time, also met with Kislyak in his Senate office in September, a meeting which was not disclosed until March 2017, after his confirmation hearing to the position of attorney general.
Sessions said he didn’t “recall any specific political discussions,” claiming he and his staff “listened to the ambassador and what his concerns might be,” and discussed issues such as terrorism, travel to Russia, and Ukraine.
Gen. Michael Flynn, who briefly served as a national security adviser during the first days of the Trump administration, became a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe in December 2017when he pleaded guilty to one count of lying to the FBI regarding his contacts with Kislyak.
The special counsel’s indictment of Flynn said he contacted Kislyak requesting that Russia “vote against or delay” a UN resolution regarding Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory in December 2017.
Flynn also called Kislyak multiple times on December 29, the day President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Russia and the expulsion of Russian intelligence operatives from the US in response to Russian hacking and interference in the 2016 election.
The calls “occurred between the time the Russian Embassy was told about US sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals,” according to Reuters.
The special counsel’s indictment says Kislyak reached out Flynn on December 31 to inform him that the Kremlin had decided not to impose retaliatory sanctions against the US “at the Trump team’s request.”
Flynn is still cooperating in various federal investigations and has yet to be sentenced.
George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old energy consultant, joined the Trump campaign as a low-level national security adviser, but ended up taking on an outsize role in trying to facilitate communications between the Trump campaign and Russia, and ended up inadvertently being the impetus for the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign.
Papadopoulos maintained communications over the course of several months with Joseph Mifsud, a Russia-linked Maltese academic who made efforts to broker Kremlin access to the Trump campaign.
Mifsud boasted of having “substantial connections to Russian officials,” according to court documents.
In a March 2016 meeting, Mifsud reportedly told Papadopoulos that the Russian government was in posses ion of “dirt” on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails,” months before WikiLeaks started releasing hacked Clinton campaign emails.
In May, Papadopoulos told the Australian diplomat Alexander Downer about Russia’s dirt on Clinton while they were drinking at a swanky bar in London.
Downer then informed US authorities of the conversation after WikiLeaks released a trove of hacked emails in July, leading the FBI to begin investigating the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia that month.
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the nature of his contacts with Mifsud and became a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe. In September, he was sentenced to 14 days in prison and 200 hours of community service.
In what is now known as the infamous “Trump Tower meeting,” Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with Russian attorney and Kremlin affiliate Natalia Veselnitskaya, as well as four other people affiliated with Russia at Trump Tower in Manhattan.
The Trump campaign attended the meeting under the impression that they would receive the damaging information about Hillary Clinton that Donald Jr. was promised by Rob Goldstone.
But Veselnitskaya came with nothing on Hillary Clinton specifically. Her mission was instead to show evidence major Democratic donors were evading taxes, and to lobby against the Magnitsky Act.
The Magnitsky Act, passed in 2012, freezes the assets and real-estate and bars entry to the US for high-level Russian officials suspected of committing human-rights abuses. In retaliation for the Magnitsky Act, Russia banned US adoptions of Russian children.
Veselnitskaya later said Donald Jr. seemed receptive to revisiting the Magnitsky Act if his father were elected. Donald Jr. claimed Veselnitskaya was there in an unofficial capacity.
Subsequent reporting, however, suggests Veselnitskaya was in fact working on behalf of the Kremlin at the time. A memo she brought with her to the meeting almost identically matched one written by Russia’s chief prosecutor.
She also previously worked with the chief prosecutor’s office to help them defend a Russian firm from a civil fraud case brought by the US Department of Justice.
Papadopoulos’ main contact was Joseph Mifsud, the director of the London Academy of Diplomacy, a for-profit college program that was later shut down. Mifsud boasted of having “substantial connections to Russian officials,” according to court documents.
Despite having scant credentials or expertise on Russia, Mifsud became active in elite Russian political circles after one of his interns, a 24-year-old Russian woman, introduced him to several high-level diplomats and scholars, The New York Times reported.
Mifsud even gained admission into the prestigious Valdai Discussion Club, a group of foreign-policy scholars who host an annual meeting with Putin.
He also introduced Papadopoulos to Ivan Timofeev, a Director at the Kremlin-linked Russian International Affairs Council who claimed to have ties to Russia’s foreign ministry.
Mifsud has all but disappeared since October 2017. He and his lawyers failed to appear for numerous court appearances in Italy, and was fined thousands of dollars for inflating his salary.
Paul Manafort, a longtime political operative and lobbyist for Ukraine’s Party of Regions, served as Trump’s campaign chairman, with he and his deputy Rick Gates leading the effort to ensure Trump’s nomination at the Republican National Convention.
Earlier this month, Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison after being charged in two separate cases. In August, he was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and later pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of lying to investigators.
Manafort had frequent correspondence and in-person meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik, a political operative and former member of Russian intelligence. He has been a long-time associate of Manafort, who worked for several years in Ukraine and Eastern Europe as a political consultant and financier.
Paul Manafort had, over a period of months, corresponded with Kilimnik on the subject of giving “private briefings” on the Trump campaign to Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch to whom Manafort owed tens of millions of dollars.
The emails, which were subsequently turned over to both special counsel Mueller’s office and to congressional investigators, don’t show proof that Deripaska was made aware of the offer or that any private meetings or briefings actually occurred.
The emails between Manafort and Kilimnik suggest that Manafort sought to take advantage of the influence he had through his role on Trump’s campaign, which was unpaid, to make up for a significant financial debt he owed to Deripaska.
In December 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about his involvement in the Trump Organisation’s push to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Mueller’s sentencing memo for Cohen said that “in or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
The person, according to a report from BuzzFeed News, was the Russian weightlifter Dmitry Klokov, who claimed “he could arrange a meeting between Donald Trump and Putin to help pave the way for the tower.”
Cohen and Russian businessman Felix Sater also reportedly discussed a new Ukrainian peace plan with Ukrainian politician Andrii V. Artemenko.
The plan entailed the US lifting sanctions on Russia in exchange for Russia pulling its support for pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine, but allowing Russia to continue its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula unchallenged.
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