This month’s revelations about the investigation into Russia’s election interference and President Donald Trump’s campaign ties to Moscow have come at a dizzying pace.
We learned that special counsel Robert Mueller obtained a search warrant to examine Facebook accounts linked to Russia after the company announced that the “inauthentic” users had purchased more than $US100,000 in political ads during the election.
We also learned more details about the FBI’s longtime interest in Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort — and his overtures to a Russian oligarch last July.
The president’s legal team, meanwhile, is clashing over how cooperative to be with Mueller, who is homing in on key White House players as he examines whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey.
Here is a look back at some of the month’s most important developments:
- Facebook’s Russia bombshell: Facebook announced on September 6 that it had shut down roughly 470 “inauthentic” accounts and pages that “were affiliated with one another and likely operated out of Russia.” The accounts were connected to roughly $US100,000 in ad purchases between June 2015 and May 2017, the company said in a statement.
- Mueller’s Facebook search warrant: Mueller obtained a search warrant for records of the “inauthentic” Facebook accounts and the targeted ads they purchased during the election, according to the Wall Street Journal and CNN. The warrant indicated Mueller’s belief he could obtain enough evidence to charge specific foreign entities with a crime.
- Paul Manafort’s wiretapping woes: US investigators reportedly obtained a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant to wiretap Manafort before and after the election, CNN reported. The Wall Street Journal reported later that the FISA only covered stored communications, not real-time conversations.
- ‘Private briefings’ and getting ‘whole’: Manafort offered ‘private briefings’ about the campaign to a Russian oligarch and Vladimir Putin ally just before the Republican National Convention. He asked his Russian-Ukrainian employee months earlier how he could use his new campaign role to “get whole.”
- Mueller’s obstruction net ensnares the White House: Mueller asked the White House for documents related to 13 categories deemed crucial to his investigation, including former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s January interview with the FBI and a May meeting Trump had with Russian diplomats in the Oval Office.
- Mueller zeroes in on a circle of Trump’s closest aides: The special counsel wants to interview former press secretary Sean Spicer, former chief of staff Reince Priebus, communications director Hope Hicks, and McGahn, per The Washington Post. Mueller also wants to talk to McGahn’s deputy, James Burnham, and Kushner’s adviser, Josh Raffel. All the aides were witness to critical events Mueller is looking into.
- A letter of intent for a Trump Tower Moscow: A few months after kicking off his presidential campaign, Trump signed a letter of intent to build a “Trump World Tower Moscow.” His lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen, sent a letter to Putin’s spokesman asking for his help with the project.
- Cohen defends himself amidst a growing firestorm: Trump’s personal lawyer told Vanity Fair that neither he nor the president were ever involved “with this Russian conspiracy.” He also downplayed the Trump Tower Moscow controversy, calling it “business as usual and nothing more.”
- The Russia probe encompasses Flynn’s son: Mueller is scrutinizing Michael Flynn Jr. over work he did for Flynn Intel Group, the lobbying firm he and his father founded after Flynn retired from the military, according to NBC News. Mueller’s focus indicates Flynn Jr. could have potential criminal liability, but it could also be part of an effort to coerce his father into cooperating with the probe.
- Trump’s lawyers face off over the investigation: Trump’s personal lawyer and the White House counsel are butting heads over how much to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation. Ty Cobb, the white-collar defence attorney leading Trump’s personal team, wants to hand over as much as possible to Mueller, while White House counsel Don McGahn has resisted being too forthcoming in case Trump asserts executive privilege over their interactions, according to the New York Times.
- Susan Rice reveals why she requested to “unmask” the names of Trump associates: Rice told the House Intelligence Committee that she wanted to know why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates travelled to New York in December 2016 without notifying the US government, CNN reported. As it turns out, the prince met with Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Steve Bannon at Trump Tower.
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