Now is the season when a young Right Wing media’s fancy turns toward thoughts of conspiracy… The memo! The missing text messages! The secret society! As you’ll see below, all of these are much less than they seem, but a big chunk of the Republican Congressional establishment now seems to be all-in on discrediting, rather than thoroughly completing, the investigation.
Meanwhile, in the land of four-dimensional space time, subpoenas, and court filings, Robert Mueller’s investigation is rolling along on several fronts, and appears to be approaching some kind of formal interview with the President. One of the things Mueller might want to ask him about is the now very well-corroborated story indicating that Trump tried to fire him this past Summer, as well as the fact that Trump did just succesfully pressure FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to resign…
Before we get further in to the latest, an overview of where we are so far:
- Russian interests systematically interfered in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. A major thrust of this interference was to boost Trump, and harm Clinton.
- This interference involved senior intelligence officials and business leaders close to Putin, and was approved of and directed by him.
- The specific targeting of some of this manipulation indicates access to sophisticated election data analytics.
- There is an unusual density of business & personal contacts with Russian interests among key people in Trump’s campaign and/or administration. There isn’t a similar density of contacts with other nations equally (or more) important to the U.S..
- The actions of several Trump confidants in connection with Russia involve things that are illegal, either in initial commission or subsequent denial. Carter Page, Jeff Sessions, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone certainly seem to be in this camp. Donald Trump Jr., Felix Sater, Jared Kushner, and Michael Cohen may well be.
- Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of history of praising Putin and seeking contact with him.
- Despite denials and disavowals, Trump has years-worth of extensive involvement with Russian businesses and financiers, many of whom are part of Putin’s inner circle, and some of whom have ties to Russian organized crime.
- The Russian interests working to interfere in the election actively cultivated and sought to make use of contacts with Trump-connected individuals.
- Despite prior denials and disavowals, people involved with the Trump campaign were talking about Russian connections helping with the election at least as early as December 2015, and senior campaign officials were aware that the Russian government was seeking to harm Clinton’s candidacy and help Trump’s at least as early as March, 2016.
- In at least two cases, the ongoing correspondence of George Papadopoulos with Russian representatives and campaign officials from March 2016 forward, and the arrangement of the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower between Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager with Russian representatives, some Trump campaign officials reacted positively to the potential offer of information from Russian sources.
- Trump administration officials, including the President himself, have taken multiple actions to discourage the progress of the investigation.
- How much did Trump confidants come to know about Russian election interference after first becoming aware of it in March 2016?
- Were any of them aware of it before that date?
- Were any of Trump’s confidants active, knowing participants in this interference?
- Did Trump share his senior campaign officials’ awareness of Russian election interference, either during the campaign or afterwards, and is thus liable for not exposing it?
- Or, even worse, was Trump himself an active, knowing participant in these efforts?
- Do the actions that the President and his administration have taken to discourage the investigation amount to an actionable case of obstruction of justice?
- Given that the Russian election manipulation seems to have been based at least in part on sophisticated election data analytics, how (and from whom) did they get this information?
- What else may come out as a result of this investigation now that an independent counsel is investigating the finances of Trump and his associates? Recall that Clinton’s Lewinsky scandal was an outgrowth of, but not in any way directly connected to, the Whitewater investigation.
It’s also instructive to read the indictments from Robert Mueller’s investigation, as they are the most concrete and detailed (and surprisingly readable!) source of information of verified criminal charges that have come out of the investigation:
- George Papadopoulos, 10/5/17
- Paul Manafort & Richard Gates, 10/27/17
- Michael Flynn, 12/1/17
If you want to explore further based on this blog, the following sources may be of interest:
- An overview of the investigations currently underway (Washington Post)
- Interactive Graphic of Trump team’s Russia connections (Washington post)
- Parallel timeline of responses to Russian election interference by the Democratic campaign, Republican campaign, and Obama administration (Washington post)
- 2016 Active Measures excellent overviews of what’s known, how it all fits together, and list of other resources (including this blog!)
- Multi-year timeline of Trump-Russia investigation (Mother Jones)
- Timeline of Trump-Russia ties from 1979 to today (Bill Moyers)
- Complete timeline of Trump-Russia affairs dating back to the 80s (last updated April 2017, Political Wire- 170 pp!)
Now, on to the news. Our sections are (each numbered item here is linked to the corresponding section below):
- Congressional Hearings
- FBI Investigation/Special Counsel
- Russian Campaign Interference
- Trump-Russia Ties (general)
- Donald Trump Jr.
- Michael Flynn
- Jared Kushner
- Paul Manafort
- Carter Page
- Jeff Sessions
- Roger Stone
- The Steele Dossier
- Unconfirmed (use with extreme caution)
New items since the previous edition are at the end of each section in blue text…
- FBI Director James Comey met with the Senate Intelligence Committee on 2/17/17 to brief them on the FBI investigation into Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign ties to Russia. Both Democratic and Republican senators afterwards said they were reassured on the investigation. The Intelligence Committee subsequently sent formal requests on 2/20/17 to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals, asking them to preserve all materials related to the Russia investigation. Besides the Intelligence Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and Foreign Relations Committee have also been holding hearings, though Intelligence is now taking the lead. Some Senators are satisfied with this, but others, including John McCain, have urged the creation of a bipartisan select committee or independent commission, which would be less under control of a single party.
- Meanwhile, the House is not so interested in doing investigations on Russian election interference, or on Michael Flynns’s Russian contacts. However, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee sent a letter on 2/15/17 that urged the Office of Government Ethics to investigate who leaked information about Flynn to the media.
- The first Congressional hearings on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible Trump ties to Russia, conducted by the House Intelligence Committee, opened on Monday 3/20/17 with testimony from FBI director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers. Among the highlights:
- Comey disclosed not only that the bureau is investigating Russian meddling in the campaign but that it is also looking at what relationship the Trump campaign might have had to that meddling.
- Comey further disclosed that certain figures connected to the Trump campaign have been under investigation since July 2016. This news came as a surprise to several key Trump supporters. Citing the need to protect the ongoing investigation, Comey declined to identify the specific figures in question, though it is widely believed Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, and Roger Stone are among them.
- There is no evidence Russian actions interfered in the 2016 vote totals themselves.
- Following the testimony, Republican co-chair of the committee Devin Nunes (R-CA) revealed on 3/22/17 that he had received information indicating that U.S. intelligence agencies, in the course of investigating foreign targets, had collected surveillance involving members of the Trump transition team. When he received this information, apparently at a White House meeting from an unidentified source, Nunes did not share it with fellow committee members or even mention it to them, and instead made a public announcement about it. This has raised questions about his impartiality in chairing the investigation, and led to renewed calls for an independent counsel and/or Nunes to recuse himself. A March 24th poll by Quinnipiac University indicates that 2/3 of Americans support having an independent special prosecutor. 65% agreed that the Russian investigation is important. Nunes, meanwhile, made it clear that he has no intention of stepping down.
- While not willing to step down, Nunes was willing on 3/29/17 to cancel a hearing on Russia where former acting Attorney General Sally Yates was to testify. This followed the Trump administration voicing objections to him about her planned testimony. Yates briefly led the Justice Department while Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ confirmation was pending, but was fired by Trump after she refused to defend in court his initial travel ban executive order. After she was fired, it was revealed that Yates had notified the White House that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had not properly explained his contact with the Russian ambassador. The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department told Yates that her testimony would have to be seriously limited because of executive privilege, which she disputed.
- Subsequent reporting revealed that Nunes went to a secure National Security Council facility on the grounds of the White House and reviewed intelligence reports, with the assistance of Ezra Cohen-Watnick, senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, national security lawyer at the White House Counsel’s Office. Ellis is a former Nunes staffer, and Donald Trump had recently personally overruled H.R. McMaster, his national security adviser, to keep Cohen-Watnick in his position. The following morning, without informing any other members of the House Intelligence Committee about what he had learned, Nunes went back to the White House and briefed the President on those reports. He held press conferences, one at the Capitol and one outside the West Wing, before and after his meeting with Trump. In the controversy following these revelations, Nunes recused himself from further leadership of the House Intelligence Committee hearings on 4/6/17. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) will temporarily take over the committee’s investigation.
- The documents Nunes referenced involved Obama NSA director Susan Rice requesting the “unmasking” of the identities of US individuals’ involved in intelligence surveillance aimed at Russian targets. Some of these individuals apparently included members of Trump’s transition team. This led to Trump and some Republican officials alleging that Rice broke the law by requesting the “unmasking”. In fact, the practice in general is not unusual or illegal. CNN reported on 4/12/17 that, after a review of the specific intelligence reports obtained by Nunes, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides have so far found no evidence that Obama administration officials did anything unusual or illegal.
- It was reported by the New Yorker on 4/18/17 that the White House sought information to support President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that former President Obama had tapped his phone. “The White House said, ‘We are going to mobilize to find something to justify the President’s tweet that he was being surveilled,’ ” an intelligence source told Ryan Lizza, the author of the story, after reportedly “talking to people in the intelligence community.” Lizza’s story also casts doubt on claims that former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice targeted members of Trump’s transition team caught up in foreign surveillance. “There’s absolutely nothing there,” one source told Lizza. “Trump names remain masked in the documents, and Rice would not have been able to know in all cases that she was asking the NSA to unmask the names of Trump officials.”
- The Senate Intelligence Committee began its hearings 3/31/17. Among the highlights from the first two days of testimony:
- Marco Rubio’s campaign was also targeted by hackers with Russian IP addresses during the 2016 election.
- Former FBI agent and cybersecurity expert Clinton Watts further revealed that all the major Republican candidates were targeted.
- Such cyber-targeting continued even after the election, including attacks against Rubio on the first day of hearings, and coordinated social media attacks against Paul Ryan over recent weeks.
National Security Agency Director Keith Alexander and FireEye chief executive Kevin Mandia, a pair of cybersecurity experts, described how Russian agents and upwards of 1,000 paid Internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia pushed “fake news” during the election.
- Senate Committee members of both parties also took pains to differentiate themselves from the increasingly politicized House hearings, promising an unbiased and bipartisan approach.
- Connected to the Senate hearings, it was revealed by NBC on 3/31/17 that officials in the Obama administration compiled a list of classified documents related to the probe into Russian interference in the presidential election and gave it to senior members on the Senate Intelligence Committee in January. Sources indicate this was done “to share it with those on the Hill who could lawfully see the documents” and make it “harder to bury” the documents.
- The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism held hearings on Russia the week of 5/8/17. Key witnesses were former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Among the highlights:
- Former Obama-administration national security advisor Susan Rice declined an invitation to testify to the Subcommittee on Russian hacking. Rice had initially accepted the invitation from committee chair Lindsey Graham, but then subsequently declined after being informed by Committee ranking Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse that the invitation was not issued with his knowledge, and was the only request for testimony the committee issued that was not bipartisan. Rice had earlier become the subject of allegations, which do not appear to be substantiated, that she had improperly unmasked and revealed information about surveillance of Trump-related personnel’s contacts with Russia.
- Yates detailed how she had informed Trump administration officials that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to blackmail from Russia 18 days before he was fired.
- She also testified that she warned White House counsel Don McGahn in late January that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other senior officials and that as a result, public statements by White House officials were inaccurate.
- Clapper clarified earlier his remarks, oft-repeated by the Trump administration, that he had seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. He sought to make clear this statement reflects the fact that he had not seen the FBI evidence, and not an authoritative opinion that the evidence itself was lacking.
- Clapper stated that the Russians had also collected information on certain Republican Party affiliated targets but did not release any Republican related data, and only leaked information involving the Democratic Party.
- In relation to allegations involving Rice, Clapper explained that the request from intelligence officials for unmasking of a US citizen is “legitimate” and essential to determine motives of the foreign agent being monitored, and does not constitute “improper” leaking
- Yates and Clapper both told members of the Subcommittee that they had never leaked classified information to the news media, nor authorized anyone else to do so.
- Following questions to Clapper about information on Trump business dealings with Russia, Sen. Graham indicated that he wants to look into President Trump’s potential business ties to Russia as part of the Senate investigation.
- Congressional hearings on Russia continued as well. Some of the highlights from the second half of May include:
- On 5/22/17 former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn invoked the Fifth Amendement in order to not cooperate with Congressional subpoenas. This exposes him to potential charges of contempt of Congress.
- Former CIA Director John Brennan testified before the House Intelligence Committee on 5/23/17. Brennan stated that he was aware of intelligence and information that revealed contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign, and was concerned that Russia was actively trying to exploit these contacts as part of its manipulation efforts.
- Brennan also revealed that he spoke to Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s FSB, in August 2016 and warned him against further interference.
- Representative Devin Nunes appeared to violate his previous recusal from the House Intelligence Committee investigation on 6/1/17 by issuing multiple subpoenas on 6/1/17 related to Obama administration “unmasking” of Trump-reated figures involved in intelligence gathering on Russian targets. Nunes’ actions earned widespread criticism from House colleagues and outside ethics experts.
- On 6/7/17 Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Adm. Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. There had been reporting that Trump had asked Coats and Rogers to influence the FBI to shut down its investigation. In response to repeated questioning along these lines, both men refused to answer, invoking confidentiality and security, indicating they could not answer further in open hearings but might be able to be more forthcoming in closed hearings. They indicated that even then they might need to consult with White House counsel first. This was widely understood to indicate that the allegations could not be clearly refuted, and that legal concerns are now front and center as figures involved in the investigation seek to make sure they do not commit perjury in public statements.
- Former FBI-Director James Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on 6/8/17. Highlights of his testimony, and its aftermath include:
- Comey stated that there was absolutely no doubt that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election.
- He confirmed previous public reporting of numerous encounters initiated by Trump in which Trump encouraged him to drop the Flynn investigation, asked for loyalty, and confirmation that he was not personally under investigation.
- Comey started to document these as he felt the communications were improper, endangered the integrity of the FBI investigation, and did not trust Trump to be honest about what was said later.
- He told the committee that it was Trump’s tweet about the possible existence of tapes that spurred him to leak contents of his memos documenting interactions with the President to the press.
- Comey contradicted a February New York times story about U.S’ Intelligence Agencies concerns about extensive contacts between Trump-related parties and Russian intelligence officials saying it was, “in the main, not factual”. Predictably, Right-leaning media outlets cited a single New York Times article being contradicted as a complete refutation of all mainstream media Russia-related reporting.
- Comey also revealed that former Obama Attorney General Lynch ordered him to refer to the investigation into Hillary’s e-mail server as the “e-mail matter” and not as an investigation, and he felt a need to accelerate the investigation following Lynch’s airport tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton.
- Comey declined to publicly answer several questions, including the status of investigations into the Steele Documents, Jared Kushner’s activity regarding a “back channel” with Russia, if the FBI had indications of contact between Trump officials and Russian intelligence, and whether he thinks the President colluded with Russia. Such refusals are not in and of themselves indications of wrongdoing, but they do often indicate sensitive areas of ongoing investigation.
- In a private hearing later in the day, Comey indicated that the FBI had evidence that Jeff Sessions may have had an undisclosed additional meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He cautioned that this was based on intercepted communications between Russian officials, and that it’s possible they were exaggerating.
- Following the testimony, Trump chief-counsel Marc Kasowitz went on record to deny that the President had asked Comey to drop the investigation or asked him for loyalty. Kasowitz countered that Comey should be investigated for leaking.
- Trump followed up on 6/10/17 by stating that Comey lied in key aspects of his testimony, and offering to sit down with Robert Mueller and testify to this.
- Several House and Senate committees followed up on the testimony by again asking for copies of all memos and tapes that either Comey or the Administration had produced.
- On 6/11/17, Senator Diane Feinsten indicated that, based on Comey’s testimony, Congress should investigate Loretta Lynch’s possible interference in the FBI’s Clinton investigation. Feinstein indicated that such an investigation should be separate from the ongoing Russian hearings.
- Cybersecurity and Counterintelligence experts from the FBI and the Department of Homeand Security testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee on 6/21/17 that election systems in 21 states were targeted by Russian hackers. There is no indication that votes were changed, but voter registration records may have been deleted or altered.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on 6/13/17. Among the highlights of his testimony:
- Sessions denied that he had deliberately withheld disclosures on his prior Russian contacts.
- He indicated that his recusal from the case was because of his campaign work for Trump, not because of any sense of impropriety about his Russian contacts.
- Sessions also denied that he had any undisclosed further meetings with Russian parties, though he allowed after further questioning that there may have been “an encounter’ but no substantive talk with Ambassador Kisylak at the Mayflower Hotel conference in April 2016.
- He did corroborate two key areas of Comey’s testimony: that Trump had asked Sessions to leave the room during a meeting and then talked with Comey privately, and that Comey had afterwards asked him not to leave him alone with Trump again.
- Sessions used some version of the line “I can’t recall” 21 times during his testimony.
- In an interesting aside, Sessions indicated that he had not closely followed the news on Russian campaign interference, and could not recall it being a subject of focus or concern at any point during the transition.
- Senator Angus King (I-Maine) estimated on 6/18/17 that Congress was only about 20% done with their Russia-related investigations. He suggested they might not be wrapped up until the end of the year.
- On 6/28/17 the Senate Intelligence Committee reached an agreement to obtain the memos James Comey wrote after interactions with President Trump, according to chairman Richard Burr. Burr also indicated that the committee aims to finish its work by the end of the year, and plans to double the number of witness interviews it’s held (most have not been in televised public hearings) to nearly 90 by the end of the Summer.
- On 7/24/17, ahead of private appearances before the House Intelligence and Senate Intelligence Committees, Trump son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner released an 11-page statement. Among the highlights (it should be noted that Kushner’s testimony was not issued under oath):
- Kushner strongly denied any collusion, or improper financial relations, with Russia-connected interests.
- He reiterated earlier statements that he had not read the full e-mail string on the June 2016 meeting with Russian representatives, Donald Trump Jr., and then-Trump campaign director Paul Manafort before attending.
- He stated that he deemed the meeting so unimportant that he e-mailed an assistant to call him so he had an excuse to leave. Kushner further stated that he never met with, or heard from, the Russian lawyer again after that point.
- He described briefly meeting Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at an event at the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016, but disputed press reports that he had any further meetings or calls with Kislyak after that time, except for a brief meeting requested by the ambassador and Michael Flynn in December 2016 to discuss policy matters (chiefly Syria) related to the coming transition.
- Regarding his December 2016 meeting with Russian Banker Sergey Gorkov, Kushner said he took the meeting at Kislyak’s request after being told that Gorkov was “someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together.” Kushner stated that no business ties or deals were discussed at the meeting.
- Kushner blamed serial revision of his disclosure forms after they had initially omitted the above meetings on the forms being prematurely filed by an assistant before they were ready.
- Paul Manafort had been scheduled to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee and Judiciary Committees the week of 7/25/17. Manafort had initially declined to hold the meetings, but then after being subpoenaed, agreed to a non-public hearing that would not be under oath. This was apparently replaced by a brief appearance before the Senate Intelligence Panel, and Manafort’s agreement to turn over to the committees notes he took during the June 2016 meeting between himself, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and various Russian-government-connected individuals. He also agreed to appear before the Judiciary Committee at a later time.
- Donald Trump Jr. had also been scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee the week of 7/25/17. He too manged to move the appearance from an under-oath public hearing to a private hearing that did not take place under oath. As of the time of this writing, I have not been able to find confirmation that the meeting took place as scheduled.
- On 7/27/17 House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes accused top political aides of President Obama of making hundreds of requests during the 2016 presidential race to unmask the names of Americans in intelligence reports. Nunes’ made the assertion in a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, noting that the requests seemed to lack any intelligence justification, and expressed concern they may have had partisan motivation. Earlier in the week Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) had issued statements indicating his belief that Nunes had “created” the allegations (Nunes recused himself from leading the House Intelligence Russian inquiry after controversy surrounding his acquiring documents relating to the allegations from Trump administration officials), but that his committee would investigate instances of unmasking where the results had become public.
- Also on 7/27/17, House Judiciary Committee Republicans called for a new special counsel — to investigate Hillary Clinton, James Comey and Loretta Lynch. In a letter addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Republicans said they were writing to “request assistance in restoring public confidence in our nation’s justice system and its investigators, specifically the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).”
- Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 7/27/17, Bill Browder, the founder and CEO of Hermitage Capital Management stated that he had no doubt that the lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. was acting as an agent of the Russian government in the meeting. Browder has been battling the Russian government for over a decade following allegations that Russian law enforcement stole $230 million his company had paid in taxes. His lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, died in Russian custody after investigating the affair, ultimately leading Browder to work with Congress to pass the Magnitsky Act, which levied targeted sanctions against powerful players in Russia.
- It was reported on 8/4/17 that two Republican House Intelligence Committee staffers traveled to London earlier in the summer to track down Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence operative who compiled a controversial dossier on President Donald Trump and Russia, according to three people familiar with the matter. . The Republican staffers made this trip without consulting with Democrats on the committee, or the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The news was met with criticism from House Committee Democrats, and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee from both parties.
- ABC news reported on 8/11/17 that Congressional investigators want to meet with Rhona Graff, a senior vice president at the Trump Organization who has worked at Trump Tower for nearly 30 years. Graff is widely considered to be a gatekeeper to Trump who has often been central to coordinating between business associates, politicians, and journalists who have sought access. Graff is one of the parties copied in the e-mail chain involved in setting up the June 2016 meeting in which representatives of Russian interests met with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager Paul Manfort while offering material damaging to Clinton in what was described as part of the Russian government’s support of the Trump campaign.
- Reports emerged on 8/24/17 that Congressional investigators have unearthed an email from a top Trump aide that referenced a previously unreported effort to arrange a meeting last year between Trump campaign officials and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The aide, Rick Dearborn, who is now President Donald Trump’s deputy chief of staff, sent a brief email to campaign officials in June 2016 relaying information about an individual from West Virginia who was seeking to connect top Trump officials with Putin. Dearborn himself seemed skeptical of the matter. Subsequent reporting revealed that the source was a former Iraq war-contractor named Rick Clay, who was encouraged by a devout Christian friend who had come in contact with Russians through their work in Christian organizations, and thought that they and the Trump campaign should talk about their “mutual values”. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito was also aware of the outreach, which was discouraged by Dearborn and not followed up on.
- While Donald Trump Jr. was able to delay a planned July appearance before a the Senate Judiciary Committee, President Trump’s eldest son has agreed to sit down for a transcribed interview. Trump Jr. will be interviewed by senior committee staff, and senators could also attend. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are also interested in interviewing Trump Jr., Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, as all three committees prepare to ramp up their activities in the fall.
- On 8/30/17 Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher stated that a “rendezvous” is being set up between him and President Donald Trump to relay information he received from WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange about the hack of the Democratic National Committee last year. Rohrbacher, who has a reputation as being the most Russia-friendly member of the House, indicated that the information will show the DNC hack was an inside job, and that Russia had no involvement in it.
- On 9/6/17 representatives of Facebook told Congressional investigators that the company has discovered it sold ads during the U.S. presidential campaign to a Russian company seeking to target voters. Facebook officials reported that they traced the ad sales, totaling $100,000, to a Russian “troll farm” with a history of pushing pro-Kremlin propaganda. Few of the ads directly addressed Clinton or Trump, according to Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, and instead “appeared to focus on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”
- Congressional investigators indicated on 9/6/17 that they are keen to investigate recent revelations that the Trump Organization was seeking to do business in Moscow during the 2016 election. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told CNN he “would assume” that Trump lawyer Michael Cohen will be asked to testify before Congress about the matter. “It seems to be inconsistent with the idea that the Trump Organization was having no business dealings with Russia,” Graham said. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the Democratic vice chair of the Senate intelligence committee, said his panel’s investigation into Russian meddling will likely drag into next year as it sifts through new leads. “It raises a whole host of questions that people associated with then candidate Trump were trying to do business with senior folks in Russia.”
- Donald Trump Jr. appeared before staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee on 9/7/17 to testify about his June 2016 meeting, along with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, with representatives of Russian interests who claimed to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Trump claimed in the testimony that he took the meeting, despite qualms about it, because he thought it was important to evaluate the fitness of Clinton for the Presidency. “To the extent they had information concerning the fitness, character or qualifications of a presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out…Depending on what, if any, information they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it further consideration.” He also insisted that he did not collude with Russia, and that his e-mail saying “I love it” when promised Russian-provided information about Clinton was a colloquial way of expressing his appreciation for the meeting organizer, and not approving of the source or contents. This testimony is the fourth version of why he took the meeting that Trump Jr. has offered.
- On 9/13/17 former national security adviser Michael Flynn refused a new request to appear as a witness before the Senate intelligence committee. Flynn first declined to comply with a Senate subpoena in May, asserting his Fifth Amendment rights. More recently, the committee has reiterated its request and Flynn has declined again. Flynn has also been subpoenaed by the House intelligence committee, which is conducting a separate probe into Russia’s election meddling. Flynn had offered to testify before both the Senate and House intelligence committees in exchange for immunity, but neither committee accepted the offer.
- Senate investigators on 9/19/17 called off a closed-door interview with long-time Trump attorney Michael Cohen. Upset that Cohen released a statement denying any role in Russian meddling in the 2016 election after the committee asked him not to comment, the Senate Intelligence Committee has now asked Cohen to appear at an open hearing on Oct. 25th.
- After initial hesitation, Facebook agreed on 9/21/17 to turn over all information on thousands of Russian-bought ads purchased during and after the 2016 campaign to Congressional investigators. The roughly 3,000 ads had previously been shared with Robert Mueller’s team, but Facebook was reluctant to turn them over to Congress, citing privacy concerns. The reversal came amid public backlash, and increasing interest in Congress on examining social media’s role in the election, and possible need for further regulation. On 10/2/17, the company issued an extensive FAQ on the nature of the ads, why they were not flagged as being improper, and what motivated the decision to share them with Congress. On 10/4/17, executives from Facebook (and Twitter) confirmed that they will testify at November Senate Intelligence Committee hearings. Google has been asked to testify as well.
- Long-time Trump associate Roger Stone testified before the House Intelligence Committee on 9/26/17. The testimony itself was not public, but in a statement issued beforehand, Stone made the following points:
- He believes that the investigation is an irresponsible political proceeding.
- He denied having any ties to Russia or to pro-Russian Ukranian politicians.
- He indicated doubt that Russian interests generally, or the hacker Guccifer 2.0 specifically had anything to do with the DNC hack, which he believes evidence indicates was not a hack at all, but a download of data from someone on the inside.
- He cast doubt on the Intelligence community’s assessment of Russian campaign interference, noting many times that intelligence analysts have been wrong.
- He characterized his 8/21/16 tweet that “it will soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel” as having nothing to do with the hacked DNC materials that was released shortly afterward, and was instead prompted by his feeling that childhood friend Paul Manafort was being treated unfairly for his Russian connections, and that Podesta had improper connections that should also come to light.
- He denied ever having had direct contact with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and indicated that his Twitter communications with Guccifer 2.0 between 8/14/16 and 9/9/16 were entirely public, and benign.
- He closed by urging Congress to investigate evidence that the Clinton campaign was working with Russian and Ukranian interests to influence the election.
- On 10/4/17 the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings released a statement confirming the scale of Russian 2016 election interference, and that Trump campaign collusion in those efforts cannot yet be ruled out. After conducting more than 100 interviews and reviewing over 100,000 pages of documents, “The issue of collusion is still open,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the committee’s chairman. “We continue to investigate both intelligence and witnesses. And we’re not in a position to come to any type of finding.” In a rare press conference, the top lawmakers on the committee — Burr and Democrat Mark Warner of Virginia — said the American intelligence community was correct that Moscow launched an extensive information and influence campaign against American voters in 2016 and that they appear to be in place to do it again in 2018. Burr said the Russian interference did not change the outcome of the presidential election in terms of changing cast votes. (Editor note: This doesn’t address the role of the interference in influencing and swinging votes.)
- On 10/10/17 Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, informed the Senate Intelligence Committee on that he will not be cooperating with any requests to appear before the panel. Page also stated that he would plead the Fifth, according to a source familiar with the matter.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified on the Russian investigation before the Senate Judiciary Committee on 10/18/17. Highlights of Sessions testimony include:
- Sessions at first denied he had been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, then hedged and said he might have to clear his answer with Mueller.
- Asked by Senator Leahy whether he’d discussed e-mails with any Russian officials since the start of the 2016 campaign, Sessions replied, “I don’t recall.”
- In response to the same question on discussing Russian interference in the 2016 election: “No”.
- The Magnitsky Act: “I don’t believe I’ve ever had any discussion at any time about the Magnitsky Act.”
- And general discussions on Trump’s positions: “I think that’s a possibility.”
- Sessions also indicated that he believes former FBI Director James Comey made significant errors in the Clinton investigation, and that these played a part in his firing.
- The New York Times ran a story on 10/22/17 about the slowing momentum and internal party divisions of the the Congressional investigations into Russian interference. Per the Times’ story: “All three committees looking into Russian interference — one in the House, two in the Senate — have run into problems, from insufficient staffing to fights over when the committees should wrap up their investigations. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry has barely started, delayed in part by negotiations over the scope of the investigation. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, while maintaining bipartisan comity, have sought to tamp down expectations about what they might find. Nine months into the Trump administration, any notion that Capitol Hill would provide a comprehensive, authoritative and bipartisan accounting of the extraordinary efforts of a hostile power to disrupt American democracy appears to be dwindling.”
- On 10/24/17 Congressional Republicans announced that they were launching two investigations related to Hillary Clinton. The Republican leaders of the Judiciary, Intelligence, and Oversight and Government Reform committees will jointly investigate the approval of Uranium sales to a Russian-backed firm while Clinton was secretary of state, and donations to the Clinton Foundation made by someone who had formerly been associated with the firm. The Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees annoucned they will also jointly investigate the Obama Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, called the investigations, “…a partisan effort to distract. It’s a partisan effort aligned with what the White House has been urging, and Fox and Breitbart.” Schiff further noted that Republican leadershipmade the decision without consulting with any Democratic committee members.
- Politico reported on 10/27/17 that the Congressional Intelligence committees are moving toward a timeline to conclude their probes. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has suggested his panel’s investigation will end early in 2018, emphasizing that he wants to wrap up by February, ahead of the first 2018 primary elections. Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), who’s leading the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe, told POLITICO that he hopes to finish before the Senate. Conaway said he intends to seek a meeting with Burr, as well as the House and Senate committees’ top Democrats — Rep. Adam Schiff of California and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia — to sketch out their panels’ conclusions and attempt to generally align their reports. Wildly divergent conclusions, he said, could “embarrass the institution” and could send mixed messages about the urgency of the Russian threat.
- On 10/28/17, Fusion GPS, the firm whose research led to the Steele dossier, announced it had come to an agreement with the House Intelligence Committee on releasing it’s financial records. The agreement comes amid revelations that Perkins Coie, a law firm representing Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and the conservative Washington Free Beacon separately paid the firm to conduct research on Trump. The House intelligence committee said the agreement “will secure the committee’s access to the records necessary for its investigation,” while a lawyer for Fusion GPS said “it helped the company honor its legal obligations and protect its First Amendment rights.”
- On 10/31/17 a former FBI agent testified to the Senate that Russia was using fake news and automated bots on Twitter and Facebook to manipulate American opinion all through 2014. Clint Watts, a former special agent with the FBI, stated that Russian bots began to be active in 2014 and were initially attempting to steer American opinion on issues like Syria. But early in 2015 and on into 2016, he said, the bots began to get into American political issues, like stirring up a rumor that a planned U.S. military exercise in Texas, called Jade Helm, was actually a plot to take over the state. Watts called the 2014 activity “capabilities development.”
- Representatives of Facebook, Google, and Twitter met with the House Intelligence Committee on 11/1/17. Highlights of their testimony include:
- The committee publicly released examples of dozens of Facebook adds purchased by Russian accounts that targeted issues ranging from Black Lives Matter to illegal immigration.
- The ads targeted both Republicans and Democrats and were paid for in rubles. As an example, one “Black Matters” ad targeted adults in Georgia, Maryland, Missouri and Virginia and received more than 200,000 impressions and more than 12,000 clicks. It cost 53,425 rubles ($915).
- Committee members expressed frustration that the CEOs of the companies did not attend the hearings.
- They also revealed limited understanding of some technical terms. One lawmaker asked Twitter’s general counsel to explain the difference between a bot and a troll. Several inquired about the definition of “impressions.”
- The companies stressed they are investing in trying to solve the election interference issue. Facebook is doubling the people working on safety and security issues to 20,000 by the end of 2018, for example.
- The same day, Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) revealed that Russian actors had organized competing anti-Islam and pro-Islam protests in the same location at the same time on May 21, 2016, using separate Facebook pages operated from a troll farm in St. Petersburg. A Facebook page named Heart of Texas organized a rally at noon on May 21 at the Islamic Da’wah Center in Houston to “Stop Islamization of Texas.” Another Russia-linked account, United Muslims of America, organized a counterprotest — a “Save Islamic Knowledge” rally for the same place, date, and time.
- On 11/3/17 former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page testified in a private session with the House Intelligence Committee. Page testified that he mentioned to Jeff Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign. Sessions had previously denied any knowledge of Page’s trips. In the interview, Page says that he sought permission for his trip ahead of time and asked for advice about his remarks at a university, and afterward he offered to provide a readout to the campaign. Page also floated the idea that Trump travel to Russia in his place to give an Obama-like foreign speech. This contradicts earlier statements by Page that he went to Russia as a private citizen and unrelated to the campaign. Page also indicated that during the trip he had in fact met with a senior Russian Minister, despite earlier denials of any contact with Russian government officials during the trip. Page also cknowledged having a conversation with a separate high-ranking official from Russian state-backed oil ompany Rosneft, which plays a prominent role in allegations in the Steele dossier, but indicated it was just catching up with an old friend, and nothing substantive was discussed. In a highly unusual move, Page did not bring an attorney to his interview. Lawmakers have described his testimony as meandering, at times confusing and contradictory.
- Following Page’s testimony, members of the House Judiciary committee indicated they would like Attorney General Jeff Sessions to return to Congress for testimony. Both Page’s statements and details from former Trump campaign worker George Papadopoulos’ indictment seem to contradict statements that Sessions had previously made under oath that he had no knowledge of anyone related to the campaign having contact with Russian sources.
- On 11/3/17 Keith Schiller, Trump’s former bodyguard and one of his most trusted aides, testified before the House Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session. Schiller’s testimony was focused on Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow as part of the Miss Universe pageant that his company owned. The Steele Dossier alleges that Russian intelligence obtained compromising video of Trump and prostitutes during the visit. Schiller confirmed that a Russian participant in pageant planning meetings offered to “send five women” to Donald Trump’s hotel room, but that he took it as a joke. He later told Trump about it who also laughed. Schiller testified that nobody came to the hotel room when Trump went to bed, or as he was stationed outside the door for a period of time afterward. He could not testify to what happened after he left, but does not believe that anything happened, and told investigators that both he and Trump were aware that Moscow hotel rooms were likely to be bugged.
- Attorney General Jeff Sessions returned for testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on 11/14/17. The committee asked Sessions to return for questioning about how revelations about campaign contacts with Russia fit with his previous testimony of not being aware of any such contacts. Highlights included:
- His opening statement said that the “chaos” of Trump’s 2016 campaign caused him to forget meetings in which Trump campaign aides told him that they were reaching out to members of the Russian government.
- Regarding Papadopoulos: “I do now recall that the March 2016 meeting at the Trump hotel that Mr. Papadopoulos attended, but I have no clear recollection of the details of what he said at that meeting. But I did not recall this event which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago. And I would gladly have reported it had I remembered it, because I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper.”
- In all, Sessions used some version of “I can’t recall” 85 times during his testimony.
- Sessions vehemently denied any intention to mislead. Separately, Wired has released a list of 43 specific points about Russian contact and the subsequent investigation that Sessions has been unable to recall in the 11/14 and previous Congressional testimonies.
- On 11/16/17 the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Trump son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner’s attorney requesting further disclosure of documents that did not appear to have been released following previous requests. Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” in May 2016 and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). An email chain described Aleksander Torshin, a former senator and deputy head of Russia’s central bank who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as wanting Trump to attend an event on the sidelines of a National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2016. The email also suggests Torshin was seeking to meet with a high-level Trump campaign official during the convention, and that he may have had a message for Trump from Putin. While Kushner recommended passing on the idea, he forwarded the e-mails to several campaign officals, and Torshin subsequently was seated with Donald Trump Jr. during a private dinner on the sidelines of the Louisville NRA event. Congressional investigators have no clear explanation for how that came to be. Regarding WikiLeaks, the e-mails Kushner received in Septmeber 2016 regarding Donald Trump Jr.’s correspondence with WikiLeaks seem to call into question his earlier statements to congressional Russia investigators that he did not communicate with WikiLeaks and did not recall anyone on the Trump campaign who had.
- The Associated Press reported on 11/18/17 that Congressional investigators are seeking more information on a June 2017 Moscow meeting between lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze, a business associate of a Moscow-based developer and former Trump business partner. Investigators have questioned both men about why they met and whether there was some effort to get their stories straight about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between themselves, other Russian representatives, and Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager who allegedly had come with the expectation of receiving damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the Moscow meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump’s orbit were asking about Akhmetshin’s background. Akhmetshin’s lawyer, Michael Tremonte, declined to comment. Scott Balber, a lawyer for Kaveladze, confirmed that his client and Akhmetshin met over coffee and that the Trump Tower meeting a year earlier was “obviously discussed.” But Balber denied his client had been contacted by associates of Trump before he took the meeting with Akhmetshin, or had been aware of plans to disclose the Trump Tower gathering to the U.S. government.
- An 11/23/17 article in The Hill discussed the status of the three congressional investigations into Russian election meddling and the possible role of Trump associates. The Senate intelligence panel, which has been the most bipartisan in its approach, has interviewed more than 100 people. Chairman Richard Burr of North Carolina has said that he wants to wrap up the probe by early spring, when congressional primaries begin. While there are many areas of bipartisan agreement on the meddling, it’s unclear whether all members will agree to the final report. It’s also unclear if the report will make a strong statement on whether the Trump campaign colluded in any way with Russia. In the House, Democrats hope the intelligence committee can remain focused on the Russia probe as the panel’s GOP chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, and other Republicans have launched new, separate investigations into Democrat Hillary Clinton and a uranium deal during President Barack Obama’s administration. The committee has intervieiwed dozens of witnesses involved with the Trump campaign, the top Democrat on the panel, California Rep. Adam Schiff, told AP the committee has multiple interviews before the New Year. He said the Republican investigations into Clinton and Obama could be “an enormous time drain,” but they have not yet fully organized. He says the committee must be thorough and he doesn’t believe the Russia investigation should end soon. The Senate Judiciary Committee has also divided along partisan lines as Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the panel’s top Democrat, haven’t agreed on some interviews and subpoenas. Nevertheless, the panel is showing recent signs that it is aggressively pursuing the investigation. Grassley has been focused on a law that requires foreign agents to register and the firing of James Comey as FBI director. It’s not known if the panel will issue a final report, or if its probe will conclude before next year’s elections.
- On 11/28/17 the House Intelligence Committee interviewed the translator who attended a controversial meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at the height of the presidential campaign. The closed-door interview with Anatoli Samochornov was confirmed by a congressional official familiar with the committee’s agenda. The June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting had been arranged with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya on a pretext of providing the Trump campaign incriminating information about Democrat Hillary Clinton. Samochornov was serving as a translator for Veselnitskaya, who news reports have said doesn’t speak fluent English. The committee also announced plans to interview Donald Trump Jr. on 12/6 regarding the meeting.
- On 11/30/17 the House Intelligence Committee had closed-door testimony with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Details were not released, but committee co-chair Democrat Adam Schiff indicated concern that, in his testimony, Sessions declined to answer whether President Trump ever asked him to obstruct the ongoing investigation into Russian inference in the 2016 presidential election. Schiff rejected Sessions claim of being unable to discuss the matter because of executive privilege. Schiff also criticized the “unilateral” decision of the committee’s Republican majority to not release the testimony, which Schiff said “extensively” covered the interactions Sessions had with former Trump campaign officials like Carter Page and the interactions that he had with George Papadopoulos.
- The House Intelligence Committee met with Blackwater founder Erik Prince on 11/30/17 for a closed-door interview. The interview is designated as an “open hearing in a closed space,” which means it will be conducted privately but the committee will later release a public transcript, likely with some redaction.
While Prince never formally worked for President Donald Trump during or after the 2016 campaign, he has maintained close ties to the Trump orbit and has acted as an informal adviser on foreign policy. His role in the Russia investigation centers on a secret meeting in the Seychelles, a remote island chain in the Indian Ocean, with a Russian businessman tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Prince has previously insisted that the meeting had nothing to do with Trump.
- The New York Times reported on 11/30/17 that President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to a half dozen lawmakers and aides. Mr. Trump’s requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides.
- On 11/30/17 it was reported that Randy Credico, a New York comedian and political activist, has been subpoenaed to appear before the House Intelligence Committee.Credico, who also hosted a radio show in New York, is set to appear before the committee on Dec. 15th. It is believed that the interview concerns the multiple interviews Credico conducted with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange at various points during the 2016 election.
- Following the 12/1/17 of the guilty plea by Michael Flynn in Robert Mueller’s investigation, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that the plea is a sign that the House Judiciary Committee has enough evidence to probe President Trump for obstruction of justice. “There is now more than enough evidence to form the basis of a congressional investigation into the President’s obstruction of justice — and it is long past time that the House Committee on the Judiciary engage on this matter,” Nadler said in a statement. “This development adds further weight to our suspicion of President Trump’s corrupt motives when he approached former FBI Director Comey about the Flynn investigation and asked that he ‘let it go.'”
- 12/4/17 reporting on December 2016 on e-mails from K.T. McFarland, President Trump’s former deputy national security adviser, appears to undermine her testimony before Congress in which she denied knowing anything about Michael Flynn’s contacts with top Kremlin officials. McFarland told lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July 2017 that she did not discuss or have any knowledge of Flynn’s contact with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak, but the December 2016 e-mails clearly mention those contacts.
- On 12/6/17 House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) went forward with plans to file a contempt resolution against top FBI and Justice Department officials for failing to turn over documents he requested over the summer, as part of the panel’s ongoing Russia probe. The contempt resolution will target FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over “outstanding documents” related to an August subpoena he issued that asked for records related to the controversial Russia dossier.
- On 12/12/17 Donald Trump Jr.’s lawyer called for the House Intelligence Committee to investigate whether members and staff inappropriately disclosed details of his appearance before the committee. This move fit with a larger “investigate the investigators” theme that Trump surrogates and the conservative media were pushing in mid-December.
- House intelligence committee senior Democrat Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) warned on 12/15/17 that he believes Republicans on the House intelligence committee are intent on shutting down the panel’s investigation into Russian interference in the near future. Schiff noted that Republicans have scheduled no witness interviews after December despite “dozens of outstanding witnesses on key aspects of our investigation that they refuse to contact” and unexecuted document requests. Committee Republicans did not immediately respond to requests for comment on this. Schiff also noted that Republicans have scheduled interviews of two important witnesses in New York in a move that would prevent attendance by committee members who have to stay in Washington for votes. The Wall Street Journal reported that those witnesses are President Trump’s longtime assistant Rhona Graff, now a senior vice president in the Trump Organization, and Felix Sater, a Trump associate who worked to complete a deal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow while then-candidate Trump falsely claimed he had no business interests in Russia. Reporting by CNN on 1/2/18 discussed the increasing likelihood that Republicans and Democrats on the committee will release competing reports.
- It was confirmed on 12/19/17 that the Senate Intelligence committee has asked for documents from former presidential candidate Jill Stein as part of its probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Stein said in a statement that she was cooperating with the probe and is providing documents to the committee. She has captured the interest of investigators partly because she attended a 2015 dinner sponsored by Russian television network RT with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a dinner that also prominently featured Trump’s former National Security advisor and Robert Mueller indictee Michael Flynn.
- The vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner (D-VA) spoke on the status of his committee’s investigation on 12/22/17. Warner stated that based on witness testimony and documents that he has seen behind closed doors, the Russia probe is “the most important thing I will ever work on.” He further stated that Facebook still hasn’t been fully candid, and the committee plans to require more information about what happened in 2016, and more transparency on future political ads. They also intend to call back Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and other “principals involved in some of these activities” for more questioning.
- Bloomberg reported on 12/22/17 that former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski have received requests to testify before the House Intelligence Committee regarding the Russia probe. The request to appear before the panel is reportedly for early January. The panel sent letters with the requests, but did not issue subpoenas. Bannon has so far been conspicuously absent from testimony lists for the Congressional committees and Mueller’s investigation, despite his being a key participant in decision-making during the decisions to fire Flynn and dismiss former FBI Director James Comey.
- On 1/5/18 the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended its first charges in the Russian investigation- against Christopher Steele, the author of the Fusion GPS dossier on Trump’s Russia ties, for lying about talking to reporters. Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), told the Justice Department that they had reason to believe that a former British spy, Christopher Steele, lied to federal authorities about his contacts with reporters regarding information in a dossier, and they urged the department to investigate. The Justice Department has not commented on the referral, but Committee Democrats were critical of the move, and its focus on discrediting the document’s author, rather than seeking to verify its contents.
- Politico reported on 1/9/18 on how Congressional Republicans are placing new scrutiny on contacts between Justice Department officials and reporters covering the Trump-Russia investigation. In article notes that GOP congressional investigators have publicly and privately questioned senior Justice Department and FBI leaders about interactions with reporters covering the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia. The goal, according to a half-dozen lawmakers and aides, is to expose any concerted effort by law enforcement officials to spin an anti-Trump narrative in the media through unauthorized leaks. Congressional Democrats characterize it as a partisan attempt to discredit the validity of the investigation.
- Former White House chief strategist Steven Bannon appeared before the House Intelligence Committee on 1/16/18. In what was initially a voluntary appearance, the committee found Bannon to be so uncooperative in answering questions that they served him with a subpoena on the spot. Even afterward, Bannon spent the 10 hours of his testimony refusing to answer multiple questions on the grounds that some of the answers could potentially infringe upon executive privilege. He criticized the committee, saying it was part of an “establishment” effort to nullify the election. Bannon also refused to discuss conversations he may have had with Trump even after he left the White House in August. Lawmakers were reportedly perplexed at this, and Bannon’s suggestion that the transition period, when Trump wasn’t yet in office, could be subject to executive privilege claims. The White House, for its part, denied that Bannon had been instructed to invoke executive privilege in his testimony.
- On 1/19/18 Congressional Republicans and Conservative Media began a social media campaign to release a classified House Intelligence Committee memo, apparently drafted by GOP committee members, that outlines how the controversial Trump-Russia Steele dossier was purportedly used as a pretext for the FBI to obtain FISA wiretaps against American citizens. House Intel’s ranking Democrat Adam Schiff blasted its contents as “a profoundly misleading set of talking points.” On 1/21/19 the FBI announced that their request to see the memo “in order to evaluate the information and take appropriate steps if necessary” was denied. Meanwhile, on 1/25/18 it was reported that requests by the Republican chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee to view the memo had been denied by House Republicans, as had calls from the Republican chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to release it publicly. The Department of Justice has recommended against releasing the memo, saying it would be “reckless”. Trump is said to have been furious at their stance on the issue. On 1/29/18, the Committee voted on party lines to release the memo, and also voted to not allow Committee Democrats to release a dissenting analysis of the memo’s contents. Following the vote, President Trump has five days to decide if he has any objection to releasing it. In a passing remark before the State of the Union speech on 1/30/18, Trump indicated he was “100 percent” in favor of releasing it. Schiff reiterated his criticisms of the memo, and also revealed that his office has received death threats for objecting to it. House Speaker Paul Ryan joined the fray on 1/30/18, backing the release of the memo and saying it was time to “cleanse” the FBI and Justice Department of any problems. Meanwhile FBI Director Christopher Wray is reported on 1/31/18 to have warned the White House against releasing the memo, saying that some of the information in the document is inaccurate, and later in the day on 1/31/18 the FBI took the unusual step of releasing a public statement of concern about the memo: “As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”
- Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) stated on 1/25/18 that he believes the panel’s chances of getting a voluntary interview with White House adviser Jared Kushner “have been shot.” He blamed this on Senator Diane Feinstein having released transcripts of Fusion GPS’ testimony before the committee. “But the ranking member unilaterally released the transcript of Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson. That has spooked other potential witnesses.” Fusion GPS had asked that the transcripts be released in response to a Conservative media/Congressional Republican whispering campaign against their integrity, and after Senate Republicans refused, Feinstein unilaterally release them.
- In a 1/29/18 interview, Senate Intelligence Committee senior Democrat Mark Warner stated that the in late 2017 the committee had received “extraordinarily important new documents” in its investigation. Warner said “end-of-the-year document dumps” produced “very significant” revelations that “opened a lot of new questions” that Senate investigators were now looking into, indicating that the inquiry into Trump and the Russian election hacking will not be finished for months longer.
FBI Investigation/Special Counsel
- On the evening of 5/9/17, President Trump fired FBI director James Comey. This was initially presented as a move prompted by Trump’s reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expressing concerns about the impropriety of Comey’s actions while investigating Hillary Clinton in 2016. Subsequent coverage made clear that Trump had been planning on firing Sessions for weeks, and had the Justice Department prepare materials as a justification. One of his major motivators in doing so was apparently anger at Comey’s ongoing investigation into Russian allegations, as well as his public discrediting of Trump’s allegations that Obama had him wiretapped. Trump himself contradicted his administration’s official story on the firing on 5/11/17, and explicitly stated that Comey’s pursuit of the Russia investigation was a factor. It was also revealed that just days before the firing, Comey had approached Rosenstein to request additional resources for the ongoing investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election and possible Trump campaign officials involvement with Russia.
- In the wake of Comey’s firing, the Senate Intelligence Committee indicated on 5/10/17 that they would nevertheless like him to testify before the committee the following week. An increasing number of Democratic Senators called for a special prosecutor to oversee the Russian influence investigation, and were joined in this call by Republican Senator John McCain and 20 States’ Attorneys General.
- Acting FBI head Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, testifying before Congress on 5/11/17, broke with Trump by characterizing the Russia probe as “important”, and promised that he would not discuss any details of it with White House officials. McCabe also stated that, contrary to Trump’s assertions after the firing, staff in the FBI had not lost confidence in Comey. This was confirmed by other highly-placed sources in the FBI, who also disputed multiple details of Trump’s claim that Comey had assured him a January private dinner that he was not a subject of the investigation. Trump’s follow-up on the conversation involved a Twitter-post on 5/12/17 stating: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press.”
- Fallout from Trump’s 5/10/17 firing of James Comey continued to unwind for several days. Significant developments included:
- White House spokesmen would neither confirm or deny Trump’s insinuation that he may have taped his conversations with Comey.
- Trump had asked Comey for a “loyalty pledge” in a meeting shortly after the inauguration (which Comey declined to provide).
- Comey revealed on 5/16/17 that, in a February meeting, after asking AG Sessions and VP Pence to leave the room, Trump had asked Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn. He also suggested that Comey instead focus on arresting journalists responsibility for leaking the Flynn story. Most notably, Comey indicated that he had kept detailed memos of this and other conversations with Trump.
- On 5/17/17, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) invited Comey to testify publicly before his committee in May.
- The same day as Chaffetz’s offer, the Senate Intelligence Committee also issued an invitation for Comey to publicly testify.
- And that same day, the Senate Judiciary Committee asked both the White House and the FBI to turn over any memos or recordings from Trump’s meetings with Comey.
- Spurred by increasing Congressional scrutiny and public interest following Comey’s dismissal, the Justice Department acceded to growing demands to appoint an Independent Counsel to investigate Russian election interference and Trump administration ties to Russia on 5/17/17. The appointment of Robert Mueller, a former FBI director with a background as a prosecutor who had served under both Bush and Obama, met with praise from Congressional leaders from both parties.
- The FBI investigation into Russian influence and ties meanwhile continued, with the following major developments in May:
- Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced on 5/18/17 that the FBI investigation is now not only an intelligence probe, but also a criminal investigation, which could result in charges.
- On 5/22/17, Mueller was briefed on the contents of Comey’s Trump meeting memos.
- It was confirmed on 5/26/17 that Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner is a person of interest in the investigation. Specifically, while not naming him as a target, investigators indicate that they want information from him on meetings with the Russian ambassador and Russian bankers.
- On 5/27/17, the FBI indicate that it is not complying, for the moment, with Congressional requests to turn over Comey’s memos, as it first wants to coordinate with Mueller’s investigation.
- In response to the ongoing investigation, the Trump administration is retaining defense attorneys, and creating a “war room” within the White House to coordinate responses.
- The Washington Post reported on 5/22/17 that President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against the FBI Russia investigation. Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency. Both refused his requests, believing them to be inappropriate.
- On 5/26/17, it was revealed that then-FBI Director James Comey knew that a critical piece of information relating to the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email was fake – created by Russian intelligence – but he feared that if it became public it would undermine the probe and the Justice Department itself. As a result, Comey acted unilaterally in June 2016 to publicly declare the investigation over.
- A good case can be made that Trump’s firing of Comey constitutes a case of obstruction of justice. This would be true of Session’s behavior as well, and could additionally result in him losing his license to practice law, as it would seem to violate his previous recusal of himself from anything Russia-related. Making the case would require establishing (1) “Corrupt” intent, (2) Interference with a pending judicial proceeding, (3) A material impact on that proceeding, and (4) Knowledge of that proceeding. #2 & #4 are easily demonstrable, so it would depend on #1 and #3. Obstruction of Justice was one of the impeachment charges brought against Nixon in Watergate.
- Among Robert Mueller’s first actions as Special Counsel have been assembling an extensive legal team with expertise in high-profile criminal fraud, foreign bribery, money laundering and anti-mob cases. His team is spending its first few weeks reviewing the work that has been done to date by the FBI, Justice Department, and U.S. Attorney’s Alexandria, VA office. As of mid June 2017, his staff had expanded to thirteen lawyers with extensive experience in high-profile cases.
- Ahead of former FBI Director Comey’s Senate Testimony, President Trump set up a “war room” headed by outside counsel Marc Kasowitz. Kasowitz had previously represented Trump in many civil disputes during his business career. Early reports indicated that the effort was marked by disarray and infighting. It was also revealed that Kasowitz had been chosen after four top law firms had declined to represent Trump in the matter.
- It was reported on 6/9/17 that Kasowitz’s clients had also included Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to President Vladimir Putin and has done business with Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort.
- Various sources confirmed to the Washington Post and other outlets on 6/14/17 that Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation is officially looking in to obstruction of justice issues.
- Vice President Mike Pence hired his own legal representation separate from Trump’s team on 6/15/17. Pence hired Richard Cullen of McGuire Woods. Cullen has previously represented Tom DeLay in his corruption charges, served as a defense attorney during the Iran-Contra investigations, and is a former U.S. Attorney from the Eastern District of Virginia.
- To the surprise of pretty much nobody, President Trump officially announced on 6/22/17 that he had not taped his conversations with former-FBI Director James Comey. He further indicated that he had suggested he had tapes in order to rattle Comey, which could contribute to establishing intent of obstruction of justice.
- On 6/28/17, Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz announced his legal team was delaying previously threatened legal action against former FBI Director James Comey for revealing “privileged information” in his Congressional testimony. Kasowitz indicated they still plan to proceed at some point. Trump has a history of making legal threats against his opponents and then not following through.
- Reporting emerged on 7/9/17 that many of the memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote after his conversations with President Trump contained classified information. This was initially interpreted to indicate that Comey may have broken agency rules when he released them. Subsequent reporting, however, revealed that they do not appear to have been marked classified when released, and that if anything in them is classified (which remains unclear), it may have happen retroactively.
- On 7/12/17 Trump defense team head Marc Kasowitz responded to an e-mail from an (apparently sympathetic to Trump) retired PR-official recommending he resign for the good of the investigation with a series of angry messages. His responses included: “I’m on you now. You are fucking with me now Let’s see who you are Watch your back , bitch.”, “Call me. Don’t be afraid, you piece of shit. Stand up. If you don’t call, you’re just afraid.” and “I already know where you live, I’m on you. You might as well call me. You will see me. I promise. Bro.”. Kasowitz subsequently indicated that he had lost his temper at the end of a long day, and would apologize to the sender.
- It was announced on 7/15/17 that Washington Lawyer Ty Cobb was joining Trump’s legal defense team. Indications are that Cobb, whose legal expertise lies in white-collar crime and congressional investigations, will be coordinating all legal defense and media issues related to Russia. He will coordinating with Trump’s personal defense lawyer Marc Kasowitz, and his appointment has led some to wonder if this is part of a process of sidelining Kasowitz. Also, since the question must arise, Cobb is indeed related to baseball legend Ty Cobb.
- This 7/18/17 story from AP highlights the growing number of legal teams representing figures related to the Russian investigation, and some of the potential conflicts they face in protecting their clients vs. coordinating with each other.
- On 7/21/17 Marc Kasowitz resigned as Trump’s personal attorney regarding the investigation. Kasowitz’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, a longtime GOP operative who worked for the House committee that investigated President Clinton in the 1990s, also resigned. No official statements or explanations on the changes were released.
- President Trump began issuing a series of public statements on the ongoing Special Counsel investigation on 7/19/17. His first such statements were in a New York Times interview where he stated that he regretted appointing Jeff Sessions as his Attorney General, and would not have done so if he knew he would recuse himself from the investigation. he also warned Robert Mueller that if he began to investigate Trump family finances, that would cross a “red line”. He also attacked Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein as being someone from Baltimore, where there were “very few” Republicans. On 7/22/17, he followed earlier remarks up with tweets asserting his unlimited authority to pardon, decrying leaks, and again calling the entire investigating fake news.
- Almost like clockwork following the President’s “cross a line” remarks, news emerged on 7/20/17 that Mueller is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008.
- The Washington Post reported on 7/21/17 that President Trump’s legal team was exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s Russia investigation, on the basis of alleged conflicts of interest. It was also reported that Trump had asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe. Sources differed on whether this was prompted by a planned action, or a more general desire to understand how it worked.
- CNN reported on 7/21/17 that Mueller has requested that White House staff save all documents connected to Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016. Mueller sent a document preservation request to the White House asking staff to preserve an array of communications pertaining to the meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and President Trump’s eldest son, such as text messages, notes and voicemails.
- On 7/27/17 Senator Lindsey Graham unveiled plans for legislation that would make it much harder for any special counsel to be fired. He specifically stated that the intention of the legislation was to make it impossible for President Trump to file Special Counsel Mueller without a separate judicial review to okay it. The constitutionality of such a measure is unclear. Meanwhile, both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate took measures to adjourn for the Summer without formally going into recess so that the President could not fire Attorney General Sessions during the recess and replace him with an interim appointee (who might be willing to fire Mueller) without need for Senate confirmation.
- On 8/1/17 Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, a member of the Judiciary Committee, stated that Special Counsel Robert Mueller should resign because of his friendship with fired FBI Director James Comey. Echoing similar statements from other Trump supporters, Franks said in a statement that Mueller “must resign to maintain the integrity of the investigation into alleged Russian ties.” While this statement resembles previous rhetoric from Trump surrogates, officially, Trump’s legal team seems to have taken a public turn toward praising Mueller’s integrity and indicating respect for him.
- It was announced on 8/1/17 that former Justice Department official Greg Anders became the 16th lawyer to join Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s staff. Most recently a white-collar criminal defense lawyer with New York law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell, Andres, 50, served at the Justice Department from 2010 to 2012. He was deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division, where he oversaw the fraud unit and managed the program that targeted illegal foreign bribery. Various analysts have noted that Mueller’s team is heavy on people with experience in prosecuting fraud, bribery, money laundering, public corruption, and white collar crime, suggesting the likely direction his investigations have taken.
- On 8/3/17 it was revealed that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has formally impaneled a Grand Jury as part of his investigation. A Grand Jury gives Mueller a legal basis to issue subpoenas, and can also take testimony. It is usually also an indication that a prosecutor believes them have sufficent evidence of criminal conduct to issue indictments, although that step itself usually doesn’t occur until later, toward the end of the investigation. This Grand Jury’s first action appears to have involved issuing subpoenas regarding the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Russia-connected parties who promised him damaging information on the Clinton campaign as part of the Russian government’s support of Donald Trump’s candidacy.
- A separate story on 8/3/17 indicates that financial transactions between Trump and his associates are becoming a key area of investigation, even where such transactions do not have a direct relation with Russian campaign interference. There are many kinds of transactions that could become part of such an investigation, including a 2016 transfer of property from Trump to his son that could violate rules on tax evasion.
- News broke on 8/9/17 that the FBI conducted a pre-dawn raid on Paul Manafort’s Virginia home on 7/26/17. The raid occured without warning the day Manafort was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee and a day after he met with Senate Intelligence Committee staff members. The search warrant requested documents related to tax, banking and other matters, and agents are reported to have left with an extensive amount of material. It has been further reported that investigators met with Manafort’s son-in-law and sometimes business partner Jeffrey Yohai earlier in the summer. The focus Manafort is receiving has led to speculation that he is being pressured on specific legal issues in order to encourage him to cooperate with the investigation and turn over information on other targets. Spokesmen for Manafort and Mueller have declined to comment.
- It was reported on 8/16/17 that a member of Robert Mueller’s team, FBI veteran Peter Strzok, is leaving the Special Counsel’s investigation. There has been no subsequent statement on the reason for Strzok’s departure, although it was announced that he was leaving to join the F.B.I.’s HR Department, which is unusual given that his background is in counterespionage investigations.
- As of late July, Deutsche Bank is reviewing documents involving hundreds of millions of dollars worth of loans it made to Trump’s organization, in preparation for expected subpoenas from Mueller’s investigation. Deustche Bank has been one of the few major international lenders willing to work with Trump in recent years, due to his track record of reneging on financial agreements, and also has strong ties to Russia.
- Vanity Fair reported on 8/13/17 that Mueller’s investigation is also focusing on the financing of the Trump SoHo real estate project in Manhattan. The luxury apartment building is know to have attracted investment from Felix Sater’s Bayrock Capital, which has multiple connections to Russian financial interests involved with both Putin’s inner circle and Russian organized crime. Trump has previously maintained that he barely knows Sater, who has been under criminal investigation for financial crimes and Russian mob ties, despite multiple indications that Sater has been very active in Trump Organization finances and acted as a go-between for the organization and senior Russian interests.
- On 8/18/17 Reuter’s reported White House special counsel Ty Cobb’s prediction that Robert Mueller’s investigation would be over before the end of the year. Cobb said he would be “embarrassed” if it still hangs over the president in 2018, and stated that he talks to Trump on an almost daily basis and has been in frequent contact with the team of Robert Mueller.
- Reporting by McClatchy on 8/22/17 indicated that financial crimes involving Paul Manafort have become a particular focus of Mueller’s investigation. Sources familiar with the inquiry indicate that investigators are working to confirm that Manafort and the consulting firms he led may have earned between $80 million and $100 million over a decade from pro-Moscow Ukrainian and Russian clients. The investigation is zeroing in on whether Manafort may have evaded taxes or engaged in any money laundering schemes.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on 8/26/17 that Robert Mueller’s team is also investigating the possibility that former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn sought Russian help to find missing Clinton e-mails. The notes of now-deceased Republican activist Peter Smith identify Flynn as a backer of Smith’s efforts to seek Russian help to recover the e-mails.
- On 8/24/17 it was reported that President Trump had personally called a Senator to discourage him from backing a bill to block Trump from firing Mueller. Trump contacted Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), who had co-sponsored the bill with Chris Coons (D-DE), to say that he was unhappy with the bill and didn’t want it to pass.
- CNN reported on 8/29/17 that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued subpoenas to a former lawyer for Paul Manafort and to Manafort’s current spokesman. The subpoenas, seeking documents and testimony, were sent to Melissa Laurenza, an attorney with the Akin Gump law firm who until recently represented Manafort, and to Jason Maloni, who is Manafort’s spokesman. On 8/30/17 it was further reported that Mueller is partnering with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman in his investigation into Manafort. A potential significance of this is that, while a Presidential pardon can cover federal charges, it cannot be used to give someone immunity from criminal charges in a state court.
- The AP reported on 8/31/17 that a grand jury used by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has heard secret testimony from a Russian-American lobbyist who attended a June 2016 meeting with President Donald Trump’s eldest son. A person familiar with the matter confirmed that Rinat Akhmetshin had appeared before Mueller’s grand jury in recent weeks, the most definite indication yet that Mueller is actively investigating the meeting in which Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort met with representatives of Russian interests.
- There was also reporting on 8/31/17 that Mueller is partnering with the IRS Criminal Investigations unit as part of his probe. It’s not clear at this point if this partnership specifically relates to the investigation of Manafort, or to Trump’s financial affairs more generally.
- The Washignton Post reported on 9/1/17 that Mueller’s investigation has the original draft of President Trump’s memo on the justification for firing FBI director James Comey. Sources who have seen the memo indicate that it specifically references the Russian investigation as the reason for the firing, and not the originally publicly offered explanation that Comey’s mishandling of the Clinton investigation was the cause. Descriptions of early administration deliberations about the memo also seem to show that Vice President Mike Pence knew much more about Trump’s reasons for the firing than he has indicated in public statements.
- On 9/6/17, in a series of private e-mail exchanges, Trump legal team head Ty Cobb indicated he may not be in his position long. The exchanges were with Washington noodle shop owner Jeff Jetton, who has been contacting people involved with the Russia investigation whose e-mail addresses he can figure out, and in this case was quite aggressive. The conversation eventually got to a more civil place, but along the way Cobb made a statement that he might not be in his position for long, and indicated that he was one of the few “adults in the room” in the White House.
- On 9/6/7 Facebook turned over data on Russian ad purchases to Mueller’s investigation. The adds involved 500 accounts (almost all of which are now suspended) who had spent roughly $100,000 on about 3,000 ads aimed at exacerbating political tensions during the 2016 campaign. The tech company gave Mueller’s team copies of the ads as well as the identities of the ads’ buyers.
- CNN reported on 9/7/17 that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has approached the White House about interviewing staffers who were aboard Air Force One when the initial misleading statement about Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower was crafted. The special counsel’s discussions are further indication that Mueller’s investigators are interested in the response to the Trump Tower meeting. Mueller wants to know how the statement written on Air Force one developed, whether information was intentionally left out and who was involved, according to the sources of the story.
- On 9/8/17 Mueller alerted the White House that his team will probably seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. The officials in question are former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, current aide Hope Hicks, White House counsel Don McGahn and one of his deputies, James Burnham, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner. News emerged the next day that Priebus and McGahn have hired lawyers to represent them concerning the investigation. Spicer is known to have habitually taken extensive notes at meetings, so these will likely be an area of interest for Mueller.
- NBC reported on 9/13/17 that Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, is a subject of the federal investigation into Russian meddling in the presidential election and possible collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign. Based on information from several current and former government officials, the inquiry into Flynn is focused at least in part on his work with his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group. It’s unclear when the focus on Flynn began.
- Several sources have reported on the financial burden the investigation is causing those involved. Michael Caputo, a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump, has claimed the ongoing federal probe into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia has taken such a financial burden on him that he’s been forced to dip into his children’s college funds to pay for an attorney. Although Caputo has not had any assistance in paying for his legal aid, a few members of Trump’s team have had their legal services paid for. The Trump campaign paid $50,000 for Donald Trump Jr.’s attorney back in June. It was reported on 9/18/17 that Michael Flynn’s family has set up a separate legal defense fund to cover his involvement in the investigation. It was separately reported on 9/17/17 that the RNC has directly covered $230,000 of Trump’s legal expenses.
- On 9/16/17 Ty Cobb, the head of President Trump’s legal defense team, was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing disputes within the legal defense team during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to. He also mentioned a colleague whom he blamed for “some of these earlier leaks,” and who he said “tried to push Jared out,” meaning Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The crux of the dispute seems to be a disagreement between whetehr to turn over everything to try and end the inquiry as quickly as possible (which Cobb favors) or whether to assert privilege over some information in order to protect the President’s institutional authority (which McGahn favors).
- CNN reported on 9/18/17 that Robert Mueller’s team has been provided details of wiretapped conversations involving former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. US investigators wiretapped Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election. The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump. Some of the intelligence collected includes communications that sparked concerns among investigators that Manafort had encouraged the Russians to help with the campaign, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Several of these sources, however, cautioned that the evidence is not conclusive. It was subsequently reported that some of Manafort’s conversations were with Russian individuals and specifically involved the 2016 election.
- A New York Times piece on 9/18/17 reveals that Mueller’s team is looking into thirteen separate categories of documents as part of its investigation. The story also reveals that Mueller’s team has shown a measure of deference to White House officials, sparing them grand jury subpoenas and allowing them to appear for voluntary interviews. Trump legal team head, Ty Cobb, has instructed White House officials to be cooperative in order to avoid any subpoenas. Mueller’s office is putting more pressure on figures currently outside the White House, such as Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, and it seems increasingly likely that there will be indictments involving these individuals.
- CNN reported on 9/26/17 that the IRS is formally sharing information with Robert Mueller’s investigation, after the two entities clashed this summer over both the scope of the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and a raid on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s home. Part of the concern centered on the far-reaching and broad requests from Mueller’s team. In the case of Manafort, Mueller’s investigators are reaching back 11 years as they investigate possible tax and financial crimes, according to search warrant documents. Mueller is bound by a written order issued by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in May which allows the special counsel to investigate “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” After several months of being at odds, the IRS Criminal Investigation division is now sharing information about campaign associates, including Manafort and former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn.
- Reports emerged on 10/4/17 that Mueller’s team is reviewing the Steele Dossier (see separate section below) as part of its investigation. Though the investigation declined to comment, follow-up reports later in the week indicated that Steele himself has been interviewed as part of the inquiry.
- The New York Times reported on 10/7/17 that Trump’s legal defense team has decided on a startegy of speedy cooperation with Mueller’s investigation, in the hopes that they can convince Mueller’s team to publicly clear Trump of suspicion.
White House officials once debated a scorched-earth strategy of publicly criticizing and undercutting Mueller, but now hope that Mr. Mueller will declare in the coming months that President Trump is not a target of the Russia inquiry. Trump has long sought such a public declaration. He fired F.B.I. director James Comey in May after Mr. Comey refused to say openly that Trump was not under investigation. According to more than a half dozen White House officials, witnesses and outside lawyers connected to the Russia inquiry, the President’s legal team is working swiftly to respond to requests from Mr. Mueller for emails, documents and memos, and will make White House officials available for interviews. Once Mr. Mueller has combed through the evidence, Mr. Trump’s lawyers plan to ask him to affirm that Mr. Trump is not under investigation, either for colluding with Russian operatives or for trying to obstruct justice.
- Reince Priebus, the former chief of staff to President Trump, was interviewed for a full day on 10/13/17 by members of special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s team.
- It was reported on 10/17/17 that Robert Mueller’s team has interviewed Matt Tait, a cybersecurity expert who claims he was “recruited to collude with the Russians” in the 2016 election. Tait, a former information security specialist for Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, claims that he was recruited by a longtime GOP operative tied to the Trump campaign, Peter W. Smith, to obtain emails deleted from Clinton’s private email server that they believed were hacked by the Russians.
- On 10/24/17, NBC reported that Mueller’s team is also investigating Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta for his work in the Ukraine. The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of Paul Manafort. Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West. NBC’s sources say the investigation into Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA. Podesta announced on 10/30/17 that he was stepping down from his consulting company.
- On 10/28/17 the Wall Street Journal editorial board issued an opinion piece calling on Robert Mueller to resign due to conflicts of interest. The editorial makes the case that Comey may have acted improperly with regard to the Steele Dossier, and that the Dossier itself is discredited by having been funded by the Democratic party. “Did the dossier trigger the FBI probe of the Trump campaign, and did Mr. Comey or his agents use it as evidence to seek wiretapping approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Trump campaign aides?” For his part, the editorial contends, Mueller’s history with the FBI and freindship with Comey prevents him from being able to conduct an impartial investigation.
- The first indictments in Robert Mueller’s investigation were handed down on 10/30/17 against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Robert Gates. The 31-page indictment accuses Manafort of earning over $12 million from improperly-disclosed lobbying and public relations work for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians, and then (with help from Gates) divvying it up over a number of shell companies, and then making over 200 wire transfers to various businesses in order to hide the origin of the money and avoid paying income taxes on it. Manafort and Gates turned themselves in, plead “not guilty”, and reached a bail agreement that involved them turning in their passports and agreeing to home arrest during legal proceedings. President Trump responded by Tweeting “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” and “….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!”
- On the same day the Manafort and Gates indictments were issued, Mueller’s team unsealed a 10/5/17 indictment in which former Trump campaign worker George Papadopoulos plead guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian sources during the campaign. The details of the indictment make clear that, starting in March 2016, Papadopoulos had repeated contact with Russian-connected sources, that these sources offered support to the Trump campaign including talk of “thousands of e-mails” that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton, and that he consistently informed campaign officials of his efforts to acquire the information and desire to set up meetings for Trump with senior Russian officials including Putin. The indictment also makes clear that facts other than those described in the document are known to the investigation, and strongly indicates that Papdopoulos has been cooperating extensively with the investigation since his July 2017 arrest.
- While Trump administration officials responded by portraying Papadopoulos as a junior volunteer who almost nobody knew and who was acting on his own, subsequent reporting shows that he engaged in extensive domestic and foreign travel in which he met with various people and appeared before groups as a representative of the campaign. Records also seem to indicate that, while the campaign didn’t follow up on many of his requests, it also did not discourage him or ask him to stop. His efforts actually met with encouraging remarks from a campaign supervisor subsequently identifed as Sam Clovis (after these revelations, Clovis withdrew his already controversial nomination for a top post in the Agriculture Department). It is also notable that, through Papadopoulos, multiple campaign officials were made aware of Russian claims to have Clinton-related e-mails well before the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and contradict repeated statements from Trump and others throughout the 2016 campaign that nobody in the campaign had any knoweldge of the DNC hack.
- An 11/1/17 story from Vanity Fair described the reaction inside the White House to Robert Mueller’s first round of indictments. According to the article, Trump is blaming Jared Kusner for bad advice on firing Comey that led to Mueller’s investigation, aides are openly discussing the threat of impeachment, and Trump is in frequent communication with Steve Bannon, who is urging measures to discredit Mueller and shake up Trump’s legal defense team.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on 11/1/17 that Justice Department Prosecutors have identified at least six Russian government members who could be charged with hacking computers at the Democratic National Committee. This is the first indication that specific Russian officials involved with the hack have been identified. According to the story, agents and prosecutors could bring charges against those six officials as early as 2018.
- On 11/3/17 three House Republicans introduced a measure to remove Robert Mueller as special counsel. Separately, measures that were introduced months earlier to prevent Trump from removing Mueller are also on the floor, but are not advancing. For now, the majority of Congressional Republicans seem satisifed to let him continue through the conclusion of his investigation.
- On 11/5/17 NBC reported that Federal investigators have gathered enough evidence to bring charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn and his son as part of the probe into Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election. According to three sources, the investigators are speaking to multiple witnesses to gain more information surrounding Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts. Mueller’s team is also examining whether Flynn attempted to orchestrate the removal of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars. Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, who worked closely with his father, accompanied him during the campaign and briefly worked on the presidential transition, could be indicted separately or at the same time as his father.
- On 11/9/17 Mueller’s investigation interviewed White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. Miller is the highest-level aide still working at the White House known to have talked to investigators. According to sources familiar with the investigation, his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey was among the topics discussed during the interview as part of a probe into possible obstruction of justice.
- ABC reported on 11/10/17 that George Papadopoulos, the Trump foreign policy aide who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, initially misled agents out of what he claimed was loyalty to President Trump. Trump had publicly denied that there had been any contact between his campaign and Russian officials, and Papadopoulos did not want to contradict the official line. The New York times meanwhile ran an 11/10/17 story based on court documents that chronicles Papadopoulos’ March 2016 meetings with Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic who boasted of having high-level contacts in the Russian government, Olga Polonskaya, a 30-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg and the former manager of a wine distribution company who Mifsud (falsely) introduced as Mr. Putin’s niece, and an unnamed fourth man with contacts inside Russia’s Foreign Ministry who investigators believe may have Russian intelligence ties.
- The Daily Beast provided more background on Polonska in an 11/10/17 article. According to Polonskaya’s brother, Sergei Vinogradov (her maiden name is Vinogradov) she has never worked for the Russian government, and was introduced to Papadopoulos while discussing an internship with Mifsud. She didn’t speak English well enough to fully follow the conversation between Papadopoulos and Mifsud, he added. Federal prosecutors, though, allege that Papadopoulos hoped that Putin’s “niece” would introduce him to the Russian ambassador in London. After he first met the “niece,” Papadopoulos emailed the Trump campaign to report that he had talked with her about arranging “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss U.S.-Russia ties under President Trump.” Mifsud meanwhile has told an Italian newspaper, “she was just a student, a very good-looking one” and that Papadopoulos’ “interest in her (was) very different from an academic one.”
- Buzzfeed reported on 11/14/17 that the FBI is looking into a group of wire transfers the Russian foreign ministry sent to embassies around the world with a memo line that said “to finance election campaign of 2016.” The FBI is scrutinizing more than 60 wire transfers totaling more than $380,000. The money, which moved through Citibank accounts, was received between Aug. 3 and Sept. 20, 2016, to Russian embassies in nearly 60 countries, including Afghanistan and Nigeria. BuzzFeed cited a specific payment of $30,000 which the Russian foreign ministry sent to its embassy in Washington, D.C.
- On 11/14/17 Attorney General Jeff Sessions asked senior federal prosecutors to “evaluate certain issues” presented by House Republicans, including alleged ties between the Clinton Foundation and the sale of Uranium One. The Obama-era sale of the Canadian uranium mining company to Russia’s Atomic Energy Agency, Rosatom, is already being investigated by the House. In a letter to House Judiciary committee chairman Bob Goodlatte, assistant attorney general Stephen Boyd said the senior prosecutors will make recommendations to the attorney general and deputy general on whether “any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any merit the appointment of a special counsel.”
- Behind the scenes, several senior Justice Department officials indicated they are uncomfortable with the idea, seeing it as politically motivated. Meanwhile on 11/15/17 Fox anchor Shepard Smith ran a piece debunking many of the key talking points behind the idea of a link between the Uranium One sale and improper donations to the Clinton Foundation.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on 11/15/17 that Robert Mueller’s investigators have issued a subpoena to more than a dozen people involved with President Trump’s election campaign for documents related to Russia. The subpoena was issued in mid-October, requesting documents and emails from more than a dozen top campaign officials that include several keywords related to Russia. A source familiar with the matter told the Journal that the subpoena would not compel testimony before a grand jury, but that Trump’s campaign was surprised by the order after voluntarily cooperating with previous requests from Mueller’s team.
- Reporting emerged on 11/17/17 that there are indications that Mueller’s team has interviewed an aide of House Speaker Paul Ryan about his role in revising a plank on arming anti-Russian Ukranian forces during the June 2016 Republican Convention. Ryan chief of staff Jonathan Burks, who would neither confirm nor deny whether he had heard from the special counsel, attended the convention in a personal capacity as a volunteer for the Republican Party, not as a representative of Ryan’s office. At the time, he was a national security adviser to the speaker. The revision of the Ukraine plank has drawn previous interest from investigators as it changed GOP policy in a strongly pro-Russian direction, and seems to have involved pressure for the change from the Trump campaign.
- An 11/19/17 article in the Washington Post described divisions in the White House and among those close to Trump on that status of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. According to the report, some in the West Wing avoid the mere mention of Russia or the investigation whenever possible in order to keep the President focused on governing. Others take solace in the reassurances of White House lawyer Ty Cobb that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and the president and those close to him will be exonerated. Still others regard these hopes as naive as the investigation increasingly focuses on current and former White House staffers and campaign officials, and are also concerned about President Trump’s reported belief that the investigation is nearly concluded compared to their expectation that it is still in early stages.
- The New York Times and Washington post reported on 11/23/17 that former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s legal team has informed President Trump’s legal team that they can no longer discuss matters relating to Special Cousel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The call from Flynn lawyer Robert Kelner to Trump attorney John Dowd suggests that Flynn, who has been a top target of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and his team, may be looking to share information with the prosecutor and his team. Backing this up, it was reported on 11/27/17 that Flynn’s lawyer Robert Kelner met with members of Meuller’s team,
the latest sign the two sides may be negotiating a plea deal for the embattled former intelligence officer. It also appears that Mueller’s team has interviewed Trump’s son-in-law and senior aide Jared Kushner specifically on the question of Flynn‘s activities.
- One area related to Flynn that Mueller is known to be focusing on is Flynn’s role in producing a documentary about an exiled Turkish cleric at the height of the 2016 presidential race. Flynn failed to register as a foreign agent when his firm began lobbying on behalf of a businessman with ties to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn’s firm, Flynn Intel Group, was paid $530,000 in August 2016 by the businessman, Ekim Alptekin. Flynn Intel Group was tasked with fomenting dissent inside Turkey and with lobbying the US government to extradite the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in Pennsylvania and whom Erdogan believes is responsible for planning an attempted coup in 2016. Also at issue is a June 2015 trip to Egypt and Israel, paid for by a U.S. company Flynn was advising. The company hoped to build more than two dozen nuclear plants in the region, in partnership with Russian interests. It’s questionable to conduct this kind of work while active with a Presidential campaign, and Flynn may have violated federal law by failing to disclose the trip in his security clearance renewal application in 2016.
- Reporting emerged on 11/16/17 that Mueller’s team is preparing to interview White House communication director Hope Hicks. Hicks has been a key Trump confidant throughout the campaign and through the first year of the administration, and some legal experts believe the decision to interview her indicates Mueller has reached a critical point in the overall investigation. “Anytime you can get someone who is the right-hand person or who’s been around the primary target of an investigation, under oath, answering detailed questions, means you’ve progressed very far along in the investigation,” said Adam Goldberg, a former Clinton White House lawyer.
- In the “can’t blame them for trying” category, on 11/27/17 Conservative watchdog Freedom Watch filed a lawsuit to have Mueller removed as Speical Counsel. The lawsuit was filed by Freedom Watch founder Larry Klayman against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, FBI Director Christopher Wray and the heads of the Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) and Inspector General in their official capacities, and seeks to have Mueller removed for “gross prosecutorial misconduct” over the leaks of grand jury information. “Robert Mueller is not a ‘man of integrity’ as the Washington, D.C., Democrat and Republican political establishment like to spin. He is just another pol who is representing his establishment benefactors in both political parties who want to see the presidency of Donald Trump destroyed,” Klayman said in a statement on the lawsuit.
- The Los Angeles Times ran an 11/24/17 profile of Robert Mueller highlighting unflattering comments from many who have worked with him before. Several former colleagues described Mueller as a “gruff guy” who routinely undermined his subordinates and evaded responsibility as head of the FBI. While not disputing his effectiveness, those interviewed criticized Mueller’s handling of many high-profile cases stretching back to 1979, his temperament with government witnesses, and for directing his subordinates at the FBI to shield him from criticism. One former aide went so far as to say that Mueller is “someone that can’t accept the fact that he screwed up.”
- On 11/30/17 former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has reached an $11 million bail agreement with prosecutors that could clear the way for him to be released from house arrest. Manafort’s defense attorneys revealed “an agreed-upon bail package” with lawyers from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office. The deal involves the pledging of four properties: Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, condominium where he’s been under home detention, his Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, home, a condo in Manhattan and another property in Bridgehampton, New York.
- Former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn was charged on 12/1/17 by Special Counsel Robert Mueller in federal court in Washington DC with one count of making a false statement to the FBI about his Russian contacts. The court documents suggest that the charge is part of a plea agreement between Flynn and Mueller, suggesting Mueller has secured Flynn’s cooperation. This is bolstered by the fact that the plea was to a very limited and minor charge, ignoring multiple more serious potential charges, which indicates the likelihood that Flynn made a deal, as does the plea agreement itself, which promises full cooperation with the investigation and even willingness to participate in “covert law enforcement activities”. Initial coverage by ABC inaccurately reported that Flynn would testify that Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians. Subsequent filings revealed that Flynn spoke with a “senior official” in President Trump’s transition team to discuss what he should communicate to the Russian ambassador in December 2016 phone calls, and debriefed with the same official afterward. Reporting by several parties based upon court filings and senior sources indicated that the official in question is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. For its part, the initial White House response emphasized that Flynn was fired for lying to administration officials, and had only been with the administration for a short time. Behind the scenes, according to sources close to the President cited by The Beast, Trump had suspected for weeks that Flynn was going to turn on him. The Kremlin got in on the commentary too, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov stating on 12/4/17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to not retaliate against the U.S. after Washington levied a new round of sanctions last year was not influenced by any official conversations with Michael Flynn.
- The day after Flynn’s guilty plea, President Trump tweeted, “”I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump wrote. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!” This led several parties to note that this seemingly implied he already knew Flynn had lied to the FBI before firing Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, and before pressuring FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation. On 12/3/17, President Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, took responsibility for writing the tweet under the President’s name, which he says he gave to social media director Dan Scavino. Dowd also maintained that the tweet did not admit obstruction, and in any case, as the chief law enforcement officer, the President inherently cannot obstruct justice when giving a view on a legal case. Most legal experts were skeptical of this argument.
- It was reporter on 12/2/17 that Peter Strzok, the former top FBI official assigned to special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election was taken off the job during the summer after his bosses discovered he and another member of Mueller’s team had exchanged politically charged texts disparaging President Trump and supporting Hillary Clinton. In a similar vein, it was reported on 12/5/17 that Mueller’s chief deputy Andrew Weissman had sent an e-mail to Sally Yates expressing pride in her standing up to President Trump before he fired her, and on 12/11/17 that the wife of Bruce Ohr, a Justice Department official dismissed for concealing meetings with Fusion GPS, also had worked with the firm. Conservative media and legislators used these revelations as a talking point to allege bias on Mueller’s part and question whether he should be dismissed and/or his investigation shut down. On 12/12/17 Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow went further, calling for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate conflicts of interest in Mueller’s investigation. For his part, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein stated in Congressional testimony on 12/13/17 that the special counsel’s investigation is not a “witch hunt”.
- A column in FiveThirtyEight on 12/4/17 compared the progress of Mueller’s investigation to previous special counsels over the last few decades. The comparison noted that it has resulted in indictments sooner than many other investigations, and that it is common for such investigations to last years.
- It was reported on 12/3/17 that President Trump’s personal lawyer confirmed that the president knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador. This would mean that Trump was in possession on this information when he later asked then-FBI Director James Comey to go easy on Flynn.
- On 12/4/17 Special counsel Robert Mueller asked a federal judge to deny Paul Manafort’s request to release him from house arrest, pointing to a draft of an op-ed the former Trump campaign manager ghostwrote with an associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to court filings. A prosecutor working on Mueller’s team argued that the request should be denied because the op-ed, if it had been published, would’ve violated a court order not to publicly discuss the case. Manafort later maintained that he merely helped edit something a colleague had written. He had no statement regarding the colleague’s alleged ties to Russian intelligence. It was separately reported on 12/8 17 that Mueller’s investigators have collected 400,000 documents including financial records, corporate records and emails involving Manafort. They also have the information from 36 laptops, phones, thumb drives and other electronic devices that were seized during the raid of Manafort’s house. The investigators have gotten 15 search warrants in the investigation
- It was incorrectly reported on 12/5/17 that a U.S. federal investigator probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election asked Deutsche Bank for data on accounts held by President Donald Trump and his family. After Trump’s lawyer denied any such subpoena had been issued, subsequent reporting clarified that the records had been provided by Deutsche Bank in reponse to a subpoena from several weeks earlier, and involved people affiliate with trump, and the not his family itself.
- On 12/8/17 Simona Mangiante, the fiancée of George Papadopoulos, disputed top officials’ characterization of him as a “low-level volunteer” and a “coffee boy.” Mangiante, told ABC News that his job on the campaign was to “set up meetings with leaders all over the world” for senior campaign officials. Mangiante said Papadopoulos was “constantly in touch with high-level officials in the campaign.” She said she had seen correspondence proving it.
- It was reported on 12/14/17 that Mueller’s office has requested information from Cambridge Analytica, the data firm utilized by the Trump campaign during the 2016 presidential race. Mueller’s team has requested all emails from employees at the firm who worked with the campaign. The request, was voluntary, as was another request the firm complied with from the House Intelligence Committee. Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix was reported earlier this year to have been in contact with top Trump donor Rebekah Mercer about better organizing emails from a hack of DNC and Clinton-campaign servers being released by WikiLeaks.
- President Trump’s private lawyers met with special counsel Robert Mueller and members of his team in mid-December for what the President’s team considered an opportunity to gain a clearer understanding of the next steps in Mueller’s probe. Details of their discussions have not been released.
- It was reported on 12/16/17 that Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian contacts with President Donald Trump’s campaign had gained access to thousands of emails sent and received by Trump officials before the start of his administration. The investigators did not directly request the records from Trump’s transition group, Trump for America, and instead obtained them from the General Services Administration, a separate federal agency that stored the material. Kory Langhofer, an Arizona-based attorney representing Trump for America, accused Mueller of unlawfully obtaining the messages. Langhofer spelled out the complaint in a letter to the main House and Senate oversight committees where he raised potential violations of attorney-client privilege and the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unlawful search and seizure. Mueller’s team rejected this characterization. “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, said in a statement released to the press.
- Mid-December saw a rising tide of criticism of Robert Mueller’s investigation from the Right, raising speculation that cover was being created for President Trump to fire him. On 12/17/17 former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the attacks were politically-motivated, illegitimate, and that if Trump fired Mueller, there should be peaceful nationwide protests. Trump stated on 12/17/17 that he had no such intention. The President has apparently told friends and advisers that he believes the investigation will be wrapping up soon and Mueller will write a letter clearing him of any wrongdoing.
- The Washington Post reported on 12/27/17 that President Trump’s lawyers are preparing to attack the credibility of former national security adviser Michael Flynn if he claims Trump committed wrongdoing as part of his cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a new report. Three sources close to the matter told the Post that Trump’s lawyers will look to label Flynn as a liar if he makes claims against Trump or other White House officials. “He’s said it himself: He’s a liar,” one person working on Trump’s legal strategy told the Post.
- A 12/30/17 New York Times story on former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos reports that he prompted the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election by drunkenly revealing knowledge of Russian opposition research on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos in May 2016 allegedly revealed to Australian diplomat Alexander Downer that Russian officials were shopping possible dirt on Clinton, and Downer then reported the information to U.S. authorities.
- On 1/3/18 Paul Manafort, filed a lawsuit against special counsel Robert Mueller. The lawsuit claims Mueller was given an overly broad mandate and that the charges against him don’t “relate to [his] activities during his brief stint” as campaign manager. Legal experts have expressed doubt that Manafort has a case. In the meantime, Mueller seems to think he does have a case, as on 1/12/18 he asked for a May trial date for the case against Manafort and his business partner Richard Gates. The presiding judge indicated on 1/16/18 that she was more likely to schedule the trial for September or October, raising the possibility that it could conclude shortly before midterm elections.
- Several sources reported on 1/8/18 that the late December meeting between President Trump’s lawyers and the Special Counsel included discussion of the nature and timing of Trump being questioned by Mueller’s investigation. The president’s legal team is said to be discussing a range of potential options for the format, including written responses to questions in lieu of a formal sit-down. A source familiar with a late December meeting between Trump’s legal team and representatives from the special counsel’s office said the timing of a possible interview or written response has not been set but could come in a matter of weeks.
- On 1/10/18, it was revealed that Special counsel Robert Mueller added a prosecutor with significant cybercrime expertise to his team in November. Ryan Dickey, a senior lawyer in the Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, has been detailed to Mueller’s team since early November. This move has clear applicability to the DNC/Clinton campaign hacking portion of the investigation.
- It was reported on 1/16/18 that former White House strategist Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation. Particular areas of interest for Mueller are believed to be Bannon’s recollection of discussions around the firing of former National Security advisor Michael Flynn, Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey, and statements Bannon made to author Michael Wolff about money-laundering and the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. It was reported on 1/17/18 that Bannon had agreed with Mueller to be interviewed by prosecutors instead of appearing before a grand jury, and would answer questions that he had refused to answer before Congress. Executive privilege cannot be invoked in these interviews, since the Justice Department is part of the Executive Branch.
- McClatchy reported on 1/18/18 that the FBI is investigating whether a top Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association to help Donald Trump win the presidency. FBI counterintelligence investigators have focused on the activities of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who is known for his close relationships with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and the NRA. The FBI is suspicious because the NRA spent $30 million to support Trump, triple what it spent to support Mitt Romney in 2012. Most of the money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose where the money came from.
- Congressional Republicans and Conservative media called into question the impartiality of the FBI based on text messages between FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page turned over to the Senate Homeland Security Committee. The messages reveal a distaste for Trump, and also indicate that Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch may have had advanced knowledge that FBI director James Comey was planning on not charging Hillary Clinton in the e-mail server investigation. Congressional Republicans were interested as well in mention of an anti-Trump “secret society” in the texts, although several conceded that from context it could have just been an off-hand figure of speech. Page and Strzok had also served as part of Robert Mueller’s team until they were dismissed based on allegations of bias from the initially revealed text messages. The committee also expressed “concern” about a number of missing messages in December 2016-May 2017 that the FBI maintains were due to a software update glitch that affected numerous agents’ phones. Trump opined that the missing texts were “one of the biggest stories in a long time”. Unfortunately for the conspiracy buffs, the FBI was subsequently able to recover the messages, and released them. The new messages, among other things, reveal that the agents also had considerable disdain for Clinton in addition to Trump, and even thought that a special prosecutor should be named to look into questions around her priavte e-mail server.
- It was reported on 1/21/18 that Mueller’s team has been talking with George Nader, a Bannon associate who boasts of his well-placed connections in the Middle East.
Nader has spoken with Mueller’s team at least twice, according to sources familiar with the investigation. The Special Counsel’s office declined to comment. The significance of the investigation’s interest in Nader is not known. He visited the White House frequently during the early months of the Trump administration. He became friendly with former chief strategist Steve Bannon, visiting his office regularly. A source familiar with the White House meetings said Jared Kushner also met Nader.
- It was reported on 1/23/18 that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was interviewed by special counsel Mueller’s team as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian election meddling. The Justice Department confirmed a report in the New York Times that Sessions was questioned for several hours. It is the first time that Mueller’s team has interviewed a member of the President’s Cabinet.
- CNN reported legal moves by former Trump campaign aide and Paul Manafort business partner Richard Gates on 1/24/18 that suggest Gates may be shifting to cooperating with Mueller’s investigation. Gates has quietly added a prominent white-collar attorney, Tom Green, to his defense team, and Green was seen at special counsel Robert Mueller’s office twice. Green isn’t listed in the court record as a lawyer in the case and works for a large law firm separate from Gates’ primary lawyers. His involvement suggests that there is an ongoing negotiation between the defendant’s team and the prosecutors.
- In a 1/23/18 interview, Simona Mangiante, fiancee of George Papadopoulos, the former Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty in October to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts and is cooperating with Special Counsel, said she believes, “history will remember him like John Dean.” On the advice of lawyers she did not get in to specifics, but said there is much more that has not yet been told publicly about Papadopoulos’ 10 months as an informal national security adviser to Trump and his interactions with those offering Russian “dirt” on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
- It was reported on 1/23/18 that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, at the public urging of President Donald Trump, has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to multiple sources. This adds to questions about the President possibly being subject to charges of obstruction of justice.
- On 1/24/18 the President made statements that he was ready, and even eager, to answer questions from Mueller’s investigation under oath. The President’s attorney’s quickly clarified that Trump was speaking hurriedly, and only meant that he is willing to meet with the special counsel, not that he will testify in front of a grand jury under oath. The terms of how and where the President will testify may shortly become vital, as news indicates that the Special Counsel appears to be wrapping up the part of his investigation examining whether President Trump obstructed justice. In recent weeks, Mueller has moved closer to those around Trump by interviewing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former FBI Director James Comey, and CIA Director Mike Pompeo. The President meanwhile defended his attacks on investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, denying that it amounts to obstruction and saying he was merely “fight[ing] back”. Privately, White House sources are said to be concerned about the potential for the often freewheeling Trump to perjure himself under questioning. On 1/31/18 the President’s attorneys were reported to be arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has not met the high threshold they believe is needed to interview a President in person.
- Speaking of obstruction of justice, the New York Times reported on 1/26/18 that in June 2017 President Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump ultimately backed down after White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive. While Trump quickly described the story as, “Fake news. Fake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories.”, multiple sources subsequently corrobrated it, and it does not seem to be in doubt. Congressional Republicans reacted cautiously to the story, declining for the moment to revive efforts from last year to pass legislation barring Trump from firing Mueller.
- On 1/29/18 Andrew McCabe stepped down as deputy director of the FBI, bowing to pressure from President Trump and congressional Republicans who were clamoring for his ouster. McCabe had already planned to leave the FBI in 2018, but will now immediately go on leave and then retire in mid-March, when he is eligible to receive his full pension benefits. Trump and his allies have accused McCabe of bias in his handling of the Clinton email case. Despite having considered him to be FBI director after firing Comey, Trump has repeatedly publicly scolded him for his wife’s ties to Democrats (she ran for office in Virginia, and received contributions from major Democratic donors) and his friendship with James Comey, and is reported to have asked him who he voted for in 2016 in a private meeting, and to have exerted pressure on him to resign through Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It was reported on 1/31/18 that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz is investigating why McCabe did not act for three weeks after uncovering a new batch of Hillary Clinton-related emails in the late stages of the 2016 campaign.
- The New York Times reported on 1/29/18 that the memo prepared by the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee claims that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved an application last year to extend surveillance of former Trump campaign associate Carter Page, and that the Justice Department’s application was based partially on the dossier by investigator Christopher Steele. The GOP memo alleges officials did not sufficiently explain their reasoning for extending the surveillance. There is no information that the FBI or Justice Department did anything improper in their attempts to get a surveillance warrant, according to the Times, but the newspaper noted that Republicans could seize on the information and allege that Rosenstein didn’t properly vet the application. Discrediting Rosenstein is seen as a possible precursor to removing him from office, which, with Jeff Sessions recused from the Russia investigation, would give the President an opportunity to appoint a new Deputy AG who might be willing to end the investigation.
- It was reported on 1/31/18 that the Justice Department has turned over a trove of internal documents to Mueller’s team, including correspondence related to the planned resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has repeatedly slammed Sessions in public, admitting that he would never have nominated the former Alabama senator to run the DOJ if he’d known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions is known to have offered a resignation in response last year, but had it refused by Trump.
Russian Campaign Interference
- Evidence first emerged in July 2016 that Russian hackers were the source of the massive dump of hacked e-mails from the DNC and several other Democratic campaign-related organizations released shortly before the Democratic Convention.
- It was reported on 3/29/17 that FBI Director James Comey sought to publish an op-ed in Summer 2016 summer about Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, but was discouraged from doing so by the Obama White House. In a White House meeting in June or July, Comey reportedly brought with him a draft of the proposed op-ed and presented it to top administration officials, including former Secretary of State John Kerry and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch. White House officials at the time ultimately rejected the idea, deciding instead that any effort to make information about Russian election meddling public should be coordinated between multiple federal agencies, according to the report.
- On 4/6/17 it was reported by the New York Times that then CIA-director John Brennan was so concerned about increasing evidence of Russia’s election meddling that he began a series of urgent, individual briefings for eight top members of Congress in August 2016. At that time the CIA already had a high degree of confidence that Russian activity was explicitly aimed at benefiting Trump and defeating Clinton. THE FBI was less certain of this, thinking it was possible that the Russian aim was just to generally disrupt the election. By late 2016, the FBI, CIA and other intelligence agencies were all in agreement that it was highly likely that the Russian aim was specifically to help Trump.
- The U.S. intelligence community reiterated in December 2016 the October conclusion by 17 intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the hacking and leak of DNC e-mails embarrassing to the Clinton campaign. The December finding went beyond the October assessment, in identifying the hack as part of a more concerted Russian effort to influence the U.S. election, with the specific goal of electing Trump. Among the pieces of information bolstering this conclusion is the identity of the hackers who breached DNC servers and released private material from them, evidence that entities connected to the Russian government were bankrolling “troll farms” that spread fake news about Clinton, and high-level intelligence indicating that Putin was personally involved in deciding what information was leaked and how it was used.
- Russian media also announced that three senior officials of the FSB, the successor to the KGB, and a cyber-security contractor working with the FSB had been arrested and charged with treason on 1/28/17. Analysts believe that, given the timing, and the kinds of people involved, that this move likely has something to do with the U.S. intelligence finding on high-level Russian official participation in manipulating the U.S. election.
- On the investigation front, the Trump administration missed a (self-imposed) 4/20/17 deadline to release a report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Trump had announced via tweet in January, amidst the initial public revelation of the Steele memos, “My people will have a full report on hacking within 90 days!” In fact, no work toward producing such a report seems to have occurred. Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a written statement it was “deeply distressing” that the president would “not only miss this deadline, but that the work has not even begun.”
- A report that was issued on 4/20/17 (by Reuters) revealed that a Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election. According to three current and four former U.S. officials, a document prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies in June recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia. A second institute document, drafted in October, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency.
- In foreign news, on 4/24/17 ABC news reported that a Russian-associated group that was involved in the DNC/Clinton-campaign hack also targeted the recent French Presidential election. Feike Hacqueboard, a senior threat researcher with security firm Trend Micro, told ABC that he had identified four internet domain names connected to a group called “Pawn Storm” that were used to target the French campaign. In addition to the DNC/Clinton hacks, this group has been implicated in cyberattacks on the Turkish parliament, Angela Merkel’s party in Germany (the CDU), as well as cyberattacks on the parliaments of Montenegro and Germany.
- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has apparently not gotten his bosses memo on what not to say about Russia, as he issued a 5/14/17 statement that Russia’s role in interfering in the 2016 election is now well documented.
- It was revealed on 5/17/17 that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy told colleagues, including Paul Ryan, in June 2016 that he thought Trump was on Putin’s payroll. When confronted with reports, McCarthy and Ryan first insisted that the conversation never happened and then, after it was revealed that there were tapes of it, said it was meant as a joke.
- Time Magazine issued a detailed cover story on 5/18/17 on the extent of Russia’s use of social media to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. As follow-up, the Federal Election Commission announced on 5/23/17 that it was going to specifically probe Russian-backed purchases of Facebook adds meant to boost Trump and harm Clinton.
- The hacker behind the release of DNC and Clinton campaign e-mails, Guccifer 2.0, also appears to have hacked Democratic party voter-targeting information and shared it with GOP political consultants. Florida political consultant Aaron Nevins confirmed on 5/25/17 he received such information during the campaign, though he says he did not make use of it. Intelligence authorities believe that Guciffer 2.0 is linked to Russian intelligence.
- The Intercept released classified NSA materials on 6/5/17 providing one of the most detailed descriptions of Russian election hacking efforts. The report reveals that efforts originating with Russian military intelligence resulted in cyberattacks on at least one U.S. voting software supplier, and spear-phishing attacks on more than 100 local election officials in the run-up to the November election.
- For his part, Russian President Vladimir Putin maintained in a 6/1/17 interview that the Russian state played no part in election-related hacking, but “patriotic hackers” may have acted on their own.
- Bloomberg reported on 6/13/17 that investigators have found evidence that Russian-backed cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states.
- A Time Magazine cover story on 6/22/17 on Russian election interference revealed, among other things, that at least one successful attempt to alter voter information was made by Russian hackers, and that private data on tens of thousands of voters was stolen.
- A report by the Washington Post on 6/23/17 examined the ongoing struggle of the Obama administration to frame a proper response to Russian election interference. Among the revelations are that the administration had detailed information about Putin’s personal instructions for manipulating the election, and was perpetually concerned that taking too strong a stand against Russia would lead to accusations that they were interfering in the election in favor of Clinton.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on 6/29/17 that Russian hackers had discussed during the 2016 presidential campaign whether they could obtain emails pilfered from the Clinton campaign and get them to someone who could pass them on to then-Trump advisor and future National Security director Michael Flynn. The article referenced a Republican operative, Peter Smith, who was convinced emails missing from Clinton’s server were in the hands of Russian hackers, and who implied in conversations that he was working with Flynn. White House spokesmen denied any knowledge of Smith, or that he worked with Flynn. Smith died in May 2017 at age 81. A follow-on post on the Lawfare blog by one of the sources of the WSJ article, cybersecurity researcher and former information security specialist at Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters Matt Tait, described how Smith listed top Trump advisers Kellyanne Conway, Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, and Sam Clovis as part of KLS Research, a group he had formed to conduct opposition research that involved asking hackers, Russian or not, whether they had Clinton’s missing emails. Conway and Bannon have since denied any knowledge of or connection to KLS Research.
- The Guardian reported on 7/5/17 that investigators are specifically looking into whether there was coordination between Russian sources and pro-Trump websites during the 2016 presidential election.
- On 7/6/17 the New York Times published a correction of earlier citations saying all 17 organizations in the U.S. intelligence community signed on to the 1/6/17 assessment that Russia orchestrated hacking attacks during last year’s presidential election. The correction clarified that the assessment was made by four intelligence agencies — the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Security Agency, and had not been individually approved by all 17 organizations.
- On 7/7/17 MSNBC host Rachel Maddow warned other media outlets that MSNBC was provided forged National Security Agency documents alleging collusion between a Trump campaign official and Russia’s efforts to influence last year’s presidential election.
- According to a story from McClatchy on 7/12/17, investigators at the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Justice Department are examining whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation (which was overseen by Jared Kushner) helped guide Russia’s sophisticated voter targeting and fake news attacks on Hillary Clinton in 2016. Specifically, investigators are focusing on whether Trump’s campaign pointed Russian cyber operatives to certain voting jurisdictions in key states where Trump’s digital team and Republican operatives were spotting unexpected weakness in voter support for Hillary Clinton.
- In appearances at the annual Aspen Security Forum on 7/20/17, several Administration senior security officials broke with Trump in indicating they accept the consensus of everybody except Trump (and Putin) that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, and White House Homeland and Counterterrorism adviser Thomas Bossert all said they backed the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia carried out a campaign of cyberattacks and fake news to influence the election in favor of Trump.
- At one of the nation’s largest cybersecurity conferences in Las Vegas on 7/29/17 hackers demonstrated that they could hack all of 30 different voting machines of several models set up for display. Even without prior access to the machines in preparation, many were able to do so in minutes. While the extent to which Russia gained access to voting machines in 2016 is under investigation, it is known that multiple attempts were made.
- The New York Times reported on 8/16/17 that the Ukranian hacker who’s Malware is believed to have played a role in Russian election hacking is cooperating with authorities. There is no evidence that the hacker, as yet unnamed, but going by the online name Profexer, knowingly worked for Russia’s intelligence services, but they do seem to have made use of Malware he developed. Profexer is reported to be cooperating with Ukrainian authorities and F.B.I. investigators.
- An 8/26/17 piece by The Hill describes how Russian social media efforts since the election are increasingly aimed at amplifying alt-right and far-right narratives in the U.S.. Using similar tactics seen in the pro-Trump and anti-Clinton pushes during the 2016 election, a network of media influencers, social media bots and trolls is amplifying Alt Right and Far Right messages, and introducing Russian government talking points into these communities’ dialogue.
- A 9/1/17 article in the New York Times described the previously unknown extent of Russian-backed hacking of U.S. election systems in 2016. Specifically, one target of hacking seems to have been wiping out the voter registration records for tens of thousands of voters in key states, such as North Carolina. The article and subsequent reporting also highlighted that state and federal officials have taken limited steps to prevent a repeat attack, and the funds needed to replace voting equipment, protect databases, and train workers in cybersecurity have not been forthcoming.
- The New York Times traces the development of false online profiles in a 9/7/17 article. The article describes how social media profiles using false names and pictures borrowed from other users began to proliferate in June 2016. The first generation of these accounts pointed to the website DCLeaks, which was a clearinghouse for the relase of hacked e-mails from Democratic officials. There were eventually hundreds of thousands of these kinds of accounts on Facebook and Twitter, with strong signs of Russian origin.
- CNN produced an in-depth story on 9/12/17 on the “fake news machine” operating out of Macedonia. Macedonia is believed to be the source of much of the cyberactivity targeting the U.S. 2016 election.
- On 9/13/17 the New York Times ran an in-depth story on the role of Russian state-sponsored media in spreading fake news in support of Russian government aims. The article focuses on the development of international cable network Russia Today (RT), and the English-language website Sputnik, and their role in influencing such things as immigration debates in Germany, the Brexit vote, and the U.S. Presidential election.
- The Los Angeles Times reported on 9/3/17 that the FBI is exploring whether the two Russian organizations should be required to register as foreign agents, invoking a U.S. law originally passed before World War II to prevent the spread of Nazi propaganda. A U.S. intelligence community report on Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential race concluded in January that Sputnik and RT, as Russia Today is known, were part of a multi-faceted Russian intelligence operation aimed at discrediting democracy and helping Trump win in November.
- On 9/22/17 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notified 21 states that Russia attempted to hack their election systems before the 2016 election.In the majority of the states, the Department of Homeland Security only saw preparations for hacking, like scanning to find potential modes for attack. Voting machines are not connected to the internet and cannot be scanned in this way, but other systems, including those housing voter rolls, can be. DHS has not released a full list of what states were notified, but it is known that one of them was the swing-state of Wisconsin, which Clinton lost by 0.77%.
- The Daily Beast reported on 9/20/17 that suspected Russia propagandists used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic” to organize more than a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida during the election. The demonstrations appear to be the first case of Russian provocateurs successfully mobilizing Americans over Facebook. The Aug. 20, 2016, events were collectively called “Florida Goes Trump!” and they were billed as a “patriotic state-wide flash mob,” unfolding simultaneously in 17 different cities and towns in the battleground state.
- On 10/4/17 CNN reported that a number of Russian-linked Facebook ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, according to four sources with direct knowledge of the situation. Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal. The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online, including promoting anti-Muslim messages. While one source said that a large number of ads appeared in areas of the country that were not heavily contested in the elections, some clearly were geared at swaying opinion in the most heavily contested battlegrounds. Michigan saw the closest presidential contest in the country — Trump beat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by about 10,700 votes out of nearly 4.8 million ballots cast. Wisconsin was also one of the tightest states, and Trump won there by only about 22,700 votes. Both states were key to Trump’s victory in the Electoral College.
- Acoording to 10/6/17 CNN reports, a Russia-supported group sold merchandise through “Blacktivist”-branded Facebook and Twitter accounts, which “have been suspended and are among those handed over to Congress as part of its investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election.” The Blacktivist Facebook page sold various T-shirts and sweatshirts with messages including “melanin and muscles,” “our sons matter,” and others that mirror slogans for the Black Lives Matter movement. Jonathon Morgan, founder and CEO of New Knowledge, a company that identifies online propaganda, told CNN that the page’s activity “fits a pattern of Russian propagandists’ attempts at appearing as authentic Americans participating in politics,” by selling merchandise and promoting events.
- On 10/9/17 Google confirmed that they have uncovered evidence that Russian operatives exploited the company’s platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 election. The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google’s many products, including YouTube, advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network. Sources confirm that this campaign does not appear to have been run through the same Russia-based “troll farm” that was reposnible for Facebook campaigns, indicating that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may have been even more sophisticated than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.
- A 10/9/17 New York Times story sheds more light on the “cultural hacking” by Russian-backed sources of U.S. social media during the 2016 election. Russian sites and users seem to have combed the web for inflammatory content already posted online, and then further edited it for maximum outrage and released it on pages claiming to be U.S.-based.
- The AP released an anlaysis on 10/12/17 of the Facebook page “Being Patriotic”, one of several hundred pages active in the 2016 election now believed to have been Russia-backed. The analysis showed that some of the most common words and phrases on the page were “illegal,” ″country”, “American” and phrases like “illegal alien,” ″Sharia law” and “Welfare state.” “Being Patriotic” was among 470 pages and accounts that Facebook shut down in recent weeks in response to a congressional probe into Russian meddling in last year’s election.
- CNN reported on 10/12/17 that the mobile game app Pokémon Go was reportedly used by a Russian-linked campaign to meddle in U.S. politics. A Russian-linked campaign called “Don’t Shoot Us,” likely run by Moscow-linked “troll farm” Internet Research Agency (IRA), used Pokémon Go and posed as a part of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Moscow-linked actors appear to be the source of the campaign that had a goal to raise racial tensions by bringing up incidents of police brutality.
- A column in Axios on 10/16/17 describes how Russia’s own history of exploiting ethnic tensions domestically and in neighboring republics set the stage for it targeting those same cleavages in the U.S..
- In further indications of the extent of Russian activity in 2016, BuzzFeed reported on 10/18/17 that Russian internet trolls ran a popular Twitter account that claimed to belong to the Tennessee Republican Party. The company took nearly a year to shut down the account, @TEN_GOP, despite repeated notifications from the state’s real Republican Party pointing out that the account was fake.
- McClatchy reported on 10/24/17 on the existence of multiple Russian-backed “troll farms”. A facility in St. Petersburg that employs several hundred people has been the primary one implicated with U.S. social media manipulation thus far. In addition to this facility, there may be dozens more, including facilities in Albania, Cyprus, and Macedonia.
- Twitter announced on 10/26/17 that it was removing all advertisement from Russian-backed US media companies Russia Today and Sputnik. “Early this year, the U.S. intelligence community named RT and Sputnik as implementing state-sponsored Russian efforts to interfere with and disrupt the 2016 Presidential election, which is not something we want on Twitter,” Twitter said in a blog post on the matter. “This decision is restricted to these two entities based our internal investigation of their behavior as well as their inclusion in the January 2017 DNI report. This decision does not apply to any other advertisers. RT and Sputnik may remain organic users on our platform, in accordance with the Twitter Rules.”
- Politico carried a 10/31/17 interview with former head of National Intelligence retired Air Force General James Clapper in which he reiterated his confidence in the intlligence assessment on Russian electoral interference, reflected on new revelations of the extent of Russian-backed social media manipulation in 2016 and opined, “The Russians have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.”
- In preparation for upcoming Congressional testimony, the major social media companies made new revelations on 10/30/17 on the extent of Russian activity during the 2016 election. Facebook identified 80,000 Russia-linked posts on its platform that sought to interfere in the 2016 election and were viewed by up to 126 million people, Twitter found 36,746 automated accounts with possible links to Russia that generated about 1.4 million election-related tweets that were viewed about 288 million times, and Google found two accounts associated with the Russia-linked Internet Research Agency that spent $4,700 on search and display ads during the 2016 election cycle and 18 YouTube channels likely also associated with the Russian entity that published videos in English with “content that appeared to be political.”
- The Hill reported on 10/31/17 that thousands attended a post-election march in November organized by a Russian group that used social media to interfere in the 2016 election. The demonstration in New York City, organized by the Facebook page for BlackMattersUS, a Russian-linked group that sought to capitalize on racial tensions between black and white Americans, appears to be the largest and most successful known effort to date pulled off by Russian-linked groups.The event was shared with 61,000 users, and as many as five to ten thousand actually convened at Manhattan’s Union Square and then marched to Trump Tower.
- 11/2/17 reporting by the Associated Press portrayed the global reach of Russian hacking efforts. In addition to targeting related to the 2016 election, the hackers targeted the emails of Ukrainian officers, Russian opposition figures, U.S. defense contractors and thousands of others of interest to the Kremlin. The article describes targets in 116 countries in efforts that go back years, and involved over 4,700 Gmail users, from the pope’s representative in Kiev to the punk band Pussy Riot in Moscow. “It’s a master list of individuals whom Russia would like to spy on, embarrass, discredit or silence,” said Keir Giles, director of the Conflict Studies Research Center in Cambridge, England, one of five outside experts who reviewed the AP’s findings.
- On 11/8/17 Buzzfed published an in-depth article on cybersecurity consultant and former Marine Corps captain Robert Johnston, who verified for the DNC that Russia was behind the hack they experiened in May 2016. The story is based on interviews with Johnston and substantiated by 15 sources at the FBI, the DNC, and the Defense Department, and addresses previously unanswered questions about the nature of the hack, why the DNC turned to a private firm instead of the FBI, and how they found Johnston’s firm, CrowdStrike.
- Russian authorities warned on 11/10/17 of a coming crackdown on American media outlets that operate in Russia, including CNN. The move was explicitly intended as retaliation for an apparent American censure of RT, the state-run news organization formerly known as Russia Today, which American intelligence sources have accused of being used as a propaganda outlet.
- NBC released an analysis on 11/14/17 of how Russian trolls used Twitter to challenge the validity of the U.S. presidential election months before it took place. In apparent expectation of a Trump loss, the trolls began sowing seeds of doubt to make voters question a win by Hillary Clinton. But when Donald Trump’s victory began rolling in, they changed their tune and began tweeting about the Trump success. Kremlin propaganda tweets using the “VoterFraud” hashtag first appeared in August 2016 and slowly ramped up to an Election Day blitz, according to the NBC News analysis of some 36,000 archived tweets.
- The New York Times reported on 11/22/17 that Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) is so highly regarded by the Kremlin as an intelligence source that he has his own code name from the Russian government. The FBI reportedly warned the Republican lawmaker about this as early as 2012, but he has downplayed suggestions that he was a source to the Russians and said that he does not recall being briefed on the matter. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team has investigated a meeting between Rohrabacher and President Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, the congressman met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to discuss the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee, and Rohrabacher also met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya two months before she took part in a meeting with members of the Trump campaign at Trump Tower in 2016. The FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee are looking to interview Rohrabacher about the meeting.
- Facebook announced on 11/22/17 that it’s creating a portal that will allow its users to see what pages created by Russian actors they may have liked or followed. The company said that it would be rolling out the tool as part of its Help Center by the end of the year. It will allow users to see the ads and Facebook pages created by Kremlin-linked group the Internet Research Agency, that they’ve interacted with.
- The Associated Press reported on 11/25/17 that the FBI failed to notify scores of U.S. officials that Russian hackers were trying to break into their personal Gmail accounts. AP reported that nearly 80 interviews with Americans targeted by Fancy Bear, a Russian government-aligned cyberespionage group, turned up only two cases in which the FBI had provided a heads-up. Even senior policymakers discovered they were targets only when the AP told them, a situation some described as bizarre and dispiriting. FBI policy calls for notifying victims, whether individuals or groups, to help thwart both ongoing and future hacking attempts. The FBI declined to discuss its investigation into Fancy Bear’s spying campaign, but three people familiar with the matter — including a current and a former government official — said the FBI has known for more than a year the details of Fancy Bear’s attempts. A senior FBI official, who was not authorized to publicly discuss the hacking operation because of its sensitivity, declined to comment on when it received the target list, but said that the bureau was overwhelmed by the sheer number of attempted hacks.
- On 11/30/17 FBI Director Christopher Wray told Congress that the FBI has a “foreign influence” task force to deal with election interference by outside actors. “I take any effort to interfere with out election system by Russia or any other nation state or non-nation state seriously, because it strikes right at the heart of who we are as a country,” Wray said, in a response to a question about Russia’s election meddling by Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY). Wray was appearing in front of the House Homeland Security Committee. He added that the FBI is coordinating with foreign partners as well.
- A 12/2/17 New York Times report revealed 12/29/16 e-mails from Trump transition adviser K. T. McFarland describing sanctions issued by the Obama Administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling as making it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him.” A White House lawyer said that she meant only that the Democrats were portraying it that way.
- On 12/18/18 Russian tech company Kaspersky Lab sued the Trump administration in U.S. federal court Monday over its decision to ban the company’s software products at all federal agencies due to national security concerns. The firm argues that the Department of Homeland Security deprived it of due process and unfairly damaged its reputation.
- A 12/15/17 story in the Dallas Morning News focused on political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia. To quote the lead from the article: “Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.”
- The AP released further reporting on 12/22/17 on the hacking activities of the Russian hacking group “Fancy Bear”. There were at least 200 journalists, publishers and bloggers targeted by the group as early as mid-2014 and as recently as 2017. The AP identified journalists as the third-largest group on a hacking hit list obtained from cybersecurity firm Secureworks, after diplomatic personnel and U.S. Democrats. About 50 of the journalists worked at The New York Times. Another 50 were either foreign correspondents based in Moscow or Russian reporters like Lobkov who worked for independent news outlets. Others were prominent media figures in Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltics or Washington. Previous AP reporting revealed Fancy Bear used phishing emails to try to compromise Russian opposition leaders, Ukrainian politicians and U.S. intelligence figures, along with Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and more than 130 other Democrats.
- The Washington Post published an in-depth story on 12/25/17 chronicling how Russian-backed trolls spread throughout the 2016 election while intelligence agencies failed to keep up. Per the story: “Top U.S. policymakers didn’t appreciate the dangers, then scrambled to draw up options to fight back. In the end, big plans died of internal disagreement, a fear of making matters worse or a misguided belief in the resilience of American society and its democratic institutions. ne previously unreported order — a sweeping presidential finding to combat global cyberthreats — prompted U.S. spy agencies to plan a half-dozen specific operations to counter the Russian threat. But one year after those instructions were given, the Trump White House remains divided over whether to act, intelligence officials said.”
- It was reported on 1/12/18 that the suspected Russian hackers accused of breaching the Democratic National Committee and meddling in France’s presidential election are now targeting the U.S. Senate, according to new research. Since June, the hacking group known as “Fancy Bear” has been setting up fake websites mimicking the Senate’s login server, hoping to trick Senate staffers into entering their credentials there, according to cybersecurity firm Trend Micro. The tactic, known as “phishing,” suggests that the Kremlin is laying the groundwork for a widespread compromise of Senate employees.
- Twitter announced on 1/18/18 that that the company is trying to “identify and inform individually the users who have been exposed to [Russian troll farm] accounts during the election.” Twitter released information on 1/20/18 making the extent of the activity more clear: They had identified 3,814 accounts that are likely under the control of the Kremlin-linked troll farm called the Internet Research Agency (IRA). These accounts produced a staggering 176,000 tweets in the 10 weeks preceding the election, which were then retweeted by another 50,258 automated accounts tied to the Russian government. At least 700,000 users interacted with the troll tweets.
- Reporting on 1/21/18 revealed that #SchumerShutdown, the hashtag that GOP leaders and the White House were using to accuse Democrats of causing the government shutdown, became the top trending hashtag being promoted by Russian bots and trolls on Twitter. These figures were provided by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project led by former top national security officials from both parties. In a similar vein, CNN reported on 1/25/18 that the Twitter hashtag campaign #ReleaseTheMemo, aimed at pushing for the release of a controversial House Intelligence Committee memo alleging bias in the investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russia, was partially driven by more than 1,000 accounts that were created in a four day period.
- Material from Twitter’s evidence submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee released on 1/26/18 revelaed that Russian-linked Twitter bots shared Donald Trump’s tweets almost half a million times during the final months of the 2016 election. The automated accounts retweeted the Republican candidate’s @realDonaldTrump posts almost 470,000 times, accounting for just more than 4 percent of the re-tweets he received from Sept. 1 to Nov. 15, 2016. Hillary Clinton’s account got less than 50,000 retweets by the Russian-linked automated accounts during the same period of time. Twitter also found that Russian-linked accounts were responsible for 48 percent to 73 percent of the retweets of WikiLeaks’ Twitter accounts during the same time period.
- Dutch news sources reported on 1/25/18 that the Dutch intelligence service AIVD was a crucial source of information to American intelligence agencies about Russian election manipulation efforts in 2016. The AIVD had penetrated Russian hacking network “Cozy Bear” starting in 2014, and was one of the first to realize that this network was hacking and releasing material from the Democratic Party.
- In a 1/30/18 interview, CIA Director Mike Pompeo stood by the intelligence community’s assesment that Russia was responsible for campaign interference. Pompeo further indicated that he had every expectation that they would try again in 2018, but that he believed the U.S. would be ready. It was sperately reported that Pompeo had recently met in Washington D.C. with the heads of Russia’s internal and external security bureaus to discuss counter-terrorism measures. Such meetings are not uncommon, but it is rare for them to occur in the U.S., leading some to wonder whether this signals to Russia that the administration is not taking the 2016 election interference charges seriously.
Trump-Russia Ties (general)
- Despite his July 2016 campaign trail denials that he had any contact with Putin, several year’s worth of statements by Trump, including a 2013 video of him describing his strong personal relationship with Putin, have emerged. CNN put together a timeline of over 80 Trump statements praising Putin or boasting about his relationship with him going back to 2013.
- It is also known that, while Trump’s claim that he has “zero investments in Russia” is technically true, Russian financiers are heavily involved in backing many of Trump’s investments in other countries. Many of these financiers are closely tied to Putin and the circle of oligarchs that form his base of support.
- Along these same lines, Reuters reported on 3/17/17 that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida. The buyers include politically connected businessmen, such as a former executive in a Moscow-based state-run construction firm that works on military and intelligence facilities, the founder of a St. Petersburg investment bank and the co-founder of a conglomerate with interests in banking, property and electronics as well as individuals from the second and third tiers of Russian power.
- As part of his dealings with Russian financial interests, USA Today reported on 3/28/17 that the President and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering. This is according to a review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.
- A Trump associate with definite ties to Russia is now Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. As head of ExxonMobil, Tillerson was instrumental in negotiating billions of dollars worth of business with Rosneft. He was even been awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin, one of the highest honors Russia gives to private citizens. Tillerson has also frequently spoken out in the past against the sanctions placed on Russia after its intervention in the Ukraine, perhaps not coincidentally because lifting those sanctions and pipeline access to the Ukraine, would make Exxon’s deal with Rosneft vastly more profitable.
- President Trump’s personal lawyer and a former business associate met privately in New York City in January 2017 with a member of the Ukrainian parliament to discuss a peace plan for that country that could give Russia long-term control over territory it seized in 2014 and lead to the lifting of sanctions against Moscow. The meeting with Andrii V. Artemenko, the Ukrainian politician, involved Michael Cohen, a Trump Organization lawyer since 2007, and Felix Sater, a former business partner who worked on real estate projects with Trump’s company.
- In a pre-Superbowl interview with Bill O’Reilly on 2/5/17, President Trump responded to O’Reilly’s questioning his support for the Putin regime given that Putin is a “killer” by saying, “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” This echoes statements he made in response to similar questions from Joe Scarborough in December 2015: “I think our country does plenty of killing also, Joe, so you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, a lot of killing, a lot of stupidity.” Many, including some Republicans, questioned this latest assertion of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the Putin regime. Meanwhile, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov demanded an apology from Fox.
- In his first official call with Putin on 2/9/17, Trump denounced the 2010 “New START” treaty that caps US and Russian missile numbers. Putin had previously shown interest in October 2016 in reconsidering several of its nuclear treaties with the U.S.. On 3/10/17 the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff confirmed that Russia has deployed new missiles in violation of the treaty.
- Within the same 24-hour period as NSA advisor Michael Flynn’s 2/14/17 resignation due to questions about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russian officials, a Russian spy ship turned up off the shore of Connecticut, Russia conducted a cruise missile test in violation of treaties with the U.S., and Russian jets buzzed a U.S. Navy ship on the Black Sea.
- Shifts in Russian media coverage of Trump following Flynn’s resignation have led some to wonder if Russia is souring on Trump. Such media coverage is thought to usually takes its cues from Putin. This comes as Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Tillerson, and Vice President Mike pence have all made statements criticizing Russia and/or re-affirming support for NATO and Ukrainian independence.
- It was reported on 2/22/17 that White House press secretary Sean Spicer arranged calls between outside officials and reporters to dispute media reports that officials in Trump’s presidential campaign had contacts with Russia intelligence officials before the election. Spicer reportedly connected officials including CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr with reporters from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. During the calls, journalists were told the story wasn’t true but weren’t given details.
- The New York Times reported on 3/1/7 that American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials — and others close to Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Mr. Trump’s associates.
- On 3/4/17 it was reported that Alex Oronov, a Ukrainian businessman and longtime associate of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, had died at the age of 68. Further details on the death have not been released, but it has been established that Oronov was the person who organized the above-mentioned January meeting with Ukranian politican Andrii V. Artemenko, Cohen, and Trump associate Felix Sater to map out a plan for lifting sanctions on Russia over its interference with the Ukraine.
- A March 7th story revealed that Trump himself met Ambassador Kislyak at a VIP reception in Washington D.C. in April 2016. There is no indication that it was more than an inconsequential meet and greet, but it contradicts previous statements Trump has made about never having had any such meeting.
- The Washington Post reported on 4/3/17 that the United Arab Emirates arranged a meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump, according to U.S., European and Arab officials. The meeting took place around Jan. 11 in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean. Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would be likely to require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions. Though Prince had no formal role with the Trump campaign, he was an avid supporter who contributed $250,000 to Trump’s campaign, the national party and a pro-Trump super PAC led by GOP mega-donor (and Steve Bannon backer) Rebekah Mercer. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration. U.S. officials said the FBI has been scrutinizing the Seychelles meeting as part of its probe of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
- The Guardian further reported on 4/13/17 that Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives. They first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious “interactions” between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information. Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians.
- Russian media criticisms of the Trump administration escalated in mid-April, a further indication that Russia may be souring on Trump. This follows tougher words against Russia’s role in Syria, and a re-affirmation of U.S. ties with NATO, and is a switch from very pro-Trump messaging leading up to and following the 2016 election. State media’s messaging is widely believed to follow Putin’s wishes. In an amusing footnote, Russian media announced on 4/19/17 that the government plans to investigate American media outlets to determine whether they illegally influenced the Kremlin’s 2016 parliamentary elections.
- On the other hand, per reporting from 4/21/17, the Trump team remains interested in brokering a deal on the Ukraine that could end sanctions against Russia. The administration is expected to appoint a special envoy for directly communicating with Vladislav Surkov, a top aide to Putin. The envoy’s job would involve negotiating with Surkov over ending the three-year-old conflict in eastern Ukraine, which began when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and backed pro-Russian separatists in the country.
- Exxon Mobil would also like better relations. The Wall Street Journal reported on 4/19/17 that Exxon Mobil asked the Treasury Department in recent months for a waiver to drill for oil alongside Russian state oil company Rosneft. The drilling would take place in the Black Sea, an area covered by sanctions instituted by the United States to prevent certain business dealings in retaliation for Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was Exxon Mobil’s CEO in 2012 when he struck the joint venture deal, worth hundreds of billions of dollars, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Tillerson has since recused himself from all government matters involving Exxon, sold his stock in the firm, and is placing shares he would have received over the next decade into an independent trust. Alas for Exxon Mobil, the Trump administration officially responded on 4/21/17 that it would not grant the waiver.
- Reporting from the Daily Beast on 4/27/17 indicated that Russia was indirectly one of the largest donors to the Trump inauguration. A $500,000 donation toward inauguration expenses from Venezuelan oil-producer Citgo appears to have occurred very shortly after Rosneft, the Russian State oil company, acquired a 49.5% share in Citgo. US entities are forbidden from doing business directly with Rosneft due to sanctions put in place after Russia’s military and electoral intervention in the Ukraine, but this indirect funding makes the donation legal.
- One open question is what, if anything, the legal ramifications of various Trump associates’ Russia ties might be. Unseemly contact with an unsavory regime, after all, is not a crime as such. Vox has published an article that lays out the three broad categories of activity that might involve actual legal infractions: violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, failing to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), and making false statements to federal investigators. All of them are felonies and carry the potential penalty of prison time. While everyone Left and Right likes to use “treason” to describe the activities of their opponent de jour (see: Clinton, Hillary, Benghazi, for all of the Right for all of 2016), the Vox piece notes that being guilty of treason would mean that someone from Trump’s team would have to have been aiding a country or group that was legally at war with the US. Russia isn’t. Per Carlton Larson, a law professor at the University of California Davis, “Formally, we’re at peace with Russia, so even the most outrageous assistance to Russia or benefit to Russia wouldn’t count as treason.”
- One meeting Trump did hold after the firing was a private White House session on 5/11/17 with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Reporters were barred from the meeting, but photos from Russian state photographers ended up being widely released in the Russian press, a move that left the White House furious. Kislyak’s meetings with multiple Trump campaign officials during the campaign and before the inauguration is known to be one focus of the FBI investigation.
- During this meeting, Trump revealed highly classified information related to intelligence gathering against ISIS. This information was so sensitive that it had not been shared with many US allies, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster took immediate steps to warn several domestic intelligence agencies that it had been revealed. Putin has gamely offered to turn over a Russian transcript of the meeting if it will help allay U.S. concerns.
- President Trump’s lawyers released information about his income tax returns on 5/12/17, stating that the returns do not show income from Russian sources or debt owed to Russians, with the exception of $95 million paid by a Russian billionaire for a Trump-owned estate in Florida and $12.2 million in payments in connection with holding the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013. In addition to the Florida estate and the beauty pageant, the lawyers said Mr. Trump received undisclosed payments over 10 years from Russians for hotel rooms, rounds of golf, or Trump-licensed products, like wine, ties or mattresses. But they said those amounts were “immaterial” and would not have been identified as coming from Russian sources in the tax returns. As mentioned above, a significant additional source not covered by these kinds of disclosures is the extensive role Russian-connected financiers play in arranging financing for Trump projects in the U.S. and abroad.
- Prompted by continuing revelations of the scope of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Senate on 6/15/15 passed a new round of sanctions against Russia 98-2. The Trump administration has pushed back, and is seeking to water down the sanctions in the House.
- The Washington Post reported on 6/23/17 that top White House advisers are trying to curb President Trump’s Twitter outbursts about the Russian investigation by encouraging him to hold early-morning calls with his outside legal counsel. The line of thought is that the President will have vented his frustration with the investigation and have been reassured by his legal team before stepping into work.
- In weekend interviews and on Twitter 6/24/17, Trump criticized Obama for not doing more about Russian election interference. This marks the first time Trump has indicated he accepts the consensus of the intelligence community that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 Presidential election.
- On 6/25/17 CNN announced that it would impose stricter review rules on stories involving the Russian investigation after retracting a story falsely linking a Trump associate to an a Russian investment group. President Trump gleefully took advantage of the opportunity to reiterate his view that CNN is “fake news” and say that all the other networks (except Fox) and major newspapers were as well.
- Project Veritas founder James O’Keefe released an undercover video on 6/27/17 of a CNN producer saying the network’s heavy coverage of possible collusion between Trump administration officials and Russia during the 2016 presidential election is “mostly bullshit.” It may be relevant to note that the producer in question is from the medical division of CNN, and O’Keefe has a history of releasing videos with heavily edited and out of context comments.
- On the eve of his 7/7/17 first official meeting with Russian President Putin at the July 2017 G20 summit, President Trump made remarks that once again seemed to cast doubt on his acceptance of Russia’s role in influencing the 2016 election: “I think it was Russia. And I think it could have been other people and other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered. I’ve said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia but I think it could very well have been other countries, and I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere. I think it has been happening for a long time. It has been happening for many, many years.” He also took advantage of the opportunity to again attack fake news, and blame Obama for not taking stronger action against electoral influence.
- President Trump held his first official meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Germany on 7/7/17. The session had been originally scheduled to last for a half hour, but went on for more than two hours. It was a closed-door session that included Putin, Trump, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and translators. It is known that Trump raised the question of Russian election interference, and Putin vehemently denied it. They then talked about a Syrian ceasefire, and working together to create a framework for addressing “challenges of cyberthreats and interference in the democratic processes”. There is also known to have been some talk on U.S. sanctions against Russia, though Trump and his staff have released contradictory details of what was covered.
- Following the meeting, Putin and Lavrov made statements that Trump seemed satisfied with the Russian leader’s denial that the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Senior administrations officials declined to dispute this, and indeed Trump seemed to state in 7/9/17 tweets that he accepted Putin’s denials, and it was time to move forward on Russian relations. Responding to mounting criticism of the the idea of working with Russia on cyber-security (including from many prominent Republicans), Trump tweeted later in the day, “The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn’t mean I think it can happen. It can’t” but that a ceasefire with Syria can and did, and it is time to move forward.
- The New Republic has a 7/13/17 lead story on the financial ties between Trump’s properties and Russian interests. The nearly 6,000-word story chronicles the development of these interests, particularly involving figures connected to the Russian mob and money-laundering operations, from the mid-80s through the early 2000s.
- President Trump has thus far denied any knowledge of the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort with a Russian lawyer who Trump Jr. had been promised had damaging information on Clinton provided as part of the Russian government’s support for Trump’s candidacy. Kushner and trump Jr. have both indicated they never passed on information about it. What can be verified is that the person who arranged the meeting, Bristish-born consultant Rob Goldstone, and the alleged providers of the information, Azerbaijani-Russian billionaires Aras Agalarov and Emin Agalarov, have been involved in business transactions with Trump and previously socialized him. Their relationship dates back to the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow, which is also where Trump once stated he first met Putin, before denying during the 2016 campaign that he had ever met him.
- The Wall Street Journal reported on 7/12/17 that U.S. Intelligence agencies started to overhear Russian government officials discuss Trump associates as early as 2015. Sources told the Journal that this wasn’t considered particularly concerning at the time, but was seen as puzzling. Investigators are now reportedly combing through those reports again in light of the emails released by Donald Trump Jr..
- In addition to their publicly scheduled meeting at the G-20 summit, it was reveled the week of 7/17 that President’s Trump and Putin had another meeting of nearly an hour at a dinner for heads of state. White House sources have characterized it as a casual conversation lasting a few minutes, but sources in the room indicate it lasted much longer. In a breach of protocol, no translator or other U.S. representative accompanied Trump. Trump also indicated that they talked about “adoption”, which would seem to mean some discussion of sanctions under the Magnitsky act. AP has reported that this conversation concerned senior administration national security and foreign policy advisers, who were already uneasy with Trump’s persistent overtures to Russia. For Russia’s part, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov coyly insinuated on 7/21/17 that Putin and Trump may have had several more undisclosed meetings at the summit.
- On 7/19/17, the Trump administration announced it was shutting down the CIA’s program to arm and train rebels fighting the Syrian government. This is considered a victory for Russia, which has called for the move for years.
- McClatchy reported on 7/21/17 that former Trump associate Felix Sater helped the family of wealthy Kazakh fugitives make extensive investments in the United States. Sater, an ex-con and one-time senior adviser in the Trump Organization, helped the Trump family scout deals in Russia. He led an effort that began in 2012 to assist the stepchildren of Viktor Khrapunov, who that year had been placed on an international detention request list by the global police agency Interpol. Khrapunov, a former Kazakh energy minister and ex-mayor of Almaty, that nation’s most populous city, fled to Switzerland after Kazakhstan’s leaders accused him and his wife of stealing government funds. They are now accused in civil lawsuits of laundering money through luxury properties, including Trump-branded condos in the Soho neighborhood New York.
- News emerged on 7/24/17 that Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Justice’s criminal division, Brian Benczkowski used to represent Alfa Bank, one of Russia’s largest financial institutions. Alfa Bank has close ties to the circle of oligarch’s surrounding Putin, and server connections between Trump Tower and Alfa Bank has been separately mentioned as part of the Russian investigation. they might not be wrapped up until the end of the year.
- On 7/29/17 President Trump agreed to sign a package of sanctions against Russia that had been passed by an overwhelming House majority. The administration had earlier tried to convince the House to water down sanctions passed by the Senate following revelations of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Faced with a House margin that could have easily overturned a Presidential veto, the administration relented and signed. The Russian government responded by announcing that it would react strongly, starting with the expulsion of several hundred U.S. diplomatic personnel. Even while signing the bill on 8/2/17, Trump issued a signing statement decrying it as against U.S. interests, criticizing Congress for passing it, and indicating he could make a better deal
- A lawsuit was filed on 8/1/17 by a paid NPR commentator alleging that a wealthy Trump backer and Fox News worked together with the White House to knowingly craft and promote a false story about the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich in order to distract attention from the Russian investigation. The suit by Rod Wheeler charges that a Fox News reporter created quotations out of thin air and attributed them to him to propel the story (which Fox later retracted due to criticism as challenges to its authenticity mounted), and that the story itself was crafted under direction by Ed Butowsky, a wealthy Dallas investor and unpaid Fox commentator who had offered to pay Wheeler to investigate Rich’s death, and aided by meetings Butowsky and Wheeler had with then-White House Communications Director Sean Spicer. The lawyer behind the suit, Douglas Wigdor, indicated plans to depose both Trump and Spicer for the case.
- It was reported on 8/2/17 that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is declining to use $80 million that has already been earmarked by Congress to combat Russian propaganda. this come over the please of lower level State Department officials to proceed.
- George Nesterczuk withdrew his nomination to head the Administrations’ Office of Personnel Management on 8/7/17 after question arose about his ties to Paul Manfort and work consulting with Pro-Russia parties in the Ukraine. Nesterczuk said he was pulling out over the partisan atmosphere and “baseless” allegations against him. According to multiple sources who were tracking his nomination, however, the confirmation process was moving slowly, in part because he had yet to submit his paperwork to the relevant committee, despite being nominated in May.
- The Washington Post reported on 8/14/17 that a junior campaign adviser was encouraging the Trump campaign to meet with Russian leadership in March 2016.
The adviser, George Papadopoulos, sent an email to seven campaign officials with the subject line: “Meeting with Russian Leadership – Including Putin.” in which he offered to set up “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump”. The campaign officials, including Paul Manafort, raised concerns about the propriety of doing so, and there is no indication the proposal was followed up on.
- On 8/21/17 Russia announced that Deputy Foreign Minister Anatoly Antonov will replace Sergey Kislyak as the new American ambassador. This is considered to be another sign of cooling ties between Putin and Trump, as Antonov is considered more of a hardliner towards the U.S., and has previously been under sanction by the E.U. for his role in Russia’s political and military interference in the Ukraine.
- News emerged on 8/27/17 that the Trump Organization was in serious negotiations for opening a Trump Tower in Moscow as late as December 2016. Trump’s company and investors signed a letter of intent to open up a massive development as part of the Trump brand but dropped the deal in January 2016 after they failed to get the land and permits to launch. Felix Sater, a Russian-born developer, also encouraged Trump to visit Moscow to hear about the proposal and promised he could get Russian President Vladimir Putin to say “great things” about Trump. This contradicts numerous Trump statements about having no business ties to Russia.
- Follow-up reporting on 8/28/17 revealed that Felix Sater pushed for the deal in November 2015 e-mails with Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that specifically highlighted involving Putin and bolstering Trump’s campaign. Sater’s e-mail stated, “I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.” There is no evidence at this time if, or how, Sater followed up on these promises, but it was subsequently revealed that Cohen, an executive vice president for the Trump Organization, sent a message about the real estate deal to Putin’s personal spokesman Dmitry Peskov in January 2016.
- The State Department announced on 8/31/17 that the Trump administration is ordering Russia to shutter a consulate in San Francisco as well as annexes in Washington and New York. According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, the move was positioned as a response to the Russian government’s order that the U.S. cut down the number of diplomatic personnel in Russia, which Russia made after Congress overrode President Trump’s veto of enhanced sanctions over Russian electoral interference.
- The Guardian ran an in-depth story on 9/18/17 documenting the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. The Pageant, which Trump’s company produced, may be the first time/place that Trump met Putin, and also involved connections between Trump and various Russian interests who have had some involvement with the Russian meddling investigation.
- McClatchy DC reported on 9/21/17 that Trump’s former bodyguard had extensive knowledge of Trump associate Felix Sater’s connections to Russian criminal figures. Trump has played down his relationship with Sater, despite growing evidence of links between the two, including recently published emails detailing how Sater worked with a top Trump Organization lawyer on a planned Moscow property deal as late as 2016, during the presidential campaign. Before he became Trump’s bodyguard in 2015, Gary Uher was an FBI agent involved in a complex deal to bring Sater back from Russia in the late 1990s. The resulting plea deal allowed Sater to avoid prison time in a Wall Street probe by serving as a government informant until his sentencing in 2009. During much of the time that he was a secret informant, Sater was a Trump Organization business associate, working on projects in New York, Florida and Arizona.
- On 9/22/17, President Trump reacted to the latest revelations about Facebook’s role in Russian manipulation of the 2016 election. Trump showed how seriously he took the news that Facebook has discovered thousands of political ads published on its platform over the past two years were linked to fake accounts based in Russia by responding, “The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook. What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”
- The Washington Post reported on 10/2/17 that an additional two previously undisclosed contacts between the Trump Organization and Russian parties during the 2016 election have come to light. Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen and a business associate exchanged emails weeks before the Republican National Convention about Cohen possibly traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladimir Putin. In the other case, Cohen received a proposal in late 2015 for a Moscow residential project from a company founded by billionaire Sergei Gordeev who once served in the upper house of the Russian parliament. The previously unreported inquiry marks the second proposal for a Trump-branded Moscow project that was delivered to the company during the presidential campaign. While Cohen does not appear to have followed through on either initiative, all of these contacts stand out sharply against Trump’s repeated denials of having any communication or business interests involving Russia.
- According to 10/25/17 CNN reports, the head of a data analytics company linked to the Trump campaign contacted WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2016 regarding thousands of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Alexander Nix, the chief executive of Cambridge Analytica, sent an email to several people including top Donald Trump donor Rebekah Mercer, relaying that he had emailed Assange seeking access to emails from Clinton’s private server. Assange subsequently confirmed the story, and maintained that WikiLeaks had rejected the request.
- On 11/5/17 the leaked “Paradise Papers” on the international finances of wealthy individuals revealed several previously-undisclosed Russia links on the part of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The papers revealed that Ross has an interest in Navigator Holdings, which earns millions a year transporting oil and gas for Russian energy firm Sibur. Two major Sibur shareholders are under some form of US sanctions. Another Sibur shareholder is Russian President Putin’s son in law, Kirill Shamalov.
- After meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the course of APEC meetings during his Asia trip, President Trump stated on 11/11/17 that Putin again denied having any role in election meddling, and that Trump believes him. Trump’s statements to reporter’s questions included the following: “He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times…I just asked him again. He said he absolutely did not meddle in our election, he did not do what they are saying he did…Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it. But he says I didn’t do that. I think he is very insulted by it, which is not a good thing for our country.”
- Meanwhile, 11/11/17 statements by Putin’s office contradicted President Trump’s assertion that they had again discussed Russia’s alleged election meddling. “No,”Putin’s press secretary Dmitri Peskov responded when asked by CNN, “as far as you know, did the two leaders discuss meddling?” And CIA Director Mike Pompeo announced that he stood by US intelligence assessments that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Former intelligence officials raised concerns that the interactions with Putin show the Trump can be “played” by adversaries. “I think he’s giving Putin a pass,” John Brennan, CIA director under President Barack Obama, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “It demonstrates to Mr. Putin that Donald Trump can be played by foreign leaders who are going to appeal to his ego and to try to play upon his insecurities, which is very, very worrisome from a national-security standpoint.” James Clapper, former U.S. director of national intelligence, agreed with that assessment and said he thinks “both the Chinese and the Russians think they can play” Trump with flattery.
- It was reported on 11/14/17 that the U.S. has hired a private Russian company that grew out of a security business co-founded President Vladimir Putin’s former K.G.B. boss to provide security for the U.S. embassies in Russia. Under a no-bid contract awarded by the Office of Acquisitions in Washington, security guards at the American Embassy in Moscow and at consulates in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok will be provided by Elite Security Holdings, a company closely linked to the former top K.G.B. figure, Viktor G. Budanov, a retired general who spent 25 years planting agents in Western security services and hunting down their operatives.
- Politico ran an 11/19/17 story on Donald Trump’s first trip to Russia in 1987. The article chronicles how the trip seems to have been arranged by top level Soviet Diplomatic officials, and been part of an attempt by the KGB to enhance its contacts with American information sources during a key moment of Cold War escalation.
- Vanity Fair reported on 11/23/17 that Israeli intelligence officials were warned in January that American intelligence agencies believed Russia had “leverages of pressure” over President Donald Trump. Members of Mossad, Israel’s foreign espionage agency, and other Israeli intelligence officials attended a meeting in Langley, Virginia, a short time before Trump’s inauguration. At the meeting, an American intelligence official warned Israel to “be careful” once Trump was inaugurated, adding that it was possible sensitive information shared with the White House and the National Security Council could be leaked to Russians.A few months later, Trump made headlines when he revealed highly classified intelligence information during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The article provides extensive coverage of what was revealed in that meeting, and the ramifications of the leak.
- A Bloomberg article on 11/22/17 described issues related to the Trump SoHo Hotel project. The Trump Organization has recently sold its interest in the propeorty, which opened in 2010. It had been a financially troubled investment, but beyond that, it had also attrcated many Russian-linked investors who are involved in investigations into potential money-laundering. The relationship between the Trump Organization and these Russian financial interests is believed to be one of the focuses of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
- BuzzFeed reported on 12/8/17 that the Trump administration dismissed a deal from a top Russian diplomat earlier this year regarding a mutual ban between Washington and Moscow on foreign political interference. U.S. administration officials told the publication that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was in a July meeting with State Department Under Secretary Tom Shannon when he presented U.S. officials with a deal that would prohibit both governments from meddling in each other’s elections.
- The Trump administration and its defenders used three reporting mistakes in early December to bolster its argument that the Russia investigation is “fake news”. Although all three reporting errors- early reports that candidate Trump had directed Flynn to contact the Russians, that Mueller had subpoenaed Trump family records from DeutsceBank, and that WikiLeaks had sent a link to documents to Donald Trump Jr. before they were publicly available- were corrected the same day to less directly implicating but still relevant versions of each incident, the sloppy reporting lent itself to efforts to discredit the entire subject.
- The Washington Post published a lengthy piece on 12/14/17 chronicling how Trump has resisted all calls from staffers to recognize Russian election interference, and take action to prevent a recurrence. Despite overwhelming agreement on what happened from his own intelligence agencies, Trump has maintained doubt about the subject, and determined to pursue ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin and not take action against Russia.
- A 12/15/17 story in the Dallas Morning News focused on political contributions made by U.S. citizens with close ties to Russia. To quote the lead from the article: “Buried in the campaign finance reports available to the public are some troubling connections between a group of wealthy donors with ties to Russia and their political contributions to President Donald Trump and a number of top Republican leaders. And thanks to changes in campaign finance laws, the political contributions are legal. We have allowed our campaign finance laws to become a strategic threat to our country.”
- Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on 12/18/17 that Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be handling President Trump like “an asset.” “I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president,” Clapper said on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper,” clarifying that he means this “figuratively.” Clapper took aim at the news that Putin called Trump to thank him and the CIA for sharing information that helped prevent a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg, describing the move as a “rather theatric gesture.”
- In statements on 12/28/17, President Trump floated a new legal defense: There was no collusion with Russia to influence the 2016 election, but even if there was, it doesn’t matter, because collusion is not a crime.
- On 1/10/18 Senate Democrats released a report warning of deepening Russian interference throughout Europe and concluding that, while some Western democracies have responded with aggressive countermeasures, President Donald Trump has offered no strategic plan to bolster their efforts or safeguard the U.S. from again falling victim to Kremlin meddling.
- 1/29/18 was the date set by legislation passed by overwhelming majorities of both houses and signed by the President in 2017 on which the government was required to list individuals and businesses who had ties with the Putin regime, and authorizing the President to impose sanctions on them. The administration formally declined to do so, citing the fact that the threat of sanctions was already having a detrimental effect on Russia’s activities and weapons sales to the country, so there was no need to enforce them.
- In an added twist, a section of the law aimed at carefully targeting the Russian elite seems to have been undermined by the administration. The law called on the Treasury Department, in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence and the State Department, to submit a detailed report identifying “the most significant senior foreign political figures and oligarchs” in Russia, “as determined by their closeness to the Russian regime and their net worth” and an “assessment of the relationship between individuals” and “President Vladimir Putin or other members of the Russian ruling elite” and an “identification of any indices of corruption with respect to those individuals.” The agencies did prepare this list, which was due at midnight on 1/29/18, but at the last minute an unknown party threw out the experts’ work and instead wrote down the names of the top officials in the Russian presidential administration and government plus the 96 Russian billionaires on the Forbes annual billionaires list. This defeats the measure’s intention to split the Russian elite and offer prominent Russians who are not tied to Putin or corruption the option to do business with and live in the West.
Donald Trump Jr.
- It was first reported by the New York Times on 7/9/17 that Donald Trump Jr. had a 6/9/17 meeting with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after being promised material damaging to Clinton in the meeting. Then-campaign manager Paul Manafort and senior advisor/Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner were also in attendance. When the story first surfaced, Trump Jr. initially claimed that the meeting was purely to discuss changes to a Russian policy banning U.S. adoptions from Russia (which Putin had put in place in response to a 2012 Congressional act forbidding dealings with Russian officials involved with the death-in-detention of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian auditor who was jailed after uncovering a major tax fraud case involving government officials). He subsequently revised that to say it was to discuss the campaign, but he went into the meeting not knowing anything about what would be discussed. However…
- It was very shortly confirmed that the meeting was specifically in response to a promise of information damaging to Clinton provided by Russian government-connected sources who wanted to aid Trump’s campaign. This not only contradicted Trump Jr.’s story from earlier in the weekend, a statement that had been crafted by President Trump and senior advisors on the way back from the G20 summit, it also contradicted numerous earlier statements such as the March 2017 “Did I meet with people that were Russian? I’m sure, I’m sure I did,” he said. “But none that were set up. None that I can think of at the moment. And certainly none that I was representing the campaign in any way, shape or form.”
- At this point, his story changed to one where he had been offered the information, but when it came time for the meeting nothing of substance was provided. Minutes before the new York Times was going live with the text of the e-mails that lead to the meeting, Trump Jr. himself tweeted them out. For her part, Natalia Veselnitskaya denied any connection to the Russian government or having any campaign-related information. Veselnitskaya has extensive ties to close allies of Putin. She came to the United States last year in connection with a $230 million tax fraud case initially exposed by Sergei Magnitsky, the accountant who died in a Russian prison after accusing prosecutors in that country of the fraud.
- A 7/12/17 story from Politico examines what criminal charges could conceivably result from the meeting. The story makes the point that “collusion” is not an meaningful legal term, and seeking opposition research is not itself illegal. Actual charges could include conspiring to violate the election laws of the United States, which prohibit foreign nationals from contributing any “thing of value” to an electoral campaign. To the extent that the Trump campaign aided, abetted or advised the Russians (or any other hackers) about what would be most useful to steal from the Democrats or how best to enhance the impact of their release, they may well have violated the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. And lying to the federal government in your registration forms or your security application is a false statement. Using the wires to perpetrate your crime is often wire fraud.
- After cable news appearances where Donald Trump Jr. firmly stated that everything had now been disclosed, it emerged on 7/14/17 that the meeting had also been attended by several other people, including Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist and former Soviet counterintelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence. Akhmetshin maintains that he was just there to discuss the Magnitsky Act, although there was also a presentation of documents about DNC fund flows by Veselnitskaya. His version of the meeting is different from hers in several respects. At least one reporter with a longstanding relationship with Akhmetshin does not find it likely that he has an ongoing relationship with Russian intelligence, but does corroborate his participation in pro-Putin lobbying activities in recent years.
- Politico reported on 7/15/17 that the Trump campaign began paying Alan Futerfas, the attorney currently representing Donal Trump Jr. for Russia-related matters, several weeks before his hire was announced. The formal announcement came shortly after news broke of Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. This suggests the imminent emergence of the matter was known internally several weeks before it publicly emerged.
- On 7/18/17, The Washington post The Washington Post identified the eighth person in the room for the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer: Ike Kaveladze, a U.S. citizen who works as a vice president for the Crocus Group, the real estate firm owned by Russian Trump associate Aras Agalarov. Subsequent reporting has revealed that Kaveladze was the focus of a congressional inquiry into possible Russian money laundering in November 2000.
- News began to emerge on 7/31/17 that President Trump played an active role in drafting the initial statement Donald Trump Jr. released after revelations of his meeting with Russian sources promising information damaging to the Clinton campaign as part of Russian government support for Trump’s candidacy. According to multiple sources, the President took part in drafting the response on the way back from the G20 summit on 7/8/17. He actively overruled advisors, including Jared Kushner, who wanted full disclosure, and instead pushed the cover story that the meeting had been about adoption policy. The fact that President Trump was actively involved in crafting the statement, and his preference for a cover story over disclosure, raises questions about how much he knew about the meeting, and when he knew it.
- The New York Times Reported on 8/21/17 that Rinat Akhmetshin, an attendeee of the June 2016 meeting involving Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Russian interests who had promised material damaging to Hillary Clinton, has routinely done work suggesting high-level ties with the Russian government and Kremlin-backed oligarchs. Among the items reported by the Times are Akhmetshin’s association with a former deputy head of the Russian spy service, his twice working on legal battles for Russian tycoons whose opponents suffered sophisticated hacking attacks, helping Russian federal prosecutors bring corruption charges against an American businessman in the former Soviet Union who turned out to be working for the C.I.A., and work exposing possible corruption in government contracting that complicated American efforts to keep troops at an air base in Kyrgyzstan, which Russia opposed.
- A 10/9/17 story from the Washington Post revealed an e-mail that corroborates Natalia Veselnitskaya’s story that the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower was meant to discuss the Magintsky Act. The e-mail states specifically that Veselnitskaya would like to bring lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, due to his familiarity with the Russian government’s position on the issue. The newly disclosed email was provided by Scott Balber, a U.S. lawyer representing Aras Agalarov, the Russian billionaire who hosted the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013 and who had helped secure the Trump Tower meeting for Veselnitskaya.
- On the other hand… The New York Times reported on 10/27/17 that Veselnitskaya arrived at Trump Tower with a memo detailing information she believed was damaging to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s camapign. Veselnitskaya had shared the memo months before with Russia’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika.The memo reportedly contained information accusing a company linked to two major Clinton donors of a scheme to illegally purchase shares in a Russian company and avoid tens of thousands of dollars in Russian taxes. Paragraphs from that memo were lifted verbatim from a document that Chaika’s office had earlier given to U.S. congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
- The Atlantic ran a story on 11/13/17 chronicling frequent contacts between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks. The messages were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long, largely one-side correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017. The messages show WikiLeaks, who the American intelligence community believes was chosen by the Russian government to disseminate the information it had hacked, actively soliciting Trump Jr.’s cooperation. WikiLeaks made a series of increasingly bold requests, including asking for Trump’s tax returns, urging the Trump campaign on Election Day to reject the results of the election as rigged, and requesting that the president-elect tell Australia to appoint Julian Assange ambassador to the United States.
- CNN reported on 12/6/17 that Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators. CNN’s initial report incorrectly stated that this was provided 9/4/16, the day Trump Jr. first tweeted about WikiLeaks and before the WikiLeaks data dump from hacked DNC and Clinton campaign e-mails was made, but was subsequently corrected to reflect that it occurred 9/14/16, several days after the WikiLeaks information had already been released.
According to a 12/7/17 CNN report, the British publicist who arranged the June 2016 meeting with Russians and Donald Trump Jr. sent multiple emails to a Russian participant and a member of Donald Trump’s inner circle later that summer, the first indication there was any follow-up after the meeting. The emails raise new questions for congressional investigators, as Trump Jr. has for months contended that after being promised he would get dirt on Hillary Clinton, the brief meeting focused almost exclusively on the issue of Russian adoptions, and there was no discussion with the participants after that session.
- The Washington Post reported on 2/9/17 that NSA advisor Michael Flynn had several discussions before the inauguration with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on lifting sanctions. Such pre-inaguaration contacts are strongly against protocol. Flynn had earlier denied that this occurred, and then, after nine different sources confirmed it, “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.” In addition to the December conversations on sanctions, ongoing discussions between Kislyak and Flynn pre-date the election in November.
- While full details of Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak have not been confirmed, the FBI interviewed him in January because of their concerns, and as the story became public, and the denials he’d made to administration officials and they’d made on his behalf became increasingly embarrassing, Flynn resigned on 2/14/17. The timeline of Flynn’s contacts certainly makes it seem likely administration and Russian moves concerning sanctions were coordinated, or at least correlated. U.S. allies also seem to have intercepted some of Flynn’s communications and are conducting their own investigations of his Russian contacts, as well as those of other Trump business associates.
- It was revealed on 3/2/17 that President Donald Trump’s senior aide (and son-in-law) Jared Kushner and ousted adviser Michael Flynn met with the Russian ambassador to the United States at a time when the Trump administration’s relationship with the Russians was under close scrutiny. Kushner and Flynn sat down in December at Trump Tower with Kislyak for what they described as an “introductory meeting” and “kind of an inconsequential hello.” Trump had previously maintained after the initial Flynn meeting revelations that he had not ordered, or known about, any meetings Flynn had with Kislyak.
- Michael Flynn, the former NSA head who resigned due to still-being-investigated contacts with the Russian ambassador, was revealed on 3/15/17 to have received more than $67,000 in payments from Russian firms for various services during the 2016 election season. One of the companies Flynn had received payments from was revealed on 3/17/17 to be on a Pentagon watch list of “unsuitable” companies for U.S. parties to have transactions with.
- Michael Flynn offered to testify to the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee in exchange for immunity. The Intelligence Committee declined the offer, at least for the moment, on 3/31/17. Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) did indicate that Flynn would be a potential witness before the committee. The FBI also does not seem to be interested.
- On 4/1/17 it was reported that Flynn disclosed receiving payments of at least $5,000 for a speaking engagement with the Kremlin-funded English language network RT (which the intelligence community believes was heavily involved in the Russian campaign influence efforts). Flynn didn’t originally include the payment when he first filed required ethics forms in January. The RT payment and two others from companies with Russian ties (cybersecurity firm Kaspersky Government Security Solutions and Volga-Dnepr Airlines) are listed in amended financial disclosure forms Flynn delivered to the White House on 3/31/17, more than a month after he stepped down from his NSA post.
- The House Oversight Committee, had its request for documents related to ex-NSF head Michael Flynn’s business ties with Turkey and Russia denied by the White House on 4/25/17. Based on documents the committee has been able to obtain thus far, chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), indicated that they believe that Flynn broke the law by declining to disclose the payments from both Russia and Turkey in his application to renew his security clearance. Among these are documents showing that Flynn was warned by the Pentagon against accepting foreign payments following his retirement in 2014. It was separately reported on 5/8/17 that President Obama, in a November post-election meeting with then-President-elect Trump, strongly advised him hiring Flynn.
- Just hours before Comey was fired, Federal prosecutors delivered the first subpoenas related to the Russia investigation. These subpoenas were issued by the US Attorney’s Office in Alexandria to associates of ex-NSF Director Michael Flynn, and instruct them to turn over certain business records.
- Reuter’s reported on 5/18/17 that Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 previously undisclosed calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race.
- The New York Times reported on 5/24/17 that American spies collected information in the summer of 2016 revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Trump through his advisors. Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort were specifically mentioned in these conversations.
- Bloomberg reported on 7/17/17 that Flynn plans to set up a fund to raise money to pay his legal bills stemming from multiple investigations into possible Trump campaign ties to Russia, according to a person close to Flynn.
- The Guardian reported on 8/4/17 that Michael Flynn belatedly disclosed a brief advisory role with Cambridge Analytica, a data analysis company that aided the Trump campaign. The disclosure came in an amended public financial filing in which shows that just before the end of the campaign, Flynn entered into a consulting agreement with SCL Group, a Virginia-based company related to Cambridge Analytica, the data mining and analysis firm that worked with Trump’s campaign. Cambridge Anlaytica is run by Robert Mercer, a prominent Trump funder and backer of former senior strategist Steve Bannon. The firm also (see the Unconfirmed section below) is alleged to ultimately have Russian funding, and to have possibly been a source of data Russian interests used to target their social media campaign to influence the 2016 election.
- Reports emerged on 9/13/17 that even during his brief time in office as National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn continued to work on private consulting projects. Among these was a plan to build nuclear reactors throughout the Middle East, with possible Russian financial backing.
- On 12/6/17 it was reported that Michael Flynn told a former business associate that sanctions against Russia would be “ripped up” early in the new presidency. Within minutes of Trump’s inauguration in January, Flynn informed his former associate that the plan to work with Russia to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East was “good to go,” because Flynn was ensuring the sanctions would be “ripped up” as one of Trump’s first orders of business. The whistleblower’s account is detailed in a letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) which he sent to Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
- The Senate Intelligence Committee has also indicated that they would like to interview Trump’s son-in-law and key adviser Jared Kushner about 2016 meetings with Sergei Gorkov, chairman of Russian state development bank Vnesheconombank (VEB). Gorkov is a former member of the FSB, the Russian state security agency that is the inheritor of the KGB, and a close confidant of Vladimir Putin. VEB, for its part, is under sanctions over Russia’s incursion into the Ukraine. The New York Times reported on 4/6/17 that Kushner had failed to disclose these contacts as required when applying for top-security clearance in connection with his work with the Trump administration.
- It was reported on 5/31/17 that Jared Kushner had meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak about setting up a “back-channel” for direct communication between the Administration and the Russian government. Such a move is not unusual per se, but given the sensitivity of charges concerning Russia at that time, and the fact that it was to be logistically hosted by Russia, rather than the more typical move of having the State Department or a U.S. intelligence agency set it up.
- Reports emerged from various sources on 6/15/17 that Robert Mueller’s team is focused on investigating Kushner’s business dealings and finances.
- It was reported on 6/25/17 that one month before Election Day, Jared Kushner’s real estate company finalized a $285 million loan with Deutsche Bank as part of a refinancing package for property in Manhattan. At the time, Deutsche Bank was negotiating to settle charges from New York state regulators that it aided a possible Russian money-laundering scheme. This case has since been settled, but Congressional committees investigating Russia have (thus far unsuccessfully) asked Deutsche Bank for more information on this and it’s other financial dealings with Trump and his family. The Guardian reported on 6/29/17 that the firm of the head of Trump’s Russian investigation legal defense team, Marc Kasowitz’s, was involved in this real-estate sale, raising questions of conflict of interest.
- Jared Kushner hired Abbe Lowell to represent him in the FBI investigation on 6/26/17. Lowell had previously represented House Democrats during the Bill Clinton impeachment hearings. This follows the trend of several Trump administration officials seeking separate counsel from the administration’s legal team. On 7/14/17, Lowell formally took over all Russian-related activity from Kushner’s main attorney, Jamie Gorelick. This could be a recognition of escalating legal action, but is also consistent with Gorelick wanting to avoid any conflict of interest, as she had been in the same firm as Robert Mueller before he left to accept the Special Counsel position.
- While most of the attention for the June 3, 2016 meeting has been on Donald Trump Jr., Kushner also attended the meeting on Trump Jr.’s invitation. As reported in a 7/13/17 Time Magazine cover story on the meeting, Kushner has maintained that he didn’t read to the bottom of the forwarded e-mail invitation where Russian government support for Trump and the offer of material damaging to Clinton was discussed.
- Axios reported on 7/12/17 that President Trump’s outside legal team wants to wall off Jared Kushner from discussing the Russia investigation with his father-in-law. This came around the same time as revelations that Kushner had updated his federal disclosure form several times to include more than 100 names on a list of foreign contacts. One of these updates included adding the June 2016 meeting Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya that Kushner attended along with Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort.
- For his part, Kushner has been pressing White House aides to more vigorously defend the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and the Kremlin-linked lawyer. This is from reporting by Politico citing multiple source, who have added that Kushner’s push has faced resistance from some of Trump’s top press aides.
- On 9/12/17 CNN report assertions (and White House denials) that some of President Donald Trump’s legal team had advised that his son-in-law Jared Kushner step down from his role as White House adviser. Sources familiar with the matter told CNN the White House legal team discussed during the spring whether Kushner ought to step aside in order to protect the President from legal scrutiny over his associates’ interactions with Russians. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in response that there was “certainly no presentation” on the issue, or any conversations that she was aware of.
- The Washington Post reported on 12/15/17 that a lawyer for President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is looking to hire a crisis public relations firm. The lawyer, Abbe Lowell, has reached out to at least two firms over the past couple of weeks, according to the Post. The firms were asked not to talk about the conversations.
- Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort was confirmed in August 2016 to have had former Ukranian-President Viktor Yanukovych as a consulting client. Manafort’s firm received over $12 million in payments from Yanukovych’s political party between 2007 and 2012. Yanukovych has close ties to Russia, and his push for Russian ties and alleged role in Russian incursions in the Ukraine was part of the impetus for his ouster as President following popular demonstrations. The status of Manafort’s communications with Russia are under FBI investigation.
- Some sources believe Manafort was behind the watering down of a plank to the Republican platform calling for U.S. support in arming the Ukraine. The plank had been introduced to the foreign policy sub-committee by a Texas delegate who was a Reagan-administration appointee and an observer in the Ukraine’s first free elections in 1998. It was then weakened to include only “non-lethal support” was under pressure from two pro-Trump delegates who were in cell phone communication with someone after saying they had to call to talk to “Mr. Trump.”.
- A purported cyberhack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman last summer.The undated communications, which are allegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump.
- While Manafort’s reponse to the initial hack claim was that the messages were “obviously fake”, a further body of thousands of text messages from Manafort’s daughters has been released by hacktivists, and has the appearance, both in volume and detail, of being genuine. In the messages, Manafort’s family expressed misgivings about the political consultant’s work for both Russia-aligned Ukrainian strongman Viktor Yanukovych and Donald Trump. The texts, posted on a darknet website run by a hacktivist collective, appear to show Manafort’s family fretting about the ethics, safety and consequences of his work for Yanukovych. And they reveal that Manafort’s two daughters regarded their father’s emergence as a key player on Trump’s presidential campaign with a mixture of pride and embarrassment.
- The Washington Post reported on 3/21/17 that Manafort is being accused of laundering money from the party of Ukraine’s Kremlin-backed former president, citing documents from a Ukraine lawmaker. Using documents found following the revolution in 2014, Serhiy Leshchenko alleges that Manafort paid himself $750,000 out of the party’s slush fund by forging invoices in a ledger to Belize.
- AP further reported on 3/22/17 that Manafort had secretly worked for a Russian billionaire with a plan to “greatly benefit the Putin Government”. Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan pitched to aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and former Soviet republics to benefit President Vladimir Putin’s government.
- The New York Daily News reported on 3/28/17 that Manafort, has engaged in a series of puzzling real estate deals in New York City over the past 11 years that resemble transactions often used for money-laundering. These transactions total several million dollars, and follow a pattern used by money launderers: buying properties with all cash through shell companies, then using the properties to obtain “clean” money through bank loans.
- In response to unfolding news about Manafort, Trump spokesman Sean Spicer used a press conference to claim that Manafort had only limited involvement with the campaign for a limited period of time. Manafort was first hired for delegate management in March 2016, was promoted in May to campaign chairman and chief strategist, and after campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired in June, was widely seen as the campaign’s top official until power shifted in August to Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway.
- Manafort on 4/12/17 announced that he would register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the past work he had done. He maintained that the work he was registering for was not done on behalf of Russia, and concluded before he joined the Trump campaign. This announcement came the same day as the AP reported that $1.2 million of payments received by Manafort’s consulting firm do match transactions from the “Black ledger” that a Ukrainian lawmaker has indicated should be investigated for money laundering (see “looking probable” section below for more on this).
- It was also reported on 4/12/17 that on 8/19/16, the day he stepped down from Trump’s presidential campaign amidst controversy over his Ukraine ties, Manafort filed papers creating a shell company. This company soon received $13 million in loans from two businesses with ties to Mr. Trump, including one that partners with a Ukrainian-born billionaire and another led by a Trump economic adviser. The loans appear to have been part of an attempt to deal with debt related to Manafort’s real estate holdings.
- While Manafort has not played an active role with the Trump campaign or administration since August 2016, his decade-long business associate Rick Gates remains entrenched in the president’s operation. Gates is part of a four-person task force working on defending the President’s agenda. As recently as mid-March 2017, he was at the White House to meet with officials as part of that work.
- Financial records filed in Cyprus in 2016 indicate that Manafort had been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined Trump’s presidential campaign in March 2016. Manafort kept bank accounts in the international tax haven during his years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch. The money appears to have been owed by shell companies connected to Mr. Manafort’s business activities in Ukraine when he worked as a consultant to a pro-Russia political party.
- On 8/10/17 Paul Manafort replaced his legal team in apparent reaction to the increased scrutiny he is under since a July raid by investigators. His existing team, WilmerHale, was replaced by Miller and Chevalier, a boutique firm that specializes, among other things, in defense regarding complicated financial crimes.
- NBC reported on 9/1/17 that Paul Manafort’s notes on the June 2016 meeting with representatives of Russian interests include mention of “political contributions” near references to the RNC. The meeting was originally sheculed based on an offer to Donald Trump Jr. of information claimed to be damaging to Clinton’s campign as part of official Russian governmnt support for Donal Trump’s presidential campaign. It’s not clear what the meaning of the notations are, but it is likely to lead to further questioning by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and Congressional investigators, both of whom have copies of the notes. For their part, Manafort’s attorneys are reportedly attempting to block Mueller from obtaining a transcript of his interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee in July.
- The Washington Post reported on 9/20/17 that shortly before Trump accepted the Republican presidential nomination, Paul Manafort offered to provide briefings on the race to a Russian billionaire closely aligned with the Kremlin. Manafort made the offer in an email to an overseas intermediary, asking that a message be sent to Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate with whom Manafort had done business in the past. “If he needs private briefings we can accommodate,” Manafort wrote in the July 7, 2016, email. There is no reported evidence indicating whether Deripaska received the offer, or if briefings were held.
- NBC reported on 10/15/17 that Paul Manafort had much stronger financial ties to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska than have been previously reported. An NBC News investigation revealed that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin. The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands.
- McClatchy DC reported on 11/24/17 on details of Paul Manafort’s travel to Russia and the Ukraine from 2004-2015. During this time, he visited Moscow 18 times, and was in the Ukraine 138 times, including 19 times consulting for a pro-Russian opposition party in 2014-2015 after the fall of the the Russian-backed leader of the Ukraine. In the course of these trips he was in frequent contact with Vladimir Putin’s allies while working as a consultant for oligarchs and pro-Kremlin parties. The details lead some Russia experts to suspect that the Kremlin’s emissaries at times turned Manafort into an asset acting on Russia’s behalf. “You can make a case that all along he …was either working principally for Moscow, or he was trying to play both sides against each other just to maximize his profits,” said Daniel Fried, a former assistant secretary of state in President George W. Bush’s second term. “He’s at best got a conflict of interest and at worst is really doing Putin’s bidding,” said Fried, now a fellow with the Atlantic Council.
- One of the Trump associates being investigated for Russian contacts during the campaign, former campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, maintained in a PBS interview on 2/15/17 that he had not had any meetings with Russian officials in the past year. The New York Times has reported, however, that he was in Moscow on 12/8/16, for what he described as meetings with “business leaders and thought leaders”. Page worked as in investment banker in Russia for several years in the 2000s, advising on major transactions involving energy-related state-owned companies.
- On 3/2/17, former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page reversed himself on multiple prior denials about having had any official contact, and revealed that he had, in fact, met with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during the Republican convention in Cleveland in 2016. These meetings also involved national security advisers to the Trump campaign J.D. Gordon & Walhid Fares. Gordon told CNN that he, Page, & Fares stressed to the Russian envoy that Trump would like to improve relations with Russia. Gordon added that at no time did any inappropriate talk come up about colluding with the Russians to aid the Trump campaign.
- It was revealed on 3/7/17 that Page also made a trip to Moscow in July 2016, which he had first cleared with then-Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. A few weeks before he traveled to Moscow to give a July 7 speech, Page asked J.D. Gordon, his supervisor on the campaign’s National Security Advisory Committee, for permission to make the trip, and Gordon strongly advised against it. Page then emailed Lewandowski and spokeswoman Hope Hicks asking for formal approval, and was told by Lewandowski that he could make the trip, but not as an official representative of the campaign. Lewandowski claims that he does not specifically remember the e-mail, but does not dispute the accuracy of the story.
- On 4/3/17, it was revealed that Page also had meetings with Russian intelligence agents in 2013. Page met with a Russian intelligence operative named Victor Podobnyy, who was later charged by the US government alongside two others for acting as unregistered agents of a foreign government. The charges, filed in January 2015, came after federal investigators busted a Russian spy ring that was seeking information on US sanctions as well as efforts to develop alternative energy. Page is an energy consultant who has worked for, among other clients, the Russian state energy company Gazprom. Podobnyy had apparently been seeking to recruit Page, but ultimately received nothing more than publicly available documents from him.
- On 4/11/17, the Washington Post reported that the FBI obtained a secret FISA court order in the Summer of 2016 to monitor Page’s communications as part of an investigation into possible links between Russia and the campaign. The FBI and the Justice Department obtained the warrant targeting Carter Page’s communications after convincing a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge that there was probable cause to believe Page was acting as an agent of a foreign power, in this case Russia, according to officials.
- On 6/26/17, Carter Page confirmed a Washington Post story that he had been questioned by the FBI as part of it’s investigation into Russia. Page was interviewed five times in March, for a total of 10 hours of questioning, the most extensive confirmed questioning of Trump-related officials by the FBI. While confirming the interviews and describing them as “open and honest”, Page also repeated his denials that he had improperly communicated with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.
- On 3/2/17, it was revealed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign. At the time of the meetings (June and September 2016) he was a U.S. Senator, and an active supporter of the Trump campaign. In his Senate confirmation hearings for the AG position, Sessions had previously indicated that he was not aware of any trump-campaign surrogates who had met with Russian officials, and that he had no such contacts himself. Post-revelation, Sessions maintains that he did not consider the conversations relevant to the lawmakers’ questions and did not remember in detail what he discussed with Kislyak. He has, however, now recused himself from any Justice Department investigations that may arise over Russian campaign interference or Trump campaign ties to Russia. Trump has stated that, while he does not think Sessions did anything wrong, he was not aware of any of Sessions’ meetings with Kislyak.
- CNN reported on 5/25/17 that Attorney General Jeff Sessions deliberately omitted information on meetings with Russian parties from his security clearance applications. Sessions claims that he was advised that he did not have to do so by an unnamed FBI employee.
- CNN and NBC reported on 6/1/17 that both Congress and the FBI are examining whether Sessions and Jared Kushner may have had a previously undisclosed private meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during an April 2016 event at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel. This event was sponsored by a Russian think tank, and was also attested by trump and his then-campaign manager Paul Manafort.
- Early June 2017 reporting also indicated that Sessions and Trump had one or more heated arguments in which Trump seems to have blamed Sessions’ recusal for the subsequent appointment of a Special Counsel. Following these, Sessions offered to resign, but was turned down by Trump.
- Richard Burt, a lobbyist for Russian state-owned businesses, claimed he attended two dinners hosted by Jeff Sessions. This seemed to contradict Sessions’ 6/13/17 testimony that he did not “believe” he had contacts with any lobbyists working for Russia during the presidential race.
- Sessions hired Chuck Cooper to represent him in matters relating to the Russian investigation on 6/20/17. This follows the trend of several Trump administration officials seeking out their own counsel separately from the administration’s legal team.
- On 7/13/17 (a day late), the Justice Department complied with a request to release Jeff Sessions disclosure form from his security clearance application. In the application Sessions answered “no” the following question: “Have you or any of your immediate family in the past seven (7) years [bold font in original] had any contact with a foreign government, its establishment (such as embassy, consulate, agency, military service, intelligence or security service, etc.) or its representatives, whether inside or outside the U.S.?” It has now been established that, prior to filling out the form, Sessions had multiple meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, and also had meetings with lobbyists for Russian state-owned businesses.
- A story in Foreign Policy on 7/12/17 described how Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly settled a money laundering case in May involving Natalia Veselnitskaya, the same Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr.. The case, involving tax fraud in Russia and laundering a portion of the $230 million from it into Manhattan real estate, was filed in 2013 by Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, who was fired by Trump in March.
- The Washington Post reported on 7/21/17 that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race. This is according to conversations intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, and contradicts numerous earlier public assertions by Sessions. Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.
- The New York Times Reported on 9/14/17 that, according to multiple sources, shortly after learning in May that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate links between his campaign associates and Russia, President Trump berated Attorney General Jeff Sessions in an Oval Office meeting and said he should resign. Accusing Mr. Sessions of “disloyalty,” Mr. Trump unleashed a string of insults on his attorney general. Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the president he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House, which the Presdient subsequently did not accept. Mr. Sessions later told associates that the demeaning way the president addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life.
- According to 1/5/18 reporting by the Associated Press and the New York Times,
President Donald Trump ordered his White House counsel to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself in the Justice Department’s investigation into potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. Both the AP and the Times cited two sources familiar with the details of the conversation between White House Counsel Don McGahn and Sessions.
- It was revealed on 3/10/17 that Roger Stone, one of the four Trump campaign-related figures the FBI is known to be investigating for their Russian ties, had been in communication with the hacker responsible for providing the DNC files released by Wikileaks. Stone’s claim is that these August 2016 tweets with Guciffer 2.0 were casual communications praising him after the fact for the hacks, and that Stone had no indication that, as intelligence agencies have subsequently determined, the cyberattacks were arranged by Russian security forces. However, Stone’s tweets in the days after raised questions about whether he knew in advance that emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, would be imminently published by WikiLeaks. “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel. #CrookedHillary,” Stone tweeted on August 21. And it has subsequently emerged that, despite at first saying it was only a handful of August tweets Stone in fact was in contact with Guciffer 16 times during the campaign season.
- Roger Stone and Carter Page indicated on 3/24/17 that they want to testify before the House Intelligence Committee to refute allegations and clear up lingering suspicions. The Senate Intelligence Committee, for its part, looks like they want to talk to Stone too, as they already ordered him on 3/19/17 to retain all Russia-related documents.
- Although Stone was an early focus of concern among intelligence agencies receiving indications of ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia, he has been one of the less active focuses of the investigation (at least publicly). Stone himself is far from keeping quiet though, as witnessed by his 8/24/17 statement to TMZ that politcians seeking to impeach Trump, “would be endangering their own life.” “Try to impeach him. Just try it,” Stone said. “You will have a spasm of violence, an insurrection in this country like you have never seen before. Both sides are heavily armed, my friend.”
The Steele Dossier
- Christopher Steele, a former MI6 official posted in Russia in the 90s, produced a 35-page dossier detailing allegations of improper contacts between Trump and Russian officials. The research behind the memo originally began in September 2015 as part of opposition research by Republican opponents of Trump. Steele was hired by the firm doing the research, Fusion GPS , in June 2016 after Russian interference allegations surfaced. It was subsequently continued in the Fall with Democratic clients paying Fusion GPS for the research. The dossier is composed of multiple several page memos written between June and December 2016. Pieces of it had circulated among several news organizations, intelligence agencies, and senior officials including John McCain. An intelligence briefing on the memo was shared with President-elect Trump and President Obama in early January 2017. Multiple sources in British intelligence describe Steele as an experienced and professional asset, whose work was usually of very high quality.
- Veteran journalist Howard Blum has written a March 2017 article for Vanity Fair revealing in detail the story of how Steele went about putting together the information in his dossier. It’s well worth a read for those interested in this story, and fans of long-form journalism in general.
- It is important to note that some details in the memos have been proven incorrect, most prominently a meeting between Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and a Russian official in Prague. The news organizations that were in possession of the memos pre-election had not gone public with them because they could not confirm enough details to feel comfortable releasing them.
- The Steele Dossier has been published in full by Buzzfeed. As you’ll see above, some parts of it have been shown to be incorrect. And as you’ll also see above and below, other parts of it have been verified. You can find a link to the full document and a description of some of the controversy around it in the story here. As a still-uncorroborated source, I don’t plan to get into the gory details in this venue, but the gist of the document’s allegations are as follows:
- Russia has been cultivating ties with Trump for years.
- Part of this cultivation involves financial incentives promised to him should he become President and lift sanctions.
- Russian intelligence agencies also have compromising material on Trump that leaves him vulnerable to blackmail.
- There were extensive ties and cooperation between Trump campaign officials and Russian intelligence.
- In one indication of the general regard for his work, the FBI was revealed on 2/28/17 to have been about to hire Steele to further help with their investigation into Russian interference and possible Trump campaign ties. This wasn’t considered a necessary endorsement of all of his findings, but rather respect for the quality of his work. The plan was scrapped after the memos began to circulate and became controversial.
- In December 2016, the Russian government sold a 19.5% share of the state oil company, Rosneft. The sale was facilitated by finance companies in Qatar and Singapore, involves a Cayman Island holding-company, and the ultimate identity of the purchaser cannot be verified from public documents. The potential significance of this is that one of the allegations of the Steele memos is that Putin offered Trump associate Carter Page the brokerage fee on the sale of a 19% share of Rosneft if Trump was elected and agreed to lift sanctions on Russia.
- Oleg Erovinkin, a former KGB official and key aide to Igor Sechin, the head of the Russian State Oil company Rosneft and prominent figure in the Steele memos, was found dead in Moscow on 12/26/16. Steele’s documents indicate one of his primary sources was a figure close to Sechin, and there is speculation that Erovinkin was that source. The death appears to be due to foul play.
- CNN reported on 2/10/17 that several of the details of the Steele dossier have been confirmed by government investigators. Specifically, they are able to confirm that the dates and locations of many of the meetings between Russian officials mentioned in the dossier match actual movements of those officials.
- Reporting emerged on 10/24/17 that the Clinton Campaign and the DNC helped fund the research that led to the Steele Dossier. Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research in April 2016. Fusion GPS subsequently hired ex-British intelligence official Michael Steele as part of its research. Prior to that, the firm’s research had been funded by a Republican opponent of Trump.
- Axios ran a story on 10/29/17 covering the beginning of the Fusion GPS research that eventually led to the Steele Dossier. In Fall 2015, Fusion GPS began working on a deep dive into Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. The Washington Free Beacon, funded by hedge fund manager Paul Singer a Republican backer of Trump rival Sen. Marco Rubio, was the client. Fusion is led by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch, former Wall Street Journal reports who had specialized in international coverage. Fusion’s researchers noted that Trump’s business empire seemed inordinately weighted to Russia, and so they turned much effort to untangling that part of his business story. When it became clear that Trump was going to become the nominee, Singer ceased paying for the research and funding was taken over by representatives of the DNC and the Clinton campaign. GPS brought on Christopher Steele, a former premier Russia expert for British intelligence, since so much of what it had uncovered involved Russian connections. Fusion GPS briefed major news organizations on it’s findings in September 2016, but the allegations did not enter the public sphere until Buzzfeed broke the story in January 2017.
- Robert Litt, former General Counsel to the Director of National Intelligence under Obama wrote a 10/26/17 column for Lawfare maintaining that the Steele Dossier had not been a key part of the intelligence community’s findings about Russian interference. “The dossier itself played absolutely no role in the coordinated intelligence assessment that Russia interfered in our election. That assessment, which was released in unclassified form in January but which contained much more detail in the classified version that has been briefed to Congress, was based entirely on other sources and analysis.”
- The Guardian ran an 11/15/17 story on the background of Christopher Steele, the former British spy behind the Steele Dossier. The article details Steele’s background in Russia, how he started his investigation, and some of what his research indicates about how Russia cultivated a relationship with Trump over the years.
- In a 1/2/18 op-ed published in the New York Times, Fusion GPS co-founders Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch pushed back against the suggestion by some Republican lawmakers that the dossier sparked the criminal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. “As we told the Senate Judiciary Committee in August, our sources said the dossier was taken so seriously because it corroborated reports the bureau had received from other sources, including one inside the Trump camp.” They also stated that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent who compiled the dossier, was never told that the research was being funded by the Clinton campaign.
- The New York Times published a 1/8/18 profile of Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, the political research firm that produced the Steele Dossier. The peice noted that Mr. Simpson himself has appeared before three congressional committees for some 20 hours of questions and answers, making him among the most significant players in the Trump-Russia affair, based on testimony. It also highlighted that Fusion GPS has done work for domestic and international clients, and both parties, specializing in opposition research. This has included work for pro- and anti-Putin forces, including working for June 2016 Trump Tower attendees Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia V. Veselnitskayaon to find information on Putin opponent William Browder as part of their effort to overturn the Magnitsky Act. “We collect facts,” Fusion said in a statement, describing itself as a research company. “Occasionally, the facts turn out to be helpful to people we deplore, like Vladimir Putin, or undermine people for whom we have considerable sympathy, like Mr. Browder.”
- As the Congressional and Right-leaning media whispering campaign against Fusion GPS escalated, the comapny’s senior partners urged Congress to release the full transcript of their testimony, which they felt addressed many of the allegations being made against their work. Congressional Democrats were all for it, but the committee chair balked. Then, on 1/9/18, California Senator Dianne Feinsten took matters into her own hands, and publicly released the transcripts. The full document runs over 300 pages. Some highlights noted by various readers include:
- Fusion GPS has extensive background in investigating issues related to Russia, so its work in the area is well-informed.
- The firm has many Democratic and Republican clients, and first began the investigation while under the employ of a Republican client.
- Christopher Steele did not know who the clients were while he was investigating.
- The investigation started as a fact-finding mission, and wasn’t looking to build any particular narrative, but early, they realized financial ties to Russia and organized crime were a major part of the story.
- When Steele went to Russia, he found that ties between Trump and the Kremlin were a fairly open secret.
- When in Russia, Steele also found indications that hacking and digital espionage was being engaged in. Steele investigated and found the allegations credible.
- Based on this, Fusion GPS informed the FBI of the nature of some of their findings, believing that there were potential law enforcement and national security concerns involved.
- The FBI took this information seriously because it matched with concerns they were already developing about the Trump campaign, prompted in part by a source on the inside.
- After the election, concerned that the election had been compromised, and seeing news reports that the FBI was not convinced of Russian interference, Fusion GPS brought their material to John McCain hoping that he would share it with senior FBI officials.
- They were especially concerned because one of their sources had already been murdered under suspicious circumstances.
- On 1/10/18, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen filed suit against Fusion GPS and Buzzfeed (the first outlet to publicly release the Steele Dossier) for defamation. Most legal experts regard the suit as mainly a gesture, since a positive finding would require that the information is untrue, and that the party knew it was untrue when issuing it and maliciously went forward anyway. This is a high bar, and could also result in the allegations in the dossier being extensively aired during trial, which Cohen is unlikely to want. Threats to sue that are not followed through to trial are a frequent tactic of the Trump Organization.
Unconfirmed (use with extreme caution)
- Putin’s Chief Strategist, Alexander Dugin, has become the intellectual hero of Alt-Right “Traditionalists” around the world. There are many contacts between Dugin and his supporters and the U.S. Alt Right movement, Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon and Breitbart.com, as well as more “traditional” Conservative organizations. Dugin has also influenced rightist movements throughout Europe, including the backers of the “Brexit” withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.
- Security experts reviewing data patterns possibly related to election interference found that a Trump business server was in regular communication with servers belonging to a Russian bank throughout the campaign. This server connection to Alfa Bank was most active during Business hours in New York and Moscow, indicating some kind of direct communication between parties vs. passive ad serving or something of the like. It also appears to have had particular spikes of activity involving Denial of Service (DNS) attacks during key moments in the campaign.
- The blogger behind Patribotics has put forth a speculative, but at least well-cited theory based on allegations that Alfa Bank and Dimitry Firtash, a Russian agent of influence, own Cambridge Analytica, the data targeting company used by Trump’s campaign, and its parent, self-described “global election management agency” SCL. The theory further alleges that Cambridge Analytica and SCL used Facebook data illegally stolen by a Russian spy working at Cambridge to build a target database of propaganda. In the closing days of the election, the Russian state hacked into the voter rolls of the United States. Russian intelligence did this in order that they could provide this information to Alfa Bank in order to use Cambridge Analytica’s targeting to precisely target voters and tip them to Trump. Paul Manafort, who has financial ties to Alfa Bank and Firtash, was involved in this effort.
- Five days before the election, the private plane of Putin government-connected Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev was parked next to Trump’s plane on the tarmac in Charlotte, NC. Trump spokesmen claim that they did not meet then, and have in fact never met, despite the fact that Trump sold a Palm Beach mansion to the Russian fertilizer magnate for $95 million in 2008. This is one of several times Ryoblev’s plane has been at an airport in close proximity to a Trump visit, and it should also be noted that Ryoblev’s chief aide is a former contributor to the London division of Trump Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s Breitbart.com.
- The alleged but not confirmed to be from real-White House staff RoguePOTUS Twitter account alleged that House Speaker Paul Ryan and Ryan-ally White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus had insisted that Vice President Mike Pence sit in on Trump’s 1/28/17 informal first call with Vladimir Putin, despite Trump’s reluctance, over concerns that the Russian leader does indeed have compromising material on the President. Trump’s behavior during the call was said to increase those concerns.
- Business Insider detailed on 2/11/17 that the timing of contacts between Trump campaign officials and supporters, actions by the campaign, and actions by the Russian government appear to support several of the allegations in the Steele dossier.
- I am extremely leery of “death lists” such as mysterious deaths associated with the JFK assassination, the Clinton “death list” etc. They tend to lump together genuine puzzlers with things that really aren’t that suspicious, have only a tangential relationship, and ignore the many not dead people also involved. But I will pass on this list of eight figures associated with the Steele dossier who have died. Some of these are not easy to directly relate to anything in particular, but others, like the deaths of Erovinkin & Oronov which are discussed in the above sections, are extremely interesting in terms of details and timing. I report, you decide.
- A Twitter user has put together a timeline of Attorney General Session’s contacts with Russian Ambassador Kisylak and statements by Russian officials during the October 2016 G20 summit that seems to show correspondences between positive changes in attitude toward U.S. relations by the Russian officials and Sessions’ meetings.
- Columnist and reporter Seth Abramson (Huffington Post, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times, Washington Post) has used Twitter to lay out a detailed theory on the Russia-Trump connection. It involves then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and son-in-law Jared Kushner arranging meetings in the Mayflower Hotel in April 2016 (at the same event mentioned in the section above where Trump now admits he did briefly meet Ambassador Kislyak) that involved Trump, Sessions, Kislyak, and the ambassadors of several countries involved in the Rosneft financial transaction mentioned in the Steele Dossier.
- WhoWhatWhy, an online news magazine founded by former Village Voice reporters and editors, has issued a 6,500 word expose alleging that the FBI cannot reveal the details of Trump’s contacts with Russia because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting organized crime figures tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and to Trump.
- Towards the end of a 4/13/17 article by the Guardian describing foreign intelligence agencies alerting the U.S. intelligence community to Trump campaign ties with Russia, there is the statement: ‘One source suggested the official investigation was making progress. “They now have specific concrete and corroborative evidence of collusion,” the source said. “This is between people in the Trump campaign and agents of [Russian] influence relating to the use of hacked material.”’ The source is unidentified and further details were not provided, so this needs to be treated with extreme caution. but, given The Guardian’s track record and journalistic quality, it shouldn’t be discounted either.
- The indefatigable Patribotics blogger published research on 4/23/17 linking Hostkey.com, a hacking and spamming company owned by hacker Peter Chayanov with Russian-based servers provided to Wikileaks shortly before the DNC e-mail leak. The blog provides further evidence that Ocean Way Capital, a Florida-based shell company that hosts Hostkey.com and all its servers, is linked to Russian-Ukranian money laundering to Trump-connected shell companies.
- It was reported on 5/11/17 that the FBI has raided the Annapolis office of Strategic Campaign Group, a Republican fundraising and campaign consulting firm in Maryland. The intent of the raid, and if it has any connection to the Russia investigation, is unclear at this time. It does appear that the firm has business ties to Trump and that one of its board members is also a former board member of BKSH & Associates, a lobbying firm whose founders include key Russia-investigation targets Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.
- A Russian citizen accused of being a hacker by both Russia and the U.S., Yevgeniy Nikulin, has claimed U.S. officials offered to cut him a deal in October 2016 if he admitted to interfering in the 2016 presidential election. Nikulin was arrested in the Czech Republic in connection with hacking charges, but it it not clear what role, if any, he actually plays in ongoing investigations.
While Vice President Michael Pence has thus far insisted that he did not know about the issues involving Flynn in advance, MSNBC has put together an overview indicating that Pence must have been well aware of charges and concerns about Flynn.
- Some legal observers see signs-such as the total public silence from his team, and his avoidance of testifying before Congress- that former National Security advisor Michael Flynn may be cooperating with federal prosecutors.
- It was reported on 6/28/17 that the FBI had interviewed multiple U.S.-based employees of the Russian cyber-security firm Kaspersky Lab. No specific link to the Russian election interference investigation has been established, but senior intelligence official’s concerns about Kapersky were discussed in several Russian investigation congressional committee hearings. Kaspersky Lab paid former national security adviser Michael Flynn $11,250 in 2015 for cyber-security consulting, according to public documents, but that was not a focus of the FBI questioning, multiple sources said.
- Columnist and reporter Seth Abramson (Huffington Post, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times, Washington Post) used Twitter to lay out a detailed timeline indicating that Donald Trump was aware of the meeting Donal Trump Jr. had with Russian sources offering information damaging to the Clinton campaign. It involves the fact that Trump was in Trump Tower that day for numerous other meetings with Manafort and Kushner involving opposition research, and the timeline of public mentions he made about Clinton and Russia shortly afterward.
- It was revealed on 7/13/17 that Peter Smith’s April 2017 death was from suicide. Smith was a political operative who had been recruiting hackers (including Russian) to recover missing e-mails from Hillary Clinton in October 2016 on behalf of the firm KLS Research, which he claimed Michael Flynn was affiliated with. I hesitate to include this here, as there is no indication of foul play- Smith was in his 80s, experiencing health problems, and had a large life insurance policy which was about to expire, a pretty common suicide set-up. But I’d hate to be accused of withholding information!
- Russia expert and Politics Professor at the University of Toronto Seva Gunitsky laid out his view in a 7/18/17 interview with Vox that improper financial ties with Russian interests, and not collusion, is likely to be the “real story” of the investigation.
- Wikileaks appears to be taking part in (or following) the Trump administration legal team’s strategy of trying to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller. A 7/30/17 tweet from the site released information that Mueller delivered enriched Uranium to Russia in 2009. Omitted was the context that Mueller did so in his capacity with the FBI, and that the sample was one that had been captured by Department of Energy representatives in the Republic of Georgia as part of an illegal transaction. It was being sent to Russia so that its unique signature could be tested against former-Soviet stockpiles as part of non-proliferation efforts.
- On 8/1/17, the Progressive think-tank Center for American Progress released a 50-page report making the case for collusion between Trump and his campaign and Russia. The report was released both of the CAP’s website, and distributed to Democrats in Congress to, in the words of senior strategic adviser for CAP Adam Jentleson, “Convey that it’s time to stop beating around the bush on Trump’s collusion with Russia. There is a mountain of evidence that Trump and his associates colluded with Russia and it’s time to start saying so.”
- The website Hamilton 68 is publishing an online dashboard tracking the activity of Twitter accounts for media outlets known to be controlled by the Russian government and pushed by “bot and troll” Twitter accounts frequently linked to Russian influence campaigns. The website is published by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a bipartisan group of foreign policy experts, and is an offshoot of the German Marshall Fund for the U.S., an organization that aims to “strengthen transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan.” One particular uptick noted on the site on 8/7/17 was bots that were targteing Paul Ryan with calls to resign just as he was beginning his recess in his home district.
- John Sipher and Steve Hall, two former CIA officials with expertise in Russia, penned an 8/2/17 New York Times editorial making the case that Russian collusion with the Trump campaign is plausible. They base this on examining the sequence of events from the June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and Russian representatives, subsequent activity by Wikileaks, and coordinated events between the Trump team and the Russian influence campaign, in light of their own professional experience of how Russian counterintelligence operations work.
- A CNN story on 8/3/17 mentions in passing that U.S. intelligence intercepts appear to reveal claims by Russian operatives indicating that Paul Manafort was in conversation with them about working together. In the summer of 2016, investigators became more suspicious when they turned up intercepted communications that U.S. intelligence agencies collected among suspected Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort to coordinate information that could damage Hillary Clinton’s election prospects. The suspected operatives relayed what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians. I’m leaving this in this section for the time being, as there isn’t more detail on the kinds of U.S. officials the story is sourced from, or corroboration from news agencies.
- Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz has put forth a theory that Robert Mueller has located the grand jury in Washington D.C. in order to stack it with jurors who are likely to be hostile to Trump. He explains this as the reason that an already-enpaneled FBI investigation jury in Alexandria, Virginia is not being used. Legal experts counter that juries have to be located in a locale where the crimes occured (in which case Washington D.C. would be the appropriate venue depending on the main charges in view), and in any case, other potentianl sites, like Alexandria or New York City, would not be any more likely to produce Trump-friendly juries.
- One amusing tea leaf to watch regarding Trump’s intentions is the National Enquirer. Throught the 2016 campaign, and since the inauguration, the Enquirer, which is run by a long-time Trump supporter, has consistently run stories praising Trump and highlighting often lurid charges against his adversaries. If so, Trump does not seem likely to be supporting Paul Manafort as the FBI targets him, given 8/9/17 Enquirer headline “Trump Advisor Sex Scandal—Paul Manafort’s Sick Affair: Target in FBI-Russia probe also cheated with a woman half his age!”.
- In one of his signature Twitter-thread speculations, columnist and reporter Seth Abramson (Huffington Post, Dallas Morning News, Seattle Times, Washington Post) makes a case that a comparison of the official preview text of Trump’s speech at the April 2016 conference in the Mayflower Hotel to his ad-lib comments that night reveals that Trump was signalling to Russia a desire to cooperate with them. Conference attendees included senior campaign officials, Jeff Sessions, and Russian diplomats including Ambassador Sergey Kisylak.
- On 9/5/17 a Russian politician threatened to “hit Donald Trump with our Kompromat” on state TV. Nikita Isaev, leader of the far-right New Russia Movement, said the compromising material should be released in retaliation over the closure of several Russian diplomatic compounds across the US. When asked whether Russia has such material, Mr Isaev, who is also director of the Russian Institute of Contemporary Economics, replied: “Of course we have it!”. Isaev is an extremist politician known for over the top pronouncements, so you may want to take the statement with all appropriate grains of salt.
- On 9/11/17 Russian politican Vyacheslav Nikonov mocked how U.S. intelligence “missed it when Russian intelligence stole the president of the United States.” Nikonov, a member of the Russian parliamentary body, the Duma, made the remarks on the panel show “Sunday Evening with Vladimir Solovyov” on an episode discussing the decline of U.S. power in the world. As with Isaev’s comments above, Russian politicans speaking for TV audiences should be taken with a grain of salt. University of Virginia professor Allen Lynch has offered the opinion that Nikonov was less stating the extent of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, and more mocking the resulting chaos as emblematic of U.S. weakness.
- Vanity Fair ran a story on 9/17/17 making the case that the data operation Jared Kusnhner was in charge of gave Russian interetsts the data needed to target their social media campaigns. The piece, speculative in tone, notes possible connections between the Russian social media efforts and the data from Cambridge Analytica, a firm which was working for the Trump campaign.
- A 9/18/17 piece by former Federal Prosecurtor Renato Mariotti speculates on the case Robert Mueller’s team is building. Mariotti sees evidence that the team is preparing for indictments against Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. And such indictments may be standalone, and not relate to the rest of the main body of the investigation, which includes a focus on possible Trump administration obstruction of justice, the details of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with representatives of Russian interests promising information damaging to Clinton as part of official Rusisan support for Trump, the mechanics of the Russian social media influence campaign, and some form of money laundering or financial impropriety. Mariotti expects the investigation will not conclude before the end of the year, and that the charges Mueller brings will likely be narrower and more targeted than many observers expect.
- Vox ran a profile on 10/22/17 of Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics firm linked to Trump associates that is being examined as part of the Russia investigation. Investigators are particularly interested in whether the firm played any role in providing data analytics that enabled the Russians to do precision targeting of their social media efforts during the 2016 election.
- NBC reported on 11/17/17 that a Turkish/Iranian gold trader with ties to Turkish President Recep Erdoganmay may be cooperating with Federal prosecutors looking in to ties between Michael Flynn and the Turkish government. Reza Zarrab, who faces charges in federal court in Manhattan for skirting sanctions with Iran by allegedly moving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government and Iranian firms via offshore entities and bank accounts, is now cooperating with federal prosecutors. Several legal experts say prosecutors may be seeking any information Zarrab has about any ties between the Turkish government and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.
- An 11/24/17 Newsweek column lays out the case the always-interesting Seth Abramson makes that the information-sharing deal between President Donald Trump’s legal team and that of former national security adviser Mike Flynn has been a “scandal,” and could be construed as form of witness tampering. The conclusion of cooperation between Flynn and Trump’s teams has caused many observers to believe that Flynn is formally cooperating with Mueller’s investigation in preparation for some kind of plea bargain.
- In a 12/11/17 piece in the New Yorker, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin describes the reaction of Trump’s legal team to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s guilty plea. The article also discusses how Flynn’s plea fits into the larger picture of possible cases for collusion and obstruction of justice.
- A 12/6/17 article on CNN calls in to question Vice President Mike Pence’s insistence that he didn’t know about National Security advisor Michael Flynn’s December 2016 contacts with Russia’s ambassador to discuss sanctions. The article points to evidence released following Flynn’s 12/1/17 guilty plea showing that a wide group of people in the Trump transition team were aware of the contacts, raising the question about how Pence, as head of the transition team, could then have been in the dark about them.
- McClatchy reported on 12/28/17 that a Russian hacker who claimed he hacked the Democratic National Committee on orders from a high-level Russian security official now says he planted personal details in DNC servers that can prove he was behind the break-in. Konstantin Kozlovsky told RAIN television that he hid his passport number and visa number for a visit to St. Martin in a data file on the DNC systems so that he could prove his story later. The new detail bolsters Kozlovsky’s credibility as he awaits trial in an unrelated bank hacking case. Previously, the Russian security official has denied Kozlovsky’s claims—but the official he claims to have worked with, Dmitry Dokuchaev, is himself being held on secret charges of treason.
- On 1/4/18 advance word from journalist Michael Wolff’s insider expose of the Trump administration Fire and Fury began to leak. While the administration dismissed the book as rumor-filled and inaccurate, Wolff has the visitor logs to indicate White House access, claims to have hundreds of hours of recordings, and the contents of several specific conversations quoted have been corroborated by participants. Prominently featured in the book were several comments from interviews with former chief strategist Steve Bannon concerning the Russia investigation:
- Regarding the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting- “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
- Further on the meeting– “The chance that Don. Jr did not walk these Jumos up to his father’s office on the 26th floor is zero.”
- Bannon also reportedly stated that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is centered on money laundering, saying that the White House is “sitting on a beach trying to stop a Category Five” hurricane.
Further on Mueller’s investigation- “Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner. They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
- And Jared Kushner- “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit. The Kushner shit is greasy.”
- In promotional interviews Wolff indicated that while White House insiders reject collusion charges, they do think Trump’s financial affairs are a potential problem. “People don’t think in the White House — don’t think that he colluded with Russia. They do think that if the investigation goes near his finances, he’s sunk.”
- The Associated Press carried a story on 1/17/18 reviewing Trump’s performance during previous legal questioning as it relates to what kind of witness he might be when interviewed by the Special Counsel. Per the story: “The transcripts reveal a witness who is by turns voluble, giving expansive answers far beyond the questions asked; boastful, using unrelated queries to expound on his wealth or popularity; unapologetic, swift to defend incendiary comments or criticized actions; and occasionally combative, once deriding a lawyer for “very stupid” questions. The garrulous style belies the “just the facts, ma’am” approach many defense lawyers advocate.”
- The Guardian reported on 1/30/18 that the FBI is reviewing a second dossier alleging collusion between President Trump and Russia. The dossier was written by former journalist and political activist Cody Shearer, and despite being viewed skeptically by media organizations he shared it with prior to the election, the bureau is still investigating its veracity. The memo was given to the FBI in 2016 by former British spy Christopher Steele, after the bureau asked him to “provide any documents or evidence that could be useful in its investigation.” Steele reportedly told the bureau he couldn’t vouch for the credibility of Shearer’s memo, “but that he was providing a copy because it corresponded with what he had separately heard from his own independent sources.”