One year ago today, US deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein made an announcement that has helped define Donald Trump’s presidency—he appointed former FBI chief Robert Mueller as a special counsel to probe possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.
The Justice Department’s order authorizes Mueller to investigate any “links and/or coordination” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, matters that “arise from the investigation,” and to “prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.” Citing the “unique circumstances” of the case, Rosenstein said he was putting the investigation “under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”
So 365 days later, where are we? You can find the special counsel’s orders and indictments on the FBI’s website here.
This includes 13 Russians, four Trump campaign officials, one Dutch lawyer, and one Californian fraudster. Three companies have also been indicted.
Alex Van Der Zwaan, a Dutch lawyer who worked with former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, was locked up for 30 days and handed a $20,000 fine for lying to FBI agents about his contacts with former campaign chair Paul Manafort’s right-hand-man, Rick Gates.
Five guilty pleas
- George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign’s former foreign policy advisor, admitted to lying to the FBI about his contact with a professor who had promised him “dirt” on Hillary Clinton during the campaign (Oct. 5, 2017).
- Michael Flynn, the Trump government’s former national security advisor, also admitted he lied to the FBI about his encounter with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak (Dec. 1, 2017).
- Richard Pinedo, a man from Santa Paula, California, admitted to identity theft. He used his service, Auction Essistance, which provided bank account numbers to help conduct online transactions circumventing security measures. He unlawfully held identity records that were used in the Russian election meddling (Feb. 17, 2018).
- Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to lying to the authorities about work done with Manafort and Gates to defend the pro-Russia Ukrainian government from charges of political persecution (Feb. 20, 2018).
- Rick Gates, Manafort’s business partner and Trump campaign official, pleaded guilty to one false statement and conspiracy against the US, admitting to hiding the money he made in Ukraine from the US authorities, and lying about the details of a meeting between Manafort and a pro-Russia Congress member (Feb. 23, 2018).
One big holdout
Aside from the 13 Russians—whom Mueller can’t extradite—Manafort is the lone holdout among the gaggle of indictees. Mueller has hit him with five counts, including a “conspiracy against the United States” and laundering more than $30 million, but the former spin doctor to Kremlin-friendly Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych has refused to buckle—despite longtime number two Gates turning state’s witness against him. Instead, Manafort has got creative, launching a countersuit—which a judge has dismissed—claiming Mueller over-reached beyond his authority. A trial in Virginia is set for July 10 and in Washington for Sept. 17.
Dozens of witnesses interviewed
The list of witnesses included Trump campaign officials, several Russian professionals and oligarchs, and a handful of US private company executives.
The biggest figures yet to face Mueller’s team are all members of the Trump family. The president himself is in protracted negotiations (paywall) about whether he’ll go head-to-head with prosecutors, while Mueller seems to be waiting to leave Trump’s children to interview last.
Donald Trump Jr, however, has appeared in front of the Senate Committee for the Judiciary to answer questions about a meeting held in Moscow’s Trump Tower in June 2016. Jared Kushner, a White House senior advisor and Trump’s son-in-law, has declined to appear in front of the committee, but submitted a statement. The Committee for the Judiciary has yet to share a conclusion from its hearing. Meanwhile, the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russian meddling did happen and was intended to favor Trump. Neither Senate Committees have the power to press charges.
A whole other investigation
Mueller has handed the Southern District of New York information on Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen, spurring a separate investigation that saw the FBI raid Cohen’s apartment, office, and hotel room. The probe has enraged Trump, who could end up heavily exposed by prosecutors rifling through decades of documents kept by his attorney. Cohen has a penchant for recording phone calls.
No end in sight
The country remains bitterly divided over the results of the 2016 election, and grows more so over Trump’s unprecedented conduct while in office, which has included attacking the US intelligence community, threatening trade wars with allies, pulling the US out of international agreements, and trying to deport as many as a million predominantly non-white residents.
That split is being mined by right-wing news outlets, including Fox News, which have attacked Mueller (a life-long Republican) and his team, while discounting the significance of the investigation. Trump tweeted on today’s Mueller-versary that it was the “greatest Witch Hunt in American History,” despite that fact that a Republican-led Senate committee yesterday agreed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
There’s no specific legal deadline for Mueller to finish the investigation, but this November’s midterms amount to a political one, as the Wall Street Journal reports (paywall). At some point this summer, “Justice Department habits dictate he would have to go dark so he doesn’t appear to be trying to sway voters’ decisions” at the polls.
Already, the scope appears to be staggering. Mueller’s team knows “more about the [Trump] campaign than any one person does who worked there,” former campaign aide Micheal Caputo told Fox on May 3.