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Mueller’s Russia probe: What the special counsel is investigating

Mueller’s Russia probe: What the special counsel is investigating

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On May 17, 2017, the Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III to serve as special counsel to oversee the ongoing FBI investigation of Russia’s effort to influence the 2016 presidential election and whether the Russian government coordinated with associates of Donald Trump. Mueller, who also was authorized to examine other issues that might arise from the investigation, has led a wide-ranging inquiry.

These are five areas his team is known to be investigating.

Financial dealings

Prosecutors are scrutinizing the financial dealings of President Trump’s associates, including his former campaign chairman’s previous consulting work in Ukraine and the business practices of his personal lawyer.

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Russian interference

Mueller is examining how Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential campaign, including through the circulation of fake news and divisive Internet memes and the hacking of Democratic emails.

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Campaign coordination

Mueller is investigating contacts between Trump’s associates and people working on behalf of Russians to determine whether there is evidence that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the campaign.

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Transition contacts

Mueller is looking into communications between the Russians and Trump officials during the transition period after Trump was elected but before his inauguration.

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Obstruction of justice

Prosecutors are focusing on whether actions by Trump and his associates after he took office indicate an effort to obstruct the Russia investigation.

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Financial dealings

Prosecutors are scrutinizing the financial dealings of President Trump’s associates, including his former campaign chairman’s previous consulting work in Ukraine and the business practices of his personal lawyer.

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Key figures

Key events

PAYMENTS TO FLYNN FROM FOREIGN INTERESTS

Former Trump national security adviser Michael T. Flynn filed paperwork in March 2017 registering as a foreign agent for work he did during the campaign on behalf of a client with links to the Turkish government.

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BUSINESS ASSOCIATE WITH TIES TO RUSSIAN INTELLIGENCE

In fall 2016, London-based lawyer Alex van der Zwaan had contact with a business associate of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates. Van der Zwaan later told prosecutors that Gates had told him that the Manafort associate had been an officer with the Russian military intelligence service. Van der Zwaan pleaded guilty in February to lying to the FBI about his contact with the man.

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THE UKRAINE DEALINGS

From 2006 to 2017, federal prosecutors say, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates acted as unregistered agents for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine and engaged in schemes to hide their money and dodge taxes. The men made tens of millions of dollars for their work. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to dozens of charges. Gates pleaded guilty in February to conspiracy and lying to the FBI, striking a deal to cooperate and provide information.

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COHEN SEEKS CORPORATE CLIENTS

After President Trump’s inauguration, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen collected millions of dollars from corporate clients while touting his access to the new president. Two of the companies that hired him, AT&T and Novartis, have provided information to the special counsel about their dealings with him.

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Russian interference

Mueller is examining how Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential campaign, including through the circulation of fake news and divisive Internet memes and the hacking of Democratic emails.

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Key figures

Key events

WIKILEAKS AND DC LEAKS RELEASES

Starting in June 2016, a website called DC Leaks and then the transparency group WikiLeaks began publicly releasing emails and other documents hacked from Democratic accounts. The U.S. government has assessed that Russia was behind the hacks and document releases.

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PROBING OF ELECTION VOTING SYSTEMS

Russian government hackers targeted voter registration files or public election officials in 21 states during the 2016 presidential campaign, federal officials have said. In only a handful of states did hackers actually penetrate computer systems, officials said, and there is no evidence that they tampered with voting machines.

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SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGN

The Internet Research Agency, a troll farm based in St. Petersburg, Russia, engaged in a broad a campaign to use social media to divide Americans, hurt Hillary Clinton and promote Donald Trump, according to court documents. As part of the efforts — which began in 2014 and continued through the election — Russians bought Facebook ads, impersonated Americans and organized rallies in support of the Trump campaign.

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Campaign coordination

Mueller is investigating contacts between Trump’s associates and people working on behalf of Russians to determine whether there is evidence that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to interfere in the campaign.

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Key figures

Key events

RUSSIA’S FACEBOOK OFFERS HELP TO TRUMP’S CAMPAIGN

An executive at Vkontakte, or VK, Russia’s equivalent to Facebook, emailed Donald Trump Jr. and Dan Scavino Jr., the White House’s social media director, in January and again in November 2016, offering to help promote Donald Trump’s presidential campaign to its nearly 100 million users.

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COHEN REACHES OUT TO PUTIN’S SPOKESMAN

In January 2016, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen sent an email to a general email address for Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, asking for help on a stalled Trump Tower deal in Moscow. Cohen told congressional investigators that Felix Sater, a Russian American businessman, encouraged him to write the email. Cohen has said he did not receive a reply.

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NRA CONVENTION

At the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in May 2016, Donald Trump Jr. briefly met Alexander Torshin, a Russian central banker and former senator. In emails, people around Torshin tried unsuccessfully to get the campaign to set up a meeting for him with then-candidate Donald Trump.

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KISLYAK TALKS WITH KUSHNER AND SESSIONS

In April 2016, Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, attended then-candidate Donald Trump’s first major foreign policy speech, at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has said he briefly met Kislyak at the event, as did now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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PAPADOPOULOS RUSSIA OUTREACH

George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, sent emails in May and June 2016 to campaign staff members describing his interactions with a London-based professor and a Russian academic with ties to the Russian foreign ministry. Papadopoulos encouraged the campaign to allow him to set up meetings for Donald Trump or campaign staff members and senior Russians.

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TRUMP TOWER MEETING

On June 9, 2016, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met at Trump Tower in New York with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who Trump Jr. was told had potentially damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. has said that the meeting lasted no more than 30 minutes and that the lawyer had no useful information about Clinton.

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KISLYAK AT THE RNC

Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, spoke with then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and J.D. Gordon at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.

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STONE TELLS ASSOCIATES OF CONTACT WITH ASSANGE

Two associates of Roger Stone say Stone claimed in 2016 to have had contact with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange — including one who said the conversation occurred before it was publicly known that hackers had obtained the emails of John D. Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and of the Democratic National Committee. Stone has denied that he had any communication with Assange and that he knew in advance about the document dumps by WikiLeaks.

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DONALD TRUMP JR. COMMUNICATES WITH WIKILEAKS

Donald Trump’s eldest son exchanged private messages with WikiLeaks during the campaign at the same time the website was publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials. Donald Trump Jr. did not respond to many of the notes, which were sent using the direct message feature on Twitter. But he alerted senior advisers on his father’s campaign, including his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, according to two people familiar with the exchanges. In the messages, WikiLeaks urged Trump Jr. to promote its trove of hacked Democratic emails and suggested that Donald Trump challenge the election results if he did not win, among other ideas.

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PAGE’S RUSSIAN CONTACTS

In July 2016, Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page traveled to Russia, where he delivered a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School in which he publicly criticized U.S. foreign policy. He acknowledged briefly greeting a Russian government official during the trip but denied soliciting or receiving Russian help for the campaign. After stepping down from his campaign post, he traveled to Moscow and London in December 2016 to meet with Russian contacts. At the time, he was under FBI surveillance.

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Transition contacts

Mueller is looking into communications between the Russians and Trump officials during the transition period after Trump was elected but before his inauguration.

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Key figures

Key events

KUSHNER-GORKOV MEETING

In December 2016, Jared Kushner met with Russian banker Sergey Gorkov. Gorkov’s bank, VEB, said that the meeting was to discuss business and that he spoke to Kushner in his role with his family’s real estate business. The White House has said the meeting was one of many introductory diplomatic meetings Kushner held during the presidential transition.

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FLYNN CONTACTS WITH KISLYAK

In December 2016, national security adviser-designate Michael T. Flynn spoke with Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the United States, about the incoming administration’s opposition to a U.N. resolution condemning Israeli settlements as illegal and requested that Russia vote against it or delay it, according to court records. The ambassador later called back and indicated that Russia would not vote against it, the records say. A week later, on the day that President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Moscow, Flynn spoke to Kislyak and asked that Russia not escalate the situation. The next day, Kislyak called Flynn and told him that Russia had decided not to respond to the sanctions, per his request, court documents say.

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KUSHNER DISCUSSES SECRET COMMUNICATION CHANNEL WITH KREMLIN

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communication channel between the Trump transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

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THE SEYCHELLES MEETING

In January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the private security company Blackwater, met with a Russian official close to Russian President Vladi­mir Putin in the Seychelles. Prince testified to Congress that the meeting was a chance encounter afer he was invited to the island by contacts from the United Arab Emirates, but special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has been looking into whether the meeting was an effort to establish a back channel between President Trump and Russia.

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Obstruction of justice

Prosecutors are focusing on whether actions by Trump and his associates after he took office indicate an effort to obstruct the Russia investigation.

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Key figures

Key events

COMEY FIRING

In February 2017, then-FBI Director James B. Comey had a meeting with President Trump in which the president pressured him to drop an investigation of former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn, Comey said. In other conversations, Trump repeatedly pressed the FBI director to state publicly that he was not personally under investigation. Comey did not, and Trump fired him in May 2017. Days later, during an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt, Trump said that he thought “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats” when he decided to fire Comey.

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SESSIONS’S RECUSAL

President Trump was incensed when Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced in March 2016 that he was recusing himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, leaving Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein in charge. Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to call Sessions to try to persuade him to reverse his decision.

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DISCUSSION OF FIRING MUELLER

In June 2016, weeks after Robert S. Mueller III was appointed, President Trump railed to White House staff members about his desire to fire the special counsel, according to people familiar with the incident. White House counsel Don McGahn told an associate that he was prepared to resign if Trump issued an order, but the president did not.

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AIR FORCE ONE STATEMENT

While flying home from a summit in Germany aboard Air Force One, President Trump directed that a misleading statement be issued from his son Donald Trump Jr. about the meeting he had with a Russian lawyer a year earlier.

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