Mueller’s Russia Probe - What it is, what it has done, what it is doing, and what it will do.
By Bill Phan
Since the investigation has passed the one-year mark, it has cast a shadow over the whole of American politics and the administration of our Commander-in-Chief and is unlikely to be lifted any time soon.
Foreshadowing of the investigation is possible around late 2013 when President Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort was interviewed multiple times by the FBI, according to the Washington Post. Trump-Russian communication ranged from business to politics, with records of emails and phone calls linking Trump’s staff to Putin’s.
In early March, Russian hackers began targeting the US, specifically infrastructure. Around this time, Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, received an email seemingly warning of an imminent hacking. The hacking was later linked to Russia’s Intelligence Service and John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee’s stolen emails were released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016, according to the Washington Post.
On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints former Director of the FBI Robert Mueller III as Special Counsel for the investigation. Trump then publicly denounced Mueller and the investigation, calling it a “witchhunt” on Twitter and demanding the firing of Mueller, according to the Washington Post.
The investigation has already indicted nineteen people and three corporations. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security advisor, and George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign’s foreign policy advisor both pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI. Manafort was indicted on charges of “conspiracy, money laundering, false statements, and failure to disclose foreign assets”. He has pleaded not guilty to all of these charges and is going to trial in Virginia in July, according to reports by the Washington Post and Vox.
The future of the investigation is, at the very least, uncertain. People high up the Republican food chain has joined Trump in trying to discredit the probe. Vice President Pence and other officials have called for the investigation to be wrapped up. Public confidence in Mueller is also predicted to falter if the investigation goes on for longer, according to the Washington Post. “We want to get the investigation over, done with,” Trump said last month. “Put it behind us.”
On April 19, Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York was brought on as an attorney for Trump. When he was brought on, he predicted that the investigation will end within two weeks. He now seems uncertain on its future. He is seen as being very close to Trump, something that cannot be said about his relationship with other White House staffers, notably the Chief of Staff John Kelly. Kelly and Giuliani seem to have a rather icy working relationship, according to the Washington Post.
The New York Times acquired a list of nineteen questions the Mueller team would like to ask Mr. Trump. The team gave these questions to Trump’s lawyers. These nineteen questions range from Michael Flynn’s actions, to James Comey, former FBI Director and his relationship with Trump, to Jeff Sessions, Attorney General, and his (and his department’s) relationship with Trump.
The questions regarding Michael Flynn were about his phone calls with Russian officials, possible obstruction of justice on his part, and why Donald Trump fired him. They also inquired about Trump possibly giving Flynn a pardon if he starts to cooperate with the FBI.
Questions related to James Comey are primarily about Trump’s meetings with Comey in early 2017. The President, Comey testified, seemed to demand, or at least, highly valued, his loyalty and tried to sway him into “letting Flynn go”. Comey’s firing by Trump was also part of the questions. “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
The questions Mueller wants to ask regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions are about Sessions’ alleged loyalty or disloyalty to Trump, something Trump has accused him of multiple times. Sessions submitted his resignation, which Trump refused after humiliating him in the Oval Office.
Questions about Russian interference were also present in the New York Times’ list. They involved inquiry into a Trump Tower meeting orchestrated by Trump’s eldest son and aid, Donald Trump Jr., and was between him, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, Paul Manafort, and a Russian lawyer who promised political dirt on Hillary Clinton. It also asked Trump what he knew or knows about the Russian hacking and social media campaigns, and if he knew of any outreach in his staff’s part (specifically Paul Manafort) to Russia.
As the investigation is ramped up by Mueller, Trump’s team is bound to fight back. Rudy Giuliani was hired by Trump because Trump was attracted to Giuliani’s aggressive style of politics, a style which he so prominently embodies himself. As Mueller uncovers more and more evidence and prepares to file lawsuits against already indicted people and newly incriminated individuals, the American public should prepare for even more shocking revelations that will test the Founding Fathers’ experiment in possibly the most rigorous ways, shaking the foundations of American democracy itself.