Mueller Accomplished A Lot In The First Year Of The Russian Investigation
Thursday, May 17 will mark a year since Robert S. Mueller III was appointed to lead the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. And the special counsel has been busy in the last 12 months, to say the least. Looking back at it, here's what Mueller accomplished in his first year of the investigation.
The investigation by the bureau into whether members of the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian nationals to sway the 2016 election began in July of that year. On January 13 and 25, 2017, two Senate and House committees, respectively, launched investigations of their own. These committees were joined in their efforts by two other Congressional committees, which opened their investigations the following month.
But it wasn't until later that spring the Mueller stepped on scene, and it's been a whirlwind since. As the investigation begins its second year, the investigation has yet to directly reach President Donald Trump, but it has already ensnared a head-spinning number of people with connections to him and his inner circle.
"They're not messing around," Christopher Ruddy, a friend of Trump's and chief executive of Newsmax, told The Washington Post of the investigators. "They're going very quickly. The number of indictments, pleas and other moves is just amazing. I think it will come to a head quicker than other investigations."
The president seems eager to put to bed what's become more than just a small thorn in his side. (To date, Trump has called the Mueller investigation a "witch hunt" on Twitter 42 times since taking office.) As of now, the special counsel has indicted 19 individuals and three business entities in its probe, and there's no sense that the investigation is anywhere near finished.
Mueller became the lead on the investigation following Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017. In an official document, the Department of Justice (DOJ) appointed Mueller a couple weeks later, on May 17, and gave him authority to carry out the investigation. Under its scope, the special counsel would be authorized to investigate:
[A]ny links and or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.
Mueller wasted no time in getting his hands dirty, and it quickly became clear that the probe wouldn't be limited to the Russian's pre-election hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails. In June, it was reported the the special counsel was also investigating the president for obstruction of justice for firing Comey.
As the investigation proceeded, in a July interview with The New York Times, Trump said it would be crossing a line if Mueller were to probe into his or his family's finances or personal business dealings. (At the time, he didn't say whether he'd fire Mueller if that came to pass.)
And in the months since, the president has debated the possibility of dismissing Mueller — and very nearly has — though that action has yet to come to fruition. Trump, it was reported in January 2018, had ordered Mueller fired as early as June 2017, but backed down when his counsel threatened to quit if he did so.
On Oct. 30, Mueller indicted former Trump campaign staffer Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates in a 31-page filing. The two men were charged on 12 counts, including violations of foreign agent laws, money laundering, and more.
At the same time, unsealed documents from Oct. 5 revealed Mueller had bagged another campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, with a guilty plea.
Michael Flynn, Trump's former National Security Adviser, pleaded guilty after being indicted by Mueller, and also began cooperating with the special counsel.
In fact, the special counsel was just getting warmed up. On Feb. 16, Mueller indicted a whopping 13 individuals and three other entities, many of them Russian. Yes, a full baker's dozen came on the chopping block in one fell swoop.
But that wasn't even all of it. Alex van der Zwaan and Richard Pinedo were also separately indicted on the same day as the Feb. 16 haul. Van der Zwaan pleaded guilty on Feb. 20, joining the ranks of those now on Team Mueller.
As the one-year mark approaches, the president still has yet to speak to the special counsel. Though Trump has long proffered his willingness to sit for an interview with Mueller, his legal team told The Associated Press on Friday that he wouldn't make a decision on whether to do so until after talks with North Korea.
Previously, Trump had expressed wanting to commit to an interview by the one-year mark on Thursday, though that deadline now appears to be moot, according to AP.
Trump and those in his inner circle are also under scrutiny by the bureau for a second investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been leading an investigation into Michael Cohen, the president's attorney, who admitted to paying off adult film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to prevent her from speaking publicly about an alleged fair with Trump from 2006. (Trump has publicly denied allegations of an affair with Daniels.) Cohen said he paid Daniels $130,000 out of pocket to seal their non-disclosure deal, and thus the payments would not constitute a campaign finance law violations.
The FBI raided Cohen's office and residence in early April, seeking evidence regarding the pre-election expenditures. The referral to carry out the raid came from Mueller and was approved by Rosenstein. While Mueller isn't directly involved in this investigation, the Times reports, if the material the raid yielded contains any information that pertains to Mueller's Russian investigation, it's fair game for the special counsel. Cohen, who played a key role in Trump's campaign and has connections of his own with Russia, is also within Mueller's scope of investigation regardless.
But in an interview on May 3, Rudy Giuliani, the latest addition to Trump's legal team, contradicted the claims of his own defense's case regarding the payment. Speaking to Fox News host Sean Hannity, Giuliani said that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for the Daniels payoff, going against a previous defense by Trump that he wasn't aware of it.
A Washington Post report Monday, revealed that the president is getting pretty antsy about both investigations that encircle him and his associates. According to the Post, aides say Trump talks about the FBI's raid of Cohen "about 20 times a day," and has mentioned the need for "better TV lawyers" to defend him and his reputation on-air. And if the second year is anything like the first, his worry is understandable.