Thursday is the first anniversary of Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel, and President Trump’s legal team is planning to mark the occasion by turning up the pressure to shut down the probe.
“We are going to try as best we can to put the message out there that it has been a year, there has been no evidence presented of collusion or obstruction, and it is about time for them to end the investigation,” Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, told Bloomberg.
In several dozen tweets over the last year, Trump has insisted that there was “no collusion” with Russia, and Mueller hasn’t produced any evidence to the contrary — which is why he’s shifted his focus to obstruction. This idea is now seen as fact among many Trump supporters.
What constitutes “proof” of “collusion” depends on how one defines those terms. However, the Mueller probe has already yielded ample evidence of Russia’s efforts to make sure Trump won the 2016 election, and the connections between Trump associates and Russia — plus other crimes that fall under Mueller’s mandate.
With all the leaks and speculation about what Mueller might be up to, it can be hard to sort out what he and his team have actually found over the last year. Here’s everything we’ve learned from the special counsel so far.
George Papadopoulos Lied to the FBI About Russian Contacts
• In October 2017, court documents revealed that George Papadopoulos, a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign, had been arrested as part of the Mueller investigation in July 2017. He pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with the Russians — specifically, “the timing, extent and nature of his relationships and interactions with certain foreign nationals whom he understood to have close connections with senior Russian government officials.”
• Papadopoulos took a plea deal and has been cooperating with Mueller’s team. He’s yet to be sentenced, and last month prosecutors delayed a court hearing on the status of his case to May 23.
• The court documents say Papadopoulos claimed he met a London-based professor with extensive ties to Russian government officials (who reports identified as Joseph Mifsud) before joining the Trump campaign. Mifsud actually took an interest in Papadopoulos shortly after he joined the Trump campaign, and during a meeting in April the professor “told him about the Russians possessing ‘dirt’ on then-candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of ‘thousands of emails,’” according to prosecutors. The conversation happened weeks before the Democratic National Committee revealed it had been hacked, and about a month after Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta was targeted with a phishing attempt.
• Around the same time, Papadopoulos met a Russian woman that he believed had ties to the Russian government as well. Over several months, Papadopoulos repeatedly tried to use his new associates’ connections to set up a meeting between top Trump campaign and Russian government officials — making it clear that Putin was interested in meeting Trump personally.
• Sometimes campaign officials ignored or rebuffed Papadopoulos, but at one point a high-level campaign official (believed to be then-campaign manager Paul Manafort) emailed another top official: “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”
• In August 2016 another top campaign official (said to be national campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis) urged Papadopoulos to meet with Russians to foster ties with their government, saying, “Make the trip, if it is feasible.”
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates Allegedly Laundered Millions, Conspired Against U.S.
• On October 30, 2017, the same day Papadopoulos’s plea deal was unveiled, the special counsel announced charges against Manafort and his longtime business associate Rick Gates, who was also his deputy on the Trump campaign. The 12-count indictment included charges of “conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.”
Prosecutors described an elaborate bank fraud and money laundering scheme linked to Manafort and Gates’s work for pro-Russian political parties in Ukraine. They said this went on from 2006 to at least 2016, but the charges were not linked to their work on the Trump campaign. (Conspiracy against the U.S. sounds dramatic but it can mean making false statements about your work with a foreign government.)
• In February 2018 Mueller filed new charges against Manafort and Gates, accusing them of laundering $30 million, failing to pay U.S. taxes for almost a decade, and using their real-estate holdings to fraudulently secure $20 million in loans.
• Mueller’s attempt to turn up the pressure worked — on Gates, at least. In February 2018 he agreed to cooperate with the special counsel and pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy against the United States and one count of making false statements to FBI agents. Nearly two dozen more serious charges were dropped, and he’s awaiting sentencing.
• Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges. His lawyers tried to have his case dismissed, arguing that Mueller doesn’t have the authority to charge him with crimes outside of Russian election interference. This week a judge rejected that claim, clearing the way for his trial to start in September. (He’s facing a separate trial that’s set to start in July.) If found guilty on all charges, Manafort faces 305 years in prison.
A Dutch Lawyer Is Already Serving Time
• Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his connection to Gates, and was sentenced to 30 days in prison and a $20,000 fine. He is the first person sentenced in the probe and is currently serving his prison sentence at a low-security facility in Pennsylvania.
Michael Flynn Lied to the FBI About the Russian Ambassador
• On December 1, 2017, former national-security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition period. Court documents reveal that despite what Flynn told agents in January 2017, his talks with Kislyak were part of a coordinated effort by the Trump team to influence foreign policy before the inauguration.
• The documents say that a “very senior member” of the transition team (reportedly Jared Kushner) directed Flynn to discuss a United Nations resolution with Kislyak. Flynn admitting to asking Kislyak on December 22, 2016, to delay or defeat a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Israel for its settlement policy. The Obama administration opted to abstain and the resolution passed.
• Flynn also admitted to talking with Kislyak on December 29 to urge Russia not to retaliate when President Obama imposed new sanctions over Russia’s election meddling. The court documents say he conferred with other top members of the Trump team several times, but it’s not clear what Trump himself knew. The next day President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would not retaliate against the U.S. for the sanctions.
• In the five months since Flynn pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the special counsel, his sentencing has been delayed several times. Mueller’s team is now expected to update the court by June 29.
Russians Engaged in an Elaborate Scheme to Sway the Election in Trump’s Favor
• On February 16, 2018, Mueller charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies with engaging in propaganda efforts intended to disrupt the 2016 election. While the indictments support the U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia was working to help Trump, the court documents do not address the hacking of Democrats. Instead, they focus on a Russian social-media push that began in 2014 with the goal of stirring division and shaking people’s faith in the U.S. election system, but eventually shifted to backing Trump.
• Court documents allege that the Internet Research Firm, a Russian troll farm, set out to conduct “information warfare” against the U.S. The company had a hundreds of workers and a multimillion-dollar budget, supplied by companies linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg businessman with ties to Putin.
• Russians impersonated American citizens on social media and occasionally in person, posing as activists online, buying ads, and organizing rallies.
• Some of the Russians were in contact with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign,” but no Americans were accused of knowingly participating in Russia’s scheme. Mueller reached a plea deal with Richard Pinedo, a California man who committed identity fraud when he unknowingly sold bank-account numbers created using the stolen identities of U.S. citizens to Russians.
• None of the Russians are in custody and it’s unlikely that they will ever be tried. Naming them makes it harder for them to continue their secretive work, or travel abroad. Plus, it theoretically refutes the claim that Russia’s election meddling was a hoax — though of course, Trump cherry-picked from the indictment, falsely claiming that it proved “the results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong — no collusion!”