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On Friday, William Barr, Trump’s newly installed attorney general, announced he had received Robert Mueller’s final report, concluding nearly two years of grand jury subpoenas, high-profile arrests and countless indictments.
Now Barr will determine how much, if any, of the special counsel's report will be seen by Congress and the public — a process he said might begin this weekend with Congressional briefings on Mueller’s “principal conclusions.” Any reluctance on Barr's part will set the stage for a legal battle between the DOJ and Congress that could stretch on for months.
We may never see the complete Mueller report, but we already know plenty about the special counsel’s investigation, which has resulted in:
- Guilty pleas and cooperation agreements from several members of Trump’s inner circle, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former campaign adviser Rick Gates, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
- Indictments of 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies charged with secretly interfering in the 2016 election through social media platforms and fake identities. Another 12 Russian intelligence officers have been charged with crimes related to hacking the emails of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
- Numerous concurrent investigations spawned by Mueller’s probe at the state and federal level, including a campaign finance case over secret payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels in which Trump may already be an unindicted co-conspirator.
The special counsel’s core interests
Mueller has uncovered numerous crimes throughout his nearly two-year probe, several of which don’t directly relate to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, but his core interests can be summed up as follows:
- Determining whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in an effort to influence the 2016 election.
- Documenting whether Trump and his team caused or sought to obstruct the investigation.
- Uncovering any potential crimes that arise in the course of his investigation.
Paul Manafort — The former Trump campaign chairman was convicted of a laundry list of crimes related to his foreign political consulting practice, in what one judge in his case called a transparent effort to get Manafort to flip on Trump. After Manafort flipped, Mueller’s team accused him of lying about issues at “the heart” of the Russia probe. They said he lied about sharing 2016 campaign polling data with a man linked to Russian intelligence named Konstantin Kilimnik, and about talking to Kilimnik about a plan to bring peace to Ukraine, which could have helped ease sanctions on Russia.
Manafort was sentenced to a total of 7 1/2 years in prison for bank and tax fraud and unregistered foreign lobbying on behalf of Ukraine. Trump has said a pardon for Manafort is “not off the table.” But state prosecutors in New York also recently charged Manafort with mortgage fraud, and a state criminal conviction would be immune from presidential pardon.
Michael Cohen — Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, smack in the middle of the 2016 campaign, which both Cohen and Mueller’s team have said could have earned Trump hundreds of millions. Cohen had previously claimed those efforts stopped well before the primaries really kicked off, but he now admits that development talks continued until at least June of that year, and that he even personally had a phone call with the Kremlin about it.
Cohen also implicated Trump in illegal hush-money payments during the campaign to women claiming they’d had sex with Trump. Cohen pleaded guilty to orchestrating those payoffs, along with other counts of bank fraud and tax fraud. He’ll begin serving a three-year sentence for all these crimes on May 6.
Roger Stone — After months of speculation, the infamous Republican operative was formally drawn into the Mueller probe in January when he was indicted for allegedly attempting to mislead Congress about his own attempts to reach out to WikiLeaks, the renegade transparency group that published stolen Democratic files during the campaign. Those documents had originally been stolen from the Dems by cyber-spies working for Russian intelligence.
Mueller’s team believes Stone didn’t just decide to reach out to WikiLeaks on his own. According to Stone’s indictment, someone at the very top of the Trump campaign “directed” another “senior” campaign official to ask Stone to do it. Stone was hit with one count of witness tampering, five counts of making false statements, and one count of obstructing an official proceeding. Despite the charges, Stone has remained defiant, pleading not guilty, although the former Trump campaign adviser has not categorically ruled out cooperating with the Mueller investigation.
Rick Gates — Known as Manafort’s erstwhile “right-hand man,” the former Trump campaign aide was indicted on a slew of financial charges similar to those against his former boss. Like Manafort's crimes, Gates’ alleged crimes included undisclosed lobbying work, much of it on behalf of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. But in February 2018, Gates agreed to cooperate with the Mueller inquiry and pleaded guilty to reduced charges that amounted to one count of conspiracy and one count of lying to federal prosecutors.
Since he flipped, Gates has been cooperating with the Mueller inquiry. Most notably, Gates gave evidence in court in August against his longtime business partner Manafort in relation to tax evasion and fraud charges.
Michael Flynn — Days after Trump won the 2016 election, Michael Flynn, Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a flurry of phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak. Former President Obama had just angrily slapped heavy sanctions on Russia for interfering in the election on Trump’s behalf. But Flynn told the Russian diplomat to just play it cool, and that Russia shouldn’t overreact or escalate the situation. Kislyak said Russia would follow Flynn’s advice.
But when two FBI agents showed up to ask Flynn about those calls, he lied. The former national security adviser subsequently pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, and became one of Mueller’s most high-profile cooperators. His sentencing has since been deferred several times as the retired general granted 19 separate interviews and provided “substantial assistance” to the Russia probe and other investigations. As a result, in December, Mueller recommended that Flynn should receive little or no jail time.
The Russian Trolls — Last February Mueller indicted 13 Russian nationals and three companies, led by the infamous Internet Research Agency — aka, the Kremlin’s Troll Farm — for attempting to interfere in the 2016 election using fake social media accounts. The trolls reached tens of millions of people via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with posts aimed at boosting Trump and dampening turnout for his opponent, Hillary Clinton. Between 2015 and 2017, over 30 million people liked or shared troll-farm posts on Facebook and Instagram alone, according to one study.
After the indictment, one of the Russian companies lawyered up, entered a not-guilty plea, and began trolling Mueller’s prosecutors in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. The company’s attorneys have waged an aggressive campaign against Mueller, seeking to have his appointment ruled invalid and throwing other legal elbows his way. The firm may get fined if it loses, but its owner, billionaire Yevgeny Prigozhin, won’t get any jail time. He’s safely back in Russia.
The Russians Hackers — In July, Mueller charged a dozen Russian cyber-spies working for the Kremlin’s intelligence agency, the GRU, with hacking the Democratic National Committee and Clinton aide John Podesta and stealing emails that were later distributed by WikiLeaks. Mueller’s astonishingly detailed indictment suggests an intimate knowledge of the hackers’ work online and notes that the group sent messages back and forth with a person close to the Trump campaign that appears to be Roger Stone (according to Stone himself).
As with the St. Petersburg troll factory defendants, there's virtually no prospect that any of the Russian GRU hackers will face trial in a U.S. court.
Konstantin Kilimnik — Kilimnik became known as Manafort’s “Russian brain” after the two forged a close relationship advising Ukraine’s former Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych. Kilimnik translated for Manafort at high-level meetings and held down the fort when his boss was back in the States. Assessed by the FBI as having links to Russian intelligence, Kilimnik stayed in contact with his old boss after Manafort became Trump campaign chairman, and even after his indictment in October 2017. Kilimnik was subsequently charged with witness tampering, after allegedly contacting potential witnesses against Manafort.
The elusive 48-year-old, however, reportedly remains out of Mueller’s grasp in Russia, and has not entered a plea.
George Papadopoulos — Papadopoulos was the first former Trump campaign aide to be arrested by Mueller and the person perhaps most directly responsible for the launch of the FBI’s original inquiry in July 2016. The foreign policy adviser got a tip from professor Joseph Mifsud that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos pursued opportunities for closer ties with Russia while working for Trump’s campaign, talking extensively with Mifsud and two Russian nationals, even planning a Trump campaign trip to Moscow.
In 2017 Papadopoulos admitted lying to the FBI when first questioned about the timing of his contacts with the professor. He served 12 days in prison at the end of last year.
The investigations Mueller handed off
Mueller’s report may be on Barr’s desk now, but he’s opened up or passed along several critical lines of inquiry to state and federal prosecutors in law offices throughout the country. And those investigations, some of which are criminal, could pose serious problems for Trump and his family.
Federal campaign finance violations: In the wake of Cohen’s guilty plea, New York prosecutors are reportedly investigating whether anyone else in the Trump Organization violated campaign finance rules. Announcing Cohen’s guilty plea in August, Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami that “‘we will not fear prosecuting additional campaign finance cases.” In a December court filing, prosecutors said Trump (or ‘Individual 1,’ as he’s referred to in the filings) personally directed the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, suggesting they have proof of the president’s involvement that has yet to be made public.
To some legal observers, the language of the indictment suggests that prosecutors presumably would have also filed charges against Trump himself over his alleged involvement in the scheme, if he weren’t the sitting president of the United States.
Along with cooperation from Cohen, investigators are being helped by Trump-friend National Enquirer publisher David Pecker and the tabloid's parent company, AMI. Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg reportedly received immunity when he agreed to testify before a grand jury in August 2018, but since then he's reportedly balked at cooperating further.
Presidential inauguration: In February the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York issued a subpoena seeking documents from Trump’s inaugural committee as part of a probe into illegal foreign contributions. The committee raised a record $107 million to fund extravagant celebrations in January 2017. Prosecutors are said to be looking at possible money laundering as well as election fraud, according to the New York Times. The funding of a Trump Super PAC, Rebuilding America Now, is also under investigation.
Like many other investigations, the inaugural probe reportedly has its roots in a referral from Mueller’s office, in this case stemming from investigations into Michael Cohen.
Foreign lobbying: Mueller handed off a collection of cases to New York prosecutors last year related to the failure of several high-profile lobbyists and operatives to register as foreign agents of the Ukrainian government, according to a CNN report. The probes are looking into longtime Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, former Minnesota Republican Rep. Vin Weber, and former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.
Turkish influence: Court documents show that Michael Flynn contributed information to two other investigations. While one remains a complete mystery, the other is related to a case in the Eastern District of Virginia against Flynn’s former associate Bijan Kian. Flynn is expected to be the “principal witness” in the case, in which Kian has been charged with working illegally in the U.S. for the government of Turkey. Kian and Flynn have been accused of leading a lobbying campaign against exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is living in Pennsylvania.