The Kremlin and President Donald Trump have each denied allegations that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded in the 2016 presidential election – but the probe into Russia’s meddling is forging ahead.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced the first charges in the investigation in October. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, was charged with lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian ambassador on Dec. 1.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and his associate, Richard Gates, were required to turn themselves into federal authorities as they were indicted on 12 counts – ranging from conspiracy against the U.S., to conspiracy to launder money.
George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his connections with Russian officials.
Before Trump ever took office, tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and other officials connected to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were leaked.
Those emails – released in July 2016 ahead of the Democratic National Convention – purportedly showed the party favoring Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and led to the resignation of party chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
But more than just ousting Wasserman Schultz, intelligence officials concluded that those responsible for leaking the emails were connected to the Russian government. In its assessment of the hack, the CIA concluded that Russia intervened in the election in order to help Trump secure the presidency.
Before he handed over the White House to Trump, former President Barack Obama sanctioned Russia for its alleged involvement in the election – a move that would eventually come back to dismantle one of Trump’s senior aides.
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also got the administration into hot water for his own actions during the campaign.
Trump Jr. confirmed in July 2017 that he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign as she was supposed to have damaging information about Clinton.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” an email about the meeting said in part.
Trump Jr. maintained that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, did not have any information to share and instead wanted to discuss other matters, such as the Magnitsky Act and other sanctions.
“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, were at the meeting as well. The two are also being investigated.
Michael Flynn’s tenure as Trump’s national security adviser was short but rife with controversy that still bedevils the administration. But Flynn didn’t come without a warning.
Then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during a White House press briefing. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Only a few days after the November election, Obama met with Trump to share his concerns about Flynn, a retired lieutenant general. Flynn had served under Obama as head of military intelligence until he was fired in 2014 following reports of insubordination and questionable management style.
Still, Trump ignored Obama’s apparent apprehensions and selected Flynn as his national security adviser. Not a month later, Trump accepted Flynn’s resignation.
As Obama issued the sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the election, Flynn reportedly called the Russian ambassador to discuss the move. Flynn initially denied speaking to the ambassador, but when intelligence officials revealed proof, he said he just didn’t remember speaking on that topic.
Flynn resigned under harsh scrutiny for misleading the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his ties to and conversations with Russian officials.
He remains under multiple investigations by congressional committees and the Pentagon’s inspector general. He was charged on Dec. 1 for making false statements to the FBI pertaining to his interactions with Russian officials in 2016.
Flynn registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department in March 2017.
And in November, Flynn’s lawyers reportedly told the White House legal team that they would no longer communicate with them about Mueller’s investigation. That’s a move that could signal cooperation with the government’s probe.
Firing the FBI director
Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey on May 9 – less than two months after Comey publicly proclaimed that the agency was investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign.
The White House maintained that Comey was relieved from his duties due to his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure of secretary of state. But days later, Trump alluded that he had considered the Russian investigation when he fired Comey.
Comey told a Senate intelligence committee in June that he was concerned about the “shifting explanations” that came from the White House regarding his firing.
He also claimed that Trump had asked for the FBI to drop its investigation into Flynn during a February meeting. The White House has denied that Trump was attempting to influence the FBI director.
Before the committee, Comey confirmed that he had reassured Trump repeatedly that he was not under investigation by the FBI.
Russians in the Oval
In the wake of Comey’s dismissal, the Trump administration was rocked with reports of the president’s own controversial dealings with Russian officials in the Oval Office.
A White House television plays a news report on President Donald Trump’s Oval Office meeting with Russian officials. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
The Washington Post reported on May 15 that Trump shared classified information regarding ISIS threats with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time. The information was reportedly given to the U.S. from Israel and not meant to be shared.
Later that week, the New York Times reported that Trump told those officials the day after firing Comey – who he allegedly called a “nut job” – that the personnel change took “great pressure” off of him.