The 5 key smoking gun moments from the first year of the Trump-Russia investigation
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election will hit the one-year mark on Thursday. Over the past year, the drip-drip of news from the probe, which has increasingly cast a shadow over the Trump administration.
In fact, so much news has emerged from Mueller’s probe that it’s often hard to keep track of all the key events that have taken place, the secret meetings that have been revealed and, of course, where things may go next as the investigation circles President Donald Trump.
We do know, however, that Mueller’s investigation has borne fruit: 19 people have been indicted, and five of those have pleaded guilty to charges ranging from lying to the FBI to money laundering. Over the past few months, it’s become increasingly clear that this investigation is anything but the “witch hunt” that Trump loves to call it.
Meanwhile, new tendrils of the investigation are popping out into public view consistently. As the country waits to learn the final outcome of the investigation, here’s a reminder of the five biggest revelations from the investigation so far — and why they could be really problematic for Trump.
The July 2016 Trump Tower meeting
In July, we learned that first son Donald Trump Jr., along with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, met with Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign. The purpose of the meeting for the three Americans was to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton — which was confirmed Wednesday via 2,500 pages of documents published by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Trump Jr. claims that at the meeting Veselnitskaya didn’t actually provide the “damaging information” that was promised. He also said after the meeting became publicly known that it was actually a scheme on Veselnitskaya’s part to discuss, with members of Trump’s inner circle, the Magnitsky Act, which punishes some Russian officials by preventing them from both entering the United States and from using the U.S. banking system.
The fact that the meeting happened at all is problematic, as the trio of men, all of whom had high-ranking roles in the Trump campaign, were meeting with a Russian under the assumption they’d be receiving damaging information on Clinton. Russia was revealed the following week to already be meddling in the election — hacking Democratic National Committee emails and later the emails of top Clinton aides. The hacked emails were then released at times that would do maximum damage to Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Ultimately, Mueller is probing both the details surrounding the meeting and the response to the revelation that the meeting took place.
We’ve still yet to learn Mueller’s finding on either topic.
Paul Manafort’s indictment
Trump has tried to distance himself from Manafort after the former campaign chairman was indicted in October on multiple counts of money laundering, failing to register as a foreign agent and even conspiracy against the United States.
But the fact that Manafort, who ran the Trump operation during a critical part of the campaign, was indicted at all is certainly a scandal in the early days of a presidency. And there’s still more that could come.
Rick Gates, one of Manafort’s business partners, pleaded guilty in February and agreed to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
It’s unclear whether Gates has any information about whether Manafort may have colluded with the Russians. But the fact that Mueller gave Gates a lighter sentence suggests he believes Gates has valuable information to provide.
Regardless, Manafort now has two trials set to begin smack dab in the middle of the upcoming midterm elections — one in July and one in September. It’s possible that as voters are about to head to the polls, the country will learn bombshells about Mueller’s actions.
Papadopoulos “dirt” on Clinton meeting
On the same day Manafort was first indicted, the nation also learned for the first time about George Papadopoulos. The Trump policy aide lied to FBI investigators about his ties to a professor connected to the Russian government, who’d said he had “dirt” on Clinton.
According to court documents, Papadopoulos, “engaged in extensive communications over a period of months with the professor regarding foreign policy issues for the campaign, including efforts to arrange a ‘history-making’ meeting between the campaign and Russian government officials.”
Papadopoulos pleaded guilty and is cooperating with Mueller’s probe.
Given that Papadopoulos communicated with a number of Trump campaign officials about his outreach to the Russian government, he could expose other Trump campaign officials. The Washington Post published a list of Trump campaign officials that could be caught in Papadopoulos’ web, including former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — who joined Vice President Mike Pence’s political action committee on Wednesday.
Seychelles back-channel meeting
Just before Trump was sworn into office in January 2017, Erik Prince, the founder of the Blackwater private security company and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, met with a Russian official closely tied to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The goal was to set up a back-channel line of communication between the Kremlin and the Trump administration.
The meeting took place in the Seychelles, a remote set of islands off the coast of Africa. Mueller has evidence that Prince lied to lawmakers about the meeting, according to the Washington Post.
George Nader, who helped set up the meeting, is cooperating with Mueller’s team, according to CNN. Nader also sat in on a December 2016 meeting between Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, and some top Trump administration officials, including now-former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former top strategist Steve Bannon and Kushner.
The fact that Mueller is looking into incidents that took place after the election indicates that his investigation is looking into more than just possible collusion during the campaign.
Michael Cohen raid
Speaking of Mueller’s investigation expanding beyond collusion, the FBI raid on Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen was one of the key moments of Mueller’s probe so far.
Cohen has been working as a “fixer” for Trump for years and knows the secrets of Trump’s business empire. That worries Trump so much that he vents about the raid as much as “20 times a day,” a confidant told the Washington Post, as those around him listen in silence.
According to reports, the FBI raid sought information about payments made in the final days of the 2016 election to two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump. Experts say those payments could violate federal election law.
We’ve since learned that Cohen also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments to his firm, Essential Consultants LLC, from major corporations looking to gain insights into Trump — which Mueller is also probing. Companies involved, including AT&T, denied doing anything illegal.
Like so many threads in the ongoing investigation, it’s unclear whether Mueller will see that the same.