Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for meddling in the 2016 election. In the first election interference charges to result from Mueller's probe, the federal indictment states that the defendants "conspired to obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit."
The document explains how a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency, used fake accounts on various social media platforms to sow chaos during the presidential election. In some cases, Russian agents assumed the identities of real Americans to manipulate social media. The goal was to "use any opportunity to criticize Hillary [Clinton] and the rest" of the candidates, while actively supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Donald Trump. The Russians also allegedly aimed to suppress the minority vote by encouraging minorities to vote for a third-party candidate or skip voting altogether.
The indictment also claims that "unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump campaign" came into contact with Russians posing as Americans. In a press conference announcing the indictment, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the charges were "a reminder that people are not always who they seem on the internet." Still, he told reporters, "There is no allegation in this indictment that [such meddling] altered the outcome of the 2016 election."
Rod Rosenstein on #Mueller indictments: "There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity. There is no allegation in the indictment that the charge conduct altered the outcome of the 2016 election." @FoxBusiness pic.twitter.com/PJ20qxYQbE
— Neil Cavuto (@TeamCavuto) February 16, 2018
Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed last May to investigate the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and on Friday he made a significant strike by indicting 13 Russian nationals and three Russian agencies tied to a shady Russian "troll farm" called the Internet Research Agency. The charges are serious, including that the defendants poised "as U.S. persons and [created] false U.S. personas," and that they had the "strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election."
There is a slim chance that any of the agents named in the indictment will be extradited, though, as Bradley P. Moss, a national security lawyer, points out. In addition to the Internet Research Agency being an explicitly pro-Kremlin propaganda machine, Moscow has vehemently denied involvement in the American election (its foreign ministry has already said the allegations Mueller made are "absurd"). President Trump said in November 2017 that he directly asked Putin if Russia had a hand in the 2016 election and "he said he absolutely did not meddle in our election ... I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it."
The single greatest Witch Hunt in American history continues. There was no collusion, everybody including the Dems knows there was no collusion, & yet on and on it goes. Russia & the world is laughing at the stupidity they are witnessing. Republicans should finally take control!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 10, 2018
In fact, that might be the very reason for Mueller's indictment. While the chance of realistically pursuing justice against the agents named in the indictment is slim, "this is a public statement by Mueller that [the investigation] isn't a witch hunt and that there was Russian interference," Moss wrote.
Rick Gates, a campaign adviser to President Trump and former business partner of Paul Manafort, is close to finalizing a plea deal with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office, several people with knowledge of the matter told CNN Thursday.
This would make Gates the third person known to be cooperating with Mueller in his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, along with Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. Gates has been in negotiations with Mueller's team for about a month, CNN reports, and he's had what lawyers call a "Queen for a Day" interview, which involves a defendant answering questions from prosecutors about their own case and other potential criminal activity. After interviews like this, prosecutors investigate the information they received, then negotiate charges and potential sentences. Gates' plea deal could be announced in the next few days, CNN reports.
In October, Gates and Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, pleaded not guilty to charges of money laundering and failure to disclose financial assets. If Gates flipped, it would put pressure on Manafort, and people close to the case told CNN that investigators are preparing to file new tax-related charges against Gates, as well as charges against Manafort on work he did before joining the Trump campaign. Catherine Garcia
Special Counsel Robert Mueller interviewed former FBI Director James Comey last year for the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, The New York Times reported Tuesday. The two men discussed "a series of memos [Comey] wrote about his interactions with [President] Trump that unnerved Mr. Comey," the Times wrote.
In one of his memos, Comey claimed that President Trump suggested the FBI back off of its investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Comey was abruptly fired by Trump in May while he was leading the FBI's investigation of Russian meddling, and Flynn had been a party of interest in the FBI's probe. NBC News explained last year how Comey's memos could act as proof of obstruction of justice by the president.
Less than a month into his tenure with the Trump administration, Flynn resigned after lying about a phone call he had in December 2016 with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. He has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about that phone call. Earlier Tuesday, the Justice Department confirmed that Attorney General Jeff Sessions had also been interviewed by Mueller's team. Kelly O'Meara Morales
When White House lawyers meet later this week with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, they are expected to ask the investigators how much more information they will need before deciding their inquiry is over as far as President Trump is concerned, several White House advisers tell The Washington Post.
People with knowledge of the investigation say it will likely continue well into 2018, especially as Mueller's team gathers new leads from witnesses who have pledged to cooperate: former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos. Trump has told associates he's not concerned about the probe, with one telling the Post that Trump is "confident, even arrogant" about having done nothing wrong. Two advisers said they have been trying to get him to take the investigation seriously, but "he's living in his own world." Catherine Garcia
Last week, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team interviewed Sam Clovis, national co-chairman of President Trump's 2016 campaign and chief policy adviser, a person familiar with the situation told NBC News on Tuesday. He also testified before the investigating grand jury.
Clovis was the supervisor of George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign who is cooperating with Mueller and pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to making false statements about his interactions with Russians. Court documents unsealed on Monday describe emails between an unnamed "campaign supervisor" and Papadopoulos, with the supervisor saying "great work" after they spoke about Russians trying to arrange a meeting between Trump and Russian officials. Clovis' attorney confirmed to NBC News that Clovis is the supervisor in the emails.
Notably, Clovis, a former Pentagon official and unsuccessful Senate candidate from Iowa, is President Trump's choice to be chief scientist at the Department of Agriculture, despite the fact that he is not and never has been a scientist. Catherine Garcia
Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer spent most of Monday being interviewed by members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, several people familiar with the meeting told Politico Tuesday.
One person with knowledge of the interview said Spicer was asked about President Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, the statements he made about the firing, and Trump's meetings with Russian officials like Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The interview was part of Mueller's investigation into Russia's potential meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Spicer is a former Republican National Committee spokesman, and during the general election he was part of Trump's team working out of Trump Tower. Trump's former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, another RNC official who left to join the Trump administration, met with Mueller on Friday. Spicer declined to comment to Politico on the report. Catherine Garcia
Over the past few weeks, members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team and the office of New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman have been sharing evidence and communicating frequently about a potential case involving President Trump's onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, several people familiar with the matter told Politico.
Both teams have collected evidence on financial crimes, including possible money laundering, one of those sources revealed to Politico, although they have not made a decision regarding filing charges and "nothing is imminent." Trump has no pardon power over state crimes, and state and federal prosecutors think the prospect of a presidential pardon could affect whether or not Manafort cooperates with federal investigators working on Mueller's inquiry on Trump and Russia, one person familiar with the investigation told Politico.
Manafort has long denied any wrongdoing, and representatives for Mueller's office and the New York attorney general's office declined to comment to Politico. Catherine Garcia