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Investigatng Foreign Influence

This section covers events related to investigations into foreign influences on the federal government - including the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

This section merely is concerned with the workings of the investigations. Findings and associated actions are covered in these sections:

Government: The Executive Branch
Foreign Influence

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Full Mueller report released. Here's what it says.

2019-Apr-18  (Updated: 2019-Apr-19)By: Rob Dennis

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has released the Mueller report to Congress and the public.

The nearly 400-page report was partially redacted to protect ongoing investigations, grand jury information, personal privacy, and classified information.

What the report found

Special Counsel Robert Mueller found that the Russian government tried to help President Donald Trump win the 2016 election, and that the Trump campaign thought it would benefit from the Kremlin's hacking and influence campaign.

However, despite "numerous links" between the Trump campaign and people with ties to the Russian government, Mueller found that "the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges" against campaign members.

Investigation stymied by witness deception

The report noted that the investigation was stymied by witnesses who lied or provided incomplete information, deleted relevant communications, or used encrypted apps. The deception prevented investigators from corroborating statements or to "fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts."

Due to those gaps, "the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report."

Compared to Barr's summary

The report states...

"Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

In his four-page letter about Mueller's findings, Attorney General William Barr quoted the report, writing...

"...[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

Barr excluded the first part of the report's quote regarding Russia's involvement and the Trump campaign's awareness of it.

Collusion or conspiracy?

Trump consistently has used the phrase "no collusion" when referring to the investigation. The claim was reiterated by Barr in his press conference regarding the release of the report.

In the report, Mueller points out that the investigation did not examine collusion, which "is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law."

Instead, he investigated conspiracy and other federal crimes.

The report confirmed much of the information already in the public domain about the Trump campaign's contacts with individuals linked to the Russian government, while adding new details. The investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign's numerous interactions with Russians rose to the criminal level of conspiracy.

For example, it determined:

o The evidence regarding the Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016, "was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation." The report says it would have been difficult to prove the value of the information being offered, or that Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort knew what they were doing was illegal.

o The evidence did not establish that changes to the Republican Party platform on Ukraine "were undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia."

o The evidence established that meetings between campaign officials and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak were "brief, public, and non-substantive."

Obstruction of justice

The investigation found extensive evidence that Trump may have obstructed justice by engaging in "public attacks on the [Mueller] investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation."

However, Mueller declined to make "a traditional prosecutorial decision" on obstruction, partly because Department of Justice policy prohibits indicting a sitting president.

Those are not the only concerns regarding Trump

The report covered potential crimes related to Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election, and what involvement there was from the Trump campaign.

It did not include certain national security issues, including whether Trump was compromised financially or otherwise by Russia.

It also did not address other investigations into Trump and his businesses, including those by the State of New York.

Mueller also has referred a number of cases to other prosecutors. Details have been redacted about more than a dozen of these because they currently are under investigation.

AG summary of Mueller report narrow and non-committal

2019-Mar-24By: Rob Dennis

Attorney General William Barr has turned over a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation results to Congress.

According to the summary, Mueller "did not establish" that members of President Donald Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated" with Russia in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.

Mueller opted not to evaluate whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice, instead leaving the decision to Barr, according to the summary. Barr stated that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded the evidence "is not sufficient" to establish that Trump obstructed justice.

"While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," Mueller wrote, according to the summary.

Barr wrote that he plans to make public as much of the report as possible - redacting sections related to grand jury secrecy rules and ongoing investigations.

What the summary addresses

The narrowly tailored summary merely asserts that the investigation did not establish that any campaign official "conspired or knowingly coordinated" with the Internet Research Agency in its interference efforts or with the Russian government in its hacking campaign.

"Coordination" was narrowly defined as an "agreement - tacit or express - between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference."

What the summary does not address

More may be discussed in the full report, but the summary does not address...

o Trump campaign members' numerous contacts with individuals linked to the Kremlin or Russian intelligence, including the notorious Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 and the handoff of polling data to a man tied to Russian military intelligence.

o Potential Russian influence on Trump, financial or otherwise, and whether it may have contributed to his pro-Kremlin stances. It does not address efforts to secure a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow, which continued during the campaign and which Trump repeatedly lied about.

o The allegation that a Russian government official may have illegally funneled money through the National Rifle Association (NRA) to support Trump's campaign, or allegations of influence peddling by Trump associates.

o Kremlin efforts to infiltrate conservative groups, including the NRA, through Maria Butina, who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy.

More of what Mueller uncovered on these and other matters, and his conclusions about them, may be included in the full report.

Some still may be under investigation by other prosecutors. Mueller also referred "several matters to other offices for further action," but it's unclear how many cases there are or what they involve. Mueller has not obtained any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public, but it's unclear if other prosecutors have. The report does not recommend any further indictments.

Mueller delivers report on Russia investigation

2019-Mar-22By: Rob Dennis

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has delivered a report to the attorney general detailing his findings in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Donald Trump's campaign assisted those efforts.

In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate judiciary committees, Attorney General William Barr wrote that he might be able to provide them with Mueller's principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.

House wants Russia investigation results made public

2019-Mar-14By: Barry Shatzman

A Concurrent Resolution in Congress would demand that results of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into possible collusion between Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia be turned over to Congress and the public.

Parts of the report, such as information obtained about those not criminally charged, would be kept from the public. This does not include the president, as Department of Justice (DOJ) policy currently prevents a sitting president from being indicted.

Concurrent resolutions do not need to be signed by the president. So, while it expressed the intentions of representatives, it cannot be enforced.

The Trump administration has said it will release the report.

At his confirmation hearing, Attorney General William Barr testified, "I believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work. For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law."

Trump told reporters on March 20, "... let it come out. Let people see it."

The vote in Congress

The resolution passed 420-0 in the House of Representatives (4 Democrats and 7 Republicans did not vote either way).

It might not even be voted on by the Senate, as Sen. Lindsey Graham has blocked it. Senate rules allow for any senator to block a vote.

FBI investigated whether Trump worked for Russia

2019-Jan-14By: Rob Dennis

Has President Donald Trump been working for Russia against American interests?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began investigating that less than six months after Trump took office, the New York Times reported.

The counterintelligence investigation, which began days after he fired then FBI Director James Comey, sought to determine whether Trump "was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow's influence," and whether his actions constituted a threat to national security.

It was combined with a criminal investigation into whether the president had committed obstruction of justice by firing Comey. The decision to launch it was based in part on Trump's linking of the firing to the Russia investigation in a draft letter explaining Comey's dismissal and in a TV interview.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed shortly afterward to take over the investigation.

In an interview after the Times story was published, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro asked Trump if he is or has ever been working for Russia. Trump did not answer the question directly.

The following day, he did deny it.

Trump inaugural committee investigated for corruption

2018-Dec-13  (Updated: 2019-Feb-04)By: Rob Dennis

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether donations to President Donald Trump's inaugural committee were in exchange for access and influence, the Wall Street Journal reported.

And whether some of those donors were from Ukraine and Middle Eastern countries.

They also are investigating whether the inaugural committee misspent some of the $107 million in donations it received. Much of the money came from donations of more than $1 million - from corporations and wealthy individuals.

Felonies

Federal law prohibits buying influence. It also prohibits diverting funds from a nonprofit organization (the inaugural committee was registered as a nonprofit).

Foreign nationals are prohibited from donating to U.S. political groups.

In August, Republican lobbyist Sam Patten admitted as part of a plea agreement that he helped steer $200,000 in illegal foreign contributions to the inaugural committee, through a straw donation.

U.S. citizens are prohibited from knowingly making political contributions in another's name.

Update 2019-Feb-4: Federal prosecutors have issued a subpoena for documents related to the Trump inauguration - including those related to banking information, donors, guests, and benefits given out.

Congress tries to impose its will on Russia investigation

2018-Dec-03By: Barry Shatzman

As the 115th Congress approaches its final two weeks before adjourning, it faces several bills regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

President Trump has called for Mueller to be fired since Mueller's first month on the job. It's likely that he lacks the authority, and that Mueller can be fired only by the person overseeing the investigation.

Previously, that was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had the role because then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself. But Trump fired Sessions and appointed Matthew Whitaker to be acting attorney general. Whitaker had spoken out against the investigation - and now he oversees it.

Measures call for both protecting the investigation and for ending it

Some of the bills call for protecting the investigation:

o The Special Counsel Integrity Act would allow a special counsel to be fired only by a Department of Justice (DOJ) official who has been confirmed by the Senate. Dismissal could be only for good cause, and could be appealed in court.

o The Special Counsel Independence Protection Act would allow a special counsel to be fired only for good cause.

o The Special Counsel Security Assurance Act would require court approval for a president to revoke the security clearance of a special counsel.

There also are resolutions calling for an end to the investigation:

o One calls for the investigation to end (or for Mueller to provide a conclusion date) within 30 days of its adoption.

o One calls for impeaching Rod Rosenstein for "high crimes and misdemeanors".

o One calls for Robert Mueller to resign from his special counsel position.

Highly unlikely any of them would pass on their own

The anti-investigation bills, being resolutions solely in the House of Representatives, could not enforce any action even if approved.

The bills to protect the investigation would need to pass both the Senate and the House of Representatives. To become law, they would need to be signed by the president.

Congress also could include one of the bills in a must-pass budget bill, risking a government shutdown if not passed.

Trump's law-enforcement targets are organized crime experts

2018-Aug-31By: (External links)

Trump's Top Targets in the Russia Probe Are Experts in Organized Crime

Lawsuit could keep Mueller from sharing Trump-Russia findings

2018-Aug-30By: Barry Shatzman

For more than a year Robert Mueller has been investigating what role Donald Trump's campaign played in Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. He's secured indictments, convictions, and the testimony of those in Trump's inner circle.

But he may not be able to tell anyone - including Congress - what he's learned.

The outcome could hinge on a court case that has nothing directly to do with the investigation.

Attorney and author Stuart McKeever has been investigating the disappearance of Columbia University professor Jesus Galindez in 1956. He is asking a federal court to release grand jury information on the disappearance. The Department of Justice (DOJ) is arguing that the secret information can be released only under specific exemptions.

If the court rules that the Galindez information cannot be released, it is possible the ruling could apply to Mueller's investigation also, meaning he wouldn't be allowed to release the information revealed by grand jury testimony. Not to the public, not to Congress.

With one exception. The House of Representatives could subpoena the findings in an impeachment inquiry.

Devin Nunes goes to London to question Trump evidence

2018-Aug-28By: (External links)

Devin Nunes's Curious Trip to London

Zero spent of allocated $120M to stop election interference

2018-Mar-04  (Updated: 2018-Mar-15)By: Barry Shatzman

Since late 2016, the State Department has had $120 million to investigate foreign attempts to influence U.S. elections. It has used none of it.

It has 23 analysts whose job it is to counter Russia's disinformation activities in the United States. None of them speaks Russian.

The lack of a Trump administration investigation comes in spite of...

o U.S. intelligence agencies concluding by early 2017 that "Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election."

o An indictment by special counsel Robert Mueller

Still, Trump has supported no actions to counter Russian activities.

He expressed doubt over the agencies' report, going as far as saying he believed Putin's denials.

After Mueller's indictments, his first response was not to express concern that elections were interfered with by a foreign government, but rather merely to claim in a Twitter posting that the Russian efforts started in 2014 - before Trump began his presidential campaign.

Regardless of the significance or insignificance of Trump's comparison - it is factually incorrect. He applied to patent his Make America Great Again campaign slogan in 2012.

Now-departing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a Fox News interview that Russia is already attempting to interfere in the 2018 Congressional elections, but "if it's their intention to interfere, they are going to find ways to do that. We can take steps we can take but this is something that, once they decide they are going to do it, it's very difficult to preempt it."

On March 15, Trump did impose sanctions on Russia, but he stated they were in response to the killing of a former Russian spy in Britain. He did not mention election interference.

Trump ordered Mueller fired. White House counsel refused

2018-Jan-25By: Rob Dennis

President Donald Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June, just a month after Mueller had been appointed to oversee the Russia investigation, the New York Times reported.

Trump backed down after White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to obey the order and threatened to quit if the president insisted. The president can't directly fire Mueller. Only the deputy attorney general who appointed the special counsel can fire him, and only for cause.

Mueller was appointed after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May. He was appointed to conduct the investigation into the Russian government's interference in the 2016 presidential election, and its possible collusion with the Trump campaign. Trump said he fired Comey in part because of "this Russia thing."

Trump claimed Mueller had three "conflicts of interest" that justified his firing:

o Mueller was involved in an alleged dispute over membership fees when he resigned as a member of Trump National Golf Club in Virginia in 2011.

o Mueller worked for a law firm that previously represented Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

o Mueller was interviewed to be FBI director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.

McGahn disagreed that these were valid reasons, and refused to call the Department of Justice to have Mueller fired.

Mueller subpoenas Deutsche Bank data

2017-Dec-05By: (External links)

Trump-Russia probe: Mueller 'demands Deutsche Bank data'

Senate bills would make it hard for Trump to fire Mueller

2017-Aug-03  (Updated: 2017-Aug-10)By: Barry Shatzman

Two bipartisan groups of senators have introduced bills that would make it harder for President Trump to fire the investigator hired to investigate him.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller was hired by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein soon after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. He was hired to investigate possible collusion between Trump's campaign and Russia.

Trump has suggested that he would consider having Mueller fired if Mueller's investigation led to areas Trump does not approve of.

Trump cannot directly fire Mueller. That likely would need to be done by the attorney general. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation, however, so it is unclear how a firing would take place.

The bills have yet to be considered by the Senate. Either one would need to pass both houses of Congress and then be signed by Trump in order to become law. Sen. Tom Carper, a sponsor of one of the bills, said they are mostly symbolic at this point - a way to let Trump know that Congress wants Mueller to be allowed to perform his investigation without outside influence.

In the same timeframe as these bills, 20 Republicans sent a letter to Sessions asking him to investigate "a plethora of matters" related to Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign and officials in the administration of then-President Barack Obama.

Special Counsel to investigate Trump-Russia connection

2017-May-17By: Rob Dennis

The Justice Department has appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate possible collusion between President Donald Trump's campaign and Russia.

Mueller, a former prosecutor, served as FBI director from 2001 to 2013 under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. As special counsel, he will have the same powers as any U.S. attorney, including the authority to assign federal agents, issue subpoenas and prosecute crimes if needed.

The appointment was announced May 17 by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has been overseeing the Russia probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself.

Rosenstein announced Mueller's appointment the day after the New York Times reported that Trump had asked FBI Director James Comey in February to stop investigating former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

"I hope you can let this go," Trump told Comey, according to a memo written by the FBI director shortly after the meeting, the Times reported. The meeting took place in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, the day after Flynn was forced to resign.

Trump fired Comey on May 9. Initially, White House officials claimed Trump dismissed the FBI director on the recommendation of Sessions and Rosenstein.

However, in a subsequent interview on NBC Nightly News, Trump said he already had decided to fire Comey before he met with Sessions and Rosenstein. Trump also acknowledged that the firing was at least partly because of "this Russia thing."

Senate subpoenas documents on Russia

2017-May-10By: Rob Dennis

The Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed documents from former national security adviser Michael Flynn in connection with its investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election.

Flynn had refused the committee's initial request for the documents.

Flynn, who was forced to resign in February after his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States were made public, also is being investigated for accepting payments from Russia and Turkey.

The committee also has sent a series of document requests to other associates of President Donald Trump, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former campaign advisers Carter Page and Roger Stone. It has received only two responses - one of them from Page.

In addition, the committee has asked the Treasury Department for information related to Trump, his top officials, and campaign aides, Sen. Mark Warner told CNN.

The Treasury Department's criminal investigation division has been investigating allegations of foreign money laundering through U.S. real estate transactions.

o Lawyers for the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan claim the daughter of a former Kazakh minister paid $3.1 million to buy three condos in the Trump SoHo as part of a money laundering scheme.

o Numerous foreign buyers, including those from Russia, have purchased units at Trump properties in the United States. A Reuters investigation found that 63 Russians bought almost $100 million worth of property at seven Trump-branded towers in southern Florida alone.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is leading a Senate Judiciary Committee investigation, also said he wants to investigate business ties between Trump and Russia. In response, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president has "no connections to Russia," and that Trump has hired a law firm to write a letter to that effect.

Rep. Nunes recuses self from Russia investigation

2017-Apr-06By: Rob Dennis

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has temporarily recused himself from the probe into Russian election interference while he is investigated for potential ethics violations.

The House Ethics Committee announced April 6 that it is investigating whether Nunes "may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct" by speaking publicly about intelligence reports that he had viewed at the White House.

Nunes - a member of President Trump's transition team - becomes the third person associated with the president to relieve himself of authority related to the investigations into Russian influence in the administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from investigations, and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned.

Rep. K. Michael Conaway now will head the Russia investigation, aided by Reps. Thomas Rooney and Trey Gowdy.

Nunes will continue to serve as chairman of the committee on matters unrelated to the Russia investigation.

Info Nunes gave to White House came from White House

2017-Mar-30  (Updated: 2017-Apr-03)By: Rob Dennis

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes received classified information from White House officials - and then returned to the White House to brief President Donald Trump about it, the New York Times reported.

Nunes then held a press conference outside the White House - describing his sources as whistleblowers.

The sources for the material were Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the National Security Council's senior director for intelligence, and Michael Ellis, a White House counsel attorney, the Times reported.

The Times reported that the information Cohen-Watnick and Ellis gave Nunes came not from intercepts of Trump aides, but from intercepts of foreign officials "talking about how they were trying to develop contacts within Mr. Trump's family and inner circle before his inauguration."

Nunes had served on the Trump transition team. Ellis worked for Nunes before joining the Trump administration. Cohen-Watnick was hired by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who resigned after it was revealed that he had discussed sanctions against Russia with the Russian ambassador to the United States before Trump took office.

Flynn's replacement, Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, tried to remove Cohen-Watnick from his position, but Trump overruled McMaster after Cohen-Watnick appealed to senior adviser Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law.

House Intel Committee cancels Trump-Russia public hearing

2017-Mar-27By: Rob Dennis

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has cancelled a March 28 public hearing in the investigation into Russian interference in the November presidential election.

Nunes, who served on President Trump's transition team, announced the postponement of the hearing on Friday, after a week of revelations about the investigation and bizarre behavior by the committee chairman.

During the first public committee hearing on March 20, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey confirmed that the FBI has been investigating Russian efforts to interfere with the presidential election since July, and that the probe includes possible collusion between Trump campaign members and the Russian government.

On March 22, after Comey's revelation, and one regarding former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, Nunes claimed a source showed him "new evidence" of inadvertent surveillance of Trump aides during the transition.

Nunes told House Speaker Paul Ryan about the evidence, convened a press conference, and then went to the White House to brief the president, without telling his fellow committee members. He later held another press conference outside the White House.

A Washington Post editorial suggested that Nunes, who has railed against classified leaks to the media, himself leaked classified information in those public statements.

Nunes himself noted that the surveillance was routine and legal, the kind of "incidental collection" that tends to happen when a person in the U.S. speaks with a foreign target of surveillance. This is reportedly how former national security adviser Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian envoy Sergey Kislyak were uncovered.

Other committee members say they still haven't seen the evidence. On Monday, Nunes acknowledged that he met the source of the information at the White House, increasing suspicion that he was merely acting on behalf of the Trump administration to distract from the investigation and bolster Trump's baseless claim that he was wiretapped by President Barack Obama.

House Intelligence Committee to hold public hearing on Russia

2017-Mar-07By: Rob Dennis

The House Intelligence Committee will hold its first public hearing later this month into alleged Russian interference in the November presidential election.

The initial witness list for the March 20 hearing includes...

o FBI Director James Comey
o National Security Agency (NSA) Director Mike Rogers
o Former CIA director John Brennan
o Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates
o Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper

It also will include representatives from CrowdStrike Services, the company that analyzed the hacking of the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign.

Absent from the list are current or former members of President Donald Trump's administration who met with Russian officials during the campaign or transition...

o Former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who resigned in February after it was revealed that he discussed Obama administration sanctions against Russia with Russian envoy Sergey Kislyak before Trump took office.

o Attorney General Jeff Sessions

o Jared Kushner - Trump senior advisor who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka.

AG Sessions recuses self from Russia investigation

2017-Mar-02By: Barry Shatzman

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from investigations into whether Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election.

During his confirmation hearings, Sessions testified that he had not met with Russian officials about Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It later was revealed that he had met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

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