Lies, trolls and hacks — POLITICO
Since former FBI chief Robert Mueller was appointed to probe potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russians during the 2016 campaign, the special counsel has held Americans spellbound. His investigation has exposed illegal schemes across international borders and produced more than 100 criminal charges. Inside the White House, the probe has, at times, consumed President Donald Trump and his inner circle. Here are all the people Mueller has charged so far.
The first indictment, under seal.
Nearly five months after the special counsel officially began his work, Mueller filed his first charge, accusing the foreign policy advisor to Trump’s campaign of lying to the FBI. According to Mueller, Papadopolous told an Australian diplomat in 2016 that Russia had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton months before the Democratic candidate’s internal campaign emails started leaking online.
As part of his plea deal with Mueller, Papadopoulos admitted that he discussed his Russia contacts with top campaign officials, including a possible meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The White House sought to distance itself from Papadopoulos before he was eventually sentenced to 14 days in prison. Papadopoulos’s indictment and plea deal was kept under seal until Oct. 30, 2017. Read the full indictment here.
Mueller’s first bombshell.
With the Manafort indictment, Mueller ensnared one of the Trump campaign’s top aides and exposed a web of allegedly illicit business dealings between the former campaign chairman and pro-Russian Ukrainian officials that stretched back years. Mueller also indicted Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime business partner. Manafort was eventually convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud, and later pleaded guilty to committing a conspiracy against the United States and a conspiracy to obstruct justice.
As part of his plea deal, Manafort agreed to cooperate with Mueller. But the special counsel eventually ripped up the agreement, accusing Manafort of lying repeatedly to investigators and requesting that the court move quickly to sentence the longtime GOP lobbyist. Read the full indictment here.
Mueller searches for the Trump-Kremlin connection.
Flynn’s guilty plea signaled that the special counsel was looking into communications at the highest levels of the Trump transition team and the Kremlin.
Flynn, who served a brief 24 days as Trump’s national security adviser, admitted that he lied to federal investigators about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the transition about sanctions President Obama had just imposed on Russia for its interference in the 2016 elections and entered a plea deal with Mueller. After Flynn’s guilty plea, the retired military officer met 19 times with investigators, offering “substantial assistance,” according to a Mueller court filing. The special counsel recommended little to no jail time for Flynn. Read the full indictment here.
Dec. 02, 2017 – Feb. 11, 2018
Mueller interviews Trump world.
During this period, Mueller’s team interviewed several key figures in Trump’s orbit, including then-White House communications director Hope Hicks, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and George Nader, a businessman with connections to the United Arab Emirates.
The stolen bank accounts that fueled Russia’s meddling.
Pinedo is a California resident who pleaded guilty to selling stolen bank account information to Russian internet trolls who allegedly used the credentials to buy internet ads to sow division among Americans during the election. His company, Auction Essistance, sold bank account numbers that could be used to set up accounts online, likely with PayPal. Pinedo knew that many of his customers were abroad and he admitted he “willfully and intentionally avoided learning” about the stolen identities. His sentence, six months of prison and six months of home confinement, is the longest sentence Mueller has secured. Read the full indictment here.
The Russian “troll farm” that tried to divide America.
Mueller’s first indictment of foreign nationals blamed Russia’s Internet Research Agency for orchestrating a “troll farm” that saturated online platforms with posts that vilified Clinton and supported Trump. Beyond the virtual sabotage, Mueller alleged that Russians also physically entered the United States and paid Americans to help them.
As part of the indictment, the special counsel charged two companies that he said funded the IRA, along with thirteen Russian individuals with a broad charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States and other narrower ones, such as tax fraud and identity theft. However, the indictment did not allege that the Russians’ million-dollar propaganda scheme succeeded in swaying votes, which Trump largely took as a sign of vindication. One of the companies, Concord Management and Consulting LLC, hired American lawyers and has pleaded not guilty. Read the full indictment here.
The Dutch lawyer who lied to Mueller.
Alex van der Zwaan is a Dutch lawyer who, according to the special counsel’s office, lied to federal investigators about communications with Rick Gates, Manafort’s business associate, related to a 2012 report meant to shield the pro-Russia Ukrainian president from scrutiny for jailing a political dissident.
Van der Zwaan was later sentenced to 30 days in a low-security prison in Pennsylvania — the first sentence handed out in the Mueller probe — after which he was deported. Read the full indictment here.
Mueller details a massive financial fraud scheme.
The new superseding indictment against Manafort and Gates included a whopping 32 charges of tax and bank fraud. Specifically, Mueller accused the pair of severely understating their income on tax forms, and the timing overlapped with some of Manafort’s work as Trump’s campaign chairman. Read the full indictment here.
Within days, Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and lying to the FBI, striking a deal to cooperate with Mueller. Gates, formerly Manafort’s deputy, would go on to serve as a star witness at the trial against Manafort, who was found guilty on eight different counts by an Alexandria, Va., jury. As part of Manafort’s eventual plea deal, Mueller agreed to dismiss the charges that resulted in a hung jury in Virginia.
Ukraine and a secret lobbying campaign.
A new filing in the special counsel investigation alleged that Trump’s former campaign chairman was the mastermind behind a covert group of former prominent European politicians “secretly retained” to promote Ukrainian interests in Washington. According to the document, a member of the so-called “Hapsburg Group,” which was led by a former Austrian chancellor, at one point met with former President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden to try and credit a Ukrainian dissident. Read the full filing here.
Feb. 24, 2018 – Jun. 07, 2018
Trump changes lawyers, negotiates Q&A.
After the flurry of activity in February, Mueller’s team takes a four-month break from major public action. During this time period, Mueller’s team is negotiating with Trump’s over a possible in-person interview between the special counsel’s office and the president. Trump also turned over his legal team during this span. Lead attorney John Dowd resigned over disagreements regarding strategy, and Rudy Giuliani took his place, installing a more pugilistic approach toward the special counsel.
“Manafort’s man in Kiev.”
Mueller returned from a nearly four-month hiatus in indictments to charge Manafort again, this time with obstruction of justice due to witness tampering. This was also the first time that the special counsel publicly charged Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime associate, for aiding Manafort in his attempts to cajole witnesses. Mueller contended that Manafort and Kilimnik contacted witnesses who were slated to testify against Manafort and encouraged them to state that the so-called “Hapsburg Group” only operated in Europe, which would have shielded them from scrutiny under U.S. foreign lobbying laws. But Mueller’s prosecutors had evidence that the group had also operated in the United States. Read the full indictment here.
“Guccifer 2.0″ and the DNC Hack.
The indictment of 12 officials from the Russian government’s military intelligence unit, the GRU, directly connected the 2016 election meddling campaign to the senior Moscow officials. The individuals were charged with conspiring to hack computers of individuals involved with the Democratic Party and the Clinton campaign, including John Podesta, and disseminating emails through the online persona “Guccifer 2.0.”
Even though the indictment was largely symbolic — as the defendants are unlikely to be extradited from Russia — it came just days before an astounding joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland, where Trump refused to condemn Putin over the 2016 election hacking, despite a forceful assessment from the U.S. intelligence community the Russian leader had ordered the operation. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people,” Trump said. “But I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Read the full indictment here.
Cohen flips, details hush money pay-offs.
On a referral from Mueller’s office, Trump’s former attorney and fixer pleaded guilty to violating campaign finance laws by paying hush money during the campaign to two women at Trump’s direction in order to cover up alleged extramarital affairs. Cohen admitted that he made the payments “for the purposes of influencing the election.” As part of his deal, Cohen agreed to cooperate informally with Mueller’s team. Cohen was later sentenced to three years for both the lying-to-Congress charge and the tax-fraud charges. “I have been living in a personal and mental incarceration ever since the day that I accepted the offer to work for a real estate mogul whose business acumen that I deeply admired,” Cohen told the court. Read the full document here.
Inauguration tickets or foreign lobbying?
W. Samuel Patten, a Manafort associate, admitted that he paid $50,000 to get inauguration tickets for a pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarch and another Russian individual. This disclosure was the first official sign that pro-Russian money from foreigners had flowed into the coffers of the Trump inaugural committee to help foreigners gain access to events, which is illegal.
Patten was not charged for the payment, but pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign lobbyist in the United States for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. He then agreed to cooperate with Mueller. Read the full statement here.
Sep. 1, 2018 – Nov. 28, 2018
Mueller goes dark before the election.
Mueller’s team kept its work mostly behind the scenes in the run-up to the 2018 midterm elections.
Cohen admits he lied about Trump Tower Moscow.
Cohen later admitted in a plea deal with Mueller’s team that he had also lied to Congress about business talks to build a Trump Tower in Russia, conceding that the discussions went much later in the campaign than he and and the Trump team had signaled. Cohen also said he kept Trump and his family abreast of the developments with the potential Russia project. Read the full plea deal here.
Nov. 30, 2018 – Jan. 24, 2019
A break in the silence to dispute Buzzfeed
Mueller’s operation remained mostly quiet, with the exception of a statement made Jan. 18 denying aspects of a bombshell Buzzfeed news report that Trump instructed Cohen to lie to Congress about dealings related to the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Roger Stone, the Trump campaign and “Organization 1”
On an early Friday morning, FBI agents arrived at the Florida home of Roger Stone, a longtime aide and confidant of Trump. Stone was arrested on charges filed by Mueller that he lied to Congress about his efforts to communicate with WikiLeaks, referred to as “Organization 1” in the indictment, and his contacts with the Trump campaign. Stone’s indictment marks the biggest move yet against a Trump associate on grounds related to the release of stolen emails to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Charges also accused Stone of attempting to intimidate radio host Randy Credico, who was in contact with WikiLeaks head Julian Assange in 2016. Read the full indictment here.
The indictment reflects a stunning turn for Stone, whose relationship with the president spans nearly 40 years, making him a prime target for investigators to try to turn into a government witness. The White House insists the charges of lying to congressional investigators and witness tampering ‘don’t have anything to do with the president.’
Katie Galioto contributed to this story.