Timeline: Mueller's Russia Investigation
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible links between the Trump’s campaign and Russia seems to be entering a new phase. On Monday, Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former business partner Rick Gates became the first people charged in Mueller’s investigation. George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to President Trump, has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Here is a timeline of Mueller’s investigation. It will be updated as new information is released.
May 17: Mueller appointed as Special Counsel
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed the former FBI director to serve as Special Counsel to investigate possible collusion between President Trump’s associates and Russian officials.
“In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” Rosenstein said in a statement.
The White House did not learn of Rosenstein’s decision until just 30 minutes before the public announcement was made, according to the Washington Post.
Rosenstein’s decision came after revelations that President Trump asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the FBI’s probe into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. (Flynn is under investigation for his communications with the Russian ambassador, as well as for his business dealings with Russian and Turkish government officials and lying to the FBI.)
Rosenstein’s decision also came amid pressure from Democrats. Rosenstein was put in charge of the Russian probe after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, but Democrats said he could not be impartial because he wrote a memo recommending Comey’s firing.
In the memo, Rosenstein said Comey had violated Justice Department practices in his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. But shortly after the announcement, the president said, “I was going to fire Comey regardless of recommendation,” in an interview with NBC News’ Lester Holt.
June 14: Mueller investigating Trump
The Washington Post reported that the special counsel is examining whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
The report came after Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the president asked him in February to end the FBI’s investigation into Flynn.
Trump denied the federal probe, calling it the “greatest witch hunt in American political history.”
July 19: Trump warns Mueller
The president appeared to threaten the special counsel in a New York Times interview, saying he would be crossing a red line if he examined his family’s financial history.
He told the Times, “I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia.”
Trump also said that Mueller’s office had several conflicts of interests, including Rosenstein. He said Rosenstein was double-teaming, by recommending the firing of Comey and then by appointing Mueller as special counsel.
July 20: Mueller ignores Trump’s public warning, looks into his finances
Bloomberg reported that Mueller is investigating “a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates.”
July 26: FBI raids Manafort’s home
FBI agents conducted a predawn raid of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s Virginia home.
The agents arrived at Manafort’s home without warning and had a search warrant requesting “documents related to tax, banking and other matters,” according to the Washington Post.
To get a judge to sign off on a search warrant, law enforcement officials must show that there is probable cause that a crime has been committed, according to Cornell Law School.
“More so than anything else we’ve seen so far, it really does send a powerful law enforcement message when the search warrant is used...That message is that the special counsel team will use all criminal investigative tools available to advance the investigation as quickly and as comprehensively as possible,” Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor told the Post.
“Mr. Manafort has consistently cooperated with law enforcement and other serious inquiries and did so on this occasion as well,” Jason Maloni, a Manafort spokesman, told the Post.
August 5: Mueller issues a grand jury in Washington, D.C.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the special counsel’s use of the grand jury in Washington.
The move “indicated that Mueller has found evidence of criminal activity and that the investigation extends beyond Flynn [who was already the focus of a grand jury in Alexandria, Va.]” according to The Hill.
A grand jury typically consists of 16 to 23 people and is used to investigate potential criminal conduct, and determine whether criminal charges should be brought. They allow prosecutors to issue subpoenas, which can require people to produce documents and other evidence. Subpoenas can also be used to compel people to testify under oath before the grand jury.
“Typically a grand jury is impaneled at the very beginning of an investigation. Indictments are usually sought at the very end of an investigation, after all the witnesses are questioned and all of the documents are obtained,” Renato Mariotti wrote in Politico.
Mueller’s use of a grand jury suggests that his investigation is just getting started.
September 29: Mueller questions White House staffers
Fox News reported that Mueller started interviewing White House officials as part of the Russian probe.
The National Security Council’s chief of staff, retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, was interviewed, according to the report.
October 5: Mueller looks at the dossier
CNN reported that Mueller’s team met this past summer with former British spy Christopher Steele who authored the Russia dossier.
The dossier is 35-pages and claims that Russia has been “cultivating, supporting, and assisting Trump for at least five years,” according to The Hill.
October 13: Mueller interviews Priebus
POLITICO first reported the special counsel’s team interviewed former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus.
“Mr. Priebus was voluntarily interviewed by Special Counsel Mueller’s team today. He was happy to answer all of their questions," William Burck, Priebus's lawyer, told POLITICO.
Priebus left the White House in July, and is seen as a central figure in understanding the president’s actions as Trump’s former chief of staff.
October 17: Mueller interviews Spicer
Mueller and his team interviewed former White House press secretary Sean Spicer.
“Spicer was grilled about the firing of former FBI director James Comey and his statements regarding the firing, as well as about Trump’s meetings with Russians officials including one with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the Oval Office,” a report by POLITICO said.
Spicer also resigned his White House post in July.
October 27: Mueller interviews CIA Director James Woolsey
NBC News reported that former CIA Director James Woolsey has been in contact with FBI agents working under Mueller “about allegations that Mike Flynn discussed the illegal removal of a Turkish cleric from the U.S.”
October 27: Mueller files the first charges
CNN first reported that a federal grand jury in Washington approved the first charges in Mueller’s investigation. The charges remain sealed under orders from a federal judge, and it is unclear what they are.
October 30: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged in Mueller investigation
President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and his longtime business associate, Rick Gates, were indicted by a federal grand jury on 12 charges, including conspiracy against the U.S., Mueller's office announced.
Other charges against Manafort and Gates include money laundering, being an unregistered agent of a foreign principal and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.
The Indictment was unsealed on Oct. 30, 2017 after Manafort and Gates were told to surrender to the FBI.
Damon Winter / The New York Times
October 30: George Papadopoulos, ex-foreign policy adviser to Trump, pleads guilty in Mueller’s probe
A former Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, secretly pleaded guilty three weeks ago to lying to federal agents about his communication with Russian-connected contacts.
The announcement about Papadopoulos, 30, came after indictments against former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates were unsealed.
The unsealed court documents in the Papadopoulos case refer to unnamed campaign officials who knew he was trying to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian officials. According to NBC News, “Two sources familiar with the charges said one of the officials is Manafort, who authored a key email about Papadopoulos' efforts.
Papadopoulos is the first person to plead guilty in Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s presidential campaign. He is a specialist in oil and gas policy.
October 31: Sam Clovis, ex-Trump campaign official, questioned by Mueller
NBC News reported Sam Clovis was questioned last week by Mueller’s team and testified before the investigating grand jury.
Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, would neither confirm nor deny his interactions with the Mueller team to NBC News. Toensing confirmed that Clovis was the unnamed campaign supervisor who in the Papadopoulos emails.
After Papadopoulos discussed his communications with Russians who wanted to arrange a meeting with the president and Russian leaders, Clovis responded “Great work.”
Clovis, a former Air Force officer and Pentagon official, was the Trump campaign's chief policy adviser and national co-chairman. He is President Trump's pick to be the Department of Agriculture's chief scientist.