The Special Counsel is also investigating whether the Central Bank of Russia's deputy governor, Aleksandr Torshin, illegally funneled money through the National Rifle Association to benefit Trump's campaign. On May 16, 2018, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a report stating it had obtained "a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign" through Torshin and his assistant Mariia Butina, and that "The Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump's campaign." The NRA reported spending $30 million to support the Trump campaign—triple what they devoted to backing Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential race. Most of that money was spent by an arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors. Torshin, a lifetime NRA member, reportedly sought to broker a meeting between Trump and Vladimir Putin in May 2016, but was rebuffed by Kushner. Torshin claims to have met with Trump at a Nashville NRA event in April 2015; he tweeted about the encounter in August, saying that Trump is "a proponent of traditional family values". Torshin spoke with Donald Trump Jr. during a gala event at the NRA's national gathering in Kentucky in May 2016, which Trump Jr.'s attorney Alan Futerfas characterized as "all gun-related small talk". Spanish authorities have implicated Torshin in money laundering and have described him as a "godfather" in Taganskaya, a major Russian criminal organization. On July 14, 2018, Butina was charged by the national security unit of the Justice Department with being an unregistered Russian agent who had attempted to create a backchannel of communications between American Republicans/conservatives and Russian officials by infiltrating the NRA, the National Prayer Breakfast and conservative religious organizations. On December 13, 2018, she pleaded guilty to conspiring with Torshin in this effort. The New York Times reported on July 17, 2018, that Torshin was scheduled to visit the White House in 2017, but the meeting was canceled after a national security aide noted Torshin was under investigation by Spanish authorities for money laundering.
Yahoo News reported that Mueller's team was examining whether the joint RNC–Trump campaign data operation—which was directed on Trump's side by Brad Parscale and managed by Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner—was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the U.S. electorate. Also that month, the Democratic ranking members of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees asked their respective Republican chairmen to subpoena two of the data firms hired by Trump's campaign for documents related to Russia's election interference, including the firm headed by Parscale. On February 27, 2018, Trump selected Parscale to serve as campaign manager on his 2020 reelection campaign. NBC News reported on February 28, 2018, that Mueller's investigators asked witnesses pointed questions about whether Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release. This is the first reported indication that Mueller's investigation is specifically examining whether Trump was personally involved in collusive activities.More Info
In February 2017, it was reported that White House officials had asked the FBI to issue a statement that there had been no contact between Trump associates and Russian intelligence sources during the 2016 campaign. The FBI did not make the requested statement, and observers noted that the request violated established procedures about contact between the White House and the FBI regarding pending investigations. After Comey revealed in March that the FBI was investigating the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Trump phoned Coats and Director of National Security Admiral Michael S. Rogers and asked them to publicly state there was no evidence of collusion between his campaign and the Russians. Both Coats and Rogers believed that the request was inappropriate, though not illegal, and did not make the requested statement. The two exchanged notes about the incident, and Rogers made a contemporary memo to document the request. The White House effort to push back publicly on the Russia probe reportedly also included requests to senior lawmakers with access to classified intelligence about Russia, including Senator Richard Burr and Representative Devin Nunes, the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees, respectively.More Info
USA Today and The New York Times reported on January 31, 2018, that Mueller's office is expected to question Mark Corallo, the former spokesman for President Trump's legal team, about his reported concerns that the president and his longtime aide Hope Hicks might have sought to obstruct justice. Corallo reportedly plans to tell investigators that Hicks told President Trump on a conference call that the Trump Jr. emails regarding his meeting with Russians "will never get out". Hicks' attorney denied the allegation. Mueller's investigators reportedly interviewed Hicks in early December 2017. Corallo had resigned from the Trump team in July 2017, reportedly because he became concerned that the president had obstructed justice.More Info
The New York Times reported, on March 28, 2018, that former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates had, in September and October 2016, frequently communicated with a man that the FBI believes is a former agent of GRU, Russia's largest foreign intelligence agency, and who had maintained active links with Russian intelligence during these communications; this disclosure was written into a court sentencing document for Alex van der Zwaan, submitted by Robert Mueller. Identified in the document as "Person A", The Times reported that the man matched the description of Konstantin Kilimnik, who, for years, was Paul Manafort's "right-hand man" in Ukraine. Gates reportedly told an associate that he knew "Person A" was a former GRU agent, although Manafort told associates he was not aware of such a connection. The Times reported on January 8, 2019, that in spring 2016 Gates and Manafort gave polling data, some of which was private to the Trump campaign, to Kilimnik, asking he pass it to Ukrainians Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov. During a closed-door court hearing on February 4, 2019, regarding false statements Manafort had made to investigators about his communications with Kilimnik, special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told judge Amy Berman Jackson that "This goes, I think, very much to the heart of what the special counsel's office is investigating," suggesting that Mueller's office continued to examine a possible agreement between Russia and the Trump campaign.More Info
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