Mueller investigated the meeting on June 9, 2016, in Trump Tower in New York City between three senior members of Trump's presidential campaign—Kushner, Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr.—and at least five other people, including Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, a lobbyist and former Soviet army officer who met senior Trump campaign aides, Ike Kaveladze, British publicist Rob Goldstone, and translator Anatoli Samochornov. Goldstone had suggested the meeting to Trump Jr., and it was arranged in a series of emails later made public. In one email exchange of June 3, 2016, Goldstone wrote Trump Jr. that Aras Agalarov "offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father", adding that it was "very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump" that he could send to Donald Trump's assistant Rhona Graff. Trump Jr. responded minutes later "Thanks Rob I appreciate that" and "if it's what you say I love it." Trump Jr. initially told the press that the meeting was held to discuss adoptions of Russian children by Americans, but after contrary media reports he added that he agreed to the meeting with the understanding that he would receive information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Mueller's team investigated the emails and the meeting, and whether President Trump later tried to hide the meeting's purpose. On July 18, 2017, Kaveladze's attorney said that Mueller's investigators were seeking information about the meeting in June 2016 from his client, and on July 21, Mueller asked the White House to preserve all documents related to the meeting. It has been reported that Manafort had made notes during the meeting. CNN reported on July 26, 2018, that anonymous sources stated that Michael Cohen was prepared to tell the Mueller investigation that Trump was aware of and approved of the June 9, 2016, meeting in advance, which Trump and Trump Jr. have repeatedly denied. CNN reported in the same story that Cohen attorney Lanny Davis had declined to comment for the report. The following day, The Washington Post reported a similar story coming from one anonymous source, although the paper did not specifically mention Russians. One month later, Davis identified himself as that source, clarifying that he could not be certain of Cohen's knowledge in the matter. Davis also asserted he had been a source for the CNN story. A CNN spokeswoman stated, "We stand by our story, and are confident in our reporting of it."
In January 2017, an assessment was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, then headed by Obama appointee James Clapper, which asserted that Russian leadership had favored presidential candidate Donald Trump over rival candidate Hillary Clinton, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin had personally ordered an "influence campaign" to harm Clinton's electoral chances and "undermine public faith in the US democratic process". It is alleged that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election by bolstering the candidacies of Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Jill Stein in order to increase political instability in the United States as well as to damage the Clinton presidential campaign.More Info
The investigation was officially concluded on March 22, 2019, with the Mueller Report submitted to Attorney General William Barr. Barr had been critical of the investigation before he became Attorney General. A redacted version of the report was released to the public on April 18, 2019. The report concluded that the Internet Research Agency's social media campaign supported Trump's presidential candidacy while attacking Clinton's, and Russian intelligence hacked and released damaging material from the Clinton campaign and various Democratic Party organizations. The investigation "identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign", and determined that the Trump campaign "expected it would benefit electorally" from Russian hacking efforts. However, ultimately "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities". The evidence was not necessarily complete due to encrypted, deleted, or unsaved communications as well as false, incomplete, or declined testimony. Mueller later said that the investigation's conclusion on Russian interference "deserves the attention of every American".More Info
During his January 2019 confirmation hearings, Barr suggested the investigation's findings could be withheld from the public, as their release is not mandated by law. In June 2018, Barr had sent an unsolicited 19-page memo to deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and Trump attorneys arguing that the Special Counsel's approach to potential obstruction of justice by Trump was "fatally misconceived" and that, based on his knowledge, Trump's actions were within his presidential authority. In June 2017, Barr had characterized the obstruction investigation as "asinine" and that it was "taking on the look of an entirely political operation to overthrow the president". Trump stated in a February 2019 interview that he had not committed to releasing the Mueller report.More Info
Whitaker, a vocal Trump supporter, had publicly criticized the Mueller investigation on several occasions before joining the Justice Department in September 2017, asserting it was "going too far" and referring to it as a "lynch mob". Whitaker is also a personal friend of Sam Clovis, a former co-chair of the Trump campaign who has testified to Mueller's investigators and grand jury. Because of his prior statements and involvement, many Democrats and some Republicans have asserted that Whitaker's potential conflicts of interest require him to recuse himself from overseeing Mueller, although Whitaker reportedly indicated he had no intention of doing so. Justice Department ethics officials typically review conflicts of interest to recommend recusals, but their findings are not binding and are usually kept confidential.More Info
The Trump Organization pursued a luxury hotel and condominium project in Moscow—dubbed the Trump Tower Moscow—during the Trump presidential campaign. This project was facilitated by Michael Cohen, then an attorney for the Trump Organization, and from January 2017 to May 2018 Trump's personal attorney. Trump signed a nonbinding "letter of intent" dated October 13, 2015, to proceed with the project. The letter, also signed by Russian investor Andrei Rozov, was forwarded to Cohen by Russian-American real estate developer Felix Sater, who had worked with The Trump Organization on prior deals, including Trump SoHo and Trump International Hotel & Residence. Sater has also been involved in criminal activities involving organized crime and has served as an informant to the FBI relating to those activities. He boasted to Cohen about his connections to Vladimir Putin, saying in an email to Cohen on November 13, 2015, "Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get all of Putins [sic] team to buy in on this. I will manage this process." He also asserted that he had secured financing for the project through the Russian state-owned VTB Bank, which was under sanctions by the United States government. Cohen emailed Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 to request assistance in advancing the project and later stated he didn't recall receiving a response. Cohen told the Senate Intelligence Committee in September 2017 that the deal was abandoned in January 2016, but in November 2018 admitted in a guilty plea that he had minimized Trump's role in the plans "to be consistent with [Trump's] political messaging" and that negotiations had actually extended through June 2016. Cohen also admitted that Peskov's office had, in fact, replied to his January 2016 email and discussed the deal with him on the phone. In a sentencing memorandum filed the day after his guilty plea, Cohen's attorneys stated he kept Trump "apprised" of the "substantive conversation" Cohen had with the Russian official, and discussed with Trump traveling to Russia to advance the project during the summer of 2016. BuzzFeed News reported on March 12, 2018, that Mueller's investigators had questioned Sater, and on April 13, 2018, reported that a former Russian spy had helped secure financing for the project. In 2010, Sater was provided business cards describing himself as "Senior Advisor to Donald Trump" with an email address at TrumpOrg.com. In a 2013 sworn affidavit, Trump said "If [Sater] were sitting in the room right now, I really wouldn't know what he looked like," and in 2015 he stated "Felix Sater, boy, I have to even think about it. I'm not that familiar with him."More Info
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