Special Counsel investigation (2017–2019)

Who was Trump's attorney?

The New York Times reported on April 9, 2018, that the Mueller investigation is examining a $150,000 donation Victor Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire, made in September 2015 to the Donald J. Trump Foundation in exchange for a 20-minute appearance Trump made via video link to a conference in Kiev. This transaction came to light in documents the Trump Organization provided to investigators pursuant to a subpoena earlier in 2018. The donation, the largest the Foundation received in 2015 other than from Trump himself, was solicited by his attorney, Michael Cohen. The Times reported that the subpoena had demanded "documents, emails and other communications about several Russians, including some whose names have not been publicly tied to Mr. Trump".

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  • The New York Times reported on May 15, 2018, that Trump campaign policy aide and later White House Deputy Cabinet Secretary John Mashburn testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee in March 2018 that he recalled receiving an email from George Papadopoulos in the first half of 2016 indicating that the Russian government had damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Before this report, there had been no publicly available information indicating that Papadopoulos had informed anyone on the Trump campaign about such matters. Despite an extensive search for the purported email by various investigators, it has not been located. A court document Mueller's office filed in association with Papadopoulos's guilty plea included verbatim quotes from various emails Papadopoulos had sent or received, but the Mashburn email was not referenced in that document.

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  • Mueller's investigators also asked about the relationship between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and why Trump took policy positions favorable to Russia. Stone, a longtime Republican "dirty trickster" and Trump confidant repeatedly discussed his backchannel communications with Assange and claimed knowledge of forthcoming leaks from Wikileaks. He also exchanged Twitter private messages with Guccifer 2.0, which American intelligence connected to two Russian intelligence groups that cybersecurity analysts have concluded hacked Democratic National Committee emails. The New York Times reported on November 1, 2018, that Stone and Steve Bannon exchanged emails in October 2016 about Assange's intent to release documents, and that Bannon and other former senior Trump campaign officials told Mueller's investigators of Stone's assertions that he was a conduit to Wikileaks and seemed aware of imminent document releases, although the "top tier" of the campaign was skeptical of Stone's claims. Reuters reported on May 16, 2018, that Mueller's office subpoenaed Stone's social media strategist, Jason Sullivan, the prior week to testify before a grand jury on May 18 and to provide documents, objects and electronically stored information. Reuters reported the next day that John Kakanis, Stone's driver, accountant and operative, was also subpoenaed.

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  • The FBI launched an investigation of Trump for obstruction of justice a few days after the May 9 firing of Comey. The special prosecutor's office took over the obstruction of justice investigation and has reportedly interviewed Director of National Intelligence Coats, Director of the National Security Agency Rogers, and Deputy Director of the NSA Richard Ledgett. ABC News reported in June that Mueller was gathering preliminary information about possible obstruction of justice, but a full-scale investigation had not been launched. On June 16, Trump tweeted: "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt." However, Trump's lawyer Jay Sekulow said Trump's tweet was referring to the June 14 Washington Post report that he was under investigation for obstruction of justice, and that Trump has not actually been notified of any investigation.

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  • Mueller is investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Republican activist Peter W. Smith, who stated that he tried to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers, and that he was acting on behalf of Michael Flynn and other senior Trump campaign members. Trump campaign officials have denied that Smith was working with them. In fall 2017, Mueller's team interviewed former Government Communications Headquarters cybersecurity researcher Matt Tait, who had been approached by Smith to verify the authenticity of emails allegedly hacked from Clinton's private email server. Tait reportedly told House Intelligence Committee investigators in October 2017 that he believed Smith had ties to members of Trump's inner circle—including Flynn, Steve Bannon, and Kellyanne Conway—and may have been helping build opposition research for the Trump campaign. Smith committed suicide in May 2017, several days after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his alleged efforts. Aged 81 and reportedly in failing health, he left a carefully prepared file of documents, including a statement police called a suicide note. An attorney for Smith's estate said in October 2017 that some of Smith's documents had been turned over to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Wall Street Journal reported on October 7, 2018, that Smith had raised at least $100,000 from donors in his pursuit of the Clinton emails, that his estate had provided documents to the Mueller investigation, and that associates of Smith had been questioned by Mueller's investigators or a grand jury. The Wall Street Journal reported on October 10, 2018, that Smith had established a "professional relationship" with Flynn as early as 2015, and during the campaign was using Flynn's contacts to assist with his search for the Clinton emails. The Journal reported on October 19, 2018, that the Mueller investigation has evidence Smith may have had prior knowledge of the Guccifer 2.0 hacks. The Mueller report later confirmed significant aspects of Smith's efforts to locate the Clinton emails, including his communications about it with Flynn and campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, as well as Flynn's actions to spearhead the effort at Trump's repeated requests. In May 2019, an unredacted version of a December 2018 government sentencing memo for Flynn showed he had advised investigators that members of the Trump campaign had discussed whether to contact WikiLeaks about the release of emails.

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