The New York Times reported on April 4, 2018, that Nader has a history of dealings with Russia dating back to at least 2012, when he brokered a $4.2 billion arms deal between Russia and Iraq, and attended an invitation-only conference in Moscow organized by close associates of Vladimir Putin. Nader has reportedly traveled frequently to Russia on behalf of the UAE, accompanying MBZ on many of those trips, and has had his photo taken with Putin. Nader has reportedly received at least partial immunity for his cooperation with the Mueller investigation. The Times also reported that Joel Zamel had been stopped at Reagan International Airport in February 2018, had his electronic devices briefly seized, and later testified before the Mueller grand jury about his relationship with Nader. The New York Times reported on May 19, 2018, that Trump Jr. met with Nader, Prince and Zamel in Trump Tower on August 3, 2016. Nader reportedly told Trump Jr. the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to help his father win the election. According to Trump Jr.'s attorney Alan Futerfas, Zamel pitched a social media manipulation campaign from his Israeli company Psy-Group, although Zamel's attorney Marc Mukasey denied this. Trump Jr. reportedly responded favorably according to one source, although Futerfas denied this. Nader subsequently had frequent meetings with Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner. After Trump's election, Nader paid Zamel a large sum of money of up to $2 million. The Times reported that Prince had arranged the August 2016 meeting; Prince had stated in his November 30, 2017, testimony to the House Intelligence Committee that he had no formal communications or contact, nor any unofficial role, with the Trump campaign. The Times reported on October 8, 2018, that sometime after March 2016 Rick Gates had solicited Psy-Group to present proposals for social media manipulation and opposition research against Trump's primary opponents and Hillary Clinton. Gates reportedly was uninterested in the Psy-Group proposals, as social media strategy was being developed inside the Trump campaign, and there is no evidence the Trump campaign pursued the Psy-Group proposals. The Mueller investigation obtained copies of the proposals and questioned Psy-Group employees.
Mueller took over an existing money laundering investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Manafort. On October 30, 2017, a federal grand jury indicted Manafort and his associate Rick Gates on charges including conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, being an unregistered agent of foreign principal, false and misleading FARA statements, and false statements. Manafort's financial activities are also being investigated by the Senate and House intelligence committees, the New York Attorney General, and the Manhattan District Attorney.More Info
In August 2017, Mueller's team issued grand jury subpoenas to officials in six firms, including lobbying firm Podesta Group and Mercury LLC with regard to activities on behalf of a public-relations campaign for a pro-Russian Ukrainian organization called European Centre for a Modern Ukraine. The public relations effort was headed by Paul Manafort, and took place from 2012 to 2014. The Podesta Group is run by Tony Podesta, and Mercury LLC is headed by Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman. Mueller is investigating whether the firms violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The Podesta Group announced in November 2017 that it would be permanently closing, with many of its employees moving to Cogent Strategies, a new firm founded by Podesta Group CEO Kimberley Fritts. Mueller's office later referred the matter to other federal investigators, who closed it in September 2019 without charges against Podesta or Weber.More Info
The Special Counsel investigation expanded to include Trump's and his associates' financial ties to Russia. The FBI is reviewing the financial records of Trump himself, The Trump Organization, Trump's family members, and his campaign staff, including Trump's real estate activities, which had been under federal scrutiny before the campaign. According to CNN, financial crimes may be easier for investigators to prove than any crimes stemming directly from collusion with Russia. Campaign staff whose finances are under investigation include Manafort, Flynn, Carter Page, and Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. At a New York real estate conference in September 2008, Donald Trump Jr. stated: "And in terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." McClatchy reported on April 6, 2018, that Mueller's investigators that week arrived unannounced at the home of an unnamed business associate of the Trump Organization who had worked on foreign deals for the company in recent years. The investigators had warrants for electronic records and to compel sworn testimony, and were reported to be particularly interested in transactions involving Trump's attorney Michael Cohen.More Info
An aircraft owned by Andrei Skoch—a Russian billionaire subject to U.S. sanctions—arrived in the Seychelles a day before Prince himself did. The Washington Post had reported on April 3, 2017, that American, European and Arab officials said the Seychelles meeting was "part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump". Prince denied in November 30, 2017, House Intelligence Committee testimony that he had represented the Trump transition or that the meeting involved any back-channel. The Washington Post reported on March 7, 2018, that Mueller has gathered evidence that contradicts Prince, and ABC News reported on April 6, 2018, that Nader had met with Prince at a Manhattan hotel days before the Seychelles meeting and later provided him with biographical information about Dmitriev. CNN reported on March 6, 2018, that Nader had been detained and questioned by the FBI at Dulles International Airport as he returned from a trip abroad on January 17, 2018.More Info
Trump requested and received the resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after the 2018 midterm elections, following months of criticizing Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation, stating in July 2017, "if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else." Trump appointed Matthew Whitaker, Sessions' chief of staff since September 2017, as Acting Attorney General. While Whitaker was Sessions' chief of staff, White House chief of staff John Kelly described him as the West Wing's "eyes and ears" in the DOJ, which Trump considered hostile to him. Prior to joining the Justice Department, Whitaker had publicly criticized the Mueller investigation on several occasions, asserting it was "going too far", referring to it as a "lynch mob", and suggested it could be impeded by cutting its budget. Trump had seen Whitaker's supportive commentaries on CNN during the summer of 2017 and that July Whitaker was interviewed by White House counsel Don McGahn to join the Trump legal team as an "attack dog" against Mueller. During an interview with The Daily Caller on November 14, 2018, Trump was asked who he might be considering to assume the permanent attorney general position, mentioning Whitaker. Unprompted, Trump stated, "as far as I'm concerned this is an investigation that should have never been brought...It's an illegal investigation".More Info
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