Special Counsel investigation (2017–2019)

Who did Trump hire to serve as Secretary of State?

The New Yorker reported on March 5, 2018, that Christopher Steele spoke with Mueller's investigators in September 2017. The magazine asserted that Steele discussed another document he had authored in November 2016—after the Steele dossier—that describes discussions "a senior Russian official" had heard inside the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs: that the Kremlin had asked Trump "through unspecified channels" to not appoint Mitt Romney as Secretary of State. As a presidential candidate in 2012, Romney described Russia as "our number one geopolitical foe". After publicly considering Romney as Secretary of State, Trump ultimately selected Rex Tillerson, who has a long history of business dealings in Russia and was awarded the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin in 2013.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

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  • Trump told reporters on January 24, 2018, that he was "looking forward" to testifying under oath to the Mueller investigation, perhaps in "two or three weeks", but added that it was "subject to my lawyers and all of that". The Wall Street Journal reported on February 25, 2018, that Trump's lawyers are considering ways for him to testify, provided the questions he faces are limited in scope and do not test his recollections in ways that amount to a potential perjury trap. Among options they are considering are providing written answers to Mueller's questions and having the president give limited face-to-face testimony. The Washington Post reported on March 19, 2018, that Trump's attorneys provided Mueller's office "written descriptions that chronicle key moments under investigation in hopes of curtailing the scope of a presidential interview." In May 2018, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani told Politico that Mueller's team has rejected the proposal of providing a written testimony instead of an oral interview. Trump ultimately was not personally interviewed by the special counsel. In November 2018 he said he was preparing written answers to a set of questions, and in late November his legal team said he had submitted answers to the counsel's written questions about "issues regarding the Russia-related topics of the inquiry."

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