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 May 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, to take over the FBI's work. As Rosenstein later informed Congress, he elected to use a Special Counsel because of the ongoing concerns about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and his own concerns about the capabilities of the acting Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, to carry out the investigation, but the lack of any Senate-confirmed U.S. Attorneys at that point meant that he would need to appoint someone else. Mueller was an appropriate choice in his view. According to its authorizing document, the investigation's scope included allegations of "links and/or coordination" between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. Mueller was also mandated to pursue "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation." The probe included a criminal investigation which looked into potential obstruction of justice charges against President Trump and members of his campaign or his administration.More Info
The New York Times reported on February 14, 2017, that phone records and communications intercepts showed that Trump associates—including members of the Trump campaign—had "repeated contacts" with senior Russian intelligence officials during the 2016 campaign. Paul Manafort was the only Trump associate who was specifically identified as participating in these communications. In addition, some senior Trump associates, including Kushner, Trump Jr., Sessions, Flynn and Manafort, had direct contacts with Russian officials during 2016. In congressional testimony the following June, Comey stated the Times report was "in the main" not true. The Times reported that during the intervening months, its sources continued to believe the reporting was "solid." In July 2020, the Senate Judiciary Committee released notes taken contemporaneously with the Times report by FBI Counterintelligence Division chief Peter Strzok indicating his skepticiam about the Times' reporting, writing, “We have not seen evidence of any officials associated with the Trump team in contact with [intelligence officers]" and "“We are unaware of ANY Trump advisors engaging in conversations with Russian intelligence officials.” The Times stood by its account, subsequently reporting that the released notes did not provide a fully accurate representation of Strzok's knowledge. Michael Flynn was forced to resign as National Security Advisor on February 13, 2017, after it was revealed that on December 29, 2016, the day that Obama announced sanctions against Russia, Flynn had discussed the sanctions with Russian ambassador Kislyak. Flynn had earlier acknowledged speaking to Kislyak but denied discussing the sanctions. Also in December 2016, Flynn and presidential advisor Jared Kushner met with Kislyak hoping to set up a direct, secure line of communication with Russian officials about which American intelligence agencies would be unaware. Jared Kushner also met with Sergei Gorkov, the head of the Russian state-owned bank Vnesheconombank (VEB), which has been subject to U.S. economic sanctions since July 2014. Flynn and Kushner failed to report these meetings on their security clearance forms.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
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
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
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