By Garret M. Graff
1. The Russian Government’s Election Attack: The special counsel moved aggressively to outline and charge the Russian government’s core attack on the 2016 election, which included both active cyber intrusions and data theft by the military intelligence unit GRU and the GRU’s attempted attacks on the US voting system, as well as online information influence operations by the Internet Research Agency, known by the moniker “Project Lakhta.” Numerous threads from this investigation remain unseen—including a possible cooperator inside the Internet Research Agency, Putin’s own involvement, whether any Americans contributed knowingly to the attack, the role of the FSB’s “Cozy Bear” hackers, and whether or how Russia’s expensive and multipronged attack coordinated with contacts between Russian nationals and the Trump campaign over the course of 2016, including the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Mueller has also reportedly been investigating the role of late GOP activist Peter Smith, who had apparently tried to locate stolen emails and make contact with Russian hackers. It’s also unclear what has sparked Mueller’s apparent continued interest in Trump’s campaign tech firm, Cambridge Analytica.
Status: 12 Russian military intelligence officers from the GRU indicted, 13 people indicted from the Internet Research Agency, alongside three Russian companies, and a guilty plea from one California man who unwittingly aided their identity theft. Manafort aide Sam Patten is cooperating with investigators.
2. WikiLeaks: Whether WikiLeaks’ publishing of the emails stolen by Russian hackers connects from Moscow to Trump Tower itself remains an open question. But a leaked aborted plea agreement from conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi makes clear that Trump associates had at least some advance knowledge of what WikiLeaks was planning to publish. How any of that may connect with looming charges facing WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and another apparently abandoned deal for him to leave the Ecuador embassy in London is also unclear.
Status: Both Trump aide Roger Stone and Corsi have said they expect to be indicted. Unclear if looming charges against Assange relate to Mueller investigation.
3. Middle Eastern Influence: Potentially the biggest unseen aspect of Mueller’s investigation is his year-long pursuit of Middle Eastern influence targeting the Trump campaign, which the Daily Beast reported last week might become public sometime early next year. As the Daily Beast wrote, “The ‘Russia investigation’ is set to go global.” The investigation appears to centre on the role of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, which were eager to help the campaign and, in some cases, have business ties to Trump or presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner specifically appears to have been a key focus of these foreign efforts: The New Yorker and other news outlets have carefully traced how China, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia targeted the White House, senior adviser.
4. Paul Manafort’s Activity: What began over a year ago with a sweeping money laundering indictment targeting Trump’s one-time campaign chair—and resulted in his conviction on eight felonies at trial before he accepted a plea agreement on other charges—continues to unfold. In court documents, Mueller has made clear that he’s investigating Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian tied to Russian intelligence. He may also have interest in Kilimnik’s interactions with another Trump associate, real estate investor Tom Barrack, who has also been interviewed by investigators.
Status: Manafort’s been both convicted at trial and accepted a plea agreement; lawyer Alex van der Zwaan pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about the Ukrainian work; Manafort associate Sam Patten has pleaded guilty to failing to register as a foreign agent; Kilimnik has been indicted for obstruction of justice. Known cooperators include Trump deputy campaign chair and Manafort business partner Rick Gates, who has also pleaded guilty to his own role in the money laundering scheme.
5. The Trump Tower Moscow Project: Just days before Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison for the eight felonies he pleaded guilty to in August, Mueller surprised everyone with a ninth charge. Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress about the status of the Trump Organization’s pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow, a proposed project that extended longer into the campaign and proceeded into more serious conversations than previously admitted. The special counsel also noted how the project would be worth “hundreds of millions” of dollars, far more than a normal Trump licensing deal, leading to questions about why it would have been so lucrative. The case also connects the Trump Organization’s business deals, and the campaign, directly to the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government was at the time busily engaged in the attack on the US election. Moreover, according to statements by congressional investigators and documents released from Congress’s own Russia investigation, other figures, including Donald Trump Jr., may face legal exposure about their own testimony on the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Status: Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the status of the project and is cooperating with investigators.
6. Other Campaign and Transition Contacts With Russia: As journalists have pieced together, at least 14 Trump associates had contact with Russia during the campaign and transition, from foreign policy aide Carter Page to would-be attorney general Jeff Sessions. Questions continue to surround many of those contacts, not least of all the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 that included Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort, and which involved hints that the meeting was only “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump,” as the email setting up the meeting first promised.
Status: Both national security adviser Michael Flynn and foreign policy aide George Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to charges related to their campaign and transition contacts with Russia. Cohen and Flynn have both provided extensive cooperation to Mueller about the campaign and transition contacts.
7. Obstruction of Justice: Robert Mueller’s appointment stemmed from Trump’s decision to fire FBI director James Comey and fears that the firing was an attempt to obstruct the initial stages of the Russia investigation. But recent court documents hint that Mueller might be assembling a broader obstruction-of-justice case against Trump, one that could potentially argue that the president’s public statements intentionally misled the public in an attempt to limit the scope of the Russia investigation. Even if Mueller decides there’s enough evidence to bring a case here, it seems more likely to get passed along to Congress for consideration of impeachment rather than prosecuted in court.
Status: No public movement yet, but court documents point to the fact that at least Manafort and Cohen have provided evidence useful to this case about their own contacts in 2017 and 2018 with the White House.
Investigations by the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York
8. Campaign Conspiracy and the Trump Organization’s Finances: Despite the myriad cases unfolding from the special counsel, the White House’s most immediate legal jeopardy increasingly appears to stem from federal prosecutors in New York digging into Trump’s alleged financial shenanigans. Perhaps the biggest political bombshell amid the last three weeks has been the new revelations around Michael Cohen, “Individual 1” (as court documents have identified Trump), and the hush-money payments to cover up extramarital affairs in the final weeks of the 2016 election. Prosecutors have written that Donald Trump himself directed the payments—an indication that they have solid documentary evidence that hasn’t become public yet—and have apparently lined up nearly every other participant in the scheme as a cooperator.
Status: Cohen has already pleaded guilty, and National Enquirer’s David Pecker, its parent company AMI, Cohen, and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselbergare all cooperating with investigators.
9. Inauguration Funding: Late last week, The Wall Street Journal broke word that prosecutors were digging into the record $107 million raised and spent by the Trump inauguration committee, potentially with concerns about where that money came from and where it went, based in part on documents and evidence seized during the Michael Cohen investigation. Journalists have long raised questions about where the inauguration money went, and the FBI expressed concern about the Russian elites who appeared at the event. We already know that at least some shady money was involved: Manafort associate Sam Patten’s plea agreement includes that he helped a Ukrainian businessman funnel $50,000 to the inauguration.
Status: No public court activity yet beyond Patten, but he is cooperating with investigators.
10. Trump SuperPAC Funding: Related to the news about the inauguration inquiries was the word that prosecutors are digging into the funding of a Trump SuperPAC, Rebuilding America Now, where Paul Manafort also played a role.
Status: No public court activity yet, but Manafort aide Sam Patten is cooperating with investigators.
11. Foreign Lobbying: Robert Mueller also handed off information he uncovered during the Manafort money laundering probe to prosecutors in New York. According to news reports, he referred questions about at least a trio of other lobbyists—Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Greg Craig—and whether they allegedly failed to appropriately register as foreign agents for work related to Ukraine. Podesta abruptly closed his eponymous lobbying firm last year, and Mueller had previously been interested in the work done by Mercury LLC, Weber’s firm, as well as the law firm Skadden Arps, where Craig worked until earlier this year. Skadden Arps also employed the Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with Rick Gates.
Status: Rick Gates is cooperating with investigators.
Investigations by the US Attorney for the District of Columbia
12. Maria Butina and the NRA: The guilty plea last week by a Russian agent and gun-rights enthusiast Butina came with an extensive cooperation agreement, including the possibility of her meeting with investigators without lawyers present. While the most immediate next target of the investigation appears to be Butina’s boyfriend, Republican operative Paul Erickson—he was sent a so-called “target” letter by prosecutors recently—questions have also swirled about 2016 campaign funding by the National Rifle Association and the reach of Russia into the US conservative movement. Notably, Butina attended numerous conservative events—including the inauguration—and brought 11 Russians to the annual prayer breakfast, was photographed with numerous conservative leaders, and even asked candidate Trump a question at an event early in the campaign, giving him an opportunity to praise Russia.
Status: Maria Butina has pleaded guilty and is cooperating.
Investigations by the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia
13. Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova: The alleged chief accountant of the Internet Research Agency was indicted separately earlier this fall by prosecutors in northern Virginia and the Justice Department’s unit that handles counterintelligence and espionage cases, not by Mueller’s special counsel office. Khusyaynova was charged with the activity that went above and beyond the 2016 campaign, including efforts to meddle in this year’s midterms. Why she was prosecuted separately remains a puzzle.
Status: Khusyaynova has been indicted.
14. Turkish Influence: According to court documents, Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn contributed to two investigations beyond the Russia probe. While both were redacted in his court case, there are strong hints, including reporting by The New York Times, that one of those two cases includes a grand jury in northern Virginia focused on illegal influence by the Turkish government. According to the Times, “Prosecutors are examining Mr Flynn’s former business partners and clients who financed a campaign against Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania whom the Turkish government has accused of helping instigate a failed coup.” Flynn’s own sentencing documents allude to the fact that Flynn handed over voluminous records from his own businesses.
Status: Michael Flynn’s plea agreement includes some details of the case. Flynn is cooperating with investigators.
Investigations by New York City, New York State, & Other State Attorneys General
15. Tax Case: In the wake of a New York Times investigation that found Donald Trump had apparently benefited from upwards of $400 million in tax schemes, city officials said they were investigating trump’s tax payments, as did the New York State Tax Department. Longtime lawyer and Trump fixer Cohen also reported in his own court filing that he met with investigators from the New York Attorney General’s Office, although the court filings didn’t explain what the investigation entailed.
16. The Trump Foundation: The New York Attorney General sued the Trump Foundation this summer, charging it with, as The New York Times summarized, “sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign.” A judge just ruled last month that the lawsuit can proceed. Now the incoming attorney general has promised even more wide-ranging inquiries in the Trump business world.
Status: Case is proceeding, having cleared initial court tests.
17. Emoluments Lawsuit: The attorneys general for Maryland and DC sent out subpoenas earlier this month for Trump Organization and hotel financial records relating to their lawsuit alleging that the president is in breach of the so-called Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which appears to prohibit the president from accepting payments from foreign powers while in office. The lawsuit’s discovery phase could push voluminous amounts of information into public view about how foreign governments have funnelled business to Trump’s organization, like how the Saudi government evidently purchased more than 500 rooms at Trump’s hotel in DC in the months after the election
Courtesy of wired.com