When did Bob Mueller become a Republican
The report on the Russia affair divides political America - what happens now?
The special investigator Mueller has found no evidence of illegal collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but has brought to light highly dubious actions of the American president. What's next in the affair? We shed light on the most important questions.
Robert Mueller is considered a master of secrecy. The 75-year-old special investigator in the Russia affair never looked into his cards during his almost two-year investigation. When he reported on his investigation results for the first time in July 2019 in front of two congressional committees - and thus in front of an audience of millions on television - the nation was amazed: Mueller seemed overwhelmed, sometimes downright confused. Nevertheless, his investigation report shed light on numerous aspects of the affair. A majority of the Democratic MPs in the House of Representatives demanded impeachment proceedings against President Trump based on the Mueller report - however, they were only able to enforce this demand after the outbreak of the Ukraine affair in autumn 2019.
1. What did Mueller investigate?
Upon his appointment, former FBI director Robert Mueller was tasked with investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible coordination between Moscow and Donald Trump's campaign team. He was also allowed to investigate other criminal offenses that he came across during his investigation.
The investigation focused on the following:
- Russian attempts at Influencing the presidential election, including the hacking of computers of the Democratic Party and disinformation in social networks: Mueller's office has brought charges in this context against more than two dozen Russian citizens, among them alleged secret service people, the employees of a propaganda institution in St. Petersburg and the financiers of this so-called Troll factory. The special prosecutor was also interested in the role of the Wikileaks disclosure platform in the distribution of stolen emails.
- suspicion of illegalAgreements between employees of Trump and Russian government circles: Various episodes were examined, including a meeting with a Russian lawyer from whom Donald Trump's eldest son had hoped to gain incriminating information about the Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The contacts between two foreign policy advisors and representatives of the Russian government, the negotiations on the construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow and the relations between the election campaign manager Manafort and circles close to the Kremlin were also considered suspicious.
The basic question was: Did Trump employees try to coordinate the election campaign with the Russians and was something promised to Moscow in return? The special investigator did not discover any such agreements. For the President, this result was a clear victory.
- Obstruction of justice: Mueller has apparently been working on a chain of evidence to show that Trump was trying to torpedo the Russia investigation. That would be an obstruction of justice. The dismissal of the FBI director, which the president justified with his Russia investigation, but also Trump's interference in the investigation against the former security advisor Michael Flynn, is stressful. He also led an angry campaign against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom he accused of allowing a witch hunt against him, and publicly toured the pardon of potential witnesses, which can be seen as an attempt to influence them.
In his report, Mueller wrote with regard to the allegation of obstruction of justice: "This report does not come to the conclusion that the president has committed a crime, but it does not absolve him of it either." However, the Attorney General Barr, appointed by Trump, made a clear determination: The evidence was insufficient to conclude that there was an obstruction of justice.
- Further attempts at influencing: In the course of the investigation, Mueller came across aspects that were not directly related to the Russia affair. His investigators also followed up the suspicion that the United Arab Emirates wanted to influence the new president with money and obtained the conviction of a lobbyist who had worked illegally as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian Ukrainian party.
- Financial offenses: Trump's temporary campaign manager Manafort was convicted of tax fraud and money laundering; He received two prison terms totaling 7.5 years in March 2019. The investigations into his financial crimes served as leverage to get him to cooperate in coming to terms with the Russia affair, which was only partially successful. Manafort's right-hand man, Rick Gates, another senior member of the campaign staff, confessed to similar crimes.
- False statements: Deliberate false statements to federal police officers or the Congress are punishable by law. Various people from Trump's circle stumbled upon lies, among them the former security advisor Michael Flynn, the lawyer Michael Cohen and the foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos.
2. What is in Mueller's report?
The document has 448 pages, including appendices. After the terrorist attacks of September 2001, a state commission of inquiry published a detailed report on the history, course and consequences of the tragic events. The Mueller report, on the other hand, is primarily a legal document. The legal requirement was that the special prosecutor had to explain in which cases he had decided in favor of prosecution and in which cases he had decided not to bring charges.
Mueller did not recommend any further charges beyond the 38 victims. Some of the results of the investigation can serve the Democrats in Congress as well as regular federal prosecutors to further and deepen the investigation in certain areas. An open question is what is hidden behind the covered passages. According to Attorney General Barr, they concern investigative secrets and the privacy of people who are not being charged and who have a right to have discriminatory evidence against them kept secret. The House of Representatives, however, wants to see the full report.
On the question of a possible obstruction of justice, Mueller did not go so far as to explicitly accuse the president of culpable behavior. But between the lines he seemed to be doing just that. He wrote tellingly that he would hold on to Trump's innocence if the facts allowed him. He spared him the accusation of having committed a criminal act mainly for a procedural reason: the judicial authorities are not allowed to bring proceedings against an incumbent president, and therefore a head of state accused by the special investigator would have no fair opportunity to prove his innocence in court. However, various facts in the report paint the picture of a president who tried to suppress the investigation into Russia by all means, deposed uncomfortable judicial officers, influenced witnesses and incited employees to lie.
3. How will the affair continue?
Mueller's report did not mark an end. One of the main allegations - the one about illegal interaction with Moscow - has now been largely refuted. For various reasons, however, the affair continues to simmer:
- Since they came to power in the House of Representatives in January 2019, the Democrats have determined the procedures of the supervisory bodies there. The secret service committee has kicked off its long half-hearted investigation into Russia. The chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff, himself a former public prosecutor, announced that he would be examining several inadequately investigated aspects. Among them is the question of whether Trump made himself vulnerable to blackmail and whether foreign actors tried to gain financial influence over him. In this context, the committee tried in vain to obtain legal action from Deutsche Bank to hand over business files on Trump.
- A legal dispute is still undecided as to whether Trump's former legal advisor Don McGahn has to appear for a hearing before the judicial committee of the large chamber. McGahn was an important witness for Mueller. However, the White House had forbidden him to testify in Congress and with this position he was right in the second instance. The appeals process has been running since April 2020.
- Another legal dispute concerns the request by private plaintiffs to publish the full text of the Mueller report. In March 2020, the responsible federal judge was unwilling to simply believe Justice Minister William Barr's arguments for secrecy. In a sensational decision, he questioned its trustworthiness. Barr failed to provide the public with a thorough summary of the Mueller report the previous year and rather misrepresented its content. The judge will therefore check himself whether the blackened parts in the report deserve secrecy.
4. Who was charged, who was convicted?
As a result of the Russia affair, charges were brought against 38 people and 3 companies. Most of them are Russian citizens; only 10 charges were directed against Americans. 9 people pleaded guilty or were convicted by a court. Only some of these convictions are directly related to the Russia affair.
Former advisers to Donald Trump
Trump's campaign manager from April to August 2016 was formerly a lobbyist for pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. He received $ 18 million in black money through this channel. Manafort was found guilty of banking and tax fraud in August 2018. In a second trial, he pleaded guilty to fraud and obstruction of justice in the hope of mitigation. However, his cooperation with the investigators was broken off because the special prosecutor accused him of continuing to lie. In March 2019, he received prison sentences totaling 7.5 years. Shortly before the end of Trump's term in office, Manafort enjoyed a presidential pardon.
The former Vice President of the Trump Group and personal lawyer for the President had contacts with influential people in Russia in connection with the project for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Trump and Cohen tried to cover up the fact that this project had been pursued during the 2016 election campaign. In December 2018, the lawyer was sentenced to three years in prison, among other things for lying to Congress on the matter. His role in the hush money payments to two women with whom Trump is said to have had affairs was also his undoing. With these payments, Cohen broke campaign funding laws. According to the prosecution, Cohen acted on behalf of Trump, which indirectly portrays him as a lawbreaker. Cohen also provided evidence of various violations of the law by the President at a sensational congressional hearing in February 2019.
Trump's security advisor Michael Flynn had to resign three weeks after his appointment because he had lied about the content of his talks with the Russian ambassador Kisljak. He had denied that these contacts were about sanctions against Russia; Interception logs showed the opposite. Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 for making false statements to the FBI. The determination of the sentence was postponed until the Ministry of Justice reversed itself in May 2020 and applied for the proceedings to be discontinued. Since the responsible federal judge opposed this step, Trump pulled the rip cord shortly before the end of his term in office and pardoned Flynn in full. Further allegations, which never led to charges, related to Flynn's unauthorized diplomatic contacts and lobbying activities without the legally required registration. In 2015 he had earned $ 68,000 as a lobbyist for Russian interests. In doing so, he probably also violated anti-corruption regulations, which forbade him, as a former general, to accept funds from foreign countries. Flynn even held an advisory mandate for Turkey in 2016, parallel to his work as Trump's election campaign advisor.
Rick Gates was Paul Manafort's right-hand man in lobbying for years. He acted as an accomplice in the fraudulent concealment of the million-dollar income generated in Ukraine. Gates was the deputy director of Trump's campaign in 2016. He later held a leadership position in organizing Trump's inauguration ceremony. In contrast to his boss Manafort, Gates entered into an agreement with the prosecutor early on in the hope of mitigation and appeared as the main witness for the prosecution in the Manafort trial. This calculation worked out; Gates got off relatively lightly with 45 days in prison and a suspended sentence for financial fraud and false testimony.
Foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos was a minor figure within Trump's campaign staff, but involuntarily he played an important role in the Russia affair: It was he who initiated investigations: in London, he repeatedly met someone in Moscow well connected professor. The latter allegedly informed him in April 2016 that he had learned from Russian government circles that Moscow had “dirt” on Clinton, thousands of e-mails. This was several months before the first hacked emails became public. Papadopoulos was also in contact with a Russian woman whom he had been introduced to as Putin's niece and tried to use her to arrange a meeting between the Russian leadership and the Trump campaign. When the FBI suspected espionage, it opened an investigation in July 2016. A year later, Papadopoulos was arrested for various false statements and made a confession. He was sentenced to 14 days in prison in 2018. Two years later, he received a pardon from Trump.
One of the most colorful figures of the affair is the Republican activist Roger Stone, an old friend of Trump. According to his own statements, he had communicated with the hacker in 2016, who had managed to break into the computer systems of the democratic party leadership. Through intermediaries, he was also in contact with the platform Wikileaks, through which the stolen data was made public. American media describe him as a whisperer with a weakness for dirty tricks. Stone's role is important for understanding the affair, as he apparently gave the candidate Trump an early indication of the planned publication of stolen e-mails. However, the indictment of false testimony and influencing witnesses in January 2019 made him appear more of a marginal figure. In November, Stone was found guilty on all seven counts. After a fuss about Trump's interference in the work of public prosecutors, a federal judge set the sentence in February 2020 - three years and four months in prison. But Trump released him from this sentence before Stone went to prison and later pardoned him in full.
Actors in Russia
In February 2018, the special investigator Mueller brought charges against the Russian entrepreneur Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is said to have the best connections to the Kremlin and whose lucrative catering contracts with the Russian state have been nicknamed “Putin's cook”. According to American investigators, Prigozhin is the financial mastermind behind the Internet research agency in St. Petersburg, better known as the “Troll Factory”. This tried to influence the presidential election campaign of 2016 with numerous propaganda entries in social networks. Prigozhin, who is also considered to be the financier of Wagner's private army, denies any responsibility. It is unlikely that the American judicial authorities will ever get hold of him.
Troll factory workers
Along with Prigozhin, three companies and twelve Russian citizens were also charged in February 2018. They are said to have worked on various levels for the St. Petersburg “Troll Factory”. According to the indictment, some were in managerial positions, some in translation and research, and some were directly responsible for drafting fake news with forged identities. In October 2018, a separate indictment followed against Jelena Chusjainowa, who, according to the FBI, played an important role as chief accountant in the secret financing of the disinformation operation "Lachta". Since Moscow denies the allegations and refuses to cooperate, the defendants do not have to fear extradition to the USA. A trial against two Prigozhin companies planned for April 2020 was dropped because the public prosecutor feared that they would have to divulge secret investigation results in court and that a judgment would not be enforceable anyway.
Employee of the secret service GRU
The starting point of the Russia affair was the penetration into the computer networks of the Democratic Party and the election campaign staff of Hillary Clinton. The FBI and Special Prosecutor Mueller conducted investigations into this for more than two years. In July 2018, twelve members of the Russian military intelligence service GRU were charged.They stole emails and then made them public during the 2016 election campaign. The latter initially happened via fake online profiles such as “DC Leaks” and “Guccifer 2.0”. Large amounts of stolen e-mails were later made public via the Wikileaks disclosure platform. Russia denies the American allegations.
When investigating Paul Manafort, the investigators also examined his helper Konstantin Kilimnik. The Ukrainian-Russian dual citizen acted as a local representative in Kiev and, thanks to his language skills, was able to actively support the advisory work for President Yanukovych and his pro-Russian Party of Regions. In 2018 he was indicted together with Manafort in the USA; he is accused of aiding and abetting the judiciary (influencing witnesses). According to American estimates, he played a role as a liaison for the Russian secret service. He had once been trained as a language expert for the Soviet Army, a path typical for employees of the GRU military intelligence service. In the American Senate's investigation report into the Russia affair, he is referred to as a Russian intelligence officer. Kilimnik left Kiev after the affair was exposed and is said to be in Russia.
Figures on the verge of the affair
Like Manafort, Republican Sam Patten offered his lobbying services to Ukrainian clients without legally reporting this. In addition, Patten confessed that, as a straw man, he illegally gave a Ukrainian “oligarch” access to the celebrations for Trump's inauguration. The special investigator had come across Patten in the course of his investigation, but then handed the case over to the regular public prosecutor's office. In April 2019, Patten was sentenced to a fine, 500 hours of community service, and three years probation.
Alex van der Zwaan
The Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan was another employee of Paul Manafort and was targeted by the American judiciary. False statements to the FBI about his contacts were his undoing. In April 2018, he was sentenced to a fine and a 30-day prison term - the first person to be put behind bars over the Russia affair. The sentence was later overturned by a pardon from Trump.
The banker Stephen Calk was indicted in May 2019 on suspicion of attempted purchase of office. According to the indictment, Calk campaigned in the summer of 2016 to help out Trump's financially distressed campaign manager Manafort with loans totaling $ 16 million. In return, he demanded a high office in the future government, such as that of finance minister. Nothing came of that, but Calk was campaigned on Trump's staff of economic advisors. The bank he runs, the Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, is said to have suffered a loss of $ 12 million as a result of the dubious credit transactions pushed through against internal resistance. The New York Attorney's Office is responsible for the charges that came after the Mueller report was delivered. A process is planned for 2021.
The only prominent Democrat who fell into the mill of justice in the Russia affair is lawyer Greg Craig. Former President Obama's chief attorney was charged with false testimony in April 2019. He is said to have concealed the character of his collaboration with the lobbyist Manafort in order not to have to register as a representative of the interests of a foreign government. Craig's company had prepared a report on behalf of the Ukrainian government, which was presented as an independent analysis, but promoted the interests of then head of state Yanukovych. However, the September 2019 trial ended in an acquittal for Craig.
The Californian Richard Pinedo was sentenced in October 2018 to six months in prison and six months under house arrest. His offenses have only marginally to do with the Russia affair; to a certain extent it was "bycatch". In the course of the investigation into the Internet propagandists from St. Petersburg, for example, it turned out that Pinedo had sold bank account numbers through a dubious website that enabled trolls and identity thieves to bypass controls on the PayPal payment service. Pinedo made tens of thousands of dollars from such businesses.
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