Special Counsel investigation (2017–2019)

The order dated May 17, 2017, appointing a special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections
On April 18, 2019, a redacted version of the Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election was released to the public.

The Special Counsel investigation was an investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and suspicious links between Trump associates and Russian officials, conducted by special prosecutor Robert Mueller from May 2017 to March 2019. It was also called the Russia investigation, the Mueller probe, and the Mueller investigation.[1][2] Since July 2016, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had been covertly investigating activities by Russian operatives and by members of the Trump presidential campaign, under the code name "Crossfire Hurricane".[3] In May 2017, President Donald Trump dismissed FBI Director James Comey, because he was critical of Comey's handling of the Clinton and Russia probes. Within eight days, following a call to action by Democratic lawmakers and revelations by Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller, a former FBI director, to take over the FBI's work.[4] According to its authorizing document,[5] the investigation's scope included allegations of "links and/or coordination" between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.[6][7] 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 Trump and members of his campaign or his administration.[8]

A total of thirty-four individuals and three companies were indicted by Mueller's investigators. Eight have pleaded guilty to or been convicted of felonies, including five Trump associates and campaign officials. None of those five convictions "involved a conspiracy between the campaign and Russians"[9] and "Mueller did not charge or suggest charges for  [...] whether the Trump campaign worked with the Russians to influence the election".[10] The investigation was, however, more complex. On May 29, 2019, In a press conference, Mueller stated that "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime... A president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view – that too is prohibited."[11]

  • Roger Stone, a longtime Trump advisor who had met with a Russian person offering to sell derogatory financial information about Hillary Clinton,[29] was indicted on seven charges of lying to Congress and witness tampering. He pled not guilty.[30] The jury subsequently found him guilty on all seven counts.[31]

Dozens of ongoing investigations originally handled by the Special Counsel's office were forwarded to district and state prosecutors, other Department of Justice (DoJ) branches, and other federal agencies.[32]

The investigation was officially concluded on March 22, 2019, with the Mueller Report submitted to Attorney General William Barr.[33] 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 IRA'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.[34] 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".[35][36][37] The evidence was not necessarily complete due to encrypted, deleted, or unsaved communications as well as false, incomplete, or declined testimony.[38][39] Mueller later said that the investigation's conclusion on Russian interference "deserves the attention of every American".[40]

On potential obstruction of justice by President Trump, the investigation "does not conclude that the President committed a crime",[41] as investigators would not indict a sitting president per an Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion, and would not accuse him of a crime when he cannot clear his name in court.[42][43] However, the investigation "also does not exonerate" Trump, finding both public and private actions "by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations".[44] Ten episodes of potential obstruction by the president were described.[45][46] The report states that Congress can decide whether Trump obstructed justice,[47] and has the authority to take action against him.[48][49][50] Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had authorized the Mueller probe, decided on March 24, 2019, that the evidence was insufficient to establish a finding of obstruction of justice.[51] Upon his resignation on May 29, 2019, Mueller stated that: "the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing".[52][53][40] In July 2019, Mueller testified to Congress that a president could be charged with obstruction of justice (or other crimes) after they left office.[54]

Original claims of Russian election involvement

The first public US government assertion of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election came in a joint statement on September 22, 2016, by Senator Dianne Feinstein and House member Adam Schiff, the top Democrats on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, respectively.[55][56] The US Intelligence Community released a similar statement fifteen days later.[57][58]

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".[59] It is alleged that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election by bolstering the candidacies of Trump, Bernie Sanders,[citation needed] and Jill Stein in order to increase political instability in the United States as well as to damage the Clinton presidential campaign.[60][61]