The Russia Investigation Is Complicated. Here’s What It All Means. (NYT)

From THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE RUSSIA INVESTIGATION IS COMPLICATED. HERE'S WHAT IT ALL MEANS.
The special counsel is investigating events that span years and cross international borders.

By Mikayla Bouchard
May 16, 2018

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THE BASICS

  • Russia carried out a campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 American presidential election, denigrating Hillary Clinton and boosting Donald J. Trump, according to American intelligence agencies. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia personally ordered it.

  • The F.B.I., citing four Trump campaign aides’ ties to Russia, opened a counterintelligence investigation in the summer of 2016 to determine whether Trump associates aided Russia’s election interference.

  • Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director, was appointed the special counsel in May 2017 to take over the investigation. The inquiry has expanded to examine whether President Trump tried to obstruct the investigation itself. 

  • Nineteen people — including four Trump associates — and three companies have been indicted in the case. Five have pleaded guilty; 13 are Russians accused of meddling in the election. [See a breakdown of the charges below.

THE MAJOR FOCUSES OF THE INVESTIGATION

Interference

Mr. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential race and sow discord by spreading inflammatory messages on social media and stealing emails from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee, which were then strategically released to undermine the Clinton campaign. 

Coordination

Investigators are examining what Mr. Trump’s aides and associates knew about Russia’s meddling, particularly the release of thousands of stolen Democratic emails, and whether any of them aided Moscow’s effort. 

Obstruction

Mr. Mueller is investigating an array of the president’s actions — including the firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey — to determine whether Mr. Trump sought to impede the investigation into Russia’s actions.

Foreign Influence

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Trump associates ran afoul of American lobbying or anti-corruption laws. Two aides to the Trump campaign, including its onetime chairman, were charged with financial crimes related to their work as advisers to a pro-Russia former president of Ukraine.

— Michael S. Schmidt

Over 100 Charges, 19 People and 3 Companies: The Mueller Inquiry, Explained
By Emily Cochrane and Alicia Parlapiano
Feb. 23, 2018

In the nine months since Robert S. Mueller III was appointed to overseethe investigation into possible links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, he has issued more than 100 criminal counts against 19 people and three companies. Of the 19 people, five — including three Trump associates — have pleaded guilty. Thirteen are Russians accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election. 

Here is an assessment of the charges and the people facing them in the special counsel investigation. 

PLEADED GUILTY AND KNOWN TO BE COOPERATING 

George Papadopoulos

Mr. Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to lying to the F.B.I. about a conversation with a professor during which he was told that Moscow had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton and “thousands of emails,” according to court records. 

Mr. Papadopoulos initially told investigators that he met with the professor, who has known ties to the Kremlin, before he joined the Trump campaign. In fact, the meeting happened days after he became a campaign adviser, and he repeatedly tried to arrange meetings between Russian government officials and the Trump campaign. 

He has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation since his arrest last July at Dulles Airport outside Washington. Mr. Papadopoulos was the first person to plead guilty in the inquiry.

Michael T. Flynn

Mr. Flynn, President Trump’s first national security adviser, pleaded guilty in early December to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations he had in 2016 with the Russian ambassador to the United States at the time, Sergey I. Kislyak. Prosecutors said that in separate conversations, Mr. Flynn discussed an upcoming United Nations Security Council vote over whether Israel should be condemned for building settlements and over sanctions that President Barack Obama had issued against Russia. 

Although his sentencing is delayed, court documents indicate Mr. Flynn will face zero to six months of prison time. 

The first senior White House official to agree to a deal with prosecutors, Mr. Flynn has been cooperating with Mr. Mueller’s investigation. He said in a statement that the decision to cooperate and the guilty plea “reflect a decision I made in the best interests of my family and of our country.”

Richard Pinedo

Richard Pinedo, a Southern California computer science major, pleaded guilty in February to identity fraud after he created and sold fake bank accounts from 2014 through the end of 2017. While his indictment supported the charges Mr. Mueller brought against 13 Russian nationals for election meddling, a spokesman for the special counsel said prosecutors had “no evidence and there is no allegation he was a witting participant in the Russian efforts to interfere in U.S. elections and political processes.” 

Mr. Pinedo has been cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

Alex van der Zwaan

The son-in-law of a Russian billionaire and a lawyer who worked with the former Trump campaign aides Rick Gates and Paul Manafort, Mr. van der Zwaan pleaded guilty on Tuesday to lying to prosecutors about a conversation he had with Mr. Gates in September 2016. Mr. van der Zwaan, a 33-year-old Dutch citizen and former lawyer in London for a powerful New York-based law firm — Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom — faces up to five years in prison. 

It is unclear to what extent Mr. van der Zwaan is cooperating, but his plea agreement does not compel him to do so. 

Rick Gates

Rick Gates, the former deputy chairman for Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign, pleaded guilty on Friday to a pair of charges, conspiracy against the United States and lying to investigators. The plea deal came as Mr. Mueller was levying dozens of new charges of bank fraud and money laundering against Mr. Gates and Mr. Manafort, the campaign’s former chairman and a longtime associate of Mr. Gates. 

The men were first indicted in October, and both pleaded not guilty. For nearly four months, Mr. Gates stood by that decision but said on Friday that “the reality of how long this legal process will likely take, the cost, and the circuslike atmosphere of an anticipated trial” had prompted a change of heart. 

Mr. Gates also said he would cooperate with the special counsel’s investigation. 

PLEADED NOT GUILTY

Paul Manafort

Mr. Manafort faces dozens of counts of money laundering and bank fraud charges related to his work as a lobbyist and political consultant for Viktor F. Yanukovych, the Russia-aligned former president of Ukraine who was ousted in 2014. 

Since first being charged in October, Mr. Manafort has maintained his innocence and has sued the Justice Department, claiming that Mr. Mueller has overstepped his authority as special counsel by bringing charges unrelated to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. 

“Notwithstanding that Rick Gates pleaded today, I continue to maintain my innocence,” Mr. Manafort said in a statement on Friday. “I had hoped and expected my business colleague would have had the strength to continue the battle to prove our innocence. For reasons yet to surface he chose to do otherwise. This does not alter my commitment to defend myself against the untrue piled up charges contained in the indictments against me.”

OTHERS CHARGED

Thirteen Russians: Yevgeny Prigozhin, Mikhail Bystrov, Mikhail Burchik, Aleksandra Krylova, Anna Bogacheva, Sergey Polozov, Maria Bovda, Robert Bovda, Dzheykhun Ogly, Vadim Podkopaev, Gleb Vasilchenko, Irina Kaverzina and Vladimir Venkov.

Three companies: Internet Research Agency, Concord Management, Concord Catering

In a sprawling 37-page indictment, Mr. Mueller charged the 13 Russians with conspiracy to defraud the United States, and connected them with a four-year effort to undermine and influence the 2016 presidential election. The Russians — and the three companies that facilitated and funded their work — are accused of using social media, the identities of American citizens and politically charged topics to manipulate an already divisive campaign. 

Three of the Russians were also indicted with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud and five were also charged with aggravated identity theft. 

None of the defendants were arrested, as Russia rarely extradites its citizens to the United States to face legal proceedings. But the indictments are designed to openly name and shame the Russians in order to make it difficult for them to continue to work or travel abroad. They also risk capture and extradition if they travel outside Russia. 

Correction: February 24, 2018
An earlier version of this article misstated the number of people who have pleaded guilty in the Mueller investigation. It is five, not four.