By Hunter Frint
As of Dec. 1, President Trump’s former national security adviser pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. The investigation is looking into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election as well as possible connections to Trump’s associates.
DNC Emails: What spurred investigations
After beginning in July 2016, the investigation has picked up speed in the latter half of 2017, and information leaks have played a key role in the progress that’s taken place. Information tied to Russian hackers began flowing from seemingly harmless Facebook accounts. The New York Times published an article titled “The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election.” It explains in depth the lengths that Russian hackers went to spread information they obtained through emails of Democratic Party officials in order to attempt to sway the election results in favor of the Republican candidate. These lengths included creating fake American social media accounts.
On Facebook, Melvin Redick, Katherine Fulton and Alice Donovan all seemed like average American citizens. They all had one thing they commonly posted about: a website called DCLeaks. The website was the initial publishing platform for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails obtained through Russian hackers. The emails later found a wider audience through WikiLeaks.
On July 22, WikiLeaks released approximately 20,000 DNC emails. Overall, WikiLeaks claims to have released more than 44,000 emails and 17,000 attachments. Original suggestions that Russia had leaked the information turned out to be true.
Later investigations by United States Intelligence found that Guccifer 2.0, an anonymous, Russian internet persona, was the source of the information published by WikiLeaks. Soon after, Guccifer 2.0 took credit for hacking DNC computers and turning the information over to WikiLeaks.
Some of the information revealed in the leaked emails included Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategies, as well as other information passed between those on Clinton’s campaign and journalists.
Approximately one year after WikiLeaks’ release of DNC emails, the New York Times reported that two Democratic Party donors and a former party staff member filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit against Trump’s campaign and adviser, Roger J. Stone Jr. The plaintiffs, Scott Comer, Roy Cockrum and Eric Schoenberg, were subjected to the release of their social security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and other personal information. The lawsuit is still in process.
The repercussions: Mueller’s investigation
The release of the DNC emails led to the current confusion and conflict we see today in Mueller’s investigation. A specific member of the Trump Administration, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is currently receiving backlash for his fluctuating memory regarding the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. On Nov. 14, Session adjusted his previous account that the campaign had absolutely no interaction with Russians. He recalled a meeting in 2016 in which George Papadopoulos, a staff member of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, suggested negotiations with Russians.
Papadopoulos and three others involved with the Trump campaign— Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Flynn — were recently indicted on charges related to illegal interactions with Russia. Even with two guilty pleas from Papadopoulos and Flynn, Trump denied knowledge collusion and said the events that took place have no connection with him as they happened before his campaign.
News of the indictments of Manafort and Gates broke on the same day as Papadopoulos’ plea. Manafort, former campaign chairman, and Gates, a top campaign deputy, were charged with “conspiracy against the United States” and “conspiracy to launder money.” Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI, NPR reported. Flynn’s guilty plea was entered on Dec. 1. According to NBC News: “Flynn is the first senior White House official to be charged in the special counsel’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling into the 2016 presidential election, and the first to officially agree to cooperate.”
Possibly the most directly affected people in relation to this information being brought to light are Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner and son, Donald Trump Jr. On Nov. 13, 2017, the Atlantic published an article regarding messages they had obtained that showed a conversation between Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks via Twitter direct message. The Atlantic reported that the conversation was as follows:
WikiLeaks: A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch. The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?
Trump Jr.: Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around. Thanks.
Trump Jr.’s lawyers later turned the messages over to congressional investigators. According to the Atlantic article: “Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with connections to Russia’s powerful prosecutor general, is already reportedly a subject of interest in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.” This is Trump’s eldest son’s second strike when it comes to incriminating exchanging of messages.
In relation to Kushner, NBC reported that Flynn has stated that a “very senior member” of the transition team directed him to contact foreign officials (including in Russia) to learn where they stood and influence the vote. NBC News reported that three people familiar with the matter have pinpointed Kushner as the “very senior member.”
What happens now
As of Nov. 17, Trump began paying his own legal bills in relation to the Russia investigation. Previously the RNC footed the bills. The New York Times reported that, “while previous presidential campaigns have used these funds to pay for routine legal matters such as ballot access disputes and compliance requirements, Trump is the first president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds on the costs of responding to a criminal probe.”
Another piece of recent activity in the FBI’s Russia investigation is that investigator Mueller plans to begin interviewing one of the most deeply connected people in Trump’s inner circle, Hope Hicks. She joined Trump’s team two and half years ago. Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor who’s followed the case closely, told Politico: “Her access to Trump is going to be important, what she saw, what she heard.”
Mueller has also requested documentation related to Sessions’ contradicting statements about the campaigns association with Russia. Business Insider predicted that these events could signal that the investigation could possibly be nearing its end.