There's been a lot written and talked about regarding the investigation of Donald Trump (and his cohorts) by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Republicans (73% of them according to a Reuters/Ipsos Poll) believe the investigation is a politically motivated effort to damage Trump. And too many Democrats and Independents think the investigation is limited to possible collusion with Russia or obstruction of justice by Trump and his campaign officials.
Neither is exactly true. The idea that the investigation is politically motivated is ludicrous. Mueller is a Republican, and was appointed by a Republican. Do most Republicans no longer trust their fellow Republicans?
The truth is that the investigation is headed by a man who has a history of loyal and dedicated service to this country, and who is respected by members of both political parties. And the investigation is much broader than most people realize. Mueller was given broad authority to investigate any wrongdoing, and here from wired.com are the five broad areas that Mueller is investigating:1. Preexisting Business Deals and Money Laundering.Business dealings and money laundering related to Trump campaign staff, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former campaign aide Rick Gates, are a major target of the inquiry. While this phase of the Investigation has already led to the indictment of Gates and Manafort, it almost certainly will continue to bear further fruit. Gates appears to be heading toward a plea deal with Mueller, and there is expected to be a so-called “superseding” indictment that may add to or refine the existing charges. Such indictments are common in federal prosecutions, particularly in complicated financial cases where additional evidence may surface. Mueller’s team is believed to have amassed more than 400,000 documents in this part of the investigation alone. There have also been reports—largely advanced through intriguing reporting by Buzzfeed—about suspicious payments flagged by Citibank that passed through the accounts of the Russian embassy in the United States, including an abnormal attempted $150,000 cash withdrawal by the embassy just days after the election.
2. Russian Information Operations. When we speak in shorthand about the “hacking of the election,” we are actually talking about unique and distinct efforts, with varying degrees of coordination, by different entities associated with the Russian government. One of these is the “information operations” (bots and trolls) that swirled around the 2016 election, focused on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, possibly with the coordination or involvement of the Trump campaign’s data team, Cambridge Analytica.
Presumably these so-called active measures were conducted by or with the coordination of what’s known colloquially as the Russian troll factory, the Internet Research Agency, in St. Petersburg. The extent to which these social media efforts impacted the outcome of the election remains an open question, but according to Bloomberg these social media sites are a “red hot” focus of Mueller’s team, and he obtained search warrants to examine the records of companies like Facebook. In recent weeks, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have begun working to notify more than a million users they suspect interacted with Russian trolls and propaganda.
3. Active Cyber Intrusions. Separate from the trolls and bots on social media were a series of active operations and cyber intrusions carried out by Russian intelligence officers at the GRU and the FSB against political targets like John Podesta and the DNC. We know that Russian intelligence also penetrated the Republican National Committee, but none of those emails or documents were made public. This thread of the investigation may also involve unofficial or official campaign contacts with WikiLeaks or other campaign advisers, like Roger Stone, as well as the warning—via the Australian government—that former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos appeared to have foreknowledge of the hacking of Democratic emails.
Western intelligence, specifically the Dutch intelligence service AIVD, has evidently been monitoring for years the “Advanced Persistent Threats”—government-sponsored hackers who make up the Russia teams known as Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear, which were responsible for the attacks on Democratic targets. AIVD even evidently managed to penetrate a security camera in the workspace of Cozy Bear, near Red Square in Moscow, and take screenshots of those working for the team. According to The Wall Street Journal, there are at least six Russian intelligence officers who may already be identified as personally responsible for at least some of these intrusions. Bringing criminal charges against these individuals would be consistent with the practices established over the past five years by the Justice Department’s National Security Division, which indicted—and in some cases even arrested—specific government and military hackers from nation-states like Iran, China, and Russia.
4. Russian Campaign Contacts. This corner of the investigation remains perhaps the most mysterious aspect of Mueller’s probe, as questions continue to swirl about the links and contacts among Russian nationals and officials and Trump campaign staff, including Carter Page, the subject of the FISA warrant that was the focus of the Nunes memo. Numerous campaign (and now administration) officials have lied about or failed to disclose contacts with both Russian nationals and Russian government officials, from meetings with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to government banker Sergey Gorkov to the infamous Trump Tower meeting arranged by Donald Trump Jr. with Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer Natalia V. Veselnitskaya.
At least two members of the campaign—Papadopoulos and former national security adviser Michael Flynn—have already pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigatorsabout these contacts. But many other Trump aides face scrutiny, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Donald Trump Jr. Some of these contacts may go back years; Page himself originally surfaced in January 2015 as “Male #1” in the indictment of three Russian SVR agents, working undercover in New York City, who had tried to recruit Page, an oil and gas adviser, as an intelligence asset, only to decide that he was too scatterbrained to be a useful source.
5. Obstruction of Justice. This is the big kahuna—the question of whether President Trump obstructed justice by pressuring FBI director James Comey to “look past” the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn and whether his firing in May was in any way tied to Comey’s refusal to stop the investigation. This thread, as far as we know from public reporting, remains the only part of the investigation that stretches directly into the Oval Office. It likely focuses not only on the President and the FBI director but also on a handful of related questions about the FBI investigation of Flynn and the White House’s statements about the Trump Tower meeting. The president himself has said publicly that he fired Comey over “this Russia thing.”