The tradition of U.S. democracy took a hit two-fold on the night of Nov. 8, 2016. Not only had a political novice won the most powerful position in the free world, but all U.S. intelligence agencies agreed that the United States was manipulated by its Russian counterparts before, during, and after the election.
But beyond Russian meddling, there was another question asked: Did the 45th president of the United States offer a helping hand? The FBI was investigating Russia—and its leaders' potential connection with the Trump campaign—when FBI Director James Comey was fired by Trump on May 9, 2017. The president originally claimed this was due to his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, but later implied it was to stop the FBI investigation into his campaign. If he had done it to stop the investigation, that would be an obstruction of justice (a felony).
Amid all these conflicting statements and the possibility of collusion, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director (Comey’s predecessor) Robert Mueller as a special counsel to investigate collusion and the obstruction of justice charge. The investigation, which officially ended on March 23, required Mueller to use his investigative expertise, along with a team of prosecutors, to identify Trump’s inner circle and understand their personal dealings with high-ranking officials from Russia before associating with a presidential campaign.
After more than two years, dozen of indictments, and conflicting testimony, it can be difficult to keep track of all the twists and turns. Stacker brings you a timeline of all the key moments and important findings in the Mueller investigation, from Trump first announcing his candidacy in 2015 through the release of the redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report to the public on April 18, 2019.
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Date: June 16, 2015
Donald Trump officially declares his intent to run in the 2016 Presidential election, citing “The American Dream is dead,” and proposing a series of ideas for improving the lives of everyday citizens.
Date: February 2016
Donald Trump and real estate developer Felix Sater are alleged to have a history of rapport. Shortly after Trump announces his run for office, Sater meets with Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen to secure building projects in Moscow, under the condition that Trump helps to ease existing U.S. sanctions against Russian business. “We will get Trump elected,” Sater is reported to have said within one of these exchanges, implying Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vested interest in this potential White House occupant.
Date: June 3, 2016
Trump Jr. receives an email from Rob Goldstone, a prior business associate of the Trump estate. Goldstone indicates he may have access to incriminating information relating to Hillary Clinton that Russian-backed individuals were willing to divulge. Trump Jr. replies, “If it’s what you say, I love it.”
Date: June 9, 2016
Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and Rob Goldstone all meet with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York City. Veselnitskaya has known ties to the Kremlin, and is joined by an interpreter as well as Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin. The meeting is intended to exchange damaging intel on Hillary Clinton in preparation for the upcoming election.
Date: July 2016
While working as an adviser on the Trump campaign, oil industry executive Carter Page takes a speaking engagement at Moscow’s New Economic School. There, he meets with Russia’s deputy prime minister and another high-ranking Russian official. Page says the deputy prime minister “expressed strong support for Trump” and that he’d been given “incredible insight.” Owing to the nature of this trip, as well as the corroborating evidence in the soon-to-come Steele Dossier, the FBI begins to monitor Page.
Date: Aug. 8, 2016
Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of the Trump estate, tells a group of Republicans that he’s privy to information that would harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The source? Stone alleges to have communicated with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange through an intermediary, a claim Assange denies. Stone is found to have communicated with “Guccifer 2.0,” believed to be a hacker front Russia used to gain access to Democratic National Committee computers.
Date: Oct. 7, 2016
Within hours of Donald Trump’s infamous "Access Hollywood" tape going viral, Wikileaks releases a cache of hacked emails linked to Clinton’s campaign chairman. This occurs one day after Roger Stone tweets that “Julian Assange will deliver a devastating exposé on Hillary at the time of his choosing.”
Date: Nov. 8, 2016
Donald Trump wins the 2016 Presidential election by securing the majority of the electoral vote.
Date: Dec. 1, 2016
Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn meet with Sergey Kislyak, then Russian Ambassador to the United States. It’s believed this meeting had to do with establishing a secret back-channel of communication. Kushner insisted that the meeting dealt with strengthening communications in order to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Syria. Michael Flynn, soon-to-be national security adviser to the president, continued to have a personal relationship with Kislyak outside of this meeting, exchanging friendly texts.
Date: Jan. 6, 2017
Shortly before Donald Trump is to be sworn in, the U.S. intelligence umbrella concludes that there is in fact evidence of Russian meddling in the election. As of early July 2018, the Senate Intelligence committee comes to the same conclusion, rebutting the Republican-focused House Intelligence committee’s ultimate findings.
Date: Jan. 10, 2017
A dossier written by former British operative Christopher Steele and brought to light by Buzzfeed goes one step further. Steele demonstrates that Trump has had a substantial amount of financial ties to and correspondence with Russia, spanning far before the 2016 elections.
Date: Feb. 13, 2017
Caught in lies about correspondence with Russian officials, national security adviser Michael Flynn resigns from his post. Most of these meetings dealt with Sergey Kislyak, a fact which Flynn deliberated chose not to relay to Vice President Mike Pence.
Date: March 2, 2017
Due in part to concerns about his impartiality to the controversy surrounding the 2016 election, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decides to recuse himself from its investigation. As a result, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein takes the lead on staffing the special counsel. After James Comey’s firing on May 9, 2017, Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller to lead the counsel.
Date: March 20, 2017
Comey informs Congress of the troubling connection his former agency may have uncovered between the Trump campaign and Russian influences.
Date: April 6, 2017
Under scrutiny for improperly disclosed classified information, Devin Nunes steps aside as chairman of the the House Intelligence Committee on the Russian investigation.
Date: May 17, 2017
With James Comey pushed out by President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself from the matter entirely, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein appoints former FBI Director Robert Mueller as head of the special counsel.
Date: June 8, 2017
After his firing, James Comey testifies in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. During the session, Comey questions the president’s ability to tell the truth, accuses Trump of slandering the FBI and admits to the leaking of personal memos.
Date: June 15, 2017
Shortly after Comey’s testimony, Mike Pence hires Richard Cullen as his personal attorney with regards to collusion inquiries.
Date: Oct. 30, 2017
The media reports that George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty on Oct. 5, 2017 for lying about contact with Russian officials. Papadopoulos was a policy advisor and prominent member of the 2016 Trump campaign during the time in question, alongside the likes of Carter Page.
Date: Feb. 2, 2018
Not too long after recusing himself from the Russian probe, Devin Nunes releases a controversial memo that further accuses the FBI of corrupt practices.
Date: Feb. 8, 2018
As the Russia probe delves into the ranks within the Trump organization, Republicans who maintain support for Trump continually claim inherent bias. A text exchange between FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page demonstrate ill-feelings for Trump. Mueller swiftly removes the couple from the investigation. From that backlash, two more FBI officials are removed: Mike Korton and David Laufman.
Date: Feb. 16, 2018
California resident Richard Pinedo is identified as an intermediary between Russian clients looking to find loopholes most online payment companies hide in security requirements. Through Pinedo’s company “Auction Existence,” his clients utilized fake identities to access U.S. bank accounts.
Date: Feb. 20, 2018
Alex Van Der Zwaan lied to investigators regarding his connection to Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign official, and about supplying intel to an alleged Russian spy. As of early June, Van Der Zwaan was deported back to the Netherlands, having served time in a U.S. prison.
Date: Feb. 22, 2018
The new charges stem from an extensive money laundering scheme pegged on Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, which dates back to 2008. Up to $75 million was funneled through various offshore accounts.
Date: Feb. 23, 2018
Gates pleads guilty to conspiracy and lying to investigators in order to distance himself from the litany of charges he and Manafort have amassed.
Erik Prince, founder of the private security firm Blackwater, allegedly tried to create a back-channel with Russia on Jan. 11, 2017. Prince indicated that he was introduced to Russian hedge fund manager Kirill Dmitriev by way of crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Due to new witness George Nader, Mueller gains further insight and leverage into what exactly took place at this meeting.
Date: March 15, 2018
The special counsel looks to understand the full scope of Trump’s business ventures in Russia from 2015 leading up to the 2016 election.
Date: April 9, 2018
The FBI raids the office, home, and hotel room of Michael Cohen, who had been deeply embedded in the Trump world for a decade, via business and law. Federal investigators reportedly collect documents and related information about Cohen's tax records and business dealings. This information includes a six-figure payment to secure the silence of adult film star Stormy Daniels, who says she had an affair with Trump.
Date: July 8, 2018
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has been vetting Mueller’s investigation against Trump, now his client. In addition to requesting documents related to the FBI informant, he also been renewing his effort to access an unredacted copy of a memo outlining the full scope of the special counsel’s mandate. With the growing number of Trump associates involved, Giuliani repeatedly calls for Mueller to wrap up the probe by September.
Date: July 9, 2018
Soon after Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement, Donald Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to replace his seat. Kavanaugh is a Yale Law School graduate, judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, and a former member of the President George W. Bush administration. Kavanaugh may be a roadblock against the investigation if Trump were to be impeached due to the fact that he believes all presidents should be shielded from litigation while in office.
Date: July 13, 2018
While President Trump was preparing to meet with Putin, the U.S. Government was putting out a 29-page indictment, directed at 12 Russian intelligence officers. They are being accused of hacking the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Committee, as well as the Clinton campaign, in 2016. Trump still believes that there was no Russian interference in the election.
Date: Aug. 21, 2018
Michael Cohen pleads guilty in a Manhattan federal court to charges of tax fraud as well as campaign finance violations for payments made to Stormy Daniels and other women who allegedly had extramarital affairs with the president. On the same day, Paul Manafort is found guilty of eight counts of financial fraud discovered in the course of Mueller’s investigation into his contacts with Russian and Ukranian officials.
Date: Sept. 15, 2018
Paul Manafort pleads guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. and conspiracy to tamper with witnesses in his second trial on charges brought by the Mueller investigation. As part of the deal, he agrees to cooperate with the Justice Department and the probe into collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, in exchange for other charges to be dropped later in the process.
Date: Nov. 7, 2018
Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation led to months of tensions between the attorney general and the president. In early November, Trump ultimately pushed Sessions to resign and appointed his former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, as his temporary replacement.
Date: Nov. 20, 2018
After months of speculation over whether the Mueller probe would question Trump directly, Mueller and the president’s lawyers agree to let Trump submit his answers in writing. He reportedly only answered questions about collusion with Russia, refusing to answer any questions about possible obstruction of justice.
Date: Nov. 26, 2018
Prosecutors claim that the former Trump campaign chairman violated his plea deal by repeatedly lying to investigators after it was reached, suggesting he might be holding back information that’s important to the investigation. Manafort’s lawyers disagree: In February 2019, a judge rules in favor of the Mueller investigation, damaging his status as a credible witness and potentially making his sentence more severe.
Date: Nov. 29, 2018
Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer pleads guilty in federal court for lying to Congress about how long the Trump Organization was in talks with Russia about building a Trump Tower in Moscow. The guilty plea is part of his cooperation with the Mueller probe and provides important information about the extent of the Trump campaign’s talks with Russia in the leadup to the election.
Date: Dec. 4, 2018
In a court filing, prosecutors recommend that Trump’s former national security adviser shouldn’t receive any jail time for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals. They cite his “substantial” cooperation with the Russia probe.
Date: Jan. 25, 2019
The FBI arrests longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone after an early morning raid on his home in Florida. A grand jury in Washington D.C. indicted him on charges of misleading the House Intelligence Committee about his communication with Wikileaks and the Trump campaign, as well as trying to intimidate other witnesses in the case.
Date: Feb. 14, 2019
Congress votes 54-45 to confirm Trump’s pick to replace Jeff Sessions after his first pick, Matthew Whitaker, faced accusations of interfering with the special counsel investigation. Barr will decide what parts of Mueller’s final report, if any, will be made public.
Date: Feb. 27, 2019
Cohen testifies before Congress in an hours-long public hearing. He claims that Trump knew about and approved of the Wikileaks dumping emails hacked from the Clinton campaign. He also testifies that Trump approved payments to women in order to keep quiet about extramarital affairs and that he knew about the meeting Donald Trump Jr. had with Russian officials in the summer of 2016.
Date: March 7-14, 2019
Manafort is sentenced to almost eight years in prison at the conclusion of both his cases. The judge in the fraud case also orders him to pay $24.8 million in restitution and a $50,000 fine. On the same day as his second sentencing hearing, a grand jury in New York state indicts Manafort for a mortgage fraud scheme. If he’s convicted, he will serve jail time even if Trump pardons him in the other two cases because the president doesn’t have the power to pardon state crimes.
Date: March 22, 2019
Mueller finished his investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and possible obstruction of justice by the President and delivered his completed report to Attorney Gen. William Barr. The Justice Department reports that Mueller doesn’t recommend any more indictments in his report.
Date: March 24, 2019
Attorney Gen. William Barr submits a public summary of Mueller’s confidential report in a letter to Congress. Investigators have reportedly found no evidence of collusion between the campaign of Russia. They lack evidence to confirm that Trump had obstructed justice during the FBI investigation, but also didn’t exonerate him of the charge. The question that remained was whether the complete report will be made public, which 81% of Americans believe should be the case.
Date: April 18, 2019
Hours before the Department of Justice released a redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report to the public (Congress was given a less-redacted version), Attorney Gen. Barr held a press conference in what critics referred to as an unprecedented pre-spin meant to positively characterize President Trump's handling of the report before it reached the public eye.
Mueller's report looked at 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice (Volume 2, pages 3–6 of the report), including an instance of conduct toward former national security adviser Michael Flynn, details of which are redacted as this is an ongoing investigation.
A great deal has and will continue to come out of this report as the public dissects this information; the bottom line is that Mueller's team is unable to bring charges of obstruction of justice against Trump, noting that this case is unlike a typical obstruction of justice prosecution. Normally, obstruction of justice cases include a cover up (attempted or actual) of a crime. Since Trump may have personal motives driving his conduct, and considering many of his acts occurred in view of the public, investigators are unable to establish intent.
Two years after the acting attorney general requested Robert Mueller serve as special counsel, creating the Special Counsel's Office, in order to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Mueller made his first public statement on May 29, 2019. The Special Counsel's Office is being formally closed, said Mueller, adding that he is resigning from the Department of Justice "to return to private life."
"It is important," Mueller noted, that "the office's written work speak for itself." If Mueller is asked to testify to Congress, he says he will not offer information that has not already been included in his report.