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|Why Robert Mueller May Be the Last Hope to Link Trumpworld to Russia|
House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Mike Conaway and ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff.
By Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
As the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s victory fast approaches, any hope that the three congressional committees tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election will determine whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin—or will surface any substantive findings—has begun to dissipate amid staffing issues, partisan quibbles, and continued starts and stops. Even lawmakers have conceded that if any investigation will uncover a definitive conclusion, it will be Robert Mueller’s deepening F.B.I. probe. “There’s no proof yet that it’s happened, and I think that proof will likely come with Mr. Mueller’s investigation,” Senator Dianne Feinstein, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said of the collusion question during a recent interview. “He’s got the ability to use a grand jury. He’s got the ability to use the power of subpoena without question. And he’s got the ability to do a criminal investigation.”
The morass has been most evident among the House Intelligence Committee, where the partisan divide is, arguably, the deepest. Earlier this year, tensions between the panel’s chairman, Devin Nunes, and its ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, spilled into the open when it was revealed that Nunes received classified information from the White House, which he subsequently showed to Trump—a move that forced him to abdicate his leadership position. But the intelligence committee has struggled to get back on track. The New York Times reports that Democrats are frustrated with Nunes’s continued meddling in the probe. “Frankly, I have been doing everything I can to try to get us to do a credible investigation and to reach a common conclusion,” Schiff, who himself has drawn criticism for his frequent media appearances, said. “I view these things as obstacles that are in the way to overcome, and I am doing my best to overcome them almost daily.”
Nunes’s successors haven’t fared much better. Trey Gowdy, who along with K. Michael Conaway of Texas and Tom Rooney of Florida took control of the panel from Nunes, irked his Democratic counterparts when he said that Jared Kushner was in an “unwinnable” situation, suggesting he was being unfairly targeted. “Congressional investigations unfortunately are usually overtly political investigations, where it is to one side’s advantage to drag things out,” Gowdy, who rose to prominence during the Benghazi hearings, told the Times. “The notion that one side is playing the part of defense attorney and that the other side is just these white hat defenders of the truth is laughable.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee has managed to maintain more amity between members. But while its chairman Richard Burr and ranking Democrat Mark Warner have projected a professionalism absent in the House, both lawmakers have expressed doubts that they will deliver a clear-cut conclusion. “At the end of the day, what we owe the American people is the truth,” Warner said during an interview on Thursday, the Times reports. “And if there’s something there, then they should know that. And if there’s not something there, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that.” Burr told reporters that they “hit a wall” in its investigation into the infamous dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and that any hope that the Senate investigation would surface criminal charges was misguided. “The special counsel is focused on criminal acts; we’re not focused on criminal acts,” he said. “If we find one, then they’re the first phone call we make.”
The third congressional committee investigating the Russian interference, the Judiciary Committee, has been similarly plagued by starts and stops in its probe. As the Times reports, its chairman Chuck Grassley agreed to dig into former F.B.I. Director James Comey’s ouster, among other angles of the Russian interference, but since interviewing Donald Trump Jr., the committee’s work has stalled. An earlier attempt by the panel to interview Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was derailed after Mueller’s team reportedly informed the longtime political operative that he would face an indictment, leading to the postponement of his hearing. (Manafort has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.)
That leaves the Justice Department to close the case, such as it is. Mueller’s investigation has continued apace, with NBC News reporting Monday that Tony Podesta (brother of longtime Clinton aide John Podesta) and his lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, are the latest subjects of the F.B.I. investigation. The Podesta Group worked on a campaign for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU), a nonprofit tied to Manafort that sought to promote Ukrainian interests in the West. According to NBC News, the Podesta Group is under criminal investigation for potentially violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, under which individuals lobbying on behalf of a foreign government or political party must disclose their work to the Justice Department. (In a statement, a spokesperson for the firm said it is “cooperating fully with the Special Counsel’s office and has taken every possible step to provide documentation that confirms timely compliance. In all of our client engagements, the Podesta Group conducts due diligence and consults with appropriate legal experts to ensure compliance with disclosure regulations at all times—and we did so in this case.”) Manafort has become a key figure in Mueller’s investigation, indicating either that that special prosecutor sees him as a lynchpin in the case, or as the Trumpworld insider most likely to flip and become a cooperating witness.
|Mueller’s Russia investigation: What to know|
As the probe into Russia’s influence in the 2016 presidential election continues, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has expanded to include a key Democratic lobbyist.
Tony Podesta, the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and his lobbying firm are now a subject in Mueller’s investigations because of the Podesta Group’s work on Paul Manafort’s PR campaign for a Ukrainian group.
Manafort is President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager who has found himself at the center of the investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election because of his financial dealings and lobbying work with Ukrainian and pro-Russian officials.
Despite some opposition to Mueller’s probe from Republicans, Trump apparently isn’t “discussing” firing him, and House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mueller should be able to “do his job.”
Mueller, 73, reportedly impaneled a grand jury earlier in August as part of his examination. Read on for a brief rundown on his investigation so far.
The Department of Justice announced the appointment of Mueller to oversee the federal investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election on May 17.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The appointment came after a growing cry – mostly from Democrats – mounted for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the probe. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions had already recused himself from the investigation.
Mueller led the FBI through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and served under presidential administrations of both parties.
He has the authority to prosecute any crimes uncovered during his investigation, and he was given wide authority to investigate whether Trump or his associates colluded with the Kremlin to win the White House.
Mueller allegedly expanded the probe to include investigating Trump for obstruction of justice because he fired FBI Director James Comey earlier in May.
Trump told Fox News the claims that he obstructed justice were “ridiculous” and said Mueller’s friendship with Comey was “very bothersome.”
Mueller has also reportedly taken over an ongoing investigation into Manafort’s financial dealings in Ukraine. The FBI executed a search warrant in August at the Virginia home of Manafort, who – prior to joining Trump’s campaign – worked with a Russia-backed Ukrainian president.