WASHINGTON,. The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election began well before Special Counsel Robert Mueller was named to examine whether President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow.
Here are key dates in the probe:
Late July: The FBI quietly begins investigating Russian election interference after WikiLeaks publishes 20,000 emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee. On the campaign trail, Trump calls on Russia to find 30,000 “missing” Clinton emails.
November-December: After Trump wins the election, outgoing president Barack Obama announces new sanctions on Russia and expels 35 Moscow “spies” over the election interference. National security advisor Michael Flynn begins discussing possibly loosening sanctions with ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
January 6: US intelligence chiefs allege that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed a comprehensive effort to sabotage Clinton’s election prospects via hacking and social media manipulation.
Trump denies he was helped by Russia, tweeting that talk of collusion is “FAKE NEWS — A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!”
February 13: Flynn resigns under the cloud of the still-secret investigation into his contacts with Kislyak.
March 20: FBI director James Comey confirms there is a counter-intelligence probe into Russia meddling. In the following weeks, Trump urges Comey to pledge allegiance and tamp down the investigation. Comey refuses.
May 9: Trump fires Comey, later admitting in a TV interview that the Russia probe was on his mind when he did so. The day after the sacking, he invites Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Kislyak to the Oval Office and reportedly divulges intelligence on Syria. He brags that Comey’s firing has removed the pressure of the Russia investigation.
Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe secretly approves counterintelligence and criminal inquiries into Trump.
May 17: Former FBI director Robert Mueller is named special counsel to take over the probe, with broad latitude, prompting Trump to complain again of a “witch hunt”.
July 7: At a G20 summit in Hamburg, Trump has a secret meeting with Putin, adding to suspicions on the president.
July 8: The New York Times reports that investigators are examining a June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower in Manhattan between top campaign officials and a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Clinton.
October 30: Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates are indicted on financial charges related to work years before in Ukraine. Manafort will eventually be jailed for seven years.
Mueller next charges former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos with lying to investigators about his dealings with Russians during 2016. He pleads guilty and pledges to cooperate.
December 1: Flynn agrees to admit lying to investigators over his Russia contacts.
February 16: Mueller outlines a “conspiracy” to meddle in the 2016 election, charging Putin associate Evgeny Prigozhin and 12 other Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency troll farm over their social media disinformation campaign.
July 13: Mueller charges 12 members of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, with conspiracy for allegedly hacking the Clinton campaign in 2016.
Three days later at a summit with Putin in Helsinki, Trump says that whatever US intelligence chiefs state, he believes Putin’s denial of election meddling.
In late November, Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen admits lying to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. In December, he is sentenced to three years in prison for that and a string of financial crimes.
January 25: Long-time Republican operative Roger Stone is arrested for lying to investigators about his communications with WikiLeaks in 2016.
March 24: In his final report, Mueller finds no collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign but declines to rule on whether Trump criminally obstructed justice. Attorney General Bill Barr declares that the evidence does not support obstruction charges.
Trump declares victory over the “witch hunt.”
“It was a complete and total exoneration,” he says. — AFP