By Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Fox News–
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has officially led the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible collusion with President Trump’s campaign for one year.
Read on for a refresher on all the many twists and turns to date, from those who have been charged to controversies surrounding the probe.
Mueller was selected by the Justice Department to oversee the investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and any collusion with the Trump campaign on May 17, 2017.
The appointment came after a growing outcry — specifically from Democrats — for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the probe. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of Trump’s early backers, had already recused himself from the investigation.
Mueller led the FBI during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the aftermath, having been appointed just months before by former President George W. Bush. Prior to that, he served as assistant U.S. attorney general and U.S. attorney, having been appointed to the latter job by former President Ronald Reagan.
Multiple former campaign officials have been charged in Mueller’s probe, as well as several Russian officials and entities. However, none of the Trump associates face charges directly related to collusion with Russia.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, was indicted in October 2017 on charges that include conspiracy and making false statements. Additional charges, including tax evasion and bank fraud, were brought against him in February. He has pleaded not guilty.
Manafort sought to have his case dismissed as he accused Mueller’s team of exceeding its authority because the case against him was unrelated to Russian election interference. However, a federal judge ruled in May that Mueller does have the authority to prosecute.
Richard Gates, Manafort’s business associate and former deputy campaign manager, was hit with the same charges. However, he pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and false statement charges in February. Like Manafort, Gates helped wrangle delegates at the 2016 Republican convention in Cleveland. He later helped start the nonprofit America First Policies, which was created to advance the White House’s agenda.
Michael Flynn, the administration’s short-lived national security adviser, pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about certain conversations he had with a former Russian ambassador and giving false statements about two Trump transition team members involved in his outreach.
In February and May, Mueller’s team asked for a delay in the sentencing of Flynn, citing the “status” of the investigation.
George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser for Trump’s presidential campaign, pleaded guilty in October 2017 to lying to investigators. According to court filings, Papadopoulos was not truthful about his relationship with an “overseas professor” who had “substantial connections to Russian government officials.” That professor, according to prosecutors, told Papadopoulos he had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic campaign rival.
Papadopoulos also told an Australian diplomat in Britain that Russia had dirt on Clinton after a night of drinking. That meeting, and what investigators learned about it, helped provide the foundation for the Russia investigation, according to The New York Times.
Additionally, Richard Pinedo, a California man who sold bank accounts to Russians meddling in the election, pleaded guilty in February to using stolen identities to set up the accounts. The U.S. government said Pinedo was not aware he dealing with Russians when he sold the accounts, however.
Alex van der Zwaan, a Dutch attorney, is the first person to be sentenced in the probe. He admitted to lying to investigators about his communications with Gates and another person, according to court documents. In April, van der Zwaan was sentenced to 30 days in prison and issued a $20,000 fine. Van der Zwaan is the son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Khan.
Separate from the Trump campaign officials, meanwhile, a grand jury in February indicted13 Russians and three Russian companies for allegedly interfering in the 2016 presidential election, as part of the probe. One company has since pleaded not guilty.
While Mueller has kept a tight lid on his investigation, there have been several controversies surrounding his team.
A judge’s accusations
In May, a federal judge accused Mueller’s team of aiming for “unfettered power” in order to take down Trump and suggested the team had lied in the investigation.
“You don’t really care about Mr. Manafort,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said during a hearing for the former campaign chairman. “You really care about what information Mr. Manafort can give you to lead you to Mr. Trump and an impeachment or whatever.”
When it comes to Flynn, a new report showed former FBI Director James Comey told Congress he did not believe Flynn intentionally lied about his talks with the Russian ambassador. He said agents who interviewed Flynn “discerned no physical indications of deception.”
“They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them,” Comey told members of the House Intelligence Committee, according to a committee report.
Former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe has made similar statements. Still, Flynn lost his job at the White House and later pleaded guilty to lying to investigators.
These circumstances have raised questions about the plea. Supporters of Flynn, including his siblings, have encouraged him to withdraw his guilty plea after the judge in his case ordered Mueller’s team to hand over to Flynn’s lawyers “any evidence in its possession that is favorable” to Flynn. However, Robert Stahl, a white-collar criminal defense attorney in New York and New Jersey, told Fox News withdrawing a guilty plea “is extremely rare and very difficult.”
The start of it all
How the investigation got started has also been scrutinized. The sensitive memos Comey leaked to the media that detailed his conversations with Trump indeed served as the catalyst for Mueller to be appointed as special counsel, sources told Fox News.
Comey, too, said during a June 2017 Senate testimony that he gave the memos to a friend who would leak them because he “thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.” That friend, Columbia law professor Daniel Richman, had worked for Comey’s FBI as an unpaid “special government employee.” Comey has since been interviewed by the DOJ inspector general about his handling of the memos.
Mueller’s team faced allegations of bias after it was revealed that the majority of its members are registered Democrats or have made political donations to liberal candidates and groups. In fact, at least 13 people on the 17-member team are registered as Democrats. At least nine, including some of the registered Democrats, have donated to Democratic candidates and causes, such as Hillary Clinton, the Democratic National Committee and former President Barack Obama.
In March, Trump accused the team of having “13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters and Zero Republicans.”
“Does anyone think this is fair?” Trump asked.
However, Mueller himself was a registered Republican who was appointed to be assistant U.S. attorney general by former President George H.W. Bush. He was later appointed to the FBI by former President George W. Bush. At the time, he was described in news reports as a “conservative Republican.”
“If there were conflicts that arose, because of Director Mueller or anybody employed by Director Mueller, we have a process within the