Russia, Trump and Mueller: The Major Moments in the Case

WASHINGTON — The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has delivered a report to Attorney General William P. Barr of findings from his investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible ties to Trump associates. Unless you’re a counterintelligence analyst, you may have lost track of how we got to this point in the saga and why Mr. Mueller was investigating President Trump in the first place. Here is a guide to what has happened over the past three years (yes, it’s been that long) and what we learned.

[What questions do you have about the Mueller report? We’re answering them live. And here’s what’s next.]

March 2016

Military intelligence officers in Moscow, working for the agency known as the G.R.U., used phishing emails and malware to hack into the Democratic National Committee and the Gmail account of John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.

Meanwhile, operatives at the Internet Research Agency, a private company in St. Petersburg with Kremlin ties, accelerated their influence campaign, posing as Americans on Facebook and Twitter to mock Mrs. Clinton, promote Mr. Trump and sow discord. Other operatives came to the United States to gather intelligence and coordinate with unwitting Trump campaign staff to organize rallies, according to an indictment.

They were all aspects of a broader Russian operation that began in 2014, court papers show. American intelligence agencies would conclude that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia ordered the intervention. Though it began well before Mr. Trump announced his run, Mr. Putin, who had long despised Mrs. Clinton, was later drawn to Mr. Trump’s Russia-friendly stances. As Mr. Trump gained ground in the race, the Russian operatives adjusted their targets accordingly.

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July 2016

Three days before the Democratic Party nominated Mrs. Clinton, the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails the Russians had hacked from the D.N.C., embarrassing Democrats and alerting the C.I.A. and F.B.I. to the Russian interference.

Days later, F.B.I. agents learned the details of an even more troubling fact: One of Mr. Trump’s campaign advisers, George Papadopoulos, knew in advance about Russia’s plans.

As links between the Trump campaign and Russia emerged, Mr. Trump’s repeated praise for Mr. Putin, and his disdain for NATO and traditional American allies — unusual stances for a Republican — added to suspicions about his relationship with Russia.

In late July, the F.B.I. opened an investigation, code-named Crossfire Hurricane, to examine the connections between Trump associates and Russia. The investigation initially focused on Mr. Papadopoulos and three others with significant Russian ties: Paul Manafort, Michael T. Flynn and Carter Page.

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December 2016

After Mr. Trump was elected, Mr. Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, discussed with the Russian ambassador the sanctions that President Barack Obama had imposed on Russia over its election interference. But Mr. Flynn lied about the conversations, both to others in the White House and to federal investigators, leading to his dismissal and criminal charges.

Separately, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, met with a Russian banker during the presidential transition, calling it a routine diplomatic meeting; Russian officials said they had discussed the Kushner family’s real estate business.

Incoming Trump administration officials began to explore how sanctions on Russia might be lifted, possibly as a result of a “grand bargain” over its incursions into Ukraine. Some Obama administration holdovers feared an easing of sanctions might be payback for Russian help in the election.

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January 2017

Weeks before Mr. Trump was inaugurated, the heads of the American intelligence agencies briefed him at Trump Tower about how Russia worked during the campaign to help him defeat Mrs. Clinton. But the information left Mr. Trump unconvinced.

After the briefing, the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, pulled Mr. Trump aside to warn him that a dossier compiled by a bureau informant asserted that the Russians had compromising material on him, though Mr. Comey cautioned that the information had not been corroborated.

Throughout the early months of Mr. Trump’s presidency, he grew increasingly agitated with Mr. Comey. The president complained about the bureau’s decision to move forward with the Russia investigation and Mr. Comey’s unwillingness to say publicly that he was not under investigation.

May 2017

On May 9, 2017, Mr. Trump fired Mr. Comey, setting off a chain of events that led to the appointment of Mr. Mueller several days later.

Among the issues Mr. Mueller was assigned to investigate: the dimensions of Russia’s interference in the election, including any possible involvement by Trump associates; whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice by firing Mr. Comey and asking him to end the Flynn investigation; and whether the president was a witting or unwitting agent of Russia.

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June 2017

Mr. Trump stewed about Mr. Mueller’s investigation, blaming Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from oversight of the inquiry on the counsel of ethics advisers. A month after Mr. Mueller’s appointment, a fed-up president told his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn, to fire Mr. Mueller, but Mr. McGahn refused.

The episode was one of many actions and statements by the president, many of them in public, that seemed to be intended to disrupt or derail the Mueller investigation, which Mr. Trump routinely derided as a “witch hunt.” The pattern would feed into Mr. Mueller’s task of deciding whether Mr. Trump had obstructed justice or tried to do so.

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October 2017

Mr. Manafort and another senior campaign official, Rick Gates, were indicted on charges of financial crimes related to their work as consultants for a pro-Russian leader of Ukraine. Court papers revealed that Mr. Papadopoulos had pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. about his contacts with Russian intermediaries during the campaign.

A month and a half later, Mr. Flynn also pleaded guilty to lying about his own contacts with the Russians and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

The investigation, in other words, had already caught up Mr. Trump’s campaign manager and first national security adviser, among many others. Most of the charges involved lying to the F.B.I. or to Congress, and a pressing question for Mr. Mueller’s team was why so many of Mr. Trump’s associates felt compelled to conceal the truth.

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February 2018

In detailed court papers that laid out a major aspect of the Kremlin’s interference scheme, Mr. Mueller charged 13 Russians and three Russian companies for mounting the fraudulent social media campaign. A second indictment would follow in July, naming the Russian military intelligence officers who had hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the campaign.

The accused Russians were unlikely ever to be arrested or face trial. But the indictments, packed with remarkable detail, had a political impact: They undercut Mr. Trump’s repeated claims that no one really knew whether Russia was responsible for the election interference or that the Russian actions were a “hoax.”

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April 2018

Mr. Mueller’s investigators unearthed new leads about possible corruption relating to Mr. Trump beyond Russia. After a referral from Mr. Mueller, federal prosecutors in Manhattan began investigating potential violations of campaign finance laws, raiding the residences and office of Mr. Trump’s longtime lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen. He pleaded guilty in August to illegally paying off two women during the 2016 campaign to silence them about sexual encounters they alleged with Mr. Trump, who has denied the affairs.

In court, Mr. Cohen said Mr. Trump directed him to arrange the payments, an assertion echoed by prosecutors months later, effectively tagging Mr. Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in the crime.

Also in August, a jury convicted Mr. Manafort on financial fraud counts, not tied to the Trump campaign but exposing him to a lengthy prison sentence. He would plead guilty in a separate case, agree to cooperate — but later be accused of continuing to lie as prosecutors questioned him under his plea agreement.

Prosecutors would say he had given Konstantin V. Kilimnik, a longtime associate suspected of ties to Russian intelligence, detailed polling data from the presidential campaign.

December 2018

Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to another charge: lying to Congress about how long Mr. Trump pursued a real estate project in Russia during 2016. His plea demonstrated that Mr. Trump had continued to negotiate over a proposed Trump Tower Moscow deep into the campaign — even as he publicly encouraged the Russians to hack Mrs. Clinton’s emails and the Kremlin kept up its effort to help his campaign.

As the investigations around Mr. Trump intensified at the end of the year, he tried a familiar tactic: He asked his acting attorney general to try to exert more control over the investigations related to Mr. Cohen.

In January, Mr. Mueller continued his pursuit of those around Mr. Trump, indicting the president’s longtime adviser, Roger Stone, on charges of lying to Congress about his contacts with WikiLeaks during the campaign. The indictment contained a curious detail. It said that a senior campaign official “was directed” by an unnamed person to have Mr. Stone inquire from WikiLeaks about the future release of material damaging to Mrs. Clinton.

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February 2019

In a daylong appearance before the House Oversight Committee, Mr. Cohen turned on the boss he had once said he would “take a bullet” to protect. He said he had only “suspicions” of a Trump-Russia connection but laid out evidence of a range of possible crimes with no Russian connection.

He displayed a check signed by the president, he said was to reimburse him for hush money payments, that could implicate Mr. Trump in a campaign finance violation. He described how Mr. Trump inflated and deflated the value of his assets to get loans or reduce taxes, actions that could amount to bank fraud, insurance fraud and tax evasion. He said Mr. Trump had indicated, without directly instructing him, that he should lie to Congress. He described how Mr. Trump had used his charity to purchase a portrait of himself, in evident violation of state laws governing charitable foundations.

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In less than two years, Mr. Mueller had charged 34 people with 199 counts — an impressive record by the standards of past investigations. But with Mr. Cohen’s testimony, the Democrats who had taken control of the House made it clear that multiple investigations of Mr. Trump and his administration that would continue long after Mr. Mueller completed his work.