Investigators are casting a wider net in their probe of alleged connections between Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the Russian government, reportedly taking over a separate criminal investigation into the President's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The revelations come amid reports that the Trump administration tried to end the Russian sanctions as soon as the President took office.
The special counsel investigating the ties – headed by highly respected former FBI director Robert Mueller – may also take a look into the roles of US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in Mr Trump's decision to fire former FBI director James Comey.
The criminal investigation into Mr Manafort, who was forced to resign from his position within the Trump campaign amid revelations that he had lucrative business deals in Ukraine years ago, predates the probe into possible collusion between Russian officials and Trump associates. The counterintelligence probe into Moscow’s influence in the 2016 election began last July.
Mr Mueller’s special counsel hasn’t commented publicly on the investigations, and the actual range of the investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia is so far unknown. Reports have indicated that the scope has grown to include Mr Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser Jared Kushner.
Mr Manafort’s connections to Ukraine are robust. He has received millions of dollars in payments from pro-Russia sources, and once worked closely with Russian politicians and a Russian billionaire. Those connections reportedly led some Russian officials during the 2016 campaign to discuss potential ways of influencing him, according to reports from US intelligence officials. Those discussions also focused on influencing former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
The drip of revelations about the extent of Mr Trump’s team connections with Russian officials – and allegations that the President himself sought to obstruct justice in asking Mr Comey to stop his bureau’s investigation into Mr Flynn – have rocked Washington in recent weeks and months. While far from a consensus, some members of Congress have called for Mr Trump’s impeachment, and a growing number of Americans say that he he should be impeached regardless of whether his actions meet the “high crimes and misdemeanours” standard for removal from office established in the US Constitution.
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
The biggest names involved in the Trump-Russia investigation
1/11 Paul Manafort
Mr Manafort is a Republican strategist and former Trump campaign manager. He resigned from that post over questions about his extensive lobbying overseas, including in Ukraine where he represented pro-Russian interests.
2/11 Mike Flynn
Mr Flynn was named as Trump's national security adviser but was forced to resign from his post for inappropriate communication with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. He had misrepresented a conversation he had with Mr Kislyak to Vice President Mike Pence, telling him wrongly that he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian.
3/11 Sergey Kislyak
Mr Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the US, is at the centre of the web said to connect President Donald Trump's campaign with Russia.
4/11 Roger Stone
Mr Stone is a former Trump adviser who worked on the political campaigns of Richard Nixon, George HW Bush, and Ronald Reagan. Mr Stone claimed repeatedly in the final months of the campaign that he had backchannel communications with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and that he knew the group was going to dump damaging documents to the campaign of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton - which did happen. Mr Stone also had contacts with the hacker Guccier 2.0 on Twitter, who claimed to have hacked the DNC and is linked to Russian intelligence services.
5/11 Jeff Sessions
The US attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigation after it was learned that he had lied about meeting with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
6/11 Carter Page
Mr Page is a former advisor to the Trump campaign and has a background working as an investment banker at Merrill Lynch. Mr Page met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Mr Page had invested in oil companies connected to Russia and had admitted that US Russia sanctions had hurt his bottom line.
7/11 Jeffrey "JD" Gorden
Mr Gordon met with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 Republian National Convention to discuss how the US and Russia could work together to combat Islamist extremism should then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump win the election. The meeting came days before a massive leak of DNC emails that has been connected to Russia.
8/11 Jared Kushner
Mr Kushner is President Donald Trump's son-in-law and a key adviser to the White House. He met with a Russian banker appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in December. Mr Kushner has said he did so in his role as an adviser to Mr Trump while the bank says he did so as a private developer. Mr Kushner has also volunteered to testify in the Senate about his role helping to arrange meetings between Trump advisers and Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak.
9/11 James Comey
Mr Comey was fired from his post as head of the FBI by President Donald Trump. The timing of Mr Comey's firing raised questions around whether or not the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign may have played a role in the decision.
10/11 Preet Bharara
Mr Bahara refused, alongside 46 other US district attorney's across the country, to resign once President Donald Trump took office after previous assurances from Mr Trump that he would keep his job. Mr Bahara had been heading up several investigations including one into one of President Donald Trump's favorite cable television channels Fox News. Several investigations would lead back to that district, too, including those into Mr Trump's campaign ties to Russia, and Mr Trump's assertion that Trump Tower was wiretapped on orders from his predecessor.
11/11 Sally Yates
Ms Yates, a former Deputy Attorney General, was running the Justice Department while President Donald Trump's pick for attorney general awaited confirmation. Ms Yates was later fired by Mr Trump from her temporary post over her refusal to implement Mr Trump's first travel ban. She had also warned the White House about potential ties former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to Russia after discovering those ties during the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia.
As things stand, impeachment seems unlikely. Even if allegations of collusion end up extending all the way to the Oval Office, Congress would still need to see it fit to act on those allegations. Mr Trump’s party currently controls both chambers of Congress, including the House of Representatives where impeachment proceedings would take place.
Mr Flynn was forced to resign from his White House post less than a month into the Trump presidency after it was discovered that he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about conversations with Russian officials during the transition period. He indicated to Mr Pence that he had not discussed US sanctions on Russia that were imposed for the Kremlin’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election. He had, in fact, done so.
But Mr Flynn was not the only member of the Trump team that discussed those sanctions in some form or another. The President himself sought to normalise relations between Washington and the Kremlin immediately after taking office, but encountered tough opposition from holdovers in government from former President Barack Obama’s administration. As soon as taking over the West Wing, Trump officials instructed the State Department to begin exploring ways to lift the Russian sanctions imposed by Mr Obama.
State Department officials, however, were alarmed by that effort, and began lobbying Congress to impose laws that would block Mr Trump’s administration from lifting those sanctions.
“There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions,” Dan Fried, who was serving as chief US coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February, told Yahoo News. He said that he began receiving “panicky” phone calls from staffers in the State Department pleading with him to block Mr Trump’s efforts.
Mr Sessions was forced to recuse himself from a Justice Department probe into the Trump-Russia ties earlier this year after it was revealed after he misled Congress in failing to disclose that he had come in contact with Russian Ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. Mr Kushner, alongside several other campaign officials, also spoke with Mr Kislyak either during the campaign or during the transition period following the election.
The special counsel probe could look eventually look into memos written by Mr Sessions and Mr Rosenstein that appeared to support a decision by Mr Trump to fire Mr Comey. While Mr Rosenstein’s letter in particular was touted by the White House as having been the impetus behind the ouster, but Mr Trump himself later indicated that he had made up his mind to fire Mr Comey regardless of Mr Rosenstein’s opinion.
Following his firing, reports have surfaced indicating that Mr Comey had kept meticulous notes on his interactions with the President, including a description of a dinner with Mr Trump in which the President allegedly urged the former FBI director to end his investigation into Mr Flynn.Reuse content