Trump-Mueller investigation: What is happening with the probes into the president’s Russia ties?

Republican facing criminal investigations in both Washington and New York

Saturday 22 December 2018 12:20
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Donald Trump will sit down with Robert Mueller 'only over my dead body' says Rudy Giuliani

Donald Trump may have hoped for a quiet Christmas after another tumultuous year in the White House.

Yet the US government has been forced into a state of partial shutdown after Mr Trump insisted he would not sign a spending bill without $5 billion for the border wall. The president also faces criticism from Republicans over his decision to pull US troops from Syria and the recent resignation of Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

Most crucially of all for Mr Trump, the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and related criminal probes show no sign of easing up.

What are the investigations all about?

Mr Trump is facing criminal investigations in both Washington and New York. The special counsel is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation.

The president also plays a central role in a separate case in New York, where prosecutors have implicated him in a crime. They say Mr Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the campaign.

Where does the Mueller probe stand now?

The president’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department this year criticising parts of the Mueller probe as “fatally misconceived”.

The 20-page memo, sent in June while Mr Barr was in private practice and months before he was selected by Mr Trump for the Justice Department job, may prompt questions about his ability to oversee the special counsel’s investigation fairly.

The document argues that there could be disastrous consequences for the Justice Department and the presidency if Mr Mueller were to conclude that acts a president is legally permitted to take –such as firing an FBI director – could constitute obstruction of justice, just because someone concludes that there was corrupt intent.

Did the Trump campaign collude with Russia?

There is no smoking gun when it comes to the question of Russia collusion. But the evidence so far shows a broad range of Trump associates had Russia-related contacts during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition period, and that several lied about the communication.

There is also evidence that some people in the president’s orbit were discussing a possible email dump from WikiLeaks before it occurred. American intelligence agencies and Mr Mueller have said Russia was the source of hacked material released by WikiLeaks during the campaign that was damaging to Clinton’s presidential effort.

What about the possible obstruction of justice?

That is another unresolved question that Mr Mueller is pursuing. Investigators have examined key episodes such as Mr Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his fury over the recusal from the investigation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

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What does Mr Trump have to say about all this?

The president has repeatedly slammed the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt” and insisted there was “NO COLLUSION” with Russia. He also says his now-former lawyer, Cohen, lied to get a lighter sentence in New York.

Mr Trump has reportedly become increasingly worried about the prospect of being impeached in recent days, despite his public declarations.

“It’s hard to impeach somebody who hasn’t done anything wrong and who’s created the greatest economy in the history of our country,” Mr Trump told Reuters earlier this month. “I’m not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened.”

Associated Press

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