Trump’s Lawyers Are Fixated On Scope Of Mueller’s Probe. Here’s What That Is

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in the 2016 election, departs Capitol Hill following a closed door meeting, Wednesday, June 21, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
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Money laundering. Targeting voters with fake news articles. Undisclosed lobbying on behalf of foreign interests. A meeting between the President’s oldest son and a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

Much to Donald Trump’s chagrin, what started as a federal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election has snowballed into a wide-ranging investigation that has reached his and his associates’ financial transactions. The President and his outside legal team now are forcefully arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller is overreaching and that his investigation should be strictly focused on Russia.

But the subjects of Mueller’s investigation are all covered by the broad mandate laid out in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s memo appointing him special counsel. Links between the Trump campaign and Russia, “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” and any attempts to impede or obstruct it are all explicitly covered in the document. Previously existing investigations into various Trump associates have been subsumed into the special counsel probe, too, as they “directly” relate to the effort to determine motivation for Trump campaign associates’ potential collusion with Russian operatives to interfere with the 2016 election.

Though Mueller’s office has managed to keep a relatively tight lid on leaks, here’s everything reporters have gleaned about his investigation to date.

Russia’s interference in the election

Hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic operatives

The root of the investigation was the systematic hacking of servers and email accounts linked to the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and big-name Democratic operatives like Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. U.S. intelligence agencies determined that the hackers worked for the Russian government and helped distribute the materials on sites like DCLeaks.

Fake news bots and voter targeting in key districts

Another early subject of federal scrutiny was Russia’s use of data targeting to strategically disseminate “fake news” stories to key voter demographics and even specific districts in swing states. Federal investigators want to know if the Trump campaign’s data operation, which was ultimately helmed by the President’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, helped guide Russian operatives to states like Michigan and Wisconsin, which were crucial to Trump’s upset electoral victory.

Potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives

June 2016 Trump Tower meeting

Donald Trump, Jr.’s recently-released email chain showing that he attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer to obtain “ultra sensitive” information about Hillary Clinton as part of the Kremlin’s efforts to help his father’s campaign provided the clearest indication yet that the President’s inner circle was open to accepting help from the Russian government. Those emails, the meeting, and the White House’s response to its disclosure are all under scrutiny by Mueller’s team.

Proposal to set up a covert communications channel with Russia

Investigators are looking into Kushner’s December 2016 discussions with Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak about establishing a secret, secure line of communication with the Kremlin to discuss diplomatic issues.

Contacts with Russian officials and businessmen

Aside from the conversation between Kislyak and Kushner, a whole host of contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians are being investigated, most notably between Kislyak and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Kislyak and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Former campaign adviser Carter Page, who also spoke with Kislyak, is additionally under scrutiny for his longstanding business ties to Russia and his July 2016 visit to Moscow, in which he gave a speech advocating for better U.S. relations with the Kremlin. Russian intelligence agents had previously attempted to recruit him as a spy.

Trump associates’ financial transactions and business dealings

Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey

Mueller has assumed control of a federal grand jury probe into the $530,000 lobbying contract Flynn carried out to benefit Turkey while working for the Trump campaign and transition team. Flynn had to retroactively register as a foreign agent for that work after leaving the White House, and investigators want to know if his lobbying contract influenced military decisions he made during his brief tenure as national security adviser.

Paul Manafort’s complex web of shell companies

Investigators are on the hunt for possible money laundering by the former campaign chairman, who reportedly received millions of dollars for lobbying on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. The banking records and complex web of shell companies Manafort uses to manage his real estate properties are being picked apart for evidence of fraud.

Trump’s Russia-related business deals

Despite the President’s protestations that making money from Russia is not his “thing,” he has done a number of Russia-related business deals in recent years that are of interest to investigators. Bloomberg reported that these include Russian purchases of condos in Trump buildings, his work on a SoHo development with a mob-affiliated real estate firm, the 2013 Miss Universe contest he held in Moscow, and his 2008 sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch.

To that last item, Jay Sekulow, a top member of Trump’s outside legal team, objected. “They’re talking about real estate transactions in Palm Beach several years ago. In our view, this is far outside the scope of a legitimate investigation,” he told the Washington Post.

Kushner’s efforts to secure funding for his family’s properties

Investigators want to know if Kushner met was trying to obtain funding for his family real estate company’s troubled 666 Fifth Avenue office building when he met with the CEO of Vnesheconombank, a Russian financial institution under U.S. sanctions.

Wilbur Ross’ tenure with the Bank of Cyprus

Though few details have emerged, investigators apparently have questions about financial transactions at the Bank of Cyprus, where Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross formerly served as vice chairman. The Guardian previously reported that Ross oversaw a deal with a Russian businessman with ties to President Vladimir Putin during his tenure at the bank.

Obstruction of justice in the Russia probe

Trump thinks he is “not under investigation” for obstructing justice by firing former FBI director James Comey for his oversight of the Russia probe, but he is. Rosenstein and Sessions both wrote memos supporting Comey’s firing, and the deputy attorney general has made it clear that their role in the dismissal also falls within the scope of Mueller’s investigation.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.
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