By Eric Tucker | AP,
WASHINGTON — A special counsel’s investigation and congressional probes into the Trump campaign and contacts with Russia continue to shadow the administration nearly six months into Donald Trump’s presidency.
Trump repeatedly dismisses the story as “fake news,” but the investigations show no sign of abating and scrutiny has mounted on key associates and relatives.
The latest developments and background:
Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., posted a series of email messages to Twitter on Tuesday showing him eagerly accepting help from what was described to him as a Russian government effort to aid his father’s campaign with damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
The email back-and-forth with a music publicist show Trump Jr. eagerly accepted a meeting with a Russian lawyer last June in hopes of obtaining information that he was told could incriminate Clinton. In the emails, the publicist describes the lawyer as a “Russian government attorney” who has dirt on Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
Though he ultimately met with the lawyer, he has said he learned nothing of value. Trump defended his son after the emails’ release, calling him a high-quality person in a statement.
Hackers broke into the computer network of the Democratic National Committee starting in 2015, which U.S. officials and cybersecurity experts have publicly tied to Russian intelligence services. Stolen emails to and from top Democratic Party officials, including then-DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, were released to the public last summer on the secret-sharing website WikiLeaks, followed in the fall by the hacked messages of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign chairman.
U.S. intelligence agencies have been blunt in their assessment that the hacks of Democratic email accounts were intended to benefit Trump and harm Clinton.
The FBI has been investigating potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign since late July.
Trump on May 9 fired FBI Director James Comey. The White House initially cited as justification Comey’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, but Trump since then said he was thinking of “this Russia thing” when he dismissed Comey.
A week after the firing, the Justice Department named former FBI Director Robert Mueller, Comey’s predecessor, as special counsel to oversee the Russia investigation. The appointment followed the revelation of a memo that Comey drafted in February saying Trump had encouraged him during a private Oval Office conversation to end the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Mueller has been assembling a team of lawyers to work on the investigation, including some with experience in organized crime, appellate law and financial fraud.
The House and Senate intelligence committees are conducting their own simultaneous investigations.
Comey publicly revealed the existence of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation at a March hearing of the House intelligence committee. The Senate intelligence committee has heard testimony from multiple key figures, including Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the country’s intelligence chiefs.
Several figures in the Trump orbit have come under scrutiny for communications with Russians, though all have denied doing anything improper and no one has been charged with any crime.
Flynn was interviewed by the FBI in the early days of the Trump administration about communications he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, during the transition period. The White House fired him in February after concluding he had not been truthful about those conversations.
Republican strategist Roger Stone has said he communicated with Guccifer 2.0, an unnamed hacker who has taken credit for breaking into the DNC servers. But Stone has denied that he worked with Russian officials to influence the presidential election.
Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, met with a Russian intelligence operative in 2013 and provided him documents about the energy industry, according to court documents from a 2015 prosecution alleging a Cold War-style spy ring in New York. Page, referred to in the filing as “Male-1,” is not accused of wrongdoing and said in a statement that he shared “basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents.” He has also confirmed that he was interviewed at length by the FBI in March.
Meanwhile, Justice Department officials have scrutinized the business dealings of Paul Manafort, who resigned in August as Trump’s campaign chairman. The Associated Press has reported that Manafort wrote Russian billionaire and aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska in 2005 with an ambitious proposal to promote the interests of “the Putin government” and undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has attracted attention for having proposed a secret back channel between the Kremlin and the Trump transition team during a December meeting with a leading Russian diplomat.
And the emails with Trump Jr., which he released after The New York Times said it had them, will likely be examined by the special counsel’s team.
Trump has sought to dismiss new reports about Russian meddling in the campaign as “fake” and has countered with his own allegations of politically motivated spying by the Obama administration. The White House has also tried to publicly minimize the contributions either to the campaign or administration of some of the individuals whose names have surfaced as part of the investigation, such as Manafort and Flynn.
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