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What We Know About Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Investigation

Mar 22, 2019
Originally published on March 22, 2019 7:36 pm
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All right. Even though we don't know yet how much of the Mueller report will be made public, here's something that we do know. Mueller and his team have already racked up convictions, indictments and guilty pleas from some three-dozen individuals and entities in the U.S. and beyond. And President Trump continues to insist it has nothing to do with him. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: President Trump has referred to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election as a witch hunt more than 200 times since it began.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt.

That's all it is. There was no collusion.

It's all a made-up fantasy. It's a witch hunt.

The witch hunt continues.

KEITH: No collusion, it has nothing to do with me - even as Mueller's indictments and guilty pleas stacked up, ensnaring people close to him, his White House and his campaign. There was Trump's campaign chairman Paul Manafort. He was convicted of financial crimes unrelated to his work on the campaign. And facing a second trial, Manafort pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, lying to investigators, tax evasion and other things. And President Trump responded to Manafort's legal peril the way he has often responded to developments in the Russia investigation, with a variation on, I hardly knew the guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I didn't know Manafort well. He wasn't with the campaign long. They got him on things totally unrelated to the campaign.

KEITH: This was Trump in an interview with Fox last September.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: I'm not involved. I wasn't charged with anything.

KEITH: Manafort's deputy, Rick Gates, who worked on the campaign and the inauguration, pleaded guilty to financial crimes and lying to investigators and has been a cooperating witness. And most recently, Trump ally and onetime campaign adviser Roger Stone was indicted for lying to Congress and witness tampering. He was allegedly trying to cover up contacts with WikiLeaks related to stolen Clinton campaign and Democratic Party emails. This was Stone in a CBS interview shortly before pleading not guilty.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROGER STONE: I have no intention of not telling truth. I have never not told the truth. Claims that I was less than truthful before the House Intelligence Committee will be disproven.

KEITH: In his own CBS interview, President Trump again moved to put distance between himself and an associate caught up in the investigation. In this case, Stone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Roger was not - I don't know if you know this or not. Roger wasn't on my campaign, except way at the beginning.

KEITH: Mueller's team extracted a guilty plea from longtime Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, also for lying to Congress. He told a House committee that Trump Tower Moscow negotiations ended in January of 2016. The special counsel presented evidence that talks lasted at least until June of that year. After pleading guilty, Cohen testified in a public House Oversight Committee hearing. He said he spoke to the president shortly before giving his earlier false testimony. This is what Cohen says Trump told him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL COHEN: There is no Russia. There is no collusion. There is no deal. He goes, it's all the witch hunt. And it's - he goes, this stuff has to end.

KEITH: Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly from Virginia asked whether Cohen thought Trump had been trying to influence his ultimately false testimony.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GERRY CONNOLLY: Did you take those comments to be suggestive of what might flavor your testimony?

COHEN: Sir, he's been saying that to me for many, many months.

KEITH: Cohen said Trump didn't directly tell him to lie. And Trump's lawyers say that neither they nor Trump directed Cohen to provide false testimony. Still, there is something of a pattern. A lot of men in Trump's orbit have admitted to lying to investigators. The first was President Trump's original national security adviser Michael Flynn, who didn't last on the job long. He pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition, and he went on to cooperate extensively with Mueller's team. In an interview with Geraldo Rivera last September, Trump expressed sympathy for Flynn and others caught up in the investigation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: This is a very sad thing. But I feel very badly for all of them that they got caught up in a horrible witch hunt.

KEITH: In addition to the names many have come to know, the investigation has also resulted in indictments for a dozen Russian intelligence officials allegedly involved in the hacking of Democratic Party emails during the 2016 presidential campaign. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced the charges in July 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROD ROSENSTEIN: Eleven of the defendants are charged with conspiring to hack into computers, steal documents and release those documents with the intent to interfere in the election.

KEITH: And Mueller's team also secured indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian entities allegedly involved in spreading misinformation online aimed at helping then-candidate Trump. The charging document is a detailed description of how Russia worked to turn Americans against each other and depress turnout among voters likely to support Hillary Clinton. But what has been missing so far from the extensive work product of Mueller and his team is a direct link between the Russian trolls and hackers and President Trump or his campaign. But his public remarks during the campaign certainly indicated Trump would be happy to see Russia hack Hillary Clinton's emails.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

KEITH: And once WikiLeaks had started releasing internal Clinton campaign emails, Trump gleefully directed everyone to go check them out. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.