Since President Trump took office, he and his administration have been splashing through a constantly morphing stream of intrigue and scandal. The rapid news cycles, the influence of social media, and the growing partisanship of mainstream media, egged on by the president himself, have all made it difficult to clearly follow and understand the various elements of this increasingly convoluted story.
The locus of intrigue in the White House is the connection and possible collusion between officials and associates of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian state actors, and the extent to which the latter influenced the outcome of the 2016 US presidential election. This story has developed at a frantic pace and involves a widespread cast of characters. It is often challenging to find coherent summaries and track new developments of the ongoing investigations surrounding the president.
This blog aims to provide a clear and unbiased overview of each ongoing investigation, with regular updates on their respective developments.
Currently, there are at least seven ongoing investigations related to President Trump, his campaign, and the actions of Russian officials and state intelligence services during the 2016 US presidential campaign and election. These investigations include:
- the Department of Justice
- the FBI
- the Attorney General’s office
- the Special Counsel
- the Senate Intelligence Committee
- the House Intelligence Committee
- the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee
- the Senate Judiciary Committee
- the Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism
- the Treasury Department
- the Department of Defense
DoJ and FBI
- Robert Mueller – special counsel in charge of DoJ investigation
- Former director of FBI (2001-2013)
- Recently appointed to head DoJ investigation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
- Rosenstein acting in place of AG Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the DoJ investigation
- DoJ formerly oversaw FBI investigation; faced bipartisan pressure to appoint a special counsel after President Trump fired former FBI director James Comey
- James Comey
- Former Director of FBI (2013-2017)
- Led initial probe into prominent affiliates of the Trump campaign and transition, and their ties to Russian officials
- Key persons of interest in Comey’s probe: former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign manager Paul Manafort, former policy adviser Carter Page
- After dismissal, he revealed that President Trump had pressured him to stop investigating Flynn (documented in internal FBI memos)
As special counsel, Mueller has more autonomy over the investigation, but also remains under the oversight of the AG, who serves at the pleasure of the president. Mueller is widely seen as principled, ethical, and nonpartisan, but is also currently employed by the law firm that represents Paul Manafort, who is implicated in the DoJ’s investigation, as well as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
Scope of Investigation
Mueller’s mandate is broad and includes investigating any and all connections between people associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government. It also includes investigating any perjury, obstruction of justice, or other crimes that occur during the investigation. This may include President Trump’s own communication with Comey and other intelligence officials.
The investigation itself continues to focus on former campaign advisers and officials, including Flynn. Recent reports indicated that a current White House official was also a person of interest. President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner may now be implicated in the investigation, but has not been formally accused.
It is difficult to predict outcomes at this stage of the DoJ’s investigation. It’s unclear exactly when the investigation began, how long it might last, and what has been determined so far. The FBI and DoJ normally do not release much information – especially regarding ongoing investigations – to the public, and unlike Congress, they are not necessarily beholden to public scrutiny, media pressure, or popular opinion. Mueller does have the authority to criminally investigate and prosecute government officials based on the evidence he uncovers. The special counsel order under which he was appointed gives him vague and wide-ranging jurisdiction in both the scope of his investigation and the decision to indict and convict. However, it is unlikely that Mueller would try to prosecute a sitting president, especially one with a congressional majority.
Senate Intelligence Committee
- Richard Burr (R-NC) – chairman
- Mark Warner (D-VA) – ranking Democrat
In the early stages of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, Burr tried to suppress media reports about connections between Trump associates and Russian intelligence. The democratic constituency pressed Burr to accelerate the investigation.
Scope of Investigation
The focus of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation is the influence and intent of Russian state actors in the 2016 US election, and the extent to which members of Trump’s campaign were complicit in this intervention.
On January 6, the Senate Intelligence Committee declassified their initial report on Russian activities in the US election. They concluded with confidence that Russia had conducted a campaign, using both covert and overt methods, to influence and undermine the 2016 US presidential election. Their conclusions were backed by the CIA, FBI, and NSA.
The committee’s investigation has gained momentum since Comey’s dismissal. They recently requested all Trump campaign communication records related to Russia since its launch. Michael Flynn has been issued 3 subpoenas, and originally refused to cooperate. This week, Flynn agreed to release some documents related to the subpoenas. Roger Stone and Paul Manafort have reportedly complied with the committee’s document request. The committee has also requested all of Comey’s memos from the FBI, and they will soon hold an open hearing in which Comey will testify.
The Senate and House Intelligence Committees are both gathering evidence to further determine Russia’s role in the elections and Trump campaign; their findings will ultimately conclude what, if any, political and legal steps will be taken in Congress to address the situation. While the congressional intelligence committees investigating the president and his associates can technically vote to impeach, it is unlikely that they would do so under Republican control. The major power of the Senate Intelligence Committee (as well as its House equivalent) is to influence public opinion and disseminate evidence through the media, public hearings, and reports.
House Intelligence Committee
- Devin Nunes (R-CA) – chairman
- Adam Schiff (D-CA) – ranking democrat
- Mike Conaway (R-TX) – currently in charge of House Intelligence Committee investigation
- Took over following Nunes’ recusal
- Assisted by Republican representatives Trey Gowdy and Tom Rooney
The House Intelligence Committee’s internal shakeups have made the progress of its investigation chaotic and sporadic. From the outset, they struggled to establish bipartisan collaboration; Nunes appeared to favor lines of inquiry that supported the president’s agenda and claims. He eventually became entangled in a scandal surrounding alleged mishandling of classified intelligence information, which he acquired at the White House and gave to the press and the president, ostensibly to redirect the focus of the investigation. Facing strong criticism and a congressional oversight investigation, Nunes temporarily recused himself from the committee’s investigation.
Under Conaway, the investigation has proceeded with increased bipartisan cooperation. However, since Nunes’ recusal was temporary, he will ultimately determine when and how he resumes involvement. He also maintains the power to request information, issue subpoenas, and conduct other activity on the committee unrelated to the Russian investigation, and has recently made moves to re-involve himself.
Scope of Investigation
Like the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee is investigating Russian interference in the election, and ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. In March they revealed the questions they were probing as part of their scope, but unlike the senate, they did not declassify any initial conclusions or findings that would steer their investigation. Although hampered by Nunes early on, the committee’s investigation is now proceeding in similar fashion to their Senate counterpart’s: they are requesting and collecting documents and holding hearings. They are investigating many of the same individuals, including Flynn and other former officials. The House Intelligence Committee recently held a public hearing in which former CIA Director John Brennan testified that he had seen concerning contact between Russian officials and Trump campaign associates before the election, and had passed the information on to the FBI.
This week, the committee issued their first 7 subpoenas. 4 of these are related to the Russia investigation, and target Flynn and President Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, requesting both documents and testimony. The other 3 subpoenas were issued independently by Nunes, and are for details relating to the ‘unmasking’ – declassifying names – of subjects of incidental surveillance by officials during the Obama administration. The Trump administration has used the ‘unmasking’ as a way to try to deflect attention from the Russia investigations, and it is possible that Nunes acted upon a similar intention.
The potential outcome of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation is very similar to the senate’s, in terms of what they are able to do. It is more difficult to predict how the House investigation will proceed, because of its chaotic beginning and the uncertain role of Nunes going forward. In both congressional investigations, it has been fairly easy to track the subjects of investigation. Even when evidence isn’t released, the media frantically provides updates. However, it is dangerous to draw conclusions based on evidence-gathering activities alone. Speculative finger-pointing and sensationalism threatens the future of the congressional investigations and jeopardizes their ability to collect reliable evidence. The likely near-term outcome is that they will both continue to hold open and closed hearings and gather documents, but it is unclear whether they will reign in their investigation now that a special counsel has been appointed.
House Oversight Committee
- Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) – chairman (leaving Congress in late June)
- Trey Gowdy (R-SC) is expected to replace Chaffetz
- Elijah Cummings (D-MD) – ranking Democrat
Scope of Investigation
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s investigation focuses specifically on Michael Flynn, his connections to Russia, and his undisclosed financial ties to foreign governments. They are also investigating the question of whether President Trump committed obstruction of justice by asking Comey to stop investigating Flynn. They have requested all records of the president’s communication with Comey, including Comey’s own memos. The White House has not provided any documents so far.
The House Oversight Committee’s investigation is still in beginning stages, although they have uncovered some important information so far relating to payments Flynn received from the Russian government. It is not clear what direction they will take in their investigation into President Trump’s involvement in Comey’s investigation; Chaffetz’s successor may or may not be willing to go after the president and his administration.
Senate Judiciary Committee & Subcommittee
Senate Judiciary Committee:
- Chuck Grassley (R-IA) – chairman
- Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) – ranking Democrat
Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism:
- Lindsey Graham (R-SC) – chairman
- Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) – ranking Democrat
Scope of Investigation
The Senate Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism has been leading an investigation into Russian intervention in the election and Flynn’s connections to Russia since early February. Most notably, they held a hearing in which former acting AG Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper gave testimony about Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador. The Senate Judiciary Committee also recently requested all records of President Trump’s communication with Comey from the White House and FBI.
The Senate Judiciary Committee and Subcommittee, like the other congressional committees, can request documents, records, and testimony, using subpoenas if necessary. They could bring impeachment charges, but as previously stated, this is unlikely. Their investigative activities are often public and risk partisan influence. The Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation seems to be moving faster than the Judiciary Committee’s, and the latter has attracted less media attention, but it remains to be seen how forceful the Judiciary Committee will be in pursuing lines of inquiry to the White House.
Treasury Department Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN)
Scope of Investigation
The Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network is investigating President Trump’s former businesses. The investigation focuses on President Trump’s casinos and hotels, and especially the Trump Taj Mahal casino, which has broken several financial rules and settled multiple times with the Treasury Department since it opened in 1990. Aside from fraud and money laundering, the Treasury Department is more broadly investigating financial ties between Trump businesses and Russia. Recently, the Treasury investigators agreed to provide information and financial documents to the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had requested them as part of their own investigation into the president’s connections with Russia. Paul Manafort’s finances are also reportedly being investigated by the Treasury Department.
Like other federal departments, the Treasury Department’s investigations are much less public than congressional ones. It is difficult to find out what evidence they have uncovered so far, and what direction their investigation might lead. We may learn more from the Senate Intelligence Committee, as they probe more deeply into the president’s finances and business dealings. The Treasury Department itself is under executive oversight, so it is unclear if and how it might act if incriminating evidence is found.
Department of Defense
Department of Defense Inspector General
Scope of Investigation
The Department of Defense is investigating Michael Flynn’s finances, and centers on the question of whether Flynn intentionally hid payments from foreign governments on his security clearance paperwork. Flynn received multiple payments from Russian state agencies prior to joining President Trump’s cabinet. He had been told by the Pentagon to disclose and seek approval for any foreign payments. The DoD provided some unclassified documents related to the Flynn investigation to the House Oversight Committee, which has also been looking into whether Flynn broke the law by concealing foreign payments (and has indicated that he likely did so).
The DoD’s investigation is one of the most challenging to track and predict. The majority of the evidence they are looking at is most likely highly classified. We will probably hear more about the investigation from the House Oversight Committee than from the DoD itself. However, the secrecy of the DoD’s investigation, combined with its separation from congressional politics as well as the White House, will probably enable the investigation to proceed more freely.
This guide was written by Stella Jordan. If you have comments on this guide, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.