A year ago, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States. The result was a surprise to almost everyone, and emerged out of a frenzied campaign that was marked with deep distrust and bitter personal attacks. The fact that this was an unusual election was obvious to everyone. What has become increasingly clear since last fall is that the Russian government actively interfered in the electoral process in an attempt to tilt the outcome in the direction of its preferred candidate, Donald Trump.
Moscow’s campaign was largely carried out through the manipulation of social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. On these platforms, the Russian government paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in ad campaigns to push people towards Trump and to prompt distrust of his opponent. They also deployed innumerable bots and fake accounts that were designed to obscure the Russian presence in social media, while furthering the goal of swaying the election in favor of Trump.
This fact should be deeply troubling to all Americans, as it is a form of foreign interference in our election process. What is potentially of even greater concern is whether Trump, or at least those who worked on his campaign, colluded with Moscow in this effort. If so, then the implications for Trump and America are enormous. It could be grounds for the end of his Presidency.
Rumors of such a Trump-Moscow connection circulated before he won the election. However, there was little in the way of federal investigations into this issue. This changed when FBI Director James Comey began investigating the relationship between Trump and Russia. As his investigation continued, the President became more and more worried about it. On multiple occasions Trump apparently pressed Comey to state that he was “not under investigation.” He also demanded that the FBI Director declare his loyalty to the President. When he did not comply, Trump fired Comey, citing his poor handling of the release of Hillary Clinton’s emails and associated information. However, he also publicly admitted that the firing was related to “the Russia thing” (CHECK QUOTE). This, on the surface, appears to be a purposeful act of obstruction of justice and was very reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre during the Nixon administration in which Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his Deputy William Ruckelshaus resigned rather than fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was investigating Watergate.
If Trump thought this would end his “Russia problem,” he was sadly mistaken. Following his firing of Comey, Robert Mueller, a former FBI Director, on May 17, 2017, was appointed to serve as special counsel for the United States Department of Justice. Whereas only part of Comey’s job was investigating Trump and Russia, it was designated as Mueller’s sole job. He was tasked with the goal of determining the extent to which a foreign power, Russia, had interfered in the election, and consequently, its relations with Trump and his team.
Over the past year, Mueller has been gathering evidence and has also called for a Grand Jury, a special jury of 16 to 23 citizens, that have been selected for the purpose of examining the validity of an accusation before it goes to trial. This was and is extremely significant, as it means Mueller feels there is a need for this review, and is a clear precursor of future events to come.
In October, Paul Manafort and Rick Gates (his longtime business associate), both key figures within Trump’s campaign, turned themselves into the FBI after learning of their imminent arrest. They were indicted on 12 counts, most notable of which were money laundering, failure to register as a foreign agent, false statements, seven counts of false foreign banking/financial reporting, and conspiracy against the United States, according to the official indictment charges document.
While neither were charged with collusion, these are still very serious charges which only further thrust the Trump Administration into uncertainty. In addition, on the same day the news broke about Manafort and Gates, it was revealed that another former Trump campaign adviser named George Papadopoulos had been contacted by the Mueller probe. Papadopoulos had plead guilty to the charges of lying to the FBI about contacts he had had with the Russians in 2016, and after his arrest had been supplying the Mueller investigation with information over the past several months.
These are huge developments in the Mueller investigation. But, it is highly unlikely that his work is done. On the contrary, another major figure who is likely to be indicted is Michael Flynn, Trump’s previous National Security advisor (an extremely important role in the US government) for similar collusion related charges. Another who might also be indicated in the future is Jared Kushner. In other words, there are still a large number of people from within the President’s inner circle who are likely to face prosecution from Mueller.
The significance of what has already unfolded, and what is likely to occur in the coming months, cannot be overstated. The Trump administration’s actions are catching up to them, and they are only going to continue crumbling down. These indictments, and possible future ones, themselves are not central to the Russian investigation. They represent Mueller’s ruthlessness and objectiveness in his approach to this investigation. They signal a change in recent politics and further highlight the inability of the Trump administration to cover their tracks and deals with the Russians.
Despite this, we do not know if Mueller’s work will stop at those who work for the President or extend to Donald J. Trump himself. Mueller’s investigation will have large implications beyond that of ending the Trump presidency (if his investigation continues on its current path), it will expose the extent to which the Russians interfere with American politics and manipulated the public. With such an in depth collection of evidence, we could also start to make concrete policy change to prevent similar events from transpiring in future elections.