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The Key Themes, Dates and Characters in the Russia Investigation

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The basics

Russia carried out a campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 American presidential election, denigrating Hillary Clinton and boosting Donald J. Trump, according to American intelligence agencies. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia personally ordered it.

The F.B.I., citing four Trump campaign aides’ ties to Russia, opened a counterintelligence investigation in the summer of 2016 to determine whether Trump associates aided Russia’s election interference.

Robert S. Mueller III, the former F.B.I. director, was appointed the special counsel in May 2017 to take over the investigation. The inquiry has expanded to examine whether President Trump tried to obstruct the investigation itself.

Nineteen people — including four Trump associates — and three companies have been indicted in the case. Five have pleaded guilty; 13 are Russians accused of meddling in the election. [See a breakdown of the charges here.]

the major focuses of the investigation


Mr. Mueller is investigating Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential race and sow discord by spreading inflammatory messages on social media and stealing emails from Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee, which were then strategically released to undermine the Clinton campaign.


Investigators are examining what Mr. Trump’s aides and associates knew about Russia’s meddling, particularly the release of thousands of stolen Democratic emails stolen, and whether any of them aided Moscow’s effort.


Mr. Mueller is investigating an array of the president’s actions — including the firing of the former F.B.I. director, James B. Comey — to determine whether Mr. Trump sought to impede the investigation into Russia’s actions.

Foreign Influence

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Trump associates ran afoul of American lobbying or anti-corruption laws. Two aides to the Trump campaign, including its onetime chairman, were charged with financial crimes related to their work as advisers to a pro-Russia former president of Ukraine.

Key events


Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014 prompted international ire, and the United States responded by imposing sanctions and taking other steps designed to isolate Moscow on the world stage.

Out to restore its own influence, Russia sought to undermine the United States, taking aim at its vulnerabilities — namely domestic political polarization. As early as April 2014, a friend of President Vladimir V. Putin began an operation that included setting up a troll farm to create fake social media posts and sending operatives to the United States to gather intelligence on the political process. The stated goal: “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.

American officials have traced other elements of Russia’s interference, notably the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails, to Russian intelligence agencies carrying out Mr. Putin’s orders.

June 16, 2015

Donald J. Trump announced his campaign for president.

March 31, 2016

As he closed in on a stunning victory in the Republican primary, Mr. Trump met in Washington with his foreign policy advisers. One, George Papadopoulos, told the group that he had connections to help arrange a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin. Others at the meeting noted that Russia was under sanctions. Mr. Sessions, then a senator from Alabama and a top Trump campaign adviser, quickly shut down the subject and said it should not be discussed again, a former campaign official has said. That conversation fits into the purview of Mr. Mueller’s investigation.

April 26, 2016

A London-based professor with ties to the Russian government informed Mr. Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton.

June 9, 2016

Donald Trump Jr. and top campaign officials met with Natalia V. Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer, at Trump Tower to discuss what an intermediary promised to be incriminating information about Mrs. Clinton. Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, were among those also at the meeting, where Ms. Veselnitskaya complained about American sanctions on Russia. The special counsel is investigating.

June 14, 2016

Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity firm hired by the Democratic National Committee, announced that it had expelled two Russian hacker groups — called Cozy Bear and Fancy Bear — that had penetrated the D.N.C.’s systems. The groups had gained access to thousands of emails and confidential documents. Just over a month later, WikiLeaks released nearly 20,000 hacked Democratic emails.

July 31, 2016

In light of existing ties between four campaign aides and Moscow, the F.B.I. opened its investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia.

Nov. 8, 2016

Mr. Trump won the presidential election, defeating Hillary Clinton in an extraordinary upset.

Dec. 29, 2016

Then-President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Russia, citing its attempts to interfere with the presidential election. That day, Michael T. Flynn, in line to be Mr. Trump’s national security adviser,discussed the sanctions with the Russian ambassador to the United States. He later pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about the conversations, which undermined existing American policy and flouted a warning from a senior Obama administration official to stop meddling in foreign affairs before the inauguration.

Jan. 20, 2017

Mr. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

Feb. 13, 2017

Mr. Flynn resigned as national security adviser following revelations that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his conversations in December with the Russian ambassador. The F.B.I. had also asked him about those calls.


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