A Year of Trump and Russia: The 75 Stories That Defined the Mueller Investigation in 2018Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Politics Lists Russia Investigation
When I first set out to write this column, I envisioned a paragraph per story so as to provide as much context as possible. After compiling all the twists and turns in the Mueller investigation that happened just this year, I realized that would likely put this column over 10,000 words—rendering it completely unreadable. There’s just too much crime to succinctly summarize. If you are here for in-depth analysis, I’m sorry. Click on the links below and you’ll find what you’re looking for.
Here are the 75 stories that defined the Trump-Russia saga for 2018:
1. Paul Manafort kicked off the year by suing Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, and the Department of Justice.
2. Then we learned that Mueller wants to interview Trump about obstruction of justice.
3. Fusion GPS, the entity who compiled the infamous Steele dossier, had their congressional testimony released by Dianne Feinstein after Republicans kept it hidden from the public.
4. Trump barged in to a meeting between Chief of Staff John Kelly and reporters, and said that he’d love to sit down and talk to Mueller (his lawyer later walked back this statement).
5. While trying to defend Trump, Republican Senator Ron Johnson, who sits on top of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said that the FBI is run by a secret society.
6. News broke that Trump tried to fire Mueller last June, and his tweets from last June seem to corroborate those reports.
7. Trump sparked a legitimate constitutional crisis by refusing to enforce Russian sanctions.
8. Remember the Nunes memo? Trump’s allies in the House had their flimsy theory completely repudiated by congressional testimony from Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe.
9. Evergreen headline: Robert Mueller filed more criminal charges against Paul Manafort, and one of the entities in this indictment has the same name and date of an entity Manafort used to buy a condo in Trump Tower.
10. Given the famed “Russia, if you’re listening” line, Robert Mueller wants to know what Trump knows about the DNC hack.
11. At first glance, paying porn stars hush money didn’t look like it had to do with the Mueller investigation, but given what we learned in the second half of the year, anything that Michael Cohen touched is part of the Mueller investigation.
12. Sam Nunberg completed what some described as the O.J. Simpson car chase of the Mueller investigation, as he spent the entire day self-immolating on cable news, saying things like “I think that [Trump] may have done something during the election.”
13. Trump ended the constitutional crisis he began in January by announcing new sanctions on Russia.
14. Robert Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organization.
15. Trump subsequently went after Mueller for the first time in public.
16. We also learned that Andrew McCabe oversaw a criminal probe into former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.
17. Guccifer 2.0, who everyone largely knew was a Kremlin agent, and who long-time Trump confidant, Roger Stone, communicated with in 2016, was confirmed to be a Kremlin agent.
18. Speaking of Russian military intelligence, Robert Mueller said that Paul Manafort was in contact with a member of Russian military intelligence during the 2016 campaign—Manafort’s long-time right-hand man, Konstantin Kilimnik.
19. Latvia requested that the FBI look into connections between a longtime Putin ally in their country and Trump.
20. An e-mail from Roger Stone to Sam Nunberg from August 2016 surfaced, with Stone writing “I dined with Julian Assange last night.”
21. Trump and his Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, openly sparred over the topic of Russian sanctions.
22. A longtime Trump adviser told the Wall Street Journal that “Michael [Cohen] will never stand up [for you]” if he is charged by the government.
23. For some reason, Devin Nunes and his lemmings pressured the DOJ to release James Comey’s memos while he was FBI Director, which paint a really bad picture for Trump.
24. Nunes and the GOP-run House Intelligence Committee released an idiotic sham “report” that supposedly cleared Trump of any charges of collusion.
25. In late April, we learned that Trump’s payment to Michael Cohen who paid Stormy Daniels almost surely violated FEC law.
26. Rudy Giuliani bolted across cable news, trying and failing to make the case that Trump’s payments didn’t violate FEC law, but each appearance just served to do damage control for the idiocy of the previous one.
27. As we learned more about Michael Cohen’s sketchy job in Trumpworld, AT&T’s CEO came out and apologized for leaving a gigantic sack of money on Cohen’s doorstep.
28. Pharmaceutical giant Novartis soon followed, saying that they paid Michael Cohen $1.2 million for a meeting where nothing of value came from it but they also couldn’t break the contract for cause. Definitely nothing to see here!
29. The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa, released a report which stated, among many other things, that “The Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump’s campaign.
30. In a massive bombshell, a SAR (which stands for suspicious activity report, which banks file whenever they see a transaction that may be problematic) was leaked from the treasury to Michael freaking Avenatti, of all people, which explains how he knew so much about some of Trump’s business dealings.
31. Sean Hannity, who definitely doesn’t seem like he’s wrapped up in this mess at all, went on TV and told people being investigated by Mueller to commit crimes.
32. Evergreen headline: Mueller charges Manafort again—this time including his buddy from Russian military intelligence—for obstructing the investigation.
33. The FBI, looking into contacts between the NRA and Russia, found that members of Putin’s inner circle met with NRA officials during the 2016 campaign.
34. Remember the quote from a Trump ally about how Michael Cohen would flip on him? History will remember mid-June 2018 as when he began to turn.
35. New York State sued President Trump over the Trump Foundation.
36. Michael Cohen, who was also Deputy Finance Chair of the Republican National Committee, officially resigned from his post on June 20, 2018.
37. Marcy Wheeler, one of the best national security reporters alive and someone who is cited in plenty of these links, wrote that she gave information to the FBI, and after publicly known information came to light, she realized that what she gave to the FBI implicates Trump directly.
38. The first charges directly related to interference in the 2016 election were handed down, as Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers.
39. Trump completely capitulated to Putin during their dual press conference in Helsinki, and removed almost all doubt as to whether he is under the sway of Putin in some way, shape or form.
40. Robert Mueller indicted Maria Butina, who had been acting as a Kremlin agent, trying to influence the NRA. One e-mail in the indictment from an American to an acquaintance even says that they secured a backchannel between the RNC and the Kremlin through the NRA.
41. We learned that just before Trump entered office, he was told that Putin personally directed 2016 election interference.
42. In response to the previous story and the disaster at Helsinki, Republican congressman and former CIA agent Will Hurd penned an op-ed in the New York Times saying that Trump is being manipulated by Putin.
43. Oh lordy there were tapes—tapes of Trump saying he wants to commit FEC violations.
44. America laid its eyes on a FISA application for the first time in history, as the endless amount of noise whipped up by Devin Nunes and Donald Trump led a judge to release a redacted application which proved the federal government believed that Trump had a Kremlin spy in his camp.
45. Oh lordy there were more tapes from Michael Cohen—over 100 that were seized by the government.
46. In a move that definitely made everyone involved look super innocent, House Republicans tried to impeach Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing the Mueller investigation.
47. Trump ended a no good very bad month by going absolutely ballistic on Twitter, proving that Mueller had him spooked like never before.
48. Trump contradicted his previous denial about the famed Trump Tower meeting, and possibly admitted to a felony in the process.
49. Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to FEC violations done “in coordination with and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”
50. At almost the exact same time as Cohen pleaded guilty, Paul Manafort was found guilty of fraud.
51. The next day, Trump went on Fox News to complain about Michael Cohen “flipping” on him, and his longtime ally, David Pecker, later flipped on him that day.
52. Allen Weisselberg, the man who controls the finances of the Trump Organization, received immunity in exchange for his testimony in Michael Cohen’s criminal case.
53. Trump ended another terrible month by making things worse for himself, jumping on Twitter to seemingly admit that he tried to fire both Jeff Sessions and Robert Mueller.
54. The Feds were reported to be probing suspicious transactions following the famed Trump Tower meeting from 2016.
55. Paul Manafort pleaded guilty to two separate charges, and he began to (supposedly) cooperate with Robert Mueller.
56. Putting covert agents’ lives in danger, Trump ordered the declassification of all of James Comey’s texts and other documents.
57. The New York Times published a bizarre hit piece on Rod Rosenstein that seemed like it came from an administration testing the waters as to whether they could get away with firing him.
58. October was a quiet month, as Robert Mueller clearly slowed down his public-facing investigation to ensure that it didn’t look like he was interfering in an election, and the biggest news relating to Mueller is how the dumbest person on Twitter, Jacob Wohl, hilariously and unsuccessfully tried to frame him.
59. News also broke that Robert Mueller is probing the Podesta dump, which is the most public evidence of Trump-Russia collusion that exists.
60. Right after the midterms ended, Jeff Sessions resigned as Attorney General.
61. Trump appointed an unqualified interim Attorney General, Matt Whitaker, in likely unconstitutional fashion, almost surely because he raged against the Mueller investigation.
62. In a whoopsie for the ages, in a completely unrelated case, federal agents seem to have revealed that Julian Assange has already been charged with a crime.
63. Paul Manafort reportedly met with Julian Assange in 2016.
64. Paul Manafort had his plea deal nullified because Robert Mueller alleged that Manafort lied to him, thus breaking their agreement.
65. Jerome Corsi, famed conspiracy theorist and Roger Stone acolyte, basically admitted to collusion on MSNBC.
66. BuzzFeed News’ ace reporting team of Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier revealed that Trump planned to give Putin a $50 million penthouse in the proposed Trump Tower Moscow for free.
67. Following Corsi’s lead, Trump basically admitted to pursuing Moscow Trump Tower and collusion too.
68. Turns out, the Republicans also got hacked in 2016, and it was so secret that folks like Paul Ryan didn’t even know. The GOP said they “believe it was a foreign agent due to the nature of the attack,” and, well, we know of one foreign agent who was hacking political parties in 2016. Difference here is, none of the e-mails were ever released.
69. Robert Mueller published the much-anticipated Michael Flynn memo, detailing a massive criminal investigation around Trump.
70. Coming in at almost the nicest number: the worst news of the year for Trump. Robert Mueller and the Southern District of New York published 37 combined pages (Seven for Mueller, 30 for SDNY) detailing Michael Cohen’s crimes, and named Trump 30 times throughout the process. It’s so obvious that Trump committed a felony, Fox News is even saying it.
71. That e-mail in the Marina Butina indictment about a U.S. person saying they set up a backchannel to the Kremlin between the RNC and NRA? That was Paul Erickson, longtime GOP operative, and Mueller clearly has the NRA in his sights.
72. Michael Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for lying to congress and felonies done “in coordination with and at the direction of Individual 1.”
73. New reporting from the NYT, WSJ and The Daily Beast revealed that both federal and Manhattan investigators are looking into the millions of dollars funneled to Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
74. New York State won its lawsuit against the Trump Foundation, and the Trump Foundation will close its operations.
75. The Daily Beast reported that Robert Mueller will point towards what Russia got out of “collusion” in his next court filings.
So where does the Mueller investigation stand going into 2019? Two years ago, the idea that Trump colluded with a foreign power was pie-in-the-sky TV drama-style thinking. Now, Donald Trump Jr.’s “I love collusion with the government of Russia!” e-mails that he willingly released prove intent to collude beyond a shadow of a doubt. The only question is what actually happened.
Because much of this investigation is relying on classified information, that makes it more difficult to build a case since you cannot put classified information into the public court record. Cases like this rely on people “flipping,” and we can confirm that Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen are cooperating with the government. Paul Manafort was until Robert Mueller said he wasn’t. Things are murky and uncertain, but they are by no means good for Trump. He committed a felony, and that’s just when it comes to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. The Feds have hundreds of tapes from Cohen, and you can bet that the aforementioned affairs do not dominate all of their recordings. The walls really are beginning to close in around Trump.
That said, the biggest question in this whole ordeal isn’t whether Trump committed a crime, but whether you can charge the president with one. There’s really no extensive legal testing of this question, and a DOJ memo from the Watergate era is the only precedent we really have, and it states that sitting presidents cannot be indicted. We are entering uncharted territory in so many vectors, and that’s before you get to the fact that Trump is clearly picking his Attorney Generals based solely on who will back him in his insatiable desire to shut down a sprawling investigation that is far too vast for any one man to contain.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.