As the probe into Russia’s influence in the 2016 presidential election continues, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe has expanded to include a key Democratic lobbyist.
Tony Podesta, the brother of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, and his lobbying firm are now a subject in Mueller’s investigations because of the Podesta Group’s work on Paul Manafort’s PR campaign for a Ukrainian group.
Manafort is President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager who has found himself at the center of the investigation into possible Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election because of his financial dealings and lobbying work with Ukrainian and pro-Russian officials.
Despite some opposition to Mueller’s probe from Republicans, Trump apparently isn’t “discussing” firing him, and House Speaker Paul Ryan said Mueller should be able to “do his job.”
Mueller, 73, reportedly impaneled a grand jury earlier in August as part of his examination. Read on for a brief rundown on his investigation so far.
The Department of Justice announced the appointment of Mueller to oversee the federal investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election on May 17.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The appointment came after a growing cry – mostly from Democrats – mounted for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the probe. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions had already recused himself from the investigation.
Mueller led the FBI through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and served under presidential administrations of both parties.
He has the authority to prosecute any crimes uncovered during his investigation, and he was given wide authority to investigate whether Trump or his associates colluded with the Kremlin to win the White House.
Mueller allegedly expanded the probe to include investigating Trump for obstruction of justice because he fired FBI Director James Comey earlier in May.
Trump told Fox News the claims that he obstructed justice were “ridiculous” and said Mueller’s friendship with Comey was “very bothersome.”
Mueller has also reportedly taken over an ongoing investigation into Manafort’s financial dealings in Ukraine. The FBI executed a search warrant in August at the Virginia home of Manafort, who – prior to joining Trump’s campaign – worked with a Russia-backed Ukrainian president.
The Trump administration heavily criticized Mueller’s investigation as several of his attorneys on staff donated to Democratic campaigns, including to Trump’s 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton.
“They clearly wanted the other person to win. Now, whether that prejudices them in one way or another remains to be seen, but it is relevant information for people to have,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway told “Fox and Friends” in July.
Mueller kicked off August by reportedly impaneling a grand jury to investigate Russia’s influence – an indication that the probe is entering a new phase.
A grand jury gives prosecutors the ability to subpoena documents and gather on-the-record witness testimonies. Indictments can also be sought.
Grand juries are common vehicles to gather evidence, though they do not suggest any criminal charges are near or will necessarily be sought.
Trump has dismissed the allegations of collusion with Russia as a “fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most of all demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution.”
“I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one…”
– President Donald Trump
“I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve,” Trump said at a rally in West Virginia earlier this year.
The president also warned Mueller to stay within certain boundaries as he investigates.
But Conway told Fox News that the Trump administration is not “discussing” firing Mueller and will cooperate with the investigation.
She contended that while the Russia probe is a “witch hunt” and “fake,” Trump “has not even discussed” nor is “discussing” sacking Mueller.
Trump and Mueller have also sent messages “back and forth,” according to Trump’s outside counsel. A spokesman for Mueller told Fox News that the messages have been “very professional.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.
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