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Timeline Of The Mueller Investigation


The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has completed his investigation into whether President Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election and several other lines of inquiry that grew out of that investigation. He's been at it for nearly two years. NPR's Tamara Keith is with us now. Tam, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Mueller was appointed in May 2017. The FBI was on the case before then. So help us understand the scenario.

KEITH: Right. So we learned in the March of 2017 - when FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress - that the FBI was in the midst of a counterintelligence investigation into Russian interference in possible connections to the Trump campaign. And by the time we learned this, it had been going on for a long time. It had actually started in the summer of 2016. And this is a long and winding road.

It's a little complicated. But it seems as though the investigation was spurred at least in part by a man named George Papadopoulos, who none of us knew anything about until much later. He was a foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, who, at the time, was in London allegedly boasting that the Russians had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. And at the same time, that summer of 2016, there were emails from the DNC - the Democratic Party - that had been hacked by Russia and were being released into the public. And President Trump himself - then a candidate - seemed to be encouraging this sort of behavior.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I will tell you this - Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens.

KEITH: Now, a reminder...


TRUMP: That'll be next. Yes, sir.

KEITH: (Laughter) Now, a reminder - he was talking about Hillary Clinton's emails. The big controversy at the time of the 2016 campaign was that Hillary Clinton had this private email server. And President Trump was encouraging Russia to get her emails. Russia never did get those emails. But, of course, as we all know, they did get other emails from - internal emails from her campaign that were later released at a key moment in the presidential race.

SIMON: And the Steele dossier figures into this scenario, too, right?

KEITH: The Steele dossier does figure in. It comes in later. It is not part of the origin story, but it is there early on. And what the Steele dossier is was a document that was produced as part of opposition research into President Trump. But then it got into the hands of the FBI and became part of their inquiry. But in President Trump's mind and in the mind of his defenders, it has taken this outsized role as this thing that caused the whole thing. And the president calls it a - the dirty dossier. He blames it for everything. The reality is that there were already a lot of signals that the FBI was picking up at that point.

SIMON: James Comey was then fired as director of the FBI, as I recall, when he was on the tarmac out west somewhere.

KEITH: (Laughter).

SIMON: And this led to the Mueller investigation to be appointed, right?

KEITH: Yes. So initially, the word was that Comey was fired for his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. That was the White House line. But it did not hold up for very long because President Trump then - in an interview with Lester Holt on NBC - said this.


TRUMP: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself - I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

KEITH: So after this, all in this short period of time after Comey was fired, Comey got word out into the universe that he felt Trump had pressured him to go easy on his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who had allegedly lied to the FBI - now has admitted to lying to the FBI - about contacts with Russia. So then obstruction of justice comes in. It gets messy. And very quickly, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appoints Robert Mueller as special counsel just to investigate the whole thing.

SIMON: So two years later, nearly three dozen people and entities have been indicted, pleaded guilty or have been convicted. Is - when we know what's in the report, is that the end of it?

KEITH: Is that the end of it? Well, that's a good question.

SIMON: Why do we...


SIMON: ...Even ask questions like that? Yes.

KEITH: (Laughter). No. It isn't the end of it. And here's why. Congress is still investigating. We don't know how much of what's in this report Congress will get. And, as we know, the Mueller investigation has spun out a number of other investigations by the Justice Department in New York, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

SIMON: And these could involve The Trump Organization's business dealings, questions about whether or not they made approaches to Russian entities during the campaign, all kinds of other questions.

KEITH: All kinds of other questions. But it is important to note that this big thing, the special counsel investigation, will no longer itself be hanging over the president. And it's also worth noting that despite lots of speculation, President Trump ultimately did not fire Robert Mueller.

SIMON: NPR's Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.