- April 18 marks one year since the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
- The nearly 2-year saga embroiled the Trump administration and resulted in senior members of the president’s campaign convicted of crimes and even going to jail.
- Mueller’s report found no explicit conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia to influence the last election, and it fell short of reaching a definitive conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.
- A year later, the Mueller probe’s central characters have dispersed around the world, with some in prison and others holding new jobs and even more power.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Remember Robert Mueller?
His 448-page Russia report has been slowing fading from the American psyche since the moment it hit the internet a year ago Saturday.
That’s right. The special counsel’s investigation that so consumed the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency has reached its first anniversary jockeying for position in the history books alongside other major stories of the Trump era.
There’s of course the Ukraine scandal, which literally took root right as the Mueller probe had ended and ultimately led to the president’s impeachment. And then there’s the coronavirus, which now appears ready to be the defining event of the Trump presidency as thousands die and Americans cope with life under an unprecedented lockdown.
But let’s back up for a moment. Real lives were swept up by the Mueller investigation, from the investigators themselves to the people who were being investigated.
As the Mueller report reaches its first milestone, here’s a look at where some of the main characters of the probe ended up, from prison to promotions, from the Kremlin to the White House, and from obscurity to emboldened power.
To say Mueller kept a low profile throughout the investigation is beyond an understatement.
Cable networks ran the same set of photos taken from just a handful of public appearances that the former FBI director made when airing B-roll on the investigation. Americans didn’t hear Mueller’s voice until he testified before Congress last July. Even Mueller’s spokesman earned the nickname of “Mr. No Comment.”
Now, Mueller is back at his former law firm, WilmerHale, where he works on high-profile investigations and crisis management.
He’s still president. He’s still tweeting.
He got impeached — but not removed from office — over a somewhat separate matter involving efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine by withholding military aid in exchange for an announcement that the country would investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for corruption.
Now, Trump is dealing with a very different kind of unprecedented event as he runs for a second term while delivering daily meandering press conferences on the coronavirus pandemic and struggling with credibility as thousands of Americans die.
The most famous of the president’s personal attorneys saw his plate quickly filled again after the Mueller probe wrapped up.
In fact, it was Giuliani’s work pushing for the Biden probe in the Ukraine that made him a central figure of the impeachment saga and forced him off the team that defended Trump on the Senate floor during the trial.
Despite that baggage, the former New York mayor remains a pro-Trump cable news fixture, even with his repeated blunders throughout the Russia saga. Giuliani has also been working on his podcast and angling to be Trump’s “personal science adviser” amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, pleaded guilty in 2018 to tax evasion, bank fraud, and campaign-finance violations as well as making false statements to Congress.
Once one of Trump’s most vicious defenders, Cohen is now anything but a fan of his former client. Before he started serving his sentence he made explosive claims about Trump when he testified before Congress in February 2019, calling the president of the United States “a racist,” “a conman” and “a cheat.”
Roger Stone — one of Trump’s longest-serving political advisers and a master of the political dark arts — emerged from the Mueller probe in a heap of trouble.
In February, the 67-year old GOP operative was sentenced to more than three years in prison for obstruction, false statements, and witness tampering.
His prison time is on hold, for now, pending his appeal for a retrial stemming from allegations of undisclosed bias from the case’s lead juror. A federal judge rejected Stone’s request on Thursday and the question is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
If Stone fails in his bid for another trial, look for Trump to consider pardoning his friend and political ally.
Michael Caputo, a former communications adviser to the Trump campaign, sat for an interview with Mueller’s investigators in May 2018. Later, Caputo spearheaded the campaign to secure a pardon for Roger Stone, his longtime friend who decades ago give him a career boost as a driver.
Now, Caputo is joining the Trump administration as the new spokesman for the department of Health and Human Services, jumping head first into the coronavirus response.
His bucket hats and awkward cable news hit should ring a bell. But even if they don’t, rest assured that Carter Page’s name remains one of the most bandied about from the investigation — especially on Fox News.
The subject of a controversial FISA warrant permitting government surveillance at the outset of the original FBI investigation in late 2016 and early 2017, Page emerged from the Mueller probe without being charged with a crime.
Now, the one-time Trump foreign policy adviser is coming out with a book, “Abuse of Power: The inside story of the biggest government spying scandal in U.S. history.”
Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the center of the infamous Trump Tower meeting arranged under the auspices of sharing dirt about Hillary Clinton, escaped the Mueller probe without facing any charges.
But she did get ensnared in a totally unrelated federal money laundering case in New York.
Ostensibly still an advocate for Russian adoption, Veselnitskaya is believed to be in Russia, though her precise whereabouts are unknown.
Donald Trump Jr.
Donald Trump Jr. emerged from the Russia scandal without facing any criminal charges. In fact, he’s become one of the most in-demand Republican campaign surrogates, even polling in second — just behind Vice President Mike Pence — among GOP voters for who they’d like to see as the party’s 2024 presidential nominee.
Otherwise, the president’s eldest son grew out his beard, spoke with his dad about pardoning “Tiger King” star and convicted felon Joe Exotic, and periodically posts some aggressive memes on his Instagram.
The Mueller legal team, Trump’s “17 Angry Dems”
Mueller’s legal team was frequently the subject of the president’s tweets, accusing them of being a biased cabal of “17 angry Dems.” Conservative media often centered their coverage on the team, who have now moved on and dispersed throughout the private sector at various law firms, universities and TV networks, including:
- Andrew Weissmann: Faculty, New York University; MSNBC contributor.
- Greg Andres: Davis Polk & Wardwell.
- Jeannie Rhee: Partner at Paul Weiss Rifkind Wharton & Garrison.
- Aaron Zebley: Partner at WilmerHale.
- James Quarles: Partner at WilmerHale.
- Andrew Goldstein: Partner at Cooley LLC.
- Elizabeth Prelogar: Partner at Cooley LLC.
- Zainab Ahmad: Partner at Gibson Dunn.
- Michael Dreeben: Partner at O’Melveny.
- Peter Strzok: Suing the Justice Department over his firing.
- Lisa Page: Filed a similar lawsuit.
Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, is a convicted felon serving in federal prison until 2024.
U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson voided Manafort’s plea agreement with Mueller’s team, ruling that he lied to prosecutors during his cooperation. The 71-year old longtime Republican operative remains in a low-security facility in Loretto, Penn.
Rick Gates, Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, got a sentence of 45 days in jail after cooperating with prosecutors in a plea deal that saw him turn on Manafort, his former boss and longtime mentor.
Gates did not look at Manafort when he testified against him.
Now on probation, Gates lives in Richmond, Virginia, and his next court hearing is scheduled for mid-September.
Michael Flynn, Trump’s short-lived national security adviser, is still awaiting sentencing after initially pleading guilty to lying to the FBI as part of the Mueller probe.
The retired Army general got in trouble over not being forthcoming about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak, the then-Russian ambassador to the U.S., which spiraled into the scandal that led to the president firing FBI Director James Comey and Mueller’s ultimate appointment.
Flynn hasn’t exactly acted like a normal defendant. While he did cooperate with the special counsel’s investigators, Flynn later fired his original legal team and replaced them with an attorney known for her outspoken criticism of the FBI and Mueller’s investigators.
The lawyer, Sidney Powell, has requested to have Flynn’s plea agreement withdrawn, alleging the FBI tricked him into making false statements.
His sentencing has been postponed several times, most recently in February. The coronavrius pandemic should delay that even further, while the prospect of a Trump pardon also looms large in the picture.
DOJ top brass: Rod Rosenstein, Jeff Sessions, and Bill Barr
Comey’s firing in May 2017 kicked off not only the Mueller probe, but it also prompted a series of escalating Trump attacks against the Department of Justice. And it made for some uncomfortable moments for the likes of Jeff Sessions, Rod Rosenstein, and William Barr.
Trump fired Sessions in November 2018 after subjecting his first attorney general to a series of public humiliations via Twitter and media interviews. And the president hasn’t let up since. Amid Sessions attempt at a political comeback — he’s in a runoff campaign for the GOP nomination in Alabama to retake his old Senate seat — Trump’s 2020 team recently called him “delusional” for claiming to be a supporter of the president.
Rosenstein lasted longer than Sessions at DOJ, but not by much. The deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller because of Sessions’ recusal and then oversaw the Russia investigation resigned last May shortly after the special counsel’s report went public. He’s now a partner at King & Spalding working on the “special matters and government investigations” team.
As for Barr, the attorney general withstood criticism for his own handling of the Mueller report release and remains on the job, though he has reportedly told people he is considering quitting over Trump’s interference in DOJ cases.
Putin, the GRU, and other Russians
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his top brass remain emboldened one year after the investigation wrapped up.
Putin is still pushing disinformation and building his influence, from Libya to the South China Sea. He’s also pushing for changes to his country’s constitution that would allow him to serve as president until 2036.
As for Kislyak, he’s left Washington and now serves as a senator from Mordovia.
Anatoliy Sergeyevich Kovalev and Aleksandr Vladimirovich Osadchuk, the senior Russian military officials who Mueller indicted for targeting US election systems via “spear phishing,” remain at-large, presumably in Russia.
Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political consultant who was indicted on several charges, including attempted witness tampering on behalf of Manafort, reportedly lives in a heavily guarded $2 million home outside of Moscow.
One of the only Russians to suffer significant consequences from the probe is Maria Butina, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison for creating a “back channel” to the Kremlin via the NRA. She served most of the time and then got deported to Moscow.