Trump and the Russia investigation: What to know

The Kremlin and President Donald Trump have each denied allegations that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded in the 2016 presidential election – but the probe into Russia’s meddling is forging ahead.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller announced the first charges in the investigation in October. Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, was charged with lying to the FBI about his communications with a Russian ambassador on Dec. 1. 

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and his associate, Richard Gates, were required to turn themselves into federal authorities as they were indicted on 12 counts – ranging from conspiracy against the U.S., to conspiracy to launder money.

George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his connections with Russian officials.

Early problems

Before Trump ever took office, tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and other officials connected to former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were leaked.

Those emails – released in July 2016 ahead of the Democratic National Convention – purportedly showed the party favoring Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and led to the resignation of party chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

But more than just ousting Wasserman Schultz, intelligence officials concluded that those responsible for leaking the emails were connected to the Russian government. In its assessment of the hack, the CIA concluded that Russia intervened in the election in order to help Trump secure the presidency.

Before he handed over the White House to Trump, former President Barack Obama sanctioned Russia for its alleged involvement in the election – a move that would eventually come back to dismantle one of Trump’s senior aides.

Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also got the administration into hot water for his own actions during the campaign.

Trump Jr. confirmed in July 2017 that he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign as she was supposed to have damaging information about Clinton.

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” an email about the meeting said in part.

Trump Jr. maintained that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, did not have any information to share and instead wanted to discuss other matters, such as the Magnitsky Act and other sanctions.

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump."

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, were at the meeting as well. The two are also being investigated.

Flynn’s fall

Michael Flynn’s tenure as Trump’s national security adviser was short but rife with controversy that still bedevils the administration. But Flynn didn’t come without a warning.

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2017 file photo, tne-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington. Flynn has opened a new consulting firm called Resilient Patriot, LLC that is advising private equity firms, according to one of his brothers, who says Flynn is “moving on with his life." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during a White House press briefing.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Only a few days after the November election, Obama met with Trump to share his concerns about Flynn, a retired lieutenant general. Flynn had served under Obama as head of military intelligence until he was fired in 2014 following reports of insubordination and questionable management style.

Still, Trump ignored Obama’s apparent apprehensions and selected Flynn as his national security adviser. Not a month later, Trump accepted Flynn’s resignation.

As Obama issued the sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the election, Flynn reportedly called the Russian ambassador to discuss the move. Flynn initially denied speaking to the ambassador, but when intelligence officials revealed proof, he said he just didn’t remember speaking on that topic.

Flynn resigned under harsh scrutiny for misleading the administration, including Vice President Mike Pence, about his ties to and conversations with Russian officials.

He remains under multiple investigations by congressional committees and the Pentagon’s inspector general. He was charged on Dec. 1 for making false statements to the FBI pertaining to his interactions with Russian officials in 2016. He pleaded guilty.

Flynn registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department in March 2017.

And in November, Flynn’s lawyers reportedly told the White House legal team that they would no longer communicate with them about Mueller’s investigation. That’s a move that could signal cooperation with the government’s probe.

Firing the FBI director

Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey on May 9 – less than two months after Comey publicly proclaimed that the agency was investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

The White House maintained that Comey was relieved from his duties due to his handling of the investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server during her tenure of secretary of state. But days later, Trump alluded that he had considered the Russian investigation when he fired Comey. 

Comey told a Senate intelligence committee in June that he was concerned about the “shifting explanations” that came from the White House regarding his firing.

He also claimed that Trump had asked for the FBI to drop its investigation into Flynn during a February meeting. The White House has denied that Trump was attempting to influence the FBI director.

Before the committee, Comey confirmed that he had reassured Trump repeatedly that he was not under investigation by the FBI.

Russians in the Oval

In the wake of Comey’s dismissal, the Trump administration was rocked with reports of the president’s own controversial dealings with Russian officials in the Oval Office.

A television plays a news report on U.S. President Donald Trump's recent Oval Office meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as night falls on offices and the entrance of the West Wing White House in Washington, U.S. May 15, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX35ZV9

A White House television plays a news report on President Donald Trump's Oval Office meeting with Russian officials.  (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

The Washington Post reported on May 15 that Trump shared classified information regarding ISIS threats with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time. The information was reportedly given to the U.S. from Israel and not meant to be shared.

Later that week, the New York Times reported that Trump told those officials the day after firing Comey – who he allegedly called a “nut job” – that the personnel change took “great pressure” off of him.

Special counsel called

The Department of Justice announced the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the federal investigation into Russia’s alleged influence on the presidential election on May 17.

The appointment followed a growing Democratic outcry for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the probe.

Mueller was given wide berth to carry out his investigation, and he expanded the probe to look into whether Trump obstructed justice with Comey’s firing.

Trump has criticized Mueller’s friendship with Comey as “very bothersome.” The two were former colleagues at the Justice Department.

Multiple investigators on Mueller’s team face questions about their potential biases – and one was reassigned from the probe.

During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 7, FBI Director Christopher Wray defended the removal of agent Peter Strzok from Mueller’s probe after it was discovered that he allegedly exchanged anti-Trump texts with another FBI lawyer.

Wray said he would take “appropriate action as necessary” after the inspector general completes his probe into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation.  

Trump faces Putin

Trump finally met with Putin for the first time face-to-face at the G-20 summit in June.

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany July 7, 2017.    REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RC14D22F5350

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their bilateral meeting at the G20 summit in Germany in July 2017.  (Reuters/Carlos Barria)

He immediately pressed his Russian counterpart on the allegations of election meddling – which Putin denied, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Lavrov told reporters after the meeting that Trump had accepted Putin’s assurances that Moscow was innocent of interfering in the election.

Trump Tower Moscow

While Trump was actively running for president, his business attempted to secure a new real estate development in Moscow, according to records reviewed by the Washington Post.

The Trump Organization pursued building a Trump Tower in Moscow from late 2015 to early 2016, according to the paper. And Russian-born real estate developer Felix Sater was hoping to bring Trump himself to the country.

Sater reportedly urged Trump to come to Moscow to promote the business venture and promised that he could get Putin to say “great things” about the Manhattan business mogul, sources told the Washington Post.

A top executive with Trump's real estate company also emailed Putin's press secretary in 2016 for help to expedite the project, according to an email obtained by Fox News

"Over the past few months, I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City," Michael Cohen, the company's executive vice president and Trump's special counsel at the time, said in a Jan. 14, 2016 email. "Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled. As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance." 

Cohen later told the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence  that the project was "similar" to other business ideas "contemplated years before any campaign." 

"The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump's presidential campaign," Cohen said. 

Trump never went to Russia, and the project was abandoned in January 2016. 

Manafort’s mess

Manafort resigned as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016 amid questions regarding his business dealings in Ukraine.

The special counsel took over the criminal investigation into Manafort’s financial dealings – dating back even prior to the election. FBI agents raided his Virginia home earlier this year, and Manafort – along with an associate – was told to turn himself into federal authorities at the end of October.

Manafort has been the subject of multiple investigations into his financial dealings and lobbying work. He has denied any colluding with Russia.

Along with Richard Gates, Manafort was charged on Oct. 30 on 12 counts: conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, unregistered agent of a foreign principal, false and misleading [Foreign Agents Registration Act] statements, false statements, and seven counts of failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts.

For now, Manafort remains under house arrest while his lawyers work with prosecutors on an arrangement that would allow for him to appear in court when needed but also give him the freedom to leave the house.

A family affair

Jared Kushner, too, has been under FBI scrutiny.

Kushner, married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, may possess substantial information relevant to the Russian investigation, officials have said. He has denied colluding with Russians or knowing anyone who did so.

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump stand together after John Kelly was sworn in as White House Chief of Staff in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC17A1619640

Jared Kushner, who is married to Trump's daughter Ivanka, has been under FBI scrutiny as well.  (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Kushner has held private meetings with lawmakers regarding the controversial meeting Trump Jr. set up with the Russian lawyer. Earlier this month, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley and Democratic Sen. Diane Feinstein both requested additional information from Kushner and accused him of not being forthcoming.

He was also questioned by Mueller’s investigators earlier this month about a meeting he had with a Russian ambassador and Flynn in December 2016, Fox News confirmed

Page vs. Sessions

Carter Page, a former campaign adviser, met with House investigators in early November and contradicted earlier testimony given by Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions.

Page said that while he didn’t have any evidence of Russian meddling in the presidential election, he did take a trip to Russia during the campaign and “briefly said hello” to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

But Page also said that Sessions was aware of the trip. Sessions, a former Alabama senator, told lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee in July that he wasn’t aware if Page traveled to Russia.

Social media’s role

Social media, too, is the subject of congressional investigations as Facebook, Twitter and Google executives have said advertisements linked to Russian operatives were bought during the election.

Facebook said about $100,000 in ad purchases connected to “inauthentic accounts” that violated its policies were uncovered as well as another $50,000 on “potentially politically related ad spending” that were in Russian. Twitter said a group with “strong links to the Russian government” spent $274,000 in ads, and the social media site suspended almost two dozen accounts that were possibly linked to Russian officials.

As for Google, Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on YouTube, Google Search products and Gmail regarding the election, Fox Business reported

As for Trump, he has often tweeted about the ongoing investigation – something that could land him in hot water, according to multiple experts and lawmakers.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., warned the president to tread cautiously. "You tweet and comment regarding ongoing criminal investigations at your own peril. I'd be careful if I were you, Mr. President. I'd watch this," Graham said.

Trump has tweeted that he "had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI. He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!"

The tweet suggested that Trump was aware when the White House dismissed Flynn that he had lied to the FBI, which had interviewed him weeks earlier. Comey has said Trump the following day brought up the Flynn investigation in private at the White House and told him he hoped he could "let this go."

Richard Painter, a former ethics counsel to the George W Bush administration, said in a tweet that Trump could be “tweeting [his] way into impeachment and criminal charges.”

“He could be Tweeting himself into an obstruction of justice conviction,” Painter also said.

And Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, said on Twitter, “Beyond inadvertently confessing to obstruction of justice, Trump seems oblivious to the criminal & possibly impeachable nature of covert pre-inaugural action to undermine the diplomatic efforts of the still sitting POTUS. Logan Act on steroids.”

With questions raised by the tweet, Trump associates tried to put distance Saturday evening between the president himself and the tweet. Trump's personal lawyer John Dowd told ABC News that he drafted the tweet and gave it to the president's social media director Dan Scavino. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.