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Where Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation stands, one year later

As Robert Mueller’s special counsel probe marks its first year, the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of documents providing the most comprehensive look at an undisclosed meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. Nick Schiffren talks with Wired magazine contributor Garrett Graff and Matt Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Tomorrow marks one year since former FBI Director Robert Mueller was named special counsel to investigate if the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia's attempts to sway the 2016 election.

    Tonight, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told the "NewsHour" that Mueller has said he will follow Department of Justice policy not to indict a sitting president.

    But the Mueller investigation continues, and it is not the only investigation into Russia and Trump campaign actions.

    Nick Schifrin begins with new documents released today about a pivotal moment.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    It was an undisclosed meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, then campaign manager Paul Manafort and a curious guest, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

    And, today, the Senate Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of documents providing the most comprehensive look at that meeting. It was set up by Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist. Goldstone had e-mailed Trump Jr. he had dirt on Hillary Clinton that was — quote — "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."

    Trump Jr. replied, "If it's what you say, I love it."

    And he later told the committee, "I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen," and he expected incriminating information.

    The same day Trump Jr. set up the meeting, his father promised to soon reveal new revelations.

  • President Donald Trump:

    We're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.


  • Nick Schifrin:

    But Trump Jr. told the committee he didn't inform his father about the meeting — quote — "Because I wouldn't bring him anything that's unsubstantiated before I knew what it was actually about myself."

    He said the same last summer and called the meeting a waste of time.

  • Donald Trump Jr.:

    It was such a nothing. There was nothing to tell. I mean, I wouldn't have remembered it until you start scouring through the stuff. It was — it was literally just a wasted 20 minutes, which was a shame.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Last summer, when the meeting was first revealed, Trump Jr. released a statement that initially concealed the meeting's purpose.

    Asked by the committee whether President Trump helped edit the statement, Trump Jr. said the president — quote — "may have commented through Hope Hicks," the then communications director.

    Today's revelations come one year after rapid-fire, dramatic political developments. James Comey was fired as FBI director. Two days later, President Trump said he'd fired Comey because of the Russia investigation.

  • President Donald Trump:

    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've won.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Less than a week after that, one year ago tomorrow, Robert Mueller was named special counsel.

    And that brings us to today, when the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed the intelligence community's January 2017 conclusion that Russia tried to tip the election for Donald Trump. Today's findings refuted the House Intelligence report that accused the intelligence community of significant intelligence tradecraft failings.

    Here to unpack where the investigation stands, and what questions still remain, I'm joined by Garrett Graff, author of the book "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror." And Matt Olsen, he's a former federal prosecutor who directed the National Counterterrorism Center under President Obama.

    Welcome to you both. Thank you very much.

  • Matt Olsen:

    Thanks, Nick.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Matt Olsen, I want to start with you.

    This is now going on year two of Robert Mueller's investigation. The president says that Robert Mueller has exceeded his remit. Has the special counsel exceeded his remit? And we are one year in. Why haven't we seen more conclusions?

  • Matt Olsen:

    Yes, I don't think the special counsel has exceeded the remit or scope of the investigation.

    If you look back at the document that set this in motion, the Department of Justice authorized the special counsel to look at anything linked to the Russia meddling in our election from the campaign, as well as matters directly arising out of that investigation.

    So it's a broad scope. In addition, if you see what the special counsel has done, he has gone to the Eastern District of Virginia. The judge there has approved the Manafort investigation. And he's also referred matters out to other prosecutors' offices, such as the investigation that's now in New York against Michael Cohen.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Garrett Graff, there are a lot of aspects to this investigation. Does Robert Mueller embrace the kind of unwieldy notion of this investigation, or did he expect something much more narrow?

  • Garrett Graff:

    Well, I think what we do see, as Matt said, is that all of this falls pretty clearly under one big umbrella, and that Mueller is being pretty careful trying to keep everything under the umbrella.

    That said, what it is clear is that there are a number of different arms to have the investigation or sort of aspects of the probe. You have information influence operations. You have active cyber-penetrations. You have money laundering, and you have these suspicious Russian campaign contacts, as well as, of course, the big one that we're all wondering about, which is the president's obstruction of justice.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, Matt Olsen, let's start with some of those, or let's go through each of those individually.

    And as you said, there's a specific language that Mueller was given, which is investigate any links or coordination between President Trump and the Russian effort to influence the election.

    The president says this is a witch-hunt and there's no — quote, unquote — "collusion." Do we know that yet?

  • Matt Olsen:

    You know, I don't think we know yet.

    There certainly, from my perspective, is evidence of collusion or what you would consider to be coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians. It's not hard to find that. You go back to the famed Trump Tower meeting in the summer of June — summer of 2016.

    There's clearly indications of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia and their interference in our election. So, what we do know, I think, is that the Mueller investigation, that that team knows a lot that we don't know.

    And I say that because, you know, they have got 100 charges pending. They have charged 19 different individuals, and three individuals are cooperating, including Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, people connected to the campaign.

    So I think there are a lot of — there's a lot of information that the Mueller team knows that we don't know yet.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Among those people who have been indicted, Garrett Graff, are former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Rick Gates has pleaded guilty.

    This is a different aspect of the investigation. It's about financial issues. It's about lobbying and anti-corruption laws. So, how important is that part of this investigation to the overall investigation?

  • Garrett Graff:

    We don't really know yet. And that's part of what makes this so interesting at this moment in the investigation.

    As Matt said there, you know, we just don't know how all these pieces fit together right now. We see a lot of pieces on the table. We see some money laundering. We see some coordination. We see some active cyber-attacks and information operations, but we don't really know how they connect.

    You know, how does the money laundering relate to WikiLeaks? How does it relate possibly to that Trump Tower meeting? And that's where, again, we think that Bob Mueller is very far ahead of our public understanding.

    Remember, we're just learning now about these AT&T and Novartis payments to Michael Cohen through an Essential Consultants LLC. Bob Mueller knew that information in November. So, I think it's fair to think, on almost all aspects of this investigation, Bob Mueller is four to six months ahead of the public understanding.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Another basket is obstruction, of course.

  • Matt Olsen:


  • Nick Schifrin:

    And that's one of the things that a lot of people are talking about.

    I just want to show a tweet that President Trump put out in defending himself. He says: "The Russia witch-hunt is rapidly losing credibility. How about obstruction? There is no" — capital O — "Obstruction. It's called fighting back."

    If the president is fighting back, Matt Olsen, can that be obstruction?

  • Matt Olsen:

    Sure. Obstruction can be fighting back.

    Obstruction is corruptly trying to interfere and impede with a criminal investigation. So you can go back, for example, to the statement that the president made, according to Jim Comey, about Michael Flynn, let this go, let this thing against Flynn go.

    That certainly is evidence of obstruction. What we don't know is, what was the intent of the president in making those statements? Was there corrupt intent behind that? That's something that is proven usually by the circumstances surrounding a statement like that.

    Also, just the firing of Comey himself also could be viewed as an effort to obstruct this investigation, the president's statement subsequently that it was a part of the — getting rid of the Russia probe.

    So, again, speaking as a former federal prosecutor, those are the kinds of things I would be looking very closely at in order to show certainly evidence of obstruction.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Garrett Graff, Matt Olsen, thank you very much, both, to you.

  • Matt Olsen:


  • Garrett Graff:

    My pleasure.

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