How did Russia meddle in the 2016 election?
The Russian interference included:
- The creation of thousands of fake social media accounts that pretended to be Americans supporting Trump and planing events in support of Trump against Clinton. They reached millions of social media users between 2013 and 2016
- They hacked the emails of the DNC and Clinton campaign officials, most notably John Podesta, and publicly released stolen files and emails through WikiLeaks and other sites during the election campaign.
- Supposedly several individuals connected to Russia contacted various Trump campaign associates offering business opportunities to the Trump Organization and offering damaging information on Clinton during the campaign. Trump has denied any such communication took place.
Who is Christopher Steele? (Source of the Trump-Russia conspiracy theory)
Christopher Steele is a British former intelligence officer with the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) from 1987 until his retirement in 2009. He ran the Russia desk at MI6 headquarters in London between 2006 and 2009. In 2009, he co-founded Orbis Business Intelligence, a London-based private intelligence firm.
Steele became the center of controversy after he authored a dossier, thereafter called the "Steele Dossier", which was a political opposition research report for the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign, using anonymous sources, that claimed that Trump conspired with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. The dossier, leaked by BuzzFeed News in January 2017, without its author's permission, was an unfinished 35-page compilation of raw intelligence, written for the private investigative firm Fusion GPS, paid for by Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
The release of the dossier triggered a series of events which led to the launch of the Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, led by Robert Mueller.
Who is Carter Page? (Trump appointee)
Carter Page held two roles during the Trump 2016 presidential election campaign:
- He was an petroleum industry consultant specializing in the Russian and Central Asian oil and gas business, and also
- A foreign-policy adviser to Trump
In 2017, Page was a focus of the Special Counsel investigation into links between Trump associates and Russian officials, on behalf of Trump, for interference with the 2016 election.
In April 2019, the Mueller Report concluded that the investigation did not establish that Page coordinated in Russia’s interference efforts.
In December 2019, the Inspector General for the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, issued a report on his inquiry into the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and its ties to Russia. (The Justice Department is responsible for overseeing the intelligence agencies, including the FBI) Horowitz found fault with the FBI’s conduct, including false statements made to the FISA court when applying for a warrant to conduct surveillance on Page.
- The FISA court, or Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, is the court that entertains applications submitted by the US government for approval of electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes.
- The DOJ Inspector General reports to the Attorney General and Congress and investigates alleged violations of criminal and civil laws by DOJ employees and agencies it oversees, like the FBI in this case.
Who is Michael Horowitz? (Objective investigator)
Michael Horowitz is the Inspector General of the United States Department of Justice. He was appointed to that office during the Obama presidency.
As stated above, the DOJ Inspector General investigates alleged violations of criminal and civil laws by DOJ employees and agencies it oversees.
Horowitz did an internal probe of the FBI's investigation of Russia collusion with the Trump campaign. He found that there was mishandling on the part of the FBI when they conducted their investigation.
Who is Rod Rosenstein? (Trump appointee)
President Donald Trump appointed Rod Rosenstein to serve as Deputy Attorney General in February 2017. In May 2017, Rosenstein authored a memo that President Trump cited as the basis for his decision to dismiss FBI director James Comey.
Who is James Comey? (Fired by Trump)
James Comey was the FBI Director appointed by Obama. Comey leaked information to the Washington Post about Michael Flynn that resulted in Flynn's departure from the White House. This was the foundation of Rod Rosenstein's memo that caused Trump to fire Comey in May 2017 for his mishandling of the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Who is Michael Flynn? (Trump appointee)
Michael Flynn is a retired US Army lieutenant general who was the US National Security Advisor for the first 22 days of the Trump administration. He resigned in light of reports by James Comey that he had lied regarding conversations with Sergy Kislak.
Who is Sergey Kislyak? (Russian diplomat)
Sergey Kislyak served as the Ambassador of Russia to the United States from 2008 to 2017. He became a key figure in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, receiving significant media coverage while denying that Russia was behind the hacking of the DNC.
Who is John Podesta? (Hillary campaign)
John Podesta is a political consultant and was the Chairman of the Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign. Prior to that he served as the White House Chief of Staff to Presdient Bill Clinton and was Counseler to President Barack Obama.
Who is John Durham? (Objective investigator)
In April 2019, US Attorney General William Barr assigned John Durham, the U.S. attorney in the District of Connecticut, to oversee a DOJ probe into the origins of the FBI investigation into Russian interference. This probe was in parallel to IG Horowitz's investigation into the same. Durham had already been conducting an investigation in the Department of Justice into leaks, possibly by FBI Director James Comey, to the Washington Post about Michael Flynn that resulted in Flynn's departure from the White House.
The Durham inquiry has been described as a criminal "inquiry into its own Russia investigation", "investigating the investigators" of the Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, and a cover-up to protect Trump.
Durham brought criminal charges against Kevin Clinesmith, a former FBI laywer, who admitted altering an email about Carter Page, a Trump campaign aide, who'd been under FBI surveillence. Clinesmith pleaded guilty to a felony violation of altering an email used to maintain Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants. In Janurary 2021, Clinesmith was sentenced to 12 months federal probation and 400 hours of community service after pleading guilty in court.
The Durham investigation is still on-going and he is considering additional criminal charges. Durham is expected to complete a report at some point.
Who is Peter Strzok? (Against Trump)
Stzok is a former FBI agent. He led the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a personal email server. More importantly, he led the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US elections. It was under his leadership that the FBI mislead the FISA court to get approval to spy on Carter Page.
The IG's (Inspector General Horowitz's) investigation examined hundreds of text messages exchanged using FBI-issued cell phones between Strzok and Lisa Page, with whom he was having an affair. Some of the texts disparaged then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. Strzok called Trump an "idiot" in August 2015 and texted "God Hillary should win 100,000,000 - 0" after a Republican debate in March 2016.
These text messages showed a political bias against Trump, even though Strzok's collegues denied that he ever had a political bias.
Who is Robert Mueller? (Objective investigator)
Robert Mueller is an American lawyer and was the director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013. Mueller led the Special Counsel's investigation into Russian collusion with the Trump presidential campaign in 2016.
The conclusion of the Special Counsel investigation
At the end of his investigation in March 2019, Mueller released his "Mueller Report", a 448-page document split into two volumes, which concluded that the investigation did not find sufficient evidence that Trump's campaign "coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities".