Explained

Where Russia Investigations Trump Is Embroiled in Stand

Evidence circling around U.S. president as personal lawyer backtracks on Russian interference and AG nominee accepts possibility of collusion

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin shaking hands during a meeting at the Residential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, July 2018.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais,AP

What's this all about?

Trump is facing investigations in Washington and New York.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Trump also plays a central role in a separate case in New York, where prosecutors have implicated him in a crime. They say Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush-money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the campaign.

What do I need to know?

Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani backtracked Thursday on an interview with CNN the night before in which he insisted that he had "never said there was no collusion." He said that there was no collusion by the president in "any way, shape or form" and that he had no knowledge of collusion "by any of the thousands of people who worked on the campaign."

Earlier this week, Trump's nominee for attorney general asserted independence from the White House, saying he believed that Russia had tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, that the special counsel investigation shadowing Trump is not a witch hunt and that his predecessor was right to recuse himself from the probe.

The comments by William Barr at his Senate confirmation hearing pointedly departed from Trump's own views and underscored Barr's efforts to reassure Democrats that he will not be a loyalist to a president who has appeared to demand loyalty from law enforcement. He also repeatedly sought to assuage concerns that he might disturb or upend Mueller's investigation as it reaches its final stages.

Some Democrats are concerned about that very possibility, citing a memo Barr wrote to the Justice Department before his nomination in which he criticized Mueller's investigation for the way it was presumably looking into whether Trump had obstructed justice.

So... did the Trump campaign collude with Russia?

There is no smoking gun when it comes to the question of Russia collusion. But the evidence so far shows a broad range of Trump associates had Russia-related contacts during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition period, and several lied about the communication.

There is also evidence that some people in the president's orbit were discussing a possible email dump from WikiLeaks before it occurred. American intelligence agencies and Mueller have said Russia was the source of hacked material released by WikiLeaks during the campaign that was damaging to Hillary Clinton's presidential effort.

>>Are Putin and Wikileaks Working for Trump?

Other questions to consider:

■ What about Obstruction of Justice

That is another unresolved question that Mueller is pursuing. Investigators have examined key episodes such as Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his fury over the recusal from the investigation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

■ What does Trump have to say about this?

Trump has repeatedly slammed the Mueller investigation as a "witch hunt" and insisted there was "NO COLLUSION" with Russia. He also says his former lawyer, Cohen, lied to get a lighter sentence in New York.