Timeline: Trump, Comey and the Russia probe - Axios
Top Stories

Timeline: Trump, Comey and the Russia probe

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

President Trump dismissed James Comey May 9, Comey testified last week before the Senate Intelligence Committee, and now the special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice, at least in part due to Trump's interactions with Comey.

Here's a look at all the key events relating to Trump, Comey and the Russia probe:


Spring/Summer: Comey confirmed in May the FBI was conducting an investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. On July 5, Comey released a statement saying the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton. At some point in July, the FBI launched an investigation into Trump-Russia.

Oct. 28: Days before the presidential election, Comey announced there were newly-discovered emails from Clinton's campaign team relevant to the investigation.


Jan. 6: Comey briefed Trump on Russian election interference and the salacious, though unverified, dossier about his alleged behavior in Russia. Comey assured Trump the FBI was not investigating him personally, and documented this meeting in a memo.

Jan. 27: Trump invited Comey to a dinner at the White House and told him "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty," according to Comey's prepared statement for the Senate.

Feb. 14: The day after Flynn resigned as Trump's National Security Advisor after misleading Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, per his statement: "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Feb. 15: The next day, Comey told Attorney General Jeff Sessions that Trump should stay out of the FBI probe, per Comey.

March 20: Comey confirmed to Congress the FBI was investigating potential "coordination" between Trump associates and Russia, and that there was no evidence Obama wiretapped Trump, contrary to the president's earlier claims on Twitter.

Sometime after March 20: Trump reportedly asked Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and NSA Director Michael Rogers to publicly push back on FBI probe, per the Washington Post. Sometime before March 22, Trump asked Coats if he could pressure Comey to stop investigating Flynn, per the Post.

March 30: Trump called Comey and asked what he could do to "lift the cloud" of the Russia probe, and asked Comey why he told Congress the FBI was investigating Trump-Russia links. Comey again noted the FBI was not investigating Trump personally, which Trump asked him to make public.

April 11: Trump asked Comey about the progress on making it known the FBI is not investigating him personally, noting "I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know," per Comey's testimony. Comey directed him to the deputy attorney general, and did not ask what "that thing" meant. That is the last time they spoke.

April 12: Trump went after Comey in Fox Business interview. Asked if he regretted not asking Comey to resign, Trump said "it's not too late."

April 25: Rod Rosenstein was confirmed as Deputy Attorney General.

May 2: Clinton cited Comey's October email announcement as one of the reasons Trump won the election.

May 3 — One week before he got fired: Comey testified before Congress and defended his midnight revelation on the Clinton investigation. He added that it made him "mildly nauseous to think we might have had some impact on the election."

May 8: Trump met with Sessions and Rosenstein, reportedly fuming about Comey's testimony. Trump tweeted: "The Russia-Trump collusion story is a total hoax"

May 9 — The day Trump fired Comey:

  • Rod Rosenstein and Attorney General Jeff Sessions penned letters recommending Trump get a "fresh start" without Comey. Rosenstein noted Comey's handling of the Clinton emails "is a textbook example of what federal prosecutors and agents are taught not to do."
  • Trump sent a letter to Comey informing him of his decision to heed Rosenstein and Sessions' advice, firing him effective immediately. Comey was informed while speaking in front of FBI colleagues, and thought it was a prank.
  • The White House denied Comey's ouster was part of a "coverup" and claimed Trump acted on guidance from Rosenstein and Sessions.

May 10: Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office that firing "nut job" Comey eased pressure on him, per the NYT.

May 11: Trump said he would have fired Comey, even without a DOJ recommendation. He said he thought about how the Russia probe was a "hoax" before making his final decision.

May 12: Trump warned Comey on Twitter that he "better hope" there are no tapes of their conversations.

Days after Comey was fired the FBI began to personally investigate Trump.

May 14: Congress called on Trump to turn over any tapes in his possession.

May 17: Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller, Comey's predecessor as FBI chief, as special counsel for the Russia probe.

May 18: Trump denied interfering in the probe when asked ("No, no next question").

May 20: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denied talking to Trump about Comey.

May 26: The FBI refused to share Comey's memos with Congress at this time, deferring to the Mueller-led investigation.

June 1: Comey agreed to testify on June 8 before the Senate Intelligence Committee, after consulting with Mueller.

June 5: Sarah Sanders announced Trump wouldn't use executive privilege to block Comey's testimony.

June 7: Comey's planned opening statement was released. In it Comey said Trump asked for a loyalty pledge and said he hoped Comey would end the Flynn investigation. Trump also nominated Comey's replacement as FBI Director, Christopher Wray.

June 8: Comey testified before the Senate Intel Committee and revealed he asked a friend to leak info about Trump and Comey's interactions in the hopes a special counsel would be appointed.

June 9: Trump said he would be willing to testify under oath about the Russia probe to Mueller and stonewalled on questions about tapes. He also tweeted "WOW, Comey is a leaker!"

June 13: Sessions confirmed while testifying under oath he left Comey and Trump alone Feb. 14, but contradicted what Comey said about their conversation after the meeting — Sessions testified he had said he would tell the White House to follow protocol, Comey said Sessions did not reply.

June 14: The Post reported Mueller is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice.

Go deeper:


My 6 Big Things: Cecile Richards shares a worthy part of her morning routine

I chat with industry leaders about their quirks and life hacks for Axios' My 6 Big Things series. This week features Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, tells us a worthy part of her morning routine.


Scoop: Mueller obtains "tens of thousands” of Trump transition emails

Photo: AP

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has obtained “many tens of thousands" of Trump transition emails, including emails of Jared Kushner, transition team sources tell Axios.

  • Trump officials discovered Mueller had the emails when his prosecutors used them as the basis for questions to witnesses, the sources said.
  • The emails include 12 accounts, one of which contains about 7,000 emails, the sources said.
  • The accounts include the team's political leadership and the foreign-policy team, the sources said.

Why it matters: The transition emails are said to include sensitive exchanges on matters that include potential appointments, gossip about the views of particular senators involved in the confirmation process, speculation about vulnerabilities of Trump nominees, strategizing about press statements, and policy planning on everything from war to taxes.

  • “Mueller is using the emails to confirm things, and get new leads," a transition source told me.

How it happened: The sources say Mueller obtained the emails from the General Services Administration, the government agency that hosted the transition email system, which had addresses ending in “ptt.gov," for Presidential Transition Team.

Taking fight public: Charging "unlawful conduct," Kory Langhofer, counsel for the transition team, wrote in a letter to congressional committees Saturday that "career staff at the General Services Administration ... have unlawfully produced [transition team] private materials, including privileged communications, to the Special Counsel's Office."

  • The seven-page leter, obtained by Axios, says: "We understand that the Special Counsel's Office has subsequently made extensive use of the materials it obtained from the GSA, including materials that are susceptible to privilege claims."
  • The letter says this was a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
  • "Additionally, certain portions of the [transition] materials the Special Counsel's Office obtained from the GSA, including materials that are susceptible to privilege claims, have been leaked to the press by unknown persons."

The Special Counsel's office said: "We will decline to comment."

The transition sources said they were surprised about the emails because they have been in touch with Mueller's team and have cooperated.

The twist: The sources say that transition officials assumed that Mueller would come calling, and had sifted through the emails and separated the ones they considered privileged. But the sources said that was for naught, since Mueller has the complete cache from the dozen accounts.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with details from the Langhofer letter to congressional committees.

Get more stories like this by signing up for our daily morning newsletter, Axios AM.


Pope vs. Fake News

Pope Francis. Photo: Franco Origlia / Getty Images

Pope Francis warned journalists about committing the "very serious sin" of sensationalizing the news and providing one-sided reports, per AP:

"You shouldn't fall into the 'sins of communication:' disinformation, or giving just one side, calumny that is sensationalized, or defamation, looking for things that are old news and have been dealt with and bringing them to light today."

Why it matters: The Pope is planning to dedicate his annual communications message to "fake news," the AP reports. This is one of several instances of Trump's "fake news" message making its impact around the globe.


North Korea sanctions are keeping food, medicine from citizens

Pyongyang citizens gathering to mourn in front of a portrait of late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il at the Pyongyang Gymnasium. Photo: KCNA / AFP / Getty Images

Sanctions against North Korea could increase cases of acute malnutrition among children, and hamper humanitarian efforts, according to a Washington Post report.

Why it matters: While sanctions were enforced with the intent of punishing the regime for its nuclear threats and missile launches, an American neurosurgeon who operates in North Korea, Kee Park, told the Post "they're hurting the wrong people."

  • The U.K. announced last month it would cut off aid to North Korea.
  • South Korea hasn't "delivered on its September pledge to give $8 million to the World Food Program and UNICEF for children and pregnant women," the Post reports.
  • The U.N. resident coordinator in Pyongyang, Tapan Mishra, wrote to U.N. officials that "crucial relief items, including medical equipment and drugs, have been held up for months...they are not on the list of sanctions items."
  • A humanitarian worker in Pyongyang told the Post said Chinese suppliers "have decided that it's not worth the exposure or the risk of their reputations" to continue sending supplies, despite not sending anything already banned by sanctions.

Inside the Pentagon's multi-million dollar program to explore UFOs

An aerial view of the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C. Photo: AFP staff / Getty Images

The Pentagon has officially confirmed the existence of its $22 million program to investigate unidentified flying objects (UFOs), reported by Politico and the New York Times almost simultaneously today.

Why it matters, per Politico's Bryan Bender: "The revelation of the program could give a credibility boost to UFO theorists, who have long pointed to public accounts by military pilots and others describing phenomena that defy obvious explanation, and could fuel demands for increased transparency about the scope and findings of the Pentagon effort, which focused some of its inquiries into subjects such as next-generation propulsion systems."

The details of the Advanced Aviation Threat Identification Program:

  • Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senate Majority Leader requested the program's funding in 2007. Much of it came from Robert Bigelow, the billionaire behind an aerospace program who currently works with NASA.
  • Bigelow said on CBS last May that he was "absolutely convinced" that UFOs have visited Earth and that aliens exist.
  • Pilots and various military personnel have claimed to see UFOs that "maneuvered so unusually and so fast that they seemed to defy the laws of physics."
  • One UFO sighting collected by the program is documented in "footage from a Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet showing an aircraft surrounded by some kind of glowing aura traveling at high speed and rotating as it moves," per NYT.

The program's funding ended in 2012, though some of the program's backers say it continues to operate. A Pentagon spokesman, Thomas Crosson, told NYT: “It was determined that there were other, higher priority issues that merited funding, and it was in the best interest of the DoD to make a change."

Why now: Luis Elizondo, a military intelligence officer who helped run AATIP, resigned in October because he said there wasn't sufficient time and effort put into the UFO investigation, according to his resignation letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis.


The crackdown on college fraternities

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house at Ohio State University. Photo: Dake Kang / AP

"[A]mid worries about endemic binge drinking, sexual assault and a startling spate of deaths, schools are going beyond the old practice of shutting down individual [fraternity] houses to imposing broad restrictions on all Greek life," the N.Y. Times' Anemona Hartocollis reports atop column 1:

  • "Activities like fraternity parties and initiations have been suspended or curtailed at colleges including Ball State, Indiana University, Ohio State and the University of Michigan, as well as at least five where deaths have occurred this year: Florida State, Louisiana State, Penn State, Texas State and Iowa."
  • Why it matters ... Tracy Maxwell, founder of HazingPrevention.org: "There is definitely this moment in time where society is not willing to accept behavior that in the past has been acceptable."

Go deeper: The state of college Greek life.


Americans loathe Washington, but like home

Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images

Americans are pessimistic about Washington and think the country is on the wrong track (69%), but are optimistic about their local communities.

That's the encouraging finding of an AP-NORC (University of Chicago) poll:

  • 9% think the country has become more united under Trump, while 67% think the country is more divided. (44% of Americans said in a poll last year that Obama's presidency had further divided the country.)
  • Even Republicans think Trump has divided America more than uniting it, 41% to 17%.
  • But, but, but ... "[P]essimism about the president and national politics doesn't extend to local communities. ... [A]bout half of Americans said they feel optimistic about their local communities" — 55% of Ds and 50% of Rs.

The next battle: Trump to take on China

The Tianzi Hotel with the shape of Chinese deities. Photo: VCG/VCG via Getty Images

As part of an assertive "America First" national security strategy that President Trump will unveil Monday, he will accuse China of "economic aggression," the Financial Times' Demetri Sevastopulo and Shawn Donnan scoop:

  • One person familiar with the strategy says it is "likely to define China as a competitor in every realm. Not just a competitor but a threat, and therefore, in the view of many in this administration, an adversary."
  • What it means: This is "a strong sign that he has become frustrated at his inability to use his bond with China’s President Xi Jinping to convince Beijing to address his trade concerns."
  • Why it matters ... Michael Allen, a former Bush official, now a Beacon Global Strategies managing director: "The national security strategy is the starting gun for a series of economic measures against the Chinese ... the Rosetta Stone for translating campaign themes into a coherent governing document.”

Winner: Steve Bannon. When I texted him the FT article, he replied: "#winning."

  • Flashback: This is what Jonathan Swan forecast when he reportedthat the National Security Strategy will "explain how Trump's 'America First' mantra applies to the vast range of threats America faces, including Chinese economic competition, Russian influence operations, and the weaponization of space."

Losers: Several top officials within the Trump adminstration's national-security apparatus, who opposed adding what one called a "political lens" to the strategy.

  • A senior Trump national-security official tells me: "This was added to be one of the headlines of the Strategy, for domestic political audiences."
  • The official added: "The Trump China trip didn't reflect this policy, both the public reported comments and the private conversations. ... If we truly believe China is 'aggressor,' there is a while suite of policy shifts that would need to correspond" that aren't currently planned."

CFR President Richard Haass — author of "A World in Disarray" (paperback out Jan. 2) — tells Axios from in-flight Wi-Fi that slapping Beijing could be costly:

  • "There are legit criticisms of China's trade policy ... But starting a trade war would leave both countries worse off. U.S. exporters would pay a significant price. Whatever Chinese inclination exists to work with us re North Korea would diminish."
  • "Why did this administration withdraw from the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership]? It provided the basis for a regional trading system that either would have isolated China, or forced it to accept much more stringent terms if it wanted to be a full participant in regional trade. In short, there appears to be a serious disconnect between the NSS and Administration policy."
  • "The use of the word 'aggression' is a questionable choice. Unfair trade practices, for sure. But aggression is a serious escalation on our part. Hard to see how it paves the way to a compromise, or does not contribute to an overall deterioration in the relationship at a time we need it re NK."

Mexico grants military more power in fighting drug war

Soldiers from the Mexican Army and Mexican Marines patrol along Acapulco's coastline. Photo: AFP photo/ Francisco Robles/Getty Images

The Mexican military will be granted more control in the fight against the country's drug war, which has increasingly become more violent under President Enrique Peña Nieto, after a law passed in Mexico's Congress yesterday.

Why it matters: Critics of the law — including United Nations officials and human rights groups — argue that it would "will vastly expand military authority without checks and balances and offers no exit strategy to cede eventual leadership of the campaign to combat drugs to an effective police force," per NYT.

Why now: Violence from Mexican drug cartles has gotten worse under President Peña Nieto's tenure — NYT notes that 2017 has been "the deadliest in two decades." And since troops were first sent to combat the drug gangs in 2006, "more than 200,000 people have been killed in the drug war and 31,000 people have gone missing," according to official statistics cited by NYT.

The changes:

  • Mexico has maintained civilian control over their army for nearly the past 100 years, which has ultimately given local law enforcement officers complete jurisdiction over their areas. This law would give the government and the military more control.
  • The Mexican military currently operates in 27 of 32 states around the country — they were only in six states when Peña Nieto became president five years ago.
  • Peña Nieto would have to issue a public executive order detailing his reasons for sending in more troops to different areas. That EO would last a year.
  • The military will have more authority to carry out investigations on their own terms, thus breaking from the civilian control under which they've previously operated.

White House paper suggests solar tariff support

Workers seen by solar panels of the Isyangulovo solar power plant in Zianchurinsky District, the Republic of Bashkortostan. Vadim Braidov/TASS Photo: Vadim Braidov\TASS via Getty Images

A White House document circulating within the Trump administration lays out a case for imposing new trade restrictions on imports of solar panel equipment from Asia, according to a report in Politico.

Why it matters: It's the latest sign that President Trump's hawkish trade stance toward China will soon lead to tariffs that U.S. solar energy developers fear will sharply drive up costs and curtail new project development.

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) concluded in September that low-cost imports — many of which come from Chinese owned companies operating in Asia — were a cause of "serious injury" to domestic panel manufacturers.

The finding came in response to a petition from two financially distressed manufacturing companies, Suniva and SolarWorld.

What's next: The White House is slated to make a decision as soon as next month on whether to impose tariffs or perhaps some other forms of solar trade restrictions.

In November the ITC recommended tariffs that are less aggressive than what the petitioners sought. But the White House has wide latitude to decide what form of penalties, if any, to impose.