Washington (AFP) – In a spectacular twist to the US probe into allegations of Russian election meddling, Donald Trump’s former top advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty Friday to lying over his contacts with Moscow, and promised to cooperate with the wide-ranging investigation.
While Russia continues to deny it interfered in the 2016 election, US intelligence agencies say they have established beyond doubt that it did so, with the aim of tilting the outcome towards the Republican Trump.
But a question at the heart of the FBI’s investigation — whether Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian meddling — remains far from answered.
Here is what we know about the investigation:
– How it all began –
In October 2016 — one month before the election — US intelligence agencies publicly blamed Russia for hacking and leaking embarrassing documents from the Democratic Party during the presidential campaign.
Weeks before leaving office, on December 29, president Barack Obama announced sanctions and the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in retaliation.
In January, US intelligence chiefs went on to publish a report concluding that President Vladimir Putin masterminded the hacking and disinformation campaign with the aim of damaging Trump’s rival Clinton.
– The investigations –
The Justice Department, the FBI and intelligence agencies all launched investigations into Russia’s alleged interference in the campaign. In Congress, three Senate committees and one House committee also opened overlapping investigations into the Russia controversy.
On May 9, Trump sacked the head of the FBI, James Comey, in an apparent bid to hamper the Russia probe. The sacking backfired, leading to the Justice Department’s appointing of a more powerful, independent counsel, Robert Mueller, who now heads the federal investigation.
– The first charges –
On October 30, Mueller announced his first three indictments.
Paul Manafort, Trump’s one-time campaign chairman, and Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates, were arrested on money laundering and tax-related charges in relation to their work for Moscow-backed Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych.
A third man, George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy advisor to the campaign who sought to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, pleaded guilty to lying, and agreed to cooperate with the probe.
Court filings make clear that top campaign officials were aware of Papadopoulos’s communications with Russians, including an offer of damaging information on Trump’s rival Clinton. That…