An unending cascade of earth-shattering revelations has made it feel like many lifetimes, but it’s actually been less than a month since President Trump fired James Comey, three years into what was supposed to be a 10-year term as FBI director. On Thursday, Comey will finally have the chance to relate his own version of events leading up to his abrupt departure when he testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
To review: Trump initially claimed it was Comey’s mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server – the rationale laid out in a memo by newly installed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – that convinced him the FBI director needed to go. That flimsy defense didn’t withstand 48 hours of scrutiny. As the president admitted to Lester Holt in an interview two days later, “I was going to fire regardless of recommendation. … 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'” – essentially conceding that he fired Comey because of the FBI probe into his campaign’s connections to Russia.
A torrent of disclosures quickly followed: Trump asked Comey for a loyalty pledge, Trump urged Comey to end the bureau’s investigation into Michael Flynn, Trump confided to two top Russian officials visiting him in the Oval Office hours after firing Comey that doing so meant the pressure he’d faced over allegations of Russian election interference had been “taken off,” and so on. Rather than decrease the pressure, Trump’s decision to fire Comey only intensified it: Rosenstein appointed an independent counsel with sterling credentials and an unimpeachable reputation, former FBI Director Robert Mueller, to take up the investigation into Russian interference and any possible collusion with the Trump campaign.
Thirty-six hours before Comey was set to appear before the Senate committee, revelations were still falling from the sky: Trump had pushed the director of national intelligence and the head of the CIA to intervene and stop the FBI investigation into Flynn, Comey had asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump, Sessions had either offered or threatened to resign and the White House wouldn’t say whether it still had confidence in him.
With one day to go, anticipation of Comey’s testimony has reached a fever pitch – D.C. bars are opening early to broadcast the proceedings, the Senate press gallery expectsit won’t have enough seats for all the reporters who want to attend, and every major TV network is planning to carry it live.
Before the event kicks off, it’s worth taking stock of everything we know about the investigation Trump was so intent on stymying. Here’s where things stand.
By all accounts, Trump appears primarily consumed by the FBI investigation into Flynn, his former national security adviser and a reliable surrogate and close adviser throughout the election. During the campaign and after, Flynn received money – more than a half million dollars, in all – for unregistered lobbying on behalf of Turkish government interests. As part of the off-the-books services he provided, Flynn published an op-ed attempting to gin-up support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s autocrat-ish government and discussed the possibility of kidnapping Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish dissident living in Pennsylvania.
His activity caught the attention of the FBI at some point, although it remains unclear exactly when. Flynn informed White House counsel Donald McGahn he was under investigation as early as January 4th. Months earlier, two days after the election, President Obama reportedly cautioned Trump against hiring Flynn. In December, Flynn was recorded discussing U.S. sanctions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak – the conversations he lied about and which ultimately led to his resignation.
Just days before Comey was fired, federal investigators issued subpoenas for Flynn’s business records and the former FBI director asked the Department of Justice for additional resources.
Of course, Flynn is not the only Trump associate whose activities have come under federal scrutiny. Hours after he resigned from the Trump campaign last August, reports surfaced that the candidate’s recently departed campaign manager, Manafort, had been under federal investigation related to his work for former Ukraine president, and Putin ally, Viktor Yanukovych. Manafort left the campaign shortly after a New York Times report revealed his name was listed in a secret ledger along with notations that he was secretly paid more than $12 million for his services. More recent reporting has raised questions about suspicious real estate deals Manafort entered into with Russian oligarch partners. In addition to the FBI, and now Mueller, Manafort is reportedly under investigation by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The FBI is also reportedly investigating the president’s son in law, who attended at least one of Flynn’s meetings with the Russian ambassador, and who separately may have sought a backchannel through which to communicate with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That pursuit, investigators believe, led Kushner to a Russian banker, Putin ally and trained spy named Sergey N. Gorkov. They’re now scrutinizing Kushner’s contacts with Gorkov. FBI agents are also said to be looking into whether Russian operatives were able to gain access to the Trump campaign’s data operation – which Kushner was responsible for – and use it to target their own propaganda and fake news.