The Justice Department and both chambers of Congress are all now investigating alleged Russian attempts to meddle in the 2016 elections and whether President Donald Trump’s associates colluded with Moscow – an ever-evolving saga that is showing no signs of slowing down despite the firing of the man who long found himself spearheading the probe, now-former FBI director James Comey.
CNN has compiled a list of the growing and diverse cast of characters amid news that a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser has pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI after he lied about his interactions with Russians who had close ties to the Kremlin, the campaign’s clearest connection so far to Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 election.
Several US lawmakers and agency heads have emerged as visible, and at times controversial, figures in the investigations into connections between individuals in Trump’s orbit and Russian hacking of Democratic Party groups including the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign adviser John Podesta.
Robert Mueller – The Justice Department named Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the department’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election after the firing of Comey on May 9. The former FBI director has a long history with investigations and prosecutions. Mueller was former Comey’s predecessor.
The longtime litigator was the second-longest FBI director in history, only behind iconic and controversial director J. Edgar Hoover. Congress passed legislation in 2011 to extend Mueller’s term from the usual 10 years, giving him a 12-year tenure.
Mueller, 72, oversaw the FBI from September 4, 2001, just days before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, until September 4, 2013.
He is widely seen as a nonpolitical, dogged investigator, respected on both sides of the aisle. The extension of his term passed the Senate 100-0, and he was also initially confirmed in 2001 unanimously, 98-0.
James Comey – The now-former FBI director was fired abruptly by Trump, but seemed to have a knack for finding himself in the middle of high-profile political controversies while serving as the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Months after weathering criticism from both parties over his handling of the investigation into Hilary Clinton’s use of a private email server while secretary of state, Comey once again is front and center in another political storm. Most recently, he dropped a bombshell before the House Intelligence Committee when he told lawmakers that the bureau was investigating not only Russian hacking and other alleged interference in the 2016 vote, but whether there was any coordination between Trump figures and Moscow as part of its intrusions.
Mike Rogers – Late last year, Rogers was simultaneously a candidate to be promoted to Director of National Intelligence under President-elect Trump and on the hot seat to be fired as director of the National Security Agency by then-President Barack Obama. Eventually, Rogers remained in his role as the director of the NSA under Trump and now finds himself among those agency heads testifying before Congress as an authority on cybersecurity as it relates to hacks by suspect Russian-relate groups.
Rogers played a key role in last week’s House hearing with Comey when he joined the FBI director in refuting Trump’s claim that Obama had had his phones tapped during the campaign. He in particular batted down the notion that the Obama administration requested that the British eavesdrop on Trump, an unfounded assertion made on Fox News cited by the Trump White House.
Sally Yates – A holdover from the Obama administration, the most memorable moment of Yates’ short tenure as acting Attorney General may have been her firing in the early days of the Trump administration after she refused to implement the President’s orders barring travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Yates also briefed Trump’s White House counsel on former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s meeting with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, communications that ultimately led to Flynn’s resignation. Her scheduled testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on ties between Russian agents and Trump campaign officials was abruptly cancelled by committee Chairman Devin Nunes. The White House rejected allegations that it had sought to prevent Yates from testifying.
James Clapper – The director of national intelligence under Obama has never been shy in offering criticism of Trump, clashing with him over the latter’s public disparagement of intelligence officers, wiretapping allegations and views on Russian hacking. Clapper, along with Comey and then-CIA Director John Brennan, briefed Trump on Russian hacking during the election campaign just hours after the President-elect doubled down on his dismissal of the threat as an artificial and politically driven controversy, calling it a “witch hunt.” He has also had been invited to testify by Congress.
John Brennan – Nearly three years ago, John Brennan, acting CIA director at the time, found himself apologizing to the Senate intelligence committee and acknowledging that the CIA had spied on senators’ computers after previously vehemently denying the claims. Now, Brennan, who has been out of the role since January, is testifying about his own concerns about espionage from Russia via possible contacts with the Trump campaign.
Dan Coats – Less than two months into his tenure as Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats is being thrust into the public spotlight – asked to testify before Congress amid an investigation into Russian meddling during the 2016 election.
It is a potentially precarious situation for the former US lawmaker and diplomat who is now serving as Trump’s principal adviser on intelligence matters and head of US intelligence efforts.
Confirmed to his new post in March, Coats now finds himself involved in an investigation looking into possible collusion between a foreign power and members of the campaign that helped elect the man who picked him for the post.
Members of Congress
Mike Conaway – Rep. Mike Conaway has been given the reins to the House intelligence committee’s fractured Russia investigation following chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ announcement that he is temporarily stepping aside — but who is the man now tasked with getting things back on track after weeks of partisan conflict?
A seven-term Republican representing Texas’$2 11th Congressional District, Conaway is the chairman of the agriculture committee in addition to serving as a member of the intelligence committee and Armed Services Committee.
He has also chaired the House ethics committee during his time in Washington.
A member of the House intelligence subcommittee that oversees the National Security Agency and CIA, Conaway has expressed skepticism over the intent of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Devin Nunes – The man once charged with leading the House’s investigation into possible connections between Trump associates and Russia’s hacking of the 2016 election stepped asied after becoming the focus of controversy. Nunes worked on Trump’s transition team, publicly supported Flynn just hours before his resignation as national security adviser and downplaying Trump’s wiretapping allegations against Obama by suggesting they shouldn’t be taken literally.
Nunes particularly provoked Democrats after he disclosed evidence to the press and White House – before informing Democrats on his committee – that the Trump team’s communications may have been picked up in “incidental” collections by US surveillance of conversations with foreign nationals who were being lawfully monitored.
Adam Schiff – The Democratic “yin” to Nunes’ Republican “yang,” Schiff is his party’s most senior member on the House Intelligence Committee and has been one of the most visible lawmakers on the Russia investigation. Though the committee has historically been one of the more discreet on Capitol Hill, Schiff hasn’t held back his criticism of Trump or, increasingly, the committee chairman. On Monday, Schiff called on Nunes to recuse himself from the investigation in a stunning split between the two top investigators of a committee with a reputation for bipartisanship. Schiff has repeatedly maintained he’s seen additional evidence that is more than circumstantial proof of collusion between Trump aides and Russian entities.
Elijah Cummings – The representative from Maryland is the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee. Cummings was one of the first lawmakers to call for an investigation into Russian meddling in the US election. Cummings wrote a letter to committee chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz in November 2016 calling for a bipartisan commission, similar to the one that investigated the 9/11 attacks, and the Democratic effort to have an independent investigation is only gathering steam as the acrimony on Capitol Hill rises.