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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Feb 11 – 17, 2018

Indictment Friday:

  • Mueller charged 13 Russians and 3 Russian organizations with various crimes ranging from bank fraud to aggravated identity theft to conspiracy to defraud the United States by impairing enforcement of election law
  • The indictment stated that the Russians conducted “Information Warfare” against the U.S. and finally puts an end to the argument that Russia did not interfere in the 2016 election
  • The Russians worked for the Internet Research Agency, which began its operation (Project Lakhta) in 2014, “sowing discord” in the electoral process and imitating American activists. Social media posts supported Trump & Hillary’s Dem/Independent opponents while denigrating Trump’s GOP challengers like Cruz and Rubio. Of course, they also disparaged Hillary herself.
  • The indictment did not make a judgment as to whether the results of the election were impacted, or whether collusion occurred between the Trump campaign and Russia in any other instances.
  • In the interest of keeping this concise, I haven’t covered every aspect of the indictment. I encourage you to read either a comprehensive review or the full indictment.

Despite Trump tweeting that this proves he was not involved in any collusion/conspiracy (because he announced his candidacy after the operation began), its important to remember that there were two signs of Trump’s impending run prior to the announcement. First, he filed a trademark for his presidential campaign in 2012. Second, a Russian woman who organized Moscow Miss Universe tweeted that he was going to run in 2014, expressing Russia’s support.

Rick Gates, former Trump aide, is reportedly going to plead guilty and testify against his business partner Paul Manafort.

Mueller informed the judge in Manafort’s case that his team found new evidence of bank fraud. In the process of trying to renegotiate his bail agreement, prosecutors assert that Manafort submitted false information to a bank in connection with at least one of his mortgages, overstating its value by millions of dollars. It is unclear whether any charges will be filed.

Bannon met with Mueller multiple times last week, speaking for a total of about 20 hours. Bannon also testified before the House Intelligence Committee, where he refused to answer any questions that weren’t pre-arranged with the White House.

Mueller also interviewed former Trump spokesman Mark Corallo. They reportedly discussed matters pertaining to obstruction of justice. Remember, Corallo accused Hope Hicks of suggesting to hide Trump and Trump Jr.’s emails regarding the Trump Tower meeting.

The top U.S. intelligence chiefs testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee on matters of national security. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats explained that Moscow judged its U.S. operation a success, based on the large amount of chaos created at minimal costs. He also said that the Russians will interfere in the midterm elections this year. FBI Director Wray stated in response to a question by Sen. Reed that President Trump had not directed them to stop any Russian meddling.

After Mueller’s indictments were unsealed, HR McMaster, speaking at a security conference, said that “the evidence is now really incontrovertible” that Russia meddled in the 2016 election. A couple hours later, Trump took to twitter to correct McMaster for straying from Trump’s script, tweeting that he “forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems.”

Senators Grassley and Graham revealed the existence of an email sent by Susan Rice memorializing a January 2017 meeting she attended with Obama and top intelligence officials (including Comey and Yates). In the meeting, Obama expressed concern about sharing information on Russia with incoming Trump officials, suggesting that they ascertain whether “there is any reason that [they] cannot share information fully as it relates to Russia.” Despite having this email for over 8 months, Grassley and Graham chose February 8, 2018 to describe the emails as “unusual” and “disturbing.”

Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian entrepreneur, has subpoenaed Fusion GPS in his libel lawsuit against Buzzfeed for publishing the Steele dossier – which links him to the FSB and claims his tech firm XBT was significantly involved in the hacking of Clinton’s emails. The latest update to this story is that the judge hearing the case has refused to step down, as requested by Fusion, over his connections to Trump. U.S. District Court Trevor McFadden, appointed by Trump, was an adviser to the Trump transition and represented a firm linked to another Russian named in the dossier, Mikhail Fridman. McFadden stated that, “The President’s connection with me and his interest in this case are simply too tenuous to cause a reasonable observer to question my impartiality.”

To note…

Chief of Staff John Kelly announced that he is changing the security clearance policy at the White House, and will no longer allow some employees with temporary security clearances to view or handle top secret material. This move comes in response to the mounting pressure of the Rob Porter scandal. One of the White House staff who could lose access is Jared Kushner. Kushner has made more requests for top secret information than any other White House staffer, which should be raising red flags combined with his massive amount of debt.

Also in Kushner news, Jared updated his financial forms yet again to add previously undisclosed corporate positions. The IRS and DOJ have reportedly issued subpoenas on lenders and investors involved in Kushner’s real estate projects.

New York Magazine published a good piece about Trump’s susceptibility to being blackmailed. With the new revelations that he has paid women to hide sexual affairs, we should reconsider the claims in the Steele Dossier that Trump is being blackmailed with – among various things – tape of a sexual encounter in Moscow.