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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of Jan 21 – 27, 2018

Today, January 29th, is the deadline for the Trump admin to begin implementing sanctions against the Kremlin, as well as to produce a hotly-anticipated list of oligarchs maintaining close ties to Putin who could be penalized. source

Dutch intelligence broke into the computer systems of the Russian hacking group Cozy Bear, who were involved in the DNC cybersecurity attack. The Dutch even got access to the group’s security cameras, obtaining images of members & visitors. source

Last June, Trump ordered Mueller to be fired. He was persuaded to reverse the order when WH Counsel McGahn threatened to quit. source. Around the same time, Trump also launched a campaign to discredit potential FBI witnesses, targeting three bureau officials who could provide key testimony in the Mueller probe. source

Mueller pushes forward

  • Mueller has interviewed Facebook staff who were associated with President Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. source
  • Sessions was interviewed by Mueller for several hours last week; the first cabinet member to be interviewed. source
  • Comey was interviewed last year, & was asked about the memos he wrote documenting his encounters with Trump. source
  • Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, and Mike Rogers, Director of the NSA, were also interviewed last year. source
  • Bannon is to be interviewed very shortly, about Trump’s firing of Comey, Flynn, and Sally Yates. source
  • Mueller has indicated to Trump’s lawyers that he wants to question Trump about his decisions to fire Flynn and Comey. source
  • Mueller is almost done with the obstruction part of the probe, presumably waiting for the interview with Trump. source

After Comey was fired, Trump met with acting FBI director McCabe, asking him whom he voted for and expressing anger that McCabe’s wife accepted donations from a committee run by a friend of Hillary Clinton. source

Sessions pressured FBI director Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray refused, threatening to resign first. Sessions was directed to do so by Trump himself, but WH counsel McGahn called the action off when told of Wray’s refusal. source

Nunes’s controversial memo

  • Background: Nunes and his staffers wrote a memo based on classified documents they viewed in their search for information that could be used to undercut Mueller’s investigation. Nunes claims the memo proves unlawful or unethical actions by the DOJ and the FBI in applying for FISA warrants related to the Russia probe. The entire House has now read it, but the GOP refuses to let the Senate or the DOJ see its contents. They may vote to declassify and release it next week. Nunes and Co. has this power, yet they’ve stirred up a frenzy hyping its release, in what appears to be coordination with Wikileaks (who offered a reward for leaking it). source
  • Senators Feinstein and Schiff sent a letter to Twitter and Facebook asking them to probe whether Russian bots amplified the hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo, which would suggest coordination between Russia, Wikileaks, and the GOP. source
  • Trump directed Kelly to inform Sessions that he wants the memo released, which is against the DOJ’s position and yet another action meant to undercut the Russia investigation. source

A watchdog group has filed an ethics complaint alleging that Nunes selectively leaked parts of Fusion GPS’s testimony and “‘improperly obtained’ information about the identity of Fusion’s bank.” source

After Sessions announced a DOJ probe into missing FBI text messages, the Justice Department Inspector General informed congress that they had been recovered. source

  • Background: The text messages the GOP is seeking were exchanged between two FBI agents, one of whom – Peter Strzok – was on Mueller’s team. Strzok was reassigned after text messages containing anti-Trump comments came to light. The GOP is arguing that the messages reveal Mueller’s bias and are trying to use them to discredit his findings.

At a speaking event, Biden stated that McConnell prevented the Obama admin from alerting the country to Russian interference in the 2016 election by refusing the sign a bipartisan statement of condemnation. source

There are signs that Manafort’s business partner, Gates, may be negotiating with Mueller’s team. He’s added a prominent white-collar attorney, known for negotiating with the Feds, to his defense team. source. Gates could potentially be more important to Mueller’s case than Manafort, because Gates was involved with the Trump White House in the beginning of Trump’s term.

Trump’s lawyers are studying a 1997 court case related to the Clinton administration, hoping to use it to limit or delay an interview with Mueller. The ruling stated that “presidents and their closest advisers enjoy protections against having to disclose information about their decision-making process or official actions.” This could be used to protect Trump from some of Mueller’s questions regarding Trump’s decision to fire Comey. source

Senate Judiciary Committee has stated it intends to release the testimony of those who were present at the Trump Tower meeting. This includes Donald Trump Jr., Rob Goldstone, Russian-American lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin, U.S.-based Russian real estate employee Ike Kaveladze and Anatoli Samochornov, the translator for Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya. Veselnitskaya answered the committee’s questions in writing. source

Grassley says ‘spooked’ Kushner won’t agree to interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russia. He continued, “our chances of getting a voluntary interview with Mr. Kushner has been shot.” source

Twitter: Russian bots retweeted Trump nearly 500,000 times in last months of election. In the same time frame, the accounts retweeted Hillary Clinton less than 50,000 times. source

Slightly related section

According the three Western intelligence services, Russia has again helped North Korea ina violation of UN sanctions (which they voted in support of). North Korea has been shipping coal to Russia, where it is then sold to South Korea and Japan, assumedly without disclosing the true origin. source

Trump may be planning to fire Kelly. It’s reported that he has discussed choosing Kelly’s successor in recent days. Apparently, Ivanka is leading the charge in finding this replacement as she is “the most worried about it.” source

A watchdog has filed complaints against Donald Trump for using campaign funds to pay off porn star Stormy Daniels, in order to keep their affair secret. The group, Common Cause, is calling for charges for breaking campaign finance laws as Trump did not disclose this payment in official filings. source

Thanks for reading!