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What We Learned in the Trump-Russia Investigation: Week of July 15 – 21, 2018

Mueller investigation

Trump met with Putin in a summit in Helsinki on the 16th. No Americans were present other than a translator. Afterward, the two men held a press conference in which Trump stunned America and the world by siding with Putin over his own country and intelligence agencies. Transcript.

  • Instead of attacking Putin for attacking our elections, invading Ukraine, annexing Crimea, shooting down a passenger jet, or countless other crimes, Trump attacked the U.S., intelligence agencies, and Mueller for creating “hostility” with Russia.
  • Asked who he believes – the U.S. intelligence community or Putin – that Russia attacked the 2016 election, Trump said: “My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some other—they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this, I don’t see any reason why it would be…” Trump went on the demand to see the DNC’s server and said “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
  • For his part, Putin admitted he wanted Trump to win the election. He also said he was willing to work with America to analyze material related to the election, something Trump didn’t object to. Further, Putin offered to have members of Mueller’s team “come and work” with Russian investigators. Trump called this “an incredible offer.”

Rep. Adam Schiff moved to have the House Intelligence Committee subpoena Trump’s interpreter for the summit, but Republicans on the committee voted to block the motion.

The blowback from Trump’s remarks and demeanor at the summit was immediate and harsh. John Kelly, Mike Pence, and John Bolton sat with Trump to convince him to walk back the comments he’d made doubting Russian election interference.

  • Even some Republicans spoke out against Trump’s comments at the summit, though none turned against him. The Daily Beast reports that a senior Trump political appointee stated that “Trump looked incredibly weak up there. Putin looks like a champion.” Newt Gingrich called Trump’s failure to condemn Putin and support our intelligence agencies “the most serious mistake of his presidency.”
  • Former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted, “It was nothing short of treasonous.”

In the face of such harsh criticism, Trump went on tv to try to walk back his comments. His main defense was that he’d misspoken at the press conference following the summit. Instead of saying “I don’t see any reason why it would be” Russian officers who hacked the DNC, Trump claims “the sentence should’ve been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia…sort of a double negative.”

  • As CNN’s Dana Bash argued, “Maybe that was the one sentence that could have been different, but what about calling Vladimir Putin strong and tough? What about not calling him out on the world stage, never mind interfering in American elections, calling him out on Crimea, calling him out on the poisoning of somebody in Britain and the list goes on and on and on?”
  • Trump also stated that he accepts the “intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in 2016 took place,” but went off script to add “It could be other people also. A lot of people out there,”
  • Photographs of the papers Trump was reading from revealed that someone, perhaps Trump himself, crossed out a line stating that anyone involved in the meddling would be brought to justice. Further, in the margins Trump wrote: “no collusion” in black marker. It was misspelled “no colusion.”
  • The following day, a reporter asked Trump if Russia was still targeting the U.S. Trump said “no,” again reversing his position. Sarah Huckabee Sanders tried to argue Trump was actually saying “no” to more questions from reporters, but he continued to discuss Russia after that.

Two days after the summit, Putin gave a speech in which he claimed he and Trump had reached “useful agreements” in their private meeting in Helsinki. The Russian ambassador to Washington said the Russians are ready to begin implementing the deals, but the White House has said nothing about what the two leaders may have agreed upon.

The FBI released a redacted version of the FISA application to surveil Carter Page. It states the FBI believed Page was targeted for recruitment by the Russian government. The documents shed more light on how much (a lot) Nunes lied in his memo claiming the FBI misled the FISA court in their application.

  • After the release of the documents, Page appeared on CNN where he admitted to working as an informal adviser to Russia, but denied being a knowing agent of a foreign power.

Trump was shown highly classified intelligence two weeks before his inauguration that proved Putin had personally ordered the attacks on the 2016 election. According to people who were at the briefing, Trump “sounded grudgingly convinced.”

  • The NYT reports that Comey was present at the briefing. After, he privately told Trump about the Steele Dossier.
  • In spite of this briefing, Trump has continued to avoid blaming Russia and Putin for attacking our elections.

Mueller’s office released a list of 500 items ranging from evidence of Manafort’s opulent lifestyle, like photographs of the putting green at his Long Island home, to texts between Manafort, the former president of Ukraine, and another U.S. political consultant.

Microsoft announced the first known campaign hacking attempts in the 2018 elections. In a phishing attempt similar to those of 2016, an unnamed player targeted three congressional candidates up for election in the midterms.

Michael Cohen

Michael Avenatti told George Stephanopoulos that Cohen has more tapes of conservations with Trump. Avenatti also claims that he knows “the substance of some of the tapes” and mentioned that he ran into Cohen at a restaurant, where they had a “fruitful” conversation. Avenatti continued that he thinks “Cohen is going to assist us in our search for the truth and what happened here.”

The special master in Cohen’s case has rejected over one-third of his privilege claims. Out of 4,085 items that Cohen’s team argued are privileged, only 1,452 items were confirmed as privileged by the special master.

More Russian Connections

Maria Butina, a Russian gun-rights activist, was arrested and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government” without registering as such. The criminal complaint notes that she set up a back channel of communications between Americans and the Kremlin, beginning in early 2015. Under the direction of Alexander Torshin, she got close to U.S. politicians and activists friendly to Russia. A large part of her effort involved infiltrating the NRA. The politicians she got close to include Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Dana Rohrabacher, and Bobby Jindal.

Just two days after the Trump-Putin summit in which Putin “stressed the need for talks” on nuclear arms control treaties, Putin unveiled progress on testing new nuclear weapons, including a nuclear cruise missile with “unlimited” range.

A husband and wife were arrested for operating a Russian prostitution ring remotely from their Trump Tower III property in Miami. The couple flew women from Russia to New York as part of what the District Attorney called a “sophisticated long-term operation promoting prostitution.”


In a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden, top voting machine vendor ES&S admits it installed remote access software on election-management systems it sold between 2000-2006, despite telling journalists in February it had never installed such software, ever.

  • Election-management systems are used to program the voting machines and tabulate the final election results. Allowing these systems to be contacted remotely from the internet, or from a computer that is connected to the internet, provides a potential entry point for hackers.

Democrat leaders Pelosi, Schumer, Schiff, and Warner wrote a letter to Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warning him against sharing classified information with other members of Congress. Apparently, Coats directed “certain classified documents” that were originally available only to the gang of eight, to be released to all members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

  • Roll Call states the letter warns “ crucial national security information could be compromised by release to other members of the House and Senate who now have access to … whatever in particular is in question. They said the level of sensitivity was previously discussed with the DNI.”
  • I’d like to note that Devin Nunes is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee mentioned in the letter. Also on the committee are Trey Gowdy and Peter King, among others, who have attacked Mueller’s investigation.


Jared Kushner was finally served with the DNC’s complaint that he colluding with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, as part of a lawsuit against numerous people in Trump world.

  • The DNC said it was advised by Kushner’s building staff in New York that he was rarely home or no longer lived there. In Washington, the process server was turned away by the U.S. Secret Service and told, “You’re going to need to find another way to serve that,” according to the filing.

The New York Tax & Finance Department has opened an investigation into whether Trump’s Foundation violated state tax laws. It is possible this investigation could lead to criminal referral for prosecution and could lead to the release of Trump’s tax returns.

A watchdog group filed a complaint with the FEC alleging that the NRA illegally used shell corporations to coordinate with the campaigns of four senators in the 2014 & 2016 elections: Tom Cotton, Cory Gardner, Thom Tillis and Ron Johnson. The NRA used the shell corporation to send valuable and electorally-sensitive information to the candidates, thus giving them an unfair and illegal benefit.

Using the same methodology used by the Government Accountability Institute, a group founded by Bannon, the NY Daily News examined Trump’s schedule to determine that Trump has only attended 31.5% of scheduled intelligence briefings.

  • “The number of daily briefings on Trump’s public schedule have nosedived in recent months, with only 31 listed from March through June compared with 56 over the same period of time during his first year in the White House.”
  • During Obama’s tenure, Bannon’s group slammed him for attending 43.8% of daily intelligence meetings. However, it is important to note that the methodology has been widely dismissed as misleading. For instance, Sundays were included in the GIA’s analysis of Obama’s attendance, despite the fact that briefs do not normally occur on Sundays.
  • It’s been widely reported that Trump is not inclined to read his daily intelligence briefings. Officials have had to resort to creative techniques to present the information to Trump and keep him engaged, such as using models and charts.

To note…

Don Jr. and Eric Trump have cost taxpayers $250,000 in travel and secret service expenses for just **one month** of two trips abroad, including to Trump businesses.