Russian Interference

The story of Russian election interference started long before 2017, but it took on new urgency after the inauguration of Donald Trump, the candidate the Russian government wanted to win.

Updated at 5:24 p.m. ET

Opponents of special counsel Robert Mueller ramped up their attacks over the weekend with a new claim that he improperly collected thousands of emails from President Trump's transition team and is using them as an illegitimate basis for much of his investigation.

Mueller's office said his team has obtained all the evidence it's using in its investigation properly. And Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed him, told Congress last week that he monitors Mueller's operation closely and has seen nothing improper.

This week In the Russia investigations: Downshift from strategic war to knife fight, top G-Men on his back foot as lawmakers engage in oversight, Trump Jr. clammed up in Congress.

Now, a knife fight

Not long ago, this saga was about Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's surveying the battlefield like a general and with one swift coup — getting Michael Flynn to turn state's evidence — changing the whole strategic picture.

Updated at 6:26 p.m. ET

FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency on Capitol Hill Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since President Trump denigrated the agency last weekend. The questioning from lawmakers and the responses the new FBI director gave are a harbinger of likely issues to be raised again as the Justice Department's Russia probe appears to be intensifying after the recent plea deal of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

If the saga of Michael Flynn feels like it's been hanging over President Trump's head since Inauguration Day, that's because it has.

The story of how Trump's first national security adviser came to plead guilty to lying to FBI investigators and cooperate in the special counsel's Russia investigation spans two presidential terms and also touches government officials who were subsequently fired by Trump.

Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are among ten American media outlets operating in Russia that are now considered "foreign agents" under a new directive from the Kremlin – a tit-for-tat response to a similar U.S. move.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is trying to sway public opinion of his case by working with a Russian collaborator who has ties to Russia's intelligence services, special counsel Robert Mueller's office said in court papers Monday.

Mueller's team said it learned last week that Manafort has been working with a Russian compatriot on a newspaper column that prosecutors say violates a gag order by U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Attorneys in the case were instructed not to talk about it in public.

Donald Trump's campaign was frenzied and frantic, people at the top have said — descriptions that could be highly consequential for the White House and to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

For former campaign officials who've come into the administration, the descriptions of their work last year are meant not only to strengthen their denials regarding collusion with the Russian government in attacking the election, but also to emphasize how much of a miracle it was they made it through.

Updated at 2:45 a.m. ET

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, was questioned last month by investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller, who are probing possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference has passed the six-month mark, and President Trump's staff is painting a picture of a process nearing its end.

"We still expect this to conclude soon," White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders has told reporters.

To the many mysteries swirling around the investigation of Russian election interference and the dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, add this one: Why is Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein continuing to supervise the investigation?

Rosenstein is the Justice Department official who pulled the trigger and named special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the probe in May, only days after President Trump fired Comey under questionable circumstances.

Last week in the Russia Investigations: The feds sitting down with White House aides. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stays the course. And will DOJ special counsel Robert Mueller give a "toothless" old law new fangs?

Knock, knock: It's the feds

White House officials are expecting some unusual guests in the short workweek before Thanksgiving: investigators from the FBI.

Senior White House adviser and son-in-law to the president Jared Kushner failed to hand over to Senate investigators emails concerning contacts with WikiLeaks and a "Russian backdoor overture," according to a letter sent by two senior lawmakers.

The letter, released Thursday by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, says Kushner failed to turn over "September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks" and other emails pertaining to a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite."

Bowing to pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, the production company behind media outlet RT America registered as a foreign agent on Monday. Russian leaders are criticizing the move, and lawmakers in Moscow are preparing a "symmetric legislative response," according to the state-run Tass news agency.

In the filing, RT America's partner company said it wasn't sure how much of its funding comes from Russia. The media operation had faced a Nov. 13 deadline, set by the U.S. government, to register.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump Jr. was in direct contact with WikiLeaks at the same time the muckraking website was publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials that proved damaging to the Clinton campaign, according to several major publications.

Following the reports, Trump Jr. acknowledged the contact in a tweet detailing one exchange with the radical transparency organization.

Arizona Sen. John McCain stepped up his criticism of the White House over the weekend, blasting President Trump for seeming to accept Russian leader Vladimir Putin's assurances that the Kremlin didn't interfere in U.S. elections.

"There's nothing 'America First' about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community," McCain said in a written statement, referring to Trump's stated foreign policy objective and to Putin, a former operative in the Russian intelligence service.

On his Asia trip last week, somewhere over Vietnam on Air Force One, President Trump told reporters he had asked Vladimir Putin again if Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

"He said he didn't meddle," the president said. "He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times."

Trump added: "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that.' And I believe — I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it. ... I think he is very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth."

Mixed statements from President Trump during his Asia trip drew criticisms at home Sunday, particularly over Russian President Vladimir Putin's claims that his country didn't meddle in the 2016 U.S. Elections.

Updated on Sunday at 12:25 a.m. ET

President Trump told the White House press corps Saturday that he had had several brief conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific summit the two men were attending in Vietnam. During those conversations, Putin once again denied any interference in last year's election, Trump said. And, the president said, he believed that Putin believed there was no interference.

A former national security adviser to the Trump campaign says he had concerns about Carter Page's visit to Moscow in the summer of 2016 — chief among them the possibility that he would embarrass the campaign.

J.D. Gordon also told NPR that Page as well George Papadopoulos, who recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his own Russia contacts, were marginal figures in the Trump world. Both men served as members of the then-candidate's foreign policy team, but they were not central figures with a meaningful voice, he said.

A report that President Trump asked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to meet with a former NSA employee who denies Russian interference in the U.S. election has drawn fire from two ex-intelligence chiefs.

The claim that emails were "leaked" rather than "hacked" is at odds with the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, including Pompeo himself, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee as much in May.

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According to President Trump, some Republicans in Congress and conservative media outlets, the Russia scandal is heating up.

No, not that one.

It's an alternative Russia scandal. And the claims go like this:

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton approved the 2010 sale of a mining company to Russia. This gave the Russians control of 20 percent of U.S. uranium and placed U.S. national security at risk. In return, the Clinton Foundation received $145 million in pledges and donations.

Last week in the Russia investigations: Mueller removes all doubt, the imbroglio apparently costs a man a government job and lots of talk — but no silver bullet — on digital interference.


Mueller time

How many more thunderbolts has Zeus in his quiver? Where might the next one strike? Who does the angry lightning-hurler have in his sights — and who will be spared?

Updated at 2:16 p.m. ET

The week started with "legal shock and awe," as Carrie Johnson, NPR's Justice correspondent described it on the PBS NewsHour.

It's hard to believe it was only Monday that indictments were handed down stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

President Trump is taking a dog-eared page from the unofficial White House manual: When things are bad at home, go abroad.

With his domestic agenda seemingly stalled and indictments this week from special counsel Robert Mueller's office, the president will set off for Asia, where he no doubt hopes to shift the focus from Russia to North Korea.

It will be Trump's first trip to Asia as president — with a brief stop in Hawaii before heading to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines that wraps up on Nov. 14.

A former Trump campaign official has withdrawn from consideration for a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture after being pulled into the imbroglio over Russia's interference efforts against the U.S. in the 2016 presidential race.

Sam Clovis said on Thursday that he would not go forward in trying to become the USDA's undersecretary for research, education and economics.

There appears to be no quick patch for the malware afflicting America's political life.

Over the course of three congressional hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, lawmakers fulminated, Big Tech witnesses were chastened but no decisive action appears to be in store to stop a foreign power from harnessing digital platforms to try to shape the information environment inside the United States.

Updated at 6:43 p.m. ET

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., wasted no time on Wednesday connecting the abstract story that is Russian election interference to strife in the real world.

With lawyers from Facebook, Twitter and Google sitting before him, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman described a divisive scene in Houston last year — engineered entirely by Russian influence-mongers.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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