Sessions Discussed Campaign with Russian Ambassador

“Russia’s ambassador to Washington told his superiors in Moscow that he discussed campaign-related matters, including policy issues important to Moscow, with Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, contrary to public assertions by the embattled attorney general,” the Washington Post reports.

“Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s accounts of two conversations with Sessions — then a top foreign policy adviser to Republican candidate Donald Trump — were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies, which monitor the communications of senior Russian officials both in the United States and in Russia.”

“Sessions initially failed to disclose his contacts with Kislyak and then said that the meetings were not about the Trump campaign.”

Putin Suggests He Might Not Leave Office

“Asked what he plans to do when he leaves the presidency, Vladimir Putin paused and smiled. ‘But I haven’t decided yet if I will leave the presidency,’ the Russian leader replied, to laughter and applause from an audience made up almost entirely of Russians who were born after he first became president in 2000,” the Guardian reports.

“Presidential elections will take place next March and Putin is widely expected to stand and win another six-year term.”

Trump’s Embrace of Russia Makes Advisers Wary

President Trump’s “persistent overtures toward Russia are placing him increasingly at odds with his national security and foreign policy advisers, who have long urged a more cautious approach to dealing with the foreign adversary,” the AP reports.

“The uneasy dynamic between the president and top aides has been exacerbated by the revelation this week of an extended dinner conversation between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the recent summit in Germany. The previously undisclosed conversation, which occurred a few hours after their official bilateral meeting, raised red flags with advisers already concerned by the president’s tendency to shun protocol and press ahead with outreach toward Russia, according to two U.S. officials and three top foreign officials.”

Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Picked Sessions

President Trump told the New York Times that he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Mr. Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president.”

Said Trump: “Sessions should have never recused himself and if he was going to recuse himself he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else.”

Trump also accused former FBI director James Comey of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job.

Said Trump: “In my opinion, he shared it so that I would think he had it out there… When he brought it to me, I said this is really, made-up junk. I didn’t think about any of it. I just thought about man, this is such a phony deal.”

Kushner to Testify Before Senate Intelligence

“White House senior adviser Jared Kushner has agreed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling on Monday, July 24,” ABC News has learned.

“The closed-door session sets up what could be one of the most highly anticipated interviews for lawmakers to date.”

Politico reports that on Wednesday, July 26, the Senate Judiciary Committee intends to call Donald Trump Jr. and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to testify on a panel about foreign influence in elections.

Axios: “Expect wall-to-wall coverage for the open Trump Jr./Manafort hearing.”

Trump Ends Covert Program to Arm Syrian Rebels

“President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia,” the Washington Post reports.

“Officials said the phasing out of the secret program reflects Trump’s interest in finding ways to work with Russia, which saw the anti-Assad program as an assault on its interests. The shuttering of the program is also an acknowledgment of Washington’s limited leverage and desire to remove Assad from power.”

Republicans Think Trump Isn’t Smart Enough for Collusion

McKay Coppins: “When I floated this idea to Capitol Hill Republicans, they generally found it preposterous. They were willing to allow for the possibility that some Trump campaign officials might have inappropriately cooperated with Russians, but they said the president and his team were simply too incompetent to pull off a high-level House of Cards-style conspiracy. At worst, they seemed to believe Team Trump’s collusion amounted to a ‘conspiracy of dunces’ (as a recent Ross Douthat column termed it)—embarrassing and unseemly, sure, but certainly not so grave as to demand blowing up the entire GOP agenda to address it.”

Said one senior Senate aide: “I think most of us agree that if something did happen, it wasn’t anything malicious … it’s just chalked up to them not being very smart.”

Eighth Man Was Focus of Russian Money Laundering

“The California businessman who took part in a meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer in June 2016 was the focus of a congressional inquiry into possible Russian money laundering in November 2000,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“Irakly Kaveladze, who immigrated to the United States from the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the early 1990s, set up 2,000 corporations in Delaware for Russian brokers… Some of the corporations operated as shell companies and were used to move about $1.4 billion through more than 100 accounts at Citibank of New York and the Commercial Bank of San Francisco.”

Trump Jr.’s Lawyer Paid Weeks Before Meeting Revealed

“Almost two weeks before Donald Trump Jr. published screengrabs of purported emails indicating that he arranged to meet with a Russian lawyer, President Trump’s re-election campaign paid $50,000 in legal fees to the attorney now representing the president’s son amid ongoing Russia probes,” ABC News reports.

“The payment was revealed in a Q2 FEC report filed on Saturday by the Trump campaign. On June 27, criminal defense attorney Alan Futerfas was paid by the campaign for ‘legal consulting.’ On July 10, Futerfas was hired to represent Trump. However, the FEC filing doesn’t indicate that the June 27 disbursement of funds to Futerfas was made for the purpose of representing Trump.”

U.S. Probing Russian Lobbyist Who Met with Trump Team

“U.S. officials are examining what role a Washington-based lobbyist who they consider a Russian intelligence operative may have played in a controversial June 2016 meeting he attended between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer,” Politico reports.

“Although Trump Jr. has acknowledged meeting Veselnitskaya, he did not disclose the attendance of Akhmetshin, a well-known figure in the capital’s murky world of foreign influence peddling. The lobbyist’s role raises new red flags for U.S. officials as they study whether and how the Kremlin might have sought to exert influence over the 2016 Trump campaign.”

Trump Hires Lawyer to Respond to Russia Probes

President Trump “plans to put a veteran Washington lawyer, Ty Cobb, in charge of overseeing the White House’s legal and media response to investigations into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign,” Bloomberg reports.

“Top administration officials want someone to enforce discipline in the White House regarding Russia matters — and that includes the president, who frequently vents his frustrations about the investigations on Twitter.”

Ex-Soviet Counter Intelligence Officer Was Also at Meeting

“The Russian lawyer who met with the Trump team after a promise of compromising material on Hillary Clinton was accompanied by a Russian-American lobbyist — a former Soviet counter intelligence officer who is suspected by some U.S. officials of having ongoing ties to Russian intelligence,” NBC News has learned.

“The presence at the meeting of a Russian-American with suspected intelligence ties is likely to be of interest to special counsel Robert Mueller and the House and Senate panels investigating the Russian election interference campaign.”

Associated Press: “Russian-American lobbyist says he attended a June 2016 meeting with President Donald Trump’s son that was billed as part of a Russian government effort to help the Republican campaign. Rinat Akhmetshin confirmed his participation Friday.”