Russia Used Trump Advisers to Infiltrate Campaign

“The FBI gathered intelligence last summer that suggests Russian operatives tried to use Trump advisers, including Carter Page, to infiltrate the Trump campaign,” CNN reports.

“The new information adds to the emerging picture of how the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election, not only through email hacks and propaganda but also by trying to infiltrate the Trump orbit. The intelligence led to an investigation into the coordination of Trump’s campaign associates and the Russians.”

British Spies Were First to Notice Trump Ties to Russia

“Britain’s spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump’s campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives,” the Guardian reports

“GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious ‘interactions’ between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information… Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump’s inner circle and Russians.”

Trump Adviser May Have Discussed Lifting Sanctions

Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, told ABC News that when he was in Moscow last summer, “something may have come up in a conversation” with Russians about lifting U.S. sanctions.

Said Page: “I don’t recall every single word I ever said. Something may have come up in a conversation. I have no recollection, and there’s nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression.”

He added: “We’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript.”

Trump’s Sudden Shift on Russia Leaves Heads Spinning

New York Times: “Even in a presidency marked by unpredictability, the head-spinning shift from coziness to confrontation has left Washington and other capitals with a case of geopolitical whiplash. The prospects of improving Russian-American relations were already slim given the atmosphere of suspicion stemming from Kremlin meddling in last year’s election, but the détente once envisioned by Mr. Trump has instead deteriorated into the latest cold war.”

Tillerson Takes a Harder Line on Russia

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “is taking a hard line against Russia on the eve of his first diplomatic trip to Moscow, calling the country ‘incompetent’ for allowing Syria to hold on to chemical weapons and accusing Russia of trying to influence elections in Europe using the same methods it employed in the United States,” the New York Times reports.

“Mr. Tillerson’s comments, made in interviews aired on Sunday, were far more critical of the Russian government than any public statements by President Trump, who has been an increasingly lonely voice for better ties with Russia. They seemed to reflect Mr. Tillerson’s expectation, which he has expressed privately to aides and members of Congress, that the American relationship with Russia is already reverting to the norm: one of friction, distrust and mutual efforts to undermine each other’s reach.”

Washington Post: Trump officials tell Russia to drop support of Syria’s Assad

Russia Accused of Complicity in Syria War Crime

“Britain and America will this week directly accuse Russia of complicity in war crimes in Syria and demand that Vladimir Putin pull the rug from Bashar al-Assad’s blood-soaked regime,” the Times of London reports.

“Rex Tillerson — President Donald Trump’s secretary of state — will fly to Moscow to confront Russia with evidence that it had knowledge of, and sought to cover up, the regime’s deadly sarin strike last week that left 87 people dead.”

Nunes Steps Aside from Russia Investigation

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said he will temporarily step aside in his committee’s investigation into the Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, The Hill reports.

Nunes said he thinks it is in the “best interests” of the committee and the Congress for Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) to temporarily take over the committee’s investigation into the Russian meddling, with assistance from Reps. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Tom Rooney (R-FL).

The reason: The House Ethics Committee says it is investigating Nunes for possible unauthorized release of classified information.

Lawmaker Suggests Trump Associates Will Face Jail Time

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) told CNN that Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) should recuse himself from the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

Said Castro: “Most of all we’ve said that we’re not going to let this investigation go. Whatever form it takes. We’re going to make sure we’re there to get to the bottom of whether any Americans conspired with the Russians who interfered with our 2016 election.”

He added: “My impression is that I wouldn’t be surprised if some people end up in jail. I wish I could elaborate but I cannot at this time.”

FBI Creates Unit to Coordinate Trump-Russia Probe

“The FBI is planning to create a special section based at its Washington headquarters to co-ordinate its investigation of Russian activities designed to influence the 2016 presidential election,” the Financial Times reports.

“The move, a sign of how seriously the bureau is taking allegations of Russian meddling in American politics, is also aimed at giving FBI director James Comey greater visibility into the investigation’s granular details.”

Said one FBI agent: “It’s meant to surge resources.”

Big Trump Donor Sought Back Channel to Russia

“The United Arab Emirates arranged a secret meeting in January between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian close to President Vladi­mir Putin as part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump,” the Washington Post reports.

“The meeting took place around Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean… Though the full agenda remains unclear, the UAE agreed to broker the meeting in part to explore whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria, a Trump administration objective that would likely require major concessions to Moscow on U.S. sanctions.”

“Prince was an avid supporter of Trump who gave $250,000 last year to support the GOP nominee’s campaign, records show. He has ties to people in Trump’s circle, including Stephen K. Bannon, now serving as the president’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Prince’s sister Betsy DeVos serves as education secretary in the Trump administration.”

Graham Says Flynn Asking for Immunity Is ‘Bizarre’

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) “expressed concern about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s requests for immunity from prosecution over ongoing investigations into whether members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign had inappropriate contacts with Russian officials,” Politico reports.

Said Graham: “The whole situation with Gen. Flynn is a bit bizarre. He’s said in the past nobody asks for immunity unless they have committed a crime. I’m not so sure that’s true — as a lawyer I know that always that is not true. But the whole situation is really strange.”

White House Struggles with Russia Firestorm

“President Trump entered his 11th week in office Friday in crisis mode, his governing agenda at risk of being subsumed by escalating questions about the White House’s conduct in the Russia probe — which the president called a witch hunt,” the Washington Post reports.

“Trump and his senior aides spent much of the day on the defensive, parrying the latest reports that senior administration officials had potentially acted improperly in the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. elections and possible links between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.”

Meanwhile, CBS News has learned that U.S. investigators are looking into whether Trump campaign representatives had a role in helping Russian intelligence as it carried out cyberattacks on the DNC and other political targets in March 2016.