Russia

First Charges Filed In Mueller Investigation

A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges in the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, CNN reports.

“The charges are still sealed under orders from a federal judge. Plans were prepared Friday for anyone charged to be taken into custody as soon as Monday, the sources said. It is unclear what the charges are.”

Memo Used at Trump Meeting Was Shared With Kremlin

Natalia Veselnitskaya “arrived at a meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 hoping to interest top Trump campaign officials in the contents of a memo she believed contained information damaging to the Democratic Party and, by extension, Hillary Clinton. The material was the fruit of her research as a private lawyer, she has repeatedly said, and any suggestion that she was acting at the Kremlin’s behest that day is anti-Russia ‘hysteria,'” the New York Times reports.

“But interviews and records show that in the months before the meeting, Ms. Veselnitskaya had discussed the allegations with one of Russia’s most powerful officials, the prosecutor general, Yuri Y. Chaika. And the memo she brought with her closely followed a document that Mr. Chaika’s office had given to an American congressman two months earlier, incorporating some paragraphs verbatim.”

“The coordination between the Trump Tower visitor and the Russian prosecutor general undercuts Ms. Veselnitskaya’s account that she was a purely independent actor when she sat down with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Paul J. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman.”

GOP Winds Down Russia Probes

“Republican lawmakers say they’re approaching the end of their investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election even though the most politically explosive issue — whether associates of President Trump colluded with the Kremlin — remains unresolved,” Politico reports.

“That will present Democrats who have spent a year amplifying suspicions about Trump’s own ties to Russia with a wrenching choice: to join Republicans and set aside the most momentous aspect of their probes — or to break from the GOP and end any chance of presenting a united front against a continuing Russian threat.”

No Puppet. No Puppet. You’re the Puppet!

Jonathan Chait: “Having apparently decided that defending the Trump campaign against charges of collusion with Russian cyberattacks is an impossible task, the Republican Party has decided to go on offense. The House Intelligence Committee, putatively assigned to investigate collusion, is instead running a counter-investigation into Trump’s nemeses. Their argument, incredibly enough, is that the FBI and Robert Mueller are the real perpetrators of collusion with Russia. ‘No puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet’ has become the new Republican argument against Mueller.”

“Their case, which is being quickly spread by Republican officeholders and conservative media, centers on the role of Christopher Steele, a respected retired British intelligence officer turned private investigator, and Fusion GPS, the firm for which he worked.”

Clinton, DNC Funded Research that Led to Russia Dossier

The Clinton campaign and DNC “helped fund research that resulted in a now-famous dossier containing allegations about Donald Trump’s connections to Russia and possible coordination between his campaign and the Kremlin,” the Washington Post reports.

“Marc Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research. Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community.”

“Fusion GPS gave Steele’s reports and other research documents to Elias, the people familiar with the matter said. It is unclear how or how much of that information was shared with the campaign and DNC, and who in those organizations was aware of the roles of Fusion GPS and Steele. One person close to the matter said the campaign and the DNC weren’t informed of Fusion GPS’s role by the law firm.”

Hopes Dim for Congressional Russia Inquiries

New York Times: “All three committees looking into Russian interference — one in the House, two in the Senate — have run into problems, from insufficient staffing to fights over when the committees should wrap up their investigations. The Senate Judiciary Committee’s inquiry has barely started, delayed in part by negotiations over the scope of the investigation. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, while maintaining bipartisan comity, have sought to tamp down expectations about what they might find.”

“Nine months into the Trump administration, any notion that Capitol Hill would provide a comprehensive, authoritative and bipartisan accounting of the extraordinary efforts of a hostile power to disrupt American democracy appears to be dwindling.”

Axios: “Mueller was always going to be the last word. Turns out he may have the only definitive word.”

Trump Staffers Pushed Russian Propaganda

Daily Beast: “Some of the Trump campaign’s most prominent names and supporters, including Trump’s campaign manager, digital director and son, pushed tweets from professional trolls paid by the Russian government in the heat of the 2016 election campaign.”

“The discovery of the now-unavailable tweets presents the first evidence that several members of the Trump campaign pushed covert Russian propaganda on social media in the run-up to the 2016 election.”

Russian Oligarch Ties Kushner to Kremlin Bankers

A prominent exiled Russian oligarch told NBC News that he is “nearly certain” Russian President Vladimir Putin tried to collaborate with the Trump campaign, and that he believes a top Russian banker was not “acting on his own behalf” when he held a controversial meeting with Jared Kushner last December.

Longtime Putin rival Mikhail Khodorkovsky says he believes the likelihood that Putin “personally” tried to cooperate with the Trump campaign to affect the election is a “9 out of 10.”

Twitter Deleted Data Crucial to Russia Probe

Politico: “Twitter has deleted tweets and other user data of potentially irreplaceable value to investigators probing Russia’s suspected manipulation of the social media platform during the 2016 election… Federal investigators now believe Twitter was one of Russia’s most potent weapons in its efforts to promote Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.”

“By creating and deploying armies of automated bots, fake users, catchy hashtags and bogus ad campaigns, unidentified operatives launched recurring waves of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton story lines via Twitter that were either false or greatly exaggerated.”

Google Uncovers Russian-Bought Ads

“Google for the first time has uncovered evidence that Russian operatives exploited the company’s platforms in an attempt to interfere in the 2016 election,” the Washington Post reports.

“The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google’s many products, which include YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network.”

“The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook — a sign that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a much broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.”

The Trump-Russia Dossier Grows In Significance

The Guardian: “Nine months after its first appearance, the set of intelligence reports known as the Steele dossier, one of the most explosive documents in modern political history, is still hanging over Washington, casting a shadow over the Trump administration that has only grown darker as time has gone by.”

“The fact that Steele’s reports are being taken seriously after lengthy scrutiny by federal and congressional investigators has far-reaching implications.”

Russian Hackers Stole NSA Data on U.S. Cyber Defense

“Hackers working for the Russian government stole details of how the U.S. penetrates foreign computer networks and defends against cyberattacks after a National Security Agency contractor removed the highly classified material and put it on his home computer,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“The hackers appear to have targeted the contractor after identifying the files through the contractor’s use of a popular antivirus software made by Russia-based Kaspersky Lab.”

“The theft is considered by experts to be one of the most significant security breaches in recent years. It offers a glimpse into how the intelligence community thinks Russian intelligence exploits a widely available commercial software product to spy on the U.S. The incident occurred in 2015 but wasn’t discovered until spring of last year, said the people familiar with the matter.”

Russian Facebook Ads Targeted Michigan and Wisconsin

“A number of Russian-linked Facebook ads specifically targeted Michigan and Wisconsin, two states crucial to Donald Trump’s victory last November,” CNN reports.

“Some of the Russian ads appeared highly sophisticated in their targeting of key demographic groups in areas of the states that turned out to be pivotal… The ads employed a series of divisive messages aimed at breaking through the clutter of campaign ads online, including promoting anti-Muslim messages.”

“As part of their investigations, both special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are seeking to determine whether the Russians received any help from Trump associates in where to target the ads.”