Russia

Mueller Turns Up Heat on Manafort

Special counsel Robert Mueller “is bearing down on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as he directs a wide-ranging probe into Russian interference in last year’s presidential election,” Bloomberg reports.

“Mueller’s team of investigators has sent subpoenas in recent weeks from a Washington grand jury to global banks for account information and records of transactions involving Manafort and some of his companies, as well as those of a long-time business partner, Rick Gates, according to people familiar with the matter.”

“As prosecutors gather many years of information about his financial affairs, Manafort could be dragged deeper into any number of legal disputes. He has a history of doing business with oligarchs and politicians in Ukraine and Russia that predates his political work for Trump, with payments routed through foreign banks and investments in U.S. real estate.”

FBI Conducted Predawn Raid of Manafort’s Home

“FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of President Trump’s former campaign chairman late last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials,” the Washington Post reports.

“Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort’s home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.”

“The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert Mueller departed the home with various records… The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena.”

New York Times: “Officials did not disclose where the search warrant was carried out. Mr. Manafort has homes in Virginia, Florida, New York City and the Hamptons.”

U.S. Will Respond to Russia’s Expulsion of Diplomats

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Trump administration “has yet to decide how to respond to Russia’s move to expel hundreds of American diplomats, but plans to deliver a response to Moscow by Sept. 1,” the AP reports.

“A day after sitting down in the Philippines with Russia’s top diplomat, Tillerson said he’d asked ‘clarifying questions’ about the Kremlin’s retaliation announced last month following new sanctions passed by Congress and signed by President Trump. The Trump administration has struggled to determine how the move will affect the U.S. diplomatic presence in Russia, as well as the broader implications for the troubled relationship between the nuclear-armed powers.”

New Yorker: The U.S. has more to lose than Russia in spy expulsions.

GOP Staffers Hunt for Trump Dossier Author

Politico: “Two Republican House Intelligence Committee staffers traveled to London earlier this summer to track down the former British intelligence operative who compiled a controversial dossier on President Trump and Russia.”

“The previously unreported trip underscores the importance of the 35-page dossier Christopher Steele wrote last year to Congressional probes into possible collusion between Moscow and the 2016 Trump campaign.”

“The London trip has also angered Democrats in both chambers of Congress, who were not consulted by their colleagues before the investigators knocked on Steele’s door. Democrats fear House investigators are more interested in discrediting the dossier than trying to substantiate its allegations.”

Mueller Is Following the Trump Money Trail

“Federal investigators exploring whether Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian spies have seized on Trump and his associates’ financial ties to Russia as one of the most fertile avenues for moving their probe forward,” CNN reports.

“Sources described an investigation that has widened to focus on possible financial crimes, some unconnected to the 2016 elections, alongside the ongoing scrutiny of possible illegal coordination with Russian spy agencies and alleged attempts by President Trump and others to obstruct the FBI investigation. Even investigative leads that have nothing to do with Russia but involve Trump associates are being referred to the special counsel to encourage subjects of the investigation to cooperate.”

Two interesting items:

  • Investigators have discovered communications from Russian spies about their attempts to coordinate with Paul Manafort and other Trump associates on damaging information about Hillary Clinton.
  • Former Trump adviser Carter Page had been under a FISA warrant since 2014, longer than previously reported.

Trump Signs Russian Sanctions Into Law

President Trump signed legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting his own authority to lift them, a measure that has already escalated tension with the Russian government and produced retaliation against the American embassy there, the New York Times reports.

The bill passed both houses with near-unanimous, bipartisan majorities that would easily override any veto.

Kushner Says Trump Team Too Disorganized to Collude

Jared Kushner told a group of interns that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign “could not have colluded with Russia because they were barely talking to each other,” Foreign Policy reports.

Said Kushner: “They thought we colluded, but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices.”

“For investigators attempting to determine whether Trump’s associates knowingly worked with Russia to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a defense claiming chaos and confusion might be the key difference between criminal behavior and incompetence.”

Putin’s Bet on Trump Backfires Spectacularly

“A little more than a year after the Russian effort to interfere in the American presidential election came to light, the diplomatic fallout — an unraveling of the relationship between Moscow and Washington on a scale not seen in decades — is taking its toll,” the New York Times reports.

“President Vladimir V. Putin bet that Donald J. Trump, who had spoken fondly of Russia and its authoritarian leader for years, would treat his nation as Mr. Putin has longed to have it treated by the West. That is, as the superpower it once was, or at least a major force to be reckoned with, from Syria to Europe, and boasting a military revived after two decades of neglect. That bet has now backfired, spectacularly. If the sanctions overwhelmingly passed by Congress last week sent any message to Moscow, it was that Mr. Trump’s hands are now tied in dealing with Moscow, probably for years to come.”

“It is unclear how much the announcement will affect day-to-day relations. While the Russian news media said 755 diplomats would be barred from working, and presumably expelled, there do not appear to be anything close to 755 American diplomats working in Russia.”

Congress Sends Russian Sanctions to Trump’s Desk

The Senate “delivered Donald Trump the first big bipartisan rebuke of his presidency, giving final approval to a package of sanctions on Russia, Iran, and North Korea that constrains his bid to defrost relations with Moscow,” Politico reports.

“The Senate voted 98-2 to approve the sanctions bill that cleared the House earlier this week… The only no votes on the bill were Kentucky Republican Rand Paul and Vermont independent Bernie Sanders.”

In response, the Washington Post reports that Russia announced “it would seize U.S. diplomatic properties and demand that the State Department reduce its staff in Russia, a tit-for-tat punishment that the Russian Foreign Ministry said was spurred by a financial sanctions bill now awaiting a signature from President Trump.”

How Kushner Helped Russians Gain Access to Trump

Ryan Lizza: “If you read Jared Kushner’s statement to congressional committees looking for evidence of a crime, there isn’t much there. But if you read it from the perspective of the Russians trying to gain a toehold—or more—inside the Trump campaign, you realize how easy he made it for them. As the evidence mounted last year that the Russian government launched an unprecedented hacking and influence campaign to affect the 2016 election in Donald Trump’s favor, the Trump team, including Kushner, became increasingly more solicitous to high-level Russians offering information and requesting meetings.”

“As with his accounts of all the other interactions with Russians, Kushner claims he was simply a naïve staffer exchanging benign pleasantries. His professed innocence about the nature of these contacts may be the most troubling part of his testimony. The Russians were running a complex—and seemingly successful—campaign to gain access to Trump’s orbit and the President-elect’s most trusted adviser claims he was clueless about what was actually going on. Kushner’s testimony does not reveal evidence of any crimes, but it does reveal a campaign and Presidential transition that was a remarkably easy target for Russian-intelligence efforts.”