September 18, 2017

In recent days, a New York Times reporter happened to be seated next to Ty Cobb and John Dowd, two of President Trump's top lawyers handling the investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump campaign, during lunch at a popular Washington, D.C., steakhouse, and Cobb was overheard alluding to the tensions with White House Counsel Don McGahn, The New York Times reported Sunday night.

Cobb discussed an unidentified White House lawyer he believes to be "a McGahn spy," suggested he would like access to "a couple of documents locked in a safe" in McGahn's office, and spoke of a colleague he blamed for "some of these earlier leaks" who also "tried to push Jared out," apparently affirming earlier reporting that some of Trump's legal team wanted the president's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner to step down, the Times recounts. After the Times contacted the White House for comment, McGahn "privately erupted" at Cobb, the Times adds, citing "people informed about the confrontation," and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly "sharply reprimanded" Cobb for being indiscreet. Cobb and Dowd told the Times they have nothing but respect for McGahn and his skills, noting that his job is different than theirs.

The tensions all stem from the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and how best to respond. Cobb reportedly wants to turn over as many requested documents and emails as possible to end the investigation quickly; McGahn also advocates cooperating but is apparently concerned about preserving executive power and prerogatives and believes Cobb is naive to believe he can protect Trump from Mueller, who has hired 17 prosecutors. The Times then drops in this little tidbit:

Tension between the two comes as life in the White House is shadowed by the investigation. Not only do Mr. Trump, Mr. Kushner, and Mr. McGahn all have lawyers, but so do other senior officials. The uncertainty has grown to the point that White House officials privately express fear that colleagues may be wearing a wire to surreptitiously record conversations for Mr. Mueller. [The New York Times]

You can read more about the internal White House tensions, legal and otherwise, at The New York Times. Peter Weber

September 14, 2017
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Last week, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice told the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors that she had requested the identities of U.S. citizens whose names were redacted in U.S. intelligence reports last December because she wanted to understand why the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates was making a secret visit to the U.S., breaking protocol by not informing the Obama administration, multiple sources told CNN. The "unmasked" Americans turned out to be members of Donald Trump's presidential transition team, and Rice reportedly discovered that Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Stephen Bannon, and other Trump officials had met with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in New York.

After the Dec. 15 meeting, al-Nahyan helped set up a secret meeting in the Seychelles islands between a Trump envoy, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin, The Washington Post reported in April. (Prince said he was just there "for business," and not for Trump.) But in the three-hour-long meeting, Nahyan and the top Trump officials did not discuss Russia or setting up back-channel communications, two sources told CNN. Instead, they reportedly discussed Iran, Yemen, and the Mideast peace process.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who has mostly recused himself from the Russia investigation, accused Rice of improperly unmasking Trump officials, and Trump — who jumped on Nunes' statements to claim vindication for his since-disproved accusation that former President Barack Obama wiretapped him — accused Rice of committing a crime. Few other officials saw anything improper in Rice's actions, and "her explanation appears to have satisfied some influential Republicans on the committee, undercutting both Nunes and Trump and raising new questions about whether any Trump associates tried to arrange back-channel discussions with the Russians," CNN reports. You can read more at CNN. Peter Weber

September 7, 2017
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Donald Trump Jr., the president's oldest son and executive director of the Trump Organization, will meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday to discuss a June 2016 meeting he set up with a Kremlin-backed lawyer and other Russians promising compromising information on Hillary Clinton. Trump's testimony, originally scheduled for July, will be transcribed but held behind closed doors.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), is one of three congressional panels looking at Russian interference in the 2016 election, but Grassley's committee is focused more on potential obstruction of justice and issues surrounding foreign lobbying than possible collusion with Russia. Trump will be the first insider from his father's presidential campaign to appear before the committee. Grassley, 83, has a reputation as a dogged investigator but he has also appeared to try to protect President Trump at times, The Washington Post says, and one of the big questions for Thursday is which Grassley shows up: "fearless investigator ready to take on his own party, or loyal member of the GOP." Peter Weber

August 31, 2017
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Special Counsel Robert Mueller is working with agents from the IRS's Criminal Investigations unit as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, people familiar with the investigation told The Daily Beast.

This elite and secretive IRS unit's 2,500 agents work on financial crimes, including money laundering and tax evasion, and would have access to President Trump's tax returns. Martin Sheil, a retired IRS Criminal Investigations agent, told The Daily Beast that both Mueller and one of his deputies, Andy Weissmann, view Criminal Investigations agents "with the highest regard. IRS special agents are the very best in the business of conducting financial investigations. They will quickly tell you that it took an accountant to nab Al Capone, and it's true."

If Mueller decides to bring charges against anyone linked to Trump because of tax law violations, he will have to get approval from the Justice Department's Tax Division, The Daily Beast reports. Trump has yet to choose someone to run the division, and when he does pick a person for the job, that post needs Senate confirmation. Catherine Garcia

August 27, 2017
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During part of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump's company sought to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow, several people familiar with the proposal told The Washington Post.

Discussions were ramped up in September 2015, with an unidentified investor planning on building the project, using Trump's name under a licensing agreement. The lead negotiator for the Trump Organization was one of its vice presidents, Michael Cohen, and it's unclear how aware or involved Trump was, the Post said. Several people briefed on the plan told the Post that in an email to Cohen, a Russian-born real estate developer named Felix Sater hinted that he could get Russian President Vladimir Putin to say "great things" about Trump, and urged him to get Trump to Moscow.

The Trump Organization and investors signed a letter of intent, but because they did not have the land or proper permits, the project stalled and was dropped at the end of January 2016, before the start of the primaries, the Post reports. Read the entire report at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

August 24, 2017

In June 2016, Rick Dearborn — then chief of staff to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) and in charge of candidate Donald Trump's policy operation — sent an email to Trump campaign officials passing on an invitation from someone identified only as "WV" for top Trump officials to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, CNN reports, citing multiple sources with direct knowledge of the matter. The email was among 20,000 pages of documents that the Trump campaign and White House turned over to congressional investigators. Dearborn is now President Trump's deputy White House chief of staff.

"WV" refers to West Virginia, a source tells CNN, and it isn't clear who the individual is, his or her connection to Russia, or whether Dearborn followed up on the request. In the email, he "appeared skeptical of the requested meeting," the source told CNN. Dearborn and the White House declined CNN's request for comment. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported on a series of emails from a Trump foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who was also attempting to set up Trump team meetings with Russian officials. Sessions, now the attorney general, headed the foreign policy team that included Papadopoulos and Carter Page, another Russia-linked Trump campaign adviser, and investigators are reportedly interested in learning any role Dearborn played in setting up meetings between Sessions and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

U.S. intelligence experts suggest that the emails show Russians trying to find points of entry into the Trump campaign. Kislyak, now retired, told CNN from Russia that the idea he tried to recruit Trump campaign members is "nonsense." Peter Weber

August 14, 2017
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In the spring and summer of 2016, starting right after then-candidate Donald Trump named his campaign's foreign advisory team in March, one of the new advisers, George Papadopoulos, began sending out emails indicating he was in contact with Russian officials who wanted to set up meetings with Trump, The Washington Post reported Monday night, citing excerpts from some of the 20,000 pages of emails and other documents the Trump campaign turned over to congressional investigators. Papadopoulos, the youngest of Trump's advisers, sent at least half a dozen such invitations through September, claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to meet with Trump as part of an effort to improve U.S.-Russian relations.

The reaction from Trump's other advisers was not enthusiastic, the Post reports, with campaign co-chairman Sam Clovis suggesting the team check with NATO allies first; adviser Charles Kubic, a retired Navy rear admiral, citing legal concerns; and chairman Paul Manafort rejecting a proposal in May that Trump travel to Russia. Still, "the internal resistance to Papadopoulos' requests is at odds with other overtures Trump allies were making toward Russia at the time, mostly at a more senior level of the campaign," the Post notes, giving some known examples. Papadopoulos did not explain in the emails read to the Post how it would benefit Trump to meet with Russian officials.

Experts in Russian intelligence gathering told the Post that the emails from Papadopoulos, who graduated college in 2009 and had scant foreign policy experience, are more evidence that Russia was looking to influence the campaign and seeking out entry points. Links between the Trump campaign and Russia are being investigated by several congressional committees and Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. The selection of emails was read to the Post, and their tenor plus some specific quotes were confirmed by two other people with access to the internal campaign emails. You can read more about this new character in the Russia saga at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

August 8, 2017
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Earlier this month, the Trump campaign, Donald Trump Jr., and Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort gave the Senate Judiciary Committee thousands of pages of documents as part of the panel's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, committee spokesman George Hartmann told Bloomberg on Tuesday.

The committee requested all documents regarding any attempt to gain information on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government, including material having to do with the meeting Trump Jr., Manafort, and President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner had with a Russian lawyer in June 2016. The Trump associates were told to start handing over the information by Aug. 2, and that's when the Trump campaign sent over 20,000 pages of documents and Manafort handed over 400 pages, including his foreign-advocacy filing.

Trump Jr. handed over 250 pages on Aug. 4. Last week, ranking committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said public hearings may be held next month with Trump Jr. and Manafort, Bloomberg reports. Catherine Garcia

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