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August 28, 2017
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The team working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller is focusing on President Trump's role in crafting a response to a New York Times article about the meeting his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., had in June 2016 with a Kremlin-linked attorney and former Soviet intelligence officer, and whether Trump "knowingly" made a "false statement," three people familiar with the matter told NBC News.

The federal investigators are trying to determine what Trump knew about the meeting, held in Trump Tower and also attended by his campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The younger Trump initially told the Times in a statement that the meeting was "short" and was only about Americans adopting Russian children, but in further reporting, the Times revealed that the meeting was actually set up in order to discuss damaging information on Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, as shown in emails Trump Jr. ended up releasing minutes ahead of the Times.

When pressed, the White House said President Trump "weighed in" on his son's first response to the Times while flying back to the U.S. from Germany, while The Washington Post reported that Trump "dictated" it. One person familiar with Mueller's strategy told NBC News that even if "Trump is not charged with a crime as a result of the statement, it could be useful to Mueller's team to show Trump's conduct to a jury that may be considering other charges." The White House did not respond to NBC News' requests for comment. Catherine Garcia

August 23, 2017
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The White House is preparing to send the Pentagon a memo with instructions on how to implement President Trump's proposal to ban transgender people from serving in the armed forces, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The new policy will let Defense Secretary James Mattis consider a service member's ability to deploy when deciding whether to remove him or her from the military, the Journal reports, and it gives Mattis six months to re-establish the ban on transgender soldiers. The memo also directs the Pentagon to stop paying for gender dysphoria treatments for transgender military members currently serving. Trump announced on Twitter last month he would reinstate the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, a year after it was abolished by former President Barack Obama. Catherine Garcia

August 22, 2017
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The U.S. Navy is planning on relieving Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin of duty as commander of the Seventh Fleet, following four crashes, two of them deadly, in Asia since January, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

Aucoin is a three-star commander, and he will be removed on Wednesday, the officials said; the Navy declined to comment to the Journal. The Seventh Fleet is based in Yokosuka, Japan, and the most recent collision took place early Monday, when the USS John S. McCain and a tanker crashed in the waters east of Singapore and the Straits of Malacca; 10 sailors were reported missing, and the bodies of some of the sailors were recovered on Tuesday. Catherine Garcia

August 1, 2017
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The New York Times has obtained an internal announcement from the Justice Department that shows the Trump administration wants the civil rights division to start investigating university affirmative action admission policies and sue those schools they decide discriminate against white applicants.

The DOJ is looking for current lawyers who want to work on "investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions," the Times reports, and the memo suggests this special project will be run out of the front office of the civil rights division, which is where political appointees work. The Times' Charlie Savage writes that both supporters and critics of the project said it is "clearly targeting admissions programs that can give members of generally disadvantaged groups, like black and Latino students, an edge over other applicants with comparable or higher test scores."

The Justice Department would not share any additional details. You can read the entire report, which discusses what the civil rights division does and how it has changed since President Trump's inauguration, at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

July 19, 2017
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President Trump decided within the last month to end a covert CIA program that armed and trained moderate anti-government rebels in Syria, a move long sought by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally, Russia, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

The program began in 2013 as a way to put pressure on Assad to resign, and will be phased out over the next few months, officials said. They also told the Post that Trump made his decision after talking with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo ahead of his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, at the G-20 summit. "This is a momentous decision," a current official said. "Putin won in Syria."

The U.S. will still carry out its air campaign against the Islamic State in Syria and provide training and equipment to primarily Kurdish rebels near ISIS's de facto capital, Raqqa. Some analysts fear that Trump's decision will embolden more radical groups in the country. "We are falling into a Russian trap," Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, told the Post. "We are making the moderate resistance more and more vulnerable. ... We are really cutting them off at the neck."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted that he hopes the news isn't true, because it would be "a complete capitulation to Assad, Russia, and Iran" and a big loss for "Syrians who have been relentlessly attacked by Assad, our Arab partners, and U.S. standing in the Middle East." Catherine Garcia

July 16, 2017
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In late May, Qatari government websites were infiltrated by hackers as part of a plan orchestrated by the United Arab Emirates shortly before the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt announced they were cutting diplomatic ties with the country, U.S. intelligence officials told The Washington Post Sunday.

It is unclear if the UAE hacked the sites on its own or contracted the task out to someone else, the officials said. On May 24, a story appeared on the Qatar News Agency's website that included fake quotes attributed to Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, that were pro-Iran and Hamas. The government said it sent out alerts within 45 minutes saying this was a hoax and the website had been hacked, but a video was posted to the agency's YouTube channel later that day and similar messages appeared on the government's Twitter accounts; even after Qatar made its announcement, Saudi Arabian news agencies were reporting on al-Thani's alleged comments.

The officials told the Post that last week, information gathered by intelligence agencies was analyzed and confirmed that on May 23, senior members of UAE's government spoke about their hacking plan and how to make it happen. The hacking took place not long after President Trump's visit to the region, where he attended a counterterrorism meeting with leaders from across the Persian Gulf. After the fake comments were posted online, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Egypt all announced they were breaking off relations with Qatar.

The UAE's ambassador to the United States told the Post its report was false and his country "had no role whatsoever in the alleged hacking described in the article." He added that Qatar was "funding, supporting, and enabling extremists from the Taliban to Hamas" and "inciting violence, encouraging radicalization, and undermining the stability of its neighbors." Catherine Garcia

May 24, 2017
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Last summer, U.S. spies gathered information on senior Russian officials discussing how to influence Donald Trump through his advisers, three current and former American officials told The New York Times.

They specifically focused on two men with indirect ties to Russian officials: Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, his foreign policy adviser. The information was deemed credible enough by intelligence agencies to pass along to the FBI, but it remains unclear if the Russians actually did try to influence Manafort and Flynn, who have both denied any collusion with the Russian government before the 2016 presidential election.

The U.S. spies heard some Russians bragging about how well they knew Flynn, the Times reports; in 2015, Flynn earned more than $65,000 from several companies linked to Russia, including the Kremlin-funded RT news network. For his part, Manafort spent more than 10 years working for political organizations in Ukraine, forging a close relationship with Viktor Yanukovych, the former president of Ukraine who was a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Tuesday, former CIA Director John Brennan testified that last summer, he was convinced "the Russians were trying to interfere in the election. And they were very aggressive." By the end of former President Barack Obama's term, he still had "unresolved questions in my mind as to whether or not the Russians had been successful in getting U.S. persons, involved in the campaign or not, to work on their behalf against either in a witting or unwitting fashion." Catherine Garcia

May 9, 2017
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Over the past few weeks, associates of President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have received grand jury subpoenas as part of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, several people with information on the matter told CNN Tuesday.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Alexandria, Virginia, is seeking business records from people who worked with Flynn on contracts after he was pushed out as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2014, CNN reports. Investigators are trying to determine if Flynn committed any wrongdoing in the way he reported payments he received from clients linked to the Russian and Turkish governments. This is just one part of the inquiry into Russian election meddling, officials say.

In February, Flynn was forced to resign after it was found that he did not disclose the nature of phone calls he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. between the election and inauguration. CNN learned of the subpoenas hours before President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, who had been leading the main Russia investigation. Catherine Garcia

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