March 29, 2018

Some U.S. intelligence officials fear that the Chinese government is conducting sophisticated "kidnapping" programs in the United States in order to spirit their nationals back to the mainland, where they face arrest and imprisonment on political and corruption charges. Beijing has openly admitted to repatriating more than 3,000 people "who had escaped overseas" since late 2012, Xinhua reports, although the U.S. intelligence community believes China's strategies in Western nations often involves pushing the definitions of coercion and kidnapping.

In one example cited in the report by Foreign Policy, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire was snatched from his hotel in Hong Kong in 2017 and was loaded — likely sedated — into a wheelchair and rolled out through the lobby with a sheet covering his head. Similar stories have also come out of Australia, a U.S. intelligence partner, including one about a man who was allegedly drugged by Chinese security forces and transported back to the mainland on a state-owned shipping vessel.

Chinese nationals living in the United States have also begun to disappear under suspicious circumstances, although unlike previous targets, "they were not high-profile folks," said one former U.S. intelligence official.

"There were multiple reports of people observing Chinese intelligence operatives materializing around the schools or residences of the missing people," the intelligence official went on. "One theory was that they were strong-arming them in person, saying, 'We're here. Your flight back to China is tomorrow.'" The official stressed that there is still a difference between "kicking in a door and taking a guy forcefully away and saying, 'Come with us or we'll kill your family in Inner Mongolia.'" Still, in one case involving a Chinese graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, there was "evidence of this person being taken against their will."

The fear is that just because China has not brazenly kidnapped anyone in the United States yet, it "doesn't mean they won't eventually." Read the chilling investigation at Foreign Policy. Jeva Lange

2:00 p.m.

Kellyanne Conway called Thursday the best day for President Trump since his election, a summation that certainly isn't shared by his critics, who claim Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report neither absolved Trump of "obstruction" nor "collusion." Conway, though, had an entirely different vision of the report when addressing the press.

Appearing on Fox News, Conway went as far as to paint a rather unwelcome portrait of the Mueller investigation. "This has been a political proctology exam, and [Trump's] emerging with a clean bill of health," Conway said. "There's no other way to look at it."

Well, I sure wish there had been. Watch the interview below. Jeva Lange

1:57 p.m.

President Trump directed campaign affiliates to find Hillary Clinton's personal emails, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report says.

Trump, who in July 2016 publicly called on Russia to find deleted emails from his Democratic opponent, "repeatedly" requested his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, do so. The report says that Flynn "contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails."

These people included Senate staffer Barbara Ledeen and Republican donor Peter Smith. Smith made claims that he was in contact with Russian hackers about the emails "and that his efforts were coordinated with the Trump campaign."

But while Mueller's report says that Smith was in contact with Flynn and Trump adviser Sam Clovis, the investigation didn't find that Trump's campaign initiated or directed his efforts. It also says the investigation didn't establish that Smith actually was in contact with Russia hackers or that he or the Trump campaign obtained the emails. The Week Staff

1:24 p.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's full investigation into Russian election meddling went public on Thursday, although it might be generous to really call it "full." More than a third of the investigation was hidden behind big black blocks of redactions, the Los Angeles Times reports. All sorts of information could be redacted for many reasons, including "secret grand jury information," "classified information," "information related to other continuing investigations," and "information about 'peripheral' people," The New York Times reports.

Still, you can't help but wonder about some of the more intriguing redactions. Here are a few of the best in the Mueller report. Jeva Lange

9. And that...?

8. Yikes.

7. The plot thickens.

6. Whom?

5. Well at least you know what airport they were going to!

4. Then who was on the phone?

3. Wait ... almost ... nope.

2. This entire page.

1. Oh, do tell.

1:10 p.m.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders acknowledged a claim she once made about former FBI Director James Comey was completely false, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report says.

Mueller's report details President Trump's firing of Comey in 2017, noting that Sanders spoke in a press briefing and insisted that the FBI had lost confidence in Comey. This, she said, was based on hearing as much from "countless members of the FBI."

But the Mueller report says that "the evidence does not support those claims" and that Trump, in fact, specifically told Comey that "the people of the FBI really like [him]." Sanders "acknowledged to investigations that her comments were not founded on anything," although she claimed this was a "slip of the tongue." She also claimed that when she repeated in a separate interview that the FBI had lost confidence in Comey, she did so "in the heat of the moment."

The report notes that Trump praised Sanders' performance in the 2017 press conference and did not correct her false claim. Brendan Morrow

12:54 p.m.

Former White House Counsel Don McGahn has come through with the best stories of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report.

Most notably, there's McGahn's wild account of how Trump told him to get Mueller fired. Yet there's also this hidden gem, in which McGahn recounted a conversation with Trump about just why he told Mueller about all that "crazy sh-t."

The report details a time when Trump asked McGahn about his interviews with the special counsel, which McGahn apparently explained away as something "he had to" do. Trump seemed satisfied, and then apparently asked a more pressing question: "Why do you take notes? Lawyers don't take notes." McGahn had a wonderfully snappy comeback, saying that "real lawyers" take notes. Trump responded that he has "had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn," and "he did not take notes."

Trump apparently didn't mention that his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen's preference for tapes over notes soon turned into a problem. Read the whole report here. Kathryn Krawczyk

12:35 p.m.

A significant part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, made public in redacted form on Thursday, involved looking into if President Trump tried to obstruct justice. While Mueller was unable to reach a conclusion on that front, he did detail in great length an episode in which Trump tried to get him fired.

On June 17, 2017, Trump apparently called his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn, and ordered him to fire Mueller over a supposed conflict of interest. "You gotta do this," McGahn recalled Trump saying, with the president directing him to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to do the deed.

McGahn was "perturbed by the call" and "did not intend to act on the request," Mueller wrote, noting that McGahn and Trump's other advisers had thought the conflicts alleged by Trump were "silly" and "not real." Trump apparently called McGahn a second time, asking "have you done it?" and demanding "call me back when you do it." Mueller wrote that "to end the conversation with the president, McGahn left the president with the impression that McGahn would call Rosenstein" although in actuality "he just wanted to get off the phone."

Because McGahn refused to follow Trump's order, he decided to resign and began preparations, which involved, apparently, telling then-Chief-of-Staff Reince Priebus that the president had asked him to "do crazy sh-t." Priebus and Stephen Bannon urged McGahn not to quit and to just ignore the president.

When Trump and McGahn next saw each other, Mueller writes, "the president did not ask McGahn whether he had followed through with calling Rosenstein." Read the full section of the report below, via The Toronto Star's Daniel Dale. Jeva Lange

12:20 p.m.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team was never actually looking for evidence of "collusion" but rather conspiracy, his redacted report says.

Mueller's report states that the investigation set out to find whether members of President Trump's campaign conspired with Russia in its election interference and did not establish that they did so. But while Trump has chalked this up to Mueller finding "no collusion," Mueller's report notes that collusion is "not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the U.S. code" and is not a term in federal criminal law.

Therefore, the investigation was always working with the criminal definition of conspiracy "as defined in federal law, not the commonly discussed term 'collusion.'" Mueller was specifically looking for coordination, i.e. "an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference," which would require both parties to act in a way that was "informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests," per The Washington Post.

Ultimately, while the investigation doesn't establish that Trump's campaign illegally conspired with Russia, it says the campaign expected to benefit from Russia's election interference. Brendan Morrow

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