December 28, 2018

On Thursday, McClatchy reported that a cellphone linked to Michael Cohen, former lawyer and fixer for President Trump, had briefly connected with cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, about the time an unverified dossier placed Cohen in the Czech capital for a covert meeting with Russians. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is aware of the intercepts, McClatchy said, and its reporters were told about the cellphone evidence from four sources who learned of it independently from foreign intelligence connections. Cohen, who has been cooperating with Mueller's Trump-Russia collusion investigation, reiterated Thursday that he has never been to Prague, ever, adding cryptically that "#Mueller knows everything!"

Was Cohen being cute about Prague, and had maybe visited its suburbs or somewhere else in the Czech Republic? "NO," he tweeted, when people asked. Still, McClatchy's "reporting is the opposite of thin," notes New York's Jonathan Chait, and assuming this isn't "a massive journalistic error," evidence that Cohen was in Prague that summer and met with Russians "would mean just about the worst possible thing for Trump," providing a direct link between the president and Russians allegedly trying to cover up collusion with Trump's campaign. A spokesman for Mueller's office declined McClatchy's invitation to comment on its report. Peter Weber

December 10, 2018

Former FBI Director James Comey told House investigators on Friday that the bureau's counterintelligence investigation of possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia began with four unidentified Americans starting in July 2016, "weeks or months" before the FBI learned of "the so-called Steele dossier" compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele for Trump's political rivals. But now, thanks to recent disclosures by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, we know of at least 14 Trump associates and family members — including children Don. Jr. and Ivanka Trump — who were contacted by Russian nationals during President Trump's 2016 campaign, according to The Washington Post's tally.

Some of the Russians circling Trump's world "offered to help his campaign and his real estate business, and "some offered dirt on his Democratic opponent," the Post reports. As Mueller "slowly unveils the evidence that he has gathered since his appointment as special counsel in May 2017, he has not yet shown that any of the dozens of interactions between people in Trump's orbit and Russians resulted in any specific coordination between his presidential campaign and Russia. But the mounting number of communications that have been revealed occurred against the backdrop of 'sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election,' as Mueller's prosecutors wrote in a court filing last week."

Russia experts and former presidential campaign officials say that the number and nature of such contacts with a foreign power, much less a hostile power, is highly unusual during a presidential campaign. You can read more about the 14 Trump associates and their Russian contacts at The Washington Post. Peter Weber

November 30, 2018

Michael Cohen's plea agreement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, his admission that he lied about ending negotiations for a Trump Tower Moscow in January 2016, and the revelation that he was negotiating directly with the Kremlin were all big topics on cable news Thursday night. And on CNN and MSNBC, at least, there was a consensus that this is a big deal.

At CNN, Chris Cuomo fact-checked Trump's response to Cohen's plea. Trump's admission he knew about the Moscow negotiations and was aggressively pursuing such deals because he didn't think he was going to win the election "is very important in understanding why they would have kept doing this deal at a time when it would really smell bad," Cuomo said.

On MSNBC, BuzzFeed reporter Anthony Cormier explained why Cohen's deep knowledge of Trump's business makes him "a very dangerous threat" to Trump, Cohen friend Donny Deutsch affirmed that Cohen has enthusiastically flipped on Trump, and former FBI counterintelligence chief Frank Figliuzzi — who argued earlier Thursday that "our president is essentially a mob boss" — explained how what Cohen's revealed is "the definition of the Russian word Kompromat."

Trump handed Russia "a blackmailable set of facts" by lying about things the Russian government know are true, Figliuzzi said. "The question that's not answered in the information that's filed today by Mueller is what have the Russians done with that, what is the level of compromise, what is the level of coordination? ... Did Trump hand false answers to Mueller based on an understanding of what everyone he thought was saying? The Russians have all of this, the Russians have likely used it, and that's at the heart of what's being hidden by this president."

Fox News also covered the plea deal, in its own way. Below, for example, you can watch Tucker Carlson mock Cohen and complain that a series of Obama officials were not charged with lying to Congress "about things that actually matter." Peter Weber

November 29, 2018

"You know, today's the first day I actually thought Donald Trump might not finish his term in office," CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin told Anderson Cooper Thursday night, after a week of revelations about the Trump campaign and Russia. "Really?" Cooper asked. "I mean, I think this thing is enormous," Toobin said. He laid out a series of "preposterous" positions now being staked by President Trump, including that lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen negotiated Trump Organization deals in Russia for six months without telling Trump, that Trump and Roger Stone never discussed WikiLeaks, and that Don Jr. never talked to his father about the Trump Tower meeting with Kremlin-linked Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

"All of these are complementary to each other, and all of the stories that Trump is telling about them are preposterous," Toobin said. "And when you combine them all, the question becomes: When do Republicans start to turn on Trump? Because that's the only thing that's going to get Trump out of office, it's not going to be Democrats. And it's certainly not now, but there may be a point where it's too much."

Democratic strategist Paul Begala said he's "not there yet" on believing Trump won't finish out his term, because Trump needs to keep only 34 senators on his side and House Democrats say they won't impeach Trump unless Republicans ask them to. At the same time, he added, "I do worry, honestly, for our country that the president, this president, is too distracted, is too obsessed," and is "having a presidential panic attack" over Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. When he worked for Bill Clinton during the Whitewater investigation, Begala said, Clinton "found the work therapeutic, he would lose himself in the work."

Toobin also spells out the motive Cohen's plea deal reveals for Trump to make nice with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and you can watch that below. Peter Weber

September 18, 2018

In announcing he was ordering the declassification of selected sensitive documents and text messages related to the active investigation of Russian campaign interference and his own campaign, President Trump cited "reasons of transparency" and requests from "a number of committees of Congress." Conservative House Republicans allied with Trump, who have been demanding the documents for months over the objection of intelligence officials, cheered the win for "transparency."

On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal reports, "legal experts and former government officials said the move represented an extraordinary level of presidential involvement in an investigation that has notched guilty pleas from five of Mr. Trump's associates," including his former campaign chairman and vice-chairman and his national security adviser. The materials deal with how the FBI obtained a FISA warrant to surveil Trump adviser Carter Page, and "because FISA deals with espionage matters, it is one of the most closely guarded processes in the federal government," the Journal notes.

Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Trump's "selective release of materials he believes are helpful to his defense team and thinks will advance a false narrative" is a "clear abuse of power," and based on his conversations with federal law enforcement officials, the FBI and Justice Department see the release of these unredacted documents as "a red line that must not be crossed as they may compromise sources and methods."

Trump didn't tell the Justice Department what he was going to declassify before making the public announcement, The Washington Post report, and the Justice Department emphasized that Trump triggered "a declassification review process that is conducted by various agencies within the intelligence community, in conjunction with the White House counsel, to seek to ensure the safety of America's national security interests." You can watch CNN's Evan Perez discuss what Trump and his allies are looking for and happens next below. Peter Weber

August 6, 2018

On Sunday morning, President Trump interrupted his 11-day working vacation at a golf resort in New Jersey to acknowledge that the purpose of the 2016 meeting his son Donald Trump Jr. held with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya was "to get information on an opponent," Hillary Clinton. In doing so, he conceded that the first explanation for the meeting, which he dictated to Don Jr. from aboard Air Force One, was false.

Trump's lawyers and two White House press secretaries later said falsely that Trump didn't have anything to do with the misleading statement, and on Sunday, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow admitted to ABC News he "had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement." Sekulow went on to ask "what law, statue, or rule or regulation has been violated" by meeting with Russians offering Kremlin "dirt" on Clinton, because, "nobody has pointed to one"; George Stephanopoulos suggested several.

"It is illegal for a campaign to accept help from a foreign individual or government," The New York Times explains. "The president and his son have maintained that the campaign did not ultimately receive any damaging materials about Mrs. Clinton as a result of the meeting. But some legal experts contend that by simply sitting for the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. broke the law." Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who's examining the meeting, "is investigating whether anyone associated with Trump coordinated with the Russians, which could result in criminal charges if they entered into a conspiracy to break the law," The Washington Post adds.

The impetus for Trump's Sunday morning tweet was to deny a Post article from Saturday in which a Trump adviser said the president "does not believe his son purposefully broke the law, but is fearful nonetheless that Trump Jr. inadvertently may have wandered into legal ­jeopardy." Trump also insisted Sunday he didn't know about the meeting, an assertion contradicted by former lawyer Michael Cohen. Peter Weber

July 4, 2018

On Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released a report backing up the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia attempted to help President Trump win the 2016 election.

"The Russian effort was extensive and sophisticated, and its goals were to undermine public faith in the democratic process, to hurt Secretary [Hillary] Clinton, and to help Donald Trump," Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the committee's vice chairman, said. The committee is continuing to investigate any collusion that may have happened between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Earlier this year, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, led by Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), said they determined that some intelligence agencies made errors in their assessment of Russia and its intentions during the election. Catherine Garcia

May 30, 2018

Last spring, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe wrote a confidential memo regarding a conversation he had at the Justice Department with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about President Trump's abrupt firing of McCabe's predecessor, James Comey. Rosenstein told McCabe that Trump had originally asked him to reference Russia in a memo he used to justify firing Comey, several people familiar with the discussion told The New York Times.

Rosenstein's memo instead took Comey to task for the way he handled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. McCabe has reportedly given his memo and other documents to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether Trump attempted to obstruct the probe into his campaign's ties to Russia. Rosenstein never told McCabe what exactly Trump wanted him to say about Russia, the Times reports, but McCabe felt the anecdote could be potential evidence that Comey's firing was related to the FBI's investigation into Trump and Russia, and that Rosenstein was providing cover for Trump by writing about the Clinton probe.

McCabe was fired in March right before his retirement, after an internal investigation determined he released information to the media that he shouldn't have. He says this was politically motivated, an attempt to discredit him as a witness in the Mueller investigation. Catherine Garcia

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