Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin held his annual news conference on Thursday, an event that commonly runs for hours, offering a kaleidoscope-like glimpse of Putin's view of his country and the world. In this year's edition, the topics ranged from President Trump to Russia's ban at the 2018 Winter Olympics — and the state of the fishing industry in Murmansk.

The New Year will bring a new test for President Trump and the United States' relationship with Russia.

Five years ago, President Obama signed a bill imposing sanctions on a group of powerful people there charged with involvement in the death of a Russian lawyer who uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme — and then died in government custody. The sanctions infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This week In the Russia investigations: Downshift from strategic war to knife fight, top G-Men on his back foot as lawmakers engage in oversight, Trump Jr. clammed up in Congress.

Now, a knife fight

Not long ago, this saga was about Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's surveying the battlefield like a general and with one swift coup — getting Michael Flynn to turn state's evidence — changing the whole strategic picture.

Updated at 6:26 p.m. ET

FBI Director Christopher Wray defended his agency on Capitol Hill Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since President Trump denigrated the agency last weekend. The questioning from lawmakers and the responses the new FBI director gave are a harbinger of likely issues to be raised again as the Justice Department's Russia probe appears to be intensifying after the recent plea deal of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty are among ten American media outlets operating in Russia that are now considered "foreign agents" under a new directive from the Kremlin – a tit-for-tat response to a similar U.S. move.

Updated at 3:36 p.m. E.D.T. on December 4.

President Trump may have been involved with a change to the Republican Party campaign platform last year that watered down support for U.S. assistance to Ukraine, according to new information from someone who was involved.

Diana Denman, a Republican delegate who supported arming U.S. allies in Ukraine, has told people that Trump aide J.D. Gordon said at the Republican Convention in 2016 that Trump directed him to support weakening that position in the official platform.

Donald Trump's campaign was frenzied and frantic, people at the top have said — descriptions that could be highly consequential for the White House and to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller.

For former campaign officials who've come into the administration, the descriptions of their work last year are meant not only to strengthen their denials regarding collusion with the Russian government in attacking the election, but also to emphasize how much of a miracle it was they made it through.

Updated at 2:45 a.m. ET

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior advisor, was questioned last month by investigators for special counsel Robert Mueller, who are probing possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

A former national security adviser to the Trump campaign says he had concerns about Carter Page's visit to Moscow in the summer of 2016 — chief among them the possibility that he would embarrass the campaign.

J.D. Gordon also told NPR that Page as well George Papadopoulos, who recently pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his own Russia contacts, were marginal figures in the Trump world. Both men served as members of the then-candidate's foreign policy team, but they were not central figures with a meaningful voice, he said.

A report that President Trump asked CIA Director Mike Pompeo to meet with a former NSA employee who denies Russian interference in the U.S. election has drawn fire from two ex-intelligence chiefs.

The claim that emails were "leaked" rather than "hacked" is at odds with the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community, including Pompeo himself, who told the Senate Intelligence Committee as much in May.

According to President Trump, some Republicans in Congress and conservative media outlets, the Russia scandal is heating up.

No, not that one.

It's an alternative Russia scandal. And the claims go like this:

As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton approved the 2010 sale of a mining company to Russia. This gave the Russians control of 20 percent of U.S. uranium and placed U.S. national security at risk. In return, the Clinton Foundation received $145 million in pledges and donations.

Last week in the Russia investigations: Mueller removes all doubt, the imbroglio apparently costs a man a government job and lots of talk — but no silver bullet — on digital interference.


Mueller time

How many more thunderbolts has Zeus in his quiver? Where might the next one strike? Who does the angry lightning-hurler have in his sights — and who will be spared?

Updated at 2:16 p.m. ET

The week started with "legal shock and awe," as Carrie Johnson, NPR's Justice correspondent described it on the PBS NewsHour.

It's hard to believe it was only Monday that indictments were handed down stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.

President Trump is taking a dog-eared page from the unofficial White House manual: When things are bad at home, go abroad.

With his domestic agenda seemingly stalled and indictments this week from special counsel Robert Mueller's office, the president will set off for Asia, where he no doubt hopes to shift the focus from Russia to North Korea.

It will be Trump's first trip to Asia as president — with a brief stop in Hawaii before heading to Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines that wraps up on Nov. 14.

A former Trump campaign official has withdrawn from consideration for a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture after being pulled into the imbroglio over Russia's interference efforts against the U.S. in the 2016 presidential race.

Sam Clovis said on Thursday that he would not go forward in trying to become the USDA's undersecretary for research, education and economics.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Russia Probe Results In Charges

Oct 30, 2017

The first indictment in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election has been issued.

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Manafort’s former deputy Rick Gates have turned themselves in to law enforcement.

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced he was handing over the reins of the Justice Department's Russia investigation to a special counsel, he gave Robert Mueller the authority to look into "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation."

Last week in the Russia investigations: Reports are growing about Russian-linked interference beyond the Web and in real life, three senators pitch a bill to tackle digital active measures and Big Tech says it'll play ball in Capitol Hill's big show on Nov. 1.

Influence-mongering in real life

Accounts are piling up in which Russian influence-mongers evidently did more than interfere with Americans online last year — they also did so in person.

The CIA on Thursday was forced to walk back an assertion by Director Mike Pompeo, who incorrectly said U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election were unsuccessful.

Asked at a security conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday whether he could say with absolute certainty that the November vote was not skewed by Russia, Pompeo replied: "Yes. Intelligence community's assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election."

This week in the Russia investigations: A progress report — sort of — from the Senate Intelligence Committee; Robert Mueller meets the author of the dossier; and Donald Trump Jr. may have a date on Capitol Hill.

Updated at 2:17 p.m. ET, Oct. 3

Facebook said on Monday it has given Congress thousands of ads linked with Russian influence operations in the United States and is tightening its policies to make such interference more difficult.

"Many [of the ads] appear to amplify racial and social divisions," it said.

The social media giant confirmed that it discovered the ad sales earlier this year and gave copies to Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Last week in the Russia investigations: Washington gears up for the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Twitter gets its turn in the barrel and states learn at last about the extent of last year's attack.

D.C. waits to hear from Burr and Warner

Before we take a look back at the past week in the Russia imbroglio, a look ahead: The chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee have scheduled a press conference for Wednesday.

Roger Stone, the longtime ally of President Trump's known for his brash and braggadocio style, answered questions behind closed doors from lawmakers and staff for the House Intelligence Committee for more than three hours Tuesday, as part of the panel's ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

For more than nine months, Twitter and Facebook have tried to dodge the intense public scrutiny involved with the investigation into Russian interference in last year's presidential election.

Now they're in the spotlight.

Congressional investigators are digging in on Russia's use of Facebook, Twitter and other social media companies to try to influence the 2016 campaign.

Facebook's concession that it sold $100,000 in ads to Russian-linked accounts last year may be "just the tip of the iceberg" of how social networks were used to interfere in the election, warned the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who is leading the Senate's investigation into Russia's election attack, said Thursday he has long believed that Moscow used overt social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to intervene in the 2016 election, as well as other covert tools such as cyberattacks.

Updated at 5:55 p.m. ET

Donald Trump Jr. told congressional investigators on Thursday that his June 2016 meeting with a Russian contingent after an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton provided no useful information and was ultimately a waste of time.

In fact after it was over, Trump Jr. said, "I gave it no further thought."

The meeting, which took place at Trump Tower in New York City, has emerged as an important point of the investigations into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia's interference in last year's election.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has differed with President Trump over a number of significant foreign policy issues — North Korea, Iran and Qatar, to name a few. But when Tillerson distanced himself from the president on the question of American values — telling Fox News Sunday that the president "speaks for himself" by blaming "both sides" for violence that took place during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. — questions grew over whether he would soon be out of office.

Senate investigators met this week with the co-founder of the political research firm behind the explosive dossier of unsubstantiated and salacious material about President Trump's alleged ties with Russia.

Glenn Simpson, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who later helped found the private investigation firm Fusion GPS, sat down with Senate Judiciary Committee staff behind closed doors on Tuesday, congressional aides told NPR.

The U.S. State Department says it will temporarily stop issuing nonimmigrant visas to Russians in response to Moscow's decision to force the U.S. to slash its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia.

The American Embassy in Moscow and consulates elsewhere in Russia are cancelling interviews for visa requests and suspending all nonimmigrant visa operations until Sept. 1, NPR's Michele Kelemen reports. After that date, the issuance of nonimmigrant visas will resume at the embassy in Moscow, but not at the other consulates, Michele says.

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