Russian Interference

Last week in the Russia Investigations: The feds sitting down with White House aides. Attorney General Jeff Sessions stays the course. And will DOJ special counsel Robert Mueller give a "toothless" old law new fangs?

Knock, knock: It's the feds

White House officials are expecting some unusual guests in the short workweek before Thanksgiving: investigators from the FBI.

Senior White House adviser and son-in-law to the president Jared Kushner failed to hand over to Senate investigators emails concerning contacts with WikiLeaks and a "Russian backdoor overture," according to a letter sent by two senior lawmakers.

The letter, released Thursday by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, says Kushner failed to turn over "September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks" and other emails pertaining to a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite."

Bowing to pressure from the U.S. Justice Department, the production company behind media outlet RT America registered as a foreign agent on Monday. Russian leaders are criticizing the move, and lawmakers in Moscow are preparing a "symmetric legislative response," according to the state-run Tass news agency.

In the filing, RT America's partner company said it wasn't sure how much of its funding comes from Russia. The media operation had faced a Nov. 13 deadline, set by the U.S. government, to register.

Updated at 10:30 a.m. ET

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump Jr. was in direct contact with WikiLeaks at the same time the muckraking website was publishing hacked emails from Democratic officials that proved damaging to the Clinton campaign, according to several major publications.

Following the reports, Trump Jr. acknowledged the contact in a tweet detailing one exchange with the radical transparency organization.

Arizona Sen. John McCain stepped up his criticism of the White House over the weekend, blasting President Trump for seeming to accept Russian leader Vladimir Putin's assurances that the Kremlin didn't interfere in U.S. elections.

"There's nothing 'America First' about taking the word of a KGB colonel over that of the American intelligence community," McCain said in a written statement, referring to Trump's stated foreign policy objective and to Putin, a former operative in the Russian intelligence service.

On his Asia trip last week, somewhere over Vietnam on Air Force One, President Trump told reporters he had asked Vladimir Putin again if Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

"He said he didn't meddle," the president said. "He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times."

Trump added: "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that.' And I believe — I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it. ... I think he is very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth."

Mixed statements from President Trump during his Asia trip drew criticisms at home Sunday, particularly over Russian President Vladimir Putin's claims that his country didn't meddle in the 2016 U.S. Elections.

Updated on Sunday at 12:25 a.m. ET

President Trump told the White House press corps Saturday that he had had several brief conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific summit the two men were attending in Vietnam. During those conversations, Putin once again denied any interference in last year's election, Trump said. And, the president said, he believed that Putin believed there was no interference.

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.

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

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

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.

There appears to be no quick patch for the malware afflicting America's political life.

Over the course of three congressional hearings Tuesday and Wednesday, lawmakers fulminated, Big Tech witnesses were chastened but no decisive action appears to be in store to stop a foreign power from harnessing digital platforms to try to shape the information environment inside the United States.

Updated at 6:43 p.m. ET

Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., wasted no time on Wednesday connecting the abstract story that is Russian election interference to strife in the real world.

With lawyers from Facebook, Twitter and Google sitting before him, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman described a divisive scene in Houston last year — engineered entirely by Russian influence-mongers.

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

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

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

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Nearly a year after Election Day, Americans have the clearest picture yet about the extent of the influence campaign Russia ran against the United States in 2016.

The operation had a clandestine side and an overt side, and aspects that moved from one into the other. It involved a number of Russian government intelligence officers and cyber-operatives within Russia, as well as at least a few operatives working in the West.

And, according to at least one former top U.S. spymaster, it went better than its authors could have possibly imagined.

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

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Updated at 7:19 p.m. ET

Russian interference efforts in the 2016 presidential election were broader than anyone first knew, as representatives for Facebook, Twitter and Google told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

In July 2016, the aftermath of a police shooting of an African-American man was broadcast live on Facebook. Instantly, Americans of all stripes used the platform to step up the race wars and attack each other.

Five months into his mandate, Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller III unleashed a legal version of "shock and awe" on Monday with criminal charges against President Trump's former campaign chairman and a guilty plea by a foreign policy aide.

Mueller made no public comment about the charges or the next steps in an investigation that's irritating the White House and riveting the nation. But there are some clues in the court documents about where the former FBI director and his investigators may be heading.

Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET

Before George Papadopoulos became the first legal casualty of Robert Mueller's investigation into Russia and the 2016 election, he was a 30-year-old energy lawyer best known in D.C. for getting name-dropped by Donald Trump and for reportedly embellishing his resume.

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former assistant Rick Gates have surrendered to law enforcement.

Manafort is facing a dozen charges, including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to launder money.

Now that the first indictments have been issued, we look at what comes next in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

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.

Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET

Apparent Russian agents began reaching out to Donald Trump's presidential campaign as early as March 2016, the Justice Department established in documents released Monday, with appeals for partnership and offers of help including "dirt" on Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton.

That case is made in charging documents in the case of then-Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

There is lots to watch this week, from a potentially make-or-break stretch on the tax overhaul President Trump so badly wants to social media network officials testifying about what they knew and when they knew it about Russian-linked ads that may have helped influence the 2016 presidential election.

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