Russian Interference

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.

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.

A lot of people are counting on special counsel Robert Mueller.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has penned a scathing Facebook post in response to new U.S. sanctions, decrying what he described as the Trump administration's "total weakness" and saying that the package "ends hopes for improving our relations with the new administration."

President Trump signed a bill Wednesday imposing new sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea, but he made it clear that he was not happy about it.

The president released a scathing signing statement that said the bill was hastily assembled and included "a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions."

In the thick of the presidential race last summer — Donald Trump was attacking Hillary Clinton over Benghazi; Clinton was widening her lead in the polls — FBI agents uncovered something odd.

On June 28, federal cyber experts noticed that the network credentials of an Arizona county elections worker had been posted on a site frequented by suspected Russian hackers. The password and username discovered by the FBI could let someone access the state's voter registration system.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia is expelling 755 U.S. diplomats and technical personnel in retaliation against new U.S. sanctions proposed against Moscow.

On Friday, Russia's Foreign Ministry had signaled that the U.S. would need to downsize its staff to 455, to exactly match the number of Russian diplomatic and technical staff in the U.S. Now, Putin has announced the exact number of staff he's ordered the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to cut.

Updated 9:40 p.m. ET

Stung by new American sanctions, Russia's Foreign Ministry says the U.S. must downsize its diplomatic and technical staff in Moscow and other cities. The ministry is also suspending the U.S. Embassy's use of two sites — a storage facility and a dacha on an island in the Moscow River.

President Trump said Friday night he would sign the sanctions legislation because Congress was responsive to his input on the bill.

In most conservative media, the Russia story is still fake news even as daily revelations continue to pile up about contacts between Russians and Donald Trump's inner circle.

The tone taken by conservative outlets has had an impact on voters such as the Bauchles from Watkins Glen, N.Y. They believe the whole Russia story is a sham, a political head-fake crafted by Democrats and by the crooked media.

"I don't think there's any basis to it," said Dennis Bauchle, a farmer, during an interview this week.

President Trump is now faced with a decision on whether to sign into law new sanctions meant to punish Russia for interfering in last year's presidential election, after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure Thursday.

The bill, the first major foreign policy legislation to emerge from Congress since the president took office, also includes sanctions on North Korea and Iran. It easily passed the Senate in a 98-2 vote after sailing through the House by a similarly veto-proof 419-3 margin.

Updated at 11:55 a.m. ET

A senior FBI official said Wednesday the nation is "under relentless assault" from foreign adversaries, as the Senate Judiciary Committee continued its probe into Russia's interference with last year's presidential election.

Bill Priestap, assistant director of counterintelligence at the FBI, painted a bleak picture of efforts — both overt and covert — by foreign government agents inside the U.S. "Our economy, our national security and our way of life are being actively threatened by state actors and their proxies," he said.

The biggest story of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for Wednesday might be about the people who aren't there.

The chairman, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and ranking member, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., wanted Donald Trump Jr., the president's oldest son, and Paul Manafort, the president's onetime campaign chairman, to appear and testify — either voluntarily or involuntarily, if necessary, under subpoena.

Those witnesses said they agreed — but they arranged with the committee to do so in private as opposed to under the TV lights.

Updated at 8 p.m. ET

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday rescinded subpoenas for two key witnesses in the Russia imbroglio, including President Trump's former campaign chairman, as part of agreements in which they'd agree to talk with the committee behind closed doors.

President Trump's son and former campaign chairman are both expected to meet with the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, but in a move that's irritated some Democrats, they will reportedly not be put under oath to answer the panel's questions.

Updated at 2:00 p.m. ET

"I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government," President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner said in a statement prior to his closed-door meeting Monday before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Speaking to reporters at the White House after the appearance, he said that documents and records that he provided the committee "show that all of my actions are proper, and occurred in the normal course of events of a very unique campaign."

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, told lawmakers in a statement on Monday that he "did not collude... with any foreign government."

Harry Obst, who worked as a German interpreter for seven U.S. presidents through Bill Clinton, says he can only remember one who ever dispensed with an interpreter during discussions with a foreign leader: Richard Nixon.

It was a bad idea for lots of reasons, the author of White House Interpreter: The Art of Interpretation tells NPR.

President Trump says if he had known ahead of time that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was going to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, he would have chosen someone else for the post, calling the move "very unfair."

In an interview with The New York Times, he also accused James Comey, the FBI director that he fired in May, of trying to save his job by leveraging a dossier of compromising material on Trump.

Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, the president's eldest son and his former campaign chairman, are set to testify publicly next week before a committee probing Russia's attempts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

In a statement issued by the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump Jr. and Manafort are listed as witnesses scheduled to appear on Wednesday, July 26.

The two men are expected to be questioned about allegations of collusion with Russia to influence the election.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo

Today on “Political Rewind,” the Senate fumbles on health care, but President Trump tries to recover. Will a lunchtime meeting put a bill back in play? Our panel looks at the latest iteration of the attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare and what it means for those of us who rely on medical insurance. Our panel voted to draft Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, already lauded for his bipartisanship by the New York Times, to lead the way forward.

The debate over whether the president of the United States can be charged with a crime is as old as the country itself.

Early evidence comes from the diary of a Pennsylvania senator, who recorded "a heated debate on this very issue" in September 1789, said Hofstra University Law School professor Eric Freedman.

"For those who believe in original intent, we have pretty good evidence of original intent," Freedman said. "The founders just disagreed on the very question."

David Goldman / AP Photo/File

Today on “Political Rewind,” if money talks, what do Casey Cagle's campaign contributions have to say? So far, a fair amount of his donations have come from lobbyists and political action groups. What will voters make of it?

The political bomb that went off recently when Donald Trump Jr. revealed he met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer in hopes of getting damaging information about Hillary Clinton has raised new questions about the Trump family's connections to Russia.

And investigators are looking for clues in what might seem like an unlikely place: the glitzy November 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

In November 2013, Donald Trump took the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow, bringing his trademark glitz and glamour to a country that had never hosted a major beauty contest.

Trump later boasted that he met a lot of important people at the pageant. They included the billionaire real estate tycoon Aras Agalarov, who is now figuring prominently in the investigations into the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. Here is a look back at how the Miss Universe contest came together and what happened there.

Last week sparked a deluge of speculation about Donald Trump Jr.'s 2016 encounter with a Russian lawyer, and what criminal charges — if any — might ensue.

But for a substantive answer, NPR asked a former federal prosecutor. Randall Eliason worked public corruption and government fraud cases; now he teaches law and writes the blog Sidebars, "a reflection on white collar crime and federal criminal law."

President Trump has hired a former federal prosecutor to assist in how the White House handles its response to the expanding Russia probes.

Ty Cobb, whose legal expertise lies in white-collar crime and congressional investigations, will be "in charge of overseeing the White House legal and media response" to the investigations, according to Bloomberg News.

Updated at 5:40 p.m. ET

President Trump said he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the White House "at the right time" when asked by a reporter on Air Force One Wednesday night.

"I don't think this is the right time, but the answer is yes I would," he said, according to a pool report released on Thursday. "Look, it's very easy for me to say absolutely, I won't. That's the easy thing for me to do, but that's the stupid thing to do."

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