Joseph Menn writing for Reuters (via Judd Legum):
The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation is pursuing at least three separate probes relating to alleged Russian hacking of the U.S. presidential elections, according to five current and former government officials with direct knowledge of the situation.
Beyond the two FBI field offices, FBI counterintelligence agents based in Washington are pursuing leads from informants and foreign communications intercepts, two of the people said.
This counterintelligence inquiry includes but is not limited to examination of financial transactions by Russian individuals and companies who are believed to have links to Trump associates. The transactions under scrutiny involve investments by Russians in overseas entities that appear to have been undertaken through middlemen and front companies, two people briefed on the probe said.
Megan Twohey and Scott Shane writing for The New York Times (via Leah McElrath):
A Week Before Michael T. Flynn Resigned As National Security Adviser, A Sealed Proposal Was Hand-Delivered To His Office, Outlining A Way For President Trump To Lift Sanctions Against Russia.
Mr. Flynn Is Gone, Having Been Caught Lying About His Own Discussion Of Sanctions With The Russian Ambassador. But The Proposal, A Peace Plan For Ukraine And Russia, Remains, Along With Those Pushing It: Michael D. Cohen, The President’s Personal Lawyer, Who Delivered The Document; Felix H. Sater, A Business Associate Who Helped Mr. Trump Scout Deals In Russia; And A Ukrainian Lawmaker Trying To Rise In A Political Opposition Movement Shaped In Part By Mr. Trump’s Former Campaign Manager Paul D. Manafort.
Paul Krugman in an opinion piece for The New York Times (via Matt O’Brien):
The story so far: A foreign dictator intervened on behalf of a U.S. presidential candidate — and that candidate won. Close associates of the new president were in contact with the dictator’s espionage officials during the campaign, and his national security adviser was forced out over improper calls to that country’s ambassador — but not until the press reported it; the president learned about his actions weeks earlier, but took no action.
Meanwhile, the president seems oddly solicitous of the dictator’s interests, and rumors swirl about his personal financial connections to the country in question. Is there anything to those rumors? Nobody knows, in part because the president refuses to release his tax returns.
Maybe there’s nothing wrong here, and it’s all perfectly innocent. But if it’s not innocent, it’s very bad indeed. So what do Republicans in Congress, who have the power to investigate the situation, believe should be done?
Evan McMullin in an opinion piece for The New York Times:
President Trump’s disturbing Russian connections present an acute danger to American national security. According to reports this week, Mr. Trump’s team maintained frequent contact with Russian officials, including senior intelligence officers, during the campaign. This led to concerns about possible collusion with one of America’s principal strategic adversaries as it tried to influence the election in Mr. Trump’s favor. On Monday, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was forced to resign after details of his communications with the Russian ambassador emerged.
Republican leaders in Congress now bear the most responsibility for holding the president accountable and protecting the nation. They can’t say they didn’t see the Russian interference coming. They knew all along.
Niels Lesniewski writing for Roll Call (via Jennifer Bendery):
Not much can get between senators and a recess. Except, perhaps, FBI Director James B. Comey.
Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, along with ex-officio member and Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, huddled for a total of more than two hours on Friday with Comey.
The FBI director’s visit was not announced publicly, and it’s possible members of the Capitol Hill press corps only found out because he was spotted in the hallways and entered a secure room used for intelligence briefings.
But leaving that secure room in the Capitol Visitor Center, senators declined to even confirm the presence of the FBI director, much less the substance of the meeting. Those who did talk generally only gave “no comments” or referred questions to Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr and ranking member Mark Warner.
Both Burr and Warner proved just as loquacious.
Nikita Vladimirov writing for The Hill:
House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) on Wednesday asked the Department of Justice inspector general to investigate the intelligence leaks that led to the ousting of national security adviser Michael Flynn.
“Over the last several days, there have been a series of news articles recounting potentially classified national security information,” Chaffetz wrote in a letter, also signed by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.).
“We have serious concerns about the potential protection of classified information here. … The release of classified information can, by definition, have grave effects on national security. In light of this, we request that your office begin an immediate investigation into whether classified information was mishandled here,” the lawmakers wrote.
Again, more concerned by leaks than by collusion with the Russian government.
Kyle Cheney writing for POLITICO (via Caroline O.):
The Pentagon has informed lawmakers that there are no records of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s 2015 trip to Moscow, when he dined with Russian President Vladimir Putin and may have accepted unconstitutional payments from a foreign government for his attendance.
In a letter to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House oversight committee delivered Tuesday, acting Army Secretary Robert Speer confirmed that Flynn — a retired lieutenant general — filed no documentation of his trip.
In response, House oversight committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz and Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the committee, sent a letter that suggests Flynn may have inappropriately accepted payments from the Russian government or its agents in exchange for his attendance. Scrutiny is growing on Flynn’s trip and whether his payment violated the Constitution’s Emolument’s Clause, which prohibits any person holding an “office of profit or trust” in the federal government from accepting foreign payment. The prohibition has long been considered to apply for retired military officials.
John Aravosis in a series of tweets:
1) Fox is saying that Trump was fully aware of the content of Flynn’s calls with the Russians. twitter.com/FoxNews/status…
2) That means any effort to undercut US foreign policy was sanctioned by Trump. twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
3) It also means that Trump knew Pence was lying when he went on tv and denied the calls were about sanctions. twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
4) Also means when FBI and DOJ told Trump Flynn was making these calls and taking sanctions, Trump already knew. He approved it. twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
5) so why did trump ask the White House counsel to investigate whether the calls broke any laws? twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
6) and why did trump again today suggest that Flynn lied to Pence about the calls, and that’s why Flynn was let go? twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
7) If Flynn lied to Pence about trump’s own orders, then Trump must have ordered Flynn to lie about it. Or... twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
8) Or The entire thing is a lie. Trump, Pence and Flynn all knew what the calls were about. And Flynn took the fall to spare Pence’s lie? twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
9) none of this makes sense, including why Trump fired Flynn. Why would Flynn mislead Pence about trump’s own orders? twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
10) Did Flynn step down in order to spare Trump/Pence inquiry as to whether Flynn broke the law for Russia while acting on Trump’s orders? twitter.com/aravosis/statu…
Colin Kahl in a series of tweets (via Jim Jastrzebski):
Reports suggest White House still considering “grand bargain” with Moscow. But not running typical NSC process...1/ time.com/4672985/moscow …
This cuts out skeptics of accommodating Russia at DoD & State Dept. Instead...2/
Bannon’s Strat Init Grp (SIG) conducting close-hold review of Russia policy; accountable to no one but Trump. Meanwhile NSC neutered. 3/
Idea of bargain would be to give Kremlin major concessions on NATO, Ukraine, etc. for cooperation on #ISIS & maybe Iran & China too. 4/
But selling out NATO/Ukraine not needed to gain Russian cooperation vs. ISIS; Putin wants that to legitimize support for Assad. 5/
And Russia unlikely to split from Iran, and can do little to constrain China. 6/
So if grand bargain makes little sense, what’s going on? 7/
Could reflect a deeper alignment of interests: Putin seeks weakening of NATO, EU, more Brexits--goals Bannon shares & Trump champions 8/
Or could be quid pro quo. Kremlin sought to influence US election to help Trump; Intel Community concluded that with “high confidence” 9/
Yet Flynn reassured Kremlin Trump would smooth things over. Flynn fired for getting caught “lying,” but Trump said OK with his outreach 10/
Not surprising. This is same Putin who Trump admires and never says a bad word about. 11/
So media really needs to look into what Bannon/SIG, others may be doing on Russia strategic review & why 12/
Do Mattis, Tillerson, etc. know about this review? Are they plugged in? Do they agree with it? 13/
Doubtful. Whole idea of SIG is to create parallel struc w/o interagency input. Flynn gone; Bannon et al still there. That’s the story. 14/14
Jared Yates Sexton:
Isn’t it odd that Trump automatically said he didn’t have loans or business in Russia? The story hasn’t gone in that direction at all.
Q: Can you definitively say none of your staff was in contact with Russia during campaign? Trump: “Well, I have nothing to do with it.”
!! Trump just said he didn’t order Flynn to discuss sanctions w/the Russians before he took office—but he WOULD have if he thought he wasn’t