Along with 13 Russian nationals, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team targeted three Russian organizations in the indictment announced Friday. Among them was a group called the Internet Research Agency (IRA), which The Wall Street Journal reports operated like "a propaganda startup," complete "with finance and graphics departments, performance targets, and a sophisticated social-media strategy designed to gain maximum attention."
The IRA's troll factory operated with the precision of, well, a factory, the Journal story says. "Operational goals were subject to internal audits," and messaging was tightly policed. The monthly budget was about $1.25 million, money spent refining online targeting to increase engagement with social media users who believed they were talking to fellow Americans.
But the action wasn't all online. The IRA used its digital reach to "organize flash-mobs in Florida," to "pay a U.S. resident to dress up like Hillary Clinton in a prison uniform at a West Palm Beach rally," and to "promote several pro-Trump rallies." Read the Journal's full report here. Bonnie Kristian
On Thursday, three attorneys representing Rick Gates, one of President Trump's campaign aides, announced they are immediately withdrawing as his counsel.
In a two-page motion, lawyers Shanlon Wu, Walter Mack, and Annemarie McAvoy said they will reveal in documents filed under seal with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia why they are no longer representing Gates. "The document speaks for itself," McAvoy told Politico. Along with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Gates has been indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on money laundering and other charges, and pleaded not guilty in October. It's likely his criminal trial won't start until September at the earliest.
In January, CNN reported that Gates hired a new attorney, Tom Green, who had been seen at Mueller's office on two occasions. A defense attorney familiar with the special counsel's probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election told Politico the number of lawyers Gates has "cycled through in such a short period of time is highly unusual." Catherine Garcia
President Trump should not grant an interview to Special Counsel Robert Mueller for the latter's probe into Russian election meddling and alleged Trump campaign collusion, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) advised Tuesday on ABC News.
"I don't think there's been any credible allegations against the president of the United States. And I don't think the president of the United States — unless there are credible allegations, which I don't believe there are — should be sitting across from a special counsel," Christie said on Good Morning America, arguing that Trump's interview could prolong Mueller's investigation, but will not hasten its end.
"The presidency is different. I don't think they should do that," he continued. "And I think the administration has been cooperative in other ways. Lots of people have gone to meet with him. I think the president's a different story." Watch an excerpt of Christie's comments below. Bonnie Kristian
Former NJ @GovChristie says he doesn’t think Pres. Trump should sit down with Special Counsel Mueller: "I don't believe so. Listen, I don't think there's been any...credible allegations against the President of the United States." pic.twitter.com/S5FgMw1cqp
— ABC News (@ABC) January 30, 2018
Former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who is charged with making false statements to federal agents and impeding the probe into alleged Trump team involvement in Russian election meddling, may have unwittingly launched the entire Russia investigation during "a night of heavy drinking," The New York Times reported Saturday.
Papadopoulos was in London in May of 2016, the Times report says, where he confided in Alexander Downer, the Australian high commissioner to the United Kingdom, that he knew Moscow had damaging information — specifically, leaked emails — on then-candidate Hillary Clinton. When leaked Clinton campaign emails surfaced two months later, Australian officials informed U.S. diplomats of Papadopoulos' comments, possibly serving as the basis of the probe.
The extent of Papadopoulos' significance in the Trump campaign and his connection to the president is disputed. Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo told CNN Papadopoulos was a mere "coffee boy," but President Trump called him an "excellent guy" in a Washington Post interview three months prior to the conversation the New York Times report describes.
The Australian government, the FBI, former Trump campaign chief and White House strategist Stephen Bannon, and Papadopoulos' attorneys all declined to comment to the Times. Read the full story here. Bonnie Kristian
Attorneys representing President Trump's transition team on Saturday accused Special Counsel Robert Mueller of unlawfully obtaining tens of thousands of private emails as part of his probe into Russian election meddling and alleged Trump campaign involvement.
The lawyers sent a letter to the oversight committees of both houses of Congress claiming Mueller has run afoul of both attorney-client privilege and the Fourth Amendment's restrictions on search and seizure. The emails in question were obtained from the General Services Administration (GSA), which the letter says "did not own or control the records" but handed them over to Mueller anyway.
Mueller's office denied wrongdoing, stating it has always "secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process" in accessing emails for the investigation. The GSA said the transition team was informed there was no expectation of privacy for these records, and that the transition team was never promised that it would be informed or consulted before the records were distributed. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump has publicly toyed with idea of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though he has of late refrained from talking about it on Twitter, reportedly on the advice of his attorney. That silence has not reassured the president's critics that Mueller's investigation into alleged Trump campaign involvement in Russian election meddling efforts will proceed undisturbed, so congressional Democrats have called for additional protections of Mueller's job.
But a new FiveThirtyEight analysis published Monday argues "Mueller's investigation is more secure than it might seem — and that more protections don't necessarily produce more effective prosecutions." The case is based on a review of the history of special prosecutors since the first one was appointed in 1875. Presidents have typically refrained from interference with these probes, and on the rare occasions of White House intervention, public uproar has served to preserve the investigations over the presidents' objections.
This history suggests Trump firing Mueller would mainly be an act of self-sabotage. "As long as [Mueller] doesn't do something to jeopardize" his reputation for competence, "Trump would have no justification for dismissing him," John Q. Barrett, a law professor who investigated the Iran-Contra scandal, told FiveThirtyEight. "And if he did, he'd have to appoint an equally credible replacement, or there would be really catastrophic political consequences." Bonnie Kristian
Court documents filed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday present evidence that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who was indicted in connection to Mueller's Russia probe in October, violated a gag order by heavily editing an op-ed defending political work he did in Ukraine.
Manafort's attorney claimed earlier this week he was not significantly involved in crafting the article, but Mueller's 41-page filing presented evidence including "emails, drafts with tracked edits, and records showing that a computer user named 'paul manafort' created a version of the op-ed and made numerous changes," Reuters reports.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller removed FBI agent Peter Strzok, deputy head of the agency's counter-intelligence team, from his investigation into alleged Trump campaign involvement in Russian election meddling efforts after Strzok was caught exchanging anti-Trump text messages with a colleague.
"Immediately upon learning of the allegations, the Special Counsel's Office removed Peter Strzok from the investigation," said a Mueller representative, noting that Strzok's conversation partner, Lisa Page, had already "completed her brief detail [with the Russia investigation] and had returned to the FBI weeks before our office was aware of the allegations."
President Trump tweeted and retweeted repeatedly on the news Sunday morning, arguing that because Strzok was central to the probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, "it all starts to make sense" that Clinton was not prosecuted. Bonnie Kristian