The Trump administration made its boldest move against Russia this week as the diplomatic row between the UK and Moscow deepened following the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a Russian dissident living in Britain, and his daughter, both of whom fell victim to a chemical weapon attack on March 4.
The US, UK, France, and Germany accused Russia of orchestrating the attack, which the Kremlin denies.
On Thursday, the US implemented sanctions against 19 Russian nationals and five Russian entities, a move that was widely seen as an expression of solidarity with the UK in light of Skripal’s poisoning. The sanctions specifically targeted Russians indicted last month as part of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s election meddling.
Then on Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired deputy director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, two days before he was set to formally retire from the bureau on Sunday.
Here’s what else you may have missed this week in the Russia investigation:
- ‘A political assassination’: Several current and former US intelligence officials, including former intel chiefs John Brennan and Gen. Michael Hayden, criticised Trump for pushing McCabe’s firing. Frank Montoya, Jr., a former FBI agent who worked closely with McCabe, called the move a “political assassination on a good man and public servant.”
- Mueller goes after Trump’s business: Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organisation for documents related to Russia. The move could be a sign that Mueller’s team has the information they need to carry on with the investigation and want to send a strong message. Mueller has been zeroing in on Trump’s foreign business dealings in recent weeks, particularly his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
- Trump lawyer wants Russia probe to be over: Trump’s personal lawyer John Dowd sent a text to a reporter at The Daily Beast calling for an end to Mueller’s investigation. Dowd later walked back his comments, telling CNN that he was acting in his personal capacity and not as Trump’s lawyer.
- We may now know why Trump and his lawyer want the Mueller probe shut down: Just before Trump and his lawyer made their boldest appeal yet for the Russia investigation to be shut down, Mueller reportedly sent over a list of questions to the president. Mueller is still seeking a face-to-face interview with Trump, and the questions are said to be a starting point he wants to use for follow-ups.
- Democrats and Republicans break with Trump: Lawmakers distanced themselves from Trump on McCabe’s firing and his lawyer’s statement that Mueller’s investigation should come to an end. Sen. Jeff Flake called Saturday “a horrible day for democracy.”
- House Republicans vindicate Trump: Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee closed its Russia investigation, declaring there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 US presidential race to swing the election in Trump’s favour. Trump celebrated the announcement on Twitter, but Democrats insisted the investigation was tainted and say they plan to release a report of their own contradicting it.
- Democrats go after the alleged pee tape: Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said they are interested in obtaining records and documents from the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow. Trump’s stay at the hotel was mentioned in the so-called Steele dossier, which alleged collusion between Trump and Russia. The dossier also alleged that Trump rented the presidential suite at the hotel and hired prostitutes to perform sexual acts in front of him involving urination.
- A key Russia witness bluffs: One of Mueller’s former witnesses, businessman Felix Sater, walked back a claim he made in emails he sent to former Trump Organisation executive and Trump lawyer Michael Cohen that he knew Russian President Vladimir Putin and could help get Trump elected on top of securing a Trump Tower deal for him in Moscow. He told Buzzfeed News he was just trying to sell the deal and added that his communications were not meant to be “surreptitious.”
- Trump might fire Sessions: Trump has reportedly been contemplating a plan to fire Sessions, who has been a source of frustration for the president ever since Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. Vanity Fair reported that Trump could replace Sessions with EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who isn’t recused and could fire Mueller.
- Qatar may have incriminating evidence: Qatar has evidence that Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner were improperly influenced by the United Arab Emirates, and that Trump’s foreign policy decisions as they related to Qatar may have resulted from a Kushner deal falling through in the country, according to NBC News. Mueller is reportedly looking into meetings the Emiratis held with Trump officials.
- FBI seeks meeting with Belarusian ‘sex coach’: Anastasia Vashukevich, a Belarusian national, claims to have audio and video recordings that prove Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and a Russian oligarch’s ties to Trump. Vashukevich, who is currently jailed in Thailand, said she would be willing to provide this information in exchange for help in getting her out of prison. When the FBI reached out to Thai immigration authorities, their request to meet with Vashukevich was rejected.
- Mueller is finishing his obstruction case:Bloomberg News reported that Mueller is close to wrapping up the obstruction-of-justice thread of the Russia investigation, but is holding his cards close to his chest while he finishes up other portions of his probe – including his potential collusion case. Mueller also reportedly wants to make sure witnesses continue to cooperate with his investigation even if he’s already finished a major part of it.
- Manafort could face life in prison: The judge presiding over the criminal trial of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said it’s very possible he might face life in prison if convicted. Manafort faces dozens of charges related to money laundering, tax and bank fraud, and conspiracy against the US.
Sonam Sheth contributed reporting.