Russian bots are back, Bannon slips up, and Congress delivers Mueller a gold mine: The latest in the Russia probe

The Russia investigation saw major developments on multiple fronts this week.

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski frustrated investigators on the House Intelligence Committee when they refused to divulge key details about their time in President Donald Trump’s inner circle.

Meanwhile, lawmakers continued squabbling over the release of critical Russia testimony and a controversial memo penned by embattled House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, alleging that the Obama administration improperly surveilled Trump during the transition period.

Here’s more on what you may have missed:

  • A new pattern emerges as the White House seeks to insulate itself: A growing number of Trump associates appear to be invoking executive privilege to withhold key testimony from congressional investigators. Bannon, who testified before the House panel on Tuesday, is the latest in Trump’s orbit to make the claim in what experts believe is an effort to win his way back into Trump’s good graces.
  • A major slip-up:But it may not all be smooth sailing for Bannon. Despite being instructed by the White House counsel’s office not to divulge details about his tenure in the White House, Bannon accidentally revealed information about conversations he had with two former White House officials in July 2017, after news broke of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
  • A former top Trump official stonewalls Congress: Lawmakers were frustrated with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski when he testified before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. Lewandowski initially said he would answer any questions asked of him. But when he appeared before the panel, he refused to answer critical questions about campaign events and his conversations with Trump.
  • Russian bots return with a vengeance: Russia-linked Twitter accounts are working overtime to gin up support for the the release of Nunes’ memo, which purports to show improper surveillance by the Obama administration of President-elect Trump. #ReleaseTheMemo is currently the top-trending hashtag among Russia-linked accounts, many of whom are linking out to WikiLeaks’ “submit” page.
  • A goldmine for investigators: Fusion GPS cofounder Glenn Simpson answered a host of questions about money laundering, Russian organised crime, and whether Trump could be susceptible to Russian blackmail, according to the House Intelligence Committee’s transcript of his testimony, which was released Thursday. The result is a wealth of information for congressional and FBI investigators to scrutinize as they probe Russia’s election meddling.
  • Despite Trump’s attacks, Americans have faith in Mueller: An NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll found that 69% of national registered voters believe Mueller should see the Russia investigation through until its conclusion. A majority of both Republicans (59%) and Democrats (76%) felt that way, despite repeated attacks on the investigation by Trump and his congressional and media allies.
  • Manafort and Gates pose a potential problem for Republicans in 2018: Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his associate Rick Gates will, at the earliest, stand trial this fall. The timeline coincides with the 2018 midterms and could pose a significant risk to Republicans in competitive states or congressional districts.

Sonam Sheth, Natasha Bertrand, and Bryan Logan contributed to this report.

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