A chorus of Republicans continued to question the the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe this week amid reports that two former investigators sent text messages critical of President Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.
In August, Mueller ousted Peter Strzok -a veteran counterintelligence agent who was among those overseeing the Hillary Clinton email investigation – and relegated him to the human-resources department.
Following reports of the anti-Trump texts, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley on Fridaysaidthe records showed “extreme bias” among some high-up members of the FBI. Republicans, including Trump himself, echoed that concern.
Here’s everything you need to know about the Trump Russia investigation from this week:
- Ousted FBI agents working on the Russia investigation made negative comments about both Trump and Democrats: Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, who apparently were also having an affair, were both removed from the Mueller investigation after texts disparaging Trump – along with 2016 Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley – surfaced. The Republican Party “needs to pull their head out of their arse,” Strzok suggested, according to USA Today. Strzok was reassigned to human resources in July due to these texts.
- In a highly unusual move, the Department of Justice invited a select group of journalists to view the text messages in question:On Tuesday, the DOJ gave some reporters access to text messages sent by Strzok and Page while they were still on Mueller’s team. It is believed the DOJ wanted to release the information in time for crucial testimony by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. On Friday, the department walked back its decision to release the records. DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told Politico that “those disclosures were not authorised by the department.”
- The House Judiciary Committee grilled Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday: The hearing was a pre-scheduled hearing as part of the committee’s normal oversight functions, and Republicans took the opportunity to grill Rosenstein on the behaviour of Mueller’s former agents and whether he believed it tainted the investigation. Ohio Republican Steve Chabot asked:”How can, with a straight face, can you say that this group of Democrat partisans are unbiased and will give President Trump a fair shake?”
- The White House claimed there is “extreme bias” against the FBI: After Strzok and Page’s texts went public, White House deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley claimed that they pointed to widespread bias in the FBI. “There is extreme bias against this president with high-up members of the team there at the FBI who were investigating Hillary Clinton at the time,” Gidley told “Fox & Friends” on Friday morning.
- Democrats reached out to companies that the Trump campaign hired to conduct digital analysis: Reps. Elijah Cummings and Jerry Nadler want to know whether firms such as Cambridge Analytica and Giles-Parscale received “information from a foreign government or foreign actor” during the 2016 election.
- Fourteen former national security, intelligence, and foreign policy officials wrote an amicus brief as part of a lawsuit against the Trump campaign and the president’s longtime confidant: Their message, based on undisclosed classified information, emphasised how the Kremlin identifies and manipulates local actors to influence its foreign policy goals. The former US officials say the evidence is overwhelming that Russia did this during the 2016 campaign.
- Trump’s history of refusing to accept intelligence findings on Russia was detailed by The Washington Post: Trump has publicly wavered on the issue, and has not unequivocally backed the intelligence agencies’ findings that Russia interfered in the 2016 US election. In January, he told reporters he thought Russia was involved in the hacking, though he added some caveats. In interventions with Trump before his inauguration, his senior adviser Jared Kushner and chief of staff, Reince Priebus, reportedly urged the president to accept the intelligence agencies’ findings. But Trump reportedly refused, saying they could not be trusted.
- Trump was warned about Michael Flynn six times before he was fired: Officials on Trump’s transition team and in his administration told the president on at least six occassions about potential conflicts of interest and compromising conversations between Michael Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, and Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the US at the time. Flynn only stepped down amid internal pressure almost a month after Trump took office.
Mueller is currently spearheading the FBI’s investigation intoRussia’s interference in the 2016 election, including whether members of Trump’s campaigncolluded with Moscowto tilt the election in his favour. He is also looking into whether Trump sought toobstruct justicewhen he fired FBI director James Comey in May.
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