Ahead of the New Year, the investigation into the Trump campaign’s potential collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election remained relatively quiet, as it has since former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s dramatic indictment at the start of this month.
Special counsel Robert Mueller III dove into the Trump campaign’s data operations, while the concurrent congressional investigations took a closer look at the details of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and a Russia-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya.
On the sidelines of all of this were continued attacks on the FBI’s integrity, which were matched by pushback from its defenders, as well a more conciliatory, yet telling, approach from Trump toward Mueller’s probe.
Here’s everything you need to know about what has happened this week:
- Congressional intelligence committees interviewed a little-known businessman who attended the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting: The Senate and House questioned Irakly Kaveladze, a Georgian-American businessman, in a closed-door meeting about whether he helped organise a meeting between Russians and Donald Trump, Jr. during the 2016 election campaign.
- Mueller homes in on the Trump campaign’s massive data operation:Throughout the campaign, the Trump team targeted voters in critical swing states using data analytics. Mueller is investigating whether the campaign’s tactics were “related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate.”
- Trump says he thinks Mueller will treat him ‘fairly’: In an interview with The New York Times, Trump seemed to show some measure of deference to Mueller, even as some of his Republican allies continue to attack. He also repeatedly insisted that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. He mentioned the phrase “no collusion” 16 times.
- Trump doubles down on not firing Mueller: Trump told The New York Times that he did not intend to fire Mueller. However, he remarked that the investigation had galvanised his supporters, which is perhaps the real indicator of why Trump may have taken firing Mueller off the table, for now.
Republican congressman calls for a ‘purge’ of the FBI: Republican Rep. Francis Rooney said Tuesday that he wants to see the upper ranks of the FBI purged of politically motivated agents who he believes are working for what he called the “deep state.” Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, fired back against the suggestion, saying FBI director Christopher Wray should stand up to Trump and his allies’ dictatorial attacks on the agency.
- FBI Agents Association sees a surge in donations after Trump’s attacks: The FBI Agents Association (FBIAA) reported a “significant uptick” in the number of donations it received in December compared to the same time last year amid Trump’s repeated efforts to undermine public confidence in the bureau. It is unclear if there is any correlation between the donations and the political drama surrounding the agency.
- Trump team prepares to malign Mike Flynn in case he flips: Trump’s lawyers are reportedly preparing to cast former national security Michael Flynn as a liar if Flynn accuses Trump of any wrongdoing as part of his ongoing cooperation with Mueller. However such an image of Flynn would call into question why Trump had sung Flynn’s praises earlier this year and during the campaign.
Mueller is currently spearheading the FBI’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, including whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Moscow to tilt the election in his favour. He is also looking into whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired FBI Director James Comey in May.
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