Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office dropped two bombshells on Friday. First, it charged 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities with conspiring to interfere in the 2016 US election.
Shortly after, Mueller’s office released a plea deal with a previously unknown player in the Russia investigation: 28-year-old California resident Richard Pinedo, who pleaded guilty to one count of identity fraud in connection to the probe.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats continued butting heads over a series of controversial memos that are in the process of being released. But things came to a standstill after President Donald Trump declined to declassify a Democratic memo countering Republican claims of corruption and anti-Trump bias at the FBI and the Department of Justice.
Here’s more on what you may have missed in Mueller’s probe:
- It’s Mueller time: The charges were directed primarily at the Internet Research Agency, an infamous Russian “troll factory” located in St. Petersburg that focused on sowing political discord during the 2016 race by using Russian bots to spread fake news and pro-Trump propaganda on Facebook, Twitter, and other social-media platforms. The indictment was the fifth in Mueller’s Russia investigation.
- Indictments deal the White House a massive ‘black eye’: Experts say that Friday’s indictment reinforced, in minute detail, the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia mounted an elaborate campaign to interfere in the 2016 election to elevate Donald Trump to the presidency. It should force the White House to decide whether to hold the Russian government accountable for its actions, or continue calling the Russia investigation a “hoax” and “witch hunt” with no justifiable basis.
- Mueller gets new clues in quest to talk to Trump: After a new batch of documents related to special counsel Ken Starr’s investigation into former President Bill Clinton were set to be released by a federal court, many speculated that the details of the case could give Mueller new clues for how to negotiate with Trump’s legal team to get him to testify under oath.
- Trump’s legal team angles to avoid Mueller interview: Meanwhile, Trump’s personal-defense lawyers, John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, have been looking to limit the scope of a Mueller interview since late last year. The main reason is that they are concerned that the president, who has a history of embellishment and exaggeration, could be charged with lying to investigators.
- Third-in-command at DOJ quits: A top Justice Department attorney quit because she reportedly felt she had reasons to believe Trump would fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which would make her next in line to oversee the Russia investigation. Sources say she wanted to stay out of the public spotlight on the issue.
Here’s what you may have missed in the memo war:
- GOP eyes Susan Rice: According to an email from Rice dated January 2017, former President Barack Obama suggested that intelligence officials be cautious when sharing information related to the FBI’s Russia investigation with the Trump transition team. New documents obtained by Business Insider show Senate Republicans had Susan Rice’s email for eight months before they raised questions about it.
- Rep. Devin Nunes has more memos on the way: Nunes said he isn’t finished detailing alleged abuses at the FBI and the DOJ. He is reportedly set to release a second memo soon, and potentially four more after that. The new memo(s) will likely allege wrongdoing at the State Department and claim Clinton allies may have been involved in gathering damaging information on Trump and his campaign.
- The Democratic memo stalls: After Trump refused to allow its release, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff said Tuesday that he would not make any revisions to the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo. If Trump continues to obstruct the memo’s release, Schiff has a recourse.
- Republican senators release a separate memo: Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley released a declassified version of a criminal referral he and fellow committee member Sen. Lindsey Graham sent to the DOJ in early January. This memo doubled down on many of the claims made in the Nunes memo.
And here’s a few other things we learned:
- Thomson Reuters
- Cody Shearer’s travels come under scrutiny: Democratic operative and confidante to 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has reportedly been traveling extensively throughout Eastern Europe for the last six months in order to gather damaging information on Trump. Shearer is also the author of a second, unreleased Trump-Russia dossier, which reportedly corroborated some of what was included in the dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele.
- Obama wanted to ‘know everything’: A newly released text message revealed that two FBI officials discussed a request by former President Barack Obama to know about everything the bureau was doing. The text was sent on September 2, 2016, by FBI lawyer Lisa Page to her colleague Peter Strzok after the FBI had ended its probe into Hillary Clinton’s private email use as secretary of state and during the early stages of the Russia investigation.
- Russian meddling is inevitable: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed that there is no way to prevent Russian meddling in future elections. “I don’t know that I would say we are better prepared, because the Russians will adapt as well,” he said.
- Most Americans think Trump obstructed justice: A new poll shows that despite Trump’s claims that most Americans think the Russia investigation is a “witch hunt,” a majority of Americans believe that Trump obstructed justice, and that the Mueller investigation is legitimate.
- Intel chiefs weigh in: During a hearing on global threats, top US intelligence chiefs doubled down on their evaluation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Their comments stand in stark contrast to doubts Trump has expressed about the veracity of intelligence assessments since coming into office.
- Carter Page once admitted he advised the Kremlin: Page, the former Trump campaign adviser, bragged about his connections to the Kremlin in a 2013 letter obtained by TIME, the same year he appeared on the radar of US intelligence officials. Politico reported earlier that Russian agents called Page “an idiot” who wanted to make “loads of money.”
Sonam Sheth contributed to this report.