From Russia With Love (and Advice): In July 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump caught the attention of FBI officials when he urged Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails. While campaigning Trump had refused to criticize Russia, and repeatedly praised President Vladimir Putin. That summer the Republican party inexplicably softened its convention platform regarding the Ukraine crisis, seemingly benefiting Russia. The FBI was already conducting a counterintelligence probe into possible Russian interference in the election. Such inquiries are fact-finding missions aimed at stopping any anti-American activity or threats to national security by foreign powers. The FBI also conducts criminal investigations for the purpose of solving crimes and obtaining arrests and convictions. By the time Americans went to the polls in November 2016, the bureau was investigating four of Trump’s associates’ ties to Russia, but not the president himself.
Shortly after his inauguration in 2017, Trump asked FBI Director James Comey for a loyalty pledge, and to drop the department’s investigation of national security adviser Michael Flynn. Then in May Trump abruptly fired Comey and instructed acting deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to draft a letter about the firing that mentioned the Russia probe. One day after expelling Comey, Trump invited Russian officials into the Oval Office, where he called the former director a crazy nut job and said: “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” Two days after Comey’s exit Trump said on national television he’d fired the FBI director because of “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia….”
Initially the investigation of the president involved a counterintelligence inquiry into whether his actions were a threat to national security, and whether he was knowingly working for Russia, or had been unwittingly duped. The investigation took on a criminal component with Comey’s firing and Trump’s subsequent actions, the question becoming whether that behavior constituted obstruction of justice. Days after opening the inquiry special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to take it over. The criminal and counterintelligence elements soon merged into one investigation, because if Trump had ousted the head of the FBI to interrupt or end the Russia investigation, that was a possible crime and a national security concern. Both the public and members of the administration have now learned of secret, face-to-face meetings Trump had with Vladimir Putin.
– “Trump has concealed details of his face-to-face encounters with Putin from senior officials in administration” (WaPo)
– “How the big new New York Times scoop changes our understanding of the Trump-Russia probe: In May 2017, the FBI opened an investigation into whether President Trump was working on Russia’s behalf.” (Vox)
– “What if the Obstruction Was the Collusion? On the New York Times’s Latest Bombshell” (Lawfare)
– “The FBI can’t neutralize a security threat if the president is the threat:Mueller — and Congress — could pick up where counterintelligence hits its limits” (WaPo)
– “Trump: report FBI investigated him as possible Russian agent is ‘insulting’” (Guardian)
– “Key Republican to ask FBI about report of Trump counterintelligence probe” (Reuters)
– “William Barr’s confirmation hearing expected to be a battle over Mueller’s future” (WaPo)
– “‘Brought to Jesus’: the evangelical grip on the Trump administration: The influence of evangelical Christianity is likely to become an important question as Trump finds himself dependent on them for political survival” (Guardian)
– “Prosecutors Examining Ukrainians Who Flocked to Trump Inaugural” (NYT)
– “Worse Than Watergate: If the multiple charges against Trump prove out, he’ll easily displace Nixon at the top of the Crooked Modern Presidents list.” (Atlantic)
– “The Only Impeachment Guide You’ll Ever Need: As talk of the I-word heats up, here’s Politico Magazine’s soup-to-nuts answers to all your questions about the politics—and the practical realities—of removing a president.” (Politico)