Trump insists “No Collusion”

Special Counsel Rocks Washington With Sudden Announcement

UPDATE, 1700 GMT: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has tried to bury the indictments, in a statement at the Munich Security Conference in Germany:

Until we see facts, everything else will be just blather. You know, I have no reaction at all because one can publish anything he wants. We see how accusations, statements, statements are multiplying.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook, “13 against billions budgets of special agencies? Against intelligence and counterespionage, against the newest technologies? Absurd? – Yes.”

But US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster countered both the Russians and Donald Trump: “The evidence is now really incontrovertible.”

McMaster has said before that it was difficult to be definitively because “technically it was difficult” and “you didn’t want to divulge your intelligence capabilities”. However, he said on Saturday, “Now that this is in the arena of a law enforcement investigation it’s going to be very apparent to everyone.”

McMaster’s position is in sharp contrast to that of the White House, through Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley on Fox TV, “There are two groups that have created chaos more than the Russians and that’s the Democrats and the mainstream media.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team indicts 13 Russians and three companies over election interference, amid the ongoing investigation of links between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

The Justice Department submitted the 37-page indictment on Friday, with charges of fraud against the US government and conspiracy to obstruct enforcement of federal laws. It details Russian attempts to use social media to promote Donald Trump and undermine Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton, including efforts to boost third-party candidate Jill Stein to drain Clinton votes.

The indictment did not directly touch on Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Trump-Russia links, which is closing on Trump and his inner circle, but said some of the Russians were also in contact with “unwitting individuals associated with the Trump campaign”.

Prosecutors said the Russians stole the identities of American citizens, posed as political activists, and used the immigration, religion, and race in the attempt to manipulate the campaign.

Defendant ORGANIZATION had a strategic goal to sow discord in the U.S. political system, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Defendants posted derogatory information about a number of candidates, and by early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton. Defendants made various expenditures to carry out those activities, including buying political advertisements on social media in the names of U.S. persons and entities. Defendants also staged political rallies inside the United States, and while posing as U.S. grassroots entities and U.S. persons, and without revealing their Russian identities and ORGANIZATION affiliation, solicited and compensated real U.S. persons to promote or disparage candidates. Some Defendants, posing as U.S. persons and without revealing their Russian association, communicated with unwitting individuals associated with the Trump Campaign and with other political activists to seek to coordinate political activities.

Read full indictment

Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein said of the indictment, handed up by a federal grand jury in Washington, “The Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine public confidence in democracy. We must not allow them to succeed.”

The indictment did not touch upon meetings between Trump advisors and Russian officials throughout 2016, including Moscow’s offer of anti-Clinton material stolen from hacked computers, or possible obstruction of justice in Trump’s attempts to limit the investigation.

The White House and Trump tried to use that separation between the indictment’s scope and the ongoing inquiry to claim vindication.

Analysts quickly pointed out that, while Trump did not declare his candidacy until 2015, his lawyer Michael Cohen — who has been accused of links with Russian officials — indicated in 2013 that the reality TV star and businessman was considering a run.

The White House and Trump ignored the indictment’s assertion that the Russians were “supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump” in “information warfare against the United States of America”.

Prosecutors said Russians posed as Americans and coordinated with Trump campaign staff to organize rallies in Florida in August 2016. Moscow’s operatives travelled across the US and worked with an unidentified American who advised them to focus their efforts on swing states, including Colorado, Virginia, and Florida.

The indictment does not specifically cite Kremlin sponsor, but US intelligence officials have publicly said that President Vladimir Putin directed and oversaw the effort. The indictment notes that two of the Russian firms involved have contracts with the Kremlin.

One of those indicted is Yevgeny Vrigozhin, a US-sanctioned close ally of the Kremlin with the nickname of “Putin’s cook”, who heads the Internet Research Agency.

The Internet Research Agency is the Kremlin-linked “troll farm” with a budget of millions of dollars. Russian computer specialists, divided into day teams and night teams, created hundreds of social media accounts bringing in hundreds of thousands of online followers. The Russians posed as Christian activists, anti-immigration groups, supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, and even the Tennessee Republican Party.

IRA divisions oversaw graphics, data analysis, and information technology. They devised campaigns to support Hillary Clinton’s Democratic primary campaign rival, Bernie Sanders, and then Green Party candidate Jill Stein in the general election.

Trump has repeatedly questioned the intelligence on Russian interference, calling it a “hoax” and suggesting that Moscow’s hacking was instead done by China or “somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds”.

Could Kushner Lose His Security Clearance?

A new White House approach, announced in the wake of two staffers resigning over spousal abuse allegations, could cost Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner his security clearance.

Chief of Staff John F. Kelly announced Friday that, beginning next week, the White House will no longer allow some employees with interim security clearances access to top-secret information.

Kushner does not have a full security clearance because of his financial involvement with foreign entities, a situation compounded by his repeated alteration of financial disclosures and initial failure to report more than 100 meetings with foreign officials.

However, the White House advisor and designated envoy to the Middle East has been able to see sensitive intelligence as his background investigation has dragged on.

A “senior administration official with knowledge of Kelly’s thinking” said the Chief of Staff has been frustrated with Kushner’s high level of access without a final clearance. The move puts a “bull’s eye” on Kushner, the official said.

A group around Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, have reportedly been feuding with Kelly’s allies. Last week, a faction within the White House spread the story that Kelly could be dismissed amid failures, for more than a year, to deal with the abuse allegations concerning Staff Secretary Rob Porter.

Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell said Kelly’s directive “will not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president”. White House officials declined to comment on the record.

Report: Former Playboy Model Silenced Over Sexual Encounter With Trump

Karen McDougal, a Playboy model when she met Donald Trump, was silenced before the 2016 election over her sexual encounter with the reality TV star and businessman, according to a report in the New Yorker.

The Wall Street Journal first published the story in November 2016, but McDougal declined to comment at that time.

The New Yorker has eight pages documenting the affair, handwritten by McDougal, which she has verified. They describe a meeting with Trump at a Los Angeles Playboy party during a taping of The Apprentice in June 2006.

The claims are similar to those of Stephanie Clifford, a porn star known as Stormy Daniels, who said Trump had sex with her in July 2006 after a meeting at a golf tournament.

Earlier this week, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen confirmed he had paid $130,000 to Clifford in October 2016 not to speak about the allegations. He claims the money was from a personal account, not the Trump Organization or the Trump campaign, and that the payoff does not legitimate Clifford’s story.

Trump married his third wife Melania in 2005. Their son Barron was born in March 2006.

On November 4, 2016, four days before the election, American Media Inc., the publisher of the National Enquirer, reportedly $150,000 for exclusive rights to McDougal’s story, which it never ran.

The “catch and kill” tactic to bury story is a tactic of David Packer, AMI’s CEO and chairman, who says he is “a personal friend” of Trump.

AMI agreed to publish a regular aging-and-fitness column by McDougal, but she says the company never fulfilled the condition.

However, after the revelations last month over Trump’s alleged encounter with Clifford, AMI repeatedly approached McDougal about extending her contract.

Trump Inaugural: $26 Million to Firm of Melania’s Advisor v. $5 Million to Charity

Donald Trump’s inaugural committee paid almost $26 million to an event planning firm started by an adviser to Melania Trump, compared to $5 million to charity.

The $26 million went to WIS Media Partners, founded in December 2016 by Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a longtime friend of Melania Trump’s. It was among more than $57 million that went to four event-planning companies.

The charitable donations were a previously-publicized $3 million for hurricane relief, $1.75 million to groups involved in decorating and maintaining the White House and the Vice President’s residence, and $250,000 for the Smithsonian Institution.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for Melania Trump, insisted the First Lady “had no involvement” with the inaugural committee “and had no knowledge of how funds were spent”.