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May 17, 2018
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On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee dumped 2,500 pages of testimony and documents about its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, specifically the June 9, 2016, meeting Donald Trump Jr. set up with a Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was promising "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. But the committee Democrats, led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), also released a separate summary of findings and outstanding questions about the Trump campaigns ties to Russia.

In one section, the Democrats state that "the committee has obtained a number of documents that suggest the Kremlin used the National Rifle Association as a means of accessing and assisting Mr. Trump and his campaign," especially Russian nationals Alexander Torshin, deputy governor of the Russian central bank and an ally of President Vladimir Putin, and his assistant Maria Butina. Specifically:

During the campaign, Mr. Torshin, Ms. Butina, and their intermediaries repeatedly offered the campaign back channels to Russia and relayed requests from President Putin to meet with Mr. Trump. The Kremlin may also have used the NRA to secretly fund Mr. Trump's campaign. The extent of Russia's use of the NRA as an avenue for connecting with and potentially supporting the Trump campaign needs examination. [Senate Judiciary Democrats]

The NRA has acknowledged receiving foreign donations, and Torshin hasn't exactly been shy about using his ties with the NRA to link up with Trump. Paul Waldman has more about the NRA-Russia-Trump nexus at The Week. Peter Weber

10:37 a.m. ET

Less than two weeks before the inauguration, President Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, met with a Russian oligarch to discuss strengthening relations between Washington and Moscow, The New York Times reports. Viktor Vekselberg, who has ties to the Kremlin, met with Cohen three separate times, including on the day of the inauguration.

Just days afterwards, the private equity firm of Andrew Intrater, who is Vekselberg's cousin and client, awarded Cohen a $1 million contract. Intrater spoke to the Times, saying he did nothing wrong and made the decision independently.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Cohen was separately paid at least $400,000 to arrange a talk between Trump and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Cohen also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from businesses like AT&T and Novartis to provide access and insight into the Trump administration.

The Times writes that the Vekselberg meeting "sheds additional light on the intersection between Mr. Trump's inner-circle and Russians with ties to the Kremlin." Read more about the meetings at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

10:02 a.m. ET

President Trump's allies are claiming that the administration's decision to pull out of a historic summit with Kim Jong Un is evidence of his deal-making skills, even as critics are citing the move as proof that Trump was unprepared and in over his head. Following Trump's letter notifying Kim that he was pulling out of talks, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan reemphasized that Pyongyang is willing to meet "at any time."

That was seemingly proof enough for Donald Trump Jr.:

But Junior might have jumped the gun. Notably, nothing has changed: No deal has been made, and Pyongyang has not said anything they haven't said before. Most significantly, North Korea has made no indication that it is now willing to denuclearize, the objection that led to the dissolution of the summit in the first place.

In fact, as Trump said Friday, the summit might even still be on. Jeva Lange

9:49 a.m. ET

President Trump apparently blindsided U.S. allies when he announced in an open letter Thursday that he would not be attending his scheduled June 12 summit in Singapore with North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. "Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting," Trump wrote.

Less than 24 hours later, Trump is now saying the June 12 meeting might go forward after all. "We will see what happens," Trump said Friday. "We're talking to them now."

ABC's Jonathan Karl asked Trump if "the North Koreans are playing games with him — skipping planned meetings and then saying they will meet anytime," to which Trump replied, "Jon, everybody plays games." Kim had told Trump that pulling out of the summit wasn't "the world's desire." Jeva Lange

9:47 a.m. ET
Screenshot/YouTube/NBC Nightly News

Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, was not pleased to find out that President Trump's attorney in the Russia investigation attended classified intelligence briefings on Thursday.

"What the president's team did yesterday is something no other citizen in this country would be permitted to do," said Steele, during a Friday appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Attorney Emmet Flood sat in on meetings with Justice Department officials regarding an FBI informant who spoke with Trump campaign staffers about Russia's interference in the 2016 election. Lawmakers called the move "completely inappropriate."

Steele found it inappropriate as well, and called out Republicans for being "complicit in this crazy."

"They're sitting here now and dumbing down the system, they're disintegrating the very pillars of justice in this country. A., by going after those institutions like the FBI and the DOJ, but then permitting the president to behave in a way in which no other American citizen — and they know damn well that this is true — would be able to behave." Watch Steele's comments below, via MSNBC. Summer Meza

Summer Meza

9:16 a.m. ET
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When Donald Trump announced he was running for president in 2015, he also set the tone for how he would speak about immigration. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he told the crowd, going on to describe immigrants as criminals and "rapists," although "some, I assume, are good people." Recently Trump has come under fire again for his language, calling MS-13 gang members "animals."

The Washington Post on Thursday published a new revealing anecdote about how Trump joked in private about immigrants to his staff last year:

The night before Trump delivered his first speech to Congress in February 2017, he huddled with Jared Kushner and [Stephen] Miller in the Oval Office to talk immigration. The president reluctantly agreed with suggestions he strike a gentler tone on immigration in the speech.

Trump reminded them the crowds loved his rhetoric on immigrants along the campaign trail. Acting as if he was at a rally, he then read aloud a few made up Hispanic names and described potential crimes they could have committed, like rape or murder. Then, he said, the crowds would roar when the criminals were thrown out of the country — as they did when he highlighted crimes by illegal immigrants at his rallies, according to a person present for the exchange and another briefed on it later. Miller and Kushner laughed. [The Washington Post]

A third official disputed the story, telling the Post that Trump never made up Hispanic names to make a point about "crowd enthusiasm for crackdowns on criminal aliens." Read more about Trump's approach to immigration at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

8:45 a.m. ET
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for The Weinstein Company

Disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein turned himself in to police Friday morning. "Today, at the NYPD's 1st Precinct, Harvey Weinstein was arrested, processed, and charged with rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct for incidents involving two separate women," the New York Police Department said. Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are in the final stages of an investigation into allegations of sexual assault from actresses Paz de la Huerta and Lucia Evans. Weinstein, accused of wide-ranging abuse by more than 50 women, has denied all wrongdoing. After being booked and charged, NBC News reports, Weinstein is expected to be moved to New York County Criminal Court, then likely released on $1 million bail and fitted with an ankle monitor. Peter Weber

8:34 a.m. ET

Democrats can demand leak investigations, too. On Thursday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray asking them to investigate who leaked the name of a confidential FBI and CIA informant who approached advisers to President Trump's campaign in 2016, apparently to find out if Russia was trying to use the aides to influence the election. These reports are the basis for Trump's "spygate" conspiracy and the extraordinary briefings on the informant the FBI and Justice Department gave to House Republicans then the bipartisan "Gang of Eight" on Thursday.

On Friday's New Day, Nadler laid out what Trump and his allies did improperly for CNN's Alisyn Camerota. First, Trump "demanded information which he had no right to have; two, he set up this meeting for his own benefit; No. 3, they outed a classified informant. ... I'm not sure who did. Whoever did ought to pay a price at law — it's a crime to do that." He pointed out that Wray told Congress last week "the day that we can't protect human sources is the day the American people start becoming less safe."

"The demand for a criminal investigation into the outing of a confidential government source could echo loudly in Washington," NPR says. The outing of the source, reportedly an American academic in Britain, "is unacceptable," Nadler wrote Wray and Rosenstein. "It is a breach of the duty we owe to these men and women, who serve our country at great risk and trust us to protect their identities." The informant's name was first floated at The Daily Caller and spread across conservative media before making its way to major national newspapers. Peter Weber

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