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January 16, 2019

The Pentagon is finalizing a policy to closely examine recruits who have green cards or other foreign ties, an initiative that would likely target thousands of people every year, two Department of Defense officials with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post.

Last year, a federal judge blocked a similar effort to target green-card holders. The Pentagon is concerned about espionage and terrorism, and this new vetting process will screen "foreign nexus" risks, the Post reports; this could include people with foreign citizenship and those with family members who are not U.S. citizens.

Some U.S. citizens could also be targeted, including those with foreign spouses or relatives with dual citizenship. Anyone chosen for this screening would not be allowed to go to recruit training until they are cleared, which could take days for some and much longer for others. Defense Department officials told the Post the new policy will be distributed to military services no later than Feb. 15. Catherine Garcia

January 14, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are both taking a close look at a breakfast held in January 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., attended by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), three people familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast.

About 60 people were invited to the Jan. 18 event, held the day after the Global Chairman's Dinner and just before President Trump's inauguration. Foreign officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Japan, Angola, and other countries were invited, while former Kazakh Ambassador Kairat Umarov and two senior Qatari officials were in attendance, The Daily Beast reports. The Global Chairman's Dinner was a way for foreign diplomats to meet with Trump, and some guests also attended the breakfast.

This breakfast is of interest because federal prosecutors are investigating whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent funds and if people gave money as a way to gain influence with the White House, while Mueller's team is looking into whether foreigners used American intermediaries to give money to the Trump inaugural fund, The Daily Beast reports. Flynn, who pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, is cooperating with Mueller, and has been asked about the breakfast, two people with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast. Read more about the breakfast, and the role of Nunes — the former House Intelligence Committee chair and one of Trump's most vocal defenders — at The Daily Beast. Catherine Garcia

December 16, 2018

A new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, the first to study millions of posts from the 2016 presidential campaign provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google, says that Russians working at the Internet Research Agency posted on every major social media platform photos, videos, and messages to help get President Trump elected, and continued the effort to support him once in office, The Washington Post reports.

The Post obtained a draft of the report, compiled by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project. Researchers found that at certain points, like during presidential debates, disinformation campaigns ramped up, with different groups receiving targeted messages: for example, conservatives saw posts about gun rights, while black voters saw false information about how to vote.

"What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump," the report says. "Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged those groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract, and ultimately discourage members from voting."

The tech companies were all extremely slow to realize what was going on, the report says, even though the Russians slipped up several times, like paying for ads with rubles. Social media, the report states, went from a "natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike." Read more about the report at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

December 6, 2018

After President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017 but before the appointment of Special Counsel Robert Mueller, then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe opened an obstruction of justice investigation, two people with knowledge of the matter told CNN on Thursday.

McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein were both concerned about President Trump's behavior, CNN reports, and they discussed several different ways they could rein him in, including having Rosenstein wear a wire while meeting with him (when The New York Times first reported this detail in September, Rosenstein denied it). CNN says the FBI had been considering launching the investigation even before Comey was fired, because of Trump asking Comey during an Oval Office meeting to end the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

A Department of Justice official told CNN Rosenstein never attempted to curtail Trump, but others with knowledge of the matter said Rosenstein and several top FBI officials did worry about Trump's behavior. For more on the chaotic days after Comey's firing, visit CNN. Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2018

In the three months following the 2016 presidential election, lobbyists representing the Saudi government reserved several blocks of rooms at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., paying for an estimated 500 nights, The Washington Post reports.

The Washington firm Qorvis/MSLGroup, which has long worked for the Saudi government, paid to host six groups of U.S. military veterans at the Trump International, spending more than $270,000, the Post reports. Once in D.C., the veterans were pushed to lobby against the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which lets the families of Sept. 11 victims file suit against the Saudi government.

Before Trump's election, veterans stayed in Northern Virginia, and the switch to Trump International took place in December 2016, the Post reports. At that time, the average nightly rate at the Trump hotel was $768; organizers told the Post they received a discount, all other hotel rooms in the area were full, and they were not trying to appeal to Trump. One veteran from Texas, Henry Garcia, told the Post he was never told Saudi Arabia was behind his trip until partway through, and he was surprised by the amount of wining and dining that occurred. "It made all the sense in the world when we found out that the Saudis had paid for it," he said.

Two federal lawsuits have been filed claiming Trump violated the Constitution's foreign emoluments clause by taking improper payments from foreign governments, and on Tuesday, the attorneys general in D.C. and Maryland subpoenaed 13 Trump businesses, looking for records showing foreign spending, the Post reports. Read more about the lobbying efforts and what the veterans say they were told to say about JASTA at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

December 5, 2018

Lawyers hired by CBS have found that former CEO Les Moonves, who stepped down in September after several women accused him of sexual misconduct, lied and destroyed evidence in order to save his severance, and the network has justification to withhold that $120 million from him, The New York Times reports.

The Times reviewed a 59-page draft of the report that is expected to be sent to the CBS board by next week. After The New Yorker published the allegations against Moonves in August, CBS hired lawyers to conduct an independent investigation into the matter, and wanted them to determine whether Moonves violated terms of his employment agreement; if he did, the network would have cause to deny him a $120 million severance payment.

The report states that Moonves "engaged in multiple acts of serious nonconsensual misconduct in and outside of the workplace, both before and after he came to CBS in 1995," the Times reports. This includes incidents not previously reported. The lawyers said they spoke with Moonves four different times, and he was "evasive," "untruthful at times," and "minimized the extent of his sexual misconduct."

Moonves' lawyer, Andrew Levander, told the Times his client "denies having any nonconsensual sexual relation" and "cooperated extensively and fully with investigators." Catherine Garcia

November 15, 2018

After a year of discussions, Justice Department officials are optimistic they will be able to get WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange into a U.S. courtroom, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday.

In 2012, Assange received political asylum from Ecuador, and he has been living in the country's London embassy ever since. Prosecutors do not yet know what charges they might file, but it could involve the Espionage Act, the Journal reports. Prosecutors are also reportedly considering publicly indicting Assange so the Ecuadorian government could see evidence against him and would have a reason to remove him from the embassy.

Last month, Assange sued Ecuador over his conditions in the embassy, and after a judge rejected his claims, he said he believes he'll soon be kicked out. In 2010, Chelsea Manning gave WikiLeaks documents related to the Iraq War, and ahead of the 2016 presidential election, WikiLeaks released thousands of emails hacked from Democrats; Special Counsel Robert Mueller says those hacked emails were provided by Russian intelligence officers. Catherine Garcia

October 31, 2018

The Senate Intelligence Committee is taking a closer look at Stephen Bannon's activities during the 2016 presidential election, including his role at Cambridge Analytica, three people with knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Wednesday.

Bannon is a former White House adviser, and the committee is examining what he might know about contacts between two Trump campaign advisers, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, and Moscow. Last year, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with Russians; during the campaign, he spoke with a professor who claimed Russians had "dirt" on Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, Reuters reports. In September, he was sentenced to 14 days in prison. Page, who has extensive business ties to Russia, has not been charged with anything.

Investigators also want to know about Bannon's time as vice president of Cambridge Analytica, a defunct data analysis company. He was there from June 2014 to August 2016, when he left to join the Trump campaign as a strategist. Cambridge Analytica collected the personal data of millions of Facebook users without their consent, and was hired by the Trump campaign to target potential voters.

Two people told Reuters staff investigators hope to interview Bannon in late November. Bannon's lawyer, William Burck, told Reuters the committee "has expressed an interest in interviewing Mr. Bannon as a witness, just as they have many other people involved in the Trump campaign. But the committee has never suggested that he's under investigation himself and to claim otherwise is recklessly false." Catherine Garcia

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