October 13, 2017

A heap of information about how Russia used Twitter to influence the 2016 presidential election is potentially lost forever due to the social media platform's uncompromising privacy policies, Politico reports. As investigators dive deeper into Kremlin efforts to swing the election in favor of President Trump, Twitter is unable to offer firm evidence due to the fact that the company mimics deletions and revisions to information made by its consumers and keeps no lasting record of data that has been intentionally erased.

Because of such rules, the platform is designed perfectly for malicious agents who want to cover their tracks, frustrated investigators say. Twitter "could not have built a more effective disinformation platform," said Johns Hopkins University strategic studies professor Thomas Rid.

If Twitter saved such information, "you can basically see when botnets appeared and disappeared, and how they shaped narrative around certain event," another analyst told Politico. Instead, Twitter "removes forensic evidence from the public domain, and makes the work of investigators more difficult and maybe impossible," Rid said.

"The truth is they don't know who is on their platform, or how bad people are doing bad things," former FBI agent Clint Watts told Politico. Jeva Lange

October 4, 2017

The Senate Intelligence Committee updated the American public on Wednesday regarding the ongoing investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, with chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) saying the "issue of collusion" remains open, ABC News reports.

Burr admitted, though, that the committee is not making the kind of progress it would like; the investigation has "hit a wall" in regards to the Christopher Steele dossier. The documents, originally leaked by BuzzFeed News, allege that the Russian government had material it could use to blackmail President Trump. Steele, a former British spy, has refused to talk to the Senate. "[Special Counsel Robert] Mueller [is] less likely to hit a wall on compelling witnesses," tweeted MSNBC's Ali Melber.

Additionally, "Burr reiterated that 'no vote totals were affected'" by any sort of meddling, "but stressed that the Russian interference in U.S. elections is ongoing and will continue in subsequent elections," ABC News writes. Jeva Lange

October 2, 2017
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, had two previously unreported contacts with Russian agents during the 2016 campaign, The Washington Post reports. The first contact, several weeks before the Republican National Convention, involved Cohen exchanging emails about traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would have been attended by politicians including Russian President Vladimir Putin. The second case involved Cohen in conversation about a Moscow residential project in late 2015. Cohen both declined the invitation to the economic conference and rejected the Trump-branded Moscow project.

In August, The Washington Post reported that Cohen reached out to Dmitry Peskov, Putin's personal spokesman, during the presidential campaign to ask for help moving forward a stalled Trump Tower project in Moscow. Cohen said in a statement to congressional investigators that he reached out to Peskov at the recommendation of Felix Sater, the Russian-American businessman working on the Moscow project.

The Trump Organization handed over details of the newly reported interactions to the White House in light of the ongoing investigations by congressional committees as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller. And while apparently no action stemmed from the conversations, the contact shows that "Trump's inner circle continued receiving requests from Russians deep into the presidential campaign," The Washington Post reports. Additionally, the documents show that "the Trump Organization fielded another inquiry for a Moscow project during the presidential campaign." Read the full story here. Jeva Lange

September 26, 2017

President Trump's former adviser and longtime friend Roger Stone characterized his conversations with a Russian government-linked hacker as being "limited" and "benign" after appearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reports.

As part of his defense, Stone also released screenshots of his August and September 2016 conversations with the entity Guccifer 2.0, an alias that took credit for hacking the Democratic National Committee. U.S. officials have linked Guccifer 2.0's materials to Russian government hackers. In August 2016, Stone argued for Breitbart News that Guccifer 2.0 acted alone and was not working with the Russian government.

[…] Mr. Stone sent a private Twitter message to the Guccifer 2.0 account, saying he was "delighted" the entity was back on Twitter, according to the material he released. Twitter had briefly suspended the account.

"F--- the state and their MSM lackeys," Mr. Stone added, using a common disparaging term for the mainstream media.

According to Mr. Stone's release, Guccifer 2.0 responded: "thank u for writing back, and thank u for an article about me!!!" The entity then asked if Mr. Stone found anything interesting in the documents posted — a question to which Mr. Stone’s release suggests he didn’t reply. [The Wall Street Journal ]

The screenshots indicate that Guccifer 2.0 attempted several more times to talk to Stone although Stone offered limited replies.

"[Stone's] significance starts and ends with the question as to whether he worked with Russians while they were interfering in our election," Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) told Mother Jones on Monday before the hearing. "He demonstrated at least a willingness to work with the Russians. Was this just willingness or was this an active working relationship? That is still unresolved." Jeva Lange

September 20, 2017

President Trump may have the pockets of the Republican National Committee and his re-election campaign to dip into for legal bills stemming from the Russia probe, but not everyone else is so lucky, Bloomberg reports. Michael Caputo, who only briefly served as an adviser to the Trump campaign, reports that being a person of interest in the Russia investigation has led to more than $30,000 in legal fees, money he's had to pull from his children's college funds. "It's very expensive and nobody's called me and offered to help," he recently told the Washington Examiner.

After all, not everyone gets the same treatment as Donald Trump Jr., who had $50,000 in legal fees paid off by the Trump campaign, Bloomberg reports. Dozens of other more peripheral people may yet be roped into the probe, including staffers like Communications Director Hope Hicks, former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and even Jared Kushner's spokesman.

The psychological toll is also not insignificant. Caputo told Bloomberg that he has bought a new security system and several guns due to threats. Internally, staffers and aides must also cope with the paranoia that comes from lawyers advising them not to talk to each other about the investigation.

"Everyone is facing this," said Caputo. "I talk to them all. I know they are worried and I think it is awful. We heard about this happening during the Clinton investigations. Those stories loom heavily over us." Read more about the financial and psychological toll of the Russia investigation at Bloomberg. Jeva Lange

September 12, 2017
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Representatives from Facebook and Twitter could be asked to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in the ongoing investigation into Russia's involvement in the 2016 election, Recode reports.

Facebook admitted last week that it unknowingly sold $100,000 worth of ads to a Russian "troll farm" during the 2016 presidential election. On Monday, The Daily Beast additionally reported that Russians used fake identities to organize inflammatory protests in the United States and advertised them on Facebook.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) said Tuesday that "we're seeing more evidence of additional ads and how they are used to manipulate individuals." He said representatives from social media companies should be required to testify in a "public hearing" and that he plans to discuss it with committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) at some point this week.

"Let's face it, the whole notion of social media and how it is used in political campaigns is the wild wild west," Warner added. "And again, I'll grant Facebook that maybe they weren't as fully aware in the immediate aftermath of our elections, although for many months they said this didn't happen. I've wondered about that." Read the full report at Recode. Jeva Lange

September 12, 2017
Shawn Thew-Pool/Getty Images

President Trump's aides are being warned not to try to "protect" their boss if they are questioned by Special Counsel Robert Mueller or congressional investigators in the ongoing Russia probe, Politico reports. "What I always tell clients is, you can't protect anybody," said one lawyer representing a person targeted by the investigation. An attempt to cover up for Trump, the lawyer added, makes things "worse for everybody."

Among the aides expected to be called in for interviews in the coming weeks is former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, newly minted Communications Director Hope Hicks, former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and Trump's longtime personal secretary Rhona Graff. Trump's personal attorney, Michael Cohen, and the president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, are also under intense scrutiny.

While Trump demands loyalty from those in his orbit, lying under oath can earn aides charges of perjury, false statements, or obstruction of justice if they are found out. "The lesson to be always learned is loyalty is one thing, but are you prepared to go to jail for it?" said Robert Ray, who served as the Whitewater special counsel. "The answer to that question should be no."

Ray then put it more bluntly: "Loyalty is not a two-way street. A lot of young people go to the White House and they're going to be loyal to the president and the president is going to be loyal to me. Bulls--t." Read the full report at Politico. Jeva Lange

May 19, 2017

After a briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Friday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told the press that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will review the possibility of White House interference in the ongoing investigation into Russia's influence on the presidential election. "The scope ... of Director Mueller includes any questions about referrals related to any misconduct, any interference. And there were questions well outside the Russian scope in there," Issa said.

Questions have swirled since it was discovered earlier this week in a memo written by former FBI Director James Comey that President Trump attempted to convince the FBI to drop its probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is at the heart of the Russia investigations. Earlier Friday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said that there is "mounting evidence" of the obstruction of justice in the investigation. "We have to be careful. We don't want to say there is proof," he added.

President Trump has lashed out over the appointment of a special prosecutor, claiming he is the subject of the "single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history."

To that, at least, Issa responded blankly: "I don't personally believe in witches." Jeva Lange