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New And Notable Developments In The Russia Investigation

US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One after speaking at a rally on July 24.
US President Donald Trump boards Air Force One after speaking at a rally on July 24.

The meeting between President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin was only a little more than a week ago. But since then, there have been several important developments, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.

Julie Davis from The New York Times reports:

His testimony amounted to an elaborate cleanup effort by the United States’ top diplomat for Mr. Trump’s performance in Helsinki, during which he cast doubt on his own intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The meeting with Mr. Putin was followed by a week of halfhearted walk-backs and position shifts that have left many lawmakers questioning Mr. Trump’s ability to be tough with Russia.

Under blistering pressure for details of the talks, Mr. Pompeo shot back: “Presidents are entitled to have private meetings.”

At times, he dismissed Democratic senators’ attempts to elicit answers as politically motivated. “I understand the game that you’re playing,” he told Senator Bob Menendez, of New Jersey, the panel’s top Democrat.

“If President Obama did what President Trump did in Helsinki, I’d be peeling you off the Capitol ceiling,” Mr. Menendez said later.

In an apparent attempt to accomplish what the president’s own statements had not, Mr. Pompeo came armed with a formal declaration refusing to recognize Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014. He insisted to a packed hearing room that the president was “well aware of the challenges that Russia poses” and had taken “a staggering number of actions to protect our interests,” calling them “proof” that Mr. Trump was willing to hold Moscow to account.

And in this case, there was a tape.

Last week we learned that President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had a recording of the president talking about hush money paid to quiet the story of a Playboy model with whom he allegedly had an affair.

That recording has now been released. The tape was first played on CNN. Take a listen, and you’ll see that the sound quality is subpar, so it’s not entirely clear what the tape reveals.

The New York Times breaks it down:

It does not definitively answer the question about whether Mr. Trump directed Mr. Cohen to make them in cash or by check just two months before the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Cohen is heard telling Mr. Trump that he will need to set up a company to arrange the payments.

Mr. Trump then asked, “What financing?”

“We’ll have to pay,” Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Trump then appears to say, “Pay with cash.”

Mr. Cohen then says, “No, no.”

The word “check” is uttered, but it is not clear by whom, and the audio is then cut off.

The president responded on Twitter.

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 25, 2018

What should we make of that tape, and what are the implications for President Trump?

Other Trump associates are also in the headlines this week. Former campaign adviser Carter Page made news after the Justice Department released the application they filed to the FISA court to wiretap him.

And the fraud trial of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort is fast approaching. Special counsel Robert Mueller has presented a witness list containing 30 names and jury selection has started.

But how is all of this news playing to the American public, especially in the wake of Trump’s stunning news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin?

A poll released this week says 51 percent of American voters think “the Russian government has compromising information about President Trump,” according to Politico. But in the same poll, 70 percent of Republican voters don’t think the Kremlin has compromising information on him.

We’ll give you an update on the news story that never stops.

Produced by Amanda Williams; writeup by Gabrielle Healy.


Carol Leonnig, National investigative reporter, The Washington Post; @CarolLeonnig

Alex Whiting, Professor at Harvard Law School; former federal and International Criminal Court prosecutor; @alexgwhiting

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