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Trump and the Russia investigation: What to know

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President Trump and the Kremlin have denied allegations that Russia and the Trump campaign colluded in the 2016 presidential election – but the probe into Russia’s meddling is forging ahead.

A special counsel was appointed to investigate potential wrongdoing, and the team has already brought multiple charges against people associated with the presidential campaign. 

Read on for a breakdown of what has happened in the Russia investigation thus far and what it means for the administration.  

What exactly is being investigated?

Multiple investigators are looking into just how wide the scope of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election is and if the foreign nation had any interaction with the Trump campaign.

Investigators are also looking at the financial ties between some Trump associates and the Kremlin.

Who is in charge of the investigations?

FILE - In this Oct. 28, 2013, file photo, former FBI Director Robert Mueller is seated before President Barack Obama and FBI Director James Comey arrive at an installation ceremony at FBI Headquarters in Washington. A veteran FBI counterintelligence agent was removed from special counsel Robert Mueller's team investigating Russian election meddling after the discovery of an exchange of text messages seen as potentially anti-President Donald Trump, a person familiar with the matter said Saturday, Dec. 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Robert Mueller was tasked to lead the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

 (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Multiple congressional committees have launched probes into Russia’s attempts to influence the election.

And the Department of Justice appointed Robert Mueller as its special counsel overseeing its investigation in May.

Mueller was appointed after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was the first Republican senator to endorse Trump, recused himself from the investigation. His appointment also followed a growing Democratic outcry for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the probe.

Has anyone been charged yet?

Paul Manafort, former campaign manager for U.S. President Donald Trump arrives for a bond hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., November 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RC18AD95AAE0

Paul Manafort is one of President Trump’s former campaign officials who has been charged in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

 (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Mueller’s investigation has led to multiple charges – although none are directly related to misconduct from the campaign.

Paul Manafort and his associate, Richard Gates, turned themselves over to federal authorities in October and were hit with a 12-count indictment – with charges ranging from conspiracy against the U.S. to conspiracy to launder money.  

Nearly four months later, in February, the pair was hit with additional tax evasion and bank fraud charges. The new indictment involved much of the same conduct Manafort and Gates were already charged with, but the the amount of money Manafort is accused of laundering through offshore accounts was increased to $30 million.

Gates pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy and false-statements charges on Feb. 23, a sign that he could cooperate with Mueller’s investigators.

That same day, Manafort was hit with another indictment, accusing him of secretly paying former European politicians to lobby on behalf of Ukraine.

As special counsel, Mueller took over the criminal investigation into Manafort’s financial dealings dating back prior to the election. Manafort worked for controversial former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a pro-Russia politician who was ousted from power twice, and Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska. In 2005, Manafort came up with a plan to influence U.S. politics, business dealings and the media in order to “greatly benefit the Putin Government,” according to The Associated Press.

Manafort joined Trump’s campaign ahead of the Republican National Convention to help wrangle delegates before becoming the campaign chairman. He resigned in August 2016.

FILE - In this Feb. 1, 2017 file photo, tne-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during the daily news briefing at the White House, in Washington. Flynn has opened a new consulting firm called Resilient Patriot, LLC that is advising private equity firms, according to one of his brothers, who says Flynn is “moving on with his life." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn speaks during a White House press briefing.

 (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has also been charged in connection with Mueller’s probe. Flynn pleaded guilty in December to one charge of lying to the FBI – reportedly about his talks with a Russian ambassador.

Flynn was Trump’s national security adviser for a short time, but his connection to the White House was rife with controversy that still bedevils the administration. Flynn resigned after less than a month in the position.

At issue was his contact with Moscow’s ambassador to Washington. Flynn and the Russian appear to have discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia late in 2016, raising questions about whether he was freelancing on foreign policy while former President Barack Obama was still in office and whether he misled Trump officials about the communications.

Additionally, George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty in 2017 to making false statements to the FBI about his connections with Russian officials.

During his time on the campaign, Papadopoulos attempted to set up meetings between campaign officials and Russians on numerous occasions. He also interacted with a professor “understood to have substantial connections to Russian government officials” who told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, according to court documents released by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

Alex van der Zwaan, an attorney who allegedly lied to investigators in the Russia inquiry, was charged in federal court in February and pleaded guilty. According to charging documents, van der Zwaan was employed by a law firm hired by the Ukraine Ministry of Justice in 2012. He admitted to lying to investigators about his interactions with Gates. 

Additionally, 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities were indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly interfering in the election. Mueller’s case alleges those involved had a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” on the U.S.

However, the Justice Department did not say if the actions had an impact on the outcome of the election.

Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) talks with his son Donald Trump Jr. (R) after his debate against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, U.S. September 26, 2016.  REUTERS/Joe Raedle/POOL - RC1687AB1960

Donald Trump Jr., the president’s oldest son, took a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. She was supposed to have damning information about Hillary Clinton.

 (Reuters/Joe Raedle)

Does anyone else on Trump’s team have connections to Russians or the investigation?

Donald Jr., the president’s oldest son, got the administration into some hot water when it was revealed that he took a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign who was supposed to have damning information about Clinton.

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” an email about the meeting said in part.

Trump Jr. maintained that the lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, did not have any information to share and instead wanted to discuss the Magnitsky Act and other sanctions.

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump stand together after John Kelly was sworn in as White House Chief of Staff in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 31, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RC17A1619640

Jared Kushner, who is married to Trump’s daughter Ivanka, has been under FBI scrutiny as well.

 (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

Manafort and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, were also at the meeting.

Kushner, too, has been under FBI scrutiny. Married to Ivanka, the president’s daughter, Kushner may possess substantial information relevant to the investigation, officials have said.

Although he has denied colluding with Russians or knowing of anyone who did, Kushner has had private meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to discuss the controversial encounter with Veselnitskya, which occurred in the summer of 2016. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have accused him of not being forthcoming in the information divulged.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House chief strategist, agreed to meet with Mueller as part of his investigation, potentially avoiding appearing under subpoena in front of a grand jury. And Sessions has already met with Mueller, becoming the highest-ranking administration official thus far to have submitted to questioning.

What about Trump?

Trump has said he is “looking forward” to being questioned by Mueller under oath regarding the investigation. Aside from his associates’ connections to Russians, the president has also found himself under scrutiny for certain interactions in office.

Trump sacked FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017 – less than two months after Comey publicly proclaimed the agency was investigating ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign.

The White House maintained Comey was let go due to his handling of an investigation into Clinton’s private email server used during her tenure as secretary of state. But Trump has suggested that he considered the Russian investigation when he fired Comey. 

Comey also told a Senate intelligence committee that Trump had asked for the FBI to drop its investigation into Flynn; the White House said Trump was not attempting to influence his FBI director.

Comey told the committee that he offered Trump repeated reassurances that he was not under an FBI investigation.

After Comey’s dismissal, Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador at the time, where he shared classified information regarding ISIS threats, the Washington Post reported.

Trump told those officials that firing Comey – who he allegedly called a “nut job” – took “great pressure” off of him, The New York Times later reported.

What’s so controversial about the investigation?

Trump has been critical of Mueller, calling his friendship with Comey “very bothersome.” Multiple investigators on Mueller’s team face questions about their potential biases – and two were reassigned from the probe.

House Republicans released a memo in early February 2018 that detailed alleged surveillance abuses used in the Russia probe.

The memo, put together by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., did “raise concerns with the legitimacy and legality of certain DOJ and FBI interactions with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and represent a troubling breakdown of legal processes established to protect the American people from abuses related to the FISA process,” it said.

Trump said the memo “vindicates” him in the Russia investigation.

But Democrats have dismissed the memo as misleading, saying it was released by Republicans in order to push the narrative that the probe is biased against the president. They hope to release a rebuttal memo in the near future. 

How did the Russian meddling allegations even begin?

Before Trump took office, tens of thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee and officials connected to Clinton were leaked.

Those emails – released in July 2016 – purportedly showed the party favoring Clinton over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and led to the resignation of party chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

But more than just ousting Wasserman Schultz, intelligence officials concluded those responsible for leaking the emails were connected to the Russian government. In its assessment of the hack, the CIA concluded that Russia intervened in the election in order to help Trump secure the presidency.

Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter @K_Schallhorn.



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Romney recovering after weekend fall left him with stitches, bruises

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Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Monday he is recovering after a fall over the weekend that knocked him unconscious and resulted in “a lot of stitches.”

Romney was seen on Capitol Hill with a black eye and stitches above his eye and his lip. The lawmaker briefly pulled off his facemask, showing a puffy and bruised upper lip.

“Yeah, I had kind of a tough, tough weekend you see that I look at that I got. I went to CPAC, that was a problem,” joked Romney, referring to the Conservative Political Action Conference, where former President Donald Trump spoke Sunday. Romney voted to convict Trump during both of his impeachment trials, earning him the ire of the former president and his allies. Trump lashed out at Romney and other Republicans who voted to impeach or convict him during his speech Sunday.

Romney told reporters he “took a fall” while in Boston while visiting his son and grandchildren. He said he went to the hospital to get stitches, but did not disclose whether he was admitted overnight.

“I asked the doctor how many stitches and she said, ‘I don’t know.'”



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Senate confirms Miguel Cardona as Biden’s education secretary

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The Senate voted Monday to confirm Miguel Cardona as education secretary, clearing his way to lead President Joe Biden’s effort to reopen the nation’s schools amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Cardona, 45, a former public school teacher who went on to become Connecticut’s education chief, was approved on a 64-33 vote.

He takes charge of the Education Department amid mounting tension between Americans who believe students can safely return to the classroom now, and others who say the risks are still too great.

Although his position carries limited authority to force schools to reopen, Cardona will be asked to play a central role in achieving Biden’s goal to have a majority of elementary schools open five days a week within his first 100 days. He will be tasked with guiding schools through the reopening process, and sharing best practices on how to teach during a pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month released a road map for getting students back into classrooms safely. The agency said masks, social distancing and other strategies should be used, but vaccination of teachers was not a prerequisite for reopening.

Cardona, who gained attention for his efforts to reopen schools in Connecticut, has vowed to make it his top priority to reopen schools. At his Senate confirmation hearing last month, he said there are “great examples throughout our country of schools that have been able to reopen safely.”

The debate has become a political firestorm for Biden, who is caught between competing interests as he aims to get students into the classroom without provoking the powerful teachers unions that helped put him in the White House. He says his goal of returning students to the classroom is possible if Congress approves his relief plan, which includes $130 billion for the nation’s schools.

Republicans have rebuked Biden for failing to reopen schools faster, while teachers unions opposed the administration’s decision to continue with federally required standardized tests during the pandemic.

The tricky terrain is nothing new for Cardona, however, who faced similar tension navigating the pandemic in Connecticut, and who has won early praise even from Biden’s critics.

Republicans in Congress have applauded Cardona’s efforts to reopen schools in Connecticut, and some see him as a potential ally in their support for charter schools. Teachers, meanwhile, see him as a partner who brings years of experience in education and knows the demands of the teaching.

The nomination continues a meteoric rise for Cardona, who was appointed to lead Connecticut’s education department in 2019 after spending 20 years working in Meriden, Connecticut, public schools — the same district he attended as a child.

He began his career as a fourth grade teacher before becoming the state’s youngest principal at age 28. In 2012, he was named Connecticut’s principal of the year, and in 2015 he became an assistant superintendent of the district. When he was appointed state education commissioner, he became the first Latino to hold the post.

Cardona grew up in a public housing project in Meriden, raised by parents who came to Connecticut from Puerto Rico as children. Through his career, he has focused on closing education gaps and supporting bilingual education. It’s a personal issue for Cardona, who says he spoke only Spanish when he entered kindergarten and struggled to learn English.

Cardona was the first in his family to graduate from college, and his three degrees include a doctorate in education from the University of Connecticut. He and his wife, Marissa, have two children in high school.

His deep roots in public schooling fit the criteria Biden was looking for in an education secretary. During his campaign, Biden vowed to pick a secretary with experience in public education. It was meant to draw a contrast with then-secretary Betsy DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who spent decades advocating for school choice policies.

In an increasingly fractionalized world of education, Cardona has vowed to be a unifier. At his confirmation hearing, he promised to engage with “the vast, diverse community of people who have a stake in education.” He added that, “we gain strength from joining together.”

As he works to help schools reopen, he will also be tasked with helping them address the damage the pandemic has done on student learning. He has echoed Biden’s call for further education funding, saying schools will need to expand summer academic programs and hire more counselors to help students with mental health issues.

He’s also likely to face an early test as he weighs how much flexibility to grant states as they administer standardized tests. Last week, the Education Department ordered states to continue with annual testing but said assessments could be offered online or delayed until fall. The agency also held out the possibility that states could be granted “additional assessment flexibility” in certain cases.

Some states are already pushing for that extra flexibility, including Michigan, which is asking to replace state tests with local “benchmark” assessments that were administered this year. It will be up to Cardona to decide how much leniency to provide.

Republicans have also set the stage for a fight over transgender athletes. At last month’s hearing, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., raised objections with policies that allow transgender girls to participate in girls’ athletics. It’s the subject of a legal battle in Connecticut, where some cisgender athletes are challenging a state policy that lets transgender students participate as their identified gender.

Pressed by Paul to take a stance on the issue, Cardona said he would support the right of “all students, including students who are transgender.”

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National Latino groups condemn Goya Foods CEO for calling Trump the ‘actual president’

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Leaders of several national Latino organizations condemned Goya Foods CEO Robert Unanue for declaring to a meeting of political conservatives that former President Donald Trump still is the “actual president of the United States.”

Unanue, whose comments have previously earned him a censure from his corporate board, made the statement about the former president at the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC, held over the weekend in Orlando, Fla. Unanue spoke to the conference Sunday.

“I’m honored to be here, but my biggest honor today is going to be that I think we’re going to be on the same stage as, in my opinion, the real, the legitimate and the still actual president of the United States, Donald J. Trump,” he said.

Several Latino groups said in a statement issued Monday that Unanue’s remarks “dangerously perpetuate falsehoods that were are the core of the criminal assault on the nation’s capital on Jan. 6th.”

That is the day that violent groups, including many armed participants and many who alleged the election had been stolen, violently stormed the Capitol, leaving six people dead and injuring others including police officers. Trump was impeached on a charge of inciting the attack but acquitted in a Senate trial.

The Latino groups said Unanue’s false allegation that Biden is now president because of widespread fraud is an “affront” to millions of Latino voters who cast ballots, despite voter suppression.

No widespread fraud has been found in the 2020 election. But the lie that the election was rigged was said repeatedly at CPAC, including by Trump.

The Latino groups said in their statement that Unanue is entitled to support the candidate of his choosing. But they added: “What he most clearly should not be entitled to is the platform his role at Goya Foods provides to attack our democracy — the belief and faith in free and fair elections, which has been the bedrock of our union and national success.”

“It is a slap in the face to those millions of voters and customers to insist, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that they were complicit in a grand electoral fraud,” the Latino group said in their statement.

Groups that joined in the statement include the U.S. Hispanic Leadership Institute, Hispanics in Philanthropy, Mi Familia Vota, the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, LatinoJustice, Latino Commission on AIDS, Alianza Americas, Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, Hispanic Federation, Presente.org and the Hispanic Heritage Foundation.

NBC News has reached out to Goya Foods via email and phone and did not receive an immediate response.

Last July, Unanue’s remarks praising Trump at a White House event and saying the country was “truly blessed” to have Trump as a leader set off a campaign to boycott Goya Foods, which bills itself as the nation’s largest Hispanic-owned food brand.

The comments prompted social media backlash with the hashtag, #BoycottGoya and #goyaway. But Trump and his allies countered with support for the company.

Goya’s board of directors censured Unanue in January after making similar, untrue claims about the election.

Unanue has said the backlash over his comments is a “suppression of free speech”.

Although most Latinos voted for Biden, exit polls showed Trump got about a third of the votes cast by Latinos.

Follow NBC Latino on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.



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