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Mueller’s Russia investigation: What to know

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The investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election continues – with Special Counsel Robert Mueller at its helm.

Mueller, 73, took over the federal government’s probe into alleged collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials in May 2017. Already, his investigation has led to charges for four U.S. citizens and indictments against more than a dozen Russian nationals.

Trump has in the past expressed willingness to testify under oath as part of Mueller’s investigations and has repeatedly denied any “collusion” with Russians.

Why is Mueller overseeing the Russia investigation?

FILE - In this June 21, 2017, file photo, Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election.

 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Department of Justice announced the appointment of Mueller to oversee the federal investigation into Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election in May 2017.

The appointment came after a growing cry – mostly from Democrats – for someone outside the Justice Department to handle the probe. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had already recused himself from the investigation. 

Mueller led the FBI through the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and served under presidential administrations of both parties.

For the inquiry into the 2016 election, Mueller has the authority to prosecute any crimes uncovered during this investigation, and he was given wide authority to investigate whether Trump or his associates colluded with the Kremlin to win the White House.

Has anyone been charged?

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, one focus of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hides behind his car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Virginia, U.S. October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst - RC1F89D175A0

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, one focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, hides behind a car visor as he leaves his home in Alexandria, Va., after being asked to surrender to federal authorities.

 (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

In his leading role, Mueller took over an ongoing investigation into Paul Manafort’s financial dealings in Ukraine.

Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, and Richard Gates were indicted on Oct. 27 on multiple counts, including: conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, false statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. Manafort and Gates pleaded not guilty to the initial charges.

Nearly four months later, on Feb. 22, the pair were hit with additional tax evasion and bank fraud charges. The additional charges involve much of the same conduct Manafort and Gates were initially charged with, but they increase the amount of money Manafort is accused of laundering through offshore accounts to $30 million.

Michael Flynn, the administration’s short-lived national security adviser, was charged in December with lying to the FBI about certain conversations he had with a Russian ambassador. He pleaded guilty. 

Additionally, George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in 2017 to one count of making false statements to investigating FBI agents, according to court documents. Papadopoulos was a foreign policy adviser for Trump’s campaign.

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 a few days later. 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. 

Three Russian entities and 13 Russian nationals were indicted by a federal grand jury on Feb. 16 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 the actions had an impact on the outcome of the election. Deputy Attorney Gen. Rod Rosenstein said, “There is no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this illegal activity.”

What’s this we keep hearing about a controversy with Mueller’s staff?

The Trump administration has sharply criticized Mueller’s investigation, as several of his attorneys on staff donated to Democratic campaigns, including to Trump’s 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton.

Additionally, two FBI officials – Peter Strzok and Lisa Page – are under fire for the anti-Trump text messages they exchanged during the election. Strzok was part of Mueller’s team but was removed after the text messages were revealed.

What has Trump said about Mueller’s investigation?

Trump has oftentimes dismissed the allegations that he colluded with Russia during the election. He said he is “looking forward” to eventually  being questioned under oath by Mueller.

“I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one…”

– President Trump

He’s said the allegations are a “fake story that is demeaning to all of us and most of all demeaning to our country and demeaning to our Constitution.”

“I just hope the final determination is a truly honest one, which is what the millions of people who gave us our big win in November deserve and what all Americans who want a better future want and deserve,” Trump said at a rally in West Virginia last year.

The president also warned Mueller to stay within certain boundaries as he investigates.

Trump and Mueller have sent messages “back and forth,” according to Trump’s outside counsel. A spokesman for Mueller told Fox News that the messages have been “very professional.”

Fox News’ Madeline Farber and The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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



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Democrats harden position on infrastructure deal as doubts grow on bipartisan deal

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WASHINGTON — Progressive Democrats working on a bipartisan infrastructure deal hardened their position on the legislation after tense talks Monday.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Senate Democrats leadership team, came out against a bipartisan agreement Monday night after meeting with a bipartisan group of 10 senators.

“I wouldn’t vote for it,” Sanders told reporters. “The bottom line is, there are a lot of needs facing this country. Now is the time to address those needs, and it has to be paid for in a progressive way, given the fact that we have massive income and wealth inequality in America.”

Last week, the so-called G10 group of five Democrats and five Republicans said they had reached a tentative infrastructure deal, but skepticism from Republicans and impatience from Democrats left its prospects uncertain as lawmakers departed for the weekend.

Democratic Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon have demanded that any deal must include action on climate change. The senators plan to hold a news conference Tuesday to call on lawmakers to include substantive climate action in the infrastructure proposal, such as investments to reduce emissions.

Some Democrats have tried to pressure their leadership to abandon bipartisan talks and instead push through a partisan bill, but there’s no guarantee that there are 50 Democratic votes for that tactic, either. And with each Democratic vote appearing to be in jeopardy, another Republican would need to vote in favor.

That means the bipartisan group will need to secure more than 10 Republicans to get its proposal across the finish line. Many in the Republican conference are still bitter over negotiations between President Joe Biden and their chief negotiator, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., breaking down earlier this month.

The group of lawmakers huddled Monday night to flesh out details of their plan. But leaving the half-hour meeting, senators were sending mixed signals to reporters staked out.

“There are still conversations on the pay-fors,” Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said. “There is no agreement.”

The lawmakers didn’t seem to be on the same page about whether a gas tax would help pay for the infrastructure proposal. Republicans said it was part of the plan, while Democrats said it wasn’t. The White House opposes the idea, saying it would lead to tax increases on the middle class.

However, several senators said they plan to release their proposal with details this week — an ambitious goal for a group that seems to have disagreements on key issues. Both sides plan to present the plan during their respective lunches tomorrow afternoon, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said.



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Biden on Russia’s ‘aggressive acts’ that post threat to NATO

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G-7 nations pledge major climate action, with key details missing

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WASHINGTON — Leaders of the G-7 club of wealthy nations took major symbolic strides toward solidifying global climate action at their U.K. summit, but stopped short of detailing how to confront two of the most pressing challenges: phasing out coal and financing the developing world’s energy transition.

With palpable relief after four years of former President Donald Trump, G-7 leaders heaped praise on President Joe Biden and sought to marry their own climate efforts to his domestic political agenda, coalescing under the umbrella of “build back better.” They also rallied behind a pledge to conserve 30 percent of lands and oceans by 2030, a goal Biden had already set for the United States.

“You know, we had a president last who basically said, ‘It’s not a problem, global warming,'” Biden said in a news conference capping his trip to the summit in Cornwall, England. “It is the existential problem facing humanity, and it’s been treated that way.”

But climate analysts, eyeing the G-7’s commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, emerged from the summit vexed over the failure to commit to specific steps broadly acknowledged as essential to meeting that goal. Continued burning of coal to generate power, for example, is widely accepted to be counterproductive to averting climate change’s worst effects.

“These are the seven countries that have to lead from the front,” said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s former special envoy for climate and dean of Tufts University’s Fletcher School. Borrowing a phrase from the ongoing European soccer championship, she added: “It was an open goal, and they missed.”

The U.S. and its G-7 allies did re-up their pledge, first made in 2009, to collectively contribute $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poorer nations reduce emissions and fortify themselves against the growing effects of climate change. That $100 billion goal was never met. But the nations recommitted to that figure anyway, while extending the timeline for reaching it to 2025.

Yet, the joint communiqué that codifies the agreements reached at the summit included no new specific commitments for how countries would reach that figure. The U.S. is billions behind in actually writing checks for pledges it has made in the past.

“They restated a goal that’s been there for a decade, but they didn’t provide clarity about how that was going to be achieved,” said David Waskow, international climate director for the nonprofit World Resources Institute.

Some more hopeful signs did emerge in the hours after the summit ended, with Canada announcing it would double its annual pledge to $4.4 billion in U.S. dollars by 2025, and Germany saying it would triple it during that period, to more than $7 billion.

“That’s really good to see,” said Rachel Cleetus of the Union of Concerned Scientists. The United States, by contrast, “did not put any clear ambition on the table” with respect to global financing, she added.

The G-7 nations did put to paper a pledge to halve their emissions by 2030 and zero them out from their economies by 2050. That marked progress since the most recent G-7 summits, but did not move the ball from what countries including the U.S. have already committed. The United Kingdom and the European Union, in fact, have already pledged to cut much more on an even faster timeline.

And while the leaders vowed to “accelerate the transition away from new sales of diesel and petrol cars” to promote electric vehicles, they did not set a deadline to phase out gas-guzzling vehicles, as some countries before the summit had hoped.

On coal-fired power plants, the G-7 nations did set a deadline of next year to stop financing “unabated international thermal coal power generation.” That’s significant, considering that the world’s largest emitter, China, continues to fund new coal plants overseas.

Yet, the careful phrasing from the G-7 leaders leaves wiggle room to keep financing coal plants that use carbon capture technology to sequester and store carbon dioxide emitted from burning coal.

Perhaps the most glaring omission from the G-7 climate agreement, environmental advocates said, was the lack of any deadline for when nations will stop burning coal at home.

When the environmental ministers for the nations met virtually in May to lay the groundwork for this month’s summit, they jointly committed to achieving an “overwhelmingly decarbonized power system in the 2030s,” technical-speak for saying heavily polluting coal plants would be phased out by the end of the next decade.

But when Biden and other leaders emerged from the meeting, that language was absent from their communiqué, which instead pledged merely to “further accelerate the transition away from unabated coal capacity” without specifying a date.

Jason Bordoff, a White House National Security Council official in the Obama administration, said criticism of the Biden administration over that point was misplaced, given that Biden has already set a goal for U.S. electricity to be carbon-neutral by 2035. That goal broadly assumes phasing out coal anyway, along with cleaner-burning sources like natural gas.

“All the growth in coal use is in emerging markets and developing economies, so the G-7 agreement not to finance new coal projects is very significant, along with the pledge of assistance to help nations move away from fossil fuels,” said Bordoff, founding director of Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Still, the G-7 summit in Cornwall may have been the last, best chance for the world’s wealthiest democracies to increase their leverage over China and other major emitters by uniting behind specific, joint goals well ahead of November. That is when leaders will gather in Scotland for a much-anticipated U.N. climate conference.

All of the remaining venues for high-level global diplomacy before that conference — including September’s U.N. General Assembly in New York and October’s G-20 summit in Rome — will include China.

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