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  1. CNN: Senate Is Investigating Russian Fund Tied To Trump Associates

    The Senate Intelligence Committee is looking into a $10 billion Russian investment fund managed by a Kremlin-run bank tied to several Trump associates, CNN reported Friday.

    A congressional source told CNN that lawmakers are investigating the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which is overseen by the state-run Vnesheconombank, whose CEO met with White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner in December. Both the bank and fund have been under U.S. sanction since Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

    Kushner’s December meeting is a focus for congressional and federal investigators looking into inappropriate contacts between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign, as is a Jan. 16 meeting between the RDIF’s chief executive and Anthony Scaramucci (pictured at Davos in January), a Trump campaign adviser and member of the transition team’s executive committee.

    As CNN reported, Scaramucci met with Kirill Dmitriev, the fund’s chief executive, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland just four days before Trump’s inauguration. Congressional investigators reportedly want to know if they discussed lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia—a policy shift for which Dmitriev has strenuously advocated, according to CNN.

    A spokeswoman for RDIF told CNN that they did not, though she declined to describe the conversation. Scaramucci also told the network that “there is nothing there.”

    Dmitriev “came over to say hello in a restaurant, and I was cordial,” Scaramucci said in an email to CNN.

    The Wall Street Journal previously reported that federal investigators are looking into all interactions between Trump, his associates and Vnesheconombank.

  2. WaPo: CIA Intel Showed Putin Directly Ordered Operation To Get Trump Elected

    Intelligence obtained by the CIA last summer found that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a cyber campaign intended to help elect Donald Trump and damage the electoral chances of Hillary Clinton, according to an exhaustive Washington Post report out Friday into the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign.

    This explosive information was first delivered to former president Barack Obama in Aug. 2016, according to the newspaper.

    The Post investigation details how Obama and his team struggled to develop a response to this unprecedented interference by a foreign country, worrying that they would be seen as trying to tip the scales in the presidential race. By the time the CIA’s warning arrived, the Obama White House knew that Russian hackers were behind cyberattacks on Democratic Party operatives and the Democratic National Committee, and that the FBI had launched an investigation into ties between Russian officials and Trump campaign staffers.

    Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt the extent of Russia’s interference, has criticized the Obama administration for not doing more to “stop them.”

    By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 Election, it all took place during the Obama Admin. Why didn't they stop them?

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2017

    Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified before the House Intelligence Committee this week that Trump’s repeated insistence that the election would be “rigged” against him stymied their response.

    For now, the only action the U.S. has taken in response to Russia is an Obama administration package involving the expulsion of 35 diplomats, closure of two Russian diplomatic compounds, and imposition of new, narrowly targeted economic sanctions.

  3. Report: Trump Blames His WH Counsel For Failing To Contain Russia Probe

    President Donald Trump is reportedly blaming one of his most loyal Washington hands for not containing the Russia probe before it got messy.

    According to a Friday report from Politico — which cited anonymous White House advisers, both formal and informal — White House counsel Donald McGahn is the latest person on the receiving end of Trump’s outbursts toward staff.

    McGahn, who was one of the first Washington elite to support the President during his campaign, took a step back from the Russia probe when Trump’s personal attorney Marc Kasowitz was hired to take over. One of Politico’s sources said Trump’s anger toward McGahn for failing to contain the investigation represents his need to blame someone for the legal problems that have plagued his young presidency.

    This is one of the misconceptions about the White House counsel’s office. Don represents the institution. What is going on with Russia and Mueller are matters involving Trump in his personal capacity,” one of the informal White House advisers told Politico. “I am not sure the president completely understands how these roles are segregated.”

    Trump’s frustrations with McGahn began to surface after multiple courts struck down his executive order banning immigration from several majority-Muslim countries, according to the report, and the President frequently complained about the way the appeal process was handled under McGahn’s leadership.

    He also railed against McGahn when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe, per Politico’s sources. Trump’s displeasure with the White House counsel is indicative of his concerns that he didn’t get good advice about the Russia investigation before Kasowitz came on board, one source said.

    “I think Don has done a reasonable job as anyone could to keep things in perspective and to try to articulate to the president, ‘I can’t do the thing you’re suggesting. You have to let the process unfold,’” the advisor told Politico.

  4. GOP Sen.: Assessing O’Care Repeal Bill Depends On How You Define ‘Better’

    Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) expressed his support for the Senate Republicans’ Obamacare repeal bill Friday, although he told the hosts of “Fox & Friends” that he had yet to commit to voting for it.

    Asked if the bill bettered the state of health care, Cassidy replied: “It depends on how you define ‘better.’”

    “It eliminates the individual and employee mandate, people love that,” co-host Steve Doocy told Cassidy. “It gets rid of a lot of taxes. Ultimately it’s got to be cheaper and it’s got to be better. Is it?”

    “It is cheaper, and it depends on how you define better,” Cassidy said. “Obamacare had bells and whistles on all of their policies.”

    The senator said Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits — categories of services that insurers were required to cover — added “a small portion of the cost,” and that other things mandated by Obamacare “folks just couldn’t afford.”

    He elaborated slightly in an appearance later with MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” He said that “folks are going to complain,” even about changes from “worse to better.” One change for the better, he said, was Senate Republicans’ proposed per capita cap on Medicaid reimbursements to the states, which would ultimately result in deep cuts in federal Medicaid payments.

    He also said the bill’s rollback of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion could push its former beneficiaries to the private market.

    “If that Medicaid expansion goes away and there is no coverage, that’s a bad thing,” he said. “On the other hand, if they move from Medicaid to private insurance, that could be a good thing.” 

    Still, Cassidy hedged when pressed to ensure that former Medicaid recipients would find a place in the private market.

    “Is that definitely what happens for those people?” co-host Willy Geist asked. “Because you’ve got to think of a family in Indiana who is covered by that Medicaid expansion, going ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want this taken away if I don’t know what’s over the hill.’

    “That’s what I’m looking at, but the tax credits in the Senate bill are far more generous than the tax credits in the House bill, so as that family moves over, we want to make sure there is not a big cliff. ‘Oh, you’re on Medicaid, so you don’t get any help.’ If we make so that you’re on Medicaid but then you move over into a generous credit that allows you to kind of float on up, actually that’s going to be better.”

    “We don’t know if that’s going to happen,” Geist noted. Senate Republicans’ tax credits for individuals purchasing insurance on the individual market are less generous than Obamacare’s current subsidies.

    Cassidy added later, on that point: “For access to care, it will depend upon the formulas for the generosity of that credit for the lower-income American. So let me reserve judgment until I finish saying that.”

  5. NYT: Feds Are Investigating Financial Deals Involving Manafort, Son-In-Law

    Financial dealings involving President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s son-in-law are under scrutiny by federal investigators, the New York Times reported Friday.

    Two sources close to the matter told the Times that Manafort bankrolled real estate purchases of luxury apartments and homes in New York and California in collaboration with his son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai, who was sued by a former investor for defrauding him.

    The sources said it was unclear if this particular investigation was part of the broader federal probe into Russia’s election interference and possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives. Manafort is under scrutiny in that probe, as well as for a tangle of dealings including his business activities in Russia, whether he appropriately filed foreign lobbying disclosures, and the millions of dollars in secret cash payments he reportedly received for his work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

    Manafort and Yohai declined the Times’ request for comment.

    The longtime GOP fixer’s multi-million dollar real estate deals were already known to be of interest to federal agents. NBC reported that investigators subpoenaed records related to a $3.5 million mortgage he took out on his country home in the Hamptons through a shell company named Summerbreeze LLC, which was created the day he resigned from the Trump campaign. The DOJ has also requested Manafort’s bank records from Citizens Financial Group, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

    What’s new in the Times report is that Manafort and his wife allegedly took out a series of mortgages on their properties totaling $20 million over the past year, and that he allegedly funneled millions of dollars to finance luxury properties that his son-in-law purchased through shell companies of his own.

    A fashion photographer who said he invested $2.9 million with Yohai has sued him for allegedly creating the false illusion of a “quick and large return” on his investment, according to the Times. Andrea Manafort, sister of Yohai’s wife Jessica, said in text messages that were hacked, leaked online, and obtained by the Times that she believed Yohai was “running a Ponzi scheme.”

    Yohai denied the accusations in a court filing, according to the newspaper.