The Justice Department is abandoning plans for a looming criminal trial focused on claims of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
With jury selection set to begin in just over two weeks, prosecutors asked a federal judge to permanently dismiss the charges special counsel Robert Mueller brought two years ago against two Russian firms linked to a St. Petersburg businessman known as Putin’s chef, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
The move scuttles a trial that could have drawn the ire of President Donald Trump: a high-profile showcase of U.S. intelligence agencies’ evidence that Russian trolls sought to stir up support for him in the 2016 presidential election while fighting against his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich, a Trump appointee who oversaw the case, formally dismissed the charge against the two Russian firms Monday night. […]
Trump appeared to celebrate the dropping of the charges and the scuttling of the trial as more evidence of the flaws of Mueller’s operation. Late Monday night, the president retweeted another user’s comment about the developments: “How embarrassing for Team Mueller.”
March 16, 2020
New York Times
Intelligence officials told lawmakers behind closed doors on Tuesday that Russia was not directly supporting any candidates as it tried to interfere in the presidential race, an assertion that contradicted an earlier briefing and prompted accusations from Democrats that the Trump administration was politicizing intelligence.
“The I.C. has not concluded that the Kremlin is directly aiding any candidate’s re-election or any other candidates’ election,” an unclassified summary given to lawmakers said, using shorthand for the intelligence community. “Nor have we concluded that the Russians will definitely choose to try to do so in 2020.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi challenged the officials during the first of two briefings on Tuesday, saying their assertions differed from a classified hearing last month where a top election security official discussed Russia’s preference for President Trump’s re-election, according to three people present for Tuesday’s session. The previous briefing drew angry responses from House Republicans. […]
But for Democrats, Tuesday’s presentation was the clearest evidence so far of the effect of Richard Grenell, a Trump loyalist who took over last month as acting director of national intelligence.
Before the day’s briefings, Kashyap Patel, a former White House and congressional aide who moved to Mr. Grenell’s office last month, met with intelligence officials and imposed limits on what they could tell Congress about foreign influence operations, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Patel’s comments struck some intelligence officials as an inappropriate politicization of the briefing. Some have been wary of his partisan background since his arrival as a top aide to Mr. Grenell. Mr. Patel was once a top investigator for Representative Devin Nunes, Republican of California and former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and played a key role in helping Republicans try to undermine the Russia investigation by writing a memo that accused law enforcement officials of abusing their power.
March 10, 2020
U.S. prosecutors say they have a witness who will directly implicate a Russian businessman known as “Putin’s chef” in schemes to carry out election interference overseas.
The mystery witness is prepared to testify at a criminal trial set to open in Washington next month in a case special counsel Robert Mueller brought accusing three Russian companies and 13 Russian individuals of meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a prosecutor declared at a recent court hearing.
The anticipated testimony will focus on the most prominent Russian national charged in the indictment, Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St. Petersburg restaurateur who enjoys close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and who has expanded his business empire to become a key contractor for the Russian military.
Prosecutors say Prigozhin ran the Internet Research Agency, a Russian firm that allegedly sponsored and coordinated online troll activity during the 2016 U.S. election.
March 4, 2020
Wall Street Journal
President Trump lashed out at his acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, earlier this month after learning that one of his subordinates had briefed the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s apparent preference for Mr. Trump in the 2020 presidential contest, people familiar with the matter said.
The Oval Office confrontation occurred after Mr. Trump learned that Shelby Pierson, the top election-security official in Mr. Maguire’s office, delivered information on election interference in a classified hearing before bipartisan members of the House panel, alongside national security officials from other federal agencies, three of the people said.
During that hearing, Ms. Pierson said Russia appeared to favor Mr. Trump over Democratic challengers and might seek to act on that preference, two of the people said, in a move that would reprise Moscow’s efforts during the 2016 election to boost his candidacy.
Mr. Trump grew irate after learning that the classified hearing, which took place on Feb. 13 and was attended by both Democrats and Republicans, occurred before his own meeting on election interference, which occurred the next day, those people said. The president also expressed his agitation over the substance of what Ms. Pierson told lawmakers about Russia’s possible interest in interfering on his behalf, these people said, with one person describing it as a prolonged and pointed interrogation of Mr. Maguire. Officials from other agencies were also present in the room, these people said.
Mr. Trump on Wednesday said he was replacing Mr. Maguire, a retired Navy vice admiral, as acting director of national intelligence with Richard Grenell, the current ambassador to Germany. Mr. Grenell has scant experience with intelligence matters and is viewed by Democrats as an ardent loyalist to the president. Mr. Maguire had been rumored to be in the running to be nominated to the position full-time, and Mr. Trump had praised him publicly during his tenure.
February 21, 2020