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By Kristen Welker

WASHINGTON — The president’s lawyers have resumed discussions with the office of special counsel Robert Mueller in recent days, the first time that’s been acknowledged since President Donald Trump submitted written responses to questions regarding the possibility of collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia, two people familiar with the matter told NBC News on Thursday.

The president submitted answers to some questions on Nov 20th. At the time, his lawyers said publicly that he would only answer questions regarding the Russia probe and nothing regarding the possibility of obstruction of justice.

The sources would not characterize the nature of the discussions: whether Mueller is pressing for an in-person interview, or how close the process is to wrapping up.

Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor and an MSNBC contributor, told NBC news the next logical step for prosecutors would be to focus on two types of further inquiries. The first would be follow-up questions.

“They may ask for clarification or additional information on some of the answers,” Vance said.

“The second is they will reopen the conversation about whether the president will submit to an in-person-interview,” she added.

When asked about the timing, Vance said: “The timeline makes sense. We’re coming into the holidays, they likely don’t want to let it lag for too long. If they want to follow up before the holidays, then this week would be the time to do that.”

Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s outside attorneys told NBC News: “We don’t’ discuss conversations we’ve had or have not had with the special counsel.”

Rudy Guiliani, who also represents Trump privately, declined comment.

Chuck Rosenberg a former federal prosecutor who once served as chief of staff to Mueller when he was FBI director said, “it’s not uncommon for the two sides in a big case to be talking all the time.”

Trump has repeatedly denied knowledge of any collusion between his campaign and Russia, which interfered with the 2016 election, according to the official U.S. intelligence assessment. The president has also repeatedly referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt.”



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Trump snubs John McCain during bill signing intended to honor him

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — Congress wanted to honor the ailing Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. President Donald Trump did not.

In extended remarks during a visit to Fort Drum in upstate New York to sign the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 — this year’s version of an annual bill that sets defense policy — Trump chose not to mention the former prisoner of war and Senate Armed Services Committee chairman who is battling brain cancer. He even omitted McCain’s name when citing the title of the bill.

The two men have long been fierce critics of each other, with McCain calling Trump’s supporters “crazies” in 2015 and Trump retaliating by questioning whether McCain, who was subjected to torture in a Vietnamese prison camp, is really a “war hero” because “he was captured.”

The snub at Fort Drum, home to the combat aviation brigade of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division, did not escape the notice of McCain’s allies.

“For those asking did I expect Trump to be an a—— today. No more than I expected it to be Monday,” Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime aide, wrote on Twitter.

McCain’s condition — dire enough that a recent HBO documentary on him was titled “John McCain: For Whom the Bell Tolls” — has not stopped Trump from deriding the Arizona senator at political rallies. Though Trump does not use his name, he tells crowds that he would have been able to repeal Obamacare if not for a thumbs-down sign from one senator — McCain.

The senator’s own statement included Trump’s name in the headline and in a preamble written by staff. But the words attributed to McCain did not.

“I’m very proud that the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 has been signed into law,” he said.

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Mueller report shows Russians, Trump camp were friends with benefits. Collusion by another name?

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By Ken Dilanian

WASHINGTON — To charge a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, Robert Mueller decided he had to prove the existence of an explicit, corrupt agreement between the two sides. It wasn’t enough, his report said, that the Trump campaign and Russia were acting out of mutual interest.

Mueller said he didn’t find a conspiracy he could prove. But he did establish in painstaking detail that the Russians and the Trump campaign pursued a relationship of mutual benefit during the election campaign — and afterward.

Some might argue that verges on a different sort of collusion.

“The report reveals that there was an awful lot of contact between people in Trump world and Russians, and there appears to be at least some attempt at coordination,” said Greg Brower, a former U.S. attorney during the George W. Bush administration and senior FBI official. “One could argue you put all that together, it looks like collusion.”

The report says, “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But it also says that “the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

And after the Russians helped Trump get elected though efforts that were apparent to the Trump campaign, the report says, the Russians reached out to members of the Trump transition team, including the president’s son-in-law, ostensibly seeking the fruits of their labors. After a backchannel meeting in the Seychelles, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund passed a friend of the president’s son-in-law a two-page document proposing how the Trump administration could promote “U.S.-Russia reconciliation.”

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Mueller report’s release

Two days before Trump took office, the document found its way to Jared Kushner, who promptly passed it along to incoming White House adviser Steve Bannon and incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Mueller report is “a damning account of a wildly successful Russian influence operation from start to finish,” said Clint Watts, a former FBI agent and social media expert. “The Russian approach was, ‘Let’s reset foreign policy relations with the United States in a way that we’re getting everything we want,’ and they were pursuing that on multiple fronts.”

In Volume I of Mueller’s 448-page report, Mueller details a bevy of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. One of the amazing things about it is that the vast majority of them had already been extensively explored by the news media. That included the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, set up on the promise that a Russian lawyer would hands the campaign incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Yet there are many new details and some new incidents. There was a second offer of help from the Russians “to provide negative information about candidate Clinton to the Trump Campaign,” the report says, but the particulars are redacted because the matter remains under investigation. That may or may not relate to something that happened with Trump associate Roger Stone, who was absent from the report because he has been accused of lying to the FBI and the case is still pending.

“The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations,” the Mueller report says.

Many are well known by now: Michael Cohen’s interactions with Vladimir Putin’s office over a Trump Tower in Moscow. George Papadopoulos, who told the Greek foreign minister the Russians had Clinton’s emails, sought to broker a meeting between Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin.

On Aug. 2, 2016, the report says, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort met in New York City with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, a man the FBI believes is a Russian intelligence operative. Kilimnik sought the meeting to deliver a peace plan for Ukraine — one that Manafort later acknowledged would have allowed Russia to control part of eastern Ukraine.

“They also discussed the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s strategy for winning Democratic votes in Midwestern states,” the report says. Months before, Manafort “had caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting.”

Mueller doesn’t say what Kilimnik did with the polling data, but experts have said it could have been used to help the Russian election interference effort.

And then: “Immediately after the November 8 election, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new administration. The most senior levels of the Russian government encouraged these efforts. The Russian Embassy made contact hours after the election to congratulate the President-Elect and to arrange a call with President Putin. Several Russian businessmen picked up the effort from there.”

After that came the famous phone calls between National Security Adviser Mike Flynn and the Russian ambassador, lies about which led to Flynn’s downfall.

The report makes no comment on the propriety of those contacts and meetings — in stark contrast to former FBI Director James Comey accusing Hillary Clinton of “extremely careless” conduct when he announced in July 2016 that he recommended no criminal charges in the case over her email.

But foreign policy experts and campaign veterans have said, over and over during the 22-month investigation, that it was not normal — and in fact was deeply suspicious — for a presidential campaign to foment a secret relationship with a major U.S. adversary.

That relationship and the actions Trump took to conceal it posed such a concern that the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation, former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe testified.

There is no mention of that in the Mueller report. In fact, the word “counterintelligence” appears just eight times, all in pro forma fashion. The report does not say anything about financial ties, if any, between Donald Trump and Russia, or blackmail, or any other source of compromise.

Current and former intelligence officials say that Mueller does in fact have counterintelligence findings, but they are classified. The House Intelligence Committee has asked for a briefing on them, and so far has not received one.

“After a 17-month investigation, testimony from some 500 witnesses, the issuance of 2,800 subpoenas, the execution of nearly 500 search warrants, early morning raids, the examination of more than 1.4 million pages of documents, and the unprecedented cooperation of the President, it is clear there was no criminal wrongdoing,” Trump’s legal team said in a statement.

Whether or not that is clear, that is not the only standard to which a president is held, and Democrats in Congress plan to continue investigating.

“Whether obstruction was criminal or not, whether these contacts were sufficiently illicit — they are unquestionably dishonest, unethical, immoral, unpatriotic,” said Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “They should be condemned by all Americans.”



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GOP Sen. Richard Burr apparently briefed White House on FBI’s Russia probe, Mueller report says

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By Allan Smith

Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, apparently provided the White House with information on the Russia investigation after a private briefing with then-FBI Director James Comey, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report.

Within a week of Comey briefing the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders about the FBI’s Russia probe in March 2017, Mueller wrote that then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn’s office was in contact with the North Carolina Republican “and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.”

As Mueller notes, it’s unclear if Trump was aware of the briefing at the time. But Annie Donaldson, who served as McGahn’s chief of staff, wrote then that “POTUS in panic/chaos … Need binders to put in front of POTUS. (1) All things related to Russia.”

According to Donaldson’s notes, which Mueller referenced, McGahn’s office was briefed by Burr “on the existence of ‘4-5 targets.'” It was not clear if Donaldson was present for that briefing, or was simply taking notes on something she had heard.

Those targets — listed in Donaldson’s notes — were former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos. Mueller said Donaldson’s notes “track [with] the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to the Gang of 8 on March 9.” In Comey’s briefing, Mueller wrote that the then-FBI director included “an identification of the principal U.S. subjects of the investigation.”

“Chairman Burr does not recall this specific conversation with Mr. McGahn in March of 2017; however, any conversations between the two would have been in reference to the need for White House personnel to voluntarily comply with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Russia investigation,” Caitlin Carroll, a spokeswoman for Burr, told NBC News in a statement. “If specific individuals were discussed, they would have been those known to the Committee, the White House, and the media. The Chairman’s stewardship over the Committee’s bipartisan and fact-based investigation over the last two years speaks for itself.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and a member of the panel, said in a statement: “Given evidence from the Mueller report, the committee must take steps to ensure its investigations do not leak to the executive branch.”



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