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Trump, Lawyer Discuss Potential Payment for Model’s Story in Secret Tape

U.S. cable news networks broadcast an audio recording Tuesday in which President Donald Trump and his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen discuss a potential payment for the rights to a model’s story about her alleged affair with Trump.

Cohen secretly recorded the conversation in September 2016 when Trump was running for president. Cohen’s own attorney, Lanny Davis, made the recording available to CNN.

Trump has repeatedly denied he had an affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal, who sold her story to a tabloid publisher American Media for $150,000. No story about the alleged relationship was published.

In the brief recording, Cohen discusses the need to “open up a company for the transfer of all of that information regarding our friend, David,” a possible reference to Trump’s friend and American Media President David Pecker.

Trump at one point asks how much has to be paid, “One-fifty?” 

He also mentions a possible cash payment, but it is difficult to hear whether he suggests paying with cash or not.

In April, the FBI raided Cohen’s office and home and seized a dozen recordings that were sent to federal prosecutors last week.

Trump has expressed his displeasure with the investigation of Cohen.

He tweeted last week: “Inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning) – almost unheard of. Even more inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client – totally unheard of & perhaps illegal. The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!”

Various states have different rules for when it is legal to record a conversation that basically require either one person or both people involved to give their consent. In the state of New York, where the conversation took place, only one party is required to consent to a recording, so Cohen was legally allowed to tape his exchange with Trump.

Cohen made a $130,000 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels less than two weeks before the November 2016 election to buy her silence about an alleged one-night affair she claims to have had with Trump in 2006, shortly after Trump’s wife Melania gave birth to their son Barron. Some U.S. legal analysts have said the payment could be construed as a campaign finance law violation by Cohen.

In recent months, Cohen has said he made the payment on his own initiative. Trump denied he had an affair with Daniels and said the payment to her was made to stop her from making false accusations.

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Trump to Offer $12 Billion to Farmers Affected by Tariffs

The government announced a $12 billion plan Tuesday to assist farmers who have been hurt by President Donald Trump’s trade disputes with China and other trading partners.

The plan focuses on Midwest soybean producers and others targeted by retaliatory measures.

The Agriculture Department said the proposal would include direct assistance for farmers, purchases of excess crops and trade promotion activities aimed at building new export markets. Officials said the plan would not require congressional approval and would come through the Commodity Credit Corporation, a wing of the department that addresses agricultural prices.

“This is a short-term solution that will give President Trump and his administration the time to work on long-term trade deals,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Officials said the direct payments could help producers of soybeans, which have been hit hard by the Trump tariffs, along with sorghum, corn, wheat, cotton, dairy and farmers raising hogs.

In Kansas City, meanwhile, Trump told a veterans convention that he was trying to renegotiate trade agreements that he said have hurt American workers, and he asked for patience ahead of key talks.

“We’re making tremendous progress. They’re all coming. They don’t want to have those tariffs put on them,” Trump told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.

Trump declared earlier Tuesday that “Tariffs are the greatest!” and threatened to impose additional penalties on U.S. trading partners as he prepared for negotiations with European officials at the White House.

Tariffs are taxes on imports. They are meant to protect domestic businesses and put foreign competitors at a disadvantage. But the taxes also exact a toll on U.S. businesses and consumers, which pay more for imported products.

The Trump administration has slapped tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods in a dispute over Beijing’s high-tech industrial policies. China has retaliated with duties on soybeans and pork, affecting Midwest farmers in a region of the country that supported the president in his 2016 campaign.

Trump has threatened to place penalty taxes on up to $500 billion in products imported from China, a move that would dramatically ratchet up the stakes in the trade dispute involving the globe’s biggest economies.

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Trump ‘Appreciates’ Signs N. Korea Dismantling Launch Site

President Donald Trump on Tuesday praised recent satellite images showing North Korea beginning the dismantling of key facilities at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station on the country’s northwest coast.

“We appreciated that,” Trump said of the images first reported by the U.S.-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North.

The satellite images show the dismantling of a rail-mounted processing building, where space launch vehicles are assembled before being moved to the launch pad, and the nearby rocket engine test stand, where liquid-fuel engines are developed for ballistic missiles and space launch vehicles, 38 North said. 

38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez called the move an “important first step towards fulfilling a commitment” North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made during his summit with Trump in Singapore.

“We had a fantastic meeting with Chairman Kim and it seems to be going very well,” Trump said Tuesday.

A day after the summit last month, Trump said in a tweet:

But their agreement contained no details about when or how North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons program or shut down its existing nuclear facilities. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Pyongyang recently with North Korean officials to try to advance discussions, but there appeared to be little progress. Some diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled meetings and failed to maintain basic communications with the U.S.

Trump has publicly professed satisfaction at the pace of negotiations with North Korea, saying last week there was “no rush” in completing talks because U.S. and U.N. economic sanctions against Pyongyang remained in place.

On Monday, the U.S. State, Treasury and Homeland Security departments said, “The international community cannot let up on pressure” until North Korea ends its nuclear weapons program.

Trump said last week that U.S. relations with North Korea “are very good and the process is moving along.” He tweeted that with eventual denuclearization, there would be “big benefits and exciting future for North Korea at end of process!” 

But several news outlets have reported in recent days that behind the scenes at the White House, Trump has voiced his displeasure to aides at the pace of talks in pushing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

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Trump: Russia Will Support Democrats in US Congressional Elections

U.S. President Donald Trump contended on Twitter Tuesday that Russia “will be pushing very hard for the Democrats” in November’s congressional elections, against his favored Republican candidates.

Trump’s claim that Moscow would favor Democrats in the November 6 congressional contests — when the entire 435-member House of Representatives and a third of the Senate is up for election — is at odds with the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election to help Trump win the White House.

At last week’s summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump appeared to embrace the Russian leader’s denial that Russia had interfered in 2016 and equated Putin’s statement with the U.S. intelligence finding that it had meddled.

Back in Washington, Trump said he supported his intelligence officials and their conclusion, often coupling it with his oft-repeated statement that his campaign did not collude with the Russians and that the Russian interference had no effect on the outcome of the election.

By Sunday, however, he blamed former President Barack Obama for not stopping the Russian interference in the election, yet called it “all a big hoax.”

Top U.S. intelligence officials say Russia is again attempting to interfere in the U.S. electoral process in the November voting, although Trump administration officials have vowed to try to stop it.

Republicans now hold majorities in both chambers of Congress, but U.S. political analysts say Democrats could wrest control of one or both houses, more likely the House.

Democrats need to pick up two seats to claim the Senate majority and 23 to control the House when the new Congress takes office in January.

Even with control now, Republicans have had difficulty approving Trump’s legislative agenda and likely would have even more trouble should Democrats take over one or both houses.

If Democrats assume control of the House, Trump opponents could start numerous investigations of his administration and open impeachment hearings to remove him from office.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is continuing his criminal investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, probing whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow. Mueller recently indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officials for hacking into the computer files of Democratic operatives supporting Trump’s challenger, Democrat Hillary Clinton.

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Prosecutors Have at Least 12 Recordings by Trump Lawyer Cohen

Twelve audio recordings seized from U.S. President Donald Trump’s onetime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, were turned over to federal prosecutors on Friday, according to a filing in federal court in Manhattan on Monday.

They include a recording of a conversation between Cohen and Trump two months before the November 2016 election, whose existence was made public last week, in which they discussed buying the rights to a story by a woman who said she had an affair with Trump, according to Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers. The other recordings are of conversations in which Cohen mentions the president to someone else, Giuliani said.

In the September 2016 conversation, Trump and Cohen discussed paying the parent company of the National Enquirer tabloid for the rights to the story of former Playboy model Karen McDougal, Giuliani previously said in an interview.

Giuliani said the conversation was held at Trump’s office in Trump Tower and that Cohen used a hidden device to record the conversation. In New York state it is legal to record a conversation if one party consents.

Giuliani denied that Trump had an affair with the model, Karen McDougal. He said the tape would show that Trump made clear that if there were going to be a payment, it should be done by check, which would be easily traced. Giuliani said the payment was never made.

Payment denied

Before the election, the Trump campaign denied any knowledge of a payment to McDougal. The taped conversation could undermine those denials.

Giuliani has said no campaign funding was involved in the discussion between Trump and Cohen. If campaign funds were used, that could run afoul of federal election law, according to legal experts.

Monday’s filing came from a court-appointed official who is reviewing claims by Cohen’s and Trump’s lawyers about which of the materials seized from Cohen are shielded by attorney-client privilege.

The official, former federal Judge Barbara Jones, said in the filing that the 12 recordings were turned over to prosecutors after claims that they were privileged were dropped.

Giuliani confirmed on Monday that Trump’s lawyers were not asserting attorney-client privilege over the tapes.

No comment from Cohen

Lawyers for Cohen could not immediately be reached for comment.

Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating Cohen for possible bank and tax fraud, and for possible campaign law violations linked to a $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels and other matters related to Trump’s campaign, a person familiar with the investigation has told Reuters. Cohen has not been charged with any crime.

The investigation stemmed in part from a referral by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, which is looking into possible coordination during the election campaign between Trump’s aides and Russian officials. Moscow has denied U.S. allegations that it interfered in the election, and Trump has denied any campaign ties to Russian officials.

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Trump Defends Putin Summit as Poll Shows High Disapproval

President Donald Trump continues to defend his recent summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump said Monday on Twitter that he made no concessions to Putin in their meeting last week.

The president’s performance got a negative review in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, which found that 50 percent of Americans disapproved of his handling of the summit, compared to 33 percent who approved.

Trump has been on the defensive over the summit since returning from Helsinki, especially during a key moment when he was asked about Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election as Putin stood beside him.

“My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me and some others; they said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said at his joint news conference with Putin. “I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia.”

‘Gave up nothing’

In offering his defense on Twitter, Trump wrote that he “gave up nothing” in his meeting with Putin and talked about “future benefits for both countries.”

Trump also renewed his attacks on the Russia probe in a tweet Sunday, describing it “as a big hoax.”

In recent days, both Democrats and Republicans have criticized Trump’s Helsinki performance.

“President Trump obviously seemed frightened in the presence of Putin,” said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.  “What was he afraid of? What is President Putin blackmailing President Trump with?”

A larger than normal chorus of Republicans also expressed dismay about the Putin meeting – including one of Trump’s few regular Republican critics, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake.

“We have indulged myths and fabrications and pretended that it wasn’t so bad, and our indulgence got us the capitulation in Helsinki,” Flake said in a speech on the Senate floor.

Trump defenders spoke up as well, including 2016 Republican rival and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

“I think we are also seeing a lot of folks on the political left trying to take advantage of it, hyperventilating and using extreme rhetoric, using words like treason, which is ridiculous,” Cruz told reporters. “It was a mistake. He shouldn’t have said what he said.”

Tougher stance

After several days of criticism, Trump issued a stronger statement on the threat of Russian interference in this year’s midterm congressional elections.

“Unlike previous administrations, my administration has and will continue to move aggressively to repeal any efforts and repel. We will repel it. Any efforts to interfere in our elections,” Trump told his Cabinet last week.

Trump’s summit drew strong reactions from voters around the country as well.

“Putin is almost like an evil genius in a way. He is very manipulative and he knows what he is doing and I think Trump really got played,” said one Trump critic interviewed by VOA’s Russian Service in New York City.

Trump supporters were quick to jump to his defense. “I think it all boils down to, point blank, a sore loser. And they are just grasping at straws,” said a woman, interviewed by Associated Press Television, outside a coffee shop in Mississippi.

Lasting damage?

Analysts continue to debate whether Trump has hurt himself politically.

“I think it is lasting political damage, but more importantly, it is lasting damage to his presidency,” said Elaine Kamarck, a political expert with the Brookings Institution in Washington. “It raises very, very serious questions about either his competence or his integrity, and neither one is something you want to question in a president.”

Kamarck argued the summit could have an impact on both Trump critics and supporters. “There are people who have been suspicious of the president from the beginning who are outraged at his behavior with Russia,” she said. “And there are people who have wanted to believe him and are for him, and many of them are mystified.”

Given Trump’s loyal political base, will many of them be swayed? John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center is not so sure.

“The average Republican voter is with Donald Trump,” he said. “The elites of the Republican Party are very split on him, but the average Republican voter believes in him.”

In addition to the recent Washington Post-ABC News poll, a survey by CBS News found only 29 percent approved of Trump’s handling of the summit, while 56 percent disapproved. Among Republicans in the CBS survey, 68 percent approved compared to only 21 percent who disapproved.

In the latest Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, 45 percent of those surveyed felt Trump’s relationship with Putin was “too friendly,” while 29 percent disagreed and 26 percent had no opinion.

So it remains an open question as to whether the summit will actually move voters in one direction or another, or simply be added to the long list of issues for them to sift through before midterm congressional elections in November.

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Ex-Diplomats Warn Pompeo Against Cutting US Refugee Bureau

Thirty-two former U.S. diplomats and 11 aid groups on Monday urged U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to eliminate a key State Department refugee bureau, warning that the move would be “an error of grave proportion.”

In a letter to Pompeo, the former diplomats and national security advisers who served in both Democratic and Republican administrations said eliminating the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM) office would impact the U.S. ability to influence global refugee policy.

The letter comes barely a year after 58 U.S. policy experts warned Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state, against such a move.

“We believe this would be an error of grave proportion, and we would urge close consultation with the U.S. Congress before such a critically important measure is even considered,” the former officials and aid groups wrote.

Since taking office in January last year, the Trump administration has cut the number of refugees it admits into the country, introduced stricter vetting rules and quit negotiations on a voluntary pact to deal with global migration.

“We are convinced that the elimination of PRM’s assistance functions would have profound and negative implications for the Secretary of State’s capacity to influence policy issues of key concern to the United States,” the groups wrote. “It would also be ironic, as this is one of the bureaus at State that has enjoyed strong bipartisan support over many years.”

The State Department did not respond to questions about the possible removal of the refugee office.

Those signing the letter included William Burns, former deputy secretary of state; Rand Beers, former deputy assistant to the president for homeland security; Nicholas Burns, former under secretary of state for political affairs; Ryan Crocker, former ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon; Ellen Laipson, former vice chair of the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Anne Richard, former assistant secretary of state for PRM; and Frederick Barton, a former U.N. deputy high commissioner for refugees.

Among the aid groups that signed the letter was Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief; David Miliband, president of International Rescue Committee; Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration; Wendy Young, president of Kids in Need of Defense; and Neal Keny-Guyer, CEO of Mercy Corps.

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US Senators Push Sanctions to Send Putin Election Meddling Warning

A pair of prominent Republican U.S. senators said on Sunday that the United States must move promptly to prepare new sanctions against Russia to discourage interference in upcoming elections.

Senator Lindsey Graham said additional sanctions needed to be teed up before President Donald Trump holds a second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the U.S. leader came under heavy criticism for failing to confront Putin about interference in the 2016 election at a summit last Monday.

“You need to work with Congress to come up with new sanctions because Putin’s not getting the message,” Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We need new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions, hanging over his head, and then meet with him.”

Undaunted by the backlash in his own party to his first meeting, Trump invited Putin to a White House meeting sometime this autumn. Congressional elections will take place in November.

Representative Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, questioned the wisdom of Putin being ushered into the White House.

Talking to Putin about matters such as the civil war in Syria, Gowdy said, “is very different from issuing an invitation. Those should be reserved for, I think, our allies like Great Britain and Canada and Australia and those who are with us day in and day out.” Gowdy made his remarks during an interview on television’s “Fox News Sunday.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio wants a vote on a bill called DETER that would impose new sanctions if U.S. intelligence officials determine Russia meddled in U.S. elections. Rubio co-authored the legislation with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, a bipartisan effort revived by the fallout of last week’s summit.

“What I think is indisputable is that they did interfere and they will do so in the future,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Last Thursday, Rubio and Van Hollen, noting the “urgency of the challenge before our nation,” wrote to the chairmen of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees pressing them to hold hearings on the legislation before the start of an early August recess.

‘Deter’ Act

Putin has denied that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election after the U.S. intelligence community concluded Russia interfered through cyber attacks and social media in a bid to boost Trump’s candidacy.

Under pressure from Congress, which last year passed a tough sanctions law targeting Russia, the U.S. Treasury in April imposed sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs for election meddling and “malign” activities.

The DETER Act would make sanctions more automatic and aim to punish Russia’s finance, energy, defense and other sectors. The U.S. director of national intelligence would be required to conclude if any foreign nations interfered in elections one month after Americans cast their votes, triggering strict sanctions within 10 days if interference was detected.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week identified the bill as a potential step Congress could take to push back against Russia as Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for sanctions and other deterrents.

But the U.S. oil and gas industry is lobbying against the bill because of worries that heightened sanctions could affect U.S. investments in Russia, congressional sources said.

U.S. businesses could face an uphill battle, however, if they aim to block or defang the legislation. “The sanctions are only implemented if Russia is deemed to have interfered in our election. Pretty hard to say: ‘C’mon guys, don’t take that too seriously.’ I mean, what representative of any industry could credibly make that argument? That’s pretty tough,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said in a hallway interview late last week with Reuters.

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US Senators Push Sanctions to Send Putin Election Meddling Warning

A pair of prominent Republican U.S. senators said on Sunday that the United States must move promptly to prepare new sanctions against Russia to discourage interference in upcoming elections.

Senator Lindsey Graham said additional sanctions needed to be teed up before President Donald Trump holds a second meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin after the U.S. leader came under heavy criticism for failing to confront Putin about interference in the 2016 election at a summit last Monday.

“You need to work with Congress to come up with new sanctions because Putin’s not getting the message,” Graham said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We need new sanctions, heavy-handed sanctions, hanging over his head, and then meet with him.”

Undaunted by the backlash in his own party to his first meeting, Trump invited Putin to a White House meeting sometime this autumn. Congressional elections will take place in November.

Representative Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, questioned the wisdom of Putin being ushered into the White House.

Talking to Putin about matters such as the civil war in Syria, Gowdy said, “is very different from issuing an invitation. Those should be reserved for, I think, our allies like Great Britain and Canada and Australia and those who are with us day in and day out.” Gowdy made his remarks during an interview on television’s “Fox News Sunday.”

Republican Senator Marco Rubio wants a vote on a bill called DETER that would impose new sanctions if U.S. intelligence officials determine Russia meddled in U.S. elections. Rubio co-authored the legislation with Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen, a bipartisan effort revived by the fallout of last week’s summit.

“What I think is indisputable is that they did interfere and they will do so in the future,” Rubio said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Last Thursday, Rubio and Van Hollen, noting the “urgency of the challenge before our nation,” wrote to the chairmen of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees pressing them to hold hearings on the legislation before the start of an early August recess.

‘Deter’ Act

Putin has denied that Russia tried to influence the 2016 presidential election after the U.S. intelligence community concluded Russia interfered through cyber attacks and social media in a bid to boost Trump’s candidacy.

Under pressure from Congress, which last year passed a tough sanctions law targeting Russia, the U.S. Treasury in April imposed sanctions on Russian officials and oligarchs for election meddling and “malign” activities.

The DETER Act would make sanctions more automatic and aim to punish Russia’s finance, energy, defense and other sectors. The U.S. director of national intelligence would be required to conclude if any foreign nations interfered in elections one month after Americans cast their votes, triggering strict sanctions within 10 days if interference was detected.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last week identified the bill as a potential step Congress could take to push back against Russia as Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called for sanctions and other deterrents.

But the U.S. oil and gas industry is lobbying against the bill because of worries that heightened sanctions could affect U.S. investments in Russia, congressional sources said.

U.S. businesses could face an uphill battle, however, if they aim to block or defang the legislation. “The sanctions are only implemented if Russia is deemed to have interfered in our election. Pretty hard to say: ‘C’mon guys, don’t take that too seriously.’ I mean, what representative of any industry could credibly make that argument? That’s pretty tough,” Democratic Senator Chris Coons said in a hallway interview late last week with Reuters.

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Trump Tweets it Looks Like his Campaign Spied Upon Illegally

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Sunday it was looking more and more like his campaign for the 2016 presidential election had been illegally spied upon.

Trump issued the tweet after saying documents about his former presidential campaign adviser Carter Page confirmed with little doubt that the Department of Justice and Federal Bureau of Investigation had misled the courts.

The FBI released documents on Saturday related to the surveillance of Page as part of an investigation into whether he conspired with the Russian government to undermine the election.

Page has denied being an agent of the Russian government and has not been charged with any crime.

In his tweets, Trump also took aim at defeated Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee, her party’s governing body.

“Looking more & more like the Trump Campaign for President was illegally being spied upon [surveillance] for the political gain of Crooked Hillary Clinton and the DNC,” he said, referring to the Democratic National Committee. “Republicans must get tough now. An illegal Scam!”

Referring to the Carter Page documents, he said: “As usual they are ridiculously heavily redacted but confirm with little doubt that the Department of “Justice” and FBI misled the courts. Witch Hunt Rigged, a Scam!”

The 412 pages, mostly heavily redacted, included surveillance applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and warrants surrounding the investigation into Page.

“The FBI believes that Page has been collaborating and conspiring with the Russian Government,” the surveillance application filed in October 2016 said. The documents released include applications and renewal warrants filed in 2017 after Trump took office.

The documents released said “the FBI believes that the Russian Government’s efforts are being coordinated with Page and perhaps other individuals associated with” Trump’s campaign. It added Page “has established relationships with Russian Government officials, including Russian intelligence officers.”

Republican lawmakers have contended that the FBI made serious missteps when it sought a warrant to monitor Page in October 2016 shortly after he left the Trump campaign.

Last week, a federal grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016, in the most detailed U.S. accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the presidential election to help Trump.

Earlier this year, 13 other Russians and three Russian companies were indicted on charges of conspiring to interfere with the election.

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