RUSSIA

The Federal Election Commission is moving to improve disclosure of the money behind Internet and digital ads, as the shadow of Russian-funded social media ads in last year's presidential race hangs over the agency.

"We can't, obviously, take over the role of the Justice Department or of Congress," Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub told other commissioners Thursday, "but I do think that we could do this little piece."

The law intended to shine a light on foreign entities and foreign governments working to influence policy in Washington, D.C., has been called everything from "toothless" to "a complete joke."

But Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller isn't laughing — and neither may potential violators if he decides to make it his new weapon of choice.

Senior White House adviser and son-in-law to the president Jared Kushner failed to hand over to Senate investigators emails concerning contacts with WikiLeaks and a "Russian backdoor overture," according to a letter sent by two senior lawmakers.

The letter, released Thursday by Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and its ranking Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, says Kushner failed to turn over "September 2016 email communications to Mr. Kushner concerning WikiLeaks" and other emails pertaining to a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite."

Special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation has entered the West Wing.

Mueller's team is charged with looking into whether anyone on President Trump's campaign worked with the Russians who attacked the 2016 election, so it was inevitable that investigators would want to talk with aides now working in the White House.

Some, like top adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, communications director Hope Hicks and policy adviser Stephen Miller, were key players in the campaign as well.

The U.S. Capitol building.
MarkThomas / Creative Commons

Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for the fourth time this year. Watch video below from the proceedings.

For Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday presents a risk — and an opportunity.

The risk lies in testifying under oath, for the fourth time this year, about his awareness of Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election while he served as a top surrogate for President Trump.

On his Asia trip last week, somewhere over Vietnam on Air Force One, President Trump told reporters he had asked Vladimir Putin again if Russia had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

"He said he didn't meddle," the president said. "He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times."

Trump added: "Every time he sees me, he says, 'I didn't do that.' And I believe — I really believe, that when he tells me that, he means it. ... I think he is very insulted by it, if you want to know the truth."

Gennady Gudkov, a retired KGB colonel, peered at me across his dark, vaulted office in an old Moscow manor house.

"I'm going to tell you something that I've never told anyone before," he said. "About 10 years ago, Russia had the opportunity to seriously influence election results in France."

A federal judge on Thursday ordered President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his business associate Rick Gates to remain under home confinement and GPS monitoring for now.

U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson decided to keep in place the restrictions that were put on the two men at their initial court appearance on Monday. Jackson said the unsecured bonds set earlier this week — $10 million for Manafort and $5 million for Gates — may not be enough to ensure the two men remain in the court's jurisdiction. She set a bail hearing for Monday.

A former Trump campaign official has withdrawn from consideration for a job at the U.S. Department of Agriculture after being pulled into the imbroglio over Russia's interference efforts against the U.S. in the 2016 presidential race.

Sam Clovis said on Thursday that he would not go forward in trying to become the USDA's undersecretary for research, education and economics.

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