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THE RUSSIA RUNDOWN: BuzzFeed bombshell, Barr confirmation, Giuliani’s latest shift

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It was another roller coaster of a week in Russia news. The president’s lawyer changed his story (again), William Barr faced the Senate Judiciary Committee ahead of a final confirmation vote to become attorney general, and BuzzFeed News came out with a new report that could change the entire landscape of the Russia probe.

Here are all the biggest headlines in Russia news this week:

BuzzFeed News dropped a huge story late Thursday which cited law enforcement officials as saying that President Donald Trump directed his former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about the now-defunct Trump Tower Moscow project.

The special counsel Robert Mueller reportedly learned about Trump’s instruction to Cohen through “multiple witnesses,” documents, internal emails, and text messages from members of the Trump Organization, then from Cohen, who is now cooperating with prosecutors.

Some Democratic lawmakers are calling for Trump’s impeachment in light of the report. Meanwhile, the chairmen of the House intelligence and judiciary committees — both of which are conducting their own Russia investigations — vowed to look into the report’s claims.

Mueller has already shown a willingness to charge individuals who were found to have misled congressional or FBI investigators. And Trump’s attorney general pick, William Barr, said this week that it would constitute a crime for the president to coach a witness to lie to investigators.

William Barr testifies at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 15, 2019.
Yuri Gripas/Reuters

Barr was in for a line of tough questioning from Democrats on the panel about a controversial memo he sent to the Justice Department and White House arguing that Mueller’s obstruction investigation was “legally insupportable.”

He also raised concerns among Democrats when he said that Mueller’s report itself may not see the light of day; instead, he said, the public and Congress would likely get an attorney general’s review, or a report that summarizes the attorney general’s view of Mueller’s findings.

But Barr sought to soothe Democrats’ concerns about his independence from the White House, saying that he and Mueller are “good friends” and that he does not believe Mueller would be involved in a “witch hunt” against anyone, as Trump and his allies often claim. He said later on that it would be a crime for the president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence. And he also said it would be a crime for the president to coach witnesses not to testify, or to testify falsely, to investigators.

Rudy Giuliani.
AP Photo/Charles Krupa

In a widely-watched CNN interview Wednesday, Rudy Giuliani left the door open to the possibility that people on the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow to sway the 2016 race in Trump’s favor.

Giuliani’s narrative has seen a remarkable shift over the last year.

Initially, Trump’s allies said there were no contacts between anyone on the campaign and individuals associated with the Russian government. Then, as details spilled out about the myriad meetings and conversations between Trump associates and Russia-linked entities, Trump’s backers acknowledged that there were contacts, but no collusion.

In July, Giuliani told Fox News that there was no collusion between “the top four or five people” on the campaign and Russians. The next month, Giuliani said that even if there was collusion, it wouldn’t matter because collusion isn’t a crime.

On Wednesday, Giuliani constrained his denial further, saying there was no collusion between the president and any Russia-linked individuals specifically related to Russia’s hack of the Democratic National Committee.

Then, he tacked on another telling caveat: “If the collusion happened, it happened a long time ago.”

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort (2nd R) arrives with his wife Kathleen Manafort (R) at the Albert V. Bryan US Courthouse for an arraignment hearing.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The special counsel is still laser-focused on former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has been accused of lying to investigators in breach of his plea deal with Mueller’s office.

This week, Mueller confirmed in a new court filing that he is keenly focused on Manafort’s communications with the former Russian intelligence operative Konstantin Kilimnik. In particular, prosecutors signaled an interest in a series of conversations Manafort and Kilimnik had between August 2, 2016 and March 2018 about an undisclosed topic.

Both Manafort and Kilimnik have previously acknowledged that they met in person on August 2, 2016. Manafort said he and Kilimnik discussed the Trump campaign and the recent hack of the DNC. Kilimnik said they did not discuss the campaign but talked about “current news” and “unpaid bills.”

Shortly after the August meeting, a private jet linked to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian-Ukrainian oligarch Manafort was indebted to, arrived in the US and was there for less than 24 hours.

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