U.S. President Donald Trump has been under fire in recent days for his apparent parroting of Russian talking points. Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told MSNBC host Joy Reid Monday that Trump’s “word salad” knowledge of Russia invading Afghanistan suggests he’s “someone’s puppet.”
O’Brien was referring to comments Trump made at a cabinet meeting last week, which were roundly condemned - Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal even dedicated an editorial to it.
“We have to wonder why these talking points that are clearly Kremlin talking points end up in Donald Trump’s mouth,” O’Brien said. “He’s probably the most wildly ill-informed and illiterate president we have had in the Oval Office and he would be hard-pressed to find Afghanistan on a map.”
He continued: “What’s disturbing is when you move past the word salad of it, this sort of tragicomic aspect of Trump when he does this strange performance art is that it’s a national security problem.”
Rachel Maddow also dedicated a segment to the topic over the weekend. “Where is the president getting this stuff?” she wondered discussing Trump conspiracies that Poland wanted to invade Belarus and that Montengro might start World War III.
Maddow interviewed former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul who further made the case.
Here is a look at where the investigations related to President Donald Trump and Russia stand and what may lie ahead for him:
WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Trump is facing criminal investigations in Washington and New York.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Trump also plays a central role in a separate case in New York, where prosecutors have implicated him in a crime. They say Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the campaign.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW TODAY?
The chief federal judge in Washington has extended the grand jury hearing testimony in the special counsel’s investigation.
The grand jury was impaneled in July 2017 for 18 months and term was scheduled to expire in the coming days. Federal court rules allow the grand jury’s service to be extended up to six months if it is in the “public interest.”
Separately, now that Democrats have taken over the House, some party members are making noise about trying to remove Trump from office.
California Rep. Brad Sherman and Texas Rep. Al Green introduced articles of impeachment against Trump on Thursday, the first day of the new Congress.
Also Thursday, House Judiciary Committee Democrats introduced legislation to protect Mueller from being fired. Trump has repeatedly criticized Mueller’s investigation.
The legislation is designed as a companion to a bipartisan bill that was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. It would allow any special counsel who is removed from office to challenge his or her removal in court and would put into law existing regulations that a special counsel may only be removed for good cause.
WHAT’S UP WITH THE ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE?
Trump’s pick for attorney general, William Barr, sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department last year criticizing parts of the Mueller probe as “fatally misconceived.”
The 20-page memo, sent in June while Barr was in private practice and months before he was selected by Trump for the Justice Department job, may prompt questions about his ability to oversee the special counsel’s investigation fairly.
The document argues that there could be disastrous consequences for the Justice Department and the presidency if Mueller were to conclude that acts a president is legally permitted to take — such as firing an FBI director — could constitute obstruction of justice, just because someone concludes that there was corrupt intent.
SO ... DID THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN COLLUDE WITH RUSSIA?
There is no smoking gun when it comes to the question of Russia collusion. But the evidence so far shows a broad range of Trump associates had Russia-related contacts during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition period, and that several lied about the communication.
There is also evidence that some people in the president’s orbit were discussing a possible email dump from WikiLeaks before it occurred. American intelligence agencies and Mueller have said Russia was the source of hacked material released by WikiLeaks during the campaign that was damaging to Clinton’s presidential effort.
OTHER QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
—WHAT ABOUT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE? That is another unresolved question that Mueller is pursuing. Investigators have examined key episodes such as Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey and his fury over the recusal from the investigation of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
—WHAT DOES TRUMP HAVE TO SAY ABOUT ALL THIS? Trump has repeatedly slammed the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and insisted there was “NO COLLUSION” with Russia. He also says his now-former lawyer, Cohen, lied to get a lighter sentence in New York.
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