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St. Louis investigators are questioning Missouri lawmakers as part of an ongoing criminal probe into Gov. Eric Greitens (R).

In a Wednesday visit to the Capitol, two investigators working with the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner interviewed a number of lawmakers from both parties about Greitens’ conduct, the Kansas City Star reported Wednesday.

The questions they’re asking suggest that Gardner’s investigation has expanded beyond allegations that Greitens blackmailed and once slapped a woman with whom he carried out an extramarital affair, to look at Greitens’ campaign finance practices.

State Rep. Nate Walker, a Republican and an early supporter of the governor who has since called for him to step down, told the Star that the inquiries covered issues including “dark money and different things like that.”

In a Thursday phone call with TPM, Walker declined to expand further on the questions he received from investigators but said he had the impression from the sit-down in his office that this was a “pretty major investigation.”

Walker reiterated his belief that the various scandals engulfing Greitens had become a “major distraction” and that the governor needs to step down.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied allegations that he took a nude photograph of the woman and threatened to release it if she went public.

Greitens ran on a platform of government transparency, but has come under fire during his first year in office for relying heavily on contributions from nonprofits that engage in political activity without disclosing their donors.

Gardner’s office confirmed to the Star that Jack Foley and William Tisaby — a pair of private investigators with FBI experience — conducted the interviews with lawmakers.

Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal said during a Wednesday Senate debate that Foley and Tisaby had tried to contact her, according to the Star. Reached for comment, a spokeswoman told TPM Chappelle-Nadal has not yet met with the investigators and had no further information on what they were looking for.

Other signals have emerged suggesting that Gardner’s inquiry may be escalating. A lawyer for the woman’s husband, Al Watkins, told reporters last week that the circuit attorney’s office has convened a grand jury.

Watkins said his client was served with a subpoena to provide testimony.

Greitens and his attorney, Jim Bennett, have said they have received no contact from law enforcement officials.

Bennett told the Star Wednesday that they believe “any fair investigation will result in a conclusion that Gov. Greitens has committed no wrongdoing.”

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In a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent last week, four top congressional Democrats laid out reams of evidence suggesting that President Trump is improperly using the proposed Time Warner-AT&T merger to pressure Time Warner-owned CNN for gentler coverage.

“[W]e are deeply concerned by reports of inappropriate interference by the White House,” the Democrats wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose department sued to block the deal in November. The Democrats also took Sessions to task for declining to say, during congressional testimony, whether DoJ communicated with the White House on the issue. 

The Justice Department’s lawsuit is anything but an easy case. But in the most important sense, the result may not matter: Merely by picking the fight, Trump appears to be putting news organizations on notice that he’s willing to use the powers of the federal government to hurt them if they don’t play nice.

It’s hardly the first time that Trump has appeared to use DOJ to advance his political agenda. But this instance represents a double threat. By sending a message to the corporate owners of leading news outlets that their businesses can expect to pay a price for hard-hitting coverage, the move jeopardizes the independence not just of the U.S. justice system, but of the media, too.

Timothy Karr of the media advocacy group Free Press told TPM he worries that the next step could be charges against reporters for publishing stories that damage the administration  something that would likely have a chilling effect on the media similar to or worse than the DoJ’s lawsuit and something that appeals to Trump, who vowed to “open up our libel laws” as a candidate. The Obama administration, he added, helped lay some of the groundwork, setting a record for prosecutions under the Espionage Act, often of whistleblowers.

“The Trump administration doesn’t like leakers in its midst,” Karr said. “It may only be a matter of time before we see those prosecutions from Trump.”

Successfully neutering CNN would be a major coup for the White House. And it almost certainly would be personally satisfying to Trump, who is notoriously sensitive to his image on cable news.

In June, the network retracted a flawed story about the Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund, and cut ties with three journalists involved. Trump celebrated on Twitter that CNN “got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories.”

“He’s trying to bully us, and we’re not going to let him intimidate us,” CNN president Jeff Zucker reportedly told employees in response. “You can’t lose your confidence and let that change the way you conduct yourselves.”

Karr and other advocates for tough antitrust policies say it’s legitimate to worry about the impact on consumers of the AT&T-Time Warner merger. In its lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that the deal would lead to less innovation and higher costs for consumers.

But there are reasons to think that’s not what’s driving the Trump administration’s actions — not least the administration’s broad anti-regulatory stance elsewhere.

Trump has put outspoken foes of excessive regulation in charge of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. And in December, he stood next to giant stacks of paper as he celebrated what he called the “most far-reaching regulatory reform” in U.S. history.

Even the Justice Department official who brought the case against the AT&T-Time Warner merger, Makan Delrahim, who leads the department’s antitrust division, was on a different side of the issue in 2016, when he was a conservative law professor.

“Just the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s media will get a lot of attention, but I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem,” Delrahim told Canadian network BNN two weeks before the election.

AT&T is reportedly seeking to put Delrahim on its witness list. And the company is suggesting that his apparent change of heart was the result of inappropriate political pressure.

“[W]e do not have to prove why Makan Delrahim decided to pursue this case, but if evidence does emerge that it was pursued for some improper purpose, that’s not going to obviously help the DOJ,” Dan Petrocelli, AT&T’s general counsel said on an earnings call last month.

Trump’s opposition to the merger didn’t come after a careful look at the impact on consumers. By his own admission, his mind was made up as soon as he heard about the potential deal.

“As an example of the power structure I am fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN — a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he told rally-goers in Gettysburg, Penn. in October 2016, the day the planned merger was announced.

Then the week before the inauguration, Trump met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (the merger didn’t come up, Stephenson has said). Trump also met the same week with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer, which also had a proposed merger on the table. The meetings provoked criticism from anti-trust experts, who said it was troubling that Trump was departing with the usual White House practice of steering clear of companies with merger plans that might require Justice Department approval. 

Less than a month into Trump’s administration, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, complained to Gary Ginsberg, a Time Warner exec, about CNN’s coverage, which Kushner viewed as hostile.

In July, a senior administration official told the New York Times that the White House had discussed the merger as “a potential point of leverage over their adversary,” in the paper’s words. The admission received little scrutiny at the time, but it was a remarkably brazen effort by the White House to publicly warn that it recognizes how its power over the merger proposal might be used to bend CNN to its will.

That same month, Trump tweeted a gif of himself tackling a wrestler with the CNN logo superimposed over his head—something the Democrats noted in their letter to Sessions. Other Trump tweets have attacked CNN as ‘fake news.” 

The legal push to block the merger began in earnest in November. A year to the day after the election, DOJ officials quietly tried to pressure AT&T and Time Warner to commit to selling CNN as a condition of the transaction, an idea Stephenson publicly rejected the same day. Two days later, Kushner met with Ginsberg again to tell him he thought CNN should fire 20% of its staff.

The following week, Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee where Rep. David Cicilline asked him whether he’d discussed the merger with Trump. In response, Sessions refused to answer, though he didn’t assert executive privilege.

“I am not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House,” Sessions said.

Six days later, the Justice Department filed suit to block the merger.

“Personally, I’ve always felt that that was a deal that’s not good for the country,” Trump told reporters at a White House press conference soon afterward.

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Vice President Mike Pence falsely claimed Wednesday that it was the “universal conclusion of our intelligence communities” that “none” of the efforts by foreign actors to meddle in the 2016 election “had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Pence made the remarks at an Axios event, where Mike Allen asked Pence if he agreed with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ testimony to Congress Tuesday warning that Russia will target the 2018 midterms.

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Little was made publicly known at a status conference Wednesday about the circumstances of the recent move by Rick Gates’ attorneys to withdraw from his legal team.

The judge presiding over his case — in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has brought charges of tax evasion, money laundering and failure to disclose foreign lobbying against the former Trump aide — kicked the media and the public out of the courtroom so she could discuss the ongoing issues privately with Gates and his attorneys.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday morning that Democrats are working with officials at the FBI to make some redactions to their memo in the hopes that the White House will then approve the memo for public release.

Schiff told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor that the FBI identified all portions of the Democrats’ memo that are classified and that Democrats are now looking for a subset of those sections that should be held either to protect sources and methods or because of investigative interest. Schiff added that a lot of what the FBI identified as classified is already in the public domain.

He argued that the question should not be over what is classified but what should be declassified due to public interest.

“We’re in good, I think, discussions with the FBI,” Schiff said Wednesday.

Schiff said Tuesday night on CNN that the Democrats will not make any changes to the memo, but will continue to work with the FBI on redactions.

The ranking member said that he suspects the White House directed the FBI to identify anything that was classified in the Democratic memo, though he cautioned that he does not know for sure.

Schiff said that by going through this redaction process with the FBI, he hopes to at least gain “visibility” on any difference between what the FBI wants redacted for investigative reasons and what the White House may want redacted for political reasons.

“When we reach agreement with the FBI, is that the end of the matter or will the white House still put a veto on it?” he asked rhetorically.

Schiff said that if Democrats and the FBI come to an agreement on what needs to be redacted from the memo, he hopes that will at least produce “visibility that if the White House still refuses to publish the document, they can no longer try to hide behind anyone else.”

“It’s pretty clear that the president has no concern over national security information that trumps his personal concerns because he said that he was publishing the Nunes memo without even reading it, and over the strenuous objections of the FBI and the Department of Justice,” he said.

Schiff also noted that the FBI has not identified issues with accuracy in the Democratic memo, as the bureau did with the Republican memo.

“The FBI has as far as I can tell, has taken no issue with the accuracy of what we’ve written,” he said.

Schiff has been highly critical of efforts by Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to release their memo alleging misdeeds at the FBI and Justice Department, and on Wednesday he warned that the memo could hurt the committee’s relationship with the intelligence community.

“It certainly will make the intelligence community less willing to share material information with us for fear of how it will be handled,” he said, adding that he suspects the intelligence community already had concerns prior to the memo’s release due to Nunes’ “broadsides” against the DOJ in an attempt to obtain information on surveillance applications.

“The more significant consequence may be that sources that provide information to the intelligence community may be more wary of doing so if they think that our committee or any other on the Hill will not jealously guard that information,” Schiff added.

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Read a reporter’s notebook (Prime access) on this article »

Last month, a site called the Maine Examiner reported that Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, was the state’s only member of Congress to vote to shut down the government. The site illustrated its story with a picture of Pingree next to Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), though Lewis wasn’t mentioned in the story.

Two weeks ago, another site, the California Republican, shared an article promising to explain “the process behind #ReleaseTheMemo,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) push to release a document that he has said shows anti-Trump bias at the FBI.

Both sites look like news outlets. But neither have staff writers, editorial guidelines, or physical offices. Instead, the Maine Examiner appears to be linked to the state’s Republican Party. And the California Republican is a project of Nunes’ reelection campaign.

The sites certainly aren’t the first political mouthpieces to disguise themselves as journalism. Mike Pence planned to create a state-run news service during his tenure as Indiana governor, before pulling the plug in the face of fierce criticism. The Republican Governors Association set up a partisan news site last summer that didn’t disclose who was behind it until reporters made inquiries.

Nor are the sites likely generating huge traffic, based on their social media numbers.

But for the political interests behind them, the sites represent a useful way to spread their message to supporters while falsely conveying the authority of independent journalism. Such fake “news” is particularly troubling at a time when online content can spread virally without consumers knowing who’s behind it, and the 2016 election saw hundreds of thousands of Americans were unwittingly duped by news articles, ads and social media posts produced by Russian “troll farms” and Macedonian teenagers.

“There’s a general lack of transparency here,” Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center told TPM. “When you have these ongoing accusations of fake news and attacks on the legitimate news media, and then partisan candidates creating what are actually fake news sites to help muddy the waters and push their message, it helps weaken trust in journalism and the media as an institution.”

The California Republican briefly went offline after Politico reported on it on Sunday. The site said that was due to “heavy traffic and an attack on our servers.” It was back up as of Tuesday. 

Nunes’ campaign and congressional office did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

The Maine Republican Party has staunchly denied any involvement in the Maine site, but according to a local news report, metadata indicates that a username linked to the group’s executive director, Jason Savage, registered the site’s web hosting account and downloaded the design template.

Neither Savage nor Maine GOP communications director Garrett Murch responded to TPM’s request for comment.

The Maine Democratic Party last month filed a complaint with the state ethics commission requesting an investigation into the GOP’s ties to the site and whether campaign finance laws were violated. The commission confirmed to TPM that the complaint will be reviewed at a meeting next week.

Both the Nunes campaign and the Maine site appear designed to mimic the conventions of legitimate news sites. They feature a mix of local and national news articles largely excerpted from other mostly conservative publications and framed with a conservative slant, as well as sports and human interest stories unrelated to politics. (The Nunes site promises “the best of US, California, and Central Valley news, sports, and analysis.”) On Facebook, they’re catalogued as “media/news” companies.

And neither site gives much indication to a casual news reader that they’re political propaganda. The California Republican has no “About” page explaining its purpose. At the very bottom of each page, in seven-point type, appears the line: “Paid for by the Devin Nunes campaign committee.” The Maine Examiner offers even less information, telling readers on an About page that it’s the work of a “small group of Mainers.”

The Republican Governors Association’s site set up last year, the Free Telegraph, still doesn’t include a disclosure on its social media feeds.

“It’s very clear on the Free Telegraph site that it is connected to the RGA,” RGA communications director Jon Thompson told TPM in an email, saying the site was “just another outlet” to tout the successes of GOP governors. “On every article post, at the bottom, it notes that the RGA has sponsored the article/site.”

Thompson also said a Google search would make clear the Free Telegraph is a project of the RGA—though few news consumers would likely have any reason to run one.

The FEC requires a “clear and conspicuous” disclaimer on all communications by a campaign committeeStephen Spaulding, a former FEC lawyer now at Common Cause, said the sites’ meager or non-existent disclosures raise particular issues in an era when consumers often encounter news on social media rather than on the website of the news provider. 

“The way that news is shared now, things kind of spread organically and it’s just not always clear who is behind it,” said Spaulding, who called the use of news-style sites “dangerous for democracy.” 

A series of academic studies done in the wake of the 2016 campaign suggest a low level of news literacy among consumers. A Stanford University study of some 7,800 students found that news consumers a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their inability to evaluate the credibility of information they consumed online. Another report by a trio of political scientists found that “almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news websites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets.”

As a result, campaign sites without transparent disclosures can become just another part of the morass of legitimate news, sponsored content, political gossip and pure hogwash available online.

As Alex Howard, deputy director of the government transparency advocacy group the Sunlight Foundation, put it, these site disclosures are the only way that “the public, when they’re staring at the same glowing box, has at least a prayer of being able to understand who paid for it, what that entity is and what its goals are.”

Correction: This story initially said that Alex Howard was the Sunlight Foundation’s executive director, rather than deputy director.

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Thomas Brunell, a controversial potential pick for a top Census Bureau post, is no longer under consideration for the position, a Department of Commerce spokesperson confirmed to TPM Monday.

Mother Jones had previously reported Monday, citing two unnamed sources informed of his decision, that Brunell had withdrawn. Moments before the Mother Jones report appeared, Terri Ann Lowenthal, a knowledgable Census Bureau observer, told TPM that she had been told Brunell had withdrawn.

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An NBC News report last week claiming a U.S. official confirmed that several states’ voter rolls were penetrated by Russian hackers is getting belated pushback from the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS blasted out a statement Monday that said NBC “misrepresented facts” and “falsely report[ed]” the DHS official’s comments.

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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is denying that the White House was involved in drafting a GOP memo that alleged anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department and FBI. But Democrats say his comments don’t put the matter to rest.

Nunes’s claim surfaced in a transcript released Friday afternoon of the House Intelligence Committee’s Monday meeting. It’s slightly stronger than Nunes’ comments on the issue last week, when he said that, “as far as I know” no Republican staffers coordinated with the White House on the document.

“There was no involvement in drafting the memo with the White House,” Nunes, the committee’s chair, said in a statement that he read as Monday’s meeting wrapped up, according to the transcript.

In a statement of his own released Friday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the panel, suggested he still wants to know more.

“This carefully worded statement suggests the White House may have had a role in the planning of the memo,” if not the drafting, Schiff said.

The transcript of Monday’s meeting shows that before reading the statement, Nunes avoided offering detailed responses to Democrats’ questions about possible White House involvement.

“People want to know whether folks are just trying to protect the President or whether they are doing a legitimate investigation,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said, urging Nunes to address those concerns personally.

“The chairman is not going to entertain political theater on behalf of this committee,” Nunes ultimately said, suggesting his Democratic colleagues were eager to play up their outrage “for the news cameras.”

The Nunes memo, which was released last week, claimed that top FBI and DOJ officials failed to properly identify a dossier partially funded by Democrats as the source for an application to obtain a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The warrant was actually based on a wealth of information about Page dating back to 2013, and renewed multiple times, suggesting investigators found additional useful intelligence to act on.

Trump has claimed the memo completely vindicates him in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election.

The House Intelligence Committee on Monday voted unanimously to release the Democrats’ rebuttal to the document, and the White House has spent the week reviewing it. Trump said Friday that he would release a letter on the Democratic memo imminently.

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For more than a year, there’s been intense scrutiny of Russia’s sprawling campaign to influence the 2016 election, and of the extent to which Donald Trump’s campaign was complicit in it.

But the question of just what Russia hoped to get from Trump has stayed mostly on the back-burner. 

That has obscured a crucial reality. On numerous occasions, in numerous ways, Russians working for or linked to Vladimir Putin’s government have asked Trump or his team to weaken or lift U.S. sanctions on Russia. And — through his public rhetoric, through a weak approach to enforcement, and, most recently, through his resistance to fully implementing a sanctions law passed by Congress — Trump has mostly done what he can to oblige.

Among Russia’s top concerns has been the Magnitsky Act, which was passed by Congress in 2012 in retaliation for Russia’s mistreatment of Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who died in prison in 2009 — European investigators concluded he was murdered — after exposing an alleged money-laundering scheme that implicated top Russian officials. The law targeted specific Russian officials determined to be involved with Magnitsky’s death, barring them from entering the U.S. or using its banking system.

Then in 2014, President Barack Obama imposed sanctions on a range of Russian institutions including state banks, in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine earlier that year. And in December 2016, Obama imposed additional sanctions on Russian nationals and tech companies, including ordering the removal of 35 Russian diplomats from the U.S., in response to Russia’s campaign to influence the U.S. election.

It’s the Magnitsky Act that’s especially enraging to the Putin government, because it hits powerful figures in Russian business and government, whose ongoing support is crucial to Putin, Russia experts say.

“Putin hates targeted sanctions,” said Bill Browder, the American-born hedge-fund manager who employed Magnitsky when he uncovered the alleged money laundering, and has become an outspoken Putin critic. “If the country was sanctioned, they could always bring in planeloads of luxury goods. [Specific sanctions] target, at a precise level, the elite, and they leave the rest of the people alone.”

And as the Russia expert Amy Knight points out in a history of the Magnitsky affair in the New York Review of Books, laws like Magnitsky that punish Russia for internal human rights abuses strike at the source of Putin’s power: his ability to turn the law off and on when it suits him.

The Kremlin’s Quiet Push Against Sanctions

So the Russian government set out to ask for help from Trump. The Magnitsky Act was a topic of conversation at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between top campaign staff and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-linked lawyer, the latter told Bloomberg last November. 

They had already approached him overtly at the start of his campaign: Maria Butina, a top aide to the Russian central banker Alexander Torshin, asked Trump to lift sanctions during the Q&A portion of a speech at a libertarian conference in Las Vegas in July 2015. Trump interrupted Butina’s question to praise Putin and say he wanted better relations with the country.

More overtures followed. In July 2016, Trump advisor Carter Page visited Moscow where he discussed the ways lifting sanctions would be “advantageous” to a Russian state oil company. Later that month, Trump officially received the Republican presidential nomination.

The campaign continued through backchannels. After the election, Sergey Kislyak, then the Russian ambassador to the U.S., called Michael Flynn to discuss the Obama administration’s December 2016 sanctions expelling Russian diplomats, according to documents charging Flynn with lying to federal investigators. Flynn asked Kisylak not to retaliate for those sanctions, suggesting the incoming Trump administration would undermine them.

The push got even more direct once Trump took office. In July 2017, Trump and Putin held a closed-door meeting where they discussed “adoption,” Trump later told the press. That was almost certainly a reference to the sanctions on American adoptions Putin imposed on the U.S. in retaliation for Magnitsky.

Donald Trump, Pushover

Trump appears to have been glad to go along with the Russian pressure campaign. In one key early sign of its willingness to play ball, the Trump campaign in July 2016 gutted the GOP platform’s hardline position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. 

Two months later, another foreign policy advisor, George Papadopoulos, was inveighing against sanctions to Russian news agency Interfax. Papadopoulos would later plead guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation.

Once Trump took office, however, things became trickier. Despite Flynn’s promises to Kisylak about sanctions, by February Flynn had been fired amid the FBI probe, and legislation punishing Russia beyond the expulsion of the 35 diplomats appeared to be moving forward.

In August 2017, Congress responded to the Russian election interference by passing new sanctions nearly unanimously. The bill required Trump to name businesses and individuals to be added to a list, maintained by the Treasury, of entities with which it is illegal for Americans to do business.

It would have been politically damaging for Trump to veto the sanctions, especially given the ongoing focus on his campaign’s ties to Russia. But in signing the bill, Trump issued a statement protesting what he labelled unconstitutional provisions. Parts of the bill, Trump said, “purport to direct my subordinates in the executive branch to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives, in contravention of the President’s exclusive constitutional authority.”

In retaliation for the new sanctions, Putin expelled hundred of diplomats from Russia. In response, Trump thanked him, saying the State Department’s budget needed cutting anyway. He later said he was being sarcastic.

Still, Trump dragged his feet on implementing the new sanctions law. His administration released the list of 39 businesses nearly a month after an October 2017 deadline had passed. And on January 29 of this year, a day before the list of persons was due, the State Department announced it wouldn’t release one, saying the threat of punishment was punishment enough.

“[S]anctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters.

The same day, the Treasury released a list of Russian oligarchs with close ties to Putin, as required by the law. But it didn’t sanction them — Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin suggested he might do so later. Treasury turned out to have cribbed the list from Forbes.

The list was released the same week that three Russian intelligence officials — one of them himself under U.S. sanctions — were reported to have met with CIA director Mike Pompeo in the U.S.

“I think that the Trump administration was persuaded not to publish a narrow list of people to be sanctioned and instead to come out with this broad list of officials that ended up being meaningless,” said Knight, the Russia scholar and the author of Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder. “I think they were pressured by the Kremlin indirectly, possibly through this visit of the three intelligence chiefs.”

The Limits Of The Presidency

And yet, the Trump administration also has done plenty to anger Putin. The son of Yury Chaika, the power player behind Donald Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting, has been added to the Magnitsky list. And the U.S. is arming Ukraine—something Obama never did, and exactly the position his campaign tried to strip out of the GOP platform.

“There are a lot of things that are not great news for Russia under this administration,” said Browder.

Both Knight and Browder said the Kremlin likely has some buyer’s remorse about Trump, after seeing the limits on his ability to carry out their requests. The U.S. president, after all, has much less authority than Russia’s authoritarian leader.

“I think that Putin and his supporters are beginning to realize now that Trump can’t just wave a magic wand and have sanctions go away,” Knight adds. “There are a lot of things he can’t do! I don’t know that they’re so much disappointed in Trump as disappointed in finding out that in fact he has quite a few constraints.”

This post has been updated.

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