As Trump denies wrongdoing, pace of Russia probe quickens

Even as President Donald Trump again denounced the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 elections and any ties to his campaign as a ‘witch hunt,’ federal prosecutors on Monday reached a plea bargain agreement with a Russian woman accused of illegal political activity in the U.S., and the Special Counsel’s office prepared to reveal details of alleged lies by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The federal judge overseeing Manafort’s case suddenly scheduled a status hearing for Tuesday afternoon, as Robert Mueller’s office is expected to publicly file a redacted version of a report on what lies the government claims that Manafort told investigators, even after agreeing to cooperate with the Russia investigation.

As he did with earlier procedural actions in a Washington federal courtroom, Manafort waived his right to be at the Tuesday hearing, again saying the time involved in being transported from prison to the D.C. courthouse was not worth the effort.

While Manafort suddenly had a Tuesday court hearing scheduled, there were new developments on Monday in the case of 29 year old Maria Butina, who has been jailed since July, charged with illegal political activity in the United States, amid questions related to her ties to the National Rifle Association and the GOP.

It was not immediately apparent what was involved in Butina’s change of heart, as a federal judge set a plea hearing for Wednesday afternoon, several hours after the scheduled sentencing in New York for former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Democrats continued Monday to raise questions about Butina and the NRA, as well as the broader issue of whether Russian money was funneled through the NRA and into the 2016 campaign for President.

“Maria Butina is set to plead guilty based on her efforts to influence American politics through the NRA,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). “There is still a lot we don’t know about the NRA’s campaign spending and connections to the Kremlin.”

“Another bad day for Individual-1 and his inner circle,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT).

Back in 2015, Butina happened to appear at a Q&A session with then candidate Donald Trump, and asked him a question about U.S. relations with Russia.

The Butina case was not brought by Mueller, but instead by the U.S. Attorney for Washington, D.C. – but it still could have an overall impact on the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 campaign.

Meanwhile, a still secret court case – which observers believe involves the Special Counsel’s office – continues to push its way through a federal appeals court in Washington.

Known officially as “In re: Grand Jury Subpoena,” the case is one of two which has attracted attention from those interested in the Mueller investigation.

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