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Robert Mueller at a news conference at FBI Headquarters. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump's royal welcome was overshadowed today by his own Justice Department, as the Mueller investigation charged 12 Russians with hacking Democrats during the 2016 elections — and this comes just three days before Trump's meeting with Vladimir Putin.

The big picture: The Mueller investigation's charges today directly tie the Russian government to 2016 election hacking, charging 12 Russian intelligence officers with hacking U.S. Democratic candidates and organizations. The charges also include conspiracy and money laundering.

Matt Miller, MSNBC analyst and former Obama Justice Department official, tells me: "This is the biggest shoe to drop yet."

Timing: Just hours before the indictments came down, Trump blasted the Mueller investigation while overseas:

  • “I think that we’re being hurt very badly by the, I would call it the witch hunt; I would call it the rigged witch hunt... I think that really hurts our country and it really hurts our relationship with Russia.”

What they're saying:

  • Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer: "President Trump should cancel his meeting with Vladimir Putin until Russia takes demonstrable and transparent steps to prove that they won’t interfere in future elections."
  • Top Senate Intel Democrat Mark Warner called on Trump to "cease and desist" from calling the Mueller investigation a "witch hunt."
  • John Podesta, Hillary Clinton's former campaign chairman who had his email hacked, said he is "pleased that there's enough criminal evidence to bring an indictment."
  • White House Spokesperson Lindsay Walters: "Today’s charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result. This is consistent with what we have been saying all along.”
  • The White House has no plans to cancel the Putin meeting, Sarah Sanders said. "It's on."

Be smart: These indictments are unlikely to ever put Russians in U.S. prisons, but they will up the political pressure and could mean frozen assets for those with money overseas.

Go deeper:

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Go deeper

The Mischief Makers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as troublemakers within their parties and political thorns for their leadership.

Why it matters: We're calling this group "The Mischief Makers" — members who threaten to upend party unity — the theme eclipsing Washington at the moment — and potentially jeopardize the Democrats' or Republicans' position heading into the 2022 midterms.

42 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Obama speechwriter fears Biden unity drive is one-sided

Cody Keenan (right) is shown heading to Marine One in December 2009. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Obama's former speechwriter says he's "preemptively frustrated" with President Biden's effort to find unity with Republicans.

What they're saying: Cody Keenan told Axios that Biden's messaging team has "struck all the right chords," but at some point "they're gonna have to answer questions like, 'Why didn't you achieve unity?' when there's an entire political party that's already acting to stop it."

Scoop: Conservative group puts $700k behind Hawley

Sen. Josh Hawley explains his objection to certifying the 2020 election results hours after the U.S. Capitol siege. Photo: Congress.gov via Getty Images

A Republican group is raising and spending huge amounts of money defending Sen. Josh Hawley after he was ostracized for early January’s attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Why it matters: The Senate Conservatives Fund is plugging Hawley's ideological bona fides and backfilling lost corporate cash with needed political and financial support, helping inoculate him as he weighs reelection or a possible presidential campaign in 2024.

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