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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The flashing siren in the "known knowns" of the Russia probe is how often people close to Vladimir Putin approached people close to Donald J. Trump — and how often they gladly connected. And then lied about it.

Why it matters: Two court filings last evening on Michael Cohen — one by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, followed an hour later by special counsel Robert Mueller — put new meat on those bones, show that the contacts go back to 2015, and allude to multiple ongoing investigations. All that broadens the legal risk for Mueller's "Individual 1," the president of the United States.

Connecting the dots I ... Garrett M. Graff writes on WIRED that Mueller’s court filings, "when coupled with other investigative reporting, paint a picture of how the Russian government, through various trusted-but-deniable intermediaries, conducted a series of 'approaches' over the course of the spring of 2016 to officials in Trump's orbit:

  • "The answer, from everyone in Trumpland — from Michael Cohen in January 2016, from George Papadopoulos in spring 2016, from Donald Trump, Jr. in June 2016, from Michael Flynn in December 2016 — appears to have been an unequivocal 'yes.'"
  • "Mueller and [investigative] reporting have shown that the lieutenants in Trump’s orbit rebuffed precisely zero of the known Russian overtures. In fact, quite the opposite. Each approach was met with enthusiasm, and a request for more."
  • "Given every opportunity, most Trump associates — from Paul Manafort to Donald Trump, Jr. to George Papadopoulos — not only allegedly took every offered meeting, and returned every email or phone call, but appeared to take overt action to encourage further contact. Not once did any of them inform the FBI of the contacts."

And it all started even sooner than that. Yesterday's Mueller filing shows that a "Russian national who claimed ties to the Kremlin told ... Cohen ... as early as November 2015 that he could use his Russian government connections to help Trump’s business and political prospects," per the WashPost:

  • Between the lines: "The interaction between a top Trump lieutenant and a Russian citizen who claimed government ties is the latest of dozens of similar interactions that have emerged since the November 2016 election."
  • "Days after Trump’s victory, his spokeswoman Hope Hicks asserted that there had been no contacts of any kind between Trump associates and Russia."

Connecting the dots II ... The intersection of profit and political motives is distilled by CNN legal analyst Elie Honig (hat tip: Brian Stelter):

The puzzle pieces fit together. Trump needed Russia for his business dealings. Russia wanted Trump to win because they could influence or control him. And the Trump team wanted Russian help simply because they thought the Russians could help Trump win the election. Everyone profits, everyone gets what they want.

P.S. Shot ... N.Y. Times lead story: "Federal prosecutors said on Friday that President Trump directed illegal payments to ward off a potential sex scandal that threatened his chances of winning the White House in 2016, putting the weight of the Justice Department behind accusations previously made by his former lawyer," Michael Cohen.

  • Chaser ... Trump tweeted shortly after the filing: "Totally clears the President. Thank you!"

Go deeper: Read the two Michael Cohen sentencing memos

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Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.