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The Briefing: The most important Russia news, ranked

WASHINGTON –  Trying to keep up with all the news regarding Russia and President Trump is sort of like doing shots of Stoli. Every piece of news, just like every shot, might leave you more befuddled.

So here's a handy guide to the developments of the past two weeks, in descending order of importance, in hopes that presenting the news in this way will make it far more digestible than eight shots of Stoli:

1) Trump and Vladimir Putin met in private, and no one really knows what they said.  The dust-up over Trump's public support of the Russian president obscured something potentially more important: the fact that Trump and Putin met in private, with no one in the room but their interpreters. As CNN's Chris Cillizza noted, the only things we know about what they discussed or agreed to are what they said – and both Trump and Putin are unreliable narrators.

Here's what the two sides apparently discussed, but who knows what they really discussed – and whether there are any deals we don't know about. Even Trump's intelligence chief said he doesn't know what Trump and Putin said in the meeting. This is not how diplomacy normally works – and it all spun out in this weird way as a special counsel investigates Russian election meddling that aimed to put Trump in the White House.

2) President Trump doubted his own intelligence agencies. Trump put the word of the Russian president on equal footing as the word of U.S. intelligence agencies at his now-infamous news conference after the summit, as the U.S. president cast doubt on whether Russia really did try to meddle in the 2016 election.

Now this would be shocking, and would top this list, but for the fact that Trump has done this before. What's more, he's still doing it: on Sunday, he dismissed the notion of election meddling by the Russians as "a big hoax."

3) A dozen Russians were charged with hacking.  This indictment was devastating, detailing how Russian intelligence agents worked with Wikileaks to spread hacked Democratic emails in hopes of hurting Hillary Clinton's presidential chances.

Worse yet, this could be just the start: Dan Coates, the director of national intelligence, said cyber attacks could pose grave threats not just to U.S. elections but to U.S. infrastructure, with Russia serving as "the most aggressive foreign actor" in cyberspace.

4) Trump might revoke security clearances. Trump's spokesman announced Monday that he might start revoking the security clearances of past government officials who criticize him, such as onetime FBI director James Comey and former CIA director John Brennan.

That probably won't silence Trump's critics – but it would be a sign that Trump is willing to use his powers as president to try to suppress dissent – reminiscent, if not quite as bad, as President Richard Nixon's use of the IRS to harass his enemies.

5) The Carter Page surveillance warrant was released. Page was a foreign policy aide to the 2016 Trump campaign, and the FBI, suspecting he might be a Russian agent, applied to a court for a warrant to spy on him.

The Justice Department released documents related to that application last week, and while much of the good stuff was redacted, what's left disproves an argument that Rep. Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, made in a pro-Trump memo earlier this year. Most importantly, the documents show that a salacious "dossier" by a British spy hired by Democrats was not the main reason for the investigation. In fact, the FBI suspected Page of being a Russian agent as far back as 2013, well before the start of the Trump campaign.

6) A Russian tried to infiltrate the NRA. Russiagate doesn't yet have a Boris Badenov, but now it has its Natasha Fatale: she stands accused of using sex and a supposed love of guns to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and other conservative groups.

The Butina indictment isn't really about sex: it's about Russian money making its way into American politics. And because the case against Butina did not stem from special prosecutor Robert Mueller, all the ugly details of her alleged skulduggery will likely spill out in federal court even if Trump fires Mueller.

7) Trump tweeted. Trump's tweets come so fast and furious these days that a lot of them are repetitive non-news. He is the Chicken Little of Twitter, yelling "WITCH HUNT!" rather than "the sky is falling," again and again, day after day.

So often, too, Trump's tweets are false. On Monday alone, he tweeted a false attack on the Washington Post and a false interpretation of the Carter Page surveillance warrant, part of a presidency where he piled up more than 3,200 false or misleading statements as of the end of May.

8) Putin gave Trump a soccer ball. The Briefing has offered deep dives into some of the above points, and may do the same on some of the others. But the Briefing will not waste much space on the soccer ball that Putin gave Trump as a gift.

That is, unless that ball turns out to have been equipped with a listening device.

Happening today

President Trump speaks at the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Kansas City, Mo. … Both Maria Butina, the Russian accused of trying to infiltrate conservative groups, and Paul Manafort, the former Donald Trump campaign manager, appear at hearings in federal court in the criminal cases against them…Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis continue meetings with their Australian counterparts at Stanford University. … A subcommittee of the Senate Commerce Committee holds a hearing on the sexual abuse of Olympic athletes by a physician from the University of Michigan. … A different Senate Commerce subcommittee holds a hearing on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's "Blue Economy Initiative," which aims to support commerce in the oceans and the Great Lakes.

Good reads

New York Magazine's Andrew Sullivan explains President Trump's soft spot for Russia. ...The Washington Post delivers a scoop about how Trump administration dismissed the benefits of America's national monuments. ... The New York Times looks at an Ohio factory where workers support Trump even though his tariffs are hurting the business. ... At the National Review, senior writer Michael Brendan Dougherty argues that the Catholic Church can't just grow its way out of its sexual abuse crisis. ... And Politico asks: with a 50 percent cut in the staff at the New York Daily News, will the Big Apple become a news desert?

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