News, Straight to the Point

On Friday, the House Republican memo heralded by some as the death knell for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was finally released.

As definitive proof of anti-Trump bias among FBI and DOJ leadership, it’s kind of a bust.

The four-page document is missing key background information about what prompted the ongoing federal investigation into Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign. It misstates details like the date of an article about the former British spy who helped compile the so-called “Trump-Russia dossier.” And a good amount of the information included actually undercuts the Republican authors’ own conclusions.

The memo was supposed to reveal that the DOJ and FBI omitted key information in obtaining a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. But without the reams of underlying evidence supporting the warrant’s approval, all it does is tell a pre-judged, partisan story.

Below are TPM’s key takeaways on how the memo doesn’t add up.

It tip-toes around how much the Page warrant relied on Steele dossier

If the Page warrant relied solely on the Steele dossier, it would make Republicans’ allegations of misconduct a little more believable. But read closely and the memo doesn’t say that definitively. And there are other indications that the Justice Department had, and was working with, other information on Page.

The memo describes the dossier as an “essential” part of the warrant, pointing to testimony from former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe — who this week pushed up his retirement day under pressure from conservatives —  that said, in the memo’s words, “no surveillance warrant would have been sought from the [The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] without the Steele dossier information.”

House Intel Democrats are already accusing Republicans of mischaracterizing his testimony, which Dems now want to release. Even without those allegations, that phrasing is vague enough to lend itself to interpretations other than the warrant relying solely on the dossier.

There are other indications that that was the case.

First is the initial April 2017 report that broke the news that the FBI obtained the warrant, in which U.S. officials said it was based in part on 2013 communications Page had with Russians. Those contacts were detailed in a 2015 court case that revealed that two Russians had been intercepted discussing efforts to recruit Page.  The New York Times reported that Page’s July 2016 trip to Moscow also caught the FBI’s attention.

Secondly, the claims about Page make up only a small portion of what’s alleged in the dossier about the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. And FISA experts told TPM earlier this week that they would be shocked if the dossier claims alone were enough to convince a judge to approve the warrant. Indeed, NBC News reported that four separate judges ultimately approved of the initial warrant and three applications to renew it.

To renew the warrant, the Justice Department would have likely needed to provide new evidence that the continued surveillance was warranted.

It undercuts the GOP narrative that the dossier prompted Russia probe

Republicans and their media allies have claimed that the federal Russia probe was suspect because Democrats funded Steele’s work on the dossier. Some conservatives have gone so far to suggest that Democrats and the Obama administration were actually the ones colluding with Russian.

That theory took a serious blow late last year when the New York Times reported that Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos’ bragging was what first caught federal investigators’ attention. (Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year as part of Mueller’s probe, reportedly told an Australian diplomat about his Russian contacts during a night of heavy drinking, a conversation the Australian later relayed to U.S. officials.)

Nunes’ memo backed up that understanding of the series of events by noting that the “Papadopoulos information triggered” the FBI’s counter-intel probe.

Most of Trump’s top FBI and DOJ targets just so happen to crop up in it

As the conservative press have hinted for weeks, the memo names names. Those names just so happen to belong to individuals who Trump has accused of unfairly investigating his campaign or failing to adequately protect him from the investigation.

The memo notes that McCabe and fired FBI director James Comey each signed off on some of the FISA orders approving Page’s surveillance. On the DOJ side, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and fired deputy attorney general Sally Yates approved some of the applications.

Trump has most recently focused his ire on Rosenstein, the last of those officials standing, even reportedly telling allies that the memo could be used as a pretext to fire him. Given his oversight of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, Rosenstein also happens to be the only person with the authority to sign off on any charges recommended by the special counsel’s team. That means his ouster would gravely undermine the Mueller probe.

Strzok and Page are not the anti-Trump partisans they’ve been made out to be

The memo attributes the initiation of the Russia probe to two FBI officials who’ve become bogeymen to the right: FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page.

It names Strzok as the person who opened the July 2016 counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign and says unequivocally that the pair “demonstrated a clear bias against Trump and in favor of Clinton.”

The actual story is much more complicated. That Strzok personally initiated the counterintelligence probe has not been reported previously, and the memo’s source for that claim is not clear. The pair did exchange many texts disparaging Trump, which has led conservatives to portray them as part of an anti-Trump cabal at the FBI. But as multiple outlets have documented, they also criticized Obama DOJ officials and expressed doubts about the merits of the entire Russia investigation.

The Wall Street Journal, which dug through approximately 7,000 of their messages, said they found “no evidence of a conspiracy against Mr. Trump.”

Loaded quotes, like Strzok’s comparison of the Trump-Russia investigation to an “insurance policy,” are taken out of context. The Journal has reported that the message was supposed to convey that the FBI couldn’t slow-roll the probe simply because they expected Clinton would win the election.

Strzok was removed from the Mueller investigation in the summer of 2017 as soon as the texts were discovered.

Some omissions of context are obvious

Some key, publicly known facts that would put Republicans’ allegations in context are conspicuously missing, while other details of GOP claims seem to contradict themselves.

For instance, the memo does not mention that Page left the Trump campaign before the FBI sought the FISA warrant to surveil him. Nor does it mention that the research project that prompted Steele’s digging was first financed by Republicans opposed to Trump.

As USA Today’s Steve Reilly pointed out, the memo misleadingly suggests that Steele leaked the revelation of Page’s Moscow trip to the media, when in fact his speech at a conference there was publicly posted and widely reported.

Redstate (ahem, Redstate!) noticed that the memo also very obviously mischaracterizes Comey’s public testimony about the Steele memo, bringing the rest of its claims into question.

Its allegations against DOJ official Bruce Ohr, a target of the right, are confusing: On one hand the memo bashes the Justice Department for highlighting in its FISA applications the anti-Trump bias Ohr recognized in Steele; on the other hand, the memo says Ohr was interviewed about his Steele interactions after the election and thus after the first warrant application. Ohr’s candor about Steele’s Trump sentiments would also seemingly exonerate the DOJ official in the GOP smear campaign against him.

It’s not clear if these sorts of discrepancies are the result of sloppy work by the GOP staff that wrote the memo. But they fit the pattern of inaccuracies and false narrative that Democrats and the FBI had previously warned the memo contained.

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The Trump administration released guidelines Thursday morning for states seeking to impose work requirements on their Medicaid population—a move expected to reduce Medicaid enrollment by hundreds of thousands of people.

Under the new policy, states can require able-bodied adults to either work, volunteer, attend job training or prove they’re actively searching for a job to qualify for Medicaid. People with a disability, the elderly, children and pregnant women are exempt.

Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), told reporters on a conference call Thursday morning that 10 states have already applied: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah and Wisconsin. Some of these states had previously sought permission from the Obama administration to purge non-working adults from their Medicaid rolls, and were denied.

Though very few people are likely to be impacted, congressional Democrats and health care advocates say the work requirement violates the original purpose of Medicaid and traps people in a Catch 22—too sick to work, but unable to get care unless they are working.

Here are five things to know as the state waiver approvals start rolling out:

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The family of Michael Flynn this week reignited an ongoing national conversation about the power of presidential pardons, by urging President Donald Trump to clear the former national security adviser’s name.

“About time you pardon General Flynn who has taken the biggest fall given the illegitimacy of his confessed crime in the wake of all this corruption,” the retired lieutenant general’s brother, Joseph, said on Twitter.

The White House offered no official response to the social media exhortation, but Trump has confidently asserted his authority in this arena, tweeting in July that “all agree the U.S. President has the complete power to pardon.”

Presidential pardon power is indeed extensive, but any move Trump took to absolve associates under investigation for aiding Russia’s interference in the 2016 election could come at a steep political—and even legal—cost for the embattled President.

TPM surveyed legal experts about the limits of this power, and how Special Counsel Robert Mueller can work around it.

Presidential pardon power “fairly absolute”

Legal scholars agree that the U.S. president has “fairly absolute” authority to pardon any other U.S. citizen for any federal crime, Fordham University law professor Jed Shugerman said in a phone interview.

“Obviously what he can’t do is take office and say, ‘I pardon everyone in advance for this crime I’m about to run from out of the Oval Office,’” Duke University law professor Lisa Griffin said. “So you can pardon anyone from the time that the offense has been committed. There do not have to be charges pending; there certainly does not have to be a conviction.”

One frequently cited historical precedent is Gerald Ford’s full 1974 pardon of his predecessor Richard Nixon for any crimes committed during his time as president.

There are important exceptions and unsettled areas of the law that come into play with the Russia probe, however.

According to Griffin, extant Justice Department memoranda from previous administrations have bolstered a key conclusion of most legal scholars and commentators: the President cannot preemptively pardon himself before leaving office.

Then there is the problematic exercise of executive clemency to impede an investigation, a “corrupt intent” which Shugerman said could make the President “liable for obstruction of justice charges.”

Griffin noted that if Trump suddenly pardoned an associate like Flynn, who has acknowledged that he is cooperating with the special counsel, “he runs the risk of appearing to try to influence, intimidate or curry favor—or any of the above—with a witness, and that might constitute impeding, interference or obstruction.”

Mueller has assigned career government attorney Michael Dreeben to research the limits of executive clemency, according to Bloomberg.

POTUS has no influence over state charges

The most significant workaround for law enforcement is the President’s inability to pardon individuals found guilty of state crimes.

“That’s the linchpin of all of this,” Shugerman told TPM. “[Mueller’s strategy] seems to be to make sure the indictments he brings and the guilty pleas he obtains preserve for state prosecutors the backup plan against pardons.”

Information gleaned from proffer agreements or possible grand jury testimonies provided by cooperating witnesses like Flynn or former campaign aide George Papadopolous won’t be affected by executive pardons, noted Mark Osler, a a former federal prosecutor who now serves as a clemency expert at the University of St. Thomas Law School.

Parallel local probes are already underway in New York, where Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance are investigating indicted former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s financial and real estate dealings.

Analogue charges for federal crimes such as money laundering exist on the local level in every jurisdiction, Griffin noted. New York would be the likeliest legal battleground if Trump preemptively pardoned individuals like his son-in-law Jared Kushner or son Donald Trump Jr., since his campaign was run out of the Trump Organization’s Manhattan offices.

White House insists it’s not focused on pardons

According to Trump administration officials, pardons are the last thing on their mind.

After Trump in mid-December offered a vague “let’s see” to reporters asking if he planned to pardon Flynn, White House special counsel Ty Cobb played cleanup, saying “there is no consideration being given” to that matter.

“I think before we start discussing pardons for individuals we should see what happens in specific cases, too,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at a recent press briefing.

This delay is strategic, Griffin argued, adding that she believes the President will eventually make “very aggressive use” of his pardon power.

“I think it’s likely to come in the later stages of the Mueller investigation so as to preserve as many options as possible along the way,” she said.

Trump has already circumvented regular DOJ processes

There is plenty of precedent for President Trump acting unilaterally in a way that leaves his Justice Department scrambling. Previous administrations have carefully conferred with the Department of Justice’s Pardon Attorney, but in this as in so much else, Trump prefers to act alone and let the rest of the government mop up later.

Consider Trump’s harsh criticism of his own Attorney General Jeff Sessions a few months into his presidency, or the way he handled the pardon of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose flagrant misconduct was the butt of dark jokes for years before his conviction.

At first, Trump reportedly asked Sessions to abandon the case against Arpaio, which Sessions declined to do. The President then declared that Arpaio’s conviction, for disregarding a court order to stop patrols he’d ordered to track down undocumented immigrants, must be completely erased, even though Arpaio had bragged about disregarding the order. A legal wrangle has ensued.

If Trump cares enough about Flynn—or what Flynn might say—to force the Mueller probe to drop the case against him, the move might be unprecedented, but would not be out of line with the chaotic first year of his presidency. As far as Trump is concerned, the main risk of an unprecedented pardon would be to his popularity—his already-low approval ratings remain a festering sore spot.

Osler, the clemency expert, told TPM that the kind of “jump-the-line stuff” that occurred with Arpaio’s case “is highly unusual” and unfair to those who pursue standard petitions for executive clemency.

But Osler noted that Ford’s pardon of Nixon and Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive financier Mark Rich “happened at great cost to those presidents” and became a “negative part of their lasting legacy.”

Smears of DOJ and FBI help clear path for future pardons

Meanwhile, the administration and its GOP allies continue to seek weak spots in the DOJ investigation itself, sometimes with help from allies within the Justice Department, where deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe is said to be planning on an abrupt retirement as soon as he qualifies

Consider the Republican emphasis on the role of Peter Strzok, who was removed from the investigation for using his company phone to send uncensored text messages discussing his distaste for then-candidate Trump. Months after his removal, news of the texts broke through a private DOJ briefing to reporters, which the department said was not authorized by its press office.

Trump taunted McCabe on Twitter with hints of a firing before he qualifies for his full pension:

Then there is the emphasis from team Trump on the Steele Dossier (“the Dodgy Dossier,” as Carter Page and others insist on calling it), a raw intelligence report that is unlikely to prove more than incidental to any serious legal proceedings against the president or his allies. The dossier contains lots of quid but no quo; it was also commissioned by the Clinton campaign (which picked up the initial anti-Trump research contract at Steele’s employer, Fusion GPS, from right-wing billionaire Paul Singer’s mouthpiece, The Washington Free Beacon), a fact which remained a secret until late this year. As always, Trump and his allies both in office and in the conservative media world leapt at the opportunity to criticize Trump’s onetime electoral opponent, despite the conservative media world hiring Fusion in the first place.

If the Trump camp can discredit the probe, the president could make the act of firing people who could potentially prosecute him seem more reasonable.

This post has been updated.

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Those looking to discredit the special counsel’s Russia investigation got an assist this weekend from one of President Donald Trump’s attorneys, who alleged Saturday that Robert Mueller’s team inappropriately obtained a trove of presidential transition team documents.

“It’s not looking good,” Trump, who denied that he has any intention of firing Mueller, told reporters. “It’s quite sad to see that. My people were very upset.”

But the General Services Administration (GSA), which turned over thousands of emails exchanged during the transition, the special counsel’s office, and legal experts pushed back on transition lawyer Kory Langhofer’s claims, insisting that nothing about the process was unusual.

Langhofer’s laments about the violation of privacy and privileged attorney-client communications were rendered moot, experts and officials said, by the fact that the transition emails were housed on government servers and sent by people who were then private citizens. Communications exchanged by these individuals between Election Day 2016 and Inauguration Day 2017 are pertinent to Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and any coordination that may have occurred between the Kremlin and Trump campaign.

According to a letter Langhofer sent to congressional committee leaders, the “emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials” for nine transition team members working on “national security and policy matters” as well as four other “senior” transition team members are now in Mueller’s team’s possession. They’ve been “extensively used” in interviews with witnesses, Langhofer alleged.

Here’s why this latest pseudo-scandal matters.

Trump team alleges violation of law, Constitution

In a seven-page letter to the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and House Oversight Committees, Langhofer alleged that GSA’s production of transition materials violated both the Fourth Amendment and a Presidential Transition Act requirement that “computers or communications services” used by transition staffers be “secure.”

Mueller’s team requested the documents in a pair of late August letters and received a flash drive containing them from the GSA on Sept. 1, according to the Associated Press. Langhofer blamed “career GSA staff” working with GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt for carrying out this process “without notifying TFA [Trump for America] or filtering or redacting privileged material.” He said the transition team did not learn of these “unauthorized disclosures” until Dec. 12.

GSA, Special Counsel say there’s nothing weird here

Both the GSA and special counsel said they carried out the process as required by law.

In a Saturday interview with BuzzFeed, Loewentritt, a career GSA employee, explained that all transition staff using GSA devices had to sign agreements asserting that “no expectation of privacy can be assumed.” They were explicitly warned, Loewentritt said, that information “would not be held back in any law enforcement” investigation.

Loewentritt also denied Langhofer’s claim that former GSA general counsel Richard Beckler, who died in September, promised the Trump transition’s legal team that they would be told of any requests made to the agency for document production.

Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement that Mueller did not require a subpoena or warrant to obtain the documents.

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” Carr said.

Legal experts swat down claims of impropriety

Legal experts and former government attorneys bolstered claims that nothing improper or illegal transpired in obtaining the emails.

Former federal prosecutor Randall Eliason told the Washington Post that it “would be almost prosecutorial misconduct” for Mueller’s team not to sort through the transition messages, and that Langhofer’s decision to go to Congress rather than the judge overseeing the federal grand jury was suspect.

“You go to the judge and complain,” Eliason told the Post. “You don’t issue a press release or go to Congress. It appears from the outside that this is part of a pattern of trying to undermine Mueller’s investigation.”

John Bies, a Justice Department lawyer during the Obama administration, told Politico that presidential privilege did not apply to messages sent before Trump was sworn-in because “there is only one president at a time.”

Congress doesn’t seem interested in taking up the issue

In an interview with Business Insider, Langhofer said he took the issue to Congress rather than Mueller and the GSA because lawmakers “need to make sure this never happens again.”

Lawmakers don’t seem particularly eager to get in the middle of this fight, however.

“These are issues to be briefed by the parties (or others with cognizable legal claims and standing) and decided by the court — not Congress,” a spokesperson for House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told Politico in a statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement that the Presidential Transition Act “simply does not support withholding transition team emails from criminal investigators.”

Why the emails could be so important

White House attorney Ty Cobb announced last week that Mueller’s team has completed all interviews with White House staff requested to date, meaning senior Trump advisers have already given investigators their accounts of communications with or about foreign officials.

Those interviews occurred before the transition team knew that Mueller had access to physical copies of their transition emails, and, as Langhofer pointed out, Mueller’s prosecutors have “extensively used the materials” obtained from GSA in his interviews with witnesses.

“Mueller is using the emails to confirm things, and get new leads,” a transition source told Axios.

Mueller’s team can now cross-check the comments of any interviewee to ensure that they did not lie to federal agents—a crime to which both former national security adviser Mike Flynn and former campaign aide George Papadopoulos already pleaded guilty.

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Republicans in the House and Senate are racing to pass a massive tax bill before leaving D.C. for the holidays, and after a week of closed-door meetings and backroom horse trading, they unveiled their final draft at the age-old hour of Washington news dumps: 5:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon.

The latest iteration of the sweeping tax overhaul looks significantly different than the versions that came out of the House and Senate earlier this month. Many of the most controversial pieces of the bill have been removed. Some tweaks have been made to further benefit the wealthy and certain members of Congress. And while the vast majority of GOP lawmakers are lining up behind the bill and promising to send it to President Trump’s desk before Christmas, a few absences due to illness and a few last wavering Republicans in the Senate are making leaders sweat.

Here are the five points you need to know before the House and Senate vote on the final bill next week:

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The focus of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s tangle of business dealings with Turkey is one man: Fethullah Gulen, an ailing septuagenarian Muslim cleric who lives in a Pennsylvania compound.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Flynn received to produce negative PR materials about Gulen and about Flynn’s alleged discussions with Turkish officials about forcibly removing him from the U.S.

What’s received less attention is why Turkey would take such extraordinary steps to take down the aging cleric, and why President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government thought Flynn would be able to facilitate them.

The former top U.S. intelligence official’s well-compensated work for Turkey is just one tentacle of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But it speaks directly to the central question of how foreign actors may have attempted to influence the actions of top Trump campaign figures.

TPM spoke to five Turkey experts to get a sense of Erdogan’s anti-Gulen crusade in the U.S., and how Flynn fit into those schemes.

Why is Turkey so desperate to discredit Gulen?

Flynn is hardly the first American that Turkey has used to lend credence to Erdogan’s campaign against the man he believes orchestrated a failed July 2016 coup against him. In the past few years, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has launched a lobbying blitz in the U.S. aimed at discrediting Gulen and his Hizmet, or “service,” movement.

Firms like Amsterdam & Partners and Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, receive lucrative contracts to paint the cleric—who promotes a moderate, pro-market version of Islam through a worldwide network of well-funded schools and charitable institutions—as a suspect actor bent on undermining Turkey’s democracy. This effort has been aided by anti-Islam groups like ACT! for America and outlets like Breitbart News, which routinely characterize Gulen as the head of a “shadowy and corrupt cult.

Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert at the non-partisan Atlantic Council, told TPM that Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s energy minister, is “behind” these lobbying efforts. Albayrak attended a Sept. 19, 2016 meeting with Flynn Intel Group, where discussions of removing Gulen from the U.S. were reportedly first raised.

“There is documented evidence that he oversees efforts within the United States through cut-out organizations to funnel money to lobbyists and PR firms who try to change the narrative on Gulen,” Stein said of Albayrak. “That definitely happens.”

Experts caution that there are legitimate concerns about financial misdeeds by some Gulen-linked institutions and about the secretive ways in which the cleric leverages political influence in Turkey through his network. But they say that Erdogan’s crusade against Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, is primarily about self-preservation.

The two men were political allies until about 2010, when Erdogan’s consolidation of power prompted what former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffries described to TPM as a “series of ever more dramatic confrontations.” By 2013, these involved politically-motivated prosecutions of Erdogan allies by Gulen-linked prosecutors and a subsequent purging of Gulenists from the judiciary.

Why hasn’t the U.S. extradited the cleric?

In an Election Day editorial in The Hill penned on behalf of his Turkish lobbying client, Flynn described Gulen as a “shady Islamic mullah” behind the coup attempt who should immediately be turned over to “our NATO ally.”

This closes mirrors Turkey’s stance on how “perplexing and deeply frustrating” it is that the U.S. has not yet turned over the man who “masterminded” the effort to overthrow Erdogan’s government.

The actual narrative is not so clear. Experts told TPM evidence that the U.S. Justice Department helped gather suggests that Gulenists played a significant role in the coup, but that Turkey has failed to prove that he was personally behind it. The attempted putsch was most likely the work of a coalition of groups, they said.

David Tittensor, an Australian religion professor who authored a book on the Gulen movement, said the evidence “didn’t meet the standard to initiate an extradition and warrant process” through the U.S. State Department and judicial system. Some of the alleged Gulen-linked coup plotters say they were tortured or that their confessions were forced, Tittensor noted.

He said the impasse with the DOJ could have prompted officials to hold secret talks with Flynn.

“Possibly the fact that these kind of talks were happening speaks to the lack of an evidence base that has been provided thus far and that they were looking for an alternative in order to get what they want, which is to get Gulen out of the U.S. and back to Turkey,” Tittensor said.

Flynn pushed Turkey’s line on Gulen in exchange for cash

Flynn was forced to belatedly register as a foreign agent earlier this year for accepting $530,000 from Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin to produce negative PR materials about Gulen.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating Flynn Intel Group’s work for Alptekin, who has close ties to Erdogan’s government. Mueller’s team is also reportedly probing two alleged meetings in New York between Turkish officials and Flynn about forcibly removing Gulen from the U.S.

Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal that he was startled by the plans to “whisk” Gulen away that he heard at the first meeting on Sept. 19, 2016, which was attended by Alptekin, Turkey’s energy and finance ministers, and members of Flynn Intel Group.

Discussions of a $15 million payout for Flynn and of possibly “transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali” did not unfold until the second discussion in December, according to the Journal’s reporting.

Both sides have stridently denied that any such discussions occurred.

What if Turkey gets its wish?

Gulen is currently the “pawn in the middle” of U.S.-Turkey relations, as George Washington University international affairs professor Scheherazade Rehman put it, and it’s not clear that Erdogan wants his return as much as he professes to.

For one, Gulen’s presence here provides negotiating leverage, as Jeffries, the former U.S. ambassador, pointed out.

“It gives them a good talking point to put the U.S. under pressure,” Jeffries said. “And the Turks like that, that’s how they do foreign policy.”

Though Jeffries said the Turkish people and government do want answers for the coup, which resulted in the deaths of some 300 people, other experts noted that Gulen’s return through traditional legal channels, which remains unlikely, could undermine the Erdogan administration’s account of how the coup unfolded.

“If he comes back then that will force an actual trial,” said Josh Hendrick, a Loyola professor on Islamic political identity who wrote a book on Gulen. “It will force a ‘prove it.’ All the inconsistencies in the narrative could come out.”

Erdogan has used the coup as cover to fire and jail his political opponents and consolidate power.

Did Flynn try to advance the extradition?

Not long after Trump and Flynn entered the White House, the FBI was reportedly asked to conduct a new review of Turkey’s extradition request. Though NBC reported that the FBI turned it down because there was no additional evidence to alter the Obama administration’s assessment of it, it remains unclear if Flynn or State Department officials made the request.

When questioned on the matter by House Judiciary Committee member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) at a hearing this week, Attorney Jeff Sessions said only that he knew the “Turkish government continued to press the federal government” on Gulen’s return and that though his department “had a role to play in that,” he was unable to discuss it.

The Atlantic Council’s Stein said it was not necessarily surprising that a new administration would want a review of such a sensitive situation.

“What is noteworthy is the reasons why they asked for it,” he said. “Was Mike Flynn on the take and was he fulfilling a contractual quid pro quo?”

Correction: This piece has been updated to correct an editing error. Erdogan, not Gulen, has used the coup as cover to fire and jail his political opponents and consolidate power.

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Republicans in Congress and President Trump are actively exploring a new target in their ongoing campaign against the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate.

For weeks, Trump has been pushing GOP legislators to include a provision repealing the mandate in their already-unwieldy tax reform package, and while the policy is not yet in the text of the bill, Republicans in the House and Senate are fighting to insert it. Should that fail, the Trump administration reportedly has an executive order in the works to dismantle as much of the mandate as possible—though he wouldn’t be able to completely eliminate it with a stroke of his pen.

Regardless of whether mandate is undermined by legislative or executive action, doing so would further roil the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace, which has already been kneecapped by a host of budget and policy changes this year. It would sow more chaos in an open enrollment period already hampered by misinformation public confusion.

Here are five points to keep in mind as the mandate becomes the next piece of Obamacare to come under fire:

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The full transcript of Carter Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee released Monday night sheds some new light on his contacts with Russian officials and how he relayed those conversations to the Trump campaign.

Though much of what Page discussed had previously been leaked to the press or discussed by other Trump campaign advisers, the 243-page transcript yielded some key new information.

For the first time, Page acknowledged that he had a “private conversation” with Russia’s deputy foreign minister during a July 2016 trip to Moscow. He also told lawmakers that he communicated with members of the Trump campaign about what he would say in a speech he delivered during that visit, contradicting previous statements about making the trip in his capacity as a private citizen.

The transcript of Page’s testimony, which was made public by his request, also lays bare the frustration felt by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers who tried to keep the questioning on track.

Some highlights from Page’s meandering, nearly eight-hour-long interview are below.

Page confirmed Trump campaign altered Ukraine platform

The Trump campaign has quibbled about the extent of its involvement in softening the language on Ukraine in the GOP platform during the Republican National Convention, but Page confirmed that staffers were directly involved.

“As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work,” Page wrote in a July 14, 2016 email to fellow Trump aide J.D. Gordon and several others.

Page said the email reflected his “personal opinion” and denied personally having any involvement in the change, which removed language promising that the U.S. would provide “lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian military intervention. The revised text instead offered “appropriate assistance.”

Though Gordon and others on the campaign have strenuously denied involvement, Texas delegate Diana Denman previously told TPM that he halted the national security committee’s discussion of her original amendment to “clear it with New York.” Denman said this was the only amendment set before the committee that she recalled Trump staffers intervening to table.

Like Papadopoulos, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge

Like George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian connections, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge about Russian politics.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed Page to account for an email he sent after his July 2016 trip to deliver a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School promising campaign staffers “some incredible insights and outreach” he received from “a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

It turns out those “insights” were gleaned from watching TV.

Page told Schiff that all he meant to convey in that email was that he would pass on “general things that I learned from listening to speeches” and “watching Russian TV in my few days in Moscow.”

Schiff replied, “This is not what you conveyed to the campaign.”

Page also notified campaign staffers that he would “speak alongside the chairman and CEO of Sberbank,” one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, during that visit. He told the committee that the Sberbank CEO “didn’t actually show up at all.”

Page proposed having Trump travel to Russia

In another similarity to Papadopoulos, Page thought it would be a good idea for Trump to travel to Russia in the middle of the campaign, despite scrutiny of the GOP candidate’s friendly rhetoric towards Russia.

In a May 16, 2016 email to Gordon and fellow campaign adviser Walid Phares, Page suggested that Trump could “raise the temperature a little bit” by traveling to Russia in his stead, and that he would be “more than happy to yield this honor to him.”

Page told the committee he did not know that Papadopoulos was separately pushing a Trump trip to Russia, and that he was “envisioning” a visit akin to Barack Obama’s well-received 2008 trip to Germany as a Democratic presidential candidate.

Lawmakers from both parties seemed frustrated by the rambling conversation

Throughout the interview, Page repeatedly provided more information than lawmakers requested or insisted that he’d had no contact with a certain individual only to double-back and say he may have actually met them in passing. These rhetorical tics seemed to grate on his questioners.

Schiff, in particular, repeatedly told Page that he was “not asking” for the answers he provided. He chided the former Trump aide for responding to questions about his Russia contacts with answers about Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Page’s own writings on lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was similarly withering in an exchange in which he asked Page to define the words collusion, coordination and conspiracy. When Page replied that all seem to refer to “things you shouldn’t be doing,” Gowdy cracked that “you can coordinate lunch,” and continued to push the point until Page provided straight answers.

CNN reported that lawmakers described Page’s testimony as occasionally confusing and contradictory.

The campaign tried to distance itself from Page

Towards the end of his marathon testimony, Page revealed that the Trump campaign and transition tried to sever ties with him early this year as the FBI investigation was ramping up.

Page divulged that he received letters in January from the campaign’s law firm, Jones Day, instructing him not to “give the wrong impression that you’re part of the administration or the Trump campaign.”

Page said he had never misstated his relationship to the campaign, and only spoke to the media “to try to clear up this massive mess which has been created about my name.”

Trump staffers apparently tried to cut off these conversations with the press. Page said he had his first and only conversation with Steve Bannon in mid-January, when the former White House chief strategist contacted Page to tell him it was “probably not a good idea” for him to appear on MSNBC.

Page told lawmakers he understood Trump staffers’ concerns and lamented that he was “the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign.”

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House Republicans unveiling their 429-page tax reform bill Thursday morning promised it would bring simplicity and prosperity to all.

“On net, everyone’s better off,” Rep. David Brat (R-VA) enthused to reporters in the hallway outside the room where lawmakers were briefed on the bill.

But like the current tax system, the House GOP plan would have winners and losers.

The draft released Thursday lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, nearly doubles the standard deduction, and keeps a loophole for hedge fund managers that President Trump had promised to eliminate. 

To partially make up the cost, the proposal gets rid of a host of deductions—including those for medical expenses, moving expenses, hiring veterans, investing in poor neighborhoods, alimony, employee achievement awards, adoptions, the interest paid on student loans, most electric cars, and state and local taxes—while putting new limits on several others, like the interest paid on home mortgages.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) urged his colleagues and the press not to sweat these details. “I’m looking at the plan overall,” he said. “If you pick out a part and only look at one thing, one thing could look great, but the elimination of other things might diminish the importance of that. Or something might look bad, but when you see the other benefits people get, it could be okay.”

Yet a firestorm of criticism began to ignite as soon as details of the plan began to leak out earlier this week, with major outside organizations on the left and right announcing their opposition to the bill. Here are the five most controversial provisions tucked into the text that could doom Republicans’ top legislative goal.

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There’s been a steady drip-drip-drip of information over the past 24 hours stemming from correspondence that the Trump Organization was turning over to investigators on the House Intelligence Committee, which is probing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. New details about a development proposed by the Trump Organization in Moscow first appeared to leak to the Washington Post, then to the New York Times and Bloomberg.

The day-long stream of new details, which gel with some of TPM’s reporting from earlier this summer, show more clearly than ever before the extent of the contacts between President Donald Trump’s business associates and the intertwined worlds of Russian real estate and government.

Trump associates explored the deal right up until the first presidential primaries

TPM reported earlier this month that Felix Sater, a business associate of Trump’s who’d been secretly convicted of securities fraud in the late 1990s, was trying to find a way to build a Trump Moscow tower as late as November or December 2015, six months into the U.S. presidential campaign.

Plans for a Trump Moscow project ultimately fell through, however; Sater told TPM it was because Trump became President, but emails between Sater and Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and frequent press surrogate, reportedly say that the deal stalled out in January 2016 over land permits.

Michael Cohen was the lead negotiator on the prospective deal

Per the Washington Post, Cohen was the most important figure on the Trump Organization’s side of the Trump Moscow equation. Sater’s projects with Trump through his erstwhile firm, Bayrock Group, were often ephemeral—the Trump Fort Lauderdale and Trump SoHo failed spectacularly, while the Trump Phoenix Plaza never materialized all.

But Trump had been saying for years that he wanted a Moscow tower. It’s probably one of the reasons he held Miss Universe 2013 in Moscow with the sponsorship of Azeri billionaire Aras Agalarov, with whom a separate attempt to build a Trump project in Russia fell though.

In his capacity spearheading the Moscow exploration, Cohen went so far as to email the Kremlin directly to ask for help reviving the deal after it stalled in late 2015. “As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance,” Cohen wrote to Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s press secretary, according to the Washington Post. “I respectfully request someone, preferably you, contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon.”

It’s unclear who the “appropriate individuals” Cohen wanted to contact were.

All the while, on top of his duties at the Trump Organization, Cohen was appearing on television and in print media regularly to speak on campaign-related matters.

Sater thought a Moscow deal would help “our boy” get elected

Sater, one of Cohen’s acquaintances from the pair’s teenage years, was very enthusiastic about getting Putin’s help to elect Trump.

“Buddy our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote to Cohen in an email that has been turned over to congressional investigators, according to the New York Times. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

That is probably the most normal sentence from the email. “Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin,” it continued, as quoted in the Times.

He also felt that he and Cohen were the two men for the job: “We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done,” Sater wrote.

He is not a man with modest aspirations. In one of several interviews with TPM this summer, Sater said that if he had to do it all over again, he would still try to pull off the audacious plan for a ceasefire deal between Russia and Ukraine that he attempted to get to the White House with Cohen’s help in January.

Trump repeatedly discussed the Moscow plans with Cohen

As reported by Bloomberg, Cohen spoke three times with Trump about the prospective Moscow tower. Again, it was something Trump wanted very much to bring about—in 2005, he and Sater had tried to build the tower on the site of a closed pencil factory along the Moscow River, as reported by the Times.

In a statement to congressional investigators, Cohen said he talked to Trump about the project on three separate occasions. He said that the Trumps were not involved in the decision to quash the project, however, and denied that the prospective business deal had anything to do with the campaign in the first place.

“I did not ask or brief Mr. Trump, or any of his family, before I made the decision to terminate further work on the proposal,” Cohen said in the statement, as quoted by Bloomberg. “The Trump Tower Moscow proposal was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.”

Trump signed a letter of intent with a mysterious Moscow-based entity

Citing Cohen’s statement, both the Washington Post and Bloomberg list a Moscow-based business entity called I.C. Expert Investment, which doesn’t at press time show up on Google in any other context than today’s news articles, as the developer the Trump Organization planned to work with.

Trump himself signed a letter of intent with the company on Oct. 28, 2015, according to the Post, making official the agreement to begin developing the property. The Trump Organization then began exploring further financing and soliciting architectural blueprints.

It’s not clear who would have constituted the company; where its financing came from; or why a Moscow-based business would need Cohen to ask for intervention from “appropriate individuals” who knew Putin’s press secretary.

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