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The Executive Director of the Maine Republican Party has admitted he created, runs and writes articles for a pro-Republican anonymous website that has come under fire from state Democrats.

Attorneys for Jason Savage wrote to the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics to say he operates the Maine Examiner “on his own free time and does not utilize Maine Republican Party resources,” Maine News Center reported Friday.

The letter asserted that the website was a proper news site and not subject to state campaign finance disclosure laws, as state Democrats have alleged. Last month, the Democrats filed a complaint with the ethics commission saying the site slandered their unsuccessful mayoral candidate without disclosing its ties to the Republican Party.

The commission will meet Thursday and decide whether to open a formal investigation into the allegations.

The site describes itself as run by “a small group of Mainers who simply publish Maine news, trends, and interesting pieces about you, the people of Maine.” Metadata directly linked Savage to the site.

As TPM previously reported, a number of political entities, such as the reelection campaign for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), have started websites that resemble local news sites, sometimes without disclosing who they are. Government transparency experts say they can easily mislead readers who are unaware who is funding or promoting the stories being put in front of them.

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For a year and half, President Donald Trump and his supporters have dismissed the growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a hoax. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals Friday suggests it’s all too real.

Trump has maintained that Democrats, pained by their surprise electoral loss, invented the notion that Russian operatives spread propaganda on social media and leaked emails stolen from top Democratic operatives. Pinpointing the bad actor behind the attacks was simply not possible, Trump insisted. He has said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Russia played any role.

Trump was wrong, according to U.S. prosecutors. Mueller’s indictment lays out in precise detail how, prosecutors believe, Russia’s Internet Research Agency carried out a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project to impersonate U.S. citizens on social media, hold on-the-ground protests in states like Florida, and even further bogus claims that Democrats committed voter fraud. The 37-page document is backed up with dates, names, bank account numbers, and the text of specific ads that the Russians paid to promote.

It provides conclusive public evidence that Russians were behind the mass interference campaign in the 2016 election, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded back in their January 2017 report.

As both documents make clear, Russia’s intention was both to undermine trust in the U.S. political system and, at least from mid 2016 on, to get Trump into the Oval Office. The indictment also says Russia sought to help Trump in the Republican primary.

Trump was suspicious of this notion from the get-go. During the campaign, he alternately suggested that the Democratic National Committee’s servers were hacked by its own staff (June 2016), China or “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” or nobody at all.

After Trump won the election, his official line was that federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s interference were based on “Fake News Media” stories, “sleazebag political operatives,” and a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election.”

Trump continued to press for a closer relationship with Russia, even tweeting in July 2017 that he had spoken to Putin at the G20 Summit about “forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, [and] many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

The President quickly backed down in the face of widespread outrage. But he continued to tell the media he believed Putin was “sincere” when he told him in their face-to-face meetings that Russia did not intervene.

Proof of Russia’s social media influence campaigns surfaced by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not change his mind.

“The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,” Trump tweeted in September 2017. “What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

Mueller’s indictment notes that Internet Research Agency operatives began purchasing ads on social media sites to promote their bogus activist groups in 2015, spending thousands of U.S. dollars per month on the effort.

The ads were real. The fake social media accounts existed (and Trump himself even interacted with one of them). The DNC emails were hacked and leaked. And we now have hard evidence that Russia funded and orchestrated the whole elaborate effort.

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The Kremlin operation that interfered in the 2016 campaign stoked fears of voter fraud in advance of election day, purchasing ads on Facebook and using the #VoterFraud hashtag on Twitter, according to an indictment of 13 Russian nationals filed by Robert Mueller’s probe on Friday.

Separately, the Russians spread social media messages that aimed to discourage blacks from voting, the indictment says.

One Facebook account, called Stop A.I., alleged in August that “Hillary Clinton has already committed voter fraud during the Democrat Iowa Caucust,” according to the indictment.

A week later, the group used its @TEN_GOP twitter account to report fictitious accusations of voter fraud being investigated in North Carolina.

A week before the election, the group used the #VoterFraud hashtag to push a similar lie, this time involving “tens of thousands of ineligible mail in [sic] Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”

Trump, too, made numerous false claims about Democratic voter fraud in the run-up to the 2016 election.

The indictment also says that late in 2016, the Russians “began to encourage U.S, minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”

“We cannot resort to the lesser of two evils,” one Russian-controlled Instagram account said, referring to Clinton as “Killary.”

“Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,” said another Russian-backed Instagram post.

Responding to the indictment, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in a statement: “Of particular concern, the indictments show how the Russians tried to suppress the votes of minorities across the United States in order to help Donald Trump win the presidency.”

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Friday announced that a grand jury has indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for violating U.S. criminal laws in connection with the campaign to interfere with the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump.

“The indictment charges all of the defendants with conspiracy to defraud the United States, three defendants with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five defendants with aggravated identity theft,” a statement from the special counsel’s office said.

The 37-page indictment lays out in extensive detail how, prosecutors say, Russia’s Internet Research Agency in 2014 initiated an effort to systematically interfere “with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016.”

The elaborate, multi-million-dollar project involved staging on-the-ground protests in the United States, creating hundreds of social media accounts pretending to be American citizens, trying to suppress minority voter turnout, and even promoting false claims that Democrats committed voter fraud.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, announced in a Friday press conference that there was “no allegation in this indictment that any American was a knowing participant in this activity.”

According to the indictment, the defendants posed as Americans — and in some cases stole the identities of real U.S. citizens — to operate social media pages and hold political rallies intended to sow distrust of the U.S. political system and influence Americans’ votes. As part of the Internet Research Agency’s so-called “translator project,” the defendants used YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other online platforms to conduct what they referred to as “information warfare.”

“By early to mid-2016, Defendants’ operations included supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump (“Trump campaign”) and disparaging Hillary Clinton,” the indictment reads.

“They engaged in operations primarily intended to communicate derogatory information about Hillary Clinton, to denigrate other candidates such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, and to support Bernie Sanders and then-candidate Donald Trump,” it adds later.

Starting in 2015, the defendants also spent “thousands of U.S. dollars every month,” on paid advertisements to promote social media group pages they created that were devoted to hot-button issues like immigration and Black Lives Matter, the indictment says. Their social media accounts achieved significant online followings, with Donald Trump even responding to a tweet from their account @TEN_GOP, which pretended to be the official account for the Tennessee Republican Party.

The Russians took elaborate steps to hide their fingerprints. Some visited the U.S. under false pretenses to obtain intelligence, and “procured and used computer infrastructure” that would “hide the Russian origin of their activities,” according to the indictment.

They also made use of a web of LLCs to conceal the source of their funding, which was controlled by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a Russian oligarch and ally of President Vladimir Putin. Prigozhin’s companies Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering were the “primary source of funding” for interference operations, per the indictment.

Prosecutors say the Internet Research Agency’s budget requests to Concord amounted to some $1,250,000 per month as of September 2016.

The Russians also organized on-the-ground rallies to boost Trump, according to the indictment, suggesting the elaborate nature of the Russian effort to influence American voters.

The Kremlin’s operation conducted outreach to grassroots Trump campaigners in Florida over the internet in the summer and fall of 2016, saying they hoped to hold rallies for Trump across the state. On August 15, the Russian operators got an email from an unnamed Trump campaign worker identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county, suggesting two more sites for rallies. The indictment does not allege that anyone on the Trump campaign knew they were working with Russians.

According to the indictment the Russians wired an American money to build a cage for a fake Hillary Clinton for a Florida rally on August 5, which made national news; it also wired one group money for another event in Florida in September and took out advertising for a rally organized for 9/11 in New York City. The group paid the same actor—an American—who had played Clinton in the Florida rally to reprise the role on September 11.

The group also reached out to a Texan pro-Trump grassroots organization that was already advising the Russian team to focus on swing states; the American said he or she would provide social media contacts for yet more outreach. By August 24, the Russian group had a list of 100 Americans they had contacted, along with a summary of each person’s political views and what they had been asked by the Russian group to do.

As soon as Trump was elected, the Russians began working to undermine him and sow further discord, the indictment says. On Nov. 12, two groups held rallies, one to “show your support for President-Elect Donald Trump,” another through a group called “Trump is NOT my President.” The Kremlin organized both of them.

This elaborate conspiracy was made possible in part by the theft of the social security numbers, home addresses, and birth dates of real U.S. persons, which allowed the defendants to open U.S. bank and PayPal accounts.

Once the defendants got wind that U.S. investigators were on to them, they began destroying evidence, including emails and social media accounts, according to the indictment.

In one Sept. 2017 email cited by prosecutors, defendant Irina Kaverzina wrote to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

Kaverzina added: “I created all these pictures and posts, and the Americans believed that it was written by their people.”

Read the full indictment below:

This post has been updated.

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A Treasury Department list of wealthy Russian allies of Vladimir Putin appears to have been classified without the involvement of the intelligence community.

The news raises further questions about whether the list needed to be classified in its entirety at all. And it adds to concerns that the Trump administration is finding ways to soft-pedal its enforcement of Russian sanctions to avoid alienating Putin.

At Tuesday’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on global threats, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked the five top intelligence chiefs an unusual question, citing “the politicizing of the classification system”: Had any of them taken a position on the Trump administration’s decision to classify a major portion of a report on Russian oligarchs created by the Treasury Department?

Four of the men — FBI director Christopher Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA director Mike Pompeo, and DIA director Robert Ashley — answered that they had not. NSA chief Michael Rogers answered: “I raised concerns with the DNI,” but he appeared to be talking about the Nunes memo, a different issue that Wyden had also asked about.

As part of a sanctions law passed by Congress in August in response to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Treasury Department was required to create a report on wealthy Russians closely aligned with Vladimir Putin.

But even as he signed the sanctions bill, President Trump referred to it as “seriously flawed.” And he made a point of saying that the executive branch answered to him, not to Congress.

A day before the January 30 deadline to produce the report, Treasury issued a bare list of Russian billionaires that it acknowledged had been taken from Forbes magazine. Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin said there was a classified annex to the report that Treasury would use to punish oligarchs closely aligned with Putin, per the bill’s mandate. Mnuchin said that could happen as soon as February.

In response, Wyden called for the annex to be declassified and said Mnuchin “isn’t even going through the motions” of following the law.

A spokesman for the Treasury, who asked that his name not be used, declined to comment on the record about the level of involvement of the intelligence community in classifying the annex.

But the spokesman said the annex had been developed with input from the intelligence community. He added that it needed to be fully classified because it “describes specified Russians’ links to corruption, international business affiliations, and other sensitive information,” using “classified sources and methods.”

The department “does not publicly telegraph future sanctions actions,” the spokesman said. “Including a classified annex in the report allows inclusion of highly sensitive classified information. It similarly protects against asset flight by those discussed there.”

John Sipher, a former member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service, the leadership team that guides CIA activities, told TPM the Treasury’s decision to leave the full annex classified without apparent input from the intelligence community struck him as unusual, too.

“I assumed they’d been consulted,” he said of the intel community. “If not, it is very odd.”

I. Charles McCullough III, the inspector general of the intelligence community under President Obama from 2011 to 2017, said it wasn’t unusual in itself for the Treasury to use its classification power without the intelligence community officially being involved. But he said he was surprised to hear the intelligence chiefs say they hadn’t had any heads-up at all.

“Treasury is more involved with intel than people realize; they’re part of the intelligence community with the Office of Foreign Asset Control,” said McCullough, now a partner at D. C. firm Tully Rinckey. But, he continued, “you’d think there would be some coordination at a lower level just to sort of deconflict things. I guarantee if they were declassifying something, there would be communication.”

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The 2010 midterm elections were, in Barack Obama’s words, a “shellacking” for Democrats—and not just those in Congress.

That was the year Republicans poured money and resources into key state legislatures in order to control the once-a-decade redistricting process that would follow. The GOP emerged with full control of numerous key states, allowing them to draw congressional and state legislative district lines to their advantage, and giving them a major edge in elections for the rest of the decade. In 2012, Democrats won 1.4 million more votes for the House than the GOP, but wound up with 33 fewer seats.

With the next Census less than two years away, Democrats are mobilizing to try to prevent the same thing from happening again. But going further, by setting themselves up to carry out their own gerrymander, doesn’t appear to be on the agenda—at least for now.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), backed by Obama and spearheaded by former Attorney General Eric Holder, is teaming up with other Democratic campaign organizations to target specific governorships, legislative chambers, and ballot initiatives in 2020 with an eye on getting a say in the redistricting process.

So far, at least, Democrats appear focused more on fighting for fairer maps than on letting themselves draw maps that advantage their party. 

“Our goal is to restore fairness to the system,” NDRC Communications Director Patrick Rodenbush told TPM Thursday. “If you look at our list of target states, we’re trying to break trifectas in states that were most badly gerrymandered by Republicans and then protect against gerrymandering in a handful of other ones.”

Trifectas are where one party controls all three influence-points for the redistricting process: both legislative chambers and the governorship.

Indeed, in many of the states the NDRC is targeting like Florida, Georgia, and Texas, their goal is only to have a voice in the redistricting process by winning control of one chamber or the governorship—not to win total control in a way that would’ve them a free hand to gerrymander. That’s in part because winning full control isn’t realistic in many states.

“The NDRC is saying all the right things and it might be that they would be happy with fair districts,” Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School, told TPM. “In some places that’s all they’re going to get, by the way. I will see what happens when they actually get control of states. I’ll see if they put their money where their mouth is.”

Still, even where they end up with the power to do so, there are plenty of factors that may keep Democrats from pressing their advantage. Demographics are a central one.

“Democratic voters are badly distributed geographically,” Theodore Arrington, a voting rights expert at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told TPM in an email. “They are very concentrated in urban areas. Therefore, it is difficult to avoid creating a number of districts that are heavily Democratic, which wastes their votes. Given that the courts will look for districts that are compact and follow other traditional districting principles, this bad concentration will hurt the Democrats.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing three major redistricting cases out of GOP-gerrymandered Wisconsin and Texas, and Democrat-gerrymandered Maryland. Those cases could set limits on how extreme partisan gerrymanders can be.

Whatever they determine, the energized Democratic base is also pressing leadership to move towards a fairer system where independent arbiters draw up maps based on neutral redistricting principles that better reflect the parties’ vote shares. These grassroots activists appear motivated as much by a commitment to small ‘d’ democratic principles as by a partisan desire to maximize Democratic gains.

“Post-2016, people have elevated the issue of redistricting from something that was obscure—that we had to engage in a civics lesson on—to something that’s pretty much their number one demand,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director at Common Cause. “Wherever we go to, this has been a rallying cry.”

That energy has already prompted significant movement in two states that were heavily gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor during the last cycle. Ohio’s legislature approved a bipartisan resolution that would put an independent commission in charge of the congressional redistricting process, which voters will now decide on in May. Voters in 2015 approved an initiative to create a similar commission to handle state legislative redistricting. And in Michigan, a reform group collected over 425,000 signatures late last year for a 2018 ballot initiative that would install a similar setup.

“I think the biggest reformist impulses from the inside right now are coming from places where citizens are angry and loud about it,” Levitt, the Loyola professor, said. “And the legislators are desperately trying to get ahead of what they fear to be a loud angry tidal wave against them.”

That’s not to say all blue states or Democratic lawmakers are on board, or have been in the past. In Maryland and particularly Illinois, Democrats drew districts that protected incumbents. In Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan campaigned against a 2016 effort to create an independent redistricting process that garnered over 500,000 signatures. In California, state Democratic leadership fought hard against an ultimately successful reform initiative to create a similar process despite strong support from local Democratic clubs, according to Common Cause’s Feng.

But the party at large seems to recognize that simply having fairer maps rather than ones that heavily favor Republicans will benefit them in the long run.

Democrats are in the “comfortable position of being able to advocate for fair maps knowing that, number one you occupy the high ground,” said Tom Bonier, a Democratic political strategist and CEO of marketing consulting firm TargetSmart. “It’s hard to argue against transparency and public input. But they also know that fair maps would produce a much better landscape for Democrats.”

Non-partisan redistricting advocates like Feng hope that once that system is in place and voters see the benefits, they’ll be less likely to have to engage in another all-out battle with the GOP again in another ten year’s time.

“I analogize this to The Lord of the Rings,” she said. “You gotta take this ring away from them and throw it in the volcano. The power to draw lines for the next ten years to benefit yourself, your party and your buddies is very tempting to hold onto. And it brings out ugly monsters in both parties.”

Throwing the ring away, Feng said, is “the only way we can move beyond this tug-of-war.”

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St. Louis investigators are questioning Missouri lawmakers as part of an ongoing criminal probe into Gov. Eric Greitens (R).

In a Wednesday visit to the Capitol, two investigators working with the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner interviewed a number of lawmakers from both parties about Greitens’ conduct, the Kansas City Star reported Wednesday.

The questions they’re asking suggest that Gardner’s investigation has expanded beyond allegations that Greitens blackmailed and once slapped a woman with whom he carried out an extramarital affair, to look at Greitens’ campaign finance practices.

State Rep. Nate Walker, a Republican and an early supporter of the governor who has since called for him to step down, told the Star that the inquiries covered issues including “dark money and different things like that.”

In a Thursday phone call with TPM, Walker declined to expand further on the questions he received from investigators but said he had the impression from the sit-down in his office that this was a “pretty major investigation.”

Walker reiterated his belief that the various scandals engulfing Greitens had become a “major distraction” and that the governor needs to step down.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied allegations that he took a nude photograph of the woman and threatened to release it if she went public.

Greitens ran on a platform of government transparency, but has come under fire during his first year in office for relying heavily on contributions from nonprofits that engage in political activity without disclosing their donors.

Gardner’s office confirmed to the Star that Jack Foley and William Tisaby — a pair of private investigators with FBI experience — conducted the interviews with lawmakers.

Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal said during a Wednesday Senate debate that Foley and Tisaby had tried to contact her, according to the Star. Reached for comment, a spokeswoman told TPM Chappelle-Nadal has not yet met with the investigators and had no further information on what they were looking for.

Other signals have emerged suggesting that Gardner’s inquiry may be escalating. A lawyer for the woman’s husband, Al Watkins, told reporters last week that the circuit attorney’s office has convened a grand jury.

Watkins said his client was served with a subpoena to provide testimony.

Greitens and his attorney, Jim Bennett, have said they have received no contact from law enforcement officials.

Bennett told the Star Wednesday that they believe “any fair investigation will result in a conclusion that Gov. Greitens has committed no wrongdoing.”

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In a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) sent last week, four top congressional Democrats laid out reams of evidence suggesting that President Trump is improperly using the proposed Time Warner-AT&T merger to pressure Time Warner-owned CNN for gentler coverage.

“[W]e are deeply concerned by reports of inappropriate interference by the White House,” the Democrats wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose department sued to block the deal in November. The Democrats also took Sessions to task for declining to say, during congressional testimony, whether DoJ communicated with the White House on the issue. 

The Justice Department’s lawsuit is anything but an easy case. But in the most important sense, the result may not matter: Merely by picking the fight, Trump appears to be putting news organizations on notice that he’s willing to use the powers of the federal government to hurt them if they don’t play nice.

It’s hardly the first time that Trump has appeared to use DOJ to advance his political agenda. But this instance represents a double threat. By sending a message to the corporate owners of leading news outlets that their businesses can expect to pay a price for hard-hitting coverage, the move jeopardizes the independence not just of the U.S. justice system, but of the media, too.

Timothy Karr of the media advocacy group Free Press told TPM he worries that the next step could be charges against reporters for publishing stories that damage the administration  something that would likely have a chilling effect on the media similar to or worse than the DoJ’s lawsuit and something that appeals to Trump, who vowed to “open up our libel laws” as a candidate. The Obama administration, he added, helped lay some of the groundwork, setting a record for prosecutions under the Espionage Act, often of whistleblowers.

“The Trump administration doesn’t like leakers in its midst,” Karr said. “It may only be a matter of time before we see those prosecutions from Trump.”

Successfully neutering CNN would be a major coup for the White House. And it almost certainly would be personally satisfying to Trump, who is notoriously sensitive to his image on cable news.

In June, the network retracted a flawed story about the Trump ally Anthony Scaramucci and a Russian investment fund, and cut ties with three journalists involved. Trump celebrated on Twitter that CNN “got caught falsely pushing their phony Russian stories.”

“He’s trying to bully us, and we’re not going to let him intimidate us,” CNN president Jeff Zucker reportedly told employees in response. “You can’t lose your confidence and let that change the way you conduct yourselves.”

Karr and other advocates for tough antitrust policies say it’s legitimate to worry about the impact on consumers of the AT&T-Time Warner merger. In its lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that the deal would lead to less innovation and higher costs for consumers.

But there are reasons to think that’s not what’s driving the Trump administration’s actions — not least the administration’s broad anti-regulatory stance elsewhere.

Trump has put outspoken foes of excessive regulation in charge of the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission. And in December, he stood next to giant stacks of paper as he celebrated what he called the “most far-reaching regulatory reform” in U.S. history.

Even the Justice Department official who brought the case against the AT&T-Time Warner merger, Makan Delrahim, who leads the department’s antitrust division, was on a different side of the issue in 2016, when he was a conservative law professor.

“Just the sheer size of it and the fact that it’s media will get a lot of attention, but I don’t see this as a major antitrust problem,” Delrahim told Canadian network BNN two weeks before the election.

AT&T is reportedly seeking to put Delrahim on its witness list. And the company is suggesting that his apparent change of heart was the result of inappropriate political pressure.

“[W]e do not have to prove why Makan Delrahim decided to pursue this case, but if evidence does emerge that it was pursued for some improper purpose, that’s not going to obviously help the DOJ,” Dan Petrocelli, AT&T’s general counsel said on an earnings call last month.

Trump’s opposition to the merger didn’t come after a careful look at the impact on consumers. By his own admission, his mind was made up as soon as he heard about the potential deal.

“As an example of the power structure I am fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN — a deal we will not approve in my administration because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he told rally-goers in Gettysburg, Penn. in October 2016, the day the planned merger was announced.

Then the week before the inauguration, Trump met with AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson (the merger didn’t come up, Stephenson has said). Trump also met the same week with the CEOs of Monsanto and Bayer, which also had a proposed merger on the table. The meetings provoked criticism from anti-trust experts, who said it was troubling that Trump was departing with the usual White House practice of steering clear of companies with merger plans that might require Justice Department approval. 

Less than a month into Trump’s administration, Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor, complained to Gary Ginsberg, a Time Warner exec, about CNN’s coverage, which Kushner viewed as hostile.

In July, a senior administration official told the New York Times that the White House had discussed the merger as “a potential point of leverage over their adversary,” in the paper’s words. The admission received little scrutiny at the time, but it was a remarkably brazen effort by the White House to publicly warn that it recognizes how its power over the merger proposal might be used to bend CNN to its will.

That same month, Trump tweeted a gif of himself tackling a wrestler with the CNN logo superimposed over his head—something the Democrats noted in their letter to Sessions. Other Trump tweets have attacked CNN as ‘fake news.” 

The legal push to block the merger began in earnest in November. A year to the day after the election, DOJ officials quietly tried to pressure AT&T and Time Warner to commit to selling CNN as a condition of the transaction, an idea Stephenson publicly rejected the same day. Two days later, Kushner met with Ginsberg again to tell him he thought CNN should fire 20% of its staff.

The following week, Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee where Rep. David Cicilline asked him whether he’d discussed the merger with Trump. In response, Sessions refused to answer, though he didn’t assert executive privilege.

“I am not able to comment on conversations or communications that Department of Justice top people have with top people at the White House,” Sessions said.

Six days later, the Justice Department filed suit to block the merger.

“Personally, I’ve always felt that that was a deal that’s not good for the country,” Trump told reporters at a White House press conference soon afterward.

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Vice President Mike Pence falsely claimed Wednesday that it was the “universal conclusion of our intelligence communities” that “none” of the efforts by foreign actors to meddle in the 2016 election “had any effect on the outcome of the 2016 election.”

Pence made the remarks at an Axios event, where Mike Allen asked Pence if he agreed with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats’ testimony to Congress Tuesday warning that Russia will target the 2018 midterms.

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Little was made publicly known at a status conference Wednesday about the circumstances of the recent move by Rick Gates’ attorneys to withdraw from his legal team.

The judge presiding over his case — in which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has brought charges of tax evasion, money laundering and failure to disclose foreign lobbying against the former Trump aide — kicked the media and the public out of the courtroom so she could discuss the ongoing issues privately with Gates and his attorneys.

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