Former Trump National Security Council official Ezra Cohen-Watnick is joining the Department of Justice as a national security adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a source familiar with the matter told TPM Wednesday.
Since his departure from the NSC last August, the 31-year-old Cohen-Watnick has worked at the tech company Oracle. The move to the Justice Department has been in the works for months, and Cohen-Watnick will start next week, the source said.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.
Bloomberg, following up on TPM’s initial report, reported that President Trump personally ordered that the Justice Department hire Cohen-Watnick. The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.
During his time at the NSC as the senior director for intelligence programs, Cohen-Watnick was a source of controversy. His ascent to the NSC, after just a few years at the Defense Intelligence Agency, surprised outside observers. His name emerged in the strange episode involving House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who made bombastic allegations of improper “unmasking” of Trump associates by the Obama administration, though what role Cohen-Watnick played in the controversy remains in dispute.
Cohen-Watnick left the NSC several months into the tenure of then-National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster in August 2017. McMaster was replaced by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who started at the post this week.
Update: This story has been updated to include additional reporting by Bloomberg on Trump’s role in Cohen-Watnick’s hiring.
Federal prosecutors are seeking Trump Organization records related to an $130,000 payment that President Trump’s private attorney made to a porn star who has claimed to have had an affair with Trump in 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported.
The request was related to raids conducted on attorney Michael Cohen’s home, office and a hotel room he was using Monday. The search warrants sought information on the payments, the New York Times and others reported.
The Wall Street Journal report on the request to Trump Organization is based on a personal familiar with the matter.
Cohen set up a separate entity through which he funneled the payment in October 2016, which he said came from his home equity line. Days before the 2016 election, the money was wired to a bank account connected to an attorney then representing porn star Stormy Daniels, whose birth name is Stephanie Clifford. Clifford, under a pseudonym, signed a nondisclosure agreement about the affair.
Trump Organization lawyer Jill A. Martin’s name was on a filing in an arbitration battle over Daniels’ efforts to speak publicly about her affair, the Wall Street Journal reported last month. Martin told the Journal at the time that she was involved “in her individual capacity” and that the “company has had no involvement in the matter.”
The records sought in the search warrants used to conduct multiple raids on Michael Cohen Monday included documents related to hush money used to silence alleged mistresses of Donald Trump, as well as information on Cohen’s taxi medallion business, according to reports by the New York Times, CNN and others.
Investigators were looking for records related to payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, both who have claimed to have had affairs with Trump before he was President, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The White House has said Trump has denied the affairs, while Cohen — the President’s longtime personal attorney — has said that Trump was not involved in the $130,000 payment Cohen wired to an attorney representing Daniels just days before the 2016 election.
The FBI agents also were interested in information related to $150,000 that National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, Inc., paid McDougal, according to the Times. A.M.I.’s chief executive David J. Pecker is a friend of the President’s. The company bought the rights to McDougal’s story, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2016, but never ran her allegations that she had an consensual affair with Trump in 2006. Buying the exclusive rights prevented McDougal from taking her claims elsewhere.
Cohen’s tax medallion business has also attracted the attention of the investigators, sources familiar with the search warrant told CNN. The warrants sought information about Cohen’s associates in his taxi cab business, a source told Wall Street Journal. The warrant’s request for documents related to the medallions comes after Cohen’s companies were accused by New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance of owing the state about $40,000 in unpaid taxes. Cohen told TPM last year that the taxes are collected from drivers by the management company he uses, run by Gene “The Taxi King” Freidman.
One source also told CNN that the warrant sought information about other, smaller investments. The warrant mentioned being related in part to election laws, CNN said.
The searches were conducted by the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, the Times reported. The interim U.S. attorney, Geoffrey Berman, is recused from the investigation, ABC News reported.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — who is overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and has been a target of criticism from President Trump — was involved in the decision to conduct an FBI raid Monday to seize the records of Trump’s personally attorney Michael Cohen, the New York Times reported Tuesday.
The report was based on three government officials.
Separately, ABC News reported that interim U.S. Attorney for New York’s Southern District, Geoffrey Berman, whose office led the raid, has recused himself from the investigation. Rosenstein signed off on Berman’s recusal, ABC News reported.
Trump has publicly bashed Rosenstein, and according to the New York Times, privately mused about firing him last summer, around the same time he considered firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He reportedly backed down from firing Mueller when his White House Counsel Don McGahn refused to carry the directive out.
After news of the raid broke Monday afternoon, Trump fumed at Mueller, Rosenstein and at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who is recused from the Russia probe.
Asked if he’d seek to fire Mueller, which would require going through Rosenstein, Trump appeared to leave the door open.
“I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’llsee what happens,” Trump said.
The criminal case against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), who is accused of attempting to blackmail a woman with whom he had an affair, has taken a turn for the bizarre.
Greitens’ attorneys claimed in a Sunday court filing that the woman testified that she may have only dreamed up or imagined the core allegation of the felony charge: that in 2015, the governor took a nonconsensual photograph of her after tying her up and partially undressing her, with the intent to transmit it.
But on Monday night, the woman’s lawyer struck back, accusing Greitens’ team of mischaracterizing his client’s nine-hour testimony. Greitens admitted to the woman “on multiple occasions” that he took the photo without her permission and threatened to release it, attorney Scott Simpson said in a statement provided to TPM.
Greitens, who took office in 2017, has said he engaged in the extramarital affair, but has denied that he took the photo or sought to silence his former lover.
The latest drama stems from the woman’s Friday deposition at the Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Per the defense’s Sunday motion, she testified that she could not say under oath that she saw Greitens held up a phone.
“I don’t know if it’s because I’m remembering it through a dream or I — I’m not sure, but yes, I feel like I saw it after it happened, but I haven’t spoken about it because of that,” the woman said, according to the filing.
The defense accused St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who is prosecuting the case, of neglecting to turn over previous, similar statements the woman had made.
In response, Simpson, the woman’s lawyer, called for the release of the complete transcript of her testimony.
“Gov. Greitens needs to take responsibility for his actions and be honest about the fact that he took my client’s photograph without her consent,” Simpson continued, accusing Greitens of attempting to “try this case in the media.”
Gardner’s office had a similar response on Monday, accusing the defense of filing “frivolous motions” and playing “political games” in order to “deflect public attention from other matters facing the Governor,” according to the Post-Dispatch.
This messy state of affairs has clouded the governor’s brief tenure in office, prompting calls for his impeachment and a GOP-led state House investigation into the allegations against him. The committee conducting the probe is set to release its preliminary findings this week, and to recommend action once the investigation concludes on May 18. The governor’s felony trial is slated to start four days earlier.
Lawyers for Paul Manafort on Monday asked the federal judge overseeing Manafort’s Washington, D.C. indictment to suppress evidence special counsel Robert Mueller’s team obtained by carrying out a search warrant in Manafort’s Alexandria, Virginia, home.
Manafort’s lawyers argued that the warrant allowing investigators to “indiscriminately” seize all financial documents and electronic devices from 2006 on was overly broad. In the filing, lawyers for Manafort argued that the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment requires search warrants to be more specific than the one use by Mueller’s team. They also argue that investigators took electronic devices that were beyond the scope of the warrant, such as an iPod.
The warrant attached to Manafort’s filing shows that investigators sought a wide range of financial records, correspondence, evidence of false statements, and electronics used to carry out the alleged offenses.
Investigators were looking for documents related to the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting Manafort attended with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and a Kremlin-linked lawyer, which shows Mueller’s team is investigating that meeting. They were also looking for evidence of campaign contributions from foreign nationals, a crime Manafort has not been charged with. These details indicate that investigators were not only looking into Manafort’s Ukraine work, but his time on the Trump campaign.
The application for the warrant reveals new details about a former associate of Manafort’s who told the FBI about documents in Manafort’s possession. This is the second known Manafort associate to cooperate with investigators — Rick Gates, Manafort’s deputy, reached a plea deal with Mueller’s team earlier this year and is cooperating with investigators. This individual spoke with investigators in July 2017 shortly after making several visits to Manafort’s residence. The FBI raided Manafort’s home less than 10 days after speaking to the former employees about the documents.
Filings submitted over the weekend revealed that one of Manafort’s former employees told FBI investigators about the storage unit and let them into Manafort’s storage unit to view the labels on boxes of documents. Monday night’s filing shows that this former employee also told investigators that Manafort used his home as an office and kept records there, and that he specifically saw Federal Election Commission documents in Manafort’s residence.
The warrant and application also reveals some of the stores at which Manafort spent millions on luxury goods. The original indictment against Manafort alleged that he spent $1.3 million at clothing stores in Beverly Hills and New York and more than $1 million on antique rugs. According to the warrant and the application for a warrant, Manafort shopped at J & J Oriental Rugs in Alexandria, where he spent $360,000. He also shopped at House of Bijan in Beverly Hills and Alan Couture in Manhattan, and he spent $21,000 on a watch, according to the filings.
Manafort faces charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to disclose foreign lobbying in an indictment brought against him in Washington, D.C. The charges stem from Manafort’s lobbying work for a Ukrainian political party. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to the charges in a separate Virginia indictment stemming from the same work.
The FBI’s raid on Michael Cohen, to put it bluntly, is a big frickin’ deal, former federal prosecutors and other criminal justice experts say.
To raid any law office would require investigators to jump through a whole special series of hoops and added review. That one of the lawyer’s longtime clients is the sitting President of the United States adds another layer of extreme sensitivity and caution.
“The spotlight on this is so bright and the measure is so extraordinary that they would have to be a little crazy to do this without pretty ironclad evidence of some kind of wrongdoing,” said Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who studies technology, privacy, and civil liberties.
“You pull a move like this and it was all a big misunderstanding, that’s hugely embarrassing,” he said.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made the decision to hand over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York certain information pertaining to Cohen brought to him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Bloomberg reported. The raid on Cohen’s office in midtown Manhattan, his home office and a hotel room he was using would have likely needed the sign off of interim U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman, a White House-backed appointee of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as top officials at Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington, former prosecutors told TPM.
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, they suggested, would likely have been looped in on the move. The Justice Department declined to comment.
The New York Times, in breaking the news of the raids, said investigators seized business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including Stormy Daniels, an adult film star whose alleged affair with Donald Trump in 2006 Cohen sought to keep quiet ahead of the 2016 election through a $130,000 hush payment.
The Washington Post, citing a person a person with knowledge of the case, reported that Cohen is being investigated for possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.
The Justice Department has extensive rules about seizing records of lawyers that could typically fall under attorney-client privilege. Prosecutors are required to consult with the the Criminal Division at Main Justice, and to get the sign off of the U.S. attorney overseeing the investigation or the relevant assistant attorney general. It’s also recommended that a special team of attorneys who are walled off from the prosecutors overseeing the inquiry be set up to review the potentially privileged documents.
“It’s procedurally cumbersome, it’s sensitive, it raises the hackles of the bar,” Sam Buell, a former prosecutor who worked on the Enron investigation, told TPM. “It’s not done on a fishing expedition. It’s only done when you’re reasonably confident that you’re going to find evidence of criminality and you need to do it with a search warrant.”
Investigators’ willingness to go the route of a high-profile raid, instead of a less intrusive subpoena or even a voluntary request for documents, suggested to outside experts that there’s at least some concern that Cohen could be withholding evidence.
“It tells you that, one, they had some pretty compelling reason to think that Cohen was not or would not produce the records they were trying to get in response to a subpoena” Sanchez said, adding that he’d, “infer that they have some evidence he has already withheld something that he claimed to have turned over.”
Secondly, Sanchez said, the move suggests that the prosecutors would have reason to believe that the records that they are seeking would be exempt from attorney-client privilege. The most obvious exception, Sanchez said, is the crime-fraud exemption which applies to communications made in the furtherance of a crime.
“If you’re talking to your attorney about a crime you’ve already committed, that’s privileged,” Sanchez said. “If you’re talking to your attorney to get them to help you to commit crime, that’s the part that’s not privileged.”
Former prosecutors also said that move to hand off the inquiry to federal prosecutors in New York once Mueller flagged the information shows that the special counsel is playing it by the book, even as President Trump and his allies suggest that he’s on a witch hunt.
“That’s pretty standard,” said Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who investigated organized crime for the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of New York. “It would be news if [Mueller] didn’t [refer it out].”
A redacted search warrant that was released in court filings this weekend suggests that federal investigators were already zeroing in on Paul Manafort’s Ukraine work soon after Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed. That timeline casts further doubt on the argument Manafort has tried to make that the financial crimes connected to his Ukraine work were not part of Mueller’s initial purview, and that the scope of Mueller’s investigation should be narrowed to just allegations linked specifically to Russian election meddling.
The Manafort filing in the federal case against him in Washington, D.C., seeks to exclude from trial evidence collected from a May 2017 search of a Manafort storage unit. On May 26, an FBI agent was allowed to enter the storage unit in Virginia and observed the labels on the boxes the investigator saw there, which the agent then used in an affidavit for a search warrant. Federal investigators were granted the warrant and searched the storage unit on May 27.
Manafort is now arguing the fruit of that search should be suppressed because the person who helped the FBI agent to unlock the storage unit and allowed the FBI agent enter it on May 26 was not authorized by Manafort to do so, even though that person (whose name is redacted in the filing) is listed on the unit’s lease. Manafort’s attorneys describe him as a former employee of Manafort’s, but the investigator’s affidavit says that he had left Manafort’s consulting firm to work for another business that Manafort operates.
Regardless of how the judge overseeing the case against Manafort comes down on that procedural argument, the details in the search warrant suggest that the probe into Manafort’s Ukraine work was up and running when Mueller took over the larger Russia investigation.
“They would have just picked up on it. There’s no way in 10 days they would have gotten a search warrant together without someone having done other investigation,” said Nick Akerman, a former federal prosecutor who worked on the Watergate investigation. “That would be literally impossible.”
Manafort, the former chairman of President Trump’s campaign, faces charges of an assortment of financial crimes related to the lobbying he did for the pro-Russia Ukrainian political party Party of Regions, as well as a failure to disclose that work under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He has pleaded not guilty, and his attorneys have argued that the Ukraine allegations are beyond the Russia inquiry the special counsel was appointed to investigate.
A.J. Delgado feels she has been misled by Jason Miller since the two first started dating while working as high-profile spokespeople for President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
At the start of their relationship in October 2016 — when she became “a mistress without knowing it,” she said — Miller told her that he was separated from his wife and regularly spoke with Delgado about the stress the couple’s split was causing him. He confided in Delgado about meetings he apparently had with divorce accountants and told her he was worried that his wife might move away with their daughter.
“I thought I was dating somebody who was legally separated, which people do all the time,” she said. “I never gave it a second thought, and there was no reason to.”
But that wasn’t the case, Delgado later learned. Miller and his wife were still married, and expecting a child.
So, too, was Delgado, who found out she and Miller were pregnant not long after the 2016 election.
Now, a year and a half later, Delgado is locked in a bitter custody battle with Miller over their son that began nearly nine months ago: A “no end in sight” series of expensive court proceedings that Delgado thinks is largely fueled by Miller’s desire for retaliation.
“I think the motivation is revenge,” she told TPM by phone on Saturday. “He refuses to speak to me, we haven’t spoken since this came out. … He blames me for not terminating the pregnancy or not keeping it confidential, like how dare I not hide it? His wife obviously has a tremendous deal of resentment toward me and her family has attacked me on social media. This is their way of getting back at me, but it doesn’t make sense to spend this much time and money to do that.”
While Delgado says she did not want to have to speak out publicly regarding her affair again after she gave an interview to the Atlantic in August, she said she’s driven by her desire to bring awareness to the broader issue of “corruption” within the family law system, especially in Miami-Dade County in Florida, where she’s currently living.
Miller did not return TPM’s requests for comment about Delgado’s claims prior to publication. After publication, Miller provided the following response: “No child should have to see family matters played out in the public eye, and that is why I have refrained from responding even when attacked. I love our son very much and have been a constant presence in his life, as has my wife and two daughters.”
When word of the affair and pregnancy surfaced in December 2016, Delgado left the Trump orbit and moved to Florida, where she did some non-profit legal work and focused on her pregnancy. Miller, who was on the cusp of moving into the coveted gig of White House communications director when the scandal broke, reportedly stepped away from the role, claiming he needed to focus on his family. (Delgado said she heard Miller did not initially accept the White House’s decision and had to be forced out.)
Miller is now the managing director at Teneo Strategies and appears as a paid contributor on CNN.
Now, with an eight-and-a-half month old son, William Linares Delgado, A.J. Delgado is working her way back into the political sphere, currently serving as a senior adviser for a Trump super PAC from Florida. In her new gig, she said she makes a “decent income” – a little more than the $120,000 a year she earned doing non-profit work. But she can’t afford the average $20,000 a month in legal fees that have been mounting since Miller dragged her to court the day after their son was born.
“I don’t even make that in gross income, forget net,” she said, adding that in total she owes about $100,000 in attorney fees. She had legal representation for several months, but, since February, doesn’t have a lawyer representing her in the case because she couldn’t afford the retainer, she said.
Throughout the entire pregnancy, Delgado said Miller was silent. He never contacted her to see if she and the baby were healthy and, she claims, didn’t acknowledge the child’s existence until he found out it was a boy.
After giving birth in the summer of 2017, Delgado had been out of the hospital for just five days when she was slapped with a court order demanding a paternity test, on July 18, 2017. Still recovering from the c-section delivery, Delgado attempted to push back on the order and provided the court with a letter from her pediatrician at the time, who said it was in the best interest of the newborn to not be subjected to a paternity test until he was two months old, according to Delgado and a copy of the letter shared with TPM.
According to Delgado, the physician’s concerns were ignored and the judge granted the request, ordering her to comply with the test within seven days.
“I had no choice but to have it done on the 25th, with my c-section scar still fresh and Will’s eyes barely open. If not, I would be arrested,” she said.
The court proceedings have been a “hellish” nightmare for Delgado ever since.
According to Delgado, Miller has asked for 50-50 custody of the child, a move she called “bizarre,” “worrisome” and borderline “abusive,” given the fact that the two former Trump campaign staffers live in separate states.
As the litigation expenses began to pile up, Delgado said she sent Miller a written letter in October to attempt to resolve the issue out of court, but she said her plea was ignored.
Miller has filed about 200 pleadings thus far, according to the case court docket, a move Delgado sees as an attempt to block the battle from going to trial and to drain her financially until she is “priced out.”
She compared her plight to the popular dystopian novel and TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” drawing parallels between the “rich couple” that decided they want to take the child. In court testimony – a portion of which Delgado shared on Twitter – Miller claimed that he didn’t want his son to be raised in a single mother home because he, himself had been raised by a single mom and he didn’t want Will to “go through that.”
Here's Jason Miller saying outright he doesn't want Will growing up w/ a single mother (apparently just because his own mother was awful at it).
I'm living a real-life version of the handmaid's tale, w/ the rich couple trying to snatch the boy they couldn't make themselves pic.twitter.com/rtdVZPwtsQ
“I’m sorry if his mom was not a good single mother, I really am, but Will has an amazing life,” she said. “I know conservatives might get mad, but I think there are perks to growing up with a single mother. … Living with me and mom and our four dogs, there’s no arguments, no other men or kids in my life, no spouse to bicker with and we just get to have fun and love on each other. A single mother who dotes on him all day, how horrible.”
Delgado said she knows there are other women, who may be worse off financially than she is, who are attempting to navigate the family law court system, which she feels is not only sexist, but also elitist. In her experience, family court favors the wealthier parent who can afford not only the legal fees, but is also able to hire experts and witnesses to testify on their behalf.
According to Delgado, Miller has brought in paid psychologists who have not only argued in Miller’s defense, but also blatantly tried to discredit her. She said going into debt — “I have peanuts in my checking account,” she said — instead of saving for her son’s future, is due, in part, to the fact that the family court system appears to allow the cases to be done “piecemeal style.” If Miller would allow the case to go to trial, all the issues would be resolved at once, she said.
“I’m disgusted by what the justice system is able to do,” she said, claiming she feels as though she has to constantly fight against the appearance of looking like an “angry gatekeeper mom” in court while Miller faces no such burden. During one hearing a few months back, she said Miller “stormed out” of the courtroom when he didn’t get his way.
“If I had done that, I would have lost the case,” she said.
Despite the debt and the bias she said she’s facing with each new pleading, she’s staying put.
“I think he’s hoping I will tap out, but even if I can’t afford an Uber, I will walk barefoot to the court house,” she said. “I will be there to the bitter end.”
[ed.note: This article has been updated with Jason Miller’s response.]
Paul Manafort in a court filing Friday afternoon asked a federal judge to order Special Counsel Robert Mueller to fill in some of the vaguer details of the grand jury indictment against the former Trump campaign chairman.
Manafort’s attorneys said they need more particulars about how Manafort “caused” — quoting the most recent indictment against him — various allegedly fraudulent activity. They want more specifics about the false statements Manafort allegedly made in preparing his taxes and in interactions with the Justice Department about his foreign lobbying work. They also requested that the special counsel be ordered to name the anonymous accomplices referenced in the indictment, and the unnamed companies that were allegedly involved in Manafort’s foreign lobbying scheme.
“Without the particulars, which are within the Special Counsel’s easy reach to provide, the defendant is left grasping for straws and depleting his limited resources,” the filing said.
Manafort was first charged by Mueller’s probe in October. The indictment referenced in Friday’s filing is a superseding indictment — meaning an indictment that replaces or expands an original set of charges — that was filed in D.C. in February. He is charged with a conspiracy to defraud the United States, money laundering, and failure to disclose his foreign lobbying. He is also facing similar charges in Virginia. He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.