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A federal judge in Washington, D.C. grappled Wednesday with whether key evidence obtained by the FBI against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort should be admitted at his trial.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson spent the bulk of the hearing discussing the FBI search of Manafort’s storage unit. The main issue is whether an employee of Manafort’s had the authority to allow an FBI agent to enter the unit before a search warrant was obtained. Manafort’s lawyers argue that the employee did not have the authority to grant a third party access to the unit. Jackson also asked both legal teams about the search of Manafort’s residence, for which Manafort’s lawyers argue the warrant was overly broad.

Manafort wants evidence from both seizures to be suppressed, which would deal a serious blow to special counsel Robert Mueller’s case.

As previous filings revealed, an employee for Manafort allowed an FBI agent entry to a storage unit where the agent saw filing cabinets and boxes, as well as some of the labels on the boxes. The employee’s name was on the lease for the unit, and the employee told the agent that he placed items inside the unit for Manafort.

The FBI agent then sought and obtained a search warrant and seized the records in storage unit. Though Jackson had ordered the FBI agent who conducted the search to be present at the hearing, Manafort’s lawyers decided it would not be necessary to question the agent.

The lawyer arguing for Manafort for this portion of the hearing, Thomas Zehnle, argued that the employee did not have the authority to grant the agent access to the unit because he only brought filings to the unit at Manafort’s “direction.” Zehnle said that the agent did not ask the employee enough questions to determine whether he had the authority to allow a third party entry to the unit. At one point, Zehnle compared the situation to his recent decision to hire a pet sitter. He said that just because the pet sitter had a key to his home temporarily did not mean that the individual had any authority to do whatever he or she pleased in the home.

Jackson spent a lot of the hearing quizzing Zehnle on the case law that backed up his argument that the employee did not have the authority to give the agent access to the unit, at one point telling Zehnle she was “shocked” by how few cases had been cited to back up his arguments on mutual use.

The special counsel’s office argued that because the employee had a key, was listed on the lease and conducted business for Manafort in the unit, he had the authority to grant the FBI agent access.

As for the residence search, the lawyer arguing for Manafort in that portion of the hearing, Richard Westling, said that the warrant obtained by the government was overly broad given that it lacked specifics on which files agents were seeking from Manafort’s home. Westling complained that the government could search “every piece of paper in the place” and argued that the government should have returned any documents copied from Manafort’s devices to Manafort.

“You couldn’t construct a warrant any broader than this,” Westling said.

Meisler, the lawyer arguing for the government, argued that the warrant was not overly broad, citing specific possible offenses that the government listed in the search warrant. He also noted that some devices were returned to Manafort and that copies taken from devices need to be kept in their entirety to maintain authenticity.

In the Washington, D.C. case, Manafort faces charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to disclose foreign lobbying, stemming from his lobbying work in Ukraine. He faces additional charges in Virginia stemming from that same lobbying work. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

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Sources in Ukraine told the BBC that Michael Cohen received a hefty secret payment to set up talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump last year. Cohen denies it.

According to the BBC’s Wednesday report, intermediaries for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko arranged the payment to Cohen for his help in establishing a back channel to Trump. One source told the BBC Cohen received $400,000; another put the total at $600,00.

The BBC report cited “sources in Kiev close to those involved,” including a “high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer.”

The Ukrainians were ultimately dissatisfied with the brief sit-down between the two leaders held at the White House last June, saying Cohen had accepted “hundreds of thousands” of dollars but failed to deliver a substantial meeting, according to the BBC.

Cohen denied to the BBC that he received the payment. The story notes that there is “no suggestion” Trump was aware of any payment.

The BBC’s report has not yet been confirmed by other outlets.

Shortly after it was published, Poroshenko’s office issued a blistering statement calling the story “slander” and demanding its retraction.

“We believe that the blatant disinformation that has been disseminated is a part of a fake campaign aimed at discrediting Ukraine-US relations, as well as a personal attack against the Presidents of Ukraine and the US,” the statement read.

No specific error was mentioned, and the BBC has made no correction to the piece.

If Cohen did accept funds from representatives for the Ukrainian leader, it would be just the latest example of the president’s former personal attorney raking in huge sums in exchange for his purported access to the White House.

It would also represent another link between Cohen and Ukraine. Cohen has business ties to Ukrainian immigrants in the casino boat, taxi and ethanol industries. Last year, he served as the conduit for a Ukrainian politician’s “peace plan” intended to end regional conflict there that involved lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Though Cohen denied the New York Times’ report that he personally delivered the plan to then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn last February, his story on what ultimately happened with the plan changed multiple times.

Felix Sater, a former business associate of both Cohen and Trump who was also involved with the peace effort, and Andrii Artemenko, the Ukrainian politician behind it, have both reportedly been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

This post has been updated.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team suggested Wednesday that there were other yet-to-be-revealed public relations firms involved in Paul Manafort’s Ukraine lobbying scheme beyond those already referenced specifically in the indictment.

The hint came in a hearing in front of a federal judge in Washington D.C. concerning Manafort’s request for what’s known as a bill of particulars. Manafort is asking the judge to require the prosecutors to give him more details about the charges being brought against him.

Manafort’s attorneys pointed specifically to a line in the indictment referring to alleged unregistered foreign lobbying work done by Company A, Company B, Company C “and others.”

Company A and Company B are Mercury Public Affairs and the Podesta Group respectively, it’s been reported. Company C refers to a PR firm allegedly hired by Manafort to promote a report assembled by the law firm Skadden Arps justifying the imprisonment of the political rival of Manafort’s Ukrainian client.

The prosecutors have confirmed for Manafort’s attorneys those companies’ identities.

Greg Andres, of Mueller’s team, initially told Judge Amy Berman Jackson that the “others” referred to the principals at Company A and B, who he said were working on the Ukraine lobbying campaigns. But towards the end of the hearing, Andres got up to clarify that the “and others” also refers to other PR firms. He said the Manafort’s attorneys had been put on notice that there were other PR firms.

Earlier in the hearing, Andres argued that the prosecutors weren’t legally required to disclose the information that Manafort was seeking at this point in the proceedings. He also said that doing so would prematurely give Manafort a list of the witnesses the government planned to call at trial, though Andres admitted that that was less of a concern for him.

The particular portion of the indictment in question related to the charge that Manafort violated that Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires that any lobbying done in the U.S. on behalf of a foreign agent be registered with the Justice Department. He also faces charges of money laundering and false statements related to his Ukraine lobbying work, which predated the several months he served as chairman of President Trump’s 2016 campaign. He has pleaded not guilty to those charges, as well as to those brought by Mueller in a separate case in Virginia.

In the lead-up to a grand jury handing down the indictment against Manafort and his business deputy Rick Gates last October, it was reported that the Podesta Group and Mercury has been subpoenaed by Mueller. The Podesta Group has since been shuttered, though it’s unclear whether Mueller plans to bring any charges against the firm, which was led by Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, brother of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

Both groups were hired to lobby on Capitol Hill on behalf of an organization called European Centre for a Modern Ukraine, which Mueller alleges was a front for Ukraine’s pro-Russia Party of Regions.

Corrected: A previous version of this story misattributed a comment made by Mueller prosecutor Greg Andres to Scott Meisler, another member of Mueller’s team. Andres made the remark that “and others” referred to principals at Company A and Company B.

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Michael Cohen on Wednesday tried to distance himself from Gene Freidman, his former associate in the taxi business who is now cooperating with government prosecutors.

In a tweet, Cohen said that he and Freidman, known as the “Taxi King” of New York, “are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.”

Freidman was described as Cohen’s “significant business partner” in a New York Times article Tuesday that broke the news that Freidman was cooperating with state and federal investigators in order to avoid the prospect of decades in jail for various tax fraud charges.

Freidman has for years managed a number of taxi medallions for Cohen in New York City and Chicago, and the pair have been friends since the 1990s.

Freidman told TPM last year that they regularly dined together. In comments to the Times Tuesday, he called Cohen a “dear dear personal friend and a passive client! That’s it!” The Real Deal reported last year that Cohen helped name Freidman’s oldest son.

Freidman also denied that his own legal situation had anything to do with the New York state criminal investigation into Cohen’s business dealings, saying he hates “that I have been grouped in this runaway train that I am not a part of!”

Freidman’s generous plea deal could add pressure on Cohen to cooperate with authorities.

But Cohen insisted the press was mischaracterizing their relationship, describing himself as “one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate” their medallions, and concluding his tweet with the hashtag #MediaWrongAgain.

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Ohio’s GOP-drawn U.S. congressional map is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, the ACLU alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

The suit, the latest to target the practice of drawing district lines for partisan gain, points to the map itself, as well as what it calls the “tightly controlled process” Republicans used in 2011 to draw it. The map has routinely elected 12 Republicans to four Democrats, even as the two parties have split Ohio’s statewide congressional vote roughly evenly.

“The 12-4 map was drawn in secret in a hotel room, nicknamed ‘the bunker’ by the map drawers, to which only Republicans had access,” the lawsuit claims. “Versions of the map had to be approved by national Republicans, despite no official role in Ohio’s redistricting statutes for the national Republican Party.”

The complaint describes one district as a “detached shoulder blade with a robotic arm that reaches out from a shoulder of Cleveland into Akron.” Another district it dubs the “Snake on the Lake,” because it “eats its way across the southern border of Lake Erie, ingesting portions of five counties (none in its entirety).”

“The contorted shapes of some of these districts also make clear the length the map drawers had to go to in order to achieve their political goals,” the lawsuit says.

The challengers are asking the court to declare the congressional map an unconstitutional gerrymander and to block its implementation in future elections.

The ACLU is bringing the complaint on behalf of 16 voters as well as the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute. It names Gov. John Kasich, Secretary of State John Husted, Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring and Ohio State Senate President Larry Obhof as defendants.

Earlier this month, Ohio voters passed a ballot initiative that creates a bipartisan process for drawing congressional district lines. But the lawsuit notes that, under the measure, if that process fails, Ohio’s legislature will be able to fall back on producing maps with a simple majority.

 

The complaint also quotes a friend-of-the-court brief Kasich signed in a Supreme Court redistricting case from Wisconsin, that said “partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional, are harming our republican government, and readily can be identified and addressed by courts.”

Husted, one of the defendants, responded to the suit in a statement:

If the way the congressional lines were drawn was such an issue for the ACLU, A. Philip Randolph Institute and League of Women Voters, why did they wait six years to file a lawsuit challenging the maps? These groups should respect the will of Ohio’s voters who overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment earlier this month that established a new, bipartisan process for drawing congressional districts starting in 2021.

The Supreme Court is expected to issue rulings in the Wisconsin case and in a separate partisan gerrymandering case out of Maryland before its current term ends. One or both of those rulings could clarify when, if ever, partisan gerrymanders are unconstitutional.

In addition to Ohio and Wisconsin, Republicans in Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, and Florida, among other states, used the redistricting process at the start of the decade to draw lines that benefited their party. Those maps have given the GOP a major advantage in the state legislative and congressional elections that have followed.

Ohio has faced a number of lawsuits for its election practices in recent years. A challenge to its system of purging the voter rolls was heard by the Supreme Court this year, with a ruling also expected this term. The Supreme Court in 2016 allowed the state’s cutbacks to early voting to go into effect for the presidential election, after an appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision to block the cuts.

This story has been updated with a response from Secretary of State Husted

 

Read the lawsuit below:

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One of Michael Cohen’s former partners in the taxi business is cooperating with prosecutors, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Gene Freidman, the Russian-born “Taxi King” of New York, will cooperate with state or federal investigators as a potential witness as needed in exchange for avoiding jail time for his own crimes, a person briefed on the matter told the Times.

Freidman’s plea deal puts more pressure on Cohen to cooperate with the sprawling federal investigation into Russian election meddling – a prospect that may cause anxiety in the White House.

It also represents a remarkably lenient deal for Freidman, who has told TPM he has managed taxi medallions owned by Cohen in both New York City and Chicago for some 16 years.

Freidman was facing four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny for failing to pay over $5 million in taxes. The Times reported that each of those class B felonies carried a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Freidman instead pleaded guilty to one count of evading $50,000 taxes and faces five years of probation provided he complies with the terms of his agreement, according to the newspaper.

Cohen’s involvement in the lucrative New York City taxi business is one of the focuses of federal prosecutors. The search warrants they received to execute raids on Cohen’s premises in April specifically sought information about Cohen’s associates in his taxi business, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Freidman told TPM in an interview last year that he and Cohen were close and “talk daily sometimes.”

“I help him out as much as I can,” Freidman said at the time. “I also have a business relationship but we’re friends, you know. We have dinner with his wife.”

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An appeals court dismissed Tuesday a request by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach to overturn a federal judge’s finding that he was in contempt of court. The three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its dismissal that Kobach had appealed the contempt finding prematurely.

“Although the district court stated that it was imposing sanctions, specific sanctions
have not yet been imposed,” the judges wrote. “Here, not only has the district court not issued findings of fact and conclusions of law or final judgment, the district court has not determined a discernable amount of sanctions.”

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson found Kobach in contempt of court last month for his failure to follow her order temporarily blocking the state’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement for the 2016 election. She knocked Kobach for failing to ensure that affected voters received the voter registration confirmation cards that typically go out to voters, and for not correcting an election workers manual posted online to reflect her order.

Her ruling on the merits of the proof-of-citizenship requirement, which was challenged by the ACLU and others, is expected in the weeks to come. She is also still being briefed on the attorneys fees she is requiring Kobach to pay related to the contempt motion.

At the trial in March, Kobach — who is representing himself rather than relying on Kansas’ attorney general — and his legal team ran into a number of issues following proper trial procedure.

Read the appeals court’s dismissal of his contempt-of-court appeal below:

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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress Tuesday he has no role in the inspector general probe into the leak of confidential bank records of Michael Cohen’s finances, but that the investigation will be sweeping and thorough.

“I personally have not been involved in any of the procedures or anything associates with this,” Mnuchin said in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee about the internal Treasury investigation into the publication of some suspicious activity reports (SARs) documenting huge payoffs to President Trump’s onetime personal lawyer.

The probe was announced last week after the New Yorker published an interview with a law enforcement official who claims to have leaked the documents after noticing they were missing from a database maintained by the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The New Yorker’s sources said that it was extraordinarily unusual for SARs to be inaccessible.

A FinCEN spokesperson said at the time that access to specific SARs is sometimes restricted at the request of prosecutors conducting ongoing investigations. Mnuchin reiterated that point at Tuesday’s hearing.

“I am not making any comments whether this was or was not done as it relates to these specific SARs, but I want to comment that FinCEN does have a long-standing policy of accommodating the enforcement agencies on that,” he said.

The SARs detailed a complex web of payments to and from a shell company operated by Cohen. Multinational corporations channeled money to Trump’s longtime fixer in exchange for his purported access to the administration, while Cohen funneled funds to an adult film star who alleges she had an affair with the President.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, working off of a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are investigating Cohen for a host of financial crimes.

Public-interest groups and a handful of Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Mnuchin to recuse himself from any matters linked to Russia’s 2016 election interference because he served as finance chair of Trump’s campaign. The Democrats, led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), re-upped this call in a May 18 letter chastising Mnuchin for failing to address their questions.

The Treasury secretary’s silence, they wrote, suggested that he was “attempting to obstruct our efforts to uncover potential criminal activity by the President and those in his inner circle.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) pressed Mnuchin on whether the inspector general was focusing not just on leaks but on any possible “inappropriate interference” with the inaccessible SARs. Mnuchin insisted that the scope of the probe was broad.

“They are reviewing everything associated with the information of the SARs, both the technology issues, the issues around logging,” Mnuchin said. “I can assure you that they are doing a thorough review because this system of SARs is absolutely critical to our entire FinCEN effort and we need to make sure that it is in no way at risk.”

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The top Trump campaign official who assembled members of the foreign policy team that became the subject of the FBI’s probe into Russian election meddling went on an Iowa radio show Monday to detail his recollections of meeting with an informant reportedly working for the feds.

Sam Clovis told the Simon Conway Show that he and the informant — an American academic based in Britain — met at a DoubleTree hotel in Virginia just outside of Washington on September 1, 2016. The two sat for coffee and had a “high level” academic discussion about China, Clovis said.

It was like two faculty members sitting down in the faculty lounge talking about research,” Clovis, who served as the campaign’s national co-chairman, said. “There was no indication or no inclination that this was anything more than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it.”

Clovis’ name popped up in a story last week about the informant in the Washington Post, which also identified the informant by name Monday evening.

President Trump met Monday with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who’s overseeing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, as well as FBI Director Christopher Wray and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats about turning over information about the informant to Congress.

Clovis, on the radio show, alleged that the informant meeting appeared to be “a deliberative and intentional effort on the part of the leadership of the FBI to create something that didn’t exist.”

The FBI, he claimed, was trying to “literally like plant evidence or to create an audit trail that would lead investigators on to something, then they would have justification to go back to their FISA warrants and all the other things.”

He said that the informant, in an email back and forth setting up the meeting, used his previous contact with Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page as “bonafides” to get in front of Clovis. Page had met the informant at a July 2016 conference, and was in touch with him on multiple occasions.

Clovis’ lawyer, Victoria Toensing, previously said, according to the Washington Post that the informant had not mentioned his other Trump contacts when reaching out to Clovis. Clovis said he wasn’t sure “where she got that information,” since she had access to the emails setting up the September 2016 meeting.

Toensing, in an phone interview Tuesday with TPM, backed up Clovis’ account. She told TPM that the informant had said in an email to Clovis that Page had recommended that they meet. She also claimed that the informant had told Page when they met at the conference that he was a big fan of Clovis’. Page confirmed Toensing’s account in an email to TPM.

Clovis suggested that the informant then used their meeting to get a meeting with George Papadopoulos.

The informant would eventually meet with Papadopoulos in mid-September, according to the New York Times, where he would ask Papadopoulos what he knew about Russia’s efforts to influence the election. (Papadopoulos denied having any insight, according to the Times.)

Clovis said Monday that his meeting with the informant was focused solely on the informant’s China research. Clovis claimed he didn’t think anything of the meeting, as the campaign already a had a “host” of people with China expertise, and that he didn’t even bother to open the attachments that the informant later emailed him on Sept. 27 with more of his research.

I took a meeting like this probably once a day — I had somebody like this who would sit down with me,” Clovis said. “Literally dozens of people that had academic credentials that wanted to help and be involved, and I met with them all the time.”

Update: This story has been updated to include Carter Page’s confirmation that the informant told him he was a big fan of Sam Clovis’.

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In her first press interview since news broke in January of her affair with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), the woman at the heart of the scandal said she never wanted to go public.

“I didn’t want this,” the woman told local Missouri station KSDK in an interview published Monday. “I wasn’t out to get anyone. I really was just trying to live my life.”

It was only when her ex-husband released a secret recording in which she said Greitens tried to blackmail her with a semi-nude photo during their 2015 affair, prompting prosecutors to press charges against the governor, that she felt compelled to cooperate with the investigation.

“The second [Greitens] denied the things that were the most hurtful, the most difficult for me to now have to relive, I just realized now I have this decision,” the woman told KSDK. “The only ethical thing I felt I could do was tell the truth.”

The woman planned to testify in Greitens’ felony invasion-of-privacy case until St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner abruptly dropped the charge last week, after she was called by the defense to testify about possible missteps by her investigators. The judge has barred Gardner from any further involvement in the case. It has been turned over to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who will review the evidence and decide whether to refile charges against Greitens.

Baker is a seasoned, respected prosecutor who has worked on a number of sex abuse and domestic violence cases.

The woman has already testified before a special Missouri House committee investigating a host of allegations against the governor. In her vivid account, she said Greitens tied her up in his basement and photographed her semi-nude without consent, pressured her into sex acts, and slapped her on multiple occasions.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but rejected any claims of criminal wrongdoing.

In a statement to KSDK, a spokesperson for the governor said, “This case was dismissed because there was no evidence to support the allegations. Everyone involved has said they desire to move on.”

The woman, who wants to stay anonymous, also said she stood by everything she has told investigators about her relationships with Greitens.

Asked by KSDK if the governor coerced her into sex, she said, “Ultimately yes. Looking back, it’s so hard. I see myself as so vulnerable.”

The woman said she felt “used” by the governor’s lawyers, by her ex-husband, and by the people who gave $100,000 to help pay for her ex-husband’s legal bills. No money and no political operative’s pressure went into her decision to come forward, she said.

The woman requested that the station not use her real name because she wants to protect the anonymity of her young children. The only previous time she spoke to the press was a plea for privacy made in January when the scandal first broke.

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