They've got muck; we've got rakes. TPM Muckraker

President Donald Trump said Thursday that though he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election interference makes “the country look very bad,” but he believes the outcome will be “fair.”

Trump held forth on Mueller’s investigation in a meandering 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his Mar-A-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, where he’s spending the holidays. No White House aides were present for the on-the-record conversation.

The President told the newspaper 16 times that the probe has discovered “no collusion” by his campaign, but added that he thinks Mueller is “going to be fair” to him.

Those comments are in line with what Trump has said previously, but run counter to a weeks-long effort by his supporters in Congress and in the conservative media to paint the investigation as hopelessly tainted by partisan bias. Those supporters have tried to pivot the national conversation towards Democrats’ dealings with Russia, instead.

Trump has enthusiastically assisted that effort, telling the Times that there was “tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats,” particularly those affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He argued that special counsel investigators should focus their attention on past work that the lobbying firm of Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, did for a client referred by his own former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Trump called Manafort, who was indicted on a slew of financial crimes charges, a “very nice man” and “an honorable person,” repeating that he only managed the campaign for a short period of time. Manafort worked for Trump from March to August 2016.

Trump did not appear bothered by his associates’ indictments and plea agreements, or the fact that Mueller’s probe is continuing past the Christmas deadline his lawyers provided to reporters because, he said, there is nothing incriminating to find.

The Russia allegations were invented by Democrats “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election,” he told the Times.

Trump also again took shots at his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, calling it a “terrible thing” and “certainly unnecessary.”

He praised the “loyalty” of Barack Obama’s first Attorney General, Eric Holder, and said he has “great respect” for what Holder did to “totally protect” the President.

Though Trump denied any interest in reopening a Justice Department investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, he asserted that he has the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

Trump is reportedly under scrutiny by Mueller’s team for obstruction of justice. The investigation has to do with his abrupt firing of former FBI Director James Comey after Comey allegedly declined Trump’s request that he swear a loyalty oath and drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

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As evidence for why Simon & Schuster did not want to move forward with publication of self-proclaimed far-right “troll” Milo Yiannopoulos’ autobiography “Dangerous,” the publisher has offered up the manuscript itself—annotated with a litany of scathing notes from one of its top editors.

The draft was included in court documents the publisher recently filed in New York State Supreme Court to defend its February decision to cancel a publication deal with Yiannopoulos worth $225,000. Yiannopoulos sued for $10 million in July over a breach of contract.

Manuscript notes from editor Mitchell Ivers show the impossible task Simon & Schuster faced: prodding an individual who built a career at Breitbart News off of demeaning Islam and using the word “lesbian” as a slur to produce a book suitable for mainstream publication.

Over and over, Yiannopoulos’ characteristic self-aggrandizement, penchant for ethnic smears, sloppy logic, and lack of humor are criticized by Ivers.

“Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke,” Ivers writes of a line about “informing cab drivers that curry is not a deodorant.”

“Don’t start chapter with accusation that feminists=fat. It destroys any seriousness of purpose,” he notes on a section titled “Why Feminists Hate Me.”

“If that headline is hate speech, THIS WHOLE BOOK is hate speech,” he implores on a section about a piece by Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti titled “Feminists Don’t Hate Men, But It Wouldn’t Matter If They Did.”

The “superficial and nonsubstantive” quality of the work is what ultimately prompted Simon & Schuster to cancel the book contract, Ivers said in a sworn affidavit. The decision to do so came at around the same time that Yiannopoulos was forced out from Breitbart and dropped from the Conservative Political Action Conference after a video surfaced in which he appeared to defend pedophilia.

Though Yiannopoulos was permitted to keep his $80,000 book advance, he sued the publisher in July. A New York Supreme Court judge in October rejected Simon & Schuster’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

But Yiannopoulos has otherwise had a spectacularly bad year. His effort to organize a “Free Speech Week” fell apart after he neglected to actually inform the slated speakers that they were invited. And in October, BuzzFeed published an explosive exposé on Yiannopoulos’ successful campaign to “smuggle” Nazi and white nationalist ideas into Breitbart’s stories and the broader political discourse.

It’s unclear why Simon & Schuster thought Yiannopoulos—whose views on women, gay people, minorities, and Muslims were well-known long before his concerted attempts to mainstream white nationalism were uncovered—was the best person to author a “serious work addressing political correctness and related free speech issues,” as they referred to the initial publication deal in a court document.

His contract was with Threshold Editions, a Simon & Schuster imprint aimed at a conservative audience, and Ivers has personally edited books by President Donald Trump, conservative shock-jock Rush Limbaugh, and Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe. At various points in his notes, Ivers praises Yiannopoulos’ “well argued” points about why Black Lives Matter has failed as a movement, or how the left abandoned white working-class voters.

But the notes by Mitchell, which circulated on Twitter Thursday, elucidate how the book failed to live up to what Simon & Schuster ostensibly thought they’d signed up for.

“Delete entire chapter”

 

“No need to drag lesbians into this!”

“I will not accept a manuscript that labels an entire class of people ‘mentally ill.'”

“If that headline is hate speech, THIS WHOLE BOOK is hate speech.”

“The way you casually bring up the KKK makes no sense”

“Stupid ethnic joke diminishes any authority”

“Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke” 

“This entire paragraph is just repeating Fake News.”

“Three unfunny jokes in a row.”

Read the full annotated manuscript below.

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A federal judge’s evident annoyance that Rick Gates participated, via a pre-taped video statement, in a fundraiser last week did not stop the organizer of the fundraiser from taking a swing at the judge.

“The actions by this judge to curtail First Amendment free speech rights are nothing short of Stalin-esque,” GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman, who is known for inserting himself in conservative causes célèbres, said in a statement Thursday. “I stand by what I said that night and my inalienable right to be able to say it.”

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Rick Gates’ attorneys argued in a court filing Wednesday that the former Trump campaign aide’s appearance, via a pre-taped video statement, at a fundraiser for his legal defense fund last week was not a violation of a federal judge’s gag order in his criminal case.

The filing also stressed that the fundraiser’s host, Republican lobbyist Jack Burkman, was not speaking on Gates’ behalf when he criticized the prosecutors in the case. It suggested that there would be more fundraisers for Gates’ legal fees to come and that those fundraisers will require “similar sentiments of gratitude” from Gates.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has begun interviews with Republicans National Committee staffers about the committee’s digital operations during the 2016 election, Yahoo News reported Wednesday.

According to Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff, Mueller’s team is examining whether the joint digital operation between the RNC and President Trump’s campaign “was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate.”

The report is based on two sources familiar with Mueller’s investigation.

The RNC did not to TPM’s inquiry, while a spokesperson for the special counsel declined to comment.

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What President Trump suggested is an embattled FBI official’s suspicious run for the exits may actually be a fairly typical career step for the FBI’s upper management, former officials at the bureau told TPM.

Reports over the weekend that Andrew McCabe — the FBI deputy director who has become a target of conservative criticism — is expected to depart early next year drove Trump to weigh in on Twitter.

As the reports mentioned, McCabe will become eligible for a full retirement package in March, and is expected to step down then.

The FBI did not return TPM’s request for comment.

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What did the Russian government-backed troll calling herself (or himself) Alice Donovan want?

That byline appears in at least 10 different news outlets beginning in 2016 and continuing through October of this year. The FBI believes “Alice Donovan” is the name of “a pseudonymous foot soldier in an army of Kremlin-led trolls,” according to the Washington Post. She was also actively criticizing not just the Hillary Clinton campaign but Trump-era foreign policy as recently as October.

“Donovan” appears to be the same person identified in one of Scott Shane’s New York Times stories about Russian interference on Facebook: An Alice Donovan outed by Facebook as a Russian intelligence sock puppet approvingly posted links to Kremlin cutout site DCLeaks, particularly its dump of documents related to George Soros’s Open Society Foundation.

The 13 publications that published Donovan’s emailed submissions were Counterpunch, Veterans Today, We Are Change, MintPressNews, Global Research, Global Politics, Ground Report, Op-Ed News, Restoring Liberty, Activist Post, The Duran, Popular Resistance, and foreign language outlets Reseau International and Naval Brasil. Most retread the news of the day with what appears to be very little oversight; Counterpunch is both the most traditional and the site with the clearest political perspective.

As a reporter, “Donovan” wrote blog posts that criticized Obama, Hillary Clinton, and allies including Colin Powell—similar to the themes of Russian-backed trolls masquerading as pro-Trump Americans on social media.

But a review of her articles—many of them plagiarized, according to one publication that ran them, the venerable left-wing blog Counterpunch—reveals a number of other areas of interest: Whereas Russian-controlled contributions to right-wing twitter feeds and Facebook pages stoked racism and railed against gun control, the ostensibly leftward prong of the massive Russian disinformation campaign focused on US activity in Syria, Venezuela and Turkey.

Perhaps predictably, some of the sites that published Donovan’s work have reacted largely with shrugs in much the same way that right-wing organizations felt too much was made of pro-cop memes, anti-Hillary jokes, and anti-immigrant sentiment. The origin of the articles was unimportant, suggested both Veterans Today editor Gordon Duff and Counterpunch editors Jeffrey St. Clair and Joshua Frank. “I don’t edit what people do. If it’s original, I’ll publish it,” Duff told the Post. “I don’t decide what’s real and not real.” Today Duff wrote his own conspiracy-filled piece about the Post story, primarily to criticize Counterpunch, at Veterans Today.

Counterpunch took a more philosophical tack: “So why did we run five pieces by Alice Donovan?” asked St. Clair and Frank. “First, because they were interesting and timely. The short pieces on Syria, in particular, came at a moment when Trump was engaged in his first big military action and we were eager, perhaps too eager, to publish as many different perspectives as possible on his new, more aggressive policy.”

Another site, We Are Change, didn’t respond to the accusations at all, though it did remove Donovan’s work from its public web presence.

Donovan’s articles on US military presence in the Middle East are unusual. In its mea-sorta-culpa, Counterpunch published a bibliography including as much of Donovan’s work as its writers could find, identifying one post lifted letter-for-letter from a pro-Russian, pro-Bashar al-Assad website called Inside Syria Media Center. Another—also cross-posted, this time with a shady news site called “Ground Report”—called the introduction of special forces troops into Mosul in November 2016 “a large-scale PR-campaign to support the candidate of the Democratic Party Hillary Clinton.”

Others are simply boilerplate anti-NATO, anti-Ukraine propaganda. Another Ground Report piece pushes for the cessation of sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine, something the Russian government has pursued by every possible avenue.

But the feature of the Donovan articles that has provoked far less discussion is that, for nearly a year after Trump’s election, they mercilessly criticized him, as well, accusing his administration of fomenting civil war in Venezuela, making note of operations that really did cause tremendous innocent bloodshed in Syria, and stealing quotes and paragraphs from progressive publications including The Guardian and The American Interest to do so.

In short, whoever handles the Donovan account seems to have kept his or her eye on the ball: The goals of the Russian interference and influence campaigns still appear to be a weakened NATO, a withdrawal of US forces from Syria that leaves Moscow-friendly Assad in charge, and the end of punitive sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine and the murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

It may not actually matter to Moscow, or to “Alice Donovan” who is in charge: There’s still Western power abroad, and whether because the Trump administration still houses many Obama-era holdovers, because he has little interest in changing the status quo, or because he genuinely wants to maintain foreign policy continuity with his hated predecessor, the Kremlin still hasn’t achieved its goals.

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An appeals court Tuesday said that a privacy group suing President Trump’s so-called voter fraud commission was not itself a voter, and thus could not bring a claim alleging that the commission had failed to protect voters’ privacy in seeking states’ voter roll data.

“As we read it, the provision is intended to protect individuals—in the present context,
voters—by requiring an agency to fully consider their privacy before collecting their personal information,” the appeals court said, in denying the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s request to halt the commission’s data collection operation.

“EPIC is not a voter and is therefore not the type of plaintiff the Congress had in mind,” the court said.

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Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates has until Wednesday to satisfy a federal judge that his participation, via a Facebook Live video, in a fundraiser for his legal defense fund was not a violation of the court’s gag order in his pending criminal case.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson issued the show cause order Friday, after GOP lobbyist Jack Burkman held the fundraiser Tuesday in a hotel just outside Washington, D.C. According to the accounts of reporters there, members of the media nearly outnumbered the half-dozen attendees and it was unclear how much money Burkman raised for the fund, Defending American Rights Legal Fund.

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A federal judge Friday sided with a Democrat on President Trump’s voter fraud commission in his request that the commission turn over documents it had been withholding from release.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly issued a preliminary decision backing the Democrat, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap in his claim that he was entitled to view internal communications and other records that the commission has resisted releasing publicly.

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