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LATE UPDATE 4:42 p.m. ET: CNN on Friday afternoon issued a major correction to a story that incorrectly stated that Donald Trump and top aides received a Sept. 4 2016 email providing them access to hacked documents released by WikiLeaks prior to their publication.

As CNN acknowledged, the email was actually sent on Sept. 14, suggesting that the sender may have simply been pointing the Trump campaign to publicly available documents, rather than providing them with early access to information that could offer them an advantage.

“We have updated our story to include the correct date, and present the proper context for the timing of email,” a statement from CNN’s PR team read.

The correction comes hours after the Washington Post published a report based on a copy of the email obtained by the newspaper’s reporters that contained the correct date. According to the Post story, the email including a link to a “(huge 678 mb) archive of files from the DNC” and a “decryption key” was sent by a man who identified himself as Michael J. Erickson, president of an aviation management company.

The email was among a trove of online communications turned over to congressional investigators by the Trump Organization, and Trump Jr. was questioned about it in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. It noted that DCLeaks.com had also publicized emails from former secretary of state Colin Powell—a development that the press had reported that day, as the Post pointed out.

It was sent to Trump Jr., an email address that Trump reportedly seldom used, Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen, a Gmail account occasionally used by aide Hope Hicks, and several other Trump Organization employees, per the Post report.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, condemned the reporting on the email in comments to the Post, criticizing the House Intelligence Committee for allowing details of Trump Jr.’s testimony to be publicized.

“It is profoundly disappointing that members of the House Intelligence Committee would deliberately leak a document, with the misleading suggestion that the information was not public, when they know that there is not a scintilla of evidence that Mr. Trump Jr. read or responded to the email,” Futerfas said, adding that the leak “undermines the credibility” of the probe.

Trump Jr. sent out a series of outraged tweets criticizing CNN for reporting “#fakenews” and asking for a “full retraction.”

Original Story:

Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were emailed a decryption key and website address for documents hacked by WikiLeaks in the fall of 2016, CNN reported Friday.

Congressional investigators are seeking to determine whether the Sept. 4 email to the Trumps, which was turned over by the Trump Organization, is the latest example of entities or individuals associated with WikiLeaks trying to boost the GOP candidate’s campaign and tarnish Hillary Clinton’s.

Just three weeks after the email was sent, as previously reported, Wikileaks initiated an exchange of direct messages with Trump Jr., who occasionally responded to or acted on the messages the group sent him.

The early September message came from a man who listed his name as “Mike Erickson” and was sent to Trump Jr., his personal assistant, an email address set up for then-candidate Trump, and others at the Trump organization, according to CNN.

It reportedly suggested that recipients could have access to records associated with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were leaked 10 days later. CNN reported that a Russian front group was behind that release.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told CNN that the President’s eldest son did not recall receiving the message and took no action on it.

After the story’s publication, Futerfas issued a statement, reiterating that the team did “not know who Mike Erickson is” and “never responded to the email.”

Congressional investigators are still trying to determine the legitimacy of the email and the identity of the sender.

In the final months of the 2016 race, the Trump campaign openly embraced the data dumps of hacked information from Democratic officials and individuals associated with Hillary Clinton. Trump famously told a crowd at a Pennsylvania rally, “I love WikiLeaks!”

In August 2016, longtime Trump ally Roger Stone claimed he had a secret “back-channel communication” with the group.

And the head of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked with the Trump campaign, reached out to WikiLeaks founded Julian Assange to offer help organizing and promoting emails deleted from Clinton’s personal email server. Assange said he rebuffed that offer.

Correction: An editing error inadvertently attributed the hacking of DNC documents to Wikileaks. We regret the error.

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The news that Donald Trump Jr. invoked attorney-client privilege Wednesday to refuse to testify about a key conversation with his father was met with confusion and some amount of mockery.

As House Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) put it, that privilege doesn’t typically protect “a discussion between father and son,” and shouldn’t stop Trump Jr. from discussing a phone call they had about negotiating the fallout from news reports over his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney.

Legal experts told TPM that there are specific situations in which Trump Jr.’s invoking the privilege would be legitimate, though they noted that publicly reported information on the circumstances of the call suggests that it was not. In any event, the Republican-controlled House committee is unlikely to compel the GOP President’s son’s testimony via subpoena. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, on the other hand, will surely want to know the details of this call, and will be less sympathetic in his pursuit of that information, the experts said.

“If you’re Bob Mueller and you get an interview of Donald Trump Jr., this is going to be one of the three or four main topics in your outline. Like at the Roman numeral level,” said Andy Wright, a former White House associate counsel under President Barack Obama.

“This strategy would not work in a grand jury or special counsel investigation unless it was a valid invocation of attorney-client privilege; whereas in Congress, it’s based more on congressional will,” Wright, who is now a professor at Savannah Law School, added, noting that Trump Jr.’s refusal to talk to Congress “may be effective in a practical way even if its legally defective.”

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, did not respond to TPM’s request for comment. Trump’s White House special counsel Ty Cobb declined to comment on the record.

At issue for the Russia probe investigators is what Trump Jr. said to his father after the New York Times broke the news that Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who Trump Jr. was told had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, during a June 2016 sit-down at Trump Tower. The Washington Post reported that the President, while traveling back from the G-20 summit on July 8, 2017 on a plane full of aides, “dictated” a misleading statement released by Trump Jr about the purpose of the meeting. That statement said the meeting focused mostly on the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children.

Lawyers for both Trump and his son were on the call hammering out that response, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But the presence of attorneys alone does not validate Trump Jr.’s claim of attorney-client privilege.

Legal experts told TPM that the eldest Trump son’s legal team would need to be engaged in a common interest agreement with his father’s lawyers to openly share information; that the conversation would have to be specifically focused on obtaining legal advice rather than political crisis communications; and that no non-privileged parties could be listening in on the call.

“If Trump is talking on a plane full of people, that’s not a privileged conversation even if his attorney was there,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent who now serves as a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “He’s not representing everyone on the plane.”

It’s not entirely clear who else was involved with this specific call. Trump Jr. has acknowledged coordinating his statement with adviser-turned-communications director Hope Hicks, who was aboard Air Force One and speaking with Trump while the statement was being drafted, according to CNN.

Former federal prosecutor Steve Miller noted that the “crime-fraud exemption” could also come into play if either attorney was providing guidance on how to conceal the true purpose of the Trump Tower meeting.

“If legal advice is being sought or legal communications exist for the purpose of furthering a fraud, then it’s not privileged,” he said.

Getting to the bottom of these questions is more likely to be a job for Mueller’s team than for Congress, given that it is at the discretion of a committee chair to decide whether to accept a privilege claim. Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) so far appears uninterested in following up on his Democratic colleagues’ calls to subpoena Trump Jr.

“A lot of questions were asked and answered, and from my perspective all of our questions were answered,” Conaway said after the seven-hour interview wrapped.

As Rangappa put it, “I think that what was really going on with Don Jr. is that he was buying time. When he goes in to testify he’s testifying under oath so he’s getting locked into what he says. And anything he says that could later get disproven would make him liable for perjury.”

Trump Jr.’s attorney has reportedly requested more time to study whether they will ultimately voluntarily offer more facts about the father-son call. No deadline has yet been set to produce that information.

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Paul Manafort’s attorney on Thursday pushed back on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s claim that Manafort had violated a judge’s gag order by assisting in an op-ed being written about him for a Ukrainian newspaper.

“The Special Counsel’s standard would lead to the constitutionally untenable conclusion that a defendant is not even allowed to maintain his or her innocence when such an order is entered because, by doing so, that statement might influence the public’s opinion,” the attorney, Kevin Downing, said in court filings.

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Natalia Veselnitskaya took another American client on this spring, she said—but she won’t say who.

In Trump-connected Russian lawyer Veselnistkaya’s 52-page response to a list of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, she told the committee a number of strange things, among them that she’d had another American client earlier this year, whose case she took all the way to the Russia’s prosecutor general, Yury Chaika, the “master of kompromat” and Veselnitskaya’s former employer.

Veselnitskaya’s testimony ought to be taken with heaping piles of salt, especially considering her work representing Russian security service the FSB in court in her home country. But through her extended complaints about American sanctions levied in response to the jailhouse murder of a whistleblowing Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky, she appeared to shed partial light on her own legal practice.

Veselnitskaya was ordered to answer the questions after being barred from entering the country to represent her client Denys Katsyv, who has been ordered to pay a $6m settlement, by a US judge. Her immigration status is “squarely within the purview of the executive branch,” the judge who denied her entry is reported to have said. In July, news that she had met with Donald Trump, Jr and other members of the Trump campaign broke.

She wouldn’t identify her other client to the committee, though she did say she took on at his parents’ request when she was in New York earlier this year—likely a visit in May for a hearing in the Katsyv case. She described the client to the committee as “an American citizen and a member of the US Jewish community who had been arrested in Moscow in the spring of this year for importing forbidden items” and said her advocacy got him off with a small fine rather than the four years in prison he might otherwise have faced.

[T]his summer, I was granted an audience with the RF Prosecutor General, Yu. Ya. Chaika, to deliver an official statement in connection with my defending an American citizen and a member of the US Jewish community who had been arrested in Moscow in the spring of this year for importing forbidden items. The young man was facing up to four years in prison. I accepted him as a client on his family’s request when I was still in New York. And despite the fact that the US Embassy refused to participate in the fate of the American citizen (I spoke with the US Consul in Moscow several times asking the embassy to submit a petition to the RF Prosecutor General’s Office which the embassy never bothered to do), thanks to the well-coordinated cooperation with US lawyers and experts, members of the Moscow and US Jewish communities, once Mr. Chaika had heard out the arguments of the defense and instructed that they be verified, the case was closed; my client was ordered to pay a small court penalty and allowed to return home to his family. I have no right to identify the client but the case is well known to the US Embassy in Moscow.

The US Embassy in Moscow declined to identify the American in question, though at first the operator appeared to have Veselnitskaya’s story confused with a more recent story of an American detained by Russian authorities. TPM contacted other Russian and U.S. government sources; all said they were unaware of the case.

Veselnitskaya’s official responses were taken up principally with complaining about the various players in the Magnistky Act, especially William Browder, who was Sergei Magnitsky’s employer when the latter discovered a vast alleged money-laundering scheme from which Veselnitskaya’s client, Katsyv, is said to have benefited. She also confirmed having hired former Soviet soldier and longtime Washington lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin as far back as 2015 as part of “a team of hired consultants,” on what case she did not specify, though the Katsyv case seems a likely candidate.

Veselnitskaya also confirmed the April 2 and 3 meetings with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), first reported from a Russian-language interview with Veselnitskaya, translated by Foreign Policy.

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Republicans, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday with FBI Director Christopher Wray, did not show much eagerness to defend the agency from the attacks President Trump launched against it over the weekend.

More than a few GOP lawmakers were willing to back up Trump’s claim that the bureau is in “tatters,” with one Republican calling Trump’s allegation “understandable” and another saying that Trump was only talking about “senior leadership.”

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Asked about President Trump’s tweet claiming that the FBI’s reputation was “in tatters,” FBI Director Chris Wray gave a full-throated defense of the agency Thursday, praising the “tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe.”

“The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of integrity and professionalism and respect,” Wray said. “The FBI that I see is respected and appreciated by our partners in federal, state and local law enforcement, in the intelligence community, by our foreign counterparts, both law enforcement and national security.”

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House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) showed no interest Wednesday in further investigating claims a whistleblower brought to the committee’s Democrats about promises former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn allegedly made to a business associate about gutting Russia sanctions that been hindering the associate’s business project.

The whistleblower’s allegations were made public in a letter Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the committee’s top Democrat, sent to Gowdy Wednesday, to which Gowdy responded with a letter Wednesday evening.

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Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters on Wednesday evening that Donald Trump Jr. cited attorney-client privilege to avoid answering the committee’s questions about a discussion he had with President Donald Trump about his June 2016 meeting with Kremlin-linked officials.

After the committee completed its interview with Trump Jr., Schiff briefly spoke with reporters and revealed that Trump Jr. acknowledged that he discussed the June 2016 meeting, as well as the emails leading up to the meeting, with his father. Schiff said that the conversation “ostensibly” took place after the emails became public but would not reveal more about the timeline.

Trump Jr. told committee members that lawyers were present for his conversation with the President and argued that this shields him from having to detail the discussion with the committee, per Schiff.

Schiff disagreed, however.

“I don’t believe you can shield communications between individuals merely by having an attorney present,” he told reporters. “That’s not the purpose of attorney-client privilege.”

Trump Jr., along with other campaign officials, met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer in June 2016 after he was promised that the lawyer had incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.

When the New York Times first reported on the meeting in July 2017, Trump Jr. claimed that it was merely an “introductory” meeting to discuss adoption of Russian children in the U.S. President Donald Trump and White House advisers reportedly helped craft that initial statement that left out key details about the meeting.

As the Times continued its reporting on the email, Trump Jr. released two additional statements over the course of a few days. In the second statement, he acknowledged that the Kremlin-linked lawyer told him that she had damaging information on Clinton in the meeting, but Trump Jr. did not reveal in that statement that he was promised this information in an email scheduling the meeting. Finally, he released the emails that showed he was promised the information three days after the initial New York Times report.

 

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Blackwater founder and Trump donor Erik Prince wasn’t pleased that the House Intelligence Committee called him in for a Nov. 30 interview, as his newly released closed-door testimony makes abundantly clear.

In the transcript of the over three-hour-long interview, an increasingly testy Prince offered blanket denials of any involvement in or awareness of untoward dealings tied to the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Front side, back side, no side, never got any indication of anything like that,” Prince said when asked if he knew of any exchange of information or discussions of establishing a backchannel line of communications between the Trump team and Kremlin.

The bulk of the questions focused on Prince’s secret January 2017 trip to the Seychelles, where he met with Kirill Dmitriev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin and CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. While the Washington Post, which broke the news of the meeting, reported that Prince presented himself as an “unofficial envoy for Trump,” Prince testified that the principal purpose of his visit to the island nation was an invitation to meet with members of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family, one of whom casually suggested he meet with Dmitriev for a drink.

Dmietriev was described to him, he testified, as a “Russian guy that we’ve dealt with in the past” who would be “an interesting guy for you to know, since you’re doing a lot in the oil and gas and mineral space.”

Prince testified that he was not representing the Trump team during their 30-minute conversation; that he couldn’t “recall” if he knew Dmitriev represented a state-banked investment bank sanctioned by the U.S.; and that he did not discuss sanctions or anything related to the incoming Trump administration with the banker. Dmitriev did, however, express “how much he wished trade would resume with the United States in a normal way.”

Prince repeatedly tried to turn his conversation with lawmakers towards the leaking of classified intelligence information, which he insisted should be the real concern of Capitol Hill and the intelligence community. He repeatedly asserted that he believed he’d been illegally “unmasked” by members of the Obama administration and that the revelation of his identity had affected his ability “to do banking, to do business.”

At points, the conversation took a turn for the comic. Prince, whose sister is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, repeatedly denied having a special relationship with the Trump team, despite acknowledging that he submitted foreign policy position papers on the Middle East to the campaign, frequently texted with campaign CEO Steve Bannon, and visited Trump Tower several times during the transition.

“How would you describe the role of a citizen voter who wrote policy memos for a campaign, made multiple visits to Trump Tower, made six-figure donations to the campaign, and conducted a number of meetings with the campaign’s manager?” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) asked.

“Someone who cares about their country,” Prince replied.

Prince became increasingly short with the predominantly Democratic lawmakers questioning him as the hearing proceeded, dismissing their queries as a “waste of time” and “fishing expedition.”

Read the full transcript of his interview below.

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On Inauguration Day 2017, business associate of former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn touted texts from Flynn promising to gut Russian sanctions that were hindering the nuclear project the associate was pushing, a whistleblower has told House Democrats. The texts were timestamped as being sent just as President Trump was delivering his Inaugural Address, the whistleblower said.

The whistleblower told Democrats that the associate had been informed by Flynn that the project was “good to go” and that the sanctions would be “ripped up.”

“This is going to make a lot of very wealthy people,” the associate, Alex Copson, told the whistleblower on inauguration day, according to the whistleblower’s account to the Democrats.

Copson is the managing partner of ACU, a company that had funded a 2015 trip Flynn took the Middle East that he failed to disclose on security clearance forms. ACU was pushing a nuclear project in the Middle East that Flynn is said to have lobbied for while in the White House. Flynn said on a federal filing that he served as an advisor to the company between April 2015 and June 2016.

Democrats revealed the whistleblower’s account in a letter sent by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) to House Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC), which was released just as the New York Times published its own report on the claims.

An attorney for Copson rebutted the whistleblower’s claim in a statement to Business Insider that said “no member of ACU received any communication in any form” from Flynn during the campaign, the transition, when Flynn served as national security advisor or after he left the White House.

In his letter, Cummings, the ranking member of the committee, said that his staff had been in touch with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation about the whistleblower’s claim, and had been given the green light to move forward with their investigation of the account after Mueller indicated he’d “completed certain investigative steps” he had asked them to allow him to do.

The Democrats are now asking Gowdy to sign off on subpoenas for various White House officials, associates of Flynn’s and others involved in the nuclear project.

“If you choose to continue blocking our Committee’s investigation of General Flynn and allowing the White House to defy our bipartisan requests, the Oversight Committee will be faced with allegations of hypocrisy that are extremely difficult to defend,” Cummings said.  “The integrity of this Committee’s work will be questioned, and the credibility of its investigations will be severely degraded.”

In the whistleblower’s account laid out by the Democrats, the whistleblower saw and greeted Copson at an event in Washington on Inauguration Day.

Copson then showed the whistleblower a text from Flynn that was timestamped at 12:11 that day — which is when Trump was giving his address — though the whistleblower did not read the text itself.

The project in question was a proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors across the Middle East, which its proponents said would increase economic and energy security in the area, and would boost in particular Iran’s rivals. ACU was partnering with Russian interests in pushing the project. Another company, IP3/IronBridge had its own campaign to push the proposal.

The plan’s champions claimed that it would generate $250 billion in revenues for U.S. companies, according to the Wall Street Journal. Once in the White House, Flynn set up meetings between figures working on the project and key administration officials and Trump allies, the Journal reported. At one point, a memo about the plan circulated around the White House that appeared to be a draft memo Trump could send to cabinet heads, though it’s not clear that it ever made it in front of Trump himself, the Journal and the Washington Post reported.

On Friday, Flynn entered a guilty plea in Mueller’s investigation admitting to lying to FBI agents about discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016. The related court filings also mentioned Flynn’s failure to disclose work he did for a lobbying campaign on behalf of Turkey. They did not however mention the Middle East nuclear project.

Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from Copson’s attorney.

Read the full Cummings letter below:

 

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