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Alabama’s Republican governor on Wednesday moved to end a decades-old practice that allowed the state’s sheriffs to pocket money set aside to pay for inmates’ meals.

Gov. Kay Ivey sent a memorandum to the state comptroller announcing this shift in policy, and released a statement saying that funds bookmarked for jail food should no longer be seen as “personal income for sheriffs.”

“Public funds should be used for public purposes—it’s that simple,” Ivey said.

Under a state law passed before World War II, sheriffs are allowed to keep any excess taxpayer dollars set aside to feed the inmates they oversee. The definition of “excess” is left up to the sheriffs’ own discretion, creating a system ripe for abuse.

In 2009, the Morgan County sheriff was jailed by a federal judge for keeping over $200,000 while feeding prisoners inadequate meals, including a weeks-long stretch where they received only corn dogs.

The practice drew renewed scrutiny this year thanks to a series of exposés in AL.com, which reported that former Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin purchased a $740,000 beach house after pocketing over $750,000 in jail food funds. Another, who is caught up in a web of criminal probes, invested $150,000 of the funds in a used-car dealership owned by a former felon.

Local sheriffs have justified by the practice by pointing out that the practice is legal. Entrekin called the allegations against him “fake news” promoted by the “liberal media.”

The Alabama Sheriffs Association did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.

But Ivey’s order is not the final word on the jail food money. Her order, which notes that previous Alabama attorneys general had reached conflicting opinions on how the funds can be spent, could be challenged by lawsuits.

Ivey pointed to the most recent 2011 decision handed down by Luther Strange to bolster her claim that both the law and attorney general’s opinion are “clear.” She urged the legislature to pass a law codifying the change in policy in the next session.

“I have changed the way these funds are handled because it is the right thing to do,” the governor said.

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As more details have been revealed about the cushy set-up Paul Manafort has in his current jail, a federal judge doubled down on his order that Manafort be moved to a new detention center — an order Manafort unsuccessfully asked the judge to reverse even though he had complained about the location of the rural Virginia jail currently holding him.

“It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem,” U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said in a footnote in the latest order. “The dissonance between defendant’s motion to continue and motion opposing transfer to Alexandria Detention Center cannot be easily explained or resolved.”

Ellis was first prompted to order Manafort’s transfer from Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia, to the detention center in Alexandria after Manafort complained about the location of Northern Neck in a court filing. Manafort last week asked the judge to delay the trial in the Virginia case — set to start in Alexandria later this month — claiming that his detention was impeding his trial prep. Manafort cited the rural jail’s distance from his attorneys’ offices, arguing it took them two-plus hours to drive there for in-person meetings.

Ellis has scheduled a hearing on the delay request, and on another Manafort request that the trial be moved to Roanoke, for next week. But earlier this week, Ellis also issued an order moving Manafort to the Alexandria detention center. Manafort then asked the judge to let him stay at Northern Neck because “issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances of detention two weeks before trial.”

Ellis denied Manafort’s request to reverse the order in a court document posted Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Mueller, in a court filing opposing the request to delay the trial, alleged that the rural jail had gone out of its way to facilitate Manafort’s trial prep, and said that Manafort himself said on a phone call that he was treated as a “VIP” in Northern Neck. Manafort has had his own living unit with a private bathroom and a personal phone, according to Mueller, and was also not required to wear the jail uniform.

Read the judge’s order that Manafort be moved to the new jail below:

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This story has been updated to include a court filing from Paul Manafort responding to special counsel Robert Mueller.

A court document filed by special counsel Robert Mueller Wednesday provides new details about the relatively cushy conditions Paul Manafort is facing in jail, and includes alleged comments Manafort made on monitored phone calls that undermine his lawyers’ request that his trial in Virginia be delayed. The filing was in response to a Manafort request to delay his trial scheduled this month.

Manafort had discussions on monitored phone calls about the “VIP” treatment he was receiving in jail, about the workaround he figured out to circumvent the jail’s ban on inmates sending emails, and about what’s driving his strategy to try to move the trial, contrary to the arguments put forward by his lawyers, according to Mueller.

The judge on Wednesday also scheduled a hearing for July 17 on Manafort’s request that the trial in Virginia case against be pushed back until after a D.C. trial scheduled in September is finished, as well as his request to move the Virginia trial from Alexandria to Roanoke.

Manafort had argued in filings last week that the move by the judge in the D.C. case to put in him jail while he awaits trial — after allegations he engaged in witness tampering — had severely impeded his preparation for the trial in Virginia, which is slated to begin later this month. His filings included the claim that he was being held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day — prompting his supporters and conservative journalists to suggest he was being treated unfairly.

Mueller, on Tuesday, alleged that last week’s delay request was the first time Manafort raised any concerns but how his detention was affecting his ongoing trial prep. The special counsel pointed to a number of details about his current detention — many of those details mentioned by Manafort himself on monitored phone calls — that suggested that the jail was going out of its away to facilitate his trial prep.

A footnote describes his “private, self-contained living unit,” with Manafort himself describing his treatment as “VIP,” according to prosecutors.

The living unit has a personal telephone that Manafort can “use over twelve hours a day to speak with his attorneys,” according to Mueller, and while each phone call is limited to 15 minutes, he can immediately reconnect with his attorneys once each 15 minute session is over.

“Manafort has had successive phone call sessions with his attorneys that have lasted
over forty minutes,” Mueller said, and over the last three weeks, Manafort has had “100 phone calls with his attorneys, and another 200 calls with other persons.”

While detailing the extensive access to phone calls with his attorneys — which are not monitored — Manafort has had, the special counsel also highlighted that Manafort allegedly explained on a monitored call that he had found a way around the jail’s ban on inmates using email.

The jail also provided Manafort with an extension cord so he can use his laptop in his cell, and not just in the workspace, according to Mueller.

Additionally, on a monitored called, Manafort suggested to the unnamed caller a strategy for moving the trial that was not among the reasons his attorneys floated in their request for the delay, according Mueller.

Mueller also pounced on Manafort’s request Tuesday that the judge reverse an order issued previously that day to move Manafort from his current jail in rural Virginia to one much closer to the Alexandria courthouse. The judge, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis ordered the move after Manafort had complained in his delay request about the distance of the rural jail from his attorneys’ offices.  Manafort in his request to stay in the rural jail said that “after further reflection, issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances of detention two weeks before trial.”

Manafort, in a response filed later Wednesday, accused Mueller of being “self-serving and inaccurate.”

“While the opposition does not generally misrepresent the confinement conditions, its cavalier dismissal of the challenges of preparing for back-to-back complex white collar criminal trials while the defendant is in custody shows a lack of concern with fairness or due process,” Manafort said.

He took issue with Mueller’s description of Manafort’s email use, arguing the communications were being sent by his lawyers “in a manner that is consistent with the rules of the detention facility.”

Referencing the comments Manafort made on phone calls about his conditions in jail, the court filing said that Mueller “not pause to consider the reasons a detained defendant might have to make his situation sound better when speaking with concerned friends and family.”

Read the full Mueller filing and Manafort’s response below:

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After previously complaining that the rural jail where he is awaiting trial was inconvenient for his trial prep, Paul Manafort asked a federal judge on Tuesday to reverse a previous order moving him to a detention center closer to the courthouse where his case will go to trial later this month.

“In light of Mr. Manafort’s continuing detention and after further reflection, issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about his safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances of detention two weeks before trial,” Manafort said in the court filing. “With these considerations in mind, Mr. Manafort respectfully asks the Court to permit him to remain in his current place of detention.”

The order U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis had issued earlier Tuesday moving Manafort came after a Manafort request that the trial in Virginia be delayed until after the trial for separate case Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought against Manafort in D.C. was finished. In the request for the delay, Manafort complained that it took two hours for his lawyers to travel to the rural Virginia jail, and his detention there made meetings with his attorneys “far more infrequent and enormously time-consuming compared to when he remained on house arrest and subject to GPS monitoring in Alexandria, Virginia.”

Manafort was sent to jail while he awaited trial by the judge in the D.C. case due to allegations he engaged in witness tampering.

Ellis ordered that he be moved to a detention center in Alexandria, from the jail 100 miles away in Warsaw, Virginia, “to ensure the defendant has access to his counsel and can adequately prepare his defense.”

Manafort, in his request that he stay in Warsaw after all, said that the issues he raised about the location of the jail were “aimed more at the difficulty of preparing for trial given Mr. Manafort’s detention versus his prior status on pretrial release.”

Read the full request below:

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A federal judge in Alexandria this week denied a request by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to throw out evidence obtained in a May 2017 search of his storage unit for the Virginia trial.

In a 23-page opinion issued on Monday and posted publicly on Tuesday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said there “are no grounds for suppression of the evidence recovered from the May 27, 2017 search of the storage unit, and defendant’s motion to suppress must be denied.”

Manafort made a similar request in the case brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller in D.C., and the judge there also rejected his arguments.

Manafort had objected to the search, executed just days after Mueller took over the Justice Department’s Russia probe, because he took issue with an FBI agent entering the unit on May 26 without a warrant. The agent was let in by Manafort employee Alex Trusko who had a key and who told the agent he moved boxes for Manafort to the unit. Though Trusko’s name was on unit’s the lease, Manafort argued that Trusko did not have the authority to open the storage unit for the agent, Jeff Pfeiffer.

Manafort also argued that, even if the employee did have the authority, the warrant the FBI then sought after Pfeiffer entered and took photos in the unit was too broad.

Ellis on Tuesday rejected that argument as well.

“Trusko, defendant’s employee, leased the storage unit, regularly accessed the unit to unpack defendant’s business records, and retained a key to the unit. Thus, Trusko had common authority over the storage unit and validly consented to Special Agent Pfeiffer’s May 26, 2017 search of the storage unit,” Ellis wrote. “The May 27, 2017 warrant was also sufficiently particular given the nature of the alleged crimes to satisfy Fourth Amendment requirements. And even assuming Special Agent Pfeiffer’s warrant was overbroad, the executing agents reasonably relied on the magistrate judge’s issuance of the warrant to conduct the search and executed the search in a manner consistent with the terms of the warrant.”

While Ellis has been tough in his questioning of the special counsel’s team, this is the second time he’s ruled against Manafort, having also denied his request that the entire case be dismissed.

Manafort is facing charges that include bank fraud and tax fraud in Virginia. He has pleaded not guilty in that case, as well as in the case Mueller brought against him in D.C. The trial in Virginia is slated to begin at the end of July.

Read the full opinion on the search warrant below:

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LATE UPDATE 7/11 10:50 a.m.: Hours after this story broke, Michael Flynn’s lawyers said the announcement was a “misunderstanding” and he had not yet joined Stonington Global. 

As he awaits sentencing for lying to federal investigators, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn is getting back in the consulting and lobbying game with a newly formed D.C. firm.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Flynn is now director of global strategy for Stonington Global LLC, a new firm founded by former Trump campaign aide-turned-Washington lobbyist Nick Muzin.

Muzin and his New York partner Joey Allaham did not personally know Flynn, but are doing business with him because “his experience speaks for itself,” Allaham told the Journal.

The duo’s most recent venture was a $300,000 per month positive PR campaign for Qatar that involved brokering connections between the royal family and associates of President Donald Trump. Muzin announced in June that the contract was ending after his firm was sued by Elliott Broidy, a top Trump fundraiser, on allegations that it helped Qatar hack into Broidy’s emails.

“I will work every day to put my 33 years of experience in the military and serving Presidents of both parties in the White House to good use in helping companies and governments enhance the goals of freedom and liberty,” Mr. Flynn said in a statement.

The news about Flynn’s new job opportunity comes the same day that the former senior U.S. official appeared in court for the first time since his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller was announced last December.

Flynn faces up to six months in prison for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. As part of his plea deal, he also admitted to working as an unregistered agent for Turkey in the run-up to the 2016 election.

Flynn has been cooperating with Mueller’s team for months, and the special counsel has thrice requested that his sentencing date be pushed back. Legal experts say that these requests indicate that Flynn is still providing valuable information to federal prosecutors.

Muzin and Allaham told the Journal that they believe Flynn will avoid jail time, but that he would need to step away from the firm for some period if he does end up being incarcerated.

A Stonington Global LLC was incorporated in Delaware on July 2, 2018, according to an online state database.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Youtube video titled “Stonington Global” was posted by a user with the name “Joesph [sic] Allaham.” Set to a twanging music loop, the brief clip advertises services like “election strategies,” “cyber security” and “defense procurement” as images of aircraft carriers and consultants pouring over spreadsheets flicker by.

Also joining Stonington is Flynn’s conspiracy-stoking son and former chief of staff, Michael Flynn Jr., but the firm did not specify what role the younger Flynn would have.

Flynn Jr. was actively involved in his father’s Turkey lobbying work, and the elder Flynn’s decision to cooperate with federal investigators was reportedly motivated in part by concern about the legal jeopardy Flynn Jr. faced.

The younger Flynn is known for his active support of the bizarre Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which holds that top Democratic operatives are involved in a child sex trafficking ring. As recently as Monday, Flynn Jr. was also promoting conspiracies about the death of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer who was killed in a botched D.C. mugging.

Flynn Jr. was removed from Trump’s presidential transition team for spreading bogus stories on social media.

This post has been updated.

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Judge T.S. Ellis has granted Paul Manafort’s request to move to a jail closer to the Washington, D.C. area so he can better prepare for his trial.

Manafort is currently being held in custody at the Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw, Virginia, located more than 100 miles from Alexandria, Virginia, where his trial will be held later this month.

Ellis ordered that Manafort be transported from Northern Neck to the Alexandria Detention Center until his trial “to ensure the defendant has access to his counsel and can adequately prepare his defense,” he wrote in the court filing.

The decision was in response to a series of requests Manafort made late Friday, seeking to delay his trial due to challenges in preparing while in jail and to move the trial to Roanoke, Virginia, a more politically “balanced” part of the state.

In the Virginia case, Manafort faces charges of bank and tax fraud. He’s also set to stand trial in Washington, D.C. in September, facing money laundering and failure to register as a foreign lobbyist charges. He pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Manafort’s bail was revoked last month by the judge overseeing his case in Washington, D.C. after special counsel Robert Mueller accused Manafort of trying to interfere with a witness. Manafort is being held in solitary confinement in the Northern Neck jail to ensure his safety, and his lawyers complained to the judge overseeing Manafort’s case in Washington, D.C. that the situation made it challenging to prepare for trial.

He will likely be placed in protective custody when he arrives at the Alexandria Detention Center, given his high profile status, Alexandria Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Amy Bertsch told TPM Tuesday. Once Manafort arrives at the new facility, he will go through the jail’s intake process, which includes a new booking. If placed in protective custody, he’ll have limited contact with other inmates and will get two hours outside of his cell each day, she said.  

Read the order from Ellis below:

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Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was in a D.C. federal courthouse Tuesday for the first time since his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller was announced last December, for a brief hearing ostensibly about a proposal to tweak the logistics around his yet unscheduled sentencing date.

The judge, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, admitted he also called the hearing, in part, because he hadn’t yet had any face-time with Flynn.

“There was a level of discomfort,” Sullivan said, with the idea of interacting with Flynn  for the first time when he appeared in front of the judge in the future for sentencing.

The judge initially assigned to Flynn’s case, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras, recused himself soon after Flynn entered his guilty plea, and the case was randomly reassigned to Sullivan.

Flynn, in a red tie and a dark suit, looked upbeat in the courtroom, telling Sullivan he was “doing OK.”

Outside, a spattering of protesters, both supportive and critical of Flynn, had shown up after far-right activists had called for flash mob to support him.

Mueller’s team and Flynn’s attorneys had previously filed court documents requesting that the judge order the pre-sentencing investigation of Flynn begin even while the special counsel was not ready yet to set a sentencing date. In joint court filings, Mueller and Flynn said that “due to the status of the special counsel’s investigation,” they were not ready to schedule his sentencing, but were requesting that work on the probation office’s pre-sentencing report begin so that they could later seek a more “expedited schedule” once Flynn was ready for sentencing.

On Tuesday, Flynn attorney Robert Kelner said that Flynn was eager to bring this “chapter” of his life to a close, and the government had offered this
“appealing” proposal so that he could proceed to sentencing as soon as possible.

Sullivan said that he was concerned that such a request was burden on the probation office, and argued that it would have to do the pre-sentencing investigation all over again once Flynn’s sentencing date was scheduled.

Instead, the judge offered to schedule Flynn’s sentencing date 60 days after the parties announce that they’re ready to proceed to sentencing, instead of the usual 90 days — assuming that doing so wasn’t a burden on the probation officers pulling together the pre-sentencing report.

Both Kelner and Mueller’s team — represented by Brandon Van Grack — said that they would “welcome” that proposal.

Flynn — who, before serving briefly as President Trump’s national security adviser, was a top adviser to Trump’s campaign — pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contact with a Russian official during the presidential transition. He was fired in February 2017 because, according to the administration, he also misled Vice President Mike Pence about those communications.

Flynn and Mueller are scheduled to file another status report on August 24.

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President Trump on Tuesday issued full pardons to Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond, Oregon cattle ranchers convicted for arson who became a cause célèbre among the anti-government far-right.

“The Hammonds are devoted family men, respected contributors to their local community, and have widespread support from their neighbors, local law enforcement, and farmers and ranchers across the West,” the White House said in a statement. “Justice is overdue.”

The Hammonds’ case inspired the weeks-long 2016 armed takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a federal national preserve in rural Oregon, by “sovereign citizen” militia activists led by Ammon and Ryan Bundy. Hammond supporters viewed the sentencing of the father-son duo as proof of federal government overreach.

Their case dates back to a series of fires they set on public lands that prompted warnings from the Bureau of Land Management. In 2012, they were convicted for a massive 2001 fire they set that burned 139 acres of public land and interrupted production on the lands for two growing seasons. The Hammonds claimed that they were trying to burn off invasive species, but the Justice Department maintained that the fires were set to cover up the Hammonds’ illegal slaughter of deer on BLM property.

Their convictions became a flashpoint in Oregon’s ranching community, with some resenting that the Hammonds were convicted under a 1996 law targeting domestic terrorists.

At sentencing, an Oregon federal judge imposed limited sentences of three months imprisonment for Dwight Hammond and a year and a day for Steven Hammond, who faced separate charges for another fire he had set in 2006. The judge said that imposing the law’s five-year mandatory minimum would “shock the conscience” given the charges.

But the DOJ appealed the sentence to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which, in 2015, ordered that the pair be re-sentenced. In her subsequent re-sentencing, Oregon federal judge Ann Aiken upheld the mandatory minimum, with time served, noting that arson is a dangerous federal crime that places human lives in jeopardy, and she sent the Hammonds back to jail.

It was that decision that sparked the uprising at Malheur. The Bundy brothers—already versed in clashes with the BLM from the 2014 armed standoff over cattle grazing rights that their father, Cliven, led on their family’s Nevada ranch—decamped to Oregon to take control of the wildlife refuge.

During the dramatic 40-day standoff, one of the militia members, LaVoy Finicum, was fatally shot in a standoff with law enforcement, sparking anti-government conspiracy theories. The Malheur takeover ended with some 26 people being charged with felony conspiracy to prevent federal workers from doing their jobs, among other charges.
Most have since been acquitted by federal grand juries.

In its Tuesday statement, the Trump White House blamed the Obama administration for taking an “overzealous” and “unjust” approach towards the Hammonds’ case.

The Hammonds had filed paperwork with the DOJ formally requesting a pardon, and their petition received some 8,500 signatures.

Trump’s decision to grant the pair executive clemency is the latest in a string of pardons for high-profile conservatives. The administration has also granted pardons to controversial figures including far-right pundit Dinesh D’Souza, former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, and former George W. Bush White House official Scooter Libby.

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting. 

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A Michigan group has collected over 430,000 signatures to get a measure expanding voting access on the November ballot, in the latest citizen-driven push to modernize and streamline the voting system in that key Midwestern state.

Promote the Vote, a non-partisan group backed by the American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, and League of Women Voters, submitted the signatures to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office on Monday, the deadline for any ballot measures that would amend the state constitution.

“Today is a good day,” Todd Cook, Promote the Vote’s campaign director, told TPM in a Monday phone interview.

The proposal would impose fixes including automatic voter registration, same-day registration, access to absentee ballots on request, and better access for military service members and overseas voters.

It is the second sweeping citizen-driven ballot measure intended to address issues with voting access and fairness in a state that narrowly swung for Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

The other is an anti-gerrymandering proposal brought by Voters Not Politicians (VNP). That measure seeks to take power to draw congressional and legislative maps away from the state legislature and turn it over to a 13-member redistricting commission.

The VNP proposal was finally approved for the November ballot last month after a months-long legal fight brought by Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), a conservative group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. But that fight is not yet over.

Though the Michigan Court of Appeals strongly ruled in VNP’s favor, Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette successfully pushed the Michigan Supreme Court to consider overruling that decision. Both CPMC and Schuette maintain that the proposal is so complex that it can’t be considered an amendment to the state Constitution, and should instead be addressed at a constitutional convention. The Republican-dominated state Supreme Court will hold a hearing on the initiative on July 18.

Bearing witness to this ugly legal battle has not deterred Cook and his army of volunteers, he told TPM.

“You always hope that people will look at matters in terms of what they actually are and not read into any political implications,” Cook said of possible court challenges. “We’ll see what happens in terms of Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution and what they do.”

Cook said that Promote the Vote’s proposal was “much simpler and much more straightforward” than VNP’s, which would make it difficult for CPMC to just replicate the same line of attack.

CPMC spokesperson Dave Doyle told TPM that the group had not yet reviewed Promote the Vote’s amendment and had no further comment at this time.

For now, Promote the Vote is waiting for the Secretary of State’s office to certify their signatures and holding its breath for any possible legal challenges. According to Cook, they have organized community meetings across the state and are going door-to-door to try to educate Michiganders about the reforms they hope to achieve.

This post has been updated. 

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