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Roger Stone in an email to TPM Monday said that an August 2016 email he sent a former Trump campaign aide claiming that he dined with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was the “continuation” of a joke he played on the ex-aide, Sam Nunberg.

“It was a throwaway line, a schtick, the way I talk. This dope believed it. I was playing him,” Stone told TPM. He later added, “I can say equivocally that I received no material including allegedly hacked emails from WikiLeaks for Julian Assange or anyone else and never passed any such materials onto Donald Trump or the Trump campaign.”

Stone’s email to Nunberg, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, was sent on Aug. 4, 2016, during an exchange about Trump’s polling.

“I dined with Julian Assange last night,” Stone’s email to Nunberg said.

Stone, in his email to TPM, referenced a Washington Post report from last month, in which Nunberg recalled Stone telling him he had met with Assange. Stone told the Post that he said that during a telephone conversation in an effort to get Nunberg off the phone.

“Sam, being a neurotic, would sometimes call you 30 and 40 times a day. Late one Friday night while I was trying to get him off the phone, he asked me if I had weekend plans,” Stone told TPM. “I responded ‘I think I’ll fly to London and have dinner with Julian Assange’ …. Sam, a little too intense and with his head not screwed on quite right, fell for it.”

Stone provided for the Journal a screenshot of a booking for “Roger” for a Delta flight from Los Angeles to Miami for the evening of August 3.  Delta confirmed to the Journal the existence of the flight on the booking screenshot, but would not say whether Stone was on it.

“Airline and hotel records prove I was in California on August 3 and 4,” Stone told TPM. He later clarified that he flew into Los Angeles on August 1 from New York, and then to Miami from Los Angeles on August 3.

The email has been raised in questioning in front of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury as he probes Russian meddling in the election, according to the Journal. Stone’s denial Monday is not the first time he has had to explain things he said during the 2016 campaign that suggested communications with the founder of Wikileaks, which published thousands of hacked emails from associates of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

He told a group of Florida Republicans on Aug. 8, 2016, “I actually have communicated with Assange.” He later explained that he was referring to communications through a “journalist” intermediary he at first refused to name. Unnamed sources went on to tell CNN that intermediary was New York radio host Randy Credico.

“I have never said or written that I had any direct communication with Julian Assange and have always clarified in numerous interviews and speeches that my communication with WikiLeaks was through the aforementioned journalist,” Stone said in his prepared remarks for the House Intelligence Committee last September.

The Atlantic earlier this year obtained Twitter direct messages between Stone and the Wikileaks Twitter account sent in October of 2016.

Nunberg was subpoenaed by the Mueller investigation last month — a subpoena he first said he was resisting an a series of erratic cable news hits. Nunberg ultimately cooperated with Mueller’s request.

Nunberg said on MNBC Thursday evening that Stone told him he had met with Assange in early August, and noted that was around the time that Trump was publicly calling for more Clinton emails to be released.

“I think he’s trying to ingratiate himself back with Trump,” Nunberg said. Nunberg did not immediately responded to TPM’s inquiry about Stone’s claims.

“Politics is a game of smoke and mirrors and my emails would certainly show that I was deeply enmeshed in the presidential political maneuvering in 2016,” Stone told TPM. “At the end of the day however it’s not what you said you did but what you actually did that matters.”

Update: This story has been updated to include a clarification from Stone on when he says he was in California.

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It appears that a night out on the town and some alcohol-fueled friendly conversation had George Papadopoulos saying more than he should again.

Papadopoulos allegedly claimed, while cavorting with a stranger at a Chicago nightclub, that Jeff Sessions had more interest than the attorney general has let on in the dirt on Hillary Clinton peddled to Papadopoulos during the 2016 campaign, according to Think Progress. Papadopoulos’ wife has since insisted the former Trump campaign aide wouldn’t have revealed the new information about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, with which Papadopoulos is cooperating.

The back-and-forth stems from a random encounter Thursday night with a nightclub-goer, Jason Wilson, who spotted Papadopoulos and his wife Simona Mangiante at Chicago’s Hydrate. The three became friendly and started chatting about the Russia investigation — a conversation in which Papadopoulos alleged that then-Sen. Sessions had encouraged him to seek more information about the existence of hacked Clinton emails that had been floated to Papadopoulos, Wilson told Think Progress.

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A member of President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission suffered a major defeat Friday, when a federal judge in Florida ruled against a lawsuit aimed at purging voters from the rolls.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), a group led by the conservative voting activist J. Christian Adams, had sued a Broward County elections official in 2016. It was one of several lawsuits the group has brought suggesting mass voter fraud. This case was the first PILF lawsuit to go to full trial.

U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom said in her 60-page opinion opinion Friday that one of the main pieces of evidence that PILF presented in the case — that there were more voters on Broward County’s registration rolls than estimated eligible voters — was “misleading.”

Making that comparison is a common tactic PILF has used to bully local election officials into conducting more aggressive voter roll purges, even as elections experts have said that comparing the two sets of numbers is apples-to-oranges.

Bloom went into significant detail in outlining why she agreed with those experts.

“These data sets do not allow for an accurate comparison,” the judge said.

PILF and a related group, the American Civil Rights Union, had sued Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes alleging she had violated the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires that elections officials make a “reasonable effort” to remove ineligible voters from the rolls because they had died or moved.

Bloom found the challengers’ claims that Snipes did not not maintain an adequate list-maintenance program to be “unsupported by the weight of the evidence.”

She also questioned how the challengers were interpreting the NVRA.

“The Court finds that ACRU’s proposed definition of ‘reasonable efforts’ is too subjective and would lead to an arbitrary, non-uniform, unworkable, and unpredictable application,” she said.

Adams served on a presidential commission created by President Trump after Trump claimed millions of people voted illegally in 2016. The commission was dissolved in January under a barrage of lawsuits.

Christopher Coates, another lawyer involved in the Broward County case, was Adams’ former boss in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, which came under fire for politicization of the department’s prosecutorial work, particularly on voting rights.

Read the full opinion below:

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A student group at the University of Alabama’s flagship campus has invited prominent white nationalist Jared Taylor to campus to give a speech about diversity.

“They’ve asked me to talk about whether diversity is a strength,” Taylor, publisher of long-running white nationalist publication American Renaissance, told TPM in a Friday morning phone call. “I think you can imagine the position I will take on that question.”

Taylor has publicly promoted his views on the genetic inferiority of black and Hispanic people for some three decades. Recent headlines under his byline on the American Renaissance site include “How To Achieve Racial Separation” and “Send Them Home,” a reference to undocumented immigrants.

“I assume they have researched me and have some idea of who I am,” Taylor said.

The invitation to speak on April 19 came from Students for America First, an organization that claims to be dedicated to “dealing with the challenges American and Western ideals face in our country.” The group’s red logo features the hissing rattlesnake of the Gadsden Flag—an image that gained popularity with the tea party movement.

In a statement provided to TPM on Saturday by Lincoln Egbert, America First’s vice president, the group described Taylor as “a noted Right-wing intellectual and editor of American Renaissance.”

“SFAF neither endorses nor condemns Mr. Taylor’s work: our sole motivation in deciding to host him is to ensure that all social and political views, regardless of how offensive they may appear to the generic public are accounted for in the free marketplace of ideas that ought to exist on the university campus,” the statement reads.

“We believe that [it] is our right as Americans to decide for ourselves what ideas are right and which wrong, not to have that decision made for us by the media and our universities,” it continues, adding that the members “look forward” to hosting Taylor.

University president Stuart Bell has condemned the invitation in a public statement, emphasizing that Taylor’s ideology “is counter to our institutional values” and that “hate and bigotry have no place” at the school. Bell said that as a public institution with a “commitment to free speech,” the university cannot prevent the event from taking place.

Taylor’s visit threatens to reignite an ongoing debate about hosting white nationalist speakers on college campuses. The difficulty of preemptively proving that a speaker poses a violent threat and the strong First Amendment protections in public spaces like state school campuses makes it hard for schools to stop such events from happening.

A handful of universities were sued by the graduate student who booked white nationalist Richard Spencer’s college tour after they refused to let Spencer speak, citing concerns about violence and disruption to campus life. Spencer recently quit the tour, saying the events were no longer “fun” because they were often derailed by large counter-protests by anti-racist activists.

Taylor, who is less prone to courting the media than Spencer, acknowledged that such mass protests were possible at his upcoming event.

“Anyone who speaks as a white person in the name of the legitimate interest of whites is going to attract an enormous amount of opposition,” he claimed.

Bell said in his message to the student body that “other events and activities are in the planning stages” but did not elaborate on what they entailed.

This post has been updated to include comment from Students for America First.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday that he was for now declining congressional Republicans’ requests for a second special counsel to investigate alleged FBI misconduct in the Trump-Russia probe. But Sessions said he had instead named a top DOJ prosecutor to lead the internal effort to look into the GOP claims.

The announcement, made in a letter to top lawmakers, follows the news Wednesday that the Justice Department’s Inspector General will investigate how the FBI handled the surveillance warrant it sought for former Trump campaign advisor Carter Page.

Sessions said in the letter that hat John Huber, a U.S. attorney in Utah, was working in coordination with the Inspector General’s office on the matters the Republicans raised in their request for a second special counsel earlier this month. Huber has also previously led the National Security Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“I am confident that Mr. Huber’s review will include a full, complete, and objective evaluation of these matters in a manner that is consistent with the law and the facts,” Sessions said.

Sessions’ letter was addressed to Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and House Oversight Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC).

Earlier this month, Grassley joined three other Senate Judiciary Republicans in calling for a second special counsel to investigate the FBI’s handling of the Trump-Russia probe. Goodlatte and Gowdy sent Sessions their own letter calling for a second special counsel in early March, alleging “evidence of bias, trending toward animus, among those charged with investigating serious cases.”

Their requests come as President Trump and his allies have engaged in an anti-FBI campaign in apparent effort to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his campaign’s Russia ties.  Trump’s own lawyers called for a second special counsel late last year. One of those lawyers, John Dowd, who has since left Trump’s legal team, called for Mueller’s firing earlier this month.

Sessions’ letter Thursday appeared to rebut the congressional Republicans’ claims that the Inspector General did not have the tools necessary to investigate their concerns.

Sessions also stressed the extraordinary circumstances in which a special counsel is appointed. His letter left open the possibility that, depending on what Huber’s and the IG’s reviews turned up, a second special counsel could be appointed.

Read the full letter below:

[H/T HuffPost’s Ryan Reilly]

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The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday released a request that the Trump campaign provide emails from campaign aides John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn.

Dearborn, a former chief of staff of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, went on to lead the Trump transition team and served for about a year in the White House. Mashburn was the Trump campaign’s policy director, and is currently the White House’s Deputy Cabinet Secretary.

“We are writing today because we believe information obtained in a recent Committee interview warrants expanding those searches to two additional custodians who were not included in the original effort, John Mashburn and Rick Dearborn,” Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) wrote in a letter dated Tuesday. “Doing so will help ensure the Campaign’s production fully responds to the categories of documents sought in the Committee’s initial letter.”

The letter follows an earlier request for information sent by the senators to the Trump campaign last July, seeking emails from an assortment of other campaign officials.

“The Campaign has since provided over 28,000 pages of responsive documents, as well as letters detailing the 21 campaign custodians whose emails were searched and the more than 300 search terms used,” the senators noted in their Tuesday letter.

Dearborn’s name has appeared in reports about connections between the National Rifle Association, Russia and Trump associates. Dearborn was sent an email by an NRA activist in May 2016 with the subject line “Kremlin Connection,” seeking his and Sessions’ advice for setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Both Dearborn and Mashburn were also looped in on an effort to soften the GOP’s platform towards Russia with a Ukraine amendment, another campaign aide involved in the push told Business Insider. 

Read the letter below:

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Gov. Scott Walker’s scramble to avoid holding special elections for two open seats Wisconsin’s state legislature has been thwarted. And he’s pointing fingers at Eric Holder.

In a Thursday morning tweetstorm, the Republican governor blamed “liberals from Washington, D.C.” and Holder, whose national redistricting group sued Walker to force him to schedule the races.

“Obama Attorney General Eric Holder and his Washington, D.C.-based special interest group are behind the legal push to force Wisconsin taxpayers to pay for special elections for seats that will be filled in a few months in the normal elections,” Walker wrote.

In subsequent tweets, Walker claimed Holder’s National Redistricting Foundation had only intervened to boost its profile and raise money ahead of the fall midterms.

Holder fired back, noting that a “WISCONSIN judge” on Wednesday ordered the races to move forward, and that Walker had “undermined and diluted” the voting rights of his own constituents.

The Twitter volley brings a dramatic conclusion to a whirlwind series of events.

For months, Walker has argued that there’s no need to hold the elections, because scheduling them so late in an election year would be a waste of taxpayer money, and confusing for voters. Democrats have accused Walker of being afraid that the GOP might lose the contests. In January, a Democrat won a Wisconsin assembly seat in a heavily Republican district, an upset that Walker called a “wakeup call” for the GOP.

After Holder’s group sued, a district court judge ruled last week that Walker had to schedule the elections as ordered by state law.

In response, the GOP-controlled legislature said they would call an extraordinary session, with the aim of changing Wisconsin law determining when special elections are held, so that the races would not go forward.

In a rapid-fire series of decisions, an appeals court on Wednesday rejected Walker’s request that it block the lower court order. Walker had argued that the issue was moot since the legislature planned to change the law.

But shortly after, lawmakers announced it was dropping the plan to hold an extraordinary session to change the law.

The legislature’s GOP leadership did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment on that what prompted that decision.

Like Walker, the Republican House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader have argued that the timing of the special election races doesn’t make sense because it will overlap with the process of scheduling the fall elections.

Holder’s group and Wisconsin Democrats have countered that the calendar would have made more sense if Walker had scheduled the races when the seats were first vacated in late December 2017, and that there was no justification for leaving two districts unrepresented for over a year.

In a statement provided to TPM, Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling cheered the sudden turn of events, saying, “There is nothing more fundamental to our democracy than the right to vote.”

“Despite Gov. Walker’s best attempt to block elections and deny 200,000 voters their constitutional right to representation, justice prevailed and the courts correctly ruled that Republicans can’t ignore the law,” Shilling continued.

The special elections will now be held on June 12.

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The National Rifle Association is claiming it received only one donation from a Russian between the 2012 and 2018 election cycles.

Steven Hart, the NRA’s outside counsel, told ABC News that Russian banker Aleksandr Torshin paid less than $1,000 to become a lifetime member of the gun rights group.

Hart denied to ABC that the funds went towards election-related activities, and said that the membership application was not part of “a major donor program.”

TPM has previously reported on Torshin’s lifetime membership, which the Russian politician confirmed in a 2014 Washington Times op-ed.

The FBI is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to benefit Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, according to a January report in McClatchy.

That reported probe has sparked questions about the kind of foreign funds the gun lobbying giant pulls in. Earlier this week, NRA General Counsel John Frazer acknowledged in a letter to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that the NRA accepted foreign donations and moved money between its various accounts, but said the group did not use foreign funds for election-related purposes.

Campaign finance experts told TPM that murky campaign finance laws make it difficult to know the truth. Because money is fungible, the NRA could legally receive foreign money into its general accounts and then transfer the same amount to its political advocacy arm.

Hart told ABC that the entire FBI probe is “imaginary” and that the NRA’s political arm never illegally accepted foreign contributions.

“This all comes off one report. We’ve been trying to be polite. How do you prove a negative?” Hart asked in the interview.

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A Wisconsin appeals court on Wednesday rejected Gov. Scott Walker’s emergency bid to delay a deadline to call special elections for two open legislative seats.

But with the GOP now planning to change state law on special elections, the decision may not constrain Walker for long.

“Representative government and the election of our representatives are never ‘unnecessary,’ never a ‘waste of taxpayer resources,’ and the calling of the special elections are, as the Governor acknowledges, his ‘obligation’ to follow,” Judge Paul Reilly wrote in the ruling.

A lower court in Madison had given Walker until noon on Thursday to schedule the two races.

Lawyers for the state argued that the governor should be granted an eight-day extension. They said the issue is moot because lawmakers plan to reconvene next week to rewrite state law, and effectively block the special elections from being held.

Judge Reilly said he was “not persuaded” by the arguments, noting that: “The Governor understands he has an obligation to follow the law as do we.”

The issue now moves to the Republican-dominated state Supreme Court. As the Associated Press reported, state attorneys notified the justices that they will be asked to issue an order before noon on Thursday granting Walker his requested extension.

Doing so would clear the path for an extraordinary session of the state legislature scheduled for next Wednesday by GOP leadership. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and House Speaker Robin Vos have, like Walker, argued that holding the two special elections at this point in the year would be a waste of tax dollars and resources, given that the regularly scheduled elections are already on the books for the fall.

They have filed a bill that would prohibit special elections for vacancies that occur 11 months before a general election. Walker has said he’d sign it.

The Wisconsin Democratic Party and national Democratic groups have called the proposed move an “attack on democracy” that would disenfranchise the two districts’ voters.

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The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General announced Wednesday that it had opened a probe into the FBI’s handling of a surveillance warrant for “a certain U.S. person.”

The announcement comes after Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as GOP lawmakers, called for more investigation into what they say was FBI misconduct in how it sought a court’s blessing to surveil Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy advisor on President Trump’s campaign.

The OIG announcement doesn’t name Page. But it also includes what appears to be a reference to Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy whose dossier of Trump-Russia ties was used by the FBI as part of its investigation into Page.

“As part of this examination, the OIG also will review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source,” the Office of Inspector General said in its statement.  “Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications.”

The DOJ Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, is already investigating how the Department handled its inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The findings from that probe are expected in the weeks to come.

As Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling has gained public momentum, Republicans have ramped up their criticism of the FBI, where the investigation started.

House Intel Republicans wrote a classified memo alleging the FBI misled the surveillance court in seeking the warrant for Page by not describing Steele’s ties to Democrats who were funding his research. That memo was declassified by the President in February over the objections of the Justice Department. It was quickly reported that many of the claims in the GOP memo were, at best, wildly misleading.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, spearheaded their own memo suggesting Steele misled the FBI about his contacts with the press. The Republicans, Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), sent a referral to the Justice Department recommending it pursue a criminal investigation of Steele.

Sessions in February said that the Inspector General would investigate allegations of FBI misconduct related to the Page warrant, which it first sought after Page left the campaign in the fall of 2016 and successfully renewed three more times.

Read the full OIG announcement below:

Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz announced today that, in response to requests from the Attorney General and Members of Congress, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) will initiate a review that will examine the Justice Department’s and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) compliance with legal requirements, and with applicable DOJ and FBI policies and procedures, in applications filed with the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) relating to a certain U.S. person. As part of this examination, the OIG also will review information that was known to the DOJ and the FBI at the time the applications were filed from or about an alleged FBI confidential source. Additionally, the OIG will review the DOJ’s and FBI’s relationship and communications with the alleged source as they relate to the FISC applications.

If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider including other issues that may arise during the course of the review.

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