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

Days after the November 2016 election, a coordinator at a recycling non-profit wrote a Facebook post asking if her fellow Michigan residents were interested in coming together to “take on gerrymandering.”

Katie Fahey’s casual social media request ended up morphing into a statewide, all-volunteer movement to draft a ballot proposal to overhaul how the Great Lake State’s congressional and state legislative district lines are drawn. The push by that group, which came to be known as Voters Not Politicians, ended up gathering over 100,000 more signatures than the 316,000 needed to get the measure on Michigan’s November 2018 ballot.

Across the country, voters are engaging in similar mobilizations at the state level to take the wheel on the seemingly unsexy issue of redistricting reform. Comparable efforts to get reform measures on the ballot are underway in Missouri, Oklahoma, Colorado and Utah, and Ohio will vote May 8 on a legislative-backed proposal that was spurred by grassroots activism. Good government groups are pushing legislatures in Illinois and Pennsylvania to take similar action.

The aim of the reforms: to either wrest control of the process away from partisan lawmakers and turn it over to independent arbiters, or, in some cases, to make sure maps are drawn with bipartisan consensus.

Read More →

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) on Wednesday asked the Treasury Department to investigate whether a Florida gun manufacturer with ties to Russia violated U.S. sanctions.

Deutch, who represents the Florida district in which the company, Kalashnikov USA, has a facility, cited public reports on the company’s plan to manufacture Kalashnikov-branded AK-47 shotguns, rather than import them, after the Russian company that produced them was hit with U.S. sanctions in 2014.

As TPM previously reported, Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott lured Kalashnikov USA to Florida with a tax break offer in 2011, but the deal fell through when the company did not submit the proper paperwork. Kalashnikov USA opened a facility in Florida anyway, and began producing AK-47s in May 2017, according to Bloomberg News.

Kalashnikov USA ostensibly opened the facility to manufacture AK-47s, rather than import them from Russian company Kalashnikov Concern, as it had done before the 2014 sanctions. Kalashnikov USA claims it has cut ties with the Russian company, but a Bloomberg News report from March lays out ties that still remain between the two companies.

Documents submitted to Florida state officials in 2015 showed that Kalashnikov USA planned to use gun parts imported from the Russian factory to manufacture guns in the U.S., according to Bloomberg News.

Michael Tiraturian, the senior vice president of Kalashnikov USA is a longtime business partner of Alexey Krivoruchko, the majority shareholder and CEO of the Russian company Kalashnikov Concern, as Bloomberg News noted. Tiraturian insisted to Bloomberg News that the two have never done business together. But  the Bloomberg News report details Tiraturian management of shell companies initially founded by Krivoruchko in the U.S.

Deutch wrote in his letter that these revelations may show that Kalashnikov Concern or Kalashnikov USA are violating U.S. sanctions, and asked the Treasury Department to look into the matter.

“If these reports are accurate and Kalashnikov USA is using Russian parts from a sanctioned Russian company to assemble weapons of war, and Kalashnikov Russia is using Florida shell companies to generate profits in Russia, then a determination must be made into whether any violations of sanctions occurred or continue to occur,” he wrote.

Read Deutch’s letter to the Treasury Department below:

Read More →

J. Christian Adams, who sat on President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, is being sued over reports his group issued accusing hundreds of Virginians of having illegally registered to vote.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday against Adams and his group, the Public Interest Legal Foundation, in federal court in Virginia. It targets the voter fraud allegations the group made in reports called “Alien Invasion in Virginia” and “Alien Invasion II,” which claimed that hundreds of non-citizens had likely committed felonies by registering to vote.

The lawsuit is being brought by four people who say they were falsely mislabeled as non-citizens who illegally registered to vote in the reports, despited the fact that they are all citizens.  The League of United Latin American Citizens is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, which is being spearheaded by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice and Protect Democracy, two pro-democracy groups.”

The complaint said Adams’ claims amount to voter intimidation, because his reports “recklessly” labeled certain Virginians who had been removed from the rolls as non-citizens, without proving that they weren’t removed for other reasons. One plaintiff in the lawsuit, for instance, was removed because of a paperwork error, according to the complaint. Adams’ reports contained personal information of those named including addresses, phone numbers and Social Security numbers, according to the complaint.

Read More →

“Disgusting.” “Shocking.” “An absolute disgrace.”

The Missouri political world reacted with a swift, damning chorus to a state legislative report released Wednesday detailing allegations that Gov. Eric Greitens engaged in coerced sexual activity, physical violence and attempted blackmail against a woman with whom he carried out a 2015 affair.

Several top state political figures said Greitens should step down.

Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, a one-time Greitens ally, called for the governor to “resign immediately” over the “impeachable” conduct described in the report.

“The House Investigative Committee’s Report contains shocking, substantial, and corroborated evidence of wrongdoing by Governor Greitens,” Hawley said in a Wednesday evening statement.

Hawley is currently challenging U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) for her Senate seat. McCaskill also called on Greitens to step down, criticizing him for putting his “wife and children through this kind of pain.”

“The transcripts paint the picture of a vulnerable woman and a man who preyed on that vulnerability. I am disgusted, disheartened, and I believe Governor Greitens is unfit to lead our state,” Missouri Rep. Ann Wagner (R) said in a statement.

Republican Rep. Jean Evans used similar language, saying “violence against women is always wrong” and Greitens should “do what is in the best interest of the people of Missouri and resign.”

Other Republican lawmakers who had previously called for Greitens’ departure issued scathing statements of their own. Sen. Caleb Rowden (R) was one of the few calling for Greitens’ impeachment, while Rep. Kevin Engler (R) said he should step down, though it was ultimately his decision.

Rep. Vicky Hartzler, one of Missouri’s representative in the U.S. House and a stalwart Trump ally, told the Kansas City Star that Greitens’ behavior “surpasses disturbing” and that his alleged behavior is not “befit for a leader in Missouri or anywhere else for that matter.”

Missouri Democrats went much further, saying in no uncertain terms that Greitens no longer had any business leading the state.

The Republican leaders of the legislature have strongly condemned the behavior described in the report but so far stopped short of calling for Greitens to step down.

Greitens has offered no indication that he plans to resign. In his own Wednesday statement, the governor insisted that the relationship was “entirely consensual” and denied allegations of violence and sexual assault.

Greitens faces a felony invasion of privacy charge for allegedly taking a nude photo of the woman without her consent and threatening to share it if she took their relationship public. The woman described the incident in graphic detail in her sworn testimony before the House committee. Greitens has denied taking the image or attempting to threaten her.

He has called the probe a “political witch hunt,” likening his experience to that of scandal-plagued President Donald Trump.

But the seven-person House panel, which determined the woman to be a “credible” witness, was composed of two Democrats and five Republicans. Missouri’s GOP leadership said they plan to call for a special session on the governor’s impeachment once the committee issues its final report on May 18.

Per the woman’s testimony, Greitens coerced her into giving him oral sex while she cried openly, and slapped her across the face when she told Greitens she was still sleeping with her then-husband.

Read More →

A woman who carried out a 2015 affair with Gov. Eric Greitens (R) told legislative investigators that he coerced her into unwanted sexual contact while she wept on the floor of his basement. The woman’s testimony was included in a highly-anticipated Missouri House committee report released Wednesday evening.

The 25-page report includes graphic, disturbing claims about a March 2015 encounter at Greitens’ St. Louis home. According to the woman, who testified under oath, Greitens held her down in a “bear hug,” fondling her while she wept “uncontrollably,” before pulling out his penis and putting it near her face.

The woman said she proceeded to give him oral sex because she thought “that would allow me to leave” and feared for her “physical self.”

In addition to these shocking new claims, the woman testified about previously surfaced allegations that Greitens slapped her and threatened to blackmail her with a nude photo that he took of her without her consent.

The governor has admitted to carrying out an extramarital affair with the woman but adamantly denied allegations that he took a nonconsensual nude photo and threatened to release it if she discussed their relationship publicly. He has remained defiant throughout this public, messy scandal, pledging to remain in office.

In a brief public statement just before the House report’s release, Greitens referred to the findings as “tabloid trash.”

“This is exactly like what’s happening with witch hunts in Washington D.C.,” Greitens said, using President Trump’s favorite term for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

The seven-person legislative committee, made up of five Republicans and two Democrats, said in the report that they found the woman to be a “credible” witness.

The committee first convened in March after Greitens was indicted on a felony invasion of privacy charge for the alleged blackmail. That trial is set to begin in mid-May.

According to the woman’s testimony, she and the governor engaged in a series of sexual encounters in the spring and summer of 2015. In the woman’s description, some aspects appeared to be nonconsensual.

She told the committee that during that first meeting at his home in March 2015, Greitens led her to his basement, bound her hands to exercise equipment, and blindfolded her. He proceeded to spit water in her mouth, rip her shirt open, and take a photo of her without asking permission, threatening to release the photo if she ever told anyone what had happened.

When she told him she was angry about the photograph, he told her, “You have to understand, I’m running for office, and people will get me, and I have to have some sort of thing to protect myself,” according to her testimony. She told the committee Greitens promised he had deleted it.

The panel also heard testimony from the woman’s ex-husband and from two of the woman’s friends, who said she told them similar stories about the governor at the time.

All day Wednesday, as lawmakers were briefed on the report’s contents and huddled behind closed doors, a trickle of damning remarks flowed from the Capitol in Jefferson City.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D) told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the conduct described in the report was “embarrassing,” “deplorable” and “very sexual in nature.” House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty called for the governor to resign immediately, while GOP Missouri political operatives told reporters that the committee’s findings were as graphic and damaging as they feared.

Greitens’ attorneys had tried to delay the report’s release until after the felony trial begins on May 14. Their efforts were unsuccessful, but the committee extended the deadline to release its final report and recommendation on what action the legislature should take until May 18.

Many Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans have for weeks called for the governor to step down, saying the dual investigations from the House and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner are distracting from the state government’s work.

This week, for example, the House canceled most of its business on Wednesday and all activities Thursday. Though no official explanation was provided, some lawmakers muttered to local media that the decision was made in order to prepare for the impact of the committee’s report.

Greitens’ attorneys have sought to cast doubt on his former lover’s credibility, claiming in a court filing last weekend that she testified that she may have only dreamed up or imagined Greitens taking the photograph of her.

The woman’s lawyer accused Greitens of cherry-picking and mischaracterizing details from her nine-hour testimony. In a statement, her legal team reiterated that the governor admitted to her “on multiple occasions” that he took the nonconsensual photo and threatened to release it.

Read More →

The National Rifle Association is rebuffing a request from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) for more details on whether it received Russian money aimed at influencing U.S. elections.

Two previous exchanges of letters between Wyden and the NRA revealed that the gun group accepts donations from foreign entities and moves money between its various accounts. But in a letter to Wyden sent Tuesday, the NRA said it had provided all the facts required to satisfy any “legitimate concerns.”

“Given the extraordinarily time-consuming and burdensome nature of your requests, we must respectfully decline to engage in this beyond the clear answers we have already provided,” NRA General Counsel John Frazer wrote in an April 10 letter.

Wyden’s office expressed its disappointment in a statement: “After three letters, the NRA continually, and specifically avoided detailing what measures it takes to vet donations, including from shell companies, a known means for Russians to funnel money into the United States.”

Wyden had asked for an in-depth account of how the group used the foreign donations made since 2015 and how it transfers funds between its accounts, among other queries. The FBI is reportedly probing whether the NRA received Russian money to boost Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

In the April 10 letter, the NRA said it received a total of $2,512.85 from Russians or U.S. citizens living in Russia between 2015 and the present. $525 of that came from contributions from two individuals, while the rest came from “about 23” other individuals for costs like membership dues and magazine subscriptions.

The NRA had previously only acknowledged receiving a donation from one Russian: Aleksandr Torshin, a Russian government banker with close ties to the gun group. The NRA has said it received under $1,000 from Torshin for his lifetime membership payment. In the latest letter, the group said it was “reviewing our responsibilities with respect to” Torshin after he was added to a list of Russians under U.S. sanction last week.

Treasury Department regulations “generally prohibit” U.S. persons from dealing with sanctioned individuals.

Wyden will refer his correspondence with the NRA to the Federal Elections Commission, an aide for the senator told TPM. The FEC has received a complaint from a liberal group to launch a full investigation into the NRA’s links with Russia, and is conducting a preliminary review of the facts.

Read the NRA’s full letter below.

Read More →

Special Counsel Robert Mueller requested that a judge issue subpoenas for 35 witnesses to appear at the trial scheduled in federal court in Virginia for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to a filing dated April 6.

The filing does not say who Mueller intends to subpoena, just that he is requesting that they appear before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis when the trial starts July 10.

A separate case brought against Manafort by Mueller is scheduled for trial in Washington D.C. in September. Manafort is facing an assortment of charges of financial crimes, as well as failure to disclose foreign lobbying, stemming from work he did in Ukraine prior to the campaign. He has pleaded not guilty.

See the filing below:

Read More →

Former Trump National Security Council official Ezra Cohen-Watnick is joining the Department of Justice as a national security adviser to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a source familiar with the matter told TPM Wednesday.

Since his departure from the NSC last August, the 31-year-old Cohen-Watnick has worked at the tech company Oracle. The move to the Justice Department has been in the works for months, and Cohen-Watnick will start next week, the source said.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.

Bloomberg, following up on TPM’s initial report, reported that President Trump personally ordered that the Justice Department hire Cohen-Watnick. The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

During his time at the NSC as the senior director for intelligence programs, Cohen-Watnick was a source of controversy. His ascent to the NSC, after just a few years at the Defense Intelligence Agency, surprised outside observers. His name emerged in the strange episode involving House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, who made bombastic allegations of improper “unmasking” of Trump associates by the Obama administration, though what role Cohen-Watnick played in the controversy remains in dispute.

Cohen-Watnick left the NSC several months into the tenure of then-National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster in August 2017. McMaster was replaced by National Security Advisor John Bolton, who started at the post this week.

Update: This story has been updated to include additional reporting by Bloomberg on Trump’s role in Cohen-Watnick’s hiring.

Read More →

Federal prosecutors are seeking Trump Organization records related to an $130,000 payment that President Trump’s private attorney made to a porn star who has claimed to have had an affair with Trump in 2006, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The request was related to raids conducted on attorney Michael Cohen’s home, office and a hotel room he was using Monday. The search warrants sought information on the payments, the New York Times and others reported.

The Wall Street Journal report on the request to Trump Organization is based on a personal familiar with the matter.

Cohen set up a separate entity through which he funneled the payment in October 2016, which he said came from his home equity line. Days before the 2016 election, the money was wired to a bank account connected to an attorney then representing porn star Stormy Daniels, whose birth name is Stephanie Clifford. Clifford, under a pseudonym, signed a nondisclosure agreement about the affair.

Trump Organization lawyer Jill A. Martin’s name was on a filing in an arbitration battle over Daniels’ efforts to speak publicly about her affair, the Wall Street Journal reported last month. Martin told the Journal at the time that she was involved “in her individual capacity” and that the “company has had no involvement in the matter.”

Read More →

The records sought in the search warrants used to conduct multiple raids on Michael Cohen Monday included documents related to hush money used to silence alleged mistresses of Donald Trump, as well as information on Cohen’s taxi medallion business, according to reports by the New York Times, CNN and others.

Investigators were looking for records related to payments made to porn star Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, both who have claimed to have had affairs with Trump before he was President, the New York Times reported Tuesday. The White House has said Trump has denied the affairs, while Cohen — the President’s longtime personal attorney — has said that Trump was not involved in the $130,000 payment Cohen wired to an attorney representing Daniels just days before the 2016 election.

The FBI agents also were interested in information related to $150,000 that National Enquirer’s parent company, American Media, Inc., paid McDougal, according to the Times. A.M.I.’s chief executive David J. Pecker is a friend of the President’s. The company bought the rights to McDougal’s story, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2016, but never ran her allegations that she had an consensual affair with Trump in 2006. Buying the exclusive rights prevented McDougal from taking her claims elsewhere.

Cohen’s tax medallion business has also attracted the attention of the investigators, sources familiar with the search warrant told CNN. The warrants sought information about Cohen’s associates in his taxi cab business, a source told Wall Street Journal. The warrant’s request for documents related to the medallions comes after Cohen’s companies were accused by New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance of owing the state about $40,000 in unpaid taxes. Cohen told TPM last year that the taxes are collected from drivers by the management company he uses, run by Gene “The Taxi King” Freidman.

One source also told CNN that the warrant sought information about other, smaller investments. The warrant mentioned being related in part to election laws, CNN said.

The searches were conducted by the public corruption unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, the Times reported. The interim U.S. attorney, Geoffrey Berman, is recused from the investigation, ABC News reported. 

Read More →