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A document filed Wednesday, apparently by accident, by lawyers defending former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort appears to show that the source for an Associated Press story detailing payments to Manafort’s firm by a pro-Russia Ukrainian political party was also a confidential source for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

The document may be part of an intended effort by Manafort’s defense to claim that investigators improperly collaborated with the media, a popular (and regularly debunked) right-wing talking point. But it appears to show only that prosecutors and the AP relied on the same source — something that’s not that surprising. 

“The suggestion that AP would voluntarily serve as the source of information for a government agency is categorically untrue,” Lauren Easton, the director of media relations for the AP, told TPM.

The document mentions two memos from Manafort to Rinat Akhmetov. Akhmetov is among Ukraine’s wealthiest men and a key ally of Vladimir Putin. It says the Manafort memos were “received by Maloni from AP.” That suggests that the Associated Press showed the memos to Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni for comment.

The document then says: “In the Winter of 2017 (sic 2016) employee of DMI –CS-1 permitted the reporter to view material on a hard drive copy of DMI’s electronic files.”

That suggests that AP’s source at Davis Manafort, referred to in the document as “DMI,” was also a confidential source (“CS1”) for Mueller’s investigation.

The document refers to an April 2017 AP story that suggested, based on Davis Manafort records, that the firm had received at least $1.2 million payments from the pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, the Party of Regions.

In October, Mueller charged Manafort with conspiracy against the U.S., conspiracy to launder money, acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, and false and misleading FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act) statements. The FARA violations are unusual — prosecutions under that law are vanishingly rare.

Manafort’s team has in the past complained of overreach by Meuller’s office, the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ). In a lawsuit filed earlier this month against Mueller, Manafort’s lawyers called the charges against the lobbyist “completely unmoored from the Special Counsel’s original jurisdiction.”

Maloni declined to comment to TPM.

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A comment made by President Trump during a surprise gaggle with reporters Wednesday afternoon revealed how he views the allegations that he obstructed the investigation into Russian election meddling.

Asked if he thought Special Counsel Robert Mueller would be fair to him, Trump said “I hope so,” but only after he the compared obstruction of justice allegations to him fighting back.

“Because here’s what we’ll say, and everybody says: No collusion. There’s no collusion,” Trump said. “Now they’re saying, “Oh, well, ‘Did he fight back? Did he fight back?’ You fight back, ‘Oh, it’s obstruction.’ So, here’s the thing: I hope so.”

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A Wednesday letter signed by a Trump appointee in the Department of Justice blasted House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) for not allowing the DOJ to review an anti-FBI memo as House Republicans push for the document’s public release.

The letter, from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, revealed that the House Intel Committee had turned down FBI Director Christopher Wray’s “personal appeal” to review the memo. It also suggested that Nunes himself has not read the underlying intelligence that it is said to form the basis of the four-page memo.

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As House Intel Committee Republicans’ so-called #ReleaseTheMemo push becomes a full-on GOP obsession on Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) signaled in a floor speech Wednesday that Senate Republicans have a Russia probe conspiracy memo of their own they’d like to release— this one centered on allegations that Christopher Steele, the British ex-spy behind the Trump-Russia dossier, misled federal authorities.

“Stale, recycled media spin from journalists and pundits who do not have all the facts is not enough. The country is filled with frenzy and speculation, but hungry for facts,” Grassley said, according to prepared remarks released by his office.

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A new lawyer has joined the legal team of former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, who is facing criminal charges in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, CNN reported Tuesday.

The lawyer, Tom Green, is not listed on the case’s court record yet and has not appeared on any filings. CNN’s report is based on an unnamed source familiar with the matter.

The CNN report goes on to note what it suggests could be signs of negotations between Gates and Mueller.

One of those is that Green was spotted at Mueller’s office twice last week, according the report.

Another, it suggests, is the delay in filing a superseding indictment— a new indictment against an existing defendant, usually with additional counts or parties or both, that replaces the original indictment — in the case.

There’s long been the expectation that a superseding indictment may be filed against Gates, or against his longtime business partner, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is joining Gates in the charges. And CNN reports that, according to a source close to the investigation, superseding indictments against both men have been prepared. But no additional charges have yet been filed.

“When there is a delay in filing charges after they’ve been prepared, it can indicate that negotiations of some nature are ongoing,” CNN notes.

The report also notes that Green has experience cutting plea deals — citing specifically a plea deal he cut for Dennis Hastert — though, according to CNN, Green is also known to take cases to trial.

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Amid last week’s controversy over the Trump administration’s misleading report on terrorism and immigration, some Department of Justice (DOJ) veterans were deeply troubled by something else: A Justice Department lawyer was once again briefing reporters from behind the podium in the White House press briefing room. 

The appearance by Ed O’Callaghan, a principal deputy assistant attorney general for national security, and a former member of the Trump transition team, was at least the third time under the Trump administration that a relatively obscure DOJ political appointee has briefed reporters from the White House podium on an issue touching on illegal immigration, perhaps the hottest-button political topic of our time.

During the Obama and George W. Bush administrations, no Justice Department official aside from the attorney general briefed reporters from the White House podium, according to a search of a database of White House press briefings maintained by the University of California, Santa Barbara. The three times an attorney general did appear before press from the White House were on 9/11/2001 and twice more in the six weeks following.

Former Justice Department officials say those appearances at the White House are so rare because past administrations have rightly been wary of being seen to put Justice Department staff — as opposed to the attorney general him or herself, who is more clearly associated with the administration — in the service of the president’s political agenda.

“I don’t recall that ever happening [under Obama],” said Vanita Gupta, who served as assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ under President Obama, and is now the CEO of the Leadership Conference on Human and Civil Rights. “Nobody is above the law in this country, and if the Justice Department appears to be operating on behalf of the president, those are benchmarks of authoritarian regimes.”

Some say having DOJ lawyers essentially speaking for the White House can damage both institutions.

“When you have a DOJ official coming to the White House podium — not the AG, the [Deputy Attorney General] or the [Associate Attorney General] — it gives the appearance of the White House directing their activities even if they’re not directing their activities,” Rudy Mehrbani, the director of the Obama White House’s Presidential Personnel Office — now at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice — told TPM.

Trump is already facing accusations that he has inappropriately politicized the DOJ: After public pressure from the president, the department has reportedly reopened two inquiries into Hillary Clinton’s behavior, both closed in 2016. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly pressured FBI director Christopher Wray to fire deputy director Andrew McCabe.

In June, John Huber, the U. S. Attorney for Utah, spoke from the White House podium about the dangers of so-called “sanctuary cities,” and in favor of a bill mandating harsh penalties for undocumented immigrants. “This pending legislation — ‘Kate’s Law’ and the ‘No Sanctuary for Criminals Act’ — advance the ball for law enforcement in keeping our communities safe,” Huber said. Huber was appointed to his job by President Obama in 2015, but resigned in March; Trump immediately reappointed him. 

The following month, Rob Hur, at the time a Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General, joined Thomas Homan, acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, to brief reporters on the administration’s anti-gang efforts, focusing heavily on on MS-13, which has origins in Los Angeles, though many of its members are Salvadoran. The presentation featured a picture of the face of an immigrant accused of a crime, Politico pointed out.

Hur has since been appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland.

Then came last week’s appearance by O’Callaghan, which aimed to promote a deeply flawed DOJ-DHS report prevalence of foreign-born people among those convicted in the U.S. of international terrorism. Trump appointed O’Callaghan to the National Security Division in November.

A Justice Department spokesman pointed TPM to two examples, both from 1998, of DOJ officials of similar rank appearing before press at the White House under President Bill Clinton. And TPM found other examples from the database from the Clinton years.

But none of those involved topics that were anything like as politically charged as immigration is today, or similarly appeared to be putting DOJ personnel in the service of the administration’s contested political agenda. Of the two cases flagged by the DOJ spokesman, one involved John Bentivoglio, a special counsel for health care fraud, speaking about the administration’s efforts on that issue. In the other, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard joined several administration officials in discussing international crime-control efforts.

William Yeomans, a lecturer at Columbia University and a 24-year career veteran of the DOJ, primarily in the Civil Rights division, says that political appointees are supposed to be doing exactly the opposite of bear-hugging the administration.

“One of the traditions in the Department of Justice is to protect career people and line people, the people who do the actual work and engage in litigation, because we don’t want them to be looking over their shoulders thinking, ‘If I indict this person or file this lawsuit, am I going to be called up to testify before Congress?'” Yeomans explained. “The political appointees have traditionally been the buffer between political people and career people.”

Another former DOJ official, who asked not to be named, said the practice of using DOJ officials to brief the press suggests the administration has no problem using government lawyers to advance its agenda. 

“I think we’re past the point of the administration not knowing where the boundaries are,” said one, who asked not to be named. “By this point it seems like the administration knows where they are and it doesn’t care.”

This post has been updated.

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Over five days have passed since a report revealed that the FBI is investigating whether a Russian banker funneled money to the NRA to boost Donald Trump’s campaign. And the gun group still isn’t talking.

The NRA did not respond to McClatchy’s requests for comments for its story on the FBI probe, published Thursday morning. And although McClatchy’s report reverberated widely in the media, the group still has offered no response, including to multiple inquiries from TPM.

The FBI is said to be looking into whether Alexander Torshin, a Russian central bank official, Putin ally, and longtime NRA member, directed money to the gun group. The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), a 501(c)(4) group that doesn’t have to disclose its donors, spent an estimated $35 million in 2016—more than any other dark money group.

A communications staffer for the NRA-ILA told TPM Monday that NRA Managing Director of Public Affairs Andrew Arulanandam was handling questions on the issue.

Arulanandam hasn’t responded to multiple phone and email messages asking whether the NRA has been contacted by the FBI, and whether the group accepted any donations from Torshin during the 2016 campaign. Asked Tuesday if anyone else at the NRA could field questions on the topic, Jennifer Baker, the NRA-ILA’s director of public affairs, again directed TPM to Arulanandam.

The NRA’s social media feeds have also made no specific reference to the reported investigation. A post published Friday on the NRA-ILA’s Facebook page about President Trump’s judicial nominations began: “While the media focuses on fake news President Donald J. Trump is advancing his agenda.”

The NRA hasn’t been shy in the past about challenging reporting it doesn’t like. In July 2017, a video on NRATV dismissed the Washington Post as “a fake news outlet” for publishing a story laying out ties between Torshin, the NRA and other conservative groups. NRATV host Grant Stinchfield accused the newspaper of making “the blatantly false claim that the NRA had illegal ties to Russia.” (In fact, the story didn’t make any claims about illegal activity.)

TPM laid out the web of ties between the NRA and Putin allies Friday.

It’s possible that the NRA doesn’t yet know if some of the estimated $70 million it spent during the 2016 campaign had its origins in Russia. As TPM reported, a string of Supreme Court rulings including the 2010 Citizen United decision have weakened campaign finance laws and encouraged the use of dark money groups, which allow advocacy organizations to spend big on politics without having to disclose the source of their funds.

Though foreigners are still barred from contributing to U.S. elections, the opacity of these money pools makes it much harder to determine if a foreigner made a donation through an LLC or other corporate entity.

Campaign finance experts told TPM that to have engaged in criminal wrongdoing, the NRA would need to know that some of its 2016 donations originated in Russia and that they were expressly intended to be used to boost Trump’s candidacy.

“If the NRA got Russian money that it then used to influence our election, that’s a blatant violation of the prohibition on foreign nationals making contributions or expenditures on elections,” Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center said. “And the NRA would violate the law by assisting a foreign national [in doing so].”

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A widely pilloried Trump administration report about immigrants and terrorism was compiled without any input from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) until the final sign-off, the Daily Beast revealed.

The report, released last week, was presented as a joint project of DHS and the Department of Justice. It found that 73 percent of international terrorism convictions since 9/11 involved “foreign-born” suspects. But that included foreign nationals extradited to the US after committing crimes abroad — an approach that was widely criticized as misleading.

According to the Beast, citing a government source familiar with the episode, DHS analysts didn’t contribute to the report at all. In fact, “[A]ttorney General Jeff Sessions’s office took charge of the report’s assemblage of statistics — which some terrorism analysts consider highly misleading—and sent it to DHS Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen for her imprimatur after it was all but finalized.”

The report was the subject of broad derision in the media, including during an uncomfortable press conference in which a Department of Justice lawyer, Ed O’Callaghan, spoke to skeptical reporters from the White House, a Trump administration tactic that has drawn criticism in the past. O’Callaghan said the document was “the first iteration of this report in response to the executive order’s directives.”

Former FBI counterterrorism officer Michael German told TPM on Tuesday that the report, which was conducted based on a presidential order issued in September, was “a political document.”

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The FBI is reportedly probing whether a Russian banker with ties to the Kremlin illegally funneled money to the National Rifle Association (NRA) to help Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

But if the gun lobby did take Russian money, it likely couldn’t have done it without a determined campaign by Republicans, with a major assist from the Supreme Court, to weaken laws governing money in politics. To fully understand the news about the FBI’s probe, we need to first understand how the effort to gut campaign finance laws has left the U.S. deeply vulnerable to foreign money infiltrating our elections.

“Citizens United opened up the floodgates to any kind of corporate money,” Craig Holman, a campaign finance expert at good government group Public Citizen, told TPM. “It’s easy to launder foreign money through corporate entities or LLCs, and it goes entirely unreported as coming from foreign sources.”

McClatchy reported that Maria Butina teamed up with Paul Erickson, a Republican operative and NRA member, to set up an LLC, named Bridges, in February 2016. Butina is a top aide to the Russian banker, Alexander Torshin, who is a long-time ally of the NRA. Erickson told McClatchy last year that the company was created in case Butina needed financial help for her graduate studies in the U.S. McClatchy described that as “an unusual way to use an LLC.”

TPM has laid out the web of ties between Torshin, Butina, and top NRA figures.

Foreigners are barred from contributing to U.S. political campaigns. But the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts on political activities, fueled a spike in the number of 501(c)(4) “social welfare” non-profits, which are permitted to spend big on political campaigns without disclosing the source of their funds. That makes it hard for government watchdogs or federal agencies to know with certainty if foreign money is being funneled to these so-called “dark money” groups

Campaign finance advocates and prominent Democrats warned about the danger back in 2010.

During his first State of the Union address that year,  Obama cautioned that the Citizens United ruling, which had come days earlier, “will open a floodgate for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limits in our elections.”

In response, Justice Samuel Alito, seated in the audience, mouthed “not true.” His disagreement was echoed by Capitol Hill Republicans and conservative organizations, who argued that the existing legal prohibition on foreign corporations spending money on U.S. campaigns would be sufficient (though no one disputed that they could now do so through their American subsidiaries).

Even Politifact called Obama’s claim “mostly false.” 

But Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center told TPM that the law is now easy to get around. 501(c)(4)s are required to file reports including the donor’s name if money comes in that is expressly earmarked for an ad boosting a particular candidate. But as long as the non-profit doesn’t divulge the specific content of an ad to the donor, no disclosure is necessary.

Anonymity, of course, would be appealing to those like Torshin, the Russian banker whose activities are reportedly under investigation by the FBI.

Neither the NRA nor Butina, the Torshin aide, responded to TPM’s request for comment.

Noble said any case against Torshin or the NRA would be complex. The FBI will have to look through “bank records, the money coming in, where it went,” Noble said. “And try to trace it through to what it was spent on. Beyond that, you want to know who was involved with it, what they discussed with foreign nationals, who approached who, what were their understandings.”

No dark-money group spent more on the 2016 election than the NRA’s dark-money arm. In all, the NRA spent a $55 million on the campaign, including $30 million to support Trump. And because non-profits don’t need to reveal how much they spend on Internet ads or get-out-the-vote efforts, a more realistic estimate of the NRA’s total spending could creep as high as $70 million, according to McClatchy.

The $30 million spent in support of Trump is twice what the group spent to back Mitt Romney in 2012, despite its well-publicized loathing for President Barack Obama.

If Russians did use the NRA as a conduit to financially support Trump, a whole new set of questions opens up.

“This NRA spending, if it turns out to be true, is it unique?” asked Ciara Torres-Spelliscy, a campaign finance expert at Stetson University. “Did they try to push it through other opaque non-profits?”

After all the months searching for incontrovertible evidence of pro-Trump Russian intervention in the 2016 election, the answers to those questions, Torres-Spelliscy said, could be “the holy grail.”

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