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

In a blistering court filing Thursday, a company accused of funding Russia’s 2016 election internet troll effort accused “unlawfully appointed” Special Counsel Robert Mueller of engaging in a “hysterical dithyramb” and of equating a “make-believe electioneering case to others involving international terrorism and major drug trafficking.”

“In short, fake law, which is much more dangerous than fake news,” Concord Management’s attorneys said in the court document.

The filing was in response to Mueller’s request to the court that certain restrictions be placed on who had access to evidence prosecutors turned over to defense as part of the proceedings. Mueller, in proposing the order, cited concerns that the sensitive materials might make it into to hands of foreign intel. The materials include information about other actors, not currently charged, who are still engaged in election-meddling efforts, Mueller said.

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Controversial actions taken by then-FBI Director James Comey in the lead-up to the 2016 election were not driven by political bias, the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Thursday. However, Comey still broke with DOJ protocols in decisions the Inspector General described as “extraordinary,” “insubordinate,” “ad hoc,” and “based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.”

The findings were in a long-awaited and much anticipated report where the Department’s independent watchdog was examining the handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe, as well as other actions taken by the Justice Department before the 2016 election.

The report found serious breaches of protocol by Comey, which will bolster the official case the White House made to justify President Trump’s decision to fire him. But it did little to support Trump’s claim that Comey or the FBI was biased against the President.

Thursday’s report said that Comey’s move to hold a press conference, without briefing Justice Department leadership of his plans, in July 2016 announcing the FBI’s findings in its Clinton email probe into Hillary Clinton’s emails was “extraordinary and insubordinate.”

“[W]e found none of his reasons to be a persuasive basis for deviating from well-established Department policies in a way intentionally designed to avoid supervision by Department leadership over his actions,” the DOJ Inspector General said.

Also being examined was Comey’s move to send a letter to Congress, just days before the election, to announce that the email probe was being reopened due to emails found on a computer in the probe of Anthony Weiner, whose wife was a top Clinton aide.

The Inspector General knocked the Justice Department for its delay on moving on the emails, which were discovered in late September, according to the report.

The DOJ said it found no evidence that the email probe — called the “Midyear investigation” — was “deliberately placed on the back-burner by others in the FBI to protect Clinton.” However it pointed to claims that the delay was due to a move to prioritize the Russia probe, where a top agent Peter Strzok had also sent a series of anti-Trump texts to another DOJ official, the IG previously revealed.

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s
decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over following up on the Midyear-related investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.” the IG said.

This delay had “potentially far-reaching consequences,” the report said, with Comey telling IG investigators that it affected his decision to write the letter to Congress.

While the Inspector General found no evidence Comey’s decision to send the letter “was influenced by political preferences,” it again criticized him for engaging in “ad hoc decision making based on his personal views even if it meant rejecting longstanding Department policy or practice.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are ready to pounce on the report, with Democrats having alleged that the FBI was unfair to Clinton and Republicans poised to use the report to bash Comey, a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling.

The IG also looked at various disclosures to the media, and particularly those authorized by then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions earlier this year. A preliminary Inspector General report on McCabe came out a few weeks after his termination.

Read the report below:

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New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood on Thursday filed a sweeping lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation and its board of directors — the president and his three eldest children — for engaging in “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct.”

The lawsuit claims Trump’s foundation “illegally provided extensive support” to his 2016 campaign. It also alleges that the foundation engaged in “willful self-dealing” to serve Trump’s personal and business interests.

Underwood asked a state judge to dissolve the foundation entirely. She also asked that its remaining $1 million in assets be distributed to other charities, that Trump pay at least $2.8 million in restitution, and that Trump be barred from leading any other New York nonprofit for at least 10 years.

The charity’s directors, President Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump were sued in their individual capacity, putting them personally on the hook for the repayment of funds.

Trump’s children were on a board that “existed in name only” and did not meet after 1999, according to the lawsuit, leaving their father without any oversight, and allowing him effectively to do with the foundation what he wished.

“The Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” Underwood said in a statement on the results of her office’s 20-month investigation.

Trump promptly responded on Twitter, insisting that he “won’t settle this case!”

“The sleazy New York Democrats, and their now disgraced (and run out of town) A.G. Eric Schneiderman, are doing everything they can to sue me on a foundation that took in $18,800,000 and gave out to charity more money than it took in, $19,200,000,” the tweet read.

A second tweet from Trump said that Schneiderman “never had the guts to bring this ridiculous case” and that “his disciples brought it when we would not settle.”

Schneiderman initiated the Trump Foundation investigation but resigned earlier this year over reports he physically abused multiple romantic partners. Underwood, a career staffer, took over his position.

A spokesman for the Trump Foundation said Underwood’s lawsuit is “politics at its very worst.”

“The Foundation currently has $1.7 million remaining which the [New York Attorney General] has been holding hostage for political gain,” the spokesman said in a statement. “This is unconscionable — particularly because the Foundation previously announced its intention to dissolve more than a year and a half ago.”

“The prior NYAG, who was recently forced to resign from office in disgrace, made it his stated mission to use this matter to not only advance his own political goals, but also for his own political fundraising,” the spokesman added. “The acting NYAG’s recent statement that battling the White House is ‘the most important work [she] have ever done’ shows that such political attacks will continue unabated.”

The lawsuit lays out new details about coordination between the foundation and Trump’s presidential campaign. The charity raised over $2.8 million in order to influence the campaign, and senior campaign staffers, including Corey Lewandowski illegally assumed control of those charitable funds, according to the suit.

In one significant incident, Trump raised money for the foundation during a January 2016 televised veterans’ fundraiser he held instead of participating in a primary debate. Lewandowski dictated how and when five $100,000 grants would be dispersed to Iowa veterans’ non-profits just days before the Feb. 1, 2016 Iowa caucuses, an alleged violation of state and federal law.

Brad Parscale, the campaign’s digital director, created a website for the fundraiser, while communications director Hope Hicks helped arrange speakers for the event.

As the lawsuit notes, Trump, under penalty of perjury, repeatedly signed IRS 990 forms affirming that the tax-exempt foundation did not carry out political activity. Yet he repeatedly violated these rules, the lawsuit alleges.

In 2013, the foundation donated $25,000 to a political group working to reelect Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The foundation’s annual IRS report listed a donation to a Kansas nonprofit with a similar name, and only admitted to improperly giving money to the Bondi group after the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold reported on the transaction.

Trump’s staff said that accounting errors led to the donation being made from the foundation rather than from his company.

This alleged improper payment, detailed in the suit, is one of many abuses first surfaced during the 2016 presidential election thanks to Fahrenthold’s tenacious reporting.

These include Trump’s use of the charity’s money to settle legal disputes involving his for-profit businesses. In 2007, Trump used $100,000 of the charity’s money to settle a dispute with the town of Palm Beach over code violations at his Mar-a-Lago club. Five years later, the foundation doled out $158,000 to settle a lawsuit with a man angry that he did not receive a $1 million hole-in-one prize during a tournament at another golf club.

The lawsuit also notes that in May 2016, the foundation contributed to The Mission Continues, a veterans charity that had been established by Eric Greitens, who was then running as a Republican for governor of Missouri. The charity played a role in the recent scandals that forced Greitens to resign as governor: Greitens obtained the charity’s donor list and used it to fundraise for his campaign, potentially a serious campaign finance violation.

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The former senior Senate Intelligence committee staffer charged with lying to federal investigators about leaks pleaded not guilty in front of a federal magistrate judge in Washington, D.C. Wednesday.

James Wolfe, who was the director of security for the committee, allegedly lied to FBI agents who asked him in December whether he had been in contact with reporters covering Senate Intel activities and whether he had provided them any committee-related information, according to an indictment unveiled by the Justice Department last week.

One of the reporters referenced in the indictment but not explicitly named was Ali Watkins, who was informed early this year that the Justice Department had seized her phone and email records, causing alarm from freedom of the press advocates.

She and Wolfe were reportedly engaged in a romantic relationship that lasted three years. Wolfe was in contact with other reporters covering the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to the indictment.

The stories alluded to in the indictment were about Senate Intel’s Russia probe, and specifically its investigation into ex-Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Wolfe is being represented by Preston Burton and Benjamin B. Klubes, two DC-based attorneys with the firm Buckley Sandler LLP. Klubes, in brief remarks to the media after the hearing, promised that the attorneys would “vigorously defend” Wolfe against this “unfair, unjustified prosecution.”

The attorneys did not take any questions after the hearing, but handed out a press release from their firm echoing Klubes’ remarks.

“This prosecution raises very substantial First Amendment and freedom of the press issues that will be address in court,” the firm said in the press release.

Both during the hearing and in their remarks to the press, the attorneys stressed that Wolfe was not being charges with leaking classified information.

They indicated that they planned to seek a gag order in the case.

Burton, during the hearing, alleged that public statements made by the Justice Department created “atmospherics” suggesting that Wolfe compromised classified information. He also brought up “political remarks” by President Trump “prejudging” the former Senate staffer.

The order the attorneys said they will propose will prohibit “the government at all levels, including President Trump, from making improper and prejudicial statements regarding this case,” according to the press release.

Wolfe was arrested Thursday, appeared in a federal court in Maryland Friday, and turned himself in to the FBI field office in D.C. for booking on Monday. As a condition of his release, any domestic travel outside Washington, Maryland or Northern Virginia requires the notification of pretrial services. Travel outside the U.S. requires court approval.

Wolfe also is required to alert the government if he seeks a job that deals with classified information.

The next hearing in the case is Tuesday, June 19, in front of U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

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Lawyers representing Michael Cohen in a federal criminal investigation into his financial dealings may soon jump ship, ABC News reported Wednesday.

“A source representing this matter” told ABC that Stephen Ryan and Todd Harrison of McDermott, Will & Emery LLP are expected to end their representation of President Trump’s longtime fixer.

Sources also told ABC that Cohen is likely to cooperate with federal prosecutors. If it happens, Cohen’s cooperation could cause problems for Trump.

Shortly after the ABC News report appeared, the Wall Street Journal, too, reported that Cohen’s lawyers were set to leave the case. But the Journal added that Cohen hasn’t yet decided whether he’ll cooperate.

Cohen, Harrison and Ryan did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment. To date, the lawyers haven’t filed anything in court suggesting they plan to end their representation.

Joanna Hendon, the attorney representing Trump in the privilege matter, also did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

This move would come at a very sensitive time for Cohen, who is being investigated for a host of potential financial crimes. Cohen’s lawyers were given a Friday deadline to finish reviewing hundreds of thousands of documents seized from his premises by federal agents to determine which should be covered by attorney-client privilege.

If they miss the deadline, a government “taint” team uninvolved in the Cohen probe will take over the review, per a ruling by Judge Kimba Wood.

Cohen’s team had gone to court to prevent exactly that outcome from occurring, expressing concern that federal prosecutors would not make appropriate privilege designations. Wood and federal prosecutors have countered that the use of a taint team was standard practice in federal criminal investigations and would be capable of carrying out the task.

No replacement counsel for Cohen has yet been identified.

Ryan has been representing Cohen in the federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s election interference since last June, as well as the hush money case involving adult film star Stormy Daniels.

A person familiar with the legal discussions told the New York Times that Ryan’s break with Cohen was primarily related to the payment of his legal bills. The Trump campaign has paid out some $228,000 to McDermott, Will & Emery to cover Cohen’s legal fees, though it’s unclear exactly what legal work those payments funded.

Federal campaign finance law would likely bar the Trump campaign from funding Cohen’s legal defense in a personal matter like the probe into his financial dealings.

This post has been updated.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team expressed concern Tuesday that sensitive information and investigative techniques used in its prosecution of Russian meddling in the 2016 election could wind up in the hands of Russian intelligence.

To head off that possibility, Mueller’s team has asked the judge in the case against a company accused of funding Russia’s social media election meddling to restrict access to discovery turned over to the company’s lawyers.

“Public or unauthorized disclosure of this case’s discovery would result in the release of information that would assist foreign intelligence services, particularly those of the Russian Federation, and other foreign actors in future operations against the United States,” Mueller said.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller must identify for Paul Manafort the individuals, including “former senior foreign politicians,” prosecutors have accused Manafort of working with in his alleged unregistered lobbying campaign for Ukraine, a judge ordered Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson was responding to a request by Manafort that Mueller provide additional details about the charges he is bringing against the former Trump campaign chairman. She denied the other details Manafort was asking for, requests she largely said were moot because prosecutors had disclosed the requested information in previous court proceedings and in discovery.

Tuesday’s order was a very minor victory for Manafort in what have been a series of legal setbacks for him in the lead-up to his trial in Washington, D.C., currently slated for mid-September.

The charges he’s facing in the case include false statements, money laundering and failure to disclose foreign lobbying. In a seperate case in Virginia, Mueller has also brought charges that include tax fraud and bank fraud. That trial is currently scheduled to begin towards the end of July.

Manafort pleaded not guilty in both cases.

Jackson ordered Mueller to disclose the identities of the individuals to Manafort by Friday, which is also when she will hold a heading on the prosecutors’ request that Manafort’s bail be revoked, as well as an arraignment on the latest set of charges brought against him. Both the new charges and the bail revocation request relate to allegations that Manafort engaged in witness tampering with two former associates who coordinated the lobbying effort with the ex-foreign politicians.

Read Tuesday’s order below:

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The Texas woman who was sentenced to five years in prison for an unintentionally illegal vote while on supervised release for a federal felony conviction has been denied a motion for a new trial by the same judge who initially slapped her with the harsh sentence.

According to a 16-page ruling Monday, Judge Ruben Gonzalez sided with the prosecutor’s claims against Crystal Mason — a jumbled set of arguments claiming the defendant missed deadlines and that the initial motion for a new trial did not provide sufficient evidence to prove bias. Mason has maintained that her illegal vote in the 2016 presidential election was an accident; she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to vote while on supervised release.

Mason’s attorney, Alison Grinter, plans to file an appeal, calling the case against Mason just another attempt to perpetuate a narrative of widespread voter fraud in the U.S.   

“We’re going to throw absolutely everything at it, and I think this is a real injustice,” she told TPM Tuesday. “It’s really classic voter intimidation. … If you prosecute every Crystal Mason out there, you might be able to drum up a case for voter fraud.”

In the motion for a new trial, Mason and Grinter argued that Mason did not actually vote in 2016 because her provisional ballot was rejected and at the time Mason believed she was eligible because she was on supervised release and not parole. Mason was convicted of tax fraud in 2011 and served 57 of her 60 months in prison. She had been out of prison for more than a year at the time of the incident.

Judge Gonzalez also rejected Mason’s claims that evidence of bias against her was not explored at trial. The witness who made the initial report about Mason’s vote, a man named Karl Diedrich, who was serving as the election judge at her precinct, is Mason’s neighbor. As the election judge, Diedrich testified that he gave Mason her provisional ballot, swore her to it and signed off on her ID.

But Gonzalez argued there was not evidence to support her claims of bias, citing court testimony, in which Dietrich claimed he did not know that Mason had been convicted of a felony. In testimony, Dietrich said he asked Mason to read the entire affidavit for a provisional ballot — which asks voters to answer questions about whether they have been convicted of a felony — and she “responded affirmatively when he held up his right hand and asked if she affirmed that all the information provided was accurate.”

“There was no evidence presented at the hearing on the defendant’s timely-filed motion for new trial that Mr. Dietrich ever harbored any type of ‘bias’ toward the defendant, much less ‘bias’ that contributed to the defendant voting illegally,” Gonzalez wrote in the ruling.

The judge also rejected arguments made in an amended motion for a new trial and an amicus letter brief from the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Texas Civil Rights Project because both were filed past the deadline. Grinter told TPM that she had very little time to file the new trial motion after she picked up Mason’s case. Gonzalez told her to file an amended motion, but the state wouldn’t approve it.

In the amicus letter filed in late May, the ACLU and Texas Civil Rights Project attempted to argue that slamming Mason with a five-year sentence would “chill participation in elections.”

The State’s prosecution sends a message that, rather than freely engaging in the fundamental democratic process of voting, citizens may vote only if they are certain that they have interpreted the complex Election Code correctly to determine their eligibility. Any mistake — no matter how innocent — will be penalized with the full force of the criminal law,” the groups wrote. “Such a message, if not rejected by this Court, will inevitably chill participation in elections and undermine the strength of our democracy.”

The ACLU and the state civil rights group also argued that an “apparent mistake” about eligibility was not sufficient evidence to determine “requisite criminal intent.”

While the civil rights groups’ arguments weren’t considered in court Monday, the groups also argued that the state law that led to Mason’s conviction has been overturned by 2002 federal statute that allows a person who believes they have a right to vote the opportunity to submit a provisional ballot in a federal election, placing the burden of proof on the state.

The Tarrant County prosecutor arguing the case against Mason reportedly did not assert that the civil rights groups’ arguments were incorrect, but said they shouldn’t be considered because of the missed deadline, according to the Star Telegram, which covers Fort Worth, Texas and the surrounding area.

Since the initial ruling, a petition arguing racial injustice and advocating that all charges against Mason, who is an African American, be dropped has garnered 38,000 signatures. Grinter said she is planning to appeal the ruling and should find out her deadlines for filing an appeal before the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth within the next few days.

Read the ruling below:


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Despite a resounding court defeat last week, a Michigan business group is asking the state’s top court to block a sweeping gerrymandering reform initiative from getting on the November ballot.

And thanks in part to the business group’s largesse in judicial races, there’s reason to think it could yet succeed in killing the reform measure.

Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), which is backed by the state Chamber of Commerce, on Monday filed a request with the state Supreme Court for immediate consideration of its complaint.

The move comes days after the state’s Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 that the initiative meets the legal requirements to get on the ballot, and that the CPMC complaint was “without merit.”

The reform measure would take map-drawing responsibilities for congressional and state legislative districts away from the state legislature, which for twenty years has been controlled by Republicans. That has consistently allowed the GOP, which opposes the reform initiative, to win many more seats than its vote share deserves. For instance, in 2012, the GOP won just 45.6 percent of the vote in congressional races, but came away with 9 out of 14 seats.

Maps would instead be drawn by a citizens’ commission composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents randomly selected by the secretary of state. They would have to follow “accepted measures of partisan fairness” and avoid granting any one political party “disproportionate advantage.”

The measure’s fate now rests in the hands of the Supreme Court, which has a five to two Republican majority. As Bridge Magazine reported in a detailed investigation, two of the Republican judges up for election this year have received $15,000 each from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce — the same group that has pumped $185,000 into challenging the redistricting measure. The judges, Kurtis Wilder and Elizabeth Clement, also held a joint fundraiser at the Chamber’s headquarters in April. Neither judge has given any indication that they’ll recuse themselves from the redistricting reform case.

The grassroots group behind the reform initiative, Voters Not Politicians, says the new appeal is an attempt to block the will of hundreds of thousands of voters.

“Our legal team will be vigorously opposing the latest effort by pro-gerrymandering groups to prevent the Voters Not Politicians proposal from appearing on the November ballot,” Voters Not Politicians executive director Katie Fahey said in a statement. “More than 400,000 registered voters signed petitions supporting a constitutional amendment to establish a fair, independent and transparent citizens redistricting commission to draw district boundaries without political or partisan bias. They deserve to have their voices heard.”

This post has been updated.

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Voting rights advocates may have lost a major battle Monday with a 5-4 Supreme Court decision upholding Ohio’s aggressive voter purge policies, but they’re not willing to concede the war.

On a phone call with reporters after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, lawyers for the plaintiffs in the case hinted at what could be another legal strategy for blocking Ohio-style purges, which begin the process of removing voters from the rolls merely because they have not voted.

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