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As they near completion of one aspect of their Russia probe, lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee outlined for reporters where federal officials fell short in responding to Russian cyberthreats in 2016.

“We were all disappointed that states, the federal government and Department of Homeland was not more on their game in advance of the 2016 elections,” Intel Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said.

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A St. Louis prosecutor has subpoenaed a former veterans’ charity founded by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

The subpoena suggests that the probe into Greitens — who was indicted last month in connection with allegations that he blackmailed a woman with whom he as having an affair — may be widening.

The Kansas City Star reported Monday that St. Louis Circuit Court Attorney Kim Gardner has issued subpoenas to The Mission Continues, indicating she is looking into long-swirling questions about the links between the charity and the fundraising operation of Greitens’ 2016 campaign.

A grand jury empaneled by Gardner, a Democrat, indicted the Republican governor for taking a partially nude, non-consensual photo of the woman with whom he was having an affair in 2015.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied the blackmail claim and insisted he “committed no crime.” The governor’s legal defense team is currently fighting to have his invasion of privacy trial moved up from mid-May to early April, insisting he deserves to have the case heard quickly.

The team did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the subpoena requests.

Two other entities have also issued subpoenas to The Mission Continues, according to the Star. Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who said early this month he has an open investigation into the charity, issued them last week. The Missouri state House panel convened after Greitens was indicted is also seeking information from the charity.

The Associated Press has documented the striking overlap between people who donated to The Mission Continues, which Greitens left in 2014, and those who subsequently donated to his 2016 campaign. If Greitens’ campaign used The Mission Continues’ donor list, it could have violated campaign finance laws.

Through his Nov. 2016 election, Greitens denied using the list. But last spring, after Missouri Democrats filed a complaint with the state ethics commission, he agreed to a settlement that required his campaign to retroactively disclose that it received the donor list and to pay a $100 fine.

The charity has denied giving the list to the campaign. Mission Continues spokeswoman Laura L’Esperance told the Star on Monday that the charity was cooperating with all documents requests.

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The Senate Intelligence Committee, as part of its ongoing Russia probe, on Tuesday previewed their initial recommendations to improve election cybersecurity ahead of the 2018 midterms.

“It is clear that the Russian government was looking for the vulnerabilities in our election systems,” Senate Intel Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) said at the press conference to announce the release of a summary of the draft recommendations. On Wednesday, the committee will host a hearing with elections officials and the leaders of the Department of Homeland Security on election security.

The committee’s summary calls for the federal government to “clearly communicate to adversaries that an attack on our election infrastructure is a hostile act, and we will respond accordingly.”

In calling for states to update their election technology, the summary recommends that states going forward purchase voting machines that at “a minimum” have a  “voter-verified paper trail and no WiFi capability.”

At the press conference, Intel senators stressed the need for states to use election equipment whose results can be audited with physical voting records.

“Fourteen states used voting equipment that had not audit-able voting trail,” Intel Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) said, adding that his own state didn’t have a full system that had a paper trail and that it scrambled to implemented one in time for the 2017 elections.

The committee recommended that Congress pass legislation that boosts resources available to states for their election security. At the press conference, lawmakers stressed that states are still in charge of their elections, including the funding of them. However, they said they are considering legislation that would allow the feds to better assist states.

Some of that legislation has already been introduced. Other potential measures will fall under the jurisdiction of other committees, such as the Appropriations Committee or the Rules Committee, the lawmakers said.

The recommendations come as the other committees probing Russia have descended into partisan squabbling. Republicans on the House Intel Committee have wrapped up their inquiry, over Democrats’ objections, and are finishing their report. Senate Judiciary Republicans meanwhile have focused their scrutiny on Christopher Steele, the ex-British spy who sought to expose allegations of connections between Russia and associates of President Trump.

Senate Intel has so far avoided any major public displays of dysfunction. There are still critical and more controversial questions lingering over their inquiry — and specifically those concerning Trump. But Senate Intel lawmakers have signaled they are seeking to move forward on at least the election security aspects of the their review ahead of the midterms.

“The Committee has reviewed the steps state and local election officials take to ensure the integrity of our elections and agrees that U.S. election infrastructure is fundamentally resilient,” Tuesday’s summary said.

Read the summary below:

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Senate Republicans don’t think it would be a good idea for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But few were willing on Monday to elaborate on what steps need to be taken to protect the special counsel, even after the President and his personal lawyer lashed out at Mueller by name over the weekend.

“I have zero concern that the President is going to fire Mueller. Zero,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told reporters on Capitol Hill Monday, despite having introduced legislation that would prevent Trump from doing so.

Graham —  who on Sunday said that firing Mueller would be “the beginning of the end” of Trump’s presidency – told reporters on Monday that he introduced the bill protecting the special counsel “to let people know where I stand.”

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President Trump’s campaign committee is fundraising off a controversial request from his Justice Department that the 2020 Census include a question about citizenship.

An email from the campaign committee poses a survey to recipients with the subject line “a truly simple question for you.”

“The President wants the 2020 United States Census to ask people whether or not they are citizens,” the email said. “In another era, this would be COMMON SENSE… but 19 attorneys general said they will fight the President if he dares to ask people if they are citizens. The President wants to know if you’re on his side.”

The email then includes a survey on the question that leads to page seeking contributions to the campaign.

Former Census officials, policy wonks and civil rights advocates have all come out against the idea of asking about citizenship status in the decennial census. They fear that it will depress participation — especially among minority and immigrant communities. Internal Census research has shown that the question prompts fears about confidentiality and privacy among survey takers. Even citizens who live with non-citizens might be fearful about participating if the question is included, particularly given the anti-immigrant rhetoric coming out of the Trump administration, critics of the idea say.

An undercounting of urban and minority communities stands to shift political power and resources to rural and white communities.

Critics also say adding the question this late in Census planning period adds another practical complication for a Census already facing a number of logistical hurdles.

ProPublica reported recently that John Gore, a political appointee at the Justice Department who previously represented Republicans in high-profile voting rights lawsuits, was behind the request that Census Bureau consider adding the question. An aide to a former Republican senator who championed a bill to include the citizenship question has recently joined the Census as a political appointee, ProPublica also reported.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who will have the final say over whether the question is included, is required to submit to Congress the questions Census intends to ask by the end of the month.

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News broke late last week that the Federal Election Commission had opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Russians illegally channeled money to the National Rifle Association to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

But the FEC’s move, which came after a complaint from a Democratic group, amounts to little more than a standard response, experts say. It will likely be months before the matter moves up through the appropriate channels and the controversy-averse panel of commissioners votes on whether to launch a formal investigation. And they’re highly unlikely to vote to do so.

“Until the commission actually acts and votes — and they need four votes to open an actual investigation — it’s not really an investigation,” former FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel told TPM in a Monday phone call. “It’s just a sort of looking at the publicly available facts.”

According to Ravel, a Democrat appointed by President Barack Obama, that preliminary look could include examining existing campaign finance records already filed by the NRA, but won’t involve requesting new documents from the group.*

“There is no evidence gathering from the NRA, as a preliminary matter,” she said. “This would be highly unusual.”

And Ravel said it’s an extreme long-shot that the panel, which currently includes two appointees from each party, would vote to open a full-blown investigation.

“It would take everybody to agree to do it, which is highly unlikely,” said Ravel, who has publicly criticized the FEC’s Republican members for what she views as their unwillingness to enforce campaign finance laws.

Brad Woodhouse, the treasurer of ADLF and a long-time Democratic operative, provided to TPM the FEC’s response letter. The letter confirms receipt of the complaint, and lays out the process to determine whether the agency will open a formal probe.

“To the extent that Federal Election Commission is looking into this, we’re obviously pleased,” Woodhouse told TPM in a Monday phone call. “All of these financial transactions and relationships between the Trump campaign and Russia are presumably part of Mueller’s investigation, but this very specific allegation that we outlined in our complaint, that the NRA accepted illegal foreign money to do election activities in support of President Trump, is quite firmly an issue for the Federal Election Commission to investigate.”

“We hope that what we received from them, while probably standard, means they are taking this seriously and planning to investigate,” Woodhouse added.

It’s possible that Politico, which reported that the FEC was looking into the matter, has information suggesting that the agency is taking a more serious look than is typical into the issue.

The FEC cannot by law confirm or deny the existence of pending investigations.

“As you probably know, the Commissioners have to vote at many junctures when considering an enforcement matter, including a vote to authorize an investigation,” an agency spokesperson told TPM in a statement. “That vote would take place only after the Office of General Counsel produces a report on the allegations — after respondents have been given an opportunity to respond to those allegations — and recommendations on how to handle the matter.”

In fact, that explanation downplays the complexity of the process. Most FEC investigations start with a complaint, which is referred to a body in the general counsel’s office — known as the Complaints Examination & Legal Administration (CELA) office — for processing. Complainants receive notification that their documents have been filed — that’s the letter Woodhouse received — while respondents receive a heads up and are given a 15-day period in which they can provide evidence challenging the complaint’s validity. If it moves forward, CELA decides where the complaint should be prioritized among the long list of matters already awaiting FEC consideration.

The general counsel’s office then spends considerable time gathering facts and putting together a report laying out a recommendation for whether or not there is “reason to believe” the respondent has violated or is about to violate election law. Finally, the commission votes on whether to initiate a full investigation.

The chronically short-staffed agency is currently down two commissioners. Republican Lee Goodman resigned abruptly in February, leaving only two Republicans and two Democrats on what is typically a six-person panel. At least four commissioners need to vote together in order for any probe to get underway.

The FEC is notoriously hamstrung by partisan bias and averse to involving itself in high-profile, partisan legal matters. The ADLF’s complaint touches on red-hot issues including the federal Russia probe, the funding sources of the country’s largest gun lobby, the 2016 presidential campaign, and dark money ads.

Still, the agency is only one potential avenue for probing whether the NRA received Russian money and used it for political ends. McClatchy has reported that the FBI is investigating the issue. And Democrats in the Senate and House have asked questions of the gun group.

The FEC’s letter to the ADLF is below.

*This sentence has been edited to clarify the FEC’s process.

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The attorney leading the White House’s response to the Russia investigation said on Sunday something that he’s told reporters numerous times before: that President Trump was not about to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

But White House attorney Ty Cobb’s assurances seem more divorced from his client’s public posture than ever.

Over the weekend Trump escalated his war with Mueller and the Justice Department at large. He raged at Mueller over Twitter — calling him out by name on Twitter for the first time. Trump’s personal attorney, John Dowd, for the first time called for Mueller’s firing — a comment he initially said was being made on behalf of the president, before walking it back by calling it a personal statement of his own.

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President Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, on Saturday said it was time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to end the special counsel’s Russia investigation for good.

In a statement, Dowd said Rosenstein should follow the “courageous” example set by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Friday firing of former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd told TPM in an email.

The Daily Beast was the first to report Dowd’s comments. Dowd initially told the Beast that he was speaking on behalf of the president, but subsequently told TPM he was speaking for himself.

Trump’s legal team has until now urged Robert Mueller’s team to conclude their investigation into Russia’s election interference as quickly as possible, but not asked that Mueller be fired.

This response comes in the wake of Sessions’ firing of McCabe for a “lack of candor” in his responses to an internal Justice Department investigation into how the FBI handled probes relating to the 2016 election.

Trump cheered McCabe’s dismissal on Twitter, calling it a “great day for democracy.”

Earlier this week, Rosenstein said Mueller was not an “unguided missile” and that he had not seen any “justification” for ending the special counsel investigation.

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Editor’s Note: A TPM report published March 19 calls into question the significance of the FEC action described here. The agency appears to have done little more than provide a standard response to a complaint. A full investigation is a long way off and appears to be unlikely to happen at all, TPM reports. 


The Federal Elections Commission has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Russian individuals or entities funneled money to the National Rifle Association to boost Donald Trump’s campaign, Politico reported Friday.

The probe stems in part from a complaint filed by the American Democracy Legal Fund, a progressive advocacy group. The group’s treasurer, Brad Woodhouse, confirmed to Politico that he’d received notification from the FEC that an investigation was underway.

An NRA spokesman declined Politico’s request for comment, while the FEC said it could not confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations.

Per the report, if investigators find troubling information while digging through the NRA’s campaign finance records, the FEC could launch a full probe, impose fines, or even refer criminal matters to the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

McClatchy has previously reported that the FBI is investigating whether Russian banker and “life member” of the NRA, Aleksandr Torshin, illegally channeled money to the NRA to help Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The NRA responded to that story by saying the FBI was looking into Torshin, not the NRA.

The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, collectively spent a whopping $30 million on Trump’s campaign.

Democratic congressmen, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA), have initiated their own fact-finding inquiries into the NRA-Russia ties.

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