TPM News

Michael Bromwich, an attorney representing ex-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe (pictured above), said Sunday that President Donald Trump’s tweets on the matter had proven the firing process to be “illegitimate.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Friday night, when McCabe was fired, that the action was the result of an Justice Department Inspector General’s Office report and a recommendation from the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility. Both offices, Sessions said, “concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor − including under oath − on multiple occasions.”

McCabe countered by saying he was authorized to make certain media disclosures, that others including then-FBI Director James Comey had known about the disputed communications in question, and that he answered investigators’ questions “truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me.”

He further argued that his firing was an attempt to discredit him as a witness in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election meddling and other matters.

Trump, in tweets on Saturday and Sunday, tried to connect McCabe’s firing to Mueller’s probe and said the deputy director’s ouster was “great day for Democracy” [sic].

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The vote was tainted by widespread reports of ballot-box stuffing and forced voting, but the complaints will likely do little to undermine Putin. The Russian leader’s popularity remains high despite his suppression of dissent and reproach from the West over Russia’s increasingly aggressive stance in world affairs and alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Putin’s main challenges in the vote were to obtain a huge margin of victory in order to claim an indisputable mandate. The Central Elections Commission said Putin had won about 72 percent of the vote, based on a count of 22 percent of the country’s precincts.

Russian authorities had sought to ensure a large turnout to bolster the image that Putin’s so-called “managed democracy” is robust and offers Russians true choices.

He faced seven minor candidates on the ballot. Putin’s most vehement foe, anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny, was rejected as a candidate because he was convicted of fraud in a case widely regarded as politically motivated. Navalny and his supporters had called for an election boycott but the extent of its success could not immediately be gauged.

The election came amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West, with reports that Moscow was behind the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain and that its internet trolls had mounted an extensive campaign to undermine the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Britain and Russia last week announced diplomat expulsions over the spy case and the United States issued new sanctions.

Russian officials denounced both cases as efforts to interfere in the Russian election. But the disputes likely worked in Putin’s favor, reinforcing the official stance that the West is infected with “Russophobia” and determined to undermine both Putin and Russian cultural values.

The election took place on the fourth anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, one of the most dramatic manifestations of Putin’s drive to reassert Russia’s power.

Crimea and Russia’s subsequent support of separatists in eastern Ukraine led to an array of U.S. and European sanctions that, along with falling oil prices, damaged the Russian economy and slashed the ruble’s value by half. But Putin’s popularity remained strong, apparently buttressed by nationalist pride.

In his next six years in office, Putin is likely to assert Russia’s power abroad even more strongly. Just weeks before the election, he announced that Russia has developed advanced nuclear weapons capable of evading missile defenses. The Russian military campaign that bolsters the Syrian government is clearly aimed at strengthening Russia’s foothold in the Middle East and Russia eagerly eyes possible reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula as a lucrative economic opportunity.

At home, Putin will be faced with how to groom a successor or devise a strategy to circumvent term limits, how to drive diversification in an economy still highly dependent on oil and gas and how to improve medical care and social services in Russian regions far removed from the cosmopolitan glitter of Moscow.

Casting his ballot in Moscow, Putin was confident of victory, saying he would consider any percentage of votes a success.

“The program that I propose for the country is the right one,” he declared.

Given the lack of real competition in the presidential race, authorities had to struggle against voter apathy and in the process put many of Russia’s nearly 111 million voters under intense pressure to cast ballots.

Yevgeny, a 43-year-old mechanic voting in central Moscow, said he briefly wondered whether it was worth voting.

“But the answer was easy … if I want to keep working, I vote,” he said.

He spoke on condition that his last name not be used out of concern that his employer — the Moscow city government — would find out.

Across the country in the city of Yekaterinburg, a doctor also said she was being coerced to vote.

When she hadn’t voted by midday, “The chief of my unit called me and said I was the only one who hadn’t voted,” said the doctor, Yekaterina, who spoke on condition her last name not be used because she also feared repercussions.

Yevgeny Roizman, the mayor of Yekaterinburg, told The Associated Press that local officials and state employees all received orders “from higher up” to make sure the presidential vote turnout was over 60 percent.

In Moscow, first-time voters were being given free tickets for pop concerts and health authorities were offering free cancer screenings at some polling stations.

Voters appeared to be turning in out in larger numbers Sunday than in Russia’s last presidential election in 2012, when Putin faced a serious opposition movement and violations like multiple voting, ballot stuffing and coercion marred the voting.

Voting fraud was widespread in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary vote, triggering massive protests in Moscow against Putin’s rule.

Some 145,000 observers were monitoring the presidential vote Sunday, including 1,500 foreigners, and they and ordinary Russians reported hundreds of voting problems.

Some examples: ballot boxes being stuffed with extra ballots in multiple regions; an election official assaulting an observer; CCTV cameras obscured by flags or nets from watching ballot boxes; discrepancies in ballot numbers; last-minute voter registration changes likely designed to boost turnout and a huge pro-Putin board inside one polling station.

Russian election officials moved quickly Sunday to respond to some of the violations. They suspended the chief of a polling station near Moscow where a ballot stuffing incident was reported and sealed the ballot box. A man accused of tossing multiple ballots into a box in the far eastern town of Artyom was arrested.

Navalny, the opposition leader whose group was also monitoring the vote, dismissed Putin’s challengers on the ballot as “puppets.” He urged Russian voters to boycott the presidential election as he was doing and vowed to continue defying the Kremlin with street protests.

The Ukrainian government, insulted by Russia’s holding the election the anniversary of Crimea’s annexation, refused to let ordinary Russians vote. Ukraine security forces blocked the Russian Embassy in Kiev and consulates elsewhere Sunday as the government protested the voting in Crimea, whose annexation is still not internationally recognized.

Ukrainian leaders are also angry over Russian support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, where fighting has killed at least 10,000 people since 2014.

Polls show that most Russians view the takeover of the Black Sea peninsula as a major achievement despite subsequent Western sanctions.

“Who am I voting for? Who else?” asked Putin supporter Andrei Borisov, 70, a retired engineer in Moscow. “The others, it’s a circus.”

As U.S. authorities investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election won by Donald Trump, Moscow had warned of possible U.S. meddling in the Russian vote.

On Sunday, Russia’s Central Election Commission claimed it had been the target of a hacking attempt coming from 15 unidentified nations that was deterred by authorities.


Angela Charlton in Moscow, Nataliya Vasilyeva in Yekaterinburg and Yuras Karmanau in Minsk, Belarus, contributed.


See complete Associated Press coverage of the Russian election: —

This post has been updated.

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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Saturday dismissed the criticisms that followed his using “konnichiwa” to a greet a congresswoman with Japanese ancestry. 

“How could ever saying ‘Good morning’ be bad?” Zinke told reporters, according to the Arizona Republic.

The interior secretary made the remark to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI) during a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee Thursday, just after she finished telling the story of her two grandfathers’ interment during World War II. Hanabusa had pressed Zinke to protect funding for a National Park Service program aimed at researching and preserving historical internment sites.

“Oh, konnichiwa,” Zinke began in response to Hanabusa.

“I think it’s still ‘ohayo gozaimasu,’ but that’s okay,” she replied, specifying the Japanese greeting used in the morning, rather than in the afternoon.

Hanabusa noted later that “no one else was greeted in their ancestral language,” and that she understood “this is precisely why Japanese Americans were treated as they were more than 75 years ago. It is racial stereotyping.” 

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Gina Haspel’s long spy career is so shrouded in mystery that senators want documents declassified so they can decide if her role at a CIA black site should prevent her from directing the agency.

It’s a deep dive into Haspel’s past that reflects key questions about her future: Would she support President Donald Trump if he tried to reinstate waterboarding and, in his words, “a lot worse”? Is Haspel the right person to lead the CIA at a time of escalating Russian aggression and ongoing extremist threats?

Haspel’s upcoming confirmation hearing will be laser-focused on the time she spent supervising a secret prison in Thailand. The CIA won’t say when in 2002 Haspel was there, but at various times that year interrogators at the site sought to make terror suspects talk by slamming them against walls, keeping them from sleeping, holding them in coffin-sized boxes and forcing water down their throats — a technique called waterboarding.

Haspel also is accused of drafting a memo calling for the destruction of 92 videotapes of interrogation sessions. Their destruction in 2005 prompted a lengthy Justice Department investigation that ended without charges.

“We should not be asked to confirm a nominee whose background cannot be publicly discussed and who cannot then be held accountable for her actions,” said Sen. Martin Heinrich, who joined other Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee in asking the CIA to declassify more details about Haspel. “The American public deserves to know who its leaders are.”

Court filings, declassified documents and books written by those involved in the CIA’s now-defunct interrogation program suggest Haspel didn’t arrive at the secret prison in Thailand until after one detainee, Abu Zubaydah, was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002. But they indicate she arrived before another detainee, Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, was waterboarded at least three times in November 2002.

Details about the two detainees’ treatment were disclosed in a 2014 Senate report. It said the prison was shut down in December 2002.

Even if Haspel was at the prison site for just a few months, Steven Watt, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney, said she was deeply involved in the interrogation program. For much of its existence, Haspel was deputy director of the CIA’s counterterrorism center that ran the program using “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

At least 119 men were detained and interrogated as part of the program, said Watt, who represented two detainees and the family of another in a 2015 lawsuit against a pair of CIA-hired psychologists.

It’s unknown if Haspel ever was or currently is a gung-ho proponent of brutal methods, or if she was only implementing orders from CIA headquarters.

Several colleagues and former intelligence officials have come to her defense.

Mike Morell, who was an acting director of the CIA, worked closely with Haspel from 2006 until he retired in 2013. Morell has described her as a “warm and engaging” colleague with a “self-deprecating” sense of humor. She’s a “simply exceptional” person who gets things done in a “quiet, yet effective way” and is “calm under fire,” he wrote in The Cipher Brief, an online newsletter on intelligence issues.

“The media is also likely to refer to a moment in her career when she drafted a cable instructing a field station to destroy videotapes of CIA interrogations of senior al-Qaida operatives,” Morell wrote when Haspel became deputy CIA director last year. “She did so at the request of her direct supervisor and believing that it was lawful to do so. I personally led an accountability exercise that cleared Haspel of any wrongdoing in the case.”

While some of assignments have come under political fire, “in each case she was following the lawful orders of the president,” Morell said. “And, in each case, she carried out her responsibilities within the bounds of the law and with excellent judgment. Any criticism of her in this regard is unfair.”

Psychologist James Mitchell, an architect of the CIA program who worked at the same black site, said Haspel won’t filter the intelligence she distributes to Trump through a political lens to please him or jockey for political reward.

“We’d be shooting ourselves in the foot if she’s not confirmed,” he told Fox News. “She’s got deep institutional knowledge. She has worked more than 30 years in the agency. She’s earned the right to be there. She can go to work on Day One.”

Former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, who helped Mitchell write a book, said the focus on interrogation obscures the CIA director’s wide-ranging portfolio. Instead of re-litigating the past, he said Haspel should be asked about Russia, China and cyber threats and how to improve intelligence collection on America’s adversaries.

Ret. Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman, a longtime interrogator with lengthy experience during the first Gulf War, isn’t sure. He said he doesn’t know Haspel’s personal views about the harsh interrogations, but said there’s no indication she ever tried to halt them.

“That question has to be asked by the Senate: ‘Did you at any time suggest that it be stopped because it’s ineffective, immoral or illegal?'” Kleinman said. “I think we all deserve an answer to that.”

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The Republican leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s Russia probe gave inconsistent answers during an interview Sunday regarding whether the committee investigated potential collusion between the Trump campaign in Russia.

At one point, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) distinguished between “evidence” of collusion and collusion itself.

“That’s a different statement,” he told NBC’s Chuck Todd. “We found no evidence of collusion.”

Conaway, who took over leadership of the probe after committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) became the subject of an ethics investigation, announced last week that he was ending the fact-gathering stage of the probe and sending a draft report to committee Democrats for their review.

Among the conclusions listed on a one-page summary of Republicans’ draft: “We have found no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

Conaway seemed to back away from that claim Sunday.

In his interview with the Republican congressman, Todd asked whether ousted FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe’s closed-door testimony before the committee in December had backed up ousted FBI Director James Comey’s contention that Comey was fired because of the Russia probe. 

“It’s been a while since I sat through that testimony, I haven’t read it recently,” Conaway said.

He continued, tellingly: “We were focused not so much on that, because that feeds into the collusion issue, and our committee was not charged with answering the collusion idea, so we really weren’t focused on that direction.” 

“No evidence of collusion,” Conaway said later, repeating a point that Democrats on the committee have said was not sufficiently investigated. Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA) said separately Sunday that Democrats will “certainly be able to show the facts supporting the issue of collusion,” and he’s previously said committee Democrats will release their own report on the probe.

“No evidence of collusion,” Todd repeated back to Conaway. “But if you’re not investigating collusion, then you haven’t sought the evidence.”

“That’s all we investigated,” Conaway said, contradicting himself. “We didn’t investigate his obstruction of justice issue. That’s what we investigated: Was there collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or between the Clinton campaign and the Russians?”

Among the committee’s March 2017 agreement on the parameters of its probe was the question: “Did the Russian active measures include links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns or any other U.S. Persons?”

Schiff on Tuesday released a lengthy document outlining what he said were insufficiently-pursued leads and interviews following Conaway’s announcement that the probe would conclude.

Todd asked Conaway about one person on Schiff’s list whom the committee never interviewed: George Papadopoulos, a named member of the Trump campaign’s foreign policy team who’s pleaded guilty to lying to Mueller’s investigators about his 2016 contacts with several Kremlin-tied Russians.

Papadopoulos, Conaway responded, had been “caught up in the Mueller investigation” and unavailable to be interviewed. Besides, he said, Papadopoulos “was kind of at the edge of the circumstances.”

“How do you know that if you didn’t interview him?” Todd asked.

“All the other information we got, and all the information we got about him, that talked about him, he was not somebody that seemed to be a player in the long term,” Conaway responded.

“Do you now regret trying to draw a conclusion about collusion?” Todd asked.

“No,” Conaway said before explaining: “Well, we haven’t drawn that. What we said, Chuck, is that we found no evidence of it. There may– That’s a different statement. We found no evidence of collusion.”

Conaway said later, characterizing Democrats’ protests about the committee ending its probe: “The collusion issue, we found no evidence of it. The Democrats think they have. They’ve not shared that with us, if they have. I’ve shared all of my evidence we’ve got with them, but if they’ve got evidence of collusion, they haven’t shared it with us.”

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Several Republican lawmakers on Sunday urged President Donald Trump and his legal team to stop attacking the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Friday night fired former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and on Saturday one of the President’s attorneys, John Dowd, urged Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to follow Sessions’ “courageous” example and end Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Trump celebrated McCabe’s firing as “a great day for Democracy” [sic] and on Sunday continued his attacks against McCabe, Mueller and former FBI Director James Comey.

Republicans — at least, those booked to discuss the Russia investigation and other topics on Sunday talk shows — urged the President and his team to show some restraint.

“If you have an innocent client, Mr. Dowd, act like it,” Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) said in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) told CNN’s Jake Tapper that, contrary to Trump’s earlier tweet, McCabe’s firing was a “horrible day of democracy” and that he expected to “see considerable pushback” from Congress in response to Trump’s “designs” on Robert Mueller.

“I don’t know what the designs are on Mueller, but it seems to be building toward that,” Flake said, after referencing “firings like this happening at the top from the President and the attorney general.”

“And I just hope it doesn’t go there, because it can’t,” he said. “We can’t, in Congress, accept that.”

Tapper pressed, saying that with a few exceptions, “I haven’t seen a lot of pushback from Republicans” in response to Trump’s attacks against the Russia probe.

“Do you really think that [Senate Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and [House Speaker] Paul Ryan will stand up and say ‘No, Mr. President, you can’t do this’?” he asked.

“I hope so,” Flake responded. “Talking to my colleagues all along, it was, ‘Once he goes after Mueller, then we’ll take action.’ I think that people see that as a massive red line that can’t be crossed.”

“I would just hope that enough people would prevail on the President now: Don’t go there,” Flake added.

Flake said earlier, referring to Trump’s response to McCabe’s firing: “I’m just puzzled by why the White House is going so hard at this, other than they’re very afraid of what might come out. I don’t know how you can have any other conclusion.”

Later in the show, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reaffirmed to Tapper what he’s said before: If Trump fires Mueller, “that would be the beginning of the end of his presidency, because we’re a rule of law nation.”

“I think we owe it to the average American to have a hearing in the [Senate] Judiciary Committee where Attorney General Sessions comes forward with whatever documentation he has about the firing and give Mr. Mccabe a cans to defend himself,” Graham said separately.

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LONDON (AP) — Britain’s foreign minister said Sunday that he has evidence Russia has been stockpiling a nerve agent in violation of international law “very likely for the purposes of assassination.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (pictured above) said the trail of blame for the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury “leads inexorably to the Kremlin.”

His comment came after a Russian envoy suggested the toxin used to poison the Skripals could have come from a U.K. lab.

Johnson told reporters that Britain has information that within the last 10 years, “the Russian state has been engaged in investigating the delivery of such agents, Novichok agents … very likely for the purposes of assassination.”

He said “they have been producing and stockpiling Novichok, contrary to what they have been saying.”

Johnson said he will brief European Union foreign ministers on the case Monday before meeting with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg.

He also said officials from the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons would arrive Monday in Britain to take samples of the nerve agent used to poison the Skripals.

Britain says it is Novichok, a class of powerful nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union toward the end of the Cold War. Tests to independently verify the British findings are expected to take at least two weeks, Britain’s Foreign Office said.

Vladimir Chizhov, Moscow’s EU ambassador, said Russia has no chemical weapons stockpiles and was not behind the poisoning.

“Russia had nothing to do with it,” Chizhov told the BBC.

Chizhov pointed out that the U.K. chemical weapons research facility, Porton Down, is only eight miles (12 kilometers) from Salisbury, where Sergei Skripal — a former Russian intelligence officer convicted in his home country of spying for Britain— and his daughter were found on March 4. They remain in critical condition.

Asked whether he was saying that Porton Down was responsible, Chizhov replied: “I don’t know.”

The British government dismissed the ambassador’s suggestion as “nonsense.”

Johnson said it was “not the response of a country that really believed itself to be innocent.”

Britain and Russia have each expelled 23 diplomats, broken off high-level contacts and taken other punitive steps in the escalating tit-for-tat dispute, which clouded the run-up to Sunday’s presidential election in Russia. President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win a fourth term.

Western powers see the poisoning of the Skripals as the latest sign of increasingly aggressive Russian interference in foreign countries.

Johnson said Britain’s National Security Council will meet this week to discuss what further measures the country might take.

He said these could include “defending ourselves against cyber-attack, (and) looking at any economic measures that could be taken against Russians who corruptly obtained their wealth.”

Opposition lawmakers are calling on the British government to clamp down on the illicitly gained money of wealthy Russians in Britain. Critics say U.K. authorities have been slow to investigate the origins of the wealth invested in London’s financial district and property market.

The spy dispute has sent U.K.-Russia relations to Cold War-levels of tension.

Russia’s ambassador in London, Alexander Yakovenko, called for “cooler heads,” telling the Mail on Sunday that the dispute is “escalating dangerously and out of proportion.”

But Russian presidential contender Ksenia Sobchak, a former TV star who is the only candidate to openly criticize Putin, said blame did not lie entirely with Britain.

“We don’t have any improvements, everything is only getting worse,” she said. “And this will continue, because this is our foreign policy: very aggressive and very unpleasant.”


Associated Press writer Angela Charlton in Moscow contributed.

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NEW YORK (AP) — When the Kushner Cos. bought three apartment buildings in a gentrifying neighborhood of Queens in 2015, most of the tenants were protected by special rules that prevent developers from pushing them out, raising rents and turning a tidy profit.

But that’s exactly what the company then run by Jared Kushner did, and with remarkable speed. Two years later, it sold all three buildings for $60 million, nearly 50 percent more than it paid.

Now a clue has emerged as to how President Donald Trump’s son-in-law’s firm was able to move so fast: The Kushner Cos. routinely filed false paperwork with the city declaring it had zero rent-regulated tenants in dozens of buildings it owned across the city when, in fact, it had hundreds.

While none of the documents during a three-year period when Kushner was CEO bore his personal signature, they provide a window into the ethics of the business empire he ran before he went on to become one of the most trusted advisers to the president of the United States.

“It’s bare-faced greed,” said Aaron Carr, founder of Housing Rights Initiative, a tenants’ rights watchdog that compiled the work permit application documents and shared them with The Associated Press. “The fact that the company was falsifying all these applications with the government shows a sordid attempt to avert accountability and get a rapid return on its investment.”

Kushner Cos. responded in a statement that it outsources the preparation of such documents to third parties that are reviewed by independent counsel, and “if mistakes or violations are identified, corrective action is taken immediately.”

“Kushner would never deny any tenant their due-process rights,” it said, adding that the company “has renovated thousands of apartments and developments with minimal complaints over the past 30 years.”

For the three Queens buildings in the borough’s Astoria neighborhood, the Kushner Cos. checked a box on construction permit applications in 2015 that indicated the buildings had zero rent-regulated tenants. Tax records filed a few months later showed the company inherited as many as 94 rent-regulated units from the previous owner.

In all, Housing Rights Initiative found the Kushner Cos. filed at least 80 false applications for construction permits in 34 buildings across New York City from 2013 to 2016, all of them indicating there were no rent-regulated tenants. Instead, tax documents show there were more than 300 rent-regulated units. Nearly all the permit applications were signed by a Kushner employee, including sometimes the chief operating officer.

Had the Kushner Cos. disclosed those rent-regulated tenants, it could have triggered stricter oversight of construction crews by the city, including possibly unscheduled “sweeps” on site by inspectors to keep the company from harassing tenants and getting them to leave.

Instead, current and former tenants of the Queens buildings told the AP that they were subjected to extensive construction, with banging, drilling, dust and leaking water that they believe were part of targeted harassment to get them to leave and clear the way for higher-paying renters.

“It was noisy, there were complaints, I got mice,” said mailman Rudolph Romano, adding that the Kushner Cos. tried to increase his rent by 60 percent. “They cleaned the place out. I watched the whole building leave.”

Tax records show those rent-regulated units that numbered as many as 94 when Kushner took over fell to 25 by 2016.

In Kushner buildings across the city, records show frequent complaints about construction going on early in the morning or late at night against the rules, improper or illegal construction, and work without a permit.

At a six-story walk-up in Manhattan’s East Village that was once home to the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, the Kushner Cos. filed an application to begin construction in late 2013 that, again, listed zero rent-regulated tenants. Tax records a few months later showed seven rent-regulated units.

“All of a sudden, there was drilling, drilling. … You heard the drilling in the middle of night,” said one of the rent-regulated tenants, Mary Ann Siwek, 67, who lives on Social Security payments and odd jobs. “There were rats coming in from the abandoned building next door. The hallways were always filled with lumber and sawdust and plaster.”

A knock on the door came a few weeks later, and an offer of at least $10,000 if she agreed to leave the building.

“I know it’s pretty horrible, but we can help you get out,” Siwek recalls the man saying. “We can offer you money.”

Siwek turned down the cash and sued instead. She said she won a year’s worth of free rent and a new refrigerator.

New York City Council member Ritchie Torres, who plans to launch an investigation into permit applications, said: “The Kushners appear to be engaging in what I call the weaponization of construction.”

Rent stabilization is a fixture of New York City that can bedevil developers seeking to make money off buildings. To free themselves of its restrictions, landlords usually have to wait until the rent rises above $2,733 a month, something that can take years given the small increases allowed each year.

Submitting false documents to the city’s Department of Buildings for construction permits is a misdemeanor, which can carry fines of up to $25,000. But real estate experts say it is often flouted with little to no consequences. Landlords who do so get off with no more than a demand from the city, sometimes a year or more later, to file an “amended” form with the correct numbers.

Housing Rights Initiative found the Kushner Cos. filed dozens of amended forms for the buildings mentioned in the documents, most of them a year to two later.

“There is a lack of tools to go after landlords who harass tenants, and there is a lack of enforcement,” said Seth Miller, a real estate lawyer who used to work at a state housing agency overseeing rent regulations. Until officials inspect every construction site, “you’re going to have this incentive for landlords to make life uncomfortable for tenants.”

New York City’s Department of Buildings declined to comment specifically on the Kushner documents but said it is ramping up its monitoring of construction, hiring 72 new inspectors and other staff under laws recently passed by the City Council to crack down on tenant harassment.

“We won’t tolerate landlords who use construction to harass tenants — no matter who they are,” said spokesman Joseph Soldevere.

Exactly how much money the Kushner Cos. earned from the buildings mentioned in the documents is unclear. Of those 34 buildings, only the three in Queens and a fourth in Brooklyn appear to have been sold. The company also likely made money by reducing the number of rent-regulated tenants and bringing in those who would pay more.

Jared Kushner, who stepped down as CEO of the Kushner Cos. last year before taking on his advisory role at the White House, sold off part of his real estate holdings as required under government ethics rules. But he retained stakes in many properties, including Westminster Management, the Kushner Cos. subsidiary that oversees its residential properties. A financial disclosure last year showed he still owns a stake in Westminster and earned $1.6 million from the holding.

Back in Queens, the mailman Romano was one of the few rent-regulated tenants who fought back.

He hired a lawyer who found out he was protected from the Kushners’ 60 percent rent hike by law, something Romano did not know at the time. And his rent, which was set to increase to $3,750, was restored to $2,350.

Romano is still in the building where he has lived for nine years, with his wife, four children and his guests from the construction days — the mice.

“I still haven’t gotten rid of them.”


Condon can be reached at

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President Donald Trump on Sunday morning continued to make personal the firing of former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe late Friday night.

First, while it is true some of Mueller’s team has made political contributions to Democrats in the past, it is misleading to say the team consists of “13 hardened Democrats.” As the Washington Post pointed out, Mueller is prohibited by federal regulations from making politically-motivated hiring decisions. And Mueller himself is a Republican.

Also, as the Washington Post pointed out, Comey was not asked by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) whether he had known someone else to be an anonymous source. Grassley actually asked whether Comey had “ever been an anonymous source” in reports relating to the investigations of Trump or Hillary Clinton, and whether Comey had “ever authorized someone else at the FBI to be an anonymous source” regarding the same investigations. Comey answered in the negative to both questions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who carried out McCabe’s firing, said in a statement Friday night that both the office of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz and the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility “concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor − including under oath − on multiple occasions,” presumably during a previously-reported inspector general probe of the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

In a lengthy response, McCabe said he had been singled out, and his credibility attacked, as “part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day.”

McCabe maintained that he was authorized to share information with the media through his staff; that “others, including [then-FBI Director James Comey], were aware of the interaction with the reporter;” and that he answered the inspector general’s questions “truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me.”

Following the firing, various outlets reported that McCabe had kept written memos detailing his interactions with Trump, and that he had been in touch with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

The Sunday tweets were a continuation of what Trump started the day before: a series of stinging statements that mixed justifications for McCabe’s firing with attacks against him personally, and against his former boss, ousted FBI Director James Comey.

Read Trump’s Saturday tweets related to the firing below:

This post has been updated. 

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HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania (AP) — A Pennsylvania official said no “legitimate claims or complaints” of voter fraud have come up since Tuesday’s closely contested U.S. House race in the state, countering several false stories that cited invalid votes and a court decision throwing the election results out.

The website Daily World Update said in a story circulating on social media that a judge identified as Marshawn Little of the 45th Federal Appeals Court of Westmoreland County cancelled the results because they were “tainted beyond reproach.”

But there is no such judge in Pennsylvania and no such court exists.

Another story on the same website, which identifies itself as a satire site to users who click the “About” section, claims “trucks full of illegals” cast votes in the election.

“There are no legitimate claims or complaints or evidence that any such events occurred. These claims should not be taken seriously,” said Wanda Murren, communications director for Pennsylvania’s Department of State.

No county elections office in the district has received any such reports, either.

“We are not aware of any official complaints lodged with the county election boards or district attorneys alleging voter fraud, nor have there been any filed through DOS. Any claims otherwise or without citing these entities could be from illegitimate sources,” Murren said.

With absentee ballots counted, Democrat Conor Lamb holds a 627-vote lead over Republican Rick Saccone out of more than 228,000 cast. Lamb has declared victory, while Saccone has not conceded. Election officials in the four counties in the Pittsburgh-area district had identified about 400 uncounted provisional, military and overseas ballots by Thursday.

The Associated Press has not called the race.

The GOP is watching the final vote counting before deciding whether to seek a recount or sue over perceived election irregularities.
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

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