TPM News

Happy weekend, Prime subscribers! Here’s what happened in Prime this week.

  • On Thursday, before the Department of Justice’s Inspect General’s report was released, I wrote that we were hoping for som insight on whether the FBI’s New York office was leaking to Rudy Giuliani. Turns out, the report didn’t go there. But it did confirm that the New York office hated Clinton.
  • Despite Trump’s attempt to spin the IG report, all of the conduct detailed in it helped his campaign and hurt Clinton’s. That fact was the North Star of our coverage of the report.
  • Donald Trump reportedly mused over dinner at the G-7 that the people of Crimea spoke Russian, and so it made perfect sense that Russia seized control of the region in 2014. By that logic, Kate Riga writes, we’re British now.
  • Paul Manafort went to jail. Allegra Kirkland has more info on that, and more, in her Weekly Primer on the Russia probe.
  • Matt Shuham has updated his list of nonsense EPA chief Scott Pruitt spent taxpayer money on.
  • Relatedly, there are sounds that Pruitt’s mountain of scandal has simply become too tall for his ideological allies to ignore, Matt writes in his Weekly Primer on Trump’s swamp.
  • This week looked to be a critical one for Michael Cohen, Josh Marshall wrote, with the President’s one-time personal lawyer shopping for a new legal team amidst rumors that he might cooperate. It looked as if Cohen’s stream of money from Trumpworld might be drying up, Josh wrote — potentially a major fact in his decision making.
  • Now, Josh writes, Cohen “seems to be trying to negotiate on two sides of the bargain – on the one hand asking for an offer from prosecutors but also signaling to his old boss that if Trump is going to throw Cohen a lifeline, he better do it now.”
  • Zack Roth writes on a gerrymandering reform ballot measure that could be killed by Michigan’s state Supreme Court: “It would be darkly ironic if an effort to fix one major democratic defect — partisan gerrymandering — ended up a casualty of another: the distorting influence of campaign money on judicial elections.”
  • Responding to a reader question, Cameron Joseph takes a look at how Democratic candidates are seeking to push back on Republicans’ race-baiting, Trump-style attacks in the 2018 midterms.
  • We learned this week that Russian support for Trump followed on what looks like a successful Russian effort to tip the scales on Brexit, Josh writes.
  • The Trump administration has announced that, “rather than defending the Affordable Care Act from a lawsuit by 20 GOP states, it will instead side with the states,” Alice Ollstein writes in our Weekly Primer on health care.
  • The Supreme Court’s Monday decision upholding Ohio’s voter-purge system means we can “expect more states to follow Ohio’s lead and put in place aggressive purge procedures,” Tierney Sneed writes in our Weekly Primer on voting rights.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A company run by former officials at Cambridge Analytica, the political consulting firm brought down by a scandal over how it obtained Facebook users’ private data, has quietly been working for President Donald Trump’s 2020 re-election effort, The Associated Press has learned.

The AP confirmed that at least four former Cambridge Analytica employees are affiliated with Data Propria, a new company specializing in voter and consumer targeting work similar to Cambridge Analytica’s efforts before its collapse. The company’s former head of product, Matt Oczkowski, leads the new firm, which also includes Cambridge Analytica’s former chief data scientist.

Oczkowski denied a link to the Trump campaign, but acknowledged that his new firm has agreed to do 2018 campaign work for the Republican National Committee.

The AP learned of Data Propria’s role in Trump’s re-election effort as a result of conversations held with political contacts and prospective clients in recent weeks by Oczkowski and Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad Parscale. In one such conversation, which took place in a public place and was overheard by two AP reporters, Oczkowski said he and Parscale were “doing the president’s work for 2020.”

In addition, a person familiar with Data Propria’s Washington efforts, who spoke on condition of anonymity to protect business relationships, confirmed to the AP that Trump-related 2020 work already had begun at the firm along the lines of Cambridge Analytica’s 2016 work.

Both Oczkowski and Parscale told the AP that no Trump re-election work by Data Propria had been planned, but confirmed that Parscale had helped Data Propria line up a successful bid on 2018 midterm polling-related work for the RNC, awarded earlier this week.

Oczkowski had previously told the AP the firm had no intention of seeking political clients, but now says his young company had changed course.

“I’m obviously open to any work that would become available,” Oczkowski said, noting that he and Parscale had worked together closely during Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Parscale told the AP that he has not even begun awarding contracts for the 2020 campaign, which he was appointed to manage in March.

“I am laser-focused on the 2018 midterms and holding the House and increasing our seats in the Senate,” he said. “Once we do those things, I’ll start working on re-electing President Trump.”

London-based Cambridge Analytica was accused of playing a key role in the 2014 breach of 87 million Facebook users’ personal data. The company said it did not use the information for Trump’s 2016 campaign, but some former employees have disputed that. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that it was “entirely possible” the social media data ended up being used in Russian propaganda efforts.

In May, Cambridge Analytica filed for bankruptcy and said it was “ceasing all operations.” A British investigation of Cambridge Analytica and its parent company will continue despite the shutdown, the U.K.s Information Commissioner’s office said last month.

Among the former Cambridge Analytica employees at Data Propria is David Wilkinson, a British citizen who was the company’s lead data scientist. During the 2016 campaign, Wilkinson helped oversee the voter data modeling that informed Trump’s focus on the Rust Belt, according to a Cambridge Analytica press release issued after the election.

Another issue raised by Data Propria’s work on Trump’s re-election effort is the firm’s financial links to Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager.

Parscale is a part owner of Data Propria’s parent company, a publicly traded firm called Cloud Commerce that bought his digital marketing business in August. Over the last year, Cloud Commerce has largely rebuilt itself around Parscale’s former company, now rebranded Parscale Digital. Parscale sits on Cloud Commerce’s board of directors and provides the company with the majority of its $2.9 million in revenue, according to the company’s most recent Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

Even though Parscale is not directly receiving money from Data Propria work, he owns a stake equivalent to 22 percent of the company’s current equity and Cloud Commerce is obligated to pay him roughly two million dollars in special dividends and debt payments related to the purchase of his old business.

Aside from the ties to Parscale, Cloud Commerce’s parent company is an unusual candidate for blue chip political work. Founded in 1999, the firm has repeatedly changed its name and business model, and the company’s most recent audit “expressed substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern” without continuing infusions of cash.

An AP investigation of Cloud Commerce in March found that a former CEO of its predecessor firm pleaded guilty to stock fraud in 2008 and remained active in Cloud Commerce’s affairs until at least 2015. Cloud Commerce says the man has had no connection with its business since at least 2011.

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I wanted to share some background information on just what’s happening with Michael Cohen. CNN is reporting that Michael Cohen is now telling family and friends that he’s open to cooperating with prosecutors. This follows ABC’s report from a couple days ago, and joins other subsequent reporting that paints an amorphous yet generally consistent picture of a man getting ready to become a cooperating witness. But there are some additional details that are important to understand.

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Paul Manafort, chairman of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, was sent to jail on Friday by a federal judge.

Manafort was accused of witness tampering while awaiting trial on conspiracy and money-laundering charges — an additional crime which prompted a judge to revoke his bail. He was brought into the prisoner holding area immediately after the morning hearing, and will remain in jail until the first of his two federal trials gets underway in July.

Trump called the judge’s decision “very unfair,” noting that Manafort was not “the head of the Mob.”

Another onetime Trump ally may be preparing to cooperate with federal prosecutors to avoid Manafort’s fate. Michael Cohen this week signaled to friends and family his willingness to flip, both to relieve pressure on himself and out of irritation that he’s been given the cold shoulder by Trumpland.

For now, Cohen is preparing to split from his legal team at McDermott, a move that sources close to Cohen tell press is both strategic and motivated by his mounting legal bills. The McDermott team helped Cohen meet a federal judge’s Friday deadline to complete a marathon privilege review of all the documents seized from his premises. No new counsel has yet been named.

Trump on Friday said he didn’t care if Cohen flipped because he, personally, had “done nothing wrong,” but he praised Cohen as a “good person.”

The Justice Department inspector general’s 500-page report on DOJ and FBI activity prior to the 2016 election dropped Thursday. It found that ex-FBI Director James Comey “deviated” from norms in handling the Hillary Clinton email probe, but that his actions were not criminal or driven by political bias. It also determined that texts between two former FBI officials — Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — “cast a cloud” over the FBI Russia probe but did not affect how it was conducted.

The report did not definitively address the question of whether a torrent of leaks from the FBI to the media originated in the New York office, or if some of those leaks went directly to Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani.

Trump bizarrely claimed the report “totally exonerates” him of obstruction of justice for firing Comey, while his attorney Giuliani said it should lead to the immediate suspension of the special counsel probe and Strzok’s arrest.

Concord Management, the company accused of funding Russia’s internet troll effort, battled in court with Mueller’s team to obtain the data used to build their case, which the special counsel has warned could end up in the hands of foreign intel agencies if released through the discovery process. A federal judge ordered them to come to an agreement, saying the government “presented good evidence for protecting some information from discovery.”

New documents reveal that a British billionaire who bankrolled Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign met repeatedly with high-ranking Russian officials during that effort.

And the NRA is staying mum amid new details about meetings the gun lobby’s executives had with Russian officials, some under U.S. sanction, during a 2015 trip to Moscow.

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On the heels of Paul Manafort being sent to jail, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani hinted Friday that anyone convicted as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe may be spared by presidential pardons.

“When the whole thing is over, things might get cleaned up with some presidential pardons,” he told the New York Daily News.

His statement came mere hours after Manafort’s bail was revoked and he was ordered to stay in jail until his trial in September.

“I don’t understand the justification for putting him in jail,” Giuliani added to the Daily News. “You put a guy in jail if he’s trying to kill witnesses, not just talking to witnesses.”

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A federal judge in Washington expressed concern Friday morning about giving a Russian company charged with conspiring to influence the 2016 presidential election via a social media troll campaign access to sensitive information about American citizens.

U.S. District Court Judge Dabney Friedrich ordered the company’s attorney and special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to craft an agreement within 10 days that will govern what data the defendants can see and what should be withheld out of fear it could be passed into the hands of hostile foreign agents, namely Russia intelligence.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — About 2,000 children have been separated from their families at the border over a six-week period during a crackdown on illegal entries, according to U.S. Department of Homeland Security figures obtained by The Associated Press Friday.

The figures show that 1,995 minors were separated from 1,940 adults from April 19 through May 31. The separations were not broken down by age, and included separations for illegal entry, immigration violations, or possible criminal conduct by the adult.

Under a “zero tolerance” policy announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Department of Homeland Security officials are now referring all cases of illegal entry for criminal prosecution. U.S. protocol prohibits detaining children with their parents because the children are not charged with a crime and the parents are.

The policy has been widely criticized by church groups, politicians and children’s advocates who say it is inhumane. A battle in Congress is brewing in part over the issue.

On Thursday, Sessions cited the Bible in defending his policy, arguing the recent criticisms were not “fair or logical and some are contrary to law.”

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he said.

The new figures are for people who tried to enter the U.S. between official border crossings. Asylum seekers who go directly to official crossings are not separated from their families, except in specific circumstances including if officials can’t confirm the relationship between the minor and adults, safety of the children, or if the adult is being prosecuted. There were an additional 35 minors separated at ports of entry in May through June 6. There were more than 50 at the official crossings in April and March each, according to the figures.

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President Trump decried on Twitter the “tough sentence” handed down to Paul Manafort Friday — an apparent reference to a judge’s decision to put the former Trump campaign chairman in jail pending his trial.

“Didn’t know Manafort was the head of the Mob,” Trump said. “What about Comey and Crooked Hillary and all of the others? Very unfair!”

Manafort was not sentenced, as Trump suggested. Rather, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jacksona revoked Manafort’s bail after he was accused of tampering with witnesses in the case against him. Manafort was taken into custody immediately after the judge’s decision — a development some observers believe will increase the pressure on him to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and of related matters.

Already, Mueller has secured the cooperation of Manafort’s top business deputy Rick Gates, who also served on Trump’s campaign and was associated with Trump’s inner circle well after Manafort left the campaign. Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn is also cooperating with Mueller’s investigation after pleading guilty, while Trump’s longtime fixer Michael Cohen is reportedly considering cooperation with a separate federal investigation in Manhattan.

Trump’s tweet also comes after he’s issued a series of high-profile pardons, some for prosecutions he’s claimed were “unfair.” He used similar language when announcing his pardon of conservative activist Dinseh D’Souza, who pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance laws in 2014, as well as for Vice President Dick Cheney’s aide Scooter Libby, who was convicted of perjury in 2007 as part of special prosecutor investigation into the Valerie Plame leak.

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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Rand Paul’s neighbor has been sentenced to 30 days in prison for attacking him in a dispute over yard waste, and the Republican lawmaker says he’s fine with that.

Rene Boucher pleaded guilty to assaulting a member of Congress. Paul suffered broken ribs. Boucher said he was triggered by Paul stacking debris near their property line in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

U.S. District Judge Marianne Battani called November’s attack a “dispute between neighbors” and an “isolated incident,” not motivated by politics. Boucher also must serve a year of supervised release. Federal prosecutors sought 21 months, but a statement from Paul calls 30 days “appropriate.”

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats have set their 2020 presidential nominating convention for the middle of July.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez says in a statement that party will convene July 13-16 to a get a head start on the general election campaign. Democrats are expecting a bruising primary with perhaps two dozen candidates vying to take on President Donald Trump.

Perez also says that he is committed to “the most open, fair, transparent and inclusive” nominating process Democrats have seen. Activists on the left still harbor resentments over favoritism party officials showed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in 2016.

Officials also still are debating what influence party power players known as superdelegates will have in the vote to pick a presidential nominee.

Democrats have yet to decide where they will convene.

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