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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has turned over to Capitol Police an apparently forged document that he said falsely accused him of sexually harassing a former staffer, multiple outlets reported late Tuesday.

“It was a phony allegation,” Schumer said at the end of a Wednesday morning press conference on the GOP tax bill. “False from start to finish. We are pursuing every legal means to address it.”

The former staffer, who has asked to remain anonymous, told Axios in a statement that she did not write the document and that she had never been subjected to inappropriate treatment by the New York Democrat.

“The claims in this document are completely false, my signature is forged, and even basic facts about me are wrong,” the woman told Axios of the 13-page, password-protected PDF. “I have contacted law enforcement to determine who is responsible. I parted with Senator Schumer’s office on good terms and have nothing but the fondest memories of my time there.”

Publications including the Washington Post, ABC News, CNN and BuzzFeed have said they received the falsified document, which was made to look like a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia but lacked basic information like the name of a lawyer for the staffer.

“We have turned it over to the Capitol Police and asked them to investigate and pursue criminal charges because it is clear the law has been broken,” Schumer communications director Matt House told TPM in a statement. “We believe the individual responsible for forging the document should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law to prevent other malicious actors from doing the same.”

This incident comes shortly after an undercover operative associated with conservative activist group Project Veritas was exposed for trying to convince the Washington Post to publish a fabricated claim of sexual allegation against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R).

The newspaper, which first surfaced credible allegations of Moore groping teenagers when he was in his 30s, realized the operative was falsifying her story while reporting out the details she provided. Moore lost the Senate race Tuesday night in a surprise upset by Democrat Doug Jones.

Alice Ollstein contributed reporting.

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The FBI sat down with top Trump aide Hope Hicks at least twice earlier this year to warn her that Russian operatives sought to make contact with her during the transition, the New York Times reported Friday.

The attempted contacts point to Russia’s ongoing, persistent efforts to establish channels of communications with people in President Donald Trump’s orbit.

FBI agents met with Hicks at least twice in the White House Situation Room for a “defensive briefing,” offering her names and information about the Russians who had contacted her from Russian government addresses under false pretenses, according to the Times report.

Hicks, who now serves as communications director, has not been accused of doing anything improper and reportedly requested additional meetings to better understand what Russian operatives were attempting to do. She reportedly informed White House counsel Don McGahn about her discussions with the FBI.

The Times reported that Hicks was interviewed on Thursday and Friday by investigators working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The young Trump adviser previously worked at the Trump Organization before joining the campaign as press secretary and ultimately becoming a senior figure in the administration.

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LATE UPDATE 4:42 p.m. ET: CNN on Friday afternoon issued a major correction to a story that incorrectly stated that Donald Trump and top aides received a Sept. 4 2016 email providing them access to hacked documents released by WikiLeaks prior to their publication.

As CNN acknowledged, the email was actually sent on Sept. 14, suggesting that the sender may have simply been pointing the Trump campaign to publicly available documents, rather than providing them with early access to information that could offer them an advantage.

“We have updated our story to include the correct date, and present the proper context for the timing of email,” a statement from CNN’s PR team read.

The correction comes hours after the Washington Post published a report based on a copy of the email obtained by the newspaper’s reporters that contained the correct date. According to the Post story, the email including a link to a “(huge 678 mb) archive of files from the DNC” and a “decryption key” was sent by a man who identified himself as Michael J. Erickson, president of an aviation management company.

The email was among a trove of online communications turned over to congressional investigators by the Trump Organization, and Trump Jr. was questioned about it in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday. It noted that DCLeaks.com had also publicized emails from former secretary of state Colin Powell—a development that the press had reported that day, as the Post pointed out.

It was sent to Trump Jr., an email address that Trump reportedly seldom used, Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen, a Gmail account occasionally used by aide Hope Hicks, and several other Trump Organization employees, per the Post report.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, condemned the reporting on the email in comments to the Post, criticizing the House Intelligence Committee for allowing details of Trump Jr.’s testimony to be publicized.

“It is profoundly disappointing that members of the House Intelligence Committee would deliberately leak a document, with the misleading suggestion that the information was not public, when they know that there is not a scintilla of evidence that Mr. Trump Jr. read or responded to the email,” Futerfas said, adding that the leak “undermines the credibility” of the probe.

Trump Jr. sent out a series of outraged tweets criticizing CNN for reporting “#fakenews” and asking for a “full retraction.”

Original Story:

Donald Trump and Donald Trump Jr. were emailed a decryption key and website address for documents hacked by WikiLeaks in the fall of 2016, CNN reported Friday.

Congressional investigators are seeking to determine whether the Sept. 4 email to the Trumps, which was turned over by the Trump Organization, is the latest example of entities or individuals associated with WikiLeaks trying to boost the GOP candidate’s campaign and tarnish Hillary Clinton’s.

Just three weeks after the email was sent, as previously reported, Wikileaks initiated an exchange of direct messages with Trump Jr., who occasionally responded to or acted on the messages the group sent him.

The early September message came from a man who listed his name as “Mike Erickson” and was sent to Trump Jr., his personal assistant, an email address set up for then-candidate Trump, and others at the Trump organization, according to CNN.

It reportedly suggested that recipients could have access to records associated with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were leaked 10 days later. CNN reported that a Russian front group was behind that release.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told CNN that the President’s eldest son did not recall receiving the message and took no action on it.

After the story’s publication, Futerfas issued a statement, reiterating that the team did “not know who Mike Erickson is” and “never responded to the email.”

Congressional investigators are still trying to determine the legitimacy of the email and the identity of the sender.

In the final months of the 2016 race, the Trump campaign openly embraced the data dumps of hacked information from Democratic officials and individuals associated with Hillary Clinton. Trump famously told a crowd at a Pennsylvania rally, “I love WikiLeaks!”

In August 2016, longtime Trump ally Roger Stone claimed he had a secret “back-channel communication” with the group.

And the head of Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked with the Trump campaign, reached out to WikiLeaks founded Julian Assange to offer help organizing and promoting emails deleted from Clinton’s personal email server. Assange said he rebuffed that offer.

Correction: An editing error inadvertently attributed the hacking of DNC documents to Wikileaks. We regret the error.

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The news that Donald Trump Jr. invoked attorney-client privilege Wednesday to refuse to testify about a key conversation with his father was met with confusion and some amount of mockery.

As House Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) put it, that privilege doesn’t typically protect “a discussion between father and son,” and shouldn’t stop Trump Jr. from discussing a phone call they had about negotiating the fallout from news reports over his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney.

Legal experts told TPM that there are specific situations in which Trump Jr.’s invoking the privilege would be legitimate, though they noted that publicly reported information on the circumstances of the call suggests that it was not. In any event, the Republican-controlled House committee is unlikely to compel the GOP President’s son’s testimony via subpoena. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, on the other hand, will surely want to know the details of this call, and will be less sympathetic in his pursuit of that information, the experts said.

“If you’re Bob Mueller and you get an interview of Donald Trump Jr., this is going to be one of the three or four main topics in your outline. Like at the Roman numeral level,” said Andy Wright, a former White House associate counsel under President Barack Obama.

“This strategy would not work in a grand jury or special counsel investigation unless it was a valid invocation of attorney-client privilege; whereas in Congress, it’s based more on congressional will,” Wright, who is now a professor at Savannah Law School, added, noting that Trump Jr.’s refusal to talk to Congress “may be effective in a practical way even if its legally defective.”

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, did not respond to TPM’s request for comment. Trump’s White House special counsel Ty Cobb declined to comment on the record.

At issue for the Russia probe investigators is what Trump Jr. said to his father after the New York Times broke the news that Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who Trump Jr. was told had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, during a June 2016 sit-down at Trump Tower. The Washington Post reported that the President, while traveling back from the G-20 summit on July 8, 2017 on a plane full of aides, “dictated” a misleading statement released by Trump Jr about the purpose of the meeting. That statement said the meeting focused mostly on the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children.

Lawyers for both Trump and his son were on the call hammering out that response, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But the presence of attorneys alone does not validate Trump Jr.’s claim of attorney-client privilege.

Legal experts told TPM that the eldest Trump son’s legal team would need to be engaged in a common interest agreement with his father’s lawyers to openly share information; that the conversation would have to be specifically focused on obtaining legal advice rather than political crisis communications; and that no non-privileged parties could be listening in on the call.

“If Trump is talking on a plane full of people, that’s not a privileged conversation even if his attorney was there,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent who now serves as a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “He’s not representing everyone on the plane.”

It’s not entirely clear who else was involved with this specific call. Trump Jr. has acknowledged coordinating his statement with adviser-turned-communications director Hope Hicks, who was aboard Air Force One and speaking with Trump while the statement was being drafted, according to CNN.

Former federal prosecutor Steve Miller noted that the “crime-fraud exemption” could also come into play if either attorney was providing guidance on how to conceal the true purpose of the Trump Tower meeting.

“If legal advice is being sought or legal communications exist for the purpose of furthering a fraud, then it’s not privileged,” he said.

Getting to the bottom of these questions is more likely to be a job for Mueller’s team than for Congress, given that it is at the discretion of a committee chair to decide whether to accept a privilege claim. Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) so far appears uninterested in following up on his Democratic colleagues’ calls to subpoena Trump Jr.

“A lot of questions were asked and answered, and from my perspective all of our questions were answered,” Conaway said after the seven-hour interview wrapped.

As Rangappa put it, “I think that what was really going on with Don Jr. is that he was buying time. When he goes in to testify he’s testifying under oath so he’s getting locked into what he says. And anything he says that could later get disproven would make him liable for perjury.”

Trump Jr.’s attorney has reportedly requested more time to study whether they will ultimately voluntarily offer more facts about the father-son call. No deadline has yet been set to produce that information.

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Blackwater founder and Trump donor Erik Prince wasn’t pleased that the House Intelligence Committee called him in for a Nov. 30 interview, as his newly released closed-door testimony makes abundantly clear.

In the transcript of the over three-hour-long interview, an increasingly testy Prince offered blanket denials of any involvement in or awareness of untoward dealings tied to the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Front side, back side, no side, never got any indication of anything like that,” Prince said when asked if he knew of any exchange of information or discussions of establishing a backchannel line of communications between the Trump team and Kremlin.

The bulk of the questions focused on Prince’s secret January 2017 trip to the Seychelles, where he met with Kirill Dmitriev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin and CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. While the Washington Post, which broke the news of the meeting, reported that Prince presented himself as an “unofficial envoy for Trump,” Prince testified that the principal purpose of his visit to the island nation was an invitation to meet with members of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family, one of whom casually suggested he meet with Dmitriev for a drink.

Dmietriev was described to him, he testified, as a “Russian guy that we’ve dealt with in the past” who would be “an interesting guy for you to know, since you’re doing a lot in the oil and gas and mineral space.”

Prince testified that he was not representing the Trump team during their 30-minute conversation; that he couldn’t “recall” if he knew Dmitriev represented a state-banked investment bank sanctioned by the U.S.; and that he did not discuss sanctions or anything related to the incoming Trump administration with the banker. Dmitriev did, however, express “how much he wished trade would resume with the United States in a normal way.”

Prince repeatedly tried to turn his conversation with lawmakers towards the leaking of classified intelligence information, which he insisted should be the real concern of Capitol Hill and the intelligence community. He repeatedly asserted that he believed he’d been illegally “unmasked” by members of the Obama administration and that the revelation of his identity had affected his ability “to do banking, to do business.”

At points, the conversation took a turn for the comic. Prince, whose sister is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, repeatedly denied having a special relationship with the Trump team, despite acknowledging that he submitted foreign policy position papers on the Middle East to the campaign, frequently texted with campaign CEO Steve Bannon, and visited Trump Tower several times during the transition.

“How would you describe the role of a citizen voter who wrote policy memos for a campaign, made multiple visits to Trump Tower, made six-figure donations to the campaign, and conducted a number of meetings with the campaign’s manager?” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) asked.

“Someone who cares about their country,” Prince replied.

Prince became increasingly short with the predominantly Democratic lawmakers questioning him as the hearing proceeded, dismissing their queries as a “waste of time” and “fishing expedition.”

Read the full transcript of his interview below.

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Buried amid the news avalanche that erupted when former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn admitted Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia was confirmation of key details of his work for another foreign nation: Turkey.

Flynn was not charged for his lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests, and his statement of offense made no mention of his alleged involvement in an outlandish plot to kidnap a Muslim cleric. But Flynn admitted that his belated application to register as a foreign agent for his Turkey lobbying was riddled with lies, and that he failed to divulge that the highest levels of Turkey’s government were behind his work.

According to court documents, “Flynn made materially false statements and omissions” in his Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing with the Justice Department entered in March, shortly after he was forced out of the White House.

As Flynn admitted, the FARA filing falsely stated that his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, “did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved” in a project undertaken during the 2016 election to smear Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric living in the U.S. and loathed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn also omitted “that officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction” over the project and falsely claimed that his Election Day op-ed in The Hill calling for Gulen’s removal from the U.S. wasn’t part of that work.

Despite these remarkable admissions, Flynn, who is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, remained defiant. In a statement released after he entered a guilty plea in Washington, D.C. federal court Friday, the retired general called months of reports on his alleged “’treason’ and other outrageous acts” “false” and “contrary to everything I have ever done.”

Flynn Intel Group’s former lobbying client, businessman Ekim Alptekin, is adamantly denying the substance of Flynn’s admissions.

“The Turkish Government did NOT provide supervision or direction to the work I commissioned from Flynn Intel Group,” Alptekin, who paid Flynn some $530,000 for the anti-Gulen work and has close ties to Turkey’s government, wrote on Twitter.

“I cannot understand why Mr. Flynn chose to ‘admit’ a falsehood,” he continued. “My interactions with Mr. Flynn & his colleagues were legal and aboveboard.”

One such interaction involved inviting Flynn to a September 2016 meet with Turkey’s foreign minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law and the country’s energy minister to discuss forcibly transporting Gulen back to his native land, according to the Wall Street Journal. Erdogan believes Gulen masterminded a failed coup attempt against him last summer, and the cleric’s return to Turkey is one of his top priorities, though his government denies he would use extralegal means to secure it.

Flynn also reportedly met with unidentified senior Turkish officials weeks before inauguration to talk about orchestrating the return of Gulen and securing the release of imprisoned Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab in exchange for over $15 million.

The Zarrab case is another sharp thorn in Turkey’s side. Zarrab, who is cooperating with the U.S. federal government, has testified in court that Erdogan and other top politicians engaged in an elaborate scheme to evade U.S. sanctions.

It’s unclear if Zarrab’s testimony could have any implications for Flynn or the Mueller investigation, but his case has intensified rocky relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

In fiery comments to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party reported by Reuters Saturday, Erdogan said that U.S. courts “can never try my country.”

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Donald Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday made the controversial claim that the President cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice.

The “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” John Dowd, who is handling Trump’s defense in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, told Axios.

This is a new assertion for Dowd, who over the weekend took credit for writing a tweet sent from Trump’s personal account that said the President felt compelled to dismiss national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence—and the FBI—about his contacts with Russia. Legal observers said that the tweet, which was written in Trump’s characteristic bombastic style, strengthened the case that Trump knowingly obstructed justice when he later dismissed FBI Director James Comey.

Trump’s legal team offered a string of rapidly changing explanations for the message. Dowd at first said that the tweet simply paraphrased language in a statement issued by White House special counsel Ty Cobb about Flynn pleading guilty to one count of lying to federal agents. Dowd later said that he drafted the message and White House social media director Dan Scavino posted it.

“The tweet did not admit obstruction,” Dowd insisted to Axios. “That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion.”

Contrary to the veteran D.C. lawyer’s claim, it is not settled law that the president cannot be accused of obstructing federal probes. The articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon accused him of helping impede investigations into the Watergate break-in.

It is not the first time Trump and his supporters have claimed that he is above the law. Shortly after his election, Trump said that he wasn’t legally obliged to sever ties with his businesses because “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” The Constitution bans elected officials from accepting payments from foreign governments and engaging in bribery and fraud.

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It was reportedly Jared Kushner who directed Mike Flynn to call officials from Russia and other countries regarding an Israel-related UN Security Council resolution weeks before President Donald Trump took office, according to a slew of reports out Friday.

An unnamed individual referred to only as a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” emerged in charging documents filed Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of Flynn’s plea deal for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.

The Washington PostNBCBuzzfeed and Bloomberg’s Eli Lake spoke to sources who identified Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser as the “very senior member” who told Flynn to try to delay a vote on a resolution critical of Israeli settlement construction.

“Jared called Flynn and told him you need to get on the phone to every member of the Security Council and tell them to delay the vote,” a person who was in the room with Flynn told Buzzfeed, adding that Kushner emphasized that the move “was a top priority for the President.”

Flynn, who took the call at the Trump’s transition team Washington, D.C. offices, also told the staff that “the President wants this done ASAP,” according to Buzzfeed’s source.

That tracks with what a former transition official told Bloomberg about Kushner ordering Flynn to ask every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the council to delay or oppose the resolution, which condemned Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as a violation of international law.

Trump and Kushner both have warm relationships with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fervently opposed the resolution.

Flynn’s statement of offense says that he contacted Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, to make his request on Dec. 22, spoke to him about it again on Dec. 29, and subsequently lied about it in an interview with federal agents.

Kushner reportedly met with Mueller’s team in November for an interview that focused primarily on Flynn’s Russia contacts.

Former prosecutors told TPM that the generous terms of Flynn’s plea deal suggest he must have critical information about other Trump officials even closer to the center of power than he was. Kushner fits that bill.

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The explosive news that ousted national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials was delivered in a brief, tidy package: a one-and-a-half-page document laying out the single count against him.

Former federal prosecutors told TPM that Special Counsel Robert Mueller made a calculated move to keep Flynn’s charge limited, and that, given what is known about Flynn’s myriad inappropriate foreign dealings, they wouldn’t have done so unless the former intelligence official had divulged some very juicy secrets.

“What’s interesting to me is what he’s not charged with,” said Steven Miller, a former anti-corruption federal prosecutor. “This is a very narrowly drawn structural plea bargain. By virtue of a single count he can’t get more than a five-year sentence. You don’t get that unless you’re giving something serious to the government. And the number of players left are relatively small: it’s [Jared] Kushner, it’s [Donald] Trump Jr., it’s the Trump campaign, and it’s the President. So I think this is something that would cause all of them to be extraordinarily worried.”

“It’s a neon sign that there’s massive cooperation underway by Flynn,” Miller added.

Jens Ohlin, an expert in criminal law at Cornell Law School, concurred, saying what essentially amounts to a “sweetheart deal” would not be offered unless Flynn could incriminate a bigger fish.

“The government would not agree to this deal if Flynn was merely providing information on someone who is in a peripheral place in the criminality,” Ohlin said. “So if he’s providing information in exchange to this deal its because it’s someone who is even more centrally located than Flynn.”

Shortly after Flynn entered a guilty plea in Washington, D.C. federal court, the White House released a statement downplaying the news. White House attorney Ty Cobb’s claim that “nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn” was rapidly proven false by the release of Flynn’s statement of offense.

That document affirmed that “a very senior member” and “senior official” of the Trump transition team told Flynn to contact Russian and other foreign government officials to discuss critical foreign policy decisions.

Former prosecutors say that Flynn must have entered into a proffer, or “queen for a day,” agreement with Mueller’s team in which he divulged every detail he knew relevant to their investigation. The government found the information sufficiently valuable that they agreed to strike a deal, despite Flynn’s undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Turkey and reported discussions about spiriting an exiled Muslim cleric loathed by Turkey’s government out of the U.S.

The decision not to include a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act for his Turkey lobbying or other possible charges in Flynn’s plea agreement is not as unusual as it may seem.

“They have discretion to do whatever they want,” Seetha Ramachandran, a former Justice Department official and assistant U.S. attorney said of federal prosecutors. “The practice really varies between different federal districts. Some U.S. attorneys offices and parts of [Main] Justice want a cooperator to plead guilty to everything they’ve ever done. Some use a more bare-bones type of guilty plea. So I think it really varies. He’s chosen this strategy.”

Mueller’s camp has carefully managed the release of information about other Trump officials who may be caught up in the probe, but details on Flynn’s work to lobby on behalf of Israel with Kushner are already emerging in the press. Much more will come out in the days to come, legal experts predicted.

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Steve Vladeck, a national security expert at the University of Texas School of Law.

“The question is whether we’re going to start hearing stuff from Flynn’s camp about what he’s sharing with investigators, whether we’re going to see more movement, more indictments coming down in the next couple of weeks from Mueller. The real story of today is that there’s a guarantee that there’s big news coming down the pike.”

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Defense attorneys are typically wary of letting their clients share information with those investigating them, so reports that Jared Kushner agreed to a November interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller came as something of a surprise. Was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide officially just a witness in the sprawling investigation clouding the White House?

Not exactly, former federal prosecutors say.

Kushner was brought in for an approximately 90-minute interview that focused primarily on the Russia contacts of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to reports in the New York Times and CNN. But former federal prosecutors note that political as well as legal considerations colored Kushner’s decision to talk, and that the reported focus on Flynn doesn’t mean that Mueller won’t want to learn more about other topics pertaining to Kushner.

“One thing it certainly means is that his lawyer thought there was not any significant criminal liability for Kushner as a result of that interview, which leads me to think it was fairly limited,” former assistant U.S. attorney Renato Mariotti told TPM, noting that the terms of what would be discussed were likely agreed upon ahead of time.

“But it would shock me if [Kushner attorney] Abbe Lowell thought that Kushner had no liability anywhere else,” Mariotti, who is now running for Illinois attorney general, added.

Lowell did not respond to TPM’s request for comment by press time, but said in a statement to CNN that Kushner “has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so.”

Kushner, a core member of Trump’s tight inner circle, is reportedly under scrutiny for a number of issues. The top White House aide failed to disclose dozens of meetings with foreign contents on his national security clearance forms; had multiple meetings with Russians including the head of the sanctioned Vnesheconombank; and reportedly encouraged the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

Given all that, former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said that “no defense attorney in his right mind would let Jared Kushner anywhere near a prosecutor.”

But Zeidenberg pointed out that there are optics issues at play in special counsel investigations, and White House attorneys have maintained that administration officials are fully cooperating with Mueller’s team.

A similar situation played out during his time working on the investigation into the leaked identity of former CIA officer Valerie Wilson, Zeidenberg said, because officials in George W. Bush’s administration followed White House orders to cooperate with the probe.

“Even [indicted former White House adviser] Scooter Libby came in multiple times, and it wasn’t helpful to him,” Zeidenberg told TPM.

“There are political considerations as opposed to just legal ones,” he added. “If you’re looking at it from a legal perspective, you just keep your mouth shut and see what the government, the prosecutor comes up with. But if there are political considerations, it’d be a real problem if Jared Kushner asserted his Fifth Amendment or if other people close to the White House said they were pleading the Fifth. There would be a terrible perception problem.”

One former DOJ official sees a more innocent explanation for Kushner’s willingness to conduct the interview: he may have been a witness to key events or been sloppy in filing his national security clearance application, but none of the publicly available evidence suggests that he is criminally liable.

“So far I don’t see the things Kushner has done to be criminal, and you want to continue to send a message to the prosecutors that your client is cooperative,” said Michael Zeldin, a former federal counsel who worked closely with Mueller in the DOJ’s Criminal Division. “So it would make sense that you’d bring him in to help the prosecutor in the areas that they’re investigating, as long as it doesn’t implicate your client’s liberty.”

Though prosecutors are mindful of the optics of bringing high-profile White House officials in for multiple interviews, Mariotti and Zeidenberg said Mueller’s team will likely need Kushner to address the other issues that pertain to him, and it’s unclear if Lowell will agree to all of those discussions. Cautioning that most of the developments in the probe are happening out of sight, the three former prosecutors said that reports that Flynn’s legal team may be hammering out a possible deal don’t necessarily say anything about the progress of investigations into matters like obstruction of justice.

News that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was indicted and pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russia contacts, for example, emerged like a “bolt out of the blue,” Zeidenberg said.

The prospect of other bolts raining down render the President’s rosy predictions about the probe’s impending conclusion unlikely, prosecutors warned.

“The idea that this is going to be wrapped up by the end of this year is laughable,” Zeidenberg said. “That I can say with a high degree of confidence is not true.”

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