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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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The White House and conservative media went into overdrive this week with claims that the FBI planted spies in the Trump campaign. We now know there was an informant, Cambridge University professor Stefan Halper, working with the bureau, but there is no indication that he was “embedded” in the campaign as a “spy” for “political” purposes.

Instead, Halper met several times with Trump aides known to be communicating with individuals linked to the Russian government, including Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, and passed the information on to U.S. intelligence agencies.

Trump and his supporters are running with the more dramatic version of events, with the President even making an unprecedented “demand” that the Justice Department investigate the matter. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that an ongoing, related DOJ inspector general probe would be expanded in order to do so. Intelligence leaders also held a briefing with top congressional lawmakers and Trump attorney Emmet Flood regarding classified information Republicans have pushed to obtain about the informant.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince appears to have lied to Congress about the extent of his involvement with the Trump campaign, which included organizing an Aug. 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel, and George Nader, who was acting as an emissary for the United Arab Emirates.

Nader, the AP reported, also set up a business partnership with billionaire Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy, and was en route to meet with Broidy and the Trump family in January when he was met by FBI agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and started cooperating with his Trump-Russia probe. (Broidy also paid Michael Cohen to negotiate a nondisclosure agreement regarding his relationship with former Playboy model Shera Bechard.)

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin denied any involvement in what he characterized as a wide-ranging internal probe into the leak of some of Cohen’s confidential bank records. The BBC reported that another large sum was given to Cohen by reps for Ukraine’s president in exchange for arranging a June 2017 meeting between him and Trump.

Cohen’s longtime friend, “Taxi King” Gene Freidman, is now cooperating with state and federal prosecutors as part of a plea deal allowing Freidman to avoid serious jail time for tax fraud. Those generous terms suggest Freidman has significant information to share, possibly on Cohen.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson claimed ignorance of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s interference campaign favored Trump.

Paul Manafort’s federal case in Washington, D.C. pressed forward, with Mueller’s team revealing that other yet-to-be-revealed PR firms were involved in his Ukraine lobbying scheme.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed that he was told there is a Sept. 1 deadline for Mueller’s probe to conclude. There is no indication that’s the case, though Mueller may need to pause his investigation as we head into the summer to avoid influencing the midterm elections.

As Mueller himself said in an unusually pointed statement this week, his probe case involves “multiple lines of non-public inquiry” that are far from complete.

 

 

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After speculation that he may have to represent himself in a federal court case over the 2017 Charlottesville white nationalist rally, Richard Spencer has managed to find himself a lawyer.

On May 23, just one day before Thursday’s scheduled hearing, Virginia attorney John DiNucci filed court documents announcing that he would represent Spencer in court.

Spencer told TPM in a text that the delay was intended to “keep you all on the edges of your seats.”

But the white nationalist leader had struggled to raise the $25,000 he claimed he needed for his defense, repeatedly getting booted off of crowdfunding platforms like Funded Justice. As of Thursday morning, Spencer’s legal defense page on Freestartr, a platform founded by right-wing troll Chuck Johnson, had pulled in $20,095.

Donors who gave $100 were promised a “hand-written thank you note from Richard,” while those who gave $1,000 would get a phone or Skype call. Deeper-pocketed donors were invited to shell out $50,000 for a “serious legal defense fund” to tackle future lawsuits.

Spencer told TPM he had “exceeded” his goal “with bitcoin and such.”

Spencer and others involved with the deadly August 2017 white nationalist rally were sued by the city of Charlottesville last October for conspiring to wage violence and engage in “unlawful paramilitary activity.” A number of counter-protesters were injured at the rally, and 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed.

Several of the defendants named in the suit, including the neo-Confederate League of the South and neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, have already entered into settlements agreeing not to hold armed rallies in the city.

Spencer said his lawyer will argue that he never committed violence or encouraged supporters to do so.

That was the same argument he made in complaints filed against the universities that tried to keep him from coming to their campuses as part of his since-abandoned college speaking tour.

Violent brawls broke out at his final event at Michigan State University this spring, and a white nationalist fired gunshots at counter-protesters following Spencer’s talk at the University of Florida last fall.

TPM was not immediately able to reach DiNucci, whose website appears to be defunct. No one answered the phone at the number listed for DiNucci’s one-man law office, and he did not immediately respond to an email.

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U.S. Judge Kimba Wood has postponed until next week a scheduled hearing concerning federal agents’ seizure of materials from Michael Cohen’s office and apartment.

The delay is intended to provide special master Barbara Jones, who was appointed to review the seized documents to sort out material covered by attorney-client privilege, more time to proceed with her work, Wood said in an order.

The hearing, which was scheduled to take place this Thursday, is now set for Wednesday May 30.

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Sources in Ukraine told the BBC that Michael Cohen received a hefty secret payment to set up talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump last year. Cohen denies it.

According to the BBC’s Wednesday report, intermediaries for Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko arranged the payment to Cohen for his help in establishing a back channel to Trump. One source told the BBC Cohen received $400,000; another put the total at $600,00.

The BBC report cited “sources in Kiev close to those involved,” including a “high-ranking Ukrainian intelligence officer.”

The Ukrainians were ultimately dissatisfied with the brief sit-down between the two leaders held at the White House last June, saying Cohen had accepted “hundreds of thousands” of dollars but failed to deliver a substantial meeting, according to the BBC.

Cohen denied to the BBC that he received the payment. The story notes that there is “no suggestion” Trump was aware of any payment.

The BBC’s report has not yet been confirmed by other outlets.

Shortly after it was published, Poroshenko’s office issued a blistering statement calling the story “slander” and demanding its retraction.

“We believe that the blatant disinformation that has been disseminated is a part of a fake campaign aimed at discrediting Ukraine-US relations, as well as a personal attack against the Presidents of Ukraine and the US,” the statement read.

No specific error was mentioned, and the BBC has made no correction to the piece.

If Cohen did accept funds from representatives for the Ukrainian leader, it would be just the latest example of the president’s former personal attorney raking in huge sums in exchange for his purported access to the White House.

It would also represent another link between Cohen and Ukraine. Cohen has business ties to Ukrainian immigrants in the casino boat, taxi and ethanol industries. Last year, he served as the conduit for a Ukrainian politician’s “peace plan” intended to end regional conflict there that involved lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Though Cohen denied the New York Times’ report that he personally delivered the plan to then-National Security Advisor Michael Flynn last February, his story on what ultimately happened with the plan changed multiple times.

Felix Sater, a former business associate of both Cohen and Trump who was also involved with the peace effort, and Andrii Artemenko, the Ukrainian politician behind it, have both reportedly been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

This post has been updated.

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Michael Cohen on Wednesday tried to distance himself from Gene Freidman, his former associate in the taxi business who is now cooperating with government prosecutors.

In a tweet, Cohen said that he and Freidman, known as the “Taxi King” of New York, “are not partners and have never been partners in this business or any other.”

Freidman was described as Cohen’s “significant business partner” in a New York Times article Tuesday that broke the news that Freidman was cooperating with state and federal investigators in order to avoid the prospect of decades in jail for various tax fraud charges.

Freidman has for years managed a number of taxi medallions for Cohen in New York City and Chicago, and the pair have been friends since the 1990s.

Freidman told TPM last year that they regularly dined together. In comments to the Times Tuesday, he called Cohen a “dear dear personal friend and a passive client! That’s it!” The Real Deal reported last year that Cohen helped name Freidman’s oldest son.

Freidman also denied that his own legal situation had anything to do with the New York state criminal investigation into Cohen’s business dealings, saying he hates “that I have been grouped in this runaway train that I am not a part of!”

Freidman’s generous plea deal could add pressure on Cohen to cooperate with authorities.

But Cohen insisted the press was mischaracterizing their relationship, describing himself as “one of thousands of medallion owners who entrust management companies to operate” their medallions, and concluding his tweet with the hashtag #MediaWrongAgain.

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A Georgia Republican who pointed his gun at a teenager in a campaign ad and joked about personally rounding up undocumented immigrants will advance to the runoff in the state’s gubernatorial primary.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp earned 25.6 percent of the vote in Tuesday’s election, placing second behind Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who earned 39 percent.

Left behind are even more extreme candidates like State Sen. Michael Williams, who received plenty of earned media in the final weeks of the race by touring the state in a “deportation bus” but scored only 4.9 percent of the vote.

Kemp, who is vying for the Trump base of rural, deeply conservative voters, will continue to paint Cagle as a moderate. The GOP official honed this message in recent controversial ads, including one where he pointed a gun at a teenager who was asking permission to date his daughter and another in which he pledged to hunt down “criminal illegals” in his “big truck” and personally remove them from the country.

“Yep, I just said that,” seems to be Kemp’s new self-consciously anti-politically correct tagline.

He used it in the “So Conservative” ad on immigration, and repeated it at a Tuesday election night party in Athens, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“He’s not a leader. He’s a puppet,” Kemp said of Cagle. “Yeah, I just said that. He’s not fighting for us. He’s fighting for those with deep pockets whose interests are not ours.”

As Georgia’s top elections officials, Kemp has supported a restrictive approach to voting and registration, drawing the ire of voting rights advocates.

Whoever wins the July 24 runoff will face off against Democrat Stacey Abrams, who won her own primary in a landslide. If Abrams wins, she will become the country’s first black female governor.

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One of Michael Cohen’s former partners in the taxi business is cooperating with prosecutors, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Gene Freidman, the Russian-born “Taxi King” of New York, will cooperate with state or federal investigators as a potential witness as needed in exchange for avoiding jail time for his own crimes, a person briefed on the matter told the Times.

Freidman’s plea deal puts more pressure on Cohen to cooperate with the sprawling federal investigation into Russian election meddling – a prospect that may cause anxiety in the White House.

It also represents a remarkably lenient deal for Freidman, who has told TPM he has managed taxi medallions owned by Cohen in both New York City and Chicago for some 16 years.

Freidman was facing four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny for failing to pay over $5 million in taxes. The Times reported that each of those class B felonies carried a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Freidman instead pleaded guilty to one count of evading $50,000 taxes and faces five years of probation provided he complies with the terms of his agreement, according to the newspaper.

Cohen’s involvement in the lucrative New York City taxi business is one of the focuses of federal prosecutors. The search warrants they received to execute raids on Cohen’s premises in April specifically sought information about Cohen’s associates in his taxi business, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Freidman told TPM in an interview last year that he and Cohen were close and “talk daily sometimes.”

“I help him out as much as I can,” Freidman said at the time. “I also have a business relationship but we’re friends, you know. We have dinner with his wife.”

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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress Tuesday he has no role in the inspector general probe into the leak of confidential bank records of Michael Cohen’s finances, but that the investigation will be sweeping and thorough.

“I personally have not been involved in any of the procedures or anything associates with this,” Mnuchin said in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee about the internal Treasury investigation into the publication of some suspicious activity reports (SARs) documenting huge payoffs to President Trump’s onetime personal lawyer.

The probe was announced last week after the New Yorker published an interview with a law enforcement official who claims to have leaked the documents after noticing they were missing from a database maintained by the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The New Yorker’s sources said that it was extraordinarily unusual for SARs to be inaccessible.

A FinCEN spokesperson said at the time that access to specific SARs is sometimes restricted at the request of prosecutors conducting ongoing investigations. Mnuchin reiterated that point at Tuesday’s hearing.

“I am not making any comments whether this was or was not done as it relates to these specific SARs, but I want to comment that FinCEN does have a long-standing policy of accommodating the enforcement agencies on that,” he said.

The SARs detailed a complex web of payments to and from a shell company operated by Cohen. Multinational corporations channeled money to Trump’s longtime fixer in exchange for his purported access to the administration, while Cohen funneled funds to an adult film star who alleges she had an affair with the President.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, working off of a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are investigating Cohen for a host of financial crimes.

Public-interest groups and a handful of Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Mnuchin to recuse himself from any matters linked to Russia’s 2016 election interference because he served as finance chair of Trump’s campaign. The Democrats, led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), re-upped this call in a May 18 letter chastising Mnuchin for failing to address their questions.

The Treasury secretary’s silence, they wrote, suggested that he was “attempting to obstruct our efforts to uncover potential criminal activity by the President and those in his inner circle.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) pressed Mnuchin on whether the inspector general was focusing not just on leaks but on any possible “inappropriate interference” with the inaccessible SARs. Mnuchin insisted that the scope of the probe was broad.

“They are reviewing everything associated with the information of the SARs, both the technology issues, the issues around logging,” Mnuchin said. “I can assure you that they are doing a thorough review because this system of SARs is absolutely critical to our entire FinCEN effort and we need to make sure that it is in no way at risk.”

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In her first press interview since news broke in January of her affair with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), the woman at the heart of the scandal said she never wanted to go public.

“I didn’t want this,” the woman told local Missouri station KSDK in an interview published Monday. “I wasn’t out to get anyone. I really was just trying to live my life.”

It was only when her ex-husband released a secret recording in which she said Greitens tried to blackmail her with a semi-nude photo during their 2015 affair, prompting prosecutors to press charges against the governor, that she felt compelled to cooperate with the investigation.

“The second [Greitens] denied the things that were the most hurtful, the most difficult for me to now have to relive, I just realized now I have this decision,” the woman told KSDK. “The only ethical thing I felt I could do was tell the truth.”

The woman planned to testify in Greitens’ felony invasion-of-privacy case until St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner abruptly dropped the charge last week, after she was called by the defense to testify about possible missteps by her investigators. The judge has barred Gardner from any further involvement in the case. It has been turned over to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who will review the evidence and decide whether to refile charges against Greitens.

Baker is a seasoned, respected prosecutor who has worked on a number of sex abuse and domestic violence cases.

The woman has already testified before a special Missouri House committee investigating a host of allegations against the governor. In her vivid account, she said Greitens tied her up in his basement and photographed her semi-nude without consent, pressured her into sex acts, and slapped her on multiple occasions.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but rejected any claims of criminal wrongdoing.

In a statement to KSDK, a spokesperson for the governor said, “This case was dismissed because there was no evidence to support the allegations. Everyone involved has said they desire to move on.”

The woman, who wants to stay anonymous, also said she stood by everything she has told investigators about her relationships with Greitens.

Asked by KSDK if the governor coerced her into sex, she said, “Ultimately yes. Looking back, it’s so hard. I see myself as so vulnerable.”

The woman said she felt “used” by the governor’s lawyers, by her ex-husband, and by the people who gave $100,000 to help pay for her ex-husband’s legal bills. No money and no political operative’s pressure went into her decision to come forward, she said.

The woman requested that the station not use her real name because she wants to protect the anonymity of her young children. The only previous time she spoke to the press was a plea for privacy made in January when the scandal first broke.

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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens may have declared “victory” too soon.

On Monday, Judge Rex Burlison announced that he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to consider re-filing the blackmail charges against Greitens that were abruptly dropped by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner last week, according to the Kansas City Star. The special prosecutor has not yet been named.

Greitens, a Republican, was accused of taking a nonconsensual nude photo of his then-lover and using it to blackmail her into silence about their relationship. Gardner dropped the case last Monday after Burlison agreed to allow the defense to call her as a witness to testify about alleged errors made by members of her team. Gardner said Burlison’s decision made it untenable for her to continue the prosecution.

In his ruling, Burlison prohibited Gardner “from any further involvement in this matter.”

In response, Greitens held an impromptu press conference on the courthouse steps, where he called himself a “changed man” and said he was ready to put the matter behind him. He has admitted to the affair but denied any criminal wrongdoing.

The embattled governor also faces a separate felony charge of computer tampering brought by Gardner’s office in April, as well as possible impeachment by the Missouri legislature.

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