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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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In a pair of Friday interviews, Rudy Giuliani went all in on claims that President Trump had no idea his personal attorney spent the early months of 2017 trying to earn clients by pitching his access to the White House.

Asked by the Associated Press if Trump knew Michael Cohen was trying to profit off his ties to Trump, Giuliani said, “The answer is that I am quite certain he didn’t.”

Giuliani also told HuffPost that the President “had no knowledge” that Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies including AT&T, Novartis, and an investment bank associated with a Russian oligarch.

“Whatever lobbying was done didn’t reach the president,” Giuliani insisted to HuffPost. “He did drain the swamp.”

These firm denials are much stronger than Giuliani’s response when the story of Cohen’s access peddling first broke earlier this week. On Wednesday, Giuiliani claimed he had “no idea” if Trump directed Cohen to accept the payments, saying only, “I doubt it.”

The President has been distancing himself from his longtime “fixer” and personal lawyer as Cohen’s legal woes come into sharper focus. Trump recently referred to Cohen, who worked closely with him for over 10 years, as “an attorney” who did very little actual legal work for him.

In his interview with HuffPost, Giuliani referred to Cohen as “collateral damage.”

One thing Cohen did do: arrange hush money payments. Giuliani recently said that Trump reimbursed the $130,000 Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to keep her quiet about the affair she claims they had.

The payments were made through Essential Consultants LLC, the same shell company Cohen used to receive payments from major corporations for his supposed consulting work.

Federal prosecutors are investigating Cohen’s financial dealings for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

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The list of corporations that Michael Cohen contacted in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to offer his consulting services just keeps growing.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Cohen reached out to Ford Motor Co. in January 2017 to pitch his close access to the new president, and was promptly rebuffed. Ford was later asked by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to turn over all information about Cohen’s outreach, and the company’s head of government affairs has sat for an interview with Mueller’s team, per the Journal.

Mueller has reportedly also requested information from companies who did take Cohen up on his offer, including AT&T and Novartis. Both global firms shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to receive advice from a New York City real estate lawyer with no expertise in either telecommunications or the pharmaceutical industry.

Cohen also received $500,000 last year from the U.S. affiliate of a company owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The former personal attorney for President Trump is under federal investigation for a variety of financial crimes. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York opened a probe into Cohen after receiving a referral from the special counsel.

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Federal investigators aren’t the only ones who want answers about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that corporations shelled out last year to an LLC owned by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent inquiries to pharmaceutical giant Novartis and to Cohen’s attorney on Friday asking them to turn over documents explaining their arrangement.

Cohen is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible bank fraud, campaign finance violations and other financial crimes.

In a letter to Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan, Wyden expressed “deep concern” that the company was pushing the Food and Drug Administration for approval of an expensive cancer drug at the same time that it entered a $1.2 million contract with Cohen for health care insights that he was unqualified to provide.

“The Senate Finance Committee has a duty to ensure that pharmaceutical companies providing services to federal health programs are conducting business in a legal and transparent manner,” Wyden wrote.

He noted that Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, was not a health care policy consultancy, that Cohen himself was not a lobbyist and that the sum Novartis paid Cohen “far exceeded what it paid any of the registered lobbying firms it engaged during the first 15 months of the Trump administration.”

Wyden asked the company and Cohen to turn over their contract and statement of work, details about how each payment was made, and all communications between the two parties. He also asked to answer a simple but critical question: “Why did Novartis decide to engage Mr. Cohen and/or his firm(s)?”

The payments Cohen received from Novartis, AT&T, and the U.S. affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch came to light earlier this week. They were first revealed in a document released by Michael Avenatti, attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, and the three companies subsequently admitted to making the payments.

As Novartis acknowledged in a public statement, the company realized after its first meeting with Cohen in March 2017 that he would be “unable to provide” the kind of consulting advice they sought. Yet they continued to make payments to him until Feb. 2018.

An anonymous Novartis employee familiar with the matter told STAT News that they did so out of fear that ending the arrangement “might have caused anger” to the President, as Wyden noted in his letter to Cohen.

The same employee also described the situation as if they were “hiring [Cohen] as a lobbyist.”

Read the letters below.

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The Michael Cohen and Russia scandals collided this week with the news that Cohen drew hundreds of thousands of dollars to a shady LLC he operated by promising access to the Trump administration. The most notable sum was a $500,000 payment from Columbus Nova, the U.S. affiliate of a firm controlled by Russian oligarch and Putin ally Viktor Vekselberg.

Vekselberg has cropped up in Trumpworld several times before, attending the 2015 RT dinner in Moscow with future national security advisor Michael Flynn and Trump’s 2017 inauguration in Washington, D.C. Both he and his American cousin, Columbus Nova CEO Andrew Intrater, have been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team about the payments to Cohen and the other massive sums Vekselberg’s U.S. allies funneled to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In April, the Trump administration added Vekselberg to a list of Russian individuals and entities under U.S. sanction because of “malign activity.”

Cohen’s access-peddling extended to the corporate world, too. AT&T paid Cohen $600,000 for advice on its multibillion-dollar proposed merger with Time Warner, while Novartis shelled out over $1 million to receive health-care advice from the New York attorney. Cohen held just one meeting with the pharmaceutical giant before executives concluded he didn’t actually have anything useful to offer. They continued to pay him.

The fallout has been immediate and far-reaching, with both companies acknowledging that they turned information about the arrangement over to the special counsel and AT&T ousting its top lobbyist, calling hiring Cohen a “big mistake.”

These revelations first surfaced in a document compiled by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti. The payments were made to Essential Consultants LLC, the same shell company Cohen set up to arrange hush money payments to Daniels and to a former Playboy Playmate who claims to have carried out an affair with former RNC deputy finance chair Elliott Broidy. A number of major news organizations have since confirmed the document’s core allegations, as have Cohen’s own lawyers.

Those allegations were so specific that the Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating whether Cohen’s banking records were leaked. Specifically, they’re looking into the possible leak of Suspicious Activity Reports, which banks are required to file to the Department for any transactions of $10,000 or more that appear abnormal.

This explosive series of revelations prompted Vice President Mike Pence to offer this comment on the investigation: “It’s time to wrap it up.”

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, insisted the President “wasn’t aware” that Cohen was pitching his access to Trump to corporations and potential clients. Giuliani has generally kept a lower profile over the past few days. The negative response to his rapidly shifting explanations about the Daniels payments, made in a flood of media appearances last week, reportedly grated on the President.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report Tuesday concluding that 18 states had their election systems targeted by Russian actors during the 2016 election. And on Wednesday, a Russian company that, according to a February indictment issued by Mueller’s team, funded social media efforts to influence the 2016 election pleaded not guilty.

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St. Louis prosecutors, a local grand jury, and a GOP-controlled Missouri House committee have all expressed confidence that Gov. Eric Greitens tied his former lover up in his basement and took a nude photo of her to ensure her silence about their affair.

But proving that this happened will not be so easy in a court of law.

The biggest obstacle for the prosecution is that no one has ever seen the photo Greitens allegedly took.

To convict Greitens for a felony invasion of privacy under Missouri State Statute 565.252, prosecutors will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Greitens captured the photo on his smartphone with the intent to transmit it.

Because they don’t have an actual copy of the photo, the prosecution’s case rests on the circumstantial evidence in the woman’s account and on corroborating testimony from her ex-husband and friend. The woman will testify that she saw a flash through the blindfold Greitens tied across her eyes and heard the sound of an iPhone camera shutter click.

Because the image was stored on a smartphone, which is a form of computer, and was likely automatically uploaded to the cloud, prosecutors will argue, the situation satisfies the statute’s language about having “access to that image via computer.” As to the intent to “transmit” the photograph, they will point to Greitens’ verbal threat to the woman that the photo would be distributed “everywhere” if she ever mentioned his name and his subsequent promises to her that he deleted it.

Greitens’ team says the entire case is bogus because the prosecution can’t prove the photo ever existed. No witness, including the woman, has ever seen it. And Greitens says he never took it, and therefore could never have intended to share it with anyone.

We’ve spent months learning all the gory details of the governor’s alleged behavior. He is accused not only of blackmail but of slapping the woman on multiple occasions and forcing her to give him oral sex while she cried “like a wounded little animal on the ground.”

There is a good deal of proof that Greitens behaved appallingly. But the key piece of evidence that could convict him just isn’t there.

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Hours after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens gave his state of the state speech on January 10, a political lightning bolt struck the Capitol in Jefferson City. KMOV broke the news that Greitens, a Republican, had engaged in an extramarital affair with his former hairdresser before he was elected, and allegedly tried to ensure her silence by tying her up in his basement and taking a semi-nude photo of her without permission.

TPM has been covering the scandal ever since, and was the first outlet to report that the woman said Greitens slapped her. (She later said in sworn testimony that the slapping had occurred on multiple occasions.) Greitens has since been charged with a felony related to the blackmail incident and another felony in an unrelated campaign finance matter. A special Missouri House committee is determining whether to begin impeachment hearings.

TPM will be in the courtroom next week for the governor’s felony trial in the blackmail case. Here’s everything you need to know about what to expect.

Who: Greitens is a former Rhodes scholar and Navy SEAL who campaigned in 2016 as an anti-establishment Trump ally set on rooting out corruption in state politics. Greitens’ national ambitions were apparent much earlier. Long before he ran for governor, he’d registered domains like EricGreitensForPresident.com. That combination of naked aspiration and a willingness to go after his own party quickly won him enemies in the state legislature, as did his reliance on the dark money contributions he had railed against as a candidate.

What: The incident in question occurred on March 21, 2015. Greitens is accused of inviting the woman into the basement of his St. Louis home, tying her up to a piece of exercise equipment, blindfolding her, pulling her clothes partially off, and taking a photograph of her. The woman claims she saw a flash through the blindfold and that Greitens warned that photos of her would appear “everywhere” if she spoke about their relationship. (In her testimony to investigators, the woman also said that Greitens then pressured her to perform oral sex as she cried on the floor. That claim is not part of the case.)

The allegations came to light because her then-husband secretly recorded hours of the couple’s conversations soon after the incident, in which the woman confessed to her relationship with Greitens and made the blackmail claims. Her now ex-husband provided those tapes to the press in January.

Greitens, who is married with two young children, admitted to the affair but denied allegations of blackmail. He has called the subsequent investigation by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, a “political witch hunt.”

The charge: On Feb. 22, Greitens was indicted by a grand jury convened by Gardner, and brought into custody to have a mugshot taken. He was charged with one felony count of invasion of privacy for violating Missouri State Statute 565.252, which forbids taking a nude photograph of an individual who has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and transmitting it “in a manner that allows access to that image via computer.” The penalty is up to four years in prison.

Greitens pleaded not guilty.

Where: The trial will take place at Mel Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis and will be overseen by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison. The case is expected to attract so much media attention that the court is instituting a lottery system to allow only 24 reporters to enter the courtroom each day. The rest of the press will be seated in an overflow room equipped with a closed-circuit audio and video feed.

When: The trial begins on Monday, May 14 and is expected to last three to five days. The tight timeline is due to both the focused nature of the charge and concerns about disrupting the governor’s schedule.

Arguments for the prosecution: The prosecution’s case rests largely on the woman’s account and corroborating testimony. Both the woman’s friend, who she told about the incident at the time, and her ex-husband will take the stand.

The prosecution has argued that the woman had no incentive or interest in bringing this story to light and her account has remained consistent throughout multiple depositions, interviews, and testimony before both the ground jury and the Missouri House committee.

The prosecution does not have the photo in question or witnesses who have seen it. The circumstantial evidence of the photo’s existence comes from the woman’s description of seeing a flash, hearing an iPhone shutter click, and promises she says Greitens later made to delete the image. They will argue that Greitens’ intent to transmit the image to a computer, which is required by the invasion of privacy statute in question, is satisfied by his use of a smartphone. An iPhone is itself a form of computer and any image taken on it is sent to cloud storage by default, prosecutors noted in court filings.

Arguments for the defense: The core argument for the defense is that the photo at the heart of the charge was never taken. Greitens’ attorneys will argue that he could therefore never intend to transmit the photo to another device.

Since the story first broke, the defense has tried to paint the woman as an unreliable narrator whose sexual liaisons with the governor were consensual. They want to include her sexual history and psychiatric history as evidence at the trial, arguing that those matters are “a very relevant issue to her credibility.

Judge Burlison ruled that the woman and her ex-husband, whose names have not yet surfaced in court documents or in the media due to her requests for privacy, can be identified by name during the trial.

The defense has also highlighted missteps by Gardner’s team to frame the entire investigation as a sloppy political witch hunt. William Tisaby, a private investigator hired by Gardner who took the woman’s initial deposition, is accused of putting “words in the mouth” of witnesses and lying about aspects of his investigation, including whether he took notes during his first interview with the witness. In April, Burlison sanctioned Gardner’s team for failing to promptly turn over to the defense pertinent evidence including a videotaped deposition of the woman and notes Tisaby took while interviewing her friend.

Greitens’ team will also submit evidence about a $120,000 payment to Al Watkins, the lawyer of the woman’s ex-husband. At least $50,000 of that money came from Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn, who the defense has called a “highly motivated political individual.”

Burlison ruled that the motivations and possible bias of all parties involved in the case are relevant information.

What the trial won’t address: Greitens faces a second felony charge that will not be addressed at the mid-May trial. In late April, he was charged with computer tampering for allegedly illegally obtaining a donor list from a veterans’ charity he founded and using it to raise funds for his gubernatorial campaign. That case was also brought by Gardner’s office, based on a referral from Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Greitens allegedly directed his former aides to obtain the list from the Mission Continues and used it for campaign fundraising without listing it as an in-kind contribution. His former aide, Danny Laub, said he was tricked into taking the fall for acquiring the list during a state ethics investigation. The House committee probing Greitens’ alleged misdeeds recently released a report based on testimony provided to the AG’s office that seemed to endorse Laub’s version of events.

Greitens has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

Meanwhile, in the legislature: The Missouri legislature called a special session for the first time in state history in order to consider the results of the House committee investigation. The 30-day session begins on the evening of May 18 but legislative aides told TPM no action is expected to be taken next week. Instead, it is meant to buy the committee more time to complete their investigation and make a recommendation, which could include impeachment.

Even if they take that route, Missouri’s convoluted rules on impeachment proceedings mean that the process could stretch out for months. Greitens has adamantly refused to step down in the face of intense political pressure.

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We’ve known since last fall that U.S. citizens linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg gave millions to Republican political committees supporting Donald Trump.

Now, a new document shedding light on Michael Cohen’s financial dealings offers evidence that a U.S. firm directly tied to Vekselberg continued to shell out some $500,000 in payments to Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal fixer, after Trump had entered the White House.

Much of the core information in the new document, which was compiled by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, and released Tuesday, has since been confirmed by major news organizations including the New York Times.

Vekselberg, who is one of Russia’s wealthiest men and is said to be close to Vladimir Putin, is on the U.S. sanctions list. He was interviewed by prosecutors with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office at a New York-area airport this spring

According to the new document, over the first eight months of 2017, Columbus Nova, a New York investment firm, funneled $500,000 to Essential Consultants LLC, a shell company that Cohen also used to pay hush money to Daniels. Columbus Nova has been described as the U.S. affiliate of The Renova Group, which is chaired by Vekselberg.

A lawyer for Columbus Nova called reports that Vekselberg used the firm as a “conduit for payments” to Cohen “patently untrue.”

But people with close ties to Vekselberg have funded Trump before. Leonard Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, billionaire, and longtime business partner of Vekselberg, gave $383,000 to the RNC and $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund, ABC reported in September. And Vekselberg’s cousin, Columbus Nova CEO Andrew Intrater, gave $35,000 to the Trump Victory fund and another $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund, per the report. Vekselberg reportedly attended the inauguration.

Mueller’s investigators asked Vekselberg about his cousin’s 2016 donations and the Columbus Nova payments during their airport sit-down, as CNN reported Tuesday. Intrater has reportedly also been interviewed by the special counsel’s team, according to CNN.

A third U.S. businessman linked to Vekselberg, Russian-born oil executive Simon Kukes, gave $280,000 to Trump’s campaign and various GOP political committees after Trump became the GOP nominee, ABC News reported. Kukes worked for both Vekselberg and Blavatnik at oil giant TNK, as Open Secrets documented.

Vekselberg also was present at the infamous 2015 dinner hosted by Russian state news network RT, and attended by both Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. And a company Vekselberg controlled became the biggest Bank of Cyprus shareholder in 2014, after Wilbur Ross, a Trump ally who is now Commerce Secretary, assumed a controlling interest in the financial institution.

Vekselberg’s name cropped up again in a January 2018 Washington Post story documenting all of the high-powered Russians who flew to Washington, D.C. to attend Trump’s inaugural festivities.

At some point in the following few months, according to the New York Times, federal agents stopped Vekselberg at a New York City airport after his private jet landed, searched his electronic devices, and questioned him.

Then, in early April, the Trump administration announced that it was imposing sanctions on a host of Russian individuals and entities to punish Putin’s government for “malign activity” around the world. Vekselberg was among the seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials barred them from traveling to America or doing business with American companies.

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A bombshell document dropped by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Tuesday evening alleges a complex series of payments between Elliott Broidy and Michael Cohen.

The records, which list a number of “possible fraudulent and illegal financial transactions,” detail tens of thousands of dollars passing between the two men through a series of intermediaries between November 2017 and March 2018.

The document were released online by Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti. Much of its contents were subsequently corroborated by a number of major news organizations.

The unusual series of transactions between the two Trump allies is just one thread that federal investigators are digging into as they probe Cohen’s finances. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime fixer, is reportedly under investigation in the Southern District of New York for bank fraud, campaign finance violations, and other possible crimes.

The document focuses on Essential Consultants LLC, a firm set up by Cohen to handle hush money payments to Stormy Daniels, an adult film star who claims to have had an affair with Trump. Cohen also negotiated hush money payments on behalf of Broidy, a wealthy businessman and top Republican fundraiser who has said he impregnated a former Playboy Playmate.

The document notes that Cohen received at least $187,500 from Broidy’s Bank of America account. “The business purpose of these payments is unclear,” it adds.

The timeline and amount of money paid tracks with previous reporting about the coverup involving the former Playmate.

As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year, Broidy paid Cohen $250,000 to cover his legal fees for negotiating a nondisclosure agreement involving Broidy’s affair with former Playboy model Shera Bechard. The first installment to Cohen, for $62,500, was made out to Essential, per the newspaper.

According to the Journal, the settlement Cohen helped negotiate stipulated that Bechard would receive $1.6 million from Broidy that would be paid to her in quarterly installments over two years.

Per the Avenatti document, Broidy’s first payment was made on Nov. 30, 2017 into the account of the Real Estate Attorneys’ Group (REAG), a California-based firm specializing in commercial real estate. On Dec. 5, a transfer for that same amount was channeled from REAG to the firm of Keith Davidson, an attorney then representing Bechard.

The next payment from Broidy came on Dec. 29, 2017 — $62,500 made out to REAG. REAG wired the same amount to Essential Consultants on Jan. 2, 2018.

That month, the Journal first revealed that Cohen made the hush money payments on Trump’s behalf and used Essential Consultants to do so. After that series of stories came out, Broidy began paying fee installments directly to Cohen.

The first was a Jan. 31 payment of $62,500 from Broidy to REAG. The same day, a wire for the same amount was sent from REAG to Cohen.

On March 1, the pattern repeated itself. Broidy wired $62,500 to REAG, and the same amount was promptly wired to Cohen.

Just over a month later, on April 9, federal agents armed with search warrants raided Cohen’s office, apartment and hotel room, seizing electronic devices and scores of documents.

It’s not clear from the newly released information whether or how the balance of the legal fees owed to Cohen or the settlement amount to Bechard was paid.

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A bipartisan ballot measure for fairer, more competitive congressional maps in Ohio passed with sweeping support on Tuesday.

Around 75 percent of Ohioans voted for Issue 1, compared to 25 percent who voted against it, according to the Associated Press.

The measure will keep control of the map-drawing process in the hands of the legislature, but impose new rules requiring 50 percent support from members of both the Democratic and Republican parties for the maps to be enacted. If they fail, a seven-member commission composed of the governor, auditor, secretary of state and lawmakers from the two major political parties will assume control of the process.

Importantly, lawmakers are explicitly barred from passing a map that “unduly favors” either party. Other rules dictate that congressional districts must be contiguous and make geographic sense. All together, backers say, these requirements will lead to results that better reflect the will of voters rather than what most benefits the party in power.

Voting rights groups that helped garner support for the measure, including the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, cheered its passage as a victory for common-sense reform in one of the states most afflicted by partisan gerrymandering. They framed Issue 1 as the same kind of redistricting reform that voters are pushing for in other states from Michigan to Utah.

“2018 is going to be a historic year for redistricting reform, as Ohio is the first of several states expected to vote on ballot measures aimed at making the redistricting process more fair and transparent,” Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said in a statement.

Former attorney general Eric Holder, head of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), said in a statement that the measure “gives me hope that we can restore fairness to our elections in states around the country.” One of the NDRC’s affiliate arms spent $50,000 to support the measure’s passage.

Issue 1 was a compromise effort that passed the legislature with broad support from both parties. Voting rights groups and their backers say it only came about and received significant GOP support after they pushed to get a far more sweeping reform proposal on the November ballot.

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Monday night saw the spectacular implosion of New York Democratic Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s career over allegations that he physically assaulted women. So what will become of the inquiries into the President’s associates and administration initiated by this self-proclaimed champion of the anti-Trump resistance?

Not a whole lot, legal experts tell TPM.

In the immediate term, solicitor general Barbara Underwood will become acting attorney general. Underwood and the large team of career prosecutors below her will continue to carry out the work in which the office was already engaged. State lawmakers are expected to appoint a replacement before the September Democratic primary, but that replacement is likely to be a Democrat, given the party’s majority in the legislature.

“Absolutely nothing changes,” James Tierney, former director of the National State Attorney General Program and lecturer at Harvard University, told TPM.

“He’s got a great staff,” Tierney continued. “Nothing is going to change. There’s no legal difference.”

Underwood put out a statement to the same effect, promising that “our work continues without interruption.”

Schneiderman’s political demise was brought about by a chilling, strongly-corroborated New Yorker report in which several of his former girlfriends described being slapped and choked by the state’s top law enforcement officer, often while he was heavily intoxicated. He resigned within hours of its publication, “strongly” contesting the allegations but acknowledging they rendered him unable to “effectively” lead his office’s work.

That work included taking more than 100 legal or administrative actions against the Trump administration and congressional Republicans. It also meant serving as a possible bulwark against the President should he decide to pardon associates implicated in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.

The biggest assist on that front was Schneiderman’s cooperation with Mueller’s team on a money laundering investigation into indicted Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. But Schneiderman was also interviewing tenants of properties owned by Trump son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations that the Kushner family real estate was filing false tenant documents.

Most recently, in mid-April, Schneiderman launched an effort to end-run any federal pardons Trump may issue. In a letter, he urged New York officials to change state law to exempt New York’s double jeopardy law from cases involving presidential pardons. The proposed change would empower Schneiderman and other local prosecutors to bring state criminal charges against any Trump aides who are absolved by the President.

But the decision to actually alter the law rests with Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the state legislature, not the attorney general’s office. And the information shared between Schneiderman’s office and Mueller’s team about Manafort isn’t going anywhere.

“You have to stop making it about him,” Tierney, the expert on attorneys general, said on the pardons question. “These are institutions. They had a problem with New York law so they went to the legislature with it.”

The attorney general and solicitor general offices also work closely together, meaning Underwood is likely aware of any Mueller-adjacent matters Schneiderman was working on, according to Fordham Law professor Jed Shugerman.

“If and when Schneiderman was coordinating with Mueller, it would be likely that he was also bringing Underwood into those conversations,” Shugerman said.

Shugerman added that Underwood’s interim position made it contingent on Cuomo to “step up” and push for legislation altering the double jeopardy law to ensure that “New York’s criminal procedural laws can’t be abused to allow Trump to obstruct justice with pardons.”

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Underwood’s move into the acting AG role was cheered by New York legal observers, including Schneiderman’s longtime spokeswoman. Prior to her 11 years as solicitor general, Underwood served as a prosecutor for the Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan district attorneys, and argued cases before the Supreme Court on behalf of the Clinton administration.

But attention has already shifted to who could take her place.

Republican Manny Alicandro launched his campaign on Monday, while Democratic candidates floated for the role include Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY), former City Council Member Dan Garodnick, political activist Zephyr Teachout, and New York City Public Advocate Tish James.

Preet Bharara, former U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is an early favorite, but he has repeatedly claimed to have no interest in going into politics, telling the New York Times Magazine late last year that the thought of calling acquaintances to raise funds “doesn’t float my boat.”

Whoever becomes attorney general in November is likely to be a Democrat, and, given the prominence of the New York office on the national stage, is likely to be a highly visible opponent of Trump’s words, actions and policies.

Schneiderman may have been a particularly scrappy and energetic legal opponent of this White House, or, as Tierney put it, may have “shamelessly self-aggrandized himself.”

But as long as the party in power stays the same, the individual officeholder matters less than the institution.

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