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 Executive Director of the Maine Republican Party has admitted he created, runs and writes articles for a pro-Republican anonymous website that has come under fire from state Democrats.

Attorneys for Jason Savage wrote to the Maine Commission of Governmental Ethics to say he operates the Maine Examiner “on his own free time and does not utilize Maine Republican Party resources,” Maine News Center reported Friday.

The letter asserted that the website was a proper news site and not subject to state campaign finance disclosure laws, as state Democrats have alleged. Last month, the Democrats filed a complaint with the ethics commission saying the site slandered their unsuccessful mayoral candidate without disclosing its ties to the Republican Party.

The commission will meet Thursday and decide whether to open a formal investigation into the allegations.

The site describes itself as run by “a small group of Mainers who simply publish Maine news, trends, and interesting pieces about you, the people of Maine.” Metadata directly linked Savage to the site.

As TPM previously reported, a number of political entities, such as the reelection campaign for Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), have started websites that resemble local news sites, sometimes without disclosing who they are. Government transparency experts say they can easily mislead readers who are unaware who is funding or promoting the stories being put in front of them.

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For a year and half, President Donald Trump and his supporters have dismissed the growing evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election as a hoax. But Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian nationals Friday suggests it’s all too real.

Trump has maintained that Democrats, pained by their surprise electoral loss, invented the notion that Russian operatives spread propaganda on social media and leaked emails stolen from top Democratic operatives. Pinpointing the bad actor behind the attacks was simply not possible, Trump insisted. He has said he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Russia played any role.

Trump was wrong, according to U.S. prosecutors. Mueller’s indictment lays out in precise detail how, prosecutors believe, Russia’s Internet Research Agency carried out a multi-year, multi-million-dollar project to impersonate U.S. citizens on social media, hold on-the-ground protests in states like Florida, and even further bogus claims that Democrats committed voter fraud. The 37-page document is backed up with dates, names, bank account numbers, and the text of specific ads that the Russians paid to promote.

It provides conclusive public evidence that Russians were behind the mass interference campaign in the 2016 election, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded back in their January 2017 report.

As both documents make clear, Russia’s intention was both to undermine trust in the U.S. political system and, at least from mid 2016 on, to get Trump into the Oval Office. The indictment also says Russia sought to help Trump in the Republican primary.

Trump was suspicious of this notion from the get-go. During the campaign, he alternately suggested that the Democratic National Committee’s servers were hacked by its own staff (June 2016), China or “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds” or nobody at all.

After Trump won the election, his official line was that federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s interference were based on “Fake News Media” stories, “sleazebag political operatives,” and a “phony Democrat excuse for losing the election.”

Trump continued to press for a closer relationship with Russia, even tweeting in July 2017 that he had spoken to Putin at the G20 Summit about “forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, [and] many other negative things, will be guarded and safe.”

The President quickly backed down in the face of widespread outrage. But he continued to tell the media he believed Putin was “sincere” when he told him in their face-to-face meetings that Russia did not intervene.

Proof of Russia’s social media influence campaigns surfaced by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees did not change his mind.

“The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,” Trump tweeted in September 2017. “What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

Mueller’s indictment notes that Internet Research Agency operatives began purchasing ads on social media sites to promote their bogus activist groups in 2015, spending thousands of U.S. dollars per month on the effort.

The ads were real. The fake social media accounts existed (and Trump himself even interacted with one of them). The DNC emails were hacked and leaked. And we now have hard evidence that Russia funded and orchestrated the whole elaborate effort.

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The big news in the Trump-Russia story came Friday, when special counsel Robert Mueller’s office released an indictment of 13 individuals and three organizations related to the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian troll farm that sought to sow division and meddle with the US election process starting in 2014. It made clear that IRA’s efforts to interfere in the election were far more extensive than had previously been reported, including, for instance, efforts to push the false claim that voter fraud was rampant in the US, a claim Donald Trump also made during and after the election.

Friday also saw the release of a plea agreement for a previously unknown-to-reporters individual named Richard Pinedo. Pinedo pleaded guilty to identity fraud; court documents released by the special counsel’s office suggested Pinedo used stolen identities to set up bank accounts that were used by Russians.

Before the Friday afternoon news dump, there were hints that Mueller might have another cooperating witness. Former Trump campaign adviser Rick Gates is reportedly nearing a plea deal with Mueller’s team—a move that would pressure Gates’ longtime boss Paul Manafort to do the same.

Steve Bannon found himself in the hot seat this week, enduring some 20 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team over multiple days. Bannon also finally responded to the House Intelligence Committee’s subpoena, returning to Capitol Hill for an interview on his tenure in the presidential transition and Trump administration.

Yet his answers were reportedly inadequate; Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said he refused to answer “all but 25 questions concerning his time after the campaign,” and that the responses were drafted by the White House. Legal experts say this sort of broad invocation of executive privilege would not fly with the special counsel. The House panel is now considering holding Bannon in contempt.

White House Counsel Don McGahn is also facing new scrutiny: A Washington Post report this week revealed that, last year, McGahn asked a top DOJ official to push former FBI director Comey to publicly state that President Trump was not personally under investigation. He did so at Trump’s command—a fact that could be yet another building block in Mueller’s obstruction of justice case.

The Democrats’ rebuttal to the memo put out by Rep. Devin Nunes remains in limbo after the White House refused to release it last week, claiming that it contained too much classified information. Democrats are working with the FBI on a new draft that ensures no intelligence sources or methods would be revealed to the public.

Most of the U.S. intelligence chiefs denied any involvement in discussing the declassification of either the GOP or Democrats’ memo at a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee this week. The exception, understandably, was FBI director Christopher Wray, whose agency’s activities are central to both memos. The intelligence chiefs also released a written assessment asserting that Russia will continue to use “propaganda, social media, false-flag personas” to “exacerbate social and political fissures” in the U.S.

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The 2010 midterm elections were, in Barack Obama’s words, a “shellacking” for Democrats—and not just those in Congress.

That was the year Republicans poured money and resources into key state legislatures in order to control the once-a-decade redistricting process that would follow. The GOP emerged with full control of numerous key states, allowing them to draw congressional and state legislative district lines to their advantage, and giving them a major edge in elections for the rest of the decade. In 2012, Democrats won 1.4 million more votes for the House than the GOP, but wound up with 33 fewer seats.

With the next Census less than two years away, Democrats are mobilizing to try to prevent the same thing from happening again. But going further, by setting themselves up to carry out their own gerrymander, doesn’t appear to be on the agenda—at least for now.

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), backed by Obama and spearheaded by former Attorney General Eric Holder, is teaming up with other Democratic campaign organizations to target specific governorships, legislative chambers, and ballot initiatives in 2020 with an eye on getting a say in the redistricting process.

So far, at least, Democrats appear focused more on fighting for fairer maps than on letting themselves draw maps that advantage their party. 

“Our goal is to restore fairness to the system,” NDRC Communications Director Patrick Rodenbush told TPM Thursday. “If you look at our list of target states, we’re trying to break trifectas in states that were most badly gerrymandered by Republicans and then protect against gerrymandering in a handful of other ones.”

Trifectas are where one party controls all three influence-points for the redistricting process: both legislative chambers and the governorship.

Indeed, in many of the states the NDRC is targeting like Florida, Georgia, and Texas, their goal is only to have a voice in the redistricting process by winning control of one chamber or the governorship—not to win total control in a way that would’ve them a free hand to gerrymander. That’s in part because winning full control isn’t realistic in many states.

“The NDRC is saying all the right things and it might be that they would be happy with fair districts,” Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School, told TPM. “In some places that’s all they’re going to get, by the way. I will see what happens when they actually get control of states. I’ll see if they put their money where their mouth is.”

Still, even where they end up with the power to do so, there are plenty of factors that may keep Democrats from pressing their advantage. Demographics are a central one.

“Democratic voters are badly distributed geographically,” Theodore Arrington, a voting rights expert at University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told TPM in an email. “They are very concentrated in urban areas. Therefore, it is difficult to avoid creating a number of districts that are heavily Democratic, which wastes their votes. Given that the courts will look for districts that are compact and follow other traditional districting principles, this bad concentration will hurt the Democrats.”

The U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing three major redistricting cases out of GOP-gerrymandered Wisconsin and Texas, and Democrat-gerrymandered Maryland. Those cases could set limits on how extreme partisan gerrymanders can be.

Whatever they determine, the energized Democratic base is also pressing leadership to move towards a fairer system where independent arbiters draw up maps based on neutral redistricting principles that better reflect the parties’ vote shares. These grassroots activists appear motivated as much by a commitment to small ‘d’ democratic principles as by a partisan desire to maximize Democratic gains.

“Post-2016, people have elevated the issue of redistricting from something that was obscure—that we had to engage in a civics lesson on—to something that’s pretty much their number one demand,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director at Common Cause. “Wherever we go to, this has been a rallying cry.”

That energy has already prompted significant movement in two states that were heavily gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor during the last cycle. Ohio’s legislature approved a bipartisan resolution that would put an independent commission in charge of the congressional redistricting process, which voters will now decide on in May. Voters in 2015 approved an initiative to create a similar commission to handle state legislative redistricting. And in Michigan, a reform group collected over 425,000 signatures late last year for a 2018 ballot initiative that would install a similar setup.

“I think the biggest reformist impulses from the inside right now are coming from places where citizens are angry and loud about it,” Levitt, the Loyola professor, said. “And the legislators are desperately trying to get ahead of what they fear to be a loud angry tidal wave against them.”

That’s not to say all blue states or Democratic lawmakers are on board, or have been in the past. In Maryland and particularly Illinois, Democrats drew districts that protected incumbents. In Illinois, House Speaker Michael Madigan campaigned against a 2016 effort to create an independent redistricting process that garnered over 500,000 signatures. In California, state Democratic leadership fought hard against an ultimately successful reform initiative to create a similar process despite strong support from local Democratic clubs, according to Common Cause’s Feng.

But the party at large seems to recognize that simply having fairer maps rather than ones that heavily favor Republicans will benefit them in the long run.

Democrats are in the “comfortable position of being able to advocate for fair maps knowing that, number one you occupy the high ground,” said Tom Bonier, a Democratic political strategist and CEO of marketing consulting firm TargetSmart. “It’s hard to argue against transparency and public input. But they also know that fair maps would produce a much better landscape for Democrats.”

Non-partisan redistricting advocates like Feng hope that once that system is in place and voters see the benefits, they’ll be less likely to have to engage in another all-out battle with the GOP again in another ten year’s time.

“I analogize this to The Lord of the Rings,” she said. “You gotta take this ring away from them and throw it in the volcano. The power to draw lines for the next ten years to benefit yourself, your party and your buddies is very tempting to hold onto. And it brings out ugly monsters in both parties.”

Throwing the ring away, Feng said, is “the only way we can move beyond this tug-of-war.”

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St. Louis investigators are questioning Missouri lawmakers as part of an ongoing criminal probe into Gov. Eric Greitens (R).

In a Wednesday visit to the Capitol, two investigators working with the office of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner interviewed a number of lawmakers from both parties about Greitens’ conduct, the Kansas City Star reported Wednesday.

The questions they’re asking suggest that Gardner’s investigation has expanded beyond allegations that Greitens blackmailed and once slapped a woman with whom he carried out an extramarital affair, to look at Greitens’ campaign finance practices.

State Rep. Nate Walker, a Republican and an early supporter of the governor who has since called for him to step down, told the Star that the inquiries covered issues including “dark money and different things like that.”

In a Thursday phone call with TPM, Walker declined to expand further on the questions he received from investigators but said he had the impression from the sit-down in his office that this was a “pretty major investigation.”

Walker reiterated his belief that the various scandals engulfing Greitens had become a “major distraction” and that the governor needs to step down.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied allegations that he took a nude photograph of the woman and threatened to release it if she went public.

Greitens ran on a platform of government transparency, but has come under fire during his first year in office for relying heavily on contributions from nonprofits that engage in political activity without disclosing their donors.

Gardner’s office confirmed to the Star that Jack Foley and William Tisaby — a pair of private investigators with FBI experience — conducted the interviews with lawmakers.

Democratic Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal said during a Wednesday Senate debate that Foley and Tisaby had tried to contact her, according to the Star. Reached for comment, a spokeswoman told TPM Chappelle-Nadal has not yet met with the investigators and had no further information on what they were looking for.

Other signals have emerged suggesting that Gardner’s inquiry may be escalating. A lawyer for the woman’s husband, Al Watkins, told reporters last week that the circuit attorney’s office has convened a grand jury.

Watkins said his client was served with a subpoena to provide testimony.

Greitens and his attorney, Jim Bennett, have said they have received no contact from law enforcement officials.

Bennett told the Star Wednesday that they believe “any fair investigation will result in a conclusion that Gov. Greitens has committed no wrongdoing.”

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Read a reporter’s notebook (Prime access) on this article »

Last month, a site called the Maine Examiner reported that Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, was the state’s only member of Congress to vote to shut down the government. The site illustrated its story with a picture of Pingree next to Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), though Lewis wasn’t mentioned in the story.

Two weeks ago, another site, the California Republican, shared an article promising to explain “the process behind #ReleaseTheMemo,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) push to release a document that he has said shows anti-Trump bias at the FBI.

Both sites look like news outlets. But neither have staff writers, editorial guidelines, or physical offices. Instead, the Maine Examiner appears to be linked to the state’s Republican Party. And the California Republican is a project of Nunes’ reelection campaign.

The sites certainly aren’t the first political mouthpieces to disguise themselves as journalism. Mike Pence planned to create a state-run news service during his tenure as Indiana governor, before pulling the plug in the face of fierce criticism. The Republican Governors Association set up a partisan news site last summer that didn’t disclose who was behind it until reporters made inquiries.

Nor are the sites likely generating huge traffic, based on their social media numbers.

But for the political interests behind them, the sites represent a useful way to spread their message to supporters while falsely conveying the authority of independent journalism. Such fake “news” is particularly troubling at a time when online content can spread virally without consumers knowing who’s behind it, and the 2016 election saw hundreds of thousands of Americans were unwittingly duped by news articles, ads and social media posts produced by Russian “troll farms” and Macedonian teenagers.

“There’s a general lack of transparency here,” Brendan Fischer of the Campaign Legal Center told TPM. “When you have these ongoing accusations of fake news and attacks on the legitimate news media, and then partisan candidates creating what are actually fake news sites to help muddy the waters and push their message, it helps weaken trust in journalism and the media as an institution.”

The California Republican briefly went offline after Politico reported on it on Sunday. The site said that was due to “heavy traffic and an attack on our servers.” It was back up as of Tuesday. 

Nunes’ campaign and congressional office did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

The Maine Republican Party has staunchly denied any involvement in the Maine site, but according to a local news report, metadata indicates that a username linked to the group’s executive director, Jason Savage, registered the site’s web hosting account and downloaded the design template.

Neither Savage nor Maine GOP communications director Garrett Murch responded to TPM’s request for comment.

The Maine Democratic Party last month filed a complaint with the state ethics commission requesting an investigation into the GOP’s ties to the site and whether campaign finance laws were violated. The commission confirmed to TPM that the complaint will be reviewed at a meeting next week.

Both the Nunes campaign and the Maine site appear designed to mimic the conventions of legitimate news sites. They feature a mix of local and national news articles largely excerpted from other mostly conservative publications and framed with a conservative slant, as well as sports and human interest stories unrelated to politics. (The Nunes site promises “the best of US, California, and Central Valley news, sports, and analysis.”) On Facebook, they’re catalogued as “media/news” companies.

And neither site gives much indication to a casual news reader that they’re political propaganda. The California Republican has no “About” page explaining its purpose. At the very bottom of each page, in seven-point type, appears the line: “Paid for by the Devin Nunes campaign committee.” The Maine Examiner offers even less information, telling readers on an About page that it’s the work of a “small group of Mainers.”

The Republican Governors Association’s site set up last year, the Free Telegraph, still doesn’t include a disclosure on its social media feeds.

“It’s very clear on the Free Telegraph site that it is connected to the RGA,” RGA communications director Jon Thompson told TPM in an email, saying the site was “just another outlet” to tout the successes of GOP governors. “On every article post, at the bottom, it notes that the RGA has sponsored the article/site.”

Thompson also said a Google search would make clear the Free Telegraph is a project of the RGA—though few news consumers would likely have any reason to run one.

The FEC requires a “clear and conspicuous” disclaimer on all communications by a campaign committeeStephen Spaulding, a former FEC lawyer now at Common Cause, said the sites’ meager or non-existent disclosures raise particular issues in an era when consumers often encounter news on social media rather than on the website of the news provider. 

“The way that news is shared now, things kind of spread organically and it’s just not always clear who is behind it,” said Spaulding, who called the use of news-style sites “dangerous for democracy.” 

A series of academic studies done in the wake of the 2016 campaign suggest a low level of news literacy among consumers. A Stanford University study of some 7,800 students found that news consumers a “stunning and dismaying consistency” in their inability to evaluate the credibility of information they consumed online. Another report by a trio of political scientists found that “almost 6 in 10 visits to fake news websites came from the 10% of people with the most conservative online information diets.”

As a result, campaign sites without transparent disclosures can become just another part of the morass of legitimate news, sponsored content, political gossip and pure hogwash available online.

As Alex Howard, deputy director of the government transparency advocacy group the Sunlight Foundation, put it, these site disclosures are the only way that “the public, when they’re staring at the same glowing box, has at least a prayer of being able to understand who paid for it, what that entity is and what its goals are.”

Correction: This story initially said that Alex Howard was the Sunlight Foundation’s executive director, rather than deputy director.

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Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) is denying that the White House was involved in drafting a GOP memo that alleged anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department and FBI. But Democrats say his comments don’t put the matter to rest.

Nunes’s claim surfaced in a transcript released Friday afternoon of the House Intelligence Committee’s Monday meeting. It’s slightly stronger than Nunes’ comments on the issue last week, when he said that, “as far as I know” no Republican staffers coordinated with the White House on the document.

“There was no involvement in drafting the memo with the White House,” Nunes, the committee’s chair, said in a statement that he read as Monday’s meeting wrapped up, according to the transcript.

In a statement of his own released Friday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the top Democrat on the panel, suggested he still wants to know more.

“This carefully worded statement suggests the White House may have had a role in the planning of the memo,” if not the drafting, Schiff said.

The transcript of Monday’s meeting shows that before reading the statement, Nunes avoided offering detailed responses to Democrats’ questions about possible White House involvement.

“People want to know whether folks are just trying to protect the President or whether they are doing a legitimate investigation,” Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX) said, urging Nunes to address those concerns personally.

“The chairman is not going to entertain political theater on behalf of this committee,” Nunes ultimately said, suggesting his Democratic colleagues were eager to play up their outrage “for the news cameras.”

The Nunes memo, which was released last week, claimed that top FBI and DOJ officials failed to properly identify a dossier partially funded by Democrats as the source for an application to obtain a surveillance warrant against former Trump campaign aide Carter Page. The warrant was actually based on a wealth of information about Page dating back to 2013, and renewed multiple times, suggesting investigators found additional useful intelligence to act on.

Trump has claimed the memo completely vindicates him in the investigation into Russia’s interference in the election.

The House Intelligence Committee on Monday voted unanimously to release the Democrats’ rebuttal to the document, and the White House has spent the week reviewing it. Trump said Friday that he would release a letter on the Democratic memo imminently.

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Will Trump sit for an interview with the special counsel? And, if he does, when will it happen? Those were the biggest questions for reporters following the Trump-Russia probe this week. Trump’s lawyers are advising him against talking to Bob Mueller out of fear that he’ll perjure himself, but a refusal to do so could set up a protracted legal showdown that history suggests would likely end with the President being forced to testify. Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is expected to be interviewed by Mueller’s team next week. Attorneys for indicted Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, meanwhile, are seeking to withdraw their representation, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

On the congressional side, there’s rising tension in the House Intelligence Committee, with Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) reportedly hatching plans to construct a physical wall this spring to separate Democratic and Republican staffers. The Office of Congressional Ethics has been asked to investigate the committee’s GOP staffers over leaks; if the office determines the matter warrants further review, it will refer it to the House Committee on Ethics, which would eventually compile a public report.

The Russia probe saw a rare bipartisan moment early in the week when the House panel unanimously voted to release a Democratic memo intended to refute Nunes’ now-public memo, which alleged anti-Trump bias at the FBI and DOJ. The White House is currently reviewing the Democrats’ memo and has until Saturday to decide whether or not to make it public. Chief of Staff Kelly has hinted that, unlike the Nunes document, the Democrats’ memo may face redactions because it’s “less clean” and “lengthier.”

The committee has also yet again extended the deadline for its interview with Bannon. It will now be next Tuesday. According to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Bannon’s lawyer informed the committee that he would only answer 14 “yes-or-no questions the White House had pre-approved” about the presidential transition. Schiff said this week that, if Bannon fails to comply with a committee subpoena to answer questions about the transition and administration, he should face contempt hearings — a threat the congressional committees have yet to follow up on.

Republicans’ allegations of Democratic partisanship among FBI leadership and resentment of that partisanship among the rank-and-file was dealt yet another blow this week by the publication of a FOIAed trove of emails that revealed dismay among officials at the bureau following James Comey’s firing. A new trove of texts between FBI officials Lisa Page and Peter Strzok that Trump deemed a “bombshell” was anything but; they showed that Barack Obama wanted to learn more about the Russia interference investigation, not, as conservative news outlets initially alleged, the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Meanwhile, Russia is already taking steps to meddle in the midterm elections, per Secretary of State Tillerson, who said there was little the U.S. could do to prevent that interference.

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Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on the Russia probe »

Speculation about when and under what terms President Donald Trump might be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has dominated the headlines ever since the two parties began talks in December.

But what about Vice President Mike Pence?

Pence was absent from many of the key incidents Mueller is reportedly investigating as part of his sprawling probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But he was intimately involved with several, including the firing of former FBI director James Comey, and the subsequent efforts to settle on a rationale for that firing, which appear to be at the center of the Mueller investigation.

So it’s puzzling that Mueller appears to have made no attempt to talk to the administration’s second-highest-ranking official. Pence’s lawyer met with Mueller last year to offer Pence’s full cooperation.

“It’s a bit of a mystery to me that Pence’s name hasn’t really surfaced at all,” Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who worked closely with Mueller in the Justice Department’s criminal division, told TPM. “There are things that Pence seems to be relevant to. So I’m surprised.”

Pence’s lawyer, Richard Cullen, declined to comment to TPM on the record, while the special counsel’s office declined comment. Pence press secretary Alyssa Farah did not respond to TPM’s request for comment, but in December forcefully denied to CNN that Pence’s office was preparing for a meeting with Mueller.

As of mid-January, NBC reported that the special counsel had made no overtures to Pence about an interview.

By now, over 20 White House officials have been interviewed, including top Trump allies like Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House Counsel Don McGahn. Former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon is scheduled to sit down with Mueller next week.

Former White House lawyers caution that much of what Mueller’s team is up to is happening far from the public eye. After all, one noted, no one saw the indictment of George Papadopoulos coming.

But they offer a few explanations for why Mueller appears to be keeping his distance from Pence, at least for now.

Notably, public reports have offered little indication that Pence is a target of the obstruction of justice, collusion, or money laundering arms of the Russia investigation.

“The reporting so far has revealed not much detail about Pence’s involvement in key events. It may be that, as he did in the case of the the voter fraud commission, he kept his distance and tried to cut his losses. So he will be a witness, but it is hard to say how central to to the case he will be,” Bob Bauer, White House Counsel under President Barack Obama, told TPM in an email.

Pence had not yet joined the team at the time of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between high-level campaign officials and Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He was at his son’s wedding in Indiana in late Dec. 2016 when Mike Flynn reached out to then-Russian-ambassador Sergey Kislyak to discuss Obama’s imposition of fresh economic sanctions on Russia. And Pence has maintained he was the last to learn about issues that were either widely reported, like Flynn’s unauthorized lobbying work for Turkey, or that other White House officials were aware of, like Flynn’s conversations with Russian officials during the transition.

Still, there are a few topics that the special counsel would “absolutely” want to talk to Pence about, said Adam Goldberg, White House special associate counsel under President Bill Clinton.

One is what Flynn told Pence about his Russia contacts in January 2016. Flynn was fired in mid-February. The White House has said the firing was because Flynn misled the Vice President about those contacts. But that explanation has generated skepticism, in part because McGahn and Trump reportedly knew by late January that Flynn had lied to both Pence and the FBI.

Mueller might also might want to talk about Pence’s involvement in the May 2017 deliberations over firing Comey. The New York Times reported that Trump informed the Vice President on May 8 that he planned to dismiss the FBI director, reading to him and several other senior officials from a draft memo laying out the case that Comey had mishandled the FBI’s Russia investigation. Trump was stopped from sending that memo out, the Times reported, and instead shifted the justification for Comey’s dismissal onto his handling of the Clinton email investigation. Pence conveyed the official line about Clinton to the press.

Still, as Goldberg noted, other witnesses have likely already provided extensive testimony on these topics, making obtaining Pence’s account less of a priority. Flynn, for example, is cooperating with the special counsel after pleading guilty to lying to the FBI in December.

“If they already have enough people who would testify and aren’t worried about Pence contradicting, from their perspective they’re just going to make a political judgment of, ‘Well we don’t need to go involve the Vice President; that might make us look more partisan,’” he said.

Goldberg, Baeur and Zeldin noted that Mueller’s team is digging through reams of evidence that the public simply doesn’t know about, and that could prompt further lines of questions for the Vice President.

Pence could also serve as a corroborating witness for whatever testimony Trump provides, if he ultimately opts to do so, Zeldin suggested.

But things could get awkward if an invitation is ultimately extended to the Vice President, even as Trump’s own attorneys are reportedly counseling the President not to talk.

“Unless Pence is concerned he’s done something wrong, Pence will appear before Mueller no matter what,” Goldberg said. “Because it’d be political suicide for him not to.”

We just don’t know what he might have to say.

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For weeks, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) has been mired in a scandal stemming from an extramarital affair. And now Greitens is getting blamed for a shock Republican loss in a state legislative special election.

Democrat Mike Revis beat Republican David Linton by four points Tuesday in a state assembly district that has trended steadily rightward in recent years. Donald Trump won it by 28 points in 2016.

“The fact that that we lost that race is at the feet of the governor,” Scott Dieckhaus, the former executive director of the Missouri House Republican Campaign Committee, told TPM.

In mid-January, a local TV station published audio recorded in 2015 in which a woman with whom Greitens had an affair told her husband that Greitens took and threatened to release a nude photo of her if she went public about the affair. TPM has reported that the woman separately told her husband that Greitens slapped her after she told him she had slept with her husband.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied the photo blackmail attempt and alleged physical violence. But five GOP lawmakers have called for Greitens to step down, with some warning that the scandal could hurt the party.

Dieckhaus pointed to a series of polls of the district commissioned by state Republicans over the past two months as proof that it had. While Trump and the GOP’s net favorability both remained relatively strong and stable, Greitens’ plunged from plus 20 in late November to negative 13, with just 36 percent approving, the week after the scandal broke.

“The [Republican] candidate was poor, Democratic enthusiasm is obviously high, but those are still the types of things that we’ve been able to overcome for over a decade,” Dieckhaus continued, noting that the GOP has held the district since 2010. “So when you look at the polling the only thing that stands out is the scandal with the governor.”

A GOP strategist who requested anonymity to speak candidly said he too believes Greitens was among the factors dragging down the Republican candidate.

“Something was awry,” the strategist said. “My initial instinct is that it’s not President Trump. But something changed in the last few weeks.”

Revis, the Democratic candidate, didn’t make Greitens’ scandal a centerpiece of his campaign, instead focusing on issues like the governor’s support for Right-to-Work legislation, which is strongly opposed by labor unions. But at least one outside group backing Revis ran an online ad that opened with a series of headlines about the scandal, and about a separate pay-to-play allegation that has dogged the governor.

“Dieckhaus has it right,” Roy Temple, a leading Missouri Democratic operative, told TPM in an email. “Governor Greitens is an anchor around the neck of the Missouri GOP and there’s no reason to believe that’s likely to get better any time soon.”

The GOP strategist who requested anonymity told TPM he’d heard that state Democrats specifically made phone calls and did other outreach to female voters about the charges against Greitens.

A spokesperson for the Missouri Democratic Party did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.

Other Republican operatives weren’t so sure that the governor had anything to do with the GOP loss—or that the result necessarily has implications for November. They noted that Republicans won the three other open statehouse seats on Tuesday, securing easy victories in two heavily red districts and a close win in the third.

“Special elections, especially really low turnout ones in statehouse districts, are not really indicative,” a different Missouri GOP strategist told TPM, predicting that Revis will lose his seat in November when more Republican voters turn out for the U.S. Senate and State Auditor’s race.

Whether Greitens does end up dragging down the state GOP in the fall will hinge largely on what happens in the interim—and especially on the results of an investigation into the allegations being conducted by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner.

According to a lawyer for the ex-husband of the woman with whom the governor had the affair, Gardner this week convened a grand jury—a sign that the probe into Greitens may only be escalating.

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