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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After a months-long court battle to obtain the visitor logs from President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and an additional week-long delay, the Justice Department on Friday released the names of just 22 visitors to the estate.

“The government does not believe that they need to release any further Mar-a-Lago visitor records,” Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement. “We vehemently disagree. The government seriously misrepresented their intentions to both us and the court.”

CREW teamed up with the National Security Archive and the Knight First Amendment Institute in April to sue the Department of Homeland Security for Mar-a-Lago’s complete visitor logs from Jan. 20, the date of Trump’s inauguration, to March 8. Instead, DOJ turned over just 22 names of visitors from the weekend the President hosted Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his entourage at the sprawling Palm beach estate.

Those on the list include Japan’s deputy foreign minister and other top aides, butlers, and drivers from Abe’s delegation.

Bookbinder said that this list amounted to “spitting in the eye of transparency,” promising that the trio of watchdog groups “will be fighting this in court.”

CREW also released a letter from the DOJ, dated Tuesday, that explained the other records are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act request submitted by the watchdogs.

“The remaining records that the Secret Service has processed in response to the Mar-a-Lago request contain, reflect, or otherwise relate to the President’s schedules,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Chad Readler and Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York wrote. “The government believes that Presidential schedule information is not subject to FOIA.”

Trump was traveling to Mar-a-Lago frequently during the period included in the watchdog groups’ complaints, and came under fire for conducting government business in view of paying members of his Florida club.

During Abe’s visit, for example, club members shared images on social media of Trump and the Prime Minister strategizing their response to a ballistic missile release by North Korea at a dinner table.

The White House also dismissed ethics concerns about the cost of bringing a visiting dignitary to the President’s private resort, telling the press that Trump was “personally paying for the Mar-a-Lago portions of the trip” as a “gift.”

The trio of watchdog groups is also suing to obtain visitor logs from the White House and Trump Tower, the President’s Manhattan home.

Read the DOJ letter and list of 22 visitors’ names below:

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In a lawsuit and a spate of recent profiles, the Georgia State University student managing white nationalist Richard Spencer’s college campus tour has been characterized as a fresh-faced free speech advocate who wants to see visiting speakers of all persuasions treated equally. Cameron Padgett most recently made headlines for teaming up with self-proclaimed “alt-right lawyer” Kyle Bristow to sue Michigan State University for refusing to allow Spencer to come give a talk on the East Lansing campus.

In TPM’s initial conversations with the Georgia native, who first gained national attention for his successful April lawsuit that compelled Auburn University to allow Spencer to speak there, he described himself simply as a libertarian “senior in college.” His relative youth was also emphasized in a press release Bristow sent about the Michigan State case on Sept. 3 and in the complaint, which described Padgett as a “law-abiding 23-year-old senior at Georgia State University” and “23-year-old senior at Georgia State University who subscribes to identitarian philosophy,” respectively.

Spencer himself told TPM it was useful to have a current college student making speaking requests to schools on his behalf.

But there is one odd inconsistency in how Padgett’s background has been publicly presented: A wealth of local news stories about his high school athletic career indicate he is 29, not 23, as has been reported in the press and as he was described in the original complaint against Michigan State.

Asked about this discrepancy, Padgett told TPM he never intended to mislead anyone about his age.

“All the news articles, I don’t know how they got my age wrong,” he said, calling the mistake “kind of weird.” “They assumed. I don’t know why they did that. They never asked me or anything; they just put that in there. I’m a graduate student at Georgia State and I’m 28.”

In a subsequent text message, Padgett said that he meant to say he was “born in ’88…not that I was 28.”

Padgett said he believed the slip with his age originated with a widely-circulated Associated Press article about the Michigan State suit that stated he was 23. He added that he’d asked Bristow to amend the complaint with the correct information.

Bristow did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for confirmation that the complaint had been amended. A motion for preliminary injunction that Bristow filed on Sept. 10 made no mention of Padgett’s age.

The same local press that placed Padgett in high school in the mid-2000s also reported on a dispute over a referee’s call at one of his brother’s basketball games; a 2009 citation for disorderly conduct provided by the Candler County, Georgia clerk alleged that Padgett refused to leave the premises and was “questioning officers and running his mouth.” Padgett told TPM that officers “falsely arrested him” and that the matter was swiftly resolved outside of court.

Taken together, these details cast a slightly different light on public reports about and descriptions of Padgett.

In a phone conversation this week, Spencer showered praise on Padgett for his work on the Auburn case, referring to him as “a very energetic young man,” a “pragmatic and optimistic young man,” and an “amazing kid.”

“First off Cameron is a student and secondly a lot of this is simply division of labor,” Spencer told TPM when asked why Padgett reaches out to schools to set up speaking gigs rather than doing it himself.

“He is not an employee; he is doing this voluntarily, but we also make it very clear to the university what is happening,” he said. “We aren’t fronting or anything. We say we are going to bring Richard Spencer from the National Policy Institute, that the National Policy Institute will ultimately pay the room rental fee and all that. But Cameron is being that point man. And I do think it’s good that he’s a student as well.”

Georgia State confirmed that Padgett is currently enrolled there. He told TPM he was in his last semester earning a graduate degree as a finance major, and that he got involved on Spencer’s behalf as a “staunch, staunch supporter of the First Amendment” who felt public schools were unfairly discriminating against Spencer for his views on race. Padgett said he received no official title or compensation from NPI, and did not plan on becoming more active in far-right politics after graduation.

Padgett said he used the $29,000 settlement he received from the Auburn case to pay Sam Dickson, his lawyer on that case who has represented members of the Ku Klux Klan in the past, and reimbursed some $3,500 to NPI for the money it spent renting and securing the campus venue for Spencer. He said the remaining money went to a “pro free speech organization,” which he declined to identify.

NPI’s recently-appointed executive director, Evan McLaren, described Padgett as a “volunteer and a friend” who has “really taken the bull by the horns” in sending room rental requests on Spencer’s behalf to schools including the University of Florida, Louisiana State University, Penn State University, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Ohio State University.

“I think he basically shares Richard’s attitude that it’s an important message, at least one that’s valid enough that it should be heard on campus,” McLaren said, noting that “the public universities are obviously a target.”

Exactly what message Padgett wants promoted isn’t entirely clear. NPI, Bristow and Padgett himself say he’s merely a free speech advocate and doesn’t consider himself part of the loosely-defined mass of white nationalists, anti-Semites and misogynists who compose the alt-right.

Unprompted, Padgett told TPM he would “support someone who went up and said all white people are evil and should give money to all the minorities and give their land over.”

However, to date he has only involved himself on campus free speech cases on Spencer’s behalf. Padgett also has cited the far-right politician Pat Buchanan, who called Donald Trump “the great white hope,” as a major influence; has a Twitter feed full of tweets lamenting the plight of white people in America and criticizing the influence of Jews; and told TPM that, though he did not want a “100 percent homogenous white nation,” multiculturalism “just hasn’t worked.”

Intentions aside, First Amendment experts have told TPM that Spencer and Padgett have good odds of succeeding in court. Free speech protections are very strong in public spaces like state school campuses, and court precedent, like at Auburn, has mostly fallen on their side.

Both men said that they’re hoping the Michigan State case will bolster that precedent, prompting other universities to simply give up on blocking Spencer’s appearances.

“We want to get a model that works,” Spencer said.

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LATE UPDATE Sept. 14, 2017, 5:26 p.m.: OGE press liaison Elizabeth Horton told TPM in a phone call late Thursday afternoon that the “OGE policy on anonymous contributions has not changed.” “OGE is continuing to recommend that funds include language prohibiting anonymous contributions,” Horton said.

Original story below:

In a notable reversal, the Office of Government Ethics has altered its internal guidance to allow anonymous donations to legal defense funds set up on behalf of White House staffers, Politico reported Wednesday.

Former officials in the nonpartisan office told Politico that these faceless donors could try to curry favor with the Trump administration by footing the mounting legal fees for White House officials caught up in the sprawling federal investigation into Russia’s election interference.

“You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away,” Marilyn Glynn, a veteran of the office who served as acting OGE director during George W. Bush’s administration, told Politico.

An OGE guidance document from 1993 allows for the solicitation of anonymous donations from lobbyists and other groups for legal defense funds. But in practice, OGE officials have strongly discouraged that approach, cautioning from the Clinton administration onwards that such a practice poses grave ethical concerns, according to Politico.

The White House told Politico that it wasn’t helping establish any legal defense funds or pushing for any change in the enforcement of the anonymous donor policy.

TPM has reached out to OGE for comment.

As special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation presses on, the list of Trump associates paying for top-flight white collar lawyers has expanded. Longtime Trump ally Roger Stone has started his own legal defense fund and multiple reports have been published about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s intention of doing the same. Former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo has said his legal costs drained his childrens’ college funds.

As for current White House staffers, White House communications director Hope Hicks, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, White House counsel Don McGahn, and Vice President Mike Pence have all retained counsel to navigate the Russia probe.

This story has been updated.

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Michael G. Flynn, the son of President Donald Trump’s fired national security adviser, took to his favorite medium late Wednesday to dismiss NBC News’ report that he is a “subject” of the federal investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.

“#FakeNews Media: ‘We’re done covering those ‘pesky hurricanes’ right????…Back to Russia!’” Flynn’s son wrote in a tweet, referring to the back-to-back Hurricanes that have brought devastation to Texas, Florida and the Caribbean in recent weeks. “#Nothingburger.”

The tweet included a link to a writeup of NBC’s story in The Hill.

It comes hours after NBC first identified the younger Flynn as a target of the federal probe and reported that his work for his father’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, was one focus of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Barry Coburn told NBC that he is serving as the younger Flynn’s legal counsel and declined comment.

Flynn’s son has consistently brushed aside reports about congressional and federal investigations into both Russia’s 2016 dealings and his father as “fake news.”

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Until Wednesday, the son of President Donald Trump’s ousted national security adviser was probably best known for getting canned from the White House transition team for promoting the bogus “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory.

But the son of retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn burst back into the spotlight with NBC News’ report that he is a “subject” of the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. That report casts a new light on the years Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn, spent working alongside his father, serving as chief of staff for his consulting firm and as his right-hand man during Trump’s campaign and transition.

In this dual role, Flynn’s son was both a cheerleader for the campaign and closely involved in his father’s sensitive foreign business dealings, accompanying him on a 2015 trip to Russia and assisting with a Turkish lobbying deal that initially brought his father under federal scrutiny. Unraveling the exact details of this father-son working relationship could be critical to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

One area of interest for Mueller, according to NBC, is the younger Flynn’s work for Flynn Intel Group, the Virginia-based intelligence consulting firm that his father founded in 2014. Earlier this year, the firm retroactively registered as a foreign agent after carrying out a $530,000 lobbying contract in the thick of the 2016 campaign for a businessman with close ties to the Turkish government. Flynn’s son was paid $12,000 over a three-month period for “administrative support” for his work on the Turkey project, according to the firm’s March 2017 filing under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

Flynn’s son also accompanied him on a December 2015 trip to Moscow to attend a gala hosted by Kremlin-funded news outlet RT, where his father was seated at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin. The elder Flynn was paid $34,000 to speak at the event, and RT also paid for both of the Flynns’ airfare and three-night stay at a luxury hotel, according to NBC.

Flynn only disclosed that payment, as well as thousands of dollars in speaking fees he received from two other Russian companies, after he was ousted from the White House for lying about his contacts with Russian officials during the campaign. RT announced this week that its U.S. arm was told to register under FARA for pushing Russian government propaganda.

Just months after the Moscow trip, Flynn formally joined the Trump campaign as a top adviser and surrogate, and he brought his son along for the ride. Flynn’s son sometimes traveled on the trail and heavily promoted Trump on his social media accounts, alongside links to dubiously sourced far-right sites pushing conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton. He also advocated a softer line towards the Kremlin, tweeting in March 2016 that “we have no choice when it comes to working with Russia” and that failure to do so would force the U.S. to “go to war.”

When Flynn was floated as a possible vice presidential pick in May 2016, it was his son who fielded press requests, telling CNN his father planned to “let the process play itself out.”

Both Flynns also figured prominently in a GOP activist’s alleged scheme to obtain emails he believed Russian operatives had hacked from Hillary Clinton’s private server. In recruiting emails to computer security experts later provided to the Wall Street Journal, veteran GOP opposition researcher Peter W. Smith claimed that Michael T. Flynn, his son, and Flynn Intel Group were assisting with his effort.

At least one of the cybersecurity experts contacted by Smith said that he seemed to have a close relationship with the Flynns and intimate knowledge of the Trump campaign’s inner workings.

“Although it wasn’t initially clear to me how independent Smith’s operation was from Flynn or the Trump campaign, it was immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn and his son well,” Matt Tait wrote in a LawFare blog post recounting his interactions with the 81-year-old Smith, who committed suicide shortly after the Journal’s story was published.

Flynn’s son declined the Journal’s request for comment on the scheme.

Clinton’s emails were a fixation for the younger Flynn, and he tweeted about them frequently in the run-up to the 2016 election. It was that overactive online presence that ultimately brought his relationship with the Trump team to an end.

Though Flynn’s son stopped by Trump Tower with his father after the Nov. 8 election and had an official transition email address, Vice President-elect Mike Pence tried to argue that he had no official role after his incendiary tweets became a focus of media attention. They included links to stories alleging that Clinton aide Huma Abedin was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood and that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) was a closeted homosexual who used cocaine.

The younger Flynn’s promotion of “Pizzagate,” a bizarre conspiracy theory that posited that Clinton aides were running a child sex trafficking ring from a Washington, D.C. pizza place, prompted the transition team to formally sever ties in early December.

At the time, a source told the New York Times that the “Pizzagate” tweets cost Flynn’s son a White House job. The source said that he planned to join his father’s National Security Council and had even started the process of obtaining a security clearance.

The subsequent federal investigation into his father and, reportedly, himself, has not inspired the younger Flynn to abandon his social media activities. In the past 24 hours alone, Flynn’s son has fired off a volley of tweets about politicians engaging in pedophilia and, of course, Clinton.

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The son of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn is a “subject” of the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, NBC News reported Wednesday.

Three current and former government officials told NBC that Michael G. Flynn was being investigated in part for his work on behalf of his father’s lobbying firm, Flynn Intel Group. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the handsomely paid lobbying contract the firm carried out on behalf of a businessman close to Turkey’s government. The work was done while the elder Flynn was serving as a top adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign and transition to the White House.

Flynn Jr.’s legal counsel, Barry Coburn, told NBC he could not comment on the matter.

Other individuals identified as “subjects” of Mueller’s investigation include Flynn himself and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Former campaign adviser Carter Page, Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner, and the President’s son, Donald Trump Jr., are also under scrutiny for their contacts with Russians during the 2016 race.

Flynn Jr. was removed from the Trump transition team in December after promoting conspiracy theories on his social media accounts— including a bizarre and baseless narrative about top Democrats running a child sex trafficking ring from a popular Washington, D.C. pizza shop, known as “Pizzagate.”

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While serving in the White House, former national security adviser Michael Flynn pushed a private-sector scheme to build dozens of nuclear reactors throughout the Middle East, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Former National Security Council staffers and others familiar with the effort told the Journal that Flynn spoke about the project in meetings and directed his staff to meet with the former U.S. military officers involved with it. Flynn’s own work on the project as a private citizen dates back to at least mid-2015.

Former NSC staffers told the newspaper that Flynn’s contacts with his former business associates happened “outside normal channels,” with one former council member calling his actions “highly abnormal” and “not the way things were supposed to go.”

A lawyer for Flynn and a White House spokeswoman declined the Journal’s requests for comment.

These remarkable details add a new dimension to Tuesday reports about Flynn’s involvement with the project. Two top House Democrats said they informed special counsel Robert Mueller they have evidence that Flynn broke the law by failing to include on his security clearance application a summer 2015 trip to the Middle East, where he tried to broker the ambitious energy deal. Politico reported that Flynn received at least $25,000 for his work on the project, and that he actively promoted it to members of the transition team after Trump won the election.
But news that he continued to work on the deal after joining the White House make the possible legal implications for Flynn far more severe.

Former and current officials told the Journal that he continued to advocate for the power plan after receiving warnings from NSC ethics advisers, and one official confirmed to the newspaper that a meeting between the former military officers and NSC staff occurred.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) on Wednesday released correspondence with executives at the companies that Flynn worked with, X-Co Dynamics/Iron Bridge and ACU Strategic Partners. Those companies confirmed his June 2015 trip to the Middle East to promote the project—a visit that Cummings and Engel say Flynn never disclosed on a January 2016 application to renew his security clearance.

“Since these violations carry criminal penalties of up to five years in prison, we are providing your responses to Special Counsel Robert Mueller,” the Democratic lawmakers told Flynn’s former business colleagues in a letter.


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Kremlin-backed news network RT announced Monday that the U.S. Justice Department had ordered its American affiliate to register as a foreign agent for disseminating Kremlin propaganda.

“The company that supplies all services for RT America channel, including TV production and operations, in the U.S., has received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, claiming that the company is obligated to register under FARA due to the work it does for RT,” Margarita Simonyan, RT’s Moscow-based editor in chief, said in a statement posted on RT’s site.

A DOJ spokesperson declined TPM’s request for comment on the action taken against RT.

The disclosure came the same day that Yahoo News reported Sputnik, another Kremlin-backed outlet, was under FBI investigation for potentially violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act by masquerading as a legitimate news outlet while serving as an arm of the Russian government.

Sputnik’s former White House correspondent confirmed to Yahoo that he turned over thousands of emails to the FBI as part of their probe, and also sat down for a two-hour interview about the publication’s editorial operations.

Both RT and Sputnik were singled out for acting as arms of Russia’s “state-run propaganda machine” in a January U.S. intelligence report that determined Russia engaged in a wide-ranging effort to swing the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor

FARA violations are seldom enforced and there is typically a special exemption for foreign media outlets, but Russia’s interference in the U.S. election has pushed Congress to crack down. Yahoo reported that Sputnik and RT would have to explicitly label their content government propaganda if they were required to register, and that their executives could face criminal charges and fines if the DOJ finds they willfully declined to do so.

Simonyan, RT’s editor in chief, hinted that Moscow could take similar steps against U.S. journalists working in Russia as retaliation. This tit-for-tat pattern extends back to December 2016, when then-President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomatic personnel and closed two of their compounds in response to the country’s election interference. Since then, hundreds of U.S. diplomatic personnel have been expelled from Russia, while the U.S. has imposed new sanctions on Russia and closed more of their stateside diplomatic facilities.

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The FBI is investigating whether Kremlin-funded news agency Sputnik is violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by serving as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Russian government, Yahoo News reported Monday.

This probe is based in part on thousands of internal Sputnik emails and documents dictating how specific stories should be shaped that were turned over to the FBI by the news agency’s former White House correspondent, Andrew Feinberg. Feinberg told Yahoo he also recently sat down for a two-hour interview with an FBI agent and Justice Department lawyer to discuss how stories were assigned and edited, as well as the site’s funding.

“They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow,” Feinberg told Yahoo. “They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.”

It was unclear if Feinberg’s questioners were working on behalf of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the report. That sprawling probe focuses in part on the use of Russian social media bots and Kremlin-funded news sites to propagate false news stories that boosted Donald Trump’s campaign and spread misinformation about his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.

Sputnik’s U.S. editor in chief, Mindia Gavasheli, told Yahoo that he was unaware of any federal investigation into his news operation and denied any wrongdoing.

“Any assertion that we are not a news organization is simply false,” Gavasheli told the site. “This is the first time I’m hearing about it, and I don’t think anyone at Sputnik was contacted, so thank you for letting us know.”

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The White House late Friday swatted down claims made by Russia’s new ambassador to the U.S. that he had held a “warm and friendly” introductory meeting with President Donald Trump earlier in the day.

“There was not a meeting,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in an email to TPM. “He was here for a credentialing ceremony with 12 other new ambassadors and their spouses.”

Anatoly Antonov was far more loquacious in his comments to the Russian press, characterizing the initial meeting as chummy.

“The atmosphere was good, constructive and friendly,” Antonov said, as quoted by TASS. “President Trump met me cordially. We agree with his staff members to continue our contacts.”

This initial face-to-face comes at a moment of escalating tensions in U.S.-Russia relations. Just last week, the Trump administration ordered the closure of Russian trade missions in Washington and New York, as well as the Russian consulate in San Francisco, where the fire department found staff burning unidentified items in the fireplace on an unseasonably warm August day. This move follows Russia’s expulsion of hundreds of U.S. diplomatic staff earlier in the summer.

In his remarks to Russian press, Antonov, the country’s former deputy defense minister, said he hoped to see a thawing in relations between the two nations.

Antonov assumed his post in late August, taking over for Sergei Kislyak, who served a nine-year term. Kislyak’s election-year meetings with several current and former members of Trump’s administration are part of the ongoing congressional and federal investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

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