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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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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Donald Trump, Jr. wrapped up his five-hour Thursday testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee with a statement saying that he believed the interview “fully satisfied” investigators’ questions, but subsequent inside accounts of the interview made clear that he declined to address some of their most pressing lines of inquiry.

One focus of the interview, according to the Washington Post and CNN, was the role that the White House and President Donald Trump himself played in crafting the initial statement Trump Jr. released about his June 2016 meeting with Russian operatives promising incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s eldest son repeatedly said that he could not recall details about the Trump administration’s involvement in the public response to the meeting, or the degree to which his father was involved, according to both publications. In response to committee staffers’ questions, Trump Jr. specifically denied taking any of the Russian participants to visit with his father at Trump Tower, where the sit-down was held, or telling his father about the meeting afterwards, according to CNN.

This stated lack of engagement with the White House breaks sharply with previous reporting on the harried efforts to get ahead of stories about the meeting. The New York Times reported in July that senior White House aides, Trump’s personal legal team, Trump Jr. himself, and lawyers for Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, who also attended the meeting, all coordinated the initial response while the President was flying back from the G20 summit in Berlin. Trump himself signed off on a misleading statement that claimed the meeting focused mostly on the adoption of Russian children, according to the Times.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is probing whether Trump tried to hide the nature of the meeting or knowingly issued an incorrect statement as part of his probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. He recently approached the White House about interviewing staffers who were aboard Air Force One when the misleading statement was drafted, according to CNN.

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, told the Post that it was “ridiculous” to assert that his client failed to recall important details in the interview, calling “many” of the committee staffers’ questions “historical or esoteric” and “far afield from the committee’s mandate.”

Another significant memory lapse involved the three phone calls that Trump Jr. had prior to the meeting with Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star acquainted with the family. Emails between Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a British publicist who said he brokered the meeting on the Agalarovs’ behalf, mentioned arranging calls between the two men, while Trump Jr. acknowledged in his prepared statement that his phone records documented those three conversations.

But Trump Jr. told the committee he could not recall what they spoke about, according to the Post, and a lawyer for Agalarov told the newspaper that he had “absolutely no memory” of the conversations either. Agalarov’s phone records also documented the three calls.

Trump Jr.’s prepared statement asserted that neither he nor anyone he knew colluded with any foreign government and that he only took the meeting, which he described as a waste of time, to see if the Kremlin-linked individuals present had information about Clinton’s “fitness” for office.

According to CNN, Senate staffers asked why then-candidate Trump teased that he would soon announce significant dirt about Clinton mere days after his son set up the meeting. Trump Jr. said that his father was simply speaking with his signature bombast, per the report.

Trump’s eldest son, who played a significant role on the campaign, was also asked about Russian efforts to spread false news stories on social media and about the Trump Organization’s efforts to construct a luxury building in Moscow in the thick of the campaign. Neither CNN nor the Post had details on his response.

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After the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia was wracked with violence during last month’s “Unite the Right” rally, private companies executed a sweeping purge of white nationalist and hate groups from their platforms. Taking action isn’t likely to be as simple for those colleges and universities where white nationalists are dead set on spreading their message, however.

Richard Spencer’s allies have spent the past few weeks issuing veiled threats of legal action against the slew of schools that rejected the prominent white nationalist’s requests to speak out of concern that violence could break out on their campuses, too. This weekend, a student who tried to rent space for a Spencer event filed a complaint accusing Michigan State University of violating his and Spencer’s First Amendment right to share their “Alt-Right philosophy.”

Free speech experts surveyed by TPM said court precedent, the difficulty of preemptively proving that a speaker poses a violent threat, and strong speech protections in public spaces like state school campuses make it overwhelmingly likely that Spencer’s allies will prevail.

“There is no Richard Spencer exception” to the First Amendment, Will Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told TPM. Though there are exceptions for incitement and intimidation, Creeley noted, those have “narrow legal definitions.”

“The Supreme Court has said that speech can only be restricted for fear that it will incite violence if it’s intended to and likely to promote imminent lawless conduct,” Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, explained in a recent interview. “So if somebody were to say, ‘Let’s go and beat up the counter-protesters,’ that would be punishable. But other speech is not. And the government can’t suppress speech up front for fear that maybe when the person comes up to speak he will say these impermissible things.”

Volokh pointed to 2010 case Sonnier vs. Crain, which forced Southeastern Louisiana University to drop a discretionary security fee that it required controversial outside speakers to pay after traveling evangelist Jeremy Sonnier argued the policy violated his constitutional rights.

But the clearest parallel to the Michigan State situation came just a few months ago, when a federal judge issued an injunction allowing Spencer to speak in April at Auburn University, after that school canceled his planned appearance out of concern that the visit would provoke violence.

Self-described “alt-right attorney” Kyle Bristow cited that ruling in the Michigan State complaint, which he filed on behalf of Cameron Padgett, who tried to rent a room at the university so Spencer could speak there. Padgett, a 23-year-old senior at Georgia State University, was also behind the lawsuit that spurred the injunction allowing Spencer to speak at Auburn. The nature of his relationship with Spencer is unclear.

The Michigan State complaint argues that “the instant controversy” about Spencer’s scheduled visit there was “virtually identical” to the Auburn case, and calls the cancellation an example of “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.” It asks the court to issue an injunction allowing Padgett to rent a room where Spencer can speak and seeks $75,000 in damages.

Schools including Michigan State, Louisiana State University, the University of Florida, Texas A&M and Pennsylvania State University argue that they’re not issuing a blanket ban on Spencer or other white nationalists speaking on campus, but are instead trying to avoid on-campus clashes while tensions are still running high from the deadly rally in Charlottesville.

The University of Florida even issued a statement after it canceled Spencer’s event planned for Sept. 12 that reiterated its commitment to free speech and said Spencer would be allowed to speak on campus at some future date.

Still, legal experts said the one-off Charlottesville argument is unlikely to satisfy the courts.

Roy Gutterman, director of Syracuse University’s Tully Center for Free Speech, acknowledged that it was “not unreasonable to expect some sort of violence” at an event Spencer headlines after Charlottesville, where the prominent white nationalist marched in the streets alongside weapon-wielding Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis.

But Gutterman cautioned that “the preemptive nature of these denials raises questions because you cannot predict the future. Just because there was violence at a rally in one place doesn’t mean there will be similar violence at the next one.”

This is the fine line that Spencer routinely walks. Shielded by degrees from elite universities, a clean record and his think tank’s benign name, Spencer aligns himself with some of the country’s most extreme white nationalist forces without explicitly advocating violence, effectively tying the hands of those who oppose his message.

“These guys know exactly what to say; they’ve got counsel,” Gutterman said. “They can craft their statements and their arguments to disclaim any sort of intent to create or cause violence.”

Spencer’s allies have not yet initiated legal action against other schools, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which last week became the latest school to turn down his request to speak. Michigan State appears to be their test case.

But for school officials who saw torch-wielding white nationalists march through the University of Virginia’s campus shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” potential legal headaches are tolerable.

Janine Sykes, assistant vice president for public affairs at the University of Florida, told TPM that the school’s president “was certainly willing to risk a lawsuit in an effort to prevent any injuries.”

“The university’s view might be maybe they’ll sue us, maybe we’ll lose, maybe it’ll cost us some money,” UCLA’s Volokh said. “But it’s worth it.”

Read the full complaint below:

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