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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greitens pleaded not guilty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Greitens has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not a whole lot, legal experts tell TPM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The woman who has accused Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens of using a semi-naked picture to blackmail her will be allowed to testify at his felony trial next week, a St. Louis judge ruled Monday.

Greitens’ legal team had tried to block the woman’s testimony, alleging that it was tainted by the misconduct of the private investigator who first interviewed her on behalf of the prosecution. Investigator William Tisaby was accused of lying under oath and withholding evidence.

Circuit Judge Rex Burlison rejected those arguments, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He previously sanctioned prosecutors for failing to turn evidence over to the defense as soon as they should have.

The woman’s account is central to the prosecution’s case that Greitens blackmailed her by taking the photograph during a 2015 encounter at his St. Louis home, then threatening to release it if she revealed their affair.

Prosecutors do not have the photograph or witnesses who have seen it, the Dispatch reported.

Chief Trial Assistant Robert Dierker said that the case is built in part on circumstantial evidence, including the woman’s claims that she saw a flash and heard the sound of an iPhone camera clicking when the photo was taken, according to the Dispatch. Greitens also threatened to spread the picture “everywhere” and repeatedly assured the woman he deleted the photo, the prosecution claims.

The woman has already presented her account to a Missouri House committee which is investigating various allegations against the Republican first-term governor. In vivid testimony released by the committee, she recounted the governor coercing her into sexual acts and slapping her on multiple occasions.

Greitens, who was elected in 2016, has denied allegations of violence and blackmail, acknowledging only that he engaged in a relationship with the woman.

The governor has not yet decided if he himself will testify at the trial, which begins May 14. TPM will cover the trial from St. Louis.

“Universally, that decision is not made until the conclusion of the State’s case and after a thorough review of the State’s evidence at that time,” Greitens’ attorneys said in a Sunday statement. “And consistent with that, there has been no decision made at this time regarding whether the Governor will testify or not. We’re leaving all options on the table.”

Greitens faces a separate felony charge related to his alleged misuse of a charity donor list for political fundraising. And the Missouri legislature is convening a special session to consider initiating impeachment proceedings.

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With anti-gerrymandering efforts gaining steam, Republicans in some states are mobilizing to protect their ability to continue rigging election maps.

In late April, a Republican group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce sued to keep a popular redistricting reform measure off the state’s November ballot. Arizona’s GOP-controlled legislature last week narrowly failed to pass a bill that would have given the party much more control over the map-drawing process. And Pennsylvania Republicans, who recently mulled impeaching a group of state judges who struck down their gerrymander, this week gutted reform legislation.

Following the 2010 Census, the GOP used its control of key redistricting battlegrounds to draw district lines that have given it a major advantage in elections this decade. In response, voters frustrated by recent elections’ skewed outcomes have launched grassroots movements to fix the process before the next round of legislative and congressional map-drawing gets underway in 2021.

The biggest battle, of course, is at the Supreme Court, which since last fall has heard two different challenges to partisan gerrymandering and could issue a major ruling on the issue in the coming months. And the GOP has joined the fight there, too: Among the groups that submitted briefs to the court arguing in favor of protecting lawmakers’ right to gerrymander are the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the Republican State Leadership Committee.

But it’s the state-level efforts that lately have taken center stage.

Late last month, a Republican-backed group, Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), sued to block a proposed constitutional amendment that, if approved by voters, would create a 13-person independent redistricting commission to redraw political maps. The commission would be composed of four Democrats, four Republicans and five “non-affiliated,” independent members.

The suit argued that only a constitutional convention could make the change, and that petitions used to gather signatures had left off relevant details of the constitutional language to be changed. The state GOP has called the proposed amendment a “wolf in sheep’s clothing by the Democrats.”

“The voters were signed on to something that said this is a simple amendment, and it’s not — it’s a wholesale change,” CPMC spokesman Dave Doyle told TPM. “If they had gone ahead and told people this changes the authority of the executive, legislative, judicial branches, that might have been a different story.”

In Arizona, Republicans have for months been working to upend the state’s independent commission, which is seen as a national model for creating fair maps. The GOP-controlled legislature sought to revamp the commission with a ballot initiative that would increase the number of members from five to eight, give lawmakers more control over the pool of commissioners, and bar the practice of drawing districts with slight differences in population size, which experts say currently makes it easier to draw districts with non-white majorities.

Democrats and advocates for fair maps said the changes would allow Republicans to slip in more of their ideological allies, and could lead to less minority representation in the state legislature.

The bill easily passed the House last week. But it unexpectedly failed in the Senate by just two votes on Thursday before the legislature adjourned for the year, meaning it won’t be on the November ballot.

Then there’s Pennsylvania. The state Supreme Court ruled in January that the state’s Republican-drawn maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and asked an independent expert to draw new ones. That led a group of GOP lawmakers to file impeachment resolutions against four of the Democratic justices.

Two subsequent bipartisan legislative efforts to take control out of Pennsylvania lawmakers’ hands and turn it over to an independent redistricting commission have been gutted by Republicans on a key legislative panel.

The panel’s chair, Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, said that some of his fellow Republicans who backed one of those measures were “browbeaten … by activists that are the arm of the League of Women Voters.”

More anti-reform efforts could be on the horizon. In Missouri, a reform measure just qualified for the ballot, and the signature-gathering deadline is drawing near in Utah.

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Rudy Giuliani catapulted himself into the center of a media maelstrom this week by divulging that President Trump personally reimbursed Michael Cohen for hush money payments that Cohen shelled out during the 2016 presidential campaign. In a remarkably candid admission, Giuliani said that he shared this bombshell about the $130,000 payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels “to get out in front of the special counsel and the Southern District” investigation into Cohen.

According to Giuliani, Cohen was reimbursed by Trump through a series of $35,000 retainer payments. Though Giuliani insisted that this was a purely personal matter and therefore not subject to campaign finance law, he also admitted that having the alleged affair surface weeks before Election Day would have hurt Trump’s campaign.

Cohen is reportedly claiming that Giuliani “doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” and even Trump said on Friday that Giuliani just “started yesterday” and will “get his facts straight.” Giuliani later released a statement to “clarify the views I expressed,” and claimed that his statements on “timing” were “not describing my understanding of the President’s knowledge, but instead, my understanding of these matters.”

The aggressive, freewheeling posture taken by Giuliani marks the start of a new chapter for Trump’s legal team. Special counsel Ty Cobb, known for his restrained, cooperative approach, is out, to be replaced by conservative attorney Emmet Flood, who advised President Bill Clinton while he was facing impeachment. Flood is reportedly expected to eventually replace White House counsel Don McGahn.

Trump has eagerly embraced this more combative stance, calling it “disgraceful” that the list of questions Bob Mueller’s team wants to ask him leaked to the press. Many of those questions focused on the President’s possible obstruction of justice. Trump claimed his efforts to “fight back” are being framed as obstruction by Mueller’s team.

Meanwhile, a CNBC report indicated that Mueller may still be building a collusion case, and is focusing closely on Roger Stone. And the New York Times reported that Ukraine is no longer cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, a decision that came shortly after the Trump administration approved a sale of missiles that the country wanted.

The DOJ is pushing back against its critics. After the House Freedom Caucus floated plans to impeach Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for his oversight of the Mueller probe, Rosenstein said, in an unusually strong statement, that the Justice Department “is not going to be extorted.”

Trump responded with an ominous threat to “use the powers granted to the Presidency and get involved” with the DOJ.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in Virginia wants answers from Mueller’s team on how the charges brought against Paul Manafort are related to their core investigation into Russia’s election interference. U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis said at a Friday hearing that it seemed “obvious” that the Manafort charges were brought in order to push him to flip and provide information on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

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Michael Cohen is “very frustrated” by claims that Rudy Giuliani made in a Thursday press blitz about hush money payments Cohen doled out during the 2016 presidential campaign, MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch said Friday.

Deutsch, appearing on Morning Joe, said he’d spoken to Cohen about Giuliani’s revelation that President Trump reimbursed the $130,000 Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about her alleged sexual relationship with Trump.

“I spoke with Michael Cohen yesterday and his quote about Giuliani was: He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” Deutsch said.

“He said look there’s two people that know exactly what happened, myself and the President and you’ll be hearing my side of the story,” Deutsch continued. “And he was obviously very frustrated with what had come out yesterday.”

Giuliani’s marathon press tour complicated the previous public stances of both Cohen and Trump’s team. According to Giuliani, Trump repaid Cohen through a $35,000 per month retainer. While Giuliani argued the funds were unrelated to the campaign and therefore not a violation of campaign finance law, he also acknowledged that it would have been damaging if news about Trump’s affair had come out weeks before Election Day.

Cohen, whose financial dealings are under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York, had initially claimed he made the payments out of his own pocket without Trump’s knowledge.

As recently as early April, Trump claimed he had no knowledge about how Daniels was paid. On Thursday, he acknowledged giving Cohen a monthly retainer to “stop the false and extortionist accusations” made by Daniels.

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Like several other Alabama sheriffs, Morgan County’s Ana Franklin has been accused of taking advantage of an archaic state law to pocket taxpayer funds set aside to feed inmates.

But the allegations against the county’s top law enforcement officer go much further.

The venture in which Franklin invested the inmate food funds happened to be a used-car lot run by an ex-felon. Franklin has failed to account for the unaudited, tax-exempt money she raised running an annual local rodeo, which earned about $20,000 each year — funds she promised went to charities and law enforcement. Most troublingly, Franklin is accused of enlisting her office to help bring charges against two people who sought to expose her.

A Morgan County Circuit judge ruled last week that Franklin and one of her deputies engaged in “criminal actions” by misleading the court in seeking a warrant to raid the office of a local blogger who has meticulously tracked Franklin’s activities.

Franklin has denied wrongdoing, writing on Facebook on Sunday that her reputation is being unfairly “defamed and torn apart.”

Amid a reported investigation by the FBI, Franklin, who took office in 2011, has announced she won’t run for re-election.

But she has no plans to step down before the end of her term.

“So far as I know, there has been no request to resign and she’s not going to resign,” one of her lawyers, William Gray, told TPM.

Used inmate food funds to invest in sketchy used-car lot

In 2015, Franklin invested $150,000 in Priceville Partners, a used-car dealership owned by an ex-felon, Greg Steenson, who spent time in jail on conspiracy and bank fraud charges.

Though her daughter and father both worked on the premises, Franklin denied knowing about Steenson’s criminal history. The following year, the dealership filed for bankruptcy and Steenson was arrested on new charges of theft and forgery involving the dealership.

During the bankruptcy proceedings, Franklin admitted that the money she invested in the lot did not come from her savings and retirement accounts, as she had originally claimed. Instead, as local blogger Glenda Lockhart documented, it came from the account earmarked to feed inmates in the prison she oversaw.

Lockhart published cashier’s checks and deposit slips on her blog, the Morgan County Whistleblower, that showed that Franklin withdrew $160,000 from the food fund account in June 2015, and that Priceville Partners deposited some $150,000 a few days later.

Franklin violated court order as inmates claimed to go hungry

As it turned out, Franklin’s use of the food funds for personal ends was forbidden. While most sheriffs in Alabama are legally permitted to keep what they deem to be excess food funds, Morgan County’s sheriff, until recently, was not. In 2009, after Franklin’s predecessor pocketed $212,000 while exclusively feeding inmates corn dogs twice a day for three months, a judge imposed a federal consent decree requiring that all of the county’s inmate food funds actually be spent on food.

After the Priceville scandal broke, Franklin said she had received poor legal advice and was unaware she could not keep excess funds. She also claimed the food served in her prison was healthy and plentiful.

That claim conflicts with findings from the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) which battled Franklin in court over her violation of the consent decree last year. Court records filed by the Center describe inmates complaining of receiving inadequate, rotten, or contaminated meals.

“Detainees have complained of finding assorted matter in their food such as rocks and, in one case, a nail,” the SCHR exhibit reads. “Similarly, detainees report that meat is inedible because it is raw, beans are inedible because they have not been cooked, and bread is inedible because it is stale or moldy. Detainees have likewise complained on multiple occasions that the jail serves them food items that are frozen, sometimes with ice still attached.”

Franklin ultimately was required to pay back the $160,000 taken from the inmate food fund. She was also found in contempt of court and hit with an additional $1,000 fine.

Sheriff’s rodeo fundraising proceeds went unaccounted for

Like other Alabama sheriffs, Franklin helped oversee a local sheriff’s rodeo to raise money for charity and local law enforcement. Notably, as The New York Times reported, rodeo money is not audited by the state.

Franklin told the Times that she raised $20,000 a year for charities and law enforcement, but offered conflicting accounts on where the money ended up. After the newspaper told Franklin they could find no organization by the name she first gave them, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Rodeo, she said the funds actually went to the Morgan County Sheriff’s Mounted Posse.

That non-profit happens to fall under an I.R.S. loophole for charities affiliated with government agencies, meaning it isn’t required to make its finances public, as the Times reported.

Aggressive legal action against her detractors

Franklin is accused of improperly targeting several people who have spoken out against her, most notably Lockhart, the Morgan County Whistleblower blogger.

In October 2016, Franklin paid Lockhart’s 19-year-old grandson to install surveillance software on the computer at Lockhart’s construction company to try to determine who was leaking law enforcement information to the blog. Shortly after, Franklin’s deputies obtained a search warrant and raided Lockhart’s office, seizing her computers and electronic devices.

Franklin denied allegations of retaliation, telling local press that Lockhart crossed “the line of criminal activity” in her “hateful” efforts to “tear this office down.” Lockhart promptly filed a federal suit against Franklin for violating her right to free speech, invading her privacy, and slandering her, according to court records. Lockhart has not been charged with a crime.

Caught up in the fracas was former Morgan County jail warden Leon Bradley, who was fired and, in September 2017, arrested. Franklin’s office alleged that Bradley had passed along law enforcement information to Lockhart.

In testimony for Bradley’s case, Franklin’s deputies described surreptitiously recording their conversations with Bradley and installing a GPS tracker on his car. An investigator from another Alabama sheriff’s office testified that Franklin’s office “used us” by providing inaccurate information to secure Bradley’s arrest.

Bradley’s charge was dismissed last week by circuit judge Glenn Thompson, who granted the initial search warrants. In a blistering ruling, Thompson found that Franklin and one of her deputies “deliberately misled” the court to obtain the warrants and “endeavored to hide or cover up their deception to criminal actions under the color of law.”

In a statement, the Morgan County Sheriff’s office denied any “improprieties” in the investigation.

Franklin staying put as multiple agencies probe her use of funds

The FBI is currently probing Franklin’s use of taxpayer funds, according to the the New York Times. Representatives from both the FBI and Alabama Attorney General’s office were in court listening to testimony in Bradley’s case.

But Franklin remains defiant, writing in a lengthy Sunday Facebook post thanking supporters for their “prayers” that she did nothing “criminal or unethical” and believes “the truth will be disclosed.”

Bobby Timmons, the executive director of the Alabama Sheriffs’ Association, told TPM that he personally asked Franklin to resign about three weeks ago — a claim her attorney denies.

Although Timmons said he has seen “no indication” that Franklin violated federal law, he insisted that his association holds accountable any member who “tarnishes the badge.”

“We don’t cover for ‘em at all,” said Timmons. “They know if they violate the law — taking kickbacks, getting payola from bootleggers — if they need to go to the penitentiary they’re gonna go. No sheriff is above the law.”

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