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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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Two foreign allies of President Donald Trump — the face of Brexit and founder of WikiLeaks — may have had multiple, previously undisclosed meetings during the 2016 presidential campaign. In November testimony to the House Intelligence Committee that was made public Thursday, Glenn Simpson, founder of private intelligence firm Fusion GPS, said he’d heard reports that Brexit leader Nigel Farage provided data to WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange.

“I’ve been told and have not confirmed that Nigel Farage had additional trips to the Ecuadoran Embassy than the one that’s been in the papers and that he provided data to Julian Assange,” Simpson testified.

Simpson, whose firm assembled the so-called Trump-Russia dossier, added that the data came in the form of a thumb drive.

Farage is known to have made a trip to the embassy in March 2017 to meet with Assange, who has been accused of working with Russian hackers to release stolen emails and other material intended to damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The former UKIP party leader, who campaigned on Trump’s behalf, was identified as a “person of interest” in the federal investigation into Russia’s election interference in a Guardian report published last summer.

Both Farage and Assange have dismissed the suggestion that they took any action to influence the election results. The former British politician insisted he has “no connections to Russia,” while Assange has denied that WikiLeaks had any interest in helping Trump win.

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As a fifth Missouri GOP lawmaker called for his resignation, Gov. Eric Greitens (R) remained defiant on Tuesday, saying he’s focused on “moving forward,” and asking supporters for forgiveness for what he described as a “personal mistake.”

In his first extended public response since the news of his affair and alleged blackmail attempt broke last week, Greitens apologized to his family for the relationship and pledged to go “back to work for the people of Missouri.”

“Much has now been written about this, and many of the assertions made have not been truthful and have proven extremely hurtful to Sheena, as well as to me,” Greitens said in a statement emailed to supporters and posted on Facebook. “For us, the allegations that go so far beyond the facts have made this much more difficult.”

“We are focused on moving forward,” the statement continued. “I ask for your forgiveness and hope you can find it in your heart to do so. I assure you that this personal mistake will not deter us from the mission we were sent here to do continued.”

Greitens has admitted to the affair, but denied a claim made by the woman involved, in audiotapes recorded by her husband, that Greitens took a compromising photo of her and threatened to release it if she revealed the affair. He also has denied the woman’s claim, made to her husband, that he slapped her after she told him she’d had sex with her husband.

But the swirling scandal has upended the state legislature and prompted a criminal investigation by the City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney.

On Tuesday evening, State Sen. Rob Schaaf (R) became the fifth Republican lawmaker to call for Greitens’ resignation.

“When you ran for office, you promised that you would be a governor known for ethics and transparency,” Schaaf said in a speech from the floor of the Senate chambers at the State Capitol. “Instead, you have defined yourself through scandal and covering things up.”

“So governor, I’m asking you: please resign,” Schaaf pleaded.

Schaaf is of the governor’s staunchest foes. Earlier this year, a Greitens’-linked dark money group shared Schaaf’s cell phone number to punish him for opposing legislation supported by Greitens.

But four other GOP lawmakers, including one of Greitens’ earliest backers, have also said the governor should step down.

Greitens’ past ethics scandals and failure to develop individual relationships with lawmakers have left him with few outspoken defenders in the GOP-led legislature, TPM has reported.

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Four Republican Missouri lawmakers have called for Gov. Eric Greitens (R) to step down over allegations that he attempted to blackmail a woman with whom he carried out a 2015 affair.

Reps. Kathy Conway, Marsha Haefner, Steve Cookson and Nate Walker separately issued statements Tuesday urging Greitens to leave office to avoid dragging his state into a protracted, messy scandal.

Walker’s call for the governor’s resignation is particularly significant since he was one of Greitens’ earliest supporters. In a Facebook post, Walker said the situation “will make it impossible to lead the state going forward.”

Former Missouri GOP chairman Ed Martin also called for Greitens to step down on his talk radio show on AM 1380 Tuesday afternoon, saying “the people deserve better.”

Greitens’ spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

A longtime GOP operative in the state told TPM that, based on his conversations with sources in the State House, he expects the number of Republicans calling for the governor to step down will be “up to 10 trickling in through the day.”

“I think there’s a lot of unease and uncertainty about what’s next,” said the operative, who asked to speak on background because he is lobbying for several bills currently being considered by the legislature. “I think people are believing that there’s more things to come out—that if he did tie her up, the likelihood of another incident or something, in their minds, is higher.”

Greitens is accused of tying the woman to a piece of exercise equipment in the basement of his home and taking a nude photograph of her, then threatening to leak the photo if she went public about the affair. And the woman’s ex-husband has said she told him that in a separate July 2015 incident first reported by TPM, Greitens slapped the woman after she told him she’d slept with her husband.

Per the woman’s request, her identity has not been made public.

Greitens acknowledged last week that he engaged in an extramarital affair, but has denied the blackmail and slapping allegations.

“The current scandal is believable given all the other stuff that’s gone on, the way he treats the press, the way he treats other Republican lawmakers,” Dave Robertson, head of the political science department at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, told TPM.

The Missouri Republican operative told TPM that GOP members of the state’s House of Representatives will meet Tuesday afternoon to discuss next steps, and are leaning towards launching their own investigation into Greitens’ alleged behavior.

City of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced last week that she had launched a criminal probe. Al Watkins, an attorney for the woman’s ex-husband, told TPM he’d been contacted by Gardner’s office and the FBI. Watkins told CNN Monday that he’d provided law enforcement with some five hours of private audio recordings made in which the woman told her then-husband about her sexual encounters with Greitens.

As he tries to ride out the scandal, Greitens is finding his position weakened by his lack of close relationships in Jefferson City, and by several pre-existing controversies that dogged his gubernatorial campaign and his first year in office.

“There’s some chickens coming home to roost here,” Columbia College political science professor Terry Smith told TPM, calling Greitens’ relationships with lawmakers “not great.”

The former NAVY Seal, Rhodes Scholar and bestselling author campaigned as a pro-transparency, anti-establishment family man who would clean up corruption in Missouri politics. But questions about his own ethics surfaced before he was even sworn in.

Greitens made use of the donor list for a veterans’ charity he founded, The Mission Continues, during his campaign, ultimately paying a $100 fine for failing to initially report the list as an in-kind contribution. He also broke with tradition by failing to disclose the amount of donations he received for his inaugural celebrations.

Once he took office, the transparency-related scandals kept coming. Greitens’ campaign treasurer founded a nonprofit group, A New Missouri, that promotes the governor’s legislative agenda but is not required to reveal who is contributing or how much. And in December, Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley launched an investigation into Greitens’ and some of his staffers’ use of a messaging app that deletes messages after they’re read.

“He was Mr. Ethics and Mr. Transparency as a candidate and once he gets in office he sings a different tune and behaves differently,” Smith added. “So he’s being held to account for that.”

Separately, the governor has come under fire for his aggressive effort to appoint five new members to the eight-member State Board of Education, and to orchestrate the firing of education commissioner Margie Vandeven.

Smith, the professor, called the school board fight the “biggest issue so far” in Greitens’ tenure.

“He’s tried to blow up the process and it just hasn’t gone down very well,” he said. “Everybody gets that the governor has an agenda. But he’s basically saying ‘I’m going to bypass the Missouri Constitution here to get my agenda accomplished.’ There are people in Jefferson City who are saying, ‘or not.’”

“This happened not that long ago so he was cruising for a really rough time I think with the Missouri legislature because of that, and then these allegations compound it,” Smith added.

The GOP operative told TPM that Greitens had failed to establish one-on-one relationships with the lawmakers who now hold his political future in their hands.

“Republicans do not know him,” the source said. “There’s no relationship—when I say that I mean many lawmakers had not spoken to the governor personally ‘til he started calling the other day.”

Greitens and his wife, Sheena, made a round of calls to GOP lawmakers last week insisting that no further allegations would come out.

The governor has also reportedly reached out to donors professing his commitment to remaining in office. He has made no public appearances since the scandal broke and enlisted his lawyer to handle the press fallout.

The GOP operative said this may be too little, too late.

“It’s all very controlled and tight,” the source said. “There’s no leadership meeting of the type lawmakers are used to in which the governor might say, ‘Hey I want to tell you what’s happening,’ and there’s some give-and-take. Now there’s just a statement from the lawyer and that’s it.”

This post has been updated.

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The fallout continued over the weekend for Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens, who’s been accused of slapping and blackmailing a woman with whom he had an affair.

Greitens, a Republican, announced that he had canceled a planned statewide tour to promote his tax overhaul plan. And the governor was removed from ads being run by two political allies.

The tour, which was scheduled to kick off Tuesday, would have been Greitens’ first public appearance since the scandal broke late last Wednesday.

Greitens’ spokesperson Parker Briden said in a statement provided to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the tour would be rescheduled. But Eventbrite pages boosting the events have been pulled and no new dates have yet been announced. Briden told the newspaper that the governor would still release details of his tax plan this week.

The governor’s image has also been scrubbed from ads boosting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the reelection campaign of Gov. Bruce Rauner of neighboring Illinois, a fellow Republican.

Rauner campaign spokeswoman Kristen Kukowski confirmed to the Chicago Tribune that an ad which featured Greitens and other Midwestern GOP governors was pulled after the blackmail story broke. In the ad, the governors mockingly thanked a top Illinois Democrat for helping create jobs in their own states by incentivizing businesses to leave Illinois. Kukowski said the spot was simply swapped out to make way for the release of a new campaign ad.

ABC’s mid-Missouri affiliate KMIZ reported that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad has erased Greitens’ image from an advertisement that will start running this week. The report did not expand on the content of the ad.

A Missouri prosecutor has opened a criminal investigation into Greitens’ actions, which allegedly involve taking a compromising nude photo of the woman with whom he carried out a 2015 extramarital affair to keep her from going public. TPM additionally reported Thursday that the woman’s husband has said she told Greitens slapped her after she told Greitens she had had sex with her husband. Greitens has denied both the blackmail and slapping claims.

The ex-husband, who helped break the story of the blackmail attempt by providing local publications with tapes he recorded in which the woman describes her encounters with Greitens, has declined to be named publicly, as has the woman.

The governor has kept his head down since the story broke, privately trying to mitigate the damage in calls to donors and Missouri state lawmakers in which he affirmed his desire to stay in office.

The Republican Jewish Coalition has announced that it is up to Greitens, who is Jewish, to decide if he still wants to to speak at their annual convention in Las Vegas in mid-February. The group called the governor “family” and offering him their “thoughts and prayers.”

Greitens has also not publicly committed to attending the annual meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., which is scheduled for Feb. 23-25.

Al Watkins, the lawyer for the woman’s ex-husband, has alleged that Greitens’ team may have used taxpayer resources to try to get ahead of the story. Watkins provided the Post-Dispatch with a recording of a call he received last Wednesday from an attorney in Greitens’ office trying to obtain information about the emerging story.

The attorney, Lucinda Luetkemeyer, told the newspaper that she did not know at the time of the call whether the story related to the governor’s personal life or official duties, but that she subsequently referred the matter to Greitens’ private counsel, Jim Bennett. Bennett has said that Greitens is personally funding his own legal team.

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The unnamed woman who was allegedly targeted for blackmail by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) to keep her from going public about their affair spoke out through her lawyer for the first time Friday, urging the press to respect her privacy.

The lawyer, Scott Simpson of Knight & Simpson, said in a statement that the woman is “extremely distraught” that the allegations have been made public. Simpson also said the woman believes her ex-husband “betrayed her confidence” by speaking with the media.

“This story has taken an emotional toll on our client and she is extremely distraught that the information has been made public,” the statement, which was obtained by TPM, reads. “It is very disappointing that her ex-husband betrayed her confidence by secretly, and without her knowledge, recording a private and deeply personal conversation and then subsequently released the recording to the media without her consent.”

The story broke late Wednesday after the ex-husband provided local station KMOV with a recording he made of a conversation in which the woman describes Greitens tying her up to exercise equipment in his basement and taking a nude photograph of her without her consent. The woman told her husband that Greitens threatened to release the photo if she revealed the affair.

On Thursday, TPM reported that the woman later told her husband that Greitens had slapped her after she told him she’d had sex with her husband.

Greitens has confirmed that he engaged in an affair but strenuously denied any reports that he attempted to blackmail or slap the woman. The St. Louis Circuit Attorney is investigating the allegations.

The statement from Simpson added that the woman has “consistently and continuously asked the reporters to not publish the story.”

“Our client is a single mother working hard to raise a family,” the statement continues. “She is saddened that during this time of national introspection on the treatment of women in our society, allegations about her private life have been published without her permission.”

The statement does not deny any of the specific allegations that the ex-husband and his attorney, Al Watkins, have made.

Read the full statement below:

Our law firm represents the unnamed woman in the recent story involving Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. We are reaching out to you today to ask the media and the public to respect our client’s request for privacy. This story has taken an emotional toll on our client and she is extremely distraught that the information has been made public. It is very disappointing that her ex husband betrayed her confidence by secretly, and without her knowledge, recording a private and deeply personal conversation and then subsequently released the recording to the media without her consent.

Prior to releasing the story, a number of reporters made contact with our client asking her to comment on the information provided by her ex-husband. In response, she has consistently and continuously asked the reporters to not publish the story. Any comments that were made “on the record” or “off the record” have consistently been requests for privacy. Our client is a single mother working hard to raise a family. She is saddened that during this time of national introspection on the treatment of women in our society, allegations about her private life have been published without her permission.

At this time, our client would like to thank each reporter and media outlet who honored her request for privacy prior to the story’s release. She wants to remain a private citizen and does not want to be a part of this story. We are asking the media and the public to continue respecting her privacy.

Editor’s note: This story initially said the photograph incident occurred in the woman’s home; it actually occurred in Greitens’ home, as TPM has previously reported.

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In the wake of explosive allegations that he slapped and attempted to blackmail a woman with whom he carried out an extramarital affair, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens is keeping his head down and quietly rallying supporters.

Greitens, who has admitted to the affair but strongly denied the blackmail and slapping allegations, has made no public remarks or appearances since the scandal broke Wednesday night. His often-busy Twitter feed has fallen silent.

In a Thursday call with campaign contributors, first reported by the Washington Examiner, the governor, joined by his wife Sheena, said he planned to ride out the scandal. The couple spent the rest of the afternoon dialing Missouri Senate and House lawmakers to deny the allegations, CNN reported.

State Sen. Gary Romine told CNN that the couple informed him that “no additional stories” about the governor would come to light. A State House Republican said Greitens blamed the scandal on “liberal media and Democrats trying to destroy him.”

In 2015, Greitens took a naked picture of a woman with whom he was having an affair and told her he’d use it to blackmail her if she revealed the relationship, according to comments the woman made on an audiotape recorded by her then-husband. TPM reported Thursday that, months later, the woman told her husband that Greitens slapped her when she told him she’d slept with her husband.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner announced Thursday afternoon that she’d opened an investigation into the claims.

The scandal broke immediately following Greitens’ State of the State address. Soon after, Greitens issued a joint statement with his wife acknowledging the affair occurred. But the governor has offered no firsthand response to the blackmail and slapping allegations.

Instead, Greitens has been letting his private attorney, Jim Bennett, handle the media fallout. Bennett has adamantly denied the blackmail and slapping accounts, and has framed the scandal as a politically-motivated effort to tear down Greitens, who was previously viewed as a rising star in the Republican Party.

In addition to the Circuit Attorney’s probe, Al Watkins, the lawyer for the ex-husband of the woman who was having the affair, told TPM that he’s been in ongoing contact with the FBI, as well.

Watkins told TPM that he’s been “receiving ongoing consistent contact from a special agent” with the bureau since October 2016.

The St. Louis office of the FBI declined to confirm to TPM whether any investigation into Greitens existed.

Both members of the couple have requested anonymity to protect their family’s privacy, and the woman has not yet given any on-the-record comment about the situation.

Bennett, Greitens’ lawyer, told TPM he had not been contacted by law enforcement and said he was confident that the governor would be “exonerated in any investigation.” In an interview with the St. Louis Dispatch, Bennett said Greitens was considering a lawsuit in response to the allegations.

Those charges are ricocheting around the national media and Missouri Capitol, where a number of lawmakers have called for investigations and for the governor to step down.

State Senate Minority Leader Gina Walsh and Sen. Kiki Curls, both Democrats, released a statement calling for the “scrutiny of law enforcement.” State Sen. Jamilah Nasheed (D) insisted that Greitens “resign immediately.”

Republican lawmakers have also offered criticism, with Rep. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington urging the governor to do the “right thing” if the charges are true, and Sen. Rob Schaaf, a strong critic of Greitens, tweeting, “Stick a fork in him.”

The editorial board of the St. Louis Dispatch, one of the region’s largest newspapers, published a column decrying the “tawdry details of his sex scandal” and branding the former NAVY seal, who ran on an agenda of supporting families, a “hypocrite” for enacting policies that did the exact opposite.

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A local prosecutor on Thursday launched a formal investigation into allegations that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R) blackmailed a woman with whom he was having an affair. The FBI is also said to be looking into the case. 

Greitens has strongly denied the blackmail allegation.

“The serious allegations against Missouri Governor Eric Greitens are very troubling,” St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said in a statement. “After further consideration, I have decided to launch a formal investigation into the alleged actions of Governor Greitens.”

The Circuit Attorney is the chief prosecutor for state-level crimes committed in St. Louis. 

Al Watkins, a lawyer for the woman’s ex-husband, also said he’d been in touch with the FBI about the matter. 

“I have been receiving ongoing consistent contact from a special agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigations,” Watkins told TPM Thursday afternoon, saying he first heard from the bureau in October 2016.

Rebecca Wu of the FBI’s St. Louis office told TPM that she could not comment on the existence or status of an ongoing federal investigation.

Greitens is accused of taking a nude photograph of the woman against her consent in order to keep her from going public about their months-long 2015 affair. Additionally, TPM reported that Greitens slapped the woman when she told him she had slept with her then-husband.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but, through his lawyer, Jim Bennett, has adamantly denied both the blackmail and the slapping. 

Bennett told TPM that he had not been contacted by law enforcement.

“We firmly believe that the Governor will be exonerated in any investigation,” Bennett said in an email to TPM. “As we confirmed today, the allegations are being stirred up for partisan reasons.”

Roy Temple, a former state Democratic Party chair, told TPM that the woman’s ex-husband had told him about the slap in 2016. 

The woman’s ex-husband provided local CBS affiliate KMOV with a recording he had made of his conversation with his then-wife about the photograph episode.

Watkins said the circuit attorney’s office was seeking seeking copies of the tape recordings and other evidence. He said they also were looking to interview the ex-husband. Watkins added that his client has not been interviewed by any law enforcement body.

Watkins said the call from the attorney’s office came just before 5 p.m. Thursday. Not long after, Gardner announced the probe. 

This post has been updated.

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The woman who had an affair with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens in 2015 told her then-husband that Greitens slapped her against her will, after she told Greitens she had had sex with her husband.

A lawyer for Greitens strongly denies the claim.

A lawyer for the woman’s ex-husband, as well as Roy Temple, a Missouri Democratic operative, told TPM about the husband’s claims.

Temple told TPM that the woman’s husband had recounted the incident to Temple in September 2016, based on what his wife told him. Temple at that time was the chair of the Missouri Democratic party. Greitens, a Republican, was elected governor in November 2016.

The woman and her husband sought a divorce in March 2016. Temple said the husband told him the incident occurred in early July, 2015.

Al Watkins, a lawyer for the husband, confirmed to TPM in a Thursday phone interview that his client had discussed the slapping allegation in an interview with KMOV, CBS’ St. Louis affiliate. KMOV, which broke the news of the affair, has not broadcast that claim, as of Thursday afternoon.

“My client has asserted that that is what he has been told by his former spouse,” Watkins said. “My client has gone on the record with that statement and I have no reason to believe anything other than the absolute veracity of my client.”

Watkins declined to put TPM in contact with the man. “He is prioritizing his family and navigating a difficult time,” Watkins said.

Calls and texts to a phone number listed online for the woman were not returned. A woman who answered the phone at the salon where the woman works hung up the phone when a TPM reporter identified herself.

TPM is not naming the woman or the husband, out of concern for their family’s privacy.

“Greitens invited her to the Greitens family home and into a guest bedroom,” Temple wrote in an email to TPM, describing what he had been told by the husband. “Before engaging in sex, Greitens asked if she had had sex with anyone since their last encounter. According to the account he gave me, she replied that she had had sex with her husband, at which time Greitens slapped her.”

A lawyer for Greitens denied that he had slapped the woman.

“This allegation is completely false,” the lawyer, Jim Bennett, said in an email. “It never happened. There was never any violence. Anything reported otherwise is untrue and we will explore pursuing all legal action. This was a consensual relationship that lasted multiple months and was years ago before Eric was elected Governor.”

The claims lend a new layer of gravity to the still-unfolding scandal embroiling the governor. Late Wednesday, Greitens admitted in a statement that he had conducted the affair but denied allegations that he blackmailed the woman into silence by taking a nude photo of her while her arms were bound by tape to exercise equipment in his basement.

“All I can tell you as a simple-minded man from the heartland of America, whether it’s extortion or blackmail or neither, it’s fucking disgusting,” Watkins, the man’s attorney, said of the March 2015 photograph incident.

The woman recounted that episode and other details of her relationship with Greitens in a conversation with her then-husband days after it occurred. A recording of that conversation, made by the husband without her knowledge, was among the evidence provided to KMOV to support the husband’s version of events.  

Watkins, the man’s attorney, said in a Thursday radio interview with St. Louis station KMOX that his client had previously declined to come forward out of concern for his family’s privacy. Watkins said he decided to do so after members of the media continued to contact him about the affair and even called one of his young children, leaving the minor in a “position of abject horror about what’s gone on.”  

Missouri state senators from both parties have called for an investigation into the blackmail allegations. Several Democrats have called for Greitens to resign immediately. Greitens reportedly told allies Thursday that he plans to stay in office. 

Though the affair only came to light this week, rumors have swirled about Greitens’ relationship with the woman since before he took office. Temple, the Democratic operative, told TPM he reached out to the man through a mutual close friend to obtain more information in early fall 2016. Over the course of a phone call and two in-person meetings at the man’s home in the first two weeks of September, the man provided Temple with details of the affair, and played him part of the recording describing the blackmail incident.

Temple told TPM that the husband had made “multiple recordings” of his conversations with his then-wife about Greitens because, as the husband put it, he “wasn’t sure that he was getting the full story.”

The recording describing the basement photograph episode is the only one that news outlets had made public by Thursday afternoon.

Asked if he believed more damaging revelations about Greitens had yet to surface, Watkins said he believed that was a “correct statement.”

Referring to Greitens’s admission of an affair, Watkins said: “It is always important when you’re bellying up to the bar, that you belly all the way up to the bar.”

Additional reporting by Tierney Sneed.

This post has been updated.

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A top official on the National Security Council last year proposed withdrawing some U.S. forces from the Baltics in an effort to please Vladimir Putin, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.

Two former administration officials told the publication that Kevin Harrington, a deputy assistant to President Donald Trump for strategic planning, pitched the plan to remove or reposition some U.S. forces stationed in Eastern Europe in February 2017.

Though Harrington’s proposal never came to fruition, it represented a remarkable pivot from decades of U.S. foreign policy. One former NSC colleague, speaking to the Beast, called it a “gesture to the Kremlin that would enable the nascent Trump administration to see if its desire for a friendly relationship with Russia would be reciprocated.”

U.S. forces have been stationed throughout Europe since the Cold War as a counter-weight to Russia, and were detailed to the Baltics after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

As the Beast previously reported, Harrington has proposed other measures that would please Putin, such as the easing of sanctions on the Russian oil industry.

Harrington is a former colleague of Trump ally Peter Thiel and of ousted national security adviser Mike Flynn. He managed to retain his high-ranking position on the NSC after Flynn was forced out of the White House.

Read the latest editor’s brief (Prime access) on this story »

 

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The former British spy behind an infamous dossier alleging collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia apparently broke off communication with the FBI because of a October 2016 New York Times story claiming that no such ties had been found, according to newly released testimony.

Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson, who assembled the dossier based on research by the former spy, Christopher Steele, testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Times article made Steele feel “concern about what was going on at the FBI.”

Simpson’s testimony took place in August. An interview transcript was made public Tuesday.

“There was a concern that the FBI was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people and we didn’t really understand what was going on,” Simpson testified, calling the Oct. 31 article “a real Halloween special.”

The Times story reported at a critical moment in the 2016 election campign that the FBI had found no “conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government” during a months-long inquiry. The story has come under fire in light of subsequent reporting, much of it by the Times’ own reporters, detailing contacts between the two.

Simpson testified that the article contradicted Steele and Fusion’s own research into Trump’s connections with Russia.

“Chris was confused and somewhat disturbed and didn’t think he understood the landscape and I think both of us felt like things were happening that we didn’t understand and that we must not know everything about, and therefore, you know, in a situation like that the smart thing to do is stand down,” Simpson said.

Simpson testified that Steele had two previous contacts with the FBI about his findings, one that he initiated in early July 2016, and another in Rome in September 2016 that Simpson said he believed was requested by the bureau.

The Fusion GPS founder said that passing information on to the FBI was not an aim of the initial project investigating Trump’s Russia connections. But Simpson said that Steele felt compelled to do so because of his “grave concern” about his findings.

The full transcript of Simpson’s interview was released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the committee. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) had argued against making it public and referred Steele to the FBI for allegedly lying to federal investigators about his contacts with the media. Grassley said Feinstein’s decision to release the transcript “undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work.”

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