Allegra Kirkland

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

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The House Intelligence Committee wants to speak to Trump campaign adviser Boris Epshteyn as part of its probe into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election, CBS News reported Tuesday.

“Like many others, Mr. Epshteyn has received a broad, preliminary request for information from the House Intelligence Committee,” a lawyer for Epshteyn, who was not named, told CBS News. “This is a voluntary request. Mr. Epshteyn has not been subpoenaed nor do we anticipate that he will be.”

“We have reached out to the Committee with several follow up questions and we are awaiting their response in order to better understand what information they are seeking and whether Mr. Epshteyn is able to reasonably provide it,” the lawyer added.

A similar request was recently sent to former Trump campaign adviser Michael Caputo, who worked in Russia in the 1990s and did work for Gazprom Media, the publishing arm of the Russian oil giant.

An anonymous U.S. official told CBS that Epshteyn is on a list of some 20 people slated for the committee’s first round of interviews. That list includes Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, who refused requests from both the House and Senate intelligence panels for records of his contacts with Russian officials, calling them overly broad.

Trump’s campaign apparatus itself is now a focal point in the congressional investigations. Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee sent a bipartisan request to Trump’s campaign committee asking for all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records.

Epshteyn, who served as a cable news surrogate and adviser during the campaign, abruptly left his White House post as Trump’s special assistant in charge of surrogate operations in March. The Moscow-born Trump ally is now a political analyst for conservative network Sinclair Broadcasting.

In interviews, he has insisted that Russia never annexed Crimea by force in 2014 and refused to admit that the Kremlin intervened in the presidential race.

“You would have to ask Russia if they tried to meddle … Whether there was an attempt at meddling, again, how would I know?” Epshteyn said in a recent appearance on “Real Time With Bill Maher.” “Again, if you have a problem with how the president is handling his foreign policy, you can speak at the ballot box in three and a half years.”

This post has been updated.

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Longtime Trump ally and personal attorney Michael Cohen has refused congressional requests to provide “information and testimony” pertinent to their investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, ABC News reported Tuesday.

“I declined the invitation to participate as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen told ABC via email of the requests for his contacts with Kremlin-linked officials.

The New York Times reported in February that Cohen was among the handful of Trump associates “under scrutiny” as part of the federal investigation into Russia’s election meddling, which is now in the hands of special counsel Robert Mueller. But this is the first indication that Cohen was of interest to Congress.

The New York-based attorney and Trump fixer, who recently took on an additional role as a fundraiser for the Republican National Committee, reportedly had been involved in a backchannel scheme to convince the Trump administration to lift economic sanctions against Russia. Cohen told the Times in February that he personally helped deliver a “peace plan” from a member of Ukraine’s parliament to former national security adviser Michael Flynn, although he quickly changed his story and denied having done so to other news outlets.

Cohen has a complex web of business ties with both Ukraine and with Trump. He first came to the real estate mogul’s attention in the mid-2000s, when he and his Ukrainian in-laws bought up large numbers of Trump-branded apartment buildings.

Cohen’s sizable personal fortune reportedly comes from a string of lucrative partnerships with Ukrainian immigrants, working in taxi medallion leasing, the casino boat business and the Ukrainian ethanol business. He eventually become general counsel for the Trump Organization and sat on the boards of the Eric Trump Foundation and Miss Universe Organization.

News that both federal and congressional investigators have their eye on Cohen offers additional evidence that the various, sprawling Russia probes are reaching into the President’s inner circle. Reports over the weekend revealed that Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, proposed to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. that they establish a secret line of communication with the Kremlin using Russia’s diplomatic facilities. According to Reuters, Kushner is now a “focus” of the federal probe.

Clarification: This story was updated to include reporting from the Associated Press about the committee issuing a subpoena to Cohen as part of the Russia probe. Language about Cohen receiving a subpoena was later removed from the AP article, although no editor’s note or correction was appended. The AP said on Twitter that it had deleted a prior tweet about Cohen receiving a subpoena, and wrote that “a new tweet will be sent.”

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The U.S. intelligence community intercepted conversations between Kremlin officials who boasted of having potentially “derogatory” information about Donald Trump and his advisers during the 2016 campaign, CNN reported Tuesday.

CNN’s report cited two unnamed former intelligence officials and a congressional source, one of whom indicated that the “derogatory” information was financial. The sources noted it was unclear if the Russians’ claims were legitimate or if, knowing their communications were monitored, they had intentionally tried to mislead U.S. officials.

Trump campaign associates’ financial dealings have become a part of both the federal and congressional investigations into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election. The Treasury Department’s financial crimes unit, which specializes in money laundering, has provided records to the Senate Intelligence Committee and FBI about the business ties of both Trump and his aides. Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner is also under scrutiny for a meeting he had with the head of a state-run Russian bank sanctioned by the U.S.

One source told CNN that the Russians whose conversations were intercepted believed “they had the ability to influence the administration through the derogatory information.”

The White House denied that any such communications occurred.

“This is yet another round of false and unverified claims made by anonymous sources to smear the President,” an anonymous administration spokesperson told CNN. “The reality is, a review of the President’s income from the last ten years showed he had virtually no financial ties at all. There appears to be no limit to which the President’s political opponents will go to perpetuate this false narrative, including illegally leaking classified material. All this does is play into the hands of our adversaries and put our country at risk.”

U.S. intelligence officials also intercepted communications last summer in which Russian officials bragged about their ability to influence Trump through their working relationships with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to various reports.

A still-mostly unverified dossier compiled by a former British spy alleged that Russian officials had potentially compromising information about Trump and members of his inner circle as well.

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President Donald Trump on Monday finally addressed the violent bias attack on a Portland train left two dead and one injured.

“The violent attacks in Portland on Friday are unacceptable,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “The victims were standing up to hate and intolerance. Our prayers are w/ them.”

Ricky John Best and Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche were brutally murdered and Micah Fletcher was injured after confronting a fellow train passenger who was hurling racial epithets and anti-Muslim slurs at a pair of teenage girls, one of whom was wearing a hijab.

The suspect, Jeremy Joseph Christian, has shared social media posts promoting Nazism, political violence and Trump, according to the Associated Press.

Though the FBI said it’s too early to determine whether the attack qualifies as a federal hate crime, Christian faces intimidation charges—Oregon’s equivalent.

The incident sparked outrage and heartbreak across the country, but it drew no comment from the president until three days after the fact.

Trump’s lack of response to the killings drew criticism, particularly since he sent out a stream of tweets on Sunday upon returning from his first official international trip.

Those messages focused instead on the “fake news media,” which he called “the enemy,” and on the Montana congressional race won last week by a Republican candidate who assaulted a reporter the night before the election. Trump called Greg Gianforte’s victory a “big win” for the GOP.

His Monday tweet condemning the attacks was sent from the official @POTUS account, not the @realdonaldtrump one he typically uses.

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A Russian oligarch who once employed former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort has asked for full immunity in order to testify before Congress about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Congressional officials told the Times that the committees leading investigations were unwilling to meet Oleg Deripaska’s terms out of concern that such an arrangement would complicate the work of federal investigators.

Deripaska, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, did business with Manafort in the mid-2000s. The Associated Press reported in March that the aluminum magnate negotiated a $10 million lobbying contract with Manafort to do work that would “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”

After the story came out, Deripaska took out ads in multiple major U.S. newspapers saying he never acted on Putin’s behalf and offering to be interviewed by Congress. He sued the AP in May after it refused to retract the piece or issue a correction. The news organization is standing by its story, saying it intends to fight Deripaska’s suit “vigorously.”

Manafort’s foreign ties, including his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine, are a key part of the federal investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Kremlin operatives.

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Trump administration officials and several powerful Republican senators have rushed to the defense of White House adviser Jared Kushner over reports that he discussed establishing secure backchannel communications with Russia’s government during the transition.

While some, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), are questioning the veracity of the articles, first reported by the Washington Post Friday, others, like Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, are making the remarkable case that Trump’s son-in-law secretly communicating with the Kremlin would be a “good thing.”

Acknowledging that Kushner’s conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak occurred “during the transition period, I think,” Kelly told NBC’s Chuck Todd Sunday that he sees no cause for concern.

“I think any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they’re good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do,” Kelly said. “I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared.”

National security adviser H.R. McMaster, too, argued that attempting to circumvent the traditional national security apparatus without the knowledge of the Obama administration would not be outside the norm.

“We have backchannel communications with a number of countries,” McMaster said. “What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner so I’m not concerned.”

Foreign policy experts and former officials disagree.

In interviews with the Post, they said Kushner’s reported plan, made when he was still a civilian, could have left him exposed to exploitation by Russian officials.

Graham, a Russia hawk, said he just didn’t buy the story as reported by the Post.

“I think it makes no sense that the Russian ambassador would report back to Moscow on a channel that he most likely knows we’re monitoring,” Graham told CNN’s Dana Bash, claiming that he didn’t “trust this story as far as I can throw it.”

Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) cautioned against “hyperbole” in discussing Kushner’s conversations with Kislyak.

“Sounds like he’s more than glad to talk about all of these things and instead of getting wrapped up into a lot of hyperbole, as these things can sometimes do, I think talking with him directly and getting him to answer any and all questions as he said he would do would probably be the prudent course of action,” Corker told NBC.

The President himself has yet to comment on the substance of the reports, issuing a vague statement saying he maintains “total confidence” in Kushner, who he called “a very good person.”

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Jared Kushner, whose own ties to Russia are under federal scrutiny, will help coordinate messaging from a new White House “war room” intended to diffuse mounting pressure from the scandal surrounding possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.

Kushner and White House chief adviser Steve Bannon will be involved in the messaging operation, Reuters reported Friday, as well as former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who could join the administration as early as next week.

This is the Trump administration’s most concerted effort to contain the fallout from the Russia scandal, which continues to distract from their own agenda and that of the GOP-controlled Congress.

Yet Kushner himself was the center of several damaging news reports Friday.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser reportedly spoke to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Segei Kislyak, about establishing a secret line of communication with the Kremlin during the transition, and also failed to disclose several conversations with Kislyak.

Part of the strategy for managing disclosures like this is getting Trump back on the road, Reuters reported. The President will hold a campaign-style rally next week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Efforts to maintain message discipline over the Russia story are threatened by Trump’s own off-the-cuff speaking style and habit of airing his grievances on Twitter, in interviews and at public events.

“It’s a seemingly impossible task,” one senior administration official involved with establishing the war room told the Daily Beast. “A disproportionate amount of our time has been spent reacting to ill-advised tweets.”

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National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said he was “not concerned” by reports that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser Jared Kushner discussed establishing backchannel communications with the Kremlin during the transition, Politico reported Saturday.

“We have backchannel communications with a number of countries,” McMaster told reporters at the G7 summit in Sicily. “What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner so I’m not concerned.”

Despite McMaster’s calm, reports that dropped Friday in the Washington Post and Reuters added a new dimension to the sprawling Russia scandal, with Reuters labeling Kushner, a member of Trump’s inner circle, a “focus” of the federal probe into the Kremlin’s election interference.

Per the reports, Kushner spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, about establishing a secret line of communications to avoid being monitored.

McMaster’s remarks did not mention that U.S. intelligence agencies had officially accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee “to interfere with the US election process” in October, three months prior to Kushner’s reported conversation with Kislyak.

Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said he cannot recall such a conversation having occurred.

“Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described,” Gorelick told Politico in a statement.

Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn declined to answer questions about Kushner, telling Politico, “We’re not going to comment on Jared.”

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The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records from President Donald Trump’s campaign committee, the Washington Post reported Friday night.

Two people briefed on the bipartisan request, sent via letter to the committee’s treasurer last week, told the Post that the committee wants to see all documents dating back to the start of Trump’s campaign in June 2015 as part of its investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

As the Post notes, this is the first time that Trump’s campaign structure has become part of the Senate committee’s probe.

Some former staffers have already been contacted to ask for assistance in producing and submitting these documents, and dozens more will be reached out to in the days to come, per the report

Spokespeople for committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and vice-chairman Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) declined the newspaper’s request for comment.

The request suggests that the Senate committee is plowing ahead with its investigation, which focuses in part on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, despite the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the sprawling federal Russia probe.

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President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner failed to disclose at least three additional contacts he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Reuters reported Friday.

Seven current and former U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters said these conversations between Kushner and Sergei Kislyak included two phone calls between April and November 2016.

This news came hours after a Friday night bombshell in the Washington Post reporting that the pair discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin. In Russian communications intercepted by the U.S., Kislyak said Kushner proposed establishing this workaround and using equipment available in stateside Russian diplomatic facilities.

Kushner became a “focus” of a federal probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives working to swing the 2016 election “by early this year,” according to Reuters.

The Post and NBC reported earlier this week that Kushner’s communications with Kislyak and meetings with the head of a Russian bank under sanction by the U.S. had drawn attention from the FBI, making him the first current White House employee known to be under federal scrutiny.

The FBI declined Reuters’ request for comment, while the White House did not respond to the publication’s request for comment.

As Reuters reported:

FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official.

Kushner failed to note two meetings with Kisylak and another with the head of the Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, as well as other conversations with foreign officials, on his application for a security clearance. His lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told the New York Times that the omissions were an error and that he provided additional information to the FBI the day after submitting his application.

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