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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A Justice Department investigation into whether Russians illegally funneled donations to the Trump campaign through the National Rifle Association (NRA) has uncovered a web of contacts between the gun group and allies of Vladimir Putin.

And the NRA still isn’t willing to provide any answers.

As McClatchy reported Monday, the DOJ probe has revealed that NRA executives met with Dmitry Rogozin, at the time a deputy prime minister, and Sergei Rudov, a major philanthropist, during a December 2015 trip to Moscow.

Rogozin was added to the U.S. government sanctions list in 2014 for his direct involvement in overseeing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, raising further questions about the propriety of the NRA’s contacts with him.

Overseeing the 2015 trip was Alexander Torshin, a Putin ally, lifetime NRA member, and former deputy head of Russia’s central bank. McClatchy first reported in January that the FBI was investigating whether Torshin gave money to the NRA in order to boost Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

The gun rights giant has denied accepting foreign funds for election-related activities, which is against the law. But it has acknowledged taking in donations from foreign entities for non-political purposes, and has said it moves money between its various accounts as permitted by law.

Finances aside, the NRA’s interactions with Russian entities merit scrutiny, according to experts who study the region.

Anders Aslund, a Russia expert at the Atlantic Council, told TPM it was “impermissible” for the NRA to meet with someone like Rogozin. Aslund described Rogozin as a “hardcore nationalist” and “quite a famous person in Russia,” adding that the NRA executives would surely have known who he was.

The NRA did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment. A spokesman for the group told McClatchy that they had received no contact from the FBI.

Democrats in Congress are also investigating financial links between Russia and the NRA for any possible illegal activity. After exchanging a series of letters with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) the NRA’s general counsel cut off communications in April, saying they had provided all the facts needed to satisfy any “legitimate concerns.”

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The Missouri special prosecutor appointed to take over the investigation of Eric Greitens announced Friday that she won’t file any further criminal charges against the disgraced Republican former governor.

The news mean that Greitens, who was previously charged both with blackmailing his then-mistress and with a separate campaign finance violation, is now legally in the clear.

Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said the she has “exhausted potential leads” but had not obtained sufficient evidence to pursue charges in connection with the blackmail allegations, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

At a press conference on Friday afternoon, Baker said she was “frustrated” by the outcome. She said that though there was “probable cause” for sexual assault charges against the governor in the blackmail incident, a lack of corroborating evidence and the victim’s desire not to pursue the case further helped steer her decision.

“Probable cause is not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and the victim in that case couldn’t bear it on her own,” Baker said.

Baker was assigned to take over the investigation last month after a case brought by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner fell apart just days before Greitens’ trial was set to begin. Greitens was accused of taking a non-consensual nude photo of a woman with whom he carried out a 2015 affair, and threatening to release it if she went public. He admitted to the extramarital relationship, and the woman’s testimony was deemed credible by a special Missouri House committee probing the allegations.

But the alleged photo never materialized, and Gardner’s case fell into disarray after she was called as a witness in her own probe. Lawyers for Greitens wanted to ask her about an interview she oversaw in which one of her investigators allegedly perjured himself.

Baker said in her press conference that she was “hamstrung” throughout her investigation because she considered Gardner’s entire office potential witnesses in the case and therefore could not confer with them on issues of legal strategy.

Greitens’ team had argued that he was innocent of criminal wrongdoing and that prosecutors didn’t have enough evidence to charge him.

He resigned in disgrace last week. In doing so, Greitens signed a settlement agreement with Gardner’s office in which she agreed to drop separate charges that he illegally stole a donor list from the veterans charity he founded, a campaign finance violation.

The woman at the heart of the blackmail scandal on Friday released a statement through her attorney thanking “all who have supported her and believed her testimony.”

“As my client, and the citizens of this state, move past this difficult time in Missouri’s history we hope other women in similar situations are not discouraged by this process,” the statement from attorney Scott Simpson read. “It takes real courage to testify once, let alone six times, but that courage exposes the truth.”

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Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday secured a grand jury indictment of Konstantin Kilimnik, Paul Manafort’s former business associate on his lucrative Ukraine lobbying. The indictment also came with additional charges for Manafort; the two were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for trying to shape other witnesses’ testimony about their Ukraine work.

Legal experts say the judge overseeing the case likely will agree with Mueller’s June 4 request to revoke Manafort’s current house arrest and send him directly to jail. President Trump complained that, during his campaign, “we should have been told that Comey and the boys were doing a number on [Manafort], and he wouldn’t have been hired!”

A new lawsuit filed by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti alleges that Daniels’ former attorney, Keith Davidson, “colluded” with Cohen by sharing privileged information about his client’s actions and trying to convince her to lie about her alleged affair with Trump. Per the complaint, Davidson served as a “puppet” for Cohen and for Trump, who was aware about the interactions between the two men.

Some of their communications were apparently included in the trove of materials seized from Cohen by federal agents. Special master Barbara Jones announced this week that, so far, only a tiny fraction of the seized materials are protected by attorney-client privilege.

Trump continued to stir the self-pardoning pot, parroting arguments his attorneys made in a letter to Mueller last January about the President’s complete authority to pardon himself. Rudy Giuliani went so far as to say that Trump could have shot James Comey and remained safe from criminal charges while President. The letter also made clear that Trump personally dictated Don Jr.’s misleading statement to The New York Times last summer about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

The Trump administration’s fierce war on leakers has yielded its first scalp: former Senate Intelligence Committee aide James Wolfe, who was charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters. According to his indictment, Wolfe provided sensitive information about the committee’s work to several journalists, including one with whom he had an affair. Much of the information Wolfe disclosed involved the committee’s investigation into former Trump aide Carter Page.

The Guardian reported Wednesday that a director of Cambridge Analytica met with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in February 2017 to discuss the 2016 U.S. election, and funneled cryptocurrency to Wikileaks.

Simona Mangiante, wife of ex-Trump aide George Papadopoulos, went on a bizarre conservative media tour, publicly begging Trump to pardon her husband. Trump is reportedly preparing paperwork to pardon at least 30 people, and is “obsessed” with pardons.

A number of GOP lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, broke with the President over his claims that an FBI informant who provided information on the Trump campaign to federal investigators was a “spy” installed by the Obama administration.

They also disagreed with the President’s impromptu suggestion that Russia “should be” allowed to rejoin the G-7 summit, a foreign policy negotiating group composed of the world’s leading industrialized nations.

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The last 24 hours have brought a wave of revelations about how key pieces of information from the Senate’s Russia investigation were made public, as well as the Trump era’s first indictment involving leaks to the press.

James Wolfe, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, is accused of being in regular contact with at least four reporters covering national security, and providing two of them with sensitive information related to the committee’s work. Wolfe was arrested Thursday and charged on three counts of lying to the FBI about his contacts with journalists. He is expected to appear in federal court in his home state of Maryland on Friday.

We know that one of the reporters was The New York Times’ Ali Watkins, formerly of BuzzFeed and Politico, whose phone and email records were secretly seized. We also know that much of the leaked information centered on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. Other details — including the names of the other three journalists — have yet to emerge.

But it’s clear that the Trump administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers is starting to collect scalps.

The clearest set of facts laid out in the indictment involves Wolfe’s interactions with Watkins, with whom he had a three-year romantic relationship between 2014 and 2017.

On March 17, 2017, Wolfe, who was tasked with protecting sensitive information shared with the committee’s lawmakers and with escorting witnesses to their testimony, received a classified document regarding “Male-1,” or Page.

That same day, he exchanged dozens of text messages with “Reporter #2,” who has since been identified as Watkins, and the pair had a 28-minute phone call.

Just over two weeks later, on April 3, Watkins published a bombshell story for Buzzfeed detailing that Page in 2013 met with and provided documents to Victor Podobnyy, a Russian intelligence operative who sought to recruit him.

Podobnyy, who was later charged by the U.S. government for his undercover spying, described Page as “an idiot” who provided him with documents on the U.S. energy business, according to a phone call transcript included in the U.S. court filing viewed by Buzzfeed.

On the day the story appeared, Watkins and Wolfe exchanged a flood of messages and spoke repeatedly on the phone.

The Times reported that Watkins had denied to the FBI that she used Wolfe as a source for classified information. In a statement to the newspaper, her personal lawyer, Mark MacDougall, called it “disconcerting” that the Justice Department had obtained a journalist’s telephone records. BuzzFeed News editor in chief Ben Smith told the Times that the site was “troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter’s constitutional right to gather information about her own government.”

The other central incident laid out in the indictment involved the committee’s move to subpoena Page to testify in October 2017.

Per the filing, Wolfe told “Reporter #3” on Oct. 16 that he served Page with a subpoena, and the next day agreed to the reporter’s request to provide Page’s contact information. On Oct. 17, “Reporter #3” published an article reporting on the subpoena. Wolfe followed up congratulating the reporter’s work, adding, “I’m glad you got the scoop.”

The identify of that journalist has not yet been revealed, in part because multiple news organizations, including NBC News and CNN, published stories on Page’s subpoena on Oct. 17. Multiple bylines were attached to each article, and each sourced their information to “a source familiar with the matter.”

Wolfe’s apparent communication via texts, emails, calls, and in-person conversations with these journalists contradicts sworn statements he made to the FBI in December denying having contact with reporters.

Page reacted to the news of Wolfe’s indictment on Twitter, writing that it was now “more understandable” how NBC staffers always knew he’d be showing up for appearances before the Senate committee.

In a joint statement, committee chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and vice chair Mark Warner (D-VA) said they were “troubled” by the charges against Wolfe but planned to move forward with their investigation.

“This news is disappointing, as the former staffer in question served on the Committee for more than three decades, and in the Armed Forces with distinction,” Burr and Warner said. “However, we trust the justice system to act appropriately and ensure due process as this case unfolds. This will in no way interfere with our ongoing investigation, and the Committee remains committed to carrying out our important work on behalf of the American people.”

This post has been updated to note that Wolfe appeared in federal court on Friday in Maryland, not Washington, D.C.

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Texas progressives have a shot at a major policy victory that would make life easier for many hundreds of thousands of working people. To stop them, state Republicans are set to try to roll back local democracy.

In February, Austin’s city council passed an ordinance requiring businesses to provide paid sick leave. Activists are poised to get similar measures on the November ballot in San Antonio and Dallas, via citizen-led initiatives.

But they’re are also girding for the next stage of the battle. If those measures pass, they expect the GOP-led state legislature, pressed by business interests, to file suit to block them after the fact. If that doesn’t work, Republicans are likely to pull out an even more potent weapon: preemption. That could expand the fight over paid sick days into a more elemental battle over the authority of local governments to set their own direction.

In recent years, in states from Wisconsin to Alabama, cities have passed progressive economic, environmental, and public health policies only to see GOP-controlled state government use preemption laws — laws that bar cities and counties from passing their own regulations — to wipe out those advances.

Texas, where progressive, racially diverse big cities are increasingly at odds with the conservative state government, has been a particular preemption hotspot. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) pledged upon taking office in 2015 to use preemption laws to “limit the ability of cities to California-ize the great state of Texas.” Since then, the state has passed laws forbidding cities and counties from creating sanctuary city protections, and regulating oil and gas drilling. The latter measure invalidated a 2014 ballot initiative, the product of a grassroots campaign, that banned fracking in the city of Denton.

“The state legislature has essentially declared war on local democracy in Texas,” Mark Pertschuk, director of progressive advocacy group Grassroots Change, which has tracked the preemption trend, told TPM in a phone interview. “Folks that want a higher minimum wage, benefits like paid sick days and family leave, they have the ability to put together a very good opposition to preemption and can do it in a non-partisan way.”

The proposal, which is identical across the three cities, would require employers to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, with an annual cap of six or eight days depending on the size of the business. Advocates say it would prevent workers from having to show up sick out of fear of losing wages needed to cover basic expenses like rent or groceries—or of even losing their jobs outright. The policy would also allow parents to take time off to care for sick children.

Abbott has warned that the paid sick leave measures would be “crushing” for businesses, and said the state needs a uniform set of regulations to ensure predictability for the private sector.

By waging the campaign in three of Texas’s four biggest cities simultaneously, and using ballot initiatives to show that the policy has broad popular support, progressives aim to undermine GOP opposition. The goal is to drive voters to the polls both to support a measure that directly benefits them, and to change the composition of a legislature that seems intent on reining in the power of cities to govern themselves.

One challenge activists are confronting: Texas’ dismally low levels of voter registration and turnout. This lack of civic engagement helps explain why the state’s large blue cities have little history of using ballot initiatives to try to secure policy wins — they simply can’t expect enough supporters to show up.

“It just doesn’t happen that often,” Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, told TPM of the ballot process.

State Republicans who fear-monger about the imaginary threat of mass voter fraud will also pick over ballot initiative signatures with a fine-toothed comb, activists say.

“We know its going be a contentious issue,” Zenén Pérez of the Texas Civil Rights Project, one of the coalition of organizations coordinating on the sick leave effort, told TPM, “[S]tate officials are going to be looking at every single signature to see if there was any sort of fraud committed.”

Pérez said that the team in San Antonio gathered some 144,000 signatures — almost twice what they estimate they’ll need to get on the ballot per city regulations — with the expectation that a significant number may include unregistered voters whose names will be tossed out. Activists in Dallas have a June 11 deadline to submit their own signatures.

“We have a lot of problems with accurate registration rolls in the first place,”Pérez said, citing Texas’ onerous voter registration and ID requirements.

If the measures get enough valid signatures and then are approved by voters, sick leave supporters then will likely need to fight off the GOP’s preemption effort.

Already Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has appeared to lay the groundwork, joining a lawsuit against Austin’s paid sick leave law brought by business groups. Paxton has argued that Texas law already bars cities and states from imposing economic regulations including paid sick days, and has accused Austin of trying to “usurp the authority of the state lawmakers chosen by Texas voters.”

The coalition behind the sick leave push explicitly chose to use the ballot initiative process in Dallas and San Antonio to bolster the campaign’s legitimacy, and demonstrate that the numbers are on their side. A recent study found that the lack of paid sick days affects some 4.3 million Texans — almost 40 percent of the state’s workforce.

Interference by the state will appear to be “much more a subversion of a democratic mandate than it would be if we passed it through council,” Alex Birnel, advocacy manager at MOVE San Antonio, a youth advocacy group involved in the effort, told TPM.

Birnel said that the coalition was also actively courting business groups and lawmakers from across the ideological spectrum “so that legal challenges, if they arise, look as politically and optically misguided as they are.”

Gordon Lafer, a labor expert with the Economic Policy Institute, told TPM that these sort of progressive economic initiatives “really drive voter turnout,” and that they have a decent chance of passing if they make the ballot.

But even if they fail or if a preemption bill comes on their heels, Lafer said, the effort exposes the bipartisan support behind common-sense workers’ rights measures that materially benefit hundreds of thousands at what most economists say is only a small cost to the businesses that employ them.

“It kind of opens up some fissures,” Lafer said. “It reveals some of those tensions between the donor class and the base.”

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The Missouri House committee investigating a host of allegations against former Gov. Eric Greitens on Wednesday dropped its effort to subpoena records from a secretive non-profit founded to support his agenda.

The move likely signals an end to the House committee’s effort to learn more about who funded the group, A New Missouri, which isn’t required to disclose its donors.

The House panel had sought documents from A New Missouri that it believed might reveal efforts to illegally get around the state’s campaign disclosure laws, as the Kansas City Star reported.

The panel’s decision comes a week after Greitens resigned from office amid separate allegations that he blackmailed his onetime-mistress and violated campaign finance laws. The former governor entered into a settlement agreement with the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office that acknowledged prosecutors had “sufficient evidence” to pursue a felony computer tampering case against him involving a separate veterans’ non-profit he founded.

The special House panel said it’s continuing to pursue its probe into the governor’s conduct in the wake of his resignation. But without seeking to enforce a subpoena, it’s unlikely to pry loose much information about A New Missouri.

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In its latest effort to kick up dust over the Mueller probe, Team Trump is making a fuss over tens of thousands of emails that a federal agency turned over to Mueller’s investigators last year.

The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that lawyers for President Trump’s 2016-2017 transition team are threatening to call for an inspector general probe into the conduct of the General Services Administration (GSA), and to have some officials at the agency sanctioned by the D.C. Bar.

According to letters sent in January and last month and reviewed by the Beast, the transition team is alleging that officials at GSA, which supports the work of other federal agencies, should have notified them before turning over the emails. The team also claim Mueller’s investigators, who are probing Russian meddling in the election, failed to protect attorney-client privileged material in the emails.

Team Trump is also making hay over the fact that former FBI official Peter Strzok, who Mueller fired after discovering texts he’d exchanged with a former girlfriend disparaging Trump, was involved in obtaining the emails from GSA.

Transition team lawyer Kory Langhofer wrote that Strzok “played a larger-than-previously known role in unlawfully seizing our client’s records,” according to the Beast.

The conflict first bubbled to the surface last December when the transition team went to Congress with accusations that the GSA had promised to simply serve as custodian over their records, and instead turned over the materials improperly.

GSA deputy general counsel Lennard Loewentritt strongly denied that claim, telling BuzzFeed that the agency made no commitment to protect the records and explicitly told Trump’s team that materials “would not be held back in any law enforcement actions.”

Legal experts and former government attorneys agreed that nothing improper seemed to have transpired, noting that presidential privilege would not apply because Trump had not yet been sworn in.

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Democrats flipped a Missouri senate seat long held by the GOP in a Tuesday night special election held just days after Gov. Eric Greitens, a Republican, resigned under a cloud of scandal.

The result suggests that the Greitens effect, combined with anti-Trump energy among Democrats, could pose serious problems for Republicans this fall, when a crucial Senate race will be on the ballot.

Democrat Lauren Arthur beat Republican Kevin Corlew with nearly 60 percent of the vote. In 2016, President Trump won the district, which had been under Republican control for over a decade, by 5 points.

Neither candidate, both of whom currently serve in the state assembly, campaigned much on the blackmail and campaign finance allegations that finally prompted Greitens to step down last week after months of turmoil. Arthur focused on labor rights and income inequality, while Corlew emphasized infrastructure and education.

But the governor’s drama loomed over the race, and Missouri Republican strategists cautioned ahead of time that he would be a drag on their candidates in down-ballot contests.

Some blamed Greitens for another GOP special election loss back in February, linking a steep drop in the governor’s favorability after his scandals went public to a shocking defeat for a state assembly seat in a dark-red district.

A GOP consultant in the state told the Kansas City Star that Tuesday’s results boded poorly for his party in the upcoming midterm elections.

“Every suburban Republican should be petrified tonight,” the operative said. “This devastating loss signals they could lose this fall.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is locked in a close race to keep her seat against Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, released a statement suggesting as much.

“Lauren’s 19-point margin shows that Missourians are ready for candidates that will fight for working families and education, rather than being part of the sideshow that Jefferson City under total Republican leadership has become,” McCaskill said.

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The next few weeks of the Michael Cohen probe will involve wrangling between two teams of lawyers — one representing the President and one representing Cohen — and court-appointed “special master” Barbara Jones about which of the items seized from Cohen by the FBI are covered by attorney-client privilege, and which are not.

Here’s a look at how the review process will work.

Jones was granted access to all of the materials seized from Cohen’s home, hotel room, and office in April 9 raids, plus the search warrants and the underlying materials used to obtain the warrants. But she is only assessing the documents that attorneys for Cohen and President Trump have said are privileged.

If Jones agrees with their determination, that material is withheld from prosecutors. But everything else is promptly turned over to the SDNY for use in their investigation.

Contrary to Cohen’s initial claims, it appears that most of the materials seized from his premises by federal agents are, by his own (later) admission, not protected by attorney-client privilege. Cohen’s lawyers initially argued that the government had seized “thousands, if not millions” of privileged communications, but have claimed a much smaller number of items as protected in their interactions with Jones.

On Monday, Jones announced the results of her review of an initial batch of 292,409 items, including physical documents and those on two iPhones and an iPad belonging to Cohen. Jones approved 162 of Cohen’s privilege claims and rejected only three.

Though she has many more documents to review, Jones’ initial update seemed like a win for prosecutors in the Southern District of New York  (SDNY), who have argued since the FBI’s April 9 raids that Cohen was initially making “overbroad” claims of privilege in order to delay their investigation.

Judge Kimba Wood last week imposed a June 15 deadline for Cohen’s team to complete their own privilege review, saying they were moving too slowly. If they fail to meet the deadline, a government “taint” or “filter” team — walled off from the investigators in the Cohen matter — will take over the process of determining what materials are privileged.

The other part of Jones’ role as special counsel is “adjudicating privilege disputes between the parties.” Wood has announced that the parties have within one week of Jones’ filings to submit objections to her determinations. Those objections should, she wrote, be “detailed enough for the Court to understand the basis or bases for asserting privilege and, if applicable, whether the material comes within the crime-fraud exception.”

No such objections have yet been filed. It’s not entirely clear what information the government has about the privileged materials as they decide whether or not to fight a particular designation.

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The White House and conservative media went into overdrive this week with claims that the FBI planted spies in the Trump campaign. We now know there was an informant, Cambridge University professor Stefan Halper, working with the bureau, but there is no indication that he was “embedded” in the campaign as a “spy” for “political” purposes.

Instead, Halper met several times with Trump aides known to be communicating with individuals linked to the Russian government, including Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, and passed the information on to U.S. intelligence agencies.

Trump and his supporters are running with the more dramatic version of events, with the President even making an unprecedented “demand” that the Justice Department investigate the matter. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that an ongoing, related DOJ inspector general probe would be expanded in order to do so. Intelligence leaders also held a briefing with top congressional lawmakers and Trump attorney Emmet Flood regarding classified information Republicans have pushed to obtain about the informant.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince appears to have lied to Congress about the extent of his involvement with the Trump campaign, which included organizing an Aug. 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel, and George Nader, who was acting as an emissary for the United Arab Emirates.

Nader, the AP reported, also set up a business partnership with billionaire Republican fundraiser Elliot Broidy, and was en route to meet with Broidy and the Trump family in January when he was met by FBI agents working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and started cooperating with his Trump-Russia probe. (Broidy also paid Michael Cohen to negotiate a nondisclosure agreement regarding his relationship with former Playboy model Shera Bechard.)

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin denied any involvement in what he characterized as a wide-ranging internal probe into the leak of some of Cohen’s confidential bank records. The BBC reported that another large sum was given to Cohen by reps for Ukraine’s president in exchange for arranging a June 2017 meeting between him and Trump.

Cohen’s longtime friend, “Taxi King” Gene Freidman, is now cooperating with state and federal prosecutors as part of a plea deal allowing Freidman to avoid serious jail time for tax fraud. Those generous terms suggest Freidman has significant information to share, possibly on Cohen.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielson claimed ignorance of the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s interference campaign favored Trump.

Paul Manafort’s federal case in Washington, D.C. pressed forward, with Mueller’s team revealing that other yet-to-be-revealed PR firms were involved in his Ukraine lobbying scheme.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani claimed that he was told there is a Sept. 1 deadline for Mueller’s probe to conclude. There is no indication that’s the case, though Mueller may need to pause his investigation as we head into the summer to avoid influencing the midterm elections.

As Mueller himself said in an unusually pointed statement this week, his probe case involves “multiple lines of non-public inquiry” that are far from complete.



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It's Lonely In The Minority

Now that they’re in the minority, this is the press corps covering House Republicans…