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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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The special counsel tasked with overseeing the Justice Department’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion with Trump campaign officials is already looking into memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote to document his conversations with President Donald Trump, CNN reported Monday.

An anonymous person familiar with the probe told CNN that Robert Mueller has been briefed on the contents of some of the memos. According to one that the New York Times surfaced last week, Trump allegedly asked Comey to end the FBI probe into his ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has come under scrutiny for failing to disclose foreign business dealings and contacts.

Another anonymous source told CNN that part of Mueller’s investigation will likely focus on obstruction of justice. Trump fired Comey two weeks ago and publicly divulged that his decision to do so was influenced in part by “this Russia thing.”

The Washington Post also reported Monday that both Trump and senior White House officials asked the director of national intelligence and of the NSA director to deny that there was any evidence of collusion between Russian operatives and his campaign staff, after Comey testified to Congress that this was a key part of the federal investigation.

The White House did not deny the Times story detailing Trump’s request to Comey, but told the Post it would “not confirm or deny unsubstantiated claims based on illegal leaks from anonymous individuals.”

Mueller is expected to meet with Comey in the coming days to discuss what the ousted FBI director can say in public testimony that he is expected to give after Memorial Day.

Two people familiar with Mueller’s probe told CNN he has already visited FBI headquarters in Langley, Virginia to meet the agents who have been working on the Russia case since last July.

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Ousted National Security Adviser Michael Flynn appears to have “lied” about a payment from Russian operatives when he was interviewed by investigators in the course of renewing his top-secret national security clearance, the House Oversight Committee’s ranking Democrat alleged Monday.

“The Oversight Committee has in our possession documents that appear to indicate that General Flynn lied to the investigators who interviewed him in 2016 as part of his security clearance renewal,” Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland in a letter to Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT).

At issue is the $45,000 the retired lieutenant general was paid to speak at a 2015 Moscow gala put on by Kremlin-run news outlet RT, where he was seated next to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Cummings’ letter asserted that documents “the Oversight Committee has in our possession” show that Flynn told investigators that he was paid by “U.S. companies” when he traveled to Moscow for that gala, when the “actual source of funds” for the trip was RT itself.

Flynn also left a line blank on his security clearance renewal application that asked him to disclose any business relationships or transactions with foreign entities, a U.S. official with direct knowledge told NBC News, calling it a “lie of omission.”

Flynn’s ties to Russia are now at the heart of a federal investigation that focuses in part on possible collusion between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign to influence the U.S. election. Flynn refused Monday to comply with a subpoena request from the Senate Intelligence Committee for documents related to its own investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Knowingly accepting payments from foreign governments as a former military officer is a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, and intentionally lying to federal investigators is a felony punishable by a sentence of up to five years imprisonment. Flynn faces further legal trouble for failing to report $530,000 he received to lobby for a Turkish businessman on his financial disclosure form—work that forced him to retroactively register as a foreign agent after leaving the White House.

The Trump administration has blamed former President Barack Obama’s team for failing to properly vet Flynn, as Cummings noted in his letter.

He urged Chaffetz to subpoena the White House for failing to honor their bipartisan request, first made in late March, for all documents relating to Flynn’s security clearance applications.

“We need to know what the President, Vice President, White House Counsel, and other top officials knew about General Flynn—and when they knew it,” Cummings wrote.

Read Cummings’ full letter below:

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Two former Trump allies have turned over documents requested by the Senate Intelligence Committee as part of its probe into possible collusion by Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives interfering in the U.S. election, NBC News reported Monday.

An anonymous congressional source aware of the investigation told NBC that former campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime ally Roger Stone have turned over documents that the committee asked for in early May. The requested material includes information about Russia-related real estate transactions, email or other written communications with Russians, and in-person meetings and phone calls with Russian officials or businesspeople.

The source said told NBC it was unclear if the documents fully complied with the committee’s inquiry.

Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni confirmed to NBC that Manafort submitted documents, but later would not confirm in an email to TPM that Manafort did so.

Stone told NBC News via email: “I gave them all documents that were consistent with their specific request.”

Short-lived campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page has yet to respond to a similar request, per the report. And former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn on Monday announced that he would not do so.

In a letter to the committee obtained by the Associated Press, Flynn’s legal team said that “escalating public frenzy against him” and the special counsel probe into Russia’s election meddling (and “related matters”) have prompted him to invoke his Fifth Amendment protection.

“Any testimony he provides could be used against him,” the letter reads, according to the AP.

The committee chairs issued a bipartisan statement saying they were “disappointed” by Flynn’s announcement and planning to press forward with their requests for information about his dealings.

“While we recognize General Flynn’s constitutional right to invoke the Fifth Amendment, we are disappointed he has chosen to disregard the Committee’s subpoena request for documents relevant and necessary to our investigation,” Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) wrote. “We will vigorously pursue General Flynn’s testimony and his production of any and all pertinent materials pursuant to the Committee’s authorities.”

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Yet another Trump campaign associate is under scrutiny for his connections to Russia: former communications adviser Michael Caputo.

The New York Times reported Saturday that Caputo was asked by the House Intelligence Committee to come in for a voluntary interview and provide any documents he may possess relevant to their probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

Caputo, who spent six months with the Trump campaign, worked in Russia during the 1990s and did work for Gazprom Media, a subsidiary of the Russian oil giant, in the early 2000s, according to the Times.

The May 9 letter from the committee asked Caputo to provide “any documents, records, electronically stored information including email, communication, recordings, data and tangible things” that could “reasonably lead to the discovery of any facts within the investigation’s publicly announced parameters,” according to a copy reviewed by the newspaper.

The onetime Trump adviser has denied any wrongdoing and insisted on Twitter that the Trump-Russia story is “pure unadulterated bullshit.”

After House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jackier Speier (D-CA) brought up his work for Gazprom and assistance with a 2007 parliamentary election in Kiev during a March hearing, Caputo told his local Buffalo, New York news station that the probe was pure “politics.”

“If I wasn’t being investigated by the FBI before, I probably am now,” he told WBEN. “I’m OK with that. I did nothing wrong and I’m sure I’ll be vindicated”.

Caputo told the Intelligence Committee that he planned to cooperate with their request, saying he did not “have any contact” with Russian operatives or discussions about Russia with other campaign staffers while employed by Trump’s campaign, according to a written response reviewed by the Times.

“The only time the president and I talked about Russia was in 2013, when he simply asked me in passing what it was like to live there in the context of a dinner conversation,” he wrote, per the Times report.

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A current White House official is “under scrutiny” in the federal investigation into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election, the Washington Post reported Friday.

Anonymous sources familiar with the probe told the Post that a “significant person of interest” in the sprawling probe into Russia’s election interference is a senior White House adviser close to President Donald Trump.

“As the president has stated before, a thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the Post in a statement.

As the Post notes, Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are among the current administration officials known to have communicated with Russian officials during the campaign.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was forced out of the administration in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence about conversations he had with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak about lifting U.S. sanctions. Flynn and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort are central figures in the federal Russia probe, and former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page’s ties with Russia are also under investigation.

News that the federal probe had reached officials currently working at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue dropped shortly after Trump boarded Air Force One to fly to Saudi Arabia for his first-ever international trip.

Though James Comey, the FBI director that Trump fired last week, confirmed the existence of an investigation into Trump’s campaign in March, the Justice Department declined to comment.

“I can’t confirm or deny the existence or non-existence of investigations or targets of investigations,” Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores told the Post.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Wednesday announced that the probe would now be helmed by special counsel Robert Mueller, himself a former FBI director.

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In a meeting with Russian officials one day after he abruptly fired James Comey, President Donald Trump expressed relief about being rid of the “real nut job” former FBI director, saying it took “great pressure” off him, according to a Friday report in the New York Times.

An unnamed American official read out a summary of the meeting to the Times.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said, according to the document summarizing the meeting. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

“I’m not under investigation,” the President reportedly told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak in a May 10 meeting in the Oval Office.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer did not deny the accuracy of Trump’s quotes in a statement to the Times.

“By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia,” Press Secretary Sean Spicer said in the statement. “The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified conversations.”

This latest damaging story was published shortly after Trump left for Saudi Arabia to kick off a nine-day international trip, his first as commander-in-chief.

Administration officials including Spicer, Vice President Mike Pence and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway initially argued that Comey’s dismissal had “nothing to do” with the FBI investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election, which includes looking into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russian operatives.

The Kremlin took that tack as well, with Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling Comey’s dismissal an “internal affair” that “has nothing to do and should have nothing to do with Russia.”

But Trump himself quickly trashed that narrative in an interview with NBC News. Though he has consistently called the Russia probe a “witch hunt,” he told anchor Lester Holt that it played into his decision to get rid of Comey.

“When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” the President admitted.

Comey’s sudden dismissal and reports that Trump asked the former FBI director to curb the bureau’s investigation into his ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn, prompted Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel this week to oversee the probe.

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Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein briefed the full Senate and House this week on a controversial memo he wrote condemning former FBI director James Comey’s oversight of the election-year investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

“My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination,” Rosenstein said in his opening statement, which was distributed Friday by the Justice Department.

“My memorandum is not a survey of FBI morale or performance,” he continued. “My memorandum is not a press release. It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI Director’s public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation.”

The White House initially said President Donald Trump’s decision to oust Comey was prompted by Rosenstein’s memo, prompting questions from furious Democratic lawmakers about the veteran federal prosecutor’s impartiality.

The President said later that he planned to fire Comey no matter what, and that his decision was influenced in part by the ongoing investigation into ties between Russian operatives and his campaign staffers.

Rosenstein confirmed to Congress that he submitted the memo to Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he knew Comey would already be dismissed.

This week, amid reports that Trump asked Comey to end part of that investigation, Rosenstein appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller to lead a wide-ranging independent investigation Russia’s election interference and “related matters.”

Read Rosenstein’s full statement below:

BRIEFING FOR MEMBERS OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE and HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ROD J. ROSENSTEIN
WASHINGTON, DC
MAY 18th and 19th, 2017

Good afternoon.  I welcome the opportunity to discuss my role in the removal of FBI Director James Comey, although I know you understand that I will not discuss the special counsel’s ongoing investigation. Most importantly, I want to emphasize my unshakeable commitment to protecting the integrity of every federal criminal investigation. There never has been, and never will be, any political interference in any matter under my supervision in the United States Department of Justice.

* * *
Before I discuss the events of the past two weeks, I want to provide some background about my previous relationship with former Director Comey. I have known Jim Comey since approximately 2002. In 2005, when Mr. Comey was Deputy Attorney General, he participated in selecting me to serve as a U.S. Attorney. As a federal prosecutor, he was a role model. His speeches about leadership and public service inspired me.

On July 5, 2016, Director Comey held his press conference concerning the federal grand jury investigation of Secretary Clinton’s emails. At the start of the press conference, the Director stated that he had “not coordinated or reviewed this statement in any way with the Department of Justice…. They do not know what I am about to say.”

Director Comey went on to declare that he would publicly disclose “what we did; what we found; and what we are recommending to the Department of Justice.” He proceeded to disclose details about the evidence; assert that the American people “deserve” to know details; declare that no “reasonable” prosecutor would file charges; and criticize Secretary Clinton.

I thought the July 5 press conference was profoundly wrong and unfair both to the Department of Justice and Secretary Clinton. It explicitly usurped the role of the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General and the entire Department of Justice; it violated deeply engrained rules and traditions; and it guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election.

There are lawful and appropriate mechanisms to deal with unusual circumstances in which public confidence in the rule of law may be jeopardized. Such mechanisms preserve the traditional balance of power between investigators and prosecutors, and protect the rights of citizens.

Director Comey attended the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office training seminar on October 27, 2016, and gave a detailed explanation of his reasons for making public statements about the conclusion of the Secretary Clinton email investigation. I strongly disagreed with his analysis, but I believe that he made his decisions in good faith.

The next day, October 28, Mr. Comey sent his letter to the Congress announcing that the FBI was reopening the Clinton email investigation. He subsequently has said that he believed he was obligated to send the letter. I completely disagree. He again usurped the authority of the Department of Justice, by sending the letter over the objection of the Department of Justice; flouted rules and deeply engrained traditions; and guaranteed that some people would accuse the FBI of interfering in the election.

Before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Director Comey testified under oath about his public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation. I strongly disagreed with his explanations, particularly his assertion that maintaining confidentiality about criminal investigations constitutes concealment. Nonetheless, I respected him personally.

Former Department of Justice officials from both political parties have criticized Director Comey’s decisions.  It was not just an isolated mistake; the series of public statements about the email investigation, in my opinion, departed from the proper role of the FBI Director and damaged public confidence in the Bureau and the Department.
In one of my first meetings with then-Senator Jeff Sessions last winter, we discussed the need for new leadership at the FBI. Among the concerns that I recall were to restore the credibility of the FBI, respect the established authority of the Department of Justice, limit public statements and eliminate leaks.

On May 8, I learned that President Trump intended to remove Director Comey and sought my advice and input. Notwithstanding my personal affection for Director Comey, I thought it was appropriate to seek a new leader.

I wrote a brief memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my longstanding concerns about Director Comey’s public statements concerning the Secretary Clinton email investigation.

I chose the issues to include in my memorandum.

Before finalizing the memorandum on May 9, I asked a senior career attorney on my staff to review it. That attorney is an ethics expert who has worked in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General during multiple administrations. He was familiar with the issues. I informed the senior attorney that the President was going to remove Director Comey, that I was writing a memorandum to the Attorney General summarizing my own concerns, and that I wanted to confirm that everything in my memorandum was accurate. He concurred with the points raised in my memorandum. I also asked several other career Department attorneys to review the memorandum and provide edits.

My memorandum is not a legal brief; these are not issues of law.

My memorandum is not a finding of official misconduct; the Inspector General will render his judgment about that issue in due course.

My memorandum is not a statement of reasons to justify a for-cause termination.

My memorandum is not a survey of FBI morale or performance.

My memorandum is not a press release.

It is a candid internal memorandum about the FBI Director’s public statements concerning a high-profile criminal investigation.

I sent my signed memorandum to the Attorney General after noon on Tuesday, May 9.

I wrote it. I believe it. I stand by it.
* * *
Finally, I want to address the media claims that the FBI asked for additional resources for the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. I am not aware of any such request. Moreover, I consulted my staff and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and none of them recalls such a request.

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Russia isn’t the only country causing headaches for the Trump administration. The federal investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn is closely scrutinizing whether his lobbying work for Turkey influenced military decisions he made in the White House, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The newspaper obtained a copy of a grand jury subpoena issued to one of Flynn’s business associates by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which involves his $600,000 contract with Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin to lobby for improved relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

McClatchy revealed this week that Flynn put a hold on a military operation against the Islamic State that involved arming Kurdish forces—a move Turkey opposed.

Because Flynn was so hawkish about the need to combat the threat posed by ISIL, his decision prompts questions about whether it was influenced by his hefty lobbying fees.

Federal investigators are looking into whether other military determinations Flynn made during the transition and his tenure as national security adviser were swayed by funds he received from Turkey and Russia, according to the Journal.

The retired lieutenant general reportedly told the transition team that he was under investigation for his lobbying work weeks before inauguration, but the White House insists they knew nothing about it at the time.

Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent after he was dismissed for misleading senior administration officials about his private conversations with Russian officials.

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It started with a question. But, as it turned out, not even the right question.

Around the eight-hour mark of the January confirmation hearing of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) drew attention to a just-published CNN blockbuster about an explosive dossier peddling outlandish allegations that the Russians had highly incriminating information about Donald Trump.

The dossier also contained less sensational but still-important allegations that Trump campaign associates had repeated contact with Russian intermediaries.

Franken pounced. Sort of.

“If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?” Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) asked Sessions, still smiling and accommodating after a long day of grilling.

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” an unperturbed Sessions said. And then, Sessions—a former federal prosecutor—went well beyond what Franken had asked.

“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on that,” Sessions replied.

The room did not buzz. Reporters did not scramble. But that seemingly innocuous response kicked off a chain of events that ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the sprawling federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the election and possible collusion by Trump campaign associates.

Recent revelations that President Donald Trump may have asked FBI Director James Comey to stop part of this investigation months before firing him accelerated calls for an independent probe.

But the roots were planted months earlier, with the exchange between Franken and Sessions in the Kennedy Caucus Room.

Less than two months later, after he was sworn in, Sessions’ team confirmed a Washington Post story reporting that in fact he had met twice with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak before the election when he was a top surrogate to the Trump campaign.

The revelation that he failed to disclose this under oath, or in a written question to the Senate about any 2016 contact he had with Kremlin officials, fueled bipartisan calls for him to recuse himself from any Justice Department investigations having to do with Russia interference in the election.

Those requests were granted that very afternoon, with Sessions announcing it was “right and just” for him to withdraw from overseeing any “matters that deal with the Trump campaign.”

With that move, the first senator to endorse Trump, one of his closest campaign advisers and the man who could have been the White House’s first line of defense was out of the game. Trump would have to weather the storm without a close confidant at the helm of the Justice Department.

Though Trump thought Sessions’ move unnecessary, acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente temporarily assumed control of the probe. He was succeeded by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a veteran federal prosecutor who was overwhelmingly confirmed by the Senate in a 94-6 vote in late April.

Though Democrats were disappointed that Rosenstein declined to commit to appointing a special counsel during his own confirmation hearing, his record in government and pledge to “ensure that every investigation is conducted independently” allowed Congress to breath a sigh of relief.

That moment of respite was shattered last week with Trump’s abrupt firing of Comey, which the administration initially pinned on a memo Rosenstein wrote criticizing the FBI director’s handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s email server.

Democratic senators branded Rosenstein a White House tool, with Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announcing from the Senate floor that “serious doubt has been cast on Mr. Rosenstein’s impartiality” and some even calling for his resignation if he failed to install a special counsel.

Reports circulated that Rosenstein was privately furious that he was being blamed for Comey’s firing, and he told senators in a closed-door meeting Thursday that he was asked to write it after Trump had already decided to let Comey go.

What felt like the 20th shoe dropped this week with a bombshell New York Times report alleging that Trump privately asked Comey in January to end a related investigation into fired national security adviser Michael Flynn, and that Comey documented the conversation in a memo.

Rosenstein announced Wednesday that out of the immense “public interest” in the investigation, he had named former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel “in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome.” Mueller’s appointment was met with cheers across Washington, D.C., with the notable exception of the White House.

Like the President, the Attorney General was caught unawares by Rosenstein’s decision. By the time the two men were briefed, the order appointing Mueller was signed.

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Vice President Mike Pence is not backing down from his claim that he learned nothing about ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lobbying work for the Turkish government until March. The New York Times revealed that Flynn told the Trump transition team – which Pence chaired – he was under federal investigation for that work in January.

Pence “stands by his comments in March upon first hearing the news regarding General Flynn’s ties to Turkey and fully supports the president’s decision to ask for General Flynn’s resignation,” his office said in a statement to USA Today.

According to the Times, Flynn informed the transition team’s chief lawyer Don McGahn on Jan. 4 that he was under investigation by the Justice Department for receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby on behalf of Turkey during the presidential campaign. McGahn now serves as White House counsel.

Flynn’s lawyer provided additional information to transition team lawyers in a subsequent meeting two days later, the newspaper reported.

Pence was the head of the Trump transition team, but, by his account, was never even made aware that Flynn was working as a lobbyist for a foreign government.

In March, after Flynn retroactively registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department, Pence told Fox News that this was the first time he had learned about Flynn’s lobbying.

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