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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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Expressing concern about “the continuous and often conflicting reports” involving President Donald Trump and Russia, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) on Wednesday voiced support for an independent investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

Murkowski joins a small but growing number of Republican lawmakers expressing openness to either an independent commission or special prosecutor.

“I still maintain that the Senate Intelligence Committee should continue conducting a thorough and fair investigation,” Murkowski said in a statement. “At the same time, it’s imperative that we—Congress, the FBI, the Administration—work to restore the public’s trust. In order to gain that credibility, it may be that we need to look to an independent commission or special prosecutor.”

The Alaska senator’s call comes in the wake of a bombshell New York Times report detailing a memo fired FBI Director James Comey allegedly wrote about President Donald Trump’s personal plea to kill the bureau’s investigation into fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Trump dismissed Comey last week. His administration has offered a wealth of contradictory explanations for Comey’s removal, including his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, focus on the Russia probe, and a desire for new leadership.

Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Dean Heller (R-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), as well as a number of House Republicans and dozens of Democratic lawmakers, have said an independent investigation is needed.

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For the first time, President Donald Trump’s Canadian real estate dealings have been identified as another area of interest for U.S. federal investigators probing ties between Russia and Trump and his associates.

The connections between the Toronto deal and Russia are indirect and opaque but investigators appear to be zeroing in on the hundreds of millions of dollars Trump’s former business partner received from a Russian-state bank shortly before he put money into the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto, according to a Wednesday Wall Street Journal report.

The Journal reported that Russian-Canadian developer Alexander Shnaider received $850 million from Vnesheconombank in 2010 for selling his company’s share in a Ukrainian steelmaker. Russian President Vladimir Putin was chairman of the bank’s supervisory board at the time, and would have approved these sorts of high-level deals, according to the report.

According to the Journal:

After Mr. Shnaider and his partner sold their stake in the steelmaker, Mr. Shnaider injected more money into the Trump Toronto project, which was financially troubled. Mr. Shnaider’s lawyer, Symon Zucker, said in an April interview that about $15 million from the asset sale went into the Trump Toronto project. A day later, he wrote in an email: “I am not able to confirm that any funds” from the deal “went into the Toronto project.”

A Trump Organization spokesman told the Journal that Trump had no financial arrangement with the bank, and that the company “merely licensed its brand and manages the hotel and residences.”

The U.S. office of Vnesheconombank did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.

A personal familiar with the U.S. probe told the Journal that federal investigators are looking at all interactions between Trump, his associates and Vnesheconombank.

Vnesheconombank is the same financial institution whose CEO met with Trump White House adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner in December. The bank and Kremlin said that Kushner spoke with CEO Sergey Gorkov in his capacity as head of Kushner Companies, his family’s real estate business, but the Trump administration said Kushner was acting as “the official primary point of contact” with foreign entities for the campaign and transition at the time.

Vnesheconombank was placed on the U.S. sanctions list in 2014 after Russian forces entered Ukraine and annexed Crimea, and the Journal reported that American entities are forbidden from any financial involvement with the bank.

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The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday invited fired FBI director James Comey to testify and asked the FBI to turn over any memos Comey may have written about communications with the White House about the ongoing investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

Chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-VA) sent the ousted FBI director a letter asking him to testify in both open and closed sessions.

They also asked Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe for “any notes or memorandum” Comey may have written “regarding any communications he may have had with senior White House and Department of Justice officials related to investigations into Russia’s efforts.”

The request comes one day after an explosive New York Times report alleging that President Donald Trump asked Comey in February to shut down the FBI investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – and that Comey detailed the conversation in a memo at the time.

Separately, House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has also asked McCabe for “all memoranda, notes, summaries, and recordings referring or relating to any communications” between Trump and Comey.

Chaffetz said he would issue a subpoena for the material if need be.

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Federal investigations into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort appear to be ramping up, as NBC News reported Tuesday that the feds have subpoenaed records related to a $3.5 million mortgage that Manafort took out on his country home in in the Hamptons.

An unnamed source close to the matter told NBC News that Manafort never filed a document detailing how he would pay back the multi-million dollar loan, and did not pay roughly $36,000 in taxes on it.

Real estate experts told the network that the omission was “highly unusual” and “totally ill-advised,” but not illegal.

Manafort’s opaque real estate dealings are reported to be at the core of multiple probes officials at the city, state and federal level. New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. have opened preliminary investigations into the millions of dollars of property he owns, according to reports in the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News.

The Journal reported that the Justice Department has also requested that Citizens Financial Group Inc. turn over Manafort’s banking records as part of its investigation into whether Trump campaign officials colluded with Russians working to sway the U.S. presidential election.

Manafort spokesperson Jason Maloni told TPM that Manafort repaid the loan, which he took out through a shell company, in late November or early December.

“Mr. Manafort has not been contacted by any authorities other than the United States Congress and officials responsible for FARA guidance, and he is cooperating with those inquiries,” Maloni said in a statement.

NBC News reported that Manafort created a holding company calling Summerbreeze LLC on Aug. 19, the same day he resigned from the Trump campaign. Summerbreeze took out a $3.5 million loan on Manafort’s home in Bridgehampton, a wealthy Long Island beach town, several weeks later, but never filed the mortgage notice with Suffolk County, according to the report.

WNYC reported in March that Manafort had a pattern of using shell companies to make all-cash purchases of expensive real estate properties.

This post has been updated.

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Like other government officials unceremoniously fired by the Trump administration for insubordination, former acting attorney general Sally Yates is not slinking away in silence.

In an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper that aired Tuesday night, Yates shot down several key talking points the White House has used to diffuse her bombshell testimony last week before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the concerns she’d raised about former national security adviser Mike Flynn.

“I absolutely did not use the term ‘heads up,’” Yates told Cooper, referencing the January meeting in which she told White House Counsel Don McGahn that Flynn was “compromised with respect to the Russians.”

“There was nothing casual about this,” she added.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has maintained that Yates merely informed McGahn in the Jan. 26 meeting that Vice President Mike Pence and other Trump administration officials were going on the record with comments about Flynn’s contacts with Russia that she said she knew were untrue. Spicer also alleged that McGahn called Yates back into his office for a second conversation on Jan. 27 because she’d been insufficiently clear about her concerns, going on to smear her as a “political opponent of the President.”

As she did in her Senate testimony, Yates, a 27-year veteran of the Justice Department, told Cooper that she conveyed a sense of urgency in her conversation with McGahn and warned him that the Russians knew about Flynn’s “underlying conduct.”

“When you call the White House counsel and say you have to meet with them that day about something you can’t talk about on the phone and you tell them that their national security adviser may be able to be blackmailed by the Russians, I’m not sure how much more of a siren do you need to sound,” Yates told CNN.

The White House has also partially blamed Yates for the 18-day delay between her initial warning and Flynn’s firing on Feb. 13, saying they needed time to conduct an internal review using the underlying FBI evidence that allowed Yates to come to her own determination about Flynn.

Yates testified that she informed McGahn in a Jan. 30 phone call that the FBI had approved his request to review the underlying evidence regarding Flynn. Spicer then said in a press conference that “the White House didn’t get access” to that information until Feb. 2, and thus their full review began only then.

Yates dismissed that explanation in her conversation with CNN.

“They could have looked at it sooner?” Cooper asked.

“It was ready on Monday the 30th,” Yates said, saying she “absolutely” wanted the White House to act to avoid compromising the United States’ national security.

“We had made arrangements over the weekend. That was one of the other issues that he raised in the second meeting was whether they could look at the underlying evidence that established General Flynn’s conduct,” she added, referring to McGahn. “This is really unusual for us or for the FBI to allow that.”

“Because there is an ongoing investigation?” Cooper pressed.

“Right,” Yates said. “This was really important.”

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday downplayed the backlash over reports that he disclosed highly classified information to Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador, characterizing their Oval Office meeting last week as “very, very successful.”

Answering questions shouted by reporters at a joint appearance with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump applauded the performance of his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, who gave a press briefing addressing the meeting shortly beforehand.

“Our fight is against ISIS, as Gen. McMaster said, I thought he said, and I know he feels that we had actually a great meeting with the foreign ministers,” Trump said. “So we’re going to have a lot of great success over the next coming years and we want to get as many to help fight terrorism as possible. And that’s one of the beautiful things that’s happening with Turkey, the relationship that we have together will be unbeatable.”

The President reportedly shared highly classified intelligence provided by a key U.S. ally related to an Islamic State threat involving laptops on aircraft. The United States was not permitted to disclose the information, according to the Washington Post.

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Supporters and surrogates of President Donald Trump woke up Tuesday morning to another kick in the teeth.

After working overtime Monday to quell a political firestorm ignited by reports that the President disclosed highly classified information to senior Russian diplomats, Trump promptly threw everyone who came to his defense under the bus, acknowledging in a pair of tweets that he shared “facts” with his visitors from the Kremlin.

Adding insult to injury, Trump insisted he had “the absolute right to do” so.

The President has made a habit of sending his backers out to defend him on TV and in the press, then publicly—even defiantly—undermining their explanations and denials. The way Trump blew up the emerging White House narrative on just what went down in the Oval Office last week is almost an exact echo of the handling of the abrupt firing of FBI director James Comey, which Trump’s communications staff originally attributed to a recommendation from the deputy attorney general. The President took unilateral credit for the decision days later.

“He can’t stand thinking that either he’s in the wrong, as in this case, or that somebody else was in charge of a major move, as was the case with the Comey firing,” Bruce Miroff, a presidential historian at the University of Albany, told TPM.

“He’s the man in charge,” Miroff continued. “He just steps all over any attempt to establish credibility for his spokespeople by interjecting and serving his own ego with statements, which are devastating.”

The Washington Post reported late Monday that Trump shared highly classified information related to an Islamic State threat during a meeting last week with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The United States was not authorized to share the information, which was obtained from a U.S. intelligence partner, according to the Post and subsequent reports in the New York Times, BuzzFeed, CNN and Reuters.

As the fallout hit, the White House dispatched rarely-seen, senior members of the President’s national security staff to defend him.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson proclaimed that Trump never divulged “intelligence sources or methods”—a claim that was not alleged in the reporting on the meeting.

Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Powell called the Post story “false,” a claim that McMaster later echoed in a terse, minute-long statement delivered from the White House driveway as dusk fell over the West Wing.

“Going on the record should outweigh the anonymous sources. I was in the room,” McMaster said. “It didn’t happen.”

Those denials proved sufficient for supporters of the administration, who criticized the reports as oversold and part of an ongoing attempt to undermine the President.

“Deep State Leaks Highly Classified Info To Washington Post To Smear President Trump,” blared the headline at Breitbart News, on a story parroting the President’s argument that leaks are worse than the news contained in them.

On Fox News, conservative pundit Laura Ingraham criticized the Post for not speaking to the White House principals present at the meeting, even though McMaster provided comment for the story.

“It’s not like he did something that was illegal,” Fox pundit Chris Stirewalt weighed in later in the evening.

With few exceptions, GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill were similarly reluctant to criticize the President.

“He has the ability to declassify anything at any time without any process. So it’s no longer classified the minute he utters it,” Sen. James Risch (R-ID) said, while many other Republicans, like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), said they needed to verify that the story was true before commenting.

Trump, who is notoriously sensitive to negative press coverage, waited only 12 hours to seize ownership of the story.

“As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining to terrorism and airline flight safety,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.”

Trump’s burning of national security staffers like McMaster, who were kept out of the fray during the outcry over Comey’s sudden firing, leaves him with a shrinking number of surrogates able or willing to credibly defend the administration’s position.

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway has made few TV appearances after her gaffe about Trump’s use of “alternative facts,” but she was sent out last week to defend Comey’s dismissal.

Like Vice President Mike Pence, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Conway said that Comey was fired in response to a memo in which Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein denounced the former FBI director’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Trump torpedoed that narrative in an NBC interview where he said he planned to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s recommendation, and that when he decided to do so he was thinking about the ongoing FBI probe into whether his campaign staff colluded with Russian operatives who interfered in the U.S. election.

“He seems to be sort of constantly shifting what his justifications are; he tries one thing and when it doesn’t work he tries something else,” GOP strategist Matt Mackowiak told TPM. “The problem with that is he’s using up the credibility of a number of people inside the White House who’ve spent a lifetime building up their credibility. And they seem willing to be putting that on the line for somebody who doesn’t back them up.”

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In a curt statement from the White House driveway, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster on Monday said an explosive Washington Post report that President Donald Trump revealed highly classified information to Russian officials was, “as reported,” “false.”

Carefully choosing his words, McMaster said that Trump did not speak about “intelligence sources or methods” during a meeting last week in the Oval Office with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The Post story does not allege that Trump divulged sources or methods in that meeting, but rather that the United States was not authorized to share the information the President revealed to the Russian officials about an Islamic State threat involving the use of laptop computers on aircraft. Anonymous officials familiar with the meeting told the newspaper that the conversation could jeopardize one of the intelligence community’s key sources on ISIL.

BuzzFeed, the New York Times and Reuters were among the publications who subsequently corroborated the Post’s account.

McMaster, who participated in the meeting, went further in his statement to reporters than he did in an earlier statement he provided to the Washington Post. In addition to asserting that the Post’s story was “false,” he said that on-the-record sources should be given more weight than anonymous ones.

“The President did not disclose any military operations that were not already publicly known,” the national security adviser said. “Two other senior officials who were present, including the secretary of the state, remember the meeting the same way and have said so. Going on the record should outweigh the anonymous sources. I was in the room. It didn’t happen.”

The White House circulated a statement from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that parroted the initial statement from McMaster, saying the President and Russian officials only discussed “common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation.”

Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategy Dina Powell, who also attended the meeting, also called the Washington Post story “false” in a statement.

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President Donald Trump shared highly classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador to the U.S. during an Oval Office meeting last week, jeopardizing the intelligence community’s access to a key source on the Islamic State, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the newspaper on condition of anonymity said that the United States was not authorized to share the information, which related to an ISIL threat involving the use of laptop computers on aircraft, with Russia.

BuzzFeed News and the New York Times corroborated the Post’s story shortly after it was published.

The President was reportedly eager to demonstrate to his hosts that he had access to the highest levels of classified information.

One official with knowledge of the meeting told the Post that Trump bragged, “I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.”

Trump already had stoked controversy by hosting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the White House last Wednesday, one day after abruptly firing FBI director James Comey. The President said that part of the reason he dismissed Comey, under whose watch federal investigators were probing whether Trump campaign staffers were colluding with Russian operatives who interfered in the U.S. presidential election, was his focus on this “Russia thing.”

A Russian media outlet snapped photographs of the three men laughing and chatting in the Oval Office, while American press were not allowed in the room.

The Post report alleged that Trump revealed information, including the city in ISIL-controlled territory where the U.S. intelligence partner said the threat originated, that hadn’t been shared with the United States’ “own allies.” He also reportedly told the visitors about the measures the U.S. has taken or is considering taking to counter the threat, according to the report, despite his frequent refusal to publicly telegraph his military strategy.

The Trump administration insisted Trump did not improperly share information about sources and methods in that meeting.

“The president and the foreign minister reviewed common threats from terrorist organizations to include threats to aviation,” National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who sat in on the meeting, told the Post. “At no time were any intelligence sources or methods discussed and no military operations were disclosed that were not already known publicly.”

The Post’s sources contradicted that account, saying senior White House officials needed to call the CIA and National Security Agency as soon as the conversation ended to try to prevent further information from leaking out.

Though the President has broad legal authority to disclose classified information, national security experts told the Post that Trump’s carelessness with these top-secret details compromises future intelligence-gathering efforts.

During the 2016 campaign, Trump heavily criticized his opponent, Hillary Clinton, for her use of a private email server as secretary of state, saying she compromised classified national security information.

Additional details on the ISIL plot were kept vague in the Post’s report because of their highly sensitive nature.

However, in March the Department of Homeland Security banned laptops and tablets from being carried onboard U.S.-bound flights from eight majority-Muslim countries. The U.S. is expected to expand that ban to include planes from the European Union, the Associated Press reported last week.

This post has been updated. 

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The Justice Department has requested the banking records of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort as part of its investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives working to influence the 2016 election, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Federal investigators asked Citizens Financial Group Inc., a Rhode Island-based bank, to turn over Manafort’s records in mid-April, according to the report. The newspaper noted it’s unclear exactly what information DOJ requested or whether other banks received similar requests.

New York City real estate records reviewed by the Journal revealed that Citizens gave Manafort a $2.7 million loan in 2016 to refinance debt on a Manhattan condominium he owns.

Manafort had an unusual pattern of using shell companies to make all-cash purchases of real estate properties, transferring the properties to his own name, and then taking out large mortgages against them, according to a March investigation from WNYC.

The GOP operative and lobbyist has intimate ties to pro-Russian politicians and business leaders, and is one of several Trump associates under scrutiny from the FBI as part of its probe into Russia’s election interference. Manafort has denied any wrongdoing.

The New York attorney general and Manhattan district attorney also recently opened investigations into Manafort’s real estate holdings, the Journal reported.

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