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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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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A Virginia judge on Thursday dismissed two of the three felony counts levied against a prominent white nationalist charged after a torch-lit rally at the University of Virginia.

Christopher Cantwell of Keene, New Hampshire, is accused of pepper-spraying counterprotesters during an Aug. 11 Charlottesville protest, a day before the much larger white nationalist rally in the city. Cantwell, wearing a faded jail jumpsuit, testified that he acted in self-defense.

An Albemarle County judge dismissed one count of malicious bodily injury with a “caustic substance,” explosive or fire, concluding there was a lack of evidence that counterprotester Emily Gorcenski had been injured by the spray, local media outlets said.

But the judge declined to dismiss one of the two counts of the illegal use of tear gas or other gases. A prosecutor said Cantwell, 36, had no reasonable claim for self-defense and clearly hated the counterprotesters, The Daily Progress reported . The judge said Cantwell admits to deploying the pepper spray, but there is enough of a question as to whether it was self-defense. The judge then certified the charge to circuit court.

The other tear-gas charge was dismissed after the judge agreed with Cantwell’s attorney that counterprotester Kristopher Goad is no longer certain Cantwell is the person who sprayed him.

Rally organizer Jason Kessler was present during the preliminary hearing, along with a group of white nationalists dressed in black, as well as people who oppose them, WVIR-TV reported .

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Friday that he “misspoke” when he previously claimed that “no one in the middle class is going to get a tax increase” under the Senate’s plan.

In a Friday interview with the New York Times, McConnell acknowledged that some working families would end up paying higher taxes if their bill passed, contradicting his comments from earlier this week.

“I misspoke on that,” McConnell told the newspaper. “You can’t guarantee that absolutely no one sees a tax increase, but what we are doing is targeting levels of income and looking at the average in those levels and the average will be tax relief for the average taxpayer in each of those segments.”

A Times analysis found that millions of middle-class families will see higher taxes under the bill, which disproportionately benefits corporations and the country’s wealthiest households.

Congressional Republicans are under pressure to quickly move forward with tax reform after failing to pass any major legislation this year. Several acknowledged to TPM last week that their voters would turn on them if they are unable to pass a bill.

But the House and Senate bills rolled out this week contain stark differences, and lawmakers have only a few weeks to reconcile them before the Christmas deadline that the White House has imposed for tax reform’s passage.

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George Papadopoulos told his Trump campaign colleague Stephen Miller, now a top White House official, about his efforts to coordinate a meeting between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the New York Times reported Friday.

According to the Times, Miller is the unnamed “senior policy adviser” described in emails that were included in the recently unsealed charges against Papadopoulos.

In one April email, Papadopoulos emailed that “senior policy adviser” to inform him that “the Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready.”

Two days later, after a London-based professor with ties to the Russian government told Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, he followed up with another message saying he had “some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

The Times report marks the first time that Miller has been identified as one of the campaign staffers who was in regular contact with Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russia-linked foreign nationals.

Miller also attended a March 2016 meeting of the campaign’s foreign policy team in which Papadopoulos told Trump directly that he could set up a meeting with him and Putin.

Neither Miller or his lawyer responded to the Times’ request for comment.

The senior White House adviser was interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team late last week. CNN reported that the discussion focused in part on Miller’s role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey, who was overseeing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election.

Miller helped Trump draft an initial memo he planned to send outlining the reasons Comey should be fired. Other White House officials stepped in to keep that memo from going out over concerns that some of its arguments were problematic.

The special counsel’s team reportedly has a copy of the initial draft letter.

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Two Republican senators rescinded their endorsements of Alabama Senate candidate (R) Roy Moore Friday night over reports that he’d pursued relationships with multiple teenage women.

“Having read the detailed description of the incidents, as well as the response from Judge Moore and his campaign, I can no longer endorse his candidacy for the US Senate,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) said on Twitter.

Lee, one of Moore’s most high-profile supporters, had already requested that the campaign stop using his image on fundraising materials.

A few minutes later, Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) also announced he was pulling his “endorsement and support for Roy Moore for U.S. Senate.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) piped up Saturday morning to say that the allegations weren’t necessary to know that Moore was unfit to be a senator. Moore was removed from the Alabama state supreme court for refusing to acknowledge the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage, and has said Muslims should be forbidden from serving in Congress.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has also pulled out of its fundraising agreement with the Alabama Republican.

The Washington Post on Thursday broke the news that Moore dated women as young as 17 or 18 when he was in his early 30s, and groped one woman when she was only 14 years old. Moore has mostly denied the accusations, but told conservative radio host Sean Hannity in a lengthy interview that he didn’t remember dating women that young and did “not generally” do so.

Other Republican senators have said that Moore must step aside if they receive additional proof that these stories are true.

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Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) pushed back on reports that he pursued sexual relationships with teenagers in a Friday interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show, telling the host that he did “not generally” date women in their teens.

Moore first addressed the most serious allegation surfaced in a bombshell Washington Post report: that he groped Leigh Corfman in his home when he was 32 years old and she was only 14.

“I don’t know Ms. Corfman from anybody,” Moore told Hannity. “I’ve never talked to her, never had any contact with her. “Allegations of sexual misconduct with her are completely false. I believe they’re politically motivated. I believe they’re brought only to stop a very successful campaign, and that’s what they’re doing.”

Moore has stuck to this defense since the Post report first dropped Thursday afternoon, but he offered more specific denials in his Hannity interview, insisting that he never pursued inappropriate relationships with the four women who spoke to the newspaper. He acknowledged knowing and being friendly with the parents of two of the other accusers, Debbie Wesson Gibson and Gloria Thacker Deason.

Moore used the phrase “good girl” to describe both women, who said that he kissed them and took them on dates when they were in their late teens and he was in his early 30s. Moore denied any sort of misconduct and said he didn’t “remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother.”

Asked if he remembered dating girls that young in general, Moore said, “Not generally, no.”

The Alabama Republican said the reports were personally hurtful to him because he had a daughter and granddaughter and therefore had “special concern for the protection of young ladies.”

Congressional Republicans have responded fairly strongly to the Moore allegations, saying he must step aside if they are true—an argument Hannity himself made moments before Moore joined Friday’s show.

But it remains unclear what sort of additional information they are looking for to make that determination.

The four women in the Post story were independently sought out by the newspaper’s reporters, who had heard about Moore’s conduct with teenagers,. Friends and family members corroborated their stories.

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Cambridge Analytica reached out to WikiLeaks in the hopes of obtaining Hillary Clinton-related emails around the time the data-analytics firm began working with the Trump campaign, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Speaking at the Web Summit digital conference in Portugal this week, Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix said that the outreach to WikiLeaks founder happened in “early June 2016.” Sources familiar with the matter told the Journal that the firm was in the advanced stages of contract negotiations with the Trump team at that time, and that some of its staffers were already working with the campaign’s digital arm.

“We received a message back from them that he didn’t want to and wasn’t able to, and that was the end of the story,” Nix said of Assange’s response to their request for “information” about Clinton-related emails, according to the Journal.

These new details flesh out previous reports in the newspaper and Daily Beast about Cambridge Analytica’s contact with WikiLeaks and Assange’s rejection of the firm’s pitch.

They also reveal that this outreach came at around the time of escalating overtures to Trump campaign staffers from Russian operatives promising dirt on Clinton or pressing for improved relations with the U.S. WikiLeaks has denied that the trove of emails from Clinton associates and top Democratic operatives that it published in batches last summer was obtained from Russian hackers.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have requested information from Cambridge Analytica as part of their investigations into whether anyone in the Trump campaign worked with Moscow to sway the election.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is looking into an alleged Sept. 20, 2016 meeting between Michael Flynn and stridently pro-Kremlin Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) as part of their investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election, NBC News reported Friday.

The alleged meeting was set up by the former national security adviser’s lobbying firm, the Flynn Intel Group, and attended by some of his closest business associates, according to NBC. These include Flynn’s partners, Bijan Kian and Brian McCauley, and Flynn’s son, Michael G. Flynn.

The report does not expand on what exactly was discussed during that meeting in Washington, D.C., but investigators apparently learned about it while reviewing emails Flynn Intel Group sent to Rohrabacher’s staff thanking them for the conversation. The well-compensated lobbying work Flynn Intel Group did for foreign governments has come under close scrutiny by Mueller’s team.

Rohrabacher, who has been called “Putin’s favorite congressman,” shared the Trump campaign’s hopes for improved relations with Russia. Earlier this year he met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in London to try to negotiate a deal in which Assange would be pardoned in exchange for providing what Rohrabacher said was definitive proof that Russia did not interfere in the U.S. election.

Flynn’s own foreign contacts are under investigation on a number of fronts. Prosecutors are looking into the contacts he had with Russian officials during the campaign, as well as his lobbying contract with a Turkish businessman.

As the Wall Street Journal and NBC reported earlier Friday, Flynn is also under scrutiny for his role in an alleged plot to ferry a Muslim cleric out of the U.S. to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars.

Multiple sources have told NBC that Mueller’s team has accumulated sufficient evidence of wrongdoing to indict both Flynn and his son.

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Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. is sticking by Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) after a woman told the Washington Post that Moore groped her when she was 14 years old.

“It comes down to a question who is more credible in the eyes of the voters — the candidate or the accuser,” Falwell Jr. told the Religion News Service in an email published Friday.

The president of the evangelical Liberty University likened the sexual misconduct accusations against Moore to those made by over a dozen women last year against President Donald Trump, who Falwell Jr. enthusiastically supported.

Trump “denied that any of them were true and the American people believed him and elected him the 45th president of the United States,” Falwell Jr. told the Religion News Service.

Noting that Moore has dismissed the allegations as a false and “desperate political attack,” Falwell Jr. added in a subsequent email: “And I believe the judge is telling the truth.”

Last year, Falwell Jr. blamed the release of an “Access Hollywood” clip in which Trump bragged of groping women without their consent and a subsequent wave of sexual assault allegations against the GOP nominee on establishment Republicans trying to derail his presidential campaign.

Most evangelical voters also stuck by the GOP nominee, and polling suggests they will do the same with Moore. In a Public Religion Research Institute poll conducted after the “Access Hollywood” tape came out last October, some 72 percent of evangelical voters said that politicians who committed transgressions in their personal lives could still behave ethically in office.

h/t The Hill

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Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the role played by former national security adviser Michael Flynn in an alleged plot to forcibly remove a Muslim cleric living legally in the U.S. to Turkey in exchange for millions of dollars, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

The alleged plot described by the Journal involves a direct quid quo, in which Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn, Jr., would receive up to $15 million for successfully delivering Fetullah Gulen to the Turkish government.

At least four people have been interviewed by the FBI about a December meeting at New York’s 21 Club in which Flynn, who had already been named as Donald Trump’s national security adviser, discussed the plan with representatives of Turkey’s government, according to the report.

NBC News, which confirmed the story, noted that multiple federal charges could be brought if a U.S. government official agreed to be bribed to secretly carry out the bidding of a foreign government. NBC’s report notes that the plan would have apparently been carried out after Flynn was installed in the White House.

The special counsel and Flynn Jr.’s lawyer, Barry Coburn, declined the Journal’s request for comment. Flynn’s attorney Robert Kelner did not respond.

Mueller is already investigating Flynn and his now-defunct consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, for a host of matters related to their work for foreign governments. The retired lieutenant general retroactively registered as a foreign agent for a separate project he carried out on behalf of Turkey while serving on the Trump campaign. His consulting firm received some $530,000 from a Turkish businessman to produce negative PR materials on Gulen.

As the Journal noted, he had also held an earlier meeting with Turkish representatives on Sept. 19, 2016 about forcibly removing the exiled cleric. Former CIA Director James Woolsey previously told the newspaper that he attended that initial meeting at a New York hotel and was concerned to hear about what sounded like an illegal plot to “whisk this guy away.”

Reuters recently reported that Woolsey, who was then a member of Flynn’s firm and an adviser to the Trump campaign, then held his own meeting with Turkish businessmen on Sept. 20 in which he offered to help discredit Gulen in exchange for $10 million.

The special counsel’s team has interviewed Woolsey about the Sept. 19 meeting, according to his spokesman. Two people familiar with the probe told NBC that a number of other witnesses “with knowledge of Flynn’s business activities” were also coming in for interviews over the next week.

TPM attempted to reach a number of Flynn’s business associates this week to ask about their contacts with the special counsel, but received few responses.

Reached by telephone Tuesday, Flynn Intel Group’s former general counsel, Bob Kelley, said he had not been called in for an interview.

Asked if he was surprised by the recent indictment of former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates on financial crimes charges, Kelley took a long pause, then hung up the phone.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that Bob Kelley, rather than former campaign official Rick Gates, had been indicted alongside Manafort.

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The White House on Friday weighed in on an allegation that Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) once molested a 14-year-old girl, calling the charge a “mere allegation” but allowing that Moore should “step aside” if it is true.

“Like most Americans the president believes we cannot allow a mere allegation, in this case one from many years ago, to destroy a person’s life,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters aboard Air Force One. “However, the president also believes that if these allegations are true, Judge Moore will do the right thing and step aside.”

President Donald Trump, who is currently in the middle of a tour throughout Asia, voiced his backing for Moore after the former Alabama State Supreme Court justice handily won the GOP Senate primary in September.

His comments broadly echo those of GOP leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who said that Moore needed to leave the race if the allegations that he’d pursued relationships with multiple teenage women were true.

The Washington Post reported Thursday on the stories of four women who accused Moore of coming on to them when they were teenagers, including one who said she was 14 when Moore took her to his home and initiated sexual contact.

Sanders spent only a few words discussing the allegations before telling reporters that the “president must and will remain focused on representing our country on his historic trip to Asia, where he has been treated with great respect and made unprecedented progress in further strengthening alliances.”

Trump himself has been uncharacteristically quiet and on-message since the news broke, keeping his tweets focused on his visits to China and Vietnam.

During the presidential campaign, over a dozen women accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Trump has maintained that they were all lying to damage his political career.

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