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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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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Corey Lewandowski has always been somewhat on the fringes of congressional and federal investigations into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia.

But new questions surrounding what he knew about the dealings of former campaign foreign policy advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos surfaced this week, with Lewandowski acknowledging for the first time that he personally approved of a heavily-scrutinized July 2016 trip Page took to Moscow and telling the press that he just didn’t know if Papadopoulos had contacted him about linking the campaign up with the Russian government.

These additional details paint a murky picture. But they puncture Lewandowski’s previous blanket denials that no campaign staffer he knew of “ever had a contact with a Russian agent or a Russian affiliate or anybody that has to do with Russia.”

In a Thursday phone interview with TPM, Lewandowski expanded on his recent claim that his memory of the Moscow trip discussion was jogged by the release this week of Page’s lengthy testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

“He said in that testimony, I believe, and you can go back and read it, that he was explicitly told that he could not travel on behalf of the campaign and make sure that he did not represent the campaign in any way, shape or form,” Lewandowski said.

Though Lewandowski previously denied ever meeting Page and explicitly said that he “granted nobody permission” to go to Russia, he said that reviewing the transcript reminded him that this interaction transpired. When Politico first reported his approval of the trip back in March, Lewandowski said he didn’t “remember” if he’d received Page’s email request because he was so inundated with correspondence at the time it was sent.

Lewandowski takes a similar line on possible communications with Papadopoulos. The former campaign adviser’s plea agreement with the federal government, unsealed last week, alleged that a number of senior officials were kept in the loop about Papadopoulos’ contacts with his Russian connections. The Washington Post identified Lewandowski as the “high-ranking campaign official” who allegedly received five such communications from Papadopoulos between April and June 2016.

Papadopoulos’ missives include alerts about “Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump”; offers to put the campaign in touch with individuals in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who were seeking “cooperation” with Trump; and an overture from Papadopoulos asking if he could travel to Russia in Trump’s stead.

Lewandowski told TPM he’s not so sure he’s the one who received them.

“I have not seen any emails from George Papadopoulos to me that I’m aware of regarding anything that would relate to that,” he told TPM. “I believe he went through his contacts on the campaign and I was not that contact.”

Pressed on whether he was denying he was the “high-ranking campaign official,” Lewandowski echoed comments he made to NBC last week, saying, “I don’t think that’s been determined.”

So he never received the emails?

“What I’m saying is I don’t think there’s been—anybody has confirmed that I was the person George Papadopoulos was referring to because that has not been confirmed, to the best of my knowledge,” Lewandowski said. “And nobody asked me about them.”

The final message to the “high-ranking campaign official” that was catalogued in the charges against Papadopoulos was allegedly sent on June 19, 2016. Lewandowski stepped down from the campaign the next day after losing a protracted power struggle to then-adviser Paul Manafort, who took over as campaign chairman.

The Senate Intelligence Committee, which has requested copies of all of the Trump campaign’s Russia-related documents, emails and phone records going back to mid-2015, has interviewed Lewandowski, but he told TPM he has not yet received any interview requests from either the House Intelligence Committee or special counsel Robert Mueller.

Mueller’s office declined TPM’s request for comment, while a House Intelligence Committee spokeswoman did not respond.

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The federal judge overseeing the financial crimes case against former Trump campaign officials Paul Manafort and Rick Gates on Wednesday issued a gag order preventing everyone involved or potentially involved from talking to the press.

“The parties, any potential witnesses, and counsel for the parties and the witnesses, are hereby ORDERED to refrain from making statements to the media or in public settings that pose a substantial likelihood of material prejudice to this case,” U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said in her order.

Jackson said it was intended to ensure the defendants’ right to a fair trial and that selected jurors are not “tainted by pretrial publicity.”

As part of his broader probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and possible collusion by Americans, Special Counsel Robert Mueller obtained a grand jury indictment against Manafort and Gates for alleged money laundering, tax evasion and failing to disclose lobbying activities for foreign politicians.

At a hearing last Thursday, Jackson clearly signaled her disapproval of grandstanding by the attorneys in the case, warning them against making their arguments “on the courthouse steps” and giving them until Wednesday to file motions opposing the gag order. No parties involved in the case did so.

Even before the order was issued, Jackson’s initial warning seemed to deter attorneys from speaking out. Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing, told reporters that the case was “ridiculous” after his client’s initial appearance in front of a magistrate judge on Monday. After the Thursday hearing, he and Manafort departed in silence.

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The full transcript of Carter Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee released Monday night sheds some new light on his contacts with Russian officials and how he relayed those conversations to the Trump campaign.

Though much of what Page discussed had previously been leaked to the press or discussed by other Trump campaign advisers, the 243-page transcript yielded some key new information.

For the first time, Page acknowledged that he had a “private conversation” with Russia’s deputy foreign minister during a July 2016 trip to Moscow. He also told lawmakers that he communicated with members of the Trump campaign about what he would say in a speech he delivered during that visit, contradicting previous statements about making the trip in his capacity as a private citizen.

The transcript of Page’s testimony, which was made public by his request, also lays bare the frustration felt by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers who tried to keep the questioning on track.

Some highlights from Page’s meandering, nearly eight-hour-long interview are below.

Page confirmed Trump campaign altered Ukraine platform

The Trump campaign has quibbled about the extent of its involvement in softening the language on Ukraine in the GOP platform during the Republican National Convention, but Page confirmed that staffers were directly involved.

“As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work,” Page wrote in a July 14, 2016 email to fellow Trump aide J.D. Gordon and several others.

Page said the email reflected his “personal opinion” and denied personally having any involvement in the change, which removed language promising that the U.S. would provide “lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian military intervention. The revised text instead offered “appropriate assistance.”

Though Gordon and others on the campaign have strenuously denied involvement, Texas delegate Diana Denman previously told TPM that he halted the national security committee’s discussion of her original amendment to “clear it with New York.” Denman said this was the only amendment set before the committee that she recalled Trump staffers intervening to table.

Like Papadopoulos, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge

Like George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian connections, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge about Russian politics.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed Page to account for an email he sent after his July 2016 trip to deliver a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School promising campaign staffers “some incredible insights and outreach” he received from “a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

It turns out those “insights” were gleaned from watching TV.

Page told Schiff that all he meant to convey in that email was that he would pass on “general things that I learned from listening to speeches” and “watching Russian TV in my few days in Moscow.”

Schiff replied, “This is not what you conveyed to the campaign.”

Page also notified campaign staffers that he would “speak alongside the chairman and CEO of Sberbank,” one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, during that visit. He told the committee that the Sberbank CEO “didn’t actually show up at all.”

Page proposed having Trump travel to Russia

In another similarity to Papadopoulos, Page thought it would be a good idea for Trump to travel to Russia in the middle of the campaign, despite scrutiny of the GOP candidate’s friendly rhetoric towards Russia.

In a May 16, 2016 email to Gordon and fellow campaign adviser Walid Phares, Page suggested that Trump could “raise the temperature a little bit” by traveling to Russia in his stead, and that he would be “more than happy to yield this honor to him.”

Page told the committee he did not know that Papadopoulos was separately pushing a Trump trip to Russia, and that he was “envisioning” a visit akin to Barack Obama’s well-received 2008 trip to Germany as a Democratic presidential candidate.

Lawmakers from both parties seemed frustrated by the rambling conversation

Throughout the interview, Page repeatedly provided more information than lawmakers requested or insisted that he’d had no contact with a certain individual only to double-back and say he may have actually met them in passing. These rhetorical tics seemed to grate on his questioners.

Schiff, in particular, repeatedly told Page that he was “not asking” for the answers he provided. He chided the former Trump aide for responding to questions about his Russia contacts with answers about Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Page’s own writings on lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was similarly withering in an exchange in which he asked Page to define the words collusion, coordination and conspiracy. When Page replied that all seem to refer to “things you shouldn’t be doing,” Gowdy cracked that “you can coordinate lunch,” and continued to push the point until Page provided straight answers.

CNN reported that lawmakers described Page’s testimony as occasionally confusing and contradictory.

The campaign tried to distance itself from Page

Towards the end of his marathon testimony, Page revealed that the Trump campaign and transition tried to sever ties with him early this year as the FBI investigation was ramping up.

Page divulged that he received letters in January from the campaign’s law firm, Jones Day, instructing him not to “give the wrong impression that you’re part of the administration or the Trump campaign.”

Page said he had never misstated his relationship to the campaign, and only spoke to the media “to try to clear up this massive mess which has been created about my name.”

Trump staffers apparently tried to cut off these conversations with the press. Page said he had his first and only conversation with Steve Bannon in mid-January, when the former White House chief strategist contacted Page to tell him it was “probably not a good idea” for him to appear on MSNBC.

Page told lawmakers he understood Trump staffers’ concerns and lamented that he was “the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign.”

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The House Intelligence Committee on Monday night released the full, unclassified transcript that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page’s provided in closed-door testimony last week.

This release was specifically requested by Page, who spent months going back and forth with lawmakers over the terms of his testimony and which requested documents he would agree to produce. The former Trump foreign policy aide met with the Senate Intelligence Committee last week as well, and sat for some 10 hours of interviews with the FBI about his contacts with Russia in multiple interviews this spring.

Page has consistently dismissed investigations into that country’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, referring to them as a “witch hunt.”

The full 243-page document is below.

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A barrage of reports over the weekend divulged what was framed as a major new development in the Russia investigation: former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page admitted that he met with a senior Kremlin official during a July 2016 trip to Moscow.

But we already knew this detail. In an interview with the Washington Post over a year ago, Page acknowledged that he met and shook hands with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during a graduation event at the New Economic School, where both men were invited to give speeches.

It is Page’s subsequent downplaying of that encounter that made it seem like a new revelation when reports emerged that Page divulged the encounter in his lengthy closed-door testimony before the House Intelligence Committee late last week. By repeatedly insisting he met mostly with “scholars” and had no formal meetings with Russian government officials on his Moscow jaunt, Page turned his run-in with Dvorkovich into red meat for hawk-eyed reporters looking for any discrepancy in how Trump campaign staffers describe their contacts with Russia.

In text messages to TPM on Monday, Page reiterated that he “covered this irrelevant point” in that September 2016 interview with the Post and that the renewed focus on the meeting was a “complete waste of time.” He added that he had “moved on to more important things.”

A review of that original story shows that his description of the run-in has stayed consistent. He volunteered to Post columnist Josh Rogin that he met and shook hands with Dvorkovich at the event in an “exchange of pleasantries.” On Friday, he told the New York Times that he said “a very brief hello to a couple of people,” including a “senior person” who he later told CNN was Dvorkovich.

What seems to have gotten Page in trouble is his overly strict definition of what constitutes a “meeting.” In his many conversations with the press over the past year, Page adamantly denied that he ever met with Russian government officials over the course of the 2016 campaign.

Asked by PBS in February if he’d had “any meetings with Russian officials in or outside of Russia” in 2016, Page replied, “no meetings, no meetings. I might have said hello to a few people as they were walking by me at my graduation—the graduation speech that I gave in July, but no meetings.”

As the Times noted, in multiple conversations with the newspaper about his Moscow trip he either denied meeting with any Russian government figures or avoided the question by saying he met with “mostly scholars.”

These blanket denials came back to bite him before, when he was forced to admit in March that he had also exchanged a quick hello with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, on the sidelines of the Republican National Convention. The situation played out again this weekend because Page has insisted these encounters with high-level Kremlin figures were not long or involved enough to qualify as “meetings.”

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Safely ensconced in Moscow, the Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties who met with three top Trump campaign figures at Trump Tower last summer is now offering her own version of what went down at the private meeting that has become a central focus of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

In an interview with Bloomberg published Monday, attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya claims that Donald Trump Jr. suggested that a law imposing sanctions on high-profile Russians could be reviewed if his father was elected and also requested written evidence for her allegations about Hillary Clinton’s campaign receiving illicit funds.

Veselnitskaya told Bloomberg she is prepared to provide this account to the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as to special counsel Robert Mueller. She said that she would only testify before Congress if her answers were made public—a condition that the committee has not yet agreed to.

This is the first time Veselnitskaya has offered details of her version of the June 2016 sit-down at Trump Tower. Her willingness to testify highlights the precarious position of Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who were all in attendance at the meeting, which didn’t become public until after Trump took office. The eldest Trump son eagerly accepted an invitation to the meeting, which was billed as an opportunity to receive Russian government “dirt” on Clinton.

Though both Veselnitskaya and the Trump campaign have said the encounter was a bust and that she possessed no valuable information about the Democratic candidate, Mueller is investigating their exchange as part of his probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Alan Futerfas, Trump Jr.’s attorney, told Bloomberg that his client had no comment on the interview.

As Veselnitskaya recalled, Trump Jr. offered to review the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on a group of Russian officials implicated in the murder of a Russian accountant who exposed widespread government tax fraud. The law is a particular irritant to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who retaliated against its passage by barring Americans from adopting Russian children.

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Veselnitskaya told Bloomberg, allegedly quoting Trump Jr.

She told the publication that Trump’s son also asked for financial documents that would support her claims that Clinton’s campaign may have received money from wealthy donors who allegedly evaded U.S. taxes, which she could not provide.

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