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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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It’s a matchup that no one expected.

Running on a bold progressive platform, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum coasted to an 11th-hour victory in Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, edging out the expected nominee Gwen Graham by more than 40,000 votes. Gillum will face off against the GOP nominee who mounted a late charge to win but seen as a divisive general election prospect: Trump acolyte Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Both nominees won by activating their base. The run-up to November will be a bloody battle for independent voters in which race and the President will be major factors, Sunshine State political observers tell TPM.

“The results are further evidence—if any evidence was needed—that the center in American politics and in Florida politics is continuing to disintegrate at a very rapid pace,” veteran Florida GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich told TPM.

“It’s a very stark choice between the two candidates,” added University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald. “That bodes well for interest among voters and turnout in the general.”

With the exception of one recent Tampa Bay Times poll, Gillum consistently trailed in surveys of the primary, and he lacked the deep pockets of his rivals. Graham had a built-in fundraising network as a former congresswoman and the daughter of a popular Florida governor and senator, while two other top candidates were self-funded.

But the young, African-American candidate was strong on the stump and drew similarly young, diverse crowds to his events. In speeches and primary debates, Gillum expressed unapologetic support for a progressive platform of a $15 minimum wage, abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency “in its current form,” Medicare for All, and repealing the state’s Stand Your Ground law.

Final breakdowns of the vote are not yet available, but it appears that young voters and people of color came out for Gillum in droves. He won big in the heavily-populated urban centers of Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee, and Jacksonville, as well as Alachua County, where the University of Florida is located, and certain predominantly African-American areas along the Georgia border.

An endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) helped push Gillum over the finish line, and the Florida Democratic Party, including his primary rivals, quickly came together behind him after his Tuesday victory.

Gillum sounded a note of unity at his victory party, saying the campaign was “about every single last one of us.”

That message couldn’t be more different than that of his Republican rival. DeSantis campaigned as a Trump acolyte, pledging to support the White House’s agenda as governor and protect Trump from investigations into Russia’s election interference. DeSantis thanked Trump from the stage of his own victory party in Orlando, promising to always take conservative “principled positions.”

Trump returned the love, officially endorsing DeSantis in a June tweet and campaigning by his side in Tampa. That backing changed the dynamics of the race, according to University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett. At that point, establishment favorite, Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, went from leading in the polls to trailing DeSantis. Putnam never closed the gap.

DeSantis also benefited from some $9 million worth of earned media from his frequent Fox News hits.

Returns show huge turnout among both Democratic and Republican voters—1,508,658 to 1,618,372, respectively. But Florida is a closed primary state, meaning there are tens of thousands of unaffiliated or independents left to be won over. What message resonates better with these voters is an open question.

DeSantis’ bear hug of Trump may have won him the nomination but could cost him in the general, according to Stipanovich, a Never Trump Republican. GOPers who supported Putnam are smarting that a few tweets from the President lost their man the race, and Republicans face more of a challenge than Democrats in uniting their party around DeSantis.

Stipanovich described the GOP nominee as “a Trump clone who if he has any original ideas about governing Florida has carefully concealed them.”

But Gillum faces challenges of his own. As Stipanovich and the University of Florida’s McDonald noted, he was able to fly under the radar during the primary, leaving him less “tested” for the fierceness of a general election campaign.

Republicans are likely to make hay of an ongoing FBI investigation into Tallahassee’s city government. Though Gillum has not personally been named in any subpoenas, it will be easy for his detractors to smear him with a broad brush as caught up in a murky corruption probe.

There’s also the race factor. Gillum, if elected, would become the state’s first black governor. That is a source of inspiration and motivating factor for some Florida voters, and a turnoff for others who may harbor racial resentments.

The sensitivities of the issue surfaced only hours after the candidates accepted their nominations. DeSantis cautioned on Fox News on Wednesday morning that his opponent would “monkey everything up” as governor. The Florida Democratic Party pounced, calling his comment a “racist dog whistle.” DeSantis’ campaign then played cleanup, saying it was “absurd” to characterize his comment as anything other than a repudiation of Gillum’s “socialist policies.”

These early fireworks indicate a fiery, no-holds-barred general election campaign. At the end of it, Florida will be governed either by one of Trump’s closest allies in Congress or by the most progressive Democrat ever to lay claim to the state’s top office.

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Florida Rep. Ron DeSantis has released a campaign ad in which he reads “The Art of the Deal” to his infant and has lashed out at fellow Republicans who criticized Trump’s comments in the “Access Hollywood” tape.

So it’s not exactly surprising that DeSantis — who is expected to win the GOP nomination for governor in Tuesday’s Florida primary — is also one of the president’s fiercest defenders on Russia.

DeSantis has for months led agricultural commissioner Adam Putnam in the polls. Repeated endorsements from Trump likely helped him build and maintain that edge. Given how much the Russia investigations grate on the President, DeSantis’ decision to become Trump’s advanced guard on this issue was strategic gold.

In August 2017, just three months after Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel, DeSantis became the first lawmaker to advance a proposal to defund the investigation.

DeSantis also joined his buds in the hardline House Freedom Caucus in legitimizing Trump’s funhouse mirror counter-narrative: Hillary Clinton is actually the one who colluded with Russia during the 2016 election.

That fact was proved “without a shadow of a doubt” by Clinton’s campaign providing funding for the Steele dossier, DeSantis said of a document initially commissioned by a conservative publication.

DeSantis also backed a new investigation into Clinton’s alleged role in the Uranium One pseudo-scandal and freaked out at the Justice Department inspector general for producing a report that he deemed insufficiently critical of the Deep Staters tearing down the Trump administration.

He has devoted hours of time to discussing the merits of these activities on Trump’s favorite network: Fox News.

It’s likely this campaign — plus, apparently, DeSantis’ Ivy League pedigree — that helped convince Trump that the congressman is a “true FIGHTER” who will “make a GREAT Governor of Florida.”

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The attorney for Mariia Butina alleged in a Friday court filing that “sexist” prosecutors intentionally misconstrued the young Russian graduate student’s communications in order to paint her as spy who offered sex for favors.

“The government gratuitously and falsely smeared her character and reputation in its written memorandum and oral proffer made in open court,” Robert Driscoll wrote in an indignant 16-page memorandum.

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It was a banner week for the Trump presidency, with his former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleading guilty on eight counts of financial crimes and a jury convicting his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on eight of his own.

The Manafort conviction in Alexandria, Virginia marks the first Trump-Russia trial under Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s belt. After three-and-a-half days of deliberation, the jury found Manafort guilty on multiple counts of tax and bank fraud. One juror, who later said she was a Trump supporter who saw the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt,” said there was only one dissenting voice saving Manafort from 10 additional counts of conspiracy related to his bank loans.

The Cohen probe by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office came out of a referral from Mueller’s team. He pleaded guilty to six counts related to tax and bank fraud, and two campaign finance violations. In a dramatic courtroom moment, he said he paid off women “at the direction” of Trump himself.

Cohen’s plea deal did not stipulate cooperation with authorities, but his attorney said he has information for state investigators probing the Trump Foundation and for Mueller. Specifically, Cohen’s team is alleging Trump knew ahead of time about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Tabloid executive David Pecker and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg were both granted immunity in the Cohen probe, tightening the noose around Trump.

Cohen has also set up a GoFundMe to help cover his legal fees.

The President didn’t take these developments well. Claiming “flipping” should almost “be outlawed,” he called Cohen a bad lawyer, lauded Manafort as a “brave man” for fighting the charges against him, and claiming that the campaign finance charges Cohen pleaded guilty to were “not a crime.”

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday that the White House was not considering a pardon for Manafort. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Trump actually asked Giuliani and the rest of his legal team’s advice on a pardon weeks ago, and they advised him against it.

As Giuliani put it in an interview this week, sometimes “truth isn’t truth.”

The White House is apparently also nervous about what White House Don McGahn told Mueller over the course of 30 hours of interviews.

Trump allies are trying to shift the conversation away from these mounting legal troubles by exploiting the murder of a young Iowa college student by an undocumented immigrant.

Maria Butina, indicted on federal charges for acting as a covert Russian agent, said in a legal filing that “sexist” prosecutors twisted her words to make false claims that she offered sex for a job.

Former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos continues to hint he may scrap his plea deal with Mueller for lying to the FBI to risk scoring a pardon from Trump.

Democrats are coordinating a behind-the-scenes contingency plan in the event that Trump fires Mueller.

And former government contractor Reality Winner was sentenced to a record-breaking five years for leaking a classified document related to Russia’s 2016 election hacking.

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Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg was granted immunity for providing information to federal prosecutors in their investigation into Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Weisselberg was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury about hush money payments made to women in order to protect President Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The decision to grant Weisselberg immunity is a stunning new development in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office investigation into Cohen, who on Tuesday pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other financial crimes.

Weisselberg has served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Trump Organization for decades, closely overseeing the real estate company’s business dealings. He also handled personal financial matters for Trump, and served as treasurer of the President’s troubled foundation.

Court documents related to Cohen’s plea deal refer to two executives at the Trump Organization who used sham legal invoices to reimburse Cohen for two hush money payments he made to women who claimed to have carried out affairs with Trump. Cohen was paid via a retainer for legal services, but the payments he received had nothing to do with legal work he provided to the company.

On a September 2016 recording Cohen covertly made, Cohen can be heard telling Trump that he spoke to Weisselberg about how best to structure the hush money payments.

In court on Tuesday, Cohen told a federal judge that he carried out these deals at Trump’s direction.

After the recording was released in late July, Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas called Weisselberg “a bookkeeper who simply carries out directions from others about monetary payments and transfers.”

But Weisselberg was a longtime ally of the Trump family, who got his start working for the President’s father, Fred, and has been with the Trump Organization since the 1970s. After Trump was elected, Weisselberg took over operations of the company alongside Trump’s two adult sons.

The Journal reported Thursday that several other Trump allies involved in the payouts to women were also granted immunity. Neither David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, or David Howard, a top editor at the tabloid, will face criminal charges for telling prosecutors how the hush money deals were structured.

According to court documents, Pecker, Cohen and at least one member of the Trump campaign engaged in a coordinated effort to purchase damaging stories about Trump’s affairs to keep them from being made public.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the tabloid kept a safe containing documents on the hush money payments made out during the 2016 election.

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A Georgia county’s board of elections on Friday voted down a proposal to shutter seven of its nine polling sites over concerns that doing so would disenfranchise the area’s majority-black population.

Local station WALB reported that this decision was made seconds into a Friday morning meeting.

The proposal was originally made by independent elections consultant Michael Malone, who was hired to help the rural county save costs. It drew national criticism given the likely challenges it would impose on the county’s mostly black voters, who would need to travel long distances to get to the polls on Election Day. Several civil rights groups threatened to sue if the changes were approved.

The county was unable to produce documents supporting its claims that the polling sites were inaccessible to disabled people, and Malone was fired Thursday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In a statement, the board said that the proposal was only under consideration because of a “decline in population and consequently, a decline in the county tax base.”

Calling the right to vote “sacred,” the board said it decided not to close the polling sites thanks to the public outcry over the recommendation.

“The interest and concern shown has been overwhelming, and it is an encouraging reminder that protecting the right to vote remains a fundamental American principle,” the statement read.

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Michael Cohen is currently caught in a thicket of state and federal investigations.

There’s the Manhattan U.S. Attorney probe, in which he pleaded guilty on eight counts of personal financial wrongdoing and campaign finance violations. There’s the New York Department of Taxation and Finance inquiry into the Trump Foundation, which grew out of the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit against the charity. And there is the still-looming possibility that he will be called to provide information in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.

Though Cohen’s Tuesday plea deal included no provision requiring him to cooperate with authorities, that does not mean cooperation could not happen at a later date.

Former federal prosecutors told TPM that these various state and federal entities are likely to put aside any turf battles and work closely together to handle these complex, occasionally overlapping investigations.

“It’s really going to require coordination for these cases to work,” Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor who spent 16 years in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and is now a fellow at Pace Law School, told TPM.

The multiple inquiries “speak to the crossover—similar to the organized crime world—where you just have different subjects that one person knows about in different jurisdictions,” Rocah added. “It speaks to people wanting to work together to get it right because there are very high stakes.”

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, state Attorney General’s office, and the state tax department declined TPM’s request for comment, citing the ongoing nature of their investigations.

Federal and state prosecutors are notoriously territorial about their own witnesses and potential witnesses. This is in part because they want credit for their investigations, especially in high-profile cases and competitive districts like Manhattan. There’s also the question of control. If an investigator from one district or agency messes up a line of questioning or makes a mistake in one probe, it could taint other investigations involving the same witness.

“That’s not going to happen here,” former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer told TPM, citing the professionalism and integrity of the players involved.

Rocah, too, said that “99 percent of the time, if it was really going to make a difference in the outcome of the case, and it was important for the different aspects of the system to work together, they did.”

One example of the smooth coordination between multiple agencies: the prosecution of Cohen’s former partner in the taxi business, Gene Freidman.

Freidman in May admitted to nearly $5 million in tax fraud. The New York Department of Taxation and Finance referred the case to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution. Freidman was facing up to 25 years in prison in that case. But he struck a deal state Attorney General Underwood’s office that included promising to cooperate with federal authorities investigating Cohen in order to avoid jail time.

One former federal prosecutor who asked to speak on background as he’s currently representing an individual in the Mueller probe told TPM he was struck by the “cross-pollination” of state and federal agencies in the Freidman case.

A similar dynamic appears to be at play with Cohen’s involvement in the Trump Foundation probes. The New York attorney general in June filed a civil suit against the charity and its board, which is composed of Trump and his three eldest children. Attorney general spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick had said that the office will “seek a criminal referral from the appropriate state agency as necessary.”

The state tax department is also looking into possible tax violations by the charity. On Wednesday, the agency subpoenaed Cohen in that inquiry, noting that Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, claimed on CNN that his client had information that would “be of interest” to New York investigators looking into the foundation.

A source familiar with the investigation told TPM that the state tax department and attorney general’s office are in touch about both the Cohen and foundation matter. Anything found by the tax investigators would be referred to the attorney general’s office for criminal prosecution.

Cohen could also be asked to testify in a review being conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office that the New York Times reported Thursday was in its earliest stages. Prosecutors are weighing whether to pursue criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its executives for using sham legal invoices to reimburse Cohen for hush money payments to women, as Cohen has alleged in his plea deal.

Former prosecutors told TPM that they’re surprised that Cohen did not have cooperation terms stipulated in his plea deal the way Freidman did, given his years of service to the Trump Organization and involvement with the 2016 campaign.

One possible explanation reported by the Wall Street Journal is that federal prosecutors had an early September deadline to charge Cohen. Under Justice Department guidelines, they could have been seen as influencing the midterm elections had they waited any longer.

They rushed to settle on the agreement released Tuesday as plea deal talks came together over the weekend, the Journal reported.

There are also lingering questions over the value of the information Cohen can provide, given the voluminous evidence prosecutors have already compiled, and whether he is a credible witness.

The terms of any cooperation with either state investigators or the Mueller probe would need to be spelled out at Cohen’s sentencing hearing, which is currently scheduled for Dec. 12.

In the meantime, Cohen is signaling that he’s eager to help anywhere he can.

A Cuomo administration official told TPM that Cohen contacted the tax department shortly after receiving the agency’s subpoena, asking when they could find a time to talk.

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