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Sam Thielman

Sam Thielman is an investigative reporter for Talking Points Memo based in Manhattan. He has worked as a reporter and critic for the Guardian, Variety, Adweek and Newsday, where he covered stories from the hacking attacks on US and international targets by Russian GRU and FSB security services to the struggle to bring broadband internet to the Navajo nation. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son and too many comic books.

Articles by Sam

Natalia Veselnitskaya took another American client on this spring, she said—but she won’t say who.

In Trump-connected Russian lawyer Veselnistkaya’s 52-page response to a list of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee, she told the committee a number of strange things, among them that she’d had another American client earlier this year, whose case she took all the way to the Russia’s prosecutor general, Yury Chaika, the “master of kompromat” and Veselnitskaya’s former employer.

Veselnitskaya’s testimony ought to be taken with heaping piles of salt, especially considering her work representing Russian security service the FSB in court in her home country. But through her extended complaints about American sanctions levied in response to the jailhouse murder of a whistleblowing Russian accountant Sergei Magnitsky, she appeared to shed partial light on her own legal practice.

Veselnitskaya was ordered to answer the questions after being barred from entering the country to represent her client Denys Katsyv, who has been ordered to pay a $6m settlement, by a US judge. Her immigration status is “squarely within the purview of the executive branch,” the judge who denied her entry is reported to have said. In July, news that she had met with Donald Trump, Jr and other members of the Trump campaign broke.

She wouldn’t identify her other client to the committee, though she did say she took on at his parents’ request when she was in New York earlier this year—likely a visit in May for a hearing in the Katsyv case. She described the client to the committee as “an American citizen and a member of the US Jewish community who had been arrested in Moscow in the spring of this year for importing forbidden items” and said her advocacy got him off with a small fine rather than the four years in prison he might otherwise have faced.

[T]his summer, I was granted an audience with the RF Prosecutor General, Yu. Ya. Chaika, to deliver an official statement in connection with my defending an American citizen and a member of the US Jewish community who had been arrested in Moscow in the spring of this year for importing forbidden items. The young man was facing up to four years in prison. I accepted him as a client on his family’s request when I was still in New York. And despite the fact that the US Embassy refused to participate in the fate of the American citizen (I spoke with the US Consul in Moscow several times asking the embassy to submit a petition to the RF Prosecutor General’s Office which the embassy never bothered to do), thanks to the well-coordinated cooperation with US lawyers and experts, members of the Moscow and US Jewish communities, once Mr. Chaika had heard out the arguments of the defense and instructed that they be verified, the case was closed; my client was ordered to pay a small court penalty and allowed to return home to his family. I have no right to identify the client but the case is well known to the US Embassy in Moscow.

The US Embassy in Moscow declined to identify the American in question, though at first the operator appeared to have Veselnitskaya’s story confused with a more recent story of an American detained by Russian authorities. TPM contacted other Russian and U.S. government sources; all said they were unaware of the case.

Veselnitskaya’s official responses were taken up principally with complaining about the various players in the Magnistky Act, especially William Browder, who was Sergei Magnitsky’s employer when the latter discovered a vast alleged money-laundering scheme from which Veselnitskaya’s client, Katsyv, is said to have benefited. She also confirmed having hired former Soviet soldier and longtime Washington lobbyist Rinat Akhmetshin as far back as 2015 as part of “a team of hired consultants,” on what case she did not specify, though the Katsyv case seems a likely candidate.

Veselnitskaya also confirmed the April 2 and 3 meetings with Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), first reported from a Russian-language interview with Veselnitskaya, translated by Foreign Policy.

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TPM has obtained what appears to be the draft opinion article that Paul Manafort allegedly helped to ghostwrite, getting him in hot water with federal prosecutors and potentially the judge in his criminal case.

The draft op-ed was provided t0 TPM by Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs under the strongly pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Voloshyn claims to be its author, a claim first reported Tuesday by Bloomberg.

“I wrote it myself upon my own initiative as I couldn’t stand the allegations by McClatchy that Manafort had tried to derail the European integration although in fact he was its staunchest supporter,” Voloshyn told TPM.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team alleged this week that Manafort and an associate with alleged ties to Russian intelligence —revealed by the New York Times to be Konstantin Kilimnik—ghostwrote the draft op-ed in violation of the judge’s gag order in Manafort’s criminal case. The judge has ordered Manafort to respond to Mueller’s allegations by Thursday.

Voloshyn told Bloomberg he sent a draft of the op-ed to Kilimnik last week. Kilimnik, he said, forwarded it to Manafort, who “advised me to add that the Yanukovych government also worked actively with the U.S. on nuclear disarmament and with NATO,” which Voloshyn said he already knew.

The draft op-ed was submitted to the English-language Ukrainian news outlet called the Kyiv Post, which declined to run it. Editor Brian Bonner called it “highly suspicious” and “blatantly pro-Manafort” in an interview with Bloomberg. TPM emailed Bonner late Tuesday and he had not responded by press time.

Voloshyn responded with further comment after this story was published, saying in strong terms that he had written the op-ed by himself. The Mueller probe, he said, had not even contacted him about his role. He promised to provide TPM with further evidence of the extent of his role in writing the article.

The draft op-ed, which can be read in full at the bottom of this article, could be described as a love letter to Manafort, crediting him with a number of pro-Western advances in Ukraine:

[O]ne shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general. And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.
It was that period when Ukraine finally met US requirements to get rid of the stocks of highly enriched uranium that could have potentially been used to produce nuclear weapons. Ukraine used to be the only non-NATO nation that took part in all peace-keeping and anti-terrorist operations of the Alliance world-wide.
With an eye towards 2015, the Yanukovych government – to the surprise of so many in Moscow – managed to negotiate with the EU huge list of terms of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). No other nation had accomplished this task over such a brief period of time. Yanukovych’s government had the Association Agreement initialed by March of 2012. This pace shocked Moscow.
This sense of commitment to the goal is actually the reason why Russia overreacted in the summer 2013 and imposed the trade blockade with Ukraine.
Following the European track created multiple challenges that would never had been solved by a Ukraine Government except for the consistent promotion of what had to be done by Paul Manafort.

The op-ed is strikingly similar to the way Manafort has defended himself from charges of propping up a tyrant: The US-led denuclearization initiative, the NATO exercises, and the free trade agreement.

“Anyone who takes the time to review the very public record will find that my main activities, in addition to political consulting, were all directed at integrating Ukraine as a member of the European community including assisting the Obama Administration’s effort to denuclearize Ukraine,” Manafort told CBS News’s Major Garrett earlier this year, “expanding military exercises between NATO and Ukraine, and engaging in the process of negotiating the documents which were the basis of Ukraine becoming a part of the EU – the DCFTA and Association Agreements.”

Manafort was instrumental in bringing Yanukovych to power. Yanukovych’s administration and his political party, The Party of Regions, was widely seen as not merely friendly to but controlled by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Putin reportedly sent advisers to help Yanukovych with a previous, unsuccessful presidential bid. Where they failed, Manafort succeeded, and since then he has sought to explain his motives—beyond the millions of dollars he was paid—in terms that will seem familiar to anyone who reads the op-ed Voloshyn provided.

Manafort’s spokesperson did not respond to TPM by press time. Mueller’s office declined to comment.

============================

European Integration Unknown Soldier

By: Oleg Voloshyn, former spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

 EU – Ukraine Association Agreement might have never appeared but for a person now falsely accused of lobbying Russian interests.

The night of March 4, 2010 turned out to be a nervous one for the staff of Ukrainian embassy in Moscow where I used to be a press-attaché.

The first visit to Russia of newly elected president Viktor Yanukovych was on the brink of cancellation. The Kremlin wouldn’t grant the already scheduled visit an official status. Russian state media also cancelled earlier agreed interviews with members of Yanukovych team. The explanation was rather simple although possibly unusual for contemporary observers who had a mistaken and simplified perception of the fourth Ukrainian president: Russian leadership was annoyed at Yanukovych’s decision to pay his first visit after inauguration to Brussels before heading to Moscow.

Even Yushchenko in 2005 did the opposite. There was one person the Russians blamed for this “treason of special relationship with brother nation”: the political consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, American strategist Paul Manafort.Manafort persuaded Yanukovych that going first to Brussels would demonstrate to all that as President, Yanukovych intended to bring the changes required to allow Ukraine to apply for formal membership in the European Union.

Manafort brought to the Ukrainian political consultancy business a very important rule: An effective leader needs to be consistent as a President with his promises as a candidate. In his Presidential campaign VY made it clear that it was important for Ukraine to maintain its historical and cultural relationship with Russia. However, Yanukovich had also promised to implement the changes that would begin the modernization of Ukraine that would be necessary for Ukraine to become a part of the EU. The Brussels trip sent this signal loudly and clearly to all – including Russia.

I can’t but stipulate that Yanukovich was a bad president and crook who by the end of his rule had effectively lost credibility even of his staunchest supporters. And finally betrayed them and fled to Russia only to see Ukraine fall in the hands of other kleptocrats now disguised as hooray-patriots and nationalists. But with all that said one shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general. And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.

It was that period when Ukraine finally met US requirements to get rid of the stocks of highly enriched uranium that could have potentially been used to produce nuclear weapons. Ukraine used to be the only non-NATO nation that took part in all peace-keeping and anti-terrorist operations of the Alliance world-wide.

With an eye towards 2015, the Yanukovych government – to the surprise of so many in Moscow – managed to negotiate with the EU huge list of terms of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). No other nation had accomplished this task over such a brief period of time. Yanukovych’s government had the Association Agreement initialed by March of 2012. This pace shocked Moscow.

This sense of commitment to the goal is actually the reason why Russia overreacted in the summer 2013 and imposed the trade blockade with Ukraine.

Following the European track created multiple challenges that would never had been solved by a Ukraine Government except for the consistent promotion of what had to be done by Paul Manafort.

Legislation such as Criminal-Administrative Code built on fundamentally new principles consistent with the Western practices and lauded by the Western institutions is one of the vivid examples.

Even at the end of the process Manafort was engaged in helping the Europeans and the Ukrainians negotiate the final terms.

Just three months before the summit it was the EU, not Yanukovych, who hesitated whether to sign the document or not. And Manafort contributed a lot to change of mood in Brussels and major European capitals while at the same time keeping Ukraine focused on finalizing the details of the DCFTA and Association Agreement. He was doing this while Russia was imposing the trade embargo and threatening even more drastic punishment to discourage Yanukovych from getting into DCFTA with the EU.

With all that said I can only wonder why some American media dare falsely claim that Paul Manafort lobbied Russian interests in Ukraine and torpedoed AA signing. Without his input Ukraine would not have had the command focus on reforms that were required to be a nation candidate to the EU.

All listed here facts can be easily verified. If only one pursues the truth. Not tends to twist the reality in line with his or her conviction that the dubious goal of undermining Trump’s presidency justifies most dishonest means.

This post has been updated.

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After hours of radio silence following the news that former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn had pleaded guilty to making a false statement to the FBI about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, White House lawyer Ty Cobb finally issued a statement downplaying Flynn’s role in the White House and calling him “a former Obama administration official.”

“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year,” Cobb said in a statement. “Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.”

The charge, he said, demonstrated that the Special Counsel Robert Mueller is “moving with all deliberate speed.” Cobb said he still expected “a prompt and reasonable conclusion” to the Mueller probe.

Read the full statement:

“Today, Michael Flynn, a former National Security Advisor at the White House for 25 days during the Trump Administration, and a former Obama administration official, entered a guilty plea to a single count of making a false statement to the FBI.

“The false statements involved mirror the false statements to White House officials which resulted in his resignation in February of this year.  Nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn.  The conclusion of this phase of the Special Counsel’s work demonstrates again that the Special Counsel is moving with all deliberate speed and clears the way for a prompt and reasonable conclusion.”

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There’s now a strongest contender for “weirdest subpoena” in the House investigation into Russian election interference: Randy Credico, a 63-year-old Manhattan comedian who has made several bids for local public office, tweeted an image of his subpoena on Tuesday night.

Credico has been summoned for a 2 p.m. deposition on Dec. 15—the same day he has a New York County jury duty summons to answer, his lawyer told TPM.

The committee contacted Credico on Nov. 9, according to Alternet’s Max Blumenthal, who uploaded a copy of a letter signed by Texas Republican Mike Conaway and California Democrat Adam Schiff informing Credico that he would be questioned about matters “including Russian cyber activities directed against the 2106 U.S. election, potential links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, the U.S. government’s response to these Russian active measures, and related leaks of classified information.”

Roger Stone wrote on Facebook early Thursday morning that Credico had been his intermediary with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, but stressed that Credico had not given him anything secret or privileged, merely confirmed information that had come out of Credico’s publicly available interviews on WBAI.

It might be worth taking that last pronouncement with a grain of salt: New Yorker writer Ryan Lizza observed on Twitter that Stone had flatly lied to him about Credico’s role as go-between when Lizza pressed him on it in an interview in March and warned other reporters not to trust Stone.

Stone admitted in the Facebook post to withholding Credico’s name during his own questioning before the House Intelligence Committee, saying he did so because he was afraid for Credico’s career. “I initially declined to identify Randy for the Committee fearing that exposure would be used to hurt his professional career and because our conversation was off-the-record and he is journalist.”

Stone has apparently been privy to a wealth of tantalizing information, notably that emails stolen from John Podesta would be dumped by Wikileaks, and more recently that the initial sexual harassment allegations against Al Franken were forthcoming. Those allegations have since been matched by multiple other women and there is no evidence that they are not credible.

Credico “hates Donald Trump,” his lawyer Martin R. Stolar told TPM, but he also doesn’t much care for Hillary Clinton, according to his YouTube feed, having spent the 2016 primary season talking up Bernie Sanders and criticizing Clinton in a series of videos in which he variously does impressions of Bill Clinton, Humphrey Bogart, Henry Fonda and the Geico gecko mascot. It’s a gag he used during his own bids for office, including a 2013 campaign for mayor of New York in which he succeeded in getting enough signatures to land on the ballot.

“I assume it’s in regard to what the committee’s interested in, which is a fairly broad mandate to investigate these Russia connections,” Stolar said. “I can tell you that Julian Assange was on his radio program several times and that he’s spoken with Julian in situations that were not broadcast.” Those conversations were “probably subsequently, probably in preparation for future radio programs.”

Stolar said he was “not sure [Credico] will be able to shed any light on any of it.”

TPM contacted Credico by text. “My lawyers have put a gag order on my big mouth,” he responded.

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On Wednesday morning Donald Trump retweeted three videos posted by a British extremist named Jayda Fransen recently convicted of hate crimes. Two of the videos purported to show Muslims committing violent acts, but have been debunked as inaccurate or misleading.

The third video, depicting a bearded man destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary, is ironically very much akin to the sort of religious desecration associated with the oft-arrested Fransen’s hate group, Britain First—except when Fransen does it, it’s in the faces of British Muslims.

Even among British fringe figures, Britain First is considered radioactive, and for good reason: When a man named Thomas Mair murdered British MP and 41-year-old mother of two Jo Cox in June 2016, he repeatedly shouted “Britain First!” Trump’s retweets will almost certainly help revitalize the struggling group, according to experts.

Cox’s husband Brendan Cox responded to Trump on Twitter on Wednesday:

Nick Ryan, who works for UK-based antiracist group Hope Not Hate, told TPM that Britain First is committed to violence in a way that distinguishes it even from other far-right outfits. Publicly a “Christian” organization, Ryan said, Britain First uses crucifixes and Bibles in pranks intended to provoke angry responses from Muslims, which are videotaped, often misleadingly edited, and posted on social media in a bid for the sort of attention and publicity that the President of the United States provided Wednesday morning.

“[Britain First] originated from a very far-right party in the UK, the British National Party,” Ryan explained. The group is nominally involved in electoral politics, he said, but it is more interested in public stunts that can make Muslims look bad or bring them physical harm. Its membership—and it is a small organization of about 1,000 people across the entire U.K.—is composed of “thugs who are committed to violence.”

“These aren’t guys in bow ties discussing eugenics, as disgusting as that may be,” said Ryan. “They’re coming from a street-based understanding of politics.”

Fransen made British headlines for marching through a predominately Muslim area of Luton in a paramilitary uniform carrying a large crucifix and picking fights with the locals; she was arrested, prosecuted, and fined under a statute that forbids the wearing of uniforms “for a political purpose;” the law was passed in the 1930s in an effort to control British fascists like Oswald Moseley’s notoriously violent brownshirts, though it has also been used to prosecute political protestors.

When it comes to Britain First, there is little ambiguity about the group’s taste for violent confrontation. “When someone insults them back, they videotape it and then share it very rapidly on their social platforms to promote the idea that there are no-go areas and they’re just Christians minding their own business, when in fact they’re trying to incite violence,” said Ryan. “They’ll go into mosques in paramilitary uniforms and walk over the prayer mats with big heavy boots, thrust a Bible into the hands of the imams and tell them they’re worshipping a false prophet. I’ve seen them go into Brick Lane in a disused military vehicle handing out leaflets; it’s all these very high-profile stunts designed to get attention.”

Even far-right figures were horrified by Trump’s tweets on Wednesday morning; dissembling conspiracist Paul Joseph Watson tweeted that “someone might want to tell whoever is running Trump’s Twitter account this morning that retweeting Britain First is not great optics.” Britain’s own prime minister Theresa May, formerly one of the president’s staunch allies, condemned Trump, apparently for the first time: “It is wrong for the president to have done this,” she said.

Trump’s tweets can often be lined up with whatever is on cable news at the moment; in this case it’s less clear how he came across Fransen’s twitter feed. However it happened, his actions Wednesday morning will doubtless reinvigorate a movement the vast majority of the U.K. deplores and hopes will go away. “Trump’s retweets are just throwing oil on a dying fire,” Ryan said.

“I don’t see how it advances America’s interests.”

This post has been updated.

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Michael Flynn had his Middle East nuclear power plan prepped for presidential approval by staffers at the National Security Council, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday. Flynn’s plan to promote his former colleagues’ business interests in the Middle East while serving in the Trump administration was previously known—what wasn’t known is how far he managed to get with it.

The proposal was simple and brazen: Flynn’s business associates would build and operate dozens of nuclear plants worth hundreds of billions of dollars in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East, according the Wall Street Journal. Today, the Journal reported that Flynn had proceeded much further than previously known—he instructed his colleagues on the National Security Council to draft a plan for approval by the president based on memos from the group of retired military officers now working in the private sector.

Since Flynn’s resignation, Flynn’s old business partners have sought out other avenues to get approval for the project, valued at $250 billion—including Jared Kusher. The White House told the Journal “nothing came” of the meetings with Kushner. Beyond the amount of money at stake, the plan was also conceived as a rebuke to Iran, strengthening the nuclear presence of Saudi Arabia, which remains hostile to it.

An ally Flynn brought with him to the NSC, former Army Col. Derek Harvey, attempted to bypass the office of the NSC that handles economic and energy issues and broker the deal directly with the private sector. Another ally, former Reagan national security advisor Bud MacFarlane, sent Flynn a draft memo for the president. Flynn told NSC staff to “prepare a package for the president” to review and put into motion, according to the Journal.

The companies involved told the Journal that the administration had asked for the proposals:

In emailed responses to questions from the Journal, the plan’s backers said the meetings and documents were sent at the administration’s request. They said Mr. Flynn had been invited to join their group in the summer of 2016, but that in December he said he wouldn’t participate.

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Mick Mulvaney, in his battle with Leandra English over the acting directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, asked staff to forward “additional communications from her … in any form” to the Wall Street watchdog’s general counsel. It looks like somebody did, and today he is upset.

In a Tuesday email to CFPB staff obtained by TPM, Mulvaney apologized for having to reiterate that he is the true acting director and told staff to disregard emails or instructions from English:

I understand that Ms. English sent out at least one additional email today wherein she purports to be the Acting Director.

Consistent with my email from yesterday, please disregard any emails sent by, or instructions you receive from, Ms. English when she is purporting to act as the Acting Director.

I apologize for having to send this instruction again. And I feel terrible about you folks being put in this position, as I understand it can be both confusing and disruptive. However, I hope we won’t have any more misunderstandings moving forward.

Please feel free to reach out to me here or in person if you have any questions.

Thanks very much.

Mick M.
Acting Director

English has filed suit seeking both a temporary injunction and a restraining order against Mulvaney to prevent him from assuming the acting directorship of the government agency, which the very conservative former South Carolina congressman has often criticized. U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly heard arguments on Monday in English’s case in Washington but did not immediately hand down a ruling; he is expected to do so Tuesday.

Mulvaney, who was appointed as purported acting director by President Donald Trump, is still serving as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

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Just who is in charge of protecting consumers from predatory business practices?

The battle underway for the leadership of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is being fought in the CFPB’s inboxes Monday morning.

The fight is between the very conservative Mick Mulvaney, the current director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Leandra English, the next in command behind Obama’s recently departed pick, Richard Cordray.

Trump is trying to appoint Mulvaney as acting director of CFBP, which English says is illegal. For her part English claims the law provides that she became acting director when Cordray stepped down. English filed suite over the weekend, asking for both a temporary injunction and a restraining order against Mulvaney.

Monday morning, English sent the following email to her colleagues at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and signed it “Leeandra English, Acting Director:”

Dear Colleagues,

I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving. With Thanksgiving in mind, I wanted to take a moment to share my gratitude to all of you for your service.

It is an honor to work with all of you.

Best,
Leandra English
Acting Director

Moments later, Mulvaney replied, also signing his email “acting director”:

All,

I was working on an introductory email just now to thank all of you for the very smooth transition this morning as I assume the role of Acting Director; I hope to finish that email shortly.

However, it has come to my attention that Ms. English has reached out to many of you this morning via email in an attempt to exercise certain duties of the Acting Director. This is unfortunate but, in the atmosphere of the day, probably not unexpected.

Please disregard any instructions you receive from Ms. English in her presumed capacity as Acting Director. If you receive additional communications from her today in any form, related in any way to the function of her actual or presumed official duties (i.e. not personal), please inform the General Counsel immediately.

I apologize for this being the very first thing you hear from me. However, under the circumstances I suppose it is necessary.

I look forward to working with all of you. If you’re at 1700 G St today, please stop by the fourth floor to say hello and grab a donut.

Thanks,
Mick Mulvaney
Acting Director

The head of operations at the CFPB, Sartaj Alag, tried to play referee:

Ops Colleagues:

While you may be reading a variety of views in the news, our general counsel has advised that Mick Mulvaney is our interim director, and we should do our part to collaborate with him and his team on a smooth transition.

If you have questions about anything related to the CFPB leadership transition, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I encourage you to review the Bureau’s policies on media inquiries, congressional inquiries, and intergovernmental inquiries (available on the wiki). The CFPB leadership transition has been the subject of several press stories over the weekend. Please follow the applicable guidelines should you receive inquiries about this or any other matter related to the Bureau’s operations.

Thanks very much for your dedication and professionalism.

Sincerely,

Sartaj Alag
COO

A source tells TPM that there is very little institutional support for Mulvaney, who has been broadly critical of government regulation and of the CFPB in particular.

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Facebook has announced a new policy for the end of the year: When it comes to Russia, digital ads serve you.

The social media behemoth announced on its blog today that it is in the process of building a tool to allow users to see which posts from the Russian Internet Research Agency—now the Federal News Agency, or FAN—appeared in their feeds during the 20-month period between January 2015 and August 2016.

The move is part of the company’s “ongoing effort to protect our platforms and the people who use them from bad actors who try to undermine our democracy,” wrote a Facebook spokesperson in an un-bylined post.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, called the announcement “a very positive step” in the wake of multiple tense hearings on Capitol Hill where lawyers from Facebook, Twitter, and Google were grilled about their role influencing the 2016 election. But Schiff added that he and his fellow lawmakers “look forward to additional steps by the companies to improve transparency with respect to Russian abuse of their platforms, and urge them to furnish a joint report on how Russia used these platforms to sow discord and influence the election.”

The use of domestic social media companies to inflame distrust in the American government during the U.S. 2016 election, and specifically to promote Donald Trump, remains unheard-of in terms of pure scale. In January 2015, the first month the Russian ad-tracking tool will cover, more than half of the country had an account, according the USA Today.

Facebook’s new tool for viewing propaganda ads is the latest salvo in a damage-control campaign by the company that kicked into high gear last month, when they were caught redacting references to Russia from an April report on the way its platform was manipulated during the election. Since then, the company has admitted that its estimates for the number of users who were shown Russian-backed ads skewed low, and lawmakers have proposed regulation in response.

Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress have publicly criticized the tech companies’ laissez-faire attitude toward compliance with political ad laws. In a Senate hearing earlier in November, a Google executive memorably refused to guarantee that his company would not accept payment for political ads in rubles.

Democratic senators Mark Warner (D-VA) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have co-sponsored a bill along with John McCain (R-A) called the “Honest Ads Act,” which would mandate significantly more disclosure by companies that sell digital advertising.

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Aleksander Torshin, a former Russian parliamentarian and banking official accused of laundering money for organized crime by Spanish authorities last year, met with Donald Trump, Jr. according to a new report by CBS.

The younger Donald met with Torshin for only a few minutes at an NRA event in 2016, according to the network’s anonymous source. Torshin had proposed meeting with the senior Donald Trump during an event scheduled to take place during the NRA’s annual convention in Louisville, Ky. According to the New York Times, the invitation was an emailed five-page proposal passed to Jared Kushner inviting the president to the event—he did not attend—where Trump could meet Torshin.

Torshin, who runs an all-Russian organization called The Right to Bear Arms, pitched the campaign’s shared values around both Christianity and gun rights, for which Torshin, a lifetime member of the American NRA, is an advocate in Russia.

Torshin contacted the campaign through a Christian advocate and former Iraq contractor in West Virginia named Rick Clay. Also in May 2016, Clay emailed campaign staffer and now White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn to offer a channel to Torshin; Dearborn emailed Kushner offering a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to the email’s subject line. Kushner left the email out of documents he provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee, who requested it specifically among “several documents that are known to exist” in a follow-up.

Both Torshin and his assistant, Maria Butina, claim to be members of an all-Russian organization called The Right to Bear Arms, named after the second amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Butina, a former Siberian furniture store owner, according to the Daily Beast, now lives in Washington, D.C.

A delegation of the NRA met with The Right to Bear Arms on a trip to Moscow in December 2015, the Beast reported. Butina also shares a business with Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican activist.

The CBS report referred only to “an NRA event in May 2016” but previous reporting on the topic suggests that Torshin sought Trump Sr. and got Trump Jr.

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