News, Straight to the Point

Since Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort’s plea deal fell apart last year amid accusations from prosecutors that he had lied to them (and separate claims in the press that he had funnelled information to President Trump), there’s been little to pierce the veil of what Manafort was discussing with the special counsel prosecutors about their ongoing investigation.

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Having suffered a major political setback in caving on his government shutdown demands for a border wall, President Trump this weekend returned to a favored pastime: making false claims about voter fraud.

This time, the allegations come from Texas, where — before Trump further twisted and amplified the claims — state officials were already facing skepticism about their assertions.

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Ahead of his mid-December sentencing, Michael Cohen’s attorneys filed a memo Friday arguing that their client should avoid jail time in exchange for the “unique” extent of his cooperation with law enforcement.

The document lays out the details of Cohen’s cooperation with multiple state and federal investigations involving President Trump’s campaign, private foundation, and real estate company. It also provides fresh information about Trump’s own alleged role in orchestrating or being kept up to speed on some of Cohen’s criminal activities.

“The facts and circumstances surrounding this case are unique and unprecedented, involving, among other things, the former personal attorney to the sitting president, campaign finance violations centered on extramarital affairs of a presidential candidate, and congressional testimony in an exceptionally heated political environment,” Cohen’s attorneys wrote.

Here are some key takeaways from the filing.

Cohen wants to be sentenced now

Prosecutors and defendants typically agree to prolong sentencing until a defendant has exhausted his or her cooperation to ensure that the individual doesn’t stop cooperating once they’ve been sentenced. Not so in Cohen’s case.

Cohen’s attorneys say he fully expects to cooperate further with any law enforcement body that requests information from him, but that he wants to be sentenced on Dec. 12, as scheduled, so he can move on with his life.

“Nearly every professional and commercial relationship that he enjoyed, and a number of long-standing friendships, have vanished,” they wrote. “Thus, the necessity, at age 52, to begin his life virtually anew, including developing new means to support his family, convinced Michael to seek an early sentence date.”

As proof of his commitment to assist the government, Cohen’s attorneys note that he offered to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller on Aug 7., before he was even charged with financial crimes by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office. Cohen also did so knowing that Trump and his allies would continue to launch a “raw, full-bore attack” on the investigation and on himself personally, they said.

Cohen is assisting with a web of investigations

Cohen hasn’t just been meeting with Mueller. He’s also been offering cooperation to various New York state entities investigating misdeeds in Trumpworld and other unspecified cases.

Per Cohen’s attorneys, Cohen has “voluntarily met twice with representatives” of the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and “responded to questions concerning an ongoing investigation.” He plans to continue to do so “as and when needed.”

Following Cohen’s August guilty plea, various publications reported that the office was investigating whether Trump Organization executives violated campaign finance law by helping structure hush money payments to Trump’s alleged former lovers.

He’s also “met voluntarily” with the New York Attorney General’s office as part of their lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation, the president, and his three eldest children for violating state charity laws. Cohen has “also provided the NYAG with documents concerning a separate open inquiry,” which is not described in further detail.

That line may refer to the attorney general’s investigation into Cohen’s state tax law violations. Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office sought a criminal referral from the state Department of Taxation and Finance to open that criminal probe.

Per Cohen’s attorney’s, their client “waived subpoena and met on an expedited basis” with the tax department and has “cooperated personally and through counsel and tax professionals with requests for information” from them.

The lawyers say that both the special counsel, with whom Cohen met seven times so far, and Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office will file letters to the court urging them to consider Cohen’s cooperation when recommending a sentence.

Trump is central to Cohen’s wrongdoing

Cohen’s team puts the blame for their client’s crimes squarely on Trump.

“In each case, the conduct was intended to benefit Client-1, in accordance with Client-1’s directive,” the attorneys wrote. “Michael regrets that his vigor in promoting
Client-1’s interests in the heat of political battle led him to abandon good judgment and cross legal lines.”

The memo confirms Cohen’s August claim in open court that he worked to coordinate and make payoffs to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels “at the direction” of Trump. Cohen “participated in planning discussions” with Trump and “the Chairman and CEO” of the Trump Organization to convince McDougal to sell her story to the National Enquirer, which then refused to run it. Cohen also paid Daniels’ attorney “in coordination with and at the direction of Client-1, and others within the Company”; the plans to reimburse Cohen for his services via “legal fees” were coordinated “with the approval of Client-1,” per the memo.

As Lawfare noted, the tone shifts when the memo describes Cohen’s work on a project to develop a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty last week to lying to Congress about his work on the project, which lasted until June of that year.

Cohen’s attorneys don’t claim that Trump ordered him to lie. Instead, they say, his false testimony to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees stemmed from his effort “to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging.”

Trump’s displeasure at being so central to the sentencing memo was evident on Monday morning, when he tweeted that Cohen’s crimes were “unrelated to Trump.”

“He makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, and get his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free,” the President wrote. “He lied for this outcome and should, in my opinion, serve a full and complete sentence.”

Cohen was in touch with Trump team last year

Cohen coordinated his responses to the various Russia investigations with the White House, the memo reveals.

It notes that Cohen was still serving as Trump’s personal attorney last fall when he was summoned to appear before the congressional intelligence committees, and that he was following “daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast.”

Notably, “in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.”

Cohen’s attorneys say he crafted his responses in order to align with Trump’s disavowal of the Russia probe and of allegations he had any business interests in Russia.

More shoes will drop over next few weeks

The next few weeks will bring more key developments in the various Cohen investigations. Prosecutors will file their own sentencing memo presumably outlining Cohen’s cooperation, which may contain new revelations.

Cohen’s team has asked that he receive a sentence of time served and restitution to the IRS, saying the “gargantuan cost to Michael” renders imprisonment an unnecessary additional punishment or deterrent. They note he’s likely to lose his law license, has to pay restitution, “will be named in a parallel tax case brought by New York State,” lost all business at his consulting firm, had bank and insurance agreements canceled, and faced intense media scrutiny, hate mail, and threats.

Cohen is set to be scheduled at federal court in lower Manhattan on Wednesday Dec. 12 at 11 a.m. ET. TPM will be in attendance.

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A decision handed down by a New York judge over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend bolstered most of the key arguments in the state attorney general’s lawsuit against the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

Judge Saliann Scarpulla rejected the Trump Foundation’s motion to dismiss the suit in a Friday ruling. She affirmed that a sitting U.S. president can be sued for activities unrelated to his conduct in office. And she wrote that New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s allegations that President Trump used his personal charity to settle personal financial affairs and further his political career were “very serious.”

Scarpulla’s ruling was a green light allowing the case to proceed, exposing Trump to millions of dollars in potential penalties. Trump’s legal team must file a response within 45 days of her decision.

Here’s what you need to know about Scarpulla’s assessment of the case.

Yes, you can sue the U.S. President

Citing the landmark Clinton v. Jones Supreme Court ruling and the more recent decision in a former Apprentice star’s defamation suit against Trump, Scarpulla confirmed that sitting U.S. presidents can be sued.

Scarpulla quoted from New York Supreme Court Judge Schecter’s ruling in the Trump v. Zervos case: “There is absolutely no authority for dismissing or staying a civil action related purely to unofficial conduct because defendant is the President of the United States.”

“I find that I have jurisdiction over Mr. Trump,” Scarpulla wrote.

She dismissed as “meritless” the Trump team’s claims that a federal court would be better suited to handle the matter, given that the entire case hinges on New York state charity laws.

Scarpulla noted that Trump’s attorneys have appealed the Schecter ruling in the Zervos case, and that she will dismiss the petition against Trump if the appeals court reverses it. The other respondents—Trump Foundation board members Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, and Donald Trump Jr.—could still face penalties if Underwood re-files the petition, Scarpulla said,

Claims of political bias are not going to fly

Trump and his team have made much of the notion that disgraced former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who initiated the investigation of the Foundation, was  unfairly biased against the President.

But Scarpulla agreed with Underwood’s office’s counter-argument: that investigating potential charitable fraud is well within the purview of the attorney general’s office, and that their findings were legitimate.

“Given the very serious allegations set forth in the petition, I find that there is no basis for finding that animus and bias were the sole motivating factors for initiating the investigation and pursuing this proceeding,” Scarpulla wrote.

She had hinted in court that she was uninterested in getting sucked into any partisan bickering related to the Republican president and ousted Democratic attorney general.

The Iowa fundraiser substantially benefited Trump

Scarpulla determined that a January 2016 Iowa fundraiser Trump held to raise money for veterans appeared to provide him with free publicity that boosted his presidential bid.

The attorney general’s office “sufficiently alleges that Mr. Trump’s interest in the alleged acts of self-dealing were financial in nature and were substantial,” she wrote.

Trump held the event just days ahead of the Iowa caucuses in lieu of attending a GOP primary debate, asking wealthy friends to donate millions to veterans’ groups and directly to the foundation. His campaign built the website that managed the funds and dictated which organizations received them, and Trump disbursed the money at a series of campaign rallies across the state.

Scarpulla rejected the Trump’s team’s claims that he was merely a “passive recipient” of the funds.

Trump’s conduct appears “willful and intentional”

Under New York state law, “willful and intentional” misconduct by a charitable organization allows the attorney general to seek “an amount up to double the amount of any benefit improperly obtained.”

Trump’s attorneys have said Underwood’s office can’t prove he knew that what he was doing was improper. But Scarpulla said that the evidence they offered sufficed to move forward with the case. That included Trump signing foundation checks for veterans and then presenting them at rallies, and using his campaign to disburse those funds.

“These allegations sufficiently support a claim that Mr. Trump intentionally used Foundation assets for his private interests knowing that it may not be in the Foundation’s best interest,” Scarpulla said.

The foundation blurred the lines between charity and political organization

Trump’s attorneys have insisted that he was acting in his “individual capacity” when he appeared at campaign events carrying foundation checks, and therefore was not violating a ban on charities engaging in political activity.

But to make that legal argument, Trump would have had to avoid making “partisan statements” at these public appearances. Instead, he appeared at a MAGA-festooned podium, boasted about how the events could boost his political performance, and mocked his Republican primary opponents.

As Scarpulla wrote, Trump’s quotes from the fundraiser and subsequent rallies “show that Mr. Trump was acting in both of his capacities as campaign candidate and president of the Foundation.”

“Moreover, considering the allegations of coordination between the Campaign and Foundation, as well as the control and authority that Mr. Trump and the Campaign allegedly wielded over the Foundation, the petition adequately alleges that the political acts by Mr. Trump and the Campaign are attributable to the Foundation,” Scarpulla added.

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Chaos erupted outside a local Republican club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side last Friday night.

After a speech by Gavin McInnes—founder of the Proud Boys, an openly racist, Islamophobic, “western chauvinist” group known for engaging in violent street fights—members of his far-right group fanned out into the posh residential neighborhood, brawling with a waiting crowd of anti-fascist protesters.

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President Trump had multiple opportunities Monday to condemn President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.

Instead, at a press conference after his highly anticipated summit with Putin, Trump took a number of shots at the law enforcement officials investigating his campaign and even at his own intelligence agencies, which have concluded that Russia was behind the effort.

He dredged up from the hard right fever swamps debunked myths seeking to blame Democrats for the hacking of their own networks, and reiterated wild-eyed claims about his 2016 opponent,  Hillary Clinton.

He said that “we’re all” to blame for tensions with Russia, and said that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation specifically was having a “negative” impact on the U.S.-Russia relationship.

Here are the five most bonkers moments from the 30-minute press conference.

Trump: “Mueller’s probe is a disaster for our country.”

Asked to name actions taken by Russia that have damaged its relationship with the United States, Trump dodged by saying “we’re all to blame” and then turned his ire on Mueller’s investigation.

I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated,” Trump said. There was no collusion, at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know virtually none of it related to the campaign.”

He claimed to run a “clean campaign” and bragged about beating Clinton “easily.”

But the main thing, and we discussed this also, is zero collusion, and it has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world,” Trump said, adding that it was “ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”


Will Russia extradite the 12 Russians Mueller accused Friday of hacking?

Trump deferred to Putin a question about extraditing the 12 Russian military intelligence officers named in a Friday indictment for the alleged 2016 hacking of Democrats, while accusing Democrats of using the “collusion” allegations to explain why they lost to Trump.

Putin, meanwhile, said he will “look into” the indictment and brought up a treaty between the two countries on dealing with criminal cases.

“We can offer that the appropriate commission headed by special attorney Mueller, he can use this treaty as a solid foundation and send a formal, an official request to us so that we would interrogate, hold the questioning of these individuals whom he believes are privy to some crimes,” Putin said, going on to offer that he’d even permit Mueller’s team to come to Russia to be present for the questioning.

Putin said, however, that Russia would impose “another condition,” so that it was a “mutual” effort.

“We would expect that the Americans would reciprocate and they would question officials, including the officers of law enforcement and intelligence service of the United States, whom we believe are—who have something to do with illegal actions on the territory of Russia,” Putin said, citing specifically allegations about Bill Browder, a Putin critic who led a campaign to impose sanctions on Russian individuals.

Trump: Putin offered ‘strong’ denial of 2016 meddling

Trump was asked to pick a side, between Putin’s denials of election meddling and the conclusion of U.S. intel and law enforcement officials — many of them Trump appointees — that Russia was behind the interference efforts.

“[Director of National Intelligence] , Dan Coats came to me and some others. They said they think it’s Russia,” Trump said. “I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Most of his answer to the question was consumed with conspiracy theories about the FBI’s response in 2016 to the hacking of Democratic networks, and “missing” Clinton emails and DNC servers.

I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” Trump said. “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer. “

Putin on Trump 2013’s trip fueling pee-tape rumors: “I didn’t even know that he was in Moscow”

Putin on multiple occasions made troll-y remarks about the allegations that Russia had dirt on Trump.

“I was an intelligence officer myself. And I do know how dossiers are made up,” Putin said, apparently referencing the dossier assembled by an ex-British spy alleging, among other things, that the Kremlin has a videotape of women peeing on a Moscow hotel bed in Trump’s presence.

Putin was asked specifically to confirm or deny that the Russian government had “compromising material” on Trump and his family. He laughed when the question was translated for him.

Putin danced around the question, claiming he did not know that Trump was in Moscow, a reference to the 2013 Miss Universe trip, when the alleged tape was filmed.

(Trump wrote Putin a letter then personally inviting him to the Miss Universe pageant. Trump would later claim to have been in contact with Putin about the trip.)

Putin then spoke more generally about the idea that he’d try to collect compromising material on “high-level” U.S. businessmen visiting his country, such as the 500 businessmen Putin said visited St. Petersburg for an economic forum.

“It’s difficult to imagine an utter nonsense of a bigger scale than this,”  Putin said. “Please, just disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.”

Trump takes one last swipe at that “total witch hunt”

Trump couldn’t let the press conference end without taking one last shot at the Justice Department’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Unprompted, he brought up last week’s appearance in front of a congressional committee of an FBI agent who sent anti-Trump texts during the 2016 campaign.

“It was a disgrace to the FBI. It was a disgrace to our country. And you would say that was a total witch hunt,” Trump said, in his final remarks to the reporters.

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The last time President Donald Trump interacted with some of the United States’ closest allies, he was busy dismissing a joint communique and lambasting Canadian PM Justin Trudeau as “dishonest and very weak.”

Given Trump’s topsy-turvy approach to foreign policy, U.S. allies could be forgiven for holding a guise of apprehension heading into this week’s NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium. While allies braced for Trump’s impending outbursts on defense spending, Trump surprised the group of leaders by breaking with his precedent and signing the 23-page NATO declaration.

But in the hours since his overseas romp began, he has already spurred plenty of controversy.   

He suggested Germany is “captive to Russia”

In a fiery-on camera exchange Wednesday — a clip of which Trump tweeted to his own timeline — Trump tore into NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and made a dramatic rebuke of Germany for a pipeline oil deal its brokered with Russia.

“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” Trump said during a breakfast with NATO leaders that was intended to serve as a mild introduction to closed door negotiations. “We have to talk about the billions and billions of dollars being paid to the country we’re supposed to be protecting you against.”

Here’s a video of the awkward exchange (be sure to keep an eye on Chief of Staff John Kelly’s expression):

German Chancellor Angela Merkel publicly took the insult with grace: “I myself experienced that a part of Germany that was controlled by the Soviet Union, and I am very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany. We decide our own policies and make our own decisions.”

Behind closed doors, she told the 28 other NATO leaders about how Russian President Vladimir Putin had been a KGB spy in her own country, according to The Washington Post.

Allies should pay-up, and then some

As predicted, Trump could not resist blistering his colleagues for not yet contributing 2 percent of their nation’s gross domestic product to military defense– a goal that was established in 2014 and was meant to be carried out fully by 2024.

And he took it one step further, taking his closest allies to task over what he views as an imbalanced system that harms the U.S. (the U.S. spent 3.6 percent on defense last year). He called on the other world leaders to increase spending to 4 percent.

President Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters in a statement Wednesday.

Trump found a way to skirt the no-Twitter rule

As the leader of the free world who habitually announces policy and makes news via his personal Twitter account, it’s not surprising that Trump found a way to tweet, even from the confines of a cellphone-banned room where signals are intentionally congested to prevent hacks.

While he was supposed to be in the meeting with the 29 NATO leaders this afternoon, his account sent out a message to U.S. farmers to quash their fears over the trade war that he created. 

As the New York Times notes, it’s unclear whether Trump broke NATO’s no-phone-zone rule or if he had an aide send out the tweet for him. Trump’s social media aide, Dan Scavino, regularly posts tweets on the President’s behalf.

Hey, he warned you

NATO allies could have predicted that Trump would ask to increase ally defense spending if they had decoded his tweets en route to the summit. In true Trump form, he tweeted that the 2 percent contribution was far too low and wondered aloud whether his closest allies would consider reimbursing the U.S. for years of what he perceives to be unbalanced spending. He also saw it it fit to throw in a quick jab at Europe’s (false) trade deficit with the U.S.

Meeting with Putin will be “easier” than facing US allies

The pressure of having his campaign under investigation for colluding with the Russian government to win the 2016 election clearly hasn’t been enough of a roadblock to deter the President from getting cozy with — or praising — Putin. Before boarding the plane to Brussels on Tuesday, Trump confided in reporters that he couldn’t quite label the Russian president as a friend or a foe. He settled on calling him a “competitor,” before admitting that he was most looking forward to his meeting with the Kremlin leader.

“I think Putin may be the easiest of them all,” he said.

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