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.

Articles by

It’s sentencing season. Michael Cohen, former fixer and lawyer for President Trump, was sentenced to three years in prison for what a federal judge called a “veritable smorgasbord” of crimes, ranging from tax evasion to lying to Congress about his contacts with Russia.

Cohen’s attorneys tried to present him as a family man who was led astray by Trump, but who was now enthusiastically cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller. But U.S. District Judge William Pauley agreed with Southern District of New York prosecutors, saying Cohen needed to be held up as an example of what happens to those who break campaign finance laws, cheat taxes, and generally undermine democracy.

At the dramatic sentencing hearing, a tearful Cohen promised to continue to cooperate with government investigators in the coming months. He’s due to report to prison in March.

In court and in interviews, Cohen and his defense lawyers have reiterated that Trump directed him to make hush money payments to women to protect his 2016 presidential campaign, knowing it was against the law. Cohen has offered to share what he knows about Trump’s role in these felonies and other misconduct with everyone from Congress to the public.

The same day as his sentencing, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office announced a non-prosecution agreement with AMI, the National Enquirer’s parent company, over the hush money deal. AMI, too, admitted they paid Karen McDougal on Trump’s behalf to stop her story “from influencing the election.”

Trumpworld is offering a dizzying barrage of deflections, including that Cohen’s crimes have “nothing to do with” Trump. The best line came from Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani: “Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed.” Trump said he’s not concerned about impeachment because “the people would revolt if that happened.”

But Cohen isn’t the only person Trump has to worry about. Michael Flynn is set to be sentenced on Tuesday Dec. 18 after extensively cooperating with Mueller on matters including Russia’s contacts with the Trump campaign. Mother Jones reported this week that Flynn had previously unreported communications with the Russian ambassador about foreign policy issues prior to Election Day 2016.

Flynn’s attorneys tried to imply in a sentencing memo that the FBI entrapped him because they didn’t tell him lying to the FBI was a crime. Mueller’s rebuttal on Friday said the retired U.S. national security advisor should have known this incredibly obvious fact.

New reporting in Vox, meanwhile, suggests Manafort helped advise the Trump campaign on how to undermine the Russia investigation, and kept up this secret contact even after he started to cooperate with the special counsel.

Accused Russian agent Maria Butina pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge of trying to develop backchannel ties between the Russian government and high-level GOP political operatives. She’s now cooperating with the government.

And a criminal investigation has been opened into whether Trump’s inaugural committee accepted foreign funds in exchange for access to the new administration, or misallocated some of the record $107 million it raised. The probe stemmed from SDNY’s investigation into Cohen.

Read More →

Special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday filed his response to former national security adviser and cooperating witness Michael Flynn’s sentencing memo. Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI last year about his contacts with Russian officials and is set to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

In their own memo filed Tuesday, Flynn’s defense attorneys asked he be spared prison time for his “uncharacteristic error in judgment.” They suggested that federal agents may have lured him into a false sense of security before he agreed to the Jan. 24, 2017 interview about his communications with Russians, failing to notify the retired general that it is a crime to lie to the FBI.

Mueller came out swinging against that argument in his response, saying “nothing about the way the interview was arranged or conducted caused the defendant to make false statements to the FBI.”

“A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General, and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal Agents,” Mueller said. “He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth.”

Mueller rejected Flynn’s argument that the circumstances of the interview should be a mitigating factor in determining his sentence, urging the court to “reject the defendant’s attempt to minimize the seriousness of those false statements.”

Mueller said in a filing earlier this month that Flynn offered “substantial” cooperation to his investigation over the past year, and recommended that he serve no time behind bars.

In the latest document, the special counsel takes a firm tone with Flynn for implying there was anything untoward about the FBI’s conduct towards him. Mueller notes that Flynn also falsely told the Washington Post, Vice President Mike Pence, then-Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and then-Press Secretary Sean Spicer that he did not discuss sanctions with the then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. before President Trump took office.

“By the time of the FBI interview, the defendant was committed to his false story,” Mueller said.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe also notified Flynn about the topic of the interview—what McCabe called “his recent contacts with Russian representatives”—before Flynn sat down with agents, according to contemporaneous notes made by McCabe and submitted by Mueller to the court.

“The interview was voluntary, and lacked any indicia of coercion,” Mueller said.

The agents even tried to signal to Flynn that they were aware of the exact nature of his contacts, according to the document.

“When the defendant said he did not remember something they knew he said, they used the exact words the defendant had used in order to prompt a truthful response,” Mueller wrote.

In something of a warning shot, Mueller concluded the filing by said that Flynn’s cooperation and military service still merit a light sentence—“assuming the defendant continues to accept responsibility for his actions.”

Read the memo and two exhibits submitted by the special counsel below.

Read More →

The question of what Michael Cohen did not tell government investigators — and why — loomed over his Wednesday sentencing hearing.

Much has been made of Cohen’s decision not to enter into a formal cooperation agreement with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office — a choice that prompted both federal prosecutors and U.S. District Judge William Pauley to advise against a substantial reduction of his sentence.

In the courtroom, Cohen’s lawyer Guy Petrillo argued that there was no “mystery” and nothing “peculiar” about Cohen’s decision. Petrillo accused prosecutors of trying to “make a bigger case than they’ve already made” by hinting that Cohen elected not to share information about other criminal activity that he or others in his orbit committed.

“They come forward with nothing to suggest there’s anything there,” Petrillo said of the government’s sentencing memo that twice references other crimes, “if any,” that Cohen may have known about or carried out.

“It is not the case that Mr. Cohen has declined to answer questions,” Petrillo told the courtroom. “He’s ready to do that.”

The decision to rush to sentencing rather than enter into a formal agreement, which could involve years of cooperation, was intended to bring a swifter end to the predicament Cohen and his family have endured, Petrillo said.

Petrillo noted that all of Cohen’s papers and electronic devices were seized by the FBI when they raided his office and residence in April. They have been reviewed by agents and prosecutors.

“They know what is there,” Petrillo said. “[Cohen] plead to what he plead to.”

In his own brief address to the court, Cohen reiterated that he had turned over a new leaf and wanted only to serve his sentence and reunite with his family as soon as possible.

“I do not need a cooperation agreement in place to do the right thing,” Cohen said.

But prosecutors said that Cohen doesn’t get to set the terms of his cooperation with their office.

In the Southern District of New York, cooperators are expected to spill the beans about absolutely every minor fact they know, or get no agreement at all.

“Mr. Cohen can’t have it both ways” by cooperating only on matters of his choosing. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Roos said.

“We’ve treated Mr. Cohen just the way we treat any other defendant who interacts with the U.S. Attorney’s office,” he added later.

Roos offered little indication of what other matters his office is investigating that Cohen could have provided critical information about. One reported line of inquiry is the involvement other Trump Organization executives had in coordinating hush money payments to women during the campaign.

Some political observers (like our own Josh Marshall) have suggested that Cohen declined full cooperation because he feared implicating his Ukrainian-mob-linked in-laws in criminal activity, or feared facing a harsher sentence after revealing the full extent of his wrongdoing to prosecutors.

Former prosecutors have noted that other defendants who fully cooperated with the SDNY were given jail time even after giving up every crumb of information they possessed.

Cohen has promised to cooperate further with any investigative body that contacts him. It remains to be seen if he sticks to that pledge.

But with the Trump Organization under scrutiny and Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg reportedly cooperating, some of these matters of interest to investigators are likely to burst into full view regardless.

Read More →