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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We live in the age of the accidental conspiracy theory tweet.

The head of a Florida county GOP found himself in the hot seat last month for a July 4 tweet inviting voters to learn more about the “cryptic” QAnon conspiracy.

“You may have heard rumours about QAnon, also known as Q, who is a mysterious anonymous inside leaker of deep state activities and counter activities by President Trump,” the Hillsborough County GOP’s since-deleted tweet read.

It linked to an hour-long YouTube video called “Q Anon for Beginners.”

Hillsborough County GOP chairman Jim Waurishuk rushed to tamp down the ensuing media controversy, assuring publications that his group did not endorse the bizarre strings of hidden clues and associations that compose the fringe conspiracy.

But Waurishuk’s own Twitter account includes several posts about QAnon, and his blog posts for far-right news site “America Out Loud” routinely reference the sorts of deep state anti-Trump conspiracies that QAnon followers believe should land members of the Obama administration in jail. Both Waurishuk and QAnon adherents, for example, put stock in President Trump’s claim that there was a spy embedded in Trump’s 2016 campaign and think that Hillary Clinton committed treason.

Reached by telephone Friday, Waurishuk reiterated that he does not believe in “conspiracy theory stuff.”

Asked about the tweets on his page referencing QAnon, he said, “I have no idea how that happened.”

The Hillsborough County GOP’s QAnon problem started back in mid-July, when reporter Will Sommers noticed its pinned tweet. The Tampa Bay Times subsequently did a story on the post, which was also pinned to the top of the group’s Facebook page, and the national media latched on to the controversy, publishing stories of their own.

Waurishuk said the group’s posts were merely meant to be “informational” and removed them.

Then, this week, the QAnon phenomena rocketed from the fringes of Twitter and 8Chan to the national stage thanks to Trump’s rally in Tampa. Supporters carrying “Q” signs cheered from the stands at the Florida State Fairgrounds, where the President was introduced by Waurishuk.

The next day, dozens of publications posted explainers on the baffling conspiracy theory, which holds that the mysterious U.S. intelligence official, who holds a “Q”-level security clearance, is doling out “breadcrumbs” of information to his followers to prepare them for the coming “Storm.” The storm, according to Q’s followers, will be a Trump-imposed coup in which all of the President’s enemies—deep state-rs, globalist elites, and pedophiles masquerading as Democratic politicians—are arrested.

Those stories resurrected the Hillsborough County GOP’s tweet, prompting a fresh wave of calls to Waurishuk, who was asked to explain, again, how this post came to be on his group’s page.

“We try to watch all the different groups on social media that are involved in conspiracy theory stuff and bizarre kind of stuff, because part of our job as a local party is to educate voters,” Waurishuk told TPM.

He said a board member who tracks these “far-out, extreme kind of things” found this video to be “probably the most accurate,” and decided to share it “for informational purposes.”

“It was just: here’s an article that may help you understand more about who QAnon is,” he said. “Because as I recall about a month ago there were people in our party who were questioning who is this individual or group or entity so he saw it and put it out there.”

The chairman’s own Twitter feed features several tweets referencing the conspiracy.

On July 15, Waurishuk retweeted a pair of posts praising one of his America Outloud articles. Both include the hashtag #WWG1WGA, social media shorthand for QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all.” One also includes the hashtags #Qanon and “TheGreatAwakening,” a reference to an event preceding the “storm” that will come to fruition once Q’s followers solve the puzzle pieces Q has laid out for them. Waurishuk also retweeted a post from a user with the handle “Qanon Freedom Fighter.”

Waurishuk retweeted another message that actively promoted the QAnon phenomenon.

“Thank you for your service sir,” user Sheila Ryman wrote to Waurishuk, a retired U.S. Air force colonel. “Are you familiar with “Q” and #TheGreatAwakening #QAnon.

The video that the Hillsborough County GOP shared to inform local voters about QAnon was also created by a true believer: an Arizona-based paramedic and leading Q propagandist who goes by the handle “Praying Medic.” He opens the “Q Anon for Beginners” video by saying his intention is just to explain the phenomenon and “help you decide for yourself whether Q is worth your time,” but quickly discloses that he, personally, is “following Q.”

With the exception of one Etsy post promoting a “Scone of the Month” club, Praying Medic’s Twitter feed is a fever dream of warnings and predictions about the “coming” storm.

Waurishuk insisted that neither he nor the Hillsborough County GOP endorsed this type of outlandish conspiracy: “There are people out there that are literally crazy.”

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President Trump has more than a few characteristics that make him a challenging boss. He is mercurial, quick to turn on subordinates deemed insufficiently loyal, and has a slippery relationship with the truth.

Those traits help explain why so many of the President’s associates in business and government felt compelled to document their interactions with him.

Out of self-preservation, a desire to keep an accurate record, a lack of trust—or some combination of the three—everyone from former FBI Director James Comey to former Trump “pitbull” Michael Cohen created records of their encounters with Trump. These contemporaneous notes, official memos, and audio recordings will be invaluable evidence for prosecutors investigating whether Trump obstructed justice or engaged in other possible misconduct, former federal prosecutors tell TPM.

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A federal judge ruled Thursday that a former assistant to Roger Stone must testify before the grand jury convened by special counsel Robert Mueller.

As the Washington Post first reported, Chief Judge Beryl Howell rejected Andrew Miller’s challenge to Mueller’s subpoenas on the grounds that the entire special counsel investigation was unconstitutionally overbroad in its scope.

The ruling does not refer to Miller by name, but Miller’s attorney, Paul Kamenar, confirmed to the Post that it related to the request brought by his client.

“We’re disappointed with the court’s ruling,” Kamenar told the newspaper. “But the judge obviously took our challenge to Mueller’s constitutionality seriously as evidenced by the 93-page opinion.”

Howell’s ruling orders Miller, who served as a media liaison for Stone during the 2016 presidential campaign, to provide testimony as soon as possible and to turn over all subpoenaed records.

“The scope of the Special Counsel’s power falls well within the boundaries the Constitution permits, as the Special Counsel is supervised by an official who is himself accountable to the elected President,” Howell wrote.

In mid-July, TPM spotted attorneys from Mueller’s team and for Miller entering a closed-door hearing in Howell’s D.C. courtroom. The attorneys spent an hour and a half in the session.

Stone is under scrutiny in the special counsel investigation for his interactions with Guccifer 2.0, now known to be a group of Russian intelligence agents posing as a lone Romanian hacker. The self-proclaimed GOP dirty trickster also met with a Russian national during the campaign who asked for money in exchange for dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Stone has said he’s being unfairly targeted because of his closeness to Trump, a longtime friend.

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In a sign of the broad scope of her influence operations, accused Russian agent Mariia Butina pushed a prominent American businessman to boost investments in a failing Moscow bank, the Daily Beast reported Tuesday.

Butina allegedly urged Hank Greenberg, former chairman of the New York Federal Reserve and of insurance giant AIG, to increase his investments in Russian bank Investtorgbank. According to the Beast, this ultimately unsuccessful request was made in April 2015, when bank officials had already been accused of illegally pocketing tens of millions of dollars.

Sources familiar with Butina’s actions told the Beast that it was unclear if she was acting alone or on behalf of other interests like the Russian government.

At the time, Butina was serving as the personal assistant to top Russian Central Bank official Alexander Torshin.

The FBI has alleged that Butina, acting on Torshin’s orders, carried out a covert influence campaign to infiltrate American conservative groups and advance Russian interests. She is awaiting trial in a DC jail. Torshin has not been charged with any crimes.

Butina’s ties to Greenberg appear to stem from the Center for the National Interest (CNI), a D.C. think tank where she and Torshin attended an April 2015 meeting with U.S. Treasury and Federal Reserve officials. CNI is unusual in D.C. foreign policy circles for working to foster dialogue between Russia and the U.S.

CNI’s executive director Paul Sanders recently told TPM that the encounter they helped arrange was an “entirely routine” off-the-record discussion between visiting foreign officials and their U.S. counterparts.

The Beast reported that Greenberg is one of CNI’s main sources of funding and serves as chairman emeritus of the group’s board.

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Some $300,000 in suspicious bank transactions involving alleged covert Russian agent Mariia Butina and GOP operative Paul Erickson are under scrutiny by federal investigators, BuzzFeed reported Tuesday.

Bank documents reviewed by BuzzFeed refer to $45,000 wired to an unidentified D.C. law firm, $107,000 in cash withdrawals, and $90,000 sent to or from Russian financial institution Alfa Bank.

Per the report, Wells Fargo’s anti-money laundering team began tracking the duo’s bank activity in 2017 after it received a referral from the FBI, which had been investigating Butina since she arrived in the U.S. in 2016. The bank, in turn, prepared reports that it shared with the FBI and U.S. Treasury Department’s financial crimes division.

Wells Fargo’s investigators told Treasury officials they could find no “apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose” for some of the transactions, and were particularly concerned about the cash deposits, which are more difficult to trace, according to BuzzFeed.

Some of this unusual financial activity apparently relates to the fraud investigation into Erickson being carried out by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in his home state of South Dakota. The longtime GOP operative did not respond to BuzzFeed’s requests for comment.

Butina is currently in jail awaiting trial on charges of acting as an unregistered Russian agent and conspiring against the U.S. to infiltrate conservative groups including the National Rifle Association.

Asked about the flagged bank transactions, Butina’s attorney Robert Driscoll told BuzzFeed that they showed “no illegal, or even remarkable activity.”

“As she is a Russian national with a Russian bank account, it is hardly surprising that some of her international transactions triggered reports,” Driscoll told the news site. “It is unfortunate that the FBI chose to leak information based on such reports and/or to allow its investigative concerns to become public.”

McClatchy reported earlier Tuesday that several limited liability companies set up by Butina and Erickson, who were apparently dating, also drew early scrutiny from federal investigators.

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After seven months, tens of thousands of dollars, and three court rulings, Michigan voters were officially given the opportunity to decide how the redistricting process works in their state.

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled 4-3 late Tuesday night to uphold an appeals’ court’s decision to keep a local citizens’ group’s anti-gerrymandering initiative on the November ballot.

“The court’s decision upholds our right as citizens to petition our government for positive change,” Katie Fahey, founder and executive director of the group, Voters Not Politicians (VNP), said in a statement.

Some of the over 425,000 Michiganders who signed the petition to get the measure on the ballot have already pivoted to voter outreach efforts, knocking on over 86,000 doors to date to explain their push for an independent redistricting commission, according to Fahey.

The Supreme Court’s ruling represents a final defeat for Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), a conservative group funded by the state Chamber of Commerce that fought to block the measure through the courts. CPMC maintained that the initiative, which would strip state lawmakers of the power to redraw U.S. House and state legislative districts after each decennial census, was too far-reaching to be addressed with one ballot measure. The group argued that redistricting reform should instead be handled through a constitutional convention.

A 3-0 state Court of Appeals ruling that found CPMC’s complaint “without merit” did not deter the group, which filed an appeal to the Republican-dominated Supreme Court. Nor did a 3-0 June vote by the Michigan Board of Canvassers to approve VNP’s measure.

This pitched battle drew national attention, with voting rights group Common Cause teaming up with former Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to file an amicus brief in support of VNP.

Kathay Feng, Common Cause national redistricting director, said she was “thrilled” with Tuesday’s decision.

Asked for comment, CPMC spokesman Dave Doyle sent a brief email to TPM: “Disappointed in the ruling but accept the decision. Nothing else to say at this point.”

If it passes in November, the VNP measure will establish a 13-person bipartisan commission — composed of four Republicans, four Democrats, and five independents — to assume control of map-drawing responsibilities. Commission members will have to adhere to “accepted measures of partisan fairness” and avoid granting any particular party “disproportionate advantage.”

The current fight to reform Michigan’s redistricting process comes after twenty years of GOP control over the state legislature

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The question of whether President Trump obstructed justice in the FBI’s investigation of Michael Flynn has always hinged on his familiarity with the details of that probe — and when he learned them.

A new report out Tuesday in the New York Review of Books suggests Trump knew that there was an ongoing criminal investigation into Flynn and his interactions with Russian officials when he asked then-FBI director James Comey on Feb. 14, 2017 to let Flynn “go.”

Reporter Murray Waas said that he reviewed a White House memo that “explicitly states that when Trump pressured Comey he had just been told by two of his top aides — his then chief of staff Reince Priebus and his White House counsel Don McGahn — that Flynn was under criminal investigation.”

According to Waas, “people familiar with the matter” have told him that both Priebus and McGahn also testified to Special Counsel Robert Mueller that they personally provided this information to Trump during a Jan. 26, 2017 meeting.

These details flatly contradict the case that Trump’s personal legal team has made in denying the obstruction of justice allegations. In a confidential January 29 letter to the special counsel leaked to the New York Times in June, two of Trump’s attorneys say that the President knew only that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. Trump believed the bureau’s investigation was over and that Flynn had been cleared, his attorneys claimed.

Setting aside how odd it would be for Trump to ask the FBI director to end a probe that he didn’t think was happening, the special counsel is reportedly in possession of testimony and documents that contradict that version of events.

This evidence includes interviews with Priebus, McGahn and several other members of the White House Office of Legal Counsel, according to Waas’ reporting. Waas said it also includes the Feb. 15, 2017 White House memo outlining a timeline of the events that led up to Flynn’s firing, as well as “underlying White House records quoted in the memo.”

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Here we go again.

Facebook announced on Tuesday that it has identified an ongoing political influence campaign on its platform ahead of the November midterm elections, and has removed 32 pages and accounts “involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”

The social media giant’s announcement came minutes after the New York Times reported that Facebook officials have been briefing lawmakers on this activity in a series of meetings on Capitol Hill this week.

As in 2016, this year’s effort is centered around divisive social issues. Among the most influential accounts nixed from the platform were “Aztlan Warriors,” “Black Elevation,” “Mindful Being,” and “Resisters,” according to Facebook. The Resisters page partnered with five authentic U.S. progressive groups to organize an Aug. 10 rally marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly white nationalist “Unite the Rally” in Charlottesville, Virginia, Facebook announced.

These so-called “bad actors” also shared memes criticizing colonialism and sexism, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf, according to Facebook.

Facebook said it wasn’t clear if Russian intelligence officers were behind these efforts, but that “whoever set up these accounts went to much greater lengths to obscure their true identities than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past.”

As part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, a federal grand jury in Washington D.C., in February indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian entities for a systematic effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential election in support of Donald Trump. The IRA’s campaign involved creating hundreds of bogus social media accounts, some of which promoted false claims that Democrats committed voter fraud.

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The federal investigation into alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina stemmed from a series of suspicious, high-dollar money transfers to limited liability companies tied to Butina and her onetime boyfriend, South Dakota-based GOP operative Paul Erickson, according to a new report.

The Tuesday report by McClatchy laid out the origins of the probe into possible Russian attempts to infiltrate and channel money to the National Rifle Association. According to McClatchy, the NRA probe predates President Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, and is being overseen by the U.S. attorney’s office for the District of Columbia, rather than Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Butina was charged in July with conspiracy against the United States and serving as an unregistered agent for Russia who worked to infiltrate the NRA, among other conservative groups. She pleaded not guilty and is in a Washington, D.C. jail awaiting trial. Erickson has not been charged, but is believed to be the individual described in court documents as “U.S. Person 1” who helped Butina coordinate her activities.

Republican operative Paul Erickson also was involved in the financial dealings that drew investigators’ interest – transfers of money exceeding $10,000 to limited liability corporations, including two created in Erickson’s home state of South Dakota, the sources said. Both of these people, including one of the sources and a third individual, also spoke on condition of anonymity because of the confidential nature of the investigation.

Per McClatchy, the interest of investigators at the Treasury Department was first piqued after they received a number of Suspicious Activity Reports related to LLCs linked to the couple, including some funds transfers that “appear to have come from Russia.”

At a July 18 court hearing, both federal prosecutors and Butina’s lawyer, Robert Driscoll, suggested that there was a federal fraud investigation ongoing into Erickson in South Dakota. Both parties said Butina offered to assist in that probe.

Driscoll confirmed to McClatchy that some $20,000 passed through Bridges LLC, one of the South Dakota entities that the couple incorporated in 2016. The money consisted of four $5,000 payments that Butina received from the Outdoor Channel for consulting work on a segment about bear hunting in Russia, according to Driscoll.

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When the news broke last week that the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer was subpoenaed to provide testimony in Michael Cohen’s criminal investigation, the company resorted to one of Trump’s favored tactics: minimization.

CFO Allen Weisselberg was a “bookkeeper who simply carries out directions from others,” Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten said.

But that characterization of Weisselberg is belied by years of reporting, court documents and even Trump’s own words.

“Allen has been with me for thirty years and knows how to get things done,” Trump wrote in his 2004 book “Think Like A Billionaire.”

Weisselberg was hired straight out of college to serve as Fred Trump’s personal accountant. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming company controller and, ultimately, the Trump Organization’s top moneyman. The CFO and executive vice president was dispatched to give reporters tours of the Trump family’s properties, sat for daily meetings with Trump, prepared Trump’s own tax returns for a time and was heavily involved in side projects like Trump University and the Trump Foundation.

As a former Trump Organization employee told NBC’s Katy Tur, Weisselberg “knows where all financial bodies are buried.”

Managing the Trump Organization’s books

Along with Donald Trump, Jr., Weisselberg now manages the trust in which President Trump placed his businesses after entering the White House. Per ProPublica, those two are “the only people who know the details of the Trump trust’s finances.”

Weisselberg’s official duties, according to Trump’s descriptions in “Think Like A Billionaire,” included negotiating with financial institutions, tracking sales and acquisition of properties, and arranging for checks for Trump to sign.

Trump commended Weisselberg as “one of the toughest people in business when it comes to money” who helped him secure cash flows when his company was caught up in bankruptcy proceedings in the 1990s.

“When I was having some financial problems in the early 1990s, I called Allen into my office and told him there would be tough times ahead,” Trump wrote. “The banks were about to cut off our funding. Allen said, ‘No problem,’ and went back to his office, where he proceeded to renegotiate almost every payment from that point forward. He did whatever was necessary to protect the bottom line—and refused to succumb to the pressures of risk.”

“Now he’s negotiating with bankers on deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and he’s so tough that most banks would rather I negotiate the deal than him. He’s a loyal employee, and he’s the ultimate master at playing the cards of business,” he continued.

An anecdote in a 2016 New York Times story illustrates Weisselberg’s ability to play hardball. Lawyer Y. David Scharf told the Times that in the mid-2000s he contacted the company seeking payment for $470,000 in legal bills, and accidentally included one page of a bill intended for another client. An irate Weisselberg threatened to divulge the error to that other client unless the firm agreed to a 50 percent discount on the outstanding legal bills, per the account. The firm reportedly informed Weisselberg that his threat “smack[ed] of extortion,” and the parties resolved the matter.

Personal affairs and payouts to women

Weisselberg’s role as CFO involved handling some personal matters for Trump as well.

That included overseeing household expenses and personal purchases and, for a time, preparing Trump’s own tax returns.

More controversially, they also allegedly involved handling payments to women who claim to have carried out affairs with Trump. Weisselberg arranged for the Trump Organization to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment made out to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Though a source close to Weisselberg told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t know about the payout to Daniels, Weisselberg personally approved a $35,000 monthly retainer to Cohen.

On a secret 2016 recording made public last week, Cohen also assures Trump that he “spoke to Allen” about financing a deal with American Media Inc. to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s account of her alleged affair with Trump.
“I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen said.

Signing checks for the “sham” Trump University

Weisselberg was intimately involved in handling the finances for Trump University, the defunct for-profit real estate seminar that was forced to pay out $25 million to former students who claimed they were defrauded.

In a Saturday CNN op-ed, Tristan Snell, the former New York assistant attorney general who helped oversee a state fraud investigation into the university, wrote that his probe “revealed that amid the sprawling tentacles of the Trump Organization, everything leads back to two people: Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump.”

Along with Trump’s three eldest children and Trump himself, Weisselberg was one of five authorized signatories for the Trump University bank account. He “personally reviewed all of the finances” of the organization monthly, and was the only individual permitted to issue payments or transfer money, according to Snell.

“In order for Trump University LLC vendors to be paid, Trump University checks had to be sent from Trump University LLC at 40 Wall Street to Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg at the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, for his review and signature,” the New York attorney general’s office noted in court documents.

Helping Trump pay himself through the Trump Foundation

Weisselberg served as treasurer for the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was sued by the New York attorney general’s office in June for engaging in “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct.”

Though he was not named as a defendant, Weisselberg sat for a deposition in that investigation and admitted to engaging in various activities that violated state and federal non-profit laws against self-dealing.

One incident involved a $100,000 donation that the foundation made to settle a suit brought by the city of Palm Beach against Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. A handwritten note from Trump included in the petition directs “Allen W” to use the charity’s funds to resolve the suit.

Weisselberg also helped handle a series of payments the foundation made to veterans’ groups during the 2016 presidential campaign, violating laws that prevent non-profits from engaging in explicitly political activity. In his deposition, he described flying to Iowa in January 2016 with the foundation’s checkbook for a campaign event held shortly before the caucuses there.

“He’s my boss. I went,” Weisselberg told prosecutors in explaining his last-minute trip.

Overseeing Trump’s troubled Atlantic City empire

Weisselberg was named vice president of Trump’s Atlantic City, New Jersey casino empire in 2000, according to the Wall Street Journal. His appointment at Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, which in 2004 changed its name to Trump Entertainment Resorts, came after years of financial troubles and accounting scandals.

As the Journal reported, the company was forced to agree to a Securities and Exchange Commission cease-and-desist order, and filed for multiple corporate bankruptcies before becoming a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises in 2016.

Serving on the board at Miss Universe

Weisselberg served on the board of the Miss Universe Organization after Trump purchased the pageant in 1996. Though little has been reported on Weisselberg’s involvement with the company, Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant there has come under scrutiny as part of investigations into the links between Russia and the President’s associates. Cohen traveled along on that trip, where Trump met with various Russian oligarchs to discuss possible business ventures.

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