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Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Politicians raising funds for charitable causes is nothing new and not an issue, lawyers for the Donald J. Trump Foundation argued in a Manhattan courtroom Thursday.

Maybe so. But certainly not the way Donald Trump did it, replied the New York Attorney General’s office, which is suing Trump and his family charity for alleged self-dealing.

The back-and-forth over the nature of Trump’s fundraising was one of the core threads running through the hearing today in Manhattan Supreme Court, where the Trump Foundation was pushing to have the case thrown out.

The radiator was working overtime in the stifling second-story room, but the windows had to be kept closed because of construction on the street outside. Reporters, lawyers, and onlookers crowded together on leather-topped benches and clustered on the window sills to observe the proceedings.

Alan Futerfas, a longtime attorney for the Trumps, argued in a long opening statement that the foundation’s conduct was perfectly normal and that “every penny” they raised went to charitable causes. After all, Futerfas said, politicians host the annual Al Smith dinner raising money for Catholic charities.

“Candidate can raise money,” Futerfas said. “Candidates go out and they say, ‘I’m here supporting this charity. The publicity inherent to that is absolutely proper.”

Judge Saliann Scarpulla intervened multiple times to point out that candidates do not typically do this at events promoting their own campaigns, as Trump did at an Iowa event before the 2016 Iowa caucuses. The Trump campaign urged donors to give money to his foundation, which would then be passed along to veterans’ organizations.

Candidates can raise money for charity, Scarpulla said, but “their campaigns are not directing where the money goes. That’s a completely different situation.”

Trump Organization officials and Trump campaign staffers exchanged emails dictating which organizations would accept the funds and how much each would get. The foundation was not involved in those decisions.

The campaign is saying “you need to get this voter group, so let’s send some money to them,” as Scarpulla put it.

Futerfas occasionally laughed, conceding she had a point. But he proposed that it was “refreshing” that Trump held this vets’ fundraiser rather than a typical campaign event.

Yael Fuchs of the attorney general’s office was more cutting in her assessment of the Trump team’s arguments.

They’re “completely conflating the identity of the foundation with the identify of the campaign,” Fuchs said.

“The timing and manner of distribution” of the $2.8 million in proceeds raised at the Iowa event “was also controlled and directed by the campaign for the political benefit of Mr. Trump,” she said, noting that Trump held “five political rallies” where he displayed “this big check from the Trump Foundation.”

That’s not what happens at the Al Smith dinner, or when Mitt Romney raised money for the Red Cross to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, Fuchs argued.

“The money went directly to those causes,” she said. It was not distributed “based on the demographics of the recipients for my political benefit.”

Romney “didn’t call up the Red Cross and say please send vans to some neighborhoods in Staten Island” because he wanted votes there, Fuchs said.

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Far-right media figures aren’t the only ones promoting dark conspiracy theories about the pipe bombs sent this week to Democratic figures and news organizations.

Amy Tarkanian, former chairwoman of the Nevada Republican Party and a surrogate for her husband Danny’s 2018 congressional race, shared messages on Wednesday suggesting that the “fake” bombs were a Democratic political ploy.

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The New York judge overseeing a lawsuit alleging that the Donald J. Trump Foundation served as a “personal piggybank” for the President issued no ruling at a Thursday hearing on the Trump team’s motion to dismiss the suit. But Judge Saliann Scarpulla seemed to suggest that the allegations laid out in the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit were legally sufficient for the case to move forward.

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The President’s lawyers didn’t want any more hearings in the case against the Trump Foundation before the November midterm elections.

But on Thursday, they will appear in a downtown Manhattan courtroom for a hearing on their own motion to dismiss a June lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood. Underwood has accused President Trump and his three eldest children of running their family non-profit as a “shell corporation that functioned as a checkbook” for Trump’s business and political interests.

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Far-right allies of President Trump quickly dismissed a string of explosive devices sent to prominent Democratic figures and CNN as a “false flag” operation intended to support Democrats’ “narrative” ahead of the midterm elections.

Without any evidence, members of the far-right media, think tank heads, and Twitter activists shared their conspiratorial theories on social media.

Similar “functional” explosive devices this week targeted Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric Holder and billionaire philanthropist George Soros. CNN’s New York headquarters was evacuated after a package addressed to former CIA director John Brennan, an outspoken Trump critic, was found in the mail room.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were among the politicians to quickly denounce the bomb threats as “an act of terror” and “attempted acts of domestic terror.”

But the Twitter critics instead resorted to far-out theories that they’ve leaned on during previous moments of crisis: horrific incidents are just a manufactured effort by Democrats to push their agenda.

Michael Flynn Jr., son of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, called the bombs “a total false flag operation.”

Though he later deleted several messages, he said he “hate[s] the timing as it provides a PERFECT narrative for @TheDemocrats going into the mid terms.”

“If I’m wrong about this being a political stunt, I’ll own up to it,” added Flynn Jr., who was booted from Trump’s transition team for promoting conspiracy theories. “But timing is everything folks. And the timing given how close we are to midterms is HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS!”

Candace Owens, communications director for young conservatives’ group Turning Point USA, said there was a “0% chance that these ‘suspicious packages’ were sent out by conservatives.”

Owens met with Trump at the White House this May.

Frank Gaffney, a prominent anti-Islam activist who runs the Center for Security Policy and has close ties to the Trump administration, suggested that the bombs were sent “to deflect attention from the Left’s mobs.”

Pundit Ann Coulter called bombs “a liberal tactic,” while radio host Rush Limbaugh said, “Republicans just don’t do this kind of thing.”

Even fringier figures like pro-Trump Twitter activist Jacob Wohl and “Pizzagate
conspiracy pusher Laura Loomer agreed that the bomb threats were, as Wohl put it, “false flags, carefully planned for the midterms.”

Diehard Trump fanatic Bill Mitchell said the packages “have Soros astro-turfing written all over it so the media can paint the #GOP as “the dangerous mob.” Pure BS.”

New York and federal law enforcement officials have yet to release any evidence or indication about who was behind the attacks.

Many of the figures currently casting doubt on their legitimacy have spent much of the year criticizing Democratic politicians and their supporters for a purported lack of civility. Protesters yelling at Trump administration officials at restaurants and in the halls of the Capitol building have been used as evidence of the left’s “incivility and violent rhetoric,” as right-wing radio host John Cardillo put in a a since-deleted Wednesday tweet.

Some of these individuals, like Mitchell, said explicitly that they want media attention to remain focused on the activities of progressive activists and on the caravan of immigrants slowly winding their way north through central America as they flee violence in their home countries.

As Trump insisted at a recent rally, the midterms will be about “[Supreme Court Justice Brett] Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order, and common sense.”

These claims of Democratic “false flags,” first popularized by Infowars’ Alex Jones, have spread like wildfire in recent years. The survivors of the Sandy Hook, Connecticut and Parkland, Florida school shootings were dismissed as “crisis actors” by some on the far-right. This summer, Coulter mocked the migrant children being separated by their parents under a Trump administration policy as “child actors.”

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In a detailed Monday court filing, lawyers for alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina accused federal prosecutors of failing to provide easy access to key evidence involving their client, including “exculpatory information.”

In their response, the government said there was just one problem with those accusations: they were baseless.

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A black conservative group drew national attention last week for incendiary ads suggesting that black voters should support the GOP in the midterms because Democrats want to return to “lynching black folk” accused of sexually assaulting white women.

The Black Americans for the President’s Agenda campaign has been roundly denounced by the Republican candidates it is purportedly trying to help win—and even by members of the group itself.

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