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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Left unaddressed in much of the coverage on Michael Cohen’s stunning eight-count plea deal was what he gave up in entering into it, and why he decided to do so.

Tuesday’s proceedings on the 20th floor of Manhattan’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse helped shed light on those questions. In brief: Cohen and his attorneys knew that the prosecution had rock-solid evidence that would likely convince a jury to convict him.

At one point, U.S. District Judge William Pauley asked Cohen attorney Guy Petrillo if he had any reason to believe that the defense could “prevail at trial.”

“I do not, your honor,” Petrillo replied.

The baked-in-the-cake nature of the proceedings stripped them of the tension of the spring’s courtroom battles over prosecutors’ access to materials seized from Cohen’s premises. Cohen, Petrillo and the federal prosecutors cracked smiles and amiably chatted at the counsel table.

Pauley initiated the hearing with a rapid-fire volley of questions aimed at ensuring Cohen was entering this plea of sound mind and of his own volition.

Full name: “Michael Dean Cohen.”

Age: “In four days, I’ll be 52.”

How far did you go in school: “Law.”

Did you consume any drugs or alcohol prior to this hearing: “Last night at dinner, I had a glass of Glenlivet 12—on the rocks.” (Is that your custom: “No, your honor.”)

Are you feeling alright today: “Yes.”

Are you satisfied with your legal representation: “Very much so.”

Pauley then took pains to explain what constitutional rights Cohen was sacrificing by entering this deal: a speedy trial by jury; the ability to issue subpoenas and cross-examine witnesses; the need for prosecutors to prove each count to jurors beyond a reasonable doubt; the ability to appeal or challenge his sentence.

The plea also meant Cohen was immediately giving up certain civil rights, such as his right to own a firearm, vote, or serve on a jury. Cohen’s voice cracked as he acknowledged that he understood he was forfeiting these rights.

Why Cohen, the Trump Organization “pit bull,” agreed to forgo all of this without a fight became clearer once Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Griswold was asked to run through the prosecution’s evidence.

It included: income tax returns, testimony from IRS agents and bank employees, bank loan applications, paper documents and audio recordings seized from Cohen’s premises, encrypted messages, text messages, phone records, emails, and subpoenaed records from search warrants to the National Enquirer’s parent company and the Trump Organization.

A trial on these charges, for which Cohen is facing up to 65 years, would have been a high-profile, grinding affair, scrutinizing Cohen’s businesses and potentially involving his family. And as we saw with a Virginia jury convicting Paul Manafort on eight counts Tuesday, it wasn’t guaranteed to end up much better for Cohen.

Copping to his wrongdoing with a plea deal likely prompted prosecutors to recommend a lighter sentence of only 46-63 months for Cohen. It likely made him appear more favorably to the judge who would ultimately decide what sentence Cohen received.

And it also meant that Cohen was able to walk out of court into the late-summer sun, free to go home to his family until his sentencing date in December.

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Multiple news reports over the weekend helped fill in the details about the nearly completed federal criminal investigation into Michael Cohen.

The probe into President Trump’s former fixer, referred to the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office by special counsel Robert Mueller, is reportedly in its final stages. Charges could come by the end of this month, and will likely touch on campaign finance violations and loans Cohen received for his taxi businesses.

Key entities have been subpoenaed, witnesses have testified before a grand jury, and prosecutors have pored over the reams of documents and emails seized from Cohen’s premises.

All that remains to be seen is whether prosecutors cut a plea deal with Cohen, or hit him with everything they’ve got.

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A verdict could come at any moment in the Alexandria, Virginia federal courtroom where former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is being tried on a slew of tax and bank fraud charges.

Prosecutors rested their case on Monday after 10 days of testimony from dozens of witnesses. Manafort’s lawyers said Tuesday that they would call none, alleging that the government “cannot meet that burden” of proof that would move a jury to issue a guilty verdict.

The trial yielded fresh evidence about favor-trading in the Trump campaign, even in its final days. The government released emails that showed that days after a Chicago bank gave Manafort a $9.5 million loan, Manafort emailed Jared Kushner recommending that the bank’s CEO serve as Army secretary in the Trump administration. The CEO, Steve Calk, had sent Manafort a ranked list of the government positions he wanted.

While he’s consistently distance himself from Manafort since his indictment, President Donald Trump on Friday expressed some sympathy for his former campaign manager, defensively telling reporters that Manafort is “happens to be a very good person” and that it’s “very sad what they’ve done” to him.

Pressure is building against longtime Trump ally Roger Stone. Robert Mueller’s prosecutors are looking through emails he sent threatening onetime associate Randy Credico for denying serving as the middle-man between Stone and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Credico was subpoenaed to testify before Mueller’s grand jury on Sept. 7.

As part of her bridge-burning book tour, ex-reality star and White House official Omarosa claimed that she’s been interviewed by Mueller’s team. Citing no evidence, she alleged that Trump “absolutely” knew about the Clinton campaign’s stolen emails before WikiLeaks began publishing them in the summer of 2016. Omarosa said she also handed over to Mueller some of the secretly recorded conversations she’s been eagerly sharing with the media.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said that the President won’t agree to an interview with Mueller after Sept. 1 out of concerns that he’d be interfering with the midterms. Giuliani said they’re also willing to go to the Supreme Court to fight any subpoena requiring Trump to testify.

Former FBI official Peter Strzok was officially fired, months after anti-Trump texts were found on his cell phone. Trump said that the Hillary Clinton email probe, which Strzok helped carry out, should be “redone” now that he was gone.

Trump also stripped another critic, former CIA director John Brennan, of his security clearance. The White House initially citied national security concerns prompted by Brennan’s “erratic” behavior. Trump then told the Wall Street Journal he did so because of Brennan’s involvement in the Russia “witch hunt.”

George Papadopolous, whose drunken rants are widely credited for the launch of the Russia probe, was thrust back into the spotlight Thursday, when his wife Simona Mangiante said she wants Papadopolous to scrap his deal with Mueller.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Intelligence Committee efforts to investigate financial matters related to the Russia probe have been stymied by the Treasury Department, which has ignored and refused records requests.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has been referred to as the “king of voter suppression” and “the most racist politician in America today.”

As of Tuesday, after a chaotic week of ballot-counting and threats of a recount, Kobach is also the Republican nominee to become the state’s governor.

This was the outcome Democrats wanted. Whereas Kobach’s opponent, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, was seen as an electable, middle-of-the-road Republican, Kobach is a lightning rod. Kobach’s years-long war against phantom voter fraud and close ties to President Trump have made him a polarizing figure saddled with liabilities, presenting Democrats with an in.

But nonpartisan political scientists say that, thanks to a variety of factors, Kobach is actually favored to defeat Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly. Rather than vanquishing a politician loathed by progressives nationwide, Democrats may wake up in November with Kobach running the state.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is known for instituting strict restrictions on who has access to the ballot box.

But does Kobach’s controversial two-term tenure have anything to do with the chaos currently unfolding in his own undecided GOP gubernatorial primary, where he’s leading by only dozens of votes?

Not directly, say local political experts. But in some oblique ways, it does.

First off is the matter of resources. Kobach used thousands of state dollars for the frivolous voter fraud suits that he initiated and argued on Kansas’ behalf. His opponent, Gov. Jeff Kolyer, has argued that Kobach should be on the hook for the $26,000 in legal fees he owes over the proof-of-citizenship lawsuit he lost in federal court earlier this year.

“When you’re working on something, there’s also what you’re not doing,” Michael Smith, Chair of the Political Science Department at Emporia State University, told TPM.

“Instead of looking for illegal voters who did not exist,” Smith said, Kobach would have better-served his state by ensuring that Kansas “had better voting equipment and reporting procedures.”

Then there are the errors made by entities he technically oversees as secretary of state.

Clerks in two counties said that the vote totals they turned over to his office were not accurately reported on the secretary of state’s website. Once Kobach’s office corrected the mistake, his lead dropped notably.

Poll workers trained by the county election commissioners Kobach oversees also slipped up. Some voters reported receiving the wrong type of ballot, while other unaffiliated voters said they were not provided with the document they needed to fill out in order to vote in partisan primary races.

These missteps prompted Colyer’s campaign to ask Kobach to recuse himself. Providing guidance on how to address voting problems in a race that he himself stood to win was inappropriate, Colyer’s team said.

Kobach reluctantly agreed to do so, but then appointed his deputy, Assistant Secretary of State Erick Rucker, to see out the primary process. Rucker has donated to Kobach’s gubernatorial campaign.

As Burdett Loomis of the University of Kansas put it to TPM: “Where irony comes into play here is he’s a tough-minded individual on fraud, but every time you see a decision being made that would help him [in the primary race], its not necessarily a strict constructionist decision. It’s a decision that would help Kris Kobach.”

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Miscounted ballots. A recusal. A voter integrity hotline. Possible lawsuits or a recount.

A week after Kansas voters cast ballots for the Republican gubernatorial primary, the high-stakes race remains a mess, with controversial Secretary of State Kris Kobach leading Gov. Jeff Colyer by only 312 votes as of Tuesday afternoon.

Kansas political observers told TPM they’ve never seen anything like it.

“We’re all racing around studying the state constitution because this doesn’t really come up much,” said Michael Smith, Chair of the Political Science Department at Emporia State University, of a possible recount for the state’s highest office.

Election night came and went with Kobach slightly ahead but final results too close to call. Then, last Thursday, the nail-bitingly close race entered a new phase after vote-tallying discrepancies in two rural counties chopped down Kobach’s lead. Clerks in Thomas and Haskell County said that the vote totals they turned over to the secretary of state were not accurately reflected on the office’s website.

The secretary of state’s office said the results were unofficial and that mistakes were being corrected as they were discovered. But the Colyer campaign pointed fingers at Kobach’s team, alleging that they were “giving advice to county election officials” and “making public statements” that are “inconsistent with Kansas law and may serve to suppress the vote” in the primary process.

Colyer’s campaign set up a “voter integrity hotline” — an expert troll against a secretary of state best known for waging a zealous crusade against widespread voter fraud that elections experts say does not exist.

Denying any wrongdoing, Kobach reluctantly recused himself from overseeing the process on Friday. He appointed his deputy and campaign supporter, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker, to oversee the undecided election.

Mail-in, absentee and in-person ballots have now been counted. All that’s left to do this week is tabulate some 9,000 provisional ballots, which are handed out at the polls to voters who elections workers suspect may not be eligible to vote at the specific location where they showed up, or at all.

That seemingly dry task, currently being carried out county by county, is now the central drama in the race. At issue: which votes get counted.

Thanks to a quirk of Kansas election law, unaffiliated voters can still vote in partisan primary elections as long as they fill out a form at the polls on Election Day affirming their commitment to one of the major political parties.

Assistant Secretary of State Rucker warned county canvassing boards in a Sunday email that voters who failed to complete the required party affiliation document will have their ballots tossed out, the Kansas City Star reported.

But Colyer’s team has alleged that some local elections officials either forced the governor’s supporters to vote on provisional ballots, or failed to provide them with the required form, rendering their votes invalid. Colyer’s chief legal counsel sent out a letter cautioning that “the intent of the voter” should be considered in situations like this, according to the Star.

Elections officials in Sedgwick and Johnson County have confirmed that some voters completed their ballots improperly thanks to poor guidance from local elections officials.

“These are citizens. We train them. We train them hard. There were a number of problems,” Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker told the Star of one particular voting site.

Bob Beatty, a Kansas political expert at Washburn University, told TPM that the fight over unaffiliated, provisional ballots “would be the avenue of a possible court challenge” for Colyer’s team if the results remained very tight.

The other avenue is a recount. The Star reported that Colyer’s campaign has retained Missouri GOP Chairman Todd Graves to assist with legal matters surrounding the race, spurring speculation that he planned to request one.

Kansas Director of Elections Brian Caskey confirmed to TPM Tuesday that no candidate has yet contacted his office to initiate this process or about a possible lawsuit. He said all voting records are preserved in every election as standard procedure.

“For a primary election, there is no automatic recount, there is no margin, there is nothing other than the candidate gets to request a recount, the candidate gets to decide which counties they want to recount, the candidate posts a bond and away we go,” Caskey said.

Kansas law dictates that this upcoming Friday — the second after a statewide Election Day — is the deadline to make a recount request. Candidates would have to put up their own funds to cover the full cost. If the election results end up changing as a result, the counties and state would have to cover the cost.

Colyer campaign spokesman Kendall Marr told TPM via email that it was “premature” to consider a recount at this time.

“We are still in the process of the first counting of the votes,” Marr said. “We will assess where we are after the initial count has been completed.”

Political junkies can monitor that unofficial count, minute by minute, on the secretary of state’s website. A color-coded map showed that 3,511 of the 3,539 precincts have submitted their final unofficial vote tallies as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, and that Kobach holds a small but firm lead.

If Kobach pulls ahead further, experts say, the state could avoid the prospect of prolonged litigation or a court fight before the Aug. 31 deadline for the State Board of Elections to certify the election’s results.

If not, they warn, prepare for a Bush v. Gore redux.

“This is giving me flashbacks to Florida in 2000,” Burdett Loomis of the University of Kansas told TPM. “You honestly don’t have any good precedent to go on.”

That situation would be ideal for Democrats, represented by gubernatorial nominee and current State Senator Laura Kelly. Local political experts say that Kobach is generally agreed to be the weaker GOP candidate in a general election, so, they say, Democrats are hoping that the primary process drags on but still ends up with a Kobach victory.

Kobach’s team is making this line of thought explicit as it hopes to nudge Colyer out of the race.

“The liberals are hoping for a prolonged legal battle and a fractured Republican party,” Kobach campaign manager J.R. Claeys said in a Tuesday tweet. “They won’t get it. We will unite as a party and defeat the two liberal tickets in November.”

For some political experts, the chaotic situation unfolding speaks to Kobach’s misplaced priorities as secretary of state.

“He’s been chasing this illegal voting thing down the rabbit hole instead of updating election equipment and election procedures,” Smith of Emporia State told TPM.

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Sometimes this White House just comes out and says it.

Months after initial reports of the Trump administration requiring West Wing staffers to sign non-disclosure agreements, the President and his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, confirmed Monday that they did.

This practice represents a radical break from prior administrations, rife with ethical concerns, according to legal experts.

Though the administration’s NDAs are likely unenforceable, they represent an intimidation tactic to silence government employees even after they have left the White House.

“It’s an outrage,” Andy Wright, an associate legal counsel in the Obama White House, told TPM. “The people that work in the White House work on behalf of the American people and not on behalf of Donald Trump.”

Wright noted that the agreements would be “void” on whistleblowing obligations or matters involving potential criminal wrongdoing.

The administration’s remarkable admission was prompted by the book tour of former White House adviser and reality TV villain Omarosa Manigault Newman. In “Unhinged,” Manigault Newman writes that the Trump 2020 campaign offered her a $15,000-per-month contract after she was fired last December, with a stringent non-disclosure agreement attached. It prohibited signees from disparaging Trump, his family members, or any of his businesses.

Manigault Newman said she turned it down.

Conway appeared unfazed when asked about the former White House aide’s claims during a Sunday ABC News interview.

“It is typical, and you know it, to sign an NDA in any place of work,” Conway said. “We’ve all signed them in the West Wing.”

Trump confirmed the requirement in one of several Monday tweets about his former protégé: “Wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed Non-Disclosure Agreement.”

Exactly which other staffers agreed to sign the agreements is not yet known. Neither the White House nor campaign immediately replied to TPM’s requests for comment.

Trump is known for making even low-level workers at the Trump Organization, his 2016 campaign, and his presidential transition agree to sweeping NDAs.

The first indication that he’d continued this practice in the White House came in a March Washington Post report. The Post’s Ruth Marcus reviewed a draft agreement that would impose a $10 million penalty for each unauthorized revelation of “nonpublic information” and ensured staffers’ silence even after they left the administration.

A source who signed a final version of the NDA told the Post that Trump required all senior White House staffers to agree to them in spring 2017 in order to curb the flood of leaks to the press.

“There was lots of leaking, things that just weren’t true, and a lot of things that were true and should have remained confidential. The president’s point was that they [staff] would think twice about that if they were on the hook for some serious damages,” the source said.

Former White House legal advisers and transparency advocates reacted with disbelief. The American Civil Liberties Union called the private agreements for public employees “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Richard Painter, White House ethics czar for George W. Bush, said the NDAs “aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”

West Wing employees are prohibited from sharing classified information, experts said, but they have the First Amendment right to complain about their boss or their workplace. They may get fired for doing so, as they work at the pleasure of the president, but they can’t be penalized for talking about their public service, according to the experts.

The New York Times reported that the broad document drawn up by White House Counsel Don McGahn did not specify any financial or other penalties for breaking the NDA. Several signees said McGahn made it clear that the agreement was not ultimately enforceable, and was meant only to placate Trump.

At the time, the White House declined to elaborate on the agreements, saying only that White House staffers “were never asked or required to sign NDAs with $10 million clauses,” as stipulated in the draft agreement viewed by the Post.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had referred vaguely to an “ethics agreement” when asked about the NDAs earlier this year.

That doublespeak went out the window with the Manigault Newman disclosures. Trump and Conway both chose to use the more legally loaded term of “non-disclosure agreement” when publicly chastising her for sharing scandalous gossip about her White House tenure.

More chilling is the prospect that Trump’s 2020 campaign is offering former White House employees cushy $15,000 monthly salaries that suggest an elaborate if only implicit hush money arrangement.

Manigault Newman is an unlikely candidate for a campaign job, given that she was let go for unprofessional conduct like hosting a bridal party photo shoot at the White House. But she provided a copy of her draft contract to the Washington Post.

In a Sunday NBC interview, Manigault Newman said that other former staffers are being similarly “bought off” through these agreements, she said.

Wright, the former Obama counsel, had one word for such contracts: “gross.”

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During Paul Manafort’s federal trial in Alexandria, VA, Manafort’s ex-protégé, Rick Gates, testified that the pair committed crimes together, underreporting Manafort’s income on tax filings and lying to accountants and bookkeepers about his loans.

Gates also admitted that he lived a “secret life,” embezzling money from Manafort and using it to fund an apartment in London where he carried out multiple extramarital affairs. Gates testified that he spoke to the special counsel about his time at the Trump campaign, but Mueller’s team prevented him from going further on this topic.

Manafort’s former accountant was fired after admitting that she filed Manafort’s tax returns despite knowing that they contained false information. An ex-employee at a bank that provided Manafort $16 million in loans testified that the first one was approved the day after the bank’s CEO, Stephen Calk, said at a meeting that he wanted a job with the Trump administration. Emails show that Manafort pushed Gates to have Calk be considered for army secretary.

The presiding judge, T.S. Ellis, was forced to tell the jury to “put aside any criticism” of federal prosecutors after mistakenly berating them over an interaction with a witness. Even Fox News personality Andrew Napolitano criticized Ellis for his “extraordinary bias against the government.”

Financial troubles are also hanging over Michael Cohen, who is officially under investigation for tax fraud. Federal prosecutors are examining whether Cohen underreported the cash income he received from his taxi medallion business on federal tax forms. His former partner, admitted tax cheat “Taxi King” Gene Freidman, is cooperating with the government. Their shared accountant, Jeffrey Getzel, was also subpoenaed.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office are also reportedly investigating whether employees at Sterling National Bank allowed Cohen to take out loans without providing appropriate documentation. Both Cohen and Freidman took out large loans in 2014 after their once-lucrative taxi medallions plummeted in value, and Cohen refinanced 16 medallions through the bank weeks after the FBI raided his premises.

Former Roger Stone associate Andrew Miller was held in contempt of court for defying a judge’s order to testify before the special counsel grand jury. Stone associate Kristin Davis, better known as the “Manhattan Madam,” testified before Mueller’s grand jury on Friday.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested a closed-door interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani made a series of useless statements about the prospect of an interview between his client and Robert Mueller, fretting about a “perjury trap” and ultimately saying the odds of it happening were “50-50.” Giuliani and fellow Trump attorney also guest hosted Sean Hannity’s radio show.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly discussed nuclear arms control and prohibition on weapons in space at their July meeting in Helsinki.

In leaked comments from a fundraiser, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Trump faced serious legal jeopardy from the Russia probe if Republicans lose the majority. In the meantime, Republican lawmakers are reportedly preparing subpoenas for a number of people connected to the Steele dossier.

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