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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Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg was granted immunity for providing information to federal prosecutors in their investigation into Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Weisselberg was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury about hush money payments made to women in order to protect President Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The decision to grant Weisselberg immunity is a stunning new development in the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office investigation into Cohen, who on Tuesday pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other financial crimes.

Weisselberg has served as executive vice president and chief financial officer of the Trump Organization for decades, closely overseeing the real estate company’s business dealings. He also handled personal financial matters for Trump, and served as treasurer of the President’s troubled foundation.

Court documents related to Cohen’s plea deal refer to two executives at the Trump Organization who used sham legal invoices to reimburse Cohen for two hush money payments he made to women who claimed to have carried out affairs with Trump. Cohen was paid via a retainer for legal services, but the payments he received had nothing to do with legal work he provided to the company.

On a September 2016 recording Cohen covertly made, Cohen can be heard telling Trump that he spoke to Weisselberg about how best to structure the hush money payments.

In court on Tuesday, Cohen told a federal judge that he carried out these deals at Trump’s direction.

After the recording was released in late July, Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas called Weisselberg “a bookkeeper who simply carries out directions from others about monetary payments and transfers.”

But Weisselberg was a longtime ally of the Trump family, who got his start working for the President’s father, Fred, and has been with the Trump Organization since the 1970s. After Trump was elected, Weisselberg took over operations of the company alongside Trump’s two adult sons.

The Journal reported Thursday that several other Trump allies involved in the payouts to women were also granted immunity. Neither David Pecker, the CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, or David Howard, a top editor at the tabloid, will face criminal charges for telling prosecutors how the hush money deals were structured.

According to court documents, Pecker, Cohen and at least one member of the Trump campaign engaged in a coordinated effort to purchase damaging stories about Trump’s affairs to keep them from being made public.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that the tabloid kept a safe containing documents on the hush money payments made out during the 2016 election.

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A Georgia county’s board of elections on Friday voted down a proposal to shutter seven of its nine polling sites over concerns that doing so would disenfranchise the area’s majority-black population.

Local station WALB reported that this decision was made seconds into a Friday morning meeting.

The proposal was originally made by independent elections consultant Michael Malone, who was hired to help the rural county save costs. It drew national criticism given the likely challenges it would impose on the county’s mostly black voters, who would need to travel long distances to get to the polls on Election Day. Several civil rights groups threatened to sue if the changes were approved.

The county was unable to produce documents supporting its claims that the polling sites were inaccessible to disabled people, and Malone was fired Thursday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

In a statement, the board said that the proposal was only under consideration because of a “decline in population and consequently, a decline in the county tax base.”

Calling the right to vote “sacred,” the board said it decided not to close the polling sites thanks to the public outcry over the recommendation.

“The interest and concern shown has been overwhelming, and it is an encouraging reminder that protecting the right to vote remains a fundamental American principle,” the statement read.

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Michael Cohen is currently caught in a thicket of state and federal investigations.

There’s the Manhattan U.S. Attorney probe, in which he pleaded guilty on eight counts of personal financial wrongdoing and campaign finance violations. There’s the New York Department of Taxation and Finance inquiry into the Trump Foundation, which grew out of the New York Attorney General’s lawsuit against the charity. And there is the still-looming possibility that he will be called to provide information in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.

Though Cohen’s Tuesday plea deal included no provision requiring him to cooperate with authorities, that does not mean cooperation could not happen at a later date.

Former federal prosecutors told TPM that these various state and federal entities are likely to put aside any turf battles and work closely together to handle these complex, occasionally overlapping investigations.

“It’s really going to require coordination for these cases to work,” Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor who spent 16 years in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office and is now a fellow at Pace Law School, told TPM.

The multiple inquiries “speak to the crossover—similar to the organized crime world—where you just have different subjects that one person knows about in different jurisdictions,” Rocah added. “It speaks to people wanting to work together to get it right because there are very high stakes.”

The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, state Attorney General’s office, and the state tax department declined TPM’s request for comment, citing the ongoing nature of their investigations.

Federal and state prosecutors are notoriously territorial about their own witnesses and potential witnesses. This is in part because they want credit for their investigations, especially in high-profile cases and competitive districts like Manhattan. There’s also the question of control. If an investigator from one district or agency messes up a line of questioning or makes a mistake in one probe, it could taint other investigations involving the same witness.

“That’s not going to happen here,” former federal prosecutor Jeff Cramer told TPM, citing the professionalism and integrity of the players involved.

Rocah, too, said that “99 percent of the time, if it was really going to make a difference in the outcome of the case, and it was important for the different aspects of the system to work together, they did.”

One example of the smooth coordination between multiple agencies: the prosecution of Cohen’s former partner in the taxi business, Gene Freidman.

Freidman in May admitted to nearly $5 million in tax fraud. The New York Department of Taxation and Finance referred the case to the Attorney General’s office for prosecution. Freidman was facing up to 25 years in prison in that case. But he struck a deal state Attorney General Underwood’s office that included promising to cooperate with federal authorities investigating Cohen in order to avoid jail time.

One former federal prosecutor who asked to speak on background as he’s currently representing an individual in the Mueller probe told TPM he was struck by the “cross-pollination” of state and federal agencies in the Freidman case.

A similar dynamic appears to be at play with Cohen’s involvement in the Trump Foundation probes. The New York attorney general in June filed a civil suit against the charity and its board, which is composed of Trump and his three eldest children. Attorney general spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick had said that the office will “seek a criminal referral from the appropriate state agency as necessary.”

The state tax department is also looking into possible tax violations by the charity. On Wednesday, the agency subpoenaed Cohen in that inquiry, noting that Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, claimed on CNN that his client had information that would “be of interest” to New York investigators looking into the foundation.

A source familiar with the investigation told TPM that the state tax department and attorney general’s office are in touch about both the Cohen and foundation matter. Anything found by the tax investigators would be referred to the attorney general’s office for criminal prosecution.

Cohen could also be asked to testify in a review being conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office that the New York Times reported Thursday was in its earliest stages. Prosecutors are weighing whether to pursue criminal charges against the Trump Organization and two of its executives for using sham legal invoices to reimburse Cohen for hush money payments to women, as Cohen has alleged in his plea deal.

Former prosecutors told TPM that they’re surprised that Cohen did not have cooperation terms stipulated in his plea deal the way Freidman did, given his years of service to the Trump Organization and involvement with the 2016 campaign.

One possible explanation reported by the Wall Street Journal is that federal prosecutors had an early September deadline to charge Cohen. Under Justice Department guidelines, they could have been seen as influencing the midterm elections had they waited any longer.

They rushed to settle on the agreement released Tuesday as plea deal talks came together over the weekend, the Journal reported.

There are also lingering questions over the value of the information Cohen can provide, given the voluminous evidence prosecutors have already compiled, and whether he is a credible witness.

The terms of any cooperation with either state investigators or the Mueller probe would need to be spelled out at Cohen’s sentencing hearing, which is currently scheduled for Dec. 12.

In the meantime, Cohen is signaling that he’s eager to help anywhere he can.

A Cuomo administration official told TPM that Cohen contacted the tax department shortly after receiving the agency’s subpoena, asking when they could find a time to talk.

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An independent candidate who Democrats fear will pull votes away from their nominee in a three-way Kansas governor’s race will stay on the ballot, a state board ruled Thursday.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported that the decision in independent Greg Orman’s favor came after seven hours of scrutiny of petition signatures by a three-board panel. A Democratic legislative leader’s aide had filed a petition showing what they said were irregularities in some of the 7,700 signatures Orman submitted to get on the ballot.

The board’s ruling is bad news for Democrats, who believe that the socially liberal Orman will draw votes away from their nominee, state senator Laura Kelly. That could allow Republican nominee Kris Kobach, one of the nation’s most notorious hardliners on voting rights and immigration, to win by a narrow margin.

The three-person board who issued the ruling was composed of deputies representing top state officials, all of whom are Republican. Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker sat in for Kobach, according to the Capital-Journal.

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Federal prosecutors granted immunity to tabloid publisher David Pecker as part of their investigation into Michael Cohen’s hush money payments to women, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday .

CEO of National Enquirer parent company American Media Inc., during the 2016 presidential campaign to quash the stories of women’s alleged extramarital affairs with President Trump.

Cohen on Tuesday pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to eight counts, including two related to campaign finance violations regarding these payouts to women.

The Journal reported earlier Thursday that Pecker provided prosecutors with details about the payments they arranged, “including Mr. Trump’s knowledge of the deals.”

Cohen said under oath that he made these deals “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office.”

According to the Journal, neither Pecker nor AMI chief content officer Dylan Howard will be charged in relation to the Cohen criminal investigation.

The court documents describe how Pecker volunteered in August 2015 to work with Cohen “and one or more members of the campaign” to deal with damaging stories about Trump.

The publisher ended up paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal for the rights to the story of her relationship with Trump. The Enquirer also tipped Cohen off about adult film star Stormy Daniels’ allegations of a sexual encounter with Trump, and Cohen shelled out $130,000 to keep her quiet.

Cohen pleaded guilty to causing an unlawful corporate campaign contribution for the McDougal payment, and to making an excessive campaign contribution in the Daniels matter.

He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison on each count. His sentencing hearing on the campaign finance violations and six counts related to his personal financial misconduct is scheduled for December 12.

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There are so many investigative bodies looking into the Donald J. Trump Foundation and Michael Cohen’s activities right now that it’s getting hard to keep track.

Here’s what we learned after talking to sources in New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood’s office, the Cuomo administration, and the New York Department of Taxation and Finance.

The Attorney General’s office has led the charge against the foundation, filing a civil suit in June that accused the charity of self-dealing and illegal coordination with the 2016 Trump campaign. The AG has an active, ongoing investigation into the foundation, and said it will “seek a criminal referral from the appropriate state agency as necessary.”

That same office in May negotiated a generous plea deal with Cohen’s former taxi business partner, Gene Freidman, that required Freidman to cooperate with both state and federal prosecutors.

The New York Department of Taxation and Finance has since mid-summer been carrying out its own probe into whether the Trump Foundation violated tax law. On Wednesday, it announced it had issued a subpoena to Cohen as part of that inquiry.

A spokesperson for Cuomo’s office told TPM that other state agencies besides the tax department could get involved as the probe proceeds.

The tax department cannot, of course, prosecute any matters on its own. Any wrongdoing its investigators discover will be referred to the AG’s staff for prosecution as part of their ongoing investigation.

That type of referral from the tax department is how the AG managed to carry out and secure their Freidman prosecution and plea deal.

A third entity, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, is also looking into possible wrongdoing by the foundation, and sharing information with the AG’s office and tax department “as appropriate.”

And, of course, these investigations are all separate from the proceedings that saw Cohen plead guilty in court this week: Those are being carried out by the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Southern District of New York following a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller’s office.

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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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