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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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Dozens of members of two white supremacist Florida prison gangs were indicted on a range of drug and weapons felony charges, federal prosecutors announced last week.

The U.S. attorney’s office for the Middle District of Florida said that 39 members of the Unforgiven and United Aryan Brotherhood gangs were arrested as part of a three-year sting operation dubbed “Operation Blackjack.” Several functioning pipe bombs, a rocket launcher, and pounds of crystal meth and fentanyl were seized as part of the raid, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The defendants ranged in age from 24 to 48 and face between two years and life behind bars. Among the more serious charges: Richard Morman, 31, was hit with two counts of possessing pipe bombs; Joshua Koezeno, 25, was charged with possessing 50 grams of meth or more with the intent to distribute; and Donald “Dino” Dussell was charged with eight counts of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, distributing heroin, and distributing meth.

Prior felony convictions factored into the charges for 23 of the defendants.

In a press release announcing the charges, prosecutors described the 39 individuals as members of the two violent prison gangs in the headline, but the body of the press release and related court documents make no mention of their affiliation with these groups or of their own racist views.

Asked for additional comment on defendants’ links to the group, a DOJ spokesperson told TPM that the drug sting resulted from an undercover agent’s infiltration of Unforgiven.

“Operation Blackjack stemmed from the infiltration of the Unforgiven white supremacist gang members and their associates by a former Unforgiven white supremacist gang member and an undercover agent posing as an Unforgiven white supremacist gang member,” the spokesperson said in an email.

The Southern Poverty Law Center identifies the Aryan Brotherhood as “the nation’s oldest major white supremacist prison gang and a national crime syndicate.” The group, which has an estimated 20,000 members, is involved in drug trafficking, prostitution, gambling, extortion, and drug trafficking; much of their work is conducted from behind prison walls. Membership requires recruits to attack or murder a rival gang member or corrections officer, per the SPLC.

Unforgiven is “the largest white supremacist prison gang in Florida,” according to the Anti-Defamation League. Members identify themselves with a symbol of an interlocking Iron Cross and swastika, with SS lightning bolts in the center.

This post has been updated to include comment from DOJ.

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With the midterm elections firmly in the rearview, the prospect of an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is again hanging over the White House. President Trump is reportedly lashing out behind closed doors — and, also, in full view of the entire world.

In Thursday’s master class in projection, Trump tweeted that the investigation is “a total mess,” run by “screaming and shouting” people who are “highly conflicted.” Trump falsely said that Mueller, a George W. Bush appointee, “worked for Obama for 8 years” (it was five) and that his “gang of Democrat thugs” were going after Republicans while protecting those “on the other side.”

Contributing to the angst at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: Politico reported Michael Cohen was spotted with his attorneys at D.C.’s Union Station this week, prompting speculation that he was in town to meet with Mueller’s lawyers yet again.

The target of the next indictment could well be WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In a filing unrelated to the Russia probe, a Justice Department prosecutor accidentally let slip that charges had been prepared against Assange. Ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions considered Assange a major target of his anti-leaker crusade. The WikiLeaks founder is also at the center of a web linking the Trump campaign to the Russia probe.

Conspiracy theorist and Roger Stone ally Jerome Corsi claimed this week that he, too, expects to be indicted because he was caught in a “perjury trap” during his 40-plus hours of interviews with Mueller’s team. It’s hard to know how much credence to give to the claims of the guy who founded Birtherism.

Stone is under investigation for witness intimidation for his interactions with New York comic Randy Credico, and messages surfaced by NBC show them discussing the demise of Hillary Clinton’s campaign days before WikiLeaks started releasing John Podesta’s emails.

Concerns still linger that the new acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker, will derail the Mueller probe. He’s trying to assuage them, telling Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that he has no plans to kill the investigation and insisting that he won’t starve it of funds.

Mueller’s team is getting fed up with Paul Manafort’s level of cooperation, with sources telling ABC News that they’re “not getting what they want” from Trump’s former campaign chairman.

In the Russian troll farm case, a judge declined this week to toss a conspiracy charge against the firm but warned that Mueller’s team would need to go to extraordinary lengths to prove its case at trial.

Federal prosecutors in D.C. are also in negotiations with accused Russian agent Mariia Butina for the “potential resolution” of her case, which she again asked to be dismissed this week.

In a bit of lawyer-related news, the attorneys who shepherded George Papadopoulos through his federal criminal case are cutting ties, saying he’s hired other representation to deal “with any issues related to the criminal case following his sentencing.” And Michael Avenatti, former lawyer to Stormy Daniels and thorn in the side of Michael Cohen, was arrested this week on domestic violence charges. He denied the allegations.

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It was a whirlwind — and deeply unnerving — week for the federal Russia investigation and its offshoots.

Trump forced Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign on Wednesday, just one day after the midterm elections. That move meant that Trump’s handpicked successor as acting Attorney General, Sessions’ former chief of staff Matt Whitaker, assumed control of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Whitaker’s appointment is complicated by a host of problems, from his lucrative stint running an anti-Clinton advocacy group to his paid role as the head of a patent marketing firm sued by the federal government for fraud. But most concerning are his dismissive public comments about the Russia probe.

Whitaker has claimed that Russia did not actually interfere with the 2016 presidential election and that Mueller’s investigation needs to be reined in or even stopped. As former prosecutors told TPM, Whitaker could derail the probe by starving it of funds or refusing to release Mueller’s final reports to Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and other top Democrats, as well as 18 attorneys general, have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from overseeing the investigation. Newly invested with subpoena power after regaining control of the House of Representatives, Democrats have also ordered an investigation into Sessions’ firing, requesting all relevant documents be turned over.

Democrats are considering tacking a resolution to protect the probe onto a spending bill that Congress must pass by the end of the year.

Trump, for his part, said “I don’t know Matt Whitaker” when reporters brought up these concerns on Friday. On Oct. 11, the President told Fox News, “I can tell you Matt Whitaker is a great guy, I know Matt Whitaker.”

The Wall Street Journal dropped an exhaustive report revealing, in minute detail, how President Trump was involved in or briefed on almost every step of the hush money payments to women that violated campaign finance law. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, which secured a plea deal with Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen, has acquired evidence of Trump’s involvement in those schemes, according to the Journal.

A lawyer for Andrew Miller, the ex-Roger Stone aide challenging the legitimacy of Mueller’s authority, said he planned to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court. The appeals court currently hearing Miller’s case requested Friday that the parties explain how Whitaker’s takeover of the Mueller probe could impact the case.

Two Stone associates were questioned before a grand jury convened by Mueller about an alleged effort to intimidate Stone’s ally-turned-nemesis Randy Credico. Stone has said Credico was his channel to WikiLeaks and Julian Assange, while Credico called himself a “patsy.”

While trying to swindle investors into a real estate scam, Jeffrey Yohai falsely boasted about having provided information about his former father-in-law Paul Manafort to Mueller’s team. Yohai has been charged with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was already awaiting sentencing on separate charges of real estate fraud he pleaded guilty to in 2017.

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