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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Jared Kushner, whose own ties to Russia are under federal scrutiny, will help coordinate messaging from a new White House “war room” intended to diffuse mounting pressure from the scandal surrounding possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Kremlin to influence the 2016 election.

Kushner and White House chief adviser Steve Bannon will be involved in the messaging operation, Reuters reported Friday, as well as former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who could join the administration as early as next week.

This is the Trump administration’s most concerted effort to contain the fallout from the Russia scandal, which continues to distract from their own agenda and that of the GOP-controlled Congress.

Yet Kushner himself was the center of several damaging news reports Friday.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser reportedly spoke to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Segei Kislyak, about establishing a secret line of communication with the Kremlin during the transition, and also failed to disclose several conversations with Kislyak.

Part of the strategy for managing disclosures like this is getting Trump back on the road, Reuters reported. The President will hold a campaign-style rally next week in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Efforts to maintain message discipline over the Russia story are threatened by Trump’s own off-the-cuff speaking style and habit of airing his grievances on Twitter, in interviews and at public events.

“It’s a seemingly impossible task,” one senior administration official involved with establishing the war room told the Daily Beast. “A disproportionate amount of our time has been spent reacting to ill-advised tweets.”

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said he was “not concerned” by reports that President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and chief adviser Jared Kushner discussed establishing backchannel communications with the Kremlin during the transition, Politico reported Saturday.

“We have backchannel communications with a number of countries,” McMaster told reporters at the G7 summit in Sicily. “What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner so I’m not concerned.”

Despite McMaster’s calm, reports that dropped Friday in the Washington Post and Reuters added a new dimension to the sprawling Russia scandal, with Reuters labeling Kushner, a member of Trump’s inner circle, a “focus” of the federal probe into the Kremlin’s election interference.

Per the reports, Kushner spoke with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak, about establishing a secret line of communications to avoid being monitored.

McMaster’s remarks did not mention that U.S. intelligence agencies had officially accused the Russian government of hacking the Democratic National Committee “to interfere with the US election process” in October, three months prior to Kushner’s reported conversation with Kislyak.

Kushner’s lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, said he cannot recall such a conversation having occurred.

“Mr. Kushner participated in thousands of calls in this time period. He has no recollection of the calls as described,” Gorelick told Politico in a statement.

Trump’s chief economic adviser Gary Cohn declined to answer questions about Kushner, telling Politico, “We’re not going to comment on Jared.”

The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested all Russia-related documents, emails and phone records from President Donald Trump’s campaign committee, the Washington Post reported Friday night.

Two people briefed on the bipartisan request, sent via letter to the committee’s treasurer last week, told the Post that the committee wants to see all documents dating back to the start of Trump’s campaign in June 2015 as part of its investigation into Russia’s election meddling.

As the Post notes, this is the first time that Trump’s campaign structure has become part of the Senate committee’s probe.

Some former staffers have already been contacted to ask for assistance in producing and submitting these documents, and dozens more will be reached out to in the days to come, per the report

Spokespeople for committee chairman Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and vice-chairman Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) declined the newspaper’s request for comment.

The request suggests that the Senate committee is plowing ahead with its investigation, which focuses in part on possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, despite the appointment of a special counsel to oversee the sprawling federal Russia probe.

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner failed to disclose at least three additional contacts he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Reuters reported Friday.

Seven current and former U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters said these conversations between Kushner and Sergei Kislyak included two phone calls between April and November 2016.

This news came hours after a Friday night bombshell in the Washington Post reporting that the pair discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin. In Russian communications intercepted by the U.S., Kislyak said Kushner proposed establishing this workaround and using equipment available in stateside Russian diplomatic facilities.

Kushner became a “focus” of a federal probe into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives working to swing the 2016 election “by early this year,” according to Reuters.

The Post and NBC reported earlier this week that Kushner’s communications with Kislyak and meetings with the head of a Russian bank under sanction by the U.S. had drawn attention from the FBI, making him the first current White House employee known to be under federal scrutiny.

The FBI declined Reuters’ request for comment, while the White House did not respond to the publication’s request for comment.

As Reuters reported:

FBI investigators are examining whether Russians suggested to Kushner or other Trump aides that relaxing economic sanctions would allow Russian banks to offer financing to people with ties to Trump, said the current U.S. law enforcement official.

Kushner failed to note two meetings with Kisylak and another with the head of the Russian bank, Vnesheconombank, as well as other conversations with foreign officials, on his application for a security clearance. His lawyer, Jamie Gorelick, told the New York Times that the omissions were an error and that he provided additional information to the FBI the day after submitting his application.

Then-FBI Director James Comey acted on information that he knew was fabricated by Russian intelligence out of concern that a leak of the info could damage the credibility of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, CNN reported Friday.

The Russian intelligence material related to a purported email exchange between then-Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz and a Clinton campaign operative who suggested then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch would help quash the FBI’s investigation.

According to CNN, Comey used the purported emails in part to justify his decision to publicly announce that no charges would be brought against Clinton, in a remarkable address that also accused her of being “extremely careless” in how she handled classified information on her private server. Comey did not consult with Lynch beforehand, and the speech broke FBI protocol to never comment on closed cases where no charges are brought.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the purported emails originated from a dubiously sourced Russian intelligence document, the veracity of which was never confirmed by the FBI. Officials aware of Comey’s actions told CNN that he knew that the document was bogus, but still factored it into his handling of the case.

Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe went as far as to meet with the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday to inform lawmakers that the FBI had not been duped by dodgy Russian intelligence, according to CNN.

The report noted Comey himself brought up those emails months ago in closed-door briefings with Congress and expressed fear that, if made public, they could undermine the public’s faith in the outcome of the investigation and the independence of the DOJ. But he did not tell lawmakers that the veracity of the information was in question at that time, per CNN.

A recent attempted overseas cyberattack against the Trump Organization is under investigation by the FBI, ABC News reported Friday.

The article did not mention the country or region of the world where the alleged hack originated. But investigating the computer network of the President’s company would be delicate for the FBI, given that the bureau’s agents are currently probing possible ties between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives working to influence the 2016 election.

Eric Trump, executive vice president of the family real estate business, declined to confirm or deny whether he and his brother Donald Jr. were brought to the FBI’s New York headquarters to discuss the attempted hack, as ABC reported. He denied the company’s systems were compromised.

“We absolutely weren’t hacked,” Trump told ABC. “That’s crazy. We weren’t hacked, I can tell you that.”

Anonymous law enforcement officials told ABC that President Donald Trump’s sons were brought in to discuss the attempted hack on May 8, the day before the President abruptly fired FBI director James Comey.

Ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn has kept out of sight as the federal investigation into his foreign ties ramps up. He’s eschewed public appearances and communicated almost exclusively through his team of lawyers since he was forced out of the Trump administration in February.

Flynn’s former lobbying client, however, is speaking out about their relationship.

In a speech Monday before the 36th Annual Conference on U.S.-Turkey Relations, Turkish businessman Kamil Ekim Alptekin directly addressed the $530,000 he paid to Flynn’s consulting firm in the heat of the 2016 election. He denied there was anything untoward about their work.

“As many of you have read in the media, I hired the Flynn Intel Group in 2016 before the election with a mandate to help me understand where the Turkish-American relationship is and where it’s going and what the obstacles to the relationship are,” Alptekin told the room, according to news reports.

The speech was delivered in the presidential ballroom of the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.—a stone’s throw from the White House.

According to the New York Times, Alptekin, who frequently tweets favorable stories about the Trump administration, has been swept up in Flynn’s legal troubles, as federal investigators have issued subpoenas for Alptekin’s records, research, contracts, bank records and other communications related to his work with Flynn Intel Group.

There is no indication that Alptekin himself is a target of investigation. He told ABC News in an interview this week that he “cannot comment” on whether he he’s been questioned or subpoenaed by U.S. authorities.

The exact nature of the work Flynn did for Alptekin is key to unraveling the complex web of foreign entanglements that brought the onetime national security adviser under both federal and congressional scrutiny. Since the failed coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan last July, the powerful businessman has been leading the effort to rehabilitate the image of Turkey and its increasingly authoritarian leader in the U.S.

“In the United States his name definitely did come up, amid the circle of people who kind of keep an eye on these things,” Scheherazade Rehman, professor of international business at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said of Alptekin. “Clearly it’s a totally legitimate operation in terms of following all the lobbying rules that we have, but the lobbying is pretty intense. They’ve stepped it up. There’s no question that after the coup, they have seriously stepped it up.”

Erdogan has cracked down on dissent, jailing journalists and protesters en masse, since the move to oust him from power. Most recently, he eked out a victory in an April referendum that granted him vast constitutional powers. Though President Donald Trump congratulated Erdogan on that win, international monitors reported that the voting was rife with fraud.

Representatives for Alptekin agreed Thursday to pass along emailed questions, but TPM did not receive a response. A host of Washington, D.C.-based groups and individuals associated with Alptekin, who appears to be a significant power player in the capital, also declined or did not respond to requests for comment.

Alptekin had worked on Capitol Hill as a congressional fellow in 2003, and he currently serves as chairman of the Turkey-US Business Council and representative for Turkey on the board of the U.S.-based Nowruz Commission, a nonprofit public diplomacy organization. He has significant  business interests in the international real estate and defense industries through his companies EA Property Development, EA Aerospace and ATH Defense and Security Solutions.

As Politico reported, Alptekin has also worked closely with Ukraine-born businessman Dmitri “David” Zaikan to coordinate Turkish lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., and both men have negotiated business deals with Vladimir Putin’s government (The two men denied knowing each other). Alptekin has criticized Russia’s recent imposition on the borders of other sovereign nations, however, accusing the Kremlin of “trying to adopt a political stance imitating the Soviet Union.”

What brought Alptekin to Flynn was his role in yet another business: Inovo BV, a Dutch-based company Alptekin owns.

In August, one month after Turkey’s failed coup, Inovo BV hired Flynn Intel Group to perform research and disseminate negative information about Fetullah Gulen, a Muslim cleric who Erdogan believes orchestrated the effort to unseat him from the Pennsylvania compound where Gulen lives in exile.

As part of its work with Inovo BV, Flynn Intel Group registered as a domestic lobbying entity and Flynn reportedly met with senior Turkish government officials about bypassing the U.S. extradition process to forcibly transport Gulen to Turkey—all while serving as a senior campaign adviser to Trump and sitting in on classified national security briefings. Flynn also published a fiery op-ed in The Hill on Election Day condemning the United States for harboring a “radical cleric” like Gulen, which tipped the Justice Department off to the potentially troubling nature of his lobbying.

After Flynn left office for lying to Vice President Mike Pence and others about his contacts with Russian officials, he retroactively registered with DOJ as a foreign agent for his work for Alptekin.

According to the Wall Street Journal, federal investigators are now looking into whether Flynn’s sizable contract “played any role in his decisions as the president’s adviser,” including his reported move to block a U.S. military operation against ISIS that Turkey opposed.

Flynn and Alptekin have characterized their work together quite differently.

Alptekin told ABC News this week that he has “never represented the government of Turkey” and that reports implying “that I was in any way representing the government are simply not true.”

By contrast, Flynn’s filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act say that his work for Inovo “could be construed to have principally benefitted the Republic of Turkey.”

Alptekin seems well aware of the powerful weight lobbyists carry in Washington, telling the Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey last year that working with think tanks and “engaging in lobbying activities” was key to gaining influence in American politics.

With or without Flynn, he seems intent on continuing his crusade to extradite Gulen—who he insisted the United States must “stop tolerating” in his Monday speech at the Trump International Hotel—and to burnish the reputation of Erdogan, who he has heavily praised, on Capitol Hill.

Rahman, the Turkish GW professor, predicts Alptekin will have an easier time of achieving his goals under Trump than he did under Barack Obama. Trump’s decision not to address human rights during a speech in Saudi Arabia this week and his warm outreach to strongman leaders sends a “green light” to politicians like Erdogan, she said, as well as a simple message: “You have us as allies; manage your own house.”

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller last week assumed control of the octopus-like investigation into Russia’s election interference and its myriad tentacles: cyberhacking, possible collusion with Trump campaign staffers and the targeted use of “fake news” are just a few.

Defining the exact scope of that sprawling investigation is paramount to Mueller’s work as special counsel, says Ed Dowd, one of the only people to ever work as a special counsel before.

“I think it’s really important to early on delineate these are the two, three, whatever it is things we’re looking at, and to make that really clear to the press, to the public and to your own staff,” Dowd, a top investigator on the probe into the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, told TPM in a phone interview.

“[Waco special counsel] Jack Danforth and I both think it is really important to define what you’re looking into so that people don’t expect you to come up with answers on subjects you’re not even looking at,” Dowd continued.

As deputy special counsel, Dowd helped oversee the Waco investigation for 14 months side-by-side with Danforth, a former Republican senator appointed by then-Attorney General Janet Reno to handle the case. Both attorneys went on to work at St. Louis law firm Bryan Cave, before moving together to a firm Dowd co-founded, Dowd Bennett.

The Waco investigators had the advantage of initiating their probe six years after the botched FBI raid of the religious cult’s compound left 76 people dead, birthing countless conspiracy theories. The investigators also elected to run the probe away from the public eye, out of a small St. Louis, Missouri office hundreds of miles from the nation’s capitol.

By contrast, Mueller, the second-ever person named special counsel, is taking over a probe that is just under a year into its work and already has reached the current administration.

Dowd thinks Mueller’s appointment will bring clarity and, more importantly, a sense of calm to an investigation that has dominated the news cycle for months. The key will be running a tight ship and containing leaks, he said.

“Tell everyone on your staff if there is any leak whatsoever, intentional or unintentional, accidental, from your spouse, anything, you’re off the investigation immediately,” Dowd insisted.

“It’s really one of the first rules of the Department of Justice: you don’t talk about what’s happening in an investigation,” he continued, saying doing so is “so destructive for the people who are under investigation.”

Managing leaks is sure to be more difficult with the Russia probe than it was with the Waco investigation. For example, CNN reported that Mueller has already been briefed on some of the memos fired FBI Director James Comey reportedly wrote to document his conversations with President Donald Trump, and that he has met with FBI investigators working the case.

Dowd expressed confidence in Mueller’s ability to do a “great, thorough job” and keep the investigation buttoned up, even if he brings on outside investigators and experts to assist with the probe, as the Waco investigators did.

Mueller’s job would be made easier if Congress, which has four committees currently looking into Russia across both chambers, lets him take the lead, Dowd said.

Committees in the House and Senate have already held public hearings with senior intelligence and Justice Department officials, combed through reams of classified material and subpoenaed more documents from Trump campaign associates.

Some lawmakers have openly expressed dismay that the special counsel appointment would reduce Congress’ role.

“You’ve got a special counsel who has prosecutorial powers now, and I think we in Congress have to be very careful not to interfere,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told TPM. “It’s going to really limit what Congress can do. It’s going to really limit what the public will know about this.”

Reports that Mueller is conferring with Comey before his highly-anticipated appearance before Congress also sparked concern that Comey’s testimony would be limited.

Dowd said that keeping the public, and even Congress, temporarily in the dark is a worthy tradeoff for a credible, non-partisan outcome of the federal investigation. At the outset of the Waco probe, special counsel Danforth told the Senate committee investigating the raid that his investigators “want to go first,” he said.

Then-Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on terrorism, agreed to Danforth’s requests, Dowd recalled, giving them a “clear field.”

“They should have free reign and should not be interfered with,” the veteran prosecutor said of Mueller’s investigation. “No one else should be promising immunity or interviewing witnesses until they’re done. That’s the way to get to the bottom of it and really get answers.”

As the rumors of Trump campaign staffers’ ties to Russia piled up in the days before inauguration, the team got a call offering advice from a rather unlikely source: former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Despite being forced out of his role because of his own ties to businessmen and politicians close to the Kremlin, Manafort called Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus to push back on the ballooning scandal, four people familiar with the conversation told Politico.

The call reportedly focused on an explosive, yet largely unverified, dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer detailing allegedly compromising ties between Trump associates—including Manafort—and Russian officials.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” a person close to Manafort told Politico.

That was only one of a handful of conversations Manafort had with members of Trump’s campaign and Trump himself after leaving the campaign in August, according to the report.

The GOP operative is now one of the central figures in federal and congressional investigations into potential collusion between the Trump team and Russian operatives trying to swing the election.

According to a Wednesday New York Times report, U.S. intelligence officials intercepted communications in which Russian officials bragged about their ability to use Manafort and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn to influence Trump during the campaign.

Manafort, who has denied any wrongdoing, appears to be cooperating with investigators. This week, he complied with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s request to turn over records detailing any Russia-related meetings, communications and real estate holdings.

A federal grand jury has also issued a subpoena for some of Manafort’s bank records.

U.S. intelligence agents intercepted conversations between top Russian operatives and political officials discussing how they could use top campaign advisers to influence Donald Trump as early as summer 2016, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

The Times report appeared to be the first indication that the U.S. intelligence community had evidence showing Russian operatives thought they could manipulate former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, a subject of federal investigation, to sway Trump.

The other target mentioned in the Russians’ conversations, according to three current and former U.S. officials who spoke to the Times, was ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

According to the Times, some of the monitored Russians boasted about their intimate acquaintance with Flynn, while others floated leveraging their relationships with deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who employed Manafort as a campaign adviser.

Combined with documented contacts between Trump advisers and Russian officials, these intercepted communications helped spur the U.S. intelligence community to investigate whether Trump’s team was assisting Russia’s efforts to interfere with the election.

Both Manafort and Flynn have denied allegations of collusion.

Former CIA Director James Brennan testified before Congress on Tuesday about his growing concern last summer that Russia was “able to gain the cooperation” of Trump associates who he declined to name and who he noted may not have even realized what they were getting into.

“Frequently, individuals who go along the treasonous path do not even realize they’re along that path until it gets to be a bit too late,” Brennan told the House Intelligence Committee.