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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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Michael Avenatti has spent the past few months making Michael Cohen’s life hell.

The omnipresent attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels has been a constant in the churning news cycle, using an arsenal of tweets and cable news hits to keep pundits focused on the $130,000 that Cohen paid Daniels to keep her silent about her alleged affair with President Trump.

But lately, Avenatti has ranged farther afield. Last week, he set off another media frenzy by releasing a document detailing the hundreds of thousands of dollars Cohen received from major corporations and others in 2017 after pitching them on his access to the new president. It said Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, took in $1.2 million from Novartis, $600,000 from AT&T, and $500,000 from the U.S. subsidiary of a company owned by a Russian oligarch. Much of the information in the document, which appeared to be based on information in Cohen’s bank records, was soon confirmed by major news outlets.

Then on Sunday, Avenatti tweeted out a series of screenshots from Dec. 12, 2016 showing Cohen and a group of unidentified men in the lobby of Trump Tower. According to Avenatti, one of the men is Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the head of a division of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund who has been accused in a lawsuit of trying to bribe Trump administration officials.

The disclosures appear to be part of Avenatti’s ongoing effort to discredit Cohen’s character and business record in the court of public opinion.

“I think it’s part of a very successful public relations campaign to garner sympathy for his client and spread on-the-record materials relating to Mr. Cohen that he’s come in to possession of,” Paul Rosenzweig, a former legal adviser to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, told TPM.

But Avenatti’s revelations left some legal observers wondering what exactly they have to do with his efforts to free Daniels from the non-disclosure deal she says was improperly executed, or to intervene in the criminal proceedings against Cohen currently underway in Manhattan.

“It doesn’t seem like it furthers the legal interests of Stormy Daniels and her desire to be released from the NDA and/or obtain damages from Cohen or the President,” Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who worked alongside Special Counsel Robert Mueller at the Justice Department, told TPM in a phone interview.

Avenatti’s public advocacy is also giving fodder to Cohen’s efforts to stop Daniels from intervening in the matter of search warrants executed against Cohen in New York. At a federal court hearing in late April, Avenatti asked that Daniels be allowed to intervene out of concern that some of the materials seized from Cohen’s office and residences could be pertinent to her defamation case.

Lawyers for Cohen have objected, and Judge Kimba Wood is mulling the issue.

Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, argued in court filings last week that Avenatti should be barred from intervening for releasing the document on Cohen’s finances. Ryan wrote that Avenatti “has no lawful basis to possess” the records, and that several of the transactions in Avenatti’s document actually involved different Michael Cohens living in Israel and Canada.

Avenatti responded in a Monday filing that it was his First Amendment right to publish information about Cohen that is “of the utmost public concern,” and that Daniels should be allowed to have counsel fight for her “important and legitimate interests in protecting her records.”

Wood could be “looking at Avenatti’s tendency to be on television and now to release information,” Zeldin said. “She might say, I just can’t have you in my case. Or she might say, you can be in it and I’ll subject you to a strict gag order: no TV, no Twitter.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the federal investigation into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, barred all parties involved in her case from making “statements to the media or in public settings” last year in order to avoid influencing a jury with pretrial publicity.

In an interview with MSNBC Monday, Avenatti said he released the information about Cohen because “people should have the truth, the whole truth.”

“The fact of the matter is if information comes into our possession we believe is credible and that we believe people should be asking questions about, we’re going to release it publicly,” Avenatti told MSNBC. “And ultimately, people can decide whether it’s credible or not or whether there should be follow-up investigation or not.”

Reached by phone hours earlier, Avenatti had a blunter message for those questioning his strategy: “If they don’t like it, tough shit. They should get used to it, ‘cause we’re not changing.”

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St. Louis prosecutors abruptly dismissed charges against Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on Monday afternoon.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said in a statement that the move came after Judge Rex Burlison agreed to a request by lawyers for Greitens to call Gardner herself as a witness. For weeks, defense lawyers have accused Gardner of improperly allowing a private investigator working for her team to commit perjury.

Gardner said the judge’s decision put her in an “impossible position” in which she would be “subject to cross-examination” by members of her own office.

Greitens had been charged with allegedly blackmailing a woman with whom he was having an affair by taking a semi-naked picture of her and threatening to release it.

In a string of tweets, the governor celebrated his “victory” in the case. He apologized to his family and the people of Missouri, saying that the “humbling” experience had taught him “wisdom.”

He faces another charge, also brought by Gardner’s office, of felony computer tampering. He is accused of illegally obtaining a donor list from a veterans charity he founded and using it to fundraise for his 2016 gubernatorial campaign.

It’s unclear what will happen with the computer tampering case, but Greitens’ legal team said that it should also be turned over to a special prosecutor because of Gardner’s “clear conflict” of interest.

A Missouri House special committee is investigating all of the allegations against Greitens, and is expected to make a report laying out their recommendations, which could include the governor’s impeachment.

The full statement from Gardner’s office is below:

Since January, Governor Greitens and his defense team have taken a scorched-earth legal and media strategy and relentlessly attacked the intentions, character and integrity of every person involved in investigating the Governor’s behavior including Missouri House Committee members, the Attorney General, the Circuit Attorney and her team, his victim, her family and those who have called for his resignation.

On February 22, 2018, a Grand Jury indicted Governor Greitens on Felony Invasion of Privacy. The Circuit Attorney has done everything in her power to remain focused on the facts and the truth of this matter. The Circuit Attorney and her team are ready, willing and able to go to trial this week on behalf of the people of the state of Missouri and Mr. Greitens’ victim.

Last week, Governor Greitens made a motion to include the Circuit Attorney as a defense witness.  A defendant who wishes to call a prosecutor as a witness must demonstrate a compelling and legitimate reason to do so. Governor Greitens has produced no compelling reason to include the Circuit Attorney as a witness for any purpose. The defense team knows that the tactic of endorsing the Circuit Attorney as a witness is part of their ongoing effort to distract people from the defendant’s actions that brought about both the felony Invasion of Privacy and Computer Tampering charges against him.

22nd Circuit Judge Rex Burlison made an unpreceded decision by granting a request by Governor Greitens’ defense team to endorse the Circuit Attorney as a witness for the defense.  The court’s order places the Circuit Attorney in the impossible position of being a witness, subject to cross-examination within the offer of proof by her own subordinates.

While the court has other remedies, such as calling the private attorney of K.S. as a witness, it has chosen not to do so. When the court and the defense team put the state in the impossible position of choosing between her professional obligations and the pursuit of justice, the Circuit Attorney will always choose the pursuit of justice. The court’s order leaves the Circuit Attorney no adequate means of proceeding with this trial. Therefore, the court has left the Circuit Attorney with no other legal option than to dismiss and refile this matter.

The Circuit Attorney and her team will research the best step forward for this case in light of the court’s ruling.  The Circuit Attorney will be make a decision to either pursue a special prosecutor or make an appointment of one of her assistants to proceed.

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White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said Saturday that a communication staffer’s comment about Sen. John McCain dying was “awful” but not a fireable offense.

Kelly Sadler’s crack that McCain’s opposition to CIA director nominee Gina Haspel didn’t matter because “he’s dying anyway” was just a “joke” told at a private meeting, Mulvaney said in an appearance on Fox News.

“This was a private meeting inside the White House. It was a joke. It was a badly considered joke that she said fell flat,” Mulvaney told Fox.

Sadler, a special assistant, reportedly mocked McCain’s brain cancer diagnosis at an internal meeting one day after the Arizona senator publicly came out against Haspel for her role in the CIA’s torture program.

McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, said she didn’t understand how Sadler did not lose her job over the comment.

The White House is standing behind Sadler and has mostly expressed concern that the public learned about the remark, as Mulvaney did during his Fox appearance.

“I’m really disappointed that someone would undermine the President by leaking that out of a private meeting,” Mulvaney said, adding that the leak “was designed to hurt” Sadler.

The press team has been scrambling to handle the fallout. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declined to “validate a leak” by responding to a question about it during Friday’s press briefing, but later exploded at communications staff in a meeting, according to a report in Axios.

“I am sure this conversation is going to leak, too,” Sanders said, as a source who was present in the room promptly told Axios. “And that’s just disgusting.”

White House strategic communications director Mercedes Schlapp reportedly said: “You can put this on the record…I stand with Kelly Sadler.”

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In a pair of Friday interviews, Rudy Giuliani went all in on claims that President Trump had no idea his personal attorney spent the early months of 2017 trying to earn clients by pitching his access to the White House.

Asked by the Associated Press if Trump knew Michael Cohen was trying to profit off his ties to Trump, Giuliani said, “The answer is that I am quite certain he didn’t.”

Giuliani also told HuffPost that the President “had no knowledge” that Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies including AT&T, Novartis, and an investment bank associated with a Russian oligarch.

“Whatever lobbying was done didn’t reach the president,” Giuliani insisted to HuffPost. “He did drain the swamp.”

These firm denials are much stronger than Giuliani’s response when the story of Cohen’s access peddling first broke earlier this week. On Wednesday, Giuiliani claimed he had “no idea” if Trump directed Cohen to accept the payments, saying only, “I doubt it.”

The President has been distancing himself from his longtime “fixer” and personal lawyer as Cohen’s legal woes come into sharper focus. Trump recently referred to Cohen, who worked closely with him for over 10 years, as “an attorney” who did very little actual legal work for him.

In his interview with HuffPost, Giuliani referred to Cohen as “collateral damage.”

One thing Cohen did do: arrange hush money payments. Giuliani recently said that Trump reimbursed the $130,000 Cohen paid to adult film star Stormy Daniels in October 2016 to keep her quiet about the affair she claims they had.

The payments were made through Essential Consultants LLC, the same shell company Cohen used to receive payments from major corporations for his supposed consulting work.

Federal prosecutors are investigating Cohen’s financial dealings for possible bank fraud and campaign finance violations.

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The list of corporations that Michael Cohen contacted in the wake of Donald Trump’s election to offer his consulting services just keeps growing.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Cohen reached out to Ford Motor Co. in January 2017 to pitch his close access to the new president, and was promptly rebuffed. Ford was later asked by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to turn over all information about Cohen’s outreach, and the company’s head of government affairs has sat for an interview with Mueller’s team, per the Journal.

Mueller has reportedly also requested information from companies who did take Cohen up on his offer, including AT&T and Novartis. Both global firms shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars to receive advice from a New York City real estate lawyer with no expertise in either telecommunications or the pharmaceutical industry.

Cohen also received $500,000 last year from the U.S. affiliate of a company owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The former personal attorney for President Trump is under federal investigation for a variety of financial crimes. Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York opened a probe into Cohen after receiving a referral from the special counsel.

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Federal investigators aren’t the only ones who want answers about the hundreds of thousands of dollars that corporations shelled out last year to an LLC owned by Trump’s then-personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent inquiries to pharmaceutical giant Novartis and to Cohen’s attorney on Friday asking them to turn over documents explaining their arrangement.

Cohen is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York for possible bank fraud, campaign finance violations and other financial crimes.

In a letter to Novartis CEO Vasant Narasimhan, Wyden expressed “deep concern” that the company was pushing the Food and Drug Administration for approval of an expensive cancer drug at the same time that it entered a $1.2 million contract with Cohen for health care insights that he was unqualified to provide.

“The Senate Finance Committee has a duty to ensure that pharmaceutical companies providing services to federal health programs are conducting business in a legal and transparent manner,” Wyden wrote.

He noted that Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants LLC, was not a health care policy consultancy, that Cohen himself was not a lobbyist and that the sum Novartis paid Cohen “far exceeded what it paid any of the registered lobbying firms it engaged during the first 15 months of the Trump administration.”

Wyden asked the company and Cohen to turn over their contract and statement of work, details about how each payment was made, and all communications between the two parties. He also asked to answer a simple but critical question: “Why did Novartis decide to engage Mr. Cohen and/or his firm(s)?”

The payments Cohen received from Novartis, AT&T, and the U.S. affiliate of a company owned by a Russian oligarch came to light earlier this week. They were first revealed in a document released by Michael Avenatti, attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, and the three companies subsequently admitted to making the payments.

As Novartis acknowledged in a public statement, the company realized after its first meeting with Cohen in March 2017 that he would be “unable to provide” the kind of consulting advice they sought. Yet they continued to make payments to him until Feb. 2018.

An anonymous Novartis employee familiar with the matter told STAT News that they did so out of fear that ending the arrangement “might have caused anger” to the President, as Wyden noted in his letter to Cohen.

The same employee also described the situation as if they were “hiring [Cohen] as a lobbyist.”

Read the letters below.

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The Michael Cohen and Russia scandals collided this week with the news that Cohen drew hundreds of thousands of dollars to a shady LLC he operated by promising access to the Trump administration. The most notable sum was a $500,000 payment from Columbus Nova, the U.S. affiliate of a firm controlled by Russian oligarch and Putin ally Viktor Vekselberg.

Vekselberg has cropped up in Trumpworld several times before, attending the 2015 RT dinner in Moscow with future national security advisor Michael Flynn and Trump’s 2017 inauguration in Washington, D.C. Both he and his American cousin, Columbus Nova CEO Andrew Intrater, have been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team about the payments to Cohen and the other massive sums Vekselberg’s U.S. allies funneled to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. In April, the Trump administration added Vekselberg to a list of Russian individuals and entities under U.S. sanction because of “malign activity.”

Cohen’s access-peddling extended to the corporate world, too. AT&T paid Cohen $600,000 for advice on its multibillion-dollar proposed merger with Time Warner, while Novartis shelled out over $1 million to receive health-care advice from the New York attorney. Cohen held just one meeting with the pharmaceutical giant before executives concluded he didn’t actually have anything useful to offer. They continued to pay him.

The fallout has been immediate and far-reaching, with both companies acknowledging that they turned information about the arrangement over to the special counsel and AT&T ousting its top lobbyist, calling hiring Cohen a “big mistake.”

These revelations first surfaced in a document compiled by Stormy Daniels’ attorney Michael Avenatti. The payments were made to Essential Consultants LLC, the same shell company Cohen set up to arrange hush money payments to Daniels and to a former Playboy Playmate who claims to have carried out an affair with former RNC deputy finance chair Elliott Broidy. A number of major news organizations have since confirmed the document’s core allegations, as have Cohen’s own lawyers.

Those allegations were so specific that the Treasury Department’s inspector general is investigating whether Cohen’s banking records were leaked. Specifically, they’re looking into the possible leak of Suspicious Activity Reports, which banks are required to file to the Department for any transactions of $10,000 or more that appear abnormal.

This explosive series of revelations prompted Vice President Mike Pence to offer this comment on the investigation: “It’s time to wrap it up.”

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile, insisted the President “wasn’t aware” that Cohen was pitching his access to Trump to corporations and potential clients. Giuliani has generally kept a lower profile over the past few days. The negative response to his rapidly shifting explanations about the Daniels payments, made in a flood of media appearances last week, reportedly grated on the President.

The Senate Intelligence Committee released a report Tuesday concluding that 18 states had their election systems targeted by Russian actors during the 2016 election. And on Wednesday, a Russian company that, according to a February indictment issued by Mueller’s team, funded social media efforts to influence the 2016 election pleaded not guilty.

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St. Louis prosecutors, a local grand jury, and a GOP-controlled Missouri House committee have all expressed confidence that Gov. Eric Greitens tied his former lover up in his basement and took a nude photo of her to ensure her silence about their affair.

But proving that this happened will not be so easy in a court of law.

The biggest obstacle for the prosecution is that no one has ever seen the photo Greitens allegedly took.

To convict Greitens for a felony invasion of privacy under Missouri State Statute 565.252, prosecutors will need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Greitens captured the photo on his smartphone with the intent to transmit it.

Because they don’t have an actual copy of the photo, the prosecution’s case rests on the circumstantial evidence in the woman’s account and on corroborating testimony from her ex-husband and friend. The woman will testify that she saw a flash through the blindfold Greitens tied across her eyes and heard the sound of an iPhone camera shutter click.

Because the image was stored on a smartphone, which is a form of computer, and was likely automatically uploaded to the cloud, prosecutors will argue, the situation satisfies the statute’s language about having “access to that image via computer.” As to the intent to “transmit” the photograph, they will point to Greitens’ verbal threat to the woman that the photo would be distributed “everywhere” if she ever mentioned his name and his subsequent promises to her that he deleted it.

Greitens’ team says the entire case is bogus because the prosecution can’t prove the photo ever existed. No witness, including the woman, has ever seen it. And Greitens says he never took it, and therefore could never have intended to share it with anyone.

We’ve spent months learning all the gory details of the governor’s alleged behavior. He is accused not only of blackmail but of slapping the woman on multiple occasions and forcing her to give him oral sex while she cried “like a wounded little animal on the ground.”

There is a good deal of proof that Greitens behaved appallingly. But the key piece of evidence that could convict him just isn’t there.

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Hours after Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens gave his state of the state speech on January 10, a political lightning bolt struck the Capitol in Jefferson City. KMOV broke the news that Greitens, a Republican, had engaged in an extramarital affair with his former hairdresser before he was elected, and allegedly tried to ensure her silence by tying her up in his basement and taking a semi-nude photo of her without permission.

TPM has been covering the scandal ever since, and was the first outlet to report that the woman said Greitens slapped her. (She later said in sworn testimony that the slapping had occurred on multiple occasions.) Greitens has since been charged with a felony related to the blackmail incident and another felony in an unrelated campaign finance matter. A special Missouri House committee is determining whether to begin impeachment hearings.

TPM will be in the courtroom next week for the governor’s felony trial in the blackmail case. Here’s everything you need to know about what to expect.

Who: Greitens is a former Rhodes scholar and Navy SEAL who campaigned in 2016 as an anti-establishment Trump ally set on rooting out corruption in state politics. Greitens’ national ambitions were apparent much earlier. Long before he ran for governor, he’d registered domains like EricGreitensForPresident.com. That combination of naked aspiration and a willingness to go after his own party quickly won him enemies in the state legislature, as did his reliance on the dark money contributions he had railed against as a candidate.

What: The incident in question occurred on March 21, 2015. Greitens is accused of inviting the woman into the basement of his St. Louis home, tying her up to a piece of exercise equipment, blindfolding her, pulling her clothes partially off, and taking a photograph of her. The woman claims she saw a flash through the blindfold and that Greitens warned that photos of her would appear “everywhere” if she spoke about their relationship. (In her testimony to investigators, the woman also said that Greitens then pressured her to perform oral sex as she cried on the floor. That claim is not part of the case.)

The allegations came to light because her then-husband secretly recorded hours of the couple’s conversations soon after the incident, in which the woman confessed to her relationship with Greitens and made the blackmail claims. Her now ex-husband provided those tapes to the press in January.

Greitens, who is married with two young children, admitted to the affair but denied allegations of blackmail. He has called the subsequent investigation by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, a “political witch hunt.”

The charge: On Feb. 22, Greitens was indicted by a grand jury convened by Gardner, and brought into custody to have a mugshot taken. He was charged with one felony count of invasion of privacy for violating Missouri State Statute 565.252, which forbids taking a nude photograph of an individual who has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” and transmitting it “in a manner that allows access to that image via computer.” The penalty is up to four years in prison.

Greitens pleaded not guilty.

Where: The trial will take place at Mel Carnahan Courthouse in downtown St. Louis and will be overseen by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison. The case is expected to attract so much media attention that the court is instituting a lottery system to allow only 24 reporters to enter the courtroom each day. The rest of the press will be seated in an overflow room equipped with a closed-circuit audio and video feed.

When: The trial begins on Monday, May 14 and is expected to last three to five days. The tight timeline is due to both the focused nature of the charge and concerns about disrupting the governor’s schedule.

Arguments for the prosecution: The prosecution’s case rests largely on the woman’s account and corroborating testimony. Both the woman’s friend, who she told about the incident at the time, and her ex-husband will take the stand.

The prosecution has argued that the woman had no incentive or interest in bringing this story to light and her account has remained consistent throughout multiple depositions, interviews, and testimony before both the ground jury and the Missouri House committee.

The prosecution does not have the photo in question or witnesses who have seen it. The circumstantial evidence of the photo’s existence comes from the woman’s description of seeing a flash, hearing an iPhone shutter click, and promises she says Greitens later made to delete the image. They will argue that Greitens’ intent to transmit the image to a computer, which is required by the invasion of privacy statute in question, is satisfied by his use of a smartphone. An iPhone is itself a form of computer and any image taken on it is sent to cloud storage by default, prosecutors noted in court filings.

Arguments for the defense: The core argument for the defense is that the photo at the heart of the charge was never taken. Greitens’ attorneys will argue that he could therefore never intend to transmit the photo to another device.

Since the story first broke, the defense has tried to paint the woman as an unreliable narrator whose sexual liaisons with the governor were consensual. They want to include her sexual history and psychiatric history as evidence at the trial, arguing that those matters are “a very relevant issue to her credibility.

Judge Burlison ruled that the woman and her ex-husband, whose names have not yet surfaced in court documents or in the media due to her requests for privacy, can be identified by name during the trial.

The defense has also highlighted missteps by Gardner’s team to frame the entire investigation as a sloppy political witch hunt. William Tisaby, a private investigator hired by Gardner who took the woman’s initial deposition, is accused of putting “words in the mouth” of witnesses and lying about aspects of his investigation, including whether he took notes during his first interview with the witness. In April, Burlison sanctioned Gardner’s team for failing to promptly turn over to the defense pertinent evidence including a videotaped deposition of the woman and notes Tisaby took while interviewing her friend.

Greitens’ team will also submit evidence about a $120,000 payment to Al Watkins, the lawyer of the woman’s ex-husband. At least $50,000 of that money came from Missouri Times publisher Scott Faughn, who the defense has called a “highly motivated political individual.”

Burlison ruled that the motivations and possible bias of all parties involved in the case are relevant information.

What the trial won’t address: Greitens faces a second felony charge that will not be addressed at the mid-May trial. In late April, he was charged with computer tampering for allegedly illegally obtaining a donor list from a veterans’ charity he founded and using it to raise funds for his gubernatorial campaign. That case was also brought by Gardner’s office, based on a referral from Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley.

Greitens allegedly directed his former aides to obtain the list from the Mission Continues and used it for campaign fundraising without listing it as an in-kind contribution. His former aide, Danny Laub, said he was tricked into taking the fall for acquiring the list during a state ethics investigation. The House committee probing Greitens’ alleged misdeeds recently released a report based on testimony provided to the AG’s office that seemed to endorse Laub’s version of events.

Greitens has denied any wrongdoing in the matter.

Meanwhile, in the legislature: The Missouri legislature called a special session for the first time in state history in order to consider the results of the House committee investigation. The 30-day session begins on the evening of May 18 but legislative aides told TPM no action is expected to be taken next week. Instead, it is meant to buy the committee more time to complete their investigation and make a recommendation, which could include impeachment.

Even if they take that route, Missouri’s convoluted rules on impeachment proceedings mean that the process could stretch out for months. Greitens has adamantly refused to step down in the face of intense political pressure.

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We’ve known since last fall that U.S. citizens linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg gave millions to Republican political committees supporting Donald Trump.

Now, a new document shedding light on Michael Cohen’s financial dealings offers evidence that a U.S. firm directly tied to Vekselberg continued to shell out some $500,000 in payments to Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal fixer, after Trump had entered the White House.

Much of the core information in the new document, which was compiled by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, and released Tuesday, has since been confirmed by major news organizations including the New York Times.

Vekselberg, who is one of Russia’s wealthiest men and is said to be close to Vladimir Putin, is on the U.S. sanctions list. He was interviewed by prosecutors with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office at a New York-area airport this spring

According to the new document, over the first eight months of 2017, Columbus Nova, a New York investment firm, funneled $500,000 to Essential Consultants LLC, a shell company that Cohen also used to pay hush money to Daniels. Columbus Nova has been described as the U.S. affiliate of The Renova Group, which is chaired by Vekselberg.

A lawyer for Columbus Nova called reports that Vekselberg used the firm as a “conduit for payments” to Cohen “patently untrue.”

But people with close ties to Vekselberg have funded Trump before. Leonard Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born U.S. citizen, billionaire, and longtime business partner of Vekselberg, gave $383,000 to the RNC and $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund, ABC reported in September. And Vekselberg’s cousin, Columbus Nova CEO Andrew Intrater, gave $35,000 to the Trump Victory fund and another $250,000 to Trump’s inauguration fund, per the report. Vekselberg reportedly attended the inauguration.

Mueller’s investigators asked Vekselberg about his cousin’s 2016 donations and the Columbus Nova payments during their airport sit-down, as CNN reported Tuesday. Intrater has reportedly also been interviewed by the special counsel’s team, according to CNN.

A third U.S. businessman linked to Vekselberg, Russian-born oil executive Simon Kukes, gave $280,000 to Trump’s campaign and various GOP political committees after Trump became the GOP nominee, ABC News reported. Kukes worked for both Vekselberg and Blavatnik at oil giant TNK, as Open Secrets documented.

Vekselberg also was present at the infamous 2015 dinner hosted by Russian state news network RT, and attended by both Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr. And a company Vekselberg controlled became the biggest Bank of Cyprus shareholder in 2014, after Wilbur Ross, a Trump ally who is now Commerce Secretary, assumed a controlling interest in the financial institution.

Vekselberg’s name cropped up again in a January 2018 Washington Post story documenting all of the high-powered Russians who flew to Washington, D.C. to attend Trump’s inaugural festivities.

At some point in the following few months, according to the New York Times, federal agents stopped Vekselberg at a New York City airport after his private jet landed, searched his electronic devices, and questioned him.

Then, in early April, the Trump administration announced that it was imposing sanctions on a host of Russian individuals and entities to punish Putin’s government for “malign activity” around the world. Vekselberg was among the seven Russian oligarchs and 17 Russian government officials barred them from traveling to America or doing business with American companies.

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