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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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Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday blasted Republican lawmakers for pushing to impeach state Supreme Court justices who ruled that the Keystone State’s congressional districts were unfairly gerrymandered on partisan lines.

“This is an unprecedented and undemocratic attempt to retaliate against the judicial branch,” Wolf, a Democrat, said in a statement. “The legislature should be helping people, not settling personal grudges. This is nonsense and a waste of precious time and resources.”

Twelve Pennsylvania GOP lawmakers on Tuesday filed legislation to remove four of the five Democratic justices on the court — David Wecht, Christine Donahue, Kevin Dougherty and Debra McCloskey Todd — for “misbehavior in office.”

The court in January voted 5-2 on party lines to strike down congressional maps drawn in 2011, determining that they were so gerrymandered in Republicans’ favor that they violated the state constitution and needed to be replaced before the May primary. The map has typically given Republicans 13 out of 18 congressional seats, even as they have won around 50 percent of the statewide vote.

After lawmakers failed to meet a court-imposed deadline to negotiate new maps with the governor’s office, the court ordered that its own map, drawn by an outside expert, be used.

That decision inspired a federal lawsuit from Pennsylvania Republicans, who also made two unsuccessful appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court to block the court-drawn map.

It also prompted Rep. Cris Dush (R) to kick off the impeachment charge, rallying other GOP lawmakers to back his legislation calling for the justices’ ouster. Backers of the measure say the court overstepped its judicial authority by imposing new district lines. Justice Max Baer, the court’s fifth Democrat, escaped an impeachment resolution because he said the current map could stay in place until 2020.

It’s unclear how much support the impeachment push has in the GOP-controlled legislature.

“I have not heard much from leadership on the matter nor all that much from my colleagues,” Rep. John McGinnis, one of the Republican co-sponsors, told TPM in an email.

The public response has been similarly mixed, according to McGinnis: “Reactions I received from the public split between those grateful for my action and those accusing me of being a fascist.”

Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R) and House Speaker Michael Turzai (R), who led the federal lawsuit against the new maps, did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment on the impeachment resolutions.

A spokesperson for Turzai told the Huffington Post on Tuesday that leadership still needed to survey members about the resolutions and review evidence, and that the decision would not be “taken lightly.”

Removing justices would require a two-thirds vote in the state Senate, where Republicans control 34 of the 50 seats.

As controversial as this proposal may seem, Pennsylvania Republicans on Capitol Hill have said it deserves consideration. Rep. Ryan Costello called the new map a form of “judicial activism” worthy of impeachment. And Sen. Pat Toomey said impeachment was a “conversation that needs to happen.”

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A St. Louis prosecutor has subpoenaed a former veterans’ charity founded by Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens.

The subpoena suggests that the probe into Greitens — who was indicted last month in connection with allegations that he blackmailed a woman with whom he as having an affair — may be widening.

The Kansas City Star reported Monday that St. Louis Circuit Court Attorney Kim Gardner has issued subpoenas to The Mission Continues, indicating she is looking into long-swirling questions about the links between the charity and the fundraising operation of Greitens’ 2016 campaign.

A grand jury empaneled by Gardner, a Democrat, indicted the Republican governor for taking a partially nude, non-consensual photo of the woman with whom he was having an affair in 2015.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but denied the blackmail claim and insisted he “committed no crime.” The governor’s legal defense team is currently fighting to have his invasion of privacy trial moved up from mid-May to early April, insisting he deserves to have the case heard quickly.

The team did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the subpoena requests.

Two other entities have also issued subpoenas to The Mission Continues, according to the Star. Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley, who said early this month he has an open investigation into the charity, issued them last week. The Missouri state House panel convened after Greitens was indicted is also seeking information from the charity.

The Associated Press has documented the striking overlap between people who donated to The Mission Continues, which Greitens left in 2014, and those who subsequently donated to his 2016 campaign. If Greitens’ campaign used The Mission Continues’ donor list, it could have violated campaign finance laws.

Through his Nov. 2016 election, Greitens denied using the list. But last spring, after Missouri Democrats filed a complaint with the state ethics commission, he agreed to a settlement that required his campaign to retroactively disclose that it received the donor list and to pay a $100 fine.

The charity has denied giving the list to the campaign. Mission Continues spokeswoman Laura L’Esperance told the Star on Monday that the charity was cooperating with all documents requests.

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News broke late last week that the Federal Election Commission had opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Russians illegally channeled money to the National Rifle Association to support Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

But the FEC’s move, which came after a complaint from a Democratic group, amounts to little more than a standard response, experts say. It will likely be months before the matter moves up through the appropriate channels and the controversy-averse panel of commissioners votes on whether to launch a formal investigation. And they’re highly unlikely to vote to do so.

“Until the commission actually acts and votes — and they need four votes to open an actual investigation — it’s not really an investigation,” former FEC chairwoman Ann Ravel told TPM in a Monday phone call. “It’s just a sort of looking at the publicly available facts.”

According to Ravel, a Democrat appointed by President Barack Obama, that preliminary look could include examining existing campaign finance records already filed by the NRA, but won’t involve requesting new documents from the group.*

“There is no evidence gathering from the NRA, as a preliminary matter,” she said. “This would be highly unusual.”

And Ravel said it’s an extreme long-shot that the panel, which currently includes two appointees from each party, would vote to open a full-blown investigation.

“It would take everybody to agree to do it, which is highly unlikely,” said Ravel, who has publicly criticized the FEC’s Republican members for what she views as their unwillingness to enforce campaign finance laws.

Brad Woodhouse, the treasurer of ADLF and a long-time Democratic operative, provided to TPM the FEC’s response letter. The letter confirms receipt of the complaint, and lays out the process to determine whether the agency will open a formal probe.

“To the extent that Federal Election Commission is looking into this, we’re obviously pleased,” Woodhouse told TPM in a Monday phone call. “All of these financial transactions and relationships between the Trump campaign and Russia are presumably part of Mueller’s investigation, but this very specific allegation that we outlined in our complaint, that the NRA accepted illegal foreign money to do election activities in support of President Trump, is quite firmly an issue for the Federal Election Commission to investigate.”

“We hope that what we received from them, while probably standard, means they are taking this seriously and planning to investigate,” Woodhouse added.

It’s possible that Politico, which reported that the FEC was looking into the matter, has information suggesting that the agency is taking a more serious look than is typical into the issue.

The FEC cannot by law confirm or deny the existence of pending investigations.

“As you probably know, the Commissioners have to vote at many junctures when considering an enforcement matter, including a vote to authorize an investigation,” an agency spokesperson told TPM in a statement. “That vote would take place only after the Office of General Counsel produces a report on the allegations — after respondents have been given an opportunity to respond to those allegations — and recommendations on how to handle the matter.”

In fact, that explanation downplays the complexity of the process. Most FEC investigations start with a complaint, which is referred to a body in the general counsel’s office — known as the Complaints Examination & Legal Administration (CELA) office — for processing. Complainants receive notification that their documents have been filed — that’s the letter Woodhouse received — while respondents receive a heads up and are given a 15-day period in which they can provide evidence challenging the complaint’s validity. If it moves forward, CELA decides where the complaint should be prioritized among the long list of matters already awaiting FEC consideration.

The general counsel’s office then spends considerable time gathering facts and putting together a report laying out a recommendation for whether or not there is “reason to believe” the respondent has violated or is about to violate election law. Finally, the commission votes on whether to initiate a full investigation.

The chronically short-staffed agency is currently down two commissioners. Republican Lee Goodman resigned abruptly in February, leaving only two Republicans and two Democrats on what is typically a six-person panel. At least four commissioners need to vote together in order for any probe to get underway.

The FEC is notoriously hamstrung by partisan bias and averse to involving itself in high-profile, partisan legal matters. The ADLF’s complaint touches on red-hot issues including the federal Russia probe, the funding sources of the country’s largest gun lobby, the 2016 presidential campaign, and dark money ads.

Still, the agency is only one potential avenue for probing whether the NRA received Russian money and used it for political ends. McClatchy has reported that the FBI is investigating the issue. And Democrats in the Senate and House have asked questions of the gun group.

*This sentence has been edited to clarify the FEC’s process.

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Former CIA Director John Brennan tore into President Donald Trump on Saturday for celebrating the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

Brennan said Trump had turned McCabe into a “scapegoat,” labeling the Preident a “demagogue” who threatened the destruction of America.

Trump applauded McCabe’s dismissal, two days before he would become eligible for his pension, as a “great day for democracy.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the decision to fire McCabe, saying he was not entirely truthful in interviews with the DOJ Inspector General about how the bureau handled investigations related to the 2016 presidential election.

McCabe denied any wrongdoing. He said his firing was part of a broader push by the Trump administration to “politicize” the DOJ and FBI, and to discredit him as a witness in the investigation into the ouster of former FBI director James Comey.

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President Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, on Saturday said it was time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to end the special counsel’s Russia investigation for good.

In a statement, Dowd said Rosenstein should follow the “courageous” example set by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Friday firing of former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd told TPM in an email.

The Daily Beast was the first to report Dowd’s comments. Dowd initially told the Beast that he was speaking on behalf of the president, but subsequently told TPM he was speaking for himself.

Trump’s legal team has until now urged Robert Mueller’s team to conclude their investigation into Russia’s election interference as quickly as possible, but not asked that Mueller be fired.

This response comes in the wake of Sessions’ firing of McCabe for a “lack of candor” in his responses to an internal Justice Department investigation into how the FBI handled probes relating to the 2016 election.

Trump cheered McCabe’s dismissal on Twitter, calling it a “great day for democracy.”

Earlier this week, Rosenstein said Mueller was not an “unguided missile” and that he had not seen any “justification” for ending the special counsel investigation.

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Editor’s Note: A TPM report published March 19 calls into question the significance of the FEC action described here. The agency appears to have done little more than provide a standard response to a complaint. A full investigation is a long way off and appears to be unlikely to happen at all, TPM reports. 

 

The Federal Elections Commission has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Russian individuals or entities funneled money to the National Rifle Association to boost Donald Trump’s campaign, Politico reported Friday.

The probe stems in part from a complaint filed by the American Democracy Legal Fund, a progressive advocacy group. The group’s treasurer, Brad Woodhouse, confirmed to Politico that he’d received notification from the FEC that an investigation was underway.

An NRA spokesman declined Politico’s request for comment, while the FEC said it could not confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations.

Per the report, if investigators find troubling information while digging through the NRA’s campaign finance records, the FEC could launch a full probe, impose fines, or even refer criminal matters to the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

McClatchy has previously reported that the FBI is investigating whether Russian banker and “life member” of the NRA, Aleksandr Torshin, illegally channeled money to the NRA to help Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The NRA responded to that story by saying the FBI was looking into Torshin, not the NRA.

The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, collectively spent a whopping $30 million on Trump’s campaign.

Democratic congressmen, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA), have initiated their own fact-finding inquiries into the NRA-Russia ties.

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President Trump celebrated the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, just two days before McCabe was eligible for his pension, calling it a “great day for democracy.”

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy,” Trump wrote in a tweet just after midnight Friday, a few hours after the news broke. “Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

McCabe has given a very different version of events. In a strongly-worded statement, he said his firing was trying to discredit him as a witness in the investigation into the ouster of former FBI director James Comey and part of a broader push by the Trump administration to “politicize” law enforcement.

The President and his allies have for months smeared the 21-year FBI veteran as a partisan, in part because his wife ran and lost a Democratic state legislative campaign in 2015.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the decision to fire McCabe, citing a yet-to-be-released Justice Department inspector general report that he said determined McCabe made an “unauthorized disclosure” to the press and “lacked candor” in the IG’s investigation.

The IG report into the handling of matters related to the 2016 election touches on leaks McCabe condoned to the media about the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

McCabe stepped down in January ahead of the IG report’s release, using his unpaid vacation days to go on leave.

Trump followed up with two more tweets later Saturday, criticizing “corruption” at the DOJ and FBI and mocking the “Fake News” reaction to over McCabe’s firing.

This post has been updated.

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Republicans on the House Intel Committee killed their Russia investigation this week, concluding that there was “no evidence of collusion” with the Trump campaign. Days later, news broke that Special Counsel Mueller has issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization, suggesting that the active federal probe has more questions about the Trump family’s business dealings.

The special counsel got a nod of support from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who said Mueller was not an “unguided missile” and that there was no “justification” to end his investigation. In an odd development, George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who is cooperating with the probe and had multiple meetings with Trump campaign officials on behalf of the U.A.E., was revealed to have a 15-year-old pedophilia conviction in Europe.

Democrats on the House panel are pressing on without their GOP colleagues, releasing a list of the witnesses (Reince Priebus, Stephen Miller, KT McFarland) and entities (Deutsche Bank, Twitter) they still want information from. One outstanding area of interest: ties between Russia and the NRA. Former NRA attorney Cleta Mitchell on Friday adamantly denied reports, which appear to be leaked to the press by congressional investigators, that she expressed concern about whether the NRA was helping to funnel Russian money to Trump’s campaign.

Overseas, Russia continues to disrupt international affairs. British police and Prime Minister Teresa May have determined that Russia is behind the recent poisoning of an ex-spy living in England and may be involved with the strangling of a London-based Russian businessmen. The attacks were condemned as the work of Russia by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson, one day before Trump sacked him as Secretary of State.

While Trump continues to waffle on Russia’s bad behavior, the U.S. government has taken other steps to check the Kremlin’s influence. The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 19 Russians for allegedly meddling in the 2016 election, including 13 indicted by Mueller for using fake social media accounts and ads to push pro-Trump propaganda.

The Trump administration also accused Russia of a concerted, ongoing effort to hack and spy on the U.S. energy grid and other infrastructure.

Russia is threatening retaliation for these steps, and President Putin told NBC last weekend that he “couldn’t care less” about his country’s alleged interference in the presidential race. In a new anti-Semitic twist, he suggested that some of the indicted Russians could actually be “Jews” with Russian citizenship.

This week saw a number of instances of the U.S. government and even elements of the administration breaking with the President’s soft-ball stance on Russia. With a staff shakeup rumored to be coming any day now, we may see less of that as we move further into 2018.

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A black man violently attacked at last summer’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville was acquitted Friday on charges that he assaulted one of the racists in attendance.

DeAndre Harris was found not guilty on a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery against Harold Crews, the North Carolina chairman of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South, The Washington Post reported.

The verdict brings an end to a legal rollercoaster for Harris, a 20-year-old former special education teaching assistant, who was pummeled with flagsticks, shields, and pieces of wood by a crowd of white supremacists at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally.

Video of the parking garage assault on Harris went viral, prompting outrage and a flood of donations to help cover medical bills for his injuries, which included a spinal injury and head lacerations.

Four of the white nationalists who assaulted Harris are currently awaiting trial.

Months later, in October, Crews filed a police report and persuaded a Charlottesville magistrate to issue an arrest warrant against Harris on a felony charge of unlawful wounding. As TPM previously reported, this was made possible thanks to an odd statute in the Virginia state code that allows private citizens to initiate the process of obtaining a warrant.

The charge was later downgraded to a misdemeanor, which would have resulted in a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail and a $2,5000 fine.

The case was based on a few short, chaotic moments of video. In one clip posted on YouTube, Crews and a friend of Harris’ are pulling on either end of a large flagpole. Harris cuts in and appears to swing a flashlight in Crews’ direction. Within minutes, he is chased through the garage and wrestled to the ground, where the brutal beating commences.

Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer Jr. determined that Harris intervened only to help his friend and did not intend to hit Crews, per the Post.

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Under pressure for killing a resolution denouncing white nationalism and neo-Nazism, Tennessee GOP lawmakers are belatedly offering an explanation.

In a Friday email to TPM, Rep. Bob Ramsey, one of three Republicans on the State Government Subcommittee, said they objected to language that would ask law enforcement to consider the groups “domestic terrorist organizations.”

“Our Committee has had several resolutions from various political parties, aimed at special prosecutors, designations of terrorist organizations, condemnation of religious sites and practices, and celebration of controversial historical sites, figures, or organizations,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey insisted that the GOP members agreed with the “intent and philosophy” of the resolution, which was originally introduced last year by Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville, Va. white-nationalist rally.

“These subjects seem simple but have initiated some of the most bitter decisiveness [sic] and debates I have ever witnessed.”

Ramsey added that he and the other Republican lawmakers, Reps. Bill Sanderson and Bud Hulsey, were urging Clemmons to consider changes to the language of the bill in order to secure its passage.

As the Tennessean first reported, the resolution was “met with silence” from the trio of Republican lawmakers when it was brought before the panel on Wednesday. The other provisions would have required the House to “strongly denounce and oppose” the racist bigotry promoted by these groups.

National Democratic groups condemned the GOP’s failure to back the measure. Ben Wexler-Waite, communications director for super PAC Forward Majority, called on the Republican National Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee to publicly denounce the Tennessee lawmakers’ move.

“It’s beyond shocking that anyone in the year 2018 has to ask the RSLC or RNC why they won’t condemn neo-nazism,” Wexler-Waite said in a Friday statement. “The actions of the GOP-controlled Tennessee legislature are a punch in the gut to everything this country stands for and an insult to Jews, people of color, and all who have suffered at the hands of right wing extremists. There is zero excuse for why the legislature would even hesitate to pass this resolution and history will not forget the moment the Republican Party stood silent as its members condoned Nazis.”

Tennessee is home to a number of active white nationalist groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recently released “hate map” for 2017 found 37 hate groups in the state, including chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Confederate League of the South, and the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations.

Last weekend, Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group aimed at recruiting college students, held a flash mob demonstration in a Nashville park. In October, some 200 white nationalists convened in Shelbyville for a “White Lives Matter” rally.

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