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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A Christian nonprofit run by Jay Sekulow, the most visible member of President Donald Trump’s private legal team, targeted poor and unemployed donors to raise millions of dollars for Sekulow’s family and their businesses, the Guardian reported Tuesday.

Documents obtained by the Guardian show that, in the midst of the Great Recession, Sekulow signed off on contracts that instructed telemarketers for Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE) to urge retirees on fixed incomes and others who said they could not afford a donation to find it in their hearts to contribute a “sacrificial gift.”

CASE raises tens of millions of dollars every year, primarily through small direct-mail donations. The Guardian reported that money goes directly to Sekulow, his wife—who has made more than $1.2 milion as CASE’s treasurer and secretary—his sons, brother, sister-in-law, and other firms associated with the family, as well as to finance loans and media-production ventures associated with the family.

Sekulow did not respond to the publication’s questions about his charity work, but his spokesman sent over an emailed response about CASE and the American Center for Legal Justice (ACLJ), another charity Sekulow runs.

“The financial arrangements between the ACLJ, Case and all related entities are regularly reviewed by outside independent compensation experts and have been determined to be reasonable,” the statement from spokesman Gene Kapp read. “In addition, each entity has annual independent outside audits performed by certified public accounting firms. Further, the IRS has previously conducted audits of the ACLJ and Case and found them to be in full compliance of all applicable tax laws.”

Experts in non-profit law told the Guardian that the Sekulows’ arrangement could violate a federal law prohibiting nonprofits from paying excessive benefits to their top executives.

Sekulow is a conservative Christian lawyer who has made his name campaigning against abortion rights and same-sex marriage. He was recently dispatched for a puzzling round of cable news interviews in which he first said it was absurd that Trump was under investigation for potential obstruction of justice as part of the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, then insisted moments later that the President was not under investigation at all.

The FBI has conducted five interviews with Carter Page about his contacts with Russian operatives and his work as an adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign, the Washington Post reported Monday.

Page confirmed the meetings to the Post, and told the newspaper that he denied any wrongdoing during the “extensive discussions” he had with federal agents. The Post reported that there were five separate March meetings, amounting to ten hours of questioning in all.

In an email, Page told TPM that the agents who interviewed him “indicated that their ‘management’ was concerned that I did not believe the conclusions” of the intelligence community’s Jan. 6 report asserting that the Russian government intervened in the 2016 election to help Trump win. Calling that report “fake,” Page added that agents’ questions were “MOSTLY RELATED TO FALSE ALLEGATIONS FROM THE DODGY DOSSIER AND THE CLINTON CAMPAIGN.”

Page has adopted that phrase to refer to a largely unverified dossier compiled by a former British intelligence officer, which was published by BuzzFeed in January, that alleged he and other Trump associates were involved with a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” with the Kremlin.

In an unusual move for someone under FBI scrutiny, Page has not retained a lawyer, and has taken to writing long letters addressed to the congressional committees investigating the Trump team’s potential connections to Russia, quibbling with bits of witnesses’ testimony or about scheduling a date when he can come testify before the committees himself. He told the Post he did not bring a lawyer to his interviews with the FBI because he was not worried about unlawfully misrepresenting any information to agents.

Page advised the Trump team on national security policy for a few short months before he was dropped over his connections to Russia. The oil-and-gas industry expert previously worked in Russia for Merill Lynch, provided information to undercover Russian spies in 2013, and gave a speech in Moscow in the middle of the 2016 campaign that criticized U.S. sanctions against Russia.

He has strenuously denied engaging in any untoward behavior, framing himself as a victim of what he calls the “Clinton-Obama-Comey regime.”

The Post noted that Page’s interviews, which took place about a month before special counsel Robert Mueller assumed control of the sprawling federal probe, are the most extensive known questioning of any Trump associate. Mueller’s office is working to determine whether anyone involved in Trump’s campaign wittingly or unwittingly assisted Russia with its efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.

After James Comey testified earlier this month that he directed a friend to share descriptions of his private conversations with President Donald Trump with a reporter, Trump and his private legal team branded the fired FBI director a “leaker,” pledging to immediately file a complaint against him for sharing “privileged” information with the media.

Two weeks later, no such complaint has been filed, and the ballpark date for when Trump’s legal team says it will be filed keeps sliding later into the summer.

“It’s still being worked on,” Mark Corallo, spokesman for the legal team being led by Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, told TPM late last week.

Attributing the delay to “an effort to be thorough,” Corallo, who worked as a Justice Department spokesman during George W. Bush’s administration, said that a complaint could be filed with “either or both” the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General or Office of Professional Responsibility.

“Both are appropriate offices within the Department of Justice to receive this kind of information,” he explained, adding that a “submission” about Comey’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees was also possible.

Reports first surfaced about an impending complaint against Comey the day after his June 8 testimony, to be filed “early next week.” When nothing came by June 13, Corallo told Reuters the filing “may well slip to next week.” A second week came and went with no filing announcement, although “a source close to Trump outside counsel” told the Washington Examiner on Friday that a complaint could come the week before the July 4 holiday.

Asked for confirmation on Monday, Corallo told TPM via email only that he would “know more in a day or two.”

The complaints, if and when they come, will have little teeth, as the DOJ has limited jurisdiction over former employees. As CNN reported in June, if investigators look into the details of Comey’s testimony and find wrongdoing, the most they can do is make a note in Comey’s permanent file.

In filing a complaint, the President would appear to seek a measure of vindication against a former employee who has openly criticized his administration since being abruptly fired in May. In his appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Comey testified that he kept memos of his one-on-one discussions with the President out of concern that Trump would “lie” about their interactions. Comey then asked a friend to share his descriptions of those memos, which recounted Trump’s requests that he pledge loyalty and that he quash an FBI investigation into ousted national security adviser Mike Flynn, to the New York Times.

Trump and his attorneys pounced on that revelation, with Kasowitz calling Comey a “leaker” who shared “purported memos of those privileged conversations.”

Legal experts and lawmakers have pushed back on the notion that Comey orchestrating the release of the contents of his memos to the press amounted to leaking. The former FBI director testified that he took care not to divulge any classified information either to the press or before the Senate, and he was no longer a government employee when he discussed his private interactions with Trump. The President did not assert executive privilege over Comey’s testimony.

Threats of legal action that ultimately fail to materialize are part of doing business in Trumpland, where the President continues to employ the same tactics he honed during his years as a real estate mogul and reality TV host. As CNN noted, Trump threatened during the 2016 campaign to sue Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the Louisiana Republican Party, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the dozen-plus women who accused him of sexual misconduct. None of those suits ever materialized.

Bloomberg noted that Trump is also prone to predicting that major new proposals will come in just “two weeks,” a deadline that his administration routinely misses.

Trump famously followed through with one 2006 case against “TrumpNation” author Timothy O’Brien, who wrote that Trump is worth hundreds of millions of dollars less than he claimed at the time. After Trump admitted under oath to making some 30 past false statements, a judge tossed the suit.

This post has been extensively updated since it was published to reflect the subsequent retraction of CNN’s story.

CNN late Friday retracted an article reporting that the Senate Intelligence Committee was looking into a $10 billion Russian investment fund managed by a Kremlin-run bank tied to several Trump associates.

The original story focused on a Jan. 16 meeting between the chief executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is overseen by the state-run Vnesheconombank, and Anthony Scaramucci, Trump campaign adviser and member of the transition team’s executive committee. It asserted that congressional investigators were looking into whether Scaramucci and the fund’s chief executive, Kirill Dmitriev, discussed lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia during that conversation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Some 24 hours later, the story, which was based on one anonymous “congressional source,” was pulled from CNN’s site. In its place was an editor’s note and an apology to Scaramucci.

“On June 22, 2017, CNN.com published a story connecting Anthony Scaramucci with investigations into the Russian Direct Investment Fund,” the note read. “That story did not meet CNN’s editorial standards and has been retracted. Links to the story have been disabled. CNN apologizes to Mr. Scaramucci.”

Scaramucci retweeted that statement, along with a note expressing appreciation for the network’s “classy” response.

Internally, the backlash from the botched story apparently prompted a firestorm. BuzzFeed published an internal memo that CNNMoney executive editor Rich Barbieri sent to staff imposing rigid publishing guidelines for any articles “involving Russia.” Any that do must now be run past both Barbieri and Jason Farkas, a CNN vice president, according to to the memo.

An anonymous source close to CNN told BuzzFeed that the story was a “massive, massive fuck up,” and that the network was conducting an internal investigation to determine how it ended up published.

The editor’s note does not specify what parts of the story were incorrect or required retraction. Scaramucci acknowledged to CNN in the original story that he had a brief encounter with Dmietriev at a restaurant in Davos, but told the news outlet there was “nothing there.”

Vnesheconombank and the fund it oversees have been under U.S. sanction since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Both congressional and federal investigators are known to be looking into a meeting Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, had with the bank’s CEO in December.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that federal investigators are looking into all interactions between Trump, his associates and Vnesheconombank as they try to root out any inappropriate contacts between Russian operatives and the Trump campaign.

Intelligence obtained by the CIA last summer found that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered a cyber campaign intended to help elect Donald Trump and damage the electoral chances of Hillary Clinton, according to an exhaustive Washington Post report out Friday into the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 campaign.

This explosive information was first delivered to former president Barack Obama in Aug. 2016, according to the newspaper.

The Post investigation details how Obama and his team struggled to develop a response to this unprecedented interference by a foreign country, worrying that they would be seen as trying to tip the scales in the presidential race. By the time the CIA’s warning arrived, the Obama White House knew that Russian hackers were behind cyberattacks on Democratic Party operatives and the Democratic National Committee, and that the FBI had launched an investigation into ties between Russian officials and Trump campaign staffers.

Trump, who has repeatedly cast doubt the extent of Russia’s interference, has criticized the Obama administration for not doing more to “stop them.”

Former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson testified before the House Intelligence Committee this week that Trump’s repeated insistence that the election would be “rigged” against him stymied their response.

For now, the only action the U.S. has taken in response to Russia is an Obama administration package involving the expulsion of 35 diplomats, closure of two Russian diplomatic compounds, and imposition of new, narrowly targeted economic sanctions.

Financial dealings involving President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and Manafort’s son-in-law are under scrutiny by federal investigators, the New York Times reported Friday.

Two sources close to the matter told the Times that Manafort bankrolled real estate purchases of luxury apartments and homes in New York and California in collaboration with his son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai, who was sued by a former investor for defrauding him.

The sources said it was unclear if this particular investigation was part of the broader federal probe into Russia’s election interference and possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian operatives. Manafort is under scrutiny in that probe, as well as for a tangle of dealings including his business activities in Russia, whether he appropriately filed foreign lobbying disclosures, and the millions of dollars in secret cash payments he reportedly received for his work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

Manafort and Yohai declined the Times’ request for comment.

The longtime GOP fixer’s multi-million dollar real estate deals were already known to be of interest to federal agents. NBC reported that investigators subpoenaed records related to a $3.5 million mortgage he took out on his country home in the Hamptons through a shell company named Summerbreeze LLC, which was created the day he resigned from the Trump campaign. The DOJ has also requested Manafort’s bank records from Citizens Financial Group, as the Wall Street Journal reported.

What’s new in the Times report is that Manafort and his wife allegedly took out a series of mortgages on their properties totaling $20 million over the past year, and that he allegedly funneled millions of dollars to finance luxury properties that his son-in-law purchased through shell companies of his own.

A fashion photographer who said he invested $2.9 million with Yohai has sued him for allegedly creating the false illusion of a “quick and large return” on his investment, according to the Times. Andrea Manafort, sister of Yohai’s wife Jessica, said in text messages that were hacked, leaked online, and obtained by the Times that she believed Yohai was “running a Ponzi scheme.”

Yohai denied the accusations in a court filing, according to the newspaper.

Congress is investigating whether any private voter information allegedly stolen by Russian hackers was passed to or used by the Trump campaign, Time reported Thursday.

Ken Menzel, general counsel of the Illinois State Board of Elections, told Time that 90,000 state voter records were obtained through cyberattacks on their system, 90 percent of which contained drivers license numbers and a quarter of which contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers. Two anonymous sources close to congressional investigations into Russia’s election interference say lawmakers want to know if any of this stolen data eventually ended up in the hands of Trump’s team.

Time did not specify which of the five congressional committees looking into Russian interference in the election is investigating this specific thread.

This report is the latest indication that Russia’s cyberattacks on the United States’ electoral infrastructure, which include efforts to delete or alter voter data in Illinois and targeted attacks on election systems in 21 states, are becoming a focus of congressional and federal probes into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

CNN reported last week that the House Intelligence Committee wants to speak with Brad Parscale, digital director for the Trump campaign, while the Senate Intelligence Committee reportedly wants to meet with Trump son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who oversaw the campaign’s data operations. Campaign and transition officials have also been asked to preserve all documents related to Russia and Ukraine.

Federal investigators are scrutinizing the campaign’s data operation to see if Russian intelligence operatives relied on Trump associates or their data to strategically target specific states and demographic groups with “fake news” stories and social media bots, according to CNN.

After a bizarre few weeks of obfuscation by the White House, President Donald Trump finally admitted Thursday that he has no “tapes” of then-FBI Director James Comey.

Like his initial suggestion that he might have “tapes” of their meetings, the admission he did not came through Trump’s preferred medium: Twitter.

This storyline kicked off shortly after the President abruptly fired his FBI director on May 9. Set off by subsequent press reports that Trump privately asked Comey to pledge loyalty to him, Trump publicly warned Comey that he “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’” of their one-on-one interactions.

The ploy backfired in spectacular fashion.

Trump’s cryptic tweet about “tapes” had the ironic effect of unleashing a series of events that now imperil his presidency. Out of concern that the President would “lie” about their discussions, Comey provided a law professor friend with contemporaneous memos he kept of their one-one-one interactions. As the New York Times would report, the memos described Trump asking Comey for loyalty and to quash the investigation into ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Days after the existence of the Comey memos leaked, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to serve as special counsel overseeing the federal probe into Russia’s election interference. Comey’s memos have since been turned over to Mueller’s office

As Comey recently testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he leaked them with the express hope that they would “prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”

The ousted FBI director also famously told the Senate that he hoped Trump made recordings of these conversations in order to corroborate his account. As he said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes.”

As senior lawmakers publicly pressed the White House to release the tapes, Trump’s staff refused to comment on whether they or any sort of Oval Office recording system existed. Pressure for an answer from the administration reached a crescendo this week. The House Intelligence Committee had asked White House Counsel Don McGahn to confirm whether or not they existed by tomorrow, June 23.

Trump allies like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were dropping hints to the press that the tapes did not exist.

“I think he was in his way instinctively trying to rattle Comey,” Gingrich told the Associated Press in a report out Thursday. “He’s not a professional politician. He doesn’t come back and think about Nixon and Watergate. His instinct is: ‘I’ll outbluff you.’”

Though this gambit did not succeed, Trump absolved himself of responsibility for manufacturing this story line in his latest tweets, leaving open the possibility that another individual may have created “tapes” of his conversations with Comey.

The FBI terminated its contract with Sebastian Gorka, who is now a deputy adviser to President Donald Trump, over his inflammatory and often factually incorrect diatribes about Islam during counterterrorism training courses, the Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reported Thursday.

His lectures at the Joint Terrorism Operations Course, an introductory-level class for trainees in the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, promoted anti-Muslim notions he’s been pushing for years. U.S. law enforcement officials who spoke to the publication said that attendees at the courses Gorka taught were aghast to hear him tell entry-level recruits that all Muslims adhere to Sharia law and are at risk of becoming radicalized.

According to Ackerman, who has previously reported on the FBI’s pattern of using anti-Islam lecturers and training materials, one lecture Gorka presented in Aug. 2016 ultimately prompted the FBI to cut ties a month later:

Attendees of the Joint Terrorism Operations Course include FBI partners from around the country, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, and sheriffs and major police departments nationwide. The course occurs at the the FBI’s training complex in Quantico, Virginia.

FBI officials considered Gorka’s August lecture risible, counterproductive to actual counterterrorism, and an embarrassment to the FBI’s professionalism. Sources said Gorka made the bureau look ignorant in front of the law-enforcement entities it relies on to bolster domestic counterterrorism efforts.

At the time, Gorka was also working as a paid consultant to Trump’s campaign and the national security editor for the far-right Breitbart News. He now serves as a White House counterterrorism adviser, where he has come under fire for his ties to a Hungarian group founded by a Nazi collaborator.

According to previous reporting by the Wall Street Journal, the FBI paid Gorka’s company $103,000 for training materials between 2012-2016.

Counterterrorism experts previously interviewed by TPM had little familiarity with Gorka’s work, except for his strident anti-Islam views. As they noted, the author of “Defeating Jihad” does not speak Arabic and his TV appearances and blog posts often recycle the same themes about the threat of “radical Islam” and the need to profile Muslims living in the U.S.

He now circulates these ideas from his post inside the White House, though reports have painted him as a relatively powerless adviser because he lacks the appropriate security clearance to sit in on top-level national security meetings.

A senior Department of Homeland Security official revealed Wednesday that election systems in 21 states were targeted by Russian cyberattacks during the 2016 election.

Acting DHS Undersecretary Jeanette Manfra confirmed in a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing what has been previously reported: that Russian operatives tried to interfere with the U.S. electoral infrastructure itself.

“We have evidence of election-related systems in 21 states that were targeted,” Manfra testified, declining to disclose which specific states were targeted.

Manfra also said she would not share which states had data “exfiltrated” from their voting systems in an open hearing.


According to a June Bloomberg report based on interviews with anonymous officials, Russian hackers attempted to delete or alter voter data in Illinois and successfully accessed a campaign finance database in another state. That report said that voter databases and software systems were targeted in a total of 39 states.

As other intelligence officials have previously testified, both Manfra and Sam Liles, acting director of the DHS’ Cyber Division, told the Senate Intelligence panel that the actual vote count was not affected by cyberattacks.

“None of these systems were involved in vote tallying,” Liles testified.

Owners of all of the targeted voting systems and the states in which data was compromised were all notified, according to the DHS officials.