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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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Blackwater founder and Trump donor Erik Prince wasn’t pleased that the House Intelligence Committee called him in for a Nov. 30 interview, as his newly released closed-door testimony makes abundantly clear.

In the transcript of the over three-hour-long interview, an increasingly testy Prince offered blanket denials of any involvement in or awareness of untoward dealings tied to the Trump campaign and Russia.

“Front side, back side, no side, never got any indication of anything like that,” Prince said when asked if he knew of any exchange of information or discussions of establishing a backchannel line of communications between the Trump team and Kremlin.

The bulk of the questions focused on Prince’s secret January 2017 trip to the Seychelles, where he met with Kirill Dmitriev, an ally of President Vladimir Putin and CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. While the Washington Post, which broke the news of the meeting, reported that Prince presented himself as an “unofficial envoy for Trump,” Prince testified that the principal purpose of his visit to the island nation was an invitation to meet with members of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family, one of whom casually suggested he meet with Dmitriev for a drink.

Dmietriev was described to him, he testified, as a “Russian guy that we’ve dealt with in the past” who would be “an interesting guy for you to know, since you’re doing a lot in the oil and gas and mineral space.”

Prince testified that he was not representing the Trump team during their 30-minute conversation; that he couldn’t “recall” if he knew Dmitriev represented a state-banked investment bank sanctioned by the U.S.; and that he did not discuss sanctions or anything related to the incoming Trump administration with the banker. Dmitriev did, however, express “how much he wished trade would resume with the United States in a normal way.”

Prince repeatedly tried to turn his conversation with lawmakers towards the leaking of classified intelligence information, which he insisted should be the real concern of Capitol Hill and the intelligence community. He repeatedly asserted that he believed he’d been illegally “unmasked” by members of the Obama administration and that the revelation of his identity had affected his ability “to do banking, to do business.”

At points, the conversation took a turn for the comic. Prince, whose sister is Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, repeatedly denied having a special relationship with the Trump team, despite acknowledging that he submitted foreign policy position papers on the Middle East to the campaign, frequently texted with campaign CEO Steve Bannon, and visited Trump Tower several times during the transition.

“How would you describe the role of a citizen voter who wrote policy memos for a campaign, made multiple visits to Trump Tower, made six-figure donations to the campaign, and conducted a number of meetings with the campaign’s manager?” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) asked.

“Someone who cares about their country,” Prince replied.

Prince became increasingly short with the predominantly Democratic lawmakers questioning him as the hearing proceeded, dismissing their queries as a “waste of time” and “fishing expedition.”

Read the full transcript of his interview below.

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Buried amid the news avalanche that erupted when former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn admitted Friday to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia was confirmation of key details of his work for another foreign nation: Turkey.

Flynn was not charged for his lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests, and his statement of offense made no mention of his alleged involvement in an outlandish plot to kidnap a Muslim cleric. But Flynn admitted that his belated application to register as a foreign agent for his Turkey lobbying was riddled with lies, and that he failed to divulge that the highest levels of Turkey’s government were behind his work.

According to court documents, “Flynn made materially false statements and omissions” in his Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filing with the Justice Department entered in March, shortly after he was forced out of the White House.

As Flynn admitted, the FARA filing falsely stated that his firm, the Flynn Intel Group, “did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved” in a project undertaken during the 2016 election to smear Fethullah Gulen, an exiled cleric living in the U.S. and loathed by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Flynn also omitted “that officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction” over the project and falsely claimed that his Election Day op-ed in The Hill calling for Gulen’s removal from the U.S. wasn’t part of that work.

Despite these remarkable admissions, Flynn, who is now cooperating with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, remained defiant. In a statement released after he entered a guilty plea in Washington, D.C. federal court Friday, the retired general called months of reports on his alleged “’treason’ and other outrageous acts” “false” and “contrary to everything I have ever done.”

Flynn Intel Group’s former lobbying client, businessman Ekim Alptekin, is adamantly denying the substance of Flynn’s admissions.

“The Turkish Government did NOT provide supervision or direction to the work I commissioned from Flynn Intel Group,” Alptekin, who paid Flynn some $530,000 for the anti-Gulen work and has close ties to Turkey’s government, wrote on Twitter.

“I cannot understand why Mr. Flynn chose to ‘admit’ a falsehood,” he continued. “My interactions with Mr. Flynn & his colleagues were legal and aboveboard.”

One such interaction involved inviting Flynn to a September 2016 meet with Turkey’s foreign minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law and the country’s energy minister to discuss forcibly transporting Gulen back to his native land, according to the Wall Street Journal. Erdogan believes Gulen masterminded a failed coup attempt against him last summer, and the cleric’s return to Turkey is one of his top priorities, though his government denies he would use extralegal means to secure it.

Flynn also reportedly met with unidentified senior Turkish officials weeks before inauguration to talk about orchestrating the return of Gulen and securing the release of imprisoned Turkish-Iranian gold trader Reza Zarrab in exchange for over $15 million.

The Zarrab case is another sharp thorn in Turkey’s side. Zarrab, who is cooperating with the U.S. federal government, has testified in court that Erdogan and other top politicians engaged in an elaborate scheme to evade U.S. sanctions.

It’s unclear if Zarrab’s testimony could have any implications for Flynn or the Mueller investigation, but his case has intensified rocky relations between the U.S. and Turkey.

In fiery comments to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party reported by Reuters Saturday, Erdogan said that U.S. courts “can never try my country.”

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Donald Trump’s personal lawyer on Monday made the controversial claim that the President cannot be found guilty of obstruction of justice.

The “President cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution’s Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case,” John Dowd, who is handling Trump’s defense in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, told Axios.

This is a new assertion for Dowd, who over the weekend took credit for writing a tweet sent from Trump’s personal account that said the President felt compelled to dismiss national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence—and the FBI—about his contacts with Russia. Legal observers said that the tweet, which was written in Trump’s characteristic bombastic style, strengthened the case that Trump knowingly obstructed justice when he later dismissed FBI Director James Comey.

Trump’s legal team offered a string of rapidly changing explanations for the message. Dowd at first said that the tweet simply paraphrased language in a statement issued by White House special counsel Ty Cobb about Flynn pleading guilty to one count of lying to federal agents. Dowd later said that he drafted the message and White House social media director Dan Scavino posted it.

“The tweet did not admit obstruction,” Dowd insisted to Axios. “That is an ignorant and arrogant assertion.”

Contrary to the veteran D.C. lawyer’s claim, it is not settled law that the president cannot be accused of obstructing federal probes. The articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon accused him of helping impede investigations into the Watergate break-in.

It is not the first time Trump and his supporters have claimed that he is above the law. Shortly after his election, Trump said that he wasn’t legally obliged to sever ties with his businesses because “the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” The Constitution bans elected officials from accepting payments from foreign governments and engaging in bribery and fraud.

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It was reportedly Jared Kushner who directed Mike Flynn to call officials from Russia and other countries regarding an Israel-related UN Security Council resolution weeks before President Donald Trump took office, according to a slew of reports out Friday.

An unnamed individual referred to only as a “very senior member of the Presidential Transition Team” emerged in charging documents filed Friday by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as part of Flynn’s plea deal for lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials.

The Washington PostNBCBuzzfeed and Bloomberg’s Eli Lake spoke to sources who identified Trump’s son-in-law and close adviser as the “very senior member” who told Flynn to try to delay a vote on a resolution critical of Israeli settlement construction.

“Jared called Flynn and told him you need to get on the phone to every member of the Security Council and tell them to delay the vote,” a person who was in the room with Flynn told Buzzfeed, adding that Kushner emphasized that the move “was a top priority for the President.”

Flynn, who took the call at the Trump’s transition team Washington, D.C. offices, also told the staff that “the President wants this done ASAP,” according to Buzzfeed’s source.

That tracks with what a former transition official told Bloomberg about Kushner ordering Flynn to ask every foreign minister or ambassador from a country on the council to delay or oppose the resolution, which condemned Israeli housing construction in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank as a violation of international law.

Trump and Kushner both have warm relationships with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fervently opposed the resolution.

Flynn’s statement of offense says that he contacted Russia’s then-ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, to make his request on Dec. 22, spoke to him about it again on Dec. 29, and subsequently lied about it in an interview with federal agents.

Kushner reportedly met with Mueller’s team in November for an interview that focused primarily on Flynn’s Russia contacts.

Former prosecutors told TPM that the generous terms of Flynn’s plea deal suggest he must have critical information about other Trump officials even closer to the center of power than he was. Kushner fits that bill.

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The explosive news that ousted national security advisor Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials was delivered in a brief, tidy package: a one-and-a-half-page document laying out the single count against him.

Former federal prosecutors told TPM that Special Counsel Robert Mueller made a calculated move to keep Flynn’s charge limited, and that, given what is known about Flynn’s myriad inappropriate foreign dealings, they wouldn’t have done so unless the former intelligence official had divulged some very juicy secrets.

“What’s interesting to me is what he’s not charged with,” said Steven Miller, a former anti-corruption federal prosecutor. “This is a very narrowly drawn structural plea bargain. By virtue of a single count he can’t get more than a five-year sentence. You don’t get that unless you’re giving something serious to the government. And the number of players left are relatively small: it’s [Jared] Kushner, it’s [Donald] Trump Jr., it’s the Trump campaign, and it’s the President. So I think this is something that would cause all of them to be extraordinarily worried.”

“It’s a neon sign that there’s massive cooperation underway by Flynn,” Miller added.

Jens Ohlin, an expert in criminal law at Cornell Law School, concurred, saying what essentially amounts to a “sweetheart deal” would not be offered unless Flynn could incriminate a bigger fish.

“The government would not agree to this deal if Flynn was merely providing information on someone who is in a peripheral place in the criminality,” Ohlin said. “So if he’s providing information in exchange to this deal its because it’s someone who is even more centrally located than Flynn.”

Shortly after Flynn entered a guilty plea in Washington, D.C. federal court, the White House released a statement downplaying the news. White House attorney Ty Cobb’s claim that “nothing about the guilty plea or the charge implicates anyone other than Mr. Flynn” was rapidly proven false by the release of Flynn’s statement of offense.

That document affirmed that “a very senior member” and “senior official” of the Trump transition team told Flynn to contact Russian and other foreign government officials to discuss critical foreign policy decisions.

Former prosecutors say that Flynn must have entered into a proffer, or “queen for a day,” agreement with Mueller’s team in which he divulged every detail he knew relevant to their investigation. The government found the information sufficiently valuable that they agreed to strike a deal, despite Flynn’s undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Turkey and reported discussions about spiriting an exiled Muslim cleric loathed by Turkey’s government out of the U.S.

The decision not to include a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act for his Turkey lobbying or other possible charges in Flynn’s plea agreement is not as unusual as it may seem.

“They have discretion to do whatever they want,” Seetha Ramachandran, a former Justice Department official and assistant U.S. attorney said of federal prosecutors. “The practice really varies between different federal districts. Some U.S. attorneys offices and parts of [Main] Justice want a cooperator to plead guilty to everything they’ve ever done. Some use a more bare-bones type of guilty plea. So I think it really varies. He’s chosen this strategy.”

Mueller’s camp has carefully managed the release of information about other Trump officials who may be caught up in the probe, but details on Flynn’s work to lobby on behalf of Israel with Kushner are already emerging in the press. Much more will come out in the days to come, legal experts predicted.

“I think this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Steve Vladeck, a national security expert at the University of Texas School of Law.

“The question is whether we’re going to start hearing stuff from Flynn’s camp about what he’s sharing with investigators, whether we’re going to see more movement, more indictments coming down in the next couple of weeks from Mueller. The real story of today is that there’s a guarantee that there’s big news coming down the pike.”

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Defense attorneys are typically wary of letting their clients share information with those investigating them, so reports that Jared Kushner agreed to a November interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller came as something of a surprise. Was President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide officially just a witness in the sprawling investigation clouding the White House?

Not exactly, former federal prosecutors say.

Kushner was brought in for an approximately 90-minute interview that focused primarily on the Russia contacts of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to reports in the New York Times and CNN. But former federal prosecutors note that political as well as legal considerations colored Kushner’s decision to talk, and that the reported focus on Flynn doesn’t mean that Mueller won’t want to learn more about other topics pertaining to Kushner.

“One thing it certainly means is that his lawyer thought there was not any significant criminal liability for Kushner as a result of that interview, which leads me to think it was fairly limited,” former assistant U.S. attorney Renato Mariotti told TPM, noting that the terms of what would be discussed were likely agreed upon ahead of time.

“But it would shock me if [Kushner attorney] Abbe Lowell thought that Kushner had no liability anywhere else,” Mariotti, who is now running for Illinois attorney general, added.

Lowell did not respond to TPM’s request for comment by press time, but said in a statement to CNN that Kushner “has voluntarily cooperated with all relevant inquiries and will continue to do so.”

Kushner, a core member of Trump’s tight inner circle, is reportedly under scrutiny for a number of issues. The top White House aide failed to disclose dozens of meetings with foreign contents on his national security clearance forms; had multiple meetings with Russians including the head of the sanctioned Vnesheconombank; and reportedly encouraged the firing of former FBI director James Comey.

Given all that, former federal prosecutor Peter Zeidenberg said that “no defense attorney in his right mind would let Jared Kushner anywhere near a prosecutor.”

But Zeidenberg pointed out that there are optics issues at play in special counsel investigations, and White House attorneys have maintained that administration officials are fully cooperating with Mueller’s team.

A similar situation played out during his time working on the investigation into the leaked identity of former CIA officer Valerie Wilson, Zeidenberg said, because officials in George W. Bush’s administration followed White House orders to cooperate with the probe.

“Even [indicted former White House adviser] Scooter Libby came in multiple times, and it wasn’t helpful to him,” Zeidenberg told TPM.

“There are political considerations as opposed to just legal ones,” he added. “If you’re looking at it from a legal perspective, you just keep your mouth shut and see what the government, the prosecutor comes up with. But if there are political considerations, it’d be a real problem if Jared Kushner asserted his Fifth Amendment or if other people close to the White House said they were pleading the Fifth. There would be a terrible perception problem.”

One former DOJ official sees a more innocent explanation for Kushner’s willingness to conduct the interview: he may have been a witness to key events or been sloppy in filing his national security clearance application, but none of the publicly available evidence suggests that he is criminally liable.

“So far I don’t see the things Kushner has done to be criminal, and you want to continue to send a message to the prosecutors that your client is cooperative,” said Michael Zeldin, a former federal counsel who worked closely with Mueller in the DOJ’s Criminal Division. “So it would make sense that you’d bring him in to help the prosecutor in the areas that they’re investigating, as long as it doesn’t implicate your client’s liberty.”

Though prosecutors are mindful of the optics of bringing high-profile White House officials in for multiple interviews, Mariotti and Zeidenberg said Mueller’s team will likely need Kushner to address the other issues that pertain to him, and it’s unclear if Lowell will agree to all of those discussions. Cautioning that most of the developments in the probe are happening out of sight, the three former prosecutors said that reports that Flynn’s legal team may be hammering out a possible deal don’t necessarily say anything about the progress of investigations into matters like obstruction of justice.

News that former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was indicted and pleaded guilty to lying to FBI agents about his Russia contacts, for example, emerged like a “bolt out of the blue,” Zeidenberg said.

The prospect of other bolts raining down render the President’s rosy predictions about the probe’s impending conclusion unlikely, prosecutors warned.

“The idea that this is going to be wrapped up by the end of this year is laughable,” Zeidenberg said. “That I can say with a high degree of confidence is not true.”

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An undercover operative whose work for a conservative activist group was exposed this week spent months trying to infiltrate the Washington Post and other mainstream news outlets, the newspaper reported Thursday.

From July until this week, when she was exposed trying to convince the Post to publish a fabricated sexual misconduct allegation against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R), Jaime Phillips joined some two dozen journalism and left-leaning networking groups.

This effort was apparently undertaken on behalf of James O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, an organization with a track record of using secret, deceptively edited videos to try to discredit liberal targets.

Using three pseudonyms and several different telephone numbers, Phillips tried to get close to individual journalists, presenting herself alternately as the owner of a start-up looking to recruit writers, a graduate student and a contractor new to Washington, D.C., according to the Post. She even showed up at events for departing Post staffers, and sent condolences to a Post employee experiencing a family tragedy.

Asked about Phillips’ undertaking, O’Keefe told the newspaper that he refused to give up the identity of his “sources.” He acknowledged in a fundraising email this week that an operative “embedded” with the newspaper “had their cover blown” and Phillips was seen walking into Project Veritas’ New York office on Monday.

The newspaper has since taken a closer look at her social media presence, which took an abrupt turn this summer from pro-Trump posts to ones criticizing the candidate, and heard from people like a top Democratic operative who said Phillips rented an apartment in his D.C. home.

Despite the exposure of her real identity, Project Veritas is framing the Post project as a successful gambit, highlighting secretly recorded comments from one of the newspaper’s national security reporters saying definitive proof that President Trump colluded with Russia has not yet emerged. Media observers have countered that the project actually exposed the rigor of the Post’s reporting and fact-checking processes, and drew attention to Project Veritas’ sloppy, underhanded practices.

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The same woman who approached the Washington Post with an apparently false allegation of sexual misconduct against Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) also rented an apartment in the home of a top Democratic operative, according to a follow-up report in the newspaper published Tuesday.

Jaime Phillips, who appears to be a recruit of controversial conservative activist James O’Keefe, rented out the basement of a Washington, D.C. home owned by former Democratic National Committee communications director Brad Woodhouse for two weeks in July, Woodhouse told the Post.

Her stay at Woodhouse’s home came shortly after she launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her move to New York for a new gig where she would “combat the lies and deceipt [sic] of the liberal MSM.”

It was that remarkably transparent GoFundMe page that caused Post reporters to doubt the account she provided them of Moore initiating a sexual relationship with her when she was 15 years old and convincing her to have an abortion after she became pregnant. The Post has reported extensively on credible accusations of sexual assault and harassment against Moore by a number of Alabama women, including one who said she was 14 years old when he initiated a sexual encounter with her.

The newspaper’s reporters witnessed Phillips entering the New York office of O’Keefe’s group Project Veritas, which is known for promoting deceptively edited videos intended to smear or embarrass Democratic groups.

In a fundraising email this week, O’Keefe acknowledged that “our investigative journalist embedded within the [Post] had their cover blown.” He declined to answer the newspaper’s question about whether he told Phillips to rent the apartment in Woodhouse’s home.

The Democratic operative has felt the effects of O’Keefe’s “sting”-style operations before. Two people associated with the group where he previously served as president, Americans United for Change, were forced out shortly before the 2016 election after a Project Veritas worker secretly recorded them discussing how to disrupt GOP events.

But the group’s efforts are not always so successful. O’Keefe pleaded guilty in 2010 for breaking into former Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D-LA) office, and last year he accidentally left a message detailing his playbook to an employee of a non-profit associated with billionaire Democratic philanthropist George Soros.

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The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is reportedly scheduling interviews with as many as 20 business associates and lenders of indicted Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, including a fellow adviser on the Trump team.

Bloomberg reported Tuesday that Stephen Calk, who served on the Trump campaign’s economic advisory council, is one of the individuals whose ties to Manafort are being scrutinized by Manhattan prosecutors. Calk’s Chicago-based Federal Savings Bank lent millions of dollars to properties owned by Manafort, whom special counsel Robert Mueller indicted on financial crimes charges in late October.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to those charges, but his legal troubles are far-reaching. Since this spring, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance has been looking into possible tax evasion and the falsification of business records relating to his web of real estate transactions, according to Bloomberg. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is conducting a separate probe into potential money laundering by the GOP operative.

Notably, individuals found guilty of state crimes, unlike those convicted of charges brought by federal prosecutors, can’t be pardoned by the President.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that both state investigations were sharing information with Mueller’s probe.

Spokespeople for the bank, Manafort, Vance’s office and Schneiderman’s office declined Bloomberg’s requests for comment.

President Donald Trump has shown no particular sympathy for Manafort’s plight thus far. After news broke that Manafort was indicted for a money laundering conspiracy and for violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act, Trump said that the charges predated Manafort’s involvement with the campaign, and the President tried to redirect attention to “Crooked Hillary & the Dems.”

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Former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka found a new venue for his pro-MAGA message: the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

The foundation confirmed to TPM Tuesday that the onetime Trump adviser has entered into a contract to give a series of five foreign policy speeches to its audiences, the fourth of which will be delivered at its D.C. headquarters in mid-December.

But this does not mean he has formally joined the think tank, as the Washington Examiner suggested in an article that first reported Gorka’s association with Heritage.

“Dr. Gorka is an independent contractor,” John Cooper, Senior Communications Manager for Heritage’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, told TPM in an email. “He is solely responsible for the content of his speeches and other statements, and his views are not necessarily those of Heritage or any of its personnel.”

Gorka’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a “consultant” for the foundation as of October 2017.

The self-proclaimed counterterrorism expert, who came under scrutiny for his ties to a Hungarian knightly order originally founded by a Nazi collaborator, departed the administration this summer under uncertain terms. Though the White House said he was forced from his position, Gorka called that claim “disappointing” and insisted he resigned.

He has since rejoined Fox News as a national security strategist, and served as chief strategist for the MAGA Coalition, a little-known pro-Trump organization. Per his LinkedIn, he left that position in November. A MAGA Coalition spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for confirmation.

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