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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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President Donald Trump’s beleaguered voter fraud panel will likely reconvene in January after getting waylaid by some eight federal lawsuits, according to the commission’s leader, Kris Kobach.

“Much of the past few months has been spent by commission staff answering discovery requests for information and drafting affidavits and things that like — going through the legwork of litigation, and that takes time,” Kobach, who serves as Kansas’s secretary of state, told the Topeka Capitol-Journal in an interview. “We have a very small staff in Washington, D.C., and that staff has been bogged down in litigation.”

Groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law—as well as one of the Democratic members of the panel—have sued the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, alleging a lack of transparency and that the collection of Americans’ personal data violates voters’ privacy.

That litigation has stalled the work of the panel, which has not met since September.

Kobach has been a leader of the effort to gin up concerns about voter fraud and build support for restrictive voting laws. Elections experts say widespread voter fraud doesn’t exist.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said Thursday that he believes the recently passed GOP tax bill did too much to help the bottom line of America’s largest corporations.

“I thought we probably went too far on [helping] corporations,” the Florida Republican told the Fort Myers-based News-Press.

“By and large, you’re going to see a lot of these multinationals buy back shares to drive up the price,” Rubio continued. “Some of them will be forced, because they’re sitting on historic levels of cash, to pay out dividends to shareholders. That isn’t going to create dramatic economic growth.”

The bill passed by the Republican-controlled Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump last week slashed the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent. It also includes a number of provisions that benefit the country’s wealthiest residents rather than the middle-class Americans the GOP has insisted will benefit from the plan, including a cut to the top income tax rate and for pass-through businesses.

The bill will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018.

Rubio told the News-Press he was unconcerned about polls showing that most Americans disapprove of the legislation, saying the media has unfairly influenced peoples’ opinions and that ultimate perception of the bill will be based on “what their paycheck is telling them.”

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President Donald Trump said Thursday that though he thinks Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s election interference makes “the country look very bad,” but he believes the outcome will be “fair.”

Trump held forth on Mueller’s investigation in a meandering 30-minute interview with The New York Times at his Mar-A-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, where he’s spending the holidays. No White House aides were present for the on-the-record conversation.

The President told the newspaper 16 times that the probe has discovered “no collusion” by his campaign, but added that he thinks Mueller is “going to be fair” to him.

Those comments are in line with what Trump has said previously, but run counter to a weeks-long effort by his supporters in Congress and in the conservative media to paint the investigation as hopelessly tainted by partisan bias. Those supporters have tried to pivot the national conversation towards Democrats’ dealings with Russia, instead.

Trump has enthusiastically assisted that effort, telling the Times that there was “tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats,” particularly those affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He argued that special counsel investigators should focus their attention on past work that the lobbying firm of Tony Podesta, brother of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, did for a client referred by his own former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Trump called Manafort, who was indicted on a slew of financial crimes charges, a “very nice man” and “an honorable person,” repeating that he only managed the campaign for a short period of time. Manafort worked for Trump from March to August 2016.

Trump did not appear bothered by his associates’ indictments and plea agreements, or the fact that Mueller’s probe is continuing past the Christmas deadline his lawyers provided to reporters because, he said, there is nothing incriminating to find.

The Russia allegations were invented by Democrats “as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election,” he told the Times.

Trump also again took shots at his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, calling it a “terrible thing” and “certainly unnecessary.”

He praised the “loyalty” of Barack Obama’s first Attorney General, Eric Holder, and said he has “great respect” for what Holder did to “totally protect” the President.

Though Trump denied any interest in reopening a Justice Department investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server, he asserted that he has the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

Trump is reportedly under scrutiny by Mueller’s team for obstruction of justice. The investigation has to do with his abrupt firing of former FBI Director James Comey after Comey allegedly declined Trump’s request that he swear a loyalty oath and drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

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As evidence for why Simon & Schuster did not want to move forward with publication of self-proclaimed far-right “troll” Milo Yiannopoulos’ autobiography “Dangerous,” the publisher has offered up the manuscript itself—annotated with a litany of scathing notes from one of its top editors.

The draft was included in court documents the publisher recently filed in New York State Supreme Court to defend its February decision to cancel a publication deal with Yiannopoulos worth $225,000. Yiannopoulos sued for $10 million in July over a breach of contract.

Manuscript notes from editor Mitchell Ivers show the impossible task Simon & Schuster faced: prodding an individual who built a career at Breitbart News off of demeaning Islam and using the word “lesbian” as a slur to produce a book suitable for mainstream publication.

Over and over, Yiannopoulos’ characteristic self-aggrandizement, penchant for ethnic smears, sloppy logic, and lack of humor are criticized by Ivers.

“Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke,” Ivers writes of a line about “informing cab drivers that curry is not a deodorant.”

“Don’t start chapter with accusation that feminists=fat. It destroys any seriousness of purpose,” he notes on a section titled “Why Feminists Hate Me.”

“If that headline is hate speech, THIS WHOLE BOOK is hate speech,” he implores on a section about a piece by Guardian columnist Jessica Valenti titled “Feminists Don’t Hate Men, But It Wouldn’t Matter If They Did.”

The “superficial and nonsubstantive” quality of the work is what ultimately prompted Simon & Schuster to cancel the book contract, Ivers said in a sworn affidavit. The decision to do so came at around the same time that Yiannopoulos was forced out from Breitbart and dropped from the Conservative Political Action Conference after a video surfaced in which he appeared to defend pedophilia.

Though Yiannopoulos was permitted to keep his $80,000 book advance, he sued the publisher in July. A New York Supreme Court judge in October rejected Simon & Schuster’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

But Yiannopoulos has otherwise had a spectacularly bad year. His effort to organize a “Free Speech Week” fell apart after he neglected to actually inform the slated speakers that they were invited. And in October, BuzzFeed published an explosive exposé on Yiannopoulos’ successful campaign to “smuggle” Nazi and white nationalist ideas into Breitbart’s stories and the broader political discourse.

It’s unclear why Simon & Schuster thought Yiannopoulos—whose views on women, gay people, minorities, and Muslims were well-known long before his concerted attempts to mainstream white nationalism were uncovered—was the best person to author a “serious work addressing political correctness and related free speech issues,” as they referred to the initial publication deal in a court document.

His contract was with Threshold Editions, a Simon & Schuster imprint aimed at a conservative audience, and Ivers has personally edited books by President Donald Trump, conservative shock-jock Rush Limbaugh, and Project Veritas’ James O’Keefe. At various points in his notes, Ivers praises Yiannopoulos’ “well argued” points about why Black Lives Matter has failed as a movement, or how the left abandoned white working-class voters.

But the notes by Mitchell, which circulated on Twitter Thursday, elucidate how the book failed to live up to what Simon & Schuster ostensibly thought they’d signed up for.

“Delete entire chapter”

 

“No need to drag lesbians into this!”

“I will not accept a manuscript that labels an entire class of people ‘mentally ill.'”

“If that headline is hate speech, THIS WHOLE BOOK is hate speech.”

“The way you casually bring up the KKK makes no sense”

“Stupid ethnic joke diminishes any authority”

“Delete irrelevant and superfluous ethnic joke” 

“This entire paragraph is just repeating Fake News.”

“Three unfunny jokes in a row.”

Read the full annotated manuscript below.

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The spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry accused the U.S. on Tuesday of a “direct interference in our electoral process” after the State Department came out against the Kremlin’s decision to prevent opposition leader Alexey Navalny from running against Vladimir Putin in the upcoming presidential election.

“This statement by the U.S. Department of State, which I’m sure will not be the only one, is a direct interference into the electoral process and the state’s domestic affairs,” Maria Zakharova wrote on Facebook, echoing language U.S. intelligence agencies have used to describe Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

On Christmas Day, one day after Navalny registered as a candidate, Russia’s Central Electoral Commission formally barred the popular activist and attorney from competing in the race.

The justification given was a four-year-old criminal conviction for embezzlement revived in February of this year, as the New York Times reported at the time. Navalny and his supporters claim the charge was politically motivated.

In a statement provided to TPM, a State Department spokesperson criticized the Kremlin’s “ongoing crackdown against independent voices” and urged Russia’s government to “hold genuine elections that are transparent, fair, and free and that guarantee the free expression of the will of the people, consistent with its international human rights obligations.”

This unequivocal criticism from the U.S. was brushed aside by Russia’s leadership, who have denied allegations that they intervened in the 2016 race to swing the results in President Donald Trump’s favor.

“The funniest thing is that these are the same people who just branded RT and Sputnik as foreign agents, who are harassing Russian media around the world and who are investing huge amounts of money into ‘countering Russian propaganda,’ which is how they label anyone who they disagree with,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook, referring to the U.S. government’s decision to require several major English-language Russian state publications to register with the Justice Department as foreign agents.

“And these people expressed outrage over alleged Russian ‘interference’ in their electoral process for an entire year?!” Zakharova added.

Russia’s presidential election is scheduled for March 2018, and Putin, who has been in power since 2000, is almost certain to win.

This post has been updated.

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Just days after the inauguration, White House Counsel Don McGahn learned—and warned President Donald Trump—that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably violated federal laws, according to a new report out Wednesday.

Foreign Policy reported that the Special Counsel has obtained “records” that reveal McGahn in late January researched the consequences of lying to the FBI and of violating the Logan Act, a centuries-old federal prohibition on private citizens negotiating with hostile foreign governments. The research, conducted with the help of two aides, prompted McGahn to conclude that Flynn had likely committed a crime by discussing sanctions with a top Russian official during the transition, two current administration officials told Foreign Policy.

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The Special Counsel’s investigation into top White House adviser Jared Kushner’s foreign contacts is completely warranted, outgoing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) said Tuesday.

“He deserves the scrutiny,” Christie said of President Donald Trump’s son-in-law in an interview with MSNBC.

“Because he was involved in the transition and involved in meetings that call into question his role,” Christie said, adding that Kushner may have acted appropriately. “If he’s innocent of that, then that will come out as Mueller examines all the facts, and if he’s not, that will come out too.”

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Donald Trump was warned that Russia and other foreign nations would try to infiltrate his presidential campaign in late summer 2016, after becoming the official GOP nominee, NBC News reported Monday.

Multiple government officials told NBC that both Trump and his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton were given routine high-level counterintelligence briefings by senior FBI officials in late July or early August, and were asked to alert the FBI about any suspicious outreach to their campaigns.

The White House dismissed NBC’s report as inconsequential, alleging, as the Trump administration often does, that the leak of information is more important than its content.

“That the Republican and Democrat nominee for President received a standardized briefing on counter-intelligence is hardly a news story,” Raj Shah, a White House spokesman, told NBC. “That NBC News hears about the contents of this classified conversation due to an inappropriate leak is a news story.”

The report said it was unclear if the warning regarding Russia was passed along to other Trump campaign officials.

But no evidence has yet emerged that Trump’s team notified the FBI about various contacts Russians or Kremlin-linked officials had with campaign officials prior to or following the late-summer briefing. Donald Trump Jr., former national security adviser Mike Flynn, and White House adviser Jared Kushner are among those known to have engaged in these meetings.

At the time the FBI issued its warning, the bureau was already aware of some contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. Former FBI Director James Comey testified to Congress that the federal investigation into these communications began in July 2016.

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Those looking to discredit the special counsel’s Russia investigation got an assist this weekend from one of President Donald Trump’s attorneys, who alleged Saturday that Robert Mueller’s team inappropriately obtained a trove of presidential transition team documents.

“It’s not looking good,” Trump, who denied that he has any intention of firing Mueller, told reporters. “It’s quite sad to see that. My people were very upset.”

But the General Services Administration (GSA), which turned over thousands of emails exchanged during the transition, the special counsel’s office, and legal experts pushed back on transition lawyer Kory Langhofer’s claims, insisting that nothing about the process was unusual.

Langhofer’s laments about the violation of privacy and privileged attorney-client communications were rendered moot, experts and officials said, by the fact that the transition emails were housed on government servers and sent by people who were then private citizens. Communications exchanged by these individuals between Election Day 2016 and Inauguration Day 2017 are pertinent to Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election and any coordination that may have occurred between the Kremlin and Trump campaign.

According to a letter Langhofer sent to congressional committee leaders, the “emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials” for nine transition team members working on “national security and policy matters” as well as four other “senior” transition team members are now in Mueller’s team’s possession. They’ve been “extensively used” in interviews with witnesses, Langhofer alleged.

Here’s why this latest pseudo-scandal matters.

Trump team alleges violation of law, Constitution

In a seven-page letter to the heads of the Senate Homeland Security and House Oversight Committees, Langhofer alleged that GSA’s production of transition materials violated both the Fourth Amendment and a Presidential Transition Act requirement that “computers or communications services” used by transition staffers be “secure.”

Mueller’s team requested the documents in a pair of late August letters and received a flash drive containing them from the GSA on Sept. 1, according to the Associated Press. Langhofer blamed “career GSA staff” working with GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt for carrying out this process “without notifying TFA [Trump for America] or filtering or redacting privileged material.” He said the transition team did not learn of these “unauthorized disclosures” until Dec. 12.

GSA, Special Counsel say there’s nothing weird here

Both the GSA and special counsel said they carried out the process as required by law.

In a Saturday interview with BuzzFeed, Loewentritt, a career GSA employee, explained that all transition staff using GSA devices had to sign agreements asserting that “no expectation of privacy can be assumed.” They were explicitly warned, Loewentritt said, that information “would not be held back in any law enforcement” investigation.

Loewentritt also denied Langhofer’s claim that former GSA general counsel Richard Beckler, who died in September, promised the Trump transition’s legal team that they would be told of any requests made to the agency for document production.

Special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said in a statement that Mueller did not require a subpoena or warrant to obtain the documents.

“When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process,” Carr said.

Legal experts swat down claims of impropriety

Legal experts and former government attorneys bolstered claims that nothing improper or illegal transpired in obtaining the emails.

Former federal prosecutor Randall Eliason told the Washington Post that it “would be almost prosecutorial misconduct” for Mueller’s team not to sort through the transition messages, and that Langhofer’s decision to go to Congress rather than the judge overseeing the federal grand jury was suspect.

“You go to the judge and complain,” Eliason told the Post. “You don’t issue a press release or go to Congress. It appears from the outside that this is part of a pattern of trying to undermine Mueller’s investigation.”

John Bies, a Justice Department lawyer during the Obama administration, told Politico that presidential privilege did not apply to messages sent before Trump was sworn-in because “there is only one president at a time.”

Congress doesn’t seem interested in taking up the issue

In an interview with Business Insider, Langhofer said he took the issue to Congress rather than Mueller and the GSA because lawmakers “need to make sure this never happens again.”

Lawmakers don’t seem particularly eager to get in the middle of this fight, however.

“These are issues to be briefed by the parties (or others with cognizable legal claims and standing) and decided by the court — not Congress,” a spokesperson for House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) told Politico in a statement.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the top Democrat on the committee, said in a statement that the Presidential Transition Act “simply does not support withholding transition team emails from criminal investigators.”

Why the emails could be so important

White House attorney Ty Cobb announced last week that Mueller’s team has completed all interviews with White House staff requested to date, meaning senior Trump advisers have already given investigators their accounts of communications with or about foreign officials.

Those interviews occurred before the transition team knew that Mueller had access to physical copies of their transition emails, and, as Langhofer pointed out, Mueller’s prosecutors have “extensively used the materials” obtained from GSA in his interviews with witnesses.

“Mueller is using the emails to confirm things, and get new leads,” a transition source told Axios.

Mueller’s team can now cross-check the comments of any interviewee to ensure that they did not lie to federal agents—a crime to which both former national security adviser Mike Flynn and former campaign aide George Papadopoulos already pleaded guilty.

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The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on Friday said a series of signs have left him “increasingly worried” that his Republican colleagues plan to imminently put an end to their investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.

“It appears Republicans want to conduct just enough interviews to give the impression of a serious investigation,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said in a series of tweets.

Per Schiff, there are no interviews on the calendar going into 2018, though there are “dozens of outstanding witnesses on key aspects of our investigation that they refuse to contact,” and multiple document requests have gone unmade. The California Democrat also criticized the GOP majority for declining to issue subpoenas related to “numerous avenues” of their probe.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) confirmed to the New York Times that he told a Democrat on the committee, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), that the year’s end represented a “natural boundary” to the investigative portion of their investigation.

“I feel no need to apologize for concluding an investigation,” Gowdy, who oversaw a two-year select panel investigation into the terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, told the newspaper.

“If there is evidence of collusion, conspiracy coordination, with Trump and the Trump campaign, no one has produced it,” Gowdy added.

Spokespeople for the committee’s top Republicans, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX) and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Nunes told the Times that there was “not a chance I’m ever going to talk to you.”

Partisan tensions have hampered the panel for months, with Republicans focusing on their concerns about leaks from witness testimony and from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and Democrats pressing to find out if any members of President Donald Trump’s inner circle assisted Russia with their interference efforts

Tensions escalated further this week. Newly published anti-Trump texts exchanged between a former top FBI official who worked on the Russia probe and a Justice Department official prompted allegations that both Mueller’s investigation and the DOJ were hopelessly compromised. That FBI official, Peter Strzok, was removed from Mueller’s team as soon as the texts were discovered.

The messages provided fodder to those who share Trump’s view that the federal and congressional investigations are a “witch hunt,” which Schiff said is what has him “really concerned.”

“By shutting down the congressional investigations when they continue to discover new and important evidence, the White House can exert tremendous pressure to end or curtail Mueller’s investigation or cast doubt on it,” Schiff wrote. “We cannot let that happen.”

The rest of the thread is posted below:

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