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Esme Cribb

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Esme

The special counsel and congressional committees investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election are looking into possible money laundering by President Donald Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort, the Wall Street Journal reported late Thursday.

The Wall Street Journal reported, citing a single unnamed source familiar with the matter, that special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the federal probe into Russian meddling, began an inquiry several weeks ago into possible money laundering by Manafort.

The Senate and House intelligence committees are also looking into the matter, unnamed sources with knowledge of the congressional probes told the Wall Street Journal.

According to the report, those sources also said the Senate Intelligence Committee is looking into whether any of President Donald Trump’s businesses have financial ties to Russian interests. The panel has received reports from the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau of the Treasury Department, per the Wall Street Journal.

Spokespeople for Manafort and Mueller declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal.

The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing financial records filed in Cyprus in 2016, that Manafort owed as much as $17 million to pro-Russia interests before he joined Trump’s campaign, where he requested no salary in his capacity as chairman.

NBC News reported in March that Manafort closed several accounts with a bank in Cyprus after it launched an internal investigation into potential money laundering.

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday said President Donald Trump does not plan to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, despite the President’s warning that Mueller should not exceed the parameters of the probe.

“The point he’s trying to make is that the clear purpose of the Russia investigation is to review Russia’s meddling in the election, and that that should be the focus of the investigation. Nothing beyond that,” Sanders said during an off-camera, audio-only White House briefing, according to an official transcript.

Trump on Wednesday said it would be “a violation” if Mueller looked into his personal finances.

“Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company,” Trump said in an interview with the New York Times.

Bloomberg reported Thursday, citing a single unnamed source familiar with the probe, that federal investigators are looking into several of Trump’s business dealings involving Russian partners.

Trump on Wednesday would not say whether he would fire Mueller if the special counsel went outside the parameters of the Russia investigation: “I can’t answer that question because I don’t think it’s going to happen,” he said.

Asked whether his remarks were a threat or warning to Mueller, Sanders said Trump was “making it clear that the special counsel should not move outside the scope of the investigation.”

“Does that mean that firing the special counsel is something that’s on the table for this President?” a reporter asked.

“Although the President has the authority to do so, he doesn’t intend to do so,” Sanders said, an echo of a statement she made in June on the same subject.

“When asked about Mueller today a couple of times you’ve used conditional language,” another reporter asked. “How can his independence be guaranteed if you’re saying in conditional tense that he’s not going to try to have him removed?”

“Look, I can’t predict everything that could possibly take place in the future and what Mueller could potentially do that might create an outrageous reason not to take action,” Sanders said. “I’m not going to talk about hypotheticals. I can talk about where we are today.”

Jack Posobiec, a prominent alt-right activist and promoter of right-wing conspiracy theories, on Thursday posted a video at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial in response to a list the Anti-Defamation League compiled associating him with the so-called “alt-right” movement.

“It would be wise of the ADL to remember the history of what happened the last time people started going around making lists of undesirables,” Posobiec said in the video posted on Twitter.

“To make those accusations on the hallowed ground of Auschwitz is offensive and twisted and, unfortunately, proves the point about our research,” an ADL spokesperson told TPM by email.

Posobiec, who describes himself on Twitter as a “filmmaker, and recovering political operative” and promoted the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory, took exception to the ADL’s list associating him with the far-right movement.

The ADL described the so-called “alt-right” movement as “a segment of the white supremacist movement consisting of a loose network of racists and anti-Semites who reject mainstream conservatism in favor of politics that embrace implicit or explicit racist, anti-Semitic and white supremacist ideology.”

It listed Posobiec as a member of the “alt lite,” a “loosely-connected movement whose adherents generally shun white supremacist thinking, but who are in step with the alt right in their hatred of feminists and immigrants, among others.”

Posobiec railed against the list on Twitter, where he accused the ADL of “targeting Trump supporters with hate lists” and called the who’s-who a “death list.”

Josh Mandel, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Ohio, on Thursday accused the ADL of becoming a “partisan witchhunt group” by publishing the list and declared solidarity with Posobiec and Mike Cernovich, another Twitter troll included on the list.

Comparing those who disagree with him to Nazis is not a new tactic for Posobiec, who accused audience members at a New York production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” starring a figure resembling President Donald Trump of making minister of propaganda for the Nazi regime Joseph Goebbels “proud.”

In May, Reuters reported that Posobiec received White House press credentials.

A Republican member of Congress apologized earlier in July for using the gas chambers at Auschwitz as a setting to promote the U.S. military.

This post has been updated.

Democratic members of the House responded on Wednesday to an anti-marriage equality lawyer who filed a lawsuit against them for displaying rainbow flags in the hallways outside their offices on Capitol Hill.

Chris Sevier, an attorney who unsuccessfully argued that he should be able to marry his “porn-filled” laptop under marriage equality, filed the lawsuit against Reps. Don Beyer (D-VA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Susan Davis (D-CA) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) in March.

Sevier argued in the complaint that “‘homosexuality’ and other forms of self-asserted sex-based identity narratives are a ‘religion'” and that the flags symbolized the “homosexual denomination.”

“The time, place, and manner of the installation of the Gay Pride Rainbow Colored Flags is unconstitutional,” Sevier alleged.

He sought $1 in damages and the forced removal of the flags from outside the members’ offices.

“I will fight this hateful attempt to silence equality and justice. We have come too far to allow the voices of bigotry and hate to win,” Lowenthal responded on Facebook on Wednesday.

“Nothing is going to stop me from fighting for equality, justice, and peace,” Blumenthal responded in a post.

“Our LGBT pride flag isn’t going anywhere. Of all the pictures and displays in my office, it draws the most consistent appreciation from constituents who visit us in DC,” Beyer said in a statement to TPM. “It is a symbol of the values we hold dear: acceptance and celebration of diversity, the fight for equality, and love. We will continue to display it proudly.”

Davis said in a statement Wednesday that the flag is “a source of pride for me and my constituents.”

“Be assured that hateful lawsuits are not going to stop me from celebrating our nation’s diversity,” she said. “It’s disheartening that in this day and age this is still an issue.”

This post has been updated.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) on Thursday said he supports Attorney General Jeff Sessions, despite President Donald Trump’s harsh criticism of Sessions during an interview with the New York Times.

“Absolutely I support the attorney general. I think he’s doing a great job,” Reed said on MSNBC. “Those results speak for themselves, and he’ll continue on as the attorney general.”

Trump on Wednesday told the New York Times that Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from all matters related to Russia and the federal probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election was “very unfair to the President.”

“If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the President,” Trump said.

Sessions on Thursday said he will continue to serve as attorney general “as long as that is appropriate.”

Asked to guess why Trump made the harsh remarks, Reed said he was “not going to speak for the President.”

“He’s very refreshing,” Reed added.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday nominated an open climate change skeptic with no credentials in agricultural research, science or medicine for the top scientific post at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a statement praised Trump’s nomination of Sam Clovis, a former conservative talk radio show host and professor of business and public policy, for the position.

Perdue said Clovis “has become a trusted advisor and steady hand” who “looks at every problem with a critical eye, relying on sound science and data.”

Clovis has openly questioned the scientific proof for climate change, in a departure from the scientific consensus. In 2014, Clovis said he was “extremely skeptical” of that consensus.

“I have looked at the science and I have enough of a science background to know when I’m being boofed,” he said in an interview on Iowa Public Radio. “And a lot of the science is junk science. It’s not proven.”

Propublica in May reported that Clovis has a bachelor’s degree in political science, a master’s in business administration and a doctorate in public administration, but does not appear to have published any scientific papers.

Clovis in October 2016 said Trump’s policy on agriculture would focus on trade and regulation rather than climate change.

“Mr. Trump is a skeptic on climate change, and we need more science,” he told E&E News. “Once we get more science, we are going to make decisions.”

Paul Manafort owed millions of dollars to pro-Russia interests before he became President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman last year, the New York Times reported late Wednesday.

According to the New York Times report, which cited financial records filed in Cyprus in 2016, Manafort — who kept bank accounts in the low tax jurisdiction — owed as much as $17 million to pro-Russia interests.

Shell companies connected to Manafort’s work for the now-defunct pro-Russian Party of Regions owed the money, according to the report.

A spokesman for Manafort did not dispute the possibility that the debts existed, but told the New York Times the records were “stale and do not purport to reflect any current financial arrangements.”

The spokesman, Jason Maloni, said that Manafort “did not collude with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election” and “is not indebted to Mr. Deripaska or the Party of Regions, nor was he at the time he began working for the Trump campaign.”

Aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin; according to the report, he alleged in 2015 that Manafort and his partners owed him $19 million in connection with a failed investment.

Manafort left Trump’s campaign in August 2016, four months after he became campaign chairman, amid questions about his activities in Ukrainian politics.

Serhiy Leshchenko, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, in March alleged that Manafort received illegal payments while working as a consultant for the Party of Regions.

NBC News reported days later that Manafort closed several bank accounts with the Cyprus Popular Bank years earlier after it launched an internal investigation into possible money laundering.

Manafort retroactively filed with the U.S. Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) in June. Manafort’s filings revealed that his firm earned more than $17 million from the Party of Regions over just two years ago.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on Wednesday said the Congressional Budget Office’s newly released analysis of the Republican plan to repeal Obamacare without an immediate replacement shows the proposal is “a horrible idea.”

“The latest CBO score of the Senate Republican ‘repeal and run’ bill confirms: it was a horrible idea in January and it’s a horrible idea now,” Schumer said in a statement.

The non-partisan CBO estimated that 32 million more people people would be uninsured by 2026 under Senate Republicans’ repeal-and-delay proposal compared to current law.

“President Trump and Republicans have repeatedly promised to lower premiums and increase coverage, yet each proposal they offer would do the opposite,” Schumer said. “Instead of careening towards a plan that would devastate the American health care system, Republicans should work with Democrats to pass real solutions to lower premiums, stabilize the market and improve coverage for millions of Americans.”

Deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday insisted that President Donald Trump’s second, previously undisclosed meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin was no big deal.

Claims otherwise, according to the White House, are merely “Russia fever.”

“Once again the Russia fever has caught up with the media and everybody ran out and tried to create a story that simply didn’t exist,” Sanders said at an off-camera, audio-only White House briefing. “It’s not a cloud of secrecy.”

Several outlets reported late Tuesday that Trump moved to sit beside Putin at a dinner at the G20 summit in Germany earlier in July. According to the Washington Post, the two spoke for an hour. Putin was accompanied by his official translator, though Trump abandoned his.

Sanders denied that the two leaders spoke for that long.

“It was a brief conversation and certainly not an hour,” she said. “We weren’t following them around with a stopwatch.”

Sanders called it “absolutely absurd” to “act as if this were some secret,” though the White House did not disclose the meeting until it was reported Tuesday night.

“I’m not sure what other announcement should have been made,” Sanders said.

Asked whether Trump trusted Putin’s translator to accurately interpret his side of the conversation, she said, “I believe so.”

Sanders said the event “was a social dinner and that was, you know, the nature of the evening.”

“You guys came and took pictures of it,” she said.

Sanders declined to confirm a Washington Post report that said the United States has withdrawn support from Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a move Russia sought. Asked whether the subject came up during Trump’s and Putin’s dinner conversation, she said, “Not that I’m aware of.”

The White House reportedly has no official record of what Trump and Putin discussed.

President Donald Trump plans to scrap a covert CIA program arming and training rebels against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s regime, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday, noting that Russia has long since sought such a move.

The Washington Post reported, citing unnamed U.S. officials, that Trump decided to end the program nearly a month ago after meeting with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

That meeting took place in advance of Trump’s scheduled bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany, according to the report. Trump reportedly had a second informal meeting, undocumented and previously undisclosed by the White House, with Putin at a dinner at the summit.

The program will be phased out over the course of months, the Washington Post reported, citing unnamed senior U.S. officials.

An unnamed current official told the Washington Post that scrapping the program “is a momentous decision” on Trump’s part and a victory for Russia: “Putin won in Syria.”

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