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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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If there’s a dark conspiracy theory circulating about Deep State efforts to undermine Donald Trump, it’s a safe bet that it started with Rep. Devin Nunes, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

That seems to be the case with the purported scandal du jour: that the FBI planted an informant in the Trump campaign in order to gain information about its possible ties to Russia. Such a move, Trump allies argue, would render the Mueller investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference illegitimate.

The source met with three different Trump campaign officials, the Washington Post reported Friday evening. And the source’s name began circulating late last week in right-wing media. Still the nature of the intelligence the source provided, and exactly what prompted the FBI to seek to obtain intel from this person remain unclear.

As with previous Nunes-driven controversies, this one started weeks ago with the California Republican’s efforts to disclose classified intelligence information, festered in the media fever swamps, and then percolated up to the president, who in a tweet Friday called it the “all time biggest political scandal!”

It’s a good case study in how outlandish theories designed to discredit the Mueller investigation and bolster Trump’s position travel from the fringes to the White House. Here’s how we got here.

Since at least early April, Nunes has been demanding from the Justice Department un-redacted versions of the materials detailing the launch of the Russia probe. Slow-rolled by DOJ top brass, Nunes issued a subpoena in early May for all documents related to a person described by the Washington Post as a “sensitive, longtime intelligence source for the CIA and FBI.”

As a pair of Post articles, dated May 8 and 9, explained, the DOJ has refused to provide the documents, concerned that the safety of the U.S. citizen source could be endangered, and that ongoing intelligence investigations could be compromised.

DOJ and FBI officials ultimately agreed to hold an hour-long classified briefing with Nunes and House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy on May 10, which appeared to quell the tensions somewhat.

The two GOP congressmen released a statement calling the meeting “productive” and expressing hope for a continued “dialogue” with the Justice Department.

But it was too late. That evening, the Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel published a column calling the DOJ’s reported concerns about the source’s safety a sign of “desperation” and interpreting the Post report to mean that the person was likely engaged in “outright spying” on, as well as trying to “infiltrate,” the Trump campaign.

Strassel’s claims were seized upon by Rush Limbaugh. It’s “a pretty safe bet that the FBI planted an informant in the Trump campaign,” Limbaugh said, in order to “catch and to discover and to witness Trump’s collusion with the Russians.”

Two days later, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy published a column noting that Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson testified that Christopher Steele, who Fusion had hired to look into the campaign’s ties to Russia, had told Simpson that the FBI had a “human source” in the Trump campaign. McCarthy speculated that the spy’s information was the real source of the U.S. Russia investigation.

The story broke wide open last week with the first mention of the word “informant” by a major mainstream publication. Buried in a lengthy Wednesday New York Times story on the origins of the Russia probe was this sentence: “At least one government informant met several times with Mr. [Carter] Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said.”

Breitbart jumped on the news with a headline about the FBI’s “spy operation” against the Trump campaign. Trump allies from Kellyanne Conway to Rudy Giuliani were soon sharing grave concerns about the presence of a spy in the campaign’s midst.

Any improper spying by such an informant would render the entire Mueller probe “completely illegitimate,” Giuliani told the Post on Thursday, before acknowledging to CNN Friday that they didn’t know “for sure” that such an individual even existed.

And Trump tweeted:

Of course, all of these interpretations rest on the notion that if the FBI surveilled the Trump campaign, it was motivated by political bias. None consider that these agencies could have been attempting the difficult task of investigating Russia’s meddling in the campaign on Trump’s behalf without improperly influencing the election by revealing the probe.

They also gloss over the fact that we’ve been down this road several times before. Nunes has been at war with the DOJ and FBI on Trump’s behalf for well over a year, trying to uncover evidence that will prove that Trump was unfairly targeted.

There was last spring’s botched effort to prove that Trump staffers’ identities were improperly revealed in transcripts of conversations swept up in foreign surveillance. National security experts and bipartisan lawmakers said that there was nothing out of the ordinary about the unmasking requests.

Then there was this February’s memo that was supposed to serve as definitive proof of anti-Trump bias among DOJ and FBI leadership and bring the Mueller probe to a screeching halt. It was a bust.

He may not have succeeded yet. But the new “spy” controversy suggests that Nunes’ efforts will continue.

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Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, and the team has a lot to show for it. To date, a total of 19 people and three Russian companies have either been indicted or pleaded guilty to criminal charges, including four former Trump campaign officials.

But President Trump and his GOP allies in Congress think this is a good time to get it wrapped up, insisting the investigation has gone on too long. It’s actually lasted much less time and made far more progress in its first year than other federal probes including Whitewater and Iran-Contra.

Tump is newly consumed with the news that FBI informants spied on his campaign. That revelation came from Rep. Devin Nunes’ efforts to track down a U.S. intelligence source who met with Trump aides George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.

Meanwhile, Trump fixer Michael Cohen remains in the hot seat. This week brought confirmation that the details of his banking records came from suspicious activity reports leaked from a database maintained by the Treasury Department. The leaker told the New Yorker that he or she felt compelled to share some of the documents out of concern they had been removed from the database, though access to them may have been restricted by request of federal investigators.

Cohen’s access-peddling apparently went beyond the huge corporate payments he accepted from companies like Novartis and AT&T. Pitching himself as Trump’s personal lawyer, Cohen unsuccessfully sought a whopping $1 million from Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund in late 2016 exchange for advice about the incoming administration.

Other leaked documents reveal that Cohen and former Trump business associate Felix Sater were hard at work securing a Trump Tower Moscow deal as late as May 2016, much later than they’d previously said.

Cohen is reportedly at his wit’s end over the federal investigations into his business dealings, telling friends he “just can’t take this anymore.”

Separately, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani claimed Mueller’s team have told him they’ve concluded that a sitting president can’t be indicted. If Mueller has indeed reached that conclusion – and we’re not taking Rudy’s word for it – it would likely leave him with two options if he finds Trump has committed wrong-doing: write a report that could be used as the basis for impeachment proceedings, or name the president as an un-indicted co-conspirator.

The Senate Judiciary Committee released testimony on the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian attorney promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr. claimed he didn’t speak to his father before or after that sit-down, even to craft the initial July 2017 public statement about the meeting. The Times and Post have reported Trump personally dictated the misleading statement, which said the meeting focused primarily on U.S. adoptions of Russian children.

Law enforcement officials have cautioned that the FBI would not have surveilled a U.S. presidential campaign without cause, and that the bureau was trying to determine whether the Trump team was colluding with the Russian government.

The judge overseeing Paul Manafort’s case ruled against his motion to dismiss, saying that Mueller’s inquiry into his work for Ukrainian officials was well within his purview. Adding to the pressure against him, Manafort’s son-in-law and former business partner has entered into a plea deal with Mueller’s team.

The FBI and DOJ are investigating Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that worked for the Trump campaign and harvested private data from millions of Facebook users.

And finally, Andrii Artemenko, the Ukrainian politician who worked with Sater and Cohen on a regional peace plan that involved lifting U.S. sanctions on Russia, will testify before Mueller’s grand jury.

 

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In the Trump era, it’s not easy for Republicans to distinguish themselves as the most hardcore anti-swamp, anti-status quo, anti-immigration candidate.

That’s not stopping the contenders in Georgia’s governor’s race, who have released a series of increasingly outlandish ads in the run-up to next week’s primary. Two that have generated headlines are variations on a theme: middle-aged white men in large vehicles pledging to personally round up undocumented immigrants.

The frontrunner in the race is Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a more moderate candidate who has backing from the state’s political and business establishment and a double-digit lead in polls. But Cagle is unlikely to meet the 50 percent threshold that would secure him the nomination, leaving his four opponents locked in an all-out war to score a spot in a June runoff election.

“Everybody is trying to do what they can to break from the pack,” state Sen. Josh McKoon, who is currently running for Secretary of State, told TPM.

With Cagle the clear favorite and all the candidates pushing an immigration-focused message, the ads are “an attempt to stand out and get some attention,” McKoon said.

According to a Survey USA poll released Tuesday, Cagle leads with 35 percent of the vote, Secretary of State Brian Kemp is in second with 17 percent, and former state lawmaker Hunter Hill and businessman Clay Tippins are tied for third place in the high single-digits. Around a quarter of likely GOP primary voters remain undecided.

In a Thursday interview with TPM, Kemp credited his recent ad buys with helping him close the polling gap. The initial ad showed Kemp pointing a shotgun at one of his teenage daughter’s potential suitors, pressing him to pledge his “respect” and “healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment.” In a second ad released days later, Kemp disembarks from the cab of a Ford F350 and tells the camera, “I’ve got a big truck, just in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.”

Kemp told TPM he’d spent well over $1 million on those last two ad buys, and that he had been “very conservative” with his money until the end of the race so that he could flood the airwaves with this last-minute burst.

“It’s almost humorous that the left has taken all of that so serious and doesn’t get that we had fun doing that ad,” Kemp said of the backlash he’s received. “It was a playful way to draw attention to our issues and my values.”

Kemp was already on the national media’s radar from his tenure as secretary of state, during which he settled a federal lawsuit accusing him of disenfranchising thousands of minority voters.

Another candidate, State Sen. Michael Williams, is trailing in the polls but doing his best to catch up. This week, he rolled out an ad touting his “deportation bus,” which is currently crisscrossing the state, making stops in Georgia’s bluer cities. The vehicle’s rear door is painted with the words: “Danger! Murderers, rapists, kidnappers, child molestors [sic], and other criminals on board. Follow me to Mexico.”

Williams has labeled himself the “most outspoken anti-illegal candidate” in the state’s history and wants to pass legislation that would deputize police officers in all Georgia counties as ICE agents.

Williams’ tour has had some difficulties getting off the ground. On Wednesday, protesters prevented his bus from departing for a scheduled stop in Decatur, and on Thursday the bus stalled on the side of a highway, apparently because water got into the engine.

YouTube initially pulled his ad promoting the tour, labeling it hate speech, before reversing course and allowing it to run on the site. (In a statement, a YouTube spokeswoman told TPM the company “made the wrong call” and that the video was “mistakenly removed.”)

Reached by phone on Thursday, Williams said that YouTube’s decision told him “that when you have someone out there who is fighting against those liberals who are trying to oppress us, you can win.”

He also suggested that “Antifa” could have been behind the bus malfunction, pointing to the “phone calls, texts, and online” threats they’ve received.

“We’ve gotten threats and we found water in our gas tank,” he said. “So you put the two together.”

The state senator is no stranger to controversy. After the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Williams raffled off a bump stock, the same device the shooter used to make his semi-automatic weapon fire more rapidly. Williams said the goal was to “take a stand against the leaders of the liberal progressive left.” He also attended Atlanta’s “March Against Sharia” last year along with members of the III % anti-government militia group.

McKoon, the secretary of state candidate, told TPM that some of these stunts play well among Republicans in the Peach State, where they help draw attention to what is still expected to be a low-turnout primary midterm election.

“For most folks outside of metropolitan Atlanta, the old idea of a guy coming to ask a girl out and the dad bringing out the guns to clean them, it’s not something that is foreign to a lot of Georgians,” he said of Kemp’s ad. “So I think there may have been some disconnect there between folks who are maybe outside of the Deep South.”

Other Georgia Republicans said the immigration ads, at least, are unhelpful and play on outdated stereotypes about the state.

“Unproductive all the way around,” Mark Rountree, head of an Atlanta-based GOP polling and consulting firm, told TPM of the immigration ads, noting that “molesters” was spelled incorrectly on Williams’ bus.

“I think sometimes national media simplifies Georgia into somewhat of a simplistic, one-dimensional Republican audience but we have very high-income, high-educated people voting in this election, and these ads are not speaking to them.”

Hill, the former state lawmaker, has consistently bested Williams in the polls without pushing such extreme rhetoric on immigration. In an email, he told TPM that voters don’t want politicians who just “talk a big game or pull gimmicks during an election cycle.”

And Georgia already has some pretty stringent immigration laws. The legislature banned sanctuary cities in 2009, and there are strict barriers preventing undocumented immigrants from obtaining driver’s licenses or in-state education.

But with Trump this week referring to undocumented people as “animals,” Georgia’s Republicans are just doing their best to keep up.

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For months, good-government groups and some Democratic lawmakers have been calling on Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin to recuse himself from matters related to the federal investigation into Russian election meddling. Mnuchin’s role as finance chair of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign means he can’t impartially oversee a probe that delves into Trump associates’ financial affairs, they have argued.

Those calls took on a new urgency this week when The New Yorker revealed that Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed on long-time Trump fixer Michael Cohen were removed from a database kept by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) division.

Their absence, which is highly unusual, so alarmed a longtime law enforcement official that he or she leaked some of the documents to the press out of concern that information was being intentionally withheld from law enforcement.

In multiple letters sent since late 2017, Democratic lawmakers have asked Mnuchin to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and to detail any information Treasury has received about potential illegal activities by Trump and his associates.

“Have you ever directed, or has any other Trump administration official, Trump campaign official, or Trump family member called on you to direct U.S. Treasury officials or staff members to obscure, destroy, or withhold information implicating the president, Trump campaign officials, Trump family members, or his associates?” the Democrats wrote in January.

They received no response from Mnuchin.

Appearing on MSNBC Wednesday night, one of the Democrats, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, said the reported removal of the SARs from the Treasury database underscores the need for Mnuchin to provide answers.

“Someone removed this information, and the Treasury Secretary is going to have to answer for this,” Waters said. “The question is, why did he ignore us?”

In December, progressive groups noted in their own letter to Treasury’s Inspector General that Mnuchin had replaced the director of FinCEN with his own choice, just days after former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort was indicted for money laundering and a host of other financial crimes.

The groups called the timing “extremely worrisome,” and asked the IG’s office to look into whether Mnuchin should recuse, a request the IG declined.

On Thursday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Treasury Department Inspector General asking for an investigation into the “possible compromise” of information in the database.

Sources familiar with FinCEN’s database told the New Yorker they could have been removed by a request from the special counsel’s team or from federal prosecutors who are investigating Cohen for financial crimes.

The Treasury Department did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment. In a Thursday afternoon statement, a FinCEN spokesperson said that they do sometimes limit access to SARs in ongoing investigations.

This post has been updated.

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If Michael Cohen doesn’t want Michael Avenatti to show up at his federal court hearing next week, Cohen’s lawyers are going to have to find a legal basis to block him – and fast.

U.S. Judge Kimba Wood ruled Wednesday that Cohen had to promptly respond to Avenatti’s motion to intervene at a status conference related to the criminal investigation into Cohen’s financial dealings. The proceeding is focused on the rules governing materials seized from Cohen’s premises by federal agents.

In her ruling, Wood pointedly wrote that Cohen “should include citations to any legal authorities that support his position.”

Last week, after Avenatti released a document detailing some of Cohen’s private bank records, Cohen’s lawyers submitted a filing requesting that Avenatti be barred from intervening for spreading “misinformation.” They cited a few parts of Avenatti’s document that appear to have mistakenly conflated Cohen with a Canadian businessman who shares his name.

But the key information released by Avenatti has been confirmed by several major news outlets. It showed that Cohen set up a shell company to receive huge corporate payments and handle hush money payouts to his client, adult film star Stormy Daniels. Daniels alleges that she had an affair with President Trump in 2006.

Avenatti responded this week with a sharp letter of his own, pointing out that it was his First Amendment right to publish information that is “of the utmost public concern.” He said Cohen’s team’s arguments should be rejected based on their failure to “cite a single statute, rule, case or any other legal authority” supporting their position.

Wood gave Cohen’s lawyers a Friday evening deadline to respond. The hearing is scheduled for next Thursday, May 24.

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“At least one” U.S. government informant met with Trump campaign officials in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

That person met “several times” with campaign national security advisers Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, according to the report, which offered no additional information on the informant’s identity or connection with U.S. authorities.

The meetings had not previously been reported authoritatively by a major outlet. They were apparently part of the FBI’s frenzied, secretive effort to determine whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russian government while taking pains not to influence the election results.

Conservative media figures from Wall Street Journal columnist Kimberly Strassel to radio host Rush Limbaugh have spent the last few days raising alarms about what they claim was an FBI informant dispatched to “spy” on the Trump campaign. Their concerns stem from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes’ (R-CA) weeks-long effort to pursue information about an intelligence source who aided the federal Russia investigation.

Nunes ultimately subpoenaed the Justice Department for documents about that individual. Though the DOJ did not turn them over, citing concerns about the person’s safety, Nunes and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) appeared to back down after sitting for a classified briefing with top intel officials last week.

It’s not confirmed that Nunes’ efforts are related to the informant mentioned in the Times article.

Page did not immediately respond to a text from TPM seeking comment.

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Congressional testimony released Wednesday complicates the evolving public understanding of how Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump White House worked together to explain away a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting pitched as an opportunity for the campaign to obtain Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

In an interview last year with the Senate Judiciary Committee, Trump Jr. downplayed his father’s role in the entire matter. Most notably, the President’s eldest son minimized how involved Trump was in crafting a July 2017 statement aboard Air Force 1 that served as the family’s initial public comment on the Trump Tower meeting.

Trump Jr.’s account contrasted sharply with contemporaneous reports from the Washington Post and New York Times that cast the President as directly involved in the wording of that July 8 statement.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller has reportedly honed in on both the meeting and the varied explanations the Trump team has offered about it as he investigates possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as well as possible obstruction of that probe by the President.

Two questions about the Trump Tower meeting were included on a leaked list of questions that Mueller wants to ask Trump if he ultimately agrees to sit for an interview.

According to Trump Jr.’s testimony, he never spoke to his father about the meeting he held with then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, and a handful of Russian businesspeople including Kremlin-linked attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. Trump Jr. said that he neither offered his father advance warning that he’d been invited to learn about Russian government “dirt” on Clinton, or informed him after the fact that the conversation had instead mostly focused on reinstating a program allowing Americans to adopt Russian children.

“I wouldn’t have wasted his time with it,” Trump Jr. testified.

Later in his testimony, Trump Jr. repeatedly deemphasized his father’s role in shaping how this information was conveyed to the press. That matter came to a head in early July 2017 as Trump and his top officials were flying back to the U.S. from the G20 summit in Germany.

Contacted by reporters from the New York Times, Trump Jr. and the White House were asked to explain how the June 2016 sit-down came about.

Trump Jr. told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he “never spoke to” his father about the initial statement that went out, which made no mention of the damaging information about Clinton and said the meeting focused primarily on the adoption issue.

“Numerous” people were involved in the statement, including counsel, and the President “may have commented through [then-communications staffer] Hope Hicks,” Trump Jr. continued.

Asked if any of those comments made through Hicks were incorporated in the statement, Trump Jr. admitted “some may have been,” but reiterated that “this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.”

Pressed on whether he asked Trump to provide assistance, Trump Jr. said, “No. [Hicks] asked if I wanted to actually speak to him, and I chose not to because I didn’t want to bring him into some thing that he had nothing to do with.”

But according to blockbuster July 2017 articles in the Times and Post, Trump put himself at the center of the response. The Post reported that Trump “personally dictated” his son’s statement, while the Times reported Trump “signed off” on it. Both newspapers noted it was unclear what Trump knew about the meeting when he helped put the statement together.

As more damaging details about the true purpose of the meeting trickled out, Trump Jr. on July 9 issued a new statement admitting that he had actually sought damaging information on Clinton from these Russian actors.

Then, on July 11, aware that the Times was about to publish the full email chain setting up the meeting, Trump Jr. tweeted it out himself. He claimed he did so in an effort “to be totally transparent.”

Asked to account for the evolving statements, Trump Jr. told Senate investigators that “they’re all very consistent with each other.”

“It did not talk about what got them into the door, and I didn’t expand on it because I didn’t think it was relevant to discuss what the meeting was not actually about,” Trump Jr. said of the initial Air Force 1 statement. “As more questions were asked and more information was requested, we released more information and went into greater detail.”

This post has been updated.

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Donald Trump Jr. told Congress that he did not speak to his father about the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting where the Trump campaign hoped to get damaging information from Russians on Hillary Clinton.

In Trump Jr’s Sept. 2017 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, released Wednesday, he was asked about the meeting between top campaign officials and a Russian attorney with ties to the Kremlin who supposedly had “dirt” on Clinton.

“Did you inform your father about the meeting or the underlying offer prior to the meeting?” a congressional investigator for the committee’s GOP majority asked.

“No, I did not,” Trump Jr. replied.

Later in the interview, Trump Jr. was asked whether he went up and talked to his father about the meeting after it ended.

“No, I wouldn’t have wasted his time with it,” Trump Jr. replied.

Democrats on the committee have raised the possibility that father and son could have discussed the proposed meeting while Trump Jr. was in the midst of arranging it with Russian pop star Emin Agalarov and his British publicist, Rob Goldstone.

In a news release, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) pointed out that on the evening of June 6, hours after Trump Jr. first spoke to Agalarov “about this Hillary info,” Trump Jr. made an an eleven-minute call to a blocked number.

Trump Jr. testified that he could not recall who he spoke with, or whether his father used a blocked number.

As Feinstein’s office noted, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski testified before the House Intelligence Committee that Trump Sr.’s home number is blocked.

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On Monday morning, Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens sat in a St. Louis courtroom watching potential jurors answer questions about allegations that he attempted to blackmail his one-time lover.

By late afternoon, the case had collapsed.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner abruptly dropped the felony invasion of privacy charge she had brought against the governor in February, saying she would seek to hand the case over to a special prosecutor, who could choose to file new charges.

Greitens took to the courthouse steps to declare his “great victory.”

Calling himself a “changed man,” the governor reiterated that he was “innocent” of charges that he tied his former hairdresser up in his basement and took a photo of her semi-nude body to keep her silent about their 2015 affair, which ended shortly before his run for office.

In reality, the twice-indicted governor’s legal and political troubles are far from over. But he dodged this particular bullet thanks to a combination of prosecutorial errors, a difficult-to-prove charge, and one final, decisive ruling from Circuit Judge Rex Burlison, who oversaw the case.

The final blow came Monday, when Burlison agreed to let Greitens’ team call Gardner as a witness in the case she had spent months prosecuting. The defense argued that Gardner was aware that one of her investigators had committed perjury and mishandled key aspects of their investigation.

In a biting statement, Gardner’s office said that the judge’s ruling put her in an “impossible position” in which she would be subject to cross-examination by her own subordinates. Gardner was left with “no other legal option than to dismiss and refile this matter,” the statement continued.

Still, the collapse of the case may not revive Greitens’ political standing. The legislature is moving full steam ahead with a special session to debate Greitens’ possible impeachment, which begins Friday evening. A House committee investigating allegations against the governor is expected to release a report laying out its recommendations next month.

As House leaders pointed out, the abrupt cancellation of Greitens’ pending criminal trial leaves him with plenty of time to sit down and testify about “his side of the facts.”

As for the criminal case, the concerns at issue date back to the first deposition of the woman at the heart of the case on Jan. 29, soon after Gardner’s probe began.

William Tisaby, the investigator who conducted that interview alongside Gardner, later appeared to lie to the defense about key aspects of how it transpired. Tisaby said that he took no notes during the interview — a claim contradicted by a video of the conversation that was belatedly provided to defense lawyers.

Judge Burlison ultimately sanctioned prosecutors for failing to promptly turn over to the defense relevant evidence, like the video and 11 pages of notes Tisaby took while interviewing the woman’s friend.

These missteps helped Greitens’ team frame the investigation as tainted from the start, and Gardner’s office acknowledged that they made a mistake in relying on Tisaby.

Even without those unforced errors, prosecutors had a difficult path towards securing a guilty verdict. Under the relevant Missouri felony statute, they needed to prove that Greitens transmitted the nude photo in a way that would make it accessible via computer. But, crucially, they did not have access to the photo itself.

Searches of the governor’s smartphone and Apple cloud data found no evidence of the image, and no witness, including Greitens’ ex-lover, has ever seen it. The judge barred testimony from three expert witnesses for the prosecution, including two electrical engineers who could speak to the technical issues regarding the photo’s potential transmission, and a law professor slated to testify about revenge pornography.

That left prosecutors with only the woman’s testimony and corroborating accounts from her ex-husband and friend. According to the woman, she saw a camera flash through her blindfold, heard the distinctive click of an iPhone camera shutter, and then heard Greitens threaten that the photo would appear “everywhere” if she told anyone what had transpired.

Greitens’ team moved several times to dismiss the case due to the lack of hard evidence. On Monday, they also called on Gardner to drop an unrelated felony computer tampering charge she brought against Greitens for allegedly misusing a charity donor list to fundraise for his gubernatorial campaign.

“I think anything that this circuit attorney’s office has touched or its investigators should be dropped because it’s tainted. It’s biased,” attorney Scott Rosenblum told reporters outside the courthouse.

Gardner’s office said they would seek a special prosecutor to assume control of the invasion of privacy charge. The special prosecutor, who would most likely be based in another Missouri county, would have 27 days from Monday to re-file the charges before the statute of limitations expires, according to the Kansas City Star.

Gardner’s spokeswoman, Susan Ryan, noted that the charge could also be re-filed as a misdemeanor, which would not require providing that the photo was made available via computer.

Ryan did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment on whether the computer tampering case, which legal experts have argued is much stronger, will also be assigned to a special prosecutor.

 

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Michael Avenatti has spent the past few months making Michael Cohen’s life hell.

The omnipresent attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels has been a constant in the churning news cycle, using an arsenal of tweets and cable news hits to keep pundits focused on the $130,000 that Cohen paid Daniels to keep her silent about her alleged affair with President Trump.

But lately, Avenatti has ranged farther afield. Last week, he set off another media frenzy by releasing a document detailing the hundreds of thousands of dollars Cohen received from major corporations and others in 2017 after pitching them on his access to the new president. It said Cohen’s company, Essential Consultants, took in $1.2 million from Novartis, $600,000 from AT&T, and $500,000 from the U.S. subsidiary of a company owned by a Russian oligarch. Much of the information in the document, which appeared to be based on information in Cohen’s bank records, was soon confirmed by major news outlets.

Then on Sunday, Avenatti tweeted out a series of screenshots from Dec. 12, 2016 showing Cohen and a group of unidentified men in the lobby of Trump Tower. According to Avenatti, one of the men is Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, the head of a division of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund who has been accused in a lawsuit of trying to bribe Trump administration officials.

The disclosures appear to be part of Avenatti’s ongoing effort to discredit Cohen’s character and business record in the court of public opinion.

“I think it’s part of a very successful public relations campaign to garner sympathy for his client and spread on-the-record materials relating to Mr. Cohen that he’s come in to possession of,” Paul Rosenzweig, a former legal adviser to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, told TPM.

But Avenatti’s revelations left some legal observers wondering what exactly they have to do with his efforts to free Daniels from the non-disclosure deal she says was improperly executed, or to intervene in the criminal proceedings against Cohen currently underway in Manhattan.

“It doesn’t seem like it furthers the legal interests of Stormy Daniels and her desire to be released from the NDA and/or obtain damages from Cohen or the President,” Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor who worked alongside Special Counsel Robert Mueller at the Justice Department, told TPM in a phone interview.

Avenatti’s public advocacy is also giving fodder to Cohen’s efforts to stop Daniels from intervening in the matter of search warrants executed against Cohen in New York. At a federal court hearing in late April, Avenatti asked that Daniels be allowed to intervene out of concern that some of the materials seized from Cohen’s office and residences could be pertinent to her defamation case.

Lawyers for Cohen have objected, and Judge Kimba Wood is mulling the issue.

Cohen’s attorney, Stephen Ryan, argued in court filings last week that Avenatti should be barred from intervening for releasing the document on Cohen’s finances. Ryan wrote that Avenatti “has no lawful basis to possess” the records, and that several of the transactions in Avenatti’s document actually involved different Michael Cohens living in Israel and Canada.

Avenatti responded in a Monday filing that it was his First Amendment right to publish information about Cohen that is “of the utmost public concern,” and that Daniels should be allowed to have counsel fight for her “important and legitimate interests in protecting her records.”

Wood could be “looking at Avenatti’s tendency to be on television and now to release information,” Zeldin said. “She might say, I just can’t have you in my case. Or she might say, you can be in it and I’ll subject you to a strict gag order: no TV, no Twitter.”

Judge Amy Berman Jackson, who is overseeing the federal investigation into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, barred all parties involved in her case from making “statements to the media or in public settings” last year in order to avoid influencing a jury with pretrial publicity.

In an interview with MSNBC Monday, Avenatti said he released the information about Cohen because “people should have the truth, the whole truth.”

“The fact of the matter is if information comes into our possession we believe is credible and that we believe people should be asking questions about, we’re going to release it publicly,” Avenatti told MSNBC. “And ultimately, people can decide whether it’s credible or not or whether there should be follow-up investigation or not.”

Reached by phone hours earlier, Avenatti had a blunter message for those questioning his strategy: “If they don’t like it, tough shit. They should get used to it, ‘cause we’re not changing.”

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