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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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One of Michael Cohen’s former partners in the taxi business is cooperating with prosecutors, the New York Times reported Tuesday.

Gene Freidman, the Russian-born “Taxi King” of New York, will cooperate with state or federal investigators as a potential witness as needed in exchange for avoiding jail time for his own crimes, a person briefed on the matter told the Times.

Freidman’s plea deal puts more pressure on Cohen to cooperate with the sprawling federal investigation into Russian election meddling – a prospect that may cause anxiety in the White House.

It also represents a remarkably lenient deal for Freidman, who has told TPM he has managed taxi medallions owned by Cohen in both New York City and Chicago for some 16 years.

Freidman was facing four counts of criminal tax fraud and one of grand larceny for failing to pay over $5 million in taxes. The Times reported that each of those class B felonies carried a maximum sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

Freidman instead pleaded guilty to one count of evading $50,000 taxes and faces five years of probation provided he complies with the terms of his agreement, according to the newspaper.

Cohen’s involvement in the lucrative New York City taxi business is one of the focuses of federal prosecutors. The search warrants they received to execute raids on Cohen’s premises in April specifically sought information about Cohen’s associates in his taxi business, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Freidman told TPM in an interview last year that he and Cohen were close and “talk daily sometimes.”

“I help him out as much as I can,” Freidman said at the time. “I also have a business relationship but we’re friends, you know. We have dinner with his wife.”

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Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told Congress Tuesday he has no role in the inspector general probe into the leak of confidential bank records of Michael Cohen’s finances, but that the investigation will be sweeping and thorough.

“I personally have not been involved in any of the procedures or anything associates with this,” Mnuchin said in a hearing before the Senate Appropriations Committee about the internal Treasury investigation into the publication of some suspicious activity reports (SARs) documenting huge payoffs to President Trump’s onetime personal lawyer.

The probe was announced last week after the New Yorker published an interview with a law enforcement official who claims to have leaked the documents after noticing they were missing from a database maintained by the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The New Yorker’s sources said that it was extraordinarily unusual for SARs to be inaccessible.

A FinCEN spokesperson said at the time that access to specific SARs is sometimes restricted at the request of prosecutors conducting ongoing investigations. Mnuchin reiterated that point at Tuesday’s hearing.

“I am not making any comments whether this was or was not done as it relates to these specific SARs, but I want to comment that FinCEN does have a long-standing policy of accommodating the enforcement agencies on that,” he said.

The SARs detailed a complex web of payments to and from a shell company operated by Cohen. Multinational corporations channeled money to Trump’s longtime fixer in exchange for his purported access to the administration, while Cohen funneled funds to an adult film star who alleges she had an affair with the President.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, working off of a referral from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are investigating Cohen for a host of financial crimes.

Public-interest groups and a handful of Democratic lawmakers have been pushing Mnuchin to recuse himself from any matters linked to Russia’s 2016 election interference because he served as finance chair of Trump’s campaign. The Democrats, led by Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), re-upped this call in a May 18 letter chastising Mnuchin for failing to address their questions.

The Treasury secretary’s silence, they wrote, suggested that he was “attempting to obstruct our efforts to uncover potential criminal activity by the President and those in his inner circle.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) pressed Mnuchin on whether the inspector general was focusing not just on leaks but on any possible “inappropriate interference” with the inaccessible SARs. Mnuchin insisted that the scope of the probe was broad.

“They are reviewing everything associated with the information of the SARs, both the technology issues, the issues around logging,” Mnuchin said. “I can assure you that they are doing a thorough review because this system of SARs is absolutely critical to our entire FinCEN effort and we need to make sure that it is in no way at risk.”

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In her first press interview since news broke in January of her affair with Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens (R), the woman at the heart of the scandal said she never wanted to go public.

“I didn’t want this,” the woman told local Missouri station KSDK in an interview published Monday. “I wasn’t out to get anyone. I really was just trying to live my life.”

It was only when her ex-husband released a secret recording in which she said Greitens tried to blackmail her with a semi-nude photo during their 2015 affair, prompting prosecutors to press charges against the governor, that she felt compelled to cooperate with the investigation.

“The second [Greitens] denied the things that were the most hurtful, the most difficult for me to now have to relive, I just realized now I have this decision,” the woman told KSDK. “The only ethical thing I felt I could do was tell the truth.”

The woman planned to testify in Greitens’ felony invasion-of-privacy case until St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner abruptly dropped the charge last week, after she was called by the defense to testify about possible missteps by her investigators. The judge has barred Gardner from any further involvement in the case. It has been turned over to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who will review the evidence and decide whether to refile charges against Greitens.

Baker is a seasoned, respected prosecutor who has worked on a number of sex abuse and domestic violence cases.

The woman has already testified before a special Missouri House committee investigating a host of allegations against the governor. In her vivid account, she said Greitens tied her up in his basement and photographed her semi-nude without consent, pressured her into sex acts, and slapped her on multiple occasions.

Greitens has admitted to the affair but rejected any claims of criminal wrongdoing.

In a statement to KSDK, a spokesperson for the governor said, “This case was dismissed because there was no evidence to support the allegations. Everyone involved has said they desire to move on.”

The woman, who wants to stay anonymous, also said she stood by everything she has told investigators about her relationships with Greitens.

Asked by KSDK if the governor coerced her into sex, she said, “Ultimately yes. Looking back, it’s so hard. I see myself as so vulnerable.”

The woman said she felt “used” by the governor’s lawyers, by her ex-husband, and by the people who gave $100,000 to help pay for her ex-husband’s legal bills. No money and no political operative’s pressure went into her decision to come forward, she said.

The woman requested that the station not use her real name because she wants to protect the anonymity of her young children. The only previous time she spoke to the press was a plea for privacy made in January when the scandal first broke.

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Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens may have declared “victory” too soon.

On Monday, Judge Rex Burlison announced that he’ll appoint a special prosecutor to consider re-filing the blackmail charges against Greitens that were abruptly dropped by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner last week, according to the Kansas City Star. The special prosecutor has not yet been named.

Greitens, a Republican, was accused of taking a nonconsensual nude photo of his then-lover and using it to blackmail her into silence about their relationship. Gardner dropped the case last Monday after Burlison agreed to allow the defense to call her as a witness to testify about alleged errors made by members of her team. Gardner said Burlison’s decision made it untenable for her to continue the prosecution.

In his ruling, Burlison prohibited Gardner “from any further involvement in this matter.”

In response, Greitens held an impromptu press conference on the courthouse steps, where he called himself a “changed man” and said he was ready to put the matter behind him. He has admitted to the affair but denied any criminal wrongdoing.

The embattled governor also faces a separate felony charge of computer tampering brought by Gardner’s office in April, as well as possible impeachment by the Missouri legislature.

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Michel Grimm, the ex-felon running for his old congressional seat in New York City, has earned plenty of support among the president’s allies for his unabashedly pro-Trump campaign.

But there’s one notable exception: Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani, who has been serving as Trump’s personal lawyer, announced over the weekend that he’s endorsing Grimm’s opponent in the GOP primary, Rep. Dan Donovan, and plans to hit the stump on Donovan’s behalf. In an interview with the New York Post, Giuliani said that Grimm “should back off” and suggested that his checkered past made it more difficult for the GOP to retain control of the district.

“Dan would win re-election for sure,” Giuliani told the Post. “With Grimm as the nominee, it would be a battle to hold the seat. It would be a heavier lift.”

The comments from the former New York City mayor add further intrigue to the unexpectedly tight race for the seat Grimm was forced to give up in 2015 when he was sentenced on felony tax evasion charges.

Grimm is running hard as the #MAGA candidate, hiring former Trump aide Michael Caputo as a communications advisor, meeting last year with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, and, on Saturday, hosting a fundraiser with short-lived White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci. The Post reported that the event, where Scaramucci described Grimm as a “guy with a heart of gold and a backbone of steel,” pulled in some $20,000.

But Grimm’s devotion to the President’s agenda — and praise for his “massive hands” — has yet to secure him the backing of the Commander-in-Chief himself.

And Caputo acknowledged that Giuliani’s endorsement carries real weight in the district, which covers Staten Island and parts of south Brooklyn.

“The mayor goes way back with [those neighborhoods],” Caputo told TPM in a Monday phone interview. “His support for any candidate is a positive thing for them.”

Though Caputo said that he respected Giuliani “completely” and knew from the campaign’s early days that he would align himself with Donovan, a former Staten Island district attorney, because of their histories in the New York political world, he tossed a few light barbs Giuliani’s way.

“I’m not going to criticize his decision to support the wrong candidate,” Caputo said, adding that, “No matter how many times Donovan votes against the President, I’m sure that the mayor will be there for him.”

Donovan voted against both the GOP tax bill and the failed May 2017 effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Yet he, too, has sought to frame himself as an ally of the president — just a more serious, measured one than his opponent.

Grimm is arguably best known for getting in the face of a NY1 reporter who asked about his legal troubles, threatening to toss him over a Capitol Hill balcony and break him “like a boy.”

Neither that incident nor Grimm’s prison sentence seem to concern voters in the district, who actually re-elected him in 2014 while he was facing a 20-count indictment.

An April poll from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had Grimm ahead by 10 points, while Caputo said internal polling put him up by 8. (Donovan disputes those numbers).

All that Grimm needs to do to secure a win in the June 26 primary, Caputo said, is to continue to prove to local Republican voters that he is “the more solid and reliable ally of the President.”

Correction: This piece originally identified Caputo as Grimm’s campaign manager rather than communications advisor.

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Erik Prince appears to have withheld critical information in his sworn testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.

The private security contractor and Blackwater founder told Congress that he was barely involved with the Trump campaign during the 2016 election cycle, and that most of his interaction with the team came during the presidential transition.

Reports that have since surfaced gravely undermine that version of events.

Most recently, a blockbuster New York Times report published Saturday detailed how Prince personally arranged and attended an August 2016 meeting between foreign emissaries and Donald Trump’s eldest son. At the meeting, Prince told Donald Trump Jr. that “we are working hard for your father.”

The Times report provides new evidence that Prince may have knowingly perjured himself in his congressional testimony. Lying to Congress is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison, but it is rarely enforced.

Prince’s interview focused primarily on a January 2017 trip he took to the Seychelles, ostensibly to meet with officials from the United Arab Emirates, and a conversation he had there with a Russian banker allied with Vladimir Putin. In his testimony, Prince downplayed the trip, saying it was primarily an opportunity to discuss business prospects with the UAE’s government and characterizing his conversation with the banker, Kirill Dmitriev, as a chance encounter. Prince insisted that he was not there as a representative of the incoming administration.

In Prince’s account, his contact with the Trump campaign was limited to semi-regular text exchanges with Steve Bannon, providing a few unsolicited papers on Middle East policy, and donating money.

That does not appear to be accurate.

George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who serves as a top adviser to the UAE, has told Special Counsel Robert Mueller that the Seychelles meeting was actually a planned effort to set up a secret communications backchannel between the Trump transition team and Russian government, according to reports.

In sworn statements, Nader, who is now a cooperating witness, said that he helped orchestrate the meeting specifically so that Prince and Dmitriev could discuss relations between the two countries.

As ABC News reported, Nader met with Prince in New York a week before the Seychelles trip to brief him about the meeting, and subsequently sent him biographical information about Dmitriev that included his connection to Putin.

Prince testified that he shared a beer with Dmitriev at the Four Seasons’ bar on the recommendation of “one of the brothers” of UAE Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed, who thought Dmitriev would be “an interesting guy” for Prince to know.

Then there is the August 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Prince personally organized. The other attendees were an Israeli specialist in social media manipulation, Trump Jr., and Nader, who promised that Saudi Arabia and UAE officials were eager to help Trump win the election, according to the Times.

Prince did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.

The Republican security contractor never mentioned this summit to the House Intelligence Committee. He explicitly denied having any “formal communications or contact with the campaign” aside from texting with Bannon, providing policy papers, donating funds, and putting up a Trump sign in his yard. Asked if he’d ever met Trump Jr., Prince said they were introduced at a campaign event and that they ran into each other “a couple times when I was up there during the transition.”

“I have never purported or positioned to having any great access to the Trump administration,” Prince, whose sister Betsy DeVos is the Secretary of Education, testified.

Prince grew increasingly irritated by lawmakers’ questions as the three-hour interview went on, telling them he’d “had about enough of this” and that he was “not here to indulge your fishing expedition any longer.”

At one point, he snapped at Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) for inquiring about the extent of his business interests in the UAE prior to the Seychelles meeting. The focus of the interview, Prince said, was supposed to be on Russia’s interference with the election.

“It’s just amazing how these things all find a way to be connected,” Quigley replied.

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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 on Friday said it may be the “all time biggest political scandal!”

Trump remained focused on the issue over the weekend, and on Sunday, in an extraordinary tweet, pledged to “demand” a DOJ investigation into whether the Obama administration was behind this supposed politically-motivated spying.

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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