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.
Another week, another previously undisclosed meeting between Trump associates and Russia. In May 2016, Trump ally Michael Caputo brokered a sit-down between Roger Stone and Russian national Henry Greenberg, who offered dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for $2 million from the GOP presidential candidate.
Both Caputo and Stone say nothing came of the meeting. They previously denied meeting with any Russians during the campaign and claimed this encounter slipped their minds.
Caputo said that special sounsel Robert Mueller expressed intense interest in it during his interview. The pair are using Greenberg’s prior work as an FBI informant to suggest he was dispatched by the bureau to tarnish the Trump campaign.
Donald Trump Jr. reportedly “regrets” his own 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, but only because it created “a situation that wasted a lot of time and money.”
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee say that GOP Chairman Devin Nunes did not share a tip he claims to have received from “good FBI agents” months before the election about the discovery of new emails pertinent to the Hillary Clinton probe. They’re hoping Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz can shed more light on this in a forthcoming report on leaks from his office.
Horowitz was grilled by lawmakers in both the Senate and House this week, where Republicans peppered him with questions about anti-Trump bias at the FBI and Democrats urged him to dispel Trump’s claims that the IG report “exonerated” him in the Russia probe. Horowitz amaintained that some FBI officials acted inappropriately but denied their actions influenced the Russia or Clinton email probes, and he noted that his report did not touch on the matters Mueller is pursuing. He also revealed that the IG office did not review the entire New York FBI field office for bias for the report issued last week.
Peter Strzok, one of the FBI agents found to have exchanged anti-Trump texts, was escorted from the bureau’s building last week “as part of the ongoing internal proceedings.” Strzok has offered to testify before Congress, enraging Trump.
Michael Cohen continued to distance himself from the President, griping to friends that Trump won’t cover his legal fees and swiping at his immigration policies in a statement resigning from his post at the Republican National Committee. Cohen also retained veteran criminal trial lawyer Guy Petrillo to represent him in the SDNY criminal probe.
The National Enquirer’s publisher was subpoenaed for info on whether they worked with Cohen to negotiate a payment to quash a former Playboy Playmate’s story about sleeping with Trump. The publication also reportedly vetted stories about Trump with Cohen prior to publication.
In the latest bit of bad news for Paul Manafort, a federal judge in D.C. rejected his request to suppress evidence obtained from his storage unit and his motion to dismiss a money laundering count against him.
A U.S. lobbyist for Putin-aligned oligarch Oleg Deripaska (a former Manafort business partner), Adam Waldman, met repeatedly with Trump-friendly WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2017.
The lawyer of an Indiana man indicted for directing an anonymous threat towards the alt-right says his client is being prosecuted by the federal government for a bit of unserious online trolling.
In a Friday statement to TPM, Scott Lauer, the Boston public defender representing Eric Radulovic in the case brought by the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the case “should alarm anyone who cares about free speech or who has ever made an ill-considered remark online.”
Radulovic, 28, was indicted June 7 for a threat he made on 4chan last August in the aftermath of the chaotic white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where counter-protester Heather Heyer was murdered. Upset over the rally, Radulovic posed as a member of the white nationalist alt-right and threatened to show up at an upcoming “Boston Free Speech Rally” and shoot members of the alt-right with a Remington 700.
Though his aim was to prevent people from showing up to the event, Radulovic wrote that injuring white nationalists would help garner “sympathy” for their movement.
Radulovic is now facing up to five years in prison for that comment, on one charge of making an interstate “threat to injure the person of another.” He also lost his job in the IT field following his arrest, according to Lauer.
But the indictment contains no evidence that Radulovic had any intention of traveling to Boston, for what was ultimately a peaceful rally, or even owned a gun. He has no prior criminal record, and his online social media profiles are full of jokey memes and photos of sunsets, but no violent rhetoric or images of weapons.
Radulovic pleaded not guilty at a Wednesday hearing in federal court in Boston. He returned home to Indiana, where he has been ordered to receive mental health treatment as part of the conditions of his release while his case moves forward.
Lauer declined to comment on specifics about the case, but told TPM that federal prosecutors were overreacting to a misguided online comment his client made but never intended to carry out.
“The alleged threat in this case was made on 4chan, an online forum infamous for ‘trolling,’” Lauer said in an email. “‘Trolling’ refers to the practice of making outlandish claims online for shock value or satirical purposes. In that context, Mr. Radulovic never imagined or intended that his attempt at trolling would be taken seriously as a threat. While his comments may reflect poor judgment, they were not criminal.”
Some extremism experts surveyed by TPM were surprised that the federal government chose to pursue this case. They noted that while federal charges were filed against the man accused of ramming Heyer with his car, no indictments were brought against the other white nationalists who engaged in violence at Charlottesville and several other far-right events over the past year. Many of those individuals, some members of known hate groups, flagged their intention to commit violence online before crossing state lines to actually do so.
Notably, though Radulovic was not officially charged with a hate crime, his grand jury indictment contains a “special finding” that says he “intentionally selected the victims as the object of his threat because of the actual and perceived race and color of the anticipated attendees.” (The press release about his case is also filed under the “hate crime” topic tag on the Justice Department’s website.)
This means that, if convicted, Radulovic could face enhanced sentencing for his perceived targeting of the white Americans expected to attend the rally.
Asked about this point, the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office told TPM it had “no comment beyond the indictment.”
A Washington, D.C. federal judge on Friday refused Paul Manafort’s motion to dismiss a money laundering count against him, in yet another legal setback for the former Trump campaign chairman.
Manafort, who was jailed last week to await two federal criminal trials after his bail was revoked for alleged witness tampering, has repeatedly sought to throw out the charges and suppress the evidence against him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s Friday ruling marks his latest failure to convince her to do so.
This bit of legal wrangling involves Manafort’s alleged money laundering, which Mueller’s team contends “promote[d]” his failure to comply with the Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) for lobbying he did on behalf of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.
Manafort’s attorneys contended that it is a crime only to fail to register as a foreign agent under FARA, not to act as one. Therefore, they argued, channeling proceeds he earned from his overseas lobbying work was irrelevant to the alleged violation at hand.
Not so, the judge ruled.
“While defendant is correct that FARA does not prohibit being a foreign agent, undertaking activities on behalf of a foreign client, or ‘acting’ as a foreign agent per se, it is illegal to act as an undisclosed foreign agent,” she wrote in her decision.
Jackson also pointed out that language in the 2001 Patriot Act specifically allows for individuals who violate FARA to be prosecuted for money laundering offenses.
“These laws are not just about paperwork,” her ruling concludes. “Their object is to ensure that no person acts to advance the interests of a foreign government or principal within the United States unless the public has been properly notified of his or her allegiance.”
In the D.C. trial, scheduled to start in mid-September, Manafort faces charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to disclose his foreign lobbying. Manafort also faces charges of making false statements on tax returns, failure to report foreign bank accounts, and bank fraud in a separate trial in Virginia set for late July. Manafort has pleaded not guilty to both indictments.
Could Trump-fueled infighting cost New York City Republicans their only seat in Congress?
That’s the question looming over Tuesday’s bloody, hard-fought GOP primary race between incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) and his predecessor, convicted felon and former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY).
Grimm held the NY-11 district seat until 2015, when he was imprisoned for federal tax fraud. Donovan sailed in with a special election victory to save face for the party. Now Grimm wants the seat back.
Donovan, the former Staten Island district attorney, is the establishment pick, scoring endorsements from most of the Empire State’s GOP old guard, the National Republican Congressional Committee, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R), and, most critically, President Trump. But Grimm remains popular in the heavily ethnic white, GOP-leaning district that takes in all of Staten Island and a stretch of south Brooklyn. And in spite of Trump’s endorsement of Donovan, Grimm has campaigned hard as the true Trumpian candidate.
Thanks to Grimm’s surprisingly strong standing with a chunk of the district’s Republicans, the state’s arcane election laws and the race’s uncertain Trump factor, Grimm has a good shot at pulling the whole thing off. But New York Republicans fear that his significant baggage could imperil their hold on a seat that Donovan should be able to win in the fall.
“If Dan Donovan wins the primary, he keeps his job,” New York GOP strategist Susan del Percio told TPM.
“If Grimm wins, it’ll be a tough fight and yes, the Republicans can lose that seat,” del Percio, who worked for Grimm in his 2010 primary campaign and never worked with Donovan, continued. “You have a vulnerable, deeply flawed candidate who is a convicted felon. That’s something you can raise a lot of money against and really go after to increase turnout this election cycle.”
Another New York Republican consultant, who asked to remain anonymous because of his ties to both GOP candidates, said Democratic frontrunner Max Rose “has a chance” in the general, especially because Trump’s endorsement for Donovan came so late in the race.
“If Donovan loses, it signals Trump can’t boost support for the only Republican in his entire home city of New York” the consultant said.
After all, the conservative firebrand was best remembered for two events: his on-camera threat to break a NY1 reporter in half “like a boy,” and his 2014 felony criminal trial for fraud, tax evasion and perjury.
Donovan’s camp shrugged the challenge off, pointing to Grimm’s less-than-hard-right voting record in Congress and criminal record. They set about securing mainstream endorsements and raising funds.
Grimm, meanwhile, hit the campaign trail hard, turning out for parades, knocking on doors and snapping photos with white-haired grandmothers. He brought Trump allies including Michael Caputo and Anthony Scaramucci into the fold, and gave frequent press interviews casting himself as the strongest champion of the #MAGA agenda.
“Donovan I think was overconfident for a long, long time,” Gerry O’Brien, a 40-year veteran of New York GOP politics who left the party during the 2016 election, told TPM.
O’Brien said the Donovan campaign made a “strategic blunder” by telegraphing their central attack on Grimm’s voting record months before the election, when “regular voters were paying less than zero attention.”
All the strategists TPM spoke to voiced similar concerns: Donovan was a lackluster retail campaigner while Grimm excelled at it; Donovan squandered his financial advantage on dull direct mail buys; Donovan didn’t take Grimm seriously until late in the race.
The national GOP has been worried about the race for some time. The NRCC added Donovan to their “Primary Patriots” program, providing additional fundraising and organizing assistance. While the NY1 poll was still being conducted, the president came out with a two-tweet endorsement for the incumbent warning what might happen if Grimm wins the nomination.
“Remember Alabama,” Trump implored, citing the disastrous campaign of far-right Senate candidate Roy Moore, who lost to Democrat Doug Jones following allegations that Moore once groped multiple teenage girls.
The Grimm campaign claims Trump was hoodwinked into supporting Donovan, noting that his first tweet claimed the congressman supported the tax cut bill that Donovan actually voted against.
“Donovan has abandoned a district that voted overwhelmingly for Trump,” Ryan Girdusky, a strategist providing support to Grimm’s primary campaign, told TPM. “Michael Grimm will be their advocate in Congress.”
Grimm has made his own mistakes. One notable misstep involved New York’s arcane election rules, which allow candidates to file signatures with the Board of Elections to appear on multiple party ballot lines. A Grimm campaign operative messed with the signatures Donovan’s team submitted, trying to keep him off the Reform Party ballot.
But he was caught, and the BOE not only kept Donovan on the Reform Party line but referred the incident to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
There were other allegations of dirty tricks. Donovan accused Grimm of filing an ethics complaint against him, claiming that Donovan helped his partner’s son secure preferential treatment after a 2015 heroin arrest. (Grimm denies making the complaint, while Donovan denies intervening).
At a primary debate last week, Grimm charged that Donovan even sought to secure a presidential pardon on his behalf in order to keep him out of the primary race. Donovan acknowledged discussing the prospect of a pardon while riding on Air Force One with Trump last summer, but said he only did so as a favor to a longtime friend in Staten Island politics who’s now backing Grimm, former Rep. Guy Molinari (R-NY).
Donovan’s team counters that this is just another bogus accusation made by a campaign thrown into disarray by Trump’s endorsement, which upended the dynamics of the race.
“Grimm’s entire campaign was built around President Trump, who urged voters not to vote for him and said literally no one is better to represent him than Donovan,” Donovan spokeswoman Jessica Proud scoffed on a call with TPM.
With the primary just days away, Grimm is continuing to make Donovan’s electability argument for him.
Grimm caught flak in the conservative New York Post this week for downplaying an audio recording of distraught immigrant children separated from their parents by the Trump administration. Grimm told reporters, “You’re going to hear the same exact things as a mother leaves to go to work and has to leave her child at day care.”
The GOP strategist who requested anonymity said Grimm was “basically writing a Democratic campaign ad” with his comments.”
Rose, the leading Democratic candidate and a decorated U.S. Army veteran, has pulled in hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and scored endorsements from the likes of the DCCC, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and the Service Employees International Union.
Kevin Elkins, Rose’s campaign manager, told TPM they’re “feeling pretty confident” about the race regardless of their opponent, but said they’d prefer to face off against Grimm because they would relish defeating him “once and for all.”
As Elkins pointed out, the peculiarities of New York’s ballot system means “this could go thirty different ways.”
Candidates are permitted to remain on multiple party lines even after losing a major-party primary. So either Grimm or Donovan could lose the Republican primary and stay on the November ballot on a minority-party line, peeling votes away from their rival.
O’Brien, the former GOP strategist, predicted Tuesday’s results will be closer than polls have shown, citing Trump’s support and Donovan’s last-minute assault of TV advertising.
“Whether that’s enough, I don’t know,” he said. “The Republican Party has jumped off the cliff in a very enthusiastic display of suicide over the last year or two. It would not be uncharacteristic for them to have gone all in on this and still throw another congressional seat away.”
Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed the publisher of the National Inquirer as part of their probe into Michael Cohen’s business dealings, including the hush money payments he brokered with women who claimed to have slept with Donald Trump.
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that officials in the Southern District of New York want information from American Media Inc. about the $150,000 August 2016 payment they made to former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal to catch-and-kill a story about her alleged affair with the President.
Specifically, prosecutors are searching for evidence that Cohen coordinated with American Media to negotiate this arrangement, sources familiar with the matter told the Journal.
In a statement to the newspaper, AMI said: “American Media Inc., has, and will continue to, comply with any and all requests that do not jeopardize or violate its protected sources or materials pursuant to our first amendment rights.”
Both Cohen and Trump are close friends with AMI chairman and CEO David Pecker. A “person familiar with the matter” told the Journal that phone records showed frequent contact between Cohen and Pecker at the time the deal with McDougal was being negotiated.
Prosecutors are also looking into the $130,000 payment Cohen brokered to adult film star Stormy Daniels days before the 2016 election to keep her from speaking publicly about her alleged sexual liaison with Trump.
Cohen is under investigation for possible campaign finance violations, bank fraud, and other financial crimes.
After a months-long fight, an anti-gerrymandering initiative has officially been approved for the November ballot.
The Michigan Board of Canvassers voted 3-0 Wednesday to approve the proposal by Voters Not Politicians, a citizens group. The effort grew out of a Facebook post by local activist Katie Fahey, who urged voters frustrated by sweeping Republican victories in the 2016 election to come together to “take on gerrymandering.” The all-volunteer ballot initiative ended up securing over 425,000 signatures in 110 days.
“We look forward to being on the ballot in November, and giving voters a chance to change our current system, where politicians and lobbyists operate behind closed doors to draw district lines for partisan gain,” Fahey said in a statement on the Board of Canvassers vote. “Our polling and our volunteer signature collection and canvassing results show Michigan voters support our plan for a transparent, non-partisan, Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission.”
A final decision on the legality of the proposed initiative is still pending in state Supreme Court. A group called Citizens Protecting Michigan’s Constitution (CPMC), which is backed by the state Chamber of Commerce, sued to block the initiative in May, claiming it made so many changes to the state constitution that it should require a constitutional convention.
The initiative proposes taking map-drawing control for both congressional and state legislative districts away from lawmakers. A citizens’ commission made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents randomly chosen by the secretary of state would assume control of the process.
The commission would be required to follow “accepted measures of partisan fairness” and other guidelines.
On June 7, the state court of appeals ruled 3-0 that CPMC’s complaint was “without merit” and that the proposal had a “single purpose”: ending partisan gerrymandering in the state. CPMC appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has yet to release a final ruling.
“We fully expect the Supreme Court will concur with the Court of Appeals that the pro-gerrymandering campaign to keep the Voters Not Politicians proposal off the ballot is without merit,” Fahey said in her statement.
Michael Cohen has hired a veteran trial lawyer to represent him in the Southern District of New York’s criminal investigation into his financial dealings.
Both Vanity Fair and CNN reported Tuesday that President Trump’s longtime fixer has retained Guy Petrillo, former head of the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan.
Cohen is currently deciding whether to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating him for bank fraud, campaign finance violations, and other possible financial crimes.
Petrillo did not immediately return TPM’s request for comment.
Reports surfaced last week that Cohen would part ways with his team at McDermott, Will and Emery for an attorney better acquainted with the office that is prosecuting him. A trio of McDermott lawyers lead by Stephen Ryan oversaw a privilege review of hundreds of thousands of documents seized from Cohen’s premises in April.
The New York Times reported that the break was due in part to issues related to Cohen’s payment of Ryan’s legal bills.
Ryan’s reported replacement, Petrillo, served as assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1990 to 1997 and then spent a decade in private practice at Dechert LLP. Petrillo returned to the U.S. attorney’s office as chief of the criminal division from 2008 through 2009 before co-founding a white-shoe law firm focused on representing individuals under criminal investigation.
Per the website of his firm, Petrillo Klein & Boxer, he is “regularly engaged by clients in criminal and civil matters prosecuted by the Department Justice.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) on Tuesday repeatedly suggested that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tried to cover up a text message in which FBI agent Peter Strzok said “we’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president.
Jordan devoted multiple rounds of questioning to his pursuit of Rosenstein during a joint Judiciary and Oversight Committee hearing on the recently released Justice Department Inspector General report.
As Jordan noted, many of the texts between Strzok and his fellow former FBI official and former girlfriend Lisa Page lambasting Trump leaked out earlier, but this “most explosive” one was not made public until the report came out last week.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz explained that the message was only discovered in May thanks to technical complications in extracting all of the officials’ texts, and that that new trove of messages was sent to Rosenstein’s office for them to then turn them over to Congress.
Jordan then suggested that Rosenstein did not turn over the text message right away.
“Mr. Rosenstein made a decision that instead of us seeing the most explosive text message between these two key agents who were on the Clinton team, the Russia team, and on the special counsel team, he made a decision to wait a month for us to see that text message,” Jordan said.
“I can’t speak to whether anyone made a conscious decision,” Horowitz replied. “I would just say we had — there was in that fourth recovery that we made in May, there was 100,000-plus lines of text to go through, most all of them we’d found before. This one was one we hadn’t. We didn’t see it or pick it up until June.”
Horowitz then explained, as he did in his Monday testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, that his office had to exhaust its cyber forensics capabilities and ultimately go to both an outside vendor and the Pentagon to try to recover all of the agents’ messages.
Jordan is among the GOP lawmakers who have attacked Rosenstein for his oversight of the special counsel investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference. Claiming that Rosenstein is withholding documents from Congress, this group of Republicans has called for him to be impeached.
Jordan’s animosity toward Rosenstein was clear in his questioning Tuesday.
The Ohio lawmaker said Rosenstein “hid information from us” and, in a subsequent round of questioning, suggested the deputy attorney general intentionally declined to show Congress the “we’ll stop it” text after Horowitz pointed it out to him on June 8.
“Do you know if there’s anything nefarious at work?” Jordan asked. “When we got the original question, it had the prompting question from Ms. Page. He’s never going to become President. We had that for months. Why didn’t we get the response?”
Horowitz replied again that it was due to a technical glitch that kept the FBI from storing months worth of messages, and to the difficulties his office had in retrieving them.
The Justice Department Inspector General testified Tuesday that his office’s most recent report did not include a comprehensive review of agents at the FBI’s New York field office looking for evidence that they opposed Hillary Clinton and leaked damaging information about her during the 2016 presidential campaign.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, cited a section from the IG’s report in which former Attorney General Loretta Lynch claimed to be quoting former FBI Director James Comey about the “deep and visceral hatred” of Clinton among a “cadre of senior people in New York.”
“Is there evidence and, in fact, there were people in the FBI office in New York who were very — who had a hatred of Secretary Clinton?” Nadler asked.
“We looked at individuals connected to the Midyear review, and we were not out there looking at every single FBI agent’s personal devices, text messages, who had no role in the Midyear investigation,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz replied.
As the IG report showed, multiple senior FBI officials believed a fear of leaks from anti-Clinton FBI agents in New York prompted Comey to break from precedent and publicly announce the reopening of the Clinton email investigation days before the election.
The IG’s office did not come to a conclusion on whether Comey was in fact motivated by a fear of leaks, and the report did not address the issue of leaks from the New York office to allies of the Trump campaign, including Rudy Giuliani. Horowitz declined during a Monday Senate Judiciary hearing to expound on any evidence his office discovered of anti-Clinton leaks.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Horowitz said that only the communications of former FBI officials Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, two other unnamed agents, and one lawyer at the bureau were scrutinized.
“You didn’t look at other agents like in the New York office?” Nadler asked.
“We did not look at agents beyond the Midyear team, the Clinton email investigation team,” Horowitz replied.
The House Oversight Committee’s top Democrat on Tuesday grilled Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on whether the President is correct in claiming that a report issued by Horowitz’s office vindicated him in the federal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
The short answer: no.
Pointing to a quote in which President Trump said he was “totally exonerated” by the IG report on how top FBI officials handled investigations during the campaign, Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said, “My copy of your report must be missing a page, a few pages.”
“Did your investigation examine whether President Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to impact the election, or whether the president obstructed an FBI investigation?” Cummings asked.
“Our report was focused on the Clinton email investigation, and the only place where it touches the Russia matter is with regard to the [FBI agents’] text messages and then the October decision about the Weiner laptop,” Horowitz replied.
Horowitz gave similar answers to Cummings’ questions citing quotes by Trump and his attorney Rudy Giuliani claiming that the report proved that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was “totally discredited,” should end immediately, and was corrupt.
“We don’t address issues with regard to the special counsel,” he replied finally.
Giuliani himself acknowledged in an interview over the weekend that he doesn’t think the report exonerates Trump.
Watch the exchange between Cummings and Horowitz below.