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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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After the college town of Charlottesville, Virginia was wracked with violence during last month’s “Unite the Right” rally, private companies executed a sweeping purge of white nationalist and hate groups from their platforms. Taking action isn’t likely to be as simple for those colleges and universities where white nationalists are dead set on spreading their message, however.

Richard Spencer’s allies have spent the past few weeks issuing veiled threats of legal action against the slew of schools that rejected the prominent white nationalist’s requests to speak out of concern that violence could break out on their campuses, too. This weekend, a student who tried to rent space for a Spencer event filed a complaint accusing Michigan State University of violating his and Spencer’s First Amendment right to share their “Alt-Right philosophy.”

Free speech experts surveyed by TPM said court precedent, the difficulty of preemptively proving that a speaker poses a violent threat, and strong speech protections in public spaces like state school campuses make it overwhelmingly likely that Spencer’s allies will prevail.

“There is no Richard Spencer exception” to the First Amendment, Will Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, told TPM. Though there are exceptions for incitement and intimidation, Creeley noted, those have “narrow legal definitions.”

“The Supreme Court has said that speech can only be restricted for fear that it will incite violence if it’s intended to and likely to promote imminent lawless conduct,” Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, explained in a recent interview. “So if somebody were to say, ‘Let’s go and beat up the counter-protesters,’ that would be punishable. But other speech is not. And the government can’t suppress speech up front for fear that maybe when the person comes up to speak he will say these impermissible things.”

Volokh pointed to 2010 case Sonnier vs. Crain, which forced Southeastern Louisiana University to drop a discretionary security fee that it required controversial outside speakers to pay after traveling evangelist Jeremy Sonnier argued the policy violated his constitutional rights.

But the clearest parallel to the Michigan State situation came just a few months ago, when a federal judge issued an injunction allowing Spencer to speak in April at Auburn University, after that school canceled his planned appearance out of concern that the visit would provoke violence.

Self-described “alt-right attorney” Kyle Bristow cited that ruling in the Michigan State complaint, which he filed on behalf of Cameron Padgett, who tried to rent a room at the university so Spencer could speak there. Padgett, a 23-year-old senior at Georgia State University, was also behind the lawsuit that spurred the injunction allowing Spencer to speak at Auburn. The nature of his relationship with Spencer is unclear.

The Michigan State complaint argues that “the instant controversy” about Spencer’s scheduled visit there was “virtually identical” to the Auburn case, and calls the cancellation an example of “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.” It asks the court to issue an injunction allowing Padgett to rent a room where Spencer can speak and seeks $75,000 in damages.

Schools including Michigan State, Louisiana State University, the University of Florida, Texas A&M and Pennsylvania State University argue that they’re not issuing a blanket ban on Spencer or other white nationalists speaking on campus, but are instead trying to avoid on-campus clashes while tensions are still running high from the deadly rally in Charlottesville.

The University of Florida even issued a statement after it canceled Spencer’s event planned for Sept. 12 that reiterated its commitment to free speech and said Spencer would be allowed to speak on campus at some future date.

Still, legal experts said the one-off Charlottesville argument is unlikely to satisfy the courts.

Roy Gutterman, director of Syracuse University’s Tully Center for Free Speech, acknowledged that it was “not unreasonable to expect some sort of violence” at an event Spencer headlines after Charlottesville, where the prominent white nationalist marched in the streets alongside weapon-wielding Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis.

But Gutterman cautioned that “the preemptive nature of these denials raises questions because you cannot predict the future. Just because there was violence at a rally in one place doesn’t mean there will be similar violence at the next one.”

This is the fine line that Spencer routinely walks. Shielded by degrees from elite universities, a clean record and his think tank’s benign name, Spencer aligns himself with some of the country’s most extreme white nationalist forces without explicitly advocating violence, effectively tying the hands of those who oppose his message.

“These guys know exactly what to say; they’ve got counsel,” Gutterman said. “They can craft their statements and their arguments to disclaim any sort of intent to create or cause violence.”

Spencer’s allies have not yet initiated legal action against other schools, including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which last week became the latest school to turn down his request to speak. Michigan State appears to be their test case.

But for school officials who saw torch-wielding white nationalists march through the University of Virginia’s campus shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” potential legal headaches are tolerable.

Janine Sykes, assistant vice president for public affairs at the University of Florida, told TPM that the school’s president “was certainly willing to risk a lawsuit in an effort to prevent any injuries.”

“The university’s view might be maybe they’ll sue us, maybe we’ll lose, maybe it’ll cost us some money,” UCLA’s Volokh said. “But it’s worth it.”

Read the full complaint below:

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Schools Probably Can’t Ban White Nationalists: ‘No Richard Spencer Exemption’ To 1st A
Despite Cancelation Attempts, Public Schools Likely Unable To Keep White Nationalists Off Campus

After the small college town of Charlottesville, Virginia was wracked by violence during August’s “Unite the Right” rally, private companies executed a sweeping purge of white nationalist and hate groups from their platforms. Taking action won’t be so simple for universities themselves.

White nationalist Richard Spencer’s backers have spent the past few weeks issuing veiled threats of legal action against the spate of public universities that rejected his requests to speak on campus out of concern that Charlottesville-like violence could break out. They finally moved forward in court this weekend, accusing Michigan State University of violating Spencer’s First Amendment rights.

Free speech experts surveyed by TPM say court precedent, the difficulty of preemptively proving that a speaker poses a violent threat, and strong speech protections in public spaces like state school campuses make it overwhelmingly likely that Spencer will prevail.

“There is no Richard Spencer exception” to the First Amendment, Will Creeley, senior vice president of legal and public advocacy at the Foundation for Equal Rights in Education told TPM. Though there are exceptions for incitement and intimidation, Creeley noted, those have “narrow legal definitions.”

“The Supreme Court has said that speech can only be restricted for fear that it will incite violence if it’s intended to and likely to promote imminent lawless conduct,” Eugene Volokh, First Amendment expert at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law, explained in a recent interview. “So if somebody were to say, ‘Let’s go and beat up the counter-protesters,’ that would be punishable. But other speech is not. And the government can’t suppress speech up front for fear that maybe when the person comes up to speak he will say these impermissible things.”

As precedent, Volokh pointed to 2010 case Sonnier vs. Case, which forced Southeastern Louisiana University to drop a discretionary security fee that controversial outside speakers were required to pay after traveling evangelist Jeremy Sonnier argued that the policy violated his constitutional rights.

But the clearest precedent for the Michigan State situation came just months ago. In April, a federal judge issued an injunction allowing Spencer to speak at Auburn University after the public school canceled his planned appearance out of concerns that his visit would provoke violence.

That ruling was cited in the Michigan State complaint, filed by so-called “alt-right attorney” Kyle Bristow on behalf of Cameron Padgett, a 23-year-old senior at Georgia State University who was also behind the Auburn lawsuit. The complaint, which Bristow provided to TPM, argues that “the instant controversy” about Spencer’s scheduled visit was “virtually identical” to the Auburn case, calling the cancellation an example of “unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination.” Bristow requested that the university award Spencer $75,000 in damages, legal fees, and the opportunity to speak.

Universities including Michigan State, Louisiana State University, the University of Florida, Texas A&M and Pennsylvania State are arguing that they’re not issuing a blanket ban on Spencer or other white nationalist speakers, but are instead trying to avoid on-campus clashes while tensions are still running high from the fatal rally in Charlottesville.

The University of Florida even issued a statement after initially canceling his Sept. 12 event reiterating its commitment to free speech and saying Spencer would be allowed him to speak on campus at some future date.

Still, the one-off Charlottesville argument is unlikely to satisfy the courts, legal experts say.

Roy Gutterman, Director of Syracuse University’s Tully Center for Free Speech, acknowledged that it was “not unreasonable to expect some sort of violence” at a Spencer speech after Charlottesville, where the white nationalist speaker marched in the streets alongside weapon-wielding Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis.

But Gutterman cautioned that “the preemptive nature of these denials raises questions because you cannot predict the future. Just because there was violence at a rally in one place doesn’t mean there will be similar violence at the next one.”

This is the fine line that Spencer and other far-right provocateurs like Ann Coulter routinely walk. Shielded by his think tank’s benign name, degrees from elite universities, and lack of criminal record, Spencer aligns himself with some of the country’s most violent white nationalist forces without personally advocating violence, effectively tying the hands of those who oppose his message.

“These guys know exactly what to say; they’ve got counsel,” Gutterman said. “They can craft their statements and their arguments to disclaim any sort of intent to create or cause violence.”

To date, Spencer’s backers have hinted at but initiated no legal action against other schools, including University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, which last week became the latest to turn down his request to speak. They likely see Michigan State as the test case.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller has acquired a draft of an initial letter that President Donald Trump and a senior adviser drew up to justify the firing of former FBI director James Comey, the New York Times reported Friday.

A dozen administration officials told the newspaper that White House counsel Don McGahn blocked that letter, which was written with an assist from hardline policy adviser Stephen Miller, from being sent out because he was concerned that some of its arguments were problematic.

The Times did not report on the contents of the draft letter, but noted that it “appears to provide the clearest rationale that Mr. Trump had for firing Comey.”

One factor laid out in the letter was Trump’s irritation with Comey for not publicly declaring that the President wasn’t personally under investigation in the federal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Washington Post subsequently reported.

After his firing, Comey testified before Congress that he informed Trump privately on three separate occasions that he was not a subject of the FBI’s investigation. Ironically, it was Trump’s swift dismissal of his FBI director and his later comments about making the decision because of his irritation over the ongoing Russia investigation that prompted the FBI to open a probe into whether the President obstructed justice.

The Justice Department turned the letter over to Mueller in recent weeks, according to the report. Ty Cobb, one of Trump’s outside lawyers, declined to comment, telling the Times simply, “To the extent the special prosecutor is interested in these matters, we will be fully transparent with him.”

When Comey was abruptly fired in early May, the White House released letters from Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that recommended that Comey be dismissed for his handling of the probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Trump undercut that explanation soon afterward by telling an NBC anchor—and, reportedly, visiting Russian diplomats—that he fired Comey to relieve pressure the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was putting on him.

Mueller is investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey, who initially led that probe as FBI director, and by reportedly asking Comey earlier in the year to quash an investigation into Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser.

Several people who reviewed the initial draft letter told the Post that it makes clear that Trump had set his plans to fire Comey in motion days before receiving recommendations from his top DOJ officials. The decision came during a weekend he spent at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, where a handful of aides including Miller, his daughter Ivanka, and his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner were present, per the report.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller has enlisted agents from the IRS’ Criminal Investigations Unit for his sprawling investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the Daily Beast reported late Thursday.

Agents in that specialized unit focus specifically on financial crimes like tax evasion and money laundering, and have worked on previous cases with both Mueller and one of his colleagues on the probe, federal prosecutor Andrew Weissman, according to the Daily Beast.

A spokesman for the special counsel’s office declined the publication’s request for comment.

Possible financial crimes are a primary focus of Mueller’s team of investigators, who are digging through the financial dealings and real estate holdings of a number of President Donald Trump’s associates. Politico reported this week that Mueller was collaborating with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on a probe into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

Trump and his outside legal team have argued that the probe should focus strictly on Russia’s doings, and that past business transactions not related to Russia are out of bounds. But former federal prosecutors told TPM that reviewing the business histories of Trump and his associates would be a basic part of any serious investigation, and key to determining whether Russian operatives had leverage over any of them.

The memo appointing Mueller as special counsel gives him a broad mandate to investigate “any matters” that arise from the probe into Russia’s meddling.

The IRS, of course, has access to Trump’s tax records, which he refused to release during the campaign.

The Trump administration could face some serious roadblocks should Mueller decide he wants to bring charges against Trump associates for violating tax law, according to the Daily Beast. Mueller would need to request approval from the Justice Department’s tax division to pursue those charges, and the President has yet to nominate anyone to run it.

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The Russian developer President Donald Trump teamed up with in 2015 to try to build a tower in the heart of Moscow had a shoddy business record, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Longtime Trump associate Felix Sater brought the Trump Organization a proposal to license the President’s name to IC Expert, a firm that has been faulted in Moscow court rulings for missed deadlines and construction difficulties, according to the Journal. IC Expert is headed by Andrei Rozov, whom Sater had previously worked with.

People familiar with the proposal told the newspaper that both Donald Trump and Rozov signed a non-binding letter of intent to construct the project in October 2015, well after the presidential primary campaign got underway.

Rozov did not respond to the Journal’s request for comment, and a representative for IC Expert claimed to the newspaper that discussions for a Trump-branded project had never occurred. Yet a person familiar with the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election told the Journal that the letter of intent, which was among the documents that Trump’s longtime friend and former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, turned over to the committee this week, had Rozov’s name on it.

Sater confirmed his work on the project to the newspaper, saying he wanted to help Trump build “the tallest building in Moscow.”

This was the Trump Organization’s third attempt to do so. Trump and his adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, worked with Sater on an earlier Trump Moscow project in 2005. Trump also discussed a project in 2013 with Russian developer Aras Agalarov, who brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia that year.

In a statement to the House panel obtained by the New York Times, Cohen said that he discussed the 2015 effort to build in Moscow with Trump three separate times, and had emailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman for assistance moving it forward. He and Sater also exchanged emails about their dual effort to get Trump elected and complete the project, but it ultimately went nowhere.

Signing a letter of intent with Rozov is just another example of the Trump Organization’s teaming up with developers and financiers with less-than-stellar records. Bloomberg reported Friday that mass protests are expected this weekend outside one IC Expert development on the outskirts of Moscow that residents say the company failed to construct on time, leaving them unable to move in.

Sater met Rozov when both men served on the board of a company run by Sergei Polonsky, a Russian property tycoon who earned billions from his real estate empire until the financial crisis landed him deep in debt, according to the Journal. Polonsky was recently found guilty of defrauding buyers in Russia, but did not serve his sentence of five years in prison because the statute of limitations had expired, per the report.

There’s no evidence Polonsky was involved in the Moscow project Sater and Cohen explored for the Trump Organization.

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The League of the South has been pushing its pro-secession message since the early 1990s, but the Florida chapter of the neo-Confederate group has in recent months taken a notably violent turn.

Photographs and videos from August’s deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia appear to show the league’s chief of staff and Florida chairman, Michael Tubbs (pictured above at right), and his black-clad followers in close proximity to some of the most egregious assaults on counter-protesters, including the brutal beating of a black counter-protester in a covered parking garage. Another one of the chapter’s members was arrested Wednesday after allegedly charging with a flagpole at a group rallying in support of changing Confederate street names in Hollywood, Florida—while ranting about Charlottesville.

Because of its regional focus and lack of a leader with national name recognition, like the Traditionalist Worker Party’s Matthew Heimbach, the League of the South didn’t garner as much attention for its involvement in the “Unite the Right” rally as other groups that participated. But with the urging of Tubbs, a former felon and Ku Klux Klan member, and a fixation on pushing back against the growing movement to remove Confederate monuments, the Florida chapter has adopted violence as a key part of its strategy.

“They have definitely stepped more into the violent realm just in recent months,” Heidi Beirich, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, a periodical that tracks hate groups, told TPM.

The Florida chapter has “taken the forefront on all this militarization stuff,” Beirich added, pointing to the “really prominent role” their members played in Charlottesville. “[Tubbs] is recruiting young men into the league and sees himself as the military sergeant in charge of these younger troops.”

Tubbs, center, uses this photograph of him and other League of the South members massing in Charlottesville as his Facebook cover photo.

Tubbs and several other members of the Florida chapter did not respond to TPM’s repeated requests for comment by phone, email and Facebook messenger. Nor did Michael Hill, the organization’s Alabama-based founder respond. One Florida chapter member reached by TPM sent along a link to the group’s website and did not respond to follow-up questions.

Another member, 22-year-old Miami resident Christopher Rey Monzon, was in custody with the Broward County Sheriff’s Office as of late Thursday afternoon. As the Miami New Times first reported, Monzon heckled a group of demonstrators waiting outside a commissioners’ meeting Wednesday in Hollywood, where local officials were voting on whether to rename three streets named for Confederate generals.

According to a police report obtained by TPM, Monzon directly linked the goings-on in Hollywood to last month’s deadly rally.

“I was at Charlottesville,” he yelled at attendees, as quoted in the police report. “I’m not going to forget what you people did to us there.”

After calling those advocating for the name changes “Jews” and a “cancer on the face of the earth,” the report states Monzon pointed the flagpole of his Confederate banner at protesters and charged at them, shouting, “Come on motherfucker, come on!”

He was charged with aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and inciting a riot, and a small pen knife was also found in his front shirt pocket, according to the police report. The Broward County Sheriff’s office confirmed that Monzon was in custody, but not whether he’d retained legal counsel.

Monzon did not post photographs from Charlottesville on the Facebook page he appears to maintain under the name of Christopher Cedeno. But that page is filled with photographs that appear to show him holding assault weapons and posing in Florida League of the South gear at Confederate monuments and plantations throughout the Sunshine State.

An attendee at the Charlottesville rally conducted a brief video interview with an individual who appears to be Monzon, however, and there is extensive documentary evidence of other chapter members marching through the streets with their signature flags featuring a black cross on a white field. Those marchers were part of the vigilante “Southern defense force” that Hill, the League of the South’s founder, formed earlier this year to combat what the group calls “a growing leftist menace to our historic Christian civilization.”

Jim O’Brien, whose Facebook page identifies him as a member of the North Florida chapter, confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times that he was arrested on the day of the Charlottesville rally for carrying a concealed weapon without a permit.

Tubbs also appears on the fringes of some of the most jarring incidents from that day. One was the vicious parking garage assault on counter-demonstrator Deandre Harris, which left him with eight staples in his head, a broken wrist and a chipped tooth. Two men have been arrested and charged in connection with the beating, neither of them Tubbs.

He has not shied away from violence in the past, however. As the SPLC has documented, the former Green Beret demolitions expert once robbed fellow army sergeants of their M-16 rifles during a training exercise while shouting “This is for the KKK” and served four years in prison for accumulating massive caches of weapons believed to be stolen from U.S. Army facilities that he intended to use to target black and Jewish-owned businesses.

Such an embrace of violent individuals and rhetoric have actually prompted a decline in the League of the South’s overall membership, according to the SPLC. The group was founded by academics who wanted to glorify the South, but has become increasingly radical over the years, adapting virulently anti-Semitic rhetoric, urging the accumulation of arms and calling for the former Confederate states to secede specifically to form a white ethnostate.

Those members remaining are particularly fixated on halting the removal of Confederate monuments and imagery that began in earnest after Dylann Roof gunned down nine black parishioners in 2015 at a Charleston, South Carolina church. They have traveled to Stone Mountain, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; New Orleans; and Memphis, Tennessee to promote this cause.

But the forces of history are aligned against them, as evidenced by the decision of a number of municipalities and universities to remove Confederate statues in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville. And in Hollywood, Florida, while Monzon sat in jail, city commissioners voted five-to-one to rename the streets honoring Confederate generals.

Feature image: Tubbs appears pictured at far right wearing sunglasses and a “Florida” badge as he walks through Charlottesville with other League of the South members after the rally near Lee Park was declared illegal, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

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University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill on Wednesday became the latest school to turn down white nationalist Richard Spencer’s request to speak on campus after his participation in a violent racist free-for-all rally on the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month.

“Our basis for this decision is the safety and security of the campus community—we are not willing to risk anyone’s safety in light of these known risks,” UNC chancellor Carol Folt said in a statement.

“I am deeply saddened and disturbed that the violent and virulent rhetoric being espoused by extremist groups has jeopardized the ability of campuses to promote robust dialogue and debate about important issues while ensuring public safety,” Folt’s statement continued.

This makes UNC at least the sixth school to rebuff Spencer, who has made a strategy of speaking on public college campuses in order to provoke his critics and recruit young people into his movement. Texas A&M, Michigan State, Louisiana State, University of Florida, and Pennsylvania State have already turned down requests by Spencer to rent facilities or address students from public spaces on campus.

Spencer’s allies have threatened legal action, and First Amendment experts surveyed by TPM said he would have a strong case, noting that the strength of free speech protections in public spaces and the difficulty of proving that Spencer has or would directly call for violence.

A federal judge ruled last year that Auburn University had to allow Spencer to speak after school officials and police canceled his event, expressing serious concerns about the threat to public safety.

To date, no new lawsuits have been filed.

Spencer may simply have more pressing issues to attend to. As part of a broader post-Charlottesville crackdown on hate groups, Squarespace dropped web service for Spencer’s National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank based in Alexandria, Virginia.

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In the latest example of the Trump team minimizing the President’s financial dealings with Russians, senior adviser Kellyanne Conway insisted Tuesday that “nothing came” of a 2015 effort to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow.

“There is no Trump Tower in Moscow, no visit was made,” Conway told Fox News.

“He has no business dealings there and in this case no deal was made,” she added.

But that surely wasn’t for lack of trying. In addition to extensive stateside real estate transactions with Russian nationals and immigrants from the former Soviet bloc, the Trump Organization engaged in multiple efforts to make a physical mark in Russia with a luxury hotel and condo building in the flashy Moscow City business district.

Trump and his adult children made separate attempts to move forward with such a project three times in the decade leading up to the presidential campaign: in 2005, 2013 and 2015, well into the primary season. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. played key roles in those efforts, making several trips to Russia to try to advance prospective deals and giving interviews about their eagerness to set up shop there as they assumed greater control of the family business.

After a few early explorations of business opportunities in Russia dating back to the late 1980s, Trump in 2005 signed a one-year deal with Bayrock Group, the development company where his scandal-plagued business associate Felix Sater was a principal, to transform an old pencil factory into a luxury development.

Trump later blamed the failure of that venture on journalist Tim O’Brien’s book “TrumpNation,” which estimated that the real estate mogul was worth far less than the billions he claimed to possess. Trump said it scared away Russian investors.

But the Trumps didn’t give up. At a 2008 Manhattan real estate conference where Trump Jr. made now-infamous comments about the “money pouring in from Russia” to the family business, Trump’s eldest son also said that he preferred Moscow “over all cities in the world” and had visited the country six times in the previous 18 months.

His sister Ivanka also expressed admiration for Russia in a puffball 2010 interview on her favorite vacation spots, saying St. Petersburg was the place she most wanted to visit, having “been to Moscow many times.” Sater has said he served as an escort to the Trump children during their visits to his homeland, ferrying them around to business meetings and even claiming, in one email obtained by the New York Times, that he arranged for Ivanka to sit at Putin’s desk in the Kremlin during a 2006 trip.

The Trumps’ next stab at breaking ground in the Russian capital came three years later. With the help of Aras and Emin Agalarov, real estate developers in Russia who hosted Miss Universe 2013 in Moscow, Trump met with some of the country’s biggest oligarchs and Kremlin-allied bankers.

Trump clearly felt buoyed by those November 2013 meetings, writing on Twitter, “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.” But while Aras Agalarov has said he signed an agreement with the mogul to build a Trump Tower, the project apparently never made it beyond preliminary discussions.

The final effort kicked off months into Trump’s run for the White House. Longtime ally and personal attorney Michael Cohen teamed up with Sater, an old acquaintance of his, on a dual effort to finally move forward with the tower project while boosting Trump’s presidential campaign.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote to Cohen in a 2015 email reviewed by the Times, bragging that his close ties to Putin could help them secure the construction deal. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Trump himself signed a letter of intent with a Moscow-based firm in October 2015, according to a statement Cohen provided to congressional investigators. After the project stalled yet again, Cohen reached out to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s personal spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, with a plea for assistance in January 2016.

Peskov told reporters Wednesday that he never responded to Cohen’s email because it wasn’t his “job,” adding that Ivanka Trump never visited Putin’s office or sat in his chair, according to Bloomberg.

Like previous attempts, the Cohen-Sater venture fizzled, this time as Trump was leading a crowded Republican presidential primary field.

Should the Trumps ever hope to revisit such a project, however, it appears they’d have willing partners.

Emin Agalarov told the Washington Post last summer—right around the time that his publicist was arranging a meeting to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton into Trump Jr.’s hands as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign—that the family would be interested in a similar future venture.

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As Donald Trump was surging to the top of the Republican presidential primary field on a wave of insults and bombastic statements in fall 2015, his longtime personal attorney and friend, Michael Cohen, was giving frequent on-camera and print interviews boosting his boss’ candidacy.

During that same period, as we learned from documents turned over to congressional investigators this week, Cohen was serving as the “lead negotiator” on efforts to construct a Trump-branded tower in Moscow.

Cohen and the Trump campaign have insisted he never had a formal role with it. Yet in the months that he was working the Moscow deal for the Trump Organization, he was also giving regular interviews to the press on the campaign issues of the day, firing off campaign-related tweets, giving comment on Trump’s behalf, and organizing events with and outreach to constituent groups.

A review of Cohen’s interviews and tweets between October 2015, when Trump signed a letter of intent to build in Moscow with a firm tied to banks under U.S. sanctions, and January 2016, when the prospective deal was abandoned, makes it clear that Cohen was advancing Trump’s business interests in Russia at the same time he was selling his boss to voters in the U.S.

Cohen first made waves as a surrogate for candidate Trump in July 2015, when he threatened a pair of Daily Beast reporters asking about Ivana Trump’s since-retracted allegation that her then-husband raped her, falsely asserting that “you cannot rape your spouse.” As the campaign picked up, so did Cohen’s comments on behalf of the GOP frontrunner.

He frequently weighed in on Trump’s gaffes, 2016 rivals, tax plan and thoughts on foreign leaders. In one September 2015 interview on Sean Hannity’s radio show, Cohen said that Trump and Russian president Vladimir Putin would likely meet in person during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Cohen’s comment came one day after Trump said from the stage of a GOP debate that he would “get along with Putin.”

“Russia, there’s a better than likely chance Trump may even meet with Putin when he comes here for the United Nations,” Cohen told the Fox News host. “People want to meet Donald Trump. They want to know Donald Trump.”

Cohen appeared on-air, particularly on CNN, to talk about the campaign throughout fall 2015. The Washington Post reported Trump signed a letter of intent with a Moscow-based business called I.C. Expert Investment to explore developing a tower in Moscow on Oct. 25, 2015.

It’s unclear when Cohen first discussed the project with Trump. In a statement provided to Congress, Cohen said the two discussed it on three separate occasions; he insisted in a separate statement to Bloomberg that it “was not related in any way to Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.” Various congressional committees and a special counsel are probing the business dealings of Trump and several associates as part of their investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

On Nov. 3, soon after Trump signed the letter of intent, his longtime business associate Felix Sater sent Cohen an email boasting about his line to Putin and arguing that a Moscow deal would help Trump win the election.

“Our boy can become president of the USA and we can engineer it,” Sater wrote in the email, which was obtained by the New York Times. “I will get all of Putins team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.”

Cohen characterized that note to the Times as bombast on the part of Sater, a colorful character who was once jailed for slashing a banker’s face with a martini glass and was secretly convicted of securities fraud.

While Sater and Cohen explored financing for the Moscow project and solicited architectural blueprints, Cohen continued acting as a Trump campaign booster, defending some of the candidate’s most inflammatory claims and proposals. Only once Cohen made a gaffe of his own or issued a statement that contradicted an official campaign aide’s would statements fly about how he didn’t speak for the Trump campaign or the candidate.

In November 2015, Cohen voiced support for a “deportation force” that would forcibly remove millions of undocumented immigrants from the U.S.; referred to a black protester shoved by Trump supporters at an Alabama rally as an “agitator” deserving of punishment; and said that Trump was “probably right” about his thoroughly debunked claim that American Muslims cheered the 9/11 attacks from rooftops in New Jersey.

He also argued in a CNN interview that month that Trump wasn’t likely to involve himself in “an issue between Vladimir Putin and Turkey” after Turkey shot down a Russian aircraft near its border with Syria.

Five days later, the surrogate tweeted out a photo of himself standing behind a Trump campaign lectern with a row of American flags behind him.

“There is only one candidate who can #MakeAmericaGreatAgain and that’s clearly @realDonaldTrump#Trump2016 #Trump,” the accompanying caption read.

Another notable tweet came in December, when Cohen shared a link to a story from a site called The Political Insider about Putin telling reporters that Trump was a “really brilliant and talented person.” The article also noted Putin said his government would “welcome” Trump’s promise to create a “deeper relationship with Russia.”

“@realDonaldTrump, the best person to be our next #POTUS. Even Vladimir Putin agrees he will #MakeAmericaGreatAgain,” Cohen wrote.

In January 2016, right before voting began in the GOP primary, Cohen made a final stab at moving forward with the Moscow deal, which had stalled. He reportedly emailed Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s personal spokesman, to ask for the Russian government’s “assistance” in acquiring the land permits needed to move forward with this “important” project.

Cohen has since told congressional investigators that no deal ever came to fruition and that he unilaterally decided to “terminate further work on the proposal” that same month.

With the Moscow deal out of the picture, Cohen moved on to his next project: helping Trump prepare for a campaign speech that he helped organize at the evangelical Liberty University.

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Well before Sebastian Gorka went public Friday with claims that he had resigned as deputy assistant to the President, an order barring him from entering the White House complex reportedly circulated among Secret Service staffers.

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes obtained two emails, sent at 6:45 and 7:15 p.m., notifying Secret Service staff that a “do not admit” order had been issued for Gorka and that his blue badge allowing him free rein of the White House and neighboring Old Executive Office Building had been deactivated.

“Mr. Gorka is more than likely still in possession of his PIV and the WH Pass, as his DNA status was performed without him being on Complex,” read the second email obtained by MSNBC, which was sent to the Joint Operations Center that runs security for the White House complex.

At 9:11 p.m., less than an hour after Gorka’s resignation letter was published on the conservative website The Federalist, a White House communications staffer said in a statement to the press that Gorka did not resign, but “no longer works at the White House.”

The emails obtained by MSNBC complicate the controversial White House aide’s insistence that he left his job voluntarily.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters did not respond to detailed questions about the “do not admit” order, saying only, “We do not comment on personnel matters.” The Secret Service did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

The exact play-by-play of Gorka’s final days remain murky, with various news outlets offering different accounts. What’s clear is that Gorka had spent the two weeks prior to his departure on vacation.

The New York Times spoke to two administration officials who said that Chief of Staff John Kelly made it known during the time Gorka was on vacation that he did not want the staffer to return, and was instrumental in forcing him out. Yahoo News reported that Kelly informed Gorka on Friday that his security clearance had been revoked, prompting Gorka to announce that he would resign instead of returning to work as planned on Monday.

Whether Gorka was issued a security clearance at all, and what degree of access to sensitive information he had access to, was never confirmed during his tenure. Although he was appointed to advise President Donald Trump on counter-terrorism issues, the Associated Press reported in May that Gorka had been unable to receive the clearance required to sit on the National Security Council because of a past weapons charge for carrying a firearm at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. His exact duties at the White House were unclear, and Gorka seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time arguing with cable news hosts about the unreported successes of the Trump administration.

Gorka has similarly spent the days since his ouster on a media blitz, telling any journalist who will host him that he resigned out of concern that “the forces of MAGA” were being undermined and cast out of the White House.

The emails to Secret Service staff obtained by MSNBC don’t necessarily clarify the terms of his departure, according to Juliette Kayyem, who served as assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs in Obama’s Department of Homeland Security. Kayyem told TPM that all those emails prove is that “the departure was unanticipated.”

“It’s exactly what should happen in any termination situation—voluntarily or involuntarily,” Kayyem wrote in an email. “It shows despite all the tensions at the NSC, the systems are still intact. When I left DHS, voluntarily, I had to hand in my badge, sign some confidentiality obligations, and be escorted out of the DHS campus. Given that Gorka wasn’t there, the emails were totally appropriate.”

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LiveWire