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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Rick Gates is still fully cooperating with multiple federal probes, Gates’ lawyers and special counsel Robert Mueller said in a joint status report filed Tuesday.

“Defendant Gates continues to cooperate with respect to several ongoing investigations, and accordingly the parties do not believe it is appropriate to commence the sentencing process at this time,” the parties wrote.

Whatever useful information Gates is providing will ultimately factor into the sentence that federal prosecutors recommend for the former Trump campaign adviser.

Gates’ attorneys and Mueller asked to provide the next update on their conversations to the court by March 15.

Read the filing below.

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Redistricting experts I surveyed this week were surprisingly optimistic that the Supreme Court — conservative majority aside — will finally take steps to limit extreme partisan gerrymandering in two cases before it this spring. You can read more about the reasons why here.

But of course, no one knows what will happen for sure, and other smart redistricting-watchers like Election Law Blog’s Rick Hasen fear a much darker outcome. Hasen believes the court will take the opposite tack: ruling that the judiciary has no role in policing partisan gerrymandering, opening the door to an even more reckless round of map-drawing come 2021.

Some of the experts I spoke to said that even if that happens, all won’t be lost. With Democrats newly invested in fighting the practice and in state-level politics overall, a fairer approach can be carved out through the independent or bipartisan redistricting commissions that have cropped up across the country in recent years.

States like Arizona and California led the way on this system earlier in the 2000s, and the 2018 midterms saw these independent commissions instituted via voter-approved ballot initiatives in states like Michigan.

These commissions typically strip map-drawing responsibilities from the state legislature. A commission made up of Democrats, Republicans and independents is instead tasked with coming together to agree on how legislative and congressional maps should be drawn.

Jeff Wice, a census and redistricting expert with SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute, predicts we’ll see more movement in this direction.

“If legislatures continue the same kind of bad behavior we’ve seen in 2011 and ’12, then we’re going to see either more voters taking the power away from the legislatures or the courts invalidating the plans and drawing new ones themselves,” Wice said. “If that lesson hasn’t caught on yet — in Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Wisconsin — then even if the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t find the right formula to put the breaks on egregious gerrymandering, the voters might do that or the state courts might find a way.”

The National Democratic Redistricting Commission, ex-Attorney General Eric Holder’s outfit, has a similar stance.

“I don’t think it would be wise to rely on the conservative Supreme Court,” NDRC communications director Patrick Rodenbush told me. “Our approach is we’re bringing litigation at the state level and at the federal level, trying to elect people at the state level supporting reform initiatives. So it’s a holistic approach.”

Hasen has cautioned that the 5-4 conservative court could go after independent redistricting commissions, too. As he pointed out in the Atlantic this week, Chief Justice Roberts wrote a scathing dissent to Justice Ginsburg’s 2015 opinion that voters can use ballot initiatives to establish these commissions to draw congressional maps.

Per Roberts and the court’s other conservatives, the Constitution allows only the legislature to set congressional election rules; having voters take control of the process through ballot initiatives is therefore an illegal usurpation of that power.

Other experts agree that such a reversal of the 2015 Arizona ruling would be appalling, but say it’s unlikely the court would overturn that precedent so quickly.

“The court doesn’t often overrule a decision that’s only three years old,” the Campaign Legal Center’s Paul Smith said.

The Rockefeller Institute’s Wice added that any challenge to the commissions couldn’t come until one of them has drawn up a redistricting plan. Even then, he said, such a challenge could only apply to plans in the “totally independent commission states where the legislators have no final approval power,” like California. Other states with commissions, like New York, only have advisory commissions but allow the legislature to vote on a particular plan.

Tl;dr: we don’t know what will happen with the North Carolina and Maryland cases on the Supreme Court’s docket this spring. But there’s a lot more ground to fight in the redistricting wars.

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We may finally have a concrete deadline for the Mueller report. The findings the special counsel has dug up over the course of his months-long investigation will be ready to present to the Justice Department as soon as late February, according to new reporting out from NBC this week, though when or if those details will become public remains unclear.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has overseen the Mueller case, reportedly hopes to stick around until that report is filed. That means Rosenstein may still be at the DOJ after President Trump’s pick for attorney general, Bill Barr, is installed in his new role, pending Senate confirmation next week. But Barr reportedly may want to install his own deputy in Rosenstein’s stead.

Trump may still invoke executive privilege to block parts of the report from being released to Congress and the public. Trump’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, thinks the President’s legal team should have the opportunity to “correct” the document before it’s made available to those bodies.

With this swirling in the background, a bipartisan group of senators — including Trump pal and incoming Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-SC) — are renewing their effort to pass legislation to protect Mueller’s job.

A court filing inadvertantly revealed that Paul Manafort’s channeled Trump campaign data to Russian intelligence-linked business associate Konstantin Kilimnik. The document, which was not properly redacted, revealed that Mueller believes Manafort lied about sharing the polling data, and that Manafort “conceded” to discussing a “Ukraine peace plan” with Kilimnik on “more than one occasion.”

The New York Times initially reported that Manafort directed Kilimnik to pass this information on to Oleg Deripaska, the Russian oligarch Manafort whom he owed millions of dollars during the campaign. It turns out the intended recipients were actually two Ukrainian oligarchs who had funded some of Manafort’s work, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov.

That revelation lent new relevance to a 2017 interview Mueller’s team held with Trump campaign pollster Tony Fabrizio, who also worked with Manafort on Ukrainian elections.

Natalia Veselnitskaya — the Russian lawyer of Trump Tower meeting fame — was charged last month with obstruction of justice in a case involving the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which imposed U.S. sanctions on Russian individuals and companies. The charges were revealed in an indictment unsealed this week.

The Supreme Court won’t halt lower courts’ orders that a mysterious foreign-owned company comply with a subpoena linked to the Mueller probe, leaving them subject to fines of up to $50,000 per day until they do so. The Washington Post has reported that the company is a “foreign financial institution,” while CNN reported that law firm Alston & Bird, which has previously represented Russian oligarchs and entities, is involved in the case.

A federal judge reamed out attorneys for the Russian troll farm firm charged by Mueller, calling their curse-word-and-movie-quote-filled filings “unprofessional” and “inappropriate.” The attorneys said that the judge was clouded by “bias.”

Michael Cohen is due to testify at a public hearing of the House Oversight Committee on Feb. 7. Stay tuned.

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