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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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Former CIA Director John Brennan tore into President Donald Trump on Saturday for celebrating the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

Brennan said Trump had turned McCabe into a “scapegoat,” labeling the Preident a “demagogue” who threatened the destruction of America.

Trump applauded McCabe’s dismissal, two days before he would become eligible for his pension, as a “great day for democracy.”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the decision to fire McCabe, saying he was not entirely truthful in interviews with the DOJ Inspector General about how the bureau handled investigations related to the 2016 presidential election.

McCabe denied any wrongdoing. He said his firing was part of a broader push by the Trump administration to “politicize” the DOJ and FBI, and to discredit him as a witness in the investigation into the ouster of former FBI director James Comey.

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President Trump’s personal lawyer, John Dowd, on Saturday said it was time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to end the special counsel’s Russia investigation for good.

In a statement, Dowd said Rosenstein should follow the “courageous” example set by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Friday firing of former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe.

“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd told TPM in an email.

The Daily Beast was the first to report Dowd’s comments. Dowd initially told the Beast that he was speaking on behalf of the president, but subsequently told TPM he was speaking for himself.

Trump’s legal team has until now urged Robert Mueller’s team to conclude their investigation into Russia’s election interference as quickly as possible, but not asked that Mueller be fired.

This response comes in the wake of Sessions’ firing of McCabe for a “lack of candor” in his responses to an internal Justice Department investigation into how the FBI handled probes relating to the 2016 election.

Trump cheered McCabe’s dismissal on Twitter, calling it a “great day for democracy.”

Earlier this week, Rosenstein said Mueller was not an “unguided missile” and that he had not seen any “justification” for ending the special counsel investigation.

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Editor’s Note: A TPM report published March 19 calls into question the significance of the FEC action described here. The agency appears to have done little more than provide a standard response to a complaint. A full investigation is a long way off and appears to be unlikely to happen at all, TPM reports. 

 

The Federal Elections Commission has opened a preliminary inquiry into whether Russian individuals or entities funneled money to the National Rifle Association to boost Donald Trump’s campaign, Politico reported Friday.

The probe stems in part from a complaint filed by the American Democracy Legal Fund, a progressive advocacy group. The group’s treasurer, Brad Woodhouse, confirmed to Politico that he’d received notification from the FEC that an investigation was underway.

An NRA spokesman declined Politico’s request for comment, while the FEC said it could not confirm or deny the existence of ongoing investigations.

Per the report, if investigators find troubling information while digging through the NRA’s campaign finance records, the FEC could launch a full probe, impose fines, or even refer criminal matters to the Justice Department and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

McClatchy has previously reported that the FBI is investigating whether Russian banker and “life member” of the NRA, Aleksandr Torshin, illegally channeled money to the NRA to help Trump’s 2016 campaign.

The NRA responded to that story by saying the FBI was looking into Torshin, not the NRA.

The NRA and its lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action, collectively spent a whopping $30 million on Trump’s campaign.

Democratic congressmen, including Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Ted Lieu (D-CA), have initiated their own fact-finding inquiries into the NRA-Russia ties.

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President Trump celebrated the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, just two days before McCabe was eligible for his pension, calling it a “great day for democracy.”

“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy,” Trump wrote in a tweet just after midnight Friday, a few hours after the news broke. “Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!”

McCabe has given a very different version of events. In a strongly-worded statement, he said his firing was trying to discredit him as a witness in the investigation into the ouster of former FBI director James Comey and part of a broader push by the Trump administration to “politicize” law enforcement.

The President and his allies have for months smeared the 21-year FBI veteran as a partisan, in part because his wife ran and lost a Democratic state legislative campaign in 2015.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the decision to fire McCabe, citing a yet-to-be-released Justice Department inspector general report that he said determined McCabe made an “unauthorized disclosure” to the press and “lacked candor” in the IG’s investigation.

The IG report into the handling of matters related to the 2016 election touches on leaks McCabe condoned to the media about the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

McCabe stepped down in January ahead of the IG report’s release, using his unpaid vacation days to go on leave.

Trump followed up with two more tweets later Saturday, criticizing “corruption” at the DOJ and FBI and mocking the “Fake News” reaction to over McCabe’s firing.

This post has been updated.

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Republicans on the House Intel Committee killed their Russia investigation this week, concluding that there was “no evidence of collusion” with the Trump campaign. Days later, news broke that Special Counsel Mueller has issued subpoenas to the Trump Organization, suggesting that the active federal probe has more questions about the Trump family’s business dealings.

The special counsel got a nod of support from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who said Mueller was not an “unguided missile” and that there was no “justification” to end his investigation. In an odd development, George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who is cooperating with the probe and had multiple meetings with Trump campaign officials on behalf of the U.A.E., was revealed to have a 15-year-old pedophilia conviction in Europe.

Democrats on the House panel are pressing on without their GOP colleagues, releasing a list of the witnesses (Reince Priebus, Stephen Miller, KT McFarland) and entities (Deutsche Bank, Twitter) they still want information from. One outstanding area of interest: ties between Russia and the NRA. Former NRA attorney Cleta Mitchell on Friday adamantly denied reports, which appear to be leaked to the press by congressional investigators, that she expressed concern about whether the NRA was helping to funnel Russian money to Trump’s campaign.

Overseas, Russia continues to disrupt international affairs. British police and Prime Minister Teresa May have determined that Russia is behind the recent poisoning of an ex-spy living in England and may be involved with the strangling of a London-based Russian businessmen. The attacks were condemned as the work of Russia by U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley and Rex Tillerson, one day before Trump sacked him as Secretary of State.

While Trump continues to waffle on Russia’s bad behavior, the U.S. government has taken other steps to check the Kremlin’s influence. The Treasury Department imposed sanctions on 19 Russians for allegedly meddling in the 2016 election, including 13 indicted by Mueller for using fake social media accounts and ads to push pro-Trump propaganda.

The Trump administration also accused Russia of a concerted, ongoing effort to hack and spy on the U.S. energy grid and other infrastructure.

Russia is threatening retaliation for these steps, and President Putin told NBC last weekend that he “couldn’t care less” about his country’s alleged interference in the presidential race. In a new anti-Semitic twist, he suggested that some of the indicted Russians could actually be “Jews” with Russian citizenship.

This week saw a number of instances of the U.S. government and even elements of the administration breaking with the President’s soft-ball stance on Russia. With a staff shakeup rumored to be coming any day now, we may see less of that as we move further into 2018.

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A black man violently attacked at last summer’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville was acquitted Friday on charges that he assaulted one of the racists in attendance.

DeAndre Harris was found not guilty on a misdemeanor charge of assault and battery against Harold Crews, the North Carolina chairman of the neo-Confederate hate group League of the South, The Washington Post reported.

The verdict brings an end to a legal rollercoaster for Harris, a 20-year-old former special education teaching assistant, who was pummeled with flagsticks, shields, and pieces of wood by a crowd of white supremacists at the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally.

Video of the parking garage assault on Harris went viral, prompting outrage and a flood of donations to help cover medical bills for his injuries, which included a spinal injury and head lacerations.

Four of the white nationalists who assaulted Harris are currently awaiting trial.

Months later, in October, Crews filed a police report and persuaded a Charlottesville magistrate to issue an arrest warrant against Harris on a felony charge of unlawful wounding. As TPM previously reported, this was made possible thanks to an odd statute in the Virginia state code that allows private citizens to initiate the process of obtaining a warrant.

The charge was later downgraded to a misdemeanor, which would have resulted in a maximum sentence of 12 months in jail and a $2,5000 fine.

The case was based on a few short, chaotic moments of video. In one clip posted on YouTube, Crews and a friend of Harris’ are pulling on either end of a large flagpole. Harris cuts in and appears to swing a flashlight in Crews’ direction. Within minutes, he is chased through the garage and wrestled to the ground, where the brutal beating commences.

Charlottesville General District Court Judge Robert Downer Jr. determined that Harris intervened only to help his friend and did not intend to hit Crews, per the Post.

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Under pressure for killing a resolution denouncing white nationalism and neo-Nazism, Tennessee GOP lawmakers are belatedly offering an explanation.

In a Friday email to TPM, Rep. Bob Ramsey, one of three Republicans on the State Government Subcommittee, said they objected to language that would ask law enforcement to consider the groups “domestic terrorist organizations.”

“Our Committee has had several resolutions from various political parties, aimed at special prosecutors, designations of terrorist organizations, condemnation of religious sites and practices, and celebration of controversial historical sites, figures, or organizations,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey insisted that the GOP members agreed with the “intent and philosophy” of the resolution, which was originally introduced last year by Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons in the wake of the deadly Charlottesville, Va. white-nationalist rally.

“These subjects seem simple but have initiated some of the most bitter decisiveness [sic] and debates I have ever witnessed.”

Ramsey added that he and the other Republican lawmakers, Reps. Bill Sanderson and Bud Hulsey, were urging Clemmons to consider changes to the language of the bill in order to secure its passage.

As the Tennessean first reported, the resolution was “met with silence” from the trio of Republican lawmakers when it was brought before the panel on Wednesday. The other provisions would have required the House to “strongly denounce and oppose” the racist bigotry promoted by these groups.

National Democratic groups condemned the GOP’s failure to back the measure. Ben Wexler-Waite, communications director for super PAC Forward Majority, called on the Republican National Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee to publicly denounce the Tennessee lawmakers’ move.

“It’s beyond shocking that anyone in the year 2018 has to ask the RSLC or RNC why they won’t condemn neo-nazism,” Wexler-Waite said in a Friday statement. “The actions of the GOP-controlled Tennessee legislature are a punch in the gut to everything this country stands for and an insult to Jews, people of color, and all who have suffered at the hands of right wing extremists. There is zero excuse for why the legislature would even hesitate to pass this resolution and history will not forget the moment the Republican Party stood silent as its members condoned Nazis.”

Tennessee is home to a number of active white nationalist groups. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s recently released “hate map” for 2017 found 37 hate groups in the state, including chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, the neo-Confederate League of the South, and the neo-Nazi Aryan Nations.

Last weekend, Identity Evropa, a white nationalist group aimed at recruiting college students, held a flash mob demonstration in a Nashville park. In October, some 200 white nationalists convened in Shelbyville for a “White Lives Matter” rally.

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A former lawyer for the National Rifle Association says she’s “totally outraged” over a report that she expressed concerns about the gun group’s ties to Russia and possible use of Russian money to help Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign

In a Friday email to TPM, Cleta Mitchell, a longtime conservative lawyer and former NRA board member, came out swinging against McClatchy’s report that congressional investigators have learned she was worried about the Russian links.

“a) I have not been involved with NRA since 2012 when my board term expired, b) there is ZERO chance that NRA was involved in any way with Russian money as NRA has always been 100% meticulous about what money is spent for what and c) I’ve never ever expressed any concerns because I’ve never had such concerns,” Mitchell wrote. “Never crossed my mind. Ever.”

“I suggest you better not mention my name or if you mention it, you better say that the story is false and the House Dems’ statements are false and that this only underscores how there is nothing NOTHING to this entire Russia collusion story,” Mitchell added. “It is a complete fabrication by the left and their supplicants in the liberal media.”

Mitchell, a veteran conservative election lawyer who played a key role in stoking the IRS “scandal” under the Obama administration, blamed “scumbags” on “the left,” namely the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and the press for raising questions about reported ties between the NRA and Russia.

Two sources familiar with the matter who spoke to McClatchy on condition of anonymity declined to specify exactly how investigators became interested in Mitchell’s alleged concerns.

Schiff’s office declined to comment. A spokesperson for Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, did not immediately respond to TPM’s inquiry.

Mitchell was identified this week in a report released by Democrats on the House Intel Committee listing the witnesses and entities Democrats still want to contact as part of their probe into Russia’s election interference. The report says Mitchell’s work for the NRA “may be able to clarify for the Committee any Russian-related approaches to and interaction with the organization and persons of interest to the Committee during the 2016 election.”

In January, McClatchy reported that the FBI was investigating whether Alexander Torshin, a Russian banker with close ties to the NRA, channeled money to the NRA to boost Trump. The NRA has denied being contacted by the FBI, and has said it has safeguards in place to prevent it from using foreign money for politics.

McClatchy’s initial report, which noted that the NRA’s legislative arm spent an unprecedented $30 million to help support Trump’s campaign, sparked the interest of congressional investigators.

Other NRA-linked individuals on the House Intel Dems’ list of interviewees include Torshin’s former assistant Maria Butina; NRA member and conservative activist Paul Erickson who offered Trump’s campaign a “dialogue” with Russia; and Torshin friend Johnny Yenason.

Russia has made a concerted effort to make inroads with the gun lobbying giant in recent years, with Torshin hosting high-level NRA members for a visit to Moscow in 2015.

Mitchell’s full emails to TPM are below.

I am totally outraged about this story.  I told one ABC reporter three weeks ago  (and reiterated to the McClatchey reporter) that a) I have not been involved with NRA since 2012 when my board term expired, b) there is ZERO chance that NRA was involved in any way with Russian money as NRA has always been 100% meticulous about what money is spent for what and c) I’ve never ever expressed any concerns because I’ve never had such concerns.  Never crossed my mind.  Ever.

So the House Dems are spreading rumors and the McClatchey story is false and FAKE NEWS and I have told them they better fix that story immediately.

I now understand why Adam Schiff gets so much publicity.  He and his staff are all in the media mix and all of you people just spread false rumors and treat them as fact.  It is completely disgusting.

I suggest you better not mention my name or if you mention it, you better say that the story is false and the House Dems’ statements are false and that this only underscores how there is nothing NOTHING to this entire Russia collusion story.  It is a complete fabrication by the left and their supplicants in the liberal media.

Scumbags.  All of it.

Told that TPM would include her response, Mitchell followed up with this message:

There is NO story!  The only story is the lying Dems on HSCI.   There is zero basis for their even mentioning my name.  If they talked to me I would tell them they are full of crap.  There’s no story, no concern on my part and not a shred of truth to any of it.

The story is the lying by Schiff and the Dems.  That’s the story.  The only story.

This story has been updated.

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If online agitators spark a wave of harassment by publishing damaging, dishonest stories about private individuals’ personal lives, can the victims do anything to stop them?

Brennan Gilmore hopes so. A counter-protester at the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Gilmore has brought a defamation suit against InfoWars, Gateway Pundit and other right-wing conspiracy-peddling sites that he says smeared his reputation.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday comes not long after some of those same sites falsely dismissed the student activists who survived the Parkland school massacre as “crisis actors,” and at a time of broader concern about the growing, destructive influence of fake news.

But the hurdles the suit appears to face speak to the challenges of using the courts to hold fake news purveyors accountable.

A complaint put together by lawyers at the Georgetown Law School’s Civil Rights Center details false stories about Gilmore’s involvement in a “deep state” plot to undermine the Trump administration by staging the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer. Those stories have led to threats to Gilmore’s personal safety and caused potential damage to his career, he contends.

Gilmore, a foreign service officer on long-term unpaid leave, became a target after sharing on Twitter a video he’d captured from the rally, showing neo-Nazi James Fields’ car ramming into a crowd, injuring dozens and killing Heyer. In response, a number of far-right sites quickly noted that Gilmore had worked for the State Department and donated to Democratic politicians. They used this to suggest he was part of a conspiracy funded by philanthropist George Soros to effect an anti-Trump coup.

In one example, Infowars’ Alex Jones claimed in a video posted online that he “did research” and “confirmed” that Gilmore was a “high-level CIA” operative and “State Department insider with a long history of involvement in psy-ops.” Jones definitively stated that Gilmore helped orchestrate the chaos at Charlottesville and was paid $320,000 a year by Soros.

Within days, Gilmore was subjected to death threats, doxxing and in-person harassment on the streets of Charlottesville that made him fear for his personal safety, according to the complaint. He claims the enduring consequences of these false stories have “compromised” his career, deterring companies from wanting to work with him while he’s on leave and putting him at risk if he rejoins the foreign service and returns abroad, as he plans to. The result has been emotional distress, he says.

Gilmore told TPM he won’t settle for any amount of money, and wants his case to set a precedent. His goal, he said, is “to try and prevent someone else who is in my shoes to be victim to the same type of predation that Alex Jones and his fellow conspiracy theorists directed to me.”

“They knew what they were saying was false and they made no attempt to verify anything,”Andrew Mendrala, supervising attorney of Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, told TPM. “[They were] putting this out there with the intention of smearing him and unleashing their followers to sort of carry that out in real life.”

Beyond defamation, the case aims to hold the creators of false online content responsible for their followers’ responses to that content.

That’s why it may be a heavy lift. Although Gilmore may have suffered real personal trauma, strong constitutional protections for publications that traffic in opinion pose a major challenge, First Amendment experts told TPM.

Not all of the defendants used language as unequivocal as Jones’. Derrick Wilson, a writer for former U.S. congressman Allen West’s website, wrote a story suggesting Charlottesville “was a complete SET-UP” and that it was “fishy” that Gilmore formerly worked for the State Department.

That could shield Wilson from the legal standard for defamation, which explicitly relates to false, damaging factual assertions, experts said. Call it the “a lot of people are saying” defense.

“It’s a tough argument to make,” preeminent first amendment attorney Bruce Johnson told TPM of Gilmore’s suit, calling it “path-breaking in terms of the First Amendment issues presented.”

“I could see the core of a defamation case lurking there,” Johnson, a litigator at Davis Wright Tremaine, told TPM. “And I can understand the plaintiff’s frustration because the prevalence of these fake news organizations has clearly infected our political dialogue.”

But, Johnson added, although people can be held liable for false and defamatory facts, “the courts are very reluctant to police individual opinions.”

Then there are the threats. Though the defendants could reasonably be expected to know that their legions of social media followers would go after Gilmore as a result of their bogus stories, it’s difficult to hold them accountable for the actions of others, according to Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert at the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law. Volokh noted that the defendants did not direct their followers to threaten Gilmore.

“Outright solicitation of violence or other kinds of crimes, like vandalism, against a specific identified target is probably unprotected,” Volokh said. But condemning somebody or publishing demeaning hypotheses about them is “generally protected, even when the foreseeable result given the audience is that a fraction of it is going to act improperly or even criminally.”

Many of the defendants in the Charlottesville suit have publicly brushed off the case as a concerted effort to silence conservative voices.

Compare the case to a recent lawsuit targeting the far-right brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). Last year, the civil-rights group sued Andrew Anglin, the founder of neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer, for directing his followers to carry out a months-long, anti-Semitic harassment campaign against a Montana Jewish woman and her family.

The SPLC accuses Anglin of invading Tanya Gersh’s privacy, intentionally inflicting emotional distress, and violating Montana’s Anti-Intimidation Act. First Amendment attorneys told TPM the case is strong, pointing to the over 700 messages the Gershes received on their personal devices at all hours of the night, on Anglin’s orders, including death threats and promptings to commit suicide.

Still, both cases represent a burgeoning effort to provide legal redress for private individuals suffering real-world consequences caused by chronic bad online actors.

As Mendrala, the attorney in the Charlottesville case put it: “They feel there’s some anonymity afforded them [online], combined with some vague notion that the First Amendment protects anything that they say about anyone, and that they can operate with impunity. And that’s not the case.”

“We feel like we’re sort of seeking to hold them accountable in ways that maybe they have not yet been,” he said.

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As far as the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee is concerned, their investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is complete.

Not so for their Democratic colleagues, who on Tuesday released an exhaustive list of investigative leads and witnesses that the majority didn’t pursue before shuttering its probe.

The list represents a forceful condemnation of the Republicans’ investigation, which Democrats have long seen as a half-hearted effort aimed at exonerating the administration.

“The HPSCI Democrats remain fully committed to conducting this investigation as originally envisioned, leaving no stone unturned in determining the facts of Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. elections and the steps we need to take to ensure the future integrity of our democratic process,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the committee’s ranking Democrat, wrote in the status update.

Those stones include interviews with “more than 30 key witnesses” who either have yet to respond to requests for testimony or weren’t identified as pertinent until late in the months-long probe. Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller, and former deputy national security adviser KT McFarland are among those listed.

The House Democrats also say a “legitimate investigation” would require interviews with certain people caught up in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. Schiff says the committee deferred talking to people like ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos out of respect for the federal inquiry, but that doing so was essential to gaining a “complete understanding” of Russia-Trump connections. Both Flynn and Papadopoulos are currently cooperating witnesses in Mueller’s probe.

Unlike the now-closed official committee investigation, any ongoing probe by Democrats, of course, would lack subpoena power to enforce its demands.

Unanswered lines of inquiry identified by the minority include detailing the hacking and dissemination of Democratic operatives’ emails; determining the financial leverage Russia may have had over Trump and other members of his campaign; and concluding whether the President obstructed justice by asking former FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn, among other moves.

Democrats on the panel are also interested in obtaining documents from entities including Deutsche Bank and the social media giants that Russia used to disseminate false information.

They will likely be alone in these pursuits. The panel’s GOP majority announced Monday that the investigative phase of their work was over, and they were moving on to producing a report on their conclusions. The Republican summary of their draft report said that there was “no evidence of collusion, coordination, or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians.”

It also made clear that Republicans were focused on starkly different lines of inquiry, including alleged anti-Trump bias at the Justice Department and FBI and intelligence community leaks to the media.

Democrats insisted they’ll continue on with their more comprehensive inquiry “to the best of our ability,” per Schiff’s status report.

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