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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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The Russia investigation took a delightfully stupid turn this week thanks to the fumbling maneuvers of pro-Trump acolytes Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman.

The duo concocted an elaborate scheme to smear Special Counsel Robert Mueller with sexual assault allegations, claiming that they were contacted by a woman who said the former FBI director raped her at a New York City hotel in 2010. Her account had been thoroughly vetted by private intel firm Surefire Intelligence, they claimed.

But holes began to appear in that story almost immediately. As reporters quickly pointed out, Surefire is a bogus firm invented by Wohl. The alleged “staffers” had recently created LinkedIn profiles featuring photos of famous actors and stock photo models, and a number linked to on the site redirected to one that was registered to Wohl’s mother. A quick Google search revealed that Mueller was actually at jury duty in Washington, D.C. on the day of the alleged assault.

That didn’t stop Wohl and Burkman from holding a bizarre press conference at a suburban Holiday Inn on Thursday. Though they’d dangled an in-person appearance from the alleged accuser, she backed out last minute, apparently over concerns about her personal safety. So the two men winged it, unable to even agree on the spelling of her name (Burkman took the blame for the misspellings, saying he was “partially blind”). Burkman declared Wohl a “child prodigy that has eclipsed Mozart,” one of many claims that prompted laughter from the small crowd of reporters in attendance.

Gateway Pundit, the conspiracy site tasked with laundering the assault story, even cut ties with Wohl following the disastrous press conference.

Back in the real world, Steve Bannon was interviewed by Mueller’s team about claims Roger Stone made about having advance warning that WikiLeaks’ would release Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails. The former Breitbart editor and White House Chief Strategist praised the Mueller prosecutors as “very professional and courteous.”

Emails published this week by the New York Times show Bannon and Stone discussing WikiLeaks’ activities on Oct. 3, 2016, days before the site published a trove of messages hacked from Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

Professional conspiracy theorist Jerome Corsi also sat for several interviews with the special counsel this week regarding the WikiLeaks emails.

CNN reported that President Trump took the opportunity at his last face-to-face meeting with departed White House Counsel Don McGahn to blame him for getting the administration caught up in the Mueller probe.

Ex-Trump campaign adviser George Papodopoulos is on a grievance tour, insisting to anyone who will listen that he was forced into a plea deal with the government despite being the victim of a global spy conspiracy.

And his not-particularly-telegenic former campaign colleague Carter Page has landed his very own talk show on the conservative One America News Network. It will be called “America in the World With Carter Page.”

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Montana voters heading to the polls on Tuesday could be forgiven for having no idea that Republican Senate nominee Matt Rosendale once spoke at a rally held by an anti-government militia group.

Rosendale’s appearance at an April 2014 Oath Keepers rally in the town of Kalispell received little attention in the press, with the exception of one left-leaning local blog.

But photos on that blog, Flathead Memo, show Rosendale addressing the crowd before a giant black and yellow Oath Keepers banner. The Second Amendment rally was focused on supporting the Bundy family’s armed standoff against the federal government over their illegal use of public lands.

(Rosendale at the Second Amendment rally, Credit: James Connor, Flatheadmemo.com)

The Montana Post, another left-leaning local site, flagged Rosendale’s appearance in a recent article.

“As a candidate, he was invited by local legislators to speak at a Second Amendment rally,” a Rosendale campaign spokesman told TPM. “To be clear, he strongly disavows any inflamed rhetoric or political violence from either side of the political spectrum.”

Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes, who maintained a law practice in Kalispell, did not respond to a request for comment about Rosendale’s relationship with his group.

Rosendale is currently locked in a tight race for the U.S. Senate seat held by incumbent Democrat Jon Tester. Despite Tester’s vote against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Rosendale’s recent tour through the state with Donald Trump Jr., the GOP nominee has consistently lagged in the polls. But the race remains close and is a critical hold for Democrats if they hope to regain a Senate majority.

Back in 2014, Rosendale was a state senator and a rising star in Montana politics, earning strong support from the far-right Tea Party. He was first elected to the state House in 2010, and then to the state Senate in 2012. He was elected state auditor in 2016.

The Oath Keepers rally featured fellow Republican lawmakers including former state Rep. Derek Skees, who recently hosted conspiracy theorist Dinesh D’Souza at a local fundraiser, and Oath Keepers national chaplain Chuck Baldwin.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes Baldwin as a “leader in the antigovernment ‘Patriot’ movement,” who leads an “apocalyptic mission.”

Baldwin has called homosexuality a “moral perversion,” said the “South was right in the War between the states,” claimed that Islam is a “bloody, murderous religion,” and said there “is no liberty without the semi-automatic rifle,” according to the SPLC.

(Baldwin speaks at Oath Keepers rally, Credit: James Connor, Flatheadmemo.com)

He became the Oath Keepers’ official chaplain in 2013, not long after moving to Montana, which he believes will be ground zero of the coming “cataclysm.”

The Oath Keepers gained notoriety in 2014 for offering armed support to the Bundys, a Nevada ranching family who illegally allowed their cattle to graze on public lands. The group also regularly offers “protection” to their ideological allies, sending armed members to monitor protests over the 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and to support members of the Bundy family in their 2016 takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge.

Other Republican politicians, including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rep. John Faso (R-NY), have appeared at Oath Keepers events before.

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It’s probably not the best policy to bet your tech investments on platforms getting banned for promoting hate speech.

But that’s what North Carolina state Sen. Dan Bishop (R) appeared to do on Aug. 17, 2017. On the same day that Google Play booted social media site Gab from the app store for allowing white nationalists and anti-Semites unfettered use of its platform, Bishop announced on Twitter that he was “about done with SF thought police tech giants.”

The North Carolina Republican was taking a stand, he said. He was investing in Gab.

That investment is coming back to haunt Bishop this week, following reports that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter actively spread threatening, anti-Semitic content on his Gab account. Gab was cut loose by its web hosting and payment providers, and its chief technology officer, Ekrem Buyukkaya has stepped down.

On Wednesday, after Bishop’s investment was surfaced by the Daily Mail, North Carolina Democratic Party executive director Kimberly Reynolds called on Bishop to “disavow the hateful rhetoric” promoted on the site.

“From funding a hate-speech fueled social media platform riddled with anti-Semitic and white nationalist content to legislating discrimination, Bishop continues to embarrass our state,” Reynolds said.

Bishop was a leading force behind House Bill 2, the notorious legislation to bar transgender people from using bathrooms of their choice.

Within minutes of the statement’s release, Bishop sent out a tweet saying he only gave the site $500 via a crowdfunding effort.

“I don’t use Gab, but if its management allows its users to promote violence, anti-Semitism, and racism on the platform, they certainly have misled investors and they will be gone quickly, and rightfully so,” he wrote.

Per Gab’s fundraising site, the $500 Bishop gave wasn’t even enough to earn him a branded coffee mug.

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Dark clouds continue to gather around longtime Trump associate and GOP dirty trickster Roger Stone. This week saw several new reports indicating that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is narrowing in on Stone’s alleged involvement in coordinating with WikiLeaks to release emails related to Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The most striking report came from NBC News, which reported that Mueller’s team had “reviewed messages to members of the Trump team in which Stone and [his associate Jerome] Corsi seem to take credit for the release of Democratic emails.”

Corsi is a conspiracy theorist and former Infowars correspondent credited with promoting the idea that Barack Obama was not born in the United States.

Mother Jones also reported that Stone texted radio host Randy Credico in January claiming he was working to get WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange a “blanket pardon.”

Politico discovered a secret grand jury court fight that appears to be related to the probe, but its unclear which individual the matter involves.

In a Thursday court filing, federal prosecutors in New York acknowledged an “ongoing” grand jury investigation related to their probe into Michael Cohen. Various news organizations have asked a judge to unseal material related to the search warrants taken out against Cohen. In a filing opposing that request, prosecutors wrote that doing so would “interfere” with their probe into Cohen’s financial activities and whether Trump Organization officials violated campaign finance law by helping coordinate hush money payments to women.

Unsealing the warrant materials “would implicate significant privacy concerns for numerous uncharged third parties who are named,” prosecutors wrote. It could “prejudice an ongoing investigation in concrete, identifiable ways.”

Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who entered into a plea agreement with Mueller, went on Fox to claim he may ditch the whole thing. Papadopoulos made far-out, unsubstantiated claims that he was “framed” by an Obama-backed deep state conspiracy carried out by U.S. officials hostile to Trump.

Lawyers for alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina alleged that federal prosecutors were violating Brady Rules by making evidence against their client too difficult to access, and withholding some “exculpatory” materials. The government responded with a filing saying no such material existed, and insisting they’d complied with all requirements about turning over evidence.

The Russian government weighed in as well, calling Butina a “political prisoner” who was being unfairly treated by the U.S. government.

This week also saw a hearing in the New York attorney general’s suit against the Trump Foundation. It’s unclear when and whether the case will move forward, but if and when it does, discovery could shed more light on the Trump organization’s business practices, as officials from the company coordinated donations with members of both the campaign and the foundation.

Former Trump personal attorney Ty Cobb said the special counsel probe was not a “witch hunt,” calling Mueller an “American hero.”

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