Caitlin MacNeal is a News Writer based in Washington, D.C. Before joining TPM, Caitlin interned and wrote for the Huffington Post, the Sunlight Foundation and Slate. She is a graduate of Georgetown University.
A new filing from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team released Tuesday night alleges that Rick Gates communicated with a former Russian intelligence officer while he was working for the Trump campaign in the 2016 election.
The revelation came in a sentencing memorandum for Alex van der Zwann, who pleaded guilty to lying to investigators in February and has been cooperating with Mueller’s team. As a lawyer at the firm Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLC, van der Zwaan worked on a report for Gates and Paul Manafort on the Ukrainian government’s prosecution of Yulia Tymoshenko, a political adversary of Gates and Manafort’s client.
In documents previously released when van der Zwaan pleaded guilty, prosecutors said that van der Zwaan worked with a “Person A” on the report and that van der Zwaan was in communication with Gates and “Person A” in the fall of 2016.
In the Tuesday night filing, prosecutors said that “Person A” has “ties to the Russian intelligence service” and had those ties in 2016. Van der Zwaan told the special counsel’s office that Gates told him that “Person A” was a former Russian intelligence officer, according to the filing.
As van der Zwaan’s February guilty plea revealed, Gates called van der Zwaan in September 2016 and asked him to contact “Person A” — Gates was concerned about possibly facing criminal charges in Ukraine. Gates also sent van der Zwaan a preliminary criminal complaint in Ukraine, according to prosecutors. Van der Zwaan then called Person A, made a separate call to a senior partner at the law firm, and then followed up with Gates again, according to the guilty plea filings.
Person A is likely Konstantin Kilimnik, Manafort’s longtime Russian business partner in Ukraine, according to the Washington Post. Manafort communicated with Kilimnik in 2016 and worked with Kilimnik to ghost write an op-ed favorable to Manafort in December 2017.
Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy and making a false statement in February and is cooperating with Mueller’s probe. The special counsel dropped all other charges against Gates when they reached a plea deal. Manafort has maintained his not guilty plea to two federal indictments against him stemming from his work in Ukraine.
FBI Director Christopher Wray announced on Tuesday that he is doubling the number of staff devoted to responding to record requests from Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, on the Hillary Clinton email probe and surveillance of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.
“Up until today, we have dedicated 27 FBI staff to review the records that are potentially responsive to Chairman Goodlatte’s requests. The actual number of documents responsive to this request is likely in the thousands. Regardless, I agree that the current pace of production is too slow,” Wray said in a statement. “Accordingly, I am doubling the number of assigned FBI staff, for a total of 54, to cover two shifts per day from 8 a.m. to midnight to expedite completion of this project.”
Goodlatte issued a subpoena to the Justice Department last week for the documents he previously requested, as well as new information, complaining that the department had so far been too slow in responding to his request for documents.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd also responded to Goodlatte’s subpoena in a Tuesday letter. Boyd noted that the Justice Department has been working to find the documents relevant to the request and sending them to the committee once they have gone through the review process. But he also noted that some of Goodlatte’s requests in the subpoena were new, specifically Goodlatte’s demand for documents related to Andrew McCabe’s firing.
“In the subpoena, certain categories of documents are requested for the first time, a significant deviation from the traditional method of accommodating congressional requests for information without compulsory process,” Boyd wrote.
Goodlatte’s subpoena and the Justice Department’s response on Tuesday come as Republicans in Congress ramp up their criticism of the DOJ and FBI. Goodlatte’s subpoena was just the latest attempt by Republicans on Capitol Hill to undermine investigations into President Donald Trump and his campaign by attempting to characterize the investigators as partisan hacks.
Paul Manafort on Tuesday filed a motion to dismiss special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictment against him in Virginia, arguing that Mueller overstepped his authority by indicting Manafort with crimes unrelated to Russian election meddling.
Manafort has filed a similar motion to dismiss in his case in Washington, D.C., and he also filed a civil lawsuit against Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in Washington, D.C., arguing that the special counsel did not have the authority to bring the indictments against Manafort.
When Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he gave him the authority to investigate links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, as well as “any
matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” as the motion from Manafort notes. Manafort’s lawyers argue that Rosenstein did not have the authority to give Mueller the broad power to investigate anything that may arise from the Russia probe. They also argue that even if Rosenstein did have that authority, Mueller overstepped the boundaries laid out by the deputy attorney general because the Justice Department knew about some of Manafort’s activities before the special counsel was appointed.
The motion to dismiss describes Rosenstein’s order appointing Mueller as a “blank check.”
“And it is one the Special Counsel has cashed, repeatedly,” the complaint reads.
In the Virginia indictment, Manafort faces charges of making false statements on tax returns, failing to report foreign bank accounts and bank fraud. In Washington, D.C., he faces charges of money laundering, tax evasion, and failure to disclose foreign lobbying. He has pleaded not guilty to both indictments.
After facing several questions about a payment from Trump attorney Michael Cohen to porn actress Stormy Daniels, and President Donald Trump’s silence on Daniels’ allegation of an affair, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders complained on Tuesday that reporters asked “the same question over and over and over again.”
“I don’t think it’s silent when the President has addressed this. We’ve addressed it extensively. There’s just nothing else to add,” Sanders said when asked about Trump’s silence on the allegations. “Just because you guys continue to ask the same question over and over and over again doesn’t mean that we have to keep coming up with new things to say. We’ve addressed it. We’ve addressed it extensively. And there’s nothing new to add to this conversation.”
Earlier in the briefing, Sanders declined to answer reporters’ questions, simply repeating that Trump has denied Daniels’ allegations and referring further questions to Cohen.
Aaron Rich, the brother of murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich, on Tuesday filed a defamation lawsuit against several individuals who pushed a conspiracy theory about the brothers.
“This lawsuit is about accountability,” the law firm representing Rich, Michael Gottlieb, Partner, Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, said in a statement. “Those who defame and harass decent American citizens in an effort to advance their personal financial and partisan gain will be held accountable in court.”
The lawsuit names Ed Butowsky, an ally of President Donald Trump; conservative activist Matt Couch and his media group America First Media; and the Washington Examiner. In the complaint, Rich alleges that Butowsky, Couch and the Washington Times furthered a conspiracy theory that Aaron Rich helped his brother Seth Rich leak DNC emails to Wikileaks.
“There is no proof that Aaron engaged in any of the alleged conduct—nor could there be, because none of it happened. But Defendants are not interested in the truth. Instead, Defendants are motivated by personal notoriety, financial gain, and naked partisan aims—namely, a desire to discredit allegations that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian Government in the 2016 hack of the DNC and the subsequent dissemination of DNC documents on Wikileaks,” the complaint reads. “In their blind pursuit of these objectives, Defendants have willfully trampled on Aaron’s reputation and emotional wellbeing.”
The complaint alleges that Butowsky and Couch in the summer of 2017 made several claims that Aaron Rich was involved in the leak of DNC emails during the 2016 election and that Aaron Rich knew his brother would be murdered. The lawsuit also cites a Washington Times piece in March alleging that Aaron Rich helped Seth Rich download the DNC’s emails.
There is no evidence to support fringe conservatives’ conspiracy theory that Seth Rich’s murder and the DNC hack were linked, and those involved in pushing the false narrative are facing several lawsuits. A former detective and Fox News contributor claimed in a lawsuit that Ed Butowsky recruited him and a Fox News reporter to work on a story pushing the conspiracy theory, which was later retracted. Seth Rich’s parents have also sued Fox News over the retracted story.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing porn actress Stormy Daniels in her lawsuit against President Donald Trump, said on Tuesday morning that they do not have evidence of Trump’s relationship with Daniels in the form of a dress, as a friend of Daniels suggested on Monday.
To address the rumor: We DO NOT have a “Monica Lewinsky type” dress. Thus, there is no dress to be tested for DNA. But we are making progress on the assault/stalking that occurred around the same time that Mr. Cohen threatened @intouchweekly magazine in May 2011. #coverup#basta
Alana Evans, a friend of Daniels, told CNN on Monday that Daniels still has the dress she wore during her encounter with Trump, but she did not state for a fact that the dress could be used as evidence.
“I am unaware about text messages or pictures or any type of evidence she might have that would fit on a disc. All I know is that Stormy still has the dress that she wore from that night,” Evans said on CNN.
Asked why Daniels still had the dress, Evans replied, “Maybe a keepsake, maybe it’s because it’s actual proof. I can only speculate the things that may be on that dress, especially if it’s never been washed.”
Avenatti sought to dismiss any indication that there was evidence of a tryst with Trump on Stormy Daniels dress, as was the case with Monica Lewinsky’s dress.
He also said that he was “making progress on the assault/stalking” in 2011. It appears he was referring to the threat Daniels said she received in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011. However, in her interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Daniels did not describe the threat as “stalking” or an “assault.”
President Donald Trump has refrained from publicly addressing allegations from porn actress Stormy Daniels that she had an intimate affair with him. In private, however, Trump has complained and worried about the allegations, the Washington Post reported Monday.
Trump has called Daniels’ claims a “hoax,” asked if her allegations hurt him in the polls, and claimed that he does not find her attractive, the Washington Post reported.
Though he’s asked associates if the allegations from Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, are hurting him, he has made the general calculation that the episode will blow over and leave him largely undamaged, per the Post. This calculation has prompted him to remain silent.
The lawyers for Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels returned to CNN Monday night, this time debating Stormy Daniels’ claim that she was threatened not to talk about her alleged relationship with President Donald Trump in 2011.
The last time the two attorneys appeared on CNN, the debate got heated, and the same occurred on Monday, with the two men constantly raising their voices and talking over each other.
Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, has suggested that the threat to his client was likely linked to Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal attorney, though Avenatti has not stated outright that Cohen orchestrated the threat.
Arthur Schwartz, Cohen’s lawyer (who is not representing Cohen in the Daniels case), pushed back on Avenatti’s suggestion.
“It’s an utter fiction,” Schwartz said. “And that in and of itself is defamatory to say that was Michael Cohen or someone sent by Michael Cohen.”
“It’s a figment of her imagination. That person doesn’t exist,” he added.
Later in the interview, Avenatti called Cohen a “thug” several times.
“You’re a thug,” Schwartz hit back before questioning why CBS’ “60 Minutes” did not air a lie detector test with Daniels.
The Office of Government Ethics (OGE) revealed on Monday that the White House is investigating whether Jared Kushner broke any laws or regulations by reportedly taking White House meetings with businesses that later loaned money to his family’s business.
The New York Times reported in February that Kushner met with Joshua Harris, a founder of Apollo Global Management, several times at the White House while Harris was advising the administration and in talks for a job at the White House. In November, Apollo loaned the Kushner Companies $184 million. Kushner also met with Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat not long before Citigroup loaned the Kushner Companies $325 million, according to the New York Times.
Earlier in March, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) wrote to OGE asking whether Kushner’s meetings with companies who later loaned money to his family presented a ethics issues for the top White House aide.
In a March 22 letter responding to Krishnamoorthi made public on Monday, OGE Director David Apol said that Kushner’s loans and meetings were worth investigating and that the White House had already launched a probe.
“I have discussed this matter with the White House Counsel’s Office in order to ensure that they have begun the process of ascertaining the facts necessary to determine whether any law or regulation has been violated and whether any additional procedures are necessary to avoid violations in the future,” Apol wrote. “During that discussion, the White House informed me that they had already begun this process.”
Abbe Lowell, Kushner’s attorney, told the Wall Street Journal that “the White House counsel concluded there was were no issues involving Jared” and said that Jared Kushner had nothing to do with the loans.
Both Apollo and Citigroup have said that the loans went through the standard approval processes.
President Donald Trump is still in touch Rob Porter, the aide fired over allegations of domestic abuse, and wishes that he could return to the White House, the New York Times reported Monday night.
Trump speaks to Porter over the phone, and their conversations have increased over the past few weeks, people familiar with the calls told the New York Times. The President has told some advisers that he hopes Porter comes back to the White House, per the New York Times. However, Trump has also said that he knows he probably can’t bring Porter back on, the Times reported.
Porter served as the staff secretary and controlled the flow of paper to Trump’s desk. The President has said recently that he misses the structure that Porter enforced, according to the New York Times.
Porter left the White House in early February after reports surfaced alleging that he abused his two ex-wives. When the first report surfaced, top White House staff came to Porter’s defense, but as the accusations from his ex-wives intensified, the Trump administration walked back its support of Porter and he was forced to resign.