John Light

John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Articles by John

Michael Cohen was back in federal court Wednesday for a hearing on the fate of millions of items seized during an FBI raid on his home, office and hotel room in April. Judge Kimba Wood rejected Cohen’s attempts to slow down the schedule for his team’s review of the materials to determine which should be covered by attorney-client privilege. Following the hearing, during which Wood criticized Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, for his outspoken media appearances, Avenatti withdrew his motion to intervene in order to protect Daniels’ dealings with her previous attorney, which might be included in Cohen’s files. On Friday morning, The New York Times reported that Avenatti had been in touch with top Democratic donors to see if they’d help cover Daniels’ legal bills. They appear to have declined to do so.

Last week, the Trump administration tried to push the “SpyGate” conspiracy theory to the fore, claiming that the FBI had improperly spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign. But an intelligence community briefing for top members of Congress seemed to put the issue to rest; Rep. Trey Gowdy, the senior House Republican on the Intelligence Committee, said that the FBI “did exactly what my fellow citizens would want.” The White House, nonetheless, continued to push the theory. On Sunday, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani demanded access to FBI documents in exchange for a presidential interview with the special counsel, and, on Wednesday, the White House said that there was “still cause for concern.”

Reports surfaced this week indicating that during a March 2017 conversation in Mar-a-Lago, Trump put pressure on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself from the Russia probe. Trump kept up the pressure, telling Sessions last year he would be a “hero” if he “did the right thing.” On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that he could have picked another AG and “I wish I did!” In another tweet Tuesday, Trump claimed, confusingly, that the Mueller team would be “MEDDLING” with the midterm elections.

Nonetheless, Mueller’s probe continues. NBC reports that Jared Kushner’s longtime friend, Richard Gerson, was in the Seychelles in January 2017, around the same time that Erik Prince was there meeting with officials from Russia and the UAE. Gerson has become a person of interest in the Mueller probe.

Filings in Mueller’s Manafort probe indicate that the special counsel is looking into aspects of Manafort’s past that go beyond his work with Ukraine. On Tuesday, a judge denied Manafort’s request for unredacted versions of two search warrants of his property, saying that there was “nothing in the redactions that relates to any of the charges now pending against Manafort.”

The FBI, meanwhile, has obtained wiretaps on Alexander Torshin, the Russian politician and lifetime NRA member who met with Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign.

On Thursday, Trump pardoned conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, another potential signal that he may rescue allies who are under pressure to cooperate with prosecutors. Later that day, Roger Stone declared on InfoWars: “I will never roll on Donald Trump.”

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Hello, Prime subscribers. Welcome to Memorial Day Weekend! Here’s what happened this week in Prime:

  • Matt Shuham writes in our first Weekly Primer on the Trump swamp — looking at abuse of power and corruption within the administration — that the President put pressure on the Postmaster General to double rates for Amazon as a way to punish Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos for The Post’s relentless coverage of his administration. The Washington Post, appropriately, broke the story.
  • The President and his allies were seized by a paroxysm of outrage this week about what they dubbed “Spygate.” Allegra Kirkland breaks down what the administration claimed happened, and what actually happened, in her Weekly Primer on the Trump-Russia probe. When Trump demanded an investigation, and the DOJ agreed, it lost its independence, Zack Roth writes. And Josh Marshall writes that “we are now faced with the stunning circumstance in which a sitting President is conspiring with friendly members of Congress against his own Justice Department and FBI.”
  • The Michael Cohen saga took us to new and exciting places. Josh flags that Cohen met with Andrew Intrater, cousin to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, multiple times. (The New York Times gave us more details on these meetings, at which Cohen and Intrater discussed U.S.-Russia relations, later in the week.)
  • In other Cohen-related news, taxi mogul Evgeny “Gene” Freidman has struck a deal to cooperate with prosecutors. He knows a lot about Michael Cohen, Josh writes.
  • We also learned this week that Donald Trump Jr., George Nader, and an Israeli social media specialist met in August 2016, a meeting that was organized by Erik Prince. Josh offers some takeaways from that report, and, in a separate post, investigates George Nader’s increasingly complex role in the Trump-Russia story.
  • Meanwhile, Robert Mueller is facing an unexpected fight with a company that allegedly funded a Russian troll farm. The legal battle could be intense, Tierney Sneed writes.
  • Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race is awash in super PAC money. But, I write, it’s largely coming from one man: Dick Uihlein, the Republican megadonor who runs Uline, and who has taken a special interest in unseating Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) with a candidate her personally plucked from relative obscurity. Meanwhile, Tierney Sneed writes that advocates of campaign finance reform won a rare victory at the hands of the Supreme Court last week when the Court declined to hear a case that was attempting to strike down the $2,700-limit on individual contributions to a given candidate.
  • In her Weekly Primer on the battle over the future of Obamacare, Alice Ollstein writes that Michigan is walking back a plan to implement Medicaid work requirements in such a way that they would disproportionately penalized urban minorities. Ohio and Kentucky are moving ahead with similar plans, however.

Thanks for subscribing, thanks for reading, have a great three-day weekend, and see you next week.

Earlier this year, we rolled out our Weekly Primers — 500 word briefings for Prime subscribers on the topics TPM covers most closely, published once a week and carefully written to include everything of importance.

So far, we’ve regularly put out Weekly Primers on voting rights, the battle over the future of Obamacare, and the Trump-Russia probe. Today, we’re rolling out a new Primer chronicling corruption and abuse of power in the Trump administration. Every Thursday, Matt Shuham will have the latest on the swamp Trump filled. Here’s the first.

I was poking around in FEC data, as one does, and noticed something interesting: Super PACs and dark money groups are unusually interested in Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D). The political groups at work here are largely spending on television ads, and have dumped more than $12 million in the state, largely attacking Baldwin and boosting her two Republican opponents, Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson.

But looking closer, this spending blitz appears to be largely the work of one man: Dick Uihlein, founder of ULINE. The Illinois-based cardboard box mogul is the primary donor behind two super PACs, Restoration PAC and America’s PAC, that together have poured over $7 million into Wisconsin’s Senate primary. It makes Wisconsin’s primary one of the most expensive this year, even though the contest is relatively late in the year’s primary calendar.

Uihlein’s candidate of choice is Nicholson, a former Democrat, Marine and McKinsey consultant who emerged from virtually nowhere to become the Republican frontrunner. A charmer, Nicholson has also won the support of National Security Adviser John Bolton, whose super PAC spent about $500,000 to support the candidate between January and March of this year, according to FEC filings.

But Nicholson largely owes his status as the frontrunner to Uihlein’s $7 million.

“We have a primary because the guy who was a Democrat a few years ago found a billionaire backer,” Alex Conant, a strategist for Wisconsin Next PAC, told The Washington Post. Wisconsin Next PAC was founded by Scott Walker allies and is supporting Nicholson’s Republican opponent, Leah Vukmir. The group has put about $1.5 million toward that cause. The Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners has also spent some $1.6 million attacking Baldwin without picking a favorite in the primary. “Without his [Uihlein’s] backing Nicholson,” Conant told the Post, “Leah would be the presumptive nominee and the party would be working in unison to defeat Sen. Baldwin.”

Here’s a chart compiled from some of the FEC data I was looking at. (Mouse over each bar for name of group and total amount spent.)

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