Josh Kovensky

Josh Kovensky is a reporter for Talking Points Memo in New York City. He previously worked for the Kyiv Post in Ukraine, covering politics, business, and corruption there. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago.

Articles by Josh

Maria Butina: alleged spy or political prisoner?

Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova claimed the latter on Thursday, calling the 29-year old a “political prisoner” who “was arrested exclusively because of her Russian passport.”

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Ukrainian oligarch and Paul Manafort associate Dmytro Firtash is one step closer to seeing the inside of a U.S. courtroom.

The European Union Court of Justice issued a ruling on Wednesday denying the possibility for Firtash to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

The ruling removes a final hurdle to Firtash’s extradition to the United States, leaving it up to Austria’s Supreme Court to decide on the oligarch’s deportation.

Firtash’s attorneys wrote in a letter this month that the European court ruling would allow the oligarch’s case to be “quickly” decided.

“Mr. Firtash’s lawyers believe that the Austrian Supreme Court will move quickly and Mr. Firtash could face extradition in a short time frame following the decision by the Court of Justice,” wrote Firtash lawyer Dan Webb in an Oct. 9 letter to Chicago Federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer.

Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch known alternately for acting as middleman in a scheme to jack up gas prices for European customers and for ordering Manafort to scout out an $850 million New York City real estate opportunity, has been awaiting extradition to federal court in Chicago since his arrest in Austria in March 2014.

Firtash, who prosecutors have alleged is “an upper-echelon” member of Russian organized crime, was indicted on foreign bribery charges relating to a scheme to gain rights to mine titanium in India for use in Boeing’s supply chain.

But after four years of litigation, Firtash has nearly exhausted his avenues to appeal the extradition request.

Manafort, who pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in September as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, worked closely with Firtash and his associates while in Ukraine.

Apart from the alleged mission to scout out Manhattan hotel properties on Firtash’s behalf, Manafort was accused of collaborating with the oligarch on Ukrainian political campaigns in a New York lawsuit that was later struck down. Firtash denies the allegations against him.

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Justice Department attorneys want to give one of the myriad lawsuits accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause a quick death.

In a court filing late Monday, DOJ attorneys sought permission to appeal immediately a September ruling that found nearly 200 members of Congress do have standing to sue Trump for violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

Government attorneys argue that allowing the appeal would “materially advance the termination of this litigation.”

“If the D.C. Circuit decides the issue in the President’s favor, this case would be dismissed, thereby avoiding the need to address Plaintiffs’ novel Foreign Emoluments Clause claim and preserving both the Court’s and the parties’ resources,” attorneys from the Justice Department’s civil division write in the filing.

U.S. District Judge Emmett Sullivan of Washington, D.C., ruled in late September that members of Congress have standing to sue Trump over the alleged emoluments violation. The members argue in their lawsuit that Trump’s receipt of gifts – through his self-branded hotel chain, foreign intellectual property rights, and The Apprentice TV licensing fees – constitute foreign governmental gifts that should be subject to congressional approval under the Constitution.

Andy Grewal, a law professor at the University of Iowa, said that “judges grant these types of requests if they can in fact speed up the end of the litigation.”

“The idea is that if you resolve this one issue, this will end quickly,” he said. “And that’s a reason to grant the request.”

Sullivan’s September ruling only rejected half of an attempt by the Trump Administration to quash the lawsuit. The judge did not rule on the other half – on whether Trump-owned companies taking money from foreign governments counts as an emolument.

Regardless, the government slammed Sullivan’s ruling as “in substantial tension” with legal precedent.

“Congress can still vote on whether to consent or to withhold consent to the President’s alleged acceptance of foreign emoluments,” government attorneys argue. “If the President’s past alleged violations cannot be adequately remedied by congressional action now, it is not clear how this Court would be in a better position to provide a remedy.”

Since Sullivan’s ruling only concerned standing and came at an early stage in the court case, the government needs permission to file an immediate appeal.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and then-Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-MI) filed the lawsuit in June 2017, along with 194 other Democratic members of Congress.

The suit alleges that foreign governments have used Trump’s businesses to exercise influence on the executive branch. It specifically cites instances like the granting of foreign patents to Trump-owned businesses and foreign diplomats renting Trump hotel rooms en masse as examples of emoluments that were accepted without congressional approval.

“Because [Trump] has failed to come to Congress and seek its consent for at least some foreign emoluments that have been the subject of public reporting, it is impossible to know whether Defendant has also accepted, or plans to accept, other foreign emoluments that have not yet been made public,” the members alleged in the lawsuit, adding that Trump’s acceptance of the gifts had “thwarted the transparency that the ‘Consent of Congress’ provision was designed to provide.”

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