“Nobody can be sure of anything,” the president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, said, kicking off a whirlwind CNN interview in which he claimed Trump didn’t know about the July 2016 Trump Tower meeting between members of his campaign and Russians. In the same interview, Giuliani appeared to claim that there were allegations of a second meeting, this one to plan for the Trump Tower meeting. This second meeting, he said, didn’t happen. Confusingly, no one seemed to be aware of this alleged second meeting in the first place. Giuliani later claimed he was trying to tamp down a New York Times story that was being reported.
Trump declared on Twitter that “Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.” His anger may have been triggered in part by Paul Manafort’s first trial, for financial crimes, which began Tuesday in Alexandria, Virginia. The fast-moving trial pits Manafort against his former protege, Rick Gates.
Manfort’s lawyers allege that tax and bank fraud charges leveled at Manafort by special counsel Robert Mueller stem from actions taken by Gates. The prosecution has sought to showcase Manafort’s lavish lifestyle, paid for by wire transfers from companies overseas that Manafort allegedly funded with millions he he made as an unregistered foreign agent. Judge T.S. Ellis threw a wrench in prosectors’ plans by derailing some of their questions about Manafort’s wealth, pointing out that it is not a crime to be rich. On Thursday, the prosecution drew the jury’s attention to fake invoices which on Friday became a central point in the trial.
Also on Thursday, a federal judge ruled that Roger Stone’s former assistant, Andrew Miller, has to testify before Mueller’s grand jury.
Mueller forwarded to New York federal prosecutors cases concerning high-profile lobbyists who, like Manafort, may have violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act with their political work abroad. Among the operatives in question are Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, former Minnesota GOP Rep. Vin Weber and Obama-era White House counsel Greg Craig.
A judge unsealed ex-Playboy model Shera Bechard’s lawsuit against GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy. Bechard accuses Broidy of cutting off his hush money payments to her when others, allegedly including Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti, began discussing the affair publicly.
We learned that the FBI first targeted alleged Russia agent Mariia Butina and her partner, GOP operative Paul Erickson, following a series of suspicious, high-dollar money transfers to South Dakota LLCs. Butina also reportedly pushed former New York Federal Reserve Chairman Hank Greenberg to boost his investment in a foundering Moscow bank.
Facebook announced on Tuesday that it had identified and removed 32 pages and accounts associated with a political influence campaign targeting the midterms. The company said it wasn’t clear if Russian intelligence officers were behind these efforts.
And at a White House press conference Thursday, top administration officials discussed plans for protecting the midterms from foreign interference. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told reporters that he was not in a position to “either understand fully or talk about” the Helsinki Trump-Putin summit.