Update On The OTHER Russia Scandal

Ken AshfordGun Control, L'Affaire Russe, Political Scandals, RussiaLeave a Comment

In a week of political scandals, it is important that this one doesn’t get lost because, although it doesn’t implicate Trump, it implicates the Republican Party as well as the Republicans’ source of campaign income, the NRA.

I’m talking of course about Marina Butina.  I’ve talked about her here and here.

Butina was arrested in July after the FBI raided her apartment and was charged with conspiracy and acting as an agent of Russia. She allegedly spent years attempting to infiltrate the National Rifle Association and fostering relationships with high-level conservatives.

After initially pleading not guilty, she pleaded guilty yesterday in a federal courtroom and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.  And boy, she seems to have a story to tell.

Today, we learn that in October 2013, Butina traveled to Israel to meet with members of a relatively obscure gun rights group called the Association for the Promotion of Weapons Culture. In a Facebook post after her presentation, the APWC wrote in Hebrew that Butina told them the Right to Bear Arms had “signed cooperation agreements with neighboring countries and with the American NRA,” adding, “We are probably next in line :)”

The NRA would not confirm whether or not it had entered into a cooperation agreement with Butina’s group. “The NRA says it is not aware of any such agreement,” a spokesperson for the gun lobbying group said in an emailed statement.

Butina was previously known to have mingled with NRA leadership both in the United States and in Moscow. She attended the NRA annual conference at least as far back as 2014, when she traveled to Indianapolis that April along with Torshin, who himself attended every NRA annual conference from 2011 to 2016. But a formal agreement with the NRA itself would represent a stronger link than previously known between the Russian operatives and the American gun lobbying group.

It would also be the earliest known link between the two. Butina’s first previously known contact with NRA officials occurred in Moscow in November 2013, roughly two weeks after the Israel speech, when NRA board member and past president David Keene attended the second annual meeting of the Right to Bear Arms. Longtime Keene associate Paul Erickson also attended that meeting, and became romantically involved with Butina. Prosecutors say Butina enlisted Erickson in her conspiracy, and he has reportedly been notified that he is the target of a federal investigation into foreign influence.

The Steele Dossier: Proven Or Unproven

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Chuck Rosenburg at Lawfare reviewed the Steele Dossier to see if was BS or not. The answer is… well, is not UNproven, some has been proven, but most uncorroborated.  Here’s the skinny:

[W]e thought it would be worthwhile to look back at the dossier and to assess, to the extent possible, how the substance of Steele’s reporting holds up over time. In this effort, we considered only information in the public domain from trustworthy and official government sources, including documents released by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in connection with the criminal cases brought against Paul Manafort, the 12 Russian intelligence officers, the Internet Research Agency trolling operation and associated entities, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. We also considered the draft statement of offense released by author Jerome Corsi, a memorandum released by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff related to the Carter Page FISA applications and admissions directly from certain speakers.

These materials buttress some of Steele’s reporting, both specifically and thematically. The dossier holds up well over time, and none of it, to our knowledge, has been disproven.

But much of the reporting simply remains uncorroborated, at least by the yardstick we are using. Most significantly, the dossier reports a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [Trump and his associates] and the Russian leadership,” including an “intelligence exchange [that] had been running between them for at least 8 years.” There has been significant investigative reporting about long-standing connections between Trump, his associates and Kremlin-affiliated individuals, and Trump himself acknowledged that the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But there is, at present, no evidence in the official record that confirms other direct ties or their relevance to the 2016 presidential campaign. With that caveat, here are excerpts from the dossier that correspond with details contained in official documents.

The dossier reports:

Over the period March-September 2016 a company called [redacted] and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one [redacted] were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, [redacted] were significant players in this operation.

Additionally, it reports

the Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing email messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the Wikileaks platform.  The reason for using Wikileaks was “plausible deniability” and the operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.

The indictment of 12 officers of the Russian Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (GRU) corroborates these allegations from Steele’s sources. In particular, the indictment alleges:

3. Starting in at least March 2016, the Conspirators used a variety of means to hack the email accounts of volunteers and employees of the U.S. presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton (the “Clinton Campaign”), including the email account of the Clinton Campaign’s chairman.             

4. By in or around April 2016, the Conspirators also hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (“DCCC”) and the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”). The Conspirators covertly monitored the computers of dozens of DCCC and DNC employees, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code (“malware”), and stole emails and other documents from the DCCC and DNC.

5. By in or around April 2016, the Conspirators began to plan the release of materials stolen from the Clinton Campaign, DCCC, and DNC.

6. Beginning in or around June 2016, the Conspirators staged and released tens of thousands of the stolen emails and documents. They did so using fictitious online personas, including “DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0.”  

7. The Conspirators also used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release additional stolen documents through a website maintained by an organization ([Wikileaks]), that had previously posted documents stolen from U.S. persons, entities, and the U.S. government. The Conspirators continued their U.S. election-interference operations through in or around November 2016.  

The indictment further alleges:

On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank u for writing back … do you find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs I posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if I can help u anyhow … it would be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0 referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “[p]retty standard.”

Trump advisor Roger Stone publicly acknowledged that he had communicated with Guccifer 2.0 and was likely the unnamed individual to whom the indictment refers.

While the GRU indictment does not provide any additional detail on communications between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Guccifer 2.0 or Wikileaks, the draft statement of offense for Jerome Corsi does. Corsi, an author connected to Stone, publicly released the draft statement on Nov. 27, 2018.

The document states:

CORSI said that in the summer of 2016 an associate ([Roger Stone]) who CORSI understood to be in regular contact with senior members of the Trump Campaign, including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump, asked CORSI to get in touch with [Wikileaks] about materials it possessed relevant to the presidential campaign that had not already been released.

***

[A]fter [Stone] asked CORSI to get in touch with [Wikileaks], CORSI did not decline the request as he stated in the interview. Instead, CORSI contacted an individual who resided in London, England (“overseas individual”) to pass on [Stone’s] request to learn about materials in [Wikileaks’] possession that could be relevant to the presidential campaign. CORSI thereafter told [Stone] that [Wikileaks] possessed information that would be damaging to then-candidate Hillary Clinton and that [Wikileaks] planned to release damaging information in October 2016.

a. On or about July 25, 2016, [Stone] sent an email to CORSI with the subject line, “Get to [Wikileaks founder Julian Assange].” The body of the message read: “Get to [Assange] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [Wikileaks] emails … they deal with [the Clinton Foundation], allegedly.” On or about the same day, CORSI forwarded [Stone’s] email to the overseas individual.

b. On or about July 31, 2016, [Stone] emailed CORSI with the subject line, “Call me MON.” The body of the email read in part that the overseas individual should see [Assange].”

c. On or about August 2, 2016, CORSI responded to [Stone] by email. CORSI wrote that he was currently in Europe and planned to return in mid-August. CORSI stated: “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging …. Time to let more than [Clinton Campaign chairman John Podesta] be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton.] That appears to be the game hackers are now about. Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke — neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation debacle.”

In sum, the official record connects Russian intelligence—behind the guise of Guccifer 2.0—to Wikileaks and, to a lesser extent, to Stone. It also connects Corsi and Stone to Wikileaks. It does not, however, corroborate the statement in the dossier that the Russian intelligence “operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.” Put another way, Mueller and his team have not yet alleged or asserted in public filings that individuals associated with the Trump campaign knew that Guccifer 2.0 was a Russian intelligence cover and that the documents in Wikileaks’s possession came from Russian government hackers.

To date, the communications that draw the clearest line between the Russian government, hacked documents and the Trump campaign are detailed not in court filings, but rather in emails between Donald Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, a British-born former tabloid reporter and entertainment publicist. Trump Jr. released this correspondence in July 2017. In those emails, Goldstone wrote:

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Aras Agalarov, an Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire property-developer] this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.
This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin [Agalarov].

Donald Trump Jr. responded,  “… [I]f it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Aras Agalarov is connected, in the dossier, to Trump’s interest in Russian real estate:

Two well-placed sources based in St. Petersburg … knew Trump had visited St. Petersburg on several occasions in the past and had been interested in doing business deals there involving real estate. The local business/political elite figure reported that Trump had paid bribes there to further his interests but very discreetly and only through affiliated companies, making it very hard to prove.

The two St. Petersburg figures cited believe an Azeri business figure, Araz Agalarov (with offices in Baku and London) had been closely involved with Trump in Russia and would know most of the details of what the Republican presidential candidate had got up to there.

Another report in the dossier adds a layer: “The Kremlin’s cultivation operation on Trump also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia, especially in relation to the ongoing 2018 World Cup soccer tournament. However, so far, for reasons unknown, Trump had not taken up any of these.”

That leads us to the material in the criminal information and sentencing memorandumfor Michael Cohen—Trump’s former attorney—filed by the Special Counsel’s Office in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. These documents relate to Cohen’s false statements to Congress regarding attempted Trump Organization business dealings in Russia. The details buttress Steele’s reporting to some extent, but mostly run parallel, neither corroborating nor disproving information in the dossier. They do, however, contradict the president’s many public statements on the matter.

The statement of information explains Cohen’s role in pursuing a deal to get a Trump-branded building in Moscow, in the midst of the presidential campaign. In July 2016, in an interview with a local TV news affiliate in Florida, then-candidate Trump said: “I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.” But, as the statement of information in Cohen’s case reveals, Cohen and others within the Trump Organization were actively working on the Trump Tower Moscow project as late as June 2016:

The Moscow Project was discussed multiple times within the [Trump Organization] and did not end in January 2016. Instead, as late as approximately June 2016, COHEN and [Felix Sater, a Russian-American businessman and associate of President Trump] discussed efforts to obtain Russian governmental approval for the Moscow Project. COHEN discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with [Trump] on more than the three occasions COHEN claimed to the Committee, and he briefed family members of [Trump] within the Company about the project.

COHEN agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and took steps in contemplation of [Trump’s] possible travel to Russia.

COHEN and [Sater] discussed on multiple occasions traveling to Russia to pursue the Moscow Project.

COHEN asked [Trump] about the possibility of [Trump] traveling to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project, and asked a senior campaign official about potential business travel to Russia. (Emphasis added.)

Later, the document reports, “in or around January 2016, COHEN received a response from the office of [Dmitry Peskov], the Press Secretary for the President of Russia, and spoke to a member of that office about the Moscow Project.”

Thus, the statement of information from Mueller’s office details substantial efforts by the Trump Organization to engage in business in Russia and to coordinate with the Russian government. But it does not allege election-related outreach. Additional details on that front, do, however, come in the special counsel’s sentencing memorandum:

The defendant also provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign. For example, in or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” The defendant recalled that this person repeatedly proposed a meeting between [Trump] and the President of Russia. The person told Cohen that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” referring to the Moscow Project, because there is “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [Putin].” Cohen, however, did not follow up on this invitation.

The footnote accompanying the above text explains, “The defendant explained that he did not pursue the proposed meeting, which did not take place, in part because he was working on the Moscow Project with a different individual who Cohen understood to have his own connections to the Russian government.”

While this builds on the general theme from the Steele dossier of Russian interest in helping Trump’s campaign, it does not indicate that this was a two-way street. Even with the additional detail from the Cohen documents, certain core allegations in the dossier related to Cohen—which, if true, would be of utmost relevance to Mueller’s investigation—remain largely unconfirmed, at least from the unredacted material.

Specifically, the dossier reports that there was well-established, continuing cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin; that Cohen played a central role in the coordination of joint efforts; and that he traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials and cut-outs. At most, one could speculate—and it would be just speculation—about what Mueller’s team means when they say Cohen “provided the [Special Counsel’s Office] with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with [Trump Organization] executives during the campaign.”

On Cohen’s substantial role in a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin related to the election, the dossier states:

[A] Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership. Cohen’s role had grown following the departure of Paul Manafort as Trump’s campaign manager in August 2016. Prior to that Manafort had led for the Trump side.”

 …

According to the Kremlin insider, Cohen now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of Trump’s relationship with Russia being exposed.

Additionally, according to the dossier, Cohen attended one or more meetings with Russian interlocutors in Prague in late August 2016, accompanied by three colleagues. Steele’s sources indicated that Cohen met with Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials to discuss how to:

contain further scandals involving Manafort’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, Carter Page’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures the prior month.” The overall objective had been “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven.”

The reporting continues:

One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg Solodukhin operating under Rossotrudnichestvo [a Russian federal government agency that conducts cultural exchange activities] cover.… [T]he agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the Clinton campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the Trump team more generally.

Again, the current public official record does not affirmatively corroborate the assertion that Cohen spearheaded, even for a short time, efforts by the Trump team to obtain unlawful election assistance from the Russian government. But neither does the absence of such detail mean that the dossier is false. For what it’s worth, Cohen strenuously denied ever traveling to Prague, though that denial preceded his guilty plea and (spotty) cooperation with the government.

Paul Manafort makes a few appearances in the dossier, including those described above. One report from July 2016 says:

Speaking in confidence to a compatriot in late July 2016, Source E, an ethnic Russian close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump, admitted that there was a well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between them and the Russian leadership. This was managed on the Trump side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter Page, and others as intermediaries.

Elsewhere, Steele reports that former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “confided in Putin that he did authorize and order substantial kick-back payments to Manafort as alleged but sought to reassure him that there was no documentary trail left behind which could provide clear evidence of this.”

The official record supports this second allegation: Manafort’s work for, and bankrolling by, Yanukovych is at the core of the criminal charges against him—conduct he has admitted. The superseding indictment filed by Mueller’s office in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia goes into extensive detail about Manafort’s ties to Yanukovych and other Ukrainian political and business interests, but in short:

Defendant PAUL J.  MANAFORT, JR. (MANAFORT) served for years as a political consultant and lobbyist.  Between at least 2006 and 2015, MANAFORT, through companies he ran, acted as an unregistered agent of a foreign government and foreign political parties. Specifically, he represented the Government of Ukraine, the President of Ukraine (Victor Yanukovych, who was President from 2010 to 2014), the Party of Regions (a Ukrainian political party led by Yanukovych), and the Opposition Bloc (a successor to the Party of Regions after Yanukovych fled to Russia in 2014).

MANAFORT generated tens of millions of dollars in income as a result of his Ukraine work. From approximately 2006 through 2017, MANAFORT, along with others including Richard W. Gates III (Gates), engaged in a scheme to hide the Ukraine income from United States authorities, while enjoying the use of the money.

Manafort’s ties to Ukraine are relevant to the Russia investigation, as most readers will know, because he worked closely with an individual—Konstantin Kilimnik, a named co-conspirator in the superseding indictment against Manafort and a star player in Mueller’s submission last week regarding Manafort’s breach of his plea deal—suspected of ties to Russian intelligence. Manafort and Kilimnick worked on behalf of pro-Russian parties and lobbied within the United States to advance what were not merely Ukrainian interests, but Russian interests as well. Among those interests, according to the dossier, were “sidelin[ing] Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue,” “deflect[ing] attention away from Ukraine,” and building political support in the U.S. for “lift[ing] Ukraine-related western sanctions against Russia.”

The Kremlin also pursued that last interest through, among others, Trump’s campaign advisor and first national security advisor, Michael Flynn. Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to one count of making materially false statements to the FBI, in violation of 18 USC § 1001(a), and is due to be sentenced on Dec. 18. Among the things he lied about to the Special Counsel’s Office were his discussions with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about the Trump administration’s intent to lift sanctions:

During the interview, FLYNN falsely stated that he did not ask Russia’s Ambassador to the United States (“Russian Ambassador”) to refrain from escalating the situation in response to sanctions that the United States had imposed on Russia. FLYNN also falsely stated that he did not remember a follow-up conversation in which the Russian Ambassador stated that Russia had chosen to moderate its response to those sanctions as a result of FLYNN’s request.
 
The dossier does not allege significant communications between Flynn and Kremlin-affiliated individuals during the campaign—as it does for Manafort, Cohen and Carter Page—but does remark upon Flynn’s visit to Moscow in December 2015. Steele reports:

[A] Kremlin official involved in US relations commented on aspects of the Russian operation to date. Its goals had been three-fold—asking sympathetic US actors how Moscow could help them; gathering relevant intelligence; and creating and disseminating compromising information (‘kompromat’). This had involved the Kremlin supporting various US political figures, including funding indirectly their recent visits to Moscow. S/he named a delegation from Lyndon Larouche; presidential candidate Jill Stein of the Green Party; Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page; and former DIA Director Michael Flynn, in this regard and as successful in terms of perceived outcomes.

The redacted addendum to the sentencing memorandum filed by Mueller’s team in Flynn’s case explains that Flynn has cooperated extensively with the Special Counsel’s Office and provided information relevant to at least three different investigations: one criminal investigation, about which all information is redacted; the special counsel’s investigation into interactions between Russian government figures and the Trump campaign; and a third, completely redacted investigation. With respect to the special counsel’s investigation, the addendum notes that Flynn “assisted the [Special Counsel’s Office’s] investigation on a range of issues, including interactions between individuals in the Trump Transition Team and Russia,” and other topics which are redacted. This indicates that the relevant information Flynn is providing to Mueller’s team is not limited to the post-election discussions about sanctions relief about which he previously lied.

Notably absent from the dossier is any reference to George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy advisor who pleaded guilty last fall to lying to the FBI about his contacts during the campaign with individuals tied to the Russian government and recently served a 12-day sentence after proving himself unhelpful to the Special Counsel’s Office. (He was sentenced to 14 days but was released two days early, prior to a weekend.) The statement of offense asserts that over the first half of 2016, Papadopoulos had multiple in-person interactions and email communications with several individuals connected to the Russian government or whom Papadopoulos believed were connected to the Russian government, including a London-based professor, later identified as Joseph Mifsud; a female Russian national who was introduced as a relative of Russian president Vladimir Putin; the Russian ambassador in London; and an individual claiming to be affiliated with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In April 2016, Papadopoulos learned from the professor that the Russians possessed “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, in the form of thousands of her emails. Over the course of approximately five months, strongly encouraged by his contacts, Papadopoulos aggressively pursued a meeting between Trump and/or senior campaign officials with Russian government officials. He communicated the idea and his progress on a number of occasions to various high-ranking Trump campaign officials. When interviewed by the FBI in January 2017 in the course of its investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election, Papadopoulos lied about the extent, timing and nature of his communications with these individuals.

Again, Papadopoulos is not mentioned in the Steele dossier. We revisit his case because it resonates with one of the themes of the dossier, which is the extensive Russian outreach effort to an array of individuals connected to the Trump campaign. Steele’s sources reported on alleged interactions between Carter Page and Russian officials, but Papadopoulos’s conduct would have fit right in. In any event, Papadopoulos is noteworthy as the first figure in the Trump campaign—as far as we know—approached and informed by Russian proxies that the Russian government had obtained Clinton’s emails.

To conclude, we return to Carter Page, about whom there is a great deal in the dossier. We will not recount the details here because the allegations have not been corroborated in filings by Mueller’s team. The only nod at confirmation we have from an official source is a heavily-redacted memorandum from the House intelligence committee minority. In it, Ranking Member Schiff describes the FBI’s wholly independent basis for investigating Page’s long-established connections to Russia, aside from the Steele dossier, and emphasizes that the Justice Department possessed information “obtained through multiple independent sources that corroborated Steele’s reporting” with respect to Page.

As we noted, our interest is in assessing the Steele dossier as a raw intelligence document, not a finished piece of analysis. The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele’s reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

However, there is also a good deal in the dossier that has not been corroborated in the official record and perhaps never will be—whether because it’s untrue, unimportant or too sensitive. As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far. But surely there is more to come from Mueller’s team. We will return to it as the public record develops.

NC-09 Update

Ken AshfordCongress, Election 2018, Local Interest, Voter SuppressionLeave a Comment

So many political scandals, but this one is local (although making national headlines). And it get more bizarre as time goes on.

The man at the center of the obvious election fraud is as guy named 
Leslie McCrae Dowless.  He recruited and paid an army of workers to go door-to-door in minority neighborhoods and collect absentee ballots.  Many of the ballots were never sent in; others were filled in by who knows.  Dowless has done this before in previous elections and was under investigation as the election last month was going forward.

But it gets swampier.

Daily Kos summarizes:

Mark Harris, the Republican leading in the fraud-marred North Carolina congressional race, has insisted again and again that he didn’t know his own campaign worker was engaging in absentee ballot fraud. It was a suspect claim to begin with, since Leslie McCrae Dowless had built up a record of not-at-all-subtle fraud over several election cycles before going to work on the Harris campaign. Now it’s looking more like a flat-out lie.

The Washington Post’s Amy Gardner and Beth Reinhard report that Harris personally hired Dowless after noticing, in 2016, the striking results Dowless got for Harris’s primary opponent in Bladen County absentee ballots. Harris’s interest in Dowless stemmed from 2016, when the third-place finisher in the Republican primary had gotten 221 mail-in votes in Bladen County to one for the primary winner and four for Harris, the second-place finisher.

What’s more, until now, Harris has had the tiny fig leaf of semi-plausible deniability that Dowless was a subcontractor employed by a consulting firm working for the campaign. But it turns out, Harris had hired Dowless before he hired the Red Dome Group as a consultant. And Harris hired Dowless “despite warnings about Dowless’s criminal record and Dowless’s own public testimony describing questionable election tactics.”

So: Harris personally hired Dowless after seeing up close and personal how Dowless could overwhelmingly, improbably win absentee voting in Bladen County for a candidate who was otherwise coming in third. Harris hired Dowless after the chair of the Bladen County Republican Party told him that Dowless had a criminal record including fraud and perjury. But Harris saw his chance to win by any means necessary, and he took it.

A new election seems inevitable, but the question now is if Harris will be allowed on the ticket.  Will there also be a new primary as well?

The North Carolina Elections Board is grappling with this as we speak.

Cohen Talks

Ken AshfordStormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

This morning, Cohen has gave a new interview to ABC News that deals a big blow to Trump’s defense that Trump never directed Cohen to break any laws when he arranged the deal with AMI to payoff Karen McDougal. According to Trump. it was on Cohen to fix the problem legally. If Cohen failed in this regard, that’s on him.

First, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos got Cohen to state clearly that in directing payments designed to silence women who alleged affairs with him, Trump both knew he was engaged in wrongdoing and consciously understood that he directed the payments on behalf of his presidential candidacy:

STEPHANOPOULOS: He’s saying very clearly that he never directed you to do anything wrong. Is that true?

COHEN: I don’t think there’s anybody that believes that. First of all, nothing at the Trump Organization was ever done unless it was run through Mr. Trump. He directed me … to make the payments. He directed me to become involved in these matters.

[…]

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he knew it was wrong?

COHEN: Of course.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he was doing that to help his election?

COHEN: Yeah. You remember, at what point in time that this matter came about, two weeks or so before the election, post-Billy Bush comments. So yes, he was very concerned about how this would affect the election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: To help his campaign.

COHEN: To help him and the campaign.

Stephanopoulos then asked him about a tweet in which Trump explained why Cohen had agreed to the plea deal.  “Those charges were just agreed to in order to embarrass the president and get a much reduced prison sentence.”

Cohen responded:

I know which tweets you are talking about. First of all, it is absolutely not true. I did not do it to embarrass the president. He knows the truth. I know the truth, many people know the truth. Under no circumstances do I want to embarrass the president of the United States of America. The truth is, I told the truth. I took responsibility for my actions. And instead of him taking responsibility for his actions, what does he do? He attacks my family. And after yesterday, again being before the court and taking the responsibility and receiving a sentence of 36 months, the only thing he could do is to tweet about my family?

Stephanopoulos asked Cohen about Trump’s remark that “you are lying about him to protect your wife, to protect your father in-law.”

Cohen replied:

Inaccurate. He knows the truth, I know the truth, others know the truth, and here is the truth: The people of the United States of America, people of the world, don’t believe what he is saying. The man doesn’t tell the truth. And it is sad that I should take responsibility for his dirty deeds.

When asked about his part in the wrongdoing, Cohen answered:

I am angry at myself because I knew what I was doing was wrong. I stood up before the world yesterday and I accepted the responsibility for my actions. The actions that I gave to a man, who, as I also said in my allocution, I was loyal to. I should not be the only one taking responsibility for his actions.

It was a blind loyalty. It was to a man I admired, but I do not know the answer to it. And I am angry at myself. My family is disappointed that they’ve taught me, my mother, father, right from wrong. And I didn’t display good judgment.

Cohen told Stephanopoulos that Trump has changed since he became President.

I think the pressure of the job is much more than what he thought it was going to be. It’s not like the Trump organization where he would bark out orders and people would blindly follow what he wanted done. There’s a system here, he doesn’t understand the system, and it’s sad because the country has never been more divisive. And one of the hopes that I have out of the punishment that I’ve received, as well as the cooperation that I have given, I will be remembered in history as helping to bring this country back together.

When asked if he believed the President was telling the truth, Cohen said no.

Finally Stephanopoulos asked, “If he were sitting in this chair right now, what would you say to him?”

Cohen responded, “Lay off Twitter, run the country the way that we all thought that you would, be able to take the Democrats, Republicans, bring them together and bring the country together instead of dividing the country.”

So, no real surprises in there. It certainly didn’t change anything for Trump one way or the other. So much for taking a bullet for Donald Trump.

The full transcript can be found here.

Kusher Tied Up With AMI’s Efforts To Play For Trump

Ken AshfordStormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

The Daily Beast reports:

Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was handed a task considered critical to the president’s operations. In addition to serving as a senior adviser in the White House, he would also be playing the role of the main conduit between Trump and his friend David Pecker, the National Enquirer publisher and chief executive of AMI, which prosecutors said on Wednesday admitted to making a $150,000 hush-money payment “in concert with” the Trump campaign.

During the early months of the Trump era, Kushner performed the task admirably, discussing with Pecker various issues over the phone, including everything from international relations to media gossip, according to four sources familiar with the situation. Pecker, for his part, bragged to people that he was speaking to the president’s son-in-law and, more generally, about the level of access he had to the upper echelons of the West Wing, two sources with knowledge of the relationship recounted.

The relationship underscored both the wide breadth of responsibilities that Kushner was given in the White House—a portfolio that saw him serve as a point person on some of the most critical government functions and as a chief protector of the Trump family image—as well as the degree to which Trump continued to value the relationships he’d built up with key media figures during his time in New York real estate and reality TV.

Pecker, after all, was no bit player. He has been a valuable asset within Trump’s orbit, at least until federal investigators came knocking. His ties to Trump began well before the president was elected into office. But before Kushner was his main conduit, that role was played by Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer.

During the heat of the 2016 election, Pecker’s AMI and Enquirer—with Cohen helping facilitate matters behind the scenes—endorsed Trump, ran a catch-and-kill operation to suppress damaging stories of Trump’s alleged affairs, and published numerous negative articles on Trump’s political enemies and adversaries in the Republican primary. Trump himself used to contribute to the Enquirer and the future president reportedly also used the tabloid to settle his pettier, more personal scores. In late 2016, actress Salma Hayek claimed on a conference call hosted by the Hillary Clinton campaign that Trump had tried to date her and when she rejected him, he planted a false story about her in the Enquirer.

Pecker had banked on Cohen remaining in Trump’s political inner sanctum after the election. But during the presidential transition, it became clear that Trump’s then fixer wouldn’t be landing a plum job in the administration—though he had told people close to him that he expected a senior position, even White House chief of staff, two sources with direct knowledge recall.

***


Two people with direct knowledge of their acquaintance say that Kushner and Pecker got to know each other years before Trump’s election, when Pecker was thinking about forging a business relationship with Kushner, who at the time owned The New York Observer. Two other knowledgeable sources say that then Observer editor-in-chief Ken Kurson, a close friend of Kushner’s, had even visited the AMI offices in 2016, and sat in on an editorial meeting. In a brief telephone call on Thursday, Kurson told The Daily Beast that although he had visited the AMI offices, he had never sat in on an editorial meeting. According to Kurson, he had been seeking senior AMI exec Dylan Howard’s advice on how to “pivot to video,” the digital journalism buzz term describing social video content, and Howard had briefly shown Kurson around the office. AMI declined to comment.

Starting in late 2016, AMI’s priorities shifted from a potential business deal with Kushner to one focused on access to political power. Shortly after the Trump presidency began, Kushner and Pecker talked repeatedly, on subjects ranging from relations with the Saudi regime, to possible dirt that the Enquirer had on Morning Joe’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, according to the four sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive matters.

AMI, like Kushner, cozied up to the despotic Saudi government, which included the production of a glossy propaganda magazine boosting Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Last year, Brzezinski and Scarborough, who had increasingly become Trump critics, made the explosive allegation that three senior aides to President Trump “warned” the couple that the Enquirer would publish a negative story on them unless they “begged” Trump to intervene on their behalf. The couple’s account was disputed by White House officials, who said the conversations were far more cordial than the TV hosts described.

As The Daily Beast reported last year, Kushner was one of the senior officials who privately spoke to Scarborough about the matter. According to two White House officials, Scarborough had “calmly sought” advice from Kushner, who “recommended he speak with the president.” Scarborough did not know that Kushner had also been directly in touch with the Enquirer’s publisher at the time, according to a source familiar with the matter.

I don’t see any illegal;ity alleged on the part of Kushner, but it is a political problem.

Oh, and there is this quote in the article as well:

Trump insists he is innocent of any related crimes because he never explicitly asked for Cohen or AMI to violate campaign finance law by sitting on stories of his extra-marital affairs. And the president’s current lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, contends that the scandal is overblown entirely.

“Nobody got killed, nobody got robbed… This was not a big crime,” Giuliani told The Daily Beast on Wednesday. He added, sardonically, “I think in two weeks they’ll start with parking tickets that haven’t been paid.”

“Nobody got killed”

We’re at the point where Trump’s lawyers are defending him publicly with “nobody got killed”.  That should replace “but her emails”.

Crazy Days

Ken AshfordGeneral corruption, L'Affaire Russe, Middle East, Stormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

It’s impossible to keep up with the news anymore. Here is just today:

  • Donald Trump’s inauguration committee is under investigation. Apparently they managed to spend twice as much as any other recent president for an inaugural celebration that was half the size of any other recent president.
  • Maria Butina pleaded guilty to infiltrating the NRA on behalf of Russia.
  • Trump is now on his fourth (fifth?) version of events surrounding hush money paid to his mistresses.
  • But wait. Trump was present at meetings where hush money was discussed (though note the source).
  • Republicans who eagerly impeached Bill Clinton and called for the prosecution of John Edwards are now busily taking to the airwaves to insist that extramarital sex is no big deal, payoffs don’t count as campaign contributions, and lying about trivial sex stuff is just something everyone does.
  • Before big events, Trump crushes up Adderall and snorts it.
  • Wait. What? I can’t tell if that one is a joke or not.
  • Both Newt Gingrich and Jared Kushner are rumored to be candidates for Trump’s chief of staff. Wouldn’t it be awesome if they were co-chiefs?
  • Trump has decided he doesn’t want to shut down the government after all.
  • The Senate voted to end US support for the war in Yemen.

And Now… Another Trump Scandal

Ken AshfordPolitical Scandals, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Breaking from WSJ:

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee misspent some of the record $107 million it raised from donations, people familiar with the matter said.

The criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which is in its early stages, also is examining whether some of the committee’s top donors gave money in exchange for access to the incoming Trump administration, policy concessions or to influence official administration positions, some of the people said.

Giving money in exchange for political favors could run afoul of federal corruption laws. Diverting funds from the organization, which was registered as a nonprofit, could also violate federal law.

The investigation represents another potential legal threat to people who are or were in Mr. Trump’s orbit. Their business dealings and activities during and since the campaign have led to a number of indictments and guilty pleas. Many of the president’s biggest campaign backers were involved in the inaugural fund.

The investigation partly arises out of materials seized in the federal probe of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s business dealings, according to people familiar with the matter.

In April raids of Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents obtained a recorded conversation between Mr. Cohen and Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a former adviser to Melania Trump, who worked on the inaugural events. In the recording, Ms. Wolkoff expressed concern about how the inaugural committee was spending money, according to a person familiar with the Cohen investigation.

The Wall Street Journal couldn’t determine when the conversation between Mr. Cohen and Ms. Wolkoff took place, or why it was recorded. The recording is now in the hands of federal prosecutors in Manhattan, a person familiar with the matter said.

The inaugural committee hasn’t been asked for records or been contacted by prosecutors, according to a lawyer close to the matter, who said: “We are not aware of any evidence the investigation the Journal is reporting actually exists.”

The inaugural committee has publicly identified vendors accounting for $61 million of the $103 million it spent, and it hasn’t provided details on those expenses, according to tax filings. As a nonprofit organization, the fund is only required to make public its top five vendors.

The committee raised more than double what former President Barack Obama’s first inaugural fund reported raising in 2009, the previous record. President Trump’s funds came largely from wealthy donors and corporations who gave $1 million or more—including casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, AT&T Inc. and Boeing Co. , according to Federal Election Commission filings. There is no sign that those three donors are under investigation.

Federal prosecutors have asked Richard Gates, a former campaign aide who served as the inaugural committee’s deputy chairman, about the fund’s spending and its donors, according to people familiar with the matter. Mr. Gates has met with prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office and the special counsel’s office.

Mr. Gates, who served as deputy in the inaugural fund, in February pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. involving foreign political consulting work unrelated to the campaign. The case was brought by Mr. Mueller’s office. Mr. Gates agreed to cooperate with the Justice Department in ongoing investigations.

The committee was headed by Thomas Barrack Jr., a real-estate developer and longtime friend of Mr. Trump. There is no sign the investigation is targeting Mr. Barrack, and he hasn’t been approached by investigators since he was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s office last year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who are probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, asked Mr. Barrack only a handful of questions about the inaugural fund, the person said.

Mr. Mueller has also probed whether any foreign money flowed to the inaugural fund, which is prohibited from accepting foreign funds. In August, the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, on a referral from Mr. Mueller, obtained a guilty plea from a Washington consultant who admitted he used a U.S. citizen to serve as a “straw purchaser” so that a “prominent Ukraine oligarch” could attend the inauguration. The names were never disclosed.

Manhattan federal prosecutors in recent months asked Tennessee developer Franklin L. Haney for documents related to a $1 million donation he made to Mr. Trump’s inaugural committee in December 2016, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Haney in early April hired Mr. Cohen, at the time serving as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, to help obtain a $5 billion loan from the Energy Department for a nuclear-power project, the Journal has previously reported. Mr. Haney was asked for documents related to his correspondence with members of the committee, meeting calendars and paperwork for the donation, the person said. A loan application by Mr. Haney’s company is still pending at the Energy Department.

A lawyer for Mr. Haney didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The White House didn’t respond to requests for comment on the investigation. A lawyer for Mr. Cohen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The Trump Administration wasted no time being corrupt.  Pay-for-play right out of the gate.

Trump Was In The Room With Cohen And Pecker

Ken AshfordStormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Breaking from NBC:

Donald Trump was the third person in the room in August 2015 when his lawyer Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker discussed ways Pecker could help counter negative stories about Trump’s relationships with women, NBC News has confirmed.

As part of a non-prosecution agreement disclosed Wednesday by federal prosecutors, American Media Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, admitted that “Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided.”

The “Statement of Admitted Facts” says that AMI admitted making a $150,000 payment “in concert with the campaign,” and says that Pecker, Cohen, and “at least one other member of the campaign” were in the meeting. According to a person familiar with the matter, the “other member” was Trump.

Now, we still don’t know what Trump said and did in the meeting. But if Trump was in the room, as early as August of 2015, and in combination with the recording where Trump clearly knows what Cohen is talking about with regarding to David Pecker, you now squarely place Trump in the middle of a conspiracy to commit campaign finance fraud.

Pow.

Trump On A Twitter Tear This Morning

Ken AshfordImmigration and Xenophobia, L'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & Administration, War on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

He rants about the investigations, Cohen, the wall…. in a largely fact-free tirade.

This is creative accounting at best. I don’t know how much the US benefits from the NAFTA 2.0 Trade Agreement (i.e., the USMCA), but by most accounts, it’s not that different from the original NAFTA.  And anyway, the benefits go to manufacturers, farmers, etc. — not the US Treasury.  So the bill still goes to US taxpayers.

WaPo:

“Boy, this is a stretch,” said William Hoagland, a former Republican staff director of the Senate Budget Committee.

Hoagland said the only reasoning he could contemplate to back up Trump’s Twitter post Thursday is that if the U.S. economy grows because of the new trade deal, Trump could claim that the new tax revenue is a bonus and therefore is somehow related to Mexico.

But he said the same reasoning could be used to say that Canada is paying for the wall’s construction. Hoagland also said that none of this new money would actually come from Canada or Mexico. In addition, Hoagland said he could not see a scenario under which the USMCA would “save” taxpayer money, as Trump asserted in his Twitter post.

“At the end of the day, the American taxpayer is still paying for it,” he said. “Because where are the revenues coming from? They are not coming from Mexican taxpayers.”

Yup.

Ok, let me break in and say that — given the lack of spelling errors (“counsel” is spelled correctly) — this series of tweets has lawyer-crafting all over it.

Secondly, it’s a questionable defense. He doesn’t have to direct Cohen to break the law — he only has to know that the law was being broken on his behalf.  And he knew.  There are tapes.  And I’m sure Cohen and the Trump accountant, Allen Weisselberg — both of whom are co-operating with prosecutors — have delivered the goods on this.  Aa well as David Pecker, CEO of American Media, who owns The National Enquirer.

Allen Weisselberg  is an interesting charactor in all this. He’s not been in the news and not many even know what he looks like. But he’s been rightly called “the highest person in the Trump Organization not named Trump” and “the guy who knows where all the bodies are buried.”  The fact that he has been cooperating is HUGE.

Anywy WaPO adds another wrinkle:

Lawrence Noble, former general counsel for the Federal Election Commission, made an important point to The Post in a phone call last week. That Cohen (with Trump’s knowledge) made the payment to McDougal indirectly and that he paid Daniels through a shell company reinforces the idea that it was understood that they were doing something untoward. The payments could have been made with campaign money — even money that Trump contributed — and reported as expenses without any law being broken. But that’s not how the payments were made, suggesting an awareness that it was important to keep the payments out of the public eye. Trump would likely argue that this was to keep the stories private, but Noble points out that it also indicates an awareness that the payments needed to be kept private.

Asked specifically about the “knowing and willful” stipulation, Noble noted that this was a lower bar than it might seem. For Trump (or anyone) to have committed a violation, they would only have needed to know in general terms that campaign spending was controlled and that spending needed to be reported, which he clearly did know. Being aware that these payments were happening meets that standard, in Noble’s estimation.

Of course this was campaign finance. He just decided on the eve of an election to pay off the women he had affairs with 10 or 15 years ago?

Also, it is tough to argue that Cohen was not guilty of the two campaign charges since Cohen himself UNDER OATH said he was guilty.

WaPO can carry the rest:

The hush-money payments were violations of the law because campaign spending is regulated. You can only accept money under certain conditions, you can only spend that money under specific conditions, and that spending needs to be reported. In this case, the payments to Karen McDougal (made on Trump’s behalf by American Media Inc., as the company admitted in an agreement with the government released on Wednesday) and Stormy Daniels (made by Cohen) were not made with legally collected money and not reported as campaign spending. In addition, the spending by AMI was itself illegal, since corporations can’t coordinate with campaigns on political spending. The two campaign finance charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty related to his payment to Daniels and his work with AMI to make the McDougal payment.

You’ve probably already spotted the linchpin of this argument: If the payments had nothing to do with the campaign — if Trump was just covering up affairs — there’s no violation because there’s no campaign spending. This is Trump’s central defense.

Unfortunately for Trump, there are several reasons to think that the campaign was, in fact, the impetus for the payments.

For example, they happened in August and October 2016, years after the relationships. Why pay them off then, if not because of the campaign?
More importantly, both Cohen and AMI have stated under penalty of perjury that the payments were meant to influence the election. AMI told the government that in August 2015 — a year before the McDougal payment — its chief executive, David Pecker, had met with Cohen and an unnamed campaign official to offer to help cover up any negative stories that might emerge. It then did so, paying McDougal $150,000 “to suppress the model’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election,” as the agreement with the government reads. That, by itself, is illegal, but AMI won’t be charged under its agreement with the government.

AMI had expected to be reimbursed by Trump but ended up canceling that plan once its lawyers explained how that reimbursement would undermine any argument about the legality of its payment. But we know that Cohen and Trump planned to reimburse the company for the payment because we have a recording of the two discussing it. That recording, released in July, was part of a conversation that was entirely about the campaign.

This makes no sense. Why would you plead guilty to crimes that you are supposedly innocent of, in order to get a reduced prison sentence?

Next, Trump discusses his other legal problem — the Mueller investigation.

The FBI said he didn’t lie?  Where did this come from? We know that the sentencing judge for Flynn wanted to see the FD-302s — the summaries written by the agent interviewers.  How does Trump know what they said.

I also like how Trump refers to Flynn’s lies as “misstatements”.  Flynn didn’t characterize it that way.

And then finally, Trump adds…

Like a broken record.

UPDATE: Trump gave a candyass interview to Fox News today, reiterating much of the same thing. Needless to say, he wasn’t pressed on any points.

He did go to his go-to line aka “Person X was the coffee boy”:

Jesus.

Breaking: Cohen Sentenced

Ken AshfordBreaking News, L'Affaire Russe, Rightwing Extremism/Violence, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I would like to believe that Michael Cohen has “seen the light” and regrets everything he did on the “path of darkness” (his words) as Trump’s fixer.  Like Dean before him, I think he probably is sincere about starting a new life after getting so mired in seedy politics.

But he has to pay the piper, and while he seems to have been of assistance to Mueller’s investigation, he has not been forthcoming to the SDNY about other crimes not related to Trump.  

And today the piper got paid:

Michael D. Cohen, the former lawyer for President Trump, was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday morning in part for his role in a scandal that could threaten Mr. Trump’s presidency by implicating him in a scheme to buy the silence of two women who said they had affairs with him.

The sentencing in federal court in Manhattan capped a startling fall for Mr. Cohen, 52, who had once hoped to work by Mr. Trump’s side in the White House but ended up a central figure in the inquiry into payments to a porn star and a former Playboy model before the 2016 election.
Judge William H. Pauley III said Mr. Cohen had committed a “smorgasbord” of crimes involving “deception” and motivated by “personal greed and ambition.”

“As a lawyer, Mr. Cohen should have known better,” the judge said.

Before he was sentenced, a solemn Mr. Cohen, standing at a lectern, sounded emotional but resolved as he told the judge he had been tormented by the anguish and embarrassment he had caused his family.

“I blame myself for the conduct which has brought me here today,” he said, “and it was my own weakness and a blind loyalty to this man” – a reference to Mr. Trump – “that led me to choose a path of darkness over light.”

Mr. Cohen said the president had been correct to call him “weak” recently, “but for a much different reason than he was implying.”
“It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds rather than to listen to my own inner voice and my moral compass,” Mr. Cohen said.

Mr. Cohen then apologized to the public: “You deserve to know the truth and lying to you was unjust.”

The judge said Mr. Cohen’s assistance to the special counsel’s office, though useful, had not “wiped the slate clean,” and a “significant term” of prison was justified. In the end, the judge gave Mr. Cohen three years for the crimes he committed in New York and two months for lying to Congress, to be served at the same time. He was also fined $100,000 and ordered to pay restitution of $1.4 million.

Mr. Cohen’s sentencing was unusual because it involved guilty pleas he made in two separate cases, one filed by federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York and a later one by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In the case brought by Mr. Mueller’s office, Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the duration of negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, as well as about the extent of the involvement of Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen revealed that Mr. Trump was more involved in discussions over the potential deal during the election campaign than previously known.

The SDNY crimes mostly had little to do with Trump.  It was Cohen, benefiting personally from his power and association with Trump.  He refused to sign a plea agreement with SDNY, which kind of cut against his proclaimed torment and desire to make good.

We didn’t learn anything new today in the sentencing, but it closes one chapter of the Mueller investigation.

We should also remember that Cohen was not only Trump’s lawyer — he was deputy finance chair of the RNCC.

Here’s Geraldo’s take:

That’s an embarrassing take for a supposed journalist.  “Hey, only 5% of his crimes can be tied to the President of the United States.”

Since we are talking about sentencing, let me tack this on — a conclusion to a very sad event:

UPDATE — AMI owns The National Enquirer, who paid $150,000 to McDougall and then buried the story about her affair with Trump. This arrangement, brokered by Cohen, would have been a campaign expenditure since it related to covering up allegations harmful to Trump during the 2016 election.

The key phrase: “AMI admitted that its principal purpose in making the payment was to suppress the woman’s story so as to prevent it from influencing the election.”  (emphasis mine)

If Trump knew about that, that’s campaign fraud.

It also adds another illegal aspect to all of this: that money was corporate, not PAC, and candidates cannot accept corporate money, either directly or in-kind. The amount is also significant. A corporate PAC can only give $5K per election ($5K each for primary & general).  This was $150,000 of in-kind contribution.

Trump’s Reality Tremor

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Polls, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

For all of Trump’s outward swagger, signs are mounting that the White House is deeply rattled. Federal prosecutors now claim Trump personally directed a conspiracy to secure his election in the form of illegal hush-money payments. We’ve learned that Trump negotiated business dealings with Russia throughout the GOP primaries, which he concealed. And there are solid grounds for believing Mueller still hasn’t tipped his hand on all he has learned about Trump campaign conspiracy with Russia’s sabotage of our election or on Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice.

In the wake of this news, Axios now reports that a “reality tremor” has coursed through the White House, noting that “top officials” are “growing more anxious about Trump’s reelection prospects,” and that even some hard-core outside allies were “rattled by the specificity” of the latest revelations. The Associated Press reports that the news is “unnerving some of his fellow Republicans,” who now fret about his reelection chances that “the turmoil has left him increasingly vulnerable.”

And although his base remains steadfast, the polls show that Trump is not gaining ground with the public.  A new CNN poll finds that Trump’s approval rating is mired at 39 percent, and it shows that even as ongoing investigations involving Trump and his orbit are bearing fruit, the American people continue to support the probe and believe it is turning up evidence of wrongdoing. The highlights:

  • Only 29 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the Russia investigation, down from 33 percent last month, while the percentage disapproving has risen to 57 percent.
  • 50 percent say special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe is very or somewhat likely to implicate Trump personally in wrongdoing, vs. 43 percent who say it won’t.
  • A plurality of 44 percent say Trump did something unethical by concealing his effort to build a Trump Tower in Moscow while campaigning for president, while another 26 percent say he did something unwise, and an abysmal 23 percent say he did nothing wrong. That last one, by the way, is Trump’s position.
  • 59 percent say Russian interference in the election is a serious matter that should be investigated, vs. only 35 percent who say it’s about discrediting Trump’s presidency — i.e., that it’s what Trump calls a “witch hunt.”
  • 54 percent say the things Trump has said about the investigation are completely or mostly false, vs. only 36 percent who say they’re true.

Not good for the President.

Trump Says He Will Be Happy To Shut Down Government Over Border Wall

Ken AshfordCongress, Immigration and Xenophobia, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

I guess Trump thought it would be a good idea to bring in cameras as he talked with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer about immigration reform and in particular, his border wall.  But it just made him look silly.

Prior to his meeting with Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer, Trump brought reporters into the Oval Office and — in an extended, heated exchange before the cameras — clashed with the two Democratic leaders over congressional support for funding for his border wall, declaring that he is “proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Trump has demanded $5 billion for the border wall, but Schumer has drawn a red line on providing no more than $1.3 billion — not for a wall, but for border security. “This temper tantrum that [Trump] seems to throw will not get him his wall and it will hurt a lot of people because he will cause a shutdown,” Schumer said in a press conference following the Oval Office altercation.

The meeting was a disaster of Trumpian proportions. On several occasions, Pelosi begged Trump to stop forcing them to contradict him in public in front of the press before the negotiations could even begin, but he insisted on pressing on, only to get owned over and over again.

Schumer laughed at him for attempting to say that he had gotten some kind of mandate out of the midterms: “When the president brags that he won North Dakota and Indiana, he’s in real trouble.” He pointed out that he had just repeated the same lies about the border wall that had inspired the new “Bottomless Pinocchio” rating from the Washington Post. He caught Trump in a contradiction, saying that our border security was terrible after opening his remarks by touting its effectiveness. He pointed out that Trump hasn’t even spent the money for border security that he received last year. Then he told Trump that he had called for a government shutdown twenty separate times and got Trump to commit the mother of all blunders:

TRUMP: And I’ll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck, because the people of this country don’t want criminals and people that have lots of problems, and drugs pouring into our country. So I will take the mantle. I will be the to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it. The last time you shut it down it didn’t work. I will take the mantle of shutting down, and I’m going to shut it down for border security.

Meanwhile, Pelosi correctly told the president that he could not even pass his wall spending through the Republican House and refused to back down on that point in the face of repeated assertions to the contrary. She challenged the president to prove her wrong and told him that his wall “is wasteful and doesn’t solve the problem.” When Trump suggested that she was weak and couldn’t negotiate, she used the opportunity to show her strength and solidify her support within her caucus.

PELOSI: Mr. President — Mr. President, please don’t characterize the strength that I bring to this meeting as the leader of the House Democrats, who just won a big victory.

SCHUMER: Elections have consequences, Mr. President.

But probably the most important point Pelosi made was her most succinct statement of the entire meeting, “You will not win.”

And he won’t. The problem is simple: Trump wants $5 billion for his border wall, and Pelosi and Schumer don’t want to give it to him. Especially not Pelosi, who won’t even commit to the $1.6 billion Schumer has already offered. She has offered a one-year funding extension at current levels ($1.3 billion for border security). Pelosi is more ideologically progressive than Schumer, oversees a more progressive conference than he does, has a Speaker’s vote on the floor in January, vehemently opposes Trump’s immigration policies, and has no incentive to give Trump anything.

Minutes after a very public showdown with Trump over his border wall with Mexico, the California Democrat returned to the Capitol and railed against the president in a private meeting with her colleagues.

Trump “must have said the word ‘wall’ 30 times,” the House minority leader said, according to multiple sources in the room.

“I was trying to be the mom,” she added, but “it goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

And then, Pelosi went for the most sensitive part of Trump’s ego.

“It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him,” she deadpanned. “This wall thing.”

Notice how quiet Republicans have been about the shutdown fight? It’s because they don’t want to deal with this right now; they want to go home for Christmas. They are united in their enthusiasm about getting out of town ASAP — and that leaves Trump with little leverage.

You’ll hear Democrats say — and some Republicans, too, privately — that Trump should be happy with $1.6 billion for border security because that’s what he asked for in his 2019 budget.

What The Manafort And Cohen Sentencing Memos Really Say

Ken AshfordL'Affaire Russe, Stormy Daniels & Karen McDougal Affairs, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Uh no.

Trump arguably got support from the Justice Department on one point. A few days ago, he tweeted that his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, should “serve a full and complete sentence.” This was in response to Cohen’s argument that he should serve no jail time in recognition of his extensive cooperation with prosecutors. It turns out that the Justice Department agrees with Trump on this point—or, at least, part of it does to some extent.

The first surprise of the filings is that the story of Cohen’s cooperation appears to be somewhat more complicated than was apparent from Cohen’s own sentencing memorandum, filed on Nov. 30. There, Cohen’s defense counsel presented their client as having been a very good boy of late—someone who had made mistakes out of excess loyalty to his boss but was working honestly with investigators now in order to turn over a new leaf. In his lawyers’ account, Cohen was all-in on cooperation.

Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York (SDNY) appear to have a somewhat different view of the matter, slamming Cohen’s “rose-colored view of the seriousness of the crimes” and accusing him of having been “motivated by greed” in his criminal actions. More significantly, the memo plays down Cohen’s cooperation, pointing to Cohen’s decision not to enter into a traditional cooperation agreement. Cohen’s lawyers presented this as a move calculated to speed up the sentencing process so their client could more quickly start his life afresh. The SDNY prosecutors, by contrast, describe his having given limited help to prosecutors and see his refusal to enter into a formal cooperation agreement as a reason why he should not reap the benefits of cooperation in the form of a downward departure in sentencing:

His proffer sessions with the [special counsel’s office] aside, Cohen only met with the Office about the participation of others in the campaign finance crimes to which Cohen had already pleaded guilty. Cohen specifically declined to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past. Cohen further declined to meet with the Office about other areas of investigative interest.

Cohen, the SDNY contends, did not submit to a full debriefing, and his “efforts thus fell well short of cooperation, as that term is properly used in this District.” The SDNY prosecutors are also unimpressed with Cohen’s cooperation with an investigation by the New York State Attorney General, writing that Cohen only corroborated information already known by that office and which he could have been compelled to provide anyway. Notably, in a footnote, the memo flags that Cohen was at one point considering taking the path of full cooperation but chose not to do so.

But the executive branch does not appear to be entirely unitary on this matter, and the special counsel’s office filed a separate brief that has a distinctly friendlier account of Cohen’s cooperation. The two briefs have been harmonized, in the sense that they do not contradict one another or make conflicting sentencing recommendations: The SDNY recommends a “substantial” prison sentence with a “modest” departure from the guidelines range to account for Cohen’s cooperation, while the special counsel’s office recommends that the court give “due consideration” to Cohen’s “significant” assistance and that his sentence for false statements to Congress run concurrently with that of the sentence in the SDNY’s case.

That said, the special counsel’s office describes much more complete cooperation on Cohen’s part in L’Affaire Russe than the SDNY recognizes in matters within its purview and it takes a decidedly warmer tone toward Cohen and his efforts:

The defendant has provided, and has committed to continue to provide, relevant and truthful information to the SCO in an effort to assist with the investigation. The defendant has met with the SCO for seven proffer sessions, many of them lengthy, and continues to make himself available to investigators. His statements beginning with the second meeting with the SCO have been credible, and he has taken care not to overstate his knowledge or the role of others in the conduct under investigation.

As to the substance of the government’s memos in the Cohen cases, they provide little basis for the president’s cries of exoneration. The majority of the information about “Individual-1” presented in the U.S. attorney’s filing is not new. Cohen himself acknowledged it in court and in his original plea documents in August. His own sentencing memo also contains much of the same material.

What makes this document extraordinary is the government’s restatement of the most striking portion of Cohen’s August admissions in its own voice: Cohen indicated that he committed campaign finance violations at the direction of the candidate who conducted an “ultimately successful” campaign for president. The government now echoes this testimony and alleges:                                     

With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election. Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1.

In short, the Department of Justice, speaking through the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, is alleging that the president of the United States coordinated and directed a surrogate to commit a campaign finance violation punishable with time in prison. While the filing does not specify that the president “knowingly and willfully” violated the law, as is required by the statute, this is the first time that the government has alleged in its own voice that President Trump is personally involved in what it considers to be federal offenses.

And it does not hold back in describing the magnitude of those offenses. The memo states that Cohen’s actions, “struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency. While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.” His sentence “should reflect the seriousness of Cohen’s brazen violations of the election laws and attempt to counter the public cynicism that may arise when individuals like Cohen act as if the political process belongs to the rich and powerful.”

One struggles to see how a document that alleges that such conduct took place at the direction of Individual-1 “totally clears the president.”

In contrast to the SDNY memo, Mueller’s memo contains a fair bit of new information—none of it explosive, but all of it useful in fleshing out the story of L’Affaire Russe. Cohen has clearly given Mueller’s office a great amount of information, and he’s continuing to do so on an ongoing basis. As quoted above, Cohen has met with the special counsel’s office for seven proffer sessions, some of them “lengthy.” And though the sentencing memo states that Cohen lied to investigators in the first session, it emphasizes that Cohen’s statements in every meeting afterward have been “credible.” Mueller states that Cohen has provided information on a handful of Russia-related issues: his own contacts with “Russian interests” during the 2016 presidential campaign; his discussions with others regarding those contacts; other outreach by Russians to the campaign; and, most ambiguously, “certain discrete Russia-related matters core to [the special counsel’s] investigation,” which Mueller writes that Cohen “obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign.” (NPR writes that the company in question, a “Manhattan-based real estate company” of which the memo identifies Cohen as an executive vice president, appears to be the Trump Organization.)

In terms of outreach to and from Russians, the memo contains two new data points. First, it states that Cohen “conferred with Individual-1 about contacting the Russian government” about the Trump Tower Moscow project before he actually made contact. From context, the timing of this conversation with Trump appears to have been in the fall of 2015, just when negotiations over Trump Tower Moscow were getting off the ground, though that’s not entirely clear; the memo frames the revelation in relation to a September 2015 radio interview in which Cohen suggested that Trump and Putin might meet during Putin’s visit to the United Nations General Assembly.

Second, it describes a conversation between Cohen and a Russian national “in or around November 2015” in which the Russian “repeatedly proposed a meeting between Individual 1 and the President of Russia” and promised “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” The Russian national—who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the country—also told Cohen that, “such a meeting could have a ‘phenomenal’ impact ‘not only in political but in a business dimension as well,’ referring to the Moscow Project, because there is ‘no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the President of Russia].’” Cohen never followed up with the individual in question, because, as flagged in a footnote, “he was working on the Moscow Project with a different individual who Cohen understood to have his own connections to the Russian government.”

BuzzFeed News reporter Anthony Cormier suggested on Twitter that the Russian man offering “synergy” was likely Russian athlete Dmitry Klokov, whose contacts with the Trump organization Cormier and his colleagues reported in June 2018. Earlier reporting from Cormier and Jason Leopold at BuzzFeed News suggests that the man with whom Cohen was already working on Trump Tower Moscow at the time of the November 2015 phone call was likely Felix Sater: Cormier and Leopold report that Sater began work on the project with Cohen in September 2015.

Perhaps most importantly, the special counsel’s office writes that Cohen provided “relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017-2018 period.” It’s not clear what these contacts were about and who they were with. But notably, Trump stated in June of 2018 that he had not “spoken to Michael [Cohen] in a long time.”

The government’s submission in the Manafort case is a simpler matter, expanding on the special counsel’s previous allegations that Manafort made false statements to investigators after entering into a formal plea agreement. On multiple occasions during his meetings with the special counsel’s office, the document states, Manafort lied about his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Ukrainian-Russian citizen whom some reports have linked to Russian military intelligence and whom the special counsel charged alongside Manafort with witness tampering. The special counsel also writes that Manafort lied regarding a wire transfer and, separately, regarding information pertaining to another ongoing Justice Department investigation—about which the document provides no information other than that it is taking place in a jurisdiction other than the District of Columbia.

Finally, as with the Cohen filings, the government’s submission in the Manafort case sheds new light on Manafort’s communications with Trump administration officials. Manafort claimed after signing the plea agreement that he had “no direct or indirect communications with anyone in the Administration,” but according to Mueller, this was yet another misrepresentation of the facts. The government alleges that in a text message exchange in May of 2018, Manafort gave another individual permission to speak with “an Administration official” on Manafort’s behalf. And a “Manafort colleague” claims that Manafort was in communication with a “senior Administration official” up until Feb. of 2018—notably, the month that the special counsel’s office indicted Manafort for a second time in the Eastern District of Virginia.

What should one make of all of this? It has long been clear that the Russian side of L’Affaire Russe involved a long-running, systematic effort to reach out to members of the Trump Organization and the Trump campaign. Mueller’s account of Cohen’s November 2015 conversation about “political synergy” is just one more thread in that pattern. What is less certain is whether and how that Russian effort was reciprocated by those surrounding the president. Friday’s court filings don’t substantially clarify that issue, but they do add more detail and texture to an already troubling picture.

Mueller is still not ready to show his hand on the key substantive questions. But President Trump should should probably go easy on the cries of vindication. They may age badly, and they may do so quickly.

Weekly List 108

Ken AshfordWeekly ListLeave a Comment

This week featured the normalcy and tranquility of the funeral of George H.W. Bush, juxtaposed with bombshells of damning information on Trump coming from the Mueller probe and other investigations. As the Mueller probe is reportedly nearing its close, Mueller’s team filed court memos relating to three of its most high profile defendants: Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Paul Manafort. The Southern District of New York also filed a memo on Trump Friday —including the clearest implication yet that Trump committed felonies. As the country awaits Mueller’s final report, Trump’s White House has no plans to counter it in place, but rather will reportedly wing it.

This week major stock indexes tumbled more than 4%, erasing all the year’s gains, as economic data softened, showing Trump’s trade tariffs and the growing budget deficit are slowing the economy. As Trump’s second year comes to a close, he reportedly has no vision or strategy for 2019, save for his xenophobic and racist agenda, and instead is distracted by the Mueller probe and the incoming Democratic House majority. Continued shake-up in personnel plague the regime, and many key roles remain vacant, or are filled with loyalists who are unqualified.

  1. As votes continued to be tallied, Democrats secured the largest midterm margin in history for House races of 9.6 million votes (8.5%). The previous record was 8.7 million votes in 1974, months after Watergate.
  2. Bloomberg reported Trump and Putin did chat Friday night on the sidelines of the G20. Trump had canceled a scheduled formal meeting. Russian media had insisted the two would have an “impromptu” meeting.
  3. Press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the informal meeting in a statement, saying “As is typical at multilateral events,” Trump “had a number of informal conversations with world leaders.”
  4. On Sunday, Axios reported Alan Dershowitz is still advising Jeffrey Epstein about legal issues. Dershowitz helped Epstein get a sweetheart plea deal from then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta, now Trump’s labor secretary.
  5. A bombshell story in the Miami Herald revealed dozens of women alleged Epstein molested and raped them when they were underage. Epstein has ties to Trump, Bill Clinton, Dershowitz, and other powerful men.
  6. On Monday, Sen. Ben Sasse sent three letters to senior Justice Department officials, asking them to open investigations into federal officials who handled the Epstein case, calling it an “epic miscarriage of justice.”
  7. On Tuesday, Epstein settled a suit filed by lawyer Bradley Edwards, who said Epstein had damaged his reputation, silencing women who were his alleged victims and were expected to testify.
  8. The Houston Chronicle reported Peter Sean Brown, 68, a U.S. citizen born in Philadelphia, was held for deportation to Jamaica by ICE after being processed for a probation violation over testing positive for marijuana.
  9. ICE was called in by Monroe County’s sheriff Richard Ramsey, who is being sued by the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center for unlawfully arresting and detaining a U.S. citizen.
  10. Monroe is one of more than a dozen Florida counties that in January 2018 entered a new arrangement with ICE under which sheriffs are compensated $50 for extending the detention of “criminal aliens.”
  11. The new NAFTA deal, signed at the G20 summit, watered down protections for LGBTQ individuals, taking away the wording that prevented discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  12. The Justice Department named Kerri Kupec as a senior spokesperson. Previously, Kupec worked at Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ group, designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
  13. Boston Globe reported police are investigating a man who allegedly pushed over a Hanukkah menorah near Harvard University’s campus, then rode away on his bicycle, as a possible hate crime.
  14. Schindler’s List,” the epic film about the Holocaust, returned to theaters, 25 years after its initial release.
  15. Conservative pastor and commentator E.W. Jackson lamented the election of two Muslims, saying “The floor of Congress is now going to look like an Islamic republic,” adding, “The threat to humanity is Islam, period.”
  16. Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to serve in Congress, responded tweeting, “Well sir, the floor of Congress is going to look like America…And you’re gonna have to just deal.”
  17. On Thursday, monthly figures released by the Department of Homeland Security show the number of people arrested or denied entry along the Mexico border reached a new high in November.
  18. U.S. Customs and Border Protection detained a record 25,172 members of “family units,” and 5,283 “unaccompanied minors.” Together these make up 60% of the 62,456 arrested or denied entry, up from 60,772 in October.
  19. On Thursday, NYT reported Victorina Morales, who served as Trump’s housekeeper at his golf club in Bedminster for five years, is an undocumented immigrant, having crossed the U.S. border illegally.
  20. Morales, who is Guatemalan, say she was hurt by Trump’s equating Latin American migrants with violent criminals. She also said there are several undocumented immigrants working for Trump’s club in Bedminster.
  21. Morales said when she was interviewed for the job, she had no legal working documents. When Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, a maintenance worker helped her procure a realistic-looking green card.
  22. On Thursday, BuzzFeed reported days before migrants set out from Honduras, an imposter hijacked the Facebook account of Bartolo Fuentes, and used it to boost the caravan’s numbers.
  23. Fuentes is a well-known activist, journalist, and lawyer. The imposter used the phony account to send Facebook messages falsely claiming that established migrant groups were organizing the caravan.
  24. On Wednesday, WAPO reported according to emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, a White House appointee at Veterans Affairs silenced a VA diversity chief in the aftermath of Charlottesville.
  25. Diversity chief Georgia Coffey, who pushed for a forceful condemnation by Trump and a statement from VA leaders (40% of VA employees are minorities), was told to stand down as part of a White House directive.
  26. WAPO reported Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie in a 1995 speech praised Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy as a “martyr to the ‘Lost Cause,’” and an “exceptional man in an exceptional age.”
  27. On Friday, self-professed neo-Nazi James Fields Jr. was found guilty of first-degree murder for killing Heather Heyer in Charlottesville during the white-supremacist “Unite the Right” rally and counter-protests.
  28. Fields will now face a federal trial on hate crimes that carries the possibility of the death penalty. There aremore trials and lawsuits to come, including one against Jason Kessler, one of the rally’s organizers.
  29. Ammon Bundy quit the militia movement in solidarity with the migrants in a video on Facebook, saying nationalism is the opposite of patriotism, and criticizing Trump for demonizing Central American migrants.
  30. On Monday, in a pair of tweets, Trump lashed out at Michael Cohen, who he said has done “TERRIBLE” things “unrelating to Trump,” has “lied for this outcome,” and should “serve a full and complete sentence.”
  31. Trump also tweeted that Cohen “makes up stories to get a GREAT & ALREADY reduced deal for himself, his wife and father-in-law (who has the money?) off Scott Free.”
  32. Merriam-Webster reported online searches for the definition or spelling of scot-free spiked 3,100 %, and mused on Twitter: “‘Scot-free’: completely free from obligation, harm, or penalty. ‘Scott Free’: some guy, probably.”
  33. Also on Monday morning, Trump tweeted praise of Roger Stone, saying “he will not be forced by a rogue and out of control prosecutor to make up lies” about Trump, and “nice to know that some people still have ‘guts!’”
  34. Trump also tweeted “Bob Mueller (who is a much different man than people think) and his out of control band of Angry Democrats” only want lies, adding “The truth is very bad for their mission!”
  35. Trump’s tweet was widely condemned. George Conway, husband of Kellyanne, tweeted “File under 18 U.S.C. §§ 1503, 1512,” the sections of the federal code dealing with obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
  36. On Monday, Eric Trump attacked Conway, tweeting “Of all the ugliness in politics, the utter disrespect George Conway shows,” adding Kellyanne “is great person and frankly his actions are horrible.”
  37. On Monday, NYT reported that in May 2017, Manafort discussed a deal with Ecuador’s incoming president, Lenín Moreno, to help negotiate a deal to hand over Julian Assange to the U.S., in exchange for a fat commission.
  38. Manafort also pitched himself to a range of governments facing various challenges, including Puerto Rico, Iraqi Kurdistan, and the United Arab Emirates, presenting himself as a liaison to the new Trump regime.
  39. On Monday, a federal judge said the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and Maryland could move forward with subpoenas for records from Trump’s hotels in their emoluments clause lawsuit.
  40. On Monday, Yahoo News reported Mueller’s prosecutors have told defense lawyers in recent weeks that they are “tying up loose ends” in their investigation of the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
  41. Mueller’s team has told Congressional investigators looking to issue new subpoenas for testimony that their investigation has reached a mature stage and they have spoken to almost everybody they want to talk to.
  42. On Monday, Roger Stone’s attorney said in a letter that he was invoking Fifth Amendment’s protection, declining to share documents and testimony requested by the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  43. On Tuesday, in a heavily redacted sentencing memo filed by the special counsel, Mueller recommended that Michael Flynn serve no prison time, citing his “substantial assistance” with several ongoing investigations.
  44. Flynn has been cooperating since he was forced out as national security adviser in February 2017, including19 interviews, providing “firsthand information,” and turning over documents and communications.
  45. The memo noted Flynn’s “early cooperation was particularly valuable” given his “long-term and firsthand insight,” and his guilty plea “likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming.”
  46. The memo also noted Flynn’s “record of military and public service distinguish him from every other person who has been charged,” adding, “senior government leaders should be held to the highest standards.”
  47. An addendum to the memo identified three matters in which Flynn is cooperating: collusion with Russia, and heavily redacted sections possibly related to obstruction of justice, and an unknown “Criminal Investigation.”
  48. On Tuesday, Rudy Giuliani told NBC News that he is not concerned about Flynn, saying “If he had information to share with Mueller that hurt the president, you would know it by now,” adding, “They don’t have bupkis.”
  49. On Thursday, WSJ reported a federal grand jury in Virginia has sought more information on efforts overseen by Michael Flynn’s private company Flynn Intel Group to discredit a U.S.-based Turkish cleric, Fethullah Gulen.
  50. Federal prosecutors have also asked for information on several people involved in the project, includingEkim Alptekin, the Turkish businessman who financed it. Alptekin claims the Turkish government is not involved.
  51. On Monday, in a rare lame-duck session, Wisconsin Republicans moved ahead with a bill to move the 2020 presidential primary date, costing the state millions, to benefit a conservative state Supreme Court justice.
  52. With an incoming Democratic governor, the proposal would also shift power to the GOP-controlled legislature. Protestors banged on the Capitol doors and chanted “Respect our votes!” and “Shame!”
  53. A spokesperson for the Democratic Governors Association called the GOP “banana republic dictators,” and said they are ignoring the will of the people. A top GOP legislator said they “don’t trust” the incoming governor.
  54. In Michigan, where Democrats won governor, attorney general, and secretary of state, GOP lawmakers introduced measures that would water down authority on campaign finance oversight and other legal matters.
  55. On Tuesday, the Wisconsin senate approved 81 of outgoing GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s appointees for membership on boards, authorities, and councils. Walker also appointed a judge and two district attorneys.
  56. On Wednesday, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation which consolidates power in the GOP-led legislature at the expense of the incoming governor and attorney general, both Democrats.
  57. Among other things, the legislation erodes the ability of the governor to enact laws, and requires the legislature to approve whether the state can pull out of a federal lawsuit, like repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
  58. Hours later, Republicans who control Michigan’s legislature striped campaign-finance oversight power from the incoming secretary of state, and moved to give the GOP-led legislature additional powers.
  59. On Monday, the Charlotte Observer reported Leslie McCrae Dowless, who worked for Republican Mark Harris’ campaign in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, is at the center of a voter fraud investigation.
  60. Dowless has a criminal record, including felony fraud. The election board subpoenaed Harris’ campaign Monday, and has collected information that high-level campaign officials may have been aware of Dowless’ activities.
  61. The probe is focused in on irregularities in mail-in balloting, mostly from Bladen County, where an unusually high percentage of Black (36%) and Native American (55%) ballots were not returned, versus whites (18%).
  62. On Tuesday, a North Carolina woman admitted to “harvesting” ballots for Harris. She was paid $75 to $100 a week and gave the ballots to Dowless. It is illegal in North Carolina for a third party to turn in absentee ballots.
  63. On Thursday, Democrat Dan McCready, who conceded the day after the election, withdrew his concession. Harris said Friday he would back a new election if potential fraud altered the election result.
  64. The Charlotte Observer called for a new election. However, after past unsubstantiated accusations of voter fraud by Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Kris Kobach, and other national Republicans were silent.
  65. HuffPost reported incoming House Oversight Committee chair Rep. Elijah Cummings wants to call Brian Kemp to testify before Congress about allegations of voter suppression to help his campaign.
  66. An analysis by Forbes revealed that Trump shifted $1.1 million of campaign-donor money donors meant for his 2020 re-election into his business by continuing to charge his campaign for hotels, food, and rent.
  67. Politico reported email accounts of four senior aides at the National Republican Congressional Committee were surveilled for several months. The intrusion was detected in April 2018 and reported to the FBI.
  68. Senior Republicans were not informed about the hack. NRCC officials said they were conducting their own investigation and feared that revealing the hack would compromise efforts to find the culprit.
  69. On Monday, in a memo published to the FCC website, chair Ajit Pai admitted “half-million comments” on net neutrality were “submitted from Russian e-mail addresses.” Pai had earlier denied Russian involvement.
  70. The memo also indicated that over half of the almost 22 million comments came from phony, temporary, or duplicate email addresses, and reportedly only 17.4% of the comments were unique.
  71. Pai also rejected two Freedom of Information Act requests filed by NYT and BuzzFeed, seeking “IP addresses” and “server logs,” respectively, associated with public comments submitted on net neutrality.
  72. On Tuesday, more than 400 former Justice Department officials and attorneys serving both parties said in a letter they are “disturbed” by Trump’s appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.
  73. On Tuesday, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed concern in a letter to DOJ officials about Whitaker’s financial disclosure forms, which were only recently certified as true by ethics officials.
  74. Whitaker also has not confirmed whether he has initiated an ethics review of possible conflicts, now four weeks after his appointment. The DOJ declined to discuss recusal issues.
  75. On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Mattis approved an extension of active duty troops at the U.S.-Mexico border through January 31. The Pentagon estimated the cost of the deployment through December 15 is $72 million.
  76. On Tuesday, WAPO reported that under acting director Mick Mulvaney, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s publicly announced enforcement actions by the bureau have dropped about 75% from recent years.
  77. In the past year, at least 129 employees have left. Mulvaney appointed staffers with no relevant experience, who previously worked for the financial sector or against the bureau, and paid salaries of up to $259,500.
  78. On Thursday, the Senate voted 50-49, along party lines to confirm Trump nominee Kathleen Kraninger to lead the CFPB. Kraninger has no relevant experience, and is expected to continue a business friendly approach.
  79. Trade group Consumer Bankers Association, whose members include Bank of America and Wells Fargo, celebrated Kraninger’s confirmation, as she becomes one of the country’s most powerful banking regulators.
  80. On Monday, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, called for the end of Obama-era subsidies for electric vehicle purchases, which were created by Congress, without specifying how he would do so.
  81. On Wednesday, nations assembled in Poland for climate talks. Reports show global carbon emissions reached a record in 2018, an estimated growth of 2.7%.
  82. The biggest growth in emissions came from India (6%), China (5%), and the U.S. (2.5%), while dropping in the European Union (-0.7%). The United Nations Secretary General said, “We are in deep trouble.”
  83. On Thursday, Trump’s EPA proposed rolling back a major Obama-era climate rule, loosening restrictions on future coal power plants. Coal advocates cheered, although the industry has not been adding capacity.
  84. On Thursday, the Trump regime said it would roll back Obama-era protections of the habitat of the endangered sage grouse bird, in a move to free up nine million acres of land for oil and gas drilling.
  85. On Sunday, Trump bragged of reaching a trade truce with China at the G20 summit, claiming China will “immediately” begin buying more American agricultural products and drop its 40% tariffs on American cars.
  86. Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer and daughter of the founder of the Chinese tech giant Huawei, was arrested in Canada and extradited to the U.S. to stand trial for violating sanctions against Iran.
  87. On Tuesday, amid President Xi’s silence on a supposed deal, Trump tweeted “I am a Tariff Man,” saying he was prepared to impose higher levies if Xi did not live up to the agreement Trump claims they reached.
  88. In a break from the usual protocol for top-level trade talks, the U.S. and China did not release a joint statement on the talk that took place Saturday, instead issuing two very different readouts of what occurred.
  89. On Tuesday, the Dow tumbled more than 800 points and bond yields plummeted on investors’ doubts over the U.S.-China trade truce.
  90. On Tuesday evening, Trump tweeted, “we are either going to have a REAL DEAL with China, or no deal at all,” claiming we will reach a deal “either now or into the future,” adding, “China does not want Tariffs!”
  91. On Wednesday, while the markets were closed for the funeral of George H.W. Bush, Trump tried to assure markets, tweeting, “Not to sound naive or anything, but I believe President Xi meant every word of what he said.”
  92. On Wednesday, during the funeral for George H.W. Bush, observers noted a feeling of nostalgia for a bygone era of mutual respect and admiration of leaders pre-Trump. At the request of the Bush family, Trump was invited.
  93. The scene was palpably awkward as Trump and Melania sat next to former presidents and first ladies, including Obama, whom he called illegitimate, Hillary whom he said should be in prison, and Bill, whom he said assaulted women.
  94. Trump sat with his arms crossed, and did not recite the Apostles’ Creed or sing hymnsNYT reported Trump was miffed by so many ceremonial events not related to him, but proud of himself for remaining civil.
  95. On Wednesday, Daily Beast reported that when aides and advisors tried to get Trump to tackle the growing budget deficit in April 2017, which was projected to continue to grow, he said, “Yeah, but I won’t be here.”
  96. On Wednesday, General Motors CEO Mary Barra said she will keep an “open mind” about closing an Ohio plant, acknowledging the anger publicly expressed by Trump and the Ohio’s two U.S. senators.
  97. On Thursday, the Commerce Department announced the U.S. trade deficit hit a 10-year high, increasing 1.7% to $55.5 billion, the highest level since October 2008.
  98. On Thursday, the stock market plummeted again on fears over U.S.-China trade relations at a global economic slowdown, down again by 780 before rebounding to close the day slightly lower.
  99. On Friday, the Dow tumbled again, losing more than 500 points, and wiping out all gains for the year, amid a weaker-than-expected jobs report and China-U.S. trade tensions.
  100. On Tuesday, CIA director Gina Haspel briefed a group of Senate leaders on the agency’s conclusions on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Senators from both parties said it was clear that the Saudi crown prince was behind it.
  101. Leading Democrats called for a full Senate briefing by Haspel. It was unclear what, if any, actions the Senate would take. In Week 107, Mike Pompeo and Mattis had echoed Trump’s reluctance to blame the crown prince.
  102. On Wednesday, WAPO reported within months of the 2016 election, Saudi-funded lobbyists booked 500 rooms at Trump Hotel DC, spending more than $270,000 to house six groups of visiting veterans.
  103. On Wednesday, Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, stood by his commitment to not vote to advance Trump’s judicial nominees until the bill to protect Mueller gets a vote.
  104. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said in January they plan to refer transcripts to Mueller’s team of interviews with Kushner, Donald Jr., Stone, Corey Lewandowski, Rhona Graff, Hope Hicks, and Keith Schiller — to be reviewed for possible falsehoods.
  105. On Wednesday, Daily Beast reported on a target letter sent to Paul Erickson, a longtime Republican operative who was Maria Butina’s boyfriend, from federal investigators saying they may bring charges.
  106. The letter sent in September by the U.S. attorney’s officer in Washington, says investigators are considering charging him under Section 951, the law barring people from secretly acting as agents of foreign governments.
  107. On Thursday, Mother Jones reported the Trump campaign and the National Rifle Association used intertwined consultants to spearhead TV ad buys at the height of the 2016 election.
  108. Both the NRA’s and the Trump campaign’s ad buys were authorized by the same person: National Media’s chief financial officer Jon Ferrell. Experts say the arrangement appears to violate campaign finance laws.
  109. On Thursday, CNN reported prosecutors and defense attorneys for Maria Butina, may be near a plea deal. The judge canceled an upcoming hearing and said subpoenas planned for American University may be withdrawn.
  110. On Thursday, Trump cited his 50% approval at Rasmussen, and blamed Mueller for it not being higher, tweeting “Without the phony Russia Witch Hunt” it would be at 75%, adding, “It’s called Presidential Harassment!”
  111. On Thursday, the Atlantic reported Trump’s White House has no plan for how to counter the Mueller report. Instead the regime is winging it, with no strategy in place for responding, other than an expected Twitter spree.
  112. Aides say Trump would likely ignore a plan anyway, so crafting one is futile. Former officials also noted the difficulty in coming up with a strategy when Trump has not been forthright about what happened.
  113. On Thursday, CNN reported in the days after Trump fired Comey, then-acting FBI director Andrew McCabe opened an obstruction of justice investigation before special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed.
  114. McCabe and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein viewed Trump as a leader who needed to be reigned in. An obstruction probe was previously considered, but did not start until Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017.
  115. The probe included the Comey firing, and the Oval Office conversation where Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation of Flynn. Sources say the FBI would only open an investigation if a crime was suspected.
  116. On Thursday, shortly before 10 p.m., CNN’s New York offices received a phoned-in bomb threat, indicating there were five bombs in the building.
  117. The NYPD said they responded to a call from CNN reporting the threat at 10:08 p.m. The building was evacuated and shortly after, the show was broadcast from the street. Employees returned shortly before midnight.
  118. On Thursday, Trump tweeted “FAKE NEWS — THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!” at 10:08 p.m.
  119. On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Mueller’s team has interviewed Trump’s adviser in London, Ted Malloch, about his frequent appearances on RT, considered by U.S. intelligence to be Russian propaganda.
  120. Malloch was contacted by Jerome Corsi on August 2, 2016 at Stone’s behest, to visit Assange and get an update on email releases. On that day, Assange appeared on RT and said he would release additional emails.
  121. On Friday, in a series of seven angry morning tweets, Trump attacked Mueller and his team, accusing them of conflicts of interest saying, “Robert Mueller and Leakin’ Lyin’ James Comey are Best Friends.”
  122. Trump also claimed prosecutors have “wrongly destroyed people’s lives,” citing “Andrew Weissman’s horrible and vicious prosecutorial past,” and the woman prosecutor whose name he could not remember in Corsi’s case.
  123. Trump also mentioned Rosenstein, who he said is conflicted, along with “Bruce Ohr (and his lovely wife Molly), Comey, Brennan, Clapper, & all of the many fired people of the FBI.”
  124. Trump also responded to the Atlantic story, tweeting “We will be doing a major Counter Report to the Mueller Report,” adding “This should never again be allowed to happen to a future President.”
  125. On Friday, Comey testified behind closed door to the House Intelligence Committee. An exasperated Comey told reporters he had been aggressively questioned about the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
  126. Comey had fought the congressional subpoena in court, pushing for a public hearing. Republicans, who will have a House majority for just two more weeks, will call Comey back on December 17.
  127. Politico reported amid slow-motion staff shake-ups, the regime is in a holding pattern: Trump has offered almost nothing in the way of a legislative vision for 2019 beyond border security and a new trade deal.
  128. Of the 706 key roles in the executive branch which require Senate confirmation, just 382 (54%) have a confirmed nominee, while 125 (18%) positions have not had a nominee named yet.
  129. On Thursday, in his first speech since being fired as secretary of state, Rex Tillerson said Trump directed him to do things that were illegal, and that he learned of his firing through Trump’s tweet congratulating Pompeo.
  130. On Friday, Trump responded, tweeting “Pompeo is doing a great job,” but Tillerson “didn’t have the mental capacity needed,” and was “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell,” adding, “I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.”
  131. On Friday, CNN reported chief of staff John Kelly is expected to resign in the coming days. Although in the summer, Trump had asked Kelly to stay on for two more years, the two are no longer on speaking terms.
  132. On Friday, CNN reported Mueller’s team has questioned Kelly on his recollection of an episode that took place after new reporting emerged that Trump had tried to fire Mueller.
  133. On Friday, Trump appointed former Fox News anchor Heather Nauert as U.S. ambassador to the UN. Nauert had little experience in government or foreign policy before joining the State Department in April 2017.
  134. As the State Department spokesperson, Nauert has made missteps, including citing D-Day as the height of U.S.-German relations. At Fox News, she spread conspiracy theories and shared xenophobic storylines.
  135. On Friday, also via Twitter, Trump announced the nomination of William Barr, who served as attorney general for the George H.W. Bush administration from 1991 to 1993, to become his attorney general.
  136. Barr supports a strong vision of executive powers. He also has criticized aspects of the Russia investigation, saying Mueller hired too many prosecutors who had donated to Democratic campaigns.
  137. Barr also has defended Trump calling for a new criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton, saying he saw more basis for investigating Uranium One than the alleged conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia.
  138. On Saturday, Trump said Kelly will leave the White House by the end of the year. While Nick Ayers is the leading candidate to become chief of staff, the replacement for Kelly is still unclear.
  139. On Friday, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll found overall 54% of Americans believe the Mueller probe is fair, versus 33% who say it is a “witch hunt,” and 13% are unsure.
  140. Only Republicans were against Mueller, with 17% saying the probe is fair and 77% a witch hunt. Democrats (82%) and Independents (55%) said the probe was fair, versus a witch hunt (10% and 30%).
  141. On Friday, Giuliani told CNN that Mueller’s team believes Manafort is lying to them about Trump, although he said he was not sure the information would show up in the special counsel’s filing today.
  142. On Friday, the Southern District of New York and special counsel Robert Mueller filed new, separate court papers ahead of next Wednesday’s sentencing of Cohen.
  143. The documents portrayed Cohen as a criminal who deserves little sympathy or mercy, and who lied and held back information from the FBI. The document said he should be sentenced to “substantial” prison time.
  144. The documents said “Cohen successfully convinced numerous major corporations to retain him as a ‘consultant’” by promising access to to the Trump regime, and profited by “more than $4 million dollars.”
  145. The SDNY memo said “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks, or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.”
  146. The SDNY memo said “Individual 1” (Trump) was directly involved in efforts to buy the silence of two women, intended to influence the campaign, and thereby constituted violations of campaign finance law, a felony.
  147. Mueller’s memo revealed a previously unknown November 2015 contact between Cohen and a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation offering the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.”
  148. Mueller’s memo described planning a meeting between Trump and Putin, and that Cohen discussed thiswith Trump prior to suggesting it in a September 2015 radio interview, as Putin was about to visit New York City.
  149. Mueller’s memo also cited Cohen’s lies to Congress “obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government.”
  150. Mueller’s memo said if completed, the Trump Organization could have received “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues,” and discussions continued during the campaign.
  151. Mueller’s memo said Cohen also provided “relevant information” about contacts with people connected to the White House between 2017 and 2018, the first indication of his involvement with post-election matters.
  152. On Friday, in a heavily redacted document, Mueller’s team said Manafort lied about five major issues after agreeing to cooperate with prosecutors, including his “contact with administration officials.”
  153. The document also revealed that despite Manafort saying he had no contacts with the Trump administration post-inauguration, he was in contact with officials in early 2018, even after being indicted in late 2017.
  154. The document also cited evidence of undisclosed electronic communications with Konstanin Kilimnik, who Mueller has said has ties to a Russian military intelligence unit, as well as travel records and meetings.
  155. The filing said Manafort has met with Mueller’s team 12 times, and at four of those meetings, prosecutors from outside the special counsel’s office attended. He also testified twice before a Mueller grand jury.
  156. The special counsel also said Manafort of lied about a $125,000 wire transfer, and lied in connection with an investigation separate from the Mueller probe. Manafort will be sentenced in March.
  157. Shortly after the documents were released, Trump tweeted, “Totally clears the president. Thank you!” Sarah Sanders added the Cohen filings “tell us nothing of value that wasn’t already known.”
  158. On Saturday, Trump tweeted “AFTER TWO YEARS AND MILLIONS OF PAGES OF DOCUMENTS (and a cost of over $30,000,000), NO COLLUSION!”
  159. Later that morning, Trump quoted Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera, tweeting, “This is collusion illusion, there is no smoking gun here…after millions have been spent, we have no Russian Collusion.”
  160. Trump also tweeted, “Time for the Witch Hunt to END!”
  161. On Friday, a panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2-1 decision denied the Trump regime’s request to enforce a ban on asylum for any immigrants who illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
  162. The panel said the regime’s ban is inconsistent with an existing U.S. law: “Just as we may not, as we are often reminded, ‘legislate from the bench,’ neither may the Executive legislate from the Oval Office.”
  163. On Saturday, the fourth weekend of anti-government protests turned violent in Paris, as police cracked down on thousands of “Yellow Vests” protesting a planned increase in a fuel tax and Macron’s economic policies.
  164. On Saturday, Trump tweeted, erroneously blaming the riots on the climate change agreement, saying “People do not want to pay large sums of money… in order to maybe protect the environment.”
  165. Trump later tweeted, “Maybe it’s time to end the ridiculous and extremely expensive Paris Agreement,” falsely claiming the U.S. was “the only major country where emissions went down last year!
  166. The State Department told a senate subcommittee China has “indefinitely detained” at least 800,000 Muslim minorities in internment camps, forcing them to renounce Islam and embrace the Chinese communist party.
  167. NYT reported Denmark’s immigration minister announced that roughly 100 unwanted migrants who have been convicted of crimes but cannot be returned to their homeland will be housed on a tiny, hard-to-reach island.
  168. Like much of Europe, Denmark has had a surge in migration in 2015 and 2016, prompting a populist, nativist backlash. Advocates say they are monitoring for possible violations of Denmark’s international obligations.
  169. Trump’s Department of Agriculture finalized the rollback of the school lunch regulations championed by former first lady Michelle Obama. The program was designed to provide healthier foods for 30 million children.