All posts by MPolitics

Prosecutors in Plea Deal Talks With Accused Russian Agent

U.S. prosecutors and lawyers for accused Russian agent Maria Butina are engaging in negotiations, both sides said in a court filing Friday, raising the possibility the case could be resolved with a plea deal.

Butina, a former graduate student at American University in Washington who has publicly advocated for gun rights, was charged in July with acting as an agent of the Russian government and conspiracy to take actions on behalf of Russia.

She is accused of working with a Russian official and two U.S. citizens to try to infiltrate the National Rifle Association, a powerful lobby group that has close ties to Republican politicians including President Donald Trump, and influence American foreign policy toward Russia.

Currently jailed awaiting trial, Butina has pleaded not guilty. She could face years in prison if convicted.

Potential resolution

The parties “continue to engage … in negotiations regarding a potential resolution of this matter,” prosecutors and Butina’s lawyers wrote in a joint filing Friday, without elaborating on what resolution might materialize.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan later granted a joint request for a delay in a status hearing in the case that had been set for Dec. 6, scheduling a new hearing for Dec. 19.

After the delay was granted, defense lawyers withdrew motions they had filed Thursday to dismiss the case. Such talks sometimes lead to a deal in which a defendant pleads guilty to lesser charges to resolve a case.

Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Butina and who is under a media gag order imposed by the judge in the case, declined to comment when asked whether his client may plead guilty in order to resolve the case.

Prosecution missteps

The prosecution has made serious missteps in the case, including erroneously accusing Butina of offering sex in exchange for a position in a special interest group. They later backed off the claim and earned scorn from the judge, who said the incorrect allegations were “notorious” and had damaged Butina’s reputation.

Butina’s lawyers have previously identified the Russian official with whom she was accused of working as Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of Russia’s central bank who was hit with U.S. Treasury Department sanctions in April.

They identified one of the two Americans mentioned in the criminal complaint as being Paul Erickson, a conservative U.S. political activist who was dating Butina. Neither Erickson nor Torshin have been accused by prosecutors of wrongdoing.

Questions relating to Russia have cast a shadow over Trump’s presidency. Moscow has labeled the case against Butina “fabricated” and called for her release.

Prosecutors have called Butina a flight risk and said she had been in contact with Russian intelligence operatives and kept contact information for several Russian agents.

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US Senate Judiciary Chair Grassley’s Move to Leave Key Opening

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Friday said he planned to relinquish the position next year, leaving a vacancy at the top of the panel, which is among those investigating alleged Russian political interference.

In a statement, the Iowa Republican said he would instead seek to return as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which he had previously run.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an initial Trump skeptic who has turned into one of his fiercest supporters, has publicly stated that he would aim to take over the chairmanship of the Judiciary panel if there was a vacancy.

The move could have significant implications regarding the federal probe into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Judiciary panel, along with several others in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, had been probing the allegations. The U.S. Special Counsel’s Office is also investigating.

On Thursday, Graham met with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees the special counsel’s probe in the U.S. Department of Justice, and said Whitaker had said he was comfortable with the ongoing investigation.

As head of the Finance panel, Grassley said he would focus on additional tax relief and tax fairness, U.S. exports and improving health care.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, will finalize the posts when the next Congress convenes in January.

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US Senate Judiciary Chair Grassley’s Move to Leave Key Opening

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley on Friday said he planned to relinquish the position next year, leaving a vacancy at the top of the panel, which is among those investigating alleged Russian political interference.

In a statement, the Iowa Republican said he would instead seek to return as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, which he had previously run.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, an initial Trump skeptic who has turned into one of his fiercest supporters, has publicly stated that he would aim to take over the chairmanship of the Judiciary panel if there was a vacancy.

The move could have significant implications regarding the federal probe into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The Judiciary panel, along with several others in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, had been probing the allegations. The U.S. Special Counsel’s Office is also investigating.

On Thursday, Graham met with acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, who now oversees the special counsel’s probe in the U.S. Department of Justice, and said Whitaker had said he was comfortable with the ongoing investigation.

As head of the Finance panel, Grassley said he would focus on additional tax relief and tax fairness, U.S. exports and improving health care.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber, will finalize the posts when the next Congress convenes in January.

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Trump Says He Has Finished Answers to Special Counsel’s Questions

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he had completed his written answers for the federal investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016election, but had not yet submitted them to the U.S. Special Counsel’s Office.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he wrote the answers to the questions himself, not his lawyers.

 

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Trump Says He Has Finished Answers to Special Counsel’s Questions

U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he had completed his written answers for the federal investigation into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016election, but had not yet submitted them to the U.S. Special Counsel’s Office.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he wrote the answers to the questions himself, not his lawyers.

 

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Votes Hand Recounted in Florida US Senate Race

A hand recount of the votes cast in Florida’s U.S. Senate race began Friday after a federal judge angrily told election officials they are making a mockery of the state around the globe.  

“We have been the laughingstock of the world election after election, but we’ve still chosen not to fix this,” an angry Walker said Thursday.

His remarks were an apparent reference to the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a state-wide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion, charges, and counter charges.  

Florida law requires a hand recount if a machine count finds the margin of victory is less than 0.25 percent.

 

As of late Thursday, Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson trailed his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott, by just 0.15 percent.

 

Election officials missed a Thursday deadline for recounting the ballots for the Senate, saying counting machines in Palm Beach kept breaking down.

 

Officials in Tampa Bay declined to turn in their recount result because it came up more than 800 votes short of the original election day tally.

 

Federal Judge Mark Walker refused to extend the deadline and berated election officials for not anticipating problems.

Both Democrats and Republicans have filed a number of lawsuits relating to vote counting.

He was no doubt also thinking about the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a state-wide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion, charges, and counter charges.  

 

Judge Walker has also given voters until Saturday afternoon to correct their ballots if they weren’t counted because of mismatched signatures.

 

Florida officials testified in court that nearly 4,000 ballots had already been rejected by local election officials because the signatures mailed in didn’t match the signature on file. The new deadline would apply to many ballots likely cast by young Democratic voters.

 

A study conducted before the elections by the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida discovered mail-in ballots from young voters were more likely to be dismissed, partially because the young voters – who primarily use computer keyboards – have not used handwriting enough to develop a consistent signature.

 

Democrats, meanwhile, continue to gain seats in the House of Representatives, after taking back the lower chamber last week for the first time in eight years. Democrats now have a 231 to 198 edge, with six races still undecided.

The latest Democratic victory was announced Thursday night. Katie Porter ousted two-term Congresswoman Mimi Waters in California’s 45th District, once a nationally known Republican stronghold. A law professor and champion of consumer rights, she ran on a progressive platform that included overturning U.S. President Donald Trump’s and the Republicans’ tax plan, Medicare for All and a ban on assault weapons.

Earlier Thursday, Jared Golden was declared the winner in a race in Maine against incumbent Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin. That contest represented the first test of a new state ranked-choice voting system, designed to prevent candidates in races featuring at least three contenders from winning office without majority support. Golden is a Marine veteran who also campaigned on progressive policies such as Medicare for everyone.

 

The day after the election, Trump boasted that “It was a big day yesterday. The Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.”

 

“It was very close to a complete victory,” he trumpeted.

 

As results rolled in on election night, it appeared Republicans might add three or four seats to their current 51-49 Senate majority.

 

But a Republican lead for a contest in the southwestern state of Arizona collapsed, giving Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a seat that been held by Republicans for 30 years.

 

With Senate races in Florida and Mississippi yet to be decided, Republicans at most will add two seats to their majority.

 

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Votes Hand Recounted in Florida US Senate Race

A hand recount of the votes cast in Florida’s U.S. Senate race began Friday after a federal judge angrily told election officials they are making a mockery of the state around the globe.  

“We have been the laughingstock of the world election after election, but we’ve still chosen not to fix this,” an angry Walker said Thursday.

His remarks were an apparent reference to the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a state-wide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion, charges, and counter charges.  

Florida law requires a hand recount if a machine count finds the margin of victory is less than 0.25 percent.

 

As of late Thursday, Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson trailed his Republican challenger, Governor Rick Scott, by just 0.15 percent.

 

Election officials missed a Thursday deadline for recounting the ballots for the Senate, saying counting machines in Palm Beach kept breaking down.

 

Officials in Tampa Bay declined to turn in their recount result because it came up more than 800 votes short of the original election day tally.

 

Federal Judge Mark Walker refused to extend the deadline and berated election officials for not anticipating problems.

Both Democrats and Republicans have filed a number of lawsuits relating to vote counting.

He was no doubt also thinking about the 2000 presidential election which had to be decided by the Supreme Court when a state-wide vote recount in Florida was turning into a mess of confusion, charges, and counter charges.  

 

Judge Walker has also given voters until Saturday afternoon to correct their ballots if they weren’t counted because of mismatched signatures.

 

Florida officials testified in court that nearly 4,000 ballots had already been rejected by local election officials because the signatures mailed in didn’t match the signature on file. The new deadline would apply to many ballots likely cast by young Democratic voters.

 

A study conducted before the elections by the American Civil Liberties Union in Florida discovered mail-in ballots from young voters were more likely to be dismissed, partially because the young voters – who primarily use computer keyboards – have not used handwriting enough to develop a consistent signature.

 

Democrats, meanwhile, continue to gain seats in the House of Representatives, after taking back the lower chamber last week for the first time in eight years. Democrats now have a 231 to 198 edge, with six races still undecided.

The latest Democratic victory was announced Thursday night. Katie Porter ousted two-term Congresswoman Mimi Waters in California’s 45th District, once a nationally known Republican stronghold. A law professor and champion of consumer rights, she ran on a progressive platform that included overturning U.S. President Donald Trump’s and the Republicans’ tax plan, Medicare for All and a ban on assault weapons.

Earlier Thursday, Jared Golden was declared the winner in a race in Maine against incumbent Republican Representative Bruce Poliquin. That contest represented the first test of a new state ranked-choice voting system, designed to prevent candidates in races featuring at least three contenders from winning office without majority support. Golden is a Marine veteran who also campaigned on progressive policies such as Medicare for everyone.

 

The day after the election, Trump boasted that “It was a big day yesterday. The Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House.”

 

“It was very close to a complete victory,” he trumpeted.

 

As results rolled in on election night, it appeared Republicans might add three or four seats to their current 51-49 Senate majority.

 

But a Republican lead for a contest in the southwestern state of Arizona collapsed, giving Democrat Kyrsten Sinema a seat that been held by Republicans for 30 years.

 

With Senate races in Florida and Mississippi yet to be decided, Republicans at most will add two seats to their majority.

 

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Judge Allows Mueller Case Against Russian Company to Proceed

A federal judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a special counsel indictment against a Russian company accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of President Donald Trump, allows the criminal case against Concord Management to proceed.

The company and two other entities were indicted in February for participating in an effort to sway American public opinion through social media posts ahead of the election.

Thirteen Russians were also charged, accused of meddling in the election through bogus Facebook posts aimed at sowing discord on hot-button social issues.

The indictment argued that the Russian defendants conspired to break the law by conspiring “obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit,” including by failing to register as foreign agents and by making expenditures in connection with the election without proper disclosure.

Lawyers for the company argued, among other things, that the indictment failed to accuse the company of knowingly breaking the law. Friedrich rejected that analysis in a 32-page opinion Thursday, the latest legal conclusion by a judge to affirm charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The company, which has pleaded not guilty, had earlier asked for the indictment to be dismissed by challenging Mueller’s appointment as unlawful. That request was also denied. 

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Judge Allows Mueller Case Against Russian Company to Proceed

A federal judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a special counsel indictment against a Russian company accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of President Donald Trump, allows the criminal case against Concord Management to proceed.

The company and two other entities were indicted in February for participating in an effort to sway American public opinion through social media posts ahead of the election.

Thirteen Russians were also charged, accused of meddling in the election through bogus Facebook posts aimed at sowing discord on hot-button social issues.

The indictment argued that the Russian defendants conspired to break the law by conspiring “obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit,” including by failing to register as foreign agents and by making expenditures in connection with the election without proper disclosure.

Lawyers for the company argued, among other things, that the indictment failed to accuse the company of knowingly breaking the law. Friedrich rejected that analysis in a 32-page opinion Thursday, the latest legal conclusion by a judge to affirm charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The company, which has pleaded not guilty, had earlier asked for the indictment to be dismissed by challenging Mueller’s appointment as unlawful. That request was also denied. 

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White House Aide Ousted by First Lady Says Service Was ‘an Honor’ 

A White House aide pushed out by first lady Melania Trump said Thursday that it had been “an honor” to serve in President Donald Trump’s administration and that she admired the first family. 

Mira Ricardel, the deputy national security adviser, departed the White House on Wednesday, a day after the first lady’s office issued an extraordinary statement calling for her ouster. 

“I admire the president and first lady and have great respect for my colleagues who are dedicated to supporting the president’s policies, and I look forward to working with them in the months ahead,” Ricardel said in a statement to The Associated Press. 

Ricardel was said to have clashed with the first lady’s staff over her trip to Africa last month. Aides said Ricardel had pushed for a seat to be reserved on the first lady’s plane for a National Security Council representative to brief her during the trip. 

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ricardel never met the first lady. The official dismissed reports that Ricardel was trying to secure a seat for herself on the first lady’s trip.  

On Tuesday, Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, released a statement saying: “It is the position of the office of the first lady that she [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” 

Officials surprised

The East Wing statement caught senior White House officials by surprise, and White House aides were frustrated with how Ricardel, a Trump loyalist and one of the highest-ranking women in the administration, was being treated. As the statement was issued, Ricardel was standing, smiling, alongside President Donald Trump at an event in the Roosevelt Room. 

An ally of national security adviser John Bolton, Ricardel began her service in the Trump administration as associate director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, then moved to the Commerce Department last year. Bolton brought her into the West Wing shortly after he took the job in April. 

Bolton told staff in an email Thursday that he appreciated Ricardel’s service. He is traveling in Asia this week alongside Vice President Mike Pence. 

“I am deeply grateful for all Mira has done on behalf of the NSC, her deep knowledge of the national security issues we confront daily, and her unwavering commitment to the president,” Bolton told staff. 

Trump’s White House has set records for administration turnover. Ricardel was the third person to hold the post under Trump. 

Press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Ricardel would “transition to a new role within the administration.” It was not yet clear what her new position would be. 

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