May 15, 2019

A cache of internal National Rifle Association documents posted online last week listed some pretty eyebrow-raising expenses. CEO Wayne LaPierre — who earns more than $1.4 million a year — charged $275,000 at a Zegna men's clothing store in Beverley Hills, for example, and another $267,000 in personal expenses on trips to Budapest, the Bahamas, Florida, and an Italian lake resort. All these bills were channeled through the NRA's estranged longtime ad firm, Ackerman McQueen.

Recently ousted NRA President Oliver North reaped more than $1 million a year hosting a web-only show on Ackerman McQueen's NRATV, a channel with "minuscule web traffic" that is nonetheless the "signature product" in its $40 million annual haul from the NRA, The New York Times reports. Other NRA board members, executives, and friends also got fat consulting fees or other payments.

But the NRA has "deeper financial problems," the Times reports. A review of tax records revealed that the NRA "has increasingly relied on cash infusions and other transactions involving its affiliated foundation — at least $206 million worth since 2010." New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the NRA and also its charitable arm; both are tax exempt, but only the NRA is allowed to use its donations for political activities. The documents raised red flags for tax experts.

The large money transfers from the foundation to the NRA are "substantial related-party transactions," Marcus Owen, a former head of the IRS's tax-exempt organizations branch, tells the Times, and "in normal times, they would attract regulatory attention from the IRS and a state attorney general." David Nelson, a former Ernst & Young partner who specialized in tax-exempt groups, says is appears "the NRA itself is in very poor financial health and they're being subsidized in large part by their foundation."

The NRA says reports of its financial problems are vastly overstated and it has followed appropriate accounting rules. Read more about the money woes and NRA civil war at The New York Times. Peter Weber

3:28 p.m.

The Senate would probably want to hear from a firsthand witness in President Trump's impeachment trial. But Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) isn't sure where you'd find one.

Despite a Sunday report indicating former National Security Adviser John Bolton will say in his book he spoke directly to President Trump about Ukraine, a number of GOP senators still don't want to hear from him in Trump's impeachment trial. Hawley is among those lawmakers, giving new reasoning to his anti-Bolton argument Monday by questioning whether Bolton even was a firsthand witness to Trump's alleged crimes.

Bolton's book reportedly describes how Trump talked to his former adviser about withholding security assistance from Ukraine until it agreed to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. And with Republicans largely complaining impeachment witnesses testified to the House based on "hearsay," one would think they'd like to hear from someone who was actually in, as Bolton's book title so aptly puts it, "the room where it happened." Kathryn Krawczyk

3:28 p.m.

Details are still emerging about the circumstances surrounding the helicopter that killed Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others including the pilot, but the flight was reportedly granted special approval to fly in challenging weather conditions.

Fog was thick Sunday morning in the Los Angeles area when the helicopter took off and made its way toward Gianna Bryant's youth basketball tournament, but air traffic control at Burbank airport gave the pilot Special Visual Flight Rules clearance, allowing the aircraft to enter Burbank's airspace.

A Federal Aviation Administration official said air traffic control's approval would not have extended to Calabasas, where the helicopter crashed. By that point, the official said, it would have been up to the pilot to determine if conditions were appropriate to continue or transition to instrument flight rules.

Witnesses near the site of the crash described conditions as so foggy that people had trouble driving, per The New York Times. "I couldn't see anything, not even a silhouette," said Scott Daehlin who heard the sound of the helicopter flying low before making impact with a nearby hillside. "My first thought was what in the world is a helicopter doing out here in this fog?" Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

2:28 p.m.

Immigrants may now face visa and citizenship restrictions based on their past or hypothetical future use of public benefits.

In a 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court allowed the Trump administration's public charge rule to take effect nationwide. The rule would restrict immigrants who are considered or could later be considered a "public charge" from gaining legal status, and comes despite multiple prior courts striking down the rule.

The Monday decision came along ideological lines, with the court's four liberal justices dissenting from the majority opinion. U.S. District Judge George Daniels previously struck down the rule, mirroring critics who've called it a "wealth test" for immigrants by saying the rule is "repugnant to the American dream." Daniels had also placed an injunction on the rule's implementation due to a likely appeal to the Supreme Court, and the higher court lifted that injunction Monday.

The theory of a public charge rule has existed for decades, but wasn't codified until the Trump administration drew up this rule in 2017. The rule targets people attempting to legally immigrate into the U.S. by assessing if they have used public benefits such as food stamps in the past, or if they might use them after gaining legal status. If the government determines a person is or could become a "public charge," they can block a person from getting a visa, green card, citizenship, and other forms of legal status. Kathryn Krawczyk

2:27 p.m.

More than two decades after his investigation of former President Bill Clinton, Ken Starr while defending President Trump on Monday asked how it is we came to live in the "age of impeachment."

The former independent counsel spoke as part of Trump's legal defense team during the Senate's impeachment trial, making the argument that presidential impeachments are being invoked too often in recent years.

"The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently," Starr said. "Indeed, we're living in what I think can be aptly be described as the age of impeachment. ... How did we get here?"

Starr went on to decry the fact that impeachment has become not a "once in a century phenomenon" but rather a "weapon to be wielded against one's political opponent." He added the Senate should return to a time when "impeachment was truly a measure of last resort."

Given Starr's role in the last presidential impeachment, CNN's John Avlon asked "who thought that Ken Starr was the best choice to make the case for bipartisan process and against impeachment," while MSNBC's Garrett Haake observed, "Ken Starr, arguing against overly-political, thinly-predicated impeachment is enough to make a certain generation of Democrats' heads explode." Brendan Morrow

1:54 p.m.

Ever since leaks from former National Security Adviser John Bolton's forthcoming book made their way to the public, the odds of the Senate calling him as a witness to take the stand in President Trump's impeachment trial appear to have gone up. Speculation about other witnesses has also entered the fold. One of those potential witnesses is acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who famously admitted to Trump's Ukraine quid pro quo during a press conference last year.

But through his lawyer, Mulvaney denied knowing anything about the revelations in Bolton's books or ever having a conversation with Trump about freezing Ukrainian military aid in exchange for announcing investigations into Trump's domestic political opponents.

At first glance, it seems like Mulvaney and his counsel are taking a proactive approach should the Senate issue a subpoena, as well as launching an effort to discredit Bolton. But CNN's Jake Tapper pointed out that Bolton may not have alerted Mulvaney to his concerns about the Trump administration's Ukraine policy because he reportedly thought Mulvaney played a central role in its formation. Tim O'Donnell

1:21 p.m.

Federal prosecutors want to talk to Prince Andrew as part of their Jeffrey Epstein investigation, but they're apparently not having much luck.

Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said Monday that federal prosecutors and the FBI are seeking an interview with Prince Andrew as they continue to investigate Epstein's co-conspirators. According to Berman, though, Andrew has provided "zero cooperation," The New York Times reports.

Prince Andrew has faced scrutiny over his ties to the convicted sex offender, who was found dead in his jail cell last year while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Virginia Roberts Giuffre has claimed Epstein forced her to have sex with Prince Andrew when she was 17, which he has denied.

After a widely-panned interview last year in which Prince Andrew said Epstein "conducted himself in a manner unbecoming," he announced he would "step back from public duties for the foreseeable future," citing the fact that "my former association with Jeffrey Epstein has become a major disruption." At the time, he said that "of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required."

As prosecutors seek Prince Andrew's cooperation, Berman emphasized Monday, per The Associated Press, "Jeffrey Epstein couldn't have done what he did without the assistance of others, and I can assure you that the investigation is moving forward." Brendan Morrow

12:43 p.m.

Former production assistant Mimi Haleyi took the stand Monday as the second Harvey Weinstein accuser to testify in his rape trial, telling the jury he sexually assaulted her in 2006.

Haleyi, who worked as a production assistant on the Weinstein Company-produced Project Runway, alleges Weinstein forcibly performed oral sex on her in his New York apartment, testifying that she "rejected him" but "every time I tried to get off the bed, he would push me back and hold me down," per The Hollywood Reporter.

"I was mortified," Haleyi said. "I was just crying, 'No!' I kept trying to tell him, 'No, don't go there' ... I was in such shock that I just checked out."

Haleyi came forward with her allegation against Weinstein in 2017. She told jurors she didn't call the police after the alleged assault, as Weinstein "has a lot more power and resources and connections" and "I didn't think I would really stand a chance." Two weeks later, Haleyi testified she met Weinstein at the Tribeca Grand Hotel and, in his room, he "just took my hand and pulled me toward the bed."

"I just laid there," she said. "He had intercourse with me. ... I was laying there motionless. I felt numb."

Weinstein is facing rape and sexual assault charges stemming from Haleyi's allegation and the allegation of another woman who says he raped her in 2013. Six accusers are expected to testify during the trial, the first of whom took the stand last week. Actress Annabella Sciorra said Weinstein raped her in the early 1990s, and Rosie Perez later testified that Sciorra told her about the alleged rape.

Weinstein has pleaded not guilty and denied all allegations of non-consensual sex acts. If convicted, he faces possible life in prison. Brendan Morrow

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