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October 10, 2018
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A Republican operative was working to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails for years, and reportedly consulted with former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to do it.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday that a veteran Republican activist, Peter Smith, met with Flynn back in 2015 as a part of his long-term effort to get his hands on Clinton's emails. Smith apparently thought that Flynn's connections would help him get in touch with hackers who had access to the emails.

The two initiated a "business relationship" in November 2015, an email from Smith's former associate revealed. Before Flynn joined President Trump's campaign as a top adviser, and long before he resigned and pleaded guilty on charges of lying to the FBI, he was having conversations with a Russian ambassador, which Smith thought would be helpful in his email mission.

Smith, who reportedly secretly raised $100,000 in his quest to purchase Clinton's stolen emails, died in 2017, but the associates' email reviewed by the Journal details that Smith spoke with Flynn "on the day he left for his trip to Moscow." Smith apparently told people in 2016 that he was using Flynn's connections in his effort to chase down the emails that hackers stole from Clinton.

His hunt for the trove of emails was "all-consuming," Smith's acquaintances say, and he was convinced that they would reveal incriminating information. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office is reportedly interested in Smith's actions and relationship with Flynn as a part of its probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Read more at The Wall Street Journal. Summer Meza

August 22, 2018
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A cloud of corruption is settling around President Trump's former confidantes, and Democrats are stoked. So stoked, they seem to have forgotten a potential problem of their own.

Amid the storm of Paul Manafort's guilty verdicts and Michael Cohen's guilty pleas, Quinnipiac University released a poll Wednesday surveying New Jersey voters. The poll shows incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democratic senator who previously escaped corruption charges, inching closer to losing his seat in November's midterms.

Quinnipiac's poll reveals that 43 percent of registered voters would vote for Menendez today — a relatively narrow 6-point lead over his Republican competitor Bob Hugin, given Menendez's traditionally safely blue constituency. Just five months ago, a Quinnipiac poll gave Menendez a 17-point lead over Hugin.

Meanwhile, Democrats have been trying to tie Trump-supporting candidates to corruption associated with the president's administration. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) conveniently debuted an anti-corruption bill Tuesday, just before Manafort and Cohen's courtroom appearances. But their push seems to be having unintended consequences on Menendez, who was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges, accused of using his Senate seat to benefit a friend in exchange for private jet rides and campaign donations.

Menendez's charges were dismissed earlier this year after a mistrial, but he still got "severely admonished" by the Senate Ethics Committee in an April letter. It's since been re-election season as usual for Menendez — though he probably didn't expect to fight so hard in a state that hasn't elected a Republican senator since 1954.

For Wednesday's poll, Quinnipiac surveyed 908 registered New Jersey voters over the phone from Aug. 15-20. The poll has a 4.6-point margin of error. Read more results here. Kathryn Krawczyk

August 2, 2018
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President Trump's oldest son evinced quite the opinion Thursday while trying to promote a film by conservative commentator Dinesh D'Souza.

Donald Trump Jr. likened the Democratic National Committee's platform to that of the 1930s-era Nazi party, reports The Washington Post. At a screening, Trump Jr. praised D'Souza's film for correcting the record, claiming that liberal narratives have filled academia with false information.

"When you look at the movie, you'll see that there is a very distinct and clear difference between what actually happened and what is being sold to our youth today," Trump Jr. told One America News Network.

"I've been hearing the left talking about these things — fascism, Nazism on the right — and when you look at the actual history and how these things evolved, and you actually look at that platform versus the platform of the modern left, you say, 'Wait a minute, those two are very heavily aligned,'" he continued. "You see the Nazi platform from the early 1930s … and you look at it compared to the DNC platform of today, you're saying, 'Man, those things are awfully similar' to a point where it's actually scary."

Trump Jr. claimed that the reality of the situation is "the exact opposite of what you've been told." As Politico notes, the president's son did not comment on members of the alt-right who self-identify as Nazis and white supremacists. Read more at The Washington Post. Summer Meza

July 19, 2018
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Even without giving definitive answers, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is drawing plenty of scrutiny.

While attending the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday, Nielsen was forced to immediately backtrack on her claim that Russia didn't favor President Trump when interfering in the 2016 election. On other matters, however, she opted to double down rather than 'fess up.

Vice reports that Nielsen was asked about Trump's comments about the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, where white nationalist demonstrators were confronted by counterprotesters. When violence broke out, a counterprotester was killed, and multiple people have since been charged with malicious wounding of a black man who was protesting the rally.

Trump was widely criticized for saying that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the incident, a comment that Nielsen was asked about Thursday. She reportedly said that "it's not that one side was right and one side was wrong," and added that "anybody that is advocating violence, we need to work to mitigate."

Nielsen additionally dodged a question about the Trump administration's focus on countering white supremacist violence overall. GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe reports that Nielsen instead addressed "Islamic radicalism," again noting that she takes all violence seriously. Summer Meza

July 18, 2018
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While it's impossible to know exactly what President Trump discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin in their one-on-one meeting Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said there was "some conversation" about allowing Russia to question U.S. citizens.

Reporter Maggie Haberman of The New York Times asked Sanders on Wednesday whether Trump supported the idea of allowing Russia to question people like Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia. Sanders said Trump would "meet with his team" about the matter and make an announcement later if necessary.

McFaul is reportedly of interest to Putin regarding the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions against Russia. Putin has accused officials like McFaul, British-American financier Bill Browder, and Steele dossier author Christopher Steele of financial crimes, some of which he alleged during Monday's summit. McFaul and Browder have denied the allegations, but Putin said he was interested in interrogating them to be sure.

The former ambassador himself was wondering whether Trump had pushed back on the suggestion, writing on Twitter to call the allegations against him "whacko." Rather than "push back," apparently, Sanders said that Trump had discussed it with Putin, suggesting that the president was considering allowing Russia to question the U.S. citizens. "There wasn't a commitment made on behalf of the United States," said Sanders, without offering any other details about the conversation.

McFaul wrote that he hopes the White House will "correct the record" and denounce the "ridiculous request." Russian state media, meanwhile, published an article titled "Nervous, are we?" taunting McFaul's "defensive" tweets. Summer Meza

June 29, 2018

Here's another line you can draw on your conspiracy board: Retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy has a connection to Germany's Deutsche Bank, which has been suspected of allowing Russian money laundering and is President Trump's biggest known lender, The New York Times reports. While the Trump administration has waged a long campaign to encourage Kennedy to retire — a not uncommon practice among presidents, as all are eager to fill Supreme Court vacancies — the Trumps and the Kennedys already had a long history of working together:

President Trump's glowing reference to Justice Kennedy's son at his address to Congress was apparently an attempt to remind the judge of their connection. As the Times suggests, Trump's months of praise of the senior Kennedy was all part of a campaign to assure him "that his judicial legacy would be in good hands should he step down at the end of the court's term that ended this week." Jeva Lange

June 14, 2018
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Of all the revelations in the Justice Department inspector general's report on the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, perhaps the most surprising is the news that former FBI Director James Comey used a private Gmail account for official business. "We identified numerous instances in which Comey used a personal email account (a Gmail account) to conduct FBI business," writes Inspector General Michael Horowitz in the report, going on to cite five examples.

Asked about the use of his personal email, Comey told the investigators, "I did not have an unclass[ified] FBI connection at home that worked. And I didn't bother to fix it, whole 'nother story, but I would either use my Blackberry, must have been, or Samsung … Or if I needed to write something longer, I would type it on my personal laptop and then sent it to [James] Rybicki, usually I copied my own address." Comey said he only used his personal account and laptop "when I needed to word process an unclassified [document] that was going to be disseminated broadly, [such as a] public speech or public email to the whole organization."

When asked if using his personal email in such a way was in line with department protocol, Comey said: "I don't know. I think so, but I don't know." The inspector general confirmed "Comey's use of a personal email account on multiple occasions for unclassified FBI business to be inconsistent with the DOJ policy statement."

The news is an especially bitter pill for Hillary Clinton's supporters to swallow, as many blame Comey for her election loss. In July 2016, Comey famously summarized Clinton's use of a private email server as being "extremely careless," even as he said she was not guilty of any crime. Jeva Lange

June 11, 2018
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Several Democrats are raising concerns about connections between NRA officials and Russians with ties to the Kremlin, with Rep. Ted Lieu (Calif.) telling McClatchy DC that it seems like "something very bad happened in 2016." The questions arise as federal investigators are looking into whether the NRA received illegal donations from Russians to support the Trump campaign.

"Now U.S. investigators want to know if relationships between the Russian leaders and the nation's largest gun rights group went beyond vodka toasts and gun factory tours, evolving into another facet of the Kremlin's broad election-interference operation," McClatchy DC writes. Among the Russians who were in contact with NRA officials was Alexander Torshin, who allegedly helped launder money for the Russian mob in Spain, and Dmitry Rogozin, a far-right nationalist. "I can't understand the NRA meeting with Rogozin since he was sanctioned in 2014," said Russia expert Anders Aslund. "It's so embarrassing."

NRA officials also were in touch with Sergei Rudov, the head of the religious charity St. Basil's the Great Charitable Foundation, which has allegedly been used to finance causes like the separatist movement in Crimea.

Lieu claims it is fishy that the NRA was meeting with the Russians in the first place because "they don't actually have a similar interest in making sure that people bear arms" — Russia has much stricter gun laws than the United States. Read more about the ties between the NRA and Russian agents at McClatchy DC. Jeva Lange

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