December 30, 2020

The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has hired a forensic accounting firm to assist in its investigation of President Trump's business operations, people familiar with the matter told The Washington Post.

The probe was launched in 2018 to look into alleged hush-money payments made to two women who said they had affairs with Trump. The investigation has since expanded to include Trump Organization real estate transactions and other activities, the Post reports.

The firm, FTI Consulting, was brought on by District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to search for anomalies among different property deals, a person with knowledge of the matter told the Post. In recent weeks, Vance's team has reportedly spoken with employees from Deutsche Bank, one of Trump's biggest lenders, and the insurance brokerage Aon.

The district attorney is still seeking eight years of Trump's tax records and other financial information. The Supreme Court and lower courts have rejected Trump's argument that he is immune from state court proceedings because he is president, and if his latest request to the Supreme Court for a stay is denied, Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, will have to turn over the financial documents. Catherine Garcia

December 21, 2020

Federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York have been discussing with Justice Department officials in Washington whether to make a legal request for Rudy Giuliani's emails, two people with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, is President Trump's personal lawyer. Under Justice Department policy, prosecutors must get approval from Washington before asking a judge to sign a search warrant for items that might be protected by attorney-client privilege; NBC News notes that it is not known if the approval was granted.

In October 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that SDNY prosecutors were investigating Giuliani and his business dealings in Ukraine, and as part of the probe, they examined Giuliani's bank records. That same month, two of Giuliani's associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested and charged with campaign finance fraud. Parnas and Fruman both helped Giuliani try to dig up dirt in Ukraine about President-elect Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

The Washington Post reported in February that prosecutors had started talking with witnesses in an attempt to gather more documents for the investigation, and two people familiar with the matter stressed to NBC News that the probe is ongoing, with one saying it is "very active."

Giuliani's attorney, Robert Costello, told NBC News he has "no reason to believe there's any truth to the allegations that there is renewed interest in my client." Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that Trump has talked with advisers about granting Giuliani a preemptive pardon. Catherine Garcia

November 24, 2020

First it was Corn, now it's Michael Flynn.

President Trump is telling people close to him that he plans on pardoning his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, two people familiar with the matter told Axios. In December 2017, Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Sergey Kislyak, then Russia's ambassador to the U.S. Flynn's sentencing was delayed for two years because he was cooperating with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, and earlier this year, Flynn's new legal team accused prosecutors of misconduct and asked to have his guilty plea withdrawn.

In September, Flynn's lawyer Sidney Powell — the same attorney who has an on-again, off-again relationship with Trump's election legal team — said during a hearing that she asked Trump not to issue a pardon for Flynn. It's unclear if Powell and Trump have had recent discussions about pardoning Flynn, Axios says.

Two people with knowledge of the matter told Axios it's not just Flynn who is on Trump's list — he plans on making several pardons between now and when he leaves office in January. Catherine Garcia

November 16, 2020

After international inspectors shared that Iran has increased its stockpile of nuclear material, President Trump asked his top national security aides if he had options for a military strike against the country's main nuclear site, four former and current U.S. officials told The New York Times on Monday.

Trump made the query during a meeting in the Oval Office on Thursday. On Wednesday, inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency said at Iran's Natanz facility, the uranium stockpile is now 12 times larger than what was permitted under the nuclear deal forged during the Obama administration. They also said Iran did not give inspectors access to another area where there was evidence of earlier nuclear activity.

Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, all discouraged Trump from taking any action, warning it could lead to a dangerous situation, the Times reports. The advisers believe they got through to Trump and a missile attack inside Iran won't happen, the officials said, but he might still be trying to find a way to hit Iranian allies, including militias in Iraq.

Read more about Trump's views on Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency's report on the country's nuclear program at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

November 11, 2020

Privately, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien is open about President Trump losing the election and the need to start a transition with President-elect Joe Biden, one official told The Daily Beast, but he won't say anything about the matter to Trump's face.

Multiple officials told The Daily Beast that O'Brien has been enabling Trump and his refusal to concede the election. He has urged national security staffers to go along with Trump's false claims about widespread voter fraud, the officials said. O'Brien has also spent the last several months complaining about Mark Esper, who Trump fired as defense secretary earlier this week, and he has supported Trump installing loyalists in top Pentagon positions.

One former national security official told The Daily Beast it's not surprising that O'Brien is behaving this way, as he is a yes man who "does whatever Trump says." Several officials also said the name "Biden" can't be uttered these days, with one national security official claiming that if "you even mention Biden's name ... you'd be fired. Everyone is scared of even talking about the chance of working with the [Biden] transition." A White House official told The Daily Beast — only half kidding — that in the West Wing, you can say Biden's name, but only if "you're talking about who lost the election to the president." Catherine Garcia

October 28, 2020

During a press conference last week, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe strayed from his approved remarks when he claimed Iran was sending emails to American voters as a way to "damage President Trump," two senior administration officials with knowledge of the matter told Politico.

This allegation was not in his prepared statement, which was shown to and signed off by FBI Director Christopher Wray and Chris Krebs, director of the Department of Homeland Security's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, Politico reports. The press conference was held so the officials could explain to voters ways foreign actors were trying to influence the U.S. election.

Democrats in several states reported receiving emails that claimed to be from the far-right Proud Boys group, threatening them and saying if they didn't vote for Trump, "we will come after you." Ratcliffe said those emails were sent by Iran, and then asserted that they were "designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest, and damage President Trump." The officials told Politico that while the Proud Boys were named several times in his prepared remarks, Ratcliffe omitted those references.

Ratcliffe made the decision to hold the briefing on his own, officials told Politico, and it was quickly put together and timed so it would not air on television at the same time as a Trump rally. Before becoming DNI, Ratcliffe was one of Trump's most vocal supporters.

When asked for comment, Amanda Schoch, the assistant DNI for strategic communications, told Politico that "literally no one is disputing the 100 percent factual accuracy of the DNI's remarks. The rest of this is just pointless process noise, most of which is inaccurate or taken out of context." Catherine Garcia

October 15, 2020

Last year, the White House was warned by U.S. intelligence agencies that Rudy Giuliani, President Trump's personal lawyer, was the target of a Russian intelligence operation, four former officials with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post.

The goal of the operation was to feed misinformation to Trump, intelligence officials said, and National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien took the warnings to heart, letting Trump know during a private conversation that any information Giuliani brought back from his trip to Ukraine should be considered contaminated by Russia, the Post reports.

Giuliani went to Ukraine searching for information he hoped would discredit Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. He was not the target of U.S. surveillance, but Giuliani did meet with suspected Russia assets, which is how intelligence agencies intercepted his communications and were able to warn the White House.

One former official told the Post that members of the intelligence community who knew about Giuliani's situation talked about "how hard it was going to be to try to get him to stop, to take seriously the idea that he was being used as a conduit for misinformation." They knew Russia meddled in the 2016 election and waged a disinformation campaign, and were concerned that Russia "may now be aided, unwittingly or otherwise, by individuals close to the president," the Post writes.

Trump, however, was undeterred; after O'Brien spoke with him about Giuliani, the president "shrugged his shoulders," one former official said, adding, "That's Rudy." Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

October 5, 2020

The White House is blocking strict new coronavirus vaccine guidelines proposed by the Food and Drug Administration due to a provision that would likely prevent any vaccine from being authorized before the November election, several people familiar with the matter told The New York Times.

The guidelines are intended to reassure the public that coronavirus vaccines are being held to a common standard, the Times reports. They were submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for approval on Sept. 21, but White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has intervened, questioning the need for researchers to follow vaccine trial volunteers for two months after they receive their final dose. Per the guidelines, this would have to happen before authorization is granted for a vaccine, with FDA officials saying it's necessary to determine if there are side effects and to make sure the vaccine protects people for longer than a few weeks.

Trump has been promising a vaccine and pushing for one to be released before the Nov. 3 presidential election, and under the guidelines it is highly unlikely a vaccine would be authorized before then. The FDA is now going around the White House, the Times reports, and will share the guidelines with an outside advisory committee with the hope that they will enforce the standards. Read more at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads