Buried in the details of charges Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to on Tuesday is a mysterious claim — and potential bombshell — that went largely overlooked in the original reporting of his conviction.
Cohen’s admission that he violated campaign finance law at the direction of President Donald Trump — then just a candidate — by making hush money payments to silence women who said they had had affairs with Trump drew the most attention. Cohen made those payments and was eventually reimbursed — transactions that allegedly constitute crimes and were not properly reported.
But in addition to the payouts to the women, there was another large sum for which Cohen was later reimbursed, according to the court documents:
The $50,000 represented a claimed payment for “tech services,” which in fact related to work COHEN had solicited from a technology company during and in connection with the campaign.
The document gives no more information about this payment, but the language suggests investigators may know more details about it — including the technology company in question — that they have not yet revealed.
CNBC reported this detail Wednesday night, though other outlets had mentioned it previously.
The payment certainly raises more question than it answers. It’s clear why Trump and Cohen would have wanted to use underhanded payments to silence women who allegedly had affairs with Trump — the whole point was to keep the news a secret. But why would they use the same method to pay for a technology company’s services during the campaign? As long as the services were above board, this would be a legitimate campaign expense.
CNBC notes that Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis has made intriguing remarks that may point to an answer. Cohen, Davis told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night, may have “knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”
If Cohen had participated in covering up Trump’s involvement in the hacking that disrupted the 2016 campaign, this fact would be explosive.
Alternatively, the payment could relate to Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that Trump’s campaign employed that recently shuttered in the wake of a massive data breach scandal. However, that firm was hired on the books, so it’s not clear why an additional $50,000 payment would have been kept hidden.
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Top Democratic House Committee Chairs Accuse Embattled DHS IG of ‘Obstruction’ in Warning They Will ‘Ensure Compliance’
Two of the most powerful House Committee chairs have sent a lengthy letter to embattled Dept. of Homeland Security Inspector General Joseph Cuffari detailing his “obstruction” in investigations, revealing their “investigation is focused precisely on potential misconduct in [his] office,” and warning him if he does not comply with their requests they will “have no choice but to consider alternate means to ensure compliance.”
Cuffari (photo), who was installed by then-President Donald Trump in 2019, is already accused of holding back information from Congress, including delaying for many months the release of information that Secret Service agents’ text massages from Jan. 5 and 6, 2021, were erased, and that the cell phones of top Trump appointees at DHS also were erased.
“Since May 2022, we have written to you on three separate occasions to request documents and information about your conduct as Inspector General,” write Carolyn Maloney, Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security.
Detailing those instances, they say, “first, following serious allegations that your office censored findings of domestic abuse and sexual harassment by Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees; second, after you failed to promptly notify Congress of crucial information on the Secret Service’s erasure of text messages related to the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol; and third, after new information emerged on your repeated failures to gather text messages from the Secret Service and other senior officials related to the January 6 attack.”
The two chairs further accuse Cuffari: “you have refused to produce responsive documents and blocked employees in your office from appearing for transcribed interviews. Your obstruction of the Committees’ investigations is unacceptable, and your justifications for this noncompliance appear to reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of Congress’s authority and your duties as an Inspector General. If you continue to refuse to comply with our requests, we will have no choice but to consider alternate measures to ensure your compliance.”
Addressing his handling of the Secret Service investigation, they add they have “grave concerns about your lack of transparency and independence,” and note, “we urged you to step aside from this critical investigation and allow another IG to complete this work.”
They also reveal that Cuffari “removed key information before sending a subsequent semiannual report to Congress in June 2022. An earlier draft version of the report would have provided Congress with a detailed explanation of Secret Service’s ‘resistance to OIG’s oversight activities’ and refusal to produce documents. The draft report also included detailed information about the Secret Service’s erasure of text messages.”
At one point in the eight-page letter they also state: “Career staff in your office reportedly drafted a management alert in October 2021 that would have alerted Congress and the public, but you ‘rejected sending the alert.'”
And they note that Cuffari is refusing their requests while they cite examples when he complied with requests from their Republican predecessors.
“Your failure to comply with our outstanding requests lacks any legal justification and is unacceptable,” they conclude. “Please provide all responsive documents by August 23, 2022, and make the individuals requested for transcribed interviews available by the same date. If you continue to obstruct, we will have no choice but to consider alternate means to ensure compliance.”
The Washington Post adds that Cuffari “has rejected calls from leading Democratic legislators to recuse himself from the investigation into the erasure of text messages that Secret Service agents exchanged during the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, drawing fresh rebukes from lawmakers on Tuesday.”
“Cuffari said forcing him to step aside ‘has no legal basis’ and ‘would upend the very independence that Congress has established for Inspectors General,’ according to the letter he sent to House oversight committees on Aug. 8.”
Read the full letter here.
This article has been updated with the addition of reporting from The Washington Post.
‘Did Not Further Investigate’: FBI Director Reveals Trump White House Was in Charge of FBI’s Tips About Brett Kavanaugh
FBI Director Chris Wray admitted in a Senate hearing on Thursday that the FBI forwarded to the White House the hundreds of tips it received about Brett Kavanaugh in the fall of 2018, during his Supreme Court confirmation process, but did not first investigate those tips. Kavanaugh had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by three women, and those accusations threatened to derail his confirmation.
The revelation came as the FBI Director was questioned by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse during a Judiciary Committee hearing, and was forced to admit that the Democratic Senator from Rhode Island was “correct” when he said the FBI “did not further investigate” the tips it received “that related to Kavanaugh” and were forwarded to the White House.
After multiple women accused then-Judge Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct during his confirmation process the Judiciary Committee agreed to temporarily halt its confirmation hearings until a supplemental FBI background investigation could be conducted.
On Thursday Senator Whitehouse asked Wray, “is it true that after Kavanaugh related tips were separated from other tips, they were forwarded to White House counsel without investigation?”
Wray appeared to try to circumvent the direct question.
“I apologize in advance that it’s been frustrating for you,” Wray began. “We’ve tried to be clear about our process,” he claimed.
Sen. Whitehouse interjected, asking him to just “answer the question.”
“So when it comes to the tip line, we wanted to make sure the White House had all the information we had, so when the hundreds of calls started coming it, we gathered those up, reviewed them and provided them to the White House,” Wray explained before Whitehouse interrupted.
“Without investigation?” he asked, to clarify.
“We reviewed them and then provided them to the White House,” Wray said.
There is no indication the White House was equipped or prepared to investigate the hundreds of tips, something the American public was told the FBI would be doing.
“You reviewed them for the purposes of separating from tip line traffic but did not further investigate the ones that related to Kavanaugh, correct?” Whitehouse asked.
“Correct,” Wray confirmed.
Wray also confirmed, as Whitehouse said, that “the FBI took direction from the White House as to whom the FBI would question.”
“So it is true,” Wray admitted.
There was no confirmation from Wray that any of the tips were investigated.
Reporting on the exchange between Wray and Whitehouse, Esquire’s Charles Pierce wrote, “the second background investigation into Kavanaugh was a White House-directed bag job of no value whatsoever.”
Snopes on Thursday also confirmed that the “administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump directed the one-week, follow-up background investigation of Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, according to sworn testimony from U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Christopher Wray.”
The Trump White House, Wray suggested, was in charge of deciding which tips about its own Supreme Court justice nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, the Bureau would be allowed to investigate.
Senator Whitehouse on Twitter later Thursday announced: “Wray confirms: Kavanaugh tips from tip line were sent to Trump White House without investigation; and Trump White House directed what witnesses FBI would interview.”
“The White House has found no corroboration of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after examining interview reports from the FBI’s latest probe into the judge’s background,” The Wall Street Journal reported on October 4, 2018.
That report then went to the Senate Judiciary Committee members, who in an 11-10 vote, elected to support the nomination and send it to the full Senate for a vote.
Kavanaugh was confirmed on October 6, 2018, by a 50-48 vote.
There its no indication, based on Director Wray’s remarks Thursday, that the hundreds of tips it received were fully investigated, and there was no discussion of how many, if any, interviews based on those tips were conducted for the supplemental background investigation report on which Kavanaugh’s confirmation was, in part, based.
Watch below or at this link:
Sen. Whitehouse grills Director Wray’s about how the FBI handled its sham investigation into Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation process pic.twitter.com/IrfFrbYQEO
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 4, 2022
Trump’s DHS Chief Delayed and Altered Report on Russian Election Interference Because It ‘Made the President Look Bad’
Chad Wolf, Trump’s Acting Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) who was unlawfully installed, delayed and altered a federal government intelligence report on Russian interference in the 2020 presidential election because it “made the President look bad.”
A new Homeland Security Office of Inspector General report says Wolf for months delayed a report that was initially titled, “Russia Likely to Denigrate Health of US Candidates to Influence 2020 Electoral Dynamics.” It later was altered to “blunt” the focus of Russia’s attack on Democratic nominee Joe Biden by adding claims about China and Iran’s alleged attempts to denigrate then-President Donald Trump, who was running for re-election.
“A Tuesday report from DHS’s Office of Inspector General concluded that DHS’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) wrongly let politics interfere with the dissemination of the report, which documented a Russian disinformation campaign surrounding President Biden’s mental acuity,” The Hill reports.
“I&A employees during the review and clearance process changed the product’s scope by making changes that appear to be based in part on political considerations, potentially impacting I&A’s compliance with Intelligence Community policy,” OIG concluded in a report that found that “DHS did not adequately follow its internal processes.”
The Inspector General’s report says “the Acting Secretary [Wolf] asked the product be held because it made President Trump look bad and hurt President Trump’s campaign — the concept that Russia was denigrating candidate Biden would be used against President Trump.”
The Acting Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis “also told us he took contemporaneous notes of the meeting, a copy of which we obtained. The notes…read ‘AS1 – will hurt POTUS – kill it per his authorities.’”
The Office of Inspector General “concluded Wolf’s interference and other changes violated requirements that require intelligence products to be objective and independent of political consideration,” The Hill adds.
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