NY attorney general: Evidence shows Trump misused charity
By MICHAEL R. SISAK
Thursday, March 14
NEW YORK (AP) — Insider testimony, emails and other evidence show President Donald Trump turned his charitable foundation into a wing of his White House campaign, New York’s attorney general said in a new court filing Thursday.
State Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, detailed her case against the foundation in a 37-page court filing in a lawsuit that seeks $2.8 million in restitution and an order banning Trump and his three eldest children from running any New York charities for 10 years.
The filing was a response to an earlier court submission from the foundation’s lawyers, who have argued that the lawsuit against the charity is both flimsy and politically motivated.
The Trump Foundation reached a deal in December to fold and distribute about $1.7 million in remaining funds to other nonprofits in a court-supervised process. Each charity will get the same amount, and the attorney general’s office has the right to reject the ones it deems unfit.
That agreement, though, didn’t resolve the lawsuit, which says the foundation’s involvement in a Trump maneuver during the run-up to the Iowa caucuses in 2016 broke rules barring charities from getting involved in political campaigns.
At the time, Trump was feuding with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly and refusing to participate in the network’s final Republican presidential primary debate before the caucuses.
Instead, he held a rally at the same time as the debate at which he called on people to donate to veterans charities. The foundation acted as a pass-through for people who heeded his call for donations.
James said the evidence of banned coordination between campaign officials and the foundation includes deposition testimony from Trump Organization executive Allen Weisselberg and emails he exchanged with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
In one email, a Trump company vice president asked Lewandowski for guidance on how to distribute the money that was raised.
“Do you have a list of which veterans charities you want these funds sent to and how much for each charity??” the vice president, Jeffrey McConney, wrote Lewandowski on Feb. 16, 2016, according to the filing. “Lastly, how much longer do you want to keep the TrumpforVets website up and running?”
Trump was also accused in the suit of directing that $100,000 in foundation money be used to settle legal claims over an 80-foot flagpole he had built at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, instead of paying the expense out of his own pocket.
A message seeking comment was left with a lawyer for the foundation. In the past, foundation lawyers have said any infractions were minor and that the lawsuit ignored the charity’s philanthropic work.
James, a Democrat newly elected to office, also issued subpoenas Monday to Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank seeking records related to four Trump real estate projects and his failed 2014 bid to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.
Trump decried that development as the work of “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSERS,” and said, “The Witch Hunt continues!”
Where the investigations related to President Trump stand
Friday, March 15
WASHINGTON (AP) — A look at where investigations related to President Donald Trump stand and what may lie ahead for him:
WHAT’S THIS ALL ABOUT?
Special counsel Robert Mueller is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia and whether the president obstructed the investigation. Trump also plays a central role in a separate case in New York, where prosecutors have implicated him in a crime. They say Trump directed his personal lawyer Michael Cohen to make illegal hush-money payments to two women as a way to quash potential sex scandals during the campaign. New York prosecutors also are looking into Trump’s inaugural fund.
Congressional investigations also are swirling around the president. Democrats have launched a sweeping probe of Trump, an aggressive investigation that threatens to shadow the president through the 2020 election season.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW RIGHT NOW?
The House voted unanimously Thursday for a resolution calling for any final Mueller report to be made public, a symbolic action designed to pressure Attorney General William Barr into releasing as much information as possible when the probe is concluded.
The Democratic-backed resolution, which passed 420-0, comes as Mueller is nearing an end to his investigation. Lawmakers in both parties have maintained there will have to be some sort of public resolution when the report is done — and privately hope that a report shows conclusions that are favorable to their own side.
It’s unclear exactly what documentation will be produced at the end of the probe, and how much of that the Justice Department will allow people to see. Mueller is required to submit a report to Barr, and then Barr can decide how much of that is released publicly.
Also Thursday: Mueller’s spokesman announced that Andrew Weissmann, one of the most prominent prosecutors on the case, would be concluding his work with the team “in the near future.”
And a Nov. 5 trial date was set for Trump confidant Roger Stone on charges he lied to Congress, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation.
SO … DID THE TRUMP CAMPAIGN COLLUDE WITH RUSSIA?
There is no smoking gun when it comes to the question of Russia collusion. But the evidence so far shows that a broad range of Trump associates had Russia-related contacts during the 2016 presidential campaign and transition period, and several lied about the communications.
There is evidence that some people in Trump’s orbit were discussing a possible email dump from WikiLeaks before it occurred. American intelligence agencies and Mueller have said Russia was the source of hacked material released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks during the campaign that was damaging to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort.
OTHER QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
—WHAT ABOUT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE? That is another unresolved question that Mueller is pursuing. Investigators have examined key episodes such as Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and Trump’s fury over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal.
—WHAT DOES TRUMP HAVE TO SAY ABOUT ALL THIS? Trump has repeatedly slammed the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and insisted there was “NO COLLUSION” with Russia. He also says Cohen lied to get a lighter sentence in New York.
—WHEN WILL IT ALL WRAP UP? It’s unclear. Then-acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said in January that the probe is “close to being completed,” the first official sign that Mueller’s investigation may be wrapping up. But he gave no specific timetable.
For more in-depth information, follow AP coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
Court filing: Ex-Trump aide Gates continues to cooperate
By CHAD DAY
Friday, March 15
WASHINGTON (AP) — Rick Gates, a former Trump campaign aide and key cooperator in the special counsel’s Russia probe, is not ready to be sentenced because he continues to help with “several ongoing investigations,” prosecutors said in a court filing Friday.
Gates is a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian election interference and possible coordination with the Trump campaign. But he is also helping federal authorities in New York who are looking into Trump’s inaugural committee as well as foreign lobbying work by prominent Washington insiders.
The joint filing by Mueller’s office and Gates’ attorneys comes amid signs the Russia investigation is winding down. But it’s unclear if Friday’s delay is an indication that Mueller may submit his confidential report soon or if it’s related to the status of the other investigations.
The filing asks for another 60 days to update U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson on whether Gates can proceed to sentencing.
Gates pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy and false statement charges related to Ukrainian lobbying and political consulting he carried out with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison.
Gates helped the government in obtaining a trial conviction of Manafort last year. Prosecutors have noted that he continues to provide information about Manafort’s time on the Trump campaign, though neither man has been charged with any crimes related to Russian election interference.
Still, Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who led the Manafort case, told a federal judge earlier this year that a meeting Gates attended with Manafort in August 2016 went to the “heart” of the Russia investigation. The meeting at the Grand Havana Room cigar club in New York was with Konstantin Kilimnik, a longtime Manafort associate who the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence.
Prosecutors have not revealed exactly what piqued their interest in the meeting, though court papers show it involved a discussion of a possible Russia-Ukraine peace plan.
Judge sets Nov. 5 trial date for Trump confidant Roger Stone
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Thursday, March 14
WASHINGTON (AP) — Trump confidant Roger Stone will go on trial Nov. 5 on charges he lied to Congress, engaged in witness tampering and obstructed a congressional investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, a federal judge said Thursday.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Stone’s trial will take about two weeks. She is still considering whether the self-described dirty trickster violated a court order that prohibits him from discussing his criminal case with an introduction to his new book that criticizes special counsel Robert Mueller, whose office is prosecuting Stone.
Stone appeared stoic as his attorneys discussed timing for filing motions in the case.
Unlike at previous hearings, prosecutor Jeannie Rhee from Mueller’s office handled arguments for the prosecution on Thursday. At other court appearances, prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office had spoken on behalf of the government.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which stem from conversations he had during the campaign about WikiLeaks, the anti-secrecy group that released material stolen from Democratic groups, including Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Stone has maintained his innocence and blasted the special counsel’s investigation as politically motivated.
Rhee said the government has turned over about nine terabytes of documents and other evidence to the defense team. The judge also set deadlines for Stone’s lawyers to file any possible motions seeking to dismiss the case.
As he left after Thursday’s hearing, Stone rebuffed attempts to get him to discuss his case.
“No fireworks,” he said as he made his way through a crush of television cameras outside the courthouse.
Judge: Feds can post info on FBI raid of Trump’s ex-lawyer
By LARRY NEUMEISTER
Monday, March 18
NEW YORK (AP) — A judge directed prosecutors Monday to publicly release documents related to the search warrant for last year’s FBI raids on the home and office of President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III ordered that redacted versions of the documents be released Tuesday.
Media organizations had requested access to the records.
Pauley sentenced Cohen to three years in prison in December for crimes including lying to Congress and paying two women to stay silent about affairs they claimed to have had with Trump.
Cohen, scheduled to report to prison in May, recently testified before Congress in open and closed hearings about his dealings with Trump over the past decade.
Pauley ruled last month that some parts of the search warrant documents can remain secret because making them public could jeopardize ongoing investigations. Those portions include information surrounding Cohen’s campaign finance crimes.
The judge said prosecutors can disclose portions of materials related to Cohen’s tax evasion and false statements to financial institutions charges, along with Cohen’s conduct that did not result in criminal charges.
In requesting the records, The Associated Press and eight other media organizations had cited high public interest and a right to access.
Prosecutors had opposed the request, saying disclosure “would jeopardize an ongoing investigation and prejudice the privacy rights of uncharged third parties.” They declined through a spokeswoman to comment Monday.
News organizations in the legal action to unseal the documents included the AP, The New York Times and the parent companies of ABC and CBS News, CNN, the Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday and the New York Post.
Shifting hopes as Republicans and Democrats await Mueller
By JONATHAN LEMIRE and MARY CLARE JALONICK
Wednesday, March 20
WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s a witch hunt, a vendetta, the worst presidential harassment in history.
That’s what President Donald Trump has shouted for two years about the special counsel’s Russia probe. Now, barring an eleventh-hour surprise, Trump and his allies are starting to see it as something potentially very different: a political opportunity.
With Robert Mueller’s findings expected any day, the president has grown increasingly confident the report will produce what he insisted all along: no clear evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and his 2016 campaign. And Trump and his advisers are considering how to weaponize those possible findings for the 2020 race, according to current and former White House officials and presidential confidants who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
A change is underway as well among congressional Democrats, who have long believed the report would offer damning evidence against the president. The Democrats are busy building new avenues for evidence to come out, opening a broad array of investigations of Trump’s White House and businesses that go far beyond Mueller’s focus on Russian interference to help Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
It’s a striking role reversal.
No one knows exactly what Mueller will say, but Trump, his allies and members of Congress are trying to map out the post-probe political dynamics.
One scenario would have seemed downright implausible until recently: The president will take the findings and run on them, rather than against them, by painting the special counsel as an example of failed government overreach and Trump himself as the victim who managed to prove his innocence.
The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said on the House floor last week that he had a “news flash” for Democrats who had high hopes that the report would be damaging to Trump.
“What happens when it comes back and says none of this was true, the president did not do anything wrong?” Collins asked. “Then the meltdown will occur.”
Trump’s tweeted version was even more graphic: The Democrats’ House investigative committees were going “stone cold CRAZY.”
That was in reaction to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s document requests to 81 people, businesses and organizations related to Trump. Nadler said his panel must look at “a much broader question” than Mueller has.
Adam Schiff, chairman of the intelligence committee, also said there’s much more to look into. Mueller, he said, “can’t be doing much of a money laundering investigation” if he hasn’t subpoenaed Deutsche Bank, which has loaned millions of dollars to Trump. Schiff’s panel, along with the House Financial Services Committee, is looking into money laundering and Trump’s foreign financial entanglements.
“We have a separate and independent and important responsibility,” Schiff has said. “And that is to tell the country what happened.”
The Russia probe, taken over by Mueller in May 2017, has posed a mortal threat to the presidency since Trump was elected — a possible case for collusion or obstruction of justice that could begin a domino effect ending with impeachment. Those fears still exist, but as the investigation winds down, other feelings have taken hold in the White House, namely a cautious optimism that the worst is over, that no smoking gun has been found.
Even if Mueller’s final report does not implicate the president in criminal conduct, the investigation was far from fruitless. His team brought charges against 34 people, including six Trump associates, and three companies. His prosecutors revealed a sweeping criminal effort by Russians to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and showed that people connected to the Trump campaign were eager to exploit emails stolen from Democrats.
Trump, of course, has railed relentlessly against the probe, deeming it a baseless “witch hunt,” sometimes in all capital letters, and has said it was based on unfounded allegations perpetrated by his “deep state” enemies in the Department of Justice, as well as his foes in the Democratic Party and the media.
If the report proves anticlimactic, says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a strong Trump ally, “there would no longer be any justification for what the House Dems want to do. They have their report, they had the guy they wanted writing it, and he had the full power of the federal government behind him and they still didn’t get the president.
“Trump can say: Here is the report. I didn’t fire Mueller, I didn’t interfere with him. If you want to keep investigating me, it just shows that it is purely partisan.”
In fact, Trump has told his inner circle that, if the report is underwhelming, he will use Twitter and interviews to gloat over the findings, complain about the probe’s cost and depict the entire investigation as an attempt to obstruct his agenda, according to advisers and confidants.
The president’s campaign and pro-Trump outside groups will then likely amplify the message, while his advisers expect the conservative media, including Fox News, to act as an echo chamber. A full-throated attack on the investigation, portraying it as a failed coup, could also be the centerpiece of Trump campaign events, including rallies, they say.
While Trump’s base has long been suspicious of Mueller, the president’s team believes independents and moderate Democrats who backed him in the last election but have since soured may return to the fold if convinced he has been unfairly targeted.
In the meantime, the president and his surrogates will labor to link the report with the mounting investigations launched by House Democrats.
One of Trump’s most ardent defenders, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, tweeted last month that Democrats will “keep investigating if Mueller doesn’t find what they want. Amazing.”
Meadows wrote in a separate tweet: “Their message is shifting. The ‘Russian collusion’ narrative is falling apart, and they know it.”
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
Follow Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MCJalonick and Lemire at http://twitter.com/JonLemire
Dubai finds itself entangled in case against R. Kelly
By JON GAMBRELL and MALAK HARB
Thursday, March 21
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Dubai found itself entangled in the sex abuse case against American R&B singer R. Kelly on Thursday after the performer asked a U.S. judge to allow him to come to the Arabian Peninsula sheikhdom to perform shows and “meet with the royal family.”
Officials in Dubai and the wider United Arab Emirates did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press regarding the singer’s request, which an Illinois judge could consider at a court hearing on Friday.
However, Kelly’s request highlighted the close political and security ties between the U.S. and the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms. It also comes as celebrities and even world leaders on the run have chosen Dubai as a safe haven.
Kelly was charged on Feb. 22 with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse for allegedly assaulting three underage girls and one adult woman, coming after the release of a documentary “Surviving R. Kelly.” He has denied ever abusing anyone.
In a court filing Wednesday, Kelly’s lawyer Steven A. Greenberg said the singer needed to raise money as “he has struggled of late to pay his child support and other child related expenses.”
“Before he was arrested Mr. Kelly had signed a contract to perform between 3-5 shows in Dubai, UAE, in April 2019,” the court filing read. “He requests permission to travel to Dubai for the shows. While there he is supposed to meet with the royal family.”
The filing does not elaborate on where Kelly is supposed to perform. There was no immediately publicized event for which Kelly was known to be a performer, nor did anyone in the entertainment industry hear about one.
However, Dubai’s luxury nightclubs often host hip hop and other artists for days at a time to perform and be seen among the millionaires of this skyscraper-studded city that is home to the world’s tallest building. Rich families also pay for celebrities at their parties.
It is also unclear what is meant by “royal family.” The UAE’s seven emirates are overseen by hereditary rulers who hold absolute power. Dubai’s ruler is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 69. His 36-year-old son, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, serves as Dubai’s crown prince and is next in line to be ruler.
The state-linked Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, which has written several times about the case against Kelly, reported Thursday on the singer’s request to come to Dubai, without mentioning his claim of seeing its rulers.
The R. Kelly filing comes as some in Dubai questioned the decision to host a Michael Jackson tribute show there later this month, after another documentary aired allegations the late pop star sexually abused children. Dubai Opera, which will host that event, told the AP the show would still be performed and that the venue will “have no further comment.”
Dubai, home to the world’s largest manmade archipelago the Palm Jumeriah and an indoor ski slope in its desert climes, has long drawn celebrities craving both luxury and seclusion. Will Smith is a repeated visitor. Lindsay Lohan lives off and on in the sheikhdom. David Beckham, Shah Rukh Khan and others are believed to own property in Dubai.
Yet it also has drawn world leaders seeking to escape their own countries. Pakistani Gen. Pervez Musharraf, facing criminal charges back home, fled to Dubai in 2016. Former Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra came to Dubai to avoid a criminal conviction in 2017, following in the footsteps of her brother, the ousted former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
The U.S. does not have an extradition treaty with the UAE. However, the U.S. stations some 5,000 troops in the country and Dubai’s Jebel Ali port is the biggest port of call for the U.S. Navy outside of America.
Kelly’s lawyer acknowledged that in his filing.
“The United States and the UAE have great relations and they (UAE) are not going to (jeopardize) that relationship to harbor R. Kelly,” the filing said.
Associated Press writer Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed to this report.