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Prosecutors Are Investigating Possible Ukrainian Meddling in 2020 Election, NYT Reports

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The previously unreported criminal investigation is allegedly focused on sweeping efforts by Ukrainian officials to spread misinformation about then-candidate Joe Biden to sway the election for Donald Trump.


Investigation Into Ukrainian Officials

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have reportedly been investigating whether Ukrainian officials interfered in the 2020 election to help former President Donald Trump, The New York Times reported Thursday.

According to sources with knowledge of the matter, the previously unreported criminal investigation began during the final months of the Trump administration.

Prosecutors and the F.B.I. are specifically focused on a campaign involving current and former Ukrainian officials using multiple channels, including Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, to spread false information about President Joe Biden to sway the election.

The sources said that the Ukrainians are the subjects of the Brooklyn inquiry, not Giuliani, who is currently being investigated in a separate federal inquiry in Manhattan.

However, at one point, investigators did reportedly study a trip Giuliani took to Europe in December 2019. During that trip, he met with several Ukrainians, including a member of parliament named Andriy Derkach, who is a focus of the probe.

The trip came amid the years-long effort by Giuliani and Trump to undercut Biden’s presidential campaign by collecting information from Ukrainians about his work there as vice president and by pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden. Those efforts eventually lead to Trump’s first impeachment.

During the impeachment proceedings, officials in U.S. intelligence agencies warned Trump that Derkach was trying to use Giuliani to spread misinformation.

Giuliani, who claimed he was not warned, continued to emphasize the veracity of the information Derkach gave him, even after the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against the Ukrainian politician for election interference and accused him of being a Russian agent.

According to the agency, between 2019 and 2020, Derkach “leveraged U.S. media, U.S.-based social media platforms, and influential U.S. persons to spread misleading and unsubstantiated allegations.”

Investigation Into Giuliani

In a statement to The Times Thursday, Giuliani’s lawyer defended his client’s attempts to obtain information about Biden and continued to insist the information he relied on was not misleading.

“When you investigate allegations of corruption, you talk to all sorts of people; some are credible, and some are not,” he said, adding that “some day the truth will come out” about Biden’s efforts in Ukraine.

Still, news of the investigation comes as the Manhattan inquiry into Giuliani has ramped up in recent weeks.

Last month, F.B.I agents executed search warrants at his home and office as part of the probe, which is looking into whether he lobbied the Trump administration, on behalf of Ukrainian officials, to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Giuliani’s alleged actions could constitute a violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which makes it illegal to lobby the U.S. government on behalf of foreign officials or governments without first registering with the Justice Department, which the lawyer did not do.

Giuliani, for his part, has previously denied that he worked for any Ukrainians.

He painted his relationship with them as part of his broader efforts to assist Trump and condemned the F.B.I. searches as a “corrupt double standard” by the DOJ, which he accused of ignoring “blatant crimes” by Biden and other members of the Democratic party.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Guardian) (The Hill)

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Supreme Court Allows Release of Jan. 6 Documents in Major Loss for Trump

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The high court’s decision initiates the release of White House documents that the former president had attempted to block the Jan. 6 investigation committee from viewing.


SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the White House from handing over records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers had requested.

In the suit, he argued that the records were protected by executive privilege, which he said still applied to him even though he’s not president anymore, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden decided not to exercise his executive privilege over the documents.

Trump also claimed that the information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”

In an 8-1 decision with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court rejected the effort to block the records from the committee until the issue is resolved by the courts — a process that could take months if not years.

In their ruling, the justices wrote that there are “serious and substantial concerns” regarding whether a former president can obtain a court order to prevent the disclosure of records, especially when the incumbent president waived their right to exercise executive privilege over said documents.

However, they still agreed with the determination by an appeals court that Trump’s claim of privilege over the documents would fail “even if he were the incumbent.”

Records Handed Over to Committee

According to reports, within just hours of the ruling, the National Archives began sending the roughly 800 pages of documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

The documents have not been made public, and it remains unclear if and when they will be.

What is known is the nature of the content that the committee has requested, including records detailing all of Trump’s movements and meetings on Jan. 6. 

Notably, the lawmakers also requested information about plans by the administration to undermine Congress’s confirmation of the electoral college vote and Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the results of the elections.

Also unknown is what the panel will do with the documents if it finds damning evidence. While the committee’s powers are limited in scope, it could make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which has its own ongoing probe into the insurrection and the events that preceded it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post

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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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