Yesterday, Stormy Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, dropped a bombshell of an allegation. He released documents showing that Trump’s attorney, Michael Cohen, allegedly used a shell company called Essential Consultants “to pay hush money to a pornographic film actress [who] received payments totaling more than $1 million from an American company linked to a Russian oligarch and several corporations with business before the Trump administration.” See how all the money flowed in the Washington Post’s handy chart here.
Most of the companies have confirmed the payments, including Korea Aerospace Industries, AT&T, and Columbus Nova, which manages assets on behalf of the Renova Group run by Russian business magnate, Viktor Vekselberg. Both Vekselberg and the Renova Group are currently sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department. However, these companies have tried to explain away the payments. For example, AT&T said in a statement that the payments were for “insights into understanding the new administration.” While all of the payments are concerning, the payments from a Russian oligarch clearly stand out, as the ties between Trump’s campaign and Russia deepen.
This shocking new discovery comes as the Dutch attorney, Alex van der Zwaan, became the “first person imprisoned in connection with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” It also comes after a new report from the Senate Intelligence Committee reveals that Russian-linked hackers had direct access to voter registration data in a few states during the 2016 presidential campaign, including key states like Florida and Wisconsin.
ACTION OF THE DAY
Stop the Cover-Up. The news regarding Cohen’s shell company and its ties to Russia have created more questions than answers. It’s more important than ever that Trump sit down with Mueller and tell him the truth. Sign our petition today demanding Trump end the cover-up.
Haspel. Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee held a hearing on the nomination of Gina Haspel as the new director of the CIA. Why is her nomination so alarming? Haspel played a central role in the torture of detainees under the George W. Bush administration, as well as the destruction of video tapes of the torture (although some think there may be tapes remaining unscathed). Haspel has pledged that she would not re-start the CIA torture program if confirmed, but someone who participated in torture and evidence destruction is not qualified to be the head of the CIA. It’s especially concerning as Trump has refused to condemn the use of torture; in fact, he advocated bringing back waterboarding last year. As Kelly Magsamen, vice president for National Security and International Policy at the Center for American Progress, said: “The CIA is full of hardworking public servants who… deserve to be led by someone whose professional record, judgment, and integrity is without question.” Haspel is not that person.
Turning Park Officers Into Immigration Agents? Secretary Zinke has decided that officers and rangers at U.S. National Parks could be put to better use by acting as immigration patrol agents. According to reporting from The Hill, “officers will be sent in rotating groups and spend ‘approximately 21 days’ at two national park and monument sites located on the U.S.–Mexico border: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas.” Zinke said the move was necessary to “secure the homeland.” But it’s unclear what the “homeland” needs securing from—women, children, and asylum-seeking families? The number of crossing the border remains so low that each Border Patrol agent along the border today apprehends just one person every 17 days. This is just the latest irresponsible move by the Trump administration to target immigrants and create fear around myth of an invasion of the United States. It also takes an already under-funded staff away from their jobs at the national parks, right as tourist season is ramping up – and all at a time when national park visitation is at an all-time high and illegal border crossings are at a low.
Welcome Home. Early tomorrow morning, three Americans who had been detained by North Korea will arrive back in the United States, after years of tough, behind-the-scenes work on ensuring their safe return. All three men are reported to be in good health. The family of Tony Kim, one of the men imprisoned, told reporters, “We want to thank all of those who have worked toward and contributed to his return home.”
Ohio Gerrymandering Reform. Last night, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved a new state constitutional amendment that will protect against partisan gerrymandering in congressional redistricting. The ballot measure improves the process of map-drawing with greater transparency, more public input, and requires bi-partisan support. Still, the amendment says that the legislature “would have to try to come up with a new map supported by a big bipartisan majority. If they fail, however, a one-party map could still pass.” The new map would then expire in four years, rather than the 10 years that currently is in place. Read more about the dangers partisan gerrymandering poses to fair representation in our democracy in CAP’s report, “Distorted Districts, Distorted Laws” here.