Day 698: A shocking pattern of illegality.
1/ Trump will close his foundation and give away its remaining $1.7 million in assets amid a lawsuit accusing the Trump, Ivanka, Eric, and Trump Jr. of illegally using the foundation for personal and political gain. New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood accused the foundation of “a shocking pattern of illegality,” which included “unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign” that was “willful and repeated.” Trump used the charity’s money to pay legal settlements for his private business, to purchase a $10,000 portrait of Trump that was displayed at one of his golf clubs, and to make a prohibited political donation. The attorney general’s office is seeking for the Trump Foundation to pay $2.8 million in restitution. (Bloomberg / Washington Post / New York Times)
2/ Michael Flynn agreed to delay his sentencing after U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan told Trump’s former national security adviser “you sold your country out,” and because of that, “I cannot assure you, if you proceed today, you will not receive a sentence of incarceration.” Robert Mueller recommended that Flynn serve no jail time for his crimes because of the “substantial help” he provided to the special counsel and other investigations. Flynn was supposed to be sentenced today for lying to the FBI and acting as an unregistered agent for Turkey. The judge also asked the special counsel’s office whether Flynn could be charged with “treason” after he acted as “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States.” Flynn’s sentencing has been delayed until March 13th and will allow him to continue cooperating with the Russia investigation. Sullivan’s last words to the court were: “Happy holidays.” (New York Times / CNN / Washington Post / Wall Street Journal / BuzzFeed News)
Mueller released a memo from 2017 that summarizes Michael Flynn’s contemporaneous interview with the FBI. The interview was the catalyst that led to the high-profile case against Trump’s former national security adviser and felon. According to the memo, Flynn lied during the interview about his contact with then-Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 presidential transition period. The memo includes clear examples of Flynn lying and claiming that he never made any policy requests of Russia as FBI agents prod him to provide fuller descriptions of his calls. (CNN)
Flynn Intel Group co-founder Bijan Rafiekian, also known as Bijan Kian, pleaded not guilty after being charged with conspiracy and acting as an agent of a foreign government. (CNN)
3/ Hours earlier, Trump wished Flynn – a confessed felon – “good luck” ahead of his sentencing hearing. “Will be interesting to see what he has to say,” Trump tweeted, “despite tremendous pressure being put on him, about Russian Collusion in our great and, obviously, highly successful political campaign.” Flynn will be the highest-ranking Trump administration aide to be sentenced as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. (New York Times / CNBC)
Giuliani: Trump is negotiating with Mueller over whether or not to provide more written answers to the special counsel’s questions. “We might agree,” Giuliani said. If they do agree, he continued, Trump might provide “a few more answers. … Or we might not.” (Axios)
Giuliani: Trump discussed a proposed Trump Tower in Moscow with Michael Cohen later than previously known. Trump previously claimed that discussions about the project ended in January 2016, but Giuliani indicated that the conversations could have been in June or July of 2016. (CNN)
4/ The Russian disinformation campaign also targeted Mueller by falsely claiming that he was corrupt and that Russian interference in the 2016 election was just conspiracy theories. Russian operatives went after Mueller and his team via fake social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms. They also claimed that Mueller had a history of working with “radical Islamic groups.” (Washington Post)
- 📌Day 697: The Russian disinformation and influence campaign during the 2016 presidential election was more far-reaching than originally understood, according to the findings of two independent groups of researchers tasked by the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee. The report found that “active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” including one campaign to support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and influence opinions on the Syrian Civil War. The Internet Research Agency created social media accounts under fake names and spread its messages across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and Google+, and other platforms. As attention was focused on Facebook and Twitter in 2017, the Russians shifted much of their activity to Instagram. The Internet Research Agency is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an ally of Putin’s. Prigozhin and a dozen Internet Research Agency employees were indicted last February as part of Robert Mueller’s investigation. In particular, the campaigns urged the African-American community “to boycott the election and focus on other issues instead,” while messaging to conservative and right-wing voters “patriotic and anti-immigrant slogans” designed to “elicit outrage […] about liberal appeasement of ‘others’ at the expense of U.S. citizens, and [to] encourage them to vote for Trump.” The report concludes: “What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump.” (New York Times / Washington Post / Associated Press / Bloomberg)
5/ Roger Stone admitted to spreading lies via InfoWars and will be required to make a public apology in order to avoid paying fines in a now-settled defamation lawsuit against him. Stone will be forced to run apology ads in national newspapers and post on social media apologizing for defaming a Chinese businessman who is a vocal critic of Beijing. The settlement also requires Stone to publish a retraction of all the lies he posted on social media. If Stone refuses to apologize, he will be forced to pay $100 million in damages to Guo Wengui. In a text message, Stone said his behavior was “irresponsible” and said that “I am solely responsible for fulfilling the terms of the settlement.” (Wall Street Journal)
- Stone took a lie detector test in an attempt to prove he did not conspire with Russia during Trump’s 2016 campaign. The results were “inconclusive.” (WSVN 7)
6/ Trump may back down on his demand for $5 billion from Congress for a wall on the border with Mexico in the year-end spending bill, easing concerns of a Christmas government shutdown that would begin at midnight Friday. “We have other ways that we can get to that $5 billion that we’ll work with Congress,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, adding that the Trump administration could support $1.6 billion in border security funding proposed by Senate Democrats, as long as it can “couple that with other funding resources” to get to $5 billion. The $1.6 billion offered by Democrats prohibits the money to be used on a wall. Mitch McConnell, however, proposed an appropriations bill that would allocate the $1.6 billion for border security, plus about $1 billion for Trump to spend as he saw fit on immigration, which a Senate Democratic aide described as a $1 billion “slush fund.” (New York Times / CNBC / Politico / Washington Post)
Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign will merge with the Republican National Committee into a single entity under the banner of “Trump Victory.” The two teams will also share office space. The goal of the merger is to create a single, streamlined organization that will combine field and fundraising programs. Formally tying Trump’s reelection campaign to the RNC will make it harder for primary challenge. (Politico)
The Trump administration announced a second and final round of roughly $4.9 billion in direct trade aide payments to farmers and ranchers who have been hurt by Trump’s trade wars with various countries around the globe, including China. The effort is the latest attempt by Trump to ease the burden placed on U.S. farmers and ranchers who have been hurt by retaliatory tariffs as a result of Trump’s trade ongoing disputes. The latest round of payments brings the total direct payment spending to nearly $9.6 billion. (Politico)
The Trump administration banned bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire rapidly like automatic firearms. (Associated Press / CNN / Wall Street Journal)
A federal school safety report downplayed the role of guns in school violence and instead focused on rescinding Obama-era disciplinary policies, improving mental health services, and training school personnel in the use of firearms. The commission on school safety consists of four cabinet officials and is led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. (New York Times)
Trump ordered the creation of “Space Command” to “integrate space capabilities across all branches of the military.” The move is a precursor to the creation of a Space Force, a proposed sixth branch of the military. (CNN / NPR)
Ethics complaints against Brett Kavanaugh were dismissed because they were filed under a federal law that does not apply to Supreme Court justices. (ABC News)
The chance of recession in the next 12 months rose to 23% – the highest level of the Trump presidency. (CNBC)
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