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Whose side are you on? Separate lawyers defend Trump, aides

Published: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 6:38 PM
Updated: Monday, July 17, 2017 @ 6:38 PM

As the government's Russia investigations heat up, a growing cast of lawyers is signing up to defend President Donald Trump and his associates. But the interests of those lawyers — and their clients — don't always align, adding a new layer of drama and suspicion in a White House already rife with internal rivalries.

Trump himself has both an outside legal team and a new in-house special counsel, Ty Cobb, for Russia-related matters. White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is also Trump's son-in-law, has a pair of high-powered attorneys working for him. The president's son, Donald Trump Jr., recently hired his own lawyer. And former campaign aides who expect to be caught up in the expanding probes are also shopping for representation — and dealing with sticker-shock over the price tags.

The result is a crowded group of high-priced attorneys bent on defending their own clients, even if it means elbowing those clients' colleagues.

"Any one of those individuals can anticipate that they will be in a position to provide information adverse to any of the other individuals," said Stephen Gillers, a New York University law professor and legal ethics expert. "They have to have their own lawyer."

The diverging interests began to emerge more clearly during last week's fallout over a June 2016 meeting with a Russian attorney that both the president's son and his son-in-law attended during the heat of the presidential campaign. Legal teams for the president, Trump Jr. and Kushner all discussed the matter before the meeting was first reported by The New York Times. But the lawyers couldn't agree on a single, public explanation for the meeting and ultimately settled on a statement that had to be repeatedly amended as new information dripped out.

On Monday, Alan Futerfas, the attorney for the president's son, said Trump Jr. had been "absolutely prepared" to make a "fulsome statement" about how the meeting was arranged and what discussions took place. He did not respond to questions about why the initial statement about the matter, which was seen by the president, lacked some of those details.

The job of coordination was especially challenging because the lawyers couldn't always speak freely about what they knew, out of concern for attorney-client privilege, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. With each new disclosure that followed, the lawyers tweaked their public statements — and anxiously speculated over who in the group was disclosing the damaging information to the media.

People with knowledge of the legal wrangling insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.

In Trump's inner circle, a group long split into factions, the potential for fueling other officials' legal difficulties could be high.

It's all going to get even more complicated as both Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and three separate congressional probes gather steam. Kushner is expected to talk to the Senate intelligence committee soon, and Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley wants to summon Trump Jr. for testimony.

The president and his son have both tried to downplay last year's meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya.

"Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!," the president tweeted Monday.

But emails about the meeting that were released by Trump Jr. rattled some White House advisers, particularly his enthusiastic response to being told directly that the attorney had damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton that was being provided by the Russian government.

Last week's revelations helped prompt the president to bolster his own legal defense. He hired Cobb, an experienced white-collar attorney, who is slated to join the White House staff on July 31, according to Cobb's law firm. Cobb is expected to play a public role, crafting official White House responses to developments.

His hiring came with an acknowledgement that the current arrangement wasn't working. Trump's personal lawyers were supposed to take the pressure off the White House to respond to Russia inquiries. But it's become untenable for the West Wing staff to keep punting questions about the president.

"We end up spending a lot of time talking to the counsel's office about what can and can't be referred to outside counsel, what still remains in our purview," White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday. Spicer said he did not believe Cobb had vetted the president's tweet on Monday.

Trump will continue to work with the outside legal team already representing his personal interests: Jay Sekulow, a frequent television commentator, and New York-based attorney Marc Kasowitz, whose unconventional style has left some aides to the president unimpressed.

Kasowitz and Sekulow don't work out of the White House, though both are there on occasion for meetings with the president. Sekulow made multiple appearances at the White House last week as the controversy over the meeting with the Russian lawyer unfolded.

The expanding legal teams come at a cost.

The Trump presidential campaign has spent almost $1 million on legal fees since the beginning of the year, according to a campaign finance report filed Saturday with the Federal Election Commission. That includes a $50,000 charge for the law firm of Alan Futerfas, who is representing Trump Jr. The payment was made nearly two weeks before news reports about the younger Trump's Russia meeting.

A large chunk of the campaign's legal expenses are for Jones Day, White House Counsel Don McGahn's former employer. The firm has continued to represent the campaign for standard services affiliated with any political committee. But Jones Day's fees more than doubled in the most recent quarter, compared to the first three month of the year, the FEC reports show, a period that coincides with the deepening Russia quagmire.

Several former campaign advisers who expect to have to testify before Congress are also hiring lawyers, but they're picking up the cost themselves. The House intelligence committee had planned to interview longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone and campaign digital director Brad Parscale before the August recess, but both interviews have been delayed.

Michael Caputo, another former campaign aide, met with House lawmakers last week and says he expects to testify again in front of senators and potentially Mueller's team. Caputo is being represented by former New York State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, and said he's liquidating his children's college funds to pay the bills.

Asked about the campaign money covering Don Jr. and other folks' legal fees, he responded: "Lucky for them. And unlucky for me. And unlucky for my children who are now going to community college."

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AP writers Eric Tucker, Jill Colvin and Ken Thomas contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC, Julie Bykowicz at http://twitter.com/bykowicz and Eric Tucker at http://twitter.com/ETuckerAP

Trump delays lifting ban on import of elephant trophies from Africa

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:37 PM
Updated: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:37 PM



Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Update (Friday, November 17)

President Donald Trump said in a tweet Friday he’s delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review “all conservation facts.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport. The agency said encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs.

Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision. On Friday, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time.”

Trump said that the policy had been “under study for years.” He says he will review the issue with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Earlier

The Trump administration plans to lift a ban on Friday that barred big game hunters from bringing trophies from elephants killed in a pair of African nations to America, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told ABC News in a statement Wednesday that the decision was made after officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia provided them with information to support a reversal of the ban.

"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," the spokesperson told ABC News.

The decision will overturn a 2014 ban implemented by President Barack Obama’s administration in response to falling elephant populations. 

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A provision in the act, however, allows for the government to give permits that let people import trophies from such animals if evidence shows that hunting them helps conservation efforts, according to NBC News.

The rule reversal will apply to elephants hunted in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018, the news station reported. It will also apply to elephants killed in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and “applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements,” a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson told NBC News.

According to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, Savanna elephant populations fell by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014. About 352,000 elephants were spotted during the survey, 82,300 in Zimbabwe and 21,700 in Zambia.

Both countries had areas that saw substantial declines in elephant populations along the Zambezi river in Zambia and in Zimbabwe’s Sebungwe region, according to the census.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sen. Al Franken accused of kissing, groping news anchor without consent

Published: Thursday, November 16, 2017 @ 11:39 AM
Updated: Thursday, November 16, 2017 @ 2:38 PM

Al Franken Accused Of Groping A Woman In 2006

Update 2:37 p.m. Nov. 16: Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, on Thursday called for an ethics investigation of himself after a Los Angeles news anchor came forward with allegations that he kissed her forcibly and groped her as she slept during a USO tour in 2006.

Leeann Tweeden on Thursday shared an image taken on the trip back to the U.S. at the end of the tour. Franken can be seen smiling up at the camera as his hands hover over her chest.

"I don't know what was in my head when I took that picture, and it doesn't matter," Franken said in a statement released Thursday. "There's no excuse. I look at it now and I feel disgusted with myself. It isn't funny. It's completely inappropriate. It's obvious how Leeann would feel violated by that picture."

He said that he would “gladly cooperate” with an ethics investigation into the incident.

"The truth is, what people think of me in light of this is far less important than what people think of women who continue to come forward to tell their stories," he said. "They deserve to be heard, and believed. And they deserve to know that I am their ally and supporter. I have let them down and am committed to making it up to them.”

Update 11:58 a.m. Nov. 16: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called for an Ethics Committee investigation after a Los Angeles news anchor accused Sen. Al Franken of kissing and groping her without her consent in 2006.

“As with all credible allegations of sexual harassment or assault, I believe the Ethics Committee should review the matter. I hope the Democratic Leader will join me on this,” McConnell said, according to Politico. “Regardless of party, harassment and assault are completely unacceptable – in the workplace or anywhere else.”

Leeann Tweeden wrote in a blog post for KABC that Franken “forcibly kissed” her and groped her as she slept during a USO tour in December 2006. Franken was an Air America radio host at the time. He was voted into office in 2008.

Franken apologized to Tweeden in a statement Thursday.

Original report: A Los Angeles news anchor and sports broadcaster on Thursday accused Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, of “forcibly kissing” her and groping her as she was asleep during a USO tour in 2006.

>> Read more trending news

In a blog post for KABC, Leeann Tweeden wrote that Franken, who was a radio host for Air America at the time, forced himself on her as they were practicing a skit he wrote for the tour.

She said that, as the show’s emcee, she hadn’t expected to do more than introduce the acts, “but Franken said he had written a part for me that he thought would be funny, and I agreed to play along.”

In this image provided by the U.S. Army, sportscaster Leeann Tweeden and then-comedian Al Franken meet and greet military members during an autograph signing session of the USO Sergeant Major of the Army's 2006 Hope and Freedom Tour in Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, on Dec. 14, 2006. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., apologized Nov. 16, 2017, after Tweeden accused him of forcibly kissing her during the 2006 USO tour. Colleagues, including fellow Democrats, urged a Senate ethics investigation. Tweeden also accused Franken of posing for a photo with his hands on her breasts as she slept, while both were performing for military personnel two years before Franken was elected to the Senate. (Sgt. Thomas Day/U.S. Army 40th via AP)(Sgt. Thomas Day/AP)

“When I saw the script, Franken had written a moment when his character comes at me for a ‘kiss,’” Tweeden wrote. “I suspected what he was after, but I figured I could turn my head at the last minute, or put my hand over his mouth, to get more laughs from the crowd.”

She said he badgered her to practice the kiss scene, and that she eventually agreed, despite her discomfort.

“We did the line leading up to the kiss and then he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth,” she wrote. “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time.”

She said that after the incident, she made sure not to be alone with Franken again.

“I felt disgusted and violated,” she wrote. “No one saw what happened backstage. I didn’t tell the sergeant major of the Army, who was the sponsor of the tour. I didn’t tell our USO rep what happened.”

She said she focused on entertaining the troops and didn’t speak up because she “didn’t want to cause trouble.”

“We were in the middle of a war zone, it was the first show of our holiday tour, I was a professional and I could take care of myself,” she wrote. “I told a few of the others on the tour what Franken had done, and they knew how I felt about it.”

She said that it wasn’t until she was looking through a CD of photos from the tour that she learned that Franken had groped her while she was asleep. She shared a photo of the incident, which showed her sleeping in a flak vest and Kevlar helmet as Franken’s hands hovered over her chest.

“I couldn’t believe it. He groped me, without my consent, while I was asleep,” she wrote. “I felt violated all over again. Embarrassed. Belittled. Humiliated. How dare anyone grab my breasts like this and think it’s funny?”

Franken apologized for the incident in a statement Thursday.

“I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” he said, according to The Washington Post. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny, but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.”

Tweeden said she decided to come forward because “there may be others.”

“I want the days of silence to be over forever,” she wrote. “I want them, and all the other victims of sexual assault, to be able to speak out immediately, and not keep their stories –  and their anger – locked up inside for years, or decades.”

6 Democrats file articles of impeachment against Trump

Published: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 @ 5:20 PM

Six House Democrats File To Impeach President Trump

Six House Democrats filed articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Wednesday, accusing the president of obstructing justice and undermining the freedom of the press in a likely ill-fated push by lawmakers to oust the president.

>> Read more trending news

"We have taken this action because of great concerns for the country and our Constitution and our national security and our democracy," Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tennessee, said Wednesday at a news conference.

Cohen sponsored the resolution and was joined by five of his colleagues in the House of Representatives: Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Illinois; Rep. Al Green, D-Texas; Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio; Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-New York; and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky.

Announcing Introduction of Articles of Impeachment against Donald Trump

Posted by Congressman Steve Cohen on Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The group filed five articles of impeachment against the president, claiming, among other things, that the president obstructed justice in connection with the FBI investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and connections to Trump presidential campaign officials; and that he has undermined the federal judiciary and the freedom of the press.

>> Related: Larry Flynt offering up to $10M for information leading to Trump's impeachment

“The time has come to make clear to the American people and to this president that his train of injuries to our Constitution must be brought to an end through impeachment,” Cohen said.

In the resolution, lawmakers accused Trump of obstructing justice with his firing in May of FBI Director James Comey. In congressional testimony, Comey said he felt the president tried to get him to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign less than a month into his tenure after it was revealed that he lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contact with Russian officials.

>> Related: Read James Comey’s complete testimony before the Senate committee 

In response to the resolution, a Republican House Judiciary Committee aide told Politico that, “It’s the policy of the committee to consider impeachment articles if and when the constitutional criteria for impeachment exist.”

Democrats also expressed skepticism over the future success of the resolution.

 >> Related: Impeach Trump, says billboard near Mar-a-Lago

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, said that many Democrats believe that Trump should be impeached, but “we have just made the judgment that the facts aren’t there to pursue that,” Politico reported.

The Associated Press noted that the measure was likely to fail in the Republican-led House.

 >> Related: Tennessee congressman to file articles of impeachment

“Indeed, the large majority of Democrats seem intent on having nothing to do with the effort either as lawmakers await the results of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia,” the wire service reported. “Democratic leaders have argued that the impeachment campaign riles up Trump's GOP base, a critical bloc in next year's midterm elections.”

Read the resolution:

Articles of Impeachment filed against Donald Trump by National Content Desk on Scribd

Trump criticized after apparently tweeting condolences for wrong mass shooting

Published: Wednesday, November 15, 2017 @ 5:39 PM

US President Donald Trump speaks about his 12-day trip to Asia, fair trade, and the economy, at the White House on November 15, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks about his 12-day trip to Asia, fair trade, and the economy, at the White House on November 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump faced criticism after he appeared to have copied a tweet shared after a mass shooting earlier this month at a Texas church in the wake of an attack Tuesday that left five people dead and 10 injured in Northern California.

>> Read more trending news

“May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas,” Trump tweeted Tuesday evening, according to Newsweek. “The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived.”

The tweet came nearly 10 days after authorities said Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, opened fire on people gathered for Sunday service at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and wounding 20 others.

It came on the same day that a man killed five people and injured 10 others in attacks in Tehama County, California.

>> Related: 6 dead, including suspected gunman, in shooting at California home, elementary school

After the attack in Texas, Trump tweeted a nearly identical message to the one shared Tuesday, writing, “May God be w/ the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI & law enforcement are on the scene. I am monitoring the situation from Japan.”

Twitter users accused Trump of copying and pasting his condolences and forgetting to change the location of the attack.

Trump’s tweet was subsequently deleted.

Authorities said officers shot and killed Kevin Janson Neal, 43, Tuesday after he fired shots in at least seven locations in Tehama County, including an elementary school. Five people were killed in the attack, including two of Neal’s neighbors and his wife.

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