Ex-Trump official walked back statement to Mueller probe about Flynn's talks with Russian diplomat
The Washington Post first reported the conversations between the official, KT McFarland, and investigators.
McFarland, who served as Flynn's deputy on the National Security Council, was first interviewed by the FBI without a lawyer at her Hamptons home in summer 2017, the person said. She said at that time she didn't have a precise memory of whether Flynn had spoken to the then-Russian ambassador or what they may have discussed.
But shortly after Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to investigators about his conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak about sanctions, McFarland spoke to the special counsel's office. She had reviewed her notes and documents by then and walked back what she previously said --- this time saying that she could infer from a general conversation with Flynn that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.
The Post reported that McFarland and her lawyer were able to sway the FBI that it was not her intent to mislead the agency.
There's been no indication since her interview at special counsel Robert Mueller's office months ago that she is a target of a criminal investigation. McFarland has not been charged with a crime.
Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced this December. To date, no other known criminal case relates to his conversations with and about Russia during the Trump transition.
The Post noted that McFarland phoned the newspaper on January 13, 2017, and insisted in an on-the-record conversation that Flynn and Kislyak had never discussed sanctions, and stressed that her memory of this was clear.
McFarland did not respond to the newspaper's multiple requests for comment.
In December 2016, after the Obama administration imposed sanctions on Russia to punish it for interfering in the election, McFarland emailed other Trump transition officials to plan their response, according to The New York Times. She reportedly said Flynn would be talking to the Russian diplomat and encouraged a de-escalation of the situation.
Flynn soon spoke to Kislyak and urged him not to retaliate, according to court filings. Flynn lied to the FBI about their talks and later pleaded guilty to making false statements. As part of his deal with prosecutors, Flynn agreed to cooperate with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.
Court documents charging Flynn state that he spoke to a senior transition team official about what to discuss with Kislyak after the Obama administration's new Russia sanctions on December 29.
McFarland was not named in the court filings, but CNN confirmed she is the transition official who spoke to Flynn.
But she told senators in July 2017 that she didn't recall talking to Flynn about his communications with Kislyak -- which Democrats accused of being misleading or possibly even perjury.
McFarland was questioned on the matter during her confirmation process to be US ambassador to Singapore, but her nomination was withdrawn in February.
Bill Nelson's campaign to donate rest of donations it received from Al Franken PAC
Sen. Bill Nelson's re-election campaign said it will donate the remaining half of the money it received from former Sen. Al Franken's political action committee, a review of federal elections records reveals.
After Franken was accused of sexual misconduct in November of last year, a wave of Senate Democrats vowed to donate to charity the money they had received from Franken's PAC. Multiple Florida news outlets in November and December cited a Nelson campaign spokesman saying the campaign would donate money it had received from Midwest Values PAC, Franken's organization, although those statements didn't specify the exact amount of the contributions the campaign intended to donate.
Franken apologized for some of the behavior he was accused of, though he denied other accusations.
Records from the Federal Election Commission show that Nelson's campaign received a total of $20,000 -- $10,000 in the 2012 election cycle and $10,000 in the 2018 cycle. Just a few days after the initial allegations against Franken emerged, Nelson's campaign donated $10,000 to "5,000 Role Models of Excellence Project," a program that helps "at-risk boys" in Miami-Dade County through mentoring.
However, the campaign did not donate the other $10,000 from the 2012 cycle as of Saturday morning.
After this story's publication, Nelson and his campaign said it would donate all the money it had received from Franken's PAC during the past two cycles.
"I requested that they return all of it, and they did, in the last election. However, there was some donated in the previous election," Nelson said in an interview with CNN's Ana Cabrera on Saturday. "That election was closed, so I told them to go back and contribute that to charity as well. And as you all brought it to light, that's what I've said, and that's what's being done today."
After the story published and prior to Nelson's comments on CNN, campaign spokesman Ryan Brown said Nelson "made clear to his campaign today that any money received from former Sen. Al Franken was to be donated to charity, not just for the 2018 race, but also any contribution from the 2012 race as well."
Nelson is locked in a tight race with Florida Gov. Rick Scott to keep his seat this November.
Multiple Democratic senators up for re-election this year donated money they had received from Franken's PAC dating back longer than the current cycle.
Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri received $30,000 from Midwest Values over three cycles and donated $30,000 to Missouri food banks in November 2017, according to FEC records.
Sen. Jon Tester of Montana received $25,000 from over three cycles and donated $25,000 to a domestic and sexual violence prevention organization in November 2017.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin received $15,000 from Franken's PAC over the past two cycles and donated $20,000 to a women's veterans program on November 16, 2017.
Kavanaugh's accuser accepts request to speak to Judiciary Committee next week, lawyers say
"Dr. Ford accepts the Committee's request to provide her first-hand knowledge of Brett Kavanaugh's sexual misconduct next week," Debra Katz and Lisa Banks, attorneys representing Ford, wrote in a message to the committee.
But the message did not agree to a specified date and time for Ford to speak to the committee and said that "many aspects" of an earlier proposal by the committee were "fundamentally inconsistent with the Committee's promise of a fair, impartial investigation into her allegations."
The lawyers asked in their message to "set up a time for later this afternoon to continue our negotiations."
Kavanaugh allies quickly pushed back on the latest response from Ford, arguing that it does not actually amount to accepting the committee's invitation to testify.
A source close to the process who supports Kavanaugh told CNN, "This is not an 'acceptance' of anything at all. The email doesn't even say she will testify. It says she will 'provide her firsthand knowledge' but it doesn't say how. It says she will do so 'next week' but doesn't say when. And it says the rest of the terms are still up for negotiation. It 'accepts' nothing at all, but the language is very carefully calculated to give her credit for having accepted."
A senior White House official made a similar argument, telling CNN, "I don't know how to interpret this but it's difficult to interpret this as a yes."
Points of contention
Several points of contention still need to be worked out before there is any final deal. Some of those differences are as follows:
A source close to Ford says the legal team still wants the hearing on Thursday. Senate Judiciary has proposed Wednesday.
Ford's team still wants questioning only by senators, while some on the committee are pushing for a female outside counsel to do at least part of the questioning for the majority. Ford's lawyers also still want some others to testify or be subpoenaed, including Kavanaugh's high school friend Mark Judge, who was identified by Ford as someone else in the room during the alleged assault.
Judge told the committee in a letter sent by his lawyer earlier in the week that he has "no memory" of the alleged incident and said that he does "not wish speak publicly" about Ford's accusations. He also denied the allegation in an interview with The Weekly Standard last week.
The statement from Ford's lawyers on Saturday is the latest in a tense back-and-forth with the Senate Judiciary Committee's GOP majority over the terms under which Ford would be willing to testify before the panel next week about her allegation. It remains unclear whether the two sides will reach an agreement.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley agreed late Friday night to allow the woman who has accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault more time to decide whether to testify before Congress.
Grassley tweeted that he "granted another extension" to Christine Blasey Ford, saying "she (should) decide so we can move on. I want to hear her."
The Senate Judiciary Committee had given Ford's attorneys a deadline of 2:30 p.m. ET Saturday to respond with their decision, a committee source confirmed to CNN.
The panel had proposed holding a hearing next Wednesday in which it would hear testimony from both Kavanaugh and Ford, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.
Kavanaugh has denied the sexual assault allegation.
The committee earlier Friday had set a deadline of 5 p.m. ET for Ford to decide, later extending that to 10 p.m. In response, Debra Katz, who is representing Ford, wrote in a letter to the committee that its "cavalier treatment of a sexual assault survivor who has been doing her best to cooperate with the Committee is completely inappropriate."
Calling the deadline arbitrary, Katz wrote in a letter that "our modest request is that she be given an additional day to make her decision."
Had Ford's lawyers not responded to the proposal or if Ford decided not to testify by the deadline, Grassley said, the committee would vote on Kavanaugh's nomination Monday.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, accused Republicans of "bullying a survivor of attempted rape in order to confirm a nominee" by saying they will vote Monday on the nomination if they don't reach an agreement with Ford and her lawyers for her to testify.
"It's clear that Republicans have learned nothing over the last 27 years. Bullying a survivor of attempted rape in order to confirm a nominee --- particularly at a time when she's receiving death threats --- is an extreme abuse of power," Feinstein said in a statement. "I'm shocked and appalled by the Republicans' refusal to wait 24 hours for a hearing and instead rush forward with a vote on Monday. From the outset Republicans have tried to push through this nomination at all costs."
Max Young, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, said, "At approximately 2:30 Republicans sent her a proposal and gave her a 5 p.m. deadline. Shortly after they wrote her, she responded and said I need 24 hours to talk to my client. At 6:30 they gave her a 10 p.m. deadline. ... At this point, the Senate has shown significantly more deference to Facebook and Google's hearing-scheduling requests than to Ford's."
Ford's lawyers said Thursday night that Ford wouldn't be able to get to Washington before next Thursday because of all that her family is dealing with, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide.
The proposed hearing, according to three sources, would include an outside counsel who would ask questions. The proposal calls for Ford to testify first and Kavanaugh second.
The order of testimonies is the opposite of what Ford, through her lawyers, has requested, according to a senior congressional source.
Another source told CNN that Republicans are dealing with internal disagreements about whether they should use an outside counsel. Multiple senior members of the committee are pushing for one, while others are less interested, according to the source, making it unclear whether this will make it into the final proposal to Ford.
Her lawyers previously suggested that the committee's senators question their client, not an outside counsel.
A Senate Republican aide told CNN Friday that a special counsel would prevent the politicization of Ford's questioning.
"Senate Democrats rightly said that the Senate should not bully Dr. Ford ... the way to depoliticize that and ensure that is with an outside counsel," they said.
But the use of an outside counsel is receiving pushback from Senate Democrats. An aide to a member of the Senate's Democratic leadership told CNN that, "outside counsel doesn't vote on Kavanaugh. Senators do. Republicans need to do their jobs and not hide."
Ford also requested that at no point during any potential hearing would she be in the same room as Kavanaugh.
URGENT - Ford's lawyers say she accepts request to speak to Judiciary committee next week
Judge orders Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to testify in lawsuit challenging 2020 Census question
The Commerce Department announced in March that the question of citizenship will again be included in the 2020 Census, which the administration said was necessary to enforce the Voting Rights Act.
New York, along with other states and cities, filed a lawsuit in April to block the government's decision to include the question, arguing it would intimidate immigrants and decrease participation in the census.
US District Judge Jesse Furman of the Southern District of New York said Ross's deposition, limited to four hours, is needed "because Secretary Ross was personally and directly involved in the decision, and the unusual process leading to it, to an unusual degree."
The Commerce Department declined to comment on Furman's order. The Department of Justice also declined to comment.
Ross testified before the House earlier this year that the Department of Justice had "initiated the request for inclusion of the citizenship question." In his March memo, Ross said he "set out to take a hard look" at re-adding the question following the Justice Department's request.
In his opinion, Furman wrote, "The record developed thus far, however, casts grave doubt on those claims."
He noted that Ross, "by his own admission," began considering reinstating a citizenship question shortly after his confirmation in February 2017, but before the Department of Justice's formal request in December 12, 2017.
In May 2017, Ross also demanded to know why no action had been taken on his request, taking "an unusually strong personal interest in the matter," Furman wrote.
The Commerce secretary also testified that he was "not aware" he discussed the Census question with "anyone in the White House," the judge wrote, adding that there is "now reason to believe" that Ross consulted with former senior White House adviser Steve Bannon on the issue.
The judge also noted that Ross ultimately mandated the addition of the question despite an internal Census Bureau memo sent to Ross in January, but made public in June, that warned it would hurt "the quality of the census count" and be "very costly."
Furman added that there was "something surprising, if not unsettling" about the government's "aggressive efforts to shield Secretary Ross from having to answer questions about his conduct."
"The Court concludes that the question is not a close one: Secretary Ross must sit for a deposition because, among other things, his intent and credibility are directly at issue in these cases," Furman wrote.