Friday, June 15, 2018

Judge Orders Manafort Jailed Before Trial, Citing New Obstruction Charges



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Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign chairman, arrived for a hearing in federal court in Washington on Friday.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A federal judge revoked Paul Manafort’s bail and sent him to jail on Friday to await trial, citing new charges that Mr. Manafort had tried to influence the testimony of two of the government’s witnesses after he had been granted bail.

Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, had been allowed to post a $10 million bond and remain at home while awaiting his September trial on a host of charges, including money laundering and false statements.

But last week, prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, filed two new counts of obstruction of justice against Mr. Manafort and asked that his bail be revoked — or that at least the conditions be revised — because he had committed new crimes.

In a superseding indictment, the prosecutors claimed that Mr. Manafort and a close associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, had contacted the two witnesses this year, hoping to persuade them to testify that Mr. Manafort had never lobbied in the United States for Viktor F. Yanukovych, the pro-Moscow president of Ukraine who fled to Russia in 2014 after a popular uprising.



In fact, the government now claims, Mr. Manafort led a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort in Washington to present Mr. Yanukovych as a pro-Western leader who deserved political support, not sanctions for alleged abuses of power.




This week, prosecutors submitted as evidence a four-page memo that Mr. Manafort wrote to Mr. Yanukovych detailing his campaign to convince members of Congress, the State Department and the Western news media that Mr. Yanukovych, who was elected Ukraine’s president in 2010, was a champion of democratic reforms.

Mr. Manafort is charged with failing to disclose those lobbying efforts to the Justice Department, as required, and with lying to department officials who questioned him. He is also accused of laundering more than $30 million in income he received over a nine-year period for lobbying for Mr. Yanukovych and his political party and its successor.

Mr. Manafort faces additional federal charges in Northern Virginia of tax evasion, bank fraud and failure to report foreign bank accounts, also arising from the same activities. That trial is scheduled for late July.



Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign for about five months, resigning as campaign chairman in August 2016 after revelations that he had worked for pro-Russia interests in Ukraine. 

Since then, an increasingly detailed picture has emerged of an alleged financial conspiracy involving Mr. Manafort; Rick Gates, Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign chairman and Mr. Manafort’s right hand-man; Mr. Kilimnik; and others. Mr. Kilimnik is a Russian Army-trained linguist who, according to prosecutors, is linked to Russian intelligence.

Mr. Manafort was first indicted in October in a case that prosecutors have repeatedly expanded. The latest superseding indictment accuses Mr. Manafort and Mr. Kilimnik of teaming up starting in February to influence the testimony of two public relations consultants who worked on the campaign to prop up Mr. Yanukovych’s reputation.

Mr. Manafort’s lawyers called the accusation of witness tampering “very specious,” and said it was a “not-too-subtle attempt to poison the potential jury pool against Mr. Manafort.”

But prosecutors claimed that Mr. Manafort and his associate engaged in a concerted effort to suggest that the two witnesses describe the lobbying campaign as limited to Europe. Were that true, Mr. Manafort would not have violated the disclosure requirements for lobbyists working for foreign officials in the United States.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

James Comey: This Report Says I Was Wrong. But That’s Good for the F.B.I.

By James Comey
Mr. Comey is the former F.B.I. director.


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James Comey testifying before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 2017.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

The Department of Justice’s independent watchdog, the inspector general, has released a report that is critical of my decisions as F.B.I. director during the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email account. 

The report concludes that I was wrong to announce the F.B.I.’s completion of the investigation without coordinating with the attorney general and that I was wrong to inform Congress in late October that we had reopened the investigation.

In both situations, the inspector general’s team concludes, I should have adhered to established norms, which they see as mandating both deference to the attorney general on the public announcement and silence about an investigation so close to an election.

I do not agree with all of the inspector general’s conclusions, but I respect the work of his office and salute its professionalism. All of our leaders need to understand that accountability and transparency are essential to the functioning of our democracy, even when it involves criticism. This is how the process is supposed to work.

This report is important for two reasons.

First, the inspector general’s team went through the F.B.I.’s work with a microscope and found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation, which I know was done competently, honestly and independently.



The report also resoundingly demonstrates that there was no prosecutable case against Mrs. Clinton, as we had concluded. Although that probably will not stop some from continuing to claim the opposite is true, this independent assessment will be useful to thoughtful people and an important contribution to the historical record.

Second, this report is vital in shedding light for future leaders on the nature and quality of our investigation and the decisions we made.

In 2016, my team faced an extraordinary situation — something I thought of as a 500-year flood — offering no good choices and presenting some of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. We knew that reasonable people might choose to do things differently and that a future independent reviewer might not see things the way we did. Yet I always believed that an inspector general report would be crucial to understanding and evaluating our actions.

After Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced she would not recuse herself from the Clinton email investigation and would instead rely primarily on my recommendation, I chose to do something unprecedented: In July 2016, I separately and transparently announced to the American people what we had done, what we had found and our view that Mrs. Clinton should not be prosecuted. Before 2016, I could never have imagined doing such a thing, because the normal practice was always for the F.B.I. director to coordinate statements with the attorney general and for leaders of the Justice Department to report the details of the completed investigation.



But even in hindsight I think we chose the course most consistent with institutional values. An announcement at that point by the attorney general, especially one without the transparency our traditions permitted, would have done corrosive damage to public faith in the investigation and the institutions of justice. As painful as the whole experience has been, I still believe that. And nothing in the inspector general’s report makes me think we did the wrong thing.

Similarly, I never imagined the F.B.I. would face a choice in late October 2016 either to tell Congress we had restarted the email investigation in a significant way or to conceal that fact. But to have concealed it would have meant to hide vital information: That what I and others had said publicly and under oath to Congress was no longer true. I chose to speak and tell the truth.

I was not certain I was right about those things at the time. That’s the nature of hard decisions; they don’t allow for certainty. With the added benefit of hindsight, the inspector general sees some things differently. My team believed the damage of concealing the reopening of our investigation would have been catastrophic to the institution. The inspector general weighs it differently, and that’s O.K., even though I respectfully disagree.

I encouraged this intensive review when I was F.B.I. director and continued to support its work after I was fired. The inspector general’s conclusions are important. But the real, historical value of the report is its collection of facts, which, as John Adams said, “are stubborn things.” If a future F.B.I. leadership team ever faces a similar situation — something I pray never happens — it will have the benefit of this important document.

This is what institutions devoted to the rule of law and accountability look like. They look back at their hardest decisions and collect the facts, and are transparent with the world about those facts and decisions. The leaders of those institutions are best served by welcoming that oversight and that process of second-guessing. That’s why I urged the investigation in the first place.

As F.B.I. director, I wanted a second set of eyes on the agonizing decisions we made during the 2016 election, knowing full well the inspector general’s office could draw different conclusions. I also was confident that even if it disagreed with our decisions, it would find the F.B.I. team made them without regard for political favor or partisanship.

The inspector general’s office has now reached that very conclusion. Its detailed report should serve to both protect and build the reservoir of trust and credibility necessary for the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. to remain strong and independent and to continue their good work for our country.

Our nation’s institutions of justice are up to the task of protecting the rule of law and defending truth and transparency. All of us should stand up and support them.



James Comey is the former F.B.I. director and author of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”

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NYT

N.Y. Attorney General Sues Trump Foundation Over Self-Dealing



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Donald J. Trump at a 2016 campaign event in Iowa where he raised roughly $2.8 million for his foundation.CreditDamon Winter/The New York Times
By Danny Hakim

June 14, 2018

The New York State attorney general’s office filed a scathingly worded lawsuit on Thursday taking aim at the Donald J. Trump Foundation, accusing the charity and the Trump family of sweeping violations of campaign finance laws, self-dealing and illegal coordination with the presidential campaign. The lawsuit, which seeks to dissolve the foundation and bar President Trump and three of his children from serving on nonprofit organizations, was an extraordinary rebuke of a sitting president. The attorney general also sent referral letters to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission for possible further action, adding to Mr. Trump’s extensive legal challenges.

 
The lawsuit, filed in State Supreme Court in Manhattan, culminated a nearly two-year investigation of Mr. Trump’s charity, which became a subject of scrutiny during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. While such foundations are supposed to be devoted to charitable activities, the complaint asserts that Mr. Trump’s was often used to settle legal claims against his various businesses, even spending $10,000 on a portrait of Mr. Trump that was hung at one of his golf clubs.

The foundation was also used to curry political favor, the lawsuit asserts. During the 2016 race, the foundation became a virtual arm of Mr. Trump’s campaign, email traffic showed, with his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski directing its expenditures, even though such foundations are explicitly prohibited from political activities.






Mr. Trump immediately attacked the lawsuit, characterizing it in a Twitter post as an attempt by the “sleazy New York Democrats” to damage him by suing the foundation, vowing not to settle the case.





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Donald Trump Jr., left, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump at an Eric Trump Foundation event in 2015.CreditGrant Lamos IV/Getty Images

The $10,000 portrait was one of several examples of the foundation being used in “at least five self-dealing transactions,” according to the attorney general’s office, violating tax regulations that prohibit using nonprofit charities for private interests.




In 2007, to settle a dispute between the City of Palm Beach and Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, the foundation paid $100,000 to the Fisher House Foundation, another charity.

In 2012, a man named Martin B. Greenberg sued the Trump National Golf Club after he made a hole-in-one at a fund-raising golf tournament that had promised to pay $1 million to golfers who aced the 13th hole, as he did. As part of a settlement, the charitable foundation paid $158,000 to a foundation run by Mr. Greenberg.

The foundation also paid $5,000 to one organization for “promotional space featuring Trump International Hotels,” and another $32,000 to satisfy a pledge made by a privately held entity controlled by Mr. Trump to a charitable land trust.

The foundation lawsuit, and the referrals to the federal agencies, are the latest of Mr. Trump’s voluminous legal challenges, starting with the ongoing investigation by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, into ties between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia. Earlier this week, Mr. Trump’s longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, scrapped his own legal team, as he faces an investigation by the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan.

The attorney general’s action is also likely to embolden critics who have accused Mr. Trump of flouting legal norms. Mr. Trump has suggested he might pardon himself in the Mueller investigation and has repeatedly assailed the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“As our investigation reveals, the Trump Foundation was little more than a checkbook for payments from Mr. Trump or his businesses to nonprofits, regardless of their purpose or legality,” said Barbara D. Underwood, New York’s attorney general, who has been on her job little over a month. “This is not how private foundations should function and my office intends to hold the foundation accountable for its misuse of charitable assets.”




The attorney general’s office is seeking $2.8 million in restitution, and the foundation and its directors could face several million dollars in additional penalties, depending on how the court rules.

 The office is also seeking to bar the president from serving as a director, officer or trustee of another nonprofit for 10 years. Likewise, the petition seeks to bar Mr. Trump’s three eldest children, Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric, from the boards of nonprofits based in New York or that operate in New York for one year, which would have the effect of barring them from a wide range of groups based in other states.

The action could force Mr. Trump’s children to curtail relationships with a variety of organizations. Last year, for example, Ivanka Trump set up a charitable fund supporting “economic empowerment for women and girls.” After the election, Eric Trump distanced himself from his charitable foundation, which has also been under investigation by the attorney general’s office related to shifting its resources to the Trump Organization.

The foundation was explicitly “prohibited from participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of a candidate,” the complaint notes, adding that Mr. Trump himself signed annual I.R.S. filings, under penalty of perjury in which he attested that the foundation did not engage in political activity. “This statutory prohibition is absolute.”



Read the Lawsuit Against the Trump Foundation

The full text of the petition the New York Attorney General filed against the Donald J. Trump Foundation.









But roughly $2.8 million was raised for the foundation at a 2016 Iowa political fund-raiser for the Trump campaign. At the time, Mr. Trump skipped a Republican debate and set up his own event to raise money for veterans, though he used the event to skewer his opponents and celebrate his own accomplishments.

After the event, his foundation “ceded control over the charitable funds it raised to senior Trump campaign staff, who dictated the manner in which the foundation would disburse those proceeds, directing the timing, amounts and recipients of the grants,” according to the complaint.

That same month, an official at the foundation emailed Mr. Trump’s campaign manager at the time, Corey Lewandowski, telling him “we should start thinking about how you want to distribute the funds collected.”




Mr. Lewandowski, in a reply, wrote that “I think we should get the total collected and then put out a press release that we distributed the $$ to each of the groups.” He later sent a list of veterans’ groups “purportedly approved by Mr. Trump to receive grants from the Foundation.”

The list was created by another campaign staffer, Lisa Maciejowski Gambuzza, and edited by a third, Stuart Jolly, a political director. And Mr. Lewandowski asked that some of the disbursements be made in Iowa in the days before that state’s presidential nominating caucuses, which mark the kickoff of the primary calendar.



Read the Referral Letters

The letters the New York Attorney General sent to the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Election Commission detailing accusations against the Donald J. Trump Foundation.









Allowing the campaign to control the spending of the foundation’s charitable funds represented coordination between the two entities, as well “as an improper in-kind contribution of no less than $2.823 million (the amount donated to the foundation) to the campaign,” according to the lawsuit.

Federal election laws bar campaigns from coordinating with nonprofit groups, and from accepting donations from most corporations, including most nonprofit corporations, while donations from individuals are capped at $5,400 per election.

Mr. Trump long feuded with Ms. Underwood’s predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, who resigned last month amid a scandal involving allegations that he had physically abused a number of his girlfriends. Weeks after the 2016 election, Mr. Schneiderman’s office issued a “notice of violation” to the foundation, which had already attracted scrutiny over its practices, and ordered it to immediately stop soliciting charitable donations in the state.

At the time, Hope Hicks, then a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, said “While we remain very concerned about the political motives behind A.G. Schneiderman’s investigation, the Trump Foundation nevertheless intends to cooperate fully.”




Mr. Schneiderman’s resignation raised questions whether his office, which had been at the heart of the Democratic legal resistance against the Trump administration, would persist in such efforts. By filing the lawsuit, Ms. Underwood, who is a career prosecutor rather than a politician, seems inclined to do so.

She also recently accused Mr. Trump of “undermining the rule of law” with his pardon practices. She made the comment when she announced she was continuing an effort begun under Mr. Schneiderman to change New York’s double jeopardy law so that state and local prosecutors would have the power to bring criminal charges against aides to President Trump who have been pardoned.

The Trump Foundation has been in legal limbo since after the election, when the president wanted to dissolve it amid growing controversy about its practices. But in late 2016, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, Amy Spitalnick, said the foundation “cannot legally dissolve” while it is under investigation.

The attorney general’s referrals to the I.R.S. and the F.E.C. could add another wrinkle that might slow the foundation’s dissolution. The agencies are not known for their expeditious handling of enforcement actions, and the lawsuit notes that the foundation cannot legally complete its wind down “until the complaints to the Internal Revenue Service and Federal Election Commission have been resolved and it is determined if any penalties or fines will be imposed on the foundation.”

NYT

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Crispr Conundrum: How Cells Fend Off Gene Editing




Human cells resist gene editing by turning on defenses against cancer, ceasing reproduction and sometimes dying, two teams of scientists have found.

The findings, reported in the journal Nature Medicine, at first appeared to cast doubt on the viability of the most widely used form of gene editing, known as Crispr-Cas9 or simply Crispr, sending the stocks of some biotech companies into decline on Monday.

Crispr Therapeutics fell by 13 percent shortly after the scientists’ announcement. Intellia Therapeutics dipped, too, as did Editas Medicine. All three are developing medical treatments based on Crispr.

But the scientists who published the research say that Crispr remains a promising technology, if a bit more difficult than had been known.






“The reactions have been exaggerated,” said Jussi Taipale, a biochemist at the University of Cambridge and an author of one of two papers published Monday. The findings underscore the need for more research into the safety of Crispr, he said, but they don’t spell its doom.

“This is not something that should stop research on Crispr therapies,” he said. “I think it’s almost the other way — we should put more effort into such things.”

Crispr has stirred strong feelings ever since it came to light as a gene-editing technology five years ago. Already, it’s a mainstay in the scientific tool kit.

The possibilities have led to speculations about altering the human race and bringing extinct species back to life. Crispr’s pioneers have already won a slew of prizes, and titanic battles over patent rights to the technology have begun.





To edit genes with Crispr, scientists craft molecules that enter the nucleus of a cell. They zero in on a particular stretch of DNA and slice it out.






The cell then repairs the two loose ends. If scientists add another piece of DNA, the cell may stitch it into the place where the excised gene once sat.

Recently, Dr. Taipale and his colleagues set out to study cancer. They used Crispr to cut out genes from cancer cells to see which were essential to cancer’s aggressive growth.

For comparison, they also tried to remove genes from ordinary cells — in this case, a line of cells that originally came from a human retina. But while it was easy to cut genes from the cancer cells, the scientists did not succeed with the retinal cells.

Such failure isn’t unusual in the world of gene editing. But Dr. Taipale and his colleagues decided to spend some time to figure out why exactly they were failing.

They soon discovered that one gene, p53, was largely responsible for preventing Crispr from working.

p53 normally protects against cancer by preventing mutations from accumulating in cellular DNA. Mutations may arise when a cell tries to fix a break in its DNA strand. The process isn’t perfect, and the repair may be faulty, resulting in a mutation.



When cells sense that the strand has broken, the p53 gene may swing into action. It can stop a cell from making a new copy of its genes. Then the cell may simply stop multiplying, or it may die. This helps protect the body against cancer.

If a cell gets a mutation in the p53 gene itself, however, the cell loses the ability to police itself for faulty DNA. It’s no coincidence that many cancer cells carry disabled p53 genes.






Dr. Taipale and his colleagues engineered retinal cells to stop using p53 genes. Just as they had predicted, Crispr now worked much more effectively in these cells.

A team of scientists at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Mass., got similar results with a different kind of cells, detailed in a paper also published Monday.

They set out to develop new versions of Crispr to edit the DNA in stem cells. They planned to turn the stem cells into neurons, enabling them to study brain diseases in Petri dishes.

Someday, they hope, it may become possible to use Crispr to create cell lines that can be implanted in the body to treat diseases.


When the Novartis team turned Crispr on stem cells, however, most of them died. The scientists found signs that Crispr had caused p53 to switch on, so they shut down the p53 gene in the stem cells.
Now many of the stem cells survived having their DNA edited.

The authors of both studies say their results raise some concerns about using Crispr to treat human disease.

For one thing, the anticancer defenses in human cells could make Crispr less efficient than researchers may have hoped.

One way to overcome this hurdle might be to put a temporary brake on p53. But then extra mutations may sneak into our DNA, perhaps leading to cancer.

Another concern: Sometimes cells spontaneously acquire a mutation that disables the p53 gene. If scientists use Crispr on a mix of cells, the ones with disabled p53 cells are more likely to be successfully edited.



But without p53, these edited cells would also be more prone to gaining dangerous mutations.

One way to eliminate this risk might be to screen engineered cells for mutant p53 genes. But Steven A. McCarroll, a geneticist at Harvard University, warned that Crispr might select for other risky mutations.



“These are important papers, since they remind everyone that genome editing isn’t magic,” said Jacob E. Corn, scientific director of the Innovative Genomics Institute in Berkeley, Calif.

Crispr doesn’t simply rewrite DNA like a word processing program, Dr. Corn said. Instead, it breaks DNA and coaxes cells to put it back together. And some cells may not tolerate such changes.

While Dr. Corn said that rigorous tests for safety were essential, he doubted that the new studies pointed to a cancer risk from Crispr.

The particular kinds of cells that were studied in the two new papers may be unusually sensitive to gene editing. Dr. Corn said he and his colleagues have not found similar problems in their own research on bone marrow cells.

“We have all been looking for the possibility of cancer,” he said. “I don’t think that this is a warning for therapies.”

“We should definitely be cautious,” said George Church, a geneticist at Harvard and a founding scientific adviser at Editas.

He suspected that p53’s behavior would not translate into any real risk of cancer, but “it’s a valid concern.”

And those concerns may be moot in a few years. The problem with Crispr is that it breaks DNA strands. But Dr. Church and other researchers are now investigating ways of editing DNA without breaking it.

“We’re going to have a whole new generation of molecules that have nothing to do with Crispr,” he said. “The stock market isn’t a reflection of the future.”




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