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May 13, 2019

Before they were forced out in April, former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former acting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director Ronald Vitiello pushed back against the White House's secret plan to arrest thousands of migrant parents and children in 10 cities across the United States, several current and former Department of Homeland Security officials told The Washington Post.

The operation involved fast-tracking immigration court cases, giving the government permission to instantly deport those who did not show up for their hearings, the Post reports. During coordinated raids in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and other major cities, about 2,500 migrants were set to be arrested and then deported.

Nielsen and Vitiello cautioned against the plan, concerned that ICE agents weren't prepared for such a task and that it would take resources from the border, officials told the Post, adding that while Nielsen and Vitiello blocked the plan at the time, it is still being considered.

The plan has two outspoken supporters, officials said: Senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller and ICE Deputy Director Matthew Albence, who reportedly liked the idea of dramatic, high-profile arrests that showed the government was willing to arrest entire families. Read more about the plan, and how it factored into Trump's decision to push out Nielsen and Vitiello, at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

March 17, 2019

More than a year before Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved a secret — and brutal — plan to crush dissent, using surveillance, abduction, and torture, U.S. officials who read classified intelligence reports on the matter told The New York Times.

Saudi citizens were targeted around the world, with a special team — called the Saudi Rapid Intervention Group by U.S. officials — involved in at least 12 operations beginning in 2017, the Times reports. This is the same team that killed Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

After being captured and brought back to the kingdom, the Saudi citizens were housed in palaces belonging to the crown prince and his father, King Salman, the Times reports, with many tortured during interrogations. Loujain al-Hathloul was detained for trying to drive her car into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, and her sister, Alia, said she was locked inside a tiny room with covered windows. During interrogations, al-Hathloul and others were routinely beat, shocked, waterboarded, and told they would be raped and murdered, the intelligence reports state. Due to the psychological torture, she attempted to take her own life.

A spokesman for the Saudi embassy in Washington told the Times the government "takes any allegations of ill treatment of defendants awaiting trial or prisoners serving their sentences very seriously." Read more about the secret campaign at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

March 5, 2019

President Trump pushed John Kelly, his former chief of staff, and Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, to grant his daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump a security clearance, three people familiar with the matter told CNN.

While most security clearances are granted by the White House personnel security office, the president does have legal authority to approve them. After the FBI finished its background check on Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, the personnel office raised concerns over granting them security clearances, CNN reports, and Trump pressured Kelly and McGahn to make the decision so it didn't look like he was favoring his family. Kelly and McGahn both refused, CNN's sources said, so Trump granted the security clearances himself.

Last week, The New York Times reported Trump ordered Kelly to give Kushner a top security clearance, even though intelligence officials opposed the move. But earlier this year, Trump and Ivanka Trump said separately that the president was not involved with granting his daughter or son-in-law security clearances.

Because Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are married, if a red flag appeared in one background check, that could have blocked the other person from getting a security clearance. However, one person told CNN officials had concerns about Ivanka Trump getting a clearance for reasons separate from the worries surrounding Kushner. Catherine Garcia

March 4, 2019

A lawyer for Michael Cohen brought up the possibility of a pardon to President Trump's attorneys last April, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal in a report published Monday.

The discussion took place after FBI agents raided Cohen's home, office, and hotel room. His lawyer at the time, Stephen Ryan, was reviewing seized files with Trump's attorneys. The lawyers — Jay Sekulow, Rudy Giuliani, and Joanna Hendon — rejected the idea of a pardon, although Giuliani said it could happen in the future, the Journal reports.

People familiar with the matter said Ryan seemed to hint that if there were no hope of a pardon, Cohen would start cooperating with federal prosecutors. Giuliani declined to confirm to the Journal whether or not Ryan asked about a pardon, and congressional investigators are now looking into the conversation.

After Ryan finished reviewing the seized documents, Cohen hired a new attorney and went on ABC News, saying his "first loyalty" was to his family and the United States. He has spoken to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office several times, as well as investigators in the U.S. Attorney's office in Manhattan who are investigating the Trump Organization.

Last year, Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in connection with paying off two women who said they had sexual affairs with Trump. Catherine Garcia

February 4, 2019

Lawyers for President Trump's inauguration committee were contacted Monday afternoon by federal prosecutors from the public corruption division of New York's Southern District, and later received a subpoena for documents, people with knowledge of the matter told ABC News.

"While we are still reviewing the subpoena, it is our intention to cooperate with the inquiry," a spokesperson for the inauguration told ABC News. The prosecutors are seeking information related to inaugural fund donors and foreign contributors, contractors, vendors, and the bank accounts of members of the inaugural committee, The Washington Post reports. Trump's inaugural fund raised a record $107 million, but the committee put on scaled-back festivities. Federal prosecutors are reportedly interested in foreigners who attended Trump inaugural events and whether any foreign nationals gave money to the fund, which is illegal.

Last year, Trump's former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, was accused by prosecutors with the Southern District of campaign finance violations, bank fraud, and tax evasion; he pleaded guilty, and was interviewed extensively by prosecutors. Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, also testified as part of the case, and reportedly received immunity from prosecutors.

This is a developing story, and has been updated throughout. Catherine Garcia

January 16, 2019

The Pentagon is finalizing a policy to closely examine recruits who have green cards or other foreign ties, an initiative that would likely target thousands of people every year, two Department of Defense officials with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post.

Last year, a federal judge blocked a similar effort to target green-card holders. The Pentagon is concerned about espionage and terrorism, and this new vetting process will screen "foreign nexus" risks, the Post reports; this could include people with foreign citizenship and those with family members who are not U.S. citizens.

Some U.S. citizens could also be targeted, including those with foreign spouses or relatives with dual citizenship. Anyone chosen for this screening would not be allowed to go to recruit training until they are cleared, which could take days for some and much longer for others. Defense Department officials told the Post the new policy will be distributed to military services no later than Feb. 15. Catherine Garcia

January 14, 2019

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are both taking a close look at a breakfast held in January 2017 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., attended by former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), three people familiar with the matter told The Daily Beast.

About 60 people were invited to the Jan. 18 event, held the day after the Global Chairman's Dinner and just before President Trump's inauguration. Foreign officials from Israel, Saudi Arabia, Denmark, Japan, Angola, and other countries were invited, while former Kazakh Ambassador Kairat Umarov and two senior Qatari officials were in attendance, The Daily Beast reports. The Global Chairman's Dinner was a way for foreign diplomats to meet with Trump, and some guests also attended the breakfast.

This breakfast is of interest because federal prosecutors are investigating whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent funds and if people gave money as a way to gain influence with the White House, while Mueller's team is looking into whether foreigners used American intermediaries to give money to the Trump inaugural fund, The Daily Beast reports. Flynn, who pleaded guilty in late 2017 to lying to the FBI about his contacts with former Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, is cooperating with Mueller, and has been asked about the breakfast, two people with knowledge of the matter told The Daily Beast. Read more about the breakfast, and the role of Nunes — the former House Intelligence Committee chair and one of Trump's most vocal defenders — at The Daily Beast. Catherine Garcia

December 16, 2018

A new report prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, the first to study millions of posts from the 2016 presidential campaign provided by Facebook, Twitter, and Google, says that Russians working at the Internet Research Agency posted on every major social media platform photos, videos, and messages to help get President Trump elected, and continued the effort to support him once in office, The Washington Post reports.

The Post obtained a draft of the report, compiled by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project. Researchers found that at certain points, like during presidential debates, disinformation campaigns ramped up, with different groups receiving targeted messages: for example, conservatives saw posts about gun rights, while black voters saw false information about how to vote.

"What is clear is that all of the messaging clearly sought to benefit the Republican Party — and specifically Donald Trump," the report says. "Trump is mentioned most in campaigns targeting conservatives and right-wing voters, where the messaging encouraged those groups to support his campaign. The main groups that could challenge Trump were then provided messaging that sought to confuse, distract, and ultimately discourage members from voting."

The tech companies were all extremely slow to realize what was going on, the report says, even though the Russians slipped up several times, like paying for ads with rubles. Social media, the report states, went from a "natural infrastructure for sharing collective grievances and coordinating civic engagement to being a computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike." Read more about the report at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

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