5 things to know about the US law designed to fight Nazi propaganda that now has Rudy Giuliani sweating

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Thank Rudy Giuliani and the FBI raid of his home and office Wednesday for vaulting the Foreign Agents Registration Act — an obscure, pre-World War II law that went little-enforced for decades — back into public prominence.

“FARA is definitely having its moment in the spotlight now,” said Robert Kelner, chairman of law firm Covington & Burling LLP’s election and political law practice. 

So what, exactly, is FARA?

Here are five key things to know:

Franklin Delano Roosevelt during a radio broadcast.

FARA was designed to fight Nazi propaganda

President Franklin Roosevelt signed FARA into law in 1938 to “combat the spread of hidden foreign influence through propaganda in American politics.” 

Federal officials were particularly aghast at Nazi efforts to propagandize Americans in the years immediately before the United States’ entry into World War II. 

FARA’s passage provided legal muscle against a danger that even President George Washington foreshadowed in his farewell address.

“Against the insidious wiles of foreign influence (I conjure you to believe me, fellow citizens) the jealousy of a free people ought to be constantly awake, since history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government,” Washington wrote in 1796 when the nation remained in its infancy.

This isn’t your grandfather’s FARA

Lawmakers have significantly revised FARA over the years, gearing it away from propaganda and toward exposing and defending against foreign meddling in US politics, including foreign advocacy and lobbying.

Congress revised FARA in 1942, 1966, and 1995, according to the Congressional Research Service. 

In its modern context, “the core purpose of FARA is to put US government officials and the American people on notice when a foreign government or other foreign interest is behind efforts to influence their opinions or actions, so that they can appropriately consider and weigh information or content in light of that underlying foreign interest,” said David Laufman, a partner at Wiggin and Dana and former top Justice Department official who oversaw FARA enforcement.

Read more: Rudy Giuliani investigation is bringing heat on lobbyists with foreign clients

In practical terms, non-diplomats who work as “agents” for a “foreign principal” must register with the Department of Justice and provide regular updates about their political, public relations, consulting, and fundraising activities. 

Foreign principals, for the purposes of FARA, are defined as foreign governments, political organizations, corporations, or even individuals, such as an oligarch. 

In many cases, lobbyists for foreign companies are able to avoid registering under FARA and instead reveal their work under the less-onerous Lobbying Disclosure Act, so long as the advocacy advances a commercial interest and is not principally serving a foreign government or political party.

Three events changed FARA enforcement

There are several reasons FARA’s profile has increased in recent years.

A 2016 Justice Department inspector general report concluded that foreign agents subject to FARA were “frequently late in submitting required documentation” and “unresponsive” to federal officials’ efforts to obtain it, the inspector general concluded.  

The inspector general also chided federal officials for their anemic enforcement of FARA — and offered numerous recommendations for improvement, including the development of a “comprehensive enforcement strategy.”

Soon after, Special Counsel Robert Mueller III made FARA a “principal tool” in his investigation into Russian influence during the 2016 election, Kelner said. 

FARA’s increased prominence is also a “product of our time” where there’s “a fear of foreign influence in the United States across many fronts,” Kelner said.

rudy giuliani

Giuliani should fear FARA

In recent years, FARA cases have resulted in probation or even prison sentences for convicted offenders.

One of Mueller’s first cases involved charges that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort failed to register as a foreign agent in connection with his past lobbying work for the Russia-backed government in Ukraine. 

After being convicted at trial in Alexandria, Virginia, on a raft of financial charges, Manafort admitted in a Washington DC-based federal court to conspiring to violate FARA. Manafort was sentenced to a combined seven-and-a-half years in prison between the two cases but was later pardoned by former President Donald Trump.

More recently, the businessman and political donor Imaad Zuberi was sentenced to 12 years in prison after pleading guilty to violating FARA and other offenses, including tax evasion and making illegal campaign contributions. 

The FARA charge against Zuberi stemmed from his lobbying efforts on behalf of Sri Lanka, but ahead of his sentencing, prosecutors pointed to his interactions with other countries as justifying a longer prison term.

Read more: The inside story of Giuliani’s descent from ‘America’s Mayor’ to presidential lawyer and now an FBI target

Other high-profile FARA cases during the past several years involved former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, former Trump 2016 campaign aide Rick Gates, the prominent Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy, and the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.

That recent track record underscores the real threat of prison time that Giuliani now confronts.

On Wednesday, federal investigators executed search warrants at Giuliani’s office and residence in Manhattan. The broad-daylight raid on the former mayor of New York City escalated a probe into Giuliani’s dealings in Ukraine during his time as Trump’s personal lawyer. 

“The days that people assume the department is going to be lax in enforcing FARA are over,” Laufman said. “People and companies that willfully fail to register under FARA are now playing with fire.”

What are the penalties for violating FARA?

The penalty for a single “willful violation” of FARA is a prison sentence of up to five years or a fine of up to $250,000 — or both, according to the Department of Justice.

Certain FARA violations are considered misdemeanors, with prison terms of up to six months and fines of up to $5,000. 

The Justice Department also has the authority to file civil lawsuits to compel registration under FARA.

In 2019, a federal judge in Florida ordered RM Broadcasting to register as a foreign agent in connection with its airing of the radio channel Sputnik, whose parent company is owned and operated by the Russian government. The Justice Department countersued in the case after RM Broadcasting went to court challenging the department’s determination that it was required to register under FARA.

Under the Trump administration, top Justice Department officials signaled that the department would more regularly turn to its civil authority to drive disclosures of foreign influence efforts. 

A member of Mueller’s special counsel team, Brandon Van Grack, was assigned in 2019 to lead the Justice Department unit tasked with overseeing compliance with FARA. Van Grack left the Justice Department in January after a two-year tenure in which the FARA unit adopted a more aggressive approach to enforcement.

The unit is now led by Jennifer Kennedy Gellie, a career counterespionage prosecutor in the Justice Department’s national security division.

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Rudy Giuliani investigation is bringing heat on lobbyists with foreign clients

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The Justice Department’s long-running investigation into Rudy Giuliani is creating problems for lobbyists with foreign clients and other political consultants suspected of working with the former New York mayor.

On Wednesday, federal investigators executed search warrants at Giuliani’s office and residence in Manhattan, escalating a probe into his dealings in Ukraine during his time as President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer. 

In the months leading up to the search, the Justice Department had sent a “blizzard” of requests for information from lobbying and public affairs firms that questioned whether they had failed to address Giuliani’s activities in disclosures of their own foreign influence work, according to a person familiar with the investigation. 

The questioning came in the form of “letters of inquiry,” which the Justice Department regularly sends when it believes a person or firm might be required to register as a foreign agent in connection with influence activities.

DOJ’s flurry of inquiries — Insider could not confirm the precise number or the recipients — came as it approached an aggressive step in its investigation into whether Giuliani illegally lobbied the Trump administration in 2019 on behalf of Ukrainian oligarchs and officials.

While DOJ officials have declined to confirm or even clarify the scope of their interests with Giuliani, making a move like the one made Wednesday on someone of Giuliani’s stature struck a nerve among longtime DC insiders.

“I think people should raise their eyebrows and recognize this could be much more serious than has been advertised so far,” a former senior Trump White House official told Insider.

A ‘very tricky, very suspicious soup’

The time period DOJ investigators appear to be examining coincides with Giuliani’s search for information damaging to Trump’s political rivals leading up to the 2020 presidential election, including the eventual Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. 

House Democrats impeached Trump in December 2019 over the Ukraine scandal, charging the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress as it tried to dig into the removal of the US ambassador to Ukraine. The Senate acquitted Trump after a nearly three-week trial, falling well short of the two-thirds vote required for conviction.

As part of the DOJ investigation into Giuliani, federal prosecutors in Manhattan are examining whether Trump’s personal lawyer was working not only for the president but also for Ukrainian interests when he pushed for the ouster of US Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. That conduct could violate the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, a decades-old law requiring the disclosure of political influence work conducted in the US for overseas powers.

The once obscure law returned to prominence during the Russia investigation as the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team brought high-profile prosecutions against Trump associates related to their past lobbying for foreign clients, as well as former President Barack Obama’s first White House counsel.

Giuliani’s dealings with Ukraine were part of a broader slate of conduct that raised suspicions, not just within the Justice Department but also among legal observers about whether he was flouting FARA’s disclosure requirements. 

During the Trump administration, Giuliani was linked to the Iranian dissident group Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and to an effort to extradite a Turkish cleric living in exile in the US. Giuliani privately urged Trump to eject the cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who has long been wanted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“Rudy has been flirting with FARA violations for a long time, if not potentially crossing over the line,” said Matthew Sanderson, a partner at the law firm Caplin & Drysdale and cochair of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on FARA.

“You have this very tricky, very suspicious soup,” Sanderson added.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment. Giuliani’s lawyer Robert Costello did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment. The New York Times, which first reported the FBI raid on Giuliani, quoted Costello as saying his client had offered to answer questions posed by prosecutors except ones that are privileged because they involve Trump.

“What they did today was legal thuggery,” Costello said, according to The Times. “Why would you do this to anyone, let alone someone who was the associate attorney general, United States attorney, the mayor of New York City and the personal lawyer to the 45th president of the United States.” 

‘A very serious, sensitive matter’

The Times’ report described the execution of search warrants at Giuliani’s home and office, which involved the seizure of his electronic devices. It also reported that the federal investigators seized a cellphone from Victoria Toensing, a lawyer associated with Giuliani who also had dealings with several Ukrainians involved in the search for damaging information about Biden and his son Hunter. 

Toensing and her husband, former US Attorney Joe DiGenova, served as legal advisors to Trump during his presidency. 

On one occasion, in mid-November, they joined Giuliani at a press conference at Republican National Committee headquarters in Washington to make unfounded claims of election fraud during the presidential election. The couple previously had been announced as the president’s personal attorneys in March 2018 amid the Mueller probe, but then they backed out over “conflicts,” with Giuliani instead taking on the role.

DOJ’s investigation into Giuliani emanated from a case against two Soviet-born men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who supported his efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens in Ukraine. Parnas and Fruman are scheduled to stand trial in October on unrelated campaign-finance charges.

The timing of Wednesday’s searches suggests that the Justice Department might have waited for the arrival of its Biden-appointed leaders before executing the warrants, an extraordinary step to take against a lawyer, much less one who worked for a president. Last week, the Senate voted 98-2 to confirm Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who as the second-ranking Justice Department official runs the department’s day-to-day operations.

For such a sensitive search warrant, the approval process almost assuredly extended up to Attorney General Merrick Garland, according to former Justice Department officials and other legal observers. 

“This certainly had to have Garland’s approval or affirmation,” said former US Rep. David Jolly, a Florida Republican turned independent who once predicted that Giuliani would end up “in jail for FARA violations or some other type of violation related to disclosure and receiving foreign money.”

“Any time you’re talking about the former counselor to a former president, you’re talking about a very serious, sensitive matter,” Jolly told Insider on Wednesday.

The Justice Department unit tasked with enforcing FARA did not similarly wait before sending letters of inquiry to political consulting firms regarding past work with Giuliani. In the letters, the Justice Department unit said it had reason to believe the firms worked with Giuliani on behalf of foreign clients and asked them to explain why his activities were not revealed in disclosures.

Under FARA, firms and consultants registered as foreign agents are required to detail their work and expenditures and also identify subcontractors. In recent years, the Justice Department has been flooded with new registrations as it has intensified FARA enforcement.

If suspected FARA violations are at the core of the Giuliani investigation, “it fits into a pattern of heightened enforcement,” said Trevor Potter, the president of the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center and a former Federal Election Commission chairman who served as general counsel for Republican Sen. John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

FARA was passed in 1938 as a reaction to Nazi Germany’s attempts to secretly propagandize Americans, but the law “is equally applicable today because there are plenty of countries that want to influence US public policy in a way that benefits them without disclosing they’re doing it,” Potter said.

The Justice Department in recent years has also more aggressively scrutinized existing foreign agents to examine the fulsomeness of their disclosure filings.

“Once the department starts to pull the thread on the sweater, it really involves a number of different people. That may or may not be the case” with the Giuliani investigation, Sanderson said. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if this expands to other individuals, other firms, other businesses.”

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Morrison & Foerster is starting to track its lawyers' calls, emails, and website visits in an effort to squeeze out billable hours, according to a leaked email


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Lawyers in Morrison & Foerster’s New York office will now have the time they spend on emails, Microsoft Word documents, specific websites, and individual phone calls monitored by a software program quietly running in the background. That has raised hackles with some lawyers who worry about what the firm will do with the data it gathers.

“Everyone just presumes the firm did it to monitor our behavior more — true or not,” said a Morrison & Foerster lawyer who asked to remain anonymous because they did not have permission from the firm to discuss the policy.

The change comes as law firms have faced growing demand from their clients, leaving many corporate lawyers burned out and questioning their career paths. 

“It bothered me at first,” another Morrison & Foerster lawyer, who also asked to remain anonymous because she did not have permission to speak, told Insider. She said she was surprised by the new policy, given the toll of nonstop work during the pandemic. “Rather than more moral support, it was more pressure,” she said.

On April 21, New York timekeepers — law-firm speak for anyone who bills by the hour — had a feature called Intapp Time Capture turned on on their computers, according to an internal email seen by Insider. The feature has been available since October, with 15% of timekeepers opting in. But it will now be turned on automatically, according to the email. Pitched as a way to capture “valuable data,” it tells users how much time they spend in which files, on which websites, and on which phone calls so they can file more accurate records of billable hours.  

The email came with a glowing review from Tim Harris, who runs Morrison & Foerster’s Palo Alto, California, office. “I have been using this tool for several years and it has helped me capture TONS of billable time,” he wrote. 

MoFo — as the firm is cheekily referred to in the legal industry — has about 160 lawyers in New York, according to the firm’s website. The firm’s attorneys have been working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Morrison & Foerster didn’t respond to requests for comment. An Intapp spokeswoman emphasized the feature’s positive functions. “It’s meant to obviously provide more of a benefit, of helping attorneys capture their time … that’s slipping through the cracks,” Natalie Papaj, an Intapp representative, said.

Law firms have been trying for years to make sure their timekeepers use their time responsibly and profitably. In 2015, lawyers at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz were affronted by a new policy that required assistants to report on the location of lawyers on their floor — whether they were in the office, working from home, on vacation, or something else, according to Above the Law.

But automatic time monitoring is becoming more common. Intapp, which offers a broad suite of technologies used by law firms and accounting firms, says on its website that 96 of the 100 highest-grossing US law firms are its clients. It’s not clear how many of them use automatic time-monitoring features.

Other companies, like WiseTime and LawGro, also market artificial-intelligence timekeeping tools that run in the background. WiseTime explicitly markets the fact that it keeps personal web activity private.

Two attorneys at Big Law firms who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly said they used the Time Capture feature and generally thought it was useful. Two other lawyers who have used the feature told Insider they didn’t find it very helpful, with one saying it tended to underestimate the time spent on tasks.

Kent Zimmerman, a law-firm-management consultant, said firms were getting better at gathering data and using it to improve their bottom lines. He said no one should be surprised to learn that law firms are monitoring their technology usage.

“More and more firms are innovating along these lines,” he said. “Even when the profession is noble, it’s still a business.”

The average profits Morrison & Foerster, which was founded in San Francisco and is known for working with clients that operate and invest in the tech industry, dished out to each of its 188 equity partners rose to $2.24 million last year, a rise of over 9% from the year before, according to The American Lawyer. Its revenue rose only slightly, from $1.15 billion to $1.17 billion.

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Big Law partners made millions in a struggling economy, even while firms cut staff

A woman walks into a closing Gordmans store, Thursday, May 28, 2020, in St. Charles, Mo. Stage Stores, which owns Gordmans, is closing all its stores and has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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As businesses struggled to stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic and many workers in the energy, retail, and hospitality sectors were forced into unemployment, one industry did just fine, taking home millions in profits from the disruption.

The country’s top law firms — among the wealthiest white-collar workers in America — had a banner year, in part from the fees they charged to companies in peril.

That’s according to figures from an annual report produced by legal publication The American Lawyer, which releases financial data about the country’s top law firms, including their revenue and profits.

One large law firm known for its restructuring and bankruptcy practice, Kirkland & Ellis, saw revenue increase 16 percent, to $4.8 billion. This meant its 476 equity partners averaged $6.1 million in profits each.

The profit increase was the highest spike Kirkland experienced since a decade ago, when the firm picked up legal work stemming from the last financial crisis.

This past year, it advised numerous debtors hit by the pandemic, including retailers J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, and Lord & Taylor, as well as energy companies like Chesapeake Energy Corp. and Whiting Petroleum Corp.

Kirkland & Ellis did not respond to a request for comment.

Academics who have studied the legal industry told Insider that law firms are generally counter-cyclical businesses. When businesses face problems, it’s typically great news for attorneys. 

This year’s pay bump for attorneys was unusually high compared with past recessions, especially compared with the 2008 global financial crisis, according to Ben Barton, a professor at University of Tennessee College of Law who has written several books about the legal sector.

This time around, law firms have been buoyed by advisory work on merger and acquisition activity, and some firms took cost cutting measures like pay cuts and layoffs.

The legal website Above the Law reported in September that Winston & Strawn had laid off associates and secretarial staff, while other firms including Kirkland, Skadden and Hogan Lovells, made staff cuts of their own, The American Lawyer reported.

“It’s a bad look,” said Barton of the measures. “It’s reflective of their strong desire for profits. Squeezing every nickel out of the business you run over the last year maybe isn’t the right way to go.”

Some firms also rode a wave of legal fees generated by consolidation taking place within industries, including some blockbuster mergers and acquisitions.  

While M&A declined in the first half of 2020, it picked up by the end of the year, as Morgan Stanley agreed to buy E*TRADE for $13 billion and S&P Global announced the acquisition of IHS Markit for $44 billion. 

The deal activity padded the coffers of New York M&A firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, which averaged $7.5 million in profits per partner, up from an average of $6.3 million the year before, according to American Lawyer figures.

Wachtell did not respond to a request for comment. 

The total revenue generated by large law firms is a relatively modest figure when compared to other industries like construction, retail, and healthcare, which run into the trillions. The sum of the revenues of the top 100 law firms is much lower — about $111 billion. 

The catch is that Big Law has a far smaller workforce by headcount and the industry comes with more significant barriers to entry, including three years in law school and graduating with top marks from one of the most selective schools.

Cliff Winston, an economist at the Brookings Institution, said the 2020 pay figures confirm his belief that the legal industry is in need of reform.

“The high profitability gives the illusion that this is a successful industry — and that is the problem,” said Winston, who considers Big Law “anything but a successful industry,” but rather one that benefits from its clubbiness and exclusivity.

Winston said the outsized profitability of law firms through the pandemic highlighted the need for pro bono and cheaper attorneys who can provide services to a broader population of everyday people and small businesses.

Law firms often stress the pro bono help they provide, putting their talented partners and associates at the disposal of death-row inmates, immigrants facing expulsion from the US, and low-income families fighting eviction. But millions of Americans with legal problems still can’t get help, according to a report by the Legal Services Corp., which provides cash to organizations that help low-income people with legal issues.

Bill Henderson, a professor at University of Indiana, Maurer School of Law, said the entire legal system is broken. But he stopped short of placing blame on lawyers themselves. 

Rather, he pointed to how the legal industry has grown over the past several decades, without much headcount growth at the top law firms. Their services have become more and more expensive as many of the largest corporations build out in-house law departments to handle the cheapest legal work, farming out only the priciest pieces to outside firms. 

“Their business isn’t going to grow in selling more hours, but the hours they do sell is going to go for a lot more money,” said Henderson. 

Perhaps no firm benefitted more from the boom in public markets than Davis Polk & Wardwell, which worked on hundreds of IPOs and other debt and stock offerings. Its 156 partners took home an average of $6.35 million individually, a 40% jump from 2019.

Davis Polk didn’t respond to a request for comment. 

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Nearly 100 days in, Merrick Garland and the Justice Department are showing no public signs that Trump is in their sights

Biden Garland Trump collage

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Donald Trump left the White House three months ago under the cloud of a second Senate impeachment trial, fretting a permanent expulsion from elected office and debating whether to protect himself from federal prosecution with a self-pardon.

But nearly 100 days later, the Justice Department appears to be taking a backseat under the Biden administration to state and local investigators as they pursue investigations that are competing for the distinction of being the first to turn a former president into a criminal defendant.

As former Judge Merrick Garland has settled in as attorney general, there have been no public signals of his department pursuing Trump. At the same time, state and local prosecutors in New York and Georgia have only ramped up their scrutiny of Trump as a businessman and his actions as president.

“I think the truth is Garland wants an investigation of Trump like he wants a hole in the head. It’s the last thing he wants as attorney general,” one former top Justice Department official told Insider.

“I think they will be so reticent to move in that direction, and probably appropriately so,” the ex-official added. “I’d imagine that’s at least the starting point.”

From the 2020 campaign into the early weeks of his presidency, Biden has been asked repeatedly whether he believes Trump should be prosecuted. It’s a loaded question, and the president and his advisors almost surely recognize that a federal case brought against Trump would overtake anything else on his first-term agenda and make governing the country that much more difficult in the current political environment.

It’s also almost certainly why Biden has given varying versions of the same statement that the decision of prosecuting Trump should be left to the attorney general. During a CNN town hall in February, Biden justified his stance on the matter by saying “one of the most serious pieces of damage done by the last administration was the politicizing of the Justice Department.”

Norm Eisen

Quite a problem’

For Garland and his leadership team at the Justice Department, the question of what to do about the previous president presents a test fraught with peril. 

A federal case against Trump would also risk playing into the banana-republic notion of law enforcement serving as a cudgel to be wielded against political opponents, especially after a 2016 election in which Trump’s supporters celebrated the notion of locking up Hillary Clinton. Under Trump’s administration, Attorney General William Barr was widely condemned for intervening in cases to the benefit of Trump’s friends and allies, and Trump himself spoke of how the Justice Department should defend him at all cost.

“It’s quite a problem for Merrick and now for” Lisa Monaco, a former federal prosecutor said, referring to the recently confirmed deputy attorney general who serves as the Justice Department’s second-ranking official.

The department has no shortage of avenues to explore or retread with Trump. His administration featured a pair of impeachments and a procession of headlines about the possibility he’d face federal prosecution over everything from a $130,000 hush-money payment to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels to a speech on January 6 that was seen as inciting supporters who later stormed the Capitol.

In 2019, after a two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, the special counsel Robert Mueller submitted a more than 400-page report detailing 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice by the then-president. As a California senator running in the Democratic presidential primaries, Kamala Harris said just months after the Mueller report’s release that the Justice Department would likely have to pursue criminal obstruction-of-justice charges against Trump if she won the White House.

“I believe that they would have no choice and that they should, yes,” Harris, now Biden’s vice president, told NPR in June 2019.

A year earlier, federal prosecutors in Manhattan named Trump as “Individual 1” in a case targeting Michael Cohen. As part of his guilty plea, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer admitted to paying Daniels, who alleged she had an affair with the former president, in a scheme to silence her in the run-up to the 2016 election.

And then there was January 6, when Trump told a crowd of supporters that “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore,” in remarks that were seen as inciting the deadly rioting at the Capitol.

The remarks gave rise to Trump’s second impeachment, and while he was acquitted, Senate Minority Mitch McConnell said the former president “is still liable for everything he did while in office.”

“He didn’t get away with anything yet,” the Kentucky Republican said after voting to acquit Trump.

In an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” a top federal prosecutor who oversaw the initial wave of Capitol breach cases said the investigation into the rioting could extend up to Trump. Prosecutors are seeking to understand the extent of coordination ahead of the rioting and recently obtained a guilty plea from one participant, who has agreed to cooperate in the investigation.

On that record, many Democrats and other Trump critics have demanded a reckoning for the former president on the belief that no one is above the law. But in a political climate that has cleaved the country in half, Biden has told advisors that he does not want a divisive investigation into his predecessor that would consume his presidency, NBC News reported.

The investigations in New York and Georgia could provide a convenient release valve as demands from many Democrats to hold Trump accountable conflict with the Biden administration’s stated goal of depoliticizing the Justice Department and turning the page after a turbulent four years. 

Norm Eisen, a former aide to House Democrats during Trump’s first impeachment, said as “a practical matter, there’s a very steep hill to climb whenever you have a new administration considering whether to prosecute a predecessor — a defeated, vanquished predecessor.”

The “steep — though rebuttable — presumption against charging the defeated head of a former administration” and “more advanced criminal investigations” in New York and Georgia would play into any decision the Justice Department makes with Trump,” Eisen said.

“On the federal level, we shall see,” added Eisen, who in 2018 coauthored a report outlining an obstruction case against Trump.


Treading lightly

Former Justice Department officials told Insider the department would have to balance the strength of any case charging Trump against the perception, however fair, that the prosecution was politically motivated.

For the department to bring a case, they said the evidence against Trump would need to be overwhelming to render a decision not to prosecute — based strictly on his status as a former president — untenable.

Garland and other Justice Department leaders would need to tread carefully in considering an investigation or case against Trump. In interviews, some former Justice Department officials said the Biden-appointed leadership could start by arranging an initial assessment of Trump’s legal risk, while stopping short of taking steps that could become public. 

“If I’m Garland and Monaco, I get a briefing that I don’t tell anybody about,” the former federal prosecutor said. “I figure out if there’s a way to do an initial review without sending out grandjury subpoenas and without going public.”

Garland has managed to avoid showing any public sign of his thinking on Trump’s legal liability. During his Senate confirmation hearing in February, Sen. Josh Hawley referenced a petition circulated by a progressive group urging Garland to pursue criminal charges against the former president. The Missouri Republican then pressed the attorney-general nominee on whether he’d pledge to “enforce the law equally” and resist pressure to “use political targeting.”

“I have grown pretty immune to any kind of pressure, other than the pressure to do what I think is the right thing given the facts and the law,” Garland replied, adding: “That is what I intend to do as the attorney general.”

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment. 


‘Something is going to happen’

Trump and his advisors are so far shrugging off the notion that the former president faces legal exposure from the Justice Department over his comments on January 6.

Insider previously reported they saw more risk in the investigation led by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance into Trump’s financial dealings and the inquiry in Georgia, where Trump called top state officials asking for them to “find” enough votes to overturn the 2020 election results.

Trump’s team has reason to be more concerned about the state and local jurisdictions. In Georgia’s Fulton County, District Attorney Fani Willis revamped her office’s public-integrity unit, which is investigating Trump over his efforts to overturn the state’s election results.

And in New York, Vance’s office recently prevailed against Trump in a Supreme Court case over access to his financial records. Vance also has recruited a former federal prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz.

“He didn’t go there just for fun. He went there because he thinks something is going to happen,” the former federal prosecutor said.


Senate Democrats standing by

In interviews, Senate Democrats have told Insider they have confidence in Garland as he seeks to restore the Justice Department’s independence and integrity on the heels of the Trump era.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Justice Department’s apparent approach so far in the administration was understandable given how Trump treated it as “his very own law firm.”

“You have a lot of wonderful career lawyers there and staff people,” she told Insider. “And I think it was difficult to be there with an attorney general who, in my view, acted like he was the president’s lawyer.”

Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and Biden confidant, said he was not concerned with the lack of information around a federal prosecution of Trump.

“I have confidence that under Attorney General Merrick Garland, whatever decision will be made, whatever process is followed, will be independent of partisan or political concerns,” he told Insider.

Echoing Biden’s remarks about the risks of a Trump prosecution, Sen. Debbie Stabenow said she remained concerned about “what Trump did and the legal ramifications of it” in connection with the January 6 riot but appreciated that the administration faced other pressing challenges.

“No. 1 has got to be COVID, and saving lives and getting people back on their feet with the economy,” the Michigan Democrat told Insider. “But I do trust that they’re thoughtfully looking at things.”

This story originally published on April 23, 2021.

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Six people were killed by police in the 24 hours after Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murder


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In the 24 hours after a jury convicted former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin of murder, at least six people died at the hands of police, the Associated Press reported. 

On Tuesday, Derek Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter in the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man. 

Floyd died on May 25, 2020. Video from his arrest showed Chauvin kneeling on his neck for more than nine minutes. 

In the day that followed, police across America killed six people. 

The circumstances of the six incidents varied and some of the cases garnered national attention, including the death of Ma’Khia Bryant, a 16-year-old Black girl in Columbus. 

Bryant was shot and killed after police responded to a call about an attempted stabbing.

In Worcester, Massachusetts, Phet Gouvonvong, 31, called 911 and said he had a bomb when police responded and Gouvonvong moved towards police, he was shot and died at the scene, the Telegram & Gazette

Andrew Brown, a 42-year-old Black man, was shot and killed as deputies tried to serve an arrest warrant in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.

The identities of the two men killed in San Antonio are unknown. One was killed during an altercation on a bus where police said he had a gun, but it’s unclear if he ever fired it, KENS 5 reported. The second was killed after he began shooting at officers who were responding to a call that someone had killed a person working in a shed outside the caller’s home, the AP reported. 

In Escondido, California, a white man was killed after police said he charged at officers with a 2-foot metal pole, KTLA reported. The victim was known to law enforcement and was homeless and mentally ill.  

It’s not clear if any officers in these fatal shootings will face legal charges like Chauvin, who was convicted mainly because of a video that showed him kneeling on Floyd’s neck. 

“We are in a moment of reckoning,” Rachael Rollins, district attorney for Boston and surrounding communities told the AP. 

“If we can be strategic and come together,” she said, “we can make profound changes, profound.”

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The Trump Organization's longtime CFO reportedly said he keeps his distance from the 'legal side' of its financial matters

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Allen Weisselberg, former President Donald Trump’s longtime financial guru, said he maintains distance from the “legal side” of the family business’ finances, according to reports.

“That’s not my thing,” Weisselberg said in a 2015 deposition over Trump University, which was unearthed by the New York Daily News for a Sunday cover story. 

Weisselberg, CFO of The Trump Organization, has served the Trump family since the 1973. During Trump’s time in office, Weisselberg was the only person outside the family to oversee his trust. 

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which was scrutinizing the company’s finances, reportedly attempted to “flip” Weisselberg as part of its investigation. 

During the 2015 deposition, Weisselberg answered questions about how much he knew about potential wrongdoing the company, the Daily News reported. He was “eavesdropping” on some legal-related conversations but backed away, the report said. 

He reportedly said: “Throughout all of our entities, people do know it’s important to involve me when it comes to financial matters because later on if things don’t prove out to be where they should be, they’ll have to deal with me on answering the question as to why.”

Insider has reached out to The Trump Organization for comment. 

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen told the House Intelligence Committee in 2019 that Weisselberg could shed light on the payments made to Stormy Daniels and others. 

Weisselberg “knows of every dime that leaves the building,” former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski wrote in a co-authored book, according to Politico

Weisselberg’s eldest son, Barry Weisselberg, was also associated with the Trump Organization.

Weisselberg’s ex-daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, earlier this year was cooperating with the investigation by the Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance Jr.

After her divorce from Barry Weisselberg, Jennifer Weisselberg reportedly gave prosecutors seven boxes of Trump Organization documents. 

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Arizona judge suspends Republican vote 'audit' being conducted by Cyber Ninjas, a Florida company led by a pro-Trump conspiracy theorist


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An Arizona judge has suspended work over the weekend on a Republican-led effort to examine ballots from the 2020 election.

Arizona Democrats had filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to halt an audit, dismissing it as a partisan effort to validate false claims of election fraud.

On Friday, Judge Christopher Coury of the Maricopa County Superior Court granted their request for a pause until evidence can be presented at an 11:00 a.m. local time hearing on Monday.

The audit, which began Thursday, is being conducted by a Florida-based firm, Cyber Ninjas, that has never previously audited an election; the company’s founder, Doug Logan, also embraced pro-Trump conspiracy theories about voter fraud on his since-deleted Twitter account, the Mirror reported.

Friday’s order requires the company to hand over any documents detailing their internal procedures for the audit, “which should have been made immediately available to the public if this were a transparent or credible process,” Raquel Terán, chair of the Arizona Democratic Party, said in a statement.

Karen Fann, a Republican and president of Arizona’s state Senate, selected the company to conduct the examination in Maricopa County, home to Phoenix, which President Joe Biden won by more than 45,000 votes.

In a letter on Friday, Katie Hobbs, Arizona’s Democratic Secretary of State, called for a state investigation into the audit, expressing concern that ballots and election equipment had been handed over to a biased third party, “resulting in unauthorized and unmonitored access to both.”

A reporter from the Arizona Republic, Jen Fifeld, who attended the audit on Friday raised concerns that those examining the ballots could be in a position to alter them, noting that counting tables had blue pens on them. You are “supposed to only have red ink,” she noted, because the machines that count ballots will accept black or blue ink as a legitimate vote.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, has however declined to intervene. In a letter sent Friday, he rejected Hobbs’ call for an investigation by his office, saying that her citation of media reports suggesting impropriety “does not meet the standard of a credible allegation.”

Fann, for her part, did not respond to a request for comment.

The loser of the 2020 election, former President Donald Trump, has backed the state Senate’s effort to reexamine the results in Maricopa County, which he won in 2016. In a statement on Friday, he accused Democrats of resorting to lawyers in an effort to have their supposed election fraud in the GOP-run county “concealed”; he also alleged that the state’s Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, a former ally, was inexplicably collaborating with his political foes.

But the former president’s claims of fraud — vague and ever-shifting — were all debunked months ago, including by members of his own party. Last fall, the Trump campaign promoted a conspiracy theory, known as “SharpieGate,” that alleged ballots from Republicans were being invalidated. Poll workers, the story went, had handed in-person voters permanent markers, instead of pens, knowing that these voters would lean GOP and that the writing utensil would spoil their ballots.

In fact, as both federal officials and Arizona’s Republican Attorney General noted at the time, permanent markers were the preferred tool for completing one’s ballot. And references in the state’s online database to some residents having their votes “canceled,” which had been cited as a smoking gun, referred only to those who had voted in person after having requested a mail-in ballots: It was the unused mail-in ballot that was canceled, not the one filled out the day of the election with a Sharpie, illustrating that it was not possible to engage in election fraud by voting twice.

Allies of the former president also promoted the unsubstantiated theory, among others, that Biden received thousands of mail-in ballots from fictitious voters. That claim was rejected by local Republicans who voted to certify the election results in Arizona’s most populous county.

“In a free democracy, elections result in some people’s candidates losing,” Board of Supervisors President Clint Hickman, a Republican, said at the time. Hickman said he was disappointed that Trump lost but that there was no evidence to suggest the vote was inaccurate, much less any that would justify negating the outcome.

“I’m not going to violate the law or deviate from my own moral compass,” Hickman said, “as some have pushed me to do.”

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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Warby Parker is staffing up its corporate team with an eye towards 'public company readiness'

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Warby Parker is looking to staff up with legal and investor-relations pros who can help it prep for being a public company. 

Last week, Warby Parker posted a job listing for an in-house lawyer “armed with extensive knowledge of corporate and securities law for public companies, especially when it comes to SEC and stock exchange compliance.” The assistant general counsel will be tasked with building the company’s securities function as it “builds to the next stage of growth, including public company readiness,” according to the job posting.

The company also recently posted a job listing for a first-ever head of investor relations, who will be tasked with SEC compliance, public disclosures, and quarterly earnings reports, among other public-facing communications. 

Bloomberg reported earlier this week that the trendy eyewear company has been talking with potential advisors about a listing that could come as soon as this year. 

“The signs are definitely there that they’re preparing to do this, which doesn’t rule out the possibility of merging with a SPAC,” said Jay Ritter, a University of Florida finance professor who has spent his career tracking IPOs. “But it would certainly look like they’re planning to do a traditional IPO or even a direct listing.”

Ritter said the new hires would likely help Warby Parker prepare audited financial statements in the event it does go public. Whether it does is dependent on a number of factors, including the strength of the stock market. 

A representative for Warby Parker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Going public would also help Warby Parker expand its network of brick-and-mortar stores, a key factor in what sets the company apart from other online eyeglass sellers, according to DeAnn Campbell, vice president of retail strategy and insights at Harbor Retail

“They understood the need of brick and mortar to keep profit margins high,” Campbell said. “Now the only puzzle piece left is scale … that takes cash.” 

Industry analysts have long been speculating that the e-commerce giant, now more than a decade old, is on the path to a public listing. After a $245 million funding round last summer, the company was valued at $3 billion, according to TechCrunch.

Its backers include Tiger Global, General Catalyst, D1 Capital Partners, and Durable Capital Partners.

2020 was a record year for consumer company IPOs, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. Early 2021 saw several DTC companies, including used clothing sellers Poshmark and ThredUp, going public.

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DOJ launches an investigation into Minneapolis policing practices a day after Derek Chauvin's conviction

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The Department of Justice is opening a civil investigation into the practices of the Minneapolis Police Department, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Wednesday. 

A jury convicted Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, on second-degree manslaughter, second-degree murder, and third-degree murder charges for killing George Floyd, a Black man, in May 2020. 

The wide-ranging investigation will examine whether the department “engages in a practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” including the department’s use of force practices, procedures during arrests, and conduct during protests, according to the Associated Press. 

“The jury in the state trial of Derek Chauvin has fulfilled its civic duty and rendered a verdict convicting him on all counts,” Garland said in a statement following the verdict in the Chauvin trial. “While the state’s prosecution was successful, I know that nothing can fill the void that the loved ones of George Floyd have felt since his death.” 

This new probe follows a separate, ongoing DOJ civil rights investigation into Floyd’s murder itself. In February, the DOJ impaneled a federal grand jury in that probe. 

Read more: Mueller’s proteges are landing top spots in the Biden Justice Department

Floyd’s death is among several high-profile deaths of Black men at the hands of law enforcement in the Minneapolis area, including the death of Philando Castile in 2016 and the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on April 11.

The Minneapolis Police Department was also audited by the DOJ in 2014 over its policing practices, with a focus on “goals set by MPD including improving police accountability and preventing officer misconduct.”

Garland, who is focusing the DOJ’s efforts on enhancing civil rights, recently rescinded Trump-era guidance limiting the DOJ’s ability to enter into consent decrees with police departments accused of systemic misconduct and wrongdoing. 

Under the Obama administration, the DOJ entered in consent decrees with police departments in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, following the deaths of Black men at the hands of police in those cities. 

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