She Tried To Report On Climate Change. Sinclair Told Her To Be More "Balanced."

Sun, 22 Apr 2018 12:17:17 -0400

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Sinclair Broadcast Group executives reprimanded and ultimately ousted a local news reporter who refused to seed doubt about man-made climate change and “balance” her stories in a more conservative direction.

Her account, detailed in company documents she provided to BuzzFeed News, offers a glimpse at the inner workings of a media giant that has sought to both ingratiate itself to President Donald Trump and cast itself as an apolitical local news provider — a position the documents undermine.

In one 2015 instance, the former news director of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, Len Stevens, criticized reporter Suri Crowe because she “clearly laid out the argument that human activities cause global warming, but had nothing from the side that questions the science behind such claims and points to more natural causes for such warming.”

In recent months, Sinclair has garnered intense national attention for forcing stations across the country to carry pro-Trump, “must-run” segments and instructing anchors to read statements touting conservative talking points. Sinclair, which owns local TV stations “affiliated” with name-brand networks like Fox or ABC, has defended the segments and noted they are a small part of its stations’ overall coverage — but Crowe’s experience as a general assignment reporter demonstrates how the parent company’s ideology can permeate throughout local news reporting.

She faced discipline for social media posts and restrictions in reporting on guns, white nationalism, and Liberty University, she said. Company documents do criticize some of her work as unfair and her behavior as unprofessional at times. Overall, the documents provide an unusually close look at one reporter’s experience working for a Sinclair station, and how the smallest details mattered and were recorded.

Crowe told BuzzFeed News that before the October 2015 climate change segment aired, she was ordered by Stevens to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter. “When I instructed you to balance the story, by including some of [the] other argument, you insisted there was no need to add such balance to the story,” he wrote in her Jan. 22, 2016, performance review.

"That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there."

A veteran reporter who has worked at news stations in Texas and Virginia, Crowe said she viewed the story as environmental — not two-sided or political. “I was always covering the flu. I don’t remember a time when for balance I went out to a group of 20 people who are nutjobs that say flu shots kill,” she told BuzzFeed News. The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and humans are largely to blame, but Crowe ultimately read the updated, “balanced” script on air. “That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there,” she said.

“The management team felt the story was one-sided — indicating that human activity is to blame for global warming — period,” said Stevens, who now works in the communications department at Liberty University, in an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News. “I understand most scientists agree with that assessment. I, myself, feel that human activity at least plays a role, but our opinions really shouldn’t matter. We were there to deliver news, not opinion. And there is NOT 100% agreement on this issue, even among the scientific community.”

Crowe was, in retrospect, struck that Trump’s thoughts were included before he was even his party’s nominee, but Stevens defended the decision. “It was simply a statement — in the headlines at that time — that provided some balance, some reference to the other side of the argument. That side does exist,” he said. “The same would hold true for any hot button issue — Gun Control, Abortion, the Death Penalty, etc.”

Crowe, 49, says she was badly shaken by her time at Sinclair. She left the news business but decided to speak on the record so other reporters and news consumers would know about what can happen when Sinclair takes over a local outlet. The largest owner of TV stations in the country, Sinclair is poised to expand even more through the $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media, which could grant it a foothold in major US cities like Los Angeles and expand its reach to 72% of American homes.

Last year, Crowe’s contract was not renewed and she was forced out of WSET, an ABC-affiliated TV station owned by the company. “We do not comment on individual cases regarding past employees,” said Ronn Torossian, a spokesperson for Sinclair. “We do always maintain high standards for balanced, fact-based reporting.”

“After I left, I just didn’t want to go back to news,” Crowe said. “Now I feel like I’m more committed to journalism than ever. We really have to fight for journalism — it’s worth the fight.”

Suri Crowe in Virginia on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Matt Eich for BuzzFeed News

Crowe spent the early part of her reporting career in local markets in Texas in the 1990s, covering federal court cases, murders, drug trafficking along the border, and then-governor George W. Bush. “He was a pleasure to cover — a very kind and decent man,” Crowe said. “I enjoyed my relationship with that whole Republican changeup in Austin.”

She left journalism to work in pharmaceutical sales for Pfizer, but returned to other TV stations in Virginia before landing a three-year contract with WSET in 2014. At the time, Sinclair was in the process of acquiring a handful of stations owned by Allbritton, including WSET and the broadcaster’s flagship, WJLA, in Washington, DC. Though Crowe’s position fell in the medium-sized Roanoke-Lynchburg TV market, she was advised by a mentor at Sinclair that the company’s expanding footprint would set her up to move to a market like DC afterward.

"It’s always been a conservative station. We’re right in the Bible Belt. It went beyond that when Sinclair took over."

Former employees said that WSET’s coverage has long focused on the Lynchburg side of the area, where the station is located (unlike the rival broadcasters). “The market strategy was to really not fret about the western half of the market, but to own your backyard counties because there was no competition,” said one former staffer. “That is a far more conservative half — versus the Virginia Tech area.”

“It’s always been a conservative station. We’re right in the Bible Belt,” said another former employee. But Sinclair’s grip on local coverage became clearer to employees after the takeover. “It went beyond that when Sinclair took over,” the former employee said. “It became: ‘This is what we have to do.’ In our morning editorial meetings, anything that went against anything that corporate wanted was just shot down.”

Crowe, for her part, battled with her bosses over political and nonpolitical issues. Younger reporters counted Lynchburg as a “starter” market, but Crowe’s colleagues said she was an outspoken, experienced journalist who wanted to do nationally minded stories. She clashed with management, former employees said, particularly over what exactly constitutes balanced coverage.

“Your story on proposed gun legislation was not balanced,” Stevens wrote in Crowe’s performance review. “You wrote of the proposed gun restrictions, ‘Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not to those in charge of passing new gun laws.’ And that tone is carried throughout the story. Another line: ‘Several polls show the majority of Virginians are in favor of tighter restrictions on gun purchases... But Republican lawmakers in Richmond... won’t go for it.’”

On another gun story about the state attorney general’s decision to revoke a reciprocity agreement with other states for concealed carry permits, Stevens wrote that the sum total Crowe offered the other side was a single sentence: “The NRA on the other hand released a statement condemning the attorney general’s decision.” Stevens added that Crowe “had access to the press release sent by the NRA, yet included nothing from the actual statement... This kind of approach damages our reputation as a fair and balanced news organization.”

"I would tell the reporters ‘just give me something I can defend,’ because I was the one who would take the angry calls from viewers."

“I would tell the reporters ‘just give me something I can defend,’ because I was the one who would take the angry calls from viewers if they felt we weren’t giving a fair treatment to ‘their side’ on a particular issue,” Stevens told BuzzFeed News. “When a story was balanced enough, I could simply read it back to the caller, word for word, and highlight to them how all sides were represented. Most often, the caller would agree, thank me for taking the time to explain, and promise to keep watching. Those interactions protected that newsroom’s credibility. Almost everyone there understood this need for balance, agreed with it, and followed through. Any reporter who would outright refuse to balance their stories would certainly get extra oversight and possibly remedial action.”

The review highlighted other complaints, including that Crowe had been late to news shoots and that she had acted unprofessionally with the Lynchburg Police Department. “[An] officer describes a pattern of inappropriate behavior in his time dealing with you, including: ‘overstepping bounds, drama, unprofessional texts, emails, calls, etc.,’” Stevens wrote. One officer had indicated Crowe had “looked very angry” and “looked irritated the entire time you were with him, that you ignored him, and that you got basic facts of the story incorrect.”

In a written response to her review, Crowe said that she was being unfairly targeted. Lots of stories, she told BuzzFeed News, got cut for space, diminishing time given to both sides. Crowe wrote in her response to Stevens that she had also “on multiple occasions reported on ‘pro-gun’ stories,” including a December 2015 pitch about Republicans in Campbell County wanting to pass a pro-gun resolution. “I didn’t have an anti–gun violence side there — and Mr. Stevens had no problem with that story.”

According to Crowe, her relationship with the police department was fine — at times adversarial, but that comes with being a reporter — and she felt horrified that station management would not come to her defense. Crowe’s response continued: “This appraisal is not really about my performance. This is really a character and professional assassination of me because I am a woman. A very good reporter who is not afraid to ask the difficult questions of a police department during a year when so many police departments have been under fire,” she wrote. “If you want me out so much, let me go without any restrictive covenants and I will start looking today for another job.”

Suri Crowe in Virginia on Thursday, April 19, 2018.

Matt Eich for BuzzFeed News

As Sinclair’s corporate control intensified, some employees at WSET began to quietly worry about the introduction of the company’s now infamous “must-run” clips. The segments, produced by the parent company, included a “Terrorism Alert Desk” rounding up terror incidents from around the globe, as well as political diatribes from former Trump official Boris Epshteyn. Inside the newsroom, employees who viewed the segments negatively mostly kept quiet. “We would see a must-run, and we would all glance at each other, but that was about it,” said a former staffer. Some reporters in the field chafed at the must-runs not for political reasons, but because it meant they had less time for their own stories.

The segments also exposed a generational divide. “Half of the newsroom was pretty vocal about drinking the Kool-Aid, and they were all the old people,” one of the former employees said. “I think the general consensus and attitude was that they were probably doing it because they liked their jobs. It was scary to watch.”

Earlier this month, Sinclair’s must-runs came under sharp national scrutiny when Deadspin stitched together a video showing dozens of local TV anchors delivering the same speech about media bias in unison. Critics said that the anchors looked like hostages. Journalism schools sent a letter to Sinclair blasting the video. The clip ricocheted around Hollywood, with liberal actor Amy Schumer canceling a planned interview with Sinclair’s DC station. Former Sinclair employees began speaking out — like one reporter in Florida who told Bloomberg he was ordered to conduct politically tinted “man on the street” interviews.

As the media storm intensified, Sinclair battled back. David Smith, Sinclair’s chair, emailed the New York Times that the must-runs were similar to stations running late-night shows from their affiliated network. The company then ran a banner on the websites of every one of its local stations linking to a YouTube video attacking CNN’s “hypocritical” coverage of the incident.

Despite her negative performance review, Crowe remained in her contract at WSET, and in April 2016, she won a Virginias Associated Press Broadcasters award for coverage of animal inspection violations at a roadside zoo. Crowe’s reporter “reel” from her time at WSET compiles some of her stories, from local weather events to political rallies to an investigation on why a local shelter euthanized a dog set for adoption.

Stevens, the news director from the Allbritton and early Sinclair era, joined Liberty University when he left WSET in 2016. But Crowe continued to feud with the new management, including news director Scott Nichols.

Crowe told BuzzFeed News that she pitched a story about the rise of white supremacists in the area who she said she could get on camera for an interview. According to Crowe, Nichols told her that he didn’t see the news value. The piece would have been prescient, Crowe now says, because she offered the idea well before the race-fueled clashes in nearby Charlottesville that would bring national attention to the region.

Nichols did not return a request for comment for this story.

Crowe also claimed she was called off from digging into potential Title IX issues at Liberty University, a topic that was later covered at length in the local media. Crowe attributed the decision to close ties between WSET at the evangelical university, which is led by Jerry Falwell Jr., an ardent Trump supporter.

“We leave Liberty alone,” said another former employee. “It’s like Liberty is untouchable.”

Stevens disagreed. “When I was in that newsroom, we treated Liberty the same as any other institution, sometimes drawing the ire of university leadership. We were tough but fair and we covered a lot of Liberty news,” he said. “In fact, in my current position at Liberty, I’ve noticed no drop-off in interest by WSET in Liberty-related stories of all stripes.”

By early 2017, Crowe said she believed that Sinclair executives were seeking to build a case against her — in writing — so that they could eventually force her out of the company.

On Jan. 24, Nichols emailed Crowe to reprimand her for two tweets posted on her personal Twitter account that were in violation of Sinclair’s social media policy. “With record unemployment, job creation, lower crime rates and booming stock markets — what America is @realDonaldTrump seeing?” Crowe quote-tweeted along with a Vanity Fair article about Trump’s “dark, raw, partisan” inaugural speech, which depicted an America in crisis. Crowe also quote-tweeted President Obama’s outgoing farewell tweet with three heart emojis.

“Someone could interpret your tweets and re-tweets as media bias because a majority of them are anti-Trump and pro-Obama,” Nichols wrote in an email. “It’s OK to hold those in power accountable. But your tweets and re-tweets should cover a wide breadth of topics, not just point out what some say President Trump is doing wrong. You say you are not biased, and I appreciate that. But you don’t want to have the ‘appearance’ of bias either.”

Crowe responded in an email: “I do tweet on a wide range of topics — I also put hearts next to a social media post regarding the Bushes recovering — am I to understand one positive for the GOP is okay — but certainly not for the other side?”

"What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t outright quit because I was in a contract."

On her social media accounts — particularly since she left the news business — Crowe frequently posts and retweets negative comments about the president and Republicans and in favor of liberal causes. Her politics are no secret. Crowe told BuzzFeed News that she recognizes by coming forward, critics will point to her personal beliefs, but she said that as a reporter her opinions were separate from her work. “People will say, ‘She’s so obviously liberal, she hates Trump, loves Obama,’” Crowe said. “This is the thing. I have never been accused of imbalanced reporting in my effing life until I got to that station.”

“Suri is a good journalist,” said one of her former colleagues. “It wasn't like she was trying to go out for the left. It boiled down to the corporate [structure] that we were under and also our area, where management is just thinking, ‘That's not going to fly here.’”

On Feb. 24 of last year, Nichols sent Crowe a “last chance agreement.”

“Certain aspects of your job performance have been unsatisfactory,” he wrote. Nichols reprimanded Crowe for an incident earlier that month where Crowe called animal control on a family while shooting a story about them. (Crowe said that she filed an anonymous tip because she viewed the situation as dangerous.) Nichols wrote that Crowe had left work early and also brought up incidents of “your apparent bias in your social media accounts.”

“What they were doing is manufacturing incidents to target me. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t outright quit because I was in a contract,” she said. Crowe had wanted to leave for some time, she said, but feared owing the company money or being blackballed from other stations for breaking an agreement.

Toward the end of the contract, Crowe said she was whisked into a room and told that the company had exercised an escape hatch to force her out early. It was her last day at Sinclair and, as it happened, her last day in the news business. She now works in the health and fitness industry.

“I believe the ire at me was politically tainted,” Crowe said. “If they perceived you as a liberal, or someone not going along with that whole credo, then you are done.” ●

Link :

Bernie Forces Ask Clinton And Top Democrats To Recommit To Cutting Superdelegates

Sat, 21 Apr 2018 18:21:25 -0400

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Andrew Harnik / AP

A top Bernie Sanders official is asking Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton, to sign a draft letter recommitting to vastly shrinking or effectively eliminating the party’s controversial “superdelegates” system — and ultimately changing the presidential nominating process.

The Sanders ally, his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, is in talks with Clinton’s team about the letter, and also plans to solicit signatures from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, and DNC vice chair Rep. Keith Ellison, according to two people familiar with the undertaking.

The effort to make Democratic primaries more fair — a process that has spanned two years, two committees, and dozens of arcane rules about how to make changes to the rules — is nearing its long-awaited end. Next month, the party’s Rules & Bylaws Committee convenes to begin drafting the final language that DNC members will or will not approve in a vote this summer.

At stake is the future of “superdelegates,” the 700 or so party leaders entitled to cast votes as “unpledged delegates” for the candidate of their choosing.

“We believe that the passage of these reforms is a fundamental and necessary step in re-establishing faith with those who have lost confidence in the Party as a vehicle for change,” reads the draft of the letter, obtained on Friday. “Now is the time to go forward, not backward.”

Weaver declined to comment. A spokesperson for Clinton also declined to comment when asked whether the former Democratic nominee would sign her name to the letter. When contacted, Pelosi and Schumer aides said they hadn’t been aware of Weaver’s letter.

A DNC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Weaver’s draft letter — meant to lock in public support for shrinking that system — would show Clinton, Sanders, and other party leaders reiterating their commitment to proposals put forward during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was there, in Philadelphia, that officials from the two rival campaigns formed the Unity Reform Commission, a 21-member committee tasked with proposing specific changes to rules around delegate allocation, caucuses, and primaries — a set of compromises hashed out by Clinton and Sanders allies ahead of the convention.

Among them was a proposal to effectively reduce superdelegates by about 60%.

Under the existing system for choosing a Democratic nominee, candidates vie for "pledged delegates" by competing in caucuses and primaries, which award delegates based on performance. Later on, at the convention, superdelegates or “unpledged delegates” can vote for however they want. Superdelegates include the 447 members of the DNC; Democratic governors, US senators, and members of Congress; and “distinguished leaders” like former presidents, vice presidents, and party chairs.

The Unity Reform Commission proposal would strip just DNC members of their superdelegate votes during the first and main round of voting at the convention. (In the rare case of a second round of voting, all superdelegates would be unbound, free to support any candidate.)

The superdelegate debate, led by Sanders supporters who felt the system unfairly favored Clinton, has now moved to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, where officials put forward a final set of proposed rules changes.

Committee members remain divided on the idea of a 60% reduction: Some, like longtime party leader Leah Daughtry, support eliminating superdelegates altogether on a first ballot convention vote.

Others see superdelegates as a crucial part of the primary system — a safeguard against nominees like President Trump, said one Rules and Bylaws member, Elaine Kamarck, a DNC member who has studied presidential politics for decades.

Kamarck has backed the original Unity Reform Commission proposal, but also made clear that she believes that, in the long term, more so-called “peer review” by veteran party leaders produces stronger presidential nominees. In a forthcoming study for New York University’s law journal, she said, she will propose a number of changes to the nominating system, from an increase in superdelegates to a new pre-primary endorsement process where the party’s top elected officials would meet with the candidates, question their positions, and issue votes of confidence or no-confidence. Candidates who fail to meet a certain threshold would be barred from debates or from a spot on the ballot, depending on how the party decided to structure the system, she said.

“This whole idea runs completely counter to where the public is,” Kamarck admitted, referring to the broad support particularly among Sanders supporters for a reduction in superdelegates. “However, if the Trump presidency crashes and burns and takes the GOP with it, which is not unrealistic, this dialogue will start.”

When the Rules and Bylaws Committee meets next month in Washington, members will also weigh whether changes should be made to the DNC’s rules, or to its charter document — a distinction that will determine the vote threshold needed at a final vote later this year. Rules changes require a simple majority of DNC members. Charter changes, considered to be more permanent, require a two-thirds majority.

LINK: Democrats Are Considering Dropping Superdelegates Altogether

LINK: All You Need To Know About This Weekend's Vote To Change The Democratic 2020 Primary Process

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Trump Kept Saying He Didn't Stay Overnight In Moscow In 2013, According To Comey's Memos. But He Did.

Fri, 20 Apr 2018 18:43:36 -0400

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

In two of James Comey's memos about his interactions with President Donald Trump, the former FBI director says that Trump made a point to tell him that he didn't stay overnight in Moscow when he was there for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.

Trump himself, however, said he spent the "weekend" in Moscow surrounding the Saturday evening event — and contemporaneous information about the event (in addition to subsequent reporting) makes clear that Trump spent at least one night, and likely two nights, in Moscow during the trip.

On the Monday morning after returning from Moscow, Trump tweeted to his partner in hosting the pageant in Moscow, Aras Agalarov, that he had enjoyed his weekend there.

So, what is this all about? In Comey's memos, he details that Trump, on two occasions, told the then-FBI director that he didn't spend the night in Moscow in 2013 — part of the president's response to and insistence that claims made in the "Steele dossier" couldn't possibly be true.

The first time Trump made the claim, in Comey's telling, was during a one-on-one dinner between the two men that took place in the Green Room of the White House on Jan. 27, 2017.

The first time Trump made the claim, in Comey's telling, was during a one-on-one dinner between the two men that took place in the Green Room of the White House on Jan. 27, 2017.

Comey wrote that Trump then raised the claim again in the Oval Office a week and a half later, on Feb. 8 — with then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus in attendance.

Comey wrote that Trump then raised the claim again in the Oval Office a week and a half later, on Feb. 8 — with then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus in attendance.

What actually happened? Social media posts from that weekend alone show how unbelievable it is that Trump claims he didn't stay overnight.

On Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, Agalarov's son, Emin, posted an Instagram photo of Trump's arrival at Crocus City Hall — the Agalarovs' venue where the pageant was held.

Instagram: @eminofficial

At some point while in Moscow, Trump also helped film a scene for Emin's next video.

At some point while in Moscow, Trump also helped film a scene for Emin's next video.


LINK: The Comey Memos Have Been Released. Here’s What He Said About Trump.

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Cory Booker Wants The Social Justice Mantle On Marijuana

Fri, 20 Apr 2018 17:55:31 -0400

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Eric Thayer / Reuters

Cory Booker brought his campaign to make legalized marijuana a centerpiece of the movements for social and racial justice to Al Sharpton’s annual convention, a notable venue ahead of the 2020 campaign.

Marijuana, Booker told the assembled group of faith leaders at the National Action Network, has been legal for white people who use without fear of punishment, and that legislative action should center on undoing the damage of prohibition, rather than expanding access for investors.

While other speakers — including the president of the NAACP — were warned by Sharpton that they must be brief, Booker seemed to have all of the time he wanted. Booker himself adopted a preacher’s cadence while flanked by Sharpton, and covered a range of topics, putting a social justice lens on issues from climate change to the economy. But if there was a focal point of Booker’s speech, it was the criminal justice system, which he described as “the biggest cancer on the soul of this county.”

“I hear all these people want to talk about legalizing marijuana,” Booker said in his speech, delivered the day after Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer backed decriminalizing marijuana in an interview with Vice News.

“Well,” the senator went on, “marijuana has been legal for the people of privilege in this country for a long time. Because they don't get arrested. They don't get stopped. There’s nobody stoppin’ and friskin’ on college campuses. Stanford and Harvard and Princeton — there’s a lot of drugs there, but there’s no FBI sting operation. They’re coming into our communities, coming into communities like mine.”

The former Newark, New Jersey, mayor — one of several potential presidential candidates who spoke at Sharpton’s conference Friday — told the crowd that he is the only US senator who “lives in an inner-city community in a majority black city.” Booker has been beating the drum on injustice and inequality for some time on cannabis, and his bill, the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, represents an advocate’s wish list of reparative action. Though the bill has merited several high-profile cosponsors (e.g., Bernie Sanders), given his prominent role, Schumer’s plans to develop legislation seem poised to attract a potentially wider audience in Congress.

The parade of national Democrats at Sharpton’s annual convention included Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren. But perhaps none of them engaged the crowd more than Booker, who laughed, then brushed off a question about whether he felt he had won the day.

Unlike 2007, when the press dubbed the similarly well-attended event the “Sharpton Primary,” the overall frame for the day was less overtly about winning political support inside the room, and more outside-looking. Sharpton emphasized the intersection of the 50th anniversary of the death Martin Luther King Jr. and Trumpism, a political force he argues is actively working to undo what King fought for.

Asked about powerful Democrats coming forward recently in support of decriminalization, Booker told BuzzFeed News, “As this movement grows it should not just be about access to marijuana, it should be about expunging records, reinvesting in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and restorative justice and it’s just not right now.”

Booker told reporters Schumer’s announcement Thursday was an “extraordinary” move, but referred to an Instagram post in which he said, “As states are moving to legalize marijuana, most are not expunging the records of the thousands of people who have criminal convictions for marijuana possession, use or distribution crimes.”

LINK: The Biggest Names In Democratic Politics Are Just Straight-Up Calling For Legalized Marijuana

LINK: Jeff Sessions Is Making Congress Mad With His Pot Policy, And It May Backfire

Link :

The Comey Memos Have Been Released. Here’s What He Said About Trump.

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 19:48:26 -0400

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President Trump and James Comey.

Carlos Barria / Reuters

In a series of memos documenting his interactions with President Donald Trump, former FBI director James Comey wrote that Trump had expressed repeated concerns about allegations against him, anger over leaks from within the government, and a desire to see an end to any investigation of his then-former national security adviser.

The memos, written during Comey’s final months as FBI director, were publicly released Thursday night after the Justice Department sent copies of the notes to congressional leaders. The Associated Press first obtained a copy of the memos and made them publicly available.

Trump quickly responded on Twitter on Thursday night — not complaining about the leak, but instead putting his spin on what they show.

The memos shed light on how quickly into his time in office Trump was beginning to become frustrated with questions of whether there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. In a memo detailing a phone call with Trump on March 30, 2017, Comey wrote, "He then said he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult."

The call followed several interactions with Trump that Comey has discussed in a congressional hearing, in his new book, and in interviews that he has said he put down in memos shortly after they happened to capture his immediate recollection of them.

Jan. 6, 2017: The (Other) Trump Tower Meeting

Jan. 6, 2017: The (Other) Trump Tower Meeting


The first memo details Comey's meeting with then-president-elect Trump at Trump Tower on Jan. 6, 2017. It was at that meeting that he told Trump — in a one-on-one setting — about the "inflammatory stuff," as Comey put it, in the dossier about Trump prepared by Christopher Steele during the election in his work for Fusion GPS.

“I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013. He interjected, ‘there were no prostitutes; there were never prostitutes,’” Comey wrote, adding that, “I said I wasn’t saying this was true, only that I wanted him to know both that it had been reported and that the reports were in many hands. I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook.”

Later in that conversation, Comey noted of Trump, “He then started talking about all the women who had falsely accused him of grabbing or touching them (with particular mention of a ‘stripper’ who said he grabbed her) and gave me the sense that he was defending himself to me. I responded that we were not investigating him and the stuff might be totally made up but it was being said out of Russia and our job was to protect the President from efforts to coerce him.”

In an email sent the next day, Comey wrote that he had written the memo “in the vehicle immediately upon exiting Trump Tower.”

Jan. 27, 2017: The Green Room Dinner

Jan. 27, 2017: The Green Room Dinner


The next memo detailed a Jan. 27, 2017, dinner that Trump and Comey ate in the Green Room of the White House. It is at this 80-minute dinner, per Comey’s memo, that Trump “replied that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty.” Comey continued, “I did not reply, or even nod or change my facial expression, which he noted because we came back to it later.”

Later, Comey wrote, Trump returned to the topic, writing that Trump said, “I need loyalty.” Comey continued, “I replied that he would always get honesty from me. He paused and said that’s what he wants, ‘honest loyalty.’ I replied, ‘you will get that from me.’ (It is possible we understood that phrase differently, but I chose to understand it as consistent with what I had said throughout the conversation: I will serve the President with loyalty to the office, the country, and the truth. I decided it would not be productive to push the subject further.)”

Trump also, at that dinner, “turned to what he called the ‘golden showers thing’ and … repeated that it was a complete fabrication and ‘fake news,’” Comey wrote. “He said it bothered him if his wife thought there was even a one percent chance it was true in any respect.”

Trump also, per Comey's telling, recalled a story about his then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, concluding that Trump told him that “the guy” — Flynn — “has serious judgment issues.”

Less than three weeks later, on Feb. 13, Flynn would resign.

Feb. 8, 2017: The Priebus Meeting

Feb. 8, 2017: The Priebus Meeting


Another encounter that Comey details with Trump began with what he describes as a “meet and greet” with then-chief of staff Reince Priebus on the afternoon of Feb. 8. In the meeting with Priebus, per Comey's memo, they talked about a variety of subjects including the travel ban, leaks, Flynn, and the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server.

That meeting, however, also included stopping by the Oval Office — at which time Trump raised, for a second time, per Comey, Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director who Sessions later fired. Comey wrote, “I again explained that Andy McCabe is a pro.”

Trump then raised leaks and “the ‘Golden Showers thing,’” per Comey. “The President said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense but that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin had told him ‘we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world,’” Comey wrote, noting that Trump did not say when Putin had said that.

Feb. 14, 2017: The Oval Office Meeting

Feb. 14, 2017: The Oval Office Meeting


In detailing the Feb. 14 meeting at the Oval Office where Trump asked to speak with Comey alone, Comey wrote, “He began by saying he wanted to ‘talk about Mike Flynn.’ He then said that although Flynn ‘hadn’t done anything wrong’ in his call with the Russians (a point he made at least two more times in the conversation), he had to let him go because he misled the Vice President, whom he described as ‘a good guy.’”

Later, Comey wrote, Trump returned to the topic of Flynn. “He said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ I replied by saying, ‘I agree he is a good guy,’ but said no more.”

Relating to Flynn and other news stories, the Feb. 14 conversation also covered leaks — and both Comey and Trump’s anger about them.

“I said I was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message,” Comey wrote. “I said something about it being difficult and he replied that we need to go after the reporters, and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago we put them in jail to find out what they know, and it worked. He mentioned Judy Miller by name.

“I explained that I was a fan of pursuing leaks aggressively but that going after reporters was tricky, for legal reasons and because the DOJ tends to approach it conservatively,” Comey continued. “He replied by telling me to talk to ‘Sessions’ and see what we can do about being more aggressive. I told him I would speak to the Attorney General.”

March 1, 2017: “Call from POTUS”

March 1, 2017: “Call from POTUS”


One “memo” is just a short email detailing a quick March 1 call Comey got from Trump, discussing Sessions' start as attorney general and a few other general topics.

As Comey concluded the email, sent to his chief of staff, “That's it.”

March 30, 2017: The “Cloud” Call

March 30, 2017: The “Cloud” Call


In the March 30 call where Trump talked about the “cloud” of the Russia investigation, Comey wrote that Trump “asked what he could do to lift the cloud,” prompting Comey to write, “I explained that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work.”

Comey also wrote that he reiterated that the FBI wasn't investigating Trump. “He said it would be great if that could get out and several times asked me to find a way to get that out.”

Trump closed the call, Comey wrote, by reiterating how “the cloud was hurting him” and how he “hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn't being investigated.”

That call, Comey noted, led to a follow-up call later that morning to then-acting deputy attorney general Dana Boente, who was overseeing the Russia investigation due to Sessions' recusal. Comey wrote that he informed him of the substance of Trump's call “and said I was telling him so he could decide what guidance to give me, if any.”

April 11, 2017: The Final Call

April 11, 2017: The Final Call


The final memo details an April 11 call that Comey wrote was him returning a call from Trump.

“He said he was following up to see if I did what he had asked last time — getting out that he personally is not under investigation,” Comey wrote of Trump. “I replied that I had passed the request to [Dana Boente] and had not heard back from him."

Less than a month later, on May 9, Trump would fire Comey.

The release of the memos to congressional leaders is the latest in a now-recurring pattern of House Republican leaders pressing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on a question of document access relating to ongoing Capitol Hill investigations, followed by ultimatums or outright threats from some of those leaders, followed by the Justice Department ultimately providing access to the document in question.

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sent the Thursday letter — which contained redacted versions of the memos — to members of Congress. An unredacted version of the memos, which contain classified information, will be available to members of the relevant committees on Friday, Boyd wrote.

The Justice Department provided a copy of Boyd's memo, but not the attached Comey memos, to members of the media.

The department released the memos to Reps. Robert Goodlatte, Trey Gowdy, and Devin Nunes — who had written to Rosenstein on April 13 seeking the memos and writing that “[t]here is no legal basis for withholding these materials from Congress” — along with other House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders.

The three men are the Republican chairs of the House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Intelligence committees, respectively, and have been critical of Rosenstein — particularly in recent weeks as Trump's criticism of Rosenstein had risen.

Boyd addressed the “unusual” nature of the decision to release documents that are part of an ongoing investigation.

“In light of the unusual events occurring since the previous limited disclosure” — which had allowed certain members to review them and agree not to further disclose the information — “the [DOJ] has consulted the relevant parties and concluded that the release of the memoranda to Congress at this time would not adversely impact any ongoing investigation or other confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch,” Boyd wrote.

He added, however, that the move “does not alter the Department's traditional obligation to protect from public disclosure witness statements and other documents obtained during an ongoing investigation.”

In a joint response, Goodlatte, Gowdy, and Nunes wrote, “We have long argued former Director Comey's self-styled memos should be in the public domain, subject to any classification redactions. These memos are significant for both what is in them and what is not.”

Specifically, “The memos ... show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened,” the trio stated. “As we have consistently said, rather than making a criminal case for obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation, these memos would be Defense Exhibit A should such a charge be made.”

The ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, pushed back against the Republicans' response.

“Director Comey's contemporaneous memos provide strong corroborating evidence of everything he said about President Trump — that the President wanted his personal loyalty, that he wanted to end the Russia investigation, and that he wanted Michael Flynn to walk,” he said in a statement. “President Trump's interference was a blatant effort to deny justice, and Director Comey was right to document it as it happened — in real time.”

A similar unusual event took place at the beginning of the month, when Nunes sent a letter to Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray, regarding information about the start of the counterintelligence investigation regarding Russia that began in 2016. Nunes and Gowdy eventually were given access to the requested information.

Emma Loop and Lissandra Villa contributed reporting.

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The Top Democrat In The Senate Now Supports Decriminalizing Cannabis

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 18:00:25 -0400

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Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Sen. Chuck Schumer now supports decriminalizing cannabis.

Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat, has crafted a broad outline for a bill that includes "removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances" and boosting minority- and women-owned cannabis businesses, according to a copy of the outline Schumer's office shared with BuzzFeed News. Schumer also plans to include in the legislation an investment "to better understand the effects of THC on the brain and the efficacy of medicinal marijuana for specific ailments."

Schumer is working on the legislation himself, his office said, and is not currently in the process of courting cosponsors but has spoken broadly about the outline with other senators. Schumer first made the announcement that he supports decriminalizing cannabis in an interview with Vice News.

In a series of tweets Friday morning, Schumer said he had changed his stance in part because of overwhelming popular support for marijuana legalization.

Schumer's support of decriminalizing the drug will be a huge boost to the national movement to legalize cannabis, which has been picking up steam among both parties. Just last week, John Boehner, the former Republican House majority leader, also announced his support for de-scheduling cannabis, saying he was joining the board of a cannabis company.

"With this announcement, Sen. Schumer has effectively made it clear that a legislative priority for the Democratic Party is to end the federal prohibition of marijuana," said Justin Strekal, political director at National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

There's already a cannabis bill in the Senate: Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, which comes with a litany of other provisions around criminal and racial justice, including reparations for people harmed by the drug war.

But that bill has attracted just three Democratic cosponsors. A more moderate version by Schumer would be more likely to pick up steam in the Senate, even potentially attracting bipartisan support.

In New York, Schumer's home state, actor Cynthia Nixon is running an insurgent primary campaign against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo based in part on her support for legalizing cannabis. She's using Cuomo's track record of opposition to pot, which he once called a "gateway drug," as a weapon against him.

Kate Nocera contributed additional reporting to this story.

LINK: The Biggest Names In Democratic Politics Are Just Straight-Up Calling For Legalized Marijuana

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Democrats Are Nervous (And Republicans Are Excited) About Minnesota

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 13:16:17 -0400

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Trump campaigns in Minnesota before Election Day 2016.

Evan Vucci / AP

Minnesota is the bleeding edge of how Donald Trump is remaking Midwestern politics — and positioned to be the most competitive battleground state in the US for this year’s midterm elections.

Four of the nation’s most competitive House races are in Minnesota. Both Senate seats are on the ballot. A former presidential candidate is running for governor. The state offers a clear look at how voting patterns in rural and suburban Midwestern areas are rapidly changing — just two years after Trump nearly became the first Republican presidential candidate to win there since 1972.

“We truly are the epicenter of the 2018 elections, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time,” said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.

The terrifying part for Democrats is that Minnesota appears to be an anomaly right now. Republicans in other states are at risk of being dragged down by an unpopular president and a national electoral climate that’s expected to be brutal for their party. But Trump’s numbers have not cratered in Minnesota like they have elsewhere. And Republicans have a real chance to flip two House seats in rural parts of the state — the only two Democratic-held seats in the country that the election forecasters at the Cook Political Report consider toss-ups.

National organizations are planning major investments. The Congressional Leadership Fund, an outside spending group aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, already has one field office in the state, with another coming soon. And the Republican Governors Association, encouraged by former governor Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy, recently reserved $2.3 million in October and November television advertising in Minnesota. The early buy is a hedge against crowded airwaves and inflated ad rates this fall.

“By booking this ad reservation ahead of time, the RGA will save considerable resources,” said Jon Thompson, an RGA spokesperson. “With a competitive gubernatorial election, and two targeted Senate races, a massive amount of money could pour into Minnesota.”

Republican Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, is running for his old job this year.

Marcus Ingram / Getty Images

Minnesota bucked the trend of its neighbors in 2016: Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin all went red, leaving it as one of the last industrial Midwest states standing for Democrats. But that slim, 1.5-point victory for Hillary Clinton concealed problems. A state party that has historically prided itself in a broad base of rural voters — it’s called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, after all — is on the precipice of losing them, becoming a party made up solely of the Twin Cities and upscale suburbs.

Take the so-called Iron Range mining country, a longtime Democratic stronghold covering the 8th Congressional District. The area’s deep union roots once made it the heart of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In 2016, a big chunk of the region backed Trump — Itasca County, for instance, voted Republican for the first time since Herbert Hoover. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan survived, though, winning reelection by less than a percentage point. But Nolan announced his retirement this year, and a top Democratic candidate to succeed him dropped out of the race Wednesday.

Nolan’s seat is one of the state’s four toss-ups. Another belongs to Rep. Tim Walz, whose bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination puts his party in deeper jeopardy of losing the Minnesota 1st, which blankets the southern part of the state. Walz’s margin of victory, like Nolan’s in the 8th, was less than 1%. (Trump won both districts by 15 points.)

“The Nolan and Walz open seats are two of the best Republican pickup opportunities in the country, and the Congressional Leadership Fund plans to play there aggressively,” Corry Bliss, executive director of the Ryan-aligned political organization, told BuzzFeed News.

But Republicans also must play aggressively in Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd Districts, which encompass the Minneapolis and St. Paul suburbs and are filled with the kinds of affluent voters Democrats need to offset any losses in the rural, farther-flung parts of the state. Both districts reelected Republicans to the House in 2016. Jason Lewis narrowly won, and Clinton narrowly lost, in the 2nd. Erik Paulsen and Clinton both won comfortably in the 3rd.

CLF has been on the ground in Paulsen’s district since last year and soon will open an office in Nolan’s. But Democrats and Republicans acknowledge the results from the four competitive House districts could be a wash — each party could end up with two seats, just like before — when it comes to determining control of a House that’s very much in play.

Meanwhile, on the Senate level, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has an astronomically high approval rating and is seen as a safe incumbent, is up for reelection this year. Al Franken’s resignation — following accusations of sexual misconduct — has put Minnesota’s other Senate seat in play. Democrats are confident about their chances there, hoping that Klobuchar will pull Tina Smith, Franken’s interim successor and the state’s former lieutenant governor, over the finish line. But they are nervous about the governor's race because of Pawlenty, whose name recognition dwarfs that of any of the Democratic challengers, including Walz, the current frontrunner.

Pawlenty, the last Republican to serve as Minnesota’s governor, has a national profile and donor base — “the pay-attention factor,” said Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the state’s Republican Party — thanks to his unsuccessful run for president six years ago. Much like Democrats are counting on Klobuchar to carry Smith, Republicans expect Pawlenty to have coattails for their Senate and down-ballot candidates.

"A lot of [the national Democratic Party’s] messaging has been anti-Trump, but that’s not a winning strategy in this state."

“Republicans haven't had much luck in statewide races over the last decade in part because we haven't recruited candidates who could raise the necessary resources and be competitive statewide,” said Alex Conant, a national Republican strategist with experience in Minnesota politics and a veteran of Pawlenty’s presidential campaign. “Pawlenty can do both. Down-ballot candidates in Minnesota are breathing easier with Pawlenty in the race. Having a competitive, well-funded Republican candidate for governor will help with turnout everywhere.”

The extent to which Trump can be a factor in any of these races, whether at the statewide or House district level, is uncertain. Many Democrats plan to limit how much they criticize the president, admitting his numbers in the state — which, according to a poll earlier this year conducted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, have remained steady — are a source of anxiety. Trump’s voters are “pretty much solid behind him, at least in Minnesota — they’re still sticking with him,” said Martin, the state DFL chair. “A lot of [the national Democratic Party’s] messaging has been anti-Trump, but that’s not a winning strategy in this state.”

Message-testing that tied Pawlenty to Trump, for example, didn't help Democrats, one strategist in the state said. Instead, it was messages about Pawlenty's cuts to the state budget during his first time in office, particularly education, that resonated with voters, the Democrat said.

Carnahan, the Republican state chair, believes Trump would be an asset on the campaign trail.

“I drive around this state every day, and I talk to people on the ground — not just Republicans, but randomly, at the gas station and the grocery store — and they’re enthused about President Trump,” Carnahan said. “My whole pitch is that Democrats say there’s a blue wave, but there’s no blue wave in Minnesota. What we have in Minnesota is a red tsunami.”

LINK: It's A Former NFL Player Vs. A Donald Trump Acolyte In A Battle For The Soul Of The Republican Party In Ohio

LINK: A Liberal Judge Won In Wisconsin — And That's A Bad Sign For Republicans This Year

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Michael Cohen Drops Lawsuits Against BuzzFeed And Fusion GPS

Thu, 19 Apr 2018 10:20:18 -0400

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Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Donald Trump's personal attorney has dropped a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed over the publication of a "dossier" alleging ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Michael Cohen on Wednesday discontinued a lawsuit against BuzzFeed, which published the full report last year, and a lawsuit against Fusion GPS, a private intelligence firm connected to the dossier. Cohen's decision comes a week after the FBI raided his office and seized documents, putting him in the crosshairs of a criminal investigation.

The decision also comes in advance of a Friday hearing in federal court in Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit in California. In that suit, Cohen is arguing that the litigation she filed against him should be put on hold because the criminal investigation of him means that proceeding could implicate his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

"The decision to voluntarily discontinue these cases was a difficult one," Cohen's attorney David Schwartz told BuzzFeed News. "We believe the defendants defamed my client, and vindicating Mr. Cohen’s rights was — and still remains — important. But given the events that have unfolded, and the time, attention, and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters, despite their merits."

Cohen alleged that the dossier falsely claimed he traveled to Prague for a secret meeting with Russian agents — which he has denied.

“The lawsuits against BuzzFeed over the Steele dossier have never been about the merits of our decision to publish it," BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal said in a statement. "If there's one thing Democrats and Republicans agree on today, it's that the dossier was an important part of the government's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Its interest to the public is, and always has been, obvious. Today's news suggests that Donald Trump's personal lawyer no longer thinks an attack on the free press is worth his time."

Chris Geidner contributed reporting.

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Unions Are Trying To Fix The #MeToo Problem On Political Campaigns

Tue, 17 Apr 2018 18:57:45 -0400

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Rainmaker Photo / MediaPunch / IPx

Say you work on a political campaign.

Say a colleague on that campaign is harassing you, making your daily work environment untenable. Do you file a complaint? Do you even know where to begin? On this campaign, as on most campaigns, there is no human resources department. Now say the colleague harassing you is your boss. Do you feel comfortable going over his head, knowing that you’d break rank in the campaign’s strict hierarchy? Say the colleague is actually the campaign manager. Do you go to another subordinate? To the candidate? Do you fear, even before figuring out how to file a complaint, that stepping forward might harm your career, might label you a “problematic” staffer? Do you worry that, if word ever got out, the complaint might harm the candidate, the cause that drew you to the campaign in the first place? And, in the end, do you tell yourself that it’s better to say nothing, because in political campaigns, you learn early on that, if staffers have one golden rule, it is to never, ever become the story — to keep your head down and just do the work?

Veteran operatives know that, far too often, these questions and fears can easily discourage staffers from reporting sexual harassment and misconduct. The singular culture of campaigns — the long hours, the close relationships, the power dynamics, the fear of being blackballed — has made electoral politics a particularly urgent and complex battleground in the #MeToo movement.

Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, one group of Democrats is proposing a new solution: unionize.

The Campaign Workers Guild, a progressive group that has helped staffers unionize on 12 campaigns and at one consulting firm, has positioned collective bargaining agreements as a roadmap for operatives trying to better navigate issues of workplace misconduct, establishing detailed provisions around the reporting process and a timeline for reviewing complaints.

The first step? “Just admitting that this does happen,” said Meg Reilly, a former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer who now serves as the vice president of CWG, the new guild. “Progressive campaigns are so, so convinced that they’re immune from any type of sexual harassment or racial discrimination, because we all know phrases like ‘male privilege’ or ‘prison industrial complex,’” Reilly said, describing a view on the left she summarized as, “‘We’re so woke.’”

“Don't think that just because you're working for a Bernie-like candidate that those same power dynamics don't exist. Sometimes the power dynamics are even stronger because of this idea that it can't happen here — and if you report it, you're threatening the candidate's chances.”

Robyn Swirling, a Democratic campaign operative who founded Works in Progress, a startup dedicated to ending sexual and gender-based harassment within progressive-based organizations, worked with CWG on language that could “lower the barriers to reporting.”

“Most people feel, and not wrongly,” Swirling said, “that the campaign they're working on would really rather not have these issues surface, and have everyone stay quiet and everyone keep their heads down and do the work. Because the work is why we're there — and that makes things really, really hard, when you have experienced something, to speak up about it.”

Since its launch last summer, CWG has unionized 11 campaigns across races for county council, attorney general, governor, and Congress, ratifying expansive collective bargaining agreements that cover wages, work hours, benefits, and housing, in addition to harassment and workplace conduct. (CWG officials say they’re in the process of negotiating contracts with around 25 other campaigns and “campaign-adjacent organizations,” such as consulting firms.)

“A sexual harassment policy is something everybody’s wanted,” said Reilly. “It just hasn't been done before in the campaign world.”

The contract language on harassment — present in all of the agreements CWG has helped negotiate — specifies where to file a complaint, identifying multiple people on each campaign, including a CWG union representative and a “mutually agreed upon neutral third party.”

The language also stipulates that a complaint may be filed by the alleged victim of misconduct, or a witness to that misconduct. Once a complaint has been made, a multistep timeline steers the process that follows: First, CWG is notified of the complaint immediately. The neutral third party then has seven calendar days to issue a report with findings and recommended actions. At that point, both parties have the chance to “appeal” the report. And throughout the process, the CWG language states, the complainant will not be forced to work directly with the accused.

CWG officials admit they’ve struggled with the idea that the “neutral” third party might end up prioritizing the campaign over the complainant. That role has varied across contracts, Reilly said. In some cases, it’s the campaign’s main consultant. In others, it’s the lawyer or treasurer. (On most races, Reilly said, operatives don’t have the budget to hire an outside lawyer.)

The CWG contracts also ask campaigns to hold lengthy interactive harassment trainings, hosted in person or through a live video service such as Google Hangouts.

Since last fall, when revelations about disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein set off a sweeping movement around workplace misconduct, harassment, and abuses of power, the political world has contended with its own revelations. Women in politics have come forward against powerful lawmakers. Operatives have shared stories about toxic work environments and abusive bosses. And at least some of the party committees in Washington — the entities that oversee political campaigns across the country — have taken new steps to combat harassment.

At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the arm of the party tasked with supporting House races, operatives asked campaigns to sign an agreement that, alongside other provisions, would require “a strong written sexual harassment policy” and “extensive online sexual harassment training,” provided by the DCCC through an outside vendor.

The Democratic National Committee has mandated sexual harassment training for all employees and has encouraged staffers at state parties to take the same training. (A DNC spokesperson said they don’t have the authority legally to mandate training for state parties.)

Officials at the party’s other major committees, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said they’ve strongly encouraged their campaigns to establish clear policies on harassment.

The DCCC’s Republican counterpart, the National Republican Campaign Committee, has also pushed campaigns to adopt strong harassment policies, providing operatives with a handbook that outlines anti-harassment guidelines and complaint procedures, a spokesperson said.

Officials at the three other GOP party committees did not respond to requests for comment.

As Swirling sees it, the steps by Democratic entities are a fine start, but not sufficient. “If you’re not getting specific about what’s required, then you run the risk of people doing this to check a box,” and of policies, she said, “that really just cover the campaign’s ass or the DCCC’s ass.”

What do we do if somebody comes up and says, ‘Somebody on our finance committee grabbed me at a fundraiser?’ Who feels more expendable to that campaign? A 22-year-old, on their first campaign, just trying to staff [the candidate at a fundraiser] — or somebody who's a big enough donor that they're on the finance committee?” Swirling said. “You can't just crib standard anti-harassment policy language from some other organization. We need to think through really specific scenarios that make campaigns different from other workplaces.”

Campaign culture is, as Reilly put, “a petri dish.”

LINK: Staffers At A Top, Bernie-Backed Progressive Firm Have Unionized

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Michael Cohen Also Counts Fox News Host Sean Hannity As A Client, Cohen's Lawyers Announce In Court

Mon, 16 Apr 2018 14:01:43 -0400

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Michael Cohen

Mary Altaffer / AP

President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arrived at the federal court in Manhattan on Monday afternoon for a hearing relating to materials seized from his home, office, and hotel room.

By the time he left, Cohen's previously unnamed client was revealed as being Fox News host Sean Hannity and US District Judge Kimba Wood made clear that Cohen would soon get to see copies of the materials seized from his properties on April 9.

The hearing quickly veered into a dramatic courtroom showdown over the identity of the third legal client Cohen claimed to have had over the past 15 months, in addition to Trump and a former top official at the Republican National Committee. Cohen's lawyers initially fought to keep the client's identity secret, then asked to tell only the judge, claiming the client wanted privacy.

But US District Judge Kimba Wood ordered them to name the client "now." When Hannity’s name was read out, the public gallery gasped and laughed at the news. Several journalists immediately ran out of the courtroom.

Hannity, one of Trump's most vocal defenders who also has private audiences with the president, responded to the announcement shortly thereafter.

"We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael," the Fox News host told the Wall Street Journal.

On his radio show, which was on air as the news came out, Hannity said that Cohen never represented him in any actual matter.

"I never used Michael in any case that involved me and a third party," he said, but added that "we definitely had attorney-client privilege because I asked him for that."

"I've never retained him in the traditional sense," Hannity said, explaining the nature of their relationship. "I've never received an invoice from Michael — never paid legal fees. We occasionally had discussions about legal matters where I wanted his input and perspective. ... I like to have people I can run questions by."

Hannity soon tweeted similar points:

He went on to repeat much of his statement during the final minutes of his Fox show Monday night, adding that his conversations with Cohen "focused almost exclusively on real estate."

Fox News has not responded to questions from BuzzFeed News regarding the disclosure, or whether Hannity's relationship to Cohen posed any conflict of interest. Hannity's show has repeatedly covered the FBI's raid of Cohen's office, and his role Trump's personal attorney.

"My discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions," Hannity said during his show.

The revelation of Hannity's previously undisclosed relationship with Cohen came amid a chaotic second day of hearings in the dispute over records seized by the FBI last week. The federal judge ordered Cohen last week to appear in court Monday, creating a media frenzy outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan as the hearings reconvened.

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the adult film star who is suing Cohen in a separate case, was also in court, telling reporters "it's a Stormy day," before going inside. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was also in attendance.

In a Monday morning filing, Cohen claimed to have had only three legal clients since leaving his job at the Trump Organization last January, including Trump, Elliott Broidy, a major GOP fundraiser, and a third client who went unnamed. Cohen lawyer Todd Harrison argued that "thousands" of documents seized by the government would be protected by attorney-client privilege.

Wood, the judge, pushed back on that claim, and ordered Cohen's lawyers to reveal the identity of the third client, noting its direct relevance to their privilege claims. seized should be protected under attorney-client privilege.

Cohen's lawyers were asking Wood for an order allowing them to get a first crack at the materials seized to determine whether any of it is privileged, or to appoint a special master to review the documents before they are viewed by anyone from the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

The US Attorney's Office, which executed the warrant on Cohen's properties, has instead proposed using so-called "taint team" to conduct the initial review, allowing government lawyers not involved in the Cohen investigation to determine what, if any material, is protected by attorney-client privilege and therefore off-limits to prosecutors.

Cohen's lawyers, from the law firm McDermott Will and Emery, argued that a taint team would be biased in favor of the government, and that appointing a special master would "avoid even a hint of impropriety here in the review of Mr. Cohen’s data and documents."

Trump has also brought in his own lawyers from Spears and Imes to protect his interests as one of Cohen's clients. In a filing on Sunday night, the president's attorneys made clear they believe Cohen and Trump should receive copies of the seized materials first so they can make their own assessment as to what is privileged, before the government begins its review.

In Monday afternoon's hearing, federal prosectors argued that it was, essentially, a “run of the mill case," and that appointing a taint team was standard protocol in these circumstances.

"The only thing that marks this case as unusual, in any respect, is that one of Mr. Cohen’s clients is the president,” said Thomas McKay, of the SDNY US Attorney's Office.

Cohen’s lawyer, Todd Harrison, disagreed. “That’s just not correct. We’re talking about an unprecedented raid on the office and home of the sitting president’s personal attorney.”

Harrison added that while he wasn't accusing the government of any misconduct, the heightened scrutiny on the case made “the appearance of fairness” even more important.

Wood postponed making a decision Monday, denying Cohen and Trump's request for a temporary restraining order to block prosecutors from seeing the evidence, but left open the possibility of a preliminary injunction at a later date.

Laying out the next steps in the case, Wood said the government will put all the documents seized from Cohen in an electronic database, and that Cohen will be given copies.

Once its clear just how many documents there are, and the nature of their content — the FBI raids yielded 10 boxes of documents, as well as hard drives, cellphones, and other electronics — the judge said she would be able to "make a more more intelligent choice whether a taint team handles it or a special master is part of it."

Salvador Hernandez contributed to this report.

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The Florida Governor Primary Is A Big Experiment For How Democrats Run Against Trump

Sun, 15 Apr 2018 16:49:31 -0400

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Don Juan Moore / Getty Images

Each of the top Democratic contenders for governor in Florida is employing a different strategy in how to approach President Donald Trump.

The race’s top candidates — former Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — all are campaigning hard for the Democratic mantle in a state the president won in 2016. Graham’s early campaigning has been heavy on anti-Trump rhetoric, Levine’s has been very light, and Gillum’s balancing somewhere in between. A fourth candidate, businessman Chris King, has like Graham, been critical of Trump.

Since the primary isn’t until Aug. 28 — and polling shows voters aren’t especially familiar with any of the candidates — Florida may offer a great look at what Democratic voters really want from their candidates when it comes to a central question hanging over the party’s national politics: how best to run against the president.

“We don’t yet know what works as it relates to Trump,” said Ashley Walker, a top Democratic strategist who was Barack Obama’s Florida state director in 2012. “He is a brand unto himself and has been fairly successful at rising above political party and establishment, so it’s hard to say what will work against him.” In Florida, the Democratic candidates’ decisions on Trump speak more to their personalities than they do to party doctrine, she said. “I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to do it.”

The race promises to be expensive and closely watched, as well, especially by those with a potential stake in running against Trump next time. Already, former HUD secretary Julian Castro has endorsed Gillum — calling him the Democrat with “the courage of conviction, even when it’s not politically convenient” — and New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand has thrown her support behind Graham. In a statement, a Democratic Governors Association spokesperson, Jared Leopold, noted that the general election would be highly watched, and that “Voters across the country, especially in Florida, are looking for governors who will stand up to bad policies coming out of Washington.”

In practice, Gillum is campaigning for governor as a progressive populist. (He likes to say on the trail that he understands the lived experience of ordinary, working-class Floridians and contends he is the only nonmillionaire in the race.) One of Hillary Clinton’s more effective messengers in 2016, Gillum said in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News that Democrats already ran against Trump and his message in 2016. He thinks turning out voters is the most important thing he can do to win, and while he won’t take hitting Trump “off the table completely,” he said liberals, and voters of color in particular, don’t need to be reminded that Trump’s policies are bad for Florida.

Trump arrives in West Palm.

Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

“Frankly, running against Trump is going to be insufficient to win,” said Gillum. “We have to give voters a reason to turn out, and I trust my chances at being able to move the part of our electorate that is more difficult to turn out in [a] midterm election over anybody in this race on either side.”

Gillum is critical of Graham’s approach on Trump, the most overt anti-Trump strategy in the race. Graham went up this month with a digital ad in which she made six direct mentions of Trump. “Donald Trump is not gonna to be able to stand in my way of doing what's right for the people of Florida,” she said at the end of the ad. Said Gillum: “[It’s like], who are you running against?”

Graham’s campaign even first placed the ad in the same media market as Mar-a-Lago. But it could be a smart strategy for Graham, who is the daughter of a Florida political legend and is a more known entity in Florida who's been elected to Congress before. Strategists observing the race told BuzzFeed News that because she won’t need to work as hard to increase her name ID — and is the only woman candidate in a field of men — coming off the top rope against Trump in her first ad wasn’t a bad idea.

“Of course I’m standing up to Trump,” said Graham in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Not only is Trump deliberately dividing our country at a time we need to be pulling together, but Trump’s policies on everything from health care to protecting our environment are also a direct threat to Florida and our families. Other candidates for governor may choose to avoid Trump, or go soft on Trump, or whatever — but I most certainly will not.”

Graham told BuzzFeed News that since Trump’s election that there has been a shift in Florida. She said the Trump administration has threatened immigrant communities, undermined environmental protections, and shown “cruelty” toward Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

“Others may look at how to deal with Trump through a political lens, calculating the votes or the politics,” said Graham, who added that she views her approach as a duty of vying for the governor’s mansion. “I’m leveling with the people of Florida about the challenges we face with this president in the White House.”

Graham is also seeking to draw a sharp contrast with Philip Levine, a pro-business moderate who her campaign says is soft on Trump.

They’re not alone in that observation. “He almost never fires off press releases or tweets criticizing President Donald Trump or Gov. Rick Scott,” the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times recently wrote. Levine has argued that criticizing Trump is “not a vision,” but he has even avoided direct questions about Trump. Once, he was asked by a local television station about Trump’s disparaging remarks about Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” and what he made of the president, and responded, “Well, I can tell you this: I don't run around the state of Florida talking about President Trump.”

King, the central Florida businessman, meanwhile, campaigned in Little Haiti the day that Trump's remarks were reported, calling them "cruel" and "un-American."

Levine at a post-Parkland rally.

Don Juan Moore / Getty Images

To the question of whether he would appeal to Florida voters by running against Trump, Levine answered, “You know, it’s interesting…I don't run against anybody. I run with my own message. I’m not right, and I’m not left — I’m forward. I’m running as a Democrat but before I’m a Democrat, I’m an American.”

Levine spokesperson Christian Ulvert told BuzzFeed News that Levine, in fact, spent a year campaigning against the president, rejecting the idea that Levine has somehow been soft on Trump; he even talked up a pithy line he said Levine has delivered, making an analogy likening Trump voters to students who were duped into enrolling in Trump University. Ulvert said he instead has campaigned with a message on the economy. Levine went up on TV with an ad on guns, calling Parkland “a wake-up call we can’t ignore,” and on immigration. (“In Washington these days, they’re taking shots at immigrants who devoted their lives to this country.”)

“We’re not running against Donald Trump; we’re running against the policies that are causing Floridians problems and leaving them out of opportunity,” said Ulvert, highlighting Levine’s economic vision and his intent to inject it into the political landscape. “Mayor Levine is prepared to take on the White House on these policy fights.”

If there’s any indicator about how Democrats nationwide who are running for governor may wrestle with Trump this year, it may lie with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who chairs the DGA. Inslee firmly believes that Republican gubernatorial candidates will have to own Trump this cycle and has in interviews expressed dismay that more of them haven’t stood up to Trump.

Inslee himself confronted Trump inside the White House while in Washington, DC, for a meeting of the National Governors Association, telling the president that on the subject of arming educators, “We need to do a little less tweeting and a little more listening.” It was a startling scene, but perhaps one that Inslee — whose actions that day intensified rumors that he is mulling a presidential run in 2020 — believes is an approach that resonates with voters.

LINK: Ohio Democrats Are Worried That The Wrong Governor's Nominee Could Throw Away Their Shot At Turning Ohio Blue

LINK: A Texas Democratic Primary Has Turned Ugly — And It Could Be A Preview Of What Competitive Races Look Like

Link :

Ohio Democrats Are Worried That The Wrong Governor's Nominee Could Throw Away Their Shot At Turning Ohio Blue

Sat, 14 Apr 2018 18:00:03 -0400

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Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich shake hands at this week's primary debate.

John Minchillo / AP

Under the dim venue lights of the Newport Music Theater just across the street from Ohio State University, college students stood in the pit talking about purchasing caps and gowns for graduation, Democratic socialists on campus, and their admiration of progressive star Senator Elizabeth Warren just before she took the stage to stump for Richard Cordray — who’s running in the tighter-than-expected Democratic primary for governor.

"Let's face it, Rich is not flashy. He's a nerd. Just like me," Warren said to a crowd peppered with nearly the same amount of “nevertheless she persisted” gear as Cordray-Sutton signs. "He's quiet, he's unassuming, he's humble, but deep down there is a fighter and not just any kind of fighter. Rich is the kind of fighter I love. He is a fearless fighter. My kind of man.”

Cordray’s speech wasn't, in fact, flashy — nor was the response from the college students for much of the speech — but later Friday night when the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stood before the Ohio Democratic Party’s Legacy Dinner, the crowd of party officials and insiders greeted him with a raucous welcome.

It’s the hope for some of them that Cordray will prevail in the early May primary and — leveraging liberal enthusiasm, the chaos of the Trump administration, and the recent resignation of the Republican state speaker of the house — then go onto win in November, giving Democrats the upper hand in Ohio’s redistricting.

But another candidate — Dennis Kucinich — has potentially disrupted the plans of many national and state Democrats. The primary has put the two progressive heavy hitters at odds over who’s best fit to be at the top of the ticket, splitting key endorsements, attracting national attention, and offering maybe the highest profile midterm example of Democrats wrestling with just how progressive their candidates should be.

“I think a lot of people were surprised by the polling and it goes to show that you can’t count Dennis out in this election,” said Herb Asher, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University.

“I’m sick of the Democratic Party picking the wrong candidate and eventually losing because of it."

How close it is depends on the poll you look at, but numbers generally shows a close race between Cordray and Kucinich, the well-known populist and two-time presidential candidate, who has long supported legalizing marijuana and Medicare-for-all, and has been endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution (despite Sanders himself deciding to stay out of the race). Last week, one poll of likely voters gave Cordray 27% of the vote and Kucinich 13%. In an earlier SurveyUSA effort, each pulled 21% of support from likely Democratic voters with 46% still undecided.

After Republican waves in 2010 and 2014, Democrats badly want to win back governors’ seats, especially in notoriously gerrymandered places like Ohio where Trump won big. Though they are not endorsing in the race, for instance, former attorney general Eric Holder’s redistricting project is keeping a close eye on the race, too, targeting an array of races: governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and state legislature seats.

“I really think Democrats have a good shot to win in the general election if we can put the right candidate on the ballot,” said one Democratic operative working in Ohio in a phone call with BuzzFeed News. “I’m sick of the Democratic Party picking the wrong candidate and eventually losing because of it and if the party goes with Kucinich then that’s absolutely what we’re going to be doing.”

Kucinich has been a prolific name in Ohio politics for nearly 50 years, where he rose from the ranks of the Cleveland city council to his notorious stint as the wunderkind mayor of the city, when a standoff over selling an electric utility (Kucinich refused, a move later praised) resulted in the first municipal default in the US since the Great Depression (a move that earned Kucinich the awe or ire of many locals who lived through it).

“I’m the same age as Kucinich and I’m from Cleveland, and older Ohioans like me remember Dennis’s fiasco when he was mayor and lots of us just don’t want someone with that kind of temperament in office,” offered one Ohio voter outside the Cordray event on Friday.

But it was during those early campaigns where he honed his populist message, survived a recall election, and clashed with big banks before serving in the Ohio state senate and U.S. representative and running two message campaigns for president in 2004 and 2008, in which he was considered something of a fringe candidate akin to Ron Paul, but also carried the banner for many of the same populist policies and politics that Sanders rode to much wider support a decade later (single-payer health care, free college, and a more restrictionist approach to trade).

In his bid for the party’s nomination, Kucinich has touted that his brand of progressive populism can win over enough moderate Democrats and Trump voters in the state to reclaim the governor’s office for the party.

“The one thing I can do that I don’t know if there is another Democrat in Ohio who could run for office and do, is that I can reach out to people who voted for President Trump.”

“The one thing I can do that I don’t know if there is another Democrat in Ohio who could run for office and do, is that I can reach out to people who voted for President Trump,” Kucinich said in a pitch to Ohio voters on Fox News, the conservative network where he’s appeared as a Democratic pundit — and at times, as a defender of Trump’s populist economic message — after losing a congressional election to Rep. Marcy Kaptur following a redistricting plan that consolidated their districts.

On the one hand, how to reach Obama-to-Trump voters in places like Ohio or Wisconsin has been an open question for Democrats in the wake of the 2016 election.

On the other, Kucinich’s defenses of Trump (earlier this year, for instance, he affirmed the idea that the “deep state” existed and had tried to undermine the president), and his calls for a primary challenger to Barack Obama, have frustrated more mainstream Democrats. “Kucinich has been able to duck a lot of these arguments because Ohio Democrats weren't watching Fox News when he was on,” said one longtime Ohio Democrat.

His two meetings with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — including a trip to Syria with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard last year — are a seen as a potential major liability in a general election, however. While Kucinich has long been an anti-interventionist and a critic of the US wars in the Middle East, his willingness to meet with Assad is highly unusual for an American politician, against the backdrop of chemical weapon usage and the brutal conventional campaign waged by Assad in Syria’s civil conflict.

In other words, some Ohio Democrats are skeptical that if he were the party’s nominee that he could turn out the voters the party depends on in November, even if he might pick up some crossover voters.

Without Kucinich, Cordray possibly could have served a bit as a bridge between some of the economic populism and the more Obama-aligned Democrats: He’s won statewide twice — treasurer and attorney general — and headed the Warren-inspired CFPB in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, working under Obama. He’s backed by the AFL-CIO and he has enough of an establishment backing for general election fundraising.

“If you’re seeing him [Obama] on TV a little more these days,” Cordray said to the crowd of students before leading them in a “yes, we can” chant. “It’s because we’re putting him on TV more these days. Last week, Cordray released his first television ad featuring clips of Obama supporting him as the first director of CFPB.

But Kucinich has also prodded Cordray to be more vocal about his stances on issues like gun control. Kucinich has used his F rating from the NRA and Cordray’s A rating the last time he ran for statewide office as attorney general as kindling to light a fire under Cordray. It’s the kind of thing that party insiders in Ohio think is working to Kucinich’s advantage to keep the race as contentious as he can leading up to the primary.

But despite Kucinich’s progressive appeal, some Ohio Democrats are still nervous that he doesn’t have the fundraising prowess or statewide appeal to win. “I just think we need someone with a clean slate to help us win,” said an Ohio Democrat.

What Democrats want to avoid is a repeat of 2014, when the nominee, Ed FitzGerald, netted a dismal 33% of the vote and dragged down a slate of down-ballot races. (It’s not a perfect comparison as FitzGerald’s campaign was plagued by personal scandals.)

“The question for some Democrats is going to boil down to who can win the general election,” said Asher. “Is Kucinich our Donald Trump or our Ed FitzGerald?”

Link :

Trump's Latest Attempt To Stop Transgender Military Service Has Failed For Now

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 22:55:51 -0400

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Carlos Barria / Reuters

The Trump administration's latest effort to bar transgender people from serving in the military remains on hold for now, a federal judge ruled Friday night in a decision finding strong constitutional protections against anti-transgender discrimination.

"The ban specifically targets one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, and must satisfy strict scrutiny if it is to survive," US District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in assessing the "history of discrimination and systemic oppression of transgender people" in the US.

In order for the ban to be found to be constitutional under strict scrutiny — one of the toughest constitutional standards to meet — the government would have to show that the ban is advancing a compelling government interest and that "the means chosen 'fit'" that interest "so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate ... prejudice or stereotype."

"[Q]uestions of fact remain," Pechman ruled, regarding whether the ban is unconstitutional under that strict scrutiny standard and what, if any, "deference" should be given to the government because the ban is a matter of military personnel policy. Those questions would need to be determined at trial.

While the case goes forward, however, Pechman also ruled that she is keeping in place a prior injunction that prevents the federal government from stopping transgender people from serving or joining the military as the trial proceeds.

When Trump first attempted to stop transgender military service, Pechman had issued an injunction against that August 2017 order. The August order had itself followed Trump's July 2017 tweets announcing the policy change.

After several courts, including Pechman's in Seattle, halted enforcement of the initial order, Trump issued a new order in March — rescinding the first order but supporting an implementation plan that would still bar most transgender people from serving.

The government argued its latest effort does not have the problems of the first ban because transgender people can serve if they serve in their "biological sex."

"[T]he Court concludes otherwise, and rules that the preliminary injunction will remain in effect," Pechman wrote, later going on to detail, "The Court finds that the 2018 Memorandum and the Implementation Plan do not substantively rescind or revoke the Ban, but instead threaten the very same violations that caused it and other courts to enjoin the Ban in the first place."

The individuals challenging the ban, along with the state of Washington, argue that the ban violates equal protection and due process guarantees, as well as the First Amendment.

In announcing that transgender people "constitute a suspect class," Pechman looked at the four traditional factors — history of discrimination, the group's ability to contribute to society, immutability, and political power — and concluded that all led her to the conclusion that strict scrutiny should apply.

"Transgender people have long been forced to live in silence, or to come out and face the threat of overwhelming discrimination," she wrote.

LINK: Trump Follows Through On Banning Most Transgender Troops

LINK: The Trump Administration Plans To Announce And Defend A New Transgender Military Policy

Link :

Trump And His Longtime Lawyer Ask Court To Put Stormy Daniels' Lawsuit On Hold

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 20:13:35 -0400

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Stormy Daniels

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

President Donald Trump and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, asked a federal court in California on Friday evening to put Stormy Daniels' lawsuit against them on hold while the criminal investigation of Cohen proceeds in New York.

"Because the facts underlying this action and the criminal investigation related to Mr. [Michael] Cohen overlap, Mr. Cohen’s Fifth Amendment rights may be adversely impacted if this case proceeds," lawyers for Cohen and Trump argued in court regarding Cohen's right against self-incrimination. They are asking for the litigation to be stayed.

Daniels, the adult film star whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is seeking to have a 2016 settlement agreement that her lawyer calls a "hush agreement" tossed out, in part, because Trump didn't sign it. Daniels received $130,000 under the agreement, facilitated by Cohen through a company, Essential Consultants, that he set up for the payment.

Cohen and the company, represented by Brent Blakely, and Trump, represented by Charles Harder, have asked the court to send the case to arbitration — as required by the agreement. Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, argues that the court must first decide if there even is an agreement and has asked for limited discovery, including depositions of Trump and Cohen and production of certain documents, in order to prove there is not.

However, on April 9, federal agents executed search warrants against Cohen as part of an ongoing criminal investigation — leading to the request to put the civil case brought by Daniels on hold.

In Friday night's filing, Blakely and Harder argue that, "where there are overlapping issues in criminal and civil cases, a stay 'is appropriate to preserve [an individual's] Fifth Amendment Rights'" — quoting from a federal court ruling from New York.

"If this action is not stayed, Defendants will be unable to fully respond to and defend themselves against the claims asserted by [Daniels] (including in connection with the currently pending motions), resulting in substantial prejudice." They also argue that Daniels, too, would be prejudiced, because, they write, she "likely would be unable to obtain the documents and deposition testimony that she is seeking from Mr. Cohen" — presumably because he would invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege.

The parties had informed the court earlier Thursday that the request would be coming and agreed to a scheduled briefing, which the court granted. Daniels opposes the request; her response to Friday evening's request is due by 6 p.m. PT Monday. Cohen's reply is due by 6 p.m. Tuesday.

Link :

Hillary Clinton Will Headline A Major DNC Fundraiser

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 15:26:17 -0400

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Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters

A set of likely presidential candidates will join their party's last nominee, Hillary Clinton, to raise money for the Democratic National Committee next month at its annual Women's Leadership Forum.

California Sen. Kamala Harris, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander will speak at the May event in Washington, the second major fundraising effort by the DNC this year, following last month's "“IWillVote Gala."

Since early last year, when Tom Perez took over as chair of the DNC, the former labor secretary has faced a steady string of questions about the party's fundraising operation, which has lagged consistently behind its Republican counterpart. In 2017, the DNC raised about $67 million — falling short of the Republican National Committee by all of $58 million.

Clinton's presence at the forum, a likely draw for some of the major donors who supported her campaign against President Trump, will come about two months after she held a New York fundraiser for her post-2016 political group, Onward Together, on the same day as Perez appeared in Manhattan to raise money for the party, drawing complaints from some donors.

The event will mark Clinton's first fundraiser for the DNC since the 2016 campaign, as Republicans continue to run campaign ads against her and some Democrats still question whether her active presence in the party is a helpful one. (Last month, asked in an interview when Clinton will "ride off into the sunset," North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, now in a tough red-state reelection bid, answered, "I don't know, not soon enough.")

The DNC is presenting this year's Women's Leadership Forum, an annual event first held in 1993, under the theme, "Women Will Vote" — part of the DNC's new initiative to reach 50 million voters ahead of the 2018 election, a DNC official said on Friday.

Clinton is scheduled to open the event at a welcome reception for guests.

Harris, the first-term California senator thought to be one of the strongest possible contenders in a crowded Democratic primary, will serve as the keynote speaker.

Gillibrand and Kander are slated to speak earlier in the day, along with New York Rep. Grace Meng, Alabama Rep. Terri Sewell, and former Michigan governor Jennifer Granholm.

Link :

Trump’s Longtime Personal Lawyer Michael Cohen Is Under Criminal Investigation

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 11:25:19 -0400

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Yana Paskova / Getty Images

President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, "is under criminal investigation," federal government attorneys stated on the record for the first time on Friday.

Cohen was the subject of widely publicized search warrants that were executed at his office, home, and Manhattan hotel room on April 9.

The prosecutors from the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York also revealed in a Friday court filing that search warrants on multiple email accounts "maintained by Cohen" also had been previously executed and the emails reviewed by federal investigators as part of a "months-long investigation into Cohen."

The news came as lawyers for Cohen were in court Friday asking a federal judge to halt government review of the evidence seized in the searches against Cohen earlier this week. Cohen is seeking a temporary restraining order (TRO) to that effect.

The concerns raised by Cohen surround claims of attorney–client privilege and how items seized in those searches should be reviewed, and by whom. The explosive government filing was an opposition to Cohen's TRO request.

Lawyers for Trump also appeared in court Friday, seeking to intervene in the case to argue for his interests in any of the documents for which Trump is the client at issue and could claim protection through attorney-client privilege — a request US District Judge Kimba Wood granted later Friday.

"The dispute before the court is who should make the determination" on attorney–client privilege, Wood noted as the morning hearing began, but matters quickly got delayed when an attorney for Trump intervened and asked for more time to review the government's filing in the matter.

After several hearings were held on Cohen's request and related issues throughout the day Friday, however, the matter was continued over to a 2 p.m. Monday hearing. In particular, Cohen's lawyers were unable to answer several key questions on Friday, leading Wood to order Cohen to attend Monday's hearing.

Before Monday's hearing, Wood has asked Trump's lawyers to present any additional arguments on his behalf by 9 p.m. Sunday and Cohen's lawyers are to present their final arguments — and a list of Cohen's clients (more on that to come) — by 10 a.m. Monday.

President Trump's lawyers leaving court April 13, 2018.

BuzzFeed/Amber Jamieson

Attorneys from the Southern District of New York US Attorney's Office represented the prosecution in the hearing before Wood on Friday, the first official confirmation that SDNY was running the investigation that led to the warrants against Cohen.

Shortly before the hearing, prosecutors provided Cohen's lawyers with the opposition filing — but it was not posted on the public docket until later Friday.

In the filing, the SDNY attorneys also acknowledge that the case began as a referral from special counsel Robert Mueller's office — which Cohen's lawyer had said previously — but the filing goes on to state that the SDNY investigation of Cohen has "proceeded independent" of Mueller's office. Robert Khuzami, the deputy US attorney for the office, is the senior name on the filing; it has been reported previously that the interim US attorney, Geoffrey Berman, is recused from the matter.

In the morning hearing, the prosecutors made clear their preference to review the seized materials for privilege by using a "taint team" — lawyers from the US Attorney's Office who are uninvolved in the investigation or prosecution of the matter — to review them. (The SDNY filing calls it a "filter team.")

The prosecutors argued that the team is a "common procedure" used in the Southern District of New York to protect possible privileged material and that, in any event, "it is [not] apparent ... that Cohen, in his capacity as an attorney, has many, or any, attorney-client relationships other than with President Donald Trump (indeed, he does not specifically identify any in his motion and thus far has refused to identify any to the USAO-SDNY)."

Cohen, on the other hand, is asking to allow his counsel to review the documents first or to have the court to appoint a special master to review the materials for attorney–client privilege — before anyone from the US Attorney's Office would do so. Cohen was represented at the hearing by Todd Harrison, one of his lawyers from McDermott Will and Emery.

In their initial filing, Cohen's lawyers argue that there is a "substantial risk" of the government "infringing" on privileged communications, citing two categories of documents — those "relating to privileged communications between Mr. Cohen and his clients" and those "relating to privileged communications between Mr. Cohen and his own lawyers."

At Friday's hearing, Trump's lawyer was primarily just asking for more time. Joanna Hendon, a partner at Spears and Imes, said that she had only been retained by Trump on Wednesday evening.

"This is the president of the United States," Hendon told Wood, arguing that, as the privilege-holder, he should be involved in the proceedings. "These interests are so weighty. Ultimately, in my view, this is of most concern to him, I think the public is a close second, and I think anyone who’s ever hired a lawyer a close third."

Assistant US Attorney Thomas McKay complained about the "last-second intervention" by Trump's lawyer, arguing that Trump's intervention isn't necessary because there would be "no difference between the arguments he would make" and those Cohen's lawyers would make.

Before the judge halted the morning hearing, Wood had a sidebar discussion — a discussion between the lawyers and the judge but not open to observers — regarding, as Wood put it, "potentially innocent individuals and their privacy being invaded if made public."

A hearing on whether the transcript of that sidebar discussion should be made public began at 2 p.m., but quickly devolved when Wood questioned how Cohen's attorney, Harrison, could claim that "thousands" of documents would be covered by attorney-client privilege.

"How do you as an officer of the court have basis to tell me there are thousands of documents?" she asked, prompting a response that he was making an "estimation" and that it could be fewer documents.

Wood then adjourned the hearing, demanding that Harrison have a list of all of Cohen's clients between 2006 — when he started representing Trump — and 2017 when the court reconvened at 4 p.m. Friday. He was not, however, able to pull together a full list — leading Wood to give him until 10 a.m. Monday.

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for adult film star Stormy Daniels (whose given name is Stephanie Clifford), asked to also be heard in this afternoon’s discussion, which the judge agreed to. "We have every reason to believe some of the documents received relate to my client and privacy issues you speak about," he told the court.

This is a developing story. Please check back at BuzzFeed News for the latest.

LINK: Federal Agents Have Seized Communications Of Trump’s Personal Lawyer And Trump Is Very Upset

Link :

Joe Biden's Establishment Politics Playbook

Fri, 13 Apr 2018 10:49:29 -0400

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Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

Joe Biden hasn’t decided whether he’s running for president, but he has assembled a coalition of 30 of some of the biggest names in Washington last month to help shape his domestic policy, from union presidents to former top Obama administration officials to bank officials.

Announced last month, the Biden Institute’s new Policy Advisory Board is the next major piece in what is shaping up to look like a very familiar playbook: a potential presidential run rooted in old-school, establishment politics, capitalizing on his broad popularity among Americans and vast experience in politics. It’s also a sign of what might be a weakness for Biden in a potential primary.

People close to Biden maintain he has made no decisions about whether to challenge Trump in 2020. But the work he is doing now, they say, is with a goal of keeping options open in the event of a presidential run. Said one former Biden adviser, “He’s building out a host of different pieces, and he’s definitely doing that with an eye towards the presidency and the future.”

Though many of Policy Advisory Board members say joining doesn’t mean they’re signing on to support him if he runs for president, the adviser said, “They have to know what they’re doing to some extent. It doesn’t lock them to him, but it certainly encourages them to stay close to him.”

The list of names, with the occasional exception, offers a glimpse of the people that would be likely to orient themselves around Biden in the event of a run: corporate leaders, union bosses, and longtime Obama allies.

There’s senior Obama adviser David Plouffe; former acting attorney general Sally Yates; top executives at Edelman, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley; and the presidents of the Service Employees International Union, the United Farm Workers, and the International Association of Firefighters. There is also Steve Schmidt, a prominent Republican campaign strategist, and former hedge fund boss Eric Mindich.

In a sign of what Biden might face in a presidential primary, though, some progressives see Biden’s advisers as a sign of a candidate that is too centrist, closely tied to corporate and party interests.

“I think this is a missed opportunity for the former vice president, particularly if he’s thinking of running,” said Jim Dean, the chair of Democracy for America, a progressive PAC, of the advisory board. “Most of these folks have corporate-driven missions — they’re funded by big business. The folks that really need to be on a panel like this right now are people that you and I have not heard of that are living the reality that most Americans live on.”

More than a half-dozen members sidestepped questions from BuzzFeed News about whether they wanted the former vice president to run in 2020. Asked if SEIU president Mary Kay Henry had joined in part because she thinks Biden should consider a run, a spokesperson said she joined because Biden was "a leader in how we develop and implement public policies that ensure the dignity of all working people."

Many cited long-standing personal commitments to Biden and a belief that, on the issue of the economy and working-class jobs, he speaks uniquely to the kinds of voters that the Democratic Party lost to Trump in 2016.

“The first reason I joined is out of personal loyalty to Biden,” said Larry Summers, a top Obama economic adviser and the former president of Harvard. “The second reason I did it was I think that he’s very focused on what I think is probably the central economic issue for the future of our country — which is improving the lives of working people.”

If he does run, Biden will also likely face some sharp critiques of his 1990s record, from his past role in the 1995 crime bill and the Anita Hill hearings, to his relative political centrism. At a time when the political forces favor opposition, Biden likes to talk about compromise.

Dean, of Democracy for America, said Biden’s advisers were unlikely to consider how closely the former vice president’s economic concerns were tied to issues of racial justice.

Biden “comes from working-class roots, and we don’t question that, but times are not the same as when he was going through them,” Dean said. “There’s a racial lens to this that wasn’t as present during the vice president’s time growing up in Scranton.”

Sarah Bianchi, the board’s chair and a longtime Biden ally, said the group planned to begin by tackling civil rights issues, adding that "racial economic justice was discussed at length in the initial meeting."

In the year and a half Biden has been out of office, he’s created a network of initiatives that play to his probable strengths: the Penn-Biden Center, which studies foreign policy and diplomacy, including a growing interest in trade issues and problems of globalization, on which Biden has been vocal. There’s the “cancer moonshot,” the Biden Cancer Initiative, which was born out of Biden’s wrenching personal history with his son’s death from cancer in 2015, and the Biden Foundation, which focuses on the social issues he’s kept close — namely gay rights and violence against women.

At the Foundation, those issues have their own new advisory boards too, stocked with activists and names like Cyndi Lauper and Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard's mother.

There’s also Biden's book, Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose; the next leg of his drawn-out book tour, in May, is taking him to many of the red states where people have speculated Democrats have a chance of overperforming in 2018 and beyond — Georgia and Tennessee, as well as North Carolina.

The Biden Institute, at the University of Delaware, does domestic policy work — particularly the economic issues that are Biden’s bread and butter. But it will also tackle things like criminal justice and environmental issues, said Bianchi.

The Institute’s advisory board is stocked with longtime Biden loyalists, like the president of the powerful International Association of Firefighters, Harold Schaitberger. The IAFF threw itself in support of a Biden run in 2015, before he had made any formal announcements. When he said he would not run, the union waited months to support Clinton.

This time, Schaitberger said, the situation is much the same. “I wouldn’t want to get in front of my membership or my leadership, but if Joe Biden decided to offer himself up in service to the country, we’d be hard-pressed not to support him,” he said.

But most declined to even allude to supporting Biden if he ran. “I haven’t picked a horse yet,” said Deepak Gupta, a top attorney and Institute board member who has led cases against the Trump administration. Like just a small number of people in the Democratic Party, he said, Biden “has the ability to speak to working-class Americans in a way that resonates with them.”

Schaitberger and others on the board described a Democratic Party adrift — and Biden as one of the few people who could right it by refocusing the party on economic issues.

“Hopefully we’re going to see the political community getting their voice back and start speaking again to workers, and moving away from some of the identity politics stuff,” Schaitberger said. Biden is “clearly a voice that knows how to speak to workers.”

“I know by January, I have to make that decision,” Biden said in a speech at Vanderbilt University on Tuesday. “If God Almighty himself came down today and said, 'The nomination is yours,' I’d say no. Where I'll be in eight months, I don’t know. In the meantime, I'll do everything I can to be sure we elect a Democratic Congress.”

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The DNC Still Has A Long Way To Go On Hiring Minority-Owned Businesses

Thu, 12 Apr 2018 10:36:53 -0400

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Tom Perez

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A year after Tom Perez and other Democratic National Committee leaders promised that diversity hiring would be a priority for the party moving forward, racial and ethnic minority-owned businesses still accounted for only 17.6% of the $17.5 million the party spent on consultant work, according to a BuzzFeed News analysis.

In an analysis of the DNC’s spending from March 2017 to February 2018, $3,076,569 in disbursements for telemarketing, direct mail, and consulting work went to minority-owned businesses.

The BuzzFeed News analysis of federal filings shows that over the past year 6.4% of money spent went to black-owned firms and spending on Latino-run firms was less — about 4.3%.

In recent months, Democrats across the country have declared that black people and especially black women are the “backbone” of the Democratic Party after the constituency helped push the party to wins in places once thought impenetrable, like Alabama — the kind of refrain that frustrates minority operatives who want the party to involve a more diverse set of people at the leadership and policy level.

In response to BuzzFeed News, DNC officials said that the committee has been making a wide variety of changes over the past year, some of which aren’t reflected by pure spending numbers in FEC filings. For instance, officials said that some contractor spending in the March 2017 to February 2018 FEC filings were servicing prior agreements made under previous DNC leadership.

"Democrats have won over the past year because we’ve invested in the women and people of color who form the backbone of our party. That commitment doesn’t end with one election or with one news cycle,” said DNC spokesperson Michael Tyler. “Although outside consulting contracts make up only 2% of our overall budget, we’re focused on making sure we realize that commitment in our contracting process. That’s why these efforts are now being led at a senior level by chief operating officer Laura Chambers, who has ended many previously existing contracts.”

Since new leadership has taken charge of the DNC, officials said, it's brought a lot of functions that were previously contracted out to be in house, bringing the DNC’s total spending on outside contracts down to 2% of overall spending. The officials also emphasized that the majority of the party’s spending is on staff salary and benefits, and that currently, staffers of color make up 43% of the DNC workforce and that 57% of senior leadership is female.

In response to BuzzFeed News, the DNC shared a different story of the numbers: Per its method, the party spent $16,065,116.94 on contracts in total, but — removing some nonvendor spending like postage — really spent $10,775,201.21 for the total spending on contracts by including building contracts, like security.

The DNC also include businesses owned by women as a separate category in their diversity statistics. (The BuzzFeed News analysis includes a number of businesses run by women of color and who have consulted for the DNC.) Using that methodology, the DNC reached a figure of $2,264,800.88 spent on minority- and women-owned businesses, including building security, to reach a total of $3,079,216.96 — or 29% minority- and women-owned businesses.

Last February, Tom Perez tweeted that the DNC needed a “top-to-bottom” evaluation of its existing contracts and procurement processes and that contracts should not be “auto-renewed,” in response to DeRay Mckesson asking what the committee’s plan for making sure its money was being directed toward consultants of color.

The DNC has long maintained a lengthy “diversity supplier” list of firms approved to do business with the party where it encourages businesses to self-submit information to be considered for potential contracts. The list counts women, the LGBT community, Asians, Latinos, blacks, and people with disabilities under the same “minority” label, which some in the party have critiqued in the past.

The disparity of contracts awarded to minority firms has long been a sore spot between the national party and black and Latino strategists who feel like the party isn’t prioritizing their commitment to recruiting diverse consulting firms. In 2014, a report from PowerPAC+ found that only 1.7% of the $514 million the DNC had spent on consulting over two political cycles had gone to businesses that were minority owned.

A DNC official said that the committee has also begun a new contract-approval process that tracks all vendors with contracts of $5,000 and above by a breakdown of gender and racial diversity — a level of detail the DNC has not done in the past in tracking its contracting on diversity.

After that report, calls for the DNC to improve its numbers when it comes to diversity resulted in the committee hiring its first chief diversity officer, Greg Hinton, to ensure the party was meeting its goals in hiring diverse staff and in contracting, but the FEC records show that the DNC stopped paying Hinton for his work in November 2016.

DNC officials said Hinton’s duties had become part of the portfolio for the party’s chief operating officer, Laura Chambers.

LINK: From 2015: Democrats Still Haven’t Made Big Changes On Diversity Contracting

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It's The End Of The Paul Ryan Era In Republican Politics

Wed, 11 Apr 2018 16:06:13 -0400

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House Speaker Paul Ryan

Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters

The tributes pouring in for Paul Ryan sound a lot like eulogies — for the retiring House speaker and for the conservative vision he and his allies have long championed.

Ryan’s admirers (and even President Trump, who has a complicated relationship with Ryan) can’t say enough about his accomplishments. And when it comes to his legacy, Ryan, who for much of the last decade was the Republican Party’s ideological architect, has plenty of defenders.

At the same time, however, nearly everyone acknowledges that Ryan is leaving several central stated policy goals unfulfilled. There is mourning for the fiscal conservatism Ryan proposed, or at least doubts about whether that movement can survive.

“No way to spin this as anything but terrible,” one national Republican operative told BuzzFeed News. “Not only is he a great speaker and respected leader — in a body with few at this moment — but it’s got to scare the donor world. Who on Earth is going to fill this void?”

As hard as Ryan and other Republicans tout the tax bill they passed and Trump signed, it’s not the kind of revenue-neutral plan that deficit hawks wanted, and it did not include some of the more fundamental tax code changes that Ryan reportedly was interested in, like a border-adjustment provision, which would have changed how imports and exports are taxed. Accomplishments in areas such as entitlement spending remain elusive, too.

Many Republicans blame the shift away from Ryan Republicanism and toward Trumpism, led by a candidate who explicitly promised no changes to entitlements. Despite having an ostensible ally in the executive branch, Trump, to the extent that he gets into the weeds or is even interested in conservative policy fights, has proven to be an unpredictable and unhelpful partner.

Minnesota billionaire Stan Hubbard, a longtime Ryan supporter, said the speaker's leadership style will be missed, especially when considering a president who by comparison focuses less on policy and tends to say and tweet things that distract from the party’s agenda.

"He's a calm and level-headed guy. That kind of leadership will be missed," Hubbard said of Ryan. "My father used to tell me, ‘Stanley, flies never enter mouths that are closed.’”

Others downplayed Trump as a factor in Ryan’s decision.

“He has been in Congress for 20 years, and he has always said he was going leave and return” to Wisconsin, a senior aide to one House Republican told BuzzFeed News. “Now he is doing that. Does Trump play a role in that? Slightly he does. I think deep down inside, the speaker doesn’t like or trust him. But I do think the family was his driving source.”

Another major party donor, who gives to multiple conservative groups, said it was an "overstatement" to describe the Republican Party as the party of Trump, but acknowledged the loss of Ryan combined with the retirements of others, like Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, would hurt the conservative cause. "It's very sad to lose someone with his incredible knowledge,” the donor said. “He's truly a man of great knowledge and sadly he took on a role that wasn't suited for him. I can only hope he continues to be a part of these fights in some way."

Some even see a day when Ryan’s brand of Republicanism is back in style.

“I have a hard time believing legacy-wise this is the last chapter in Paul Ryan’s career,” Nick Everhart, a Republican media consultant with extensive House experience, said in an email. “After the ‘Trump Era,’ there will be a thirsting for leaders like him again.”

It wasn’t all that long ago when Ryan was the next big thing in Republican politics. Ryan was the coauthor, with fellow lawmakers Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy, of the 2010 book Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders. Two years later, when he was selected as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential running mate, he was hailed as a policy wonk inside the party and in media — making him the logical heir to conservatism. His claim to that mantle grew even stronger three years after that, when he reluctantly took the gavel as House speaker.

But Cantor is gone from Congress, following a surprise primary loss in 2014. And now Ryan is on his way out, meaning that, within a decade, two of the three Young Guns authors will have left politics.

McCarthy, who succeeded Cantor as majority leader, could succeed Ryan if Republicans keep the House. And John Murray, a longtime adviser to Cantor, believes there is another group of leaders who will carry on that kind of conservatism that emerged in the Obama years.

"You have a lot of people who came to Washington under the Young Guns program," said Murray, who hopes some of those members will step up. "There are still more of those members than not. These institutions go through changes, and we're just seeing another one now."

Bridging the different factions of House Republicans — ranging from the more classic mainstream fiscal conservatives like Ryan to harder-line libertarians and the populists and Freedom Caucus types who rose from the tea party — is a challenge, though, as Ryan found.

“When one takes on the burden of the speakership they subjugate many of their personal political goals in order to accomplish the task of finding compromise across the disparate opinions of a 400-plus legislative chamber,” said one former chief of staff to a House Republican. “He managed that task with grace, and that he was able to also accomplish one of his personal goals — reforming the tax code — is that much more impressive for his legacy.”

Other Republicans are willing to grade Ryan on such a curve.

“I mean, everything we have passed in the House and signed into law since Trump was elected has Ryan paw prints all over it,” said the senior House aide. “Like every member, we know the things aren't perfect and there are things you would want to see fixed. But my god, Ryan was able to pass tax reform for the first time since Reagan was in office. That was huge.”

Ryan Ellis, a conservative tax policy consultant who has worked closely with House Republican leadership, noted Ryan’s reputation for austere budget proposals when he was chair of the Budget Committee and called them a blueprint for eventual entitlement changes.

“He even got so far as to pass a bill to reform two of them — Medicaid and Obamacare — last spring,” Ellis wrote in an email. “But that effort was derailed by a handful of myopic Republican senators. … The silver lining is that there aren't too many practical ways to do entitlement reform, and Ryan's budgets provide a detailed plan the next time the politics are ripe.”

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Paul Manafort Is Asking A Judge To Suppress Evidence That Agents Seized From His Home

Mon, 09 Apr 2018 22:47:44 -0400

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Paul Manafort

Yuri Gripas / Reuters

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort filed papers late Monday asking a judge to suppress evidence seized last summer from his home in Virginia, arguing that the search warrant was "overbroad" and that the agents who executed it went beyond its parameters.

The motion to suppress evidence in the criminal case against him in federal court in Washington, DC, follows a similar challenge that Manafort lodged late last week to suppress evidence seized from a storage unit. Both searches are part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which has led to indictments against Manafort in DC and Virginia.

Manafort hasn't been charged with any crimes related to his work on Trump's campaign, but the search warrant documents included with his motion to suppress on Monday showed that Mueller's team was investigating his work on the campaign last year. One area of interest that the search warrant application listed was the June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower between campaign officials — including Manafort — and a Russian lawyer.

The FBI agent who signed the warrant application wrote that there was probable cause at the time to believe that Manafort's home contained evidence of various crimes. Manafort was ultimately charged with some of those violations — such as failing to report foreign bank accounts, failing to register as a foreign agent, and money laundering — but the affidavit also lists some crimes that Manafort wasn't charged with, including violations of the ban on campaign contributions by foreign nationals.

Manafort has pleaded not guilty to the indictments returned by federal grand juries in Washington and Virginia.

A federal judge in Virginia signed off on the search warrant for Manafort's condo in Alexandria, Virginia, in July. Manafort says the agents who searched his home "seized or imaged every electronic device and storage device." He contends that nine months later, the special counsel's office has kept everything that was seized, and failed to return materials that didn't fall under the warrant.

The search warrant was too broad, Manafort's lawyers wrote, allowing agents to take "any and all financial records" that belonged to Manafort, his wife Kathleen Manafort, his longtime associate and former deputy campaign chair Rick Gates, and any companies associated with the three of them. It also directed agents to seize evidence pertaining to Manafort's "state of mind" in connection with the crimes that Mueller's team was investigating.

"While seizing agents naturally look for evidence of the subject’s guilt, the
role of the warrant is to limit their discretion to determine what constitutes such evidence," Manafort's lawyers wrote. "This warrant did no such thing."

The affidavit that the FBI presented to the Virginia judge in asking for the warrant failed to show that the devices investigators believed were used in connection with criminal activity were actually in the Manafort home, his lawyers argued. They also accused agents of going beyond the scope of the warrant by taking all electronics that they found, including Apple "music and video devices."

Manafort's motions to suppress evidence in the DC case were due on April 6, but late that evening he asked the judge for an extension over the weekend. He filed his motion to suppress evidence taken from the storage unit in the meantime. On Monday, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson gave Manafort until the end of the day to file the challenge to evidence taken from his home.

Manafort's motion includes a copy of a document that lists the evidence agents seized from his Virginia home, but it is almost entirely redacted.

Investigators were looking for evidence on Manafort's work for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and the pro-Russia Party of Regions, whether he had made false statements to the Justice Department or the Internal Revenue Service, his foreign financial holdings, his taxes, and the Trump Tower meeting.

The application listed as one subject area of interest: "Communications, records, documents, and other files involving any of the attendees of the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower, as well as Aras and Amin Agalorov." Amin appears to be a reference to Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov's son. The two men had worked with Trump on the Miss Universe pageant in Moscow in 2013. When music producer Rob Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 about setting up the meeting with the Russian lawyer at Trump Tower, Goldstone wrote that he was making the contact via Emin and Aras.

In the application, the agent also wrote that there was reason to believe the apartment would contain evidence of items that Manafort allegedly bought using money from foreign bank accounts, such as clothing and rugs.

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