Republicans In Ohio Have Questions About A Former Congressman’s Handling Of A Sexual Misconduct Accusation
Fri, 17 Nov 2017 23:35:20 -0500
Key Republicans in Ohio want to know what a former congressman knew about a sexual misconduct accusation against a former state lawmaker — and when he knew it.
A report Friday by the Washington Post details allegations against Wes Goodman, who resigned from the Ohio House this week. A young man, who was 18 at the time, said Goodman — then a candidate seeking support from evangelical activists — “unzipped his pants and fondled him in the middle of the night” in a hotel room two years ago after a Washington fundraiser.
The young man’s stepfather notified officials with the Council for National Policy, the conservative group that hosted the Goodman fundraiser. And, according to the Washington Post, email correspondence about the alleged incident reached the group’s executive director, Bob McEwen, a former congressman who sits on the Ohio GOP’s state central committee. (McEwen promised that “strong action is about to take place” in an email reported by the Post.)
Tony Perkins, the group’s president and a prominent evangelical leader, vowed not to sweep the matter under the rug and urged Goodman to drop his state bid, the Washington Post reported. “Going forward so soon, without some distance from your past behavior and a track record of recovery, carries great risk for you and for those who are supporting you,” Perkins wrote to Goodman in December 2015, adding that he was “obligated” to inform CNP members of the case.
But Goodman, 33, stayed in the race, emerged from a GOP primary, and then won the general election last fall. On Friday, several party insiders told BuzzFeed News that the revelations were stunning and not known before Goodman’s victory. And Matt Borges, who was chairman of the Ohio Republican Party at the time, said McEwen, as a member of the state party’s governing board, owed it to his fellow partisans to disclose such an issue if he was aware of it.
McEwen never did, Borges added.
“If he knew about the allegation and didn’t tell anyone — he certainly didn’t tell me — or do anything, then he’s just a phony and he needs to get lost,” Borges said.
McEwen did not respond to a voicemail or email Friday evening from BuzzFeed News, nor did he respond to to the Washington Post.
Borges said he also text-messaged McEwen to ask if he ever told anyone about the Goodman case, but that McEwen had not responded. Borges, who was unseated as party chairman earlier this year, said McEwen should resign if he kept the allegations quiet.
On Saturday, Jane Timken, Borges' successor at the Ohio GOP, concurred.
“I think every person has an obligation to say and do something about sexual misconduct or harassment of any kind when they see it," Timken said in a statement from the state party. "If Bob McEwen knew about this and did not say or do anything, he should resign.”
Goodman’s Tuesday resignation was attributed to "inappropriate behavior related to his state office." According to the Washington Post, his departure came several days after the newspaper’s initial inquiry about the 2015 accusation in Washington. Goodman, a former aide to US Rep. Jim Jordan, had emphasized conservative Christian values as a candidate and as a lawmaker.
McEwen, who served in Congress in the 1980s and early ‘90s, is also known as a culture warrior. In 2013, he urged Ohio Right to Life to not support candidates who supported same-sex marriage — a move widely interpreted as a shot at Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who had recently revealed his son was gay and proclaimed his support for marriage equality.
Fri, 17 Nov 2017 10:28:28 -0500
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds
Scott Olson / Getty Images
AUSTIN — Two conservative governors are the new faces of a nonprofit organization’s push for criminal justice reform — traditionally a low-priority issue for national Republicans.
Iowa’s Kim Reynolds and Kentucky’s Matt Bevin headlined a Justice Action Network event Thursday scheduled to coincide with the Republican Governors Association’s annual meeting.
JAN bills itself as bipartisan and has been aligned with groups ranging from the Koch brothers' network on the right to the American Civil Liberties Union on the left. The nonprofit advocates for reforms to sentencing guidelines and civil asset forfeitures and for programs that fight recidivism rates.
While such changes have been embraced in several states and in the more compassionate conservative or libertarian wings of the GOP, they receive little attention at the federal level from President Trump, who ran as a law-and-order candidate, or from the Republican-controlled Congress.
Holly Harris, JAN’s executive director and a veteran of GOP politics, told BuzzFeed News she has been frustrated by the lack of urgency and believes Reynolds and Bevin can help.
“Washington,” Harris said, “moves at a snail’s pace.”
Harris sees Reynolds, the former Iowa lieutenant governor who was elevated to the top job this year after Terry Branstad accepted the China ambassadorship from Trump, as a particularly powerful spokesperson. The Reynolds video includes footage of the governor discussing her battle with alcoholism — she has been sober for 17 years, following arrests for drunk driving — with graduates of a high school equivalency program at a women’s prison.
“I’ve really faced some pretty significant hurdles in my life,” Reynolds told the women. “I’m a recovering alcoholic and thankful for every single day of sobriety that I have.”
Reynolds will stand for election next year and faces a likely primary challenge in the politically important first-caucus state where the future of Trumpism could play out in 2020. And that makes any signal about what kind of Republican she is — in this case, one who is treating criminal justice policy (and not the way Trump has) as one of her signature issues — worth watching.
She saw the video for the first time Thursday and dabbed her eyes with a tissue after it played.
“Something at that point just hit me,” she explained, “and I thought it was so important for me to say, ‘I received a second chance too.’ I had a family and a community and a strong faith that helped me get through some very difficult times in my life. And if I could do it, they could do it.”
Bevin’s video showcased his support of a law designed to lift employment hurdles for convicts.
“I certainly don’t speak for the White House, or for the president or for the administration,” the Kentucky governor said during the panel discussion. “But I will say this: I’m highly encouraged by the degree of conversation that I’ve had, and I know for a fact based on personal conversations with the president and people on his staff that this is meaningful to him.”
Bevin angered some reform advocates early in his term by rescinding his Democratic predecessor’s executive order automatically restoring voting rights to nonviolent felons. Bevin said then that he preferred that such issues be addressed by the legislature. Earlier this year, he began ordering restored voting rights on a case-by-case basis, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. Bevin also has signed a bill allowing for some felony expungements.
In an interview after Thursday's event, Bevin said he believes he and Reynolds can help persuade their Republican colleagues to do more on criminal justice issues.
“History has always turned upon people rising to the occasion, when it is perhaps least palatable,” Bevin said. “Those moments, while not obvious at the time — you look through the lens of history, and they are powerful, life-changing moments.”
This story has been updated with more information about how Kentucky has handled felon voting.
Tue, 14 Nov 2017 20:53:29 -0500
The federal courthouse in Brooklyn where the FIFA trial is talking place on November 13, 2017 in New York.
Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images
NEW YORK — A key witness in the FIFA trial testified Tuesday that major media companies — including Fox Sports — bribed officials for soccer broadcasting rights.
Alejandro Burzaco, a witness for the prosecution in the case, said in court that he was aware of six media companies involved in bribes, including Fox, O Globo from Brazil, Media Pro from Spain, and Televisa from Mexico.
Fox Sports is by far the largest of the group, however, and is owned by 21st Century Fox, the multinational conglomerate controlled by Rupert Murdoch.
Burzaco testified that one top official for the broadcaster signed a phony contract designed only to cover up payment of $3.7 million in bribes. Burzaco, who is from Argentina, was indicted in May 2015, pleaded guilty later that year, and has been cooperating with the government since then.
On Monday evening, a spokesperson for Fox Sports sent BuzzFeed News the following statement: “Any suggestion that Fox Sports knew of or approved of any bribes is emphatically false. Fox Sports had no operational control of the entity which Burzaco ran. The entity run by Burzaco was a subsidiary of Fox Pan American Sports, which in 2008, at the time of the contract in question, was majority owned by a private equity firm and under their operational and management control.”
The testimony in the criminal case comes as Fox Sports is being sued, separately, for alleged bribery in Miami federal court. The suit, filed by an Uruguayan sports media company, claimed Fox and its executives, along with Burzaco and sports marketing executives, conspired to pay bribes to South American soccer officials in exchange for rights to tournaments. By doing so, the lawsuit contends, the Urguayan company, Gol TV, was unfairly prevented from acquiring those rights, even though it had made a larger offer.
On the stand, Burzaco said a company he helped control, T&T, routinely paid bribes to soccer officials in exchange for rights to the Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana, two popular club team tournaments held in South America every year. Fox had a 75% stake in T&T at the time many of those bribes were signed.
Additionally, according to Burzaco, the former chief operating officer of Fox Pan American Sports, James Ganley, signed a fraudulent contract in January 2008 that allowed T&T to pay $3.7 million in bribes to multiple soccer officials in exchange for a rights contract extension signed soon thereafter. Prosecutors displayed a copy of the contract, clearly bearing Ganley's signature, to the jury.
In addition to Fox, Burzaco pointed his finger at a number of other companies. In court on Tuesday, he said the head of sports at O Globo, the largest media company in Brazil, was present at a dinner where $600,000 annual bribes for two Brazilian soccer officials were negotiated. And without giving any details, he said that Spanish company Media Pro, Argentina's Full Play, Brazil's Traffic, and Mexican television giant Televisa also were involved in paying bribes.
Recently, evidence arose that Televisa may have been involved in paying bribes to secure broadcast rights for Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay for four consecutive World Cups.
The allegation was one of a number of bombshells during Burzaco’s nearly seven hours of testimony on Tuesday in the trial of three South American soccer officials accused of bribery and money laundering.
Burzaco also said that Julio Grondona, the former president of Argentina's soccer federation and a former FIFA vice president, took at least $1 million in bribes in exchange for his vote for Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup.
The trial, expected to last six weeks, opened on Monday. The defendants are Jose Maria Marin of Brazil, Manuel Burga of Peru, and Juan Angel Napout of Paraguay. Burzaco's testimony is expected to continue on Wednesday.
Tue, 14 Nov 2017 19:39:02 -0500
The Women’s March organizers say a recent issue of Glamour that features the organizers on the cover isn’t being widely displayed on newsstands.
The Women’s March organizers said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that an inability to locate the magazine on stands was not a disappointment, but an opportunity to broaden the issue’s reach.
“We appreciate Glamour for honoring 26 amazing women, who organized the Women’s March,” the spokesperson said in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Unfortunately, our families, friends, and supporters across the country haven’t been able to find the cover issue on newsstands, so we look forward to working with Glamour to find ways to make our historic cover accessible to our communities.”
In posts online about the cover, which was announced earlier this year at the group’s first-ever convention, the organizers described the “blessed opportunity” it was to be recognized for the movement’s achievements — and how the honor was the “fuel to keep going.” But the organizers, who travel often, say they could not find copies on newsstands, which left them uncertain about whether the cover — which has been written about by places like Jezebel — was actually out there. “We have no proof” that it wasn't released to millions of Glamour subscribers, a person close to the group said. But on newsstands, “Nobody found it.”
A spokesperson for Condé Nast said the covers went directly to Glamour subscribers. The company, the spokesperson said, doesn’t release data about or talk publicly about distribution strategy. The spokesperson also wouldn’t say how many of the covers were printed.
A Glamour spokesperson said that Glamour’s Women of the Year December issue was comprised of five separate covers, “all of which were sent to our subscribers across the country.” Other covers appear to include a teaser line about “the women behind the Women’s March.”
“Every month we reach 9.7 million readers in print and over 95% of those are subscribers,” the spokesperson said. “The response from our readers to the Women’s March cover has been overwhelmingly positive and we were so pleased to honor the organizers at last night’s Glamour Women of the Year Awards.”
Glamour feted the Women’s March organizers at an event in New York City Monday night. The event also featured Solange Knowles, Nicole Kidman, Samantha Bee, Gigi Hadid, Rep. Maxine Waters, Patty Jenkins, and others, some of whom appear on the other Glamour covers.
Mon, 13 Nov 2017 18:59:19 -0500
Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore
Wes Frazer / Getty Images
One after another, prominent Republicans are bailing on Roy Moore.
They’re calling for the Alabama Senate candidate, who’s accused of behaving inappropriately years ago with teenage girls, to withdraw from the race or be barred from serving if he wins.
And, reportedly the Republican National Committee is out, too.
The RNC has canceled their fundraising agreement, according to filings on Tuesday. And according to Politico, the RNC is canceling the party's field program in the state: About a dozen national party staffers were on the ground in Alabama, handling field organizing duties for next month’s special election between Moore and Democratic nominee Doug Jones.
On Monday, a spokesperson declined to comment when asked if the RNC’s investment was being reevaluated in light of another woman coming forward to accuse Moore of sexually assaulting her in 1977, when she was 16. She is the second woman in recent days to say Moore initiated an unwanted sexual encounter when she was a teen. Moore has denied any wrongdoing.
BuzzFeed News had reached out to more than a dozen RNC representatives Monday to ask about the party’s continued support of Moore. Bill Palatucci, the RNC committeeman from New Jersey, wrote in an email that he was not aware of any internal discussions about Alabama.
“If they asked me,” Palatucci added, “I’d tell them to put RNC resources elsewhere.”
The accusations against Moore “are so numerous and carry the ring of truth,” Palatucci wrote. “In my opinion he is unfit to be a candidate or serve in public office at any level.”
In a story last week by the Washington Post, a now 53-year-old woman said Moore, as a 32-year-old assistant district attorney, touched her sexually and pursued a relationship with her when she was 14. The age of consent in Alabama was then, as it is now, 16. Three other women told the Post that Moore pursued relationships with them in their teens.
A right-wing evangelical who was removed twice from the Alabama Supreme Court for defying orders, he has accused the Republican establishment of being in league with Democrats and the Post, though he has not provided evidence. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who leads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, both called on Moore to drop out of the race Monday.
Other Senate Republicans followed their lead.
“If he refuses to withdraw and wins,” Gardner said, “the Senate should vote to expel him, because he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate."
The NRSC already had ended a fundraising agreement with the Moore campaign.
The national party is closely aligned with the Trump White House. But the president, who backed interim Sen. Luther Strange in the primary, has been on an international trip since the first Moore story broke and has not yet clearly indicated whether he is ready to give up on Moore’s candidacy.
Fri, 10 Nov 2017 14:55:57 -0500
Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch, Twitter acting general counsel Sean Edgett, and Google law enforcement and information security director Richard Salgado testifying last month on Capitol Hill.
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Facebook, Twitter and Alphabet (the parent company of Google) are in talks to provide information to the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee for another investigation on Russian meddling in US politics, according to a spokesperson for the committee.
The chairman of the committee, Representative Lamar Smith, sent letters to the companies in September requesting information related to Russian entities purchasing anti-fracking and anti-fossil fuel advertisements on the social media platforms.
It's a complicated issue in terms of the U.S. dynamics: American progressives largely oppose fracking and have protested against it, while conservatives have championed it. Many of the accounts believed to be associated with the troll farm, first exposed by Russian outlet RBC in a major investigation, seized on existing and vibrant social or political movements in the United States, from protests against police brutality to Trump-friendly memes on Twitter. Many real Americans, for instance, protested the construction of pipelines last year.
The committee specifically requested information on the source of ads related to “so-called green initiatives,” the source of advertisements on Facebook related renewable and nonrenewable energy, and all information related to any activity from a foreign entity involvement in the US energy sector.
A spokesperson for the committee told BuzzFeed News that “the companies have each actively and regularly engaged with committee staff in providing the information we’ve requested.”
The September letter cites the $100,000 spent by Russians on Facebook advertisements as a reason for the probe into whether the sites were used to meddle with public opinion on fracking and fossil fuels in the US.
A follow-up letter, sent to the companies on Oct. 31, pointed to a BuzzFeed News report on an Instagram account believed to be operated by an infamous St. Petersburg-based troll farm. The account posted content targeted toward Native Americans and in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline, a recent flashpoint in the US fracking debate, as an example of the types of Russian-produced content used to influence public opinion that the committee is interested in.
A spokesperson for the committee told BuzzFeed News that “the companies have each actively and regularly engaged with committee staff in providing the information we’ve requested.”
A Facebook official confirmed that they were in talks with the committee staff to provide information and a Google official confirmed that the company had been contacted by the committee.
Fri, 10 Nov 2017 13:31:04 -0500
Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
A new poll shows the Senate race in Alabama is now too close to call, following an accusation that Republican nominee Roy Moore pursued a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old girl in 1979.
Moore and Democrat Doug Jones are tied at 46% in the survey, which was conducted Thursday by Opinion Savvy and commissioned by Decision Desk HQ in the aftermath of a bombshell Washington Post report in which the accuser, now 53, went on record with her story.
The results also suggested that a write-in campaign by another Republican could tip the seat to Democrats — a prospect that once seemed far-fetched in deep-red Alabama. A three-way race — with Moore, Jones, and interim Sen. Luther Strange as a write-in candidate — would favor Jones with roughly 44% of the vote, followed by Moore at 41%, and Strange at 12%.
The poll surveyed 515 likely voters by landline and mobile and has a margin of error of 4 points.
The Strange scenario is important, because Moore has denied the accusation and shows no signs of exiting the race. And based on Alabama elections law, it appears to be too late to replace him on the December special election ballot anyway. There has been buzz, in the 24 hours since the Post story broke, about Strange or someone else attempting a write-in bid, but the poll validates concerns that such a candidate could split the GOP vote with Moore.
Strange, despite the backing of President Donald Trump and much of the Republican establishment, lost a September primary to Moore. The seat previously belonged to Jeff Sessions, who’s now serving as Trump’s attorney general in Washington.
Most of those surveyed Thursday — 82% — were aware of the woman’s accusation. And 54% do not believe Moore should withdraw from the race because of it; 35% do.
The allegations appear to have cost Moore with women: About 39% would vote for him now, down from 46% in a Decision Desk poll after the September primary. Moore’s standing with men remained the same, at 55%. (That September poll had Moore leading Jones by 6 points.)
BuzzFeed News has partnered with Decision Desk HQ for live election results coverage in 2018.
The RNC And Sean Spicer Came To Iowa To Celebrate One Year Of Trump — And Got A Lot Of Virginia Questions
Wed, 08 Nov 2017 23:17:06 -0500
Trump on election night last year with then-RNC chairman Reince Priebus.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
DES MOINES, Iowa — A cross-examination about how unpopular the president is probably wasn’t what Ronna Romney McDaniel had in mind when she decided to spend the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s election in Iowa.
But there the Republican National Committee chairwoman was Wednesday night, in a battleground state she believes is trending red — and people couldn’t stop talking about Tuesday night’s disaster in Virginia, a battleground state she believes is trending blue.
Ed Gillespie, one of McDaniel’s RNC predecessors, lost his bid for governor. Democrats made big, confidence-boosting gains in the state legislature. And now GOP leaders are trying hard not to panic as they brace for brutal midterm elections.
Even Sean Spicer, Trump’s former White House press secretary, couldn’t avoid the unpleasant topic while warming up the crowd for McDaniel at the Iowa Republican Party’s Reagan dinner.
“I now have to live through four more years of a Democratic governor because not enough people knocked on the doors, told their neighbors how important it was, told their neighbors about how our policies are different,” complained Spicer, a Virginia resident.
It fell to McDaniel to put the best spin on disappointment and uncertainty. So she downplayed Virginia as a state where the status quo — a Democrat will succeed a Democrat as governor in a state where Hillary Clinton beat Trump — prevailed. (New Jersey, another state that held a gubernatorial election Tuesday, flipped from Republican to Democrat, a widely predicted outcome that even McDaniel confesses did not take anyone in GOP World by surprise.)
Rather than dwell on these, McDaniel is emphasizing the party’s undefeated record in special congressional elections this year. Democrats would have loved to pick up a few of those seats, sure. But most of the victories were in not-so-swingy states, including one Tuesday in Utah.
More than half of the questions McDaniel fielded from a group of mostly local reporters before her keynote speech revolved around Virginia and the fraught state of the Republican Party.
Don’t Republicans have to win in blue states, too? “Well, we certainly did, because I was Michigan chair [last cycle] and we did win Michigan for the president for the first time since 1988,” McDaniel replied. “But hey, we won four special elections. And the media said, ‘Hey, they should have won those four special elections.’ And then last night, when two blue states went blue, they said, ‘Oh, my goodness, this is the narrative for the Democrats.’”
Is Donald Trump a drag in suburban areas? “I don’t think so,” McDaniel countered. “I don’t think you can put everything at the president’s feet when it comes to these races.”
Do Republicans have a problem running as the party of Trump? “There’s no problem running as the party of Donald Trump,” McDaniel said. “Look at our record fundraising for the RNC. We passed the $100 million mark for the first time in a post-presidential year, mainly on the support of small-dollar donors that are giving under $200. That’s the enthusiasm for the president.”
And on it went like that for several more minutes. There even was a question about Steve Bannon, the Breitbart executive and former Trump White House strategist who is threatening to recruit primary challengers against Republican senators next year. Bannon spent Wednesday night speaking at a GOP event in McDaniel’s Michigan.
“We’ll see what ends up happening and where he actually [runs] candidates,” McDaniel said. “I always think primaries are helpful because it gets your candidates ready and sharpened for the general, although I do carry concerns if we spend too many resources in primaries.”
About the only break McDaniel got from reporters were a couple of questions about Iowa’s prominence in presidential politics. (Let the record show that the RNC chairwoman said she doesn’t “see anything changing” with Iowa’s status as host of the nation’s first caucus.)
Later, in an interview with BuzzFeed News, McDaniel said she was “surprised by how focused they were on last night.”
Like Gillespie, McDaniel hails from the establishment branch of the Republican family tree. She spoke warmly Wednesday of traveling to Iowa to campaign for her uncle, Mitt, the two-time presidential candidate who has emerged as a Trump scold. But she has embraced Trump and Trumpism. Gillespie only embraced the latter in his race, creating a sort of hybrid candidacy and limiting the president’s direct involvement to a few last-minute tweets and robocalls.
Does McDaniel think Gillespie should have campaigned with Trump?
With off-year and special elections, she told BuzzFeed News, “you want your base to turn out. And our president turns out his base. There’s no candidate in our party right now that brings more enthusiasm to the base than President Trump, so I would always recommend that a candidate should bring the president on the road with them and rally that base to turn them out.”
Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann, who also faced a torrent of Virginia questions from reporters on hand, does not believe there’s a one-size-fits-all way for Republican candidates to handle Trump.
“Oh, I think it’s state by state,” Kaufmann replied when asked about Gillespie’s strategy.
By the time McDaniel took the stage, Virginia had been dissected from nearly every angle. So she did what she came to do.
“I want to wish you all a happy anniversary,” she began, before launching into a speech that was half-celebration of Trump, half-autobiography, to introduce herself. (McDaniel took over the party in January.)
Only briefly, and toward the end, did she allude to the headwinds coming in 2018 and warn against complacency.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame,” she asked, “to lose everything we gained in these midterms?”
Tue, 07 Nov 2017 13:12:09 -0500
Julia Rendleman / Reuters
With a tight race in Virginia, some hope a narrowly targeted effort to turn out voters on black college and university campuses could get Democrats over the edge on Tuesday night.
NextGen, a group funded by liberal billionaire Tom Steyer that is now working to target young voters, launched organizing programs on college campuses, doubling the number of organizers from the Clinton campaign at four of the five Virginia schools known as HBCUs. Each school — Virginia State University, Hampton University, Virginia Union University, and Norfolk State University — has a lead organizer plus volunteers working to inform voters about issues and the candidates.
In recent years, Steyer has shifted his political work from a heavy emphasis on environmental issues to a broader set of liberal causes; currently, the Californian is running a campaign that presses Democrats to impeach President Donald Trump. NextGen says they’ve registered nearly 2,000 student voters at HBCUs across Virginia. The group, in particular, hosted a fundraiser for Justin Fairfax in September, raising over $250,000 for him overall. Overall, NextGen spent just over $250,000 in Virginia on black voter turnout, though the group did not specify how much was spent on the HBCU project.
Democrats have fretted over how to use Fairfax, the young black Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. Alarmed black Democrats sharply criticized Ralph Northam's campaign for governor for leaving Fairfax's image off of some mailers handed out by the Laborers’ International Union of North America. (The union did not endorse Fairfax.) Meanwhile, Gillespie’s campaign has emphasized a slate of cultural issues, including NFL players kneeling during the anthem. In recent weeks, though, the governor’s race has mostly turned into a back-and-forth over MS-13, the gang, and immigration-related issues.
But the NextGen–HBCU project has emphasized Fairfax — and some of the Virginia-based issues this year like the Charlottesville white supremacist march that ultimately resulted in the death of a local woman.
Kyla Williams, a Virginia State sophomore who is working for NextGen, said in the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville students were scared, upset, and angry — and many wanted to go to Charlottesville. “Our message was, ‘What you just saw, it can’t get better if you want to sit at home on Tuesday.’” Williams estimates that her group has registered 600 people on Virginia State’s campus.
Williams said it can be difficult to engage students at times. To attract students, Williams has organized parties and lured students with pizza and games. But after Charlottesville, Confederate monuments became an issue they engaged on; students at Virginia State “really want them gone” and don’t see any real purpose, “other than the intimidation” of black Americans.
“I think that what he’s doing is making the white supremacists in the state happy,” said Williams. “He’s making it clear that he wants to keep those votes.”
At Virginia State University, where enrollment is up 50% over the course of the past two years, students were asked to do civic engagement to “party with a purpose.”
“I think the thing that stands out to me the most is just the scale of it,” said Hannah Bristol, the young organizing director for NextGen. She said at Hampton, 17% of the students have been registered to vote, making it one of the most successful programs of the 26 colleges in the state.
Bristol said in just the last four days, over 200 HBCU students signed up as volunteers. “There’s a lot of energy we see with the kind of numbers and enthusiasm that I haven’t really seen in my time organizing in Virginia,” said Bristol. “I think there are a lot of students who realize how much this election matters to them, and when you talk to them you’re hearing a lot about college affordability, but also a lot of about local issues like racial justice and housing [in addition to] things that are affecting their lives in college.”
Steyer, in an email to BuzzFeed News, said the campaign was part of a broader effort to “lift up the voice of each and every American.” “This year, we’re doing just that by working our asses off to elect young, diverse candidates, like Justin Fairfax in Virginia, who represent the next generation of leaders in America.”
Tue, 07 Nov 2017 10:57:53 -0500
Cliff Owen / AP
Weeks of brutal campaigning in Virginia ended Tuesday night when voters elected Democrat Ralph Northam as the state’s next governor, offering a rebuke to President Trump and his repeated attempts to drum up support for the Republican rival.
Northam, Virginia’s lieutenant governor, was leading Republican Ed Gillespie Tuesday night 54% to 45% with nearly all precincts reporting. Polling had generally favored Northam going into the election, though the race had tightened in recent weeks and Gillespie, the former RNC chairman, had hoped to snag a victory.
During his victory speech Tuesday night, Northam emphasized diversity in what appeared to be a thinly-veiled critique of Trump and his opponent.
"We live in a very diverse society," he told supporters. "It is getting more diverse every day. It is that diverse society that makes this country great. And as long as I'm governor, I will make sure that we're inclusive, that we welcome people to the commonwealth of Virginia. Our lights will be on. Our doors will be open."
Democrats dominated across Virginia Tuesday night, winning both the lieutenant governor and attorney general races.
The wins came after a week of infighting among Democrats, set off in part by a scathing tell-all book by former interim party chair Donna Brazile, some operatives had a pointed takeaway from their wins in Virginia in New Hampshire: the so-called “establishment” can and does win.
“Reality is restored,” one Democratic consultant said.
Northam, running on a fairly progressive policy agenda in Virginia, was the candidate-of-choice during the summer Democratic primary among top elected officials in the state, including Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark Warner. The candidate preferred by progressives, former congressman Tom Perriello, supported Northam in the general election against Gillespie, but some grassroots activists and national progressive groups did not coalesce fully behind his candidacy toward the end of the race.
“I think tonight shows us Democrats that people like Terry McAuliffe and [DNC chair] Tom Perez who were in the director’s chair for much of this race, still know how to make a really great happy ending without all the usual Democratic infighting we are famous for,” said Mike Trujillo, a longtime party operative.
Asked about what the Northam race might mean for divisions among Democrats, New Hampshire party chair Ray Buckley simply stressed, “It’s important that all Democrats work together for a solid sweep next year.”
Progressive leaders framed the Virginia race as a testament to the grassroots energy and activism unleashed by President Trump’s election. “The strength of the resistance is at wave proportions at this point,” said Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Ilya Sheyman, executive director of the progressive group, MoveOn.org, said in a statement that as of Tuesday night, the Commonwealth of Virginia had officially “joined the resistance.”
“Tonight’s victories demonstrate the influence, power, and determination that a bold and inclusive resistance movement is carrying into 2018,” Sheyman said.
Early reaction from Republican strategists involved in 2018 races covered a range of emotions: There were those who chalked Gillespie’s loss up to Democrats holding a governorship in a state Hillary Clinton won in last year’s presidential election. Others, though, see a warning sign for their party.
“If Washington can't get anything done, the party is going to feel it, not just in this cycle but in the future,” one operative told BuzzFeed News.
A former Trump White House official, who requested anonymity to speak candidly, blamed Gillespie for not using the president more. The former official noted that Jill Vogel, the GOP candidate for lieutenant governor in Virginia who was outperforming Gillespie, campaigned with Bikers for Trump and with Corey Stewart, the far-right, Trump-like candidate whom Gillespie narrowly beat in the primary.
“Gillespie thought it was smart politics to campaign … with George W. Bush and not President Trump,” the former official said. “He deserves what he’s getting tonight.”
Other Republicans cast a nervous gaze down-ballot, where Democrats were poised to make big gains in the Virginia legislature.
Virginia House Republicans “clearly didn’t invest in the survey research to see troubled waters were ahead and to try and get out ahead of it,” one national consultant said. “If they did see it, they committed a different malpractice and didn’t do enough.”
On Monday, Trump promised that voting for Gillespie would bring the economy “roaring back.” Trump also tweeted that the Republican would be a “great governor,” who would be “strong on crime,” and would “never let you down.”
By contrast, Trump claimed that Northam was "fighting for" an international street gang known as MS-13.
Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr., also repeatedly tweeted support for Gillespie.
After Gillespie's defeat Tuesday night Trump tweeted that the Republican "worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for."
Over the past decade, Virginia has become an increasingly blue-leaning state: Both the state's senators are Democrats, the state voted for Barack Obama twice and Hillary Clinton in November, and two of the state's last three governors have been Democrats.
Though current governor Terry McAuliffe (a Democrat) is fairly popular in the state, his would-be successor Northam struggled to articulate a clear message, especially on the issue of how he would either work with or against President Donald Trump.
Gillespie nearly won a Senate seat in 2014, running a sort of "Republican of the future" campaign. This time, he ran a campaign more in line with the cultural warrior issues championed by Trump over the last two years.
In the last several weeks, the race turned ugly, with a series of attacks gaining particular notoriety:
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Gillespie and allies emphasized MS-13 (which is predominately a Latin gang, prompting accusations of racism), painted Northam as weak on the gang, and made a campaign issue of sanctuary cities (which Virginia does not have).
A Democratic group supporting Northam called Latino Victory Fund ran an ad that depicted a pickup truck with a Confederate flag on the back chasing minority children through the streets, capped off with a shot of the Charlottesville rally, asking if Donald Trump and Gillespie meant something like this when they wanted America to be great again.
Also on Tuesday, voters also went to the polls in several other states.
- In New Jersey, Democrat Phil Murphy defeated Republican Kim Guadagno to become the state's next governor. Murphy will replace Gov. Chris Christie, a prominent Republican who supported Trump during last year's election.
- In New York City, voters elected incumbent Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, to another term as mayor. He defeated Republican Nicole Malliotakis.
- In Utah, voters overwhelmingly elected John Curtis, a Republican and the mayor of Provo, to fill Jason Chaffetz's seat in the US House of Representatives.
- In Boston, voters elected incumbent Mayor Marty Walsh to a second term. Walsh defeated City Councilor Tito Jackson.
Sat, 04 Nov 2017 14:47:26 -0400
Mike Coppola / Getty Images
The morning of Oct. 9, a few minutes into an early-morning workout, the Rev. Al Sharpton stopped what he was doing and pulled out his phone.
He’d heard on TV that ESPN suspended Jemele Hill for two weeks. Sharpton needed to hear what she had said that apparently violated the broadcaster’s social media policy. “If you feel strongly about JJ’s statement,” Hill had written late the night before about the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, “boycott his advertisers.” Sharpton was furious.
The next day, he stepped out of a black SUV and sauntered toward a cluster of microphones where he demanded answers. “We found the suspension of Jemele Hill to be outrageous at best, and insulting, in fact.” (Sharpton later diagnosed Jones, 75, with a “slave mentality” for threatening to sit his players who demonstrate during the anthem.) Hill’s mother was grateful; she called to thank him.
“It seems like we’re coming very close to normalizing corporations being able to say, ‘Whatever opinion you have, you’re not allowed to speak,’” he told BuzzFeed News, explaining his decision to get involved. “And I thought that was outrageous. It went back to my whole life of seeing them do everything from silence Muhammad Ali and threaten him with jail, all the way to when LeBron and ‘nem were attacked for wearing hoodies. And I said that if no one is going to stand up on this, I am. Because this is crazy.”
That intersection between politics and sports is rawer than it’s felt in a long time. Hill is since back on the air, but her criticisms of President Trump and the NFL feel unresolved, and just one in a series of cultural battles involving everything from race to policing to patriotism, which Trump often starts or stokes. Sharpton mostly dismisses Trump’s tweet about Hill (the president said ESPN’s ratings were plummeting because of people like her). He contends Trump’s real intention was to present her as a trophy to his base, a cue that he’ll “spank and chastise anybody that gets out of line.” “So it was Jemele that week,” Sharpton said. “It was Maxine Waters two weeks before. It became Frederica Wilson two weeks later and even the widow of a dead sergeant. He uses trophies, particularly women — and part of it is a challenge to our manhood: Are we going to stand up for our women?”
What Sharpton wants to impress on people, particularly young black activists, is that the intersection between sports, politics, and media is old. Jackie Robinson is universally revered now, but, Sharpton notes, he wrote in his autobiography, "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world."
Sharpton — a master of reinvention, enmeshed now in decades of political activism — is often a player in the stories he tells. He recalled the time Muhammad Ali and his protege James Brown brought him on late-night television to talk about the youth movement, and how, during the (infamous) Tawana Brawley case, Mike Tyson visited her at home. He said Houston Texans owner Bob McNair’s comments about not letting the “inmates run the prison” were “very clearly representative of the attitudes of the owners” and that it reflects the broader criminalization of young black men already pervasive in society that has led to mass incarceration.
“Why would you even on a subliminal level use the term ‘inmates’ as an example of running the penitentiary, so to speak?” He saw the impact LeBron James and the Miami Heat had when the whole team wore hoodies in solidarity with the movement behind Trayvon Martin. Same with Eric Garner and the “I Can't Breathe” movement when they wore the t-shirts at Barclays (Sharpton was involved, but declined to get into details).
Protest that comes from the sports community “says to mainstream middle Americans that this is not just the people that they consider usual suspects” that care about civil rights, Sharpton says. “These are people that they actually purchase tickets to see, that they admire, and whose jerseys they wear. It gets a whole kind of different reaction to Americans that thinks this is only the left or the civil rights guys when it's the guys that they look up to saying, ‘No, this is a problem.’” He remembers, for instance, when Rev. Jesse Jackson took him and his mother to Robinson’s Stamford, Connecticut, home. Sharpton was just a little boy. “It didn't mean to me what it meant to my mother.”
Sharpton’s foray into the Hill sports issue is the perfect amalgamation of past efforts he’s undertaken, though: a black woman under attack, a president with whom he has feuded, a threat to go after advertisers, and an attempt on behalf of the wealthy and powerful to silence athletes who are openly demonstrating to bring attention to police misconduct to communities of color. In 2007, he threatened a boycott of advertisers if radio talk show host Don Imus wasn’t fired after he called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hoes.” He called the Hill suspension “crazy” and said he wanted young people in NAN to think that sports issues are as important as any other issue, even if they’re not a matter of life and death. “No, this is not Sandra Bland,” he said grimly. “This is Jemele Hill. But it is a civil rights issue.”
“What he’s trying to accomplish is the inverse of what we did with Imus,” Kirsten John Foy, a top Sharpton lieutenant, told BuzzFeed News. “We’re using the leverage that we may have with advertisers with outside pressure to say there will be a price to pay if she goes as opposed to saying that there will be a price to pay if Imus stays. It’s pushing the same pressure points and I think they’ve been cautiously willing to engage.”
“Maybe,” he said, someone would “put me on a couch and [sticking up for Hill] is me reacting to how my mother raised me by herself, I don't know. But that we leave our black women out there standing unprotected and not spoken up for is always been a thing that I’ve been something that I’ve been concerned about.”
These days, Sharpton’s got plenty of other concerns, though: He led two high-profile marches and this week hosted a legislative meeting in Washington, which was set to include briefings by Sens. Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker, and Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Barbara Lee. Sharpton will meet next week with ESPN President John Skipper, National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, and Melanie Campbell, head of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. He's writing a book. He just gave his daughter away. He recently sat, cross-legged, in the front of a day of retrospective panels about his career in the movement. (“It was almost like being alive at your own funeral,” he later told BuzzFeed News.) MSNBC just re-upped his PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton contract for another two years. Gleefully, he talks about two specials for the network, one of which, he says, will be on the 50th anniversary of the King assassination. The civil rights museum project that he wants in Harlem still animates him, too; why, he asks rhetorically, is the nation’s history of the civil rights struggle memorialized mostly in the South?
Sharpton is still fixated in part on Trump; he said he was triggered by the apparent suicide of a white man, Jon Lester, who 30 years ago led a group that chased a young man into the street. He was called a “nigger” and hit by a car as he fled an angry white mob. It brought Sharpton back to a tenuous point in his career. “But it is not lost on me,” wrote Sharpton, “that a Queens resident, not too far from Howard Beach, who never spoke up during that time is now President of the United States.”
Sharpton’s got a slightly different perspective of the man, evidence of years of observing his fellow outer-borough foe, who was also shaped by New York media. Earlier this year, Sharpton recounted to BuzzFeed News a conversation he had when Trump called him after catching an appearance on cable news. “You know that we’re going to have a fight,” Sharpton said he told Trump. “I said, ‘I know you’re not a pushover, but you know that I’m persistent and I’m not just going to stop.’ [Trump] said ‘Well, yeah, well, we’re gonna fight. I just wanted to call.’ And it ended like that.”
Fri, 03 Nov 2017 21:31:59 -0400
Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images
Last year, following the publication of hacked emails, the chair of the Democratic National Committee Debbie Wasserman Schultz infamously stepped down as the party's convention started in Philadelphia.
Donna Brazile, a longtime Democratic operative, took over as acting chair the week that Clinton was formally nominated, and weeks after she was considered the party's presumptive nominee.
On Thursday, Politico published an excerpt from Brazile's new book, Hacks. In the excerpt, Brazile describes an expansive agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC:
When I got back from a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard, I at last found the document that described it all: the Joint Fund-Raising Agreement between the DNC, the Hillary Victory Fund, and Hillary for America.
The agreement—signed by Amy Dacey, the former CEO of the DNC, and Robby Mook with a copy to Marc Elias—specified that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics, and mailings.
I had been wondering why it was that I couldn’t write a press release without passing it by Brooklyn. Well, here was the answer.
That excerpt has sparked just the latest bitter dispute about the Democratic primary and whether the party favored Clinton too much (a dispute that largely began in 2015 when the DNC announced a very limited debate schedule).
The background is a little complicated.
The DNC, as Brazile describes and was reported at the time, struggled during the later Obama years, especially financially (something people attribute to everything from Wasserman Schultz's mismanagement to a Democratic White House ignoring the committee to the party apparatus being out of step with the base).
In the summer of 2015, the Clinton campaign signed a joint-fundraising agreement with the DNC. Bernie Sanders's campaign later signed one at the end of 2015, though they never used it.
Joint-fundraising agreements generally allow campaigns to raise much larger sums of money. The Federal Election Commission regulates how much money donors can give to different kinds of campaigns; individuals can donate A LOT more money to the DNC and the RNC than they can give to an individual candidate like Clinton or Sanders. Because of the higher dollar threshold, campaigns form what are often called "victory funds" with the committees, allowing more efficient high-dollar fundraising.
For example: Two months before Donald Trump officially became the Republican nominee, he signed a joint-fundraising agreement with the RNC that allowed individual donors to donate as much as $449,400.
Generally, when a candidate (Republican or Democratic) becomes the party's presumptive nominee, that person's campaign takes over the committee for unified messaging, organizing, and communication.
Brazile's excerpt suggests that Clinton's takeover came too early, as NBC News put it on Thursday. (They also reported that Clinton sources said they had not taken over control of the DNC itself until June 2016, when Clinton became the presumptive nominee.)
On Friday, NBC News published the agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC. The Clinton campaign agreed to donate a minimum of $1.2 million per month to the DNC:
HFA is prepared to raise and invest funds into the DNC via the Victory. In return for this financial support, HFA requires the appropriate influence over the financial, strategic, and operational use of these JFA-raised funds.
("JFA" means the joint-fundraising agreement.) The memo does describe the campaign having input into hiring decisions at the committee:
With respect to the hiring of future DNC senior staff in the communications,
technology, and research departments, in the case of vacancy, the DNC will maintain the
authority to make the final decision as between candidates acceptable to HFA.
The agreement stipulated, for instance, that the DNC would hire a new communications director in the fall of 2015 from a list of candidates that the Clinton campaign had "previously identified as acceptable."
On the other hand, the agreement also came with a caveat: The DNC could enter into agreements like this with other candidates:
Nothing in this agreement shall be construed to violate the DNC's obligation of impartiality and neutrality through the Nominating process. All activities performed under this agreement will be focused exclusively on preparations for the General Election and not the Democratic Primary. Further we understand you may enter into similar agreements with other candidates.
The whole memo can be read via NBC News and the debate over whether the DNC too heavily favored Clinton, and in which ways, will rage on Twitter.
Fri, 03 Nov 2017 19:18:19 -0400
Anti-abortion demonstrators arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington during the March for Life in January.
J. Scott Applewhite / AP
A provision in the 429-page Republican tax bill that would let unborn children hold college savings accounts has spilled into the abortion debate, where both sides see it as a step to redefining children in the womb as full persons under the law.
Defining unborn children as persons has been a key goal of anti-abortion advocates, who see it as the first step to unwinding court decisions that legalize abortion.
The bill released by House Republicans Thursday would allow a “child in utero” at “any stage of development” to be designated as the beneficiary of college savings accounts, known as 529 accounts. Currently, beneficiaries must have a social security number, but parents can work around this by setting up a savings account for themselves and then designating their child the beneficiary after birth.
But the GOP bill would allow a specific fetus to be named as a beneficiary before birth. It’s not clear whether eligibility rules would change or unborn children would be given social security numbers. But activists across the abortion debate read the language as about something else altogether — instilling more legal rights on unborn children.
“The inclusion of the unborn in 529 college savings plans recognizes the humanity of the unborn child,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion right’s organization.
March for Life President Jeanne Mancini, whose group also advocates against abortion, said the tax change “recognizes the personhood of unborn children… A child in the womb is just as human as you or I yet, until now, the US tax code has failed to acknowledge the unborn child.”
For the pro-abortion rights movement, the tax bill is starting to be seen as the newest entry in a line of Republican laws aimed at rolling back abortion protections.
“It is absurd that House Republican leaders would use a tax bill to try to advance their agenda to undermine access to safe, legal abortion,” said Planned Parenthood vice president of public policy Dana Singiser.
The reproductive rights network NARAL Pro-Choice America accused Republicans of “inserting ‘personhood’ language into their tax bill” in an attempt to “turn back the clock on this country.”
It’s not clear where the provision itself came from. Staff for the House Ways and Means Committee, who drafted the bill, did not respond to requests for comment. It was also not something pushed for by the anti-abortion rights lobby, according to Tom McClusky, top lobbyist at March For Life.
McClusky said the bill “smacks of elitism” because it would only benefit families who can immediately start saving for their child’s college fund, while the legislation also does away with the adoption tax credit. McClusky said anti-abortion rights advocates had instead been pushing for the child tax credit to be extended to the unborn.
Multiple Democrats also expressed puzzlement about how the college savings provision made it into the tax bill. “I do know that it’s an attempt to legitimize the language that they embrace, which makes a fetus a person,” said Democratic Rep. Judy Chu, a co-chair of the Pro-Choice Caucus.
Lissandra Villa contributed to this story.
Thousands Of New Yorkers Took To The Streets In An Anti-Trump March Promoted By Russia-Linked Account
Wed, 01 Nov 2017 16:01:09 -0400
BlackMattersUS, a social media campaign believed to be Russians meddling in US politics, promoted a large anti-Trump march in New York City in the days after the election.
A now-unavailable Facebook page for the Nov. 12, 2016, march shows the event’s host as BM, a known alias of the BlackMattersUS used throughout the group's promotional materials for other sponsored protests, and encouraged protesters to meet at Union Square at 12 p.m. to march to Trump Tower.
The archived events page shows the event was shared with 61,000 people, 33,000 were interested in the event and 16,000 people marked themselves as going. “Divided is the reason we just fell. We must unite despite our differences to stop HATE from ruling the land,” a description of the event page reads.
On Wednesday afternoon, after BuzzFeed News published this report, the House Intelligence Committee released a sampling of Facebook ads linked to Russia. One of the ads released was a sponsored post for the Nov. 12 anti-Trump march at Union Square.
House Intelligence Committee
In the weeks after the election, it wasn’t hard to convince people in New York City to attend an anti-Trump protest, which might help explain the size of the protest. It appears to have been much larger than many of the disorganized protests BlackMatters put on earlier. New York voted for Hillary Clinton by a large margin and this would be the fourth day of widespread protests in the city following the contentious election. The protests around the country prior to the event were so widely covered that they even elicited tweets from the newly-elected president.
PBS reported last November that this event was organized by “BlackMatters, a nonprofit news outlet which focuses on black issues in the United States.” The description of the the group falls in line with language that was used throughout the BlackMattersUS website. And months later, that organization is believed to be part of a Russian-based scheme to further political divisions in America.
Although it’s been widely reported that a large portion of the “Russian troll” efforts largely benefited the president, planning anti-Trump protests after he was elected fit in the broader strategy of the Russia-based “troll farm”: capitalizing on the legitimate feelings of Americans to create deeper socio-political rifts in the United States through propaganda and real-life events.
RBC, a Russian outlet, identified BlackMatters as one of 180 social media accounts. BuzzFeed News has reported that the operation including luring unsuspecting American activists to protests, self-defense classes aimed at black communities, apparently aimed at exploiting existing US domestic movements, from pro-Trump memes to social justice activism.
Facebook, Twitter and Google are appearing before congressional committees for two days of marathon hearings to testify on the content of accounts and advertisements linked to the Russia-based operation that meddled in the US election. Ahead of the hearings, the three companies revealed that the number of Russian-linked accounts was higher than previously disclosed and Facebook announced that 126 million people could have been exposed to content created by the propagandist accounts.
Facebook has since suspended the BlackMattersUS page; RBC reported the suspension was part of a crackdown on Russian-linked accounts. A spokesperson has told BuzzFeed News he was “not able to confirm” the account was suspended as part of that purge. The pages are no longer accessible.
The Russian campaign to influence American life has been portrayed as a virtual effort, rooted in social media. But over the past few months, evidence has emerged of Russian efforts to influence US activists to organize protests in real life. In September, The Daily Beast reported that Russian operatives attempted to organize over a dozen pro-Trump rallies in Florida and last week BuzzFeed News revealed anti-Trump rallies in Charlotte and New York that were organized by BlackMattersUS through Facebook. The Wall Street Journal this week reported on a rally in Minnesota after the death of Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer.
The post-election New York rally would be the largest organized event promoted by one of the Russia-linked groups reported thus far. A New York Daily News report estimated that roughly 5,000 people met at Union Square to march on Trump Tower and linked directly to the suspended Facebook events page.
A Facebook official told BuzzFeed News that they weren't able to confirm that the event was promoted by the Russian-linked group but that the company is taking issues related to any content on the platform seriously.
Mon, 30 Oct 2017 20:34:58 -0400
President Donald Trump
Alex Wong / Getty Images
When James Comey testified before Congress in June, Donald Trump’s allies at the Republican National Committee unleashed a huge rapid-response effort designed to defend the president against fallout from the FBI director he had fired under questionable circumstances.
Emails warning of “Comey Amnesia” landed in inboxes of political reporters across the country. Even state-based GOP organizations were loaded up with talking points to share.
The war-room mentality demonstrated the value an aggressively on-message RNC can have for an undisciplined White House. But on Monday, amid the first big waves of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation — indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and associate Rick Gates, and a former campaign adviser’s admission that he had lied to the FBI about his contact with Russia — the party’s messengers largely avoided the fray.
The president, for his part, appears to prefer deflecting to Democrats and to Hillary Clinton. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders incorporated some of that strategy during her Monday briefing.
A sampling of state Republican Party tweets from Monday afternoon.
But the RNC’s Twitter and Facebook pages talked up tax cuts, praised Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, and even wished Ivanka Trump a happy birthday. The only reference to the day’s big developments came in the form of a retweet of a Fox News segment with RNC spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany, who while speaking specifically of the charges against Manafort and Gates noted that the document made no mention of Trump or his campaign.
The only Monday “press release” on the RNC’s website as of 6 p.m. was headlined “ICYMI: Democrat Women Senators Oppose Tax Cuts They Once Supported.” It linked to a Fox News column. The party’s only blog entry for Monday was about the Virginia race.
Meanwhile, state parties, some of which were eager to piggyback off the RNC efforts in June, also ignored the news. Some of the state parties kept their focus on tax reform. It’s an issue near and dear to Trump and to House Speaker Paul Ryan, who in response to the latest legal and political distractions Monday vowed that “nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress.”
The silence from Trump’s allies is a departure not only from months ago, but also from last week. RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel and others had been trying to turn the Russia story in their favor by questioning Democrats’ role in securing research on Trump.
It's unclear whether the RNC will sing backup this time. Officials there did not respond to requests for comment.
And while it's quiet, superficially, other Republican sources told BuzzFeed News that it’s quiet behind the scenes, too. Several said they had not yet seen the types of talking points the party typically circulates to supporters during times of high drama.
“I just checked,” one Republican replied, “and nothing.”
Mon, 30 Oct 2017 15:38:10 -0400
Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
The indictment Monday of Paul Manafort is, among other things, a spectacular exercise in prosecutorial discretion, a marker that Donald Trump almost inexplicably hired a man trailed by a dark, but widely known history and then fired him — less over what he’d done as campaign chairman than what he’d done in the last decade of his career.
Our Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier reported Sunday — in a story that is a blueprint for today’s indictments — that the FBI was on Manafort’s case as early as 2012, an investigation that “lay dormant” for a long time:
Manafort’s suspicious financial transactions were first flagged by Treasury officials as far back as 2012 and forwarded to the FBI’s International Corruption Unit and the Department of Justice for further investigation in 2013 and 2014, a former Treasury official who worked on the matter told BuzzFeed News. The extent of Manafort’s suspicious transactions was so vast, said this former official, that law enforcement agents drafted a series of “intelligence reports” about Manafort’s financial dealings. Two law enforcement officials who worked on the case say that they found red flags in his banking records going back as far as 2004, and that the transactions in question totaled many millions of dollars.
But the FBI wasn’t alone in looking at Manafort and his associate Rick Gates, also indicted on Monday, long before they ever joined the Trump campaign. Way back in 2013, BuzzFeed News’ Rosie Gray reported in detail on the covert propaganda campaign being run by the European Centre for Modern Ukraine, the front group tied to Manafort and Gates’s operation. Their long-overdue Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) paperwork was — even if filled out truthfully, which it allegedly was not — an acknowledgment they’d failed to disclose what work they were legally required to disclose.
Other reporters were all over the story, as well. Politico’s Alex Burns and Maggie Haberman documented Manafort’s strange career in 2014. That year, Roger Stone, another member of Trump’s feuding inner circle, blasted out an email with the question “Where is Paul Manafort?” and answers including, “Was seen chauffeuring Yanukovych around Moscow,” and “Was seen loading gold bullion on an Army Transport plane from a remote airstrip outside Kiev and taking off seconds before a mob arrived at the site.”
When Manafort joined the campaign in 2016, Russia watchers were immediately alarmed: “With Donald Trump on the brink of receiving classified security briefings from the Central Intelligence Agency, US foreign policy figures of both parties are raising concerns about a close Trump aide’s ties to allies of Russian President Vladimir Putin,” we reported at the time. Slate published a 5,000-word piece detailing Manafort’s work abroad.
The drumbeat continued: The New York Times last year reported that Manafort’s name appeared in a secret ledger of questionable Ukrainian payouts. The AP early this year tied him more closely to Russia. The Atlantic reported that emails show Manafort writing a Ukrainian contact in April, asking him to make sure that a Russian oligarch with ties to Putin was aware of the work he was doing on the Trump campaign.
So what does this all mean? It doesn’t mean Manafort colluded with Russians on Trump’s campaign; it does mean that Trump knowingly brought aboard a boatload of Russian baggage. It doesn’t say much about Jared Kushner or Steve Bannon; but it does suggest that if Gates or Manafort know more, they’re likely to cough it up, faced with the prospect of growing old in federal prison.
The moves against Manafort and Gates stand in contrast to the other indictment unsealed today. George Papadopoulos was arrested in July; according to the filings on Monday, he lied to the FBI about the timing of meetings he took just weeks and months into his stint as a foreign policy adviser to then-candidate Trump. He has since been cooperating with Mueller, detailing contacts with sources he thought were close to the Russian foreign ministry and alleged attempts by Russian officials to reach the Trump campaign.
There’s a lot that we don’t know about the Russia story, but there’s also a lot that we’ve always known, and the scramble for new information can obscure the obvious. We know that Russian state media openly attacked Clinton and boosted Trump, the overt arm of a media campaign that copious evidence suggests was also covert. We know that Trump hired men deeply connected to Russia’s allies to run his campaign; we don’t know much of what they did behind the scenes, if anything.
We still don’t know everything about what took place in a closed-door meeting last summer between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer, or if Trump allies ever were successful in their hunt for Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
But we do know what the candidate said on stage in Florida last July: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”
Manafort’s alleged crimes have been in plain sight for years. So much of this story is.
Mon, 30 Oct 2017 13:31:01 -0400
House Speaker Paul Ryan
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Nothing will keep Speaker Paul Ryan from talking about tax policy, not even the indictment of President Trump's former campaign chairman.
Ryan called in Monday for a scheduled interview with Jerry Bader of WTAQ in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The pre-arranged topic — the only topic, really, that Ryan seems to want to talk about, no matter the chaotic churn of Donald Trump’s Washington — was tax reform.
Bader opened up the segment with a question about the big news of the day: indictments against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. It also was revealed Monday that George Papadopoulos, a former foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign, has admitted to lying to the FBI in its investigation of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election.
“I really don’t have anything to add other than nothing is going to derail what we’re doing in Congress,” Ryan told Bader. The interview then switched to tax reform and other policy issues.
Ryan has spent much of the last two years insisting that the agenda — from the "A Better Way" platform he repeatedly pushed last year — is the most important thing and no news will distract from it. His effort to sell changes to tax policy began in May under similarly distracting circumstances. The day before Ryan’s kickoff tour, a carefully choreographed factory visit with local lawmakers and a business roundtable discussion in Ohio, Trump fired FBI director James Comey.
“The people in the press, they’re here because they want to listen to me talk about tax reform,” Ryan joked that day — an aw-shucks mix of defiance and self-deprecation. “So I want to tell my friends in the press: I’ll be making statements later about the questions that they all have.”
He saved his statement for an appearance that evening on Fox News.
Ryan’s efforts to deflect and stay on message have become a bit of a running joke.
As of noon Monday, there had been no official statement from Ryan or from his office beyond his non-answer answer on home-state radio. On Twitter, in response to a question about Ryan’s quick and dismissive response, Ryan press secretary AshLee Strong replied: “It's an ongoing investigation and we need to let the professionals at DOJ continue to do their job.”
And the speaker’s Twitter account had issued only two tweets as of noon — one of them a retweet of the House Ways and Means Committee’s post on tax reform.
Sun, 29 Oct 2017 21:29:05 -0400
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Kevin de León, the Democratic leader of the California State Senate, lost two key consultants after launching his bid to challenge a sitting five-term senator — departures his camp cast as unexpected and a reflection of a powerful political class that doesn’t “want to see Kevin de León succeed in this race.”
The two former de León officials, his longtime election lawyer Stephen Kaufman and his fundraiser Stephanie Daily Smith, do not work for the incumbent candidate, Dianne Feinstein.
But both work for leading California Democrats who support the 84-year-old senator, including California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, US Sen. Kamala Harris, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Kaufman, a prominent campaign lawyer in the state, had worked for de León for almost a decade, from late 2008 to July this year, according to financial disclosures for the state senator's ballot measures and campaign accounts, including the one that immediately preceded the 2018 race. Daily Smith, a former fundraiser for Hillary Clinton, also worked for de León from January to July of this year, filings show.
Both have left de León’s team since the primary challenge, campaign spokesman Roger Salazar confirmed.
Kaufman and Daily Smith declined to comment.
In California Democratic politics, where a regular cast of elected officials share an overlapping network of in-state consultants and political consulting firms, conflicts and allegiances often tangle statewide elections. But with de León’s decision to challenge Feinstein, a state party mainstay and one of the longest-serving US senators, that complicated web runs deep, if not directly.
Kaufman and Daily Smith both work for Padilla, Harris, and Garcetti, who are supporters of Feinstein. Garcetti shares the same longtime chief strategist, veteran operative Bill Carrick, as Feinstein. And Padilla and Harris both use SCN Strategies, the same leading consulting firm that is now running a pro-Feinstein super PAC, Fight for California, which launched within hours of a competing pro–de León super PAC.
“It doesn’t surprise us that there are powerful people who don’t want Kevin de León to succeed in this race,” said Salazar, the de León spokesman. “He’s been told to wait his turn. It’s part of that mentality of folks who like things the way they are.”
Spokespeople for Garcetti, Harris, and Padilla declined to comment.
The shuffle did come as something of a surprise to the de León campaign, particularly in the case of Kaufman, who had done yearly work for the 50-year-old State Senate leader on campaigns and ballot initiatives since he served in the state assembly, de León aides said.
It’s “not unusual” for consultants or vendors to be “conflicted out,” said Salazar. Here, though, with no direct conflict to Feinstein, “the tone of it is a little unusual,” he said. “But like I said, it's something we were expected based on whenever you challenge an institution of power.”
De León, who is still assembling his campaign team two weeks after jumping in the race, has already brought on a number of national, Washington-based operatives. In California, where left-leaning activists reportedly encouraged him to challenge Feinstein, he may find it more difficult to hire tied up in-state operatives.
The race has already been cast, in part through the de León campaign's own statements, as a fight between antiestablishment and party forces. Feinstein, who guided the city of San Francisco through the 1978 assassination of Mayor George Moscone and supervisor and LGBT activist Harvey Milk, is seen by some Democrats as a legendary but complex figure in the national party, with positions on foreign policy, privacy, and security that may be generationally out of step with the new influx of progressives. Both de León and Feinstein supported Clinton in the 2016 campaign.
Garcetti, the Los Angeles mayor, dismissed the idea that a Feinstein–de León race reflects an intraparty division. "People will overanalyze it that way," he said in an interview during the Democratic National Committee meeting last week. "But for the average voter, even the average supporter, that isn’t the prism we use."
"They were both Clinton supporters. She’s the NRA’s number one enemy, helped repeal DOMA, helped write the torture report. So did she take a vote that also is different from my perspective 20 years ago? I’m sure," Garcetti said. "Does he take corporate dollars? Of course he does. He was the head of the Senate in California."
"So to that hyper Bernie activist, he or she can probably find something to hate about both of them."
Thu, 26 Oct 2017 11:00:05 -0400
People believed to be Russians meddling in American politics swiftly chose a new target in the days after the 2016 election: trying to organize anti-Trump rallies, according to private messages from a page aimed at black civil rights activists that has been linked to a wider Russian effort.
“We’re holding a protest against Trump on Saturday,” read a message obtained by BuzzFeed from the BlackMattersUS Facebook page to an activist who’d spoken at a previous rally organized by the group in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Provided to BuzzFeed News
The BlackMatters page also sent a poster for the “Charlotte Against Trump” rally on Nov. 19, 2016, and a now-unavailable link to a Facebook event.
The page was identified in a bombshell investigation by RBC, a Russian outlet, as one of 180 social media accounts created by a St. Petersburg “troll farm.” BuzzFeed News reported last week that its activities extended well beyond trolling, to luring unsuspecting American activists into events and propaganda opportunities apparently aimed at seizing on and exploiting U.S. domestic conflicts across the political spectrum.
Facebook suspended the BlackMattersUS page; RBC reported the suspension was part of a crackdown on Russian-linked accounts. A spokesperson has told BuzzFeed News he was “not able to confirm” the account was suspended as part of that purge. The pages are no longer accessible; private messages sent by the group are still accessible for those who received them.
The pivot to an anti-Trump message was in keeping with the page’s broader strategy of piggybacking on an existing social movement to exploit divisions in American society. But it also offers a glimpse at a Russian campaign that was not simply aimed at American elections, but also at deepening rifts in American society that echoes century-old Soviet exploitation of domestic American injustice, and lines up more with the idea that Russian interference campaigns were about highlighting and deepening tensions in the West, rather than outright supporting Donald Trump.
The source who shared the messages with BuzzFeed News said they didn’t respond to them, after becoming skeptical the group was really invested in the cause of racial justice because of an earlier, disorganized rally BlackMattersUS had put on: a protest after the shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott, a black North Carolina man, in October 2016.
But the post-election rally did take place, and at least two activists who spoke at that October rally were also present for the “Charlotte Against Trump” protest, according to fliers for the events posted with the BlackMatters watermark and cross-referenced with a report from the Charlotte Observer.
Kimberly Owens, one of the speakers at the November 2016 event, told BuzzFeed News that she wasn’t contacted by the group and the protest had an open invitation for speakers (anyone could speak). After learning a group believed to be backed by Russians promoted the event, she said she wouldn’t be surprised, noting how disorganized the protest was.
There are a number of unresolved questions about the BlackMatters page, like who actually operated these social media accounts day to day. One activist who interacted with the group told ThinkProgress he would pitch BlackMatters on various events and BlackMatters would approve or deny those pitches.
In its investigation into the Russian troll farm, RBC details how BlackMatters worked and some of the unusual aspects to the group’s accounts: The since-suspended BlackMattersUS Twitter account was registered to a phone number that begins with a Russian country code, according to RBC; the outlet also identified two staff members for BlackMattersUS, which had framed itself to some activists as a news outlet, but one account has been suspended, and the other not active since 2016.
BlackMattersUS also scheduled a second rally for Nov. 26, 2016, which took place in Marshall Park in Charlotte; an article on the BlackMattersUS site detailed the event and linked to a petition on Change.org calling for North Carolina officials to open a 24-hour “hate crime” reporting hotline. The petition is sponsored by a group called Charlotte Against Hate. A Facebook page for that group is now unavailable.
In New York, BlackMattersUS attempted to organize a protest on Dec. 3, centered around the electoral college.
“Trump won the Electoral College but is behind by almost 840,000 votes,” reads the description on a cached version of the deleted Facebook events page hosted by BM, another alias of BlackMattersUS. “Join us in the Streets to stop Donald Trump and his bigoted hateful agenda!”
The event didn’t go as planned: 176 people were supposed to attend the event, but posts on another events page linked to the deleted event show protesters asking where everyone was.
One protester told BuzzFeed News that around 15 people had shown up to the protest at Union Square, and they’d eventually joined an unrelated protest at Columbus Circle.
Wed, 25 Oct 2017 17:19:17 -0400
Yashar appearing on AM Joy on Nov. 25, 2016
His reporting has touched on major news story after major news story, from the Russia investigation to the Fox News sexual harassment scandal to the Harvey Weinstein saga. For Twitter junkies, he’s a constant presence blasting out the latest news story, cable news video, or elephant conservation effort to his 180,000 followers. And in media circles, he’s gone from a nonentity to a well-sourced journalist recognized by just a first name: Yashar.
In an industry fascinated by unexpected newcomers, reporters and editors have been left wondering just who Yashar Ali — his middle, not last name — really is.
Yashar says the pen name is meant to protect his family, but in practice, it also obscures his previous career: a major fundraiser for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign and an aide to former San Francisco mayor and current California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsom. Now, he says, he is focusing on reporting — and says he didn’t vote in the 2016 election. Yashar is far from the first person to ditch politics for a media career, but the transition can be a fraught endeavor.
Since the election, Yashar has broken all kinds of stories at the intersection of politics, media, and entertainment. For New York magazine, he reported per three sources present that George W. Bush remarked that Trump’s inaugural address was “some weird shit.” For HuffPost, he reported that Eric Bolling allegedly sent graphic pictures to female colleagues at Fox News. (Bolling has denied the claims and is suing Yashar.) In a detailed report earlier this month, Yashar and HuffPost editor-in-chief Lydia Polgreen dove into how NBC executives spiked Ronan Farrow’s Harvey Weinstein story, and he was the one who first interviewed Lauren Sivan, who alleged that Weinstein trapped her in the hallway of a restaurant, masturbated in front of her, and ejaculated into a potted plant. Yashar landed an interview with Kathy Griffin months after a photograph of her holding a faux Donald Trump head covered in fake blood ignited controversy.
And he’s broken news on his Twitter feed, too, like when he tweeted, per a source in the Los Angeles FBI field office, that James Comey learned of his firing by seeing it on TV. (A New York Times reporter tweeted the same tidbit 14 minutes later.)
“Yashar gets a lot of benefit of the doubt from people who wouldn't give reporters the benefit of the doubt, and I think he still handles the information like a journalist,” said one political reporter who knows him. “Normally I object to people playing journalist, but I think he's taken the time. He gets it.”
People close to the 37-year-old describe him as a driven, wealthy Renaissance man who gets obsessed with various topics and finds a way to succeed at them — and they aren’t surprised that his new interest happens to be journalism. Other Democratic officials are dumbfounded by Yashar’s career change, and they wonder how someone could develop sources in the entertainment, media, and intelligence communities seemingly overnight (though Yashar’s reporting largely hasn’t been disputed). His background also hasn’t gone unnoticed by some conservative critics on Twitter, particularly given his reporting on Fox News.
“You have to hand it to him. It's one thing to decide in your thirties or forties that you always wanted to be a doctor,” said one Democratic official. “It’s another thing to go from being a somewhat successful political aide to an extremely prominent Twitter persona with no public acknowledgment of the shift.”
Yashar was happy to talk about his life and career in an interview with BuzzFeed News. He grew up in Oak Park, a Chicago suburb, where he said he was the target of bullying from a young age because of his Iranian heritage — particularly when stories like the Iran Contra scandal and the Salman Rushdie controversy dominated news coverage.
Yashar, who comes from a wealthy and politically connected family who has faced persecution in Iran, attended private high school and traveled internationally often with his parents, but skipped college for the entertainment business. He is credited as a production assistant on Never Been Kissed, the 1999 comedy in which a Chicago newspaper reporter played by Drew Barrymore goes undercover at a high school. After his high school graduation, armed with some entertainment contacts, Yashar moved to Los Angeles and began working in TV development.
Friends got him into California politics — and he quickly became obsessed while working with Steve Westly, a California businessman running for state controller. “Politics had taken over my life. My head was not at work, it was in the political stuff,” Yashar told BuzzFeed News.
In his own telling, Yashar’s career track often oscillates nebulously between informal advising, friendship, and formal employment. It’s in part a function of the fact that he is in a financial position, he says, where he doesn't have to worry about paying rent. Yashar has a way of making this sound not too snobby, but a luxury that has afforded him the ability to take professional risks throughout his twenties and thirties.
By 2003 to 2004, Yashar was working full-time in politics. After winning the controller’s race, Westly’s focus soon shifted to the 2006 gubernatorial campaign, where Yashar served as a finance chair. But Westly lost the primary. “It was fucking devastating for me, because I had never been part of a professional failure,” Yashar said.
Sources close to Yashar describe a rare ability to make fast friends. “He was the first person I ever DM’d,” Kathy Griffin told BuzzFeed News. (Unbeknownst to Griffin, but perhaps predictably for the well-connected Yashar, the two had previously met at a party about a decade before. They exchanged numbers after the Twitter DM and became close, with Yashar helping guide her through the Trump head crisis — and then writing about it.) This trait extended to politics: He says he considered Terry McAuliffe, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee and current governor of Virginia, a mentor. By 2007, Yashar operated his own political consulting side business and was a registered lobbyist, on behalf of a government debt collector, according to public records. (Yashar said this was a precaution for conducting consulting work for them.) When in Washington, Yashar said, he would work out of McAuliffe’s office. At the time, McAuliffe was about to become the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign.
Yashar said that McAuliffe offered him professional advice — “You should learn and soak in what a presidential race is like” — and introduced him to Clinton. He served as a national co-chair for Clinton’s first ill-fated presidential campaign and became a “Hillraiser,” or prominent bundler. He said he would often talk to members of the press on background regarding campaign finance topics, and Yashar and Clinton developed a friendship.
“Happy Birthday to you! You are a blessing and an inspiration. With Love, Yashar,” he emailed Clinton in 2012, according to documents later released by the State Department. In 2011, after Yashar shared a viral essay he had written, Clinton responded: “I love your blogging and am thrilled at your success both because it is YOU and because of the subject. Women all around the world need male champions and translators of their/our experiences. And I'm impressed and gratified that you have found your voice and an audience.”
Those who have worked in politics with Yashar describe him as a hardworking operator with a good news sense, though something of an oddball. “He understands human relations and that translates to many different things,” said Buffy Wicks, a friend and Democratic political strategist. “Like when you’re trying to fundraise or put together a political strategy or deal with a press story.”
Susie Tompkins Buell, a major California political donor and Yashar’s friend, said that “he’s very psychological.” He had enough political savvy, Buell says, to warn his peer group to take Donald Trump seriously as a candidate. “He would say, ‘Susie, look out, look out.’ I thought, he’s just being overly cautious,” Buell said. “I joked with him like, ‘How do you know these things?’ and he says, ‘Because I’m Iranian.’ He’s so smart and takes nothing for granted.”
After Clinton’s loss to Barack Obama, through the connections he made on her campaign, Yashar went to work for Gavin Newsom, then the well-known mayor of San Francisco. (Yashar says the two first met years before in a meeting at Amblin Partners, Steven Spielberg’s entertainment company, but that Newsom enjoys teasing him that they did not.) Newsom had gubernatorial aspirations at the time, but pulled out of the race in 2009; Yashar went to work in his office at City Hall instead. A representative for Newsom did not return requests for comment.
The move raised eyebrows in the local press, since Yashar was viewed as a young aide who “handled the logistics of Newsom's travel schedule and town hall events and was often seen encouraging the perennially late mayor to get to the airport to catch his flights,” according to SFGate. He also had donated thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates. “My parents have worked very hard. They've been very nice to their son,” Yashar told the news outlet. Newsom would go on to run, successfully, for lieutenant governor, and Yashar said he was expected to continue on in his statewide office. Instead, he was ready for a career change.
“I was burned out because I worked really hard, probably too hard,” Yashar said. “I decided I wanted to write, and I didn’t know what I was going to write about.”
After two or three months in Los Angeles, Yashar decided to move to New York, where he began crafting essays about politics and social issues. Yashar, who is gay, said he was in a dysfunctional relationship, and after a like-minded conversation with a female friend, decided to write an article about the “fucked-up way that men can treat women,” he said. The essay — the one Hillary Clinton would later compliment — went viral, first on Yashar’s own website as well as when he licensed it out to other publications.
“Gaslighting is a term often used by mental health professionals (I am not one) to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy,” Yashar wrote. “While dealing with gaslighting isn’t a universal truth for women, we all certainly know plenty of women who encounter it at work, home, or in personal relationships.”
Yashar, who didn’t yet have a significant social media presence, said the reaction to the essay provided a lesson in the power of the internet.
He moved back to California and spent a year working on various fundraising and advocacy projects, like a favorite cause he now tweets about frequently, elephants. But eventually he would end up back with Newsom. “Gavin and I were in touch this whole time,” Yashar said. “He was asking me about some policy, and all of a sudden I was working for him again, and I don't know how it happened.”
By then, Newsom was preparing to run for governor, and Yashar says he spent 2015 as a “Swiss Army knife” for his effort. But the media world still excited him, and he moved back to New York in the early summer of 2016 and began writing for New York magazine and the Daily Beast, where Yashar said he maintained social connections with editors. It was at that time, he says, that he began to focus on Twitter.
Yashar developed a knack for the platform, often through the kind of viral cable news clip or quickly posted news nugget that would help give rise to other flourishing tweeters in the Trump era. An avid TV news viewer, Yashar was the first to catch Fox News host Jesse Watters appear to make a lewd gesture while discussing Ivanka Trump.
As his tweets went viral, Yashar’s following grew by the thousands. “The Twitter thing was never intentional, it just snowballed,” he said. “If people respond to you, you only want to do it more.”
Twitter also served as a reporting resource. After he tweeted about Megyn Kelly’s sit down for NBC News with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a Russian email account sent Yashar unedited footage from the interview, he said. The clip “shows a nervous Kelly who asked the authoritarian leader softball questions and failed to hold him accountable on key topics,” he wrote in the HuffPost story that published the clip.