Key Republicans Are Encouraging Hillbilly Elegy Author J.D. Vance To Run For Senate In Ohio

Thu, 25 May 2017 19:50:13 -0400

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Some Republican activists and donors worried about the prospects of their party’s Senate candidate in Ohio are kicking around an outside-the-box alternative: Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance.

The recruiting overtures reflect unease with the early GOP frontrunner, state Treasurer Josh Mandel, who is seeking a rematch with Democratic incumbent Sherrod Brown.

Four sources with knowledge of the private encouragement confirmed the conversations to BuzzFeed News. They requested anonymity to speak freely about what could become another intra-party fight in a battleground state where Republicans are divided between those who embraced Donald Trump’s winning presidential campaign and those who didn’t.

“The donors are kind of wishy-washy on Josh,” said one top Republican activist who has discussed a draft Vance scenario with party insiders. “So enter J.D. Vance.”

The activist added: “He resonates with everyday mom-and-pop voters. He taps into an undercurrent of Americana. He could beat Sherrod Brown in a heartbeat.”

A Mandel spokesman has not responded to a request for comment.

Vance’s best-selling memoir is one of the most talked-about books of the last year — seen as key to understanding distressed pockets of Appalachia and the white working-class voters who carried Trump to the White House. Ron Howard has been linked to a film adaptation.

The 32-year-old Vance, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and an Ohio State University and Yale Law School graduate, recently returned to his native state to launch Our Ohio Renewal. The nonprofit that focuses on problems such as the opioid crisis. He also is working with AOL co-founder Steve Case on a venture capital project.

Conversations about the Senate race are in an early stage, but one GOP operative said that donors have expressed enthusiasm about backing Vance. There also has been more casual talk about him running for governor, but the Republican primary in that race is crowded with known quantities.

An influential Republican business leader in Ohio told BuzzFeed News that Vance’s story and is inspiring and “resonates in board rooms, at community meetings, and in barbershops.” The case for Vance, others said, is not solely about unhappiness with Mandel, but about the positive campaign they believe Vance could run — a youthful celebrity at a time when unconventional candidates are in demand.

Vance is working closely with Jai Chabria, a former top adviser to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, to promote the effort. And he was a staple in recent months at county GOP banquets.

These moves have fueled speculation that Vance aspires to a career in politics, but it was always a possibility he has discussed as being further off in the future.

“Since J.D. has moved back to Ohio and begun traveling the state, he has clearly generated a tremendous amount of interest,” Chabria told BuzzFeed News. “He is focused on doing what he can to come up with policy solutions around Ohio’s opioid crisis and also working with Steve Case to inject capital and create jobs in the state.”

As for running for governor or for Senate?

“There is plenty of time to have that conversation at the right time,” Chabria said.

Vance is a conservative Republican who has been open in his criticism of Trump. He has acknowledged that he voted instead for independent Evan McMullin last year.

“I think people are just fed up and frustrated with the rhetoric and the fringes that just manifest in different ways,” the business leader source said. “How do we get to a more collaborative form of governing?”

Mandel, conversely, has aligned himself closely with Trump. Several of his top aides worked for the Trump campaign in Ohio. And when he declared his 2018 Senate candidacy, Mandel, 39, channeled Trump by talking of a “rigged system” and by promising to “drain the swamp.” He also has a record for making provably false statements and for stoking anti-Islam sentiments.

Little of this endears Mandel to Ohio’s GOP establishment leaders. Many are close to Kasich, who has a chilly relationship with Mandel. But the Kasich faction, which was on the losing end of a state party leadership battle with pro-Trump forces, enjoys less clout than it once did.

U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, a Kasich ally, recently decided against challenging Mandel in the primary. Others have hoped that Kasich might run, though the governor adamantly denies interest (while also openly acknowledging that he might not be able to support Mandel). A lesser-known prospect, Cleveland-area investment banker Michael Gibbons, is exploring a GOP bid.

Some believe the clamor for a Mandel alternative fueled an endorsement this week from Sen. Rob Portman, a loyal partisan, but one who fits in more with the milder establishment branch. Portman's backing could be a sign to others to stay on the sidelines.

Despite his doubters, Mandel is regarded as a talented fundraiser with a good story to tell. He’s a Marine Corps veteran of the Iraq war who as treasurer spearheaded a much-ballyhooed transparency project for state and local government spending.

Mandel lost to Brown by 6 points in 2012, underperforming that year’s Republican president nominee Mitt Romney, who lost Ohio to then-President Obama by 3 points.

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Here's What You Need To Know About The Montana Special Election

Thu, 25 May 2017 18:11:12 -0400

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There’s a reason everyone is watching this thing so closely!

Voters wait in line Thursday in Missoula, Montana.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

The election is happening now because Ryan Zinke, who previously represented Montana, left the House of Representatives to become Trump's secretary of the interior.

The election is happening now because Ryan Zinke, who previously represented Montana, left the House of Representatives to become Trump's secretary of the interior.

George Frey / Getty Images

Montana has only one representative in the US House, and Republicans have controlled it since 1997.

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Federal Appeals Court Upholds The Nationwide Injunction Blocking Trump's Travel Ban

Thu, 25 May 2017 14:09:04 -0400

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David Ryder / Reuters

A federal appeals court on Thursday struck another blow against the Trump administration's efforts to temporarily halt immigration from six majority-Muslim countries, upholding a nationwide injunction that blocks the travel ban in President Trump's second executive order on the issue.

A majority of a full sitting of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that although President Trump had broad power to deny entry into the United States, his executive order "stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across the nation."

"The question for this Court, distilled to its essential form, is whether the Constitution ... remains 'a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace,'" Fourth Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote in the majority opinion. "And if so, whether it protects Plaintiffs’ right to challenge an Executive Order that in text speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the Justice Department will seek review of the Fourth Circuit's decision by the US Supreme Court.

"The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the decision of the divided court, which blocks the President’s efforts to strengthen this country’s national security," Sessions said. "As the dissenting judges explained, the executive order is a constitutional exercise of the President’s duty to protect our communities from terrorism. The President is not required to admit people from countries that sponsor or shelter terrorism, until he determines that they can be properly vetted and do not pose a security risk to the United States.”

The ruling is the first appellate court ruling on the second executive order, which was signed March 6. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit also heard arguments earlier this month over a more broad injunction against the executive order out of Hawaii, but has yet to release its decision. A Ninth Circuit ruling in February that allowed an injunction against Trump's first attempt at a travel ban to stand paved the way for the second version.

The second executive order would halt immigration from six countries — Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen – for 90 days while the administration reviewed immigration policies. The Fourth Circuit held that the challengers were likely to succeed on their claims that the travel ban was in reality intended to be a Muslim ban and violated the Constitution's Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from favoring or disfavoring a particular religion.

Gregory wrote that, despite the administration's arguments that the executive order on its face had nothing to do with religion, the plaintiffs presented enough evidence that the national security justification was a "pretext for its religious purpose."

The judges rejected the Justice Department's arguments that the court shouldn't give weight to Trump's campaign statements in favor of a Muslim ban, quoting them at length. The court also cited post-inauguration statements by Trump and his advisors about the administration's two attempts at a travel ban — the second version was signed after the first one was repeatedly struck down by courts as likely unconstitutional — including Trump's remarks that the second version was a "watered down version of the first order."

"These statements, taken together, provide direct, specific evidence of what motivated both EO-1 and EO-2: President Trump’s desire to exclude Muslims from the United States," Gregory wrote. "We need not probe anyone’s heart of hearts to discover the purpose of EO-2, for President Trump and his aides have explained it on numerous occasions and in no uncertain terms."

Omar Jadwat, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrants’ Rights Project, argued the case for the challengers.

“President Trump’s Muslim ban violates the Constitution, as this decision strongly reaffirms. The Constitution’s prohibition on actions disfavoring or condemning any religion is a fundamental protection for all of us, and we can all be glad that the court today rejected the government’s request to set that principle aside," Jadwat said in a statement.

The Fourth Circuit, which heard arguments on May 8, upheld in large part the injunction entered by a Maryland federal district court blocking the travel ban. US District Judge Theodore Chuang in April enjoined all of the federal officials and agencies sued, including President Trump individually, from enforcing the travel ban. The Fourth Circuit found that Chuang erred in including the president in his order, but otherwise upheld the entirety of the injunction.

Ten of the thirteen judges that heard arguments in the case voted to uphold the injunction: Gregory and judges Diana Gribbon Motz, William Traxler Jr., Robert King, Barbara Milano Keenan, James Wynn Jr., Albert Diaz, Henry Floyd, Stephanie Thacker, and Pamela Harris. Wynn wrote a separate, concurring opinion that called the travel ban "invidious discrimination."

"Invidious discrimination that is shrouded in layers of legality is no less an insult to
our Constitution than naked invidious discrimination," Wynn wrote, drawing comparisons to two now widely-disavowed US Supreme Court decisions that upheld political actions that were used to justify slavery and Japanese internment during World War II: Dred Scott and Korematsu.

Traxler didn't join the entirety of Gregory's majority opinion, instead writing a one-paragraph concurring opinion that only said that he joined in the decision to uphold the nationwide injunction. This could mean that he disagreed with Gregory's analysis, or only agreed in part.

The other three judges — Judges Paul Niemeyer, Dennis Shedd, and G. Steven Agee — dissented, each writing their own opinions about their disagreements with the majority.

Niemeyer wrote that the majority was wrong to look beyond the facially neutral text of the executive order.

"In looking behind the face of the government’s action for facts to show the alleged
bad faith, rather than looking for bad faith on the face of the executive action itself, the
majority grants itself the power to conduct an extratextual search for evidence suggesting
bad faith, which is exactly what three Supreme Court opinions have prohibited," he wrote.

Niemeyer also warned that it was dangerous for courts to consider campaign statements in a case like this. Anticipating that the legal fight over the travel ban would eventually make its way to the Supreme Court, he added that the justices "surely will shudder at the majority's adoption of this new rule that has no limits or bounds."

"Because of their nature, campaign statements are unbounded resources by which
to find intent of various kinds. They are often short-hand for larger ideas; they are
explained, modified, retracted, and amplified as they are repeated and as new
circumstances and arguments arise. And they are often ambiguous. A court applying the
majority’s new rule could thus have free reign to select whichever expression of a
candidate’s developing ideas best supports its desired conclusion," he wrote.

Shedd wrote in his dissenting opinion that the administration had presented legitimate national security concerns in adopting the executive order.

"Regrettably, at the end of the day, the real losers in this case are the millions of individual Americans whose security is threatened on a daily basis by those who seek to do us harm," he wrote.

Two judges recused from the case, J. Harvie Wilkinson III and Allyson Duncan. Wilkinson recused because his son-in-law is Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who argued the case for the government. The reasons for Duncan's recusal are unknown.

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

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With Trump Admin Under Siege, Black And Latino Staffers Worry Diverse Hiring Will Suffer

Thu, 25 May 2017 12:33:57 -0400

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WASHINGTON - Inside and outside the Trump administration, black and Latino staffers and aides worry that the increasing complications, scandal, and scrutiny surrounding the White House will mean even less diversity as the administration struggles to fill positions across government.

That situation, they say, could have enormous consequences when it comes to the implementation of policy issues like immigration and criminal justice — places where President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions diverge from even some in their own party.

Even just from a public relations perspective, an administration official said it was possible that experienced black political operatives at the Department of Education could have prevented the debacle at Bethune Cookman University, in which Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was roundly booed by students during her commencement remarks — or a memo in which historically black colleges and universities were lauded, incorrectly, by the secretary as “pioneers of school choice.” (At the time of their founding, black students weren’t permitted to attend white institutions.)

The source of these staffers’ worries: the already slow nomination and confirmation process for the hundreds of political appointments that power an administration.

Democrats have made a point of slowing down confirmations as a device to stall Republicans’ legislative agenda, but the Trump administration has deeply struggled with just putting forth nominees. Between the complications in the White House and the increasing attention in the Senate toward investigations, that process could break down even further.

Because temporary appointments eventually expire, an administration source said it seemed possible that the Trump administration could lose as many as three-fourths of its black, non-White House appointees unless the administration prioritizes these individuals.

The source, a diversity advocate who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about hiring practices, said they were satisfied with progress after a shaky start, but that it seemed increasingly likely that disappointment was forthcoming. “It’s one thing to be building on the gains we made, and quite another to be losing ground on those gains,” the source said.

It’s something that there has been awareness of inside the White House, as well.

On May 4, a day before Cinco de Mayo, a handful of Hispanic leaders met at the White House to discuss the Obama-era program that allows undocumented youth to stay in the U.S. and work, as well as the economy and Hispanic wages. In the meeting, chief strategist Steve Bannon, a controversial figure to many outside the administration, stunned the group with a request.

"We need more Hispanics in this administration," he said, according to three sources familiar with his comments, and asked the Hispanic leaders to flood the zone and get back to the administration with qualified candidates.

Days later, the avalanche of two weeks of bad news would begin. Trump fired the FBI director James Comey who was investigating his campaign's ties to Russia, a report emerged that the president divulged classified information to Russian officials who visited the oval office, it was learned that he asked Comey to end his investigation into Trump friend and former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and much more.

A White House official initially told BuzzFeed News that the administration does not ask people to identify by race, but that they would manually put together the information on the number of Hispanics in the administration as well as political appointees. In a subsequent conversation, the official said the information would take a few weeks to gather and the best bet was to go agency by agency asking them for their numbers. The Office of Personnel Management said the information would only be made available through a Freedom of Information Act request.

A former George W. Bush administration official familiar with how that administration approached hiring, said that recruiting diverse candidates must be deliberate. "The only reason they're not giving numbers out is they're not satisfied with where they are," the source said.

A former senior Obama administration official concurred.

"They probably didn't have those numbers, pulled them together, and then realized they looked bad and it wouldn't be good share them," the source said.

Asked to comment on the possibility of losing black and Hispanic temporary appointees, a White House spokesperson said the administration was prioritizing temporary appointees whose date to be made permanent was approaching.

"With the exception of the State Department, we have converted all but less than 10 individuals to permanent placements and we have a plan for all of them," the spokesperson said. "At the State Department, there are a handful of individuals who may need their temporary appointments extended while they are transferred to a permanent position within the department."

By the administration's count, government-wide, there is one black aide at the State Department who is on a temporary appointment. After the employee emailed late last week expressing concern about their temporary appointment expiration date in June, "they were reassured that the paperwork is being processed (those expiring sooner were prioritized) and that there is a permanent slot for that individual at the State Department," the spokesperson said.

In the past, senior allies like White House chief of staff Priebus helped lead initiatives to usher quality minority candidates into positions at the Department of Housing and Development, the Office of Management and Budget and the Labor Department. But three black Republicans close to the administration said that now seems unlikely, with daily distractions dominating the news cycle and the majority of aides’ time.

From the very moment of Trump’s victory, black Republicans began implementing a strategy to place black operatives in government. Omarosa Manigault — in one of her many unofficial White House roles — presided over a list of qualified candidates. (“She knows about it, she’s aware,” a source said when asked if she was privy to nervousness among the rank-and-file at various agencies.)

About 20 black appointees were assigned to temporary so-called “beachhead” teams designed to keep federal agencies running while the president’s cabinet nominees awaited confirmation. “That was the easiest way to ensure diversity” at the time, a source said, calling that development “a bright spot” for people of color who wanted to work for Trump.

Mario Rodriguez, the CEO of the Hispanic 100, a political organization that works to get Latinos to vote for Republicans, served on the Trump Hispanic advisory council during the campaign and at the May meeting with Bannon and Priebus said he would gather Latino candidates for the administration.

Rodriguez told BuzzFeed News the administration absolutely wants to find qualified Hispanics and he's going to help any way he can but acknowledged that the White House is behind.

"It's ongoing but the sooner you get folks in the better. They're getting through the process of a lot of folks that have applied. But being the business guy that I am you want to see things happen," Rodriguez said.

But Hector Sanchez, chair of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda, a nonpartisan coalition of 45 of the top Latino organizations across the country, who attended a meeting with incoming Trump officials during the transition, dismissed talk that the administration cares about diversity.

"Trump is the worst president in recent history on diversity and inclusion," Sanchez said.

He added that NHLA has met with presidents and cabinet members for the last 25 years — but outside of meeting with friendly Hispanic business groups — the Trump administration has shut the door.

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National Republican Groups Silent On Montana Altercation

Wed, 24 May 2017 22:49:18 -0400

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National Republicans invested in a special election for a vacant House seat in Montana were mostly silent Wednesday evening after their candidate, Greg Gianforte, was accused of assaulting a reporter before a campaign event.

BuzzFeed News has reached out to representatives with House Speaker Paul Ryan's political team, with the National Republican Congressional Committee, and with the Ryan-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund.

Each group has a stake in the outcome of Thursday's contest between Gianforte and Democrat Rob Quist. And each group was silent in response.

The Guardian's Ben Jacobs says Gianforte "body slammed" him and broke his glasses after Jacobs tried to ask about Gianforte's opinion on the Republican health care bill. Gianforte's campaign spokesman later released a statement accusing Jacobs of grabbing the candidate's wrist and other "aggressive behavior."

But audio posted by The Guardian is at odds with the campaign's account, and features Gianforte shouting extensively.

Additionally, late Wednesday night, after BuzzFeed News first reached out to the groups, Fox News posted an account from a journalist who was in the room with Jacobs and Gianforte. "Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him," the Fox News journalist wrote.

Gianforte later was charged with misdemeanor assault.

"Unreal," one GOP source close to a group that has spent money on the race said via text message when prodded about the incident. Asked for an on-record comment, the source replied: "Call the campaign."

It's a sign that Gianforte is on his own in the final hours of the campaign. It's not particularly surprising that the national GOP groups would distance themselves in a potential last-minute crisis. The race between him and Quist already appeared to be closer than most Republicans expected, and party operatives will be eager to blame a loss on a flawed candidate as opposed to a national trend that spells doom in the 2018 midterms.

Doug Stafford, an adviser to Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, called the Gianforte campaign's statement "horse shit" on Twitter.

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Republican Candidate Charged With Assaulting Reporter At A Campaign Event

Wed, 24 May 2017 20:37:54 -0400

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Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte

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The Montana special election took a strange turn Wednesday night when the Republican candidate was accused of assaulting a reporter before his final campaign event.

The candidate, Greg Gianforte, was charged with misdemeanor assault.

The alleged incident took place at a campaign meet-and-greet in Bozeman after Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian, entered a room where Gianforte was preparing for a television interview. Jacobs later tweeted that Gianforte "body slammed" him, breaking his glasses.

BuzzFeed News reporters were at the event in Montana, and one was close to the scene but unable to see all of it. But a Fox News reporter who was present during the incident later confirmed Jacobs' account.

"Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him," reporter Alicia Acuna wrote in a post on Fox News' website. She and two Fox News field producers then "watched in disbelief," she said, "as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of 'I'm sick and tired of this!'"

The Guardian also posted audio of the exchange between Gianforte and Jacobs.

Asked how the alleged incident might affect Thursday's election, Quist replied, "I guess, again, that's not for me to judge."Outside Your Bubble is a BuzzFeed News effort to bring you a diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet. If you don't see your viewpoint represented, contact the curator at Click here for more on Outside Your Bubble

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Georgia Special Election Has Republicans Wondering About Midterm Cash

Wed, 24 May 2017 12:58:19 -0400

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Kevin D. Liles / Reuters

Republicans are fighting harder than they expected to defend two vacant House seats: One up for grabs Thursday in Montana, the other on the ballot next month in Georgia.

They aren’t panicking. Yet.

But many acknowledged that Democrats have a good thing going with small-dollar contributors. And some in the GOP are nervously watching the record sums of money pouring in, wondering if circumstances — a motivated opposition, a potentially strained donor base — have left them even more vulnerable to losing their majorities in Congress as the 2018 midterms approach.

The battle in Georgia’s 6th District is of particular concern.

Already, it’s the most expensive congressional race in history. Nearly $35 million in TV and radio advertising has been reserved there, according to tracking by the firm Medium Buying. The windfall shocked Atlanta-area television stations to the point where one added a newscast and pre-empted reruns of The Andy Griffith Show to make way for the deluge of political ads.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, an outside group aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan and tasked with preserving Republican rule, has committed at least $6.5 million to keep a seat once held by Newt Gingrich and Tom Price out of Democratic hands.

“The Dems are just tapping this mad small-dollar activist base,” one national Republican consultant told BuzzFeed News before name-checking a few of the GOP’s big-dollar donors. “How many times can you get a check from Paul Singer or Sheldon Adelson?”

The consultant added: “It’s one seat in Congress. How much do you want to plow into it?”

It’s a question without an easy answer.

Georgia’s special election to succeed Price, now the Health and Human Services secretary, began with a jungle primary that put 18 candidates — 11 of them Republicans — on a single, nonpartisan ballot. Democrats rallied around Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old newcomer. Outside Republican groups spent millions in the weeks leading up to the April vote just to keep Ossoff from cracking the 50% threshold he needed to win outright. Ossoff received 48%. He faces Republican Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state, in the June 20 runoff.

“Resources were deployed early because of the the incredible financial edge Ossoff had from out-of-state fundraising — and this being a jungle primary,” said one GOP operative who works closely with House campaigns. “Democrats have also been all-in in the 6th since the beginning. They hand-picked the candidate they wanted, sent staff down immediately.”

Handel’s emergence from the primary was a boost for Republicans in another way: It virtually assured investment from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Handel once led an Atlanta-area office for the Republican-leaning organization. And special elections can be a Chamber specialty. In 2013, for example, the group helped establishment favorite Bradley Byrne beat a Tea Party candidate in an off-year race for a vacant House seat in Alabama.

“Early money is smart money,” Rob Engstrom, the Chamber’s national political director, told BuzzFeed News. “We traditionally have played aggressively in special elections as we can closely connect politics back to policy and drive our agenda on the Hill.”

Engstrom, like many Republicans, cautioned against reading too much into the dynamics or results of one special election. “We believe that special elections are, indeed, that — special.” But others say the Montana and Georgia races will foreshadow what happens in 2018.

“I take a little bit of a different view,” one GOP strategist said. “I think these special elections are important, not only for the symbolic reasons, but because we are in a midterm where every seat will matter. If we come up one short [in the House] next November and we say, ‘If only we spent more on Georgia or Montana’ — no one wants to be in that position and have regrets.”

The strategist, who like others requested anonymity to speak candidly, added: “The House is a realistic objective for Democrats. Their donors are obviously already worked up. It’s a good time for them in terms of small-dollars. The typical race won’t be as expensive as Georgia, but it will be expensive. So House candidates in difficult races need to start raising money yesterday.”

President Trump is another factor. Nationally his job-approval ratings are low, though he remains popular with the GOP base. His narrow win over Hillary Clinton in the Georgia 6th last fall signaled that the district could be a pick-up opportunity for Democrats after he picked Price to lead HHS. And Trump’s recent firing of an FBI director amid an investigation of his campaign’s ties to Russia raises doubts about his long-term political value.

“These races are a bellwether,” said a Republican consultant who has worked with congressional candidates. “But it’s also prudent to realize right now we’re stuck in a microcosm of time where the worst that could happen to Republicans has already happened. When you have an incumbent president who’s not well liked, who won’t shut up, and who’s essentially aided and abetted by an equally incompetent staff. If we lose Montana and Georgia, it will clearly be hung and should be hung on Trump’s neck, because it’s depressing the base.”

GOP groups — including the Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee — outraised their Democratic counterparts in the year’s first quarter. “They’re going to have to spend every nickel in 2018 to hold on to the House and the Senate,” this consultant said.

But the consultant is skeptical that the special elections will lead to donor fatigue. “You’re talking about $20 million to $30 million spent between all the GOP committees and outside groups. That’s a drop in the bucket when you think about it.”

Several GOP operatives noted that the party’s committees can use the threat of losing control of Congress as a selling point as they work their donor base.

“When faced with the thought of Speaker Pelosi,” said Corry Bliss, executive director of the Congressional Leadership Fund, “there’s nearly an unlimited amount of money that Republicans can raise the next two years.”

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No, Impeachment Doesn't Work That Way

Tue, 23 May 2017 18:04:38 -0400

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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Despite the fact that most Democratic leaders insist that talk of impeaching President Trump is premature, some liberal corners won’t stop talking about it.

On May 17, Rep. Al Green of Texas called for the impeachment of the president in a floor speech. Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted that he was going to be reading a 2015 government report on “impeachment and removal” on Friday evening, May 19.

Then, the next day, Louise Mensch and Claude Taylor — a former conservative British MP and a Clinton White House volunteer office staffer, respectively — made a series of questionable allegations in a widely discredited report that took Twitter by storm.

In addition to claiming that multiple sources had told them “the House Judiciary Committee is considering Articles of Impeachment against the President of the United States,” the article asserted that sources had also told the duo that “the Supreme Court notified Mr. Trump that the formal process of a case of impeachment against him was begun.” Specifically, they noted, this meant Trump “was not able to use his powers of pardon against other suspects in Trump-Russia cases.”

They added that the sources told them that “the Marshal of the Supreme Court spoke to Mr. Trump.” (The pair have since claimed in a follow-up report that the marshal’s contact with Trump — on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews, they write — was related to another fantastical set of circumstances involving a case out of Michigan challenging the president’s travel ban.)

But impeachment has not commenced, and while individual members might be reviewing the process, there is no formal action in motion. The Supreme Court would not notify the president of the start of an impeachment process, and his pardon powers are not impeded currently (or by impeachment). Finally, there is no reason to believe the marshal — responsible for court security — spoke with Trump about anything, let alone a nonexistent impeachment “case.”

In short, none of that appears to be true.

Hope Hicks, a White House spokesperson, discouraged BuzzFeed News from reporting on the impeachment issues — specifically, the Mensch and Taylor report. Of the report, however, she wrote, “[T]his is not only totally and completely false — it doesn’t make sense and it's not how the system works.”

There is, however, significant confusion and misinformation about the process. Let’s step back and talk about what’s what — the actual facts of how it works — when it comes to impeachment.

How does it begin?

Impeachment begins with a House resolution, which either calls for impeachment or directs the House Judiciary Committee or elsewhere to begin an impeachment investigation.

Many people have pointed to “page 17” of the report tweeted out by Lieu — a 2015 Congressional Research Service report called “Impeachment and Removal” — as evidence of many things: that a single House member can begin the impeachment process, that a non-member can do so, and that a grand jury charge can do so.

All of these things are true, but only in a narrow sense. The reality is less remarkable when one examines the actual precedents described in the report. These things can happen, but a member of Congress must still introduce the evidence at issue — a state legislative resolution, a grand jury report — as part of a resolution, or the single member’s motion must be introduced in the form of a resolution. Then, members of the House must vote on the resolution in order to begin the impeachment process, through committee referral.

There is no resolution. That has not happened.

Green gave a floor speech; he did not introduce a resolution.

For his part, Lieu was very clear about where he believes things stand.

“White House lawyers have now started researching impeachment proceedings. As a member of the House Judiciary Committee — which is where any impeachment proceedings would start — I thought it would be prudent for me to do the same research,” Lieu said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Other than declaring war, impeaching a president is the gravest decision Congress can make. We need to let the special counsel and congressional committees finish their investigations and then make a decision based on the facts presented to us.”

What about the Supreme Court?

In an attempt to sort of reverse engineer the initial Mensch-Taylor article, people have pointed to parts of a law review article by Martin Belsky as support for Mensch and Taylor’s claims about Supreme Court notification. In particular, these people have pointed to a specific passage in the article where Belsky writes that “[t]he legal reality is that the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, have become the arena for investigating the president.”

But reached by BuzzFeed News to discuss the article, Belsky was blunt.

“No, that is not what the article says,” he said of the Supreme Court notification claims this week.

“The courts would not [get] involved directly. My opening line in the article was ‘indirectly’ — not ‘directly,’” he said, pointing to a line in the introduction to his article, which says that “the Supreme Court has significantly, but indirectly, gotten involved in the impeachment process.”

Expanding on what that means, he added, “They can create information that the impeachment committee can use; that’s all I said.”

Belsky pointed to two examples: Supreme Court rulings during the Clinton and Nixon administrations. In the 1990s, the court ruled that Bill Clinton could not stop civil lawsuits relating to things he did before he became president from proceeding while he was president. Earlier, in the 1970s, the Supreme Court ruled that Richard Nixon needed to turn over Watergate tapes to a special prosecutor in response to a subpoena. In both situations, the Supreme Court decisions preceding impeachment ultimately produced information later relevant to impeachment consideration.

"The Supreme Court will not get involved in any decision where the conflict is between the Congress and the president about what information should be delivered or not be delivered," Belsky said, "but the courts have said [...] if an interest was important enough, they would be willing to order the president to respond to legal proceedings — and the evidence that comes out of those legal proceedings could then be used for impeachment purposes.”

In short, the way the Supreme Court gets involved in impeachment is, as Belsky said, indirectly — through related criminal or civil proceedings that lead to production of evidence that later can become a part of impeachment proceedings.

So, what happens?

“There will be someone, I trust this, there will be someone who will propose a resolution of impeachment,” said Belsky, who worked for the House Judiciary Committee in the latter half of the 1970s after President Nixon’s resignation. “It happened to every president; it’s one of those things that happens every time. Some person, some congressman, decided they wanted to make that suggestion.”

Then, however, things turn to the leadership — of the House and, subsequently, of the House Judiciary Committee — to decide whether and how to proceed. Given that the House is run by Republicans, it is less likely that anything would happen even if a resolution were introduced — and it would almost definitely take something drastic for that to change.

If a Judiciary Committee were considering an impeachment investigation, the committee chair would have to decide, as Belsky put it, “whether or not they’re going to collect evidence and ask the staff to prepare information.”

Then would come the big question in preparing articles of impeachment: Is what the committee finds impeachable conduct? The Constitution makes clear that the president and vice president can only be impeached for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

After going through the committee investigation, Belsky detailed, “The chair would then say, ‘Well, what does a high crime or misdemeanor mean?’ And the staff would have to say, ‘It is whatever you want it to mean.’ There is no law at all what a high crime or misdemeanor is. I mean, merely the fact the president of the United States tried to fire someone was sufficient for a high crime or misdemeanor against Andrew Johnson.” Johnson was the first president impeached by the House.

The second and only other president impeached, Bill Clinton, was impeached by the House in December 1998 on two charges — perjury and obstruction of justice — resulting from the investigation of an independent counsel, Kenneth Starr. Two other articles of impeachment failed, as the House voted against impeaching Clinton on a second perjury charge and a charge of “abuse of power.”

In other words, the resolution starts the investigation, which leads to a committee vote, which leads to articles of impeachment if the committee votes for them, which leads to a House vote.

All of that, however, is just the first step.

“An impeachment is like an indictment,” Belsky said. “It is a [finding] that there is sufficient evidence to refer it to the Senate for trial.”

Once the House votes to impeach, the House would select members to present the case to the Senate: the House managers. (In the modern era, the House has selected managers by resolution.)

U.S. Senate Collection / Via

And the Senate?

Despite all those steps in the House, the real action happens in the Senate, which has the power to remove the president (or others) from office.

The effort, however, comes about through a process decided upon by the Senate but with some limitations set by the Constitution. Namely, it takes a two-thirds vote for conviction in an impeachment trial that, in the case of the president, is overseen by the Chief Justice of the United States.

In addition to those constitutional limits, the process for the trial is set forth in Rules of Procedure and Practice in the Senate When Sitting on Impeachment Trials.

Once the impeachment articles are formally presented to the Senate, the Senate formally notifies the president or other official by summons of the pending impeachment trial. That is the first point in the impeachment process where there is any obligation to inform the individual being impeached of the impeachment.

The impeached individual can answer the charges, and the House managers can reply to that answer. All of that leads up to the “trial” — which can include opening arguments, presentation of evidence and examination of witnesses, and closing arguments. That is followed by closed deliberation and an open vote, article by article, on conviction. Conviction, by definition, would mean removal from office.

When it comes to trying to bring the courts into questions about the Senate impeachment trial — as Judge Walter Nixon did in the 1990s — the Supreme Court chose to stay out, declaring the question to be a “nonjusticiable” political question.

On the other side of that is the pardon power: The president’s pardon power is virtually unlimited as to federal crimes, but the Constitution does contain a significant limit: The president can exercise the power, “except in cases of impeachment.” While there is debate over what that means exactly, the debate mainly relates to whether the president can pardon himself or herself — not his or her ability to pardon others while under impeachment.

In Jeffrey Crouch’s 2009 book, The Presidential Pardon Power, he notes that the exception does not diminish the president’s authority to issue pardons of others — or even to pardon a person from criminal offenses relating to impeachment. Instead, he writes, the exception “only covers the political process of impeachment.” In other words, impeachment is a political process; the president does not have the power to overturn the will of that political process through a pardon.

How does it end?

As Belsky noted, Johnson was saved from conviction in the Senate by one vote: 35–19. Clinton had an easier time of it — defeating the perjury article 45–55 and the obstruction-of-justice article 50-50.

Ultimately, the impeachment process involves a number of difficult steps in both houses of Congress, all of which would be widely publicized.

No president in US history has been removed through impeachment.

Outside Your Bubble is a BuzzFeed News effort to bring you a diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet. If you don't see your viewpoint represented, contact the curator at Click here for more on Outside Your Bubble.

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While You Were Watching Trump, The Democratic Party Changed

Tue, 23 May 2017 11:56:38 -0400

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Donald Trump has already changed the Democratic Party more than his own Republican Party.

While the president has merely reduced his own party into a panicked mess, the Democrats’ trajectory seems to have moved subtly and decisively away from the center-left Clinton liberalism toward a politics whose planks make Barack Obama look like Al Gore.

I know, it’s been a distracting month. So you’re forgiven if you missed the big development on the Democratic Party policy front: the call for “a large-scale, permanent program of public employment and infrastructure investment.” That plan, titled “A Marshall Plan for America,” came not from Bernie Sanders but from the Center for American Progress, the Clintonite Washington think tank John Podesta led. The proposal breaks in tone and substance with the Clinton–Obama focus on an economy led and dominated by the private sector.

The plan’s radicalism, CAP President Neera Tanden told me, is aimed at a jobs crisis that they’re talking about with an urgency that was absent from the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration.

“The problem is gigantic. And we can't be indifferent to it. If we continue to be than both the economy and the democracy will unravel,” Tanden said. And the spur, she said, isn’t just the current president: “It's Trumpism, Brexiters, National Frontism.”

Democrats’ opportunity is to deliver on the explicit and implicit promises that Trump abandoned once he was elected: expanded and improved health care and large-scale jobs programs, cost no object. And that opportunity comes as the party’s economic left — its social democratic wing, as it used to be called — finds new footing. Sanders proved Democrats could pitch unabashed government action in the economy without upsetting primary voters — or even, almost inexplicably, getting criticized for plans to raise taxes. And the new plan from CAP drew grudging praise even from thinkers who had basically given up on the established Democratic Party.

“Some Democratic leaders are beginning to realize that Trump is a symptom of a political and commercial system that they had a role in mismanaging,” said Matt Stoller, a former Sanders aide in the Senate now at the New America Foundation. “As a result they are inching their way toward rethinking their agenda.”

The jobs plan is the bluntest sign of this shift, but the party appears to be inching its way toward another pillar of social democracy: government-funded health care.

“What happened in the presidential campaign is that Bernie ran explicitly in support of a Medicare-for-all approach” — a simple framework for single-payer — “and what the politicians saw is that voters were fine with that,” said Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a longtime advocate of single payer.

“It’s inclusive and it doesn’t get us into the identity politics divisions that are problematic,” he said. “It gets us into inclusive politics.”

And if Sanders made single-payer safe for Democrats, Trump’s extremely unpopular foray into health care policy with the American Health Care Act has created a new landscape. Democrats’ blend of private-sector structures with government money and incentives, Obamacare, never became truly popular. A Republican version of that hybrid system, tilted toward the markets and away from guarantees, isn’t popular either.

“Then the default becomes, well the private market doesn’t work, the next thing is single-payer,” said an insurance industry executive close to the politics of the issue, who noted that the CEO of Aetna recently shocked the industry by calling for a serious debate about what single-payer would look like. (To the insurance industry, it could look like a new sluice of predictable revenue.)

“This is probably going to be like what happened with Republicans on immigration,” the insurance industry official said. “You may even have a bigger swath of Democrats who are not for single-payer but the single-payer group is becoming so outspoken that other voices are muted.”

The shape of this new Democratic Party will emerge in concrete terms in primary battles over the next 18 months, as candidates fight for places in what they believe are promising midterm elections. They may lean heavily on what is the third and largest pillar of the Trump-era Democratic Party — calls for investigating or impeaching Trump.

But the party that emerges may wind up advancing something a lot more like Donald Trump’s campaign promises of government-supported jobs and health care than anything Trump or his party have suggested.

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Michael Flynn Refuses To Comply With Senate Subpoena, Citing Fear Of Prosecution

Mon, 22 May 2017 12:22:43 -0400

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Carlos Barria / Reuters

Michael Flynn will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to comply with a Senate subpoena seeking records relating to the intelligence committee's investigation into the Trump campaign's Russia connections, a source close to Flynn tells BuzzFeed News.

The subpoena called for a response by Wednesday, but the source told BuzzFeed News that Flynn — President Trump's former national security adviser — will be responding on Monday.

Given the many calls to investigate and prosecute Flynn, the source said, it would be "highly imprudent for him to comply with the subpoena." Flynn will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination not to do so, the source added.

The Associated Press reported earlier Monday that "a person with direct knowledge of the matter" expected Flynn to take such steps on Monday.

As BuzzFeed News previously reported, Flynn's decision doesn't mean he will be going to jail for contempt of Congress. The process for such a prosecution is complex and rarely attempted — let alone successful.

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

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Supreme Court Says Race Was Improperly Used In Creating North Carolina Congressional Districts

Mon, 22 May 2017 11:20:59 -0400

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The Supreme Court on Monday morning upheld a lower court's decision that two North Carolina congressional districts were improperly created — with an eye to the race of the voters too heavily controlling those districts lines.

The entire court held that one of the districts was unconstitutionally devised, with five of the court's eight members voting in the case holding that the second district also was unconstitutionally devised. (Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate.)

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for the court, joined by its more liberal members and Justice Clarence Thomas, in holding that "racial considerations predominated in designing both Districts 1 and 12" and that the state gave no sufficient reasons for doing so.

"[T]he court below found that race furnished the predominant rationale for that district’s redesign. And it held that the State’s interest in complying with the [Voting Rights Act] could not justify that consideration of race," she wrote as to District 1. "We uphold both conclusions."

Later, as to the second district, Kagan wrote, "[W]e uphold the District Court’s finding of racial predominance respecting District 12. The evidence offered at trial, including live witness testimony subject to credibility determinations, adequately supports the conclusion that race, not politics, accounted for the district’s reconfiguration."

The court did so as to both districts, she noted, in part due to the deferential review that the Supreme Court gives to factual conclusions reached by lower courts.

Under the "clear error" standard, Kagan wrote, the Supreme Court would defer to the three-judge district court's findings of fact — "most notably, as to whether racial considerations predominated in drawing district lines" — so long as the court's findings are "plausible in light of the full record."

Thomas wrote a short, two-page opinion concurring with Kagan's opinion for the court, highlighting his support for Kagan's focus on the "clear error" standard of review.

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy, would have reversed the lower court and upheld the map for one of the districts, District 12.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield represents District 1, and Alma Adams represents District 12.

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

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The NAACP Won't Renew Contract Of Its President And CEO

Fri, 19 May 2017 12:19:05 -0400

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The NAACP has decided not to renew the contract of its president and CEO, three people tell BuzzFeed News.

Cornell William Brooks will not continue on at the helm of the nation's oldest civil rights organization after a three-year stint. The executive committee informed Brooks of their decision Thursday, and an announcement on the development could come as early as Friday, a source said. Executive board committee Leon Russell and Derrick Johnson will handle the organization's day-to-day operations.

Dr. Amos C. Brown, a national board member, confirmed the news, saying that Brooks' contract ends in June, and leadership felt now was the right time to go in another direction, moving on to fight racism and "dealing with the fallout of Trumpism."

His ouster comes at a particularly sensitive time for the country. Donald Trump's presidency has ushered in a wave of enthusiasm from the far right, and amid setbacks already established by the administration on criminal justice and voting rights.

Reached by BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for the NAACP declined comment. In a statement issued later Friday, Derrick Johnson, a vice-chair of the board, said “In the coming months, the NAACP will embark upon a historic national listening tour to ensure that we harness the energy and voices of our grassroots members, to help us achieve transformational change, and create an internal culture designed to push the needle forward on civil rights and social justice."

In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Brooks said he was informed Thursday of the situtation and was "disappointed" in senior leadership's decision.

"We were beginning to turn the corner" as an organization "that was beginning to be taken seriously."

Brooks said he received the final decision today, receiving a letter from the executive committee Thursday. "For decades the NAACP has had a revolving door of CEOs, and it's unfortunate that it's still spinning," said Brooks.

Brooks told BuzzFeed News that his exit comes at the "worst time," with communities facing an existential threat of increased racism, a Justice Department intent to bring back mass incarceration, and a voter fraud investigation coming from the White House — all issues that adversely affect black Americans. "This is not a good a time not to be about the business. It's time for boldness."

Inside the organization, Brooks was known as an energetic leader with a penchant for engaging in direct action, staging civil disobedience and willingly being arrested in support of causes that he and his deputies posted to forums like Facebook Live. Brooks said that in this era, it was important to show up rather than simply [craft] statements to the press. But asked whether he thought this leadership style had rankled some in senior leadership, Brooks said, "Possibly, probably."

"In the [social media age, how else are you supposed to do civil rights unless you show up," he said, saying the group had come from the legacy of giants like Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King.

In addition to gains in social media engagement — a campaign he said was designed to increase the group's national visibility — Brooks said he was proudest that the NAACP helped lead in the fight against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, organizing a shut down of the Senate phone lines and testifying at his Senate confirmation hearing. He said the organization had increasing online membership and donations under his leadership, and had broadened collaboration across the progressive political grassroots spectrum.

In recent days, Brooks expressed optimism about the immediate future of the organization, saying that he looked forward to welcoming President Trump.

"Our question to him is the same one that he posed to us: "What in the world do you have to lose?" Brooks told BuzzFeed News in a separate interview regarding whether Trump would visit this summer's NAACP convention.

"This is a racial tinderbox," Brooks told BuzzFeed News. "Among millennials, racial justice issues rank at the very, very top. The republic is deeply divided. Donald J. Trump is no longer a candidate, he's President Trump. This is a moment where it's not a matter of choosing the conventions you want to breeze through for a cameo — this is a real leadership moment.

"So the president should come. He should stand flat-footed, and speak to the country from the rostrum of the NAACP about the nation's concerns."

A somber Brooks said he's not leaving a perfect organization, but one, that under his leadership was "certainly better off."

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How Everything That's Happened Complicates The FBI Director Hiring Process

Fri, 19 May 2017 00:58:11 -0400

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Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

How will the president and the most senior law enforcement officials in the United States select and ultimately manage a new FBI director while the FBI investigates the Trump campaign?

That question is at the heart of the complex ethical situation created when President Trump fired the bureau’s former director, James Comey. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, meanwhile, has pledged to recuse himself from any investigations concerning the 2016 campaigns. Will Trump and Sessions walk out of the room if the subject of Russia and the campaigns comes up?

So far, the answer from the Trump administration is: There is no problem.

Over the weekend, when Justice Department officials were beginning interviews to find a new FBI director, Sen. Dianne Feinstein tweeted that Sessions — due to his recusal from the Russia investigation — should recuse himself from the selection of a new FBI director.

BuzzFeed News asked spokespersons from the White House and Justice Department on Wednesday whether any effort had been made to ensure that Sessions' recusal was figuring into FBI director selection process; how the process was accounting for how the potential nominees would address questions regarding the investigation; and whether they expected the eventual nominee to recuse himself or herself from the investigation if confirmed.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer responded, “The process continues as discussed.”

The Justice Department spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the questions — echoing earlier nonresponsiveness on the question of Sessions' recusal from any part of the selection process.

This all follows an unusually intense period of news. The past three weeks have included a dizzying number of actions, stories, and revelations surrounding the president of the United States, the investigation into his campaign, and whether the president has tried to influence — or even shut down — the investigation.

The complicated but important timeline is worth laying out:

On May 8, President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein met to discuss then-FBI Director James Comey’s fate. In discussing Comey, whose agency was running the investigation into the questions surrounding the Trump campaign and Trump associates’ ties to Russia, neither Trump nor Sessions, due to his recusal, should have been discussing (or told) anything about the investigation.

On May 9, Rosenstein wrote a memo detailing problems with Comey’s handling of the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state and concluding that Comey “cannot be expected” to do what would be needed for the FBI “to regain public and congressional trust.” Sessions forwarded it to Trump, recommending Comey’s firing. Trump fired Comey before the day was out.

Rosenstein, senators said on Thursday, knew that Comey was going to be fired before he wrote the memo — meaning he likely learned the intended result at, if not before, the May 8 meeting.

On May 10, we have since learned, Trump shared highly classified information with Russian officials in a meeting at the White House. The next day, Trump did an interview with Lester Holt of NBC News, where he said he would have fired Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s memo — and acknowledged that he asked Comey whether he was under investigation.

Over the weekend, Sessions and Rosenstein were already at the point of interviewing possible candidates for FBI director. CNN reported that Comey’s firing and the Russia investigation were not discussed.

On Monday, Sessions briefed Trump. On Wednesday, Trump himself interviewed four candidates — including former Sen. Joseph Lieberman — who was, by Thursday, Trump’s reported leading candidate for the position.

As the Wednesday interviews were taking place, however, Rosenstein was appointing Robert Mueller — himself a former FBI director — to serve as the special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.

FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

The timeline, and the intermingling of the same officials in the Comey firing, raises those unanswered questions about how recusals and independence will work as the new FBI director is selected.

More or less, advocates who have been aggressively fighting the administration’s perceived ethical lapses hope that the eventual FBI director nominee will take responsibility for addressing these questions — given that neither the White House nor the Justice Department appear to be doing so.

“To the extent possible Mueller as Special Counsel should lead the Russia investigation and should have contacts in the FBI who work with his office directly,” Richard Painter, the former ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush and vice chair of the board of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.

CREW, which sued Trump already over his foreign business entanglements, has been highly critical of the Trump administration’s ethics issues.

“In view of what happened to Comey,” Painter explained, “The judgment calls on what to investigate and how to investigate should as much as possible be made by the Special Counsel.”

Faiz Shakir, the national political director at the ACLU, echoed Painter’s comments — and went a step further.

“Given the appointment of Mueller, the next FBI nominee should pledge to recuse himself or herself from any role in the investigation,” he said. “The mere fact that the White House has indicated they want this investigation to end and that they key actors sought to dismiss Comey over this matter, anyone they choose should be forced by the Senate to recuse from the investigation.”

The prospect of other Trump-related investigations in the future is part of why Painter has expressed support for Lieberman, saying that the new director “should be someone who we have confidence can have an active role in other investigations concerning the Trump administration, which are outside the scope of the Special Counsel.” On Twitter, he wrote that Lieberman “[w]on’t take any grief from Sessions.”

Others have raised questions, however, about Lieberman’s independence — given the fact that his law firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres LLP, has regularly represented Trump, including during the 2016 presidential campaign. If Lieberman ultimately is Trump’s pick, the issue is sure to be an additional ethical wrinkle in the nomination process.

Feinstein, however, expressed a different concern in a CNN interview on Thursday when asked if she would vote for Lieberman. While she didn’t say she would oppose him, she did say that “the appointment must be what’s right for the FBI at this time.”

Saying that the FBI is “separate from the political operation of our government,” Feinstein said, “I think, and I feel this very strongly, that the best appointee would be somebody that comes up in the FBI — actually a career appointment.” She pointed specifically to Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI director and one of the other people interviewed by Trump on Wednesday.

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Senators Want US Job Protections Before Expanding Foreign Workforce

Thu, 18 May 2017 19:17:21 -0400

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Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

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A bipartisan group of senators, including Republican Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, have asked the federal government to ensure American jobs are protected before expanding the number of unskilled temporary foreign workers allowed into the US this year.

“It is essential that you carefully evaluate hiring and recruitment efforts to ensure that any proposed increase … does not disadvantage US workers,” the senators wrote.

At issue is the H-2B program, which allows American employers to bring up to 66,000 foreign workers into the US every year on short-term work visas. Part of an omnibus spending bill passed recently by Congress gave regulators the ability to issue additional visas above the cap restriction, which has raised concerns among advocates for US workers and those who feel the visa program can lead to the exploitation of foreign laborers.

“Such a determination should not be made lightly,” the senators wrote in the May 17 letter, which was also signed by senators Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, and David Perdue, a Republican from Georgia.

It was sent Wednesday to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of Labor R. Alexander Acosta.

The letter cites a BuzzFeed News investigation that raised questions about the visa program after finding that workers could be victims of financial exploitation, physical abuse, and even rape. The investigation showed "that the program condemns thousands of workers each year ‘to exploitation and mistreatment,’” the letter added.

Stephen Faulkner, middle, owner of Faulkner's Landscaping & Nursery, installs an irrigation system alongside his workers Gonsalo Garcia, left, and Jalen Murchison, right, at a landscape project in Manchester, N.H.

Elise Amendola / AP

Increasing reliance on the H-2B program, which is specifically for non-agricultural employment such as hotel work or seafood processing, the letter continues, could reduce wages, push American workers out of jobs, and discourage them from ever applying again.

One of the most prominent users of the H-2B program is President Donald Trump; Mar-a-Lago and other businesses controlled by his trust hire temporary workers as waiters and housekeepers. Most recently, The Trump National Golf Course in Westchester County won permission to hire up to eight foreign workers last month.

Last year, more than 150,000 workers came into the US each year under the H-2 program, which also includes the H-2A visa designed for agricultural jobs. That number has increased steadily in recent years, and supporters of the program, including employers and visa agencies that help them request and recruit foreign workers, have lobbied regulators and Congress to expand the program and limit growth in wage requirements for foreign workers.

Representatives for the departments of Labor or Homeland Security could no immediately be reached for comment.

Read the entire letter here:

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Trump's Safety Board Nominee: Employees "Just Can't Resist" Sharing Workplace Secrets

Thu, 18 May 2017 17:50:32 -0400

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Yuri Gripas / Reuters

President Trump's nominee to serve on a workplace safety board has provided some blunt analysis of and advice regarding this past week's White House difficulties.

He did so back in 2010.

"Employees just can’t resist talking about their latest developments, even though they’re not for public disclosure," James J. Sullivan Jr., said of employees sharing confidential information.

Earlier this week, BuzzFeed News confirmed the Washington Post's reporting that Trump had divulged highly classified information to Russian officials in a May 10 White House meeting.

Sullivan is Trump's nominee to be a member of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Back in September 2010, Sullivan — then a lawyer with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney — participated in a roundtable discussion about labor and employment law, which was published in December of that year.

Warning of online postings that could cause headaches, Sullivan said employers "really have to monitor their employees' online activities."

On May 12, Trump tweeted that "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!" — a reference to the conversations the president had with the former FBI director, who he fired on May 9.

Although the Trump White House has lashed out at the media for reporting based on leaks — including, per a New York Times report, to Comey — Sullivan had noted back in 2010, "[E]ven if you train employees and you train management, leaks are going to happen."

On Tuesday, Trump formally sent Sullivan's nomination to the Senate.

Sullivan's full 2010 comment:

I was going to talk about trade secrets because it seems like this is a recent phenomenon. But nine years ago when I was in-house at Comcast, I remember getting a call about an Internet forum for cable technicians. A Comcast cable technician had posted information about a product that Comcast had not yet rolled out, and Comcast was very upset about it because it was essentially a secret. This happens to companies all the time. They really have to monitor their employees’ online activities, especially where confidential information is concerned, because even if you train employees and you train management, leaks are going to happen. Employees just can’t resist talking about their latest developments, even though they’re not for public disclosure.

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Mike Flynn Not Complying With A Congressional Subpoena Doesn’t Mean He’ll Be Going To Jail

Thu, 18 May 2017 14:16:49 -0400

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If Michael Flynn refuses to comply with congressional subpoenas, that almost certainly wouldn't be a reason he ends up in jail.

The Senate's intelligence committee had asked Flynn — President Trump's former national security adviser — in April to turn over documents relevant to the committee's investigation into Trump campaign associates' connections to Russia.

When Flynn's lawyer, Robert Kelner, said Flynn would not be turning over the documents, the committee did what any good committee would do: It issued a congressional subpoena for the documents.

On Thursday morning, the chair of the committee, Sen. Richard Burr, announced that Flynn would not be complying with the Senate's subpoena — although he later walked that back by saying that he'd not yet gotten a "definitive answer" from Flynn's lawyer.

Burr's initial announcement prompted many folks on Twitter to say the move meant that Flynn could end up in jail: contempt of Congress!

They cite a criminal statute and say he could be put in jail for up to a year!

Technically true, but ... here's the issue: We're a long way off from that and it's not likely to happen, as suggested in a Politico report earlier this week.

The Justice Department would have to prosecute the case — something exceptionally unlikely to happen. And that only could happen if the Senate voted to hold Flynn in contempt and forward the matter to the US Attorney's Office for prosecution.

That itself rarely happens: The last criminal prosecution of a current or former executive branch official for contempt of Congress was in 1983, when Rita Lavelle faced a contempt prosecution in relation to the Environmental Protection Agency Superfund scandal that took down then-EPA administrator Anne Gorsuch Burford (whose son is now-Justice Neil Gorsuch).

In that case, a 413-0 contempt vote by the House led to prosecution by the US Attorney. Even there, however, Lavelle ultimately was convicted of perjury for lying to Congress — not under the contempt statute.

Sure, Congress holds people in contempt. It happens not irregularly — a few times each administration (in normal times, that is) and generally with a more partisan vote than in the Lavelle matter. In 2014, the House voted 231-187 to hold former IRS commissioner Lois Lerner in contempt for refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the agency's targeting of conservative groups.

But, the Justice Department doesn't need to prosecute a contempt citation forwarded to it — which was the decision made as to Lerner. Similar decisions against prosecution were made when the House held George W. Bush administration officials — Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers — in contempt.

Congress could seek civil enforcement of the subpoena, a step the House tried to take against former Attorney General Eric Holder after he was held in contempt of Congress in relation to the "Fast and Furious" operation scandal. The process took years, however, and the judge ultimately declined to hold Holder in civil contempt — which would have resulted in fines being assessed against Holder.

There also is, technically, an "inherent" contempt power that Congress itself can exercise to enforce its interests. The power has not been exercised in the modern era, however, and the move — detailed in a recent congressional report as having the Sergeant-at-Arms bring in a person, having the House or Senate try the person, and imprisoning the person in the Capitol until he or she fulfills the congressional request — almost certainly would end up in court. (But it sounds very 2017, it's true.)

Kelner has not responded to multiple requests for comment about his client's plans.

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New Poll: Almost Half Of Young White Voters Disapprove Of President Trump

Thu, 18 May 2017 13:34:37 -0400

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More young white voters now have negative views of President Trump, a new poll finds.

The national survey, which surveyed over 1,750 young adults aged 18-34 from April 14 to May 1, found that Trump has only a 34% approval rating among young whites, as opposed to 47% who do not approve of the job he is doing as president.

"This finding might suggest that if Trump is unable to move forward his promised agenda centering on jobs, white millennial support of Trump may fade by 2018 and 2020," said Cathy Cohen, a professor at the University of Chicago who conducted the poll by GenForward: A survey of the Black Youth Project.

The issue of Trump's popularity has come into sharper focus after the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, and a New York Times report that Trump asked Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn, who was Trump's national security advisor.

While the poll found that a majority of young voters in all racial and ethnic groups believe that the country is on the wrong track, these voters are deeply divided over what they believe to be the most important problem in America. The most important problems for young black voters (37%) is racism, and health care (26%), while the most important problems for young Latinos are immigration (47%) and racism (39%).

Those issues are not on the radar of young white and Asian voters, the survey found. White voters are more concerned with health care, terrorism, and the national debt, while Asian voters are primarily concerned with health care and education.

"This finding suggests that any political party or politician seeking to attract the millennial vote will need to pay attention to the ways race and ethnicity shape their political preferences," said Cohen. "They are not one big homogenous group."

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Why Is Donald Trump Standing By Mike Flynn?

Thu, 18 May 2017 12:09:34 -0400

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Anthony Michael Hall as Greg Pulver. / Via

One of the great mysteries of Washington right now is: Why is Donald Trump risking his presidency for retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn?

It would be the easiest thing in the world for Trump to let Flynn go down for dumb professional sins, most obviously not reporting that he was lobbying for Turkey. But instead Trump has stuck with Flynn through an embarrassing series of stories on his ties to Russia. He stuck with him even when he knew Flynn was under investigation for the Turkey deal. He stuck with him when Sally Yates said he'd lied about contact with the Russians. And he may wind up destroying his presidency by asking Jim Comey take it easy on Flynn.

What, Washington is reasonably asking, does Flynn have on Trump?

That may be the right question. Flynn’s lawyer suggested he has a “story to tell.”

But an old book and a new movie hint at something else, that Flynn brought from the military and from Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s band of brothers a trait that Trump, a self-described “loyalty freak,” values above others: personal loyalty.

Flynn arrived in Trump’s camp after a long career as part of the tight, combative inner circle around another American leader, McChrystal. He rose through the ranks on McChrystal’s coattails, and played a central role in another great public crisis: the 2010 downfall of McChrystal and his loyal men after they were quoted in Rolling Stone trashing their civilian masters.

The new movie War Machine, out on May 26 on Netflix, includes a thinly veiled portrait of Flynn as Gen. Greg Pulver, the top aide to Brad Pitt’s arrogant US general in Afghanistan. As played by Anthony Michael Hall, Pulver makes up for being somewhat dense with awe-inspiring, fierce personal devotion to his boss.

“His official title was director of intelligence, but all I saw was a guy with anger management issues whose life had no meaning without” the general, based obviously on Stanley McChrystal.

Hall plays the character broad in a movie that is often a broad satire, but the moment when a Flynn learns that his team’s antics have cost McChrystal his job is genuinely moving.

The movie is fiction, and at pains not to be taken for biography. But Pulver is obviously based on Flynn, a core member of McChrystal’s inner circle who had, by Michael Hastings’ account in the book on which the movie was based, served under McChrystal three times before they headed to Afghanistan.

“When we alerted for Afghanistan in May of 2009, the first two officers I sought to form the nucleus of the team were Charlie and his older brother Mike,” McChrystal writes in his memoir.

Mike Flynn, McChrystal writes admiringly, was “pure energy,” and the brothers were part of a small and loyal team around their leader. Hastings, our former BuzzFeed colleague who died in 2013, described as “a handpicked collection of killers, spies, fighter jocks, patriots, political operatives, counterinsurgency experts, and outright maniacs, the likes of which the American military has never seen.”

Flynn comes across in Hastings’ reporting in The Operators as a particularly out-of-control figure. “How the hell did you ever get your security clearance?” Flynn is asked at one point. “I lied,” he replies.

The writer and director of War Machine, David Michôd, confirmed to me that he had McChrystal’s inner circle in mind in while he was writing the film.

“The loyalty felt like a hugely important part of that bunch of guys,” he said in an email. “A bunch of guys collectively propping up a delusion. And they do this with their unwavering loyalty and admiration for the General. And I know this to be true of these guys in the real world."

The most common mistake in American journalism these days is overthinking Donald Trump — imputing a strategy, or even a plan, to a cipher who operates on impulse and gut. He has always surrounded himself with a certain kind of man — die-hard loyalists, whose loyalty he mostly returns, sometimes after he fires them.

A friend of Flynn, Michael Isikoff reported today, described the general and the president as "brothers in a foxhole." And Peter Alexander reported this week that when Flynn, already mired in scandal last fall, requested the job of national security adviser, “Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump made it clear President-elect Trump would certainly approve of that request to reward Flynn’s loyalty.”

Even after he'd forced Flynn out — and on the day he would have his fateful dinner with Comey — Trump was grumbling in public that his former aide-de-camp had been treated “very, very unfairly.”

Flynn was also in the Paris bar in 2010 where the soldiers’ drunken revel ended the general’s career — though not the general’s loyalty to the men whose anonymous comments created the crisis.

I don’t know if any of those notorious quotes about Biden and Obama come from Flynn. But McChrystal, in his own memoir, doesn’t blame his staff for his fall. And Trump, too, appears ready to return Flynn’s loyalty to the bitter end.

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14 Important Things About The Trump Admin You May Have Missed Amid All This Insanity

Thu, 18 May 2017 11:19:38 -0400

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Here’s what else the president has been up to.

More than 41,000 suspected undocumented immigrants have been arrested in the 100 days since Trump signed an executive order expanding the mandate of federal immigration authorities, reflecting a 38% increase compared to the same period last year.

More than 41,000 suspected undocumented immigrants have been arrested in the 100 days since Trump signed an executive order expanding the mandate of federal immigration authorities, reflecting a 38% increase compared to the same period last year.

Bryan Cox / AP

Stock markets had their biggest fall since before the presidential election on Wednesday, as investors became uncertain over Trump's policy agenda — and perhaps even his future in the White House.

Stock markets had their biggest fall since before the presidential election on Wednesday, as investors became uncertain over Trump's policy agenda — and perhaps even his future in the White House.

Bryan R. Smith / AFP / Getty Images

Trump's plan to blacklist Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood – and, by extension, target US Islamic groups – no longer seems imminent, but civil rights groups are warning that it’s no time for celebration.

Trump's plan to blacklist Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood – and, by extension, target US Islamic groups – no longer seems imminent, but civil rights groups are warning that it’s no time for celebration.

Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

Months after he claimed, with zero evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, Trump is setting up a commission to investigate voter fraud to be headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Months after he claimed, with zero evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election, Trump is setting up a commission to investigate voter fraud to be headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The Washington Post / Getty Images

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A Trump Supreme Court Short-Lister Backs Up Sessions’ Latest Criminal Justice Move

Thu, 18 May 2017 10:30:20 -0400

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Cliff Owen / AP

ARLINGTON, Va. — A federal appeals judge who was on President Trump’s short list for the US Supreme Court has expressed support, at least in part, for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new policy that federal prosecutors pursue the most serious criminal charges and penalties possible.

Judge William Pryor Jr., who sits on the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News on Wednesday that although it wasn’t his “place to favor or oppose the charging policy,” he thought it could make charging decisions more uniform. Sessions’ policy, released this past week, replaced policies adopted by former Attorney General Eric Holder that urged prosecutors to avoid harsher penalties if possible for nonviolent offenders.

“When the executive follows a charging policy like that, it at least reduces the potential for disparities in charging,” Pryor said. “Maybe there’s a case to be made for lowering some penalties as a check of what prosecutors can charge, but when you charge the most readily provable highest offense, the prosecutors are at least treating similar offenders similarly.”

Pryor isn’t just a federal appeals judge and potential future Supreme Court nominee — he’s also the acting chair of the US Sentencing Commission, which manages the sentencing guidelines that federal judges rely on and analyzes data on criminal justice issues that affect the federal system.

Civil rights groups have blasted Sessions’ charging policy as “backward” and a harbinger of overincarceration. Some Republicans in Congress have come out against the policy, and on Tuesday bipartisan legislation was introduced that would allow judges in certain cases to hand down sentences below mandatory minimums.

Pryor has longstanding ties to Sessions. He succeeded Sessions as Alabama attorney general, and had Sessions’ backing in the Senate when he went through contentious confirmation proceedings in 2003. Sessions reportedly advocated for Pryor to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia. That nomination went to Tenth Circuit Judge (now Justice) Neil Gorsuch, but if another Supreme Court seat opens up, Pryor could still be in the running — Trump told The Washington Times that he would choose his next high court nominee from his original campaign shortlist.

Pryor spoke with BuzzFeed News after he delivered remarks at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School on Wednesday about his proposal for overhauling the sentencing guidelines; the event was sponsored by the Charles Koch Institute. Pryor has called for guidelines that are simpler and “presumptive” — not mandatory, but more binding than the current guidelines, which are advisory. Pryor’s proposal is his own, and doesn’t reflect the opinion of the sentencing commission.

Pryor wants to trim the list of factors that judges can consider in deciding whether to boost or lower a sentence; develop broader possible ranges of sentences; reduce the penalties for first-time and low-level nonviolent offenders; and require prosecutors who want to argue that there are aggravating factors that warrant a higher sentence to include them in an indictment and prove them to a jury.

One part of the current system that Pryor would leave mostly intact, and that’s been a source of criticism, is the extent to which judges can look at a defendant’s prior criminal history in crafting a sentence. Critics have said that taking into account criminal history deepens racial disparities in sentencing, since African Americans are more likely to get caught up in the criminal justice system.

Pryor in his remarks on Wednesday acknowledged that African Americans were disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and had more significant criminal histories on average than other offenders, but he did not think that was a reason to move away from the emphasis on past criminal history during sentencing. The rules already included provisions for excluding consideration of low-level crimes disproportionately prosecuted against African American defendants, he said, and studies showed that criminal history was a strong predictor of the odds that a defendant would re-offend.

Pryor told BuzzFeed News after his remarks that he had shared his sentencing proposal with a few members of Congress who had an interest in sentencing reform — he said he received a kind note in response from Sessions when he was still a senator — but hadn’t gotten any formal pledges of support to date.

Pryor acknowledged in his remarks that the political climate in Congress meant that any major changes to the criminal justice system would be difficult, but that shouldn’t be a reason not to try.

“We are in a highly unusual time ... one that comes along only every generation or so, where there is genuine and sustained bipartisan support for structural sentencing reform,” he said.

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