The US Government-In-Exile Has A New President

Tue, 19 Sep 2017 23:30:32 -0400

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Clinton and Bloomberg share a stage in 2009.

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The annual Manhattan conference hosted for a decade by the Clinton Global Initiative became a kind of shorthand for what some hated about the Clintons: a mix of worthy and venal motives, a slosh of money and shady rich people around their world, and flashy and enduring relationships with autocrats in the Gulf.

Tomorrow, Bill Clinton will hand what used to be CGI's main event off to Mike Bloomberg. And Bloomberg is reviving part of the event’s original role as a kind of US government in exile. The conference was created during the worst of the Iraq war and amid intense American isolation. European and Middle Eastern allies loathed George W. Bush, and turned instead to the open and sympathetic face of Bill Clinton's America.

Bloomberg’s move to take over the conference (renamed the Bloomberg Global Business Forum) hasn’t drawn much attention, but it’s worth seeing in that context: The former New York mayor is inheriting not a conference, but a platform for an alternative American diplomacy. (Bloomberg, Axios wrote on breaking the news, is "the new Clinton.")

Bloomberg is formalizing the posture that brought him to Paris in June. After Donald Trump announced that he was canceling the climate accord, Bloomberg said he'll rally American businesses to meet its targets anyway.

"Nations are bound together by trade and investment, and while chief executives are not diplomats, they can be voices for cooperation on issues where the private sector can be constructive — from infrastructure to climate change,” he said in an emailed comment Tuesday. “Actions taken by the private sector, while not replacing official diplomatic channels, can often carry more weight than words spoken (or tweeted) by public officials."

Bill Clinton’s power at the event was always his personal ability to convene giant figures, something that made CGI a delight to cover. The halls of the Sheraton New York were filled with people you’d never get on the phone. I once cornered (a displeased) Carlos Slim to grill him about his financial relationship with the New York Times. The main stage featured people with real power — King Abdullah, Tony Blair, Kofi Annan, Condoleezza Rice.

And Clinton could cajole his array of connections onto stages that their PR handlers should not have allowed. In 2005, after Clinton had painstakingly mended fences with Rupert Murdoch — part of a long dance that ended abruptly in 2012 — he somehow persuaded the irascible right-wing media baron to appear on a panel with the CNN chairman Richard Parsons on a Friday afternoon in a dimly-lit hotel basement, moderated by Clinton himself.

When Parsons boasted that CNN was “the best and best-positioned global news media company in the world,” Murdoch simply couldn’t take it.

“I don’t watch CNN International, and I doubt that anyone else does,” he snapped. The channel is “unwatchable… and it’s so anti-American."

Both Barack Obama and John McCain spoke at CGI in 2008, and it lost its place as the alternative government in 2009. Instead, CGI built a not unfriendly relationship with the new White House. They stopped putting media moguls on stage to trash one another, started locking the press in a basement hold room, and political reporters like me stopped enjoying it quite as much.

It also grew over time to be a bit better organized, and directed millions to a dizzying range of charities. It will continue in some smaller forms, and many of the grants it facilitated have long-term implications — an emblematic one was the decision by a Minnesota hearing aid company, Starkey, to donate a million hearing aids to people in the developing world.

Bloomberg’s version has some of CGI’s trappings, with the added polish of the kind of government in exile he represents. This isn’t the former governor of Arkansas, balancing his pro-business policies with folksy populism. This is pure anti-Trumpism, globalist on the big issues of trade and climate, firmly progressive on social values. The global figures Bloomberg has been able to attract to this Trump-free safe haven reads like a wish list for (now collapsed) Trump advisory panels: Tim Cook and Jack Ma, Macron and Erdogan and Trudeau, Blankfein and Schwarzman. The hotel is a little fancier than CGI’s and the guests need some qualification other than a simple willingness to give millions at Bill Clinton’s say-so.

Clinton will open the Bloomberg event tomorrow, formalizing the handoff. This isn't the first project Clinton has passed off to Bloomberg; that was the Clinton Climate Initiative. And while the men are very different, the partnership reflects what they share, which is a kind of relentless ambition.

Bloomberg's new stage is a sign that on the issues on which he's already begun to dog Trump — climate change, in particular — the former mayor is likely just getting started.

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Donald Trump And His Allies Take A Surprisingly Larger Role In The Alabama Senate Race

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 18:47:31 -0400

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Alabama Sen. Luther Strange shakes hands with his predecessor, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, on June 13 in Washington, DC.

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A political nonprofit loyal to President Donald Trump will spend nearly $500,000 to boost interim Alabama Sen. Luther Strange in a high-stakes Republican runoff election next week.

America First Policies will pay for pro-Strange digital ads, direct mail pieces, and get-out-the-vote phone calls between now and next week’s vote, a spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

“From repealing Obamacare to building the wall, Luther Strange is a proven ally in the U.S. Senate who's working with our president to make America great again,” the spokesperson, Erin Montgomery, wrote in an email that referenced the Trump campaign slogan. “We at America First are proud to continue to support him ahead of the September 26 runoff.”

The last-minute assistance comes as Strange, who was appointed earlier this year to the seat previously held by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, faces a tough fight from Roy Moore, the former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Moore finished first in last month’s primary, has been leading in recent polls, and is presenting himself as the candidate friendliest to Trump and his agenda. He also has received help from a key Trump ally: former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon, who is using his perch at Breitbart to boost Moore.

But Trump announced on Twitter over the weekend that he planned to attend a Saturday rally for Strange in Huntsville. (The event actually is scheduled for Friday, according to an advisory the Strange campaign sent Monday.) And Politico, citing unidentified sources, reported that Vice President Mike Pence will hold a get-out-the-vote-rally for Strange next Monday in the state.

Trump’s reinforcement of support — he endorsed Strange in last month’s primary — has been a bit of a surprise, given the polling trends in the race. Trump had done little since the primary, and his silence was interpreted as a sign that he didn’t want to tie himself too closely to Strange in the event of a loss. A week ago, those close to the White House spoke of the race pessimistically and doubted that Trump would do any more on Strange’s behalf.

Aligning with Strange also puts Trump in a unique position: on the side of the GOP establishment. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his allies are heavily invested in Strange’s bid.

Now Trump and Pence, having agreed to spend more time on Strange, risk political embarrassment if Moore prevails. So it makes sense that America First, which exists in part to provide cover for the White House’s political moves, is spending more money.

“I think they feel it's winnable,” a source familiar with America First’s plans told BuzzFeed News when asked what changed between last week and this week.

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More Than Seven Lawyers Working On Michael Flynn's Defense Team

Mon, 18 Sep 2017 13:36:08 -0400

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Carlos Barria / Reuters

Michael Flynn's family has set up a legal defense fund and is now soliciting donations as multiple investigations scrutinize the actions of the former Trump national security adviser.

The family is setting up the fund because "[t]he enormous expense of attorneys' fees and other related expenses far exceed their ability to pay," according to a statement from Joe Flynn and Barbara Redgate, Flynn's brother and sister, respectively.

A source familiar with his legal representation said Flynn's "core team" is seven attorneys from Covington — including partners, counsel, and associates — with "numerous" others involved at certain points. The fees will "certainly be into the seven figures," according to the source.

Flynn, who played key roles in Trump's campaign and is a retired Army lieutenant general, has been under scrutiny in the various investigations relating to Russia's attempts to influence the 2016 election, including special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Flynn tweeted out the news about the legal defense fund first thing Monday.

@GenFlynn/Twitter / Via Twitter: @GenFlynn

"The costs of legal representation associated with responding to the multiple investigations that have arisen in the wake of the 2016 election place a great burden on Mike and his family," the website reads. "They are deeply grateful for considering a donation to help pay expenses relating to his legal representation."

Flynn's personal business dealings and his actions during the Trump transition have been an enormous source of coverage. There have been questions about foreign payments to Flynn, as well as other Flynn meetings with foreign officials.

Flynn turned over more than 600 pages of documents to congressional investigators in June in connection with their investigations. He has not, however, personally testified — earlier citing fear of prosecution.

In addition to Robert Kelner, the Covington partner who has been Flynn's lead counsel throughout the investigations, the primary attorneys representing Flynn include partner Stephen P. Anthony and counsel Brian D. Smith. Anthony is a white-collar criminal trial lawyer who previously worked in the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section. Smith, a former lawyer in the Clinton White House counsel's office, currently advises clients on investigations — including matters involving the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The three of them have signed various congressional correspondence, the source told BuzzFeed News.

In addition to the core team, "numerous" other Covington attorneys have been involved from time to time — when documents have needed to be reviewed, for example — the source told BuzzFeed News.

Related Links:

LINK: Trump Advisers Secretly Met With Jordan’s King While One Was Pushing A Huge Nuclear Power Deal

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

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Here's Why Some Trump Supporters Are Now Burning Their Trump Merch

Sat, 16 Sep 2017 17:25:05 -0400

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“You have become the swamp.”

As President Trump flirts with making a deal with Democrats on DREAMers, some of his hardcore supporters are turning on him by burning their iconic "Make America Great Again" hats.

As President Trump flirts with making a deal with Democrats on DREAMers, some of his hardcore supporters are turning on him by burning their iconic "Make America Great Again" hats.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement with President Trump on DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Trump said Thursday that no deal had been made, but appeared to embrace the Democrats' goals in crafting legislation to protect undocumented people brought to the United States as children.

"Does anybody really want to throw out good, educated and accomplished young people who have jobs, some serving in the military?" he tweeted Thursday. "Really!"

@realdonaldtrump / Twitter / Via Twitter: @realDonaldTrump

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Judge Questions If Court Can Toss Out Joe Arpaio's Conviction After Trump's Pardon

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 20:14:33 -0400

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Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

A federal judge isn't convinced she can vacate former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's criminal contempt conviction in the wake of President Trump's pardon and instead asking for more briefing on the effect of the presidential action.

The move doesn't mean US District Judge Susan Bolton is still seeking to sentence Arpaio for the conviction, but it does signal that she is considering simply dismissing the case while leaving the guilty verdict on his record.

The controversial Arizona sheriff was found guilty of criminal contempt of court for refusing to stop traffic patrols targeting suspected undocumented immigrants. After the pardon in August, Trump's first as president, Arpaio asked Bolton to vacate the conviction and dismiss his case.

Bolton was set to sentence Arpaio on Oct. 6 for his conviction until Trump's pardon. Now, she is scheduled to consider his request to vacate the conviction on Oct. 4.

In response to Arpaio's request, the Justice Department agreed, calling it "just and appropriate" for the judge to vacate her orders and dismiss the case.

The move led several outside parties to weigh in, with many going so far as to ask the judge to consider whether the pardon itself was void.

Bolton did not directly address that issue, instead focusing in Thursday's order on the effect of the pardon.

Arpaio has asked Bolton to vacate the "verdict and other orders in this matter," she wrote, and the Justice Department "appears to agree with" that request. The cases cited by Arpaio and the Justice Department, Bolton wrote, focus on vacating the final judgment in a case before dismissing it — not the more broad request of vacating all of the orders in the case.

Because Arpaio had been convicted, but not sentenced, for criminal contempt due to his repeated refusal to follow federal court orders in a case challenging his policies for detaining people based solely on their perceived immigration status, there was no final judgment. As such, Bolton wrote that the cases cited "suggest that dismissal with prejudice is all that remains to be ordered."

She continued, however, noting that "U.S. Supreme Court and Ninth Circuit case law suggest that a presidential pardon leaves intact the recipient’s underlying record of conviction. ... The Government’s Response does not sufficiently address this issue. Therefore, supplemental briefing is appropriate."

The Justice Department is to file a five-page brief on the question by Sept. 21. Arpaio can also file a reply, per the order.

LINK: Joe Arpaio Wants His Conviction Tossed Out Now That He's Been Pardoned

LINK: President Trump Has Pardoned Controversial Former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio

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A Federal Judge Is Suing The Government For Ordering Him To Get a Mental Health Evaluation

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 17:32:26 -0400

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The federal courthouse in Akron, Ohio

Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress

A federal judge in Ohio is suing the federal judiciary, claiming that other judges violated his constitutional rights in ordering him to undergo a mental health screening — and threatening his position on the court if he refused — after finding he committed misconduct.

US District Judge John Adams, who sits in Akron, faced disciplinary action last month after a panel of judges found that he mistreated another official in his courthouse and refused to cooperate with an investigation into his behavior by undergoing a mental health exam.

Adams, represented lawyers from the conservative government watchdog group Judicial Watch, filed a lawsuit on Thursday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, naming the panels of judges who issued orders against him as defendants.

For a federal judge to file a lawsuit, let alone to sue his colleagues and the court system that he works in, is unusual. Federal judges filed a lawsuit several years ago against the US government seeking pay raises, but that didn't involve judges accusing each other of violating the law, as Adams has done.

Adams could not immediately be reached. His lead attorney, Paul Orfanedes, litigation director at Judicial Watch, did not immediately return a request for comment. Judicial Watch is best known for filing Freedom of Information Act lawsuits seeking documents from federal agencies, but Orfanedes has represented Adams during the misconduct proceedings.

Adams was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2003. Before he was confirmed, he was a state court judge and a prosecutor in Ohio, and also worked in private practice.

According to a public document issued in his misconduct case in August, Adams was accused of committing misconduct in his dealings with a magistrate judge in his court. Federal magistrate judges are not Senate-confirmed like US district judges, but often take on significant roles in managing cases, including ruling on whether recently arrested criminal defendants should be released before their next court appearance and managing the exchange of evidence in civil lawsuits.

After a magistrate judge missed a deadline that Adams had set for completing work on a case in February 2013, Adams issued an order that the magistrate judge explain why that magistrate judge should not be held in contempt. The magistrate judge submitted an explanation, and Adams accepted it.

Adams' district court colleagues objected to how he had handled the situation, however, and four judges filed a judicial misconduct complaint against him. A special committee of judges — publicly available records about the case don't specify who those judges were — led the initial investigation, and eventually expanded the probe to include whether Adams was suffering from any emotional or mental instability. The committee hired a forensic psychiatrist to examine him, but Adams refused to undergo testing or provide any documents to the psychiatrist.

In July 2015, the special committee gave its report to the Judicial Council of the Sixth Circuit — the body of judges that handle judicial complaints against judges who serve within the Sixth Circuit, which covers Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The committee concluded that Adams' behavior suggested he might have a disability that prevented him from having a relationship with his colleagues and handling his work as a judge.

In February 2016, the Sixth Circuit council issued an order finding that Adams had committed misconduct in his treatment of the magistrate judge and his refusal to undergo the mental health exam. The council ordered that Adams be reprimanded and undergo the mental health screening. It ordered that he also not handle cases for two years — a limitation that could be suspended if Adams took the exam and was found to be able to do his job. If Adams continued to refuse the testing, the council said that it intended to recommend that Adams voluntarily retire.

Adams challenged that order before the Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States, which can review circuit-level decisions in judicial misconduct cases. That committee largely upheld the Sixth Circuit council's order in August, although it said that Adams could continue to handle cases.

According to committee's August memorandum, the investigation showed that the incident with the magistrate judge "was the culmination of an increasingly strained relationship between Judge Adams and his colleagues that began in 2008," when Adams' preferred candidate for a magistrate judge position was not selected. Adams had also stopped participating in court events and administrative business and had generally refused to interact with other judges, the conduct committee noted.

In his lawsuit against the Sixth Circuit council and the Judicial Conference committee, Adams is claiming that forcing him to go through an involuntary mental health screening violates his constitutional rights to due process — he said he wasn't given notice about what judicial duties he was allegedly unable to perform as a result of any suspected mental disability — and against unreasonable searches. He's also challenging the constitutionality of the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act, the federal law that lays out the authority of federal judges to mete out discipline.

Adam's lawsuit is unusual, but not unprecedented, according to Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University School of Law and an expert on judicial ethics. He cited the case of the late Oklahoma federal judge Stephen Chandler, who in the late 1960s went to the US Supreme Court when the Judicial Council of the Tenth Circuit temporarily barred him from handling cases. He was eventually reinstated, according to a 1989 obituary by the Associated Press, and the Supreme Court never ruled on the merits of his claim.

"Adams claims the Judicial Counsel and the Judicial Conference are violating his constitutional rights. He has nowhere else to go now but court and he’s entitled to seek relief there," Gillers said.

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New Poll: Removing Confederate Monuments Matters To Voters Of Color — But Not As Much As Other Stuff

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:43:14 -0400

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The Ku Klux Klan protests the planned removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee in July in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Chet Strange / Getty Images

In a new poll, registered voters of color in Virginia say removing Confederate statues and memorials from public spaces is only “somewhat important” compared to other issues.

Conversely, those voters ranked access to quality education, safety for people of color, and standing against the rise of white nationalism as matters of “extreme importance.”

The poll, conducted by two Democratic-leaning groups, BlackPAC and brilliant corners strategies, comes amid a broad and fraught debate about how to handle and when to remove Confederate memorials — especially in Virginia, where a man who attended a white supremacist rally rammed a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, ultimately killing a woman. The debate has also entered into the state’s upcoming governor’s race.

The groups surveyed about 1,000 voters of color registered in Virginia, including 600 black voters, and 200 Latino voters, and 200 Asian American-Pacific Islander voters, respectively. Voters were asked to rate a set of issues based on race and identity — with 10 being “extremely important,” 5 being “somewhat important” and a 0 being “not important at all.”

Forty-three percent of black voters (the highest percentage) put the removal of Confederate monument at or near the top of their personal priorities; 31% of Hispanic and 35% Asian-American Pacific Islander voters ranked removing Confederate monuments that high. All told, the removal of Confederate statues and monuments had an average score of 5.8-level importance among groups participating in the survey.

Confederate symbols have become a flashpoint in national politics: On the left, symbols like the Confederate flag are held up as relics of white supremacy that represent a legacy of violence against black people over whose freedom the Civil War was fought. Their supporters, meanwhile, largely describe the symbols as an ode to heritage. That debate has been shadowed by violence: both in Charlottesville and in places like Charleston, South Carolina, Dylan Roof killed several members of a black church. He had been photographed with the Confederate flag, which the state subsequently removed from the statehouse grounds after the shooting.

Trump’s response to the Charlottesville violence, in which he described “very fine” people among white supremacists who had rallied around a statue of Robert E. Lee, was widely criticized, especially by black Americans.

But according to the poll, voters of color say they are less likely to respond to specifically anti-Trump messages, and far more likely to be motivated to cast a vote that sends a strong message about their feelings on racism. People who say they are concerned about the protection of voting rights are most likely to vote, according to the poll.

Cornell Belcher, the Democratic pollster who conducted the poll, told BuzzFeed News he wasn’t surprised that the issue of the Confederate monuments was such a low priority.

“When you think about communities of color feeling literally threatened and unsafe in this current environment, issues like the statues are important, but clearly they’re not going to rise to the issue of some of the other issues around racial profiling and community safety where it is a life and death situation in these communities,” he said.

Adrianne Shropshire, BlackPAC’s executive director, said she found the response to the issue of the removal of Confederate monuments and statues “a little bit surprising” but that it was important to look at voter attitudes through the lens of responses to questions about ending white supremacy and fight racism and discrimination. “Ultimately, the visuals of Nazis marching in the street in Charlottesville took precedence over the monument issue. [The responses] didn’t center necessarily on the monuments but instead on the potential for racialized violence,” said Shropshire.

Belcher said that Latino voters in particular are “much more interested” in elections than in years past, but that you “don’t see the same some voter intensity” with black Americans, particularly younger voters. Belcher said that the way to engage is to hammer a compelling message on fighting against discrimination, alluding tangentially to a fear that black voter turnout — black women, for instance, trail both Latino and AAPI women in vote likelihood, according to the survey — could be returning to pre-Obama era levels.

“That’s really problematic for Democrats and progressives if there's a pre-Obama reversion,” he said.

Virginia’s elections take place Nov. 7. Ralph Northam, the Democratic candidate for governor, is trailing Terry McAuliffe's 2013 performance with voters of color. Justin Fairfax, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor who is black, leads in popularity over Republican Jill Vogel with voters of color. A July Virginia Commonwealth University poll had Fairfax with a six point lead over Vogel, but the pollsters recommended Fairfax and Democrats take action increase his name ID.

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President Trump Doubled Down On Blaming Both Sides For Violence In Charlottesville — Again

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 16:03:07 -0400

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Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

President Donald Trump again blamed the violence in Charlottesville on both sides on Thursday, when discussing a conversation with Sen. Tim Scott, the only black Republican in the Senate, the day prior.

On Thursday, on board Air Force One while returning from touring Hurricane Irma damage in Florida, Trump reinforced his previous controversial comments defending white supremacists by pointing to a sometimes violent group that opposes them, Antifa.

Trump told reporters he and Scott "had a great talk yesterday. I think especially in light of the advent of Antifa, if you look at what’s going on there. You have some pretty bad dudes on the other side also and essentially that’s what I said. Now because of what’s happened since then with Antifa. When you look at really what’s happened since Charlottesville, a lot of people are saying and people have actually written, ‘Gee, Trump may have a point.’"

Trump added, "I said there’s some very bad people on the other side also. But we had a great conversation. And he has legislation, which I actually like very much, the concept of which I support, to get people into certain areas and building and constructing and putting people to work. I told him yesterday that’s a concept I can support very easily.”

When told of Trump's comments, Scott, of South Carolina, told BuzzFeed News that it's unrealistic to think President Trump would have an immediate "epiphany" regarding race after their meeting.

Scott met with Trump on Wednesday to discuss the topic, especially after Trump defended white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville.

"At the end of the day, I voiced my concerns about the thought that somehow three centuries of American history of raping and murdering people based on their color is somehow equal to what Antifa is doing today," Scott said on Thursday.

When asked if he found it frustrating to see that Trump might not have gotten the message, Scott said, "No, I mean, listen. He is who he has been and I didn't go in there to change who he was, I wanted to inform and educate a different perspective. I think we accomplished that. To assume that immediately thereafter he's going to have an epiphany is just unrealistic."

Sen. Tim Scott before meeting with Trump on Wednesday

J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Scott has previously said Trump had "compromised" his moral authority through his handling of the race-fueled Charlottesville riots.

"They talked about [Charlottesville] pretty in-depth," press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday of the meeting, "but the focus was primarily on solutions moving forward, and that was what both people came to the meeting wanting to discuss — is what we can do to bring people together, not talk about divisions within the country."

Scott's office later released the following statement:

In yesterday's meeting, Senator Scott was very, very clear about the brutal history surrounding the white supremacist movement and their horrific treatment of black and other minority groups. Rome wasn't built in a day, and to expect the President's rhetoric to change based on one 30 minute conversation is unrealistic. Antifa is bad and should be condemned, yes, but the KKK and white supremacist groups have been killing and tormenting black Americans for centuries. There is no realistic comparison. Period.

At the same time, it was encouraging to hear the President commit, as he did yesterday in their meeting, to diversifying his staff, as well as make clear his support for the Senator's Investing in Opportunity Act. These are concrete steps that will help our poor and minority communities and ensure their voices are heard.

No matter what is said or not said, the Senator will continue his efforts to unite our nation and move forward as one American Family.

Later in the day, Trump signed a resolution condemning the "violence and domestic terrorist attack" that took place in Charlottesville. Here's the full text:

S.J.Res. 49, which condemns the violence and domestic terrorist attack that took place during events between August 11 and August 12, 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, recognizing the first responders who lost their lives while monitoring the events, offering deepest condolences to the families and friends of those individuals who were killed and deepest sympathies and support to those individuals who were injured by the violence, expressing support for the Charlottesville community, rejecting White nationalists, White supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other hate groups, and urging the President and the President’s Cabinet to use all available resources to address the threats posed by those groups.

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How An Old-Fashioned Senator Is Living In Donald Trump’s Washington

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 20:35:43 -0400

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Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC — Rob Portman is a serious senator. He's Midwest nice, a little old-fashioned, and in possession of deep wells of knowledge about taxes, trade, and health care. In some alternate universe, you could imagine him as Mitt Romney's vice president.

This week, in his quiet office on the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Portman shared one way a serious senator deals with this insane moment in politics. Asked how he learns about President Donald Trump’s disruptive and frequently combative tweets, the Ohio Republican grinned.

“I get it two ways,” he began, as he rose from a chair in his office.

He walked behind his desk and grabbed his iPhone.

“I can’t follow everybody, right? But guess who I do follow? Donald Trump,” Portman continued as he returned to his seat. “So every one of his tweets, I get on my phone.

“I have an alert,” Portman confirmed as he tapped away at the screen. “You know why? Because when I didn’t have an alert, I would be in the middle of an interview with someone like you, and they would ask me about something he tweeted, and I would be caught flat-footed.”

And, just to be safe, Portman’s deputy communications director sends him an email each morning with Trump’s tweets, which more often than not jolt the day in different directions and into various diversions.

During a half-hour interview this week with BuzzFeed News, Portman offered a glimpse of how Republicans like him — a mild-mannered conservative who came of age in the Bush era but now seems moderate when compared to Trump’s far-right champions — are trying to navigate the reality of Trumpism and a president who has taken their party down a more populist and unpredictable path. These days it’s tougher to figure out where a Portman fits.

What does it mean to be a Republican right now? Portman, once an unabashed free-trader who served as George W. Bush’s US trade representative, framed his answer around an issue that was central to Trump’s “America First” message.

“I consider myself a good Republican, but I’ve also been willing to talk about fair trade,” Portman said. “On something like that, I feel like, even though I was a little out of the mainstream of my party on some respects there, I’m not uncomfortable with where they’re going, because I do think fairness and a level playing field is consistent with my principles and values as a Republican.”

He also acknowledged his own shift, something that signals just how sharply the party’s dynamics on trade have turned: Portman came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership last year during his reelection campaign. And though he does not favor withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement, Portman said he wants to see substantial changes to that pact.

Despite the changing political environment, Portman still views the GOP as, in his words, a team. And he doesn’t appreciate it when the ostensible head of the party, Trump, or his allies do something that messes with the chemistry. Specifically, Portman called out Trump for his recent attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “Going to the team concept, McConnell’s going to be the majority leader. You’ve got to figure out a way to work together as adults — we don’t have to love each other.”

Portman also isn’t happy that Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, is using his perch at Breitbart News to threaten primary challenges against sitting Republican senators perceived as unloyal to Trump. He wishes Bannon would use his influence to run a positive campaign to build support for GOP plans to rewrite tax code and overhaul Obamacare.

“I mean, people can do whatever they want,” Portman said. “But do I like it? No. I think it’s not team play. Here we are with 52 votes [in the Senate], trying to get tax reform done with only a two-vote margin. Health care reform, you saw, two-vote margin. It’s hard enough as it is. … I think instead of having a circular firing squad, we have got to be focused on how to get things done.”

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

All of these — the tweets, the sniping at McConnell, Bannon’s intraparty warfare — are things Portman sees as distractions from crafting and talking policy. And Portman really likes to craft and talk policy.

He gives the White House a pass, for example, on its slow implementation of recommendations from an opioid task force. Instead, he expresses frustration that his colleagues in Congress are not moving fast enough to pass legislation that would address the crisis. Portman also hopes the Trump administration will support his bill to restrict websites that promote sex trafficking with what he calls “a ruthless kind of efficiency.”

Portman “met with a victim two weeks ago in Ohio … who started being trafficked at 9 years old. Her dad would take her to Super Bowls and traffick her online. She told me she was sold as many as 20 times in a day. … So, I’m the author or coauthor, I think, of four or five trafficking bills that I’m proud of, but frankly none of them are making as big of a difference as this would make. Because if we could shut down these online websites that facilitate sex trafficking knowingly — knowingly; I’m not talking about inadvertently — it would make a huge difference.”

While Portman is diplomatic when discussing his relationship with Trump, he is not reverential. After the white supremacist demonstrations and violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, last month, Portman issued a rebuke of the president (if a relatively mild one) after Trump offered a “both sides” response that seemed to put the racists on the same moral plane as those who came to protest the racists.

“When I disagree with him on something, I make it clear,” Portman said. “I’m very comfortable in that role. In some ways, it’s easier, you know? Because with George Bush, I really felt such … loyalty to him — obviously I worked for him later, but even before I worked for him.”

It wasn’t all that long ago that Portman, given his extensive government experience and battleground state pedigree, was viewed as a future vice president, or even a future president. But now, after winning reelection by a margin much larger than Trump’s over Hillary Clinton in Ohio, he said he sees himself more as a lawmaker who can swing bipartisan deals in the Senate. “I’m not here to give speeches and write red meat columns,” he said.

So can he see himself ever running for president? “No. No,” Portman replied, repeating himself. “I don’t think so. I feel like my role is here in legislating, trying to get things done.”

Does it bother Portman, then, that Trump’s antics on Twitter — and the constant questions from reporters who expect senators like Portman to defend or disavow them — often overshadow these initiatives?

“I don’t view it in personal terms like that, but I do view it in terms of policy,” Portman replied. “In other words: When we’re distracted by the shiny object over here, which is the latest tweet that offends people, then we’re not making progress on the policy issues, because I’m not communicating that to my constituents. They aren’t understanding and hearing about it, because instead, they’re hearing about something that is not, frankly, what I should be focused on as part of my job.”

Portman then reached for a positive. “I can’t give you examples from the last 24 hours, because he’s been pretty good on his tweets, focused on the hurricane,” he said. “The hurricane has kind of centered the White House and centered him more. But some of the stuff is just not helpful, including attacking McConnell and things like that.”

It was a minute or two later when Portman picked up his cell phone to demonstrate how he monitors Trump’s tweets and read aloud the most recent: “Fascinating to watch people writing books and major articles about me and yet they know nothing about me & have zero access. #FAKE NEWS!”

The tweet was widely interpreted as a blast of Katy Tur, the reporter whose book about covering Trump’s campaign had been released that day.

Link :

Trump Administration Launches Broad New Anti-Leak Program

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 20:00:17 -0400

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Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

The top US national security official has directed government departments and agencies to warn employees across the entire federal government next week about the dangers and consequences of leaking even unclassified information.

The Trump administration has already promised an aggressive crackdown on anyone who leaks classified information. The latest move is a dramatic step that could greatly expand what type of leaks are under scrutiny and who will be scrutinized.

In the memo about leaks that was subsequently obtained by BuzzFeed News, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster details a request that “every Federal Government department and agency” hold a one-hour training next week on “unauthorized disclosures” — of classified and certain unclassified information.

The request includes “[s]uggested training materials” — provided by the National Counterintelligence and Security Center — that include the 15-minute C-SPAN video of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ August news conference about leaks and a six-minute Fox News video of an interview with the National Counterintelligence and Security Center’s director, William Evanina.

White House and National Security Council officials did not respond to requests for comment on the memo on Wednesday.

Last month, Sessions said his department was pursuing a number of leak investigations, and that the FBI had created a unit to deal with leaks of classified information. “We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country any longer,” he said in the August press conference.

The memo, dated Sept. 8, signals a potentially dramatic expansion of the previous administration’s war on leaks. The Obama administration moves focused on alleged national security leaks and “insider threats” — an effort centered around the intelligence agencies under an October 2011 executive order from President Obama. Those investigations — and in some cases, prosecutions — were widely criticized, particularly in the media.

McMaster’s memo is directed to a much larger group, including virtually every senior official in the federal government — from the vice president and cabinet heads to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the director of the Peace Corps. Perhaps more importantly, the memo asserts that “unauthorized disclosure” of both classified and “controlled unclassified” information “causes harm to our Nation and shakes the confidence of the American people.”

The McMaster memorandum itself likely would be seen as a type of such a “controlled unclassified” document, as it is marked: “UNCLASSIFIED//FOUO [For Official Use Only].”

The first year of the Trump administration has been characterized by leaks at all levels, a source of considerable public criticism from the president himself. Axios reported Sept. 10 that Sessions has suggested employing lie detector tests in at least one leak investigation.

In the memo, McMaster requests that every government department and agency “dedicate a 1-hour, organization-wide event to engage their workforce in a discussion on the importance of protecting classified and controlled unclassified information.” Although issued as a request, the memo later notes, “In order to ensure a consistent and strong message is given to the entire federal workforce, such training should occur the week of September 18-22, 2017.”

Planning is taking place to hold the trainings, one department confirmed Wednesday. Although a date has not yet been set, Education Department press secretary Liz Hill told BuzzFeed News, “The Department has received the White House Memorandum dated September 8 from General McMaster, and it intends to comply.”

While highlighting concerns regarding unauthorized disclosures of classified information, McMaster also writes regarding the trainings that “it is equally important to discuss the importance of protecting controlled unclassified and personally identifiable information from unauthorized public disclosure.”

In addition to the videos, which would constitute about one-third of the training time, the training draft schedule from the National Counterintelligence and Security Center includes discussion from “Department/Agency leads” on the differences between espionage, “unauthorized disclosures (of classified information),” “leaks (to the media),” hackers and whistleblowing. There also is to be a discussion of “[d]amage to national security, to the organization, to the American public,” “[p]enalties for unauthorized classified disclosures,” and “[a] specific case, if possible in this particular D[epartment]/A[gency].”

The full text of the memo:

Memorandum for the Vice President

The Secretary of State

The Secretary of the Treasury

The Secretary of Defense

The Attorney General

The Secretary of the Interior

The Secretary of Agriculture

The Secretary of Commerce

The Secretary of Labor

The Secretary of Health and Human Services

The Secretary of Housing and Urban Development

The Secretary of Transportation

The Secretary of Energy

The Secretary of Education

The Secretary of Veterans Affairs

The Secretary of Homeland Security

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Director of the Office of Management and Budget

United States Trade Representative

Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations

Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers

Administrator of the Small Business Administration

Assistant to the President and National Security Advisor

Director of National Intelligence

Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy

Assistant to the President for Economic Policy and Director of the National Economic Council

Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism

Director of the National Drug Control Policy

Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality

Director of the National Counterrorism Center

Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States

Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Administrator of General Services

Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Director of the Office of Personnel Management

Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration

Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission

Director of the Peace Corps

Chief Executive Officer, Millennium Challenge Corporation

Director, White House Military Office

Director of the National Security Agency

Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency

Director of the Selective Service System

President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation

Chair of the Federal Communications Commission

Executive Director of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board

Director of the National Science Foundation

Administrator of Drug Enforcement

National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency

SUBJECT: Request for Provision of Training on Unauthorized Disclosures

The unauthorized disclosure of classified information or controlled unclassified United States Government information causes harm to our Nation and shakes the confidence of the American people. In this era of unprecedented unauthorized disclosures, it is important to take time to review with your workforce their roles and responsibilities in safeguarding United States Government information.

In light of the recent press conference by the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence regarding unauthorized disclosures, I am requesting that every Federal Government department and agency dedicate a 1-hour, organization-wide event to engage their workforce in a discussion on the importance of protecting classified and controlled unclassified information, and measures to prevent and detect unauthorized disclosures.

For those with access to classified information, a review of the non-disclosure agreement reminds us of the responsibilities that come with access to, and penalties for unauthorized disclosure of, classified information. However, it is equally important to discuss the importance of protecting controlled unclassified and personally identifiable information from unauthorized public disclosure.

Although there are policies and guidance already in place to prevent unauthorized disclosures, it will be time well spent to shine a spotlight on the importance of this issue, and engage the workforce in conversation about what it means to be a steward of United States Government information. It is particularly important to stress the sharp difference between unauthorized disclosures of information and whistleblowing — the responsibility of all federal employees to report waste, fraud and abuse through proper channels.

There are many resources available to frame this 1-hour event, including a review of policies, guidance, videos, and training materials, and perhaps most important, an open discussion to answer questions and raise issues to ensure that our safeguarding measures are understood and effective.

Suggested training materials are attached. In order to ensure a consistent and strong message is given to the entire federal workforce, such training should occur the week of September 18-22, 2017.

H.R. McMaster

Lieutenant General, United States Army

Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs

Molly Hensley-Clancy contributed reporting.

Link :

Trump’s Personal Lawyer To Meet With Senate Next Week

Wed, 13 Sep 2017 10:07:10 -0400

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Stephanie Keith / Reuters

President Donald Trump’s personal attorney and confidant, Michael Cohen, is scheduled to speak next week with investigators from the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed-door meeting.

Cohen has been subpoenaed by lawmakers investigating Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign. He is expected to speak with investigators on Sept. 19. That hearing will not be open to the public.

Cohen, 51, emerged as an important figure in the investigation after he was named in a 35-page dossier alleging Russia and the campaign worked together to help get Trump elected. That document was researched and written by a former British spy and published by BuzzFeed News in January after top law enforcement officials had briefed President Barack Obama and Trump, who was then president-elect, about it. The dossier asserted that Cohen visited Prague to meet with Kremlin officials and was an important player in the “ongoing secret liaison relationship” between Russia and the campaign.

Cohen called these claims “profoundly wrong” in a letter sent last month to lawmakers. His passport, which he showed to BuzzFeed News, had no stamps from the Czech Republic. He later told lawmakers that was his only passport.

Cohen urged congressional investigators to “discern and publicly disclose” those who paid for the dossier, and that he has no documents tying him to any of the allegations.

Reached late Tuesday by BuzzFeed News, Cohen declined to comment.

The Trump Organization has turned over documents to congressional investigators, including an email in which Cohen asked a spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin for help advancing a Trump business project. In another email, a business associate boasted to Cohen that he would help get Trump elected and that he could get “all of Putin’s team to buy in on this.”

Cohen has agreed to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as well, and has offered up several dates. So far, no date has been set, and the committee continues to suffer partisan infighting.

Link :

Supreme Court Allows Trump Administration To Block Refugees With Resettlement Agency Assurances

Tue, 12 Sep 2017 19:02:06 -0400

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Eric Thayer / Getty Images

The Supreme Court will allow the Trump administration to keep blocking a large group of would-be refugees from entering the US during the 120-day halt to the refugee program under President Trump's travel ban executive order.

Hawaii had successfully argued to lower courts that the group of approximately 24,000 people — would-be refugees who have received assurances of support from resettlement agencies — were the type of people intended to be exempt from President Trump's travel and refugee ban under a June order from the Supreme Court.

The justices exempted those with a "credible claim of a bona fide relationship" to a US person or entity from the refugee ban, which affects those from anywhere in the world, and the 90-day travel ban from six Muslim-majority countries.

The fight between the government and lawyers for Hawaii, which is challenging the executive order, over the summer has focused on what constitutes a "bona fide relationship."

On Monday, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to stay the part of an order from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that would have allowed would-be refugees with assurances to travel to the US during the refugee ban, which is slated to end Oct. 27 under the terms of the executive order. The Justice Department has stated that approximately 24,000 refugees have such assurances currently.

Hawaii opposed the request, but the court granted the stay in a one-sentence order on Tuesday afternoon.

The justices are due to hear arguments over the legality and constitutionality of Trump's executive order on Oct. 10, in the second week of the court's new term.

Link :

Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court To Stop Refugee Ban Ruling From Going Into Effect

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 12:29:33 -0400

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The Justice Department on Monday asked the Supreme Court to stop part of an appeals court ruling from going into effect that would limit enforcement of President Trump's refugee ban.

The ruling of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, issued Sept. 7, would exempt refugees who have received assurances of support from resettlement agencies from the ban.

That ruling upheld a district court's modified injunction against enforcing parts of Trump's March 6 executive order. The district court also found that "grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in- law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States" count as "close familial relationships" exempted from the travel ban. The Trump administration had fought for a more narrow definition, but the 9th Circuit upheld that ruling as well.

Notably, the Justice Department is not asking the Supreme Court to halt that more broad definition of a "close familial relationship."

By way of explaining the Justice Department's different treatment of the rulings, lawyers noted in Monday's filing that "the government already has been applying the lower courts’ reading of close family members, whereas the Ninth Circuit’s refugee-assurance ruling would upend the status quo and do far greater harm to the national interest."

The 9th Circuit's decision was due to go into effect Tuesday. However, shortly after the filing, Justice Anthony Kennedy put the 9th Circuit ruling on hold "with respect to refugees covered by a formal assurance" pending a response by noon Tuesday from Hawaii, which brought the lawsuit against the executive order, and a further order from Kennedy or the full court.

The moves over the scope of the injunction against Trump's travel and refugee bans have taken place even as the 90-day ban on travel from six Muslim-majority nations and 120-day halt to the refugee program took effect — with exemptions, under a Supreme Court order, for those with a "credible claim of a bona fide relationship" to a US person or entity.

The debates here, now before the Supreme Court, have centered around what constitutes such a "bona fide relationship."

Hawaii responded before 10 a.m. Tuesday, arguing to the justices, "The Court laid out a legal standard. The District Court and the Ninth Circuit diligently and correctly applied it. ... The Government's motion should be denied." The Justice Department filed its reply Tuesday afternoon.

The justices already have agreed to hear the government's appeal of the challenges to the legality and constitutionality of the executive order itself. Those arguments are set for Oct. 10.

Under the terms of Trump's order, the 90-day travel ban would end before the arguments even happen — on Sept. 27. The refugee ban would still be active, but for less than another 20 days — ending Oct. 27. It is not yet clear what effect, if any, that will have on the Supreme Court's consideration of the case.

Read Hawaii's response:

Link :

A Harlem Republican Is Mulling A Bid For US Senate In 2018

Mon, 11 Sep 2017 11:42:19 -0400

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Gillibrand speaks at a conference last year.

Ben Hider / Getty Images

John Burnett, a Harlem Republican who ran for New York City comptroller in 2013, and was a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention, is considering a run for U.S. Senate in 2018, he told BuzzFeed News.

Burnett is weighing whether to join a Senate primary for the chance to try and unseat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is considered to be a possible Democratic presidential contender in 2020, but has said she plans on running to keep her Senate seat and staying there. Any Republican challenger to her Senate seat would face a highly challenging race: She won re-election in 2012 with 72% of the vote in blue New York.

The Cornell grad and businessman said he began to think about it when a friend “strongly encouraged” him to consider a run, and now he's wondering if there's a path to victory and if can raise the money. “An ordinary candidate is not going to drive the numbers to the polls that are necessary to win,” he said. “Especially, downstate in New York City, where Republicans are outnumbered 7 to 1. The ideal candidate has to appeal to crossover voters and independents.”

Burnett, who is an adviser to the New York Republican Party, ran unopposed in the 2013 Republican primary for New York City comptroller. He was crushed by Scott Stringer in the general election, garnering just 16% of the vote.

That doesn't mean he doesn't think he’s got what it takes for 2018, though. “The ideal candidate,” he said, “should have a diverse background and experiences coupled with the ability to serve all by finding common ground.”

And you don’t need to have a track-record of electoral success to find your way to the GOP nomination in New York. The same candidate who Gillibrand defeated in 2012 was the GOP nominee to run against Sen. Chuck Schumer in 2016. The candidate, Wendy Long, found a nearly identical result.

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Hillary Clinton Says She “Really Struggled” After Trump Won

Sun, 10 Sep 2017 11:37:45 -0400

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Michael Loccisano / Getty Images

Hillary Clinton didn’t have a firm answer to the first question she answered in a new TV interview: How are you?

“I think I am good,” she told CBS’s Jane Pauley in an interview that aired Sunday morning. “But that doesn't mean that I am complacent or resolved about what happened.

"It still is very painful. It hurts a lot.”

The interview comes as Clinton prepares to embark on a tour for her new book on the 2016 presidential election, What Happened. The 2016 Democratic nominee is still working over how she lost to Donald Trump and defending some of the roundly criticized steps she took in her campaign.

Clinton gave a familiar defense for why she said in early September last year that “you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables.”

“Well, I thought Trump was behaving in a deplorable manner,” she told Pauley. “I thought a lot of his appeals to voters were deplorable. I thought his behavior as we saw on the Access Hollywood tape was deplorable.

"And there were a large number of people who didn't care. It did not matter to them. And he turned out to be a very effective reality TV star."

In fact, the Access Hollywood tape, which showed Trump in 2005 bragging about how his celebrity status allowed him to grope women, was not made public until a month after Clinton’s “deplorable” remarks.

Clinton would not concede that her comment “energized” Trump’s supporters.

“They were already energized,” she told Pauley.

Asked if she offended some people with the comment, Clinton said, “I don't buy that."

"I'm sorry I gave him a political gift of any kind," she said, adding that the "gift" was not politically “determinative.”

She did say that “the most important of the mistakes” she made was using personal email. But she pegged the problem to how it was explained to voters.

“I've said it before, I'll say it again, that was my responsibility. It was presented in such a really negative way, and I never could get out from under it. And it never stopped.”

And she said former FBI director James Comey’s decision to notify Congress that there were potentially new developments into the bureau's investigation into her email use over a week before the election “just stopped my momentum.”

“At the same time [Comey] does that about a closed investigation, there's an open investigation into the Trump campaign and their connections with Russia. You never hear a word about it. And when asked later, he goes, ‘Well, it was too close to the election.’ Now, help me make sense of that,” Clinton said. “I can't understand it.”

Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images

Clinton told Pauley that Trump’s win took her by complete surprise. "I felt like I had let everybody down," she said.

She said she “had not drafted a concession speech. I'd been working on a victory speech."

“I just felt this enormous letdown, this kind of loss of feeling and direction and sadness. And, you know, Bill just kept saying, ‘Oh, you know, that was a terrific speech,’ trying to just kinda bolster me a little bit.

"Off I went, into a frenzy of closet cleaning, and long walks in the woods, playing with my dogs, and, yoga, alternate nostril breathing, which I highly recommend, trying to calm myself down. And, you know, my share of Chardonnay. It was a very hard transition. I really struggled. I couldn't feel, I couldn't think. I was just gobsmacked, wiped out.”

Clinton, who said she knew she would have to “work extra hard” during the campaign “to make women and men feel comfortable with the idea of a woman president,” gave Trump credit for his own campaign messaging.

“He was quite successful in referencing a nostalgia that would give hope, comfort, settle grievances for millions of people who were upset about gains made by others,” she said.

Asked by Pauley if she meant “millions of white people,” Clinton agreed: “Millions of white people, yeah, millions of white people.”

At the end of the interview, Clinton said that she will never run for office again.

“I am done with being a candidate,” she said. “But I am not done with politics, because I literally believe that our country's future is at stake.”

Link :

Black Lawmakers Want Colin Kaepernick To Attend Their Annual Conference

Sat, 09 Sep 2017 12:35:57 -0400

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A protest last month in New York City over Kaepernick's situation.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

When the top black lawmakers and operatives in America meet later this month at an annual, days-long conference in Washington, they want Colin Kaepernick there, too.

The chatter in the lead up to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s annual legislative conference in two weeks is that there's a plan in place for Kaepernick to be involved somehow, a half-dozen independent sources told BuzzFeed News.

Both Kaepernick and the CBC find themselves in an entirely different position than just a year ago: The now former NFL quarterback has become a political cause and lightning storm, while some CBC members like Rep. Maxine Waters have also moved to the forefront of national politics in the Trump era.

The sources had no knowledge of whether an agreement had been reached. A representative for Kaepernick did not respond to a request for comment.

The political environment is a complicated one for black lawmakers, who’ve emphasized taking on the president and by-and-large see a racial dynamic in the national news worth addressing: Just in the last month, there’s been the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Trump’s controversial responses to the violent events there, and the apparent police profiling of a well-known NFL star. All the while, the apparent refusal by NFL owners to even hire Kaepernick as a back-up QB has become an activist cause — organizers involved in the winter’s Women’s March recently sent a set of demands to the NFL over the issue.

Congressional Black Caucus chair Cedric Richmond said in July that Kaepernick had “superior talent” than players currently on teams and was simply exercising his first amendment right. “I think it's unfair,” Richmond, a Louisiana Democrat, told TMZ Sports. “I think that he has a lot of talent. He was the starting QB in the Super Bowl and he's a great athlete. And the fact that he spoke up means he's a great person and he spoke his conscience. And I don't think we should penalize people in this country for doing that.”

And now the CBC annual conference is approaching in a much different landscape than last year when Barack Obama delivered an impassioned endorsement of Hillary Clinton. (A foundation spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email asking whether Trump had an invitation to speak this year.) The priorities this year look more like: getting back some of the progressives and young voters who didn’t show up to vote last year, and opposing Trump’s agenda on matters including Obama-era criminal justice guidance.

“It has to be a collective meeting of the minds of first-time Obama voters, progressives, and younger folks, and more,” a Democratic strategist close to the CBC told BuzzFeed News. “We need that coalition [because] if you look what happened [in 2016], we lost some people. We’re not at a place where we can afford to have different segments and especially. So the message at ALC is unity and the need that everyone is active collectively and has a central role to play.”

Link :

Judge Refuses To Dismiss States' Immigration Action Challenge, Even After DACA End Announced

Fri, 08 Sep 2017 18:30:18 -0400

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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

The federal judge hearing the lawsuit brought by Texas and others states against President Obama's 2014 immigration executive actions issued an order Friday refusing to allow the case to be dismissed — a move the states themselves requested.

The unusual order was just the latest twist from US District Judge Andrew Hanen, the federal judge overseeing the case. Hanen has been a harsh critic of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and the expansion of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program in the 2014 executive order. He also notably ordered Justice Department lawyers to take ethics training during the course of the litigation.

The ruling keeps the case alive for now, although it was not immediately clear whether the order would have any long-term effect beyond requiring the states either to file a "different form of dismissal motion" or appeal his ruling.

A spokesperson for the Texas Attorney General's Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the states' next steps.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced an end to DAPA and the expanded DACA program, but said the original DACA program would continue. In response, some of the states involved in the suit over the 2014 actions, led by Texas, threatened to amend the lawsuit to sue the Trump administration over the original 2012 DACA order if Trump did not announce an end to it by Sept. 5.

After the president and Department of Homeland Security announced that they are rescinding the initial 2012 DACA program on Sept. 5, however, the states filed a "notice of voluntary dismissal" in the case later that same day.

"Given these memoranda rescinding the DAPA program and phasing out the DACA and Expanded DACA programs, Plaintiffs file this notice voluntarily dismissing this action," the notice stated.

Although the dismissal is to be effective without a further court order under the federal rule noted by the states, Hanen issued the Friday order to announce his holding that the states could not, procedurally, file such a notice.

Finding the rule cited by the state "to be inapplicable" given the "lengthy history of protracted litigation on the merits" and intervention ordered of a party by the courts, Hanen wrote that he "holds the States’ Notice of Dismissal to be ineffective."

Hanen went on to note that the order did not "presage" a ruling "should a different form of dismissal motion be filed," however, offering up that the parties could "file such a motion" including "a proposed order" — suggesting a portion of the federal rules that would require the court to approve the dismissal.

Link :

Lawyers Ask The Supreme Court To Rule On Whether Existing Civil Rights Laws Cover Anti-Gay Discrimination

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 23:59:08 -0400

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Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Advocates are hoping the Supreme Court is ready to consider and rule on whether federal civil rights laws protect gay, lesbian, and bisexual people from being discriminated against on the job.

Jameka Evans, a lesbian who worked as a security guard at Georgia Regional Hospital, has sued over her treatment there — and asked the courts to allow her to bring her claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The law, among other things, bans sex discrimination in the workplace, and Evans says that sex discrimination, by definition, includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.

She is not alone in this view. Multiple federal appeals courts have either ruled on the issue or will hear arguments on the question out of cases raising the question in recent years.

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, sitting as a full court (called en banc), ruled in April that Title VII's sex discrimination ban includes sexual orientation discrimination claims. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced its view in support of this position in 2015 and has argued that position in courts since then.

The Second Circuit, also en banc, is due to hold arguments in a case raising a similar question later this month.

The Eleventh Circuit, where Evans's case was heard, ruled against her earlier this year in a three-judge panel decision that cited a 1979 ruling from the appeals court on the question. The judges wrote that the earlier decision, which held that Title VII's sex discrimination ban does not include sexual orientation, "is binding precedent that has not been overruled by a clearly contrary opinion of the Supreme Court or of this Court sitting en banc."

The full appeals court, however, declined to hear the case en banc — a move that led to Thursday's filing at the Supreme Court.

In the petition seeking Supreme Court review, Evans' lawyers — led by Gregory Nevins at Lambda Legal, an LGBT advocacy group, and joined by Jeffrey Fisher and Pamela Karlan from Stanford Law School and other Lambda Legal lawyers — argue that the high court should take the case primarily because lower courts and federal agencies are divided on the question and the issue is "exceptionally important."

Additionally, they argue that the case is an "ideal vehicle" for the Supreme Court to use to answer the question definitively and, bluntly, that "[t]he Eleventh Circuit's decision is wrong."

The case comes to the justices less than a month before they are to return from their summer recess and less than eight months into the Trump presidency — two facts likely weighing heavily on the lawyers' minds.

Just hours after the filing, the Trump administration would file a brief in another case in which the Justice Department sided with a baker arguing that the First Amendment protects him from having to, under Colorado civil rights laws, bake a cake for a same-sex couple's wedding.

The filing also comes as many liberal lawyers remain concerned about whether and when Justice Anthony Kennedy, at 81, might retire from the court. Kennedy is the author of the four major gay rights rulings from the Supreme Court over the past 21 years — all of which, in other words, came long after that 1979 ruling from the Eleventh Circuit that sexual orientation discrimination isn't covered by sex discrimination bans.

Link :

The DNC Begins Cybersecurity Effort To Try To Make Sure 2016 Doesn’t Happen Again

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 19:13:51 -0400

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Alex Brandon / AP

On his second day at Democratic National Committee, sitting in a meeting at the party’s headquarters south of Capitol Hill, Raffi Krikorian looked around the room and realized he was the only technology staffer at the table.

For the DNC’s new chief technology officer — now six weeks into his first job in politics after working at Silicon Valley companies like Uber and Twitter — that’s what had to change to prevent the kind of hacks that upended last year’s presidential election.

He wants the technology team everywhere. (“My end goal is how do we get to a world where there is no one reporting to the CTO anymore.”) He wants a steady, endless trickle of education about cybersecurity. (“It has to be part of on-boarding. It has to be part of every conversation, every time we have a meeting.”) He wants regular phishing email drills, for the party’s lowest-level staffers up to the chair. (“There's literally a simulated phishing attack on the DNC right now. We started about an hour ago.”)

It’s about a “culture change inside the building” — to “get everyone’s guard up” and create an instinctive, daily cybersecurity reflex. “If you see something say something,” Krikorian said in an interview. “Our electronic landscape is not a friendly landscape.”

Krikorian, 39, said he felt his “continuous poking and prodding” was starting to work when the chair of the DNC, Tom Perez, walked into the CTO’s office one day and announced that he had downloaded the encrypted messaging app, Signal.

“I thought, ‘Thank god.’ If the chair is proactively doing that, then we're making this culture change inside the building of just even thinking about these problems.”

Later, Perez stood up at an all-staff meeting and told aides, “‘If you guys talk to me, you’re going to use Signal,’” Krikorian recalled. “Just getting that into the ethos of the DNC is a big win.”

Krikorian, who ran Uber’s self-driving cars program after serving as Twitter’s vice president of engineering, has instructed staffers at the DNC to use Signal instead of SMS until he and other recent hires on his team finish a weeks-long internal review of the party’s technology and security needs, including a more standardized move to encrypted chat-based messaging that could extend beyond the building to local state parties. That assessment will conclude “pretty soon,” he said, but declined to elaborate on timing.

The review, Krikorian’s “top-of-mind” priority, will determine whether the DNC will follow the other major Democratic committees to the secure workplace messaging app called Wickr, which offers what’s known as end-to-end encryption for chat, voice and video communication, and file exchanges. End-to-end encryption, meant to make messages indecipherable to third parties, is increasingly seen as a necessary security measure for political campaigns and committees on both sides after the sweep of devastating cyberattacks that tore across the Democratic Party in 2016, hitting the DNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman.

In June, the DCCC became the first known party committee on either side of the partisan divide to transition to an end-to-end encrypted messaging platform. The committee, charged with electing Democrats to the House of Representatives, has been using Wickr to communicate internally and with staff and consultants working on 20 of its most critical campaigns, vulnerable incumbents called “Frontline Democrats.”

DCCC officials have also encouraged the party’s three other main committees — the DNC, the Democratic Governors Association, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — to use Wickr as well, according to an operative briefed by the DCCC.

The move would put every major arm of the national party on the same platform.

Two of the other committees, the DGA and the DSCC, recently became customers of Wickr, a spokesman for the technology company said on Thursday. (The DGA, the entity focused on Democratic gubernatorial candidates, confirmed the decision. Its U.S. Senate counterpart, the DSCC, did not respond to a request for comment. Both are listed on Wickr’s website as clients, along with the DCCC.)

The new arrangement makes the DNC the only party committee on the Democratic side not yet on Wickr. Krikorian said the DNC is “currently evaluating” Wickr as part of its ongoing internal review, along with other apps, which he declined to list in full.

“I would absolutely agree: If we're all on the same platform it would make it a lot easier for all of us,” Krikorian said. “But at the same time, I want to do an honest assessment from the DNC side, considering that all the state parties are looking to us for advice, so I just want to do a real technical assessment before we release our recommendations.”

After the assessment ends, the DNC will “convene” the party’s various committees "when we feel we know what we want to go do, and then we should talk about it,” he said. “We’ll figure it all out together.” (The other groups have already made something of a commitment to Wickr. The program, designed as a collaborative software for offices, is a paid service.)

“I personally want to make sure the most technically secure platform we can find, but I am also aware of the fact that security and usability have trade-offs,” he said. “If it's a serious pain in the ass to use, no one's actually gonna use it. I want to get people on the right platform that we want to commit to for years.”

DNC officials have maintained their relationship with Crowdstrike, the cybersecurity firm retained during the hack last summer, according to a person familiar with the arrangement.

Krikorian casts his ongoing review as part an initial push to “right the ship with security.” In the short-term, he said, it’s about the “low-hanging fruit”: better and more frequent cybersecurity education, simulated phishing attacks, two-step verification, moving the office’s email management to cloud services, assessing their threat model.

“The best thing that you can do on the tech side,” he said, is “just trying to understand a priori what your weaknesses might be — what the next weakest link in the chain is, so you can start shoring up.” Last year, it was phishing attacks. “So we're working on that,” he said, “and we'll keep on going.”

To do that, Krikorian has made a number of initial hires from Silicon Valley, including Uber’s former program manager for the self-driving cars team, Pam Cardona; Twitter’s former lead software engineer, Jeremy Cloud, and former abuse and internal tools lead, Peter Seibel; the former CTO for the digital company Safari Books, Liza Daly; and two lead engineers from last year’s Clinton campaign, Trisha Quan and Felicity Pereyra.

The party’s security efforts will ultimately extend beyond the DNC itself “to everything and anything that potentially touches us,” according to Krikorian, including state parties. He plans to create a tech help-line for candidates and is also considering “some mass-buys” of technology to provide to candidates and parties outside Washington.

One year after the DNC email hack — a cyberattack that revealed an unfair bias against Bernie Sanders and made the party committee a source of fierce dissatisfaction and distrust among progressives — Krikorian is also hoping for a larger culture change inside headquarters. “You have to remember, it's also very popular from the outside to sort of shit on the DNC. That's a common thing to do,” he said. “When I walked in and found demoralized people on the technology team, you talked to them for a while and then you realize that people that still believe in it didn't choose to jump ship.”

“The mood is changing in the building,” added Krikorian. (The engineer made the leap to Washington, he said, because “I believe in a lot of the ideals of Democrats.”)

Krikorian in 2016 when he was with Uber.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

Under Krikorian, the new emphasis on security at the DNC, mirrored at other party entities, puts politics-at-large in the cross-section of a long-running and tangled debate over privacy, tech, and security — one that doesn’t adhere to typical partisan lines.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, emerged as the staunchest opponent of encryption last year when the FBI sought access to encrypted data on the Apple device used by one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terror attack. (Apple refused, setting off a court battle.) Feinstein, who introduced legislation with Republican Sen. Richard Burr that would require tech companies to decrypt data in such cases, suggested this spring that she will restart that effort in Congress. The legislation would be aimed at the same end-to-end encryption technology that is now being adopted inside her own party.

Neither Feinstein’s office, nor Burr’s, provided a comment when asked last month about the recent move by parties and campaigns to rely on encrypted messaging software.

Krikorian’s own position is clear. “My personal belief is that everyone has the right to encrypted communication. I totally understand that not a lot of people are in the same mindset,” he said. “I'm definitely curious how this space plays out over the next few years.”

While Republicans grapple with similar security questions, Krikorian said there has been no “explicit” contact or collaboration between the DNC and the Republican National Committee. He signaled an openness to some kind of partnership, citing practices across company lines in Silicon Valley. Amid security threats at Twitter, he said, “we would always jump on an IRC [Internet Relay Chat] channel with a whole bunch of other tech companies to do coordination there, so this model is tried and proven.”

A spokesman for the RNC did not respond to a question about whether the party would be open to a potential collaboration.

The DNC’s CTO said he has been in contact with Defend Digital Democracy, a new nonpartisan cybersecurity project at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, focused on preventing foreign-sponsored hacking. The group, founded in July under two former campaign managers, Clinton’s Robby Mook and Mitt Romney’s Matt Rhoades, could serve as a meeting point for Democrats and Republicans.

According to an internal July memo, Defending Digital Democracy is planning to develop a cybersecurity “playbook” for campaigns and parties at all levels, a training program, a security audit for political vendors, and a system in which a campaign or party could “partner with the private sector and government” to help respond to a security breach. (The Harvard group is also looking to recruit former Homeland Security and National Security Agency officials for a potential “technical advisory board,” as well as representatives from Silicon Valley and Wall Street, the memo says.)

At the DNC, broader tech efforts will also be under Krikorian’s jurisdiction. The central Democratic committee plays no formal role in campaigns outside the presidential election every four years, but DNC officials said the new engineers and data scientists on Krikorian’s team are looking to “reboot” the party’s data infrastructure, starting with an effort to help Democrats’ most crucial campaign this year, the gubernatorial race in Virginia. There are also plans to “upgrade” fundraising tools to free up campaigns’ time elsewhere, and set a higher bar for Democratic vendors when it comes to performance.

With the presidential race already underway — Democrats have one declared candidate, Maryland Rep. John Delaney — the DNC is also sorting out its role in securing fledgling campaigns. (One early phishing email could infiltrate an entire campaign months before it becomes a full operation with established password standards or retention policies.)

Krikorian said the DNC hopes to serve as a cybersecurity resource for all Democrats, including on presidential campaigns, but has not released guidelines yet.

“I would love us to get to the point where if people have technology or security questions, they consider calling the DNC first and we help them out,” he said.

Additional reporting by Kevin Collier

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Appeals Court Sides With Challengers Fighting To Keep Grandparents Exempt From Trump's Travel Ban

Thu, 07 Sep 2017 18:55:04 -0400

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A federal appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that grandparents and other family members, as well as would-be refugees who have received formal assurances of support from resettlement agencies, are not subject to President Trump's travel and refugee bans.

A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued the decision less than two weeks after hearing arguments on the questions in Seattle in late August.

The appeals court ruled that US District Judge Derrick Watson, in exempting those groups in question, "carefully and correctly balanced the hardships and the equitable considerations as directed by the Supreme Court" in a June order over Trump's executive order.

The Justice Department will be appealing the ruling, a spokesperson announced Thursday evening.

"The Supreme Court has stepped in to correct these lower courts before, and we will now return to the Supreme Court to vindicate the Executive Branch's duty to protect the Nation," Justice Department spokesperson Nicole Navas said in a statement.

Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin, whose state brought the lawsuit before the Ninth Circuit challenging the executive order, said in a statement that the decision "keeps families together" and "gives vetted refugees a second chance."

"The Trump administration keeps taking actions with no legal basis," Chin said. "We will keep fighting back."

After courts had put the second travel and refugee bans on hold after Trump signed it in March, the Supreme Court allowed the bans to go into effect in part in late June. While it agreed to consider the legality and constitutionality of the bans in the fall, the justices allowed the bans to go into effect as to those with "no connection" to the US.

Specifically, the Supreme Court barred enforcement of the 90-day travel ban from six Muslim-majority countries or the 120-day halt to the US refugee program against those with a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship” to a US person or entity.

The side-argument since — which was before the Ninth Circuit — was over what constitutes such a bona fide relationship.

When the federal government announced how it would be interpreting the ruling, Hawaii went back to court, eventually asking Watson to modify his injunction in the case to rule, effectively, that the Trump administration had interpreted the Supreme Court's "bona fide relationship" language too narrowly. He did so as to the two points on appeal at the Ninth Circuit — regarding the definition of family and whether resettlement agency assurances count as a sufficient connection.

The Justice Department has argued that the "close familial relationship" referenced by the Supreme Court as being the type of personal exemption only included "a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, fiancé(e), child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling (whether whole or half), and step relationships." Lawyers for Hawaii, which has challenged the executive orders, have argued that a more broad definition of family was intended — a point they say is accentuated by the fact that the Supreme Court's June order said that an American's mother-in-law "clearly" had a sufficient connection to be exempted from the ban.

The federal government also has argued that a resettlement agency assurances should not count as a sufficient connection because they are indirect — as they are made between the agency and the federal government — and, they say, such an interpretation would essentially render the Supreme Court's June order "meaningless" because it would allow so many refugees to continue traveling under the ban. The challengers, however, have argued that such arguments invent language not in the Supreme Court's order.

The Justice Department initially asked the Supreme Court to resolve the issue by clarifying its June order, but the court declined to do so. Instead, it put the resettlement agency portion of the order on hold pending the appeal to the Ninth Circuit. It took no action on the family portion of Watson's ruling — meaning that has been the policy since his ruling.

The Justice Department nonetheless appealed both portions of Watson's ruling, and the Ninth Circuit, on both points, sided with his ruling.

"The Government does not meaningfully argue how grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in- law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States can be considered to have 'no connection' to or 'lack any bona fide relationship' with persons in the United States," the court held in an unsigned opinion.

Regarding the resettlement agency question, the court did signal that it believed this was a closer question.

"We cannot say that the district court clearly erred in its factual findings or ultimately abused its discretion in holding that the written assurance an agency submits, obligating the agency to provide core services for the specific refugee(s) listed on the assurance form, meets the requirements set out by the Court," the court held. "Although the assurance is technically between the agency and the Government, the Government’s intermediary function does not diminish the bona fide relationship between the resettlement agency and the specific refugee covered by the assurance."

The court held that its ruling does not go into effect for five days — meaning the resettlement agency portion won't go into effect just yet, given the Supreme Court's earlier ruling putting that part of Watson's order on hold.

The Justice Department could seek Supreme Court review in that time.

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