Steve Bannon Has Reportedly Been Subpoenaed To Testify In The Russia Investigation

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 12:17:24 -0500

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Bannon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

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Steve Bannon was subpoenaed last week to testify before a grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible links between Trump associates and Russia, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Bannon, the former executive chairman of President Trump's campaign and one time chief strategist at the White House, was recently ousted as leader of far-right website Breitbart.

Citing “a person with direct knowledge of the matter,” the Times reported that it was the first time Mueller has used a grand jury subpoena, which could be a “negotiating tactic" to get Bannon to agree to be questioned by investigators in the less formal setting of his office.

Mueller's office declined to comment on the report.

Also on Tuesday, Bannon was on Capitol Hill testifying before a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee. During the voluntary interview, Bannon was subpoenaed on-the-spot by the committee after he refused to answer questions relating to his tenure in the Trump White House, a source confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

Bannon reportedly cited executive privilege, and his lawyer told the committee that he would not answer any questions about his time with the Trump team after the election, including his time in the White House and on the transition team, Politico reported.

Bannon was still speaking with the committee as of 7 pm ET, nearly 10 hours after the hearing was scheduled to start.

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John Lewis Says He Gets Taunted By People Who Yell "Trump!" At Him

Mon, 15 Jan 2018 12:18:13 -0500

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Georgia lawmaker Rep. John Lewis said he gets taunted in public, recalling a specific account of boarding a plane where someone was shouting "Trump!" at him.

On Lift Every Voice, a new podcast by Sen. Cory Booker, Lewis said the taunt happened on a recent flight he had taken from Atlanta to Washington.

"I was coming back to Washington on Sunday night," Lewis said. "I was on a flight from Atlanta. And I'm walking down the aisle and the gentleman said as loud as he could, 'Trump!' So I didn't — I just kept walking. I didn't say anything. And sometimes I'm walking in the airport in different places. I guess [people think] they're getting to me or harassing me. But they don't understand... I've been called many, many things. But I'm not going to let anything get me down. I'm going to keep walking, keep moving."

Lewis worked closely with Dr. Martin Luther King in the days of the civil rights movement. On the podcast, he talked about his career in the movement and philosophies that have guided his life's work. As a lawmaker in recent years, Lewis's accounts of the movement have served as a living history. In 2016, BuzzFeed News reported that Lewis has acknowledged that the movement discriminated against women.

Last summer, Booker and Lewis staged a sit-in on the steps of the US Capitol. The 40-minute interview seemed to show something of a bond between the two lawmakers. "You are my hero," Booker said, thanking Lewis for being a mentor to him. Lewis cut him off and said, "I just try to help out."

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Trump’s “Shithole” Comment Has Set Off An Angry, Awkward Martin Luther King Weekend

Sun, 14 Jan 2018 15:54:49 -0500

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Friday's White House event.

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President Trump’s private remarks about Haiti and African countries have angered prominent black leaders, setting off a tense and uncomfortable period — just days before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. 2018 marks 50 years since King's assassination in 1968.

On Thursday, the president was reported to have referred to places like El Salvador, Haiti, and African nations as “shithole countries” in an Oval Office meeting with lawmakers present, and wondered why the United States accepts so many people from those countries. Though the White House did not deny he made the comment, Trump has since denied using the term “shithole.”

Those comments have caused acrimony behind the scenes: A Republican source with knowledge of the conflict told BuzzFeed News that Dr. Bernice A. King, the CEO of the King Center, was disturbed by Trump’s reported language, and its proximity to the King holiday. On Friday, for instance, the president appeared at an MLK event Friday with Dr. Ben Carson, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, who is also scheduled to speak at an annual King Center event on Monday.

A King Center spokesperson declined to discuss Bernice King’s reaction to Trump’s reported comments, but said that she remains concerned about any “hate speech” or hateful rhetoric coming directly from Trump without mentioning the “shithole” ordeal.

Over the weekend, it was even unclear if Carson would still speak Monday at the King Center’s annual service. Four sources had told BuzzFeed News that it did not seem likely, and a spokesperson for the King Center told BuzzFeed on Saturday that they were unsure if Carson would speak. (A HUD spokesperson did not return an email on Saturday asking about Carson's schedule.)

By Sunday afternoon, though, the King Center confirmed that Carson will appear on Monday.

Carson will speak briefly and honor King's life and legacy, a HUD spokesperson told BuzzFeed News on Sunday.

According to an administration source, Bernice King had reached out to try to keep Carson from appearing with Trump on Friday because of the reported “shithole” comments. The King Center spokesperson declined to say whether she had reached out to administration officials.

According to the same administration source, at least one White House official also solicited advice from the people who came to see Trump: How should the White House respond in the event the King Center withdrew its invitation to Carson?

The people in attendance Friday represent Trump’s strongest remaining black supporters. The reported comments shadowed that event, but he did not address them, and none of them took questions afterward.

The mood, according to one of the people present, was raw and tense, especially when April Ryan asked the president if he was a racist. It struck multiple people there: Here was the president of the United States — who had referred to a group of white supremacists as including “very fine people” — being asked by a familiar face if he was a racist.

“It’s just a bad day for all of this,” an attendee told BuzzFeed News. “[It was] a shithole kind of day.”

Not everything was uncomfortable on Friday: According to Paris Dennard, a staunch Trump supporter and CNN commentator, Trump paused and smiled at him to ask how he was doing. "You OK?" the president said. Dennard said he replied, “I'm doing just fine, thank you.” “I just had to check,” said Trump. Dennard told BuzzFeed News Trump's concern was due to the constant verbal onslaught he takes on CNN when defending Trump and the administration against liberal — and some conservative — commentators. (Despite his denials, it has been widely reported that Trump watches a lot of cable TV.)

The Republican source said the “biggest elephant in the room” was the absence of Omarosa Manigault-Newman on Friday. The former administration official and Trump loyalist who left the White House under circumstances that are still unclear was missed because she was such an outsize presence.

The Republican source and the source close to Manigault-Newman said she’d had a vision for the Monday event in Atlanta that consisted of what now seems implausible: President Trump addressing the country from the pulpit of Ebenezer Baptist Church.

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Supreme Court Agrees To Hear Texas's Appeal Of Racial Gerrymandering Challenges

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 16:44:55 -0500

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The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear cases over allegations that Texas's redistricting efforts violated voting rights laws and the Constitution — adding high-profile racial gerrymandering cases to a term that already includes at least two cases about how courts can address partisan gerrymandering.

The move sets up the court for a potential blockbuster term — setting standards on voting rights relating to redistricting — before the next nationwide round of redistricting begins after the 2020 Census.

The cases over Texas congressional maps and state House maps were two of a dozen matters that the Supreme Court announced on Friday it will be taking up.

Among the other cases the court agreed to hear are those addressing a long-standing Supreme Court precedent regarding out-of-state sales taxes, the constitutional role of Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judges, and what courts must do to back up a decision not to grant a person a proportional sentence reduction under federal sentencing rules.

The Texas redistricting cases are appeals from a 107-page ruling of a three-judge district court panel from this past August. Law professor Rick Hasen from the University of California, Irvine, an election law expert, summarized the cases as "big, important, and exceedingly complex. ... Issues include violations of the Voting Rights Act, findings of unconstitutional racial gerrymandering, and a finding that Texas acted with racially discriminatory intent."

The court heard a case over a partisan gerrymandering challenge to Wisconsin redistricting efforts this past October and has agreed to hear a case over Maryland's redistricting. North Carolina's lawmakers have said they are appealing a third partisan gerrymandering case — decided earlier this week — to the justices as well.

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Black Political Groups Are So Ready For Kamala Harris, They Don’t Totally Know What To Do About Oprah

Fri, 12 Jan 2018 13:36:12 -0500

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Lucy Nicholson / Reuters

The attention around Oprah Winfrey’s stirring Golden Globes speech and dramatic emergence as a speculated candidate for president in 2020 took most of the most prominent black Democratic groups by surprise this week.

Some of their reaction to Oprah was tempered because they view Sen. Kamala Harris’s candidacy as more likely. The Oprah flashpoint underscored how a lot of the groups are preparing quietly for Harris; in private, these activists and donors are eager to talk about Harris’s affability and charisma; her record as attorney general of California; how popular she’d be in say, South Carolina.

But, Oprah (!) had many of them thinking about an alternate universe in which she is not their preferred candidate simply by virtue of the person she is. The national fawning over her speech had black Democratic groups scurrying behind the scenes about what to say, how to say it — and wondering if they should say anything at all. A Democratic strategist was more succinct: “They don’t want to step on Kamala’s toes.”

Some of the black political class are game to talk about all things O. Kimberly Peeler-Allen, a cofounder of Higher Heights for America, which advances black women’s issues in public policy and seeks to increase black women's civic participation in politics in part by supporting black woman candidates, told BuzzFeed News in an email interview that the opportunity for a black woman to “break the ultimate glass ceiling for women” is exciting “whether that candidate is Oprah Winfrey or Kamala Harris.”

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Harris has been the subject of two recent national profiles, both of which highlight how voters are energized by the prospect of her candidacy. “As an organization focused on harnessing the political power of black women at the voting booth and on the ballot, having an exciting candidate of our own at the top of the ticket has the potential to energize black women and our ally voters to the polls and bring that energy and enthusiasm to other black women on the ballot,” Peeler-Allen said. “It remains our focus to make sure that black women's voices, votes, and leadership matter in the political discourse whether that be at the local, state, or federal level.”

“Having dynamic figures like Oprah lend their voices, talent, and resources as activists and donors,” she said, “to candidates can inspire the possibilities when we unleash the organizing power of black women.”

The outpouring of attention toward Oprah also created some friction among black political activist circles: In these conversations, according to one prominent Democratic activist, people balk at the popular framing — asking a black woman to take on trying to save the country from ruin. The political discourse around Oprah, now surrounds “not asking another black woman to bear the burden of saving America from what white folks, especially white women, did,” in electing Trump, the activist, who asked not to be identified, said in a text message to BuzzFeed News.

“But also, people acknowledge that [Oprah] is one of those people who even some Trump supporters love,” she said.

Harris and Winfrey certainly know each other, according to one person close to her. Quentin James, a cofounder of Collective PAC, which is raising money to recruit, train, and fund black candidates was casually into the idea of Oprah running: “We’d love to see it,” he said, pledging support but unconvinced that she really wants to do it. “But it's early. But does she really want to do it? Most of [the speculation] is being driven by cable TV. So, I just don’t know?”

Bakari Sellers is among the more aggressive political figures courting Oprah on social media after her big speech. The former South Carolina state senator and CNN political commentator told BuzzFeed News that Oprah’s Sunday speech recalled the stump speech she had given on behalf of Barack Obama on the campus of the University of South Carolina; she was nervous, according to murmurs backstage, but, “She crushed it,” he said.

Harris is exciting to voters, he agreed. Eric Holder could do well in South Carolina. And Eric Garcetti, a white candidate who he said he could “bring to a black church” — and could be relied upon to clap on beat, an underrated, but over-observed cultural cue people that people feel is important to South Carolina voters. But none of it applies to Oprah, after all. She’s a celebrity.

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A Senate Group Has Reached A Tentative Deal To Protect DREAMers, Build Border Wall

Thu, 11 Jan 2018 19:48:07 -0500

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A group of Republican and Democratic senators have reached a bipartisan deal that would fund President Trump’s promised border wall while allowing hundreds of thousands of undocumented people to remain in the country.

The president, though, already appears to be lambasting the deal as a "big step backwards," and it could die in Congress. But it is the most significant breakthrough yet in the negotiations over what to do with the so-called DREAMers — 800,000 people who came, undocumented, to the United States as children and have lived in legal limbo ever since.

In recent years, young, undocumented immigrants have remained in the country under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, created by President Obama. Trump ended the program in the fall and it expires in March.

For Republicans, the deal includes $1.6 billion in new border wall funding plus another $1.1 billion in border security infrastructure, according to sources involved with the talks. Other GOP victories include measures to end so-called chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program.

The negotiating group that struck the deal is made up of Sens. Jeff Flake, Lindsey Graham, and Cory Gardner on the Republican side, and Sens. Dick Durbin, Michael Bennet, and Bob Menendez on the Democratic side.

The main appeal for Democrats is that the deal includes the DREAM Act, legislation that would create a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. The path would take 12 years, though in practice it would become a 10-year path because they will get two years of credit.

The deal is sure to draw fire from both the left and right. Even if it reaches 60 votes needed to pass the Senate it would also need to pass the House, where a faction of Republicans oppose amnesty for DACA recipients, and many Democrats strongly oppose any funding to build a border wall.

It will then need to be approved by Trump, who has given contradictory statements about what he believes should happen to DACA recipients. The deal would keep the door open to thousands of immigrants from places that Trump derided as “shithole countries” in a White House meeting Thursday.

Trump appeared to throw very cold water on the deal in a series of tweets Friday morning, though the details of the proposed bipartisan deal do not exactly line up with his specific criticism.

Sources say the deal would eliminate the temporary visa lottery system, which awards visas to up to 50,000 people per year from countries with low rates of immigration to the US, a key priority for Trump. But those slots would still be allocated, at least in part, to the Temporary Protected Status program that brings in immigrants from countries reeling from natural disasters or civil conflict.

The Trump administration announced Monday that almost 200,000 Salvadorans who had been staying in the country under the Temporary Protected Status program will have to return to El Salvador by Fall of 2019.

The deal strikes a compromise on chain migration, wherein new citizens bring their relatives into the country, who in turn bring in more relatives. “Ending” chain migration was a key stated goal of Republicans in these talks.

Under the deal, parents of DACA recipients would not be able to obtain citizenship through their children. However, they would gain protected status and work authorization for three years, which would be renewable.

The deal allows Republicans to tout that they have broken the chain, while Democrats could say that parents of DACA recipients are protected through the end of this administration, and a future president would have the chance to extend their stay.

The big questions now are if, and when, it would pass Congress, and how it could change to win Trump's support.

Democrats had hoped to tie DACA talks to a budget spending bill that needs to be passed by Jan. 19 in order to avoid a government shutdown. They saw this as giving them maximum leverage in negotiations. But Republicans appear to be eyeing a slower pace. Flake said Thursday that the goal is to release legislation by the end of January and pass it before DACA expires in March.

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Justices Appear Likely To Uphold Ohio's System For Removing Voters From The Rolls

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 12:30:09 -0500

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The Supreme Court appeared likely to uphold Ohio's system for removing voters from its voter rolls following arguments on Wednesday.

Under Ohio's system, a voter who does not vote in a two-year period is sent a notice. If they do not return the notice and fail to vote for the next four years, their voter registration is canceled.

The A. Philip Randolph Institute, represented by Campaign Legal Center's Paul Smith, argued on Wednesday that Ohio violates federal voting laws by basing its decision to remove voters on their failure to vote.

The state, however, counters that its decision is based on the evidence it obtains over that time — the failure to vote and failure to return the notice followed by more nonvoting — that the person has moved.

Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer joined Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito in skeptically questioning Smith's arguments for the challengers to Ohio's system.

"What are they supposed to do?" Breyer asked Smith at one point.

Kennedy followed up by asking whether the state could mail the notice to all voters in Ohio, rather than just those who hadn't voted over the past two years, to start the process, which Smith said would violate federal law — just in a different way.

The questions to Ohio Solicitor Eric Murphy, primarily from Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, did not appear to make a dent in the support for Ohio's process — or at least for Ohio's ability to choose that process from among many options.

Murphy at one point noted that failure to vote "cannot be the sole basis for removal" but that "doesn't mean it can't be used" at all.

The Trump administration had weighed in in support of Ohio's position, with US Solicitor General Noel Francisco arguing that Ohio's process is OK for that very reason — that the "protective process" (as in, the notice mailing) makes Ohio's process different than a "use it or lose it" process where nonvoting could lead to voter registration removal.

That issue formed the majority of Smith's time at the lectern, with Smith arguing that the state not receiving the notice back tells "nothing" about whether the person moved.

Roberts countered that it shows something, and the two — joined at points by Kennedy and Alito — went back and forth, with Roberts finally acknowledging, "I think we're both just repeating ourselves."

Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch did not ask any questions at the arguments. That, combined with the fact that it wasn't necessarily clear whether Breyer's questions at argument represented his primary view of the case, could leave an (unlikely) opening for a narrow victory for the challengers — but the generally tone of the morning suggested otherwise.

LINK: Read the transcript from Wednesday's argument, as provided by the Supreme Court.

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J.D. Vance Is Now Seriously Considering Running For Senate In Ohio

Wed, 10 Jan 2018 10:07:22 -0500

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J.D. Vance (second from right)

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J.D. Vance is now seriously considering a US Senate campaign in Ohio and discussing the prospect with Republicans in Washington, following overtures from party donors and leaders who believe he would be their best candidate.

The author of the best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy previously had ruled out a bid. But Josh Mandel, who had been the frontrunner in the GOP primary, dropped out last week, citing a health issue involving his wife. His surprise decision has shaken up the race.

“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Friday,” said Jai Chabria, an adviser to Vance who joined him in Washington this week for meetings with those encouraging his candidacy.

“The amount of support for J.D. Vance is incredible,” Chabria told BuzzFeed News. “People are starting to realize he has the best message to beat [Democratic incumbent] Sherrod Brown. J.D. is giving serious consideration toward this, because there are very serious people asking him to run.”

Ohio Republicans are interested in Vance, too. Several close allies of Gov. John Kasich, who has ruled out a Senate bid, were urging him to run last year, before Vance initially announced he would not be a candidate. With Mandel now out of the picture, a Draft J.D. Vance website appeared Monday, not long after allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed that McConnell had spoken with Vance in recent days and was very high on his potential candidacy.

Another name in the mix is US Rep. Jim Renacci, who is running for governor but has received encouragement to move into the Senate race. Renacci, though, has made his Senate candidacy contingent on a blessing from President Donald Trump, who has yet to weigh in on the race.

"If the president would call, I would consider it, because I would need his help really at this late part of the game," Renacci said Tuesday during an interview with Cleveland radio station WTAM. "But again, my commitment is still to try and change the state of Ohio, and if I can do that in a Senate seat with the backing of the president because he wants me to do it, I would clearly consider it only at that time."

Sources familiar with the conversation told BuzzFeed News that Renacci had a Wednesday meeting at the White House to discuss the race. One of the sources, who requested anonymity to speak about private discussions, said the meeting went well and that Renacci will officially end his gubernatorial bid and become a Senate candidate Thursday.

Chabria said Renacci's plans will not affect Vance's decision on the race.

Meanwhile, self-funding investment banker Mike Gibbons, who had emerged as Mandel’s strongest primary challenger, remains in the race and is working to convince GOP activists that he would be the party’s best option against Brown in the fall. He has pledged another $5 million to his campaign, and on Wednesday he announced endorsements from a slate of conservative leaders, including two who had served as county chairs for Mandel’s campaign.

Hillbilly Elegy was seen as key to understanding the Appalachian and white working-class voters who carried Trump to the White House. Vance recently returned to his native Ohio to promote a public policy agenda, fueling speculation about his political future.

Vance, who voted for independent Evan McMullin for president in 2016, has been critical of Trump at times — and that could make his GOP path tricky in a state Trump won.

"He used rhetoric that's not in the best interest of the party or country," Vance said in a 2016 interview with "I happen to think that conservatism, when properly applied to the 21st Century, could actually help everybody. And the message of Trump's campaign was obviously not super-appealing to Latino Americans, black Americans and so forth. That really bothered me. "

Mike Biundo, a strategist for Gibbons, emphasized Vance's past criticism of Trump in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

"Mike Gibbons was a co-chair for President Trump in Ohio and never wavered in his support for the president," Biundo said. "J.D. Vance effectively voted for Hillary Clinton when he voted against President Trump. There's only one candidate in the race who would support the president: Mike Gibbons."

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Court Strikes Down N.C.'s Congressional Map As A "Partisan" Gerrymander, Appeal Headed To Supreme Court

Tue, 09 Jan 2018 20:48:33 -0500

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Voters cast their ballots inside the Hawthorne Recreation Center near uptown Charlotte, North Carolina.

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A federal court on Tuesday found North Carolina's congressional map to be an unconstitutional "partisan" gerrymander devised by the state's Republican lawmakers — and ordered the state to submit a new map by the end of the month.

The court gave the state until 5 p.m. Jan. 29 to submit a new map, but also began a process for appointing a special master who would draw a map if the state is unable to do so successfully.

The ruling comes as the Supreme Court is considering how partisan gerrymanders are considered by courts — in cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland — and it is expected that North Carolina lawmakers will ask to put the ruling on hold until the Wisconsin case, which was heard by the justices in October 2017, is resolved.

[UPDATE at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 11: North Carolina lawmakers announced Thursday afternoon they are appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

The lawmakers had filed a request in the district court earlier in the day Thursday asking the court to put its order on hold and seeking "a ruling on this motion today so that legislative defendants can immediately seek relief in the United States Supreme Court if necessary." The district court, however, only ordered the challengers and state defendants to respond to the lawmakers' stay request by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 16. The state lawmakers shortly thereafter filed their notice that they would be appealing to the Supreme Court.]

[UPDATE at 12:45 p.m. Friday, Jan. 12: North Carolina lawmakers, now represented by Kirkland & Ellis partner Paul Clement, asked the Supreme Court on Friday, in an application to Chief Justice John Roberts, to stay the lower court's ruling pending their appeal to the justices.]

The possibility for delay, however, will soon run up against February filing deadlines for the North Carolina congressional races.

On Tuesday, the three-judge panel considering the case, in an opinion by Circuit Judge James Wynn, ruled that North Carolina's map violated Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the Election Clause of Article I of the Constitution. Judge William Britt joined Wynn's opinion. Judge William Osteen Jr. wrote separately, but ultimately agreed that, under current Supreme Court case law, the state's plan was unconstitutional — although he did not agree that it violated the First Amendment.

Although the 205-page ruling went into great detail about the plan, the claims, and the law, the underlying facts were blunt: After the original redistricting plan was struck down as a racial gerrymander, lawmakers asked the person they had redrawing the map to remedy the racial gerrymander and "to use political data ... in drawing the remedial plan."

Rep. David Lewis — the senior chair of the state House's redistricting committee — "acknowledge[d] freely that this would be a political gerrymander," which he claimed was "not against the law," the court noted.

In considering the Equal Protection claim, the court reviewed expert testimony in the case at length. One expert for the plaintiffs computer-generated 1,000 maps using "the non-partisan criteria included in the Committee’s Adopted Criteria: population equality, contiguity, minimizing county and VTD splits, and maximizing compactness."

The expert "found that none of the 1,000 plans yielded a congressional delegation of 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats — the outcome that would have occurred under the 2016 Plan — when he evaluated the sample." (The expert, Dr. Jowei Chen, went on to consider two other 1,000-map simulations to control for different situations — with the same result that none had as partisan a result as the actual map passed by the state.)

The court concluded that "the General Assembly intended to discriminate against voters who supported or were likely to support non-Republican candidates" and that "the 2016 Plan dilutes the votes of non-Republican voters and entrenches Republican control of the state’s congressional delegation."

In ruling the map unconstitutional under the First Amendment, the court looked to several areas of First Amendment law — including viewpoint discrimination ("prohibit[ing] the government from favoring or disfavoring particular viewpoints"), electoral speech dilution (addressing "the First Amendment’s prohibition on laws that disfavor a particular group or class of speakers"), retaliation ("prohibiti[ng] ... burdening or penalizing individuals for engaging in protected speech"), and election regulations (having "the potential to burden political speech or association").

"Against these many, multifaceted lines of precedent, the First Amendment’s applicability to partisan gerrymandering is manifest," Wynn wrote, before concluding the North Carolina plan violated the amendment.

The court also found that the plan violated provisions of Article I of the Constitution — clauses detailing that the "House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen . . . by the People" and the Elections Clause, which states that state legislatures have the authority to set the "times, places and manner of holding elections," subject to congressional alterations.

The court found the plan "exceeds the General Assembly’s delegated authority under the Elections Clause" because, in part, it "represents an impermissible effort to 'dictate electoral outcomes' and 'disfavor a class of candidates.'"

"[T]he 2016 Plan’s demonstrated partisan favoritism," the court concluded, "simply is not authorized by the Elections Clause."

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A Major Democratic Donor Is Reconsidering Support For Senators Who Pushed For Al Franken’s Resignation

Sat, 06 Jan 2018 10:31:02 -0500

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Clinton with Buell in 2007.


One of the Democratic Party's biggest donors says she is reconsidering her support for the women in the US Senate who called for Al Franken’s resignation following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate touching.

The San Francisco–based donor, Susie Tompkins Buell, 75, has given millions of dollars to Democratic causes since the 1990s. She is best known as a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton, but has also contributed for decades to Democratic women senators, hosting a regular spring fundraiser for the lawmakers in California called "Women on the Road to the Senate."

Buell said she is weighing whether to continue her financial support after the calls for Franken's exit last month. The charge for his resignation — led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and followed almost immediately by a string of statements from other prominent female Democratic senators — came on Dec. 6, before the conclusion of an official Senate Ethics Committee inquiry.

Franken was accused by at least six women of inappropriate touching and kissing, and was the subject of a photograph in which he appeared to jokingly grab the breasts of a sleeping woman. He made his resignation official earlier this week. The governor of Minnesota appointed former Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a Democrat, to fill the vacant seat.

In two interviews this week, Buell described the push for Franken’s departure as "unfair," "cavalier," and somewhat politically motivated — "a stampede," "like a rampage," she said, speaking in stark terms about senators she has backed for years, naming Gillibrand in particular.

"They need to know that some of their biggest supporters are questioning why they did that," Buell said. "We have to do things conscientiously and fairly. He didn't have the chance to defend himself."

The critique marks a somewhat significant departure for Buell, who is a mainstay in Democratic donor circles and has cultivated a reputation over the years as a fierce and vocal supporter of Democratic women.

During the 2016 election, the New York Times reported this week, Buell contributed to an unsuccessful effort by attorney Lisa Bloom to make public sexual misconduct claims against then-candidate Donald Trump. According to Bloom, the funds would have been used to defray costs of security and relocation for women seeking to come forward with allegations against Trump.

Since 1991, Buell has contributed to nearly every one of the 17 Democratic women currently serving in the Capitol's upper chamber, according to campaign filings. She has given the most to Gillibrand and her PAC, Off the Sidelines, a group dedicated to supporting other female candidates.

In 2014, at the California fundraising event she hosts for female Senate candidates, Buell made a point of praising Gillibrand's year-long push to change military sexual assault policies. At the podium, she chided Sen. Claire McCaskill, another Democratic senator, for voting against Gillibrand's bill. "'There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.' And I believe that," she said at the time, citing a phrase famously attributed to Madeleine Albright.

This week, Buell described Franken's case differently.

"These are senators that almost unanimously said he should have his opportunity to explain himself with the Ethics Committee," she said. "Then, within hours of each other, they said he should resign. It was clearly, clearly highly organized."

Franken is one of several members of Congress to resign or announce they will not run for reelection after reported allegations or disclosed settlements, joining the growing list of men felled amid a nationwide reckoning with sexual assault, misconduct, and sexism in the workplace.

Still, Buell's comments this week also come as some Democratic senators have expressed regret about Franken's exit.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who joined the rush of calls for a resignation on Dec. 6, has since said that he and others in the Senate acted too hastily. "I have stood for due process throughout my years as a prosecutor and in chairing the Judiciary Committee," Leahy told the Burlington Free Press on Dec. 18. "I regret not doing that this time. The Ethics Committee should have been allowed to investigate and make its recommendation."

That same week, another Democrat in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said in an interview with Politico that the move by Franken's Democratic colleagues was "hypocritical" and "atrocious." In addition to Leahy, Politico reported at the time, two of the other senators who had called for Franken to step down earlier that month said the decision had been rushed. Franken himself was defiant in his resignation speech, saying both that "we are finally beginning to listen to women" and that some of the allegations against him "are simply not true."

Buell said she has no "personal relationship" with Franken. In 2007 and 2008, she contributed at least $4,300 to his Senate campaign.

Buell declined to elaborate on the extent to which she planned to reduce her financial support. "I'm just taking a look at where I put my energy and money," she said. "I won't be doing it to the degree I did before. I'm just too upset and discouraged by the way they did this."

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White House Lawyer Who Reportedly Cautioned Against Comey Firing Used To Work For Comey

Fri, 05 Jan 2018 00:09:45 -0500

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Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

The White House lawyer who reportedly advised President Trump that he had limited authority to fire former FBI director James Comey has an unexpected background: He once worked for Comey.

Uttam Dhillon, who the New York Times on Thursday night reported had taken "the extraordinary step" in early 2017 "of misleading" President Trump about the circumstances under which he could fire Comey, has served in several Republican-led offices.

Prior to joining the White House, he worked for Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling. More than a decade earlier, he had worked for then-Rep. Chris Cox. And, notably, in between those jobs, he served in the George W. Bush-era Justice Department, working for Comey, who was then deputy attorney general.

At the start of the Trump administration, however, Dhillon joined the White House Counsel's Office, led by White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

In that role, Dhillon, the New York Times reported, had a junior lawyer examine what grounds Trump would need to fire Comey. The lawyer, per the Times, concluded that — like any executive branch employee — Trump could fire Comey at will.

"Mr. Dhillon, who had earlier told Mr. Trump that he needed cause to fire Mr. Comey, never corrected the record, withholding the conclusions of his research," the Times reports.

The story asserts that Dhillon did so because he "was convinced that if Mr. Comey was fired, the Trump presidency could be imperiled" — because it could lead to the sort of investigation that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now overseeing.

White House spokespeople did not immediately return a request for comment late Thursday about Dhillon's role in the White House Counsel's Office.

Before joining the White House in early 2017, Dhillon was chief counsel for oversight for the House Financial Services Committee under Hensarling, the committee's chair. Before that, he had worked for a law firm doing securities litigation in Dallas. Before that, he had been in DC, a part of the Bush administration.

In his time at the Justice Department, Dhillon, per his LinkedIn bio, was "®esponsible for advising and assisting the Deputy Attorney General in formulating and implementing Department of Justice policies and programs relating to explosives, firearms, capital punishment, violent crime, gangs, and civil liberties."

The deputy attorney general for almost all of Dhillon's time in that role was Comey.

Dhillon was one of a handful of associate deputy attorneys general who worked under Comey, according to a 2005 directory published by the Government Printing Office. While at the Justice Department, Dhillon worked on law enforcement and related matters.

Among the others in the office at the time were Chuck Rosenberg, who was Comey's chief of staff when he was deputy attorney general but was the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration until his resignation in September 2017 — reportedly because of concerns about Trump's respect for the rule of law — and Jim Rybicki, who later was Comey's chief of staff when he was the FBI director.

The time period was a notable one for the Bush-era Justice Department: It was in March 2004 when Comey — later described in great detail before a Senate committee — rushed to the hospital, where then-attorney general John Ashcroft had been admitted for nearly a week, in an attempt to stop the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and chief of staff, Andrew Card, from attempting to, as Comey testified, "ask him [Ashcroft] to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that." Comey was the acting attorney general due to Ashcroft's hospitalization and had refused to reauthorize the domestic surveillance program in place at the time, but he was concerned that the White House was going to attempt to circumvent him by going directly to Ashcroft — which they did, but without success.

In November 2005, a few months after Comey left his role as deputy attorney general, President Bush nominated Dhillon to be the first head of the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, where he served after Senate confirmation.

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Rebekah Mercer Publicly Breaks With Steve Bannon

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 19:34:19 -0500

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Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

Billionaires Bob and Rebekah Mercer say they've cut Steve Bannon off from the millions that have kept him a key player in right-wing politics and in the White House over the last year.

"I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Rebekah Mercer said in a statement Thursday, distancing herself from Bannon following the release of excerpts from a forthcoming book in which Bannon is critical of the president's son.

"My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements."

But the statement, a rare public one from Rebekah Mercer, leaves a lot to the imagination about when and where her family stopped being a benefactor to Bannon's efforts.

It's not clear when Mercer and Bannon last spoke, multiple people told BuzzFeed News. What happens next at Breitbart, where the Mercers are major investors, is also unclear.

Bannon allies have indicated for months that they were coordinating with the Mercers in selecting the candidates to take on Republican incumbents whom they did not consider to be supportive enough of the president's priorities. Bob Mercer contributed fundraising to two of those candidates last summer: $300,000 to a super PAC boosting Kelli Ward in Arizona and $50,000 to a super PAC helping Chris McDaniel in Mississippi.

After leaving the White House, Bannon reportedly spent five days in Long Island meeting with the Mercers. Even after Bob Mercer stepped down from his hedge fund in part because of the media attention on his connections to Bannon, those close to the former Trump adviser insisted that Rebekah Mercer continued to stay engaged.

And Republican candidates had been wooing Bannon in hopes that his support would translate into financial support from the Mercers. But for most, the endorsement so far meant little more than name recognition and favorable coverage by the far-right, Bannon-led website Breitbart.

Bannon did create a nonprofit, Citizens of the American Republic, in November to serve as a vehicle for pushing his political agenda, but a source told BuzzFeed News that the group was largely dormant and discussions regarding a detailed website — crucial for fundraising and messaging — never really materialized.

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Trump Allies Are Bashing Steve Bannon — And Defending Katie Walsh

Thu, 04 Jan 2018 17:42:57 -0500

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Katie Walsh

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President Trump isn’t complaining publicly about the other former White House official who’s been quoted making provocative observations in a forthcoming book — in fact, prominent Trump allies are publicly standing by Katie Walsh, the former White House deputy chief of staff.

A Thursday report from Axios had Trump administration officials debating whether Walsh should be fired from a nonprofit advocacy group that operates with Trump’s blessing after a book excerpt quoted her as characterizing the president as an indecisive “child.” But several top-ranking officials with the nonprofit, America First Policies, quickly came to Walsh’s defense and made clear she is in no danger of losing her job as a senior adviser, a sign of how well Walsh has navigated the tricky politics of 2018.

"As the chairman of the board of America First and a longtime friend of the Trump family, I say with the utmost confidence that Katie Walsh’s work ethic, loyalty, and commitment to the president are incomparable,” Tommy Hicks Jr., a Trump fundraiser, said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “We are proud to have her on the team at America First."

Brian O. Walsh, the president of America First Policies (and no relation to Katie Walsh), also was unequivocal in his support for her. “Katie Walsh is a political professional who has navigated the DC Swamp with skill and grace and worked tirelessly to help launch our new president and his administration on a path to success,” he said. “She is a pivotal part of our team at America First, and there has been no discussion about any change in her role.”

Walsh has denied making some of the comments the book attributes to her.

“It is the honor of my lifetime to work for President Trump, as I have on his campaign, during the transition, in his White House and continue to do so every day because I believe in the president and I believe in his leadership,” Walsh told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement. “I look forward to when we can get back to talking about the stunning economic comeback our country is experiencing because of the tremendous vision of President Trump.”

The response is starkly different from the fire trained on Steve Bannon: His criticism of Trump in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has burned bridges at a White House where he once served as chief strategist and possibly within the populist Republican political movement that he sees as his creation. On Thursday, influential Republican donor Rebekah Mercer publicly said that she does not support his “recent actions and statements.” Meanwhile, the Breitbart board is reportedly considering taking some action regarding Bannon, the right-wing news site’s executive chairman.

Brian Walsh’s point about “skill and grace” helps explain why Walsh appears to be on safe ground while Trump uses official White House statements to declare that Bannon has “lost his mind.” With her Republican National Committee background and subsequent assimilation into the political organization built from the remnants of Trump’s anti-establishment campaign, Walsh has friends — and business interests — in all corners of today’s GOP. That’s not the easiest of feats in a party fractured by Trumpism.

A St. Louis native, Walsh had a traditional upbringing in national Republican politics. She was a regional fundraising director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and then moved on to roles with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the RNC, where during the 2016 cycle she served as chief of staff under then-chair Reince Priebus. The RNC’s data operation played a substantial role in Trump’s victory and put Walsh in close contact with two of Trump’s top advisers: son-in-law Jared Kushner and digital director Brad Parscale.

Walsh followed Priebus to the White House, where she became his deputy chief of staff. But she lasted only two months. Some viewed Walsh’s departure as symptomatic of a West Wing shakeup following the collapse of a health care bill. Priebus, who would last only a few more months himself, sent Walsh to help turn around America First, which had been criticized for not providing enough advertising support for Trump during the administration’s early days.

"No one can fix this problem better than Katie Walsh,” Priebus said at the time.

After Walsh joined, America First became more more visible, particularly on health care messaging and on behalf of special election candidates Trump supported last year. The nonprofit, which is not required to disclose its donors, has counted several core Trump allies among its team of advisers, including Parscale, who remains close with Walsh.

Walsh also returned to the RNC as a senior adviser for data. She’s not on the payroll, but the party paid her consulting firm, the Laymont Group, $135,000 last year, according to Federal Election Commission filings. And Walsh’s husband, Mike Shields, has a new consulting firm that worked extensively with one of those special election candidates — Trump-endorsed Karen Handel in Georgia — and the National Republican Congressional Committee last year.

“Katie has worked tirelessly for the party and is a valuable asset to the RNC as we head into the midterm elections,” RNC spokesperson Ryan Mahoney said Thursday.

The perception among several GOP sources who spoke with BuzzFeed News is that Walsh has thrived financially and professionally in the Trump era without attaching herself too firmly to Trump’s brand. It’s a notion that’s undermined a bit by her brief White House tenure and prominent role with the main outside group responsible for promoting Trump’s agenda.

But excerpts from Wolff’s book suggest Walsh was no Trump acolyte. Walsh comes off as the type of operative you’d expect to find in a typical Republican White House, thrown into a White House that was anything but — and as someone who bailed out of the job early because she had had enough. Wolff portrays her sympathetically, as a frustrated aide struggling with the competing interests of Priebus, Bannon, and Kushner, and with the whims of Trump. The killer quote attributed to Walsh compares managing Trump to “trying to figure out what a child wants.”

Elsewhere in the book, Walsh is quoted saying that Trump “fundamentally wants to be liked. He just fundamentally needs to be liked so badly that it’s always … everything is a struggle for him.”

According to Wolff, Walsh was an equal-opportunity critic in her quest to achieve White House order, fuming about advisers of all ideologies. She is quoted as disapproving of “Bannon’s Breitbart shenanigans"; observing that getting Gary Cohn “to take a position on something is like nailing butterflies to the wall”; and predicting that Dina Powell “will expose herself as being totally incompetent.” As for Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump: “If they tell [the president] the whales need to be saved, he’s basically for it,” Walsh reportedly said.

Walsh has denied making the “what a child wants” comment and told Jon Ward of Yahoo News that Wolff misattributed some Bannon quotes to her. Walsh declined to respond Thursday when asked by BuzzFeed News if she denied giving any of the other quotes attributed to her.

The comments, which have not gotten as much attention as Bannon’s assertion that a 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower was “treasonous,” nonetheless caused a stir among GOP operatives. Some doubted Walsh would say such things on the record. Others doubted she could keep her place in the Trump orbit if she can’t convincingly prove that she didn’t.

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Trump Just Disbanded His Contested Election Integrity Commission

Wed, 03 Jan 2018 19:24:05 -0500

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Trump has dissolved his election integrity commission, with the White House blaming states for refusing to turn over voter data as well as the lawsuits that have dogged the commission since Trump announced it in May.

The White House announced Trump's decision late Wednesday and sent the text of the executive order revoking the May order that created the commission soon after.

In a statement, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated Trump's oft-made claim of voter fraud, but said that "rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense," Trump had ended the commission and asked the Department of Homeland Security to take up the review of US election systems.

On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that the "system is rigged" and called for a move toward "voter ID."

"Many mostly Democrat States refused to hand over data from the 2016 Election to the Commission On Voter Fraud. They fought hard that the Commission not see their records or methods because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.," he tweeted.

He followed that up with another tweet asking Americans to "push hard for voter identification."

Democrats and civil rights groups criticized the commission from the start, accusing the administration of using it as a pretext for suppressing minority voters. The Trump administration faced a string of lawsuits challenging the legality of the commission itself as well as its efforts to collect voter data from states.

Most recently, the commission was sued by one of its own members, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, who claimed he was blocked from getting information about the group's activities. In the lawsuit, Dunlap's lawyers said that the commission's "superficial bipartisanship has been a facade."

A judge on Dec. 22 had ordered the commission to provide Dunlap with some of the materials he had requested. Dunlap said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the president's order dissolving the commission "came without warning."

'“The lack of transparency brought nothing but suspicion onto the work of the commission, which bankrupted it of any chance at public legitimacy. While this chapter is now closed, I am committed to remaining vigilant on the front of election integrity and the transparent, free, and fair conduct of elections," Dunlap said.

In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News later in the evening, Dunlap said that although he didn't get advance notice of the president's decision, he wasn't surprised by the announcement.

"I wondered if they might not go in this direction simply because of the court order and everything seemed to be working in a pretty dysfunctional way from the beginning," he said.

Dunlap provided BuzzFeed News with a copy of an email time-stamped at 6:49 p.m. on Wednesday from the commission's designated federal officer, Andrew Kossack, notifying the commission members about the president's decision to dissolve the group. The White House sent out the public release around the same time. Kossack in the email advised the commission members that because there were still lawsuits pending, they should continue to preserve records concerning the commission. "Thank you for your service," Kossack wrote. The email's subject line was "Dissolution of the Commission."

BuzzFeed News / Via Matthew Dunlap

American Oversight, a government transparency advocacy group representing Dunlap along with lawyers from the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, said in a statement that it would continue to fight in court for access to records about the commission's activities.

"It’s no coincidence that the president dissolved the commission once it became clear it wouldn’t be permitted to operate in the shadows," American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers said in the statement. "Secretary Dunlap deserves our gratitude for stepping into the breach to take on adversaries of democracy. We intend to continue to fight for his right to access to the commission’s secret communications. President Trump can dissolve the commission, but the law doesn't allow him or the commission to slink away from view and avoid accountability.“

The commission was chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, but its driving force was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. It was Kobach who sent a letter to states in June seeking information from their voter rolls. The majority of states — including some led by Republican state officials — refused to fully comply with the request, although many did provide information that was already public, according to press reports.

Kobach told the Topeka Capital-Journal last week that although the commission's work had been delayed because of the lawsuits, it would meet in January. The group's last meeting was in September.

Dunlap's case was one of eight pending lawsuits against the commission. Shortly after the White House announced that Trump had dissolved the commission on Wednesday, the Justice Department filed notices in each of the cases alerting judges to the development.

A spokeswoman for Kobach did not immediately return a request for comment.

Hans Von Spakovsky, a member of the commission and a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said in an email to BuzzFeed News that he was disappointed with the commission's dissolution, but understood Trump's reason for doing it, citing the refusal of states to provide data and the pending lawsuits. Von Spakovsky said he wasn't consulted in advance about the president's decision to dissolve the commission and found out about it from the same email that Dunlap and other commission members received.

"The obstacles and impediments used to hinder the work of the Commission is evidence that there are many politicians and activists who want to prevent the American people from finding out the truth," Von Spakovsky wrote.

Here is the executive order that Trump signed on Jan. 3 revoking the executive order that created the commission:

BuzzFeed News / Via The White House

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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Paul Manafort Is Suing The Justice Department To Get Rid Of Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Wed, 03 Jan 2018 15:32:17 -0500

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Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit on Tuesday asking a judge to declare the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller invalid and to stop the criminal case Mueller's team is pursuing against Manafort.

Manafort — who is facing a slew of criminal charges in connection with his past work overseas — is arguing that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went too far when he gave Mueller authority in May to investigate not only any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but also any other matters that "arose or may arise" from the investigation.

"The Appointment Order purports to grant authority to the Special Counsel to expand the scope of his investigation to new matters without the consent of — indeed, without even consulting — any politically accountable officer of the United States," Manafort's lawyers wrote.

Manafort wants a judge to declare Rosenstein's original appointment order invalid, to block Mueller's office from investigating issues outside of Russian collusion, and to set aside "all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order."

A spokesperson for the special counsel's office declined to comment. A Justice Department spokesperson wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News: "The lawsuit is frivolous but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants."

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by the same lawyers representing Manafort in the criminal case, Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle.

Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates were charged in late October with money laundering, failing to report overseas bank accounts, failing to register as lobbyists for foreign entities, and making false statements. They've pleaded not guilty.

The criminal case is still in its early stages — Manafort and Gates have been fighting in court most recently over the conditions of their release while the case is pending. Both are still under home confinement, although the judge has ruled on the pretrial release conditions for Manafort. The judge has yet to set a trial date. Gates is not part of Manafort's civil lawsuit against the Justice Department.

Appearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 13, Rosenstein was asked if Mueller had ever asked to expand the scope of the special counsel's investigation. Rosenstein said that he and Mueller talked early on about what the special counsel's team would investigate, and that Mueller had acted within the bounds of that understanding.

To the extent there was any ambiguity in Mueller's May appointment order, Rosenstein said, he had given Mueller permission to include those matters in the investigation. Rosenstein declined to discuss the specifics of what topics beyond Russian collusion he had given Mueller permission to explore.

“There are a lot of media stories speculating about what the special counsel may or may not be doing. I know what he’s doing,” Rosenstein said at the hearing. “I’m appropriately exercising my oversight responsibilities. So I can assure you that the special counsel is conducting himself consistently with our understanding about the scope of his investigation.”

In the new lawsuit, Manafort's lawyers argue that under federal regulations, the attorney general — or, in this case, Rosenstein, since Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recused from the Russia probe — has to provide a "specific factual statement" about what a special counsel will investigate. In this case, Manafort's lawyers said, Mueller was given clear jurisdiction to investigate Russian interference in the election.

For anything beyond the Russia probe, however, Manafort's lawyers wrote that the regulations require the special counsel to consult with the DOJ official in charge to determine if the matter falls under the special counsel's authority. Rosenstein couldn't preemptively give Mueller that authority in the original appointment order, they argue.

The indictment against Manafort and Gates primarily concerns their work on behalf of the Ukrainian government and Ukrainian officials from 2006 to 2015, before their involvement with Trump's campaign. The indictment does accuse them of making false statements to the government in late 2016 and early 2017 about the nature of that work, after Manafort had left Trump's campaign amid scrutiny over his ties to Ukraine.

Manafort's lawyers wrote in the lawsuit that they sent a letter to Rosenstein on Sept. 12 asking if he gave Mueller authority to investigate Manafort for potential crimes going back to 2006. Rosenstein hasn't responded, they said.

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Judge Denies Rick Gates's Request To Leave His House To Celebrate New Year's Eve

Fri, 29 Dec 2017 15:31:47 -0500

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Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates leaves federal court on Dec. 11 in Washington, DC.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

Rick Gates, the defendant in one of the cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller against associates of President Trump, will not be able to leave his house to ring in the new year.

A seemingly exasperated US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied his Thursday request to travel with his family for New Year's Eve events in a short, terse order on Friday.

"After all of that," Jackson wrote of the repeated prior requests regarding holiday travel filed by Gates, "defendant Gates filed yet another motion, with a new plan for New Year's celebrations . . . Given the untimely filing of the current motion, it will be denied."

Read the order:

Read the order:

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Appeals Court Rules That Trump's Third Attempt At His Travel Ban Still Violates Federal Law

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 19:24:09 -0500

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Trump's third attempt at implementing his travel ban — issued via a September proclamation — again violates federal law, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on Friday.

The court, however, will keep Friday's ruling on hold pending the outcome of any Supreme Court review sought by the Justice Department.

The 9th Circuit ruled in a lengthy decision that "the Proclamation’s indefinite entry suspensions constitute nationality discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas," a ruling the panel concluded shows the challengers — including the state of Hawaii — had shown a likelihood that they would succeed in their lawsuit.

The court, which heard arguments earlier this month, narrowed the district court's prior injunction — which barred all enforcement of the travel ban against people from the six majority Muslim nations affected — to people from those six nations with "a credible bona fide relationship with the United States."

Those affected are people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Although North Korea and Venezuela also are included in the president's latest proclamation, the district court injunction did not halt enforcement of the ban against those from those countries, so they are not at issue in Friday's decision.

Because the underlying injunction itself is stayed pending the outcome of any petition for certiorari — under a prior Supreme Court order — the 9th Circuit likewise ruled that its Friday decision will remain stayed "pending Supreme Court review."

The case, as with other prior iterations of the ban, was considered before Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, Ronald Gould, and Richard Paez. The opinion was issued per curiam, or for the court, and not under the name of a specific judge.

In issuing their decision, the court ruled solely on the basis that Trump's order violated the Immigration and Nationality Act's nondiscrimination provision — and that the president "lacks independent constitutional authority to issue the Proclamation" under current circumstances.

Because it ruled on the statutory issue, the panel also held that "we need not and do not consider th[e] alternate constitutional" argument made by the challengers that the ban violates the Establishment Clause as a type of religion-based discrimination.

That issue — and Trump's tweets on the topic — were front and center in the other appellate arguments held on the third attempt at the travel ban. The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard its arguments en banc, or before the full court, two days after the 9th Circuit's arguments. The 4th Circuit is yet to issue its decision.

Friday's opinion was not issued without a hitch. A little more than an hour after the 9th Circuit's press office sent out the decision, the court sent a follow-up notice that the first opinion had been withdrawn and replaced. The ultimate resolution did not change, although there were slight changes made throughout the opinion.

It was not immediately clear all of the distinctions, but the first paragraph of the opinion, for example, was changed from stating that that court was addressing Trump's effort to bar "over 150 million nationals of six Muslim-majority countries" to "over 150 million nationals of six designated countries."

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Jeff Sessions Cuts 25 "Guidance Documents," Including Some Obama-Era Anti-Discrimination Guidance

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 23:47:38 -0500

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Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The Justice Department wiped a wide swath of "guidance documents" off the books on Thursday, withdrawing 25 documents — including one addressing integration of people with disabilities in state and local government programs and another on standards for assessing citizenship status discrimination.

The Justice Department, in announcing the move, stated the 25 documents were "unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper." Several — though not all of them — were issued during President Barack Obama's administration.

The move follows a February executive order from President Donald Trump seeking a broad review of regulatory actions across the federal government and a follow-up November memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions focused on guidance documents — which the department criticized as being used to "evad[e] required rulemaking processes" too often.

"[A]ny guidance that is outdated, used to circumvent the regulatory process, or that improperly goes beyond what is provided for in statutes or regulation should not be given effect," Sessions said in a statement on Thursday. "That is why today, we are ending 25 examples of improper or unnecessary guidance documents identified by our Regulatory Reform Task Force led by our Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand."

The Justice Department formally announced that Sessions was withdrawing the more than two dozen "guidance" documents following a Washington Post report on the decision earlier Thursday evening.

The department did not state why each of the 25 were specifically selected to be withdrawn.

Ten of the withdrawn documents relate to the Americans With Disabilities Act; six are documents issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the remaining nine cover a range of topics — including a 2016 Obama-era effort highlighted in the Post's reporting "that asked local courts across the country to be wary of slapping poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions’ coffers."

One of the withdrawn ADA documents addressed the application of the "integration mandate" in the part of the ADA addressing state and local governments. The chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, Catherine Lhamon, criticized the move on Twitter.

Another withdrawn Obama-era document was a 2012 letter that provided "some general guidelines regarding compliance with the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act" regarding legal permanent residents.

The news comes as President Trump continues to focus on cutting regulations — along with this week's passage of the tax bill and judicial confirmations — as key accomplishments in his first year in office.

According to the list provided by the Justice Department on Thursday evening, the following "guidance documents" have been withdrawn in 2017:

  1. ATF Procedure 75-4.
  2. Industry Circular 75-10.
  3. ATF Ruling 85-3.
  4. Industry Circular 85-3.
  5. ATF Ruling 2001-1.
  6. ATF Ruling 2004-1.
  7. Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).
  8. Northern Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).
  9. Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program Guidance Manual (2007).
  10. Advisory for Recipients of Financial Assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice on Levying Fines and Fees on Juveniles (January 2017).
  11. Dear Colleague Letter on Enforcement of Fines and Fees (March 2016).
  12. ADA Myths and Facts (1995).
  13. Common ADA Problems at Newly Constructed Lodging Facilities (November 1999).
  14. Title II Highlights (last updated 2008).
  15. Title III Highlights (last updated 2008).
  16. Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business (July 1996).
  17. ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (April 2002).
  18. Prior Joint Statement of the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Group Homes, Local Land Use, and the Fair Housing Act (August 18, 1999).
  19. Letter to Alain Baudry, Esq., with standards for conducting internal audit in a non-discriminatory fashion (December 4, 2009).
  20. Letter to Esmeralda Zendejas on how to determine whether lawful permanent residents are protected against citizenship status discrimination (May 30, 2012).
  21. Common ADA Errors and Omissions in New Construction and Alterations (June 1997).
  22. Common Questions: Readily Achievable Barrier Removal and Design Details: Van Accessible Parking Spaces (August 1996).
  23. Website guidance on bailing-out procedures under section 4(b) and section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (2004).
  24. Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers (May 2002).
  25. Statement of the Department of Justice on Application of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. to State and Local Governments' Employment Service Systems for Individuals with Disabilities (October 31, 2016).

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Appeals Courts Deny Trump Admin's Request To Delay Jan. 1 Trans Military Recruits Start Date

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 14:41:57 -0500

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Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

A federal appeals court denied the Trump administration's request to halt a Jan. 1 start date for allowing transgender military recruits, a decision announced in a brief ruling on Thursday.

The order from the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit brings the question closer to the Supreme Court, where the Justice Department could now turn in a last-ditch effort to stop transgender people from being allowed to join the military if they meet certain conditions starting in the new year.

The case, Stone v. Trump, is one of several challenging President Trump's transgender military ban order, which itself came out of his July morning tweets announcing his position on the topic.

Asked for comment on the ruling and whether the Justice Department would ask the Supreme Court for a stay, Justice Department spokesperson Lauren Ehrsam wrote, "We disagree with the Court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps."

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued an order in a separate but similar case also denying the administration's request for a delay to the Jan. 1 start date.

"In the balancing of equities, it must be remembered that all Plaintiffs seek during this litigation is to serve their Nation with honor and dignity, volunteering to face extreme hardships, to endure lengthy deployments and separation from family and friends, and to willingly make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives if necessary to protect the Nation, the people of the United States, and the Constitution against all who would attack them," the DC Circuit panel wrote.

This issue making its way through the courts on a somewhat expedited basis currently is the specific question of transgender military recruits. The other parts of Trump's order — about retention and promotion of current service members who are transgender and about surgery coverage — also are enjoined currently, and that litigation will continue in the new year, but the accession question must be resolved because the start date for that, prior to Trump's ban, was to be Jan. 1.

The latest stage in this process began on Nov. 27, when US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Pentagon could not move the Jan. 1 deadline for allowing transgender recruits. On Dec. 11, the judge ruled against the Trump administration again — denying a request for a partial stay of her earlier order. The Trump administration appealed to the DC Circuit.

At the same time, two other similar cases led to similar injunctions against Trump's ban — one in Maryland and another in the state of Washington. In both cases, the Trump administration has asked the district court judge to clarify their ruling to allow the Pentagon to move the Jan. 1 date or to issue a partial stay of that part of the injunctions. They also appealed both cases, to the US Courts of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and 9th Circuit, respectively.

Although the one case was pending before the DC Circuit, it was the 4th Circuit that issued the first appellate ruling on the subject, stating, without more explanation, that "the court denies the motion for administrative stay and partial stay pending appeal" in Thursday's order.

The 4th Circuit panel hearing the request was made up of Judges Diana Motz, Albert Diaz, and Pamela Harris. Motz was nominated to the bench by President Clinton, and Diaz and Harris by President Obama. Their order came two days after challengers to the ban submitted in court a Dec. 8 Defense Department memorandum laying out the department's policies for allowing transgender recruits — and the conditions they must meet — starting on Jan. 1.

The DC Circuit panel hearing that request was made up of Judges Judith Rogers, David Tatel, and Patricia Millett.

Later still on Friday, a federal district court in California — hearing yet another challenge to the ban — issued a fourth injunction against the ban. Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled that the "Plaintiffs have demonstrated their Equal Protection claim will likely succeed on the merits."

Read the relevant court documents from all three cases:

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Inauguration Protesters Found Not Guilty On All Charges In Jury Trial

Thu, 21 Dec 2017 12:32:56 -0500

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Police pursue demonstrators in Washington, DC, on Jan. 20, 2017.

AP / Mark Tenally

A jury on Thursday found six defendants not guilty on all charges they were facing in connection with Inauguration Day protests in Washington, DC.

This was the first trial for the nearly 200 defendants still facing charges in connection with anti-Trump demonstrations on Jan. 20 that turned violent.

The verdict is a victory not only for the six defendants and their lawyers, but for other defense attorneys, anti-Trump activists, and free speech advocates who had criticized the mass arrests and prosecution as examples of government overreach and who worried the case signaled a new era of criminalizing political dissent.

"The jury thoughtfully distinguished First Amendment rights from criminal conduct," Steven McCool, one of the defense lawyers, told BuzzFeed News in an email. "They vindicated the constitutional rights of these defendants and all of us.

Asked about the verdict, one of the defendants, Alexei Wood, told BuzzFeed News in a text message: "Fuk them so hard."

More trials for other defendants are scheduled throughout 2018. A question going forward will be if the acquittal prompts the government to drop any cases or charges or if prosecutors will press ahead as planned. In a statement, however, the US Attorney's Office suggested it planned to move forward with the remaining pending charges against other defendants.

"The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed. This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby," per the statement. "The criminal justice process ensures that every defendant is judged based on his or her personal conduct and intent. We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant."

The next trial is scheduled to begin in March.

Police arrested 234 people on Jan. 20, charging them with rioting. A grand jury later returned an indictment that included charges for rioting and property destruction.

Over the following months, prosecutors dropped charges against 20 people, and reached plea deals with 20 others. Only one person, Dane Powell, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge; the rest admitted to misdemeanors. Powell is also the only person so far to receive a sentence of jail time — he was sentenced to four months.

The first trial — for Jennifer Armento, of Philadelphia; Michelle Macchio, of Asheville, N.C.; Oliver Harris, of Philadelphia; Brittne Lawson, of Aspinwall, Pa.; Christina Simmons, of Cockeysville, Md.; and Alexei Wood, of San Antonio, Texas — started in mid-November.

The jury began deliberating on Dec. 15. The six defendants faced seven charges: Five felony counts of property destruction, along with two misdemeanor counts of engaging in a riot and conspiracy to riot. The felony charges carry maximum penalties of 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. The misdemeanors have maximum penalties of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The defendants initially faced an additional felony charge for inciting a riot, but Judge Lynn Leibovitz dismissed that count at the end of the trial. Leibovitz denied a motion from the defense to dismiss the rest of the charges as well, though.

The defendants are being tried in small groups, but the government still had to prove the charges against each defendant as an individual. The first group included people who said they were serving as medics and others who said they were participating in anti-Trump demonstrations but didn't participate in or support the violence. According to the government, the property destruction was valued at more than $100,000. Wood said he was at the protests as an independent journalist, and press freedom advocates have raised concerns about his prosecution.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter on Thursday to DC US Attorney Jessie Liu expressing concern about how one of the prosecutors presented information to the jury about Wood's knowledge of terminology about protest strategies and his lack of official press credentials in arguing he committed a crime.

"While journalists of course are not above the law and have no right to incite a riot or engage in acts of assault or vandalism, being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included," the committee's executive director Bruce Brown wrote.

There was no evidence presented at the first trial that any of the six defendants were the ones who broke windows on Jan. 20. The prosecution's theory was that they were all still criminally responsible because they were there to support the rioters. The defense countered that under the First Amendment, people exercising their free speech rights weren't required to leave a protest just because someone near them was violent; they argued that the government hadn't shown evidence that the individual defendants were at the demonstration that day in order to back up the bad actors.

Defense lawyers, anti-Trump activists, and free speech advocates had been watching the first trial as a test of the prosecution and defense strategies in these cases — and in any future cases involving arrests of protesters — going forward.

“Today’s verdict reaffirms two central constitutional principles of our democracy: first, that dissent is not a crime, and second, that our justice system does not permit guilt by association. We hope today’s verdict begins the important work of teaching police and prosecutors to respect the line between lawbreaking and constitutionally protected protest," Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a statement. "We hope that the U.S. Attorney’s Office gets the message and moves quickly to drop all remaining changes against peaceful demonstrators."

The ACLU earlier this year filed a civil lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department alleging they used excessive conduct in responding to the protests on Jan. 20 and making arrests. That case is pending.

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