Tue, 20 Mar 2018 17:02:36 -0400
Penn in the spin room for Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
Politics and tech have long occupied uneasy, parallel worlds. Politicians are painfully clueless about the basics of technology; technologists are, as we are seeing, painfully naive about politics. Companies born in the '00s and that grew up in the '10s were, until recently, often under the blissful impression that what happened in politics didn’t much matter as long as regulators stayed away. That’s changed.
One of the first big-league political operatives to cross that divide was Mark Penn. He went to work for Microsoft during the last great confrontation of government and tech: the 1990s antitrust battle. He was Hillary Clinton’s 2008 strategist and after that defeat — he returned to Microsoft full time, and brought with him all the aggression he’d been talked out of directing at Barack Obama: From 2012 to 2014, he ran the company’s marketing and directed a political assault on their core rival, Google, under the characteristically subtle moniker “Scroogled.”
“They read your mail!” he still points out.
Today the crisis of tech and politics has hit a new peak for Google, Twitter, and — especially — Facebook, and so I asked Penn what he’d advise the embattled and largely silent social media giant do.
First, he said, it’s not clear what Facebook actually stands for.
“I think it's a problem kind of like Microsoft had,” he said. “I don't think it fundamentally undermines their platform — but it's a very, very serious hit for their image. Their company is built on openness and authenticity. If they believe in openness they better defend it. And if they believe in authenticity I think the better they better make sure their accounts are real.”
But he also suggested a deeper problem: a company so totally identified with its founder that the two rise or fall together.
“The Facebook image is driven largely by both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl [Sandberg],” he said. “Microsoft is not uniquely identified with Bill Gates.”
“Part of what they need is to create a long-lasting image of the company built on principles that they articulate and they execute,” he said.
Penn is now fully in the private sector, running the Stagwell Group, a holding company for, among others, digital political operations that’s funded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
(In that capacity, he heard a pitch last year from a firm that boasted its crucial role in Trump’s election. The company was Cambridge Analytica. “It was really weird,” he recalled. ”What they had to say just didn’t make sense.”)
Penn had come up to New York to sell his new book, Microtrends Squared, and we spoke over breakfast under what he described as the “Bob Woodward rules — it’s off the record as long as it’s not very interesting.”
In his new book, he adds depth and a darker tone to his 2007 book, Microtrends. Then, he advanced a cheery vision of a society happily splintered by infinite choice into a kaleidoscope of subgroups; the new vision is less cheerful, but similarly paints a society best influenced through groups like Bikers to Work, Pro-Proteiners, and Second-Fiddle Husbands.
“We expected that the advances in our ability to customize goods and services would open us all up to a new world of never-ending experimentation,” he writes. “A decade later, exactly the opposite has occurred, and our society has become increasingly polarized, with people finding the choices they like and picking them over and over again.”
Some of those choices have come in the information economy, and Penn offered a prescription to get Facebook out of that business.
“Facebook never should've gotten into news — that was a huge mistake,” he said. “The only way out of it,” he said, is to treat the platform as the federal government does the airwaves. “Auction off 10 channels, agree to promote 10 channels equally, let people choose, and get out of the news publishing and sorting business.”
In the short term, though, Facebook is more or less scroogled, “trying to row against the narrative that — whether it’s true or not — is almost impossible to row against.”
Tue, 20 Mar 2018 16:33:13 -0400
Bernie Sanders at a rally for Randy Bryce last month. Sanders alumni at the firm Revolution Messaging and Bryce staffers have each formed unions.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
On Monday morning, a sudden wave of cheers sounded through the offices of the progressive digital consulting firm behind Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
The staffers at Revolution Messaging had just formed their own union.
Ahead of this year’s midterm elections, a growing number of Democratic campaign workers are now moving to push the party that champions fair labor rights to apply the same standards to its own employees in an industry where the hours are long, the work is transient, and power dynamics and murky reporting structures can leave staffers with little recourse to address problems of misconduct and discrimination.
So far this year, staffers on at least nine 2018 campaigns have unionized, ratifying collective bargaining agreements on wages, work hours, benefits, housing, and new policies surrounding sexual harassment and workplace misconduct.
Revolution Messaging, the Washington-based company that helped run Sanders’ digital strategy, is one of the first political firms to see its staffers form a union.
Employees at Revolution Messaging notified the firm's management of its decision to form a union with a local chapter of the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America, part of the country's largest communications and media labor union.
“As progressives who care deeply about the work that we do, we feel that it’s time to illustrate our pro-labor values by organizing ourselves," members of the union wrote in its letter to the firm's senior staff.
"Unionizing Revolution Messaging will allow us to truly become the progressive beacon we have always strived to be. Our union will allow everyone at Rev to have a voice on the job and a seat at the table, which will undoubtedly help retain current and future employees, bolster our recruitment efforts moving forward, and attract business from clients who seek out unionized firms. At the end of the day, unionizing will only be better for business and for everyone who works here.”
Later that morning, founder and CEO Scott Goodstein recognized the union, offering words of support. “This is great news!” he wrote. “As most of you know, we fought on behalf of dozens of labor unions since our inception, and it is part of our DNA. We believe in workers’ rights, labor rights, women's rights and human rights.”
The firm is expected to enter into negotiations with staffers and representatives at the NewsGuild-CWA.
In a HuffPost report last month, employees at Revolution Messaging outlined a number of complaints about the internal culture at the firm, including management’s handling of a late 2015 incident in which a woman employee said she had been physically assaulted at a company party by one of the company’s partners. (The firm fired the partner, according to HuffPost, but staffers also said that the woman had also been forced out, potentially in an act of retaliation, prompting employees to draft a letter to management about the incident.)
Members of the Revolution Messaging Union, reached by email, did not respond to questions about the terms they will be pushing for, or the impetus for their decision to unionize.
The recent unionization push by Democratic campaign staffers has been led in large part by a new nationwide union, formed about a year ago, called the Campaign Workers Guild.
The CWG, led by 16 volunteers across the country, has helped organize political staffers across nine races, from campaigns for county council (Chris Wilhelm in Maryland) to attorney general (Renato Mariotti in Illinois), governor (Erin Murphy in Minnesota), and Congress (Randy Bryce in Wisconsin, Jess King in Pennsylvania, Andy Thorburn in California, Brian Flynn in New York, Dan Haberman in Michigan, and Marie Newman in Illinois).
The labor union is currently facilitating contract negotiations with as many as 25 more campaigns and campaign-adjacent organizations, according to Meg Reilly, a former Sanders campaign staffer who now serves as CWG’s vice president.
“It doesn't show any sign of stopping,” Reilly said, describing the campaign workers’ movement as the first “really serious concerted effort” by political staffers to collectively bargain.
In the fast-paced startup world of campaigns, young staffers and organizers work long, rigorous hours for little pay, all in service of a cause or candidate they believe in. Efforts to fight campaign leadership for better conditions are often, as Reilly put it, pushed off “for the sake of the greater good.”
The same mindset, one where the candidate’s public perception is an inherent priority, has also made it historically difficult to address complaints of workplace harassment and misconduct, particularly when campaigns lack clear reporting structures. Ahead of 2016, staffers at a Hillary Clinton super PAC, said they didn’t know how to come forward against their boss because there was no human resources department. Another said they believed harassment was simply something you had to be “tough enough to endure” to work in politics.
The political operatives who founded the CWG say that collective bargaining on campaigns is one way to set better grievance and harassment procedures. In some of the contacts they’ve already negotiated, Reilly said, they’ve mandated that campaigns designate a third-party neutral investigator to handle complaints.
The CWG did not work with the Revolution Messaging Union, but Reilly said they expect staffers at more consulting firms to move toward forming their own unions.
At the Sierra Club, the largest environmental group in the country, staffers have already formed two unions, an Oakland-based Sierra Employee Alliance and the Progressive Workers’ Union, or PWU, which represents about 215 Sierra Club employees across the country. The PWU is about five months into contract negotiations with the Sierra Club, according to the union’s president, Larry Williams Jr.
As described by Williams and CWG members, the ongoing unionization push is linked in fundamental ways to the pro-labor stance widely espoused on the left. Every year, Democratic campaigns and causes depend on labor unions — for their support, their volunteers and organizers, their millions of dollars in contributions.
“If the labor movement falls," said Williams, "then so does the progressive movement."
The Supreme Court Won't Stop A New Pennsylvania Congressional Map Favored By Democrats From Going Into Effect This Year
Mon, 19 Mar 2018 16:11:17 -0400
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf
Lisa Lake / Getty Images
Pennsylvania will have a new congressional map for this year's elections, after the US Supreme Court declined a request to halt the maps — issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court earlier this year — from going into effect.
The Monday afternoon order from the US Supreme Court, with no opinion and no noted dissents, followed a more extensive ruling earlier Monday from a three-judge district court panel reaching a similar conclusion. The pair of rulings appeared — absent an unexpected development — to end Republicans' hopes of stopping the maps from taking effect for the 2018 midterms.
Under the map that was tossed out earlier this year by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, only five of the state's 18 congressional districts are represented by Democrats — despite the fact that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the swing state. The new map is expected to bring that number closer to the parity that would be expected in the state.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued the new map itself in mid-February after the Republican-led state legislature and Democratic governor could not agree on a new congressional map. The redrawing process followed an order from the state's high court that the state's earlier map was a partisan gerrymander that violated the state's constitution.
Because the ruling was based on the state's constitution and not the US Constitution, the options for opponents to challenge it were limited. Pennsylvania Republicans tried to get federal courts to halt the new map from going into effect by claiming that the state supreme court's ruling violated the US Constitution's "elections clause," which states that "[t]he Times, Places and Manner of
holding Elections for Senators and Representatives" are to be set "in each State by the Legislature thereof."
With Monday's rulings, however, it appeared that the effort was unsuccessful and that the new map would control the 2018 elections — furthering Democratic hopes of retaking the House this fall.
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 16:36:14 -0400
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney downplayed her challenger Suraj Patel’s fundraising in an interview on Thursday, saying his campaign disclosures contained a large number of people from his home state of Indiana and “a huge amount of the name Patel.”
Ahead of this summer’s New York primary, Patel — a young businessperson running as a progressive — has so far out-raised Maloney, the longtime incumbent in a New York City district that has been redrawn in recent years to include trendier parts of Brooklyn. He announced last month that he had raised more than $550,000.
“Well, it’s mainly from Indiana, where he’s from,” said Maloney when asked about Patel’s fundraising success. She added, “mainly a huge amount of the name Patel, which is his name.”
Maloney’s campaign has made an issue of Patel’s being from Indiana and raising money from outside New York. He serves as the president of the Indianapolis-based SUN Group, which acquires and develops hotels in the United States and is owned by his family. Last month, his campaign told Politico that four immediate family members and 10 other family members have donated to his campaign. (“He cannot depend on his wealthy Indiana family indefinitely and he will need a lot more than that to create an identity, record, and reputation to sway the people,” a Maloney spokesperson told Politico. “No one knows him and everyone knows Carolyn’s record for fighting for the district.”)
Asked what Maloney meant by the remark, on Saturday, Maloney spokesperson George Arzt told BuzzFeed News in a statement that Patel is “pretending like he's running a local grassroots campaign, but the truth is only 1.3% of the half-million dollars he's raised comes from the district.”
Maloney made the fundraising comments in an interview about a range of topics, including the launch of a commemorative coin by the US Mint to increase breast cancer research. The last two times Maloney has been challenged by a Democrat, she’s won by more than 50 points. “I’ve been to a lot of events where I’ve gotten continuous support from people I [either] actually represented or worked on their problems or tried to help in some way,” said Maloney.
Patel, 34, worked on both of Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns as an advance staffer and currently lectures on business at New York University.
Asked about Maloney’s comments about his fundraising, Patel responded sharply, saying he wanted Maloney to know that not all people with the last name Patel are related.
“I guess I didn’t realize Rep. Maloney hired Steve Bannon as her campaign strategist,” he said.
Patel said he welcomes a debate on campaign contributors, mentioning that Donald Trump has previously donated to Maloney. (The donations were made prior to 2010; Trump infamously also gave to the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, and other Democrats during that general period.) “Let’s let New York decide whether it’s more offensive to raise money from Patels and real people like I do or from corporate PACs and Donald Trump like she does,” he said.
“I’m a proud first-generation Indian-American,” he said, “and grateful to have the support of Americans of all backgrounds who believe we need new energy and new ideas in Washington.”
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 13:52:04 -0400
Pete Marovich / Getty Images
Andrew McCabe, the fired former deputy director of the FBI, kept personal memos detailing his interactions with President Donald Trump, as well as what happened during the time period when the president fired former FBI director James Comey, a source familiar with the situation told BuzzFeed News.
McCabe no longer has the memos, the source noted, detailing that they are the same kind of memos that were kept by Comey.
Both CNN and the Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday that special counsel Robert Mueller had the memos. A spokesperson for the Special Counsel's Office declined to comment on the issue, and a Justice Department spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that she did not know whether Mueller's office had the memos.
The Associated Press first reported the existence of the McCabe memos on Saturday afternoon, following Attorney General Jeff Sessions decision on Friday night to fire McCabe due what he wrote was an "unauthorized disclosure" to the media and a lack of candor with investigators.
Shortly after the AP broke the news of the memos, Trump continued his attacks on Comey, McCabe, and the broader government he has now run for nearly 14 months, lashing out about "tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State" and, specifically, about the response of the "Fake News" to McCabe being "caught, called out and fired."
Trump continued his attacks on Sunday morning, claiming Comey "lied" under oath about having been an anonymous source, stating that he didn't believe McCabe created the memos "except to help his own agenda," and once again calling the neutrality of the Mueller investigation into question.
McCabe, who was about 26 hours away from his retirement when the Justice Department announced his firing, had worked at the FBI since 1996. After being promoted to deputy director by Comey in 2016, he served as acting director for about three months after Trump fired Comey. McCabe told CNN that he had four interactions with Trump during that time.
Prior to his promotion, McCabe's wife, Jill, had run for a state Senate seat in Virginia in 2015. Trump and outside conservatives have criticized financial support for her campaign that came from then–Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's political action committee and the Virginia Democratic Party. The campaign, which she lost, was over before McCabe was promoted to deputy director.
Nonetheless, Trump often has suggested that McCabe was influenced by that campaign support, and McCabe told CNN Trump "brought up my wife every time I ever spoke to him."
McCabe's memos of those interactions and of what happened during Comey's firing could provide backup for claims made by Comey about his treatment by Trump and the reasons for his firing — topics that have reportedly been part of Mueller's investigation.
In the testimony, Comey said outright that he made the detailed memos because he was afraid Trump would "lie" about their private conversations.
"I knew there might come a day where I might need a record to defend not just myself but the FBI, and our integrity," Comey said.
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 13:34:14 -0400
Monica Almeida / Reuters
The news arrived without warning, on Thursday at 2 p.m., in a tweet: “Today, I am calling on Gavin Newsom to step down from his position as lieutenant governor.”
Over the next 15 minutes, a 21-point thread unfolded on Twitter, citing the #MeToo movement, sexual harassment statistics, and a list of politicians recently stripped from power — before making the case that Newsom, the leading Democrat in the California governor’s race, has exhibited “a pattern of misusing his power in the workplace,” based on publicly reported details about two relationships from more than a decade ago.
“It is time for violators in the workplace to step down. Or be forced out.”
The warning from Amanda Renteria, a 43-year-old Democratic operative who entered the governor’s race last month, left California political circles bewildered and transfixed — an unexpected and contentious turn in one of 2018’s biggest races, pitting rival Democrats against one another in the complicated political arena of the #MeToo movement.
Renteria’s case against Newsom drew on the experiences of two women in 2005 and 2006. Newsom’s camp has since responded in blunt terms, accusing Renteria of exploiting the #MeToo phenomenon for political gain. The effort is one they describe as a “self-serving political stunt” that “cheapens” and “degrades” the movement.
Almost overnight, amid tense Democratic primaries across California, the Renteria incident has turned the state’s gubernatorial race into a staging ground for complex questions about how candidates talk about the #MeToo movement and tell the stories of other women, when their campaigns may stand to benefit.
Renteria, a former congressional candidate who served as Hillary Clinton’s national political director in 2016, joined the crowded California governor’s race last month. Her decision to run statewide — after just one failed congressional bid, in a field with nationally known candidates like Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa, and just days before the party’s state convention — came as a shock to friends and former colleagues. Her campaign, a small operation based in Menlo Park, has remained quiet for much of the last month. Up until this week, a good number of Democrats believed she could be a plant for Newsom, to siphon off votes from Villaraigosa.
That theory fell apart when the Renteria for Governor campaign unveiled its new offensive. “I'm totally fired up,” said Renteria said afterward. “These are the kind of conversations that change the future. We've got to call out character for what it is.”
Since Thursday, however, no prominent Democrats have voiced support for the Newsom push. In California, other campaigns steered clear of the story. And in Newsom’s camp, aides and supporters came forward to openly question Renteria’s intentions.
“This kind of brazen and self-serving political stunt doesn’t even deserve a response,” said Nathan Click, Newsom’s communications director.
Women in the state who support Newsom also offered biting criticism for Renteria’s resignation effort. “Even by campaign standards,” said State Sen. Toni Atkins, incoming leader of the California Senate, “it’s a preposterous suggestion that unfortunately distracts from the real importance and urgency of the #MeToo movement.”
Buffy Wicks, a longtime Newsom supporter now running in a crowded race for state assembly, said, “#MeToo is a critical movement for women’s equality. Transparent efforts to use this for political gain cheapen and do a disservice to this movement.”
As Renteria sees it, she’s raising legitimate questions about “judgment” and “character.”
Her case against Newsom details two relationships from his time as mayor of San Francisco: a 2005 affair with his former staffer, Ruby Rippey Gibney, married at the time to Newsom’s friend and campaign manager; and a 2006 relationship, at age 38, with a 19-year-old model, Brittanie Mountz, who once made local headlines when photographers saw her with a glass of wine at a gala that Newsom also attended.
Renteria said she did not attempt to contact Rippey Gibney or Mountz.
Multiple California Democrats raised concerns about any political effort making reference to women and their experiences without first consulting with them.
“#MeToo is about ownership of our experiences because we all have stories that are ours alone to tell,” said Shawnda Westly, the California Democratic Party’s former executive director. “Instead, Amanda has chosen to degrade the movement for her own political purposes by manipulating someone else’s story for her gain.”
As she’s made her push for Newsom’s resignation, Renteria has cited details from both of these relationships — while also invoking the #MeToo movement and working to depict a “pattern” of workplace misconduct or misuse of power in the workplace.
“I tried my best to not actually make it about the individuals,” she said.
Renteria noted that her tweets do not mention Rippey Gibney or Mountz by name. (The tweets do include links to news articles that refer to both women by name, however.)
“I guess maybe I’m curious as to why people think we shouldn't talk about the underage drinking stuff, that we shouldn't be talking about what kind of workplace people set, that we shouldn't be talking about setting a higher bar in general in the place,” she said.
Last month, in a Facebook post expressing support for the #MeToo movement, Rippey Gibney said she is “doubtful” that her relationship with Newsom applies. “Yes, I was a subordinate,” she wrote, “but I was also a free-thinking, 33-[year]-old adult, married woman, and mother.”
Rippey Gibney and Mountz did not return requests for comment.
Newsom has also addressed the #MeToo movement, apologizing again for the 2005 affair at a Politico forum last month. “I would say the same thing that I said [then] to the voters in San Francisco. That I acknowledged it. I apologized for it. I learned an enormous amount from it,” Newsom said. “I am every day trying to be a champion and a model, not just for women and girls, but to deal with the issue that we need to focus on, which is the crisis with men and boys in this state and in this country.”
The topic of “marital infidelities” came up last month at a Republican primary debate, when GOP candidates argued that legitimate questions of “moral character” surrounded both Newsom and Villaraigosa. (Villaraigosa, the other leading Democrat in the race, had an affair with a TV reporter while he served as Los Angeles mayor.)
Renteria is the first Democrat gubernatorial candidate to bring up the issue.
“It’s actually surprising to me that it hasn’t been raised,” she said.
In The Tense Georgia Democratic Primary, Stacey Abrams Made A Hard Appeal For Black Lawmakers' Support
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 11:30:23 -0400
Chris Aluka Berry / Reuters
Stacey Abrams' campaign for governor this week issued a "time-sensitive" push to pick up endorsements of black lawmakers as the campaign weathered one of its tougher weeks.
Reports surfaced detailing Abrams' personal finances and business affairs, and BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday that an endorsement by Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta's popular new mayor, was imminent and widely believed to be for her opponent.
The email was sent by Abrams' deputy campaign manager, Chris Smith, and was reportedly sent to top aides of the Congressional Black Caucus on Tuesday, two people briefed on the matter said.
Abrams wanted to "make sure you all know that we appreciate all of the help and the support” of the campaign, adding she was writing to "see if your member is willing to publicly endorse Minority Leader Stacey Abrams for Governor of Georgia and willing to let the campaign use their name as a public endorser?" The note also mentioned that Abrams was eager to hit the campaign trail with members of Congress.
Abrams is vying to make history by becoming the first black woman to win her state's Democratic nomination for governor. If successful, she would also become the first black woman to be governor in US history. Her opponent, Georgia-born Stacey Evans, an attorney and former fellow legislator, has the support of much of the state's Democratic establishment. Abrams enjoys support from the likes of Our Revolution Georgia and EMILY's List, looking to reverse a spate of Democratic statewide losses by expanding the electorate to include more infrequent, hard-to-reach voters.
It's not clear if this week's effort was a success, but Abrams has previously been a fixture in Washington and is already backed by Reps. Marcia Fudge, Barbara Lee, David Scott, and Hank Johnson. Rep. John Lewis endorsed Abrams last July, calling her candidacy "a model for our nation."
In a statement Friday night, LaDavia Drane, senior aide to New York Rep. Yvette Clarke, said there was an endorsement effort underway for Abrams. "Members of the CBC have been excited about Stacey Abrams since the launch of her campaign and have been working with her in various ways for months,” she said, “including for an endorsement rollout."
"We're grateful for the growing support for this campaign," Abrams spokesperson Priyanka Mantha said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Since the beginning, we've been reaching out to Georgians to hear about the challenges they face. It is clear that Stacey Abrams is the only person in the race who both understands their struggles first-hand, and has a bold vision and real plans to find solutions that will help families thrive."
This week, amid the appeal for support from Washington, reports surfaced that Abrams owed more than $50,000 to the IRS, and almost $170,000 more in student loan and credit card debt.
She detailed some of her personal problems in a Medium post last month, saying that her lack of financial literacy led her to make poor decisions with credit cards as a college student. Later, after Hurricane Katrina hit her family's community, she said she had “rearranged my financial life and stretched every penny I had.”
On Medium, Abrams said she was proposing policies to protect economically vulnerable Georgians. “For my family, for me, and for countless others across Georgia today, it’s not simply lack of access to economic mobility, it’s that we are rarely taught the tools to help us get there. Instead, we fumble our way through, making mistakes that haunt us, sometimes grappling with shame because we wish we could do better.”
Sat, 17 Mar 2018 10:56:09 -0400
Brendan Mcdermid / Reuters
John Dowd, President Donald Trump's personal attorney, said on Saturday he prays that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein shuts down special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia probe in the wake of the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.
"I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier,” Dowd told BuzzFeed News via email.
Dowd first gave the statement to the Daily Beast, who ran a story headlined "Trump’s Lawyer: It’s Time to Fire Robert Mueller." (The website later changed the headline to "Trump’s Lawyer: It’s Time to End the Mueller Probe.")
The Daily Beast also reported Dowd told them he was "speaking on behalf of the president, in his capacity as the president’s attorney."
When contacted by BuzzFeed News about whether he and the president wanted Mueller fired, and if so why, Dowd said, "NO! Not fire. Just end it on the merits in light of recent revelations."
When asked what "recent revelations" he was referring to, Dowd said, "House, Senate Intel, the texts messages of CI [counterintelligence] agents."
(The Republican-led House Intelligence Committee wrapped up its Russia investigation earlier this week, saying they had found no evidence of collusion with the Trump campaign — a move Democrats on the committee called premature. The Justice Department inspector general’s office is investigating text messages between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who are under scrutiny for their private criticism of Trump.)
CNN later reported that "a person close to the president" said that Dowd was speaking for himself and not the president. But in a tweet Saturday evening, Trump echoed his lawyer's argument for ending Mueller's investigation.
"The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime," Trump wrote. "It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!"
Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, urged members of Congress to defend Mueller in light of Dowd's comments. "Every member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, needs to speak up in defense of the Special Counsel. Now," Warner tweeted.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Dowd's comments were "another indication" Trump and his legal team were seeking to undermine Mueller.
"The president, the administration, and his legal team must not take any steps to curtail, interfere with, or end the special counsel's investigation or there will be severe consequences from both Democrats and Republicans," he tweeted.
The president's assault against former FBI leaders continued throughout the weekend, firing off a barrage of tweets Sunday morning attacking Comey, McCabe, and Mueller, a former FBI director. Even members of Trump's own party appeared alarmed by the onslaught, with several sharply warning the president and his lawyer against interfering with the special counsel's investigation.
In a statement late Sunday, Trump's White House lawyer, Ty Cobb, insisted that the president is not considering firing Mueller, downplaying the earlier statements from both Trump and his outside counsel.
"In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller," Cobb said.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Sessions fired McCabe, a 21-year FBI veteran who became a frequent Trump target on Twitter, on Friday night after an internal report concluded McCabe made "an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions."
McCabe, who had been set to retire on Sunday, said he was fired in order to demean his integrity as a witness in the special counsel's probe.
McCabe kept personal memos detailing his interactions with Trump, as well as what happened during former FBI director Comey's firing, a source confirmed to BuzzFeed News, after the Associated Press first reported this.
"I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey," McCabe said in a statement. "This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work."
Earlier this week reports emerged that Mueller had subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents, including some relating to Russia. Trump has previously said that Mueller looking into his and his family's finances unrelated to Russia would cross a red line.
Like Dowd, Trump pointed to the House investigation as evidence that his campaign did not collude with Russia.
"As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State," he tweeted Saturday. "#DrainTheSwamp"
He also continued to blast McCabe and was again critical of his wife taking money from Clinton ally Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor, when she mounted an unsuccessful bid for state office as a Democrat.
"The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired," he tweeted. "How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!"
Shortly after, Comey himself tweeted: "Mr. President, the American people will hear my story very soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not."
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 22:00:01 -0400
Andrew McCabe, then–acting FBI director, speaking during a news conference on July 20, 2017.
Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has fired Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the FBI, the Justice Department announced late Friday night.
"Pursuant to Department Order 1202, and based on the report of the Inspector General, the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, and the recommendation of the Department’s senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately," Sessions said in a statement.
McCabe, a career agent who briefly served as the acting director of the FBI after President Trump fired James Comey from the job last year, was scheduled to retire on Sunday after 21 years of working at the agency.
"I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey," McCabe said in a statement. "This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work."
A spokesperson for McCabe wrote that McCabe learned of his firing "from a press release."
A source told BuzzFeed News on Saturday that McCabe had prepared personal memos detailing his interactions with President Trump, as well as what happened during the time period when the president fired former FBI director James Comey.
A little more than two hours after the news broke, Trump himself weighed in in a late-night tweet, calling the firing "[a] great day for Democracy."
President Trump had previously questioned why Sessions hadn't replaced McCabe in the FBI's leadership and has been harshly critical of McCabe — questioning his objectivity given campaign contributions his wife had gotten from former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime ally of the Clintons, during her unsuccessful Virginia state Senate campaign.
McCabe's firing, indirectly, came out of the Justice Department inspector general's investigation into the handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state.
Communications from the inspector general’s office regarding McCabe's candor to investigators about a news report involving the Clinton Foundation prompted a disciplinary review from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility initiated a disciplinary review. That review, in turn, resulted in a recommendation that McCabe be fired.
That led to further review from the top officials in the Justice Department, leading to Friday's decision from Sessions.
Full statement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions:
When news of the Office of Professional Responsibility's recommendation broke earlier this week, DOJ spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said only, "The department follows a prescribed process by which an employee may be terminated. That process includes recommendations from career employees, and no termination decision is final until the conclusion of that process. We have no personnel announcements at this time."
McCabe was a “career employee” — not a political appointee, who can be removed at will — and had substantial, though not absolute, job protection because of his high rank.
On Thursday, asked about the recommendation from the Office of Professional Responsibility that he be fired, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the decision was up to Sessions — but then added, "[W]e do think it is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior and by most accounts a bad actor and should have some cause for concern."
President Trump's tweets about Andrew McCabe:
The firing could have severe ramifications for McCabe — whose pension could be affected as a result of the firing — as well as for the larger discussion of Trump’s attempts to influence the actions of the Justice Department.
The firing came at the end of a long career that spanned three decades at the FBI. McCabe joined the FBI in 1996, as a special agent assigned to the New York Field Office. A decade later, McCabe was promoted and moved to Washington, serving as a supervisor in the Counterterrorism Division at the FBI headquarters. Over the next decade, McCabe moved back and forth between increasingly senior jobs at the FBI's Washington Field Office and its headquarters, resulting in his promotion to deputy director of the FBI at the beginning of 2016.
Prior to his promotion, his wife, Jill, had run for a state Senate seat in Virginia in 2015. The funds that Trump and outside conservatives have criticized came from the Virginia Democratic Party and McAuliffe's political action committee. The campaign, which she lost, was over before McCabe was promoted to deputy director.
At the time of his wife's campaign, McCabe had no oversight of any Clinton investigation and recused himself from investigations relating to Virginia politics. After McCabe was promoted to the deputy director post, he oversaw the Clinton investigation until a report about the contributions in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election led him to recuse himself.
When Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017, McCabe served as acting director of the FBI and was interviewed by Trump as a possible candidate to be Comey's successor. He served as acting director until Trump's eventual nominee, current FBI director Chris Wray, was confirmed for the role and assumed office on Aug. 2, 2017.
At that time, McCabe returned to the deputy director job until the end of January, when he announced his retirement plans. Although he stepped down as deputy director, he remained on the department’s payroll pending his scheduled retirement.
Full statement from Andrew McCabe:
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 21:00:28 -0400
Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images
President Donald Trump has joined the legal fight over whether a woman is bound by an agreement she signed in 2016 to keep quiet about their alleged affair.
Stephanie Clifford, the adult film performer and director known as Stormy Daniels, sued Trump and the company set up by longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016 to pay Clifford to keep quiet.
Lawyers for that company, Essential Consultants (EC), filed a notice Friday afternoon in California to remove her case from state court to federal court and asserted that, under the 2016 agreement, they could seek damages of at least $20 million.
Charles Harder, an attorney best known for representing Hulk Hogan in his legal fight against Gawker, filed a notice on behalf of Trump joining in the removal. "Mr. Trump intends to join in EC’s anticipated Petition to Compel Arbitration under the Arbitration Agreement," he announced.
In Clifford's lawsuit, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, claims that the settlement agreement and therefore its confidentiality provisions — which they call a "hush agreement" — were never valid because Trump did not sign the agreement. He also argues that the agreement should be found to be invalid as counter to public policy.
"This is simply more of the same bullying tactics from the president and Mr. Cohen. They are now attempting to remove this case in order to increase their chances that the matter will ultimately be decided in private arbitration, behind closed doors, outside of public view and scrutiny," Avenatti told BuzzFeed News. "To put it simply — they want to hide the truth from the American people. We will oppose this effort at every turn."
In its removal notice, EC makes clear it will defend the validity of the agreement and its requirement that any dispute be settled by arbitration.
"EC is aware of at least twenty (20) violations by Clifford of the confidentiality provisions of the Settlement Agreement," Brent Blakely, the lawyer for EC, wrote. Due to a provision in the agreement that each breach of the confidentiality provisions could lead to $1 million in damages, Blakely argues that "EC and/or Defendant Trump have the right to seek liquidated damages against Clifford for her numerous breaches" in the arbitration for an amount "approximated to already be in excess of twenty million dollars ($20,000,000)."
Regarding that claim, Avenatti told BuzzFeed News, "The fact that a sitting president is pursuing over $20 million in bogus 'damages' against a private citizen, who is only trying to tell the public what really happened, is truly remarkable. Likely unprecedented in our history. We are not going away and we will not be intimidated by these threats."
Earlier this month, Clifford sat down with Anderson Cooper for an interview, which 60 Minutes plans to air later this month.
Lawyers for Trump and EC did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the filings and Avenatti's comments Friday evening.
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 20:12:05 -0400
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a House Democrat accused of sexually harassing multiple women, will not run for reelection.
Kihuen had previously said he wouldn’t seek office once his term, his first in Congress, ended. But earlier this month, he began having conversations about running again.
Kihuen waited until the last moment to decide he wouldn’t run; the deadline was 5 p.m. PT Friday. As late as Thursday Kihuen told the Nevada Independent he still hadn’t made up his mind on whether he would run again.
Kihuen lost support of Democratic leadership and many of his House colleagues after BuzzFeed News reported the first allegations from a woman, Samantha, who worked on his campaign during the primary and said he repeatedly harassed and made sexual advances toward her.
Another woman, a female lobbyist, also told the Nevada Independent that Kihuen touched her without consent multiple times and showed the paper hundreds of suggestive messages from Kihuen.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and DCCC Chair Ben Ray Lujan immediately called on him to resign after the first allegations came out. But asked directly whether she still thought Kihuen should resign earlier in March, Pelosi wouldn’t answer, saying that she didn’t want to “speculate” on something that may not happen.
Kihuen’s district is a competitive one, and several Democrats and Republicans, including one Democrat and one Republican who previously held the seat, have filed to take it over.
A former Nevada Democratic operative predicted it would be “really, really hard” for Kihuen to find friends if he chose to run, and said he believed Kihuen wasn’t a viable candidate. “I don’t see a path in which Ruben decides to run and he can find a way to weave to his way through the primary and into the general,” the operative told BuzzFeed News before it was clear whether Kihuen would run.
“It’ll only be more stories and it will only drag him down further.”
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 15:26:40 -0400
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Millions of Americans routinely receive desperate emails from campaigns, perpetually on the edge of catastrophe and asking for just one more dollar to help bring the campaign back from complete ruin before an ominous midnight fundraising deadline.
And nobody does it like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the true artists of the dire email fundraiser.
“If we let Trump and his Republicans bury us, our chance of winning this election is absolutely gone. Will you help us close the gap before midnight?” the DCCC pleaded in an email titled "URGENT" before the presidential election.
Increasingly, though, Democratic strategists argue that there is a cost to the “churn-and-burn” fundraising strategy that outweighs the extra dollars it brings in. The cost of the spammy, fear-based communications, they say, is depressed and alienated voters and the public impression of the Democratic Party as just another arm of a cynical, dishonest establishment.
“Constantly screaming about doom, we’re going to lose — it may raise money for them. Clearly they do it because it raises money for them,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, “but it does not create an environment where Democrats are eager to fight and win, because nobody wants to fight for a team they know is going to lose.”
“The approach they’ve used with alarmist language in their fundraising emails has become pervasive,” said Matthew McGregor, a former Democratic digital strategist, who worked for the Obama campaign. “What does this say about us about our values and how we value our supporters?”
For voters who probably don’t often interact with the national party, the strategy can be disorienting. In the days leading up to to Pennsylvania’s special election, for instance, the DCCC piled on an array of mixed messages on the state of the race:
“Conor Lamb DEFEATED?!”
“Conor Lamb WINS?!”
“CONOR. LAMB. WINS!!!”
Fundraising has massively changed during the last several presidential cycles, especially in the wake of Barack Obama’s campaigns’ success in raising money through small-dollar email blasts. Over the last five years, especially, the national party committees — everyone from the Republican National Committee to the DCCC — have emphasized a never-ending series of impending monthly or quarterly fundraising deadlines.
That’s long frustrated some Democrats, but especially now, when anti-Trump fervor has fueled new candidates in newly competitive districts, and when many Democrats have become reenergized around a variety of issues, from gun control to representation for people of color and women.
“I think the DCCC’s email strategy is a wasted opportunity for Democrats. They have this expansive email list that they could be using to cultivate and motivate voters to flip congressional seats in 2018,” said Laura Olin, a Democratic digital strategist who’s worked with a host of progressives including Barack Obama’s digital team.
“The thing is that fundraising campaigns from Obama, Warren, and Bernie showed us that we don’t need to use those scare tactics to raise money, and those tactics don’t make us lose our values by being inclusive, engaging, and honest rather than being alarmist and misleading,” said McGregor.
The current energy has helped drive a number of online-based national efforts outside of the traditional party apparatus, like Swing Left (which raises money for Democratic nominees) or any number of massively viral fundraising drives for nominees in special elections.
Party committees have a wider set of spending demands, and no one can say the strategy hasn’t been effective in pure fundraising terms. Just last week the DCCC said they had raised more than $50 million online. “Small dollar, grassroots donations have propelled the DCCC to record-breaking online fundraising this cycle. It’s clear that the base of our party is unified around the goal of taking back the House,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law.
That, people agree on.
“Does it raise a bunch of money for candidates? Hell yeah, [Jon] Ossoff raised a shit ton of money. But at what cost?” asked one operative. “It’s run in the model of the DCCC created back in 2013 and its exhausting our voters. There’s not an infinite pool of people to pull from and their strategy is going to turn people off from supporting Democratic causes.”
But party strategists want to see the DCCC treat Democratic voters like “actual adults” who don’t need to be tricked into supporting the party with misleading headlines.
“They have this relentless fucking strategy that seems to overwhelm and deceive their supporters,” one former Democratic digital strategist told BuzzFeed News. “The desperation and outright lies placed in these emails are going to be bad for the party. The DCCC is so prevalent that it sets itself up as the de facto face of the party by the sheer force and volume [of its emails] that can’t be distinguished from the rest of the party.”
Omarosa: A Conservative Think Tank President Was Blocked From The Administration “Because She Hates Donald Trump”
Thu, 15 Mar 2018 15:45:23 -0400
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
In response, Manigault-Newman said the reason that Heritage’s Kay Coles James wasn’t offered a position in the administration is “because she hates Donald Trump.”
James, the first black president at the conservative think tank, told Politico on Wednesday that Manigault-Newman had treated her role in Trump’s universe like it was The Apprentice. “So she looked around Washington and said, 'OK, who do I need to get rid of first?'” James said.
Manigault-Newman insisted that's not the case, saying James, a veteran political operative, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, was flagged early in the transition process as a "Never Trump" Republican who was known to be "disgusted" by the president.
Manigault-Newman said she was taken aback by James’ comments. “When I met with her, she was very explicit that she hated Trump, but she loved the Republican Party's agenda," she said, adding that James told her she was open to working with the administration but that she would have to "hold her nose while doing it” with Trump as the leader of the party.
"Kay Cole James is trying to scapegoat me instead of dealing with the fact that Reince [Priebus] and the rest of the transition team did not want her within a mile of the White House," said Manigault-Newman.
James did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.
Manigault-Newman, who was recently a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother, in which she threw several barbs about White House dysfunction, including a bit about her former boss’s use of Twitter, also characterized James' use of The Apprentice to make her point about as “insulting” to Trump.
"By insulting The Apprentice, she is essentially insulting President Trump," she said. "The Apprentice was his brainchild. He was the star of the show and was very proud of it. Utilizing the show in that way is not only an insult to the president, but she is continuing to show her hand as a Never Trump Republican by trying to trivialize its success.”
James supported Jeb Bush in the primary. As late as May 2016, James was part of a group of prominent black conservative activists who were strategizing ways to work with Trump, even as they remained highly skeptical of his style of campaigning and prospects for winning.
Black conservatives’ agenda remains sharply focused on issues like expanding economic opportunity, especially increasing access to capital for small businesses. Many have also sought to work with principals like Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul on big projects like a criminal justice overhaul. In Trump, James told Politico she saw a potential ally.
“If he was serious about getting those things done — and I believed him to be, and I still do believe that he is — then I saw an opportunity to do things that perhaps hadn’t existed in a Republican administration before,” said James, according to Politico. “I was very looking forward to an opportunity to serve in that White House in some capacity to help maybe on domestic policy, maybe in the Office of Public Liaison — in any of those capacities to get the job done.”
In a profile of Manigault-Newman last year, BuzzFeed News reported in detail on her role in Trump’s orbit. Some of her portfolio seemed informal in nature, such as spearheading the administration’s efforts focused on black Americans — or keeping senior official abreast of operatives who had not been sufficiently loyal to Trump during the campaign at bay.
According to Manigault-Newman, James lobbied Priebus for a period of time after the election to appoint her to a high-profile position in the White House. James joined Trump’s transition team, which was all but forced to hire experienced hands, regardless of whether they had been loyal to Trump.
The question is not if she blocked James from an appointment, Manigault-Newman said, but “why her appointment wasn’t made by Reince.”
“Why wasn’t she appointed like everybody else? Did she help on the campaign, or with any events? Did she do any outreach or engagement? How much money did she raise for the campaign?
Regardless of her status inside the White House, James’ appointment to Heritage Foundation president was a big deal; she is the first black woman to be named to the post, and it was widely viewed as a coup for the black conservative movement, which has been processing various stages of a prolonged identity crisis. Issues of race and inclusion have only exacerbated by the Trump movement’s nationalist, anti-immigrant leanings, activists say.
Wed, 14 Mar 2018 21:56:24 -0400
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on Wednesday night asked a judge to dismiss the criminal case filed against him in federal court in Washington, DC, arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment was invalid and that Mueller had exceeded the scope of his authority.
This is the second time that Manafort has attempted to challenge the lawfulness of Mueller's appointment last year as special counsel as well as the reach of the special counsel's investigation. Manafort is separately pursuing a civil lawsuit that raises the same arguments.
"This prosecution breaks sharply with a principle fundamental to this Nation's structure and traditions — that the power to enforce criminal laws must be exercised by officers who are politically accountable to the people," Manafort's lawyers wrote.
Manafort's challenge is twofold. First, he's arguing that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's order in May appointing Mueller as special counsel was invalid because it gave Mueller too much power at the start.
The appointment order states that the special counsel is authorized to investigate any coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. It also gives Mueller the authority to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation," and that's where Manafort argues it went too far. Manafort contends that federal regulations require that for a special counsel to go beyond his or her "original jurisdiction" — in this case, collusion with Russia — the special counsel must consult with the attorney general and get their permission. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused, Rosenstein, as second in command, is overseeing the probe.
Manafort then argues that even if the appointment order was valid, Mueller nevertheless went beyond the authority that it gave him. The appointment order said that the special counsel could investigate matters that "arose or may arise directly from the investigation," but Manafort said the indictment isn't related at all to the Russia investigation. It charges him with financial crimes and other criminal activity that largely predated his work on Trump's campaign, and that the Justice Department reportedly knew about, at least in part, before Mueller's appointment.
"The charges therefore cannot 'arise out of' the original investigation. And they certainly do not 'arise from' it directly," Manafort's lawyers wrote.
Manafort's lawyers also separately filed motions to dismiss individual counts in the indictment. On the money laundering charge, they argued that income from his work on behalf of Ukraine and the personal items he spent that money on — prosecutors said those purchases included antique rugs, clothing, cars, and real estate — didn't "promote" the other criminal activity he was accused of. And they asked the judge to dismiss one of the two counts alleging that he lied to investigators, arguing that they should count as a single offense.
A spokesman for the special counsel's office did not immediately return a request for comment.
A federal grand jury in Washington returned an indictment against Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates, who was also Trump's deputy campaign manager, in late October. They were charged with conspiring to defraud the US government, money laundering, failing to register with the government as agents for foreign entities, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and making false statements.
The grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Manafort in late February, which added new allegations — it upped the amount he was accused of laundering from $18 million to $30 million — and removed the counts related to foreign bank accounts, which special counsel prosecutors are now pursuing in another criminal case against Manafort in Virginia. Manafort again pleaded not guilty.
In a court filing in the Virginia case last month, the special counsel's office estimated that in the DC case alone, Manafort faced an estimated sentencing guidelines range of between 188 to 235 months in prison — roughly 15 to 19 years.
Manafort in January filed a separate civil lawsuit against the Justice Department and the special counsel's office, arguing that Mueller's appointment was invalid and that Mueller had since exceeded the scope of his authority as special counsel.
The lawsuit asked for the judge to declare the order appointing Mueller as special counsel invalid, to set aside "all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order," and to declare that Mueller lacks authority to probe matters beyond the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion with the Trump campaign. The Justice Department has asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, defending Mueller's appointment and his exercise of authority to date. The judge has yet to rule.
Manafort's civil lawsuit and his criminal case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia are both before the same judge, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Gates, who has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel's office as part of a plea deal, did not join the civil suit.
Manafort is also facing criminal charges in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. At his first court appearance there on March 8, his lawyer told the judge that Manafort also planned to challenge the Virginia indictment on the grounds that the special counsel's appointment was invalid.
Manafort notified the DC judge on Wednesday that he had added a new defense lawyer to his team, Richard Westling, a member of the law firm Epstein Becker & Green. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on why Westling was brought on and whether he'd have a particular focus, but he brings experience as a former federal prosecutor in New Orleans and as an attorney in the Justice Department's Tax Division — experience that's especially notable now that Manafort faces a new set of tax-related charges in the Virginia case.
Westling did not return a request for comment. He also has experience with high-profile political cases, having represented former federal judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. in impeachment proceedings. Porteous, accused of corruption and other allegations of misconduct in office, was found guilty by the US Senate in December 2010 and removed from office.
Before Porteous's trial, however, a Senate committee removed Westling, finding he had a conflict of interest because he represented two witnesses in the impeachment case against Porteous, as well as in a civil lawsuit, according to news reports at the time.
Atlanta’s New Mayor Is Endorsing In Georgia’s Democratic Primary And Black Democrats Aren’t Happy About It
Tue, 13 Mar 2018 19:16:10 -0400
Tami Chappell / Reuters
Keisha Lance Bottoms plans to endorse in Georgia’s Democratic primary for governor “in the near future,” her office told BuzzFeed News, ending weeks of speculation over whether the newly elected and enormously popular Atlanta mayor might get involved in the most hotly contested intra-party, statewide race in the South.
Her office did not say which candidate she would endorse, but her intention to do so provides yet another layer of intrigue leading up to the May 22 primary between Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans. The candidates hold contrasting views on how to expand the voter base in Georgia for Democrats as the party tries to capitalize on President Trump’s unpopularity. The fact that, if elected, Abrams would be the first black woman governor in US history has added to the race’s significance and complicated the intra-party politics.
Democrats in the state have long speculated Bottoms will endorse Evans, a 39-year-old former state legislator and lawyer — not least because Evans endorsed Bottoms in her mayoral bid over Mary Norwood, a white 65-year-old businesswoman. A source close to Evans said when the endorsement was made there was no “quid pro quo” expectation for Bottoms to endorse back. An Evans adviser told BuzzFeed News Evans had indeed “stuck her neck out” for Bottoms, but that the campaign hadn’t banked on a returned favor.
At the time of Evans’ mayoral endorsement, Bottoms, touting their similarities as the products of single mothers with young children, said she still had a race to run, but “you can glean from us standing together how I feel about Stacey and how I feel about her campaign for governor, and when the time is appropriate I look forward to standing with her as well.” (Asked if Bottoms would officially endorse Evans, Anne Torres, a spokesperson for the Bottoms administration, told BuzzFeed News she couldn’t comment beyond saying an endorsement was coming.)
Bottoms is also a staunch ally of former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, an Abrams adversary dating back, in part, to when Abrams ran a mayoral campaign against him. “No one here was ever expecting Keisha to endorse Abrams,” an Atlanta-based political strategist told BuzzFeed News.
Still, if Bottoms does endorse Evans, it will ruin the hopes that some black Democrats have harbored: Bottoms and Abrams working in tandem in the state’s most powerful executive offices, as Democrats are hoping to turn Georgia blue in 2020.
Keisha Lance Bottoms basked in her mayoral victory last December.
John Bazemore / AP
Republicans still control the state legislature, but the movement to turn Georgia blue is strong. A young Democrat, Jon Ossoff, nearly peeled off a key Congressional seat once widely believed to be safely Republican in a 2016 special election. Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was shot to death by a white man later convicted of murder, is running for the chance to take on Rep. Karen Handel. Hillary Clinton performed better than Barack Obama in 2012 by more than 100,000 votes.
“It would be foolish, if not career suicide, for Bottoms to endorse Stacey Evans.”
Black Democrats are bracing for the fallout. “If Abrams wins despite a Bottoms endorsement, I can see it as being an even more toxic and counterproductive than the relationship between Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo in New York,” said one national Democratic strategist who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because she is an admirer of both women.
And Team Abrams — an organized web of political operatives, donors, and progressive activists — readily acknowledge that if Bottoms endorses Evans, it would hurt their candidate, and are arguing it would be bad for Bottoms to do so.
Steve Phillips is a pro-Abrams Democratic donor and political strategist who argues that a seismic demographic shift means the Democratic Party has to double down on its efforts to invest in communities of color in order to win. Phillips says that when black voters have the opportunity to make history by electing someone from their community to a higher office, the endorsements of a few black elected officials are all but rendered irrelevant.
“It would be foolish, if not career suicide, for Bottoms to endorse Stacey Evans,” said Phillips in an email to BuzzFeed News. “From Harold Washington in Chicago to the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama, black voters ignored elected officials and embraced inspiring black candidates. That's what's going to happen in Georgia, where African Americans are the majority of voters.”
In private, pro-Evans Democrats like to argue that Georgia voters aren’t swayed by a candidate’s race, and say that voters are especially suspect of national forces playing in their state’s politics. (Abrams’ national donor base, for instance, has been the source of criticism of her campaign.) These Democrats don’t have a particularly high opinion of the $10 million New Georgia Project, an Abrams-led effort to help identify some of the 1.5 million unregistered voters in Georgia, saying it didn’t register as many people as it aimed. “I don’t believe nor did I believe that the New Georgia Project is the model,” then-mayor Reed told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I think that you have professional organizations that are experts at building the voter database in states, and I think that they should be a part of the overall political campaign.”
Abrams also started an institute to train young people how campaigns are run. Her supporters say they believe Abrams’ status as a builder of the party in Georgia earned her the right to campaign for the nomination, and they argue people like Bottoms benefited from her party-building efforts. “Ironically so [has] Evans,” said Stefanie Brown James, the cofounder of Collective PAC, a new national group backing black candidates in races this year. “She will benefit from the same black voter support that Abrams has worked to empower.”
Brown James told BuzzFeed News the Bottoms-Abrams dynamic is unique. “It would be a bad sign to America as a whole for Mayor Bottoms to endorse Evans,” said James. “It’s important to know that as black people we are not a monolith. But to me, it would be problematic for Mayor Bottoms to endorse Evans over Abrams not just because they're both black women, but more importantly, Abrams is more qualified than Evans. And as a leader you don’t want to put yourself in a position to make a decision that isn't in the best interest of your community.”
Abrams promises to have plenty of support outside of Georgia, including the recent endorsement of Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders–aligned group run by Nina Turner, a prominent black voice in Democratic politics. She also has the support of Rep. John Lewis, a legendary figure in Atlanta.
But Bottoms has showcased an independent streak as a candidate that also earned her admirers. “This will not be a third term for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed,” said Bottoms last year, pushing back at criticism she was being controlled by Reed. “I will not be controlled by anyone when I become mayor of the city. We need to put to bed this conversation because the mayor is not responsible for me. I’m not a pixie dust candidate. I’m an independent candidate with an independent mind.”
Tue, 13 Mar 2018 11:11:54 -0400
Suburban Pittsburgh voters are deciding whether Democrat Conor Lamb or Republican Rick Saccone will fill the congressional seat vacated by a Republican who resigned amid a sex scandal.
Polling has shown a tight race, with Lamb running as a pro-Second Amendment critic of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, supported heavily by trade unions, in what is a Republican district.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
"He's a God-fearing, union-supporting, gun-owning, job-protecting, pension-defending, Social-Security-believing, health-care-believing, sending-drug-dealers-to-jail Democrat," said Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, who held a rally for Lamb in Waynesburg on Sunday afternoon.
Depending on who you ask or what you're asking about, this race is essentially meaningless or incredibly meaningful. Or both!
Because of all the Pennsylvania redistricting stuff playing out in court, this district is about to disappear. No matter who wins, they'll only be in this seat for nine months, and the outcome won't change the balance of the House of Representatives. (More than $12 million has been spent on this race.)
If Lamb prevails (or even narrowly loses), that would indicate yet again that we're looking at a potential Democratic wave election in the fall. This a Republican district, and one where Trump remains more popular than he is in lots of places, so a win here is the kind of sign that Democrats would want to see.
How to watch the results:
At the moment, the 18th District contains slices of four counties — Allegheny, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland — in suburban Pittsburgh.
First, Lamb will need to win the Allegheny County portion of the district outright. If he’s not winning there, he’s probably not going to win.
Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report put it even higher for a Lamb victory:
Second, take a look at how the ancestrally Democratic regions break. Though this district's been considered solidly Republican in recent years, there are parts that aren't or didn't used to be. Greene County, for instance, voted for Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, in 2014, and for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.
Those are the kinds of areas people will be watching to divine results this fall.
Third, will the sharp break between areas dominated by white people with college degrees and those dominated by white people without college degrees continue in PA-18? (This kind of split can be seen in townships in Westmoreland and Allegheny, per Decision Desk HQ head Brandon Finnigan.)
That split (or lack of split) could be enormously important for the results in the fall; Democrats are largely looking to pick up seats in affluent suburban areas in states like Florida, California, and Virginia that often vote Republican but don't love President Trump. PA-18 is a good place to watch that split, as 37% of adults there have a college degree.
Alexis Levinson contributed reporting.
A Federal Court Just Rejected A Funeral Home’s Religious Objections To Employing A Transgender Woman
Wed, 07 Mar 2018 13:25:51 -0500
Mark Lennihan / AP
A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a Michigan funeral home broke federal law when it fired a transgender woman, while tossing out the employer's claim that a religious objection created a legal loophole to terminate her.
The decision builds on a tide of federal court rulings that have found workers are protected from anti-LGBT discrimination, even though there is no federal law explicitly barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
It is the first time in such a case that a federal appellate court considered an employer’s claim for a religious recusal under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law known as RFRA — siding here with the transgender worker.
"The significance of this decision is hard to overstate," Sharon McGowan, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, which filed a brief supporting the woman's claim, told BuzzFeed News.
The decision builds on "the overwhelming consensus" emerging from the judiciary, which contrasts with Trump administration's efforts to narrow the meaning to Title VII to omit LGBT people, she said.
In ruling for Aimee Stephens and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that brought the case, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit found anti-transgender discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, and that employing a transgender person posed no substantial burden on the employer’s religious exercise.
"Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII," said a 49-page opinion led by Judge Karen Nelson Moore.
"RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise."
Stephens had presented as a man when she started for the company in 2007, working her way up to funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. However, six years later, after Stephens announced plans to transition to a woman, the owner, Thomas Rost, fired her.
"The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex," the opinion continues. "RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise, and even if it did, the EEOC has shown that enforcing Title VII here is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination."
The funeral home had claimed allowing Stephens to work while she dressed and represented herself as a woman would be an unjustified substantial burden upon the owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs. But the court noted, “The Funeral Home itself, however, is not affiliated with a church; it does not claim to have a religious purpose in its articles of incorporation; it is open every day, including Christian holidays; and it serves clients of all faiths.”
The court reversed a lower district court decisions, which had ruled in the funeral home’s favor, and sent the case back to reconsider the arguments in light of the appellate court’s reading of the laws.
"At a time when the Trump / Pence administration is trying to create safe havens for those who want to discriminate against LGBT people, this decision makes clear that there is a compelling government interest in ending anti-LGBT discrimination," McGowan said in an email. "Employers and businesses do not get a free pass to discriminate simply by asserting a religious objection to the existence of transgender people."
Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the funeral home, told BuzzFeed News it was considering whether to appeal the decision.
Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for the Christian legal group, said in a statement that the ruling "misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming policies." Courts should consider the "plain meaning" of laws at the time they were passed by Congress, he said, arguing that Wednesday's decision "instead re-writes federal law."
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Stephens, said the ruling set "important precedent" and "ensures that employers will not be able to use their religious beliefs against trans employees, ruling that there is no ‘right to discriminate’ in the workplace."
The EEOC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Tue, 06 Mar 2018 20:00:14 -0500
Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
The Justice Department filed a constitutional challenge to California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Tuesday night.
The lawsuit represents an aggressive new push by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go after "sanctuary jurisdictions," which have earned the immigration hardliner’s ire for adopting laws aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants and making it harder for federal immigration agents to find and deport them.
The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, and names the state and its Democratic governor and attorney general as defendants. Sessions is traveling on Wednesday to Sacramento to announce the lawsuit, a speech that was publicly billed as a “major sanctuary jurisdiction announcement" before the department filed in court.
The lawsuit accuses the state of violating the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. The Supremacy Clause, broadly speaking, dictates that when state law conflicts with federal law, federal law prevails. The Justice Department is arguing that the California laws at issue conflict with federal immigration laws and frustrate Congress’s goals in adopting them.The Justice Department had heavily promoted the lawsuit’s roll-out, including a scheduled speech by Sessions before the California Peace Officers’ Association.
“I can’t sit idle while the lawful authority of officers is being blocked by politicians,” said Sessions.
“I don’t want to be the position of having to challenge these laws,” Sessions told the law enforcement group Wednesday morning. “I can’t sit idle while the lawful authority of officers is being blocked by politicians.”
Sessions alleged that sanctuary laws in California do not merely restrict local officials from helping deport undocumented immigrants, but rather, that the policies are “actively obstructing federal law enforcement,” and in turn, putting violent criminal on the street.“It is a plain violation of federal statute and a violation of common sense,” he said, calling sancuary laws a “radical, irrational idea” that effectively creates open borders.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra shot back Tuesday night — before he'd seen the lawsuit — insisting his state complies with federal law and comparing the Trump administration's announcement to a low-budget film.
"We have seen this B-rated movie before," Becerra said on a conference call with reporters, referring to the federal government's repeated clashes with California over immigration.
"They better have good evidence, because we are going to fight back," he said. "We are doing nothing to intrude on the work of the federal government to do immigration enforcement."
The Justice Department under Sessions already has taken steps to penalize state and local governments for adopting sanctuary laws, but this is the most direct challenge to date. Sessions has publicly and repeatedly criticized politicians and law enforcement officials who embraced these types of policies, and the Justice Department has been reviewing whether jurisdictions with sanctuary policies should lose their eligibility for federal grants.
"We are going to fight back," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Asked if more lawsuits like the one against California were coming against other states and cities with sanctuary laws, a senior Justice Department official said the department was in the process of reviewing immigration laws in other jurisdictions.
The lawsuit will challenge sections of three California laws: AB 450, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, which restricts employers from cooperating with federal immigration officials; SB 54, also signed in October, which bars state and local law enforcement from alerting federal agents when an undocumented immigrants will be released from state custody and places restrictions on detainee transfers; and AB 103, signed in June, which requires the state’s attorney general to review state, local, and private detention facilities that house detainees on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the circumstances of their detention.
“These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day,” Brown said in a statement when he signed SB 54 into law.
Before the lawsuit had even been publicly announced, the state's governor criticized Sessions' planned Wednesday visit to the state, tweeting that Sessions was headed to the state "to further divide and polarize America." The governor's office later sent out Brown's tweet in response to news of the lawsuit.
The Justice Department is arguing that these laws are preempted by federal law in different ways. On AB 450, for instance, DOJ says that the law places requirements on employers to notify employees about a possible federal workplace inspection, even though federal laws don’t have any such requirement. The law also prohibits employers from giving federal immigration agents employee records without a subpoena or a warrant, or access to nonpublic areas without a warrant or other permission under federal law.
On SB 54, the government argues that the state’s prohibition on telling federal agents about a detainee’s release date — at which point federal officers could take them into custody — directly conflicts with federal immigration law; the law includes a few exceptions, but the Justice Department says those don't square with federal law either. A senior DOJ official said that a section of federal law that prohibits blocking a federal, state, or local officer from sharing information with federal immigration officials about “immigration status” applied to a detainee’s release date.
The Justice Department argues that by barring the transfer of detained immigrants to the US Department of Homeland Security, California is forcing agents to make arrests in the field, which is more dangerous for the agents and the public.
The Justice Department cited a US Supreme Court decision from 2012, United States v. Arizona, in which the court found that some, but not all, sections of an Arizona law aimed at boosting immigration enforcement were invalid because they conflicted with federal law, a senior official said. The justices found that the portions of Arizona’s law that dealt with immigrant registration, employment restrictions, and the grounds for making warrantless arrests based on immigration status all conflicted with federal law, and, as a result, were invalid.
The justices upheld a section of the Arizona law that required state law enforcement officers to make a “reasonable attempt” to verify the immigration status of a person they’ve stopped if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is unlawfully in the country. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that “Congress has done nothing to suggest it is inappropriate to communicate with ICE in these situations, however. Indeed, it has encouraged the sharing of information about possible immigration violations.”
Becerra, citing the state laws that the Justice Department alleges are superseded by federal policy, said, "I don't see the conflict, at least in terms of our laws." Asked about the Arizona immigration law partly struck down in 2012, he added, "We are following the Constitution and federal law."
An unsurprising defendant
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra
Patrick T. Fallon / Reuters
The Trump administration's lawsuit on Tuesday is its loudest bark yet at a sanctuary jurisdiction — and unsurprisingly, it’s aimed at California.
Politicians in the Democratically controlled state, which has an immigrant population in the millions, have repeatedly clashed with the administration over the issue.“California, absolutely it appears to me, is using every power it has — and some it doesn’t — to frustrate federal law enforcement,” Sessions said Wednesday. “So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them.”
Sessions denounced Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff, saying, “How dare you? How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?”
Becerra has frequently led the charge or joined other Democratic attorneys general in suing the Trump administration over the past year, including challenges to the wind down of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the construction of a border wall, the rollback of environmental regulations, and the reversal of Obama-era health care policies.
The administration, meanwhile, has attempted to coerce states into carrying out a hardline immigration agenda by threatening to deny federal grants. Sessions has argued jurisdictions that frustrate those aims are complicit in promoting violence.
Asked if California’s role as an antagonist played a part in deciding to sue the state now, a senior DOJ official said they were focused on fair enforcement of the law. The official did say that California’s laws were novel and went beyond what other states had done.
On Tuesday night, Becerra said he respects the federal government's jurisdiction on immigration, but he argued states have autonomy under the 10th Amendment to enact public safety laws as they see fit.
Policies that build bridges with immigrant communities encourage cooperation with police, he said. "We are in the business of public safety, not deportation."
He added that the Trump administration has threatened states and cities on immigration issues for the past year, and — apparently in reference to cases such as the travel ban and rescinding DACA — courts blocked the administration. "We are doing pretty well on this count," he said. "The Trump administration has acted outside the law, and they are the ones who have not respected the rule of law."
Until Tuesday’s lawsuit, most of the immigration-related lawsuits over the past year have come from the other direction — with states or other parties suing the Trump administration.
Last April, US District Judge William Orrick in California blocked key sections of Trump’s executive order to starve sanctuary jurisdictions from federal money, saying the executive branch overstepped its bounds by grabbing purse strings reserved for Congress.
The same month, the Justice Department indicated it would withhold law enforcement grants unless local agencies assisted with its federal immigration agenda — including by notifying federal agents when an undocumented immigrant was in local custody.
But a federal judge in Philadelphia blocked those conditions locally, while a federal judge in Chicago suspended most of those stipulations on the grants nationwide.
The Justice Department has been unrelenting in its threats, though, demanding that local officials show compliance with federal immigration law — Section 1373, the same section cited in the department’s new case against California — in order to receive funding from the so-called JAG program. The legal questions at play in the grant-related litigation and the latest action against California are different, however.
Responding to the Justice Department’s prior threats, a number of agencies, including the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), have insisted they are complying.
“The US Department of Justice has not provided any evidence that the BSCC, or any state recipient of JAG funds, is not in compliance with Section 1373,” a lawyer for the BSCC told the Justice Department in a letter last month.
State officials had asked courts to block the grant conditions entirely — but Orrick said in an order issued Monday that it would be premature to suspend the conditions now. Still, he wrote that the underlying legal questions remain unanswered, particularly because it’s not clear what it means to share information “regarding immigration status.”
Mon, 05 Mar 2018 16:38:57 -0500
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Their strike is illegal. It’s led by women. And it’s taking place in a state that the national Democratic Party has all but totally written off.
The teachers strike in West Virginia — in which thousands of workers have shuttered every public school in the state for more than a week — is offering a new model for the American left in a political era that has scrambled the old rules.
West Virginia went 68% for Trump in 2016. Bernie Sanders won every county in the Democratic primary. Now, teachers in the state, which is home to old American labor battlegrounds like “Bloody” Mingo County, have been striking over low pay and increasing health care costs.
The workforce shows no signs of returning to work until their demands are met, including a 5% raise and plan to reform the underfunded state health care system. In 2016, West Virginia’s average teacher salary was $45,622, more than 20% below the national average. Meanwhile, premiums have gone up for everything from insulin to doctor’s visits, teachers say, and their plans, administered by the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), now cover fewer conditions.
On Feb. 27, Gov. Jim Justice and union leaders negotiated a deal that would have had the state employees return to work on March 1 — but, in a twist, the state Senate refused to vote on the legislation that would implement the agreed-upon 5% raise. Instead, senators argued for a 4% raise and sent an amended version of the bill back to the state House of Delegates.
Jenna Prudich, 25, who teaches second grade, called it a “circus.”
Matt Adkins, a 38-year-old elementary school gym teacher from the city of Huntington, which received national attention in the Oscar-nominated documentary Heroin(e) for its high rates of opioid addiction, said he wished he could “blow his whistle” on the legislators and make them “walk back into the chamber to do it over again."
Other teachers told BuzzFeed News they’re worried lawmakers are stalling until the legislative session ends on Friday, which would nullify the proposed bill.
“Nobody trusts the government in West Virginia, period,” Adkins said. “We said we wouldn’t go back to work until they sign the bill, and they never signed it.“
Teachers hold a rally outside the Senate Chambers in the West Virginia Capitol on March 5 in Charleston, West Virginia.
Tyler Evert / AP
Adam Culver, who teaches seventh-grade language arts at Huntington Middle School, said he made just over $40,000 this year, his 11th year as a teacher.
“When they first announced everything, there was nothing in writing, just promises,” Culver said of the proposed deal.
During the first days of the strike, Culver had worn a banana suit to the rallies to draw light-hearted attention to the cause, he said. But he went back that day dressed in all black, with a big sign over his head reading, "Bullshit."
Monday, the lines to get into the capitol building in Charleston swelled to the largest since the protest began, teachers said, with thousands showing up in red shirts and bandanas, holding signs reading “#55strong” for all 55 closed school districts, and singing “Country Roads,” with lyrics that begin, “Almost heaven, West Virginia.”
The crowds Monday prompted a warning from police and the fire marshal that the capitol could exceed capacity.
Workers interviewed by BuzzFeed News say the strike is now about more than specific contract demands. It’s a testament to wide-ranging frustration over how state legislators undervalue and underinvest in the public school system.
Ami Lester, a 36-year-old who has been teaching in West Virginia for 14 years as a reading specialist in a small community elementary school, said teachers had already succeeded in killing recent bills that pertained to seniority, charter schools, and school vouchers through organizing.
“Two things are happening here,” Adkins said of the ongoing action. “One is the people — the grassroots of West Virginia — fighting its government.”
The other, he continued, is old-fashioned “party politics,” which teachers now say reflect poorly on the Republican state Senate leadership holding up the bill with their promised raise.
Monday afternoon, occupying the capitol building, teachers chanted cheers tailored to state Senate president Mitch Carmichael, including, “Mitch Better Have My Money,” a play on the Rihanna song.
When the politician emerged in the afternoon to urge the crowd to accept the 4% raise instead, teachers responded with a resounding, “Move, Mitch, get out the way. Get out the way, Mitch, get out the way.”
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Several teachers said they were prepared to strike indefinitely, with some expressing a desire to ask for more when they heard teachers in Oklahoma are now asking for a $10,000 across-the-board raise. As it stands, a 5% raise for most teachers in West Virginia amounts to just a few thousand dollars.
Don Scalise, 39, who makes $45,000 teaching students Advanced Placement US government and politics at Cabell Midland High School, said lawmakers should be keeping an eye on their polling numbers.
"There are a number of people in the state Senate who are up for reelection, and a lot of their constituents are teachers and parents," he said.
Notably, the workers' battle has raged on despite the fact that West Virginia law does not technically permit public employees to collectively bargain or strike.
The Supreme Court is also likely to decide this summer in the case Janus v. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Should the court find that it’s unconstitutional to require public employees to pay fees to the unions that represent them, unions will likely take a colossal hit to their coffers and membership.
But the teachers in West Virginia — and now Oklahoma and Kentucky — are demonstrating that workers can organize and take action even in states where such strikes are illegal, and wield leverage over a state employer the old-fashioned way.
Striking West Virginia teachers line up to enter the state Capitol on March 5 in Charleston, West Virginia.
John Raby / AP
Scalise said Monday that he sees the teachers' strike as the first front in a broader labor struggle, with eyes on nearby states. Teachers in West Virginia told BuzzFeed News that they’re now speaking with teachers in Kentucky about striking over unsatisfactory pension and retirement fund negotiations.
And in the past few days, nearly 40,000 people have joined a Facebook group — "Oklahoma Teacher Walkout"— that has pledged to strike on April 2 if teachers don’t receive a $10,000 increase to bring their salaries to a livable floor. In 2016, Oklahoma’s average teacher salary was $42,460, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As the action continues, West Virginia teachers have pledged to keep providing lunches and meals to students despite schools being closed, coordinating with superintendents to make sure backpacks of food are available to students who relied on them. One in four children in the state lives in poverty and experiences hunger, the highest rate in the country.
Mon, 05 Mar 2018 15:17:18 -0500
In a series of increasingly bizarre interviews that culminated with a question about whether he had been drinking, former Trump aide Sam Nunberg said Monday that he would not comply with a subpoena from a grand jury that is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Nunberg participated in multiple televised, sometimes meandering interviews on MSNBC, NY1, and CNN, repeatedly calling demands to hand over emails related to the investigation and testify before a grand jury "ridiculous." He also speculated that special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the Russia investigation, might have incriminating information about Trump and added that the president's team is "doing a terrible job."
Nunberg was fired from Trump's campaign in August 2015 after racist Facebook messages that he allegedly wrote surfaced. Nunberg told media outlets on Monday that he had been subpoenaed to provide documents and to appear in Washington, DC, on March 9 to testify before the grand jury.
"Screw that," he told Gloria Borger on CNN.
"I'm objecting to it because I shouldn't have to spend that much time," he later told CNN's Jake Tapper. "I shouldn't have to go back down to a grand jury. I spent — I'm spending a lot of money on legal fees. A lot of other people are. And, granted, Donald Trump caused this, because he's an idiot. Because he decided to give an interview to Lester Holt the day after he fired James Comey and then he decided to have the Russians in the Oval Office. You have to explain that one to me, 'cause I'll never understand it."
Later in the evening, talking to Ari Melber at MSNBC, Nunberg said that Trump was "the most disloyal person [you're] ever gonna meet."
The comments were among many Nunberg made Monday that prompted widespread speculation about his mental state. During Nunberg's final televised interview of the day, CNN anchor Erin Burnett referenced that speculation, and asked if he had been drinking during the day.
"Talking to you, I have smelled alcohol on your breath," Burnett said.
"Well I have not had a drink," Nunberg replied.
Asked moments later if Nunberg had taken "anything else," he said he had not consumed anything besides his antidepressant medication.
"They can say whatever they want. I don't care," Nunberg added about rumors that he could have been intoxicated.
Earlier in that same interview, Nunberg had criticized White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, saying she "should shut her fat mouth." Nunberg repeatedly targeted Sanders on Monday, and during his interview on MSNBC appeared to threaten the press secretary.
"And I'm warning her by the way to shut her mouth," Nunberg said.
The remark came in response to a question about Nunberg's erratic comments and the fact that, according to Melber, some people "might be worried" about him.
At other points Monday, Nunberg appeared to mock and challenge the idea that he could be jailed for not complying with the subpoena.
"I think it would be funny if they arrested me," he said.
Under federal court rules in criminal cases, a person who fails to obey a grand jury subpoena "without adequate excuse" can be held in contempt of court. Asked if he was worried about that, Nunberg told Katy Tur on MSNBC, "Let's see what Mr. Mueller does."
A spokesperson for the special counsel's office declined to comment on Nunberg's statements. Nunberg did not immediately return a request for comment by BuzzFeed News.
Asked by Tur if he thought the special counsel's office had "something on the president," Nunberg replied, "I think they may."
"I think he may have done something during the election. But I don't know that for sure," Nunberg said. Asked to elaborate, he added, "I can't explain it unless you were in there."
Sanders, in response, said Nunberg was "incorrect."
Nunberg said he was "not a fan" of the president — Trump "screwed" him and former Trump adviser Roger Stone over during the campaign, he said — but after going over the grand jury subpoena, he agreed with Trump's assessment that the investigation was a "witch hunt."
"Why do I have to spend 80 hours going over my emails? That I've had with Steve Bannon and with Roger Stone? Why does Bob Mueller need to see my emails when I send Roger and Steve clips and we talk about how much we hate people?" Nunberg said.
Nunberg told MSNBC that he decided "a couple hours ago," as he was going through his emails, not to comply with the subpoena. He told CNN's Borger that he had started going through his emails over the weekend, and that he was supposed to turn them in on Monday afternoon. He said he had not been contacted about the subpoena by the White House, Trump, any member of Trump's legal team, Stone, or Steve Bannon.
At another point in the interview with MSNBC, however, Nunberg said he hadn't gone through his emails since he was contacted by the special counsel's office. The Washington Post published a document that Nunberg provided that appeared to be part of a subpoena for records. It is dated Feb. 27, and asks for "all documents" since Nov. 1, 2015, that relate to President Trump, former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former White House communications director Hope Hicks, former Trump security aide and bodyguard Keith Schiller, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, Stone, and Bannon.
The document does not include a request for Nunberg to testify before the grand jury.
Last month, multiple news outlets reported that Nunberg would sit down with the special counsel's office. On Monday, he confirmed that he had sat down with Mueller's team, calling them "very professional." On MSNBC, Tur asked Nunberg about the fact that last week he had said the Russia investigation was not a waste of time. He replied that receiving the subpoena had changed his mind.
Nunberg told Melber that he thought Mueller's team was trying to build a criminal case against Stone. Nunberg said he was told he was not a target of the investigation and would be given immunity.
"They're trying to set up a perjury case against Roger Stone, and I'm not going to have it. Roger's my mentor, Roger is like family to me, and I'm not going to do it," Nunberg said.
Nunberg said the special counsel's office investigators had asked if he heard people speaking Russian around Trump Tower and if he had heard about efforts by the Trump Organization to develop a property in Moscow. On CNN Monday, he said he had not. Nunberg also said he was told that Russian singer Emin Agalarov had offered to send up women to Trump's room during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 in Russia, and that "Trump flat-out refused it. Trump's too smart to have women come up to his room."
"Donald Trump did not collude with the Russians. It is the biggest joke to ever think Donald Trump colluded with the Russians," Nunberg told MSNBC. To Borger on CNN, he said, "Mueller thinks that Trump is the Manchurian candidate, and I will tell you, I disagree with that."
Nunberg told Tapper that Page "was colluding with the Russians." He also said Page "wasn't really an adviser," but rather "a name on a list."
Nunberg said it wasn't true when Trump said he didn't know about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Manafort, the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Prior to the meeting, Trump Jr. had been promised compromising material on Hillary Clinton, according to emails that were later released.
"You know it's not true. He talked about it the week before. And I don't know why he did this. All he had to say was, yeah, we met with the Russians. The Russians offered us something and we thought they had something and that was it. I don't know why he went around trying to hide. He shouldn't have," Nunberg said.
He told CNN that investigators wanted him to say that Stone was telling people that Stone was colluding with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Nunberg said that did not happen.
In a statement to CNN, Stone said: "I was briefly part of the Trump campaign and have been the president's friend and adviser for decades; and would expect that Mueller's team would at some point ask for any documents or emails sent or written by me. But let me reiterate, I have no knowledge or involvement in Russian Collusion or any other inappropriate act." A lawyer for Stone referred BuzzFeed News to the statement posted by CNN.
Nunberg has a reputation for bold pronouncements and occasional fictions. “Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization,” he told Vanity Fair after Mueller’s team indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. He said on MSNBC last month that he is “sure” Donald Trump Jr. told his father about what happened during a meeting with Kremlin-connected officials, something the White House has denied. Just last week, he suggested to BuzzFeed News that Trump's reelection campaign is no sure thing.
And last November, he admitted to Politico that he was the source of an anecdote in a story in the New Yorker about former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fetching McDonald’s for Trump. Nunberg told Politico he’d made up the story to dig at Christie. The New Yorker subsequently said he was not the source.
At the end of his interview with Tapper, Nunberg asked, "Jake, I'm definitely the first person to ever do this, right?"
Nunberg would not be the first person to be found in contempt for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena. In 2005, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating government leaks. In 2006, the personal trainer of former professional baseball player Barry Bonds also spent time in jail after he was found in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury in a steroids investigation.
Matt Berman, Chris Geidner, and Thomas Frank contributed to this report.