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BuzzFeed, Reporting To You

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    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    As Attorney General Jeff Sessions vets candidates to lead the FBI, the Justice Department won’t say if he’ll step away from any part of the hiring process, given his pledge to recuse himself from matters related to the 2016 campaign.

    Who President Trump selects to run the FBI, and how much that person is perceived to be independent from the White House, especially on the high-profile investigation into Russian influence in the election, will be a source of enormous scrutiny in the coming weeks.

    A Justice Department official said that Sessions on Wednesday interviewed four candidates to serve as interim FBI director, and there could be more. On Tuesday night, when former FBI Director James Comey was fired, Sessions also spoke with acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, who was Comey’s number two and is under consideration as well, the DOJ official said. The interim director will lead the agency until Trump announces a nominee.

    Sessions, a close adviser to Trump during his run for president, pledged in March to recuse from investigations related to last year’s campaign. A DOJ spokesman on Wednesday declined to comment when asked if that policy would apply at all to the hiring process for the interim FBI director or the future nominee.

    Legal ethics experts told BuzzFeed News that, at a minimum, Sessions should not be involved in conversations with, or about, a candidate that relate to the FBI’s probe of Russian interference in the election. Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University School of Law, went even farther, saying that Sessions should recuse entirely from the hiring process — not just because the next director will take charge of the Russia investigation, but because Trump, in his letter firing Comey on Tuesday, referenced the investigation.

    “I think under these circumstances, where Trump has confirmed the connection between Comey’s firing and the Russia investigation, there’s no way that Sessions can participate in any vetting of a future FBI director without violating his recusal commitments,” Clark said.

    In a dismissal letter that the White House made public on Tuesday, Trump told Comey, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.”

    Sessions in March announced a recusal policy that legal ethics experts say was broader than required by the Justice Department. The DOJ regulations say that prosecutors can’t participate in any criminal investigations and prosecutions if they have a political relationship with the subject of the case, or someone who would be directly affected.

    Sessions’ own policy, however, didn’t limit his recusal to criminal investigations, nor did he limit it to matters related to Trump. Instead, he said that he would “recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States.”

    Revelations that Sessions met in 2016 with the Russian ambassador prompted his announcement of the recusal policy. Sessions hadn’t discussed those meetings at his confirmation hearing in January when he was asked if anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign had contact with Russian officials during the campaign; a spokeswoman for Sessions said at the time that he didn’t mislead Congress because he met with the ambassador in his capacity as a senator, not on behalf of the campaign.

    Peter Zeidenberg, a former prosecutor in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, which handles public corruption cases, said he didn’t think that Sessions needed to completely excuse himself from vetting FBI director candidates. But it would be “completely inappropriate” for Sessions to be involved in any discussion related to the Russia investigation, he said.

    Zeidenberg, who now works at a private law firm in Washington, said he thought Sessions could still be involved in other conversations about a candidate’s experience, philosophy, priorities, and ability to lead a large organization. He was also skeptical that it was possible for Sessions or Rosenstein to have an in-depth conversation about the Russia investigation with a candidate who wasn’t involved in the probe and would lack access to confidential, up-to-date information.

    “They can’t have a substantive conversation about the Russia case,” Zeidenberg said.

    White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders on Wednesday told reporters that Sessions should “absolutely” have a role in choosing the next director.

    “In terms of whether or not attorney general sessions should have a role, look, the FBI is doing a whole lot more than the Russia investigation,” Sanders said. “I know everybody in this room and probably most of the media around the world would like to think that's the FBI's sole responsibility, but that's probably one of the smallest things that they've got going on their plate and the 20,000 employees that work there.”

    A DOJ official said that three of the candidates interviewed on Tuesday were from within the bureau: Michael Anderson, special agent in charge of the Chicago office; Adam Lee, special agent in charge of the Richmond office; and Paul Abbate, executive assistant director for the Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch. The fourth candidate was William Evanina, the National Counterintelligence Executive in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

    Stephen Gillers, a law professor and legal ethics expert at New York University School of Law, said in an email that he thought Sessions had already violated his own recusal policy in participating in deliberations about whether Comey should be fired. In a memo by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein dated May 9 that Sessions relied on in recommending Comey’s dismissal, Rosenstein criticized Comey’s public comments last year about the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server when she was secretary of state.

    Gillers said that Comey’s handling of the email controversy would fall under the category of investigations related to the election. Sessions’ involvement in Comey’s firing threatened the integrity of the Russia investigation, he said.

    A DOJ spokesman said in an email that Sessions' recommendation that Comey be dismissed wasn't related to any investigation.

    "The recommendation to remove Director Comey was a personnel decision based on concerns about the effectiveness of his leadership as set forth in the Attorney General’s letter. The recommendation had nothing to do with the substance of any investigation," the spokesman said.

    But Gillers didn’t think that Sessions would need to recuse entirely from decisionmaking about the bureau’s next director.

    “The scope of the recusal … would not exclude the AG from participating in the choice of a successor. Nor should it,” Giller said. “After all, that person will report to Mr. Sessions on everything else DOJ and the FBI do and he or she will need the AG's complete confidence.”


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    Michael Catalini / AP

    WILLINGBORO, N.J. — Last month, Republican congressman Tom MacArthur became a major power player in health care. On Wednesday, he was rewarded with five hours of heckles, shouts, insults and a brief song calling for his election defeat during a tense town hall meeting in his New Jersey district.

    MacArthur faced off against an overwhelmingly angry crowd of 300 people in Willingboro a week after House Republicans passed their Obamacare repeal and replacement bill thanks to his amendment. A further 500 here were stuck waiting in line outside. Many others ignored the line and just came to protest.

    “I actually voted for him, even though I’m a registered Democrat,” said resident Anne Lyon. “And after I voted for him he has betrayed us.”

    MacArthur was little known outside his district until he unexpectedly changed the course of American health care last month. The Republican American Health Care Act was stalled in the House with Democrats, moderate Republicans, and hardline conservatives all opposed to it.

    Then MacArthur, a leader of the moderate Republican Tuesday Group, worked directly with the far-right Freedom Caucus to amend the bill. His amendment gave the Freedom Caucus much of what they wanted — letting states waive major Obamacare rules such as the ban on charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing health conditions.

    MacArthur’s actions caused anger among other moderates, 20 of whom voted against the AHCA, but it set the groundwork for the bill to pass the House. Moderates in swing states such as MacArthur's may now may bear the brunt of the deeply unpopular bill.

    “You lied to us. You said you would not say yes on a bill that cut our health care,” said one resident. MacArthur responded “And I don’t believe I have.”

    He is one of the few Republican congressmen holding a town hall during this Congressional break week. A glimpse at his experience made it easy to see why. MacArthur was frequently drowned out by an audience fearful of the return of pre-existing conditions and angry about the threat of losing their health care.

    Unable to talk over the storm of anger, MacArthur tried merely to weather it. He appealed that the individual marketplaces set up under Obamacare were becoming unsustainable.

    “What happens if it fails? That’s what I was grappling with,” he said. “For that to be a market that survives something has to change?”

    But as happened so often that night, someone was ready to yell a response: “How is it more likely to survive if you’re taking money out of the system and giving it back to people in the form of tax cuts?” (The AHCA cuts $840 billion from Medicaid over the next decade according to the Congressional Budget Office and distributes about $600 billion in new tax cuts.)

    MacArthur started to respond “Well, because the tax cuts perform the same function” before being drowned out by shouts of incredulity.

    Still, MacArthur stayed calm and rarely showed flashes of frustration over the long evening. Several people commended him for facing the public in a county that voted for Hillary Clinton. “You’ve really taken a beating tonight,” one elderly woman said.

    One theme the crowd kept returning to is a single payer healthcare system. A hush fell over the room when one man talked about his wife who died of brain cancer two months earlier. He had insurance but said he worried about those who fall through the cracks. “I will pay more taxes so that person, that person, that person can get the same care,” he said.

    MacArthur insisted the high-risk pools that would be set up by the AHCA are a progressive solution to the problem because they are funded by the broad taxpayer base. These pools would insure people priced out of individual markets because they have pre-existing conditions, but in the past have been badly underfunded and offered weak coverage. Many in the audience insisted over MacArthur’s objections that those conditions would return.

    When MacArthur argued against single payer by saying “what I have found is government bureaucrats can be very dangerous when they have power” he was drowned out from shouts by the crowd. Many people mentioned Canada, and stories of relatives there who enjoy universal health care.

    While health care took up most of the evening, many people also raised concerns about possible ties between the Trump administration and Russia. They raised the recent firing of FBI Director James Comey and pushed MacArthur to endorse appointing a special prosecutor to take up the investigation.

    “We seem to have a pattern that people who are investigating (Trump’s ties to Russia) keep getting fired,” said one woman to laughter and applause. “Do you support an independent investigation?”

    MacArthur drew jeers for saying he did not. He said that instead he would wait for current congressional investigations to run their course. That sparked more shouts that those investigations were compromised and starved of resources.

    “When are you going to open your eyes? We all see it,” said one man. “When are you going to decide to be an American and not a politician?”


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    Incoming DNC CEO Jessica O'Connell, former executive director of EMILY's List.

    Paul Zimmerman / Getty Images

    Two months into his tenure as chair of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez has named a new CEO, veteran strategist and organizer Jessica O'Connell, to lead party operations ahead of his plans for a far-reaching internal reorganization.

    O'Connell, 43, last served as the executive director of EMILY's List, a prominent Washington-based group that seeks to recruit and elect pro-choice women.

    The hiring, confirmed by a DNC official, concludes an interview process involving more than 20 candidates, led by Perez and a small committee. O'Connell will run day-to-day operations at the DNC and oversee a restructuring that will reimagine the finance department, political operation, and tech and surrogate efforts.

    The goal of the reorganization, outlined by two sources familiar with the plans, is threefold: to position the DNC as an ally in 2017 and 2018 races, a partner for activists in the movement to oppose Donald Trump's presidency, and an operation better equipped to function without relying on a Democrat in the White House.

    Perez, who campaigned for the chair's job on his record as a "turnaround agent," has worked with his aides to reexamine the DNC's org chart, laying out initial ideas for "silo-busting" and creating a "new culture for more collaboration" on a transition call with Democrats on Wednesday, according to a person briefed on the call.

    With O'Connell, Perez is looking to add additional capacity to the DNC's existing departments. One plan, sources said, was a new training program aimed at activists in the so-called "resistance" movement. Others include a mobilization department to build locally on grassroots activism, a reinvigorated surrogates operation to place Democratic voices across state media, a new effort within the political department to ensure a better working relationship with members of Congress and party entities such as the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees.

    Most of the changes have yet to be finalized. But many, particularly in the case of the finance department, will move to adapt to a reality without four principals in the White House. After relying on the fundraising power of the Obamas and the Bidens for eight years, Perez told Democrats on the Wednesday call, the party will have to diversify their event-based model. The DNC is considering a new prospecting desk to locate new donors and meet small-dollar donors where they are, sources said.

    DNC chair Tom Perez.

    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    Perez, the 55-year-old former civil rights lawyer and labor secretary, took the helm of the DNC at a time when the institution had become a major source of frustration among voters on the left. His predecessor, Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, resigned last year after hacked internal emails showed the DNC had unfairly favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, heightening disdain among progressive activists toward the party's establishment powers.

    These tensions spilled into public view earlier this year during the chair's race, a tight battle between Perez and the favored candidate on the left, Rep. Keith Ellison, and again last month during a week-long unity-themed tour with Sanders, where protesters drew national headlines about a still-divided Democratic Party.

    O'Connell, the incoming CEO, has not worked closely with Perez before, bringing a fresh face to a building led not just by the former labor secretary, but Ellison, now the party's deputy chair. (A close Ellison adviser, Will Hailer, who has been helping with the DNC transition, was also considered for the job, the sources said.)

    The DNC is still conducting final interviews for new finance and political directors.

    O'Connell, who helped oversee federal and local races at EMILY's List, has also served on congressional campaigns and as the director of operations on Clinton's 2008 presidential bid. After Trump's election, she worked to launch "Run to Win," a grassroots recruiting and training program at EMILY's List for new candidates.

    She will be the first openly gay staffer leading the DNC, the spokesperson said,

    Perez, in a statement provided by the DNC, cited O'Connell's organizing experience as an asset as the DNC gears up "for critical elections in 2017, 2018, and beyond."



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    On this week's podcast, co-hosts Kate Nocera and Charlie Warzel talk about:

    • The obvious story: James Comey’s firing as FBI director
    • What is true and what is false about the Republican health care bill (e.g. Is being a woman a pre-existing condition? (No.))
    • French internet trolls, and how they were unable to really sway much in the French election

    Zoe Tillman, who covers legal issues for BuzzFeed News, and Washington editor Sarah Mimms join.

    How to listen:

    Search for “No One Knows Anything” in your podcast app of choice, like Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and more. This link automatically opens the show in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, depending on your mobile device.

    Be sure to subscribe to the show so you never miss a new episode!


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    Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall argues on Monday before Ninth Circuit judges (from left) Michael Daly Hawkins, Ronald Gould, and Richard Paez.

    C-SPAN / Via c-span.org

    For the second time in two weeks, a top Justice Department lawyer faced a panel of federal appeals judges who were skeptical about the legality of President Trump’s latest attempt at a travel ban.

    A three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments on Monday about a lower court judge’s order blocking Trump’s executive order that would temporarily halt immigration from six majority-Muslim countries. The arguments took place in Seattle one week after the Fourth Circuit in Richmond heard arguments in a similar case.

    Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall, who argued the case this past week in the Fourth Circuit, once again faced an array of questions about how much the judges should consider Trump’s statements during the presidential campaign in support of a ban on Muslim immigration, as well as statements by the president and his advisors about the purpose of the travel ban executive order after he took office.

    “The executive order sets out national security justifications. But how is a court to know if in fact it’s a Muslim ban in the guise of national security justification?” Judge Ronald Gould asked Wall.

    Wall pointed to a previous US Supreme Court case that said courts couldn’t look behind certain immigration-related decisions if, on their face, they presented a legitimate purpose and the government’s actions had a rational relationship to that purpose. The travel ban executive order doesn’t mention Islam, and the administration has repeatedly denied that it’s a Muslim ban.

    “The benefit of that standard … is it doesn’t call on courts to make these sorts of determinations, the second-guessing of national security determinations that they’re sort of ill-equipped to do, Wall said.

    During one of the more heated exchanges, Judge Richard Paez asked if President Franklin Roosevelt's executive order during World War II authorizing the internment of Japanese Americans would “pass muster” under the government’s arguments in the travel ban case. When Wall replied that it would not, Paez pressed him, noting that Roosevelt’s order was “facially legitimate.”

    “I want to be very clear about this: This case is not Korematsu, and if it were, I wouldn’t be standing here and the United States would not be defending it,” Wall said.

    Wall was referring to a now-widely disavowed decision by the Supreme Court in 1944, Korematsu v. United States, which upheld Roosevelt’s executive order. The lawyer who argued in the Ninth Circuit on Monday for the challengers, Neal Katyal, made a public statement in 2011 when he was the acting US solicitor general highlighting mistakes by that office in defending Roosevelt’s order in the Korematsu case.

    Paez pushed back, asking Wall how the government would apply the “facially legitimate” standard it was arguing in the travel ban case to an order such as Roosevelt’s one, which didn’t explicitly reference Japanese Americans. Wall said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the order, but he couldn’t imagine a court saying it would survive under the standard the government was asking the court to apply.

    Trump signed a new version of the travel ban executive order in March after federal courts across the country blocked enforcement of the first version, finding that it was likely unconstitutional. A federal judge in Hawaii blocked two provisions of Trump’s second executive order: the travel ban, and another provision that temporarily suspended the US refugee program. Arguments on Monday focused on the travel ban; there was little discussion of the refugee program suspension.

    The judge in Hawaii, US District Judge Derrick Watson, found that the travel ban likely violated the constitution’s Establishment Clause by discriminating against Muslims.

    The challengers had also argued that the ban violated a section of federal immigration law that prohibits discrimination in the immigration visa process on the basis of nationality. Wall, however, argued that another section of immigration law gave the president broad authority to halt the entry of foreign nationals into the United States, and that it wouldn’t make sense to allow people to get visas if they were going to be barred from actually entering the country.

    Of that distinction, Judge Michael Daly Hawkins quipped that it would be “like Tom Hanks at the airport,” an apparent reference to the movie The Terminal, where Hanks plays a foreign traveler stuck at an airport because of diplomatic complications.

    Gould asked Katyal if the court could uphold Watson’s injunction based on the immigration law claims if the appeals court didn’t agree with the constitutional claim. Katyal said they could.

    Paez asked several questions that signaled possible concern about relying too much on Trump’s campaign statements, which the challengers cited in arguing their constitutional claim. At one point, Paez asked Katyal if the challengers could still win the case if the court didn’t consider the campaign statements. Katyal said Trump had said and done enough after becoming president to back up their claim that the order amounted to religious discrimination.

    Paez, echoing questions from the Fourth Circuit last week, had also asked if Trump’s comments meant he could never adopt an executive order along the lines of the one he signed. Katyal responded that if Trump took steps to distance himself from the Muslim ban comments, such as explicitly disavowing them or making a clearer connection to national security threats, he could.

    “Our constitution and laws are better than this,” Katyal said. “Our founders wanted America to be a beacon on our coast, and that beacon at the end of the day is not the quality of our sports teams, or the quality of our soil, that beacon ultimately is the majestic Article III and the grand contours of the First Amendment.”

    Wall picked up on Katyal’s arguments in his conclusion, saying that Katyal was right that the US was a “beacon,” but that “what makes it a beacon is the rule of law.”


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    Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images

    Hillary Clinton formally announced a new political group — Onward Together — on Monday, describing in a series of tweets the endeavor, her first since losing the November election.

    The group, as reported by BuzzFeed News, will aim to connect established and new activist groups with one another, and to help them fundraise. The name, Onward Together, is a riff on her campaign's slogan.

    On Monday, Clinton described that effort as one to "encourage people to get involved, organize, and even run for office," while tweeting the names of several groups that have led anti-Trump or grassroots Democratic efforts this year, like SwingLeft (which identifies potential districts to turn blue for would-be donors or volunteers), Run for Something, and Color of Change, which does a lot of criminal justice work.

    Because the group is structured as a 501©4 nonprofit, it can accept unlimited contributions and is not required to disclose donors.

    Organized over the last few months with former DNC chair and governor Howard Dean, the group is still in the early development stages.

    The endeavor, and the idea that the Clintons will remain in politics, has already drawn a fair amount of scrutiny — each time Clinton has made an appearance this year, a relitigation of the 2016 election and a debate about what her role should be in the Democratic Party has tended to follow. (The RNC, for instance, was unimpressed on Monday afternoon, with spokesman Michael Ahrens saying, "The American people rejected Hillary Clinton six months ago because she's completely out of touch, untrustworthy, and embraced the failed policies of the past. If Democrats were smart, they’d realize it’s time to move onward from Hillary Clinton altogether.”)

    “We’re not looking to duplicate or replace the DNC or the DCCC or all that stuff,” Dean told BuzzFeed News recently. “We’re looking to give these folks the opportunity to do the building they’re already doing on their terms, but in a more organized way, when the one hand knows what the other hand is doing.”

    LINK: Hillary Clinton Returns To Politics With A New Focus On The Grassroots


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    Guilfoyle says she’s talking to the Trump administration about the press secretary job.

    Roy Rochlin / Getty Images

    Fox News host Kimberly Guilfoyle said Tuesday that she is in talks with the Trump administration about replacing Sean Spicer as the new White House press secretary.

    “I’m a patriot, and it would be an honor to serve the country,” she said in an interview with Bay Area News Group. “I think it’d be a fascinating job, it’s a challenging job, and you need someone really determined and focused, a great communicator in there with deep knowledge to be able to handle that position.”

    Guilfoyle, currently a co-host of the Fox News show The Five, was reportedly a top candidate for the press secretary job after the election. She had multiple meetings with members of the Trump transition team in December about the post, but lost out to Spicer, the former Republican National Committee communications director.

    “Sean Spicer is a very nice man and a patriot; he’s dedicated himself to this public service," Guilfoyle said when asked about the man she might be replacing. "Very tough position he’s in — I wish him the best, and I know he puts a lot of effort into it.”

    Guilfoyle added that her decade-long friendship with the Trump family would help her if she became the White House press secretary.

    "I think I have a very good relationship with the president," she said. "I think I enjoy a very straightforward and authentic, very genuine relationship, one that’s built on trust and integrity, and I think that’s imperative for success in that position.”

    A spokesperson for Fox News said that Guilfoyle is under a longterm contract.

    “Kimberly is a valued member of the FOX News primetime lineup, and is under a long-term contract with the network,” the statement said.

    Guilfoyle added in a statement distributed by Fox that she continues to be happy in her current position.

    "As I stated in the interview, I really love what I do and my job co-hosting The Five is tough to beat,” she said.

    BuzzFeed News has reached out to the White House for comment.

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer.

    Susan Walsh / AP

    Rumors of Spicer's possible exit intensified last week in the aftermath of his initial handling of the news that Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey. His subsequent absence from the podium, to fulfill pre-scheduled Navy reserve duty, only further fueled speculation that he had fallen out of favor with Trump.

    Asked about Spicer was on his way out, an administration official told BuzzFeed News on Thursday: "Oh my god, for the billionth time no."

    However, other sources told BuzzFeed News that Spicer had drawn Trump's ire, and that the president was discussing possibly replacing him. Aides were also making calls to prospective candidates who may be interested in joining the communications team if there is a major shake-up, they added.


    View Entire List ›


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    Georgia Department of Corrections via AP

    A Georgia man was set to be executed Tuesday for the 1992 murder of his neighbor during an armed robbery — but the US Supreme Court waited until early Wednesday to reject his requests to halt the execution.

    J.W. Ledford Jr. was sentenced to death for murdering his 73-year-old neighbor, Dr. Harry Johnston, during an armed robbery of his home. He would be the first inmate to be executed by Georgia this year. The state's death warrant is valid for a week, so the state will be able to proceed with the execution despite the US Supreme Court's delay.

    In court appeals, Ledford, 45, asked state and federal courts to consider that executions should be constitutionally barred for those who commit murder before reaching the age of 21.

    In another appeal, Ledford asked to be executed by a firing squad instead of the lethal injection. His attorneys have argued that the state's lethal injection drug — pentobarbital — will cause him to suffer "an excruciating" and therefore, unconstitutional death.

    According to his appeal, Ledford has been using a medication to treat his chronic nerve pain for a decade which has "changed the chemistry of his brain" in a way that pentobarbital will not "reliably render him unconscious" during the execution.

    "Accordingly, there is a substantial risk that Mr. Ledford will be aware and in agony as the pentobarbital attacks his respiratory system, depriving his brain, heart, and lungs of oxygen as he drowns in his own saliva. This horrific death cannot be countenanced by the Eighth Amendment," the appeal argued.

    Ledford's appeal proposed the firing squad as a more "reliable" method of execution.

    The state argued that Georgia has no alternative method of execution provided for by statute and that Ledford "failed to show that he has established an alternative that is less painful."

    On Monday night, a federal appeals court denied a stay of execution to Ledford, stating that his claims lacked merit and "do not establish a substantial risk of serious harm."

    In its ruling, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals also wrote that lethal injection was a more humane way of execution, citing the US Supreme Court — which has stated that "[t]he firing squad, hanging, the electric chair, and the gas chamber have each in turn given way to more humane methods [of execution], culminating in today’s consensus on lethal injection.”

    The parole board on Monday also denied Ledford's request for clemency. According to his clemency appeal, Ledford's intellectual disability at a young age, coupled with his life at the hands of an alcoholic and abusive father led to him committing the "senseless, random act."

    BuzzFeed News legal editor Chris Geidner contributed to this report.

    Read the relevant US Supreme Court filings:


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    The mushrooming chaos erupting from the White House is testing the boundaries of one of the Trump administration’s safest spaces: Fox News.

    On Tuesday evening, the New York Times published a bombshell story reporting that former FBI director James Comey wrote a memo after a meeting with President Trump that detailed how the president asked him to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

    The revelation of the memo — shared with Comey’s close associates and confirmed by other outlets, but not obtained by them — quickly cascaded across a cable news landscape already gearing up to cover another major story, the Washington Post’s Monday report that the president discussed classified information with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting.

    Exhausted Republicans ducked for cover. Some Washington Democrats started to mention tentatively the word impeachment. MSNBC promised in a chyron that it would be “Trump v. Comey all night.”

    But on Fox News, at least initially, the news landed with a thud.

    “Comey is a smart man. There’s no way he doesn’t realize, in the absence of tapes, it’s his word against Donald Trump’s word, and it’s going nowhere,” Eric Bolling said on Fox’s 5 p.m. hour show, the Fox News Specialists. “So what is the point of this?”

    This kicked off the network’s split approach for the night — and laid bare the dueling impulses at the network.

    On the one hand, Fox pundits on the network’s primetime block, from Jesse Watters to Tucker Carlson to Sean Hannity, pooh-poohed the report. On the other hand, Fox’s journalists delivered facts between the punditry — facts that confirmed some of the New York Times’ story.

    During the 6 p.m. hour, for instance, Fox’s chief political anchor Bret Baier twice relayed the fact that Republican lawmakers were not willing to go on camera to defend Trump.

    At 8 p.m., Carlson squared off against a New York City Council Member, and the two talked completely past each other — Carlson about Penn Station bathrooms and the councilman about Trump and Russia. Later segments on Carlson’s show reflected on the liberal media’s hysteria and the fact that ABC cancelled a Tim Allen sitcom enjoyed by conservatives.

    Then at 9 p.m., on The Five, Fox’s largely conservative roundtable took turns questioning Baier, who soberly reported what he knew about the Comey story. “I think you’re going to see more calls and hear more calls for a special prosecutor or special commission,” Baier told the panel.

    Fox host Jesse Watters said it was a story with no video or audio, and that only three or four average people out of ten would even know who James Comey is anyway: “It’s a boring scandal,” he said.

    Host Kimberly Guilfoyle — who said on Tuesday that she is in talks with the Trump administration about replacing Sean Spicer as press secretary, before reiterating in a statement how much she loves her current job — suggested that Comey could have fabricated the memo. “I can write a note and backdate it,” she said. Baier replied that he believed the documents would have been locked down.

    Greg Gutfeld offered his take, parsing Trump’s remarks for their real meaning. “When you say you hope for something, it’s not like it’s a command,” he said.

    Hannity, the network’s chief Trump booster, used his 10 p.m. hour to decry the media’s “hyperventilating breathlessness,” Comey’s pursuit of “revenge,” and the “deep state selectively leaking information to damage the president.” He also spent much of the hour discussing the death of murdered Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich and a recent story based on dubious sourcing that in the past few days reignited conspiracy theories about Rich’s death, over the objections of his family.

    At 11 p.m., Hannity’s opinion time was over, and Baier returned with a panel of Fox reporters. That panel included Catherine Herridge, who reported that a source told her that Comey documented at least one meeting with Trump (though she did not go as far to say it was the same one the Times reported). The source told Herridge that Comey is known as a “copious note taker,” and that it was standard practice for him to take notes directly after meetings.

    Fox New’s tone manifested online too. Splashed across the front page of the network’s website, and accompanied by headlines of people demanding answers from the White House, was the day’s news: “COMEY’S REVENGE? White House pushes back on report Trump asked ex-FBI boss to end Flynn probe.”


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    Brazilians are best known for samba and soccer, but we are also experts in constitutionally removing our elected presidents. We've impeached two of them in the last 25 years, which has to be a world record. Just last year, Brazilian lawmakers voted to remove President Dilma Rousseff from office, bringing the dramatic downfall of the country’s first female leader.

    Now, US Democrats are beginning to speak openly about impeaching President Donald Trump over his interference in an FBI investigation — if they win Congress in the midterms, or if they can persuade Republicans to join them.

    What follows is what I've learned covering Brazilian politics for 20 years, and from covering Dilma's impeachment closely. When President Fernando Collor was impeached in 1992, I was in high school. And what I've learned is that just catching the leader doing something illegal and/or unpopular isn't enough. Impeachment is, as Americans are learning, at least as much about political power as presidential conduct.

    Here's what brought Brazil's government to take that extreme step:

    Here's what brought Brazil's government to take that extreme step:

    Activists supporting the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff.

    Andressa Anholete / AFP / Getty Images

    1. YOU NEED A DEEPLY POLARIZED SOCIETY In 2014, Brazilian society was intensely polarized between Rousseff's left-wing Workers' Party and the center-rightist opposition. Rousseff was re-elected by a narrow margin (51.6%) over her opponent Aécio Neves (48.4%). Sound familiar?


    2. THE PEOPLE REALLY FEEL THE EFFECTS OF AN ECONOMIC CRISIS: In the last three years, the Brazilian economy shrunk by 8%. It's the worst recession in our history, and — unlike in the US, where the problems are stagnation and inequality — millions of people could feel themselves getting poorer in real time.

    3. CONGRESS FINDS SOMETHING TO CALL WRONGDOING: This doesn't have to be a criminal conspiracy. Even though Brazil is a world leader in bribery and real corruption, Rousseff was not impeached over personal misconduct. Instead, she was charged with accounting trickery aimed at disguising the budget deficit.

    But she wasn't really brought down for accounting. In fact, she paid the political price for mismanaging of the economy and a multi-billion dollar corruption scandal surrounding Petrobras, the state-run oil company, an ongoing scandal that badly damaged all the main leaders of her Workers' Party.

    (That's not to say there couldn't have been other reasons to impeach her. Last week, one year after her impeachment, the Brazilian Supreme Court released videos in which Rousseff's marketing advisers said she knew that undeclared money was used in the 2014 campaign.)

    4. PEOPLE HEAD OUT INTO THE STREETS: The investigations surrounding the corruption allegations and the economic malaise sparked huge demonstrations across Brazil in 2015 and 2016, with crowds demanding her impeachment.

    5. THE PRESIDENT'S POPULARITY CRASHES: This cocktail of recession, scandals and demonstrations was devastating to the president's popularity. Just 15 months after taking office as re-elected president, surveys showed that 71% of Brazilians disapproved her government.

    6. THE PRESIDENT'S POLITICAL SUPPORT COLLAPSES: The next and the most dramatic step was the destruction of Dilma Rousseff's political support in Congress.

    7. OH — AND YOU'D BETTER BE WILLING TO PUT UP WITH YEARS OF QUAGMIRE AND PARALYSIS


    THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BRAZIL'S SITUATION AND THE U.S. IS WHO CONTROLS CONGRESS.

    Dilma's party — unlike Donald Trump's — didn't control Congress, the body (as in the U.S.) with the power to impeach the president. Dilma’s party and her loyal allies from other left-wing parties had only 30% of the seats on Congress. Her government depended on partners on the center-right, some of them members Vice-President Michel Temer's party, many of whom were also facing corruption allegations. They didn't have any particular loyalty to Rousseff, and decided to restart the game by impeaching her.


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    Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images

    The White House is in constant crisis mode 118 days into Donald Trump’s presidency — and Republicans on the outside are worrying over their panicked friends on the inside.

    Tuesday’s New York Times report that Trump urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn continued a torrent of bad news that has been flowing since Trump’s stunning firing of Comey a week earlier.

    Staffers have been heard shouting behind closed doors. The Times, in a separate story, described West Wing aides “in glassy-eyed shock.” A Politico account presented a “White House on edge” and quoted one official “hoping the president doesn’t tweet.”

    It’s the kind of situation that prompts the question: Why don’t people quit now?

    Republicans who spoke to BuzzFeed News say the angst is very real. (“A shitshow,” said one Republican operative with friends in the White House who, like others, requested anonymity to offer candid thoughts and details of their conversations.)

    But, for various reasons, they don’t see a mass exodus — voluntary or involuntary — coming any time soon.

    For one thing, many who joined Trump in the White House are true believers who worked on his campaign, which did not attract top-level GOP talent. (“It’s not like it’s the A-team over there,” a Republican strategist said.) The reputations of some prominent aides may already be so joined to the Trump administration that seeing it through is a better strategy. And, they said, junior-level staffers may be better off gritting it out and trying to learn from a daily course in crisis management, rather than risk looking disloyal to future employers.

    White House officials looking to make personnel changes have a problem, too.

    “Everyone just assumes everyone is going to be fired. So fire everyone, great. But who is going to replace them?” said one Republican operative, suggesting that, right now, an open job in the Trump administration isn’t all that appealing to anyone who would be qualified for it.

    So what should Republicans on the inside do?

    Staffers at even the lower levels must worry about subpoenas and attorney fees as hearings over the conduct of Trump and his closest counselors become more likely, one Republican White House veteran told BuzzFeed News.

    “My suspicion is a lot of people who work for Trump have not been through the meat grinder before, and this is all new to them,” this Republican said. “It freaks people out, stresses people out, and it’s hard to focus on your real work. It’s like a piano on a wire hanging over your head.”

    The former White House aide said he has advised several friends in the Trump administration to tread carefully on the legal front. “Don’t treat it flippantly,” the former aide said.

    “I would counsel people to just take a deep breath, but this could get real expensive real fast. If you get called to testify or are deposed, you can rack up some big bills pretty quickly.”

    Besides proving loyalty, which ultimately could be of dubious worth in a Trump administration, some Republicans see a redeeming factor to staying put. For younger staffers or others outside the public eye and free of blame, this could be invaluable experience early in their careers.

    “While it’s been rough sailing for the last few weeks, the feeling is, ‘Welcome to the NFL,’” said Ron Bonjean, a Republican consultant with close ties to the White House. “They know they’re at history’s doorstep. The hours suck. It’s not always a friendly environment, but most of the White House staff are pretty young and built for the mileage.”

    Said another GOP strategist: “If you have a policy portfolio, there’s a lot of merit in continuing to plug away. You really can have an impact on something that might seem small to people reading the New York Times, but it’s big to people in certain sectors. If you’re a young deputy press secretary working there right now, you’re getting very, very good experience in horrible crisis situations every day. In many circumstances, you’re seeing lessons of what not to do.”

    But these Republicans and others outside the White House are careful about offering any unsolicited advice.

    “Anybody who watched that campaign and didn’t walk away with a sufficient fear of the inevitable — I’m not surprised where we are, to tell you the truth,” the strategist said.

    Even staffers determined to leave might be stuck. Asked if people might quit voluntarily, one operative replied: “Where are they going to go? Is there a state senate race in Ohio to work on?”

    Another party operative who visited the White House recently saw no signs of imminent defections. “The White House is challenging, and everyone knew that going in, but I haven’t seen anything like, ‘Hey, this is my resume, help me out.’”

    One former GOP operative who has friends in the White House said “these guys knew what they were signing up for” and doesn’t expect them to jump ship.

    “Frankly, man, it’s a strain on friendships.”


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    Cliff Owen / AP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Bryan Cox / AP

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

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

    Bryan R. Smith / AFP / Getty Images

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

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

    Daniel Berehulak / Getty Images

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

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

    The Washington Post / Getty Images


    View Entire List ›


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    Anthony Michael Hall as Greg Pulver. / Via youtube.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Pool / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Yuri Gripas / Reuters

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

    He did so back in 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Sullivan's full 2010 comment:

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


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    Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Elise Amendola / AP

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

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

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

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

    Read the entire letter here:


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    Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The complicated but important timeline is worth laying out:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Joshua Roberts / Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    D Dipasupil / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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