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BuzzFeed, Reporting To You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Carlos Barria / Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Fotosearch / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

    In short, none of that appears to be true.

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

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

    How does it begin?

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

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

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

    There is no resolution. That has not happened.

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

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

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

    What about the Supreme Court?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So, what happens?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    U.S. Senate Collection / Via senate.gov

    And the Senate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    How does it end?

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

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

    No president in US history has been removed through impeachment.


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    Kevin D. Liles / Reuters

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

    They aren’t panicking. Yet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    It’s a question without an easy answer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte.

    Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

    The Montana special election took a strange turn on Wednesday night after a reporter claimed that the Republican candidate assaulted him before a campaign event.

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

    Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian, tweeted around 7 p.m. that Republican candidate Greg Gianforte "body slammed" him, breaking his glasses.

    The alleged incident took place at a campaign meet-and-greet in Bozeman after Jacobs entered a room where Gianforte was preparing for a television interview.

    A Fox News reporter who was present during the incident later confirmed Jacobs' account.

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

    Afterward, the Guardian posted audio of the exchange between Gianforte and Jacobs.

    youtube.com

    BuzzFeed News reporters were at the event in Montana, and one was close to the scene but unable to see all of it.

    In the audio recording, Jacobs can be heard asking the candidate for his opinion on the Republican healthcare bill. Gianforte shoos him off, replying, “we’ll talk to you about that later," and directing the reporter to speak to campaign spokesperson Shane Scanlon.

    After Jacobs presses Gianforte to answer, a scuffle and a loud crash can be heard, followed by someone yelling, "I'm sick and tired of you guys! The last time you guys did the same thing! Get the hell out of here! The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?”

    “Yes, and you just broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.

    “The last guy did the same damn thing,” Gianforte says.

    “You just body-slammed me and broke my glasses,” Jacobs says.

    “Get the hell out of here,” the man says. Someone else adds, "You need to leave."

    Here's what BuzzFeed News saw and heard on the scene.

    Immediately following the incident, aides appeared to escort Jacobs out of the room, and then entered a private room with the candidate. Police arrived shortly after, and Jacobs was reportedly taken from the venue in an ambulance to be treated for his injuries.

    "I’m going to get my elbow checked out," Jacobs told MSNBC in a phone interview following the incident. "I landed on my elbow, and it’s less than comfortable. I’m making sure that it’s okay because I’m one-handed typing right now."

    The campaign did not return BuzzFeed News' requests for comment.

    Both Gianforte and his campaign staff left the venue shortly after the incident.

    In a statement, campaign spokesman Shane Scanlon blamed "aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist":

    Tonight, as Greg was giving a separate interview in a private office, The Guardian's Ben Jacobs entered the office without permission, aggressively shoved a recorder in Greg's face, and began asking badgering questions.

    Jacobs was asked to leave. After asking Jacobs to lower the recorder, Jacobs declined. Greg then attempted to grab the phone that was pushed in his face. Jacobs grabbed Greg's wrist, and spun away from Greg, pushing them both to the ground.

    It's unfortunate that this aggressive behavior from a liberal journalist created this scene at our campaign volunteer BBQ.

    In a statement Wednesday evening the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Department said it is “currently investigating allegations of an assault involving Greg Gianforte."

    At a press conference Wednesday evening, Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said that the investigation into the incident remains "active." He asked media and the public to stop calling the county's police dispatch center for information.

    Authorities are still in the process of collecting witness statements to determine whether charges should be filed, Gootkin said. He estimated that there were roughly five people who witnessed the incident, including Jacobs and Gianforte.

    Sheriff's deputies have not conducted an interview with Gianforte beyond an initial interaction at the scene, Gootkin said, but will attempt to interview him Thursday morning.

    "He has every right in the world to refuse to speak with us," the sheriff added.

    Gianforte's opponent, Democrat Rob Quist, appeared taken aback when reporters asked him about the incident Wednesday evening.

    "I hadn't heard that," Quist tells reporters, in a video posted by the Washington Post's David Wiegel. "So for me, I guess, that's really not for me to uh, to talk about. I think that's more a matter for law enforcement, I guess you'd say."

    Asked how the alleged incident might affect Thursday's election, Quist replied, "I guess, again, that's not for me to judge."


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    Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Local law enforcement is investigating.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    A former senior Obama administration official concurred.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    David Ryder / Reuters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    The closely watched race was fueled with last-minute drama involving an assault charge against the Republican candidate.

    Gianforte beat Democrat Rob Quist, a musician, in a race that had tightened in recent weeks. It drew national attention as many looked to the race as barometer of political sentiment after several months, and scandals, of the Trump presidency. The AP called the race as Gianforte led Quist, 50.6%-43.9%.

    The race was always going to be a tough one for Democrats — the seat had been held by Republicans for 20 years. But Gianforte was viewed as flawed candidate, and, just over six months ago, had lost the governor’s race to Democrat Steve Bullock. The night before the election, Gianforte was charged for misdemeanor assault when he allegedly attacked a reporter from The Guardian, giving Democrats 11th hour hope they'd be able to flip the seat.

    The ends of the room occasionally let out short cheers as the results on the screens at either end of the room — one displaying the Associated Press results page, and another displaying the Montana Secretary of State results page — continued to move in Gianforte's favor.

    When the event first opened around 7 p.m., one of the screens was airing The Five on Fox News, but there was no one in the room to see the segment they aired on Gianforte's alleged assault the evening before.

    The podium is set up with a Gianforte sign on a sparkly blue curtain backdrop. But there had been no sign of the candidate, and one couple was overheard speculating whether or not he would actually appear at the party after yesterday afternoon's events.

    There was also some careful treading around the press. After an initial misunderstanding about whether or not a BuzzFeed News reporter was credentialed, staff was scrupulously polite when handing out credentials, but decidedly not talkative. There was some audible chatter about people disliking reporters, but for the most part everyone steered clear of the tables full of journalists, with the exception of one woman who announced her intention to "find the right press and flip them off." She later returned to negatively compare the media as a profession to that of being a flight attendant.

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

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

    George Frey / Getty Images


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    As for running for governor or for Senate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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    Backstage on election night, sometime around 11:30 p.m., Rob Russo collapsed.

    It happened before the results were final, but after it had already become obvious that his boss, Hillary Clinton, would not be the next president. He was with three friends from the campaign, waiting for senior aides to arrive in the staff hold room at the Jacob Javits Center. In the crowd, excitement turned to anxiety, then to shock, then to tears. “The air just got sucked out of the whole place,” Russo says. “It was silent. Nobody was saying anything to anyone.”

    When he got up, “it sort of became a dream. I felt detached from it, from everything.”

    What happened next is still a dim blur. He remembers leaving around 4 a.m., because he took a cab, “which I never do.” He remembers dressing in black the next morning — a dark gray “H” t-shirt, a black cardigan, his only pair of black pants — because he has worn black clothes almost every day since. And he remembers the somnambulant trek back to headquarters in Brooklyn, because the whole staff was there wandering around the office — suddenly without direction for the first time in years.

    Russo started packing up his desk. “I didn’t know what else to do,” he says. “It was very unclear to us all what we should be doing.”

    This was a new sensation for the 30-year-old Director of Correspondence and Briefings. Russo has spent more than a decade managing Clinton’s “paper process,” a job he approaches with extreme diligence and care and order. He compiles her briefing books, handles her mail, and drafts letters to every corner of the vast and layered network known as Clintonworld: thank yous, condolences, graduations and weddings. Maybe you’ve seen some of the them, the letters from Clinton that pop up on staffers’ Instagram feeds or in news stories about the friends and voters who have received them. Clinton is the sender, but each note is also the product of a long-worked-out system that this aide steers.

    Russo, slim with a small swept-back pompadour and a neatly trimmed beard, has made a decade-long study of Clinton’s paper process — a.k.a. “her paper,” a.k.a. “the flow of paper” — passing every draft to his boss in shared “To Sign”/“To Read” folders, then internalizing each one of her edits until writing in “her voice” became something close to “second nature.”

    He could show you, for instance, any one of the 110,000 letters he has drafted since 2008, because he keeps them scanned and alphabetized in a folder on his computer. He could tell you that Clinton’s personal stationery was once cream-colored, with her name at the top in blue, but that now the paper is white with a blue border. He could tell you that for most of her life, she signed her name without looping the “y” in “Hillary,” but that after her first presidential campaign eight years ago, a small almond-shaped sliver suddenly appeared at the base of the “y.” (He would also note, however, that in letters from the ’70s and ’80s, “every once and awhile she does loop the ‘y.’”) And he could tell you that, for about nine years, every letter has been written in Poor Richard, a squat typeface with tiny curled serifs, originally used in Poor Richard’s Almanac, because at some point in 2008, a letter from a friend arrived and Clinton exclaimed, “I love that font,” sending her executive assistant on a hunt to identify it.

    Over the years, Russo has developed his own Clinton-themed style and usage guide, governed by a few simple rules for both the letters (“consistent use of the Oxford comma”) and the briefing book (bio photos should be an inch-and-a-half wide, two inches tall, closely cropped to the face, high resolution, but not too big of a file). At the State Department, he learned that letters should be more formal. No contractions, for instance. (“It was ‘I am delighted,’” not “‘I’m delighted.’”) And fewer flourishes, which he realized early on when a draft came back with the word “fabulous” crossed out. (“Let’s try to tone down some of the adjectives,” Clinton suggested to him.) He has followed her from the State Department to her personal office in Manhattan to the campaign in Brooklyn, tasked along the way with drafting letters to diplomats and voters from rope lines in Iowa. On the campaign, he managed a staff of 10 people, sorting every email submitted to the website and overseeing every briefing book, for not only Clinton, but 10 of her top surrogates. He had anxiety dreams about categorizing emails. He lost 15 pounds from the stress.

    By Election Day, there was one thing left to do: Send the final three-ring binder and set of tabs, prepared to his precise specifications, over to Clinton’s suite at the Peninsula Hotel, where aides would fill it with transition materials — her first briefing book as president-elect.

    Interviews with Russo over the last three years — before, during, and after the campaign — depict a career spent producing the materials that, as he describes it, “neatly catalogue the experience” of Hillary Clinton’s life. So he was not prepared, a few days after the blow of Nov. 8, for the letters that started showing up in P.O. Box 5256, the one listed on Clinton’s website. They came by the hundreds, most from people his boss had never met — all about the loss.

    Russo put off the writing as long as he could. “Because I didn’t — I didn’t know where to begin,” he says. “I didn’t know what to say.”

    Joel Barhamand for BuzzFeed News

    Few living people know what it’s like to run for president and lose. It is a singular kind of defeat — a personal, disorienting rejection, delivered overnight at the hands of the American people, thrusting the candidate, her voters and her campaign, however many decades in the making, into the political wilderness of Wednesday morning.

    On the night of his loss in 1992, President George H.W. Bush described it in a short diary entry, made at 12:15 a.m.: “The election is over — it’s come and gone. It’s hard to describe the emotions of something like this... But it’s hurt, hurt, hurt and I guess it’s the pride, too.” He was “absolutely convinced,” he said, that his campaign would defy the polls and pundits, “but I was wrong and they were right and that hurts a lot.”

    “Now into bed, prepared to face tomorrow.”

    For Hillary Clinton, the weeks after Nov. 8 played out in private. After 18 months of non-stop campaign coverage, she appeared now only in flashes. There were the Facebook and Instagram posts from neighbors who passed her on wooded walking paths in Westchester, the videos of standing ovations at Broadway shows. And there was the photo, circulated on Twitter, of Clinton eating breakfast at a resort in upstate New York, seated alone, no makeup, scrolling through her iPhone, nails painted the sort of dark shade she never wore as a candidate.

    What has remained out of public view are the letters that come into P.O. Box 5256. Rob Russo has spent the six months since Election Day reading, sorting, and answering each one — a job still months from completion — as the staff around him has dwindled steadily to the small cadre of aides who preceded the campaign, working once again out of Clinton’s old personal office in Midtown Manhattan.

    The space is clean and nondescript and more or less what you’d expect of a big office building above a Bobby Van’s Grill on 45th Street: the shaded glass entryway, the reception desk, the hallway of gray carpet, the line of adjacent offices. And then, you see the mail room. Piles of white corrugated postal bins sit in stacks of five and six across from Russo’s office, spilling out of the room, into the hallway, filled with packages and envelopes of different shapes, sizes, colors — all waiting for a response.

    Forty-eight hours after Election Day, Clinton started emailing Russo again, forwarding him messages to print or save for a response, as per the routine they’d developed over the years. (“I’m here to help,” Russo told her in one reply. “And she responded, ‘You always are. And that means so much to me.’”) When it came to the letters, Clinton had little instruction for what should be said, but one absolute directive for what should be done: “She is insistent that every message should get a response,” he says.

    Their process is the same as before: the Oxford commas, the alphabetized PDFs. But handling Clinton’s paper is a job that has also been fundamentally altered by that night in the Javits Center. Every letter Clinton receives now reflects the loss. They come from friends and political figures, from academics offering an analysis of the race. The vast majority come from members of the public: people who want to say something to Clinton, to vent or tell her a story or to give advice.

    Joel Barhamand for BuzzFeed News

    Since Election Day, about 100,000 letters have arrived — two times the amount that Clinton received during the 18-month campaign, according to Russo. People send art. Kids send drawings. One person sent a Thanksgiving turkey, which was thrown away upon discovery. (“I don’t know if it was cooked,” Russo notes.) About a month after the election, Russo had to rent a U-Haul to pick up 50 boxes from the post office. “We’re still digging through stuff from December and January.”

    When he first started reading the letters, Russo was surprised. “They’re incredibly personal. They’re incredibly well-crafted,” he says, sitting in the office of Clinton’s longtime spokesman, Nick Merrill. “I’ve been so blown away by the eloquence of the American people in the aftermath of this campaign. The quality of the writing...I mean, we still get casual ‘I’m a fan!’ or ‘I love you!’ Short things. But we get so many that are beautifully written — like people really sat down and took time to write something,” he says. “It’s probably draft three.” (One day this spring, as if to provide an example, Russo pulled out an unopened letter at random from one of the bins. It was three pages, handwritten. The ending read, I hope you know it’s OK to cry. We won’t tell anyone.)

    Most of the letters are like that: positive, gentle. It’s a big change from the campaign, when the aides tasked with reading online submissions to Clinton’s website would have to take breaks during the day because the hate mail was so “coarse and horrifying,” Russo says. “That was their job. We responded in batches to as much as we could. But to read the stuff that people would write would be so hateful, it was… just imagine Twitter, or like the comments section of a news article, where people become so unhinged, and so mean, and so personal.”)

    Now, a lot of the letters start the same way: “Some version of, ‘I’ve started writing this five times. I finally sat down to do it.’ Or, ‘I’ve been putting this off for months.’”

    What people have said next hits every note on the emotional spectrum. Some are “just angry” about Donald Trump. Some apologize to her. Older women in particular “offer some sort of regret,” Russo says. “Like, ‘For 20 years now, I’ve watched you just be dragged in the public, and I’m sorry that happened.’ And those from younger generations often tell Clinton that the election set off a new “political awakening.”

    Clinton’s own future, a subject addressed in many of the letters, has drawn debate among Democrats, some of whom would like to see the former candidate, her husband, and their unwieldy universe of political allies recede quietly into the background of American politics, clearing the way for a new generation of leaders in the party. Her first post-election project, an effort launched earlier this month to fund and support activists and organizers on the left, was met with division among progressives.

    "Where are you?" they ask.

    Even admirers who write to Clinton are split on the question. In one camp, people say she should assume a “global platform,” embrace a status more historic than partisan, away from “day-to-day politics,” Russo says, recounting the letters they’ve received. “It’s a little more common than I even expected, that particular spin on it: ‘Don’t run for office, don’t even necessarily get involved in domestic politics in any way. ... You’ve now earned this position of respect around the world that you should use.’

    “And then there are other people who say ‘I miss you.’ That’s pretty common. ‘I miss you. You were a part of my life for two years, and now you’re gone. You were on my TV every night. You were in my news every day. And I miss you, and I want you to be back.’ You know?” Those letters take two forms. The first, infused with the same shock that sent Russo to the floor on the night of Nov. 8, demand that Clinton come back. “Where are you?” they ask. “You need to be giving speeches. You need to be standing up to Donald Trump. You need to be in the news every day. You need to be out there.” The second form: “We’re here for you whenever your time is ready…” “You’ve earned the right to do whatever you want.” If there is a third strain, it’s the people who simply encourage her: “Don’t think that it wasn’t worth it, that it didn’t mean anything to people.”

    Russo attaches many of the original letters to the drafts he passes to Clinton, “and she reads them all.” She isn’t deeply involved with each one — there are too many for that, Russo says — but she checks in frequently on his progress. “She wants to make sure we’re doing it.”

    “You know, the secretary said this to me herself: that so much of what we receive — like that” — Russo points to the bins of mail across the hall — “for so many people is catharsis.”

    “It’s like they have so much to say. And there’s no one they can say it to.”

    Joel Barhamand for BuzzFeed News

    A few days before Thanksgiving, Russo sat down to write.

    He started with the language in Clinton’s concession speeches, using key passages as his “baseline” — a loose boilerplate for answering each letter. The drafts are forward-looking — always with some note about keeping up the fight — but in many cases, particularly in letters to friends, there are reminders of what has ended for Clinton. Short, stark phrases: “This is hard,” “These weeks have been difficult.” Clinton hasn’t once cut or softened the lines. “I’ve been very blunt in my writing,” Russo says.

    Some days, reading and responding to the letters still piled high in Clinton’s Midtown office, Russo is “brought to the brink of tears,” he says. “Some days, yeah, it completely chews me up.” Others, “despite the fact that I live in this” — in work that now revolves again and again around the loss — “I don’t really think about it.”

    “It’s just what I do every day.”

    It was August 2005, his freshman year at George Washington University, the first week of classes, when he first signed up to volunteer in her Senate campaign office. He was 18, shy with longer hair, from Lido Beach, a small town on the south shore of Long Island. That semester, three or four times a week, he stuffed envelopes at a big table in the volunteer room on K Street. When he learned that it had been the Clintons’ dining room table in Arkansas, he was stunned. “That was my real entry into her world.”

    After interning for Clinton during the 2008 primary, Russo was hired and tasked with drafting thank-you notes to thousands of the campaign’s top supporters. He worked with the political team to come up with a list of people, hung a large map on the wall and worked from state to state (first New York, then Arkansas, then in alphabetical order), crossing each state out in red when complete. The “Thank You Project,” as it became known internally, ended with a total of 16,054 letters. Most were sent electronically, but some, about 6,000, Russo did by hand, working with Clinton to add a more “personal touch,” tailored to each individual.

    That summer introduced Russo to the vast landscape of people who have followed the Clintons through three decades at the highest levels of American politics: friends and advisers, current aides and former aides, donors, fundraisers, old colleagues — a shifting topography of people, with its own “eras” and phases and worlds within “the world.”

    Every letter Clinton receives now reflects the loss.


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    Via Courtesy of Transgender Law Center

    A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled in favor of a transgender student's challenge to a Wisconsin school district's policy limiting his restroom usage — a big win for those seeking to advance transgender rights in the courts.

    The decision of a unanimous three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit keeps in place a district court's preliminary injunction halting enforcement of the Kenosha Unified School District's policy against the student, Ash Whitaker.

    "The School District has not demonstrated that it will suffer any harm from having to comply with the district court’s preliminary injunction order," the appeals court — which hears cases from Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin — held.

    The appeals court upheld the lower court's rulings in favor of Whitaker on both statutory and constitutional grounds, finding that he is likely to succeed on his claim that he is protected from discrimination under the sex discrimination ban in Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 because he is transgender and that the school district's policy violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

    The broad ruling in favor of transgender rights comes even as the Trump administration pulled back an Obama-era policy that pressed for recognition of transgender rights under existing civil rights laws.

    The decision to withdraw the pro-transgender Title IX guidance came in late February. It, in turn, led the US Supreme Court to send back the case of Gavin Grimm, a Virginia student who had brought a similar lawsuit, to the lower courts. Although the justices had agreed back in 2016 to hear the case, the appeals court decision in Grimm's case had deferred to the Obama-era guidance on Title IX. After that guidance was withdrawn, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the lower courts so other arguments could be considered.

    Barry Brecheisen / AP

    In the Seventh Circuit's decision in Whitaker's case, however, Judge Ann Claire Williams addressed Title IX independent of administration guidance on Tuesday.

    "A policy that requires an individual to use a bathroom that does not conform with his or her gender identity punishes that individual for his or her gender non‐conformance, which in turn violates Title IX," she wrote for the panel.

    Regarding the constitutional argument, she noted that "the School District argues that since it treats all boys and girls the same, it does not violate the Equal Protection Clause."

    "This is untrue," Williams wrote for the court. "Rather, the School District treats transgender students like Ash, who fail to conform to the sex‐based stereotypes associated with their assigned sex at birth, differently."

    Because of that, Williams explained the school district would have to show "exceedingly persuasive" reasons justifying the policy.

    "This burden has not been met here," she wrote.

    Whitaker and his mother, Melissa Whitaker, are represented by the Transgender Law Center and co-counsel Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC.

    Notably, the court also held that the school district's arguments to advance its claimed concerns about privacy are "based upon sheer conjecture and abstraction."

    Specifically, Williams wrote, "The School District has failed to provide any evidence of how the preliminary injunction will harm it, or any of its students or parents. The harms identified by the School District are all speculative and based upon conjecture, whereas the harms to Ash are well‐documented and supported by the record."

    Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judge Ilana Rovner also heard the case.

    Read the court's decision:


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    Cliff Owen / AP

    Newly released Justice Department emails shed light on how the Department of Justice responds to ethical dilemmas — and who makes the final call about whether to grant ethics waivers for senior officials.

    The emails, disclosed on Friday in a public records lawsuit, involve former Acting Solicitor General Noel Francisco’s role in litigation over President Trump’s first attempt at a temporary ban on travel to the United States from several majority-Muslim countries. Lawyers from Francisco’s former law firm, Jones Day, had filed a brief in the case in early February. Jones Day’s participation raised questions about whether that created impartiality issues for Francisco.

    The emails show that Scott Schools, an associate deputy attorney general and the highest-ranking Justice Department official not serving as a political appointee, granted a waiver to Francisco that allowed him to continue working on the case. Schools agreed at the time with the recommendation of the head of the department’s ethics office, Cynthia Shaw.

    Schools is responsible for deciding whether to grant certain types of ethics waivers to senior-level officials, DOJ spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said in an email. Former officials told BuzzFeed News that Schools is a respected DOJ veteran, having previously spent nearly two decades in the department. He returned to the department in the fall after three years in private practice, a move that former officials said was widely met with approval from department lawyers and alumni.

    It isn’t clear whether Schools and Shaw were involved in reviewing ethics issues associated with former FBI director Robert Mueller III’s new job as special counsel in charge of the investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election. A spokesperson said, however, that a similar process was employed.

    Peter Carr, the DOJ spokesman for the special counsel team, said in an email only that “Department ethics experts” reviewed Mueller’s situation — lawyers at Mueller’s former firm, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, represent individuals who are reportedly part of the Russia investigation, including Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner — “and determined that Mr. Mueller’s participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate.”

    Schools oversees a broad range of ethics issues at the Department of Justice. Former DOJ lawyers said that the top career official is traditionally tasked with handling sensitive personnel matters. Peter Keisler, a former acting US attorney general, said that lawyers in Schools’ position serve as the “institutional voice for the standards and practices and ideals of the department” across political administrations.

    “On … experience and judgment and integrity, everyone always gave [Schools] the highest marks,” Keisler said.

    Schools served as an assistant US attorney, a US attorney in South Carolina and California, and a senior official at the Justice Department before he left in 2013 to work at a private law firm in Charleston. He came back to DOJ in the fall to serve under then-Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, replacing the late David Margolis, a revered career official who died in July 2016.

    Schools has been involved in high-profile matters over the years. In the aftermath of Trump’s firing of Yates as acting attorney general at the end of January, it was Schools who sent a letter to Yates’ lawyer in March advising him that Yates would need to consult with the White House about testifying before a congressional committee.

    In 2012, Schools ordered the suspensions of two federal prosecutors accused of ethical misconduct in connection with the prosecution of the late Alaska senator Ted Stevens. (The suspensions were later reversed by an administrative judge.) Ken Wainstein, a former senior DOJ official now in private practice, represented one of the prosecutors, putting him at odds with Schools, but in a phone call with BuzzFeed News on Tuesday he only had positive things to say.

    “The fact that people mention Scott in the same breath as David Margolis tells you everything you need to know about the guy and the quality of his character,” Wainstein said. (Wainstein is reportedly a candidate for the FBI director job.)

    "Exigencies of the matter"

    "Exigencies of the matter"

    Via documentcloud.org

    The ethics regulation at issue for Francisco is a catch-all provision that bars federal employees from participating in matters that involve a former employer or business partner within a year of leaving that job. If there is a conflict or concerns about the appearance of impartiality, the regulation allows agency officials to grant an exception if the government’s interests outweigh ethical concerns.

    Francisco left Jones Day in mid-January to join the Justice Department as acting solicitor general, the department’s top appellate lawyer. On Jan. 27, Trump signed the first version of the travel ban executive order. After a federal district judge in Seattle issued an injunction blocking the ban on Feb. 3, the Justice Department appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Francisco, along with other DOJ lawyers, entered his appearance in the Ninth Circuit on Feb. 4.

    At around 2 p.m. on Feb. 6, lawyers from Jones Day filed an amicus, or “friend of the court,” brief on behalf of law professors supporting challengers to the travel ban. The Justice Department was due to file papers in the case later that day.

    According to emails released by DOJ, Cynthia Shaw, director of the Justice Department’s Departmental Ethics Office, sent an email to Schools on Feb. 6 at 4:11 p.m. explaining the ethics issues at play. Shaw recommended authorizing Francisco to work on the brief. At 4:30 p.m., Schools replied saying he approved the waiver.

    “In particular, the exigencies of the matter and his prior extensive work on the matter make it impractical to reassign the matter at this point,” Schools wrote.

    The government’s brief was entered on the Ninth Circuit docket at 5:52 p.m., with a footnote explaining that Francisco and Chad Readler, the acting head of the Civil Division and a former Jones Day lawyer, wouldn’t be signing it “out of an abundance of caution.” A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on Francisco’s decision not to sign the brief.

    The emails show other ethics issues that came up over the next two weeks. On Feb. 7, Schools granted another waiver to Francisco — under a law that deals with financial conflicts of interest by federal employees — after Francisco told officials he realized he held stock in companies that had joined an amicus brief in the travel ban case.

    The emails show that Shaw did a more in-depth analysis of possible ethics issues associated with Jones Day’s involvement in travel ban-related immigration, beyond the “exigencies” at play in the hours before DOJ’s brief was due on Feb. 6. She recommended Schools authorize Francisco to work on these cases, which he did on Feb. 9.

    On Feb. 19, the emails show that Schools granted a waiver for Francisco to work on a case in the US Supreme Court, Jennings v. Rodriguez, that dealt with the detention of noncitizens facing removal from the US; Jones Day had filed an amicus brief.

    The Justice Department published the emails between Shaw, Schools, and Francisco in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the government watchdog group American Oversight.

    Francisco is no longer the acting solicitor general. He was nominated for the permanent solicitor general job in March, and federal law bars him from continuing to serve in an acting capacity while his nomination is pending. The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote this week on whether to send his nomination to the full Senate.


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    President Trump speaks with Attorney General Jeff Sessions on May 15, 2017.

    Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

    Justice Department lawyers defending one of the cases challenging President Donald Trump's travel ban asked a Michigan judge on Wednesday to put the case she is hearing on hold because the Supreme Court is likely to hear a different case challenging the ban.

    And yet, the Justice Department has not even asked the Supreme Court to hear the case the lawyers mentioned — or any of the cases challenging the travel ban.

    "Defendants respectfully seek a stay of the proceedings in this case pending the Supreme Court’s likely consideration of the Fourth Circuit’s decision in a substantially similar challenge to Executive Order No. 13780 (the 'Order')," Justice Department lawyers wrote in a Wednesday filing in Arab American Civil Rights League v. Trump, pending before Judge Victoria Roberts in Michigan.

    On May 25, the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in a full sitting, ruled against Trump's travel ban. Although Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the department would be seeking Supreme Court review, the department has yet to file either a certiorari petition — the formal request for Supreme Court review — or a request for a stay pending the filing of the certiorari petition.

    Review is optional. It would take the vote of four justices to agree to hear the case and five justices to grant a stay.

    In addition to the fact that the Supreme Court doesn't have to hear the case, it also is possible that the justices would prefer to hear another case — still pending — out of the Ninth Circuit, which addresses more of the executive order than does the Fourth Circuit case (which only addresses one subsection of the order).

    The move to halt the AACRL case comes as the Justice Department fights against disclosure of certain documents — including the alleged "white paper" prepared for Trump by Rudolph Giuliani and others regarding the ban — that was given to Trump in 2016 during the presidential campaign.

    The government filed objections to the request of that document, and the plaintiffs followed up by filing a "motion to compel" in the case — seeking a court order that the government turn over the Giuliani memorandum.

    Read the order:

    Read the order:

    Read the filing:



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    In a series of bold, candid remarks on Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said she believes Russian hackers could not have influenced U.S. elections as effectively as they did without being "guided by Americans," adding that it is "hard not to" suspect President Trump or his political allies.

    "I think it's fair to ask, how did that actually influence the campaign? How did they know what messages to deliver? Who told them? Who were they coordinating with or colluding with?" Clinton said, appearing at a tech conference hosted by Recode in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

    "The Russians, in my opinion, and based on the intel and counter-intel people I've talked to, could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided."

    "Guided by Americans?" asked one of the moderators.

    "Guided by Americans," Clinton said. "And guided by people who had polling and data and information."

    When asked if she was "leaning Trump," Clinton replied, "Yes, I'm leaning Trump."

    "I think it's pretty hard not to," she said.

    She spoke in detail about analytics that show, she claimed, that Google searches in crucial swing states such as Wisconsin were highest in volume for the website WikiLeaks, where she said hacked emails were a major factor in swaying the vote for Trump. "Voters who are being targeted by all of this false information are genuinely trying to make up their minds," she said.

    The emails stolen from Clinton's chairman, John Podesta, were "run-of-the-mill" emails, she said, but were "weaponized" on websites such as InfoWars right after the Access Hollywood video leaked in October, imperiling Trump's campaign. "They had to be ready for that, and they had to have a plan for that. And they had to be given the go-ahead: 'OK, this could be the end for the Trump campaign. Dump it now.'"

    "The other side was using content that was just flat-out false and delivering it in a very personalized way, both above the radar screen and below," Clinton said. "That really influenced the information that people relied on."

    The comments, Clinton's most pointed yet on the subject, come amid multiple investigations into Russian efforts to influence the election, including an FBI investigation overseen now by a special counsel, former FBI director Robert Mueller. The investigations have yet to conclude and have not produced evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

    Six months after the election, the two-time presidential candidate has stepped up her public appearances, granting her first major interviews over the last month to New York magazine and CNN's Christiane Amanpour and launching a new organization to support and fund grassroots activists opposing Trump.

    The Hillary Clinton who appears now in public is more dry and direct than the one who campaigned for the presidency last year, including on the subject of why she lost the election, and who to blame, prompting criticism across the political spectrum.

    On Wednesday, she was particularly blunt about the Democratic National Committee. In 2016, Clinton argued, the DNC was far behind its Republican counterpart when it came to data and money. She became the nominee in June — and then, "I inherit nothing," she said. "It was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor — nonexistent, wrong. I had to inject money into it, the DNC, to keep it going."

    Trump, she said, inherited a data operation at the Republican National Committee that had been enriched by millions of dollars since the loss of GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012.

    And to a question about those who want Clinton to recede quietly into the background of politics, she answered, "I'm not going anywhere. I have a big stake in what happens in this country."


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    Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

    The Trump administration has turned to the Supreme Court in the ongoing legal dispute over President Trump's refugee and travel executive order.

    On Thursday night, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to hear the government’s appeal of the recent federal appellate decision to uphold a lower court's order that halted enforcement of the travel ban.

    Additionally, and potentially having a more immediate effect, the department asked for the Supreme Court to allow the federal government to begin enforcing the second version of the travel and refugee executive order that Trump signed in March with two other filings to the justices.

    On Friday afternoon, the Supreme Court directed parties to respond to the federal government's requests by 3 p.m. June 12 — a sign the court could be considering taking relatively quick action on at least consideration of the Trump administration's requests.

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions had said the request for the justices to hear — and ultimately reverse — the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit would be forthcoming.

    The Justice Department lawyers argue in the Thursday night filing, called a petition for a writ of certiorari, that the justices should hear the case — International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) v. Trump — because the "remarkable holding" of the Fourth Circuit "is wrong and in manifest need of this Court’s review."

    Additionally, the department asked the justices to issue a stay of the injunction entered in that case until the justices resolve the case. In that case, the Fourth Circuit upheld a district court injunction against the specific portion of the executive order banning travel for a limited time from six Muslim-majority countries.

    The department also filed a second stay request, asking the justices to put the injunction on hold that was entered in a challenge to the executive order out of Hawaii — Hawaii v. Trump — that is now on appeal before a different appeals court, the Ninth Circuit, until that case is ultimately resolved. The injunction entered in that case is more broad, covering the entire refugee and travel ban sections of the order.

    If both of those stays are granted, as requested, the Trump administration would be allowed to enforce Trump's travel and refugee executive order while the questions raised in the challenges to the executive order are being heard by the justices.

    Notably, while it takes four votes to hear the appeal, it would take five votes of the nine justices (assuming all, or even eight, participate in hearing the case) to grant the stays requested.

    Read the Justice Department's petition seeking Supreme Court review:


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    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    America Rising, a Republican opposition research group with deep ties to the party’s mainstream establishment, is fundraising off Donald Trump's victory.

    In a fundraising email touting efforts to tear down Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, up for re-election in Massachusetts next year but also viewed as a potential White House contender in 2020, executive director Colin Reed stressed the need to start now.

    “That’s why in the spring of 2013, my group started going after Hillary Clinton, widely viewed by most Americans as the next president, with opposition research and strategic communications,” Reed writes. “Our early planning and research helped hand Hillary Clinton the most surprising political upset of all-time and elect Donald Trump President of the United States.”

    It's a throwaway line in a fundraising email — but it still illustrates the difficult territory that Republican operatives and groups must navigate with an unpopular president who Republicans still support. And taking any credit for Trump’s election — even if in an indirect way — is notable, given America Rising’s history.

    As a firm that specializes in digging up dirt on Democrats, America Rising traditionally has been candidate-neutral on the GOP side. But it traces its roots to Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee who was a forceful Trump critic last year. One America Rising co-founder, Matt Rhoades, managed Romney’s campaign. Two others, Tim Miller and Joe Pounder, left the group during the 2016 cycle to work for Trump rivals Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, respectively. Pounder later returned to America Rising. Miller became a leading Republican critic of Trump.

    A fourth co-founder, Raj Shah, now works at the White House as a research director and deputy communications director.

    America Rising will keep its focus on Democrats, but the fundraising email is one of several moves that show how a group that once had fewer incentives to align with Trump now can’t avoid doing so. This is new territory for a Republican group, formed in 2013, that has never co-existed with a Republican president. And Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign already is up and running.

    “We're very proud of the fact that America Rising spent four years holding Hillary Clinton accountable, helped defeat her, and [that] a Republican was elected president,” Pounder told BuzzFeed News in an email. “We fundamentally see Elizabeth Warren the same way we viewed Clinton: The leader of the Democrats who needs to be stopped. We're not only focused on the 2018 map at America Rising, but also 2020.”

    An affiliated nonprofit, America Rising Squared, has invested more explicitly in Trump’s presidency. That group produced ads and crafted messaging to support several of the Trump’s nominees, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.


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    youtube.com

    If you were paying attention to politics in 2009, you’ve probably heard of Mark Sanford.

    The former governor of South Carolina had disappeared for a period of time, and no one knew where he was. His spokesperson said he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” but, turns out, he was actually in Argentina having an affair.

    By all normal standards, the subsequent political fallout should have ended Sanford’s career for good. But in 2013, Sanford ran for Congress in a special election and a remarkable thing happened: he won.

    Since returning to Congress (he’d previously served in the House in the late 90’s), Sanford has been the same fiscal hawk he always was, aligning himself with the conservative House Freedom Caucus. But he’s also emerged as a critic of President Donald Trump — so much so that the president dispatched his OMB Director, former South Carolina congressman Mick Mulvaney, to tell Sanford the president would run a primary challenger against him in 2018.

    But despite his baggage, Sanford has never lost a race. And spending 11 hours with him in South Carolina gave us a hint as to why that might be the case: he literally stops and talks to every person he sees. BuzzFeed News talked to Sanford about his life in and out of Washington, the scandal that almost ended his career, and got a tour of his farm.

    We also crashed his ATV.


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    Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

    Even if the Trump administration returned all of its copies of the Senate’s classified report on the CIA’s use of torture to the Senate — a move that could shield the report from disclosure because Congress isn’t subject to public records laws — those aren’t the only copies out there.

    The New York Times on Friday reported that executive branch agencies were planning to return copies of the Senate torture report — which spurred worried reactions from Democrats and government watchdogs that it would get buried or even destroyed.

    There are other copies of the report, however, and that fact means there are a few ways that the report, or at least sections of it, could become public without the Senate’s say so — although it could take several years and the legal barriers to disclosure would be high.

    The Senate Intelligence Committee in December 2014 published the executive summary of its analysis of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. But the full report, which is approximately 6,900 pages, remains classified. Copies were sent to the White House, the CIA, the Director of National Intelligence, the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and the Department of State. Efforts by the American Civil Liberties Union to obtain it from the agencies via the Freedom of Information Act were unsuccessful.

    Agencies have started returning their copies at the request of Sen. Richard Burr, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, according to the Times report. Burr had opposed releasing the executive summary and had been asking the White House to return it since Republicans took control of the Senate in 2015. Democrats lamented that officials would no longer have a copy of the report as a tool to learn from, and government watchdog groups expressed concern that the public might never get a chance to see it.

    There are several copies, however, that will remain beyond the Senate’s reach, at least for now. One resides at the federal courthouse in Washington, DC. Two federal judges in separate cases brought by individuals challenging their detention at the US military facility at Guantanamo Bay earlier this year ordered the government to bring a copy for the court to store, in response to concerns from the detainees’ lawyers that the report might be destroyed or become unavailable in the future.

    The report isn’t part of the evidence in these cases as of now, but the detainees’ lawyers have argued that it is relevant. Stephen Vladeck, a national security law expert and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, said that by securing a copy of the report at the court, the lawyers were preserving it for any future legal fight over whether it should be entered into evidence.

    If the report is entered into evidence, lawyers for the detainees would still have to clear several legal hurdles for it to become a public court record. Vladeck said the odds of that happening are low. A federal district judge in another Guantanamo Bay detainee case in 2014 ordered the unsealing of classified video recordings of forced feedings, but the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit reversed that order in March. The appeals court found that the lower court judge didn’t give enough weight to the government’s argument that releasing the tapes could harm national security. Vladeck said the DC Circuit’s decision would likely make it difficult for a judge to succeed in ordering the release of the torture report.

    That copy of the report was the one that initially had been given to the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs, according to court filings. Even if the court returned it to the Justice Department, however, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a written response to questions during his confirmation proceedings earlier this year that he would not return the department's copy of the report to the Senate.

    There’s another copy of the report held by the National Archives. President Obama included it as part of his archives, and under the Presidential Records Act it can remain under seal for 12 years. That doesn’t mean it will become public once that time period expires, though, Vladeck said. The government could ask that it remain secret, if it’s still considered a sensitive document and should remain classified, he said.

    Vladeck identified a third possible route for the report, or at least sections of it, to become public. In January, a military judge overseeing the trial against men accused of plotting the 9/11 terror attacks ordered the US Department of Defense to preserve at least one copy of the report, since it contained potential evidence in the case. The department had confirmed to the judge that it had two copies, so to comply with the order the department would need to keep at least one. Unlike the federal district judges in Washington, the military judge didn’t order the department to provide a copy to the military commission.

    Vladeck said that the defendants before the military commission have a stronger case for accessing and disclosing the report or sections than in the civil cases in federal court. But it would still be a long and hard-fought process. Even if the report contained relevant evidence, the government would get a chance to argue that there were alternatives to producing classified information in open court, such as putting together a summary of sections of the report at issue.

    The government would have to show that any alternatives would still protect the defendants’ rights to confront evidence against them or present evidence that helps their case, Vladeck said. If the judge determines that there is no alternative, the government’s options would be limited to producing the information, dropping the case, or defying the judge, he said. The government took that third route in another 9/11 case and refused to produce witnesses. A federal district judge ordered a sanction against the government for the refusal, but that was later reversed by a federal appeals court.

    “I suspect the government would fight tooth and nail to try to reach some kind of compromise … before they would acquiesce,” Vladeck said.

    A spokesperson for the Defense Department could not immediately be reached on Friday afternoon.


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