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BuzzFeed, Reporting To You

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    Matt Sullivan / Getty Images

    The Trump movement will face a big test next year in Ohio.

    US Rep. Jim Renacci, angling to stand out in a crowded field of Republicans who want to be the state’s next governor, will collect endorsements Saturday from two grassroots organizations supportive of the president: Citizens for Trump and Bikers for Trump’s Ohio chapter.

    On its website, Citizens for Trump describes its membership as a mix of Tea Party, Christian conservative, pro-Second Amendment and anti-Common Core groups. Bikers for Trump has participated in Trump rallies across the country. (Politico reported last month that members were involved in physical altercations at a Trump event in Pennsylvania.)

    The groups are not particularly known for fundraising dominance or political heft. But their seals of approval could boost Renacci as he positions himself as the Trump-friendliest candidate.

    "I could not be more honored to receive this endorsement from Bikers for Trump and Citizens for Trump — not simply because we share a common patriotism or passion for motorcycles, but because they represent the power of what’s possible when fearless, hardworking Americans mobilize to take their government back,” Renacci said in a statement his campaign emailed to BuzzFeed News. “My opponents may have the establishment in their pocket, but with Ohioans like these on my flank, I’m confident this is a fight that we can and will win.”

    The endorsements will come at an Ohio Bike Week event in Sandusky.

    Renacci has the lowest statewide name-recognition of the four likely GOP gubernatorial hopefuls. Secretary of State Jon Husted and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor already have declared their candidacies, and Attorney General Mike DeWine is expected to announce his bid soon.

    But Renacci is the only one who enthusiastically campaigned for Trump last fall. When he jumped into the race in March, with a video featuring him riding a motorcycle, Renacci brought an “Ohio First” slogan and website that echoed Trump’s “America First” message.

    Like Trump, Renacci — an accountant by trade and one of the wealthiest members of Congress — emphasizes his background in business and presents himself as a political outsider, though he’s in his fourth term in the House and was mayor of Wadsworth, near Akron.

    Trump has not indicated a preference, but Renacci has attracted support from other allies of the president. One of his senior campaign advisers, Rob Scott, helped run Trump’s Ohio operation. And in a not-so-subtle move Friday, Renacci tweeted a photo of himself standing between Jane Timken and Ronna Romney McDaniel, Trump’s handpicked chairwomen of the Ohio GOP and Republican National Committee, respectively. (Timken has pledged to remain neutral in the primary.)

    Renacci’s strategy has merit: Trump won Ohio by 8 points. But the Republican Party in the state is fractured, split between those loyal to the president and those loyal to term-limited Gov. John Kasich, who lost to Trump in the 2016 primaries and refused to endorse him. Kasich has said he intends to support Taylor, and some of his allies are expected to back DeWine.

    The gubernatorial primary on the Democratic side could be just as crowded — maybe more so. Already running are Connie Pillich, a former state lawmaker; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni; former US Rep. Betty Sutton, who lost her seat to Renacci; and Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.


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    Michael Kovac / Getty Images

    Black lawmakers who have appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher declined to comment on the comedian's use of a racial slur and whether they would return to his show if asked.

    At least five current members of Congress who are black — Sen. Cory Booker, and Reps. Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, Sheila Jackson Lee, and Keith Ellison — have all appeared on Maher's show in recent years.

    When asked by BuzzFeed News for comment, spokespeople for each of the members of Congress either didn't return messages seeking comment, or said they were unavailable.

    Maher has come under intense scrutiny after jokingly saying he was a “house nigger” in a punchline on his show Friday night with Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse. Sasse's has also been widely criticized for his reaction.

    Rep. Donna Edwards, who left Congress in 2016, once appeared in a segment with Maher including the comic Marc Maron that discussed the politics of the phrase "Black Lives Matter" during the campaign. Edwards, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Senate, directed much of her criticism at Sasse.

    DNC Chair Donna Brazile, who has also been a guest of the show, suggested that his apology was sufficient.

    HBO made a statement saying Maher's words were "completely inexcusable." Meanwhile, a chorus of voices continue to call for Maher's job.

    "Friday nights are always my worst night of sleep because I’m up reflecting on the things I should or shouldn’t have said on my live show," Maher said in his apology statement. "[Friday] was a particularly long night as I regret the word I used in the banter of a live moment. The word was offensive and I regret saying it and am very sorry."


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    Joe Raedle / Getty Images

    With just two weeks left in the Georgia special election, Democrats are pouring an extra six figures into turning out black voters.

    Republicans and Democrats have spent millions on the race to fill Tom Price's former congressional seat this spring.

    The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is making $150,000 ad buy on black radio, as well as buys in print, digital, and direct mail to help Jon Ossoff, who fell just a few points short of winning 50% of the vote to be elected outright.

    The calculus is simple: When black voters turnout for candidates in Greater Atlanta, they win. Black voters make up 13.6% of the voting population in the district, and black Democrats are among the most loyal Democratic voters in the country.

    The exceptionally intense focus on the district, which leans fairly red, has made predicting the outcome difficult, especially with unusually high early voter turnout.

    A win for Ossoff on June 20 in a red district against former Georgia secretary of state Karen Handel would further serve as a warning that the president’s low popularity just months into his presidency could be potentially damaging electorally. But a loss for Democrats would be yet another blow after suffering losses in Kansas and Montana.

    National Democrats are spending in the six figures on local newspaper ads, that say "fight back" by vote early; the print ad lists out polling places and times to vote — accompanied by a big, picture of an angry Donald Trump in the foreground.

    A pro-Ossoff ad running now frames indifference about voting as a tool of voter suppression. A mother exhorts her daughter to find her polling place, saying that being “distracted” and “not paying attention to the important dates and stuff that we clearly need to know” — and “missing out on the chance to get back some control in our lives” is ultimately what Trump the administration wants.

    Tharon Johnson, a national Democratic strategist who ran Kasim Reed's successful 2009 campaign for Atlanta mayor, said the DCCC’s last-minute push is a smart one: if black voters show up, he predicts Ossoff will win.

    Johnson said needs a "colossal" GOTV effort in the black precincts, and if that turnout is down that the campaign has to have an operation in place that they can get voter out to the polls; as a candidate he's provided voters and leaders a real opportunities to him. "He’s got to keep those people engaged and motivated."

    Johnson said that Ossoff's candidacy has new people into the political process and that he’s got to focus on those new voters. With many of them perhaps motivated by Trump, the DCCC is using Trump-centric messaging to turn out key voters; it performed black focus groups and found that it's an important motivator for many in the Democratic base in GA-06, a DCCC official said.

    The DCCC ad.


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    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    The Department of Justice isn't able to use White House press secretary Sean Spicer's favorite response to reporters’ questions about President Trump's more questionable tweets: "The tweet speaks for itself."

    It's their job to defend Trump's actions and related statements in court — something Trump often makes more difficult, tweet by tweet.

    Trump was off and running early Monday morning, with a series of four tweets attacking the Justice Department, the courts, and his own travel ban — the executive order he signed March 6.

    The tweets came just days after the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to resolve the legality of the ban (in favor of the administration, of course) and allow the administration to enforce the ban while the appeal is being heard.

    Asked about the tweets at the briefing, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump doesn't care what people call the executive order, does not know whether a third "much tougher" version of the travel ban is being considered, and asserted that extreme vetting already "is taking place."

    From outside the White House, however, the response to the tweets was unanimous from all points along the legal spectrum: Trump is not helping himself, and, to the contrary, he is making defending the executive order more and more difficult.

    George Conway, the Wachtell partner who was rumored for several Justice Department positions (but, David Lat reported on June 2, withdrew from consideration) and is the husband of Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway, weighed in to criticize the president's tweets — an unusually striking move:

    Conway initially declined further comment on the matter, but later followed up on Twitter, noting his strong support for Trump, the executive order, and his wife.

    He also, though, doubled down on his initial point: "Every sensible lawyer in WHCO [White House counsel's office] and every political appointee at DOJ [would] agree with me (as some have already told me)," he wrote. "The [point] cannot be stressed enough that tweets on legal matters seriously undermine Admin[istration] agenda and POTUS—and those who support him, as I do, need to reinforce that [point] and not be shy about it."

    Conservative South Texas College of Law professor Josh Blackman — a strong defender of the legality of the executive order — tweeted, "The President is his own worst enemy and quite possibly the worst client the SG has ever had." (He later followed up with a post at Lawfare on the topic.)

    The SG is the solicitor general — the Justice Department's top appellate lawyer. Trump's nominee for the position is former Jones Day partner Noel Francisco. (Conway had been under consideration for the post early in the process as well.) The Judiciary Committee is due to consider Francisco's nomination on Thursday. In the meantime, Jeffrey Wall, is the acting solicitor general. Wall has argued all three appeals of both travel bans.

    On the other side of the political lawyers realm, Neal Katyal, the Hogan Lovells partner who is representing Hawaii in its challenge to the travel ban and argued against the Trump administration at the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, was practically giddy over the tweets.

    He wrote that it was "kinda odd to have the defendant in HawaiivTrump acting as our co-counsel.We don't need the help but will take it!" Later, he trollingly asked whether he and Omar Jadwat, another lawyer challenging the ban, should "cede our 30min at lectern" — the time to argue before the justices at the Supreme Court — to the defendant (as in, Trump) "to make case for us."

    Jadwat is the ACLU lawyer for International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump — the travel ban case in the Fourth Circuit that the Justice Department asked the justices to review. For his part, Jadwat noted that, while Trump expressed his dissatisfaction with the current, "watered down, politically correct" ban, his lawyers — in asking the Supreme Court to review the case — stated that "the President’s actions in response to concerns raised by courts regarding the January Order demonstrate good faith."

    Jadwat concluded with what amounted to, more or less, the mirror image of the concern Conway expressed about Trump's tweets.

    "If we just wait long enough, will he tweet out a whole brief for us?" he asked.


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    Scott Eisen / Getty Images

    How badly do Republicans want to dent Sen. Elizabeth Warren's prospects?

    Frontiers of Freedom, a conservative educational foundation, is launching a six-figure advertising campaign to derail the Massachusetts Democrat and potential 2020 presidential candidate in her bipartisan push to allow for over-the-counter hearing aid sales.

    To do so, the group is aiming to discourage supportive Republicans by linking them to a New England liberal. Commercials will air in three GOP congressional districts, including Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s in Tennessee. Blackburn was an original co-sponsor of the Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act of 2017 in the House.

    “Liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is at it again,” a narrator says in the spot targeting Blackburn. “But this time she has help — help from our Republican congresswoman, Marsha Blackburn. Warren and Blackburn have introduced hearing aid legislation that will eliminate states’ rights, expand the size and power of the federal government, resulting in higher prices for consumers. We expect these bait-and-switch liberal tactics from Elizabeth Warren, not Marsha Blackburn. Call Marsha Blackburn and tell her to represent our Tennessee values, not those of a liberal Massachusetts senator.”

    The ad campaign is another example of Republican-allied organizations aiming to weaken Warren ahead of her 2018 re-election bid and any future run for the White House. (America Rising, a GOP opposition research group, already has made Warren a top target.) But in this case, a low-key policy issue is at the center of the fight, and Frontiers of Freedom is going so far as to signal that Republicans who work with Warren do so at their political risk.

    Besides, Blackburn, Frontiers of Freedom is airing ads in districts represented by Buddy Carter of Georgia and Michael Burgess of Texas. Like Blackburn, they are members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that will tackle the bill. Carter also is an original co-sponsor. Burgess presides over the Health subcommittee.

    Proponents believe Warren’s legislation would make hearing aids more accessible and affordable to those with mild or moderate hearing loss who otherwise wouldn’t seek out a fix. Warren has GOP support in the Senate, too — of the four listed co-sponsors there, three are Republicans: Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Johnny Isakson of Georgia, and Susan Collins of Maine.

    But critics on the political right point to language that would establish more federal regulations that supersede existing state laws.

    “It’s unacceptable Republicans could support legislation that limits consumer choice and expands the role of federal oversight” Frontiers of Freedom President George Landrith said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “Republicans should focus on ways to limit federal authority and empower state governments rather than take marching orders from Elizabeth Warren in her mission to grow the size of government.”


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    Brad Parscale had no way of knowing where that first phone call would lead.

    A real estate executive from New York was on the other line. She had heard good things about the web design work Parscale was doing in San Antonio and wanted to keep in touch. When she called again about a year later, she dangled an invitation from the Trump Organization: Would he consider bidding on a project for one of Donald Trump’s companies?

    Parscale — a 6-foot-8 former college basketball player with the hipster beard of a craft beer brewer — jumped at the chance. He bid low. He won the job. He won more jobs.

    Then came the call in early 2015. Donald Trump was running for president. He needed a website quick and cheap. Parscale didn’t much care for politics, but he agreed to build one for $1,500. Next, Trump needed someone to coordinate his digital advertising during the primaries. So Parscale did that, too — often late into the night, hunched over a laptop in his living room. He wondered if Trump would fire him in favor of someone with real political experience.

    Trump never did. Instead, the campaign established a big San Antonio office that at its peak housed more than 100 employees, contractors, and Republican National Committee specialists — an office that spent millions of dollars on Facebook ads and, on some fundamental level, understood the aesthetic and appeal of Donald Trump. Gary Coby, then the RNC’s director of advertising, thought he would be in Texas for five days. He was there for 40. And Parscale soon outgrew his digital director title to become the most influential Trump campaign adviser whose name you’ve never heard.

    “Brad,” said one campaign veteran, echoing a thought shared privately by other Republican operatives who worked closely with him, “really became the campaign manager.”

    Brad Parscale, who was the Trump campaign's digital director, makes his way to the elevator at Trump Tower in New York, NY on Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016.

    The Washington Post / Getty Images

    Where others have strikingly attempted to cash in and flaunt their status, Parscale, 41, has positioned himself as an unflinchingly loyal soldier in the Trump family’s political streetfight. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara, now works for Parscale’s firm, which Trump’s re-election campaign has already paid $1.5 million. America First Policies, a pro-Trump nonprofit, counts Parscale as a top adviser. And when Trump’s sons met with RNC officials recently to strategize for 2018 and 2020, Parscale was there, too.

    He isn’t in the White House, hasn’t been on the cover of magazines like Steve Bannon or Kellyanne Conway. He hasn’t started (or left) a Washington lobbying firm like Corey Lewandowski. He keeps his home in San Antonio, far from the uncertainty and chaos that threatens to derail Trump, but he nevertheless remains connected to the most important principals.

    But when he learned BuzzFeed News was writing a profile on him, Parscale passed on several opportunities for an in-person interview. He agreed, eventually, to offer several on-the-record statements over the telephone. He seemed particularly concerned that the piece would pump up his role and diminish the role of others — Trump’s especially.

    “Maybe my job made 0.1% of difference, but Donald Trump did 99.9% of the work, and anyone who tells you different doesn’t know Donald Trump,” Parscale said.

    “Donald Trump won the campaign, and I was empowered by Jared Kushner and lucky to be around people like Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon,” he added. “I think I took Mr. Trump’s and Jared’s confidence in me and did the best job possible. And I had a great team.”

    “The family trusted him to make sure they weren’t being screwed.”

    It’s no small feat that Parscale was there from the beginning and survived each campaign regime change — from Lewandowski to Paul Manafort, from Manafort to Bannon and Conway. The Trumps, including son-in-law Jared Kushner, the one constant among the senior leadership team, saw value in Parscale’s similar outsider’s backstory, in his ability to think differently and work cheaply, and in his devotion to the family. “Brad,” said Eric Trump, in a statement the Trump Organization provided to BuzzFeed News, “is an amazingly talented and loyal person who I have known for many years. He was an instrumental player on the campaign team and is deeply passionate about the issues that face our country.”

    Parscale made himself indispensable by developing a deep understanding of the Trump brand. He believed in the message, knew how to promote it on social media — one Democratic operative compared Parscale’s branding of Trump to the over-the-top stylings of action movie mogul Michael Bay — and he convinced the Trump family that what he did mattered. And there’s nothing that matters more to Donald Trump than loyalty to the brand. As one campaign veteran put it to BuzzFeed News: “The family trusted him to make sure they weren’t being screwed.”

    Because he has yoked his own fortunes so tightly to an impulsive president of the United States, any threat to the Trump White House or the Trump family is a threat to Parscale. When Kushner took fire recently for his reported conversations with an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Parscale helped strike back. (“He is highly intelligent, cares about this country, and truly a loving person,” he said of his patron during an appearance on Fox News.)

    Parscale might have stumbled his way into the Trump inner sanctum — the safest and, at the same time, riskiest place for a Trump acolyte to be. One thing’s for sure: Now that he is there, he doesn’t want to leave.

    It’s the kind of story — young political outsider becomes the unlikely tech wizard of a winning US presidential campaign — that during the Obama years would have rated a magazine cover or, later, a sweet Silicon Valley job.

    In April 2009, Fast Company trumpeted Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes as “The Kid Who Made Obama President.” Hughes, then 25, was the online organizing director who had “unleashed Barack’s base — and changed politics and marketing forever.” (The cover infuriated Obama aides who had been closer to the heavy machinery, but it was just the most famous instance of the self-promotional cycle that follows a political victory.) And plenty of people from the Obama campaigns went on to the kind of tech companies that oscillate between “cool” and “facing challenges.”

    There hasn’t been any of that for Parscale, though. In part, this is because he is highly distrustful of mainstream media. He has done few national interviews outside the friendly confines of Fox News and, with the exception of a recent batch of campaign fundraising emails sent in his name, has rarely promoted his insider’s role beyond his 31,000 Twitter followers. Silicon Valley isn’t exactly a bastion of Trumpism, either.

    “This was very much a kind of campaign like The Apprentice."

    It used to be much easier for Parscale to stand out, whether he wanted to or not. He grew up a computer nerd trapped inside a jock’s body. In elementary school, a teacher noticed the legs of his desk dangling three inches above the floor. Young Brad was balancing the top of it on his knees. He eventually would play organized sports, including baseball and football before concentrating on basketball in high school and college.

    His father, Dwight, was a lawyer and businessman who dabbled in politics in Topeka, Kan. He flirted with runs for Congress and attorney general — as a Democrat. (The way he explains it, factions of Kansas’ dominant Republican Party spilled over into Democratic primaries.)

    Brad “never showed any interest in politics,” Dwight Parscale told BuzzFeed News in a telephone interview. He instead focused on basketball, because “when you’re 6-foot-8, it’s hard to be a bad basketball player.” And Brad was good enough in high school and during stops at two junior colleges to earn a spot on the team at University of Texas at San Antonio. When a knee injury cost him his scholarship, he transferred to nearby Trinity University, where he played until a back injury sidelined him.

    But computers were as big a part of Brad’s childhood. Maybe bigger. He attended his first computer camp when he was 6 or 7 and “took to it like a fish takes to water,” Dwight said. “From then on, he was a very demanding child. He always wanted the newest and best computers, which his mother and I of course happily provided to him.”

    That included what the elder Parscale recalled as an early Gateway model that set the family back $5,000. When it arrived at their home, Brad, then in his early teens, promptly took it apart, piece by piece. About a year later, he skipped dinner one evening to investigate a glitch he had discovered in a Microsoft program.

    “He called their tech support people,” Dwight said. “We go to bed, and in the morning he’s still down there going crazy — still on the phone. He said, ‘We figured out the problem.’ I said, ‘You stayed up all night to do that? And he said, ‘Yeah, why wouldn’t I?’”

    After Brad graduated from college, he and his father both landed with a company called Play Inc. and set wheels in motion for a video software spinoff, Electric Image. Dwight was the CEO, Brad the vice president of sales. This was 1999. Within four years, Dwight said, “all the bubbles had burst.”

    He also understood that a contract with Trump could open more doors.

    So Brad returned to San Antonio, where starting over was a grind. “My first year,” he told BloombergBusinessweek last year in one of his rare national interviews, “I tapped on shoulders in a bookstore to get my first customers, people who were buying web books, and asked if they needed help.”

    He had a good thing going when Trump came calling in 2011. He also understood that a contract with Trump could open more doors. “I knew that I had to have a very competitive price to compete in the New York market since I’d only been to New York once in my life,” Parscale said last December at a post-election forum hosted by Google in Washington.

    His $10,000 bid got him in with Trump International Realty. Website work for Trump Winery, son Eric Trump and wife Melania Trump followed. Giles-Parscale, the new firm he had formed with business partner Jill Giles around the time of the first Trump contract, soon became known around town for its world-famous client.

    Parscale was proud of what he was accomplishing in San Antonio and was among the co-founders of Tech Bloc, a group of local tech industry executives. They saw in Parscale a young up-and-comer who, given his exposure to a national celebrity, could promote an agenda that included restoring ride-sharing services blocked by city regulations. Local papers kept close tabs on the fight. In October 2015, when Uber announced it was back on line in San Antonio, Parscale hammed it up in the company’s “Rider Zero” PR splash.

    Of course, by then, he was working for Trump’s presidential campaign, diving into an extremely divisive year in American politics — one that would bring his firm nearly $90 million in business but possibly ruin forever his warm existence in progressive San Antonio.

    It’s tough to know how, precisely, someone wins an election.

    A working theory of the Trump campaign was that there was a bloc of voters — namely white, working-class voters unhappy with the country’s direction, principally in the Midwest and in the Florida panhandle — who with the right identification and targeting could be persuaded to get out and vote for Trump. In a post-election analysis, the New York Times’ Nate Cohn wrote that Trump “flipped millions of white working-class Obama supporters to his side.”

    What persuaded these people to come out and vote that way is likely unknowable. Despite a decade of obsession over Obama digital and organizing programs, the public perceptions of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump might have had the most to do with the outcome. Or maybe not. But Parscale definitely ran a digital operation, and one that looked different from most of the ones that preceded the Trump campaign’s.

    At first, it was pretty thrown together, with heavy improvising.

    “Most of the major vendors — like Twitter, Google, Facebook — didn’t know I existed,” Parscale recalled while speaking at last year’s Google forum. “I got random phone calls in the night: ‘Hey are you the guy doing the digital stuff for Trump?’ … I didn’t have any data scientists. I didn’t have the great people I had later in the campaign. I had to do, pretty much, home-based marketing efforts to try to maximize our effort across social media platforms.”

    When the RNC and Trump campaigns merged operations, Trump had minimal infrastructure, having thrived to this point on free and extensive media coverage that separated him from a large pack of primary rivals. And the RNC was a symbol of the Republican establishment Trump had railed against. There was plenty of skepticism on both sides, but “Brad set up a really good program, and the RNC was ready to walk through the front door with whoever won the nomination,” Gerrit Lansing, the RNC’s chief digital officer last year, told BuzzFeed News.

    A key difference in San Antonio, said the RNC’s Coby, who became the Trump campaign’s director of digital advertising and fundraising, “is probably half the room, or maybe a third of the room, were non-political people. That was unique. A lot of times that brought a unique perspective.”

    “There was a certain Michael Bay sensibility that resonated with some Trump voters."

    Post-merger, Parscale had more staff and resources available to him. More responsibilities, too. His position at the intersection of digital and data, combined with his relationship with the Trump family, earned him more authority over where resources should be deployed on the ground and on the air. "I think Brad had a uniquely large seat at the table for budget allocations,” said Katie Walsh, who as the RNC’s chief of staff last cycle.

    Walsh, like others, described Parscale as something of a peacemaker who managed competing egos. But Parscale also staged competitions between small tech companies to determine which social media ads the campaign would use — a tactic BloombergBusinessweek later compared to Trump’s reality show, where each week he fired the worst-performing contestant.

    The unusual arrangement frayed some nerves. “This was very much a kind of campaign like The Apprentice,” said one campaign veteran who worked closely with Parscale and requested anonymity to speak candidly. “A lot of people had a lot of roles that were not very defined. Depending on how things were going, your roles could expand or shrink.”

    The team included Cambridge Analytica, a data firm with reported ties to Bannon and to Republican mega-donor Robert Mercer, who invested heavily in Trump’s candidacy. Cambridge made waves before Election Day when a top executive suggested the firm had mined psychographic data — essentially personality profiles of voters — to find Trump voters. But those familiar with the firm’s methods have raised doubts about their effectiveness. And a detailed BuzzFeed News examination found both that Cambridge’s claims and its enemies’ conspiracy theories were unfounded.

    Katrina Pierson, who served as a national spokeswoman for the Trump campaign, likens Parscale to Karl Rove, the direct mail maven who became George W. Bush’s political guru. But “Karl Rove,” she told BuzzFeed News in an email, “is the analog version of Brad Parscale.”

    Republican operatives who weren’t aligned with the campaign — that would be most of them — are skeptical about how much credit Parscale deserves for Trump’s win. Few on the outside saw any signs of a professional operation and speculate Parscale got lucky by being in the right place at the right time. Voters were angry and craving an outsider.

    Others, though, say Parscale was an outsider who was not set in the ways of traditional campaigns. And if Trump won because he tapped into the plight of the white working-class, well, Parscale helped reach those voters with his digital content and his advocacy for more digital spending.

    “What I see it is a triumph of the campaign as its own distribution channel,” one veteran Republican digital strategist told BuzzFeed News. “With social media, you don’t have to get the media to write the story you want, you have the candidate. Republicans did a good job reaching those people and activating those people. They were able to activate them because they have a message.

    “In some ways it was very amateurish, but it was effective.”

    “In some ways it was very amateurish, but it was effective.”


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    Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

    In 2016, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg earned more than $200,000 in royalties from her book, My Own Words. Justice Samuel Alito Jr. was given a bronze cast of a hand valued at $3,000 as a gift. And Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. sold off stock in Microsoft valued at several hundred thousand dollars.

    The federal judiciary released the justices' latest financial disclosure reports on Thursday. The reports, which were filed in May and cover the justices' finances in 2016, detail stocks and assets, outside income, and paid travel.

    The justices reported stocks, cash, and other assets that, combined, total millions of dollars. Court watchdog group Fix the Court has been critical in the past of justices who held individual securities since they create the risk of financial conflicts of interest, and executive director Gabe Roth put out a statement cheering stock sales reported by Roberts, Alito, and Justice Stephen Breyer.

    “I am encouraged by the justices’ continued stock sell-off and call on them to accelerate the practice, especially at a time when public servants’ integrity in Washington is at a premium,” Roth said.

    Not included in the cache of documents was the financial report for Justice Neil Gorsuch. A spokesperson for the US Supreme Court said that Gorsuch received an extension to file his report. It was not immediately clear when it would be available. Gorsuch's nomination to the Supreme Court was confirmed in early April. He was previously a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

    Read the justices' 2016 reports below.

    Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.

    Justice Samuel Alito Jr.

    Justice Stephen Breyer

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

    Justice Elena Kagan

    Justice Anthony Kennedy

    Justice Sonia Sotomayor

    Justice Clarence Thomas



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    Marc Kasowitz

    Yuri Gripas / Reuters

    President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, plans to file a misconduct complaint against James Comey for asking a friend to release the contents of memos documenting Comey's conversations with the president to the press, a source close to Trump's legal team told BuzzFeed News on Friday.

    Kasowitz intends to file a complaint with the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General within the next few days, the source said. Kasowitz will also submit a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee about Comey's testimony and "other matters," the source said.

    In testimony on Thursday before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Comey described taking notes about a series of one-on-one conversations he had with the president over the course of several months. After he was fired in early May, Comey said he arranged for a friend, a professor at Columbia Law School later confirmed to be Daniel Richman, to share the contents of at least some of the memos with the press.

    Comey said that at least some of the notes — including a memo that described a Feb. 14 conversation in which the president allegedly talked about the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and said he hoped Comey could "let this go" — did not contain classified information. He testified that he decided to share the memo after seeing the president tweet about the possible existence of tapes of their conversations.

    "I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn’t dawn on me originally that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape," Comey said. "And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons. But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel."

    In a statement on Thursday in response to Comey's testimony, Kasowitz accused Comey of leaking "privileged information" to the press. Kasowitz did not elaborate on why he believed the memos would have been covered by executive privilege. The White House announced on June 5 that Trump would not invoke executive privilege around Comey's Senate testimony, although that was before Comey's prepared remarks, which discussed his memos, were released on June 7 in advance of the hearing.

    "We will leave it the appropriate authorities to determine whether this leaks [sic] should be investigated along with all those others being investigated," Kasowitz said.

    The inspector general's office investigates fraud, waste, and other misconduct by Justice Department employees, including those at the FBI — and it can investigate employees and officials who are no longer working for the department. The inspector general's office doesn't have the authority to hand down punishment, but can submit its findings to relevant offices across the Justice Department. If it finds evidence of illegal activity, the inspector general's office can present the case to prosecutors, who would decide whether to proceed with a criminal case.

    There's already been some pushback on Kasowitz's privilege claim. Stephen Vladeck, a national security expert and professor at the University of Texas School of Law, wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that executive privilege is a "powerful protection" against the forced disclosure of executive branch communications.

    "Executive privilege is an important shield to protect the president’s power. It is not a sword, though. So where a current or former government employee wants to cooperate and turn over the requested information, the privilege itself won’t — and can’t — stop him or her," Vladeck wrote.


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    Don Emmert / AFP / Getty Images

    The Justice Department has scored a rare win for President Trump's travel ban.

    On Friday afternoon, a federal judge temporarily halted a lawsuit where the government has been strongly fighting to keep a key travel ban memo from being turned over to groups and individuals who are challenging the ban.

    The memo, described by Rudolph Giuliani and others as having been prepared by him and others during Donald Trump's presidential campaign, has not previously been made public — and could provide new insights into how the ban came to be.

    US District Judge Victoria Roberts had been considering a request to order the administration or Trump's presidential campaign to turn over the document, which allegedly formed the basis for turning the "Muslim ban" that Trump initially supported into the temporary travel ban and "extreme vetting" process Trump now supports.

    On Friday, though, Roberts halted the case in which that issue was pending — meaning the memo will not be turned over to challengers of the ban any time soon.

    Trump has issued two executive orders attempting to advance the policy, but both have been halted by the courts. The Supreme Court is considering currently whether to hear an appeal of a challenge to the ban and whether to allow the government to enforce the ban while it is hearing the appeal.

    The Friday ruling, however, was in a different case, one out of Michigan. There, the Arab American Civil Rights League (AACRL) and other groups and individuals had been seeking discovery — evidence from the other side — in their challenge to the second version of the executive order. One of those documents is the so-called Giuliani memo.

    Giuliani described the creation of the memo in an interview on January 28, the day after Trump issued the first travel ban executive order:

    Giuliani described the creation of the memo in an interview on January 28, the day after Trump issued the first travel ban executive order:

    Via documentcloud.org

    Although Roberts did not grant the plaintiffs request for expedited discovery in the case, she also denied the government's request to shut down discovery altogether — allowing limited discovery on a regular timeline.

    Since then, there have been a number of developments. In short, the federal government has been trying to stop the case from moving forward or directly to stop the turning over of the Giuliani memo.

    The government had been seeking to have the case dismissed altogether, and a hearing on that was scheduled for next week. Additionally, the government had opposed the plaintiffs' motion to compel the government to turn over the Giuliani memo — a request that was pending.

    Just before the Trump administration went to the Supreme Court with one of the other travel ban cases, the lawyers took another step, asking Roberts to put the AACRL case on hold. Their proposed reasoning for staying the case was due to the overlap between the issues in the AACRL case and the one that they had said they would be seeking review of in the Supreme Court.

    Although the plaintiffs opposed the request to stay the case, Roberts granted the government's motion on Friday, noting, "Any decision by the Supreme Court will be particularly relevant to – and likely controlling of – this Court’s disposition of a pending motion to dismiss and pending motion to compel."

    Roberts did, however, leave the door open to lifting or otherwise altering the stay order, writing, "Should circumstances change during the duration of the stay, Plaintiffs may move to lift the stay or for other appropriate relief."

    Finally, she also made clear that the government officials who are being sued in the case must "preserve information in their possession, custody, or control that may be relevant to pending litigation" — including "evidence that predates January 20, 2017" and "information created, received or maintained in their personal capacities." To the extent information is in the hands of third parties, Roberts told plaintiffs they should "send preservation letters to the third parties at issue" — and could even seek issuance of subpoenas, if deemed necessary.

    Read Judge Roberts' order staying the AACRL case:


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    Chris Geidner/BuzzFeed

    Federal immigration laws that make citizenship easier to obtain for the children of US citizen mothers than for the children of US citizen fathers are unconstitutional, the Supreme Court held on Monday.

    The court stopped short, however, of providing Luis Ramón Morales-Santana with a ruling that he — whose late father was a US citizen — and others like him should have their citizenship determined by the easier-obtained rule for those with US-citizen mothers.

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the court, noted that the laws dictating citizenship requirements for those born abroad to unmarried parents — found in the Immigration and Nationality Act — "date from an era when the lawbooks of our Nation were rife with overbroad gen­eralizations about the way men and women are."

    Now, however, laws that treat men and women differently are "subject to ... heightened scrutiny," Ginsburg wrote. Ginsburg argued for that heightened scrutiny as a lawyer, voted for as a judge and justice, and has written about previously on the high court. Under such scrutiny, she went on, the different treatment of mothers and fathers in the citizenship laws at issue cannot stand.

    Describing the "assumptions" that "pervaded" the laws when the laws in question were written in 1940, Ginsburg wrote: "In marriage, husband is dominant, wife subordinate; unwed mother is the natural and sole guardian of a non-marital child."

    Those ideas — particularly the latter — were made law in the INA. Because of that, a child born abroad to a US-citizen father only automatically becomes a US citizen at birth if his or her father lived in the US for 10 years, at least 5 of which were after the man turned 14. A child born abroad to a US-citizen mother, on the other hand automatically becomes a US citizen at birth so long as her or his mother spent one year in the US.

    "In light of the equal protection jurisprudence this Court has developed since 1971," Ginsburg wrote, the different treatment of unwed mothers and unwed fathers in the immigration law citizenship context "is stunningly anachronistic."

    Ginsburg went on to hold that none of the government's claimed justifications for the law could save it from being held to be unconstitutional.

    She went on, however, to hold that the answer could not be for the court to hold that children of US-citizen fathers should be able to use the citizenship standard for those with US-citizen mothers — which had been an exception to the general rule.

    "Extension here would render the special treatment Congress prescribed [for unwed US-citizen mothers] the general rule, no longer an excep­tion," Ginsburg wrote. "Going for­ward, Congress may address the issue and settle on a uniform prescription that neither favors nor disadvantages any person on the basis of gender. In the interim ... [the] now-five-year requirement [that applies generally] should apply, prospectively, to children born to unwed U. S.-citizen mothers."

    Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Samuel Alito, concurred only in the court's judgment that Morales-Santana should not be able to get the relief he sought — citizenship by applying the one-year rule for unwed mothers to fathers. Justice Neil Gorsuch did not participate in the case.


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    Kamil Krzaczynski / Reuters

    A federal appeals court on Monday kept enforcement of President Trump's travel ban on hold "in large part" — allowing the federal government to conduct "internal reviews" while the ban is challenged but keeping external enforcement on hold.

    At a White House briefing, press secretary Sean Spicer said that Trump continues to support the executive order and believes it is lawful and "ultimately will be upheld by the Supreme Court," where a request for the justices to hear an appeal of a different challenge to the ban is pending.

    Although Spicer defended the president and the executive order at the briefing, it was Trump's words on Twitter that worked against him on Monday — as has often been the situation in the Trump presidency.

    The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit cited Trump's recent statement — "That’s right, we need a TRAVEL BAN for certain DANGEROUS countries, not some politically correct term that won’t help us protect our people!" — as evidence that the president's assessment is that "the 'countries' ... are inherently dangerous, rather than the 180 million individual nationals of those countries" who are affected by the travel ban.

    The Ninth Circuit, in its opinion, kept in place a lower court's injunction that halts enforcement of the temporary ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries, as well as the portions of the March 6 executive order that temporarily halted the refugee program and capped the number of refugees allowed into the country in 2017 to 50,000.

    The Ninth Circuit — which was ruling in Hawaii’s challenge to the executive order — is the second appeals court to uphold an injunction against the travel ban portion of the executive order. The first, from the Fourth Circuit, is the ruling from which the Justice Department is seeking Supreme Court review. The Justice Department also is asking for the injunctions in both cases to be put on hold during the appeal — which would allow the federal government to enforce the travel and refugee bans during any appeal.

    In Monday's ruling, the Ninth Circuit did not use the same reasoning as US District Judge Derrick Watson had used in halting enforcement of the ban in Hawaii's challenge to it. Watson had issued the injunction because he found that the challengers were likely to succeed in their argument that the ban violates the Constitution's Establishment Clause.

    Because the Supreme Court has previously ruled that "courts should be extremely careful not to issue unnecessary constitutional rulings," however, the Ninth Circuit instead first considered whether the executive order is permitted under law — the Immigration and Nationality Act. The appeals court, ultimately, held that the injunction against the executive order "can be affirmed in large part based on statutory grounds," so it did not decide the Establishment Clause claim.

    In its order, however, the Ninth Circuit limited the very broad prior injunction issued by the district court. The district court had halted enforcement of the entirety of sections 2 and 6 of the executive order — the travel and refugee portions of the order, respectively. The Ninth Circuit ruling limits that to the external parts of the bans — while allowing the federal government to conduct internal reviews of its immigrant and non-immigrant travel vetting and refugee policies, as set forth in the executive order, while the challenges to the executive order are ongoing.

    The appeals court also lifted the injunction as to the president himself, a step also taken by the Fourth Circuit, because "it is improper to enjoin the President without necessity."

    As it had done previously, when refusing to allow enforcement of the president's first executive order on the topic during the Justice Department's appeal of it, the Ninth Circuit rejected the argument that the policy is not reviewable by the courts.

    "Whatever deference we accord to the President’s immigration and national security policy judgments does not preclude us from reviewing the policy at all," the court held.

    Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, Ronald M. Gould, and Richard A. Paez had heard arguments over the ban in Seattle a little less than a month ago. Monday's opinion was issued per curiam, meaning in the name of the court and not authored by a particular judge.

    The appeals court issued the ruling hours before a Supreme Court deadline for challengers to the ban to respond to the Justice Department's requests that the justices hear the Fourth Circuit case over the legality of the executive order — Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project — and allow enforcement of the travel ban during the appeal.

    Hawaii already had filed its opposition earlier Monday to the Justice Department's request that the injunction in its case be put on hold during the appeal to allow the federal government to enforce the ban.

    Lawyers in the IRAP case filed their opposition to Supreme Court review shortly after the Ninth Circuit's decision was issued. They later also filed their opposition to the government's request for a stay of the injunction issued in their challenge.


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    John Legend, right, greets New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, left, before an event for the #CLOSErikers campaign on May 8, 2017 in New York.

    Bryan Thomas for BuzzFeed News

    It’s very important to understand that Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions don’t actually control everything.

    That — with nuance added, and with facts to back them up — is the new message of criminal justice liberals who just a year ago thought this would be the moment for major legislation and executive action at the federal level.

    Now, with President Trump in the White House and Sessions leading the Justice Department, the focus has moved away from Washington.

    “Over 90% of our prisoners are in the state prisons and local jails,” one advocate told me. “Changing state laws and changing practices on the local level is going to be where most of the change is anyhow.”

    “Let’s face it, of the 2.2 million people who are incarcerated, only a couple hundred thousand are in the federal system,” another said.

    A third said simply, “I think what you do during the Trump administration is that you double down locally.”

    Those first two advocates are singer John Legend and a longtime adviser to Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, respectively.

    The third, Glenn Martin, is the president of JustLeadership USA, a group “dedicated to cutting the US correctional population in half by 2030.”

    Martin spent six years in prison more than two decades ago and is now helping to lead the fight to close New York City’s Rikers Island. Closing the jail became a focus in the wake of multiple groundbreaking news stories examining its conditions — and why people are there in the first place — and a concerted, ongoing grassroots opposition. The effort to shutter the jail recently picked up backing from NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    Martin, who served on the year-long commission whose report recommended closing the jail, was blunt about the reasons for his local focus — which was the case even before this past November’s election.

    “I never had a lot of hope that Congress was the answer to this,” he said in an interview after a student-focused event about closing Rikers that took place at the New School in Manhattan. “In fact, it was a bipartisan coalition that got us here; forgive me if I’m not inspired by a comeback coalition trying to get us out of this mess.”

    In this June 18, 2015, photo of the crowded living area in Elmore Correctional Facility in Elmore, Ala.

    Brynn Anderson / AP Photo

    While Martin is a federal skeptic, ending the mess — America has more people in jails and prisons, both in number and percentage, than any other country on the planet — was a mission that just last year seemed to be going strongly in these and other advocates’ direction on the national stage.

    In the last months of his presidency, Obama commuted a steady stream of sentences — mainly focused on those serving long prison sentences for nonviolent drug-related offenses. A bipartisan coalition on Capitol Hill was pressing for significant criminal sentencing reforms — and though Republican leadership was not moving the legislation, a younger generation of lawmakers had expressed openness or even enthusiasm for it. Attorney General Loretta Lynch oversaw significant investigations into numerous police departments and had begun a process of ending the federal government’s reliance on private prisons — a long-sought aim of liberals. And these promised to be merely the opening salvos in a paradigm-shifting mission: Ending mass incarceration and increasing police accountability had become popular causes for the highest level of public officials, celebrities, and intellectuals in Washington.

    That momentum came to a halt in January.

    Advocates are facing a very different situation now. Trump wasn’t just disinterested in their cause — he actively campaigned against it, promising a crackdown on crime and echoing the kind of sentiments popular in the 1980s and early ’90s when crime rates were significantly higher. (For Trump, “urban centers” — despite his having lived in one for years — remain a bad stereotype of a 1982 inner city.) The naming of Sessions as attorney general was a doubling down of that vision: Sessions likely was the senator whose criminal justice views most closely aligned with Trump’s views.

    While some remain hopeful about continuing to build federal momentum for sentencing law changes, the reality is that most federal efforts will be aimed at stopping or minimizing Trump and Sessions’ proposals — not advancing their own goals.

    What do you do when your progressive vision loses its spotlight from the White House?

    “Is that a very important bully pulpit that we’ll miss? Of course it is, but you have to kind of play with the cards that you’re dealt,” said Jarrett, who pointed to the philanthropic community and mayors and governors. “And if the fact of the matter is that we’re not going to get the support that we want from Washington, then let’s go and work with a coalition of the willing.”

    There are, in fact, a handful of areas where advocates see real possibilities: pressing local, even grassroots, efforts to make community change (including through local elections); backing state legislative changes where they’re possible; filing litigation where advocates think it’s needed; and partnering with business and philanthropists to fund programs that otherwise might not happen.

    “It’s kind of the challenge and the opportunity of federalism,” Legend said. “We don’t have control over the federal government right now, but there are a lot of states that are willing to experiment and reform and really, honestly, to save money.” He noted that states have “been spending so much on locking people up, they realize it’s not the best way to spend money.”

    A little more than 100 days into Trump’s time in office and three months into Sessions’ tenure at the head of the Justice Department, Legend spent 48 hours in New York City laser-focused on making the change that he sees being possible in this new era. It was the kind of hyper-local-but-illustrative trip that, a year ago, might have accompanied a White House tie-in — the musician once was routinely included in White House events during the Obama presidency — or, alternatively, have been meant to put some pressure on the White House.

    For Legend, even when talking about Trump, he is keenly aware of where to steer attention toward something actionable, rather than existential. (“We focus on what we can do, work with people that can help us make it happen, and we’re going out there getting small wins that will add up.”)

    Fordham University Associate Professor Christina Greer, singer John Legend, and Founder and President of JustLeadershipUSA Glenn Martin, speak at an event for the #CLOSErikers campaign on May 8, 2017 in New York, NY.

    Bryan Thomas for BuzzFeed News

    He spoke on a Close Rikers panel with Martin on May 8 at the New School in Manhattan, joining Martin, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and others to discuss where things stood on their effort, what would happen next, and what those in the audience — mainly younger activists — could do to make it happen. The two days I spent with him were, in fact, meant to deliver the message that there are local efforts still happening — and succeeding.

    Mark-Viverito — a liberal politician in a city where Trump got less than 20% of the vote — revels in the idea of fighting Trump: “We can’t give in on that narrative and succumb to it.” But, in practice, she pointed to the value of local efforts saying, “That’s why I believe the Close Rikers campaign is so important, and getting it done quicker [than the 10-year plan proposed currently] is even more important.”

    The next morning, from a suite in the Mandarin Oriental hotel overlooking Central Park, Legend spoke on the phone to Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards about legislation pending there to reduce the state’s incarceration rate, which is the highest in the nation.

    Legend is active, informed, and attentive enough that it’s a running conversation — with his staff and across issues — throughout the morning: He recorded robocalls for Color of Change in support of the Louisiana bill and for the ACLU in support of California legislation aimed at reforming the bail system there. He reviewed an email to be sent out in his name on the Louisiana legislation, making edits on the paper, changing the word “solve” to “improve” in the letter’s assessment of the proposed Louisiana legislation’s effects on mass incarceration. (“I don’t want to oversell it.”)

    In talking with the governor, he pointed out that the legislation already had been watered down from what it was when introduced — a change made just before he had gone to Baton Rouge to testify in favor of the bill. “I just know that legislation is a tough process, and it takes a lot of negotiation and you don’t expect to get everything you ask for. I go into it with that expectation, so I can’t be too disappointed when we don’t get everything we want,” he said of the changes, which eliminated relief for violent offenses, adding, “We just keep fighting for it, though.”

    The Louisiana bills passed, referred to by The Advocate in Baton Rouge as Edwards’ “biggest victory” of the legislative session. The California bill, meanwhile, has faced difficulties, although advocates remain hopeful for action on bail policy this session.

    Spencer Platt / Getty Images

    “I think all of them realize that this stuff isn’t free,” Legend said of states being open to changes. “This comes at a cost, a societal cost and a financial cost, where you’re saying, ‘We’re going to invest in punishment, rather than things that are more likely to build up the community,’ and they realize when they’re making decisions about where to spend your money you’ve got to decide what your priorities are and your values are — and your budget reflects what your values are.”

    Legend, it was clear over his time in New York City, shifts seamlessly between worlds — from activists to politicians and lawmakers to wealthy donors, the kinds of people who made up the grassroots-and-corporate coalition refined over the last 10 years in Washington. It’s a code-switching reality that he says is a skill that comes, quite simply, because he’s lived in those different worlds. He went from a “working-class family in a small community that’s forgotten about” to an Ivy League university (University of Pennsylvania, ’99) to his current life as “a wealthy person in America” with a social justice mindset. “I feel like I can speak in multiple languages and to different audiences based on understanding what their point of view is and understanding.”

    If the activists know what to do — keep doing what they would do otherwise — the path forward for the liberal business and tech world — grappling with a Trump administration oscillating between chaos inside the White House and potentially wide-ranging policy changes — is less clear.

    Part of Legend’s New York tour included the Town & Country Philanthropy summit, a day of events held at Hearst Tower and aimed at the wealthy T&C magazine audience. Legend unveiled a new initiative there: Unlocked Futures, an effort to provide funding to entrepreneurs and small business owners previously incarcerated. If the political environment has changed from last year, the coalition hasn’t totally: He’s begun with a $500,000 donation from Bank of America, and after the T&C event, he headed to Toro restaurant in Chelsea for an intimate dinner at which he pitched foundations on funding the venture.

    This is the benefit of Legend’s celebrity, something that’s been aided by the current social media environment. Legend — and his wife, the model Chrissy Teigen — both use Twitter to great effect, and have become more relevant as public figures because of it. His Twitter presence and activism is key to his efforts: His primary outlet for his advocacy is #FREEAMERICA — a hashtag activism-based effort that aims at changing the way people talk about criminal justice in America.

    Bryan Thomas for BuzzFeed News

    He is aware, though, of the double-edged sword of his celebrity. “It can be powerful and it can be useful, but sometimes I can just get in the way, so I don’t want to be in the way,” he told me. “It’s only useful if we can pass laws and make change and change people’s lives. If we’re not doing that, then there’s no point in doing it.”

    Passing laws and making changes locally is key to keeping the criminal justice movement’s momentum alive on a national scale. For decades, politicians in both parties largely ran on harsher sentences and aggressive drug policy; persuading politicians that it can be done differently has become an essential piece of the local dynamic.

    The notable focus on state and local work isn’t just something Legend is doing — as Jarrett, who played a key role in federal efforts just a few months ago, acknowledged.

    In talking about her post-White House life, Jarrett told me that what she is doing now “is traveling around the country talking to state and local elected officials, as well as the private sector, to talk about what everyone else can do — with this void that we have, quite frankly, in Washington.” (Of course, when she was in the White House, she often was the person taking and responding to criticism about the pace of change from the Obama administration.)

    She pointed, specifically, to increasing employment opportunities for people leaving incarceration. “One of the biggest problems with our recidivism is because people don’t have jobs,” she said of work that the Obama White House had backed and that she believes can and should continue even if there isn’t White House support. “Well, that’s something that the private sector can do.”

    The changed reality is being seen across the criminal justice advocacy world. The morning of the Close Rikers event, for example, two of the ACLU’s leading criminal justice lawyers at the national headquarters at the southern tip of Manhattan were doing their own local work.

    Teaming up with lawyers in Mississippi, they filed a signifiant lawsuit against Madison County — a small county of about 100,000 people — alleging that the sheriff’s department there is engaged in a decades-old practice of unconstitutional policing aimed at making life more difficult for the 40% of the county that is black.

    “It’s a small little county in Mississippi. They’ve been doing this shit for decades. And they get away with it, and they’re blatant about it,” Jeff Robinson, the ALCU’s deputy legal director and the head of its Trone Center for Justice and Equality, said a few days after the lawsuit was filed.

    “They are shocked right now, I guarantee it, that they got sued. Because it’s like, ‘We always treat these people like this. They’re just these colored people who don’t know any different anyway.’”

    Zeke Edwards, the head of the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, said the lawsuit was one they would have brought regardless of who was in the White House or running the Justice Department. Nonetheless, he acknowledged the difficulties in moving from an administration that was bringing investigations against police departments. “If anything, what this DOJ is going to do with their rhetoric and their funding streams is ramp up the opposite.”

    And the message inside the ACLU is clear: Expect more litigation like this, on the local and state level, meant to continue as before except from outside the government.

    There are stark limits, however, to what the ACLU or any similar group can do. Unlike the Justice Department, the ACLU can’t just decide to investigate a police department, and, even if the ACLU is taking in untold donations these days, they have concrete financial limits.

    “Clearly,” Edwards said, “we cannot fill that void entirely.”

    But, as everyone from Legend to Jarrett to the ACLU is quick to tell you, there are any number of local and state level issues deserving of attention. And so these advocates, who felt on the verge of sweeping nationwide change, are trying to stay on the verge, and keep pushing things further, chipping away here and there — even if that wasn’t the path they’d intended to be headed down this summer. ●


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    In his opening statement, the attorney general said, “I never met with or had any conversations with Russians or foreign officials regarding interference with any campaign or election.”

    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    • Attorney General Jeff Sessions appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee to testify about his contacts with Russian officials during and after the 2016 election.
    • Sessions denied any contacts with Russians about the election and called any suggestion of collusion "a detestable lie."
    • Throughout the hearing, Sessions said that he is "unable to comment" on private conversations with Trump regarding Comey firing.
    • Sessions repeatedly said he had "no recollection" of meeting Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, but stopped short of denying it.
    • Sessions appeared to get angry at several points during the hearing, at one point decrying "secret innuendo being leaked out there about me."
    • Sessions' testimony comes after James Comey's blockbuster appearance before the same committee last week, in which Comey accused Trump's White House of lying about the reasons for his dismissal as FBI director.

    Sen. Mark Warner, the ranking Democrat, began his opening statement by pointing out that Sessions — during his confirmation hearing in January — said he did not have communications with Russians during the campaign, when in fact he had two meetings with the Russian ambassador.

    Warner went on to say that the committee has a lot of work to do to follow up on the “alarming disclosures” made during fired FBI director James Comey’s hearing last week, and that Sessions will be vital in clarifying the events Comey described.

    “We will also want to know if you are aware of any attempts by the President to enlist leaders of the intelligence community to undermine the Russia investigation,” Warner said, adding that he is concerned the president has not recognized “the severity of the [Russian] threat.”

    In his opening remarks, Sessions denied having conversations with any foreign officials about interference with the campaign. "Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign," he said.

    As he continued his opening statements, Sessions said that he did not remember talking with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak after a speech the former Alabama Senator made at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC, in April, 2016.

    “If any brief interaction occurred in passing with the Russian ambassador during that reception, I do not remember it,” Sessions said.

    Sessions went on to explain that he recused himself from investigations into Russian involvement in the 2016 US presidential elections because of a Department of Justice regulation, and not because of anything nefarious.

    “Importantly, I recuse myself not because of any asserted wrongdoing or any that I may have been involved in any wrongdoing in the campaign,” Sessions said. The regulation in question, Sessions said, “states in effect that department employees should not participate in investigations of a campaign if they served as a campaign adviser.”

    "At all times throughout the course of the campaign, the confirmation process, and since becoming attorney general, I have dedicated myself to the highest standards."

    Suggestions that he would "undermine the integrity of our democratic process," Sessions said, are "an appalling and detestable lie."


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    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    Amid uncertainty about the immediate direction of the NAACP, black civil rights groups will meet with Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Tuesday.

    The meeting will be the first since the NAACP, the oldest civil rights group in the country, announced that it would not be renewing the contract of former president and CEO Cornell William Brooks. His firing was first reported by BuzzFeed News.

    It is also the first time the groups will meet with Schumer since Vanita Gupta, the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division under President Obama, took over as president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella organization of over 200 national groups. Gupta, a 42-year-old Indian-American, started this month, replacing Wade Henderson. It was not immediately clear whether Gupta would be attending the meeting.

    With the Democrats now out of power, the groups are keenly interested in a set of issues — voting rights, civil rights efforts at agencies, and sentencing laws — over which the Trump administration has enormous leverage. Despite the daily crisis zone in Washington, federal action is still quietly taking place.

    Perhaps the most pressing item on the agenda, the groups say, is the development of a strategy to counter Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, established in May by executive order. Sherrilyn Ifill, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund — which is unrelated to the NAACP — is gearing up for a fight. Ifill is concerned and “very, very focused” on voting rights, and is closely attuned to the actions of Vice President Mike Pence and the Kris Kobach-led commission on voter fraud, a source close to her said.

    “This commission is a thinly veiled voter suppression task force,” Ifill said in May. “Far from upholding the integrity of our election system, it is designed to impugn the integrity of African-American and Latino participation in the political process.”

    A spokesperson for Schumer’s office confirmed the meeting as “part of our ongoing dialogue with the civil rights groups,” noting that it was Schumer who initially reached out. A spokesperson for the National Urban League’s Marc Morial, one of the lead organizers of the meeting, said Morial will be discussing Trump’s budget, Senate Democrats’ plan to protect Obamacare, and staff diversity in the Senate.

    The groups will also push Schumer on what Senate Democrats plan to do regarding a bill that would review federal sentencing guidelines, and reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for nonviolent offenders. The Rev. Al Sharpton, who will attend the meeting on behalf of the National Action Network, told BuzzFeed News he expects to hear how Schumer and Senate Democrats intend to address the general threat that Trump poses, but also “retreats” in the Justice, Education, and Labor Departments. “They should be on the floor of the Senate screaming about that,” said Sharpton.

    The groups have met with Schumer periodically since the election. Trump’s budget would gut the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, which enforces federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and religion. Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, will also participate.


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    Carlos Barria / Reuters

    Nearly 200 Democrats in Congress have filed the second lawsuit this week against President Trump over his ongoing financial interests in his business empire.

    The lawsuit, filed early Wednesday morning in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, claims that Trump violated the US Constitution's Foreign Emoluments Clause, which bars officials from accepting gifts and other "emoluments" — generally defined as payments and other financial benefits — from foreign governments without approval from Congress.

    Examples of foreign "emoluments" that Democrats pointed to included the Chinese government granting approval for Trump company trademarks; news reports of foreign diplomats staying at Trump's hotel in Washington, DC; foreign governments that lease or own space at Trump properties; and any potential benefits that Trump businesses may get from foreign regulators as they pursue new deals overseas.

    Trump said that he would give up all control of his business empire when he became president, but he did not divest his financial interests in his companies. The lawsuit says that by not asking Congress for approval to accept those financial benefits, Trump is circumventing a full accounting of his ties to foreign governments and how they might intersect with US policy.

    "Although Defendant Donald J. Trump has accepted the privilege of occupying the
    highest office in the land, he is not obeying the same rules as the federal officers and employees described above or following the example of compliance set by former presidents," the lawsuit alleges.

    The members are being represented by lawyers from the Constitutional Accountability Center, a Washington-based liberal public interest law firm.

    The lawsuit comes on the heels of another emoluments clause case against Trump filed on Monday in federal court in Maryland by District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. That case raises claims under both the foreign and domestic emoluments clause.

    Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded to news of the Democratic attorneys general's lawsuit on Monday by saying, "It's not hard to conclude that partisan politics may be one of the motivations."

    Trump is now facing emoluments clause claims on three fronts. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, known as CREW, filed the first such lawsuit in January in federal court in New York. The US Department of Justice filed papers last week asking a judge to dismiss that case, arguing that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue and contesting their interpretation of how the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses apply to the president's private commercial interests.

    The latest lawsuit was filed by 30 senators and 166 representatives, all Democrats.

    Blumenthal v. Trump


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    Sen. Bernie Sanders said he was "sickened" by the actions of James T. Hodgkinson, a former volunteer for his presidential campaign now suspected of opening fire Wednesday morning at a baseball practice for Republican members of Congress,

    "I have just been informed that the alleged shooter at the Republican baseball practice this morning is someone who apparently volunteered on my presidential campaign," Sanders said in a one-minute statement on the Senate floor.

    The Washington Post spoke to a man who recalled canvassing with Hodgkinson during Sanders' Iowa caucus campaign.

    "Let me be as clear as I can be," the Vermont senator said on Wednesday. "Violence of any kind is unacceptable in our society and I condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. Real change can only come about through non-violent action, and anything else runs counter to our most deeply held American values."

    "I am sickened by this despicable act," he said.

    Hodgkinson, 66, of Belleville, Ill., is said to be dead after allegedly shooting Republicans at a baseball field in Northern Virginia. One member of Congress, the third-ranking House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise, is recovering in the hospital from a gunshot wound to the hip.

    Hodgkinson appears to have been a member of anti-Republican groups on Facebook such as "Terminate the Republican Party," “Expose Republican Fraud,” and “The Road to Hell is Paved with Republicans.” He also belonged to pro-Sanders groups, “President Bernie Sanders” and “Illinois Berners United to Resist Trump.”

    The suspected shooter wrote a number of letters to his local paper, the Belleville News-Democrat, criticizing Republicans, tax policy, and income inequality.

    Sanders said he is keeping Scalise, congressional staffers, and wounded police in his thoughts and prayers.


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    Andrew Harnik / AP

    A somber President Trump Wednesday lauded his friend House Majority Whip Steve Scalise who was shot in the hip, along with other Republican congressmen who appeared to be targeted at a baseball field in Virginia.

    Trump sounded a note of unity, reminding Americans that members of Congress and their staffers are patriotic.

    “Everyone on that field is a public servant. Our courageous police, our congressional aides, who work so tirelessly behind the scenes with enormous devotion, and our dedicated members of Congress who represent our people," Trump said. “We may have our differences, but we do well in times like these to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country."

    But while the president and vice president canceled events and Ivanka Trump echoed her father's words, others in Trump's orbit were quicker to assign blame to Democrats, the media, and an anti-Trump environment they feel contributed to the shooting.

    Twitter / Via Twitter: @DonaldJTrumpJr

    Trump's son Donald Jr. tweeted "this" along with a retweet of a media commentator's condemnation of recent controversies including Kathy Griffin posing with a fake decapitated head and a Julius Caesar play that has a Trump-like Caesar in the lead role.

    Trump supporter Newt Gingrich, who has advised him in the past, described the shooting in starkly partisan terms as part of a pattern of "increasing intensity of hostility on the left."

    "You've had a series of things which send signals that tell people that it's OK to hate Trump, it's OK to think of Trump in violent terms, it's OK to consider assassinating Trump," Gingrich said on Fox News. "And then suddenly we're supposed to rise above it until next time?"

    "Lest anyone seek to blame the alt right I understand the shooter was a Sanders supporter," longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone Jr. told BuzzFeed News. "I believe the shooting is a sad manifestation of the climate of hate that has been whipped up by the mainstream media against the president and Republicans."

    Stone was referring to alleged shooter, James T. Hodgkinson, who was a volunteer for Bernie Sanders campaign in Iowa. (The senator denounced the alleged shooter this morning.)

    On WBEN radio in Buffalo, New York, Michael Caputo, who resigned from the Trump campaign last year, called the shooting "karma" for Democrats.

    "A Democrat campaign volunteer who deeply believed the president and his advisors were traitors tried to murder Republican congressmen," he said. "For nine months, Democratic Party leaders have lied, regularly calling me and my friends traitors, so forgive me if I'm not more tender with their karma in Alexandria."

    Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill and outside have largely emphasized unity and echoed the president's approach earlier on Wednesday. Members of both parties have also described threats made, as well, against them. A Republican congresswoman said Wednesday afternoon her office had received an email with the subject line, "One down, 216 to go." In a members meeting Wednesday, Democrats discussed increased death threats against them since the beginning of the year, and ways to improve their personal and home security in the wake of the shooting.

    Former Trump campaign adviser Sam Nunberg, who remains close with members of the administration, said he hoped politics could become less combative.

    "Obviously, this shooter was politically motivated and it’s just a tragedy and thank god that the cops had to be there because Scalise was there," Nunberg said, adding that he hoped the left wouldn't say the right is politicizing the shooting and the right would refrain from being "quick to blame this on Bernie or something like that."

    "This is just a sicko," he said.


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    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    Former FBI director James Comey testified last week that soon after he was fired in mid-May, he asked a friend to share the contents of a memo in which he described a conversation with President Trump that Comey had found troubling.

    “Didn’t do it myself, for a variety of reasons,” Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee on June 8. “But I asked him to, because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.”

    With the news on Wednesday that special counsel Robert Mueller III is reportedly looking into whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, it appears Comey got what he was hoping for.

    According to the Washington Post, Mueller’s investigation as special counsel into Russian interference in the 2016 election has expanded to include whether Trump took steps to interfere with that probe. Trump and other officials have repeatedly denied that there was any collusion between his campaign and the Russian government, but an obstruction probe that focuses inward on the administration opens up a whole new front of legal and political risks for the president.

    Although he was brought on to lead the Russia investigation, Mueller is allowed to look beyond it. When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein tapped Mueller as special counsel — Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused from investigations related to the election — the appointment order said that Mueller was authorized to investigate Russian interference as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” That latter statement is a broad catch-all.

    Defense lawyers told BuzzFeed News that Wednesday’s report did not come as a surprise, given the amount of information that had already publicly surfaced. Shanlon Wu, a defense lawyer in Washington and a former federal prosecutor, said that it made “perfect sense” that Mueller’s investigation at this point would encompass any allegations of obstruction.

    “It would be the normal course if you were looking at this current situation and you have the former director of the FBI saying, ‘Oh, the president said this to me, I was feeling uncomfortable about it,’ that [Mueller] would include a look at that,” Wu said.

    Comey testified that he was concerned by conversations he had with Trump in which the president asked for his loyalty and seemed to be asking that Comey back off of investigating former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Comey stopped short of directly accusing Trump of obstruction, however.

    Asked by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr at the June 8 hearing if Comey thought that Trump’s actions amounted to obstruction, Comey said it wasn’t his place to answer that question, and dropped a not-so-subtle hint that he expected questions of obstruction to be part of Mueller’s investigation.

    “I took it as a very disturbing thing, very concerning, but that’s a conclusion I’m sure the special counsel will work towards, to try and understand what the intention was there, and whether that’s an offense,” Comey said.

    The Washington Post also reported that Mueller’s team was looking into conversations that Trump reportedly had with Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers about the Russia investigation.

    Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, released a statement in response to the Post story condemning the outflow of information about the investigation.

    “The FBI leak of information regarding the president is outrageous, inexcusable and illegal,” Corallo said in an email to BuzzFeed News. He declined to comment further on the substance of the Post’s story.


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    Mark Wilson / Getty Images

    A Wednesday morning shooting at a baseball practice for Republican members of Congress brought an early swirl of confusion — including a well-intentioned but misleading message from White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

    With it came a reminder of the anything-goes social media culture fostered by President Trump, and and of how rapidly the dynamic around information that comes from White House officials (even political ones) is shifting.

    “Cong. Scalise and Cong. Williams and our brave wounded Capitol Police are covered in prayer,” Conway posted from her Twitter account at 9:05 a.m. ET on Tuesday, about two hours after a gunman opened fire at a park in Alexandria, Va.

    Many read her tweet as implying that both congressmen had been hit. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip from Louisiana, had been. But Roger Williams, a Texas lawmaker, only suffered injuries from diving for cover. Soon after Conway's tweet, his office issued a statement clarifying that while Williams was not shot, one of his aides was.

    Conway wasn’t the only one who got it wrong. At least one media outlet, Fox News, initially reported that Williams was hit. (A reporter for the network tweeted the incorrect information about a half hour before Conway did.) Conway later amended her tweet to include “congressional aides” and noted the reality of “developing stories.”

    This kind of thing happens a fair amount on Twitter: A prominent person tweets information from a developing story, other people on Twitter caution or debate about initial reports, and then the details sort themselves out as more reports come in. What's different now is that Conway — and others in the Trump orbit — are tweeting independently from the White House, a practice viewed skeptically by former Bush and Obama aides who spoke to BuzzFeed News.

    “We would have echoed the sensible comments the president or vice president would have made, and all of those would have been done with the most information available,” a Democratic veteran of the Obama administration said. “There is not room for speculation for someone who has a White House [Twitter] handle or for someone who works for the White House.”

    The former aide observed that Valerie Jarrett, the senior Obama adviser whose office now belongs to Conway, wouldn't likely have tweeted during a news event of this nature. Indeed, Jarrett's tweets from her White House days, now archived, often had a carefully manicured quality to them that sounded formal and planned.

    A White House spokesperson declined to talk on the record for this story.

    Unlike other Trump aides, and unlike Jarrett, Conway does not appear to have a separate White House account with a disclaimer that “tweets may be archived.” Her handle — @kellyannepolls — references her past private sector work as a polling consultant. She is not the only Trump aide who operates this way.

    Sebastian Gorka, for example, tweets regularly from an account he set up in 2014 and now uses to defend Trump and promote his own media appearances. Gorka, who advises Trump on national security issues, has come under scrutiny for his reported links to a far-right Hungarian group with Nazi ties. (He has denied being a member.)

    Twitter, @DanScavino

    Then there's Dan Scavino, the White House social media director. Scavino recently received a warning letter that he violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their positions to influence politics, when he used his personal Twitter account to call for a primary challenge to Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan. At the time, Scavino's personal account identified him as a White House official. (The profile now emphasizes that it's a personal account and reads: "I will be back.") Scavino also maintains an official account, @Scavino45.

    These high-profile aides are in a sense following Trump's lead. The unconventional president likes to communicate to the public via Twitter, where his posting habits are fast, loose, and quickly covered by the media. He also keeps both a personal and an official Twitter account, although he prefers using the personal one, @realDonaldTrump.

    Twitter is relatively new to the political discourse — it went live in 2006, during the latter half of George W. Bush’s second term — so there’s no fair basis for comparison with, say, the Bush years or even the early Obama years. But experienced White House hands say the fundamentals of communicating accurately and clearly should apply across all formats.

    “I think that the Bush team was very, very disciplined about being on message,” a veteran of that Republican White House told BuzzFeed News. “There was brand — the brand of W.”

    The Trump administration, the Bush veteran added, has “their own kind of characters,” including Conway and chief strategist Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart News. “They are their own brands. They will be their own brands later. Yes, everyone is going to have a next job, but you have to pretend that you don’t. It’s telling that they maintain their own profiles."

    Another official who worked in a past Republican administration thinks Conway deserves a pass.

    “Eh, probably making too big a deal out of it,” the former White House aide said. “Although I would say that when you are one of the highest-ranking officials in the US government it is better to tweet based on 100% confirmed information than not. In this case, I think there was just a rush to get out a message expressing the sentiment" — prayers and good thoughts — "everyone has.”


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    Win Mcnamee / Getty Images

    Vice President Mike Pence has hired his own outside lawyer to advise him in connection with the special counsel investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters.

    Pence has hired Richard Cullen, the chairman of McGuireWoods in Richmond and a former US attorney with extensive experience handling government investigations, according to a spokesman for Pence.

    "I can confirm that the Vice President has retained Richard Cullen of McGuire Woods to assist him in responding to inquiries by the special counsel. The Vice President is focused entirely on his duties and promoting the President agenda and looks forward to a swift conclusion of this matter," Pence spokesman Jarrod Agen said in an email.

    Cullen, who has experience dating back to Watergate and Iran-Contra investigations, referred questions to Pence's office. The news that Pence had hired him was first reported on Wednesday by The Washington Post.

    To date, Pence's name hasn't come up in public testimony and news reports as someone potentially under investigation, but his interactions with former national security adviser Michael Flynn figured into the White House's explanation for Flynn's firing. It's a natural step for an official even tangentially related to an ongoing investigation to hire their own lawyer.

    President Trump already has his own lawyer, New York-based litigator Marc Kasowitz. But unlike Kasowitz, who never worked at the Justice Department and whose practice is focused on commercial litigation, not white collar defense, Cullen served as the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia under President George HW Bush and has a long record of representing elected officials and public figures facing government investigations.

    Cullen's clients have included former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay; former FIFA president Sepp Blatter; and the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Ken Melson. He worked on President George W. Bush's legal team in the aftermath of the 2000 election.

    He even has ties to former FBI director James Comey, who has become a central figure in the drama surrounding the special counsel investigation led by former FBI director Robert Mueller III. The two worked together at McGuireWoods in the 1990s.


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