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- 06/16/17--10:11: _The Trump Administr...
- 06/16/17--12:36: _Trump Administratio...
- 06/19/17--18:39: _Hawaii Judge Narrow...
- 06/21/17--04:45: _People Camped Out F...
- 06/21/17--06:01: _How The Guardian Lo...
- 06/21/17--10:06: _What Happened To Bl...
- 06/21/17--09:36: _At DOJ Pride Event,...
- 06/22/17--10:08: _"Pizzagate" Gunman ...
- 06/22/17--12:48: _Democratic Mayor La...
- 06/22/17--13:01: _What's Happening Wi...
- 06/22/17--14:20: _"Making A Murderer"...
- 06/22/17--17:13: _Sessions Backs LGBT...
- 06/23/17--14:22: _Supreme Court Decid...
- 06/26/17--07:39: _Supreme Court Parti...
- 06/26/17--08:31: _Nobody On The Supre...
- 06/26/17--11:47: _The Ruling In A Chu...
- 06/26/17--15:10: _Mitch McConnell Was...
- 06/26/17--16:25: _Jared Kushner Has R...
- 06/27/17--10:11: _Pro-Trump Group Pul...
- 06/28/17--17:01: _Trump’s Finally Get...
- 06/21/17--04:45: People Camped Out For Trump's Iowa Rally For More Than 24 Hours
- 06/21/17--06:01: How The Guardian Lost America
- 06/21/17--10:06: What Happened To Black Lives Matter?
- 06/22/17--10:08: "Pizzagate" Gunman Is Sentenced To Four Years In Prison
- 06/22/17--12:48: Democratic Mayor Launches PAC Aimed At “Politics Of The Everyday”
- 06/22/17--13:01: What's Happening With The Travel Ban At The Supreme Court?
- 06/26/17--08:31: Nobody On The Supreme Court Is Retiring (At Least For Now)
- 06/26/17--16:25: Jared Kushner Has Reportedly Hired A New Lawyer
Andrew Caballero-reynolds / AFP / Getty Images
In the early days of Obama's second term, the White House announced that audio description tours would be made available for blind and low vision visitors after a decades-long push by advocacy organizations. But concerned groups now say the Trump administration is not offering the same service to blind Americans and say they don't know who to get in touch with at the White House.
There is also another issue — the previous audio description included an introduction by former first lady Michelle Obama, and, presumably first lady Melania Trump would record a new introduction.
But a Trump administration source and sources close to the administration said the new introduction was recorded, and later scrapped because the White House did not like how Melania Trump sounded in it.
A White House official told BuzzFeed News that they are working on getting the audio description tours up and running but blind or visually impaired citizens can still receive a human-led tour by someone experienced in giving these kinds of tours.
Regarding the introduction by the first lady, the official said they're working on that, too. Asked whether it was already recorded and if there were perceived problems with Melania Trump's version of the introduction, the official did not dispute that account but reiterated that it is "in process — all I can say to you is that anyone who is visually impaired will be given a human-led tour."
Audio description, whether done at museums or at the White House is a professional activity, where the focus is not just on the history of the room but on describing the objects in the room and what the room looks like — making the visual verbal, experts say.
In 2010, the White House worked with groups like the American Council for the Blind to pass the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act, which for the first time created a legal requirement that broadcasters include a minimal number of hours of audio descriptions. In addition, White house ceremonies were audio described and stakeholder groups felt there was a real attention to visitors.
But now some of the same organizations that worked closely with the Obama White House say they are having trouble getting someone on the phone in the Trump administration. One source asked BuzzFeed News who they should reach out to.
The director of the White House visitor's office, Daniel Fisher, which manages the tours, did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
But Eric Bridges, the executive director of the American Council of the Blind, stressed that the Trump administration shouldn't be overly criticized regarding the audio descriptions, and instead put the onus on his own organization.
"We have not formally reached out to them," he said, noting that organizations like his are constrained by capacity, staffing and resources.
Still, he too would love to hear from the Trump administration.
"We would welcome the opportunity to sit down with them," he said.
Andrew Harnik / AP
The Trump Administration quietly surrendered Thursday on a core and divisive campaign promise to deport young undocumented immigrants, a move that both reflects a policy shift and the complex internal politics of a divided White House.
A little after 10 pm ET, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it had put the final nail in Obama's stalled second administrative action on immigration, an order intended to shield millions of undocumented parents from deportation — but was stuck in a years-long state of legal limbo.
But buried in announcement was an acknowledgement of a policy with broader implications in the lives of millions of undocumented youth who have known no other country than the United States: DACA, Obama's program that allowed DREAMers to stay and work in the U.S., will continue.
The administration, as it has done for months on its promised immigration hard line, is seeking to have it both ways on what candidate Trump called Obama's "illegal executive amnesties."
"Yesterday, based on litigation, the administration decided to rescind DAPA. The fact that DACA was not rescinded by the same memo should not be interpreted as bearing any relevance on the long-term future of that program," A DHS spokesperson Jenny Burke said in a statement to BuzzFeed News. "The future of the DACA program continues to be under review with the administration. With regard to DACA, the President has remarked on the need to handle the issue with compassion and with heart."
("I love kids, I have kids and grandkids and I find it very hard doing what the law says exactly to do and, you know, the law is rough. It’s rough, very very rough," Trump memorably said of DREAMers earlier this year.)
And that narrative doesn't exactly sway immigration activists who fiercely oppose the administration, either.
Activists believes the back-and-forth on DACA is a tactic on the part of the Trump administration to distract groups as they move to fast track deportations. It’s wrong, they say, for the administration to simultaneously tell people DACA is remaining in place and then say nothing changed.
“You can’t simultaneously tell people DACA is remaining in place,” said Tom Jawetz, vice president of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, "and then say that was yesterday and may not be true today.”
But the delay is also part of a strategy by one of Trump's top anti-immigration advisers, Steve Bannon, to save DACA for future negotiations with Congress.
As BuzzFeed News first reported, Bannon fought early to keep DACA in place, battling attorney general Jeff Sessions and influential protégé and advisor Stephen Miller — typically his allies.
A source with knowledge of Bannon's thinking confirmed at the time that he viewed DACA through the prism of using it as a bargaining chip in an immigration showdown with Democrats further down the line — scrapping it now erasing any ability to use it for leverage against beaten down Democrats and forcing them to accept other less amenable concessions on an issue progressives care about.
A source close to the administration said the disagreement on DACA, with Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus on one side and Miller and Sessions on the other side was a "pretty knock-down, drag-out fight" and that after Trump seemed to knock down Bannon in a New York Post interview which minimized his importance his stock has slowly risen.
"We already knew DACA wasn’t going away, and then we had the Paris deal," the source said. "His influence has remained, for all the talk of him being ostracized, it was very premature in my view."
The preservation of DACA reflects Bannon's staying power, and Bannon allies say he has risen as his internal rival Jared Kushner is pulled into the unending Russia probe.
"Bannon's in good shape because of Jared fucking up and causing this whole investigation," a Bannon ally said. "They all agreed to fire Flynn. But then Jared told him to fire Comey and that the Democrats would like it, I mean, how stupid do you have to be?"
Former Trump advisors say Bannon can and will continue to play a crucial role for Trump.
"Steve is an important ingredient — if there is anybody in the White House besides the president that carries the mantle of the movement, it's he who understands it," said Sam Nunberg, who was an early Trump campaign advisor.
Even Roger Stone, who has been publicly critical of Bannon, but is a longtime Trump confidant and advisor, noted the strategist's resilience.
While Stone maintains that Bannon's partnership with Priebus has been an ongoing misfire, he said Bannon understands that Trump must keep faith with the coalition of voters who elected him in order to maintain a governing majority.
"I am pleased to see Steve asserting himself on key issues like Paris and think he is being more effective than he was earlier in the administration," Stone said.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images
The federal judge in Hawaii who put President Donald Trump's travel and refugee ban on hold back in March has narrowed the injunction doing so following a June 12 appeals court decision that ordered the changes.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last week upheld the Hawaii court's injunction blocked enforcement of the 90-day ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries and 120-day halt to the refugee program. However, the appeals court also held that the Trump administration could conduct internal reviews called for under the executive order while litigation against the order proceeded.
Hours after the Ninth Circuit issued the mandate in the appeal on Monday — formally putting its opinion into effect — US District Judge Derrick Watson released the amended injunction in the case, allowing the federal government to conduct "internal review procedures" relating to the travel and refugee programs at issue as long as those reviews "do not burden individuals outside of the executive branch of the federal government."
The travel and refugee bans themselves, though, remain on hold for now.
The amended injunction was issued less than a day before the plaintiffs in the case are set to brief the Supreme Court on related issues. Specifically, their filing is to address the effect of the Ninth Circuit's ruling on their argument that the injunction against enforcement of the travel and refugee bans should remain in place if the justices decide to hear an appeal of the Hawaii executive order challenge or a related challenge out of the Fourth Circuit. The Hawaii challengers will also likely argue in their brief that the court should not even take up the appeals sought by the federal government.
The Hawaii challengers' brief is due by noon Tuesday, and the federal government can reply to that brief by noon Wednesday.
The justices are expected to consider at their Thursday conference whether to hear the appeals of either or both challenges and, if so, whether to put the injunctions in the two cases on hold during the appeal — a move that would allow the Trump administration to enforce the travel and refugee bans during the appeal.
Glen Huber, a Trump supporter who went viral after jumping on stage at a rally in Florida, waits for the president's arrival in Cedar Rapids.
Lissandra Villa/BuzzFeed News
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — On Tuesday night, more than 24 hours before President Donald Trump was scheduled to hold a rally in eastern Iowa, a crowd of his most die-hard supporters had already started to line up in front of the arena where the president is set to appear.
Most of the people gathered have become regulars at Trump rallies. Some arrived early to make sure they got into the arena; others wanted a good position in the crowd, to better show Trump their appreciation. For many of them, though, the lead up to the event is just as much a part of the experience as the actual rally.
“We’ve made, it seems like, lifelong friendships, from people that we’ve gotten to spend [time with] and hang out,” said Nancy Penberton, 24, a Nebraskan who said this will be her 12th Trump rally.
The connections formed allow these Trump fans to take shifts at the front of the line— grabbing a couple hours’ worth of sleep at a hotel, or running to a car or the bathroom. When a supporter has made their presence known to the group, the rest recognize them and hold their spots.
“We just kind of give each other energy and encouragement, and just being with other supporters who have that positivity really helps, just gets us in the mood for the rally itself,” said Becky Gee, 32, of Ohio. “This is just a whole event, even though we’re just sitting out here, it looks like it would be boring, it’s not. It’s awesome. We love it.”
These friendships sometimes go beyond just the day of events.
“A lot of us are from other states. This is a great way where we can all meet up again and coordinate and see each other,” Benjamin Hirschmann, 21, of Michigan, said, motioning to his friend, Meredith Wynne-Morton, 32, of Illinois. “We met seven months ago in Grand Rapids, and this is the first time I’ve seen her since.”
Wynne-Morton and Hirschmann said they are regularly in touch over social media, and talk about everything from politics to their personal lives.
“We’re bros,” Wynne-Morton said. Hirschmann added some of the Trump supporters have plans to continue hanging out after the rally ends.
Most of the people in the initial line up were not from the area, largely from surrounding states. One man, Gene Huber, who drew attention to himself at Trump’s Melbourne rally earlier this year by jumping on stage, had flown to Iowa from Florida for the event. He told BuzzFeed News that since the Melbourne rally, he has taken to riding around Florida in a “Trumpmobile” whenever the president is the state, and noted that Donald Trump, Jr., had tweeted a picture of the car just before Easter.
The atmosphere was festive in downtown Cedar Rapids, the second largest city in the state. One man wore a Trump banner wrapped around his shoulders and someone had stuck American flags and spelled “Trump” out in party decoration on the side of the building. As police drove by patrolling the area, supporters would motion to them to keep driving on. One man said they had plans to hand out condoms to protestors, asking “them not to procreate.”
And while many of the early birds are from out of state, the bulk of the crowd will be from Iowa, a state that rejected Trump in favor of Texas Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican caucus, before embracing him in the general election. Now that Trump's in office, his fans here continue to be thrilled with him. One Iowa woman told BuzzFeed News she lined up at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday— a solid 27-and-a-half hours before the event was scheduled to start.
Trump’s Cedar Rapids event is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Central on Wednesday.
The Guardian needed a new US headquarters.
It was the morning of February 23, and staffers gathered at the company’s office in lower Manhattan, an immense space that the British newspaper once hoped would be home to a 300-person-strong US digital arm.
Now the company — years ago a burgeoning news outlet with a shiny Pulitzer Prize and editorial ambitions to take on the titans of American journalism on their own turf — was in stark cost-cutting mode. In September 2016, Guardian US announced it was slashing 30% of its workforce.
The retrenchment necessitated a change of scenery, too. At the meeting, Guardian US editor Lee Glendinning announced that the company had signed a lease agreement to move to a smaller Brooklyn office.
It was a room full of journalists, so the questions flew. Where? What’s the address? According to multiple people at the meeting, one reporter remarked that Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior White House adviser, owned some buildings in Brooklyn. Was this one of them?
A rattled Glendinning said sharply that it wasn’t, according to the attendees. Reporters pulled up news articles, raising their phones to show that it was indeed property owned by Kushner, who divested some of his family real estate empire’s holdings to join the White House.
“You see the cerebral cortexes trying to process this information,” one reporter present told BuzzFeed News.
The newsroom was incredulous. Some wondered if the Guardian expected sources to feel secure communicating with reporters inside a Kushner building.
A month later, Glendinning announced a change of plans: Guardian US would instead relocate to Midtown Manhattan, a worse commute for many of its Brooklyn-based journalists but to a building without a White House connection. Interim Guardian US CEO Evelyn Webster told staff that the blunder cost the company about $250,000 — a figure that, according to a person familiar with the company’s finances, reflected the loss of expected cost savings from the original move. (The company has denied the number.) Days later, Guardian US announced a new round of cost cuts — another 20%.
The newsroom was incredulous. Some wondered if the Guardian expected sources to feel secure communicating with reporters inside a Kushner building.
In the newsroom, which has dwindled to about 45 people, the Kushner oversight was viewed as dark comedy, a telling coda capping years of mismanagement, tensions between Brits and Americans, poisonous internal politicking, poor business decisions amid a tough advertising market, and a failure to assert itself as the voice of the new American political left.
The New York Times and the Washington Post, with which the Guardian has hoped to compete, have thrived recently, racking up huge national security scoops, new paying subscribers, and a firm sense of place in a chaotic media environment. But Guardian US, many insiders believe, missed its core political opportunity in 2016 to align itself with the Bernie Sanders insurgency in the way its British parent paper has long been linked with the UK Labour left.
Glendinning lost some US employees' confidence not just over editorial matters, but also in the wake of a sexual harassment allegation against her former top lieutenant, Matt Sullivan (an allegation he denies).
To hear management tell it, the US operation is swimming against tough financial tides, with the Guardian’s global finances in repair mode and the US display ad market going sideways. This narrative, an investigation into the company reveals, is incomplete. Conversations with more than 20 current and former employees, internal documents, and financial figures paint a different picture — one of overspending and missed opportunities by those currently in power, particularly Guardian editor Katharine Viner, global CEO David Pemsel, and Glendinning. The thirst for global expansion was so strong, in fact, that the Guardian’s former US CEO says he was pressured to make unattainable business projections to fuel the growth.
Some former staffers spoke on the condition of anonymity for this story because they signed nondisparagement agreements when leaving the Guardian, while current staffers were granted anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about the company.
All of this — the money, the dissatisfied and reduced staff, the failure to compete — puts Guardian US on the verge of being a flameout as a US-based news operation, reduced to a glorified foreign bureau for the UK paper.
Through a Guardian spokesperson, Viner, Pemsel, and Webster declined to comment for this story. In a statement, Glendinning said, “We will keep reporting deeply and fearlessly in the US and continue to bring our outsider perspective at this critical time.”
The US operation is now struggling to find its identity beyond filling the Trump-sized hole in the Guardian’s UK print edition every day. And in recent weeks, Glendinning has introduced a confusing motto and guiding philosophy that Guardian US journalists say they find excruciating: “Covering America for the world, including Americans.”
Whether Guardian US was doomed from the start depends on whom you ask, but the news outlet did have an early glory period.
The project launched in 2011 under the editorship of Janine Gibson, an ally to then-editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger. (Gibson, now editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed UK, declined to comment for this story.) The effort was something of a reboot of Guardian America, the paper’s existing news brand in the US market, where it derived a surprising amount of traffic. When the Guardian arrived, the New York media world was already familiar with its brand of liberal, crusading reporting on topics like WikiLeaks and the News Corp phone hacking scandal. According to Rusbridger, planting a new flag in the US with aplomb was mostly a business impulse.
“There was a feeling on the commercial side that the big money was in America in terms of advertising,” Rusbridger told BuzzFeed News. “If we could build up a significant presence in America, you would have editorial ambition and commercial rewards.”
The thought was that experienced editors who knew the Guardian’s sensibilities should come over from London and then hire some American underlings who understood the local media landscape. Coverage was intended for an American audience — not, in the more classic foreign bureau tradition, a British audience wondering what’s happening in America. The company conceived of Guardian US initially as a lean operation that would focus on subjects where Guardian reporters could distinguish the brand’s prestige.
“We did not feel we could go into America and beat the New York Times and Washington Post on their own patch,” Rusbridger said. “There could be an opportunity in covering a few beats really well and in a different voice.”
“We can only justify being here if we were doing shit nobody else was doing.”
While much of the media balked at Occupy Wall Street, Guardian US dug in on the story, live-blogging the event on a daily basis. The outlet was also among a group of digital newsrooms experimenting with interactive journalism, like a project in 2012 visualizing gay rights across the 50 states. A former employee described the Guardian US editorial ethos: “We can only justify being here if we were doing shit nobody else was doing.”
Then came Edward Snowden.
In the summer of 2013, the Guardian became the central publisher in the world when Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, and other Guardian journalists began publishing astounding stories based on documents from Snowden, who had leaked thousands of classified NSA documents.
The Snowden period consumed a portion of the Guardian US staff. But some felt on the outskirts, and Gibson, who had previously been a hands-on presence across the newsroom, disappeared frequently to focus on the story. The Guardian shared in a Pulitzer Prize for public service with the Washington Post, cementing its status. But as things were winding down, the post-Snowden hangover hit hard.
“We were basking in the glory of winning a Pulitzer,” said a former staffer. “It was a bit like, 'Oh shit, what are we going to do after this?'”
Meanwhile, the business side was still struggling to sell American advertisers on what the Guardian was exactly as it navigated the implications of its editorial success. “While Snowden put us on the map, it makes corporate clients very nervous about wanting to get big into the Guardian,” according to a former executive.
As the US newsroom tried to determine what the Guardian would do next — how they could leverage the notoriety that Snowden had brought the brand — the leadership changed. In March 2014, shortly before the Pulitzer victory, Gibson and her deputy Stuart Millar, who also now works at BuzzFeed UK, were summoned back to London to resuscitate the paper’s digital efforts; Viner relocated from running Guardian Australia to take over in the US.
Staffers quickly took to Viner, a dynamic, idea-generating editor who was committed to making a big impression in America, as she had done in Australia.
“She does her fucking homework, really gets stuck in, and she impresses everyone,” one former Guardian US journalist said. “She was a really good operator and gave a lot of people confidence. We were neglected for a while with Snowden.”
Instead of the emphasis of a handful of core topics, Viner expanded aggressively into new areas of coverage like theater, arts, and sports. Gone was a narrow focus on a few winnable topics like national security. Guardian US was to compete with the New York Times, MSNBC, and the Washington Post on every story and beat. It would cover all the news of the day. And it would grow, grow, grow.
“All of a sudden we tripled in size,” said a former employee. “We were like, ‘Holy shit.’”
Amid the search for a different identity in the United States, the hunt for web traffic and advertising dollars escalated. Editors were instructed to more closely monitor what search terms were surfacing in Google. A new ethos, according to one former employee, came to the fore: “We need to play the scale game.”
“All of a sudden we tripled in size. We were like, ‘Holy shit.’”
The Highlander Research and Education Center is one of the unsung mileposts of the struggle for civil rights. People like Rosa Parks, John Lewis, and Ralph Abernathy refined their organizing skills at Highlander. It was there, in 1957, that a young Martin Luther King Jr. first heard Pete Seeger sing “We Shall Overcome.” On his way to the airport after the anniversary of what was then known as the Highlander Folk School, King proclaimed, “There’s something about that song that haunts you.” Highlander has since moved farther east, but its mission remains the same.
That’s why shortly after the 2016 election, on November 18, several dozen Black Lives Matter leaders selected it as the place to gather.
Top activists in the movement — like Alicia Garza, cofounder of the Black Lives Matter network of organizations (a namesake group), Charlene Carruthers of the Black Youth Project 100, and others — met to privately discuss how to move forward in Trump’s America. Protests had already dominated the news for days. This would be the time for decisive action, undergirded by a clear strategy. Here, in the hills of Tennessee, the activists would come together for a meeting of groups involved in the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group of organizations that want the same things, and devise a plan to address the new president, the shock of his election, the law and order he had promised during the campaign, and the devastating blow it all had delivered to generational movements about race and criminal justice policy in the United States. They would devise a plan — like the heroes of the civil rights movement once had decades before.
That good feeling didn’t last long. Few people want to talk about exactly what went wrong — how exactly the meeting devolved. But one problem, according to people who attended or were briefed on the meeting, was pretty simple: The ideas weren’t that good.
Some activists pitched things that had been pitched before. Someone pitched a plan that would require the recruitment of new groups into the fold, and leadership of the so-called resistance. And someone pitched a grand vision: the organization of 1 million black people. This last idea in particular infuriated people inside and outside the meeting. After years of organizing, local activists were cash-strapped, trying to keep their people motivated, and struggling to coordinate with other groups nationally while staying relevant at home. One million black people organized? Organized by whom? Organized for what? And this was the plan?
One million black people organized? Organized by whom? Organized for what? And this was the plan?
On top of that — people fumed over this — the meeting had done little to address the structural problems that had dragged down the movement since its meteoric rise from dispersed beginnings to national political influence. Many local activists felt they couldn’t get access to funding, and didn’t know who to take it up with. Organizers felt like they’d been lured in before by the promise of greater collaboration, the sharing of resources, and cultivation of a social community — only to feel left out, especially when it came to the Movement for Black Lives, an umbrella group of organizations that want the same things. Many chafed at the tenet, repeated by the press, that Black Lives Matter was free from hierarchy and instead began to question the existence of tight control exercised by a small group of activists. “The hierarchy was clearer than ever, even though folks are sure there isn’t one on the outside,” said one person briefed on the meeting. For months during the campaign last year, key progressives had watched Black Lives Matter and kept wondering two things many activists on the inside were starting to wonder themselves: What is the movement’s strategy? What is the end goal?
Nobody resolved the structural issues at Highlander. There was no one big plan.
Since then, amid the daily chaos inside the White House, the Trump administration has begun quietly rolling back progressive, Obama-era recommendations on sentencing and policing. In response to mounting opioid overdoses, President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seem intent on reigniting the war on drugs, which put into motion many of the elements, like heavily armed police and mandatory sentences, that sparked Black Lives Matter and a larger generational response. It’s an uncertain time in America, and many of the avenues once open to the movement — such as a president sensitive to the moral authority of young black activists — have closed. This is a new moment, with different challenges. Outside Washington, the left has been revitalized; protesters have organized some of the biggest demonstrations in US history.
Inside Black Lives Matter, some activists have argued that their lowered visibility on the national scene is because the movement is focused on policy. In response to questions for this story, Shanelle Matthews, the director of communications for the Global Black Lives Matter Network and the representative for Garza, wrote as part of a larger statement to BuzzFeed News, “We are committed [to] keeping our people safe and building our power. We are also committed to building movements with more integrity, dignity, and inclusiveness than ever.”
Some groups are internally questioning whether working in tandem with the Movement for Black Lives is a useful way to spend their time, though. Asked whether the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice plans to leave the larger coalition of groups — which one source had indicated — the group's executive director, Dante Barry, neither confirmed nor denied that in an email, but wrote that his group is seeking to "clarify our direction and focus as an organization." He said the group would remain focused on its priorities, which include sanctuary-city and community-safety efforts. “Million Hoodies will always work to improve the conditions of black and brown people and we are currently focused on how our members want to show up in this moment in light of Trump because our communities are on the front lines and are at stake," he wrote. "We are aware that many alliances are forming and we will continue to partner where needed and prioritize supporting the development of next generation human rights leaders that are participating in various social movements for transformation.”
Inside the larger movement, many of the movement’s young activists — some of whom had never organized before joining — lack experience in dealing with the realities and challenges of a national effort, and the tricky alliances and factions involved in many political movements. Some have also come up against the hard reality of full-time activism and don’t know what to do: There are no tactics for helping organizers feed themselves. In the civil rights movement of the early 1960s, during a drawn-out confrontation in Birmingham, leaders turned to children to lead demonstrations, in large part because the adults couldn’t afford to take time off work, let alone stay in jail for days at a time in defiance of segregation. Questions over how unsalaried activists are supposed to lead, oftentimes in a full-time capacity, without a job, has become an unresolved conflict inside the movement.
“Does the talent to meet those challenges exist in the Black Lives Matter organization? Absolutely it does. Problems that arise are an opportunity to get things right,” said Donna Davis, an organizer and activist in Tampa, Florida. “But we can’t pretend that we’re not plagued by some of the issues and concerns that have taken down the movements in the past. We’re not immune to it.”
Black Lives Matter is still here. Its groups are still organizing. But Black Lives Matter is on the verge of losing the traction and momentum that sparked a national shift on criminal justice policy.
Students gather at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte on September 21, 2016, for a protest against police brutality following the shooting of Keith Lamont Scott nearby.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images
It’s helpful to describe what “the movement” is in the most basic terms: There’s no way to tell how many people call themselves Black Lives Matter activists in the United States. Activists, largely dispersed across the country but concentrated in some cities or regions more than others, largely communicate online. There is a large coalition of groups called the Movement for Black Lives; some of the activists whose names you might recognize (like Garza) lead that coalition, but others (like Campaign Zero’s DeRay Mckesson, Brittany Packnett, Samuel Sinyangwe, and its army of loyalists) aren’t involved in it. There are no universal meetings. There is no centralized, national organization called Black Lives Matter.
Some activists believe that while the internal conflicts are indeed real, they are no different from what other long-lasting groups faced, and they do not portend the movement’s end. Discord and disagreement are part of the natural evolution of all political movements. In her statement to BuzzFeed News, Matthews noted that “it’s healthy for people building movements not always to agree, and while we don’t always get along, what keeps us going through this hard work together is our shared desire for justice.”
But identity battles can be different. In interviews with 36 people inside and allied with the movement — both the optimists and the disillusioned — activists largely agreed that the identity of the movement, its existential purpose and aim, remains unresolved. “If I want to get involved with the NAACP, I feel clear about where they are as an [organization],” said Ashley Yates, a Ferguson, Missouri, protester who has since relocated to the West Coast. “Even if you look at the black Greek letter organizations, they have certain structures so that if something strays too far, there’s something to rein it in. That hasn’t happened with Black Lives Matter or the Movement for Black Lives. It’s not to say it has to happen, but people are unclear about what they are coming to these organizations for.”
That’s partly a product of how the movement came to be. People went outside of their house because they were angry with the state of affairs, and a movement followed from there.
“People are unclear about what they are coming to these organizations for.”
The broad contours are well known. Black Lives Matter was born sometime after George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in 2012, was charged with murder, and was then acquitted in 2013. Protests started in Florida and in other cities, against how law enforcement handles violence against black people; against mass incarceration, over-criminalization, police militarization; against the way police sometimes commit violence against black people, especially young black men and women. The August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old in Missouri, turned those protests into a national cause and obsession — especially as the aftermath became a complicated, at times toxic mix of media, violence, and ineffective or even absent official leadership at the local and state levels. To young black people all over the country, Ferguson, and the way Brown’s death seemed just one piece in a larger pattern of violence, demanded more protests.
Dozens of organizations sprouted up under the Black Lives Matter banner. Twitter became the staging ground, but these were real protests in real places. In the summer of 2015, the Movement for Black Lives launched a conference on the campus of Cleveland State University where, one evening, the families of multiple young people who had been killed by the police shared personal testimony recounting the tragedy in their lives.
Around then, the debates had begun to intensify about what exactly the movement would do, what it stood for. Different schools sprang up. Some preached a policy-driven approach that would require collaboration with existing power structures, like Mckesson, who started a Washington-style public policy group. Campaign Zero outlined specific policies on a targeted set of criminal justice issues. But unlike the Latino immigration activists who rose to prominence during a similar time period, Black Lives Matter activists faced the challenge of having no particularly obvious target: The US president has immense discretionary power over immigration policy; policing and sentencing laws can vary from state to state, municipality to municipality. Some preached a hyperlocal entry into politics: Activists from the Black Youth Project 100 led the ouster of a state’s attorney in Chicago, Anita Alvarez, who couldn’t be bothered with a case concerning the shooting of an unarmed teen, Laquan McDonald, and the subsequent handling of evidence by police. Some preached the primacy of demonstration: Only by staying on the outside, only by making people in power uncomfortable through protest, could the movement succeed. Some were just happy to finally have a movement that affirmed that their struggles were real.
Around then, the debates had begun to intensify about what exactly the movement would do, what it stood for.
It was also around this time of uncertainty in the movement, though, that activists began interrupting Democratic candidates, launching Black Lives Matter into the nuclear stratosphere of presidential politics. The interruptions weren’t part of a nationally coordinated campaign — it was mostly individuals here and there who seized an opportunity. When activists confronted Bernie Sanders (Phoenix, Seattle) and Hillary Clinton (New Hampshire, Minnesota, South Carolina), tense, explosive exchanges followed. The words “black lives matter” were applied to each video, then discussed in debates, in the New York Times, on CNN, on Fox News (where a single clip of some isolated protesters chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon” often played). Now everybody thought they knew what Black Lives Matter was: It was a political movement. The striking, often misunderstood phrase at the center, by turns an affirmation and a movement, was being flattened into a single entity, even if nobody really had a handle on what that meant. “If you think about the lies and false narratives in the movement,” said one activist, “and why they exist in the first place, you'll go crazy.”
In that vortex, the fights over resources, direction, and ownership of the movement intensified, much of it swirling around the largest national group: the Movement for Black Lives.
From left: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, cofounders of the Black Lives Matter movement, November 14, 2016, in Los Angeles.
Jordan Strauss / AP Photo
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Attorney General Jeff Sessions' decision to rescind Obama-era guidance supporting the rights of transgender students is set to get a strong, if symbolic, rebuke from Sessions' own employees next week.
On the morning of June 28, the Justice Department is scheduled to hold its annual LGBT Pride Month Program in the Great Hall of the department's main building on Pennsylvania Avenue, in between the Capitol and the White House.
A notice about the program, obtained by BuzzFeed News, went out to employees on Tuesday. At the event, which was attended by former attorney general Loretta Lynch in 2016, the relevant work of the department is highlighted, a keynote speech is given, and awards are presented.
This year, DOJ Pride — the department's group for LGBT employees and their allies — plans to present Gavin Grimm with its Gerald B. Roemer Community Service Award at the event, BuzzFeed News has learned.
Additionally, BuzzFeed News has learned, DOJ Pride plans to give the James R. Douglass Award — recognizing contributions to the work-life environment for LGBT employees of the department — to the litigation teams behind the department's pro-transgender lawsuits: a discrimination case brought against Southeastern Oklahoma State University and the challenge brought against North Carolina's anti-transgender HB2 "bathroom bill" law.
Jemal Countess / Getty Images
Grimm is the transgender student who is challenging his school's anti-transgender bathroom policy. Grimm's case had been before the Supreme Court and would have been heard earlier this year — had it not been for Sessions' decision to rescind the pro-transgender guidance. The justices had taken up the case in the fall, but sent it back to the appeals court for further consideration after Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded guidance issued by the Obama administration — delaying Grimm's challenge past his high school graduation date, which was June 10.
"Years after my battle for equality started, one thing remains the same: I’m still barred from using the boys’ restroom in my school," Grimm wrote this week about his experience. "Our opponents can’t stop justice; they can only delay it. The law is on our side.
"Even though I’m graduating without a resolution to my case, I know we’re going to win this fight."
DOJ Pride is the recognized employee association for LGBT people and allies who work in the Justice Department and all of its divisions. The group votes each year on who should receive the award. In 2016, the group gave the community service award to Shannon Minter, a transgender man and lawyer with the National Center for Lesbian Rights who has been involved with significant LGBT litigation over the years.
Other prior recipients include Donald Verrilli Jr., the department's former solicitor general who argued in support of marriage equality at the Supreme Court, and Stuart Delery, who had argued against the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act once the Justice Department stopped defending the law in court challenges. Non-lawyers have also been recognized in the past. In 2013, for example, the group gave the community service award to Brendon Ayanbadejo, the former Baltimore Ravens football player who became an outspoken advocate for marriage equality and LGBT rights.
Grimm is expected to attend the event, a person familiar with the plans told BuzzFeed News. Grimm's lawyer would not confirm his client's participation in the event, and attempts to reach DOJ Pride officers were unsuccessful. Justice Department spokespeople were not immediately able to provide comment on either the award decision, or on which members of Sessions' leadership team plan to attend the program.
From the Justice Department notice about next week's scheduled event:
US Department of Justice
Edgar Maddison Welch
Sathi Soma / AP
Edgar Maddison Welch, the North Carolina man who brought loaded guns into a DC restaurant to investigate the "Pizzagate" internet conspiracy theory, was sentenced on Thursday to four years in prison.
The sentence was more than the 18 months that Welch's attorney argued for, but slightly less than the 4 and a half years that prosecutors sought.
US District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson heard emotional testimony at Thursday's sentencing hearing from employees of Comet Ping Pong and the restaurant's owner James Alefantis. Alefantis praised the bravery of his team — employees led customers out to safety after an armed Welch entered the restaurant on a Sunday afternoon in December — and decried the internet conspiracy theorists who had pushed "Pizzagate."
"I do hope that one day, in a more truthful world, every single one of us will remember this day, that day, as an aberration, as a symbol of a time of sickness, when some parts of our world went mad, when news was fake and lies were seen as real and our social fabric frayed," Alefantis told the judge.
Welch briefly spoke at the hearing, saying that he wanted to apologize to anyone affected by his actions but that he also realized "that words cannot undo or change what has already happened." He will receive credit for the time he has already spent in prison, which is close to seven months.
Welch's family declined to speak with reporters after the hearing, as did prosecutors and Welch's attorney, federal public defender Dani Jahn.
Brown cited Alefantis' remarks in announcing the sentence, and said that although she believed that Welch thought he was doing the right thing at the time — the unfounded "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory alleged that Democratic operatives were running a child sex trafficking ring through the restaurant —he had been wrong to take matters into his own hands. She said she was concerned that other people would draw inspiration from what he did, and noted that his actions were not spur of the moment, but rather reflected several days of planning.
"Mr. Welch, I hope you understand and see how much people are suffering as a result of what you did," Brown said.
Comet Ping Pong employees, who did not give their names, spoke to the judge about the psychological trauma they experienced in the aftermath of the incident. One male employee directed his remarks to Welch, saying that he had never physically harmed anyone or turned away from an injustice.
"Shame on you for assuming otherwise," the man said.
On Dec. 4, 2016, Welch drove from his home in North Carolina to Washington, and walked into Comet Ping Pong pizza restaurant carrying a loaded AR-15 assault rifle. He also had a loaded .38 revolver holstered on his hip. He later told police that he had learned about the "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory online.
Patrons fled the restaurant. Welch searched around the restaurant, and when he failed to open a locked door with a butter knife he fired his AR-15 at it, causing damage. An employee who was outside when Welch first walked in heard the gunshots. When the employee came back inside, prosecutors said, Welch pointed the AR-15 at him. The employee fled. No one was injured, and Welch peacefully surrendered to police.
Welch originally faced three weapons charges, including one that carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors dropped the charge with the mandatory minimum. The two remaining charges each carried maximum sentences of 10 years in jail, but according to a plea deal, Welch faced estimated sentences ranging from 18–24 months on the first charge and 18–60 months on the second charge.
In court papers filed in the run-up to the sentencing hearing, prosecutors argued that Welch should be sentenced to a total of 54 months — four and a half years — in prison.
Welch "committed serious crimes that terrorized a community and traumatized Comet employees and customers alike. There are victims who require crisis counseling, employees who feel unsafe in their jobs, and children whose memories are imprinted with the danger of that day," Assistant US Attorney Demian Ahn wrote.
Welch's attorney countered that Welch should be sentenced to 18 months in prison, a term that would have fallen at the low end of the sentencing guidelines. She said that Welch had "expressed sincere remorse" for his actions, and was unlikely to reoffend. She also noted that because of security concerns related to the high-profile nature of his case, Welch had been held in solitary confinement for five weeks and subject to 24-hour lockdown, conditions that were "severe, punitive, and deplorable."
"Mr. Welch made an incredibly ill-advised decision to try and save children who he sincerely believed were being held against their will at a popular pizzeria located in Washington, D.C." federal public defender Jahn wrote.
This story will be updated. Check back for additional updates.
Sound Bend, Indiana, Mayor Peter Buttigieg
Derek Henkle / AFP / Getty Images
Pete Buttigieg, the 35-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is pursuing a new ambition in national politics: changing the vocabulary of the Democratic Party.
Buttigieg, known as Mayor Pete, is forming a PAC called "Hitting Home," with the goal of reorienting the party, its policies, and its rhetoric around a single message: that Democrats strive to "protect and support people going about their lives."
"There is no policy area that can’t be talked about in these terms," Buttigieg said during a recent interview at a bar in Manhattan's Herald Square. "It's the same reason I’m philosophical about waste water and filling pot holes — and it’s the same reason I care about equality issues and wage issues and health care."
The PAC, Buttigieg's first major political effort since his campaign for chair of the Democratic National Committee, will work toward “a renewed politics of the everyday" — a way of articulating message and policy in terms that are personal, not ideological.
“At the end of the day, if you wanted to fit [those policies] on a left-right spectrum, it's going to bring you to core progressive beliefs," Buttigieg said. "But I don’t think that’s the best frame."
"If we can get back to people's lives, it kind of frees us from [ideological labels]."
The approach makes Buttigieg something of an outlier in a party where Democrats are measured by their progressive credentials, and their willingness to oppose President Donald Trump. This week’s defeat in the Georgia special election instantly sparked a debate over ideology and strategy — with party officials on the defense, and liberal groups claiming that a more progressive candidate would have won.
For Buttigieg, the Ossoff race served as “a reminder that being against Trump isn’t going to be enough," he said. "People have to know what you’re about.”
It's a difficult proposition under Trump's presidency, which Buttigieg described as a "mesmerizing horror show," and a "spell" that could overtake the Democratic Party. "That show can be hypnotizing," he said, "and I’m worried that our national politics could get oriented around it, rather than people’s actual experience."
Hitting Home, which is set to launch in earnest after Labor Day, will support state and local candidates “who can explain a policy agenda in terms of what it’s going to mean in people’s lives,” Buttigieg said — i.e. how it “hits home". The mayor also plans to develop a paid media strategy, creating TV ads that would “elevate” voters with stories about real-world policy effects, particularly health care legislation.
Buttigieg's hope is that the "politics of the everyday" approach is also a winning one. Putting the "lived experiences of Americans front and center," he argued, might shift the party's "center of gravity," attracting supporters first to the policies, then to the candidates, and perhaps eventually to the institution itself — "not the other way around."
The PAC, more so than the DNC campaign, offers Buttigieg a natural bridge between his work in South Bend and his growing national profile. He expects to start traveling more frequently after the summer. In September, he will deliver the headline speech at an annual fundraiser in Iowa, the Progress Iowa Corn Feed.
In today’s Democratic Party — with lines still drawn between Clinton and Sanders, establishment and grassroots — Buttigieg can be hard to place. The young mayor is openly gay, a red-state Democrat, a Rhodes Scholar, and a Naval Reserve officer who served in Afghanistan. In the DNC race, when reporters asked him to describe his ideological leanings, he seemed to enjoy dismissing the premise altogether.
“When you step on the stage, people want to fix you onto a spectrum and find a box to put you in,” he said back then. “I spent Thanksgiving in a deer blind with my boyfriend’s father. Identity buckets aren’t comfortable places for me to be in.”
The Supreme Court justices met Thursday in their private conference to discuss what to do with pending requests before them.
What do we know?
One big request before the justices comes from the Trump administration, which has asked the justices to allow enforcement of Trump's travel and refugee bans and hear its appeal of cases challenging the March 6 executive order.
The 90-day ban on travel from six majority-Muslim countries and the 120-day halt to the refugee program — as well as Trump's reduction in the total number of refugees allowed into the country this fiscal year — are on hold following a decision from the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit partially upholding a trial court's injunction. The Fourth Circuit, in an earlier decision, also had upheld an injunction halting enforcement of the travel ban part of the order.
And, before we get to the questions, one more important thing to know: The Supreme Court is expected to recess for the summer next week — with at least some justices already having plans set to leave town in early July. (More on that later.)
Need more background on what's being argued in the travel ban arguments? Read this first!
Are the justices actually considering what to do with the travel ban on Thursday?
We don't really know. The court didn't announce on the docket whether it was going to consider Thursday the request of the federal government to hear the case — a petition for a writ of certiorari — and applications for stays of the injunctions do not normally get a public notation of when they're being considered.
That said, the quick timeline given by the justices for the parties to submit to a final set of filings on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week suggest a desire to consider, at least the stay requests today.
So, if they do consider the stay requests, what does that mean?
It would mean that they are considering whether to allow the Trump administration to put the travel ban and refugee ban in effect while the justices consider what to do with the underlying challenges to the executive order. Granting stays of the lower-court injunctions would require the vote of five of the nine justices. (Hearing the underlying cases, however, only require the votes of four justices.)
What could they do?
This is where it gets a little complicated.
Being the Supreme Court, they can pretty much make up a lot of the rules as they go along and do what they want. But, in this situation, most obvious paths ahead cause complications or at least unusual circumstances.
If the justices allow the bans to go into effect by granting the stays and planned to hear arguments over the underlying challenge when they return in the fall, then it would be more than 90 days before the justice even would hear the case. After nearly six months of litigation and stays from courts across the nation, the decision about the stay would effectively resolve the case — at least as to the travel ban — before the justices even heard the case.
If the justices deny the stay request and plan to hear arguments over the underlying challenge in the fall, a different complication would occur. Because the Ninth Circuit has allowed the Trump administration to begin the internal review process for travel and refugee vetting that was called for under Trump's executive order, the 90 days the government had planned for the travel review would pass before the Trump administration could argue to the justices that the ban is allowed during the review.
Whether they grant the stay or not, the justices also could hold expedited arguments — as suggested by law professor Josh Blackman — to resolve the underlying question in short order. However, it's not exactly clear why the justices would take such an approach when the government itself hasn't asked for expedited review of the underlying case.
What's more, the Justice Department did not exactly rush the case to the justices, waiting a week to ask the justices to put the injunctions on hold and hear the appeal after the Fourth Circuit ruled against the travel ban. (Earlier, the administration also had waited more than a week to request a stay of the initial district court injunction at the Fourth Circuit.)
And, again, the justices are slated to leave for the summer as soon as next week, so a decision to hear the case immediately would require some scheduling adjustments that the justices might not want to make given the Justice Department's delays in bringing the case to the justices.
(There are some other paths the justices could, theoretically, pursue, but those are the most likely possibilities.)
OK, bottom line: When will we know what they're doing?
We don't know.
It could be as soon as Thursday afternoon, after the conference has ended and any written order is prepared.
It could come sometime Friday — since the court announced it will be in session to issue decisions from one or more of the remaining nine pending argued cases from this term.
Or, it could come at 9:30 a.m. Monday, when the court generally issues its orders from the prior week's conference.
Or, if the matter requires further discussion (or if they didn't even discuss it today), the justices could consider the issue again (or for the first time) at its expected final conference before recess, which could come as early as Monday. That would mean we would expect word on a decision either that afternoon or at 9:30 a.m. the next morning.
In short, we'll know when we know. Any guesses before then are just that.
Handout / Reuters
Brendan Dassey, the nephew of the man at the center of Netflix's Making a Murderer series, must be released from prison if the state of Wisconsin does not choose to grant him a new trial, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.
Dassey, the nephew of Steven Avery, was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Teresa Halbach, but questions surrounded Dassey's confession to the crime — highlighted in videos of the confession included in the Netflix show.
"If a state court can evade all federal review by merely parroting the correct Supreme Court law," Judge Ilana Rovner wrote of the state's ruling that Dassey's confession was not coerced, "then the writ of habeas corpus is meaningless."
The US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit panel which heard the state's appeal of Dassey's case reached the decision that the confession was coerced on a 2-1 vote, with Judge David Hamilton dissenting. Judge Ann Claire Williams joined Rovner's decision for the appeals court. A federal district court had previously ruled in Dassey's favor, ordering that he be released or retried. The state appealed that decision, and the appeals court ordered that Dassey remain in prison during the appeal.
The appeals court held that the state court did not properly examine the "totality of the circumstances" when considering whether Dassey's confession was impermissibly coerced. The appeals court also ruled that the state court's finding "that there were no promises of leniency or other factors that overcame Dassey’s free will" did not fit with the available evidence of the interrogation and confession.
At one point in the lengthy decision, Rovner summarized Dassey's "characteristics and deficits" that should have, the appeals court held, been taken into account in that decision.
"Sixteen‐year‐old Dassey walked into the interrogation room without a parent, a lawyer, or an advocate to look out for his rights. He had never had any contacts with law enforcement prior to his interviews in this case. As described in the fact section, he was passive, docile and withdrawn. He also suffered from intellectual deficits. His IQ was in the low average or borderline range. ... [H]e had difficulty understanding some aspects of language and ex‐ pressing himself verbally. ... Testing also revealed ... he was likely to be more suggestible than 95% of the population," Rovner wrote.
Regarding the promises of leniency — the interrogators repeatedly told Dassey things like, "It's not your fault" — the court said: "[W]e recognize that false promises, like other interrogation techniques, do not, per se, make a confession involuntary. Promises, however, cannot be viewed in a vacuum, but rather assessed as they interact with a defendant’s unique characteristics."
As to Dassey specifically, the appeals court held that the state court "viewed the words of the interrogators alone without reference to Dassey and without looking at their cumulative effect," reaching an "unreasonable" conclusion that the interrogators had only encouraged Dassey to be honest, and had not promised him leniency. If the state court had considered them in the proper context, the appeals court ruled, the state court "could not have come to any other conclusion but that Dassey’s free will was overcome."
After 102 pages considering the facts of the case, Supreme Court law regarding coerced confessions and federal review of state court decisions, and the application of that law to Dassey's case, Rovner concluded: "Had the state court given Dassey’s confession any of this required care, it simply could not have overcome the many doubts that his confession raises about voluntariness."
Because that confession was "essentially the only evidence the State presented against Dassey at trial," the appeals court also concluded that wrongly admitting the confession at trial could not have constituted "harmless error" that would allow the conviction to stand.
Hamilton, in dissenting from Thursday's decision, argued that the majority overstepped its role in reviewing state court decisions under a 1996 law, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
"The Wisconsin Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s finding that Dassey’s confession was voluntary in a succinct per curiam opinion that rejected that claim in two paragraphs. That was permissible," Hamilton wrote. "While the majority would have preferred a more nuanced and detailed discussion of the circumstances surrounding Dassey’s confession, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996 does not authorize federal courts to sit in judgment of the length of state court opinions."
Wisconsin officials will now have to decide whether to seek further review of Thursday's decision from the full 7th Circuit or the Supreme Court, to retry Dassey's case, or to release him.
You can read the full ruling here:
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
A day after an LGBT employee group at the Justice Department announced plans to honor lawyers and a student seeking to advance transgender rights at a pride month program next week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions spoke positively to staff Thursday about the upcoming event.
"We are going to have a pride group, in this very room, I think next week, I believe it is, and so that's perfectly appropriate, and we will protect and defend and celebrate that — and protect the rights of all transgender persons," Sessions said in response to a question posed to him by an intern.
The answer appeared in a video posted by Courtney Hagle, who wrote, "Had the honor of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions a question that is very important to me today!"
Hagle asked Sessions about the lack of acknowledgement from the White House or Justice Department of pride month thus far in June, leading Sessions to reference the planned June 28 program. Reached by BuzzFeed News, Hagle declined to comment on the video and question she asked of Sessions.
On Wednesday, BuzzFeed News reported that DOJ Pride — the department's group for LGBT employees and allies — planned to recognize transgender student Gavin Grimm and department lawyers who were working on two lawsuits brought by DOJ to support transgender rights at next week's program.
When Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos withdrew pro-transgender guidance regarding students' restroom use, the move resulted in a delay in Grimm's lawsuit challenging his school's restroom policy beyond his high-school graduation.
Despite DOJ Pride's plans, Sessions appeared to remain supportive of the event — although he did not say whether he would be attending. DOJ spokespeople have not said who, if anyone, from department's leadership will be attending.
Sessions went on, in responding to Hagle, to discuss a review he says he ordered regarding anti-transgender killings.
"For example, I received a letter expressing concern about the sudden transgender persons who had been killed, and concern about it, and so I, first thing, directed the civil rights division to look into those ... to see if there was any uniform attack, or if there was just a uniform hostility that would result in these murders, and to review each one of those cases that were sent to me," he said. "And they have done that, and I think it's possible that they're going to re-open one and solve it, as a result of that."
Justice Department spokespeople did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the letter Sessions was referencing, the review he said he called for, or what case the attorney general believes may be re-opened.
Sessions concluded by saying that "we are not going to allow persons in this country to be discriminated against or attacked in any way for their sexual orientation —"
Hagle then spoke up again — cutting off Sessions, so it was not clear if he would have added "or gender identity," or otherwise acknowledged the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity — and reiterated the part of her initial question regarding the lack of White House recognition of LGBT Pride Month — a question BuzzFeed News has posed directly to the White House, only to be told that we will be informed if any proclamation is released.
To that, Sessions simply responded that he didn't know the White House's plans.
Watch the question and Sessions's response:
The Supreme Court issued decisions in three cases on Friday — with Chief Justice John Roberts announcing that Monday of next week will be the last decision day before the court recesses for the summer.
While some major decisions are still outstanding, the court on Friday rejected an attempt strongly backed by libertarians to provide greater protections — in the way of compensation — for landowners barred by state or local regulations from selling their land as they wish. The justices also held that an immigrant accused of a crime that would lead to deportation received ineffective assistance from his lawyer when the lawyer told him that a guilty plea would not lead to his deportation.
In the third decision, the court assessed the proper venue for appealing decisions by civil service employees that involve civil service claims and discrimination claims — prompting Justice Neil Gorsuch to write his first dissenting opinion on the high court.
In the immigration-related case, an unusual lineup provided further protections for immigrants who face the possibility of deportation as the result of criminal charges. Jae Lee was a lawful permanent resident who would face deportation if convicted of an aggravated felony. Faced with a criminal charge of possessing ecstasy with the intent to distribute, his lawyer urged him to take a plea deal — which would result in a lighter sentence — and told him that he would not face deportation as a result. Lee pleaded guilty, but the lawyer was wrong and Lee would be subject to mandatory deportation as a result of the plea. Lee sought to have his conviction vacated on the grounds that he received ineffective assistance of counsel.
The Supreme Court, in Lee v. US, reversed the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which had rejected Lee's claim. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the court, held that, in the case of a plea agreement, a person can show that they were prejudiced by their lawyer's advice — the standard for tossing out a conviction due to ineffective assistance of counsel — if there is a "reasonable probability" that, without the lawyer's bad advice, the defendant would have gone to trial.
Here, Roberts wrote, everyone agreed that "deportation was the determinative issue in Lee’s decision whether to accept the plea deal." Even though Lee — under the circumstances — likely would have been convicted at trial, it was not certain, so therefore Lee had proven the prejudice necessary from his lawyer's advice to have his conviction vacated.
Justice Clarence Thomas, joined Samuel Alito, strongly objected to Roberts's decision in the case, writing that it "will have pernicious consequences
for the criminal justice system. The court's new "standard for prejudice in the plea context is likely to generate a high volume of challenges to existing and future plea agreements," Thomas warned.
In the land-sale case, the Murr family had purchased a property in Wisconsin, a year later purchased the adjoining property, and some time later sought to sell just the latter parcel of land. Under a local ordinance, however, the lots "merged" once the Murrs owned both and the latter parcel could not be sold separately. The Murrs sued, alleging that the decision amounted to a regulatory "taking" — such that they should be compensated for it by assessing the diminished value of the latter property.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Supreme Court in Murr v. Wisconsin, upheld the decision the state courts' decision that the property was properly assessed as a single unit, with the resulting decision that there was no taking.
"Courts must instead define the parcel in a manner that reflects reasonable expectations about the property," Kennedy wrote, calling that "consistent with the central purpose" of the Constitution's Takings Clause. "Treating the lot in question as a single parcel is legitimate for purposes of this takings inquiry, and this supports the conclusion that no regulatory taking occurred here.
The chief justice, joined by Thomas and Alito, dissented, arguing that Kennedy got it wrong by refusing to consider the reduced value to the individual parcel of land and concluding that the court's decision "compromises the Takings Clause as a barrier between individuals and the press of the public interest."
The civil service employment litigation case raised the issue of what happens when appealing different types of employment claims. A civil service appeal would normally go to the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, while an appeal relating to a discrimination law claim would go to a federal district court. The question in Perry v. Merit Systems Protection Board is what happens when a person seeks to appeal both. The federal government argued that the appeals should go on their separate paths. Anthony Perry — challenging his firing from his job at the Census Bureau — argued that he should be able to take appeals of both claims to the district court, and the court sided with Perry on Friday in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Gorsuch, joined by Thomas, disagreed — siding with the federal government over Perry's argument that consideration of the issues together by "a single tribunal" would be a better, more efficient path. "Mr. Perry’s is an invitation I would run from fast," Gorsuch wrote in his first, but still strongly critical, dissent. "If a statute needs repair, there’s a constitutionally prescribed way to do it. It’s called legislation."
Earlier this week, the court issued decisions in two significant First Amendment cases, a longstanding challenge to post-9/11 detention policies, and a long-running dispute over convictions in a DC murder case, among others.
With the chief justice's Friday announcement that Monday is the last decision day, however, Monday should be a big day for the court — with no decisions yet in a major case over the rights of detained immigrants, a religious liberty case out of Missouri, or a constitutional challenge resulting from a cross-border shooting that left a Mexican teenager dead.
However, the court need not decide all of the six remaining cases. Arguments in three of the cases, for example, took place before Gorsuch took the bench. The court could hold over those cases — including the immigrant detention and cross-border shooting cases — for re-argument in the fall.
That's not all that's left. The court has not yet given any signal as to what it plans to do with the Trump administration's requests to stay lower court injunctions and allow it to enforce the president's travel and refugee bans and hear its appeal of the appellate court decisions upholding those injunctions.
In addition, word from the court is also expected next week on whether the court will be hearing any new cases — including the religious liberty case involving Masterpiece Cakeshop, a gun rights case out of California, and a question involving same-sex married couples and Arkansas birth certificates.
People protest the travel ban in January.
Bryan R. Smith / AFP / Getty Images
The Supreme Court will review President Trump's travel ban, the court announced on Monday morning.
In the meantime, the court allowed the federal government to implement the travel and refugee bans contained in Trump's March 6 executive order in part — against those without connections to people or groups in the US.
According to Justice Clarence Thomas, who would have allowed the travel ban to go into effect in full, the decision that the injunctions should, at least, be partially stayed was reached "unanimously."
The parts of the travel and refugee bans that Monday's order allows to be enforced will go into effect in 72 hours — should the administration adhere to the timeline laid out in a presidential memorandum Trump issued on June 14.
In a statement after the ruling, Trump said, "Today's unanimous Supreme Court decision is a clear victory for our national security. It allows the travel suspension for the six terror-prone countries and the refugee suspension to become largely effective."
The court's ruling came in a per curiam opinion — meaning for the court (and not in the name of an individual justice).
Earlier this year, district courts in Hawaii and Maryland issued injunctions against enforcing both the travel and refugee bands. The Justice Department appealed those rulings, and the Supreme Court granted the department's stay requests in part. That move narrows the lower court's injunctions, meaning that some parts of the travel ban may go into effect.
Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for himself and Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch, would have stayed the injunctions "in full" — allowing full enforcement of the travel and refugee bans.
Although no vote count was announced, no justices wrote in dissent to say that they believed the injunctions should remain fully in effect.
Here's what the court said about the 90-day ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries: "Section 2© may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States," the court stated. "All other foreign nationals are subject to the provisions of" the executive order signed by Trump.
In other words, if a person seeking an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa from one of the six affected countries has a genuine connection to people or groups already in the US — who could, potentially, assert their own rights — then they cannot be excluded under the ban. Determining people's connections to people and groups in the US likely will involve federal agencies' initial determinations and, ultimately, the courts.
Regarding the refugee ban, the court held that the same rule applies as to Section 6(a) — the 120-day halt to the refugee program.
The court noted that 6(b) — the 50,000-person cap on refugees — cannot be enforced as to refugees otherwise allowed in under Section 6(a). "[T]hat is, such a person may not be excluded pursuant to Section 6(b), even if the 50,000-person cap has been reached or exceeded," the court held.
This is a developing story. Please check back at BuzzFeed News for the latest.
These are still your Supreme Court justices.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
The nine justices left the Supreme Court bench on Monday morning. None of them announced that he or she plans to retire at this time — despite months of speculation about whether Justice Anthony Kennedy, in particular, would make such a move this year.
While retirement announcements could come at any time, planned retirements from the Supreme Court have generally been made public by the time the court recesses for the summer.
The 80-year-old justice, Kennedy, has been the subject of scattered speculation in recent months about whether he would step down now. He had moved up a planned reunion of his former clerks, which took place this past weekend, and there was at least a hope from some on the right that President Trump’s appointment of Kennedy’s former clerk, Neil Gorsuch, to the high court would give Kennedy comfort about the type of judge Trump might nominate to take his own seat.
For now, however, that hasn't come to pass, with the justices leaving their last planned sitting of the term with no retirement announcements.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on what might seem like a local dispute — the funding of playground resurfacing.
The case, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, concerned a Missouri rule that barred churches from a program that allowed groups to be reimbursed for resurfacing playgrounds with recycled tires. On Monday, the court ruled that Missouri's decision to bar churches from the state's scrap tire program violated the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the court's opinion, but — in what could be the more significant aspect of the ruling — disagreements over aspects of Monday's decision suggested that, while the outcome here was clear for most of the justices, the court is in flux on its views about the role of religion in America.
"[T]he exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution ... and cannot stand," Roberts wrote for the court.
The decision came on the same day that the court agreed to hear a major case about whether bakers can refuse to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples on the grounds of their religious beliefs.
The court is still adjusting to having nine justices again thanks to the recent addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch, and the Trinity Lutheran case produced some new and interesting dynamics — regarding the conception of the case, what was most important about it, and even one footnote.
Roberts was joined in most of his decision by five of his colleagues — justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Elena Kagan, and Gorsuch.
But Thomas and Gorsuch each wrote separately, concurring in part and joining one another's concurring decisions. In addition, and signaling some underlying tensions, Thomas and Gorsuch did not join one footnote of Roberts's opinion for the court.
The footnote in question stated that: "This case involves express discrimination based on religious identity with respect to playground resurfacing. We do not address religious uses of funding or other forms of discrimination."
That footnote, therefore, is a statement only from Roberts, Kennedy, Alito, and Kagan.
Justice Stephen Breyer made a similar point in his separate decision, although he only concurred in the court's judgment in the case. In it, he wrote: "I agree with much of what the Court says and with its result. But I find relevant, and would emphasize, the particular nature of the 'public benefit' here at issue." (The public benefit here being the "health and safety of children.")
Gorsuch countered that understanding of the case, writing that "the general principles here do not permit discrimination against religious exercise—whether on the playground or anywhere else."
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, dissented from the decision altogether — and Sotomayor took the rare step of reading her decision from the bench to voice her disagreement with the court's ruling.
Noting that the court presented the case as "a simple case about recycling tires to resurface a playground," Sotomayor countered that the "stakes are higher" in the case, and as a result of the court's ruling.
"The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church," she wrote, warning that the decision "weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state."
Sen. Dean Heller
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Tense conversations between members of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s political team and allies of President Donald Trump may have forestalled a big television attack planned against Sen. Dean Heller, one of the chamber’s most vulnerable Republicans.
Heller last week came out against the Senate version of a health care bill designed to repeal Obamacare. Soon after, officials at America First Policies said they would target the Nevadan in a negative seven-figure blitz that would begin on social media and spread to TV.
The nonprofit group is run by key Trump campaign operatives, including top digital advertising strategist Brad Parscale. Within hours Parscale had created a series of provocative tweets and a video tying Heller to Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader whom Republicans used to winning effect as a political bogeyman in the recent special election in Georgia. While evidence of purchased TV time in Nevada has not materialized, the moves earned a great deal of free media attention, and the shot across the bow could not have been clearer.
The tactics have alarmed many in the GOP. Heller is up for reelection next year in a state where Hillary Clinton beat Trump. He’s a top target for Democrats — why should he also be a top target for friends of the Republican president?
McConnell was not given a heads-up that the anti-Heller campaign was coming — and he was not happy about it, according to several Republican sources.
One source familiar with subsequent talks between the McConnell and America First camps told BuzzFeed News that McConnell’s side directly voiced its displeasure. And the McConnell allies, tasked with maintaining GOP control of the Senate in next year’s midterm elections, came away from the talks convinced that America First would not go with the overly harsh TV ads initially telegraphed.
“I think assurances would be the wrong word,” said the source, who requested anonymity to share details of private conversations. “They have at least given the impression that they understand [McConnell’s frustrations] and that they will pull back.”
America First might continue its social media blasts against Heller, the source added. (As of Monday evening, one tweet linking Heller and Pelosi was pinned atop of the group's Twitter page.) But attack ads on Nevada airwaves are believed to be off-limits.
A spokeswoman and other officials with America First did not respond to questions about the discussions with McConnell’s team. Earlier Monday, the spokeswoman disputed an Associated Press report that the group was expanding its campaign to include other Republican senators who have concerns with the health care bill. America First has been making phone calls to voters in states represented by fence-sitting Republicans, offering words of encouragement for the bill. And in the spring the group aired ads meant to encourage Republican House members who were seen as swing votes on health care.
America First also is targeting Democratic senators with cable TV buys in Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.
“These are state-specific ads that encourage constituents to ‘call their senator’ and tell them to replace Obamacare,” said the America First spokeswoman, Erin Montgomery.
Axios reported Monday that America First could go the kinder encouragement route with Heller, provided he signals an openness to voting for the final bill. One operative who works closely with America First told BuzzFeed News that story should not be interpreted as retreat.
“It talks about optionality in content — not a debate of doing it or not doing it,” the operative said.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images
Jared Kusher reportedly has a new attorney on his personal legal team — Abbe Lowell, considered one of the premiere white collar criminal defense lawyers in the country.
Lowell will join Jamie Gorelick in representing Kushner as he contends with the special counsel probe into the 2016 election, as well as other congressional investigations, according to multiple outlets.
Gerry Broome / AP
Gorelick counts special counsel Robert Mueller III among her former law partners, and Gorelick told Politico that she advised Kushner to seek legal advice from another lawyer about whether he wanted to continue retaining Gorelick. Gorelick reportedly said that Kushner asked Lowell for advice, and then decided to hire him, while also sticking with Gorelick.
Lowell and Gorelick did not immediately return requests for comment on Monday evening.
Lowell leads the white collar defense group at Chadbourne & Parke. He's represented numerous elected officials, celebrities, and corporations in high-stakes investigations and criminal trials. His past clients have included failed presidential candidate John Edwards, former congressman Gary Condit, Sean "Diddy" Combs, and actor Steven Seagal.
He currently represents Sen. Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey who is facing corruption charges.
Sen. Dean Heller
Ethan Miller / Getty Images
A group aligned with President Donald Trump ignored the protests of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and bought airtime for an ad targeting Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada on Tuesday.
Then on Tuesday, Senate Republicans decided not to vote this week on the health care bill.
Then on Tuesday, the pro-Trump group pulled the ad against Heller.
Heller, perhaps the GOP’s most vulnerable senator up for re-election in 2018, had said he would vote against the current version of a health care bill aimed at overhauling Obamacare. His declaration last week prompted a quick and harsh rebuke from America First Policies, a nonprofit run by veterans of Trump’s successful White House campaign.
"America First Policies is pleased to learn that Senator Dean Heller has decided to come back to the table to negotiate with his colleagues on the Senate bill," America First spokeswoman Erin Montgomery told BuzzFeed News in an email. "We have pulled the ads we released earlier today in Nevada, and we remain hopeful that Senator Heller and his colleagues can agree on what the American people already know: that repealing and replacing Obamacare must happen for America to move forward and be great again."
America First Policies started with social media blasts linking Heller to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. Officials there described it as the opening salvo in a seven-figure advertising push that would include television and radio ads. After objecting to the attacks, McConnell’s political team came away with an understanding — if not an assurance — that America First Policies would not hit Heller hard on TV, a source familiar with the talks told BuzzFeed News on Monday.
But the group announced it would stick with its plans, and earlier Tuesday released a 30-second ad that Montgomery said would be backed by more than $1 million. The spot is tough, though tamer than the social media hits that included Pelosi’s name and image.
“Obamacare is rapidly racing towards collapse … but now with strong leadership and a chance to repeal and replace Obamacare with patient-centered care that protects American families,” the narrator says. “Sen. Dean Heller is saying, ‘No.’ Call Sen. Heller, tell him America needs him to keep his promise: Vote ‘yes’ to repeal and replace Obamacare.”
The TV ad was first reported by Politico.
Steve Dipaola / Reuters
Spokespeople at the US State Department and Department of Homeland Security say more information about the implementation of President Donald Trump's travel ban will be coming Thursday — the same day the ban could go into effect.
News organizations reported on Wednesday night, however, that the State Department was already alerting US embassies and consulates across the world about new policies for enacting the executive order.
On Monday, just before 10:30 a.m., the Supreme Court partially lifted federal court injunctions of the travel and refugee bans laid out in Trump's revised March 6 executive order. The high court's ruling allows the government to enforce the ban for people with no connections to the US, but keeps the injunctions in place for "foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."
Under a June 14 memorandum signed by Trump, the bans can go into effect 72 hours after courts allow them to be enforced. That timeline means the bans could take effect as soon as 10:30 a.m. on Thursday, June 29.
The federal government has yet to say publicly when the bans will go into effect, but CNN reported that a senior administration official said the ban is to go into effect at 8 p.m. Thursday — timing that matched what a nongovernmental source told BuzzFeed News was expected. The federal government also has not publicly specified how agencies will define and enforce "a credible claim of a bona fide relationship."
James Lawler Duggan / Reuters
"We continue to work with the Departments of State and Justice on the way-forward for implementation of the Executive Order based on the Supreme Court’s ruling," Homeland Security spokesperson Joanne Talbot told BuzzFeed News on Wednesday afternoon. "We’ll release additional information tomorrow."
Nonetheless, on Wednesday evening, the Associated Press and, later Reuters, reviewed a State Department cable sent to US embassies and consulates, laying out the department's criteria for determining who has the "bona fide relationship" required to travel to the US.
As the AP described it, a visa applicant from one of the six affected countries "must prove a relationship with a parent, spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law or sibling already in the United States to be eligible."
According to both reports, many significant familial relationships would not qualify under the new policy. "©lose family 'does not include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés, and any other "extended" family members,'" Reuters wrote, quoting the cable.
Refugee applicants would, for the most part, be subject to the same requirements, according to the AP.
Asked about the cable and the new reports on travel ban policies, State Department spokesperson Pooja Jhunjhunwala wrote, "The AP story references internal Department communications, which we do not comment on."
As to the timing of the ban's implementation, she echoed the Homeland Security statement, saying that the State Department "can provide updates on timing tomorrow, as they become available."
The immediate implementation of the original January travel ban executive order led to significant confusion at airports across the country, with the chaos serving as a backdrop for the lawsuits that began appearing in courts that weekend.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs in both cases challenging the ban before the Supreme Court told BuzzFeed News Wednesday that they have received no information from the federal government about its implementation plans.
The Justice Department, meanwhile, initially referred questions to the Homeland Security and State departments. After the AP story was published, a Justice spokesperson reiterated that the department had not released any information about the new policies.
Earlier in the week, a spokesperson had said the Justice Department would be making one of the most significant decisions before the bans are implemented. In a briefing on Tuesday, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told reporters the department "will be looking to the Department of Justice to get more clarification on what a bona fide relationship will be."
Nauert explained that State was working with Justice and Homeland Security to establish "what that terminology will look like." Referring to the Justice Department, she said, "They’ll make that designation and determination, and then we’ll follow through with it."
Nauert added that "everybody wants to get this right," so "they’ll probably take their time – as much time as they have – to make sure they get it right so that we can get that information and then get that out to our folks overseas."
Still, there was not much clarity at all in the Tuesday briefing because, as Nauert acknowledged, "[T]his is all still in flux and the lawyers are going through it."
The State Department had provided no on-the-record response to BuzzFeed News' inquiries about the department's implementation plans earlier Wednesday.
Under the revised travel ban, the six countries subject to the 90-day ban are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
As to the refugee program — which will be halted for 120 days for those without credible claims of ties to the US — Nauert did state that it would not go into effect for those refugees scheduled to travel to the US through July 6.
"[W]e have advised our refugee resettlement partners overseas that they should currently proceed with the resettlement of refugees who are scheduled to travel to the United States through July the 6th," she said. "Beyond July the 6th, we are not totally certain how that will work because, again, this is in flux, this is in progress."
Nauert also noted the country is about to reach the 50,000-refugee cap set by Trump in the order.
"We expect to reach that cap within the next week or so," Nauert said. Although the Supreme Court ordered that the cap cannot be used to halt refugees with "bona fide relationship" claims, the court otherwise allowed the 50,000-person limit to go into effect.