Articles on this Page
- 06/28/17--17:14: _The Senate Intellig...
- 06/28/17--17:50: _The Case Of The Mys...
- 06/29/17--12:50: _It Sounds Like The ...
- 06/29/17--14:02: _Texas Attorney Gene...
- 06/29/17--14:02: _Texas’s Illegal Exe...
- 06/30/17--17:53: _The Trump-"Morning ...
- 07/05/17--15:56: _Hobby Lobby Will Gi...
- 07/06/17--12:20: _An Important LGBT R...
- 07/06/17--13:38: _Handmaids Are Poppi...
- 07/06/17--18:03: _Trump's Poland Spee...
- 07/06/17--20:29: _Hawaii Asks Appeals...
- 07/07/17--17:01: _A Court Is Consider...
- 07/08/17--07:06: _CNN Is Blaming The ...
- 07/08/17--12:05: _Voters Are Withdraw...
- 07/10/17--04:54: _This Music Publicis...
- 07/10/17--13:46: _Donald Trump Jr. Ha...
- 07/12/17--09:26: _What The Donald Tru...
- 07/12/17--13:00: _White House Officia...
- 07/12/17--13:20: _These Two Democrats...
- 07/12/17--19:01: _Paul Ryan’s Politic...
- 06/28/17--17:50: The Case Of The Mysterious Trump Portraits On The Hill
- 06/29/17--14:02: Texas Attorney General Threatens To Sue Trump If He Doesn't End DACA
- 07/06/17--18:03: Trump's Poland Speech Shows That Stephen Miller Never Left
- 07/08/17--07:06: CNN Is Blaming The White House For Press Attacks On Jeff Zucker
- 07/12/17--09:26: What The Donald Trump Jr. Emails Don’t Say
- 07/12/17--19:01: Paul Ryan’s Political Team Is Still Raising A Lot Of Money
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 27, 2017.
Aaron Bernstein / Reuters
Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Mark Warner says the panel is moving beyond the initial stage of its Russia investigation to one that includes interviewing key players from the Trump campaign who have been cited in the press as having potential links to Russia.
“People like me have said ‘lots of smoke’,” Warner told reporters Wednesday. “Well, part of the reason we don’t know what the source of that smoke is because we’ve not had the chance yet to talk to any of the individuals who’ve kind of created some of the smoke. Now we’re getting into that phase.”
The first phase of the investigation involved interviewing members of the intelligence community about its findings regarding Russian meddling in the last presidential election. Warner said the next stage will likely garner more media attention due to the profile of the people with which the committee will speak next.
Warner said the committee expects Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law who also serves as a senior White House adviser, will keep his commitment to testify to the committee voluntarily.
Warner said he is “also pleased” that the committee is making “great progress” in obtaining financial documents from the Treasury Department’s financial crimes network related to the Trump campaign. Warner said they have the “first tranche” of documents “and are getting the second tranche.”
Committee Chairman Richard Burr told reporters after a public hearing on Russian election interference Wednesday morning that he thinks the committee could wrap up its Russia probe by the end of the year, but admitted that the timeline is “aspirational.”
Warner also confirmed Wednesday evening that the committee has “a commitment” to view memos written by former FBI Director James Comey about his interactions with President Donald Trump.
“We have a commitment to get appropriate access to the Comey memos,” Warner told reporters on Capitol Hill. “I’m pleased, I think it’s critical information that we have to have as part of our review process.”
Comey said he created unclassified memos recounting his discussions with Trump because he was worried the president might lie about their conversations. Comey said he was particularly uncomfortable with February meeting with Trump in the Oval Office, during which the president asked everyone but Comey to leave and allegedly pressured him to drop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.
Though Comey has testified publicly about the contents of the memos, Warner said he’s “anxious to see his contemporaneous reflections on the meeting, particularly the Feb. 14th meeting,” and that the committee would gain access to the memos “soon.” It’s unclear whether the memos will be made public.
Earlier in the day, Burr also said the committee had “a commitment” to access the memos, Politico reported.
But both Burr and Warner would not reveal the source of the commitment to access the memos. Warner joked that since he was having a drink with Burr later, he wanted to make sure their statements were in sync.
A BuzzFeed News investigation.
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence
Pool / Getty Images
Vice President Mike Pence sent a jolt into the crowded Republican race for Ohio governor this week when he used a visit to the state to wrap one hopeful in a warm political embrace.
Pence gave Rep. Jim Renacci a seat on Air Force Two’s Wednesday flight to Cleveland and then was effusive with his praise for the congressman in a speech at a local sheet metal factory.
Renacci is one four high-profile Republicans running to succeed term-limited Gov. John Kasich in 2018. He has built his campaign around the selling point that he is the candidate closest to President Donald Trump and the anti-establishment movement the president has cultivated.
“I’m grateful to be joined by another friend of mine,” Pence said at the event, an official administration visit to promote Trump’s policy agenda. “A strong partner of this administration, a leader who represents Ohio with such distinction in Washington, DC, Congressman Jim Renacci is here. Jim, would you mind standing up?”
Pence added: “You know, I was for Jim Renacci before it was cool. I really was. I got to know him before he was even elected to the Congress. Now he serves on the powerful Ways and Means Committee. He’s been a great champion of economic growth and jobs here in Ohio, and I am truly honored — truly honored — that you would be with us here today.”
Renacci’s team quickly moved to spin Pence’s kind words as, at the very least, a wink and a nod from the White House.
“Conservative businessman and Ohio gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci arrived aboard Air Force Two this afternoon with Vice President Mike Pence to join the vice president as he delivered his remarks at Tendon Manufacturing Inc.” the Renacci campaign wrote in a Wednesday evening email that featured a video clip of Pence’s praise. Aside from a transcript, it avoided overt reference to Renacci’s job as a four-term congressman.
The email concluded: “After the vice president’s visit today, it is safe to say that there is only one candidate in the race for governor of Ohio that the administration views as truly with them.”
Is it safe to say that? Pence advisers, including Nick Ayers, who on Thursday was announced as the vice president’s chief of staff, did not initially respond to inquiries from BuzzFeed News. After this story published, a source close to the vice president's team called to say that Pence's remarks were not tantamount to an endorsement.
Another aide, Marty Obst, responded via email. "The vice president was in no way making an endorsement but rather a personal comment to an old friend at an official event," he wrote. "However this has no bearing on what the president or vice president may do with respect to the Ohio gubernatorial campaign."
Ohio Republican Party spokesman Blaine Kelly said officials at the state party, which is neutral in the primary, "are not reading into the vice president’s compliment of Congressman Renacci."
Republicans nationally are watching the White House closely to pick up any signs of favoritism, particularly in competitive primaries, as the 2018 midterms approach. And Pence has recently embraced a role as the GOP’s top political asset.
The GOP in Ohio is divided between Trump Republicans and Kasich Republicans, with a little overlap. Renacci’s effort to stake an exclusive claim to Trumpism and its followers has rankled Republicans partial to his three rivals: Attorney General Mike DeWine, Secretary of State Jon Husted, and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
Many Trump Republicans remain furious that Kasich didn’t endorse or even vote for Trump after losing the GOP nomination to Trump last year. Trump won the state by 8 points, and appealing to his voters without alienating Kasich allies could prove a delicate primary dance.
Kasich and Renacci are not close — the congressman has even spoken critically of the governor.
Earlier this week, Renacci’s campaign trumpeted an endorsement from an organization that promotes itself as the oldest and largest tea party group on Facebook. In announcing the support, the group slammed Kasich: “Jim is a man of integrity and during the presidential primary, he wisely endorsed Donald Trump instead of that lowlife John Kasich!” Shortly after announcing the tea party group’s support in an email that linked to the Facebook post trashing Kasich, Renacci distanced himself from the “lowlife” comment.
“While Jim is honored to earn the endorsement of a rapidly growing number and wide range of grassroots conservative organizations, he accepts those endorsements as a testament to his own platform and record, and not based upon their various views on other candidates or officeholders,” Renacci spokesperson James Slepian said in response to a question from BuzzFeed News. “Jim has great respect for Gov. Kasich and does not share that view of him.”
The Renacci endorsement was posted by Mike Michaels, who on his Facebook page identifies himself as the national tea party director for Citizens for Trump. That organization — along with Bikers for Trump, another organization that supports the president — endorsed Renacci earlier this month. The influence these groups have over Ohio voters could be tiny, but their blessings have helped Renacci promote himself as the Trump-friendliest candidate.
DeWine and Taylor could be competing more for the Kasich Republicans. Kasich has signaled a preference for Taylor, his deputy for two terms, while some of his loyalists favor the attorney general. Husted is not overtly aligned with either faction. All three are trying to build coalitions between Kasich and Trump backers.
Husted spokesperson Josh Eck, responding to Renacci’s attempts to depict Pence’s comments as a sign the White House has a favorite, texted a clip from an interview last year in which Trump praised Husted to a Columbus TV station: “He’s excellent, by the way, I have to tell you.”
Eck wondered: “Support? Does this mean President Trump supports Jon Husted?”
Jason Redmond / AFP / Getty Images
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Thursday urged the Trump administration to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) — the Obama administration's executive effort to protect so-called DREAMers in the face of congressional inaction. If not, Paxton and 10 other statewide officials say they will take the administration to court.
Paxton's move comes in the wake of the Trump administration's decision to end Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). The Trump administration recently announced a formal end to DAPA — which had been put on hold by the federal courts — and an expansion of DACA that President Obama had signed at the time.
But notably, the Trump administration has said that the original DACA program will continue.
On Thursday, Paxton — joined by nine other attorneys general and one governor — asked US Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end DACA altogether. What's more, they wrote, if the Trump administration doesn't end DACA by Sept. 5, they will amend the existing lawsuit against DAPA and the DACA expansion to include claims against the entire DACA program.
That lawsuit is before US District Judge Richard Hanen, who has repeatedly and harshly criticized the federal government's DAPA and DACA programs — and the Justice Department's defense of them.
Notably, Paxton's letter includes just 10 total states. The original DAPA and DACA expansion lawsuit included backing from 26 states — a drop off of 16.
Today's letter is signed by the attorneys general of Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia — as well as the governor of Idaho.
The states in the initial litigation that were not represented on Thursday's letter are: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, and Wisconsin.
Read the letter:
Pat Sullivan / AP
Three-thousand vials of a banned execution drug that Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska have been fighting for the right to use have now expired, and Texas has vowed to buy more.
The states paid $75,000 for the drug — sodium thiopental, a powerful anesthetic — two years ago despite a warning from federal officials that it would not be allowed into the country. The shipments were seized, and since that time, the states have been engaged in a legal standoff with the Food and Drug Administration, arguing that they should be permitted to use the drug for "law enforcement purpose only."
While the sides fought in court, however, the drugs expired and may no longer be effective. Texas has indicated that it plans to buy more.
Doing so is not a simple matter.
Outlawed in the United States, sodium thiopental is still used in other countries, but most reputable drugmakers have enacted stringent measures to keep their products from being used for executions. Which is what led the three states, last time around, to a supplier in India named Chris Harris.
Harris has billed himself as a manufacturer of the drug, but a BuzzFeed News investigation cast doubt on his claims. He has no scientific expertise. He has listed two Indian facilities with the FDA and the Drug Enforcement Administration — one is a small rented office space, and the other is an old apartment that he left still owing rent on.
Instead, Harris purchased the drugs from another manufacturer in India, slapped his label on the vials, and then resold them at a massive profit.
Harris has repeatedly declined to speak with BuzzFeed News. “I think you people don’t understand English,” Harris wrote in 2015. “I have said I won't waste my time replying to you as you will write whatever you want anyways. STOP SENDING ME MAILS.”
According to FDA documents obtained by BuzzFeed News through an open records request, his drugs expired in May 2017.
A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said the lawsuit would continue.
In an affidavit last year that has not been made public until now, a state official whose name was redacted wrote that Texas "intends to continue importing thiopental sodium from the same foreign source, and with the same labeling, as the entry that FDA is currently detaining."
A TDCJ spokesperson said that the state had not yet purchased “any further drug from this supplier,” and would “reevaluate the situation at the conclusion of this case.”
In 2013, a federal appeals court found that the FDA had “a mandatory obligation” to block all illegal shipments of the drug. Since then, the FDA has maintained that it is “required to refuse entry” to the shipments.
Last time around, Texas initially planned to buy from another Indian supplier, but the deal fell through when the supplier was raided by the Indian government. Its employees were all arrested for allegedly selling opioids and party drugs illegally to Americans and Europeans.
Read the documents:
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
The ongoing feud between the hosts of MSNBC’s Morning Joe and President Trump took a turn on Friday when Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough published an op-ed, “Donald Trump is not well,” in the Washington Post.
In it, they wrote, “This year, top White House staff members warned that the National Enquirer was planning to publish a negative article about us unless we begged the president to have the story spiked.”
The story — ”Joe & Mika: TV Couple’s Sleazy Cheating Scandal” — was published on June 2.
Quickly, some of Trump’s toughest opponents on Twitter questioned whether laws had been broken.
While it is always possible to raise questions of potential criminal wrongdoing, too much remains unknown about the specifics of the Trump-Brzezinski-Scarborough love-hate triangle to draw many conclusions other than — even if it happened how Brzezinski and Scarborough say it did — that any prosecution likely would be an uphill fight. Experts say that, based on what we know now, there appears to be no criminal issue. At most, there are are too many unanswered questions to be able to determine whether a criminal case could be made.
The coercion and blackmail laws are similar, criminalizing when a person intentionally causes a person to do or not do something with a threat of — relevant here — exposing a secret, “whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule.” The federal extortion law is basically a law against coercion by federal officials.
Harvard Law School professor Andrew Manuel Crespo, who teaches and writes in the areas of criminal law and procedure, told BuzzFeed News that many questions would need to be answered to know whether it is even possible that the actions violated any coercion, blackmail, or extortion laws.
First, he said, more context is needed regarding what the conversation actually was.
Under New York and DC law, a defendant needs to threaten the target of his blackmail or otherwise instill fear in that person that some bad consequence will follow if the demands are not met. But to understand whether or not there was such a threat being made, more would have to be known about the context of the language used and the intent of the speaker — did the alleged Trump associate seem serious, for example, or was it instead simply an offhand remark or joke?
Additionally, Crespo said, New York and DC law require that the threat be to expose “a secret” that would subject the target “to hatred, contempt, or ridicule.” However, whether the facts here constitute a secret could depend on how commonly it already was known that Scarborough and Brzezinski had been dating at a specific time. Even if a secret, there would have to be a greater understanding of how the secret was viewed — was it damaging in a sense that it could fairly be considered to cause harm to their reputations? (He noted that at least one New York court opinion suggests that threatening to expose an affair could count under that statute.)
On Friday, as the day went on, more claims about the episode came out — that, according to New York magazine sources, Jared Kushner discussed the National Enquirer story with Scarborough. All kinds of information remains unknown, including who initiated the exchange between Kushner and Scarborough, and what the context and substance of it was. (Scarborough has tweeted that he has records — but he hasn’t released them.)
Justin Dillon, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, told BuzzFeed News that he didn’t think the current claims laid out a case for blackmail.
"I would call it icky horsetrading, but it is not blackmail. It's more like, ‘You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.’ Blackmail is, ‘If you don't scratch my back, I'll stab you in the back,’" Dillon, a partner at KaiserDillon in Washington who has a white collar defense practice, said.
With respect to the federal extortion statute, Crespo noted that there would need to be a better understanding of what was asked for, because extortion generally requires that the defendant tried to extract money or something of economic value from the victim. If it was simply a private apology, for example, if would be difficult to argue how that would be sufficient to prove a violation of the law. Even if the apology were to be public, some value likely would need to be shown. If this was an attempt to gain, at most, political capital, not commercial value, that could be a much trickier case to prove.
Dillon noted another distinction — one that, based on the facts alleged by Scarborough and Brzezinski so far, led him not to see a case for extortion.
"It would be one thing if he were saying, ‘If you don't apologize to me, I will make the Enquirer run this story.’ But there's a difference between sort of refusing to intervene to prevent a bad thing from happening and affirmatively making a bad thing happen, and that is a distinction that matters under the law," Dillon said.
Shanlon Wu, a former federal prosecutor in Washington, DC, added that extortion typically involves a threat to cause some sort of harm — violence or spreading false information, for instance — which he said is different from a White House aide saying that Trump would not intervene to stop something from happening that he didn't directly control.
Beyond all of that, Crespo noted, it's not clear the extent of Trump's involvement in the conversations, so it's not clear whether Trump himself would be implicated in any potential violations of his associates.
In terms of other potential crimes, the former prosecutors saw nothing in the current allegations being made publicly leading to likely violations.
If Trump had asked for money in exchange for making the Enquirer story go away, Dillon said, that could amount to bribery, given his position as president — but nothing like that has been alleged.
If Scarborough and Brzezinski were threatened with some sort of government action if they didn't apologize to Trump or lay off criticizing him — an IRS audit or surveillance by a law enforcement agency, for instance — that would be an abuse of power, said Wu, who has a white-collar and criminal defense practice at Wu, Grohovsky & Whipple, in DC. But, again, nothing like that has been alleged here.
Based on the information made public so far, this situation seemed more like "clumsy political leverage," Wu said.
As Tribe’s regular legal sparring partner in recent months, Alan Dershowitz, wrote on Twitter, “Threatening to smear someone who smears him is not extortion.”
Ed Andrieski / AP
In 2010 and 2011, a series of packages were shipped to Hobby Lobby's headquarters or one of the craft retailer's affiliates. Shipping labels described the contents as clay tiles or tile samples of minimal value, but, according to federal prosecutors, they were actually valuable ancient artifacts of Iraqi origin being smuggled into the United States.
Hobby Lobby has now agreed to forfeit thousands of antiquities that it bought over the years — via a process that prosecutors say was "fraught with red flags" — and pay an additional $3 million to resolve any claims by the US government, according to court papers filed on Wednesday.
US laws restrict the import of Iraqi cultural items that were looted from Iraqi institutions or where "a reasonable suspicion exists that they were illegally removed." Iraq bars the export of antiquities and restricts private possession.
According to prosecutors, an expert hired by Hobby Lobby to advise the company on its acquisitions warned that antiquities likely from Iraq carried "considerable risk," and noted that hundreds of thousands of objects — including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, which Hobby Lobby ultimately purchased — had been looted from Iraq since 1990.
US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York / Via justice.gov
Hobby Lobby reached an agreement with the government to give up thousands of artifacts and to adopt new internal measures to make sure any future acquisitions comply with customs laws and regulations. The company will also have to file regular reports for 18 months about new purchases of "cultural property." Hobby Lobby did not admit any criminal wrongdoing.
Hobby Lobby said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News that the company "did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process," which led to "regrettable mistakes."
“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Hobby Lobby President Steve Green said in the statement. “Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today’s settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved.”
The forfeiture comes as Green prepares to open the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, a project that he has spearheaded and that will reportedly feature items from his vast private collection of biblical artifacts. The forfeiture case filings don't mention the museum, but the company said in a statement on Wednesday that Hobby Lobby had been buying artifacts over the years to share "with the world in public institutions and museums."
The US attorney's office in Brooklyn, which prosecuted the case, said in a statement on Wednesday that the buying process "was fraught with red flags," and that Green signed off on the purchases. At an inspection of artifacts that Green attended in 2010, for instance, prosecutors said that the items were "displayed informally" and often with little protective material around them.
When Hobby Lobby received a statement from one of its dealers about the provenance of several thousand artifacts, the company and its agents never contacted the person listed as the custodian, prosecutors said. And in December 2010, Green authorized $1.6 million to be paid to seven bank accounts that prosecutors said were associated with five different people.
Hobby Lobby and its affiliates received at least three packages of artifacts, according to court filings, while five other packages were intercepted by US customs officials. The intercepted packages had shipping labels that described the contents as "hand made clay tiles" manufactured in Turkey, valued between $1 to $5 each. In reality, prosecutors said, the artifacts were ancient cuneiform tablets or clay bullae valued at hundreds of dollars apiece, according to the invoice.
The Daily Beast first reported in 2015 that Hobby Lobby was the subject of a federal investigation relating to the tablets — highlighting the 2011 seizure of "somewhere between 200 to 300 small clay tablets" en route to the company's headquarters. Hobby Lobby, in response, told reporters it was cooperating with investigators.
The Justice Department will publish notice of the forfeiture. If no one files a claim, the court will forfeit the property to the United States. Then, the government of Iraq could petition the Department of Justice for the artifacts. The head of the Justice Department's Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section will make the final decision about what happens to the artifacts.
Courtesy of Lambda Legal
After a federal appeals court said it will not reconsider Jameka Evans's sexual-orientation discrimination case — which it had rejected earlier this year — the group backing the lawsuit said it would be asking the Supreme Court to review the case.
The case raises the question of whether civil rights laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be read to protect LGBT people from discrimination as part of bans on sex discrimination.
If the justices agree to hear the case, it could add another high-profile case to the Supreme Court's upcoming term, which is scheduled to begin in October and already is slated to include cases addressing President Trump's travel ban, limits to partisan gerrymandering, and religious exemptions from civil rights laws.
The argument, advanced over the past several years by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, is that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are types of sex discrimination.
Evans's case, specifically, raises the sexual orientation portion of the question. She is represented by Lambda Legal, an LGBT legal advocacy group.
The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in backing this view earlier this year, called it a "common-sense reality ... that it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex."
The court hearing Evans's appeal against Georgia Regional Hospital, however, did not reach that decision. In March, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that a 1979 decision from the court controlled the outcome in Evans's case.
"Evans ... argues that she has stated a claim under Title VII by alleging that she endured workplace discrimination because of her sexual orientation. She has not. Our binding precedent forecloses such an action," the Eleventh Circuit held. The court went on to note, "Under our prior precedent rule, we are bound to follow a binding precedent in this Circuit unless and until it is overruled by this court en banc or by the Supreme Court."
En banc review means that the full Eleventh Circuit — as opposed to a three-judge panel — would hear the case. Evans made such a request for en banc review, but, on Thursday, the court denied that request in a one-page order, stating that none of the eleven judges in regular active service on the court even requested a vote on whether to hear the case en banc.
As such, the only remaining option for her case is to seek Supreme Court review — a step that Lambda Legal said it would be taking.
“We plan to take this to the Supreme Court. This extremely troubling decision does not slow the momentum that is building behind our efforts to combat employment discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual workers in the courts," Greg Nevins, a lawyer for Evans with Lambda Legal, said.
Handmaids in Poland on Thursday.
Czarek Sokolowski / AP
As President Trump spoke in Poland on Thursday, a small group of women gathered in Warsaw to oppose him. Draped in ruby red cloaks and wearing white bonnets, the women stood silently together, eyes forward, as news photographers snapped their picture and demonstrators around them chanted and held signs.
These are the Handmaids — and they’ve gone global.
Ever since Hulu began promoting its television adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s classic novel The Handmaid’s Tale earlier this year, legions of women have found inspiration in the show’s costumes as they look for new ways to oppose the Trump administration and Republicans nationally. Raging against an agenda they see as anti-women, Handmaids have been spotted protesting in Texas, Ohio, New Hampshire, Missouri, New York, and, of course, Washington, DC.
The speed with which the Handmaid look has spread among activists has shocked the show’s costume designer, Ane Crabtree. “I’ve been designing for 28 years now but I have never in my life experienced anything like this. Not even close,” Crabtree told BuzzFeed News.
“It seemed to set off like wildfire around the country,” she said.
Set in a dystopian future, Atwood’s 1985 book imagined a world where the US government has been replaced with an ultraconservative theocracy in a new country named Gilead. Women are banned from working in the militarized state and divided into social classes — the lowest being Handmaids, who are kept as slaves and raped in order to produce children. Atwood said in February she believed that Trump’s election was partly responsible for the book’s recent spike in sales. (Through her agent, the author declined to comment for this story.)
While Hulu representatives were not keen to discuss politics, the television adaptation has been the inspiration for the Handmaids protest movement. In early March, the company hired actors to wear the costumes and walk around Austin’s South by Southwest festival to promote the show. The stunt caught the eye of Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Texas. “Please tell me they’re going to walk around inside the [Texas] Capitol,” Busby wrote in a Facebook post. “It would be such a missed opportunity if they don’t.”
The idea quickly turned into action, as a small group of NARAL supporters began planning a protest of Texas Senate Bill 25 — which supporters say is designed to stop doctors being sued if a child is born with a disability, but which critics contend would lead to doctors lying to women about the health of their fetuses. NARAL reached out to Crabtree for advice, and although she couldn’t give them the exact design specifications, she did send some tips for how best to create the look.
The women quickly ordered Handmaids costumes online, but when the costumes arrived the cloaks were pink instead of red, NARAL supporter Erin Walter told BuzzFeed News. One of the women raced to an Austin costume rental store and managed to find several “Red Riding Hood” cloaks, Walter said.
Walter, a Unitarian Universalist minister, said donning the costume for the first time felt like a “sacred” moment. “It really was an emotional experience,” she said. “I was not prepared for how haunting and powerful it would feel to put on that red robe and bonnet.”
Photos from the March 20 demonstration at the Texas Capitol immediately went viral and inspired other actions, for which Walter gives credit to Busby’s initial idea. (Busby was on vacation and not available to comment for this story, a NARAL spokesperson said.)
“Heather Busby had a genius idea,” said Walter, “because we have there the intersection of literature — many women love that book — as well as a pop culture moment, thanks to the show. Then we also have a time in our country when women’s rights are under attack.”
Eric Gay / AP
For Crabtree, the Hulu costume designer, fashion and costume have always been a mode for self-expression and politics, dating back to the period she spent studying abroad in the UK in the 1980s. “The whole punk movement was very educational for me in terms of what people could do to protest politically,” she said.
Crabtree believes the simplicity and symbolism of her costumes have helped them spread in reaction to the conservative shift in US politics.
“I just think that it’s easy for folks because it’s the color red. It’s like an alarm call,” she said. “It’s something that is considered present day but speaks to a past time when women had no rights, so it’s got a duality in its visual strength in putting out a message where you don’t have to say a word.”
Crabtree said part of the costumes’ strength as a protest symbol is the juxtaposition it creates when Handmaids wander among the general public. “Because everyone is dressed in suits or business attire. It’s a beautiful, shocking visual — most especially in mass,” she said.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
Stephanie Martin, an Austin-based teacher who joined later Handmaids protests, said the general public interacts with her differently when she wears the costume than they do when she's in regular clothing. “When people around you see you, you can feel them reacting sometimes,” she said. “You can feel them reacting to it, whether they’re angry or sad. It’s a very charged atmosphere once a Handmaid enters the room.”
Handmaids have been protesting since before the Hulu show first aired. In April 2012, a group of Canadian women wearing red cloaks and winged, white hats — similar to the cornettes worn in the sitcom The Flying Nun — appeared outside the parliament building in Ottawa. Dubbing themselves the Radical Handmaids, the women found inspiration in the Atwood novel to oppose a motion by a Conservative Party MP to debate when human life begins. “The Handmaids Tale is not an instruction manual,” their protest signs read.
“We wanted to do something that was colorful, cultural, and creative, and wasn’t your typical blah-blah rally,” Aalya Ahmad, a Carleton University adjunct professor and Radical Handmaids founder, recalled to BuzzFeed News. “With a little group like ours that didn’t have many resources, we thought we could do something I like to call ‘cause-play’ — rebels with a cause.”
The motion to reopen the abortion debate in Canada was not ultimately successful in parliament, but the Radical Handmaids continued to organize and appear at subsequent events in Canada.
Then earlier this year, the group, which consists of about 10 women but has more than 2,000 followers on Facebook, began noticing the red and white costumes popping up south of the border.
Handmaids now trade fabric tips and sewing patterns with protesters across the country via Facebook, Martin said. “Man, we’ve got it down to an art now. We can whip them out pretty quick,” she said.
On Twitter, Atwood reacts with delight each time someone flags a new Handmaids protest. “My goodness!” she exclaimed on Thursday in response to the protesters in Poland.
Crabtree, meanwhile, is preparing to return to the Hulu show for its second season, mindful of the impact her work has already had on protest culture. “I’d like to just start with something in a purist way as an artist and as a collaborator, and design something wholly because of story,” she said. “But I’m not gonna lie: it’s now in the back of my mind.”
In a speech that roused supporters and alarmed opponents, Donald Trump brought doom-and-gloom, nationalistic flair to his speech in Warsaw on Thursday — linking Poland's hardships throughout history with coming battles yet to be waged by the West against terrorists.
"As the Polish experience reminds us," Trump said, "the defense of the West ultimately rests not only on means but also on the will of its people to prevail and be successful and get what you have to have." The fundamental question of our time, he continued, "is whether the West has the will to survive."
"Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?" Trump said.
If those words sound familiar, it's because they were written by senior adviser Stephen Miller — a young aide who has had a stratospheric ascent, and who is seen by Trump allies as gifted yet wild-eyed, and a keeper of the Trump flame.
Miller, 31, came out of the gate wielding tremendous influence, writing both Trump's "American carnage" inauguration speech, and the original controversial ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries that was stalled in court (a watered-down version of the ban was later written, and likewise challenged in court).
Then came the awkward TV appearances in which Miller, known more as a policy wonk than political spokesperson, scared off even Trump insiders. In one of those appearances on Fox News, Miller argued that the revised travel ban would "have the same basic policy outcome for the country, but you're going to be responsive to a lot of very technical issues" — a comment a federal judge later used as evidence to uphold a federal injunction against the ban. Recently, the Supreme Court agreed to review the case, and partially allowed the revised ban to take effect.
Since then, Miller has receded from the spotlight, becoming much more of a behind-the-scenes player. But by writing high-profile speeches like the one on Islam during Trump's first foreign trip, and Thursday's Poland address, Miller — perhaps as much as anyone else in the president's orbit — has been able to imprint his worldview on the Trump administration.
As senior strategist Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions drew the president's ire, Miller sought to make his own way in the administration. While a close ally of both Bannon and Sessions (Miller worked for Sessions in the Senate), he's sidled up to Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, according to reports — letting it be known that he wasn't exactly team Bannon after all.
"He's a survivor," said longtime Trump adviser and friend Roger Stone, adding that Miller is among those who is a keeper of the Trump flame. "He’s true to the Reagan vision — he’s indispensable there because many of the people involved don’t understand how Trump got elected.”
A senior administration official disputed that Miller ever felt the need to recede from view in the first place, noting that that characterization is often "grounded in TV appearances, which is not the correct measure."
"He is always a key player, consistently," the official said. "He has never faded."
Besides the speeches, Miller was in the news last week because of a Politico report that detailed an argument with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over demands that the former Exxon Mobil CEO be "tougher on immigration and make changes to the programs they control."
Still, a source close to the White House pointed to Miller's short-lived TV career early in the administration as one of the factors that led to Miller doing more behind the scenes.
"I think he’s an incredible mind, he’s sort of another Bannon," the source said. "What I can’t stand is having him in front of camera. He’s grating, unlikeable, he’s preachy. He's a good guy with amazing ideas, but not everyone is the right spokesman for their ideas."
Those ideas, on immigration, have found a natural home in the Sessions Justice Department, in a crackdown which has led to more people being seen as a priority for deportation. As a Sessions aide in the Senate, Miller helped lead the charge against the 2013 immigration bill.
Miller, who has a history of writing in support of strong anti-terrorism measures, again roused the president's allies on Thursday with words written for Trump on Islamic terror.
Segueing from Poland's bitter fight against communism, Trump said, "We are confronted by another oppressive ideology — one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe. America and Europe have suffered one terror attack after another. We’re going to get it to stop."
Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend and adviser who speaks to the president, said the speech was one of unity, and showed Trump at his purest.
"Standing up for American values with strength and resolve — at his core Trump is a uniter not a divider, and that speech demonstrated that," he said.
But others saw the speech for what it was — not just a call for unity from the West, but an expression of battle lines against terror that the United States must have the will to defend, all elucidated by Miller himself.
"Holy cow, I wanted to stand up and cheer," the source close to the administration said. "It was rousing. He has real skills in the philosophy of the movement. We just have to keep him behind closed doors."
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin
Jason Redmond / AFP / Getty Images
The federal judge in Hawaii who initially halted enforcement of President Trump's revised travel ban said on Thursday that questions about the administration's current enforcement of the executive order should be directed to the Supreme Court, which allowed the ban to go into effect in part.
US District Judge Derrick Watson, who issued an injunction stopping large portions of the ban from going into effect, denied Hawaii's request to further clarify his injunction in the wake of the Supreme Court's late June order allowing partial enforcement of the travel and refugee bans.
Watson did not, however, rule on the merits of Hawaii's request, instead ruling that the questions Hawaii posed related not to his initial injunction, but instead to the Supreme Court's subsequent order narrowing the injunction.
"To be clear, the standard Plaintiffs ask this Court to clarify—i.e., 'a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States,'—is not set forth in any order of this Court," Watson wrote. "Because Plaintiffs seek clarification of the June 26, 2017 injunction modifications authored by the Supreme Court, clarification should be sought there, not here."
On Friday, Hawaii instead went to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, arguing that lower courts "routinely interpret the scope of remand orders from a court of appeals or the Supreme Court when the parties dispute their meaning."
In the filing, a request for emergency relief, the lawyers for Hawaii asked the appeals court to "enjoin the Government’s unlawful conduct" — barring the government from enforcing the ban in ways Hawaii argues are inappropriate in light of the Supreme Court's ruling — "order the District Court to issue an order clarifying the scope of the injunction."
The highly deferential order from Watson on Thursday followed earlier rulings from both appellate courts to review his injunction that resulted in the narrowing of the injunction. While Watson initially barred enforcement of the entire sections of the executive order relating to the travel ban and refugee ban, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit narrowed that slightly — allowing enforcement of the internal review procedures called for in the order, but keeping the actual bans on hold.
On June 26, the Supreme Court announced that it was narrowing the injunction even further, allowing the bans to be enforced partially while the justices review the case — but not against those with "a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."
The bans went into effect at 8 p.m. on June 29. In the hours beforehand, the State Department and Department of Homeland Security made public information about how the administration was interpreting that phrase. Initially, those with a "close familial relationship" — what counted as an exempted "bona fide relationship" with a person — included only "a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half."
It did not include "grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-laws and sisters-in-law, fiancés, and any other 'extended' family members."
This led Hawaii to go to Watson's court seeking clarification of his injunction, as amended by the Supreme Court's order.
As the ban went into effect, it soon became clear the administration had shifted its view on "fiancés" — moving them into the "close familial relationship" category. The federal government has not shifted any of the other relationships between categories.
The administration also maintains that, for refugees, having an established connection with, and receiving assurances of support from, a resettlement agency is not a sufficient connection with an entity to count as a bona fide relationship. In addition to the Hawaii plaintiffs, the plaintiffs in a lawsuit brought by the Pars Equality Center in federal court in Washington, DC, have challenged that decision by the administration. Pars Equality Center's request remains pending.
For now, though, Hawaii's request was denied by Watson, although he left open the possibility of the state asking the Supreme Court to rule on the clarification request.
Hawaii Attorney General Doug Chin did not immediately say what the state will be doing next — although he made clear it will keep trying to have a court review the administration's interpretation of the Supreme Court's order.
"While we understand Judge Watson’s direction to address our request to the United States Supreme Court, we must evaluate that against the normal course of order as it relates to appeals and the clarification of injunctions. Whatever course it takes, we will get this resolved," Chin said in a statement, noting, "The scope of the travel and refugee bans badly needs to be resolved and not just according to the Trump Administration’s interpretation."
Notably, while Watson deferred to the Supreme Court on Thursday, he also suggested he would gladly take back the case if the justices so desire.
"Of course, if the Supreme Court wishes for this Court to decide the merits of the issues raised by Plaintiffs’ Motion in the first instance, this Court will promptly do so," Watson wrote in a closing footnote to his order.
The key part of Thursday's ruling:
Supplied / Via documentcloud.org
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
A federal court on Friday heard arguments in a lawsuit alleging that the president's "election integrity" commission has violated federal privacy laws in its request for voter information from the states.
US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly held more than an hour of arguments over the Electronic Privacy Information Center's request that the commission be halted from collecting the information while the lawsuit is heard. She did not rule from the bench, but told the parties that she would try to issue a written ruling as soon as possible.
In the course of the arguments, a Justice Department lawyer acknowledged that one state, Arkansas, has transmitted voter information to the federal government thus far. The data was sent, the lawyer said, on Thursday.
In May, President Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. But its vice chair — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — has been the public face of the commission since.
The commission began as follow up to Trump's unfounded and repeated claim that 3 million to 5 millions illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election. The origin of the commission, its membership, and its aims have been criticized by many people, including some Republicans, since it was announced.
Kobach, on behalf of the commission, sent the letter requesting the voter information on June 28. Over the course of the next week, elections officials in nearly every state said the request went too far and that their state — including Kobach's own Kansas — would not be turning over all the information requested.
On Monday, July 3, the Electronic Privacy Information Center sued, alleging the commission's request violates the E-Government Act of 2002, which requires a Privacy Impact Assessment be completed before government engages in certain actions.
The group asked the federal district court in Washington, DC, to issue a temporary restraining order, halting the commission from collecting any of the information until the lawsuit is resolved. The Trump administration opposed the request, and — in the midst of a flurry of filings from both sides — Kollar-Kotelly set the Friday afternoon hearing.
At the arguments, held in the E. Barrett Prettyman US Courthouse, Kollar-Kotelly peppered EPIC's lawyer, Marc Rotenberg, and the Justice Department's Elizabeth Shapiro with questions about standing — whether EPIC or its members could point to harms it or they suffered as a result of the commission's failure to conduct a privacy assessment — and whether the presidential commission is subject to the E-Government Act.
Rotenberg detailed how it was EPIC's view — despite the government's characterization of the voter information as "publicly available" — that the states cannot send much of the information requested and the commission cannot receive it, in part due to the lack of the privacy assessment. That created individual harm to the group's advisory board members, Rotenberg argued, and organizational standing because EPIC has had to focus its time on addressing the commission's requests — and to do so without the benefit of the privacy assessment.
In addition to arguing that EPIC and its members lack standing, Shapiro's key argument for the commission was that the commission is not subject to the E-Government Act. Specifically, Shapiro argued that the commission is not an "agency" as defined in the act under which the assessment would be required.
On that front, however, Kollar-Kotelly's questions focused in part on the website where Kobach's letter directed states to send their information — the Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) site, found at https://safe.amrdec.army.mil/safe/Welcome.aspx. Specially, the army.mil address led Kollar-Kotelly to question whether the Army and Department of Defense are therefore involved in the commission's work.
Rotenberg initially pushed back and said that, if anything, the military's involvement was not permitted under Trump's executive order, which dictated that support for the commission was to come from the General Services Administration (GSA). Kollar-Kotelly, however, kept pressing the point to both sides. Shapiro, for her part, argued that the site is just a "conduit," although she later acknowledged that Arkansas had uploaded data to the SAFE site where it is being stored currently.
After a brief break, Kollar-Kotelly came back to the courtroom, asked a few more questions about the SAFE site, and urged EPIC to amend its lawsuit quickly to include the Defense Department if it wished to do so. She issued no ruling, noting the complexity of the issues, but added that she understood the importance of the timing in the TRO request and would attempt to issue a written ruling as soon as possible.
Shortly after court recessed, meanwhile, EPIC filed an amended complaint, adding the Defense Department as a defendant.
Mike Coppola / Getty Images
It was a classic New York Post image: in last Thursday’s print edition, under the headline “The Sitting Zuck,” CNN President Jeff Zucker is shown with his mouth duct taped, as AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spins the roll around his finger.
It’s been a tough few weeks for Zucker, who has presided over a string of missteps at CNN, namely the resignation of three well-known employees in the wake of a retracted Russia story, and, this week, a story carrying language that was poorly received by both journalists and the pro-Trump social internet about the Reddit user who claimed to create the wrestling GIF tweeted by the president.
The internal issues couldn’t have come at worse time for the network, stoking more “fake news” calls from President Donald Trump and creating a dark cloud over the pending merger between CNN’s parent company Time Warner and telecom giant AT&T, whose executives may ultimately come to control Zucker’s destiny.
Recent press accounts like the Post’s have suggested that Zucker’s future is very much in doubt, a narrative that people close to him say is bullshit cooked up by CNN’s enemies. Privately, CNN executives are blaming the White House for a coordinated campaign to place stories in friendly outlets in order to weaken the network while it is down.
“This smells of 1600 Penn, not Columbus Circle or Dallas,” said a CNN TV executive, referring to Time Warner and AT&T’s corporate headquarters.
It’s the kind of media duel familiar to Trump and Zucker, both hard-nosed New York executives and tabloid fixtures in their own right. Zucker’s allies are quick to remind that he has been a financially successful steward of CNN. The CNN president told the New York Times that the network was set to post more than $1 billion in profit this year, a figure that would make most media executives envious.
Still, there has been real fear within Time Warner that Trump’s ongoing war with CNN would prove to be a regulatory hurdle. Senior Time Warner brass have spoken frankly over concerns about the future of the merger in connection with the January publication of a dossier of explosive, unverified claims about Trump’s ties to Russia, according to a source familiar with the concerns. CNN had reported that a two-page synopsis of the report was given to then-President Obama and then-President-elect Trump, and shortly thereafter, BuzzFeed News published the document. (In the aftermath, Trump labeled CNN as “fake news” and BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage,” and CNN sought to distance its reporting from that of BuzzFeed News.)
Trump raised issue with the merger on the campaign trail, and he tweeted last month that “fake news CNN is looking at big management changes,” citing no sources. As Politico noted, there would be little reason from an antitrust perspective for Trump’s Justice Department to block the merger, despite White House aides’ positioning when they are on background with reporters. CNN sources say that any “deal” between AT&T and the White House that involved Zucker’s future would be another affront to the free press from the president.
Indeed, CNN executives argue the stories about Zucker are coming directly from the White House. The Daily Caller, citing a “source familiar with President Trump’s thinking,” reported Thursday that the White House doesn’t support the deal if Zucker remains president of the network.
A White House spokesperson did not return requests for comment.
The New York Post reported in its story, citing three sources familiar with AT&T executives’ thinking, that the company will “neutralize” Zucker should the telecom giant complete its merger with Time Warner, which CNBC noted could close in as soon as 60 days. The Post also suggests a few different possible scenarios: forcing Zucker out, granting a corporate title at Time Warner that relieves him of CNN duties, or even an outright sale of the network.
Speculation about Zucker’s future reignited again this week after the New York Times reported that White House advisers see the merger as a “potential point of leverage” in their battle with CNN — again, the kind of thing that CNN insiders argue is wishful thinking.
AT&T and Time Warner declined to comment for this story. Zucker did not return a request for comment. A CNN spokesperson refuted the various stories casting doubt on Zucker’s future.
Zucker also declined to comment to the Times about the merger, but told the paper that it wasn’t something that he thought about, and that he hadn’t discussed the acquisition with Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes.
The feud between Zucker’s CNN and Trump is personal. As New York magazine has reported, Trump feels personally betrayed by Zucker because he believes he helped get him the job at CNN (which CNN sources deny is true).
Mike Segar / Reuters
Voters are withdrawing their registrations in response to President Donald Trump’s controversial election commission's request to states to hand over voter information — but prominent Democrats say that's a very bad idea.
As of Friday, 46 states had refused to fully cooperate with the commission’s request, but Colorado, a state that had agreed to turn in publicly available information, had seen people looking to withdraw their information completely from their voter systems.
“What we’re hearing from voters is that they are concerned with the commission,” Haley McKean, a spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County Clerk in Colorado, told BuzzFeed News.
McKean said at least 160 people had withdrawn their information in the county since the start of July and that “dozens” of others had changed their information to confidential.
She said it is unclear at this point whether it is mostly Democrats who had concerns, but said that the county is looking to analyze the information.
“Colorado prides itself on its voter registration and its voter turnout,” Lynn Bartels, communications director for Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, told BuzzFeed News. “The idea that people are withdrawing their registration, even if it’s just temporary, is not news we want to hear."
Bartels said that people who plan to withdraw told her they would re-enroll once the information is sent to the White House.
But even if voters withdraw their information to avoid the list that will be handed over, Bartels said voters' public information has already been out there long enough for the Trump campaign and others to have acquired it.
The Denver Channel reported hundreds of Coloradans were looking to withdraw their registrations following Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams' announcement the state would comply at the end of June.
"We will provide publicly available information on the voter file, which is all they have asked for," Williams said in a release.
Bartels added that Williams thinks it's a "dangerous precedent" to not give public information to people requesting it, especially based on their political leanings.
On Twitter, some liberals have been threatening to withdraw their information, if they haven’t already done so, depending on whether their states decide to comply.
But Democrats who have been critical of the commission are encouraging voters not to withdraw in protest, arguing that the point of the commission is voter suppression and doing so would play right into the Trump administration’s hands.
Among those urging Democrats not to withdraw were former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer and former Missouri Secretary of State (and failed US Senate candidate) Jason Kander.
The White House did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
The vice chairman of the commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, gave states approximately two weeks to provide data points including birth dates, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, voting history, military status, and information about felony convictions.
In a statement last week, Kobach challenged the accuracy of reports saying most states had refused to comply with the request, calling them “patently false.”
“Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American's vote because the public has a right to know,” Kobach said.
The Trump administration created the commission in May to investigate alleged voter fraud and suppression in US elections. Trump has long claimed, without a scintilla of evidence, that millions voted illegally in the 2016 election.
“The A Team - headed to the White House!” Rob Goldstone wrote on the night of Trump’s election victory. Over the weekend, Goldstone — who represents the musician son of a billionaire in Russia — said he helped arrange a June 2016 meeting between the president’s son and a Russian lawyer who had been working to change US policy.
Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that a meeting had taken place in June 2016 between a Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort — key figures in the Trump Organization and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
Trump Jr. initially told the New York Times on Saturday that the conversation with Natalia Veselnitskaya was focused on "a program about the adoption of Russian children." In a second story, the Times reported that Trump Jr. "was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton" as part of the meeting. Much of what actually happened in the meeting is still unclear.
The adoption discussion has a connection to Veselnitskaya's work opposing the Magnitsky Act, a US law imposing sanctions on those involved in the death of Sergei Magnitsky — who died in a Russian prison after exposing financial fraud. After the law was passed, Russia retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children. Veselnitskaya questions the underlying story, and has been seeking to get the law changed.
In both New York Times stories, however, Trump Jr. only spoke of being asked to attend the meeting by "an acquaintance." In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Trump Jr. said the acquaintance was someone he got to know during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant, which took place in Moscow. Later Sunday, the Washington Post reported that Rob Goldstone — a music publicist — told the Post that he was that acquaintance.
Trump Jr. said the acquaintance attended the June 9, 2016, meeting — which Goldstone told the Post is the case.
Via Facebook / Via facebook.com
Jeff Vinnick / Getty Images
Donald Trump Jr., under scrutiny amid revelations that he met last year with a Russian lawyer, has hired a New York criminal defense attorney with a practice that’s included high-profile organized crime and cybercrime cases.
Alan Futerfas runs a small law firm in New York that focuses on white-collar investigations and prosecutions. Futerfas confirmed that he is representing Donald Trump Jr. to BuzzFeed News by email after Reuters reported the news.
In hiring Futerfas, Donald Trump Jr. has followed his father in tapping an attorney outside the cadre of white-collar defense attorneys based in Washington, DC, who frequently represent people involved in political controversies. Earlier this year, President Trump hired Marc Kasowitz — a New York attorney with little white-collar defense experience — to represent him in connection with Department of Justice and congressional inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Unlike Kasowitz, however, Futerfas’s practice is steeped in high-profile white-collar matters, as well as the occasional political controversy. News archives show that Futerfas has long represented clients with alleged ties to organized crime, including alleged members of the Bonanno, Gambino, Genovese, and Colombo crime families. Last year, he represented the son of a New York pizzeria owner who was found guilty of drug-related charges in a case that stemmed from an investigation into drug trafficking by the Italian mafia.
Futerfas has also handled several cybercrime cases. His clients have included a Russian man who created computer malware and rented it out to criminals to rob banks, and an Israeli man who was one of several defendants charged in a massive hack of consumer data from JPMorgan Chase and other financial institutions.
According to Futerfas’s law-firm website, he graduated from the Juilliard School and plays bass trombone. He was once a member of an orchestra comprised of New York lawyers.
Representatives of the Trump Organization did not return requests for comment on Monday.
The New York Times reported over the weekend that Donald Trump Jr. met last summer with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who had been working to change US policy, after he was promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton. Asked about the meeting by the Times, Donald Trump Jr. initially said that it was mostly about adoption policies — but when presented with new information, he said that the Russian lawyer claimed to have information connecting Russia to Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.
“Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information,” Trump Jr. said in a statement.
Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
Donald Trump Jr.'s tweets Tuesday didn’t answer one question about his meeting with a Russian lawyer: Were the emails the president's son released the full extent of his communication about the meeting?
On Tuesday, the president’s son posted to Twitter screenshots of an email thread between him and Rob Goldstone, a British music publicist who represents the musician son of a Russian billionaire. (The move was apparently an attempt to get out ahead of a coming New York Times story on the emails.) In those emails, Goldstone refers to Russian support for Donald Trump’s bid and explicitly calls the Russian woman that Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with “[t]he Russian government lawyer.”
But while the emails have been widely and intensely examined over the last twenty-four hours for what they do say, two curious phrases — a reference to a future “call” and a “thanks” — also raise a question about what the emails don’t reveal: Was there a telephone conversation between Trump and either Goldstone or his client between the time that two of the emails in question were sent?
Lawyers for all parties did not answer questions about whether the emails posted on Twitter Tuesday were the extent of Trump's communication with Goldstone, Emin or Aras Agalarov (the musician and his father), or their representatives during the first week of June 2016.
And as with many of the questions in this unfolding saga, the amount of unknown information is significant. The emails released by Trump Jr. also contain stilted and imprecise language at points, so it is possible this was the extent of the communication.
Manafort’s lawyer, Reginald Brown of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP, declined to comment. Trump Jr.’s lawyer and Kushner’s lawyers did not respond to requests for comment. Mark Corallo, the president’s outside counsel, only stated, “I'll have to refer you to his counsel. I am not aware of any of his meetings” — referring to Trump Jr.
White House spokespeople did not respond to requests for comment.
Neither Goldstone nor a representative of the Agalarovs' development company, Crocus Group, responded to requests for comment.
In his statement accompanying the email release, Donald Trump Jr. wrote, “I first wanted to just have a phone call but when that didn’t work out, they said the woman would be in New York and asked if I would meet. I decided to take the meeting.”
In the emails that Trump Jr. posted, however, the discussion is of a phone call between Emin Agalarov and Trump Jr., rather than discussion of a phone call between Trump Jr. and the Russian lawyer.
The exchange began with Goldstone’s June 3, 2016, email, in which he wrote Trump Jr. about “high level and sensitive information” about “Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia” that Aras Agalarov — Emin’s billionaire developer father — had been told that morning existed and was available to the Trump campaign as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
On Monday, June 6, 2016, following up on his previous email, Goldstone asked the younger Trump when he would be “free to talk with Emin by phone about this Hillary [Clinton] info.”
The two exchanged a series of emails back and forth — including one in which Trump gave Goldstone his cell phone number for Emin — until, at 3:43 p.m. ET, Goldstone wrote that Emin was “on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 Minutes so I am sure can call.”
Nearly an hour later, at 4:38 p.m., Trump wrote back: “Rob thanks for the help. D”
The next day, at 4:20 p.m. June 7, 2016, Goldstone wrote to schedule a meeting for Trump Jr. and “the Russian government attorney.” He added, “I believe you are aware of the meeting” and suggested a time for the meeting.
The younger Trump did not respond with questions about the lawyer or meeting — never referenced in any earlier emails in the thread made public by Trump Jr. Instead, less than an hour later, at 5:16 p.m., Trump replied that “3 at our offices” — meaning in Trump Tower — would work.
Christopher Polk / Getty Images
The White House is not yet fretting over a potential 2020 challenge from Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, and a new political action committee filed with the FEC this week to convince the movie star and former WWE wrestler to run doesn't appear to have changed the administration's stance.
"I'll believe it when I see it," a White House official told BuzzFeed News in June, making it clear that they didn't see the topic as a serious one. The official declined to comment when asked Wednesday to follow up now that a West Virginia man with no connection to Johnson has launched a PAC backing his potential candidacy.
The "Fast and Furious" star, who is a registered Independent, has toyed with the idea of running for president for more than a year. In a popular Instagram post last summer, Johnson promoted a Washington Post story suggesting he could win the presidency. "I care DEEPLY about our county... and the idea of one day becoming President to create real positive impact and global change is very alluring," he said in the post.
Johnson opened up about the possibility more recently in a GQ cover story helpfully titled "Dwayne Johnson for President!"
If he were president, Johnson told GQ in May, "poise" and "leadership" would be important, as well as not shutting out people who disagree with him. And Johnson didn't look to bodyslam Trump, only criticizing him in broad terms.
“I'd like to see a better leadership. I'd like to see a greater leadership," the former 10-time WWE champion said of Trump's presidency. "When there's a disagreement, and you have a large group of people that you're in a disagreement with—for example, the media—I feel like it informs me that I could be better. We all have issues, and we all gotta work our shit out. And I feel like one of the qualities of a great leader is not shutting people out...the responsibility as president—I [would] take responsibility for everyone."
The "Moana" star also joked about running in 2020 with Tom Hanks as his VP on the finale of the latest season of Saturday Night Live.
While 2020 maneuverings won't begin in earnest until after the 2018 midterm elections, Trump has stood out as a president looking towards his reelection early in his first term. Trump submitted an official statement of candidacy for reelection on the day he was inaugurated, and he looks towards the 2020 political landscape in private meetings with advisors and lawmakers.
Johnson's path to a presidential candidacy would potentially look similar to Trump's, who rose to prominence as the star of "The Apprentice" and as a wealthy, outsider businessman. Johnson was the world's highest paid actor in 2016, making $64.5 million, more than double his 2015 take. And aside from support for veterans' causes, Johnson has no political platform to speak of and has only addressed politics in broad terms.
If Johnson does run in 2020, he would face what is expected to be a crowded field, before even getting the chance to take down Trump and become the people's champion.
Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters
Two Democratic members of the House of Representatives filed articles of impeachment on Wednesday, the first formal action in an attempt to remove President Donald Trump from office.
The Democrats, Reps. Brad Sherman of California and Al Green of Texas, are two of the few vocal proponents in Congress for impeaching Trump.
It is a first step in the sense that they introduced a resolution with a specific issue in mind: That Trump sought to cause "hindrance or termination" of investigations involving his campaign's possible collusion with Russia based on FBI Director James Comey's testimony to Congress.
“Donald John Trump sought to use his authority to hinder and cause the termination of such investigation(s) including through threatening and then terminating, James Comey, who was until such termination the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation," the resolution states.
But even if every single House Democrat signed on — which is unlikely at this point — the reality is that Democrats alone can't get impeachment done.
Even if the House got to the point where it voted to impeach, a conviction would face major hurdles in the Senate because it required two-thirds of the members. That's all unlikely considering Republicans control the House and the Senate, and the circumstances would have to dramatically change for them to want to impeach a president from their own party.
Since the week of Comey's testimony, Sherman said there was enough evidence to accuse Trump of obstruction of justice.
“It was premature until [Comey’s statement was released]. I don’t know if it’s premature now, when we have sworn testimony by Director Comey,” Sherman told BuzzFeed News in June about discussing impeachment.
Other Democrats are unlikely to be thrilled by this resolution. Most are keeping their powder dry when it comes to calling for impeachment and leadership continues to have reservations about discussing the topic.
When Sherman first circulated an impeachment resolution draft seeking feedback from House colleagues last month, Massachusetts Rep. Mike Capuano spoke out against it in a meeting of House Democrats, Politico first reported. One Democratic member told BuzzFeed News that Capuano raised concerns about how it would reflect on the rest of the Democratic caucus.
No president in the history of the United States has been removed from office through impeachment, but it will likely continue to be a popular topic in liberal sects of the party, and it's possible others will give it a shot.
When BuzzFeed News asked Green in June how his articles of impeachment would differ from Sherman's, Green said he was "vetting" and consulting before actually presenting any.
"And I may have some other articles as well, other than obstruction."
Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
Speaker Paul Ryan’s political organization raised $32.7 million through the first half of 2017 — an off-year haul that matches collections made to this point during the 2016 election.
The figure includes $10.3 million from the recently ended second quarter.
“The sustained support for Paul Ryan and the Republican agenda reflects the desire in this country to get things done,” Kevin Seifert, executive director of the Team Ryan joint fundraising committee, said in a statement emailed to BuzzFeed News. “People want to see results and that’s what House Republicans, under Paul Ryan’s leadership, are providing.”
The second quarter ended a hot streak of sorts for Team Ryan. The Wisconsin Republican had set fundraising records since becoming speaker in late 2015. The $22.4 million Team Ryan raised in this year’s first quarter, for example, was a $5 million improvement over the same period in 2016. But April–June 2017 totals lagged April–June 2016 totals by about $5 million.
The second quarter of this year, though, has also involved a number of deep frustrations for Republicans: Obamacare remains unrepealed and the investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election has become a constant source of chaos and news. Republican donors so far don’t seem to necessarily mind, especially as special elections have demanded significant fundraising.
Republicans had to spend big to hold on to House seats up for grabs in special elections in Kansas, Montana, Georgia, and South Carolina. They kept all four, but by margins closer than anyone would have guessed a year ago. Last month’s contest in Georgia was a key test in a suburban and longtime GOP-friendly district where Donald Trump barely won. It turned out to be the most expensive House race in history, with Democrat Jon Ossoff raising far more money than Republican Karen Handel, but Ryan and other GOP groups helped push Handel across the finish line.
The spending on these races has some Republicans worried about reloading for the 2018 midterms. Ryan’s allies cite the off-year fundraising totals that are keeping pace with last year's — and the 4–0 special elections record — as encouraging signs.
“We came out aggressively to start 2017, bringing in extra revenue, knowing the specials would be a big fight,” said a Republican familiar with the speaker’s strategy. “We were able to nearly keep par on the spending side because of Ryan's efforts and win each race.”
Ryan shares much of what his operation raises with other House campaigns. Through June he had transferred $21.7 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee from Team Ryan and from his Ryan for Congress reelection fund. Ryan also has contributed directly to members through his reelection fund and Prosperity Action PAC. And he has headlined fundraising events for incumbents, including Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois.
“When it comes to helping everyone on the team,” Davis told BuzzFeed News in a telephone interview, “Paul as speaker is exceeding any expectations anyone could have had.”