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- 07/13/17--05:00: _The Senate Just Rev...
- 07/13/17--20:37: _Federal Judge Says ...
- 07/14/17--05:01: _While Donald Trump ...
- 07/14/17--11:56: _Lana Del Rey Knows ...
- 07/14/17--19:02: _Trump Administratio...
- 07/14/17--19:31: _The Russian Lawyer ...
- 07/15/17--12:13: _Trump Hired A Veter...
- 07/15/17--12:58: _Meet America’s Leas...
- 07/17/17--17:51: _Mitch McConnell Jus...
- 07/17/17--19:24: _What If Trump TV Wa...
- 07/18/17--04:31: _After 2016 Hack, Ho...
- 07/18/17--07:05: _Trump Election Comm...
- 07/19/17--10:34: _Supreme Court Won't...
- 07/19/17--10:40: _New Report: About A...
- 07/19/17--17:08: _Sen. John McCain Ha...
- 07/19/17--18:41: _Trump Is Angry At E...
- 07/20/17--10:04: _The Senate Just Con...
- 07/21/17--06:27: _Transgender People ...
- 07/21/17--10:32: _Trump’s New Lead La...
- 07/23/17--11:30: _Donald Trump Has Yo...
- Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed his revised health care bill and is hoping to get enough support to win over the at least 50 of the 52 GOP senators need to pass the bill.
- Read the new draft bill here. And the two summary documents here and here.
- This revised bill is not necessarily the final draft that will go to a vote next week, items can still be changed and lawmakers will first need to see a score from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) - which is expected on Monday. All Democratic senators are expected to vote “no”.
- McConnell presented his original draft to the Senate two weeks ago but had to cancel a planned vote after opposition from a handful of Republicans signaled that it wouldn’t pass a vote.
- Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Dean Heller of Nevada and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska are believed to be the toughest moderate votes to win over. All three have significantly voiced major concerns with the bill.
- On the conservative side, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky declared Tuesday he will vote against the bill and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah are also pushing for major deregulations of insurance rules that likely will not be included in the bill.
- Other than some some minor tweaks, the new bill makes identical cuts to Medicaid spending — which would represent a 36% reduction over the next two decades, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
- The new bill preserves some of the Obamacare taxes on the rich that were stripped away in the previous version. One investment tax that Republicans had gotten rid of in the previous Senate bill only benefited people making over $200,000 per year. The new bill maintains that tax, worth $172 billion over 10 years.
- Those funds are redirected into new spending, including $45 billion to combat the opioid epidemic and $70 billion to stabilize insurance markets on top of the $112 billion that was in the original bill.
- The premiums in Obamacare were targeted to push people into buying high-quality insurance plans. The new bill would go the opposite direction and allow people to put tax credits (essentially the GOP bill’s version of subsidies) into plans that only offer catastrophic coverage.
- Many parts of the old Senate bill remain unchanged. The new draft also cuts federal funding from Planned Parenthood, and prevents any federal subsidies from paying for insurance plans that offer abortion coverage.
- 07/14/17--11:56: Lana Del Rey Knows Exactly What To Do With This Year
- 07/15/17--12:58: Meet America’s Least Angry, Most Popular Republican Governors
- 07/17/17--19:24: What If Trump TV Was Good?
- 07/18/17--07:05: Trump Election Commission: A White House Team Will Handle Voter Data
- 07/19/17--17:08: Sen. John McCain Has Been Diagnosed With Brain Cancer
- 07/23/17--11:30: Donald Trump Has Your Full Attention. Can Anyone Else Be Heard?
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released the revised health care bill to GOP senators Thursday and a preliminary vote on the bill is expected next week.
Alex Wong / Getty Images
The biggest difference under the new bill is it adopts a proposal from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz that would allow insurers to offer cheap, bare-bones plans that do not cover health benefits that Obamacare made mandatory — like maternity care, prescription drugs and addiction treatment.
To do this, insurers must also offer separate plans that offer all of those mandated services. The idea is that healthy people can choose less expensive plans while people who need more services can choose the more robust ones.
But the idea is untested and comes with some obvious risks. If healthy people move to the cheaper plans, only high-cost patients will stay with the more robust and expensive plans, causing premiums to rise higher and higher on the fuller plans and potentially creating a death spiral.
To combat this, the bill creates a fund to put federal money towards lowering costs of the full Obamacare-style plans. Exactly how much money it will take to stabilize those plans is unknown, as this system has never been tried in the US before.
The bill puts $70 billion over eight years specifically towards helping people pay for high-cost insurance plans. This is on top of another $70 billion in new money that states can use as they please and could also be put towards bringing down the costs of these plans. In total, payments to the states to stabilize insurance markets go from $112 billion over a decade in the last bill to $252 billion in the new version.
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
The federal judge in Hawaii who initially put President Trump's revised travel and refugee ban on hold on Thursday placed limits on the administration's recent rules enforcing a limited version of that ban.
Significantly, US District Judge Derrick Watson ruled that one of the enforcement rules that drew most protest — that grandparents did not constitute "close family" for purposes of being exempted from the order — is invalid.
Watson modified his injunction in the case to address what family members are sufficient to exempt a person from the executive order, as well as some refugee-specific issues.
The US Supreme Court allowed a portion of Trump's March 6 executive order to go into effect in a June 26 ruling. The Supreme Court ruled that the executive order could not be enforced against those with a "bona fide relationship" with people or entities in the US, but it allowed the 90-day travel ban from six Muslim-majority countries and the 120-day refugee ban to go into effect against those without such connections.
After the Trump administration announced its standards for enforcing the ban under the Supreme Court's ruling on June 29, Hawaii went back to court, arguing that the federal government's interpretation of "bona fide relationship" was too narrow.
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."
During the evening of June 29, the government shifted to include fiancés as well, but it maintained that "grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-laws and sisters-in-law, and any other 'extended' family members" in the US did not count.
Although Hawaii was initially rebuffed by the district court and the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on procedural grounds, Watson, for the most part, sided with Hawaii on Thursday.
Watson disagreed with the Trump administration's interpretation of the Supreme Court's order, writing that the administration's definition of close family was "unduly restrictive" and "the antithesis of common sense."
The federal government cannot use the executive order to "exclude grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States," Watson ruled, siding with Hawaii.
Watson also placed additional restrictions on which potential refugees can be excluded under the order.
Specifically, Watson ruled that a potential refugee's "assurance from a United States refugee resettlement agency" constitutes the sort of "bona fide relationship" that bars enforcement of the executive order against that would-be refugee.
Watson did rule that "a bona fide client relationship with a United States legal services organization" was not clearly exempted under the Supreme Court's order, so he denied Hawaii's request to issue a "categorical exemption" to those would-be refugees who only can show that connection.
Spokespeople from the departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security did not immediately return requests for comment after the ruling, which came after 11 p.m. Thursday in Washington, DC.
In a prior filing in the case, Justice Department lawyers had asked Watson to put any relief he granted to Hawaii on hold — issuing a stay of the order — until the department either asked the Supreme Court to review the issue (or, if the Supreme Court declined to do so, appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit) or informed Watson's court that it will not be seeking further review of the issue.
On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the department would be going to the Supreme Court to overturn the district court decision:
Watson did not put his order on hold, denying the request for a stay — and meaning the new injunction goes into effect immediately.
The injunction against Trump's travel ban, as of July 13, 2017:
Pool / Getty Images
On the 25th floor of Trump Tower in June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. met with a woman described to him as a “Russian government lawyer.”
Meanwhile, in that building, elsewhere in Manhattan, in Washington, and in Cleveland, Republican leaders were trying to pull off an intense persuasion effort — getting everyone to fall in line and get behind Donald Trump.
In public, the presumptive nominee had spent the early days of June attacking the heritage of an American-born federal judge whose parents immigrated from Mexico. His campaign was small, largely inexperienced, and chaotic (then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski had recently faced an assault charge, which was later dropped). Republican officials had been critical of the candidate and uneasy about the direction of his campaign. And while the Republican National Committee had announced in May that it would begin working with the Trump campaign to plan for that summer’s convention in Cleveland, sources told BuzzFeed News that those subsequent weeks were a slow and disorganized build.
Early June, then, was meant to be part of a “pivot” for Trump — to teleprompter speeches, real fundraising efforts, and House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing, at long last, that he would vote for the candidate.
The broad party message was clear: The rogue primary campaign was at its end. This campaign was worth getting behind.
The morning after Ryan’s announcement, music publicist Rob Goldstone emailed Donald Trump Jr.
Goldstone, who represents the son of a Russian billionaire and had first met Trump Jr. years before, offered that “incriminat[ing]” information could be made available to the campaign as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”
“[I]f it’s what you say,” Trump Jr. responded less than 20 minutes later, “I love it especially later in the summer.”
Trump Jr., the most prominent Trump family surrogate on the campaign trail last year, would go on to pull in Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner, two of the most senior people in Trump’s orbit at the time. The highest levels of the still-small Trump campaign would be present in this meeting — which Trump has since argued was merely "opposition research" — at Trump Tower.
At that point in the year, after coming in to wrangle delegates so Trump could actually win the Republican nomination, Manafort had visited Cleveland in mid-May, and was beginning to meet with Republican officials. The RNC was preparing to combine its digital and data operations with Trump’s in San Antonio, where Brad Parscale, the campaign’s digital director, lived and worked.
But the early discussions with the RNC were not about logistics and were instead “all very big picture,” according to one Republican familiar with the Trump campaign’s convention planning.
Still, the idea was that Manafort — a longtime Republican operative who’d spent the last decade working in places like Ukraine — was going to rein the candidate in after months of the wild, Lewandowski-era Trump. A key piece of evidence for the media that week was that, as Republican voters in the final states to hold primaries cast their votes on June 7, Trump would deliver his victory-night speech off a teleprompter. This was a rarity for Trump at that point in the campaign, and largely interpreted as a sign of the calming influence of Manafort, who by August would be gone from the campaign after a series of stories about his work in Ukraine.
A little past 5 p.m. on June 7, Trump Jr. confirmed a meeting for later in the week with the “Russian government lawyer” in an email to Goldstone.
Four hours later, a little past 9 p.m., Trump announced — reading from the teleprompter — “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we're going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons. I think you're going to find it very informative and very, very interesting.”
Trump didn’t give that speech the next week, during which the Pulse nightclub shooting that took place in the early hours of Sunday, June 12, became the focus of the country and the campaigns.
Since the release of the emails, some have raised the question of whether that section of the June 7 speech had anything to do with the upcoming meeting at Trump Tower. White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders has disclaimed any connection between the meeting and Trump’s promise of a damaging speech. Just days before, Hillary Clinton had delivered an extremely critical, widely viewed speech, and the speech that Trump did ultimately give on June 22 culled from Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash — which centers on the dealings of the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative. (The book is a favorite of now-White House aide and frequent speechwriter Stephen Miller, who would sometimes read passages aloud during speeches on the campaign trail in the spring of 2016.)
But there’s no clearer sign of just how much energy and effort Republicans were channeling toward Trump than the actual day of the meeting between Trump associates and the Russian lawyer.
Reince Priebus, the then-RNC chair and now-White House chief of staff, was in New York visiting Trump Tower. Manafort called into a closed-door House Republican conference as other Trump allies with ties to GOP legislators — Rick Dearborn and former speaker Newt Gingrich — tried to convince reluctant lawmakers that it was time to get on board with Trump (who, they insisted, was done going after the federal judge).
Paul Manafort leaves the Four Seasons Hotel after a meeting with Trump and Republican donors on June 9, 2016.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Later that day, major Republican donors got a similar spiel at a finance meeting at the Four Seasons Hotel. Trump, Manafort, and Priebus were among the attendees — as were John Catsimatidis, Chris Christie, and Woody Johnson.
Trump himself spoke to the wealthy Republicans — whom he had repeatedly bashed during the campaign — and talked a big game. He not only expressed confidence in winning the general election, but also announced that he could put traditionally blue states like New York in play for the party. Many of the donors in attendance had backed other GOP candidates in the primary, but were getting on board with Trump’s candidacy with the repeated promises of the big “pivot” from Trump allies. The conservative agenda — and defeating Hillary Clinton — was worth it, the argument went.
And, critically, it seemed at the time that the Trump campaign was ready to part with the Lewandowski era of the campaign.
The next week, Priebus would tell Trump “that relations between [the RNC] and Mr. Lewandowski had become increasingly strained, and that a change would be welcome,” according to a New York Times story at the time.
In private, the Trump children, too, were frustrated and urged their father to make immediate changes. Trump Jr. in particular, sources told BuzzFeed News, was convinced that Lewandowski, the campaign manager, had to go.
Even in his meeting with the Russian lawyer that week and in the email exchanges that set up the meeting, Trump Jr. left Lewandowski out.
When Lewandowski was eventually fired on June 20, Trump Jr. was the one who escorted him out.
By that time, the news story that has dominated a large part of the past year, and spawned the investigation into outside efforts to influence the 2016 election, had begun to break: The Washington Post reported that, for a year, “Russian government hackers penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee."
The morning after Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into Russian influence during the 2016 election, Lana Del Rey posted a video on Instagram.
“When you're chatting through the verses but snap back into it for the chorus,” reads the caption below a black and white video in which a casually attired Lana Del Rey & co. chat through the verses on a ‘60s-style rehearsal set, then snap back into it for the chorus.
The post was likely meant to promote that upcoming performance (“See u Saturday”), or to tease a slice of her new album (“Darlin’–darlin’–darlin’, I fall to pieces when I’m with you”). Or maybe she just liked the look of the video. But the whole scene, particularly in the context of that latest chaotic morning (Trump tweet — “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” — followed by attendant commentary about everything from the special counsel’s legal powers to who’s really been most persecuted in American political history), produced this weird thought:
Now here is a person who’s living life free of the weight of this whole ordeal.
The new music may be good, the new music may be bad — but unlike possibly everyone else alive right now, Lana Del Rey seems relaxed, serene, having the time of her life, publicly unencumbered by the fraught, endless argument about Trump, Trump opponents, Trump supporters, the role of government, the state of diplomacy, the idea of America, etc., that could snatch you up on any given day.
So why is she floating above it all? What makes her different now than before? Something has clicked into place to marry her aesthetic with the moment, because she really doesn’t seem to have changed.
There’s still that otherworld quality to her music, like she was secretly born 200 years ago and is sometimes visible in the back of historical photos, like Jack Nicholson at the end of The Shining. That plays out in a specific way in her music: Unlike the arch self-examination or ‘80s earnestness of most current pop, nobody ever falls out of love in a Lana Del Rey song.
The premise of every Lana Del Rey song is usually a combination of the following: a. I am crazy, b. I am high, c. I am great, d. Our tragic love endures. Lana Del Rey does not lay awake in the early hours, interrogating her own motives and worrying about wanting a little too much. In Lana Del Rey songs, there is but one doomed, eternal romance. People laugh “LIKE GOD” in Lana Del Rey songs. You may fall into a life of drugs (“he loves me with every beat of his cocaine heart,” “Off To The Races”) or crime (“caught up in the game, that was the last I heard,” “Blue Jeans”) or literally die (“there’s no remedy for memory,” “Dark Paradise”), but you will forever be in love with the protagonist of a Lana Del Rey song.
Case in point: On Lorde’s excellent new album Melodrama, she notes, “I love you ‘til my breathing stops; I love you ‘til you call the cops on me.” Delivered with some irony, the line is a self-aware (and ostensibly more relatable) admission that beneath whatever cool, controlled exterior Lorde may project, she can come undone, heart of hearts, in the face of this heartbreak. Well, you wouldn’t hear such talk on a Lana Del Rey album! First off, Lana Del Rey tells you upfront, guns ablaze, all about her deal. (“Everybody knows that I’m a mess — I’m craaaaazy,” she informs the listener on the opening track, “Cruel World,” of Ultraviolence.) But more to the point: A line like that would imply imbalance — that Lana Del Rey had been left unwanted. (“You’re craaaazy for me,” Ibid.) Will you still love Lana Del Rey when she is no longer young and beautiful? She knows you will.
Despite the fact that she is nearly always dressed up like Bobbie Gentry on her way to the Summer of Love, the aesthetic is current and not especially nostalgic. There’s this tendency to place her in the tradition of the disaffected famous American woman, ranging from Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays to the characters in Sofia Coppola movies. But Lana Del Rey is a little weirder than that, and she’s also more corporate than that. The combined effect is that she is more... fun than those kinds of characters. She wraps all that 1960s capital-r Romanticism in conventions of modern hip-hop and indie rock — string arrangements, guitar reverb, and the kind of drum-machine beats that sound like muted explosions. Sure, the songs sometimes forget to have beats or hooks and it’s just ethereal ooohs misting over you. And sure, you can’t listen to some of her catalogue during daylight hours because it might throw you into a hazy trance. (“Ultraviolence is the perfect soundtrack,” Molly Lambert once wrote, “for a strip club in hell.”)
But it all flows from one premise, the one that seems to be the origin point of Lana Del Rey’s Nice Year: The Lana Del Rey persona operates on the idea that it’s all already over. When she posted the track listing for Lust For Life, her new album — (“LOST FOR LIFE” had been crossed out for effect) — she set the location as the “The End of the World, Venice, L.A.”
Instead of getting bogged down in the political stuff, though, Lana Del Rey seems ready to ride this thing out. And, sure, it’s possible her new album will involve some anti-Trump broadside, but the early going seems to be the same as ever. Tops, you could argue that “Coachella - Woodstock In My Mind,” in which she asks the one to think of the children, is a protest song, except that it seems to be about tensions with North Korea. And even if it is a protest song, it’s the most Lana Del Rey protest ever: “On my way home I found myself compelled to visit an old favorite place of mine at the rim of the world highway where I took a moment to sit down by the sequoia grove and write a little song,” she wrote in the Instagram announcement, before ultimately signing off: “Hope everyone has a nice day.”
In the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which details the LSD exploits of Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters in the 1960s, Tom Wolfe describes them “grooving with this whole wide-screen America and going with its flow with American flags flying from the bus and taking energy, as in solar heat, from its horsepower and its neon and there is no limit to the American trip.”
Lana Del Rey’s been operating for years like the world is ending, and that premise enables her to live like so: She’s practicing witchcraft; she’s not a feminist; she’s filming herself singing in her car to her own tracks; she’s Instagramming Father John Misty shows like a regular person; she’s putting out songs that are roughly 80% her and The Weeknd dreamily instructing listeners to take off their clothes; she’s filming Bewitched-on-acid videos in which both a telephone floats by her head and she sensibly offers that “even though these times can feel a little bit crazy, they’re not so very different from other generations have experienced at one time or another before”; she’s “Slytherin,” as Perfume Genius recently put it, “but in a really dope way”; she's responding on Twitter to say she's actually a Gryffindor, but has dated many a Slytherin.
Lana Del Rey grooves with this whole wide-screen America.
Brian Snyder / Reuters
Less than 24 hours after a district court judge in Hawaii placed additional limits on the federal government's partial enforcement of President Trump's revised travel ban, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to reverse the ruling.
The Justice Department, in a statement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, had announced the plans earlier in the day Friday.
On Saturday, the Supreme Court called for Hawaii to respond to the request by noon Tuesday.
The move is the second time the Trump administration has asked the Supreme Court to weigh in on the travel ban. In late June, the court announced that it would hear appeals of two challenges to the March 6 executive order where the lower courts had barred enforcement of some of the travel and refugee bans.
In addition, in the June 26 ruling, the justices allowed some enforcement of the 90-day ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries and the 120-day halt to the refugee program over the summer before the justices hear the case.
The court held that the bans could not be enforced against those with "a credible claim of a bona fide relationship" with a person or entity in the US, but could be enforced against those lacking such a relationship. The Supreme Court entered a partial stay of the lower court injunctions, which began being enforced three days later.
When the Trump administration announced its view of how that "bona fide relationship" should be defined — a decision that excluded grandparents and grandchildren from being considered "close family" members exempt from the ban — Hawaii went back to court, arguing that the definitions were more narrow than the Supreme Court had intended.
On Thursday night, US District Court Derrick Watson agreed in large part, modifying his injunction to order that the federal government cannot use the executive order to "exclude grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States."
He also ruled that a potential refugee's "assurance from a United States refugee resettlement agency" constitutes the sort of "bona fide relationship" that bars enforcement of the executive order against that would-be refugee.
On Friday night, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court to clarify its June 26 order to put back both of those restrictions.
Asserting in its brief that "the government identified — and reflected in public guidance — individuals who are not affected by the Court’s stay," Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall wrote that Hawaii "pressed further in an effort to strip this Court’s stay of significant practical consequence.
"The district court adopted both of respondents’ arguments, and denied the government’s request for a stay pending this Court’s review," Wall noted, concluding, "The government therefore is left to seek this Court’s immediate intervention."
In addition to asking the court to end the new exemptions, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court temporarily to put the district court's ruling on hold — a move that would put the administration's interpretation of "bona fide relationship" back in place — until the justices decide how to rule on Friday night's request.
On Saturday, the Justice Department also weighed in at the Ninth Circuit — in addition to the Supreme Court. At the appeals court, the department asked for the court to issue a stay pending the resolution of its clarification request at the Supreme Court or pending its appeal of Watson's modified injunction to the Ninth Circuit.
Mike Segar / Reuters
The meeting at Trump Tower was just one moment of a busy series of days in June 2016 for Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the center of the story that has dominated the past week with new revelations daily.
In the days surrounding June 9, 2016, Veselnitskaya, here on a visitor's visa, traveled between New York and Washington — going to court and Trump Tower and then attending a reception for and screening of a controversial documentary at the Newseum in DC and, later, a hearing on Capitol Hill.
She had company: Rinat Akhmetshin, the Russian-American lobbyist who it was revealed on Friday also attended the Trump meeting, also went to both DC events.
Akhmetshin, 49, is a longtime DC operator. Since the Associated Press first reported his attendance at the June 2016 meeting the Donald Trump Jr., later confirmed by BuzzFeed News, he has been widely reported as having ties to Russian intelligence. But he has denied an ongoing relationship with the Russian government — though he did tell Politico that he had been drafted to work as a Soviet counterintelligence officer.
Akhmetshin’s work in the US has covered a range of largely unregistered work to influence the US government. In 2011, he arranged a series of meetings with Congress and the State Department meant to undermine political opposition in Kazakhstan. In 2015, he was working to undermine the asylum application of Ashot Egiazaryan, a former Russian parliament member who was facing fraud charges in his home country.
Many of the events of June 2016 dealt, at least in part, with complicated lobbying or legal proceedings related to the Magnitsky Act — a US law imposing sanctions on those responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In the United States, various American lawyers and lobbyists have taken up work related to defending or dismantling the Magnitsky Act, as well as similar laws — and Russians like Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin are a frequent presence on matters like this, showcasing just how active Russian interests are, and how enmeshed they are in New York and Washington culture, when it comes to US sanctions.
On the day of June 9 — the day of the meeting at Trump Tower — Veselnitskaya was going to be in court until 3 p.m., according to one of the emails released by Trump Jr. earlier this week.
That seems likely to have been proceedings that day over a Russian-owned company that was fighting to keep its lawyers from being disqualified from a case brought by the US government.
The US was suing Prevezon, a Cyprus-based real estate company owned by a Russian national, for money to offset an alleged more than $200 million financial fraud that included alleged fraudulent real estate transactions in New York City.
Hermitage Capital — whose information was used to conduct the alleged fraud — had uncovered the fraud allegations. Its lawyer at the time, Magnitsky, died in a Russian prison after exposing the fraud. Hermitage Capital CEO, William Browder, has led effort to fight back against his death.
Meanwhile, Veselnitskaya has represented Prevezon, and was an active participant in the case. Michael Mukasey, who served as attorney general under President George W. Bush from 2007 to 2009, formally joined the defense team for Prevezon Holdings on Feb. 5, 2016.
The dispute of last June concerned representation in court: Hermitage Capital had previously been represented at one point by John Moscow, one of the lawyers with the firm Baker Hostetler, which represented Prevezon in 2016. Hermitage pushed back in court, asking for Baker Hostetler to be disqualified.
On June 9, Mukasey argued before a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that Prevezon's lawyers from Baker Hostetler should not be disqualified from representing the company in a case that resulted from allegations of fraud.
The hearing at the Second Circuit, set for 10 a.m. June 9, 2016, was Mukasey's only argument for the company. He no longer represents Prevezon. (The Second Circuit ruled against Prevezon in October 2016, so Baker Hostetler had to withdraw representation.) A spokesperson for Mukasey, who is of counsel at Debevoise & Plimpton, did not respond to a request for comment. Moscow also did not respond to a request to discuss the matter.
According to emails made public earlier this week by Trump Jr., Veselnitskaya was going to be "in court until 3." There was no other apparent activity in the case that day.
Donald Trump Jr. looking sad in Trump Tower.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Rinat Akhmetshin, who was revealed Friday as also having attended the afternoon meeting, told the Washington Post that he wasn't involved in setting up the afternoon meeting and did not know how it was set up. According to the Post, "He said he had lunch with Veselnitskaya that day and she asked his advice on what to say at the session." She then, by his telling, asked him if he wanted to join her at the meeting. He did so.
At 4 p.m., the pair were joined by Emin Agalarov's publicist, Rob Goldstone, for the meeting — along with a translator. According to CNN, another representative of the Agalarov family also attended the meeting. (Emin's father, Aras Agalarov, is the billionaire developer who teamed up with Trump to bring the 2013 Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. The Trump and Agalarov families have interacted many times in recent years.)
Along with Trump Jr., campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, were in the meeting that afternoon.
The discussions, which Goldstone had presented initially as being about potentially damaging information against Hillary Clinton, reportedly veered into discussions about Veselnitskaya's work against the Magnitsky Act — the US law imposing sanctions on those involved in the death of Magnitsky — and other similar laws. (Russian President Vladimir Putin is a vigorous opponent of the laws. After the law was passed, Russia retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.)
In Trump Jr.'s initial response to news of the meeting, he said it "primarily" was about the Russian adoption issue and did not mention the Magnistky Act at all. The story has shifted multiple times since then. On Tuesday, when he released the emails associated with the meeting, Trump Jr. said in his statement that Veselnitskaya "wanted to talk about adoption policy and the Magnitsky Act." Akhmetshin said on Friday that Veselnitskaya also left a document with Trump Jr. at the meeting.
The film screening
Courtesy of Natalia Arno
Four days after the Trump Tower meeting, the Newseum hosted a film presenting the Russian government's view of the Magnitsky affair.
Directed by Andrei Nekrasov, Veselnitskaya supported the film. BuzzFeed News has learned that staff from Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's office were sending invitations to the June 13, 2016, evening event.
Among those attending the event that night were the director, Nekrasov — but also Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin. An activist who opposed the film secured admittance to the film screening, which was by invitation only, after having one of the invitations from a Rohrabacher staffer forwarded to her.
The woman, Natalia Arno, is president of the Free Russia Foundation and provided BuzzFeed News with a copy of the invitation and photographs that she took at the event.
Akhmetshin, on the outdoor patio.
Courtesy of Natalia Arno
A complaint filed by Hermitage Capital with the Justice Department in July 2016 alleges that the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation (HRAGIF) violated the Lobbying Disclosure Act 1995 (LDA) and the Foreign Agents Registration Act 1938 (FARA).
Akhmetshin is a lobbyist for the group, and the complaint also alleges that Veselnitskaya "ha[s] been involved in HRAGIF's lobbying activities" — without being listed as such.
Although the group claims to be focused on "overturning the Russian adoption ban," the Hermitage Capital complaint alleges the group's goals include repealing the Magnitsky Act and "discredit[ing] the established version of events regarding the theft of $230 million from the Russian Treasury and the death of Sergei Magnitsky as told by William Browder, CEO of Hermitage." The screening is one of the instances the complaint cites as evidence of the group's true goals.
Browder is due to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 19 about FARA enforcement issues.
The next day, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on "US Policy Toward Putin's Russia."
Veselnitskaya can be seen front and center in the now-infamous photo of the hearing — the basis for a false conspiracy theory alleging a link between Veselnitskaya and Michael McFaul, the former US ambassador to Russia. Two rows back, Nekrasov (the film director) is there as well. In between them, to the left, is Arno.
Not seen in the public photos or video from the hearing, but also in attendance — a photo provided by Hermitage shows — was Akhmetshin.
Courtesy of Hermitage Capital
Otillia Steadman contributed to this report.
Jim Bourg / Reuters
President Trump has hired veteran white-collar defense lawyer Ty Cobb to work in the White House and reportedly to oversee matters related to the investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Cobb, a longtime partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, is a former federal prosecutor who has a long track record of handling government investigations and advising senior officials. His hiring was first reported by Bloomberg.
The White House announced the hiring in a brief statement on Saturday.
Stephen Immelt, the CEO of Hogan Lovells, announced Cobb's coming departure from the firm in a Friday afternoon email to employees of the firm.
"I am writing to let you know that after nearly 30 years with the firm, Washington, D.C. partner Ty Cobb is leaving Hogan Lovells on 30 July to become Special Counsel to the United States," Immelt wrote in the email, which was obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Unlike Trump's lead private counsel on the Russia investigations, New York litigator Marc Kasowitz, who doesn't hail from the white collar legal world in Washington, Cobb's hire was seen as a more conventional pick.
Cobb in 2004.
Jerry Cleveland / Getty Images
Robert Bennett, another longtime white collar lawyer at Hogan Lovells who counts former President Bill Clinton among his past clients, told BuzzFeed News that Cobb "is as good a lawyer as his distant relative was a baseball player." (Cobb is related to the baseball legend of the same name.)
"On its face it looks like they finally decided they've got to get people in there who know what they're doing and have experience in these areas," Bennett said. "The whole question in my mind will be, will they listen to him. And they're very foolish if they don't."
Another of Cobb's partners in the DC office of Hogan Lovells, Neal Katyal, is the lead lawyer in Hawaii's challenge to Trump's travel ban — a challenge that sent the Justice Department back to the Supreme Court on Friday.
Cobb did not return a request for comment, nor did a Hogan Lovells spokesman.
Read Immelt's email announcing Cobb's departure:
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan at this year's NGA conference.
Brian Snyder / Reuters
Three of the nation’s most popular governors are Republicans who didn’t vote for Donald Trump. They run blue states that Hillary Clinton won in last year’s presidential race. And all three of them are in a strong position to be re-elected in 2018.
It’s a reality that defies the anger of the moment.
Trump has thrived, especially with the GOP base, by turning politics and governing into a never-ending brawl. Anger also is fueling the opposition to Trump, and Democrats are counting on it to be a key ingredient in next year’s midterms. But it’s not guaranteed to be part of the races in Massachusetts, Maryland, or Vermont.
Charlie Baker, Larry Hogan, and Phil Scott, the respective leaders of those states, were among the more than 30 governors here this week for the National Governors Association’s summer meeting. It was hard to miss Baker, who at 6-foot-6 towers over others, or Hogan, who rolled down hotel and convention center corridors like a bowling ball, followed by his small entourage.
Pragmatic governors hold a lot of power in a setting like the nonpartisan NGA: The White House sent Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to lean on governors — especially Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval — opposed to a health care bill that has become an ongoing and deep challenge for Republicans in Washington. And with term-limits hanging over Sandoval and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, two leading GOP centrists, it soon could fall to Baker, Hogan, and Scott to represent a slice of pro-business, soft-touch Republicanism that Trumpism has endangered.
In state-by-state polling last spring, Morning Consult measured Baker’s approval rating among Massachusetts voters at 75%, making him the nation’s most popular governor.
“If you’re not sitting here you must be [looking at the polls and] thinking, ‘My god, he must be killing it,’” Scott Ferson, a Democratic consultant in Massachusetts, told BuzzFeed News in a telephone interview. “But I tend to read them a little differently. If you’re in Massachusetts, what’s not to like? The economy is booming … most people are very happy, and doing quite well.
“There’s no reason to be angry.”
Massachusetts is known for electing Republican governors as a check and balance on liberal state legislatures. To win statewide — like in Maryland or Vermont — a candidate needs crossover appeal; while Trump ran the table with Republican voters during the presidential primary last year in liberal Northeastern states like Massachusetts and New York, Clinton blew him out in them come November. Notably, though, Trump largely ran on positions less conservative than his peers, despite his anger and populism. The Republicans who actually get elected to statewide office in these places tend to be sunnier centrists. Democrats in Massachusetts were shut out of the governor's office completely during one 16-year stretch that began in 1991 with William Weld, who ran for vice president last year on the Libertarian ticket as part of a stop-Trump effort, and ended in 2007 with Mitt Romney, another centrist and vehement Trump opponent.
Baker has built useful working relationships with the Democratic speaker and the Democratic mayor of Boston, Ferson said. The governor also has emphasized his work to fight the opioid crisis, a policy issue that some Republicans have approached as a major health problem to be met with compassion. It’s also an area where Baker hasn’t had to keep his distance from Trump: The president appointed him to a federal commission to address the epidemic. This week at NGA, Baker emceed a panel discussion on opioids. He sat, coincidentally, to the left of two Democratic governors on stage, his tall frame folded into a red chair.
But Baker, who has been critical of the Republican proposals to overhaul Obamacare, also was notably absent from NGA proceedings Friday, when Pence flew in to make his health care pitch. A spokesman told BuzzFeed News that Baker had business to tend to next-door in Massachusetts. His team declined requests to interview the governor.
Democrats believe Baker has vulnerabilities, such as recent budget woes. But they have yet to recruit a top-flight challenger. Jay Gonzalez, who served in former Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, and Setti Warren, the mayor of Newton, are among the early candidates. But big-name prospects such as Attorney General Maura Healey and Congressmen Joseph P. Kennedy III and Seth Moulton so far seem content to stay on the sidelines. Any of those three would be “instant rock stars” if they ran, said Ferson, who advises Moulton.
Some Democrats concede that somehow tying Baker to Trump is their only option.
“Generally speaking, the economy is in pretty good shape and looks good,” Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association and, according to the Morning Consult poll, one of the nation’s most unpopular governors, told reporters here Friday. “Certainly he will be a tough person to defeat. On the other hand, if you want to know the real reason he might go down? Donald J. Trump. So who’s to say what will happen in that election?”
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker
Brian Snyder / Reuters
Democrats are more optimistic about Maryland, where a Republican hasn’t won a second term as governor since the 1950s. Hogan scored a 73% approval rating in the Morning Consult survey, placing him second behind Baker. But a March poll by the Washington Post suggested that Hogan’s numbers could be soft. A majority of registered voters surveyed (53%) said they had an unfavorable opinion of the Republican Party in Maryland. And when voters were asked who they would support in 2018 — Hogan or a Democratic candidate for governor — Hogan bested the generic Democrat by only 4 points, 41% to 37%, with 20% undecided.
Since Trump’s election, Hogan has taken great pains to project independence while at the same time sidestepping policy debates that probably would put him at odds with the White House.
“As a Republican in Maryland you’re always playing an away game,” Russ Schriefer, a national political strategist who is advising Hogan, said in a telephone interview. “You’re always going to worry, whether Donald Trump is president or Hillary Clinton is president. It’s a very, very difficult state to win. That said, Hogan now for three years has been consistently popular. And the reason he’s been popular is that he’s worked in a bipartisan way, trying to do things in the best interest of Maryland people and staying away from the national dialogue.”
In a sign that Democrats might be willing to sacrifice Massachusetts to win back Maryland, some told BuzzFeed News that they could target Hogan by contrasting him with Baker — in other words: Why can’t Larry Hogan be more like Charlie Baker and stand up to the president? Democrats also have a deeper bench than they do in Massachusetts. High-profile gubernatorial prospects include former NAACP chief Ben Jealous; Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker; state Sen. Richard Madaleno Jr.; and Alec Ross, a former tech adviser to Clinton. Other contenders could include US Rep. John Delaney and Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
“Our message,” said Maryland Democratic Party communications director Bryan Lesswing, “is going to be that Gov. Hogan is an out of touch politician who sides against families and stands with Trump.”
Hogan worked the NGA this week like a politician in peak county fair form. He bounced from station to station, checking out a House of Cards-themed video slot machine at one booth and playfully threatening to down an Erlenmeyer flask filled with M&Ms while visiting a Mars candy table.
“We decided to govern from the middle and do everything we can to reach across the aisle to come up with common sense, bipartisan solutions,” he told BuzzFeed News in a brief interview after the M&Ms gag. “I think it’s what people really want. It’s what they feel is lacking in Washington and what they haven’t seen in our state or anywhere else for a long time. We’re just going to keep focused on what we have been doing. Of course it’s going to be a tough campaign, I’m sure, next year. But right now we couldn’t be in a better position.”
So what does it mean to be a Republican right now? “Right now,” Hogan replied, “I’m not really focused on being a Republican, or a Democrat, or an independent. I’m just focused on trying to be the best governor I can be.”
In Vermont, the answer to that question is — and long has been — to be independent-minded. It’s a state, after all, that sent democratic socialist Bernie Sanders to the Senate. It’s also a state where governors are elected to two-year terms, and none has been denied a second since 1962. Scott is only six months into his first, but national Democrats quietly acknowledge that, barring a scandal, his re-election race in 2018 won’t be worth the effort for them.
Scott, who placed fourth in the Morning Consult polling with a 68% approval rating, declined BuzzFeed News’ interview requests while at NGA. Jim Douglas, a Republican and former four-term Vermont governor who also attended the meeting, said Scott, like Baker and Hogan, succeeds by playing to the middle. “Vermonters, and I think Marylanders and probably Bay Staters, are able to segmentize their feelings about individuals regardless of party label.”
Douglas recalled how in 2004, in the midst of President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign, his opponent “made these signs that said ‘Jim equals George.’ I was worried when I first saw them sprouting up, but my media folks said it wasn’t going to hurt, and it didn’t.”
Trump, though, is a far more unpredictable political quantity.
“I think there’s no analogy,” Robert Ehrlich, the last Republican to serve as governor of Maryland, told BuzzFeed News in a telephone interview. “The Trump phenomenon and the Trump presence are so unusual. Past analogies are just irrelevant.”
Andrew Harnik / AP
Senate Republicans are making a dramatic last-ditch effort to salvage a healthcare bill after their latest effort was killed on Monday night.
Months of trying for a full repeal and replacement of Obamacare came to an end as Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Jerry Moran of Kansas announced they would vote against the latest bill. They joined Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, a fellow hardcore conservative, and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate, to bring down the bill. Republicans could only lose two senators and have now lost four.
"Regretfully, it now appears that the effort to repeal and immediately replace the failure of Obamacare will not be successful," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement.
With little other option, McConnell is now making a last minute play to pass a so-called "clean" Obamacare repeal bill. The bill would repeal all of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, but delay repeal by two years, effectively setting a hard deadline for Congress to come up with a new plan.
Several Republican senators worried that the current repeal-and-replace plan went too far, both in cutting Medicaid funding and in repealing protections for pre-existing conditions introduced by Obamacare. Even most conservatives agreed that a straight return to the pre-Obamacare days was undesirable. But the two sides could not agree on a path forward.
McConnell was open in saying that for this new plan to succeed, it must first win the support of 50 of 52 Republican senators to agree to proceed to a floor vote.
"In the coming days, the Senate will vote to take up the House bill with the first amendment in order being what a majority of the Senate has already supported in 2015 and that was vetoed by then-President Obama: a repeal of Obamacare with a two-year delay to provide for a stable transition period to a patient-centered health care system that gives Americans access to quality, affordable care," he said in his statement.
A straight repeal bill could easily be defeated, but it is essentially the last choice for a party that has spent seven years vowing to repeal Obamacare. Republicans passed more than two dozen straight repeal bills under President Obama, knowing they would be vetoed. Once they controlled Congress and the White House that plan proved more difficult.
The healthcare bill Senate leadership was pushing would have cut federal Medicaid spending by about one third over the next two decades, but would have preserved some key Obamacare measures that guaranteed access to health insurance for people with pre-existing health conditions. It would have introduced tax credits that were less robust than the Obamacare subsidies they replaced, but which provided a far wider safety net compared to what existed before the ACA.
A version of the bill barely survived a vote in the House, but could not pass the Senate. Moderates objected to the deep cuts to Medicaid and a potential return to the days when people with pre-existing health conditions faced prohibitively high costs. Conservatives argued that too much of Obamacare was kept in place, in particular the latest bill preserved hundreds of billions of dollars on taxes on the rich in order to pay for health programs.
For seven months, Republicans have struggled to strike a balance between the different wings of their party. Ultimately, that balance failed on Monday night. A straight repeal bill would still need to pass both the Senate and the House.
The latest version Senate health care bill was dead after two new Republican senators announced Monday evening they would vote against it, bringing the total to four. It takes just three "no" votes to kill the bill.
Sens. Lee and Moran, both from the conservative wing of the conference, released statements Monday saying they would not support a motion to put the bill to a vote on the floor.
"After conferring with trusted experts regarding the latest version of the Consumer Freedom Amendment, I have decided I cannot support the current version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act," said the statement from Lee. "In addition to not repealing all of the Obamacare taxes, it doesn't go far enough in lowering premiums for middle class families; nor does it create enough free space from the most costly Obamacare regulations."
Moran likewise said that the "closed-door process" did not do enough to address health costs and Republicans shouldn't put a "stamp of approval on bad policy." Paul also opposes the bill based on similar concerns. Collins opposes it chiefly based on cuts to Medicaid and removal of protections for people with pre-existing health conditions.
The development put the GOP leadership's bid to repeal and replace Obamacare in crisis. Unless two of these four senators change their mind, the bill is dead. And other senators who have yet to declare could also end up voting against the bill.
In response to the latest healthcare setback, President Donald Trump told his party to start from scratch.
"Republicans should just REPEAL failing ObamaCare now & work on a new Health care Plan that will start from a clean slate," he tweeted Monday night, adding "Dems will join in!"
Over the weekend, McConnell said he would postpone a vote on the health care bill until Sen. John McCain — a yes vote on moving forward with the bill — returned from surgery. McCain issued a statement on Monday calling on leadership to have Congress "return to regular order" and work with Democrats on a revised health care bill.
Most recently, GOP leadership rewrote the bill to keep hundreds of billions of dollars worth of Obamacare taxes on the rich and directed them to health spending in a bid to win over moderates.
On BuzzFeed's podcast NewsFeed with @BuzzFeedBen, a conversation about news in Russia's shadow, and the vibrant pro-Putin media.
American journalists watching the rise of an aggressive new quasi-official Trump media have been able to take solace in one thing: Much of it is laughably bad. The websites are drowning in bizarre popup ads. The grainy Periscopes have a few thousand concurrent viewers at their very best. The television programs — even over at Fox News, the ambivalent mothership of them all — look clunky and dated to the 2017 eye.
But here in Riga, a capital of the free Russian media in exile, that complacency falls flat. The 21st century contains a radically different model for state media: It can be classically great TV. Russia’s government-controlled television (two state-owned channels and a state-controlled one) have become fast-moving, glamorous, and intense. The motion graphics are great. Even RT, the little-watched English-language spinoff, looks pretty good, undermined only by the randomness of the commentators who the channel Skypes in from their mothers’ basements in the service of propaganda goals.
In the the US, most of the the pro-Trump media isn't just failing to break news and get its facts straight; it's also failing on aesthetic and technical grounds. Some of it feels like spam; some of it hews to gritty authenticity; and some looks more like older generations of state-run programming than it is the new Russian model — grim panels of party officials and colonels repeating propaganda talking points. Some of it is, like those, underwritten by ideologues and thus largely free of the need to make money, or the pressure to build an audience that comes with that. Others are simply aimed at a narrow demographic: elderly Americans. Fox News can be effective propaganda, but those realities and the demographic realities of linear television limit its spread. It’s no more likely to broaden its appeal than Tony Bennett is to wind up in the top 40.
Here, for instance, ousted Trump aide Boris Epshteyn goes up against John Oliver. He’s no John Oliver:
There are exceptions: Alex Jones spends lavishly on production, and it shows; Mike Cernovich is figuring out publishers' Facebook tricks. It’s easy to think that media in service of power must always be like this.
But the warning from Russia is that it can be amazing — glossy and funny and slick, and run by smart, cynical people who know what they’re doing. Gary Shteyngart’s great, drunken immersion in Russian media captures some of this, as does David Filipov’s account of his appearance as a punching bag: “You feel like you’re a rock star playing the Colosseum; then when you get out there, you realize it’s the Roman era, you’re a Christian, and you’re performing for a Colosseum filled with hungry lions.”
And Russian TV is great TV because it didn’t emerge from some serious-minded political technology think tank under the Kremlin. It emerged, as the editor-in-chief of the Russian news site Meduza, Ivan Kolpakov, pointed out in an interview on our NewsFeed podcast, from the ugly, corrupt, and extremely commercial Russian 1990s. Initially clunky and behind the times, it played aggressive catchup, and has held onto that commercial streak even as it has migrated back into the hands of the state.
How good is it? Kolpakov recalled a visit to his family in Perm, in the Urals, back in 2015, where the TV was a constant presence. “A couple days later, I really felt that fascists conquered Kiev, that they’re killing our guys in Donbass, and the European Union is fucked up.”
There are other astonishingly high quality Russian propaganda efforts, all of it now “cross-language and cross-platform,” as a Latvian journalist, Rita Ruduša, noted recently. Some of this is, well, BuzzFeedy: Classic nostalgia images of “then and now” that spread on Facebook among people who don’t realize the source is government funded. Ishmael Daro reported last year on one such page, called In The Now (which started as an RT show), that seamlessly mixes disinformation about Syria with memes and cute animals. NATO recently put out a report titled “Stratcom Laughs” on the effective uses of humor in Russian strategic communications. (The report is not a laugh riot.)
Others update a more traditional Soviet propaganda style for the YouTube age, like this astonishing video justifying Russian empire-building along the lines of the British “white man’s burden.”
The era of filter bubbles has demonstrated just how far people will stretch their logic to consume media they want to believe, even if it comes from preposterous fake outlets. The notion of a state media with all the resources and technical quality of the real one isn’t something to take lightly.
“The most complicated thing is that some part of the audience understands that it’s a fake reality but they are consuming it nevertheless,” said Kolpakov. “They choose it.”
And there’s no reason to think that the Trump movement won’t be able to make media of this technical quality. Indeed, Trump’s political career was born from groundbreaking, high-quality reality television, and perhaps his most important campaign supporter was its founder, Mark Burnett. Trump is currently flailing as president but succeeding as a kind of White House reality show; what happens when they learn to produce it?
DCCC chair Rep. Ben Ray Lujan leads congressional candidates offstage at the DNC last summer.
Gary Cameron / Reuters
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the target of last year's sweeping cyberattack on House Democrats, has transitioned to Wickr, an end-to-end encrypted software, for all internal communication and for communication between the DCCC and the 20 most vulnerable House incumbent campaigns.
The software, installed in June to guard against future hacks, now serves as the primary chat and message function inside the DCCC, said communications director Meredith Kelly. (Wickr is designed for offices and does not replace email.)
For the 20 incumbent campaigns, aka Frontline Democrats, staff and consultants will be expected to use Wickr with DCCC officials.
End-to-end encryption, designed to make data undecipherable to any third party, from the government to hackers to companies like Wickr, has been at the center of an easily inflamed debate touching privacy, tech, and security, without obvious partisan distinctions. (Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein takes perhaps the hardest line against encryption.)
The DCCC's shift to Wickr is a first among the party committees and a firm step against future hacks in a party still shaken by the cyberattacks during 2016.
At the DCCC, thousands of documents were made public in waves through summer and fall. Hackers targeted House Democrats across the country, releasing home addresses, cell phone numbers, candidate files, and opposition research.
Earlier this month, DCCC Chairman Rep. Ben Ray Luján wrote to his counterpart at the National Republican Campaign Committee, Steve Stivers, proposing that the two groups work together against future attacks and devise a joint plan to combat interference in US elections. (The NRCC dismissed the suggestion as a “stunt,” the Washington Post reported.)
The DCCC's new software is a paid service. Kelly declined to provide a figure for the total cost.
Crowdstrike, the cybersecurity firm working for another hacking victim, the Democratic National Committee, is also monitoring DCCC systems daily.
Vice President Mike Pence
Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images
Since President Trump's Election Integrity Commission was last in court, the commission has announced plans to dramatically alter how it plans to collect state voter information in an attempt to avoid a potential legal ruling that could require it to conduct a privacy assessment before collecting the data.
The plan, more or less, is to have a few people on the White House staff conduct all of the work of the commission in order to help maintain a legal argument that the "sole function" of the commission is to advise the president. The commission is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.
On Monday, Charles Christopher Herndon, the director of White House Information Technology, laid out how limited that would be in a declaration submitted in the case brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
"The Executive Committee for Information Technology will have no role in this data collection process. The U.S. Digital Service (which is within the Office of Management and Budget) will also have no role, nor will any federal agency," Herndon wrote. "The only people who will assist are a limited number of my technical staff from the White House Office of Administration."
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — whose membership has only added to the concern that the commission is an attempt to push back voting rights — announced previously that it would not be using a Defense Department website for states to upload requested voter data. (Many states have balked at sending all of the data requested, and only one — Arkansas — submitted data by the time of the July 7 hearing in the case.)
The commission stopped using the Defense Department site because the federal judge hearing EPIC's case challenging the would-be data collection made it clear that she saw potential problems under the E-Government Act if non-White House agencies were involved in the data collection. This is so because such agencies would more clearly be subject to the law's requirement that a privacy impact assessment be completed before the government engages in certain actions.
No such assessment was conducted before the commission's vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, requested the data from state officials. EPIC sued. The Justice Department lawyers defending the commission are focused on two arguments: EPIC and its members don't have standing to bring the lawsuit, they say, and, even if they do, the commission — because it only advises the president — is not covered by the law.
Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly initially heard arguments in the case more than a week ago. At the hearing on July 7, she made clear that she thought the Defense Department should be added as a defendant in the lawsuit (presumably because she thought that made an easier case for arguing that the privacy assessment needed to be done).
EPIC did so, but days later the Justice Department announced that the commission would no longer be using the Defense Department website for states to upload the data. Kollar-Kotelly asked for more briefing on how the case should proceed, leading EPIC to file an amended complaint and an amended request for an order stopping the commission from collecting the state data. The commission, which agreed not to collect any state data until the judge rules on EPIC's request, opposed the request on Monday. EPIC filed its reply shortly thereafter.
In addition to the standing question, the major dispute before Kollar-Kotelly at this point is over whether and when the E-Government Act’s privacy assessment is required of actions within the White House.
The government argues that a narrow interpretation applies — that the assessment would only be required if the commission had "substantial independent authority in the exercise of specific functions." EPIC argues that a much broader interpretation should apply — one that clearly would require the commission to do an assessment.
Herndon submitted his declaration in connection with Monday's Justice Department filing. In addition to explaining who would be running the IT part of the commission's work, he also laid out how the commission now plans to collect, store, and deal with the state data request.
First, here's the way the commission, per Herndon, plans to have the states submit data:
Director of White House Information Technology / Via documentcloud.org
Then, per Herndon, here is how he is planning on the commission getting access to the data:
Director of White House Information Technology / Via documentcloud.org
Herndon also included a brief aside about the data's accessibility to his technical staff, writing, "They will have access to the data, but all access will be logged and recorded by our network monitoring tools."
Notably, the Defense Department conducted a privacy assessment of the site the commission originally announced would be used to upload the state data. (EPIC argued that assessment was insufficient because it was not considering the type of data transfer involved in the commission's work.)
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
The Supreme Court won't stop a lower court order that exempted grandparents and other family members from President Trump's travel and refugee bans.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court denied the Justice Department's request that the high court clarify its own June 26 order on the president's executive order. That ruling allowed the bans to go into effect in part.
After the June 26 ruling, a lower court ruled on the implementation of the order. The Justice Department, practically speaking, was seeking to reverse that lower court's ruling in the case in its request before the justices.
The Supreme Court did, however, put another part of the lower court order on hold for now. That portion provided protection for those would-be refugees who have received assurances of support from a refugee resettlement agency but don’t otherwise have connections to the US.
Last week, US District Judge Derrick Watson had issued an order limiting the Trump administration from using the travel or refugee bans to "exclude grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins of persons in the United States."
The debate surrounds the interpretation of the Supreme Court's order, which stated that the executive order could not be enforced against those with a "bona fide relationship" with people or entities in the US. The ruling applied both to the 90-day ban on travel from six Muslim-majority countries and the 120-day halt to the refugee program.
The Trump administration enforced a definition that included "a parent (including parent-in-law), spouse, child, adult son or daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sibling, whether whole or half" and eventually a "fiancé" — but not those other familial relationships. Hawaii, challenging the ban, went back to Watson's court to ask that his injunction against the ban be amended to exempt those other family relationships, which he did this past week.
The Justice Department, in turn, went to the Supreme Court, asking it to clarify the June 26 order.
The court, on Wednesday, denied that request. It did, however, issue one limit on Watson's order.
In addition to the family provision, Watson's order also provided new protections for would-be refugees — ruling that a potential refugee's "assurance from a United States refugee resettlement agency" constitutes the sort of "bona fide relationship" that bars enforcement of the executive order against that would-be refugee.
The Supreme Court put that portion of Watson's ruling on hold, issuing a stay of that refugee provision pending the appeal of Watson's order by the Justice Department to the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch would have stayed Watson's entire order — putting back in effect the administration's initial family travel rules.
Jewel Samad / AFP / Getty Images
The advocacy group that successfully lobbied the campaigns of both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to self-report their diversity data has a new report out on diversity inside Democratic state campaigns.
Inclusv, the group founded in 2015 to promote racial diversity and inclusion in national politics, says that 32% of all staffers employed by 40 state parties (and the DC Democratic Party) are people of color.
According to Inclusv's data, white staffers make up nearly three-quarters of all staff in state parties. Latinos made up just 8% of staff inside state parties, while black Americans made up 14.5%. Almost 40% of the staffers of color came from either Florida, California, Ohio, North Carolina, or Virginia.
The group views state parties as a key area for talent development at the national level, from campaigns to candidates themselves, and holds that state parties with more diverse staffs are more attentive to the needs of constituency groups. It comes off the heels of the Democratic National Committee establishing a $10 million fund that would allow state parties to compete for grants to bolster their efforts, and an added commitment that all state parties would receive $10,000 monthly from the DNC through 2018.
Sabrina Singh, deputy communications director for the DNC, said that “Democrats are committed to hiring diverse and talented staff that reflects the diversity of the Democratic party. As we continue to rebuild the party, we know this is a top priority and we are happy to work with Inclusv to further diversify our state parties.”
Alida Garcia, executive director of Inclusv, told BuzzFeed News that although the group is enthused by the state parties' willingness to participate, it's more interested in the implementation of its recommendation. Their roadmap will help build state parties that are "more structurally accountable to communities of color," said Garcia.
"Demography is not destiny for the Democratic Party, and our communities deserve intentional decisions from the state parties to include us at all tables deciding our futures," she said.
State parties that did not participate in the study include Nevada, Mississippi, Kentucky, and New Jersey.
“It’s an urgent matter that the party improves upon these numbers and increase the depth of its reach into communities of color," Garcia said. "Our communities sometimes feel as though Democrats treat us like an ATM, stopping by every two to four years to withdraw our votes, time and money. If Democrats want to get the turnout they need from non-white voters in an increasingly diverse country, they must seriously devote themselves to building a corps of leaders that better reflect the breadth of a big tent party.”
Ross D. Franklin / AP
John McCain, one of the highest-profile members of the US Senate and a two-time presidential candidate, announced Wednesday that he has been diagnosed with brain cancer.
The diagnosis came after McCain, 80, had a blood clot removed from above his left eye on July 14.
"Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumor known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot," said a statement from the Mayo Clinic and released by his office.
McCain and his family are reviewing further treatment options, which potentially include chemotherapy and radiation, and he is recovering "amazingly well," the statement said.
McCain showed no neurological problems before or after the operation, his doctors told CNN.
Before the surgery, McCain told his doctors he had, at times, felt foggy, not as sharp as normal, and was having double vision, according to CNN. However, after the surgery, the senator reportedly was oriented, had good balance, and experienced no headaches. He has been recovering at home since Saturday, when he was discharged from the hospital.
Meghan McCain, the senator's daughter, said in a statement that the family was shocked by the diagnosis.
"It won't surprise you to learn that in all this, the one of us who is most confident and calm is my father," Meghan McCain said. "He is the toughest person I know. The cruelest enemy could not break him."
John McCain is seen after his release from captivity in Vietnam in March 1973.
Horst Faas / AP
The blood clot was removed from near the spot where McCain was diagnosed with the aggressive skin cancer, melanoma, in 2000, notes CNN. The senator has also had three precancerous skin lesions removed, none of which were invasive, according to medical records released in 2008 during his presidential campaign.
McCain began his political career as a Senate liaison while serving in the US Navy. In 1982, he won a seat in the US House of Representatives and in 1987 was elected to the the Senate, succeeding Barry Goldwater, another high-profile conservative.
McCain first ran for president in 1999, challenging George W. Bush for the Republican nomination. He lost, but went on to secure his party's nomination eight years later and ran against Barack Obama in the general election. McCain famously branded himself as a "maverick" during that election and selected Sarah Palin as his running-mate, but ultimately lost to Barack Obama.
Prior to entering politics, McCain was a Navy pilot. in 1967, while flying a mission during the Vietnam war he was shot down and spent more than five years as a prisoner of war. McCain was tortured during his time in captivity and at one point refused release unless all the other prisoners captured before him were freed as well.
News of McCain's cancer diagnosis prompted an outpouring of support. President Trump said in a statement that McCain "has always been a fighter."
"Melania and I send our thoughts and prayers to Senator McCain, Cindy, and their entire family," Trump said. "Get well soon."
Obama, McCain's former rival, called him "an American hero and one of the bravest fighters I've ever known."
Jeff Flake, McCain's fellow senator from Arizona, tweeted that it was a "tough diagnosis, but even tougher man."
In a series of tweets, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey called McCain "undoubtedly the toughest man in the US Senate."
"He is an American hero and has served our country like few ever will," Ducey said.
Former Vice President Joe Biden said he has been friends with McCain for 40 years. "He's gotten through so much difficulty with so much grace," Biden said. "He is strong — and he will beat this."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that McCain is "a hero to our conference and a hero to our country."
"He has never shied away from a fight and I know that he will face this challenge with the same extraordinary courage that has characterized his life," McConnell said, adding "We all look forward to seeing this American hero again soon."
House Speaker Paul Ryan referred to McCain as a "warrior" in a statement, adding that "I know John is going to fight this with the same sheer force of will that has earned him the admiration of the nation."
Numerous other lawmakers also wished McCain well. Among them, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul promised to pray for him and his family. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch said "few have served our nation more admirably than John McCain." And Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse called McCain "an American hero and a relentless fighter."
Vice President Mike Pence also tweeted that he was praying for McCain.
"Cancer picked on the wrong guy," Pence said. "John McCain is a fighter and he'll win this fight too."
Read the full statement on McCain's diagnosis here:
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
President Trump is angry.
There is a lot to take in from the latest interview President Trump gave to the New York Times. In it, he flings criticisms at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But he also makes a much more direct point: He wanted to select the person in charge of any investigation of his campaign.
The president's anger at Sessions for recusing himself from matters involving the Russia investigation was clear throughout the interview, the New York Times reports, and it's something that's made even more obvious in the partial audio.
"He should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else," Trump said.
This is the president outright saying that he wanted his pick to oversee any investigation into his campaign. Sessions recused himself earlier this year from any such investigations; throughout 2016, he was a prominent surrogate for Trump, often appearing onstage with him at rallies.
Each week, seemingly, there is news related to that investigation about people inside and outside the Trump campaign — including last week's series of revelations about a meeting Donald Trump Jr. attended that came out of emails pitching dirt about Hillary Clinton from Russian government sources.
In the partial transcript of the interview, Trump acknowledges asking Sessions why he didn't tell him that he would recuse himself: "I said, 'Why didn’t you tell me this before?'”
Trump went on in the interview: "How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, 'Thanks Jeff, but I can't — I'm not going to take you.'"
Trump wanted his attorney general to be running the show on the investigation into his campaign. That didn't happen.
"It's extremely unfair — and that's a mild word — to the president," he told the Times.
Pool / Getty Images
The Senate on Thursday confirmed Kentucky lawyer John Bush to a federal appeals court seat, handing another defeat to Democrats and civil rights groups that had hoped to tap into anger on the left over the confirmation of US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch to block Bush.
Bush faced criticism for his pseudonymous political blogging. His opponents pointed to his posts as proof that he lacked the temperament and objectivity needed to serve on the bench. In one frequently cited post, he wrote that the “two greatest tragedies in our country” were slavery and abortion. Even a Republican who ended up voting to confirm Bush, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, told Bush at his confirmation hearing that he was "not impressed."
But ultimately the Senate voted along party lines, 51-47, to confirm Bush to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, a sign that it's going to be difficult for Democrats to stop the Trump administration from making progress in one area where the White House has had success so far — filling the 100-plus federal court vacancies across the country.
Bush was not immediately reached for comment.
This is the second judge that the Trump administration has had confirmed to the 6th Circuit, which handles cases from Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and already has a majority of Republican-nominated judges. Judge Amul Thapar, Trump's first lower-court nominee, was confirmed to the court in May. Another 6th Circuit nominee, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, is pending in the Senate.
Advocacy groups on the left have raised concerns about several of Trump's lower-court nominees, but they especially focused their energy and their dollars on Bush. Bush, who was backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said at his confirmation hearing that there were comments he'd wished he hadn't made in his blog posts — he wrote under the pseudonym "G. Morris" on the blog Elephants in the Bluegrass — and he vowed to treat all litigants who would come before him fairly.
But his explanations and apologies weren't enough to win over Democrats, and groups on the left hoped that they could swing one or two Republicans, given Kennedy's remarks at the confirmation hearing. In the end, no Republicans broke ranks.
"It is a sad day for the Senate and the American people when an individual like John Bush can be confirmed for a lifetime position on the federal bench," Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said in a statement. "Few nominees in history have had such a clear record of extreme and intemperate remarks. Federal judges must be impartial and fair – two qualities that Mr. Bush clearly lacks.”
With Bush's confirmation, there are now 135 pending federal court vacancies, and at least 20 more seats are expected to open up in the coming months, according to the federal judiciary. Trump has 22 nominees pending.
Raleigh News & Observer / Getty Images
Several transgender people in North Carolina took action in federal court against the governor and other state officials on Friday over a new law they say restricts access to bathrooms, arguing the policy violates their constitutional and civil rights.
This may sound familiar — and you're right. A lawsuit last year raised similar claims. But this time, the expanded complaint in US District Court targets a new state law — which replaced a previous bathroom law — and the top defendant is now a Democrat.
In 2016, North Carolina Republicans in the General Assembly voted to restrict transgender people's access to restrooms through a bill known as HB2, leading to a cascade of boycotts and lawsuits. The backlash also contributed to the defeat of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who had been an ardent supporter of the bill.
Upon taking office this year, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper started working across the aisle with Republicans on a deal to repeal HB2. They agreed on a compromise to replace it in March with a new law — saying it could bring business back to the state — but a court filing on Friday said the new policy commits similar offenses to the first one.
Known as HB142, the policy approved in the spring did two things: It blocked cities and counties from banning LGBT discrimination until 2020, and it prevented those local jurisdictions from enacting ordinances that let transgender people use restrooms matching their gender identity.
Cooper hailed the policy as a step forward in March, saying in a speech, "This law I’m signing today is not just about North Carolina’s reputation — or jobs and sports. It’s about working to end discrimination ... This is not a perfect deal or my preferred solution. It stops short of many things we need to do as a state."
But the suit, backed by lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union, contends that preventing cities from shielding transgender people from discrimination in restrooms is tantamount to endorsing that discrimination. The suit argues, "Transgender individuals cannot safely use single-sex, multiple-user restrooms in government-controlled buildings in North Carolina."
It concludes that this violates federal laws protecting people on the basis of sex in workplaces and schools, known as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Further, the lawsuit says, the new law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
The plaintiffs note that state Rep. Kevin Corbin said HB142 “is not a repeal of HB2 ... The bill clearly states that city councils like Charlotte and other government entities cannot regulate access of multiple occupancy restrooms, showers, or changing facilities ... What this essentially means is that the restroom provision of HB2 remains."
Gov. Cooper's office didn't respond to allegations in the complaint, but a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, "The Governor's ultimate goal is statewide LGBT protections and he is going to continue working toward that."
In addition to suing Cooper, the activists also name other branches of state government as defendants: the University of North Carolina, and North Carolina's departments of Administration, Health and Human Services, and Transportation.
Read the brief:
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images
John Dowd, the lawyer now leading President Trump’s personal legal team, denied on Friday that the outside legal team has been looking into the president’s pardon power.
In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News on Friday, Dowd said, “There is nothing going on on pardons, research — nothing.”
On Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that — among other things — Trump has asked “advisers” about his ability to pardon people, including family members. The Post also reported that Trump’s lawyers have discussed pardon power among themselves.
Dowd said that the Washington Post did not source the article with members of the president’s outside legal team.
“It's completely false. It's not happening, never has happened. Someone made it up. It's just a lot of mischief going on,” Dowd said.
Asked if any White House advisers or anyone outside the White House had conversations or did research on the pardon issue, he replied via email, “Same answer.”
Another source told BuzzFeed News that “no one on the outside legal team has had discussions or done research on pardons.” That source could not speak to whether any White House advisers had done research into the issue.
Dowd is now the lead lawyer on Trump’s team — the end point, for now, of several changes to Trump’s legal team over the past month. He was brought on in mid-June, three weeks after Marc Kasowitz, a longtime lawyer for Trump, took on the role as the lead outside counsel for Trump in the Russia investigations. The spokesperson for the outside legal team resigned on Thursday. And Trump is bringing a senior white collar defense lawyer in to the White House starting at the end of the month to coordinate Russia-related investigations inquiries.
Dowd sharply criticized the press in the interview, saying that “every single day I've been on this case, I've dealt with absolute fabricated, false news by the major media, and it is disgusting.” He also called a New York Times report that the president’s lawyers and aides were doing research on special counsel Robert Mueller III’s team to look for information they could use to discredit the office’s work “nonsense.”
But Trump himself raised the possibility of such work, telling the New York Times on Wednesday that Mueller had “conflicts” because he had been interviewed to potentially be Trump’s FBI director. Trump added: “There were many other conflicts that I haven’t said, but I will at some point.”
Dowd, a former federal prosecutor who has a solo law practice in Washington, DC, is taking the lead as Kasowitz scales back his involvement. Dowd said that Kasowitz is “still on the team, he's busy in New York and we consult with him from time to time.” The Washington Post first reported the change in leadership.
“We just wanted to go in a different direction,” Dowd said.
A person familiar with the Kasowitz firm’s plans told BuzzFeed News said the firm, Kasowitz Benson Torres, “got that team up and running with the president's confidence.” Both Kasowitz and Michael Bowe, another partner at the firm, have been working on the matter.
“Now we will let them do their jobs with our input and guidance to them and the president. Ty [Cobb] has the lead internally and given his very long standing relationship with Dowd, will interact with him directly. We will be informed and provide guidance to them and president as necessary,” the source said.
Kasowitz did not return a request for comment.
In addition to Kasowitz’s stepping back, the spokesperson he had brought on, Mark Corallo, has resigned. Over the course of the investigation, Corallo had become the spokesperson for the full outside legal team. Corallo on Friday confirmed to BuzzFeed News that he had resigned, but did not provide details on why. Dowd said that Corallo “did a great job, we appreciate him very much. There was no negative there, it's just a matter of style.”
Dowd and Trump’s other outside lawyer, Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, will be working soon with veteran white collar defense lawyer Ty Cobb. Cobb is leaving the law firm Hogan Lovells at the end of July to join the White House as a special counsel. Dowd said that Cobb will be handling the White House side of responding to investigations. Dowd, Sekulow, and Cobb “all like each other, we all get along,” Dowd said.
“[White House Counsel] Don McGahn, who is a terrific lawyer, just doesn't have the experience. He's an election lawyer and corporate lawyer, he doesn't have the experience on the Hill or with prosecutors or the Department of Justice. That's another world. The president needs to have someone he can talk to all the time,” Dowd said.
Cobb declined to comment. Sekulow did not return a request for comment.
As for communications with Corallo out, Dowd said that he and Sekulow felt that they could handle inquiries from the press directly going forward.
When Americans elected Donald Trump in November, they created a dramatic shortage in a valuable global commodity: attention.
The sheer attention Trump absorbs — on Twitter, on television, in culture, and in the anxious dreams of American citizens and the country’s allies and enemies — draws away the lifeblood of everything from the launch of new apps to new social movements. Attention is the currency not just of American attention-seekers from Kim Kardashian to Amazon, but also of the other great geniuses of attention-seeking over the last decade: terror groups like ISIS, and opponents of the postwar social order like Julian Assange.
Trump hoards attention. He dominates it. Quantitatively, he is discussed on Twitter 10 times as much as the entire Kardashian family combined. Even the people just in Trump's proximity or carrying out his message dominate our attention — neatly evidenced by the stratospheric attention paid to Sean Spicer's resignation and television-friendly Anthony Scaramucci's entrance as White House communications director. Over in old media, Trump has been on the cover of the New York Daily News every third day since his election. And it’s not just in the United States: He’s already been on the cover of German weekly Der Spiegel five times this year.
"It's just harder for most products and people to get a word in edgewise," said Stu Loeser, Mayor Mike Bloomberg's former press secretary, who now advises a range of businesses on media strategy. Loeser said the media context reminded him a bit of the months after the September 11th terror attacks. "Stories that might be fun in a different environment may come off as frivolous today."
BuzzFeed News reporters and editors on six continents have examined how attention-hungry subjects are responding to this new shortage of their favorite commodity. We found that Trump’s dominance is not fully global. While he has captivated North America and Europe to varying degrees, a few places have entirely resisted the narrative: such as Brazil, captivated by its own crisis, and India, focused on its own battles.
But in the US — and the many parts of the world whose politics have long existed at least in part in relation to Washington — savvy attention merchants are responding dynamically to a disrupted market.
Some are shouting louder. American politicians curse more now. Global aid groups say they are relying on increasingly unorthodox stunts such as the “Famine Food Truck” the aid group Oxfam has been driving around Washington, DC, in an attempt to call attention to what it describes as the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of World War II: a food crisis spanning South Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria, and Yemen causing extreme hunger for 30 million people.
“A crisis of this magnitude would usually warrant significant media attention, and we’ve tried a number of tactics with only sporadic results,” said Laura Rusu, media manager at Oxfam America.
Others are streaming in Trump’s wake — most literally, the media figures and companies who are gaining a following by racing to reply to Trump’s tweets.
This is, perhaps, most visible in continental European politics, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s blunt hostility to the US president has solidified her support, and where newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron held an impromptu press conference immediately after Trump announced that he was pulling out of the Paris climate agreement. Macron spoke in French and English (a big deal in France), and days later launched a website called “Make Our Planet Great Again,” inviting US-based engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs working on climate change to move to France.
Macron has continued trolling Trump, describing their intense handshake as a “moment of truth.”
Closer to the center of the storm, Washington lobbying firms have shifted from drawing up crisis plans for responding to Trump tweets to trying to figure out how to fit their clients into his “America First” paradigm, lobbyists told BuzzFeed News.
“We understand the importance of centering the message around America and the American worker and economy and putting America first, and we're advising clients to consider that,” said John Murray, partner at Monument Policy Group, who previously worked for former House majority leader Eric Cantor.
BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
Indeed, everyone is looking for a Trump connection, however thin.
Brooke Hammerling, a longtime Silicon Valley PR person, said that if she’s pitching a sleep product, she might look “to people feeling stressed about [the] political climate. If a fitness product, the writer might look at it as being fit is a good escape from the stress of the day and news.”
“It does have the feeling right now that things there is heavier stuff people are focused on than product launches — so it's harder to break through,” she said.
Some approaches are blunter. Airbnb Director of Public Affairs Nick Papas recently framed a pitch on the company collecting state taxes in Wisconsin and Michigan as “News Unrelated to Senate Testimony.”
“Trump dominates the conversation, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy since everyone believes that the only way to get attention is to talk about Trump, so they talk about Trump,” President Obama’s former communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, said ruefully. “Rinse, repeat.”
But none of these strategies can completely work. The reality is that everything that is not Donald Trump is simply getting less attention. The defining American social movement of the last few years, Black Lives Matter, has struggled to find its feet in a Trump world in which a continued drumbeat of well-documented police shootings no longer dominates social media. The startling dashcam footage of a police officer opening fire on Philando Castile, for instance, would likely have dominated headlines last year; this June, Trump tweets about a Georgia election and North Korea dominated headlines.
In Silicon Valley, whose product launch cycle has for two decades been grist for the global attention machine, Eric Feng, a former CTO at Hulu, launched his new Packagd, his new video platform, on the day of former FBI director James Comey’s testimony to Congress.
“The reality is that we just don’t really matter,” he said, taking small solace in the fact that the Comey testimony ended a few hours before his company’s launch. “What we can hope for is the soft spots in the news cycle and if something happens you just tighten the seatbelt and hope it works out.”
BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
And god forbid you’re trying to sell a book these days.
Christine Hyung-Oak Lee, whose memoir Tell Me Everything You Don’t Remember was published in February, recalled interview requests from mainstream news outlets that never turned into stories.
“They were doing Trump coverage,” she said, adding that “the publishing industry is very forgiving of book sales right now.”
“With this administration and the news swings on a daily and hourly basis, it’s been a little more problematic for nonfiction books in particular,” said Marie Coolman, senior director of publicity and communications at book publisher Bloomsbury, who added that she thinks some fiction titles are winning out as “a respite from the news.”
Of course, not everyone on the global stage is looking for attention. For some domestic and global players, this distraction is a nice environment in which to get things done.
“The news cycle is so fast and so overloaded that the silver lining is that some of the negative narratives tend to dissipate much more quickly than before,” said Matthew Hiltzik, a veteran New York corporate and crisis communications consultant. “There are certain clients who prefer not being covered and so that helps!”
Indeed, for those who don’t want attention, this is something of a golden age.
The media and political glare on Trump has given rogue actors abroad an opportunity to pursue their aims without attracting too much attention. During the years when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was Iran’s president Iran was an international pariah, with the UN and EU as well as the US rushing to heap on sanctions. With soft-spoken cleric Hassan Rouhani now Iran's president, Tehran often goes to lengths to sound like the adult in the room. Meanwhile, Iran continues to fire off ballistic missiles, train and arm gunmen across the region, and confront US allies.
When Obama was president, Iranian censors struggled to suppress all of his peaceful overtures and public addresses to Iran. Now, whenever Trump or even Sean Spicer is about to give a press conference, Iran state television goes live to Washington.
"Iran can say, 'America really has a bad guy in charge. Look, he's under investigation,'" a former US intelligence operations officer who was based for years in the Middle East and remains active in the region, said. "In the States, we just arrested some Hezbollah operatives affiliated with Imad Mugniyah's old component. Nobody paid attention.”
"Trump is the best distraction," he said. ●