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    “What, 63 years since Rosa Parks got arrested in Montgomery and black women are still shutting down racist assholes in Alabama.”

    Justin Sullivan / Getty Images


    Black residents make up 26.8% of Alabama's population, according to US Census data, and often vote for Democrats. And voter turnout during Tuesday's election was high.

    "Trust black women, trust a real investment of resources, and trust excellent organizing," Symone Sanders, Priorities USA strategist, told BuzzFeed News.

    The night before the election, Kayla Moore, Roy Moore's wife, had defended her husband against people who said he was racist.

    "We have many friends that are black, and we also fellowship with them in church and in our home," she said at a campaign rally.

    For his own part, Jones has pointed many times to his record of helping black residents, often pointing to when he was a federal prosecutor in the infamous 1963 bombing of the predominantly black 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, pursuing a case against two members of the Ku Klux Klan.

    LINK: Donald Trump’s Playbook Couldn’t Save Roy Moore

    LINK: Democrats Just Scored A Historic Win In Alabama

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    Mike Segar / Reuters

    Nevada Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen announced Saturday that he would not seek reelection amid sexual harassment allegations from his former campaign finance director.

    In early December, BuzzFeed News first reported the allegations of the former staffer, who said Kihuen repeatedly harassed and made sexual advances toward her last year during his campaign, leading her to quit after only a few months on the job.

    A second woman then told the Nevada Independent earlier this week that Kihuen had repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances toward her when she was a lobbyist and he was a state senator.

    "I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question," Kihuen said in a statement on Saturday. "I am committed to fully cooperating with the House Ethics Committee and I look forward to clearing my name."

    "However, the allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign," he said. "Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek reelection."

    In the aftermath of the BuzzFeed News report, there had been swift calls for the freshman Democrat to step down: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján called for his resignation when presented with the details of the article and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Kihuen should resign several hours later, but he refused to do so.

    Kihuen's decision not to seek reelection comes less than two weeks after Rep. John Conyers, the longest serving member of Congress, resigned over sexual harassment allegations first revealed by BuzzFeed News.

    The Nevada Democrat was elected to Congress last November and is a longtime protégé of former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Kihuen is a DREAMer and often talked about his immigrant experience on the campaign trail and in Congress, pushing for legislation to protect those, like himself, who were brought to the US illegally as children. The subject was also central to his speech at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Before entering Congress, Kihuen spent a decade in the Nevada legislature.

    Kihuen’s former campaign finance director, Samantha (whose last name BuzzFeed News withheld), alleged that Kihuen propositioned her for dates and sex despite repeated rejections. She said he touched her thighs twice without consent.

    In a statement to BuzzFeed News for the initial story, Kihuen said:

    The staff member in question was a valued member of my team. I sincerely apologize for anything that I may have said or done that made her feel uncomfortable. I take this matter seriously as it is not indicative of who I am. I was raised in a strong family that taught me to treat women with the utmost dignity and respect. I have spent my fifteen years in public service fighting for women’s equality, and I will continue to do so.

    Later the same day, Kihuen’s office sent out a new statement adding that he wanted to “make it clear that I don’t recall any of the circumstances.” His office didn’t respond to a BuzzFeed News inquiry asking whether he denied the events occurred as described.

    Dozens who have been around Kihuen over the years described to BuzzFeed News a pattern of behavior from him that was teetering on the brink of misconduct. In interviews with at least 30 men and women who have worked in Nevada politics in Carson City and in Las Vegas, Kihuen was repeatedly described as a "playboy" whose reputation for constantly pursuing and flirting with young women was an "open secret."

    One former Nevada State Assembly intern said, in settings with alcohol, she routinely saw Kihuen making inappropriate jokes and at times giving unwanted, long hugs and touches.

    "Ruben tends to be very touchy-feely and flirtatious to begin with," the intern said. "The more you just let it go, the farther along he gets."

    Kihuen's full statement:

    Nothing is more important to me than my family and serving my constituents. It is the greatest honor of my life to represent Nevada’s Fourth District as a Member of the United States House of Representatives.

    The support and encouragement of my constituents provides me with the strength and guidance to represent Nevada to the best of my abilities.

    I want to state clearly again that I deny the allegations in question. I am committed to fully cooperating with the House Ethics Committee and I look forward to clearing my name.

    Due process and the presumption of innocence are bedrock legal principles which have guided our nation for centuries, and they should not be lost to unsubstantiated hearsay and innuendo.

    However, the allegations that have surfaced would be a distraction from a fair and thorough discussion of the issues in a reelection campaign. Therefore, it is in the best interests of my family and my constituents to complete my term in Congress and not seek reelection.

    LINK: A Member Of Congress Accused Of Harassment Is Refusing to Resign. Frustrated Democrats Can't Make Him.

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    Joshua Roberts / Reuters

    A lawyer for the Trump transition team on Saturday accused a federal agency of illegally and unconstitutionally turning over thousands of emails to the Special Counsel's Office.

    Specifically, the General Services Administration (GSA) turned over emails written during the transition — the period between Election Day 2016 and Inauguration Day 2017 — and the Trump campaign is claiming in a letter that the decision to do so violated the law.

    Officials with both the Special Counsel's Office and GSA, however, pushed back against the Trump campaign lawyer's claims in the hours after the letter was issued.

    Fox News first reported the existence of the letter, following an Axios report about the emails having been obtained by Special Counsel's Office.

    The GSA — which is responsible under law for providing the presidential transition with office space, supplies like phones and laptops, and "" emails — was instructed after the transition had ended and President Trump had taken office to preserve records from the transition in connection with ongoing investigations.

    In the seven-page letter, which was sent to congressional committee leaders on Saturday, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, Kory Langhofer, wrote, "We understand that the Special Counsel’s Office has subsequently made extensive use of the materials it obtained from the GSA, including materials that are susceptible to privilege claims."

    According to the letter, the Mueller investigation requested, in a pair of August letters, "the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials" for nine transition team members working on "national security and policy matters" and four other "senior" transition team members.

    Langhofer argues in the letter that decision by GSA officials went against what he calls "the GSA's previous acknowledgement concerning" the Trump campaign's "rightful ownership and control of" transition team materials.

    Langhofer claims the production of transition materials to the Special Counsel's Office by GSA violated "GSA's duties to" the Trump campaign, a Presidential Transition Act requirement that "computers or communications services" to the transition team be "secure," and the Fourth Amendment. (At the same time, however, Langhofer makes clear he believes the current law should be changed "to protect future presidential transitions from having their private records misappropriated by government agencies.")

    The letter also makes a specific claim about communication between the government and the campaign — that Richard Beckler, then the general counsel of the GSA, "acknowledged unequivocally to [the Trump campaign's] legal counsel" in a June 15 discussion that the Trump campaign "owned and controlled" emails, and that "any requests for the production of PTT [Presidential Transition Team] records would therefore be routed to legal counsel for [the Trump campaign]."

    Langhofer puts much of the blame for the move on a career government employee, GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt, who he says was present for those assurances. (Beckler "was hospitalized and incapacitated" in August, according to the letter, and has since died.)

    "Career GSA staff, working with Mr. Loewentritt and at the direction of the FBI, immediately produced all the materials requested by the Special Counsel’s Office – without notifying TFA [Trump for America] or filtering or redacting privileged material," Langhofer writes.

    In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News on Saturday night, Loewentritt — whose LinkedIn represents that he has worked at the agency since 1972 — disputed the claims made in the letter sent by the Trump campaign.

    "Beckler never made that commitment," he said of the claim that any requests for transition records would be routed to the Trump campaign's counsel.

    Specifically, Loewentritt said, "in using our devices," transition team members were informed that materials "would not be held back in any law enforcement" actions.

    Loewentritt read to BuzzFeed News a series of agreements that anyone had to agree to when using GSA materials during the transition, including that there could be monitoring and auditing of devices and that, "Therefore, no expectation of privacy can be assumed."

    Loewentritt told BuzzFeed News that the GSA initially "suggested a warrant or subpoena" for the materials, but that the Special Counsel's Office determined the letter route was sufficient.

    As to whether the Trump campaign should have been informed of the request, Loewentritt said, "That's between the Special Counsel and the transition team."

    Asked about Langhofer's letter and Loewentritt's statements — and after publication of this story — a spokesperson for the Special Counsel's Office, Peter Carr, told BuzzFeed News, “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”

    Read the Trump campaign lawyer's letter:

    Read the Trump campaign lawyer's letter:


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    Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

    Doug Jones couldn’t have won in Alabama without black voters. National and local Democratic groups knew that — and spent millions trying to turn those voters out.

    And even though the Alabama race may be an outlier, some of those groups now hope that the victory is a blueprint for the party in the South, where a few thousand votes could make a huge difference, as they try to pick up more House seats and governor’s mansions.

    In the weeks before Jones’s victory, there were preemptive concerns Democrats had not done enough to turn out black voters, some of whom were, at best, unenthused about Jones. Those worries proved unfounded: While some white rural and suburban voters stayed home with the infamous Roy Moore on the ballot, black people in Alabama punched above their weight — compromising 29% of voters in the election despite only accounting for around 27% of the state’s population according to exit poll data. Black women, in particular, voted for Jones in near solidarity at 98%.

    An array of Democratic groups poured money and time Alabama: the NAACP, the Democratic National Committee, Priorities USA, and newer groups like BlackPAC, which along with its coordinated arm, spent more than $2.1 million in the state. The group also knocked on nearly 500,000 doors, and spoke with more than 120,000 people about issues surrounding the election, the executive director Adrianne Shropshire told BuzzFeed News.

    The organization also partnered with groups organizing in black churches and engaging millennial black voters.

    Shropshire believes that to win in the South, Democrats need to up their game at engaging black voters. “We know that there are real opportunities for progressives to win in the south and we know that there are opportunities coming up. Whether it’s Stacey Abrams in Georgia or Andrew Gillum in Florida there are opportunities to support progressive candidates,” Shropshire said, referring to the competitive governors’ races in Georgia and Florida.

    Next year, there could also potentially be a competitive (but difficult) Senate race in Tennessee and — more promisingly — House races across the South.

    Although BlackPAC isn’t quite ready to say where they’ll be focusing their efforts next, Priorities USA said they’re looking to support candidates in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan, and Arizona, and they’re eyeing gubernatorial races in South.

    The best known Democratic super PAC, which backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, spent $1.5 million dollars alongside Senate Majority PAC during the Alabama special election. The majority of that ($1 million) was specifically spent on mobilizing black voters, the chairman of Priorities PAC, Guy Cecil, told BuzzFeed News.

    Priorities emphasized traditional voter mobilization : education efforts about the date of the election and polling places. They also crafted an education effort that catered to younger voters on online about the “extremist and racist” statements previously made by Moore

    Cecil told BuzzFeed News that Priorities PAC learned lessons that Democrats should embrace ahead of the 2018 elections. “Democrats need to expand key demographics that they want to mobilize in black groups and other communities of color if they want to increase turnout,” he said.

    The overall question of black turnout continues to loom large for Democrats’ national ambitions: Voter participation was down somewhat in 2016, which people have attributed to everything from President Obama no longer being on the ballot, to voting rules making it more difficult for black communities to vote, to Hillary Clinton not holding the same kind of appeal as Obama, to Democratic failures to motivate and focus issues important to black voters.

    This year, Democratic turnout has exploded, especially in states where Republicans have a significant edge, like Alabama. National Democratic groups have also invested; earlier this fall in Virginia, liberal billionaire Tom Steyer financed a narrow effort that targeted students at black colleges and universities in the state. In the final week of his campaign, Jones campaigned heavily with prominent black Democrats, including Sen. Cory Booker and former governor Deval Patrick. The DNC also played a more reserved role in Alabama, quietly spending $1 million dollars on the race and dispatching over 30 aides.

    Meanwhile, in addition to the efforts from national progressive groups, the Alabama NAACP also put together an initiative to mobilize voters by educating voters about the special election and giving them information about the proper IDs required to vote. The group says members called every voter who hadn’t participated in an election since former president Obama was on a ballot to encourage them to participate in the election.

    “We had a lot at stake here in Alabama from health care and education to voter suppression which is crippling a lot of people here so we had to get people informed early,” Jerry Burnet, the Alabama NAACP state political action chair told BuzzFeed News.

    Shropshire believes there’s a shift happening in how the Democratic Party courts black voters and that the model could work in other southern states if the party engages with black voters early and invests in the infrastructure to assist local black and progressive organizations, particularly in funding those groups already organizing voters in those communities, and continues to educate voters about the obstacles they might face at the polls.

    “I think the degree to which we can address the voter suppression tactics we’ll see greater participation and part of the reason [Tuesday] was so amazing was that 29% of the electorate did all of that in spite of that, and Alabama voters really did win both for themselves and for the country,” Shropshire said.

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    The video quickly catches your eye, with bold, flashing numbers against a bloodred background. As sinister music charges toward a dramatic finish, a warning about thousands of “foreign Islamists” roaming freely about the country creeps across the screen.

    Marine Le Pen, the right-wing candidate who in May lost her bid for president in France, closed her campaign with this message, seen by more than 1.5 million Facebook users. The ad had a theatrical look and feel unusual to European politics, but one quite familiar to Americans.

    And that’s because Americans made it.

    Vincent Harris, whose namesake Austin, Texas–based firm has deep ties to US Republicans, has positioned himself as a digital guru for Le Pen and other far-right leaders overseas against a backdrop of spiking nationalism, ethnic division, and anti-globalism. It’s an odd trajectory for someone who once seemed on his way to being the GOP’s super-consultant of the future.

    Harris taught Mike Huckabee how to talk to bloggers. Sharpened tea party–insurgent Ted Cruz into a national brand. Created memes for Mitch McConnell, the dullest of senators. Evangelized for the phone over television. Along the way he became, in the words of one publication, “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet.” And he did it all before his 27th birthday.

    But now, as he approaches 30, Harris has fallen into a bit of a slump at home. He bet on the wrong 2016 presidential candidate. Pissed off one of his top clients. Disappeared from Donald Trump’s campaign within days for reasons no one seems to understand. As 2017 ends, his highlights are accounts that make even some of his friends and admirers uncomfortable.

    Far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen answers to journalists at the Federation of Vaucluse during a press conference on Oct. 8, 2017, in Carpentras in southern France.

    Anne-christine Poujoulat / AFP / Getty Images

    With Harris Media’s assistance, Le Pen’s National Front — a party that has struggled to distance itself from Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitism — has ridden anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments to more mainstream success. More recently, and most alarmingly to many who respect Harris’ talents, the firm’s efforts for Alternative für Deutschland helped nationalists win seats in Germany’s parliament for the first time in more than half a century. It’s a party that can’t seem to shake its Nazi roots. At one rally earlier this year in support of AfD, attendees chanted that they would “build a subway” to Auschwitz for political opponents.

    “I doubt,” one former Harris Media employee told BuzzFeed News, “that many people started working there to work for neo-Nazis.”

    German voters had never seen a campaign quite like the one Harris Media took online for AfD. One piece branded Chancellor Angela Merkel as the “oathbreaker” for accepting refugees. Another involved a Facebook post with stark, bloody tire tracks charging that Merkel’s policies have resulted in Islamic terrorist attacks across Europe. By using social media–targeting tactics that have been standard in recent US campaigns, the firm found an audience receptive to AfD’s message. AfD cultivated an alliance of like-minded voters and created a safe, comfortable place to indulge in right-wing nationalism that had long been treated as taboo in the country. Merkel’s party prevailed in the September elections, but AfD won enough votes to become Germany’s third most popular party.

    “I doubt,” one former employee said, “that many people started working there to work for neo-Nazis.”

    How did Harris go from The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet to The Man Who Helped the Radical Fringe Find Its Voice Overseas? It’s a question that the man who once gladly submitted himself to such publicity seems uneager to answer. He declined repeated requests to be interviewed on the record for this story, agreeing only to review questions submitted by email. He responded to those questions with an emailed statement.

    “Harris Media’s domestic client work is stronger than ever; during the past 24 months, we have served American candidates at every level and won numerous awards for groundbreaking efforts,” Harris wrote. “Our continued success in the US has led to opportunities around the world in the some of the world’s largest and most important democracies, where we have assisted a diverse set of candidates and parties across the political spectrum. As we grow both domestically and internationally, we remain focused on providing creative digital approaches to reaching and persuading distracted voters in today's digital-first media environment.”

    Harris’ friends see a young entrepreneur who is fascinated by international affairs and recognizes an opportunity to grow his business in countries where political leaders see value in US-style digital tactics. “I think he’s genuinely committed to serving the conservative movement in the US and countries around the world,” said William McBeath, director of training and marketing at the Manning Centre, a Canadian organization that promotes conservative politics and counts Harris among the featured speakers at its annual networking conference.

    Disgruntled ex-employees and dissatisfied ex-clients are less charitable. Success, these critics say, went to Harris’ head. They describe a transformation into a bro CEO, the kind who would rather be at Burning Man than in the trenches of a big race. (One senator, unhappy that Harris was dumping too much high-level work on inexperienced staff, fired Harris Media less than three months before Election Day last year.) And they believe that, though Harris initially pursued foreign campaigns as a lucrative niche to fill, the more objectionable accounts might be increasingly necessary to the firm’s survival.

    “Some of us did question these campaigns, these candidates, and what they stand for,” said one former Harris Media employee, who, like many of the more than 12 ex-staffers and former clients interviewed for this story, requested anonymity to speak candidly about their experiences. “I think this latest adaptation is all of these foreign campaigns. I don’t think their reputation in the United States is favorable. They’ve burned so many bridges.”

    Others believe that Harris, as one of the best in a practice area with few established specialists, remains influential and in demand in US politics. But there are questions about how long he can maintain that status the deeper he gets involved overseas. Some point to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who disappeared from the domestic political scene for years while making millions working for authoritarian figures in Eastern Europe.

    “Manafort got very wealthy offering those services, so far be it from me to predict whether someone like Vincent who takes on these types of clients will suffer consequences or not — that remains to be seen,” Tim Miller, a Republican communications consultant who was active last year in anti-Trump efforts, told BuzzFeed News. “There's a reason that Manafort wasn't involved in US politics for decades before somebody with no standards and no interest in vetting like Donald Trump came around. Candidates who want to make sure their image and their advisers are in line with their values weren't hiring.”

    Delegates of the right-wing AfD vote 'No' during the AfD federal congress at the Hannover Congress Centrum on Dec. 2, 2017, in Hanover, Germany.

    Alexander Koerner / Getty Images

    The full scope of Harris’ work abroad — what countries, how much, or how little on behalf of one party or another — isn’t clear.

    Harris, in an email and on a résumé he posted online, has said he’s done work (though with little elaboration on what kind of work) for candidates in Madagascar and training projects in Belgium, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Canada. Some of the efforts were on behalf of the International Republican Institute, a pro-democracy group in the US chaired by Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Several former employees said certain foreign accounts exist under nondisclosure agreements, while others — like Le Pen in France — are proudly described on Harris Media’s website.

    Regardless, the work abroad started more than five years ago. The Arab Spring unleashed political revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa — it also opened Harris’ eyes to international expansion opportunities.

    After the fall of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Harris traveled to Egypt to assist with election training. As he tells it, his work with persecuted Coptic Christians reinforced to him the power of the internet as a democratic equalizer. “This group of people in Egypt,” Harris said during a September presentation at the Asian Conference for Political Communication in Singapore, “can coordinate now through Facebook and actually build a strong political alliance, whereas before their power was dissolved amongst the larger majoritarian populations.”

    The projects for Le Pen and AfD have pushed Harris Media’s work deeper into Euroscepticism and the hardcore nativism often associated with it.

    From there, he began jumping into more foreign efforts. In 2015, he signed on with Israel’s Likud Party and the reelection campaign for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a move that fit Harris’ evangelical conservative politics, in which Israel’s importance is deeply ingrained. The timing of his hiring fueled speculation that he was a favor from some of his conservative clients back home. “I have not spoken to Senator Cruz or to Mitch McConnell about my job here,” he told the Jerusalem Post at the time. “My Israeli work is completely separate from my work in the US, so what is being reported is not true. I love Israel, and I am excited to be here to help the Likud and the prime minister use digital media in an effective and forward-looking manner.”

    The firm also hooked up briefly in 2014 with the UK Independence Party, right-wing populists who, two years later, would back the Brexit campaign to leave the European Union. Harris Media notes the former client prominently on its website, and its involvement with UKIP has been lumped in with its more recent efforts in France and Germany, though Harris describes it today as minor development work. (Officials with UKIP and its former leader, Nigel Farage, told BuzzFeed News they had never heard of Harris or the firm.)

    Though Likud and UKIP are complicated, involvement in British and Israeli politics isn’t necessarily so unusual for American political operatives. But work in other parts of Europe and in other parts of the world is less common.

    Two former employees said the firm recently assisted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who last month was sworn in for a second term after a disputed election and election do-over marred by violent clashes. Harris would not confirm or deny that Kenyatta was a client.

    The projects for Le Pen and AfD have pushed Harris Media's work deeper into Euroscepticism and the hardcore nativism and hostility to foreigners that’s often associated with it. Right-wing groups once on the fringes of political activity now are feeding off increasingly mainstream fears surrounding an influx of migrant refugees from war-torn nations across the Mediterranean Sea — and off anger over EU policies addressing the crisis.

    There also are public safety concerns, amplified by anti-Islamic sentiment that Harris Media seems OK with stoking, as the firm did in the Facebook video for Le Pen. And in Harris, AfD found a partner for a provocative campaign that also pushed boundaries on the print side. One poster, highlighting the backsides of two women at the beach, called for bikinis over burqas. Another, featuring a pregnant woman, asked: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.” Harris Media’s anti-Merkel messaging online was just as attention grabbing, though the firm’s pitch to use a “Germany for Germans” campaign reportedly was too much for the client, mindful of the Nazi echo.

    "To me, this is bigger than personal attacks. To me, the internet spreads democracy. To me, the internet gives democracy."

    While Le Pen lost the presidential election in France, her National Front asserted its growing political presence. AfD made historic gains. For Harris, both were opportunities to show how, with his expertise, fringe movements and minority parties can compete with the establishment. In a way it was as fundamentally simple as herding people together on social media and making them feel comfortable confessing their unpopular opinions. But this is a potential gold rush for enterprising US consultants. Antiestablishment leaders looking for an edge will pay good money for Americanized tactics. “They didn’t have contacts at Facebook, Twitter, or Google before we came in,” Josh Canter, a Harris Media operative who was based in Berlin for the German elections, told Bloomberg Businessweek in September.

    At the Singapore conference in September, several weeks before the German elections, Harris acknowledged the mean and divisive political culture that feasts online. “But to me, this is bigger than feelings,” he said. “To me, this is bigger than personal attacks. To me, the internet spreads democracy. To me, the internet gives democracy.”

    A few moments later in the speech, a video of which Harris posted to his personal website, he mused, “Do we remember how it was before the internet, y’all?”

    Vincent Harris in his office.

    Drew Anthony Smith

    Harris was an early adopter of the internet as a political tool.

    As a high school student in Northern Virginia, he launched to chronicle happenings in local politics. At first, he published anonymously. “He had to,” said Sean Connaughton, who at the time was a Prince William County supervisor. “I think if anyone knew it was a 16-year-old putting this stuff up, no one would have paid attention to it.”

    Even after Harris outed himself, Connaughton said, some suspected he was merely a front for Connaughton or for Rep. Tom Davis, then the area congressman. Harris had volunteered for both, even climbing into a smelly old elephant costume to represent his Republican patrons at parades. ( remains live after all these years, but the most recent post is from March. The content has become more of a self-promotional vehicle for Harris, and links to early entries lead to error pages.)

    Harris went pro in college, at Baylor University, where he was known among classmates as a devout Christian conservative — the kind of kid who asked you to share a favorite Bible passage. From Waco, Texas, he signed on to 2008 campaigns for the state’s then-junior senator, John Cornyn, and for presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. He sold both on a unique strategy: talking to political bloggers like him. For Huckabee, who lacked the money to wage a big ad campaign, such exposure was valuable. The former Arkansas governor staged a surprise win in the Iowa caucuses that year. Cornyn cruised to a second term.

    “We called him Blogger Boy,” said John Drogin, a Republican strategist who worked for Cornyn’s reelection campaign at the time. “Back in 2008, it was a slightly different digital landscape.”

    "Vincent was really a pioneer of his craft and found his voice in the midst of a field that was unknown."

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    Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

    Military officials have had a policy in place for "processing transgender applicants for military service" since Dec. 8, a new memorandum shows.

    The document, made public by lawyers challenging the ban on Tuesday night, comes as the Justice Department continues to fight in court to put off a Jan. 1 deadline for the Pentagon to start allowing transgender military recruits.

    The memorandum, signed by Navy Capt. David Kemp, was submitted on Tuesday night as an exhibit in one of the pending cases challenging President Trump's military ban.

    The policy applies to all United States Military Entrance Processing Command personnel and activities, per the memo.


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    Yuri Gripas / Reuters

    The Supreme Court on Wednesday tossed out a trial court's order that the Trump administration turn over internal documents relating to the decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), ruling that other issues must first be resolved before even considering whether such an order is appropriate.

    In an unsigned opinion with no noted dissents, the Supreme Court ordered the district court hearing the challenges to the Trump administration's DACA decision to first consider whether the decision of then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke to rescind DACA is reviewable and, if it is, whether the district court has jurisdiction to hear the case in light of restrictions in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

    "Either of those arguments, if accepted, likely would eliminate the need for the District Court to examine a complete administrative record [by obtaining the additional documents]," the ruling stated.

    Even if the action is reviewable and the court has jurisdiction, the opinion continued, further litigation would be necessary because "the District Court may not compel the Government to disclose any document that the Government believes is privileged without first providing the Government with the opportunity to argue the issue."

    The Supreme Court noted that Wednesday's ruling "does not suggest any view on the merits of respondents’ claims or the Government’s defenses."

    The Justice Department took the case to the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, and the court granted a temporary stay while the justices considered the Justice Department's request.

    Read the ruling:

    Read the ruling:


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    Police pursue demonstrators in Washington, DC, on Jan. 20, 2017.

    AP / Mark Tenally

    A jury on Thursday found six defendants not guilty on all charges they were facing in connection with Inauguration Day protests in Washington, DC.

    This was the first trial for the nearly 200 defendants still facing charges in connection with anti-Trump demonstrations on Jan. 20 that turned violent.

    The verdict is a victory not only for the six defendants and their lawyers, but for other defense attorneys, anti-Trump activists, and free speech advocates who had criticized the mass arrests and prosecution as examples of government overreach and who worried the case signaled a new era of criminalizing political dissent.

    "The jury thoughtfully distinguished First Amendment rights from criminal conduct," Steven McCool, one of the defense lawyers, told BuzzFeed News in an email. "They vindicated the constitutional rights of these defendants and all of us.

    Asked about the verdict, one of the defendants, Alexei Wood, told BuzzFeed News in a text message: "Fuk them so hard."

    More trials for other defendants are scheduled throughout 2018. A question going forward will be if the acquittal prompts the government to drop any cases or charges or if prosecutors will press ahead as planned. In a statement, however, the US Attorney's Office suggested it planned to move forward with the remaining pending charges against other defendants.

    "The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed. This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby," per the statement. "The criminal justice process ensures that every defendant is judged based on his or her personal conduct and intent. We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant."

    The next trial is scheduled to begin in March.

    Police arrested 234 people on Jan. 20, charging them with rioting. A grand jury later returned an indictment that included charges for rioting and property destruction.

    Over the following months, prosecutors dropped charges against 20 people, and reached plea deals with 20 others. Only one person, Dane Powell, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge; the rest admitted to misdemeanors. Powell is also the only person so far to receive a sentence of jail time — he was sentenced to four months.

    The first trial — for Jennifer Armento, of Philadelphia; Michelle Macchio, of Asheville, N.C.; Oliver Harris, of Philadelphia; Brittne Lawson, of Aspinwall, Pa.; Christina Simmons, of Cockeysville, Md.; and Alexei Wood, of San Antonio, Texas — started in mid-November.

    The jury began deliberating on Dec. 15. The six defendants faced seven charges: Five felony counts of property destruction, along with two misdemeanor counts of engaging in a riot and conspiracy to riot. The felony charges carry maximum penalties of 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. The misdemeanors have maximum penalties of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

    The defendants initially faced an additional felony charge for inciting a riot, but Judge Lynn Leibovitz dismissed that count at the end of the trial. Leibovitz denied a motion from the defense to dismiss the rest of the charges as well, though.

    The defendants are being tried in small groups, but the government still had to prove the charges against each defendant as an individual. The first group included people who said they were serving as medics and others who said they were participating in anti-Trump demonstrations but didn't participate in or support the violence. According to the government, the property destruction was valued at more than $100,000. Wood said he was at the protests as an independent journalist, and press freedom advocates have raised concerns about his prosecution.

    The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter on Thursday to DC US Attorney Jessie Liu expressing concern about how one of the prosecutors presented information to the jury about Wood's knowledge of terminology about protest strategies and his lack of official press credentials in arguing he committed a crime.

    "While journalists of course are not above the law and have no right to incite a riot or engage in acts of assault or vandalism, being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included," the committee's executive director Bruce Brown wrote.

    There was no evidence presented at the first trial that any of the six defendants were the ones who broke windows on Jan. 20. The prosecution's theory was that they were all still criminally responsible because they were there to support the rioters. The defense countered that under the First Amendment, people exercising their free speech rights weren't required to leave a protest just because someone near them was violent; they argued that the government hadn't shown evidence that the individual defendants were at the demonstration that day in order to back up the bad actors.

    Defense lawyers, anti-Trump activists, and free speech advocates had been watching the first trial as a test of the prosecution and defense strategies in these cases — and in any future cases involving arrests of protesters — going forward.

    “Today’s verdict reaffirms two central constitutional principles of our democracy: first, that dissent is not a crime, and second, that our justice system does not permit guilt by association. We hope today’s verdict begins the important work of teaching police and prosecutors to respect the line between lawbreaking and constitutionally protected protest," Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a statement. "We hope that the U.S. Attorney’s Office gets the message and moves quickly to drop all remaining changes against peaceful demonstrators."

    The ACLU earlier this year filed a civil lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department alleging they used excessive conduct in responding to the protests on Jan. 20 and making arrests. That case is pending.

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    Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

    A federal appeals court denied the Trump administration's request to halt a Jan. 1 start date for allowing transgender military recruits, a decision announced in a brief ruling on Thursday.

    The order from the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit brings the question closer to the Supreme Court, where the Justice Department could now turn in a last-ditch effort to stop transgender people from being allowed to join the military if they meet certain conditions starting in the new year.

    The case, Stone v. Trump, is one of several challenging President Trump's transgender military ban order, which itself came out of his July morning tweets announcing his position on the topic.

    Asked for comment on the ruling and whether the Justice Department would ask the Supreme Court for a stay, Justice Department spokesperson Lauren Ehrsam wrote, "We disagree with the Court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps."

    This issue making its way through the courts in a somewhat expedited basis currently is the specific question of transgender military recruits. The other parts of Trump's order — about retention and promotion of current service members who are transgender and about surgery coverage — also are enjoined currently, and that litigation will continue in the new year, but the accession question must be resolved because the start date for that, prior to Trump's ban, was to be Jan. 1.

    The latest stage in this process began on Nov. 27, when US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Pentagon could not move the Jan. 1 deadline for allowing transgender recruits. On Dec. 11, the judge ruled against the Trump administration again — denying a request for a partial stay of her earlier order. The Trump administration appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.

    At the same time, two other similar cases led to similar injunctions against Trump's ban — one in Maryland and another in the state of Washington. In both cases, the Trump administration has asked the district court judge to clarify their ruling to allow the Pentagon to move the Jan. 1 date or to issue a partial stay of that part of the injunctions. They also appealed both cases, to the US Courts of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and 9th Circuit, respectively.

    Although the one case has been pending before the DC Circuit, it was the 4th Circuit that issued the first appellate ruling on the subject, stating, without more explanation, that "the court denies the motion for administrative stay and partial stay pending appeal" in Thursday's order.

    The panel hearing the request was Judge Diana Motz, Albert Diaz, and Pamela Harris. Motz was nominated to the bench by President Clinton, and Diaz and Harris by President Obama.

    The order came two days after challengers to the ban submitted in court a Dec. 8 Defense Department memorandum laying out the department's policies for allowing transgender recruits — and the conditions they must meet — starting on Jan. 1.

    Read the relevant court documents from all three cases:

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    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    The Justice Department wiped a wide swath of "guidance documents" off the books on Thursday, withdrawing 25 documents — including one addressing integration of people with disabilities in state and local government programs and another on standards for assessing citizenship status discrimination.

    The Justice Department, in announcing the move, stated the 25 documents were "unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper." Several — though not all of them — were issued during President Barack Obama's administration.

    The move follows a February executive order from President Donald Trump seeking a broad review of regulatory actions across the federal government and a follow-up November memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions focused on guidance documents — which the department criticized as being used to "evad[e] required rulemaking processes" too often.

    "[A]ny guidance that is outdated, used to circumvent the regulatory process, or that improperly goes beyond what is provided for in statutes or regulation should not be given effect," Sessions said in a statement on Thursday. "That is why today, we are ending 25 examples of improper or unnecessary guidance documents identified by our Regulatory Reform Task Force led by our Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand."

    The Justice Department formally announced that Sessions was withdrawing the more than two dozen "guidance" documents following a Washington Post report on the decision earlier Thursday evening.

    The department did not state why each of the 25 were specifically selected to be withdrawn.

    Ten of the withdrawn documents relate to the Americans With Disabilities Act; six are documents issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the remaining nine cover a range of topics — including a 2016 Obama-era effort highlighted in the Post's reporting "that asked local courts across the country to be wary of slapping poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions’ coffers."

    One of the withdrawn ADA documents addressed the application of the "integration mandate" in the part of the ADA addressing state and local governments. The chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, Catherine Lhamon, criticized the move on Twitter.

    Another withdrawn Obama-era document was a 2012 letter that provided "some general guidelines regarding compliance with the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act" regarding legal permanent residents.

    The news comes as President Trump continues to focus on cutting regulations — along with this week's passage of the tax bill and judicial confirmations — as key accomplishments in his first year in office.

    According to the list provided by the Justice Department on Thursday evening, the following "guidance documents" have been withdrawn in 2017:

    1. ATF Procedure 75-4.
    2. Industry Circular 75-10.
    3. ATF Ruling 85-3.
    4. Industry Circular 85-3.
    5. ATF Ruling 2001-1.
    6. ATF Ruling 2004-1.
    7. Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).
    8. Northern Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).
    9. Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program Guidance Manual (2007).
    10. Advisory for Recipients of Financial Assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice on Levying Fines and Fees on Juveniles (January 2017).
    11. Dear Colleague Letter on Enforcement of Fines and Fees (March 2016).
    12. ADA Myths and Facts (1995).
    13. Common ADA Problems at Newly Constructed Lodging Facilities (November 1999).
    14. Title II Highlights (last updated 2008).
    15. Title III Highlights (last updated 2008).
    16. Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business (July 1996).
    17. ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (April 2002).
    18. Prior Joint Statement of the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Group Homes, Local Land Use, and the Fair Housing Act (August 18, 1999).
    19. Letter to Alain Baudry, Esq., with standards for conducting internal audit in a non-discriminatory fashion (December 4, 2009).
    20. Letter to Esmeralda Zendejas on how to determine whether lawful permanent residents are protected against citizenship status discrimination (May 30, 2012).
    21. Common ADA Errors and Omissions in New Construction and Alterations (June 1997).
    22. Common Questions: Readily Achievable Barrier Removal and Design Details: Van Accessible Parking Spaces (August 1996).
    23. Website guidance on bailing-out procedures under section 4(b) and section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (2004).
    24. Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers (May 2002).
    25. Statement of the Department of Justice on Application of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. to State and Local Governments' Employment Service Systems for Individuals with Disabilities (October 31, 2016).

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    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    President Trump's third attempt at implementing his travel ban — issued via a September proclamation — again violates federal law, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on Friday.

    The court, however, will keep Friday's ruling on hold pending the outcome of any Supreme Court review sought by the Justice Department.

    The 9th Circuit ruled in a lengthy decision that "the Proclamation’s indefinite entry suspensions constitute nationality discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas," a ruling the panel concluded shows the challengers — including the state of Hawaii — had shown a likelihood that they would succeed in their lawsuit.

    The court, which heard arguments earlier this month, narrowed the district court's prior injunction — which barred all enforcement of the travel ban against people from the six majority Muslim nations affected — to people from those six nations with "a credible bona fide relationship with the United States."

    Those affected are people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Although North Korea and Venezuela also are included in the president's latest proclamation, the district court injunction did not halt enforcement of the ban against those from those countries, so they are not at issue in Friday's decision.

    Because the underlying injunction itself is stayed pending the outcome of any petition for certiorari — under a prior Supreme Court order — the 9th Circuit likewise ruled that its Friday decision will remain stayed "pending Supreme Court review."

    The case, as with other prior iterations of the ban, was considered before Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, Ronald Gould, and Richard Paez. The opinion was issued per curiam, or for the court, and not under the name of a specific judge.

    In issuing their decision, the court ruled solely on the basis that Trump's order violated the Immigration and Nationality Act's nondiscrimination provision — and that the president "lacks independent constitutional authority to issue the Proclamation" under current circumstances.

    Because it ruled on the statutory issue, the panel also held that "we need not and do not consider th[e] alternate constitutional" argument made by the challengers that the ban violates the Establishment Clause as a type of religion-based discrimination.

    That issue — and Trump's tweets on the topic — were front and center in the other appellate arguments held on the third attempt at the travel ban. The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard its arguments en banc, or before the full court, two days after the 9th Circuit's arguments. The 4th Circuit is yet to issue its decision.

    Friday's opinion was not issued without a hitch. A little more than an hour after the 9th Circuit's press office sent out the decision, the court sent a follow-up notice that the first opinion had been withdrawn and replaced. The ultimate resolution did not change, although there were slight changes made throughout the opinion.

    Although it was not immediately clear all of the distinctions, the first paragraph of the opinion, for example, was changed from stating that that court was addressing Trump's effort to bar "over 150 million nationals of six Muslim-majority countries" to "over 150 million nationals of six designated countries."

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    Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates leaves federal court on Dec. 11 in Washington, DC.

    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    Rick Gates, the defendant in one of the cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller against associates of President Trump, will not be able to leave his house to ring in the new year.

    A seemingly exasperated US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied his Thursday request to travel with his family for New Year's Eve events in a short, terse order on Friday.

    "After all of that," Jackson wrote of the repeated prior requests regarding holiday travel filed by Gates, "defendant Gates filed yet another motion, with a new plan for New Year's celebrations . . . Given the untimely filing of the current motion, it will be denied."

    Read the order:

    Read the order:

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    Joshua Roberts / Reuters

    Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit on Tuesday challenging the validity of special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment and asking a judge to set aside the criminal case that Mueller's team is pursuing against Manafort.

    Manafort — who is facing a slew of criminal charges in connection with his past work overseas — is arguing that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein went too far when he gave Mueller authority in May to investigate not only any possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but also any other matters that "arose or may arise" from the investigation.

    "The Appointment Order purports to grant authority to the Special Counsel to expand the scope of his investigation to new matters without the consent of — indeed, without even consulting — any politically accountable officer of the United States," Manafort's lawyers wrote.

    Manafort wants a judge to declare Rosenstein's original appointment order invalid, to block Mueller's office from investigating issues outside of Russian collusion, and to set aside "all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order."

    A spokesperson for the special counsel's office declined to comment. A Justice Department spokesperson wrote in an email to BuzzFeed News: "The lawsuit is frivolous but the defendant is entitled to file whatever he wants."

    The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday in the US District Court for the District of Columbia by the same lawyers representing Manafort in the criminal case, Kevin Downing and Thomas Zehnle.

    Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates were charged in late October with money laundering, failing to report overseas bank accounts, failing to register as lobbyists for foreign entities, and making false statements. They've pleaded not guilty.

    The criminal case is still in its early stages — Manafort and Gates have been fighting in court most recently over the conditions of their release while the case is pending. The judge has yet to set a trial date.

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    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    President Trump has dissolved his election integrity commission, with the White House blaming states for refusing to turn over voter data as well as the lawsuits that have dogged the commission since Trump announced it in May.

    The White House announced Trump's decision late Wednesday and sent the text of the executive order revoking the May order that created the commission soon after.

    In a statement, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders repeated Trump's oft-made claim of voter fraud, but said that "rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense," Trump had ended the commission and asked the Department of Homeland Security to take up the review of US election systems.

    Democrats and civil rights groups criticized the commission from the start, accusing the administration of using it as a pretext for suppressing minority voters. The Trump administration faced a string of lawsuits challenging the legality of the commission itself as well as its efforts to collect voter data from states.

    Most recently, the commission was sued by one of its own members, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, who claimed he was blocked from getting information about the group's activities. In the lawsuit, Dunlap's lawyers said that the commission's "superficial bipartisanship has been a facade."

    A judge on Dec. 22 had ordered the commission to provide Dunlap with some of the materials he had requested. Dunlap said in a statement on Wednesday evening that the president's order dissolving the commission "came without warning."

    '“The lack of transparency brought nothing but suspicion onto the work of the commission, which bankrupted it of any chance at public legitimacy. While this chapter is now closed, I am committed to remaining vigilant on the front of election integrity and the transparent, free, and fair conduct of elections," Dunlap said.

    In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News later in the evening, Dunlap said that although he didn't get advance notice of the president's decision, he wasn't surprised by the announcement.

    "I wondered if they might not go in this direction simply because of the court order and everything seemed to be working in a pretty dysfunctional way from the beginning," he said.

    Dunlap provided BuzzFeed News with a copy of an email time-stamped at 6:49 p.m. on Wednesday from the commission's designated federal officer, Andrew Kossack, notifying the commission members about the president's decision to dissolve the group. The White House sent out the public release around the same time. Kossack in the email advised the commissioner members that because there were still lawsuits pending, they should continue to preserve records concerning the commission. "Thank you for your service," Kossack wrote. The email's subject line was, "Dissolution of the Commission."

    American Oversight, a government transparency advocacy group representing Dunlap along with lawyers from the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, said in a statement that it would continue to fight in court for access to records about the commission's activities.

    "It’s no coincidence that the president dissolved the commission once it became clear it wouldn’t be permitted to operate in the shadows," American Oversight executive director Austin Evers said in the statement. "Secretary Dunlap deserves our gratitude for stepping into the breach to take on adversaries of democracy. We intend to continue to fight for his right to access to the commission’s secret communications. President Trump can dissolve the commission, but the law doesn't allow him or the commission to slink away from view and avoid accountability.“

    The commission was chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, but its driving force was Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. It was Kobach who sent a letter to states in June seeking information from their voter rolls. The majority of states refused to comply with the request, according to press reports.

    Kobach told the Topeka Capital-Journal last week that although the commission's work had been delayed because of the lawsuits, it would meet in January. The group's last meeting was in September.

    Dunlap's case was one of eight pending lawsuits against the commission. Shortly after the White House announced that Trump had dissolved the commission on Wednesday, the Justice Department filed notices in each of the cases alerting judges to the development.

    A spokeswoman for Kobach did not immediately return a request for comment.

    Here is the executive order that Trump signed on Jan. 3 revoking the executive order that created the commission:

    BuzzFeed News / Via The White House

    This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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    Katie Walsh

    Zach Gibson / Getty Images

    President Trump isn’t complaining publicly about the other former White House official who’s been quoted making provocative observations in a forthcoming book — in fact, prominent Trump allies are publicly standing by Katie Walsh, the former White House deputy chief of staff.

    A Thursday report from Axios had Trump administration officials debating whether Walsh should be fired from a nonprofit advocacy group that operates with Trump’s blessing after a book excerpt quoted her as characterizing the president as an indecisive “child.” But several top-ranking officials with the nonprofit, America First Policies, quickly came to Walsh’s defense and made clear she is in no danger of losing her job as a senior adviser, a sign of how well Walsh has navigated the tricky politics of 2018.

    "As the chairman of the board of America First and a longtime friend of the Trump family, I say with the utmost confidence that Katie Walsh’s work ethic, loyalty, and commitment to the president are incomparable,” Tommy Hicks Jr., a Trump fundraiser, said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News. “We are proud to have her on the team at America First."

    Brian O. Walsh, the president of America First Policies (and no relation to Katie Walsh), also was unequivocal in his support for her. “Katie Walsh is a political professional who has navigated the DC Swamp with skill and grace and worked tirelessly to help launch our new president and his administration on a path to success,” he said. “She is a pivotal part of our team at America First, and there has been no discussion about any change in her role.”

    Walsh has denied making some of the comments the book attributes to her.

    “It is the honor of my lifetime to work for President Trump, as I have on his campaign, during the transition, in his White House and continue to do so every day because I believe in the president and I believe in his leadership,” Walsh told BuzzFeed News in an emailed statement. “I look forward to when we can get back to talking about the stunning economic comeback our country is experiencing because of the tremendous vision of President Trump.”

    The response is starkly different from the fire trained on Steve Bannon: His criticism of Trump in Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House has burned bridges at a White House where he once served as chief strategist and possibly within the populist Republican political movement that he sees as his creation. On Thursday, influential Republican donor Rebekah Mercer publicly said that she does not support his “recent actions and statements.” Meanwhile, the Breitbart board is reportedly considering taking some action regarding Bannon, the right-wing news site’s executive chairman.

    Brian Walsh’s point about “skill and grace” helps explain why Walsh appears to be on safe ground while Trump uses official White House statements to declare that Bannon has “lost his mind.” With her Republican National Committee background and subsequent assimilation into the political organization built from the remnants of Trump’s anti-establishment campaign, Walsh has friends — and business interests — in all corners of today’s GOP. That’s not the easiest of feats in a party fractured by Trumpism.

    A St. Louis native, Walsh had a traditional upbringing in national Republican politics. She was a regional fundraising director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid and then moved on to roles with the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the RNC, where during the 2016 cycle she served as chief of staff under then-chair Reince Priebus. The RNC’s data operation played a substantial role in Trump’s victory and put Walsh in close contact with two of Trump’s top advisers: son-in-law Jared Kushner and digital director Brad Parscale.

    Walsh followed Priebus to the White House, where she became his deputy chief of staff. But she lasted only two months. Some viewed Walsh’s departure as symptomatic of a West Wing shakeup following the collapse of a health care bill. Priebus, who would last only a few more months himself, sent Walsh to help turn around America First, which had been criticized for not providing enough advertising support for Trump during the administration’s early days.

    "No one can fix this problem better than Katie Walsh,” Priebus said at the time.

    After Walsh joined, America First became more more visible, particularly on health care messaging and on behalf of special election candidates Trump supported last year. The nonprofit, which is not required to disclose its donors, has counted several core Trump allies among its team of advisers, including Parscale, who remains close with Walsh.

    Walsh also returned to the RNC as a senior adviser for data. She’s not on the payroll, but the party paid her consulting firm, the Laymont Group, $135,000 last year, according to Federal Election Commission filings. And Walsh’s husband, Mike Shields, has a new consulting firm that worked extensively with one of those special election candidates — Trump-endorsed Karen Handel in Georgia — and the National Republican Congressional Committee last year.

    “Katie has worked tirelessly for the party and is a valuable asset to the RNC as we head into the midterm elections,” RNC spokesperson Ryan Mahoney said Thursday.

    The perception among several GOP sources who spoke with BuzzFeed News is that Walsh has thrived financially and professionally in the Trump era without attaching herself too firmly to Trump’s brand. It’s a notion that’s undermined a bit by her brief White House tenure and prominent role with the main outside group responsible for promoting Trump’s agenda.

    But excerpts from Wolff’s book suggest Walsh was no Trump acolyte. Walsh comes off as the type of operative you’d expect to find in a typical Republican White House, thrown into a White House that was anything but — and as someone who bailed out of the job early because she had had enough. Wolff portrays her sympathetically, as a frustrated aide struggling with the competing interests of Priebus, Bannon, and Kushner, and with the whims of Trump. The killer quote attributed to Walsh compares managing Trump to “trying to figure out what a child wants.”

    Elsewhere in the book, Walsh is quoted saying that Trump “fundamentally wants to be liked. He just fundamentally needs to be liked so badly that it’s always … everything is a struggle for him.”

    According to Wolff, Walsh was an equal-opportunity critic in her quest to achieve White House order, fuming about advisers of all ideologies. She is quoted as disapproving of “Bannon’s Breitbart shenanigans"; observing that getting Gary Cohn “to take a position on something is like nailing butterflies to the wall”; and predicting that Dina Powell “will expose herself as being totally incompetent.” As for Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump: “If they tell [the president] the whales need to be saved, he’s basically for it,” Walsh reportedly said.

    Walsh has denied making the “what a child wants” comment and told Jon Ward of Yahoo News that Wolff misattributed some Bannon quotes to her. Walsh declined to respond Thursday when asked by BuzzFeed News if she denied giving any of the other quotes attributed to her.

    The comments, which have not gotten as much attention as Bannon’s assertion that a 2016 meeting with Russians at Trump Tower was “treasonous,” nonetheless caused a stir among GOP operatives. Some doubted Walsh would say such things on the record. Others doubted she could keep her place in the Trump orbit if she can’t convincingly prove that she didn’t.

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    Jonathan Bachman / Reuters

    Billionaires Bob and Rebekah Mercer say they've cut Steve Bannon off from the millions that have kept him a key player in right-wing politics and in the White House over the last year.

    "I support President Trump and the platform upon which he was elected," Rebekah Mercer said in a statement Thursday, distancing herself from Bannon following the release of excerpts from a forthcoming book in which Bannon is critical of the president's son.

    "My family and I have not communicated with Steve Bannon in many months and have provided no financial support to his political agenda, nor do we support his recent actions and statements."

    But the statement, a rare public one from Rebekah Mercer, leaves a lot to the imagination about when and where her family stopped being a benefactor to Bannon's efforts.

    It's not clear when Mercer and Bannon last spoke, multiple people told BuzzFeed News. What happens next at Breitbart, where the Mercers are major investors, is also unclear.

    Bannon allies have indicated for months that they were coordinating with the Mercers in selecting the candidates to take on Republican incumbents whom they did not consider to be supportive enough of the president's priorities. Bob Mercer contributed fundraising to two of those candidates last summer: $300,000 to a super PAC boosting Kelli Ward in Arizona and $50,000 to a super PAC helping Chris McDaniel in Mississippi.

    After leaving the White House, Bannon reportedly spent five days in Long Island meeting with the Mercers. Even after Bob Mercer stepped down from his hedge fund in part because of the media attention on his connections to Bannon, those close to the former Trump adviser insisted that Rebekah Mercer continued to stay engaged.

    And Republican candidates had been wooing Bannon in hopes that his support would translate into financial support from the Mercers. But for most, the endorsement so far meant little more than name recognition and favorable coverage by the far-right, Bannon-led website Breitbart.

    Bannon did create a nonprofit, Citizens of the American Republic, in November to serve as a vehicle for pushing his political agenda, but a source told BuzzFeed News that the group was largely dormant and discussions regarding a detailed website — crucial for fundraising and messaging — never really materialized.

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    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    The White House lawyer who reportedly advised President Trump that he had limited authority to fire former FBI director James Comey has an unexpected background: He once worked for Comey.

    Uttam Dhillon, who the New York Times on Thursday night reported had taken "the extraordinary step" in early 2017 "of misleading" President Trump about the circumstances under which he could fire Comey, has served in several Republican-led offices.

    Prior to joining the White House, he worked for Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling. More than a decade earlier, he had worked for then-Rep. Chris Cox. And, notably, in between those jobs, he served in the George W. Bush-era Justice Department, working for Comey, who was then deputy attorney general.

    At the start of the Trump administration, however, Dhillon joined the White House Counsel's Office, led by White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

    In that role, Dhillon, the New York Times reported, had a junior lawyer examine what grounds Trump would need to fire Comey. The lawyer, per the Times, concluded that — like any executive branch employee — Trump could fire Comey at will.

    "Mr. Dhillon, who had earlier told Mr. Trump that he needed cause to fire Mr. Comey, never corrected the record, withholding the conclusions of his research," the Times reports.

    The story asserts that Dhillon did so because he "was convinced that if Mr. Comey was fired, the Trump presidency could be imperiled" — because it could lead to the sort of investigation that Special Counsel Robert Mueller is now overseeing.

    White House spokespeople did not immediately return a request for comment late Thursday about Dhillon's role in the White House counsel's office.

    Before joining the White House in early 2017, Dhillon was chief counsel for oversight for the House Financial Services Committee under Hensarling, the committee's chair. Before that, he had worked for a law firm doing securities litigation in Dallas. Before that, he had been in DC, a part of the Bush administration.

    In his time at the Justice Department, Dhillon, per his LinkedIn bio, was "®esponsible for advising and assisting the Deputy Attorney General in formulating and implementing Department of Justice policies and programs relating to explosives, firearms, capital punishment, violent crime, gangs, and civil liberties."

    The deputy attorney general for almost all of Dhillon's time in that role was Comey.

    Dhillon was one of a handful of associate deputy attorneys general who worked under Comey, according to a 2005 directory published by the Government Printing Office. While at the Justice Department, Dhillon worked on law enforcement and related matters.

    Among the others in the office at the time were Chuck Rosenberg, who was Comey's chief of staff when he was deputy attorney general but was the acting head of the Drug Enforcement Administration until his resignation in September 2017 — reportedly because of concerns about Trump's respect for the rule of law — and Jim Rybicki, who later was Comey's chief of staff when he was the FBI director.

    The time period was a notable one for the Bush-era Justice Department: It was in March 2004 when Comey — later described in great detail before a Senate committee — rushed to the hospital, where then-Attorney General John Ashcroft had been admitted for nearly a week, in an attempt to stop the White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and chief of staff, Andrew Card, from attempting to, as Comey testified, "ask him [Ashcroft] to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that." Comey was the acting attorney general due to Ashcroft's hospitalization and had refused to reauthorize the domestic surveillance program in place at the time, but he was concerned that the White House was going to attempt to circumvent him by going directly to Ashcroft — which they did, but without success.

    In November 2005, a few months after Comey left his role as deputy attorney general, President Bush nominated Dhillon to be the first head of the Office of Counternarcotics Enforcement at DHS, where he served after Senate confirmation.

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    Clinton with Buell in 2007.

    Paul Sakuma / ASSOCIATED PRESS

    One of the Democratic Party's biggest donors says she is reconsidering her support for the women in the U.S. Senate who called for Al Franken’s resignation following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate touching.

    The San Francisco-based donor, Susie Tompkins Buell, 75, has given millions of dollars to Democratic causes since the 1990s. She is best known as a staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton, but has also contributed for decades to Democratic women senators, hosting a regular spring fundraiser for the lawmakers in California called "Women on the Road to the Senate."

    Buell said she is weighing whether to continue her financial support after the calls for Franken's exit last month. The charge for his resignation — led by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and followed almost immediately by a string of statements from other prominent female Democratic senators — came on Dec. 6, before the conclusion of an official Senate Ethics Committee inquiry.

    Franken was accused by at least six women of inappropriate touching and kissing, and was the subject of a photograph in which he appeared to jokingly grab the breasts of a sleeping woman. He made his resignation official earlier this week. The governor of Minnesota appointed former Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, a Democrat, to fill the vacant seat.

    In two interviews this week, Buell described the push for Franken’s departure as "unfair," "cavalier," and somewhat politically motivated — "a stampede," "like a rampage," she said, speaking in stark terms about senators she has backed for years, naming Gillibrand in particular.

    "They need to know that some of their biggest supporters are questioning why they did that," Buell said. "We have to do things conscientiously and fairly. He didn't have the chance to defend himself."

    The critique marks a somewhat significant departure for Buell, who is a mainstay in Democratic donor circles and has cultivated a reputation over the years as a fierce and vocal supporter of Democratic women.

    During the 2016 election, the New York Times reported this week, Buell contributed to an unsuccessful effort by attorney Lisa Bloom to make public sexual misconduct claims against then-candidate Donald Trump. According to Bloom, the funds would have been used to defray costs of security and relocation for women seeking to come forward with allegations against Trump.

    Since 1991, Buell has contributed to nearly every one of the 17 women currently serving in the Capitol's upper chamber, according to campaign filings. She has given the most to Gillibrand and her PAC, Off the Sidelines, a group dedicated to supporting other female candidates.

    In 2014, at the California fundraising event she hosts for female Senate candidates, Buell made a point of praising Gillibrand's year-long push to change military sexual assault policies. At the podium, she chided Sen. Claire McCaskill, another Democratic senator, for voting against Gillibrand's bill. "'There's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.' And I believe that," she said at the time, citing a phrase famously attributed to Madeleine Albright.

    This week, Buell described Franken's case differently.

    "These are senators that almost unanimously said he should have his opportunity to explain himself with the Ethics Committee," she said. "Then, within hours of each other, they said he should resign. It was clearly, clearly highly organized."

    Franken is one of several members of Congress to resign or announce they will not run for reelection after reported allegations or disclosed settlements, joining the growing list of men felled amid a nationwide reckoning with sexual assault, misconduct, and sexism in the workplace.

    Still, Buell's comments this week also come as some Democratic senators have expressed regret about Franken's exit.

    Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, who joined the rush of calls for a resignation on Dec. 6, has since said that he and others in the Senate acted too hastily. "I have stood for due process throughout my years as a prosecutor and in chairing the Judiciary Committee," Leahy told the Burlington Free Press on Dec. 18. "I regret not doing that this time. The Ethics Committee should have been allowed to investigate and make its recommendation."

    That same week, another Democrat in the Senate, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, said in an interview with Politico that the move by Franken's Democratic colleagues was "hypocritical" and "atrocious." In addition to Leahy, Politico reported at the time, two of the other senators who had called for Franken to step down earlier that month said the decision had been rushed. Franken himself was defiant in his resignation speech, saying both that "we are finally beginning to listen to women" and that some of the allegations against him "are simply not true."

    Buell said she has no "personal relationship" with Franken. In 2007 and 2008, she contributed at least $4,300 to his Senate campaign.

    Buell declined to elaborate on the extent to which she planned to reduce her financial support. "I'm just taking a look at where I put my energy and money," she said. "I won't be doing it to the degree I did before. I'm just too upset and discouraged by the way they did this."

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    Voters cast their ballots inside the Hawthorne Recreation Center near uptown Charlotte, North Carolina.

    Logan Cyrus / AFP / Getty Images

    A federal court on Tuesday found North Carolina's congressional map to be an unconstitutional "partisan" gerrymander devised by the state's Republican lawmakers — and ordered the state to submit a new map by the end of the month.

    The court gave the state until 5 p.m. Jan. 29 to submit a new map, but also began a process for appointing a special master who would draw a map if the state is unable to do so successfully.

    The ruling comes as the Supreme Court is considering how partisan gerrymanders are considered by courts — in cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland — and it is expected that North Carolina lawmakers will ask to put the ruling on hold until the Wisconsin case, which was heard by the justices in October 2017, is resolved.

    The possibility for delay, however, will soon run up against February filing deadlines for the North Carolina congressional races.

    On Tuesday, the three-judge panel considering the case, in an opinion by Circuit Judge James Wynn, ruled that the North Carolina's map violated Equal Protection Clause, the First Amendment, and the Election Clause of Article I of the Constitution. Judge William Britt joined Wynn's opinion. Judge William Osteen Jr. wrote separately, but ultimately agreed that, under current Supreme Court case law, the state's plan was unconstitutional — although he did not agree that it violated the First Amendment.

    Although the 205-page ruling went into great detail about the plan, the claims, and the law, the underlying facts were blunt: After the original redistricting plan was struck down as a racial gerrymander, lawmakers asked the person they had re-drawing the map "to remedy the racial gerrymander and "to use political data ... in drawing the remedial plan."

    Rep. David Lewis — the senior chair of the state House's redistricting committee — "acknowledge[d] freely that this would be a political gerrymander," which he claimed was "not against the law," the court noted.

    In considering the Equal Protection claim, the court reviewed expert testimony in the case at length to consider the claim. One expert for the plaintiffs computer generated 1,000 maps using "the non-partisan criteria included in the Committee’s Adopted Criteria: population equality, contiguity, minimizing county and VTD splits, and maximizing compactness."

    The expert "found that none of the 1,000 plans yielded a congressional delegation of 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats — the outcome that would have occurred under the 2016 Plan — when he evaluated the sample." (The expert, Dr. Jowei Chen, went on to consider two other 1,000-map simulations to control for different situations — with the same result that none had as partisan a result as the actual map passed by the state.)

    The court concluded that "the General Assembly intended to discriminate against voters who supported or were likely to support non-Republican candidates" and that "the 2016 Plan dilutes the votes of non-Republican voters and entrenches Republican control of the state’s congressional delegation."

    In ruling the map unconstitutional under the First Amendment, the court looked to several areas of First Amendment law — including viewpoint discrimination ("prohibit[ing] the government from favoring or disfavoring particular viewpoints"), electoral speech dilution (addressing "the First Amendment’s prohibition on laws that disfavor a particular group or class of speakers"), retaliation ("prohibiti[ng] ... burdening or penalizing individuals for engaging in protected speech"), and election regulations (having "the potential to burden political speech or association").

    "Against these many, multifaceted lines of precedent, the First Amendment’s applicability to partisan gerrymandering is manifest," Wynn wrote, before concluding the North Carolina plan violated the amendment.

    The court also found that the plan violated provisions of Article I of the Constitution — clauses detailing that the "House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen . . . by the People" and the Elections Clause, which states that state legislatures have the authority to set the "times, places and manner of holding elections," subject to congressional alterations.

    The court found the plan "exceeds the General Assembly’s delegated authority under the Elections Clause" because, in part, it "represents an impermissible effort to 'dictate electoral outcomes' and 'disfavor a class of candidates.'"

    "[T]he 2016 Plan’s demonstrated partisan favoritism," the court concluded, "simply is not authorized by the Elections Clause."

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    J.D. Vance (second from right)

    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    J.D. Vance is now seriously considering a US Senate campaign in Ohio and discussing the prospect with Republicans in Washington, following overtures from party donors and leaders who believe he would be their best candidate.

    The author of the best-selling memoir Hillbilly Elegy previously had ruled out a bid. But Josh Mandel, who had been the frontrunner in the GOP primary, dropped out last week, citing a health issue involving his wife. His surprise decision has shaken up the race.

    “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since Friday,” said Jai Chabria, an adviser to Vance who joined Vance in Washington this week for meetings with those encouraging his candidacy.

    “The amount of support for J.D. Vance is incredible,” Chabria told BuzzFeed News. “People are starting to realize he has the best message to beat [Democratic incumbent] Sherrod Brown. J.D. is giving serious consideration toward this, because there are very serious people asking him to run.”

    Ohio Republicans are interested in Vance, too. Several close allies of Gov. John Kasich, who has ruled out a Senate bid, were urging him to run last year, before Vance initially announced he would not be a candidate. With Mandel now out of the picture, a Draft J.D. Vance website appeared Monday, not long after allies of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell revealed that McConnell had spoken with Vance in recent days and was very high on his potential candidacy.

    Another name in the mix is US Rep. Jim Renacci, who is running for governor but has received encouragement to move into the Senate race. Renacci, though, has made his Senate candidacy contingent on a blessing from President Donald Trump, who has yet to weigh in on the race.

    "If the president would call, I would consider it, because I would need his help really at this late part of the game," Renacci said Tuesday during an interview with Cleveland radio station WTAM. "But again, my commitment is still to try and change the state of Ohio, and if I can do that in a Senate seat with the backing of the president because he wants me to do it, I would clearly consider it only at that time."

    It’s not certain the call from Trump will come in time for Renacci to switch gears for a Feb. 7 filing deadline. The White House has not responded to requests for comment.

    Meanwhile, self-funding investment banker Mike Gibbons, who had emerged as Mandel’s strongest primary challenger, remains in the race and is working to convince GOP activists that he would be the party’s best option against Brown in the fall. He has pledged another $5 million to his campaign, and on Wednesday he announced endorsements from a slate of conservative leaders, including two who had served as county chairs for Mandel’s campaign.

    Vance's 2016 book was seen as key to understanding the Appalachian and white working-class voters who carried Trump to the White House. He recently returned to his native Ohio to promote a public policy agenda, fueling speculation about his political future.

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