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- 03/20/18--14:02: Lessons From Tech's Last Political Crisis
- 03/23/18--14:33: Atlanta Will Bid To Host The 2020 Democratic National Convention
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- 03/29/18--16:54: A Prominent Liberal Judge From The 9th Circuit Court Has Died At 87
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- 04/04/18--18:16: John Kasich Is Framing His 2020 Pitch Around Millennials
Penn in the spin room for Hillary Clinton in 2008.
Win Mcnamee / Getty Images
Politics and tech have long occupied uneasy, parallel worlds. Politicians are painfully clueless about the basics of technology; technologists are, as we are seeing, painfully naive about politics. Companies born in the '00s and that grew up in the '10s were, until recently, often under the blissful impression that what happened in politics didn’t much matter as long as regulators stayed away. That’s changed.
One of the first big-league political operatives to cross that divide was Mark Penn. He went to work for Microsoft during the last great confrontation of government and tech: the 1990s antitrust battle. He was Hillary Clinton’s 2008 strategist and after that defeat — he returned to Microsoft full time, and brought with him all the aggression he’d been talked out of directing at Barack Obama: From 2012 to 2014, he ran the company’s marketing and directed a political assault on their core rival, Google, under the characteristically subtle moniker “Scroogled.”
“They read your mail!” he still points out.
Today the crisis of tech and politics has hit a new peak for Google, Twitter, and — especially — Facebook, and so I asked Penn what he’d advise the embattled and largely silent social media giant do.
First, he said, it’s not clear what Facebook actually stands for.
“I think it's a problem kind of like Microsoft had,” he said. “I don't think it fundamentally undermines their platform — but it's a very, very serious hit for their image. Their company is built on openness and authenticity. If they believe in openness they better defend it. And if they believe in authenticity I think the better they better make sure their accounts are real.”
But he also suggested a deeper problem: a company so totally identified with its founder that the two rise or fall together.
“The Facebook image is driven largely by both Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl [Sandberg],” he said. “Microsoft is not uniquely identified with Bill Gates.”
“Part of what they need is to create a long-lasting image of the company built on principles that they articulate and they execute,” he said.
Penn is now fully in the private sector, running the Stagwell Group, a holding company for, among others, digital political operations that’s funded by former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.
(In that capacity, he heard a pitch last year from a firm that boasted its crucial role in Trump’s election. The company was Cambridge Analytica. “It was really weird,” he recalled. ”What they had to say just didn’t make sense.”)
Penn had come up to New York to sell his new book, Microtrends Squared, and we spoke over breakfast under what he described as the “Bob Woodward rules — it’s off the record as long as it’s not very interesting.”
In his new book, he adds depth and a darker tone to his 2007 book, Microtrends. Then, he advanced a cheery vision of a society happily splintered by infinite choice into a kaleidoscope of subgroups; the new vision is less cheerful, but similarly paints a society best influenced through groups like Bikers to Work, Pro-Proteiners, and Second-Fiddle Husbands.
“We expected that the advances in our ability to customize goods and services would open us all up to a new world of never-ending experimentation,” he writes. “A decade later, exactly the opposite has occurred, and our society has become increasingly polarized, with people finding the choices they like and picking them over and over again.”
Some of those choices have come in the information economy, and Penn offered a prescription to get Facebook out of that business.
“Facebook never should've gotten into news — that was a huge mistake,” he said. “The only way out of it,” he said, is to treat the platform as the federal government does the airwaves. “Auction off 10 channels, agree to promote 10 channels equally, let people choose, and get out of the news publishing and sorting business.”
In the short term, though, Facebook is more or less scroogled, “trying to row against the narrative that — whether it’s true or not — is almost impossible to row against.”
Ben Jealous addresses the audience at Netroots Nation in Atlanta last year.
Christopher Aluka Berry / Reuters
California Sen. Kamala Harris is expected to endorse Ben Jealous in Maryland's Democratic primary for governor, two sources familiar with the development tell BuzzFeed News.
The endorsement would lend Jealous, the former president and CEO of the NAACP, another boost in a tough primary. Jealous is clawing to pick up traction against Rushern L. Baker III, the well-liked Prince George's County executive leading in many of the polls. Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz is also polling among the top Democrats candidates are fighting for the chance to take on Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.
Saying he wanted Barack Obama to name a black woman to the Supreme Court, Jealous told Politico in 2013 that Harris would be a "brilliant pick," saying, "I personally would like to see somebody young who could stay on there for decades," he said.
Jealous campaign spokesperson Kevin Harris told BuzzFeed News that the pair have a "really good relationship," but declined to confirm an endorsement — or a planned event — was coming. "They have known each other for years," said Kevin Harris, "and the candidate admires and respects her."
A spokesperson for Kamala Harris did not respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.
Three other potential contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have endorsed Jealous, 45, in Maryland. Bernie Sanders, appearing with Jealous at a raucous rally last summer, exclaimed, "It sounds like Maryland is ready for a political revolution!" Jealous has picked up the endorsements of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Harris has also endorsed a number of prominent black candidates over the last year, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
And Harris's support may be particularly notable for black Marylanders, who make up nearly a third of the state's voters. As those Democrats — national black Democrats at large — look forward to a possible Harris candidacy, she has also made some efforts to endear herself to the progressive wing of the party, which has offered critiques of her record as attorney general of California. Harris was the first Democrat to sign on to Sanders' Medicare-for-all bill last August.
Stan Honda / AFP / Getty Images
Atlanta plans to bid to host the 2020 Democratic National Convention when the DNC's request for proposal goes out this spring, the chair of the Georgia Democratic Party told BuzzFeed News.
"We're actively looking forward to making a bid for the 2020 Democratic National Convention," said DuBose Porter, the chair of the Georgia Democratic Party.
Porter said that he, along with Nikema Williams, the first vice chair of the party, and Dan Halpern, the DNC's deputy national finance chair, met in Atlanta with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms just before the DNC's spring meeting to discuss the topic of bringing the convention to Atlanta. Bottoms, he said, was 100% behind the effort and wants to partner in the effort.
"We have the facilities, we have the infrastructure, and we feel like we can get the resources," Porter said. When the request for proposals goes out, he said, Atlanta will meet logistical requirements, such as airport capacity and adequate hotel accommodations.
Privately, national Democrats who spoke with BuzzFeed News this week expressed excitement that Atlanta — in a state that Democrats eventually hope to turn blue — would be in the running with other cities. (Milwaukee, for instance, has announced that it will bid; Wisconsin is one of the key Midwestern states that Democrats hope to win again after Hillary Clinton's loss there in 2016.)
"Atlanta tells a better story," said Porter, explaining the city's advantage over other cities. He noted Atlanta's status as the cradle of the civil rights movement, and it is home to Rep. John Lewis, an icon in the fight for access to equal justice. "The history of Atlanta tells a story about the Democratic Party" that would make the convention meaningful, he said.
Porter said the timing of the convention could coincide with Georgia turning blue, a point of concern for Democrats focused on shifting demographics around the country. He said statewide races are winnable, but asked about Georgia's heated Democratic governor's primary — between Stacey Evans and Stacey Abrams — Porter said the party had a pair of great candidates, but that his job "is to bring everybody together after it's over."
BuzzFeed News; Getty Images; Alamy
This spring, a primary for the open House seat here in Ohio’s 16th Congressional District will help shape the Republican Party’s future — pitting the old and new versions of what it means to be a conservative against each other.
At first glance, the two main candidates don’t look so different: They’re young and ambitious and would qualify as reliably conservative. Both are part of the National Republican Congressional Committee’s recruitment program for top prospects. Both would vote for President Trump’s agenda most of the time.
But by the standards of the Trump era — where style and identity overshadow ideology and policy, and where the lengths you go to to present yourself as a Trump loyalist often matter more than your voting record — there are sharp differences between Anthony Gonzalez and Christina Hagan.
Gonzalez, 33, was a star wide receiver at Ohio State and a first-round draft pick in the NFL, where he caught passes from Peyton Manning. He later earned an MBA from Stanford and worked as a top executive with an education technology company in Silicon Valley.
Gonzalez speaking to the Portage County Tea Party on Jan. 30, 2018.
PortageTEAParty / YouTube / Via youtube.com
His first television ad? Packed with reminders of his football career. A recent fundraiser? Headlined by Jim Tressel, the former Buckeyes head coach who remains beloved and influential in the state. Gonzalez is counting on this hometown hero image to carry him against his more-seasoned opponent and to make up for his dry and cerebral personality on the campaign trail. (“I was told once never to give process answers,” he confessed to an audience recently, before launching into a process answer to a question about the national debt.)
Hagan, 29, has been a state lawmaker since her senior year at Malone, a tiny Christian university just outside the district. She holds her father’s old seat, was married in a statehouse ceremony, and has fast become a career politician despite positioning herself as an outsider in Trump’s mold. She emphasizes her family’s small plumbing and heating business and serves up other homespun anecdotes — peeling potatoes in the back of a local diner, waiting tables even after winning a seat in the legislature — as proof of her working-class cred.
"California and New York elites are coming for our guns right here in Ohio."
Her first ad showed how comfortable she is dishing out the kind of red meat Gonzalez seldom touches. (“California and New York elites are coming for our guns right here in Ohio,” she says in the spot as she loads a shotgun.) Her fundraisers have been headlined by pro-Trump figures of varying celebrity, from YouTube duo Diamond and Silk to former White House advisers Sebastian Gorka and Anthony Scaramucci.
“I think we have two completely different candidates,” Gonzalez said last month while speaking at a Republican club meeting in the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River. “People are going to have a very clear choice, which is always good.”
Christina Hagan in Medina, Ohio, on Feb. 22, 2018.
Ty Wright for The Washington Post / Getty Images
Asked who he would look to as a congressional role model, Gonzalez gushed about Sen. Ben Sasse, the conservative and Trump critic from Nebraska: “My wife says I have a man crush on the guy.” Hagan dodged when offered the same question: “I am going to go and uniquely be myself.” It’s not difficult, though, to picture where she would fit among her colleagues. She recently scored an endorsement from fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan, a founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and one of Trump’s most pugnacious defenders in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Gonzalez, meanwhile, has the backing of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and is excited about a recent donation from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of Trump’s closest allies on Capitol Hill.
Gonzalez gushed about Sen. Ben Sasse: "My wife says I have a man crush on the guy."
Gonzalez never explicitly draws the contrasts. “I don’t think about the messaging coming out of the other side at all,” he told BuzzFeed News in an interview.
Hagan is eager to do so. She frames Gonzalez as a political neophyte with West Coast values who came home to fly the establishment flag in a campaign built around his football glory days and a highbrow education she incorrectly describes as Ivy League. “Anthony’s supporters,” she said in an interview after the Scaramucci event, “probably have touted him for being a Stanford graduate, and [believe] this is something we should all connect with and understand. But also, not that many folks in Northeast Ohio have graduated with a college degree, let alone an Ivy League degree.”
The stakes here are even higher now that Democrats have scratched out a special election win in Pennsylvania — by beating a pro-Trump Republican with a youthful candidate in a suburban Pittsburgh district that favored Trump by 20 points and had been in GOP hands for 15 years. At least one midterm forecaster has moved the Ohio 16th, up for grabs because incumbent Jim Renacci chose to run for Senate, from “safe Republican” to “likely Republican.” The crowded Democratic primary lacks a big-name candidate, though Marine Corps veteran Grant Goodrich, recently endorsed by influential Rep. Marcia Fudge of the Cleveland area, has begun to stand out.
The district itself offers a wide array of voters: There’s blue-collar suburbia, white-collar exurbia, and a slice of farm country. Up north, just outside Cleveland, a General Motors factory cranks out auto parts. Down south, cars share the road with the Amish and their horse-drawn buggies. Trump won here by 16 points, but allegiance to him might suddenly be a tricker proposition.
He is more famous, has the business background, and has much more cash. She is more charismatic and more experienced.
When it comes to the Trump calculus, the differences between Gonzalez and Hagan cut both ways. He is more famous, has the business background, and has much more cash in his campaign account. She is more charismatic and more experienced. And in a year when a record number of women are running for Congress, Hagan rated a Washington Post style section profile by being an unabashed supporter of a president who’s been repeatedly accused of harassing women.
Hagan also acknowledges she needs “to be a little more gutsy” when asking for money, and she says has been disappointed that so many party insiders have told her that it’s “not your turn.” If she wins, she would be the youngest woman ever elected to the House, beating Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican, by a few months.
She clearly is the candidate most in sync with the Trump aesthetic. She staged her February fundraiser with Scaramucci — the Mooch, as Trump’s exiled and very much in-on-the-joke White House communications director is known — at a McMansion in exurban Medina. Inside, a cocktail lounge pianist noodled away at “Heart and Soul” and “Piano Man.” Guests circled through a dining room and kitchen, munching on light hors d'oeuvres and sipping wine, Heineken, and local craft beer. Hagan’s father, the former state lawmaker, held court in one corner, closely scanning the names of hosts on an invitation someone had snagged for an upcoming Gonzalez event.
“It’s good to see that I do have a fellow black brother in the house with me,” warm-up act Kareem Lanier, a member of the National Diversity Coalition for Trump, told the all-white audience. “My good brother Anthony Scaramucci is black. I won’t tell you guys which half of him is black. But he is a black man, for sure.”
The Mooch gave the donors almost everything they came for: self-deprecating humor and some colorful tales from his time with Trump. (“Hey, Mooch, what do you want from Burger King? I’m buying!”) But if all of this is meant to put the Trump imprimatur on Hagan’s bid, there’s something missing: Trump himself. It’s not as if the president is shy about picking favorites in other tough primaries, though there has not been reliable polling on the Ohio 16th. When one supporter asked if Trump would visit before the May 8 vote, Scaramucci deflected, assuring the audience that he is close with Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and that they are aware of Hagan’s campaign.
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci speaks to a group of supporters for Christina Hagan in Medina, Ohio, on Feb. 22, 2018.
Ty Wright for The Washington Post / Getty Images
“Let’s say maybe,” he continued, teeing up a quip about his 11-day tenure at the White House. “If I was the communications director for 12 days, I could have said definitely.”
Gonzalez shows no such interest in cozying up to Trump World.
And his meeting with Republicans in Rocky River was far less flashy than Hagan’s evening with the Mooch. Speaking to about 30 local activists gathered in a tiny room at the neighborhood library, Gonzalez hardly mentioned Trump. Instead he mixed mild boilerplate — he nonchalantly established himself as pro-gun and anti-abortion — with the story of how his grandparents fled Cuba during Fidel Castro’s uprising. Gonzalez, whose father runs a Cleveland-area steel company, also mourned manufacturing’s decline. “What we should all agree on,” he said, “is that the next 25 years are going to be a heck of a lot more disruptive than the previous 25 years.” His most direct reference to Trump came late in the hour, when someone asked for his thoughts on immigration reform. “I think the president’s proposal is spot on,” he said, endorsing Trump’s push to complete a wall along the Mexican border.
During an interview the following week at a Panera, Gonzalez said he was “very happy with the result” of the 2016 election. But he sighed audibly and paused for nearly 10 seconds when asked why he thought Trump won. “You know, I think … that’s a good question,” he said finally. “I think he gave voice to something that had been largely ignored or had sat below the surface for a while. You can call it the silent majority. I think that’s a fine term. But who was that? It was all of us who felt like one way or another this country just stopped working for the everyday person.”
Hagan is far less circumspect, not only when it comes to praise for Trump, but also when it comes to policy. A guest at the Mooch fundraiser proudly told the crowd how Hagan once received an AR-15 for Mother’s Day. (Hagan has a 2-year-old daughter and announced recently that she is pregnant with twins. Gonzalez is expecting his first child in April.)
The same style of gun had been used a week earlier in the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In the interview after the fundraiser, Hagan expressed deep skepticism about gun control proposals now being debated in Washington and suggested using local tax dollars “to ensure we have armed personnel on staff at every school.” Gonzalez said he has no personal problem with the AR-15, and he backed into an answer on arming teachers and other school staff by calling himself a “big states’ rights, kind of federalist guy” who would leave such decisions up to local school boards.
Chris LaCivita, his top political consultant, later intercepted a question about whether Gonzalez owns a gun: “That’s no one’s damn business.”
"I’ve had people say, ‘You’re never gonna get a guy named Gonzalez through a primary in that district.'"
Hagan also uses hotter rhetoric on immigration — and in one instance many are convinced she also used Gonzalez’s Hispanic last name as a dog whistle to racist voters. In a Feb. 11 tweet, Hagan highlighted a Fox News segment on undocumented immigrants and an Ohio heroin ring. She singled out only one of the three suspects by name: Armando Gonzalez-Rosas — and left out the “Rosas.”
The move drew a rare rebuke from Ohio Republican Party Chair Jane Timken, who asked Hagan to delete the tweet. Hagan refused.
She also does not deny that she was calling attention to her opponent’s ethnicity.
“This is a tough business,” Hagan told BuzzFeed News. “If they do not like the context of the tweet, which was entirely factual, that’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t make it less factual.”
Nonetheless, it has cost her. Republican leaders in Cuyahoga County, which accounts for the largest chunk of GOP votes in the district, grumbled about the tweet last month before the county party endorsed Gonzalez. And despite Hagan’s strong anti-abortion credentials, Ohio Right to Life, one of the state’s most influential conservative groups, backed Gonzalez after its president criticized the tweet, according to cleveland.com. Some Republicans are sensitive to questions about whether a candidate named Gonzalez can win in the Ohio 16th, especially against a familiar ballot name like Hagan.
“We have had a dominant congressional delegation over the years, but other than Deb Pryce and Jean Schmidt for a hot minute, it’s been all white guys,” said Matt Borges, the former state party chair and a devout Ohio State fan who was an early Gonzalez supporter. “I’ve had people say, ‘You’re never gonna get a guy named Gonzalez through a primary in that district.’”
To Hagan, all of this is more fodder for her anti-establishment pitch. For example, Timken officially is neutral. But her husband Tim, the CEO of a major steel company in the Ohio 16th and one of the state’s most generous GOP donors, is behind Gonzalez — a relationship that Gonzalez’s family ties to the Northeast Ohio steel industry helped forge. “In a way, it is an honor to not have that type of support,” said Hagan, “but it never becomes … less frustrating or disappointing that you could fight for a community for seven years and still see the door closed in your face.”
Gonzalez, indeed, is commanding the money race. The latest campaign finance reports showed him with $742,000 in cash on hand, plus a $40,000 personal loan. (Manning, his former Indianapolis Colts teammate, is among the top donors.) Hagan had $199,000.
“We’re the campaign, in my opinion, with the energy, and the excitement, and the real base,” Hagan said. “Our opposition has a very stagnated type of support that’s maybe correlated more so to a football-type of environment. I’ll never capture that, because I’m not a football player.”
Republican observers attribute Gonzalez’s fast start to strong first impressions. One activist recalled how Hagan bolted early from a local party function, but Gonzalez hung around after it was over to talk to everyone. And even before the results in Pennsylvania, many viewed the Trump-cautious Gonzalez as more electable.
“Anthony made the case over these last few months, by being present at every meeting, that he has the passion and work ethic to get things done,” said Rob Frost, the Cuyahoga County GOP chair. “And he made case at our meeting that he’s best candidate to win in November.”
But first, Republican voters in Ohio will answer a question about what works best in 2018: running like Trump never existed, or running just like him. ●
Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images
The Republican officials who brought you the Iraq War — and whom Donald Trump campaigned against in 2016 — are celebrating the revival of the early Bush administration in a trio of key foreign policy appointments.
The elevation of CIA Director–designate Gina Haspel, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and Secretary of State–designate Mike Pompeo represents a return to a point of view not seen since the early 2000s: eagerness to use American armed force, comfort with torturing terror suspects, and a central focus on counterterror policy.
It is, one prominent neoconservative told BuzzFeed News, “Christmas for neocons.”
There is no indication that Trump was thinking deeply about history, ideology, or even policy when he made these moves. He has an unusual level of personal comfort with Pompeo; he liked how Bolton sounded on TV; and he was simply hard up for candidates to lead the CIA, one top Republican foreign policy official noted.
But the upshot of his decision is striking: Bolton, the former United Nations ambassador, represented the bleeding edge of Bush-era unilateralism; Haspel destroyed evidence in a torture investigation. And Pompeo, who served in the first Gulf War, is newer to Washington but has fought hard against the Iran nuclear deal, the central focus of neocon ire, as well as that of other Republican hawks. Their appointments represents the revival of a school of foreign policy that seemed to have vanished even from Republican politics during the Obama years, and which lost further relevance when Trump ran claiming (falsely) to have opposed the Iraq invasion.
Scott Jennings, who served as a political aide in the Bush White House, said Trump’s team is “learning what it’s like to operate in this world as the president” after a campaign that was hardly hawkish.
“I’m glad the president has people there with clear eyes about who we’re dealing with,” Jennings said. “I think it’s exactly the right message: That we’re serious. And when you appoint people like Bolton, they know you’re serious.”
A decade ago, there was a bitter divide between neoconservatives, who spoke idealistically of exporting democracy, and more nationalistic Republican hawks like Bolton, whose attention ran more straightforwardly toward oil and power. But those differences have largely been elided inside actual Republican politics — and Trump’s appointments revive in particular the ideology of the key figures of the early Bush years, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Rumsfeld’s a huge Bolton fan,” said one former Bush administration official, who said the former secretary (who didn’t respond to an email inquiry) sees Bolton as “steely-eyed.”
Rumsfeld’s old internal rivals among the neocons feel the same way.
“Maybe he’s not for democracy promotion, but what’s the difference? He’s our boy, he loves us, we love him; the difference has evaporated,” said the prominent neoconservative. “Even if Marco Rubio was president, would we have had these people in these national security positions? I sort of doubt it.”
Haspel has also drawn lavish praise from a wing of the party that seemed, until fairly recently, to be on the margins.
“Gina Haspel has spent her career defending the American people and homeland,” Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the former vice president’s daughter and political successor, wrote recently, amid a string of tweets furiously attacking Haspel’s critics. “The Enhanced Interrogation Program saved lives, prevented attacks, & produced intel that led to Osama bin Laden.”
Former Bush aides aren’t entirely sure what to make of Trump’s new team. After all, the president used the Iraq legacy to tear down the former president’s brother, Jeb. “I don’t think Trump has put that much thought into any of this,” one noted.
(Bolton declined to comment on his views of the Cheney-Rumsfeld era. “I recommend you read the Axios piece from last night,” Bolton spokesperson Garrett Marquis told BuzzFeed News in response to an inquiry, sending on the party line that Bolton intends to be an “honest broker.”)
Bush’s old critics, though, are intensely alert to the revival of ideologies they thought Trump had finally killed off.
“We are repeating the mistakes of the past by allowing the failed foreign policies of Neocons to infiltrate our government,” libertarian-minded Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said Monday in an emailed statement. “These are the same people who eagerly await the next opportunity for war. Undoubtedly, it will result in a world with far more enemies than stability or peace.”
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, expanded her pending lawsuit against President Donald Trump and associates, adding a claim alleging that longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen defamed her earlier this year.
Clifford, the adult film performer and director who says she had a relationship with Trump back in 2006, filed the lawsuit earlier this year seeking to have a 2016 settlement agreement she signed with Cohen — which led to her being paid $130,000 in exchange for her silence — tossed out as invalid.
On Monday, though, Clifford's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, expanded the suit, adding a defamation claim against Cohen based on a statement he made regarding the payment.
"Just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean that it can’t cause you harm or damage," Cohen said in a mid-February statement. "I will always protect Mr. Trump."
Avenatti points to that statement as the basis for the defamation claim, stating in the amended complaint, "It was reasonably understood by those who read or heard the statement that Mr. Cohen’s defamatory statement was about Ms. Clifford."
Clifford says that she had a relationship with Trump a little more than a decade ago that included them having sex on one occasion. In a 60 Minutes interview that aired Sunday night, Clifford claimed that after sitting for a magazine interview about the relationship in 2011, which did not run at the time, she was threatened in a Las Vegas parking lot by a man who told her, "Leave Trump alone. Forget the story." In the waning days of the 2016 election, when the topic came up again, Clifford was offered the settlement agreement, which she agreed to and signed.
In Cohen's February statement — which followed Wall Street Journal and others' reporting on the payment — he said that he "used [his] own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford." The payment was made through Essential Consultants, which Cohen formed, and which is one of the parties to the settlement agreement.
The lawsuit, which Clifford filed in state court in California but Cohen's lawyer removed to federal court, alleges that the settlement agreement should be tossed out primarily because, Avenatti argues, Trump didn't sign it and therefore no agreement was ever formed. Alternatively, Avenatti argues in the amended complaint that the lawsuit should be found to be unenforceable because it is unconscionable — pointing to the damages provision that would require Clifford to pay $1 million for each breach of the confidentiality provision — or void because it violates public policy.
In addition, and in an expansion of the initial lawsuit, Avenatti also takes on the arbitration requirement in the settlement. He argues that the arbitration requirement should be tossed out as violating public policy, in part because, he argues, "the clause plainly is designed to prevent the public disclosure of an illegal campaign contribution" — a reference to the argument that Cohen's payment could be construed as an in-kind contribution to Trump's campaign far surpassing the legal limit — "by mandating that disputes between Plaintiff and Mr. Trump be resolved in a confidential arbitration proceeding shielded from public scrutiny."
Avenatti also argues that there is no arbitration agreement between EC and Clifford — a ruling that would mean EC should not have been able to seek a restraining order against Clifford in arbitration earlier this year.
Cohen and his lawyers did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the amended complaint.
BuzzFeed News; Getty Images
To Shauna Daly, a veteran Democratic operative, the idea seemed like an obvious answer to an urgent problem in the months after the 2016 election: a new nonprofit that could help campaigns guard against hacks and share critical threat intelligence.
At the time, US officials were detailing the extent to which Russians had launched a series of massive cyberattacks across the party. Operatives who’d lived through the hacks looked back on 2016 as a traumatic event: Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, saw a decade’s worth of personal emails exposed. At the Democratic National Committee, staffers became scared and paranoid. The office was swept for bugs. Next door, at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — the arm of the party tasked with electing House candidates — officials spent the final three months of the election in a state of blind panic, with nothing to do but wait as Russian hackers operating as “Guccifer 2.0” leaked a new cache of stolen documents every few days.
So last year, when Daly and her cofounder launched the Progressive Security Corps, they believed donors and campaigns would see cybersecurity as a top priority.
“It just turned out that that wasn't really the case,” she said in an interview.
Not only has Daly, a former research director at the DNC, been unable to secure funding for the project — she’s had trouble generating interest at all. At panel discussions on the topic of cybersecurity and campaigns, she said, “turnout is low — and it’s a self-selected group of people who come. Unless people are really interested in it, they don’t come.”
Seven months from the next election, US officials agree that hackers pose an imminent threat to 2018 campaigns. And yet Daly and other concerned operatives see a troubling pattern across the Democratic Party: While some campaigns have taken steps to shore up their security, far too many simply don’t care enough to meaningfully change their practices. And, even more alarming to some, there’s been no hardline effort by party committees like the DCCC to enforce its own recommendations on cybersecurity.
“How do you get people to be interested?” asked Daly. “You force them.”
Last June, the DCCC became the first known party entity to use Wickr, a secure workplace messaging software offering end-to-end encryption, a technology meant to make messages indecipherable to any third party. Officials there said they would also be extending Wickr to the staff and consultants on some of its most competitive races, a group of incumbent Democrats known as the DCCC’s 2018 “Frontline Members.”
But when contacted, a number of those Frontline campaigns said they don’t have access to Wickr, or aren’t using it. Democrats in other House races, from incumbents to primary candidates, said they haven’t received cybersecurity guidance from the DCCC. Across the board, operatives said, staffers and consultants still rely heavily on email.
“We haven’t gotten that access, as far as I’m aware. I’m not on Wickr myself,” said Tess Whittlesey, a spokesperson for one of the DCCC’s Frontline candidates, Salud Carbajal, up for reelection in California’s 24th District. “So far we haven’t jumped to Wickr.”
Richard Ojeda, the populist candidate running in West Virginia’s 3rd District with little party support, said his campaign hasn’t “heard anything concerning cybersecurity” from the DCCC. The same was true for far more prominent candidates like Rep. Eric Swalwell in California. A spokesperson said that Swalwell has taken his own steps to secure his campaign operation, but has “not received any particular direction from the DCCC.”
A DCCC official said that the organization did advise Frontline candidates to sign up for Wickr last year, but that campaigns are free to use other vendors. The committee also offered a voluntary cybersecurity briefing for candidates. In that briefing, the official said, the DCCC laid out a number of recommendations on cybersecurity practices.
“Ultimately it is up to their campaign to adopt and enforce these recommendations,” the DCCC official said.
The tricky matter of enforcement raises a string of open questions heading into the 2018 midterms: Are party committees responsible for the security of their campaigns? (In the case of the DCCC, that means a decentralized universe of hundreds of House races — but that leaves aside campaigns for Senate, governor, attorney general, and state legislatures.) And can any party entity really compel a campaign to abide by certain rules or standards? (Some operatives who work on independent expenditure groups — PACs that operate in tandem with but separately from the party — have discussed writing provisions about secure technology, such as Wickr, into vendor contracts.)
“It’s distressing to me that we’re seeing people make many of the same mistakes now that resulted in the theft of a lot of information in 2016,” said Hillary Clinton’s former campaign manager, Robby Mook, who, after witnessing foreign-sponsored hacks at close range, helped found Defending Digital Democracy, a bipartisan cybersecurity project at Harvard, alongside Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign manager Matt Rhoades.
“One organization being well-protected is nice, but the goal is to get everybody,” said Daly. “It's just a very wide range at this point. Some are taking things very seriously, but tons of individuals, campaigns, and organizations have done little or nothing.”
Another Democratic operative put it this way: “Candidates are either very concerned about it, or they haven’t even asked about it — and there’s nothing in between.”
Raffi Krikorian, then with Uber, in 2016.
AFP / Getty Images
When Raffi Krikorian arrived in Washington as the DNC’s new chief technology officer, the Silicon Valley engineer said the party needed a sweeping “culture change” around cybersecurity: “It has to be part of on-boarding,” he said last fall, six weeks into his first job in politics, “part of every conversation, every time we have a meeting.”
Enforcing that “culture change” becomes an inherently difficult task in politics, where campaigns can begin as small shoestring operations, run from a single email account, before growing quickly into a vast and shifting web of staffers, consultants, and volunteers — all communicating daily, all across different mediums. For campaign managers, if cybersecurity is a priority at all, it can quickly fall to the bottom of the list.
“It does continue to be a challenge to get people to spend a little bit of time and focus on this,” said Mook, the Defending Digital Democracy cofounder. “And I’m incredibly sympathetic to campaign managers who feel like they have way too much else going on to worry about this and that there are just simply bigger priorities. I’ve obviously been there myself.”
Last year, Mook was among a small group of operatives who helped introduce Wickr’s CEO, Joel Wallenstrom, to political players in Washington. After 2016, Mook said, there was an “enormous amount of interest in the tech sector to be helpful,” a sentiment that helped draw tech figures like Krikorian, formerly of Uber and Twitter, and Bob Lord, who joined the DNC as chief security officer after leading the same division at Yahoo.
On the political side, the response remains far more uneven.
Before the cyber security presentation, party officials were seen scanning the halls of the hotel, trying to convince more people to attend.
Earlier this month, at the DNC’s annual winter meeting in Washington, Lord hosted a cybersecurity briefing for attendees. Before the presentation, party officials were seen scanning the halls of the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, trying to convince more people to attend. “We need you!” one staffer said, running up to a guest. “We need bodies.”
At Wickr, the San Francisco–based encryption software company, officials are attempting to bridge the political and security worlds. By their own estimates, they are working with Democrats and Republicans in about 10% of House races and 50% of Senate races. They say about 70 consultants are using their software so far, including at Democratic firms like Global Strategy Group and PACs such as House Majority.
The company recently hired Audra Grassia, an operative with extensive experience across the Democratic Party, to help lead its efforts in politics and government.
“Hacking and leaking was probably the single most potent weapon during the campaign.”
Wallenstrom, the CEO, said he believes campaigns are now moving from the “planning stage” to thinking more seriously about “execution.” But there’s no doubt that political operatives, candidates, and lawmakers are still working to grasp the basics of security. (Wallenstrom says that in meetings on Capitol Hill, he still gets questions about the company’s work on voting machines — a separate threat to the security of elections that has nothing to do with what campaigns can do to protect their communications.)
“What I’ve been encountering is people don’t understand the issue very well,” said Mook. “They just have a lot of other things going on. But what I’ve been trying to tell people is it’s there — the threat is there — and ignoring it isn’t going to make it go away.”
That there isn’t more urgency among political operatives about the threat of another cyberattack has been bewildering for some watching from the outside.
“Hacking and leaking was probably the single most potent weapon during the campaign,” said Ben Nimmo, an information defense fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“I used to be a press officer. Can you imagine being a press officer for the Clinton campaign? Waking up every morning for the month before the election and the first thing you see is, ‘Here’s what WikiLeaks just leaked from your campaign.’ Every day, for a month. There’s no way you can generate a positive narrative or get something going when the first thing you’re doing every morning is firefighting. You can’t do it.”
For the majority of US officials, there’s no doubt that the Russian government hacked Democratic candidates and leaked their files to hurt the party’s chances in 2016. There’s also little doubt that they’ll be back, at least in some capacity, ahead of 2018.
In January 2017, a rare declassified joint report from the top US intelligence agencies declared that Russia’s foreign military intelligence agency, the GRU, had, on orders from President Vladimir Putin, broken into the email accounts of Democratic officials in March 2016. Those files leaked online in ensuing months through several channels, including the Guccifer 2.0 persona, who leaked candidates’ opposition research files stolen from the DCCC.
Researchers who track GRU hackers say they regularly target politicians and candidates. At ThreatConnect, a cybersecurity firm, private threat intelligence researchers say they’ve discovered phishing campaigns against French President Emmanuel Macron’s campaign, Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, and the German Free Party.
Toni Gidwani, ThreatConnect’s director of research operations, said she was unaware of a campaign against a political party in which the group was unable to get at least one person to fall for a fraudulent email. “Phishing works,” Gidwani said, as does figuring out when an employee reuses the same password they’d previously set for an older, already compromised account. “They don’t have to use malware to get in,” she said.
US officials expect that Russia, in particular, could strike again.
“Russia is likely to continue to pursue even more aggressive cyberattacks,” Trump’s Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, testified this month. “Russia perceives its past efforts as successful and views the 2018 US midterm elections as a potential target.”
“President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion there’s little price to pay here, and that therefore [he] can continue this activity,” Adm. Mike Rogers, the director of the NSA and head of US Cyber Command, said in Senate testimony last month. “Everything both as a director of NSA and what I see on the Cyber Command side leads me to believe that if we don’t change the dynamic here this is going to continue, and 2016 won’t be viewed as something isolated. This is something that will be sustained over time.”
About a month before he was fired, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson warned that the US still wasn’t prepared to ward off Russian election meddling. “If it's their intention to interfere, they're going to do that,” he said in an interview with Fox News.
This month, the Treasury Department issued sanctions against a number of Russians, including members of the GRU, which the agency described as “directly involved in interfering in the 2016 US elections through cyber-enabled activities.” It’s not clear if that will deter future attacks. In a statement, California Democrat Adam Schiff said the sanctions were “a grievous disappointment” and “fall far short of what is needed to respond to that attack on our democracy.” Texas Republican Will Hurd said the sanctions were “an important first step, but we must continue to demonstrate to Vladimir Putin, and other bad actors, that America won’t tolerate this behavior.”
And the concern isn’t limited to just the GRU. The group is known for being particularly noisy and “one of the most active adversaries,” said Adam Meyers, a researcher in the intelligence division at CrowdStrike, the firm hired to protect the DNC. But, Meyers added, “it is equally likely that it is one of the more visible ones” — and that other effective state-sponsored hackers simply make hiding their tracks more of a priority.
Already this year, Democrats have noticed signs of suspicious activity.
Officials at EMILY’s List, a prominent liberal group that aims to recruit and elect pro–abortion rights women, were recently notified of a spoof account for the organization on Facebook. Earlier this month, Democrats flagged a phishing email addressed from a fake DNC account for Luis Miranda, an official who had his emails stolen in the 2016 hack and is no longer working at the DNC. In North Carolina, a congressional candidate, Democrat Linda Coleman, said that Russians had purchased the domain for one of her old campaign websites. And in Tennessee, in what security experts have described as perhaps the most troubling development so far, the leading Democratic candidate for Senate, Phil Bredesen, alerted the FBI that he had received emails from an account posing as the campaign’s media buyer. The sender knew the dates of a planned ad buy, leading Bredesen aides to believe that hackers had infiltrated their campaign.
Since early March, when Bredesen’s letter to the FBI became public, officials at Wickr said they’ve seen a slight uptick in interest and concern from political campaigns.
“My Wickr and my inbox have blown up, very similar to what happens when there's a breach in the corporate world,” said Wallenstrom, who became Wickr’s CEO in 2016. “The thing that was number five on the to-do list suddenly becomes number two or one.”
"Operationally there's a little more urgency now.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich
Kena Betancur / AFP / Getty Images
A group invested in Ohio politics is torching outgoing Republican Gov. John Kasich and, by association, the lieutenant governor Kasich has endorsed as his successor.
“We stopped John Kasich short of the White House,” reads literature that sources said landed this week in voters’ mailboxes. “Now we must stop Mary Taylor short of the governor’s office.”
According to the mailer, images of which were shown to BuzzFeed News, it’s paid advertising from Ohio Conservatives for a Change, a super PAC supporting Mike DeWine, the state’s attorney general, over Taylor in the May 8 primary. Kasich is seen backing a toy car away from the White House, with a photo of Taylor’s face on the trunk above a “Kasich 16” bumper sticker.
Alongside the car is the message: “Ohio Can’t Afford a 3rd Kasich Term.”
An image of the mailer, provided to BuzzFeed News.
Reached Tuesday night, an official with Ohio Conservatives for a Change deferred questions to a spokesperson. The spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The language is similar to images the PAC has been running on social media this week.
Kasich has a complicated relationship with his party after his unsuccessful campaign for president in 2016 and his subsequent refusal to support eventual nominee Donald Trump. Kasich has remained a prominent Trump critic and is considering challenging him in 2020.
DeWine and Kasich have a cordial relationship, and one of Kasich’s former top political aides is managing DeWine’s campaign; DeWine also endorsed Kasich's presidential bid during the primary. Members of Kasich’s team aren’t happy about the mailer.
John Weaver, his political consultant, questioned whether it was wise for DeWine allies to upset a governor who remains popular in the state and could be a campaign asset in the general election, should DeWine win the primary. (A recent poll showed him far ahead of Taylor.)
"There's a deep blue tsunami coming, so I guess they don't need a life raft,” Weaver told BuzzFeed News.
Ryan Stubenrauch, DeWine’s spokesperson, said the sentiments in the mailer “obviously don’t reflect Mike DeWine’s views” and that the campaign can’t control what the super PAC does.
“This race isn’t about John Kasich or anyone else,” Stubenrauch added. “It’s about who has a vision for Ohio that will bring more high paying jobs and an end to the opioid epidemic.”
Taylor was an enthusiastic supporter of Kasich’s presidential bid, and Kasich in turn was an early supporter of her gubernatorial run. But in recent months she has attempted to downplay Kasich’s endorsement and run from certain parts of his record as governor. In a two-way race that has become particularly nasty in the last week — with a pro-Taylor super PAC launching an ad attack and DeWine’s campaign hitting back — she is positioning herself as the true conservative, and that means putting distance between herself and Kasich.
“First, Mary Taylor has been very vocal on where she disagrees with John Kasich on policy and his departure from conservative ideals,” Michael Duchesne, a spokesperson for Taylor’s campaign, said Tuesday night when asked about the mailer. “Second, they need a better vendor. No amount of amateurish photoshopping can hide Mike DeWine's liberal positions.”
John Sommers Ii / Reuters
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is not appointing a second special counsel at this time to look into allegations that the FBI has abused a special court's warrant process, as some Republicans have sought.
Sessions announced his position, and other related moves, in a letter to congressional Republican leaders Thursday afternoon. The letter came more than four months after the Justice Department first said it was looking into accusations the FBI improperly secured a warrant against Carter Page from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in 2016.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and Reps. Robert Goodlatte and Trey Gowdy, to whom the letter was addressed, had asked that Sessions look into the FISA abuse allegations — which have prompted outrage from President Trump as well.
In response, Sessions and the Justice Department have taken a series of steps — short of appointing a second special counsel — to review the process.
Back on Nov. 13, 2017, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sent a letter to Congress stating that Sessions had "directed senior federal prosecutors" to look into whether there should be another special counsel.
Sessions said in February that he was referring the matter to the inspector general's office — a step that led Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Wednesday to announce he was initiating a review of the matters.
In the Thursday letter, Sessions detailed that review and told congressional leaders that US Attorney John Huber, in charge of the District of Utah, has been tasked with overseeing the effort referenced in Boyd's letter to determine what additional steps — including the possibility of the appointment of a second special counsel — are necessary.
Justice Department spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said in an email that Sessions asked Huber to do the review shortly before Nov. 13 and that his review officially began before Nov. 13 — the date when Boyd sent his letter to Congress.
Sessions' and Boyd's letters refer to multiple "senior federal prosecutors," but Flores declined to comment on who else Huber was working with on the review.
For his part, Huber has served as Utah's top federal prosecutor since June 2015. During the Trump administration's removal of Obama holdover US attorneys in March 2017, Huber submitted his resignation, but he was reinstated to his job via a temporary appointment by Sessions. Trump nominated him to permanently return as US attorney in June 2017 — two years after his confirmation under Obama — and he was confirmed in August by a unanimous voice vote in the US Senate.
Huber spoke at a White House press briefing in June to support two pieces of legislation, Kate's Law and the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act — aimed at upping penalties for undocumented immigrants who try to come back to the United States and restricting federal funds to jurisdictions with so-called sanctuary laws. It was an unusual appearance for a US attorney, and a former DOJ official told NPR at the time that it undermined the notion of the Justice Department's independence from the White House.
On Nov. 13 — the same day that Boyd's letter went to the House Judiciary Committee — the Justice Department announced that Sessions had tapped Huber to serve as vice chair of the attorney general's Advisory Committee of US Attorneys.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.
David Butow / Getty Images
Judge Stephen Reinhardt of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has died, a court spokesperson confirmed Thursday. He was 87.
Reinhardt, a liberal champion who was appointed to the bench by President Carter in 1980, died of a heart attack, a family spokesperson confirmed. He was at a dermatologist's office Thursday when he died, the court spokesperson told BuzzFeed News. His death, two days after his 87th birthday, was unexpected.
“All of us here at the Ninth Circuit are shocked and deeply saddened by Judge Reinhardt’s death," Judge Sidney R. Thomas, the chief judge of the 9th Circuit, said in a statement. "We have lost a great friend and colleague. As a judge, he was deeply principled, fiercely passionate about the law and fearless in his decisions. He will be remembered as one of the giants of the federal bench. He had a great life that ended much too soon."
Reinhardt authored key liberal court opinions on hot-button topics ranging from abortion and marriage equality to assisted suicide and immigration. He also took aim at the criminal justice system, from criminal defendants' rights to prison conditions to the death penalty.
At the same time, the opinions made him a target of criticism from conservative corners — and of regular reversal from the Supreme Court. He had ruled the inclusion of "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and that the Second Amendment's right to bear arms was a collective, not an individual, right — two rulings that the Supreme Court ultimately overruled.
The 9th Circuit, which has prompted President Trump's outrage for its liberal rulings, covers a wide swath of the western states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, the Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, and Washington state.
The loss to the liberal legal world was summed up by another liberal champion, Harvard Law professor Larry Tribe, who called Reinhardt's death "a devastating loss."
"His intellectual rigor was matched only by his progressive instincts and compassion," Tribe added. "The world is a darker place."
Reinhardt's former clerks — recent law school graduates who work closely with a judge in considering cases and crafting opinions — spoke out about his liberal legacy.
Back in 2010, in honor of his having served on the bench for 30 years, the Yale Law Journal published reflections on the "unique legacy" of Reinhardt — a Yale Law School graduate — including one from Heather Gerken, a former clerk for Reinhardt and retired Justice David Souter who is now the dean at Yale Law School.
"Judge Reinhardt’s reputation has taken on heroic proportions in some
circles and made him the bête noire in others," Gerken wrote in her essay. "There is a simple reason for this:
the Judge has devoted his life to doing justice."
Michael Dorf, an early Reinhardt clerk who went on to clerk for Justice Anthony Kennedy and now teaches at Cornell Law School, pointed to Reinhardt's effort to continue on in the path set by the Supreme Court under then-Chief Justice Earl Warren, behind groundbreaking decisions like Brown v. Board of Education — declaring segregated schools to be unconstitutional.
"[Reinhardt] never gave up on the vision of the Warren Court. To him, that was the correct approach for courts to take to the law," Dorf said. "He understood that for much of our history the law had been used as a tool of the powerful interests, but he saw an opportunity to help and protect the vulnerable."
Calling Reinhardt "a man who felt the law down to his fingertips," Joshua Matz — who clerked for Reinhardt and then Kennedy about three decades after Dorf — told BuzzFeed News that the late justice "genuinely believed that the law could be used to make the world better for everyone," while also "fulfill[ing] the values of the Constitution."
"You read a judge's opinions and you get a sense of who they are," Matz said. Spending time with a judge as a clerk, though, "you get to know them in a very different way, and Judge Reinhardt was a profoundly good and passionate and brilliant man who loved the law and loved his clerks."
Brian Goldman, who clerked for Reinhardt and then Justice Sonia Sotomayor, tweeted about his "one of a kind" boss.
Reinhardt is survived by his wife, Ramona Ripston, and three adult children: Mark, Justin, and Dana. His family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations in Reinhardt's memory may be made to the ACLU.
His death creates a new vacancy on the 9th Circuit, which President Trump now will be able to fill with his own nominee.
Sixteen of the remaining 22 active-service judges on the court were appointed either by former presidents Clinton or Obama. The remaining six were appointed by former President George W. Bush.
So far, Trump has nominated two judges for seats on the western appeals court and — prior to Reinhardt's death — has been considering several potential names for two other vacancies.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Scott Walker’s political rebound is supposed to be grounded in Wisconsin, where he’s expected to run a robust gubernatorial campaign in a state where he has done nothing but win.
But Walker, whose surprisingly quick rise and fall as a Republican presidential contender hurt his standing at home, also is carefully and somewhat quietly maintaining his national brand.
His role last year as chair of the Republican Governors Association helped. Walker raised money for (ultimately unsuccessful) candidates in New Jersey and Virginia. He also planted flags in three states important to anyone with White House ambitions by endorsing the new governor in Iowa, helping a top GOP gubernatorial prospect in Nevada, and — beyond the scope of his RGA duties — buying in early on the winner of a special House election in South Carolina.
Walker even went to bat for the Republican incumbent in the unexpectedly high-profile race for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska, after Bernie Sanders got behind her challenger.
His RGA chairmanship is over, but Walker’s efforts to influence races outside Wisconsin continue. Already in 2018 he has headlined a fundraiser for Rep. Steve Pearce’s bid for governor in New Mexico, picked a favorite in Michigan’s heated gubernatorial primary, and chosen sides in a combative Senate primary in West Virginia by endorsing Patrick Morrisey. This month he will headline a fundraiser for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, who survived a close primary and has perhaps the steepest challenge of any governor up for reelection this year.
Those close to Walker insist his first priority is reelection in Wisconsin. But they also acknowledge that Walker is methodical and strategic about his endorsements, and that a governor whose political identity is rooted in a clash with organized labor and public employee unions puts a priority on helping candidates who embrace conservative principles consistent with his brand.
"Gov. Walker endorses candidates who are willing to go big and bold, with reforms to state government that take on the big government special interests,” Brian Reisinger, a senior adviser to Walker’s political team, told BuzzFeed News.
Walker’s activity is not unusual for a former presidential candidate or governor who’s still regarded as a bright prospect within his party. But it does underscore the complicated relationship Republicans have with President Trump as midterm elections approach. Many borrow from Trump’s anti-establishment playbook and hope for his support in tough primaries; others hope he keeps his distance, especially in the fall. And that creates some space for an old 2016 rival such as Walker — who, unlike, say, John Kasich, is not seen as a threat to challenge Trump in 2020 — as a safe alternative. (Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio also have waded into the 2018 endorsement pool.)
Walker’s judgment and coattails, at least locally, will be put to the test Tuesday in a Wisconsin judicial election where a Walker ally is seeking a seat on the state Supreme Court. And Democrats are planning an aggressive campaign against Walker in November.
“Scott Walker is more focused on keeping his frequent flyer status than keeping his job as governor of Wisconsin,” said Jared Leopold, a spokesperson for the Democratic Governors Association. “Over and over, Gov. Walker has put his national ambitions ahead of the people of Wisconsin. Scott Walker’s jet-setting has shown he’s more interested in his own national political dreams than the dreams of Wisconsin families."
All of this political activity creates an opportunity for Walker, still a young man at 50, to collect IOUs, should he decide to run for president again down the line.
“Gov. Walker knows what others know — that Nevada is an important swing state, that this year’s election for governor is crucial, and that Nevada needs a strong conservative leader,” said Andy Matthews, a spokesperson for Adam Laxalt, the Republican frontrunner for governor in Nevada for whom Walker raised money last year. “He has fought for the ideas that will help improve the lives of the people of Wisconsin, just as Adam will do here in Nevada.”
Walker’s old-fashioned conservatism and the fight with unions that led to a 2012 recall he survived are part of the appeal. “Gov. Rauner and Gov. Walker share a commitment to common sense reforms that make their states competitive in a 21st century economy and promote good government,” said Will Allison, a spokesperson for Rauner’s campaign.
Other Republicans ascribe Walker’s value to his Midwestern, regular-guy personality. Call up his Instagram feed and you’ll see everything from photos of him on the job to a bitmoji of Walker doing a glass-shattering slam dunk to celebrate a Milwaukee Bucks victory.
“He’s just a nice guy,” Bill Schuette, the Michigan attorney general whose 2018 gubernatorial bid Walker is backing, told BuzzFeed News. “To me he’s Midwest, which means hard work. You look a guy or woman in the eye; handshake is as solid as the Great Lakes are deep. He’s genuine.”
After beating the recall and winning reelection in 2014 — his third statewide victory in four years — Walker was on a fast track to the 2016 presidential race. For a while, before anyone knew what to make of Trump, he was viewed alongside early frontrunner Jeb Bush as the class of the GOP field. But Walker flamed out quickly and dropped out in September 2015.
Walker’s allies are eager to note that his political fortunes have improved at home and across the country. His job-approval rating has climbed back to roughly where it was when he won a second term four years ago. And since 2016 he’s had a knack for picking primary winners in House races, including Ralph Norman in last year’s special South Carolina election.
“The governor is laser-focused on his reelection, so his ability to pick winners and his popularity with those seeking support is an important reflection of his strength,” said a source familiar with his endorsement strategy. “He's entering 2018 from a position of strength despite the expectation he'll be a national target, and his endorsements reflect his ability to navigate those waters. There are few people who have their finger on the pulse like Scott Walker.”
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
President Trump would probably win the New Hampshire primary if it were held today. But at least one Republican who is considering running against Trump in 2020 could make it a close call, according to new polling data shared Monday with BuzzFeed News.
American Research Group found Gov. John Kasich of Ohio trailing Trump in a two-way race, 42% to 48%, among likely Republican primary voters, with 9% undecided. Trump leads another possible rival, Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, 49% to 33%, with 18% undecided.
The results come ahead of Kasich’s third visit to the nation’s first primary state since ending his 2016 bid for president. He will speak Tuesday evening at New England College in Henniker. Flake, who is retiring from the Senate this year, made a trip to the state last month.
In 2016, polling analysts at FiveThirtyEight graded the New Hampshire–based ARG a C+, based on accuracy and methodology. But the firm correctly forecast Trump, Kasich, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz as the first-, second-, and third-place finishers in that year’s New Hampshire primary, respectively, missing Trump’s and Cruz’s vote shares by roughly 2 percentage points and Kasich’s by 1.
ARG interviewed 1,365 likely voters — 420 Republicans, 400 Democrats, and 545 undeclared — on landlines and cell phones March 21–27. The Democratic sampling, like the GOP results, has a 5-point margin of error. The general election sampling has a 3-point margin of error.
While the primary is nearly two years away, Flake and Kasich already are showing New Hampshire the kind of attention typical from someone weighing a White House run. Both are frequent Trump critics, and neither has ruled out challenging Trump for the nomination.
Trump’s lead over Kasich in the ARG poll is just outside the 5-point margin of error, but such a showing could be tight enough to weaken his reelection bid. Pat Buchanan’s relatively strong second-place finish in the 1992 New Hampshire GOP primary was an early sign of trouble for then-president George H.W. Bush, who won the nomination but lost in the fall.
“At the moment, Trump has not won over the hearts and minds of enough Republicans (who say they will vote in the primary) to have a large enough lead to scare away any serious contenders,” ARG’s Dick Bennett told BuzzFeed News in an email. “Trump is doing better than when he called New Hampshire a ‘drug-infested den,’ but not much better.”
The more anti-Trump challengers in New Hampshire, the easier the path for Trump. In a hypothetical primary where Flake and Kasich both run, Trumps leads the three-way field with 51%, followed by Kasich at 34%, and Flake at 4%, with 11% undecided.
“Some of the Flake and Kasich vote is solely anti-Trump, which is not surprising,” Bennett said.
Trump has signaled plans to seek a second term, which he’s been raising money for since his inauguration last year. He tapped a reelection campaign manager last month, and he and Vice President Mike Pence have made separate appearances in New Hampshire in recent weeks. But ARG also tested a GOP primary without Trump: a four-way field led by Kasich at 36%, followed by Flake (11%), Cruz (7%) and Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (5%). Without Trump as a choice in this scenario, a plurality of voters surveyed — 41% — were undecided. (It's hard to predict what a Trump-free Republican primary would look like in 2020, but it would likely be crowded.)
ARG also polled on several Democratic presidential prospects, but rather than sift through a huge and undetermined field of potential hopefuls, the firm looked at two one-on-one races involving former vice president Joe Biden. In these matchups, Biden leads Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, 58% to 33%, and edges Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, 47% to 45%.
In a general election, Trump leads Warren (50% to 42%) and Sanders (49% to 45%), while Biden leads Trump (53% to 39%). Kasich, the only other hypothetical GOP nominee measured against a Democrat, leads Warren (52% to 37%) and slightly trails Biden (45% to 46%).
“The Kasich ballot against Biden confirms Trump’s weakness not only against Biden in the general but also in the primary,” Bennett said. “Trump has to hope for an opponent who is disliked more than he is disliked — this holds as well in the primary.”
Olivier Douliery / AFP / Getty Images
President Trump on Tuesday called the caravan of hundreds of Central American migrants traveling up through Mexico toward the US "very sad" and said he would deploy the military to secure the southern border "until we can have a wall and proper security."
The migrants, who are fleeing violence and poverty back home, have been marching toward the US with hopes of applying for asylum, although Mexico has said it will disband the group by Wednesday.
Speaking at a working lunch meeting at the White House with the heads of state from Baltic nations, Trump said the caravan "makes me very sad that this could happen to the United States,” adding that if it reaches the border, "our laws are so weak and so pathetic ... it's like we have no border."
Dozens of Central American migrants traveling in a caravan sleep at a sports club in Matias Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico, on April 3.
Felix Marquez / AP
Trump also said that after discussions with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, the US would deploy troops to the border until there is a border wall and “proper security” in place.
“We’ll be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’ll be guarding our border with the military," he said. "That’s a big step. We really haven’t done that before, or certainly not very much before.”
However, it wouldn't be the first time. President Obama deployed more than 1,000 troops to the border in 2010, as did President George W. Bush in 2006.
Asked later when the deployment would take place, Trump said there would be a meeting on it "in a little while with Gen. Mattis and everybody. And I think that it is something that we have to do."
"Mexico has requested, through official channels, a clarification about @POTUS announcement on the use of the military at the border. The Mexican government will define its position after such clarification, and always in defense of our sovereignty and national interest," Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso tweeted late Tuesday.
Gerónimo Gutiérrez, Mexico's ambassador to the US, made a similar statement in an interview with CNN earlier Tuesday soon after the president's comments: "The Mexican government has formally asked for clarification of the president's statement, both through the State Department and the Homeland Security Department," he said. "Both countries share the idea of having a secure border. We do not always agree on how to achieve that objective."
The Pentagon and US Southern Command did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Trump also took credit for Mexico's decision to disband the group, saying, "I told Mexico very strongly, 'You're going to have to do something about these caravans that are coming up.'"
An official with Mexico’s National Institute of Immigration (INM) told BuzzFeed News their decision to disband the caravan was made unilaterally without influence from the US or Trump.
Some members of the caravan told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that they are still considering if they will accept an INM offer for a humanitarian visa or the chance to stay in Mexico temporarily.
The president's comments about the caravan began earlier in the day, when he tweeted that the caravan "better be stopped" before it reaches the US border.
"The big Caravan of People from Honduras, now coming across Mexico and heading to our 'Weak Laws' Border, had better be stopped before it gets there," Trump wrote in a tweet. "Cash cow NAFTA is in play, as is foreign aid to Honduras and the countries that allow this to happen. Congress MUST ACT NOW!"
Despite Mexico's pledge to disband the caravan, organizers told a BuzzFeed News reporter traveling with the group that they expect at least some of the migrants to continue north to the US border in search of asylum or some type of protection in Mexico or the US.
"At the end of the day, these people have the right to ask for asylum,” said Gina Garibo, one of the organizers for Pueblos Sin Fronteras, the volunteer group that organized the caravan.
Scott Bauer / AP
Liberal judge Rebecca Dallet has defeated her conservative rival for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a race that has been seen as a bellwether of voter attitudes ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.
"People are engaged, they are hungry for change," Dallet told her supporters Tuesday night shortly after the race was called.
Though judicial races are nonpartisan, both Republicans and Democrats spent heavily and engaged voters in the state. Former attorney general Eric Holder also prioritized the race as part of his effort to shift the national redistricting map more in Democrats' favor after a series of statehouse and statewide elections like these gave Republicans a real edge over the past decade.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a outsize figure in Wisconsin, backed Michael Screnock, the conservative, while Democrats lined up behind Rebecca Dallet, a liberal. (In the primary earlier this year, Dallet defeated an Our Revolution–backed candidate.)
While addressing her supporters, Dallet acknowledged money had flooded into the race, noting that, "special interests are definitely having an impact, and its on both sides of the aisle."
"We beat the NRA and we beat the millions of dollars that were spent on this race, flooding into our state," she said.
Screnock, in his concession speech to supporters Tuesday, said he would miss the opportunity to work on the state's Supreme Court, but said he was proud to have continued "acting like a judge" during the hotly contested race.
"I said for years that we do not want politicians for judges," he told supporters. "It was very important to me and to my wife that every action that we took on this campaign trail upheld the dignity of that office, and I stand before you with my head held high."
In Wisconsin, conservatives tend to do well in state judicial elections, and currently hold a 5–2 margin on the state's Supreme Court. In the past, conservative strength in April has boded well for Republican strength in November.
Though for a national audience the race might seem a little obscure, the results offer a) a look at newly christened battleground state Wisconsin's November elections, and b) demographic data that will give us a better picture of how people are voting in Midwestern suburbs ahead of the 2018 midterms.
Two years after Donald Trump infamously beat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin and undermined the "blue wall" in the Midwest, the state will play host to two hotly contested elections later this year: Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin's reelection bid, and that of Gov. Walker, who's running for a third term after his noted battles with public-sector unions in the state.
Tuesday's results may provide some insight into how those contests will play out later this year.
The statewide nature of the election also provides another big set of data for the midterms more broadly: In previous special elections and 2017 contests, Democrats have outperformed expectations in suburban areas, like Pennsylvania's 18th District, which contains parts of suburban Pittsburgh. Rural turnout for Republicans has also been soft in some places — like in last year's Alabama special election —without Trump atop the ballot.
The answers to these kinds of questions — if Democrats can break into suburban areas in a midterm year, and if rural turnout is lower than normal — give a clearer picture of what the fall could look like.
Scott Olson / Getty Images
A liberal candidate backed by Democrats won a statewide judicial election in Wisconsin Tuesday night, a major warning sign for Republicans in a solidly purple state that will play an important role in the midterm elections.
The state's Republican governor, Scott Walker, who is facing reelection in November, warned in a series of tweets after the election that the liberal victory showed "we are at risk of a blue wave in Wisconsin."
In a race that drew outsized national attention despite its local nature, the liberal candidate, Rebecca Dallet, racked up endorsements from national Democratic figures like former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Cory Booker.
Her conservative opponent, Michael Screnock, is a longtime ally of Walker's who tried to paint Dallet as a liberal activist. She, in turn, began her first ad in the race by criticizing Donald Trump, who the ad said had "attacked our civil rights and values."
Many saw the contest, the first statewide election in the Upper Midwest, as a bellwether for Democratic enthusiasm across the region, where Donald Trump unexpectedly won both Wisconsin and Michigan in 2016 and came within a narrow margin in Minnesota.
Conservatives have fared well over the past decade in statewide Wisconsin elections, especially judicial races, where conservatives are typically more motivated to come to the polls by issues like abortion.
What happened Tuesday will be a significant boost to Democrats — and is likely to worry Republicans, who were hoping the state Supreme Court election would prove that traditional conservative priorities still turn out voters in an election year where the political tide was against them.
Instead of a reliable stream of conservative voters, turnout was weaker in places like Waukesha County, in the Milwaukee suburbs — the same places that Walker will rely on to win in November. Meanwhile, a surge of Democrats showed up in strongholds like Madison, home of the state's flagship university, and in central Milwaukee.
Dallet narrowed the still-wide margins some in the Republican suburbs, and took home a staggering 80% of the vote in liberal Dane County, home to Madison. Left-wing candidates tend to win by big margins there — but not usually that large.
Dallet also performed better than Hillary Clinton did in some areas where Donald Trump won in 2016 — another troubling sign for Republicans.
Voters and outside groups from both parties poured money into the race — more than $2 million, at final tally. The state Republican Party gave $300,000 to Screnock, a huge chunk of the $800,000 he raised overall.
The Wisconsin Democratic Party, meanwhile, tested its ground game for the 2018 midterms, where they're hoping to upend Walker and re-elect the vulnerable Democrat Tammy Baldwin. Their efforts, a party spokeswoman said, surpassed anything they'd done in a spring election.
In central Milwaukee Tuesday, voters who turned out in freezing rain said they were motivated by opposition to Screnock: his close ties to Walker, as well as his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, which Dallet's allies had sought to use against him. President Donald Trump, they said, was hanging over the race, motivating people who typically did not show up for April elections to come to the polls.
Meanwhile, at Screnock's watch party on Tuesday night, an intimate gathering of mostly friends and family, some argued that there was much less of a national dynamic at play. "People in the Midwest are tough,” said Jack Pender, Screnock’s campaign manager. “They brave the weather consistently and the like to get out and vote. I think a lot of people probably did make the decision that it was probably better safe than sorry…and stay at home. It is what it is. It’s part of living in the Midwest."
Screnock himself, who was interviewed by BuzzFeed News shortly before election was called for Dallet, brushed off the idea that a win in a swing state like Wisconsin signals that the the country is in a wave — and that it was Dallet who politicized the race and made it about the rest of the country. “She invited that stuff,” he said.
Charles Krupa / AP
John Kasich still wants to be president. And he thinks he’s finally found an audience he can convert to his unusual brand of Republicanism.
If you pay close attention to what the Ohio governor is saying as he weighs another campaign, you’ll hear a politician in the twilight of his career trying to persuade himself and others that he can be the right candidate for a younger, cooler, more ideologically flexible generation.
“It seems as though we’ve all become so cynical now,” he told BuzzFeed News in an interview this week, during another New Hampshire visit that raises speculation that the frequent Donald Trump critic could challenge the sitting president in the 2020 primaries. “Nobody does anything because it might be the right thing to do. If you help a woman get across the street, it must be you want something. That’s a dangerous place to be. The millennials, I don’t believe, are cynical. We are cynical. Grown-ups. Older people. Cynical. Bad.”
Kasich loves the millennials, a term he uses liberally, seemingly to describe anyone under the age of 40. He sees potential voters who are embarrassed by Trump and open to a responsible conservative who’s moved, as Kasich has in recent months, to the left on gun control in response to deadly mass shootings.
Kasich’s new conversation pieces range from HQ, the mobile trivia game, to YouTube celebrity Logan Paul (who entered the wider public consciousness after he filmed a video inside a Japanese "suicide forest"). He also wants you to know he listens to Justin Bieber, dropping the pop star’s name too often (a statehouse press conference, a New York Magazine interview, a ride-along with the Weekly Standard) for it to be a coincidence.
“This social media is really fascinating to me, whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s some sort of YouTube channel, I don’t know,” Kasich said as he promised to step up his Twitter game. “I have a million Twitter followers, which I think is really cool.”
All of this can come off a little forced at times — or like the meme-friendly “How Do You Do, Fellow Kids?” bit from 30 Rock. When Kasich appeared last September on BuzzFeed News’ AM to DM, he proclaimed he wanted “to know what happens at the water cooler at BuzzFeed. … I want to know what these young people are thinking.”
What younger voters think exactly is a fragile thing. Millennials are fully adults now, in their twenties and thirties, and increasingly alienated from the two major parties, as Kasich says. Millennial women, though, identified as Democratic or leaning Democratic at a staggering 70% in a recent Pew survey. A new (and diverse) voting generation is quickly coming up behind millennials, one that’s driven the recent gun control activism — but that newer generation is complex, too, containing potential voters who greet Bernie Sanders with hosanas, and others who have spent their college years on either side of intense battles over free speech.
So why should they turn to a 65-year-old Republican?
“You know, age is actually a number, and it’s a state of mind,” Kasich said. “Because I happen to like popular music, people think, Well, that’s because of your daughters. That’s not true. The reason why I do certain things is I have a young mind, and my mind is always working and finding new things to talk about and think about and explore, and that’s how you stay young. I admire the young people because I feel they’re idealists, and I’m an idealist.”
That fits within the general framework Kasich has put forth since the rise of Trump, really — that voters will want more civil, moral, sober leadership.
The New Hampshire trip gave Kasich the opportunity to expound on both elements to his message, and do some of the mechanical work that might precede another presidential bid. Kasich huddled at various points with key Republicans in the nation’s first primary state, where his second-place finish in 2016 scored him some attention as a moderate alternative to Trump. He met with Gov. Chris Sununu, the Concord Monitor (which devoted much of its Wednesday front page to Kasich’s visit), and activists who helped him two years ago and could help again if he runs in 2020. Kasich ended the day Tuesday with a “fireside chat” at New England College in Henniker.
All the while, Kasich refused to rule out anything. He could challenge Trump in a primary, but he’s also shown interest in studying the feasibility of running as an independent.
“I kind of think of the political parties today as two great department stores in downtown Manchester,” Kasich told a crowd that trended older than college-age in Henniker. “One’s red and one’s blue, and the customers show up, and neither department store has anything to offer, so guess what happens. The millennials are saying, ‘I don’t like either of those, so you better give me something I like.’ And that creates a dynamism inside of our country that to me is really exciting. So I believe in the Gen X’ers, and I believe in the millennials.”
This is not the first time Kasich has wondered publicly if he can reshape the Republican Party by making it more attractive to young voters. In the late 1990s, when he was trying to build traction for a 2000 presidential campaign, Kasich bragged about listening to Pearl Jam. (Kasich’s pop cultural references even extended to his off-brand, low standing in a field led by a Bush and a Dole. They were Coke and Pepsi; he was Jolt Cola.)
When Kasich tried again in 2016, he pitched himself differently. His attempts to reach young voters were less about connecting with them and more about being the “grown-up” in the race who knew best. He used a running national debt clock as a prop and fretted about leaving a financial mess for future generations.
Kasich’s pre-2020 policy centerpiece is gun control. And he prefers to take you back to the ’90s, when he voted in Congress for an assault weapons ban.
He won the governor’s race in 2010 in spite of the National Rifle Association’s support for the Democratic incumbent. As governor, though, Kasich has had a super-friendly record with the pro-gun lobby — or at least he did until last fall, when the mass shooting in Las Vegas spurred him to ponder changes to the state’s existing gun laws. But that process chugged along quietly until after the school shooting last month in Parkland, Florida.
As students there emerged as nationally recognized champions of reform, Kasich scrubbed pro-gun messaging from his political website and proposed several new policies, including tighter background checks. “Has this stuff that’s been happening all over the country — whether it’s Las Vegas, whether it’s Parkland, has it influenced me? Hell yes, it has,” Kasich said Tuesday.
His critics have accused him of pandering, but Kasich’s allies argue that if the goal of the gun control debate is to change minds, then the governor shouldn’t be demonized for approaching it with an open one. Kasich cites the Parkland students as inspiration.
“These kids — they’re not kids — these young people from Florida are some of the most impressive,” he said. “And I cannot believe these adults who keep trashing them!”
Kasich even pointed to a tough recent interview with Vice News’ Alexandra Jaffe, who pressed him on why his new gun control proposals don’t go further, as a positive. “It was great,” Kasich said. “Did it make me look good? No. But I loved what she was saying. Because that’s what we want now. We want the truth. We want real stuff. That’s why I like these young people.”
Tom Rath, a veteran Republican leader in New Hampshire who backed Kasich in 2016 and traveled with him Tuesday, believes Kasich is genuine in his youth outreach but acknowledges it can be a strategy fraught with awkwardness.
“There’s a group out there that doesn’t have certainty with the politics their parents are leaving them,” Rath said. “The trick Kasich has to figure out is how you talk to that group without pandering to them. Don’t be something you’re not.”
Kasich’s main calling card has been his criticism of Trump. He’s on national TV often because of it, and a CNN crew shadowed him for much of his New Hampshire trip. He said he receives encouragement “from lots of people who have influence, lots of elites” but also hears from plenty of “staunch Republican Trump people” who wish he’d go away.
“So that must tell me I’m doing something right,” he said.
Kasich then paused, pleased with himself: “That’s a good quote.”
But Kasich isn’t ready to go away.
“I think what we’re missing is those people who say, ‘I really don’t care if I’m a Republican or a Democrat. I’m worried about my country, and this is what I am going to do,'” Kasich told his audience at New England College. “But it’s hard. So why do politicians not do it? Because we’re human beings, and we like to be important. … I’ll be the worst, I want to be important, I do, I want to be important — but if everything we do is designed to make us important, then we’ve lost the bigger picture.”
For a moment, Kasich lost himself, deep in existential thought.
“For me, I’m getting older, so pretty soon,” he said, as his words trailed off.
“Well, what I’m saying is, it’s hard to give up the microphone.” ●
Mike Lofgren wrote the book on the deep state — literally.
The longtime Republican aide, who worked for three decades on Capitol Hill, published The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government in January 2016. Its jacket copy touts Lofgren’s “gripping portrait of the dismal swamp on the Potomac and the revolution it will take to set us back on course.”
So you might think the 64-year-old Lofgren is gratified that barely two years later, the phrase he helped introduce into the American political lexicon is everywhere — used to describe a secret, anti-Trump power elite which has been blamed in recent days for everything from ordering Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining room set, to running a human-trafficking ring made famous by Roseanne Barr, to briefly shutting down Sean Hannity’s Twitter account, to framing ex-GOP congressman Steve Stockman for abuse of campaign finance laws.
Well, not exactly.
“It’s like a virus,” Lofgren told BuzzFeed News. “Once it gets out into the environment and it mutates, you’ve totally lost control of it.”
From “fake news” to “bad faith,” the Trump administration and its boosters have proven fantastically adept at expropriating the slogans of the political zeitgeist and redefining them with brutal partisan efficiency. And for the past 15 months, Lofgren has had a front-row seat to one such refurbishment, as the bipartisan phenomenon he carefully documented became, as he put it in an email to BuzzFeed News, the “ultimate ‘dog ate my homework’ excuse” for “the Trump regime and its pinhead allies.” The transformation has been so thorough, it’s left Lofgren wondering if it’s possible to make a broad critique of power within America in 2018 without it being turned into a propagandistic caricature by the far right.
“It’s like a virus. Once it gets out into the environment and it mutates, you’ve totally lost control of it.”
Though Lofgren’s “Deep State,” which he first described in a widely read 2014 essay for the website of longtime PBS host Bill Moyers, is influential, it bears little resemblance to the all-powerful cabal that the contemporary far-right has conjured. A former Fulbright scholar who studied contemporary European history, Lofgren spent 16 years as a senior analyst on the House and Senate budget committees, developing an expertise in the way the government pays for national security.
In that 2014 essay, after several appearances on Moyers’ show, Lofgren gave his “Anatomy of the Deep State” thusly:
“...a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day.”
That, according to Lofgren, is why Congress could seem hopelessly divided and deadlocked on President Obama's budget or political appointments, but offer no real sustained objection across either party to efforts to “liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant” and intervene in Libya.
The critique found a supporter in Moyers. “He added to the long and legitimate and losing argument that we’re being governed by the military-industrial complex,” Moyers told BuzzFeed News.
Mike Lofgren appears on Bill Moyers' show in 2014.
The forces Lofgren described — a self-perpetuating symbiosis of national security and law enforcement agencies, government contractors, Wall Street, and Silicon Valley — look something like Eisenhower’s famous formulation, with the backing of finance and big tech, lubricated by the revolving door between government and lucrative private industry. And their influence, far from being a shadowy secret, would come as no surprise to civil libertarians on the left and the right alike who have railed against that kind of “deep state” for decades.
“This is not an illuminati conspiracy,” Lofgren told BuzzFeed News. “We know the names of the people involved: Lloyd Blankfein and Eric Schmidt. And it’s not omnipotent. It forces an aggravated status quo that keeps rolling along as long as people are apathetic.”
The concept of the deep state originates in Turkey, where it refers to a powerful layer of military officials and bureaucrats devoted to maintaining secular democracy. But Lofgren chose the name after reading it in John le Carre’s A Delicate Truth, where the novelist and ex-spy used it to describe “non-governmental insiders from banking, industry, and commerce” who received classified information before much of the elected government.
For Lofgren, “Deep State” was an apt phrase to describe what he wrote was “the big story of our time”: a largely open confluence of entrenched interests that helped explain everything from the war on terror to income inequality.
The essay resonated, so much so that Lofgren turned it into the 2016 book.
“This is not an illuminati conspiracy. ... And it’s not omnipotent. It forces an aggravated status quo that keeps rolling along as long as people are apathetic.”
Naturally, a book proposing a unified theory of overreach by the military, intelligence, government contractors, big banks, and big tech received a warm reception in left-wing outlets like Salon and CounterPunch. So too, though, did The Deep State get positive notice in the far-right finance blog Zero Hedge, and in the far-right Taki’s Magazine from Steve Sailer, an influential and highly controversial writer who New York magazine called “The Man Who Invented Identity Politics for the New Right.”
Indeed, in the months after Lofgren wrote his original deep state essay, Cambridge Analytica and its then–vice president Steve Bannon were busy discovering — at least according to the whistleblower Christopher Wylie — that the phrase was catnip to conservative voters.
Lofgren began to realize that the idea had become something else in the popular imagination when right-wing commentators blamed the deep state for leaks that led to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s resignation. And as a flood of similar leaks threatened to sink the Trump administration in its early months, reports emerged that the president himself blamed them on the deep state, and allies from Steve King to Newt Gingrich said so publicly.
Of course, Trump’s supporters blamed only one group within the network of interests described by Lofgren’s deep state — career bureaucrats or Obama-era holdovers who were appalled by the anti–administrative state president and wanted to damage him to preserve the status quo. These were an entrenched interest to be sure, but, Lofgren said, not as important as the revolving door between industry, Wall Street, and government that made sure special interests dictated a consistent policy from administration to administration.
Today, posts about the deep state appear multiple times a day in pro-Trump communities like Reddit's /r/The_Donald, where its hidden hand is seen manipulating events as disparate as the death of child star Corey Haim and a DDoS attack against conservative conspiracy site the Gateway Pundit. Wednesday morning, a Daily Caller explainer video about the deep state was the top post on /r/The_Donald.
In response to what he saw as abuse of the term, Lofgren last year wrote a column for LobeLog, “Yes, There Is a Deep State — But Not the Right Wing’s Caricature.”
“The Deep State is an outgrowth of illiberal tendencies in liberal democracy, tendencies that have given disproportionate influence to a militarized foreign policy, secrecy and surveillance at home, and entrenched disparities of wealth,” Lofgren wrote. “But it is not the worst imaginable permutation of that system. The naked, authoritarian power grab that is now evolving in the West Wing under the troika of Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and Jared Kushner, is something much more sinister.”
Lofgren’s theory of the Deep State had been about the undue influence of the military and the 1% on American politics; now a president who had surrounded himself with billionaires and generals, who wanted to cut taxes on the rich and increase military spending, was demonizing the deep state.
“The opposition to it by the Trumpistas is largely phony,” Lofgren told BuzzFeed News. “His cabinet makes [George W.] Bush’s cabinet look like a Bolshevik workers council.”
And yet Lofgren, who felt alienated by the Republican Party over its rush to war in Iraq in 2003 and the bank bailout in 2008, and publicly split with the party in his 2012 bestseller The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, was not surprised that the Trump administration, with the help of the far-right media, was able to so quickly redefine his idea — of a nonpartisan power elite — in nakedly partisan terms.
“People do not grasp how organic and well-integrated the right-wing enterprise is in this country,” Lofgren said.
“[Trump's] cabinet makes Bush’s cabinet look like a Bolshevik workers council.”
Now, Lofgren has had to watch as the phrase he used to describe a network of entrenched interests has been co-opted by those very entrenched interests to demonize their opposition. The latest irony: the hiring by the anti–deep state president of John Bolton, a hawk with decades of government experience and a multimillion-dollar super PAC in his name, to be national security adviser.
“We’ve had a political reaction where certain very clever people in the Republican Party have said, ‘See this shiny object over here, that’s the source of all your problems’” Lofgren said. “It’s the immigrants or the elites — meaning some $45,000-a-year adjunct professor rather than [billionaire Trump donors] the Mercers. All this populism is essentially the Deep State. It’s plutocracy.”
Lofgren, who lives with his wife in Northern Virginia, said he isn’t sure how to talk about the issues he described in his book without attracting right-wing conspiracy mongers — at least while civic engagement, driven by a media he sees as beholden to corporate interests, remains so low. Moyers agrees.
“Look at the last 48 hours,” he told BuzzFeed News last week. “Sinclair does this Orwellian propaganda piece. The next day Trump comes to praise it. And certify it. And then he attacks the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post.” Given that climate, Moyers said, “It’s not possible to have small-d democratic attention paid and voter concern to an issue that is very serious.”
Even so, Moyers said, he has no regrets about helping introduce the term into the bloodstream.
“It’s there and it’s not going away because we’re uncomfortable with how it’s being perverted.”
Neither does Lofgren. As wry in person as he is in his lacerating prose, Lofgren told BuzzFeed News that despite what the “Deep State” has come to mean, he’s happy with the work he’s done.
“I have no trouble getting up in the morning and looking in the shaving mirror. Given the volume of what I’ve written since and the tenor, I feel, to the extent that any of us is driven by idealism and not just vanity, I’ve tried to do my best.” ●
Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images
In his first comments on the topic since Stephanie Clifford, an adult film star who performs as Stormy Daniels, appeared on 60 Minutes, President Donald Trump said he did not know about the $130,000 payment his longtime lawyer has said he facilitated for her in 2016.
Asked aboard Air Force One on Thursday afternoon about whether he knew about the payment, Trump simply said, "No," according to the White House press pool report.
The payment was made in the waning days of the 2016 presidential election as part of a settlement agreement signed by Clifford, who claims to have had a relationship with Trump more than a decade ago, and the lawyer, Michael Cohen. The existence of the agreement was first reported earlier this year by the Wall Street Journal.
Clifford's lawyer, Michael Avenatti, has sued over the agreement, calling it a "hush agreement" and asking a court in California to toss it out.
Asked why his longtime lawyer — and the Trump Organization's lawyer at the time — made the payment, Trump said, "You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael."
In Clifford's lawsuit, one of the issues raised is the allegation that Cohen — based on his own statements and now echoed by the president's statements — made the payment through a company set up for the payment without his client's knowledge.
After the Wall Street Journal's initial reporting on the agreement, Cohen stated, "In a private transaction in 2016, I used my own personal funds to facilitate a payment of $130,000 to Ms. Stephanie Clifford. Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly."
The lawsuit alleges that Cohen "violated Rule 1.8(e) of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct by advancing or guaranteeing financial assistance to a client by paying $130,000 from his own personal funds to benefit his client Mr. Trump."
Cohen is not, however, Trump's lawyer in the ongoing litigation. In that, Trump is represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer best known for representing Hulk Hogan in his lawsuit against Gawker.
In the litigation, Cohen and the company, Essential Consultants, LLC, are represented by Brent Blakely.
Trump also said he did not know where the money came from and ignored a question about whether he ever set up a fund of money that Cohen could draw from.
Neither Harder nor Blakely — who are seeking to have the lawsuit resolved in private arbitration, as set forth in the agreement itself — immediately responded to a request for comment on Trump's statements.
Avenatti, however, quickly responded on Twitter, saying he looked forward to "testing the truthfulness" of Trump's claim.
Regarding Trump's comment that Cohen is his attorney, Avenatti told BuzzFeed News, "Another brilliant pick and an example of only the best and the brightest."
Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba onstage with Sanders Wednesday night.
Rogelio V. Solis / AP
On the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Jr., Bernie Sanders was in Jackson, Mississippi, to talk about economic justice. It was here, in a state with the highest percentage of black residents in the country, where Sanders registered one of the worst performances of his presidential campaign, losing all 82 counties, by a total of 66 points.
Two years later, on Wednesday night, there were cheers of "Feel the Bern!" in the hall as Sanders and the city's mayor, Chokwe Lumumba, discussed King's legacy.
But midway through the event in downtown Jackson, an uncertain silence fell over the audience.
"The business model, if you like, of the Democratic Party for the last 15 years or so has been a failure," Sanders started, responding to a question about the young voters who supported his campaign. "People sometimes don't see that because there was a charismatic individual named Barack Obama, who won the presidency in 2008 and 2012.
"He was obviously an extraordinary candidate, brilliant guy. But behind that reality, over the last 10 years, Democrats have lost about 1,000 seats in state legislatures all across this country.”
It's a criticism of President Obama’s tenure that Sanders and plenty of others have made before. But the time and place for the remark — 50 years to the day after King's assassination, at an event to discuss that legacy — quickly shook loose old frustrations among Democrats who watched the senator struggle in 2016 to connect with black voters and speak to issues of racial justice.
Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ longtime top strategist, said that people were misreading the senator’s comment. “What Bernie was doing last night was praising the power and significance of the Barack Obama presidency, while at the same time pointing out that the national Democratic Party has had a lot of failures over the last 15 years, as evidenced by our loss of state legislative and congressional seats.”
“One is not the cause of the other,” Weaver said.
An Obama spokesperson declined to comment. But privately, former Obama lieutenants and other Democrats knocked the timing of Sanders’ criticism, considering his words on the Democratic Party a criticism of Obama’s own leadership. One texted that Sanders’ words were “dumb as hell.”
"Bernie's comments were tone-deaf and will not help him with communities of color, especially black folks," said Joshua DuBois, a strategist who led Obama's faith-based initiative. "On that hallowed day, our focus should've been on the transformative legacy of Dr. King and how we can come together to continue King's fight against systemic racism and injustice — not attacking the legacy of the first black president, who fought against many of the same things Dr. King fought."
Bakari Sellers, a South Carolina Democrat who emphatically supported Hillary Clinton in 2016, told BuzzFeed News that he and black Democrats have had patience with Sanders as he’s sought to better understand the role that race plays in the United States, even as Democrats have pushed Sanders to not just rely on the narrative that he marched with King in the 1960s.
To Sellers, anyway, Sanders’ time is up.
To “dismiss with utter arrogance and lack of self-awareness the first African African president,” he said on Thursday, is “just the height and epitome of arrogance and lack of self-awareness.”
Sellers argued that Obama’s legacy encompasses not just his work as president from a policy perspective, but his symbolic importance. He alluded to the photo of a boy touching Obama’s hair in the White House to see if it felt like his. “Bernie Sanders doesn’t understand how that photo is emblematic of the hope of many African Americans and that it speaks loudly to who Barack Obama is.”
Speaking by phone on Thursday, Weaver fired back at Sanders’ critics. Sellers, he said, was attempting to sow “racial division” by “deliberately misinterpreting” the senator’s remarks. (“My father was shot because of racial [division],” responded Sellers, whose father was shot during what became known as the Orangeburg Massacre in 1968. “[Weaver] should find another line of attack, because I will not dignify that.”)
The episode, and the fast and sharp response, offers another reminder of how tense Democratic politics continue to be, especially around issues of race and economics, as the party decides its direction after Clinton’s loss two years ago.
In 2016, the 76-year-old Vermont senator struggled to attract wider black support with his message about wealth and income inequality, which he cast as "the great moral issue of our time," "the great economic issue of our time," and the "great political issue of our time" — often, critics said, at the expense of highlighting issues of race.
And in the lead-up to the first caucuses and primaries, he fumbled a series of tense confrontations with young black leaders protesting against police violence and race’s effect on mass incarceration. To his critics, Sanders’ lack of experience — coming up in politics in Vermont — and near lack of black voices among his senior campaign staff left him flat-footed on the intersectional political analysis young activists craved.
Now, as Sanders contemplates another run for president in 2020, he and his advisers face pressing question about whether his political revolution's message, and its messenger, can attract a large enough coalition of voters to win the Democratic nomination.
If former campaign aides still hang on to one frustration from 2016, it's the perception that Sanders can't connect with the black community. His pollster, Ben Tulchin, can still recite exit polling figures showing his gains with black millennials. His former press secretary, Symone Sanders, published a Washington Post op-ed headlined “It’s Time to End the Myth That Black Voters Don’t Like Bernie Sanders.” And his top aides are quick to point to a series of Harvard-Harris polls showing the senator as the most popular politician among black voters.
Sanders, in the months since 2016, has cultivated a closer relationship with leaders like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. He's been a more frequent presence at events like Wednesday's town hall in Jackson. And advisers insist that the Democratic primary, and the activists he met along the way in 2015 and 2016, did set off a real change in the senator's thinking on racial justice.
“It’s not Bernie’s fault, but the circumstance he was faced with [in 2016] is that he took on this image as this [exemplar] of progressivism when the progressive community tends to marginalize black concerns,” said Rev. Al Sharpton in an interview last week. “He was the progressive candidate and he incurred some wrath from all of us because of that.”
Tulchin, the senator’s pollster, described criminal justice and mass incarceration as relatively new issues for Sanders. “Yes, he took guidance from us on that front, because he recognized that Vermont is not at the epicenter of the criminal justice crisis, in terms of police misconduct problems. He understood that he had to absorb new areas,” Tulchin said. "But it is part of his worldview — I mean, the guy started in the ’60s as an activist in the civil rights movement getting arrested, right?"
On Wednesday night, in a brief interview backstage as he autographed campaign posters, Sanders said he saw the “fight for justice” as one for “racial justice” and “economic justice,” citing one of King’s last efforts, the Poor People’s Campaign aimed at mobilizing workers across different racial backgrounds. “That's what King's life was about,” the senator said. “We gotta move forward, fight against racism at the same time as we fight for economic justice.”
Still, early in his political career, and at times during the 2016 campaign, Sanders was reluctant to embrace any view of left-leaning politics that did not put class and economic inequality at the forefront. “The real issue is not whether you’re black or white, whether you’re a woman or a man,” he said in a 1988 interview. “The real issue is whose side are you on? Are you on the side of workers and poor people or are you on the side of big money and the corporations?”
“He was unconsciously unskillful on issues of race,” said the executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, Curtiss Reed Jr., who has observed Sanders for years in his home state. “His framework is income inequality and economic justice. He sees that as the all-inclusive tent.”
It made for a steep learning curve in 2015, as a new generation of young black leaders staged protests at campaign events across the country. One of the first major actions, at the annual Netroots Nation conference for liberal activists in July of that year, left Sanders and his team shaken. The candidate on stage before him, Martin O’Malley, had already bungled an exchange with leaders from the Black Lives Matter movement, telling the activists concerned about police brutality and mass incarceration that “all lives matter.” When Sanders came out afterward, the moderator immediately asked him to address the topic at hand. “Whoa, whoa whoa whoa whoa,” Sanders said. “Let me talk about what I want to talk about for a moment.”
After protesters interrupted him with chants of “say her name” — referring to Sandra Bland, a black woman who’d recently died inside a Texas prison after a traffic stop — Sanders stopped talking and paced the stage. “Listen, black lives of course matter. And I’ve spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights,” Sanders finally said. From the crowd, someone shouted back, “What are you doing about it now?” The protracted exchange left campaign aides “demoralized” and “devastated,” an operative present recalled. Sanders, the person said, was “pissed.”
Though Clinton won the nomination on the strength of black support, she, too, struggled with the same kinds of interactions with protesters, who objected to her use of the term “super-predators” and her support of the crime bill in the 1990s. In the wake of the 2016 election, those critiques of the 1990s, and the way politicians talk about issues of racial inequality and injustice, have become a standard feature of American political life, especially as President Trump continues to single out black politicians and protesters.
The experience was a new one for Sanders. On a trip to Seattle in August 2015, Black Lives Matter activists interrupted two events in one day. The next day, in a meeting with Don't Shoot PDX, a Portland group loosely affiliated with Black Lives Matter, Sanders repeatedly answered questions by referring the activists to his campaign website. (“He said: ‘I don't know you and u don't me, so you have to read my website, you can go on [there] and see my work and judge me from that,’" one attendee recalled in a Facebook post about the meeting.)
Around that time, the candidate brought on Symone Sanders to serve as his national press secretary and one of the first black faces of his campaign. During her first week on the job, she said, she told Sanders that he had to treat racial inequality and economic inequality as “parallel issues” — a suggestion she said he ran with. “I [told him], you know, economic equality is an issue. It’s something we need to address. But for some people it doesn’t matter how much money you make, it doesn’t matter where you went to school, it doesn’t matter what your parents do. It doesn’t matter that Sandra Bland had a job and was on her way to teach for her alma mater. It doesn’t matter. None of that matters.”
By the time his campaign aides scrambled to release a detailed criminal justice platform on Aug. 9, Sanders was still struggling. In a September meeting with Campaign Zero, a movement formed out of the Ferguson protests, activists asked Sanders why, in his opinion, there were a disproportionate amount of people of color in jail for nonviolent drug offenses. Sanders, seated across the table, a yellow legal pad at hand, responded with a question of his own, according to two people present: “Aren’t most of the people who sell the drugs African American?” The candidate, whose aides froze in the moment, was quickly rebuffed: The answer, the activists told him, was no. Even confronted with figures and data to the contrary, Sanders appeared to have still struggled to grasp that he had made an error, the two people present said.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Bernie Sanders said he "clearly misspoke" during the meeting:
During this extremely important meeting three years ago, where I learned a great deal, we had a very open discussion about the issues of systemic racism and the intersection of race and class. I am grateful to the participants in this meeting for engaging with me. The experiences and perspectives they related were incredibly impactful on me as a person and as a presidential candidate. While I clearly misspoke and had more to learn with regard to the causes of this problem, we all came to the meeting understanding what is absolutely true: the criminal justice system is broken and disproportionately arrests and jails African Americans. I am thankful to the participants for their work and willingness to have the kind of discussions that we need to have in order to move forward as a country. I intend to continue having conversations with activists and experts about how we, as a nation, create the society all of us deserve.
Ahead of a possible 2020 campaign, Sanders’ inner circle remains largely unchanged: His closest advisers include his former campaign manager, Weaver; his media consultant, Tad Devine; and his wife, Jane Sanders. Some note that his operation now includes Ben Jealous, the former NAACP president now running for governor of Maryland, as well as Nina Turner, a prominent Sanders surrogate who is now running his political organization, Our Revolution.
"Candidates need to figure out how to include black women at the top, and to my knowledge he hasn’t met with the new guard or the old guard of black women — and that’s what needs to happen if they want to create a viable plan."
“Anybody that thinks they’d like to throw their hat in the ring for 2020 has to understand that you will never get anywhere close to the presidency without black women,” said Symone Sanders in an interview last month. “Candidates need to figure out how to include black women at the top, and to my knowledge he hasn’t met with the new guard or the old guard of black women — and that’s what needs to happen if they want to create a viable plan.”
On Wednesday night, seated beside Lumumba, the 35-year-old mayor who came into office last year, Sanders talked about King's focus later in life on connecting the fight for integration and civil rights with issues of income inequality. “All of us know where he was when he was assassinated 50 years ago today,” the senator said. “He was in Memphis to stand with low-income sanitation workers who were being exploited ruthlessly, whose wages were abysmally low, and who were trying to create a union. That's where he was. Because as the mayor just indicated, what he believed — and where he was a real threat to the establishment — is that of course we need civil rights in this country, but we also need economic justice.”
Backstage after the town hall, Sanders said that these are issues he’s always discussed, whether or not people were paying attention. “Don’t get me going on the media,” he said.
“You're running against somebody who's known by everybody, whose husband was very popular in the African American community,” he went on. “How many people in Mississippi knew who the junior senator from Vermont was when I began my campaign? Wanna guess? Five percent? Ten percent? But by the time the campaign ended, we were doing much better.”
But had the campaign changed him at all — or the way he talks about racial justice?
Sanders cut in. “It’s not a question of talking about it. It’s not phraseology. It's what you're gonna do about it,” he said. “You learn and you grow. If you're not smarter tomorrow than you are today, then you're not doing a good job. So coming to Mississippi, coming to Alabama, to Flint, Michigan — did I learn something? Did I change as a part of that? Of course I did.”
But how, exactly? Sanders didn’t answer the question.
“You're asking about me. And I'm not important. What's important are the kinds of policies that we need to transform this country. OK?”
Alex Wong / Getty Images
Rep. John Lewis delivered a sharp rebuke of a controversial White House policy in the Weekly Democratic Address, alluding to a speech in which Martin Luther King Jr. warned “against the danger of building walls.”
Lewis, an icon of the civil rights movement and the representative of Georgia’s 5th Congressional District, delivered this week’s address at the request of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination in Memphis, a top Pelosi aide said. A copy of the speech’s transcript was first provided to BuzzFeed News.
Lewis said King was his leader, mentor, and friend who "convinced" three presidents to "understand that civil rights was a moral issue," and that King used that moral leadership to fight for the most vulnerable people in society. “In particular, I will never forget when Dr. King spoke in Berlin against the danger of building walls," said Lewis. "He reminded the global family — the global community — that God’s children were on both sides of the wall.”
He continued, “If Dr. King were with us today, he would continue to push our country to respect the dignity and the worth of every human being — no matter where they are born, no matter their race, age, religion, or gender identity.”
While there has been progress in the 50 years since King’s death, Lewis said there are now “new forces trying to take us back, trying to turn back the clock, trying to take us to a darker time.” “Times like these can seem overwhelming, but I ask you to recommit yourself to the way of love, the way of peace, and the way of nonviolence,” said Lewis.
King’s 1964 address in Berlin is among the less-cited speeches in the civil rights leader’s oratorical canon. King connected two societies struggling with social unrest: He led the audience through the evolution of what he called the “great social revolution taking place in the United States of America...the struggle to free some 20 million Negroes from the long night of segregation and discrimination.” He also described Berlin as “a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth.”
“Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey,” said King.
For his part, Lewis referenced a line in King’s speech in which King, referring to the Berlin Wall, said that “on either side of the wall are God’s children, and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact.”
President Trump commemorated King’s assassination saying, “We must learn to live together as brothers and sisters lest we perish together as fools. He reminded the country to 'love our neighbor as we love ourselves' and that America should 'denounce racism, inhumanity, and all those things that seek to divide us.'”
But Trump this week also ramped up the rhetoric on immigration. Trump railed against Democrats for what he said is their weakness on immigration and the border. At one event, in which he was scheduled to discuss tax policy, Trump instead threw his prepared remarks in the air — and proceeded to defend a speech he made describing Mexican immigrants as rapists.
"So we have to have strong borders. We're going to have the wall. We've already started building it. We have a billion-six,” said Trump. “We've started building it and fixing miles and miles of wall that's already up — and fence. And we're going to have our wall. And we're going to get it very strongly.”