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BuzzFeed, Find Your New Favorite Thing
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    Robyn Beck / AFP / Getty Images

    Campaigns across the country are anxiously awaiting changes to the way they advertise on Facebook, after the platform promised more transparency about and new rules for political advertising.

    Though there’s been widespread focus on Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election, traditional campaigns and PACs spent millions and millions of dollars on ads — and even small changes in process or the algorithm could mean big changes for how political campaigns reach people this year.

    But the first major primaries of 2018 are less than two weeks away, and Facebook has offered only a broad outline of what to expect and a vague timetable — sometime this summer — for when to expect it.

    "We’re all trying to learn exactly what these new disclosures will look like and how they’re going to affect our campaigns,” Ted Peterson, the digital director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, which promotes House candidates, told BuzzFeed News.

    Like media publishers, many campaign operatives worry that changes in the Facebook algorithm will make political advertising more difficult — or maybe more expensive. They’re also contemplating what the potential loss of dark social ads might mean for campaigns, which would appear on a candidate’s page as opposed to only being shown to their targeted audience under the new rules.

    “I think campaigns are going to have to change some of their tactics if they don’t want their exact messaging to be given away, they may have to change who they’re advertising to and with what messages with the idea that everything is potentially out there and hopefully that dissuades some bad actors,” said a Democratic digital strategist.

    Others in the digital field are skeptical if Facebook’s broad strategy for transparency on its ad platform will fix the problems that emerged during the 2016 presidential election.

    "To be honest, I'll believe it when I see it,” said Kevin Bingle, who served as digital director on Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s presidential campaign and works with other Republican candidates. “I hope they can figure this all out, but I'm not sure I understand what their goal is here.”

    Facebook, which did not respond to requests for comment, is vowing to be more rigorous in verifying advertisers’ identities, in part spurred by the Russian meddling during the last campaign cycle. Rob Goldman, the company’s vice president of ads, said last October that a version of the new system is being tested in Canada. At first, only federal election-related ads will be affected when it launches in the US.

    Among the most substantial “election integrity” measures announced last year is a searchable database that will allow all users to track all ads purchased by a particular campaign, including ads only previously seen by a micro-targeted audience. Company officials say the system will shine more light on who is trying to influence political races.

    It’s a level of disclosure that, as described, resembles how television ads work: Local TV stations and cable providers keep public records documenting airtime costs for ads that all people viewing a given channel in a given market see.

    Some campaign operatives who spoke to BuzzFeed News noted that because this is being done proactively by Facebook and not by federal regulators, the result could be totally different system that’s not as accessible or transparent as the Federal Communications Commission’s public files. But Facebook has said that political advertisers will be required to disclose who they are reaching — how many impressions, which demographics — and how much they are spending.

    Digital strategists are waiting for word on how detailed they’ll have to be in their disclosures and how Facebook will present these details — which they say will affect the kinds of ads they run. And many are worried about surrendering the competitive advantages that came from being able to tailor a Facebook ad to a specific kind of voter without rival campaigns knowing the particulars about reach and cost.

    Brad Parscale, the digital director for Donald Trump, who emphasized Facebook above all else last time.

    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    Even at a basic level, the disclosures likely will tip off a campaign when a competitor is doing something new — and, as with TV, there will be a rush to match. The transparency in TV “tends to drive up the cost of what the other side is spending, so there’s this really competitive nature,” said Tara McGowan, founder of Lockwood Strategy and a former digital director at Priorities USA, the Democratic super PAC that backed Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

    Or, as National Republican Senatorial Committee digital director Jon Adams put it: “If I shoot a missile, you shoot a missile.”

    But the spending disclosures could work both ways. A campaign that sees a rival spending little or nothing on Facebook is unlikely to invest much money there. "It will be interesting,” Adams said, “to see how they include the spend amount behind the ads — does that help or hurt Facebook? Does that drive more dollars to the platform? Or to television?"

    How Facebook displays the spend amount is of particular to interest to digital strategists. Will there be an amount shown for each ad? A cumulative total? What if a campaign produces eight slightly different versions of the same ad for eight different audiences? Will a user be able to see exactly how much a campaign is spending in every specific permutation?

    “I think there’s going to be a lot of gaming the system,” said one Republican digital specialist.

    This operative and others said that, depending on how deep Facebook makes them go, they might change the way they produce and target content, perhaps including a second state or congressional district to obscure an ad’s actual purpose. Or maybe they will flood the zone with a bunch of ads, each one with a different color background or other distinguishing characteristic to confuse anyone who might be trying to decipher a strategy.

    “It’s going to be hard on both sides for Facebook to track every single ad and hold every ad accountable,” McGowan said. “I know they’re probably trying to build that plane as they fly it. I have no idea what the backend looks like but I know there’s an enormous amount of advertising that’s done on the self-serve platform and I’m sure there’ll be some difficulty there to track and regulate every single ad.”

    Another Democratic strategist was concerned about how fast Facebook would be in pushing ads through the revamped approval process. “Political campaigns and political advertising is such a fast-paced environment,” said the strategist. “Anything that Facebook would do to slow down the approval process or the creation of ad campaigns — that’s detrimental to campaigns being able to get their message out quickly.”

    Bingle, Kasich’s digital consultant, questioned whether Facebook’s new system will work as intended.

    "How many people do you think are going to see something super-partisan on Facebook and take the time to visit that organization's page and do homework about what other things they're running and who they're targeting?” Bingle said. “Maybe I'm wrong, but the only people I can see realistically doing that are members of the media and a candidate's opposition. What does this change do to prevent bad information from spreading?"

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    Alex Wong / Getty Images

    The Pentagon sent recommendations to the White House on Friday about how to handle transgender people in the US military — two days later than had been expected, and still leaving most questions unresolved.

    President Trump had requested the recommendations so he could develop a final policy on carrying out his order from last summer to ban transgender service.

    But it’s unclear what advice Trump got.

    Maj. Dave Eastburn, a Pentagon spokesperson, told BuzzFeed News, “The recommendations made by the secretary was a private conversation between he and the White House, so details of that conversation will remain private.”

    The White House also did not divulge those recommendations. Hogan Gidley, deputy press secretary for the White House, said only that they’re “currently under review.”

    Another US official, who is familiar with the recommendations, told BuzzFeed News that Defense Secretary James Mattis advised the president to continue allowing transgender people in the armed forces. That jibes with a Washington Post report on Thursday that cited two unnamed US officials.

    For now, the situation raises bigger immediate questions than it answers: Will Trump actually adopt the recommendations from Mattis? And if Trump seeks to continue the ban, moreover, can he actually enforce it given that federal courts suspended Trump’s underlying transgender service ban months ago?

    Without a comment from the White House about how Trump would respond by a March 23 deadline, or a court’s opinions on whether a future policy is legal, the answers to those questions are up in the air.

    The Justice Department had placed significant stock in this announcement, according to a federal judge in Maryland, who said the department claimed a new policy would be “disclosed” on Feb. 21 — which was Wednesday.

    The Justice Department, according to the judge, also said the new policy would be so different from Trump's previous ban that officials didn’t need to hand over certain documents about its origins.

    The Justice Department did not reply to questions from BuzzFeed News about the policy’s whereabouts.

    The Justice Department’s greatest challenge in defending the policy, up to now, has been that federal courts said it singled out transgender people and would likely be ruled an unconstitutional violation of due process rights under the Fifth Amendment.

    Given those past setbacks, there has been widespread speculation that the Trump administration’s new policy would be designed to avoid legal snags — much the same way Trump issued permutations of the travel ban, each one redrafted to evade challenges that doomed the one before.

    The Pentagon on Tuesday announced a new “deploy or out” policy that applies across the military, which could affect up to 286,000 service members who have been non-deployable for a year or more. Those troops would be separated from the military or referred to the disability evaluation system.

    It was not immediately clear if — or how — the deployment policy may factor into the administration's defense of the transgender ban.

    But critics of transgender troops, including Trump, have raised concerns that transgender service members burden the military because they are undeployable while they recover from gender-transition surgeries and other treatments.

    In June 2016, the Obama administration lifted a decades-long ban on transgender service, citing research that found transgender people would not bog down the military.

    But Trump reversed that decision, saying on Twitter in July 2017 that transgender people would render the military “burdened with medical costs and disruption.” He made the decision to end their service, he said, “after consultation with my Generals and military experts.”

    Trump formalized the policy in a memorandum last August that instructed the secretary of defense to provide policy recommendations on Feb. 21, 2018, about recruitment, retention, and health care.

    Questions about the provenance of Trump’s position have received significant scrutiny, since judges have said Trump’s decree did not appear to be based on a legitimate national security interest or stem from a policy-making process.

    As one federal judge wrote in November, “President Trump’s tweets did not emerge from a policy review,” adding, “A capricious, arbitrary, and unqualified tweet of new policy does not trump the methodical and systematic review by military stakeholders.”

    BuzzFeed News reported on Tuesday that newly obtained emails cast questions about whether Trump did, in fact, consult with top officials before the July tweets, as he’d claimed. Gen. Joseph Dunford, the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in emails on July 27 that Trump’s announcement “was unexpected” and that he intended to say he was “not consulted."

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    The president broke out his greatest campaign hits and audience members chanted “Lock her up” at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The Rolling Stones played him off.

    President Trump on Friday gave a speech at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

    President Trump on Friday gave a speech at CPAC, the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

    Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

    And a lot of it seemed very... how would you say... familiar.

    And a lot of it seemed very... how would you say... familiar.

    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    Like circa 2016 presidential campaign familiar, when Trump would go off-script, unpredictably rambling and riffing at his campaign rallies.

    Like circa 2016 presidential campaign familiar, when Trump would go off-script, unpredictably rambling and riffing at his campaign rallies.

    Trump in Biloxi

    Jonathan Bachman / Getty Images

    On Friday, Trump entered to Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."

    Just like 2016.

    Just like in 2016.

    Just like in 2016.

    Just like 2016.

    Juuust like in 2016.

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    Rep. Adam Schiff.

    J. Scott Applewhite / AP

    Democrats released a redacted memo on Saturday that they say rebuts Republican claims that the Justice Department and FBI abused their spying powers in the Russia investigation. The document, a direct counterpart to a Republican memo released early this month, was written by Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, and Democratic staff.

    The release comes after President Donald Trump told Democrats they would have to redact the document before it could be made public, delaying it by two weeks.

    Democrats argued that they needed to release their 10-page memo to clarify what Schiff called “many distortions and inaccuracies” in the Republican memo.

    "Some time ago, Republicans on our committee released a declassified memo that omitted and distorted key facts in order to mislead the public and impugn the integrity of the FBI," Schiff said on Twitter Saturday. "We can now tell you what they left out."

    Trump took to Twitter Saturday evening to condemn the Democratic memo, calling it a “total political and legal BUST,” and saying it “confirms all of the terrible things that were done. SO ILLEGAL!”

    Schiff quickly responded:

    At issue is how the FBI and Justice Department handled applications to surveil former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Republicans claimed in their memo that the agencies failed to inform the courts that those applications were based, in part, on research funded by Democrats.

    That research was compiled by former British MI6 intelligence official Christopher Steele and was funded by the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. The dossier, which alleged several years of Trump-Kremlin links, was first published by BuzzFeed News in January 2017, after security officials had briefed then-president Barack Obama and Trump about it.

    Democrats argue in their memo that the FBI and DOJ “did not ‘abuse’” the process to seek a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as Republicans alleged, arguing that the FBI and DOJ “would have been remiss in their duty to protect the country had they not sought a FISA warrant and repeated renewals to conduct temporary surveillance of Carter Page, someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”

    The Democratic memo says that one indication that Page was suspected of Russia links even before the FBI knew about the Steele dossier was that he was interviewed by the FBI in March 2016, the same month he was named a Trump campaign adviser. The memo also notes Page’s years-long links to Russia, including his time living in Moscow working in the energy sector from 2004 to 2007 and his contact in 2013 with a Russian spy who tried to recruit him.

    While the Democratic memo concedes that neither agency disclosed the specific source of funding for the dossier, it denies Republican assertions that the FBI tried to hide the dossier's origin as opposition political research. The memo argues that the FBI stuck by its long-standing practice of protecting the identities of specific American citizens and entities in not naming the DNC or Clinton’s campaign, but notes that it made clear the political context of the dossier’s funding. The memo includes the section of the FISA application in which the FBI and DOJ disclosed this information, one line of which says "the FBI speculates" that the dossier was commissioned "to discredit" Trump's campaign.

    The memo also says repeatedly that the information the FBI received from Steele was not the sole basis for the applications to spy on Page. The memo notes that the Department of Justice developed information from "multiple independent sources" corroborating aspects of the Steele dossier. But details of the corroborating information are redacted from the memo.

    Additionally, Democrats write that the Steele dossier “played no role” in the FBI’s decision to open an investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign in the first place. Indeed, the Republican memo admitted as much, stating that the FBI’s investigation began in July 2016 as a result of information regarding George Papadopoulos, another Trump campaign foreign policy adviser.

    Democrats note that the investigation began “more than seven weeks” before the FBI began communicating with Steele. The document also says that at that point — in September 2016 — the FBI had already opened investigations into others “linked” to the Trump campaign, including Page. The number of other individuals who were under investigation at that time appears to be redacted.

    The memo also asserts that the Page surveillance "allowed the FBI to collect valuable intelligence." But most of two paragraphs that further identified that intelligence was redacted.

    The Democratic memo says the four judges who approved the requests to monitor Page were appointed by Republican presidents. Although the memo does not name the judges, who serve on the federal bench, it notes that two were appointed by President George W. Bush, and one each was appointed by President George H.W. Bush and President Ronald Reagan.

    White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders criticized the Democrats’ memo in a statement shortly after it was released, calling it “politically driven” and arguing that “fails to answer serious concerns” raised by the Republican memo.

    “As the President has long stated, neither he nor his campaign ever colluded with a foreign power during the 2016 election, and nothing in today’s memo counters that fact,” Sanders said.

    Republican Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, also dismissed the Democratic memo in a statement Saturday. “The American people now clearly understand that the FBI used political dirt paid for by the Democratic Party to spy on an American citizen from the Republican Party,” he said.

    Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement Saturday that "by initially delaying the release of the memo, the president purposefully silenced any Democratic rebuttal to the fabricated conspiracy theories pushed by Chairman Nunes. Obviously, there is something the president is afraid of.”

    Thomas Frank, Mark Seibel and Sarah Mimms contributed to this story.

    Read the memo:

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    Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

    WASHINGTON — More than 13 months into the Trump administration, the Justice Department is now officially without its Senate-confirmed No. 3 in charge — a department where nine of the divisions or offices that reported to former associate attorney general Rachel Brand also lack a permanent leader.

    Much attention over Brand’s departure has focused on the order of succession at the Justice Department — a recurring question given President Trump’s repeated lashing out at both Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

    Within the department itself, however, there is another issue that Brand leaving her job highlights: There are very few people serving in “permanent” roles in the Justice Department.

    Brand — who oversaw a significant part of the Justice Department’s portfolio and had served in the Justice Department for several years of the George W. Bush administration — was confirmed by the Senate and seen as helping provide day-to-day stability in the department. With Brand out, Acting Associate Attorney General Jesse Panuccio, who joined the Justice Department for the first time a month into the Trump administration, has taken over her responsibilities for the time being.

    Four of the five legal divisions Brand oversaw lack their own Senate-confirmed leader, a multiplying effect on her departure, and one that is echoed in the the offices that reported to Brand as well. That includes the Tax Division, amid significant changes to the US tax code passed into law by the Republican Congress last year, and the Civil Division, responsible for representing the president and other federal officials in many lawsuits filed against the administration.

    A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on the issue.

    Former Justice Department officials told BuzzFeed News the situation isn’t a dramatic one, legally. Strong acting heads, who are widely respected, sometimes still can have great influence, of course. And some components have not had a Senate-confirmed leader for several years, including the Civil Rights Division (2013) or the Office on Violence Against Women (2012).

    But in day-to-day interactions, people serving in acting roles understandably can have difficulties asserting themselves or their office’s priorities — particularly outside of their agency — in political and even policy discussions. And with fewer people in permanent roles, the Trump administration lacks the stability for good government, or for advancing an actual agenda, more than a year into the presidency.

    This topic of vacancies at Justice is not new — NPR, the Washington Post, and Above the Law all wrote about the issue in the opening weeks of 2018, before Brand announced her departure. But Brand's departure adds a new importance to the wide breadth of vacancies in offices that reported to her.

    For any administration, the first years are often the most productive in terms of advancing their agenda — and the continued slow pace of the Trump administration in filling roles with permanent leadership reflects the lack of a fully realized Trump administration and, in some cases here, an apparent disinterest in advancing some of the previously established functions of the department.

    An acting assistant attorney general oversees the Civil Division, Civil Rights Division, and Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) currently. The Tax Division is being helmed by the principal deputy assistant attorney general — a consequence of there not yet even being a nominee for the position.

    There are pending nominations for the three legal divisions with "acting" heads, at various stages in the Senate process. Eric Dreiband, Trump’s nominee to run the Civil Rights Division, and Jeffrey Bossert Clark, Trump’s ENRD nominee, are two of the three Justice Department nominations awaiting floor action in the Senate — along with Criminal Division nominee Brian Benczkowski. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not yet taken action to consider their nominations, however, focusing instead primarily on getting judicial nominees confirmed. Trump’s nominee to head the Civil Division, Jody Hunt, was only sent to the Senate initially in December after several months’ delay and, as a result, is much less far along: He has yet to receive a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    In all, of the legal divisions that reported to Brand, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, running the Antitrust Division, is the only Senate-confirmed legal division head in place.

    BuzzFeed / Justice Department / Via

    Within the offices that report to the associate attorney general, the situation is more stark.

    Trump has not even nominated leaders for the Community Relations Service, Office of Justice Programs, or Office on Violence Against Women. (Given that the department’s budget proposal would eliminate the Community Relations Service, it appears that a nominee is unlikely to be coming anytime soon for that office.) Additionally, and as reported by the New York Times, the new administration has effectively closed the Office for Access to Justice. The Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS Office, currently has an acting director — even though the leadership of that office is appointed by the attorney general and so doesn’t have to go through the Senate confirmation process.

    The only offices that report to the associate attorney general that have permanent heads are the Executive Office for the US Trustees and the Office of Information Policy — and they have been in their roles since the George W. Bush administration.

    The final entity overseen by the associate attorney general is the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. The two part-time commissioners serving currently were nominated by former president Obama and both have been serving for several years now.

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    Patrick Semansky / AFP / Getty Images

    Asked whether she believes the women who have accused her father of sexual misconduct, Ivanka Trump said that she believes the question is "inappropriate" to ask a daughter about a father.

    "I think it's an inappropriate question to ask a daughter, if she believes the accusers of her father, when he's affirmatively stated that there's no truth to it," she said in an interview with NBC News that aired Monday. "I don't think that's a question you would ask many other daughters."

    Trump, speaking from Pyeongchang, repeated, "I believe my father. I know my father. So, I think I have that right, as a daughter, to believe my father."

    At least 16 women have alleged the president sexually harassed them, with some calling for an investigation into his behavior comparable to the investigations launched after some members of Congress were accused of sexual misconduct and abuse.

    Trump has repeatedly defended her father in the past, saying she believes his denials. She has also said her priorities working in the White House include advocating for women, such as by working to improve paid parental leave policy.

    Earlier in the interview, Trump had answered questions in her capacity as a senior White House adviser, rather than as a daughter — on her role during the Olympics, for example, working with South Korea to put pressure on North Korea.

    Trump also stated that "there was no collusion" with Russia during her father's 2016 campaign and that the administration "believes that Mueller will do his work" as special counsel for the investigation into foreign interference. She said that she has not been interviewed by Mueller.

    Trump concluded the interview in an official capacity as well, weighing in on education and job creation.

    "We need to ensure that the skills being taught in our classrooms and the skills being taught to the American workers align with the jobs that are in demand in the modern economy," she said.

    "Let’s Try Round Two": Three Women Who Accused Trump Of Sexual Misconduct Speak Out Again

    Watching Harvey Weinstein Fall, Trump's Accusers Feel Frustrated

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    Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

    Even for this chaotic administration, the last few weeks have taken a toll on President Donald Trump and his staff. A tragic mass shooting, big-name staff departures, and a series of scandals — all in the growing shadow of the investigation into Russia’s involvement in 2016 election — has left the White House under a dark cloud of low morale and constant frustration.

    Many mid- and low-level staffers are anxious to leave and are actively looking for jobs elsewhere, sources close to the White House say. Those staffers saw the surprising resignation of Trump loyalist and communications director Hope Hicks on Wednesday as a sort of tipping point.

    A former White House official said he's spoken with more aides inside the White House who are trying to leave the administration, but not necessarily getting the kinds of high-paying offers in the corporate world as former aides usually do.

    "Things are still pretty bleak inside the White House," the source said. "I've talked to several people in the last week trying to find a way out, but they can't get out because no one is really hiring people with Trump White House experience. Not a fun time to say the least."

    Another source close to the administration said he has also talked to those on the inside about potential job offers. The source said he remembers seeing one particularly fitting pun about Hick's departure on Thursday: "The White House has lost Hope." "That about says it all, right?" the source added.

    Meanwhile, Trump, with crises swirling around him, has been going rogue, taking positions that aren’t in line with the GOP and surprising his aides — more so than usual — with his comments on issues like trade and gun control.

    This level of chaos, unusual even in the relative terms of the Trump presidency, is underlined by a staff exodus. Trump famously values loyalty to a supreme degree. And right now, Trump’s White House is bleeding loyalists, and those who are left are under deepening pressure.

    Trump used an open-press meeting on guns with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday to essentially buck long-standing Republican orthodoxy and the National Rifle Association while siding with Democrats about the legitimacy of more stringent gun control proposals. He went as far as to say: “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” And on Thursday, Trump announced he wanted new tariffs on steel and aluminum, again with cameras rolling and without fully informing his staff of the decision.

    Members of Trump’s own party on Capitol Hill are still trying to figure out what to make of Trump’s recent comments, especially on guns.

    "I don't know," said South Dakota Sen. John Thune, the No. 3 Republican in the Senate, when asked about narrowing the conversation after Trump broadened it at Wednesday’s meeting. “You saw it, right? It was wild. I just I think the president's going to have to narrow his list of issues that he would like to see addressed and figure out ... what's realistic."

    There are any number of weeks or months from Trump’s first year in office that could reasonably be considered the most crisis-laden, but the last month is taking a real run at the crown.

    The spiral began soon after Trump’s first State of the Union address, when Trump’s staff secretary, who helped prepare the president for that speech, was accused of serial domestic abuse by two of his ex-wives. The White House defended Porter, who had become one of the staffers closest to Trump, before he ultimately resigned.

    That scandal raised another serious problem for the White House, and undermined chief of staff John Kelly’s authority: Some in the White House apparently knew about the allegations against Porter months before they were revealed in the press, and still allowed Porter access to highly sensitive information.

    The ensuing outcry over security clearances, and how dozens of White House staffers were able to operate under interim clearances while their background checks dragged on, quickly came to focus on Jared Kushner, Trump’s top adviser and son-in-law.

    Kushner, who came to the White House with complicated business dealings and has reportedly been a subject of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in 2016’s election, had his clearance downgraded under new rules laid out by Kelly, significantly limiting his once infinite purview. Trump’s family is said to be frustrated by Kelly’s role in sidelining Kushner, and the president himself has fumed over Kelly’s handling of the Porter episode.

    Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation hasn’t just recently impacted what information Kushner is able to access. The public results of that investigation — which is examining whether or not anyone from Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia or if the president himself has obstructed justice in the course of the investigation — have intensified in the last month, with indictments against over a dozen Russians and new charges in the cases against Trump’s former campaign chairman and his deputy. Even more troubling for Trump: that deputy, Rick Gates, flipped his plea to guilty, and is now working with investigators.

    Mueller’s team is also now reportedly looking into Trump’s treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions last summer, and whether or not it constituted an attempt to remove him from office as a way of interfering with Mueller’s investigation. That report came to light this week just as Trump has renewed his pressure on Sessions. Sessions is now publicly defending himself, in an exceedingly rare and direct rebuttal to the president.

    Kushner has had few public defenders in recent weeks, with some blaming Kelly for how the president’s son-in-law is being treated. Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived former communications director, took jabs at Kelly, who fired him, on TV Thursday. The morale inside the White House, Scaramucci said on CNN, is “terrible. And the reason why the morale is terrible is the rule by fear and intimidation does not work in a civilian environment.”

    Kelly, for his part, joked at a Department of Homeland Security event Thursday morning that his time in the White House isn’t exactly a delight.

    “I miss every one of you, every day,” Kelly, who was previously the department’s secretary, said to laughs and applause, before rolling his eyes. “The last thing I wanted to do was walk away from one of the great honors of my life, being the secretary of Homeland Security, but I did something wrong and God punished me, I guess.”

    Hicks, one of the last two remaining White House staffers who had been with Trump through his business and campaign, announced Wednesday her plan to leave her post as communications director. Her job title partially belies how important she has been to Trump, working closely with him through years of ups and downs. Those downs include Hicks’ reported role in devising a response to Donald Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with with a Russian lawyer with Kremlin ties — a response that is now of particular interest to Mueller’s team. Hicks, who was also dating Porter at the time his alleged abuse was revealed, did not give a reason for her exit, but she had met privately with the House Intelligence Committee the day before.

    Also leaving is Josh Raffel, a top adviser and communications official to Kushner and Ivanka Trump. The timing is tricky for Trump’s family: Even more than the reduced security clearance, Kushner is under increasing pressure with reports this week that he met, in his official capacity as a White House adviser, with executives who gave loans to his family’s company, and that multiple foreign nations have discussed ways of leveraging Kushner’s business interests for their own advantage.

    Despite the increasing staff exodus, many Republicans remain hopeful that Trump will continue to sign their policy priorities and ignore the rest.

    Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson framed the departures as not out of the ordinary and “Washington as usual.”

    "Somebody's always coming, and somebody's always going at the White House,” he said.

    Lissandra Villa contributed reporting.

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    Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images

    Democratic presidential hopefuls are scrambling to come out against the first big bipartisan legislation of the Trump era, positioning themselves as hardliners on Wall Street regulation and free from the influence of banks.

    It’s a sign that on a national political scale, many Democrats are betting there will no longer be any room with voters for nuance on the issue of Wall Street — or any appetite for bipartisanship. Ahead of a potentially bruising Democratic primary, some of the country’s top Democrats are apparently hoping to shed any perception that they are cozy with Wall Street donors.

    A dozen moderate Democrats from red and purple states are using the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act — which rolls back some Dodd-Frank regulations for small and medium-sized banks — as a chance to burnish their bipartisan credentials. Eleven have signed on to cosponsor what is expected, after a vote this week, to be the Senate’s first major bipartisan bill in more than two years.

    But virtually all of the Senate’s most high-profile Democratic politicians have taken the opposite route, sharply criticizing the bill and saying they’ll vote against it. That includes past recipients of large sums of financial industry money, like Sen. Kamala Harris, as well as Kirsten Gillibrand and Cory Booker, two East Coast politicians who have raked in Wall Street cash and have been seen as more friendly to the banking industry.

    While Harris has been criticized by some progressive Democrats for parts of her record as California's attorney general, in the wake of the mortgage crisis, she split with other states to broker her own settlements with big banks, winning a substantial sum, and special penalties, for California — the kind of aggressive action the party is trending toward.

    Booker, who is from New Jersey, has made headlines in the past for raking in money from Wall Street, and is still struggling to live down a comment he made in 2012 defending the hedge fund Bain Capital against Barack Obama. He labeled Obama’s criticism of Bain “nauseating to the American public” and called for the president to “stop attacking private equity.”

    “The smart, ambitious, and relatively young members of the Senate Democratic caucus are very aware that the politics of Wall Street and banks in general have radically changed."

    In a statement to BuzzFeed News, Booker called the new Senate banking bill “plainly unacceptable,” saying Congress should be “strengthening, not weakening, the safeguards put in place of a greed and excess-fueled financial crisis that brought hundreds of billions of dollars of big bank bailouts.”

    “The smart, ambitious, and relatively young members of the Senate Democratic caucus are very aware that the politics of Wall Street and banks in general have radically changed,” said Jeff Hauser of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a left-leaning think tank. “If you plan to be around for a while — particularly if you plan to run for president — you want to be opposed to this bill.”

    With 11 Democrats behind it, the bill is likely to sail through the Senate. But the chorus of opposition from so many prominent Democrats and left-wing groups points to a shift in the Democratic Party, said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who has long been one of the party’s loudest voices for Wall Street regulation.

    “More and more, elected Democrats are standing up for working people — even when it means their Wall Street friends are unhappy,” she told BuzzFeed News in a phone interview. “The real energy of the Democratic Party is in the grassroots.”

    “We were out alone on this issue for decades,” said one senior Democratic aide. “Now you have these big names signing on with us.”

    In the past, part of Democrats’ reluctance to hit the financial industry hard has had practical roots; many have relied both on large individual checks from wealthy bankers and counting on them to act as “bundlers,” rallying friends to cut checks themselves.

    But high-profile Democrats like Warren and Bernie Sanders, and increasingly people like Harris and Gillibrand, can more easily take in small-dollar donations from supporters with sprawling email lists.

    Banks have also stopped spreading their money as liberally among both parties.

    “I don’t think the math works anymore,” said Hauser. “If I were banks, I would consider radically increasing money to make it tougher for Democrats to come out against things like this, because right now, the politics and the policy are totally aligned. Banks don’t have enough to offer Democrats.”

    Perhaps even more than Booker, whose Senate voting record has often gone against financial industry interests, Gillibrand has been seen previously as friendly to Wall Street, and has spent time courting — and catering to — major financial industry donors. Last month, though, Gillibrand announced she would stop taking money from corporate PACs, joining more left-wing senators like Warren and Sanders. Booker followed suit hours later.

    Whether the bill, steered by Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, is a much-needed lifeline to community banks battered by regulation or a massive giveaway to some of the country’s biggest financial institutions depends on which Democrat you ask.

    While the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, exempted only banks with assets less than $50 billion from its rules, the new bill would raise that limit to $250 billion — an umbrella which would provide relief to community banks but would also include larger financial institutions like BB&T and American Express.

    Sen. Tim Kaine, a swing state Democrat who has added his name to the bill, supports the bill because it “provides relief for small community banks and credit unions in Virginia,” a spokesperson told BuzzFeed News, “while strengthening consumer protections for all Americans and maintaining critical Dodd-Frank reforms.”

    Crapo’s bill is significantly more moderate than a House version, which would essentially rewrite the Dodd-Frank bill passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

    It’s “not a major, substantive correction” to Dodd-Frank, said Justin Schardin, a fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a centrist think tank. “There’s a lot of prominent Democrats — including Barney Frank — who support raising the limit” on the size of banks subject to regulations. The big issue, he said, is over what that limit should be.

    The $250 billion cap in the new bill, Warren warned, means “that 30 or 40 of the largest banks in the country would be regulated like tiny community banks. This is nuts.” Had it been in place in 2008, it would, she said, have included Countrywide, a bank widely seen as one of the architects of the financial crisis.

    Warren took her opposition to the bill a step further than others in her party, surprising even some left-wing Democratic aides by explicitly taking aim at Democratic moderates.

    Warren took her opposition to the bill a step further than others in her party, surprising even some left-wing Democratic aides by explicitly taking aim at Democratic moderates. She rallied her supporters against them in an email last week, warning that “Republicans AND Democrats are gutting the rules on Wall Street.”

    “The bank lobbyists have been hitting Capitol Hill hard, and they have a Dodd-Frank rollback bill lined up with the support of every Republican and twelve Democrats,” she told supporters.

    Even as the gun control debate rages across the country — and with the banking bill’s passage virtually assured — progressive groups have mobilized the Democratic base against it. Daily Action texted supporters on Wednesday urging them to call senators about the bill; Indivisible, a group that formed in the wake of Trump’s election, pushed out call scripts for members to urge senators to vote against the bill because it “puts us at risk of another financial crisis.”

    The point is to “send a message,” said Chad Bolt, policy manager at Indivisible. “We just want Republicans and Democrats to know that there is a strong appetite in the country for regulating Wall Street.” The Democrats supporting the bill, Bolt said, “are out of step with what the majority of Americans believe.”

    For many of the Democrats who have signed onto the banking bill, part of the allure is the opportunity to demonstrate bipartisanship in a gridlocked Senate, said Schardin. “It helps them electorally. They want to be practical, to get things done, and this is a way to show — we actually did something.”

    The bill is apparently a tricky balance for some moderate Democrats who are considered potential candidates in 2020 but have, in the past, touted their bipartisan credentials. Sens. Chris Murphy, of Connecticut, and Amy Klobuchar, from Minnesota — which barely tilted to Clinton in the 2016 election — both wouldn’t say how they planned to vote on the banking bill this week, though the Senate’s version has been out since December.

    It’s the bill’s timing, more than anything else, that might become ammunition against Democrats in future races.

    “The national conversation at the moment is rightly focused on gun safety, but the Senate is taking up a totally unrelated bill to deregulate big banks,” said Bolt. “It’s totally out of touch.”

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    Robert Mueller

    Afp Contributor / AFP / Getty Images

    Sam Nunberg, a former Trump aide, said on Monday that he will refuse to comply with a subpoena issued by the federal grand jury convened by special counsel Robert Mueller III.

    In back-to-back-to-back live, televised — and at times meandering — phone interviews with MSNBC and CNN on Monday afternoon, Nunberg called the demands for his emails and for him to testify before the grand jury "ridiculous." Later in the day, he appeared in-person on MSNBC to dig in on his pledge to defy the grand jury's requests.

    Nunberg was fired from Trump's campaign in August 2015 after racist Facebook messages that he allegedly wrote surfaced. Nunberg told media outlets on Monday that he had been subpoenaed to provide documents to the grand jury and to appear in Washington, DC, on March 9 to testify before the grand jury.

    "Screw that," he told Gloria Borger on CNN. He later appeared on CNN a second time to talk with Jake Tapper, where he blamed Trump for the time and money that he and other people were spending responding to the special counsel investigation.

    "I'm objecting to it because I shouldn't have to spend that much time. I shouldn't have to go back down to a grand jury. I spent— I'm spending a lot of money on legal fees. A lot of other people are. And, granted, Donald Trump caused this, because he's an idiot. Because he decided to give an interview to Lester Holt the day after he fired James Comey and then he decided to have the Russians in the Oval Office. You have to explain that one to me, 'cause I'll never understand it," Nunberg told Tapper.

    Later in the evening, talking to Ari Melber at MSNBC, Nunberg said that Trump was "the most disloyal person [you're] ever gonna meet."

    Under federal court rules in criminal cases, a person who fails to obey a grand jury subpoena "without adequate excuse" can be held in contempt of court. Asked if he was worried about that, Nunberg told Katy Tur on MSNBC, "Let's see what Mr. Mueller does."

    "I think it would be funny if they arrested me," he said.

    A spokesperson for the special counsel's office declined to comment on Nunberg's statements. Nunberg did not immediately return a request for comment by BuzzFeed News.

    Asked by Tur if he thought the special counsel's office had "something on the president," Nunberg replied, "I think they may."

    "I think he may have done something during the election. But I don't know that for sure," Nunberg said. Asked to elaborate, he said, "I can't explain it unless you were in there."

    White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday afternoon that Nunberg was "incorrect." Nunberg said to Melber on MSNBC that Sanders should "shut her mouth."

    Nunberg called the grand jury's requests for his emails with campaign officials, as well as past and present White House officials — including former White House counselor Steve Bannon, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone, and outgoing White House communications director Hope Hicks — "ridiculous."

    He said he was "not a fan" of Trump — Trump "screwed" him and Stone over during the campaign, he said — but after going over the grand jury subpoena, he agreed with Trump's assessment that the investigation was a "witch hunt."

    "Why do I have to spend 80 hours going over my emails? That I've had with Steve Bannon and with Roger Stone? Why does Bob Mueller need to see my emails when I send Roger and Steve clips and we talk about how much we hate people?" Nunberg said.

    Nunberg said on MSNBC that he decided "a couple hours ago," as he was going through his emails, not to comply with the subpoena. He told CNN's Borger that he had started going through his emails over the weekend, and that he was supposed to turn them in on Monday afternoon. He said he had not been contacted about the subpoena by the White House, Trump, any member of Trump's legal team, Roger Stone, or Steve Bannon.

    At another point in the interview with MSNBC, however, Nunberg said he hadn't gone over his emails since he was contacted by the special counsel's office. He didn't say when he received the subpoena. The Washington Post posted a document that Nunberg provided that appeared to be part of a subpoena for records. It is dated Feb. 27, and asks for "all documents" since Nov. 1, 2015, that relate to former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, Lewandowski, Trump, Hicks, former Trump security aide and bodyguard Keith Schiller, Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, Stone, and Bannon.

    The posted document does not include a request for Nunberg to testify before the grand jury.

    Last month, multiple news outlets reported that Nunberg would sit down with the special counsel's office. On CNN on Monday afternoon, he confirmed that he had sat down with Mueller's office, calling them "very professional." On MSNBC, Tur asked Nunberg about the fact that last week he had said the Russia investigation was not a waste of time. He replied that receiving the subpoena had changed his mind.

    "When I was going over everything today, when I looked at the subpoena, this was ridiculous. It was absolutely ridiculous. And you know what? I'm not a fan of Donald Trump, as you well know. ... I'm not a fan of his. He treated Roger and me very badly, and he screwed us over during the campaign. But you know, here, when I get a subpoena like this, Roger's right, it's a witch hunt — I mean, Mr. Trump's right. The president's right; it's a witch hunt. And I'm not going to cooperate," Nunberg said.

    Nunberg told Melber that he thought that Mueller's team was trying to build a criminal case against Stone. Nunberg said he was told he was not a target of the investigation and would get immunity.

    "They're trying to set up a perjury case against Roger Stone, and I'm not going to have it. Roger's my mentor, Roger is like family to me, and I'm not going to do it," Nunberg said.

    Nunberg said he thought that his lawyer "is going to dump" him. Nunberg's attorney Patrick Brackley did not immediately return a request for comment.

    Nunberg said the special counsel's office investigators had asked if he heard people speaking Russian around Trump Tower and if he ever heard about efforts by the Trump Organization to develop a property in Moscow. In the CNN interview with Borger, he said he'd never heard Russian spoken around Trump Tower. He also said he was told that Russian singer Emin Agalarov had offered to send up women to Trump's room during the Miss Universe pageant in 2013 in Russia, and that "Trump flat-out refused it. Trump's too smart to have women come up to his room."

    "Donald Trump did not collude with the Russians. It is the biggest joke to ever think Donald Trump colluded with the Russians," Nunberg told MSNBC. To Borger on CNN, he said, "Mueller thinks that Trump is the Manchurian candidate, and I will tell you, I disagree with that."

    Nunberg told Tapper that Carter Page, who served as a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, "was colluding with the Russians." He also said Page "wasn't really an adviser," but rather "a name on a list."

    Nunberg told Tapper that it wasn't true when Trump said he didn't know about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower during the campaign between Donald Trump Jr., Manafort, the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Prior to the meeting, Trump Jr. had been promised compromising material on Hillary Clinton, according to emails that were later released.

    "You know it's not true. He talked about it the week before. And I don't know why he did this. All he had to say was, yeah, we met with the Russians. The Russians offered us something and we thought they had something and that was it. I don't know why he went around trying to hide. He shouldn't have," Nunberg said.

    He told CNN that investigators wanted him to say that Stone was telling people that Stone was colluding with Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. Nunberg said that did not happen.

    In a statement to CNN, Stone said: "I was briefly part of the Trump campaign and have been the president's friend and adviser for decades; and would expect that Mueller's team would at some point ask for any documents or emails sent or written by me. But let me reiterate, I have no knowledge or involvement in Russian Collusion or any other inappropriate act." A lawyer for Stone referred BuzzFeed News to the statement posted by CNN.

    Nunberg has a reputation for bold pronouncements and occasional fictions. “Mueller is going to go over every financial dealing of Jared Kushner and the Trump Organization,” he told Vanity Fair after Mueller’s team indicted former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort. He said on MSNBC last month that he is “sure” Donald Trump Jr. told his father about what happened during a meeting with Kremlin-connected officials, something the White House has denied. Just last week, he suggested to BuzzFeed News that Trump's reelection campaign is no sure thing.

    And last November, he admitted to Politico that he was the source of an anecdote in a story in the New Yorker about former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fetching McDonald’s for Trump. Nunberg told Politico he’d made up the story to dig at Christie. The New Yorker subsequently said he was not the source.

    At the end of his interview with Tapper, Nunberg asked, "Jake, I'm definitely the first person to ever do this, right?" Nunberg would not be the first person to be found in contempt for refusing to comply with a grand jury subpoena. In 2005, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating government leaks. In 2006, the personal trainer of former professional baseball player Barry Bonds also spent time in jail after he was found in contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury in a steroids investigation.

    Matt Berman, Chris Geidner, and Thomas Frank contributed to this report. This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.

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    Spencer Platt / Getty Images

    Their strike is illegal. It’s led by women. And it’s taking place in a state that the national Democratic Party has all but totally written off.

    The teachers strike in West Virginia — in which thousands of workers have shuttered every public school in the state for more than a week — is offering a new model for the American left in a political era that has scrambled the old rules.

    West Virginia went 68% for Trump in 2016. Bernie Sanders won every county in the Democratic primary. Now, teachers in the state, which is home to old American labor battlegrounds like “Bloody” Mingo County, have been striking over low pay and increasing health care costs.

    The workforce shows no signs of returning to work until their demands are met, including a 5% raise and plan to reform the underfunded state health care system. In 2016, West Virginia’s average teacher salary was $45,622, more than 20% below the national average. Meanwhile, premiums have gone up for everything from insulin to doctor’s visits, teachers say, and their plans, administered by the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA), now cover fewer conditions.

    On Feb. 27, Gov. Jim Justice and union leaders negotiated a deal that would have had the state employees return to work on March 1 — but, in a twist, the state Senate refused to vote on the legislation that would implement the agreed-upon 5% raise. Instead, senators argued for a 4% raise and sent an amended version of the bill back to the state House of Delegates.

    Jenna Prudich, 25, who teaches second grade, called it a “circus.”

    Matt Adkins, a 38-year-old elementary school gym teacher from the city of Huntington, which received national attention in the Oscar-nominated documentary Heroin(e) for its high rates of opioid addiction, said he wished he could “blow his whistle” on the legislators and make them “walk back into the chamber to do it over again."

    Other teachers told BuzzFeed News they’re worried lawmakers are stalling until the legislative session ends on Friday, which would nullify the proposed bill.

    “Nobody trusts the government in West Virginia, period,” Adkins said. “We said we wouldn’t go back to work until they sign the bill, and they never signed it.“

    Teachers hold a rally outside the Senate Chambers in the West Virginia Capitol on March 5 in Charleston, West Virginia.

    Tyler Evert / AP

    Adam Culver, who teaches seventh-grade language arts at Huntington Middle School, said he made just over $40,000 this year, his 11th year as a teacher.

    “When they first announced everything, there was nothing in writing, just promises,” Culver said of the proposed deal.

    During the first days of the strike, Culver had worn a banana suit to the rallies to draw light-hearted attention to the cause, he said. But he went back that day dressed in all black, with a big sign over his head reading, "Bullshit."

    Monday, the lines to get into the capitol building in Charleston swelled to the largest since the protest began, teachers said, with thousands showing up in red shirts and bandanas, holding signs reading “#55strong” for all 55 closed school districts, and singing “Country Roads,” with lyrics that begin, “Almost heaven, West Virginia.”

    The crowds Monday prompted a warning from police and the fire marshal that the capitol could exceed capacity.

    Workers interviewed by BuzzFeed News say the strike is now about more than specific contract demands. It’s a testament to wide-ranging frustration over how state legislators undervalue and underinvest in the public school system.

    Ami Lester, a 36-year-old who has been teaching in West Virginia for 14 years as a reading specialist in a small community elementary school, said teachers had already succeeded in killing recent bills that pertained to seniority, charter schools, and school vouchers through organizing.

    “Two things are happening here,” Adkins said of the ongoing action. “One is the people — the grassroots of West Virginia — fighting its government.”

    The other, he continued, is old-fashioned “party politics,” which teachers now say reflect poorly on the Republican state Senate leadership holding up the bill with their promised raise.

    Monday afternoon, occupying the capitol building, teachers chanted cheers tailored to state Senate president Mitch Carmichael, including, “Mitch Better Have My Money,” a play on the Rihanna song.

    When the politician emerged in the afternoon to urge the crowd to accept the 4% raise instead, teachers responded with a resounding, “Move, Mitch, get out the way. Get out the way, Mitch, get out the way.”

    Spencer Platt / Getty Images

    Several teachers said they were prepared to strike indefinitely, with some expressing a desire to ask for more when they heard teachers in Oklahoma are now asking for a $10,000 across-the-board raise. As it stands, a 5% raise for most teachers in West Virginia amounts to just a few thousand dollars.

    Don Scalise, 39, who makes $45,000 teaching students Advanced Placement US government and politics at Cabell Midland High School, said lawmakers should be keeping an eye on their polling numbers.

    "There are a number of people in the state Senate who are up for reelection, and a lot of their constituents are teachers and parents," he said.

    Notably, the workers' battle has raged on despite the fact that West Virginia law does not technically permit public employees to collectively bargain or strike.

    The Supreme Court is also likely to decide this summer in the case Janus v. the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. Should the court find that it’s unconstitutional to require public employees to pay fees to the unions that represent them, unions will likely take a colossal hit to their coffers and membership.

    But the teachers in West Virginia — and now Oklahoma and Kentucky — are demonstrating that workers can organize and take action even in states where such strikes are illegal, and wield leverage over a state employer the old-fashioned way.

    Striking West Virginia teachers line up to enter the state Capitol on March 5 in Charleston, West Virginia.

    John Raby / AP

    Scalise said Monday that he sees the teachers' strike as the first front in a broader labor struggle, with eyes on nearby states. Teachers in West Virginia told BuzzFeed News that they’re now speaking with teachers in Kentucky about striking over unsatisfactory pension and retirement fund negotiations.

    And in the past few days, nearly 40,000 people have joined a Facebook group — ”Oklahoma Teachers United” — that has pledged to strike on April 2 if teachers don’t receive a $10,000 increase to bring their salaries to a livable floor. In 2016, Oklahoma’s average teacher salary was $42,460, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    As the action continues, West Virginia teachers have pledged to keep providing lunches and meals to students despite schools being closed, coordinating with superintendents to make sure backpacks of food are available to students who relied on them. One in four children in the state lives in poverty and experiences hunger, the highest rate in the country.

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    Attorney General Jeff Sessions

    Joshua Roberts / Reuters

    The Justice Department filed a constitutional challenge to California’s so-called sanctuary laws on Tuesday night.

    The lawsuit represents an aggressive new push by Attorney General Jeff Sessions to go after "sanctuary jurisdictions," which have earned the immigration hardliner’s ire for adopting laws aimed at protecting undocumented immigrants and making it harder for federal immigration agents to find and deport them.

    The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Eastern District of California in Sacramento, and names the state and its Democratic governor and attorney general as defendants. Sessions is traveling on Wednesday to Sacramento to announce the lawsuit, a speech that was publicly billed as a “major sanctuary jurisdiction announcement" before the department filed in court.

    The lawsuit accuses the state of violating the Supremacy Clause of the US Constitution. The Supremacy Clause, broadly speaking, dictates that when state law conflicts with federal law, federal law prevails. The Justice Department is arguing that the California laws at issue conflict with federal immigration laws and frustrate Congress’s goals in adopting them.

    The Justice Department had heavily promoted the lawsuit’s roll-out, including a scheduled speech by Sessions before the California Peace Officers’ Association.

    “I can’t sit idle while the lawful authority of officers is being blocked by politicians,” said Sessions.

    “I don’t want to be the position of having to challenge these laws,” Sessions told the law enforcement group Wednesday morning. “I can’t sit idle while the lawful authority of officers is being blocked by politicians.”

    Sessions alleged that sanctuary laws in California do not merely restrict local officials from helping deport undocumented immigrants, but rather, that the policies are “actively obstructing federal law enforcement,” and in turn, putting violent criminal on the street.

    “It is a plain violation of federal statute and a violation of common sense,” he said, calling sancuary laws a “radical, irrational idea” that effectively creates open borders.

    California Attorney General Xavier Becerra shot back Tuesday night — before he'd seen the lawsuit — insisting his state complies with federal law and comparing the Trump administration's announcement to a low-budget film.

    "We have seen this B-rated movie before," Becerra said on a conference call with reporters, referring to the federal government's repeated clashes with California over immigration.

    "They better have good evidence, because we are going to fight back," he said. "We are doing nothing to intrude on the work of the federal government to do immigration enforcement."

    The Justice Department under Sessions already has taken steps to penalize state and local governments for adopting sanctuary laws, but this is the most direct challenge to date. Sessions has publicly and repeatedly criticized politicians and law enforcement officials who embraced these types of policies, and the Justice Department has been reviewing whether jurisdictions with sanctuary policies should lose their eligibility for federal grants.

    "We are going to fight back," said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

    Asked if more lawsuits like the one against California were coming against other states and cities with sanctuary laws, a senior Justice Department official said the department was in the process of reviewing immigration laws in other jurisdictions.

    The lawsuit will challenge sections of three California laws: AB 450, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October, which restricts employers from cooperating with federal immigration officials; SB 54, also signed in October, which bars state and local law enforcement from alerting federal agents when an undocumented immigrants will be released from state custody and places restrictions on detainee transfers; and AB 103, signed in June, which requires the state’s attorney general to review state, local, and private detention facilities that house detainees on behalf of the Department of Homeland Security, as well as the circumstances of their detention.

    “These are uncertain times for undocumented Californians and their families, and this bill strikes a balance that will protect public safety, while bringing a measure of comfort to those families who are now living in fear every day,” Brown said in a statement when he signed SB 54 into law.

    Before the lawsuit had even been publicly announced, the state's governor criticized Sessions' planned Wednesday visit to the state, tweeting that Sessions was headed to the state "to further divide and polarize America." The governor's office later sent out Brown's tweet in response to news of the lawsuit.

    The Justice Department is arguing that these laws are preempted by federal law in different ways. On AB 450, for instance, DOJ says that the law places requirements on employers to notify employees about a possible federal workplace inspection, even though federal laws don’t have any such requirement. The law also prohibits employers from giving federal immigration agents employee records without a subpoena or a warrant, or access to nonpublic areas without a warrant or other permission under federal law.

    On SB 54, the government argues that the state’s prohibition on telling federal agents about a detainee’s release date — at which point federal officers could take them into custody — directly conflicts with federal immigration law; the law includes a few exceptions, but the Justice Department says those don't square with federal law either. A senior DOJ official said that a section of federal law that prohibits blocking a federal, state, or local officer from sharing information with federal immigration officials about “immigration status” applied to a detainee’s release date.

    The Justice Department argues that by barring the transfer of detained immigrants to the US Department of Homeland Security, California is forcing agents to make arrests in the field, which is more dangerous for the agents and the public.

    The Justice Department cited a US Supreme Court decision from 2012, United States v. Arizona, in which the court found that some, but not all, sections of an Arizona law aimed at boosting immigration enforcement were invalid because they conflicted with federal law, a senior official said. The justices found that the portions of Arizona’s law that dealt with immigrant registration, employment restrictions, and the grounds for making warrantless arrests based on immigration status all conflicted with federal law, and, as a result, were invalid.

    The justices upheld a section of the Arizona law that required state law enforcement officers to make a “reasonable attempt” to verify the immigration status of a person they’ve stopped if there is “reasonable suspicion” that the person is unlawfully in the country. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that “Congress has done nothing to suggest it is inappropriate to communicate with ICE in these situations, however. Indeed, it has encouraged the sharing of information about possible immigration violations.”

    Becerra, citing the state laws that the Justice Department alleges are superseded by federal policy, said, "I don't see the conflict, at least in terms of our laws." Asked about the Arizona immigration law partly struck down in 2012, he added, "We are following the Constitution and federal law."

    An unsurprising defendant

    An unsurprising defendant

    California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

    Patrick T. Fallon / Reuters

    The Trump administration's lawsuit on Tuesday is its loudest bark yet at a sanctuary jurisdiction — and unsurprisingly, it’s aimed at California.

    Politicians in the Democratically controlled state, which has an immigrant population in the millions, have repeatedly clashed with the administration over the issue.

    “California, absolutely it appears to me, is using every power it has — and some it doesn’t — to frustrate federal law enforcement,” Sessions said Wednesday. “So you can be sure I’m going to use every power I have to stop them.”

    Sessions denounced Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff, saying, “How dare you? How dare you needlessly endanger the lives of our law enforcement just to promote your radical open borders agenda?”

    Becerra has frequently led the charge or joined other Democratic attorneys general in suing the Trump administration over the past year, including challenges to the wind down of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, the construction of a border wall, the rollback of environmental regulations, and the reversal of Obama-era health care policies.

    The administration, meanwhile, has attempted to coerce states into carrying out a hardline immigration agenda by threatening to deny federal grants. Sessions has argued jurisdictions that frustrate those aims are complicit in promoting violence.

    Asked if California’s role as an antagonist played a part in deciding to sue the state now, a senior DOJ official said they were focused on fair enforcement of the law. The official did say that California’s laws were novel and went beyond what other states had done.

    On Tuesday night, Becerra said he respects the federal government's jurisdiction on immigration, but he argued states have autonomy under the 10th Amendment to enact public safety laws as they see fit.

    Policies that build bridges with immigrant communities encourage cooperation with police, he said. "We are in the business of public safety, not deportation."

    He added that the Trump administration has threatened states and cities on immigration issues for the past year, and — apparently in reference to cases such as the travel ban and rescinding DACA — courts blocked the administration. "We are doing pretty well on this count," he said. "The Trump administration has acted outside the law, and they are the ones who have not respected the rule of law."

    Until Tuesday’s lawsuit, most of the immigration-related lawsuits over the past year have come from the other direction — with states or other parties suing the Trump administration.

    Last April, US District Judge William Orrick in California blocked key sections of Trump’s executive order to starve sanctuary jurisdictions from federal money, saying the executive branch overstepped its bounds by grabbing purse strings reserved for Congress.

    The same month, the Justice Department indicated it would withhold law enforcement grants unless local agencies assisted with its federal immigration agenda — including by notifying federal agents when an undocumented immigrant was in local custody.

    But a federal judge in Philadelphia blocked those conditions locally, while a federal judge in Chicago suspended most of those stipulations on the grants nationwide.

    The Justice Department has been unrelenting in its threats, though, demanding that local officials show compliance with federal immigration law — Section 1373, the same section cited in the department’s new case against California — in order to receive funding from the so-called JAG program. The legal questions at play in the grant-related litigation and the latest action against California are different, however.

    Responding to the Justice Department’s prior threats, a number of agencies, including the California Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), have insisted they are complying.

    “The US Department of Justice has not provided any evidence that the BSCC, or any state recipient of JAG funds, is not in compliance with Section 1373,” a lawyer for the BSCC told the Justice Department in a letter last month.

    State officials had asked courts to block the grant conditions entirely — but Orrick said in an order issued Monday that it would be premature to suspend the conditions now. Still, he wrote that the underlying legal questions remain unanswered, particularly because it’s not clear what it means to share information “regarding immigration status.”

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    Mark Lennihan / AP

    A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a Michigan funeral home broke federal law when it fired a transgender woman, while tossing out the employer's claim that a religious objection created a legal loophole to terminate her.

    The decision builds on a tide of federal court rulings that have found workers are protected from anti-LGBT discrimination, even though there is no federal law explicitly barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    It is the first time in such a case that a federal appellate court considered an employer’s claim for a religious recusal under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law known as RFRA — siding here with the transgender worker.

    "The significance of this decision is hard to overstate," Sharon McGowan, a lawyer for Lambda Legal, which filed a brief supporting the woman's claim, told BuzzFeed News.

    The decision builds on "the overwhelming consensus" emerging from the judiciary, which contrasts with Trump administration's efforts to narrow the meaning to Title VII to omit LGBT people, she said.

    In ruling for Aimee Stephens and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that brought the case, the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit found anti-transgender discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, and that employing a transgender person posed no substantial burden on the employer’s religious exercise.

    "Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII," said a 49-page opinion led by Judge Karen Nelson Moore.

    "RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise."

    Stephens had presented as a man when she started for the company in 2007, working her way up to funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. However, six years later, after Stephens announced plans to transition to a woman, the owner, Thomas Rost, fired her.

    "The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex," the opinion continues. "RFRA provides the Funeral Home with no relief because continuing to employ Stephens would not, as a matter of law, substantially burden Rost’s religious exercise, and even if it did, the EEOC has shown that enforcing Title VII here is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interest in combating and eradicating sex discrimination."

    The funeral home had claimed allowing Stephens to work while she dressed and represented herself as a woman would be an unjustified substantial burden upon the owner’s sincerely held religious beliefs. But the court noted, “The Funeral Home itself, however, is not affiliated with a church; it does not claim to have a religious purpose in its articles of incorporation; it is open every day, including Christian holidays; and it serves clients of all faiths.”

    The court reversed a lower district court decisions, which had ruled in the funeral home’s favor, and sent the case back to reconsider the arguments in light of the appellate court’s reading of the laws.

    "At a time when the Trump / Pence administration is trying to create safe havens for those who want to discriminate against LGBT people, this decision makes clear that there is a compelling government interest in ending anti-LGBT discrimination," McGowan said in an email. "Employers and businesses do not get a free pass to discriminate simply by asserting a religious objection to the existence of transgender people."

    Alliance Defending Freedom, which represented the funeral home, told BuzzFeed News it was considering whether to appeal the decision.

    Gary McCaleb, senior counsel for the Christian legal group, said in a statement that the ruling "misreads court precedents that have long protected businesses which properly differentiate between men and women in their dress and grooming policies." Courts should consider the "plain meaning" of laws at the time they were passed by Congress, he said, arguing that Wednesday's decision "instead re-writes federal law."

    The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Stephens, said the ruling set "important precedent" and "ensures that employers will not be able to use their religious beliefs against trans employees, ruling that there is no ‘right to discriminate’ in the workplace."

    The EEOC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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    Suburban Pittsburgh voters are deciding whether Democrat Conor Lamb or Republican Rick Saccone will fill the congressional seat vacated by a Republican who resigned amid a sex scandal.

    Polling has shown a tight race, with Lamb running as a pro-Second Amendment critic of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, supported heavily by trade unions, in what is a Republican district.

    Conor Lamb

    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    "He's a God-fearing, union-supporting, gun-owning, job-protecting, pension-defending, Social-Security-believing, health-care-believing, sending-drug-dealers-to-jail Democrat," said Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, who held a rally for Lamb in Waynesburg on Sunday afternoon.

    Depending on who you ask or what you're asking about, this race is essentially meaningless or incredibly meaningful. Or both!

    Essentially meaningless:

    Because of all the Pennsylvania redistricting stuff playing out in court, this district is about to disappear. No matter who wins, they'll only be in this seat for nine months, and the outcome won't change the balance of the House of Representatives. (More than $12 million has been spent on this race.)

    Incredibly meaningful:

    If Lamb prevails (or even narrowly loses), that would indicate yet again that we're looking at a potential Democratic wave election in the fall. This a Republican district, and one where Trump remains more popular than he is in lots of places, so a win here is the kind of sign that Democrats would want to see.

    How to watch the results:

    At the moment, the 18th District contains slices of four counties — Allegheny, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland — in suburban Pittsburgh.

    First, Lamb will need to win the Allegheny County portion of the district outright. If he’s not winning there, he’s probably not going to win.

    Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report put it even higher for a Lamb victory:

    Second, take a look at how the ancestrally Democratic regions break. Though this district's been considered solidly Republican in recent years, there are parts that aren't or didn't used to be. Greene County, for instance, voted for Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, in 2014, and for John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.

    Those are the kinds of areas people will be watching to divine results this fall.

    Third, will the sharp break between areas dominated by white people with college degrees and those dominated by white people without college degrees continue in PA-18? (This kind of split can be seen in townships in Westmoreland and Allegheny, per Decision Desk HQ head Brandon Finnigan.)

    That split (or lack of split) could be enormously important for the results in the fall; Democrats are largely looking to pick up seats in affluent suburban areas in states like Florida, California, and Virginia that often vote Republican but don't love President Trump. PA-18 is a good place to watch that split, as 37% of adults there have a college degree.

    Alexis Levinson contributed reporting.

    LINK: Is This Anti-Pelosi, Pro-Gun Pennsylvania Democrat Showing His Party The Way To Win Back Trump Voters?

    LINK: Republicans Are Worried They’re About To Lose A House Seat, But Donald Trump Jr. Is Having A Blast

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    Tami Chappell / Reuters

    Keisha Lance Bottoms plans to endorse in Georgia’s Democratic primary for governor “in the near future,” her office told BuzzFeed News, ending weeks of speculation over whether the newly elected and enormously popular Atlanta mayor might get involved in the most hotly contested intra-party, statewide race in the South.

    Her office did not say which candidate she would endorse, but her intention to do so provides yet another layer of intrigue leading up to the May 22 primary between Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans. The candidates hold contrasting views on how to expand the voter base in Georgia for Democrats as the party tries to capitalize on President Trump’s unpopularity. The fact that, if elected, Abrams would be the first black woman governor in US history has added to the race’s significance and complicated the intra-party politics.

    Democrats in the state have long speculated Bottoms will endorse Evans, a 39-year-old former state legislator and lawyer — not least because Evans endorsed Bottoms in her mayoral bid over Mary Norwood, a white 65-year-old businesswoman. A source close to Evans said when the endorsement was made there was no “quid pro quo” expectation for Bottoms to endorse back. An Evans adviser told BuzzFeed News Evans had indeed “stuck her neck out” for Bottoms, but that the campaign hadn’t banked on a returned favor.

    At the time of Evans’ mayoral endorsement, Bottoms, touting their similarities as the products of single mothers with young children, said she still had a race to run, but “you can glean from us standing together how I feel about Stacey and how I feel about her campaign for governor, and when the time is appropriate I look forward to standing with her as well.” (Asked if Bottoms would officially endorse Evans, Anne Torres, a spokesperson for the Bottoms administration, told BuzzFeed News she couldn’t comment beyond saying an endorsement was coming.)

    Bottoms is also a staunch ally of former Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed, an Abrams adversary dating back, in part, to when Abrams ran a mayoral campaign against him. “No one here was ever expecting Keisha to endorse Abrams,” an Atlanta-based political strategist told BuzzFeed News.

    Still, if Bottoms does endorse Evans, it will ruin the hopes that some black Democrats have harbored: Bottoms and Abrams working in tandem in the state’s most powerful executive offices, as Democrats are hoping to turn Georgia blue in 2020.

    Keisha Lance Bottoms basked in her mayoral victory last December.

    John Bazemore / AP

    Republicans still control the state legislature, but the movement to turn Georgia blue is strong. A young Democrat, Jon Ossoff, nearly peeled off a key Congressional seat once widely believed to be safely Republican in a 2016 special election. Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old who was shot to death by a white man later convicted of murder, is running for the chance to take on Rep. Karen Handel. Hillary Clinton performed better than Barack Obama in 2012 by more than 100,000 votes.

    “It would be foolish, if not career suicide, for Bottoms to endorse Stacey Evans.”

    Black Democrats are bracing for the fallout. “If Abrams wins despite a Bottoms endorsement, I can see it as being an even more toxic and counterproductive than the relationship between Bill de Blasio and Andrew Cuomo in New York,” said one national Democratic strategist who agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity because she is an admirer of both women.

    And Team Abrams — an organized web of political operatives, donors, and progressive activists — readily acknowledge that if Bottoms endorses Evans, it would hurt their candidate, and are arguing it would be bad for Bottoms to do so.

    Steve Phillips is a pro-Abrams Democratic donor and political strategist who argues that a seismic demographic shift means the Democratic Party has to double down on its efforts to invest in communities of color in order to win. Phillips says that when black voters have the opportunity to make history by electing someone from their community to a higher office, the endorsements of a few black elected officials are all but rendered irrelevant.

    “It would be foolish, if not career suicide, for Bottoms to endorse Stacey Evans,” said Phillips in an email to BuzzFeed News. “From Harold Washington in Chicago to the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama, black voters ignored elected officials and embraced inspiring black candidates. That's what's going to happen in Georgia, where African Americans are the majority of voters.”

    In private, pro-Evans Democrats like to argue that Georgia voters aren’t swayed by a candidate’s race, and say that voters are especially suspect of national forces playing in their state’s politics. (Abrams’ national donor base, for instance, has been the source of criticism of her campaign.) These Democrats don’t have a particularly high opinion of the $10 million New Georgia Project, an Abrams-led effort to help identify some of the 1.5 million unregistered voters in Georgia, saying it didn’t register as many people as it aimed. “I don’t believe nor did I believe that the New Georgia Project is the model,” then-mayor Reed told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “I think that you have professional organizations that are experts at building the voter database in states, and I think that they should be a part of the overall political campaign.”

    Abrams also started an institute to train young people how campaigns are run. Her supporters say they believe Abrams’ status as a builder of the party in Georgia earned her the right to campaign for the nomination, and they argue people like Bottoms benefited from her party-building efforts. “Ironically so [has] Evans,” said Stefanie Brown James, the cofounder of Collective PAC, a new national group backing black candidates in races this year. “She will benefit from the same black voter support that Abrams has worked to empower.”

    Brown James told BuzzFeed News the Bottoms-Abrams dynamic is unique. “It would be a bad sign to America as a whole for Mayor Bottoms to endorse Evans,” said James. “It’s important to know that as black people we are not a monolith. But to me, it would be problematic for Mayor Bottoms to endorse Evans over Abrams not just because they're both black women, but more importantly, Abrams is more qualified than Evans. And as a leader you don’t want to put yourself in a position to make a decision that isn't in the best interest of your community.”

    Abrams promises to have plenty of support outside of Georgia, including the recent endorsement of Our Revolution, the Bernie Sanders–aligned group run by Nina Turner, a prominent black voice in Democratic politics. She also has the support of Rep. John Lewis, a legendary figure in Atlanta.

    But Bottoms has showcased an independent streak as a candidate that also earned her admirers. “This will not be a third term for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed,” said Bottoms last year, pushing back at criticism was being controlled by Reed. “I will not be controlled by anyone when I become mayor of the city. We need to put to bed this conversation because the mayor is not responsible for me. I’m not a pixie dust candidate. I’m an independent candidate with an independent mind.”

    LINK: Stacey Abrams Wants To Be The First Black Woman Governor. But First She Has To Win The Nomination.

    LINK: Democrats Are Starting To Worry About The Georgia Governor’s Primary

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    Paul Manafort

    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on Wednesday night asked a judge to dismiss the criminal case filed against him in federal court in Washington, DC, arguing that special counsel Robert Mueller's appointment was invalid and that Mueller had exceeded the scope of his authority.

    This is the second time that Manafort has attempted to challenge the lawfulness of Mueller's appointment last year as special counsel as well as the reach of the special counsel's investigation. Manafort is separately pursuing a civil lawsuit that raises the same arguments.

    "This prosecution breaks sharply with a principle fundamental to this Nation's structure and traditions — that the power to enforce criminal laws must be exercised by officers who are politically accountable to the people," Manafort's lawyers wrote.

    Manafort's challenge is twofold. First, he's arguing that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's order in May appointing Mueller as special counsel was invalid because it gave Mueller too much power at the start.

    The appointment order states that the special counsel is authorized to investigate any coordination between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. It also gives Mueller the authority to investigate "any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation," and that's where Manafort argues it went too far. Manafort contends that federal regulations require that for a special counsel to go beyond his or her "original jurisdiction" — in this case, collusion with Russia — the special counsel must consult with the attorney general and get their permission. With Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused, Rosenstein, as second in command, is overseeing the probe.

    Manafort then argues that even if the appointment order was valid, Mueller nevertheless went beyond the authority that it gave him. The appointment order said that the special counsel could investigate matters that "arose or may arise directly from the investigation," but Manafort said the indictment isn't related at all to the Russia investigation. It charges him with financial crimes and other criminal activity that largely predated his work on Trump's campaign, and that the Justice Department reportedly knew about, at least in part, before Mueller's appointment.

    "The charges therefore cannot 'arise out of' the original investigation. And they certainly do not 'arise from' it directly," Manafort's lawyers wrote.

    Manafort's lawyers also separately filed motions to dismiss individual counts in the indictment. On the money laundering charge, they argued that income from his work on behalf of Ukraine and the personal items he spent that money on — prosecutors said those purchases included antique rugs, clothing, cars, and real estate — didn't "promote" the other criminal activity he was accused of. And they asked the judge to dismiss one of the two counts alleging that he lied to investigators, arguing that they should count as a single offense.

    A spokesman for the special counsel's office did not immediately return a request for comment.

    A federal grand jury in Washington returned an indictment against Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates, who was also Trump's deputy campaign manager, in late October. They were charged with conspiring to defraud the US government, money laundering, failing to register with the government as agents for foreign entities, failing to report foreign bank accounts, and making false statements.

    The grand jury returned a superseding indictment against Manafort in late February, which added new allegations — it upped the amount he was accused of laundering from $18 million to $30 million — and removed the counts related to foreign bank accounts, which special counsel prosecutors are now pursuing in another criminal case against Manafort in Virginia. Manafort again pleaded not guilty.

    In a court filing in the Virginia case last month, the special counsel's office estimated that in the DC case alone, Manafort faced an estimated sentencing guidelines range of between 188 to 235 months in prison — roughly 15 to 19 years.

    Manafort in January filed a separate civil lawsuit against the Justice Department and the special counsel's office, arguing that Mueller's appointment was invalid and that Mueller had since exceeded the scope of his authority as special counsel.

    The lawsuit asked for the judge to declare the order appointing Mueller as special counsel invalid, to set aside "all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order," and to declare that Mueller lacks authority to probe matters beyond the issue of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any collusion with the Trump campaign. The Justice Department has asked the judge to dismiss the lawsuit, defending Mueller's appointment and his exercise of authority to date. The judge has yet to rule.

    Manafort's civil lawsuit and his criminal case in the US District Court for the District of Columbia are both before the same judge, US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. Gates, who has agreed to cooperate with the special counsel's office as part of a plea deal, did not join the civil suit.

    Manafort is also facing criminal charges in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. At his first court appearance there on March 8, his lawyer told the judge that Manafort also planned to challenge the Virginia indictment on the grounds that the special counsel's appointment was invalid.

    Manafort notified the DC judge on Wednesday that he had added a new defense lawyer to his team, Richard Westling, a member of the law firm Epstein Becker & Green. A spokesman for Manafort declined to comment on why Westling was brought on and whether he'd have a particular focus, but he brings experience as a former federal prosecutor in New Orleans and as an attorney in the Justice Department's Tax Division — experience that's especially notable now that Manafort faces a new set of tax-related charges in the Virginia case.

    Westling did not return a request for comment. He also has experience with high-profile political cases, having represented former federal judge G. Thomas Porteous Jr. in impeachment proceedings. Porteous, accused of corruption and other allegations of misconduct in office, was found guilty by the US Senate in December 2010 and removed from office.

    Before Porteous's trial, however, a Senate committee removed Westling, finding he had a conflict of interest because he represented two witnesses in the impeachment case against Porteous, as well as in a civil lawsuit, according to news reports at the time.

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    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    On Wednesday, the new president of the Heritage Foundation said that she’d been blocked from a White House appointment — by Omarosa Manigault-Newman.

    In response, Manigault-Newman said the reason that Heritage’s Kay Coles James wasn’t offered a position in the administration is “because she hates Donald Trump.”

    James, the first black president at the conservative think tank, told Politico on Wednesday that Manigault-Newman had treated her role in Trump’s universe like it was The Apprentice. “So she looked around Washington and said, 'OK, who do I need to get rid of first?'” James said.

    Manigault-Newman insisted that's not the case, saying James, a veteran political operative, who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under George W. Bush, was flagged early in the transition process as a "Never Trump" Republican who was known to be "disgusted" by the president.

    Manigault-Newman said she was taken aback by James’ comments. “When I met with her, she was very explicit that she hated Trump, but she loved the Republican Party's agenda," she said, adding that James told her she was open to working with the administration but that she would have to "hold her nose while doing it” with Trump as the leader of the party.

    "Kay Cole James is trying to scapegoat me instead of dealing with the fact that Reince [Priebus] and the rest of the transition team did not want her within a mile of the White House," said Manigault-Newman.

    James did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Thursday.

    Manigault-Newman, who was recently a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother, in which she threw several barbs about White House dysfunction, including a bit about her former boss’s use of Twitter, also characterized James' use of The Apprentice to make her point about as “insulting” to Trump.

    "By insulting The Apprentice, she is essentially insulting President Trump," she said. "The Apprentice was his brainchild. He was the star of the show and was very proud of it. Utilizing the show in that way is not only an insult to the president, but she is continuing to show her hand as a Never Trump Republican by trying to trivialize its success.”

    James supported Jeb Bush in the primary. As late as May 2016, James was part of a group of prominent black conservative activists who were strategizing ways to work with Trump, even as they remained highly skeptical of his style of campaigning and prospects for winning.

    Black conservatives’ agenda remains sharply focused on issues like expanding economic opportunity, especially increasing access to capital for small businesses. Many have also sought to work with principals like Sens. Mike Lee and Rand Paul on big projects like a criminal justice overhaul. In Trump, James told Politico she saw a potential ally.

    “If he was serious about getting those things done — and I believed him to be, and I still do believe that he is — then I saw an opportunity to do things that perhaps hadn’t existed in a Republican administration before,” said James, according to Politico. “I was very looking forward to an opportunity to serve in that White House in some capacity to help maybe on domestic policy, maybe in the Office of Public Liaison — in any of those capacities to get the job done.”

    In a profile of Manigault-Newman last year, BuzzFeed News reported in detail on her role in Trump’s orbit. Some of her portfolio seemed informal in nature, such as spearheading the administration’s efforts focused on black Americans — or keeping senior official abreast of operatives who had not been sufficiently loyal to Trump during the campaign at bay.

    According to Manigault-Newman, James lobbied Priebus for a period of time after the election to appoint her to a high-profile position in the White House. James joined Trump’s transition team, which was all but forced to hire experienced hands, regardless of whether they had been loyal to Trump.

    The question is not if she blocked James from an appointment, Manigault-Newman said, but “why her appointment wasn’t made by Reince.”

    “Why wasn’t she appointed like everybody else? Did she help on the campaign, or with any events? Did she do any outreach or engagement? How much money did she raise for the campaign?

    Regardless of her status inside the White House, James’ appointment to Heritage Foundation president was a big deal; she is the first black woman to be named to the post, and it was widely viewed as a coup for the black conservative movement, which has been processing various stages of a prolonged identity crisis. Issues of race and inclusion have only exacerbated by the Trump movement’s nationalist, anti-immigrant leanings, activists say.

    LINK: Omarosa Is Out At The White House

    LINK: Omarosa Manigault Is Very Powerful — And A Lot Of Black Republicans Don't Like It

    LINK: Why Omarosa Really Won Big Brother

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    Drew Angerer / Getty Images

    Millions of Americans routinely receive desperate emails from campaigns, perpetually on the edge of catastrophe and asking for just one more dollar to help bring the campaign back from complete ruin before an ominous midnight fundraising deadline.

    And nobody does it like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the true artists of the dire email fundraiser.

    “If we let Trump and his Republicans bury us, our chance of winning this election is absolutely gone. Will you help us close the gap before midnight?” the DCCC pleaded in an email titled "URGENT" before the presidential election.

    Increasingly, though, Democratic strategists argue that there is a cost to the “churn-and-burn” fundraising strategy that outweighs the extra dollars it brings in. The cost of the spammy, fear-based communications, they say, is depressed and alienated voters and the public impression of the Democratic Party as just another arm of a cynical, dishonest establishment.

    “Constantly screaming about doom, we’re going to lose — it may raise money for them. Clearly they do it because it raises money for them,” said Markos Moulitsas, the founder of Daily Kos, “but it does not create an environment where Democrats are eager to fight and win, because nobody wants to fight for a team they know is going to lose.”

    “The approach they’ve used with alarmist language in their fundraising emails has become pervasive,” said Matthew McGregor, a former Democratic digital strategist, who worked for the Obama campaign. “What does this say about us about our values and how we value our supporters?”

    For voters who probably don’t often interact with the national party, the strategy can be disorienting. In the days leading up to to Pennsylvania’s special election, for instance, the DCCC piled on an array of mixed messages on the state of the race:

    “Conor Lamb DEFEATED?!”

    “Conor Lamb WINS?!”

    “Gut-wrenching loss”

    “CONOR. LAMB. WINS!!!”

    Fundraising has massively changed during the last several presidential cycles, especially in the wake of Barack Obama’s campaigns’ success in raising money through small-dollar email blasts. Over the last five years, especially, the national party committees — everyone from the Republican National Committee to the DCCC — have emphasized a never-ending series of impending monthly or quarterly fundraising deadlines.

    That’s long frustrated some Democrats, but especially now, when anti-Trump fervor has fueled new candidates in newly competitive districts, and when many Democrats have become reenergized around a variety of issues, from gun control to representation for people of color and women.

    “I think the DCCC’s email strategy is a wasted opportunity for Democrats. They have this expansive email list that they could be using to cultivate and motivate voters to flip congressional seats in 2018,” said Laura Olin, a Democratic digital strategist who’s worked with a host of progressives including Barack Obama’s digital team.

    “The thing is that fundraising campaigns from Obama, Warren, and Bernie showed us that we don’t need to use those scare tactics to raise money, and those tactics don’t make us lose our values by being inclusive, engaging, and honest rather than being alarmist and misleading,” said McGregor.

    The current energy has helped drive a number of online-based national efforts outside of the traditional party apparatus, like Swing Left (which raises money for Democratic nominees) or any number of massively viral fundraising drives for nominees in special elections.

    Party committees have a wider set of spending demands, and no one can say the strategy hasn’t been effective in pure fundraising terms. Just last week the DCCC said they had raised more than $50 million online. “Small dollar, grassroots donations have propelled the DCCC to record-breaking online fundraising this cycle. It’s clear that the base of our party is unified around the goal of taking back the House,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law.

    That, people agree on.

    “Does it raise a bunch of money for candidates? Hell yeah, [Jon] Ossoff raised a shit ton of money. But at what cost?” asked one operative. “It’s run in the model of the DCCC created back in 2013 and its exhausting our voters. There’s not an infinite pool of people to pull from and their strategy is going to turn people off from supporting Democratic causes.”

    But party strategists want to see the DCCC treat Democratic voters like “actual adults” who don’t need to be tricked into supporting the party with misleading headlines.

    “They have this relentless fucking strategy that seems to overwhelm and deceive their supporters,” one former Democratic digital strategist told BuzzFeed News. “The desperation and outright lies placed in these emails are going to be bad for the party. The DCCC is so prevalent that it sets itself up as the de facto face of the party by the sheer force and volume [of its emails] that can’t be distinguished from the rest of the party.”

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    Ethan Miller / Getty Images

    Nevada Rep. Ruben Kihuen, a House Democrat accused of sexually harassing multiple women, will not run for reelection.

    Kihuen had previously said he wouldn’t seek office once his term, his first in Congress, ended. But earlier this month, he began having conversations about running again.

    Kihuen waited until the last moment to decide he wouldn’t run; the deadline was 5 p.m. PT Friday. As late as Thursday Kihuen told the Nevada Independent he still hadn’t made up his mind on whether he would run again.

    Kihuen lost support of Democratic leadership and many of his House colleagues after BuzzFeed News reported the first allegations from a woman, Samantha, who worked on his campaign during the primary and said he repeatedly harassed and made sexual advances toward her.

    Another woman, a female lobbyist, also told the Nevada Independent that Kihuen touched her without consent multiple times and showed the paper hundreds of suggestive messages from Kihuen.

    House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and DCCC Chair Ben Ray Lujan immediately called on him to resign after the first allegations came out. But asked directly whether she still thought Kihuen should resign earlier in March, Pelosi wouldn’t answer, saying that she didn’t want to “speculate” on something that may not happen.

    Kihuen’s district is a competitive one, and several Democrats and Republicans, including one Democrat and one Republican who previously held the seat, have filed to take it over.

    A former Nevada Democratic operative predicted it would be “really, really hard” for Kihuen to find friends if he chose to run, and said he believed Kihuen wasn’t a viable candidate. “I don’t see a path in which Ruben decides to run and he can find a way to weave to his way through the primary and into the general,” the operative told BuzzFeed News before it was clear whether Kihuen would run.

    “It’ll only be more stories and it will only drag him down further.”

    LINK: She Says She Quit Her Campaign Job After He Harassed Her. Now He’s In Congress.

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    Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

    President Donald Trump has joined the legal fight over whether a woman is bound by an agreement she signed in 2016 to keep quiet about their alleged affair.

    Stephanie Clifford, the adult film performer and director known as Stormy Daniels, sued Trump and the company set up by longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen in 2016 to pay Clifford to keep quiet.

    Lawyers for that company, Essential Consultants (EC), filed a notice Friday afternoon in California to remove her case from state court to federal court and asserted that, under the 2016 agreement, they could seek damages of at least $20 million.

    Charles Harder, an attorney best known for representing Hulk Hogan in his legal fight against Gawker, filed a notice on behalf of Trump joining in the removal. "Mr. Trump intends to join in EC’s anticipated Petition to Compel Arbitration under the Arbitration Agreement," he announced.

    In Clifford's lawsuit, her lawyer, Michael Avenatti, claims that the settlement agreement and therefore its confidentiality provisions — which they call a "hush agreement" — were never valid because Trump did not sign the agreement. He also argues that the agreement should be found to be invalid as counter to public policy.

    "This is simply more of the same bullying tactics from the president and Mr. Cohen. They are now attempting to remove this case in order to increase their chances that the matter will ultimately be decided in private arbitration, behind closed doors, outside of public view and scrutiny," Avenatti told BuzzFeed News. "To put it simply — they want to hide the truth from the American people. We will oppose this effort at every turn."

    In its removal notice, EC makes clear it will defend the validity of the agreement and its requirement that any dispute be settled by arbitration.

    "EC is aware of at least twenty (20) violations by Clifford of the confidentiality provisions of the Settlement Agreement," Brent Blakely, the lawyer for EC, wrote. Due to a provision in the agreement that each breach of the confidentiality provisions could lead to $1 million in damages, Blakely argues that "EC and/or Defendant Trump have the right to seek liquidated damages against Clifford for her numerous breaches" in the arbitration for an amount "approximated to already be in excess of twenty million dollars ($20,000,000)."

    Regarding that claim, Avenatti told BuzzFeed News, "The fact that a sitting president is pursuing over $20 million in bogus 'damages' against a private citizen, who is only trying to tell the public what really happened, is truly remarkable. Likely unprecedented in our history. We are not going away and we will not be intimidated by these threats."

    Earlier this month, Clifford sat down with Anderson Cooper for an interview, which 60 Minutes plans to air later this month.

    Lawyers for Trump and EC did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the filings and Avenatti's comments Friday evening.

    LINK: Trump Lawyers Are Considering A Challenge To Stop "60 Minutes" From Airing A Stormy Daniels Interview

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    Andrew McCabe, then-acting FBI director, speaking during a news conference on July 20, 2017.

    Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions has fired Andrew McCabe, the former deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Justice Department announced late Friday night.

    "Pursuant to Department Order 1202, and based on the report of the Inspector General, the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, and the recommendation of the Department’s senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately," Sessions said in a statement.

    McCabe, a career agent who briefly served as the acting director of the FBI after President Trump fired James Comey from the job last year, was scheduled to retire on Sunday after 21 years of working at the agency.

    "I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey," McCabe said in a statement. "This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work."

    A spokesperson for McCabe wrote that McCabe learned of his firing "from a press release."

    President Trump had previously questioned why Sessions hadn't replaced McCabe in the FBI's leadership and has been harshly critical of McCabe — questioning his objectivity given campaign contributions his wife had gotten from Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime ally of the Clintons, during her unsuccessful Virginia state Senate campaign.

    McCabe's firing, indirectly, came out of the Justice Department inspector general's investigation into the handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server while secretary of state.

    Communications from the inspector general’s office regarding McCabe's candor to investigators about a news report involving the Clinton Foundation prompted a disciplinary review from the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility initiated a disciplinary review. That review, in turn, resulted in a recommendation that McCabe be fired.

    That led to further review from the top officials in the Justice Department, leading to Friday's decision from Sessions.

    Full Statement From Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

    Full Statement From Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

    When news of the Office of Professional Responsibility's recommendation broke earlier this week, DOJ spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores said only, "The department follows a prescribed process by which an employee may be terminated. That process includes recommendations from career employees, and no termination decision is final until the conclusion of that process. We have no personnel announcements at this time."

    McCabe is a “career employee” — not a political appointee, who can be removed at will — and had substantial, though not absolute, job protection because of his high rank.

    President Trump's Tweets About Andrew McCabe:

    President Trump's Tweets About Andrew McCabe:

    The decision could have severe ramifications for McCabe — whose pension could be affected as a result of the firing — as well as for the larger discussion of Trump’s attempts to influence the actions of the Justice Department.

    The firing came at the end of a long career that spanned three decades at the FBI. McCabe joined the FBI in 1996, as a special agent assigned to the New York Field Office. A decade later, McCabe was promoted and moved to Washington, serving as a supervisor in the Counterterrorism Division at FBI Headquarters. Over the next decade, McCabe moved back and forth between increasingly senior jobs at the FBI's Washington Field Office and its headquarters, resulting in his promotion to deputy director of the FBI in the beginning of 2016.

    Prior to his promotion, his wife, Jill, had run for a state Senate seat in Virginia in 2015. The funds that Trump and outside conservatives have criticized came from the Virginia Democratic Party and McAuliffe's political action committee. The campaign, which she lost, was over before McCabe was promoted to deputy director.

    At the time of his wife's campaign, McCabe had no oversight of any Clinton investigation and recused himself from investigations relating to Virginia politics. After McCabe was promoted to the deputy director post, he oversaw the Clinton investigation until a report about the contributions in the weeks before the 2016 presidential election led him to recuse himself.

    When Trump fired Comey on May 9, 2017, McCabe served as acting director of the FBI and was interviewed by Trump as a possible candidate to be Comey's successor. He served as acting director until Trump's eventual nominee, current FBI Director Chris Wray, was confirmed for the role and assumed office on Aug. 2, 2017.

    At that time, McCabe returned to the deputy director job until the end of January, when he announced his retirement plans. Although he stepped down as deputy director, he remained on the department’s payroll pending his scheduled retirement.

    Full Statement From Andrew McCabe:

    Full Statement From Andrew McCabe: