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- 04/13/18--19:55: _Trump's Latest Atte...
- 04/14/18--15:00: _Ohio Democrats Are ...
- 04/15/18--13:49: _The Florida Governo...
- 04/16/18--11:01: _Michael Cohen Also ...
- 04/17/18--15:57: _Unions Are Trying T...
- 04/19/18--07:20: _Michael Cohen Drops...
- 04/19/18--10:16: _Democrats Are Nervo...
- 04/19/18--15:00: _The Top Democrat In...
- 04/19/18--16:48: _The Comey Memos Hav...
- 04/20/18--14:55: _Cory Booker Wants T...
- 04/20/18--15:43: _Trump Kept Saying H...
- 04/21/18--15:21: _Bernie Forces Ask C...
- 04/22/18--09:17: _She Tried To Report...
- 04/23/18--14:27: _Jake Tapper And The...
- 04/23/18--16:40: _Top Democratic Cont...
- 04/23/18--20:01: _Inside The Divisive...
- 04/24/18--10:15: _Midwestern Democrat...
- 04/24/18--13:44: _An Internet Nonprof...
- 04/24/18--18:33: _Neera Tanden Says S...
- 04/25/18--09:15: _Democratic Donors C...
- 04/17/18--15:57: Unions Are Trying To Fix The #MeToo Problem On Political Campaigns
- 04/19/18--07:20: Michael Cohen Drops Lawsuits Against BuzzFeed And Fusion GPS
- 04/19/18--10:16: Democrats Are Nervous (And Republicans Are Excited) About Minnesota
- 04/19/18--15:00: The Top Democrat In The Senate Now Supports Decriminalizing Cannabis
- 04/19/18--16:48: The Comey Memos Have Been Released. Here’s What He Said About Trump.
- 04/20/18--14:55: Cory Booker Wants The Social Justice Mantle On Marijuana
- 04/23/18--14:27: Jake Tapper And The Virtue Of Taking Yourself Seriously
- 04/23/18--16:40: Top Democratic Contenders Want To Guarantee A Job For Every American
“Management failed to promptly take sufficient tangible employment action against the said employee for sexual harassment, thereby allowing the said employee’s behavior to escalate.
“Management has failed to present measures to correct the effects of the said employee’s sexual harassment, thereby perpetuating a hostile work environment.
“Management has failed to create a safe space upon which members of our unit — including those subjected to the said employee’s unlawful harassment — feel comfortable enough to report incidents of sexual harassment, among other forms of discrimination, without fear of retaliation or further harassment.
“Management has failed to take reasonable steps to prevent incidents of sexual harassment from occurring in the workplace.
“Management has failed to adequately inform employees of what constitutes unlawful harassment in the workplace, how to report such incidents, and what kind of recourse is available under such circumstances.”
Carlos Barria / Reuters
The Trump administration's latest effort to bar transgender people from serving in the military remains on hold for now, a federal judge ruled Friday night in a decision finding strong constitutional protections against anti-transgender discrimination.
"The ban specifically targets one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, and must satisfy strict scrutiny if it is to survive," US District Judge Marsha Pechman ruled in assessing the "history of discrimination and systemic oppression of transgender people" in the US.
In order for the ban to be found to be constitutional under strict scrutiny — one of the toughest constitutional standards to meet — the government would have to show that the ban is advancing a compelling government interest and that "the means chosen 'fit'" that interest "so closely that there is little or no possibility that the motive for the classification was illegitimate ... prejudice or stereotype."
"[Q]uestions of fact remain," Pechman ruled, regarding whether the ban is unconstitutional under that strict scrutiny standard and what, if any, "deference" should be given to the government because the ban is a matter of military personnel policy. Those questions would need to be determined at trial.
While the case goes forward, however, Pechman also ruled that she is keeping in place a prior injunction that prevents the federal government from stopping transgender people from serving or joining the military as the trial proceeds.
When Trump first attempted to stop transgender military service, Pechman had issued an injunction against that August 2017 order. The August order had itself followed Trump's July 2017 tweets announcing the policy change.
After several courts, including Pechman's in Seattle, halted enforcement of the initial order, Trump issued a new order in March — rescinding the first order but supporting an implementation plan that would still bar most transgender people from serving.
The government argued its latest effort does not have the problems of the first ban because transgender people can serve if they serve in their "biological sex."
"[T]he Court concludes otherwise, and rules that the preliminary injunction will remain in effect," Pechman wrote, later going on to detail, "The Court finds that the 2018 Memorandum and the Implementation Plan do not substantively rescind or revoke the Ban, but instead threaten the very same violations that caused it and other courts to enjoin the Ban in the first place."
The individuals challenging the ban, along with the state of Washington, argue that the ban violates equal protection and due process guarantees, as well as the First Amendment.
In announcing that transgender people "constitute a suspect class," Pechman looked at the four traditional factors — history of discrimination, the group's ability to contribute to society, immutability, and political power — and concluded that all led her to the conclusion that strict scrutiny should apply.
"Transgender people have long been forced to live in silence, or to come out and face the threat of overwhelming discrimination," she wrote.
Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich shake hands at this week's primary debate.
John Minchillo / AP
Under the dim venue lights of the Newport Music Theater just across the street from Ohio State University, college students stood in the pit talking about purchasing caps and gowns for graduation, Democratic socialists on campus, and their admiration of progressive star Senator Elizabeth Warren just before she took the stage to stump for Richard Cordray — who’s running in the tighter-than-expected Democratic primary for governor.
"Let's face it, Rich is not flashy. He's a nerd. Just like me," Warren said to a crowd peppered with nearly the same amount of “nevertheless she persisted” gear as Cordray-Sutton signs. "He's quiet, he's unassuming, he's humble, but deep down there is a fighter and not just any kind of fighter. Rich is the kind of fighter I love. He is a fearless fighter. My kind of man.”
Cordray’s speech wasn't, in fact, flashy — nor was the response from the college students for much of the speech — but later Friday night when the former head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stood before the Ohio Democratic Party’s Legacy Dinner, the crowd of party officials and insiders greeted him with a raucous welcome.
It’s the hope for some of them that Cordray will prevail in the early May primary and — leveraging liberal enthusiasm, the chaos of the Trump administration, and the recent resignation of the Republican state speaker of the house — then go onto win in November, giving Democrats the upper hand in Ohio’s redistricting.
But another candidate — Dennis Kucinich — has potentially disrupted the plans of many national and state Democrats. The primary has put the two progressive heavy hitters at odds over who’s best fit to be at the top of the ticket, splitting key endorsements, attracting national attention, and offering maybe the highest profile midterm example of Democrats wrestling with just how progressive their candidates should be.
“I think a lot of people were surprised by the polling and it goes to show that you can’t count Dennis out in this election,” said Herb Asher, a professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University.
“I’m sick of the Democratic Party picking the wrong candidate and eventually losing because of it."
How close it is depends on the poll you look at, but numbers generally shows a close race between Cordray and Kucinich, the well-known populist and two-time presidential candidate, who has long supported legalizing marijuana and Medicare-for-all, and has been endorsed by the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution (despite Sanders himself deciding to stay out of the race). Last week, one poll of likely voters gave Cordray 27% of the vote and Kucinich 13%. In an earlier SurveyUSA effort, each pulled 21% of support from likely Democratic voters with 46% still undecided.
After Republican waves in 2010 and 2014, Democrats badly want to win back governors’ seats, especially in notoriously gerrymandered places like Ohio where Trump won big. Though they are not endorsing in the race, for instance, former attorney general Eric Holder’s redistricting project is keeping a close eye on the race, too, targeting an array of races: governor, secretary of state, attorney general, and state legislature seats.
“I really think Democrats have a good shot to win in the general election if we can put the right candidate on the ballot,” said one Democratic operative working in Ohio in a phone call with BuzzFeed News. “I’m sick of the Democratic Party picking the wrong candidate and eventually losing because of it and if the party goes with Kucinich then that’s absolutely what we’re going to be doing.”
Kucinich has been a prolific name in Ohio politics for nearly 50 years, where he rose from the ranks of the Cleveland city council to his notorious stint as the wunderkind mayor of the city, when a standoff over selling an electric utility (Kucinich refused, a move later praised) resulted in the first municipal default in the US since the Great Depression (a move that earned Kucinich the awe or ire of many locals who lived through it).
“I’m the same age as Kucinich and I’m from Cleveland, and older Ohioans like me remember Dennis’s fiasco when he was mayor and lots of us just don’t want someone with that kind of temperament in office,” offered one Ohio voter outside the Cordray event on Friday.
But it was during those early campaigns where he honed his populist message, survived a recall election, and clashed with big banks before serving in the Ohio state senate and U.S. representative and running two message campaigns for president in 2004 and 2008, in which he was considered something of a fringe candidate akin to Ron Paul, but also carried the banner for many of the same populist policies and politics that Sanders rode to much wider support a decade later (single-payer health care, free college, and a more restrictionist approach to trade).
In his bid for the party’s nomination, Kucinich has touted that his brand of progressive populism can win over enough moderate Democrats and Trump voters in the state to reclaim the governor’s office for the party.
“The one thing I can do that I don’t know if there is another Democrat in Ohio who could run for office and do, is that I can reach out to people who voted for President Trump.”
“The one thing I can do that I don’t know if there is another Democrat in Ohio who could run for office and do, is that I can reach out to people who voted for President Trump,” Kucinich said in a pitch to Ohio voters on Fox News, the conservative network where he’s appeared as a Democratic pundit — and at times, as a defender of Trump’s populist economic message — after losing a congressional election to Rep. Marcy Kaptur following a redistricting plan that consolidated their districts.
On the one hand, how to reach Obama-to-Trump voters in places like Ohio or Wisconsin has been an open question for Democrats in the wake of the 2016 election.
On the other, Kucinich’s defenses of Trump (earlier this year, for instance, he affirmed the idea that the “deep state” existed and had tried to undermine the president), and his calls for a primary challenger to Barack Obama, have frustrated more mainstream Democrats. “Kucinich has been able to duck a lot of these arguments because Ohio Democrats weren't watching Fox News when he was on,” said one longtime Ohio Democrat.
His two meetings with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad — including a trip to Syria with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard last year — are a seen as a potential major liability in a general election, however. While Kucinich has long been an anti-interventionist and a critic of the US wars in the Middle East, his willingness to meet with Assad is highly unusual for an American politician, against the backdrop of chemical weapon usage and the brutal conventional campaign waged by Assad in Syria’s civil conflict.
In other words, some Ohio Democrats are skeptical that if he were the party’s nominee that he could turn out the voters the party depends on in November, even if he might pick up some crossover voters.
Without Kucinich, Cordray possibly could have served a bit as a bridge between some of the economic populism and the more Obama-aligned Democrats: He’s won statewide twice — treasurer and attorney general — and headed the Warren-inspired CFPB in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, working under Obama. He’s backed by the AFL-CIO and he has enough of an establishment backing for general election fundraising.
“If you’re seeing him [Obama] on TV a little more these days,” Cordray said to the crowd of students before leading them in a “yes, we can” chant. “It’s because we’re putting him on TV more these days. Last week, Cordray released his first television ad featuring clips of Obama supporting him as the first director of CFPB.
But Kucinich has also prodded Cordray to be more vocal about his stances on issues like gun control. Kucinich has used his F rating from the NRA and Cordray’s A rating the last time he ran for statewide office as attorney general as kindling to light a fire under Cordray. It’s the kind of thing that party insiders in Ohio think is working to Kucinich’s advantage to keep the race as contentious as he can leading up to the primary.
But despite Kucinich’s progressive appeal, some Ohio Democrats are still nervous that he doesn’t have the fundraising prowess or statewide appeal to win. “I just think we need someone with a clean slate to help us win,” said an Ohio Democrat.
What Democrats want to avoid is a repeat of 2014, when the nominee, Ed FitzGerald, netted a dismal 33% of the vote and dragged down a slate of down-ballot races. (It’s not a perfect comparison as FitzGerald’s campaign was plagued by personal scandals.)
“The question for some Democrats is going to boil down to who can win the general election,” said Asher. “Is Kucinich our Donald Trump or our Ed FitzGerald?”
Don Juan Moore / Getty Images
Florida has three top Democratic contenders for governor. And each of them is employing a different strategy in how to approach President Donald Trump.
The race’s top candidates — former Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum — all are campaigning hard for the Democratic mantle in a state the president won in 2016. Graham’s early campaigning has been heavy on anti-Trump rhetoric, Levine’s has been very light, and Gillum’s balancing somewhere in between.
Since the primary isn’t until Aug. 28 — and polling shows voters aren’t especially familiar with any of the candidates — Florida may offer a great look at what Democratic voters really want from their candidates when it comes to a central question hanging over the party’s national politics: how best to run against the president.
“We don’t yet know what works as it relates to Trump,” said Ashley Walker, a top Democratic strategist who was Barack Obama’s Florida state director in 2012. “He is a brand unto himself and has been fairly successful at rising above political party and establishment, so it’s hard to say what will work against him.” In Florida, the Democratic candidates’ decisions on Trump speak more to their personalities than they do to party doctrine, she said. “I don’t think there’s a right way or a wrong way to do it.”
The race promises to be expensive and closely watched, as well, especially by those with a potential stake in running against Trump next time. Already, Julian Castro has endorsed Gillum — calling him the Democrat with “the courage of conviction, even when it’s not politically convenient” — and Kirsten Gillibrand has thrown her support behind Graham. In a statement, a DGA spokesperson, Jared Leopold, noted that the general election would be highly watched, and that “Voters across the country, especially in Florida, are looking for governors who will stand up to bad policies coming out of Washington.”
In practice, Gillum is campaigning for governor as a progressive populist. (He likes to say on the trail that he understands the lived-experience of ordinary, working-class Floridians, and contends he is the only non-millionaire in the race.) One of Hillary Clinton’s more effective messengers in 2016, Gillum said in an phone interview with BuzzFeed News that Democrats already ran against Trump and his message in 2016. He thinks turning out voters is the most important thing he can do to win, and while he won’t take hitting Trump “off the table completely,” he said liberals, and voters of color in particular, don’t need to be reminded that Trump’s policies are bad for Florida.
Trump arrives in West Palm.
Nicholas Kamm / AFP / Getty Images
“Frankly, running against Trump is going to be insufficient to win,” said Gillum. “We have to give voters a reason to turn out, and I trust my chances at being able to move the part of our electorate that is more difficult to turnout in midterm election over anybody in this race on either side.”
Gillum is critical of Graham’s approach on Trump, the most overt anti-Trump strategy in the race. Graham went up this month with a digital ad in which she made six direct mentions of Trump, including saying, “Donald Trump is not gonna to be able to stand in my way of doing what's right for the people of Florida,” she said at the end of the ad. Said Gillum: “[It’s like], who are you running against?”
Graham’s campaign even first placed the ad in the same media market as Mar-a-Lago. But it could be a smart strategy for Graham, a more known entity in Florida elected to Congress before who is the daughter of a Florida political legend. Strategists observing the race told BuzzFeed News that because she won’t need to work as hard to increase her name ID — and is the only female candidate in a field of men — coming off the top rope against Trump in her first ad wasn’t a bad idea.
“Of course I’m standing up to Trump,” said Graham in an email to BuzzFeed News. “Not only is Trump deliberately dividing our country at a time we need to be pulling together, but Trump’s policies on everything from health care to protecting our environment are also a direct threat to Florida and our families. Other candidates for governor may choose to avoid Trump, or go soft on Trump, or whatever — but I most certainly will not.”
Graham told BuzzFeed News that since Trump’s election that there has been a shift in Florida. She said the Trump administration has threatened immigrant communities, undermined environmental protections, and showed “cruelty” toward Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.
“Others may look at how to deal with Trump through a political lens, calculating the votes or the politics,” said Graham, who added that she views her approach as a duty of vying for the governor’s mansion. “I’m leveling with the people of Florida about the challenges we face with this president in the White House.”
Graham is also seeking to draw a sharp contrast with Philip Levine, a pro-business moderate who her campaign says is soft on Trump.
They’re not alone in that observation. “He almost never fires off press releases or tweets criticizing President Donald Trump or Gov. Rick Scott,” the political editor of the Tampa Bay Times recently wrote. Levine has argued that criticizing Trump is “not a vision,” but he has even avoided a direct questions about Trump. Once, he was asked by a local television station about Trump’s disparaging remarks about Haiti and African countries as “shithole countries” and what he made of the president, and responded, “Well, I can tell you this: I don't run around the state of Florida talking about President Trump.”
Levine at a post-Parkland rally
Don Juan Moore / Getty Images
To the question of whether he would appeal to Florida voters by running against Trump, Levine answered, “You know it’s interesting… I don't run against anybody. I run with my own message. I’m not right, and I’m not left — I’m forward. I’m running as a Democrat but before I’m a Democrat, I’m an American.”
Levine spokesperson Christian Ulvert told BuzzFeed News that Levine, in fact, spent a year campaigning against the president, rejecting the idea that Levine has somehow been soft on Trump – and even talked up a pithy line he said Levine’s delivered making an analogy likening Trump voters to students who were duped into enrolling in Trump University. Ulvert said he instead has campaigned with a message on the economy. Levine went up on TV with an ad on guns, calling Parkland “a wake up call we can’t ignore” and on immigration (“In Washington these days, they’re taking shots at immigrants who devoted their lives to this country”).
“We’re not running against Donald Trump, we’re running against the policies that are causing Floridians problems and leaving them out of opportunity,” said Ulvert, highlighting Levine’s economic vision and his intent to inject it into the political landscape. “Mayor Levine is prepared to take on the White House on these policy fights.”
If there’s any indicator about how Democrats nationwide who are running for governor may wrestle with Trump this year, it may lie with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who chairs the Democratic Governors Association. Inslee firmly believes that Republican gubernatorial candidates will have to own Trump this cycle, and has in interviews expressed dismay that more of them haven’t stood up to Trump.
Inslee himself confronted Trump inside the White House while in Washington D.C. for a meeting of the National Governors Association, telling the president that on the subject of arming educators, “We need to do a little less tweeting and a little more listening.” It was a startling scene, but perhaps one that Inslee — whose actions that day intensified rumors that he is mulling a presidential run in 2020 — believes is an approach that resonates with voters.
Mary Altaffer / AP
President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arrived at the federal court in Manhattan on Monday afternoon for a hearing relating to materials seized from his home, office, and hotel room.
The hearing quickly veered into a dramatic courtroom showdown over the identity of Cohen's unnamed third client, in addition to President Trump and a former top GOP official. Cohen's lawyers first fought to keep the identity secret, then asked only to tell the judge, because the client wanted privacy.
But US District Judge Kimba Wood ordered them to release client's name "now."
It is Fox News host Sean Hannity, one of Trump's most vocal defenders who also has private audiences with the president.
On his radio show, which was in progress as the news came out, Hannity responded by saying, "There's a part of me that really wants to build this up to something massive and make media go nuts." Ultimately, though, he said he was still deciding what to do and whether to put out a statement.
The identity of the client was important, the judge ruled, because Cohen's lawyers were arguing that some material in 10 boxes of records and electronics seized by the FBI should be protected under attorney-client privilege.
This is the second day of hearings in the dispute. On Friday, Wood demanded Cohen appear on Monday — creating a frenzy of reporters outside the courthouse in lower Manhattan. Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, who is suing Cohen in a separate case, also came to court.
"It's a Stormy day," he told reporters before going inside.
Daniels is also in attendance.
Cohen is asking Wood for an order allowing his lawyers or a special master appointed by the court to first review the materials before anyone from the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York — which executed the warrant — does so.
The US Attorney's Office has proposed to use a so-called "taint team" to conduct the initial review — lawyers from the office who are not involved in the Cohen investigation — to determine what, if any material, should be shielded from the investigators because it is protected by attorney-client or another privilege.
Cohen's lawyers from McDermott Will and Emery, however, argue that appointing a special master would "avoid even a hint of impropriety here in the review of Mr. Cohen’s data and documents."
Trump has also brought in his own lawyers from Spears and Imes to protect his interests as one of Cohen's clients. They, in a filing on Sunday night, made clear that they believe Cohen and Trump's lawyers should receive copies of the seized materials to make their own assessment of which documents are privileged.
Although the issue of who gets the initial review of the seized materials is the primary focus of the hearing, Wood at the first set of hearings on Cohen's request this past Friday made it clear that she wanted to a list of Cohen's claimed clients. That request came as a result of Cohen's lawyer at the hearing, Todd Harrison, claiming that "thousands" of documents involved would be protected by attorney-client privilege. Wood pushed back against the claim, asking for information about his clients.
In a Monday morning filing, Cohen claimed only three legal clients since leaving his job at the Trump Organization in January 2017 and operating as a solo practitioner: Trump; GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy; and a third, unnamed individual.
Although Cohen's lawyers fought in court to keep the name secret, Wood ruled against them, leading to the disclosure that Hannity was the third client.
Rainmaker Photo / MediaPunch / IPx
Say you work on a political campaign.
Say a colleague on that campaign is harassing you, making your daily work environment untenable. Do you file a complaint? Do you even know where to begin? On this campaign, as on most campaigns, there is no human resources department. Now say the colleague harassing you is your boss. Do you feel comfortable going over his head, knowing that you’d break rank in the campaign’s strict hierarchy? Say the colleague is actually the campaign manager. Do you go to another subordinate? To the candidate? Do you fear, even before figuring out how to file a complaint, that stepping forward might harm your career, might label you a “problematic” staffer? Do you worry that, if word ever got out, the complaint might harm the candidate, the cause that drew you to the campaign in the first place? And, in the end, do you tell yourself that it’s better to say nothing, because in political campaigns, you learn early on that, if staffers have one golden rule, it is to never, ever become the story — to keep your head down and just do the work?
Veteran operatives know that, far too often, these questions and fears can easily discourage staffers from reporting sexual harassment and misconduct. The singular culture of campaigns — the long hours, the close relationships, the power dynamics, the fear of being blackballed — has made electoral politics a particularly urgent and complex battleground in the #MeToo movement.
Ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, one group of Democrats is proposing a new solution: unionize.
The Campaign Workers Guild, a progressive group that has helped staffers unionize on 12 campaigns and at one consulting firm, has positioned collective bargaining agreements as a roadmap for operatives trying to better navigate issues of workplace misconduct, establishing detailed provisions around the reporting process and a timeline for reviewing complaints.
The first step? “Just admitting that this does happen,” said Meg Reilly, a former Bernie Sanders campaign staffer who now serves as the vice president of CWG, the new guild. “Progressive campaigns are so, so convinced that they’re immune from any type of sexual harassment or racial discrimination, because we all know phrases like ‘male privilege’ or ‘prison industrial complex,’” Reilly said, describing a view on the left she summarized as, “‘We’re so woke.’”
“Don't think that just because you're working for a Bernie-like candidate that those same power dynamics don't exist. Sometimes the power dynamics are even stronger because of this idea that it can't happen here — and if you report it, you're threatening the candidate's chances.”
Robyn Swirling, a Democratic campaign operative who founded Works in Progress, a startup dedicated to ending sexual and gender-based harassment within progressive-based organizations, worked with CWG on language that could “lower the barriers to reporting.”
“Most people feel, and not wrongly,” Swirling said, “that the campaign they're working on would really rather not have these issues surface, and have everyone stay quiet and everyone keep their heads down and do the work. Because the work is why we're there — and that makes things really, really hard, when you have experienced something, to speak up about it.”
Since its launch last summer, CWG has unionized 11 campaigns across races for county council, attorney general, governor, and Congress, ratifying expansive collective bargaining agreements that cover wages, work hours, benefits, and housing, in addition to harassment and workplace conduct. (CWG officials say they’re in the process of negotiating contracts with around 25 other campaigns and “campaign-adjacent organizations,” such as consulting firms.)
“A sexual harassment policy is something everybody’s wanted,” said Reilly. “It just hasn't been done before in the campaign world.”
The contract language on harassment — present in all of the agreements CWG has helped negotiate — specifies where to file a complaint, identifying multiple people on each campaign, including a CWG union representative and a “mutually agreed upon neutral third party.”
The language also stipulates that a complaint may be filed by the alleged victim of misconduct, or a witness to that misconduct. Once a complaint has been made, a multistep timeline steers the process that follows: First, CWG is notified of the complaint immediately. The neutral third party then has seven calendar days to issue a report with findings and recommended actions. At that point, both parties have the chance to “appeal” the report. And throughout the process, the CWG language states, the complainant will not be forced to work directly with the accused.
CWG officials admit they’ve struggled with the idea that the “neutral” third party might end up prioritizing the campaign over the complainant. That role has varied across contracts, Reilly said. In some cases, it’s the campaign’s main consultant. In others, it’s the lawyer or treasurer. (On most races, Reilly said, operatives don’t have the budget to hire an outside lawyer.)
The CWG contracts also ask campaigns to hold lengthy interactive harassment trainings, hosted in person or through a live video service such as Google Hangouts.
Since last fall, when revelations about disgraced film mogul Harvey Weinstein set off a sweeping movement around workplace misconduct, harassment, and abuses of power, the political world has contended with its own revelations. Women in politics have come forward against powerful lawmakers. Operatives have shared stories about toxic work environments and abusive bosses. And at least some of the party committees in Washington — the entities that oversee political campaigns across the country — have taken new steps to combat harassment.
At the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the arm of the party tasked with supporting House races, operatives asked campaigns to sign an agreement that, alongside other provisions, would require “a strong written sexual harassment policy” and “extensive online sexual harassment training,” provided by the DCCC through an outside vendor.
The Democratic National Committee has mandated sexual harassment training for all employees and has encouraged staffers at state parties to take the same training. (A DNC spokesperson said they don’t have the authority legally to mandate training for state parties.)
Officials at the party’s other major committees, the Democratic Governors Association and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said they’ve strongly encouraged their campaigns to establish clear policies on harassment.
The DCCC’s Republican counterpart, the National Republican Campaign Committee, has also pushed campaigns to adopt strong harassment policies, providing operatives with a handbook that outlines anti-harassment guidelines and complaint procedures, a spokesperson said.
Officials at the three other GOP party committees did not respond to requests for comment.
As Swirling sees it, the steps by Democratic entities are a fine start, but not sufficient. “If you’re not getting specific about what’s required, then you run the risk of people doing this to check a box,” and of policies, she said, “that really just cover the campaign’s ass or the DCCC’s ass.”
“What do we do if somebody comes up and says, ‘Somebody on our finance committee grabbed me at a fundraiser?’ Who feels more expendable to that campaign? A 22-year-old, on their first campaign, just trying to staff [the candidate at a fundraiser] — or somebody who's a big enough donor that they're on the finance committee?” Swirling said. “You can't just crib standard anti-harassment policy language from some other organization. We need to think through really specific scenarios that make campaigns different from other workplaces.”
Campaign culture is, as Reilly put, “a petri dish.”
Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
Donald Trump's personal attorney has dropped a defamation lawsuit against BuzzFeed over the publication of a "dossier" alleging ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Michael Cohen on Wednesday discontinued a lawsuit against BuzzFeed, which published the full report last year, and a lawsuit against Fusion GPS, a private intelligence firm connected to the dossier. Cohen's decision comes a week after the FBI raided his office and seized documents, putting him in the crosshairs of a criminal investigation.
The decision also comes in advance of a Friday hearing in federal court in Stormy Daniels’ lawsuit in California. In that suit, Cohen is arguing that the litigation she filed against him should be put on hold because the criminal investigation of him means that proceeding could implicate his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
"The decision to voluntarily discontinue these cases was a difficult one," Cohen's attorney David Schwartz told BuzzFeed News. "We believe the defendants defamed my client, and vindicating Mr. Cohen’s rights was — and still remains — important. But given the events that have unfolded, and the time, attention, and resources needed to prosecute these matters, we have dismissed the matters, despite their merits."
Cohen alleged that the dossier falsely claimed he traveled to Prague for a secret meeting with Russian agents — which he has denied.
“The lawsuits against BuzzFeed over the Steele dossier have never been about the merits of our decision to publish it," BuzzFeed News spokesperson Matt Mittenthal said in a statement. "If there's one thing Democrats and Republicans agree on today, it's that the dossier was an important part of the government's investigation into potential collusion between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Its interest to the public is, and always has been, obvious. Today's news suggests that Donald Trump's personal lawyer no longer thinks an attack on the free press is worth his time."
Chris Geidner contributed reporting.
Trump campaigns in Minnesota before Election Day 2016.
Evan Vucci / AP
Minnesota is the bleeding edge of how Donald Trump is remaking Midwestern politics — and positioned to be the most competitive battleground state in the US for this year’s midterm elections.
Four of the nation’s most competitive House races are in Minnesota. Both Senate seats are on the ballot. A former presidential candidate is running for governor. The state offers a clear look at how voting patterns in rural and suburban Midwestern areas are rapidly changing — just two years after Trump nearly became the first Republican presidential candidate to win there since 1972.
“We truly are the epicenter of the 2018 elections, which is both exciting and terrifying at the same time,” said Ken Martin, chair of the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party.
The terrifying part for Democrats is that Minnesota appears to be an anomaly right now. Republicans in other states are at risk of being dragged down by an unpopular president and a national electoral climate that’s expected to be brutal for their party. But Trump’s numbers have not cratered in Minnesota like they have elsewhere. And Republicans have a real chance to flip two House seats in rural parts of the state — the only two Democratic-held seats in the country that the election forecasters at the Cook Political Report consider toss-ups.
National organizations are planning major investments. The Congressional Leadership Fund, an outside spending group aligned with Speaker Paul Ryan, already has one field office in the state, with another coming soon. And the Republican Governors Association, encouraged by former governor Tim Pawlenty’s candidacy, recently reserved $2.3 million in October and November television advertising in Minnesota. The early buy is a hedge against crowded airwaves and inflated ad rates this fall.
“By booking this ad reservation ahead of time, the RGA will save considerable resources,” said Jon Thompson, an RGA spokesperson. “With a competitive gubernatorial election, and two targeted Senate races, a massive amount of money could pour into Minnesota.”
Republican Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota, is running for his old job this year.
Marcus Ingram / Getty Images
Minnesota bucked the trend of its neighbors in 2016: Iowa, Michigan, and Wisconsin all went red, leaving it as one of the last industrial Midwest states standing for Democrats. But that slim, 1.5-point victory for Hillary Clinton concealed problems. A state party that has historically prided itself in a broad base of rural voters — it’s called the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, after all — is on the precipice of losing them, becoming a party made up solely of the Twin Cities and upscale suburbs.
Take the so-called Iron Range mining country, a longtime Democratic stronghold covering the 8th Congressional District. The area’s deep union roots once made it the heart of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. In 2016, a big chunk of the region backed Trump — Itasca County, for instance, voted Republican for the first time since Herbert Hoover. Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan survived, though, winning reelection by less than a percentage point. But Nolan announced his retirement this year, and a top Democratic candidate to succeed him dropped out of the race Wednesday.
Nolan’s seat is one of the state’s four toss-ups. Another belongs to Rep. Tim Walz, whose bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination puts his party in deeper jeopardy of losing the Minnesota 1st, which blankets the southern part of the state. Walz’s margin of victory, like Nolan’s in the 8th, was less than 1%. (Trump won both districts by 15 points.)
“The Nolan and Walz open seats are two of the best Republican pickup opportunities in the country, and the Congressional Leadership Fund plans to play there aggressively,” Corry Bliss, executive director of the Ryan-aligned political organization, told BuzzFeed News.
But Republicans also must play aggressively in Minnesota’s 2nd and 3rd Districts, which encompass the Minneapolis and St. Paul suburbs and are filled with the kinds of affluent voters Democrats need to offset any losses in the rural, farther-flung parts of the state. Both districts reelected Republicans to the House in 2016. Jason Lewis narrowly won, and Clinton narrowly lost, in the 2nd. Erik Paulsen and Clinton both won comfortably in the 3rd.
CLF has been on the ground in Paulsen’s district since last year and soon will open an office in Nolan’s. But Democrats and Republicans acknowledge the results from the four competitive House districts could be a wash — each party could end up with two seats, just like before — when it comes to determining control of a House that’s very much in play.
Meanwhile, on the Senate level, Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who has an astronomically high approval rating and is seen as a safe incumbent, is up for reelection this year. Al Franken’s resignation — following accusations of sexual misconduct — has put Minnesota’s other Senate seat in play. Democrats are confident about their chances there, hoping that Klobuchar will pull Tina Smith, Franken’s interim successor and the state’s former lieutenant governor, over the finish line. But they are nervous about the governor's race because of Pawlenty, whose name recognition dwarfs that of any of the Democratic challengers, including Walz, the current frontrunner.
Pawlenty, the last Republican to serve as Minnesota’s governor, has a national profile and donor base — “the pay-attention factor,” said Jennifer Carnahan, chair of the state’s Republican Party — thanks to his unsuccessful run for president six years ago. Much like Democrats are counting on Klobuchar to carry Smith, Republicans expect Pawlenty to have coattails for their Senate and down-ballot candidates.
"A lot of [the national Democratic Party’s] messaging has been anti-Trump, but that’s not a winning strategy in this state."
“Republicans haven't had much luck in statewide races over the last decade in part because we haven't recruited candidates who could raise the necessary resources and be competitive statewide,” said Alex Conant, a national Republican strategist with experience in Minnesota politics and a veteran of Pawlenty’s presidential campaign. “Pawlenty can do both. Down-ballot candidates in Minnesota are breathing easier with Pawlenty in the race. Having a competitive, well-funded Republican candidate for governor will help with turnout everywhere.”
The extent to which Trump can be a factor in any of these races, whether at the statewide or House district level, is uncertain. Many Democrats plan to limit how much they criticize the president, admitting his numbers in the state — which, according to a poll earlier this year conducted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, have remained steady — are a source of anxiety. Trump’s voters are “pretty much solid behind him, at least in Minnesota — they’re still sticking with him,” said Martin, the state DFL chair. “A lot of [the national Democratic Party’s] messaging has been anti-Trump, but that’s not a winning strategy in this state.”
Message-testing that tied Pawlenty to Trump, for example, didn't help Democrats, one strategist in the state said. Instead, it was messages about Pawlenty's cuts to the state budget during his first time in office, particularly education, that resonated with voters, the Democrat said.
Carnahan, the Republican state chair, believes Trump would be an asset on the campaign trail.
“I drive around this state every day, and I talk to people on the ground — not just Republicans, but randomly, at the gas station and the grocery store — and they’re enthused about President Trump,” Carnahan said. “My whole pitch is that Democrats say there’s a blue wave, but there’s no blue wave in Minnesota. What we have in Minnesota is a red tsunami.”
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
Sen. Chuck Schumer now supports decriminalizing cannabis.
Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat, has crafted a broad outline for a bill that includes "removing marijuana from the list of scheduled substances," and boosting minority- and women-owned cannabis businesses, according to a copy of the outline Schumer's office shared with BuzzFeed News. Schumer also plans to include in the legislation an investment "to better understand the effects of THC on the brain and the efficacy of medicinal marijuana for specific ailments."
Schumer is working on the legislation himself, his office said, and is not currently in the process of courting cosponsors but has spoken broadly about the outline with other senators. Schumer first made the announcement that he supports decriminalizing cannabis in an interview with Vice News.
Schumer's support of decriminalizing the drug will be a huge boost to the national movement to legalize cannabis, which has been picking up steam among both parties. Just last week, John Boehner, the former Republican House majority leader, also announced his support for de-scheduling cannabis, saying he was joining the board of a cannabis company.
"With this announcement, Sen. Schumer has effectively made it clear that a legislative priority for the Democratic Party is to end the federal prohibition of marijuana," said Justin Strekal, political director at National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
There's already a cannabis bill in the Senate: Sen. Cory Booker's Marijuana Justice Act, which comes with a litany of other provisions around criminal and racial justice, including reparations for people harmed by the drug war.
But that bill has attracted just three Democratic cosponsors. A more moderate version by Schumer would be more likely to pick up steam in the Senate, even potentially attracting bipartisan support.
In New York, Schumer's home state, actor Cynthia Nixon is running an insurgent primary campaign against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo based in part on her support for legalizing cannabis. She's using Cuomo's track record of opposition to pot, which he once called a "gateway drug," as a weapon against him.
Kate Nocera contributed additional reporting to this story.
President Trump and James Comey.
Carlos Barria / Reuters
In a series of memos documenting his interactions with President Donald Trump, former FBI director James Comey wrote that Trump had expressed repeated concerns about allegations against him, anger over leaks from within the government, and a desire to see an end to any investigation of his then-former national security adviser.
The memos, written during Comey’s final months as FBI director, were publicly released Thursday night after the Justice Department sent copies of the notes to congressional leaders. The Associated Press first obtained a copy of the memos and made them publicly available.
Trump quickly responded on Twitter on Thursday night — not complaining about the leak, but instead putting his spin on what they show.
The memos shed light on how quickly into his time in office Trump was beginning to become frustrated with questions of whether there was any collusion between his campaign and Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. In a memo detailing a phone call with Trump on March 30, 2017, Comey wrote, "He then said he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult."
The call followed several interactions with Trump that Comey has discussed in a congressional hearing, in his new book, and in interviews that he has said he put down in memos shortly after they happened to capture his immediate recollection of them.
Jan. 6, 2017: The (Other) Trump Tower Meeting
The first memo details Comey's meeting with then-president-elect Trump at Trump Tower on Jan. 6, 2017. It was at that meeting that he told Trump — in a one-on-one setting — about the "inflammatory stuff," as Comey put it, in the dossier about Trump prepared by Christopher Steele during the election in his work for Fusion GPS.
"I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes involving him and prostitutes at the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow from about 2013. He interjected, 'there were no prostitutes; there were never prostitutes,'" Comey wrote, adding that he told him, “I said I wasn’t saying this was true, only that I wanted him to know both that it had been reported and that the reports were in many hands. I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook.”
Later in that conversation, Comey noted of Trump, “He then started talking about all the women who had falsely accused him of grabbing out touching them (with particular mention of a ‘stripper’ who said he grabbed her) and gave me the sense that he was defending himself to me. I responded that we were not investigating him and the stuff might be totally made up but it was being said out of Russia and our job was to protect the President from efforts to coerce him.”
In an email sent the next day, Comey wrote that he had written the memo "in the vehicle immediately upon exiting Trump Tower.”
Jan. 28, 2017: The Green Room Dinner
The next memo detailed a Jan. 28, 2017, dinner that Trump and Comey ate in the Green Room of the White House. It is at this 80-minute dinner, per Comey’s memo, that “[Trump] replied that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty.” Comey continued: “I did not reply, or even not or change my facial expression, which he noted because we came back to it later.”
Later, Comey wrote, Trump returned to the topic, writing that Trump said, “I need loyalty.” Comey continued: “I replied that he would always get honesty from me. He paused and said that’s what he wants, ‘honest loyalty.’ I replied, ‘you will get that from me.’ (It is possible we understood that phrase differently, but I chose to understand it as consistent with what I had said throughout the conversation: I will serve the President with loyalty to the office, the country, and the truth. I decided it would not be productive to push the subject further.)”
Trump also, at that dinner, “turned to what he called the ‘golden showers thing’ and … repeated that it was a complete fabrication and ‘fake news,’” Comey wrote. “He said it bothered him if his wife thought there was even a one percent chance it was true in any respect.”
Trump also, per Comey's telling, recalled a story about his then-national security adviser, Michael Flynn, concluding that Trump told him that "the guy" — Flynn — "has serious judgment issues."
Less than three weeks later, on Feb. 13, Flynn would resign.
Feb. 8, 2017: The Priebus Meeting
Another encounter that Comey details with Trump began with what he describes as a "meet and greet" with then-chief of staff Reince Priebus on the afternoon of Feb. 8. In the meeting with Priebus, per Comey's memo, they talked about a variety of subjects including the travel ban, leaks, Flynn, and the investigation into Hillary Clinton's email server.
That meeting, however, also included stopping by the Oval Office — at which time Trump raised, for a second time, per Comey, Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director who Sessions later fired. Comey wrote, "I again explained that Andy McCabe is a pro."
Trump then raised leaks and "the 'Golden Showers thing,'" per Comey. "The President said 'the hookers thing' is nonsense but that [Russian President Vladimir] Putin had told him 'we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world,'" Comey wrote, noting that Trump did not say when Putin had said that.
Feb. 14, 2017: The Oval Office Meeting
In detailing the Feb. 14 meeting at the Oval Office where Trump asked to speak with Comey alone, Comey wrote, “He began by saying he wanted to ‘talk about Mike Flynn.’ He then said that although Flynn ‘hadn’t done anything wrong’ in his call with the Russians (a point he made at least two more times in the conversation), he had to let him go because he misled the Vice President, whom he described as ‘a good guy.’”
Later, Comey wrote, Trump returned to the topic of Flynn. “He said, ‘I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.’ I replied by saying, ‘I agree he is a good guy,’ but said no more.”
Relating to Flynn and other news stories, the Feb. 14 conversation also covered leaks — and both Comey and Trump’s anger about them.
“I said I was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message,” Comey wrote. “I said something about it being difficult and he replied that we need to go after the reporters, and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago we put them in jail to find out what they know, and it worked. He mentioned Judy Miller by name.
“I explained that I was a fan of pursuing leaks aggressively but that going after reporters was tricky, for legal reasons and because the DOJ tends to approach it conservatively,” Comey continued. “He replied by telling me to talk to ‘Sessions’ and see what we can do about being more aggressive. I told him I would speak to the Attorney General.”
March 1, 2017: "Call from POTUS"
One "memo" is just a short email detailing a quick March 1 call Comey got from Trump, discussing Sessions' start as attorney general and a few other general topics.
As Comey concluded the email, sent to his chief of staff, "That's it."
March 30, 2017: The "Cloud" Call
In the March 30 call where Trump talked about the “cloud” of the Russia investigation, Comey wrote that Trump "asked what he could do to lift the cloud," prompting Comey to write, "I explained that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn't find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work."
Comey also wrote that he reiterated that the FBI wasn't investigating Trump. "He said it would be great if that could get out and several times asked me to find a way to get that out."
Trump closed the call, Comey wrote, by reiterating how "the cloud was hurting him" and how he "hoped I could find a way to get out that he wasn't being investigated."
That call, Comey noted, led to a follow-up call later that morning to then-Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente, who was overseeing the Russia investigation due to Sessions' recusal. Comey wrote that he informed him of the substance of Trump's call "and said I was telling him so he could decide what guidance to give me, if any."
April 11, 2017: The Final Call
The final memo details an April 11 call that Comey wrote was him returning a call from Trump.
"He said he was following up to see if I did what he had asked last time — getting out that he personally is not under investigation," Comey wrote of Trump. "I replied that I had passed the request to [Dana Boente]" — the then-acting deputy attorney general who was overseeing the Russia investigation due to Sessions' recusal — "and had not heard back from him."
Less than a month later, on May 9, Trump would fire Comey.
The release of the memos to congressional leaders is the latest in a now-recurring pattern of House Republican leaders pressing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on a question of document access relating to ongoing Capitol Hill investigations, followed by ultimatums or outright threats from some of those leaders, followed by the Justice Department ultimately providing access to the document in question.
Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd sent the Thursday letter — which contained redacted versions of the memos — to members of Congress. An unredacted version of the memos, which contain classified information, will be available to members of the relevant committees on Friday, Boyd wrote.
The Justice Department provided a copy of Boyd's memo, but not the attached Comey memos, to members of the media.
The department released the memos to Reps. Robert Goodlatte, Trey Gowdy, and Devin Nunes — who had written to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on April 13 seeking the memos and writing that "[t]here is no legal basis for withholding these materials from Congress."
The three men are the Republican chairs of the House Judiciary, Oversight and Government Reform, and Intelligence committees, respectively, and have been critical of Rosenstein — particularly in recent weeks as Trump's criticism of Rosenstein had risen.
Boyd addressed the "unusual" nature of the decision to release documents that are part of an ongoing investigation.
"In light of the unusual events occurring since the previous limited disclosure" — which had allowed certain members to review them and agree not to further disclose the information — "the [DOJ] has consulted the relevant parties and concluded that the release of the memoranda to Congress at this time would not adversely impact any ongoing investigation or other confidentiality interests of the Executive Branch," Boyd wrote.
He added, however, that the move "does not alter the Department's traditional obligation to protect from public disclosure witness statements and other documents obtained during an ongoing investigation."
In a joint response, Goodlatte, Gowdy, and Nunes wrote, "We have long argued former Director Comey's self-styled memos should be in the public domain, subject to any classification redactions. These memos are significant for both what is in them and what is not."
Specifically, "The memos ... show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened," the trio stated. "As we have consistently said, rather than making a criminal case for obstruction or interference with an ongoing investigation, these memos would be Defense Exhibit A should such a charge be made."
The ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Elijah Cummings, pushed back against the Republicans' response.
"Director Comey's contemporaneous memos provide strong corroborating evidence of everything he said about President Trump — that the President wanted his personal loyalty, that he wanted to end the Russia investigation, and that he wanted Michael Flynn to walk," he said in a statement. "President Trump's interference was a blatant effort to deny justice, and Director Comey was right to document it as it happened-in real time."
A similar unusual event broke out at the beginning of the month, when Nunes sent a letter to Rosenstein and FBI Director Chris Wray, regarding information about the start of the counterintelligence investigation regarding Russia that began in 2016. Nunes and Gowdy eventually were given access to the requested information.
Emma Loop and Lissandra Villa contributed reporting.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates and follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.
Eric Thayer / Reuters
Cory Booker brought his campaign to make legalized marijuana a centerpiece of the movements for social and racial justice to Al Sharpton’s annual convention, a notable venue ahead of the 2020 campaign.
Marijuana, Booker told the assembled group of faith leaders at the National Action Network, has been legal for white people who use without fear of punishment, and that legislative action should center on undoing damage of prohibition, rather than expanding access for investors.
While other speakers — including the president of the NAACP — were warned by Sharpton that they must be brief, Booker seemed to have all of the time he wanted. Booker himself adopted a preacher’s cadence while flanked by Sharpton, and covered a range of topics, putting a social justice lens on issues from climate change to the economy. But if there was a focal point of Booker’s speech, it was the criminal justice system system, which he described as “the biggest cancer on the soul of this county.”
“I hear all these people want to talk about legalizing marijuana,” Booker said in his speech, delivered the day after Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer backed decriminalizing marijuana in an interview with Vice News.
“Well,” the senator went on, “marijuana has been legal for the people of privilege in this country for a long time. Because they don't get arrested. They don't get stopped. There’s nobody stoppin’ and friskin’ on college campuses. Stanford and Harvard and Princeton — there’s a lot of drugs there, but there’s no FBI sting operation. They’re coming into our communities, coming into communities like mine.”
The former Newark mayor — one of several potential presidential candidates who spoke at Sharpton’s conference on Friday — told the crowd that he is the only US senator who “lives in an inner-city community in a majority black city.” Booker has been beating the drum on injustice and inequality for some time on cannabis, and his bill, the Marijuana Justice Act of 2017, represents an advocate’s wish list of reparative action. Though the bill has merited several high profile co-sponsors (e.g. Bernie Sanders), given his prominent role, Schumer’s plans to develop legislation seem poised to attract a potential wider audience in Congress.
The parade of national Democrats at Sharpton’s annual convention included Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren. But perhaps none of them engaged crowd more than Booker, who laughed, then brushed off a question about whether he felt he had won the day.
Unlike 2007, when the press dubbed the similarly well-attended event the “Sharpton Primary,” the overall frame for the day was less overtly about winning political support inside the room, and more outside-looking. Sharpton emphasized the intersection of the 50th anniversary of the death Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Trumpism, a political force he argues is actively working to undo what King fought for.
Asked about powerful Democrats coming forward recently in support of decriminalization, Booker told BuzzFeed News, “As this movement grows it should not just be about access to marijuana, it should be about expunging records, reinvesting in communities that have been disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and restorative justice and it’s just not right now.”
Booker told reporters Schumer’s announcement on Thursday was an “extraordinary” move, but referred to an Instagram post in which he said, “As states are moving to legalize marijuana, most are not expunging the records of the thousands of people who have criminal convictions for marijuana possession, use or distribution crimes.”
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
In two of James Comey's memos about his interactions with President Donald Trump, the former FBI director says that Trump made a point to tell him that he didn't stay overnight in Moscow when he was there for the 2013 Miss Universe pageant.
Trump himself, however, said he spent the "weekend" in Moscow surrounding the Saturday evening event — and contemporaneous information about the event (in addition to subsequent reporting) makes clear that Trump spent at least one night, and likely two nights, in Moscow during the trip.
On the Monday morning after returning from Moscow, Trump tweeted to his partner in hosting the pageant in Moscow, Aras Agalarov, that he had enjoyed his weekend there.
So, what is this all about? In Comey's memos, he details that Trump, on two occasions, told the then-FBI director that he didn't spend the night in Moscow in 2013 — part of the president's response to and insistence that claims made in the "Steele dossier" couldn't possibly be true.
The first time Trump made the claim, in Comey's telling, was during a one-on-one dinner between the two men that took place in the Green Room of the White House on Jan. 27, 2017.
Comey wrote that Trump then raised the claim again in the Oval Office a week and a half later, on Feb. 8 — with then-White House chief of staff Reince Priebus in attendance.
What actually happened? Social media posts from that weekend alone show how unbelievable it is that Trump claims he didn't stay overnight.
On Friday, Nov. 8, 2013, Agalarov's son, Emin, posted an Instagram photo of Trump's arrival at Crocus City Hall — the Agalarovs' venue where the pageant was held.
Then, Trump and the Agalarovs went to the Saturday, November 9, 2013, pageant.
And they attended the after-party.
At some point while in Moscow, Trump also helped film a scene for Emin's next video.
Andrew Harnik / AP
A top Bernie Sanders official is asking Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton, to sign a draft letter recommitting to vastly shrinking or effectively eliminating the party’s controversial “superdelegates” system — and ultimately changing the presidential nominating process.
The Sanders ally, his former campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, is in talks with Clinton’s team about the letter, and also plans to solicit signatures from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, and DNC vice chair Rep. Keith Ellison, according to two people familiar with the undertaking.
The effort to make Democratic primaries more fair — a process that has spanned two years, two committees, and dozens of arcane rules about how to make changes to the rules — is nearing its long-awaited end. Next month, the party’s Rules & Bylaws Committee convenes to begin drafting the final language that DNC members will or will not approve in a vote this summer.
At stake is the future of “superdelegates,” the 700 or so party leaders entitled to cast votes as “unpledged delegates” for the candidate of their choosing.
“We believe that the passage of these reforms is a fundamental and necessary step in re-establishing faith with those who have lost confidence in the Party as a vehicle for change,” reads the draft of the letter, obtained on Friday. “Now is the time to go forward, not backward.”
Weaver declined to comment. A spokesperson for Clinton also declined to comment when asked whether the former Democratic nominee would sign her name to the letter. When contacted, Pelosi and Schumer aides said they hadn’t been aware of Weaver’s letter.
A DNC spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.
Weaver’s draft letter — meant to lock in public support for shrinking that system — would show Clinton, Sanders, and other party leaders reiterating their commitment to proposals put forward during the 2016 Democratic National Convention. It was there, in Philadelphia, that officials from the two rival campaigns formed the Unity Reform Commission, a 21-member committee tasked with proposing specific changes to rules around delegate allocation, caucuses, and primaries — a set of compromises hashed out by Clinton and Sanders allies ahead of the convention.
Among them was a proposal to effectively reduce superdelegates by about 60%.
Under the existing system for choosing a Democratic nominee, candidates vie for "pledged delegates" by competing in caucuses and primaries, which award delegates based on performance. Later on, at the convention, superdelegates or “unpledged delegates” can vote for however they want. Superdelegates include the 447 members of the DNC; Democratic governors, US senators, and members of Congress; and “distinguished leaders” like former presidents, vice presidents, and party chairs.
The Unity Reform Commission proposal would strip just DNC members of their superdelegate votes during the first and main round of voting at the convention. (In the rare case of a second round of voting, all superdelegates would be unbound, free to support any candidate.)
The superdelegate debate, led by Sanders supporters who felt the system unfairly favored Clinton, has now moved to the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, where officials put forward a final set of proposed rules changes.
Committee members remain divided on the idea of a 60% reduction: Some, like longtime party leader Leah Daughtry, support eliminating superdelegates altogether on a first ballot convention vote.
Others see superdelegates as a crucial part of the primary system — a safeguard against nominees like President Trump, said one Rules and Bylaws member, Elaine Kamarck, a DNC member who has studied presidential politics for decades.
Kamarck has backed the original Unity Reform Commission proposal, but also made clear that she believes that, in the long term, more so-called “peer review” by veteran party leaders produces stronger presidential nominees. In a forthcoming study for New York University’s law journal, she said, she will propose a number of changes to the nominating system, from an increase in superdelegates to a new pre-primary endorsement process where the party’s top elected officials would meet with the candidates, question their positions, and issue votes of confidence or no-confidence. Candidates who fail to meet a certain threshold would be barred from debates or from a spot on the ballot, depending on how the party decided to structure the system, she said.
“This whole idea runs completely counter to where the public is,” Kamarck admitted, referring to the broad support particularly among Sanders supporters for a reduction in superdelegates. “However, if the Trump presidency crashes and burns and takes the GOP with it, which is not unrealistic, this dialogue will start.”
When the Rules and Bylaws Committee meets next month in Washington, members will also weigh whether changes should be made to the DNC’s rules, or to its charter document — a distinction that will determine the vote threshold needed at a final vote later this year. Rules changes require a simple majority of DNC members. Charter changes, considered to be more permanent, require a two-thirds majority.
Sinclair Broadcast Group executives reprimanded and ultimately ousted a local news reporter who refused to seed doubt about man-made climate change and “balance” her stories in a more conservative direction.
Her account, detailed in company documents she provided to BuzzFeed News, offers a glimpse at the inner workings of a media giant that has sought to both ingratiate itself to President Donald Trump and cast itself as an apolitical local news provider — a position the documents undermine.
In one 2015 instance, the former news director of WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia, Len Stevens, criticized reporter Suri Crowe because she “clearly laid out the argument that human activities cause global warming, but had nothing from the side that questions the science behind such claims and points to more natural causes for such warming.”
In recent months, Sinclair has garnered intense national attention for forcing stations across the country to carry pro-Trump, “must-run” segments and instructing anchors to read statements touting conservative talking points. Sinclair, which owns local TV stations “affiliated” with name-brand networks like Fox or ABC, has defended the segments and noted they are a small part of its stations’ overall coverage — but Crowe’s experience as a general assignment reporter demonstrates how the parent company’s ideology can permeate throughout local news reporting.
She faced discipline for social media posts and restrictions in reporting on guns, white nationalism, and Liberty University, she said. Company documents do criticize some of her work as unfair and her behavior as unprofessional at times. Overall, the documents provide an unusually close look at one reporter’s experience working for a Sinclair station, and how the smallest details mattered and were recorded.
Crowe told BuzzFeed News that before the October 2015 climate change segment aired, she was ordered by Stevens to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter. “When I instructed you to balance the story, by including some of [the] other argument, you insisted there was no need to add such balance to the story,” he wrote in her Jan. 22, 2016, performance review.
"That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there."
A veteran reporter who has worked at news stations in Texas and Virginia, Crowe said she viewed the story as environmental — not two-sided or political. “I was always covering the flu. I don’t remember a time when for balance I went out to a group of 20 people who are nutjobs that say flu shots kill,” she told BuzzFeed News. The scientific consensus is that climate change is real and humans are largely to blame, but Crowe ultimately read the updated, “balanced” script on air. “That was the moment where I realized how things were going to go there,” she said.
“The management team felt the story was one-sided — indicating that human activity is to blame for global warming — period,” said Stevens, who now works in the communications department at Liberty University, in an emailed statement to BuzzFeed News. “I understand most scientists agree with that assessment. I, myself, feel that human activity at least plays a role, but our opinions really shouldn’t matter. We were there to deliver news, not opinion. And there is NOT 100% agreement on this issue, even among the scientific community.”
Crowe was, in retrospect, struck that Trump’s thoughts were included before he was even his party’s nominee, but Stevens defended the decision. “It was simply a statement — in the headlines at that time — that provided some balance, some reference to the other side of the argument. That side does exist,” he said. “The same would hold true for any hot button issue — Gun Control, Abortion, the Death Penalty, etc.”
Crowe, 49, says she was badly shaken by her time at Sinclair. She left the news business but decided to speak on the record so other reporters and news consumers would know about what can happen when Sinclair takes over a local outlet. The largest owner of TV stations in the country, Sinclair is poised to expand even more through the $3.9 billion takeover of Tribune Media, which could grant it a foothold in major US cities like Los Angeles and expand its reach to 72% of American homes.
Last year, Crowe’s contract was not renewed and she was forced out of WSET, an ABC-affiliated TV station owned by the company. “We do not comment on individual cases regarding past employees,” said Ronn Torossian, a spokesperson for Sinclair. “We do always maintain high standards for balanced, fact-based reporting.”
“After I left, I just didn’t want to go back to news,” Crowe said. “Now I feel like I’m more committed to journalism than ever. We really have to fight for journalism — it’s worth the fight.”
Suri Crowe in Virginia on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Matt Eich for BuzzFeed News
Crowe spent the early part of her reporting career in local markets in Texas in the 1990s, covering federal court cases, murders, drug trafficking along the border, and then-governor George W. Bush. “He was a pleasure to cover — a very kind and decent man,” Crowe said. “I enjoyed my relationship with that whole Republican changeup in Austin.”
She left journalism to work in pharmaceutical sales for Pfizer, but returned to other TV stations in Virginia before landing a three-year contract with WSET in 2014. At the time, Sinclair was in the process of acquiring a handful of stations owned by Allbritton, including WSET and the broadcaster’s flagship, WJLA, in Washington, DC. Though Crowe’s position fell in the medium-sized Roanoke-Lynchburg TV market, she was advised by a mentor at Sinclair that the company’s expanding footprint would set her up to move to a market like DC afterward.
"It’s always been a conservative station. We’re right in the Bible Belt. It went beyond that when Sinclair took over."
Former employees said that WSET’s coverage has long focused on the Lynchburg side of the area, where the station is located (unlike the rival broadcasters). “The market strategy was to really not fret about the western half of the market, but to own your backyard counties because there was no competition,” said one former staffer. “That is a far more conservative half — versus the Virginia Tech area.”
“It’s always been a conservative station. We’re right in the Bible Belt,” said another former employee. But Sinclair’s grip on local coverage became clearer to employees after the takeover. “It went beyond that when Sinclair took over,” the former employee said. “It became: ‘This is what we have to do.’ In our morning editorial meetings, anything that went against anything that corporate wanted was just shot down.”
Crowe, for her part, battled with her bosses over political and nonpolitical issues. Younger reporters counted Lynchburg as a “starter” market, but Crowe’s colleagues said she was an outspoken, experienced journalist who wanted to do nationally minded stories. She clashed with management, former employees said, particularly over what exactly constitutes balanced coverage.
“Your story on proposed gun legislation was not balanced,” Stevens wrote in Crowe’s performance review. “You wrote of the proposed gun restrictions, ‘Sounds like a good idea, right? Well, not to those in charge of passing new gun laws.’ And that tone is carried throughout the story. Another line: ‘Several polls show the majority of Virginians are in favor of tighter restrictions on gun purchases... But Republican lawmakers in Richmond... won’t go for it.’”
On another gun story about the state attorney general’s decision to revoke a reciprocity agreement with other states for concealed carry permits, Stevens wrote that the sum total Crowe offered the other side was a single sentence: “The NRA on the other hand released a statement condemning the attorney general’s decision.” Stevens added that Crowe “had access to the press release sent by the NRA, yet included nothing from the actual statement... This kind of approach damages our reputation as a fair and balanced news organization.”
"I would tell the reporters ‘just give me something I can defend,’ because I was the one who would take the angry calls from viewers."
“I would tell the reporters ‘just give me something I can defend,’ because I was the one who would take the angry calls from viewers if they felt we weren’t giving a fair treatment to ‘their side’ on a particular issue,” Stevens told BuzzFeed News. “When a story was balanced enough, I could simply read it back to the caller, word for word, and highlight to them how all sides were represented. Most often, the caller would agree, thank me for taking the time to explain, and promise to keep watching. Those interactions protected that newsroom’s credibility. Almost everyone there understood this need for balance, agreed with it, and followed through. Any reporter who would outright refuse to balance their stories would certainly get extra oversight and possibly remedial action.”
The review highlighted other complaints, including that Crowe had been late to news shoots and that she had acted unprofessionally with the Lynchburg Police Department. “[An] officer describes a pattern of inappropriate behavior in his time dealing with you, including: ‘overstepping bounds, drama, unprofessional texts, emails, calls, etc.,’” Stevens wrote. One officer had indicated Crowe had “looked very angry” and “looked irritated the entire time you were with him, that you ignored him, and that you got basic facts of the story incorrect.”
In a written response to her review, Crowe said that she was being unfairly targeted. Lots of stories, she told BuzzFeed News, got cut for space, diminishing time given to both sides. Crowe wrote in her response to Stevens that she had also “on multiple occasions reported on ‘pro-gun’ stories,” including a December 2015 pitch about Republicans in Campbell County wanting to pass a pro-gun resolution. “I didn’t have an anti–gun violence side there — and Mr. Stevens had no problem with that story.”
According to Crowe, her relationship with the police department was fine — at times adversarial, but that comes with being a reporter — and she felt horrified that station management would not come to her defense. Crowe’s response continued: “This appraisal is not really about my performance. This is really a character and professional assassination of me because I am a woman. A very good reporter who is not afraid to ask the difficult questions of a police department during a year when so many police departments have been under fire,” she wrote. “If you want me out so much, let me go without any restrictive covenants and I will start looking today for another job.”
Suri Crowe in Virginia on Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Matt Eich for BuzzFeed News
As Sinclair’s corporate control intensified, some employees at WSET began to quietly worry about the introduction of the company’s now infamous “must-run” clips. The segments, produced by the parent company, included a “Terrorism Alert Desk” rounding up terror incidents from around the globe, as well as political diatribes from former Trump official Boris Epshteyn. Inside the newsroom, employees who viewed the segments negatively mostly kept quiet. “We would see a must-run, and we would all glance at each other, but that was about it,” said a former staffer. Some reporters in the field chafed at the must-runs not for political reasons, but because it meant they had less time for their own stories.
The segments also exposed a generational divide. “Half of the newsroom was pretty vocal about drinking the Kool-Aid, and they were all the old people,” one of the former employees said. “I think the general consensus and attitude was that they were probably doing it because they liked their jobs. It was scary to watch.”
Earlier this month, Sinclair’s must-runs came under sharp national scrutiny when Deadspin stitched together a video showing dozens of local TV anchors delivering the same speech about media bias in unison. Critics said that the anchors looked like hostages. Journalism schools sent a letter to Sinclair blasting the video. The clip ricocheted around Hollywood, with liberal actor Amy Schumer canceling a planned interview with Sinclair’s DC station. Former Sinclair employees began speaking out — like one reporter in Florida who told Bloomberg he was ordered to conduct politically tinted “man on the street” interviews.
As the media storm intensified, Sinclair battled back. David Smith, Sinclair’s chair, emailed the New York Times that the must-runs were similar to stations running late-night shows from their affiliated network. The company then ran a banner on the websites of every one of its local stations linking to a YouTube video attacking CNN’s “hypocritical” coverage of the incident.
Despite her negative performance review, Crowe remained in her contract at WSET, and in April 2016, she won a Virginias Associated Press Broadcasters award for coverage of animal inspection violations at a roadside zoo. Crowe’s reporter “reel” from her time at WSET compiles some of her stories, from local weather events to political rallies to an investigation on why a local shelter euthanized a dog set for adoption.
Stevens, the news director from the Allbritton and early Sinclair era, joined Liberty University when he left WSET in 2016. But Crowe continued to feud with the new management, including news director Scott Nichols.
Crowe told BuzzFeed News that she pitched a story about the rise of white supremacists in the area who she said she could get on camera for an interview. According to Crowe, Nichols told her that he didn’t see the news value. The piece would have been prescient, Crowe now says, because she offered the idea well before the race-fueled clashes in nearby Charlottesville that would bring national attention to the region.
Nichols did not return a request for comment for this story.
Crowe also claimed she was called off from digging into potential Title IX issues at Liberty University, a topic that was later covered at length in the local media. Crowe attributed the decision to close ties between WSET at the evangelical university, which is led by Jerry Falwell Jr., an ardent Trump supporter.
“We leave Liberty alone,” said another former employee. “It’s like Liberty is untouchable.”
Stevens disagreed. “When I was in that newsroom, we treated Liberty the same as any other institution, sometimes drawing the ire of university leadership. We were tough but fair and we covered a lot of Liberty news,” he said. “In fact, in my current position at Liberty, I’ve noticed no drop-off in interest by WSET in Liberty-related stories of all stripes.”
By early 2017, Crowe said she believed that Sinclair executives were seeking to build a case against her — in writing — so that they could eventually force her out of the company.
On Jan. 24, Nichols emailed Crowe to reprimand her for two tweets posted on her personal Twitter account that were in violation of Sinclair’s social media policy. “With record unemployment, job creation, lower crime rates and booming stock markets — what America is @realDonaldTrump seeing?” Crowe quote-tweeted along with a Vanity Fair article about Trump’s “dark, raw, partisan” inaugural speech, which depicted an America in crisis. Crowe also quote-tweeted President Obama’s outgoing farewell tweet with three heart emojis.
“Someone could interpret your tweets and re-tweets as media bias because a majority of them are anti-Trump and pro-Obama,” Nichols wrote in an email. “It’s OK to hold those in power accountable. But your tweets and re-tweets should cover a wide breadth of topics, not just point out what some say President Trump is doing wrong. You say you are not biased, and I appreciate that. But you don’t want to have the ‘appearance’ of bias either.”
Crowe responded in an email: “I do tweet on a wide range of topics — I also put hearts next to a social media post regarding the Bushes recovering — am I to understand one positive for the GOP is okay — but certainly not for the other side?”
"What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t outright quit because I was in a contract."
On her social media accounts — particularly since she left the news business — Crowe frequently posts and retweets negative comments about the president and Republicans and in favor of liberal causes. Her politics are no secret. Crowe told BuzzFeed News that she recognizes by coming forward, critics will point to her personal beliefs, but she said that as a reporter her opinions were separate from her work. “People will say, ‘She’s so obviously liberal, she hates Trump, loves Obama,’” Crowe said. “This is the thing. I have never been accused of imbalanced reporting in my effing life until I got to that station.”
“Suri is a good journalist,” said one of her former colleagues. “It wasn't like she was trying to go out for the left. It boiled down to the corporate [structure] that we were under and also our area, where management is just thinking, ‘That's not going to fly here.’”
On Feb. 24 of last year, Nichols sent Crowe a “last chance agreement.”
“Certain aspects of your job performance have been unsatisfactory,” he wrote. Nichols reprimanded Crowe for an incident earlier that month where Crowe called animal control on a family while shooting a story about them. (Crowe said that she filed an anonymous tip because she viewed the situation as dangerous.) Nichols wrote that Crowe had left work early and also brought up incidents of “your apparent bias in your social media accounts.”
“What they were doing is manufacturing incidents to target me. What was I supposed to do? I couldn’t outright quit because I was in a contract,” she said. Crowe had wanted to leave for some time, she said, but feared owing the company money or being blackballed from other stations for breaking an agreement.
Toward the end of the contract, Crowe said she was whisked into a room and told that the company had exercised an escape hatch to force her out early. It was her last day at Sinclair and, as it happened, her last day in the news business. She now works in the health and fitness industry.
“I believe the ire at me was politically tainted,” Crowe said. “If they perceived you as a liberal, or someone not going along with that whole credo, then you are done.” ●
Nurphoto / Getty Images
Last month, the lawyer for a Russian businessman suing BuzzFeed over the Trump dossier paused in the middle of my deposition to reveal which, among the thousands of documents we’d turned over in discovery, was his favorite.
The lawyer picked out a furious and colorful email Jake Tapper sent me the night we published the dossier, in which Tapper expressed his disagreement with our decision to publish — and added that, “collegiality wise,” I had done something that he described with an intimate and painful-sounding metaphor.
The email reminded me of two things.
First, that Tapper is an excellent writer.
And second, that one of the great secrets to his professional success is his all-out defense of his reputation on all fronts at all times: Before the Tappergram about the dossier, I’d heard from him more commonly about stray tweets from BuzzFeed staffers about everything from the poop cruise (his own coverage, he wanted to point out, had been serious and policy-focused) to the usual arguments over ratings. No tweet about Tapper, not even a subtweet, falls without Tapper’s notice.
“I don't have time for your high school drama club,” he said recently in his fourth rapid-fire tweet to a BuzzFeed News reporter who had botched, then quickly corrected, a Tapper quote.
Perhaps the best evidence of how fiercely Tapper protects his reputation is that — despite his irascibility being a kind of Washington legend — I can’t find any reference to it in a series of recent glowing profiles of the CNN anchor. These profiles tend to feature a relaxed-looking Tapper, surrounded by red, white, and blue memorabilia. Perhaps his feet are up on his desk. Tapper’s friends and acquaintances were rather surprised to learn, from the lede of a recent Times profile, that “Jake Tapper doesn’t seem to get rattled easily.”
Some of Tapper’s colleagues and Twitter enemies find the heated private responses to criticism over the top, a sign that he takes himself too seriously.
But I’ve always considered this thin skin a positive quality: Tapper should take himself seriously. He has a serious job and has succeeded in part because he’s always engaged critics, including Twitter voices to the right and left of the mainstream television conversation, the kind of critics whom high-profile journalists often ignore. He’s the defining serious TV journalist of the Trump era for a reason.
The Hellfire Club
Little, Brown and Company
And it takes a certain kind of seriousness of purpose to dive unapologetically into genre fiction, which Tapper has done in a fun and necessarily somewhat trashy political thriller called The Hellfire Club.
The novel is true to the genre: The story of a deadly conspiracy in Eisenhower’s Washington is rich with period detail, sex, and murder, and boasts not just one but a handful of conspiratorial secret societies.
It has the best qualities of this sort of historical fiction, which include the winking perspective of the present. The protagonist, a young New York congressman named Charlie Marder, has thankfully anachronistic views that make him alive to Washington’s deep racism and gender inequality.
And Joe McCarthy has more than a little Donald Trump in him — full of lies and bluster, yet impossible to ignore: a planet “blocking out the sun.” McCarthy (and later Trump) consigliere Roy Cohn’s peace plan also sounds familiar: “He’d pick up the phone and call Joe Stalin and say, 'This is Joe McCarthy, I’m coming over tomorrow to talk about things…'”
The media is largely absent from the novel. The courageous Walter Cronkite stands out from a mostly tame press corps.
But Tapper’s own anti-politics come through in the novel’s central conflict, and it helped me understand Tapper’s approach as well as anything else he’s said or written. In The Hellfire Club, McCarthy is a monster, ruining lives with careless lies. But Tapper, like the anti-Communist liberals of that day, goes out of his way to stress that the Communist conspiracy was real and that some of the accused — the Rosenbergs and Alger Hiss — were guilty.
“McCarthy’s a drunk but he’s not wrong about everything,” Marder’s father tells him.
Our hero distinguishes himself by avoiding the seduction of either Moscow or the more-than-a-little-fascist Hellfire Club cult of the title, an entertaining fictional updating of an 18th-century sex club whose members, here, include both McCarthy and the Kennedys. The heroic band he joins, in the end, is a third force, a dashing group organized around the president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, to save the Republic. This nameless force might be confused, in today’s terms, for the Deep State.
The novel is Tapper’s fourth book but his first work of fiction, and while The Hellfire Club might not get glowing blurbs from James Patterson and Shonda Rhimes if it carried a different byline, its quality is a tribute to taking yourself seriously in all things.
Eric Thayer / Reuters
Sens. Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand have all suggested they would support plans for the federal government to guarantee a job for every American, rapidly moving what was once a fringe, progressive vision closer to the mainstream of Democratic politics.
Sanders’ plan, announced today, would give a $15-an-hour public works job, plus health benefits, to anyone who wants it, a vision reminiscent of parts of Franklin Roosevelt's Depression-era New Deal.
All three lawmakers are considered top contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, a fact that could tip the party toward embracing a version of the plan — just as the weight of the party has moved rapidly toward single-payer health care, or Medicare for all.
“This is about Democrats really working to develop big ideas — and being unshackled from this notion that we have to think small," said Ari Rabin-Havt, a senior adviser to Sanders.
"It's moving forward on a major issue with people across the Democratic Party taking part in this discussion,” he said. “If the debate in 2020 is about how big a jobs guarantee bill should be, that's a great thing."
A federal jobs guarantee program has failed to pick up steam until recently, even among the most progressive Democratic lawmakers. It would be sprawling, perhaps the size and scope of Medicare, and expensive — though Sanders' office hasn't calculated a cost, an estimate of another version of the plan, similar to the one embraced by Booker, put the price tag at $543 billion per year, not much less than the annual defense budget.
Booker put out a bill Friday for a pilot program that would test a jobs guarantee plan in 15 cities and counties across the country. In a statement, he called it "an idea that demands to be taken seriously."
@SenGillibrand / Twitter
Gillibrand, another Democratic Party star, told the left-wing magazine the Nation in March that she supported a jobs guarantee program. She tweeted last week that the government should invest $1.5 trillion — the estimated cost of the Republican tax cut — in guaranteeing jobs for Americans who are "unemployed and willing to work to better their local community."
One of the Democratic Party’s leading institutions grappled with a divisive internal battle over sexual harassment during and in the aftermath of the 2016 election, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 19 current and former staffers.
The Center for American Progress, the politics and policy hub for the Democratic establishment, has put out four different policy proposal papers on handling sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as data on how pervasive the issue is “across all industries.”
Joe McKendry for BuzzFeed News
The organization’s president, Neera Tanden, has vehemently criticized Republicans for their reaction to the accusations of sexual misconduct against President Donald Trump and wrote in a tweet still pinned to her profile, “I don't think the country has understood how psychologically wounding it was to so many women that Trump won after the Access Hollywood tape.”
But only an hour after the Access Hollywood tape was made public, top officials at CAP received an exit memo from a young woman who'd just quit detailing the sexual harassment she experienced from Benton Strong, a manager on her team — harassment, she wrote, that management already knew about — and how she faced retaliation for reporting it.
"I surely expected better out of an organization that housed a national campaign on sexual assault."
In the email, the junior staffer, who asked that BuzzFeed News refer her to as Mary, which is part of the woman’s formal name, wrote that “on several occasions, myself and others on the team felt as if reporting had been a mistake and that the retaliation, worsening of already tenuous team dynamics, and treatment by supervisors outweighed the seemingly positive act of reporting sexual harassment in the workplace.” When contacted about this story, the woman confirmed the authenticity of the exit memo, but declined to comment further, except to respond on Saturday to a statement from CAP.
“CAP’s culture obscures its mission,” Mary wrote, toward the end of her memo. “All of this to say, I surely expected better out of an organization that housed a national campaign on sexual assault.”
For young Democrats in particular, the Center for American Progress is a training ground, a place to work in progressive politics and policy for a few years under some of the most well-known and well-connected operatives in Washington. “These are important relationships,” as one former staffer described it. “You go along and you get along and they help you get a new job later.”
Documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and interviews with 19 current and former staffers describe a chaotic internal culture, in which, according to a July 2016 memo written by CAP’s employee union, there were “several incidents of sexual harassment against several members of our unit.” The documents and interviews pull back the curtain on a culture in which young staffers felt there was a gap between the organization’s mission and its everyday realities.
The memo — which union leaders never delivered to Tanden, but used as talking points in a meeting with her — laid out what members saw as CAP’s failures, both broadly and in the specific case of Strong, who had recently left the organization:
The union wrote in its memo that while CAP “eventually took appropriate course of action,” management “failed to adequately address the situation.” And interviews with staffers suggest that the process at the time was messy.
According to the document, one proposal the union offered was that CAP hold a sexual harassment response training “in the immediate future” as well as periodically going forward. The union also wanted CAP to outline to staff how to report issues of harassment.
The union wrote in its memo that while CAP “eventually took appropriate course of action,” management “failed to adequately address the situation.”
Tanden refused, one former union member with intimate knowledge of the discussion told BuzzFeed News. “Neera’s approach was maybe we can start hosting brown bags with HR so people will feel more comfortable coming out and doing things. So they had almost a do-nothing approach. ... They said they would think about things that [the union brought up], and that was essentially it,” the former union member said.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, CAP said that they did not receive the memo at the time or since, and that “most of the allegations” laid out in the memo “were not stated” during the actual meeting.
“They raised the need for CAP to be a safe space; we specifically asked them if they had heard of any other case of harassment or improper conduct. Other than what had been reported to us, they could not provide any,” CAP said in the statement, noting that Strong only had two reports made against him during his time with the organization, and that the union had not spoken with Mary. CAP said the union would have “no way of knowing that” Strong was disciplined after the first report.
Joe McKendry for BuzzFeed News
CAP said that Tanden never refused to hold sexual harassment trainings, and that she had asked for union recommendations on improving trainings, but confirmed that she suggested hosting brown bags with HR in the context of the “need to ensure work was a safe space for CAP employees.” The organization pointed to a mandatory “inclusion” training they held in June 2016, which “included discussion of harassment,” while acknowledging that CAP received complaints that the training “was not sophisticated enough for our audience.”
Additionally, CAP said that they were “legally prohibited from making any unilateral changes to CAP policy” — including holding a new sexual harassment training or changing the organization’s sexual harassment policy — because of ongoing contract negotiations with the union. Two former union members noted that CAP could have engaged in a memorandum of agreement with the union to make changes to its sexual harassment policy or to add trainings, as they did when altering CAP’s overtime pay policy in January 2017.
CAP said in a statement that the union did not ask for a side agreement of that nature, so they did not pursue one. “If the union had asked us to negotiate a freestanding side agreement, as they did in the case of overtime policies, we would have done so,” they said.
“Our goal was to take steps that would address any concerns from the union,” CAP said, “but also respect the complainant’s request that we respect her privacy and not let details of the complaint get out.”
Not one of the 19 current and former employees interviewed for this story said they underwent workplace training about sexual harassment during their time at the organization. Five staffers mentioned the 2016 inclusion training, but said that it was focused on diversity and that discussion of sexual harassment was minimal.
CAP’s handling of the allegations against Strong came as a profound disappointment to the young progressive women who joined the organization, many of whom saw their jobs as an entrée to what they expected would be the Clinton White House.
In the first months of 2018, nearly two years after CAP’s employee union asked the organization to implement sexual harassment trainings, CAP released a new sexual harassment policy. Asked about this, CAP pointed to the collective bargaining process and said that CAP had asked the union to present “any proposed changes” to the policy. The union, which is under new management, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that they “delivered a complete and entirely revamped sexual harassment policy following management’s solicitation for input” in late 2017 and that the new policy included “many of the Union’s recommendations.”
“The Union believes that this new policy, combined with what the Union hopes to be a robust rollout that includes future compliance trainings and efforts to educate staff about their rights under the policy, has the potential for marked improvements,” union leadership said in the statement. “However, if the Union does not feel that CAP is living up to its progressive values on this or other workplace issues, it has not and will not hesitate to make management aware and advocate for positive change.”
A man walks into the Center for American Progress, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, at their office in Washington.
Jacquelyn Martin / AP
Founded by former Clinton campaign chair John Podesta in 2003, the Center for American Progress houses two groups, both of which work out of an office not far from the White House.
CAP, the main organization, focuses on policy; its campaign arm, the Center for American Progress Action Fund (CAP Action), works on advocacy. Tanden currently serves as the president of the sister organizations, which together employ more than 330 people. (CAP also controls ThinkProgress, an online progressive news organization fairly walled off from the main organization.)
CAP Action hired Strong in May 2014 as an associate director for communications, in what they call the “War Room,” a communications and advocacy shop that ultimately focused on the 2016 election during his time at the organization. Strong, a Seattle native, had run communications for the Washington State Democratic Party and the Climate Action Campaign, a grassroots group based in San Diego, before taking the job.
Two women filed complaints about Strong in 2016 — the first reported in May that Strong had asked several women on the team if they had been flashed or masturbated in front of and then mocked a woman in a team meeting for saying she had cried when it happened to her, and the second, Mary, reported that he had sent her a series of unwanted, sexually explicit text messages — according to interviews with current and former employees, as well as documents obtained by BuzzFeed News, including his personnel file.
Former Seattle Mayor Ed Murray speaks at a rally during the March for Science begins with a rally featuring speakers and events at Cal Anderson Park on April 22, 2017 in Seattle, Washington.
Karen Ducey / Getty Images
Shortly after the first woman — like Mary, a junior staffer in the War Room — reported Strong to HR in May 2016, Strong accepted a job with then–Seattle mayor Ed Murray, which was set to start on Aug. 1. In the weeks leading up to his departure from CAP, Strong also began sending sexual text messages to Mary, according to nine former staffers who viewed the messages or saw screenshots of them.
In her exit memo, Mary described receiving “lewd and inappropriate text messages” from Strong that caused her to feel “uncomfortable being in the workplace around him.”
Five former staffers told BuzzFeed News that they saw screenshots of a text in which Strong, a manager on Mary’s team (though not her direct supervisor), messaged Mary late at night saying that he wanted to perform oral sex on her. In other texts, Strong told Mary that he was discussing with several other male CAP staffers whether white women or black women were better at giving blow jobs; he repeatedly asked her to come over to his apartment or let him come over to hers for a drink; and he frequently made comments about her body. These messages were often interspersed with Strong asking Mary if he had crossed a “line” she had apparently drawn.
A friend of Mary’s, another former CAP employee who viewed the texts, said, “It was like incessant. ... It was like strings and strings of texts and her just being like ‘no no no.’”
In July 2016, after a work meeting and happy hour were held in Strong’s apartment building, Mary filed a complaint with CAP’s HR department. CAP said in a statement that this meeting was not mandatory and was in a “public common room at his apartment complex” in Strong’s apartment building, not his apartment itself.
In their statement, CAP said that after the report of “inappropriate text messages,” the HR department “immediately began an investigation of the incident, under the supervision of CAP’s general counsel and in consultation with outside employment law counsel. On the basis of our preliminary investigation, conducted over the course of a few hours that same day we received the report, we found that Mr. Strong had acted inappropriately, and told him not to return to the office, and not to retaliate against, or even contact, the complainant. He was escorted from the building that afternoon and never returned.”
She described retaliation she faced in the aftermath — including being asked whether she was “worth spending time or money on.”
Joshua Roberts / Reuters
In battleground states in the middle of the country, some Democrats watched with frustration as their party grabbed headlines last week with a splashy new lawsuit alleging a vast conspiracy between President Donald Trump and Russia.
The Democratic National Committee’s drumbeat of messaging on Trump and his relationship with Russia is wearing thin with some Democrats in purple states — particularly in the Midwest, where people on the ground say voters are uninterested and even turned off by the issue. The suit exposes a gap, they say, between the party’s strategy nationally and what Midwest Democrats believe will win elections in their state.
“The DNC is doing a good job of winning New York and California,” said David Betras, the Democratic county party chair in Mahoning County, Ohio, home to Youngstown. “I’m not saying it’s not important — of course it’s important — but do they honestly think that people that were just laid off another shift at the car plant in my home county give a shit about Russia when they don’t have a frickin’ job?”
Trump and Russia, Betras said, is the “only piece they’ve been doing since 2016. [Trump] keeps talking about jobs and the economy, and we talk about Russia.”
For some people working to elect Democrats in Midwestern swing states, the suit — which threads evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign, WikiLeaks, Russia, and Trump family members — prompted something akin to an eyeroll.
“I’m going to be honest; I don’t understand why they’re doing it,” said one campaign strategist in the Midwest of the DNC’s suit. “My sense was it was a move meant to gin up the donor base, not our voters. But it was the biggest news they’ve made in a while.”
Though he doesn’t see it hurting his campaign now, the strategist said, “I wouldn’t want to see something like this coming out of the DNC in October."
The suit is “politically unhelpful," another strategist in the Midwest said. "I haven’t seen a single piece of data that says voters want Democrats to relitigate 2016. ... The only ones who want to do this are Democratic activists who are already voting Democratic.”
A DNC spokesperson, Adrienne Watson, argued that the Democrats' focus in the midterms was far from Trump and Russia. Instead, she said, the party was "laser-focused on what matters most to Americans – good-paying jobs, affordable and accessible healthcare, and opportunity for all."
The party, Watson said, had been making "unprecedented investments in state parties, our tech infrastructure and base & rural communities — all things that haven’t been done by the DNC in almost a decade. This is our strategy for 2018 and it’s working."
Senator Claire McCaskill, fighting a tough reelection battle in Missouri, which Trump won by almost 20 points, called the DNC’s Russia suit a “silly distraction” through a spokesperson.
In places like Minnesota, for instance, where Trump lost only narrowly and his approval numbers have stayed flat, the state party says it plans to steer clear of him altogether with two Senate seats and an open governor’s race on the ballot. Messaging on Trump doesn’t do anything to move the needle, strategists there say.
And the Democratic Party’s attacks on Trump, especially when it comes to Russia, could even backfire in states Trump won handily — like Ohio, where the focus on taking the president down has kept some voters on the president’s side.
“Somehow we’ve made him into a blue-collar underdog billionaire,” said Betras, of Youngstown. “And people are rooting for him because he’s the underdog.”
Tom Perez, the DNC chair, defended the lawsuit as necessary and non-political, telling Meet the Press that "it's hard to put a price tag on preserving democracy." It would be "irresponsible," Perez said, not to file the suit.
“I don’t think it hurts,” said David Pepper, the chair of the Ohio Democratic Party. “If you have credible claims, you have a responsibility to pursue legal action. I think you have a day or two where [the suit] is the story, but that’s different from your overall message.”
In his state, at least, that message should stay far away from Russia, Pepper said — something he thinks the DNC understands.
“I wouldn’t have our candidates spending the fall talking about Russia or the suit or anything like that,” Pepper said. “They should be focused on health care, education, student debt. We shouldn’t divert the message from those topics to talk about Russia.”
As another Midwestern strategist put it: “I would say it’s a nice stunt — should raise a lot of money. Doesn't do much to change the calculus in the heartland.”
Colin Young-wolff / AP
A nonprofit internet library on Tuesday challenged MSNBC host Joy Reid’s claim that someone added anti-gay material to an archived version of her now-defunct blog.
In a statement, the Internet Archive, which maintains a digital archive of websites called the Wayback Machine, said that it had investigated the liberal commentator’s assertion in December 2017, following a request from her attorneys.
“When we reviewed the archives, we found nothing to indicate tampering or hacking of the Wayback Machine versions,” read the statement attributed to Internet Archive officer manager Chris Butler. “At least some of the examples of allegedly fraudulent posts provided to us had been archived at different dates and by different entities.”
Reid first publicly claimed that an “external actor” had “gained access to and manipulated” her old blog, called the Reid Report, in a statement to Mediaite Monday. According to the Internet Archive, Reid’s lawyers were unclear whether they believed the alteration had happened prior to the original site being taken down from the internet or within the Wayback Machine itself.
The newly surfaced posts, from 2005–2007, make reference to Anderson Cooper — who came out in 2012 — as “the gayest thing on TV,” state that “most straight people cringe at the sight of two men kissing,” and recount that the author was unable to attend Brokeback Mountain, a love story about two cowboys, because she “didn’t want to watch the two male characters having sex.”
In December, Reid apologized for a separate series of remarks on the Reid Report that were criticized as anti-gay.
The Wayback Machine is a digital archive of the World Wide Web that researchers and journalists rely on for its snapshots of defunct websites and previous iterations of extant ones. Website owners can opt out of their content being captured by the Wayback Machine through what’s called the robots exclusion standard, or “robots.txt.”
According to the statement by the Internet Archive, “A robots.txt exclusion request specific to the Wayback Machine was placed on the live blog” of the Reid Report after its correspondence with Reid’s lawyer. “That request was automatically recognized and processed by the Wayback Machine and the blog archives were excluded, unbeknownst to us (the process is fully automated).”
Neither Reid nor MSNBC immediately returned requests for comment.
Center for American Progress Action Fund President Neera Tanden at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Mike Segar / Reuters
Center for American Progress president and CEO Neera Tanden told staff in an email Tuesday evening that she is sorry, following a BuzzFeed News report late Monday on sexual harassment issues at the liberal think tank.
Tanden emailed all staff at CAP as well as its sister organization CAP Action, which is focused on politics and elections, twice on Tuesday. In the first email, Tanden claimed “inaccuracies” in the BuzzFeed News report, while declining to name them and stating that CAP had acted “quickly and decisively” in response to sexual harassment allegations at the organization.
By Tuesday evening, Tanden emailed staff to say that she had spoken to “members of our community” and “wanted to share some additional thoughts.” Tanden noted that CAP will hold an all-staff meeting Wednesday to discuss the issue in an “open and frank” way and also invited employees to share their thoughts on an anonymous Google Doc, noting “it’s sometimes hard for some to raise issues at All Staff.”
“I am deeply sorry that anyone has felt unsupported after having the courage to come forward,” Tanden wrote in an email to staff just before 8 p.m. ET. “When any staffer doesn’t feel comfortable or feels like they are being badly treated, that’s a problem for us. It is our commitment to continue to learn and work harder to ensure we have a workplace where every single staffer feels comfortable. At the end of the day the most important thing is that our staff feel safe, supported, and listened to. That that didn’t happen is something that is on me to rectify for the future.”
Tanden added that CAP is working with the employee union to set up sexual harassment training at the company, after 19 current and former staffers told BuzzFeed News that they had not undergone such a training during their time at the organization. “We also recognize the need for ongoing discussion of issues related to harassment,” she wrote.
In closing her email, Tanden said that she would be available to talk with staff one-to-one and said, “CAP has been a proud leader in policy fights to create safe work environments, and we will be just as vigilant to ensure that we do that within our own walls.”
Tanden’s comments come after BuzzFeed News reported late Monday about issues of sexual harassment at CAP, a major progressive organization in Washington, DC, as well as allegations of retaliation by the women who reported the harassment.
Those reports of harassment centered on Benton Strong, a former communications employee with CAP, who was suspended with pay for three days — through his end date at the organization — after he was reported to the human resources department for sending sexually explicit text messages to a junior staffer. Strong had also been reported to HR two months earlier for asking female staff if they had been flashed or masturbated in front of by a stranger and mocking one woman who said she cried as a result of that happening to her.
A spokesperson for CAP declined to comment on the emails Tuesday.
Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters
A prominent liberal donor is trying to connect the kinds of donors who write big checks with data about what races are most promising for Democrats.
The “Take Back Congress Hub,” a subscription-based online tool to identify House races most likely to flip in 2018, was commissioned and funded by power couple Susan Sandler and Steve Phillips, who are Democratic donors and activists. Phillips is expected to announce the project Wednesday at a talk in Washington, DC, with Sen. Cory Booker.
Phillips told BuzzFeed News that amid new liberal energy and what is already a dramatic increase in Democratic fundraising, a need arose for donors to gain clarity about how to maximize the resources in the effort to take back the House from the Republican Party, free from emotion. Many donors are new to politics and risk being swayed by a powerful or compelling narrative, without relying enough on empirical data to make decisions, he said.
The project is the latest in a variety of projects and programs focused on capturing enthusiasm and flipping the House, from the traditional party establishment group like the DCCC (which has a “red-to-blue” program) to newer grassroots-oriented groups like Swing Left, which has helped send general election money to a series of targeted swing districts.
Why is this one different? People working on the tool argue that, first, the methodology is "more elaborate"; second, the tool emphasizes existing activist groups in the district; and, lastly, this has a different audience: major donors rather than people looking to contribute, for instance, $25.
Using an algorithm integrating 22 statistical variables (e.g., demographics, individual vote history, date of voter registration, partisan index scores, and how individual voters changed their vote from 2012 to 2016). So far the project has highlighted 38 races in 15 states. In one example seen by BuzzFeed News, the algorithm identified Florida's 26th District as one of the most flippable in the country. It notes while Rep. Carlos Curbelo is the incumbent, several factors point to his vulnerability in November: Curbelo is Cuban, but Cuban voters have been trending less Republican the last four cycles, and he’s been one of the most endangered members for years. All of the major prediction think tanks are rating the race as a toss-up. The voting model predicted that the Democrat will beat Curbelo and that unlikely voters will increase the vote total.
The tool also gives donors the ability to contribute directly to grassroots organizations that are working to turn out voters in advance of the primary.
Phillips spoke of donors scrambling to figure out what they can do and on what areas they should focus their attention leading up to the midterms — and not having a lot of guidance in that vein. “There’s a lot of unclarity on that question,” said Phillips, who has fashioned a profile as an under-the-radar herald of the progressive movement. “It’s really addressing that question that a lot of donors had about where to focus and trying to put some empirical data behind that answer.”
This is also part of Phillips’s larger mission to expand fairness in the party and push higher powers to invest more in turning out base voters. Phillips said his thoughts on data go back to dramatic shifts in the party going back to Jesse Jackson’s emergence in Democratic politics and how demographic changes more than doubled his vote total from 1984 to 1988. The Obama phenomenon was simply an extension of that dynamic so few people seem to understand, Phillips said.
The project is another collaboration with Julie Martínez Ortega, who in 2014 conducted through PowerPAC+ the first-ever audit of the Democratic Party’s consultant spending. The results were embarrassing: The study found that of the $500 million the party spent on the 2008 and 2012 elections, just 2% went to minority-owned firms.
“The real thrust of it is to try to move away from the sentiment of the donors and to have a very sober analysis so that people can have objective measures on which to make their decisions,” Martínez Ortega told BuzzFeed News.
But it also reflects an effort for more efficiency among the donor class. “The most frustrating part is that people have not been empirically based,” despite advances in technology, said Phillips. “Most Democratic politics is still not driven by numbers or data. That’s what we’re really trying to bring to this.”