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Booker Doesn’t Regret Fundraising With Jared And Ivanka In 2013, But “Wouldn't Take A Dime From Them Now”


Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

In the wildly different world of just four years ago, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump raised $41,000 for then-Senate hopeful Cory Booker — and even hosted a fundraiser for him in their home on Park Avenue.

Does Booker regret that relationship now that they're heavily scrutinized advisers in the divisive (and Republican) Trump White House?

“No,” he told the hosts of BuzzFeed News podcast Another Round on Saturday. “Listen, I wouldn't take a dime from them now, but this was a time when they were Democrats. I mean, they were supporting Hillary Clinton, uh, and the Kushner family were big New Jersey Democrats, and really helped to fight against Chris Christie and a lot of other folks.”

He added that he was not the only national Democrat the couple gave money to, that he doesn’t think “there's any problem with taking money from Democrats,” and that “no one” would have imagined in 2013 that they would go on to become Trump White House advisers. He said he had not had a conversation with Kushner or Trump “really since the — since well before the election.”

“I literally have people saying, ‘I'm unfollowing you on Facebook 'cause you are in league with the Kushners, and the Trumps,' and I'm like, ‘What planet are you from? Are you listening to the media here?’ I'm leading, in the Senate, criticism of those folks,” Booker said. “So that's what you, that's what folks don't seem to understand.”

The Senate fundraiser has been a minor point of contention this year — illustrative to some progressives of the connections between some Democrats, like Booker, and the big-money donors, based in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, who have traditionally funded Democratic campaigns, and who come with their own set of priorities. Bernie Sanders’ surprise success of a campaign — in which he raised more than $100 million on the strength of small donations — further exacerbated the tension within the Democratic Party about what kinds of money should be accepted and from whom. The New Jersey senator said on Saturday he does not take donations from pharmaceutical executives, but also defended fundraising in general as part of the current political system.

“Look, it is hard, in this horrible system we have,” he said, “that is so ruled, especially thanks to Citizens United, with all of this outrageous money flowing into politics. It is hard.”

Listen to the exchange and look for the full interview from Another Round soon.

The full interview will be released soon. Subscribe to BuzzFeed's Another Round podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you find your podcasts, so you don't miss it.

Booker, a former football player at Stanford, also said he would allow a son of his to play football. (Booker does not have children.)

Tracy Clayton: You were, you played football. I tried to be fancy, and I–

Cory Booker: The older I get the better I was.

TC: Ahh. So, since you were playing football, there's been a lot of information and a lot of research done on how dangerous—

CB: Oh this is a very good question, I -

TC: It is -

CB: I get this a lot.

TC: Yeah. So like the whole concussion, CTE type thing.

CB: Yes.

TC. If you knew then what you know now, would you yourself play, and, should you have a son, and he wanted to play—

Heben Nigatu: With Mindy Kaling.

TC: She said that part; I didn't.

HN: Should you have a potential son.

TC: If you were counseling a, a, male child, who wanted to play football, would you recommend he do it, with the risks?

CB: So, uh, I owe so much to that sport, and especially to my teammates in high school, and college, and my high school coaches, I always joke that I got into Stanford because of a 4.0, 1600: 4.0 yards per carry, 1,600 receiving yards.

TC: Sports joke, I get it! That's funny.

CB: Oh, thank you very much. Um, so, I, so much of who I am today is built on that foundation and when I was at the Brick Towers reunion, right before here, there were some young kids who were being coached in Pop Warner football, and I think that's great. I think that the kind of concussions that we're talking about, the kind of force that people are hitting with, that's, that's at the later levels where you get these athletes now that are so many stronger and faster than my generation were. So, I would let my child play football. Um, I think I would worry about them if they had the same trajectory as I did. I stood on the sidelines of, um, a Stanford football game recently and I'm like, "You guys are defying physics." You know, masses that large should not move that quickly, and the collisions, I was like, "Whoa." So I think that we have a lot of research to do to see if there's anything we can do to minimize the kind of damages, I give a lot of credit to referees now that will call people out for things like spearing and others, but I think I would let my child play.

And Booker responded at length to whether he is the "Anne Hathaway of politics," as well as some various commentary about Les Miserables.

HN: Are you familiar with Anne Hathaway?

CB: Am I familiar with Anne Hathaway? The New Jersey born and raised—

TC: Shoutout to Jersey!

HN: Yes!

CB: Who, who, who, I'm telling you in Les Mis she tore up that song "On my Own."

HN: Yes, yes.

TC: Mmm, mmmm.

CB: You don't think she did a good version of “On My Own”?

TC: Listen, after you've seen Les Mis, like the play the play, you can't look at that movie and be happy about it, you can't.


TC: You know, like, New Jersey aside, but listen—

CB: But you know how they filmed that play, amazing, I've never seen a musical done, they didn't do this for Rent, the movie, they literally played the music and played the music, and it wasn't dubbed over, the actors were singing it.

TC: That's why the movie wasn't good. But you know what? Let's have a spirited debate about this later—

HN: I lost—

TC: I will talk about Les Mis forever.

HN: My point, my point—

CB: I sincerely, I sincerely, I, I welled up when I heard Anne Hathaway sing that song.

TC: Oh bless your heart, you're so sweet.

CB: It was so powerful! And you know I played it in the shower, “On my own…”

TC: We going to get you the soundtrack, okay, this is such a good -

CB: You and I would have a duet right now.

TC: I mean, we can, but I was thrown off by your bad musical opinions—

HN: Wow, wow.

TC: But I wasn't—

CB: Ouch, ouch.

HN: Anyways.

TC: Everybody calm down!

CB: I wanna see your Spotify playlist! Let's do it right now.

TC: Uhhh...

HN: Listen, when we get through this interview. My point in bringing her up—

CB: You didn't know you were going to insinuate—

HN: I did not know there would be a Les Mis fight. I feel like, okay, I feel like, Anne Hathaway, she's from Jersey, she works hard—

CB: Can I tell you a little gossip?

TC: Can we hold the gossip?

CB: Wow, you want to hold the gossip.

TC: Hey! We have a lot of important questions.

CB: I was going to tell you about somebody she kissed.

TC: Was it you?

CB: No—

TC: We'll talk about it later then, it's fine.


Cb: No, okay I'm sorry.

HN: My point is—

CB: I felt good that I had like, I had celebrity gossip, I rarely have any celebrity gossip.

TC: We do want it. We do want the gossip.

HN: Anne Hathaway, from Jersey—

CB: You just stole my big moment, but go ahead—

HN: Works hard, she works hard, she wins Oscars, but for some reason there's a strain of conversation around her that's like, “She's just trying too hard,” is maybe the criticism? I can't quite sum it up. Do you ever feel like you're the Anne Hathaway of politics? Like people—

CB: Wow. Wow.

HN: People are like, he's from Jersey, he works hard, he's out here, you know.

TC: You have the gossip though.

HN: He's doing all the things—

CB: I don't know what to say.

TC: Okay, okay, we are not saying—

CB: I just heard Anne Hathaway dissed royally—

HN: Noooo.

TC: Hey, listen

CB: Like the Les Mis, singing Anne Hathaway, that's just terrible.

TC: Okay Senator Booker, here's the thing. We are not calling you “the Anne Hathaway of politics.”

CB: Okay good.

TC: The thing about—

HN: I live for the Princess Diaries.

TC: No, yeah.

HN: Also Anne Hathaway.

TC: I see nothing wrong with Anne Hathaway, she seems to be a good actress who's good at her job, who gets awards.

CB: Okay.

TC: I would say the same thing about you as a politician, but I feel like a lot of people are like, “He's just too nice, he's too earnest, he's, something's off about how good-hearted he seems to be be.” And maybe it's just that you know, charming men, you aren't, you know, I don't trust a charming man. Except for you and my father, the only two.

CB: Okay.

TC: Um, but like have you heard this criticism about yourself? Is this the first time?

CB: This hurts, this is the first time.

TC: But we didn't say—

CB: No I'm joking, I'm joking, I'm joking. Look, I just like, you know look, what matters, and at the end of the day I think all of us, what matters to me and what I advise young people all the time is to be the boldest unapologetic authentic version of yourself. It was one of our presidents who said, “Everyone is born an original but sadly most die copies.” You know, I, I don't, I'm not gonna—

I don't care what people say about me, critiques or whatever. I just gotta be me, and frankly you know parts I feel good about my life and career is when I didn't listen to people that told me, “Don't do that because it might not work out or might not be good for your career.” I've just kind of been myself, and let the chips fall where they may. And, again, you can't be in politics without getting a lot of criticism from a lot of different corners, um, and so I've heard an array of criticism about myself. Um, and you kind of just have to say, “That's a good sign if you're criticizing me, that means I'm getting stuff done,” you know. And I'm like, you know, I'm only three, four years into my senate career, but I love going home to Newark.

Conservatives Planning CPAC-Style Conference Focused On Minority Engagement


Spencer Platt / Getty Images

A group of conservative activists focused on policy issues concerning people of color are planning a CPAC-style conference in Washington, DC, designed to engage minority Republican voters in 2018 and 2020.

The Multicultural Policy and Political Action Conference is a first-of-its-kind conference being led by veteran Republican operatives Aaron Manaigo and Elroy Sailor.

Black Republicans are split on whether they should push their priorities amid widespread turmoil inside the White House at the staff level, and an investigation into Russia's role in the 2016 election. The conference illustrates how some conservative constituency groups are struggling to navigate the era — turning to 2018 as a pivot after originally talking about the presidency as the opportunity to advance an agenda.

The purpose of the conference, not made public until now, echoes a sentiment inside the party's black leadership that advancement means fewer fights with the White House, and finding other ways to get access to power. "The administration has shown that black Republicans don't matter to them," said one party activist who requested anonymity to speak freely. "It's a question now of, Do we work around them, or do we get in where we fit in?"

The conference hopes to help conservative groups "build institutional capacity" and promote conservative values "inspired" by policy initiatives.

A memo provided to BuzzFeed News reads: "The MPAC USA conference will bring together a broad spectrum of multicultural Republican/Conservative operatives; grass-roots activists; organizations elected officials; and policy subject matter experts, for a series of in-depth discussions on the most feasible options, strategy and tactics to positively impact the 2018/2020 election cycles. This conference will provide the Republican Party leadership with an opportunity to directly address the collective of minority cohort Republican/Conservative supporters."

The two-day conference will feature an awards ceremony and will host the Republican National Committee's annual "Trailblazer" luncheon, typically held during Black History Month. It will feature talks on Trump's legislative agenda, foreign policy, national security, and engaging young minority voters.

Manaigo and Sailor have been two of the party's biggest proponents of pushing the GOP to fight for minority votes. Sources familiar with the planning say they intend to emphasize that a major factor in improving minority engagement is the promotion of parallel conservative and cultural values. According to the memo, recommendations from private strategy sessions will be drafted and shared with stakeholders at the federal, state, and local levels.

Sailor did not respond to a request for comment.

Michael Steele, the former chair of the Republican Party, said that irrespective of how difficult the political climate is now or may be a year from now, it should not impede black Republicans from staying active, and getting behind viable candidates or opportunities that arise.

“What the 2018 political environment holds for black Republicans is an opportunity to show strength in numbers and demonstrate the ability to point out, get behind and elect highly qualified black candidate at all levels of government," said Steele.

It's unclear if a date has been finalized, but a source said the conference was still in the planning phase.

Black Police Officers’ Group: Sessions Understood Trump’s Comments Weren’t Helpful


Sessions' public remarks on Tuesday.

Jessica Mcgowan / Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff Sessions acknowledge in a private meeting that President Trump’s comments to a law enforcement group in New York “didn’t do a lot to support what we’re attempting to do,” according to Perry Tarrant, the president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

Sessions — whose future as attorney general is, by the president’s own account, uncertain — spoke publicly on Tuesday in Atlanta to black law enforcement officials, then met privately for 25 minutes with the law enforcement advocacy group eager for a seat at the table when issues that impact law enforcement are decided at the federal level.

Trump annoyed many in the law enforcement community when he said late last week that officers need not “be so nice” when handling people taken into custody. According to a source inside the room, Sessions noted that Trump was not a member of the profession and said he made the comments in jest, as White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders has also contended this week. (NOBLE was among the national organizations who responded to Trump, saying they did not share his views.)

Reached Tuesday evening, a Justice Department official referred BuzzFeed News to Sessions’ public statements.

Tarrant described Sessions as authentic, talkative, and thoughtful during the exchange, saying that he former senator spoke at length about his background as a lawyer and prosecutor, seeming to want to make the connection with the NOBLE leadership board.

Tarrant also said that his group sought to gauge the attorney general’s interest and support of their public stances on consent decrees and use-of-force guidelines. A source familiar with the planning said Sessions’ office initially requested the meeting and wanted to do lunch.

On Tuesday afternoon, Sessions focused his remarks to the group mostly on the theme of reducing crime. “We have your back,” Sessions said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re in this together.”

In the meeting, Sessions was asked if he was familiar with two of the group’s main priorities. The group wanted to know what use-of-force guidelines he supported or if he had have concerns about what Tarrant describes as the “model policy” the group wants to see implemented. That policy emphasizes officer training in de-escalation and problem-solving tactics, and promotes the use of less lethal tools like pepper spray and tasers.

Tarrant said comments like Trump’s can have a “chilling” effect on processes that can result in more safety for officers and civilians alike, but that Sessions was receptive to the concerns of NOBLE, which is set to have a changeover in leadership.

The group and Sessions agree that there is a problem with the over-application of some consent decrees, which can tend to be a financial burden. Tarrant agreed with a Sessions sentiment that inside police departments it can be “demoralizing” to be told that you’re not good enough.

“I think he has a better understanding of NOBLE and our bandwidth and tenacity and commitment to being the conscience of law enforcement” in the United States, Tarrant said.

This Is Probably The Only Story You Didn't Hear About First From Bradd Jaffy And Kyle Griffin


Kiersten Essenpreis for BuzzFeed News

At 7:36 a.m. on May 18, Time executive editor Matt Vella tweeted the magazine’s weekly cover, an image perfectly engineered to generate fodder for cable news and unleash screenshots across Twitter: the onion domes and red paint of Moscow's St. Basil Cathedral spreading across the south-facing columns of the White House — Russia literally taking over America.

But Vella’s viral tweet was immediately overshadowed.

Seconds later, Kyle Griffin, a producer for MSNBC's The Last Word, grabbed the cover image and tweeted it to his 200,000-plus followers with a splash of knowing commentary: "Oh boy. The new cover of @TIME went there," he wrote. Griffin’s tweet has more than 43,000 retweets and 89,000 likes.

For those who follow his account, the tweet is vintage Griffin: a nugget of breaking news, packaged tightly with a line of inoffensive but somewhat incredulous analysis — as if to say, 'omg, I know.’

He's not alone. Bradd Jaffy — an editor and writer for the NBC Nightly News broadcast — has become a Twitter celebrity with a similar string of obsessive viral news posts. Jaffy boasts a larger following than Griffin, with about 245,000 followers. The two men, who at MSNBC and NBC Nightly News work in different parts of the company, are said to share something of a rivalry, according to sources. (NBCUniversal is an investor in BuzzFeed.)

Be it a press conference on Capitol Hill, cabinet meeting pool spray from the White House, Trump golf outing, or fiery segment on Morning Joe — you’ll see it first from Jaffy or Griffin. When a reporter in the NBC News operation has an exclusive, Jaffy or Griffin are often first to post the relevant details. Between the two, they somehow manage to tweet virtually every piece of news and opinion of the day — from a fact-check of that morning’s controversial Trump tweet, to a late-night Washington Post or New York Times bombshell report — and always with plenty of screenshots.

As news cycles grow faster and more overwhelming, Jaffy and Griffin have become feeds of record for obsessive political journalists and casual Twitter users alike. Their relentless output, which, in a different environment, might have felt exhausting, is now a mooring force for a growing number who feel bombarded by breaking news and fear they might miss the next bombshell. The two are hardly the only journalists to tweet breaking news, to be sure. But in a presidency that plays out primarily over Twitter and cable news, Jaffy and Griffin were already in perfect position at Trump’s media nexus with all the resources of the internet and a multinational broadcast organization.

“They are the AP and Reuters of Twitter,” said Yashar Ali, a political operative and fundraiser turned freelance journalist, who is an obsessive political Twitter user in his own right. “There's so much news that's breaking every day in so many different areas that they help reporters stay on top of the news.”

While much has been written about the chaos of the administration and its boon for investigative journalists and Trump-savvy reporters like the Washington Post's David Fahrenthold and the New York Times' Maggie Haberman, Jaffy and Griffin have also entered that space through sharp news curation and the centralized delivery of what’s happening in a given day. On Twitter, they’re widely known. Celebrities retweet them. ("I have a couple of go-to Twitter accounts that I check as soon as I wake up in the morning,” said actor Alyssa Milano. “One is Kyle Griffin's feed and the other is Bradd Jaffy's.”) The pair’s tweets travel so far and wide that two people interviewed for this piece mistakenly thought they were following Jaffy and Griffin when in fact they were not.

"Bradd and Kyle are both indispensable talents,” said an NBC News spokesperson. “While they're in different roles they understand the benefits of using multiple platforms to get news out and we are fortunate to have them.”

The spokesperson said that Jaffy and Griffin did not wish to be interviewed for this story, but that they understood the interest.

That interest has come with criticism, particularly from some other journalists, who see Jaffy and Griffin as using the work they do to amass more Twitter followers. A bevy of Twitter complaints follow from these critics: They over-screenshot (like three paragraphs of a competing outlet’s story); they throw one emoji in a quote tweet (like the eyes emoji); they use a tweet to simply identify an easily identifiable figure (like former Attorney General Eric Holder).

While there’s no strict formula for a Jaffy and Griffin tweet, an examination of their body of work reveals a few tried and true templates:

The Screenshotter:

If a bombshell story drops, there’s a good chance Jaffy and Griffin are halfway through reading it before you’ve even seen the link. The pair use that speed to their advantage, running through the stories or relevant documents and screenshotting the money sentences and paragraphs. When used sparingly, the tweets are an excellent, fawning bit of promo for a big story, teasing a juicy tidbit that is used to share the story far and wide. On occasion, the screenshots pick the story over completely, making every relevant detail available to the reader without the need to click through.

This has created an environment where some journalists complain that Jaffy and Griffin are “capitalizing on real reporters' work to enhance their own Twitter clout,” as one reporter told BuzzFeed News.

The Point-and-Gawk:

Seizing on a piece of breaking news that’s just come across Twitter, Jaffy and Griffin amplify it, but first make sure to add their own flair, usually in the form of an eyes emoji or a downward pointing emoji finger. These have quickly become the most polarizing of the pair’s style of tweets. Critics — many of them other reporters — see it as as drafting off the success of someone else’s tweets. They see Griffin or Jaffy’s emojis as ways of adding their own brand on top of someone making or breaking actual news while adding very little value of their own.

But the pair’s most loyal followers see it differently and for them, a Jaffy/Griffin’s point-and-gawk is the Twitter equivalent of a flare to signal attention that’s reminiscent of another bloggers’ famous siren. Two reporters independently likened them to the infamous conservative aggregator Matt Drudge for their ability to take the reporting of others and use it to set narratives.

The Second-Hand NBC Scoop:

Jaffy and Griffin’s speed has caused a good deal of stress for some of their colleagues at NBC News and MSNBC, who have complained that the two are employing proprietary company information to pump out news to their personal followings first. Some of Jaffy and Griffin’s colleagues gripe that the two take advantage of NBC’s internal news-gathering system, whereby network journalists file reporting for employees to use across various TV and digital platforms.

On May 30, for example, some colleagues were irked when Jaffy tweeted a screenshot of a few paragraphs of reporting — from NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams — as opposed to waiting for a story to be shaped from that reporting on NBC’s website.

Indeed, Jaffy and Griffin are so fast on Twitter that they sometimes post NBC’s reporting before the digital team can get stories online or tweeted from the house accounts. In other words, Jaffy and Griffin are able to grab the scoop — and the windfall of retweets that come with it.

On May 17, for example, Jaffy tweeted that Williams was reporting that former FBI director Robert Mueller had taken over the Justice Department’s Russia investigation. Jaffy was fast to the news — Williams’ Twitter account has been dormant for more than a year — and his tweet generated more than 2,000 retweets. Three minutes later, Jaffy tweeted again, this time with a link to the just-published story on NBCNews.com. That tweet received fewer than 300 retweets.

Network sources say staffers have been critical internally of the practice.

“It’s frustrating because they are tweeting internal information. It hasn’t been published on our website,” said one network source. “It hasn’t been on MSNBC. At the end of the day, it’s not your info — it’s info that is for the network’s platforms.”

Another source said that Jaffy and Griffin aren’t breaking any internal rules by being fast, and are following the editorial standards guidance as to what is “reportable” or not.

The Viral TV Clip:

As TV producers, Jaffy and Griffin have at their fingertips the kind of digital tools to quickly get a clip from cable news on to Twitter, a valuable skill in the cable news presidency. In March, for instance, Jaffy tweeted: “Watch this. John Lewis is shouting on the House floor: I’ll ‘fight every day…I oppose this bill with every breath and every bone in my body.’” It generated more than 20,000 retweets.

One of Griffin’s biggest tweets came in May, when he tweeted a two-minute clip of James Corden’s reaction to the bombing in Manchester. “Emotional message from James Corden on the tragedy in Manchester. Take the time to watch,” Griffin tweeted. The tweet received more than 20,000 retweets.

There’s no question that Jaffy and Griffin’s style works on Twitter. Network sources said they recognize the impressive nature of Jaffy and Griffin’s dedication, and they marvel at the duo’s ability to tweet around the clock while also conducting fairly time consuming day jobs. Jaffy, for his part, is essentially Lester Holt’s writer, helping to craft the copy for the all-important 22-minute nightly news broadcast on NBC. Griffin is a segment producer for Lawrence O’Donnell’s 10 p.m. primetime show on MSNBC, making his early morning tweets all the more remarkable. Both are said to be well liked by colleagues.

Top executives at the network have discussed Jaffy and Griffin's popularity and at least one executive is said to be irked by the success of their personal brands at the expense of NBC's own, according to a network source. But for the time being, nobody has called either off from enriching their personal brands. Sources also say that Jaffy is highly regarded among top producers and is particularly close to another rising star: Katy Tur, who rose to prominence during the Trump campaign.

Some NBC insiders also credit Jaffy and Griffin for being self-starters at a time when the broadcaster is still trying to figure out its digital strategy.

“The challenge NBC has is that digital is still a backwater,” said one former employee. “The focus is on air.”

(A company spokesperson said that NBC News has hired at least 50 people this year to focus on digital and highlighted examples like “Left Field,” a new digital video journalism unit.)

At competing networks, there’s a sense of admiration for the pair and even hints of jealousy that they are able to so effectively push viral cable news clips into Twitter at speed. “I'm surprised there aren't more people like them,” said one reporter from a rival network. “Obsessive, savvy about social, with a keen eye for breaking news and hypocrisy and flip flops. Newsrooms need more people like them right now.”

Jon Favreau, the former director of speechwriting for President Obama and cohost of the popular Pod Save America podcast, said that he loves following Jaffy and Griffin on Twitter. “I just appreciate all the helpful updates they send out!” Favreau said.

If the critics see Jaffy and Griffin’s Twitter personas as formulaic, their fans see the two as offering a stable, concentrated place to find out what’s going on.

“I don't understand the backlash. It's so bizarre to me — to spend time worrying about two guys who are tweeting,” Ali said.

Former Reuters social media editor Anthony De Rosa, one of the pioneers of the social media editor role back in the early 2010s, acknowledged that the pair is continuing the legacy of being a kind of breaking news tour guide, despite the fact that the job of social media editor largely been subsumed by more traditional editors and newsrooms.

“The need for this kind of information hasn't diminished,” he said. “I think those guys definitely take that same approach where they're not just pushing their own organizations stories but trying to be the kind of person who tells you what's going on regardless of organization.”

As the chaos inside the White House intensifies, Griffin and Jaffy's roles seem only to grow in importance. For example, in the last 30 days — which included the tumultuous 10-day tenure of Anthony Scaramucci — Griffin gained more than 30,000 followers. Proof that, the wilder things get in Washington, the more valuable the tweets. For the pair, that realization appears to be bittersweet. "Tonight was the first weeknight in I can't remember how long without major breaking news," Griffin tweeted just after midnight on Tuesday morning. "It was equal parts wonderful and unsettling." ●

Bipartisan Groups Of Senators Are Introducing Bills To Make Firing The Special Counsel More Difficult


Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing members of the U.S. Senate on his investigation.

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Republican and Democratic senators are introducing a pair of bills aimed at making it more difficult for President Trump to fire the special counsel investigating him — another sign of growing willingness in Congress to push back against the president.

Sens. Thom Tillis and Chris Coons — both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee — introduced the Special Counsel Integrity Act on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Sens. Lindsey Graham, Cory Booker, Sheldon Whitehouse and Richard Blumenthal introduced a similar bill — the Special Counsel Independence Protection Act — on Thursday as well.

The Tillis-Coons bill would allow for court review of any firing of any special counsel, and is similar to a provision in the independent counsel law that Congress let expire in the 1990s.

The Graham-Booker-Whitehouse-Blumenthal bill would go a step further, requiring the attorney general to go to court seeking approval before removing any special counsel.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel earlier this year to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. As the investigation has continued and expanded, Trump has expressed anger over the broad direction and handling of the investigation, raising questions of whether he would — at some point — attempt to remove Mueller or otherwise push for his removal.

The Tillis-Coons bill is explicitly retroactive to May 17 (the day Mueller was appointed).

Sen. Thom Tillis

Aaron P. Bernstein / Reuters

"It is critical that special counsels have the independence and resources they need to lead investigations," Tillis said in a statement. Tillis said the bill's aim — to "prevent unmerited removals of special counsels" — "not only helps to ensure their investigatory independence, but also reaffirms our nation’s system of check and balances."

The legislation would allow any fired special counsel to challenge the removal in federal court.

"Ensuring that the special counsel cannot be removed improperly is critical to the integrity of his investigation," Coons said in a statement regarding his support for the legislation.

Under Justice Department regulations, a special counsel can only be removed for good cause. The legislation would make those regulations into law, stating that a special counsel could only be removed for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause, including violation of policies of the Department of Justice."

Under the Tillis-Coons legislation, a three-judge panel would review any challenged removal within two weeks of it being challenged, determining whether there was "good cause" for the removal. If the panel finds there was not good cause, under the bill, the special counsel would be reinstated.

The Graham-led bill would require the attorney general to go to court seeking approval for the removal of any special counsel.

As with the current regulations and the Tillis-Coons bill, removal would only be allowed for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or other good cause, including violation of policies of the Department of Justice." With the Graham-led bill, though, a three-judge panel's court order finding such cause would be required before removal would be allowed. A decision of the three-judge panel could be appealed directly to the Supreme Court.

Additionally, under the Graham-led bill, notice of the court filing would have to be provided to the House and Senate judiciary committees at that time.

Corey Lewandowski Denies Payday Lending Ties After Ohio Speech


Corey Lewandowski

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Corey Lewandowski, a close political adviser to President Donald Trump who is facing scrutiny over his business interests, denied after a speech in Cleveland on Thursday that he is actively working with an Ohio-based payday lending company.

But the denial only came when Lewandowski was pressed by reporters — not by audience members who demanded answers during the City Club of Cleveland’s time-honored Q&A session.

The New York Times reported this week that Lewandowski’s new consulting firm was pursuing a contract with Community Choice Financial. The link raised eyebrows, because days earlier Lewandowski had used an appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press to urge Trump to fire Richard Cordray, the former Ohio attorney general who — as director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — has a role in regulating the payday lending industry.

The call to dump Cordray came out of nowhere — in response to a question about the ousting of White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus — and prompted host Chuck Todd to ask whether Lewandowski had a client or business interest affected by federal financial regulations.

Lewandowski, who was Trump’s first campaign manager, said then that he did not. On Thursday, he danced around pointed questions from two City Club attendees.

Asked by one questioner if Community Choice is one of his clients, yes or no, Lewandowski dodged by saying that, regardless of Cordray’s status as CFPB chief, “I don’t make one dime on that decision.” He then went on to bash Cordray, who is being mentioned as a potential Democratic candidate for governor in Ohio if he leaves the federal agency.

A few minutes later, another audience member pressed Lewandowski to directly answer the Community Choice question and another he had sidestepped. Lewandowski got testy in his response: "If you want to have a discussion back and forth, we can do that, but let me tell you how that works. When you get the podium, you get to talk as long as you want."

Several in the crowd groaned loudly as Lewandowski again declined to answer definitively.

Afterward, Lewandowski took questions during a 20-minute meeting with reporters. Asked then about Community Choice, Lewandowski began with his “I haven’t been paid a dime” line.

Pressed further, Lewandowski acknowledged that the payday lender was a client of his previous firm, Avenue Strategies, but said a draft contract between Community Choice and his new firm, Lewandowski Strategic Advisors, was never executed. “Correct,” Lewandowski replied when one reporter asked if that meant the company was not currently a client of his new firm.

But has he offered advice to Community Choice?

“I give advice all the time to all kinds of people,” Lewandowski said. “I give advice — free advice — all the time. And when people call me, you know what I do? I answer their telephone calls.”

Pressed once more on whether he was a consultant to the company, Lewandowski bristled. “I could do it in a different language if you’re having a hard time with English, but here’s what I’m telling you: They were a client under my previous firm. I left the firm in May.”

US Rep. Jim Renacci (left) joined Corey Lewandowski for a meeting with reporters in Cleveland on Thursday.

Henry J. Gomez / BuzzFeed News

Lewandowski, who was not paid for his City Club appearance, does have political business in Ohio. He was scheduled to headline a Thursday evening fundraiser for Rep. Jim Renacci, one of four Republicans running for governor next year. Renacci, a four-term congressman and wealthy former businessman who emphasizes his private-sector experience, was one of the few prominent Republicans in the state to back Trump enthusiastically last fall. Lewandowski’s fundraising assist is one of several signals of support from Trump’s political orbit.

“I would love to see Jim be the next governor of Ohio, because career politicians have had their opportunity for a long time to fix things,” Lewandowski told reporters.

The City Club prides itself as a champion of free speech and civil dialogue. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama addressed the nonpartisan organization while in office. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, runner-up for last year’s Democratic presidential nomination, spoke there earlier this year. But Lewandowski’s booking prompted outrage from progressive City Club supporters who wondered why a forum was given to a political operative who is known for making misleading statements, and for an accusation that he once assaulted a reporter.

Most of the 190 attendees were polite. Lewandowski shared tales from his time on the Trump campaign. Among the better tidbits: The effort by staffers to make McDonald’s runs — “two Filet-O-Fish, two Big Macs, and if we had a really good day what we call malteds [or milkshakes]” — and have the food back on Trump’s plane by the time a rally was over.

Lewandowski also offered some gentle critiques of the Trump administration, noting the lack of major legislation signed, and a lack of staff positions filled. “The administration does not move fast enough,” Lewandowski said. “That is a failure of this administration.”

He said Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s new chief of staff, “is exactly what this White House needs. You have put a person in place who is a leader of men and women, who has been to the battlefield.” He also said a change should have come three months ago.

The President Actually Has Enormous Power To Pardon Basically Whomever He Wants


Daniel Zalkus for BuzzFeed News

President Trump has yet to announce a grant of a single pardon or commutation.

But he already has signaled — in a Saturday morning tweet, of course — that his use of that power could be expansive. He wrote that everyone agrees he "has the complete power to pardon."

Here’s the thing: By and large, he’s not wrong.

The Constitution is short and to the point on pardon power: “[H]e shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment.”

The contours and confines of that power, however, are limited because only 43 people have ever exercised the federal pardon power. As with many aspects of presidential power, there have been limited challenges in court to the pardon power as a result — and scattered case law interpreting exactly what the American president’s pardon power means (and doesn’t mean).

The Supreme Court has, over time, heard several cases detailing the limits of the power. But not that many cases reach the Supreme Court, and that consideration has been limited to the specific cases that have reached it. The courts have made clear over time that presidents can pardon people before they’ve even been convicted of any crime; that any federal offense can be pardoned; and that presidents are given broad leeway in the type of relief they can grant — from temporary reprieves to full pardons to commutations to broad-based grants of amnesty.

The Supreme Court, however, has never definitively answered some key questions about the extent of the pardon power.

William Howard Taft, the one person in US history who served as both president and chief justice in his life, laid out a succinct description of the only real recourse to deal with a president who abuses the pardon power.

“Our Constitution confers this discretion on the highest officer in the nation in confidence that he will not abuse it,” Taft wrote in a 1925 decision for the Supreme Court. But what if a president did abuse it? Taft outlined a hypothetical scenario in which a president granted successive pardons to prevent a court from enforcing its orders. He was blunt with what the solution would be: “Exceptional cases like this if to be imagined at all would suggest a resort to impeachment rather than to a narrow and strained construction of the general powers of the President.”

To understand the pardon power in American government, how it’s been used, and its limits requires a wild trip through some of the most difficult and weirdest moments in US history.

Throughout it all, with rare exception, the answer to what the president can do when it comes to pardons is remarkably consistent:

Yes, he can do that.

William Howard Taft shown seated here in his office.

George Rinhart / Getty Images

The Convention

At the outset, the founding fathers decided to grant the president extremely broad pardon powers. As Jeffrey Crouch details in his book, The Presidential Pardon Power, the constitutional convention rejected several proposals to limit the pardon power over the course of the drafting.

The states rejected a proposal to require Senate consent for pardons. The convention rejected a requirement that would have limited the president to granting pardons only “after conviction.”

“Some at the 1787 constitutional convention in Philadelphia argued that granting the president the unlimited power to pardon in cases of treason was too dangerous,” Capital University Law School professor Daniel Kobil wrote recently. Many of the delegates saw the dangers possible from such a power — but, Kobil notes, “they could not identify an acceptable compromise and so the federal system vests the power to pardon treason in the president.”

Some of the concerns regarding pardons for treason, as set forth in the records of the convention, included circumstances in which the president himself or his associates could be involved.

“The President may himself be guilty. The Traytors [sic] may be his own instruments,” some argued.

The response to that argument: “If he be himself a party to the guilt he can be impeached and prosecuted.” That became the guiding principle of the pardon power — drawn, in many ways, from British history and the king’s authority to pardon. The constitutional convention’s only real exception to the president’s pardon power is that pardons do not extend to “cases of impeachment.”

Getty Images

The Civil War

As the Civil War continued into its second year, President Lincoln began issuing grants of amnesty to those people who had supported or in some way aided the secession, a practice Johnson continued after the Civil War. Although some of the initial grants were made with backing from Congress, the lawmakers later pushed back — seeking to limit the effects of the amnesty grants.

But as quickly as Congress could find news ways to limit the amnesty grants, the Supreme Court almost uniformly rejected them.

The Supreme Court announced in April 1870, for example, that a person who had “participated in the rebellion” could have previously confiscated property returned to them under a presidential grant of amnesty — exercised under the pardon power.

By that summer, Congress had passed a provision into law limiting the president’s amnesty power, asserting that “no pardon or amnesty granted by the President … shall be admissible in evidence” in court in an attempt to get back confiscated property.

But a year later, the Supreme Court held that Congress could not curtail either the court or the president’s powers like that.

The courts had previously determined that the amnesty grants could be used as evidence in attempts to get back confiscated property. Congress had, effectively, tried to reverse that by having “forbidden” the courts from using the clemency grant in that way. This went too far, Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase wrote (albeit using very soft language): “We must think that Congress has inadvertently passed the limit which separates the legislative from the judicial power.”

Additionally, Chase wrote that the law violated the pardon power: “To the executive alone is interested the power of the pardon; and it is granted without limit.” He added that “it is clear that the legislature cannot change the the effect of such a pardon any more than the executive can change a law.”

Still, during this period, the court established the first real limit to the pardon power. The Supreme Court held that a pardoned person could not use their pardon or amnesty grant as a way to get back property that had been taken from them if that property already had been transferred to a third party.

In 1877, the Supreme Court held that a pardon does not “affect any rights which have vested in others directly” because of the conviction for which a person has been pardoned. “If, for example, by the judgment a sale of the offender's property has been had, the purchaser will hold the property notwithstanding the subsequent pardon.” While the case did not directly limit the president’s right to grant a pardon, it did establish limits in the court’s understanding of the effects of a pardon.

“However large,” Justice Stephen Johnson Field wrote, “may be the power of pardon possessed by the President, and however extended may be its application, there is this limit to it, as there is to all his powers, it cannot touch moneys in the treasury of the United States, except expressly authorized by act of Congress. The Constitution places this restriction upon the pardoning power.”

In other words, the president can pardon whomever he wants. But in order for a pardoned person to receive compensation or other funds from the US Treasury, Congress would need to approve it.

Calvin Coolidge sitting at his desk.

Bettmann Archive / Getty Images


Courts ruled in favor of the broad expanse of the pardon power yet again in an otherwise minor case of a bootlegger named Philip Grossman.

The president’s power, the court made clear at that time, even reached to extinguishing criminal contempt citations.

In November 1920, federal prosecutors alleged that Grossman “was maintaining a nuisance” at his business because he was selling liquor in violation of the National Prohibition Act. A district court judge granted a restraining order barring him from continuing to do so.

Two days after the order had been entered against him, though, federal officials were back in court, alleging that Grossman continued to sell liquor in violation of the restraining order. “He was arrested, tried, found guilty of contempt,” and sentenced to serve a year in prison and pay a $1,000 fine. Grossman unsuccessfully appealed.

In December 1923, however — before he was done serving his sentence — President Calvin Coolidge commuted Grossman’s sentence on the condition that he pay the fine. Grossman did so and was released.

Nonetheless, the district court brought Grossman back in to serve his sentence — “notwithstanding the pardon.”

This was unacceptable, Chief Justice William Howard Taft wrote for the court.

The opinion is particularly notable because the former president, now chief justice, wrote a decision laying out the confines of judicial and executive powers. “Nothing in the ordinary meaning of the words ‘offenses against the United States’ excludes criminal contempts,” Taft wrote, noting a distinction between civil contempt (which is used to coerce a person to do something) and criminal contempt (which is used to punish a person for past behavior). Taft added that criminal contempts from federal courts had “been pardoned for 85 years” — specifically, 27 times.

Taft also wrote broadly about why, at the end of the day, the president’s pardon power, in effect, overturns a court’s judgment — and how the separation of powers actually functions.

“Complete independence and separation between the three branches, however, are not attained, or intended,” Taft wrote, laying out numerous instances of overlapping powers, from the veto power to impeachment and removal to pardons to holding up appropriations or presidential appointments. “These are some instances of positive and negative restraints possibly available under the Constitution to each branch of the government in defeat of the action of the other.”

Taft acknowledged, moreover that “[t]he administration of justice by the courts is not necessarily always wise” — courts sometimes get it wrong. He wrote that the “remedy” has been “to vest in some other authority than the [court’s] power to ameliorate or avoid particular criminal judgments.” In the US, he wrote, that authority is the president and the power is the pardon.

President Ford reading statement that he has granted Nixon a pardon.

Bettmann Archive via Getty Images

The Nixon Pardon

On August 5, 1974, Mary C. Lawton, the acting assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, hand-delivered a three-page memorandum to the deputy attorney general. Her memo concerned the question of whether President Richard Nixon could pardon himself.

“Under the fundamental rule that no one may be a judge in his own case, it would seem that the question should be answered in the negative,” Lawton wrote.

But Lawton proposed a possible work-around: Nixon, she argued, could step down temporarily under the 25th Amendment, at which point the vice president — as acting president — could pardon Nixon. “Thereafter the President could either resign or resume the duties of his office,” she wrote.

Nixon resigned four days later.

President Gerald Ford nonetheless pardoned Nixon on Sept. 8, 1974, for all crimes that he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” during his presidency.

That proved politically disastrous, a decision that hindered Ford’s presidency — but also reverberated for decades to come and made the use of the pardon both more high profile and less common.

But Ford’s decision illustrated the breadth and expanse of the president’s power — he pardoned Nixon on Sept. 8, 1974, for all crimes that he “committed or may have committed or taken part in” during his presidency.

Former Teamster boss James Hoffa on April 28, 1973.

Bettmann Archive for Getty Images

Jimmy Hoffa

Less than a month before Nixon’s resignation, a federal judge in Washington, DC, issued a ruling in a key case about the extent of the president’s pardon power.

The case raised one of the key unanswered questions about the scope of the pardon power: What conditions can a president attach to a pardon that would make it an unconstitutional abuse of the president’s power?

On Dec. 23, 1971, Nixon pardoned former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, who was then serving a prison sentence that would have kept him behind bars through 1980. In doing so, however, Nixon only commuted Hoffa’s sentence “upon the condition that the said James R. Hoffa not engage in direct or indirect management of any labor organization prior to March sixth, 1980.”

Once out of prison, however, Hoffa challenged the condition on several grounds, arguing that it violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and association, criminal procedure rights under the Fifth Amendment, and due process rights.

US District Judge John Pratt heard the case, noting that the pardon power “is limited, as are all powers conferred by the Constitution, by the Bill of Rights which expressly reserved to the ‘individual’ certain fundamental rights.”

The judge made clear that such arguments rarely would be successful, though. With any offer of commutation, Pratt wrote, “the convict-offeree has the choice of remaining under his judicially imposed sentence or accepting the remission of his sentence and abiding by the condition upon which it was offered. The convict cannot then ‘complain’ of the choice he has made.”

But is the president authorized to offer a conditional pardon in the first place? The pardon power, Pratt wrote, must be considered in its place “as part of our total constitutional system.”

As with most pardon questions, the short answer is yes. But, unlike in many other challenges, Pratt did suggest an outer limit — a scenario in which a conditional pardon could be found to be unconstitutional.

Examining some past instances in which courts had upheld conditions on presidential and some state commutations, Pratt laid out a two-part test for determining whether a condition attached to a commutation is permitted: (1) “the condition be directly related to the public interest,” and (2) “the condition not unreasonably infringe upon the individual committee’s constitutional freedoms.”

As to Hoffa’s conditional commutation specifically, Pratt concluded that “the condition in question was within the President’s pardoning power and that under the circumstances was reasonable and not violative of any of [Hoffa’s] constitutional rights.”

Hoffa appealed and the case very well could have reached the Supreme Court. But on July 30, 1975, Hoffa famously disappeared, the case became moot, and the constitutional question raised by his case remains an open one.

(A 1998 Supreme Court case, addressing state clemency procedures, acknowledged that there could be circumstances in which state procedures failed to meet due process guarantees, but the case did not directly address presidential pardons, let alone the sort of questions at issue regarding presidential pardon conditions.)

Caspar Weinberger, a former U.S. secretary of defense, laughs as he is questioned by reporters about his Christmas Eve pardon by President George Bush, Dec. 24,1992.

Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty Images

Corey Lewandowski Says Russia Probe Shouldn’t Be Another Whitewater


Corey Lewandowski

Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Corey Lewandowski said Thursday that he worries an investigation of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election will sprawl beyond ties to President Donald Trump’s campaign — a development that could unearth other damaging, if unrelated, information.

In other words, he worries that what happened in the 1990s to former President Bill Clinton — a Democrat who was impeached, though not removed from office — could happen to Trump.

“If you look at Ken Starr, who was under the Clinton years, he started his investigation of Clinton under the guise of Whitewater,” Lewandowski, who was Trump’s first campaign manager and remains a close political adviser, told reporters here after a speech at the City Club of Cleveland. (Starr was the independent counsel who began his work by looking into the real estate dealings of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent last fall.)

“Bill Clinton was not impeached over a land deal. Bill Clinton was impeached by the Congress for lying about Monica Lewinsky under oath. That investigation just went on and on and on, and my concern is that that is not what is necessary for the American people.”

Lewandowski’s remarks came two hours before the Wall Street Journal reported that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had empaneled a grand jury in the Russia probe. Additional reports by Bloomberg and CNN suggest the investigation will include Trump’s business ties to Russia. Trump and his allies have expressed concern that Mueller’s work could go beyond the question of whether Trump or his associates colluded with the Russian government last year.

“I think the Mueller investigation should be limited directly to the scope of what it was designed for, which is: Did anybody collude or cooperate with Russia to impact the outcome of an election?” Lewandowski said. “And there should be a finite period of time where that decision is brought before the Department of Justice and the respective people, and the decision should be reached, and then once that is done, the investigation should end.”

Lewandowski said that, in his time with the campaign, Trump never asked him to work with Russia.

“If anybody colluded, coordinated, or cooperated with Russia to impact the outcome of the US election,” Lewandowski said, “that person should go to jail for a very, very long time.”

EMILY's List Expands After 16,000 Women Reach Out About Running For Office


EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock in 2015.

Kris Connor / Getty Images

At EMILY's List, officials are tearing down a wall in the Washington headquarters, adding enough space for a new conference room and another 25 to 30 staffers. On the campaign team, they've nearly tripled their state and local staff. And for the first time, they've built their training program into a stand-alone department, adding a new role for vice president of training, and a spot on the senior leadership team.

For the 32-year-old organization, founded with the mission to recruit and elect pro-choice women, Donald Trump’s presidency has marked a record level of political engagement — and a rush to meet the moment at a new and uncertain scale.

“This is it,” said Stephanie Schriock, the president of EMILY’s List. “I almost feel like we’ve been practicing for three decades for this moment.”

The reason for that, and for the recent efforts to expand key programs, is this: In the nine months since the election, more than 16,000 women have reached out to EMILY’s List to inquire about running for office, many of them first-time candidates new to politics. In the two-year period from 2015 to 2016, the group heard from a total of 920 women — a record-setting number at the time. “That was our Hillary bomb," Schriock said. "That was an amazing year for us."

If 2016 was supposed to be the year that electrified women with Hillary Clinton’s historic campaign, then either that didn't happen outright or something extremely unusual has happened since her loss. In the span of a few weeks, the health care debate on Capitol Hill sent "another thousand requests" rolling into the website portal, an official said.

“It grows by 20 to 50 people a day."

The explosion of interest has nevertheless come at a tense moment for Democrats, who continue to sort out the party's ideological and organizational future after a divisive 2016 primary campaign and devastating presidential loss, with record electoral deficits at the state and local level. Even in recent weeks, amid headlines about Trump, Russia, and the failed Republican health care effort, Democrats managed to make their own — fighting over a new slogan, and opening a tense debate over who stands where on the idea of a "litmus test" in the party on the issue of abortion.

Schriock, a campaign veteran who took the helm of EMILY’s List in 2010, succeeding founder Ellen Malcolm in the group’s first leadership change, said that 2017 will change the “size and scope” of its work, but not the work itself. That revolves largely around the idea of a “pipeline” of women in politics, recruiting and advising candidates early on. (“EMILY” stands for “early money is like yeast.”)

Of the 16,000 women who have contacted EMILY’s List, half are under the age of 45, according to Schriock. “These are women who are going to be running for decades to come.” At the least, she said, these women have crossed over what the group sees as its biggest recruiting obstacle: “a woman saying, ‘Yes, I am interested in running for office.’ That’s so much of what we do. We sit down at the table and say, ‘Just say yes. Please say yes. Or don’t say no.’”

Schriock put it more bluntly: “These are not women who are waking up and saying, ‘I'm running for the US Senate today.’ They’re not men,” she laughed. “They just wake up and want to run for president. That’s what they do.”

So far, EMILY’s List is backing at least 42 candidates. Many are statewide incumbents already in the “pipeline.” Some, however, are among the wave of first-time, nontraditional candidates that emerged after 2016, and are seen by Democrats as a potentially powerful force in the midterm elections. (One that Schriock highlights is Chrissy Houlahan: air force veteran, businesswoman, “angry at the election,” “called us up,” now running for Congress in Pennsylvania.)

EMILY’s List officials said the group is currently in touch with 130 women across 80 U.S. House districts about the possibility of running in down-ballot races. What happens with the 16,000 more broadly comes down, in part, to scale. The team tasked with state and local candidates has nearly tripled in size, but still only stands at 14 people. Eight are “advisers” based regionally in states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Montana, Virginia, and North Carolina, officials said.

The revamped training department, led by Mũthoni Wambu Kraal, an EMILY’s List official since 2009, is now working to create a digital platform that can reach the influx of interested women en masse through webinars. The group has already held in-person trainings, and plans to hold 25 this year.

Schriock said the training itself won’t be all that different from previous years.

“They just need basic tools and support, especially emotional support, to step up and run.”

The Justice Department Is Reviewing Obama-Era Journalist Protections


Alex Wong / Getty Images

Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a harsh rebuke of leaks and the media that report them on Friday — echoing criticism levied regularly by President Trump over the past year — and signaled that the Justice Department could be changing how it deals with reporters in such cases.

Sessions announced at a news conference on Friday morning that the department is reviewing its policies for subpoenaing reporters, suggesting that Obama-era guidelines that placed limits on the practice could be rolled back.

The department will "respect the important role that the press plays," Sessions said, "but it is not unlimited."

Reporters "cannot place lives at risk with impunity," Sessions said. "We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law -abiding Americans."

Sessions offered no details about the scope or timeline of the review. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters that the review was in its early stages, and was prompted by concerns raised by career prosecutors about finding ways to speed up the pace of cases.

"We're taking basically a fresh look at it," Rosenstein said. Asked if the Justice Department would commit to not prosecuting reporters, Rosenstein said he would not comment on hypotheticals.

Rosenstein did say, however, that there is a new unit at the FBI focused on investigating leaks to reporters, saying that these cases raise "unique issues."

Trump made attacking the press a central feature of his campaign, and has continued the negative rhetoric against the media since taking office. Sessions, as a senator, had sparred with journalists' groups at times, including opposing efforts to provide protections for journalists wishing to shield their sources.

Sessions' announcement represents a particular setback for the press, which worked with former Attorney General Eric Holder on the revised subpoena guidelines amid an uptick of leaks prosecutions, and revelations that federal investigators had obtained emails and phone records from journalists.

Press freedom advocates criticized the Obama administration for its aggressive approach to leak prosecutions, and expressed concern on Friday that the progress they nevertheless managed to make with Holder would be undone.

Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told BuzzFeed News that Sessions' announcement was "disconcerting."

"The effort that went into revising [the guidelines] in 2015 had a huge amount of input from career prosecutors, and interests of law enforcement and national security were all carefully taken into consideration as well as the interests of reporters and the public in getting info," Brown said. "We thought a pretty good balance was struck."

Under the revised guidelines adopted by Holder — first in 2013 and then in 2015 — the attorney general must sign off on subpoenas to reporters and to third-party communications providers for records about journalists, with a few exceptions. The department also expanded the circumstances in which journalists would get advance notice that prosecutors were seeking their records.

Rosenstein told reporters on Friday that he expected Justice Department officials to consult with media representatives as part of its review, adding that a meeting might take place next week with the Media Dialogue Group, a coalition of media lawyers and journalists first convened by Holder in 2014. A DOJ spokesperson confirmed later that the meeting would take place on Aug. 9.

Sessions announced the review of media subpoena guidelines as part of a broader statement on Friday about the administration's intent to crack down on leaks that threaten national security.

He said that in the first six months after Trump took office, there were nearly as many criminal referrals concerning leaks of classified information as there were in the previous three years combined. A criminal referral means a request that the Justice Department investigate a possible leak of classified information that could harm national security. A referral can come from the intelligence community, or other sources outside the Justice Department.

Rosenstein declined to comment on the reason for the increase in referrals, but he issued a warning to government officials and employees, saying that any policy disagreement with the administration "doesn't give them the license to leak information to a reporter."

The Justice Department declined to provide the number of criminal referrals related to the possible unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Sessions said that since January, the department has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations, as compared to the number of investigations open when President Obama left office. Sessions said that four people had been charged with leaking classified information or hiding their contacts with foreign intelligence officers; Rosenstein clarified that just one of those cases, the prosecution of federal contractor Reality Winner, involved information shared with the media.

Sessions did not take questions, leaving that job to Rosenstein — his "fine deputy," as Sessions called him. Rosenstein said the Justice Department's efforts were focused on the disclosure of classified information that could harm national security. Noting that the term "leaks" can refer to a number of things, he distinguished the types of case that the Justice Department was focused on from other leaks that did not involve classified information or carry national security risks.

Sessions did indicate in his remarks that the department would likely be looking into the leaked transcript of Trump's conversations in January with the leaders of Mexico and Australia.

"No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information," Sessions said. "No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders."

Trump has routinely complained about leaks in his administration. Asked if Sessions' focus on leaks was an effort to appease the president — Trump has repeatedly expressed his displeasure with Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation into Russian influence in the election — Rosenstein declined to comment.

Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway told “Fox & Friends” on Friday that “it’s easier to figure out who’s leaking than the leakers may realize.” Asked if lie detectors could be used, she said: “Well, they may, they may not.”

Hillary Clinton Hires Two Former Campaign Aides For "Resistance" PAC


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Hillary Clinton has hired two political operatives from her 2016 presidential campaign to help manage Onward Together, the project she founded this spring with former governor Howard Dean to fund and support a coalition of Democratic groups led by activists and organizers.

The new additions, Emmy Ruiz and Adam Parkhomenko, held central roles on Clinton’s campaign: Ruiz delivered key victories as state director in Nevada during the primary and in Colorado during the general election; Parkhomenko worked in headquarters as her director of grassroots engagement before moving to the Democratic National Committee. Both served on Clinton’s first presidential bid in 2008.

Dean, the Onward Together co-founder, confirmed the recent hires on Friday. The two former campaign aides will be working on Onward Together as consultants.

Clinton's new group, registered in May as a 501c4 organization with an affiliated super PAC, is working to establish a small but diverse cooperative of about 10 to 12 grassroots efforts, each one focused on a different area of the energy and activism set off by Donald Trump’s election and presidency. Dean said they are still in the process vetting groups to add to the coalition, which already includes organizations such as Swing Left, Emerge America, and Run For Something.

Ruiz, last with Tom Perez’s successful campaign for DNC chair, has been working to systemize and add structure to that process, steering the process and guiding next steps, while also working the collection of outside groups.

“She’s moving us right on task, which is what we really needed,” said Dean.

Parkhomenko, a longtime Clinton loyalist who founded the PAC Ready For Hillary in early 2013, will focus on the larger political landscape for both Onward Together and, tangentially, Clinton’s activity on behalf of Democrats, looking at the question of how, when, and where she can be helpful to candidates in upcoming races.

That Clinton play a role at all in electoral politics after her failed 2016 campaign is a source of debate among Democrats, some of whom have said that the former candidate needs to step back, clearing the way for new voices in politics. Clinton, however, has made it clear she is receding entirely into private life: She has made headlines for pointed remarks about Trump and Russia and has a memoir coming out next month that aides have described as a candid and at times raw account of the Democratic primary fight and the general contest against Trump.

Clinton has received at least one request to campaign as a surrogate — from New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy, according to a Democrat close the campaign there. In the 2018 midterm elections, there will be races in 23 congressional districts that Clinton carried at the top of the ticket but Republicans held down-ballot.

Ruiz and Parkhomenko, who both started their work at Onward Together this summer, will join a small core team that includes Dean, the former Vermont governor and DNC chair, along with Judith McHale, an undersecretary under Clinton at the State Department, and Amy Rao, a Silicon Valley businesswoman and a longtime supporter and donor. The aides in Clinton’s New York office, including former campaign vice chair Huma Abedin, finance director Dennis Cheng, and press secretary Nick Merrill, are also working on the project.

Dean and McHale in particular have been working on vetting groups, which are expected to submit a budget for funding and provide a full account of their activity and management setup.

Clinton and her aides have also spent the summer on her new memoir, What Happened, which comes out in September and will be followed by a book tour.

Some of the fundraising work has already started, “but it’s been slow going because we’ve all been so busy,” said Dean. “Now that we’ve got some staff it’s really terrific. Somebody had to have the big picture, and that would now be Emmy and Adam."

De Blasio: Broken Windows Policing "Got A Bad Name," But It Had The Right Underlying Principle


Sina Schuldt / AFP / Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio advocates for "a version" of broken windows policing, saying the term itself got a bad rap under previous administrations but that is right in principle.

He argues that the principle is to "address little things that come from big things. You respond to quality of life concerns that come from the community."

Activists have long argued the implementation of broken windows policies ultimately contributed to unnecessary conflict with police. De Blasio is a guest Tuesday on the podcast Pod Save the People by activist DeRay Mckesson.

Said de Blasio, "I wanted to get away from the policing that existed previously. I wanted to get away from the broken policy of stop and frisk and I wanted to change the relationship between the police and the community. I believe [in] quality of life policing — which I think is the better phrase than broken windows because broken windows has some very understandably troubling associations in people's minds — quality of life policing is necessary and I've been in favor of that all along."

Mckesson then asks de Blasio what he felt the difference was between broken-windows policing and "quality of life policing."

"It is similar vain but different associations is what bluntly what I'd say," said de Blasio.

He continued, "I think broken windows policing got a bad name in part because it was associated with the Guiliani administration and there are a lot of reasons to be highly critical of the Guiliani administration. But I think the underlying principle was the right principle, which is you address little things that come from big things. You respond to quality of life concerns that come from the community."

De Blasio said communities in years passed were "under-policed." He made an example to support his view.

"If you're someone who lives in an apartment building and you say, 'Hey, there's a bunch of teenagers outside my window making a lot of noise and it's 2 a.m.' — you should get a response," he said. "That response should be a smart one and one that is respectful of everyone involved. But you have a right to your quality of life as a resident of New York City."

"So that is a version of broken windows policing, but I think the reason I like the phrase 'quality of life' better is broken windows came with some philosophical questions" and an association with Rudy Guiliani, de Blasio said.

Mckesson's group, Campaign Zero, has called for an end of the practice of the policing of offenses such as open alcohol containers, trespassing, jaywalking or loitering.

"A decades-long focus on policing minor crimes and activities — a practice called Broken Windows policing — has led to the criminalization and over-policing of communities of color and excessive force in otherwise harmless situations," its position on the issue says. "In 2014, police killed at least 287 people who were involved in minor offenses and harmless activities like sleeping in parks, possessing drugs, looking 'suspicious' or having a mental health crisis. These activities are often symptoms of underlying issues of drug addiction, homelessness, and mental illness which should be treated by healthcare professionals and social workers rather than the police."

De Blasio said he worked with his police commissioners under his watch to re-train the police force, emphasize discretion and de-escalation, and giving officers the ability to give warnings. He said the city also established policy like eliminating arrests for low-level marijuana possession, saying that arrests in many cases are a last resort.

The Confederate Flag Fight Is Back


Then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, at the July 2015 bill signing that removed the Confederate flag from Statehouse grounds.

Sean Rayford / Getty Images

Two years ago last month, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley pulled down the Confederate flag down that flew over the grounds of the South Carolina capitol. The move unified her party and her state, and it transformed her into a national figure and the embodiment of the future of the Republican Party.

Then, Haley’s move seemed to bring a close to the long-simmering question of whether the flag, and Confederate nostalgia more broadly, had an acceptable place in American politics despite their offensiveness to black Americans. But two years later, the flag and the Lost Cause are flickering back as potent symbols in American politics — symbols sometimes of an open new white nationalism, but more often as the emblem of a brand of identity politics that prizes upsetting liberals above all else, in which the Confederate flag also serves as emblem against “political correctness.”

There are flickers across the old South: This year, New Orleans officials removed Confederate monuments under the cover of night amid protests and security concerns. Then a Virginia Republican crusaded on the issue (and his support for President Donald Trump) and nearly secured the nomination for governor. And a leading candidate to occupy Haley’s old seat in the governor’s mansion in Columbia is describing herself as a “proud Daughter of the Confederacy.”

Virtually all established Republican Party leaders would like, as they say, to “move past” the issue — and few want to talk about it. But the people who want to talk about preserving monuments and keeping the flag in the sky really want to talk about it. And in the ground zero of the flag fight — South Carolina — Republican operatives describe it as a one-time response to a tragedy that rekindled wide national scrutiny of the Confederate flag. (The killer, Dylann Roof, had been photographed with the flag.)

The issue popped up last week in the state’s competitive Republican race for governor. Several audience members at a forum in conservative Pickens County grilled Catherine Templeton — a former member of Haley’s cabinet whose consulting firm was among those who cheered the flag’s removal at the Statehouse — about her stance on removing Confederate symbols.

“You cannot rewrite history,” said Templeton, who has emerged as a top primary challenger to Henry McMaster, the lieutenant governor who became governor after Haley left to become the US ambassador to the United Nations. “I don’t care whose feelings get hurt.”

Templeton went on to talk about her grandmother — “a daughter of the Confederacy” — and about “standing on the shoulders of giants in South Carolina.” But that answer wasn’t enough for some in the crowd. She was pressed on the issue twice more at the live-streamed forum.

Would she have voted for Haley’s legislation to bring down the flag at the Statehouse? “I think what we did was we reacted, and I think that’s what happens in government a lot,” Templeton replied, sidling away from her firm’s past praise. “We have an emergency, and we create a response because it’s the only thing we have control over. … I’m proud of the Confederacy. But I’m not going to second-guess what the people in the Statehouse did when I wasn’t there.

“I live in Charleston. I drive by [the church] on a daily basis,” she added. “And a bad person took something that’s dear to us, took our heritage, and turned it into hate, and I think we reacted as a result.”

Would she back a bill to prohibit moving any monuments unless they were moved to a more prominent place? “The answer is yes. We have a law in place now, and I would enforce it. … I would not allow monuments to be taken down. I want to be very direct with you.”

The next day, following local media coverage of her remarks, Templeton issued another statement on social media.

“If it’s politically incorrect to say I’m a proud Daughter of the Confederacy, then call me politically incorrect,” she wrote. “My father was named after Judge William Brawley, a Confederate soldier who fought under Gen. Robert E. Lee, and lost his arm at the Battle of Seven Pines. I have a son named Hampton and a dog named Dixie but that doesn't make me a racist. It makes me from South Carolina and proud of it. It’s outrageous to me that some would have me disavow my family and our history. … Our history is not always comfortable, but it made us who we are.”

Via Twitter

Confederate symbols have faced increased scrutiny in recent years, and several of those — most notably Haley — who have led the charge have seen their political stock rise. In New Orleans, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s push to bring down four Confederate monuments, including a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, has earned him buzz as a future Democratic presidential prospect. And in Biloxi, Miss., Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich easily won a GOP primary and re-election this year after banning Mississippi’s state flag, which include a Confederate emblem, from city buildings.

Corey Stewart, a Trump supporter and native Minnesotan with a pro-Confederate message, sees an opportunity — for himself and for others — after his surprise success in this summer’s primary race for Virginia governor.

After barely losing the nomination to establishment favorite Ed Gillespie, Stewart immediately launched a Senate campaign. And he told BuzzFeed News this week that candidates in several states want his advice on how to run on similar themes. Stewart’s racially divisive strategy involved embracing Confederate symbols and opposing the removal of Confederate monuments and statues. He has objected to plans to remove a Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“This,” Stewart said, “is the biggest cultural issue that will be on the plate in 2018.”

Stewart declined to identify those who have sought his counsel but said calls have come “from Florida to North Carolina,” from “people who are thinking about making this a central issue of their platforms.”

It’s a subject many Republican leaders are not comfortable talking about it openly. A spokesman for the Republican National Committee, whose then-chairman, Reince Priebus, joined Haley at her news conference to call for the flag’s removal, declined to comment. Several Southern state chairmen contacted by BuzzFeed News either did not respond to requests for comment or declined to discuss the topic on the record, including South Carolina’s new GOP chief, Drew McKissick.

Representatives for McMaster and Templeton also did not respond to requests, nor did Mikee Johnson, a prominent Haley ally who now is helping Templeton raise money.

Others in South Carolina agreed to talk on the condition of anonymity, to avoid being publicly linked to a position on a subject that continues to divide Palmetto State voters.

“It seems to me that Catherine is trying to have it both ways,” said one senior GOP operative in the state. “The right-wing base and chamber of commerce are both getting a wink and a nod.”

Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said Republicans who embrace Confederate symbols “risk alienating a big portion of constituents” in key states.

“It is sad to see Republican candidates touting images of the Confederacy, which to many in this country symbolizes hate and racial oppression,” Singh added.

Stewart disputes accusations of racism. “This isn’t about race,” he told BuzzFeed News. “It’s about destroying history. The thing is that political correctness has been used to ridicule people who simply want to honor their heritage. People know instinctively that is wrong.”

He believes his near-miss earlier this year — roughly 4,500 votes — is a harbinger of things to come, even if it was only one party primary in one state.

“It just takes the first politician to make this a big issue in a big race,” Stewart said. “After I showed that you could stand up for Confederate monuments and ... withstand the punishment from the mainstream media, I knew that others would follow.”

Our Revolution Takes Issue With The "Dictatorial,""Arrogant,""Pompous" DNC


Turner and Sanders last year.

Mary Altaffer / AP

“Dictatorial.” “Arrogant.” “Pompous.” “Superficial.” “Tone-deaf.” “Tone-dead.” “Out of line.” “Insulting” — “absolutely insulting.”

These are the words that Nina Turner, president of the group founded by Bernie Sanders to further his "political revolution," used in an interview to describe the Democratic National Committee. The grievances converge around a recent trip to deliver petitions to the party’s headquarters in Washington, where Turner and other progressives were greeted by barricades, security guards, and an offering of donuts and water, an empty gesture indicative, as she saw it, of an institution that isn't “smart enough, humble enough, to say let’s take a step back and really listen to the people," that instead is far too willing to “disregard people,” to “dismiss,” “belittle,” and “shun,” to “push them to the side” — all of which has left Turner with the view, as she puts it, that "the establishment side of the Democratic Party have shown themselves to be dictators" who "want to dictate the terms of unity."

In the months since last year’s long and fraught Democratic primary, Sanders and allies like Rep. Keith Ellison have become key partners in that same "establishment side," working from new leadership roles in the U.S. Senate and at the DNC.

If Sanders is working to change the system from within, Turner's approach at Our Revolution looks to be the opposite: After taking over last month, she's taking on the same institutional forces that are allied with Sanders, rallying supporters against the familiar target of the DNC, and offer candid at times cutting critique of the party and its centers of power — a newly aggressive posture toward the Democratic Party that puts Our Revolution out in front of its own figurehead.

“It is time to make the Democratic Party ‘Feel the Bern’ again,” Turner wrote in an email to Our Revolution members on Tuesday. "The DNC may think that they can continue working behind closed doors, but they will know different when millions of us come knocking.”

The email recounted the same July 25 visit to DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill.

Turner, the 49-year-old former Ohio state senator and DNC member herself, led about 60 supporters that day to the DNC offices to deliver petition signatures supporting the “People’s Platform,” a 2018 policy agenda drafted by Our Revolution in response to the one unveiled that week by party leaders in the House and Senate.

When they arrived, she said, barricades blocked the entrance steps and a handful of DNC staffers stood waiting outside. “I was absolutely stunned,” Turner said Tuesday. “For them to be that tone-deaf, or that arrogant, to think that it’s OK to put up a barricade so that the people can’t even — I mean, we were not even good enough to stand on their stairs.”

Citing the current political climate in Washington, DNC spokesperson Xochitl Hinojosa said the barricades are put in place anytime there is a large crowd — protocol set by the “building security team,” she said, not party officials.

A spread of donuts and water had also been set up for the Our Revolution party. Turner took particular issue with the donuts and water, which she called “hand-out trinkets."

“They tried to seduce us with donuts and water,” she said. “They’re pompous and arrogant enough to say to the people, you’re not good enough to be on our property — and, oh by the way, we’re just gonna hand you donuts and water over the barricade. That is insulting. Absolutely insulting.”

Turner decided to write to Our Revolution members about the incident because, in her view, she said, it embodied the same problems that made the DNC a source of mistrust among progressives in the first place. She recalled the brief remarks from DNC political director Amanda Brown Lierman, who told the crowd that Democrats would need their support in 2018. “That’s the problem,” said Turner. “You think people are just gonna do what you say, and you don’t have to really listen.” The DNC recounted the moment differently: Brown Lierman “expressed gratitude on behalf of the DNC,” and spoke about the party’s “shared values,” Hinojosa said.

The donuts and water, too, were meant as a token of goodwill, officials said. That the snacks were a source of animus came as a surprise inside the building.

On her end, Turner said, the incident remains unresolved: DNC chair Tom Perez “would be wise” to call her to apologize, she said, quickly recalling his weakness with progressives in the tight chair's race earlier this year against Ellison, now serving as DNC deputy chair. “Chairman Perez won, but the energy was behind Congressman Keith Ellison," said Turner. "The chairman would be wise to embrace this energy. He would be wise to make a phone call. He should have reached out to me by now to apologize for the way the people who came to the DNC were treated.”

Our Revolution’s indictment of the DNC, amplified in Tuesday's email, comes at a critical but tenuous moment for the party: Even as Democrats look to 2018 as a singular opportunity to win back seats in the House of Representatives, seizing on voters’ dissatisfaction with the president and the failed Republican health care effort, they are also struggling to settle on an effective economic message and resolve their approach to policy issues like abortion and single-payer health care.

Turner rejected the idea that a new DNC fight would stir up old feelings of division and mistrust. “I want to flip that on its head," she responded. “Why won’t the Democratic Party partner with the progressive left — i.e. Our Revolution?” (Our Revolution has been invited to meetings with progressive groups at the DNC, the last one in July, according to a DNC official, and “they haven’t showed up." The official also noted that Our Revolution and the DNC worked together earlier this year on the party's "unity"-themed tour, headlined by Sanders and Perez.)

Some in the Sanders orbit attributed the DNC offensive to a new phase of Our Revolution under Turner, a founding board member who assumed the role of president in July, taking the reins from one of the senator’s long-serving political advisers, Jeff Weaver.

Turner, a self-described “justice warrior,” operates from the position that, as she put it, “the system has to be shaken up from time to time.” That was evident in late 2015, when she stunned the Clinton campaign by jumping ship for Sanders, and it’s been evident in her first few weeks at the helm of Our Revolution, where she seems eager to take on her own party. (“Be sure to ask her about donuts and water,” one Our Revolution staffer advised.)

Both ends of the leadership change — Turner’s rise and Weaver’s departure — promise a new dynamic between Sanders and Our Revolution, likely one with more distance, current and former aides said. Although Weaver managed the group from something of a remove, spending much of this year working on a new book, he did serve as a central link to Sanders. To some of Sanders hands, his exit was a signal that the senator’s political focus lies elsewhere. To others, it meant a step away from the group’s state and local campaign effort, which has struggled to secure victories under the Sanders banner. (“Disappointing but not surprising,” said a former Sanders campaign adviser of the shift. “Voter contact is hard. Cheap stunts are easy.”)

Turner, who also sits on the DNC's Unity and Reform Commission, has already made Our Revolution a more forceful presence in the party — and in the press — willing to weigh in or take positions where Sanders has not. (Most recently, Turner voiced support for a progressive “litmus test” in 2018. Sanders has not backed the idea.)

One Sanders aide described their work as parallel but separate: The senator is working “inside the system,” the aide said, and Our Revolution is working “outside the system."

The points at which those tracks converge, and conflict, however, will prove more difficult to navigate, with Sanders working with the same party leadership that Turner has made a new target. (Ellison, the deputy DNC chair and a leading progressive, found himself in the middle of the petition upset, assuring Turner that he hadn’t known anything about it beforehand, that he was “shocked” to hear about the greeting, and would take the issue to the chair, according to Turner.)

So far, Our Revolution has only highlighted its recent conflict with the DNC.

In addition to the Tuesday email, the group has used footage of Turner’s remarks at the petition drop in July — a pointed response to the DNC barricades, donuts, and water — in digital acquisition ads directing new members to their signup page.

Asked what what it would look like to “make the Democratic Party ‘feel the Bern’ again,” as Tuesday's Our Revolution email puts it, Turner cited the group's work at large.

"We have a component within our mission that talks about transforming the party,” she said. “And that’s what we do every day.”

Trump Suggests Senate Leader McConnell Should Resign If He Can't Push Through Agenda


Pool / Getty Images

President Trump on Thursday suggested Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should step down if he can't successfully push through the White House's agenda.

Speaking to reporters while vacationing at his golf club in New Jersey, Trump was asked whether the Kentucky Republican should resign. Trump responded by saying he'd first like to see what the Senate gets done, "then you can ask me that question."

Trump specifically called out Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, pass tax reform, and approve a new infrastructure package.

"If he doesn’t get repeal and replace done, and if he doesn’t get taxes done — meaning cuts and reform — and if he doesn’t get a very easy one to get done — infrastructure — if he doesn’t get them done, then you can ask me that question," Trump said.

The president has been skewering McConnell on Twitter over the last few days, telling him to "get back to work," and taunting him over his failure to pass a Republican health care bill.

Earlier this week, speaking to an audience in his home state of Kentucky, McConnell had said the president "had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process" since he has "not been in this line of work before."

In response, Trump tweeted, "I don't think so. After 7 years of hearing Repeal & Replace, why not done?"

The conflict comes less than two weeks after the Senate failed to repeal Obamacare, a major defeat for McConnell, who had trumpeted the Republican effort since 2010.

Trump's team has also been commenting on the spat.

Asked about Trump and McConnell's relationship, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, "I think you can see the president's tweets. Obviously, there is some frustration."

On Wednesday, Dan Scavino, the White House social media director, attacked McConnell on Twitter for saying that the president had "excessive expectations," slamming the Republican leader for making "more excuses." He then followed up with #DrainTheSwamp.

Dan Scavino / Twitter / Via Twitter: @DanScavino

McConnell's office has declined to comment.

Republican leaders, however, have been rallying around McConnell, fraying the already tense relationship between Congress and the White House as they try to achieve any major items on their lengthy to-do list.

"Senate Leader McConnell has been the best leader we've had in my time in the Senate, through very tough challenges," Sen. Orrin Hatch tweeted. "I fully support him."

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Trump supporter, defended McConnell, noting that the president also bears some responsibility for the Republicans' inability to deliver on their promise to repeal Obamacare.

"The fact is, with a very narrow margin — 52 people — Mitch McConnell got 49 out of 52. I think the president can't disassociate himself from this," Gingrich said in an interview on Fox News. "[Trump] is part of the leadership team. He is not an observer sitting up in the stands. He is on the field. It was a collective failure."

LINK: Trump Doubles Down On Feud With Mitch McConnell, Tells Him To "Get Back To Work"

Jeff Flake Isn’t Worrying About A Trump Donor’s Investment Against Him


Sen. Jeff Flake

Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Robert Mercer, the Republican mega-donor who backs President Donald Trump, is spending big money to defeat Sen. Jeff Flake, one of Trump’s loudest Republican critics, in 2018.

Kelli Ward, the candidate Mercer favors, fell short last year in a bid to unseat Arizona’s other Republican senator, John McCain — despite a major investment from Mercer and his wife.

“They supported Kelli Ward last cycle, and she still lost by double digits,” Will Allison, a spokesperson for Flake’s reelection campaign, told BuzzFeed News in a Thursday email.

Robert and Diana Mercer gave $700,000 to Ward’s super PAC during the McCain race, accounting for nearly all of the group’s revenue. BuzzFeed News reported in May that the couple had already donated to Ward’s campaign against Flake. And now Robert Mercer is sending another $300,000 to the super PAC — a development first reported this week by Politico.

The Mercers have also been generous contributors to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which as an incumbent-retention organization is likely to back Flake.

Flake’s reelection bid will be viewed as a fight between his brand of classic conservative Republicanism and Trump’s brand of ideology-bending populism. Flake's new book, Conscience of a Conservative, is a scathing critique of Trump and other Republicans who have enabled Trump’s rise. (“My Party Is In Denial About Donald Trump” read the headline of an excerpt that caused a stir within the GOP after being published last week by Politico Magazine.)

The criticism has made Flake a target for Trump allies and possibly for Trump himself. Whispers of a White House-backed primary challenge have been out there for months. Ward is the only announced opponent. Arizona Treasurer Jeff DeWit, who had a national role in Trump’s campaign, and former Arizona GOP chairman Robert Graham are two other prospects.

“Not a good re-election strategy,” Graham, who has yet to announce a decision on the race, told BuzzFeed News last week after reading the excerpt from Flake’s book.

Mercer support aside, Ward is not a consensus alternative to Flake among the pro-Trump wing. Her loss to McCain is one factor. Her habit of making overly provocative statements is another. Ward, a physician, called McCain “old” and “weak” during last year’s race. More recently, after McCain was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Ward raised doubts about McCain’s recovery in a radio interview and talked herself up as a successor if McCain can’t finish his term.

"I would never presume to say what someone's prognosis is without having exams," Ward said in the interview with WOWO in Fort Wayne, Indiana. "As a Christian, I know there can always be miracles. But the likelihood that John McCain is going to be able to come back to the Senate and be at full force for the people of our state and the people of the United States is low."

Trump's Response Leaves Some Wondering: Is He Scared Of Upsetting White Supremacists?


Steve Helber / AP

White supremacists marched into Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday brandishing shields, batons, and pepper spray, and the result was shocking violence — with the deaths of a young woman who was run over by a car, and two police officers killed in a helicopter crash. Dozens of counterprotesters were wounded.

Republican and Democratic political leaders swiftly condemned white supremacists in the aftermath. But there was one curious exception from the near-universal censure: the president currently facing the most serious domestic crisis of his administration.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides — on many sides," President Donald Trump said in a brief statement on Saturday afternoon, calling for a restoration of law and order. "It's been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. It's been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America."

Asked if Trump or his administration would have further comment or call out white supremacists specifically for the violence on Saturday, a White House official told BuzzFeed News that the president already addressed it in his initial remarks. In an additional comment to reporters, an official said Trump's intention was to condemn hatred, bigotry, and violence "from all sources and all sides."

"There was violence from protesters and counterprotesters today," the official said.

Trump's vague public response prompted fury across social media, and drove Republican lawmakers to say that Trump needed to do better.

Sens. Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, and Orrin Hatch used the terms "white supremacists," "Nazis," and "domestic terrorism" in their tweets about Saturday's violence, but others went further, questioning whether the president of the United States is afraid to go after white supremacists who support his administration.

Matt Mackowiak, a GOP strategist and founder of Potomac Strategy Group, said that Trump has had "a bit of a blind spot when it comes to the alt-right, nationalist part of his support base," and that the president doesn't take a lot of opportunities to criticize his own supporters.

"I think his advisers have to help, they have to be better, more adamant," he said. "Not rising to this moment gives his opponents a very easy attack to use against him and the Republican Party, as unfair as I think that is."

"I think it's obvious that he has a problem, he will not do it," Evan McMullin, a Never Trump conservative who ran for president as an independent, told BuzzFeed News of the president's seeming hesitance to explicitly call out white supremacists. "He speaks in the vaguest of terms, only in the worst of situations, only when there is public outrage."

"He was vague and not biting or specific," Rev. Al Sharpton, who is preparing for a march of ministers in the name of social justice and civil rights this month in Washington, told BuzzFeed News. "He will not denounce Nazism or white supremacy by name. It's telling and insulting. It will intensify our 1,000 Minister's March and I'm glad we have Jewish faith leaders up front with us."

David Duke, a former Louisiana politician and grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, responded by issuing a warning to Trump on Twitter that he not forget who made him president.

Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic governor of Virginia, targeted white supremacists by name in a somber speech on Saturday night, saying there is no place for them in America.

"I have a message to all of the white supremacists and the Nazis who came into Charlottesville today. Our message is plain and simple: Go home. You are not wanted in this great commonwealth, shame on you. You pretend that you're patriots, but you are anything but a patriot," he said.

Trump later tweeted condolences to the Virginia state police officers and the young woman who died in the car attack. The attack resulted in at least 19 other injuries, and charges against a 20-year-old suspect.

Steve Cortes, a Fox News contributor and Trump surrogate, said it was "nonsense" to suggest that Trump has been hesitant to disavow and condemn white supremacists.

"He made a very brief statement, I suspect it was off the cuff," Cortes said, despite the fact that the president spoke more than 12 hours after white supremacists first descended on Charlottesville on Friday night. "I don’t think he’s ever afraid to denounce racism. In the immediacy of the moment the most important thing is to denounce violence clearly. The worst violence was from the white supremacist racists, but there was violence on both sides."

But Democrats and some Republicans explicitly lambasted Trump, suggesting that his refusal to call out white supremacists by name is driven by a nakedly political rationale.

Democratic National Committee deputy chair, Rep. Keith Ellison, tweeted a damning appraisal of Trump's comments. "A frightening truth," he wrote. "Our president has no problem with violence being perpetrated on people who are not in his base."

"It's a moral issue, it's beyond politics," said Marc Morial, CEO of the National Urban League, the largest civil rights organization in the country.

Morial said it's important for the president to rise to the occasion and respond with a new statement condemning white supremacists in "clear and unequivocal terms" that reflect a "force and fury of language."

But McMullin said Trump tips his hand on how he feels about the alt-right by keeping around his embattled but influential senior strategist Steve Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart.

"He has someone who has empowered them in his White House, who helped grow the alt-right through the Breitbart platform," McMullin said. "Will he remain? Does the president care that he has someone who played a significant role in fomenting the bigotry of the alt-right movement?"

How Charlottesville Hasn’t Yet Changed The Confederate Monument Debate


White nationalists, alt-righters, and others march on Saturday in front of a Robert E. Lee statue scheduled for removal.

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

A renewed fight to preserve Confederate symbols has escalated.

White supremacists and neo-Nazis were among those behind the violent, and — in at least one instance — deadly demonstrations this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a statue commemorating Confederate army Gen. Robert E. Lee is targeted for removal next month.

To many offended by Confederate nostalgia, the images of swastikas and burning tiki torches confirmed what they have long believed: that racism, and not respect for history or a desire to lash out against liberals and politically correct culture, is fueling this debate.

It’s a debate with political ramifications, especially for Republicans. Some — notably Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado — have unequivocally denounced the Charlottesville unrest as racism and bigotry.

“We are the Party of Lincoln and a party that stands against divisive and hurtful symbols,” McDaniel said Sunday in statement to BuzzFeed News. “As Americans we can find ways to preserve our history but only if we are working toward an inclusive future that separates us from a hateful past.”

But President Donald Trump, whose campaign offered racialized rhetoric and never consistently disavowed his support among white nationalists, issued a response Saturday that did not call out white supremacists — and instead criticized the violence on “many sides,” while ignoring reporters’ shouted questions about white nationalists. His vague remarks underscore how uncomfortable a topic this is for others in the GOP, particularly those in the Old South, where politicians often are expected to pick a side.

How uncomfortable? BuzzFeed News contacted more than 15 Republican candidates, operatives, and officeholders in Southern states with the same basic question: Does seeing these symbols embraced in the name of racism and in a violent manner change how you feel about pro-Confederate politics? Only two replied. None answered the question as posed.

Those unheard from include Ed Gillespie, who in June narrowly beat a pro-Confederate candidate in Virginia’s Republican gubernatorial primary. The posturing by his rival, Corey Stewart, forced Gillespie to take a more explicit position on the Lee statue. (“No, Ed Gillespie doesn’t support removing Confederate monuments,” read the headline on a Gillespie campaign statement that pushed back on a Stewart claim.)

On Saturday, Gillespie condemned the “ugly events” in Charlottesville. “Having a right to spew vile hate does not make it right,” he said in a campaign statement. “These displays have no place in our Commonwealth, and the mentality on display is rejected by the decent, thoughtful and compassionate fellow Virginians I see every day.”

On Sunday, he went a step further: “We've seen evil in white supremacist torches and howling neo Naziism,” Gillespie said in a Twitter post honoring state troopers killed in a helicopter crash during the previous day’s unrest.

But a spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether the racism and violence in Charlottesville has prompted Gillespie to reconsider his position.

The silver Dodge Charger allegedly driven by James Alex Fields Jr. into a crowd of protesters and other cars that ultimately killed a woman and left more injured.

Getty Images

Others who did not respond:

  • Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, who in May signed a bill that protects Confederate monuments in her state. Her spokespersons did not reply to emailed questions. Nor did representatives for Sen. Luther Strange, Rep. Mo Brooks, or former state Supreme Court chief justice Roy Moore — the three top contenders in the state’s closely watched special Senate primary. All three acknowledged the Charlottesville events on Twitter.
  • South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who succeeded Nikki Haley, one of the Confederate flag’s most prominent foes. Haley two years ago pulled the flag from Statehouse grounds after a racially motivated shooting at a black church. McMaster, who has faced criticism for his membership in an all-white country club, alluded to Haley’s efforts in a Saturday tweet: “South Carolina showed world her heart when confronted by hatred & violence. Pray for our brothers & sisters in Virginia.” A spokesperson did not reply to a request for additional comment.
  • Catherine Templeton, a past Haley cabinet member who is challenging McMaster in next year’s GOP gubernatorial primary. At a public forum this month, she pledged not to remove other Confederate symbols and lamented that “a bad person took something that’s dear to us, took our heritage, and turned it into hate.” Templeton and a campaign aide did not respond to requests for comment this weekend. But she acknowledged Charlottesville in a tweet that appeared to reaffirm her support for Confederate nostalgia: “It is the uneducated criminal who uses our history for horrible racist violence. Learn from the past.”
  • State GOP chairmen in Florida and North Carolina. Stewart told BuzzFeed News last week that, following his strong showing in Virginia, he heard from potential candidates seeking his counsel on running pro-Confederate campaigns in both states.

Stewart did not make himself available for another interview this weekend. His spokesperson, Noel Fritsch, did not respond directly to a question about whether neo-Nazis rallying around the Lee statue in Charlottesville might change Stewart’s thinking on the issue.

“Was Tim Kaine marching with the hammer & sickle?” Fritsch replied in an email, referring to the Democratic senator Stewart hopes to unseat next year and to a Communist symbol.

That deflection was consistent with the whataboutism Trump offered in his Saturday remarks — the president condemned “hatred, bigotry, and violence” … “on many sides” — and was on display later that evening in a video statement Stewart made on Facebook.

Stewart took swipes at Kaine and, without offering specific examples, accused Democrats of not condemning or denouncing violence by organizations on the political left, such as Antifa, an anti-fascist group. “If free speech is not protected, people do sometimes turn to violence,” he said. “That is not the right way to go. We must always condemn it. But we must not allow the left to crack down on free speech, to crack down on conservative speech, in the aftermath of what is happening in Charlottesville today.”

A Virginia Republican Party spokesperson sidestepped specific questions Saturday on the appropriateness of pro-Confederate politics and instead pointed to a statement on the party’s website: “The Republican Party was created to end slavery in the mid-1800s and our party today continues to stand for equality for all persons regardless of their race or ethnicity,” Virginia GOP Chairman John Whitbeck said. “We condemn the hatred and racism on display today in Charlottesville and note that there is nothing conservative about messages of that nature.”

Haley’s effort to bring the Confederate flag down in South Carolina propelled her — and the issue — to national prominence. Then–RNC chairman Reince Priebus stood with her the day she announced the push, signifying how important the issue was to a party that at the time was eager to build bridges with black voters and other minorities.

More recently, though, the decisions have occurred on the local level, with Mayors Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans and Andrew “FoFo” Gilich in Biloxi, Mississippi — a Democrat and Republican, respectively — leading the charge against Confederate symbols. In Richmond, Virginia, once a capital of the confederacy, Democratic Mayor Levar Stoney has called for adding context to old monuments, rather than tearing them down.

Another Democrat, Mayor Jim Gray of Lexington, Kentucky, announced Saturday that he would seek to move two Confederate monuments from the lawn of an old courthouse.

“The tragic events in Charlottesville,” Gray said on Twitter, “have accelerated the announcement I intended to make next week.”

LINK: The Confederate Flag Fight Is Back

RNC Chairwoman Comes Out Stronger Than Trump Against White Supremacists


Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

In a rare break with President Donald Trump, Republican National Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel explicitly condemned the racist angle of weekend rallies and protests around a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, multiple times before Trump did so himself.

At an event on Monday in Detroit, McDaniel made clear that she expected the president to follow her lead and speak out more forcefully on the violent, deadly incidents soon. (He did so later on Monday, in remarks at the White House.)

“The president is going to have a conversation today,” McDaniel said while addressing reporters at a roundtable with black leaders — an event planned before the Charlottesville unrest.

Chad Livengood, a reporter for Crain’s Detroit Business, shared video of the remarks on Twitter.

Trump, McDaniel said, “obviously this weekend denounced bigotry and racism and hate in all its forms, and today I think he’ll go even further. The vice president did yesterday. It is important that we address that white supremacy, neo-Nazi, KKK. Any type of hate and bigotry is not welcome, not just in our party, but in our country. And all of our leaders have to do that across party lines. And we have to unite together. This isn’t a partisan issue. This is an American issue. I’m a mom. I don’t want my kids growing up in a country that says this is OK. So we have to have that conversation, and I think the president will address that forcefully today.”

A few hours after McDaniel's remarks, Trump condemned racism as "evil" and singled out white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

Chad Livengood, via Twitter

White supremacists and neo-Nazis were among those protesting the upcoming removal of a statue commemorating Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. One counterdemonstrator was killed after a car plowed into a crowd. Two state troopers died in a helicopter crash during the unrest.

Trump, whose presidential campaign offered racialized rhetoric and counted white nationalists among its supporters, issued a response on Saturday that did not call out white supremacists — and instead criticized the “hated, bigotry, and violence on many sides.”

Reporters in Detroit asked McDaniel, the past chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party who has become one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, if the president should have been more forceful sooner.

“His comments came right during the events,” McDaniel replied. “And he did say that it is egregious, hate is unacceptable, bigotry is unacceptable. I think that defines what white supremacy stands for — hate and bigotry. Today, I think he’ll address those in a more specific way now that we know what happened on the ground.”

It’s the third time in as many days that McDaniel has been more direct than Trump or some others in her party have been about the racially charged aspects surrounding the defense of Confederate symbols. On Saturday, for example, she was among the first Republican leaders to call out the protesters in Charlottesville unequivocally. Republican senators like Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner, and Orrin Hatch have also strongly condemned the actions of white supremacists.

And on Sunday, in a statement to BuzzFeed News for a story on whether the events in Charlottesville will change GOP attitudes on Confederate nostalgia, McDaniel proclaimed: “We are the Party of Lincoln and a party that stands against divisive and hurtful symbols. As Americans we can find ways to preserve our history but only if we are working toward an inclusive future that separates us from a hateful past.”

RNC officials have not specified whether McDaniel was denouncing all Confederate symbols.

A Top Lawyer Asks Supreme Court To Hear A Major Death Penalty Case


Yuri Gripas / Reuters

WASHINGTON — One of the country’s top lawyers is asking the Supreme Court to take up a case that could reshape — or even end — the death penalty in America.

The aggressive filing comes as the Supreme Court is already set to hear a high-profile series of cases.

An Arizona death row inmate, Abel Daniel Hidalgo, has been arguing for the past three years that the state’s death penalty law is unconstitutional because it doesn’t do enough to narrow who is eligible for the death penalty, among those convicted of murder.

Earlier this year, Neal Katyal, best known these days for serving as the lead lawyer for Hawaii’s challenge to President Trump’s travel ban, agreed to serve as Hidalgo’s lawyer at the Supreme Court.

Katyal, the former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, asked the justices in Monday’s filing to hear Hidalgo’s case and to strike down Arizona’s death penalty law.

The filing comes more than two years after Justice Stephen Breyer, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, called for a wholesale review of the constitutionality of the death penalty. Justice Sonia Sotomayor has also expressed great concerns about the courts’ handling of death penalty cases, as well as some states’ death penalty laws.

And Justice Anthony Kennedy has expressed concerns about the death penalty’s imposition, and has cast key votes excluding groups of people — like children or the intellectually disabled — from being eligible for the death penalty. He has not, however, given any specific indication that he is ready to join Breyer’s call to review the constitutionality of the death penalty overall — and has allowed several executions to proceed since Breyer's call.

Katyal, however, joined by other lawyers at his firm, Hogan Lovells, as well as Susan Corey and others at the Office of the Legal Advocate in Arizona and Arizona attorney Garrett Simpson, thinks the time is now — a move that could be tied to concerns by many liberal lawyers about whether and when Kennedy, at 81, might retire from the court.

“I have spent the last few years with my team looking for cases that highlight the gross problems with the death penalty in practice, and this case is a perfect example of them,” Katyal told BuzzFeed News on Monday evening. “We look forward to the Supreme Court's review of Mr. Hidalgo's petition.”

In 1972, the Supreme Court found the death penalty in America unconstitutional as then implemented, the court, in Gregg v. Georgia. Four years later, the court brought it back — with new constraints — by approving several states’ new laws. In Monday’s filing, Katyal wrote of that case, “[T]he Court acknowledged that it might someday revisit the constitutionality of the death penalty in light of ‘more convincing evidence.’”

He continued: “The evidence is in. The long experiment launched by Gregg — in whether the death penalty can be administered within constitutional bounds — has failed. It has failed both in Arizona in particular and in the Nation more broadly.”

The brief points out that the court in Gregg found the new state death penalty laws to be constitutional because they required the finding of “aggravating” circumstances — a move that the court’s controlling opinion concluded would “direct and limit” who was eligible for execution “so as to minimize the risk of wholly arbitrary and capricious action.”

Forty years later, Arizona’s death penalty law is such that there are so many aggravating circumstances that “every first degree murder case filed in Maricopa County in 2010 and 2011 had at least one aggravating factor” making the person eligible for the death penalty. Hidalgo pleaded guilty in 2015 to two January 2001 murders in a murder-for-hire scheme in Maricopa County, Arizona. He was then sentenced to death by a jury.

“Arizona’s scheme utterly fails,” Katyal wrote, to “genuinely narrow the class of persons eligible for the death penalty” as the court has required over the time since Gregg.

For this reason alone, Hidalgo’s legal team argues, the court should take the case and strike down Arizona’s death penalty law.

But, beyond that, the filing goes on, “A national consensus has emerged that the death penalty is an unacceptable punishment in any circumstance.” The brief argues that the court should take the case and rule that the death penalty, nationwide, is unconstitutional under the Eighth Amendment’s guarantee against cruel and unusual punishment.

This is so, the brief argues, because “the number of death sentences imposed and carried out has plummeted.”

The brief also points to three further key arguments in support of this larger aim: First, states can’t give guidance that ensures that only “the worst offenders” are sentenced to death. Second, states can’t enforce the death penalty without “ensnaring and putting to death the innocent.” And, finally, “the present reality of capital punishment” — decades spent on death row with “the remote but very real possibility of execution” — is its own possible constitutional violation.

Hidalgo’s is not the first death penalty case Katyal’s team had considered taking to the Supreme Court. In the fall of 2015, just months after Breyer and Ginsburg’s statement about reviewing the death penalty, Hogan Lovells took on representation of Julius Murphy, on death row in Texas. The Texas courts, however, put that execution on hold indefinitely before the Hogan Lovells team had a reason to take the case to the US Supreme Court.

Read the filing:

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