In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday issued a bipartisan request to White House Counsel Don McGahn and FBI Director Chris Wray for more information on how the Trump administration is handling the process for requesting security clearances.

The letter from Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) comes after reports that some 100 White House staffers, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, were working on interim clearances as of November 2017.

“If true, this raises significant concerns that ineligible individuals, who hold positions of public trust, may have access to sensitive or classified information,” the letter reads.

The senators request information, by March 13, on the total number of those working on interim clearances, what sensitive or classified information they have access to, and the exact circumstances surrounding the clearance for fired White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter, among other topics.

The Porter debacle prompted renewed scrutiny of the current White House’s processes. Porter was permitted to operate under an interim clearance while the FBI probed well-documented allegations of domestic abuse by his two ex-wives. White House officials including McGahn and Chief of Staff John Kelly were reportedly both aware of the allegations against Porter, and that they were holding up his full clearance.

The situation raised concerns that Porter could have had access to classified information without a full security clearance, potentially endangering national security.

Kelly has since proposed denying or revoking top clearances for any aide whose background check has been pending since last June or earlier. President Trump said it was up to Kelly to decide if Kushner, who fits that description, would have his interim clearance waived or revoked.

The House Oversight Committee is separately conducting an investigation into how Porter managed to keep working under a clearance despite the abuse allegations.

Read the Judiciary Committee’s full letter below:

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) has ended his Hamlet act and decided once and for all not to run for reelection, his chief of staff said in a statement, a move that eliminates the possibility of a brutal primary between him and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and likely boosts Republicans’ chances of holding the seat.

Corker had announced his retirement last fall, leading to swift announcements from Blackburn and former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) that they’d run for his seat. But earlier this month he pulled a surprising about-face, floating the idea that he might run again after all as his allies questioned whether Blackburn’s flaws might put the seat at risk for the GOP.

But his backtrack didn’t play particularly well with many GOP voters in the state. Corker’s past criticism of President Trump had hurt him with the party base, and a number of polls conducted by Blackburn allies made it clear she’d have a solid edge over the two-term senator should he decide to run again. While Fincher dropped out of the race to make room for Corker, Blackburn made it clear she wasn’t going anywhere as her team blasted away at the senator for his indecisiveness.

Corker’s team argued he could have won, but decided against a bid.

“Over the past several months, Senator Corker has been encouraged by people across Tennessee and in the Senate to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election. Based on the outpouring of support, we spent the last few days doing our due diligence and a clear path for re-election was laid out,”Corker Chief of Staff Todd Womack said a statement emailed to TPM. “However, at the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018.”

Corker’s latest decision was first reported by Politico.

Corker likely would have needed a hearty endorsement from President Trump to have a real shot at defeating Blackburn — and he made efforts to cozy up to the president in recent months after publicly worrying about Trump’s leadership last summer. But that endorsement didn’t seem forthcoming, and while Senate GOP leaders like Corker they had already moved on to backing Blackburn after his initial retirement, leading to frustration about his back-and-forth.

Even some of Corker’s closest allies were quick to tout Blackburn in the wake of his decision.

“Bob Corker is a terrific United States senator and a good friend. I was disappointed in his decision not to run for reelection but respect that decision. I invited Marsha Blackburn to breakfast this morning. We had a good discussion about a variety of issues that we both care about and how we might work together to make the Senate a more effective institution,” Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who is close to both Corker and GOP Senate leaders, said in a statement.

Some Republicans continue to worry Blackburn’s hardline conservatism and her backing of a deal that helped the pharmaceutical industry and critics say hurt efforts to fight opioid addiction make her a risky choice for the nomination, especially since Democrats landed a strong recruit in former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) for the race in the conservative state. But Corker’s dithering and eventual decision may have helped her in the race by clearing the primary field for Blackburn and eliminating the chance that a tough primary would hurt her chances at victory.

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Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) has scheduled a Wednesday rally, sources close to the controversial lawmaker tell TPM, and is reportedly expected to run against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) after months of consideration.

“McDaniel will do a rally on Wednesday,” one source close to his campaign told TPM. And while that source and others in his orbit wouldn’t confirm or deny Politico’s report that he’s “expected to run,” and McDaniel didn’t reply to text messages, it seems highly probable that he’d be using his rally at the Jones County Junior College Wednesday afternoon to say challenge Wicker, rather than that he’s decided against it.

The controversial lawmaker staged a Tea Party revolt against Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) four years ago, nearly toppling the veteran lawmaker in the primary, a race he maintains was stolen from him. Ever since then he’s been biding his time for another run, and for months debated whether to challenge Wicker or wait and see if Cochran resigns from office due to ongoing health issues. He’d also mulled a run for lieutenant governor. But he’s run out of time to decide, with a campaign filing deadline just days away.

On Sunday night, McDaniel said in a Facebook post that he’d “have some important information to share about our political future” in a Monday night Facebook Live event. Sources say that will be to tout the rally.

Unlike Cochran, who was clearly showing his age that election and had a long history of pork-barrel legislation that opened him up to a right-wing challenge, Wicker is both a much sharper and energized campaigner (his team helped Cochran win that election and he ran the National Republican Senatorial Committee last election cycle) and one who hasn’t given McDaniel as many openings to attack him from the right.

Wicker didn’t wait for McDaniel’s announcement to take a subtle swipe at him, launching a campaign ad with one of McDaniel’s 2014 supporters endorsing him:

McDaniel is a highly controversial figure with a long history of charged statements on race, religion and gender. He made headlines last year for attacking the women’s march, claiming that “almost all liberal women are unhappy.” In older comments McDaniel blamed hip-hop for gun violence, attacked Muslims, threatened to stop paying taxes if Congress authorized slavery reparations and said one of the only useful Spanish words he knew was “mamacita,” an apparent joke about cat-calling Hispanic women.

Just weeks ago, as TPM reported, he joined the radio show of an ardent conspiracy theorist who believes the 9/11 attacks may have been carried out by the “World Zionist Organization.”

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On Monday morning, the Supreme Court declined to take up the Trump administration’s bid to overturn a lower court ruling blocking the administration’s termination of the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

“The petition for a writ of certiorari before judgment is denied without prejudice,” the justices wrote. “It is assumed that the Court of Appeals will proceed expeditiously to decide this case.”

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

Late Saturday afternoon, Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee released a partially redacted version of their memo countering claims from the committee’s Republicans that the intelligence community under the Obama administration abused its powers in surveilling a former member of President Trump’s campaign.

The memo, drafted by ranking member Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), says the FBI and DOJ did not abuse their powers, as Republicans have claimed. Instead, the Democratic memo says, the surveillance of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was justified because he was “someone the FBI assessed to be an agent of the Russian government.”

A statement from Schiff said the memo “should put to rest any concerns that the American people might have as to the conduct of the FBI, the Justice Department and the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court]. Our extensive review of the initial FISA application and three subsequent renewals failed to uncover any evidence of illegal, unethical, or unprofessional behavior by law enforcement.”

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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — The mainstream media has long been a favorite target for derision at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But in 2018, a full year into the presidency of a man who rose to power attacking the media, attacks on the media were everywhere.

Trumpism has fully enveloped CPAC. It’s a political movement that depends on having enemies to attack, but in 2018, when Republicans control every branch of the federal government and most state governments, those enemies are in short supply. While several speakers made half-hearted mentions of Barack Obama, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton—sparking chants of “Lock her up”—the real venom was reserved for the press.

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Is the DCCC grappling with a tea-party-in-reverse problem? Read a reporter’s notebook post (Prime access) on this story »

House Democrats’ official campaign committee took a very public swipe at one of its own candidates Thursday night, a sign that it’s willing to risk fury from its base to push forward what it sees as the best general-election nominees.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) posted damaging research on Laura Moser, a favorite of progressives running in a crowded primary who national Democrats worry would cost them a shot at defeating Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) this fall.

The move is by far the most aggressive and public stance the DCCC has taken this cycle against one of its own, a risky move given the current tensions between parts of the liberal base and the party establishment but one they argue is necessary given Moser’s flaws. While party operatives have signaled for months that they’d step in to block candidates they see as unelectable, this shows how much they’re willing to risk the wrath of the left to do so — not just in Texas, which holds the nation’s first primaries, but throughout the coming year as the battle for the House heats up.

“We’ve gotten involved in primaries in the past when there’s a disqualified general election candidate and have noted all cycle we might need to do that again,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told TPM Friday morning, arguing the committee was stepping up to help make sure local activists’ efforts weren’t squandered with a flawed candidate. “This potential involvement in primaries is about ensuring voters have a fighting chance to flip these districts in November. These people have been fighting all year organizing against Republican incumbents and we don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to be competitive in November.”

Those decisions are risky ones, threatening to infuriate liberal activists locally and nationally as the party is seen strong-arming locals and picking favorites, potentially the party with a split base heading into the general election. This year, Democrats have a glut of candidates in many top races, a good problem to have but one that risks letting flawed candidates sneak through with a plurality of the vote and blow winnable races.

The DCCC’s move left many liberals livid.

“In this vital year, with so much at stake, the DCCC should be using their limited resources to go after Republicans, not peddle false and misleading garbage against a progressive Democratic woman who has been an outspoken leader in the resistance. It is hard see how the DCCC thinks turning its own voters against each other is a winning strategy,” Political Action Executive Director Ilya Sheyman told TPM.

The move could also backfire by elevating the very candidates the DCCC wants to stop.

“The DCCC just managed to get a lot more people into this race for Laura,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee head Adam Green told TPM.

On the flip side, national Democrats don’t think they can stay pat — they’ve stayed out of past races where they saw one candidate as their best chance, had another get the nomination and then blow a potentially winnable race.

“Which backlash is worse? Neither of these is a good option,” one former top DCCC staffer who’s grappled with this dilemma in the past told TPM. “The question is which option is less bad — upsetting the apple cart now or ending up with a nominee you don’t think can win in November. If they’re right that this is essential to winning this seat, then they have to do something. But I don’t know if they’re right.”

Another former top DCCC staffer warned that while stopping flawed candidates was necessary, this particular move was “ham-handed” in its execution.

“It’s a hell of a risk,” said the staffer of the public opposition research dump, pointing out that other DCCC-backed candidates were also carpetbaggers and warning the move opened up the party to criticism. “It’s got the subtlety and nuance of a barbarian horde.”

The DCCC has already been heavily involved in recruiting candidates and quietly picking favorites in some districts — like convincing Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to challenge Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) after former fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) raised big money with a viral announcement video. Four candidates the committee has endorsed have primary challengers that have raised at least $100,000: Those running for the top-targeted seats held by Reps. Rod Blum (R-IA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Leonard Lance (R-NJ) Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ). California will prove especially problematic: The top two candidates of any party advance to the general election in that state, and Democrats have blown races in the past as two Republicans have advanced in winnable districts. That’s a risk for the party in four different key races.

The last time the DCCC got this aggressively involved in a primary was in 2014, when they tore down former Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) to make sure that didn’t happen again in a district now held by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA).

National Democrats have long worried Moser’s progressive views could prove disqualifying in a traditionally Republican suburban district that Hillary Clinton narrowly carried in 2016, but Mitt Romney won by 20 points four years earlier.

The committee highlights that she just moved back to the Houston-area district from Washington, D.C., recently claimed a homestead tax credit for her D.C. home, her campaign has paid her husband’s consulting firm to work on her race, and in a 2014 Washingtonian article wrote that she’d “rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than live in rural Texas.

Moser fired back against the DCCC attacks Thursday night.

“We’re used to tough talk here in Texas, but it’s disappointing to hear it from Washington operatives trying to tell Texans what to do. These kind of tactics are why people hate politics. The days when party bosses picked the candidates in their smoke filled rooms are over. DC needs to let Houston vote,” she said in a statement.

The DCCC’s gambit here may not even work, as the party has made similar moves in past years with mixed results. In 2012, the committee tried to push party leaders’ favored candidate past left-wing physician David Gill when he first ran against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). Gill still won the nomination, the DCCC belatedly came back in to help him after realizing he had a path to victory, and he ended up losing that race by a narrow margin. Gill is running again this year (his sixth run for Congress) against two candidates national Democrats would vastly prefer to see nominated. He’s raised almost no money this time around, but has a fervent if small base and is the type of candidate they may decide they need to try and block in the coming months. Another victim of national party involvement was Sheyman, who the party blocked in favor of now-Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL).

And they saw stronger candidates lose primaries in winnable races in recent years against Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) and in the swing district once represented by former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and now held by his brother Brian.

“Better to be a jerk than a loser,” a Democratic strategist who’s doing some work with the DCCC this cycle told TPM.

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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — The only panel dedicated to immigration at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference quickly went off the rails Thursday, with audience members drowning out panelists’ presentation of data about the benefits of immigration with boos, laughter, and stories of “obvious illegal immigrants defecating in the woods, fornicating in the woods.”

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NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — More than a year after President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, attendees at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) were still celebrating Hillary Clinton’s loss and hoping for her arrest.

During the final speech on Thursday, the first day of the conference, the crowd broke out into a chant of “Lock her up!” when conservative writer Ben Shapiro said that Clinton would never be president.

“She’s already in a jail of her own making,” Shapiro quipped after the chants waned.

When Trump spoke to the conference last year, the same chant broke out during his speech.

Watch a clip of the moment via C-SPAN:

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