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It seems that House Republicans are feeling nostalgic for their Obama-era investigations.

On the same day that the House Republicans on the Oversight and Judiciary committees announced an investigation into the Justice Department’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email inquiry, House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) touted another investigation being launched into Obama administration’s Justice Department, having to do with a 2010-11 Russian uranium deal that has gotten fresh scrutiny. That investigation is also being shared with the House Oversight Committee.

The announcement comes as the pace picks up on a number of congressional probes into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russians’ meddling in the 2016 election.

Nunes, who has continued to operate at the fringes of House Intel’s Russia probe despite stepping down from leading it in April, said at a press conference Tuesday that he had not had any communications with the White House about the new uranium probe. He also seemed to vaguely deny that he had ever fully recused himself from House Intel’s Russia investigation.

“I would refer back to the statement that I originally sent out as my relationship with the Russia investigation,” Nunes said as he faced repeated questions about whether he has stepped aside from that probe. “I can give you the facts and you guys can write what you write, but sometimes if you write opinion, that’s not based on fact. That’s not what I said at the time, and I would prefer you guys stop referring to that. But I can’t control what you guys write.”

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The Republican leaders of the House Oversight and Judiciary Committees announced the launch of an investigation into various decisions the Justice Department made during the 2016 campaign, including the FBI’s handing of the Hillary Clinton email inquiry as well as its decision not to make public its ongoing investigation into associates of President Donald Trump.

House Oversight Chair Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlate (R-VA) said in a joint statement that “Congress has a constitutional duty to preserve the integrity of our justice system by ensuring transparency and accountability of actions taken.”

The top Democrats on the committees accused Republicans of engaging in “a massive diversion to distract from the lack of Republican oversight of the Trump Administration and the national security threat that Russia poses,” in a statement issued a few hours after the new probe was announced.

“The Russian government continues to represent a clear and present threat to the United States and our democratic system, and we are the targets of near-constant cyberattacks by foreign adversaries,” Judiciary’s Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Oversight’s Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in the statement. “Yet House Republicans have taken no concrete steps to secure our next election. Apparently, House Republicans are more concerned about Jim Comey than Vladimir Putin.”

Gowdy and Goodlatte’s investigation comes as the Senate Judiciary Committee, and particularly its chair, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), has also signaled interest in examining some of the moves the DOJ made during the election.

According to Gowdy and Goodlatte’s press release, the probe will include (but is not limited to) the following questions:

  • FBI’s decision to publicly announce the investigation into Secretary Clinton’s handling of classified information but not to publicly announce the investigation into campaign associates of then-candidate Donald Trump;

  • FBI’s decision to notify Congress by formal letter of the status of the investigation both in October and November of 2016;

  • FBI’s decision to appropriate full decision making in respect to charging or not charging Secretary Clinton to the FBI rather than the DOJ; and

  • FBI’s timeline in respect to charging decisions.

 This post has been updated.

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The National Review’s Jay Nordlinger wrote Sunday that one of Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critics had been barred from entering the U.S.—and the outcry was immediate. Had the State Department revoked Bill Browder’s visa? Was Russia trying to get him arrested?

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs committee, issued a statement decrying “the Department of State’s baffling decision to revoke Bill Browder’s visa” and calling on Rex Tillerson to personally reinstate him. A State Department spokesperson referred TPM’s questions to the Department of Homeland Security—like most Brits, Browder didn’t have a formal visa, they said—he was welcome to apply for one.

Browder himself was irate when he spoke to TPM on Monday afternoon: “I’m pretty sure that this is just an automatic thing. So the question is, will they lift it or not?”

“There’s no way that I can get any information about any of this stuff,” he added. “When I called [DHS’] help line, after waiting an hour and a half they said ‘I can’t tell you anything about why this has happened, you’ll have to write a FOIA.'”

Hours later, the Department of Homeland Security provided an answer: Customs and Border Protection had to manually approve Browder’s travel authorization after the Interpol notice went out—but says it did so on Wednesday. Browder contests this—he said he still couldn’t fly on Thursday, when he got the email notice. TPM has asked DHS for clarification and will update this story when and if it comes.

So what exactly happened here?

Russian authorities had issued a “diffusion” through international police service Interpol calling for his arrest last Tuesday, Browder told TPM (the country’s government had already tried to force Interpol to issue a “red notice,” much like putting Browder on an American “Most Wanted” list, but Interpol repeatedly refused). Exploiting that bureaucratic loophole, Russian authorities appear to have succeeded in automatically rescinding permission for Browder to visit the U.S., albeit briefly.

The problem stemmed from Browder traveling not on a visa issued by the State Department, but on the less formal Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is supposed to ease diplomatic restrictions on travel for foreigners who are unlikely to overstay the 90-day limit on their visas, Chicago-based immigration lawyer Richard Hanus noted. The automated nature of the system makes it convenient for most people, but speed and responsiveness pose a problem when Russia can use the system to game American border controls to cause trouble for its critics.

“The only times we see things like this is when there’s an irregularity,” Hanus told TPM: “previous U.S. immigration violations—when somebody stays more than the 90 day—or when there’s a criminal matter.”

The New Jersey-born, Chicago-raised Browder, who became a British citizen in 1998, said that he’d gotten a form email on Thursday telling him to check his “Global Entry” status, which is like TSA Pre-check for non-citizens.

“And so I logged into Global entry and it said ‘your status has been revoked’ and so I said, ‘Well I wonder if my Visa has been revoked, so I tried to check into a flight and I couldn’t,'” he said.

Yet a DHS spokesperson told TPM that Browder was supposed to be good to go by that point. The agency’s statement reads:

“As the agency charged with preventing the entry of terrorists and other criminal actors from entering the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection regularly screens law enforcement systems in order to determine if any travelers present a security or law enforcement risk. This vetting is done on a recurrent basis and decisions on travel are made on the latest information available. The decision to approve or deny an ESTA application is made on a case-by-case basis on the totality of the circumstances. When possible matches to derogatory information are found, applications will be vetted through normal CBP procedures which include a manual review by a CBP analyst and a supervisor prior to a determination being made. Applications being manually reviewed may temporarily be placed in a pending status until a final determination is made. William Browder’s ESTA remains valid for travel to the United States. His ESTA was manually approved by CBP on Oct. 18—clearing him for travel to the United States.

Russia had given Browder a similar headache in August, shortly after a Council of Europe report condemned that country for misusing anti-crime protocols for political ends in his case. Turkey recently had been scolded for trying to use Interpol to arrest a Spanish journalist critical of military dictator Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, too.

Four days after publication, Interpol responded to TPM’s request for clarification on the topic of the diffusion calling for Browder’s arrest. No member nation, Interpol said, is required to honor its Red Notices or diffusions beyond its own laws. On the topic of Russia’s specific diffusion related to Browder, the agency said:

All notices and diffusions must meet Interpol’s rules and regulations, and prior to publication all Red Notice requests are checked by a dedicated task force to ensure they are compliant. Diffusions are circulated without prior approval from the General Secretariat.  However, the dedicated task force also checks diffusions for wanted persons, even though they are already circulated, to ensure that they are compliant.

When a Red Notice or diffusion is cancelled, for whatever reason, a message is sent to all member countries informing them of the decision and they are requested to remove any related information from their national databases and not to use Interpol’s channels in relation to the case.

A diffusion recently circulated in relation to Mr Browder was found to be non-compliant following a review by the General Secretariat. All information in relation to this request has been deleted from Interpol’s databases and all Interpol member countries informed accordingly.

Browder Tweeted Thursday that Interpol had changed its policies to prevent Russia from abusing the diffusion system.

As Canadian reporter Daniele Hamamdjian also pointed out on Twitter, the law enforcement agency did the same thing in 2013.

This post has been updated.

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A prominent Democratic lobbyist whose brother happened to chair Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign has become the subject of a criminal inquiry as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, NBC News reported Monday.

Mueller’s reported interest in Tony Podesta, and his Dem-leaning lobbying firm the Podesta Group, stems not from any apparent links to Russia’s 2016 election meddling activities, but rather a failure to disclose 2012-2014 lobbying activity for a Ukrainian non-profit closely aligned with the interests of a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party.

The key figure in all of this is Paul Manafort, President Trump’s campaign chair during the summer of 2016, who was involved in setting up the campaign for the non-profit, the European Centre For a Modern Ukraine. Manafort’s longtime deputy, Rick Gates, directed the Podesta Group’s work — and the work of a GOP-leaning firm, Mercury LLC — for ECFMU, previously reported emails have shown.

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The tussle between the private research firm behind the so-called Trump dossier, and House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes — who in theory but not in practice has recused himself from the Russia probe — has escalated, with Nunes subpoenaing the firm’s bank and the firm going to court to block the subpoena.

The subpoena sought information about all assets held by Fusion GPS and its associates, including balances, transactions and other types of activities dating back the last two years. It comes as the firm has faced increasing pressure to reveal the clients that financed the dossier.

On Friday, the firm, Fusion GPS filed a lawsuit claiming that subpoena was a “blatant attempt to chill” political speech and a “fishing expedition.” The lawsuit was technically against the unnamed bank, but by Saturday the House Intel Committee  had sought to intervene in the case to defend Nunes’ subpoena.

The committee is expected to file by Monday evening a response to Fusion GPS’ request to the court that it place a temporary restraining order on the bank from releasing the records.

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In one of the stranger aspects of the Russian influence campaign reported to date, the Federal News Agency (FAN) troll farm funded activism and social programs in black communities as recently as May. The Russian operation set up a news site that interviewed prominent thinkers like Occupy Wall Street’s Micah White and former Black Panther Party leading member Ericka Huggins. It also sponsored self-defense programs around the country, including one in Queens that specializes in de-escalating conflict between black people and police officers. None of those American activists who had contact with the operatives knew they were in contact with Russian agents at the time.

White (pictured above) has a theory for why those operatives were supporting black activism in the U.S. He has written on the tactical use of social movements to wage war—he wrote on the topic more than a year before the 2016 election—and he says that while Russia “can be pursuing multiple objectives simultaneously,” he thinks subverting the American status quo may be a mutual objective for a hostile Russian operation and the U.S. protest movements striving for more equality and justice—the challenge is to use that signal boost for noble ends.

“I think there aren’t many examples of social change that isn’t created by outside forces,” White told TPM. “Lenin was allowed back into Russia on German railroads while Russia and Germany were at war.”

As White observes in one essay, Russian state news couldn’t get enough of Occupy Wall Street: he claims RT flew Occupy organizers to London to be interviewed by Julian Assange for his TV show on the Kremlin-backed network.

One thing White said discourages him about the Russian propaganda efforts is how successful they were in terms of pure reach. As a rule, activists operate on a shoestring. The funds from the Russian trolls helped do things activists normally may be hard-pressed to pull off, like those classes in de-escalation.

“I do think it’s a watershed moment for American activism where American activists have to say, ‘Why is Russia able to create fake Facebook pages that get more likes than we do?’ I think it’s another sign that protest is broken,” he told TPM.

Another person contacted by the troll farm said he was surprised when the person who reached out wanting to facilitate political action wasn’t especially interested in talking politics.

“Their idea was they wanted to address police brutality, maybe do know-your-rights training,” said Omowale Adewale, a trainer in New York City who was asked to lead self-defense classes in Brooklyn and Queens by a troll-run group called BlackFist. “I was doing street harassment self-defense classes for women, so they caught me really at a time when I was already kind of engaged in a lot of this work.”

Adewale told TPM that while he was skeptical of the person who contacted him, he never thought a foreign government was recruiting him. He just thought the whole thing was probably a setup for a scam that would end up stealing from him.

“There never was any politics, which was just nuts,” he said.

But then the people Adewale thought might be scammers sent money to him. The prospect of offering something good to his community, especially bankrolled from the outside, thrilled him—but he was still curious about where the money was coming from. His thoughts, though, were primarily with a black community living in fear.

“I don’t know if you can fathom in the community the way people feel really targeted by police brutality,” Adewale told TPM. “I’m a fighter myself. Sometimes I jog and I’m running and cops are around. You can’t just run past them! White folks can just keep jogging, but if I’m in jogging gear, my jogging gear might include a hoodie! That’s problematic on a huge level, that somebody might be nervous and I might get shot, or at least get stopped and harassed. That’s the kind of thing that happens to me. A lot of things have to take place before you physically get somebody’s hands off of you. [It’s about] de-escalation ad knowing your rights. You really don’t want to die.”

That fear was a good litmus test for Adewale when it came to the intentions of “Taylor,” as well. “Taylor” didn’t seem to feel it, for himself or for anyone else.

“The lack of any kind of caring,” Adewale told TPM, “gave me insight.”

This post has been updated.

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Three men who came out to support white nationalist Richard Spencer’s Thursday speech at the University of Florida were arrested on charges of attempted murder after one of them allegedly fired at protesters, according to arrest reports from the Gainesville Police Department.

Texas residents Colton Fears, William Fears and Tyler Tenbrink all were charged with attempted homicide and were being held in the Alachua County jail. Tenbrink received an additional second-degree felony charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

After departing Spencer’s event Thursday, where they had spoken to local press about their willingness to “push back” on those who oppose their message, the three men pulled their car up to a bus stop where a small group of protesters was waiting, according to the arrest reports. The report states they began shouting “Hail Hitler” and yelling at the seated protesters, one of whom hit the vehicle’s rear window with a baton.

The car sped ahead a few feet and came to an abrupt stop, at which point Tenbrink emerged with a handgun, according to the report. William and Colton Fears allegedly yelled, “I’m going to fucking kill you” and “shoot them.”

Tenbrink proceeded to do so, firing one shot at the victim that missed and hit a building in the background, according to the report. The men were apprehended by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office shortly after fleeing the scene. The report states Tenbrink admitted that he had fired the gun.

The Fears brothers were being held on $1 million bond, while Tenbrink was being held on $3 million bond.

At least two of the men have ties to extremist groups, according to Gainesville police. Tenbrink and William Fears also have attended previous white nationalist events, including the chaotic rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed and many others were injured when white nationalist James Fields plowed his car into them.

Earlier Thursday, William Fears, who brawled with counter-protesters at Charlottesville, suggested to the Gainesville Sun that Fields’ actions were justified.

“It’s always been socially acceptable to punch a Nazi, to attack people if they have right-wing political leanings,” Fears told the newspaper. “Us coming in and saying we’re taking over your town, we’re starting to push back, we’re starting to want to intimidate back. We want to show our teeth a little bit because, you know, we’re not to be taken lightly. We don’t want violence; we don’t want harm. But at the end of the day, we’re not opposed to defending ourselves.”

Fears was arrested in 2009 for abducting an 18-year-old University of Texas student at knifepoint and wounding her repeatedly. He was charged with aggravated kidnapping and possession of a controlled substance.

He told the Washington Post earlier this year that the first white nationalist event he attended was a speech Spencer held last December at Texas A&M University, where he said he met people who looked and thought the same way he did. His Twitter account is full of posts disparaging Jews, Muslims,and black people.

Asked about the arrests of three of his supporters, Spencer told TPM he was “traveling” and hadn’t “heard of the story of the arrest.” After TPM provided a link to a story about the incident, he said he had “never heard of these men” and wouldn’t “comment on an ongoing investigation.”

“When I organize events, a chief priority is safety,” Spencer said, later adding, “I encourage all supporters to avoid violence and escalation.”

The University of Florida shelled out $500,000 in security costs to prepare for Spencer’s speech and Gov. Rick Scott (R) declared a state of emergency in Alachua County. The event itself proceeded peacefully, absent a few minor scuffles between white nationalists and the hundreds of protesters who came out to denounce their message. Inside the Philips Center auditorium, Spencer was shouted down for much of his speech by students chanting, “Fuck you, Spencer!” and “Nazis are not welcome here!”

Spencer told TPM that their response was “frustrating” but insisted the event was ultimately a “victory” because he “persevered against protesters who acted like children having temper tantrums.”

The white nationalist often claims he is not a Nazi and does not advocate for violence. A video of him making a Nazi salute at a Dallas karaoke bar surfaced earlier this month.

Read the full police reports below:

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The third time was not the charm for an anti-immigrant hate site seeking to hold its first-ever conference.

The Hilton Tucson El Conquistador golf resort said it will no longer host a March 2018 “immigration conference” for VDare, a publication that routinely publishes stories bylined by white nationalists, becoming the third venue this year to back out of holding the site’s planned conference.

“The safety and security of our guests and employees is of the utmost importance,” the hotel’s management said in a statement to Media Matters, who first reported the cancellation and has closely tracked VDare’s efforts to put on the conference. “After careful consideration, the hotel has decided to terminate its contract with VDare. We will not be hosting the event previously booked at the Hilton El Conquistador for March of 2018.”

TPM’s request for comment appeared to break the news to the site’s founder, Peter Brimelow, who said in an email Friday that he and his wife, Lydia, who handles the site’s events, hadn’t gotten word of the cancellation.

Brimelow said he had notified the resort about “who we were” when making the booking and that “it’s right there on the site anyway.” He added that “nothing can surprise me about the vindictiveness of America’s emerging Totalitarian Left or the cowardice of the capitalist class.”

Though Brimelow denies that his publication espouses white nationalist ideas, the author of “Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster” shares white nationalists’ concerns about non-whites taking over the country; routinely attends white nationalist events; and hosts articles with headlines like “One Problem With These Hispanic Immigrants Is Their Disgusting Behavior” on VDare.

The site was even described as “racist” by a Breitbart News editor in an explosive BuzzFeed exposé on Breitbart’s successful efforts to smooth out white nationalist ideas for publication on its own site.

That ideology is what keeps prompting venues to derail VDare’s efforts to bring together “all the most controversial immigration patriots in one place,” as it promised to do in a poster for the March conference that’s still featured on the banner of VDare’s website and pinned to the top of the site’s Twitter feed:

Tenaya Lodge, a resort near Yosemite National Park, denied the site’s first attempt to hold an event earlier this year after learning “of the nature of” the organization. And Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado canceled VDare’s booking shortly after the fatal white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last summer, after drawing criticism from local press and politicians for agreeing to host the event.

This post has been updated.

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One of the policies President Donald Trump rolled out soon after entering office to chip away at the staggering backlog of cases languishing in the country’s immigration courts appears to be having the opposite effect, immigration judges, attorneys and experts say.

A January executive order directed the Justice Department to temporarily reassign immigration judges to detention facilities, many of which are concentrated in the southwest along the U.S.-Mexico border, to expedite deportations of the undocumented. Last month, Politico published an investigation that found judges were made to abandon overloaded dockets at home for details to sleepy border courts, where some had little to do. DOJ pushed back on that report, insisting that changes had since been made to the program, and earlier this month in a press release boasted that mobilized judges completed about 2,700 more cases than they would have been able to otherwise.

A DOJ official told TPM that the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) got that figure by using historical data to compare the cases judges were projected to complete at their home courts with those they completed at the surge courts from March-September. But those numbers don’t give a complete picture of the backlog in the immigration courts, according to judges and researchers. They say the types of cases processed in the home and surge courts are entirely different, making for an “apples to oranges” comparison.

The mobilized judges were drawn away specifically from courts where they hear the cases of non-detained immigrants, who may have complex asylum relief claims that can drag on for years. In the surge courts they were assigned to, those judges heard the cases of detained immigrants, who are picked up along the border, often have no legal representation and are more inclined to waive their rights, vastly accelerating the speed at which their cases are processed.

“When you compare completion rates from a non-detained docket to a detained docket you’re going to be comparing apples to oranges,” said National Association of Immigration Judges President Emeritus Dana Marks, who serves as an immigration judge in San Francisco. “And that’s because detained dockets always have a higher volume and a greater percentage of cases where people are not eligible to seek some reprieve from removal or are not inclined to because they don’t want to remain in custody.”

The DOJ official told TPM that the program had a “positive net effect on the pending caseload,” and pointed out that the rate at which the pending caseload increases has slowed this year. Still, the total immigration court backlog grew from some 540,000 cases in January to 632,261 cases by August. According to data obtained by Politico through a Freedom of Information Act request, in the first three months of the program judges postponed around 22,000 cases across the country.

Sue Long, who oversees the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University that tracks the backlog, told TPM that total case “completions are down” and that the DOJ numbers omit critical context.

“You can’t attribute a change to simply posting of judges because a lot more is going on,” Long said. “They’ve been hiring more judges consistently, putting on more and more over the last two years. So you would expect some increase [in the number of cases being completed] because you have more judges.”

There are currently some 330 immigration judges nationwide—a number both the Obama and Trump administrations worked to bolster.

Ashley Huebner, managing attorney at the National Immigration Justice Center’s asylum project, noted that the Obama DOJ also bears responsibility for contributing to the seemingly unsurmountable number of immigration cases by prioritizing recent border crossers from Central America. That meant that immigrants who had waited years to have their cases heard found themselves facing additional months- or years-long delays.

But, anecdotally, advocacy groups and immigration attorneys handling those cases told TPM that the delays they’re seeing now are worse than anything they’ve seen previously. Months after the border surge program was rolled out and apparently tweaked, some lawyers say they’re still receiving little to no notice before the judges handling their cases are abruptly assigned to a border detail, forcing them and their clients to fight the battle to get a hearing all over again.

“We’ll sometimes get word that judge is going to be out on detail to the border or handling a detained case elsewhere in the state,” Atlanta-based immigration attorney Sarah Owings, chapter chair for the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) for Georgia and Alabama, told TPM. “But they don’t tell us the length of deployment or any specific details.”

After months of work preparing documents, obtaining expert and family witnesses, and rehearsing often traumatic narratives with their clients, attorneys say they’ll call the court to confirm a hearing or show up in person to file pre-hearing documents, only to be told by the clerk at the window that their case is no longer on the docket.

“2,700 cases and it was how many judge hours? How much did this cost?” Marks, the immigration judge union spokeswoman, asked. “Our criticism from the association’s perspective was not the sheer number of cases completed alone but also the disruption it caused to the cases left behind and the interests of individuals who’ve had their cases pending for long period of time and often have an interest in getting them resolved because they’re separated from family members or their evidence gets stale.”

Trump’s DOJ has responded to criticisms of the surge program by pointing to a significant uptick in immigration arrests in the country’s interior and in removal orders. But those just add to the overwhelming national court backlog, further burdening an overstretched system.

“In the broad scheme of things it is certainly counterproductive for an efficient running of the courts,” AILA Director of Government Relations Greg Chen said of the border detail surge. “So if the Trump administration is solely focused on deporting people, they’re actually shooting themselves in the foot.”

This post has been updated to indicate that Judge Marks is now president emeritus, rather than president, of the NAIJ.

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Democratic senators on Thursday announced legislation co-sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that would require major social media platforms to label political ads in much the same way they’re disclosed on television and radio.

The bill, The Honest Ads Act, comes in response to growing evidence that Russia exploited a number of social media platforms to interfere with the 2016 election and exacerbate divisions in U.S. political discourse. A companion bill, sponsored by Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Mike Coffman (R-CO), is being introduced in the House.

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