TPM News

President Donald Trump on Sunday blamed Democrats for his own administration’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents when they are arrested at the border.

In fact, it was Attorney General Jeff Sessions who flagged the policy in a speech earlier this month, when he pledged to criminally prosecute as many illegal border crossing cases “as humanly possible.”

“If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law,” Sessions said. “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen used similar language in congressional testimony a week later.

“Our policy is if you break the law, we will prosecute you,” Nielsen said. “You have an option to go to a port of entry and not illegally cross into our country.”

By prosecuting undocumented immigrants criminally, rather than processing their cases through civil immigration courts, the Trump administration has ensured that the many children of such criminally-charged migrants would technically become unaccompanied minors and would be put in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.

The announced change to formal policy came after months of examples of migrant families being separated.

HHS admitted last month that nearly 1,500 unaccompanied minors were unable to be accounted for during a recent survey.

And a recent report from the ACLU and the University of Chicago Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, the result of years of litigation over a request for government documents, detailed hundreds of cases of alleged physical and emotional abuse made by unaccompanied minors during the Obama administration against U.S. Customs and Border Protection. CBP called the reports claims “unfounded and baseless.” 

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Joshua Holt, who traveled to Venezuela from Utah in 2016 to marry a Spanish-speaking Mormon woman but soon found himself jailed and later branded the CIA’s top spy in Latin America, was set free by the anti-American Maduro government on Saturday in what his family called “this miracle.”

The release of Holt and his wife, Thamara Caleno, and their departure for Washington came one day after an influential U.S. senator held a surprise meeting in Caracas with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who the Trump administration says runs a “dictatorship” and just won re-election in a “sham” vote.

Their get-together was the result of months of secret, backchannel talks between an aide to Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and close allies of Maduro. Yet Holt’s release had seemed unlikely even a week ago.

President Donald Trump, in a tweet, described Holt as a “hostage” and said he expected to host Holt and his family at the White House on Saturday evening. “Good news about the release,” he wrote. The U.S. contended Holt was held on trumped up charges.

The White House learned from Corker, R-Tenn., on Friday of Holt’s impending release, according to a U.S. official who has closely followed Holt’s plight and spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private talks.

Holt and his wife were reunited at the Caracas airport with her daughter from a previous relationship, and all three boarded a chartered flight to Washington. “We are on our way home,” Corker tweeted.

Venezuela’s communications minister, Jorge Rodriguez, said their release was a goodwill gesture that followed months of dialogue between the Maduro government and U.S. lawmakers.

“We’re praying that this type of gesture … will allow us to strengthen what we’ve always sought: dialogue, harmony, respect for our independence and respect for our sovereignty,” he said.

Holt, now 26, set out for the South American country in June 2016 to marry a woman he met online while he was looking for Spanish-speaking Mormons who could help him improve his Spanish. He had planned to spend several months in Caracas that summer with his new wife and her two daughters, to secure their visas so they could move with him to the U.S.

Instead, the couple was arrested that June 30 at her family’s apartment in a government housing complex on the outskirts of Caracas. Authorities accused him of stockpiling an assault rifle and grenades, and suggested that his case was linked to other unspecified U.S. attempts to undermine Maduro’s rule amid deep economic and political turbulence.

They were held in a notorious Caracas prison, run by the secret police, that also is home to dozens of top Maduro opponents jailed during the past few years of political unrest in the country. Their trial was set to begin this month after repeated delays that led the Trump administration to question the motives for his detention.

Until Trump’s tweet on Saturday, the U.S. had stopped short of publicly calling Holt a “hostage.”

Holt’s release looked unlikely a week ago, when he appeared in a clandestinely shot video railing against the Maduro government and saying his life was threatened in a prison riot. In retaliation, socialist party boss Diosdado Cabello, a powerful Maduro ally, said on state television that Holt was the CIA’s top spy in Latin America.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has Trump’s ear on Latin America issues and spoke to Trump at length Friday night, said the couple’s release “will in no way change U.S. policy toward the dictatorship in Venezuela.”

The Trump administration has threatened crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela for Maduro’s decision to go forward with the presidential election last week.

The U.S. government at first avoided ratcheting up public pressure on Venezuela in light of their already strained relations, but eventually raised Holt’s case with the highest levels of the Venezuelan government and decried his treatment in prison.

Corker was seen live on state TV on Friday shaking hands with Maduro and being greeted by first lady Cilia Flores as he entered the presidential palace. Corker left an hour later; neither the senator nor the president made any statements.

Holt’s mother, Laurie Holt, said her son and his wife were wrongly accused. She worked feverishly to bring attention to her son’s incarceration, hosting rallies, fundraisers and doing media interviews.

Laurie Holt said her son has suffered numerous health problems in jail, including kidney stones and respiratory problems. He was depressed and at one point lost so much weight that he dropped several pant sizes, she said.

In their statement, the Holt family said, “We thank you for your collaboration during this time of anguish. We ask that you allow us to meet with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and statements. We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle.”

“Josh is finally coming home,” the office of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a tweet, adding that Holt soon would be reunited with “his sweet, long-suffering family.”


Goodman reported from Bogota, Colombia. Associated Press writers Scott Smith in Caracas, Venezuela, and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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Spanish police have handed over wiretaps of Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of Russia’s central bank and a lifetime NRA member, to the FBI, Yahoo News reported Friday.

The outlet confirmed the news with José Grinda, a Spanish prosecutor who spoke at the Hudson Institute on Friday.

The NRA in March acknowledged receiving less than $1,000 from Torshin, who was one of several Russians sanctioned by the Treasury Department last month, for a lifetime membership in the organization.

McClatchy first reported in January that Torshin was under FBI investigation for possibly funneling illegal campaign funds to the NRA.

“Just a few months ago, the wiretaps of these telephone conversations were given to the FBI,” Grinda said Friday, referring to conversations between Torshin and convicted money launderer Alexander Romanov.

Torshin, the head of a Russian gun group run by right wing extremists, met with Donald Trump Jr. at an NRA event in 2016.

On Friday, Yahoo News asked Grinda, in the outlet’s words, “if he was concerned about Torshin’s meetings with Donald Trump Jr. and other American political figures.”

“Mr. Trump’s son should be concerned,” Grinda responded.

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President Donald Trump on Saturday accused the New York Times of inventing an unnamed source who, in reality, spoke to reporters at a background briefing Thursday that the President’s own press office scheduled.

Trump, who on Thursday morning cancelled his planned meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, appeared to be quoting a Friday New York Times article that carried the following paragraph:

As with so many issues involving this president, the views of his aides often have little effect on what he actually says. On Thursday, for example, a senior White House official told reporters that even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.

That information, multiple reporters said Saturday, came from what’s known as a “background briefing,” a briefing between a government official and members of the press in which the official remains nameless.

At least one reporter, Yashar Ali, even named the source. He said the official who gave the briefing on background was Matt Pottinger, a foreign policy aide to Trump.

The Daily Beast identified Pottinger as the source in an article Thursday, noting that while “[t]he call was conducted on an off-the-record condition. […] The Daily Beast was not a party to the call and was briefed by a source who recounted Pottinger’s comments.”

The briefing, according to an email TPM and other news organizations received Thursday from the White House press office, was held in the White House briefing room and scheduled by White House staff. Reporters from around the nation were invited to call in to the briefing on a White House-provided phone number, using a White House-provided access code.

Here’s the text of that email:

Background Briefing with Senior White House Official on North Korea

This afternoon, a senior White House official will hold an off-camera, not for broadcast, background briefing on North Korea. The briefing will be conducted in person and via conference call at 3:30PM EDT, and the information will be embargoed until the conclusion of the briefing. The number of lines are limited and available on a first-come-first-served basis, so please limit to one per outlet. Please find the updated dial-in information below.

In Person: White House Briefing Room

Participant Dial-In: [redacted]

Access Code: [redacted]

Trump has a long record of asserting that unnamed sources who provide inconvenient information don’t exist. His White House and others before it also have a long record of providing unnamed sources to the press corps in order to tell their side of the story in a more candid atmosphere.

Ronald Kessler reported in his recent book that Trump himself frequently acts as an unnamed source to news outlets. And as a New York City tabloid star before his political career began, Trump sometimes used fake personas when speaking to reporters.

This post has been updated.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Newly released emails show senior Environmental Protection Agency officials working closely with a conservative group that dismisses climate change to rally like-minded people for public hearings on science and global warming, counter negative news coverage and promote Administrator Scott Pruitt’s stewardship of the agency.

John Konkus, EPA’s deputy associate administrator for public affairs, repeatedly reached out to senior staffers at the Heartland Institute, according to the emails.

“If you send a list, we will make sure an invitation is sent,” Konkus wrote to then-Heartland president Joseph Bast in May 2017, seeking suggestions on scientists and economists the EPA could invite to an annual EPA public hearing on the agency’s science standards.

Follow-up emails show Konkus and the Heartland Institute mustering scores of potential invitees known for rejecting scientific warnings of man-made climate-change, including from groups like Plants Need CO2, The Right Climate Stuff, and Junk Science.

The emails underscore how Pruitt and senior agency officials have sought to surround themselves with people who share their vision of curbing environmental regulation and enforcement, leading to complaints from environmentalists that he is ignoring the conclusions of the majority of scientists in and out of his agency especially when it comes to climate-changing carbon emissions.

They were obtained by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which sued to enforce a Freedom of Information request and provided them to The Associated Press.

The EPA maintains close working relationships with a broad range of public and private groups, and Heartland is just one of many the agency engages with “to ensure the public is informed,” said EPA spokesman Lincoln Ferguson.

“It demonstrates the agency’s dedication to advancing President Trump’s agenda of environmental stewardship and regulatory certainty,” he said.

The public hearing referred to in the May 2017 email ultimately was canceled when the EPA official who runs it fell ill, the EPA said.

But Bast contended in an email sent to EPA staffers and others that the official called off the hearing after learning that climate-change “skeptics planned to attend.”

The Heartland Institute calls itself a leading free-market think-tank. It rejects decades of science saying fossil-fuel emissions are altering the climate and says on its website that curbing use of petroleum and coal to fight climate change would “squander one of America’s greatest comparative advantages among the world’s nations.”

“Of course The Heartland Institute has been working with EPA on policy and personnel decisions,” Tim Huelskamp, a former Republican congressman from Kansas who now leads the group, said in a statement to the AP.

“They recognized us as the pre-eminent organization opposing the radical climate alarmism agenda and instead promoting sound science and policy,” Huelskamp wrote.

He said Heartland would continue to help Pruitt and his staff.

Ferguson said Pruitt and his top officials have also met with groups known for their campaigns against climate-changing emissions and pollutants from fossil fuels, including the Moms Clean Air Force, the American Lung Association, and others.

But Ben Levitan of the Environmental Defense Fund said mainstream climate-change groups have received nothing like the outreach and invitations that Heartland and other hard-right groups have been getting.

Certainly, “in some ways this is normal and in the course of business that ebbs and flows with the ideology of the administration in power,” said Meredith McGehee, executive director of Issue One, a non-profit promoting ethical government and bipartisan political reform.

Heartland is not registered as a lobbying group. Spokesman Jim Lakely said the group has logged its contacts with EPA and that they fall below the level required for disclosing as lobbying.

An email last February shows Bast forwarded to followers an email with the line “From the White House,” rallying activists to public hearings the EPA was then holding around the country on repealing an Obama-era power plan meant to curb fossil-fuel emissions.

The email is signed by a Pruitt political appointee and gives the name of another EPA official for activists to call. It’s not clear from the email, however, who initiated the attempt to rally conservatives for the public hearing.

Konkus was a Republican political consultant when Pruitt named him to the agency. His duties include reviewing awards of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants. The Washington Post reported in September that Konkus had been scrutinizing grant applications for mentions of climate change, which he reportedly calls “the double C-word.”

Emails show he and former EPA spokeswoman, Liz Bowman, repeatedly reached out to Heartland to talk over critical coverage by the Post.

Lakely, the Heartland spokesman, responds he’s shared the article with colleagues, “asking them to jump to your aide (sic) and defend this position.”

Konkus also contacted Heartland and other conservative groups asking for what he calls “echo” amplifying word of Pruitt’s regulation-cutting efforts, according to the emails.

And an email from Bast, shared with EPA staffers and others, shows the then-Heartland president celebrating news that a reporter, Justin Gillis, was leaving The New York Times.

“Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead. Still waiting for Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin at the WaPo and Seth Borenstein at AP to flame out,” Bast writes.

Spokespeople for the AP, The Washington Post and The New York Times declined comment.

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Publix, the popular grocery chain whose stores dot the Southeastern United States, announced Friday that it would suspend corporate campaign donations.

The announcement came just before survivors of the February gun massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School led a “die-in” protest at two Publix locations near the school, an attempt to pressure the company to end its financial support for Adam Putnam, an NRA-friendly Republican primary candidate for Florida’s governorship.

“At Publix, we respect the students and members of the community who have chosen to express their voices on these issues,” the company said in a statement Friday. “We regret our contributions have led to a divide in our community. We did not intend to put our associates and the customers they serve in the middle of a political debate. At the same time, we remain committed to maintaining a welcoming shopping environment for our customers.” 

“We would never knowingly disappoint our customers or the communities we serve. As a result, we decided earlier this week to suspend corporate-funded political contributions as we re-evaluate our giving processes.”

The Tampa Bay Times reported earlier this month that Publix — together with the individual donations of its founder’s heirs and those of the company’s current and former leadership — had “given more money to Adam Putnam’s gubernatorial bid than any other candidate since at least 1995 and likely for the entirety of the company’s history.”

The chain also donated money to business groups that in turn supported Putnam’s campaign, the report said. Putnam, in his current role as commissioner of agriculture, oversees health inspections of the grocery chain in Florida, the paper noted. 

The Times said Friday that Publix released its statement “moments before” the staged die-in.

Putnam last year called himself “a proud #NRASellout!”

Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), likely Putnam’s closest competition in the Aug. 28 primary election, responded to the news Friday by calling the protesters “left-wing agitators.”

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SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in met for the second time in a month on Saturday, holding a surprise summit at a border truce village to discuss Kim’s potential meeting with President Donald Trump, Moon’s office said.

Kim and Moon met hours after South Korea expressed relief over revived talks for a summit between Trump and Kim following a whirlwind 24 hours that saw Trump cancel the highly anticipated meeting before saying it’s potentially back on.

Moon, who brokered the summit between Washington and Pyongyang, likely used Saturday’s meeting to confirm Kim’s willingness to enter nuclear negotiations with Trump and clarify what steps Kim has in mind in the process of denuclearization, said Hong Min, a senior analyst at Seoul’s Korea Institute for National Unification.

“While Washington and Pyongyang have expressed their hopes for a summit through published statements, Moon has to step up as the mediator because the surest way to set the meeting in stone would be an official confirmation of intent between heads of states,” Hong said.

Trump tweeted earlier Saturday that a summit with Kim, if it does happen, will likely take place on June 12 in Singapore as originally planned.

South Korean presidential spokesman Yoon Young-chan said Moon will reveal details of his meeting with Kim on Sunday.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the rivals organized what appeared to be an emergency summit. Ahead of their first summit last month, Kim and Moon established a hotline that they said would enable direct communication between the leaders and would be valuable to defuse crises, but it was unclear whether it was used to set up the latest meeting.

Photos released by South Korea’s presidential office showed Moon arriving at the northern side of the Panmunjom truce village and shaking hands with Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, before sitting down with Kim for their summit.

Moon was accompanied by his spy chief, Suh Hoon, while Kim was joined by Kim Yong Chol, a former military intelligence chief who is now a vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party’s central committee tasked with inter-Korean relations.

The two leaders embraced as Moon departed.

Moon’s office said that during their two-hour meeting, the two leaders also discussed carrying out the peace commitments they agreed to at their first summit, held at Panmunjom on April 27, but didn’t elaborate.

At their first summit, Kim and Moon announced vague aspirations for a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and permanent peace, which Seoul has tried to sell as a meaningful breakthrough to set up the summit with Trump.

But relations between the rival Koreas chilled in recent weeks, with North Korea canceling a high-level meeting with Seoul over South Korea’s participation in regular military exercises with the United States and insisting that it will not return to talks unless its grievances are resolved.

South Korea was caught off guard by the abrupt cancellation of the summit by Trump, who cited hostility in recent North Korean comments. Moon said Trump’s decision left him “perplexed” and was “very regrettable.” He urged Washington and Pyongyang to resolve their differences through “more direct and closer dialogue between their leaders.”

Trump’s back-and-forth over his summit plans with Kim has exposed the fragility of Seoul as an intermediary. It fanned fears in South Korea that the country may lose its voice between a rival intent on driving a wedge between Washington and Seoul and an American president who thinks less of the traditional alliance with Seoul than his predecessors did.

Trump’s decision to pull out of the summit with Kim came just days after he hosted Moon in a White House meeting in which he openly cast doubts on the Singapore meeting but offered no support for continued inter-Korean progress, essentially ignoring the North’s recent attempts to coerce the South.

In a letter to Kim announcing the cancellation, Trump objected specifically to a statement from senior North Korean diplomat Choe Son Hui. She referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy” for his earlier comments on North Korea and said it was up to the Americans whether they would “meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown.”

North Korea issued an unusually restrained and diplomatic response to Trump, saying it’s still willing to sit for talks with the United States “at any time, (in) any format.”

“The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse,” North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency, which mainly targets an external audience.

Notably, the statement did not appear in Saturday’s edition of Rodong Sinmun, which is the official mouthpiece of the North’s ruling party and is widely read by North Koreans.

Analysts say Kim’s diplomatic outreach in recent months after a flurry of nuclear and missile tests in 2017 indicates he is eager for sanctions relief to build his economy and the international legitimacy the summit with Trump would provide. But there’s also skepticism whether Kim will ever agree to fully relinquish his nuclear arsenal, which he likely sees as his only guarantee of survival.

Comments in North Korea’s state media indicate Kim sees any meeting with Trump as an arms control negotiation between nuclear states, rather than a process to surrender his nukes. The North has said it will refuse to participate in talks where it would be unilaterally pressured to give up its nukes.

Moon used his hosting role for the Winter Olympics in February to renew the push to resolve the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang. North Korea sent hundreds of athletes, performers and dignitaries to the Pyeongchang Games, including Kim Yo Jong, who conveyed her brother’s desire for a summit with Moon.

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DUBLIN (AP) — Abortion rights activists proclaimed victory for social justice Saturday as exit polls and early results indicated Ireland had voted overwhelmingly to repeal a 1983 constitutional ban on abortions.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, speaking Saturday before official results were announced, said it appeared that voters chose to liberalize Ireland’s strict laws on abortion — only allowed when a woman’s life is at risk — by a more than two-to-one margin.

“The people have spoken,” said Varadkar, a medical doctor who campaigned for repeal in Friday’s historic referendum. “The people have said that we want a modern constitution for a modern country, that we trust women and we respect them to make the right decision and the right choices about their health care.”

Calling the result a culmination of a “quiet revolution” that had been gaining strength in the last 20 years, Varadkar said the large margin of victory will give his government a greater mandate when enacting new abortion legislation through parliament.

Campaigners who have fought for more than three decades to remove the eighth amendment abortion ban from Ireland’s constitution hailed the referendum vote as a major breakthrough in a largely Catholic nation that has already seen a wave of social liberalization in recent years.

“This is a monumental day for women in Ireland,” said Orla O’Connor, co-director of the Together for Yes group. “This is about women taking their rightful place in Irish society, finally.”

The vote is a “rejection of an Ireland that treated women as second-class citizens,” she said, adding: “This is about women’s equality and this day brings massive change, monumental change for women in Ireland, and there is no going back.”

Official counting for Friday’s referendum on whether or not to liberalize Ireland’s abortion laws was still under way, and final results are not expected until Saturday afternoon.

But opponents of the repeal movement have conceded they have no chance of victory.

John McGuirk, spokesman for the Save the 8th group — which refers to the eighth amendment in the constitution which effectively bans terminations — told Irish television Saturday that many Irish citizens will not recognize the country they are waking up in. But he said the vote must be respected.

“You can still passionately believe that the decision of the people is wrong, as I happen to do, and accept it,” said McGuirk. “I don’t think you’ll find many people on our side of the referendum who don’t accept the result. That would be wrong.”

The Irish Times and RTE television exit polls suggest the Irish people have voted by nearly 70 percent to repeal the 1983 constitutional amendment, which requires authorities to treat a fetus and its mother as equals under the law.

If the projected numbers hold up, the referendum would be a landmark in Irish women’s fight for abortion rights. It would also likely end the need for thousands of Irish women to travel abroad — mostly to neighboring Britain — for abortions they can’t get at home.

Ireland’s Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone said Saturday she is confident new abortion legislation can be approved by parliament and put in place before the end of the year.

“I feel very emotional,” she said. “I’m especially grateful to the women of Ireland who came forward to provide their personal testimony about the hard times that they endured, the stress and the trauma that they experienced because of the eighth amendment.”

If the “yes” forces seeking a constitutional change prevail, Ireland’s parliament will be charged with coming up with new abortion laws.

The government proposes to allow abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with later terminations allowed in some cases.

The magnitude of the predicted victory exceeded the expectations of abortion rights activists. Surprisingly, they also suggest that supporters of more liberal abortion laws may have triumphed throughout the country, not just in the cosmopolitan capital, Dublin, where a strong youth vote had been anticipated.

The RTE exit poll of 3,779 voters predicts support for the “yes” vote in urban areas to be about 72 percent, with rural support at about 63 percent.

It indicates about 72 percent of women voted “yes” along with about 66 percent of men. The strongest backing came from youthful voters — the exit poll says the only age group in which a majority voted “no” were voters who are 65 or older. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.6 percent.


Leo Enright contributed.

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For Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA), it’s been a week of heartbreak.

Tuesday evening, the freshman representative had a dramatic breakup with his chief of staff, Jimmy Keady, sparking rumors that the verklempt congressman would drop his reelection bid and force local GOP officials to scramble to find a quality replacement.

His uninspiring fundraising had already made him a thorn in the party leaders’ collective side as his safely conservative district slid into competition with Democratic candidate journalist Leslie Cockburn’s robust challenge.

In the sober light of Thursday afternoon, Garrett tried to right Tuesday’s wrongs. He reportedly went to Keady and begged for him back, only to be met with rejection. The men split because Keady objected to what sources described to Politico as Garrett’s “misuse of official resources.”

The chief of staff-less Garrett then gave a rambling and, at times, emotional press conference to dispel the resignation rumors and to vent about how “frustrating” it is to serve in the people’s chamber.

Pacing and gesticulating with handwritten notes, Garrett took listeners on a wild ride, invoking Moses, King David, and Thomas Jefferson before assuring the assembled reporters that he is a well-funded and solid candidate.

“God’s got a plan, Tom works hard,” he reeled off to conclude his remarks in the third person.

God’s plan came with a hearty serving of embarrassment Friday, as Garrett’s pain from an on-again off-again chief of staff was compounded by a report detailing accusations by four former staffers who claimed that Garrett and his wife, Flanna, forced them to clean up their dog’s poop, chauffeur their kids from Virginia to D.C., and pick up backup outfits when Garrett got schmutz on his tie.

They chauffeured the dog too: Sophie, the Garretts’ Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix, would reportedly hang out in the House office being so quiet and well-behaved that her owners sometimes forgot about her, forcing staffers to transport her home (after Lysoling any unfortunate accidents out of the rug).

Aides had to carve out time for this ride around schlepping Garrett’s daughters from his first marriage from their home in Scottsville, Virginia to the nation’s capital, a quick three-hour jaunt one way.

The ex-aides said that the calls came early and often, and that interns were often roped into the servitude, somehow lowering the bar for Congress’s most mistreated underclass.

Unsurprisingly, staffers left in hordes, making Garrett’s office the fourth most abandoned of over 400 House offices.

For being the most likely to whine about how hard Congress is while an intern jogs behind with a doggy bag, Tom Garrett is our Duke of the Week.

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Hello, Prime subscribers. Welcome to Memorial Day Weekend! Here’s what happened this week in Prime:

  • Matt Shuham writes in our first Weekly Primer on the Trump swamp — looking at abuse of power and corruption within the administration — that the President put pressure on the Postmaster General to double rates for Amazon as a way to punish Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos for The Post’s relentless coverage of his administration. The Washington Post, appropriately, broke the story.
  • The President and his allies were seized by a paroxysm of outrage this week about what they dubbed “Spygate.” Allegra Kirkland breaks down what the administration claimed happened, and what actually happened, in her Weekly Primer on the Trump-Russia probe. When Trump demanded an investigation, and the DOJ agreed, it lost its independence, Zack Roth writes. And Josh Marshall writes that “we are now faced with the stunning circumstance in which a sitting President is conspiring with friendly members of Congress against his own Justice Department and FBI.”
  • The Michael Cohen saga took us to new and exciting places. Josh flags that Cohen met with Andrew Intrater, cousin to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, multiple times. (The New York Times gave us more details on these meetings, at which Cohen and Intrater discussed U.S.-Russia relations, later in the week.)
  • In other Cohen-related news, taxi mogul Evgeny “Gene” Freidman has struck a deal to cooperate with prosecutors. He knows a lot about Michael Cohen, Josh writes.
  • We also learned this week that Donald Trump Jr., George Nader, and an Israeli social media specialist met in August 2016, a meeting that was organized by Erik Prince. Josh offers some takeaways from that report, and, in a separate post, investigates George Nader’s increasingly complex role in the Trump-Russia story.
  • Meanwhile, Robert Mueller is facing an unexpected fight with a company that allegedly funded a Russian troll farm. The legal battle could be intense, Tierney Sneed writes.
  • Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race is awash in super PAC money. But, I write, it’s largely coming from one man: Dick Uihlein, the Republican megadonor who runs Uline, and who has taken a special interest in unseating Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) with a candidate her personally plucked from relative obscurity. Meanwhile, Tierney Sneed writes that advocates of campaign finance reform won a rare victory at the hands of the Supreme Court last week when the Court declined to hear a case that was attempting to strike down the $2,700-limit on individual contributions to a given candidate.
  • In her Weekly Primer on the battle over the future of Obamacare, Alice Ollstein writes that Michigan is walking back a plan to implement Medicaid work requirements in such a way that they would disproportionately penalized urban minorities. Ohio and Kentucky are moving ahead with similar plans, however.

Thanks for subscribing, thanks for reading, have a great three-day weekend, and see you next week.