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Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) on Wednesday said Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was “defending and sympathizing with terrorists” for opposing current CIA Deputy Director Gina Haspel to lead the agency.

Haspel will face a bumpy confirmation process: She ran a CIA black site in Thailand and oversaw the torture of detainees during former President George W. Bush’s tenure. When the Bush administration faced scrutiny for what it called “enhanced interrogation” years later, according to ProPublica, Haspel “drafted an order to destroy the evidence.” Video tapes of the interrogations were then ordered destroyed by her boss, Jose Rodriguez, director of operations for counterterrorism at the CIA. 

“Gina Haspel has spent her career defending the American people and homeland,” Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, said in a tweet. She linked to a video of Rand Paul explaining that his opposition to Haspel came in response to what he called her “gleeful” response to torture.

“@RandPaul is defending and sympathizing with terrorists,” Cheney wrote.

Cheney is a fierce defender of the Bush administration’s use of torture (though she calls waterboarding, a process that simulates forced drowning, “enhanced interrogation”), and of President Donald Trump’s suggestion that America bring it back into regular use.

“The President’s executive order was very clear we don’t torture, we haven’t tortured but what we’re talking about is the ability to get information from people who don’t want to provide information and have information that may well save American lives and prevent attacks,” she said shortly after Trump’s inauguration.

Cheney commented Wednesday on footage of Fox News’ Harris Faulkner interviewing Paul about his opposition to both Haspel’s confirmation, and the confirmation of current CIA Director Mike Pompeo to be secretary of state.

“I oppose her because she believes that waterboarding should be something that we use, and I think America shouldn’t be known for torture,” Paul said. “And I have members of my family in the military. I don’t want, if they’re ever captured, for foreign countries to think torture is okay.”

Faulkner objected: “You say she believes, Gina Haspel believes in this. She was working in a capacity at the CIA where everybody was taking orders. So Gina Haspel, how do you know what she believes?”

Paul pointed to a book by a former interrogator at the Thai black site and said “several” of Haspel’s comments about torture “were basically gleeful.”

He appeared to be referencing a work quoted in the same ProPublica report that identified Haspel by her title. The book quoted the person with Haspel’s position speaking to a prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, about his signs of physical and emotional distress:

In a scene described in a book written by one of the interrogators, the chief of base came to his cell and “congratulated him on the fine quality of his acting.” According to the book, the chief of base, who was identified only by title, said: “Good job! I like the way you’re drooling; it adds realism. I’m almost buying it. You wouldn’t think a grown man would do that.”

“The man can’t breathe and he’s choking on saliva and water and she’s saying ‘Oh, you’re a good actor,’ and ‘Can’t believe a grown man’s crying because of this treatment,’” Paul said, characterizing the book. “And it almost seemed to be a bit of glee in her voice, that she enjoyed the torture.”

“We should not reward somebody who actually participated in torture treatment,” he added. “Remember, they went to Thailand to do this because it’s illegal in the United States.”

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NEW YORK (AP) — YouTube says it’s cracking down on conspiracy videos, though it’s scant on the details.

Conspiracy videos abound on YouTube, whether it’s about the Earth being flat or school shootings being staged. YouTube, its parent Google, Facebook and Twitter are all facing challenges with the spread of misinformation, propaganda and fake news.

YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said at a conference Tuesday that the company will include links to the online encyclopedia Wikipedia to try to debunk videos espousing conspiracy theories.

But Wikipedia itself has had its share of credibility issues, as the service lets anyone edit its content, whether that person is a pedigreed expert or an online troll. Though Wikipedia has tried to address that — in part by restricting edits on high-profile or controversial pages — it isn’t immune from hoaxes and its own conspiracy theories.

In a statement Wednesday, YouTube said the links will include other “third-party sources” besides Wikipedia, though YouTube isn’t identifying any. The organization that runs Wikipedia said Wednesday that it had no formal partnership with YouTube, but welcomed the use of Wikipedia resources.

YouTube said the move is part of a broader initiative to crack down on misinformation, though it did not give details on what else is in the works.

While conspiracy videos are nothing new on YouTube, the topic received renewed attention in recent weeks as videos falsely claimed that students speaking out about the Feb. 14 Florida school shooting, which killed 17 people, were “crisis actors” who were not really there when it happened. One such conspiracy video was the top trending video on YouTube until the company removed it — although many similar videos remained up, illustrating the difficulty in instituting any sort of crackdown.

Conspiracy videos, to be sure, are not against YouTube’s policies. In the “crisis actor” case, the company said it removed the video because it violated its rules against harassment. As such, YouTube is unlikely to ban misinformation entirely. Instead, it may adopt Facebook’s tactic of de-emphasizing such content and making it less likely to be seen. As it stands, critics say YouTube is doing the opposite.

“What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with — or to incendiary content in general,” Zeynep Tufekci, a University of North Carolina professor who studies the social impact of technology, wrote in a recent New York Times essay. Tufekci said that as users click through video after video, excited by “uncovering more secrets and deeper truths,” YouTube leads us down “a rabbit hole of extremism, while Google racks up the ad sales.”

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Controversial Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) is abandoning a primary challenge to Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) and instead launching a bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), he announced Wednesday evening, giving him an easier path to the U.S. Senate.

“By announcing early, we are asking Mississippi Republicans to unite around my candidacy and avoid another contentious contest among GOP members that would only improve the Democrats’ chances of winning the open seat,” McDaniel said in a statement. “If we unite the party now and consolidate our resources, we can guarantee Donald Trump will have a fighter who will stand with him.”

That switch comes after months of internal debate from McDaniel, who delayed filing for the Wicker race for as long as he could as he waited on Cochran, before eventually jumping in a few weeks ago. Cochran announced shortly afterwards that he’d retire, creating a much easier opening for McDaniel, who lost a close and nasty primary to Cochran in 2014.

Cochran will resign on April 1, and Mississippi Gov. Phi Bryant (R) has said he’ll start considering a replacement after that. McDaniel’s allies have pushed to have him named to the seat, something Bryant is loath to do.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and President Trump have both encouraged Bryant to appoint himself, but sources say he’s not thrilled with the idea. Whoever Bryant does pick is likely to have their hands full with McDaniel, who has a rabid Tea Party following in the state – though McDaniel’s criticisms of Trump during the 2016 GOP primary give opponents fodder to attack him.

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The cycle is getting shorter.

Before House Republicans had even learned the details of a new White House proposal for a three-year renewal of DACA paired with three years of border wall funding, the White House had already walked back the idea.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday afternoon that White House officials had been reaching out to Capitol Hill leaders to gauge their enthusiasm for the short-term deal, saying President Trump was on board with the plan despite his prior insistence that any immigration package include cuts to legal immigration. Just a few hours later, White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Trump does not support the short-term package and will only back a more comprehensive bill.

While the trail balloon was still aloft, several Republican lawmakers told TPM they would not be on board if such a provision was added to the upcoming budget omnibus.

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EVANSTON, Ill. (AP) — Police say that the report of a gunman in a residence hall at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago was a hoax.

Evanston Police Commander Ryan Glew says the Wednesday afternoon call was a “swatting” in which someone calls in a false report in the hopes in prompting a police department SWAT team to respond.

Nobody was injured and Glew says the student who the caller reported had been shot by a boyfriend has been located and she is safe.

Glew says the call came from outside the Chicago region — southeast of Rockford in northern Illinois — and that the apartment that police responded to had been vacant since around Thanksgiving.

The call prompted Northwestern to urge people in the area to “shelter in a safe place and stay until further notice.”

Such calls can be extremely dangerous. In December, police who responded to such a hoax call fatally shot a man who answered his door in Wichita, Kansas.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The House overwhelmingly approved a bill to improve school safety Wednesday, the first gun-related action by Congress since the shooting that left 17 dead at a Florida high school.

The bill authorizes $500 million over 10 years for grants to improve training and coordination between schools and local law enforcement and help identify signs of potential violence before they occur.

Lawmakers approved the bill, 407-10. It now goes to the Senate, where a similar measure is being considered.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said the bill “provides a multi-layered approach” to identify threats so authorities can stop violence before it occurs.

“Tragic violence has no place in our schools. Every American believes that,'” Ryan said. “This legislation will actually take concrete action to prevent that.”

The vote came as the FBI announced it is doubling the number of supervisors assigned to review tips received from the public about possible threats of mass shootings or other violence.

Deputy FBI Director David Bowdich told a Senate committee that the agency “could have and should have done more” to investigate information it received prior to the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The FBI received at least two credible tips that the suspect in the Florida school shooting had a “desire to kill” and access to guns and could be plotting an attack, but agents failed to investigate.

“While we will never know if any such investigative activity would have prevented this tragedy, we clearly should have done more,” Bowdich told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate panel was considering a similar proposal to improve school safety, but a hearing Wednesday focused on law enforcement failures in Florida. Besides the FBI lapses, Broward County, Florida Sheriff Scott Israel has said his office received more than 20 calls about accused gunman Nikolas Cruz in the past few years

Sen. Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the committee, noted that Israel declined an invitation to testify Wednesday, as did Michael Carroll, secretary of Florida’s Department of Children and Families.

“By thumbing their noses at Congress, Sheriff Israel and Secretary Carroll have let the American people down and also the citizens of Florida they serve,” said Grassley, R-Iowa.

Some Democratic lawmakers sought to expand the focus to include gun control. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said more and more families are being victimized by mass shootings since a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons she authored expired in 2004.

“This Congress cannot continue to do nothing, because nothing means more lives are lost, including the youngest and the most vulnerable among us,” said Feinstein, the senior Democrat on the Judiciary panel. “High school students are literally begging us to take action to get these guns off the streets and out of our schools.”

As Feinstein spoke, hundreds of students were rallying outside the Capitol to urge stricter gun control laws. The rally was part of a nationwide school walkout to protest gun violence following the Florida attack. A larger rally is planned March 24.

Chloe Appel, 15, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, held a sign that said, “Fix this before I text my mom from under a desk.” The high school student said she’s hopeful that Congress will enact gun control laws.

“After today and after the next protest Congress will see how many people feel strongly about this so they will have to make a change,” she said.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders told the students that young people again are leading the nation, as they did during the civil rights and anti-war movements.

“All across the country people are sick and tired of gun violence, and the time is now for all of us together to stand up to the NRA and pass common-sense gun legislation,” Sanders said.

The FBI has acknowledged it mishandled separate tips related to Cruz, last September and again in January.

“When we make mistakes, we will not hide them,” Bowdich said, vowing to work with Congress to correct mistakes and prevent similar tragedies.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the FBI gets about 4,100 tips a day at its nationwide call centers with a staff of about 160 to handle them. More people should be dedicated to that task, Durbin said.

President Donald Trump supports the school safety measure, one of two bills included in a modest White House plan released over the weekend to combat school shootings. The other bill would strengthen, but not expand, the federal background check system for gun purchases.

The background checks bill has stalled in the Senate amid objections from some Republicans and concern by Democrats that it is insufficient. Without strong advocacy from the White House, an ambitious gun package appeared unlikely to even get off the ground, given most Republicans’ opposition to any new restrictions on gun rights.

Ryan Petty, whose daughter, Alaina, was killed in the Parkland shooting, told senators that, “Nikolas Cruz and the deadly danger he posed were the worst-kept secrets in Parkland.”

Petty, his voice shaking with emotion, called on lawmakers to follow the lead of Florida, which just passed legislation that raises the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21; extends a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases to include long guns; and bans bump stocks, which allow guns to mimic fully automatic fire.

“Build on common ground,” Petty said.

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I’m back from Kansas City, Kansas, after covering six days of the trial for Kris Kobach’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration requirement.

While covering the trial I was staying at a hotel right next to the courthouse — the only hotel, really, that was near the courthouse. That meant that basically everyone involved in the case were there too, including Kobach’s legal team (who, presumably, are normally based in Topeka), the ACLU lawyers challenging them, and other attorneys representing the challengers. Reporters working for other non-local outlets were also there.

This definitely made things convenient, but at times a little awkward. The ACLU attorneys were pretty friendly with reporters; Kobach’s team and witnesses didn’t say to much to us beyond small talk greetings. And in the evenings after the days when things got tense in the court, having everyone in the same hotel could be a little claustrophobic.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday he had no interest in becoming the next head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, flatly rejecting speculation that he would soon take over the position after the White House floated his name to replace embattled VA Secretary David Shulkin.

Speaking after a Senate hearing, Perry said he’s keeping his job and made a reference to reports as “fake news.”

“I am energy secretary from now until the foreseeable future. Happily,” he said.

Two people familiar with White House discussions told The Associated Press Tuesday that President Donald Trump is considering ousting Shulkin, who has faced an insurgency within his department and fresh allegations that he used a member of his security detail to run personal errands.

The sources, who were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations, said Trump floated the notion of moving Perry to the VA to right the ship, believing Shulkin has become a distraction.

Shulkin has faced several investigations over his travel and leadership of the department, but until now has received praise from the president for his work to turn it around. The news comes after Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday.

Trump raised the idea with Perry on Monday but did not offer the job to him, according to one White House official. Trump has been angry with Shulkin, the official said, but is known to float staffing changes without always following through.

Shulkin did not respond to requests for comment via phone and text message. He has been holding on to his job by a thread since a bruising internal report found ethics violations in connection with his trip to Europe with his wife last summer. A spokeswoman for Perry also had no comment.

The VA inspector general also is looking into a complaint by a member of Shulkin’s 24-7 security detail that he was asked to accompany the secretary to a Home Depot and carry furniture items into his home, according to two people familiar with the allegation who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Within the agency, a political adviser installed by Trump has openly mused to other VA staff about ousting the former Obama administration official. And a top communications aide has taken extended leave following a secret, failed attempt to turn lawmakers against him.

“The honeymoon is ending with a crash that hurts veterans most of all,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, who has been a close observer of VA for more than a decade. “VA always has bad news, but Shulkin’s ethical and leadership failures are still significant — despite any internal attacks.”

Senior administration officials describe a growing frustration that Shulkin repeatedly ignores their advice, only to beg for their help when he runs into ethical trouble. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to describe sensitive internal discussions, say Shulkin has been given a final warning to end the swirl of distractions. The administration is currently seeking to push Trump’s agenda of aggressively expanding the Veterans Choice program, which major veterans groups worry could be an unwanted step toward privatizing VA health care.

The issue came to the fore at a White House meeting last week, when chief of staff John Kelly told Shulkin to stop talking to the news media without clearing it first with the White House and to stay focused on fixing veterans care.

Shulkin was escorted from that meeting to the Oval Office, where Trump questioned him about his efforts to push the Choice expansion, which lawmakers are now seeking to include in a massive spending bill that must be approved by next week to avert a government shutdown.

With Shulkin present, the president telephoned conservative Pete Hegseth, a “Fox & Friends” contributor who was vetted in late 2016 for VA secretary, to get his views on how to proceed with the expansion. Hegseth, a former president of the conservative group Concerned Veterans for America, declined to comment for this article.

Dan Caldwell, executive director of CVA, lauded the White House focus on Choice amid the ongoing controversies involving Shulkin. “Despite the internal drama going on in the VA, which has been a distraction, Congress has continued to work to a solution that everyone can rally around,” he said.

Shulkin is blaming the internal drama on a half-dozen or so political appointees whom he had considered firing, only to be blocked by Kelly.

“I regret anything that has distracted us from what we should be focusing on, which is serving veterans,” Shulkin told the AP shortly before release of an inspector general report that faulted the VA for “failed leadership” and an unwillingness or inability of leaders to take responsibility for accounting problems at a major VA hospital that put patients at risk.

It wasn’t always this way.

Early in the administration, Shulkin was often seen at Trump’s side, waving to crowds at campaign-style events in Pennsylvania or addressing reporters in a doctor’s lab coat as he tutored Trump on telehealth. Trump called him the “100-to-nothing man” — a reference to his unanimous Senate confirmation vote — and publicly teased that he probably would never be fired because he had successfully shepherded legislation to improve accountability at the VA and speed disability appeals.

By December, relations at the VA between Shulkin and several political appointees began to fray over philosophical differences.

In a Dec. 4 internal email obtained by the AP, Jake Leinenkugel, a senior aide installed as part of a Cabinet-wide program to monitor secretaries’ loyalty, said Shulkin was becoming increasingly distrustful and regarded Camilo Sandoval, a senior adviser in VA’s health arm, as a White House “spy.”

The email to Sandoval alluded to White House efforts to gain more control, including ousting Shulkin’s chief of staff, and said the secretary had been “put on notice to exit” once the administration gets the Choice legislation through Congress.

There were other signs.

At a Jan. 17 hearing, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., openly blamed the deadlock over Choice to Shulkin’s ever-shifting positions. “I am of the opinion that our inability to reach an agreement is in significant part related to your ability to speak out of both sides of your mouth, double-talk,” Moran said. A grim Shulkin denied the accusation, but the White House was later forced to clarify its position on the bill due to lawmaker confusion.

Last month, the inspector general released a blistering report finding ethical violations in Shulkin’s trip last July to Denmark and England that mixed business with pleasure. The IG found that Shulkin’s chief of staff Vivieca Wright Simpson had doctored emails to justify his wife accompanying him at taxpayer expense. Wright Simpson retired after the report was issued.

Seizing on the report, John Ullyot, a top communications aide, and VA spokesman Curt Cashour told the Republican staff director of the House Veterans Affairs Committee that Shulkin would be out by that weekend and asked if Republicans would push for his removal.

The staff director, John Towers, told Ullyot “no,” and made clear that committee Chairman Phil Roe had expressed support for Shulkin, according to a House aide familiar with the phone conversation. That aide also requested anonymity in order to discuss a sensitive internal matter. In a statement, Cashour and Ullyot deny that account, saying the call was intended instead to warn the committee that some of Shulkin’s denials of wrongdoing were unfounded.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions is currently reviewing a request to fire former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, who has been on a leave of absence from the bureau since January and is set to officially retire on Sunday.

According to people inside the Justice Department who spoke to The New York Times, McCabe is expected to be fired before the end of the work week, though no official decision has been made yet.

The Justice Department inspector general is probing McCabe’s decision to allow members of the FBI to speak with reporters about its probe into the Clinton Foundation in 2016. According to The New York Times, the IG office has found that McCabe was not forthcoming during the review and the report findings ignited an FBI disciplinary process that recommended McCabe be fired.

Sessions will get to decide whether to accept the recommendation, a move that would threaten his ability to collect a pension after his 21-year career with the FBI, according to the Times.

McCabe took a leave of absence in January following reports that President Donald Trump and Sessions tried to pressure FBI Director Chris Wray to fire McCabe. Wray reportedly threatened to resign if he was forced to fire the deputy director.

As TPM and the Times reported in January, the forthcoming report from the IG fueled McCabe’s decision to leave the bureau before his retirement in March.

The IG was probing a variety of different moves made by the FBI during its investigations during the 2016 election, including its handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and whether McCabe should’ve recused himself from the investigation, given his wife ran as a Democrat for public office in 2015. Trump has repeatedly bullied McCabe and that perceived conflict of interest on Twitter.

Read the rest of the Times report here. 

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Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) on Wednesday blasted House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) analysis of the special congressional election in the state the previous night as “one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.”

Though the race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone is still too close to call, Ryan on Wednesday tried to minimize Lamb’s shocking success in winning over large numbers of Trump voters.

“I think the candidate that’s going to win this race is the candidate that ran as a prolifeprogunantiNancy Pelosi conservative,” Ryan said during a press conference Wednesday. “That’s the candidate that’s going to win this race.”

Ryan noted that Lamb was selected as Democrats’ candidate at a convention of the party, not in a primary, and that Democratic delegates “were able to pick a candidate who could run as a conservative, who ran against the minority leader, who ran on a conservative agenda. You will have primaries in all these other races, and the primaries bring them to the left.”

Left unsaid: Saccone was chosen at a state party convention, as well.

In an interview with Rendell Wednesday, MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell said Ryan’s message was that “the Democrats have had to field a candidate who was really spouting Republican policies here and that it was not a clear win, certainly not for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.”

“I thought Paul Ryan has a reputation of being a smart guy,” Rendell replied. “That’s one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.”

“As I tell my friends, the most important vote that Conor Lamb or Joe Manchin will make is they’ll vote to have a new speaker [of the House] who will control the Democratic agenda and bring it to the floor, and a new majority leader in the Senate who will do the same thing,” he said later, adding: “Conor Lamb will deliver it. Joe Manchin will deliver it. Joe Donnelly will deliver it. So I don’t care if they’re conservative Democrats. They’re good, decent Democrats who believe in our core message. Not necessarily all the things we need to do, but believe in the core message.”

On Tuesday night, Rendell, who served as Pennsylvania’s governor for two terms, made a similar point to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham, acknowledging that Lamb was able to attract Trump voters.

“He is a moderate. He’s pro-life. He’s moderate on guns. He’s a very intelligent candidate. He did a good job with the steelworkers and the coal miners, got their endorsement,” Rendell said.

When Ingraham pointed out that while Lamb is personally opposed to abortion, he supports pro-choice policies, Rendell replied: “He’s more pro-life than most Democrats.”

“The core values of the Democratic Party going back 50 years are values that most Americans agree with, and we have gotten away from them,” the former governor said later. “We play identity politics. It isn’t good.”

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