TPM News

The White House on Thursday again pointed reporters to the President’s attorney for questions about when President Donald Trump knew that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI.

When asked why questions about when Trump knew that information should be considered a legal matter, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump’s attorneys “feel this is a question that should be answered by them” and claimed she’d ask Trump’s attorney John Dowd to respond to reporters about the topic.

When pressed again about why it’s a legal matter, Sanders said she’s “going to listen to the attorneys on this one.”

“John Dowd will hopefully follow up with you in short order,” she said.

After Flynn was charged with one count of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials while working for Trump’s transition team, Trump initially said the charges proved that there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia. He later tweeted that he fired Flynn because he lied to Vice President Mike Pence and the FBI, an admission that could characterize his request to then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the case against Flynn as obstruction of justice.

The White House later claimed that one of Trump’s lawyers erroneously wrote the tweet, not the President. 

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Republicans, at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday with FBI Director Christopher Wray, did not show much eagerness to defend the agency from the attacks President Trump launched against it over the weekend.

More than a few GOP lawmakers were willing to back up Trump’s claim that the bureau is in “tatters,” with one Republican calling Trump’s allegation “understandable” and another saying that Trump was only talking about “senior leadership.”

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AZTEC, N.M. (AP) — A shooting at a high school in a small New Mexico town left two students and the suspect dead, authorities said Thursday as schools throughout the area remained on lockdown as a precaution.

State police did not release any details about the shooter but confirmed the other two people who were killed attended Aztec High School. No other injuries were reported, officials said.

The school of about 900 students was cordoned off as authorities cleared the buildings and teens were taken to another location.

A crowd of nervous parents gathered outside City Hall to wait for more information as officers tried to reassure them about the safety of their children.

“The families of the victims were notified immediately. They are in our thoughts and prayers,” state police said in a statement on social media.

State and federal authorities are investigating what led to the shooting and did not immediately release any details about the circumstances. A news conference was planned.

Aztec is a rural community of 6,500 people in the heart of northwestern New Mexico’s oil and gas country and near the Navajo Nation. Its main street is lined by old brick buildings that date back more than a century.

Residents voiced disbelief on social media, while members of the New Mexico congressional delegation, state Attorney General Hector Balderas and other elected officials offered their condolences and other assistance.

“While details are still coming in, we grieve for the innocent victims in this senseless act of violence. Too many lives have been disrupted and too many futures cut short,” U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Lujan said in a tweet.

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Following Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) speech announcing his resignation over sexual misconduct allegations, one of his accusers said Thursday she was disappointed that Franken is still pushing back against the allegations.

“I have to say that I’m so sad and appalled at his lack of response and him owning up to what he did,” Stephanie Kemplin, an army veteran who accused Franken of groping her while he was in Kuwait entertaining the troops in 2003, said on MSNBC.

“He just keeps passing the buck and making it out to be something that we — we took his behavior the wrong way or we misconstrued something or that we just — we just flat-out lied about what happened to us,” she continued.

Kemplin made the comments when asked if Franken’s resignation is justice for allegedly groping several women. Kemplin said that his resignation does not feel like justice to her and that she would like to see him acknowledge his behavior.

“Justice to me would be him owning up to what he did and to stop trying to pass the buck onto other individuals who possibly — they did commit the same things, maybe even more heinous than what he’s done,” she said, perhaps referencing to Franken’s comment in his resignation speech that President Donald Trump and Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore have not seen the same repercussions for their alleged sexual misconduct.

Franken announced in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that he will resign from his seat. He said that the allegations of sexual misconduct are a distraction, but he insisted that some of the allegations he faces are “simply not true.”

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Science announced Wednesday that it has adopted its first code of conduct for its 8,427 members.

Film academy chief executive Dawn Hudson introduced the new rules to members in an email. In October, the academy broke with tradition and made Harvey Weinstein just the second person ever expelled from the Oscars’ governing body.

The new code of conduct stipulates that the academy is no place for “people who abuse their status, power or influence in a manner that violates standards of decency.”

The academy’s board may now suspend or expel those who violate the code of conduct or who “compromise the integrity” of the academy.

The standards of conduct were drafted by a task force launched by the academy in October. It was formed after Weinstein was accused by dozens of women of sexual harassment and abuse. Weinstein, who won an Academy Award for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love,” has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

Hudson told members that more details on the process by which offending members will be judged will be announced later.

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Just minutes after Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced on the Senate floor Thursday that he would resign, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said he has “not yet decided” who he will appoint to fill the embattled senator’s vacated seat.

“Events have unfolded quickly; thus, I have not yet decided on my appointment to fill this upcoming vacancy. I expect to make and announce my decision in the next couple days,” he said in a statement, which comes amid multiple reports that he plans to tap his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to serve for the next year. Smith is considered a close ally to the governor and reportedly has no interest in running for Congress in a 2018 special election.

Franken’s resignation follows weeks of public allegations from multiple women that the senator forcibly kissed or groped them without their consent in the past. Franken has apologized to one of the women, who shared a photo of Franken appearing to reach toward her chest while she was sleeping. He has also apologized to other accusers, but has combatted or denied other claims.

On Wednesday, nearly a dozen female Democratic senators released statements calling on Franken to resign. Other Democratic senators quickly followed suit.

During his emotional speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Franken said he was resigning his seat, but “I’m not giving up my voice.” He expressed a desire for all women be heard and have their experiences taken seriously. He said that some of the allegations against him are “simply not true” and “others I remember very differently.”

He also pointed out the irony of President Donald Trump — “who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault” — sitting in the White House and “a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls” running for a seat in the Senate “with the full support of his party.”

In his statement following Franken’s resignation, Dayton said he extended “my deepest regret to the women who have had to endure their unwanted experiences with Senator Franken,” and said his “heart goes out to Al and his family.”

He is very smart, very hard-working, and very committed to Minnesota. I wish him well in his future endeavors,” he said.

Smith released a statement alongside Dayton, thanking Franken for his service while also condemning sexual harassment, which she said “can never be tolerated in our politics, our businesses, or anywhere else.”

It was not immediately clear when Franken’s last day in the Senate will be. The governor will name someone to serve for the next year and a special election will be held in November 2018. That person will serve for the remainder of Franken’s term, which ends in 2020. 

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — An elite Michigan sports doctor who possessed child pornography and assaulted gymnasts was sentenced Thursday to 60 years in federal prison in one of three criminal cases that ensure he will never be free again.

U.S. District Judge Janet Neff followed the government’s recommendation in the porn case, saying Larry Nassar “should never again have access to children.”

Neff said Nassar’s federal sentence won’t start until he completes his sentences for sexual assault. The 54-year-old will get punishments in those two cases in state court in January.

Nassar worked at Michigan State University and at USA Gymnastics, the Indianapolis-based group that trains Olympians. He admits he molested girls with his hands when they sought treatment for hip and back pain.

“Underneath this veneer lurked a predator,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Lewis said in a court filing.

Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas say they were victims when Nassar worked for USA Gymnastics and accompanied them at workouts or international events.

Nassar is a “monster” who “left scars on my psyche that may never go away,” Maroney said in a letter to Neff.

In a court filing, defense lawyers said Nassar “deeply regrets the pain that he has caused the community.”

The child pornography was discovered last year when Nassar was being investigated for assault.

Aside from the criminal cases, more than 100 women and girls are suing Nassar. Michigan State and USA Gymnastics are defendants in many of the lawsuits.

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After eight women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment over the past few weeks, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Thursday morning announcing his resignation from his Senate in the “coming weeks.”

“Serving in the United States Senate has been the honor of my life,” Franken said, choking up as he read his remarks, and vowing to stay active in public life. “I may be resigning my seat, but I’m not giving up my voice.”

With his staff lining the wall of the Senate chamber, waving at him in support, and several of his Democratic colleagues watching his remarks with grim expressions, Franken noted that “all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously,” but defiantly claimed that some of the allegations against him are “simply not true.”

Of his previous apologies, Franken said: “I think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very different.”

“I know who I really am,” he declared.

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MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — David Ermold returned to the Rowan County courthouse Wednesday, nearly two years after Clerk Kim Davis refused to give him a marriage license because he was gay.

Only this time, he did not want a license. He wants Davis’ job.

Ermold filed to run for county clerk on Wednesday, hoping to challenge the woman who two years ago told him “God’s authority” prohibited her from complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide. Ermold and others sued her, and Davis would spend five days in jail for disobeying a federal judge’s order. She emerged to a rapturous rally on the jailhouse lawn, arm-in-arm with a Republican presidential candidate as a newly crowned martyr for some conservatives.

In the two years since then, things have quieted down in this Appalachian town previously known for a college basketball team at Morehead State University that occasionally qualifies for the NCAA tournament. Last month, Davis announced she would run for re-election and face voters for the first time since refusing to issue marriage licenses. Three other people have also filed to run against her, including Elwood Caudill Jr., who lost to Davis by just 23 votes in the 2014 Democratic primary.

But Caudill, like many people in Morehead, doesn’t want to talk about Davis and gay marriage. Ermold does.

“I think we need to deal with the circumstances and the consequences of what happened,” Ermold said. “I don’t think the other candidates are looking at a larger message. I have an obligation here, really, to do this and to set things right.”

Wednesday, Ermold and his husband sat across a desk from Davis as they filed his paperwork to run for office. Davis smiled and welcomed them, chatting with them about the state retirement system and the upcoming Christmas holiday. She made sure Ermold had all of his paperwork and signatures to file for office, softly humming the old hymn “Jesus Paid It All” as her fingers clacked across a keyboard.

When it was over, she stood and shook hands with Ermold, telling him: “May the best candidate win.”

“It’ll be a good one, I’m sure,” Davis told reporters about the election. Asked if she thought she deserved to be re-elected, Davis said: “That will be up to the people. I think I do a good job.”

Davis doesn’t object to issuing marriage licenses now that the state Legislature has changed the law so her name is not on the license. She has been in the clerk’s office for nearly three decades, most of that time working for her mother until she retired. Davis was elected in 2014 as a Democrat. But after same-sex marriage became legal, the state’s then-Democratic governor refused to issue an executive order to remove the names of clerks from marriage licenses. Davis said she felt betrayed by her party and switched her registration to Republican.

Davis’ new political party could be a problem in Rowan County. While Republican Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the county during the 2016 presidential election, nearly all of the local elected officials are Democrats and always have been.

Tim Keeton, a 56-year-old retired nurse, said he has not decided who he would vote for in the election next year. He said Davis does a good job as clerk, but said he was troubled by her decision not to issue the marriage licenses.

“I think it just blew up and put us in a bad light in a lot of ways,” he said.

Ermold’s candidacy has already attracted some national attention. Patton Oswalt, the comedian and actor, sent Ermold a tweet on Wednesday asking: “Anything I can do to help?”

Ermold grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and came to Kentucky 19 years ago to be with his boyfriend, now husband, David Moore. He has two master’s degrees, one in English and the other in communications, and teaches English at the University of Pikeville. He says he is more than qualified to run the office, which keeps track of the county’s records including real estate transactions and car registrations.

And he said his campaign won’t focus solely on the LGBT rights. He said he is tired of the “divide and conquer” style of politics that has come to dominate most elections, where candidates purposefully take stances to energize some voters while angering everyone else.

“People … are back home bickering and fighting with each other and fighting on social media,” he said. “This campaign we are putting together is about unity and bringing people together and restoring fairness.”

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