TPM News

Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, said Thursday that he was “seriously, seriously, seriously considering running for the U.S. Senate.”

“I am considering running for the Senate, Flake’s seat,” he told the Daily Beast, referring to Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who announced his retirement in October. “I feel like I just gave you a little scoop there.”

President Donald Trump erased Arpaio’s conviction for criminal contempt of court — one he earned for defying a court order to stop racially profiling Latinos — with a presidential pardon on Aug. 25.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio is now eighty-five years old, and after more than fifty years of admirable service to our Nation, he is worthy candidate for a Presidential pardon,” the White House said in a statement at the time.

Days after that Pardon, Arpaio hinted he had Flake’s seat on his mind. “I could run for mayor, I could run for legislator, I could run for Senate,” he said.

After Flake announced his retirement, leaving an open election field, Apraio’s interest seems to have grown.

Arpaio is infamous for his jailing practices: He once called his outdoor “Tent City” jail a “concentration camp,” and there were numerous reports of abuse at his facilities over Arpaio’s 23 years as sheriff. 

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. employers added a robust 228,000 jobs in November, a sign of the job market’s enduring strength in its ninth year of economic recovery.The unemployment rate remained at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, the Labor Department reported Friday.

The economy is expanding at a healthy pace, and in many cases employers are scrambling to hire enough qualified workers. Over the past six months, economic growth has exceeded an annual rate of 3 percent, the first time that’s happened since 2014. Consumer confidence has reached its highest level since 2000.

Still, healthy hiring and a low unemployment rate have yet to accelerate wages, which rose 2.5 percent in November compared with a year earlier. The last time unemployment was this low, average wages were growing at a 4 percent annual rate.

Rising confidence among consumers, though, is translating into major purchases. Americans are buying more homes and cars. Auto sales rose 1.3 percent in November compared with a year earlier, to 1.4 million, according to Autodata Corp.

In October, newly built homes sold at their fastest pace in a decade, and existing homes sold at their quickest rate since June.

Businesses are spending more, too: Orders for such long-lasting items as industrial machinery, computers and oil-drilling equipment rose for the third straight month in October.

Read More →

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke spent more than $14,000 this summer to fly in a helicopter to two events in and around Washington, D.C., Politico reported Thursday evening.

The use of the helicopters — which he used so he could attend the swearing-in ceremony for a member of Congress and to go on a horseback ride with the vice president — was justified by his staff as being the only feasible way to accommodate his busy schedule on those days. Both times his department requested the helicopters from the U.S. Park Police.

On June 21, his staff spent $8,000 to fly Zinke and his Chief of Staff Scott Hommel from Capitol Hill, where he attended Rep. Greg Gianforte’s (R-MT) swearing-in ceremony, to an emergency management exercise in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Staff told Politico they booked the flight because of the lack of time between the two events.

Gianforte replaced Zinke in Congress after he was appointed to the Department of the Interior. The congressman was charged with assault when he body slammed a reporter who was trying to ask him a question just before the election.

Zinke also took a helicopter on July 7 to fly to an event in Yorktown, Virginia and back to D.C. so he could be back in Washington in time to go on a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to the documents obtained by Politico. 

Politico acquired the travel logs through a Freedom of Information Act request. The news comes as the Interior Department’s inspector general and the Office of Special Counsel conduct separate probes into Zinke’s mixing of official business travel and political events. 

Read More →

Embattled former public radio host Garrison Keillor said he was not given a “full and fair” investigation before Minnesota Public Radio cut ties with him over allegations of sexual misconduct.

“I expect to deal with MPR soon to try to fix the enormous mistake they have made by not conducting a full and fair investigation,” Keillor told the Associated Press in an email.

Keillor claims he has been accused by one former colleague for inappropriately touching her bare back when consoling her and immediately apologized, but MPR’s top executive said the organization was aware of “multiple allegations” against the former host. MPR President Jon McTaggart denied Keillor’s claims that it didn’t fully vet the accusations.

In a statement, MPR said it properly reviewed the complaints from two people who said Keillor committed “multiple incidents of inappropriate behavior” and conducted a full investigation before deciding to fire Keillor on Nov. 30.

The attorney for the former host of largely popular radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion,” said he and Keillor were only aware of one allegation against him and said Keillor expects a “full restoration” of his reputation. 

Read More →

Reps. John Lewis (D-GA) and Bennie Thompson (D-MS) announced Thursday night they will not attend the opening for a new civil rights museum in Mississippi because the President is planning to be there on Saturday.

In a joint statement, the two congressmen, who are widely recognized as icons of the civil rights movement, said President Donald Trump’s presence at the event is “an insult” to those who are being celebrated at the new museum.

“The struggles represented in this museum exemplify the truth of what really happened in Mississippi. President Trump’s disparaging comments about women, the disabled, immigrants and National Football League players disrespects the efforts of Fannie Lou Hamer, Aaron Henry, Medgar Evers, Robert Clark, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner and countless others who have given their all for Mississippi to be a better place,” the two wrote. “After President Trump departs, we encourage all Mississippians and Americans to visit this historic civil rights museum.”

In an interview with Nexstar Media Group later Thursday, Thompson said he “can’t see myself on the same stage with someone as divisive as President Trump,” he said. “I think he has to atone for how he’s mistreated minorities in this country.”

The White House responded by attempting to cast the decision as a sign of disrespect to the “incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made.”

“We think it’s unfortunate that these members of Congress wouldn’t join the President in honoring the incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday after noon, according to the White House press pool report. “The President hopes others will join him in recognizing that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

The White House response was “laughable,” according to the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus who pointed out the irony of criticizing two civil rights leaders for choosing not to attend a museum opening that honors them.

“This White House is not serious about civil rights,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) said in a statement.

H/t: Politico

Read More →

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has not decided yet whether to run for office next year as an independent candidate or secure support from the ruling party, his spokesman said Thursday.

The 65-year old Russian leader, who has ruled the country since 2000, ended months of speculation by announcing Wednesday that he would seek his fourth term in office in the March 18 presidential vote. Putin’s 80-percent approval ratings make his victory all but certain.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that the president has yet to make up his mind whether he would run as an independent or on United Russia’s platform.

United Russia won last year’s parliamentary election, but is nowhere near as popular as Putin. The Russian president may want to avoid association with the party, which has been tainted with corruption scandals.

Asked if there is anyone to challenge Putin, Peskov told reporters Thursday that Putin is “the strongest candidate.”

“The level of the popular support that he enjoys is unavailable for other candidates,” Peskov said.

The Kremlin has been worried about growing voter apathy, and the uncertainty over Putin’s plans seemed intended to encourage public interest in the race.

Putin’s most visible adversary, anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navlany, declared his intention to run last December but a criminal conviction bars his from running for president. Navalny has been convicted on two separate sets of charges largely viewed as politically motivated.

Despite the ban, Russia’s most popular opposition politician has mounted a grassroots campaign and held rallies across Russia to pressure the Kremlin to allow him to run.

Putin’s potential rivals include several luckless candidates from past contests and one notable newcomer — TV host Ksenia Sobchak, 36, the daughter of Putin’s former boss.

Read More →

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli police deployed reinforcements in and around Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, in anticipation of Palestinian protests over the Trump administration’s recognition of the contested city as the Israeli capital.

Palestinian political groups have called for massive demonstrations in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem after Friday prayers, the highlight of the Muslim religious week. Separately, the Gaza-based leader of the Islamic militant Hamas has agitated for a third uprising against Israel.

Meanwhile, the militant al-Qaida network urged followers around the world to target vital interests of the United States, its allies and Israel. A statement posted Friday on al-Qaida’s media arm as-Sahab called for holy war or jihad and described America as an oppressor of Muslims.

President Donald Trump’s seismic policy shift on Jerusalem, announced earlier this week, also provoked outrage elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world, including among U.S allies such as Jordan and Egypt.

Street protests were expected Friday across the region. Hundreds of Muslims in Indonesia and Malaysia protested outside U.S. Embassies.

For decades, the United States had professed neutrality on the fate of Jerusalem, in line with an international consensus that the fate of the holy city should be determined in negotiations.

Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, is sought by the Palestinians as a future capital. It is also home to major Muslim, Jewish and Christian shrines. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital.

The opposing claims lie at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have often precipitated deadly violence.

On Friday, all eyes were on east Jerusalem’s Old City, home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which is Islam’s third holiest shrine and stands on the remnants of Judaism’s holiest site. One of the compound’s outer walls is the holiest site where Jews can pray.

In the past, Israeli authorities often imposed age restrictions, barring younger Muslims from entering the Al Aqsa compound during periods of tensions.

Police said there were no age limits for Muslim worshippers to access their holy site on Friday, but that officers would respond to any disruptions.

After Trump’s announcement Wednesday, Palestinian groups had called for three “days of rage” as a response.

On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians protested and clashed with Israeli forces in east Jerusalem and the West Bank. And in the Gaza Strip, demonstrators burned U.S. flags and pictures of President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Dozens of Palestinians were slightly injured in the clashes, mostly from tear gas inhalation. An Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said troops were instructed to use minimal force and avoid using live fire to avoid escalating the situation.

The Israeli military announced that it is putting troops on alert and deploying additional battalions in the West Bank.

Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem departed from decades of U.S. policy and upended longstanding international assurances that the fate of the city would be determined in negotiations.

Though Trump insisted that the move was meant to acknowledge the current reality, and not prejudge negotiations on Jerusalem’s status, it carried deep symbolic meaning and was seen by the Palestinians as siding with Israel.

___

Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank. Associated Press writer Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt on Thursday defended his frequent taxpayer-funded travel and his purchase of a custom soundproof communications booth for his office, saying both were justified.

Pruitt made his first appearance before a House oversight subcommittee responsible for environmental issues since his confirmation to lead EPA in February. While his fellow Republicans largely used their time to praise Pruitt’s leadership, Democrats pressed Pruitt on his proposed rollbacks of environmental regulations, his past statements denying carbon emissions are primarily to blame for climate change and his spending while in office.

The former Oklahoma attorney general is under scrutiny after expense reports showed he often leaves Washington on Thursdays and Fridays for appearances in westward states before spending the weekend at his home in Tulsa and then returning to EPA headquarters on Mondays. The EPA’s inspector general is currently investigating whether Pruitt’s trips violate EPA’s travel policies and procedures.

“Every trip I’ve taken to Oklahoma with respect to taxpayer expenses has been business related,” Pruitt said, before giving examples of meetings and environmental issues in his home state that he said required his personal attention. “When I’ve traveled back to the state for personal reasons, I’ve paid for it. And that will bear out in the process.”

Rep. Diana DeGette, a Colorado Democrat, asked about the nearly $25,000 he spent on a custom soundproof booth for making private phone calls in his office — something none of his predecessors had.

Pruitt said the booth serves as a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, known as a SCIF, which typically are secure rooms used to house computers and equipment for communicating over classified government networks. Former EPA officials said that explanation doesn’t make much sense.

There was already a SCIF at EPA headquarters in Washington where officials with the appropriate levels of security clearance can go to access classified information. EPA employees rarely deal with government secrets. The agency does occasionally receive, handle and store classified material because of its homeland security, emergency response and continuity missions.

Pruitt said he needed the booth to have a secure phone line with which he could communicate with the White House, located just a few blocks away.

“Cabinet level officials need to have access to secure communications,” Pruitt said. “It’s necessary for me to be able to do my job.”

Committee Democrats also grilled Pruitt over what ranking member Frank Pallone of New Jersey called an “unprecedented assault on independent science” by purging academic experts from federal advisory boards and replacing them with industry representatives.

Pruitt in November appointed a new slate of members to 22 boards that provide input on issues such as drinking water standards and air pollution limits. For the chairmanship of EPA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, he selected a former agency official who became an executive of a company that burns waste to generate electricity.

He also said he has barred from the boards current recipients of EPA grants or those in a position to benefit from them to avoid conflicts of interest. Twenty scientists on three committees have received $77 million in grants, which “causes a perception or appearance of a lack of independence in advising the agency on a host of issues,” Pruitt told the subcommittee. Pruitt made no such prohibition for those who receive funding from industries regulated by EPA.

Rep. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., asked for specific examples of an EPA grant recipient offering “conflicted advice.” Pruitt said he could provide “many examples of scientists who received grants over a period of time that were substantial and it called into question that independence, and we addressed that through the policy that we implemented.”

Tonko said Pruitt’s EPA was ignoring scientific consensus through its downplaying of climate change and its approach to regulation and eroding staff morale by censoring experts.

“I believe EPA has all the signs of an agency captured by industry,” he said.

___

Flesher reported from Traverse City, Michigan.

Read More →

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — A Slovenian magazine apologized Friday to U.S. first lady Melania Trump for suggesting she had worked as a high-end escort while pursuing her international modeling career, and said it is paying her compensation.

The Suzy women magazine said that it published an article in August 2016 in which it said Trump in the past worked for a fashion agency that also offers an “elite escort” service besides modeling.

It said the article “was understood as if Melania Trump conducted the escort job. We have no proof for that. So we apologize. We had no intention to hurt and offend Mrs. Trump.”

Melania Trump had filed a libel lawsuit against the magazine through her Slovenian lawyer. The lawyer is to make a statement later Friday.

Natasa Lusa, a member of the publishing board for the company that publishes the magazine, said that the apology is part of a legal settlement with the lawyer and that it also includes an undisclosed sum as compensation.

The 47-year-old left her native Slovenia in her 20s and met Donald Trump at a Fashion Week party in New York in 1998.

Read More →

The news that Donald Trump Jr. invoked attorney-client privilege Wednesday to refuse to testify about a key conversation with his father was met with confusion and some amount of mockery.

As House Intelligence Committee Vice Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) put it, that privilege doesn’t typically protect “a discussion between father and son,” and shouldn’t stop Trump Jr. from discussing a phone call they had about negotiating the fallout from news reports over his June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-linked attorney.

Legal experts told TPM that there are specific situations in which Trump Jr.’s invoking the privilege would be legitimate, though they noted that publicly reported information on the circumstances of the call suggests that it was not. In any event, the Republican-controlled House committee is unlikely to compel the GOP President’s son’s testimony via subpoena. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, on the other hand, will surely want to know the details of this call, and will be less sympathetic in his pursuit of that information, the experts said.

“If you’re Bob Mueller and you get an interview of Donald Trump Jr., this is going to be one of the three or four main topics in your outline. Like at the Roman numeral level,” said Andy Wright, a former White House associate counsel under President Barack Obama.

“This strategy would not work in a grand jury or special counsel investigation unless it was a valid invocation of attorney-client privilege; whereas in Congress, it’s based more on congressional will,” Wright, who is now a professor at Savannah Law School, added, noting that Trump Jr.’s refusal to talk to Congress “may be effective in a practical way even if its legally defective.”

Trump Jr.’s attorney, Alan Futerfas, did not respond to TPM’s request for comment. Trump’s White House special counsel Ty Cobb declined to comment on the record.

At issue for the Russia probe investigators is what Trump Jr. said to his father after the New York Times broke the news that Trump Jr. met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who Trump Jr. was told had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, during a June 2016 sit-down at Trump Tower. The Washington Post reported that the President, while traveling back from the G-20 summit on July 8, 2017 on a plane full of aides, “dictated” a misleading statement released by Trump Jr about the purpose of the meeting. That statement said the meeting focused mostly on the ability of Americans to adopt Russian children.

Lawyers for both Trump and his son were on the call hammering out that response, according to the Wall Street Journal.

But the presence of attorneys alone does not validate Trump Jr.’s claim of attorney-client privilege.

Legal experts told TPM that the eldest Trump son’s legal team would need to be engaged in a common interest agreement with his father’s lawyers to openly share information; that the conversation would have to be specifically focused on obtaining legal advice rather than political crisis communications; and that no non-privileged parties could be listening in on the call.

“If Trump is talking on a plane full of people, that’s not a privileged conversation even if his attorney was there,” said Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent who now serves as a senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs. “He’s not representing everyone on the plane.”

It’s not entirely clear who else was involved with this specific call. Trump Jr. has acknowledged coordinating his statement with adviser-turned-communications director Hope Hicks, who was aboard Air Force One and speaking with Trump while the statement was being drafted, according to CNN.

Former federal prosecutor Steve Miller noted that the “crime-fraud exemption” could also come into play if either attorney was providing guidance on how to conceal the true purpose of the Trump Tower meeting.

“If legal advice is being sought or legal communications exist for the purpose of furthering a fraud, then it’s not privileged,” he said.

Getting to the bottom of these questions is more likely to be a job for Mueller’s team than for Congress, given that it is at the discretion of a committee chair to decide whether to accept a privilege claim. Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) so far appears uninterested in following up on his Democratic colleagues’ calls to subpoena Trump Jr.

“A lot of questions were asked and answered, and from my perspective all of our questions were answered,” Conaway said after the seven-hour interview wrapped.

As Rangappa put it, “I think that what was really going on with Don Jr. is that he was buying time. When he goes in to testify he’s testifying under oath so he’s getting locked into what he says. And anything he says that could later get disproven would make him liable for perjury.”

Trump Jr.’s attorney has reportedly requested more time to study whether they will ultimately voluntarily offer more facts about the father-son call. No deadline has yet been set to produce that information.

Read More →

LiveWire