TPM News

Nine hours after the start of Thursday’s extremely contentious House committee hearing, FBI official Peter Strzok was given the opportunity to explain the infamous “insurance policy” text he sent to FBI lawyer Lisa Page — a text that has become a focal point in GOP conspiracy theories of a deep state plot to undermine President Trump with the Russian investigation.

According to Strzok, it was sent in the context of a debate over how aggressively the FBI needed to move on its Russia probe. He that said at the time he was arguing to aggressively investigate the Trump campaign even though doing so could put a source at risk.

“While it isn’t likely according to all the pollsters and everybody that candidate Trump is elected, we need to make sure we are protecting America,” Strzok said at the hearing, explaining what he was arguing at the time the text message was sent. “We need to responsibly and aggressively investigate these actions, because you know what, if candidate Trump is elected, there might be people we need to be investigating that might be nominated for important security positions. Everybody in America would want to know that. Candidate Trump would want to know that.”

In the August 2016 text, which was revealed as part of a Justice Department Inspector General investigation, Strzok referenced a meeting he and Page attended with then-FBI Deputy Director Andy McCabe.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40…” Strzok’s text said.

In Strzok’s retelling of the discussions that he was referencing in the text, some were advocating for the FBI to move slowly — and not put the sensitive source who had provided information at risk — since Trump was not expected to win the election.

“What I’m saying is look we’re the FBI. We need to do our job. We need to go investigate,” he recalled Thursday of his sentiments in that text.

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The ACLU said Thursday that the government dropped off a mother, recently separated at the border from her children per Trump administration policy, “alone at a bus stop with her children, one of whom was six months old,” without providing proper notice to lawyers suing to force the reunifications.

As a result, reunified families are not receiving legal assistance and support services, according to the ACLU, which complained that it is having trouble tracking the reunifications.

The allegations came in a joint status report filed by the ACLU, representing families separated by Trump administration policy, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The filing largely covered what one ICE and one Health and Human Services official told reporters on a conference call earlier Thursday — that of the 103 children under 5 years old who a court ordered be reunited with their parents by Tuesday, 57 had been reunited by Thursday.

The government gave somewhat more detailed explanations in the court filing for the 46 children who remained separated from their parents, including listing the charges or convictions of 11 parents whose criminal backgrounds ICE said excluded them from the court order.

The ACLU pushed back on a number of fronts, starting with what it said was a lack of information from the government about those newly excluded from the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs have not yet received any specific information about most of the 23 individuals who Defendants claim have dropped out of the class or are ineligible for reunification,” the ACLU’s portion of the joint filing read. “Plaintiffs have therefore not been able to verify whether those parents are, indeed, Class Members eligible for reunification at this time. Plaintiffs have also not been able to determine whether any criminal convictions those parents have render them a danger to their children—and therefore not entitled to reunification at all—or merely not Class Members.”

ICE did list some information in the court filing Thursday, listing things like “Robbery conviction” and “Wanted by El Salvador” as reasons certain adults had been excluded from the class deemed eligible to be reunited with their children.

The ACLU also said it hadn’t received any “independent verification” of the families ICE claimed had been reunited.

And, as evidenced by the mother left alone with her children at a bus stop, the civil liberties group asserted that ICE had broken an earlier pledge to “provide Plaintiffs’ counsel with notice of the time and place for each reunification, so that Plaintiffs’ counsel could arrange for private and NGO service providers to assist the families and verify reunification.”

“This did not happen,” the filing said plainly. Noting the mother and her six-month-old, the ACLU said that “through a series of phone calls between the Class Member, her attorney, and another advocate, the Class Member finally obtained a bus ticket on Tuesday around midnight.”

Referring to parents who’d been deported without their children Thursday morning, Matthew Albence, executive associate director of ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations division, told reporters that ICE was “working with the consular officials in the foreign governments to provide information that would help facilitate” their reunification with their children.

The ACLU said in Thursday’s filing that its lawyers were “not aware of any specific steps Defendants have taken even to locate these 12 [deported] Class Members.”

Finally, in an effort to avoid similar missed deadlines for the next category of children — those aged 5 and up — to be reunited with their parents, the ACLU proposed a series of benchmarks for the government to meet in advance of the July 26 deadline, in addition to asking the court that the government be forced to set aside money for mental health counseling for the children.

Read the joint status report below:

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Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), citing his experience as a dentist, claimed he read body language very well and grilled FBI official Peter Strzok about the body language he exhibited earlier during a House Oversight and Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday.

Watch the clip below:

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Andrew Wheeler, the former coal lobbyist and new acting EPA chief, introduced himself to agency rank-and-file by borrowing a line from former administrator Scott Pruitt about listening to their concerns. (We’ll see.) The term “coal lobbyist,” Wheeler added, “has been used by some people in a derogatory manner, but I am actually proud of the work I did.” Some of Pruitt’s anti-transparency steps appear to be on their way out, as are some of his loyal aides.

“Now it’s time to focus on helping Republicans in November,” said one of them, spokesperson Jahan Wilcox. He once told Atlantic reporter Elaina Plott: “You’re a piece of trash.”

Multiple investigations into Pruitt’s behavior continue.

Wilbur Ross continues to admit to new failures to divest from the certain stocks after claiming last year that he’d done just that.

An NRA lobbyist turned Interior Department official may have violated the Trump administration’s barely enforced ethics rules by participating in meetings on issues that he’d advocated for as a lobbyist just months earlier. Also, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s socks probably violated the Hatch Act; the Office of Special Counsel has opened a case file.

The Trump administration reportedly threatened Ecuador and other nations over a World Health Organization breastfeeding resolution.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai continues to ignore questions, and deadlines for answering those questions, from senators over whether his agency lied about a supposedly malicious a cyber attack against its public comment portal during the net neutrality debate.

The Border Patrol agent who, for some reason, grilled a New York Times reporter about her travel habits and relationship with a Senate staffer, is now himself reportedly the subject of a DHS inspector general probe.

Speaking of inspectors general: The acting secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs — that most contested position — faced bipartisan condemnation after telling the department’s IG, “I am your immediate supervisor. You are directed to act accordingly.”

With an executive order, and following a Supreme Court ruling, President Trump changed the procedure for naming nearly 2,000 administrative law judges: They’ll now be appointed by individual agencies — and thus subject to ideological and corporate influences — rather than drawn from a central pool of applicants assessed by the Office of Personnel Management.

The government claimed Thursday that it had complied with a court order by reuniting 57 children under five years old with their parents, from whom they’d been separated at the border as a result of Trump administration policy. Except 103 children under five were initially covered by the ACLU’s lawsuit against the government over family separation.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, seen more as a bureaucratic agency than a law-enforcement one, will now issue vastly more “notices to appear [in immigration court]” having essentially been deputized to do what’s traditionally been Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s job. Expect more students and guest workers to be placed into deportation proceedings.

Finally, border agents have begun implementing Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ ruling that domestic and gang violence are not valid grounds to seek asylum.

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FBI agent Peter Strzok said during congressional testimony Thursday that comments former New York Mayor Rudy Guiliani made to the media in the fall of 2016 had Strzok concerned that the FBI was leaking about the Clinton email probe. But Strzok denied that his concerns were specifically about potential leaks from federal investigators in New York.

I think there was discussion, I remember, and particularly some of it was in the context of reporting from Mr. Giuliani and others talking about connections to New York,” Sztrok told Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL). “I don’t want to scapegoat New York because a lot of people were aware of it.”

Krishnamoorthi, during a hearing with the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, was walking Strzok through a number of sections in the recent Justice Department Inspector General report on the FBI’s handling of the Clinton investigation. He focused on the sections about whether fears of leaks affected decisions about going public, right before the 2016 election, about certain actions in the probe.

Strzok confirmed that New York investigators were aware of a warrant for Anthony Weiner’s laptop. FBI Director James Comey’s would go on to inform Congress that he was reopening the email investigation, as the FBI was examining emails on the laptop.

I did not have concerns about New York,” Strzok said, when asked about the discussions around making the announcement to Congress. “My concerns were just general. That the more people who are aware of something, the greater chance that it leaks out somehow. But those concerns were not specific in my mind to New York.”

When Krishnamoorthi brought up a section in the IG report about former Attorney General Loretta Lynch recalling a Comey comment about the New York FBI office’s anti-Clinton sentiment, Sztrok told the lawmaker he’d have to ask Comey to explain those comments.

Krishnamoorthi then asked Strzok about the public comments Giuliani made about a “big surprise” coming in the campaign that Giuliani would go on to said he had heard from former FBI agents. Strzok said his remarks gave him “a lot of concern.”

Because, while it’s certainly possible that Mr. Giuliani is exaggerating or engaging in some sort of puffery, the reality is that also given the things that were going on, given timing that the laptop was there and he was talking about that in the context of a big surprise, it caused me great concern that he had information about that — that he should not have had,” Strzok said.

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As I explained last night, one of Jim Jordan’s most fervent defenders has been compelled to admit that he, the head coach, knew about Dr. Strauss’s sexual abuse and felt compelled to call him on it and bring his concerns to university administrators. Along with the nine other wrestlers who’ve come forward, Russ Hellickson’s admission makes it certain to anyone who is willing to open their eyes that Rep. Jim Jordan is lying about what he knew and heard more than two decades ago. Yet just yesterday, amidst all this evidence, Paul Ryan was compelled to make what amounts to a public and unbreakable statement of confidence in Jordan’s integrity. This came after numerous other members of the House GOP caucus came forward to express Manchurian Candidate-like testimonies about Jordan’s honesty and integrity. To get a sense of the drumbeat that was created to force Ryan to make this kind of fulsome pledge of confidence in Jordan’s integrity, watch this exchange from Wednesday night with Fox Business News’ Lou Dobbs.

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Compelling visuals have always captured an audience’s attention, but now that so much of our business and personal lives are online it’s become more important than ever to create arresting photos. Sharing family pictures on social media, creating and modifying art to make your business’s website stand out, or tweaking that professional photo to make it resume-ready is the new normal — but mastering Photoshop to keep up with the masses can be downright intimidating. The Complete Photoshop Mastery Bundle will teach you the ins and outs of this must-know software.

This series of eight courses helps you become a Photoshop ninja. You’ll learn digital design skills that can make your photos and graphic art stand out and scratch your artistic itch, or attract potential clients or the attention of your boss for a boost to your career. The bundle begins with a class on sunlight effects, then moves on to classes in composite artwork, cinematic color grading, digital illustrations and more. You’ll also learn how to manage and organize your photos with Lightroom CC, create self-published photo books, and take portraits that capture the essence of your subject.

Whether you’re learning Photoshop to spruce up your personal website, start a freelance digital artwork business, or add to your skill set at work, the Complete Photoshop Mastery Bundle has the expert guidance you need to stand out. Usually, these eight classes cost over $1,000 combined, but right now they’re on sale for $29.


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WASHINGTON (AP) — Stung by a federal judge’s dismissal of its objections to AT&T’s megamerger with Time Warner, the Trump Justice Department is challenging the decision with a legal appeal.

The Justice Department said in a one-sentence document Thursday it is appealing the ruling last month by U.S. District Judge Richard Leon, which blessed one of the biggest media deals ever following a landmark antitrust trial.

Leon rejected the government’s argument that the phone and pay-TV giant’s $81 billion takeover of the entertainment conglomerate would hurt competition, limit choices and jack up prices for consumers to stream TV and movies.

Leon’s ruling allowed Dallas-based AT&T to absorb the owner of CNN, HBO, the Warner Bros. movie studio, “Game of Thrones,” coveted sports programming and other “must-see” shows.

The Justice Department’s appeal is lodged with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a step up from the federal district court where the six-week trial unfolded in the spring.

The merger was swiftly consummated, just two days after Leon’s June 12 ruling and almost as soon as the Justice Department signaled it wouldn’t seek to temporarily block the merger while it pondered an appeal. The deadline for closing the merger was June 21.

Some legal experts believe the government could have a hard time convincing the appeals court to overturn Leon’s ruling. Opposing the merger forced the federal antitrust regulators to argue against standing legal doctrine that favors mergers among companies that don’t compete directly with each other.

It was the first time in decades the government had challenged that doctrine by suing to block a merger.

AT&T said Thursday it’s ready to defend Leon’s ruling against the government’s appeal.

“The court’s decision could hardly have been more thorough, fact-based and well-reasoned,” the company’s general counsel, David McAtee, said in a statement. “While the losing party in litigation always has the right to appeal if it wishes, we are surprised that the (Justice Department) has chosen to do so under these circumstances. We are ready to defend the court’s decision.”

From the bench, Leon had urged the government not to ask for a halt to the deal, saying it would bring “a manifestly unjust outcome.” The deadline could be missed, allowing under the merger agreement for either company to walk away from the deal and forcing AT&T to pay Time Warner a $500 million “breakup” fee.

Dallas-based AT&T Inc. is a phone, cable and satellite behemoth that became the biggest pay-TV provider in the U.S. with its acquisition of DirecTV in 2014. It claims about 25 million of the 90 million or so U.S. households that are pay-TV customers.

The merger fuses a company that produces news and entertainment with one that funnels that programming to consumers. AT&T asserted during the trial that it needed to grow to survive in the era of Google, Amazon and Netflix.

When the deal was first made public in October 2016, it drew fire from then-candidate Donald Trump, who promised to kill it “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.” Trump has publicly feuded with Time Warner’s CNN, calling it “failing” and a purveyor of “fake news.” The president’s statements didn’t come up during the trial, though his antipathy loomed in the background.

AT&T has committed to certain conditions under which it will run Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting, which includes CNN. For instance, it will manage the Turner networks as part of a separate business unit, distinct from operations of AT&T Communications, which includes DirecTV and U-verse.

In addition, AT&T Communications will have no say in setting Turner’s prices or other terms in contracts with companies that distribute its content.

That apparently wasn’t enough, however, to satisfy the Justice Department.

Already the ruling has started opening the floodgates to deal making in the fast-changing worlds of entertainment production and distribution.

Just a day after Leon ruled, Comcast launched a $65 billion cash bid for the bulk of 21st Century Fox — topping Disney’s all-stock $52.5 billion offer in December.

Waiting in the wings are potential big-billions deals involving Verizon and CBS and T-Mobile and Sprint.

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The Border Patrol agent who grilled a national security reporter about classified leaks from the U.S. intelligence community is under investigation for the improper use of government computer systems, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Jeffrey Rambo was previously identified as the agent who obtained the confidential travel records of reporter Ali Watkins and pressed her to reveal her sources at a June 2017 meeting. Rambo reportedly used details about Watkins’ trip to Spain with her then-boyfriend James Wolfe, former security director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to pressure her into divulging information.

Per the Times, the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general is now investigating whether the California-based agent used Watkins’ travel data improperly or illegally.

Customs and Border Protection announced last month that its Office of Professional Responsibility was also looking into Rambo’s actions.

It’s still unclear whether any other government officials were involved in this extracurricular effort to obtain confidential information from journalists, or if Rambo was acting alone.

Wolfe was arrested last month on charges of lying to the FBI about his contacts with reporters. He has pleaded not guilty.

News of his arrest also revealed that federal investigators secretly seized Watkins’ emails and phone records—the first such incident under the Trump administration.

Watkins was working at Politico in the summer of 2017 and joined the Times in December. The newspaper reassigned her from D.C. to a new beat in New York last month.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Thursday tweeted a letter to him from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un heralding “epochal progress” in U.S.-North Korea relations, despite signs that path-finding diplomacy between the adversaries is running into problems.

Trump described the letter as a “very nice note” and said, “Great progress being made!”

The letter is dated July 6. That’s when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Pyongyang and seemingly made little progress in fleshing out details of North Korea’s commitment for “complete denuclearization.”

Kim made that commitment when he met Trump in Singapore last month. Kim also agreed then to repatriate remains of U.S. troops who died during the Korean War six decades ago.

A planned meeting Thursday between North Korean and U.S. officials in the Demilitarized Zone between the two Koreas to discuss the return of the remains was postponed.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said North Korea called at midday Thursday and offered to meet on Sunday instead. “We will be ready,” she told reporters aboard Pompeo’s plane, as the top U.S. diplomat flew home to Washington after attending a NATO summit.

It wasn’t immediately clear what prompted the postponement. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency, citing unnamed sources, said the North requested talks at a higher level. The talks Sunday are expected to involve officials from the Pentagon and the U.N. Command, which commanded U.S.-led allied forces during the war and is involved in maintaining the armistice that ended the fighting in 1953.

Pompeo told reporters after his visit to North Korea last week that the meeting in the truce village Panmunjom was set for Thursday but “could move by one day or two.”

The secretary of state did not meet Kim as he had on his previous two trips to Pyongyang this year, and after his departure, the North’s foreign ministry accused the U.S. of making “gangster-like” demands that it unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons.

Pompeo gave a rosier readout. He reported that the two sides had substantive discussions on next steps toward denuclearization.

During an official visit to Britain, Trump posted images of the Korean-language letter from Kim and its English translation. Kim expresses “invariable trust and confidence” in the president and wishes that “epochal progress” in promoting relations will “bring our next meeting forward.”

But there’s growing skepticism in Washington over the Trump administration’s engagement with North Korea. Recent reports suggest that the North has continued to expand infrastructure at nuclear and missile sites and that U.S. intelligence assesses that the North does not intend to fully denuclearize.

The U.S. says North Korea has continued to smuggle refined petroleum products into the country in excess of the quota of 500,000 barrels per year allowed under U.N. sanctions imposed because of nuclear and missile programs. That’s according to documents seen by The Associated Press on Thursday and sent by the U.S. to the Security Council committee monitoring the sanctions.

Trump himself has remained upbeat about the outcome of the first summit between the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea. Earlier Thursday, after attending the NATO summit in Brussels, he told reporters that there were clear signs of progress with North Korea, most notably that no missile and nuclear tests have occurred for almost nine months.

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