TPM News

At a rally for GOP Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore on Tuesday night, former White House adviser Steve Bannon singled out Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Mitt Romney in a rant about the Republican establishment.

He mocked Flake for donating to Moore’s Democratic opponent in the race, Doug Jones.

“Let’s talk about Jeff Flake — did he sign a check today, $100, to Jones, right? What did he say, ‘Put country ahead of party?’ Come on brother, if you’re gonna write a check, write a check. Don’t give the man $100,” Bannon told the crowd.

“Flake has hated Donald Trump from day one, Flake has hated this movement since day one. He wrote a book, the anti-populist, the anti-economic nationalist book, trashed all the deplorables, trashed all the silent majority, trashed everyone associated with this movement,” Bannon continued.

He also went after Romney over the former presidential candidate’s Monday tweet that backing Moore is not worth the GOP losing its “honor” and “integrity.” Bannon took a dig at Romney for not serving in the Vietnam War while noting that Moore did.

“You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam. Do not talk to me about honor and integrity,” Bannon said.

Watch parts of Bannon’s speech via NBC News:

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MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin needs to analyze the International Olympic Committee’s ruling to bar Russia and its sports officials from the upcoming Pyeongchang Games before making any decisions regarding the country’s participation, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

Dmitry Peskov said “we need to put emotions aside” and “make a serious analysis” of the ruling before taking any steps. Peskov also said Russia “still needs to answer some questions” from the IOC.

On Tuesday, the IOC said it would invite only “Olympic Athletes from Russia” to compete under a neutral flag as punishment for the country’s doping violations when it hosted the 2014 Sochi Games.

Asked if the Russian officials who have been barred from attending the Olympics would be penalized or fired, Peskov insisted that is not a priority and that “protecting the interests of our athletes” is more important.

Earlier, Russian lawmakers blamed local sports officials for not doing enough to stop the IOC ruling. The Olympic body’s lead investigator concluded that members of the Russian government concocted a doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The most senior official barred is Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who ran the sports ministry during the Sochi Games. Mutko is still the head of the organizing committee for soccer’s World Cup, which Russia will host next year.

The Kremlin has vehemently denied running a state-sponsored doping program, and state media on Wednesday dismissed the ban as part of a plot to hurt Russia.

Russian athletes have coaches have expressed indignation at the ruling, but also gratitude they can compete.

Tatyana Tarasova, one of the most successful figure skating coaches in Russia, said on local TV that the IOC ruling was “simply the murder of our national sports,” adding “but still want to thank the IOC for letting the athletes in anyway.”

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Russian parliament’s upper house, said the ruling is “clearly part of the West’s policy to restrain Russia” but insisted that local sports officials are to blame and “ought to bear personal responsibility” for letting it happen.

Vladimir Poletayev, deputy chairman of the committee on procedures at the Federation Council, went even further.

“All our sports officials, including the Russian Olympic Committee, ought to be personally accountable for the ban on Russia and ought to step down,” Poletayev said in comments carried by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Also Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said it has registered appeals by 22 Russian athletes against their disqualifications from the 2014 Sochi Olympics for doping.

CAS said the athletes have requested verdicts before the Pyeongchang Games open on Feb. 9. The appeals relate to earlier bans against individual athletes, not the ruling on the Russian team.

Kremlin to analyze IOC ban before taking any steps

By JAMES ELLINGWORTH,  AP Sports Writer
MOSCOW (AP) — The Kremlin needs to analyze the International Olympic Committee’s ruling to bar Russia and its sports officials from the upcoming Pyeongchang Games before making any decisions regarding the country’s participation, a spokesman for President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

Dmitry Peskov said “we need to put emotions aside” and “make a serious analysis” of the ruling before taking any steps. Peskov also said Russia “still needs to answer some questions” from the IOC.

On Tuesday, the IOC said it would invite only “Olympic Athletes from Russia” to compete under a neutral flag as punishment for the country’s doping violations when it hosted the 2014 Sochi Games.

Asked if the Russian officials who have been barred from attending the Olympics would be penalized or fired, Peskov insisted that is not a priority and that “protecting the interests of our athletes” is more important.

Earlier, Russian lawmakers blamed local sports officials for not doing enough to stop the IOC ruling. The Olympic body’s lead investigator concluded that members of the Russian government concocted a doping scheme at the 2014 Sochi Games.

The most senior official barred is Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko, who ran the sports ministry during the Sochi Games. Mutko is still the head of the organizing committee for soccer’s World Cup, which Russia will host next year.

The Kremlin has vehemently denied running a state-sponsored doping program, and state media on Wednesday dismissed the ban as part of a plot to hurt Russia.

Russian athletes have coaches have expressed indignation at the ruling, but also gratitude they can compete.

Tatyana Tarasova, one of the most successful figure skating coaches in Russia, said on local TV that the IOC ruling was “simply the murder of our national sports,” adding “but still want to thank the IOC for letting the athletes in anyway.”

Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the foreign affairs committee at the Russian parliament’s upper house, said the ruling is “clearly part of the West’s policy to restrain Russia” but insisted that local sports officials are to blame and “ought to bear personal responsibility” for letting it happen.

Vladimir Poletayev, deputy chairman of the committee on procedures at the Federation Council, went even further.

“All our sports officials, including the Russian Olympic Committee, ought to be personally accountable for the ban on Russia and ought to step down,” Poletayev said in comments carried by the RIA Novosti news agency.

Also Wednesday, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said it has registered appeals by 22 Russian athletes against their disqualifications from the 2014 Sochi Olympics for doping.

CAS said the athletes have requested verdicts before the Pyeongchang Games open on Feb. 9. The appeals relate to earlier bans against individual athletes, not the ruling on the Russian team.

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — The pace of confirmations for President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees has quickly become a source of pride for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Republicans while Democrats are ruing the day they changed the rules to make it easier to fast-track court picks.

Nine confirmations in little more than a month have lifted the total number of judges confirmed during the Trump presidency to 16. Along with the major prize — Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch — Trump can say he got more appellate court justices confirmed at this date in his presidency than any predecessor since Republican Richard Nixon.

Thanks to McConnell, Trump has one Supreme Court justice, nine circuit court appeals judges and six district court judges. These conservative men and women will serve for decades on the courts, shifting the balance rightward long after Trump’s time as president ends, and with it the tenure of several GOP senators.

“The #Senate has confirmed 3X the amount of Circuit Judges for @POTUS in his first year than President Obama,” McConnell crowed in a tweet crediting Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

But colleagues are doling out the praise for McConnell, too, knowing he has been a whipping boy for many anti-establishment Trump adherents.

“He gets credit on two counts. One is keeping a number of these judgeships open during the final year of the Obama administration,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “Additionally, he made sure we get them all through the system … and get them voted on.”

Most notably, McConnell refused to consider Barack Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland for the Supreme Court, leaving the seat vacant for more than a year until voters chose a new president to make his selection.

“We’ve cemented a conservative majority on the Supreme Court for a generation,” McConnell said in an interview with The Associated Press late last week.

It’s a far cry from a few months ago when the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative advocacy group, was preparing an ad campaign pushing McConnell and the Senate to speed the pace of confirmations.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network, said breaking “the most recent logjam of the judges was Leader McConnell saying this has got to stop.”

The pace of confirmations has left Democrats frustrated and dismayed.

There is little they can do to stop a nominee they deem unsuited for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench except stall. Thanks to steps then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, put into motion three years ago, it no longer takes 60 votes to get a confirmation past a filibuster, the standard for the previous four decades.

Democrats changed the rules out of frustration with the GOP using the 60-vote threshold for confirmation to block Obama’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But the short-term gain is turning into long-term pain for Democrats.

“The judiciary is so critical to the Republican right wing that we had to expect they were ready to move heaven and earth,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. “It was a big mistake if you think that we could have anticipated Donald Trump as president, and no one did. …. It turned out that we were wrong.”

“If we had foreseen the unprecedented misuse of authority in appointing judges, we probably would have thought better of changing the rules,” said another Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Democrats charge that the Republicans are rushing through nominees who are unqualified. They complain that Grassley is scheduling hearings for multiple circuit court nominees on the same day and that, under strong urging from McConnell, Grassley has upended the consultation process that presidents traditionally have with senators when making a nomination.

Under that process, senators submit a blue slip signaling their support for moving ahead with a nominee. Grassley has said that he will no longer allow vetoes for circuit court judges by a single senator who declines to return a positive blue slip. He said that is the policy that most Senate Judiciary Committee chairmen have followed over the past century, but Democrats note that that the last time a judge was confirmed without blue slips from both home state senators was 1989.

The blue slip process encourages the executive branch to consult with senators to find nominees that are satisfactory to both sides. Democrats say that weakening the standard will encourage a judiciary that is as partisan as the other two branches of government.

Trump courted social conservatives during the presidential campaign by listing federal and state court judges he would consider as a potential replacement for the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He repeatedly cited control of the Supreme Court as a top reason why Republican skeptics should rally around his candidacy. He’s followed through in his first year in office, to the point that Severino calls the slate of judicial confirmations the top accomplishment of the Trump presidency so far.

“The pace has finally picked up, which we are very happy about. Unfortunately the number of vacancies has held relatively steady,” Severino said. “We simply cannot take the foot off the gas.”

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A recent change in Iowa’s tax code spared Mark Chelgren’s machine shop, welding company and wheelchair-parts plant from paying sales tax when buying certain supplies such as saws and cutting fluid.

The change passed by the state Legislature last year wasn’t just good for Chelgren’s businesses. It was brought about in part by Chelgren himself. The Iowa state senator championed the tax break for manufacturing purchases as part of his work at the statehouse in Des Moines.

Chelgren isn’t the only state lawmaker doing his outside interests a favor. A North Dakota legislator was instrumental in approving millions of dollars for colleges that also are customers of his insurance business. A Nevada senator cast multiple votes that benefited clients of the lobbying firm where he works. Two Hawaii lawmakers involved with the condominium industry sponsored and voted for legislation smoothing the legal speed bumps their companies navigate. And the list goes on.

State lawmakers around the country have introduced and supported policies that directly and indirectly help their own businesses, their employers and sometimes their personal finances, according to an analysis of disclosure forms and legislative votes by the Center for Public Integrity and The Associated Press.

The news organizations found numerous examples in which lawmakers’ votes had the effect of promoting their private interests. Even then, the votes did not necessarily represent a conflict of interest as defined by the state.

That’s because legislatures set their own rules for when lawmakers should recuse themselves. In some states, lawmakers are required to vote despite any ethical dilemmas.

Many lawmakers defend votes that benefit their businesses or industries, saying they bring important expertise to the debate.

Chelgren said the Iowa tax changes were good policy and that his background running a manufacturing business was a valuable perspective in the statehouse.

“We have way too many people who have been in government their whole lives and don’t know how to make sure that a payroll is met,” the Republican said.

He said the tax change had only a negligible effect on his business, saving it a few hundred dollars a year.

Iowa Senate rules say lawmakers should consider stepping aside when they have conflicts if their participation would erode public confidence in the Legislature. That’s a step one local official said Chelgren should have taken, especially since the tax change costs the state tens of millions a year in revenue.

“We have to keep the public’s trust,” said Jerry Parker, the Democratic chairman of the Wapello County Board of Supervisors in Chelgren’s district. “If they see us benefiting financially from votes that we make, the perception is bad for all elected officials.”

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CITIZEN LEGISLATURES

There’s no shortage of support for the “citizen legislature” concept that operates in most statehouses — that lawmakers should not be professional politicians, but instead ordinary citizens with day jobs. The idea is that those lawmakers can better relate to the concerns of their constituents and bring real-world experience to making policy.

Forty states have governing bodies that the National Conference of State Legislatures considers less than full-time. Those lawmakers convene for only part of the year and rely on other work to make a living.

To assess lawmakers’ outside employment, the Center for Public Integrity analyzed disclosure reports from 6,933 lawmakers holding office in 2015 from the 47 states that required them. Most legislators reported outside work except in California and New York, where the office is considered full-time and pays relatively high salaries — $104,118 and $79,500 per year, respectively.

The Center found that at least 76 percent of state lawmakers nationwide reported outside income or employment. Many of those sources are directly affected by the actions of the legislatures. By comparison, members of Congress have faced sharp restrictions on moonlighting since 1978.

The financial information lawmakers disclose about outside work varies widely from state to state. In Illinois, the disclosure forms are derisively labeled “none sheets” for the answer that invariably follows most questions about economic interests and potential conflicts. Idaho, Michigan and Vermont do not require lawmakers to disclose their financial interests. Vermont passed a law this year to do so starting in 2018.

Ethics rules often allow members to participate in debates and even vote when they have a potential conflict. Recusal is frequently up to the lawmaker.

Pennsylvania lawmakers who believe they may have a conflict of interest are required to ask their chamber’s presiding officer whether they should vote. In 30 instances in the Senate over a recent three-year period, every inquiry received the green light. One senator was approved to vote for his own mother’s nomination to a public board.

Two states, Utah and Oregon, require lawmakers to vote even if they have a conflict. California lawmakers can vote on legislation even after declaring a conflict of interest if they believe their votes are “fair and objective.” Many legislators say frequent abstentions would keep their chambers from working properly.

“We all bring to the table what we know, what our jobs are,” said Nevada Sen. Tick Segerblom, a Democrat. “When you have a citizen legislature, there’s nobody you can find, just pull someone off a street, who at the end of the day wouldn’t have some type of conflict.”

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MUDDIED MOTIVATIONS

Another Nevada lawmaker, Republican Sen. Ben Kieckhefer, voted at least six times this year to advance measures benefiting clients of the law firm where he works as director of client relations. In one case, he voted for a bill in committee that would have sped up a sales tax break for medical equipment, a measure backed by a client of his firm. At a hearing, he even asked questions of the lobbyist, a partner at his firm, with no mention of their association. The bill did not pass the full Legislature.

And last year, while his firm, McDonald Carano, was lobbying on behalf of the Oakland Raiders, Kieckhefer voted to approve $750 million in taxes to help build a stadium that would serve as the team’s new home in Las Vegas.

Kieckhefer, a former Associated Press reporter, said a firewall divides his firm’s lobbying from its legal work, the division where he works. He defended Nevada’s citizen legislature, which meets every other year and pays lawmakers $288.29 for every day of the session.

“I’m not reliant on support from lobbyists or special interests to keep the job I have to support my family,” he said.

Nevada law says that if legislators feel they have conflicts of interest, they must disclose them before voting. But for the Raiders stadium decision, Kieckhefer had no need to speak up: The Senate, in a historically unprecedented move, waived the normal conflict-of-interest provisions for the vote, a priority for Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and wealthy casino magnate and political donor Sheldon Adelson, who later pulled out of financing part of the deal. The bill passed.

Ethics rules are some of many government policies that state legislatures get to write for themselves. Many, for instance, exempt their members from open records and meetings laws that apply to other agencies.

Some states are working to strengthen measures that would prevent conflicts of interest. Ballot initiatives for 2018 are underway in Alaska and South Dakota.

Maryland passed ethics reforms this year after the House of Delegates unanimously reprimanded Democratic Del. Dan Morhaim for acting “contrary to the principles” of Maryland’s ethical standards by not disclosing his work as a paid consultant for a marijuana company while he was working on marijuana policy.

“I have been clear from the beginning of this episode that I have done nothing wrong,” Morhaim said in an email. “The reprimand issued was for not following the ‘intent’ of the rules, a wholly new and undefined standard.”

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DOUBLE DUTY

In Hawaii, where condo owners say they feel outgunned at the statehouse, Rep. Linda Ichiyama and Sen. Michelle Kidani, both Democrats, sponsored and voted for bills this year that their employers in condominium management had championed. Ichiyama is an attorney for a law firm that represents condo associations while Kidani works for a company that manages condominiums. The bills included a provision that critics say makes it easier for condo board members to re-elect themselves.

Then-House Speaker Joe Souki ruled Ichiyama had no conflicts and could vote, and Senate President Ron Kouchi said he did not remember ruling on any conflicts related to Kidani this session. Ichiyama did not return repeated phone calls or emails seeking comment.

“I follow the rules of the Senate, including voting on bills that may relate to my non-legislative employment,” Kidani said in an email. “Proposed bills are carefully read in order to determine whether there may be any conflict of interests raised.”

Other lawmakers have used public office to polish their day-job credentials. Rhode Island Sen. Stephen Archambault, a Democrat, has advertised his legislative work as a reason to hire him as a defense attorney in drunken driving cases: “Archambault literally wrote this law, and knows exactly what to do to succeed for you,” his law office website read until contacted by a reporter this fall. He did not return requests for comment.

In North Dakota, state Rep. Jim Kasper sponsored bills over the past decade that have provided millions in extra funding to the state’s five tribal colleges, whose operations are usually funded by the federal government.

Kasper, a Republican who owns a company that coordinates insurance benefits, has counted two of the colleges among the hundreds of clients he has had over the years. One has been his customer for nearly three decades.

He said he sponsored the bills because he cares about addressing unemployment near Native American reservations.

“Nothing was hidden,” he said. “I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t feel it was the right thing to do.”

Lawmakers don’t always choose to cast votes that benefit their private interests. West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael, a Republican, voted for a bill this year to expand broadband internet competition that his company, Frontier Communications, lobbied against.

Within days, Frontier fired him, though it denies it was because of his vote. Spokesman Andy Malinoski said in an email that “market and economic conditions” led the company to eliminate several positions, including Carmichael’s.

Carmichael said citizen legislators frequently feel pressure from outside income sources but usually do the right thing.

“We often feel the influences of employment,” he said. “In my case, the net result is that I lost my job.”

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Contributors include David Jordan and Joe Yerardi of the Center for Public Integrity; and Associated Press reporters James MacPherson in Bismarck, North Dakota, Audrey McAvoy in Honolulu, John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois, Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Republicans tried quelling GOP divisions over the budget and a partisan immigration clash simmered in the background as leaders labored Tuesday to push a short-term spending bill through Congress by week’s end and avert a partial government shutdown.

Republican leaders postponed a planned House vote on the temporary spending measure from Wednesday until Thursday, buying time to iron out disputes with conservatives seeking tighter budget curbs. The delay underscored the clout conservatives wield within the House GOP as leaders work to avoid a shutdown that would deal the latest blow to a party that has strained all year to show it can govern effectively.

There seemed to be little taste by most in either party, at least for now, to shutter agency doors with 2018 midterm elections for control of Congress coming into view. That included the White House, where President Donald Trump often revels in conflict and unpredictable tactics that members of his own party consider counterproductive.

“It’s always a possibility, but it’s certainly not what we hope for,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said of a potential shutdown. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will join GOP leaders for a White House meeting with Trump on Thursday, and Sanders said, “The president hopes to be able to have conversations with them to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Schumer couldn’t resist touting his and Pelosi’s abrupt refusal to attend a budget summit last week after Trump disparaged their views on immigration and taxes and said no deal was in sight.

“We showed the president. No games. This is serious stuff. We think he learned and he invited us back,” Schumer told reporters.

Money for federal agencies runs out at midnight Friday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans hope Congress will pass legislation this week financing federal agencies until Dec. 22, giving bargainers time to make longer-term budget decisions and address other issues that have floated into the year-end mix.

Without support from their own conservatives, House GOP leaders would need backing from Democrats to push the temporary measure through the chamber. Democratic votes will definitely be crucial in the Senate, where Republicans by themselves lack the 60 votes needed to approve the legislation.

Knowing that, Democrats are using their leverage to try forcing concessions to boost domestic spending in areas like health care and infrastructure. Hinting that they might back a short-term measure preventing a shutdown, Schumer said approving such a bill “gives us a little more time to do the things we’re talking about now.”

Democrats also want a bipartisan deal extending a program halted by Trump that lets hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived illegally as children stay in the U.S. Highlighting the intricate balancing act GOP leaders face, 34 House Republicans sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., urging him to hold a vote by year’s end on renewing those protections.

The fate of the immigration dispute remained unclear. Schumer said bipartisan talks are “moving in the right direction.”

But No. 2 Senate GOP leader John Cornyn of Texas said Republicans oppose mixing the immigration issue into the budget talks because it could cause a shutdown that would “jeopardize our national security and other government functions, just in order to help these young adults.” He added, “We do want to resolve this, but it’s not going to be before the end of this year.”

Besides temporarily financing the government, McConnell said, the short-term measure would make cash available to several states that are running out of money for the Children’s Health Insurance Program. That widely popular program helps provide medical care to more than 8 million children.

Members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, who met Tuesday with Ryan, have been pushing to extend the short-term measure until Dec. 30. They have argued that the leaders’ preferred Dec. 22 deadline gives Democrats leverage because lawmakers are tempted to give in and go home for Christmas.

Most Republicans seemed to not be buying that argument and said the Dec. 22 date seemed likeliest.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the Freedom Caucus, said his group was having “a good, healthy discussion” with leaders about ways to “fund the government without putting our military at a disadvantage.” Many Republicans are eager to quickly approve full-year funding for the military, despite ongoing bargaining over domestic programs.

With the budget chafing under spending caps imposed by a 2011 bipartisan budget deal, Democrats want defense and domestic programs to get equal funding increases. Both sides are also looking for additional money for states battered by recent storms.

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Associated Press writers Darlene Superville and Stephen Ohlemacher contributed to this report.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Wednesday despite intense Arab, Muslim and European opposition to a move that would upend decades of U.S. policy and risk potentially violent protests.

Trump will instruct the State Department to begin the multi-year process of moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to the holy city, U.S. officials said Tuesday. It remains unclear, however, when he might take that physical step, which is required by U.S. law but has been waived on national security grounds for more than two decades.

The officials said numerous logistical and security details, as well as site determination and construction, will need to be finalized first. Because of those issues, the embassy is not likely to move for at least 3 or 4 years, presuming there is no future change in U.S. policy.

To that end, the officials said Trump delay the embassy move by signing a waiver, which is required by U.S. law every six months. He will continue to sign the waiver until preparations for the embassy move are complete.

The officials said recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will be an acknowledgement of “historical and current reality” rather than a political statement and said the city’s physical and political borders will not be compromised. They noted that almost all of Israel’s government agencies and parliament are in Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, where the U.S. and other countries maintain embassies.

The U.S. officials spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity Tuesday because they were not authorized to publicly preview Trump’s Wednesday announcement. Their comments mirrored those of officials who spoke on the issue last week.

The declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is a rhetorical volley that could have its own dangerous consequences. The United States has never endorsed the Jewish state’s claim of sovereignty over any part of Jerusalem and has insisted its status be resolved through Israeli-Palestinian negotiation.

The mere consideration of Trump changing the status quo sparked a renewed U.S. security warning on Tuesday. America’s consulate in Jerusalem ordered U.S. personnel and their families to avoid visiting Jerusalem’s Old City or the West Bank, and urged American citizens in general to avoid places with increased police or military presence.

Trump, as a presidential candidate, repeatedly promised to move the U.S. embassy. However, U.S. leaders have routinely and unceremoniously delayed such a move since President Bill Clinton signed a law in 1995 stipulating that the United States must relocate its diplomatic presence to Jerusalem unless the commander in chief issues a waiver on national security grounds.

Key national security advisers — including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — have urged caution, according to the officials, who said Trump has been receptive to some of their concerns.

The concerns are real: Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could be viewed as America discarding its longstanding neutrality and siding with Israel at a time when the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has been trying to midwife a new peace process into existence. Trump, too, has spoken of his desire for a “deal of the century” that would end Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

U.S. officials, along with an outside adviser to the administration, said they expected a broad statement from Trump about Jerusalem’s status as the “capital of Israel.” The president isn’t planning to use the phrase “undivided capital,” according to the officials. Such terminology is favored by Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and would imply Israel’s sovereignty over east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians seek for their own future capital.

Jerusalem includes the holiest ground in Judaism. But it’s also home to Islam’s third-holiest shrine and major Christian sites, and forms the combustible center of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Any perceived harm to Muslim claims to the city has triggered volatile protests in the past, both in the Holy Land and across the Muslim world.

Within the Trump administration, officials on Tuesday fielded a flood of warnings from allied governments.

The Jerusalem declaration notwithstanding, one official said Trump would insist that issues of sovereignty and borders must be negotiated by Israel and the Palestinians. The official said Trump would call for Jordan to maintain its role as the legal guardian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy places, and reflect Israel and Palestinian wishes for a two-state peace solution.

In his calls to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Trump delivered what appeared to be identical messages of intent. Both leaders warned Trump that moving the embassy would threaten Mideast peace efforts and security and stability in the Middle East and the world, according to statements from their offices. The statements didn’t speak to Trump’s plans for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Majdi Khaldi, Abbas’ diplomatic adviser, said Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could end Washington’s role as mediator.

“This would mean they decided, on their own, to distance themselves from efforts to make peace,” Khaldi told The Associated Press in perhaps the most sharply worded reaction by a Palestinian official. He said such recognition would lead the Palestinians to eliminate contacts with the United States.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Karin Laub in Amman, Jordan; Josh Lederman in Brussels; Matthew Pennington and Bradley Klapper in Washington; Elaine Ganley in Paris; Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Aya Batrawy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to

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As Republicans in the House and Senate hash out their tax bill differences in a conference committee behind closed doors, with the goal of producing a final bill before the holiday break, conservative economists tell TPM that the policies likely to become law will wreak havoc on the country for many years to come. Though Republicans insisted repeatedly over the past few weeks that the $1.4 trillion in tax cuts, most of them geared toward wealthy individuals and corporations, would pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth, they presented no evidence to support their claims.

Instead, the economists and former government officials predicted, the bill will drive up the federal deficit, shrink and destabilize the health care market, exacerbate already historic income inequality, and pressure Congress to make deep cuts to the social safety net and government programs.

“I don’t see how this bill makes America great again,” said Bill Hoagland, a self-described “deficit hawk” Republican who worked for decades for the Senate Budget Committee and now serves as the senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center. “With the populist direction the country has gone in this year, it just doesn’t seem right to give big corporations a permanent tax cut and not individuals. And it’s an open question with those companies—will they translate that back into actual jobs and not into stock options and buybacks?” 

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The resignation of Democratic Rep. John Conyers, the longest-serving member of the House, brings renewed focus to allegations of sexual harassment in Congress and fresh questions of what’s next as lawmakers confront a national reckoning with high-profile cases that have rocked Hollywood, the media and now Washington.

The 27-term Michigan lawmaker stepped down Tuesday, becoming the first Capitol Hill politician to lose his job in the torrent of sexual misconduct allegations. Still in Congress and caught up in the swirl of accusations are Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., Rep. Ruben Kihuen, D-Nev., and Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas — all of whom say they won’t quit. And next week, Alabama voters could send GOP candidate Roy Moore to the Senate despite multiple complaints, including one that he molested a 14-year-old girl decades ago when he was in his 30s.

A few questions in the aftermath of Conyers’ announcement:

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Q: What happens to the Ethics Committee investigation of Conyers?

A: It’s likely over. The committee’s jurisdiction extends to current members of Congress and their employees. When a lawmaker resigns, the committee loses jurisdiction over that member. The resignation last year of Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Penn., after his conviction in a Philadelphia racketeering case serves as an example. One day after the resignation, the committee issued a statement stating, “The Committee considers this matter closed.”

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Q: Could Conyers face potential lawsuits from the women alleging sexual harassment?

A: Attorney Lisa Bloom says it’s unlikely because Congress has put in place a strict timeline for bringing complaints forward. Complaints must be made within 180 days of the alleged violation of the law. Also, to file a complaint with the Office of Compliance, accusers must first enter into mediation, with a nondisclosure agreement attached, followed by a mandatory 30-day “cooling off” period. After completion, a victim may either file a formal complaint or a federal lawsuit. The process is so arduous that many victims either settle or decide against going through the reporting at all. Bloom says, “Most of the people I’m talking to, their claims are beyond the 180-day time window.”

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Q: Will the Conyers case bring changes to the way sexual harassment cases involving members of Congress are settled?

A: Bloom says that’s the goal. “The next step for us is reforming the system,” Bloom said. Bloom said women should have more time to bring their case and they should not be forced into confidentiality agreements and settlements funded by the public. “There should be more transparency and more accountability,” Bloom said.

Lawmakers have introduced various bills to ensure greater transparency. The House and Senate have passed legislation to require mandatory training for lawmakers and staff.

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Q: With Conyers out, who is the most senior member in the House now?

A: Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska will become the most senior member in the House. Young, 84, is serving his 23rd term in the House. Young can be blunt and brusque. Two months ago, he apologized to Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., for addressing her during a debate as “young lady” and saying she “doesn’t know a damn thing what she’s talking about.” Young was offering an amendment about wildlife management on national preserves in his state when Jayapal spoke in opposition. Young later apologized, saying he has a tendency to “get very defensive about my state.”

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Q: Will Conyers still get his congressional pension?

A: Yes. Conyers has not been charged with any crime. Not only that, crimes that would lead to a forfeiture of a retirement annuity are limited to certain circumstances, namely treason or espionage, according to the Congressional Research Service. Based on his decades of service, Conyers would be eligible for an annual pension of nearly $130,000, according to the National Taxpayers Union, an advocacy group that keeps track of the public benefit.

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The Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with President Trump’s top campaign aides and family members said that Donald Trump Jr. asked her if she had evidence of illegal activity related to the Clinton Foundation, according to an NBC report on written answers the lawyer provided to a Senate committee.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said that she had no such evidence to provide Trump Jr., according to the report, and blamed the Trump-connected music promoter who acted as an intermediary in setting up the meeting for the miscommunication.

“Today, I understand why it took place to begin with and why it ended so quickly with a feeling of mutual disappointment and time wasted,” Veselnitskaya said in the questionnaire, according to NBC . “The answer lies in the roguish letters of Mr. [Rob] Goldstone.”

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TPM has obtained what appears to be the draft opinion article that Paul Manafort allegedly helped to ghostwrite, getting him in hot water with federal prosecutors and potentially the judge in his criminal case.

The draft op-ed was provided t0 TPM by Oleg Voloshyn, a former spokesman for Ukraine’s ministry of foreign affairs under the strongly pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Voloshyn claims to be its author, a claim first reported Tuesday by Bloomberg.

“I wrote it myself upon my own initiative as I couldn’t stand the allegations by McClatchy that Manafort had tried to derail the European integration although in fact he was its staunchest supporter,” Voloshyn told TPM.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team alleged this week that Manafort and an associate with alleged ties to Russian intelligence —revealed by the New York Times to be Konstantin Kilimnik—ghostwrote the draft op-ed in violation of the judge’s gag order in Manafort’s criminal case. The judge has ordered Manafort to respond to Mueller’s allegations by Thursday.

Voloshyn told Bloomberg he sent a draft of the op-ed to Kilimnik last week. Kilimnik, he said, forwarded it to Manafort, who “advised me to add that the Yanukovych government also worked actively with the U.S. on nuclear disarmament and with NATO,” which Voloshyn said he already knew.

The draft op-ed was submitted to the English-language Ukrainian news outlet called the Kyiv Post, which declined to run it. Editor Brian Bonner called it “highly suspicious” and “blatantly pro-Manafort” in an interview with Bloomberg. TPM emailed Bonner late Tuesday and he had not responded by press time.

Voloshyn responded with further comment after this story was published, saying in strong terms that he had written the op-ed by himself. The Mueller probe, he said, had not even contacted him about his role. He promised to provide TPM with further evidence of the extent of his role in writing the article.

The draft op-ed, which can be read in full at the bottom of this article, could be described as a love letter to Manafort, crediting him with a number of pro-Western advances in Ukraine:

[O]ne shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general. And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.
It was that period when Ukraine finally met US requirements to get rid of the stocks of highly enriched uranium that could have potentially been used to produce nuclear weapons. Ukraine used to be the only non-NATO nation that took part in all peace-keeping and anti-terrorist operations of the Alliance world-wide.
With an eye towards 2015, the Yanukovych government – to the surprise of so many in Moscow – managed to negotiate with the EU huge list of terms of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). No other nation had accomplished this task over such a brief period of time. Yanukovych’s government had the Association Agreement initialed by March of 2012. This pace shocked Moscow.
This sense of commitment to the goal is actually the reason why Russia overreacted in the summer 2013 and imposed the trade blockade with Ukraine.
Following the European track created multiple challenges that would never had been solved by a Ukraine Government except for the consistent promotion of what had to be done by Paul Manafort.

The op-ed is strikingly similar to the way Manafort has defended himself from charges of propping up a tyrant: The US-led denuclearization initiative, the NATO exercises, and the free trade agreement.

“Anyone who takes the time to review the very public record will find that my main activities, in addition to political consulting, were all directed at integrating Ukraine as a member of the European community including assisting the Obama Administration’s effort to denuclearize Ukraine,” Manafort told CBS News’s Major Garrett earlier this year, “expanding military exercises between NATO and Ukraine, and engaging in the process of negotiating the documents which were the basis of Ukraine becoming a part of the EU – the DCFTA and Association Agreements.”

Manafort was instrumental in bringing Yanukovych to power. Yanukovych’s administration and his political party, The Party of Regions, was widely seen as not merely friendly to but controlled by Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Putin reportedly sent advisers to help Yanukovych with a previous, unsuccessful presidential bid. Where they failed, Manafort succeeded, and since then he has sought to explain his motives—beyond the millions of dollars he was paid—in terms that will seem familiar to anyone who reads the op-ed Voloshyn provided.

Manafort’s spokesperson did not respond to TPM by press time. Mueller’s office declined to comment.

============================

European Integration Unknown Soldier

By: Oleg Voloshyn, former spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine

 EU – Ukraine Association Agreement might have never appeared but for a person now falsely accused of lobbying Russian interests.

The night of March 4, 2010 turned out to be a nervous one for the staff of Ukrainian embassy in Moscow where I used to be a press-attaché.

The first visit to Russia of newly elected president Viktor Yanukovych was on the brink of cancellation. The Kremlin wouldn’t grant the already scheduled visit an official status. Russian state media also cancelled earlier agreed interviews with members of Yanukovych team. The explanation was rather simple although possibly unusual for contemporary observers who had a mistaken and simplified perception of the fourth Ukrainian president: Russian leadership was annoyed at Yanukovych’s decision to pay his first visit after inauguration to Brussels before heading to Moscow.

Even Yushchenko in 2005 did the opposite. There was one person the Russians blamed for this “treason of special relationship with brother nation”: the political consultant to Viktor Yanukovych, American strategist Paul Manafort.Manafort persuaded Yanukovych that going first to Brussels would demonstrate to all that as President, Yanukovych intended to bring the changes required to allow Ukraine to apply for formal membership in the European Union.

Manafort brought to the Ukrainian political consultancy business a very important rule: An effective leader needs to be consistent as a President with his promises as a candidate. In his Presidential campaign VY made it clear that it was important for Ukraine to maintain its historical and cultural relationship with Russia. However, Yanukovich had also promised to implement the changes that would begin the modernization of Ukraine that would be necessary for Ukraine to become a part of the EU. The Brussels trip sent this signal loudly and clearly to all – including Russia.

I can’t but stipulate that Yanukovich was a bad president and crook who by the end of his rule had effectively lost credibility even of his staunchest supporters. And finally betrayed them and fled to Russia only to see Ukraine fall in the hands of other kleptocrats now disguised as hooray-patriots and nationalists. But with all that said one shouldn’t ignore the fact that Ukraine under Yanukovych made a number of major steps towards the EU and the West in general. And that Manafort was among those who made those paradoxical accomplishments real.

It was that period when Ukraine finally met US requirements to get rid of the stocks of highly enriched uranium that could have potentially been used to produce nuclear weapons. Ukraine used to be the only non-NATO nation that took part in all peace-keeping and anti-terrorist operations of the Alliance world-wide.

With an eye towards 2015, the Yanukovych government – to the surprise of so many in Moscow – managed to negotiate with the EU huge list of terms of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). No other nation had accomplished this task over such a brief period of time. Yanukovych’s government had the Association Agreement initialed by March of 2012. This pace shocked Moscow.

This sense of commitment to the goal is actually the reason why Russia overreacted in the summer 2013 and imposed the trade blockade with Ukraine.

Following the European track created multiple challenges that would never had been solved by a Ukraine Government except for the consistent promotion of what had to be done by Paul Manafort.

Legislation such as Criminal-Administrative Code built on fundamentally new principles consistent with the Western practices and lauded by the Western institutions is one of the vivid examples.

Even at the end of the process Manafort was engaged in helping the Europeans and the Ukrainians negotiate the final terms.

Just three months before the summit it was the EU, not Yanukovych, who hesitated whether to sign the document or not. And Manafort contributed a lot to change of mood in Brussels and major European capitals while at the same time keeping Ukraine focused on finalizing the details of the DCFTA and Association Agreement. He was doing this while Russia was imposing the trade embargo and threatening even more drastic punishment to discourage Yanukovych from getting into DCFTA with the EU.

With all that said I can only wonder why some American media dare falsely claim that Paul Manafort lobbied Russian interests in Ukraine and torpedoed AA signing. Without his input Ukraine would not have had the command focus on reforms that were required to be a nation candidate to the EU.

All listed here facts can be easily verified. If only one pursues the truth. Not tends to twist the reality in line with his or her conviction that the dubious goal of undermining Trump’s presidency justifies most dishonest means.

This post has been updated.

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