TPM News

Thomas Brunell, a controversial potential pick for a top Census Bureau post, is no longer under consideration for the position, a Department of Commerce spokesperson confirmed to TPM Monday.

Mother Jones had previously reported Monday, citing two unnamed sources informed of his decision, that Brunell had withdrawn. Moments before the Mother Jones report appeared, Terri Ann Lowenthal, a knowledgable Census Bureau observer, told TPM that she had been told Brunell had withdrawn.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to give a press briefing on Monday at 3:30 p.m. ET. Watch live below:

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) almost blew his last election by choke-slamming a reporter for daring to ask him questions, then lying about how the assault happened. But in his mind (or at least his latest fundraising email), he’s still the victim.

Gianforte’s campaign sent out an email asking for money on Monday that included a claim that he’d not only had to beat beat his Democratic opponent but the “leftist media” in his special election last year.

“We were able to win a tough, close victory against the Democrats and the leftist media in the most expensive Congressional contest in Montana history,” reads the fundraising letter, signed by Gianforte.

That’s an interesting turn of phrase for Gianforte, who won his race last year even after tackling Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, breaking his glasses in the process, after Jacobs pressed him on his stance on the GOP’s Obamacare repeal plan.

He compounded that attack by lying about what happened, a story he later had to walk back. After pleading guilty to the attack he promised Jacobs an in-person meeting, which he’s since refused to hold unless Jacobs agrees that it’s off-the-record.

Gianforte’s six-point victory last summer came partly because much of Montana’s vote had already been cast via early voting when he attacked Jacobs. Democrats think they have an outside shot at defeating him in the Republican-leaning state.

Gianforte’s team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump Jr.’s wife was taken to a New York City hospital as a precaution Monday after she opened an envelope addressed to her husband that contained an unidentified white powder, police said.

A preliminary test indicated the substance wasn’t dangerous, police said.

Vanessa Trump, 40, opened the letter addressed to the president’s son Monday morning at their midtown Manhattan apartment, investigators said. She called 911 and said she was coughing and felt nauseous, police said.

The Trump Organization didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Detectives from the New York Police Department’s intelligence division and Secret Service agents were investigating.

“The Secret Service and our law enforcement partners in New York City are investigating a suspicious package addressed to one of our protectees received today in New York, New York. This is an active investigation and we cannot comment any further,” Secret Service Special Agent Jeffrey Adams said in a statement.

Vanessa Trump, a former model, and Donald Trump Jr. have five children, none of whom were home at the time of the incident.

In March 2016, police detectives and FBI agents investigated a threatening letter sent to the Manhattan apartment of Donald Trump Jr.’s brother, Eric, that also contained a white powder that turned out to be harmless. Envelopes containing white powder were also sent to Trump Tower, which served as Trump’s campaign headquarters, twice in 2016.

Hoax attacks using white powder play on fears that date to 2001, when letters containing deadly anthrax were mailed to news organizations and the offices of two U.S. senators. Those letters killed five people.

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President Donald Trump on Monday pointed to his 1980s renovation of the Wollman Ice Rink in Central Park — that he suggested he completed for his daughter Ivanka Trump’s benefit  to tout his new $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

During a press conference announcing the plan, Trump said the rink renovation “took many, many years” and the city was not “able to open it.”

“And I said, ‘You know, I’d like to be able to have my daughter Ivanka — who is with us — I would like to be able to have her go ice skating sometime before she doesn’t want to ice skate,” Trump said. “And I got involved, and I did it in a few months and we did it for a tiny fraction, tiny fraction of the cost. It’s really no different with a roadway, it’s not different with a bridge or a tunnel or any of the things we’ll be fixing.”

In May 1986, Trump offered to take over the construction and operation of the Wollman Ice Rink after the New York City Parks Department spent six years struggling to finance and complete the renovation. His company completed the project in four months — two less than Trump predicted — and came in nearly $800,000 under budget, according to Forbes.

While Trump’s takeover of the project was widely considered a publicity stunt that escalated his feud with then-New York Mayor Ed Koch, Trump on Monday cited the renovation as evidence that his infrastructure proposal, which hinges on state and private dollars funding infrastructure projects, will succeed.

“It was a big deal at the time. It remains a big deal,” he said. “Sometimes the states aren’t able to do it like we can do it. Or like other people can do it. Or like I used to do it.”

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday praised the “Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement” in a speech to the National Sheriffs’ Association.

“The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” Sessions said. “We must never erode this historic office.”

Sessions’ phrasing deviated from his prepared remarks as published by the Justice Department, where the line was “The Sheriff is a critical part of our legal heritage.”

Asked to clarify the meaning of Sessions’ improvisation, Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior told TPM by email: “Anglo-American law is another term for common law – which is the legal system that we use (as opposed to say, Napoleonic Code used in France) and is derived from the system of law that originated in England.”

“That said, I am confused as to why this is a story that you would need a comment on,” Prior added.

The word “heritage” is a loaded term often used by neo-Confederates and white supremacists to defend the public display of Confederate flags and statues.

Sessions has a history of making dubious off-the-cuff remarks about race and its role in U.S. history. In 1986, a Republican-controlled Senate once rejected his nomination to a federal judgeship after several U.S. attorneys testified that Sessions was hostile to civil rights cases and made racist remarks.

Among other comments, Sessions allegedly derided the NAACP and ACLU as “Communist-inspired” and “un-American,” and said he thought the Ku Klux Klan was alright until he heard that some members smoked marijuana.

Additionally, it’s worth noting that some local Southern sheriffs historically worked to enforce segregation and crack down heavily on civil rights movements in the spirit of the “heritage” that many modern white nationalists cite.

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Rachel Brand, the third-ranking official at the Justice Department, decided to leave her post in part because she wanted to avoid any possibility that she would have to oversee the federal Russia investigation, NBC News reported on Monday.

NBC News reported, citing unnamed sources close to Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, that Brand was also frustrated by continuing vacancies at the Justice Department.

President Donald Trump has reportedly grown increasingly frustrated with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Justice Department official who oversees special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and has privately contemplated terminating Rosenstein.

According to NBC News, Brand was concerned that Trump would fire Rosenstein and leave her in charge of overseeing Mueller’s probe, a highly visible position that Brand did not want.

The Justice Department on Friday announced that Brand will leave the Justice Department in the next few weeks, and Walmart announced that she will take an executive job at the corporation. According to NBC News, her move to the private sector has been in the works for “some time.”

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An NBC News report last week claiming a U.S. official confirmed that several states’ voter rolls were penetrated by Russian hackers is getting belated pushback from the Department of Homeland Security.

DHS blasted out a statement Monday that said NBC “misrepresented facts” and “falsely report[ed]” the DHS official’s comments.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Portrait Gallery has unveiled portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama, both painted by African-American artists who were personally chosen by the Obamas.

The portraits were unveiled to the public Monday at the gallery, which is part of the Smithsonian group of museums. The gallery has a complete collection of presidential portraits. A second and different set of portraits of the former first couple will eventually hang in the White House.

Barack Obama’s portrait was painted by Kehinde Wiley — an artist best known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African-Americans. For Michelle Obama’s portrait, the gallery commissioned Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald, first-prize winner of the Portrait Gallery’s 2016 Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.

The portraits will be officially installed and available for public viewing starting on Feb. 13.

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota voters were choosing successors Monday for two legislators who resigned amid sexual harassment allegations, as Democrats sought to remain in striking distance of taking back the state Senate and add a solidly Republican state House seat to their list of upsets leading up to the midterms.

The rare Monday special elections were triggered by the resignations of GOP Rep. Tony Cornish and Democratic Sen. Dan Schoen late last year after they were accused by several women of sexual harassment. It follows surprise victories in legislative and congressional seats that President Donald Trump soundly won, including recent Democratic victories for Missouri and Wisconsin legislative seats.

Democratic odds were long in the rural southwestern Minnesota House seat, where Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by more than 35 percentage points. Cornish regularly cruised to re-election by even larger margins before resigning halfway through his eighth term. Local GOP chairman Jeremy Munson faces Democratic social worker Melissa Wagner.

Even a shocking upset won’t affect control of the House, where Republicans currently hold a 76-57 majority.

But the stakes on the state level were higher in the race to fill a Senate seat that includes Cottage Grove and other suburbs of St. Paul. A win for Republicans would give them a two-seat margin in the chamber, squashing Democrats’ hope of retaking control later this year.

A Democratic victory would put extra pressure on the lawsuit against GOP Sen. Michelle Fischbach, who ascended to become Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor but is trying to remain in her Senate seat. If she’s forced out, another special election could decide the Senate majority.

Schoen’s departure opened up a swing district — Schoen won the seat by more than 6 percentage points in 2016 while Trump narrowly edged Clinton. Two Republicans hold the district’s House seats.

The race features two former legislators, Democrat Karla Bigham and Republican Denny McNamara.

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