TPM News

A local Washington, D.C. lawmaker has apologized for posting a video on social media blaming the Rothschilds, a wealthy banking family who have often been at the center of anti-Semitic attacks, for climate change and an unexpected snow.

“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation,” Trayon White Sr., who sits on the local city council, said in the video. “And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”

White later apologized and deleted the video off of social media, but he has reportedly made similar comments tying the Jewish family to climate change in the past, according to The Huffington Post.

I want to apologize to the Jewish Community and anyone I have offended,” he wrote in a social media post later. “The Jewish community have been allies with me in my journey to help people. I did not intend to be Anti-Semitic, and I see I should not have said that after learning from my colleagues.”

The director of the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, D.C. told TPM in a statement Monday that the group “welcome(s)” White’s apology.

“Councilman White Sr.’s offensive comments in a video on Facebook only served to perpetuate a classic and erroneous anti-Semitism conspiracy theory – that somehow Jews are clandestinely controlling world events,” D.C. Director Doron Ezickson said.

“At a time when anti-Semitic incidents have risen dramatically in the United States, it’s important that all of our elected officials fight all forms hate – including anti-Semitism,” Ezickson continued. “We welcome Councilman White Sr.’s apology and are glad to hear he is learning about the meaning behind his words. ADL stands ready to work with our country’s leaders, at all levels, to help them avoid rhetoric that can foster hate and bigotry.”

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Special counsel Robert Mueller sent questions to President Donald Trump recently, around the same time that Trump published angry tweets on Saturday aimed at Mueller and the Russia probe, according to the New York Times.

Mueller’s team sent the questions as a preliminary step in negotiations for an interview with the President, and the special counsel’s office would ask Trump questions in the interview, according to the New York Times.

Mueller’s team and Trump’s attorneys are looking to set the specifics of the interview within the next few weeks, according to Axios. In negotiations with Trump’s lawyers, Mueller has focused on post-election activity, including the firings of James Comey and Michael Flynn, per Axios.

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The American Civil Liberties Union on Sunday called out Presidential Donald Trump for what it called “unconstitutional and unenforceable” non-disclosure agreement that he reportedly makes his staffers sign.

“Public employees can’t be gagged by private agreements, these so-called NDAs are unconstitutional and unenforceable,”Ben Wizner said, ACLU’s director of speech, privacy and technology projects said.

The Washington Post was first to report on the document which includes $10 million fines for violations of sharing information about the President. Several White House staff who were initially cautious about signing the document, reportedly did so because they thought the agreement was not enforceable. The agreement is designed to keep ex-employees from discussing Trump and White House happenings. Trump first started requesting the NDAs in reposes to leaks to the media, according to the Post. 

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AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Two people were injured in another explosion in Texas’ capital Sunday night, and police are not ruling out a connection to the three previous explosions that detonated earlier this month elsewhere in the city.

The latest blast occurred around 8:30 p.m. in a suburban neighborhood known as Travis Country in southwest Austin — far from the previous three that were all in residential areas in the eastern part of the city — and investigators didn’t immediately confirm what caused it. But police Chief Brian Manley repeated previously issued warnings for residents not to touch any unexpected packages left at their homes.

“What we have right now is a scene where it is obvious that an explosion has taken place,” Manley said at a hastily organized news conference near the site of the latest blast.

Manley, responding to reports that the latest explosion may have been detonated by a trip wire, said it was a possibility that the device was “activated by someone either handling, kicking or coming into contact with a trip wire that activated the device.”

He urged people within half a mile to stay in their homes and said authorities would keep the surrounding area blocked off at least until daybreak Monday “given the darkness and size of the area that we want to go in and check.”

“We want to put out the message that we’ve been putting out and that is, not only do not touch any packages or anything that looks like a package, do not even go near it at this time,” Manley said. Because “we have not had an opportunity to look at this blast site to really determine what has happened.”

Manley also said authorities were still working to “clear” a suspicious backpack found in the area that was part of a separate report.

“It is important right now for anyone in the neighborhood behind us to remain inside and give us time to work through this,” he said, adding that any witnesses should call 911 and report what they saw.

Two men in their 20s were hurt in the latest blast. Police said they were hospitalized with injuries that weren’t life-threatening. It was the fourth explosion to rock Austin in less than three weeks.

The first was a package bomb that exploded at a northeast Austin home on March 2, killing a 39-year-old man. Two more package bombs then exploded farther south on March 12, killing a 17-year-old, wounding his mother and injuring a 75-year-old woman.

Police said all three of those were likely related and involved packages that had not been mailed or delivered by private carrier but left overnight on doorsteps. Manley originally suggested they could have been hate crimes since all the victims were black or Hispanic, but now says that investigators aren’t ruling out any possible motive.

Manley last week urged residents receiving unexpected packages to call authorities without touching or opening them, and police responded to hundreds of calls about suspicious packages but didn’t find anything dangerous.

On Sunday, police blocked entrances to the neighborhood where the latest blast occurred and put up yellow tape about half a mile from the home where it happened.

Despite the order for those living nearby to stay in their homes, neighbors milled around just outside the tape. Some reported hearing loud booms but couldn’t provide many details. FBI agents arrived to conduct interviews.

The latest explosion came hours after authorities raised the reward by $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of whoever is responsible for the first three explosions. It now totals $115,000.

Sunday is the final day of the South By Southwest music festival, which draws hundreds of thousands to Austin every March. It is also the end of spring break for many area school districts, meaning families who were out of town in recent days are returning to a city increasingly on edge.

The explosions occurred far from the main South By Southwest activities, though a downtown concert by hip-hop band The Roots was canceled Saturday night after a bomb threat. Authorities later arrested a 26-year-old man, and the incident did not appear to be related to any previous explosions.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Sunday criticized the Trump administration’s decision to fire Andrew McCabe from the FBI just days before he qualified for his full retirement benefits.

“I don’t like the way it happened. He should’ve been allowed to finish through the weekend,” Rubio said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” when asked about Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to fire McCabe Friday night.

“That said, that there’s an inspector general report that’s due and work that’s being done, and after he had retired if that report would’ve indicated wrongdoing or something that was actionable, there’s things that could’ve been done after the fact,” the senator added. “But 48 hours to go before retirement, I would’ve certainly done it differently, given the fact there’s still this report out there that hasn’t come in.”

Several Republicans on Sunday criticized Sessions’ firing of McCabe, and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called for the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on McCabe’s firing.

Watch a clip of Rubio’s interview via NBC:

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — With the Illinois primary just days away, state election officials are beefing up cyber defenses and scanning for possible intrusions into voting systems and voter registration rolls.

They have good reason to be on guard: Two years ago, Illinois was the lone state known to have its state election system breached in a hacking effort that ultimately targeted 21 states. Hackers believe to be connected to Russia penetrated the state’s voter rolls, viewing data on some 76,000 Illinois voters, although there is no indication any information was changed.

Since then, Illinois election officials have added firewalls, installed software designed to prevent intrusions and shifted staffing to focus on the threats. The state has been receiving regular cyber scans from the federal government to identify potential weak spots and has asked the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment. That assessment is scheduled but will not happen before Tuesday’s second-in the-nation primary.

“It’s not something where you ever feel completely safe,” Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections. “It’s something where you feel like you’re doing your best to protect against what could happen in a cyberattack.”

Federal intelligence agencies determined that the attempted hacking of state elections systems in 2016 primarily targeted voter registration systems, not actual voting machines or vote tallying.

Gaining access to electronic voter rolls can do as much damage, giving hackers the ability to change names, addresses or polling places. Confusion, long lines and delays in reporting election results would follow, all of which undermines confidence in elections.

Cybersecurity experts say it’s crucial for states to shore up vulnerabilities in those systems now, with this year’s midterm elections underway and the 2020 presidential election on the horizon.

J. Alex Halderman, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computer Security and Society, said many of the same weaknesses present in 2016 remain.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before we suffer a devastating attack on our election systems unless our federal and state governments act quickly,” he said.

The federal Help America Vote Act, passed two years after the messy presidential recount in Florida, requires states to have a centralized statewide voter registration list, but states vary in how they implement it.

Most collect voter data at the state level and then provide it to local election officials, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Illinois and five other states do the opposite, collecting voter registration data at the local level and sending it to the state elections office. A few others have a hybrid system.

The chief concern surrounding voter registration systems and the growing use of electronic poll books to check in voters at polling places is how they interact with other internet-connected systems.

Electronic poll books allow polling place workers to verify a person’s registration and related information electronically, rather than having to rely on large paper files.

A downside is that the e-poll books might use a network to connect to a voter registration system, providing a potential opening for hackers.

In other cases, the voter data is transferred from a computer and placed on a device not connected to the internet. That computer is the potential weak link. Security experts said it must be secured and not subject to tampering.

Experts with The Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School said network-connected election systems are vulnerable to attacks and urged officials to take several steps to shore up security, including making sure the underlying server is not connected to the internet and that all changes are logged. Experts say a key component is that election systems can recover quickly in the event of an attack or even an equipment failure, limiting public disruption.

Larry Norden, an expert in elections technology with The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said the network connections make voter registration systems more vulnerable to hacking than voting machines, which are not directly connected to the internet.

In many states, the department of motor vehicles or some other state agency provides information to the voter registration system as a way to keep the records current. Some states allow voters to register and edit their information on a state website that is connected to the voter database.

All of those provide possible access points that can open the door to hackers.

“Just understanding where the risks are is critical,” Norden said.


Cassidy reported from Atlanta.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s plan to combat opioid drug addiction nationwide calls for stiffer penalties for drug traffickers, including the death penalty where appropriate under current law, a top administration official said. It’s a fate for drug dealers that Trump, who aims to be seen as tough on crime, has been highlighting publicly in recent weeks.

Trump also wants Congress to pass legislation reducing the amount of drugs needed to trigger mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers who knowingly distribute certain illicit opioids, said Andrew Bremberg, Trump’s domestic policy director, who briefed reporters Sunday on the plan Trump is scheduled to unveil Monday in New Hampshire, a state hard-hit by the crisis.

The president will be joined by first lady Melania Trump, who has shown an interest in the issue, particularly as it pertains to her focus on child welfare.

Death for drug traffickers and mandatory minimum penalties for distributing certain opioids are just two elements under the part of Trump’s plan that deals with law enforcement and interdiction to break the international and domestic flow of drugs into and across the U.S.

Other parts of the plan include broadening education and awareness, and expanding access to proven treatment and recovery efforts.

Trump has mused openly in recent weeks about subjecting drug dealers to the “ultimate penalty.”

The president told the audience at a Pennsylvania campaign rally this month that countries like Singapore have fewer issues with drug addiction because they harshly punish their dealers. He argued that a person in the U.S. can get the death penalty or life in prison for shooting one person, but that a drug dealer who potentially kills thousands can spend little or no time in jail.

“The only way to solve the drug problem is through toughness,” Trump said in Moon Township.

He made similar comments at a recent White House summit on opioids. “Some countries have a very, very tough penalty — the ultimate penalty. And, by the way, they have much less of a drug problem than we do,” Trump said. “So we’re going to have to be very strong on penalties.”

The Justice Department said the federal death penalty is available for several limited drug-related offenses, including violations of the “drug kingpin” provisions of federal law.

Doug Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University, said it was not clear that death sentences for drug dealers, even for those whose product causes multiple deaths, would be constitutional. Berman said the issue would be litigated extensively and would have to be definitively decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Opioids, including prescription opioids, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, killed more than 42,000 people in the U.S. in 2016, more than any year on record, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trump has declared that fighting the epidemic is a priority for the administration but critics say the effort has fallen short.

Last October, Trump declared the crisis a national public health emergency, short of the national state of emergency sought by a presidential commission he put together to study the issue.

“We call it the crisis next door because everyone knows someone,” said Kellyanne Conway, a Trump senior adviser. “This is no longer somebody else’s community, somebody else’s kid, somebody else’s co-worker.”

Other elements of the plan Trump will discuss Monday call for a nationwide public awareness campaign, which Trump announced last October, and increased research and development through public-private partnerships between the federal National Institutes of Health and pharmaceutical companies.

Bremberg said the administration also has a plan to cut the number of filled opioid prescriptions by one-third within three years.

The stop in New Hampshire will be Trump’s first visit as president. He won the state’s 2016 Republican presidential primary but narrowly lost in the general election to Hillary Clinton. It follows a visit to the state last week by retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a persistent Trump critic. Flake told New Hampshire Republicans that someone needs to stop Trump — and it could be him if no one else steps up.


Associated Press writer Mark Sherman contributed to this report.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Donald Trump isn’t thinking about or talking about firing special counsel Robert Mueller.

That’s the late word from White House lawyer Ty Cobb, who released a statement late Sunday after a series of Trump tweets led members of Congress and others to speculate that the president may be considering orchestrating Mueller’s firing.

Mueller has been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election – a probe Trump believes is politically motivated. Mueller is also looking at Trump for possible obstruction of justice related to his decision last May to fire James Comey as FBI director.

Cobb’s statement says: “In response to media speculation and related questions being posed to the Administration, the White House yet again confirms that the President is not considering or discussing the firing of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller.”

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A trove of e-mails obtained by House Democrats reveal efforts by top State Department officials — working hand in hand with the White House, outside conservatives and right-wing media — to sideline and demote career civil servants who are seen as disloyal to President Trump.

The report on the emails set off alarm bells across Washington, D.C. and prompted Democrats on the House Oversight Committee to demand that the State Department hand over records of internal communications on the issue. Department officials have reportedly labeled certain career staffers “troublemaker,” “turncoat” and “Obama/Clinton loyalist” because of their work for past administrations.

But independent watchdog groups tracking the issue tell TPM the problem is not confined to the State Department, citing similar acts of retaliation against career staffers throughout the government.

“I think we’re seeing a pattern across a number of agencies,” Nick Schwellenbach, the Director of Investigations at the Project On Government Oversight, told TPM. “Top political leadership is working to root out people they view as insufficiently loyal to Trump’s agenda. It’s extremely troubling, because federal government employees’ loyalty should be to the Constitution, not to the political masters of the moment.”

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One of the most conservative Democrats in Congress may lose his primary on Tuesday.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) spent much of his career antagonizing his own party as an outspoken pro-life advocate who has been hostile to gay rights and has voted against Democratic priorities from the DREAM Act to Obamacare to Planned Parenthood funding. After more than a decade representing a safely Democratic seat stretching from Chicago’s Southwest Side out to largely working-class suburbs, he’s facing the toughest primary challenge of his career from former ad executive Marie Newman, a staunch liberal whose campaign has gotten a major boost from a constellation of national progressive groups seeking his ouster.

Democrats who have closely monitored the election say it could go either way, but that she has the momentum in a year where the liberal base is furious and activated and being a centrist in a safely Democratic district isn’t exactly a selling point.

“Dan Lipinski has walked away from the Democratic values that we all hold dear, particularly that relate to women and women’s health care. This is not the time for someone who’s going to champion anti-women’s positions and anti-LGBTQ positions,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock told TPM during a Thursday conference call. “We think she’s going to pull this out on Tuesday.”

Besides the pro-choice EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, Newman also has support from the pro-LGBTQ Human Rights Campaign and the Service Employees International Union. The groups have spent more than $1 million to back her campaign. She also has endorsements from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as well as Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who has dispatched a top staffer to aid Newman’s campaign. Some top local Democrats, like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (D), have gotten on board as well.

Lipinski, allies say, was caught a bit flat-footed by the challenge. He told TPM a few weeks ago that he wasn’t sure “why anyone believes this is going to be a close race to begin with.” He was slow to launch TV ads slamming Newman, allowing her and her allies weeks to themselves to define the race. That allowed Newman to raise her once-nonexistent name ID and drill him for his regular breaks with his party, not an easy feat in Chicago’s expensive media market especially since it’s been saturated with heavy campaign spending from the billionaires running for Illinois governor.

A Lipinski poll taken early in the race found him with a 30-point lead; a recent survey from NARAL found Newman within two points.

“I don’t think he realized what a fight he’d be in, and the dynamic didn’t change until the SEIU and progressive groups flipped the switch and started spending,” one Chicago Democratic strategist whose job precludes them from talking on-record told TPM.

But those following the race say not to count Lipinski out just yet. He has close ties with Chicago’s still-powerful Democratic machine and its head, state party chairman and state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D). The well-organized building trade unions are firmly behind him as well, after a decades-long relationship with him and his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), who installed his son in his old seat when he retired in 2004. Lipinski and Madigan made sure the current incarnation of the district had as many blue-collar white ethnic Democrats as possible in the last round of redistricting in an effort to boost his standing.

There’s no love lost between the Lipinski and Newman. Lipinski, a co-chairman of the fiscally moderate Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, regularly dismisses Newman as part of the “Tea Party of the left” in interviews, while Newman attacked him as a “full-on Republican” who is “anti-immigrant” and “on a mission against women” in a Thursday conference call with EMILY’s List.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be a lock in the general election — Hillary Clinton carried the district by 15 points and Republicans are set to nominate an actual neo-Nazi that party leaders have disavowed after failing to recruit a real candidate.

Lipinski has gotten his own cavalry in the race. The centrist group No Labels has spent close to $1 million on TV and mail pieces through a number of new super-PACs largely  financed by Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, an old friend of Lipinski’s father.

The group has been hammering Newman for going into business with a felon – she and her husband briefly partnered with an ex-con in a restaurant venture before disengaging months later.

But one of its attacks may end up backfiring on Lipinski. The group sent a mailer contrasting Newman to President Obama, saying he was “known for leading” while she was “known for misleading.” That incensed some of Obama’s top deputies, who were quick to point out that Lipinski not only voted against Obamacare, he publicly refused to endorse Obama in his 2012 reelection campaign. Former top Obama adviser David Axelrod lit into him on Twitter, then held a press conference with former advisers to attack Lipinski as a hypocrite.

He also got a last-minute boost from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which is spending a small amount and sending canvassers to knock on 17,000 doors to turn out the district’s pro-life (largely Catholic) voters.

“Dan Lipinski is one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, and he has shown extraordinary courage,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a Thursday statement. “He stood firm against Obamacare’s expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion under intense pressure from party leaders to give in. Now Lipinski is under attack for his pro-life convictions again, with a primary challenger backed by the radical abortion lobby. That’s why SBA List is going all in for Lipinski.”

Lipinski’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple calls and emails to discuss the race.

Lipinski’s side has had the edge in recent spending and, though the SEIU is all-in for Newman with its ground game, his field operation has proven formidable in the past.

“It’s going to be tough, but I think he’s going to win,” said one Lipinski ally who’s helped on the race.

But others aren’t so sure, arguing her message has been a much more potent one in the current political climate.

“Her messaging on choice and gay rights is a lot stronger than his attacks on her business and working with felons,” said the Chicago-based Democratic strategist. “It’s looking like a coin flip here.”

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