TPM News

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein plans to call on the House to investigate the conduct of House Intelligence Committee staffers, CNN and Fox News reported Tuesday.

The second-ranking Justice Department official will “request that the House general counsel conduct an internal investigation of these Congressional staffers’ conduct,” both outlets reported, both citing an unnamed Department of Justice official.

“The Deputy Attorney General never threatened anyone in the room with a criminal investigation,” the official added, apparently citing what House Intelligence Committee staffers said felt like a “personal attack” from Rosenstein, as reported by Fox News Tuesday, during a meeting earlier this year.

“The Deputy Attorney General was making the point — after being threatened with contempt — that as an American citizen charged with the offense of contempt of Congress, he would have the right to defend himself, including requesting production of relevant emails and text messages and calling them as witnesses to demonstrate that their allegations are false,” a DOJ official said in identical statements to CNN and Fox News. “That is why he put them on notice to retain relevant emails and text messages, and he hopes they did so.”

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A career Department of Justice attorney resigned the morning after Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DOJ would refuse to defend Obamacare against a 20-state lawsuit, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

Joel McElvain, the Post reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter, submitted his resignation Friday. An unnamed DOJ spokesperson told the paper the resignation would take affect in early July. 

After Republicans in Congress repealed Obamacare’s individual mandate, 20 GOP-controlled states sued over the law, saying it was unconstitutional as a result of the mandate’s repeal. 

Just before 6 p.m. Thursday — shortly before Sessions’ announcement — McElvain and two other career DOJ attorneys withdrew from the lawsuit. A DOJ spokesperson told TPM the attorney shake-up was due to “personnel issues.”

McElvain submitted his resignation the next morning, the Post said.

In deciding not to uphold the law, the Trump administration had determined its “dislike for the Affordable Care Act outweighed its respect for the rule of law,” University of Michigan law professor Nicholas Bagley told USA Today last week.

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SEATTLE (AP) — Seattle leaders on Tuesday repealed a tax on large companies such as Amazon and Starbucks after a backlash from businesses, a stark reversal from a month ago when the City Council unanimously approved the effort to combat a growing homelessness crisis.

The council voted 7-2 after supporters and opponents packed a meeting with signs saying, “Tax Amazon, housing for all” and “No tax on jobs,” with some shouting for more time to discuss the issue.

The vote showed Amazon’s ability to aggressively push back on government taxes, especially in its affluent hometown where it’s the largest employer and where some have criticized it for helping cultivate a widening income gap that is pricing lower-income workers out of housing.

The tax was proposed as a progressive revenue source aimed at tackling one of the nation’s highest homelessness numbers, a problem that hasn’t eased even as city spending on the issue grew.

Businesses and residents demanded more accountability in how Seattle funds homelessness and housing and said it should take a regional approach to the problem. Many worried that Amazon and others would leave the city, with construction workers in hard hats and safety packing City Hall to object to the tax.

Amazon, Starbucks and others sharply criticized the tax as misguided, and the online retailer even temporarily halted construction planning on a new high-rise building near its Seattle headquarters in protest.

Supporters praised it as a step toward building badly needed affordable housing. They said too many people are suffering on the streets and that the problem is deepening, despite city-funded programs finding homes for 3,400 people last year.

Seattle spent $68 million on homelessness last year and plans to spend even more this year, not counting the tax that would have raised roughly $48 million annually.

But a one-night count in January found more than 12,000 homeless people in the Seattle and surrounding region, a 4 percent increase from the previous year. The region saw 169 homeless deaths last year.

In the end, city leaders underestimated the frustration and anger from residents, businesses and others over not just a tax increase but also a growing sense that the problem appears to have gotten worse, not better, despite the city already spending millions to combat homelessness.

Several council members, including three who sponsored the legislation, lamented the about-face even as they supported repealing the tax.

“I am deeply troubled and disappointed by the political tactics utilized by a powerful faction of corporations that seem to prioritize corporations over people,” Councilwoman Lorena Gonzalez said Monday.

She added that the consequences will be felt profoundly by the thousands of people without shelter or stable housing.

Jeff Shulman, an associate professor in the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, said the way the tax got pushed through is the antithesis of the collaborative spirit the city is known for.

“It kind of set up larger businesses as the enemy, and in reality, the city is going to need them as allies and partners,” he said.

Seattle’s tax would have charged companies about $275 per full-time worker each year for affordable housing and homeless services. It targeted nearly 600 businesses making at least $20 million in gross revenue and would have taken effect next year.

Days after the measure passed, a coalition of businesses called the No Tax On Jobs campaign began gathering signatures to get a referendum overturning the tax on the November ballot.

Tax supporters faced the prospect of having to fight the campaign that easily raised more than $280,000 in cash contributions in just weeks.

“They’ve made clear they have the resources to bankroll many more months of nastiness,” the group Working Washington said in a statement.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and a majority of the city council acknowledged facing “a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis.”

John Kelly, senior vice president of public affairs for Starbucks, said repealing the tax makes sense.

“The best path forward is to implement the reforms recommended two years ago by the city’s own homelessness expert,” he said in a statement Monday.

It marks the latest Amazon effort against taxes at all levels of government.

The company recently said it would block Australians from purchases on its international websites after the nation planned to impose a 10 percent consumption tax on online retailers for goods shipped to Australia.

The tax debate comes as 20 cities vie to lure the company’s second headquarters and as it expands its workforce in Boston and Vancouver, British Columbia.

Cities have offered lavish tax breaks and incentives to lure the company and its promise of adding tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. Critics have said it is wrong for profitable company to push for public money, especially considering the added costs to infrastructure and services the new headquarters would bring.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal judge approved the $85 billion mega-merger of AT&T and Time Warner on Tuesday, a move that could usher in a wave of media consolidation while shaping how much consumers pay for streaming TV and movies.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon green-lit the merger without adding major conditions to the deal. The Trump Justice Department had sued to block the $85 billion merger, arguing that it would hurt competition in cable and satellite TV and jack up costs to consumers for streaming TV and movies.

Now, the phone and pay-TV giant will be allowed 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 could decide to appeal the ruling, however.

“The impact from this decision will have wide reaching ramifications across the telecommunications, media, and tech industry for decades to come,” said GBH Insights analyst Dan Ives. “For AT&T and Time Warner, this is a major victory lap.”

The mega-merger was a high-stakes bet by AT&T Inc. on combining a company that produces news and entertainment with one that funnels it to consumers. The merged company, executives said, would be better able to compete in an era in which people spend more time watching video on phones and tablets and less time on traditional live TV on a big screen.

Leon said the government failed to prove that the merger would lead to higher prices and other ham to consumers.

“The government here has taken its best shot to oppose this merger,” Leon said, speaking to a packed courtroom in an unusual session weeks after the trial ended. But, he added, “the government’s evidence is too thin a reed for this court to rely on.”

Leon rejected the notion of temporarily suspending the merger for a possible appeal by the government. The “drop dead” deadline for completing the merger is June 21. If it’s not wrapped up by then, either company could walk away, and AT&T would have to pay a $500 million breakup fee.

The ruling is a stinging defeat for the Justice Department. The proposed merger was so big and consequential that it forced federal antitrust lawyers to reconsider legal doctrine that permitted mergers of companies that don’t directly compete. First floated in October 2016, the deal also brought 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.”

Dallas-based AT&T is a wireless, broadband and satellite behemoth that also became the country’s biggest pay-TV provider with its purchase of DirecTV. It claims about 25 million of the 90 million or so U.S. households that are pay-TV customers.

Leon’s ruling could shape the government’s future competition policy. The ruling could open the floodgates to deal making in the fast-changing entertainment and video-content worlds. Major cable, satellite and phone companies are bulking up with purchases of entertainment conglomerates to compete against rivals born on the internet, like Amazon and Google.

Waiting in the wings are potential big-billions deals involving 21st Century Fox and Disney, Verizon and CBS, T-Mobile and Sprint. Comcast and Verizon are also jockeying for position in the new landscape.

As president, Trump has called the merger “not good for the country” and said he believed it would push pay-TV prices higher. Looming in the background of the deal has been Trump’s long-running feud with Time Warner’s CNN, which he has often derided as “failing” and a purveyor of “fake news.”

The six-week trial featured a parade of expert witnesses as attorneys for the opposing sides took Leon on a journey through the twisty dynamics of the media and entertainment landscape. The companies’ CEOs, AT&T’s Randall Stephenson and Jeffrey Bewkes of Time Warner Inc., testified in support of the deal.

The government argued that AT&T would gain outsize market power, jacking up the prices it charges cable providers to carry networks in the Time Warner stable. Post-merger, AT&T rivals like Charter Communications and Cox, which currently pay Time Warner for its channels, would suddenly also become AT&T’s customers. The government’s star witness was Carl Shapiro, an economist at the University of California, who used an economic model to predict that consumer cable bills could rise by $500 million annually in aggregate by 2021.

The companies’ main economist, Dennis Carlton from the University of Chicago, refuted Shapiro’s model as overly complicated and rejected his conclusions. The government failed to prove that the merger would dampen competition and innovation and raise prices for pay TV, said Daniel Petrocelli, the companies’ lead attorney in defending the merger. In fact, he suggested, consumers could end up paying less after a merger — maybe even $500 million less annually.

AT&T has said it needs to buy Time Warner to compete with the likes of Amazon, Netflix and Google in the shape-shifting streaming-TV environment. The combination would push technology forward and give consumers more choices, AT&T has promised.

“We are pleased that, after conducting a full and fair trial on the merits, the Court has categorically rejected the government’s lawsuit to block our merger with Time Warner,” said David McAtee, AT&T General Counsel. He said AT&T plans to close the deal on or before June 20.

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Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has been one of President Trump’s most regular GOP critics. Now Trump is returning the favor with a last-minute endorsement of his primary rival, which brings up Sanford’s infamous affair.

While en route back from the summit with North Korea in Singapore, Trump took to Twitter to endorse South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington (R) in Tuesday’s primary against Sanford, before saying he’d be “better off in Argentina,” a snide reference to Sanford’s affair with an Argentinian woman that drove him from the governor’s office after his staff falsely claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Sanford returned to politics by winning his House seat in 2013 even after national Republicans abandoned him for misleading them about his messy personal life.

But while Sanford’s personal peccadillos have left a segment of his district’s GOP voters strongly distasteful of him, it wasn’t until Trump that he had a real political problem.

Sanford was one of the most vocal critics of the president throughout the 2016 campaign, stridently questioning his grasp of the Constitution late in the GOP primaries and demanding that he release his tax returns long after Trump secured the nomination, and has since been a thorn in the side of Trump once he made it to the White House.

With Trump fealty the most potent political issue in GOP primaries this year, Sanford has been forced to spend heavily on TV ads touting his alignment with Trump on some key policies, while looking to paper over his many disagreements with the president.

It’s unlikely Trump’s last-minute tweet will make the difference since there are just a few hours until polls close in South Carolina. But if Sanford loses — a real possibility — it’ll be because of his criticisms of the president. And in the unlikely scenario that neither candidate reaches 50 percent (a kooky Bernie Sanders supporter and perennial Democratic candidate is also on the GOP ballot so it’s possible in a very close race), Trump’s endorsement could have a much larger impact.

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team expressed concern Tuesday that sensitive information and investigative techniques used in its prosecution of Russian meddling in the 2016 election could wind up in the hands of Russian intelligence.

To head off that possibility, Mueller’s team has asked the judge in the case against a company accused of funding Russia’s social media election meddling to restrict access to discovery turned over to the company’s lawyers.

“Public or unauthorized disclosure of this case’s discovery would result in the release of information that would assist foreign intelligence services, particularly those of the Russian Federation, and other foreign actors in future operations against the United States,” Mueller said.

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The coalition of GOP immigration moderates demanding a fix to help undocumented immigrants brought here as children remain in the country legally is just three votes short of forcing the issue.

As the effort faces its biggest test on Tuesday, the only thing more surprising than the open revolt from dozens of House Republicans against their own leadership might be how many Republicans facing tough reelection fights haven’t joined them.

More than half of the House Republicans the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says are the most vulnerable incumbents in Congress haven’t joined the bipartisan effort to help force a vote on some version of the DREAM Act by signing a discharge petition that would force a vote on the House floor. That’s nine of the 17 members in Cook’s tossup category.

Some are bigger surprises than others.

The one member in the tossup category who could be seriously damaged by his allegiance to leadership is Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). The longtime congressman is facing his first tough election fight in years, and sits in a majority-minority district that is nearly one-third Hispanic and 10 percent Asian.

Many of the other members who haven’t signed on make more sense. Some are from whiter, more rural and populist districts where helping DACA recipients isn’t as popular, like Reps. Rod Blum (R-IA), Mike Bost (R-IL), and Claudia Tenney (R-NY). Others are from more upscale, relatively white suburbs where they might be on the opposite side of the majority of their district but it’s not a top issue for many voters, like Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Keith Rothfus (R-PA), Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA).

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has long been an immigration hardliner — and while Rohrabacher’s suburban Orange County district is diversifying it remains one of the whitest in Southern California (and one where the white voters are the most hardline anti-immigrant).

And some, like Rohrabacher, are just that doctrinaire conservative in their views or that serious about their allegiance to the party. Lewis, Tenney and Bost are all outspoken hardliners whose views are the bigger reason they’re in for tough races than the makeup of their districts, and many of the others on the list haven’t exactly made a habit of bucking House GOP leaders in the past.

That’s different than some of the Republicans who support the discharge petition. Two of the ringleaders in the effort, Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Jeff Denham (R-CA), who hail from heavily Hispanic districts, though others, like Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN), come from the same kind of more upscale suburban districts as some of the holdouts.

The Republicans who are in slightly better political shape heading into this fall’s elections are significantly less likely to support the discharge petition. Just two (!) of the 21 Republicans Cook’s Dave Wasserman puts in the “lean Republican” category — that is, those who need to watch their backs but have the edge right now heading into the general election — have signed the petition. Those two are Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), the third GOP leader of the discharge petition push, and Mia Love (R-UT), who represents a heavily Mormon district where immigration reform has much more backing from Republicans than most places (it’s supported by the Mormon church). Love also is the daughter of Haitian immigrants.

There are a few more Republicans in this category who could be hurt by their refusal to join the discharge petition: Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA), whose district is about one fifth Hispanic and one fifth Asian American, and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), a member of House GOP leadership whose district is more than one quarter Hispanic.

Here’s the full list of Republicans in tossup races who haven’t joined the discharge petition:

Rohrabacher

Blum

Roskam

Bost

Lewis

Tenney

Rothfus

Culberson

Comstock

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During his hour-long news conference and series of media appearances following his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on Tuesday, President Donald Trump didn’t hesitate to defend and even praise the dictator, who’s best known for his record of brutal human rights violations that involve starving his people, running a ruthless police state, sexual violence and even ordering the murder of members of his own family.

Addressing the inhumane acts by the Kim regime during a press conference Tuesday in Singapore, Trump told reporters that “all I can do is do— what can I do? We have to stop the nukes,” vowing that those who have been tortured and held in gruesome captivity would be the “great winners today.” That is, if Kim breaks with his family’s record of breaking promises with the U.S. to denuclearize the peninsula.

Here’s a rundown of all the times Trump’s painted a positive, and even glowing portrait of the regime leader, whom he praised just as often as he mentioned how many hours he had been awake straight (26):

The news conference (the first full presser he’s held in 16 months):

Trump barreled right into the press conference by expressing gratitude for Kim, who took “the first bold step toward a bright new future.” He boasted to reporters that the meeting was “honest, direct and productive.”

Minutes later he called Kim “very talented” and praised him for his ability to run a country as a youngster: “Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough — I don’t say he was nice or I don’t say anything about it — he ran it. few people at that age. You can take 1 out of 10,000 could not do it.

He later told reporters they would be “surprised” at how “smart” Kim is, branding him a “very good negotiator” who “wants to do the right thing.”

The interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

In a follow-up interview with Stephanopolous, Trump gave his praise a new spin, suggesting that Kim’s “country does love him,” arguing for the passion North Koreans have for their dictator: “His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”

He then claimed the two sanguine leaders really, actually do trust each other, despite what you might have heard: “I do trust him, yeah,” Tump said. “Now, will I come back to you in a year and you’ll be interviewing and I’ll say, ‘Gee I made a mistake?’ That’s always possible. You know, we’re dealing at a very high level, a lot of things can change, a lot of things are possible.

“He trusts me, I believe, I really do,” Trump continued. “I mean, he said openly, and he said it to a couple of reporters that were with him, that he knows that no other President ever could have done this, I mean no other pre — he knows the Presidents, he knows who we had in front of me. He said no other President could have done this. I think he trusts me, and I trust him.”

And, Trump added, the regime leader, who ordered the poisoning of his brother in a public Malaysian airport last year, even has an open invitation to the White House: “I would love to have him.”

The interview with Greta Van Susteren:

Trump continued his gushing over Kim well into Tuesday afternoon, making his most complimentary comments about Kim to Van Susteren, who asked him, point-blank, whether Kim actually loves the people he starves.

Really, he’s got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that, but he loves his people. And I think that we have the start of an amazing deal,” Trump said.

He added: “I think he liked me, and I like him. And I understand the past and, you know, nobody has to tell me, he’s a rough guy. He has to be a rough guy or he has been a rough person. But we got along very well. He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things and that’s why he’s doing this.”

Trump also doesn’t blame Kim for continuing his predecessor’s police state: “Look, he’s doing what he’s seen done, if you look at it. But, I really have to go by today and by yesterday and by a couple of weeks ago because that’s really when this whole thing started.”

And on the pair’s palpable chemistry, Trump said: “Well, I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well. We had a great chemistry — you understand how I feel about chemistry. It’s very important. I mean, I know people where there is no chemistry no matter what you do you just don’t have it. We had it right from the beginning, I talked about that and I think great things are going to happen for North Korea.”

Excerpts from the interview with his “shadow chief of staff” (Fox News’ Sean Hannity):

Before the full interview airs during Hannity’s show on Tuesday evening, the hosts of “Fox and Friends” teased some of Trump’s initial comments. Trump told Hannity that he and Kim “got along very well” right “from the beginning,” which was better than he assumed.

The President also walked back the name-calling he engaged in with Kim in recent months — when he dubbed him “little Rocket Man” and claimed his nuclear “button” was bigger than Kim’s — sheepishly calling the comments “foolish,” but necessary.

That segment of “Fox and Friends” ended with Hannity cajoling Trump for his skills in reading people.

Meanwhile, here are a few things Trump said about Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau after leaving the G-7 summit in Quebec last weekend:

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George Conway, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway’s outspoken husband, wrote a legal column Tuesday tearing apart President Donald Trump’s complaint that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe is “UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Writing for the “LawFare” blog, Conway meticulously debunked the arguments of conservative legal scholar and Federalist Society cofounder Steven Calabresi, upon which he assumes President Donald Trump’s tweets were been based.

“Unfortunately for the President, these writings are no more correct than the spelling in his original tweet,” Conway said, poking fun at Trump’s misspelling of the word “counsel” in a first attempt at the tweet, which has since been deleted.

Conway is a respected Republican attorney who is notably outspoken on Twitter in denouncing Trump, despite his wife’s high-profile administration job.

In his column, Conway argues that Mueller’s investigation is indeed legal, and that Calabresi’s arguments are specious.

“The ‘constitutional’ arguments made against the special counsel… had little more rigor than the tweet that promoted them,” Conway concludes. “Such a lack of rigor, sadly, has been a disturbing trend in much of the politically charged public discourse about the law lately, and one that lawyers — regardless of their politics — owe a duty to abjure.”

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Allegra Kirkland reports today on an effort by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce to get the courts to block a gerrymandering reform initiative.

Michigan has some of the most egregiously gerrymandered maps in the country. In 2012, Republican congressional candidates got just 45.6 percent of the vote, but wound up with nine out of 14 seats.

It looks like the state Supreme Court will have the final say on whether the reform measure, which would take control of the redistricting process away from partisan lawmakers and give it to a citizens’ commission, will end up on the November ballot. And here’s where things get interesting…

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