TPM News

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — The mainstream media has long been a favorite target for derision at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). But in 2018, a full year into the presidency of a man who rose to power attacking the media, attacks on the media were everywhere.

Trumpism has fully enveloped CPAC. It’s a political movement that depends on having enemies to attack, but in 2018, when Republicans control every branch of the federal government and most state governments, those enemies are in short supply. While several speakers made half-hearted mentions of Barack Obama, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, and Hillary Clinton—sparking chants of “Lock her up”—the real venom was reserved for the press.

Read More →

Is the DCCC grappling with a tea-party-in-reverse problem? Read a reporter’s notebook post (Prime access) on this story »

House Democrats’ official campaign committee took a very public swipe at one of its own candidates Thursday night, a sign that it’s willing to risk fury from its base to push forward what it sees as the best general-election nominees.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) posted damaging research on Laura Moser, a favorite of progressives running in a crowded primary who national Democrats worry would cost them a shot at defeating Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) this fall.

The move is by far the most aggressive and public stance the DCCC has taken this cycle against one of its own, a risky move given the current tensions between parts of the liberal base and the party establishment but one they argue is necessary given Moser’s flaws. While party operatives have signaled for months that they’d step in to block candidates they see as unelectable, this shows how much they’re willing to risk the wrath of the left to do so — not just in Texas, which holds the nation’s first primaries, but throughout the coming year as the battle for the House heats up.

“We’ve gotten involved in primaries in the past when there’s a disqualified general election candidate and have noted all cycle we might need to do that again,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly told TPM Friday morning, arguing the committee was stepping up to help make sure local activists’ efforts weren’t squandered with a flawed candidate. “This potential involvement in primaries is about ensuring voters have a fighting chance to flip these districts in November. These people have been fighting all year organizing against Republican incumbents and we don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to be competitive in November.”

Those decisions are risky ones, threatening to infuriate liberal activists locally and nationally as the party is seen strong-arming locals and picking favorites, potentially the party with a split base heading into the general election. This year, Democrats have a glut of candidates in many top races, a good problem to have but one that risks letting flawed candidates sneak through with a plurality of the vote and blow winnable races.

The DCCC’s move left many liberals livid.

“In this vital year, with so much at stake, the DCCC should be using their limited resources to go after Republicans, not peddle false and misleading garbage against a progressive Democratic woman who has been an outspoken leader in the resistance. It is hard see how the DCCC thinks turning its own voters against each other is a winning strategy,” MoveOn.org Political Action Executive Director Ilya Sheyman told TPM.

The move could also backfire by elevating the very candidates the DCCC wants to stop.

“The DCCC just managed to get a lot more people into this race for Laura,” Progressive Change Campaign Committee head Adam Green told TPM.

On the flip side, national Democrats don’t think they can stay pat — they’ve stayed out of past races where they saw one candidate as their best chance, had another get the nomination and then blow a potentially winnable race.

“Which backlash is worse? Neither of these is a good option,” one former top DCCC staffer who’s grappled with this dilemma in the past told TPM. “The question is which option is less bad — upsetting the apple cart now or ending up with a nominee you don’t think can win in November. If they’re right that this is essential to winning this seat, then they have to do something. But I don’t know if they’re right.”

Another former top DCCC staffer warned that while stopping flawed candidates was necessary, this particular move was “ham-handed” in its execution.

“It’s a hell of a risk,” said the staffer of the public opposition research dump, pointing out that other DCCC-backed candidates were also carpetbaggers and warning the move opened up the party to criticism. “It’s got the subtlety and nuance of a barbarian horde.”

The DCCC has already been heavily involved in recruiting candidates and quietly picking favorites in some districts — like convincing Lexington Mayor Jim Gray to challenge Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY) after former fighter pilot Amy McGrath (D) raised big money with a viral announcement video. Four candidates the committee has endorsed have primary challengers that have raised at least $100,000: Those running for the top-targeted seats held by Reps. Rod Blum (R-IA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Leonard Lance (R-NJ) Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ). California will prove especially problematic: The top two candidates of any party advance to the general election in that state, and Democrats have blown races in the past as two Republicans have advanced in winnable districts. That’s a risk for the party in four different key races.

The last time the DCCC got this aggressively involved in a primary was in 2014, when they tore down former Rep. Joe Baca (D-CA) to make sure that didn’t happen again in a district now held by Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-CA).

National Democrats have long worried Moser’s progressive views could prove disqualifying in a traditionally Republican suburban district that Hillary Clinton narrowly carried in 2016, but Mitt Romney won by 20 points four years earlier.

The committee highlights that she just moved back to the Houston-area district from Washington, D.C., recently claimed a homestead tax credit for her D.C. home, her campaign has paid her husband’s consulting firm to work on her race, and in a 2014 Washingtonian article wrote that she’d “rather have my teeth pulled out without anesthesia” than live in rural Texas.

Moser fired back against the DCCC attacks Thursday night.

“We’re used to tough talk here in Texas, but it’s disappointing to hear it from Washington operatives trying to tell Texans what to do. These kind of tactics are why people hate politics. The days when party bosses picked the candidates in their smoke filled rooms are over. DC needs to let Houston vote,” she said in a statement.

The DCCC’s gambit here may not even work, as the party has made similar moves in past years with mixed results. In 2012, the committee tried to push party leaders’ favored candidate past left-wing physician David Gill when he first ran against Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL). Gill still won the nomination, the DCCC belatedly came back in to help him after realizing he had a path to victory, and he ended up losing that race by a narrow margin. Gill is running again this year (his sixth run for Congress) against two candidates national Democrats would vastly prefer to see nominated. He’s raised almost no money this time around, but has a fervent if small base and is the type of candidate they may decide they need to try and block in the coming months. Another victim of national party involvement was Sheyman, who the party blocked in favor of now-Rep. Brad Schneider (D-IL).

And they saw stronger candidates lose primaries in winnable races in recent years against Rep. Pat Meehan (R-PA) and in the swing district once represented by former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and now held by his brother Brian.

“Better to be a jerk than a loser,” a Democratic strategist who’s doing some work with the DCCC this cycle told TPM.

Read More →

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration hit more than 50 vessels, shipping companies and trade businesses with sanctions Wednesday in its latest bid to pressure North Korea over its nuclear program.

The administration billed it as the largest installment of North Korean economic restrictions to date. President Donald Trump went further, declaring in a speech Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference that it was “the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before.”

While the number of companies from North Korea and other nations was high, the economic impact is unclear. It was certain to be less than previous U.S. measures that targeted large banks and business networks in China and Russia that deal with the North.

The United Nations Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on North Korea in the past year to deprive it of revenue and resources for its nuclear and ballistic missile development. Those weapons pose an emerging threat to the U.S. mainland. Washington is particularly concerned about exports of North Korean coal that are prohibited by the U.N. sanctions and ship-to-ship transfers of imported oil and petroleum products.

The Treasury Department said it was barring U.S. business transactions with nine international shipping companies from China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Panama, and nine of their vessels. It also blacklisted 16 North shipping companies and 19 of their North Korean-flagged vessels.

Additionally, department designated a Taiwanese citizen, Tsang Yung Yuan, and two companies he owns or controls. Tsang was said to have coordinated North Korean coal exports with a Russia-based North Korean broker, and attempted $1 million oil deal with a Russian company sanctioned for dealing with the North.

“This will significantly hinder the Kim regime’s capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.  If companies “choose to help fund North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, they will not do business with the United States.”

In his speech, Trump said “hopefully something positive can happen” from the sanctions pressure.

The announcement comes as South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics, an occasion the two Koreas have used as an opportunity to ease tensions and restart talks. Although South Korea is a close U.S. ally, animosity between Washington and Pyongyang still runs high.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, arrived in South Korea on Friday to attend the closing ceremony this weekend. At a dinner with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, she reaffirmed “our commitment to our maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized.”

The U.S. government also issued Friday a global shipping advisory highlighting the sanctions risk to those who enable shipments of goods to and from North Korea. It alerted industries to North Korea’s “deceptive shipping practices,” which includes falsifying the identity of vessels and disabling transponders that track ships’ movements.

The Treasury Department published photos of a U.S.-designated North Korean vessel, Kum Un San 3, which it said used false identifying information and conducted an illicit ship-to-ship transfer, possibly of oil, with a Panama-flagged vessel that was among the ships sanctioned Friday.

___

Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington contributed to this report.

Read More →

Rick Gates pleaded guilty in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and is now expected to cooperate. The latest development in the quickening Mueller probe is a blow to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Gates’ mentor and co-defendant in separate criminal cases in Washington, D.C., and Virginia.

Gates’ cooperation with Mueller could also spell trouble for Trump. Gates outlasted Manafort on Trump’s campaign, serving as its liaison to the Republican National Committee in the fall of 2016 after Manafort was ousted in August. After the election Gates continued to work with figures in Trump’s inner circle: he served on the Trump inaugural committee and as late as last summer, was spotted in the White House tagging along with Tom Barrack, Trump’s good friend, for whom Gates by that time was working.

On Friday, just after noon, Mueller filed a document signaling that he and Gates had reached a plea deal. Soon after, the judge overseeing Gates and Manafort’s case, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson, scheduled a plea hearing for 2 p.m. ET at the federal courthouse in D.C. It cames after reports Friday morning that Gates had decided to plead guilty in a deal with Mueller.

The filing by Mueller outlined two counts that prosecutors were bringing against Gates in a “superseding information.” An information typically precedes a plea agreement. Those charges are significantly less than what was in the earlier indictments filed against Gates, suggesting that it is a precursor to Gates pleading guilty in an agreement with Mueller.

The first count is conspiracy against the United States. The second count is for making a false statement. Remarkably the alleged false statement was made by Gates to the Special Counsel’s Office and the FBI on Feb. 1, months after the original indictment was issued, according to the information. That suggests Gates lied in the course of plea negotiations. His lawyers moved to withdraw from the case the same day.

Gates’ apparent decision to cooperate with Mueller followed an unexpected and dramatic path, including a drawn-out effort to switch up his legal team and a new set of charges filed by Mueller that were revealed Thursday evening.

Gates and Manafort, longtime business partners, were first charged with financial crimes and failure to disclose foreign lobbying last October — charges to which they both originally pleaded not guilty.

Those and the more recent charges mainly stemmed from their lobbying work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine prior to working for Trump, as well as from more recent efforts to allegedly defraud banks and pump up loans once their Ukraine project dried up. Gates allegedly assisted Manafort in laundering $30 million, according to the indictments brought by Mueller

Read More →

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD — The only panel dedicated to immigration at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference quickly went off the rails Thursday, with audience members drowning out panelists’ presentation of data about the benefits of immigration with boos, laughter, and stories of “obvious illegal immigrants defecating in the woods, fornicating in the woods.”

Read More →

A victim of last week’s Florida high school shooting said that she had “never been so unimpressed by a person” as she was when President Donald Trump spoke to her in a phone call to her hospital room.

“He said he heard that I was a big fan of his,” Samantha Fuentes, who was shot in both legs during the Parkland massacre, told the New York Times in an interview published on Thursday. “And then he said, ‘I’m a big fan of yours too.'”

“I’m pretty sure he made that up,” she added.

Fuentes said that she did not feel reassured by Trump’s remarks: “He didn’t make me feel better in the slightest.”

Trump spent the weekend after the shooting at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he attended a disco-themed party — to wide criticism — though a White House aide told Bloomberg News that Trump planned to skip his usual round of golf “to respect the dead and the mourners.”

On Wednesday, Trump held a listening session with survivors of the shooting. During the event, he held a white notecard with a list of five discussion prompts, including “I hear you.”

WASHINGTON, DC – FEBRUARY 21: President Donald Trump holds his speaking notes during a listening session about school safety with high school students and teachers in the State Dining Room at The White House on February 21, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Trump’s apparent awkwardness in situations where he was called on to offer condolences to and express solidarity with survivors and grieving families has previously landed him in hot water.

In October 2017, Myeshia Johnson, the widow of a fallen soldier, said that Trump’s call brought her to tears when he told her that her late husband “knew what he signed up for.”

Read More →

At the Conservative Political Action Conference Friday, President Donald Trump again called for the arming of teachers in order to prevent school shootings. He suggested that if a teacher had a gun in Parkland, Florida last week, “the teacher would have shot the hell out of” the gunman “before he knew what happened.”

Trump also doubled down on his claim that 10 to 20 percent of teachers are likely “gun adept” or have served in the military before becoming teachers and would likely be willing to carry a concealed weapon at school. He pointed to reports that the school resource officer at the high school in Florida stayed outside instead of entering the building when shots were fired as evidence that it would be better to arm teachers than hire security guards. He then claimed that teachers “love” their students more than a security guard does.

“These teachers love their students and the students love their teachers in many cases,” he said. “And I would rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside that doesn’t know anybody and doesn’t know the students, and frankly, for whatever reason, decided not to go in even though he heard lots of shots being fired inside.”

The President said there were not “enough tears in the world” to mourn the 17 people who were killed in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week and said his administration is interested in talking to all Americans about how to stop mass shootings.

“We have to do something that works,” he said.

Before telling the crowd of conservatives that he supports comprehensive background check reform, Trump reiterated his backing of the Second Amendment and claimed that there is “nobody” who respects the National Rifle Association as much as him. But alas, “we really do have to strengthen up, really strengthen up background check. We have to do that,” he said.

Trump notably did not mention that he also supports increasing the minimum age for rifle purchases nor his call to ban bump stocks. The NRA has been vocal about its opposition to increasing the rifle purchasing age to 21 and has only asked for a “review” of the bump stock device that allows semi-automatic weapons to function like automatic rifles.

Earlier in his speech, Trump called on supporters to vote in the midterm elections, claiming if Democrats win, they’ll “take away your Second Amendment.

Read More →

The Missouri House is launching an investigation into allegations that Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens used a naked picture to threaten blackmail against a woman with whom he carried out a 2015 affair.

The announcement of the probe came hours after a St. Louis grand jury on Thursday indicted Greitens, a Republican, on felony invasion of privacy charges,

A growing number of lawmakers from both parties are calling for Greitens to step down or be impeached. But the governor says he committed no crimes, and is calling the criminal investigation politically motivated. His lawyers are seeking to have the indictment thrown out.

“We will carefully examine the facts contained in the indictment and answer the question as to whether or not the governor can lead our state while a felony case moves forward,” House Speaker Todd Richardson (R) said in a statement provided to the Kansas City Star.

A local reporter spotted Greitens being taken into custody at St. Louis’ Carnahan Courthouse Thursday afternoon before he was released on bond. News of his indictment was splashed across across the front pages of Missouri’s major newspapers the next morning, along with his mugshot.

“With today’s disappointing and misguided political decision, my confidence in our prosecutorial system is shaken, but not broken,” Greitens said in a statement shared on Facebook. “I know this will be righted soon. The people of Missouri deserve better than a reckless liberal prosecutor who uses her office to score political points.”

Greitens said he made a mistake in having an affair with his former hairdresser, but “did not commit a crime.”

He was backed up by the Missouri GOP, who released a statement tying St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, a Democrat, to George Soros, and calling the investigation a “political hit job.”

Susan Ryan, a spokeswoman for Gardner, fired back at Greitens. “Despite the Governor’s personal attacks, the Circuit Attorney believes the courtroom is the appropriate place to argue the facts, not the media,” Ryan said in a statement.

At the center of the charges against the governor is a nude photo that Greitens took of the woman during a visit to his St. Louis home.

Greitens’ attorney, Edward Dowd, has filed a motion to dismiss the charges, claiming that the woman was aware that Greitens was taking the photo, and that it was part of a consensual relationship.

“No appellate case law exists approving criminal convictions where individuals involved were jointly participating in sexual activity,” Dowd wrote in the motion, which was obtained by the Associated Press. “Nor has case law ever affirmed a conviction where the ‘victim’ was in the home of the other person to engage in private sexual activity with that other person.”

But in a secret recording made by the woman’s husband shortly after the March 2015 incident occurred, she said Greitens blindfolded her, bound her to a piece of exercise equipment and undressed her before taking the photograph.

“I saw a flash through the blindfold and he said, ‘You’re never going to mention my name,'” she said.

Greitens has denied threatening the woman with blackmail but has not clearly denied taking the picture.

Top Democratic lawmakers and a handful of Republicans in the Missouri legislature called publicly for the governor to resign or be impeached.

Republican State Sen. Caleb Rowden said on Twitter that he was “disgusted to learn” that the grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict Greitens and that his immediate resignation was essential for the “sake of our state.”

Republican Rep. Nate Walker, who called for Greitens to step down after the allegations against him first surfaced in January, told the Star: “My understanding was he was led off in handcuffs and that’s not a good sign for our executive of the state of Missouri. He should resign.”

On Thursday, Greitens canceled a planned appearance at this weekend’s Republican Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., and stepped down from the group’s executive committee.

Greitens is due in court March 16.

Read More →

LiveWire