TPM News

Just minutes after Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) announced on the Senate floor Thursday that he would resign, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) said he has “not yet decided” who he will appoint to fill the embattled senator’s vacated seat.

“Events have unfolded quickly; thus, I have not yet decided on my appointment to fill this upcoming vacancy. I expect to make and announce my decision in the next couple days,” he said in a statement, which comes amid multiple reports that he plans to tap his Lt. Gov. Tina Smith to serve for the next year. Smith is considered a close ally to the governor and reportedly has no interest in running for Congress in a 2018 special election.

Franken’s resignation follows weeks of public allegations from multiple women that the senator forcibly kissed or groped them without their consent in the past. Franken has apologized to one of the women, who shared a photo of Franken appearing to reach toward her chest while she was sleeping. He has also apologized to other accusers, but has combatted or denied other claims.

On Wednesday, nearly a dozen female Democratic senators released statements calling on Franken to resign. Other Democratic senators quickly followed suit.

During his emotional speech on the Senate floor on Thursday, Franken said he was resigning his seat, but “I’m not giving up my voice.” He expressed a desire for all women be heard and have their experiences taken seriously. He said that some of the allegations against him are “simply not true” and “others I remember very differently.”

He also pointed out the irony of President Donald Trump — “who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault” — sitting in the White House and “a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls” running for a seat in the Senate “with the full support of his party.”

In his statement following Franken’s resignation, Dayton said he extended “my deepest regret to the women who have had to endure their unwanted experiences with Senator Franken,” and said his “heart goes out to Al and his family.”

He is very smart, very hard-working, and very committed to Minnesota. I wish him well in his future endeavors,” he said.

Smith released a statement alongside Dayton, thanking Franken for his service while also condemning sexual harassment, which she said “can never be tolerated in our politics, our businesses, or anywhere else.”

It was not immediately clear when Franken’s last day in the Senate will be. The governor will name someone to serve for the next year and a special election will be held in November 2018. That person will serve for the remainder of Franken’s term, which ends in 2020. 

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — An elite Michigan sports doctor who possessed child pornography and assaulted gymnasts was sentenced Thursday to 60 years in federal prison in one of three criminal cases that ensure he will never be free again.

U.S. District Judge Janet Neff followed the government’s recommendation in the porn case, saying Larry Nassar “should never again have access to children.”

Neff said Nassar’s federal sentence won’t start until he completes his sentences for sexual assault. The 54-year-old will get punishments in those two cases in state court in January.

Nassar worked at Michigan State University and at USA Gymnastics, the Indianapolis-based group that trains Olympians. He admits he molested girls with his hands when they sought treatment for hip and back pain.

“Underneath this veneer lurked a predator,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Lewis said in a court filing.

Olympians Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney and Gabby Douglas say they were victims when Nassar worked for USA Gymnastics and accompanied them at workouts or international events.

Nassar is a “monster” who “left scars on my psyche that may never go away,” Maroney said in a letter to Neff.

In a court filing, defense lawyers said Nassar “deeply regrets the pain that he has caused the community.”

The child pornography was discovered last year when Nassar was being investigated for assault.

Aside from the criminal cases, more than 100 women and girls are suing Nassar. Michigan State and USA Gymnastics are defendants in many of the lawsuits.

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After eight women came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment over the past few weeks, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) took to the Senate floor Thursday morning announcing his resignation from his Senate in the “coming weeks.”

“Serving in the United States Senate has been the honor of my life,” Franken said, choking up as he read his remarks, and vowing to stay active in public life. “I may be resigning my seat, but I’m not giving up my voice.”

With his staff lining the wall of the Senate chamber, waving at him in support, and several of his Democratic colleagues watching his remarks with grim expressions, Franken noted that “all women deserve to be heard and their experiences taken seriously,” but defiantly claimed that some of the allegations against him are “simply not true.”

Of his previous apologies, Franken said: “I think it gave some people the false impression that I was admitting to doing things that, in fact, I haven’t done. Some of the allegations against me are simply not true. Others I remember very different.”

“I know who I really am,” he declared.

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MOREHEAD, Ky. (AP) — David Ermold returned to the Rowan County courthouse Wednesday, nearly two years after Clerk Kim Davis refused to give him a marriage license because he was gay.

Only this time, he did not want a license. He wants Davis’ job.

Ermold filed to run for county clerk on Wednesday, hoping to challenge the woman who two years ago told him “God’s authority” prohibited her from complying with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide. Ermold and others sued her, and Davis would spend five days in jail for disobeying a federal judge’s order. She emerged to a rapturous rally on the jailhouse lawn, arm-in-arm with a Republican presidential candidate as a newly crowned martyr for some conservatives.

In the two years since then, things have quieted down in this Appalachian town previously known for a college basketball team at Morehead State University that occasionally qualifies for the NCAA tournament. Last month, Davis announced she would run for re-election and face voters for the first time since refusing to issue marriage licenses. Three other people have also filed to run against her, including Elwood Caudill Jr., who lost to Davis by just 23 votes in the 2014 Democratic primary.

But Caudill, like many people in Morehead, doesn’t want to talk about Davis and gay marriage. Ermold does.

“I think we need to deal with the circumstances and the consequences of what happened,” Ermold said. “I don’t think the other candidates are looking at a larger message. I have an obligation here, really, to do this and to set things right.”

Wednesday, Ermold and his husband sat across a desk from Davis as they filed his paperwork to run for office. Davis smiled and welcomed them, chatting with them about the state retirement system and the upcoming Christmas holiday. She made sure Ermold had all of his paperwork and signatures to file for office, softly humming the old hymn “Jesus Paid It All” as her fingers clacked across a keyboard.

When it was over, she stood and shook hands with Ermold, telling him: “May the best candidate win.”

“It’ll be a good one, I’m sure,” Davis told reporters about the election. Asked if she thought she deserved to be re-elected, Davis said: “That will be up to the people. I think I do a good job.”

Davis doesn’t object to issuing marriage licenses now that the state Legislature has changed the law so her name is not on the license. She has been in the clerk’s office for nearly three decades, most of that time working for her mother until she retired. Davis was elected in 2014 as a Democrat. But after same-sex marriage became legal, the state’s then-Democratic governor refused to issue an executive order to remove the names of clerks from marriage licenses. Davis said she felt betrayed by her party and switched her registration to Republican.

Davis’ new political party could be a problem in Rowan County. While Republican Donald Trump overwhelmingly won the county during the 2016 presidential election, nearly all of the local elected officials are Democrats and always have been.

Tim Keeton, a 56-year-old retired nurse, said he has not decided who he would vote for in the election next year. He said Davis does a good job as clerk, but said he was troubled by her decision not to issue the marriage licenses.

“I think it just blew up and put us in a bad light in a lot of ways,” he said.

Ermold’s candidacy has already attracted some national attention. Patton Oswalt, the comedian and actor, sent Ermold a tweet on Wednesday asking: “Anything I can do to help?”

Ermold grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia and came to Kentucky 19 years ago to be with his boyfriend, now husband, David Moore. He has two master’s degrees, one in English and the other in communications, and teaches English at the University of Pikeville. He says he is more than qualified to run the office, which keeps track of the county’s records including real estate transactions and car registrations.

And he said his campaign won’t focus solely on the LGBT rights. He said he is tired of the “divide and conquer” style of politics that has come to dominate most elections, where candidates purposefully take stances to energize some voters while angering everyone else.

“People … are back home bickering and fighting with each other and fighting on social media,” he said. “This campaign we are putting together is about unity and bringing people together and restoring fairness.”

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President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski on Thursday said that one of his jobs in 2016 was to steam his boss’ trousers, while Trump was still wearing them.

“From the book, why does Hope Hicks, the director of communications, have to steam the President’s pants?” Alisyn Camerota asked Lewandowski on CNN’s “New Day,” referring to an anecdote in Lewandowski’s campaign memoir, “Let Trump Be Trump.”

In the book, Lewandowski wrote that Hicks “would take out the steamer and start steaming Mr. Trump’s suit, while he was wearing it! She’d steam the jacket first and then sit in a chair in front of him and steam his pants.”

“Everybody does everything on the campaign,” Lewandowski replied. “What I didn’t put in there was that Keith Schiller and George Gigicos and Corey Lewandowski all do the same thing, and Corey goes and does the food runs, and—”

Schiller was Trump’s personal bodyguard, and later worked for Trump briefly in the White House. George Gigicos was the director of Trump’s advance team.

“Hold on. Hold on, Corey,” Camerota interjected.

“That’s—it was five people!” Lewandowski said.

“Do you steam the President’s pants while he’s wearing them?” Camerota interrupted.

“Look, I would—of course!” Lewandowski replied. “I mean, look, when you’re in a rush, Alisyn, we’re doing 25 events a day and we’re stopped on the airplane for 15 seconds, we’re going to make sure that things are ready, and if that’s part of my job as a campaign manager, I do it all.”

Camerota also asked Lewandowski about what he said Trump would order for dinner from McDonald’s: “two Big Macs, two Fillet-O-Fish, and a chocolate malted.”

“When the President would order for dinner two Big Macs, two Filet-o-Fish sandwiches and a chocolate milkshake and eat all of that, were you concerned about him?” Camerota asked.

“Well, he never ate the bread, which is the important part,” Lewandowski replied.

The Washington Post reported on Trump’s unique personal nutritional theory in 2016: Apparently the President largely avoided exercise after graduating college, because he “believed the human body was like a battery, with a finite amount of energy, which exercise only depleted.”

Trump’s attempts at sartorial efficiency are less unique. Netflix in 2013 released a video clip from a documentary on former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who tried to iron a suit while he was wearing it: “Ouch.”

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Asked about President Trump’s tweet claiming that the FBI’s reputation was “in tatters,” FBI Director Chris Wray gave a full-throated defense of the agency Thursday, praising the “tens of thousands of agents and analysts and staff working their tails off to keep Americans safe.”

“The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of integrity and professionalism and respect,” Wray said. “The FBI that I see is respected and appreciated by our partners in federal, state and local law enforcement, in the intelligence community, by our foreign counterparts, both law enforcement and national security.”

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — A federal judge ruled Thursday that a former South Carolina police officer committed second-degree murder when he shot an unarmed black motorist to death.

U.S. District Judge David Norton made that determination in the April 2015 shooting of Walter Scott by former North Charleston officer Michael Slager, who has been in jail since pleading guilty in May to violating Scott’s civil rights. The judge also said Slager, 36, obstructed justice when he made statements to state police after the shooting.

The ruling comes as part of federal sentencing proceedings for Slager, and Norton is tasked with deciding how much time he spends in prison.

This week, federal prosecutors and Slager’s lawyers have called witnesses to testify about technical aspects of the case. That includes the use of Slager’s stun gun, which the former officer says Walter Scott grabbed and turned on him, causing Slager, who is white, to fear for his life and shoot in self-defense, firing five times into his back as he ran away.

After Norton ruled Thursday, attorneys began calling friends and relatives of both men to tell the judge the effect Scott’s death and the officer’s arrest have had on their lives. What’s known as victim impact testimony is intended to help the judge determining the defendant’s sentence weigh the personal implications a crime has had.

A preview of that testimony came Wednesday, when Scott’s youngest son spoke to the court so he could return to his high school classes. Clutching a photograph of his father, Miles Scott said he has had trouble sleeping ever since his father’s death. He said he misses watching football games with his dad and can’t fathom not being able to watch with him the game they both loved.

“I miss my father every day,” Miles Scott said through tears. “I would like you to sentence the defendant to the strongest sentence the laws allows because he murdered my one and only father.”

Federal officials have recommended 10 to nearly 13 years in prison, but his attorneys argue Slager should face far less time.

Slager pulled Scott over for a broken brake light in April 2015, and Scott, 50, ran during the stop. After deploying his stun gun, Slager fired eight bullets at Scott as he ran away, hitting him five times in the back.

Slager faced murder charges in state court, but a jury in that case deadlocked last year and the state charges were dropped as part of his federal plea deal.

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As accusations of sexual misconduct put pressure on several prominent officials to leave office or politics, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) argued on Thursday morning that voters should decide whether those facing the allegations are fit to serve in public office.

“We shouldn’t have trial by newspaper,” he told the Associated Press.

When it comes to Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore, who faces sexual misconduct allegations from several women, Cotton said that Alabama voters “are going to make that decision, just like the people of this country made their decision last year on Donald Trump.”

Though several GOP senators called for Moore to drop out of the race if the allegations against him were true when the claims first surfaced, as Moore has continued to deny the accusations and campaign for the Senate seat, Republicans have slowly softened their stances.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s move to recognize the divided city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital may have triggered a worldwide chorus of critics but the president had his ears closely tuned to his supporters at home.

For Trump, the proclamation was an important way to make good on a pledge to his political base, which includes evangelical Christians and pro-Israel Republicans eager for such a move.

“While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver,” the president declared Wednesday in announcing his decision. “Today, I am delivering.”

Those were words to savor for a president who’s been frustrated to see a number of key campaign pledges stalled or slowed — sometimes by a bitterly divided Congress, some by larger national or international concerns.

Repealing the Obama era health care law is a promise unfulfilled, much to Trump’s frustration. Withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement remains in his TBD column. And Congress has yet to approve money Trump has requested for his promised border wall.

The president counts the successful confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch as a key victory. And he has acted on certain other campaign pledges with some caveats: He refused to recertify the Iran nuclear deal, but left the matter of new sanctions to Congress. He pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate change agreement but left open the possibility of rejoining it later. And he ordered an end to a program protecting young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as kids, but gave Congress six months to find a way to protect them from deportation.

On Jerusalem, Trump had pledged during the 2016 campaign to recognize Israel’s claim to the city and to move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv. He’s now checked that box — although he offered no timeline for the embassy relocation and signed a waiver officially delaying any move for six months.

Steve Bannon, the president’s former chief strategist, repeatedly counseled the president to take the step as a means of holding to his campaign promise and energizing evangelical voters.

Observers were divided on how to score the president’s action.

“If I were keeping score, I would rate this as fulfilling a campaign promise,” said Bill Galston, a former Clinton administration official now at the Brookings Institution. “Any move is significant and the world is right to regard it as a serious step.”

But Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, saw Trump’s words about the embassy as “just a grandiose statement on Jerusalem without a line in the sand.”

A host of world leaders had urged Trump in advance to reconsider his decision, warning that the action could have serious and immediate consequences in the tinder box of the Middle East.

But after Trump announced his plans from a White House room laden with Christmas decorations, his backers gleefully heralded the move.

An email from Trump’s campaign operation trumpeted: “Jerusalem: Another Promise Made and Promise Kept.” And conservative faith leader Ralph Reed, chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said in a statement that Trump “continues to deliver on his promise to the American people to strengthen the solidarity between the United States and the people of Israel.”

Critics warned the consequences could be dire, arguing that the move could inflame tensions in the volatile region and complicate Mideast peace efforts.

“My hope is it doesn’t change much, and we have a couple days of protest,” said Ilan Goldenberg, director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert at the Wilson Center who has advised Republican and Democratic presidents, called the announcement a “triumph of domestic politics and personal ego” over “sound foreign policy.”

Trump insisted he was not trying to derail a peace agreement between Israel and Palestinians. He repeated the U.S. position that Jerusalem’s borders must still be worked out through negotiation, saying he wants “an agreement that is a great deal for the Israelis and a great deal for the Palestinians.”

The president hasn’t hesitated to assess his first year in office as a banner success, pointing to promises kept, such as the installation of Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.

During a recent speech in Missouri, Trump said: “I will tell you this in a non-braggadocios way. There has never been a 10-month president that has accomplished what we have accomplished.”

Trump’s critics see bold words, but said he often delivers half-measures or rhetoric.

“What he does is he wants to give the perception of campaign promises filled,” said Brinkley. “It’s making people feel there’s activity and boldness going on. But what it is is rhetorical boldness.”

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