TPM News

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is scheduled to deliver an on camera press briefing at 3:00 p.m. ET Tuesday. Watch live below:

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is scheduled to announce Sen. Al Franken’s (D-MN) appointed replacement on Wednesday.

Dayton’s office announced in an advisory sent out Tuesday that the governor will announce his appointment to replace Franken at 10 a.m. local time from the Minnesota State Capitol.

Franken announced last week that he will resign from the Senate in the “coming weeks” after numerous women accused him of sexual harassment and misconduct. He denied some of the allegations and touted his own political record as a “champion of women.”

Dayton is expected to name Lt. Gov. Tina Smith as Franken’s replacement. Minnesota will hold a special election in November 2018 for a candidate to complete Franken’s term through 2020.

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Alabama Senate GOP candidate Roy Moore rode a horse to the polls on Tuesday to cast a ballot in the Senate race.

Moore, known for his opposition to same-sex marriage and racist comments, is facing off against Democrat Doug Jones to fill the Senate seat vacated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Moore has refused to drop out of the Senate race despite allegations from several women that he pursued inappropriate relationships with them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Seeking to reassure American diplomats amid low morale, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson unveiled changes Tuesday to the State Department that he said would help workers perform better and position the United States to advance its interests overseas.

At a town hall meeting with the diplomatic corps, Tillerson conceded that there are deep concerns about his planned overhaul and that progress on key foreign policy priorities has been slow. As the first year of the Trump administration concludes, Tillerson has faced questions about his leadership as White House officials suggest he may soon be replaced.

“Do we have any wins to put on the board? No. That’s not the way this works,” Tillerson said. “Diplomacy is not that simple.”

Still, he said the Trump administration had made more progress than previous administrations in pressuring China over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and was working aggressively to use a flawed nuclear deal to hold Iran accountable.

Yet it was Tillerson’s designs for the State Department and its workforce of 75,000 around the world that brought stone-faced diplomats to a Washington auditorium to hear from Tillerson directly what changes are in store.

The secretary was interrupted twice with rounds of applause — first, when he announced that his widely unpopular hiring freeze would be lifted in 2018 for “eligible family members.” U.S. diplomats have complained that freeze created a hardship for diplomats whose spouses often seek employment at the same overseas post.

There was applause again when Tillerson said a streamlined process will ease the delay in approving security clearances so that workers can begin duties. Other changes will allow teleworking for those on medical leave and eventually move the department’s notoriously outdated computer systems into the “cloud,” so that workers can communicate and collaborate digitally regardless of location.

Tillerson sought to rebut rumors that have spread virulently in the State Department, fueling poor morale. He said it’s untrue he plans to shutter any U.S. embassies, though he acknowledged some missions — including Paris, London and Rome — would likely be downsized as personnel are reallocated to parts of the world with more pressing crises.

Often undermined by President Donald Trump in his first year, Tillerson has insisted he has no plans to leave, even after White House officials floated a plan in recent weeks to replace him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Asked by a worker whether he likes his job, Tillerson paused and chuckled, before saying he has the grim, critical task of ensuring U.S. diplomats overseas don’t get killed.

“This is a hard job,” Tillerson said. “When I say I’m learning to enjoy it, I am.”

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BALTIMORE (AP) — U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Tuesday that an attack on the New York City subway system showed in the “starkest terms” that the failures of the U.S. immigration system are a national security issue.

Speaking at a news conference with the new chief of Homeland Security, Sessions said two terrorist attacks in New York in recent months were each carried out by men who were in the U.S. “as a result of failed immigration policies.”

Authorities said a 27-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant is in custody after Monday’s rush hour attack in New York, described as a botched suicide bombing mission.

Sessions called anew Tuesday on Congress to strengthen immigration laws and said President Donald Trump’s administration was taking steps to more strictly enforce immigration law. Among those steps, he said, the administration has hired 50 immigration judges since January and plans to hire another 60 over the next six months to manage a backlog of cases that have “overwhelmed” the U.S. immigration system.

Sessions also said the immigration caseload has tripled since fiscal 2009, but that “under President Trump, we have already taken steps to bring down the backlog in cases.” He also said border crossings by undocumented immigrants are now at their lowest level in 45 years, but vowed “that number can be zero.”

Sessions spoke at the news conference with the new secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen M. Nielsen. She said U.S. law enforcement is redoubling efforts to sweep up members of MS-13 and other violent gangs that have spread from Latin America, adding their violence will not be tolerated within American communities.

She noted that MS-13 members are suspected of committing high-profile slayings in Maryland, Virginia and New York — at least one of those attacks just miles from the nation’s capital. A hallmark of the gang, which has ties to Central America, is repeated slashes to a victim’s body.

The MS-13 gang has become a prime target of the Trump administration amid its broader crackdown on immigration. Authorities said a national sweep in October netted more than 200 members.

Sessions afterward told reporters he had cast an absentee ballot in Tuesday’s special U.S. Senate election in Alabama but declined to specify who he voted for, saying he “valued the sanctity of the ballot.” The winner takes the seat Sessions held before he was tapped by Trump to become attorney general.

“The people of Alabama are good and decent and wonderful people I’ve been proud to serve for 20 years in the Senate, and they’ll make the right decision, I’m sure,” Sessions said after the news conference.

Republican Roy Moore, 70 — who was twice ousted as Alabama Supreme Court chief justice after flouting federal law — is seeking a political resurrection amid accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. He is facing Democrat Doug Jones, 63, a former U.S. attorney best known for prosecuting two Ku Klux Klansmen who killed four black girls in a 1963 church bombing.

When asked if he stood by comments made last month to the House Judiciary Committee that he had “no reason to doubt” the women who have accused Moore of sexual misconduct, Sessions said: “I answered the question as I knew it at the time.” He did not make any further comment Tuesday.

Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 Senate majority. A routine election in Republican-dominated Alabama wouldn’t be expected to alter that balance because Alabamians haven’t sent a Democrat to the upper chamber of Congress since 1992. Trump notched a 28-point win in Alabama in 2016 and remains popular in the Deep South state.

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President Donald Trump was furious that his top United Nations diplomat on Sunday said the women who have accused him of sexual harassment and assault should be heard, the Associated Press reported.

“I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up,” U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said on CBS News’ “Face the Nation.” The comments infuriated the President, the Associated Press reported, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

Trump has become increasingly irked by the recent attention that the women who have accused him of misconduct are getting, and has reportedly expressed solidarity with Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, according to the Associated Press.

Multiple women have accused Moore of either pursuing relationships or making unwanted sexual contact with them when they were teenagers and he was in his 30s. At least 16 women accused Trump of sexual misconduct in the months leading up to the 2016 election.

Several of the women who accused Trump of misconduct have re-upped their claims in recent interviews with the media amid a wave of sexual misconduct allegations on Capitol Hill and against other powerful men.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) called on the President to resign on Monday over the allegations, and asked the Congressional Ethics Committee to launch a probe into the accusations.

Trump on Tuesday attacked Gillibrand as a “lightweight” who “would do anything” for campaign contributions,” and again denied all the allegations against him. Moore has also denied the allegations against him on the eve of his special election.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed Monday that multiple “eyewitnesses” had denied allegations of sexual misconduct made against President Donald Trump. But it’s not so simple.

“The President has denied any of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses,” Sanders said Monday. “And several reports have shown those eyewitnesses also back up the President’s claim in this process.” She added: “In terms of the specific eyewitness accounts, there have been multiple reports and I’d be happy to provide them to you after the briefing has completed.”

But late Monday night — despite the numerous women who have accused Trump of everything from walking into girls’ dressing rooms to sexual assault — the White House provided one outlet with just three names of purported eyewitnesses. Two of the White House’s “eyewitnesses” weren’t even in the same pageant as Samantha Holvey, the woman whose claims the White House asserted they’d denied.

One other eyewitness listed in an email to ThinkProgress denied, in an interview last year arranged by Trump campaign, a separate claim against Trump.

White House Director of Strategic Response Steven Cheung on Tuesday sent an identical email to TPM after a request to see the document.

Samantha Holvey asserted in October 2016 that Trump had walked backstage prior to the Miss USA pageant in 2006, and separately that he inspected each contestant, “up and down, head to toe,” at a promotional event. Her claims echoed Trump’s own admission in 2005, on Howard Stern’s show, that he would “go backstage and everyone’s getting dressed,” at his own pageants, “inspecting it.”

Neither of two “eyewitnesses” the White House provided to TPM Monday night competed in the 2006 Miss USA pageant. Katie Blair competed in Miss Teen USA 2006, and Melissa Young competed in Miss USA 2005.

Young said in September 2016 that Trump was generous to her and her son when she was struggling with an illness years after she had competed in his pageant.

And Blair, who won her 2006 competition, said in October 2016 that she “never experienced” Trump “coming backstage and things like that, dressings rooms,” and that she didn’t “know anyone that has.”

At the time, that comment stood in contrast to multiple competitors in the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant, including one woman who went on record, who told BuzzFeed that Trump walked into their dressing room. Former competitor Mariah Billado recalled Trump telling them, “Don’t worry, ladies, I’ve seen it all before.”

The White House also pointed to Anthony Gilberthorpe, a well-known source for British tabloid stories who claimed last year to have been on the plane, and to have witnessed, what Jessica Leeds later described as Trump’s aggressive groping of her.

Gilberthorpe told the New York Post, in an interview arranged by the Trump campaign, that no groping took place, and rather that it was Leeds who was “trying too hard” and “wanted to marry” Trump.

Leeds claimed Trump tried to reach up her skirt. Gilberthorpe claimed she was wearing a pantsuit. Leeds says she told everyone she could in subsequent years about her experience with Trump on the plane. Gilberthorpe told the Post that he recognized Leeds when she held up a picture of her younger self in a video report published by the New York Times.

I have a good photographic memory,” he said. The Post added: “Gilberthorpe has no evidence to back up his claim — just his self-described excellent memory.”

But, aside from his claims of recollection, Gilberthorpe’s earned more than a grain of salt: He is a frequent source for British tabloid stories, and, ThinkProgress noted, many of them have turned out to be made up or otherwise without corroborative evidence.

This post has been updated.

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Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) on Tuesday said President Donald Trump’s tweet insinuating that she would “do anything” for campaign contributions was a “sexist smear” that was “intended to silence” her.

“I see it as a sexist smear. I mean, that’s what it is,” Gillibrand told reporters in a news conference. “It’s intended to silence me.”

Gillibrand said Trump’s tweet was “part of the President’s effort at name-calling.”

“It’s not going to silence me,” she said. “It’s not going to silence the women who have stood up against him directly. And it’s not going to silence the millions of women out there that have been speaking out every day since his inauguration about things they disagree with.”

Gillibrand has taken strong positions amid sexual harassment allegations on Capitol Hill. She and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) in November introduced legislation to overhaul the way Congress handles sexual harassment complaints. Gillibrand was the first senator to call on Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) to resign after several women accused him of sexual misconduct.

On Monday, she called on Trump, who numerous women have also accused of sexual misconduct, to resign.

Early Tuesday morning, Trump called Gillibrand a “lightweight” who “would do anything” for campaign contributions.

“You cannot silence me or the millions of women who have gotten off the sidelines to speak out about the unfitness and shame you have brought to the Oval Office,” Gillibrand responded.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Tuesday accused Trump of “trying to bully, intimidate and slut-shame” Gillibrand.

“Do you know who you’re picking a fight with?” Warren tweeted. “Good luck with that.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) called Trump “a misogynist, compulsive liar, and admitted sexual predator” on Tuesday.

“Attacks on Kirsten are the latest example that no one is safe from this bully,” she tweeted. “He must resign.”

This post has been updated.

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A firm that Michael Flynn once advised is denying Democrats’ claims that Flynn texted its top partner on Inauguration Day about gutting Russian sanctions connected to a Middle East nuclear power deal they’d been working on. A senior scientist at the firm released phone records that he said showed Flynn neither sent nor received any texts from the partner.

The phone records were included in a letter the scientist, Tom Cochran, sent to top House Oversight Democrat Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) on Friday that he provided to TPM Monday evening.

Cummings last week made public a whistleblower’s claim that he had seen Alex Copson, a top official at the company ACU Strategic Partners, on Inauguration Day, and that Copson touted a text he received from Flynn that day at 12:11 p.m. (The whistleblower did not see the content of the text but remembered the time stamp, according to Dems.) Copson informed the whistleblower that Flynn had told him that nuclear power project was “good to go” and that the sanctions would be “ripped up,” the whistleblower told the Democrats.

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