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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

Appearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee under oath this week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was asked whether he had “any contacts with any representative, including any American lobbyist or agent of any Russian company” during the 2016 campaign. Sessions, one of Trump’s earliest supporters, answered: “I don’t believe so.”

On Thursday, an American lobbyist for several major Russian interests, including a state-run energy company and a private equity firm with the state-run Alfa bank, told the Guardian that Sessions in fact hosted him at two dinners during the presidential campaign. The dinners occurred around the time time that the American public learned of Russian efforts to influence the presidential election.

Richard Burt, a former U.S. ambassador to Germany who now lobbies on behalf a pipeline company owned by the Russian energy giant Gazprom, said he attended events with Sessions at least twice last year, and his ties to the Trump campaign were reported as early as last October. Burt made hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2016 alone lobbying Congress to exempt a proposed natural gas pipeline from U.S. sanctions, which would allow more Russian gas to flow to European markets—a key geopolitical goal of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Burt also serves on the board of the Center for the National Interest, a Russia-friendly D.C. think tank that hosted Trump’s foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel last April. Politico reported that Burt helped shape the address Trump delivered at that event, which Sessions attended as the chairman of the Trump campaign’s national security committee.

This is not the first time Sessions has failed, under oath, to recall a meeting with a Russian official or ally.

During his confirmation hearing in January, Sessions said without being directly asked: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.” He also replied with a blanket “no” to the committee’s written question: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election?”

The Justice Department later admitted this was not true, that he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

 

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Ousted FBI Director James Comey’s riveting testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week characterized President Donald Trump as a habitual liar who made wildly inappropriate demands, but the President and his allies immediately seized on what they saw as a victory: Comey confirmed publicly that Trump personally had not been under investigation as long as he was at the bureau.

Trump declared “complete vindication” following the hearing, despite Comey stressing that the question of whether the President was under investigation could change in the future, and dropping several telling hints that special counsel Bob Mueller was likely examining Trump’s conversations and actions since taking office. That victory cry sounds even more ridiculous in light of the Washington Post’s revelation Wednesday night that Mueller is, in fact, looking into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice—a criminal inquiry triggered by the President’s very decision to fire Comey.

Here are five people who beclowned themselves by triumphantly boasting too soon that the President was out of the legal woods:

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The annual Democrats-versus-Republicans Congressional Baseball Game at Nats Stadium in Southeast D.C. will go on Thursday night as scheduled, despite the tragic shooting at Republicans’ early morning practice Wednesday that wounded five people, including a member of Congress.

The decision was made just hours after the shooting, when even those who had been at the practice and narrowly survived stressed its importance as one of the only positive traditions left in a time of increasing partisan rancor.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the manager of the Republican team, approached reporters Wednesday morning with a blank, numb expression on his face, still wearing his rumpled red uniform. “This is a charity baseball game. We’ve played it for almost 100 years,” he said, seemingly in disbelief of what he and his 10-year-old son had just seen. “In some ways, it’s what democracy is all about.”

This year, in addition to the usual beneficiaries of the proceeds of the game—the Boys and Girls Club, the Washington Literacy Center, and the Nationals Dream Foundation—ticket sales from Thursday’s game will go to the Fallen Officers Fund in honor of the two Capitol Police officers who were injured Wednesday while taking down the gunman who targeted the practice. One officer has already been treated and released, while the other remains in the hospital, but is expected to make a full recovery post-surgery.

Two others shot Wednesday—Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and former congressional staffer Matt Mika—remain in critical condition. Lawmakers and staff plan to wear uniforms of Scalise’s favorite team, Louisiana State University, Thursday night in his honor.

Like Barton, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), the team’s relief pitcher, became overcome Wednesday talking about what the game means to him and other lawmakers and why its vital the tradition be continued.

“All of us want to play. We can’t let haters win,” he said.

“It’s one of the things that makes you feel more normal. The camaraderie we have in the mornings …” he trailed off, blinking back tears. “I’m sorry,” he said to the gaggle of reporters clustered around him as he took deep breaths and tried to compose himself. “When we’re out there, it’s such a change from the pressures we feel on a regular basis. Out there on the field, we treat each other like we’re back in high school again.”

Even though Democrats and Republicans face off against one another on opposing teams, lawmakers said, the friendly tone of the competition is a far cry from the bitter debates over health care, the budget, and the Trump-Russia investigation that have plagued Capitol Hill this year.

“[Ohio Democrat] Tim Ryan and I have a little thing going, because I struck him out on a curveball a couple of years ago,” Meehan recalled fondly. “Every time we see each other, we joke about that. He just came up and gave me a hug.” Meehan voice broke again. “It tells you how much we share that’s away from this,” he said, waving his hand to indicate the congressional meeting rooms around him.

When the news of the shooting broke Wednesday morning, Democrats who were practicing at a field on the other side of the Potomac River, paused to pray for their colleagues.

“What makes this even more awful is that this game is one of the things that’s right with this town,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), the catcher on the Democrats’ team, told TPM. “This is a game where Republicans and Democrats come together, and put fellowship and bipartisanship ahead of party politics. It makes the shooter’s decision to target their practice even harder to understand.”

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

To enter the U.S. Capitol, one must walk through a metal detector, flash an ID badge, put any bags or purses through a scanner and pass several armed police officers. Outside those marble halls, however, hundreds of members of Congress and their staff have no security whatsoever—unless they hold one of a handful of leadership positions.

“When we’re off Capitol Hill, we don’t have anyone watching our backs,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) observed Wednesday. “It’s not hard for one person who is unhinged to do something pretty dangerous.”

The only reason Capitol Police officers were on duty at congressional Republicans’ baseball practice Wednesday morning at a public field in Alexandria, Virginia when a gunman opened fire was the presence of GOP Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was shot and remains in critical condition in a Washington, D.C. hospital.

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Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) left congressional Republicans’ baseball practice mere minutes before a gunman opened fire there, injuring several people including a member of House leadership. Duncan didn’t learn about what happened until after he had returned to the Capitol, showered, changed, and then got a call from a former member of Congress asking if he was among the wounded.

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The U.S. Capitol Police have increased security on Capitol Hill following a shooting just across the river in Alexandria, Virginia, that wounded lawmakers and staffers who were practicing for their annual charity baseball game.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” the Capitol Police wrote in an email alert, “the USCP has deployed a robust police presence throughout the Capitol Complex,” which includes the House and Senate office buildings and the visitor’s center. “However, all building within the Complex are open in accordance with routine operations.”

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In his highly anticipated appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempted to shoot down recent reports that he failed to disclose a third meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016—on the sidelines of a Trump campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

In response to questions from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sessions admitted that he may have had an “encounter” with Kislyak, but not a “formal meeting.”

“I didn’t have any formal meeting with him. I’m confident of that. But I may have had an encounter during the reception,” he said.

This is not exactly what Sessions said in his opening statement, in which he said he did not “recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.”

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