Esme Cribb

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Esme

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Sunday said he doesn’t think special counsel Robert Mueller should step down from leading the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Will you pledge that you will not allow the Mueller investigation to be curbed or stopped?” Chris Wallace asked Ryan on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Yeah, I’ve said all along, we need to let these career professionals do their jobs, see it through,” Ryan said. “So no, I don’t think he should be stepping down and I don’t think he should be fired, and the President’s made it clear he’s not going to do that.”

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Sunday said Attorney General Jeff Sessions should testify again before the Senate panel about communications between members of President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

“I’m not going to say whether it was a lie or not,” Feinstein said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I think he should come back and clarify it,” she added. “At this stage, he’s got to narrow his recollections. When he comes before the committee again, he has to be precise, and it has to be accurate.”

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Donna Brazile, the former interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), on Sunday said she found no evidence “whatsoever” that the 2016 primary process was “rigged.”

“I found no evidence, none whatsoever,” Brazile said on ABC News’ “This Week.”

Brazile claimed the only thing she found “was this memorandum that prevented the DNC from running its own operation.”

In a piece in Politico on Tuesday, Brazile accused Hillary Clinton’s campaign of exerting improper financial and decision-making control over the DNC before she won the party’s nomination.

Asked on Sunday to comment on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) claim that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged for Clinton, Brazile said, “I don’t think she meant the word rigged.”

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Sunday said she doesn’t think Democrats should focus on impeaching President Donald Trump.

Asked on CNN’s “State of the Union” whether Democrats will try to impeach Trump if they win the House in the 2018 midterm elections, as Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has claimed, Pelosi said, “No.”

“I believe that whatever we do, we have a responsibility first and foremost to unify the nation. Second of all, you can’t go down any path without the facts and the law,” she said. “If that’s there, perhaps it will come out in these investigations.”

She said if new facts “come forth” about Trump, then “let the chips fall where they may.”

“But it’s not someplace that I think we should go,” Pelosi said.

“Not a priority for you,” Jake Tapper pressed.

“No,” she replied. “That’s not what our election is about.”

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The White House had no idea that Sam Clovis testified before the grand jury in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, ABC News reported late Thursday.

ABC News reported, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the probe, that the White House learned Clovis had met with the grand jury from media reports rather than from Clovis himself.

Clovis was a co-chair on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and served as the supervisor to George Papadopoulos, a former adviser on the campaign. Court documents unsealed on Monday revealed that Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.

“The White House was surprised to learn Mr. Clovis had been contacted by the Special Counsel’s office as part of their separate probe of Mr. Papadopoulos’ activities,” an unnamed White House source familiar with the probe told ABC News.

NBC News reported on Tuesday that Mueller questioned Clovis last week, and that Clovis testified before the grand jury in the same time period.

Clovis, a non-scientist, was the senior White House adviser to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Trump’s former pick to serve as the department’s chief scientist.

He withdrew his nomination for the latter on Thursday after unsealed court documents revealed his correspondence with Papadopoulos during the campaign. Clovis told Papadopoulos he’d done “great work” with his initial outreach to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to do so.

Clovis did not cite Papadopoulos’ guilty plea or those emails in a letter withdrawing his nomination, instead blaming “the political climate inside Washington.”

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President Donald Trump’s son-in-law White House adviser Jared Kushner recently gave documents from the 2016 campaign and transition to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the federal Russia probe, CNN reported late Thursday.

CNN reported, citing an unnamed source familiar with the matter, that Kushner voluntarily gave Mueller documents from the campaign and the transition similar to the materials he gave to congressional investigators.

Mueller’s team has “expressed interest in Kushner,” CNN reported, citing to unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

Unnamed sources close to Trump’s administration told CNN that to their knowledge, Kushner is not a target in Mueller’s investigation.

That knowledge has not held up in the past; members of Trump’s administration have also made that claim, incorrectly, about the President himself.

According to CNN’s report, investigators have taken an interest in Kushner’s role in Trump’s abrupt termination of James Comey as director of the FBI, and have questioned other witnesses on the subject, among others:

Other points of focus that pertain to Kushner include the Trump campaign’s 2016 data analytics operation, his relationship with former national security adviser Michael Flynn and Kushner’s own contacts with Russians, according to sources briefed on the probe.

Politico reported on Tuesday that Mueller will interview White House communications director Hope Hicks and other current members of Trump’s administration after the President returns from his upcoming 12-day trip to Asia.

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Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), whose questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his January confirmation hearing kicked off a chain of events that ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel, on Thursday had some more pointed questions for Sessions.

Franken included his questions in a scathing letter to Sessions after court documents unsealed Monday revealed that President Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in March 2016 floated the idea of setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to several reports, Sessions was present at the meeting when Papadopoulos made the suggestion, though Sessions previously denied being aware of any communications between members of Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Papadopoulos claimed he had “connections” that could help arrange the meeting between Trump and Putin.

“Once again, developments in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election have brought to light evidence that you failed to tell the truth about your interactions with Russian operatives during the campaign, as well as your awareness of Russian contacts by other members of the Trump campaign team,” Franken wrote.

He called it “another example in an alarming pattern” in which Sessions “apparently failed to tell the truth, under oath, about the Trump team’s contacts with agents of Russia—a hostile foreign power that interfered in the 2016 election.”

“We must get to the bottom of what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again,” Franken wrote. “I am deeply troubled that this newest revelation strongly suggests that the Senate—and the American public—cannot trust your word.”

He asked Sessions to respond to his questions by next Friday, Nov. 10.

CNN reported on Wednesday that Sessions firmly rejected the idea of a meeting between Trump and Putin when it was floated during a campaign meeting in March 2016. At that time, Sessions was the chairman of Trump’s national security team and a Republican senator.

During his January confirmation hearing, however, Sessions claimed he was “not aware” of any communications between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on that,” he claimed.

Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after the Washington Post reported, and Sessions confirmed, that he actually met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign.

That recusal, and Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as head of the FBI, led directly to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.

NBC News reported on Thursday, citing an unnamed source familiar with Sessions’ thinking, that Sessions now similarly recalls that he rejected Papadopoulos’ proposal to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

“The March 31 comments by this Papadopoulos person did not leave a lasting impression,” the unnamed source told NBC News. “As far as Sessions seemed to be concerned, when he shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia, that was the end of it and he moved the meeting along to other issues.”

That same source later claimed to NBC News that it was not actually clear whether Sessions remembered anything.


Read Franken’s letter to Sessions:

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Sam Clovis on Thursday withdrew his nomination to serve as the U.S. Agriculture Department’s chief scientist.

Clovis withdrew his nomination days after unsealed court documents revealed that his communications with other members of President Donald Trump’s campaign put him in proximity to the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a letter to Trump dated Wednesday, Clovis claimed, “The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive a balanced and fair consideration for this position.”

Clovis said he did not want to “be a distraction or negative influence.”

“I worked hard during the campaign and take some pride in the accomplishment of having you elevated to the Presidency,” Clovis wrote.

“We respect Mr. Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Ironically, it was precisely the “hard” work Clovis claimed he did on Trump’s behalf during his 2016 campaign that put Clovis’ nomination in question to begin with.

Clovis served as the supervisor to George Papadopoulos, a former adviser on Trump’s campaign. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.

According to court documents unsealed on Monday, Papadopoulos kept other members of Trump’s campaign updated on those communications. In several messages, Clovis told Papadopoulos he’d done “great work” with his initial outreach to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting, and Clovis said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to set one up “off the record.”

NBC News reported Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Clovis, and that Clovis testified before the investigating grand jury in the Russia probe.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday said she was “not aware of any change that would be necessary” with regard to Clovis’ nomination.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Wednesday said that Clovis’ scheduled testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee, scheduled for next Thursday, could be pushed back. Grassley said it was “too early” to say whether he thought Clovis would face legal consequences, but said he is nevertheless still backing Clovis’ nomination.

CNN first reported on Thursday morning, citing an unnamed White House source, that Clovis’ nomination could be yanked.

Clovis, Trump’s pick to oversee the Department of Agriculture’s research section, is a non-scientist and open climate skeptic.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) in August cited Clovis’ “backwards” views in a statement calling on Trump to withdraw Clovis’ nomination.

“He is a proud ‘skeptic’ of climate change and wildly unqualified for the position of USDA Chief Scientist,” the senators said.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing a letter from Clovis to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, that Clovis repeatedly responded to questions about what science credentials he has as “None.”

Clovis instead cited his teaching career (focused on homeland security, foreign policy and political science) and his experience running for office as proof that he is qualified to be the department’s top scientist.

This post has been updated.

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Keith Schiller, President Donald Trump’s former personal bodyguard-turned-former White House aide, will appear before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, CNN reported late Wednesday.

CNN reported, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Schiller will appear before the congressional panel next Tuesday.

ABC News reported in June that the House Intelligence Committee was seeking to interview Schiller as part of its probe into Russia’s election meddling.

Schiller led the Trump Organization’s security operations before he joined Trump’s administration as director of Oval Office operations.

He was one of Trump’s most loyal and trusted aides; the President dispatched him in May to fire former FBI director James Comey (who was out of town) and in August to fire former White House aide George Gigicos.

Schiller left Trump’s administration in September after newly minted White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly revoked his Oval Office walk-in privileges.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday called the New York Times to insist that he isn’t angry at anybody at all about the charges filed against top members of his campaign as part of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“I’m actually not angry at anybody,” Trump told the New York Times. “I’m not under investigation, as you know.”

Members of Trump’s administration and legal team are the only people who have insisted in recent months that Trump is not under investigation. The Washington Post reported in June that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Trump for potential obstruction of justice. Mueller has brought charges against Trump’s former campaign aides.

“Even if you look at that, there’s not even a mention of Trump in there,” Trump said on the call, referring to the indictment filed against his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. “It has nothing to do with us.”

Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates on Monday pleaded not guilty to all 12 counts filed against them. The charges include conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy against the U.S. and making false statements.

In his comments to the New York Times, Trump did not appear to mention the case against his former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who was arrested in July and pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

“I just got fantastic poll numbers,” the President claimed, though his job approval is at an all-time low, according to Gallup. “I’m really enjoying it.”

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