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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

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who weathered attacks from President Donald Trump after she criticized the White House’s rhetoric about relief efforts on Puerto Rico after the island was battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, on Sunday said her only goal is “saving lives.”

“There’s only one goal, and it’s saving lives. So any dialogue that goes on just has to be able to produce results,” Cruz said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“All I did last week, or even this week, was ask for help,” she added. “It has to happen in a sustained manner. It has to happen quickly.”

Cruz on Friday pushed back on Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s characterization of relief efforts on Puerto Rico as a “good news story.”

Her remarks drew Trump’s ire. The President, previously fixated on what he called Puerto Rico’s “tremendous amount of existing debt,” accused Cruz of “poor leadership ability” and criticized her and other Puerto Rican leaders he claimed “want everything to be done for them.”

He continued to attack “politically motivated ingrates” on Sunday.

“If he asks to meet with me, of course I would meet with him,” Cruz said of Trump. “I mean, you know, anything that can be done and anyone that can listen.”

Cruz said she has “been quite complimentary of the people from HHS and FEMA.”

“Their heart is in the right place. But we have to cut the red tape. That’s the one message,” she said. “And number two, let us not talk about the debt. Let us not talk about the cost of reconstruction. Let us just talk about saving lives right now, putting back the power grid as soon as we can, because that has an immediate effect on our ability to recover financially.”

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President Donald Trump on Sunday renewed his attacks on “politically motivated ingrates” he claimed failed to recognize the United States’ relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates,” Trump tweeted, “people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military.”

He called the situation on the island, which suffered widespread devastation after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, “almost impossible.”

“We have done a great job,” Trump tweeted. “Thank you to the Governor of P.R. and to all of those who are working so closely with our First Responders.”

Trump on Saturday blasted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, whom he accused of “poor leadership ability,” as well as “others in Puerto Rico” who Trump claimed “want everything to be done for them.”

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” he tweeted.

Cruz on Friday pushed back on Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s characterization of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as a “good news story.”

“Maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story,” Cruz said. “When you are drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings — I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me.”

On Saturday, she tweeted, “The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our “true colors”. We cannot be distracted by anything else.”

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You don’t get to $100,000 worth of Russian-bought political ads without raising a few questions.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Facebook officials told congressional investigators the company had traced $100,000 worth of ads, many about “divisive” political and social subjects, to a Russian firm in St. Petersburg. Each day since, far more questions than answers have arisen around the ad buy—an amount which, while it would be a drop in the ocean compared to typical media ad buys in battleground states, is especially potent given Facebook’s targeting capabilities.

So what do we know?

Facebook so far has declined to disclose the content of the ads and “inauthentic accounts” to the public. The company did provide records of Russian ad purchases and copies of the ads to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the federal investigation into Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 election, after Mueller reportedly obtained a warrant for the information.

Besides Mueller’s team, Facebook also announced last week that it would grant both the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee access to the ads, which members have said they expect to review shortly (President Donald Trump was not pleased). In a statement explaining its belated decision to provide Congress with the ads as well, Facebook cited federal law it said “places strict limitations on the disclosure of account information.”

But thanks to some intrepid reporting, we’ve already learned a few things about the content of the ads in question.

Ads promoted anti-refugee sentiment, Stein, Sanders

Facebook would only publicly describe the content of the Russian ads as “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

Since then, the company has confirmed at least one report on the ads’ subject matter: The Daily Beast reported that Russians using inauthentic accounts organized and promoted an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rally in August 2016 in Idaho, echoing similar rhetoric pushed by pro-Trump news outlets.

A Facebook spokesman confirmed to the Daily Beast that the company “shut down several promoted events” as part of its “takedown” of the ad buy, and confirmed that the event was promoted with paid ads.

Then Politico on Tuesday reported, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the ads, that at least one ad promoted Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,” the ad read, according to the report. “Trust me. It’s not a wasted vote. … The only way to take our country back is to stop voting for the corporations and banks that own us. #GrowaSpineVoteJillStein.”

Other ads promoted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), according to the report, even after the end of his campaign to become the Democratic nominee. Politico found that others criticized former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and promoted Trump.

Some ads appeared to have been targeted by location

According to Politico’s report, some ads appeared to promote the Black Lives Matter movement (albeit misspelled), while others promoted Muslim women’s support for Hillary Clinton.

Facebook declined to comment on particulars of the ads to Politico, but reiterated a claim the company made about the ads in its initial statement: “The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election or voting for a particular candidate.”

The Daily Beast nevertheless found what it believed to be a Russia-linked account last week that specifically promoted Trump, then the Republican nominee. The Facebook group was named “Being Patriotic,” and promoted at least four pro-Trump or anti-Clinton rallies, as well as flash mob events in the key swing state of Florida in August 2016.

Further supporting the idea that the ads were targeted for political effectiveness, CNN reported late Wednesday, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the ads, that at least one Russian-bought ad referencing Black Lives Matter was targeted to reach users in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

Both cities were rocked by protests and drew national attention after black men were killed in interactions with police. A white officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, and 25-year-old Freddie Gray died after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody in Baltimore.

Some ads used images stolen from other Facebook users

A congressional staffer briefed on the content of the ads told TPM last week that some of the Russian-bought ads contained photos stolen from other Facebook users. The theft was one reason Facebook initially withheld copies of the ads from Congress, according to the staffer, as the users whose photos were stolen were essentially innocent bystanders to Russia’s online influence campaign.

The New York Times also reported that a Brazilian man said his own family photos were stolen to build a fake Facebook profile that promoted a website U.S. officials believe was an influence outlet created by Russian military intelligence.

Just how were these ads targeted?

Among the questions that remain for observers and investigators alike—Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called it the “million-dollar question”—is how the ads were targeted.

Warner on Wednesday questioned whether those who purchased the ads deployed them independently, or whether they had assistance.

“Did they know this just by following political news in America?” he said to CNN. “Did they geo-target both geography and by demographics in ways that at least at first blush appear pretty sophisticated?”

Warner said it was “too early to tell” whether members of Trump’s campaign were involved with the ad buy. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the committee’s chair, also said Wednesday that there was “no evidence yet” of any such collusion.

And how many people saw them?

We don’t yet know how effective the ads were, as it’s unclear just how many people saw the ads purchased by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm,” or how widely they were distributed.

In Facebook’s initial statement on the ad buy, chief security officer Alex Stamos said the $100,000 ad spend took place “from June of 2015 to May of 2017,” was “associated with roughly 3,000 ads” and “connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages” in violation of Facebook policy.

“About one-quarter of these ads were geographically targeted,” Stamos said, but did not offer any analytics regarding how widely or frequently those ads were viewed.

The Daily Beast later reported, citing an expert on Facebook’s advertising systems, that the Russian ads were likely seen by somewhere between 23 million and 70 million people.

Will we ever get more answers?

It remains unclear whether Facebook will have to answer any of these questions in a public setting. Both Burr and Warner have expressed their interest in questioning company representatives in a public hearing, and the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday invited Facebook to testify in public on Nov. 1 on the subject. The company has not yet responded to that request.

The House Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday that it would hold a public hearing with tech company representatives about “how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election” in the “coming months,” but did not specify when the hearing would be, which companies were invited and if any had responded to its requests.

Congressional investigators also are raising the question of how Facebook will curtail other influence campaigns in the future, and if the company is even capable of acting to prevent such abuse. Zuckerberg’s response to Trump’s claiming Facebook “was always anti-Trump” indicates the company is not convinced its platform played a part in swaying the election.

“The facts suggest the greatest role Facebook played in the 2016 election was different from what most are saying,” he said, citing the company’s voter registration efforts and Clinton’s and Trump’s Facebook pages.

Zuckerberg spared barely a mention—and just one sentence—for the Russian ad buy  that has attracted the attention of every entity investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Campaigns spent hundreds of millions advertising online to get their messages out even further,” he said. “That’s 1000x more than any problematic ads we’ve found.”

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Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price said Thursday that President Donald Trump was “very” clear about his displeasure at Price’s use of private charter planes for official business travel (and the accompanying six-figure price tag).

“He’s talked about it and as he has said publicly, he wasn’t happy. And he expressed that to me very clearly,” Price said on Fox News.

Pressed for more details on how Trump did so, Price declined to clarify beyond “just that way.”

“I won’t divulge any personal conversations that I’ve had with the President, but he wasn’t happy,” he said.

Asked why Price told reporters Trump still had “confidence” in him, Price said, “We continue to work together.”

“I look forward to regaining the trust that the American people, some of the American people, may have lost in the activities that I took, and to not only regain the trust of the American people but gain the trust of the administration and the President,” he said.

Earlier Thursday, Price said he would repay the U.S. Treasury for the cost of his “seat” on a number of charter flights that cost upwards of $400,000—though according to Price, his “seat” only cost $51,887.31.

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Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on Thursday broke with Republican colleagues who welcomed Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore and said he was “troubled” by some of Moore’s controversial past remarks.

Moore in 2006 said that Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, should not be sworn in because the Quran was incompatible with the Constitution, a position Flake said Republicans should disagree with vocally.

“When somebody says that members of our body, the Congress, the House of Representatives, shouldn’t be there, and to try and apply a religious test, that’s not right, and Republicans ought to stand up and say, that’s not right,” Flake said at the Washington Ideas Forum, CBS News reported.

Flake said he was “troubled” by some of Moore’s remarks.

“I think that when we disagree with something so fundamental like that, we ought to stand up and say, that’s not right, that’s not our party, that is not us,” he said.

 

 

President Donald Trump and Flake’s congressional colleagues were far more welcoming to Moore, despite his high-profile controversial remarks. Among those: Moore in 2005 called for a ban on “homosexual conduct” and compared it to bestiality and more recently, in February, he suggested that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were a form of divine punishment.

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Late update: Brett Doster, a spokesman for Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore, told TPM by email that a report that Moore failed to disclose as much as $150,000 in a filing with the Senate Ethics Committee was “another misleading attack” on Moore and his wife.

Doster told TPM that a form filed by the nonprofit Moore ran before he became a state judge was a “manipulated document” and that liabilities he disclosed “on his Alabama ethics filing were not required to be disclosed on his U.S. Senate filing.”

“Any perceived discrepancy in the reporting of honoraria on the form Judge Moore filed with the U.S. Senate will be corrected swiftly by the filing of an amendment,” Doster told TPM.

Original story below:

Controversial Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore failed to disclose as much as $150,000 in a filing with the Senate Ethics Committee, the Daily Beast reported on Thursday.

The Daily Beast reported, citing Moore’s filings this April with the Alabama Ethics Commission for 2016, that he listed between $50,000 and $150,000 of income under the category of honoraria he received for “speaking.”

In a Senate disclosure form Moore filed in June, however, the Daily Beast reported that he specifically denied receiving any payments in 2016 “for an article, speech, or appearance.”

Moore also listed between $150,000 and $250,000 in debt to a credit union or savings and loan institution in his Alabama filing, but omitted it from his Senate filing, according to the report.

The Daily Beast also noted discrepancies between a 2014 report Moore filed with the Alabama Ethics Commission, where he reported that his wife Kayla Moore earned $65,000 a year as the president of the Foundation for Moral Law, which was not reflected in the foundation’s tax filing.

Moore in 2005 said homosexual activity should be illegal and compared it to bestiality. In 2006 he said Muslims should be barred from serving in Congress. Earlier this year he suggested the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks happened because America turned away from God. Moore has nevertheless been welcomed by Republicans with open, if euphemistic and evasive, arms.

Read Moore’s campaign’s full statement below:

This is another misleading attack on Judge Moore and his wife. First, the 990 Form, as reported in the Daily Beast story, is a manipulated document. Second, the liabilities Judge Moore disclosed on his Alabama ethics filing were not required to be disclosed on his U.S. Senate filing, which does not require Senate candidates to disclose mortgages on their personal residences. Third, all of the Moore Family’s income and liabilities for 2016 were fully disclosed to the State of Alabama Ethics Commission and the Internal Revenue Service by McGriff Dowdy & Associates, a professional accounting service. Any perceived discrepancy in the reporting of honoraria on the form Judge Moore filed with the U.S. Senate will be corrected swiftly by the filing of an amendment, as provided in Chapter 5 (p. 127) of the Senate Ethics Manual.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday said there’s not much to clarify about the administration’s position on some NFL players and coaches who drop to one knee to protest during the national anthem because the issue is “pretty black and white.”

Many NFL teams have staged the protests to call attention to the treatment of minorities in the U.S.

Sanders made the remark during her daily briefing in response to American Urban Radio Networks reporter April Ryan’s question for clarification on President Donald Trump’s condemnation of players and coaches who take a knee during the anthem.

“So the NFL players, from what we’re hearing, it’s not about not having pride. They’re saying they’re patriots, they love this country, but they’re challenging the system and they’re looking at history like the challenge of the system when it came to women’s rights issues as well as civil rights,” Ryan asked. “What does the President say when you look at history and see how people love this country but wanted to challenge the system to make it better?”

“I think if we’re going to look at history we should look at the thousands of Americans who have given their life to protect that flag, to protect that anthem. We should be celebrating those people,” Sanders said, and went on, talking over Ryan’s interjection, “I gave you a chance to answer. I’m going to finish your statement.”

“Sorry. Okay,” Ryan said.

“We should be looking at every way we can to bring our country together, not looking at ways to divide it,” Sanders went on. “The President is simply talking about what we’re for, not about what we’re against.”

“Sarah, wait, to clarify. One second to clarify on that,” Ryan said.

“I don’t think there’s much to clarify,” Sanders replied.

“Yes it is. Yes is is, because this is a big issue,” Ryan said.

“It was pretty black and white there,” Sanders retorted.

“People are very divided on this issue. It is is a racial issue for some people,” Ryan replied. “The players are saying they are thankful for the military service to allow them to have the freedoms to do this. I mean is there some kind of confusion here or is it a ‘us versus them’ kind of scenario?”

“It certainly shouldn’t be,” Sanders said. “This should be a very unifying moment. When the national anthem plays, all Americans should be proud to stand up, salute that flag, salute that anthem and be part of that process.”

San Francisco 49ers’ former quarterback Colin Kaepernick last year refused to stand during the national anthem before a game in late August to protest police violence against black people.

Trump last week said that any “son of a bitch” who protests during the national anthem should be fired, a remark which resulted in renewed protests from NFL players and coaches.

Sanders’ remark, though unfortunately phrased, was far from Ryan’s first clash with a member of Trump’s administration. In March, then-press secretary Sean Spicer accused Ryan of having an “agenda” and scolded Ryan for shaking her head.

Trump himself singled Ryan out for commentary during a barnburner of a press conference in February, when he asked Ryan if she was “friends” with the Congressional Black Caucus and told her to “set up a meeting” with the caucus for him.

Ryan said she had “never” seen anything like the press conference, and called it “a very interesting dynamic.”

“A lot of people assume that all black people know all black people,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the chairman of the caucus, said later. “I laughed it off, but it’s consistent with what we’ve seen from President Trump all along.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday said the Trump administration has frozen the Department of Health and Human Services’ use of private chartered planes until further notice following reports that HHS Secretary Tom Price racked up huge bills for private air travel.

“As the President said yesterday, he’s not thrilled, certainly not happy with the actions,” Sanders said during her daily briefing. “We’re definitely looking at the issue.”

She said the White House is conducting an “internal” review in addition to the one currently in progress by the HHS inspector general, whose office announced last week that it was requesting documents related to Price’s use of private jets for official business travel.

“But to be clear, also, the White House does not have a role on the front end of approving private charter flights at the agencies,” she said. “And that’s something that we’re certainly looking into from this point forward, and have asked a halt be put particularly at HHS on any private charter flights moving forward until those reviews are completed.”

“Does Secretary Price expect to keep his job in this administration?” a reporter asked.

“I think the President has addressed this yesterday. We’re going through this process,” Sanders replied. “We’re going to conduct a full review and we’ll see what happens.”

Price, who racked up a travel cost of more than $300,000 for private jet travel on trips where he combined official business travel with visits to family and friends, was one of three members of Trump’s administration under scrutiny for his abundant use of charter rather than commercial air travel.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, reportedly spent more than $58,000 of taxpayer money on travel that an agency spokesperson said included “one charter flight and three government flights.”

And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came under fire for using a taxpayer-funded flight to attend an event in Kentucky where he also had a prime view of the solar eclipse, which he watched with his wife.

Trump on Wednesday said he was “not happy” about Price’s pricey private plane proclivity.

“I’m going to look at it. I am not happy about it, and I let him know it,” Trump said, and added, when asked if he would fire Price, “We’ll see.”

Price, on the other hand, appeared optimistic about his prospects.

“I think we’ve still got the confidence of the President,” he said on Thursday.

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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) on Thursday returned to work at the U.S. Capitol for the first time since he was shot during a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

“Whip Scalise will participate in this morning’s vote series and address his colleagues on the House floor in his first public appearance since the shooting,” Scalise’s office said in a statement. “Starting today, Whip Scalise will be resuming his work at the Capitol, while also completing an extended period of out-patient rehabilitation over the coming months.”

Scalise’s office said it would be the majority whip’s only public appearance for the rest of the week, and that his return followed “more than three months in the hospital and an in-patient rehabilitation facility” since he was shot in the hip in June.

“You have know idea how great this feels to be back here at work in the people’s House,” Scalise said on his return to the House floor, where he was greeted with sustained applause.

He called himself “a living example that miracles really do happen” and thanked the U.S. Capitol police, who he called “true angels,” and called one officer who intervened during the shooting, David Bailey, his “hero.”

“You saved my life,” Scalise said. “Thank you so much.”

Scalise also thanked his colleagues that were also on the field during the shooting, his doctors and surgeons and his wife Jennifer Scalise.

“When I come back into this chamber today, just seeing the faces of all of you, it just means more to me than you can imagine,” he said, addressing his House colleagues. “So thanks for all of that love and support.”

This post has been updated.

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After he requested the removal of his Secret Service protection detail, Donald Trump Jr. went on a moose-hunting jaunt to Canada, the New York Times reported late Wednesday.

New York Times Magazine reporter Luke Dittrich tracked down Trump Jr. in the Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport in Yukon on Sept. 22, days after the President’s eldest son reportedly elected to forego protection. (CNN reported Monday that Trump Jr.’s protection detail had returned to usual duty.)

“The Times,” Trump Jr. said to Dittrich. “I never know where you guys are coming from.”

He said he had a “a good hunt” but declined to say whether it was successful, though Dittrich reported that Trump Jr. bagged a moose (“Big one, too”).

“I can’t really tell you that,” Trump Jr. said. “Look, I can’t say.”

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