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Matt Shuham is a news writer for TPM. He was previously associate editor of The National Memo and managing editor of the Harvard Political Review. He is available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @mattshuham.
So-called “dark money” groups — which can accept unlimited donations, do not have to publicly disclose their donors and are allowed to spend infinite amounts of money influencing elections — now no longer even have to report their donors privately to the IRS.
The same day that decision was announced, a Russian woman was charged with being an unregistered foreign agent for her efforts to infiltrate the NRA, which itself is a dark money, or “social welfare,” 501(c)4.
Ben Cassidy, the NRA lobbyist who joined the Interior Department, continues to be a walking ethics violation. And the department’s inspector general has opened a probe into a fishy land deal between a foundation Zinke started and the chairman of Halliburton.
Pruitt’s former chief of staff admitted there was an EPA office set up to process “politically charged” Freedom of Information Act requests. To which Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said, essentially, tell me more.
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler could stay in that role for years, due to the Trump administration’s expanded use of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. The former coal lobbyist signed his first major rule this week, making it a lot easier to dispose of coal ash… wherever.
A federal court, meanwhile, has paused the huge gift Scott Pruitt gave to manufacturers of “super polluting” glider trucks — those with new bodies but old engines — on his last day as EPA administrator. Pruitt had said the manufacturers needn’t heed an Obama-era cap on glider truck sales.
Judges are fed up with the government’s family separations of otherwise non-criminal immigrant and asylum-seeking families. Several members of the Homeland Security Advisory Committee have resigned over what they called the Trump administration’s “morally repugnant” immigration policy.
In an odd turn, the Sinclair-friendly FCC Chairman Ajit Pai paused Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune over “serious concerns” that the company wouldn’t properly divest enough stations to comply with laws meant to prevent media monopolies.
The Veterans Administration has engaged in a politically motivated purge. Vice President Mike Pence’s family’s gas stations left a holy mess behind. Tom Price really did spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on deluxe flights when he was Health and Human Services secretary. A Dow Chemical executive could be the USDA’s next chief scientist, if (/when) he’s confirmed. And the religious freedom ambassador privately threatened the British ambassador to lay off an Islamophobe (Steve Bannon supports the man as well).
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats had an interesting reaction Thursday when NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell told him, live on stage at the Aspen Security Forum, that President Donald Trump had insisted Russian President Vladimir Putin be invited to Washington, D.C. for a meeting.
“Say that again?” Coats responded, to laughter from the crowd.
“Okay, that’s going to be special.”
Elsewhere in the wide-ranging discussion Thursday, Coats said he wished Trump had said something else while standing next to Putin at a press conference in Helsinki Monday.
Andrea Mitchell: We have some breaking news. The WH has announced Vladimir Putin is coming to the White House in the fall. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats: Say that again. (laughter] AM: Vladimir Putin— DC: Did I hear you? AM: Yah. DC: Ok… That's gonna be special. pic.twitter.com/zIKVECPm2x
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said Thursday that “obviously” he wished President Donald Trump had made a different statement about Russian election meddling while Trump stood next to the Russian president at a press conference earlier this week.
“What was your gut reaction watching him validate Vladimir Putin’s assessment over yours?” NBC News’ Andrea Mitchell asked Coats at the Aspen Security Forum.
“My thoughts there were that I believed I needed to correct the record for that, and that this is the job I signed up for, and that was my responsibility,” Coats replied. “Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement. But I think that now that has been clarified, based on his late reactions to this, and so I don’t think I want to go any further than that.”
Hours after Trump had equated his own intelligence community’s long-held assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and Putin’s denial thereof, Coats issued a statement reasserting the U.S. government’s position.
“We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” he said. “We will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security.”
Asked separately about Trump’s claim on Tuesday — while purportedly back-tracking from his Monday comment — that “it could be other people also,” Coats was dismissive.
“We know others have the potential capability,” Coats said. “But it’s undeniable that the Russians are taking the lead on this.”
“I don’t know what happened in that meeting,” he said of Trump’s one-on-one meeting Monday, before the press conference, with Putin.
Coats said it was Trump’s “prerogative” not to have other American officials in the room with him, but “if he had asked me how that ought to be conducted I would have suggested a different way, but that’s not my role.”
“That’s not my job. So it is what it is,” he said, adding in response to another question that “the risk is always there” that Putin recorded the meeting.
Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) dramatically called President Donald Trump’s press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin “Orwellian” on Thursday, in an effort to pass a non-binding Senate resolution that’s little more than a pat on the back for law enforcement and intelligence agencies, and which was ultimately blocked.
“We saw earlier this week in Helsinki what was truly an Orwellian moment,” he said from the Senate floor. “What we saw earlier this week in Helsinki is what happens when you wage war on objective reality for nearly two solid years, calling real things fake and fake things real, as if conditioning others to embrace the same confusion.”
After congratulating the Justice Department and intelligence community for their work, the three-page resolution “calls upon relevant committees of the Senate to exercise congressional oversight, including prompt hearings and the release of relevant notes and information” on Trump and Putin’s Helsinki meeting, and “calls for the immediate and full implementation of mandatory sanctions provided for in the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,” which Trump signed into law after overwhelming congressional support last year. (Read the full resolution below.)
“Ultimately,” Flake continued, “you’re rendered unable to tell the difference between the two and are at critical times seemingly rendered incapable of thinking clearly, your mind a hash of conspiracy theory and fragments of old talking points deployed in response to a question no one even asked. Ultimately you fail to summon reality in the face of a despot in defense of your country.”
He added later: “When the American government offers an onslaught on unreality, it puts the whole world at risk. That is the lesson of Helsinki. That is the dose of reality that hit hard. We have indulged myths and fabrications, pretended that it wasn’t so bad and our indulgence got us the capitulation in Helsinki.”
When Flake asked for the Senate’s unanimous consent to adopt the measure, Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) objected to it as a “symbolic act,” blocking it. Flake said he and Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) would bring it up again in the future.
Earlier, Coons began his remarks, just before Flake’s, by saying the resolution would send a bipartisan message that “we stand with the men and women of the Department of Justice, the men and women of the U.S. intelligence community. We sport the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in our elections and we must act, and act unequivocally, to hold Russia accountable for its actions.”
“Today’s resolution is a first step, and an important one,” he added later, calling the resolution “very basic.”
“We should stand and be counted in defense of our democracy,” he concluded.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Thursday that he’d asked the chairmen of the Senate Banking and Foreign Relations committees to “recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter Russian malign behavior.”
“The Intelligence Community Assessment of Russian Activities in the 2016 elections makes clear that President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign aimed at undermining public faith in our democratic process,” McConnell said in a statement.
“As part of Congress’ ongoing efforts to form part of any national response to meddling by Russia or any other nation in our 2018 elections, I tasked the chairmen of the Banking and Foreign Relations Committees with holding hearings on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, and to recommend to the Senate additional measures that could respond to or deter Russian malign behavior.”
Congress overwhelmingly supported the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which imposed sanctions on Iran, North Korea and Russia, last year.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer laughed it up on NBC’s “Today” Thursday morning after host Savannah Guthrie rattled off three obvious lies he pushed as a spokesperson for the President.
“Do you regret sticking your neck out for some of his more outlandish claims that were proven to be false?” Guthrie asked. “I’m thinking about, for example, the inauguration crowd size, the three to five million fraudulent votes during the election, having tapes of Comey in the Oval Office. I mean, those are three examples of things that are now known not to be true.”
“I appreciate you keeping it to three,” Spicer said, giggling.
“There could be more! There literally could be more,” Guthrie said.
“It’s a 250-page book,” Spicer responded, referring to his new memoir. “Look, are there things that I wish I could have a do over on? Absolutely.”
He added: “There are days when I stepped in it.”
Spicer couldn’t even make it through the “Today” interview without an easily provable falsehood. Earlier, he’d said “It’s very important to be clear that Russia meddled in our elections, and also clear that there’s no evidence of collusion, which the President has done.”
“He wasn’t clear at the press conference,” Guthrie hit back.
“No no, what I said though is I’m glad that he’s been clear about it. He talked about it last night with Jeff Glor and CBS; he talked about it at the Cabinet meeting the other day,” Spicer responded.
But Trump wasn’t “clear” at all in either setting. The President said during the Cabinet meeting that “no,” Russia is not still targeting the U.S. (contradicting his own director of national intelligence). A day earlier, when he proclaimed to have cleaned up Monday’s Putin press conference mess by changing “would” to “wouldn’t,” he muddied the waters further, saying “It could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”
Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) had a history of making misogynistic comments on his former radio show, America’s Mr. Right, CNN reported Wednesday.
Lewis hosted the show from 2009 to 2014. CNN’s KFILE team said Former Minnesota GOP deputy chair Michael Brodkorb, who is now a columnist at a local Minnesota news site, tipped off the network to several months-worth of comments by Lewis. Brodkorb covered some of Lewis’ comments in a February 2016 column, CNN noted. The Atlantic also covered some of Lewis’ comments a few months later.
CNN’s review of Lewis’ comments was damning. A spokesperson for Lewis’ campaign told CNN: “This has all been litigated before, and as Congressman Lewis has said time and time again, it was his job to be provocative while on the radio.”
“Well, the thing is, can we call anybody a slut?” Lewis opined in March 2012 after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke just that. “This is what begs the question. Take this woman out of it, take Rush out of it for a moment,” Lewis said in a March 2012 episode. “Does a woman now have the right to behave — and I know there’s a double standard between the way men chase women and running and running around — you know, I’m not going to get there, but you know what I’m talking about. But it used to be that women were held to a little bit of a higher standard. We required modesty from women. Now, are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can’t call her a slut?”
“One of the reasons that the Democrats love the quote unquote female issue is because they know women vote more liberally than men do,” Lewis said in August 2012. “Now you could say in a very, very sexist, misogynistic way that, ‘well, that’s because women just don’t understand money. They don’t understand, they’re, they don’t handle finances. They’re guided by emotion, not reason. Why, that’s why they didn’t have the vote for a full century in the country.’ Well, it is true that women cast more votes for Democrats. All I’m saying, I’m not validating the stereotype. I’m married to a woman, for heaven’s sakes, but I will say this: Do not, do not pander and move left to get the female vote.”
He returned to birth control in November 2012, asking rhetorically of women who support public financing of contraception: “You can be bought off for that?”
President Trump’s private meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin led to more confusion on the world stage last night when Fox News aired an interview, taped just hours after the meeting, in which Trump expressed fears that Montenegro could suck the U.S. into “World War III.”
Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who conducted the interview, first brought up the country of 600,000. “Let’s say Montenegro, which joined last year, is attacked, why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that?” Carlson asked.
“I understand what you’re saying. I’ve asked the same question,” the President replied. “Montenegro is a tiny country with very strong people.”
Later, he continued, “They’re very strong people, they’re very aggressive people. They may get aggressive and, congratulations, you’re in World War III.”
Trump has “asked the same question” about whether Montenegro could pull the United States into war? Really? That’s surprising. For one thing, the White House supported Montenegro’s admission to NATO two months into Trump’s presidency. (The Senate voted 97-2 in favor.)
So what changed, in Trump’s view? There’s no record of Trump and Putin’s conversation — the President insisted that be the case — but Putin’s frustration with new NATO members has never been a secret.
I asked Fox News and the White House if Trump had asked that the country be brought up, given Trump’s strange acknowledgement that he’s “asked the same question,” and given the extreme cross-pollination between Fox News and the White House, most recently embodied in Trump’s new communications director, former FNC executive Bill Shine. The White House didn’t respond.
Tucker Carlson wanted to talk to me when he heard about inquiry. I asked why he brought the country up.
“I asked him about Montenegro because I thought it was the obvious question,” Carlson said over the phone Wednesday, after speaking off-the-record for a few minutes. “It’s the most recent entry into NATO, and we’re guaranteeing their territorial sovereignty. Maybe that’s a good idea, but I think it’s fair to ask why it’s a good idea.”
He added later, asked what he thought about Trump’s reversal on Montenegro since supporting its admission to NATO: “I didn’t think he gave a fully baked answer.”
It was a consequential answer, though, wasn’t it? I asked.
“I’ll leave that to the geniuses at Talking Points Memo to decide,” Carlson responded. “But I think that we could have — much more broadly and having nothing to do with Trump — we would benefit from a national conversation on when it’s a good idea to guarantee the defense of another country. It doesn’t seem like a decision to be made lightly, and a series of American presidents has made that decision lightly, and generations of journalists have let them do it, including me, and maybe this is a good moment to pause and think it through.”
He said he was “amazed” by the left’s response to Trump’s skepticism of NATO.
“Their first instinct now is, ‘Oh, this is under orders from Putin,'” Carlson said. “I mean, they’re morons. Like, okay, I don’t know, I have no idea what Putin said to him. But that’s not that interesting to me. What’s interesting to me is, what’s a good idea for the United States? Is this in our interest or not to guarantee the territorial sovereignty of Montenegro?”
“Why shouldn’t we have that conversation? Maybe Putin has the same view, I don’t care what Putin’s view is. What I care about is what’s good for the United States.”
Montenegro is sandwiched between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to its north, Albania to its south, Serbia and Kosovo to its east, and Italy across the Adriatic Sea to its west. Formerly joined in a republic with Yugoslavia, it was bombed by NATO forces in 1999. As a NATO member, and even before its membership, Montenegro has sent military forces in Afghanistan.
In April 2017, the country’s NATO membership became official, with President Trump’s now-questionable support.
The implications of Trump and Carlson’s exchange immediately caused waves. “By attacking Montenegro & questioning our obligations under NATO, the President is playing right into Putin’s hands,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) wrote on Twitter.
Russia has consistently opposed Montenegro’s admission into NATO, and more than that, it’s used the tiny country as an argument against the multinational alliance.
#Zakharova: NATO’s decision to launch membership talks with Montenegro will be a blow to the Euro-Atlantic security framework @AmbRusME
In June 2016, Russian legislators reportedly said Montenegro’s integration into NATO was “a dangerous line aimed not at defense, but at stirring of a new cold war.” A year prior, the country’s foreign minister called any NATO expansion a “mistake, even a provocation.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday that she was “not aware” of any recording made of President Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Was there a recording made of their one-on-one meeting? Does that exist?” CNN’s Jim Acosta asked Sanders at a press briefing Wednesday.
“I’m not aware of one,” Sanders replied.
Democrats were critical of Trump’s decision to meet privately with Putin without any other foreign policy officials in the room. Now, some lawmakers are calling for the American interpreter present during the meeting to testify before Congress.
Again contradicting his director of national intelligence, President Donald Trump said Wednesday that “no,” Russia is not still targeting the United States.
“Is Russia still targeting the U.S.?” a reporter asked Trump in the Cabinet Room Wednesday.
“No,” the President replied.
That contradicted a statement his director of national intelligence made just days ago.
“Today, the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack,” DNI Dan Coats said Friday, a few days before Trump met privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Also on Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for the hacking, theft and distribution of Democratic emails during the 2016 election.
The “worst offenders,” Coats said Friday, are Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.
Russia, Coats said, is the “most aggressive foreign actor, no question. And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy.”
Trump added Wednesday: “We are doing very well, probably as well as anybody as anybody has ever done, with Russia. And there’s been no president ever as tough as I have been on Russia.”