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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.
The National Rifle Association continued a streak of publishing decidedly aggressive video content Thursday.
This time, the group’s video wing, NRATV, said they were going to “fisk” the New York Times, a slang journalism term for uncovering factual inaccuracies in reporting.
“We’ve had it with your constant protection of your Democrat overlords,” spokeswoman Dana Loesch says to camera, in a clenched-teeth, Sorkin-esque rant, adding: “We’ve had it with your pretentious, tone-deaf assertion that you are, in any way, truth- or fact-based journalism.”
FBI agents monitored social media on Election Day for what they believed were Russian government-backed efforts to spread disinformation, CNN reported Friday.
Citing two unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, CNN reported that FBI analysts identified social media accounts they believed were pushing fake news articles on Election Day, and that “the suspicion was that at least some were part of a Russian disinformation campaign.”
One unnamed person briefed on the investigation told CNN the FBI’s operation was “right on the edge of Constitutional legality” because “we were monitoring news.”
The effort was part of a larger push to monitor cyber threats on Election Day, according to the report, with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence holding regular calls with the White House’s situation room.
Top officials ultimately congratulated each other after the day’s vote went uninterrupted, according to the report.
One unnamed Obama White House official disagreed, however: “What they did worked!”, the official told CNN they recalled saying.
Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza on Friday posted pictures of top White House staffers Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka posing with him and his new book, whichargues that the modern Democratic Party practices tactics promoted by fascist leaders like Mussolini and Hitler.
Dinesh D’Souza just deleted his tweets with photos from Steve Bannon’s office. Here are the screenshots: pic.twitter.com/F77C3cjWXY
Promotional material for “The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the American Left” reads: “The Democratic left has an ideology virtually identical with fascism and routinely borrows tactics of intimidation and political terror from the Nazi Brownshirts.” Ironically, Gorka has received a lot of press attentionfor his ties to ultranationalist groups in his parents’ native Hungary that have been accused of anti-Semitism.
It is illegal for federal employees to use their public offices to endorse a product, and executive branch conduct rules prohibit accepting gifts worth more than $20.
D’Souza’s book retails for lessthan that, but Larry Noble, senior director and general counsel of the Campaign Legal Center, said the pictures still raised “serious issues” about whether Bannon and Gorka had endorsed it.
“Gorka and Bannon each posing for a picture in their office with D’Souza while holding his book raises a serious issues of whether they violated the ban,” Noble told TPM in an email. “I think a reasonable person would assume that the picture would be used to publicly suggest endorsement of the book.”
“I wonder whether they warned him it could not be used for publicity,” Noble added.
The White House press office did not respond to TPM’s request for comment on the photos.
D’Souza deleted the pictures from his Twitter account soon after he posted them, but later shared a cropped version of the photo with Bannon, alongside a graphic with a link to the book’s website.
The original photos appear to have been taken in Bannon’s office; the large white board checklist in the background has made news before, when rabbi Shmuley Boteach posted a photo of himself and Bannon posing in front of it, prompting analysis of Bannon’s prioritized agenda items.
Previously, at the urging of the Office of Government Ethics, the White House “counseled” Kellyanne Conway for promoting Ivanka Trump’s clothing line on national TV from the White House briefing room, with official White House imagery in the background.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats on Friday delivered a warning to potential leakers of intelligence information: “Don’t do it.”
“Those disclosures have been disseminated to both the media and to our foreign adversaries,” Coats said from the Justice Department. “Let me be absolutely clear this morning. These disclosures have resulted in a major threat to our national security.”
Coats noted that criminal leaks have not come out of the intelligence community alone, but also the executive branch and Congress. The National Counterintelligence and Security Center had been tasked with making “recommendations to strengthen the security clearance process,” he said.
The press conference announcing the DOJ’s crackdown on intelligence leaks came a day after the Washington Post published full transcripts of phone calls between Trump and the leaders of Mexico and Australia, respectively. President Donald Trump has ceaselessly criticized his attorney general in recent weeks, including for being “very weak” on investigating leaks.
Sessions on Friday emphasized that he had invested resources into addressing the issue, saying the agency “has more than tripled the number of active leak investigations, compared to the number pending at the end of the last administration,” he said.
The attorney general outlined three steps to combat the leaks: directing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray to oversee all leak investigations; instructing the DOJ’s National Security Division and U.S. attorneys to prioritize leak investigations; and increasing resources devoted to leak investigations, including by creating a “new counterintelligence unit” within the FBI to address them.
He also said that, at the suggestion of “career investigators,” he would be “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas,” hinting at a pursuing journalists in court in order to reveal their sources.
“We respect the important role that the press plays and we’ll give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said.
Neither Sessions nor Coats responded to a shouted question from a reporter: “Do you plan to prosecute journalists?”
Speaking to reporters after the press conference, Rosenstein said that the review of subpoena policy was part of a “fresh look” and that “leaks to the media are not whistleblowing,” according to the Washington Examiner. He said he would “consult” with the News Media Dialogue Group, a group of media representatives established during the Obama administration, on potential changes.
Rosenstein would not rule out changing the department’s practice of not prosecuting journalists, calling it a hypothetical question, according to CNN.
Journalists were subpoenaed during George W. Bush’s presidency as part of the investigation into the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA operative. And the Obama administration used various tactics, including subpoenaing journalists and naming a Fox News reporter a criminal co-conspirator, in one instance, in attempts to reveal journalists’ sources.
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway suggested Thursday night that special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe was becoming a “fishing expedition” as it looks into President Donald Trump and his family’s business dealings.
In an interview with Conway, CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked for reaction to two fresh news items: that Mueller had impaneled a grand jury as part of his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election; and that, according to Reuters, grand jury subpoenas had been issued in connection with the July 2016 meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of a Kremlin effort to aide Donald Trump’s campaign.
“Grand jury proceedings are supposed to remain private,” Conway began. “So it’s unfortunate that that’s not the case here.”
Conway referred to a statement put out Ty Cobb, a personal lawyer of Trump’s, that said“[t]he White House favors anything that accelerates the conclusion” of the special counsel probe “fairly.” Another outside Trump attorney, Jay Sekulow, said the grand jury news was “not a surprise.”
Cuomo asked Conway if Mueller’s looking into Trump’s business empire, and the business ventures of his family members, crossed any “red lines” for the President, as Trump had suggested in a recent New York Times interview.
“The President has said that Jim Comey, the former FBI director, assured him on three separate occasions that he is not personally a target of any investigation,” Conway said. “We know that these types of endeavors end up being fishing expeditions. They’re a very broadly-cast net, and I would remind everybody that, in terms of President Trump, he has said that he has no financial dealings with Russia whatsoever.”
Trump administration officials and surrogates have repeatedly claimed that Trump has no business in Russia, although the President’s ties to the country’s business community have been documentedextensively and are part of Mueller’s investigation. It’s impossible to know the full extent of the President’s business relationships without his tax returns, which he has refused to release.
The Times noted that Justice did not endorse Hillary Clinton in 2016, and was elected to his first term in the governor’s mansion in November with a significantly smaller margin of victory than that with which Trump won the state.
In February 2015, ahead of his campaign for governor, Justice switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, the Wall Street Journal noted at the time.
Justice, a camera-friendly billionaire-turned-politician in the Trumpian mold, called the press to the governor’s mansion in April to unveil a plate of bull feces — his metaphor for the state legislature’s proposed budget, what he called “a bunch of political bull-you-know-what.”
Not everyone got the memo of Justice’s plans to switch parties, however. Just hours before the Times reported the news, West Virginia’s Republican Party attacked Justice on Twitter, linking to a Charleston Gazette-Mail story on the state’s Division of Highways awarding contracts to a company whose founder pled guilty to involvement in a kickback scheme.
Special counsel Robert Mueller and his expanding team of investigators have turned their attention to President Donald Trump, his company and his family’s business ties with Russia, CNN reported Thursday.
Such probing runs afoul of Trump’s supposed “red line” to the New York Times: that Mueller and his investigators ought not look into his business ties beyond what is directly relevant to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Mueller’s investigation into Trump and his affiliates’ businesses has been reported previously — most recently by Bloomberg on July 20, and others. However, CNN’s reporting more extensively details the broadening scope of Mueller’s investigation:
[T]he FBI is reviewing financial records related to the Trump Organization, as well as Trump, his family members, including Donald Trump Jr., and campaign associates. They’ve combed through the list of shell companies and buyers of Trump-branded real estate properties and scrutinized the roster of tenants at Trump Tower reaching back more than a half-dozen years. They’ve looked at the backgrounds of Russian business associates connected to Trump surrounding the 2013 Miss Universe pageant. CNN could not determine whether the review has included his tax returns.
“This is like any investigation,” one unnamed person briefed on the investigation told CNN. “You start at the core and then move to the periphery. You have to explore the finances. Where this is going is no different from any investigation.”
White House adviser Sebastian Gorka said Thursday that President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed could apply sufficient pressure on the Chinese government to force them to intervene in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
“What card left do you have to get China to act?” Fox News’ Bill Hemmer asked Gorka, after referencing an op-ed in a state-owned Chinese newspaper that downplayed the influence China has over North Korea.
Trump has raged at China for not doing more in the face of increased North Korean missile testing.
“We have the President’s Twitter feed,” Gorka responded. “We have the most powerful man in the world making it very clear that we came out of the Mar-a-Lago summit with very high hopes.”
Gorka — a controversial member of the Trump administration, given his affiliations with right-wing nationalist groups tied to anti-Semitism and the targeting of Roma people, among other things — said China’s use of North Korea as a “buffer state” was not be worth the instability that the missile tests brought the region.
Hemmer returned to Gorka’s earlier comment: “With all due respect, can a Twitter feed change the mind of those leading China?”
“If you can win a U.S. election with it, I think it’s pretty powerful, Bill, don’t you?” Gorka replied.
Sebastian Gorka asked on Fox what Trump can do to pressure China over North Korea. Gorka: “We have the president’s Twitter feed.” pic.twitter.com/7VuraoKPMw
Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL) said Thursday that “no one could really believe that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall” and that President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico was a “metaphor for border security.”
The comments came in response to a transcript published by the Washington Post of a call between Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in which the Mexican leader maintained there was no way Mexico would pay for the wall, contradicting Trump’s endless campaign promises to Americans that the country would. Trump told Peña Nieto in the call that the issue of payment “is the least important thing,” but that, politically, it “might be the most important.”
“What do you make of that?” CNN’s Poppy Harlow asked Rooney, after referencing a passage in the transcript in which Trump told Peña Nieto he cannot talk about not paying for the wall to the press.
“It’s another bit of campaign rhetoric,” Rooney responded. “It’s highly unusual. But I don’t think anyone during the campaign seriously thought that Mexico would pay for that wall, even though we desperately believed in the wall as a metaphor for border security.”
CNN’s John Berman pointed out that Trump promised Mexico would pay for the wall “at every rally he gave.”
“You don’t think that was a campaign promise?” Berman asked.
“These campaigns are full of all kinds of comments: promises, commitments, expressions, vitriolic diatribe. And once the campaign is over, it’s time to move on to governing,” Rooney said.
Harlow pointed out that Trump had brought up Mexico paying for the wall even after the election. She asked if Rooney was comfortable with Trump misleading the public about his discussion with Peña Nieto.
“I think it would have been better had he not distracted the discussion of border security by bringing up who is going to pay for the wall and what kind of wall it would be,” Rooney said. “We have a lot of ways that we can strengthen our border, and physical barriers are one, technology is another. I think we need to be getting about doing that.”
“Knowing what you know from the transcript, which the White House is not disputing openly, do you think he was straight and honest with the American people?” Harlow asked.
“I don’t think anyone really thought that the Mexicans were going to pay for a wall,” Rooney said. “I mean, regardless of a boisterous campaign or post-campaign comment. These politicians — these professional politicians make comments all the time. President Trump was not a professional politician, so maybe he made even some more comments that might be disputed later.”
“But the bottom line is no one could really believe that Mexicans were going to pay for a wall,” he continued. “And no one would believe that we don’t need to secure our border. So those are two asymmetrical concepts there.”
Though Rooney never called for Mexico to pay for a border wall during his own run for Congress in 2016, his first such campaign, the big-name GOP donor and one-time ambassador to the Holy See did advocate strongly for a border wall.
One of his advertisements was literally called “Wall.” In it, he bragged about his experience in the construction industry: “So I know a thing or two about building walls.”
“In Congress, I’ll fight to build a big one on our southern border,” he said.
President Donald Trump told Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto in a private phone call that whether or not Mexico paid for Trump’s proposed border wall “is the least important thing,” but that the Mexican President could not say so in public, according a transcript of the call published by the Washington Post Thursday.
A day before the call, on Jan. 26, Peña Nieto cancelled a planned meeting with Trump in Washington, D.C., as Trump continued to insist that Mexico would pay for the border wall. “If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall, then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting,” Trump wrote.
On Jan. 27, after the call, both leaders released statements saying they had agreed not to discuss wall payment, acknowledging that they had differences of opinion.
“[Y]ou and I are both at a point now where we are both saying we are not to pay for the wall,” Trump said. “From a political standpoint, that is what we will say. We cannot say that anymore because if you are going to say that Mexico is not going to pay for the wall, then I do not want to meet with you guys anymore because I cannot live with that. I am willing to say that we will work it out, but that means it will come out in the wash and that is okay. But you cannot say anymore that the United States is going to pay for the wall.”
“I am just going to say that we are working it out,” Trump continued. “Believe it or not, this is the least important thing that we are talking about, but politically this might be the most important talk about.”
Later, Peña Nieto returned to the wall, and made his position clear: “I have recognized the right of any government to protect its borders as it deems necessary and convenient,” he said. “But my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.”
“But you cannot say that to the press,” Trump replied. “The press is going to go with that and I cannot live with that. You cannot say that to the press because I cannot negotiate under those circumstances.”
Peña Nieto responded: “I understand you well, Mr. President.”