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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 email@example.com and on Twitter @mattshuham.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested that Wikileaks founder Julian Assange testify in a closed interview with committee staff “at a mutually agreeable time and location,” the organization revealed Wednesday.
Wikileaks’ Twitter account posted an image of the invitation from the committee’s chair and vice chair, Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA).
As part of the committee’s inquiry “into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections,” the letter says, “the Committee requests that you make yourself available for a closed interview with bipartisan Committee staff at a mutually agreeable time and location.”
Wikileaks legal team, the organization’s Twitter account said, is “considering the offer but the conditions must conform to a high ethical standard.”
Assange has lived in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, though somereports indicate he may be on his way out.
Without being named, Wikileaks was referenced in the grand jury indictment, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, of 12 Russian intelligence officers accused of stealing Democrats’ emails and subsequently releasing them on the internet during the 2016 presidential campaign.
“The Conspirators also used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release additional stolen documents through a website maintained by an organization (‘Organization 1’), that had previously posted documents stolen from U.S. persons, entities, and the U.S. government,” the indictment said.
I often remind myself that former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt eventually resigned amid a downpour of negative press coverage not because he had failed at his job, but, rather, despite his successes.
Pruitt will go down in history as one of the most aggressively deregulatory EPA administrators, a point in his favor among many Republican donors, politicians and pundits.
His misdeeds — the ridiculous security measures, multiple secret schedules and lavish travel costs — and more than that, the comical shamelessness with which he repeatedly carried them out, marred what Steve Bannon might otherwise have called a successful “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
Pruitt’s replacement, the former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, promises to tread quietly where Pruitt stomped. Wheeler’s roamed Beltway halls his entire professional life, and, with the appropriate nods to transparency and decorum, will likely continue carrying out the same corporate agenda Pruitt pursued.
“The overall direction of the agency I don’t really see changing much, but I think you’ll see a difference in the way I talk about issues,” he said last month.
So if Wheeler won’t go down amid scandal, who will? Who presents just the right mix of unabashed oligarchical aspirations and a distorted sense of right and wrong? There are plenty of candidates. Here are a few.
The interior secretary is an obvious first choice. For one thing, his trail of wrongdoings stretches years, back to his days as Navy SEAL. As secretary, Zinke appears to have taken his cues from the top, engaging in the kind of ridiculous behavior that could endanger what seems to be his primary mission, handing over public land for private use (as long as it’s not land in the aspiring Montana governor’s home state).
Remember when Zinke allegedly threatened Alaska’s senators in an effort to pressure them into supporting Republicans’ Obamacare repeal, even though one of them, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), chairs the subcommittee that controls the funding for his agency? He’s not really a team player, yet another unfortunate trait that leaves him vulnerable to a shove out the government’s back door.
Oh yeah: Zinke insists he had “absolutely nothing to do” with the $300 million, no-bid contract to rewire Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria that was awarded to a two-person company from his hometown. He just happens to know the CEO, and the company just happened to have been financed by Trump donors. It happens!
I’ll stop here. The list goes on and on, and on, and this does not include stories that deal solely with regulatory matters or the Department’s lack of regard for science: the kind of people who could force Zinke out of his job could largely care less about those. What’s important, though, is that any one scandal could reach a critical mass of coverage — as did Scott Pruitt’s lobbyist condo deal — and re-shed light on all the others.
The education secretary has a leg up on the competition: Having come from an absurdly wealthy family — including a brother whose mercenary firm had to change its name multiple times because of all the people its employees murdered — she has experience walking unblinkingly past bonfires of impropriety.
Unlike Zinke, DeVos’ public service, such as it is, is inextricably linked with her prior life as a billionaire string-puller and anti-public school advocate.
The list: Allegedly telling the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to, essentially, simply dismiss cases that are too difficult; even before that, dismantling regulations meant to protect disabled students; eliminating a student loan fee-payment ceiling, a move that benefitted a former aide’s father in the millions; sabotaging a DOE unit investigating for-profit colleges; hiring those colleges’ former executives to work in the department and freezing relevant regulations governing the schools; and trying to eliminate the rule requiring that colleges demonstrate their ability to offer students gainful employment.
These admittedly policy-centric scandals, which otherwise aren’t fodder for a Pruitt-style collapse, still reflect what could become a damaging vulnerability for DeVos: As public school teachers nationwide flex their organizing muscles, and voters express their support for public schools, DeVos’ obsession with deregulation and privatization could itself become scandalous.
DeVos admitted on 60 Minutes earlier this year that she simply hadn’t visited struggling public schools. During a visit to New York City in May, she found time to visit Yeshiva Darchei Torah, in Queens, but not one public school run by the city. Similar visits have played out across the country.
The Trump Cabinet’s richest member thus faces a dilemma: how to continue to boost shifty private endeavors at the cost of America’s public schools and credible colleges, without becoming caricatured by a recent, profound metaphor: the $40 million, Cayman Islands-registered DeVos family yacht, drifting slowly away from the shores of Lake Erie.
Commerce Secretary Ross’ inclusion here — as opposed to other eligible candidates like Steve Mnuchin or Ben Carson — is largely thanks to the work of one reporter, Forbes’ Dan Alexander.
On Tuesday, for example, he broke the story of a secret settlement Ross reached with a former partner who’d accused him of stealing a few million dollars from a joint venture and covering it up with bogus paperwork.
“It is difficult to imagine the possibility that a man like Ross, who Forbes estimates is worth some $700 million, might steal a few million from one of his business partners,” Alexander wrote. “Unless you have heard enough stories about Ross.”
TPM has previously broken down Alexander’s reporting on Ross in the past, namely, his work on the Commerce Secretary’s odd habit of short-selling stocks he shouldn’t have held onto in the first place.
It’s legal, maybe, but certainly extremely weird. And it’s happened more than once.
Maybe, as Alexander suggests, we shouldn’t be surprised at these misdealings. But, following the Pruitt model, any single development could bring all the others back to the fore, as well.
Then there’s how Ross actually does his job: He’s currently the subject of a multi-state lawsuit over the inclusion of a citizenship question on the census. Ross initially said the Justice Department had asked him, unprompted, to include the question in the survey. Documents released in the course of the suit have proven that, plainly, to be a Big Fat Lie.
The lawsuit could fail. The Census change could take effect. That in turn could lead to a population undercount in immigrant-populated cities, suburbs and small towns, who would then lose millions in federal funds and multiple seats in Congress. Those benefits would shift, as planned, to immigrant-sparse Republican strongholds.
If that happens, Ross shouldn’t even bother resigning. He’ll have already won.
While his guilt or innocence is a question for the courts to settle, the allegations against Rep. Collins demand a prompt and thorough investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Insider trading is a clear violation of the public trust. Until this matter is settled, Rep. Collins will not be serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, once the vice chair of the White House’s fishy “Election Integrity” commission, said Tuesday that, yes, even he could end up winning his neck-and-neck election with the help of illegal votes.
That’s not to say he’s right: A federal judge earlier this year struck down Kansas’s law requiring proof of citizenship to vote, which Kobach himself defended in court, and in the processdismantled Kobach’s supposed “evidence” of widespread voter fraud in the United States.
And recently, a former Democratic “Election Integrity” commission member, armed with internal records and communications from the panel to which he’d previously been denied access, said Kobach and the White House were lying when they claimed they had substantial evidence of voter fraud.
Still, give him credit for consistency: Kobach told ThinkProgress even he could end up benefitting from illegal voting.
“If it’s a close race, illegal votes could swing any close race,” Kobach told the progressive website. “There are close legislative races routinely in Kansas decided by fewer than 10 votes.”
He added: “If you have a close race, yeah absolutely, voter fraud could swing the margin.”
The ACLU sued the Trump administration on Tuesday over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ proclamation that asylum protections shouldn’t be granted to victims of domestic or gang violence, in addition to other changes the administration recently made to the asylum process.
“[T]he government is attempting to subvert decades of settled asylum law and setting up asylum seekers like Grace to fail their interviews,” the ACLU said in a press release Tuesday, referring to the pseudonym of one of the suit’s 12 plaintiffs, parents and children affected by the changes.
“Sessions has declared that the plight of domestic and gang violence survivors is ‘merely personal.'”
In June, Sessions personally weighed in on a single asylum case, Matter of A-B-, and set a new national precedent. Because immigration courts are housed in the Executive Branch, not the Judicial Branch, Sessions has the power to intervene in such cases.
Sessions decided A-B-’s asylum claim wasn’t valid because, contrary to years of decisions in similar cases, he asserted domestic violence victims aren’t members of a “particular social group,” one of the categories of individuals eligible to receive asylum protections.
Immigration agents were instructed to apply that precedent-setting decision to all so-called “credible fear” interviews they conducted with asylum seekers, the crucial first step in attaining asylum protections.
In addition to Sessions’ change to asylum qualifications, the ACLU’s suit further alleges that changes made to the initial asylum screening itself “distort the credible fear process beyond recognition.”
At the time of Sessions’ June decision, lawyers, clinicians and activists expressed frustration with his misunderstandings of immigration law.
“The ways in which he’s applying the legal standard seem to reflect basic misunderstandings of asylum law,” one of A-B-’s attorneys, Eunice Lee, told TPM.
“The attorney general harped on what he considered scant evidence of society’s view of women as distinct,” Deborah Anker, founder and director of the Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program, told TPM. “But there is substantial evidence that women are targeted and deliberately unprotected in these countries — evidence that he just doesn’t address.”
Tuesday’s suit echoed those concerns.
“Sessions used Matter of A-B- as a vehicle to articulate new legal standards for the adjudication of asylum cases” based on domestic and gang violence, the ACLU said. “Matter of A-B- misstates or mischaracterizes multiple aspects of asylum law, seeking to heighten the asylum standards and increase the burden on asylum seekers to prove eligibility.”
In addition to Sessions, the suit also names as defendants Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Lee Francis Cissna, and James McHenry, the Justice Department’s Director of the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees all immigration courts.
A Virginia judge appointed a special prosecutor Tuesday to look into a case of potential forgery and other election law violations after multiple suspicious signatures were found on a petition to get an independent congressional candidate on the ballot, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
But there’s a big twist: The signatures for that independent candidate, Shaun Brown, were collected by paid campaign staffers for the incumbent Republican candidate in the race, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA).
Taylor beat Brown, who was then running as a Democrat, in the 2016 congressional election. Brown was subsequently indicted for fraud, a totally separate story, late last year. She announced her independent candidacy in March of this year.
What has emerged, potentially, is an effort to use fraudulent signatures to add an independent candidate to the ballot, in order to divert votes away from a legitimate Democratic challenger.
WAVY’s Andy Fox has reported that at least four names on a petition collected someone on the Taylor campaign’s payroll “appear to have been forged.” One of the forged names, according toearlier reports, is a dead man’s. Another is a woman’s who moved out of the state years ago.
“That anybody would use the name of someone who’s passed on, it’s very disappointing and it’s hurtful,” the late R. Stuart Cake’s wife, Elizabeth “Bet” Cake, said in an in an interview on WHRV Monday. His name was signed “Richard Cake” on the petition, Bet Cake said.
“They can say that all they want,” Taylor told WVEC Monday, asked about the criticism that he was trying to dilute the vote of his Democratic opponent, local business owner Elaine Luria. “But if someone wants to volunteer to get someone on the ballot, it’s not up to me to say yes or no.”
Except, as Virginian-Pilot columnist Roger Chesley wrote Monday, “they [Taylor’s campaign staffers] were each paid more than $1,200 the week after turning in the signatures.”
Though Taylor told Chesley he didn’t “order” the signature-gathering, even allowing paid campaign staffers to collect signatures for an opponent — let alone that some signatures may be forged — isn’t exactly “volunteering.”
“My heart goes out to Bet and her family as they cope with loss, grief, and deception,” Luria, the Democratic challenger, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “Stuart Cake was a pillar of service in our community. These matters need to be investigated to preserve and protect confidence in our election process.”
“I have no idea how that name got there,” Taylor told Chesley, referring to Cake’s signature. “I have no idea how it got there. I’ve done this thousands of times. I feel sorry for her that she’s now having to deal with this. I’ve gotten tens of thousands of signatures over the years. I don’t know who actually signs them if they are right or wrong.”
Taylor told WAVY Tuesday that he had fired his campaign manager “before he learned about inconsistencies on the petition for Brown,” in the outlet’s words. He said in a separate statement (see below) that he’d severed ties with his campaign consultant.
Norfolk’s WHRO and its sister station, WHRO, first reported last week that Taylor’s staffers had collected petition signatures for Brown.
Taylor gave the following statement to WTKR Tuesday:
My campaign has a zero-tolerance policy for inappropriate activities. Recently we became aware of the inconsistencies in a voter petition process along with everyone else. Previously, our team terminated the relationship with our campaign manager for separate issues, however, current knowledge underscores that decision and prompted me to sever ties with my campaign consultant. This will not, at all, effect my ability to run our office in the efficient, effective, and impactful way we have been. While we cooperate fully, these irregularities have no bearing on Shaun Brown’s right to be on the ballot. National Democrats are engaged in a systematic effort to disenfranchise 2nd District voters by marginalizing a qualified African American candidate, for the second time, from being on the ballot.
“If you could have kept your anger inside and spoke to my husband softly, Srinu would have been more than happy to share his background and help you understand that not every brown skinned person is suspicious or evil, but kind, smart and contributing to America,” Kuchibhotla’s widow, Sunayana Dumala, said in a statement read in court Tuesday, according to the Kansas City Star.
“Instead you chose to rage and bully in anger and when you were stopped, you decided to take their lives.”
Adam Purinton pleaded guilty to three federal hate crime charges in May.
Aside from the federal charges, Purinton pleaded guilty in March to premeditated first-degree murder and two counts of attempted premeditated first-degree murder. Two others, Kuchibhotla’s friend Alok Madasani and bystander Ian Grillot, were injured in the shooting. Kuchibhotla and Madasani worked as aviation systems engineers at Garmin.
In May, a Kansas judge sentenced Purinton to life without the possibility of parole for 50 years for the murder, in addition to 14 years for each of the attempted murders.
The racially motivated murder made international headlines, with Kuchibhotla’s body being transported back to Hyderabad, India, where his family lived, for a funeral, and Indian diplomats pledging to monitor the investigation of the shooting.
“I had asked him to return to India if he was feeling insecure there. But he used to say he was safe and secure,” Kuchibhotla’s mother, Parvatha Vardhini, said at the funeral.
The White House said at the time that it was “absurd” to link the attack to the newly inaugurated President’s racist and xenophobic language about immigrants. A few days later, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer said “The President condemns these and any other racially or religiously motivated attacks in the strongest terms.”
“Recent threats targeting Jewish Community Centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said in his first address to a joint session of Congress in February last year.
“What happened that night was a senseless crime that took away my best friend,” Madasani had said at a vigil a day earlier. “I wish it was a dream.”
For several months, the Republican National Committee’s website directed visitors who wished to reach the Maryland GOP’s Twitter page to a porn page, instead.
In January, the Maryland Republican Party changed its Twitter handle, from @mdreps to @mdgop. The former handle was supposed to have been frozen by Twitter so that other Twitter users would be unable to claim it to use as their own moniker, according to emails between the state party and Twitter that Maryland GOP Executive Director Patrick O’Keefe shared with TPM.
That never happened.
“I would assume it may have been a lapse in their support system,” O’Keefe said in an email.
The state party also never told the national party to change the Twitter account listed in the directory on GOP.com.
Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has said in the past that Presidents have the right not to enforce laws they believe are unconstitutional.
CNN on Monday collected a series of assertions along those lines from Kavanaugh, including during a 2013 Q&A session at Case Western Reserve Law School.
Responding to a questioner who asked about signing statements, or presidential statements made when signing a bill into law, Kavanaugh said that if a president “says these certain provisions in here are unconstitutional, and we’re not going to follow those provisions, that is a traditional exercise of power by presidents.”
“If the President has a constitutional objection to a statutory mandate or prohibition, the President may decline to follow the law unless and until a final Court order dictates otherwise,” Kavanaugh said in an opinion the same year.
Republicans have requested documents related to Kavanaugh’s time in the White House counsel’s office during George W. Bush’s presidency, but not his time as staff secretary under the same president, despite Democrats’ protests.
While many presidents issue signing statements — President Donald Trump issued an angry one when he signed sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea into law last summer — Bush used them with more regularity, and a broader view of executive power, CNN noted.
“Understanding the nature of his involvement in those actions is absolutely critical to evaluating the type of justice he would be on the bench,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told CNN. “If Republicans continue to stonewall, the American people will wonder what they are hiding.”
The threat, made on C-SPAN air Friday, gained more attention when CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter played a clip of it on air Sunday. Stelter and CNN’s Don Lemon were the two journalists named in the threat, from “Don” in State College, Pennsylvania.