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Tierney Sneed

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.

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Lawyers representing the firm that put together the so-called Trump dossier wrote a scathing letter to House Intel Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA)  — who has recused himself from the committee’s Russia probe, but nonetheless issued subpoenas to the firm — accusing Nunes and his staff of operating with a “pattern of unprofessional conduct.”

“Now that you, and by extension, your staff, have proven to be unreliable partners in good faith negotiations, we cannot reasonably be expected to trust anything that you or your staff would represent to us,” the lawyers for Fusion GPS said Monday in the letter. “We cannot in good conscience do anything but advise our clients to stand on their constitutional privileges, the attorney work product doctrine and contractual obligations.”

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A researcher for President Trump’s voter fraud commission was arrested last week on allegations of child pornography, the Washington Post reported Saturday.

An unnamed administration senior official confirmed to the Post that Ronald Williams II, a 37-year-old from Maryland, was working for the commission, having been moved there from the Office of Special Counsel.

Williams was arrested Friday, according to court documents, and was charged with 11 counts of possession and distribution of child pornography.

He was arrested after the police searched his home, the Post reported. Authorities had been tipped off via a task force on Internet crimes against children, according to the report. Law enforcement said they found “multiple files of child pornography” on Williams’ cell phone, according to the Post.

 

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President Donald Trump ended the months-long speculation on whether he would end Obamacare insurer subsidies that are the subject of GOP lawsuit, with an announcement Thursday he was ending them immediately, including a payment due this week.

While the question of their legality was still being hashed out in court, Trump has made clear his convoluted political reasoning behind ending them: that it would put pressure on Democrats to cooperate with his attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.


But it’s still not clear how much bargaining power his blatant move to sabotage the ACA marketplaces really brings him. Democrats, after his announcement, remained stalwart that they believed Republicans now own the health care system, and all the chaos Trump causes in it. If anything, it’s Republicans who are split on how to respond to Trump’s move.

“In this, politically, he’s in much worse shape than we are,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on a conference call with reporters Friday. “The American people, even a large number of Republicans, are on our side in terms improving the system, not destroying it. So I don’t think he has much leverage to threaten or bully.”

The subsidies are known as cost-sharing reduction payments, and they subsidize insurers for keeping out-of-pocket costs downs for low income individuals. House Republicans sued the Obama administration in 2014, claiming the payments were illegal because they hadn’t been appropriated by Congress.

Regardless of how that case would have concluded, Trump, in his comments about ending the subsidies, didn’t give the sense that Congress’ power of the purse was his primary interest.

As far back as April, Trump has threatened that ending the subsidies would be tool for him to bring Democrats to the Obamacare repeal negotiating table. He repeated the argument on Friday, while alleging that insurance companies were already rich and they didn’t support his election.

Democrats argue that if Trump was so concerned about the constitutional arguments against the payments, he would have stopped them as soon as he took office, rather than after watching congressional repeal efforts collapse multiple times.

“This is just creating uncertainty and instability in the markets and it’s going to raise premiums and I think that everyone knows that Republicans are going to own this,” a Democratic staffer of the Senate HELP committee told TPM.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pushed back on that claim that Republicans now own what happens to Obamacare.

“[I]t’s amusing to me how desperate Democrats are to rid themselves of the failed law they worked so hard to force on the country. You’d think they’d be proud of it,” the spokesman, Don Stewart, told TPM via email.

The irony is that a bipartisan deal being worked on in the Senate to continue the subsidies — or even, perhaps, an affirmative statement from Trump that the payments would go on — would have had some political upsides for Republicans as they headed into the 2018 midterms. Since some insurers have already priced in a premium increase for 2018 assuming the payments would be withdrawn, continuing the subsidy payments would have set up the potential for premium rates to come back down the following year, which would have been announced before Americans headed to the polls.

Instead, there’s a solid chance that insurers who didn’t plan for termination of the subsidies will exit the marketplaces this year due to the shortfall, while Americans —particularly those whose premiums aren’t subsidized by Obamacare’s tax credits — will see their premiums spike. A Congressional Budget Office analysis on what would happen if the payments ended found that premiums would rise 20 percent next year, while 5 percent of Americans would live in areas without any ACA insurers.

A Kaiser Family Foundation poll released Friday showed that 71 percent of Americans believe that the Trump administration should try to make Obamacare work rather than make it fail to replace it later, with even more Republicans supporting the former approach over the latter.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who took over leading the lawsuit against subsidies once Speaker John Boehner stepped down, praised Trump’s decision in a statement Thursday night.

Other GOP House members — albeit Republicans who are retiring next year — criticized the move, as did Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who voted against Senate GOP repeal efforts.

“I think the President is ill advised to take this course of action, because we at the end of the day will own this,” Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) said on CNN Friday.

Republican governors in states that have been receptive to Obamacare also bashed Trump’s move, with Gov. Brian Sandoval (R-NV) calling it “devastating” and Gov. Charlie Baker (R-MA) labelling it the “wrong decision.”

There’s still a chance that subsidies are revived by a bipartisan fix that HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking member Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) have been working on. A Democratic HELP staffer said the negotiations — which were interrupted by the most Senate repeal attempt — are ongoing. Alexander’s office did not return TPM’s inquiries.

The White House has sent mixed signals as to whether it would sign off on a compromise. Office of Management and Budget Secretary Mick Mulvaney shot down the idea that Trump would sign on to a Murray-Alexander bill unless he got other concessions, such as a border wall, while Trump himself told Alexander the week before last that he approved the senator’s approach, a GOP aide told Axios.

It’s worth noting that while Republicans were working on their repeal effort — and even after it failed —several prominent GOP lawmakers supported continuing the subsidies in some way shape or form.

“We’ve seen this story before,” another Senate Democratic staffer told TPM. “Republicans say it would be a bad idea if Trump does something. Trump does it, and then congressional Republicans tie themselves in knots to say it’s actually fine. They’re still afraid to be crosswise with the President, even if it means premiums in their state go up.”

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Democratic attorneys general from a handful of states announced Friday their plans to file a lawsuit against President Trump’s efforts to end Obamacare subsidies to insurers.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that those payments can continue to go forward,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said in a conference call the attorneys general held with reporters. 

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President Trump’s decision to halt key Obamacare subsidies — a decision first reported by Politico and announced in a late night press release from the White House Thursday — has now been crystalized in legal documents filed Friday morning in the legal case brought by House Republicans against the subsidies in 2014.

The filings include a notice from the Department of Health and Human Services that the subsidies, known as cost sharing reduction payments, will be stopped immediately. The next payments were scheduled for Oct. 18.

The payments subsidize insurers for keeping out-of-pocket costs down for low-income consumers, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. House Republicans had argued the payments were illegal because they were not appropriated by Congress.

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It’s hard to predict the effect of an executive order aimed at undermining Obamacare that President Trump signed Thursday, as the order was vague and left most of the details to the relevant departments writing the regulations.

But there’s at least one claim Trump made during the signing ceremony that probably won’t pan out: “This will cost the United States government virtually nothing,” he promised, while vowing people “will have great, great health care.”

Such a claim is at odds with the stated goals of the order and how it would affect government spending related to the Affordable Care Act.

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President Trump signed an executive order Thursday taking aim at the Affordable Care Act, after Congress’ failure to pass a bill to repeal it.

The order is vague — it mainly directs certain agencies to relax a few key health care regulations imposed under President Obama — so it’s hard to assess its potential impact or the shape of the legal battle that will likely meet it. Its main goal appears to allow the purchase in certain scenarios of cheaper but more barebones plans, at the risk of diverting healthy people away from the more comprehensive policies mandated by the ACA and raising premiums for those reliant on the more generous plans.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the order is that it does not go as far as Obamacare supporters had feared it could have in undermining the 2010 health care legislation.

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The Facebook ads that will be made public as a part of a congressional Russia probe will be released with their associated targeting information, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg revealed Thursday.

“When the ads get released, we will also be releasing the targeting for those ads,” Sandberg told Mike Allen during an Axios Q&A. “We’re going to be fully transparent.”

The comment came after she was asked repeatedly whether there was an overlap between Russia’s and the Trump campaign’s activity on the platform during the 2016 campaign. She did not answer that question directly.

Among the tools Facebook offers ad-buys on its platform is the ability to target their ads based on geography, demographics or other factors. Democrats involved in the probes have wondered if the Russians behind the suspicious ad buys had assistance — from the Trump campaign or otherwise — in deciding how to target the ads.

Leaders of the House Intel Committee’s Russia investigation announced Wednesday that the Facebook ads they are reviewing will be made public, but likely not before an open hearing the committee is planning with  social media companies next month.

The Facebook ads are also being investigated by the Senate Intel Committee as well as by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team.

Last month, Facebook said in a blog post that it had identified roughly 3,000 ads linked to 470 inauthentic accounts with links to a Kremlin-backed troll firm.

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President Trump’s latest threat against NBC for negative coverage was classic Trump: a frightening broadside against essential American freedoms that nonetheless ignores — almost comically—the basic workings of the government.

Telecommunications law experts and veterans of the Federal Communications Commission told TPM Wednesday that Trump’s suggestion for how NBC could be punished for “Fake News” is a long shot, legally speaking, but also troubling in its implications.

“When the President is attacking the media criticism and threatening legal action, because he doesn’t like what they’re broadcasting, it’s obviously a great concern and raises serious questions of First Amendment values and relationships with the free press. But as a legal matter, it’s an empty threat,” said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, an expert in telecommunications law at Georgetown University Law Center.

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Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) pushed back on comments made by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) indicating that the top Senate Republican would like to eliminate the last tool Democrats have to block President Trump’s judicial nominees.

“The Senate has fewer and fewer mechanisms that create bipartisanship and bring people to an agreement. The blue slips are one of them,” Schumer said Wednesday in a statement, referring to the Senate tradition that a judicial nominee not move forward until both home state senators return the so-called “blue slip” approving their nomination.

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