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

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) on Sunday said he would be “glad to pass” legislation shielding Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, who President Donald Trump reportedly tried to fire last year.

“I’ve got legislation protecting Mr. Mueller, and I’ll be glad to pass it tomorrow,” Graham said on ABC News’ “This Week.”

The New York Times reported on Thursday that Trump tried to fire Mueller last summer, but backed off after White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit in response.

Graham said that he sees “no evidence that President Trump wants to fire Mr. Mueller now.”

“I don’t know what happened back last year, but it’s pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it’d be the end of President Trump’s presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller, so I think we’re in a good spot,” he said. “I think Mr. Mueller’s the perfect guy to get to the bottom of all this, and he will. And I think my job, among others, is to give him the space to do it. I intend to do that.”

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House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Sunday said he doesn’t think there is a “need for legislation” to protect special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, despite reports that Trump ordered Mueller’s termination last summer.

“I don’t think there’s a need for legislation right now to protect Mueller,” McCarthy said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

“If there’s an issue that arises, we’ll take it up at that time,” he added. “But right now there’s not an issue, so why create one when there isn’t a place for it?”

Asked about reports that Trump tried to fire Mueller last summer, but backed off when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit, McCarthy said that was “a place” that he had “not been a part of.”

“I have not heard that. The only thing I’ve seen is cooperation going forward,” McCarthy said.

McCarthy also said that while he has “confidence” in Mueller, he has “questions about others within the FBI and the DOJ,” and cited missing text messages exchanged by two Justice Department employees at the center of a GOP anti-FBI conspiracy.

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President Donald Trump on Sunday attacked rapper Jay-Z after the musician and businessman criticized remarks Trump allegedly made calling African nations “shithole countries.”

“Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!” Trump tweeted.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported earlier in January that unemployment among black workers is at its lowest since the bureau started tracking such data, but that unemployment rate has been declining since 2011, and has fallen consistently since then. Despite his claims, Trump’s policies do not appear to have affected that rate.

The Washington Post reported in January that Trump referred to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries” and asked why the United States allows people to immigrate from them. Trump denied using “the language” cited in reports about his remarks, but did not specifically address his alleged phrasing.

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A journalist announced last week that he will publish a photograph of then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (D) and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan that he took in 2005 at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting, but did not make public because he believed it would have “made a difference” to Obama’s political future.

The photographer, Askia Muhammad, told the Trice Edney News Wire that he “gave the picture up at the time and basically swore secrecy.”

“But after the nomination was secured and all the way up until the inauguration; then for eight years after he was President, it was kept under cover,” Muhammad said.

Asked whether he thought the photo’s release would have affected Obama’s presidential campaign, Muhammad said, “I insist. It absolutely would have made a difference.”

Reached by TPM on Thursday, Muhammad said a “staff member” for the CBC contacted him “sort of in a panic” after he took the photo at a caucus meeting in 2005. TPM has published the photo above with Muhammad’s permission.

“I sort of understood what was going on,” Muhammad told TPM. “I promised and made arrangements to give the picture to Leonard Farrakhan,” the minister’s son-in-law and chief of staff.

Muhammad said he gave away “the disk” from his camera but “copied the photograph from that day onto a file” on his computer.

“Realizing that I had given it up, I mean, it was sort of like a promise to keep the photograph secret,” Muhammad said.

Muhammad said he did not release his copy of the photograph because he thought it would be perceived as a betrayal of that promise: “I was really, I guess, afraid of them.”

Muhammad said he thought the photograph would be “damaging politically” if it were released and was afraid that someone might “break into his apartment” looking for it, like “that Watergate crap.” He said he “felt a little bit more at ease” after Farrakhan in 2016 claimed that Obama visited his home in Chicago. Muhammad contacted Farrakhan in autumn 2017 with the “final manuscript” for a self-published book containing the photo.

“I sent him a copy of the manuscript suggesting that, showing him the picture, and saying to him, if he did not object, I was going to publish it,” Muhammad said. “He had no objection.”

Muhammad also told TPM that around the time he took the photo, he asked Obama about a perceived resemblance to Farrakhan.

“I asked the senator, ‘Has anyone ever told you that you resemble Minister Farrakhan?'” Muhammad said. “And he said what I thought was the perfect answer: ‘Well, he’s much better looking than I am.'”

TPM learned about the photograph and Muhammad’s upcoming book from a write-up in Richard Prince’s Journal-isms newsletter.

A spokesperson for the Congressional Black Caucus suggested that TPM contact the caucus’ former chair, Mel Watt, who now leads the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Watt did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

A spokesperson for Obama referred TPM to remarks he made in 1995 after attending the Million Man March that Farrakhan organized. At the time, Obama said that “anti-Semitic and anti-Asian statements are not going to lift us up” and said the march’s organizers were lacking “a positive agenda, a coherent agenda for change.”

Muhammad is the news director at Washington, D.C. radio station WPFW and has served as the head of the Washington offices of the Nation of Islam’s official newspaper, The Final Call.

Farrakhan is a minister who leads the Nation of Islam and has made anti-Semitic remarks. During Obama’s presidential campaign, conservatives pushed multiple apparently racially motivated conspiracy theories about Obama’s religion and supposed ties to Islam.

During the 2008 presidential election, conservatives questioned the indirect ties between Farrakhan and Obama, who attended a church that gave Farrakhan an award. At a 2008 presidential debate in Cleveland, Obama said he had “been very clear” in his “denunciation” of Farrakhan’s remarks.

“I did not solicit his support,” Obama said, referring to Farrakhan’s praise for his candidacy. “I can’t say to somebody that he can’t say that he thinks I’m a good guy.”

This post has been updated.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday said he is “looking forward” to speaking under oath to Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“I would love to do that and I’d like to do it as soon as possible,” Trump told reporters. “There’s been no collusion whatsoever, no obstruction whatsoever, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Asked when the interview would take place, he added, “I guess they’re talking about two or three weeks. But I would love to do it. You know, again, I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that, but I would love to do it.”

Trump said that he “would do it under oath.”

Trump has referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” and questioned the credibility of investigators. Earlier in January, Trump said it was “unlikely” that he “would even have an interview” with Mueller.

“We’ll see what happens. Certainly I’ll see what happens,” he said. “But when they have no collusion and nobody has found any collusion, at any level, it seems unlikely that you would even have an interview.”

Last week, Ty Cobb, a White House attorney representing Trump in matters related to the Russia investigation, said that Trump’s legal team is engaged in “active discussions” with Mueller’s team about the possibility of an interview.

This post has been updated.

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday accused a reporter of suggesting that President Donald Trump is “complicit” in school shootings after the reporter asked what Trump intends to do about the issue.

NBC News’ Peter Alexander cited recent school shootings in Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana, as well as the October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, where a gunman killed 58 people and left more than 500 injured.

“After the Vegas shooting, you said it was an unspeakable tragedy from that podium, said it was a day for consoling survivors and mourning those who we lost. You said there’s a time and place for political debate,” he asked. “What has the President done in the time since October to try to prevent any of these shootings from taking place?”

Sanders said Trump’s administration has “tried to crack down on crime throughout the country” but claimed it is contending with “two years of increased violence prior to the President taking office.”

“The President instructed his administration to make the recent crime wave a top priority,” Sanders said, and cited violent crime prosecutions, federal firearm prosecutions, gang- and drug trafficking-related convictions as examples of actions.

“But what is the President specifically doing?” Alexander pressed. “You guys said at the time, today was not the day, but we should have these policy—”

“Look, I just read off a lot of the things that he’s doing,” Sanders interrupted.

“You said we should have the policy conversations,” Alexander continued. “So the question is, what is the policy the President is willing to pursue or actively direct others to pursue to help make sure that these students are safe?”

“The Department of Justice instructed ATF to do a thorough review on a number of firearm provisions,” Sanders said, referring to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. “That is ongoing.”

She again cited a “crime wave that took place long before the President ever came into office,” and claimed, “You’re seeing the Department of Justice that is being active, empowering its law enforcements, to crack down on crime, and that’s what those results that I just read out to you show.”

“But our schoolchildren seem to be their own category,” Alexander said.

“I think they’re part of a crime wave, absolutely. I don’t think you can completely separate the two,” Sanders replied. “And you can see some of the things that we’ve done since taking office.”

“Will the President come before the nation and tell Americans how he feels about this issue and try to do what he can with the bully pulpit to help—” Alexander interrupted, before Sanders broke in again.

“I think he has, Peter,” she said. “Hold on. I was polite and let you finish, but let me be very clear on this. The fact that you’re basically accusing the President of being complicit in a school shooting is outrageous.”

“I’m not accusing the President of anything,” Alexander replied.

“The President has been very clear and instructed the top law enforcement agency in this country to crack down on crime and to do everything they can to prevent these types of things,” Sanders continued. “We’ve talked about it here numerous times and we’re going to continue moving forward in that process. Thanks, guys.”

She then ended the briefing.

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Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), who was recently booted from House Ethics Committee after the panel opened an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against him, on Tuesday said a younger aide who accused him of misconduct “invited” his behavior.

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Meehan settled a sexual misconduct complaint with the former aide, who was decades younger than Meehan and whose name has not been made public.

Meehan on Tuesday told the New York Times that the aide “specifically invited” his communications, and said the aide’s expression that she was not comfortable with his overtures “really” hurt his feelings.

“This was a person who specifically invited communication with me so that she would be able to have the ability to be there for me,” Meehan said. “That I would find later that that was not something that she was comfortable with, really hurts me.”

“I didn’t do anything wrong,” he also claimed.

Meehan told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday that he considered the aide a “soul mate” but did not pursue a relationship with her, and reacted badly when she told him she was in a relationship because he was stressed about the Obamacare repeal effort.

“Sometimes I have the tendency to lash out to others on the staff,” he said, “and you go hardest on the ones that you care the most about.”

Meehan said he “developed an affection” for the aide but told her that he was “happily married” and “not interested in a relationship, particularly not any sexual relationship” and remained loyal to his wife.

“But we were soul mates,” Meehan said. “I think that the idea of soul mate is that sort of person that you go through remarkable experiences together.”

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Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), who was recently booted from House Ethics Committee, on Tuesday said he did not pursue a relationship with a younger aide who later accused him of sexual harassment and retaliation, but nevertheless considered her “a soul mate.”

The New York Times reported over the weekend that Meehan settled a sexual misconduct complaint with the former aide.

Meehan told Philly.com that he “developed an affection” for the decades-younger aide, whose name has not been made public, and “was struggling to make sure” that it would not affect their “professional relationship.”

“Sometimes I have the tendency to lash out to others on the staff,” Meehan said, “and you go hardest on the ones that you care the most about.”

Meehan claimed that he lashed out against the aide when she told him she was in a relationship because he was stressed about Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare.

He said he later sent the aide a congratulatory letter about her relationship so that he “didn’t let that kind of thing which was growing just as a natural result of a relationship to step into a place that it ought not be.”

In the letter, Meehan called the aide “a complete partner” who brought him “much happiness.”

Meehan said he told the aide that he was “happily married” and “not interested in a relationship, particularly not any sexual relationship.”

“But we were soul mates,” he said. “I think that the idea of soul mate is that sort of person that you go through remarkable experiences together.”

Meehan claimed that he remained loyal to his wife throughout and said that “in hindsight” he should have considered his position of power over the aide, but claimed “there is no hierarchy” in his office.

“We call it team Meehan,” he said.

Meehan said he would repay the settlement, which he referred to as a “severance” and which was paid from public funds, if the committee he serves on determines that his behavior constituted harassment.

The New York Times on Saturday reported that the settlement payment was paid out from a congressional office fund and totaled thousands of dollars.

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he is “not at all concerned” that Attorney General Jeff Sessions sat for an interview last week as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Are you concerned at all about what the attorney general told the special counsel?” a reporter asked Trump during a photo opportunity at the White House.

“No. I’m not at all concerned. Not at all,” Trump replied.

“Did you talk to him about it?” a reporter pressed.

“No, I didn’t, but I’m not at all concerned,” Trump said. “Thank you all very much.”

The New York Times first reported on Tuesday that the interview took place last week and lasted for several hours. Sessions in March 2017 recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian meddling, which led to Mueller’s appointment to take over the probe.

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