Politico

Trump again pushes claim FBI informant planted for political purposes

President Donald Trump suggested Friday that an FBI informant who made contact with his campaign during the 2016 election was "paid a fortune," boosting the unsubstantiated allegation a "spy" was implanted in his campaign for political purposes.

"The Democrats are now alluding to the the [sic] concept that having an Informant placed in an opposing party’s campaign is different than having a Spy, as illegal as that may be," the president wrote in a series of tweets. "But what about an 'Informant' who is paid a fortune and who 'sets up' way earlier than the Russian Hoax?"

He added: "Can anyone even imagine having Spies placed in a competing campaign, by the people and party in absolute power, for the sole purpose of political advantage and gain? And to think that the party in question, even with the expenditure of far more money, LOST!"

Trump over the past week has hammered officials in the Department of Justice over the revelation an informant was used to make contact with his campaign team as part of the FBI's investigation into Russian election meddling in 2016.


Trump tweeted Wednesday that "SPYGATE could be one of the biggest political scandals in history!"

Democratic officials have pushed back on allegations that the FBI's use of an informant constitutes spying on the Trump campaign, as the president and his allies have alleged.

White House chief of staff John Kelly attended two briefings at the DOJ on Thursday regarding the FBI informant. The presence of White House officials at the summits, scheduled to allow lawmakers to review classified materials about the federal probes into Russian meddling, drew sharp rebukes from Democratic officials.


Border Patrol union chief calls Trump troop deployment 'a colossal waste'

President Donald Trump's decision to deploy members of the National Guard to the southern U.S. border with Mexico is "a colossal waste of resources," according to the leader of a union representing members of the U.S. Border Patrol.

National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd, who represents roughly 15,000 agents, panned the measure that the president implemented last month to beef up border security and curb illegal immigration, regarding it as fruitless, according to a Los Angeles Times report released late Thursday. "We have seen no benefit," Judd said.

"When I found out the National Guard was going to be on the border, I was extremely excited," the union chief said, pointing to the impact that past troop deployments have had in easing functions for the Border Patrol.

But he added that this time around, "that has not happened at all."

The criticism marks a departure for a group that during the 2016 elections endorsed Trump's presidential run and hailed his push to tighten border security. It was the first time the union had endorsed a presidential candidate.


The president in April activated a plan to dispatch National Guard troops to the border, with Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen announcing at the time the move was intended to help alleviate the task of border patrol agents.

The action mirrored that of his immediate predecessors, with President George W. Bush having deployed roughly 6,000 members of the National Guard from 2006 to 2008 and President Barack Obama sending about 1,200 National Guard members to the border in 2010.

For his push, Trump garnered commitments from governors to deploy 1,600 National Guards troops to states bordering Mexico, though the president initially sought 2,000 to 4,000 to be deployed.

A Border Patrol spokeswoman told the Times that the troops deployed have assisted with 3,924 deportations, 1,116 "turn backs" of migrants into Mexico and the seizure of 3,486 pounds of marijuana.


Explosion in Toronto suburb restaurant wounds 15 people

TORONTO — An explosion caused by an “improvised explosive device” ripped through an Indian restaurant in a mall in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, wounding 15 people, Canadian police said.

Peel Region Sergeant Matt Bertram said two suspects with their faces covered to conceal their identity entered the Bombay Bhel restaurant late Thursday, dropped some sort of IED device and fled.

“We have no indication to call it a hate crime or any kind of terrorism act,” Bertram said.

Peel Region paramedic Joe Korstanje said three people suffered critical injuries and were taken to the hospital while the remaining 12 victims suffered what he described as minor and superficial injuries. Police later updated the condition of the three critically injured patients to stable.

The explosion happened just after 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, and the plaza where the restaurant is located was still sealed off on Friday.

“Nothing was said by these individuals,” Bertram said. “It appears they just went in, dropped off this device, and took off right away.”


Bertram said they couldn’t say what the device was yet.

“Different callers called in and said it was firecrackers or some said gunshot sort of noises. I don’t think it was an explosion that was rocking anything,” he said. “Until we can get in there and analyze the material after the search warrant we won’t be able to say what it was.”

Andre Larrivee, who lives in a nearby condo, said he was watching television and heard a loud explosion

“It was really loud,” he said, comparing the noise to an electric generator that had exploded at a nearby construction site recently.

Police asked for the public’s help and released a photo of the suspects, with dark hoodies pulled over their heads and their faces covered.

Peel region police, in a tweet, described the first suspect as in his mid-20s, 5-foot-10 to 6-feet with a stocky build, wearing dark blue jeans, a dark zip-up hoodie and a baseball cap with a light gray peak.

The second suspect is described as a little shorter with a thin build, wearing faded blue jeans, a dark zip-up hoodie pulled over his head, gray T-shirt and dark colored skate shoes.

Hours after the incident, the Indian consulate in Toronto tweeted it had opened a helpline for those seeking assistance following the explosion. Vikas Swarup, India’s High Commissioner to Canada, tweeted that India’s Consul General in Toronto visited the injured in the hospital. He also said that the three Indian-Canadians who were reported to be critically injured are stable.

The restaurant describes itself online as an authentic, yet casual, Indian dining experience. Police said the plaza would be sealed off all night.


Tech scrambles to shape U.S. privacy debate as EU rules loom


The debut of Europe’s sweeping new digital privacy law has some U.S. lawmakers — and a few American tech giants — raising the idea of importing some version of it to the United States.

Facing mounting pressure over its privacy practices, and with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation going into effect Friday, Silicon Valley is scrambling to shape the policy discussion as it seeps across the Atlantic. Microsoft and the big cloud computing company Salesforce have both called for some kind of national privacy regulations, while IBM has talked about adopting voluntary industry standards that could head off government mandates.

Either way, many in the tech world say avoiding the subject is no longer a viable option.

“In the last six to 12 months, it’s become very clear that doing nothing could be the recipe for very onerous and cumbersome regulation,” Chris Padilla, IBM’s vice president for government and regulatory affairs, told POLITICO.

The debate is erupting as the tech industry has faced growing scrutiny in Washington during the past year and a half from both the left and right — over everything from social media's role in the 2016 election to the exposure of user data in the Cambridge Analytica case to the notion that Silicon Valley may be biased against conservatives. And as lawmakers get practice acting as a check on tech, regulation that once seemed highly unlikely suddenly seems somewhat more plausible.


A bill holding digital platforms more responsible for online sex trafficking, for example, once seemed even to some advocates like a longshot. But President Donald Trump signed it into law in April.

For any U.S. leaders interested in further clamping down on the tech industry, the European Union's new regulation provides a potential model to follow.

At its core, the complex GDPR strengthens citizens’ right to say how data about them can be used, giving them the power to correct, delete and freely move their information from one service to another. It’s enforceable through fines up to a whopping 4 percent of a company’s global annual revenue — penalties that could amount to billions of dollars for U.S. tech firms found to be violating its requirements.

Facebook, Google and other U.S.-based internet companies have to comply with the rule for their European users, but they have been fuzzy on how they will apply the restrictions in the U.S.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress last month that he supported “in principle” U.S. regulation enshrining the standard, established by GDPR, that users must proactively consent to the use of their data by internet companies. But shortly afterward, Zuckerberg said the American approach to privacy should reflect the United States’ “different sensibilities.“


Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has perhaps been the most explicit in his remarks. “[I]t’s time for an American GDPR to protect consumers at home,” he tweeted last week. “This can be the foundation of trust between technology and customers. The European GDPR privacy law means Europeans have ownership and control of their personal data. Now we need one.”

And Microsoft got attention this week for saying that it will "extend the rights that are at the heart of GDPR to all of our consumer customers worldwide.” The software giant said it has long advocated for national privacy regulation, though it stopped sort for calling for the full importation of the European rules.

IBM has gone a different route. Rejecting the idea that GDPR and its top-down approach “should be simply grafted” onto the U.S. system, the company has floated the idea of voluntary industry standards that could win the backing of government and stave off regulation. It’s a similar model to the private-public framework on cybersecurity created after President Barack Obama floated the idea of regulating how private companies address threats to critical digital infrastructure.

Some in the tech industry say they've been prompted to action not only by Europe's moves, but by the erosion of user trust sparked by data scandals at Facebook and Uber, and the possibility of state-level rules like a consumer privacy ballot measure that's gained traction California.

But also lighting a fire under them to engage publicly, they say, is the fact that even politicians in Washington who have traditionally taken a hands-off approach to the tech industry are beginning to raise the specter of regulation.


Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) told POLITICO in an interview last week that Americans, seeing Europeans' new privacy protections, are going to start demanding the same.

And on Thursday, Markey and colleagues Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) introduced a Senate resolution "encouraging" companies to voluntarily apply the protections included in GDPR to Americans.

That might be expected talk for those Democrats, many of whom have long pushed for stronger consumer protection laws in the United States. But far more surprising — and concerning — to the tech industry is that it's starting to see the idea of regulation being raised by free-market Republicans.

House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), for example, raised eyebrows for saying, when asked about regulating tech at an event this year, "If responsibility doesn’t flow, then regulation will."

That sentiment was echoed by Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) during last month's hearing with Zuckerberg over the Cambridge Analytica controversy. Warned Thune: "In the past, many of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle have been willing to defer to tech companies' efforts to regulate themselves. But this may be changing."

Those in and around the tech industry describe recent rounds of meetings and calls aimed at figuring out to how navigate the new landscape.

“The overwhelming majority of our companies support the idea of protecting and advancing a fundamental right to privacy,” said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents companies like Amazon, Apple and Facebook.

That said, he added, "They want to be thoughtful — certainly more thoughtful than GDPR — in figuring out how to do that in the United States effectively.”


Surging gas prices could fuel backlash against Trump


President Donald Trump is hoping a wave of tax-cut-fueled economic euphoria will boost his approval ratings and his party’s political fortunes this fall. A sharp spike in gas prices could slam the brakes on all of that.

As Americans head out for traditional Memorial Day weekend road trips, they’ll confront gas prices of nearly $3 a gallon, the highest since 2014 and a 25 percent spike since last year.

The increased cost of fuel is already wiping out a big chunk of the benefit Americans received from the GOP tax cuts. And things could get worse as summer approaches following the administration’s standoff with Iran and a move by oil-producing nations to tighten supplies.

The result: The economic and political benefits Trump and the GOP hoped to reap from cutting tax rates could be swamped by higher pump prices that Americans face every time they hit the road.

“If you look at the benefits of what households are getting from lower rates, roughly one-third of that is wiped out if these higher gas prices are sustained,” said Ellen Zentner, chief U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley. “And when we drive down the street, every block we see glaring signs about how much gas costs that day and it’s all over the media. The tax cuts were a one-off. It’s a one-time level shift in your paycheck that you are not reminded of every day.”


The economic impact of higher gas prices is already stark.

Morgan Stanley estimated that if prices remain at current levels, they would cost U.S. households an additional $38 billion this year. Using Joint Committee on Taxation data, it estimated the tax-cut bill would reduce individual taxes by about $128 billion in 2018. And it gets even worse for Trump.

The increase in gas prices is felt most heavily by lower-income Americans — especially in the South where people drive the most — who received the smallest share of the tax-cut benefits. So the increase could hit Trump’s blue-collar Southern base the hardest while potentially eroding confidence in the economy and tamping down consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic output.

So far, consumer spending remains fairly strong as higher wages and lower taxes encourage people to open their wallets. But the first clear impact of higher gas prices emerged in the latest retail sales figures, which showed a 0.3 percent decline in spending at restaurants and bars. Typically, the first area households cut back when feeling pinched is going out to eat. Spending on travel, tourism and apparel, among other categories, could also wind up declining if fuel prices keep rising.

“Gas prices will reduce the benefits of the tax cut by at least one-third, but I think the impact may actually be much larger than that because the bulk of the tax cuts go to high-income households who aren’t going to spend much of it,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “Gas prices mean less today than they did 20 years ago, but they still mean a lot, especially to those folks living on the margins in lower and lower-middle income groups.”


Higher gas prices can trickle out to nearly every sector of the economy.

When prices fell in 2014 and 2015, they hit the profits of oil giants but left everyone else with more money to spend, helping lift everything from dining out to home sales — and contributing to a boost in overall gross domestic product.

The reverse may now also be true. Higher gas prices will lead to stronger profits for oil and gas companies, but less spending on everything else and potentially higher inflation.

If prices continue to rise, consumers will feel the pinch not just at the pump but in what they pay to heat their homes and for virtually any product that is delivered to their home or the store in cars and trucks.

“The price of oil and inflation are positively — and highly — correlated,” wrote Scott Anderson, chief economist at Bank of the West, in a recent note to clients. “In other words, as oil prices increase or decrease, inflation moves in the same direction.”

A spike in inflation could push the Federal Reserve to add another interest rate hike this year, further pushing up the cost of borrowing on everything from credit cards to home purchases. Mortgage rates are already rising, and a further increase could reduce home purchases and all the household formation spending that goes along with them.


None of the negative impacts from higher gas prices are guaranteed.

Many analysts view the price spikes as temporary, noting that a decline in political uncertainty in the Middle East could push prices lower. The U.S. is also far less dependent on imported oil than it was during the oil shock of the late 1970s. And Americans spend less now on gas given alternative energy sources and more efficient cars.

But such a sharp spike in prices still has real economic and psychological impacts that could easily blow away any benefits from a tax-cut bill Americans already have mixed feelings about.

A study released this week by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York showed that only 37 percent of households believe they will be better off a year from now because of the tax cuts, while 47 percent expect no change and 16 percent think they will be worse off.

Higher gas prices, meanwhile, act as an immediate tax on consumers and make people feel poorer.

“There’s still a positive impact from the tax cut, but it tells a little different story when the tax cuts are seen against the backdrop of higher gas prices,” Zentner said. “It changes the narrative a little bit.”


Trump takes aim at the family car with new tariff threat

Americans could see a 25 percent spike in the price tag on their family cars if President Donald Trump goes through with a threat to slap tariffs on imported automobiles, trucks and parts, sparking a wave of outrage from Trump’s own political allies.

Acting on instructions from Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross late Wednesday launched an investigation into whether automotive imports pose a national security threat, a move that could lead to penalties boosting the cost of a $20,000 car by $5,000. With a price shock like that, the real threat would be to Americans’ financial security, business and GOP leaders said.

Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who worked closely with Trump to pass last year’s tax reform bill, called the new investigation “deeply misguided.”

“Taxing cars, trucks and auto parts coming into the country would directly hit American families who need a dependable vehicle, whether they choose a domestic or a global brand,” Hatch said.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) criticized the Trump administration for launching the probe under the “false pretense” that car imports pose a threat to national security, which he said “invites retaliation and weakens our credibility on actual trade disputes.”


It was just the latest in a series of trade moves that’s straining Trump’s relations with fellow Republicans. He’s already raised tariffs on steel and aluminum, threatened to withdraw from NAFTA if Canada and Mexico don’t agree to new terms and brought the United States to the brink of a trade war with China.

The president says he’s shielding American industries with his latest protectionist move. But in an era when manufacturers rely on supplies from multiple countries to make complex products like cars, business leaders worry his tactics could backfire.

“If this proposal is carried out, it would deal a staggering blow to the very industry it purports to protect and would threaten to ignite a global trade war,” Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue said in a statement.

Instead of going through normal trade mediation channels, Trump is using authority under Section 232 of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act to impose penalties if imports are deemed a threat to national security. He used that authority already to slap a 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum. The Commerce Department said the imports of those metals undermined the long-term viability of domestic industry and were therefore a security threat.

Ross is now launching a similar probe on autos and auto parts, which could take up to 270 days to conclude. In an interview on CNBC on Thursday, the former businessman acknowledged it might not seem immediately obvious why someone's desire to buy a Honda or BMW poses a national security threat.

But under Section 232, "national security is broadly defined to include the economy, to include the impact on unemployment, to include a very big variety of things that one would not normally associate directly with military security," Ross said. "It is also the case that economic security is military security, and without economic security, you can't have military security."

Some analysts believe Trump’s move is a ploy to scare Canada and Mexico into agreeing to U.S. demands in the NAFTA talks by threatening the possibility that they could be hit with steep new tariffs on their auto and auto part exports to the United States.


But that would “really screw up” supply chains built between the three countries over the last 24 years of NAFTA, with the effect of making North America a much more expensive region to produce cars than Europe or Asia, said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Canadian officials on Thursday blasted the national security excuse for imposing tariffs.

The idea that cars made in Canada, very often by U.S. companies using U.S. parts, “could in any way pose a national security threat to the United States is frankly absurd," Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Ottawa.

Even U.S. business leaders and trade experts said the push to expand U.S. production makes no sense.

“In fact, the U.S. auto industry is prospering as never before,” the Chamber’s Donohue added in his statement. “Production has doubled over the past decade, it exports more than any other industry, and it employs nearly 50 percent more Americans than it did in 2011. These tariffs risk overturning all of this progress.”

Last year, the United States produced nearly 11 million vehicles — nearly half of which were built by foreign brand manufacturers at facilities in the United States.

The U.S. imported about 8.3 million cars. Top suppliers were Mexico (2.44 million) and Canada (1.83 million), followed by Japan (1.73 million), South Korea (929,419), Germany (491,587) and the United Kingdom (213,321) — all key allies of the United States.

It also exported 1.98 million vehicles, including 912,277 to Canada, 267,473 to China, 165,556 to Germany and 159,768 to Mexico.

Trump did find some cautious support — from unions. “I’m not going to say that I'm 100 percent behind it because I don't know what all those mechanics are yet,” but American workers have been getting the "short end of the stick" on trade for many years, said United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, who leads a union of 430,000 members.

Adam Behsudi and Megan Cassella contributed to this report.


Poll: Menendez lead narrows to just 4 points over GOP foe Hugin

Sen. Bob Menendez holds a razor-thin four-point lead over his likely Republican rival in November’s general election, according to a new poll, indicating the New Jersey Democrat is still suffering from a post-corruption-trial hangover.

Menendez, who successfully beat back federal bribery charges only to face a bipartisan admonishment by the Senate Ethics Committee, has the support of 28 percent of registered voters in his reelection bid, according to the latest survey from Fairleigh Dickinson University. The likely Republican nominee, former pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin, recorded support at 24 percent among the 856 people surveyed.

The new poll results are significantly worse for Menendez than two previous surveys, both of which had him up by double digits over Hugin. In April, Monmouth University recorded a 21-point lead for Menendez. A month earlier, Quinnipiac University released a survey that had him up 17 points.

“Senator Menendez’s recent federal trial and bipartisan censure by his Senate colleagues are clearly taking their toll,” Krista Jenkins, the director of the poll, said in a statement that accompanied the poll results. “It’s not uncommon for incumbents to cruise to reelection, but these numbers suggest he’s going to have to woo voters like he hasn’t had to in a long time.”

Menendez, New Jersey’s senior senator, escaped legally unscathed last year when a jury could not reach a verdict on any of the 13 charges alleging he accepted gifts from his friend and co-defendant, Florida eye doctor Salomon Melgen, in exchange for official favors and that he failed to disclose those gifts on his Senate financial disclosure documents. The charges were officially dismissed in January after the Justice Department said it would not seek another trial.

But the Senate Ethics Committee concluded last month that Menendez did break federal law, issuing a scathing letter of admonishment and ordering him to pay back the value of the gifts he received from Melgen. The latest poll was conducted after the admonishment, which brought the accusations against the senator back into the headlines.

The episode continues to take a toll on the senator, with 39 percent of those surveyed saying they view Menendez unfavorably and 32 percent saying they view him favorably. That’s actually an improvement from the 57 percent unfavorable rating he recorded last year. But he still remains out of favor with some in his own party, with a fifth of Democrats saying they view him unfavorably.

To be sure, it’s still early, and that was reflected in the poll results, which showed 46 percent of registered voters are undecided about their general-election choice for the Senate seat.

And more than half of those surveyed — 57 percent — said they had never heard of Hugin, the former chief executive and chairman of Celgene, a New Jersey-based drugmaker. About a fifth of those polled said they had a favorable opinion of him, while 10 percent had an unfavorable opinion. This is the first time FDU has polled Hugin.

It’s good for Menendez, Jenkins said, that the ethics reprimand came in April and not later in the year.

“He has time before November to reclaim a more favorable place in the heart of his constituents,” Jenkins said. “Both men will pick up considerably more support as the race progresses, as the undecideds begin to break for the candidate who shares their partisan leanings. With New Jersey a more Democratic state, Menendez is likely to pick up more of this group than Hugin.”

The FDU poll, conducted between May 16 and 21, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.


Why a storied lobbying firm gambled on Michael Cohen

When Edward Newberry, a top lobbyist for Squire Patton Boggs, started telling people last year that his firm planned to team up with President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, several people tried to talk him out of it.

Cohen was unpredictable, three people who spoke with Newberry — and who were familiar with both the firm and Cohen’s reputation — say they told him at the time. One described Cohen as "a bull in a china shop." Another warned that Cohen could be the next Jack Abramoff, who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2008 on corruption charges.

Squire Patton Boggs — a top Washington firm that lobbies for blue-chip clients, including Coca-Cola, Samsung and UnitedHealth — struck up a "strategic alliance" with Cohen, anyway. Cohen never did any lobbying, according to the firm, but he gave Squire Patton Boggs an undeniable connection to the new administration. Cohen would use his clout to help Squire Patton Boggs land clients; in return, the firm would give him an office and a $500,000 retainer, plus commissions on the business he brought in.


The alliance came to an end last month as FBI agents raided the office the firm had given Cohen in New York. The embarrassment was compounded weeks later when it was revealed that Cohen had been running a side business advising corporate clients out of his Squire Patton Boggs office — something the firm says it knew nothing about.

The firm's gamble on Cohen was supposed to help position Squire Patton Boggs — which spent more than a decade as the top firm on K Street but has struggled in recent years with declining lobbying revenue — for success in the Trump era.

Cohen was one of small group of New Yorkers and campaign veterans who could claim a genuine connection to Trump, and Squire Patton Boggs as well as corporations that hired Cohen for advice were eager to do business with him.

But Cohen's business dealings have since drawn the scrutiny of the special counsel investigating the 2016 campaign. While there's no indication any of Cohen's work with Squire Patton Boggs is under investigation, the alliance has become a touchy subject for the firm amid unanswered questions about what Cohen was up to at is Rockefeller Center offices in Manhattan.

"It certainly doesn't help the image of the firm, and image is something that's very important both for business development and recruitment," said Ivan Adler, a headhunter for the McCormick Group who specializes in recruiting lobbyists. "I think they still have a chance to admit that it was a mistake."

Unlike AT&T and Novartis, which secretly hired Cohen to advise them on the new administration, Squire Patton Boggs hasn't expressed regret for its work with Cohen. And it's not clear what repercussions, if any, have taken place inside the firm. There have been no public revelations of clients leaving or top staffers forced out.

The firm hasn’t said much about what Cohen’s work entailed.

Squire Patton Boggs has said Cohen referred to it five clients, but it won't divulge their identities or say whether any of them remain clients. (The Wall Street Journal revealed that one was U.S. Immigration Fund, a Florida company that paid the firm $370,000 last year in lobbying fees.)

Angelo Kakolyris, a spokesman for the firm, wrote in a text message that "they are almost all legal clients" for which the firm isn't lobbying.

Newberry, who did not respond to requests for comment, and other leaders at the firm have given no interviews about why they teamed up with Cohen and kept working with him after he was swept up in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Cohen, who initially joined the Trump Organization in 2007, has drawn special counsel Robert Mueller’s attention.


The alliance with Cohen "was in keeping with our posture as a global, multi-practice law firm," Kakolyris said in a statement. Cohen "did not work on firm matters or provide advice to any firm clients. We have no insight into his activities that are the subject of the Government's investigation, which do not relate to our firm or its clients."

Squire Patton Boggs faced questions about its alliance with Cohen from the start. But the firm said at the time that it had taken steps to make sure the arrangement was above board.

"It was carefully vetted from multiple perspectives, including an examination of ethical requirements," the firm said in a statement to POLITICO last year when the alliance was announced.

Patton Boggs, the forerunner to the current firm, spent years as the top lobbying shop on K Street under Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., the legendary lobbyist who built the firm into a powerhouse. But the firm stumbled as it grew, leading to layoffs and then a merger with the larger law firm Squire Sanders in 2014. Many of its lobbyists left for other firms, and Boggs himself died later that year.

Squire Patton Boggs still employed some of Washington's most prominent lobbyists when Trump was elected, including former Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.). John Boehner had joined the firm a year after stepping down as House speaker (although he isn't registered to lobby); former Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) joined the firm in 2015 after leaving Congress and carved out a niche as a pro-Trump pundit on cable news during the 2016 campaign.

But the firm's lobbying revenue in 2016 slipped to $19 million — less than half of what it brought in four years earlier. That made it fall from its position as the No. 1 firm on K Street, to become No. 6. The firm appeared eager to get back on top in the Trump era.

“Trump has pledged to change things in Washington — about draining the swamp,” Lott told The New York Times after the election. “He is going to need some people to help guide him through the swamp — how do you get in and how you get out? We are prepared to help do that.”

Squire Patton Boggs was far from the only lobbying shop that sought Trump bona fides after the election. Other Trump insiders have gone to work for big firms such as Mercury and Holland & Knight.


Cohen never registered as a lobbyist, but he made millions consulting for companies looking for someone who could help explain the dynamics of the White House.

Squire Patton Boggs has rebounded somewhat under Trump, bringing in more than $24 million last year. It's not clear whether Cohen had anything to do with that success. The firm signed more than 30 new clients in the year between its announcement of the alliance with Cohen and the FBI raid last month, but eight of them reached by POLITICO said Cohen played no role in their decisions to hire Squire Patton Boggs.

Talcott Franklin, the chief operating officer of Secure/Higher Education, which hired Squire Patton Boggs in March to lobby on programs to prevent sexual assault, said in an email that he didn’t even know of the connection.

"I had no idea that Michael Cohen had anything to do with Squire Patton Boggs," Franklin said.


De Blasio emails show mayor privately seething at press

A trove of email correspondence between Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration and the consulting firm BerlinRosen released Thursday reveals the mayor’s disgust with the city's press corps.

The emails show an angry and petulant mayor reacting to criticism of him dating back to his first year in office. Aides are shown attempting to devise strategies that would allow the administration to get its message out without relying on reporters. The mayor's wife, Chirlane McCray, proposed that “we create our own click-bait. Our own topical, lively, unconventional, sometimes fun, sometimes controversial content.”

The mayor's testy relationship with the press has been well-documented. But the 4,251 pages of emails show the depth of the animus for specific news outlets, including The New York Times, and suggest an administration that felt itself under siege by what it perceived as hostile news coverage.

The mayor, his senior advisers and McCray disparage articles that criticize him and, at one point, suggest a “prolonged paid media campaign” instead of relying on “earned media” to write about the controversial issue of police reform.

De Blasio was particularly angry with criticism of his late-morning gym visit during a police standoff with a shooter on Staten Island in 2015. He fired off an email to aides beginning with, “the news media is pitiful and it’s sad for our city and nation.”

“We can make a conscience [sic] decision to surrender to them and just go to fires, crime scenes and memorials all day every day — or we can govern,” he continued on Aug. 14, 2015, before laying out suggestions to alter his strategy. He concluded by vowing, “They will never defeat us. Only we can do that. Let's get tighter, clearer, faster, better.”

In that email chain, de Blasio said he was warned that several union leaders might attack him over the incident and told his staff, “I need a scorecard tmrw re: who was a friend and who was cheap.”

“Ironically, the firefighters and officers I encountered were overwhelmingly warm and appreciative, including the members of Engine 158 who I spoke with at the hospital. I know this too shall pass, but let's deal with these bastards,” he wrote.

Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association President Pat Lynch, assuming the line was an attack on him, issued a statement Thursday evening referring to “Mayor de Blasio’s thin-skinned arrogance.” Eric Phillips, de Blasio’s spokesman, said he wasn’t referring to Lynch or police officers, for whom he has “the utmost respect.”

Respect was not a word the mayor used for The New York Times.

“What did I say about how disappointing the nyt has become…?” de Blasio wrote to a group of City Hall staffers on Sept. 16, 2015, in response to an article about his plan to turn around underperforming schools.

The piece discussed the high cost and political risk of the plan, and noted Republican opposition in Albany.

Karen Hinton, de Blasio’s former press secretary, responded that the reporter had another “very good” story in the paper and may have “felt the need to criticize to balance it out.”

“I think this is disgusting,” the mayor wrote back. “She provides no balance whatsoever on the overall plan. Yes, the computer science story was good, but this story is about much more and is extremely biased. We need to figure out a new paradigm with the Times. This level of bias can't be ignored. Either starve them or reason with them or something else — but this is ridiculous.”

He derided another Times story about his shifting political strategies as “idiotic.” The piece, he said, served as “a staggering reminder of the sad state of media that this is how they choose to use space that could be better spent covering real problems for nyers.”

Those exchanges would ordinarily be exempt from public disclosure, but de Blasio included Jonathan Rosen, a principal at BerlinRosen, in his salty replies to the group.

City Hall argued that Rosen, one of his longest-serving and — at the time — closest political advisers, was tantamount to a municipal employee and his emails with the mayor were therefore protected from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law.

The mayor’s team extended that designation to four other outside advisers it classified as “agents of the city,” their staff and anyone who worked on his now-defunct political fundraising operation, Campaign for One New York.

News outlets NY1 and the New York Post won a lawsuit earlier this month forcing City Hall to release the emails.

The lawsuit, which Phillips said cost the city “more than zero and less than [a] minimal [amount],” resulted in Thursday’s release of previously redacted and withheld emails. The city is expected to continue turning over correspondence between the mayor and other outside advisers, which POLITICO first sought through a freedom of information request in July 2014.

After a summer during which crises seemed to pile up — from his feud with Gov. Andrew Cuomo to his unsuccessful effort to regulate for-hire vehicles — de Blasio had a rare mea culpa moment.

“Our problem is that as a team we have all (led by me) absolutely sucked at
laying down the predicate on this issue,” he wrote about his administration’s handling of the city’s homelessness crisis, which he later described as his biggest regret.

But he also began making plans with his team to curtail the media’s access to him and find new avenues and reporters who might offer more favorable coverage.

After The Atlantic’s Molly Ball published a profile of him in mid-November 2015, de Blasio vowed to stop cooperating with reporters writing profiles.

“Now I HAVE read this and it's horrible. I strongly advise we avoid profiles from now on, especially from national publications. … We gave her a shitload of time!” he wrote. “Really shocking how bad and unfair it is. I have no use for these people. Let's just do the work and go right around the so-called referees.”

Shot through the correspondence is de Blasio’s particular anger with The New York Times.

“It just dawned on me how totally fucked up it is that the Times has turned down the only 2 op-eds I've offered in 16 months, both on very weighty topics,” he wrote to advisers in April 2015, as he recommended setting up a meeting with the paper’s editorial leadership.

He also set about trying to cultivate some specific reporters.

In May, 2015, he informed his top advisers he was “open to taking the challenge and starting to woo certain media, at least on an experimental basis. Let's start with alex burns,” he said, referring to a New York Times political reporter.

He was thrilled with a story that appeared in Newsday about his comments on what the 2016 election year would mean for the national liberal movement, and recommended his press staff contact the reporter who wrote it. “Ok, well at least ONE reporter understands what I'm talking about! :), ” he wrote.

In October 2015, de Blasio was particularly pleased with an interview on MNSBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I think we've gone from a troubled situation last year with MoJo to a better one,” de Blasio emailed his staff. “We should determine how best to use them in our line-up of options.” He has since become a semi-regular guest on the show and declared Sept. 19, 2017, to be “Morning Joe Day.”

The mayor’s disdain for the reporters who cover him reached a fever pitch when he came under scrutiny amid federal and state investigations into his campaign fundraising efforts. In October 2016, he called the New York Post a “right wing rag” and refused to answer questions from the paper’s reporters.

Eight months later, he delivered a sustained diatribe against the media in a one-on-one interview with the editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed.

The emails include frenetic exchanges among de Blasio’s staff, Rosen and the mayor’s campaign and government attorneys about how to respond to requests about the mayor’s fundraising, in light of the federal investigation. Prosecutors did not end up bringing charges but chided the mayor’s practice of doing favors for donors.

And the thousands of pages of correspondence, in addition to thousands already provided by City Hall, provide further evidence of the inextricable relationship between Rosen and the administration.

Rosen has advised the mayor since he served on the City Council 10 years ago, helped him win the 2013 mayoralty and was paid to work on his outside fundraising entity Campaign for One New York, which was at the center of the probes.

He often suggested people for jobs and board appointments, some of whom were chosen, weighed in on policy talks and helped edit speeches.

The mayor repeatedly turned to him for advice on everything from press management to political strategy, while BerlinRosen worked on behalf of real estate and labor clients with city business. The relationship was so familiar that de Blasio often had his scheduler ask if the mayor could hold important meetings or conduct fundraising calls at BerlinRosen’s Lower Manhattan offices.

In discussing the future of the New York Daily News amid rumors of it being sold in 2015, Rosen wrote, “Some rumor that his [plan] is to cut back on the print paper and make it a web play. The Hill now only comes out in print three days a week on session days. Rest online.”

“And that would be good for us, right? Or would that make the Post more dominant?” the mayor replied. “Or, conversely, would it hasten the demise of the Post — prob just wishful thinking.”


Trump donor to cut off GOP contributions over DACA

CHICAGO — A Chicago-area businessman who has donated more than $1 million to President Donald Trump is threatening to deny contributions to Republican candidates unless they act on an immigration bill before Congress.

David MacNeil, who employs 1,600 people through his Bolingbrook-based WeatherTech automotive company, told POLITICO in an interview that the issue has grown deeply personal, given that a top employee in his company could face deportation if a deal isn’t reached for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

MacNeil is the second prominent Chicago-area businessman and GOP donor in a week to cut off or threaten to withhold campaign contributions over the immigration debate. On Wednesday, former Exelon CEO John Rowe told POLITICO he would cut off resources to Republicans who refuse to sign on to a discharge petition that would force a vote on legislation related to so-called Dreamers, while rewarding those who did with contributions and fundraising events. Both Rowe and MacNeil belong to the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition, which is calling on GOP lawmakers to sign the DACA discharge petition.

“I’m saying this as a political donor who’s donated seven figures in the last couple of years: I will not donate anymore money to anyone who doesn’t support DACA, period,” MacNeil said in a phone call while traveling in Italy. “I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”


MacNeil is among the CEOs who backed Trump before the 2016 election, inspired by the campaign’s “Make America Great Again,” mantra. A Canadian emigrant who is now a U.S. citizen, MacNeil has long touted that his own products are made in America.

He underwrote a Trump fundraiser in Bolingbrook just before the 2016 election, then gave $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.

MacNeil said that a top-performing employee who has been with him for more than 10 years will represent the WeatherTech at the Governor’s Export Awards reception Thursday night, in which the company is a finalist. The employee was brought to the country as a toddler.

“She is a critically important employee and it would be a disaster if I were not able to legally employ her,” MacNeil said. “They should not be playing political football, political blackmail with people’s lives. If you think about how people feel, they wake up at 3 in the morning, wondering: Am I going to be deported?”


On Thursday, MacNeil said he sent emails to multiple staff members in GOP Rep. Peter Roskam’s office, urging him to sign on to a discharge petition before Congress. Roskam, who is locked in a competitive reelection race, represents the largest number of Dreamers of any Illinois congressional district. Illinois has the fourth-largest DACA population in the country.


GOP fundraiser: Ex-American spy helped Qatar hack emails

A top fundraiser for President Donald Trump has accused the Persian Gulf state of Qatar of conspiring with former American and British spies to hack and publicize his emails as part of a clandestine state-sponsored influence operation on U.S. soil.

In a new court filing, Elliott Broidy — who has faced scrutiny over his efforts to convince Trump and the U.S. government to adopt an aggressive stance against Qatar — alleges that former U.S.- and U.K.-trained intelligence operatives helped orchestrate cyberattacks on American citizens in an attempt to discredit their public standing.

Thursday’s court filing was prompted by new information about how Qatar used a private intelligence firm, Global Risk Advisors, to “coordinate and implement the hack,” and to recruit “cyber mercenaries” in various countries to execute the technical aspects of it, a lawyer for Broidy and his Broidy Capital Management firm told POLITICO.

“The amended complaint filed today reflects our more advanced knowledge of the conspiracy against Mr. Broidy and seeks to hold responsible persons and entities accountable,” said lawyer Lee Wolosky of the firm Boies Schiller Flexner, LLP. That includes “former U.S. and U.K. government personnel,” he said.

Wolosky, a former ambassador and senior counterterrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, said it is a crime for anyone to hack into the emails of a U.S. citizen. But it is tantamount to “an act of war,” he said, “when such an attack is orchestrated by a foreign government.”

“In this lawsuit, we are asking that Qatar be held accountable for its support of terrorism in any form — offline or online,” Wolosky said. “When foreign sovereigns are alleged to have committed crimes, sovereign immunity principles should not shield them from accountability in our courts.”


The amended complaint is part of a lawsuit Broidy has been pressing against the Qatari government since March in a California federal court. The suit accuses Qatar of hacking Broidy’s emails and funneling them to reporters through Republican operative Nick Muzin in order to neutralize Broidy’s effectiveness as an anti-Qatar influence on the Trump White House.

Several outlets — including the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal and the Hollywood Reporter — have published articles based on Broidy’s stolen emails. Broidy recently subpoenaed the AP for information about the source of the hacked emails.

Broidy’s suit is one of the first attempts to hold a foreign government accountable in an American court for digital espionage operations.

Qatar has strenuously denied Broidy’s allegations, describing them in a statement issued Thursday by its embassy in Washington as being “completely fabricated and without merit.”

In Broidy’s latest filing, the Republican fundraiser expands his original lawsuit to also name Mohammad bin Hamad Khalifa al Thani, the brother of Qatar’s current head of state, and Ahmed al-Rumaihi, a U.S.-based Qatari operative who managed a $100 billion investment fund on behalf of the country's government.

The fund has become embroiled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian election meddling investigation as it expands to look at whether other countries sought to buy influence. Broidy has also drawn the interest of investigators because of his relationship with Trump, though a source close to Broidy denied Thursday that he is a person of interest in Mueller’s probe.

The lawsuit is part of a larger battle between Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that escalated dramatically last June, when the two Gulf nations imposed a blockade on Qatar to isolate it from land and sea commerce. Trump publicly backed the blockade, accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism and crediting Broidy with influencing his policy. Qatar was also hit with international sanctions.


In response, the Qatari government — through al Thani and al-Rumaihi, the two Qatari’s named in Thursday's filing — moved aggressively to improve its standing with the White House, according to the amended suit. The filing includes allegations about how Qatar tried to influence U.S. policy by using unregistered lobbyists, and by trying to buy a significant part of a conservative media website, Newsmax, favored by Trump and run by his friend Christopher Ruddy.

But the new filing also fills out the alleged details of the hacking campaign against Broidy. It claims that Qatar used Global Risk Advisors, LLC and its principals, Kevin Chalker and David Mark Powell, to coordinate the attack against him.

The document says Chalker is a former CIA cyber operative who runs GRA’s New York operations, and that Powell is a former British intelligence operative who opened the firm’s Qatar office in October 2017 — just weeks before the hacking campaign began.

Chalker, Powell and GRA, it alleges, “made it clear within that community that they had been retained to conduct or coordinate offensive cyber operations on behalf of Defendant State of Qatar.”

GRA did not respond to an email seeking comment on Thursday. Chalker and Powell could not be contacted for comment.

A spokesman for Al-Rumaihi also said the allegations were "completely meritless," and said he was no longer working for, or on behalf of, the Qatari government at the time in question.


Elon Musk Isn’t a Media Critic. He’s a Media Assassin.

Journalists love nothing more than to be slapped around, so Elon Musk’s sustained caning of them during the past few weeks has brought nothing but sunshine and smiles to newsrooms all over America. Directing his Twitter ack-ack at the press all day Tuesday, the tech titan behind Tesla and SpaceX blamed the press for the election of Donald Trump, damned reporters as “holier-than-thou” hypocrites and pitched the idea for a media-rating site called Pravda that would assess the credibility of news outlets.

“Problem is journos are under constant pressure to get max clicks & earn advertising dollars or get fired,” Musk tweeted. “Anytime anyone criticizes the media, the media shrieks ‘You’re just like Trump!’” he added, dismissing the reporters from Reveal who had published an exposé of safety conditions at the Tesla plant as “some rich kids in Berkeley who took their political science prof too seriously.”

While stitching shut the wounds that his blows had opened on its psyche, the press corps repelled Musk’s attack with blanket coverage in the New York Times, CNN, Time, the Washington Post, the BBC, Vanity Fair, BuzzFeed and elsewhere that made him look like a peevish nut.

But the joke was on the press. In slagging journalism, Musk wasn’t speaking for himself exclusively. He was mouthing the sentiments of his Silicon Valley brethren, from millionaires to billionaires, who disdain the news media as full-of-itself, inaccurate, trivia-obsessed objects of pity. Places like Facebook and Google look down on the press as once-dominant institutions whose advertising mojo and cultural primacy they made off with a decade ago. Amazon has such contempt for the press that it rarely answers queries from reporters. Steve Jobs established an equally controlling protocol at Apple, where he tamed and spoon-fed the press the messages that would redound to his company’s benefit. Apple has whitelisted some friendly reporters, giving them scoops, and blacklisted others, who are given nothing. Tech entrepreneurs like Musk believe that they’re doing god’s work—and you’ve got to admit that building a car company and a rocket company from scratch is pretty godly—and they hate being second-guessed by their inferiors, who might be only a couple of years out of journalism school and a couple of jobs into their careers.

Scorn for the press wasn’t invented in Silicon Valley. Reporters get Musk-quality guff from police department public information officers and from potentates working in other business sectors. But at least the cops and the businessmen still take calls from newsrooms. The tech crowd thinks that responding to the press—except at product-launch time, when a little publicity can help move units—is a waste of time. The press, in the Valley mindset, is a relic from the 20th century, a low-bandwidth, dying thing, like an AM radio that deserved to be ignored—and if not ignored, beaten like a mule for its stupidity. Inside their heads, the top techies, drunk on their billions, believe they belong to a glorious future of prosperity and choice and miracles and that paving over the past is the fastest way to get there.

Writing for the Guardian in 2016, the journalist Nellie Bowles caught Silicon Valley grinning when it learned that Facebook board member and billionaire investor Peter Thiel had financed the legal demolition of Gawker over the Hulk Hogan video. Gawker had the temerity to write about the private lives of tech big shots, and the consensus in the Valley was that Gawker had gotten what it deserved. Bowles pointed to this telling tweet by venture capitalist legend Vinod Khosla, who spoke for many of his valley pals when he wrote, “I’m glad #theil has ability to respond and willing to stand up for it. press gets very uppity when challenged.” For Khosla, the enemy wasn’t just provocateurs like Nick Denton at Gawker but the mainstream press. In another tweet, Khosla derided the New York Times as “click bait journalism.”

Tech disparagement of the press isn’t uniform. Jeff Bezos, whose Amazon declines to speak to the press with robotic regularity, rescued the Washington Post with his billions and has returned it to somewhere near its former glory. The billionaire founder of eBay, Pierre Omidyar, has bankrolled First Look Media, which publishes a scoopy and combative news site, The Intercept. But Bezos and Omidyar are outliers.


The Valley’s anti-press vision fails to acknowledge good reporting. The work of John Carreyrou, whose diligent and brave reporting in the Wall Street Journal broke the back of the blood-testing startup Theranos, cuts against the stereotype of journalists as meddlesome, know-nothing interlopers who prevent the Valley gods from delivering their boons to mankind. The press helped expose the fetid workplace culture of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Reporters deserve credit for belatedly holding Facebook to account. The Information has earned a reputation for accurate, substantial reporting on tech, so not all journalists need to cower before Musk’s fury.

But only a sliver of Musk’s complaint—his act of press criticism—concerns itself with accuracy. After all, he’s been the beneficiary of some of the most flattering profiles and news accounts going. He went interstellar on the asses of journalists this week not so much over the critical stories they’ve written but the fact that they have written at all. His main objection is all the scrutiny! The rich have rarely enjoyed being contradicted or second-guessed by the press. As the rich have become richer and richer—Musk has a net worth of almost $20 billion—their tolerance for criticism diminishes. Think of Musk’s outburst as the first fissure from a field of volcanoes that are overdue for an eruption.

******

Don’t miss Ben Smith’s column, which gives Musk a journalism lesson. As I finished this piece, Felix Salmon’s fine meditation on how Musk is beating the press arrived on my desktop. Send your meditations to Shafer.Politico@gmail.com. My email alerts pour Twitter lava into the fire-taming ocean that is my RSS feed.


Perez infuriates liberals with Cuomo endorsement

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez has said repeatedly that the national party shouldn’t, and won’t, endorse in primaries. But on Thursday, he stood on a Long Island stage and endorsed Andrew Cuomo, the New York governor who is facing a challenge from actress Cynthia Nixon.

The decision to pick favorites in a primary pits the DNC chair against the DNC deputy chair, Keith Ellison. And it has re-opened an ongoing internal fight within the party, while giving critics ammunition to question Perez’s leadership.

The New York race isn’t just any two Democrats fighting for the nomination: Nixon is making her race explicitly about a challenge from the left and the new progressive energy of the party that she says Cuomo is out of sync with. And she’s doing it with the support of many progressives in the state who identified with Bernie Sanders’ campaign.


It also comes as the DNC is trying to put the 2016 battles in the past, despite lingering suspicions among many Sanders supporters about Perez. He was elected chair last year over Ellison, who was backed by Sanders.

“I’ve not only admired Andrew Cuomo, I have admired the Cuomo family since my youth. I’ve admired what they stood for and what they fought for since I was a kid,” Perez said, in an appearance onstage at the New York state Democratic Convention Thursday morning at Hofstra University. “We often have debates about what wing of the Democratic Party we belong to.”

Perez rattled off Cuomo’s record of progressive accomplishments, from passing a $15 minimum wage to legalizing gay marriage and paid family leave.

Perez called Cuomo and his lieutenant governor running mate Kathy Hochul “charter members of the accomplishment wing of the Democratic Party” — seeming to echo a knock that Cuomo himself has made against Nixon and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio — and “that’s why I’m proud to endorse them."

Ellison was not on board with the decision. He was not told in advance about Perez’s decision to endorse Cuomo, a person familiar with the matter said.

Asked about Perez backing Cuomo, Ellison said in a statement, “The Democratic Party should not intervene in the primary process. It is our role to be fair to all contestants and let the voters decide.”


In March, when asked on C-SPAN about backing candidates in House primaries, Perez said the DNC should not endorse, as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had started doing.

“One thing we’ve learned at the DNC is that when you, in fact or in perception, are trying to put the thumb on the scale in a spirited primary, that can undermine public confidence in us,” Perez said.

Perez was answering a question about why the DNC did not take a position in the Democratic primary challenge from the left to another incumbent, Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski.

On Wednesday night, in an interview with the show “Democracy Now,“ Ellison made a sharp distinction about how the DNC and DCCC approach primaries.

Perez isn’t the only DNC officer to endorse Cuomo. Rep. Grace Meng and Assemblyman Mike Blake, both DNC vice chairs and New York elected officials, have endorsed him as well.

“It’s understandable that you have some that will feel this will make it harder for unity. However, unity and uniformity are not the same. We assess things on a case by case basis,” Blake said, pointing out that Cuomo received 95 percent of the support of the Democrats at the state convention, is a sitting incumbent and has known Perez for years.

Blake said the combination of those factors means “there’s a dramatic difference” between the New York race and the Georgia governor’s primary this past Tuesday, in which Perez argued that the DNC had to remain neutral and not back Stacey Abrams, who received support from across the country on her way to winning the nomination and potentially becoming the first black female governor in American history.

“We have to treat things relatively, not an exact science all the time,” Blake said.

Meng said that she was following what she saw as an exception for endorsing home state candidates.

L. Joy Williams, a Nixon senior adviser, tweeted her frustrations about the different approach in New York and Georgia.

“This is particularly interesting considering when we asked for help for #StaceyAbrams we were given the ‘we can't get involved in primaries’ line. I wonder what the bar is and who decides who meets it?” she wrote.

Last year, shortly after they were elected as officers, DNC officials signed an agreement to “not attend events or contribute to non-incumbent candidates that have primary challengers (presence could potentially be interpreted as support). However, all officers should feel free to publicly endorse and support incumbent Democratic elected officials.”

A DNC official cited Perez’s history with Cuomo and Hochul.

“Tom has a decades-long relationship with both Gov. Cuomo and Lt. Gov. Hochul. From knocking on doors for the governor’s dad in Buffalo to their work together on fair housing in the Clinton administration to their collaborative work during Tom’s tenure as labor secretary, the two have many shared accomplishments and developed a strong personal bond,” said the DNC official.


The DNC official added that the endorsement wouldn’t come with any spending for Cuomo. “We won’t be using DNC resources to support his bid over anyone else. And we certainly won’t be attacking any fellow Democrats running.”

Liberal activists did not appreciate the move.

“The entire reason we hold primaries is because voters should decide who’s on the ballot, and not party bosses,” said Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesman for MoveOn — a progressive group that has not endorsed in the race. “It’s wrong for those in charge of official party infrastructure to put their thumb on the scales and try to influence the outcome of elections before the primary voters who form the party’s grass-roots base have had a chance to cast their ballots.”

As some Nixon supporters called the endorsement evidence of a rigged process — there were also complaints about Hillary Clinton, who was twice elected senator from the state before running for president, coming to speak on Cuomo’s behalf Wednesday — the challenger’s campaign didn’t comment on Perez. Instead, it directed fire at the governor.

“Cuomo can cloak himself in all the endorsements he wants,” said Nixon spokeswoman Lauren Hitt, “but it won't hide the fact that he’s effectively governed as a Republican for eight years.”

Jimmy Vielkind contributed to this report.


The Art of No Deal With North Korea

President Donald Trump claims he knows how to make deals better than anyone. We are getting our chance to see his negotiating strategy live, as he tries to maneuver back into a position of strength with North Korea. For the past six months, Trump has been reacting to events both in North and South Korea and as a result, North Korea’s position has greatly improved at the expense of the United States. Now, by canceling the long-anticipated summit, Trump is trying to play hard to get with Kim, claiming that the meeting was “requested by North Korea” but cannot take place “at this time.”

Don’t be fooled. Trump wants the meeting as badly as ever, and will jump at the chance to reschedule if and when the time suits him.

Trump tried to recapture the initiative by accepting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s offer to meet face to face in March but since then has lost control of the narrative. Instead of putting the U.S. back into the driver’s seat, Trump has spent the past two months building expectations for the summit to an unsupportable level. Premature talk of Nobel prizes and succeeding where all previous administrations had failed in denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula eventually had to meet the hard reality that, even if North Korea were to agree to eliminate its nuclear weapons, doing so would take place only over a long period of time and in exchange for other things that can guarantee Kim’s security and his control of power inside North Korea.

The reality is that any denuclearization plan in North Korea has to take time. The size, scope and decades of effort by North Korea to produce its current arsenal make it impossible to eliminate it quickly, or to verify its elimination all at once. It is more likely than not that a credible verification and destruction process would take years, if it is even achievable, and as such the United States was having a hard time meeting the president’s desire to achieve instant denuclearization. There’s a reason national security adviser John Bolton was pushing for an all-at-once process with North Korea—because it was not possible and would kill any chance at a negotiated agreement. Bolton prefers regime change through strangulation or military intervention, as his voluminous writings on the subject make clear.

So, where do we go from here? All roads lead back to the negotiating table. South Korean President Moon Jae-in was just in Washington this week making clear that he strongly favors a summit and will do everything in his power to make it a success. He has banked not just his presidency but his career on reconciliation with the North, and was prepared to flatter and reward Trump for his agreement to pursue diplomacy with North Korea. Though South Korea appeared to have been blindsided by Trump’s letter, it will continue pressing for diplomatic engagement, as will China, which has consistently made clear it would not support anything that could lead to conflict on its border. Without full South Korean and Chinese cooperation, there can be no “maximum pressure”—the campaign of sanctions and isolation that Trump claims brought North Korea to the negotiating table in the first place.

Many experts who favor engagement and negotiation with the North—myself included—had been deeply worried about Trump’s lack of detailed preparation for the summit. Trump’s inability to master the complexities of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program, combined with his proven willingness to ignore his advisers and go with his gut, could have led Kim to drive a bargain that left him with many residual nuclear options or with verification far short of what is needed to prove denuclearization has taken place. In this sense, no deal might be better than a bad one.

So it’s good that Trump canceled the meeting. If the summit gets back on track, that may give experts the time to negotiate a viable process that would include verified steps toward denuclearization and a set of steps the United States and its allies could take to provide North Korea with the incentives to follow through on nuclear and missile elimination.

Nuclear diplomacy takes time and hard work. If Trump is serious about giving Kim another shot, he and his team need to put in the difficult and tedious preparation that they spurned ahead of the canceled June 12 meeting. That, after all, is what good deals are made of.


McConnell: Cocaine tweet ‘softened my image’


Mitch McConnell is worried that he might be relegated to Senate minority leader next year. But he’s far less concerned about a group of rabble-rousing Senate candidates from his own party building their campaigns on attacking him.

Take his un-McConnellesque, “Narcos”-inspired tweet kicking Don Blankenship after his loss in the West Virginia primary: Dressed like Pablo Escobar, McConnell told the ex-convict and coal baron, “Thanks for playing.” McConnell has no regrets about poking a candidate who had dubbed him “Cocaine Mitch” and is now vowing to run as a third-party candidate in a move seemingly driven by revenge.

“I enjoyed it, actually,” McConnell said of the viral tweet in an interview on Thursday. “It sorta softened my image, don’t you think?”

Similar challenges await in Mississippi from Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel, who is running against incumbent Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, and in an open Arizona race, where McConnell plainly wants Rep. Martha McSally to beat Joe Arpaio and Kelli Ward, both on the extreme right of the GOP spectrum.

“In Mississippi, we’re certainly going to be fine,” McConnell said. “What’s going to happen in Arizona is obviously a very competitive general election. We won’t have a nominee until the end of August. But it’s pretty obvious which of our candidates have a best chance of winning.”


The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund rained down $1.3 million to stop Blankenship from winning the nomination, and McConnell wouldn’t rule out intervening in Arizona if needed. Holding the open Arizona seat as well as competitive races in Nevada and Tennessee are the GOP keys to keeping the majority, and the GOP leader is intently focused on them.

“It’s very much in play. If you look at history, it’s pretty clear that two years into any new administration is dicey territory for the party of the president. I don’t think this year will be any different. The wind is going to be in our face,” McConnell said. “We have three vulnerabilities: Arizona, Nevada and Tennessee.”


Despite Blankenship’s planned third-party bid, McConnell said he‘s optimistic about the GOP’s chances to topple Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) in November, citing a recent poll that showed the race nearly tied. But the Kentuckian is clear-eyed about the high degree of difficulty involved in beating incumbents — even Democrats whose states President Donald Trump carried by double digits in 2016.

“Even though incumbents can be defeated, most of the time it’s hard. So I think a realistic assessment of the landscape is, yes, the Senate certainly is in play,” McConnell said.

McConnell continues to view the Ohio and Pennsylvania Senate races as below the top tier of Republican pickup opportunities this fall, though he said he’s “keeping a close eye on” challengers to Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).


Outside conservative groups have dumped millions of dollars into the Wisconsin Senate race, where two Republicans are clashing ahead of an August primary battle for the right to take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). But McConnell didn’t mention the race as he ticked off a list of six states where he believes Republicans can beat Democratic incumbents: Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, and Florida.

As favorable as the Senate GOP’s 2018 map appears, McConnell said, “You’ve still got to win them one at a time.”

While much of his party’s attention is focused on keeping the House, with the prospect of a Trump impeachment attempt looming if Democrats take back that chamber, McConnell also offered a reminder that maintaining Senate control is vital to Trump’s agenda.

“If we’re able to hold the Senate, the president’s — in my view — outstanding appointments are likely to be confirmed for the four years of his term,” McConnell said. “So I think holding the Senate has a huge impact on the success of the administration.”

His own reelection bid is a secondary matter for the majority leader, though he said he plans to run again in 2020. Democrats are excited about this week’s primary win by Amy McGrath, a charismatic military veteran who will challenge Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.) in the fall. But McConnell gave no hint of whether he expects a serious reelection battle in two years.

“2020 is a long way away,” he said. “We’ll see what happens in 2018 first.”


Senate passes harassment bill as civil rights groups slam it

The Senate on Thursday easily passed a bipartisan deal to overhaul Capitol Hill’s sexual harassment system even as civil rights and women’s groups joined House members in knocking the bill as too easy on lawmakers accused of inappropriate workplace behavior.

The Senate approved its harassment legislation by voice vote, setting up likely conference talks with the House over its version of the bill — which is more stringent than the upper chamber’s in several key areas. More critics of the Senate approach emerged on Thursday, with five advocacy groups writing to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) with a series of concerns about the bill and its speedy path to passage.

The Senate’s workplace misconduct bill “contains numerous provisions that are contrary to key principles we’ve previously articulated, falls short of an acceptable compromise, and may have unintended negative consequences,” the groups wrote to the chamber’'s leaders. The letter was signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Equal Pay Today, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, National Women’s Law Center and Public Citizen.

“Given the scope and breadth of the bill and significant differences between this and the House-passed bill, we are deeply concerned that neither senators nor key stakeholders have been given adequate time to fully vet the bill,” the groups added, urging the Senate to fix what they view as mistakes.


The letter came just hours before the Senate swiftly approved its compromise remodeling of Capitol Hill’s decades-old policy for acting on and deterring harassment complaints, with lead negotiators Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) touting their bipartisan accord on the floor. Under the Hill’s current system, lawmakers are allowed to use taxpayer money for payouts to alleged victims — who are required to wait months in a “cooling off” period before filing complaints.

While the House version of the bill has received praise, critics say the Senate version significantly waters down accountability for members of Congress.

One of the bill’s biggest flash points, for example, is the Senate’s requirement that the slow-moving ethics panels in each chamber review and approve reimbursements for settlements when a member is the perpetrator. That essentially leaves it up to lawmakers to decide the fate of their colleagues and whether they engaged in harassment — not an independent investigator.

“This provision appears to provide an opportunity for a Member who has settled a claim to avoid personal accountability and to be absolved from reimbursing the taxpayers,” the groups wrote in the letter.

Democrats on the House Administration Committee tweeted Thursday that “we continue to believe the House version is a stronger bill — in terms of adjudication process and protection of victims and rights of all parties.”

“We appreciate their efforts, and look forward to working with the Senate” in talks on a final agreement, they added.


Even the bipartisan leaders of the House Ethics Committee criticized the Senate proposal in a rare Thursday news release on legislation. The ethics panel leaders lent their support for the House bill’s requirement that lawmakers personally pay up for discrimination claims that compose the bulk of misconduct settlements — not just cases of harassment, as the Senate has proposed.

“We believe that any proposal to reform [congressional misconduct law] should include provisions to ensure that Members remain personally liable for their own conduct with respect to discrimination and retaliation, and that they remain liable even if they leave Congress,” House Ethics Chairwoman Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) and ranking member Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) wrote.

The advocacy groups criticizing the Senate bill also told Schumer and McConnell that their version undermines the House bill’s designation of legal counsel for victims.

“A Member who has committed wrongdoing should be liable for all damages negotiated in a settlement or awarded by a court; they should not be shielded from the consequences of their actions,” they wrote.


Second top official resigns from Bernie Sanders group

The tumult at Our Revolution continued raging with the resignation of another founding board member late Wednesday.

The decision by Catalina Velasquez, an undocumented immigrant and transgender activist who was co-vice chair of the Bernie Sanders-inspired organization, came during a week of reverberations in the wake of a POLITICO report detailing widespread problems within the group.

A number of people have complained about inattention by the group to Latino and immigrant issues. Others have cited open hostility by a woman whom Our Revolution President Nina Turner had tried to make her chief of staff.

“For the past month, we have been fighting divisive narratives targeting immigrants and pinning us against other oppressed peoples,” wrote Velasquez in a letter she posted on Twitter. “I have faced this with little to no support from the organizational leadership.”

Velasquez’s departure follows the resignation of Lucy Flores, a former Nevada assemblywoman and fellow founding board member, who quit in April over her own anger at Our Revolution for, in her view, ignoring issues important to Latinos. The group’s former political director has also claimed she was fired by Turner for helping with organizing in favor of the DREAM Act, which Turner has not disputed.


A spokesperson for Our Revolution did not respond when asked for comment about Velasquez’s resignation and the explanation for it cited in the letter. The group has already removed Velasquez’s name from its website, leaving just nine members on the board and no Latinos.

The problems in the organization reflect deeper tensions within the progressive coalition, including between African-Americans and Latinos. Activists have complained that their counterparts don’t prioritize the others’ important issues, from immigration reform to Black Lives Matter.

The raw feelings within a group that was inspired by Sanders’ presidential campaign are noteworthy since he often faced complaints that he paid too little attention to appealing to people of color during the election. Sanders has since been trying to improve on that front, through one-to-one outreach with a variety of leaders and a number of events. Still, the risk remains that Our Revolution’s issues will spill into a Sanders 2020 campaign, should he launch one.

The POLITICO article catalogued an array of troubles at Our Revolution extending beyond racial strain, including complaints over the group’s transparency in making endorsements, a drop-off in fundraising and an overall inability to tip major elections. People involved with the group also complained privately that Turner seemed to be interested in raising her own political profile, perhaps toward a 2020 presidential run of her own. Turner just announced an appearance on June 30 at an event in New Hampshire for Rights & Democracy, a progressive group.

A spokesperson for Sanders, who is officially separate from the group, did not respond to a request for comment about the troubles in the organization.

Velasquez said she was surprised that Turner kept her consultant on for days after the concerns were raised about anti-immigrant comments and praise of President Donald Trump on Fox News, Twitter and personal videos.


The complaints about Tezlyn Figaro were made first in private during an executive committee conference call earlier this month — when the board blocked her promotion over her past comments — and then publicly in the POLITICO story.

Turner said on Tuesday that she was keeping Figaro employed, before reversing course on Wednesday. She did not explain what led to her change of heart, though Velasquez’s resignation came after Our Revolution cut ties with Figaro.

“I have the organization’s best interests in mind, and all of my board members know it,” Turner said last Friday, when asked about the concerns raised by board members.

Other board members came to Our Revolution’s defense on Monday, though they haven’t spoken out about Turner or Figaro.

Figaro herself has taken to Twitter, and in an appearance on a video show hosted on Facebook on Wednesday afternoon, she attributed the complaints about her past comments to “jealousy, vindictiveness” on the part of Velasquez and Flores.

They were not the only board members who raised concerns about her, but Figaro spoke only about them.

“This particular thing was a motivation to oust Senator Turner,” Figaro said.

Velasquez wrote in her letter that “I truly believe in Nina’s leadership and look forward to the ways in which she will articulate a new direction for the organization and progressive movement at large.”

Figaro went on to claim that the uproar was because “Senator Turner’s in a position where she can’t speak.”
Turner spoke on the record to POLITICO for 20 minutes on Friday, and has done several public events and news conferences since, as well as issuing several statements.

Turner did not respond to a question of whether Figaro would remain on as her personal consultant, despite the termination of her Our Revolution contract.


FBI informant briefing could speed Trump-Mueller interview, Giuliani says

Two highly classified briefings Thursday about an FBI informant who contacted the Trump campaign could help grease the wheels for a highly anticipated interview between President Donald Trump and special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani told POLITICO.

“We want to see how the briefing went to today and how much we learned from it,” Giuliani said in a Thursday phone call. “If we learned a good deal from it, it will shorten that whole process considerably.”

Two White House emissaries made appearances at the briefings — chief of staff John Kelly and Emmet Flood, an attorney representing Trump in Mueller's probe of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia on its election interference efforts. But both left after just a few minutes, before attendees discussed any sensitive matters, according to the White House and attendees.

Still, their inclusion — and Giuliani's remarks — are likely to further enrage Democrats, who have bashed the briefings from the start as a partisan sham meant to undercut Mueller's scrutiny of the president.

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, who attended one of the meetings as the Senate Intelligence Committee's top Democrat, said he had "never seen a Gang of Eight meeting that included any presence from the White House," a reference to the bipartisan group of senior lawmakers that normally receives intelligence information.

Giuliani shrugged off the concern.

“I’d assume they’ll be very careful we don’t get information we shouldn’t get,” he said. “I don’t want the guy’s identity. I don’t want classified information. What I need to know is, 'What’s the basis for their doing it?' Most important, 'What did the informant produce?'"


But the informant's identity is already known — it leaked to media outlets in recent days. After the meeting, House Judiciary Committee Democrats indicated they are now going to aggressively pursue how that occurred.

"I ask you to investigate this case for potential violations of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act," Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the panel, wrote in a letter sent Thursday to FBI and DOJ leaders. "I want to better understand how this breach may undermine national security at home and abroad."

The meetings were the end result of a standoff between the intelligence community and congressional Republicans, who have spent weeks demanding classified documents detailing the scope of the informant’s work. According to media reports, the informant met with at least two Trump aides to try and suss out any privileged knowledge they might have had about Russia's election interference activities.

Trump, however, has accused the informant of acting as a spy, planted by the FBI to undermine his campaign. Trump's allies in Congress say requesting more details about the incident is a legitimate exercise of their oversight power as they probe partisan allegations of misconduct inside to FBI.

Aghast Democrats and national security experts say the use of an informant is a routine part of counterintelligence operations like the Russia probe — and that Trump's supporters are trying to damage the ongoing investigations.

“Nothing we heard today has changed our view that there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a 'spy' in the Trump campaign," said House Intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), speaking after the meetings on behalf of Democratic attendees.

Schiff was the only Democrat to attend the first briefing Thursday — and even that only came after much cajoling.

Initially, the gathering was only scheduled to include Republican — a break with congressional tradition of convening the bipartisan Gang of Eight for intelligence rundowns. The group includes the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, as well as the Republican and Democratic leaders of each branch's intelligence committee.

Democrats were eventually able to muscle their way into the Republican-only meeting, as well as score a second, bipartisan meeting.


Attendees were briefed at both meetings by FBI Director Chris Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller probe, as well as various FBI and DOJ staffers.

At both meetings, Kelly and Flood also gave opening remarks "to relay the President’s desire for as much openness as possible under the law," the White House said in a statement. "They also conveyed the President’s understanding of the need to protect human intelligence services and the importance of communication between the branches of government."

Wednesday night, Giuliani gave Trump a rundown on what to expect at the gathering as part of a 30-minute session meant to "get him up to date on what’s going on” in the Russia investigation. The two met in New York at the Palace Hotel on the sidelines of a GOP campaign event.

“His mood was excellent. He feels we’re on offense now,” Giuliani said.

But as lawmakers exited Thursday's meetings, it wasn't immediately clear what type of information, exactly, was shared at the gatherings.

"As always, I cannot and will not comment on a classified session," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement following the first meeting, which he attended. "I look forward to the prompt completion of the intelligence committee's oversight work in this area now that they are getting the cooperation necessary for them to complete their work while protecting sources and methods."


The briefing is partly a result of House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes' decision last month to subpoena documents regarding the informant. The Justice Department initially denied his request, claiming that providing the information would endanger national security and risk lives. Nunes rejected the claim and threatened to hold Attorney General Jeff Sessions in contempt.

It's unknown if Thursday's confab will cause Nunes and other House Republicans to back down.

Some Republicans predicted the gatherings are actually unlikely to produce the material they're demanding, a result that could reignite hostilities between Trump supporters in the House and the Justice Department.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, who speaks frequently to Trump, said he's confident the GOP won't receive the documents they're seeking on the FBI informant. As a result, Meadows said, impeachment of top DOJ figures like Rosenstein should remain on the table. He and other Trump defenders have also called for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate allegations of FBI misconduct.


George Conway’s Tweets Raise West Wing Eyebrows

George Conway’s Manhattan law firm sits near the corner of Sixth Avenue and 52nd Street, just three blocks from Trump Tower.

During the 2016 election, when he still supported Donald Trump, the corporate litigator would sometimes walk over to the campaign HQ after work, according to former campaign aides. He’d pop in around 8 p.m. and would sit and work in his wife Kellyanne Conway’s office until she was ready to go. Then he’d drive her to New Jersey, or the couple would share a town car home.

Friends say he was proud of Kellyanne, the longtime Republican operative who was finally running the show, and the evening routine allowed him to grab some one-on-one time with his busier half. On election night, he cried, and noted to other campaign aides that as the first female campaign manager of a winning presidential bid, his wife had made history.

Over the past year, however, since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department, George Conway has become a man in turmoil. A serious, conservative attorney who believes in the rule of law, he has been torn, people who know him say, between the loyalty he feels toward his wife and an assault on his profession and his ideals that he did not anticipate when he cheered on election night—delivered by her boss.

During that period, he has walked away from a powerful job running the Justice Department’s civil division, where he would have served as one of the administration’s top lawyers. And he has become a Twitter phenom—tweeting and retweeting critiques of the president and support for the Mueller probe that his wife’s employer calls a “witch hunt.” Many in the White House have noticed, including Kellyanne and, according to multiple administration officials, the president himself.

The pushback coming from inside the house of Trump’s lead cable-news defender has become one of Washington’s favorite family dramas. In “Conway versus Conway,” George attacks the president, or seems to defend the Mueller probe, while Kellyanne puts her own credibility on the line to defend Trump, who has escalated his verbal assaults on the Russia inquiry and this week even demanded an investigation of the investigation.

Conway now has nearly 50,000 followers, and his tweeting—the majority of it retweets, rather than his own commentary—has attracted the notice of everyone from conservative legal scholars to TV host Whoopi Goldberg, who gave him a shoutout on a recent episode of ABC’s "The View": “I say George, keep it up, honey. Whether your wife gets it or not, stay sane. It’s a good thing to stay sane.”

Asked to explain his public feud with his wife’s boss, Conway declined to comment or elaborate on his tweets. “If I wanted to say anything publicly,” he said in a direct message on Twitter, “I would just say it.”

But friends and professional acquaintances say Conway’s tweets are just the tip of an iceberg of frustration with Trump that has only grown over the past year. While Conway has always been known as a contrarian, however, some friends have been surprised and disappointed by the public airing of anti-Trump sentiment from a man who is known to value discretion.

On some occasions, Conway has even gone outside the boundaries of Twitter when he couldn't contain his apparent grievance any longer.

“Drivel,” he told Reuters in an interview last week, referring to Rudy Giuliani’s assertion that the president cannot be the subject of a subpoena. He has also emailed people who have written things critical of Trump and quietly suggested improvements in their arguments, according to people who have received his unsolicited two cents.


As Conway has stayed mum, his tweets have sparked more questions than answers: The Washington Post has wondered whether he is trying to sabotage his wife. HuffPost asked, “Would it be too wild a leap for a Trump Kremlinologist to think this might be a prelude to Kellyanne Conway’s own White House departure?”

But in conservative legal circles, his tweets are reverberating in a way that has not much at all to do with his wife. There, George Conway is seen as rebuking the silence of his fellow Federalist Society members—the elite, conservative lawyers who have generally chosen to give Trump a pass on his breaches of long-cherished legal norms and traditions in exchange for the gift of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

***

George Conway’s tweets would be somewhat less notable if he were not one of the few members of his exclusive insular tribe—a Morton’s Steakhouse kind of crowd made up of former law clerks, Republican administration appointees and university professors—who has been publicly critical of the president and seemingly supportive of the Mueller probe.

By keeping its collective mouth shut, the Federalist Society—a nationwide network of conservative lawyers with its power base in D.C.—has amassed huge influence in the Trump administration, essentially hand-selecting not only Gorsuch but recruiting ultraconservative judges to fill vacancies from appellate courts on down. It’s a status the organization does not want to jeopardize through rash tweets or the signing of petitions that might make one feel good on issues that matter less to them than a complete reorientation of the federal bench.

The executive vice president of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo, has called around to prominent lawyers and funders in town, warning them not to get on the wrong side of the Trump administration, according to a source who was briefed on the calls. After all, Leo expects to play a lead role in at least one more Supreme Court pick during Trump’s tenure. (Leo did not return calls for comment.)

At times, the society has even broken with the mainstream of the conservative legal establishment in its effort to stand with the administration. On Friday, for instance, the Federalist Society is hosting a call “examining the legality of the Mueller Investigation.” The featured speaker is Steven Calabresi, a law professor and co-founder of the organization who has argued that Mueller’s probe is unconstitutional. Calabresi also happens to be a friend of Conway’s—it’s a small, Federalist Society world, after all.

“I’ve known him for 30 years, and George follows what George thinks,” Calabresi said in an interview. “He speaks his own mind. If I were George, I wouldn’t do this. But his tweets do not come as a surprise to me.”

They may not be a surprise, but they’re not always welcome from the Federalist Society crowd, which views Trump critics in the foreign policy arena—people like Bill Kristol and Elliott Abrams, who were publicly critical of the president during the campaign—as a cautionary tale. Those critics were locked out of powerful posts where they could have tried to shape policy from inside the room. Instead, they are left shouting from the green rooms of MSNBC, while the Federalists are quietly delivering on their agenda.

It’s what some critics view as a deal with the devil. “Their silence has been a big problem,” said Kristol, the neoconservative founder of the conservative Weekly Standard, and a prominent Never Trumper. “It’s let Trump get away with too much on the rule-of-law front, where the most natural and informed people haven’t stepped up to say anything,” he said. “Having big-name conservative lawyers consistently rebuking Trump could have made a difference. Their silence is taken as acquiescence.”

Kristol added: “Institutionally, I suppose the Federalist Society has never done better. In terms of speaking truth to power, on the other hand, it’s never been more silent.”

That silence has made Conway’s voice echo in the void. His tweets become chyrons on cable news and are a topic of discussion on “The View” because of whom he married. But they resonate in Washington power circles because they cast doubt on the entire project of his peers: Here is a well-respected, die-hard conservative member of the club—who has more personally invested in defending the administration than most—and he doesn’t seem to agree with the argument that it’s worth it to bite your tongue.

In an interview, Calabresi admitted that Conway may be giving voice to what other members of the Federalist Society think but are too scared to say. “There is a range of viewpoints about Trump, including some people who are Never Trumpers but have been quiet about it, in part because of the judicial nominations,” he said.

But after Conway attacked his own argument that the Mueller probe is unconstitutional, Calabresi called back to amend his comments. “At this point, George is very far off the reservation of what many Federalist Society people think,” he said.

***

Conway, a Massachusetts native, was transformed from a Scoop Jackson Democrat to a Reagan Republican on the manicured quads of Harvard University as an ambitious young freshman who graduated at age 20. In 1980, he supported John Anderson, the Republican congressman from Illinois who ran for president as an independent. But in Ronald Reagan, George Conway was quickly won over by a president whose free-market, strong-defense policies made sense to him.

As a Yale Law School student in 1984, friends remember Conway blasting “God Bless the USA”—the theme song of the Republican National Convention that year—out his windows, a show of support for Reagan meant to troll the predominantly liberal student body on campus.

He became head of the Yale Law School chapter of the Federalist Society.

After law school, he went on to clerk for Federal Appeals Court Judge Ralph Winter, a libertarian iconoclast whose other prominent clerks included Fox News’ Laura Ingraham and the president’s newest lawyer, Emmet Flood.

To understand the tweets, friends say, one has to trace a through line of Conway’s contrarian streak that dates back to his “God Bless the USA” stunt. Several pointed to other memorable “George being George” moments throughout his career—with the targets being Republicans and Democrats alike.

In 1994, for instance, Conway wrote his first and only op-ed: a piece for the Los Angeles Times titled “No Man in This Country Is Above the Law.” In it, he argued against presidential immunity for Bill Clinton in the civil suit brought by Paula Jones, who he was secretly helping with legal aid. (It was during his time working behind the scenes on behalf of Clinton’s accusers that he became friends with Ann Coulter, who set him up with a bright young conservative named Kellyanne Fitzpatrick.)

In 2005, Conway broke with his party to join a group of conservatives in forming BetterJustice.com, which staged a PR blitz calling on President George W. Bush to drop his nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court. Conway’s objection, according to friends, was that she simply hadn’t thought enough about the issues of legal constitutionalism to merit a seat on the country’s highest court.

“The two people who brought down Harriet Miers were George Conway and [conservative legal scholar Robert] Bork,” said Calabresi. “I’m sure he supported the Bush administration. But George does not follow the party.”

***

It was after the election and before Comey’s firing that Conway, wearing his proud husband cap, gave up his partnership at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz to move to a city where his prestigious New York law firm doesn’t even keep an office. He became “of counsel” to the firm where he has worked since he was 25, a demotion that also comes with a pay cut.

Now, the man famous in legal circles for arguing a major securities case before the Supreme Court and winning in an 8-0 vote decided by the late Justice Antonin Scalia works from home or commutes to Manhattan a few days a week.

“This is an adjustment for him, and a big one,” said David Lat, founding editor of the legal news site Above The Law, who was friends with Conway when he worked as a lawyer at Wachtell. “At George’s age, it’s very unusual to give up partnership.”

But when the Conways first moved their family of six to Washington for Kellyanne’s amorphous new West Wing assignment, George Conway was in line for a public-sector job that would have been a bigger lift than being a well-paid partner in his law firm. Last year, around this time, he was deep into the process of putting together the extensive paperwork required to be nominated to head up the Justice Department's civil division.

Conway had already completed a background check and was interviewing candidates to be his deputy when Comey was fired, according to sources familiar with the paperwork process. It was around that time that he started telling potential colleagues that he was having second thoughts about the whole thing. It just didn’t make sense, he told them, for him and his wife both to be targets in the Trump whirlwind at the same time.

In a statement at the time, he said: “Kellyanne and I continue to support the President and his Administration, and I look forward to doing so in whatever way I can from outside the government.”

On June 5, 2017, days after officially announcing that he was out of the running for the top slot at the DOJ, he took to Twitter to note that the president’s tweet about his travel ban could actually hurt its chances in court.

And thus, a Twitter star was born.

People who know Conway read the tweets not as any betrayal of his wife but rather as someone who is restraining himself for her benefit, and who would be much more outspoken if it weren’t for her current job. Maybe he would be writing more op-eds, they say. Or speaking out in other ways. But under the constraints of his current situation, the retweet is the perfect crime: It allows Conway to unload without, exactly, unloading.

Even so, friends have warned him, at times, that even his retweets are attracting too much attention and that he should stop—for his own professional reputation, as much as his wife’s. So far, he hasn’t heeded their advice.

Conway joined Twitter in 2012, but he didn’t become an active user until the Trump era. He follows a little over 700 accounts, including the Drudge Report, the Federalist Society, most of the reporters that make up the White House press corps, Comey, an anonymous account that goes by the name of “Rogue Snr WH Adviser,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, and about 20 feeds devoted to pictures of corgis.

“He’s not a wallflower; he’s not a guy who blends into the background,” said Lat. “Twitter is a place where he can assert his independent identity.”

***

Kellyanne Conway’s allies in the White House have worried, at times, about her husband’s tweets—worried about how they will be wielded in the snake-pit environment of the communications department, where enemies might try to use her husband as a weapon against her. “I had some angst for her,” said one former administration official. “My anxiety was that he was putting Kellyanne in a bad spot. But I don’t think it affected her at all. Her standing with the president is rock solid. She’s as loyal as it gets—sometimes to a fault.” The source added: “I would say the likely impact of George’s tweets inside the White House is negligible.”

And while the general reaction from inside the building was a giant “WTF” when he started expressing disagreement with the administration, a year in, they are generally now viewed with nothing more than an eye roll: It’s weird, but it’s just George being George. Most people now view his wife as one of the last inner-circle aides left whose loyalty the president counts on. One administration official said Kellyanne Conway is so close with the president that she would feel comfortable flagging her husband’s tweets for the president herself.

But Kellyanne Conway, a master of deflection, has instead doubled down when confronted with questions about her husband’s tweets. In an interview earlier this month, she accused CNN’s Dana Bash of trying to “harass and embarrass” her by asking her about his tweets. She also declined to comment for thise story.

She has told people, however, that she is hardly the only administration official whose spouse is critical of the president—and that there are even people working in the White House who didn’t vote for Trump.

“This is not Mary Matalin and James Carville,” said former Harvard University Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a lifelong Democrat who has become one of Trump’s main legal defenders on cable news. “These are both conservative Republicans. One of them has a job to do, and she has to only say positive things. He doesn’t have a job to do. Each one has to be judged by the job, and the context. I could see someone saying, ‘My wife does this, so I’m going to keep my mouth shut.’ But he’s not that kind of guy.”

Dershowitz doesn’t know George Conway personally, only by way of reputation. But as someone with a similar contrarian streak, Dershowitz said he understands why George Conway can’t just shut up. “I have friends who say, ‘Everything you say is right, but you should shut the fuck up,’” said Dershowitz. “The answer to that is, people like Conway and me, we can’t. Part of being married is being an independent person.”

While Conway has at times deleted some of his snarkier tweets, that independence doesn’t seem likely to dissipate anytime soon.

Last weekend, Kellyanne Conway appeared on CNN to defend the president’s morning tweetstorm. “I will tell you that over a year into this that there is no evidence of collusion,” she said. “The president has called this investigation a witch hunt many times.”

Her husband was busy spouting a different line. After the president tweeted that he was demanding the Justice Department launch an investigation into whether it spied on his campaign, George Conway retweeted former DOJ prosecutor Carrie Cordero, a prominent defender of the Mueller probe. “The Department of Justice doesn’t open investigations for political purposes,” she wrote, “which is what the president says today he will order tomorrow. There are rules. And I’m convinced there are people left in this administration who will follow them.”


Texas women roar onto November ballot

AUSTIN, Texas — A groundswell of female candidates in Texas has resulted in a record number of women on the ballot in November — and a guarantee that the state will have at least two new female members of Congress next year.

With the state primary and runoffs now completed, the general election will also feature twice the number of women as in 2016 — from 10 women running for Congress to 20 in 2018.

That puts Texas at the forefront in a year when a surge of women as candidates has reordered the political landscape in state after state.

During the first round of primary voting in March, 14 women — including three incumbents — won their primary battles outright. Tuesday, six additional women survived runoff contests to win party nominations.

Those preliminary gains for female candidates are certain to translate into seats in the House come 2019 — it’s just a question of how many. Texas is poised to add anywhere from two to four new full-time female members to its congressional delegation, which now has only three women.

The state hasn’t added a new congresswoman since 1996, when Republican Rep. Kay Granger was first elected.


“This year in Texas, we’re on our way to making up for lost history,” said state Sen. Sylvia Garcia, a Houston Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in 1992, but won her Democratic primary and is heavily favored to win in November. “It’s just exciting.”

Mirroring the success of women seeking office in the rest of the country, those potential gains will almost certainly come from Democratic candidates. Two Republican women, including Granger, will be on the congressional ballot in Texas this year, compared with 18 Democratic female candidates.

Two women, Garcia and El Paso’s Veronica Escobar, won their primary bids in March and are vying for seats in comfortably Democratic districts. Escobar is looking to replace Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is leaving his House seat to take on Sen. Ted Cruz, while Garcia is running to replace retiring Rep. Gene Green. Both are well-positioned to become the state’s first Latinas elected to Congress.

Democratic women also won primary contests in two red districts that they hope to turn blue come November — Lizzie Pannill Fletcher will take on incumbent GOP Rep. John Culberson in the Houston-area 7th District, and Gina Ortiz Jones will take on incumbent GOP Rep. Will Hurd in the border region’s 23rd District.

On the Republican side, Bunni Pounds, who had the backing of Vice President Mike Pence and other heavy-hitting GOP players, failed to pull off a victory in Tuesday’s runoff.

The lack of women on the Republican ballot means that, despite record primary wins by female candidates, at least 31 of the state’s 36 House seats will remain in the hands of men.


“It’s a long way away from parity,” said Mark Jones, a political science professor at Rice University.

Anti-Trump sentiment, opportunities presented by some members’ retirements and indignance over sexual harassment claims against officeholders have been factors in the wave of female candidates to seek office this year.

And Democrats turned out in record numbers — more than a million Democrats voted in the gubernatorial race in the March primary — nearly double the number that voted in the 2014 primary, a comparable election since there was no presidential candidate on the ballot. About 57 percent of those Democratic primary voters were women, according to Ryan Data & Research.

The surge wasn’t enough to top total Republican primary election turnout in this still deep red state — more than 1.5 million Republicans turned out to vote in March, a slight uptick from 2014. But many women who are running on the Democratic ticket this year say that regardless of the November outcome, the surge of female candidates won’t fizzle out. They say that their campaigns are laying the groundwork helping build a network of female candidates, voters and donors for coming years.

“If I lose, I will be running in 2020 regardless,” said Linsey Fagan, who won her Democratic primary and is fighting an uphill battle to unseat incumbent Republican Michael Burgess in a north Dallas district. “I am dead set on that.”


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