RNC raised $15.5M in January amid Trump reelection prep

The Republican National Committee brought in $15.5 million in January and ended the month with $28.6 million cash on hand as it prepared for President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign, according to a new campaign finance disclosure.

The committee spent more than $300 million during the midterm election cycle helping Republicans, and it is now working closely with Trump’s reelection effort. In addition to raising $8.9 million directly from donors in January, the RNC collected more than $6 million from two joint fundraising committees affiliated with the committee and the Trump campaign.

Among the supporters who cut large checks of $33,900 to the RNC in January were Dallas investor Andy Beal, technology entrepreneur Peter Thiel and Wisconsin businesswoman Elizabeth Uihlein.

The RNC spent $10.5 million in January. Costs associated with raising money, such as mail production and telemarketing, were among the committee’s biggest expenses last month and it spent $1.7 million on postage, the single largest expense category.

The RNC also reported paying $600,000 in January to Parscale Strategy LLC, the firm affiliated with Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale. The payments were marked as “fundraising services.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump butters up Barr amid signs of Mueller conclusion

Facing the possible completion of a special counsel investigation that could upend his presidency, Donald Trump is lashing out at everything and everybody — except his new attorney general, Bill Barr.

Trump, who publicly filleted Jeff Sessions for more than a year, has adopted a noticeably friendly tone toward Barr, even as the newly sworn-in attorney general prepares to face the biggest test of his career: the culmination of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. The approach comes as Trump’s inner circle is signaling that they believe the special counsel has essentially completed his work.

“He’s a tremendous man and tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the justice system. So that’ll be totally up to him,” Trump said in the Oval Office Wednesday when asked about a new CNN report that Barr is preparing to announce the completion of Mueller’s work as soon as next week.

Last week, at the close of meandering remarks in the Rose Garden, Trump similarly praised Barr. “I want to wish our attorney general great luck and speed — and enjoy your life,” the president declared.

And notably, Trump didn’t take the bait when Barr praised outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein just one day after Trump debased Rosenstein, accusing him of being part of a rogue, lawless group within the Justice Department.

The president’s efforts to play nice with Barr stand in contrast to his ever-growing list of grievances, which piled up on Twitter again this week. Trump called The New York Times the “ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE,” he picked a fight with The Washington Post’s fact checker, he called on California to return federal money it spent on the state’s high-speed rail network and he bashed the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. On Wednesday, he called former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe “a poor man’s J. Edgar Hoover,” referring to the controversial first FBI director, in the latest escalation of his offensive against McCabe, whose book has yielded wall-to-wall cable news coverage.

"I think Andrew McCabe has made a fool out of himself over the last couple of days," Trump said.

A number of reports have also detailed Trump’s mounting frustrations with intelligence chief Dan Coats following a congressional appearance in which Coats countered Trump’s frequent boasts about North Korean negotiations and defeating ISIS.

Trump has been obsessing over the Mueller investigation in public and in private since it began in May 2017, and he has grown sensitive to any implication that he could be implicated in the special counsel’s final report. The president’s lawyers have also been clamoring for the Mueller investigation to end for as long as there’s been a Mueller investigation, with the White House and the president’s personal lawyers incorrectly predicting its conclusion on numerous occasions.

They’re hoping this time is different.

“As far as I can tell the investigation is over,” Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told POLITICO last Friday. “They’ve gotten everything they’re going to get. There’s nothing hanging out there that is big where they haven’t gotten the information, gotten the answers, gotten the documents. We satisfied the document requests a long time ago. It’s all there for them to make a decision.”

As for Mueller’s timing, Giuliani said he didn’t want to ascribe any significance to Barr’s arrival and the larger transition in leadership atop DOJ as Rosenstein readies to leave the government in March.

“You can’t read anything into that other than the fact that I think it will run its course and they’ll present whatever they have to the Justice Department,” Giuliani said.

Mueller’s office and DOJ declined to comment on the timing of the probe.

Under the Clinton-era DOJ guidelines Mueller is operating from, the special counsel must submit a report to the attorney general when his probe is complete spelling out who he’s prosecuted and who he declined to prosecute.

As Trump noted on Wednesday, it’s the attorney general’s decision from there as to what he wants to make public. Barr said during his Senate confirmation hearing that he would likely allow a summary but not the entire report. He added that he would make his version as thorough as possible under the law but would not commit to sharing Mueller’s report in its entirety.

That hasn’t stopped Trump from combatting the probe at almost every turn. A Tuesday New York Times report detailed two years of presidential efforts to “defang” the various investigations encircling him. In one noticeable instance, Trump leaned on acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to put a Trump-appointed official in charge of a New York-based federal investigation into hush money payments made during the campaign to women who claimed to have had sex with Trump.

The story set Trump off.

“The Press has never been more dishonest than it is today. Stories are written that have absolutely no basis in fact. The writers don’t even call asking for verification. They are totally out of control,” Trump wrote on Twitter Wednesday. The Times says its reporters gave the White House five days to respond to its story.

Trump has continued to unleash a torrent of disdain toward Mueller and his investigation, which he portrays as a partisan character assassination. “The Mueller investigation is totally conflicted, illegal and rigged! Should never have been allowed to begin, except for the Collusion and many crimes committed by the Democrats. Witch Hunt!” Trump wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

But inside the White House, many staffers have grown numb to the flood of Mueller-related news, believing that they have little choice but to ignore the ever-present headlines and cable news chyrons and focus on their jobs.

Speculation over when Mueller will finish his report into Russian interference in the 2016 election has only increased as hints of an upcoming conclusion have surfaced recently. Late last month, the acting attorney general at the time, Matthew Whitaker, told reporters that the investigation would come to a close soon. CNN reported Wednesday that the finished report could be announced as early as next week. Trump will be in Vietnam next week for a second summit with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

Trump officials aren’t sure what will happen after Mueller notifies Barr that his work is done. While there have been more than 20 other special counsels in the post-Watergate era, no one has been assigned the job of investigating a president and his winning campaign for everything from collusion with a foreign power to obstruction of justice in a bid to halt the underlying investigation.

Aides acknowledge the handoff is uncharted territory, and it’s far from clear how the sequence will play out to notify Trump, his legal team and its staff when the probe is finished.

The attorney general could conceivably notify anyone from senior White House aides — chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, White House counsel Pat Cipollone or his deputy, Emmet Flood — or the president himself. Giuliani said it’s possible Mueller could turn in his findings without getting any heads up.

“I don’t expect to be notified when they do whatever they have to do with the Justice Department,” he said. “I expect to be notified either when the DOJ makes their decision or when the DOJ wants to publish something so we can look it over to see if we have executive privilege issues.”

People close to the president have begun privately wondering how long Barr can stay in Trump’s good graces, especially if sensitive details of the Mueller report are leaked to the press.

Barr has made it clear that he wants to be independent from the White House. During his confirmation hearing, Barr said he would allow Mueller to complete his work and said he wouldn’t follow through with a directive to fire Mueller without cause.

It’s also not clear that Mueller is indeed on the cusp of closing up shop on his probe that has snagged guilty pleas from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates; former national security adviser Michael Flynn; and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Most recently, Mueller brought charges against longtime Trump associate Roger Stone, with a high-profile criminal trial in Washington, D.C., possible later this summer or fall.

Mueller has taken steps to hand off some of his caseload to federal prosecutors. But there are other competing signs that suggest the special counsel still has work to do: Mueller’s office has confirmed it’s locked in a mysterious Supreme Court battle over a subpoena involving a company owned by a foreign country; FBI agents collected reams of evidence and potential leads when it executed a search warrant on Stone’s home and office late last month; and multiple congressional committees have referred interview transcripts to the special counsel for review for potential perjury charges.

“When it comes to all things Mueller, the number of experts on tasseography is stunning,” said Gene Rossi, a former federal prosecutor from Virginia.

“I thought the once popular practice of reading tea leaves ended after the Victorian Era,” he added. “For me, I like to flip a coin for the answer to whether Mueller is ending. At least I have a fifty percent chance of being correct. My coin tells me that Mueller is far from done.”

Matthew Choi contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

GOP congressman jumps into critical Alabama Senate race

Republicans landed a top-tier recruit Wednesday in a race critical to their hopes of holding the Senate in 2020, when GOP Rep. Bradley Byrne jumped into the campaign against the most vulnerable Democrat up for reelection, Alabama’s Doug Jones.

The Senate is clearly in play in two years: At least a half-dozen Republican incumbents are at risk, including two in states President Donald Trump lost in 2016, and Democrats have already begun to recruit challengers in several of those races. After his shocking special election win in 2017 in deeply conservative Alabama, defeating Jones is the GOP’s best opportunity to flip a Democratic-held seat — making the contest a vital insurance policy for the party to protect its majority, currently 53-47.

Jones narrowly won the Alabama seat after Republicans nominated Roy Moore, the controversial former state Supreme Court justice who faced accusations of inappropriate sexual behavior with teenage girls. Republicans in the state are desperate to avoid the mistakes of that race, when a fractious primary helped elevate Moore over the Senate GOP’s preferred candidate, appointed Sen. Luther Strange.

But another crowded, unpredictable primary could be on the way. Byrne, a third-term congressman who ran for governor in 2010 and lost in the primary, has been hinting that he would challenge Jones for more than a year. At his official launch in Mobile Wednesday, he highlighted his support for Trump's wall on the southern border, the Second Amendment, his anti-abortion stance and his support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whom Jones opposed.

"Look at Washington and tell me you don't see a disconnect between your values and the values you see up there," Byrne said in his launch, appearing with his family. He later added, "This is not going to be an easy race. The people that presently hold this seat intend to keep it and they will stop at nothing."

Jones' campaign cited Byrne's loss in the 2010 gubernatorial primary and labeled him a "career politician" in a statement

"It doesn’t matter if Senator Jones has one opponent or 100," said the statement from Jones' campaign. "His focus is working for the people of Alabama whether it's protecting our auto jobs and farmers against dangerous tariffs or building health care infrastructure in Alabama’s rural communities."

Byrne is unlikely to have a clear path to the GOP nomination. Del Marsh, the president pro tempore of the state Senate, told POLITICO Tuesday he is “seriously considering” a campaign after passing on the 2017 special election. Some Republicans are calling on Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth to run, though he has not publicly discussed a potential bid and some Republicans doubt he will enter the race. Rep. Gary Palmer is also “seriously considering” the race, according to a source with knowledge of internal deliberations.

Terry Lathan, the chairwoman of the Alabama GOP, said Republicans who are still reeling from their loss two years ago are ready to “lock arms with a candidate” against Jones regardless of who emerges from a potentially crowded, divisive primary.

“We anticipate a war,” Lathan said, predicting massive financial investments from both parties flooding the state. “There's going to be a busy, loud race. But with Donald Trump on the ballot in one of Trump’s highest approval states, that's going to be ‘advantage GOP.’”

The primary itself could become a war. Marsh, in an interview Wednesday, alluded to a potential line of attack against Byrne: his previous criticisms of Trump. Byrne criticized Trump and called on him to exit the presidential race in 2016 after the Access Hollywood tape emerged, though he said before the election he still planned to vote for him.

“I think we're going to need somebody there that has always supported this president, is going to continue to support this president, to his efforts at building this wall,” Marsh said. “I don't think it needs to be another D.C. politician. I think it needs to be a businessman, quite honestly, who has a business background, who understands this president.”

Meanwhile, the conservative Club for Growth released a poll showing Palmer tied with Byrne in a hypothetical head-to-head primary matchup (the poll did not include other candidates and had 46 percent undecided). David McIntosh, the president of the Club, said Palmer would be the strongest candidate and said Byrne is “not a conservative,” calling him a “fake politician.”

Republicans hope to avoid a scenario where a competitive primary opens a lane for a controversial candidate to slip through the primary without majority support, making the general election much more difficult.

“There’s one guiding light when it comes to Alabama and it's just to ensure you have an electable nominee,” said Republican strategist Josh Holmes, a top ally of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Holmes called the race a “must win” for the GOP majority.

Palmer has been encouraged to jump in by Republicans statewide and is “seriously considering” the race, according to a person familiar with his deliberations. The person said Palmer remains undecided, but that Byrne’s announcement “doesn’t impact his considerations.”

One potential candidate who appears to be staying out is Rep. Mo Brooks, who lost the GOP primary in the 2017 special. Brooks said Wednesday that while he was not ruling out a bid, but he was unlikely to jump in unless it was clear he’d be a favorite in the primary.

“It would take a seismic political event to get me into the Senate race,” Brooks said.

Democrats are hoping to pull off a seismic Senate event of their own in 2020, seeing a path back to the majority by defeating a handful of Republican incumbents around the country. Democrats are likely to target at least a half-dozen states where Republicans could be vulnerable, including Maine and Colorado, where Trump lost in 2016 and will be on the ballot again next year.

In Colorado, GOP Sen. Cory Gardner already has two Democratic challengers who have previously run for office statewide and several other Democrats are considering bids, signaling confidence in the party that they have a good chance to defeat Gardner.

And Democrats have already begun recruiting top-tier candidates elsewhere. Mark Kelly, the former astronaut and Navy captain and husband of former Rep. Gabby Giffords, launched his campaign in Arizona last week and quickly raised more than $1.1 million for his challenge to Republican Sen. Martha McSally.

Kelly may still face a tough Democratic primary against Rep. Ruben Gallego, who is considering a campaign of his own. McSally was appointed to the Senate after losing her race against Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema in November, and Democrats consider the state a top target once again.

It’s still unclear who might step forward for Democrats in two other key Senate states, Maine and North Carolina. But Democrats are also pushing to add Georgia to the list of top-tier battleground races by recruiting Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race last year, to challenge GOP Sen. David Perdue. Abrams has said she’ll decide in March whether or not to run

And Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met recently with former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who is considering a presidential campaign but has not ruled out running for Senate again in Texas after losing narrowly to GOP Sen. Ted Cruz last fall.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

White House talks U.N. post with John James

The White House is in discussions with former Michigan Senate candidate John James about the vacant United Nations ambassador post, with President Donald Trump leaning toward nominating the former businessman and Iraq War veteran, according to three people close to the process.

The talks have included frequent phone calls as Trump’s team searches for a new top diplomat after State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert withdrew herself from consideration for the post over the weekend, citing family concerns. Trump and James have not met in person since Nauert pulled her name, and it’s unclear if they have spoken by phone.

A White House official said James, 37, was previously the “runner-up” for the position last December before Trump nominated Nauert. At the time, James met with several senior Trump administration officials, including the president, vice president and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. James is a “favorite” of Vice President Mike Pence, added a senior White House official, and has won a stamp of approval from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, both of whom are involved in deliberations.

James appeared on Fox News Wednesday afternoon in what some White House officials viewed as a formal audition for the role. He used the six-minute segment to pitch himself as an experienced businessman who could cut through the U.N. bureaucracy to deliver meaningful reforms, and also as someone who is willing to communicate the president’s “America First” vision. Trump has told advisers he wants someone in the job — recently downgraded from its Cabinet rank — who agrees with his foreign policy outlook and can be a ubiquitous presence on television.

“It’s an honor to be considered and I’m looking forward to getting the call should it come,” James told the network, touting his experience as a combat veteran and “someone who understands the growing spheres of communism around the world.”

Trump is also considering U.S. Ambassador to Canada Kelly Knight Craft and U.S. Ambassador to Germany Ric Grenell for the position, according to the senior White House official. But two White House officials said Grenell, despite earning the president’s praise, is unlikely to land the job. The openly gay Trump administration official was just tapped to lead a global initiative against the criminalization of homosexuality in dozens of developed countries, NBC reported on Tuesday.

James, who lost a race to unseat Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow last November, has long been discussed in GOP circles as a rising star in the Republican Party. A West Point graduate who helps runs a family-owned shipping business in Michigan, James drew several high-profile guests, including Trump, to stump for him in the final weeks before the 2018 midterm elections.

His closer-than-expected performance in 2018, along with his appeal among black communities — James is African-American — has some people close to the White House encouraging Trump to select a different person for the U.N. so that James can challenge Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan in 2020, according to a person familiar with those conversations.

“If he doesn’t get it this time, I don’t think it’s because they don’t like him, it’s because they want him to run again,” the person said.

An administration official said there “is a desire to find a big league position for” James but cautioned that the U.N. post “may not be the right fit” for him.

Nauert decided to withdraw her nomination last Friday in part because she believed her past employment of an au pair who wasn’t authorized to work in the U.S. would have further complicated the Senate confirmation process, sources familiar with her thinking previously told POLITICO.

Despite James’ popularity within the White House, some outside allies are worried that James may lack sufficient foreign policy experience, echoing a common critique of Nauert, who worked in broadcast journalism prior to joining the State Department in a senior communications role.

One person close to key U.S. senators said there are members who care deeply about the selection for this position and want to ensure the president’s eventual nominee is not untested in the foreign policy arena. Senate Democrats reacted with almost uniform dismay to Nauert’s nomination last year, claiming her loyalty to Trump should not supersede qualifications.

James would likely face similar pushback if nominated, even if some foreign policy experts insist that expertise in their field is not an absolute determiner of who can represent the U.S. well at the powerful international organization.

“Nikki Haley had very little foreign policy credentials before she did it and she did a great job,” said James Carafano, a national security expert at The Heritage Foundation. “She was … a quick learner and she was a strong leader, and those were the most valuable credentials.”

“The one difference,” Carafano allowed, “is Haley had a lot of time in government. She knew how government operated [and] she started doing her homework on foreign policy issues well before she was up for the U.N. appointment.”

Like Nauert, James also has young children at home, potentially complicating a move to New York City, where the official U.N. headquarters is located. A source familiar with the process dismissed such concerns, noting that his wife is already at home full-time and that their three children are not school age yet.

Asked about the status of the U.N. search, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told POLITICO she had “nothing to announce at this time.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Exclusive: How a top EPA regulator's law firm profited from the fight to roll back air rules

The nation’s biggest coal-burning power companies paid a top lobbying firm millions of dollars to fight a wide range of Obama-era environmental rules, documents obtained by POLITICO reveal — shortly before one of the firm’s partners became President Donald Trump’s top air pollution regulator.

Now that ex-partner, Bill Wehrum, is aggressively working to undo many of those same regulations at the EPA, where he is an assistant administrator in charge of issues including climate change, smog and power plants’ mercury pollution.

Wehrum’s past role as a utility lobbyist is well-known, but the documents reveal never-before-disclosed details of how extensively his old firm, formerly called Hunton & Williams, worked to coordinate the power industry’s strategy against the Obama administration’s regulations. Twenty-five power companies and six industry trade groups agreed to pay the firm a total of $8.2 million in 2017 alone, according to an internal summary prepared in June of that year — less than three months before Trump tapped Wehrum for his EPA post.

POLITICO obtained 26 pages of briefing materials distributed to members of an umbrella group of utilities Wehrum represented while at the firm. Known as the Utility Air Regulatory Group, the secretive organization included some of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country. The materials were marked "CONFIDENTIAL ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION" and outlined goals for a meeting of the group's policy committee.

Topping the list of funders were Duke Energy, Southern Co. and AEP, which together contributed nearly one-third of the money.

Wehrum has said he won't work on lawsuits former clients are involved in, but nothing in federal ethics rules prevents him from working on regulations that apply to a broad sweep of actors in the industry he once represented. To that extent, it does not appear Wehrum has violated any laws, but it does expose holes in the ethics system.

"The scandal here is what is legal," said Kathleen Clark, a Washington University in St. Louis law professor and ethics expert. She said the documents show “industry group strategizing about how to change federal policy through the installation of friendly personnel as regulators — and then one of their own who was in the meeting, who was in the room where it happened, ended up being the key regulator.”

Wehrum said Wednesday that he has stayed on the right side of the ethical line.

“From the beginning and from well before I joined EPA I thought it was very important to understand the ethical obligations that would apply to me,” he said in an interview with POLITICO. He added, “The ethical rules do not prevent me from working on regulations of general applicability.”

Wehrum spent 10 years as a partner at the firm, now called Hunton Andrews Kurth. His EPA biography notes that he was also head of the firm’s “Administrative Law Group.”

Wehrum convened his power plant industry clients on June 22 and 23, 2017, at his law firm’s Washington, D.C., offices to lay out a road map for attacking the very policies he now oversees, the documents show. The roster of clients under the umbrella of the Utility Air Regulatory Group include some of the largest, most influential utility companies in the country. Wehrum told POLITICO he does not remember the two-day meeting, but a person familiar with the meeting and another who attended confirmed he was there.

Wehrum is certainly not the only person in Washington or the Trump administration to swing from lobbying to regulating. But the documents lay out an unusually clear picture of how Washington lobbyists steer a legal campaign for clients, keeping litigation churning while earning massive fees for their firms.

“I think the proximity of what he was doing in private sector advocacy then government work is a thing that distinguishes him from a lot of people and makes him vulnerable to criticism and questioning," said a former government ethics official.

By the time Trump had nominated Wehrum, he’d already made millions for and from Hunton — his financial disclosure listed a $2.1 million partnership share in his last year at the firm. That form also lists the Utility Air Regulatory Group as one of 20 sources of his compensation surpassing $5,000, but only one UARG member — Salt River Project — is named individually.

The documents prepared for the group's June 2017 policy committee meeting laid out how much money Hunton & Williams was seeking for its work on behalf of the companies. It estimated an $8.8 million budget for 2018.

Once “the new leadership team at EPA is in place, if that team shows that it has the ability to address expeditiously many of the initiatives of greatest importance to UARG members — and if UARG wants to participate meaningfully in such initiatives — then UARG will likely need an overall year-2018 budget that is higher than this year’s budget,” it read.

A month after the meeting, word began to circulate that Wehrum was headed to EPA, and by September, Trump made the nomination official.

It was unclear how far Wehrum was in his negotiations with the administration at the time of the meeting — he told POLITICO he was first approached in "early 2017" about the possibility — but he already had access to high-level EPA officials.

Mandy Gunasekara, then a top EPA air official, attended the UARG meeting at Wehrum's request.

“We are interested in any Clean Air Act regulatory issue that you are willing and able to address,” Wehrum wrote in an email to Gunasekara, according to separate documents obtained by the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act. "Topics of interest include the Clean Power Plan, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, regional transport, regional haze, and NAAQS/NAAQS implementation. We are not asking you to address pending litigation on any of these issues. We are interested in discussing only possible future regulatory action."

A person who was at the meeting confirmed both Gunasekara and Wehrum were there.

Wehrum told POLITICO that while he continued to work for Hunton for most of 2017, he “billed typically just a few hours a year to UARG.” He said he’s stayed within ethical boundaries because rules don’t prohibit him from working on regulations that apply to a broad suite of players and he has not met with UARG since joining the EPA.

Wehrum has previously said he would recuse himself from litigation matters that he previously participated in, but not policymaking, such as regulation. He represented UARG in court as late as March 2017, when he filed a lawsuit over an Obama administration rule boosting chemical safety and reporting requirements at industrial facilities.

“UARG is an entity. It’s a legal entity,” he said, explaining that his clients were “not the individual members” of UARG.

Wehrum recused himself for two years from decisions related to a Dominion Energy subsidiary, Duke and Salt River Project, but not any of the other UARG member companies, according to a September 2018 recusal statement to acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.

Wehrum has in the past tried to firewall his work on litigation and policy, suggesting he would recuse himself from matters in which Hunton has represented clients in lawsuits challenging Obama-era policies. But the newly obtained documents show how deeply Hunton was involved in the cradle-to-grave formation of policy through UARG. For example, the June 2017 briefing materials cited "possible participation in rulemaking activity" among the services for which Hunton expected to bill the group's members.

Since he was confirmed by the Senate in November 2017, Wehrum has undertaken many of the policies UARG identified as top priorities.

For example, the June 2017 UARG document says the group will “coordinate member efforts and strategy regarding EPA review and potential reconsideration of” an Obama-era rule that justified major limits on mercury from power plant smokestacks by counting “co-benefits” from incidental reductions in other types of air pollution.

Then, last December, after Wehrum joined the agency, EPA proposed changing the rule to disregard the co-benefits, aligning itself with the position UARG has taken since at least 2016. (The agency also opened the door to revoking rule entirely — something that would benefit the dirtiest coal plants in the country — although it says it has no immediate plans to do so.)

Another area of focus UARG outlined in June 2017 was “potential administrative actions related to the New Source Review program,” a reference to permits that coal plants have to receive before conducting major upgrades.

Wehrum included major changes to that program as part of EPA’s new carbon rule for power plants. The proposal would waive the New Source Review requirements for coal plants installing efficiency technology because the permitting costs would make the upgrades “no longer viable,” Wehrum told reporters last week. That change could allow coal plants to run more frequently, potentially increasing overall emissions even if the plant is more efficient.

And in a separate move last November, Wehrum revived a New Source Review rule issued in the final days of the George W. Bush administration but halted by the Obama administration. The project “aggregation” rule could help utilities avoid more stringent permitting requirements, and it is also listed as an action item on UARG’s 2017 list.

The Edison Electric Institute, the main trade association for the nation’s investor-owned utilities, foots most of the UARG bill, according to the newly obtained briefing materials. But UARG doesn’t show up in any official documents — it has no tax identification number, no address, no incorporation filings. In lawsuits, UARG generally describes itself as a "not-for-profit" or "ad hoc" group of electricity generators without further describing its membership.

UARG's structure allows it to avoid a paper trail. Utilities are dues-paying “members” of the organization. Many of those members, though, are also part of EEI. Rather than collect directly from companies, the briefing materials show that Hunton bills EEI directly — thus avoiding involvement of any formal entity known as UARG. EEI’s 990 filings with the IRS, which nonprofits file annually, show a more than $8 million “consulting” tab for Hunton dating back years, making up more than half of the trade organization’s independent contractor services.

“EEI provides accounting services to groups such as UARG and participates in a number of coalitions covering a range of issues important to our members," EEI spokesperson Brian Reil said in a statement to POLITICO. "UARG provides a variety of services to its members, including regulatory, technical, and compliance advice and information. EEI does not participate in any votes on UARG policy matter decisions. EEI files our own comments on the issues that are important to our members and their customers."

The names of the UARG members are some of the biggest in the business, along with some of the largest consumers of coal.

The documents show that 25 companies that are EEI members — including AEP, Ameren, Dominion, DTE Energy Co., Duke, FirstEnergy Corp., NiSource, South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. and Southern Co. Services — accounted for $6.8 million in 2017 dues to UARG.

Organizations that have backed efforts to soften pollution and climate regulations account for the remaining $1.4 million in dues: American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, American Public Power Association, EEI, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and the National Mining Association. The Tennessee Valley Authority also paid $462,967 in dues that year, according to the documents.

Wehrum thus can have a significant effect on keeping business flowing to his old firm through regulatory maneuvers that affect the power industry. Some companies have already questioned whether some of Wehrum’s moves are necessary. Redoing the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, a pollution rule that most utilities already have spent millions complying with, tops that list. UARG member Duke, for example, has publicly criticized EPA’s decision to revisit that rule.

In an interview, Wehrum cited EPA's work on the mercury rule as one area where his policies have diverged from the wishes of some UARG members. “I’m not going to put words or thoughts into anybody’s mouth,” Wehrum said of UARG, but he added, “I know at least a lot of individual member companies wanted to go the other way.”

Given that Hunton participates both in regulatory comment periods and litigation, Wehrum’s old firm would be slated to be involved in every step of the policy process. The June 2017 UARG document lists specific budget allocations for various programs, such as climate change, pollution control technologies, hazardous air pollutants and regional air quality.

Wehrum told POLITICO he believes he's doing things by the book.

"I don't believe anybody has gotten special access because they’re a friend of mine," he said.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Kamala Harris shamed by Jamaican father over pot-smoking joke

Kamala Harris made headlines last week when she joked in a radio interview that of course she smoked marijuana in her younger years: “Half my family’s from Jamaica, are you kidding me?”

But the crack didn’t go over well with at least one Jamaican: Donald J. Harris, the candidate’s father.

The elder Harris sent an unsolicited statement to Kingston-based Jamaica Global Online, where the emeritus professor of economics at Stanford wrote a recent essay on his family’s history.

“My dear departed grandmothers (whose extraordinary legacy I described in a recent essay on this website), as well as my deceased parents, must be turning in their grave right now to see their family’s name, reputation and proud Jamaican identity being connected, in any way, jokingly or not with the fraudulent stereotype of a pot-smoking joy seeker and in the pursuit of identity politics,” he wrote.

Added Donald Harris: “Speaking for myself and my immediate Jamaican family, we wish to categorically dissociate ourselves from this travesty.”

Kamala Harris’ campaign had no comment.

Harris’ parents separated when she was young and divorced a few years later. Though Donald Harris remained a part of his children’s lives, Kamala Harris and her sister were raised by their mother.

In the interview with “The Breakfast Club,” Kamala Harris cited her Jamaican heritage when asked to respond to those who believe she’s opposed to legalizing marijuana. “Are you kidding me?” she asked.

Harris said she smoked a joint in college. “And I inhaled,” she added, a joking reference to former President Bill Clinton’s comment on the campaign trail in 1992 that he smoked marijuana but “didn’t inhale.”

Donald Harris, who did not respond to requests for comment, worked with the Jamaican website’s administrator when he was consulting and writing about the economy there in the 1990s.

In an email reviewed by POLITICO, Donald Harris indicated he wasn’t interested in discussing the issue further publicly: “I have decided to stay out of all the political hullabaloo by not engaging in any interviews with the media,” he wrote.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Can Bernie Sanders Survive the Modern Left?

Bernie Sanders catalyzed the Democratic Party’s post-Obama move to the left. He nearly beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries, and may have even been a stronger candidate against Donald Trump in the general. Now he's back, and the party’s surging left wing is conflicted.

At one level, it’s thrilling for the left: If the self-proclaimed democratic socialist were elected president in 2020, it would represent a truly historic swing in the country’s political orientation. No one would be as committed to the party’s new, socialist-inflected policy agenda than the guy who came up with much of it in the first place.

But among the flaws on Sanders’ résumé for many progressives is one that he can do nothing about—he is a white male, and an old one. In the language of the modern left, the straight, cisgendered Sanders is burdened by his utter lack of intersectionality.

It’s a symptom of the delicacy of the situation that in attempting to talk his way around this gross status offense, he has caused even more offense.

In his announcement interview on Vermont Public Radio, he was pushed on how he can lead a diverse Democratic Party. Sanders cited the famous Martin Luther King Jr. quote about judging people by the content of their character and replied, “We have got to look at candidates, you know, not by the color of their skin, not by their sexual orientation or their gender and not by their age. I mean, I think we have got to try to move us toward a nondiscriminatory society, which looks at people based on their abilities, based on what they stand for.”

For expressing this support for a nondiscriminatory society, a sentiment that would have been considered jejune just a few years ago, Sanders was roundly denounced.

Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress thundered on Twitter, “At a time where folks feel under attack because of who they are, saying race or gender or sexual orientation or identity doesn’t matter is not off, it’s simply wrong.”

Former Clinton aide Jess McIntosh chimed in, “This is usually an argument made by people who don’t enjoy outsized respect and credibility because of their race, gender, age and sexual orientation.”

Stephen Colbert snarked, “Yes, like Dr. King, I have a dream—a dream where this diverse nation can come together and be led by an old white guy.”

This wasn’t a first-time offense on Sanders‘ part, either. He said much the same thing in a GQ profile, and also earned rebukes, including one from his former press secretary Symone Sanders. “As a young black millennial,” she told CNN of his remark, “I don’t like hearing it because it speaks to a fundamental misunderstanding about race and gender and what people are looking for.”

Needless to say, I categorically reject pretty much everything Sanders believes, but what he is getting at here should be uncontroversial, indeed banal. Of course, it is important and desirable that we look beyond the demographic characteristics of candidates, to their views and their merits. Do we really want to live in a society in which no one can represent people different from them?

Consider where this leads. Given a choice between Sanders and the free-market Republican Tim Scott for president, do progressives want African-Americans to vote for Scott? Should Bobby Kennedy, lionized for decades for his unifying campaigning, be retroactively deemed just another straight white male who had to get out of the way? Do we let ourselves slide into a society of Shiites and Sunnis, merely conducting a census every election cycle by voting for our own regardless of any other consideration?

Anyone who looks at, say, Steve Forbes and Sanders and thinks, “Oh, just a couple of white guys,” is disregarding every political and philosophical difference in favor of a racialist reductionism.

The sniping at Sanders (some of it motivated by lingering bitterness over the 2016 primary campaign) is especially bizarre given his long history of advocacy of civil rights, including his attendance at the 1963 March on Washington.

It’s not as though Sanders is dismissing diversity. In the GQ interview, he said how important it is, and set out his vision for his movement: “My main belief is that we need to bring together a coalition of people—of black and white and Latino and Asian-American and Native American—around a progressive agenda which is prepared to take on an extraordinarily powerful ruling class in this country.”

Once upon a time, this would have been considered a welcome, inclusive view. Today, Sanders is seen as retrograde by the identity-politics hall monitors who increasingly rule the Democratic Party.

The root of the problem is that Sanders is an old-school socialist who attributes primacy to a class struggle that crosses racial boundaries, rather than to race (or gender or sexual orientation) as such. A highly intellectual and starker version of his worldview can be seen in Adolph Reed, the University of Pennsylvania professor who complains, as he put it in an interview last year, “Any claim or proposal concerning durable patterns of economic inequality is now taken as being tantamount to making excuses for white supremacy.”

If Sanders ever said anything like that, he’d have to drop out of the campaign the next day. It’s an odd turn of events when unreconstructed socialists are, in at least this one respect, more broad-minded than the Democratic Party. But it’s true, and Sanders will have trouble living it down.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Coast Guard officer accused of plotting to kill Democrats, journalists

A U.S. Coast Guard officer has been arrested after federal investigators discovered a stockpile of illegal drugs and weapons in his home that they allege were part of a plot to commit acts of mass terrorism.

Prosecutors say Lt. Christopher Paul Hasson, who was arrested Friday, was intent on committing white-supremacist terror attacks. Though he was initially arrested on charges of illegal weapons and drug possession, a court filing says that those charges are “the proverbial tip of the iceberg.”

“The defendant is a domestic terrorist, bent on committing acts dangerous to human life that are intended to affect government conduct,” the filing alleges.

While searching Hasson’s suburban Maryland home, investigators found a number of files on his computer suggesting that Hasson planned to target members of Congress and media figures in the hopes of creating a “white homeland.”

“Liberalist/globalist ideology is destroying traditional peoples esp white,” Hasson wrote in a draft email, according to court documents. “No way to counteract without violence. It should push for more crack down bringing more people to our side. Much blood will have to be spilled to get whitey off the couch.”

Hasson referred to his targets as “traitors,” and appears to have named figures such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chairman John Podesta. He appeared to find inspiration in Russia for its antipathy toward American liberalism, and his browser history revealed searches including “what if trump illegally impeached” and “civil war if trump impeached,” according to the court filing.

“Looking to Russia with hopeful eyes or any land that despises the west’s liberalism. Excluding of course the muslim scum. Who rightfully despise the west’s liberal degeneracy,” Hasson wrote in a draft email according to the filings.

Hasson was also apparently inspired by Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who carried out two attacks in 2011 in Oslo and at a political youth camp. Breivik took a cocktail of steroids and other drugs, believing they would help him carry out the attacks. Similarly, investigators found steroids and the pain reliever Tramadol — a highly addictive controlled substance — in Hasson’s home.

Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University, first reported Hasson’s arrest Wednesday afternoon.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

DeVos donates her salary to historically black colleges, 6 other groups

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos donated a portion of her government salary to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a group of public historically black colleges and universities, the group announced Wednesday.

“Out of all the higher education organizations in the country she could have selected, we can’t thank Mrs. DeVos enough for her trust, belief in and support for TMCF, the mission and our 47 member-schools,” Harry L. Williams, TMCF president and CEO, said in a statement.

It's the latest example of her warming relationship with HBCUs, which got off to a rocky start when she issued a statement in 2017 calling the schools — founded during an era of racial segregation — "real pioneers when it comes to school choice.” Later that year, she was booed by hundreds of graduating seniors at a historically black university in Florida as she delivered the school's commencement address.

But DeVos has since drawn praise from leaders, in part for her work on a capital financing program that's helped their financially struggling schools.

“Mrs. DeVos has taken the time to consistently meet, listen and work with TMCF, learning more about the needs and value of our schools throughout her time at the Department of Education," Williams said. "We have had a productive and impactful working relationship with Mrs. DeVos and her entire team.”

DeVos made a $199,700 salary as a Cabinet member in 2018. The college fund would not say how much she gave. Nor would an Education Department spokesperson.

DeVos, a billionaire philanthropist, has a long history of donating to groups that support expanding access to charter schools and private schools and religious organizations, among other causes. Last year, she divided her government salary among four nonprofits, including the Special Olympics.

Besides the college fund, DeVos this year also gave unspecified amounts to:

— The Travis Manion Foundation, a nonprofit supporting veterans.
— The Kennedy Center's Any Given Child initiative.
— The National Academy Foundation, a national network supporting STEM education.
— The Children's Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit school choice group.
— Jesse Lewis Choose Love, a social-emotional learning program.
— The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation, which supports children with cancer and their families.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

House Dems move to block Trump’s emergency declaration

House Democrats are expected to introduce legislation Friday to block President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration, the first formal step to counter Trump and squeeze Republicans on the border wall.

The office of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), who is leading the effort, circulated an email Wednesday afternoon announcing plans to introduce the resolution of disapproval after Trump’s declaration was published in the Federal Register this week.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who led a congressional delegation overseas to meet with European leaders earlier this week, has yet to weigh in on the resolution. But she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a scathing statement vowing to fight Trump “using every remedy available” last Friday.

Democrats are also expected to file a lawsuit to halt Trump’s effort to circumvent Congress to build his border wall.

Trump issued the emergency proclamation Friday after signing a bill that funds the government through September, including allocating $1.375 billion for border fencing. Trump’s declaration allows him to take about $6 billion more from other government accounts to put toward building his border wall.

It’s unclear when Democratic leaders would bring the measure up for a vote on the House floor, but it is expected to pass easily. The privileged resolution will automatically receive a vote on the Senate floor, forcing Republicans in both chambers to take a stand on Trump’s use of executive power, which some GOP lawmakers have already harshly criticized.

So far, more than 100 House Democrats have signed onto the resolution with more likely to join, according to a Democratic aide. Lawmakers wishing to co-sponsor it have until 3 p.m. Thursday to do so, according to the email from aides to Castro, who also serves as chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

As soon as the House votes on the resolution, the clock starts for Senate GOP leaders, who are required under law to put the measure to a vote within 18 days.

It would take just four GOP senators to join with Democrats to approve the resolution, which appears quite plausible given Republican concern with Trump’s emergency declaration.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Wednesday became the first GOP senator to publicly say she would support the Democratic resolution, according to the AP. Speaking at a Coast Guard ceremony in Maine, Collins said Trump’s move “completely undermines” the role of Congress.

Trump would be certain to issue the first veto of his presidency over the measure — though it is unlikely Congress could override him. In the House, more than 50 Republicans would need to join with Democrats to secure the needed 288 votes.

The Associated Press was first to report plans to introduce the resolution on Friday.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump says he directed Pompeo not to let ISIS bride back in U.S.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he had directed the State Department not to allow the return of an Alabama woman who in 2014 joined the Islamic State terrorist group, days after the woman made public pleas to be let back into the U.S.

“I have instructed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and he fully agrees, not to allow Hoda Muthana back into the Country!” the president tweeted.

Muthana left Alabama, where she was a student, and joined ISIS in Syria when she was 19, becoming a bride for three fighters. She went on to call for the killing of Americans on Twitter.

In recent days, however, Muthana, who is now 24, said she regretted her actions and wanted to return to the U.S, according to The Guardian. She is reportedly being detained in a Kurdish refugee camp.

Pompeo on Wednesday said Muthana was not a U.S. citizen and had no “legal basis” to be brought back to the United States.

“Ms. Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen and will not be admitted into the United States,” he said in a statement issued before Trump’s post on Twitter. “She does not have any legal basis, no valid U.S. passport, no right to a passport, nor any visa to travel to the United States. We continue to strongly advise all U.S. citizens not to travel to Syria.”

The State Department did not immediately respond to questions about Muthana’s citizenship status and whether Pompeo’s statement was in response to a request from Trump.

Hassan Shibly, a family representative for Muthana, disputed the secretary of state’s assertion, saying that Muthana was born in New Jersey in 1994.

“The Trump administration continues its attempts to wrongfully strip citizens of their citizenship,” Shibly tweeted. “Hoda Muthana had a valid US passport and is a citizen. She was born in Hackensack, NJ in October 1994, months after her father stopped being diplomat.”

Shibly later tweeted a what appeared to be Muthana’s birth certificate, adding that she was born “months after her father informed the US Government he was no longer a diplomat.”

It is unclear whether Muthana is an American citizen, since the children of diplomats in the U.S. are not entitled to birthright citizenship.

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Harris hires ex-Clinton aide Ruiz and several other women of color

Sen. Kamala Harris is adding several women of color to her presidential campaign team, an aide told POLITICO.

Emmy Ruiz, a political strategist who served as Hillary Clinton’s state director in Nevada and Colorado in 2016, will be a senior adviser to Harris. Ruiz will counsel the campaign on electoral, political and field strategy.

Ruiz was a field director for the Democratic National Committee in Texas and Nevada in 2012 before serving as President Barack Obama’s Nevada state director during the general election. Her experience includes serving as political director of Annie’s List in Texas and campaign manager for comprehensive immigration reform at Organizing for Action.

Missayr Boker and Julie Chávez Rodriguez will serve as co-national political directors. Boker was the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s campaign director in 2018, helping Senate Democrats’ campaign arm pick up seats in Nevada and Arizona. Boker has also served as assistant political director and PAC director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, where she managed issue advocacy campaigns and electoral strategy, and for an advocacy organization in Liberia that focused on reducing maternal mortality rates.

Rodriguez, the granddaughter of civil rights leader Cesar Chávez, is moving over from Harris’ Senate office, where she had worked as California state director since 2017. She was a special assistant to the president and senior deputy director for public engagement for Obama, overseeing the White House’s engagement with LGBT, Latino, veteran, youth, education, labor and progressive leaders.

Amanda Bailey, who raised money for now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s finance director for the West, will be Harris’ deputy national finance director. Bailey previously served on finance teams for former Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and former Rep. Donna Edwards' (D-Md.) Senate campaign.

Rosa Mendoza and Joyce Kazadi will serve as Harris analytics and advance directors, respectively. Mendoza was the DCCC’s head of analytics and senior strategist. Kazadi was Axios’ partner engagement director and events director for Axios360. Kazadi was also national advance lead on Clinton’s 2016 campaign, producing events and executing trips in more than 20 contested states in the primary and general elections.

These women are among more than a dozen women of color in senior roles in Harris’ campaign, including campaign chair Maya Harris, deputy national political director Jalisa Washington-Price, senior adviser Laphonza Butler and deputy national press secretary Kirsten Allen.

The campaign said each woman will be involved in key decisions that are made throughout the race and that the hires reflect the California senator’s commitment to diversity.

“We value diverse backgrounds and experiences because they give our campaign vibrancy and fresh perspectives about the many challenges all Americans are facing,” said campaign manager Juan Rodriguez. “Senator Harris has a history of elevating and amplifying all voices to ensure that nothing is seen through only one narrow point of view.”

Christopher Cadelago contributed to this report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Fed undecided on whether to raise rates in 2019

Federal Reserve policymakers have halted their campaign to steadily raise interest rates, but their rate-tightening efforts might not be over, according to the minutes from the central bank’s January meeting.

The Fed at its January meeting left rates unchanged and signaled it was ready to stop hiking rates, sending stocks surging, though Chairman Jerome Powell gave no indication as to whether that pause will end sometime this year. The summary of deliberations from the Fed’s rate-setting committee released today shows that central bank officials don’t know yet.

Many members of the policy-setting committee “suggested that it was not yet clear” whether there will need to be “adjustments” to the central bank’s main borrowing rate later in 2019, the minutes say. Several officials argued that more hikes “might prove necessary only if inflation outcomes were higher” than currently projected.

But several other officials said if the U.S. economy continues in line with what they expect, they would “view it as appropriate” to raise rates later this year.

“In other words, if the economy remains in good shape, we haven’t necessarily seen the last of the interest rate hikes,” said Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com.

Still, the document did have more specific good news for the stock market, suggesting the Fed will announce later this year a plan to stop reducing the massive stockpile of bonds that it bought in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis to spur growth. The Fed’s balance sheet reduction also has the effect of tightening credit conditions, alongside its rate hikes.

“Almost all participants thought that it would be desirable to announce before too long a plan to stop reducing the Federal Reserve’s asset holdings later this year,” according to the minutes. “Such an announcement would provide more certainty about the process for completing the normalization of the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.”

The Fed’s decision to pause its rate hike campaign in January, after signaling in December that as many as two more increases could be coming in 2019, sparked questions among investors about whether the economic outlook had changed significantly in the intervening weeks or if the central bank was merely reacting to wild swings in the stock market.

The central bank minutes say that indeed the outlook “had become more uncertain” since December, while nodding to the fact that “financial market volatility had remained elevated over the intermeeting period.” Officials also cited other factors: slower growth, deteriorating consumer and business confidence, trade tensions and the partial government shutdown.

But clearly financial markets were top of mind for Fed officials, with the views of “market participants” garnering several mentions.

“Considerations of [rising] risks drove the committee to emphasize its ‘patient’ mantra with respect to future rate hikes,” said Curt Long, chief economist for the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions. “That is certainly a nod to jittery markets, which seem to have been comforted by the shift in tone from December.”

The Fed is willing to be patient about further hikes as it waits to determine the effects of those factors, as well as the central bank’s own interest rate hikes, on the broader economy.

“A patient approach would have the added benefit of giving policymakers an opportunity to judge the response of economic activity and inflation to the recent steps taken to normalize the stance of monetary policy,” the minutes say.

“Furthermore, a patient posture would allow time for a clearer picture of the international trade policy situation and the state of the global economy to emerge and, in particular, could allow policymakers to reach a firmer judgment about the extent and persistence of the economic slowdown in Europe and China,” they add.

The Fed also indicated worry that financial market participants misinterpreted its message in December as a lack of recognition of economic risks, with officials debating whether their aggregated projections of future rate hikes misleadingly suggested that “policy was on a preset course.”

"[M]arket participants appeared to interpret FOMC communications at the time of the December meeting as not fully appreciating the tightening of financial conditions and the associated downside risks to the U.S. economic outlook that had emerged since the fall."

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump says he hasn't thought about firing intel chief Coats

President Donald Trump denied Wednesday that he is considering firing Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, despite several reports that the president is frustrated with the chief intelligence official.

"I haven't even thought about it," Trump told reporters while meeting with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The president's comments came after reports that Trump was fuming and "enraged" over Coats' remarks during a hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee last month during which he broke with the president on several critical foreign policy fronts.

Coats told lawmakers that North Korea is "unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities." Trump is meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next week in Vietnam, where the two will continue to discuss a path toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

The U.S. intelligence chief also appeared to contradict the president's stance on Iran and ISIS. Coats noted that Iran is not yet seeking a nuclear weapon, despite Trump consistently saying that it is. In addition, Coats said that the Islamic State terrorist group remains a forceful presence in Iraq and Syria, even as the president is preparing to withdraw troops in the region.

Longtime Trump confidant Chris Ruddy on Monday said that although he hasn't spoken to the president specifically about Coats, he believes there is a "general disappointment" with the U.S. intelligence chief.

“There's just general disappointment of the president with Director Coats," Ruddy said during an interview on CNN. "There's a feeling that maybe there needs to be a change of leadership in that position coming up.”

Trump has often booted those in his administration who he believes are not fully on his side, including former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Maryland Gov. Hogan leaves the door open for primary challenge against Trump

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday did not rule out mounting a 2020 Republican primary challenge against President Donald Trump, further stoking speculation in a CBS interview about his plans for next year’s presidential race.

While he cautioned that he was sworn in for his second term as governor just a month ago, Hogan didn’t deny that he is being courted for a GOP primary run by critics of the president.

“I would say I’m being approached from a lot of different people, and I guess the best way to put it is I haven’t thrown them out of my office,” he told CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe in an interview that aired Wednesday morning.

He also predicted that more Republicans could primary Trump depending on what special counsel Robert Mueller reveals after the conclusion of the Russia investigation.

Hogan conceded that Trump is “unlikely” to be vulnerable to a primary challenge but warned that if Trump does secure the GOP nomination, “he’s pretty weak in the general election.”

Hogan was one of the most prominent elected Republicans in 2016 to decline to support the president, and he has not been shy about publicly disagreeing with Trump. Maryland was the only GOP-led state to join a lawsuit filed last week challenging Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, and Hogan himself has been outspoken at times in breaking with the GOP in his criticisms of the president.

The blue-state Republican has enjoyed high approval ratings from Democrats and Republicans alike during his tenure in office, easily winning reelection last fall in reliably Democratic Maryland. He hasn’t discouraged talk of potentially challenging the president for the GOP nomination, and his potency as a possible challenger has drawn attention from Trump’s reelection team.

Hogan is one of a handful of Republicans rumored to be mulling a primary challenge, along with former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who also ran against Trump in the 2016 GOP primary. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, a Republican who was the Libertarian Party’s 2016 vice presidential nominee, announced last week that he would form an exploratory committee to consider a primary challenge to Trump.

In his interview with CBS, Hogan added later that he wouldn’t reveal whom he plans to support — or not support — so far ahead of the 2020 election, saying cryptically that “I don’t know who the nominees in either party are going to be.”

But, he said, “I don’t see how my position would change much from before, I haven’t become more supportive than I was four years ago.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Michael Cohen gets two-month delay on reporting to prison

A judge has granted President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen a two-month reprieve on reporting to prison while Cohen recovers from shoulder surgery and prepares to testify before three congressional committees.

U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley agreed Wednesday to a request from Cohen’s attorney to allow his client to report to prison as late as May 6, rather than on March 6 as Pauley originally ordered.

Last December, the Manhattan-based Pauley sentenced Cohen to three years in prison following his guilty plea to a variety of fraud charges as well as charges that he conspired to arrange illegal donations to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in the form of unreported payments to women claiming to have had sexual affairs with the candidate.

Pauley provided no detailed explanation for his order delaying Cohen’s reporting date, but the letter from Cohen’s attorney Michael Monico cited both health issues and looming Congressional testimony as grounds for the postponement.

“Defendant makes the request because he recently underwent a serious surgical procedure and he needs to undergo intensive post-surgical physical therapy and be monitored by his physician for recovery,” Monico wrote.

Cohen’s lawyers disclosed in the letter made public Wednesday that they submitted a more detailed explanation about the need for the delay to the judge last week. That submission has not been made public.

Prosecutors did not object to the 60-day extension, Monico wrote.

Monico’s letter also appeared to confirm that after cancellations of highly-anticipated congressional testimony in recent weeks, Cohen plans to go forward with those appearances before the end of February. The defense attorney didn’t say that testimony would preclude Cohen reporting to prison next month, but argued that it would disrupt his ability to prepare to go to jail

“Mr. Cohen also anticipates being called to testify before three (3) Congressional committees at the end of the month,” the defense lawyer said. “Doing so will require Mr. Cohen to spend substantial time in preparation that will limit the time he has to get his affairs in order and spend time with his family, especially given such a short period between the anticipated hearings and the present reporting date.”

Cohen was scheduled to testify publicly before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee earlier this month in what was expected to be a riveting television event skewering the sitting president.

But he pulled out of that appearance late last month, citing ongoing threats against his family. His complaint followed tweets in which Trump referred to Cohen’s father.

A similar appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee was also postponed.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

'Give these brown babies a shot': UNC defends its use of race in admissions

A legal battle that's engulfed the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill offers a rare window into how admissions staffers at an elite public university discuss applicants — and the extent to which race plays into those exchanges.

“Can we get excited for this brown ... boy who’s being raised by his grandfather, wants to become a surgeon, #2 in his class?" an admissions officer wrote in one online chat unearthed by opponents of affirmative action. "Yes! Admit w/ merit!”

This chat and others were entered as evidence last month in a federal court case in the Middle District of North Carolina, filed by a group that wants to undermine affirmative action.

In another chat, an employee wrote: “Give these brown babies a shot at these merit $$."

“If its brown and above a 1300 put them in for merit/Excel,” read a third chat, referring to financial aid at the university.

The frank back-and-forth among unidentified UNC staffers, dating from 2014, is part of a slew of chats and emails figuring in a lawsuit over how UNC considers race in admissions. Roughly a third of U.S. universities consider the race of applicants when they reach decisions about which students receive highly coveted acceptance letters and which are denied.

The five-year-old legal fight comes at the same time that debates over race, privilege and discrimination are roiling higher education and the nation, most recently over whether Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam used blackface while in medical school. The North Carolina case is one of two over affirmative action that potentially could reach the Supreme Court.

Colleges have argued it’s imperative they enroll a diverse student body, in part because of incidents like in Virginia. The Supreme Court, which has repeatedly approved the use of race in admitting college students, has agreed— noting that creating a diverse student body “promotes cross-racial understanding, helps to break down racial stereotypes, and enables students to better understand persons of different races.

But the group suing UNC, Students For Fair Admissions, contends the chats and emails show that UNC has gone too far.

Students for Fair Admissions alleges that UNC admissions officials closely monitor the racial makeup of an incoming class, which SFFA has said is tantamount to racial balancing. And it claims that non-minority UNC students have "far stronger academic qualifications" than minority students, that UNC "gives substantial preferences" to minorities and that UNC "uses race in a mechanical, formulaic way."

"Readers are keenly focused on the applicant’s race,” attorneys for SFFA wrote in court filings. The suit has not yet gone to trial, and the latest step was a filing of motions for summary judgment last month.

UNC Vice Provost for Enrollment and Undergraduate Admissions Steve Farmer said in a statement that the online exchanges don’t “reflect Carolina’s values or our admissions process.”

“We only consider race or ethnicity as one of a multitude of factors, if a student chooses to share that information on the standard Common Application, as is consistent with the law,” Farmer said. “Our admissions staff receive rigorous training on how to read and discuss applications and follow written guidelines.”

The university noted that the conversations cited in the suit were “cherry picked from the 380,000 pages of documents and information about 200,000 applicants that we provided.”

UNC's attorneys say the school has "closely adhered" to Supreme Court precedent, including considering race in admissions in a narrowly tailored manner. They say the lawsuit is just one of the group’s "attempts to rewrite the law and dictate University policy." SFFA wants the court to "impose a new constitutional standard" on UNC, the lawyers say.

SFFA is also suing Harvard University, in a closely watched challenge to the Ivy League school’s admissions policies, which SFFA contends discriminate against Asian-American applicants.

SFFA is led by Edward Blum, a longtime opponent of affirmative action who was also the architect of a legal challenge against the University of Texas at Austin. The case ended up before the Supreme Court, which sided with UT Austin.

With President Donald Trump constructing a more conservative high court, the Harvard case is widely believed to be the next best shot at ending affirmative action. But the UNC case is waiting in the wings should that effort fail.

In the chats and emails included as evidence, which mostly appear to be from the early stages of an admissions process, UNC officials often referred to applicants’ race, and experts say that's not unusual.

“A lot of what happens during the reading and review process is, there is kind of a give-and-take — horse trading, as you will — to talk about applicants as they relate to other applicants, as they relate to admissions criteria,” said David Hawkins, executive director for educational content and policy at the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

He said language in the 2014 chats isn’t “ideal,” but they seem like early conversations about applicants, and don’t seem to indicate any final decisions — so it’s impossible to tell how much race actually ended up mattering. These readers are only making recommendations that will later be considered by other admissions officials and a full committee.

“There’s likely to be a much deeper conversation about how the student fits in at all and whether they can succeed,” Hawkins said.

Still, for schools that consider race in admissions “it wouldn’t be uncommon to talk about an applicant as a brown student or a Native American student or a white student.”

UNC staffers in the chats, along with race, also touted applicants’ academic credentials — perfect SAT scores and high marks on Advanced Placement tests — and stress how much hardship the applicants have overcome.

One applicant, they wrote, “works 35 hours/week,” was a first generation college student and an underrepresented minority. “Single mom, unemployed,” they wrote.

In some cases, officials questioned whether other readers were fairly considering an applicant’s full background — whether they attended a school that didn’t offer as many advanced courses or extracurricular opportunities as other applicants, for instance, but did as much as they could.

In December 2015, one admissions official wrote to another that some other readers “are missing the school context.”

“They’re penalizing students for modest programs but missing the fact that the school only offers a few APs, so in context, the student is actually exhausting or nearly exhausting the rigor that’s available to them,” they wrote.

UNC attorneys stressed in court filings that the university doesn’t have racial quotas and readers are never given targets or numerical goals for shaping the incoming class. Caroline Hoxby, an economist UNC hired to study admissions data for the case, concluded race explains very little of UNC’s admissions decisions — between 0.8 and 5.6 percent, depending on the model.

But the chat messages and emails show how race comes up.

In a March 2014 email, an admissions official wrote another colleague asking whether an applicant who lived in North Carolina with his mother, but whose father lived in Texas, might be considered an in-state applicant, even though he marked on his application that he was not a North Carolina resident.

“I’m going through this trouble because this is a bi-racial (black/white) male,” the official wrote. “I would definitely admit for NC.”

In May, an academic adviser in the university’s College of Arts & Science wrote two admissions officials about an applicant.

“We know this is late admission but we would like to see [REDACTED] have a shot,” she wrote. “She is an Hispanic minority and good background to have this opportunity.”

In November 2013, one official wrote to another with questions about “an AA female, with solid everything that adds up to an admit for me.”

In the 2014 chat exchange where admissions officials wrote about giving “brown babies a shot at these merit $$,” one official wrote: “I don’t think I can admit or defer this brown girl … Testing, ECs and performance are too low for me to even make an argument.”

“Yep. gotta let her go,” another replied.

In another exchange, one official wrote about an applicant with “perfect 2400 SAT All 5 on AP one B in 11th.”

“Brown?!” another responded.

“Heck no,” the first wrote back. “Asian.”

“Of course,” the other wrote. “Still impressive."

Overall, the conversations show a “racial awareness” in UNC's admissions office, said Liliana Garces, an associate professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin and an affiliate faculty member at UT’s School of Law.

“That to me is necessary in order to make an informed decision that’s really considering all the various factors that make up an applicant,” said Garces, who was the counsel of record in an amicus brief filed on behalf of hundreds of social scientists supporting UT Austin when the Supreme Court considered its use of race in admissions in 2016.

“Because of how it matters in our society in that very structural way, it can shape our experiences, our life chances, the ways in which, the opportunities you have before you,” Garces said. “We don’t want it to matter, but it does for a lot of students.”

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Trump rails against the press after NYT report

President Donald Trump on Wednesday labeled The New York Times “the enemy of the people” in a tweet, attacking the newspaper over a report in which it spelled out the president’s alleged efforts to influence ongoing investigations into his campaign and allies.

“The New York Times reporting is false,” the president wrote online Wednesday morning. “They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”

Trump did not refute any specific parts of the Times report in the tweet, though he responded on Tuesday to a reporter’s question about the piece regarding former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker.

The Times reported the president asked whether Whitaker could put Geoffrey Berman, a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, in charge of an investigation into pre-election hush payments to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump. The Times reported that Whitaker told the president that he could not ask Berman to oversee the investigation because the U.S. attorney had already recused himself from it.

“No, not at all, I don’t know who gave you that,” Trump told reporters Tuesday when asked about the Times’ reporting. “That’s more fake news. There’s a lot of fake news out there.”

The president also railed against the press on Twitter earlier Wednesday, saying it has “never been more dishonest.”

“The writers don’t even call asking for verification,” Trump tweeted. “They are totally out of control. Sadly, I kept many of them in business. In six years, they all go BUST!”

Maggie Haberman, one of the Times reporters who authored the piece, said Wednesday on CNN that the Times reached out to the White House multiple times before publishing the report.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Bernie crushes 2020 Democratic field in first-day money chase

Bernie Sanders' 2020 campaign is off to an impressive start: The Vermont senator crushed other Democratic candidates in his first day of online fundraising, and boasted social media stats that easily outstripped his competition, too.

The Vermont senator brought in more than $5.9 million from more than 220,000 donors in the 24 hours since he announced his presidential candidacy, according to his campaign. He easily eclipsed other announced 2020 candidates’ first-day fundraising figures — as well as his own in 2015, when he he raked in more than $1.5 million online in the first 24 hours.

Sanders broke small-dollar fundraising records in that campaign, and his staff has worked to amass an online media empire, posting more than 1,000 videos on his Facebook and Twitter pages over the past two years.

Another show of his digital strength: The Vermont senator’s announcement video racked up nearly 5.4 million views on Twitter in the first day, more than any other 2020 contender’s formal announcement or exploratory committee video, most of which have been online for weeks.

The rest of the field is playing catch up with Sanders, currently the only candidate in the Democratic primary who begins on the foundation of a full-blown presidential campaign. But the numbers show that many of his followers are on board with his repeat bid for the White House, at least at this early stage of the campaign.

Sen. Kamala Harris’ campaign said it raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of her Jan. 21 launch, and her announcement video has received almost 4.3 million views on Twitter. Sen. Cory Booker, who kicked off his bid on Feb. 1, has seen his announcement video garner nearly 4 million views on the site.

On the day she revealed her exploratory committee on Dec. 31, Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised more then $299,00 online. Her exploratory announcement video has gotten more than 3.8 million views. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who launched her campaign on Feb. 10, raised more than $1 million in her first 48 hours, according to her team, and her announcement video received 150,000 views.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine

Virginia voters — including African-Americans — get Northam's back

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam appears to have quelled any widespread public clamor for his resignation in the wake of his blackface scandal.

Two new polls out Wednesday show pluralities say the Democrat should not quit or be forced out over a racist photo that appeared on his medical-school yearbook page 35 years ago. Most African-American voters agree that he shouldn't go, according to one of the surveys.

In a Quinnipiac University poll, 42 percent of voters say Northam should resign — but more, 48 percent, say he shouldn’t. White voters are split evenly — 46 percent say he should resign, and the same percentage say he shouldn’t — but a majority of black voters, 56 percent, say Northam should not quit.

Even fewer Virginians say Northam should resign in a second poll out Wednesday, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for the University of Virginia Center for Politics. In that poll, which surveyed adults in the commonwealth, only 31 percent say Northam should resign, compared to 43 percent who say he shouldn’t.

Both polls show scant support for impeaching Northam. In the Quinnipiac poll, only 26 percent say Northam should be impeached, while nearly two-in-three voters, 65 percent, say he shouldn't. In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, just 21 percent say the General Assembly should remove Northam, while 56 percent say state legislators shouldn't impeach the governor.

Both new surveys suggest Northam’s political standing has stabilized since a Washington Post/George Mason University Schar School poll a week into the scandal showed Virginians equally split on whether the governor should resign.

Northam, elected in 2017, has spent nearly three weeks in damage-control mode, ever since the photo first emerged on Feb. 1. Initially, the governor apologized for his appearance in the photo, which shows a person in blackface standing next to another individual dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe. But within 24 hours of his first apology, Northam said he did not believe he was one of the two disguised people in the photo, and he did not know how it came to appear on his page in the 1984 Eastern Virginia Medical School class yearbook.

Despite his denial, most Democrats in and outside of the commonwealth called for Northam’s resignation. But he has remained defiant — bolstered in part by Virginia’s one-term limit for governors, which prevents him from seeking reelection, anyway, and scandals surrounding two other statewide Democratic officials: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and state Attorney General Mark Herring.

“Virginia also needs someone who is strong, who has empathy, who has courage and who has a moral compass,” Northam said in an interview with CBS News last week. “And that's why I'm not going anywhere.”

More Republicans than Democrats say Northam should resign, according to both new polls. In the Quinnipiac poll, 33 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of Republicans and 43 percent of independents say Northam should quit — even though Democrats (80 percent) are more likely than Republicans (62 percent) to say they consider blackface to be racist.

In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, 20 percent of Democrats say Northam should quit, compared with 43 percent of Republicans.

The scandal has taken a toll on Northam’s approval ratings, the new polls show, though they have not cratered. In the Quinnipiac poll, 39 percent of voters approve of the job Northam is doing, while slightly more, 43 percent, disapprove. In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, a plurality, 44 percent, say they neither approve nor disapprove of Northam’s job performance, compared to 17 percent who approve and 34 percent who disapprove.

One factor boosting Northam’s chances of surviving is the continued support of black voters, who made up roughly 20 percent of the electorate in his 2017, off-year victory over Republican Ed Gillespie. In the Quinnipiac poll, twice as many black voters approve of the job he is doing versus disapprove, 49 percent to 24 percent. About a quarter of black voters in Virginia, 24 percent, say Northam is racist, but a 63 percent majority say he isn’t.

Northam’s position has also been reinforced by the controversies around Fairfax and Herring — the two men next up in Virginia’s line of succession for governor. Two women have accused Fairfax of past sexual assaults, including Meredith Watson, who outlined in a Washington Post op-ed this week her call for a public hearing into her allegation that Fairfax raped her when they were students at Duke University in 2000.

Herring, meanwhile, admitted he, too, wore blackface at a party in 1980 while attending the University of Virginia — even though he had, days earlier, called for Northam’s resignation.

Of the three top Democrats, the new polls out Wednesday show Fairfax may be in the most peril. While a plurality in the Quinnipiac poll say Northam shouldn’t resign, and a 54 percent majority say Herring should remain in office — voters are split on Fairfax: 36 percent say the lieutenant governor should resign, and 36 percent say he shouldn’t.

In the Ipsos/U-Va. poll, more voters say Fairfax should resign, 35 percent, than say he shouldn’t, 25 percent. But roughly a third, 34 percent, say they aren’t sure.

The Quinnipiac University poll was conducted Feb. 14-18, surveying 1,150 registered voters in Virginia by landline and cell phone. The margin of error, including design effect, is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

The Ipsos/U-Va. poll was conducted online from Feb. 15-19. In that survey, 636 adults in Virginia were interviewed, and those results have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine