A year-and-a-half before he took responsibility for overseeing the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Matthew Whitaker, now the acting attorney general, had already reached a conclusion.
“The truth is there was no collusion with the Russians and the Trump campaign,” he said in an interview on the Wilkow Majority show. “There was interference by the Russians into the election, but that was not collusion with the campaign. That’s where the left seems to be combining those two issues.”
“The last thing they want right now is for the truth to come out, and for the fact that there’s not a single piece of evidence that demonstrates that the Trump campaign had any illegal or any improper relationships with the Russians. It’s that simple.”
What Whitaker was basing this declaration on is unclear. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter was just three months old at the time and it has—and remains—a lock box when it comes to its findings.
But Whitaker no longer is merely just offering his analysis on the matter. On Wednesday he became the top law-enforcement officer in the nation and, with it, was given effective control of the Mueller probe. His critics—and there are many—fear he will use his leverage to either curtail or fully end the investigation. And they’ve pointed to comments like the one he made to the Wilkow Majority show as evidence that he not only brings a clear bias to his post but has pre-determined the outcome of the investigation he’s now running.
There are numerous other comments, too.
Less than two years ago, Whitaker was a former federal prosecutor and twice-failed political candidate in charge of a small conservative government watchdog group with only a handful of employees. But for conservative media audiences, he is quite familiar.
Over the past three years, he used his position as the executive director of conservative government watchdog group Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust (FACT) as an opportunity to become a right-leaning political pundit, penning opinion pieces in USA Today and the Washington Examiner, and appearing regularly across conservative talk-radio shows and cable news.
The majority of Whitaker’s media appearances focused on the promotion of one argument: Liberals in government are working to undermine Americans in a variety of troubling and unproven ways. And no one is a bigger threat than Mueller.
Before joining the DOJ, Whitaker was one of the biggest critics of Mueller’s probe, dubbing it “political” and criticizing its mere existence in numerous media appearances.
During interviews with right-wing radio hosts over the last two years, Whitaker admonished Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for appointing Muller last year, characterizing the probe as a drain on department resources, and suggesting the special counsel’s allies were leaking information designed to make him “look productive and on top of things.”
He expressed sympathy for former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty as part of Mueller’s investigation, and in one interview last year, Whitaker said that “the real Russian ties were with Hillary Clinton.”
Prior to becoming a legal pundit, Whitaker worked as a U.S. Attorney in the George W. Bush administration. After that, he ran a series of businesses and an unsuccessful primary bid in 2014 for the Iowa Senate seat. Whitaker was also on the advisory board of a patent company that ripped off its customers for millions of dollars.
When he became the head of FACT in 2014, his media presence truly began to grow. Whitaker used that post to rack up countless talk radio hits across the country attacking Democrats. But while FACT billed itself as a nonpartisan watchdog, it served as a way to launder partisan opposition research to the public.
In 2016, according to public records, Whitaker helmed the group. The company paid $180,000 that year to America Rising LLC, an opposition research firm closely aligned with the Republican Party.
In press releases reviewed by The Daily Beast, America Rising touted FACT as a non-partisan government watchdog and highlighted Whitaker’s political commentary criticizing Democrats. A person familiar with the FACT/America Rising arrangement told The Daily Beast that on some occasions, America Rising’s opposition researchers would share material targeting Democratic candidates with FACT.
FACT would then file ethics complaints based on that research and publicly denounce the Democrats in question. America Rising, subsequently, would promote FACT’s denunciations to reporters as evidence that the Democrats in question were facing non-partisan criticism.
FACT has also criticized some Republicans, including Reps. Mark Meadows and Robert Pittenger. Joe Pounder, who heads America Rising, declined to comment on the group’s work with FACT.
“FACT is a non-partisan ethics watchdog which holds accountable government officials from both parties, as well as associated political campaigns and organizations,” a spokesperson for FACT said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Since 2014, FACT has filed over 80 complaints, over 60 of which were filed under Mr. Whitaker’s leadership. Mr. Whitaker served as Executive Director of FACT from 2014 to 2017. During his tenure, Mr. Whitaker conducted numerous media interviews analyzing government ethics issues and investigations including his time as a paid contributor to CNN.”
In many ways, Whitaker is the textbook Trump-era political talking head.
He spent most of his interviews arguing that Hillary Clinton should have been prosecuted and that the FBI was providing “political cover” to the former secretary of state for “not releasing probably very damaging emails.”
He also criticized her political positions, calling her 2016 campaign platform a “grab-bag of failed and regurgitated liberal policies,” and lamented that “since she fell out of the public eye, it has not been as much fun” to conduct investigations into politicians.
Whitaker continued to provide Republicans with political cover after Trump won office in 2016, even pushing a conspiracy theory that suggested a Democratic House IT staffer, not Russian hackers, could have been behind the theft of Democratic emails in 2016.
Whitaker leveraged his position at FACT to draw attention to the case of Imran Awan, a former IT staffer for House Democrats who was charged with bank fraud in 2017.
Awan’s arrest drew plenty of attention from conservative media outlets, which spun elaborate theories speculating that Awan was either involved in nefarious activity with his Democratic bosses, spying on Democrats for a foreign intelligence agency, or even behind the hack of Democratic emails stolen by Russia.
Despite pressure from conservatives, the Awan case was ultimately a letdown for the right. Awan pleaded guilty only to lying on a bank fraud application and avoided a prison sentence. Prosecutors on the case even took the unusual step of saying in court documents that they had investigated the conspiracy theories alleging that Awan was behind any email leaks and found no evidence for them.
At the height of conservative interest in the Awan investigation, Whitaker and FACT called for an ethics investigation into the relationship between Awan and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), one of Awan’s employers.
In an August 2017 radio interview, Whitaker implied there could be a link between Awan and the Russian email hack that cost Wasserman Schultz her position as head of the Democratic National Committee.
“Whether it’s related and part of a bigger theme, that’s what we have to see,” Whitaker said.
In the same interview, Whitaker complained that the Awan case wasn’t getting as much attention from the media as the investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia.
“If it was Russia and Trump, there’d be a 24-hour news vigil,” Whitaker said.
President Donald Trump confirmed on Saturday that the United States will withdraw from a landmark nuclear arms treaty with Russia. “We’re going to terminate the agreement and we’re going to pull out,” Trump told reporters as he boarded Air Force One in Nevada. He was referring to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a historic 1986 agreement between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev that limited production of the weapons by both countries. The Trump administration has sought to beef up the U.S. nuclear arsenal in an effort to counter a Chinese arms buildup in the Pacific. “We’ll have to develop those weapons,” he told reporters on Saturday. The White House had said as late as Friday that no decision had been made on the INF. The move marks the Trump administration’s first withdrawal from a major arms control treaty.
At this week’s summit in Helsinki, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed what President Trump described as an “incredible offer” — the Kremlin would give special counsel Robert S. Mueller III access to interviews with Russians indicted after allegedly hacking Democrats in 2016. In return, Russia would be allowed to question certain U.S. officials it suspects of interfering in Russian affairs.
One of those U.S. officials is a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Michael McFaul, a nemesis of the Kremlin because of his criticisms of Russia’s human rights record.
On Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders declined to rule out the Kremlin’s request to question McFaul and other Americans. Asked during the daily press briefing whether President Trump is open to the idea of having McFaul questioned by Russia, Sanders said President Trump is “going to meet with his team” to discuss the offer.
“There was some conversation about it,” between Trump and Putin, Sanders said, “but there wasn’t a commitment made on behalf of the United States. And the president will work with his team, and we’ll let you know if there’s an announcement on that front.”
The willingness of the White House to contemplate handing over a former U.S. ambassador for interrogation by the Kremlin drew ire and astonishment from current and former U.S. officials. Such a proposition is unheard of. So is the notion that the president may think he has the legal authority to turn anyone over to a foreign power on his own.
Former secretary of state John F. Kerry tweeted that the offer was “not something that should require a half second of consultation. Dangerous.”
“The administration needs to make it unequivocally clear that in a million years this wouldn’t be under consideration, period. Full stop,” Kerry tweeted.
Allowing such questioning of Americans, particularly of a former ambassador who had diplomatic protections while in Moscow, would be an extraordinary move on the part of the Trump administration, experts and officials said.
“The entire country should be aware of this,” tweeted Tom Nichols, a professor at the U.S. Naval War College and the Harvard Extension School. “If Putin can single out” McFaul, Nichols said, “he can single out anyone. The President’s job is to protect us, not to even *consider* handing any of us over to an enemy government.”
Even the State Department considers the idea “absolutely absurd,” as department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said during a briefing when asked about the Russian government’s desire to question 11 American citizens, including McFaul.
“We do not stand by those assertions that the Russian Government makes,” Nauert said, acknowledging that the interrogation of American officials “would be a grave concern to our former colleagues here.”
Nauert added that a U.S. federal court rejected Russian allegations against the British businessman at the center of the Kremlin’s request, Bill Browder.
Back in the mid-to-late 2000s, Kremlin officials accused Browder of a tax fraud scheme involving investments in Russia. After the death in a Russian prison of Browder’s lawyer, Sergei Magnitsky, Browder lobbied for the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russians accused of human rights violations. Russia later charged Browder with tax evasion in absentia.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray also weighed in on Putin’s proposal. Asked by NBC’s Lester Holt during the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday to address the offer to send U.S. investigators to Russia to interview the indicted suspects, Wray said, “I never want to say never, but it’s certainly not high on our list of investigative techniques.”
Regarding Putin’s quid pro quo to let Russian investigators come to the U.S. to interrogate Americans, Wray said, “That’s probably even lower on our list of investigative techniques.”
McFaul served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014, a tumultuous period in relations between the two countries. President Barack Obama signed the Magnitsky Act into law in 2012, prompting retaliation from Russia that included banning U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans. McFaul was often the target of anti-American attacks in the Russian media, and said he ended up being Putin’s “personal foe.”
“Putin has been harassing me for a long time. That he now wants to arrest me, however, takes it to a new level,” tweeted McFaul, who is now a Hoover fellow at Stanford University and the director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. “Even during the Stalin era, the Soviet government never had the audacity to try to arrest US government officials. Think about that.”
“I hope the White House corrects the record and denounces in categorical terms this ridiculous request from Putin,” McFaul wrote. “Not doing so creates moral equivalency” between a legitimate “US indictment of Russian intelligence officers and a crazy, completely fabricated story invented by Putin.”
Many U.S. lawmakers and former diplomatic officials came to McFaul’s defense on Twitter, and the hashtag #ProtectMcFaul was trending late Wednesday.
“Let’s recall why Putin began making outrageous, false accusations against @McFaul,” tweeted Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “Mike stood up for human rights and against Russian oppression. That terrified Putin. The fact that @realDonaldTrump won’t stand up for an American patriot is a travesty.”
Susan E. Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, described the White House’s statement regarding Putin’s request “Beyond outrageous.”
“Amb. McFaul served our country honorably and with full diplomatic immunity,” Rice tweeted. “If the White House cannot defend and protect our diplomats, like our service members, they are serving a hostile foreign power not the American people.”
Speaking to CNN’s Don Lemon on Wednesday, James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, described the potential of such an exchange with Putin as “crazy.”
“I’ve never heard of such a thing,” Clapper said. “To turn over any U.S. citizen, particularly a former ambassador, for the Russians to interrogate him? You’ve got to be kidding.”
It is outrageous that the White House would not immediately reject a request by a foreign power to interrogate a U.S. Ambassador. Even entertaining the idea dangerously undermines the authority and security of our dedicated statesmen.
No “consultation” is needed to make clear that U.S. will never cooperate in Putin’s crusade against Bill Browder or former U.S. officials, like Ambassador McFaul.@McFaul served his country honorably. His freedom is not up for negotiation or to be offered up as a gift to Putin. https://t.co/B7mqBdpx8x
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) suggested that turning over McFaul for questioning would be grounds for impeaching Trump.
“Take this to the bank, @realDonaldTrump: you turn over former U.S. Ambassador @McFaul to Putin, you can count on me and millions others to swiftly make you an ex-president,” Swalwell tweeted.
“There’s no reason we would open up our evidence files, send our investigators over there to let them review that,” Swalwell also told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “That would be like a victim allowing the burglar to set up the home security system. That’s ridiculous.”
“This is so ludicrous it staggers my mind,” tweeted Steven L. Hall, former CIA chief of Russian operations.
Harry Litman, a former federal prosecutor, challenged the president’s power to hand any U.S. citizen over to the Russians. “How exactly does the President figure he can go about turning over Michael McFaul, a private citizen, to the Russians? Just order him to go to Moscow? Talk about broad theories of executive power,” he tweeted.
McFaul was protected with full diplomatic immunity during his time as ambassador. If Secretary of State Mike Pompeo waives this protection, “he’ll lose all support inside his building,” tweeted Brian P. McKeon, who served as acting undersecretary for policy at the Defense Department during the Obama administration.
Additionally, the U.S. doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Russia. Even if it did, a country seeking extradition of a U.S. citizen has to justify its request through the Justice Department and the U.S. courts.
The U.S. does have a mutual legal assistance treaty “which requires the offense to be a crime in both countries,” McKeon wrote. It also allows a party to decline requests that are deemed to involve political crimes, and “there is of course no comparison” between the Justice Department’s indictment of the Russian agents and any accusations against McFaul, McKeon argued.
HELSINKI — President Trump cast doubt on the conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying after his summit here Monday with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the autocrat gave him an “extremely strong and powerful” denial.
After Putin said his government played no role in trying to sabotage the U.S. election, Trump offered no pushback and went on to condemn the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country.”
Concluding their first formal one-one-one summit here Monday, Trump said his message regarding the Russian interference “was a message best delivered in person” during the meeting, during which the two leaders “spent a great deal of time” discussing the Kremlin’s interference. Putin insisted publicly that the “Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere in internal American affairs,” and Trump declined to dispute his assertions, instead saying that Putin “has an interesting idea” about the issue of interference.
“I don’t see any reason why” Russia would interfere in the election, Trump said as he stood next to Putin at a joint news conference after their talks in the Finnish capital ended. Of their private conversation in Helsinki about the interference, Trump said, “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Trump also insisted that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Moscow. “I didn’t know the president. There was nobody to collude with. There was no collusion with the campaign.”
Trump said that he holds “both countries responsible” for the frayed relations between the two nations and attacked special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.
Putin later confirmed that he did want Trump to win in 2016, “because he talked about normalizing relations” between Russia and the United States. Yet he did not answer directly when pressed on whether the Russian government had compromising information on Trump or his family members, dismissing it by saying that “it’s hard to imagine greater nonsense.” He told reporters, “Please throw this junk out of your head.”
During their two-hour, one-on-one talks earlier Monday, in which the leaders were accompanied only by interpreters, Trump and Putin discussed their disagreements “at length,” Trump said. He added: “Our relationship has never been worse than it is now. However, that changed, as of about four hours ago.”
The summit began hours after Trump, in a series of tweets, blamed his own country, rather than Russia, for the hostilities between their two nations.
Speaking first at the news conference, Putin said the talks took place “in a frank and businesslike atmosphere,” adding: “I think we can call it a success.” He said that although bilateral relations have been “going through a complicated stage,” there was “no solid reason” for that. “The Cold War is a thing of the past,” he said.
He added that Trump “mentioned the so-called interference of Russia in the American election” in 2016. Putin again denied any involvement by the Russian state and said any evidence of interference can be analyzed through a joint working group on cybersecurity.
Putin said later in response to a question that U.S. investigators possibly could come to Russia to participate in the questioning of suspects after a dozen Russian intelligence officers were indicted in the United States on charges of election interference.
Elaborating, Putin said representatives of the Mueller probe could be present at interrogations of suspects in Russia — as long as Russians would be able to do the same at the questioning of U.S. intelligence agents that Moscow suspects of carrying out crimes on Russian soil. Any questions about Russian interference in the U.S. elections, he said, should be resolved by the courts and according to existing intergovernmental agreements.
“Let the Mueller commission send us a request, and we will do the work necessary to respond,” Putin said. “We can expand this cooperation — but we will then also expect from the U.S. side access to people who we believe are members of the intelligence agencies.”
In response to questions, Trump said that both countries were to blame for the deterioration of relations. “I do feel that we have both made some mistakes,” he said. He added that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russia, and he lamented that the special counsel’s investigation into the matter has had an impact on U.S.-Russian relations.
“I think the probe has been a disaster for our country,” he said. “It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
Soon after the news conference ended, Trump boarded Air Force One with first lady Melania Trump en route back to Washington.
Trump critics reacted harshly to Trump’s statements.
Former CIA director John O. Brennan wrote in a tweet: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”
Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.), a frequent Trump critic on the Republican side, said: “I never thought I would see the day when our American President would stand on the stage with the Russian President and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression. This is shameful.”
Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted: “Missed opportunity by President Trump to firmly hold Russia accountable for 2016 meddling and deliver a strong warning regarding future elections. This answer by President Trump will be seen by Russia as a sign of weakness and create far more problems than it solves.”
Referring to a souvenir soccer ball that Putin handed Trump toward the end of the news conference, Graham added, “Finally, if it were me, I’d check the soccer ball for listening devices and never allow it in the White House.”
Shortly before the news conference began, security personnel forcibly removed a journalist who was holding a sign reading, “Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty.” Before he was removed, he had been heckling TV reporters doing their stand-ups.
Seated alongside Putin to deliver opening remarks before reporters at the start of the summit, Trump congratulated Russia on successfully hosting the World Cup soccer tournament, which concluded Sunday, then noted that the United States and Russia have “not been getting along too well for the last number of years.” He said he hoped that would change and that “I think we will end up having an extraordinary relationship.”
“Getting along with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump said, as Putin slouched in his chair. Trump added that the “world wants to see us getting along.”
Trump said before the closed-door meeting that he and Putin had a “lot of good things to talk about, and things to talk about,” including trade, military issues, nuclear proliferation and China, in particular their “mutual friend,” Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Putin, who spoke before Trump made his opening remarks, said to the U.S. president: “Of course, the time has come that we speak extensively about our bilateral relations and various problem points around the world. There are enough of them that we ought to pay attention to them.”
The meeting began later than originally planned, after the perennially tardy Putin arrived in Helsinki well behind schedule, keeping Trump waiting. The one-on-one meeting lasted about two hours, longer than anticipated. It was initially scheduled to take 90 minutes.
The two leaders then went into an expanded meeting that included top aides. At the start of it, Trump, responding to a shouted question from a reporter, said: “I think it’s a good start. Very, very good start for everybody.”
Although most U.S. officials argue that Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, use of a nerve agent on British soil and aggression in Ukraine and Syria have worsened relations, Trump instead faulted “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” in tweets Monday morning, as well as the expansive Justice Department investigation into Russia’s election intrusion.
“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted Monday morning as he prepared for his meeting with Putin.
Trump is facing immense pressure to aggressively confront Putin over Russia’s election interference, especially after the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials Friday and charged them with hacking and stealing Democratic emails, as part of a broad subterfuge operation that U.S. intelligence agencies believe was ordered by Putin to help elect Trump.
But Trump’s comments Monday were in sync with the argument Putin and his government have long made, which is that the policies of the Obama administration — as well as the investigation into election interference, which Putin repeatedly has denied — inflamed tensions between the two nuclear superpowers. The Russian Foreign Ministry’s official Twitter account retweeted Trump’s “U.S. foolishness and stupidity” tweet and said, “We agree.”
Trump — who has been reticent to criticize Putin and has said he admires the Russian autocrat’s leadership style and strongman image — began their meeting shortly after 2 p.m. (7 a.m. Eastern time) at the Presidential Palace, a neoclassical residence facing Helsinki’s heavily touristed Baltic Sea waterfront. They were originally scheduled to meet at 1 p.m. here (6 a.m. ET).
But Putin arrived later than expected in Helsinki on Monday and did not disembark from his plane until after 1 p.m., delaying the scheduled start time of the summit. Putin is known for his frequent tardiness; he once made President Barack Obama wait 45 minutes for one of their meetings.
The two leaders first met alone, with interpreters present but without their advisers. They were then joined by their delegations for a working lunch, which was to be followed by a joint press availability. Trump then will fly home to Washington.
Trump is joined in Helsinki by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, national security adviser John Bolton, chief of staff John F. Kelly and other advisers, including National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill.
Earlier in his Europe trip, Trump told reporters he would raise the election interference issue with Putin, although he indicated that he would not be too stern, saying he assumes Putin will deny responsibility, and then they would move on to other topics.
In another Monday morning tweet, Trump sought to pin blame for the matter on Obama.
“President Obama thought that Crooked Hillary was going to win the election, so when he was informed by the FBI about Russian Meddling, he said it couldn’t happen, was no big deal, & did NOTHING about it. When I won it became a big deal and the Rigged Witch Hunt headed by Strzok!” Trump wrote, referencing first 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and then FBI agent Peter Strzok, who testified before Congress in a combative hearing last week.
Trump arrived with first lady Melania Trump in Helsinki late Sunday, after spending the weekend golfing at his property in Scotland. Aboard Air Force One, the president aired some of his grievances on Twitter ahead his upcoming summit with Putin.
“Unfortunately, no matter how well I do at the Summit, if I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia over the years, I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough — that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” Trump wrote.
And after a week of denigrating the U.S. news media on foreign soil, Trump continued in his tweetstorm: “Much of our news media is indeed the enemy of the people and all the Dems know how to do is resist and obstruct! This is why there is such hatred and dissension in our country — but at some point, it will heal!”
Trump began his day Monday in this Nordic capital by meeting Finnish President Sauli Niinisto for breakfast, along with their wives. When a reporter asked about his message for Putin, Trump replied, “We’ll do just fine.”
Trump also touted the unity of NATO, saying the treaty alliance of 29 nations that is a Western bulwark against an expansionist Russia, has “never been stronger than it is today.”
Last week in Brussels, Trump upended the NATO summit with demands that European allies increase their defense spending commitments. On Monday in Helsinki, Trump claimed credit for forcing the hands of his counterparts. “It was a little bit tough at the beginning,” he said, “but it turned out to be love.”
Putin was set to land in Helsinki around noon local time with fresh momentum after presiding over the World Cup final in Moscow, a tournament that many observers — including Trump — hailed as a success.
Beyond spreading a positive image of Russia, the World Cup also gave Putin a chance to exercise his diplomatic chops ahead of the Helsinki summit amid a revolving door of visiting world leaders. On Sunday alone, Putin met with French President Emmanuel Macron; Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban; Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic; and Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.
Last week, Putin separately received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stoking speculation that Putin would discuss Iran’s presence in Syria with Trump.
Russian officials have kept expectations low, emphasizing that the very fact of the meeting is an important step forward after years of tensions between Moscow and Washington. Ahead the summit, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised Trump’s pragmatism in an interview with pro-Kremlin broadcaster RT.
“Our president is very pragmatic, very open and consistent,” Peskov said, referring to Putin, according to the Interfax news agency. “He always says that the interests of Russia and the people of Russia are the main thing to him. And therefore he respects the fact that Donald Trump has the same attitude to his country.”
For Putin, the setting of the summit provides something of a home-turf advantage. Although Finland is a member of the European Union and is a neutral nation, it borders Russia and is familiar to Putin, as Helsinki is just up the Bay of Finland from his hometown of St. Petersburg.
This vibrant Nordic capital, which in the summertime glistens with sunlight late into the evening, holds significant resonance for U.S.-Russia affairs as a neutral site for leaders of the two countries to meet.
In 1990, then-President George H.W. Bush met in Helsinki with then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to show a unified front against then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein amid escalating tensions in the Persian Gulf. And in 1997, then-President Bill Clinton and then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin held a two-day summit here to discuss arms control and the addition of former Soviet countries to NATO.
Trump has said he has low expectations for Monday’s summit with Putin and heads into it without the kind of pre-scripted outcomes typical at such international meetings. Rather, he sees the meeting as a chance to build a better rapport with Putin and foster warmer relations between the United States and Russia.
“Right now, there’s no trust in the relationship, and because of that, problem-solving is practically impossible,” U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So this is an attempt to see if we can defuse and take some of the drama, and quite frankly some of the danger, out of the relationship right now.”
Trump and his advisers have sought to temper expectations for the summit, which is expected to include discussions over the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, a Reagan-era arms-control agreement and the prospect of extending a 2011 nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.
The president declined to outline his objectives in an interview with CBS News in advance of the summit, and his advisers have said the mere act of holding the direct meeting with Putin is a “deliverable.”
Back in Washington, lawmakers from both parties have implored Trump to aggressively confront Putin.
“President Trump should have only one message for Putin [on Monday]: Quit messing with America,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said on Twitter early Monday, arguing that Trump should not be “dignifying” the Russian president by granting a meeting.
Clinton tweeted, “Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”
Putin’s allies say that last Friday’s indictments represented the latest effort by the Washington establishment to derail Trump’s effort to improve relations with Russia.
“It seems to us the opponents of the improvement of U.S.-Russia relations should not be allowed to endlessly exploit this harmful topic, which is being kept afloat artificially,” Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov said ahead of the summit, according to Interfax.
William Branigin and John Wagner in Washington contributed to this report.
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The other evening I was on a cable news show to cover the latest Russia news of the day—and I had an epiphany.
We were talking about a recent scoop from Michael Isikoff, the co-author of my latest book, Russian Roulette. He had reported that a Spanish prosecutor had handed the FBI wiretapped transcripts of a Russian official who was suspected of money laundering and for years had been trying to gain influence within the American conservative movement and the National Rifle Association. We then discussed a New York Times article revealing that Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s longtime fixer, had met with a Russian oligarch in January 2017, around the time a US company affiliated with this tycoon began making $500,000 in payments to Cohen. Next we turned to the latest in the so-called Spygate nonscandal—the false claim, championed by Trump and his defenders, that the FBI infiltrated a spy into his presidential campaign for political purposes.
Then the show moved on. We had spent 15 or so minutes on these important developments, delving into the details—but without referring to the essence of the story. And it hit me: Though it’s clear Trump’s presidency has been hobbled by the Russia scandal, the manner in which this matter plays out in the media has helped Trump.
Almost every day, Trump pushes out a simple (and dishonest) narrative via tweets and public remarks: The Russia investigation is a…well, you know, a witch hunt. Or a hoax. Or fake news. He blasts out the same exclamations daily: Witch hunt, hoax! Hoax, witch hunt! That’s his mantra.
His synopsis is easy to follow. It encompasses (even if by ignoring) every new fact and revelation. It connects all the inaccurate and false dots Trump and his partisans toss out: Unmasking! Obama wiretapped Trump! The FBI improperly obtained warrants to conduct surveillance on his campaign advisers! And so on. He’s the victim. The bad guys are the Dems, libs, prosecutors, and deep staters pursuing this huge nothing-burger for nothing but political gain. The Russia story, in Trump’s telling, is a black-and-white tale of evildoers persecuting a great man—him. Sad. And this bully uses his pulpit (and smartphone) to transmit this simple message nonstop.
A.P. has just reported that the Russian Hoax Investigation has now cost our government over $17 million, and going up fast. No Collusion, except by the Democrats!
The other side—the accurate perspective—isn’t that complicated. In 2016, Vladimir Putin’s regime mounted information warfare against the United States, in part to help Trump become president. While this attack was underway, the Trump crew tried to collude covertly with Moscow, sought to set up a secret communications channel with Putin’s office, and repeatedly denied in public that this assault was happening, providing cover to the Russian operation. Trump and his lieutenants aligned themselves with and assisted a foreign adversary, as it was attacking the United States. The evidence is rock-solid: They committed a profound act of betrayal. That is the scandal.
But how often do you hear or see this fundamental point being made? The media coverage of the Trump-Russia scandal—which has merged with Cohen’s pay-to-play scandal, the Stormy Daniels scandal, and a wider foreign-intervention-in-the-2016-campaign scandal—has yielded a flood of revelations. Yet the news reporting tends to focus on specific components of an unwieldy and ever-expanding story: a Trump Tower meeting between Trump aides and a Kremlin emissary; what special counsel Robert Mueller may or may not be doing; the alleged money-laundering and tax-evasion skullduggery of Paul Manafort; a secret get-together in the Seychelles between former Blackwater owner Erik Prince and a Russian financier; the Kremlin’s clandestine exploitation of social media; Russian hackers penetrating state election systems; Michael Flynn’s shady lobbying activities; Trump’s attempted interference in the investigation; and so much more. It is hard to hold on to all these pieces and place them into one big picture.
Why aren’t the 13 Angry and heavily conflicted Democrats investigating the totally Crooked Campaign of totally Crooked Hillary Clinton. It’s a Rigged Witch Hunt, that’s why! Ask them if they enjoyed her after election celebration!
These revelations do not emerge in chronological or thematic order. They arrive as part of the fusillade known as the daily news cycle. One day, we learn that Trump last year leaned on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself from the Russia investigation. Another day, we see headlines that Mueller has indicted Russian trolls. We learn that—yikes!—a former Trump campaign adviser has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his efforts to put the campaign in secret contact with Putin’s regime. We’re told that Donald Trump Jr. during the campaign met with a shady character representing the princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who were secretly offering to help Trump. Or the big story is that Trump has acknowledged he dictated a false statement issued in his eldest son’s name about the Trump Tower meeting. What’s the connection? Is there a connection? And how is each new headline related to Putin’s war on America? Attempting to track this whole damn thing—while the nation experiences a larger hurricane of crazy—can make one feel like Carrie Mathison on Homeland. Do you even have enough string or enough space on the bulletin board?
And that’s just it. Trump has no bulletin board—and no need for one. He only requires 280 characters. Or less. Sometimes just those two words—witch hunt—accompanied by other tweets designed to fog and distract by raising peripheral and non-evidence-based matters, such as the phony Uranium One scandal and other supposed examples of Democratic malfeasance. The problem is there is no organized force with as loud a bullhorn countering his disinformation in fundamental terms.
Why didn’t the 13 Angry Democrats investigate the campaign of Crooked Hillary Clinton, many crimes, much Collusion with Russia? Why didn’t the FBI take the Server from the DNC? Rigged Investigation!
In the face of Trump’s fact-free denials, who is reminding the public of the basics—that Russia attacked, and that Trump aided and abetted the operation? If you watch cable news or are addicted to Twitter, you can see Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, engaging in hand-to-hand combat with the Republicans and the forces of Fox News over the Russia probe on practically a daily basis. A few other Democratic members of his committee join the fray when the news cycle permits. But Sen. Mark Warner, (D-Va.), the senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, prefers maintaining a lower profile. And there are no other Democratic bigwigs who have assumed the task of addressing the beyond-cable audience and fiercely reiterating and emphasizing the core narrative. When it comes to framing the overarching story, Trump practically has a monopoly.
This traces back to the weeks before and after the 2016 election. A month prior to Election Day, the US government declared that Russia had mounted a cyber attack and influence operation against the United States. (To call this action “meddling” is to diminish its full significance.) But at a time when Trump was being hammered by the Access Hollywood video and conventional wisdom held that he was toast, President Barack Obama and his aides chose not to generate a major fuss regarding this unprecedented disclosure. They feared amplifying the disorder the Russians were trying to cause and worried that Trump would seize upon a big White House reaction to bolster his claim that the election was being rigged against him. The White House let this dog lie. And most of the media focused instead on Trump’s grab-them-by-the-pussy problem and the parallel (and not coincidental) release by WikiLeaks of the juicy emails stolen from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta by Russian hackers.
Yet a few days following the election, Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, confirmed the hacking of Democratic targets and the public dissemination of stolen emails was “a conscious effort by a nation-state to attempt to achieve a specific effect.” He added, “This was not something that was done casually. This was not something that was done by chance. This was not a target that was selected purely arbitrarily.”
In the subsequent weeks, few leaders of the Democratic Party complained vociferously about the Russian attack or the assistance the Trump campaign provided the Kremlin. When asked, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (N.Y.), the top two Democrats in Congress, would say they supported creating an inquiry. But neither were beating any drums. Democrats seemed too shocked at the results to move expeditiously. Perhaps they worried they would be accused of being sore losers. It took a month or two for the calls for an investigation to become loud enough to force GOP leaders on Capitol Hill to agree to such probes.
Meanwhile, Obama said little about the Russian attack. In early December 2016, the White House announced that Obama had called for an intelligence community assessment. At the end of the month, he hit Russia with sanctions for its intervention in the election, though the punishment was arguably not sufficiently tough. (Obama and his advisers did fear going too far and sparking a crisis with Moscow, at a time when Trump and his gang of inexperienced hands were about to take over.)
For his part, Trump kept insisting there was nothing much to talk about regarding Putin’s intervention. Instead, he focused obsessively on denying the salacious allegations about him within the Steele memos and decried the fake news media, the vehicle through which information on the Russia scandal would reach the public.
Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?
Once the congressional investigations were launched in early 2017, Democrats largely stepped back and ceded much of the rhetorical terrain to Trump. In normal circumstances, this might have been the responsible thing to do. But now Trump had the big-picture turf mostly to himself. There would be much debate in reaction to new developments, such as Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. Largely, though, there was less discussion devoted to the controversy’s basics.
In previous scandals, it was not necessary to remind the public repeatedly of the essential elements of the story. Once the scandalous activity was revealed, there was no argument over whether it had actually happened. No one disputed the Watergate burglary had transpired—the issue was White House involvement and the cover-up. Ronald Reagan and his aides conceded the administration had sold arms to Iran and sent the profits to the contras fighting the leftist government of Nicaragua. The issue, again, was what the president knew—and whether this had been illegal.
But this time, Trump and his amen chorus have been claiming there is no Russia scandal—and insisting the real scandal is the existence of a secret FBI plot against him. They have promoted a perverted version of reality at a volume of 11. By merely forcing a debate over whether the Russia scandal truly exists, Trump clouds a tremendously important matter and scores at least a partial win. He has succeeded in diverting attention from his campaign actions that benefited Putin.
The Russia Witch Hunt is rapidly losing credibility. House Intelligence Committee found No Collusion, Coordination or anything else with Russia. So now the Probe says OK, what else is there? How about Obstruction for a made up, phony crime.There is no O, it’s called Fighting Back
Along with his shouts of “witch hunt,” Trump also incessantly declares, “No collusion.” This simplistic piece of shorthand aims at a straw man. Trump seems to be setting a bar that favors him: Unless evidence emerges that he personally met with Russian hackers, told them which Democratic Party emails to steal, and then provided guidance on how to release the material, then nothing wrong occurred. But the public record is already replete with serious wrongdoing committed by Trump and his aides. For example, after being secretly briefed in mid-August 2016 by the US intelligence community that Moscow was behind the hack-and-leak attack on the Democrats, Trump publicly claimed there was no reason to suspect the Russians.
With his “no collusion” chant, Trump is like an embezzler who yells, “There was no murder”—and asserts that is the only relevant benchmark. Think of what Trump did during the campaign in this fashion: A fellow is standing on a sidewalk in front of a bank. He is told the bank is being robbed. He can see armed men wearing masks in the bank. Yet when people pass by and ask what is happening in the bank, he says, “There is no robbery. Nothing to see. Move along.” Even if this person did not collude with the robbers, he is helping the gang perpetrate a crime. And in Trump’s case, the criminal act was committed for his gain.
Much of the media framing of the Russia scandal has followed Trump’s lead and adopted his collusion-centric perspective. The debate, such as it is, has become whether Trump directly collaborated with Moscow’s covert operation—and whether Trump, as president, tried to thwart the investigation and obstruct justice. The story is not driven by the serious offenses already established: Trump and his associates encouraged and assisted an attack from a foreign foe.
In this ongoing fight, it is Trump and his bumper stickers versus a media presenting a wide variety of disparate disclosures that come and go quickly in a hyperchaotic information ecosystem, often absent full context. No wonder then that a recent poll found that 59 percent of Americans said Mueller has uncovered no crimes. In fact, he has secured 17 criminal indictments and obtained five guilty pleas. Accurate news reporting alone does not always carry the day.
The Russia scandal is the most important scandal in the history of the United States. President Andrew Johnson was impeached (but not convicted) because he violated an act of Congress to remove a secretary of war. In the Teapot Dome scandal, the secretary of the interior in Warren Harding’s administration leased federal lands at low rates to private oil companies, presumably in return for bribes. In Watergate, a president and his aides engaged in political skulduggery against political foes. President Bill Clinton lied about a sexual affair he had with a subordinate in the White House. All these scandals raised serious questions about integrity in government. But at the heart of the Russia scandal is the most fundamental issue for a democracy: the sanctity of elections.
An overseas enemy struck at the core of the republic—and it succeeded. Trump and his minions helped and encouraged this attack by engaging in secret contacts with Moscow and publicly insisting no such assault was happening. This is far bigger than a bribe, a break-in, or a blow job. And, worse, the United States remains vulnerable to such a strike.
Yet the full impact of this scandal does not resonate in the daily coverage and discourse. In many ways, the media presents the Russia scandal mostly as a political threat to Trump, not as a serious threat to the nation. And many Americans, thanks to Trump and his allies, view it as a charade. All this shows how easy it is for disinformation and demagoguery to distort reality. That is a tragedy for the United States. For Trump—and Putin—that is victory.
Listen to David Corn discuss this idea on last week’s episode of the Mother Jones Podcast:
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton famously warned voters against voting for Donald Trump because “A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.” Now, we’ve learned that the person doing the actual baiting is, in fact, none other than President Trump himself.
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged President Trump to get congressional approval before the United States launched airstrikes against Syria last week, but was overruled by Mr. Trump, who wanted a rapid and dramatic response, military and administration officials said.
Mr. Trump, the officials said, wanted to be seen as backing up a series of bellicose tweets with action, but was warned that an overly aggressive response risked igniting a wider war with Russia.
For reference, here’s the tweet that Trump was trying to bolster:
It’s very likely, of course, that Trump would have bombed Syria regardless of his tweets, but it’s, uh, not great that they played such an outsized role in the matter.
By some accounts, the hastily ordered Syria strikes were failures on both tactical and policy levels. The president, meanwhile, closed the loop of his social media/military ouroboros shortly after the Syria bombing, declaring it was “mission accomplished” on—where else?—Twitter.
Terrible news. Project Gizmodnik, our brilliant plan to secretly infiltrate the U.S. tech media for the glorification of Matushka Rossiya’s Great Leader Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump and/or the destruction of global capitalism*, has been compromised by American “super spy” Eric Garland.
Fellow deep cover Russian operatives, you may remember Garland as the self-declared intelligence expert who rose to Twitter fame by posting incomprehensible strings of emoji-laden, amphetamine-stoked conspiracy theories blaming our motherland for every single event leading to Trump’s election. (He also fell, hard, for the internet meme claiming the White House created a TV program for Trump called the “Gorilla Channel.”) But we have underestimated this man, to our great embarrassment.
Yes, working only from New York Times writer Mike Isaac’s decision to tweet an article from our sister site Splinter questioning the credibility of Michael Wolff’s book on Trump (thanks, Mike), Garland has uncovered an elaborate narrative in which Gizmodo Media Group is working in collusion with Univision, Peter Thiel, Jorge Ramos, unidentified media executives, and Daddy Trump himself to… something something… Russian disinformation operations. (Thiel secretlyfunded a lawsuit that led to the bankruptcy of Gizmodo’s former owner Gawker Media.)
It’s all very smart and devious and you probably wouldn’t understand how or why we went to the effort of… something something… Gorilla Channel… Russia… Trump.
Worst of all, once fellow Project Gizmodnik operatives were alerted that our cover has been blown, they have broken off contact, feigned ignorance, or frantically confessed to their roles in various FSB/GRU plots. All this, seemingly in the misguided belief that they might escape Garland’s deadly grasp, or that he will show mercy to the United States’ enemies. You cowards.
With Gizmodnik compromised and our operation in total disarray, it has fallen to me to burn our various illicit documents, wipe the Kinja servers of all incriminating evidence, and destroy the krokodil lab we set up in the basement to launder rubles.
This post will self-destruct in fifteen minutes. С Рождеством, мои друзья.
THE BIG IDEA: Greg Gianforte admitted to attacking a reporter and apologized during his victory speech last night, as he kept Montana’s sole House seat in Republican hands. Now he and his party’s leaders are trying to move on.
On the eve of the special election, the wealthy technology entrepreneur flipped out when the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs asked him about the CBO’s score of the health care bill. He now faces misdemeanor assault charges for reportedly throwing Jacobs to the ground and breaking his glasses.
“I made a mistake,” the congressman-elect said at his party in Bozeman. “Not in our minds!” yelled a supporter. David Weigel, who was there, reports that some in the crowd laughed.
— After his comfortable six-point victory, Republican congressional leaders are making clear there will be no meaningful consequences for his behavior. “Elections are about choices and Montanans made their choice,” Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement this morning. “Rep.-elect Gianforte is an outsider with real-world experience creating jobs in Montana. He will bring that experience to Congress, where he will be a valuable voice in the House Republican Conference.”
Without being asked, Donald Trump turned to a group of photographers following him in Europe this morning and declared: “Great win in Montana.” Then he walked away without saying anything else. In a robo-call recorded shortly before the election, he called Gianforte “my friend” and “a wonderful guy.” “You’ll be very proud of him for years to come,” Trump told voters.
A spokesman for Mike Pence, who traveled to Montana two weeks ago to stump with Gianforte, declined to comment yesterday, and the vice president skipped his only public event of the day so he did not need to weigh in.
A Republican congressman from San Diego, who is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department, said this to an AP reporter:
Rep. Duncan Hunter said of MT reporter assault, “It’s not appropriate behavior. Unless the reporter deserved it.”
Corey Lewandowski reaches between Trump and a Secret Service agent towards Michelle Fields after a news conference in Jupiter, Florida, last March. (Joe Skipper/Reuters)
— Michelle Fields, the former Breitbart News reporter who Corey Lewandowski grabbed when she tried to ask Trump a question last year, believes some Republicans “have put party over civility.” “From the age of the Gipper to our era of the Groper, the state of our politics has declined drastically,” she writes in an op-ed for the New York Times. “It’s hard to imagine the late, great William F. Buckley cheering on a politician who assaulted a reporter. But Buckley’s nephew, Brent Bozell, did just that on Twitter in the aftermath of the Jacobs’s incident.” Bozell runs the Media Research Center:
Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk. I’m not surprised he got smacked.
“Had Ben been attacked by a Democrat, many on the right who are refusing to believe the assault occurred — or outright praising it — would be hailing him as a victim of liberal rage,” Fields adds. “Had Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, rather than Mr. Trump’s, grabbed my arm, I would not have been abandoned by many of my friends and mentors at Fox News, or my employer, Breitbart News. But I was inconvenient to their political narrative.”
Laura Ingraham addresses the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer. (Michael Robinson-Chavez/The Washington Post)
— The Montana donnybrook quickly became a Rorschach Test that highlighted the divide within the conservative media between the serious and unserious outlets. It also showcased how many prominent figures on the right reflexively rally behind Republican politicians, whether the president or a House candidate, even when they are very clearly in the wrong. This is part of a growing tribalism that contributes to the polarization of our political system.
Very tellingly, upstart conservative outlets that are trying to steal Fox’s market share by getting to the network’s right spent yesterday trying to poke holes in the story.
Laura Ingraham aggressively questioned the Fox reporter on her radio show: “You can’t body-slam someone by holding both hands on the neck. That’s impossible…Didn’t he grab him near the neck and throw him down? Just asking.” Acuna held firm: “I saw both his hands go up not around his neck in a strangling type of way, but more just on each side of his neck, just grabbed him. I guess it could have been on his clothes, I don’t know. I can’t say that for sure. But he grabbed him and slammed him down. … He had one hand on each side of his neck.”
“Acuna’s account in her interview with Ingraham was consistent with what she published on FoxNews.com, not to mention Jacobs’s own version of events,” Erik Wemple writes. “Now have a look at the headline on LifeZette, where Ingraham serves as editor in chief: ‘Montana Assault Witness Changes Story, Says No Neck Grab; Reporter says firsthand account misstated key aspect of Gianforte incident.’ BuzzFeed has deemed this story ‘FAKE.’”
But fake stuff gets around, Erik notes: On his radio show yesterday afternoon, Rush Limbaugh falsely told his listeners that the Fox reporter had basically recanted her story. He also called Jacobs “a pajama boy journalist” who was “insolent … disrespectful … whiny and moany.” RealClearPolitics reported wrongly that Acuna was “walking back” her claims. The headline on the Drudge Report was: “Witness Changes Story.”
And while the news division at Fox covered the story seriously and showed integrity, at least one commentator said on the air that the reporter had it coming:
The fever swamps of the internet went even further, though: Mike Cernovich, who has a wide following on the fringes and friends in the White House, raised the bar for required evidence. “Although there is an audio recording of the incident, he said video was needed for the story to be reliable,” Abby Ohlheiser reports. “Gateway Pundit wrote that it was ‘strange’ there was no video.”
It should go without saying that this really does a disservice to the well-intentioned people who look to these sites for honest information. Remember, Gianforte himself has now admitted wrongdoing and apologized.
— Many rank-and-file Republican voters, who follow the cues and signals of their leaders, defended their nominee’s behavior. “I understand the frustration of someone being right in your face,” Luanne Biggs, who voted for Gianforte, told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. “I feel like it’s a little set up.”
CNN correspondent Kyung Lah went to a polling place to interview voters and reported that nearly everyone she talked with said they weren’t changing their vote:
MT GOP voter, upon learning we’re from @CNN: “You’re lucky someone doesn’t pop one of you.”
Recall that many of these sorts of voters began identifying with the term “deplorable” after Clinton described some of Trump’s supporters that way during the 2016 campaign. That is why, even before the polls closed yesterday, many Democratic voters in Montana expressed skepticism that the attack on Jacobs would change the outcome of the race. “Greg thinks he’s Donald Trump,” Brent Morrow, 60, told Weigel. “He thinks he could shoot a guy on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.”
Supporters watch as Greg Gianforte is declared the winner of the Montana special election at the Hilton Garden Inn in Bozeman. (Rachel Leathe/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)
— But at least those people were talking about what happened. The Montana NBC Affiliate reportedly refused to cover the Gianforte story at all on Wednesday night, a shocking blackout. Irate sources inside 30 Rock appear to have called up New York Magazine’s Yashar Ali to complain: “KECI news director Julie Weindel was called by NBC News to see if KECI would cover the story or had any footage of the Gianforte incident that NBC News and its affiliates could use. … She was unyielding in her refusal to share any footage she may have had access to, or run a report on the story. … Weindel said that they weren’t covering the story, though it was running in outlets across the country at the time, explaining, ‘The person that tweeted [Jacobs] and was allegedly body slammed is a reporter for a politically biased publication.’ Weindel then added, ‘You are on your own for this.’ … The station was acquired, last month, by the conservative media conglomerate Sinclair Broadcasting.”
— Here’s why that’s a big deal: Sinclair Broadcasting just struck a deal with Tribune Media to buy dozens of local TV stations. “Already, Sinclair is the largest owner of local TV stations in the nation. If the $3.9 billion deal gets regulatory approval, Sinclair would have 7 of every 10 Americans in its potential audience,” Margaret Sullivan explained in a column last weekend. “Sinclair would have 215 stations, including ones in big markets such as Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago, instead of the 173 it has now. There’s no reason to think that the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, will stand in the way. Already, his commission has reinstated a regulatory loophole — closed under his predecessor, Tom Wheeler — that allows a single corporation to own more stations than the current 39 percent nationwide cap…
“When Sinclair bought Washington’s WJLA-TV in 2014, the new owners quickly moved the station to the right … It added conservative commentary pieces from a Sinclair executive, Mark Hyman, and public affairs programming with conservative hosts. (The deal would give Sinclair a second Washington station, WDCW.) And Sinclair regularly sends ‘must-run’ segments to its stations across the country. One example: an opinion piece by a Sinclair executive that echoed President Trump’s slam at the national news media and what he calls the ‘fake news’ they produce…
“During the presidential campaign, Trump’s message came through loud and clear on Sinclair’s stations, many of which are in small or medium-sized markets in battleground states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, even bragged, according to Politico, that the campaign cut a deal with the media conglomerate for uninterrupted coverage of some Trump appearances. Is there a link between such content — and the expectation of more — and the loosening of federal rules?”
Trump stands with other NATO leaders in Brussels. (Stefan Rousseau/Getty)
THE BIGGER PICTURE:
— “The darker forces that propelled President Trump’s rise are beginning to frame and define the rest of the Republican Party,” Karen Tumulty and Robert Costa explain. “When Gianforte assaulted a reporter … many saw not an isolated outburst by an individual, but the obvious, violent result of Trump’s charge that journalists are ‘the enemy of the people.’ … Trump — and specifically, his character and his conduct — now thoroughly dominate the national political conversation. Traditional policy arguments over whether entitlement programs should be overhauled, or taxes cut, are regularly upstaged by a new burst of pyrotechnics. … Trump’s barrage of news-making and controversy drives the GOP even at its lowest levels, with his raucous populism and blustering behavior reshaping its identity. Candidates often are either adopting aspects of his persona or finding themselves having to fitfully explain why they back him despite them.”
— Many right-wing intellectuals blame Trump for corrupting the conservative movement so much that Gianforte can get away with hitting a reporter:
Charlie Sykes, a conservative former talk-show host in Wisconsin, told Karen and Bob: “Every time something like Montana happens, Republicans adjust their standards and put an emphasis on team loyalty. They normalize and accept previously unacceptable behavior.”
Michael Gerson, a top speechwriter for George W. Bush, recalls a few of the conspiracy theories that the president has floated in his column for today’s Post: “Who raised the possibility that Ted Cruz’s father might have been involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy? Who hinted that Hillary Clinton might have been involved in the death of Vince Foster, or that unnamed liberals might have killed Justice Antonin Scalia? Who not only questioned President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, but raised the prospect of the murder of a Hawaiian state official in a coverup? ‘How amazing,’ Trump tweeted in 2013, ‘the State Health Director who verified copies of Obama’s ‘birth certificate’ died in plane crash today. All others lived.’ We have a president charged with maintaining public health who asserts that the vaccination schedule is a dangerous scam of greedy doctors. We have a president charged with representing all Americans who has falsely accused thousands of Muslims of celebrating in the streets following the 9/11 attacks. … This is a concrete example of the mainstreaming of destructive craziness.”
“Respectfully, I’d submit that the president has unearthed some demons,” Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) told Mike DeBonis at the Capitol. “I’ve talked to a number of people about it back home. They say, ‘Well, look, if the president can say whatever, why can’t I say whatever?’ He’s given them license. … There is a total weirdness out there. People feel like, if the president of the United States can say anything to anybody at any time, then I guess I can too. And that is a very dangerous phenomenon.”
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING:
An image grab taken from Egypt’s state-run Nile News TV channel shows the remains of a bus that was attacked while carrying Egyptian Christians. (AFP/Getty Images)
— Gunmen killed at least 23 Coptic Christians in Egypt after attacking a bus traveling to Friday mass, the latest in a string of violence aimed at the country’s Christian minority. Heba Farouk reports: “There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for previous attacks against Egypt’s Christians, which comprise about 10 percent of the population. … A spokesman for Egypt’s Health Ministry said there were also 16 wounded in Friday’s attack south of Cairo. The ambulance authority said 40 people were riding in the bus on their way from the city of Beni Suef just south of Cairo to Minya, about 150 miles south of Egypt’s capital. A journalist at the Copts united website said many of the victims appeared to be children.”
THERE IS A BEAR IN THE WOODS:
— “Jared Kushner is now a focus in Russia investigation,” by Matt Zapotosky, Sari Horwitz, Devlin Barrett and Adam Entous: “Investigators are focusing on a series of meetings held by … President Trump’s son-in-law and an influential White House adviser, as part of their probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and related matters … Kushner, who held meetings in December with the Russian ambassador and a banker from Moscow, is being investigated because of the extent and nature of his interactions with the Russians … FBI agents also remain keenly interested in former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, but Kushner is the only current White House official known to be considered a key person in the probe.
“In addition to possible coordination between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election, investigators are also looking broadly into possible financial crimes…
“In early December, Kushner met in New York with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and he later sent a deputy to meet with Kislyak. … Kushner also met in December with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Vnesheconombank, which has been the subject of U.S. sanctions following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support of separatists in eastern Ukraine. … Kushner omitted from security-clearance forms his December meetings with Kislyak and Gorkov.
“A small group of lawmakers known as the Gang of Eight was recently notified of the change in tempo and focus in the investigation at a classified briefing…
— One of Jared’s lawyers, Jamie Gorelick, said he’ll cooperate: “Mr. Kushner previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings. He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry.”
— You can’t make it up: Carter Page was welcomed into the Trump campaign after Richard Nixon’s son-in-law, Ed Cox, made an introduction. Cox, the chairman of the New York Republican Party, told The Post in an interview yesterday that Page, an acquaintance from business and political circles, had reached out to him in early 2016 expressing interest in joining the Trump campaign.
That details comes from this must-read story –> “‘Anyone … with a pulse’: How a Russia-friendly adviser found his way into the Trump campaign,” by Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman: “A top Trump adviser, Sam Clovis, then employed what campaign aides now acknowledge was their go-to vetting process — a quick Google search — to check out the newcomer. He seemed to have the right qualifications, according to former campaign officials — head of an energy investment firm, business degree from New York University, doctorate from the University of London. … He joined a new Trump campaign national security advisory group, and in late March 2016, the candidate pointed to Page, among others, as evidence of a foreign policy team with gravitas.
“But what the Google search had not shown was that Page had been on the FBI’s radar since at least 2013, when Russian officials allegedly tried to use him to get information about the energy business. By the summer of 2016, Page, who had been recently named as a Trump adviser, was under surveillance by FBI agents who suspected that he may have been acting as an agent of the Kremlin. As part of its broader investigation into potential collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, the FBI continues to examine how Page joined the campaign…
“Multiple people familiar with campaign operations … said that Page and others were brought into the fold at a time of desperation for the Trump team. As Trump was starting to win primaries, he was under increasing pressure to show that he had a legitimate, presidential-caliber national security team. The problem he faced was that most mainstream national security experts wanted nothing to do with him.
“Everyone did their best, but there was not as much vetting as there could have been,” former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski said. (Several former officials recall that when Page first showed up at Trump Tower, Lewandowski introduced him to other campaign aides.)
Another longtime campaign official put it this way: “Anyone who came to us with a pulse, a résumé and seemed legit would be welcomed.”
“We were not exactly making due diligence the highest priority,” another campaign veteran added.
“In his defense, Page in recent weeks has sent a series of meandering letters to investigators. He has quoted Maroon 5 lyrics, cited the writings of George Orwell and said he is being persecuted because of his Catholic faith.”
Sam Clovis, who “vetted” Page (by Googling him), is now a top official inside the Agriculture Department. He’s spoken critically of the U.S. sanctions that were imposed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine…
CHECKED AND BALANCED:
— The Fourth Circuit – in a 10-to-3 en banc beatdown – left in place the freeze on Trump’s revised entry ban, handing the administration yet another legal blow in its efforts to block the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries. From Ann E. Marimow and Robert Barnes: “Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court. … The Richmond-based court said the president’s power to deny entry into the United States is not absolute and sided with challengers, finding that the travel ban ‘in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination.’ The president’s authority, the court said, ‘cannot go unchecked when, as here, the president wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation,’ according to the majority opinion written by Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory and joined in part by nine colleagues.”
— Blue slips are in danger: While Trump steps up his efforts to remake the judicial branch, Senate Republicans are threatening to alter a long-honored custom that allows Democratic senators to block some judicial choices from their states.Robert Barnes and Ed O’Keefe report: “Leaders are considering a significant change to the Senate’s ‘blue slip’ practice, which holds that judicial nominations will not proceed unless the nominee’s home-state senators signal their consent to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Adherence to the custom has waxed and waned, depending on the views of Senate leaders. But the rule was strictly observed during the Obama administration, and GOP opposition to [Obama’s] nominees partly explains why Trump entered office with more than 120 judicial vacancies to fill. Removing the blue-slip obstacle would make it much easier for Trump’s choices to be confirmed…
“The Senate acted Thursday on Trump’s first appeals-court nomination, elevating U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar of Kentucky to the … 6th Circuit … Thapar was confirmed 52 to 44 on a party-line vote … Thapar’s nomination did not raise blue-slip concerns, because both of Kentucky’s senators are Republican and Thapar is a favorite of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). … (But, but, but:) The vacancy for which Thapar was nominated exists only because McConnell refused to return a blue slip for Obama’s nominee, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Tabor Hughes. The seat has been vacant since 2013, and Tabor Hughes never received a hearing, because blue slips were not returned.”
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James scores a layup against the Celtics at TD Garden in Boston last night. (Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports)
GET SMART FAST:
LeBron James passed Michael Jordan last night as the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring leader, accomplishing the feat in a win over the Celtics. That 135-102 victory, in which James scored 35 points, sent his Cavaliers into a finals showdown with the Warriors. (Des Bieler)
A U.S.-led airstrike carried out on a building in Mosul detonated a cache of ISIS explosives, killing more than 100 Iraqi civilians in March, Pentagon officials acknowledged. (Thomas Gibbons-Neff)
Former Greek prime minister Lucas Papademos was wounded in a car explosion in Athens. Police say his injuries were not life threatening. (AP)
An Alabama prisoner dubbed the “Houdini of death row” for dodging execution seven times was finally put to death early Friday. He shot his lover’s husband in a 1982 murder-for-hire scheme. He was first sentenced to death more than three decades ago. (Derek Hawkins)
In Ohio, a group of GOP activists and major donors are encouraging “Hillbilly Elegy” author J.D. Vance to run for Senate. Loyalists to John Kasich think he stands a better chance of beating Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) next year than state Treasurer Josh Mandel. (Buzzfeed)
Rep. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, is recovering at a Baltimore hospital after undergoing “minimally invasive” heart surgery. He will remain in the hospital for several days and will return to work shortly thereafter. (Politico)
The Republican National Committee is backing a petition that would allow political campaigns and businesses to leave automated messages on your voicemail, without your phone having to ring. Under consideration by the Federal Communications Commission, which has been asked to review ringless voicemail, the proposal would free tele-marketers from restrictions that prevent them from robo-calling people’s cellphones without first getting their permission. (Hamza Shaban)
Twenty-one people across the U.S. were indicted in a modern-day sex-slave ring – accused of luring vulnerable young women into the country and forcing them into prostitution until they could pay off tens of thousands of dollars in “bondage debts.” Authorities described the trafficking operation as one of the most elaborate and extensive in modern memory. (New York Times)
A Caltech astrophysics professor accused of harassing two female graduate students was also investigated for creating an imaginary female researcher, whom he listed as his co-author on major research papers and lauded for her “continued inspiration.” (Buzzfeed News)
A mother who attended every college class with her son so he could obtain a graduate degree after being paralyzed in an accident received the surprise of a lifetime during his graduation Saturday: an honorary MBA degree of her very own. (New York Times)
A Missouri man with a sweet tooth sued Hershey’s over two $1 boxes of candy – accusing the company of being “misleading, deceptive and unlawful” and purposely underfilling its packages. He’s seeking $5 million. (Abha Bhattarai)
New Zealand cricket star Doug Bracewell attempted to justify his third drunken driving conviction by arguing that the death of his girlfriend’s pet cockatoo made him do it. His lawyer said he drove drunk out of “genuine concern” for his partner and not because he was wantonly disregarding the rules of the road. (Marissa Payne)
Two Texas teachers sparked outrage after presenting a “Most likely to become a terrorist” award to a seventh-grade girl during a class assembly. The 13-year-old – a Salvadoran American and honor student – says she was stunned by the certificate, which her teachers handed to her, laughing, just one day after the Manchester Arena terrorist attack. (Amber Ferguson)
Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (Dan Kitwood/AFP/Getty Images)
THE KREMLIN IS WINNING SO MUCH THAT IT IS GOING TO GET TIRED OF WINNING:
— Trump exported the confrontational, nationalist rhetoric of his campaign in Brussels on Thursday, scolding European leaders for not footing more of the bill for their own defense, and lecturing them to stop taking advantage of U.S. taxpayers. Philip Rucker, Karen DeYoung and Michael Birnbaum report: “Speaking in front of a twisted shard of the World Trade Center at NATO’s gleaming new headquarters in Brussels, Trump upbraided America’s longtime allies for ‘not paying what they should be paying.’ He used a ceremony dedicating the memorial to NATO’s resolve in the aftermath of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States as a platform to exhort leaders to ‘focus on terrorism and immigration’ to ensure their security…
“He held back from the one pledge NATO leaders most wanted to hear: an unconditional embrace of the organization’s solemn treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all of them. Instead, European leaders gazed unsmilingly at Trump while he said that ‘23 of the 28 member nations are still not paying what they should be paying’ and that they owe ‘massive amounts’ from past years — a misstatement of NATO’s spending targets, which guide individual nations’ own domestic spending decisions. The harsh tone had a toll, as Trump was left largely on his own after the speech as leaders mingled and laughed with each other, leaving the U.S. president to stand silently on a stage ahead of a group photo. The long day of gruff Brussels meetings was a contrast to his friendlier encounters in the Middle East, where Trump last weekend embraced the authoritarian Saudi monarchy and said he had been wowed by King Salman’s wisdom.”
— It was a jarring dissonance: Trump tells Middle Eastern autocrats he will never lecture them over their human rights abuses. Then he flies to Europe and lectures our closest allies.
— Make no mistake: Vladimir Putin saw Trump’s behavior in Brussels, and he will be emboldened by it. Eastern Europeans depend on the U.S. security guarantee to avoid falling back under the yoke of Russian rule. Putin is not paying a heavy price for illegally invading Ukraine. What’s to stop him from taking, say, Estonia? How does he not take away from yesterday’s event that he could probably get away with it? Words matter, and Trump projected major weakness — putting another crack in the Western alliance.
— LEADING FROM THE SIDE: In a widely-shared moment from the summit, Trump appeared to physically push aside another NATO leader to get a spot at the front before a group picture, David Nakamura writes. “That prompted pundits to joke that after eight years of [Barack Obama’s] cautious foreign policy, the U.S. was no longer ‘leading from behind.’ But Trump’s remarks at the event celebrating the Article 5 mutual defense treaty left the impression of a president who continues to lead from the side — with one foot in and one foot out when it comes to U.S. multilateral commitments. Whether it’s NATO, the Paris climate pact, the Iran nuclear deal or the NAFTA trade accord, the Trump administration has wavered and equivocated, failing to offer a full-throated endorsement and allowing such agreements to continue in an awkward state of limbo without U.S. leadership and nourishment. Thursday’s ceremony … was supposed to put an end to the uncertainty among U.S. allies and partners in Europe. Trump’s aides had laid the groundwork, hinting [that Trump] would directly endorse Article 5. Instead, [he] found no space to do so in his 900-word address.”
— For NATO countries, the upshot is their relations with the Trump administration continue to be defined by uncertainty and anxiety even as the president wraps up a foreign trip that was intended to reaffirm U.S. global leadership: “It creates a hedging behavior,” said Ian Bremmer, president of a global risk consulting firm … Trump’s posture “makes it more likely these countries are going their own way … There will be some move towards more coordination of European-only security, and there will be less coordination with the United States.”
Vladimir Putin meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Kremlin yesterday. (EPA/Sputnik/Pool)
MOUNTING EVIDENCE OF MOSCOW MEDDLING:
— Wall Street Journal, “How Alleged Russian Hacker Teamed Up With Florida GOP Operative,” by Alexandra Berzon and Rob Barry: “The hacking spree that upended the presidential election wasn’t limited to [DNC] memos and Clinton-aide emails posted on websites. The hacker also privately sent Democratic voter-turnout analyses to a Republican political operative in Florida named Aaron Nevins. Learning that hacker ‘Guccifer 2.0’ had tapped into a Democratic committee that helps House candidates, Mr. Nevins wrote to the hacker to say: ‘Feel free to send any Florida based information.’ Ten days later, Mr. Nevins received 2.5 gigabytes of [DCCC] documents, some of which he posted on a blog called HelloFLA.com that he ran using a pseudonym. Soon after, the hacker sent a link to the blog article to Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to [Trump], along with Mr. Nevins’ analysis of the hacked data.”
— “Researchers say they’ve uncovered a disinformation campaign with an apparent Russian link,” by David Filipov in Moscow: “Researchers have discovered an extensive international hacking campaign that steals documents from its targets, carefully modifies them and repackages them as disinformation aimed at undermining civil society and democratic institutions … The investigators say the campaign shows clear signs of a Russian link. Although [the study] does not demonstrate a direct tie to the Kremlin, it suggests that the attackers are aiming to discredit the Kremlin’s opponents. The report also demonstrates overlap with cyberattacks used in the U.S. and French presidential elections … The campaign has targeted more than 200 government officials, military leaders and diplomats from 39 countries, [as well as journalists and activists]. The attackers seek to hack into email accounts … steal documents and slightly alter them while retaining the appearance of authenticity. These forgeries, which the researchers have dubbed ‘tainted leaks,’ are then released along with unaltered documents and publicized as legitimate leaks.”
Chilling quote: “Tainted leaks plant fakes in a forest of facts in an attempt to make them credible by association with genuine, stolen documents,” said John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab. “We expect to see many more of them in the future.”
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) talks with reporters on Capitol Hill. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
CONGRESS LOSING PATIENCE:
— Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker issued a rare challenge to the Trump administration: Prove to us that you are making progress with Russia soon, or he will move forward with sanctions.Karoun Demirjian reports: “[Corker] has resisted efforts to debate and pass a bipartisan bill codifying existing executive sanctions against Russia for its aggressive actions in Syria and Ukraine and imposing additional sanctions over allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. Corker had argued that it was premature to consider such a measure before congressional investigators completed their probe … On Thursday, Corker noted that [Rex Tillerson] had also asked him for ‘a short window of opportunity … to change the trajectory of our relationship with Russia’ pertaining to Syria. But Corker’s patience with Tillerson appears to be nearing its end. ‘Unless Secretary Tillerson can come in early in this next work session’ to tell senators that ‘these things are occurring that are changing the trajectory’ of U.S.-Russian relations, Corker said he would recommend that the committee ‘quickly’ move a bill to impose tougher sanctions on Moscow.”
— The Senate Intelligence Committee voted yesterday to give its ranking Republican and Democrat solo subpoena power for the duration of the investigation into Russian interference.Karoun Demirjian reports: “Chairman Richard Burr told reporters that the vote to leave subpoena decisions up to him and Vice Chairman Mark Warner was unanimous. He would not say when, or with whom, he and Warner planned to exercise their new authority. The move may be a sign that congressional investigators are anticipating a fight in their efforts to compel certain witnesses to cooperate with their probe and want to accelerate the process by which the committee can subpoena testimony or documents from people involved.”
Trump had lunch last week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Cabinet Room. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
— Federal agencies are quietly retooling their missions to avoid being targeted by the Trump administration. Chris Mooney and Lisa Rein report: “‘Climate change’ is out. ‘Resilience’ is in. ‘Victims of domestic violence’ are now ‘victims of crime.’ Foreign aid for refugee rights has become aid to protect ‘national security.’ ‘Clean energy investment’ has been transformed into just plain ‘energy’ investment. The federal government is undergoing a rebranding under [Trump] — although not all at his direction. As Trump sets new priorities for Washington sharply at odds with what the town has seen for the past eight years, some officials working on hot-button issues such as the environment, nutrition and foreign aid are changing the names of offices and programs that might draw skepticism from the conservative Republican leaders he has installed atop agencies. While entire departments are changing their missions under Trump, many of these rebranding efforts reflect a desire to blend in or escape notice, not a change in what officials do day-to-day — at least not yet, according to 19 current and former employees … ‘I do think it exemplifies a general sense of looking at our programs, looking at the way we characterize our activities, and trying to rebrand or repaint them in ways that hopefully make them less of a target,’ said one Energy Department employee.”
— “At Trump’s urging, states try to tilt Medicaid in conservative directions,” by Amy Goldstein and Juliet Eilperin: “Wisconsin is preparing to recast its Medicaid program in ways that no state has ever done, requiring low-income adults to undergo drug screening to qualify for health coverage and setting time limits on assistance unless they work or train for a job. The approach places BadgerCare, as the Wisconsin version of Medicaid is known, at the forefront of a movement by Republican governors and legislatures that is injecting a brand of moralism and individual responsibility into the nation’s largest source of public health insurance. From Maine to Arizona, some states are seizing on an invitation by the Trump administration to redesign a program that was created as part of the 1960s Great Society and now covers 69 million Americans. Although [Trump] and his advisers talk of tailor-made innovation to match need, the states’ strategies draw on a similar repertoire — monthly premiums for people below the poverty line, time limits for coverage and fees for emergency room visits, among others. All are influenced by more conservative values that long ago filtered into welfare and other anti-poverty programs. The approach places BadgerCare, as the Wisconsin version of Medicaid is known, at the forefront of a movement by Republican governors and legislatures that is injecting a brand of moralism and individual responsibility into the nation’s largest source of public health insurance.”
TRUMP AGENDA STALLS OUT ON THE HILL:
— “With proposed Trump cuts, chances fade for a bipartisan infrastructure deal,” by John Wagner: “When he took office, some otherwise deeply disappointed Democrats thought they might be able to work with him on one marquee campaign promise: pumping $1 trillion into the nation’s roads, bridges, airports and other long-neglected infrastructure. But any prospects for cooperation on that front seemed to largely evaporate this week, when Trump released a budget proposal that included deep cuts to existing infrastructure programs — angering Democrats and prompting many to question the president’s commitment to an issue he trumpeted as a candidate. Trump’s budget proposes $200 billion in new federal spending on infrastructure over the next decade, an amount his administration argues will be sufficient to spur a promised $1 trillion in new investments once new spending by the private sector and state and local governments are factored in … ‘It makes us very dubious of any attempt to do infrastructure by this administration,’ Chuck Schumer said.”
— Top White House aides are trying to assemble a plan for keeping the administration’s policy goals alive. Politico’s Josh Dawsey, Alex Isenstadt and Eliana Johnson report: “When a group of nearly a dozen state GOP chairs walked into the Oval Office last week, they expected to be inside for only a few minutes to say a brief hello and take pictures. Instead, Trump spoke with them for nearly half an hour, inviting them to sit down on the couches. He wanted to know how his policies were playing … and peppered them with questions. Among the concerns he brought up[:] the Russia probe. … A senior administration official described ‘paralysis’ setting in as more of the White House’s time and resources are consumed by the Russia probe. With so much energy being directed toward the investigation, this person said, it is becoming harder to see how any policy goals get accomplished. ‘They are back trying to get this under control,’ said one person. ‘Trump is not happy about all of this. Everyone knows it. They aren’t sitting around working on the budget all day.’”
David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, speaks at the NRA meeting in Atlanta last month. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN:
— Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Sheriff David Clarke directed staff to hassle a plane passenger after a brief exchange,” by Daniel Bice: “Sitting on the tarmac at the [DFW] International Airport on Jan. 15, Clarke sent a text message to one of his captains after a brief verbal exchange with a passenger. The sheriff explained in the text what should be done when Riverwest resident Dan Black got off the plane. ‘Just a field interview, no arrest unless he become an [expletive]…’ Clarke wrote Captain Mark Witek. ‘Follow him to baggage and out the door,’ Clarke continued. ‘You can escort me to carousel after I point him out.’ A copy of the text messages was provided by an attorney for Black, who is suing the sheriff [over the incident]. Records show the matter, which has drawn national attention, was big enough that federal investigators looked at Clarke and his staff’s handling of the case. Black, 24, says he was detained, interviewed and escorted out of Mitchell International Airport on Jan. 15 by a half-dozen deputies after a brief run-in with the sheriff on the plane. He says in the federal suit that he was the victim of an unlawful stop and arrest. Since Black went public with his complaint, Clarke has threatened and belittled his fellow passenger, calling Black a ‘snowflake’ and saying anyone, including Black, who harasses him on an airplane might get ‘knocked out.’”
— Reminder: Clarke says he is up for a top job at DHS.
Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner arrive in Rome. (Filippo Monteforte/Getty)
JARED GETTING MORE PRESS SCRUTINY:
— Bloomberg, “The Kushners, the Saudis and Blackstone: Behind the Recent Deals,” by Caleb Melby and Hui-yong Yu: “When Saudi Arabia announced last week a $20-billion investment in a U.S. infrastructure fund managed by Blackstone Group LP, many noticed that it came shortly after … Kushner personally negotiated a $110-billion arms sale to the country. What went unnoticed — and is largely unknown — is how important Blackstone is to the Kushner family company. Since 2013, Blackstone has loaned more than $400 million to finance four Kushner Cos. deals — two of which have not been reported — making it one of the business’s largest lenders. And their ties go beyond the loans. Stephen Schwarzman, Blackstone’s co-founder and chief executive officer, heads Trump’s business-advisory council and was in Riyadh with the president and Kushner. The Saudi promise to invest in Blackstone’s fund drove the firm’s stock up more than 8 percent. … The sequence of the deals and the intertwined personal relationships of the principals raise concerns about conflicts of interest.”
— Artnet, “Jared and Ivanka Failed to Disclose Their Multimillion-Dollar Art Collection,” by Christian Erin-Madsen & Jeremy Olds & Renata Mosci & Sam Bloch: “Since their wedding in 2009, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump have amassed a formidable collection of contemporary art. The walls of the couple’s $4 million Park Avenue condo are filled with works by both blue-chip and emerging artists [and] is estimated to be worth millions. Yet in required financial disclosures, Kushner … failed to report the couple’s art collection. The omission stands in contrast to disclosures from other senior members of the Trump administration. In recent months, Trump’s top cabinet picks have revealed considerable art holdings as part of required financial disclosures. [Wilbur Ross] disclosed an art collection worth at least $50 million. [Steven Mnuchin] revealed his stake in a $14.7 million Willem de Kooning painting, plus other artworks … Responding to an inquiry about the collection’s exclusion from Kushner’s financial disclosures, a lawyer advising Kushner [said] the art holdings would be added to a new version of his disclosure form. ‘Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump display their art for decorative purposes and have made only a single sale,’ [he said].”
— Politico Magazine, “Meet the Real Jared Kushner,” by David Freedlander: “The widespread assumption liberals make about Kushner seems to be this: Because he is soft-spoken, slim and handsome, with degrees from Harvard and NYU and a family that donates to Democrats, he couldn’t possibly be the same guy knifing his West Wing rivals and urging the president to go to war with the Justice Department and the FBI. But that assumption is wrong [and] those who know him from his days as a young New York real estate magnate and newspaper publisher say that America is just getting to know the Jared Kushner they have always known, that beneath the unflappable golden exterior is someone unafraid to bungee jump or to counter-punch when he feels slighted … It has always been part of the Kushner Way: unfailingly polite and urbane on the surface, while searching for the soft underbelly to stick the knife in.”
Charlotte Campbell, mother of Manchester attack victim Olivia Campbell. (Reuters/Stefan Wermuth)
THE NEW WORLD ORDER:
— “British investigators searching for clues to the motives and possible accomplices of the suicide bomber who killed at least 22 at a concert in Manchester are increasingly focusing on Libya — and the Islamic State’s presence,” Sudarsan Raghavan reports: “Authorities say that Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, spent four weeks in Libya, returning to Manchester days before he carried out Monday night’s attack … His brother, Hashem Abedi, was arrested in the capital, Tripoli, on Tuesday on suspicion of having ties to the group, and authorities say he was planning an attack in this Mediterranean city. [Now], investigators are trying to find out whether a network of plotters extended all the way to Libya. Did anyone help Salman Abedi build the bomb, and did he receive other assistance from [ISIS] cells or operatives in Libya? But pursuing leads in this fractured North African nation is rife with obstacles. Rival militias control different regions, even enclaves within the capital, as a civil war spreads economic and political instability across the country. Three governments are competing for authority … [And] after six years of civil conflict and a revolving door of political and military players, it is also unclear whether Britain and its Western allies have reliable contacts and sources to help with the probe in Libya.”
— “Duterte justified martial law over the ‘beheading’ of a police chief — who is still alive,” by Emily Rauhala: “When [Rodrigo Duterte] explained his decision to declare martial law across a wide swath of the southern Philippines, he described one of the most chilling scenes imaginable: a beheading. In a news conference that made headlines around the world, Duterte said that [a police chief was slaughtered by terrorists on his way home]. ‘They decapitated him then and there,’ he said. The Philippine president’s claim spread like wildfire, with much of the local and foreign press reporting it as fact. Soon, unconfirmed reports of ‘beheadings’ became a major part of the Philippines storyline. But the Malabang police chief is alive — [The Post] spoke to him on Friday. And the Post could find no new evidence of televised beheadings … It is not yet clear whether the police chief story was a mix-up or a careful bit of messaging. What is certain, though, is that the inaccurate report shaped how the martial law news was covered — and potentially how it was received by the government of the United States.”
Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin speaks to the press about Greg Gianforte’ss involvement with reporter Ben Jacobs at a press conference on Wednesday night. (Janie Osborne/Getty Images)
A TROUBLING TREND BACK HOME:
— It’s not just Ben Jacobs. There has been a spate of physical violence against journalists recently, Paul Farhi reports: Three weeks ago, Nathaniel Herz of the Alaska Dispatch News said he was questioning state Sen. David Wilson (R-Wasilla) in the capitol in Juneau when the legislator turned and slapped him across the face. Herz, who recorded the confrontation, filed a report with the Juneau Police Department, which has turned the case over to the state’s Office of Special Prosecution.
“CQ Roll Call reporter John Donnelly said he was pinned against a wall (last week) by security guards at the Federal Communications Commission as he sought to question agency officials. The FCC has apologized repeatedly for its treatment of Donnelly.
“Reporter Dan Heyman of the Public News Service was handcuffed and arrested on May 9 as he tried to question Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway in the West Virginia state capitol. After Conway and Price declined to respond to his repeated questions, Heyman was charged with ‘willful disruption of government processes’ by police. He spent seven hours in jail before being released.”
Trump highlighted a poll that shows a majority of Americans do not approve of how he’s doing. Rasmussen is not respected by any serious pollsters — as a rule, we don’t cite it in stories — and the overall polling average puts Trump’s approval rating at below 40 percent:
A congressman from South Carolina claimed that CNN retracted a story about Jeff Sessions concealing his contacts with Russian agents on his security clearance form. The story is accurate (DOJ confirmed it) and has not been retracted:
— “On Trumps’ first official trip, world gets its first real look at their marriage,” by Krissah Thompson: “If every marriage is a mystery, political marriages are the Twilight Zone. Really, who knows what goes on in the confines of any relationship they are not a part of? So first couples — like celebrities — are subject to endless analysis and interpretation of their every interaction. Seeing the Trumps together over the course of their nine-day trip aroused the fascination Americans have with all White House marriages. Do they hold hands? (Not regularly.) Glance at one another lovingly or roll their eyes? (Neither, at least before the cameras.) For months, Trump’s critics have questioned whether the first couple is happily married. Their friends insist that they are.”
After the first lady was caught on camera batting away the president’s hand two days in a row, the couple has made a big deal about how they are holding hands:
— The Atlantic, “First He Became an American—Then He Joined ISIS,” by Seamus Hughes and Bennett Clifford: “When the FBI discovered a network of Bosnian-Americans giving support to terrorists, they also discovered Abdullah Ramo Pazara, a U.S. citizen and a battalion commander in Syria.”
— New York Times, “For Army Infantry’s 1st Women, Heavy Packs and the Weight of History,” by Dave Philipps: “Rain pounded the roughly 150 troops of Alpha Company, who ranged in age from 17 to 34, as they stood in formation during a tornado warning, waiting to hear if it was too stormy to train. If the downpour let up, they would practice rushing out of armored vehicles. If not, they would tramp back to the foxholes where they had slept the night before and bail out the standing brown water with canteen cups. Either way, by day’s end they would be wet, tired, hungry and cold: the four pillars of misery the Army has long relied on to help whip recruits into cohesive fighting teams. ‘Misery is a great equalizer,’ one male recruit said with a resigned grin. … The first group of women graduated from Army infantry training last week, but with soldiers obscured by body armor, camouflage face paint and smoke grenades, it was almost impossible to tell that the mixed-gender squads in the steamy woods here were any different from they have been for generations. [And] that’s just how the Army wants it.”
HOT ON THE LEFT:
“’Are you illegal?’ A policeman’s question to a Honduran who had just been run over by a car,” from Univision: “Everything was recorded on the body cameras of the police who responded to the accident. Marcos Antonio Huete, a 31-year-old Honduran immigrant, was lying on a sidewalk next to his bicycle after being hit April 27 by a GMC Sierra pickup truck on his way to work in Key West in the Florida Keys. ‘You illegal? Are you a legal citizen or no? Speak English? You got ID? Passport, visa, or what?’ a Monroe County sheriff asked Huete insistently, according to the video. Still on the ground, Huete answers with monosyllables before using a cell phone to call his sister, who arrived at the scene soon after … An ambulance is only called after a second officer asks him in Spanish if he needs medical care.”
HOT ON THE RIGHT:
“This Democrat’s crude Facebook jokes have party leaders trying to push him out of primary,” from Fenit Nirappil: “Democratic state lawmakers in Virginia are trying to push a first-time candidate out of a primary contest for a House of Delegates seat, after learning he made a series of sexist and racist online comments. House Democratic leaders took the rare step last week of asking Tom Brock of Virginia Beach to step aside, saying they need to hold their own accountable … A 2011 Facebook exchange surfaced in which Brock posted racist jokes. ‘Q: Why do kids prefer white teachers over black teachers? A: It is easier to bring an apple than a watermelon,’ Brock posted.”
Trump is in Italy: He had a bilateral meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before participating in a welcome ceremony and reception for G7 leaders. This afternoon, POTUS has some meetings before attending the La Scala Philharmonic Orchestra concert. Then he’ll go to dinner with President Sergio Mattarella of Italy.
Pence is delivering the commencement address at the United State Naval Academy.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, delivering the commencement speech at Harvard, called for a new “social contract” and even floated a universal basic income — the idea that everyone should receive a base salary. He acknowledged that this won’t be cheap: “And yes, giving everyone the freedom to pursue purpose isn’t free. People like me should pay for it. Many of you will do well and you should too.” (Hayley Tsukayama)
NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:
— TGIF! (And finally a partial day of sun!) The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “It’s a decent day to travel/escape as skies show us a bit more sunshine. Still, we do have some possible clouds and showers—especially this morning—with afternoon having best chance for dry weather and sunshine. Mid-70s to around 80 degrees appears possible by late afternoon.”
— A Maryland judge ordered a temporary halt to the state’s medical marijuana program, barring the commission of new licensing until a hearing over regulators’ alleged failure to consider racial diversity. (Fenit Nirappil)
VIDEOS OF THE DAY:
French President Emmanuel Macron delays shaking Trump’s hand:
April Ryan talks about being part of the White House press corps in the Trump era:
Watch kids read Trump speeches:
Stephen Colbert prepped a best-of montage of Melania’s hand swats:
President Trump informed FBI Director James Comey he had been dismissed on May 9, stemming from a conclusion by Justice Department officials that he had mishandled the probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)
White House press secretary Sean Spicer wrapped up his brief interview with Fox Business from the White House grounds late Tuesday night and then disappeared into the shadows, huddling with his staff behind a tall hedge. To get back to his office, Spicer would have to pass a swarm of reporters wanting to know why President Trump suddenly decided to fire the FBI director.
For more than three hours, Spicer and his staff had been scrambling to answer that question. Spicer had wanted to drop the bombshell news in an emailed statement, but it was not transmitting quickly enough, so he ended up standing in the doorway of the press office around 5:40 p.m. and shouting a statement to reporters who happened to be nearby. He then vanished, with his staff locking the door leading to his office. The press staff said that Spicer might do a briefing, then announced that he definitely wouldn’t say anything more that night. But as Democrats and Republicans began to criticize and question the firing with increasing levels of alarm, Spicer and two prominent spokeswomen were suddenly speed-walking up the White House drive to defend the president on CNN, Fox News and Fox Business.
“Another Tuesday at the White House,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders quipped as she finished speaking on Fox News from its outdoor set, as the voice of Kellyanne Conway continued to spar with CNN’s Anderson Cooper from the next booth over.
Lawmakers react after President Trump fired FBI director James Comey on May 9. (Victoria Walker/The Washington Post)
After Spicer spent several minutes hidden in the bushes behind these sets, Janet Montesi, an executive assistant in the press office, emerged and told reporters that Spicer would answer some questions, as long as he was not filmed doing so. Spicer then emerged.
“Just turn the lights off. Turn the lights off,” he ordered. “We’ll take care of this. … Can you just turn that light off?”
Spicer got his wish and was soon standing in near darkness between two tall hedges, with more than a dozen reporters closely gathered around him. For 10 minutes, he responded to a flurry of questions, vacillating between light-hearted asides and clear frustration with getting the same questions over and over again.
The first question: Did the president direct Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to conduct a probe of FBI Director James B. Comey?
As Spicer tells it, Rosenstein was confirmed about two weeks ago and independently took on this issue so the president was not aware of the probe until he received a memo from Rosenstein on Tuesday, along with a letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions recommending that Comey be fired. The president then swiftly decided to follow the recommendation, notifying the FBI via email around 5 p.m. and in a letter delivered to the FBI by the president’s longtime bodyguard. At the same time, the president personally called congressional leaders to let them know his decision. Comey learned the news from media reports.
“It was all him,” Spicer said of Rosenstein, as a reporter repeated his answer back to him. “That’s correct — I mean, I can’t, I guess I shouldn’t say that, thank you for the help on that one. No one from the White House. That was a DOJ decision.”
The news Tuesday was surprising for a number of reasons, especially since the president once delighted in Comey’s investigation of Democrat Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server — an investigation that is now at the heart of Trump’s explanation for firing Comey. Some have then wondered aloud if the president is instead trying to punish Comey for investigating ties between his campaign and Russia.
When pressed on this, Spicer would put forth Rosenstein’s résumé: a prosecutor with more than 30 years of experience who served as a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration and was overwhelmingly confirmed for his new position as deputy attorney general by Congress.
Spicer said he’s not aware of any of Rosenstein’s superiors who might have directed him to do this — although he then said that such questions should be directed to Justice officials, not him. Spicer did a lot of referring.
Was Sessions involved? “That’s something you should ask the Department of Justice,” Spicer said.
Was Rosenstein’s probe part of a larger review of the FBI? “That’s, again, a question that you should ask the Department of Justice,” he said.
Did the president discuss Rosenstein’s findings with Rosenstein? “No, I don’t believe, I don’t know how that sequence went — I don’t know,” he said.
What was the president’s role? “Again, I have to get back to you on the tick-tock,” he said.
When’s the last time Trump and Comey spoke? “Uh, I don’t know. I don’t know. There’s some — I don’t know. I don’t know,” he said.
What were the three occasions on which the president says Comey assured him that he was not under investigation? “I don’t — we can follow — I can try, yeah,” he said.
How long did the president deliberate? “I don’t, I don’t … I can look at the tick-tock. I know that he was presented with that today. I’m not sure what time,” he said.
Why wasn’t Comey given the news in a personal phone call? “I think we delivered it by hand and by email and that was — and I get it, but you asked me a question and that’s the answer,” he said.
Did Comey’s testimony last week — which contained inaccuracies — influence the decision? “You’d have to ask the Department of Justice. They’re the ones that made the recommendation,” he said.
Why didn’t the president do this months ago? “Again, I would refer you to the Department of Justice,” he said.
Does he know about grand-jury subpoenas that have reportedly been issued in an investigation involving Michael Flynn, Trump’s previous national security adviser? “I’m not — I’m not aware of any,” he said.
Is it true that the president will meet on Wednesday with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov? “We’ll see what the schedule says. I don’t — I just — I’ve been a little tied up.”
Spicer repeatedly batted down bipartisan calls that an independent prosecutor be assigned to handle the investigation into ties between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, saying that the current system is working just fine. CNN’s Sara Murray noted that Trump has now fired Comey, who is leading the investigation, and Sessions has had to recuse himself.
“Right now, on multiple occasions, they said that the president wasn’t under investigation. What are we investigating?” Spicer said. “…What are you investigating?”
As Murray continued to press him, Spicer told her: “Hold on, Sara, I get it, you’re right there. You don’t have to yell.”
With Murray quieted, Spicer continued to explain why there’s no need for a special prosecutor.
“There is clearly at this point no evidence of a reason to do that,” Spicer said. “You have a system that’s working.”
Exactly 10 minutes after he started answering questions, Spicer stopped.
“Anyway,” Spicer said abruptly, “thank you, guys.”
As Spicer made his way toward the White House door, the swarm of reporters moved with him, shouting questions along the way: Why is the White House suddenly giving statements after pledging to not do so? Did Trump’s bodyguard really deliver the message to the FBI? Can NBC get some one-on-one time?
“Thank you,” Spicer said again. “Thank you.”
Spicer walked with his head down. As he approached the door, aides warned reporters not to get too close. He then disappeared inside, enveloped by the warmly lit White House.
Over the weekend Maxim Shipenkov took a photograph of a woman being arrested at the protests in Moscow. The photograph is striking in composition, its tension and poses almost classical, almost a grotesque recasting of a pietà.
A series of visual juxtapositions inhabit the tight space of the photographic frame: her flying hair versus the police hard round helmets; her hand clutching her purse versus the hands that grab of her body, wrestling her arms and legs; tan coat next to the authoritarian black vests of the police’s impenetrable riot gear; her pleading, silent expression juxtaposed with bureaucratic calm. The bodies too are visually and materially contradictory—hers limp, the police armored and weaponized; her legs exposed and bent at the knees, the languidness of the classical recline ruptured by the baton police juts out from underneath her calf.
The woman, who was later identified as Olga Lozina, is no radical. She was not in the crowd to protest Vladimir Putin but rather caught up in sweeping arrests of seemingly anyone in eyesight of the police after leaving a McDonald’s. “There was a flower bed and I jumped up to see where the crowd [ended]. Then riot police demanded that we immediately got off the flower bed,” Lozina said in an interview.
Everyone quickly got off but the police grabbed the last person to get down, a young man, and took him to a police van.
My mom was there and asked police, ‘Why are you detaining him?’ Then they grabbed my mom. And then my sister. They took them and I followed them without realizing that they were detaining me as well.
Lozina added that the police handled her gently, which may be true, but Shipenkov’s photograph—an object that exists independently of Lozina’s narrative—resists such interpretation. In the jumble of bodies, the photograph makes a visual appeal to liberty and to justice; to abstract concepts that are often invoked as the bedrocks of modern citizenry. The photograph, which quickly went viral, implies the overreach of a state—the infringement of a single body stands in for the citizen—and reiterates the permanent politicization of women’s bodies, particularly those that occupy public spaces. As such many labelled the photograph “iconic”—an implicit understanding that the arrest and physical coercion of the then-unidentified woman was a singular visual summation of the historic anti-corruption protests.
Lozina’s body, politicized by both presence and gender, was thus transformed from that of an individual woman—an individual citizen—into an icon; a visual allegory of the excesses of the state. In that respect, Lozina has many photographic sisters: Jasmina Golubovska, who was shot while applying bright red lipstick using the reflective surface of a riot shield at a protest in Macedonia during the Spring of 2015 and, perhaps more famously, Ieshia Evans, who was captured as she was arrested during a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge. Golubovska and Evans were described as “badass” and “graceful,” “heroic” and “strong” and both photographs of the women were deemed iconic. In every case, the women who resisted the state were pulled into the realm of the allegorical, transformed, more broadly, into symbols of liberty.
The photographs of Evans and Lozina particularly lend themselves to a classical interpretation (comparisons of both photographs with Renaissance painting abound). Both photographs exploit the visual tensions of male and female bodies, excess and restraint, and of the textual surfaces of clothing. Both women happen to be in painterly poses—Evans statuesque; Lozina inadvertently in the C-curve of a recline—as though their bodies were readymade for interpretation. But then, of course, they are. “Because women continue to occupy the space of the Other that they lend themselves to allegorical use so well,” Marina Warner wrote in Monuments and Maidens. This is doubly true in the case of Evans and Black Lives Matter.
Photographs of women like Lozina and Evans go viral because they are an ancient allegory rendered living. Liberty and freedom have always been women. Since a statute of Libertas stood in the Roman Forum, we’ve understood that the abstract concept can only be made concrete by the body of a woman. Marianne and the Statute of Liberty might have been modeled on real women, but it’s their transformational power that endures (even Soviet kitsch at its finest couldn’t resist such an alluring allegory).
“Liberty” Warner writes, “prolongs the ancient associations of women with Otherness, outsiderdom, with carnality, instinct and passion, and against men endowed with reason, control, and spirituality who govern and order society.” But if such associations position men as masters of the state (also, particularly in America, represented as a woman), then the allegory of liberty also unravels that order, subverting those categories by placing “women in a different relation to these categories […] placing women in a different relation to civilization, to its content and happiness as well as its discontents.”
Lozina and Evans then are iconic because, in the photograph, they have ceased being individuals, subsumed instead by the longing for an allegory for the discontent or the disenfranchised. And yet the photographs are a pertinent reminder that while liberty might be a woman, women still have a tenuous grasp on the very value they have given form to for centuries.