TPM News

Given the opportunity to drop its defense of Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate in a case challenging its accommodation to religious employers, the Justice Department, under President Trump, asked the court for more time Monday to consider the “complex” issues within a Supreme Court directive handed down last year in a related lawsuit.

The move upset those challenging the accommodation, the Washington Post reported, who believe the Trump administration is violating his campaign promise to reverse the Justice Department’s defense of the waiver option the federal government offers organizations with religious objections to the contraceptive mandate.

“That just seems to be very contrary to what they’ve been saying publicly,” Eric Rassbach—a lawyer working for the religious freedom legal firm that is representing some of the challengers—told the Washington Post about Monday’s filing.

The case, East Texas Baptist University v. Price, is a consolidation of multiple lawsuits against the Health and Human Services Department and other federal agencies brought by employers who object to the accommodation granted to religious organizations that don’t want to cover birth control, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. The groups say that even filling out the form asking to opt-out of covering the contraceptives—and thus triggering the process through which their employees receive the coverage elsewhere—is a form of complicity in forms of birth control to which they have religious objections.

One such legal challenge, Zubik v. Burwell, made it up to the Supreme Court last year.  The court, down to eight members after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, essentially punted and asked the parties to figure out a compromise. Those negotiations are currently going on at the appeals court level, including at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, where the East Texas Baptist University case had been paused for the parties to hash out a potential agreement.

Last week, some of the religious groups had asked for the 5th Circuit to end its pause on the proceedings and for the Justice Department to drop its defense of the accommodation:

It has been more than eleven months since the Supreme Court vacated and remanded this appeal to this Court. During that interval, there has been a presidential election, a new President inaugurated, both a new Attorney General and a new Secretary of Health and Human Services sworn in, and a new Supreme Court Justice confirmed by the Senate. There have also been four orders issued by this Court continuing the stay of this appeal, No. 14- 20112. The government’s position in this case has also changed dramatically—both before and after the events described above—in ways that make any continuation of the government’s appeal untenable. It is now high time for the Department of Justice to admit defeat and dismiss this appeal. This Court should therefore allow the current stay to expire as scheduled on April 24.

The Trump administration, however, asked for the pause on the proceedings to continue in its filing Monday:

Plaintiffs emphasize that eleven months have elapsed since that remand order but, as they acknowledge, the new Administration has been in place for only a few months. The regulations at issue here are jointly administered by three Departments—the Department of Health & Human Services, the Department of Labor, and the Department of the Treasury—and are the subject of numerous other lawsuits being handled by the Department of Justice. The nominee to be Secretary of Labor has not yet been confirmed, and numerous subcabinet positions at the Departments have not yet been filled. The issues presented by the Supreme Court’s remand order are complex; for example, the original accommodation took more than a year to develop with input from interested parties.

Read the full Trump administration filing below:

CHICAGO (AP) — An unusually large number of luxury condominiums are for sale or available for rent at Trump Tower in Chicago.

Real estate professionals tell the Chicago Tribune (http://trib.in/2oFJmqy ) that almost 11 percent of the 98-story building’s 486 residential units are for sale.

Chicago demonstrators have focused on the building since Donald Trump was elected president.

Carla Walker of KoenigRubloff Berkshire Hathaway says owners who paid upward of $1.5 million for their condos don’t want to be disturbed by protesters.

Appraisal Research Counselors says the number of Trump Tower condos for sale is almost three times higher than at similar buildings downtown. The 100-story John Hancock building has 26 out of 703 condos for sale.

Ajay Goel says he negotiated a 7.5 percent decrease in his Trump Tower condo rent when his lease came up, adding 36 units are currently available for rent.

___

Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

CLEVELAND (AP) — The partner of a Cleveland officer who fatally shot 12-year-old Tamir (tuh-MEER’) Rice recalls pleading for a faster response from medics as the wounded boy’s condition worsened.

Cleveland.com (http://bit.ly/2oZdxvu ) reports the newly public recorded police interviews were done within days of the November 2014 death of Rice, who’d been playing with a pellet gun.

In one video, Officer Frank Garmback chokes up as he describes spotting the suspect with an apparent handgun before his partner fired. Garmback pauses, puts his hands over his face, then says quietly: “I didn’t know it was a kid.”

Their police union says the officers did nothing wrong.

A grand jury declined to indict them, but they face administrative charges not directly related to the shooting.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former acting attorney general Sally Yates is scheduled to appear at a congressional hearing next month on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a Senate committee announced Tuesday.

Yates is to appear May 8 along with James Clapper, the former director of national intelligence, at an open hearing of the crime and terrorism subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It will mark her first appearance on Capitol Hill since she was fired in late January after refusing to defend President Donald Trump’s travel ban. She had been scheduled to testify weeks ago before the House intelligence committee, but that hearing was canceled and has yet to be rescheduled.

At this point, the Senate Judiciary hearing will be the first opportunity for the public to hear Yates’ account of her role in the firing of Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn. That subcommittee is conducting an investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The House and Senate intelligence committees are conducting investigations as well.

Yates alerted the White House in January that Flynn had been misleading in his account of a December phone call with the Russian ambassador to the United States in which economic sanctions against Russia were discussed. Flynn was ousted after those discrepancies were made public.

The White House said last month that it had never tried to prevent Yates from testifying. The assertion followed the publication of a series of letters in which her attorney pushed back against what he suggested was Justice Department guidance on what Yates could say about conversations she had with the White House.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

MADRID (AP) — Police in northeastern Spain arrested nine suspected members of a jihadi group Tuesday in raids that might help resolve recent deadly attacks in Belgium and France.

Police said the arrested were one Spaniard and eight Moroccans living in Catalonia between 30 and 40 years old.

A regional police spokeswoman said at least four of the detained are suspected of being linked to people arrested following the 2016 Brussels airport and subway attacks that killed 32 people and wounded 300 others. The officer spoke on condition of anonymity in keeping with police regulations.

Regional police spokesman Josep Lluis Trapero told TV3 regional television that four of the detained were clearly members the Islamic State group. He said the arrests could help solve investigations into attacks in France and Belgium.

Trapero said the group was also being investigated for drug trafficking and other crimes.

A police statement said police made 12 raids in five Catalan towns including the regional capital, Barcelona.

It said the arrests followed an eight-month investigation in coordination with Belgian police.

Spanish police have arrested some 200 suspected jihadis since Spain raised its national security alert to one step below the maximum in 2015.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) said Tuesday that the State Department’s publishing of promotional information on President Donald Trump’s private Mar-a-Lago club “should not have happened.”

On Monday, the State Department removed a post from from its ShareAmerica platform on the club, called “Mar-a-Lago: The winter White House.” It contained a brief history of the property and was placed alongside other promotions of, for example, Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors” exhibit, or the singer Cécile McLorin Salvant.

The article was reposted on the U.S. Embassy in London and on the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania’s Facebook page. Those posts have also been deleted.

“It shouldn’t have happened, and it ought to come down,” Blackburn told CNN’s Chris Cuomo Tuesday morning.

“There should be a statement to provide some clarity as to how that happened,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing that should not happen, and if it did get posted, take it down immediately.”

Blackburn added that there needed to be some clarification that the post was “a mistake, and it’s down.”

Spokespeople for the Bureau of International Information Programs, of which ShareAmerica is a part, and the U.S. Embassy in London did not return TPM’s requests for comment Monday.

ShareAmerica posted a brief statement on the the article’s original page:

The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the president has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post.

Democrats on Capitol Hill complained about the post Monday, calling it “kleptocratic” among other things. Norman Eisen, of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, claimed that it violated a law against using public office for private gains.

Of those and other criticisms, Blackburn said simply: “I think what you have to look at is the compliance that the government ethics office requires.”

Watch below via CNN:

Republican @MarshaBlackburn on Mara Lago promo on govt website: “Shouldn’t have happened and it ought to come down” https://t.co/vRMRYDkYva

— New Day (@NewDay) April 25, 2017


H/t The Hill

April 25, 2017

Top Stories


Why Can’t Republicans Move On From Obamacare Repeal?

The Gist: Even as they face an insanely busy week when a government shutdown will need to be averted and President Trump would also like to unveil a tax overhaul plan, some GOP lawmakers—perhaps at the behest of White House officials seeking to save face ahead of the 100-day mark—are talking up the possibility of a new deal to revive legislation to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Bill O’Reilly Emerges After Fox News Ouster: ‘The Truth Will Come Out’

The Gist: Ousted Fox News host Bill O’Reilly broke his silence on Monday evening in a podcast posted to his personal website, where he said that the “truth will come out” about his departure from Fox News.

State Department Removes Post Promoting Mar-A-Lago From Website

The Gist: The State Department on Monday removed a blog post promoting President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago resort in Florida following criticism from ethics advocates and Democrats, and questions from reporters.

From The Reporter’s Notebook


All 100 members of the U.S. Senate are scheduled to attend a briefing on the situation in North Korea this week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed Monday. “The White House campus will play host to a briefing for all 100 U.S. senators on the subject,” Spicer said at the top of his daily briefing, referring to North Korea, TPM’s Matt Shuham wrote.

Agree or Disagree?


Josh Marshall: “As you can see, White House officials were telegraphing a less confrontational stance – metaphor wall money. But Trump himself couldn’t help caving even more aggressively, apparently openly discussing where the White House assumes it will end up, which is getting nothing at all. So White House officials pitch new bargaining position; Trump, allowed to talk, says no let’s just lose completely. “

Say What?!


“Sean’s not the victim of a bait and switch. It’s not like he met President Trump on his first day. He knew what he was getting into.”

– Josh Earnest, formerly White House press secretary in President Barack Obama’s administration, said on Sunday that he does not “feel a ton of sympathy” for Sean Spicer, his counterpart in President Donald Trump’s White House.

BUZZING: Today in the Hive


From a TPM Prime member: “The concept that trump and members of his team are compromised tools of Russia/Putin/Oligarch mobsters, etc (take your pick) has taken on a life of its own. While it is clear that there was Russian interference in the 2016 election, what is not clear is to what degree (if any) that anybody on the U.S.A. side of the equation played in that interference. Every day now I hear new claims about underlings flipping for the FBI, indictments for serious crimes or treason are just around the corner, the ‘golden shower’ dossier is true, there are multiple recordings picked up by the IC of trump (and underlings) colluding with Russia on the election, etc. I have even seen the theory the Jason Chaffetz kept the whole Benghazi witch hunt rolling at the behest of Russia for bribes or blackmail. It has reached a fever pitch. This is a rotten scandal the likes of which have never been seen before!!! It goes deep with the major players of the republican party!! Any day now the other shoe will drop!!! Any day!!!!!!…….??? I must admit I am guilty of consuming each of these pronouncements with excitement. Everybody would feel vindicated in their disgust with the whole rotten mess of the 2016 election and its ongoing aftermath. I want it to be true, but is it? I follow all the links, read the articles and twitter feeds and lots of people have 100% backed the Russian collusion theory. It is addictive reading this stuff and I am guilty of over indulging in it myself too.”

Related: Report: Senate Intel’s Understaffed Russia Probe Is Moving At Snail’s Pace

Have something to add? Become a Prime member and join the discussion here.

What We’re Reading


Dogs Are Doggos: An Internet Language Built Around Love For The Puppers (NPR)

Inside the Trump Marriage: Melania’s Burden (Vanity Fair)

Ivanka Trump got a chilly reception at an international summit to promote women’s economic empowerment on Tuesday when she tried to promote her father as a great advocate for women and families.

“I’m very, very proud of my father’s advocacy, long before he came to the presidency but during the campaign, including in the primaries,” Trump said on a panel at the Women20 summit in Berlin. “He’s been a tremendous champion of supporting families and enabling them to thrive in the new reality of—”

The crowd responded to her comments with muttering and grumbling.

“You hear the reaction from the audience, so I need to address one more point,” the panel’s moderator, Miriam Meckel, cut in. “Some attitudes toward women your father has publicly displayed in former times might leave one questioning whether he’s such an empower-er for women.”

“I certainly heard the criticism from the media, and that’s been perpetuated,” Trump replied.

She cited “the thousands of women who have worked with and for” her father as a “testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women.”

Meckel did not specify which of President Donald Trump’s comments might call his attitudes toward women into question, though one example might be the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump bragged about how his fame enabled him to grab women “by the pussy” and forcibly kiss them.

VARNER, Ark. (AP) — Two inmates received lethal injections on the same gurney Monday night about three hours apart as Arkansas completed the nation’s first double execution since 2000, just days after the state ended a nearly 12-year hiatus on administering capital punishment.

While the first inmate, Jack Jones, 52, was executed on schedule, shortly after 7 p.m., attorneys for the second, Marcel Williams, 46, convinced a federal judge minutes later to briefly delay his execution over concerns about how the earlier one was carried out. They claimed Jones “was moving his lips and gulping for air,” an account the state’s attorney general denied, but the judge lifted her stay about an hour later and Williams was pronounced dead at 10:33 p.m.

In the emergency filing, Williams’ attorneys wrote that officials spent 45 minutes trying to place an IV line in Jones’ neck before placing it elsewhere. It argued that Williams, who weighs 400 pounds, could have faced a “torturous” death because of his weight.

Intravenous lines are placed before witnesses are allowed access to the death chamber.

An Associated Press reporter who witnessed the execution said Jones moved his lips briefly after the midazolam was administered, and officials put a tongue depressor in his mouth intermittently for the first few minutes. His chest stopped moving two minutes after they checked for consciousness, and he was pronounced dead at 7:20 p.m.

Williams was already in the death chamber when the temporary stay was issued. He was escorted out of the chamber and used the restroom, then was brought back in after the stay was lifted.

Initially, Gov. Asa Hutchinson scheduled four double executions over an 11-day period in April. The eight executions would have been the most by a state in such a compressed period since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The state said the executions needed to be carried out before its supply of one lethal injection drug expires on April 30.

Besides the two executions Monday, Arkansas put to death one other inmate last week and has a final one scheduled for Thursday. Four others have been blocked.

Before last week, Arkansas hadn’t had an execution since 2005 or a double execution since 1999.

Jones, who’d argued that his health conditions could lead to a painful death, gave a lengthy last statement. His final words were: “I’m sorry.”

“I hope over time you can learn who I really am and I am not a monster,” he said in the roughly 2-minute statement.

Williams declined to make a final statement.

Jones was sent to death row for the 1995 rape and killing of Mary Phillips. He strangled her with the cord to a coffee pot.

He was also convicted of attempting to kill Phillips’ 11-year-old daughter and was convicted in another rape and killing in Florida.

Jones said earlier this month that he was ready for execution. He used a wheelchair and he’d had a leg amputated in prison because of diabetes.

Williams’ “morbid obesity makes it likely that either the IV line cannot be placed or that it will be placed in error, thus causing substantial damage (like a collapsed lung),” his attorneys wrote in an earlier court filing asking justices to block the execution.

Both men were served last meals on Monday afternoon, Arkansas Department of Correction spokesman Solomon Graves said. Jones had fried chicken, potato logs with tartar sauce, beef jerky bites, three candy bars, a chocolate milkshake and fruit punch. Williams had fried chicken, banana pudding, nachos, two sodas and potato logs with ketchup, Graves said.

In recent pleadings before state and federal courts, the inmates said the three drugs Arkansas uses to execute prisoners — midazolam, vecuronium bromide and potassium chloride — could be ineffective because of their poor health.

Williams weighed 400 pounds, was diabetic and had concerns that the execution team might not be able to find a suitable vein to support an intravenous line.

The poor health of both men, their lawyers claimed, could make it difficult for them to respond during a consciousness check following a megadose of midazolam. The state shouldn’t risk giving them drugs to stop their lungs and hearts if they aren’t unconscious, they have told courts.

The last state to put more than one inmate to death on the same day was Texas, which executed two killers in August 2000. Oklahoma planned a double execution in 2014 but scrapped plans for the second one after the execution of Clayton Lockett went awry.

Arkansas executed four men in an eight-day period in 1960. The only quicker pace included quadruple executions in 1926 and 1930.

Williams was sent to death row for the 1994 rape and killing of 22-year-old Stacy Errickson, whom he kidnapped from a gas station in central Arkansas.

Authorities said Williams abducted and raped two other women in the days before he was arrested in Errickson’s death. Williams admitted responsibility to the state Parole Board last month.

“I wish I could take it back, but I can’t,” Williams told the board.

In a letter earlier this month, Jones said he was ready to be killed by the state. The letter, which his attorney read aloud at his clemency hearing, went on to say: “I shall not ask to be forgiven, for I haven’t the right.”

Including Jones and Williams, nine people have been executed in the United States this year, four in Texas, three in Arkansas and one each in Missouri and Virginia. Last year, 20 people were executed, down from 98 in 1999 and the lowest number since 14 in 1991, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

___

Associated Press writers Jill Bleed contributed to this report from Little Rock.

___

Follow Andrew DeMillo at www.twitter.com/ademillo and Kelly P. Kissel at www.twitter.com/kisselap

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Turkish businessman who paid Michael Flynn’s consulting firm almost $600,000 while he was serving as a top adviser to Donald Trump’s campaign has extensive business ties to Russia, Politico reported Tuesday.

Ekim Alptekin, who runs Dutch firm Inovo BV, has since 2015 worked closely with Ukraine-born businessman Dmitri “David” Zaikan to coordinate Turkish lobbying efforts in Washington, D.C., according to the report. Both Alptekin and Zaikan have negotiated business deals with Vladimir Putin’s government, according to court records obtained by the news site.

As Politico reported:

The man, Ekim Alptekin, has in recent years helped to coordinate Turkish lobbying in Washington with Dmitri “David” Zaikin, a Soviet-born former executive in Russian energy and mining companies who also has had dealings with Putin’s government, according to three people with direct knowledge of the activities.

This unusual arrangement, in which Alptekin and Zaikin have helped steer Turkish lobbying through various groups since at least 2015, raises questions about both the agenda of the two men and the source of the funds used to pay the lobbyists.

A lawyer for Flynn, who was hired by Alptekin in August and made his final payments to contractors working on the Inovo project a month after Trump named him as national security adviser, declined to comment to Politico. Russia was under investigation for meddling in the U.S. presidential election during Flynn’s tenure with Inovo.

In March, shortly after being forced out of the White House for failing to disclose conversations he had with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., Flynn filed paperwork with the Justice Department acknowledging that his lobbying work “principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.” He said in those filings that Flynn Intel Group’s task was to research and produce promotional material on Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania who President Recep Tayyip Erdogan believes is trying to undermine his rule. The firm also pressured U.S. officials to investigate and take action against the cleric.

LiveWire