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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

Ousted FBI Director James Comey’s riveting testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week characterized President Donald Trump as a habitual liar who made wildly inappropriate demands, but the President and his allies immediately seized on what they saw as a victory: Comey confirmed publicly that Trump personally had not been under investigation as long as he was at the bureau.

Trump declared “complete vindication” following the hearing, despite Comey stressing that the question of whether the President was under investigation could change in the future, and dropping several telling hints that special counsel Bob Mueller was likely examining Trump’s conversations and actions since taking office. That victory cry sounds even more ridiculous in light of the Washington Post’s revelation Wednesday night that Mueller is, in fact, looking into whether Trump tried to obstruct justice—a criminal inquiry triggered by the President’s very decision to fire Comey.

Here are five people who beclowned themselves by triumphantly boasting too soon that the President was out of the legal woods:

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The annual Democrats-versus-Republicans Congressional Baseball Game at Nats Stadium in Southeast D.C. will go on Thursday night as scheduled, despite the tragic shooting at Republicans’ early morning practice Wednesday that wounded five people, including a member of Congress.

The decision was made just hours after the shooting, when even those who had been at the practice and narrowly survived stressed its importance as one of the only positive traditions left in a time of increasing partisan rancor.

Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the manager of the Republican team, approached reporters Wednesday morning with a blank, numb expression on his face, still wearing his rumpled red uniform. “This is a charity baseball game. We’ve played it for almost 100 years,” he said, seemingly in disbelief of what he and his 10-year-old son had just seen. “In some ways, it’s what democracy is all about.”

This year, in addition to the usual beneficiaries of the proceeds of the game—the Boys and Girls Club, the Washington Literacy Center, and the Nationals Dream Foundation—ticket sales from Thursday’s game will go to the Fallen Officers Fund in honor of the two Capitol Police officers who were injured Wednesday while taking down the gunman who targeted the practice. One officer has already been treated and released, while the other remains in the hospital, but is expected to make a full recovery post-surgery.

Two others shot Wednesday—Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and former congressional staffer Matt Mika—remain in critical condition. Lawmakers and staff plan to wear uniforms of Scalise’s favorite team, Louisiana State University, Thursday night in his honor.

Like Barton, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA), the team’s relief pitcher, became overcome Wednesday talking about what the game means to him and other lawmakers and why its vital the tradition be continued.

“All of us want to play. We can’t let haters win,” he said.

“It’s one of the things that makes you feel more normal. The camaraderie we have in the mornings …” he trailed off, blinking back tears. “I’m sorry,” he said to the gaggle of reporters clustered around him as he took deep breaths and tried to compose himself. “When we’re out there, it’s such a change from the pressures we feel on a regular basis. Out there on the field, we treat each other like we’re back in high school again.”

Even though Democrats and Republicans face off against one another on opposing teams, lawmakers said, the friendly tone of the competition is a far cry from the bitter debates over health care, the budget, and the Trump-Russia investigation that have plagued Capitol Hill this year.

“[Ohio Democrat] Tim Ryan and I have a little thing going, because I struck him out on a curveball a couple of years ago,” Meehan recalled fondly. “Every time we see each other, we joke about that. He just came up and gave me a hug.” Meehan voice broke again. “It tells you how much we share that’s away from this,” he said, waving his hand to indicate the congressional meeting rooms around him.

When the news of the shooting broke Wednesday morning, Democrats who were practicing at a field on the other side of the Potomac River, paused to pray for their colleagues.

“What makes this even more awful is that this game is one of the things that’s right with this town,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), the catcher on the Democrats’ team, told TPM. “This is a game where Republicans and Democrats come together, and put fellowship and bipartisanship ahead of party politics. It makes the shooter’s decision to target their practice even harder to understand.”

Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

To enter the U.S. Capitol, one must walk through a metal detector, flash an ID badge, put any bags or purses through a scanner and pass several armed police officers. Outside those marble halls, however, hundreds of members of Congress and their staff have no security whatsoever—unless they hold one of a handful of leadership positions.

“When we’re off Capitol Hill, we don’t have anyone watching our backs,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) observed Wednesday. “It’s not hard for one person who is unhinged to do something pretty dangerous.”

The only reason Capitol Police officers were on duty at congressional Republicans’ baseball practice Wednesday morning at a public field in Alexandria, Virginia when a gunman opened fire was the presence of GOP Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), who was shot and remains in critical condition in a Washington, D.C. hospital.

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Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) left congressional Republicans’ baseball practice mere minutes before a gunman opened fire there, injuring several people including a member of House leadership. Duncan didn’t learn about what happened until after he had returned to the Capitol, showered, changed, and then got a call from a former member of Congress asking if he was among the wounded.

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Just a few hours after members of Congress, staffers and Capitol Police officers were reportedly shot at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee used their opening statements at a hearing on “violent extremism” to address the morning’s violence.

Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) opened by emphasizing that the committee’s priority is “countering extremism and violence in any form, including Islamist terrorism,” and added: “There’s no way anybody can deny we have a problem worldwide in terms of extremism and violence. We witnessed it just a few hours ago on a baseball field for a charity event.”

Republican lawmakers who were at the baseball practice described the suspected shooter, who was killed by police, as a middle-aged white male, and police say they have found no connection to international terrorism.

Yet Johnson continue to connect the morning’s tragedy to the hearing, which focused on Islamist terrorism specifically. “I appreciate those who stand up and tell the truth and describe reality in a world that is very, very dangerous, in a world that doesn’t want to hear the truth and reality,” he said, indicating the invited witnesses. Johnson then spent several minutes talking about how much the United States welcomes immigrants and how those immigrants must “accept constitutional law” and “assimilate.”

“We’ve got to get to the point where people feel free and safe to go practice in the morning on a baseball field, or walk a street, or raise their family,” he said.

In her own opening statement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the top Democrat on the committee, also referenced the shooting, but seemed to hit back at Johnson for appearing to draw a connection between the morning’s tragedy and Islam.

“Make no mistake about it: what we saw this morning was evil,” she said. “I hope that this hearing doesn’t stray from the fact that we should be focusing on the evil, on violence, on enforcing our criminal laws against evil and violence. We should be focusing on those people who twist and distort any religion, be it Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. They’re an exception to the rule, not the rule. We should not focus on religion and the freedoms our country embraces.”

“Our danger, at least to date, has not been from those who slip into the country unnoticed, who illegally cross our borders, or who are seeking refuge from a humanitarian crisis,” she added. “That’s not where the danger has come from. It has come from people who are Americans, or who are legally in this country, who have been radicalized. We face threats from a range of sources, including white supremacists, eco-terrorists, ISIS-sympathizers—there is a long list.”

The U.S. Capitol Police have increased security on Capitol Hill following a shooting just across the river in Alexandria, Virginia, that wounded lawmakers and staffers who were practicing for their annual charity baseball game.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” the Capitol Police wrote in an email alert, “the USCP has deployed a robust police presence throughout the Capitol Complex,” which includes the House and Senate office buildings and the visitor’s center. “However, all building within the Complex are open in accordance with routine operations.”

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In his highly anticipated appearance before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempted to shoot down recent reports that he failed to disclose a third meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in 2016—on the sidelines of a Trump campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.

In response to questions from Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), Sessions admitted that he may have had an “encounter” with Kislyak, but not a “formal meeting.”

“I didn’t have any formal meeting with him. I’m confident of that. But I may have had an encounter during the reception,” he said.

This is not exactly what Sessions said in his opening statement, in which he said he did not “recall any conversations with any Russian officials at the Mayflower Hotel.”

After a round of cancellations and legal wrangling over the weekend, Attorney General Jeff Sessions agreed to testify in public Tuesday afternoon before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Sessions takes the hot seat following explosive allegations about his undisclosed meetings with Russian officials, his recusal from the Russia investigation, and his role in the firing of FBI Director James Comey.

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President Trump’s private lawyer Marc Kasowitz has advised White House staffers—who are not his clients—not to retain their own lawyers, according to the New York Times. Kasowitz has also reportedly broken the long-standing protocol that presidents’ private attorneys operate through the White House Counsel’s office and don’t engage directly with other government employees whom they do not represent. These guidelines exist to make sure the staffers understand their rights and do not feel pressured to cooperate with their bosses’ private counsel. Kasowitz’s spokesperson told the Times these claims are “inaccurate” but refused to comment further.

As former White House attorneys have explained to TPM, Kasowitz is tasked with defending Trump personally, a job that inevitably conflicts with what is best for the White House as an institution.

But if Kasowitz did indeed tell White House staff not to retain their own lawyers, that presents additional problems. Those staffers may be interviewed in the coming months by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, possible collusion with the Trump campaign, and any administration attempts to quash the federal inquiries.

Former White House counsel Robert Bauer warned that Kasowitz’s conversations “could be interpreted as an act of obstruction, a means of dissuading the witnesses from cooperating in the investigation.”

Telling the staffers not to retain their own counsel is also to Kasowitz’s advantage, making it easier for him to interview them as he builds his defense for Trump without having to go through a pack of lawyers each time.

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