Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Former Fox News anchor Andrea Tantaros sued the network and a handful of its top executives Monday for allegedly carrying out a campaign of “illegal electronic surveillance and computer hacking” against her after she went public with claims of workplace sexual harassment and retaliation.

It is the second lawsuit Tantaros has filed against her former employer within the last year. The first lawsuit, involving her sexual harassment claims, was sent to arbitration, where it is pending.

In the new strongly worded complaint, filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York, Tantaros’ lawyer accused Fox’s top-brass of “professional digital character-assassination.” They hacked her computer and cell phone, she alleged, and used an army of “sock puppet” social media accounts to subtly signal to her that she was being watched.

Tantaros alleged in the complaint:

As demonstrated below with accompanying exhibits, the Defendants in this case subjected Ms. Tantaros to illegal electronic surveillance and computer hacking, and used that information (including, on information and belief, privileged attorney-client communications) to intimidate, terroize, and crush her career through an endless stream of lewd, offensive, and career-damaging social media posts, blog entries and commentary and high-profile “fake” media sites which Fox News (or its social influence contractors) owned or controlled.

Ousted Fox News CEO Roger Ailes, Fox Co-President Bill Shine, Fox PR czar Irena Briganti, and Peter Snyder, head of a company called Disruptor Inc., are named as the defendants who allegedly collaborated to “emotionally torture” Tantaros, the lawsuit claims.

In one instance, she alleged she received a copy of her book “Tied Up In Knots” at her home address one day after receiving a message from a fan asking her to sign his copy. In another, she saw a tweet about her brother Daniel’s death the day after she spoke to her mother on the phone about plans to celebrate the third anniversary of his passing.

The complaint notes that journalists critical of Ailes and disloyal to Fox were surveilled and subjected to defamatory attacks in the past, and alleges that a forensic analysis of Tantaros’ computer showed surveillance viruses not typically found in mass malware.

According to her account, the harassment campaign began last summer when she sued Fox and its senior executives for pushing her out of the network and smearing her reputation after she complained about unwanted sexual advances by Ailes and recently fired anchor Bill O’Reilly. At the time, Fox accused Tantaros of kicking up a fuss to get publicity for her book.

Ailes and O’Reilly left the network with hefty payouts after mounting public pressure, but have strenuously denied the harassment allegations against them.

A New York Supreme Court Judge ruled in February that Tantaros’ initial suit would move to private arbitration, as Fox requested, because her claims were covered by the arbitration clause of her contract.

In a statement, Fox News’ outside counsel, Dechert, LLP, denied her latest allegations.

“Fox News and its executives flatly deny that they conducted any electronic surveillance of Ms. Tantaros,” the statement said. “They have no knowledge of the anonymous or pseudonymous tweets described in her complaint. This lawsuit is a flimsy pretext to keep Ms. Tantaros and her sexual harassment claims in the public eye after the State Supreme Court directed her to bring them in arbitration.”

Read the full complaint below:

Top White House aide Sebastian Gorka abruptly departed from a Georgetown University cybersecurity conference Monday afternoon after undergraduate students subjected him to a round of tough questions.

A senior counterterrorism and cybersecurity adviser to President Donald Trump who came to government by way of Breitbart News, Gorka was invited to speak on a panel titled “News, Alternative Facts, and Propaganda: The Role of Cyber in Influence Operations.” Several attendees told TPM he appeared on the defensive from the start, using his prepared remarks to accuse journalists who use anonymous sources of engaging in fake news campaigns.

Jared Stancombe, a program manager for a global health care supplier, told TPM that his full-throated comments prompted attendees to check their mobile phones for information about his background. They found a number of articles about Gorka’s ties to the Order of Vitez, a Hungarian knightly order founded by a Nazi collaborator.

“After his tirade, which visibly made people uncomfortable, I saw people begin to pull up his bio and recent stories on his affiliations … ,” Stancombe said in an e-mail. “People began to look at each other, while the panel continued with other speakers.”

Gorka has adamantly denied belonging to the group, though he acknowledges his father was a member and that he sometimes wears the Order’s medal.

Tensions escalated once the question-and-answer session began. Students from J Street U, the Jewish Student Association, and the Muslim Student Association, many of whom carried signs expressing disapproval for Gorka’s ties to the Order and rhetoric about Muslims, came prepared to press the Trump aide on his views.

Roey Hadar, a senior at Georgetown, told TPM that he asked Gorka if he believed “harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and in government” fueled extremism and legitimized groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Gorka replied that Hadar was “committing cultural appropriation and arrogance,” according to Hadar’s account and those of several journalists present.

Andrew Meshnick, Hadar’s roommate who helped organize the protest, said Gorka was similarly “combative” and “defensive” in response to his question about how Trump created “fake news” by alleging, without evidence, that Obama national security adviser Susan Rice committed a crime by requesting that some names in intelligence reports be unmasked.

After a total of five students directed questions at him, Gorka departed, saying he wanted to give the rest of the panelists an opportunity to talk.

“He just stood up and walked out,” Meshnick said. “He was sitting in the middle of the panel and there was no evidence he was supposed to leave early. It was clear he was uncomfortable. He was huffing and puffing and just very angry.”

A Georgetown spokesperson said that Gorka was scheduled to leave at 1:30 p.m. ET, though it wasn’t announced to the audience.

“Before the panel began, Mr. Gorka alerted event organizers that he needed to depart by 1:30 p.m,” the spokesperson said. “Event organizers started the audience question and answer segment earlier than anticipated to ensure adequate dialogue while all panel participants were still present.”

Meshnick and Hadar said that the protesters remained respectful throughout the event and did not disrupt Gorka’s remarks.

“We just wanted to subject his views to scrutiny,” Hadar said. “I don’t think he’s subjected to skepticism very often given the kind of public appearances he usually makes.”

Hadar shared a short video of the event on his Twitter feed:

Far-right media outlets will get some private face time with President Donald Trump on Monday at a small reception at the White House, Politico reported.

Breitbart News, The Daily Caller, and One American News Network are among the invited guests, along with a handful of talk radio hosts and columnists whom Politico did not name.

This is the latest overture the Trump administration has made to these publications, which the White House press secretary said received short shrift during Barack Obama’s tenure.

“They were neglected the last eight years, and they’re an important medium to communicate to a massively growing number of Americans who, frankly, have grown tired of mainstream media’s coverage,” Sean Spicer told Politico, saying they hoped to connect with a “more diverse set of media outlets.”

Spicer has broken with the tradition of giving the Associated Press the first question at daily press briefings, opting instead to call on friendly faces from Fox News or the Christian Broadcasting Network. The administration has also drawn a number of its senior staff from the world of conservative media. Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland and White House aide Sebastian Gorka were frequent commentators on Fox, while chief strategist Steve Bannon and special assistant Julia Hahn were plucked from Breitbart.

Spicer told Politico that the reception was intended as a token of gratitude towards “the folks who have really covered the president fairly.”

After deep partisan divides threatened the integrity of the House investigation into Russia’s election meddling, all eyes turned to the Senate. Intelligence Committee Chair Richard Burr (R-NC) and Vice-Chair Mark Warner (D-VA) in March committed to providing the public with a thorough, bipartisan probe into the extent of Russia’s interference and whether President Donald Trump’s staffers colluded with Kremlin actors.

But little progress has yet been made, three sources close to the committee told the Daily Beast. Three months after agreeing on the breadth of its investigation, the sources said, the panel has assigned no full-time staffers to dig through evidence and conducted no interviews with key Trump allies with ties to Russia.

Their efforts to date have been devoted to reviewing “Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections,” a report put out by the intelligence community and released in declassified form in January, according to the Daily Beast.

Burr and Warner noted in a March press conference that the seven staffers assigned to the probe had access to far more classified information than they did for previous investigations, like the one into the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya. Yet the Daily Beast reported that none of the staffers, a mix of Democratic and Republican senior aides with top security clearances, are working on the probe full-time, have any prosecutorial or investigative experience, or even much expertise on Russia.

A spokesman for Burr did not respond to the Daily Beast’s request for comment.

This unpromising news from the Senate side comes as the House probe seems to be righting itself. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) stepped aside from the probe in early April over allegations that he revealed classified information when he publicly claimed that he had viewed intelligence reports that showed the inappropriate collection of information about Trump staffers.

He was replaced by Rep. Mike Conaway (R-CA), who is working closely with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat, to resume the investigation. On Friday, Schiff announced that they have invited key Obama administration officials and senior intelligence officials, including former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, to testify before their committee.

U.S. intelligence officials obtained evidence that Russian operatives tried to infiltrate the Trump campaign through its sprawling network of advisers, CNN reported Friday.

Carter Page, who served as an adviser on Russia and energy policy until he departed over allegations that he met with Kremlin-allied figures during a July 2016 visit to Moscow, is one of those advisers, according to the report.

Page told CNN that he never collected intelligence or worked on behalf of the Russian government.

“My assumption throughout the last 26 years I’ve been going there has always been that any Russian person might share information with the Russian government … as I have similarly done with the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies in the past,” Page said.

Multiple anonymous U.S. officials told CNN that Page was only one of several Trump advisers that intelligence agencies in the United States and Britain found to be in frequent contact with Russian officials and Russians “known to Western intelligence.”

Page, an investment banker, gave a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School last summer calling for the U.S. to lift the sanctions put in place after the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea. He also belatedly acknowledged meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. at the 2016 GOP convention, and confirmed to BuzzFeed that he met with and passed documents to a Russian intelligence operative in 2013, years prior to his association with Trump.

The White House has insisted Page only played a minor advisory role and never met with Trump himself during the campaign.

Page pushed back on that characterization in a letter to the House Intelligence Committee in which he offered to testify.

“For your information, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Cafe, had coffee meetings in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spent many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year,” Page wrote, as quoted by CNN.

A mysterious shell company formed just weeks before the Republican National Convention dropped $3.1 million to purchase 11 luxury condos in a Las Vegas tower co-owned by Donald Trump in the months leading up to his election, USA Today reported Friday.

No one will acknowledge who is behind the company, known only as Milan Investment Limited.

The address associated with the company tracks back to the strip mall office of a financial services firm, whose owner told USA Today he was “completely in the dark” about what Milan Investment was or why the company would use his address. The newspaper’s effort to track down the listed officers for Milan Investment, Jun Xu and Qi Huang, were similarly fruitless. Reporters came up empty-handed after contacting every phone number and address found for the pair in both the United States and Canada, where they’re also listed as owners of multi-million condos.

This kind of murky real estate purchase is just one of the many practices that ethics experts worry wealthy people, companies and foreign interests may take advantage of in order to curry favor with the President. Trump has placed his assets in a trust run by his adult sons, who continue to manage his real estate business, and from which he can withdraw money at any time without disclosing it to the public.

Walter Shaub Jr., director of the Office of Government Ethics, called the arrangement “wholly inadequate,” saying the United States “can’t risk the perception that government leaders would use their official positions for professional profit.”

USA Today’s exhaustive investigation found that Trump’s companies stand to earn up to $250 million in property sales in the United States alone, and that shell companies like Milan Investment are able to snatch up huge quantities of that available real estate, leaving the public in the dark.

Read the full report at USA Today.

After a troubled two months that saw the “temporary” recusal of Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA), the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking member, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), announced Friday that the panel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the U.S. election was “back on track.”

Schiff and the new senior Republican on the committee, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX), sent out letters asking key Obama administration officials and senior intelligence officials to testify before the committee.

FBI Director James Comey and National Security Advisor Adm. Mike Rogers were invited to appear at a closed hearing on May 2, according to a statement from Schiff’s office. Former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates also were asked to appear in an open hearing that would be scheduled after May 2.

Those officials were initially scheduled to come before the committee in March. But Nunes scrapped their appearances after going public with claims that he’d seen intelligence reports that showed information about President Donald Trump and his staffers was “incidentally collected,” and Nunes asserted that the identities of those persons were inappropriately unmasked in the reports.

Other lawmakers from both parties who later viewed the same reports said the documents showed no evidence of wrongdoing. At the time of the cancelations, Schiff charged that Nunes was trying to “choke off” public information about the Russia probe.

Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the White House staffer who reportedly helped funnel intelligence reports to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was at the heart of another, much more behind-the-scenes Trump administration drama, the Guardian reported Thursday.

A retired marine serving as the CIA’s liaison to the White House was summarily dismissed in mid-March, sources told the newspaper, after a clash with Cohen-Watnick, the 30-year-old intelligence director for the National Security Council.

“It was the most disrespectful thing they could have done,” an anonymous White House official aware of the incident told the Guardian, praising the professionalism of the former staffer, who has since returned to the CIA. “He’s a good man. What happened to him was fucked up.”

The liaison’s role involved briefing senior White House officials with top secret security clearances about covert operations, according to the report.

The CIA and White House did not provide the newspaper with comment.

Cohen-Watnick, a protégé of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn, was reportedly almost fired himself amid an internal struggle for control over national security policy in Trump’s White House. Once Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster replaced Flynn, he allegedly tried to fire the young intelligence official but was overruled after Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon and senior adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, intervened.

Cohen-Watnick was later reported to be one of the sources who played a role in getting Nunes to the White House to view classified intelligence reports that Nunes claimed show the identities of members of Trump’s campaign staff were inappropriately unmasked. Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers who later viewed those same intelligence reports say the documents indicate no improper surveillance, and are instead standard intercepts of conversations that involve individuals targeted under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Republicans may now hold the House, the Senate and the White House, but their failure to mobilize early and follow through on long-held campaign pledges has political observers wondering: can a unified GOP government actually govern?

“The biggest thing that hasn’t happened in the first 100 days is that Donald Trump hasn’t developed a relationship with Congress,” Stan Collender, a former top staffer on the House and Senate Budget Committees who worked under both Republican and Democratic administrations, told TPM. “That’s something that should’ve happened during the transition so they could’ve just started off like a house on fire on Inauguration Day, but just hasn’t.”

The cost of that failure to forge a steady working relationship is that, though he declared Tuesday that “no administration has accomplished more in the first 90 days,” Trump will almost certainly complete 100 days in office on April 29 with no notable pieces of legislation to his name.

Members of Congress who had some experience in the governing trenches had tried to temper expectations on some of Trump’s signature promises, with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) declaring a 200-day window to push campaign pledges through rather than the typical 100 days. But they were similarly optimistic about the prospects for what Ryan called a “big, bold agenda” for the GOP.

Then reality set in. Divisions within the Republican caucus derailed the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare in a mortifying defeat. Hundreds of White House jobs sat unfilled, complicating efforts to produce big-ticket pieces of legislation. To date, the one campaign pledge Trump has unequivocally checked off is the confirmation of a conservative Supreme Court justice, Neil Gorsuch, practically a given with Republicans controlling the executive and legislative branches.

“There is not a lot to show for all of this kinetic political activity other than the fact of the activity itself,” Russell Riley, an expert on the U.S. presidency at the University of Virginia’s non-partisan Miller Center, told TPM.

Over the course of the campaign Republican leaders and Trump in particular heralded an impending sea change in Washington, D.C.: After eight years of obstructionism, they would go on the offensive, vanquishing the Obamacare bogeyman, slashing taxes, and rolling back hundreds of environmental and corporate regulations. Ahead of Trump’s 100th day in office, here’s a look at how the Republican administration is faring on fulfilling four central campaign promises.

A piecemeal approach to rolling back regulation

The only real progress on rolling back regulations has come through the Congressional Review Act, a previously little-used law that gives Congress 60 legislative days to undo federal regulations. Using only Republican majority votes and Trump’s signature, they have undone 11 Obama-era regulations.

Some of these, like the resolution allowing Internet service providers to sell customers’ data without permission, garnered public opposition. Few of them actually have touched on the populist issues that helped propel Trump to office. In an early April press call, the White House legislative director all but begged reporters to spill more ink about the newly aggressive use of the CRA.

“This is an important story that has not been told,” Marc Short said, as journalists asked if he was trying to paper over the administration’s lack of legislative achievements.

Trump’s other move on this front was an executive order requiring that two regulations be cut for every new one put forth. One regulatory expert cautioned that while that policy might have a nice ring to it, the President risked stepping on the toes of lawmakers who have worked on regulatory reform for years.

“Congress had put in so much work on the subject, I thought they might have a chance to lead,” Kevin Kosar, governance project director at the conservative R Street Institute, told TPM. “But that’s not the way it went.”

A jaw-dropping health care meltdown

“Repeal and replace Obamacare” was the GOP’s seven-year battle cry until the party failed to do either in a high-stakes March effort to pass the American Health Care Act. Stark divides on what that replacement bill should contain cleaved away votes from both moderates and hard-liners, and mixed messages from Trump, who said he was “100 percent” behind the bill while doing little to drum up public support for it, ended up killing the legislation before it was even put up for a vote.

Trump and the GOP have laid out two possible next-step scenarios: Either allow Obamacare to “fail” on its own and blame Democrats, or continue to tinker with the AHCA behind closed doors until all the GOP factions reach an agreement. Experts say both options are politically fraught.

“The fact of the matter now is the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you buy it,” Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law who has written several books on Obamacare, told TPM. “I don’t think if the bill unravels on President Trump’s watch he can blame it on Obama or the Democrats.”

If they go the other route, moderates who want to keep Medicaid funding intact and preserve coverage for pre-existing conditions will have to reconcile with House Freedom Caucus members who want to see Obamacare ripped up by its roots.

Michael Cannon, director of health policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, said he never thought those divides could be surmounted in the first 100 days. But he warned that the GOP faces potentially catastrophic political consequences if they can’t achieve repeal with a unified Republican government.

“If Paul Ryan and Donald Trump continue to try not to repeal Obamacare and continue to divide their caucus and break their promises and trigger this internal warfare, then there will be a political price,” Cannon said.

Turning to tax reform no easy pivot

The GOP was banking on repealing nearly $1 trillion in taxes associated with Obamacare in order to pave the way for the more aggressive tax cuts Ryan has promised to secure. But after the AHCA failed to pass, both Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have walked back Mnuchin’s pledge that the President will sign a tax bill before the next congressional recess in August.

“I don’t want to put deadlines,” Trump said last week. “Health care is going to happen at some point. Now, if it doesn’t happen fast enough, I’ll start the taxes. But, the tax reform and the tax cuts are better if I can do healthcare first.”

Ken Kies, managing director of Federal Policy Group LLC, a conservative tax lobbying firm, remains optimistic, noting that both congressional Republicans and the President believe in the GOP dogma of cutting taxes to encourage economic growth.

“If you just take the people who seem to have been a problem, the Freedom Caucus guys, they’re much more aligned with Ryan and the sort of mainstream Republicans on taxes than they are on health care,” he told TPM.

Still, Kies said he is “confident” there will be no last-minute progress on the issue by the 100-day mark. That’s because Congress returns from Easter recess with only four legislative days to extend a continuing resolution to fund the federal government.

“As long as that’s all going on, they’d be crazy to release a tax reform draft because it wouldn’t get the press coverage they’d want,” Kies said.

An uncertain road ahead for infrastructure

Trump’s promised $1 trillion infrastructure bill is one of the few issues on which Democrats have signaled they might be interested in cooperating. Despite the pressing legislative focus on health care and a tax overhaul, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao recently declared that a comprehensive bill covering transportation, energy, water and “potentially broadband and veterans’ hospitals” would be unveiled by the end of this year.

Still, Kevin DeGood, director of infrastructure policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, doubts that this will be the ticket for an administration “groping around for ways to try to kick-start their agenda.”

DeGood said congressional Republicans can’t really opt to go it alone by simply adding line items for specific infrastructure proposals to an appropriations bill. And GOP politicians hell-bent on reducing the deficit are unlikely to propose costly building projects, he noted, as they spent years railing against the 2009 stimulus bill, that bankrolled such endeavors as “full of waste, fraud and abuse.”

Trump’s reported pledges to tie infrastructure spending to health care or a tax overhaul to pick up Democratic votes are a fundamental miscalculation of the political math, according to DeGood.

“Democrats are not going to go along with taking away 24 million people’s health insurance for a little bit of bridge money, or to engage in the largest upward redistribution of wealth the country has ever seen through a massive tax cut bill in exchange for some bridge money,” DeGood said.

After Attorney General Jeff Sessions questioned the authority of a U.S. federal judge “sitting on an island in the Pacific” to block the President Donald Trump’s travel ban, the Justice Department pointed out that Sessions was right both on his geography and his argument for the ban’s legality.

“Hawaii is, in fact, an island in the Pacific – a beautiful one where the Attorney General’s granddaughter was born,” Justice Department spokesman Ian Prior said in a statement. “The point, however, is that there is a problem when a flawed opinion by a single judge can block the President’s lawful exercise of authority to keep the entire country safe.”

Sessions’ comment about U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson, who blocked a revised version of Trump’s executive order barring immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries, left some critics wondering if the attorney general even considered Hawaii a state.

“Hey Jeff Sessions, this #IslandinthePacific has been the 50th state for going on 58 years. And we won’t succumb to your dog whistle politics,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) said in a tweet.

Her fellow Democratic senator from the Aloha State, Brian Schatz, asked Sessions to “have some respect.”