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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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Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the classified intelligence reports that House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) explosively surfaced in March press conference show no evidence that the Obama administration improperly surveilled the Trump transition team, CNN reported Wednesday.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers and aides who reviewed the same documents as Nunes told CNN that they have found nothing unusual in the reports. This follows a week of attacks on Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, over allegations that she requested the “unmasking” of Trump transition officials swept up in surveillance of foreign nationals and then leaked that information.

Nunes’ office did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

Trump last week called Rice’s involvement in unmasking his staffers’ names in those reports “one of the big stories of our time,” telling The New York Times that he believed she broke the law.

One anonymous congressional intelligence source who spoke to CNN described Rice’s requests as “normal and appropriate” for an official tasked with overseeing foreign governments, while another source told CNN there was “absolutely” nothing alarming in the intelligence reports.

Rice told MSNBC that she was carrying out routine duties in making the requests, and did so to understand the “context” or “importance of the report.”

“The notion that some people are trying to suggest, is that by asking for the identity of a person is leaking it, is unequivocally false,” she said. “There is no connection between unmasking and leaking.”

National security experts who have worked on foreign surveillance cases have backed up Rice’s explanation.

Nunes last week abruptly stepped aside, temporarily, from his committee’s investigation into Russian interference in the presidential election over complaints that he disclosed classified information when he first brought these intelligence reports to public attention. The House Committee on Ethics is investigating the allegations, first brought by progressive watchdog groups, which Nunes dismissed as “entirely false and politically motivated.”

On the surface, freshly convicted former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) and have much in common. Both were Republican, male governors of southern states whose careers were derailed and whose marriages were ruined by long-term, high-profile affairs that made use of public resources. Both could also use a crash course in sending flirty messages to their respective paramours.

But Bentley’s misadventures came to an inglorious end on Monday when he was convicted of two campaign finance misdemeanors and barred from serving in public office in the future as part of his plea deal. Sanford, on the other hand, finished out his term—and is currently serving in Congress.

Experts on political sex scandals told TPM the fallout was so much worse for Bentley because, above all, the 74-year-old ex-governor refused to take ownership of or apologize for his behavior—a rookie mistake in scandal management.

“One of the arguments that can be made is this is a personal matter: this is between me, my wife and my pastor,” said Alison Dagnes, political science professor at Shippensburg University and author of “Sex Scandals in American Politics.” “Everyone makes mistakes, let us work it out and I promise I’ll come back stronger than ever. The American public, for the most part, buys that.”

“When it’s corruption, abuse of power, when it’s a guy who seems to be rich and powerful behaving badly and getting away with it because of his wealth and power, that’s when the public gets really mad,” Dagnes continued.

Immediately after Sanford returned from a secret 2009 trip to Argentina without telling his staff or his wife, he gave a tearful press conference in which he confessed his passionate love for a “dear, dear” friend from Buenos Aires. He offered apologies to his family, staff, friends, people of faith and, to cap it off, “anybody who lives in South Carolina.” He also immediately offered his resignation as chair of the Republican Governor’s Association.

Bentley took quite a different tack. From the moment in April 2016 when he was first publicly accused of carrying out an affair with his former top adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, the Alabama governor denied any wrongdoing. Additional negative stories piled up as the months passed. Audio recordings surfaced of Bentley and Mason’s exchanging sweet nothings, the pair was accused of using state resources in the course of their affair, and Bentley was accused of coercing Alabama law enforcement officers into helping the pair conceal the tryst. Through all of that, Bentley insisted he owed no apologies.

On Friday, just days before Bentley pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges of violating campaign finance law, he denied misusing state resources. Even his Monday resignation speech was hardly contrite: “I am leaving this office that I have held, that I have respected, that I have loved for seven years to focus on other and possibly more effective areas of service,” he said.

While a state ethics commission found Sanford used state resources to fund plane trips to visit his girlfriend, María Belén Chapur, that misuse of taxpayer funds was less central to the public’s view of the scandal, experts said. He was able to plead no contest to charges from the state ethics commission, pay $74,000 in fines, and quietly finish out the last year and a half of his term.

Bentley was “facing criminal charges for the personal diversion of campaign funds, and his intimidating tactics towards his staff involving law enforcement officers were much more egregious,” Paul Apostilidis, a political science professor at Whitman College and co-author of “Public Affairs: Politics in the Age of Sex Scandals,” told TPM.

“The redemption narrative is harder to invoke in this case because it’s less about personal failings,” Apostilidis said.

Apostilidis said Bentley opted instead to dig his heels in and adapt a “particular narrative of masculine self-assertion” that said, “If you want me out of office, you’re going to have to force me out. Apostilidis posited that decision likely came from “his generation, the dominant culture of masculinity within the Deep South” and an expression of “unlimited masculine privilege when it comes to sexual matters involving women” that the professor likened to President Donald Trump’s.

While it remains unclear what “effective area of service” Bentley plans to pursue next, all alternative routes to political office are closed to him. Sanford was able to return to the political arena because he followed what experts say is another cardinal rule of overcoming scandal: getting out of the way.

After his departure from the Governor’s Mansion in 2011, Sanford decamped to his family farm in Beaufort County and laid low for almost two years before running in a special election to retake his former congressional seat in Charleston. He squeaked through a crowded GOP primary because of his name recognition, beat Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch in a runoff and was re-elected to Congress.

As David Woodard, a Clemson University political science professor and consultant to South Carolina Republican politicians, told TPM, it’s “certainly not the case” that Palmetto State voters were clamoring for Sanford to return to office.

“He’s been able to duck the bullet,” Woodard said.

Bentley will have no second act in the political sphere. But given his advanced age and insistence on staying in public office while Alabama lawmakers and voters unified against him, Dagnes said he was likely never interested in “the next big step” anyway.

“Bentley was immersed in the story for so long that I don’t think its going to get old,” she added. “It lasted so long and blew up in such a huge way, I don’t know if people are willing to forgive the depths of that deception.”

President Donald Trump was reportedly moved to launch a missile strike in Syria last week by his eldest daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump, who was “heartbroken” by images of Syrian children killed in a chemical attack President Bashar al-Assad is believed to have carried out against his own people.

“Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence,” the President’s son, Eric, told Britain’s Daily Telegraph. “I’m sure she said ‘listen, this is horrible stuff.’ My father will act in times like that.”

“And by the way, he was anti doing anything with Syria two years ago,” Eric Trump continued. “Then a leader gasses their own people, women and children, at some point America is the global leader and the world’s superpower has to come forward and act and they did with a lot of support of our allies and I think that’s a great thing.”

Last week was far from the first time the Syrian government had attacked its civilians. After an August 2013 sarin gas attack attributed to Assad’s military killed some 1,400, including many children, in the Damascus suburbs, Trump urged former President Barack Obama not to take military action against Syria.

“There is no upside and tremendous downside,” Trump said on Twitter at the time.

He maintained this opposition to a military response until ordering the strikes Thursday. Though some of his anti-interventionist supporters were outraged by this about-face, the White House and the President’s family deny it was an impulsive decision driven by the images he described of “beautiful babies” suffering from the gas attack.

Eric Trump told the Daily Telegraph that his father was a “great thinker, practical not impulsive,” and added, “Believe me he thinks things through.”

Asked about Eric Trump’s comments during Tuesday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that Ivanka Trump had unique influence in prompting the strike.

“There is no question that Ivanka and others weighed in to him,” Spicer said, noting that both she and her father were “very moved” by photographs of the victims of the chemical attack.

Pressed by MSNBC’s Kristen Welker on whether Ivanka Trump supported military action, Spicer said he hadn’t asked her but doesn’t “think Ivanka stands any different than anyone else when it comes to the response that we got.”

The air strike is already having long-reaching foreign policy implications. Russia, one of the most prominent supporters of Assad’s government, said the strike was a “significant blow” to U.S. relations with the Kremlin.

According to Eric Trump, this response undermined “ridiculous” allegations of links between Trump campaign staffers and Russian officials, which the FBI and Congress are investigating.

“If there was anything that Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie,” he said.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) resigned Monday evening, AL.com reported, bringing an end to a drawn-out, year-long scandal sparked by his alleged affair with a former top aide.

He was booked in Montgomery County Jail on one count of failure to disclose information of economic interest, a misdemeanor, and for failure to file campaign finance reports, according to jail records.

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Embattled Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) may finally be giving up. AL.com reported that the governor, for whom impeachment hearings started Monday, is expected to step down this week over his elaborate efforts to conceal an alleged affair with a former aide that investigators say misappropriated state resources and ran afoul of ethics laws.

Bentley’s lawyers are now reportedly trying to ease his departure from the governor’s mansion. Sources told AL.com that those attorneys are engaged in negotiations to allow Bentley to resign from office and plead to lesser charges. The Alabama Ethics Commission last week determined that there was probable cause to believe the governor committed four felony violations of state ethics and campaign finance laws while carrying out the alleged dalliance with his former top advisor, Rebekah Mason (both have denied having a physical affair).

While Bentley maintained as recently as Friday that he has “done nothing illegal,” his attorneys failed to block the release of a damning, 131-page state House Judiciary Committee report laying out the state’s evidence.

Here are five wild, revelatory details TPM pulled out of the lengthy so-called "impeachment report" and its supporting exhibits.

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