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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FBI Director James Comey will testify before an oversight hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday at 10 a.m. ET, where he’s expected to take questions about Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

Watch live below via NBC.

Questions have swirled for months about what, exactly, White House adviser Sebastian Gorka did during a youthful three-year stint in the British army reserves. A new report out from BuzzFeed Tuesday doesn’t answer them, but suggests past accounts of the Breitbart News editor-turned-deputy assistant to the President’s military service may not be accurate.

BuzzFeed obtained information from the U.K.’s Ministry of Defense that runs up against Gorka’s past claims to a Hungarian newspaper that he was stationed in Northern Ireland evaluating terrorist threats while serving in 22 Intelligence Company. His unit was dedicated to reservists with language skills, and was unlikely to be sent to an English-speaking country, according to BuzzFeed.

The story also cast doubt on conflicting media reports, highlighted by Jezebel last month, that Gorka was tasked with collecting evidence for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The Ministry of Defense has no record of their army reservists conducting such work, according to the report.

The Ministry confirmed to TPM in February that Gorka served between 1990-1993, but declined to provide further information on what his service entailed.

Multiple sources in Hungary also previously told TPM that Gorka’s work for British intelligence contributed to the Hungarian government’s decision to deny him a security clearance in 2002. Gorka also reportedly never received a security clearance in the White House, a contributing factor in recent reports that he may soon be pushed out from his job.

Read BuzzFeed’s full report here.

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday sought to capitalize on a flood of reports suggesting that White House staffer Sebastian Gorka may soon be forced out, urging President Donald Trump to get rid of his self-styled counterterrorism guru immediately.

“Based on recent revelations about Mr. Gorka’s public support for and membership in several anti-Semitic and racist groups in Hungary, he is clearly unfit to serve in any position of responsibility in your Administration,” read a letter signed by 55 Democratic members of the House.

“We urge you to fire him immediately, and to make clear that you condemn all forms of anti-Semitism and intolerance within our country and abroad,” they added.

Brought into the administration to advise Trump on counterterrorism issues, Gorka’s tenure has been hamstrung by his reported inability to secure a security clearance, thin resume for handling national security issues and links to Hungarian far-right groups.

He has denied belonging to the Order of Vitez, a knightly order founded by a Nazi-allied Hungarian leader, but acknowledged that his father was a member. Gorka occasionally wears his father’s medal from the group in public.

Democratic lawmakers called Gorka’s affiliation with the group “extremely concerning,” and also highlighted his ties to former leaders of Hungary’s anti-Semitic Jobbik party, as well as his past public support for a militia created by Jobbik members.

Gorka has dismissed reports of his ties to those far-right Hungarian groups as “amusing,” while Jewish lawmakers and some Jewish groups have repeatedly called for his dismissal.

The controversy may be coming to a head for the White House adviser. Beginning on Friday, anonymous administration officials telegraphed to journalists that Gorka might be moved to a new role in the administration that does not require a security clearance.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer offered Gorka little cover Monday, saying he had no “comment on personnel matters at this time.”

Read the full letter below:

In a blow for GOP leadership, a prominent Republican lawmaker who’s worked for years to repeal Obamacare announced Tuesday that he could not support the replacement bill currently under consideration in the House.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) is the former chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and he voted in March to advance the initial version of the American Health Care Act through that key committee.

At issue is an amendment to the bill, intended to appease the far-right Freedom Caucus, that could allow states to apply for waivers that would then let insurers charge those with pre-existing conditions much higher rates than they currently pay under Obamacare.

“I’ve supported the practice of not allowing pre-existing illnesses to be discriminated against from the very get-go,” Upton said in a Tuesday morning interview on local Michigan radio station WHTC. “This amendment continues that and I told leadership I cannot support this bill with this provision in it.”

Upton’s office confirmed to TPM that he would not support the bill in its current form.

Protections for pre-existing conditions are at the heart of the tug-of-war between the rank-and-file members and GOP leaders as they try to get the 216 votes needed to pass the bill in the House. Upton said he spoke to Freedom Caucus members Monday who said this was a sticking point for them, and noted that he and other moderates were equally unified in their opposition.

“There are not the votes as of this morning to move this bill forward,” he said, calling the pre-existing conditions provision a “line in the sand.”

Twenty-one Republicans are currently “no” votes and another 22 are “undecided or unclear,” according to the New York Times’ latest whip count. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) can only afford to lose 22 Republican votes, and the defection of big-name lawmakers like Upton makes it easier for rank-and-file members to opposite it, too.

The former director of one of the nation’s most prominent anti-immigrant groups seems like an unlikely choice to provide assistance to those who run into difficulties with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

But that is the choice Trump’s Department of Homeland Security made when it tapped Julie Kirchner, formerly of the Foundation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), to serve as the agency’s ombudsman.

FAIR is best known for the audaciously xenophobic comments of its senior executives, including founder John Tanton, an open proponent of eugenics who once declared that the future of the United States hinged on it retaining a “European-American majority.”

Kirchner has not made those sorts of remarks. She is fond of referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegal aliens,” and spent 10 years at FAIR while the organization was involved in high-profile battles to end birthright citizenship as enshrined in the 14th Amendment and to require police officers to detain suspected undocumented immigrants.

Now, she will be tasked with providing recourse to thousands of immigrants (and their employers) whose citizenship or visa applications have been delayed or improperly rejected.

Asked Monday whether Kirchner was suited for this role, Maria Odom, who served as ombudsman in the Obama administration, laughed.

“These are special times, right?” Odom told TPM, calling her an “ill fit” and “poor match.”

“The statute that guides the work of that office makes it very clear that whoever is in that position should be someone who has immigration knowledge and a background in customer service, which I don’t believe Ms. Kirchner has,” she explained.

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

Kirchner joined FAIR in 2005 as director of government relations and was promoted to executive director in 2007. She retained that top post until August 2015, when she became an early addition to Donald Trump’s campaign, serving as an adviser on immigration.

Her tenure there saw Trump’s call for a ban on Muslim immigration and the construction of a “big, beautiful wall” on the border with Mexico. Trump’s proclamations about high rates of violent crimes committed by and abuse of social welfare programs by undocumented immigrants could have been ripped from a FAIR press release.

In a September campaign statement, Kirchner said that Obama’s plan to accept Syrian refugees into the United States provided “ISIS a path for their terrorists to enter the country” and argued that that “instead of providing free healthcare to millions of refugees, we must focus on rebuilding our inner cities and bringing jobs back to America.”

Kirchner formally joined the Trump administration in February as an “advisor to the commissioner’s office” in the Customs and Border Protection agency.

Breitbart News has cheered the appointment of an “immigration hawk” to a senior position in the administration.

In her new role, Kirchner will serve as a liaison for immigrants and their employers who can’t get their immigration cases to a resolution. Kirchner will also be tasked with submitting an annual report to Congress addressing systemic issues with the Department of Homeland Security and offering recommendations to fix them.

The ombudsman is supposed to be an entirely independent figure who can provide a clear-eyed assessment of DHS without being swayed by agency leadership or the White House. The DHS secretary does not review the annual report before it is sent over to Congress.

During the Obama administration, the office’s workload ballooned. In 2012, the ombudsman assisted with some 3,600 cases, and according to Odom, the ombudsman is on track to handle some 15,000 cases.

While Odom said she would wait until Kirchner settled into the role before casting judgment, she feared her appointment would have a “chilling effect” on immigrants seeking help from the government.

“This stands to erode the confidence and trust we’ve created as an independent office at DHS where people can go with real problems,” she said.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer hedged Monday when asked to address reports that Sebastian Gorka, a self-styled senior counterterrorism adviser to President Donald Trump, was being forced out of his post.

“I have no belief that he’s currently leaving the White House,” he told reporters at his daily press briefing. “So there’s nothing to update you on with respect to that. We wouldn’t comment on personnel matters at this time.”

The Daily Beast first reported Friday the the Breitbart News editor-turned-White House staffer was on his way out. Gorka’s tenure has been dogged by his reported inability to obtain a security clearance and his connection to a Hungarian knightly order that was originally founded by a Nazi collaborator.

Anonymous administration officials told the New York Times and the Guardian that Gorka’s departure could come within weeks. Spicer’s response left that possibility open.

Amid a flood of reports that the White House’s self-styled counterterrorism expert Sebastian Gorka will soon be forced out of his job, anonymous administration officials are trying to make the case that his tenure advising President Donald Trump was always meant to be temporary.

One anonymous source told the Washington Examiner that Gorka, who reportedly never obtained a security clearance after he was charged last year for carrying a gun through an airport in Washington, D.C., was placed as a deputy assistant to the President while Trump’s team created a terrorism-related role for him at a federal agency.

The Daily Beast first reported his imminent departure on Friday, and with the Examiner’s Sunday report even conservative outlets are telegraphing that Gorka is on his way out. Breitbart News, where Gorka formerly worked as national security editor, is reporting that he will keep his post, though.

Gorka was initially brought on to work on counterterrorism and cybersecurity issues for the Strategic Initiatives Group, a strategic planning advisory panel put together by White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. That group’s failure to become a productive center of power in the administration significantly diminished Gorka’s responsibilities.

After a few months at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, his duties were reduced to conducting Fox News hits, “giving White House tours, and peeling out in his Mustang,” according to the Examiner.

Even this limited role generated an outsized degree of controversy. Gorka came under fire from other U.S. counterterrorism experts for inflating his resume; was criticized by Muslim groups for his refusal to say if he believed Islam was a religion; and made headlines for his connection to a Hungarian knightly order that was originally founded by a Nazi collaborator.

He is expected to continue to focus on counterterrorism in his new, less prominent role. According to the Examiner, he’ll be working on the “war of ideas” involved in countering radical Islamic extremism.

The Trump administration has framed demotions as planned, intentional moves before. After Bannon was booted off the National Security Council, he released a statement saying he’d successfully completed his mission to “de-operationalize” the advisory body.

Sebastian Gorka’s days at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may be numbered. Three senior Trump administration officials who spoke to the Daily Beast said that discussions are underway on when and how to remove the scandal-plagued national security aide from his post.

Gorka, a deputy assistant to the President, came to the White House from a post as national security editor for Breitbart News and a string of gigs teaching and giving talks on counterterrorism at military universities and small think tanks.

Two officials told the publication that the White House was searching for a new role for him that did not require a security clearance, which BuzzFeed reported he had not obtained as recently as last month.

Given that Gorka is tasked with working on highly sensitive subjects including cybersecurity and counterterrorism, this lack of clearance is unusual and prompts questions about what other agency he could be assigned to. Gorka was also denied a security clearance in Hungary in 2002, multiple sources told TPM in February. This denial kept him off of a governmental panel investigating the then-prime minister, who was found to have worked for the Hungarian secret service during the Soviet era.

U.S. counterterrorism experts told TPM they had little awareness of Gorka’s professional work and derided his hardline views about Islam, inability to speak Arabic, and insistence on being addressed as “Doctor.”

During his tenure in the White House, Gorka has become known for defending Trump’s foreign policy in frequent bombastic Fox News interviews and for his association with a Hungarian knightly order originally founded by a Nazi collaborator.

He has denied belonging to the Order of Vitez, but acknowledged that his late father was a member of an offshoot group that formed after World War II and that he sometimes wore a medal associated with the group in commemoration.

Gorka stormed out of a Georgetown University panel on cybersecurity this week after he was pressed by undergraduate students about his affiliation with the Order of Vitez and his harsh rhetoric about Muslims.

Anonymous officials from both the Obama and Trump administrations have heaped scorn on Gorka in interviews with the press.

A former Obama administration defense official told BuzzFeed this week that Gorka had little influence on policy and “basically sits in the White House canteen drinking coffee between Fox News live hits.”

Another source told the Daily Beast he was a “pain in the ass.”

Despite this stream of negative reports, it’s too early to predict the end for Gorka. When White House chief strategist Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council in early April, political observers took it as a sign he’d soon be fired. But both he and Gorka remain in the White House—for now.

Donald Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has launched a consulting firm offering international clients access to the President, Vice President, and other key members of the administration, Politico reported Friday.

In a document offered to an Eastern European politician by Lewandowski’s Washington East West Political Strategies and obtained by Politico, the firm promises to secure “meetings with well-established figures” and “key members of the U.S. Administration,” including Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Clients, the document reportedly says, will benefit from their “trusted relations with the U.S. Administration.”

Lewandowski’s firm was co-founded with former Trump campaign adviser Barry Bennett, an executive at Azerbaijan’s state oil company and a U.S. political consultant who works in Russia, and is focused on getting new political clients in Eastern Europe, according to Politico. Bennett and Lewandowski have established a small cluster of geographically targeted firms, built in coordination with their D.C.-based Avenue Strategies, that leverage their friendly relationship with the White House to secure clients.

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

Bennett told Politico he had not seen the Washington East West Political Strategies document but that their primary focus was policy consulting, not lobbying.

The pair founded Avenue Strategies roughly one month before Inauguration Day. The firm’s D.C. office is located a stone’s throw from the White House, and their biographies heavily advertise their connections to the Trump campaign and administration.

On the campaign trail, Donald Trump marketed himself as an expert negotiator who would draw on his years of cutting deals in the boardroom to deliver the best terms for the American public.

“My Style of deal-making is quite simple and straightforward,” Trump said in his 1987 (ghostwritten) bestseller “The Art of the Deal.” “I aim very high, and then I just keep pushing and pushing and pushing to get what I’m after.”

Almost 100 days into his Oval Office tenure, this high-stakes, take-no-prisoners style has proven to be more of a hindrance than a help for the President—and failed to secure a single legislative victory.

“The Trump folks don’t seem to play well in the sandbox,” Stan Collender, a former top staffer on both the Senate and House Budget Committees, told TPM in a recent interview.

Without “general, generic trust” between the White House and GOP-led Congress, he continued, “you get a situation where Republican lawmakers tend to go off on their own without the administration,” he said. “And this is a White House that doesn’t take kindly to being dissed.”

On critical issues from Obamacare repeal to NAFTA renegotiation, an identifiable pattern has emerged. Trump makes an outlandish ask late in the negotiating process; White House advisers and lawmakers struggling to adjust to this new reality release a wave of contradictory statements on where the administration stands; and, ultimately, the President backs down, issuing a vague promise to circle back to the issue or claiming he never intended to do what he initially said he wanted to do, anyway.

As he openly admits, Trump is still learning how the U.S. government operates, expressing dismay that a “so-called” judge can block the president’s executive orders, and that the executive branch doesn’t set the legislative agenda or calendar. With defeats piling up, Trump is slowly coming to the realization that he can’t just walk away from negotiations when the health care of millions of Americans or funding of the federal government are on the line.

These last-minute caves are undermining not only his own dealmaker reputation as a dealmaker, but the limited political capital a president has to sway resistant lawmakers or rally the American public behind a piece of legislation. Trump’s all-bark, no-bite presidency is weakening the office itself.

Trump Vows ‘Tremendous Support’ For Obamacare Repeal Vote, Gets Little

Trump ignored widespread criticism of the health care bill put forth by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on March 7, urging Congress to move “quickly” on it.

Two weeks later, with the GOP no closer to working through deep-seated divisions on the bill’s provisions, Trump tried to muscle through a vote. In Capitol Hill meetings and early-morning tweets, the President called out Republican holdouts by name and warned those who didn’t vote for the bill that they would be “ripe for a primary” in 2018. This bluster failed to sway hardline lawmakers from safely Republican districts, who openly accused Trump of backing down on a core campaign vow.

The night before the vote was scheduled, Trump and White House cheif strategist Steve Bannon upped the ante, reportedly telling the hard-right Freedom Caucus that they had no choice but to vote for the bill. This bluster continued into the next day, with Mick Mulvaney, head of the Office of Management and Budget, reportedly responding to Ryan’s acknowledgment that he didn’t have the votes for repeal by claiming: “The president doesn’t care. The president wants a vote.” Trump, Spicer said, had “left everything on the field.”

Then, all of a sudden, the bill was dead. Minutes before voting was supposed to begin, Trump called the Washington Post and announced that in anticipation of defeat, “we just pulled it.” He tried to soften this acute embarrassment for the GOP by blaming Democrats and announcing a sudden shift to tax reform, but that pivot never materialized.

Trump To Dems: I’ll Shut Down My Own Govt Over Obamacare Payments!

In mid-April, Trump proposed an audacious strategy to force Democrats to the bargaining table on health care: threatening to shut down the government on his own watch. With the deadline to fund the federal government drawing close, Trump suggested he would stop Obamacare subsidy payments to insurers that provide critical support to the individual market.

“What I think should happen—and will happen—is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal.

Democrats responded by telling the president to bring it on, calling Trump’s proposal a “cynical strategy” that would threaten the health care of millions of voters. Republicans, wary of constituent backlash, also displayed little appetite for tying Obamacare’s cost sharing reduction payments to the budget deal and risking a shutdown.

In private, they signaled CSR payments wouldn’t factor into the agreement, and by Wednesday Ryan announced flatly, “CSRs, we’re not doing that.”

The White House ultimately accepted defeat, with Trump aides acknowledging that they would continue to pay the cost-sharing subsidies, at least for now.

‘Big Beautiful Wall’ Is Coming…One Day

The White House initially took a similarly hard line on funding Trump’s signature border wall, warning that he wouldn’t sign a spending bill that didn’t include it.

“We have our list of priorities,” Mulvaney said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance. “We want more money for defense. We want to build a border wall.”

Democrats told the press that the White House was mucking up smooth negotiations with Republicans by introducing this “non-starter.”

As Congress returned from recess this week, the administration started to soften. Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told NBC they might wait until September to secure wall funding, and Trump said the same in a private meeting with conservative publications. Republican senators like Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) lowered expectations further, cautioning that a physical wall might not ever materialize.

On Tuesday, Mulvaney reluctantly acknowledged that the wall wouldn’t be funded in the temporary spending bill.

“We just thought that it would be a good first step to get these things that everybody agrees on and take that idea of a government shutdown off the table,” he told CNN, insisting that Trump is “not backing down” from its promise to build the wall.

Trump Decides ‘Worst Trade Deal’ Actually Okay For Now

Withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement was a core tenet of Trump’s nationalist vision for rebuilding the U.S. economy.

“NAFTA’s been very, very bad for our country,” he repeated last week at a speech in Wisconsin. “It’s been very, very bad for our companies and for our workers, and we’re going to make some very big changes or we are going to get rid of NAFTA once and for all.”

Rushing to score victories ahead of the 100-day deadline, Bannon and White House adviser Peter Navarro on Wednesday released a draft executive order to withdraw from the 1994 trade deal, alarming congressional Republicans.

“I think we’d better be careful about unintended consequences,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told Politico.

Then Trump received a call from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican Prime Minister Enrique Peña Nieto asking him to reconsider. Late Wednesday, the White House released a statement saying “President Trump agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time.” He would work with the world leaders to renegotiate the deal to their mutual benefit, the statement said.

A quick U.S. withdrawal “would be a pretty big shock to the system,” Trump informed reporters on Thursday, though he cautioned he may still do so if negotiations don’t go his way.