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Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

President Trump on Tuesday called on America to honor the fallen from 9/11 by fighting for freedom.

“We honor their sacrifice by pledging to never flinch in the face of evil and to do whatever it takes to keep America safe,” he intoned during a memorial ceremony at the crash site for Flight 93.

But in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks the president didn’t respond so selflessly, taking money from a program meant to help small businesses while lying about donating to help the attacks’ victims.

Trump, then a local business mogul with a major building just blocks from the World Trade Center, claimed he had made a $10,000 donation to the Twin Towers Fund, a charity set up by New York City to benefit the terrorists’ victims and their families.

But that wasn’t true, according to a review of documents conducted by New York City’s comptroller at the request of the New York Daily News in 2016.

Trump’s company also tapped into a program designed to help businesses in lower Manhattan stay afloat in the wake of the attacks, receiving $150,000 in state grants.r

Trump claimed he’d taken that money as repayment for allowing local businesses to operate out of his 40 Wall Street building near the crash site.

“It was probably a reimbursement for the fact that I allowed people, for many months, to stay in the building, use the building and store things in the building,” Trump told Time magazine in 2016.

“I was happy to do it, and to this day I am still being thanked for the many people I helped. The value of what I did was far greater than the money talked about, much of which was sent automatically to building owners in the area.”

Records from the Empire State Development Corporation, which administered the recovery program, show that Trump’s company asked for those funds for “rent loss,” “cleanup” and “repair” — not to recuperate money lost in helping people.

The Daily News reported on this as well in 2016.

Trump’s comments following the attacks have also drawn past scrutiny.

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Trump incorrectly claimed that his 40 Wall Street building was the tallest in the city following the fall of the twin towers — comments many took as inappropriate bragging.

“40 Wall street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan, and it was actually before the World Trade Center the tallest, and and then when they built the World Trade Center it became known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest And I just spoke to my people, and they said it’s the most unbelievable sight,” he said.

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Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is having a blast on the campaign trail.

The senator is up with a new ad in which he literally shoots a copy of a lawsuit supported by his opponent that would gut Obamacare’s preexisting conditions coverage, a spot that looks to reinforce his West Virginia bona fides while at the same time drawing a clear policy contrast on healthcare.

Manchin, who has comfortably led West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R) in most polls, uses the spot to reprise a highly effective 2010 campaign spot where he shot a copy of the Cap & Trade bill to show his independence from Washington Democrats.

“I haven’t changed. I might be a few years older, but I’ll still take on anyone who’ll mess with West Virginia,” he says in the spot after highlighting his 2010 campaign ad.

Between then and now, however, Manchin went from being one of the few Democrats endorsed by the National Rifle Association to the leader of the bipartisan efforts to tighten background check laws — and a sworn enemy of the NRA, which is up with ads attacking him.

The ad looks to inoculate him against those attacks and help Manchin keep his lead in the race.

Rural Democrats once often featured guns in their ads to show they were different from the national party. That’s become rarer this cycle as the Democratic Party has leaned much harder into calls for gun control in the wake of numerous mass shootings. But in a state that President Trump won by a landslide and many voters including Democrats own guns, it could still be a winning move, helping protect Manchin from attacks over his support of incremental gun control legislation.

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After weeks of questions from TPM, House Republicans finally said on Friday that they have no plans to give back large donations from an ex-con former business partner of the notorious Jack Abramoff.

The National Republican Congressional Committee received a combined $50,000 in donations in June from Adam Kidan, who served 31 months in prison for fraud and conspiracy for his prominent role in one of Abramoff’s numerous illegal schemes. And they see nothing wrong with spending that cash to try to keep their majority.

“We were unaware of his history. We don’t condone his actions in any way. We believe he’s paid his debt to society and have no plans to refund at this time,” NRCC communications director Matt Gorman told TPM in an emailed statement Friday afternoon.

That response comes weeks after the group ignored questions from TPM when it first reported on the donations late last month.

NRCC spokesmen had declined to respond to multiple calls and emails requesting comment on whether or not they planned to keep that money in late August.

When TPM asked NRCC chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) about the cash Friday morning at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, however, he promised an answer.

“I’ll follow up with you directly. I got here in 2011 so that’s a new name for me, but I’ll check it out and personally get back to you, I’ll have Matt or I get back to you,” Stivers responded.

He was true to his word.

The NRCC’s decision to keep the money in spite of Kidan’s shady past, which you can read about more here, stands in contrast to the two House Republican candidates facing tough reelection fights who’d received donations from Kidan — then decided to give that money to charity after media scrutiny.

Before he gave to the NRCC, Kidan had made sizable donations to seven GOP congressmen. The two congressmen in tough races, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Claudia Tenney (R-NY), subsequently said they’d give those donations to charity. The other five stayed mum, and didn’t respond to questions from TPM.

But the size of those donations paled in comparison to Kidan’s summer gift to the NRCC, which TPM first reported on in late August.

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The man in charge of keeping the House under GOP control refused to defend his party’s main super-PAC for using information from what should have been a confidential document to attack a Democratic candidate.

National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) said Friday that the Congressional Leadership Fund’s use of information from Democrat and former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger’s private security clearance application shouldn’t be used for attack ads.

That probably deserves some examination,” he said during a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor after a reporter pointed out to him that the CLF had released an ad featuring the information it found in the documents even after the U.S. Post Office admitted that it should never have released that information.

The CLF is closely aligned with House Republican leaders including Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who have appeared at events for the group.

The release of what should have been redacted documents for Spanberger set off a firestorm in Washington. Spanberger, who is running against Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), accused the group of improperly obtaining the document, which by law should not have been released.

The USPS publicly apologized for the document’s release, admitting it had screwed up, and said it would “request the return of the information which we mistakenly disclosed.”

Stivers initially argued that while the documents shouldn’t have been released, the CLF hadn’t done anything dishonest.

“I’m sure the Congressional Leadership Fund had no idea that they weren’t supposed to get it and from what I read in the paper this was done by a postal employee who just sent it, it was not nefarious or some sort of collusion… it was an accident,” he said. 

I wish that wouldn’t have happened, but I don’t think the CLF did anything wrong,” he continued. “CLF continues to use it but it’s now out in the press, it’s public information.

A reporter then pointed out that the CLF launched its attack ad even after the Post Office had asked for the document back.

“Just to clarify, the ad came out after the Postal Service said that they mistakenly put it out,” the reporter said.

“Oh, it came out after?” Stivers replied. “So that probably deserves some examination.”

After this story was initially published, the NRCC reached out to argue that Stivers wasn’t criticizing the CLF, and argued that he meant that comment to refer back to the Post Office, not the CLF.

“As I said clearly, CLF did nothing wrong. Spanberger tried to ascribe nefarious motives to the group, when, in fact, the USPS was the only one at fault. Again, the process that allowed the USPS to release this information needs to be examined,” Stivers said in that clarification statement.

This story and its headline were updated at 11:02 a.m. to include Stivers’ response and more of his initial remarks.

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Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) holds a narrow lead over Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in a new poll, the latest good poll number for Democrats in recent days as the election’s homestretch begins.

Bredesen leads Blackburn by 48 percent to 46 percent among likely voters, according to a new live-caller survey released by NBC News and conducted by Marist College.

Those numbers show Bredesen has maintained his personal popularity from his time as governor in the heavily Republican state, which backed President Trump by 25 percentage points last election. And they are the latest sign that in spite of a horrible Senate map, Democrats may still be able to play offense this fall.

The poll found that 61 percent of voters viewed Bredesen positively, with only 22 percent viewing him negatively. Blackburn’s splits were much closer: 46 percent positive, 36 percent negative. President Trump has retained a slight net positive rating in the poll, with a plurality of voters supporting him.

When the poll is expanded to all registered voters, Bredesen’s lead grows to 48 to 44 percent.

Marist’s polling has been a bit more favorable to Democrats than other public surveys this election cycle, though the pollster has a good historic track record, and Trump’s middling numbers in the survey suggest that it might skew slightly too Democratic. But the toplines match private Democratic polling of the race that has found him slightly ahead, though Republicans believe she has a slight lead currently.

The survey is the latest sign that Tennessee’s Senate race will be a barn-burner. If Democrats can pull off a huge upset in the state, it greatly increases their odds of gaining rather than losing Senate seats this cycle — and boosts their outside chances at regaining Senate control.

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Montana’s GOP Senate nominee used to routinely, if inaccurately, brag that he was a “rancher.” But he seems to have backed away from the term in recent months following questions about his experience.

Matt Rosendale is the state’s auditor and the Republican nominee challenging Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT). In the past months, his campaign has moved slowly and steadily to deemphasize his ranching claims.

The most recent, and boldest, example: He removed the term from his twitter bio in recent weeks.

Rosendale, through at least mid-August, described himself as a “conservative rancher, real estate developer, businessman” in his short twitter bio.

Now, he’s simply a “Trump conservative, fighter for Montana.”

That’s not the only place that Rosendale’s campaign has sought to rebrand.

His campaign website once used the same “rancher, real estate developer, businessman” construction in the opening line of its biographical section. It’s now gone, replaced by the description ” Trump conservative, straight shooter, and a fighter for Montana.”

As TPM reported back in May, Rosendale had been leaning more and more heavily into his rancher persona as a candidate throughout the GOP primary, using it in ads and on the campaign trail. But the real estate broker had previously publicly admitted that he leased out his land rather than ranched it himself, and documents obtained then by TPM showed he’d never actually owned any cattle.

In June, shortly after TPM reported about his seeming exaggerations, his campaign’s  press releases stopped including their once-regular references to Rosendale as a “Glendive rancher,” referring to his adopted hometown. The campaign also removed the “rancher” description from his website’s tagline that month, according to cached versions of the site.

In July, “rancher” came out of his site’s bio page. In August, it came completely off the website’s homepage.

The twitter bio tweak seems to be the latest step in the slow scrubbing process, and came shortly before President Trump’s Thursday rally in the state for Rosendale.

For what it’s worth, as of this article’s publication Rosendale’s campaign website still described him as a “rancher” on his Facebook and instagram bios. His other campaign materials still often refer to Rosendale’s “family ranch” in Glendive, which he bought in 2002 after a successful career in Maryland real estate.

Strategists in both parties say Rosendale trails Tester by a margin in the single digits heading into the campaign’s homestretch.

Rosendale’s campaign didn’t respond to questions on why they’d shifted from using the term.

 

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Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is hanging onto a small but significant lead against former state Rep. Mike Braun (R), according to a new poll, good news for Democrats in a top GOP Senate target.

Donnelly leads Braun by 44 percent to 41 percent with 8 percent of voters backing Libertarian Lucy Brenton, according to a new poll of likely voters conducted by Marist University for NBC news.

In a head-to-head matchup, Donnelly’s lead grows to 49 percent to 43 percent over Braun.

The poll is the first reliable public one in months, partly because Indiana has banned automated polling. It shows Donnelly in better shape than many GOP strategists had hoped he’d be in at this point in the election. The numbers also closely track where Democrats believe the race currently stands, with Donnelly holding a small but real lead in private numbers.

Donnelly is one of four Democrats running for reelection in states Trump won that Democrats have been deeply concerned about this election cycle, and Republicans have been confident they can beat, along with Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Bill Nelson (D-FL). Democrats concede that Heitkamp has an uphill battle for reelection, but have insisted that Donnelly is ahead, McCaskill is neck-and-neck with her GOP opponent and Nelson actually has a slight lead over Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). Polls in recent days show have found both McCaskill and Nelson tied with their opponents.

If three of these four Democrats win, their party has a serious shot at winning Senate control, a scenario that was almost unthinkable a year ago since there are ten Democrats running for reelection in states Trump one and just one Republican running in a state he lost. If they lose only one incumbent and win Nevada and Arizona, where they’re viewed as slight favorites, that gets them to within one seat. Both sides also see a tied race in Tennessee, which could put them over the top.

Marist’s polling has been a bit more favorable to Democrats than some other public pollsters, and Donnelly’s lead is well within the poll’s five-point margin of error. But this is the latest public post-Labor Day poll that has some real good news for Democrats as they head into the campaign’s home stretch.

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Boston City Council member Ayana Pressley (D) has knocked off 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), becoming the latest progressive insurgent to topple an establishment favorite in a primary this election cycle.

Pressley easily bested Capuano, who conceded not long after polls closed Tuesday evening.

Pressley is the first woman of color ever to serve on Boston’s City Council, and is set to break another barrier, becoming the first woman of color to serve in its congressional delegation.

Her victory marks the latest win for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party this election cycle, and the latest win for a minority and female candidate over an incumbent or establishment favorite, following Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking win over Rep. Joe Crowley (D-NY) earlier this summer and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s (D) recent gubernatorial primary upset of former Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL).

Her background is more similar to Gillum’s than to Ocasio-Cortez’s: She has a long career in Boston politics. And while national progressives including Ocasio-Cortez rallied to her side, she had some strong local institutional support as well, including an endorsement from the Boston Globe.

Pressley conceded throughout the race that there was little policy daylight between her and Capuano, though she did go further than him by calling for the abolishment of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency. But she made her background a major part of the race, highlighting the importance of boosting diversity in the Democratic Party, talking about her own experience with sexual assault, and regularly calling for more “bold, activist leadership.”

Her campaign refrain: “The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.”

Pressley will now represent the seat that in earlier forms was held by John F. Kennedy and Tip O’Neill.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but this is life and this is okay. America is going to be okay,” Capuano said in his concession speech. “Ayanna Pressley is going to be a good congresswoman and Massachusetts will be well served.”

Republicans didn’t run a candidate in the heavily Democratic Boston-based district, and Pressley is all but guaranteed to join the next Congress.

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