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Catherine Thompson

Catherine Thompson is a news writer for Talking Points Memo. Before joining TPM, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett and interned at The L Magazine. At New York University she served as the deputy managing editor of NYU's student newspaper, The Washington Square News. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Catherine

After threatening earlier this week to vote against his own immigration reform bill, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) told reporters Thursday "I won't abandon this issue until it's done, until we get a bill passed," according to the Orlando Sentinel.

"I'm working as hard today on immigration reform as I ever have," Rubio said. "That's what I'm committed to trying to accomplish, and that's what I'm spending all of my time on, figuring out how we can get a bill that passes the Senate and serves as a starting point to get it passed in the House as well."

Rubio promised to promote a compromise overhauling the bill that includes adding border-security provisions in order to get it to pass, the Sentinel reported.

An accidental email alerted IRS officials in Washington about extra scrutiny applied to conservative groups a year early than previously acknowledged, Reuters reported Friday.

According to transcripts of interviews between congressional investigators and IRS employees obtained by Reuters, a July 2010 email from an IRS worker in Cincinnati was accidentally blasted out to a large number of officials in the Washington office. 

Elizabeth Hofacre, coordinating "emerging issues" for the IRS' tax-exempt unit in Cincinnati, intended to send the message to a small group of employees, including some workers in Washington's tax-exempt unit. The contents of the email summarized Hofacre's findings on groups flagged on a "be-on-the-lookout" list, which included those groups with "Tea Party" and "Patriot" in their names. Officials in the IRS Exempt Organizations Rulings and Agreements unit accidentally received the email.

"Everybody in DC got it by mistake," Hofacre said in the transcripts, as quoted in the Reuters report.

Federal officials are investigating allegations that the former head of a Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation field office has been selling guns without a license, according to the Associated Press.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been investigating Special Agent Jay Smith at the DCI office in Superior, Wis. for several months, spokesman Bob Schmidt confirmed Thursday to the AP.

The man who raised the alarm on the gun sales, DCI Agent Dan Bethards, claimed in his whistleblower complaint to the state's justice department that Smith had been selling firearms to other law enforcement officers. Bethards also alleged that Smith told local law enforcement agencies that he was suicidal and dangerous, per the AP report.

(via Green Bay Press Gazette)

Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) told the Denver Post on Thursday that he was aware the National Security Agency had been collecting the phone records of tens of thousands of Americans--and tried to stop it.

Udall said that he "did everything in my power" to raise awareness of the domestic surveillance program and bring the data collection to a halt. The senator only stopped "short of leaking classified information" because he was concerned about the program's lack of transparency. 

"That’s why I’ve been fighting for years to amend the Patriot Act,” Udall told The Denver Post. “My concerns are that people need to know how the president interprets his authority under the Patriot Act … He said he was going to submit to transparency in the State of the Union … I expect him to uphold his commitment.”

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) called for an investigation into allegations that a federal judge made racially biased remarks in a speech at the University of Pennsylvania Law School on Wednesday, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

A coalition of civil rights organizations claimed in a lawsuit that 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Edith Jones made inappropriate statements against minority groups, including saying that African-Americans and Hispanics are "predisposed to crime." In a letter to Judge Carl Stewart, the chief on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Richmond demands a "full and swift" investigation into the accounts of Jones' speech.

"The alleged statements, if true, demonstrate personal racial and religious bias as well as questionable legal analysis," Richmond wrote in the letter, as quoted by the Times-Picayune. "These biases are incredibly inappropriate for a sitting jurist at any level, let alone a former chief judge on one of the highest level Article III Courts of Appeal."

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) took an opportunity Thursday to jab Attorney General Eric Holder over the recently revealed National Security Agency surveillance of Verizon phone customers.

In a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing, Kirk asked Holder if the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order allowed certain phone lines in Washington to come under NSA scrutiny--in particular those that belong to members of Congress. Kirk expressed concern that monitoring the phone records of lawmakers could give a future executive branch an unfair advantage over legislators.

"I don't think this is an appropriate setting for me to discuss that issue," Holder responded.

Kirk interrupted the attorney general, asserting that "the correct answer is no."

As Kirk pressed the question, Holder repeated his offer to discuss the nature of the NSA surveillance outside the space of an open hearing. The committee later agreed that Holder will give a classified briefing to the full committee.

A federal judge who signed a court order compelling Verizon to turn call logs over to the National Security Agency made headlines two years ago when he invoked the language of the tea party to declare Obamacare unconstitutional.

Judge Roger Vinson's signature appeared on the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order issued in April that was publicized by The Guardian on Wednesday. 

Vinson declared in a Florida federal court in 2011 that the individual mandate element of the Affordable Care Act violated the constitution, and thus the whole health care law must be struck down.

Legal scholars who disagreed with Vinson's ruling on ACA saw echoes of the Tea Party movement in the judge's language. One law professor told the New York Times that Vinson's opinion in the case gave the impression that it "was written in part as a Tea Party manifesto."

“It is difficult to imagine that a nation which began, at least in part, as the result of opposition to a British mandate giving the East India Company a monopoly and imposing a nominal tax on all tea sold in America would have set out to create a government with the power to force people to buy tea in the first place," Vinson wrote in his opinion, as quoted in the Times article.

In a statement responding to a report published in the Guardian, the American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday condemned the surrender under the Patriot Act of Verizon customer call logs to the National Security Agency.

From the statement:

"From a civil liberties perspective, the program could hardly be any more alarming. It’s a program in which some untold number of innocent people have been put under the constant surveillance of government agents," said Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director. "It is beyond Orwellian, and it provides further evidence of the extent to which basic democratic rights are being surrendered in secret to the demands of unaccountable intelligence agencies."

 

The program was put in place under the Patriot Act’s Section 215, a controversial provision that authorizes the government to seek secret court orders for the production of "any tangible thing" relevant to a foreign-intelligence or terrorism investigation. Recipients of Section 215 orders, such as telecommunications companies, are prohibited from disclosing that they gave the government their customers’ records.

 

"Now that this unconstitutional surveillance effort has been revealed, the government should end it and disclose its full scope, and Congress should initiate a full investigation," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel with the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "This disclosure also highlights the growing gap between the public’s and the government’s understandings of the many sweeping surveillance authorities enacted by Congress. Since 9/11, the government has increasingly classified and concealed not just facts, but the law itself. Such extreme secrecy is inconsistent with our democratic values of open government and accountability."

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said Thursday that he is "glad" a major phone provider is turning over call logs from millions of Americans to the National Security Agency, in accordance to a classified order earlier this year.

In an appearance on "Fox and Friends," Graham said that he is a Verizon customer and does not take issue with the service turning over records to the federal government if that information is used to track known terrorists.

Graham pointed to radical Islam and homegrown terrorism as major concerns: "It's happening in our own backyard and I'm glad the NSA is trying to find out what terrorists are up to overseas and inside the country," he said.

Fort Bliss officials released statistics on Tuesday that showed more than 40 reported sexual assault and harassment incidents have occurred at the base since it implemented a sexual assault prevention program in October, the El Paso Times reported.

Spokesman Maj. Joe Buccino told the newspaper that 33 sexual assault cases and 13 sexual harassment cases had been reported at Fort Bliss since Oct. 1, when the base started the Army-wide Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) training program. Buccino cautioned that it's unknown how many incidents go unreported.

The figures were released the same day the U.S. Senate held a heated hearing on the issue of sexual assault in the armed forces.

(Photo: Shutterstock / Ilya Andriyanov)

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