Esme Cribb

Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Esme

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has traveled by private jet at least 24 times since May, racking up a travel cost of more than $300,000, Politico reported late Thursday.

Politico reported, citing Health and Human Services documents and unnamed sources with knowledge of Price’s travel plans, that Price took at least two dozen flights on private charter planes since early May.

Those trips cost more than $300,000, Politico reported, citing federal contracts and similar trip itineraries.

Agency spokespeople did not respond to Politico’s questions about the number of trips Price has taken on private planes or provide other specifics.

Charmaine Yoest, assistant secretary of public affairs at the agency, told Politico that when Price travels on official business, it is paid for “from the HHS budget.”

Politico reported on Wednesday that Price spent tens of thousands of dollars last week to travel up and down the East Coast, a move that is not illegal but which breaks with agency precedent; Price’s predecessors traveled on commercial flights for agency business.

The Department of Justice recently asked a prestigious U.S. law firm for documents and information related to its work for deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, on whose behalf Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, also worked, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The New York Times reported, citing two unnamed sources with direct knowledge of the matter, that the Department of Justice asked Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom for information and documents relevant to its work on Yanukovych’s behalf.

Read More →

President Donald Trump on Thursday said that he plans to impose yet more sanctions on North Korea as the nation continues to develop its nuclear program.

“We will be putting more sanctions on North Korea,” Trump told reporters in response to a question shouted to him before a scheduled meeting with Afghanistan’s President Ashraf Ghani.

At a working lunch later in the day with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Trump announced that he signed an executive order to “significantly” expand the United States’ authority to target entities “that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea.”

“Our new executive order will cut off sources of revenue that fund North Korea’s efforts to develop the deadliest weapons known to humankind,” he said.

Trump cited a report that China’s central bank instructed banks to fully implement United Nations sanctions against North Korea, to stop serving new customers from the nation and to wind down existing loans.

“This is a complete denuclearization of North Korea that we seek,” he said. “We cannot have this as a world body any longer.”

In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, Trump called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime “depraved” and said its “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with unthinkable loss of human life.”

“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said, and deployed his newest nickname for Kim: “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Wednesday dismissed Trump’s threat as “the sound of a dog barking” and said that if Trump intended to intimidate the nation with his rhetoric, it “would be a dog’s dream” too.

Earlier in September, the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved new sanctions on North Korea.

This post has been updated.

Black employees on Wednesday filed a civil complaint against the Trump Organization and the managing director at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. alleging racial discrimination, the Washington Post reported.

Dominique Hill, Irving Smith Jr. and JaNette Sturdivant, current and former employees at BLT Prime in the luxury hotel, alleged that the Trump Organization and Mickael Damelincourt, the luxury hotel’s managing director, subjected black employees to discriminatory behavior and gave them shifts where they earned less, per the report.

“They started hiring all these people and instead of putting them on day shifts they was giving them night shifts and keeping us on day shift,” Smith Jr. told the Washington Post. “Next thing I know, within the month all the black people were on the day shift.”

Hill told the Washington Post that the hotel opened with 15 or more black employees, but that only four remain.

Hill, Smith Jr. and Sturdivant are seeking $14.5 million in damages, according to the report.

In a statement to the Washington Post, the Trump Organization called the allegations “utterly baseless” and claimed “the plaintiffs worked for a third-party restaurant company that is solely responsible for the direction, supervision, and management of its own employees.”

The company that operates BLT Prime, ESquared Hospitality, said it “wholeheartedly” disputed Hill, Smith Jr. and Sturdivant’s allegations.

President Donald Trump’s commission to look into his claims of illegal voting in the 2016 election may have to start pretty close to home.

Jeffrey Gerrish, President Donald Trump’s pick for deputy U.S. trade representative, may have voted illegally in the 2016 election, the New York Times and Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

The New York Times first reported, citing three unnamed Democratic congressional aides, that the Senate Finance Committee was briefed on the matter Tuesday.

Gerrish moved from Virginia to Maryland in 2016 but voted in November in the former, more competitive state, the New York Times reported, citing records.

The Washington Post confirmed the New York Times’ report, citing an unnamed senior administration official familiar with the matter.

Trump’s pledge to investigate his unsubstantiated claims of massive illegal voting was one of his signature campaign promises. After winning the White House, Trump nevertheless continued to claim that millions of people voted illegally in the election that he won, costing him the popular vote (though he won in the Electoral College).

He established a commission to investigate illegal voting in May. As of August, the panel faced seven pending lawsuits.

The senior administration official told the Washington Post that Gerrish lived in Virginia with his family for more than 18 years before the move, retained a Virginia driver’s license at the time of the election and “understood there was a grace period for switching voter registration but did not know the length.”

The New York Times’ report also cited an unnamed administration official who gave the same explanation.

As both reports noted, Virginia law allows a 30-day grace period for voters who have moved out of the state to cast their ballot only in a presidential election, though Gerrish did not appear to qualify for that exception, having sold a Virginia home — and purchased one in Maryland — in July 2016, four months before the election.

The White House referred TPM’s request for comment to the U.S. trade representative. In a statement via spokesperson Emily Davis, U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer said he “fully” supports Gerrish’s nomination.

Former President Barack Obama said Wednesday that repeated Republican attempts to repeal his eponymous health care legislation are “aggravating” and would cause “real human suffering.”

“The legislation that we passed was full of things that still need to be fixed. It wasn’t perfect. But it was better,” Obama said, speaking at an event hosted by the Gates Foundation in New York.

“And so when I see people trying to undo that hard-won progress, for the 50th or 60th time,” he added, to laughter, “with bills that would raise costs or reduce coverage or roll back protections for older Americans or people with pre-existing conditions — the cancer survivor, the expecting mom, or the child with autism, or asthma, for whom coverage once again would be almost unattainable — it is aggravating.”

Obama said attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act are “being done without any demonstrable economic or actuarial or plain common-sense rationale.”

“It frustrates. And it’s certainly frustrating to have to mobilize every couple of months to keep our leaders from inflicting real human suffering on our constituents,” he said.
“But typically that’s how progress is won, and how progress is maintained on every issue.”

Obama said progress “is never inevitable” and can “often be fragile.”

“It’s in need of constant renewal,” he said. “And our individual progress and our collective progress depends on our willingness to roll up our sleeves and work, and not be afraid to work.”

America’s Health Insurance Plans, the health insurer trade group, came out Wednesday against Republicans’ Hail Mary proposal to repeal Obamacare before the end of September.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the group’s president and CEO Marilyn B. Tavenner said Republicans’ latest proposal “fails to meet” the group’s standard for health care legislation.

“We believe that legislative proposals that would reform and affect the coverage and care of millions of Americans should meet certain principles,” Tavenner wrote.

She cited stabilization of the individual insurance market, allocation of sufficient resources to ensure Medicaid coverage, access to coverage for consumers with pre-existing conditions, elimination of taxes and fees that raise health care costs or reduce benefits and inclusion of time for health care providers and consumers to adapt to policy changes.

“The Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson proposal fails to meet these guiding principles,” Tavenner wrote. “While we cannot support this proposal, we will keep working to find the right solutions that reflect the commitment we all share: affordable coverage and high-quality care for every American.”

Read the full letter:

President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised the health system of an African country that does not exist while speaking at a United Nations working lunch with African leaders.

“In Guinea and Nigeria you fought a horrifying Ebola outbreak,” he said. “Nambia’s health system is increasingly self-sufficient.”

There is no country named Nambia; it was not clear whether Trump had misread the name of Namibia or Zambia.

Asked to clarify, the White House referred TPM to the National Security Council, which did not immediately respond.

In his remarks, Trump also said that Africa “has tremendous business potential” and cited his “many friends going to your countries trying to get rich.”

Billionaire Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel is in discussions to take a top role advising President Donald Trump on the activities of the intelligence community, Vanity Fair reported on Wednesday.

Thiel is “heavily leaning toward” taking a role as chair of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board, which monitors the intelligence community and advises the President on its conduct, according to the Vanity Fair report, which cited an unnamed senior administration aide.

“He feels there’s a lot of good he can do and it’s worth putting up with all the bullshit and scrutiny that will accompany his appointment,” the senior aide said, according to Vanity Fair.

Thiel, a libertarian who spoke in Trump’s support during the Republican National Convention last year, made headlines earlier in 2016 for bankrolling wrestler Hulk Hogan’s successful defamation lawsuit against Gawker for publishing Hogan’s sex tape. Gawker was ordered to pay Hogan $140 million, declared bankruptcy and was ultimately purchased by Univision.

In 2003, Thiel founded Palantir, a secretive data-mining company that has won government national security contracts, including one for an intelligence system to support investigations by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

The unnamed senior administration aide told Vanity Fair, per the report, that if Thiel joins the advisory board he “intends to take a comprehensive look at the U.S. intelligence community’s information-technology architecture.”

“He is super-concerned about Amazon and Google,” the aide said, according to Vanity Fair, though Thiel is apparently less concerned about Facebook (and remains on the company’s board). “He feels they have become New Age global fascists in terms of how they’re controlling the media, how they’re controlling information flows to the public, even how they’re purging people from think tanks. He’s concerned about the monopolistic tendencies.”

Thiel joined Trump’s transition team days after the 2016 election, but appeared to sour on the President shortly afterward. BuzzFeed reported in August that Thiel told friends in January there was “a 50 percent chance this whole thing ends in disaster” and summed up Trump’s nascent administration as “incompetent.”

Thiel declined Vanity Fair’s requests for comment.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and chair of conservative outlet Breitbart News, told Vanity Fair before his departure from the White House that he could not “overstate” Thiel’s “impact on the transition.”

In an interview on July 12, just over a month before he left his role in Trump’s administration, Bannon told Vanity Fair, “You will see in the near term that Peter will be taking on new responsibilities, like intelligence.”

The White House on Wednesday denied Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s claim that President Donald Trump called him to apologize for an incident in May where Turkish security agents allegedly attacked protesters in Washington.

A White House spokesman told the Hill late Tuesday that Trump and Erdogan “discussed a wide range of issues but there was no apology.”

“It’s not true,” White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters said, according to BuzzFeed News reporter John Hudson.

National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton told Yahoo News that Erdogan’s claim was “wrong.”

“The topic was discussed,” Anton said. “There was no apology.”

Washington, D.C. police in June issued arrest warrants for nine Turkish security guards and three Turkish police officers accused of attacking protesters who gathered outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence. A grand jury in August issued indictments for three more Turkish security officials charged with attacking protesters.

In an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff on Tuesday, Erdogan said Trump promised to “follow up” on the subject.

“How can you get along with President Trump, how can you do business with President Trump, when there is this fundamental disagreement over what happened that day?” Woodruff asked Erdogan.

“I’m very sorry about that. Actually, President Trump called me about a week ago about this issue,” Erdogan replied, through a translator. “He said that he was sorry, and he told me that he was going to follow up on this issue when we come to the United States within the framework of an official visit.”

The White House issued a readout on Sept. 9 of a call between the two leaders which made no mention of the May incident, saying that Trump “emphasized the common commitment of the United States and Turkey to work together to increase regional stability.”