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

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday that senior White House adviser Jared Kushner’s security clearance should be reviewed in light of reports that Kushner did not disclose additional contacts he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

“I do think there ought to be a review of his security clearance to find out whether he was truthful, whether he was candid. If not, then there’s no way he can maintain that kind of a clearance,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.”

He cited reports that Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and Moscow with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak before Trump’s inauguration.

“You have to ask, well, who are they hiding the conversations from?” Schiff said.”If these allegations are true and he had discussions with the Russians about establishing a backchannel and didn’t reveal that, that’s a real problem in terms of whether he should maintain that kind of a security clearance.”

Schiff said he was “disappointed” with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster’s response to reports that Kushner discussed setting up a backchannel to the Kremlin.

“We have backchannel communications with a number of countries,” McMaster told reporters on Saturday. “What that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner so I’m not concerned.”

“I was disappointed to see the general say that. I have a lot of respect for him. Sadly I think this is an administration that takes in people with good credibility and chews them out and spits out their credibility at the same time,” Schiff said. “Anyone within the Trump orbit is at risk of being used.”


Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Sunday said he does not “see any big issue” with reports that senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, sought to set up backchannel communications with the Kremlin before Trump’s inauguration.

“I know Jared. He’s a great guy, decent guy. His number one interest, really, is the nation, so you know there’s a lot of different ways to communicate, backchannel, publicly with other countries,” Kelly told Chuck Todd on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

He said Kushner made those efforts “before the government was in place during the transition period, I think, from what I understand.”

“And I think any time you can open lines of communication with anyone, whether they’re good friends or not so good friends, is a smart thing to do,” Kelly said. “I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared.”

The Washington Post and Reuters reported Friday that Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to the United States discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and Moscow.

Kushner suggested setting up the secure backchannel, according to the report, and even proposed using communications equipment in stateside Russian diplomatic facilities.

“Had you ever, in your lifetime of government service, both in the military and outside of it, had you ever used another government’s communications facility though?” Todd asked Kelly. “The idea of sort of going around American communications?”

“Well, no, but I didn’t have to,” Kelly replied. “I mean in my previous life, we wouldn’t do that kind of thing, but you know, politics being what they are — a better way to put it, not politics, but the kind of interaction here in Washington. There’s a lot of ways to communicate with people.”

President Donald Trump on Sunday lashed out at the media after returning from his first trip abroad as president to a maelstrom of bombshell reports about his administration and, most recently, his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner.

Trump suggested that news reports based on anonymous White House sources are in fact “fabricated lies” and are not based on leaks from his administration — which experts say are rampant.

“Whenever you see the words ‘sources say’ in the fake news media, and they don’t mention names… it is very possible that those sources don’t exsist (sic) but are made up by fake news writers,” Trump tweeted. “#FakeNews is the enemy!”

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to the United States discussed setting up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and Moscow in December, the Washington Post reported late Friday.

Intercepts of Russian communications show Ambassador Sergey Kislyak said Kushner suggested setting up the secure backchannel and even proposed using communications equipment in stateside Russian diplomatic facilities, according to the report, which cited anonymous U.S. officials briefed on the intercepts.

Kislyak was taken aback by Kushner’s proposal to use Russian equipment, according to the Washington Post, and reported it to his superiors in Moscow in intercepted communications that U.S. officials later reviewed.

Kushner reportedly made the proposal at a meeting attended by President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was forced out after it came to light that he lied about discussing U.S. sanctions against Russia with Kislyak before inauguration.

The White House and Robert Kelner, one of Flynn’s lawyers, declined to comment to the Washington Post, while the Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

The Washington Post had reported late Thursday that Kushner’s interactions with Kislyak, as well as his meetings with the head of a Russian bank that the United States has sanctioned, are of interest to the FBI in its sprawling investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. election.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is under scrutiny by the FBI as part of its probe into potential collusion between members of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, NBC News reported late Thursday.

Federal investigators believe Kushner has “significant information” relevant to the investigation, NBC News reported, citing multiple unnamed U.S. officials.

The report noted that Kushner is not necessarily a subject of the investigation or likely to face charges, and that it is unclear whether investigators have requested records from Kushner, as they have from Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Kushner is considered “in a different category” from Manafort and Flynn, according to the report, although it is not clear what differentiates them.

The Washington Post also reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources familiar with the investigation, that Kushner is being investigated because of a series of meetings he held in December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Sergey Gorkov, the head of a Russian bank that the United States has sanctioned.

Jamie Gorelick, one of Kushner’s attorneys, told the Washington Post that Kushner “previously volunteered to share with Congress what he knows about these meetings.”

“He will do the same if he is contacted in connection with any other inquiry,” Gorelick said.

The Washington Post reported last week that a current White House official was a “significant person of interest” in the investigation into whether Trump campaign associates colluded with Russia to interfere in the U.S. election, but did not name the official.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said the Department of Justice will ask the Supreme Court to review an appeals court’s refusal to lift a nationwide block on President Donald Trump’s executive order barring travelers from six majority-Muslim countries.

“The Department of Justice strongly disagrees with the decision of the divided court,” Sessions said in a statement. “This Department of Justice will continue to vigorously defend the power and duty of the Executive Branch to protect the people of this country from danger, and will seek review of this case in the United States Supreme Court.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit on Thursday refused to lift a nationwide preliminary injunction blocking key aspects of Trump’s travel ban.

Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Roger Gregory wrote that, in context, the order “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination” and “stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation.”

Trump responded vehemently in February to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ refusal to reinstate the ban, tweeting: “SEE YOU IN COURT.”

The ban has not fared any better in court hearings since.

The sheriff of a Montana county where Republican candidate Greg Gianforte allegedly assaulted a reporter said Thursday that Gianforte declined law enforcement’s request for a follow-up interview.

“At 5:08 p.m. yesterday, Gallatin County sheriff’s deputies responded to a report of an assault. When deputies arrived, Greg Gianforte cooperated by providing an initial statement,” Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin said at a press conference.

He said Gianforte was not under arrest at that time and “left the area” afterward.

“As interviews were being conducted, Greg Gianforte’s attorney contacted our office. It was at this time we communicated our desire to obtain a follow-up interview,” Gootkin said. “This request was later declined and we were asked to direct all further communications to the attorney.”

Ben Jacobs, a reporter for the Guardian who said Gianforte attacked him after he asked the candidate a policy question, “did not sustain serious bodily injury” according to Montana’s statute, Gootkin said.

Jacobs said on Wednesday night that Gianforte “bodyslammed” him. The Guardian later published audio of a man who is apparently Gianforte telling Jacobs to speak to his staff, followed by a crashing noise as the man says he is “sick and tired of you guys” and tells Jacobs to “get the hell out of here.”

The Gallatin County Sheriff’s office announced on Wednesday it had “probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault.”

Gootkin apologized to reporters for not mentioning during a press conference on Wednesday that he made a campaign contribution to Gianforte in March, and said he does not agree with calls for another agency to handle the investigation.

“The reason it never crossed my mind was that we were busy investigating this incident,” Gootkin said. “The contribution made in March has absolutely nothing to do with my duties and responsibilities as the Gallatin County sheriff or this investigation.”

He said officers only communicated directly with Gianforte during his initial statement before the candidate departed the scene.

“The deputies were busy dealing with the other five people that were there and that’s when Mr. Gianforte left,” Gootkin said.

Asked what will happen if Gianforte is given jail time and nevertheless wins the congressional election, Gootkin replied, “If he is ordered to go to jail by the judge, then I would guess that that judge expects him to go to jail.”

According to reporters on the scene, as Gootkin left the press conference, he ignored a question about whether he voted for Gianforte.

House Oversight Committee Chair Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) responded to the FBI’s deferral of his request for documents that fired FBI Director James Comey reportedly wrote about his interactions with President Donald Trump by sending a second request.

“The focus of the Committee’s investigation is the independence of the FBI,” Chaffetz wrote Thursday in a letter to acting FBI Director Andrew G. McCabe. “The records being withheld are central to those questions.”

He said the House Oversight Committee “in no way wants to impede or interfere with the Special Counsel’s ability to conduct his investigation” but asked the FBI to “produce these documents to the Committee immediately.”

In its response to Chaffetz’s original request, the FBI cited the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials.

“In light of this development and other considerations, we are undertaking appropriate consultation to ensure all relevant interests implicated by your report are properly evaluated,” Gregory A. Brower, the assistant director for the bureau’s Office of Congressional Affairs, wrote in a letter to Chaffetz.

The New York Times reported last week that Comey wrote contemporaneous memos documenting his conversations with Trump, including one where the President reportedly asked him to drop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

At the time, Chaffetz said he had his “subpoena pen” ready to “get the Comey memo, if it exists.”

Two days later, however, he questioned whether the documents are “actually there.”

On Wednesday, Chaffetz said Comey refused to tell him the location of those memos during a one-on-one conversation.

“He would not confirm where they are, what their presence — if there is a presence of these documents, he would not say a word about that,” Chaffetz said. “I’m skeptical and want to see them ourselves.”

Over the course of the past two weeks, journalists have gotten used to a new kind of news cycle: the late-breaking bombshell report that dominates political coverage for hours.

The collection of stories — most focusing on President Donald Trump’s administration — that have broken just as journalists prepare themselves for happy hour is remarkable.

A good old-fashioned newspaper war has reignited between the New York Times and the Washington Post, with both papers vying for scoops about the Trump White House and the investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russian officials.

Over the past two weeks, the Washington Post reported that Trump passed on highly classified information he did not have permission to share with top Russian diplomats; that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) joked in 2016 that Trump was on Putin’s payroll; that a current White House employee is a “significant person of interest” in the investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials; that Trump was seeking outside counsel to help him navigate that probe; and that Trump asked the director of national intelligence and director of the NSA to push back against the investigation.

The New York Times, meanwhile, published bombshell reports over four consecutive days. Among those: that Trump asked former FBI Director James Comey to end the investigation into Flynn, a request Comey documented in a memo; that Trump’s campaign knew Flynn was under federal investigation before Trump named him national security adviser; that Trump pushed Comey to say he was not under investigation; that he called Comey a “nut job” to the same Russian diplomats; and that Russian officials discussed using his former campaign manager Paul Manafort to influence Trump.

What most of those stories had in common — though they covered a vast range of subjects — was that they dropped in the afternoon or early evening, throwing the typically staid evening news cycle into chaos.

On behalf of political reporters who now regard 5 p.m. ET with Pavlovian trepidation: Why?

There really is no particular reason,” Scott Wilson, national editor of the Washington Post, told TPM by phone. “We’re not holding them, we’re just working on them.”

Wilson said the Washington Post “would have liked to have published” the report about McCarthy, for example, earlier in the day.

“It just took us time inside the newsroom to make sure that we had it as accurately sourced and fairly written as we needed it to be,” he said. “It just turned out that it published at that time.”

Asked whether such stories publish later because of print deadlines, Wilson said, “Really it’s just more coincidental.”

Certainly we have to have them done by our print deadlines, which is roughly that time,” he added. “But really we’re publishing them when they’re ready.”

Elisabeth Bumiller, the New York Times’ Washington bureau chief, told TPM that the Times publishes stories when they “come together.”

“Sometimes it’s midday, sometimes it’s later in the evening,” she said. “On these kinds of stories about the Russia investigation, we do not sit on them. We post them when they’re ready.”

There is a print deadline and we obviously try and make that,” Bumiller added.

Both Bumiller and Wilson cited competition among news outlets as an incentive to publish big scoops as soon as possible.

“Stories in this case are so competitive we’re just not going to wait,” Bumiller told TPM.

It’s a very competitive environment,” Wilson said.

Their respective outlets appeared to find camaraderie on Twitter, at least, in the middle of last week’s busy news cycle.

It’s not just newspapers publishing stories of consequence in the Trump era.

In the past several months alone, CNN reported that federal investigators corroborated sections of a largely unsubstantiated dossier containing allegations of ties between President Donald Trump and Russia; that the FBI used that dossier as evidence to obtain a warrant via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to monitor the communications of a Trump associate; that federal prosecutors issued subpoenas to associates of Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn; and that Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not disclose that he had several meetings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. while applying for a security clearance last year.

CNN did not respond to TPM’s requests for comment.

The evening bombshells, it appears, will continue. So expect a lot more tweets like these: