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

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on Sunday said he hopes Alabama Republican Senate nominee Roy Moore does not represent the Republican Party’s future.

“I certainly hope not,” Kasich said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“I mean, we have to look at his whole record and a number of the things that he said,” Kasich added. “I can tell you for me, I don’t support that. I couldn’t vote for that. I don’t know what the heck I would have to do, but I don’t live in that state.”

Among his more controversial comments, Moore in 2005 said homosexual activity should be illegal and compared it to bestiality, in 2006 said Muslims should be barred from serving in Congress, and suggested earlier this year that the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks happened because America turned away from God.

Kasich said that if the Republican Party “can’t be fixed” then he will not “be able to support the party, period, that’s the end of it.”

“What do you mean, you’re going to give up on the party?” Tapper pressed. “Are you talking about possibly becoming an independent?”

“No, not at this,” Kasich said. “What I’m saying to you is, we need to fix it.”

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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) on Sunday said he thinks President Donald Trump is “learning” when it comes to race issues in the United States.

“I think, like I said before, he’s learning. I know his heart’s in the right place,” Ryan said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“How do you know that?” John Dickerson asked.

“I’ve had some candid conversations with him about this, especially during that time,” Ryan said, referring to the aftermath of a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent. “I’ve had some very candid conversations, and so I do really believe his heart’s in the right place.”

Asked about Trump’s ongoing attacks on NFL players and coaches who protest by kneeling during the national anthem, often to call attention to the treatment of minorities in the United States, Ryan said he thinks Trump has “got a point.”

“What I think a lot of people who are protesting on that don’t necessarily see is that other people see it as disrespecting the country, what it stands for, the flag, and the people who died to protect it,” Ryan said.

He said people “clearly” can “express themselves under the First Amendment however they want to.”

“But what so many Americans — I see this at home — see is you’re disrespecting the idea of America, that we want to make this free country a more perfect union,” Ryan said, “and that people have died and fought and survived to protect it, so they don’t see the point that they’re trying to make.”

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Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who announced last month that he will not run for reelection, on Sunday said he stands by his criticism of President Donald Trump’s response to violence that broke out at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Corker in August said Trump had “not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

“He has not demonstrated that he understands what has made this nation great and what it is today, and he’s got to demonstrate the characteristics of a president who understands that,” Corker said at the time.

“Look, I stand by those comments,” Corker said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

Corker said he does not “make comments like that without thinking about them.”

He praised White House chief of staff John Kelly for introducing an “air of discipline.”

“You know I don’t. I chose the words, I stand by those words,” Corker said. “When I met with the President a week ago Friday, I said, ‘Mr. President, I stand by what I said.'”

“What did he say to you?” Chuck Todd asked.

“Oh, it was kind of humorous. I mean, it was. We spent about five minutes on this topic,” Corker replied.

“He remembers any slight,” Todd said.

“Oh, he remembered it. He said, ‘you called me incompetent,'” Corker said. “I knew it was coming. I said, ‘Here is what I said, and I stand by these comments, okay? I stand by what I said.'”

“In five minutes, we moved on to the other topic,” Corker added.

Trump in August lashed out at Corker for his criticism, which the President called a “strange statement.”

“Strange statement by Bob Corker considering that he is constantly asking me whether or not he should run again in ’18. Tennessee not happy!” Trump tweeted.

Corker in September announced that he would not run for another term in office.

Of his decision to retire, Corker told Todd, “I told people, if I knew they were going to say so many nice things about me, I would’ve retired earlier.”

“I mean, it’s been wonderful,” he said. “Look, I think I’m going to have more impact over the next 15 months than I’ve had in the last ten years.”

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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday refused to explain how President Donald Trump will support his claim that he won’t personally benefit from the outlined tax proposal the White House released last week.

“How are Americans going to know if the President gets this benefit if he doesn’t release his tax returns?” George Stephanopoulos asked Mnuchin on ABC News’ “This Week,” referring to part of the proposed policy that would cut taxes on certain high-earning businesses that currently pay individual rates.

“That’s just not fair, because, again, we haven’t published the rules as to what’s going to apply to the pass-through rates, so you’re making certain assumptions that I don’t think are correct,” Mnuchin replied.

“I wouldn’t need to make the assumptions if we had the President’s tax returns,” Stephanopoulos said. “The President himself has said publicly he’s not going to get a benefit from this tax plan. My question to you is, how are the American people going to know that if he’s not releasing his tax returns?”

“I think the American public will be comfortable with the information they have,” Mnuchin said. “We’re going to make sure that there’s the proper rules. There’s going to be full transparency, as we go through the legislative process, what those rules are so that rich people can’t take advantage of it.”

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Sunday had a different explanation for why he could not provide a more specific defense of the Republican plan: It isn’t finished yet.

“I’ve seen the criticisms, and all I can tell you is that no one can make real detailed analysis of the plan yet,” Mulvaney said. “Because it’s not finished.”

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President Donald Trump on Sunday said he told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to “save his energy” when it comes to negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and that the United States will “do what has to be done” instead.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” Trump tweeted, using his favorite moniker for Kim. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Tillerson on Saturday said the United States has direct channels of communications with North Korea, despite Kim’s and Trump’s publicly escalating rhetoric.

“We have lines of communication to Pyongyang. We’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” Tillerson said. “We can talk to them, we do talk to them.”

Later Saturday, he said “the whole situation” was “a bit overheated.”

“I think we need to calm them down first,” Tillerson said. “Obviously it would help if North Korea would stop firing off missiles. That would calm things down a lot.”

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Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney on Sunday said he cannot give specific details about President Donald Trump’s much-touted tax plan because it isn’t finished yet.

“Can you tell us what percentage of the tax benefit goes to the people in the top one percent?” CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Mulvaney on “State of the Union.”

“No, in fact I don’t think anybody can, and anybody who says they can is simply lying to you. Why is that? It’s because the bill is not finished yet,” Mulvaney replied.

He said the proposal introduced to much fanfare last week “was the framework, was sort of the basic agreement between the White House and House and Senate leadership.”

“What’s missing from that, and it’s not being hidden, it just doesn’t exist yet, are things like details on the deductions, details on the brackets,” Mulvaney said.

He said it would be “impossible” to give specific details of the plan’s “impact on this wage earner or this family at this particular time.”

“These are things that get done during the ordinary course of business in Congress, which I understand will start in the House this week,” he said, and pushed back on criticisms of the bill on the same basis.

“I’ve seen the criticisms, and all I can tell you is that no one can make real detailed analysis of the plan yet,” Mulvaney said. “Because it’s not finished.”

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Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long on Sunday swiped at San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and others he claimed “spout off” about relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“What I don’t have patience for is the fact that what we’re trying to do and what we have successfully done is we have established a joint field office within San Juan,” Long said on “Fox News Sunday.”

He said the agency is “having daily conversations with all of the mayors” and “working with the governor and his leadership to be able to create unified objectives.”

“If mayors decide not to be a part of that, then the response is fragmented,” Long said. “And the bottom line is, is that we’re pushing everybody, we’re trying to push her, in there.”

“Is Mayor Cruz not participating in the FEMA effort?” Fox News’ Chris Wallace pressed Long, who did not answer.

“You know, we can choose to look at what the mayor spouts off or what other people spout off, but we can also choose to see what’s actually being done, and that’s what I would ask,” Long replied.

President Donald Trump attacked Cruz on Saturday and Sunday after she criticized Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s description of relief efforts on Puerto Rico as a “good news story.”

Trump accused Cruz of “poor leadership ability” and continued to attack “politically motivated ingrates” on Sunday.

For her part, Cruz said she has “only one goal, and it’s saving lives” and said she has “been quite complimentary of the people from HHS and FEMA.”

“Their heart is in the right place. But we have to cut the red tape,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

On the same show, Long said island residents are “pulling their weight,” contrary to Trump’s accusation that Cruz and other Puerto Rican leaders “want everything to be done for them.”

“I believe the Puerto Ricans are pulling their weight. I mean, I think they’re doing what they can,” he said. “The bottom line is, the question is, a local mayor’s job is to push commander’s intent down to his or her troops.”

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San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who weathered attacks from President Donald Trump after she criticized the White House’s rhetoric about relief efforts on Puerto Rico after the island was battered by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, on Sunday said her only goal is “saving lives.”

“There’s only one goal, and it’s saving lives. So any dialogue that goes on just has to be able to produce results,” Cruz said on ABC’s “This Week.”

“All I did last week, or even this week, was ask for help,” she added. “It has to happen in a sustained manner. It has to happen quickly.”

Cruz on Friday pushed back on Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s characterization of relief efforts on Puerto Rico as a “good news story.”

Her remarks drew Trump’s ire. The President, previously fixated on what he called Puerto Rico’s “tremendous amount of existing debt,” accused Cruz of “poor leadership ability” and criticized her and other Puerto Rican leaders he claimed “want everything to be done for them.”

He continued to attack “politically motivated ingrates” on Sunday.

“If he asks to meet with me, of course I would meet with him,” Cruz said of Trump. “I mean, you know, anything that can be done and anyone that can listen.”

Cruz said she has “been quite complimentary of the people from HHS and FEMA.”

“Their heart is in the right place. But we have to cut the red tape. That’s the one message,” she said. “And number two, let us not talk about the debt. Let us not talk about the cost of reconstruction. Let us just talk about saving lives right now, putting back the power grid as soon as we can, because that has an immediate effect on our ability to recover financially.”

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President Donald Trump on Sunday renewed his attacks on “politically motivated ingrates” he claimed failed to recognize the United States’ relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

“Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates,” Trump tweeted, “people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military.”

He called the situation on the island, which suffered widespread devastation after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, “almost impossible.”

“We have done a great job,” Trump tweeted. “Thank you to the Governor of P.R. and to all of those who are working so closely with our First Responders.”

Trump on Saturday blasted San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, whom he accused of “poor leadership ability,” as well as “others in Puerto Rico” who Trump claimed “want everything to be done for them.”

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” he tweeted.

Cruz on Friday pushed back on Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke’s characterization of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as a “good news story.”

“Maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story,” Cruz said. “When you are drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story. When you don’t have food for a baby, it’s not a good news story. When you have to pull people down from their buildings — I’m sorry, but that really upsets me and frustrates me.”

On Saturday, she tweeted, “The goal is one: saving lives. This is the time to show our “true colors”. We cannot be distracted by anything else.”

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You don’t get to $100,000 worth of Russian-bought political ads without raising a few questions.

The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Facebook officials told congressional investigators the company had traced $100,000 worth of ads, many about “divisive” political and social subjects, to a Russian firm in St. Petersburg. Each day since, far more questions than answers have arisen around the ad buy—an amount which, while it would be a drop in the ocean compared to typical media ad buys in battleground states, is especially potent given Facebook’s targeting capabilities.

So what do we know?

Facebook so far has declined to disclose the content of the ads and “inauthentic accounts” to the public. The company did provide records of Russian ad purchases and copies of the ads to special counsel Robert Mueller, who is overseeing the federal investigation into Russia’s campaign to influence the 2016 election, after Mueller reportedly obtained a warrant for the information.

Besides Mueller’s team, Facebook also announced last week that it would grant both the Senate Intelligence Committee and House Intelligence Committee access to the ads, which members have said they expect to review shortly (President Donald Trump was not pleased). In a statement explaining its belated decision to provide Congress with the ads as well, Facebook cited federal law it said “places strict limitations on the disclosure of account information.”

But thanks to some intrepid reporting, we’ve already learned a few things about the content of the ads in question.

Ads promoted anti-refugee sentiment, Stein, Sanders

Facebook would only publicly describe the content of the Russian ads as “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum — touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.”

Since then, the company has confirmed at least one report on the ads’ subject matter: The Daily Beast reported that Russians using inauthentic accounts organized and promoted an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rally in August 2016 in Idaho, echoing similar rhetoric pushed by pro-Trump news outlets.

A Facebook spokesman confirmed to the Daily Beast that the company “shut down several promoted events” as part of its “takedown” of the ad buy, and confirmed that the event was promoted with paid ads.

Then Politico on Tuesday reported, citing an unnamed source with knowledge of the ads, that at least one ad promoted Green Party candidate Jill Stein.

“Choose peace and vote for Jill Stein,” the ad read, according to the report. “Trust me. It’s not a wasted vote. … The only way to take our country back is to stop voting for the corporations and banks that own us. #GrowaSpineVoteJillStein.”

Other ads promoted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), according to the report, even after the end of his campaign to become the Democratic nominee. Politico found that others criticized former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and promoted Trump.

Some ads appeared to have been targeted by location

According to Politico’s report, some ads appeared to promote the Black Lives Matter movement (albeit misspelled), while others promoted Muslim women’s support for Hillary Clinton.

Facebook declined to comment on particulars of the ads to Politico, but reiterated a claim the company made about the ads in its initial statement: “The vast majority of ads run by these accounts didn’t specifically reference the U.S. presidential election or voting for a particular candidate.”

The Daily Beast nevertheless found what it believed to be a Russia-linked account last week that specifically promoted Trump, then the Republican nominee. The Facebook group was named “Being Patriotic,” and promoted at least four pro-Trump or anti-Clinton rallies, as well as flash mob events in the key swing state of Florida in August 2016.

Further supporting the idea that the ads were targeted for political effectiveness, CNN reported late Wednesday, citing unnamed sources with knowledge of the ads, that at least one Russian-bought ad referencing Black Lives Matter was targeted to reach users in Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri.

Both cities were rocked by protests and drew national attention after black men were killed in interactions with police. A white officer shot and killed 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, and 25-year-old Freddie Gray died after suffering a spinal injury while in police custody in Baltimore.

Some ads used images stolen from other Facebook users

A congressional staffer briefed on the content of the ads told TPM last week that some of the Russian-bought ads contained photos stolen from other Facebook users. The theft was one reason Facebook initially withheld copies of the ads from Congress, according to the staffer, as the users whose photos were stolen were essentially innocent bystanders to Russia’s online influence campaign.

The New York Times also reported that a Brazilian man said his own family photos were stolen to build a fake Facebook profile that promoted a website U.S. officials believe was an influence outlet created by Russian military intelligence.

Just how were these ads targeted?

Among the questions that remain for observers and investigators alike—Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called it the “million-dollar question”—is how the ads were targeted.

Warner on Wednesday questioned whether those who purchased the ads deployed them independently, or whether they had assistance.

“Did they know this just by following political news in America?” he said to CNN. “Did they geo-target both geography and by demographics in ways that at least at first blush appear pretty sophisticated?”

Warner said it was “too early to tell” whether members of Trump’s campaign were involved with the ad buy. Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the committee’s chair, also said Wednesday that there was “no evidence yet” of any such collusion.

And how many people saw them?

We don’t yet know how effective the ads were, as it’s unclear just how many people saw the ads purchased by the Internet Research Agency, a Russian “troll farm,” or how widely they were distributed.

In Facebook’s initial statement on the ad buy, chief security officer Alex Stamos said the $100,000 ad spend took place “from June of 2015 to May of 2017,” was “associated with roughly 3,000 ads” and “connected to about 470 inauthentic accounts and Pages” in violation of Facebook policy.

“About one-quarter of these ads were geographically targeted,” Stamos said, but did not offer any analytics regarding how widely or frequently those ads were viewed.

The Daily Beast later reported, citing an expert on Facebook’s advertising systems, that the Russian ads were likely seen by somewhere between 23 million and 70 million people.

Will we ever get more answers?

It remains unclear whether Facebook will have to answer any of these questions in a public setting. Both Burr and Warner have expressed their interest in questioning company representatives in a public hearing, and the Senate Intelligence Committee on Wednesday invited Facebook to testify in public on Nov. 1 on the subject. The company has not yet responded to that request.

The House Intelligence Committee announced Wednesday that it would hold a public hearing with tech company representatives about “how Russia used online tools and platforms to sow discord in and influence our election” in the “coming months,” but did not specify when the hearing would be, which companies were invited and if any had responded to its requests.

Congressional investigators also are raising the question of how Facebook will curtail other influence campaigns in the future, and if the company is even capable of acting to prevent such abuse. Zuckerberg’s response to Trump’s claiming Facebook “was always anti-Trump” indicates the company is not convinced its platform played a part in swaying the election.

“The facts suggest the greatest role Facebook played in the 2016 election was different from what most are saying,” he said, citing the company’s voter registration efforts and Clinton’s and Trump’s Facebook pages.

Zuckerberg spared barely a mention—and just one sentence—for the Russian ad buy  that has attracted the attention of every entity investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Campaigns spent hundreds of millions advertising online to get their messages out even further,” he said. “That’s 1000x more than any problematic ads we’ve found.”

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