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

Jay Sekulow, a member of President Donald Trump’s legal team, on Sunday aired a new defense for Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised him damaging information on Hillary Clinton: The Secret Service should not have “allowed these people in” to meet with Trump’s eldest son.

“I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in,” Sekulow said on ABC’s “This Week,” referring to Trump’s protection detail as the Republican candidate. “The President had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.”

Trump Jr. arranged the meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after he was promised compromising information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian state effort to aid his father’s campaign.

Mason Brayman, a spokesman for the Secret Service, told Reuters in a statement that the Secret Service was not protecting Trump Jr. in June 2016 when he attended the meeting.

“Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time,” Brayman said.

Sekulow said he had not talked to Trump about whether the President would eliminate the possibility of pardoning associates caught up in the federal investigation into possible collusion between members of Trump’s campaign and Russian officials to interfere in the 2016 election.

“He can pardon individuals, of course,” he said. “But I have not had those conversations, so I couldn’t speculate on that.”

“The President has said over and over again, again this week, that this is a witch hunt. I want to get specific on this. Is he saying that the Mueller investigation is part of a witch hunt?” ABC’s Jon Karl asked, referring to Robert Mueller, the special counsel overseeing the federal probe.

“Yes,” Sekulow replied. “Look how it started.”

He said Trump would be willing to testify under oath “if it came to that.”

“And I don’t think it will, but if it came to that, he would do that,” Sekulow said. “The President was very clear on that.”

This post has been updated.

President Donald Trump on Sunday claimed the “fake news media” is “distorting democracy” amid newly surfaced details of his eldest son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer after he was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s campaign.

“HillaryClinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?” Trump, who won the election eight months ago, tweeted early in the morning.

He thanked a former campaign adviser for vouching for the campaign that employed him (“winning,” Trump noted) and took aim at the media’s phony unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting.”

“Fake News is DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!” Trump tweeted.

Donald Trump Jr. revised his own story on the meeting, first claiming he did not know who he would be talking to and later publishing emails between himself and a Trump family acquaintance setting up the tête-à-tête with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya shortly before the New York Times reported them.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) on Saturday announced that the Senate will postpone its vote on a measure to repeal Obamacare while Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) recovers from surgery.

“While John is recovering, the Senate will continue our work on legislative items and nominations, and will defer consideration of the Better Care Act,” McConnell said in a statement, referring to the Senate’s health care measure.

McCain underwent surgery in Arizona on Friday to have a blood clot removed and remained there to recuperate, his office said in a statement released Saturday.

His absence would potentially have taken a heavy toll on the Senate’s Obamacare repeal bill: McConnell needs the support of 50 of 52 Republican senators to advance the measure, and two lawmakers — Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rand Paul (R-KY) — have already announced that they will vote against it.

Peter W. Smith, the Republican operative who sought to obtain and publicize emails he thought were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server, committed suicide days after he told a reporter about his efforts, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Chicago Tribune reported Thursday night, citing a Minnesota state death record filed in Olmsted County, that Smith killed himself on May 14 days after he talked to the Wall Street Journal about his hunt for Clinton’s emails. That account was also included in a medical examiner’s report and a Rochester police report, according to the Tribune.

Smith left a statement police referred to as a suicide note, according to the report, in which he said there was “NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER” involved in his death.

According to the Tribune, Smith cited a downturn in his own health and an expiring life insurance policy in the note. He died at the Aspen Suites in Rochester, which the report characterized as a “hotel used almost exclusively by Mayo Clinic patients and relatives.”

The Wall Street Journal in June reported that Smith contacted hackers in hopes of gaining access to a trove of emails he believed was hacked from Clinton’s server and claimed he had ties to former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Smith told the Journal that he was unable to authenticate the emails several hacker groups offered him, and therefore “told all the groups to give them to WikiLeaks.”

According to the report, Smith spoke to the Journal 10 days before his death.

The Department of Justice on Thursday announced charges against two former House staffers related to their circulation of “private, nude images and videos” of a House member and the member’s spouse.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the District of Columbia announced that a grand jury indicted Juan R. McCullum on two counts of cyberstalking and Dorene Browne-Louis on two counts of obstruction of justice.

According to the release, McCullum offered to help the House member, who the Department of Justice did not name, by taking the member’s “malfunctioning” iPhone to an Apple store and “was not given permission to take, copy, or distribute any of the contents of the iPhone,” which contained the images and video.

After McCullum left his job as a staffer, the Department of Justice said, he created “a Facebook social media account, using a fictitious name, to distribute and post the private images and videos” and “encouraged others” to share them in the member’s district.

“McCullum also sent text messages to Browne-Louis alerting her to his activities,” according to the statement. Browne-Louis allegedly deleted those messages and made “false, incomplete, and misleading statements” to law enforcement and a grand jury.

Browne-Louis made her first court appearance Thursday and pleaded not guilty, according to the Department of Justice, while McCullum’s first appearance was not yet scheduled.

McCullum and Browne-Louis both worked in the office of Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands), according to the Hill and InsideGov.com. McCullum was Plaskett’s general counsel and made the Hill’s “Most Beautiful” list in 2015. Before working on Capitol Hill, he went by “Pretty” on VH1’s reality television show “I Love New York.”

Politico in July 2016 reported that a “private” video of Plaskett’s husband was posted online, as was a photo of Plaskett partially nude. Plaskett acknowledged both as real and said personal “photographs and a private family video” were copied from her computer.

“The theft and distribution of these personal images via the internet marks a new low in Virgin Islands politics,” Plaskett said in a statement to Politico. “I am shocked and deeply saddened that someone would stoop to such a level as to invade my marriage and the love of my family in an attempt to besmirch me politically.”

President Donald Trump on Thursday said his eldest son’s meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign was “very standard.”

“Politics is not the nicest business in the world, but it’s very standard, where they have information and you take information,” Trump said during a joint press conference at the Élysée Palace with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Trump said “zero happened” as a result of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, which he claimed was “a meeting that most people in politics probably would have taken” (opposition researchers disagree).

He also blamed former President Barack Obama’s administration for allowing Veselnitskaya into the United States.

“I see that she was in the halls of Congress also. Somebody said that her visa or her passport to come into the country was approved by Attorney General Lynch,” Trump said, referring to former attorney general Loretta Lynch. “Now, maybe that’s wrong. I just heard that a little while ago, but I was a little surprised to hear that. So she was here because of Lynch.”

The Hill reported late Wednesday, citing court and Justice Department documents and interviews, that the Department of Justice under Obama cleared Veselnitskaya into the U.S. under “extraordinary circumstances” in 2015.

“I think from a practical standpoint most people would have taken that meeting. It’s called opposition research, or even ‘research into your opponent,'” Trump said. “I think the press made a very big deal over something that really a lot of people would do.”

Trump said he has “had many people call” with “information.”

“I’ve only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, ‘Oh gee, we have information on this factor or this person, or frankly Hillary.’ That’s very standard in politics,” he said.

He called Trump Jr., who is 39 years old, “a wonderful young man” and a “fine person.”

“He took a meeting with a Russian lawyer, not a government lawyer, but a Russian lawyer,” Trump said. “It was a short meeting, it was a meeting that went very, very quickly, very fast, two other people in the room, I guess one of them left almost immediately and the other one was not really focused on the meeting.”

Trump Jr. on Tuesday published emails laying out the circumstances of his meeting with Veselnitskaya in June 2016. Trump Jr. attended the meeting after he was promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s campaign. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner and campaign manager Paul Manafort joined the meeting.

Trump on Tuesday said in a statement conveyed by White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders that his son was “a high-quality person.”

“I applaud his transparency,” Trump said in a terse statement Sanders read at a briefing.

On Wednesday, Trump told Reuters he “didn’t know” about his son’s meeting with Veselnitskaya “until a couple of days ago.”

“I think many people would have held that meeting,” he said.

Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) on Thursday revealed an alternate proposal to repeal Obamacare as the current Republican health care bill remains in legislative limbo.

Graham’s and Cassidy’s bill would maintain taxes Obamacare levied on wealthy Americans and send federal money currently spent on health insurance to the states as block grants.

Their proposal would repeal a tax Obamacare imposed on medical device makers. It would also repeal the financial penalty imposed on individuals who did not comply with the health care law’s individual mandate to purchase health insurance and the requirement for employers to provide affordable coverage plans, while maintaining the ban on denying coverage to consumers with pre-existing conditions.

During a joint appearance on CNN, Cassidy said their proposal would keep Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits (EHB) rule, which mandates that insurance plans cover a basic minimum of health care.

“You have the protection,” he said.

Graham said the proposal would “sever health policy from the federal tax code” and make Medicaid “more sustainable.”

Cassidy said the taxes on the wealthy could eventually be repealed “as part of comprehensive tax return,” but not as part of health care legislation.

“Our problem has been trying to combine tax reform with replacement of Obamacare,” he said. “Putting those two together has not worked.”

Graham did not say whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is on board with their proposal.

“We’re not undercutting Mitch, he’s not undercutting us,” Graham said. “We’re going to support his effort with his new plan, but we want an alternative.”

Asked whether any Democratic lawmakers are on board, he added, “Not yet. But there are just — to be continued.”

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Wednesday said federal entities knew about Jared Kushner’s attendance of a June 2016 meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer as early as April.

“This meeting was known because it was turned in in the background checks in April, actually, for Jared Kushner,” Lankford said on CNN. “So it was a known meeting at that point. Getting the emails and getting the details of that meeting was not known.”

A spokesperson for Lankford told TPM that the senator was referring to the FBI and executive branch entities that processed Kushner’s security clearance, not the Senate Intelligence Committee.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday told Reuters he “didn’t know” about his eldest son Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya “until a couple of days ago.”

Trump Jr. on Tuesday published emails laying out the circumstances of his meeting with Veselnitskaya, which he attended after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to aid his father’s campaign. Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort also attended the meeting in June 2016.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described Lankford’s statement as indicating that the Senate Intelligence Committee knew about Kushner’s attendance of the meeting. We regret the error.

United to Protect Democracy, a nonprofit watchdog group, on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s campaign and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone in connection with Wikileaks’ publication of emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee.

Ian Bassin, the group’s executive director, said in a statement that “in the hacking and distribution of Americans’ private information during the 2016 election, there were real victims.”

“These plaintiffs are using the law and the American civil justice system the way it was intended: to vindicate important rights and values, such as the right to privacy and the right to participate in the political process; and to deter others who might consider colluding with a foreign government for political gain,” Bassin said.

In the lawsuit, former DNC staffer Scott Comer and DNC donors Roy Cockrum and Eric Schoenberg accused Stone and the Trump campaign of entering “into an agreement with other parties, including agents of Russia and WikiLeaks, to have information stolen from the DNC publicly disseminated” to aid Trump’s campaign.

Read the full complaint below: