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

President Donald Trump on Monday accused former FBI Director James Comey of illegally leaking classified information to the media, going on the defensive amid reports that during the 2016 campaign his son Donald Trump Jr. met with a Kremlin-connected lawyer who promised him damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

Trump claimed Comey “leaked CLASSIFIED INFORMATION to the media” in a tweet early Monday morning.

“That is so illegal!” the President tweeted.

He also retweeted a “Fox and Friends” interview with former House Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) about his attempts to acquire Comey’s personal memos about his conversations with Trump.

In the interview, Chaffetz said Comey “got silent” when he asked the former FBI director for the location of the memos.

“He said he wouldn’t talk about it, he wouldn’t tell me where they were,” Chaffetz said. “And it really raised a lot of eyebrows as I went back and talked to the staff and other members and said, look, he’s not going to give this up easily. We’re going to have to fight.”

The Hill reported Sunday, citing unnamed officials familiar with Comey’s documents, that more than half the former FBI director’s memos contain classified information.

Trump took aim at Comey, who went public about his documentation of their conversations after the President abruptly fired him in May, amid reports that his eldest son Trump Jr. met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in June 2016 after she promised him compromising information on Clinton.

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House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) on Thursday “underwent surgery” to control an infection three weeks after he was shot during a Republican congressional baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia.

“Congressman Steve Scalise underwent surgery for the management of infection. He tolerated the procedure well,” MedStar Washington Hospital Center said in a statement Thursday evening. “He remains in serious condition. We will provide updates as appropriate.”

The hospital announced Thursday morning that Scalise had been readmitted to its intensive care unit in “serious” condition “due to new concerns for infection,” two weeks after he was moved out of the ICU in fair condition.

Scalise was shot in the hip and underwent several surgeries to repair “significant damage to bones, internal organs and blood vessels.”

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Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Thursday said he saw no evidence that any entity except Russia interfered in the 2016 election, despite President Donald Trump’s equivocation on the matter.

“As far as others doing this, well, that’s news to me,” Clapper said on CNN. “We saw no evidence whatsoever there was anyone involved in this other than the Russians.”

Speaking at a press conference in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday, Trump declined to single out Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.

“I think it was Russia. And I think it could have been other people and other countries. It could have been a lot of people interfered,” Trump said. “I said it very simply. I think it could very well have been Russia. But I think it could well have been other countries. And I won’t be specific. But I think a lot of people interfere.”

Clapper said a reported uptick in Russian intelligence gathering in the United States “certainly fits the standard Russian pattern, which comports with their behavior going back decades.”

“I have no doubt about their stepped-up pace of intelligence collection in this country,” he said. “They’re going to stretch the envelope as far as they can to collect information and I think largely to, if I can use the military phrase, prep the battlefield for 2018 elections.”

Clapper said he has “no doubt at all” that Russia will try to interfere in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

“As long as we don’t push back with the Russians and take the necessary measures to foreclose, they are going to continue,” he said. “They could go after Republicans, which I wish people would remember. This is an assault on us, our nation, our country.”

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The Illinois House on Thursday delayed its scheduled vote on an override of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s (R) budget veto amid a reported hazardous materials situation and lockdown.

The Chicago Tribune reported that people in the building were instructed to “shelter” themselves and that a “total lockdown” was in effect.

Nobody was allowed in or out of the Illinois State Capitol building, according to the Chicago Tribune, and a livestream showed a Capitol police officer and three people in hazmat suits entering a reception area near the governor’s office on the second floor.

Springfield fire chief Barry Helmerichs said a woman threw a powdery substance into the governor’s office, lieutenant governor’s office and House gallery, according to a report by the State Journal-Register.

City fire marshal Chris Richmond said no injuries were reported, according to the State Journal-Register, and a spokesman for the Illinois secretary of state’s office, Dave Druker, said one person was in custody but gave no further details.

Law630 reporter Hannah Meisel reported Thursday afternoon that an “all clear” was issued in the Capitol to cheering.

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Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) appeared to suggest on Thursday that he lies to reporters so they will write misleading “stupid stories” about his governorship.

Asked about reports he planned to leave Maine for a vacation while the state government was shut down, LePage told a local radio station those stories were misleading and that he had to “laugh” about it.

“I mean, you talk about people who got taken line hook and sinker,” he said. “This is the comment I made. It was Monday. I said, my pen’s on vacation, I have nothing to sign. Next thing you know I’m on my way to Florida.”

He called the press “so, so vile and inaccurate.”

“I mean, give me a break, guys. The press is really — I mean, this is when you know that it’s not about the press,” LePage said. “It’s not about reporting. It’s about poking at a certain person in the eye for six and a half years. Shame on them. I’ll tell you this, though, they’re so bad, and you know what we found that works? We go Facebook Live and we ignore them and they get even angrier.”

LePage said his office uses Facebook Live as a way to “ignore” the press.

“And they get even angrier,” he said. “I just love to sit in my office and make up wasters so they’ll write these stupid stories. I mean, they are just so stupid, it’s awful.”

LePage called the press “useless,” and added: “I’m sorry but I tell you, the sooner the print press goes away, the better society will be.”

His office did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.

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President Donald Trump apparently waited too long to book a hotel room for the G20 summit in Hamburg, and other world leaders snapped up every luxury hotel in town, according to a report published Wednesday by BuzzFeed.

BuzzFeed cited local German-language outlets reporting that Trump, whose name is associated with an international hotel chain, was unable to book a room in the Four Seasons (occupied by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman) or any other luxury hotel in Hamburg by the time Trump’s staff called in search of board.

Trump’s staff is instead staying at the U.S. Consulate General in Hamburg, according to the report, and the President is staying in Hamburg’s official Senate guest house guarded by police, according to an Associated Press report cited by BuzzFeed.

The Senate guesthouse is located at the address “Schöne Aussicht 26,” or “Beautiful View 26,” near the city’s Islamic center and the Russian general consulate.

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Senate Democrats on Thursday urged President Donald Trump to press Russian President Vladimir Putin on his country’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election when Trump and Putin sit down for a formal bilateral meeting Friday at the G20 summit.

“It remains critical that you set the agenda from the start and make absolutely clear that Russian interference in our democracy will in no way be tolerated,” five Democratic senators wrote in a letter to Trump.

The senators said Putin “directed an attack on the most central tenet of our democracy – our election” and that not raising the subject “would be a severe dereliction of the duty of the office” of President.

“We believe it is crucial for you – as the President of the United States – to raise this matter with President Putin and to ensure that he hears you loud and clear,” they wrote. “Interfering in our elections was wrong in 2016 and it will not be permitted to happen again. We urge you to raise this matter with President Putin later this week. President Putin must understand this can never happen again.”

The lawmakers who signed the letter were Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA), Jack Reed (D-RI) and Ben Cardin (D-MD), who serve as ranking members respectively on the Senate’s intelligence, armed services and foreign relations committees.

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The liberal watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) on Thursday filed a complaint against senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, who is President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, for not disclosing his ownership interest in a real estate startup.

CREW asked the Office of Government Ethics to investigate Kushner’s failure to disclose “his ownership interest in an online real estate investment company called Cadre” in his public financial disclosure.

“He likely failed to disclose his ownership interest in documents connected with his request for a certificate of divestiture, meaning OGE apparently had incomplete information when it granted Kushner permission to sell similar assets and avoid paying certain taxes on them,” the watchdog group said in a release. “These cannot be written off as minor oversights, as Cadre reportedly has a value of $800 million.”

CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder said Kushner’s ownership interest was “not something he could easily overlook.”

“Kushner’s failure to disclose his ownership in Cadre is very troubling,” Bookbinder said. “OGE should investigate immediately and determine whether any sanction or referral is appropriate for Kushner’s potential disclosure violations and whether it is necessary for him to fully divest from Cadre.”

The Wall Street Journal in May reported, citing securities filings and unnamed sources familiar with with the matter, that Kushner cofounded and partly owns Cadre but failed to list it among his interests on his public disclosure form.

Billionaires George Soros and Peter Thiel, and Goldman Sachs, also have “stakes in the company,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s report.

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Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D), a member of President Donald Trump’s sketchy “election integrity” commission, on Wednesday said the panel “should have predicted” outrage at its request for states to turn over sensitive voter information.

“The fullness of experience being what it is, we should have predicted it,” Dunlap told Mic in an interview. “When I heard the news reports, you know, it sounded like the commission was going to propose rounding people up.”

He said “people are very very protective of” the way they participate in elections, which is something Dunlap said the panel’s request “deals with,” and that his office has received “hundreds and hundreds of e-mails.”

“People are very concerned,” he said. “That’s been borne out by the reaction that we’ve gotten, and I think that you’ve seen across the country on a very, very nonpartisan basis. Republicans and Democrats seem to feel the same way about it.”

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the vice chair of the panel, on Wednesday said in a statement released by the White House that the commission has been hindered by “media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians.”

Dunlap last week told Maine voters that he would not “release any data that is protected under Maine law, to the commission or any other requesting entity.”

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The Department of Justice on Wednesday filed to forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, or seals, illegally imported in 2010 by arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby.

Hobby Lobby agreed in December 2010 to purchase “over 5,500 Artifacts, comprised of cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals, for $1.6 million,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced in a release.

The artifacts “originated into the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, contrary to federal law,” the office said.







Hobby Lobby imported artifacts including cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, or seals (photos via the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York)

According to the release, shipments of the artifacts lacked “the required customs entry documentation” and were labeled as tile “samples” and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. “and two of Hobby Lobby’s corporate affiliates.”

Hobby Lobby “consented to the forfeiture of the artifacts” and “an additional sum of $3 million,” the office said, and agreed to make internal changes including personnel training, hiring outside counsel and submitting “quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.”

In a statement, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green said the company “should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”

Hobby Lobby said it “was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process.”

“This resulted in some regrettable mistakes,” the company said.

Green said that Hobby Lobby imported the artifacts as part of its “passion for the Bible.”

That passion reportedly led federal investigators to launch an investigation into the Green family that had been ongoing for four years in 2015 on suspicion of trying to import potentially illicit cultural artifacts from Iraq for their “Museum of the Bible.”

“Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible,” Green told the Daily Beast at the time.

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