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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

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday maintained his silence on President Donald Trump’s suggestion that he may have recorded conversations with ousted FBI Director James Comey.

RealClearPolitics’ Alexis Simendinger questioned Spicer during his daily briefing about Republican and Democratic lawmakers’ requests for additional information on Trump’s apparent warning to Comey.

Trump on Friday tweeted that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversation before he starts leaking to the press!”

“Is the White House intending to cooperate with those requests and furnish that information as requested in writing?” Simendinger asked.

“I think I made it clear last week that the President has nothing further on that,” Spicer said.

“Does that mean that the President will deny requests?” Simendinger asked.

“I was very clear that the President would have nothing further on that last week,” Spicer said.

“You’re describing a situation in which the President would defy the legislative branch’s request,” Simendinger pressed. “That’s what you’re saying.”

“I understand,” Spicer said. “I’ve made it clear what the President’s position is on that issue.”

During his daily briefing on Friday, Spicer dodged questions about whether Trump recorded his conversations with Comey. He also would not clarify whether Trump continues to record his conversations in the Oval Office.

The tweet speaks for itself,” Spicer said, a well-worn refrain from White House spokespersons pressed to answer for Trump’s bombshell posts. “I’m moving on.”

President Donald Trump will nominate Callista Gingrich as U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, according to several reports published Sunday.

CNN reported, citing an unnamed administration official, that Trump’s administration hopes to announce the nomination before Trump meets with Pope Francis in Rome next week.

Frustrated with the slow pace of vetting, Gingrich threatened to remove herself from consideration, the New York Times reported, citing an unnamed person close to Trump.

Trump nevertheless “apparently settled” on Gingrich for the job, the Times reported, citing that source and another close to Trump.

“We will let you know whenever there are official announcements regarding ambassadorships,” White House spokeswoman Kelly Love told TPM in an email.

Axios reported on Monday, citing an unnamed source, that the President had misgivings about sending Gingrich abroad because he enjoys watching her husband, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, defending him on air.

That source, per Axios, “told the President they were sure satellite hook-ups could be arranged for Newt at the Holy See.”

Shortly after Trump’s inauguration, the former House speaker previously told CNN that he had no plans to move to Italy full-time if Trump offered his wife the position.

“I’d clock in an amazing number of miles,” he joked. “You guys won’t be getting rid of me. I’ll be around.”

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) exposed one of his constituents as “one of the ringleaders” of a political organization agitating against him in a fundraising letter to her employer last month, according to a report published Monday.

Frelinghuysen warned of “organized forces — both national and local — who are already hard at work to put a stop” to his agenda in a fundraising letter dated Mar. 21 to a board member of a local New Jersey bank, according to a copy obtained by WNYC.

A hand-written postscript to the letter in the same ink as the congressman’s signature noted: “P.S. One of the ringleaders works in your bank!”

According to WNYC, a news article attached to the letter quoted Saily Avelenda, a member of the steering committee of NJ 11th For Change, a nonpartisan group that has pressured Frelinghuysen to hold town hall meetings and stand up to President Donald Trump’s agenda. Avelenda formerly served as senior vice president and assistant general counsel at Lakeland Bank.

Frelinghuysen’s campaign sent the letter to Joseph O’Dowd, a board member at Lakeland Bank, according to the report. O’Dowd donated to the congressman in the current and previous election cycles, according to FEC filings.

Avelenda told WNYC that her employer presented her with the article and letter from Frelinghuysen’s campaign. She said she later resigned from her position at the bank in part because of the pressure she received for her political efforts.

Avelenda said Frelinghuysen “used his name, used his position and used his stationery to try to punish me.”

“I thought my Congressman put them in a situation, and put me in a really bad situation as the constituent,” she told WNYC.

Frelinghuysen’s campaign office did not immediately respond Monday to TPM’s request for comment.

In a written statement to WNYC, his campaign office said Frelinghuysen “wrote a brief and innocuous note at the bottom of a personal letter in regard to information that had been reported in the media.”

The congressman’s Democratic challenger, Mikie Sherrill, is already seizing on the episode. She called the letter a “shameful abuse of power” in a statement.

“Frelinghuysen has gone from simply refusing to meet with his constituents and telling them to ‘back off,’ to threatening constituents who are exercising their freedom of speech,” Sherrill said in the statement. “That Frelinghuysen would use his powerful public office to hurt a private citizen is wrong, unethical and immoral.”

The co-hosts of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough, claimed on Monday that senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway used to say she needed a shower after defending Donald Trump on air.

“This is a woman, by the way, who came on our show during the campaign and would shill for Trump in extensive fashion,” Brzezinski said. “And then she would get off the air, the camera would be turned off, the microphone would be taken off and she would say, ‘Blech, I need to take a shower,’ because she disliked her candidate so much.”

“And also said, it was very interesting, also said that, ‘This is just like my summer in Europe,'” Scarborough said.

“I’m just doing this for the money,” Brzezinski interjected.

“‘I’ll be off this soon.’ I don’t know that she ever said ‘I’m doing this for the money,'” Scarborough said. “But she said, ‘This is just my summer vacation, my summer in Europe and basically I’m just going to get through this.'”

“‘But first I have to take a shower because it feels so dirty to be saying what I’m saying.’ I guess she’s just used to it now,” Brzezinski said.

Scarborough said that after the Washington Post published a recording of predatory comments Trump made about women in a 2005 conversation with a former “Access Hollywood” host, Conway began to distance herself from him.

“That’s when she started referring to Donald Trump as—” he began.

“Her client,” Brzezinski said.

“‘My client,'” Scarborough said. “Separating. ‘I don’t believe in this guy. He’s just my client. It’s just a paycheck.'”

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) on Sunday said President Donald Trump’s abrupt termination of former FBI Director James Comey “exacerbates the erosion of trust” in government institutions.

Speaking on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Sasse said he was “disappointed in the timing” of Comey’s termination.

“Why do you think James Comey was fired?” John Dickerson asked.

“I’m not sure how this president makes lots of decisions, so I honestly don’t know,” Sasse replied.

He said the way Trump fired Comey “exacerbates the erosion of trust in our institutions.”

“We are in the midst of a civilization-warping crisis of public trust,” Sasse said. “We’re going to need to have some institutions that we can rely on and believe are apolitical, when the public has more and more doubt.”

Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Sunday said that President Donald Trump’s administration appears to be “afraid” of where the investigation into possible collusion between Trump associates and Russian officials will lead.

“Do you believe the President fired Comey to interfere with the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the election and a possible link to the Trump campaign?” Chris Wallace asked Warner on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump abruptly fired on Tuesday.

“The President’s actions and his statement lends to that appearance,” Warner said. “The President and this administration, who said there’s no ‘there’ there, continues through their actions to indicate that they are afraid of where this investigation may head.”

Warner said “the dots seem to be fairly obviously connected” to indicate “a lot more than smoke.”

“But I’m trying to give the President the benefit of the doubt until we finish this investigation and reach conclusions,” he said.

Asked to respond to Trump’s suggestion that he has “tapes” of his conversations with Comey, Warner said that if such recordings exist, he wants to make sure they are “not mysteriously destroyed in the coming days.”

“I am by no means a legal expert, but this sure seems to have reverberations of past history,” Warner said. “When we’ve seen presidents who secretly tape, that usually does not end up being a good outcome for a president.”

Chief White House strategist Steve Bannon was sidelined from President Donald Trump’s decision last week to fire James Comey as head of the FBI, according to several reports.

The Associated Press reported on Saturday, citing three unnamed White House officials, that — much like Comey himself — Bannon learned of the former FBI director’s firing from television reports, though a fourth unnamed source close to Bannon disputed that account.

The Washington Post also reported on Saturday that Bannon was intentionally excluded from Trump’s decisionmaking process, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

A third unnamed source told the Post that Bannon advised Trump to delay Comey’s termination to avoid backlash.

That account of events was supported by a New York Times report published on Wednesday in the immediate wake of Comey’s termination. In that report, the Times cited two unnamed sources familiar with Bannon’s thinking who said he urged Trump to delay Comey’s firing.

Trump nevertheless went ahead with the decision, and according to several reports is considering broad changes to his senior staff in the wake of backlash from both Republicans and Democrats.

United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to abruptly fire James Comey as director of the FBI by comparing the United States to a corporation with Trump as its chief executive.

“The President is the CEO of the country. He can hire and fire whoever he wants,” Haley said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Pressed on the timing and rationale behind Trump’s decision, Haley said that it’s “for everybody else to decide” whether there were “better ways” for Trump to fire Comey.

 

“I think that the reason people are uncomfortable is because he acts,” she said. “He doesn’t talk with a bunch of people about it before, he just acts.”

That directness — and discomfort — were on full display in the days after Comey’s shock termination as the White House trotted out multiple, at times directly contradictory answers to basic questions concerning Trump’s decision.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, on Sunday said that if President Donald Trump made “tapes” of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey, Congress should issue a subpoena for those recordings.

On CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Schiff questioned Trump’s account of a conversation with former FBI Director James Comey.

“Can you prove obstruction based on the President’s own words when we don’t know whether we can believe this President?” Schiff said. “If there are tapes, of course, that would be the best evidence of what took place.”

Trump on Friday tweeted: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

White House press secretary Sean Spicer subsequently refused to clarify whether Trump records conversations in the Oval Office, and said he was “not aware” whether Trump recorded his exchanges with Comey.

Democratic lawmakers asked the White House to turn over any such recordings, and alleged that Trump’s tweet raised the possibility of “obstruction of justice.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also called on Trump to hand over any recordings and “clear the air.”

“You can’t be cute about tapes,” Graham said.

Schiff on Sunday said Trump “needs to come clean” about whether his claim was “yet another fabrication” or whether he did indeed record his conversations with Comey.

“If they exist, Congress needs to get them,” Schiff said on Sunday. “If they’re not provided willingly, Congress should subpoena them.”

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