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

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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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), the vice chair of President Donald Trump’s sketchy “election integrity” commission, on Wednesday accused states of “obstruction” for refusing to turn over sensitive voter information to the panel.

“At present, 20 states have agreed to provide the publicly available information requested by the Commission and another 16 states are reviewing which information can be released under their state laws,” Kobach said in a statement released by the White House.

He said reports that “44 states” have refuse to hand over information are “patently false” and “fake news.”

“At present, only 14 states and the District of Columbia have refused the Commission’s request for publicly available voter information,” Kobach said. “Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American’s vote because the public has a right to know.”

A privacy advocacy group sued Monday to block the commission’s request for voter data, which it called “both without precedent and crazy.”

Many states have cited privacy concerns as cause for their refusal to hand over voter information, and Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill cited Kobach’s “history” of championing restrictive voting laws.

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A conservative think tank estimated based on median White House staffer salaries that the pay gap between men and women who work in President Donald Trump’s administration is more than triple what it was during the last year of former President Barack Obama’s administration.

Mark Perry, an economist at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in a report Monday estimated the pay gap between male and female staffers in Trump’s White House is nearly 37 percent based on median salaries.

Perry cited reports by CNN and Roll Call that the pay gap based on average staffer salaries is 20 percent, but noted: “To be as statistically accurate as possible, almost all reports on pay differences by gender compare median wages, income, or salaries and not differences in average (mean) pay.”

1. There are 374 staffers at the Trump White House who are paid employees: 176 women (47.1%) and 198 men (52.9%).

2. The average (mean) salaries are $84,676 for women and $105,373 for men (these figures are almost identical to those reported by Roll Call).

3. The median salaries are $72,648 for women and $115,000 for men.

He addressed Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, who has been vocal about the gender pay gap.

“If you are going to promote the statistical falsehood behind Equal Pay Day — that gender discrimination is the main explanatory factor for any aggregate, unadjusted gender differences in earnings — then you might want to investigate the whopping 37% (and $42,350) gender pay gap at your father’s White House,” Perry said.

The Washington Post noted that Perry’s findings indicate the pay gap in Trump’s administration is “more than double the 17 percent gender pay gap nationally.”

Perry estimated in July 2016 that the pay gap between male and female staffers in Obama’s administration based on median salaries was 10.75 percent, less than a third of the pay gap under Trump.

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Donald Trump Jr. spent Independence Day weekend going on a tear against CNN for the network’s report on a Reddit user who took credit for editing a clip of President Donald Trump punching somebody with a CNN logo superimposed over their face.

“It was only a matter of time,” Trump Jr. tweeted after CNN reporters cited the Anti-Defamation League’s statement accusing the creator of the meme of anti-Semitism and racism.

Trump Jr. also claimed the creator, Reddit user “HanAssholeSolo,” was 15 years old. CNN KFILE reporter Andrew Kaczynski pushed back on that allegation.

Trump Jr. continued to tweet about the report on Wednesday with the hashtag #CNNBlackmail.

He was undeterred by “HanAssholeSolo”‘s reported remarks to the contrary.

In its original report, CNN cited “HanAssholeSolo”‘s other Reddit posts, “some of which included racist and anti-Semitic imagery.”

“HanAssholeSolo” later deleted his other posts and published an apology on Reddit’s Donald Trump subforum.

“I would also like to apologize for the posts made that were racist, bigoted, and anti-semitic. I am in no way this kind of person,” the user wrote. “I was trolling and posting things to get a reaction from the subs on reddit and never meant any of the hateful things I said in those posts.”

“HanAssholeSolo” said he “would never support any kind of violence or actions against others simply for what they believe in, their religion, or the lifestyle they choose to have.”

“The meme was created purely as satire, it was not meant to be a call to violence against CNN or any other news affiliation,” he posted. “I had no idea anyone would take it and put sound to it and then have it put up on the President’s Twitter feed.”

“HanAssholeSolo” called CNN, according to the report, and confirmed his identity during an interview.

“I don’t feel that they should have posted something like that given the controversy going on between them and the media,” he told CNN, referring to Trump’s tweet. “I love people of all races, creeds and origins. One of my best friends is a homosexual and one of my best friends is Jewish and one of my best friends is Muslim.”

CNN said it did not publish the identity of “HanAssholeSolo” “because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again.”

“CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change,” the report noted, an apparent caveat some reporters found strange.

Kaczynski responded to criticism on Twitter Tuesday.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) on Wednesday called the CNN report “troubling.”

CNN on Wednesday released a statement pushing back on allegations of blackmail or coercion.

“The user, who is an adult male, not a 15-year-old boy, apologized and deleted his account before ever speaking with our reporter,” the network said. “CNN never made any deal, of any kind, with the user.”

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Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) on Monday blamed a staffer for posting a later-deleted photo on his social media accounts in which he appeared to endorse making Hillary Clinton the U.S. ambassador to Libya, an unsubtle reference to the 2012 Benghazi attack.

In the original photo posted Saturday from a gun show in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Brat stood smiling next to a man holding a “Hillary for U.S. Ambassador to Libya” sign.

“Sign says it all,” Brat captioned the photo.

Brat on Saturday said he deleted the post because it “was being misinterpreted.”

“Goal here is informing/sharing, not inflaming,” he tweeted.

U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens was killed during the 2012 Benghazi attack, which occurred when Clinton was secretary of state.

Many conservatives blamed Clinton for the attack and invoked it during the 2016 presidential election as a way to criticize her record.

Brat on Monday told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he “didn’t vet” the post.

“I’ve got new staffers on board and they’re constantly putting posts up on Facebook and whatever,” he said.

He blamed “crazy left, far-left-land logic” for backlash against the post.

“Who actually is using the vitriolic language? Me or the hard left? And the answer is right now online,” Brat said.

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The Indiana Republican Party on Monday asked Facebook users to send in their “horror stories” about Obamacare in a post that readers instead flooded with stories about the legislation’s positive effects.

“We were promised Obamacare would make healthcare cheaper, better, and more available, but in reality it’s turned out to be the opposite,” the state party wrote in a post. “What’s your Obamacare horror story? Let us know.”

Many users instead responded with praise for the legislation.

“Thanks to The ACA my mother was able to have insurance after she retired and before she qualified for Medicare. She kept her doctor and had good healthcare. The ACA works,” one wrote.

“I am so thankful that I have the ACA,” another wrote.

“My friend who is disabled and unable to work was able to get treatment for her health issues. Oh, and her three children were able to access healthcare as well,” another person commented. “Health care is a human right and ACA was a great start. Thanks Obamacare!”

“Got covered when I had a heart attack at 58. That’s no horror story,” another person wrote.

One reader noted the post’s apparent backfire: “So many horror stories, when will this thread be deleted?”

The Indiana Republican Party has not updated its page since the post went live.

Vice President Mike Pence, who served as governor of Indiana, on Wednesday reiterated a pledge to repeal Obamacare by the end of the summer after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) abandoned plans to vote on a repeal bill before the July 4 congressional recess.

h/t The Hill.

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United States officials believe North Korea launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday, CNN and NBC News reported.

CNN reported, citing an unnamed U.S. official with knowledge of the ongoing post-launch analysis, that U.S. military analysts believe North Korea fired a “probable” two-stage missile based on their ongoing assessment of the launch. The missile traveled over 550 miles, according to the report.

Military, diplomatic and national security officials held a series of ongoing meetings Tuesday to discuss the United States’ options based on the assessment’s results, CNN reported, citing several unnamed officials in President Donald Trump’s administration.

NBC News reported, citing two unnamed U.S. officials, that the missile “would have a range of at least 3,500 miles.”

North Korea’s Academy of Defense Science on Tuesday claimed the launch was the “final step” in creating a “confident and powerful nuclear state that can strike anywhere on Earth.”

The launch stood in contrast to Trump’s assertion in January that North Korea would not develop a nuclear weapon capable of targeting the United States.

“It won’t happen!” he tweeted at the time.

Trump responded to the test on Tuesday by appealing to Japan and South Korea, and suggested China might “put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all.”

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President Donald Trump on Monday night suggested China may take decisive action against North Korea after the latter nation tested what it later claimed to be its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

“Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” Trump tweeted.

North Korea on Tuesday claimed it launched a successful test of its first intercontinental ballistic missile. If true, the launch would be a direct rebuke to Trump’s assertion in January that such a test would not happen.

The Associated Press reported that Russia and China on Tuesday made a joint recommendation for a proposal to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula.

In a joint statement, the Russian and Chinese foreign ministries suggested that North Korea declare a “moratorium on testing nuclear devices and test launches of ballistic missiles” while the U.S. and South Korea should “accordingly refrain from large-scale joint maneuvers.”

The recommendation came amid tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Russian interference in the 2016 election, as well as a similar flare-up between the U.S. and China after the latter nation accused a U.S. Navy destroyer of trespassing in the territorial waters of an island in the South China Sea whose claim is disputed by three Asian governments.

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President Donald Trump is scheduled to hold an official bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Hamburg on Friday rather than a more typical informal discussion in light of tensions between the U.S. and Russia.

The White House on Tuesday confirmed that Trump will hold a “normal bilateral meeting” with Putin on Friday afternoon, according to a pool report.

“It is planned as a fully-fledged, ‘seated’ meeting,” Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s state-run TASS news agency.

The official meeting carries more legitimacy than the informal “pull-aside” some White House officials reportedly pushed for.

CNN noted the meeting will be the first official meeting of its kind between a U.S. and Russian leader in almost two years, and will come amid questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election and an accelerating probe into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russian officials.

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A civil rights advocacy group filed a legal complaint against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) on Monday, accusing him of using his role on President Donald Trump’s sketchy “voter fraud” panel to promote his own gubernatorial candidacy.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is asking the Office of Government Ethics and White House counsel to investigate whether Kobach violated the Hatch Act by allegedly leveraging his position as vice chair of the commission to gain an edge in Kansas’ governor’s race.

The Hatch Act prohibits federal employees from doing certain kinds of partisan campaign work during the course of their official duties.

Kristen Clarke, the Lawyers’ Committee’s president and executive director, said in a statement that Kobach “appears to be using his official role as head of the so-called Election Integrity Commission to promote his candidacy for Governor of Kansas.”

“We deem the President’s Election Integrity Commission to be a baseless tool to promote voter suppression and Mr. Kobach‘s unlawful abuse of his role as head of the Commission for partisan ends only underscores the illegitimacy of the Commission itself,” she said.

Among his possible violations, the Lawyers’ Committee listed Kobach’s promotion on Twitter and Facebook of interviews he conducted as a representative of the panel, a section on his campaign website which “further highlights Mr. Kobach’s role on the Commission” and his discussion of his role on the panel during campaign appearances.

“Mr. Kobach’s Twitter profile states that the page is “Paid for by Kansas for Kobach,” and his Facebook page displays his campaign logo,” the committee noted. “The Twitter and Facebook pages collectively contain at least 28 different posts in which Mr. Kobach has described his work on the Commission.”

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