Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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Miscounted ballots. A recusal. A voter integrity hotline. Possible lawsuits or a recount.

A week after Kansas voters cast ballots for the Republican gubernatorial primary, the high-stakes race remains a mess, with controversial Secretary of State Kris Kobach leading Gov. Jeff Colyer by only 312 votes as of Tuesday afternoon.

Kansas political observers told TPM they’ve never seen anything like it.

“We’re all racing around studying the state constitution because this doesn’t really come up much,” said Michael Smith, Chair of the Political Science Department at Emporia State University, of a possible recount for the state’s highest office.

Election night came and went with Kobach slightly ahead but final results too close to call. Then, last Thursday, the nail-bitingly close race entered a new phase after vote-tallying discrepancies in two rural counties chopped down Kobach’s lead. Clerks in Thomas and Haskell County said that the vote totals they turned over to the secretary of state were not accurately reflected on the office’s website.

The secretary of state’s office said the results were unofficial and that mistakes were being corrected as they were discovered. But the Colyer campaign pointed fingers at Kobach’s team, alleging that they were “giving advice to county election officials” and “making public statements” that are “inconsistent with Kansas law and may serve to suppress the vote” in the primary process.

Colyer’s campaign set up a “voter integrity hotline” — an expert troll against a secretary of state best known for waging a zealous crusade against widespread voter fraud that elections experts say does not exist.

Denying any wrongdoing, Kobach reluctantly recused himself from overseeing the process on Friday. He appointed his deputy and campaign supporter, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Rucker, to oversee the undecided election.

Mail-in, absentee and in-person ballots have now been counted. All that’s left to do this week is tabulate some 9,000 provisional ballots, which are handed out at the polls to voters who elections workers suspect may not be eligible to vote at the specific location where they showed up, or at all.

That seemingly dry task, currently being carried out county by county, is now the central drama in the race. At issue: which votes get counted.

Thanks to a quirk of Kansas election law, unaffiliated voters can still vote in partisan primary elections as long as they fill out a form at the polls on Election Day affirming their commitment to one of the major political parties.

Assistant Secretary of State Rucker warned county canvassing boards in a Sunday email that voters who failed to complete the required party affiliation document will have their ballots tossed out, the Kansas City Star reported.

But Colyer’s team has alleged that some local elections officials either forced the governor’s supporters to vote on provisional ballots, or failed to provide them with the required form, rendering their votes invalid. Colyer’s chief legal counsel sent out a letter cautioning that “the intent of the voter” should be considered in situations like this, according to the Star.

Elections officials in Sedgwick and Johnson County have confirmed that some voters completed their ballots improperly thanks to poor guidance from local elections officials.

“These are citizens. We train them. We train them hard. There were a number of problems,” Johnson County Election Commissioner Ronnie Metsker told the Star of one particular voting site.

Bob Beatty, a Kansas political expert at Washburn University, told TPM that the fight over unaffiliated, provisional ballots “would be the avenue of a possible court challenge” for Colyer’s team if the results remained very tight.

The other avenue is a recount. The Star reported that Colyer’s campaign has retained Missouri GOP Chairman Todd Graves to assist with legal matters surrounding the race, spurring speculation that he planned to request one.

Kansas Director of Elections Brian Caskey confirmed to TPM Tuesday that no candidate has yet contacted his office to initiate this process or about a possible lawsuit. He said all voting records are preserved in every election as standard procedure.

“For a primary election, there is no automatic recount, there is no margin, there is nothing other than the candidate gets to request a recount, the candidate gets to decide which counties they want to recount, the candidate posts a bond and away we go,” Caskey said.

Kansas law dictates that this upcoming Friday — the second after a statewide Election Day — is the deadline to make a recount request. Candidates would have to put up their own funds to cover the full cost. If the election results end up changing as a result, the counties and state would have to cover the cost.

Colyer campaign spokesman Kendall Marr told TPM via email that it was “premature” to consider a recount at this time.

“We are still in the process of the first counting of the votes,” Marr said. “We will assess where we are after the initial count has been completed.”

Political junkies can monitor that unofficial count, minute by minute, on the secretary of state’s website. A color-coded map showed that 3,511 of the 3,539 precincts have submitted their final unofficial vote tallies as of mid-afternoon Tuesday, and that Kobach holds a small but firm lead.

If Kobach pulls ahead further, experts say, the state could avoid the prospect of prolonged litigation or a court fight before the Aug. 31 deadline for the State Board of Elections to certify the election’s results.

If not, they warn, prepare for a Bush v. Gore redux.

“This is giving me flashbacks to Florida in 2000,” Burdett Loomis of the University of Kansas told TPM. “You honestly don’t have any good precedent to go on.”

That situation would be ideal for Democrats, represented by gubernatorial nominee and current State Senator Laura Kelly. Local political experts say that Kobach is generally agreed to be the weaker GOP candidate in a general election, so, they say, Democrats are hoping that the primary process drags on but still ends up with a Kobach victory.

Kobach’s team is making this line of thought explicit as it hopes to nudge Colyer out of the race.

“The liberals are hoping for a prolonged legal battle and a fractured Republican party,” Kobach campaign manager J.R. Claeys said in a Tuesday tweet. “They won’t get it. We will unite as a party and defeat the two liberal tickets in November.”

For some political experts, the chaotic situation unfolding speaks to Kobach’s misplaced priorities as secretary of state.

“He’s been chasing this illegal voting thing down the rabbit hole instead of updating election equipment and election procedures,” Smith of Emporia State told TPM.

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Sometimes this White House just comes out and says it.

Months after initial reports of the Trump administration requiring West Wing staffers to sign non-disclosure agreements, the President and his senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, confirmed Monday that they did.

This practice represents a radical break from prior administrations, rife with ethical concerns, according to legal experts.

Though the administration’s NDAs are likely unenforceable, they represent an intimidation tactic to silence government employees even after they have left the White House.

“It’s an outrage,” Andy Wright, an associate legal counsel in the Obama White House, told TPM. “The people that work in the White House work on behalf of the American people and not on behalf of Donald Trump.”

Wright noted that the agreements would be “void” on whistleblowing obligations or matters involving potential criminal wrongdoing.

The administration’s remarkable admission was prompted by the book tour of former White House adviser and reality TV villain Omarosa Manigault Newman. In “Unhinged,” Manigault Newman writes that the Trump 2020 campaign offered her a $15,000-per-month contract after she was fired last December, with a stringent non-disclosure agreement attached. It prohibited signees from disparaging Trump, his family members, or any of his businesses.

Manigault Newman said she turned it down.

Conway appeared unfazed when asked about the former White House aide’s claims during a Sunday ABC News interview.

“It is typical, and you know it, to sign an NDA in any place of work,” Conway said. “We’ve all signed them in the West Wing.”

Trump confirmed the requirement in one of several Monday tweets about his former protégé: “Wacky Omarosa already has a fully signed Non-Disclosure Agreement.”

Exactly which other staffers agreed to sign the agreements is not yet known. Neither the White House nor campaign immediately replied to TPM’s requests for comment.

Trump is known for making even low-level workers at the Trump Organization, his 2016 campaign, and his presidential transition agree to sweeping NDAs.

The first indication that he’d continued this practice in the White House came in a March Washington Post report. The Post’s Ruth Marcus reviewed a draft agreement that would impose a $10 million penalty for each unauthorized revelation of “nonpublic information” and ensured staffers’ silence even after they left the administration.

A source who signed a final version of the NDA told the Post that Trump required all senior White House staffers to agree to them in spring 2017 in order to curb the flood of leaks to the press.

“There was lots of leaking, things that just weren’t true, and a lot of things that were true and should have remained confidential. The president’s point was that they [staff] would think twice about that if they were on the hook for some serious damages,” the source said.

Former White House legal advisers and transparency advocates reacted with disbelief. The American Civil Liberties Union called the private agreements for public employees “unconstitutional and unenforceable.” Richard Painter, White House ethics czar for George W. Bush, said the NDAs “aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”

West Wing employees are prohibited from sharing classified information, experts said, but they have the First Amendment right to complain about their boss or their workplace. They may get fired for doing so, as they work at the pleasure of the president, but they can’t be penalized for talking about their public service, according to the experts.

The New York Times reported that the broad document drawn up by White House Counsel Don McGahn did not specify any financial or other penalties for breaking the NDA. Several signees said McGahn made it clear that the agreement was not ultimately enforceable, and was meant only to placate Trump.

At the time, the White House declined to elaborate on the agreements, saying only that White House staffers “were never asked or required to sign NDAs with $10 million clauses,” as stipulated in the draft agreement viewed by the Post.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had referred vaguely to an “ethics agreement” when asked about the NDAs earlier this year.

That doublespeak went out the window with the Manigault Newman disclosures. Trump and Conway both chose to use the more legally loaded term of “non-disclosure agreement” when publicly chastising her for sharing scandalous gossip about her White House tenure.

More chilling is the prospect that Trump’s 2020 campaign is offering former White House employees cushy $15,000 monthly salaries that suggest an elaborate if only implicit hush money arrangement.

Manigault Newman is an unlikely candidate for a campaign job, given that she was let go for unprofessional conduct like hosting a bridal party photo shoot at the White House. But she provided a copy of her draft contract to the Washington Post.

In a Sunday NBC interview, Manigault Newman said that other former staffers are being similarly “bought off” through these agreements, she said.

Wright, the former Obama counsel, had one word for such contracts: “gross.”

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During Paul Manafort’s federal trial in Alexandria, VA, Manafort’s ex-protégé, Rick Gates, testified that the pair committed crimes together, underreporting Manafort’s income on tax filings and lying to accountants and bookkeepers about his loans.

Gates also admitted that he lived a “secret life,” embezzling money from Manafort and using it to fund an apartment in London where he carried out multiple extramarital affairs. Gates testified that he spoke to the special counsel about his time at the Trump campaign, but Mueller’s team prevented him from going further on this topic.

Manafort’s former accountant was fired after admitting that she filed Manafort’s tax returns despite knowing that they contained false information. An ex-employee at a bank that provided Manafort $16 million in loans testified that the first one was approved the day after the bank’s CEO, Stephen Calk, said at a meeting that he wanted a job with the Trump administration. Emails show that Manafort pushed Gates to have Calk be considered for army secretary.

The presiding judge, T.S. Ellis, was forced to tell the jury to “put aside any criticism” of federal prosecutors after mistakenly berating them over an interaction with a witness. Even Fox News personality Andrew Napolitano criticized Ellis for his “extraordinary bias against the government.”

Financial troubles are also hanging over Michael Cohen, who is officially under investigation for tax fraud. Federal prosecutors are examining whether Cohen underreported the cash income he received from his taxi medallion business on federal tax forms. His former partner, admitted tax cheat “Taxi King” Gene Freidman, is cooperating with the government. Their shared accountant, Jeffrey Getzel, was also subpoenaed.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office are also reportedly investigating whether employees at Sterling National Bank allowed Cohen to take out loans without providing appropriate documentation. Both Cohen and Freidman took out large loans in 2014 after their once-lucrative taxi medallions plummeted in value, and Cohen refinanced 16 medallions through the bank weeks after the FBI raided his premises.

Former Roger Stone associate Andrew Miller was held in contempt of court for defying a judge’s order to testify before the special counsel grand jury. Stone associate Kristin Davis, better known as the “Manhattan Madam,” testified before Mueller’s grand jury on Friday.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested a closed-door interview with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani made a series of useless statements about the prospect of an interview between his client and Robert Mueller, fretting about a “perjury trap” and ultimately saying the odds of it happening were “50-50.” Giuliani and fellow Trump attorney also guest hosted Sean Hannity’s radio show.

Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly discussed nuclear arms control and prohibition on weapons in space at their July meeting in Helsinki.

In leaked comments from a fundraiser, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Trump faced serious legal jeopardy from the Russia probe if Republicans lose the majority. In the meantime, Republican lawmakers are reportedly preparing subpoenas for a number of people connected to the Steele dossier.

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It appears some posts are too anti-Semitic even for Gab, the social media platform that positions itself as the “politically incorrect” alternative to Twitter.

A pair of messages posted on Gab calling for the “ritual death by torture” and “complete eradication” of Jews nearly got the site shut down. Microsoft, which hosts Gab on its cloud service Azure, on Thursday threatened to drop the site over the inciteful posts before backing down after the user agreed to remove them voluntarily.

The 24-hour saga was the latest in an uncomfortable dance between web platforms trying to restrict hate speech and far-right actors like Alex Jones, who claim they’re being censored for sharing conspiracy theories and denigrating people on the basis of their gender or religion.

Gab celebrated its momentary victory by posting a stream of blatantly anti-Semitic—but not violent—messages on its Twitter feed.

The back-and-forth began Thursday, when Microsoft told Gab it had 48 hours to remove the posts for violating its acceptable use policy. Gab posted all of its back-and-forths with Microsoft publicly.

The user, a California neo-Nazi who challenged Sen. Dianna Feinstein (D-CA) for her Senate seat, agreed to take them down in order to keep the site active.

“We will have no rights until the jews are expelled,” Patrick Little wrote in a message lamenting that he was forced to “self-censor.”

Microsoft responded with an email saying that the matter was now “closed” but that they would monitor and act on complaints “about similar content that seeks to incite violence against others.”

Gab’s Twitter account responded with a stream of messages that exemplified the site’s definition of free speech: having permission to disparage Jewish people and minorities without consequences.

“Let’s get this through our heads: anti-white ‘hate speech’ and calls for violence/genocide of whites= allowed on the internet,” read one post. “Say anything about Jews or minorities though and you’re screwed.”

“’Hate speech’ is free speech. Retweet if you agree,” read another.

The account also directed several anti-Semitic messages at #Resistance Twitter figure Brian Krassenstein, urging him to “move to Israel” and citing a Bible verse that refers to some Jews as belonging to “the synagogue of Satan.”

Gab didn’t immediately respond to TPM’s question about who runs the account.

But these comments are rather milquetoast compared to much of what can be found on Gab, a hub for the misogynists, racists and anti-Semites who compose the alt-right.

Many of those individuals flocked to Gab when web hosting and social media companies deplatformed prominent white nationalists after last August’s violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

A new wave of deplatforming is currently underway as that event’s one-year anniversary approaches. Apple, Spotify and Facebook have all removed content posted by Infowars’ Jones for promoting hate speech and harassment.

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Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) was arrested and indicted on federal insider trading charges Wednesday.

The charges, brought by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office, relate to securities of Innate Immunotherapeutics, an Australian biotechnology company on whose board Collins served.

Collins’ son Cameron and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron Collins’ fiancée, were also listed as defendants.

Collins was the first congressman to endorse Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and has been a loyal defender of Trump’s agenda on Capitol Hill.

“Congressman Collins, who by virtue of his office, helps to write the laws of our nation, acted as if the law didn’t apply to him,” Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a press conference Wednesday. 

In a statement shared by the congressman’s office, Collins’ lawyers pledged to “mount a vigorous defense to clear his good name.”

“It is notable that even the government does not allege that Congressman Collins traded a single share of Innate Therapeutics stock.   We are confident he will be completely vindicated and exonerated,” Baker Hostetler attorneys Johnathan Barr and Jonathan New said in the statement.

“Congressman Collins will have more to say on this issue later today,” they added.

According to the complaint, Collins learned on June 22, 2017 that a drug Innate was developing to treat multiple sclerosis had failed clinical trials. He allegedly then promptly notified his son of the nonpublic information, who spread the news to other family members and friends who had bought shares in the company.

Associates of Collins “collectively sold over 1.78 million Innate shares” before the poor trial results were announced on June 26, “Cameron Collins, Stephen Zarsky, and their tippees avoided total losses of approximately $768,600,” the complaint alleges.

Collins’ involvement with Innate was the subject of a congressional ethics watchdog report released last October. The independent Office for Congressional Ethics (OCE) concluded that there is “substantial reason to believe” that he broke ethics rules and federal law by sharing nonpublic information about the purchase of Innate stock with investors.

The report also cited interviews with two National Institute of Health employees who said that Collins asked an NIH employee to help Innate with a clinical trial.

Collins also reportedly talked up the investment opportunities with Innate to other Republican officials, including ousted Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Innate Immuno CEO Simon Wilkinson told the Wall Street Journal last January that Price was among a small group of investors offered an exclusive deal to purchase discounted shares. Wilksinson subsequently walked back those claims, saying they were available to “every US shareholder who had ever participated in any share offering in the US.”

Collins has represented his western New York congressional district since 2013. He is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

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Federal prosecutors in New York are homing in on possible tax fraud as part of their criminal investigation into the financial dealings of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

A person familiar with the probe told the Journal that the possible fraud violations center on whether Cohen underreported the income he earned from his taxi medallion business on federal tax returns. Those funds amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars Cohen received in cash.

Prosecutors from the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office are also investigating whether employees at New York’s Sterling National Bank allowed Cohen to take out loans for that business without providing appropriate documentation, according to the report.

Cohen is under investigation for a host of financial crimes, including campaign finance violations and bank fraud. The former Trump Organization executive has signaled his willingness to cooperate with prosecutors and turn over information damaging to the president.

As TPM has reported, the once-lucrative taxi medallion business was a significant revenue stream for the Cohen family during the 2000s and 2010s. New York taxi moguls Simon Garber and Gene Freidman paid Cohen and his wife a monthly rate for managing the medallions the couple owned. The price of medallions plummeted in recent years thanks to the rise of ride-sharing apps like Lyft and Uber.

The Journal reported that federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Cohen’s former accountant, Jeffrey A. Getzel, who also served as an accountant for Freidman. Freidman earlier this year agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors as needed as part of a lenient plea deal. The former “Taxi King” of New York pleaded guilty to one count of criminal tax evasion after an investigation into his own taxi businesses.

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Some flickering positive signs for democracy have lit up statehouses in recent months. Thanks to legwork by local activists, a slate of anti-corruption and voting rights reform initiatives have landed on November ballots in states from Michigan to Missouri.

But something darker is underway in North Carolina.

On Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) sued to block two constitutional amendments promoted by the Republican-dominated general assembly. The amendments would strip the governor’s authority to appoint judges, board members, regulators and other key officials and turn that power over to the assembly.

The suit, filed in Wake County Superior Court, asks for a temporary restraining order to keep the amendments off the ballots—which head to the printer on Wednesday. Cooper argues that Republicans are trying to “take a wrecking ball to the separation of powers” and are masking measures that will have far-reaching consequences for state government in vanilla ballot language.

“It’s a legislature gone wild, what we have down here,” Raleigh-based Democratic strategist Morgan Jackson told TPM.

“If you want to put something on the ballot that actually says, ‘We want to take away all this power from the governor, flatten out the separation of powers and checks and balances in this state, and give it all to the legislature,’ put that on,” Jackson said. “What they’re putting on the ballot is purposefully deceptive because they want to hide from voters what they’re actually doing.”

The two amendments are among six in a package that the general assembly approved, mostly on party lines. One would transfer the authority to appoint thousands of commissioners and board members of key committees overseeing utilities, transportation and other critical issues from the governor to the assembly. The other would grant the assembly control of who the governor can consider to fill judicial vacancies.

The amendments’ are written in bureaucratic, dry language. They claim that they will “clarify” the authority of the governor to handle matters that the governor’s office is already constitutionally granted.

The amendment that would turn control over board appointments over to the legislature, for example, is described as a commitment to “establish a bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections to administer ethics and election laws, to clarify the appoint authority of the Legislative and the Judicial Branches.”

Under a 2016 law, a three-person state panel would typically have the task of explaining the true purpose of constitutional amendments in short captions that appear above their language. But Republicans on the assembly were concerned that two Democrats on the panel would cast the measures in a negative light, and passed a bill stripping them of that authority. Cooper vetoed it, but the assembly waited until the Saturday deadline to override his veto. That meant that the governor couldn’t file his lawsuit until Monday, just days before ballots start getting printed for North Carolinians in the military or living overseas.

“Rather than allow the voters to make an intelligent decision whether to restructure their own state government, the General Assembly has adopted false and misleading ballot language that conceals the true — and truly extraordinary — nature of these proposed amendments,” Cooper’s lawsuit states.

Republicans are accusing Cooper of using the courts to try to undermine the will of voters, denying any deceitful tactics.

In a Saturday statement, Rep. David Lewis, Chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, called such claims “ridiculous conspiracy theories” and say the policies in the proposed amendments “are overwhelmingly popular.”

“North Carolina faces a dark day if the courts allow @NC_Governor to prevent the people of North Carolina from voting on THEIR Constitution @NCGOP,” North Carolina GOP Executive Director Dallas Woodhouse chimed in on Twitter on Monday.

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

The North Carolina GOP’s work to chip away at the governor’s authority and consolidate control in the assembly was well underway by the time a Democrat took office. The general assembly has spent the years since the 2010 GOP wave election in an all-out effort to gerrymander districts, pass strict voter ID laws, limit early voting, and remove executive powers from the governor’s office.

Their gerrymandered congressional maps have since been overruled or ruled as unconstitutional by federal and state courts. They remain mired in legal wrangling.

Weeks before Cooper took office, in December 2016, the assembly called a special session to pass a series of bills stripping the governor of his power, including a law taking away his power to appoint a majority to the state board of elections and a law decreasing the number of state employees he can appoint.

If the two ballot amendments pass in November, the assembly will not only control the state’s purse strings, district maps, and policy priorities. They will also have a remarkable degree of power over who gets to sit on the boards that execute state policies by building roads, enforcing environmental regulations and setting utility rates. Most critically, they will have the authority to select appointees to fill judicial vacancies, allowing them to install justices less likely to rule against their laws and attempted power grabs.

“This makes it very clear that the Republican-controlled legislature understands the political environment they’re in and that they’re going to lose control this fall,” Jackson, the Democratic strategist, told TPM. “This is that last gasp to try to hold onto control in any way they can.”

This post has been updated.

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Alleged Russian agent Mariia Butina was in contact with former Trump campaign aide J.D. Gordon in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, the Washington Post reported Friday.

Gordon, who served as a former foreign policy adviser to Trump, told the newspaper he disclosed their meetings and emails in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

According to Gordon, he met Butina at a party in Washington, D.C. in September 2016 and exchanged a series of messages after GOP operative Paul Erickson followed up to connect them more formally. Gordon also invited Butina to a Styx concert and to his birthday party, the Post reported.

Butina has pleaded not guilty to acting as an unregistered foreign agent for Russia, and is awaiting trial in a D.C. jail. She is accused of carrying out a covert influence campaign, befriending prominent U.S. conservatives and infiltrating organizations like the National Rifle Association.

Gordon confirmed to the Post that their interactions occurred, describing them as innocuous.

“From everything I’ve read since her arrest last month, it seems the Maria Butina saga is basically a sensationalized click bait story meant to smear a steady stream of Republicans and NRA members she reportedly encountered over the past few years,” he said in a statement, adding that Butina reached out to “likely thousand of people.”

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President Trump reignited his feud with Lebron James on Friday, mocking the NBA icon’s intelligence in a late-night tweet.

Trump appeared to be upset by a Monday CNN interview James conducted with anchor Don Lemon, which re-aired Friday, in which James lamented that the President is “dividing us” on racial issues and using sports as a cudgel to do so. James said that he wouldn’t have anything to say to Trump if he met him in person, joking that he’d “sit across from Barack [Obama], though.”

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