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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

Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), whose questioning of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in his January confirmation hearing kicked off a chain of events that ultimately led to the appointment of a special counsel, on Thursday had some more pointed questions for Sessions.

Franken included his questions in a scathing letter to Sessions after court documents unsealed Monday revealed that President Donald Trump’s former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in March 2016 floated the idea of setting up a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

According to several reports, Sessions was present at the meeting when Papadopoulos made the suggestion, though Sessions previously denied being aware of any communications between members of Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. Papadopoulos claimed he had “connections” that could help arrange the meeting between Trump and Putin.

“Once again, developments in the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election have brought to light evidence that you failed to tell the truth about your interactions with Russian operatives during the campaign, as well as your awareness of Russian contacts by other members of the Trump campaign team,” Franken wrote.

He called it “another example in an alarming pattern” in which Sessions “apparently failed to tell the truth, under oath, about the Trump team’s contacts with agents of Russia—a hostile foreign power that interfered in the 2016 election.”

“We must get to the bottom of what happened so that we can prevent it from happening again,” Franken wrote. “I am deeply troubled that this newest revelation strongly suggests that the Senate—and the American public—cannot trust your word.”

He asked Sessions to respond to his questions by next Friday, Nov. 10.

CNN reported on Wednesday that Sessions firmly rejected the idea of a meeting between Trump and Putin when it was floated during a campaign meeting in March 2016. At that time, Sessions was the chairman of Trump’s national security team and a Republican senator.

During his January confirmation hearing, however, Sessions claimed he was “not aware” of any communications between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.

“I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on that,” he claimed.

Sessions recused himself from the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election after the Washington Post reported, and Sessions confirmed, that he actually met with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the 2016 campaign.

That recusal, and Trump’s decision to fire James Comey as head of the FBI, led directly to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation.

NBC News reported on Thursday, citing an unnamed source familiar with Sessions’ thinking, that Sessions now similarly recalls that he rejected Papadopoulos’ proposal to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

“The March 31 comments by this Papadopoulos person did not leave a lasting impression,” the unnamed source told NBC News. “As far as Sessions seemed to be concerned, when he shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia, that was the end of it and he moved the meeting along to other issues.”

That same source later claimed to NBC News that it was not actually clear whether Sessions remembered anything.

 

Read Franken’s letter to Sessions:

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Sam Clovis on Thursday withdrew his nomination to serve as the U.S. Agriculture Department’s chief scientist.

Clovis withdrew his nomination days after unsealed court documents revealed that his communications with other members of President Donald Trump’s campaign put him in proximity to the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a letter to Trump dated Wednesday, Clovis claimed, “The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive a balanced and fair consideration for this position.”

Clovis said he did not want to “be a distraction or negative influence.”

“I worked hard during the campaign and take some pride in the accomplishment of having you elevated to the Presidency,” Clovis wrote.

“We respect Mr. Clovis’ decision to withdraw his nomination,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement.

Ironically, it was precisely the “hard” work Clovis claimed he did on Trump’s behalf during his 2016 campaign that put Clovis’ nomination in question to begin with.

Clovis served as the supervisor to George Papadopoulos, a former adviser on Trump’s campaign. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.

According to court documents unsealed on Monday, Papadopoulos kept other members of Trump’s campaign updated on those communications. In several messages, Clovis told Papadopoulos he’d done “great work” with his initial outreach to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting, and Clovis said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to set one up “off the record.”

NBC News reported Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Clovis, and that Clovis testified before the investigating grand jury in the Russia probe.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday said she was “not aware of any change that would be necessary” with regard to Clovis’ nomination.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) on Wednesday said that Clovis’ scheduled testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee, scheduled for next Thursday, could be pushed back. Grassley said it was “too early” to say whether he thought Clovis would face legal consequences, but said he is nevertheless still backing Clovis’ nomination.

CNN first reported on Thursday morning, citing an unnamed White House source, that Clovis’ nomination could be yanked.

Clovis, Trump’s pick to oversee the Department of Agriculture’s research section, is a non-scientist and open climate skeptic.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) in August cited Clovis’ “backwards” views in a statement calling on Trump to withdraw Clovis’ nomination.

“He is a proud ‘skeptic’ of climate change and wildly unqualified for the position of USDA Chief Scientist,” the senators said.

The Washington Post reported on Thursday, citing a letter from Clovis to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, that Clovis repeatedly responded to questions about what science credentials he has as “None.”

Clovis instead cited his teaching career (focused on homeland security, foreign policy and political science) and his experience running for office as proof that he is qualified to be the department’s top scientist.

This post has been updated.

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Keith Schiller, President Donald Trump’s former personal bodyguard-turned-former White House aide, will appear before the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, CNN reported late Wednesday.

CNN reported, citing two unnamed sources familiar with the matter, that Schiller will appear before the congressional panel next Tuesday.

ABC News reported in June that the House Intelligence Committee was seeking to interview Schiller as part of its probe into Russia’s election meddling.

Schiller led the Trump Organization’s security operations before he joined Trump’s administration as director of Oval Office operations.

He was one of Trump’s most loyal and trusted aides; the President dispatched him in May to fire former FBI director James Comey (who was out of town) and in August to fire former White House aide George Gigicos.

Schiller left Trump’s administration in September after newly minted White House chief of staff John Kelly reportedly revoked his Oval Office walk-in privileges.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday called the New York Times to insist that he isn’t angry at anybody at all about the charges filed against top members of his campaign as part of the federal investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“I’m actually not angry at anybody,” Trump told the New York Times. “I’m not under investigation, as you know.”

Members of Trump’s administration and legal team are the only people who have insisted in recent months that Trump is not under investigation. The Washington Post reported in June that special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Trump for potential obstruction of justice. Mueller has brought charges against Trump’s former campaign aides.

“Even if you look at that, there’s not even a mention of Trump in there,” Trump said on the call, referring to the indictment filed against his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. “It has nothing to do with us.”

Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates on Monday pleaded not guilty to all 12 counts filed against them. The charges include conspiracy to launder money, conspiracy against the U.S. and making false statements.

In his comments to the New York Times, Trump did not appear to mention the case against his former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who was arrested in July and pleaded guilty earlier in October to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia.

“I just got fantastic poll numbers,” the President claimed, though his job approval is at an all-time low, according to Gallup. “I’m really enjoying it.”

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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday said scheduled testimony by Sam Clovis, President Donald Trump’s pick to serve as the U.S. Agriculture Department’s chief scientist, could be pushed back.

Yahoo News reported Monday that Clovis, Trump’s former campaign co-chair, was one of the campaign officials corresponding with Trump’s former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who Clovis supervised during the campaign.

On a call with Iowa reporters, Grassley said that Clovis’ testimony before the Senate Agriculture Committee—scheduled for Nov. 9—could be pushed back, according to a report by the Des Moines Register.

Grassley, who also serves on that Senate panel, said that he is nevertheless still backing Clovis’ nomination.

He said it was “too early” to say whether he thought Clovis would face legal consequences, but said that he had reviewed emails from the Trump campaign that Grassley said gave a fuller account of Clovis’ and Papadopoulos’ interactions and led him to believe it was “not an issue.”

“There’s an entirely different context than what was reported about Clovis and his relationship to this George P.,” Grassley said, according to the report.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in early October to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian nationals, which Papadopoulos told other members of Trump’s campaign about in a series of emails.

According to court documents unsealed on Monday, Clovis praised Papadopoulos for doing “great work” by reaching out to Russians who wanted to set up a meeting with Trump’s campaign. In August 2016, Clovis also said he “would encourage” Papadopoulos to set up an “off the record” meeting with Russian officials.

NBC News reported on Tuesday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team questioned Clovis last week.

Clovis, who Trump nominated to be the USDA’s top scientist, is a non-scientist and open skeptic of climate change.

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday condemned an attack in New York City on Tuesday that left eight people dead and 11 injured as a “horrible act” committed by an “animal.”

At the opening of a meeting with his Cabinet, Trump called for “punishment that’s far quicker, and far greater, than the punishment these animals are getting right now.”

“They’ll go through court for years. At the end, who knows what happens,” Trump said.

It was not clear what the President was advocating in place of the rights codified by the Sixth Amendment—”a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State.”

In response to a reporter’s question, however, Trump said he would “certainly consider” sending the attacker to the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

“I would certainly consider that. Send him to Gitmo,” Trump said. “I would certainly consider that, yes.”

Trump said that he will ask Congress to “immediately initiate work” to end the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, which he claimed the attacker used to enter the United States, though officials have not yet said whether that is true.

“I am today starting the process of terminating the diversity lottery program,” Trump said. “Sounds nice. It’s not good. it’s not good. It hasn’t been good. We’ve been against it. So we want to immediately work with Congress on the diversity lottery program on terminating it.”

Trump said he wants “a merit-based program” in its place.

“We have to get much less politically correct,” he said. “We’re so politically correct that we’re afraid to do anything.”

At the top of the meeting, Trump said that “all of America is praying and grieving” with the families of the victims.

“Our hearts break for them,” he said.

Officials on Wednesday identified the driver as Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old who immigrated to the U.S. from Uzbekistan legally in 2010. According to authorities, Saipov shouted “God is great” in Arabic after he crashed his vehicle into a school bus and disembarked.

John Miller, the New York Police Department’s deputy police commissioner for intelligence, on Wednesday said Saipov “did this in the name of ISIS.”

As of Wednesday, Saipov was in critical condition but expected to survive after a police officer shot him in the abdomen a day earlier.

Trump’s rhetoric about the New York attack was unusually strong. While the President is quick to condemn acts he considers “radical Islamic terrorism,” he is less quick to respond to incidents where Muslims have been targeted, and has referred to crimes committed by white supremacists and hate groups using far kinder terms.

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The CEO of Sinclair Broadcast Group on Wednesday said the conservative media company does “not have any interest” in hiring former Fox News star host Bill O’Reilly, who left the cable network amid accusations of sexual harassment months after striking an eight-figure settlement over similar allegations.

Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley made the announcement on a company earnings call, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

“We get approached by people all the time, which is probably where these reports were coming from,” Ripley said, as quoted in the report. “He did approach us. We do not have any interest in hiring him.”

“Our CEO stated definitively that we have no interest in hiring Mr. O’Reilly on our earnings call this morning,” a Sinclair Broadcast Group spokesperson confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter.

NBC News reported last week that O’Reilly and Sinclair Broadcast Group were “about midway” through talks as O’Reilly reportedly negotiated for a position at the conservative media company.

Sinclair in May denied that the network was courting O’Reilly or Fox News anchor Sean Hannity.

O’Reilly left Fox News in April amid accusations of sexual harassment. The New York Times reported in April that O’Reilly and 21st Century Fox struck settlement agreements with at least five women for a total of $13 million related to similar misconduct allegations.

The New York Times reported on Oct. 21 that O’Reilly in January struck a $32 million settlement agreement with Lis Wiehl, a former Fox News legal analyst, over allegations “of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material” to Wiehl.

21st Century Fox extended O’Reilly’s contract months later, according to the report.

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Mark Halperin’s longtime writing partner John Heilemann said in an interview published Tuesday that he was “flabbergasted and shocked” after several women came forward last week to accuse Halperin of sexual misconduct.

“The bare nature of the accusations are horrific and shocking and terrible,” Heilemann told the New York Times. “I was flabbergasted and shocked.”

HBO last week said it was “no longer proceeding with the project tied to the untitled book co-authored by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann on the 2016 Presidential election.” A day later, Penguin Press canceled plans to publish the book under the “Game Change” umbrella. Halperin and Heilemann published two previous “Game Change” books that became best sellers.

Heilemann said he “had never heard of, been exposed to or had any inkling of the notion” that Halperin “had engaged in any behavior that could be described in even the broadest sense of being sexual harassment or sexual assault.”

Several women anonymously spoke to CNN and the Daily Beast last week to accuse Halperin of inappropriate behavior. Some of the women accused Halperin of rubbing his genitals against them while clothed. Emily Miller, a conservative reporter, said Halperin “sexually assaulted” her while they both worked at ABC News.

Another woman said Halperin “started lunging” at her during a meeting in her office and backed her “into a corner” before she “opened the door and ran out.”

Heilemann told the New York Times that he “barely knew Mark in the period of time when he stands accused of doing these things.”

“These behaviors are not the behaviors that I witnessed, and they’re not consistent with the person that I thought I knew. That’s not an excuse. That’s just the truth,” he said. “People are entitled to their opinions about what I should have known, or must have known, or whatever. But the timeline is what the timeline is.”

Heilemann said Halperin called him last week to tell him that CNN was about to publish a story on the allegations, and apologized during their brief conversation.

“I hope that my reputation has not been damaged by this,” Heilemann said. “I don’t feel like I’m crumpled in the corner in some way.”

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During his 2016 campaign for President, Donald Trump neither agreed to nor rejected the idea of meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, CNN reported Wednesday.

CNN reported, citing an unnamed source in the room when Trump met with foreign policy advisers in March 2016, that Trump “didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no” when his former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos floated the idea.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then the chairman of Trump’s national security team and a Republican senator, firmly rejected the idea, according to CNN’s report.

Papadopoulos pleaded guilty earlier in October to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russian nationals.

He regularly informed other members of the Trump campaign about those communications, according to court documents unsealed Monday, and introduced himself at the campaign’s foreign policy meeting in March 2016 by saying “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between” Trump and Putin.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CNN on Wednesday that Trump did not recall what specifically took place in the meeting.

“Again, it was a brief meeting that took place quite some time ago,” she told CNN. “It was the one time that group ever met.”

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