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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 chief of staff John Kelly did not expect President Donald Trump to bring up his son’s death in 2010 in Afghanistan, CNN reported late Wednesday, days after Trump claimed that former President Barack Obama did not call Kelly at the time.

CNN reported, citing multiple unnamed White House officials, that Kelly told Trump that Obama did not call him after his son died, but did not expect Trump to publicly bring it up.

According to one unnamed official, Kelly—and much of Trump’s administration—were caught off-guard by Trump’s remarks.

Trump on Tuesday brought up Second Lt. Robert Kelly’s death when asked whether he had called the families of four Green Berets killed in Niger earlier in October.

“You could ask General Kelly,” Trump said on “Fox and Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show. “Did he get a call from Obama?”

White House visitor records show that Obama hosted Kelly in 2011 at a breakfast for Gold Star families, where Kelly reportedly sat at former first lady Michelle Obama’s table.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday did not answer a question about whether Trump consulted Kelly before bringing up his son’s death.

“I think that Gen. Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized,” she said. “If he has any anger, it’s towards that.”

Asked whether Trump himself had politicized Second Lt. Robert Kelly’s death, she said, “He was responding to a question and stating a fact.”

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White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said President Donald Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly thought Trump’s phone call to the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger was “respectful” and “completely appropriate.”

“He thought the call was respectful,” Sanders said during her daily briefing, “and he thought that the President did the best job he could under those circumstances to offer condolences on behalf of the country.”

She claimed Kelly thought Trump’s remarks to Myeshia Johnson, Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, were “completely appropriate.”

Johnson’s mother Cowanda Jones-Johnson, however, told the Washington Post that Trump “did disrespect” her son, her daughter, herself and her husband during the call.

Trump on Tuesday cited Kelly’s son, Second Lt. Robert Kelly, who died in Afghanistan in 2010, when asked whether he had called the families of the soldiers killed in Niger.

“You could ask General Kelly,” Trump said. “Did he get a call from Obama?”

Asked how Kelly felt about Trump’s citation of his son’s death as a political football, Sanders did not say whether Trump consulted Kelly before deploying the talking point, but claimed he was “disgusted” by the politicization of the soldiers’ deaths.

“I think that Gen. Kelly is disgusted by the way that this has been politicized and that the focus has become on the process and not the fact that American lives were lost,” she said. “I think he’s disgusted and frustrated by that. If he has any anger, it’s towards that.”

Pressed on whether Trump’s remarks about Second Lt. Robert Kelly’s death themselves amounted to a politicization, Sanders said, “He was responding to a question and stating a fact.”

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The White House on Wednesday said President Donald Trump did not record his phone call with the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger, though he claimed to have “proof” that Rep. Frederica Wilson’s (D-FL) account of his remarks was not accurate.

“What proof does President Trump have when he says Congresswoman Wilson is not telling the truth?” a reporter asked White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders during her daily briefing. “Are there recordings of his phone call?”

“No, but there were several people in the room from the administration that were on the call, including the chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly,” Sanders replied.

Sanders later claimed “multiple people in the room believe that the President was completely respectful” and “very sympathetic.”

She did not specifically deny any points of Wilson’s account of Trump’s phrasing, and insisted that she was speaking “specifically to the sentiment” that he offered.

“I didn’t get into the details of a personal call because I don’t find that to be that appropriate,” Sanders said.

Trump on Wednesday again denied Wilson’s account that his remarks to Myeshia Johnson, Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, were “horrible” and “insensitive.”

He incorrectly claimed that Wilson had walked her account back and told reporters, “Let her make her statement again and you’ll find out.”

“I still stand by my account of the call,” Wilson tweeted in response.

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A Twitter account that posted under the Tennessee Republican Party’s name was actually run by the St. Petersburg-based Russian troll farm that purchased ads on Facebook and recruited as many as 100 unwitting activists in the United States, according to a new Russian report.

Russian business magazine RBC reported Tuesday that @TEN_GOP was created by the Federal News Agency (FAN), the troll farm formerly known as the Internet Research Agency.

Twitter deactivated @TEN_GOP’s account in August, though a snapshot of the page from that month remains visible via the Internet Archive.

@TEN_GOP had at least 143,552 followers when it was shut down, more than 10 times the number of people following the Tennessee Republican Party’s actual Twitter account (13,369), according to that snapshot.

The Tennessee Republican Party’s communications director Candice Dawkins told BuzzFeed News that the party reported the fake account to Twitter in Sept. 2016, 11 months before Twitter finally took action.

As ThinkProgress noted in a report Wednesday, President Donald Trump personally thanked an account that claimed to be associated with @TEN_GOP in September for tweeting “We love you, Mr. President!”

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President Donald Trump on Wednesday again denied Rep. Frederica Wilson’s (D-FL) account of his conversation with the widow of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger earlier in October, and demanded that Wilson “make her statement again.”

“I didn’t say what that congresswoman said, didn’t say it at all,” Trump said during a meeting with the Senate Finance Committee.

He claimed that Wilson was no longer giving her account of events, though as recently as Wednesday morning Wilson told CNN that she had “proof” of her account.

“She knows it, and she now is not saying it. I did not say what she said. And I’d like her to make the statement again because I did not say what she said,” Trump said. “I had a very nice conversation with the woman, with the wife, who sounded like a lovely woman. Did not say what the congresswoman said, and most people aren’t too surprised to hear that.”

Wilson’s office did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment, but Wilson said on Twitter that she stood by her words.

Wilson on Tuesday said she was in a car with Myeshia Johnson, Sgt. La David T. Johnson’s widow, when Trump called. Wilson said Trump told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

On Wednesday, Wilson told MSNBC that Myeshia Johnson cried throughout the phone call.

“And when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part,” Wilson said. “It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy.”

Trump on Wednesday claimed Wilson’s account was “totally fabricated,” and claimed he had “proof.”

“What was the proof, Mr. President?” a reporter asked Trump.

“Let her make her statement again and you’ll find out,” he replied, and, pressed again, repeated, “Let her make her statement again and you’ll find out.”

Cowanda Jones-Johnson, Johnson’s mother, told the Washington Post on Wednesday that Trump “did disrespect” her son, her daughter, herself and her husband. Asked whether Wilson’s account of Trump’s conversation with Myeshia Johnson was accurate, Jones-Johnson said, “Yes.”

The White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment on Johnson-Jones’ corroboration of Wilson’s account.

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The mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Niger said on Wednesday that President Donald Trump “did disrespect” her son, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, and her family in a call to Johnson’s widow.

“President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband,” Cowanda Jones-Johnson, Johnson’s mother, told the Washington Post.

She said she was riding with Myeshia Johnson, her son’s widow, in a car when Trump called.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-FL) on Tuesday said she was also in the car with Johnson’s widow. She said Trump’s call made Myeshia Johnson cry.

According to Wilson, Trump told Johnson’s widow, “He knew what was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

“She was crying the whole time, and when she hung up the phone, she looked at me and said, ‘He didn’t even remember his name.’ That’s the hurting part,” Wilson told MSNBC on Wednesday. “It was horrible. It was insensitive. It was absolutely crazy, unnecessary. I was livid.”

Trump on Wednesday claimed Wilson “totally fabricated” his comments, and claimed he had “proof.”

“I’m not the only person that was in the car. I have proof too. This man is a sick man,” Wilson told CNN, responding to Trump’s tweet.

Asked whether Wilson’s account of Trump’s conversation with Johnson’s family was accurate, Jones-Johnson told the Washington Post, “Yes.”

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday spoke to the families of four Green Berets killed in Niger earlier in October, according to the White House, almost two weeks after the soldiers died.

“President Trump spoke to all four of the families of those who were killed in action in Niger,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, according to a pool report. “He offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their family’s extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten.”

Trump on Monday acknowledged that he had not yet contacted the families of the soldiers who died in the attack on Oct. 4, but said he had “written them personal letters.”

“They’ve been sent, or they’re going out tonight,” Trump said. “I’m going to be calling them. I want a little time to pass.”

He also accused former President Barack Obama and other former presidents of not making calls to Gold Star families.

“I was told that he didn’t often and a lot of presidents don’t. They write letters,” Trump said. “President Obama I think probably did sometimes and maybe sometimes he didn’t. I don’t know. That’s what I was told. All I can do is ask my generals.”

Multiple former Obama administration officials swiftly denied Trump’s allegation, which the President escalated on Tuesday, suggesting that reporters ask his chief of staff John Kelly whether he got “a call from Obama” when Kelly’s son died in Afghanistan in 2010.

White House visitor records show that Obama hosted Kelly at a breakfast for Gold Star families in 2011, where Kelly reportedly sat at former first lady Michelle Obama’s table.

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Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R) and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones (D) are tied in their race for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ vacated Senate seat, according to a poll released Tuesday by Fox News.

According to the survey, Moore and Jones are tied at 42 percent among registered voters in Alabama, a deep-red state.

The poll was conducted from Oct. 14–16, 2017, from a sample of 801 Alabama registered voters, by landline and mobile phone, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.

Other surveys released in September and October showed Moore leading Jones, but the single-digit margins in those polls, as well as the Fox News survey, suggest that Moore’s and Jones’ race for Sessions’ seat could be a competitive one.

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President Donald Trump took to Twitter late Tuesday afternon to complain about “fiction writers” at cable networks and “dying magazines and newspapers.” He also preemptively shifted blame to Democrats for “any rise in ObamaCare premiums.”

“So much Fake News being put in dying magazines and newspapers,” Trump tweeted. “Only place worse may be @NBCNews, @CBSNews, @ABC and @CNN. Fiction writers!”

It was unclear whether Trump was referring to any particular report of a number published recently that seemed likely to draw his ire.

The New Yorker on Tuesday said it stands by a report that Trump joked that Vice President Mike Pence wants to “hang” all gay people and mocked Pence for his religious observance, despite the White House’s denial.

Forbes on Tuesday called Trump “the most notable loser” on its “Richest Americans” list, estimating that his net worth fell $600 million since last year. CNN host Brian Stelter noted that the network also discussed the Forbes report.

Trump on Tuesday also said “any increase” in insurance premiums would be “the fault of the Democrats for giving us a ‘product’ that never had a chance of working.”

Trump on Monday began preemptively scapegoating Democrats for any turmoil in the insurance market caused by his own decision to end cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers.

“I think the Democrats will be blamed for the mess. This is an Obamacare mess,” Trump said at a cabinet meeting. “When the premiums go up, that has nothing to do with anything other than the fact that we had poor health care delivered poorly, written poorly, approved by the Democrats.”

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