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John Light

John is TPM‘s Prime editor. His writing has also appeared at The Atlantic, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, UN Dispatch, Vox, Worth, and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. Before joining TPM, John was a producer for Bill Moyers and WNYC, and worked as a news writer for Grist. He grew up in New Jersey, studied history and film at Oberlin College, and got his master‘s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

Articles by John

Racist New York City attorney Aaron Schlossberg started the week threatening to call ICE on workers in a Midtown Manhattan sandwich shop because they were speaking Spanish. He ended the week hiding from throngs of reporters while protestors attended a crowdfunded mariachi concert outside of his home.

­“Every person I listen to — he spoke it, he spoke it, she’s speaking it — it’s America!” he yelled at the store’s manager Tuesday while pointing around the restaurant.

“My guess is they’re not documented, so my next call is to ICE to have each one of them kicked out of my country,” the commercial and insurance lawyer continued. “If they have the balls to come here and live off of my money — I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to be here — the least they can do is speak English. If you intend on running a place in Midtown Manhattan, the staff should be speaking English, not Spanish.”

When other customers started heckling him, he approached, waving his iPhone, which he seems to like to use to record confrontations, and barked, “Honey, I’m calling ICE! ICE!”

One of these customers also filmed the video, and her husband uploaded it to Facebook, where it went viral.

That decision set off a whirlwind week for Mr. Schlossberg, during which he was booted from his part-time office space, faced a complaint with the state court’s disciplinary system filed by U.S. Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY), and fled from a waiting crowd of New York tabloid reporters and local news cameras while yelling “please send help” into his iPhone, which he, again, was apparently using to record his encounters.

Lest this dramatic public shaming inspire a hint of pity for Schlossberg, internet sleuths quickly uncovered that his Tuesday lunch fury was not a one-time incident. Being racist in public is something of a hobby for Schlossberg. He called one Massachusetts-born man who bumped into him “an ugly fucking foreigner.”

“I’m going to call the police. You don’t run into me. I’m a citizen here, you’re not,” he yelled at 34-year-old tech consultant Willie Morris, according to CNN.

Buzzfeed documented several more incidents. In one, Schlossberg accosted Eastern European tourists in the subway, yelling, “go home, we don’t want you here, you’re what’s ruining America.”

He’s also been a participant in New York-area Trump rallies and alt-right events. In one video posted by The New York Post, he is shown getting into a fight with a counter-protestor about whether the future President’s comments that Mexican immigrants are “rapists” was racist. Schlossberg takes the debate to the next level, telling his antagonist, “You’re fat and ugly. That’s losing, that’s losing. Do I look like I’m losing to you? I’m winning at life, you’re losing. I’m smart.”

At another event, a protest of a speech by activist Linda Sarsour that drew far-right figures including Pamela Geller and Milo Yiannopoulos, Schlossberg can be seen yelling “you’re not a Jew” at a group of ultra-orthodox Jewish men there to support Sarsour.

For becoming a Trump supporter the New York Post could hate, Schlossberg is our Duke of the Week.

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Our Senior Political Correspondent Cameron Joseph has been keeping a close eye on the primaries, and is taking readers’ questions about them. His latest column is here (Prime access), and takes a look at races that could serve as a test of whether Democratic voters are in a moderate or progressive mood this year.

Good morning and happy Muellerversary. The special prosecutor was appointed one year ago today, and, in celebration, we begin the day sifting through a substantial pile of Russia-probe-related headlines. Here’s what we’re watching.

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EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared before a Senate subcommittee today, where he was asked to account for the ever-growing number of scandals surrounding his tenure. In response to questions from Senate Democrats, he denied and deferred. In many cases, however, his answers were at odds with public documents and claims made by his own staff.

TPM’s Alice Ollstein and Matt Shuham were following along. They pulled together some of the key contradictions, summarized here.

 

1. Pruitt dodged questions about whether he asked for an unprecedented level of 24/7 security.

A report from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General released earlier this week concluded that EPA’s decision to provide Pruitt with an expensive security detail came at the request of Pruitt himself.

“The decision was made by the Office of Criminal Enforcement, Forensics and Training after being informed that Mr. Pruitt requested 24/7 protection once he was confirmed as administrator,” the report states.

But, in today’s hearing, Pruitt dodged questions from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) about his request, stating “the decision to provide 24/7 security was made, as indicated by this report, by law enforcement career officials at the agency.”

2. Pruitt claimed his landlord wasn’t a lobbyist when Pruitt rented the apartment.

“Steve Hart is someone that was not registered as a lobbyist in 2017,” Pruitt said in response to questions from Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM). “He’s a longtime associate and friend.”

Hardly. While not a registered lobbyist in 2017, Hart was the Chairman of the high-profile DC lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, a firm with clients before the EPA. Earlier this year, Hart retired from the firm and, on the same day, the firm filed a lobbying disclosure saying that he had lobbied for Smithfield Foods in 2018. In 2017, Hart and a Smithfield executive had met with Pruitt.

3. Pruitt said he didn’t ask his staff to use sirens to get him to dinner on time.

Pruitt is notorious for using lights and sirens to help his motorcade get him where he’s going, including to fancy Beltway restaurants. On Wednesday, Sen. Udall sought to confirm that Pruitt “personally requested that on a number of trips.”

“No, I don’t recall that,” Pruitt said.

But his statement contradicts one made in an email released by Udall’s office, in which Pruitt’s security chief wrote “Btw – Administrator encourages the use…” The subject line of the email is “light and sirens.”

4. Pruitt claimed he didn’t retaliate against a staffer who questioned his spending.

Sen. Van Hollen asked the administrator about Kevin Chmielewski, a former deputy chief of staff for operations at the EPA who challenged Pruitt’s expensive travel. Chmielewski was subsequently ousted.

“I can say to you that I’m not aware of any personnel decision being made with respect to the person you are referring to, with respect to any policy issues or budget issues or spending issues,” Pruitt told Van Hollen.

That goes against what Chmielewski himself told five Democratic members of Congress.

After Chmielewski refused to sign off on a first-class flight home from Morocco for Pruitt and an EPA office of policy official, Samantha Dravis, Pruitt’s Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson “called Mr. Chmielewski into his office and informed him that [Pruitt] wished to fire or reassign him,” the Democratic members of Congress said. Chmielewski also told the members of Congress about another time he was informed that Pruitt wanted him to resign, in this case by the EPA’s White House liaison.

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Early on Monday evening, two of New York’s most formidable reporters, Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, reported allegations that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman beat at least four women he was romantically involved with while intoxicated behind closed doors, leading more than one to seek medical attention. Three hours after the report was published, Schneiderman, one of the most prominent thorns in President Trump’s side and, in public, an advocate for women, stepped down.

By the following evening, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had appointed a special prosecutor, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, to look into Schneiderman’s case. The former AG could now face charges under a law strengthening the penalties for strangulation that he himself proposed and championed while a state senator.

This is one irony in a story that abounds with them. Schneiderman, for instance, was taking legal action against Harvey Weinstein. Yet his own downfall has become one of the most startling of the #MeToo era, which was kicked off by the allegations against Weinstein.

In Farrow and Mayer’s reporting, and in a separate story published in The New York Post, Schneiderman comes off as drunk on his own power (in addition to often being drunk). “I am the law,” he reportedly declared to former partner Michelle Manning Barish, justifying his decision to jaywalk. While driving drunk through the Hamptons, he allegedly told one date, who spoke to the New York Post anonymously, “I’m a state senator, and I rule this neighborhood.” The women who spoke to The New Yorker said he used this power to threaten them, warning he could have their phones tapped, have them followed, and even that he would kill them.

The irony here, of course, is that Scheiderman, now revealed as a bully, bullied other bullies while Attorney General. He opened one of the first investigations into U.S. oil companies who denied climate change publicly while their own scientists grappled with the reality. He made a show of taking on big banks following the financial crisis (though, by some measures, he didn’t deliver — to the left’s chagrin, no bankers were subpoenaed to explain themselves). And he sued Trump University for defrauding its students.

For this hypocrisy, Schneiderman is TPM’s Duke of the Week.

For years, TPM has given a series of annual Golden Duke awards. Named for disgraced former member of Congress Randy “Duke” Cunningham, the award honors a politician who has distinguished themselves with a display of corruption or abuse of power.

This year, we’ve decided to begin giving the award weekly lest we be overwhelmed with worthy candidates at year’s end.

These awards are often humorous, such as the story of former Rep. Steve Stockman, who spent Republican megadonors’ money on harebrained schemes, tanning salons and dolphin boat rides.

Schneiderman’s abuse of power, however, is no laughing matter.

It also comes with a weird coda. Yesterday, the news broke that Trump and Michael Cohen — who has been many news cycles’ Forrest Gump these last few weeks, popping up in places we never would have imagined — may have known about allegations of abuse against Schneiderman as early as 2013.

Two women who had been “sexually victimized” by Schneiderman — different women than spoke to the New Yorker — approached Attorney Peter Gleason in 2012 and 2013. Gleason cautioned them against going to Manhattan District Attorney (and former Golden Duke winner) Cy Vance, who Gleason believed would not help them (and who Gleason would later attempt to unseat). Instead, for reasons that are unclear, Gleason told their story to a New York Post reporter, who relayed the allegations to the Trump Organization. Trump’s personal attorney, Cohen, then called Gleason and discussed the allegations with him.

The story suggests that while Schneiderman was leading an investigation into Trump University and, later, being celebrated as a hero of the resistance, Trump may have had compromising info on him. And Schneiderman may have known it. Muddying the waters further, around this time, Schneiderman, according to Cohen and Trump, collected campaign donations from Trumpworld. Trump said in an affidavit that he gave Schneiderman $12,500 and introduced him to other potential donors. Cohen said he gave Schneiderman $1,000 and, according to Cohen, Schneiderman “repeatedly assured” him that the Trump University investigation “was going nowhere.”

Later that year, Trump tweeted “Weiner is gone, Spitzer is gone — next will be lightweight A.G. Eric Schneiderman. Is he a crook? Wait and see, worse than Spitzer or Weiner.”

It’s unclear who knew what, when, and what was done with the information. But it is clear that Schneiderman’s victims had been coming forward years before the New Yorker article was published — years before Schneiderman had even met and allegedly attacked some of the women who were The New Yorker’s sources. The whole story is a rats’ nest of once and future Dukes, with two alleged sexual predators — Trump and Schneiderman — at the center.

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