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

Earlier this year, we rolled out our Weekly Primers — 500 word briefings for Prime subscribers on the topics TPM covers most closely, published once a week and carefully written to include everything of importance.

So far, we’ve regularly put out Weekly Primers on voting rights, the battle over the future of Obamacare, and the Trump-Russia probe. Today, we’re rolling out a new Primer chronicling corruption and abuse of power in the Trump administration. Every Thursday, Matt Shuham will have the latest on the swamp Trump filled. Here’s the first.

I was poking around in FEC data, as one does, and noticed something interesting: Super PACs and dark money groups are unusually interested in Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin (D). The political groups at work here are largely spending on television ads, and have dumped more than $12 million in the state, largely attacking Baldwin and boosting her two Republican opponents, Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson.

But looking closer, this spending blitz appears to be largely the work of one man: Dick Uihlein, founder of ULINE. The Illinois-based cardboard box mogul is the primary donor behind two super PACs, Restoration PAC and America’s PAC, that together have poured over $7 million into Wisconsin’s Senate primary. It makes Wisconsin’s primary one of the most expensive this year, even though the contest is relatively late in the year’s primary calendar.

Uihlein’s candidate of choice is Nicholson, a former Democrat, Marine and McKinsey consultant who emerged from virtually nowhere to become the Republican frontrunner. A charmer, Nicholson has also won the support of National Security Adviser John Bolton, whose super PAC spent about $500,000 to support the candidate between January and March of this year, according to FEC filings.

But Nicholson largely owes his status as the frontrunner to Uihlein’s $7 million.

“We have a primary because the guy who was a Democrat a few years ago found a billionaire backer,” Alex Conant, a strategist for Wisconsin Next PAC, told The Washington Post. Wisconsin Next PAC was founded by Scott Walker allies and is supporting Nicholson’s Republican opponent, Leah Vukmir. The group has put about $1.5 million toward that cause. The Koch brothers’ Freedom Partners has also spent some $1.6 million attacking Baldwin without picking a favorite in the primary. “Without his [Uihlein’s] backing Nicholson,” Conant told the Post, “Leah would be the presumptive nominee and the party would be working in unison to defeat Sen. Baldwin.”

Here’s a chart compiled from some of the FEC data I was looking at. (Mouse over each bar for name of group and total amount spent.)

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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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