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

Rudy Giuliani’s interview with Sean Hannity last night raised more questions than it answered. Here are a few things our editorial team is wondering about this morning:

  • What else did President Trump’s “retainer” payments to Michael Cohen cover?
  • What communications did Cohen and Trump have about the original payment to Stormy Daniels? And about the retainer payments later?
  • What documents does Giuliani have that show the purpose and nature of the payments from Trump to Cohen?
  • Can Cohen still be considered Trump’s lawyer, given what we now know about the nature of their work together?
  • If Cohen was being reimbursed by Trump, why did he take out a loan to pay Stormy Daniels?
  • Did Giuliani intentionally reveal what he did in order to get ahead of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe, knowing that Mueller has this info already?
  • Was Trump’s legal team actually worried about a potential FEC violation, as Giuliani stated? Or were they more worried about the implications of Trump’s lie about the payments being exposed?
  • Had Cohen been told by Trump that he’d get reimbursed when he made the payment? Or was the reimbursement figured out later?
  • How did Cohen’s growing estrangement from Trump after November 2016 factor into Trump’s payments to Cohen?
  • When exactly did Trump’s payments to Cohen begin, and when did they end?

In a recent legal filing, Paul Manafort alleges that government leakers have pulled off an “elaborate hoax” to frame him, Tierney Sneed reports. The allegation plays into the accusation, often repeated by President Trump’s allies, that the “deep state” is conspiring against them and undermining the President’s agenda.

It’s been a busy year for the members of this shadowy cabal. Here’s what else they’ve gotten up to:

They bought an expensive table for Ben Carson.

They scuttled an industry-backed plan to boost coal and nuclear power plants.

They hijacked Sean Hannity’s twitter account.

They secured an indictment against former Rep. Steve Stockman.

They helped Human Abedin evade justice.

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“an idiot” —Chief of Staff John Kelly, allegedly
Why: Because Trump doesn’t understand what DACA is.

“a fucking moron” —Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, allegedly
Why: Because Trump wants to restore the nation’s nuclear stockpile to 1960s-levels.

“idiot,” “dope,” “kindergartner” —Former National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, allegedly
Why: Specifics unclear.

“a deplorable” —White House Press Secretary Raj Shah, allegedly
Why: Because of the Access Hollywood tape.

“an empty vessel when it comes to things like the Constitution and rule of law” —EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
Why: Because, according to Pruitt, Trump would break the law in less creative ways than Obama.

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In an interview with Fox & Friends last week, President Trump, perhaps surprisingly, expressed support for doing away with the Electoral College, which granted him victory in 2016 though he lost the popular vote. Connecticut, meanwhile, may join an interstate compact which seeks to nullify the Electoral College; states that sign on to the National Popular Vote compact pledge to award all of their electoral college votes to whichever candidate wins the popular vote. If states representing 270 electoral votes sign on, the compact will go into effect. Connecticut’s decision to do so would bring the total number of electoral votes on board with the compact to 172.

Tierney Sneed reports that though cities are doing all they can to ensure an accurate count on the 2020 Census, they feel they are “swimming against the tide,” in the words of Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, given what they describe as a lack of leadership from the Trump administration exacerbated by concerns about the new citizenship question. Civil rights advocates fear an undercount of minorities, which could lead to redistricting plans that undermine the voting power of non-white communities.

In related news, the Department of Justice has removed from its manual references to ensuring fair representation of minorities on election maps under the Voting Rights Act.

Florida Governor Rick Scott won a temporary victory on Wednesday when a federal appeals court delayed a lower-court judge’s ruling striking down Florida’s system for re-enfranchising felons who, under state law, lose the right to vote when convicted of a crime. The current system requires felons to wait five years after serving time, after which they can only have their right to vote restored if granted approval from the Clemency Board, which is made up of high-ranking members of Scott’s administration, including Scott himself. A ballot measure to reform the system will be put to a vote this November, potentially overturning the system regardless of how legal proceedings shake out.

Less than two weeks before early voting begins in Arkansas’s 2018 primaries, a judge blocked the state’s voter ID law. State officials immediately appealed the decision to the state’s Supreme Court.

On Friday, a federal appeals court upheld Texas’s voter ID law, saying it did not discriminate against minorities. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard challenges to Texas electoral maps from 2011 that allegedly discriminate against minorities — a legal dispute that conservatives have succeeded in drawing out over the better part of a decade.

Nicole LaFond reports that a 43-year-old African American Texas woman is asking for a new trial after she was hit with a five-year sentence for filing a provisional ballot while on supervised release. A lawyer for the woman told TPM she believes the charges were part of a Republican effort to identify instances of voter fraud for political reasons. Also last week, a white Republican judge in the same county got five years probation for submitting fake signatures to qualify to be on the ballot.

Tierney Sneed will return next week. 

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“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mick Mulvaney, the acting head of an agency that regulates banking told a room full of bankers this week. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Mulvaney, of course, is the man who is attempting an about-face for the agency he helms, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. That includes rebranding the consumer watchdog by scrambling the letters in its name (Mulvaney suggests “BCFP”) and ending its practice of logging consumer complaints.

As a former member of Congress from South Carolina, Mulvaney’s campaigns raised at least half a million dollars from the investment and banking industries, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He is now overseeing the agency tasked with keeping these same industries in check. The New York Times noted that he received $63,000 from payday lenders alone, an industry that, under Mulvaney’s predecessor Richard Cordray — now a Democratic candidate for the governor of Ohio — the industry cracked down on for its predatory practices. Mulvaney famously called the CFPB a “sick, sad joke” while it was under Cordray’s stewardship.

Following his speech to the American Bankers Association, Mulvaney’s spokesperson claimed that his words had been misinterpreted, noting that Mulvaney also said he would listen to his constituents regardless of whether they donated. His money-talks “hierarchy” only applied to lobbyists.

Nonetheless, his honesty provoked outrage. Some Democrats called for him to step down. “Let’s call it what it is: corruption,” wrote the Washington Post’s ostensibly conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin.

What Mulvaney laid bare, of course, doesn’t even rise to the level of an open secret. Members of Congress can spend up to half their time “dialing for dollars,” soliciting donations like these to fund their reelection efforts. In return, they have to offer something. Usually, that something is access. This is the sort of thing the Supreme Court acknowledged and affirmed with its 2010 Citizens United decision. As election law expert Rick Hasen notes, Justice Kennedy explicitly wrote that “ingratiation and access, in any event, are not corruption.”

So by the Supreme Court’s definition, Mulvaney did not admit to anything corrupt. Mulvaney went further. Lobbyists’ efforts to sway him with donations were, in fact, one of the “fundamental underpinnings of our representative democracy,” he said in his speech. “And you have to continue to do it.”

It may not be corruption. But it also doesn’t seem on message for an administration that promised a fully drained swamp.

For saying the quiet part loud, Mick Mulvaney is our Duke of the Week.

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