Report: Blackwater founder secretly met with Putin associate to establish Trump-Moscow backchannel link
Nine days before President Trump's inauguration, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi helped arrange a clandestine meeting in the Seychelles islands between Erik Prince, the founder of the security firm Blackwater and a major Trump supporter, and a Russian close to President Vladimir Putin, in an apparent attempt to establish a backchannel conduit between Putin and Trump, several U.S., European, and Arab officials told The Washington Post.
The Abu Dhabi prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, agreed to broker the meeting because the United Arab Emirates, like the U.S., wants Russia to cool its relationship with Iran, officials said. Prince, who did not have a formal role with the Trump campaign or transition team, approached al-Nahyan about setting up the meeting, saying he was an unofficial Trump envoy, The Post reports. The crown prince suggested holding it in the Seychelles for privacy. While the meeting was considered positive by the UAE and Russia, they opted not to arrange any other summits between Putin's friend, who has not been identified, and Prince because of the political risk, officials said.
Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, and he regularly appeared on a radio program hosted by Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist. He gave $250,000 to Trump's campaign. Blackwater became famous during the Iraq War, when guards from the firm were convicted of killing Iraqis in a public square in 2007, and Prince later sold the company. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the administration is "not aware of any meetings and Erik Prince had no role in the transition," while a testy spokesman for Prince told The Post the meeting "had nothing to do with President Trump. Why is the so-called under-resourced intelligence community messing around with surveillance of American citizens when they should be hunting terrorists?" Catherine Garcia
The mass shootings of the past few years may not have led to any major national gun policy changes. But gun control is playing a massively larger role in campaign advertising for the 2018 election than it did in the last midterm cycle.
While mentions of gun policy have increased across the board, a Wall Street Journal analysis published Tuesday shows, ad mentions supporting stricter gun control policies have spiked dramatically. In the entire 2014 election, the Journal's data counts just under 4,500 campaign ad mentions of pro-gun control messages. With more than a month to go in this year's race, those mentions have already topped 100,000 in 2018.
Guns are not only mentioned in far more ads now than they used to be, but the proportion of views represented has undergone a significant shift. In 2014, ads that mentioned guns were 600 percent more likely to oppose gun control policies as to endorse them. This year, they are about 50 percent more likely to call for more regulation instead of less.
This change has been particularly striking in states, like Nevada and Florida, where mass shootings have recently occurred. Those two states alone "went from zero pro-gun control ads in 2014 to more than 45,000 this year," the Journal reports. Bonnie Kristian
Anita Hill knows a little something about senators, the Supreme Court, and sexual harassment.
Before this past weekend, Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was on track for a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation vote Thursday. But Christine Blasey Ford's allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh upended the process, and now Kavanaugh and Ford are both scheduled for hearings with the committee next week.
Back in 1991, Hill faced a ruthless hearing and public smears as she alleged sexual harassment from then-nominee Clarence Thomas. So now, as the court once again deals with sexual misconduct allegations against a nominee, Hill has authored a New York Times op-ed to school senators on how they can "get the Kavanaugh hearings right." The Brandeis University professor outlined four "basic ground rules" for ensuring that the committee doesn't "fail" like it did 27 years ago:
1. "Refrain from pitting the public interest in confronting sexual harassment against the need for a fair confirmation hearing," as maintaining the Supreme Court's "integrity" and "eliminating sexual misconduct ... are entirely compatible."
2. "Select a neutral investigative body with experience in sexual misconduct cases" to investigate the incident and report back to the committee.
3. Don't rush. Planning these hearings for next week is "discouraging," as a week isn't enough time to prepare "meaningful inquiry into very serious charges."
4. "Refer to Christine Blasey Ford by her name," as she is "not simply 'Judge Kavanaugh's accuser.'"
If the Senate sticks to these rules and puts the "burden of persuasion" on Kavanaugh, Hill says that a Senate "with more women than ever" can finally "get it right." Read all of Hill's advice at The New York Times. Kathryn Krawczyk
When Florence's still-rising floodwaters finally subside, the coastal Carolina regions that have suffered the worst of the storm's wrath will begin to rebuild. But for many, the question remains: With what money?
Only about 10 percent of housing units have flood insurance in many of the areas Florence drenched, and homeowners expecting to rely on Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) help to rebuild will be sorely disappointed. While a good flood insurance policy will provide several hundred thousand dollars to restore a house and replace possessions, FEMA flood grants cover, at most, $33,000. Most payouts come in below $10,000.
Thus, for "the insurance industry in general, Florence looks like ... a manageable event that will hurt earnings to some degree but won't affect capital," The Wall Street Journal reports. Because there are so few flood insurance policies to pay out, homeowners rather than their insurers will take on the financial brunt of the storm's destruction. Accordingly, share prices for major insurers recovered swiftly after a few days' dip as Florence made landfall.
Flood insurance is distinct from regular homeowner's insurance. It must be purchased separately from either private carriers or the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), a FEMA subsidiary, a month before flood damage occurs to receive a payout. The NFIP, which now operates at a loss, offers below-market insurance rates for construction in flood-prone areas, arguably subsidizing dangerous construction. Bonnie Kristian
Earth's mightiest gang of heroes is about to get a whole lot mightier.
Disney on Tuesday released the first trailer for Captain Marvel, the latest Marvel superhero film. The flick stars Brie Larson as Carol Danvers, an Air Force pilot who gains otherworldly powers and joins an alien military unit. Upon returning to Earth, she tries to piece together her mysterious past.
The new footage focuses on Danvers' relationship with a young Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), who still has both of his eyes at this point. That's because Captain Marvel is set in the 1990s, as an opening beat in a Blockbuster Video makes clear — which also means Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) will return to the film franchise after being killed off in 2012's The Avengers.
Marvel fans have been jonesing for a glimpse at Captain Marvel ever since the final scene of Avengers: Infinity War earlier this year, in which Fury pages Danvers for help following Thanos' decimation of half the universe. The pager he uses in that scene makes an appearance in this clip, teasing the film's Infinity War connection.
After this solo movie, which hits theaters on March 8, 2019, Danvers will appear in the untitled fourth Avengers film in May 2019. Considering Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige calls Danvers the most powerful Avenger, she will likely play a key role in defeating Thanos and bringing the fallen heroes back to life. Watch the first trailer for Captain Marvel — Marvel Studios' first female-centric superhero movie — below. Brendan Morrow
Long before President Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Christine Blasey Ford told her friends that he sexually assaulted her back in high school.
Ford "was up and down about whether she was going to go public" with the allegations, her friend Kirsten Leimroth told The Mercury News on Monday. Leimroth said that Ford told her about the alleged assault long before she came forward this year, and said that it's "preposterous" to imagine Ford would make it up. Kavanaugh has categorically denied the allegations.
"There's absolutely no way it's made up. She can't even go home," said Leimroth, explaining that Ford's kids are staying elsewhere and that Ford had shut down her social media accounts since identifying herself. "Why would she do that?" Ford couldn't decide whether coming forward would "do any good," continued Leimroth, because it wasn't an "actual rape." Ford alleges that Kavanaugh forcibly groped her during a party in the 1980s and that he tried to undress her, but may have been struggling due to how intoxicated he was. Ford thought Kavanaugh would "go through" even if she did come forward, per Leimroth, and wondered whether it was worth putting herself through the public scrutiny.
Another friend, Rebecca White, said that Ford told her about the alleged assault back in 2017, and that she mentioned that her alleged assailant was a federal judge. White said that Ford described the event as "violent" and "physically scary" and said Ford found it difficult to see that Kavanaugh had become "a super powerful guy." Kavanaugh was confirmed to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006.
Ford told a third friend, Jim Gensheimer, that she was scared Kavanaugh defenders would try to assassinate her character. "I've been trying to forget this all my life, and now I'm supposed to remember every little detail," he recalls her saying. Read more at The Mercury News. Summer Meza
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross appears to have misled Congress when he testified that the Justice Department had "initiated" including a question about U.S. citizenship on the U.S. census, according to newly unredacted documents released Monday as part of a lawsuit. Ross said in March that the Justice Department had pushed for the citizenship question, which hasn't been included in the census since 1950, so it could enforce Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The new documents add to the evidence that Ross was the driving force.
In a September 2017 email to Ross, Commerce official Earl Comstock said he had approached the Justice Department in May to "discuss the citizenship question," and "Justice staff did not want to raise the question given the difficulties Justice was encountering in the press at the time (the whole Comey matter)." Comstock said he then tried the Department of Homeland Security, and they pointed him back to the Justice Department, so he asked a Commerce Department lawyer to explore "how Commerce could add the question to the census itself." A few months later, the Justice Department formally requested the citizenship question.
The Census Bureau's chief scientist, other researchers, and a bureau-sponsored marketing campaign have found that including the citizenship question depresses the participation of Latinos, Asians, and other minorities, skewing the constitutionally mandated decennial head count. Ross "personally lobbied the attorney general to submit the memorandum that the secretary 'then later relied on to justify his decision,'" plaintiffs' lawyers argued in the lawsuit, one of six around the country seeking to strike the citizenship question.
U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman, who's overseeing the lawsuit in Manhattan, had ordered the Trump administration to release the unredacted memos, saying they "go to the heart" of the central question of Ross' intent in adding the citizenship question. Furman has potentially scheduled a trial to start Nov. 5, though Justice Department lawyers are arguing against a trial and Ross deposition. Peter Weber
A new poll has the Republican National Committee very concerned about the upcoming midterms.
The internal RNC poll conducted by Public Opinion Strategies shows that about half of Republicans, and 57 percent of Trump supporters, don't believe Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives, Bloomberg reports. According to the report, the RNC is worried this complacency will lead GOP voters to stay home, and subsequently hand the House to the Democrats.
The Democrats' prospects of winning at least 23 additional seats in the November midterms and thus retaking the House have been steadily climbing in recent months. FiveThirtyEight puts the chances at about 82 percent. Even in the RNC poll, 71 percent of overall voters said it was likely to happen. The report notes that Republicans must now make it their mission to clearly communicate to voters that the midterms matter, adding that Trump supporters don't seem to think "there is anything at stake in this election."
One reason for this false sense of security might be President Trump's utter confidence that Republicans could actually end up with an even bigger majority than before the midterms. GOP strategists told Axios in August that they feared Trump's prediction of a "red wave," in combination with Trump voters' tendency to dismiss anything negative about the president as "fake news," might suppress turnout and spell real trouble.