December 15, 2017

President Trump left open an awful lot of room for speculation Friday when he refused to talk about a potential pardon for his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Earlier this month, Flynn pleaded guilty to making "willfully" false statements to the FBI about his contact with former Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

"I don't want to talk about pardons with Michael Flynn yet, we'll see what happens, let's see," Trump told reporters. "I can say this, when you look at what's going on with the FBI and the Justice Department, people are very, very angry."

There was one particular word that stuck out to listeners:

Watch Trump's comments below. Jeva Lange

December 12, 2017

President Trump and the White House have vehemently denied renewed accusations of Trump's sexual misconduct, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters Monday that "the president has denied [all] of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses." How, exactly, eyewitnesses can confirm that something didn't happen has been a bit of a head-scratcher, though:

Nevertheless, Sanders promised reporters Monday: "In terms of the specific eyewitness accounts … there have been multiple reports, and I'd be happy to provide them to you after the briefing has completed."

While Sanders hasn't delivered a list just yet, the White House is known to have eyewitnesses — two, for at least 13 separate allegations. Jessica Leeds claimed Trump groped her on an airplane, but a man named Anthony Gilberthorpe said he was also on the plane and that "Leeds was the aggressor," The Washington Post writes. There are questions surrounding Gilberthorpe's claim, though, as he "has a history of making unproven claims, including that he had once regularly provided underage boys to members of Britain's Parliament for sex parties."

In another case, Natasha Stoynoff claims Trump forcibly kissed her at Mar-a-Lago, and The Washington Post reports that five people heard her story around the time of the alleged event. While the White House did not technically present an eyewitness rebuttal, "a longtime family butler who came into the room after the incident said that nothing seemed unusual."

Review The Washington Post's entire tally of allegations and eyewitness rebuttals here. Jeva Lange

December 11, 2017

The America First Project, a self-described super PAC of attack dogs for President Trump's agenda, sent a 12-year-old girl from Virginia to interview Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in a move described by Bustle as "somewhat questionable." Moore is accused of having pursued, and in one case assaulted, teenage girls as young as 14.

The America First Project's Jennifer Lawrence says in the video that "after everything that's happened in this Alabama Senate race up until this point, we thought it was important … to bring Millie [March] here to show that there's a wide range of people who support Judge Roy Moore." It's not the first time the young interviewer, Millie March, has appeared in an America First Project video — her rave review of Trump's agenda at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) went viral last February.

March wanted to know if Moore would help Trump build the wall, what issues are important to Alabama voters, and what characteristics make a good senator. Some parts went better than others:

Watch the full interview below. Jeva Lange

December 7, 2017

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Thursday announced his intention to resign "in the coming weeks" after two more women came forward Wednesday to allege he had inappropriately touched them. The senator's phrasing, though, immediately stood out to some:

One theory that emerged was that Franken is potentially waiting for the results of the Alabama Senate race, in which the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, is accused of pursuing and assaulting teenage girls. The Alabama special election will be held next week, on Dec. 12.

Franken made a point to allude to Moore in his speech, too. "I am aware of the irony that I am leaving while ... a man who has preyed on underage girls is running for the Senate with the full support of his party," he said. Watch Franken's remarks here at The Week. Jeva Lange

November 29, 2017

Within minutes of NBC News announcing that it had terminated longtime host Matt Lauer over allegations of "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace," President Trump responded to the news on Twitter:

Trump has been inconsistent in his belief of women who have accused powerful men of sexual misconduct. Trump shared his disturbance over allegations against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), for example, but has seemingly backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is accused of sexually assaulting and harassing teenage girls.

Trump faces sexual harassment allegations himself, and was famously caught on an Access Hollywood video making vulgar comments about women and bragging about groping and kissing them without consent. Recently, Trump has been reported as attempting to sow disbelief about the authenticity of that tape, despite having admitted to making the comments in a 2016 apology video. As some people have pointed out, NBC News owns Access Hollywood. Jeva Lange

November 24, 2017
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Lawyers for President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have ended an agreement to share information with Trump's lawyers about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing four people involved in the case.

Trump's lawyers reportedly believe the move could mean Flynn is cooperating with Mueller's team. Lawyers sometimes pull out of such information-sharing agreements when their clients start negotiating deals with prosecutors.

Flynn had ties with Moscow before he joined Trump's campaign, and the White House has been preparing for his possible indictment since Mueller's team filed charges in October against Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign aide Rick Gates, and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Read more about what this means for the Mueller investigation at The New York Times. Jeva Lange

November 21, 2017

The Trump administration is close to naming a Republican professor whose work has been used to support GOP redistricting efforts as deputy head of the Census Bureau, Politico reports. The rumors of Thomas Brunell's impending appointment are concerning to many voting rights advocates because as deputy head, he would not require Senate confirmation and therefore could not be blocked. After the resignation of former Census Director John Thompson in June, and Trump's failure to nominate anyone for permanent director in his wake, Brunell could become the most powerful permanent official in the agency.

If indeed appointed, Brunell's decisions ahead of the 2020 Census would theoretically shape the future of American elections: "There are tons of little things he could be doing to influence what the final count looks like," a former high-ranking official in the Commerce Department explained to Politico. "The ripple effect on reapportionment would be astounding."

What's more, Brunell has little obvious experience for the job, having no background in statistics or in government, as the position's appointees typically do. In addition to a Ph.D. in political science, Brunell is the author of a 2008 book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America. In it, he argues:

…[P]artisan districts packed with like-minded voters actually lead to better representation than ones more evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, because fewer voters in partisan districts cast a vote for a losing candidate. He has also argued that ideologically packed districts should be called "fair districts" and admits that his stance on competitive elections makes him something of an outlier among political scientists, who largely support competitive elections. [Politico]

The former director of the Census-tracking organization Census Project, Terri Ann Lowenthal, said if the rumors of Brunell's appointment are true, "it signals an effort by the administration to politicize the Census. It's very troubling." Read more about Brunell at Politico. Jeva Lange

November 17, 2017
Juan Jose RODRIGUEZ/AFP/Getty Images

The Trump Organization and family failed to make inquiries into who was purchasing condos in the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, instead accepting money from a range of shady clients including members of the Russian mafia and drug cartel money launderers, an NBC News/Reuters investigation found. "I had some customers with questionable backgrounds," said Brazilian real estate salesman Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who sold hundreds of units in the building beginning in 2006 but now lives as a fugitive due to an unrelated money-laundering scheme. "Nobody ever asked me," Ventura added. "Banks never asked. Developer didn't ask and [the] Trump Organization didn't ask. Nobody ask, 'Who are the customers, where did the money come from?' No, nobody ask."

Former Panamanian financial crimes prosecutor Mauricio Ceballos put it more bluntly, calling the Trump Ocean Club "a vehicle for money laundering."

Although the Trump Organization was not the developer for the building, it did license its brand and it operates the hotel and receives a cut of the condo sales. President Trump continues to make money from the project, earning $13.9 million over the last three years. In the words of Ventura, the Ocean Club was Ivanka Trump's personal "baby." NBC News writes that while there is "no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family engaged in any illegal activity, or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the project's associates," a willingness to turn a blind eye could nevertheless get the Trumps in trouble with U.S. law.

Panama constitutional law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal said there are hundreds of buildings in Panama City like the Trump Ocean Club that are used for money laundering. "There are more than 500 buildings like this," he explained. "But this — the difference of this — is that this has the name of the actual president of the United States." Read the full investigation here. Jeva Lange

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