May 20, 2020

A North Dakota construction firm somehow ended up with the largest ever contract to build the border wall even though its first contract is still under a Defense Department investigation.

Fisher Sand and Gravel secured a $1.3 billion contract to build a technically challenging 42-mile stretch of the President Trump's U.S.-Mexico border wall through Arizona, The Arizona Daily Star first reported. Trump had talked up Fisher after the company's CEO formed ties with Trump's advisers and praised the president on TV, and now lawmakers are starting to ask questions.

Fisher CEO Tommy Fisher had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobby Republican lawmakers into talking up his company to Trump, and his pressure eventually stuck. Trump would often push the Army Corps of Engineers to consult with Fisher for all its border needs, The Washington Post reports. Democrats' concerns of improper White House influence on the border wall contract process eventually pushed the Department of Defense's inspector general to launch an audit of Fisher's first contract, and that probe is still ongoing.

The news of the second contract prompted at least Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) to tweet that "border wall construction should be halted until this investigation is over."

House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) meanwhile told the Post it "speaks volumes to the administration's lack of transparency that they didn't announce this award — the largest ever," and called on the Trump administration to "pause construction and contracting decisions" until the investigation and the coronavirus pandemic have ended. Kathryn Krawczyk

March 2, 2020

President Trump says he doesn't have time to undergo a physical, telling reporters on Monday that his hectic schedule is keeping him from getting checked out.

"I'm going probably over the next 90 days," Trump said. "I'm so busy I can't do it." Typically, presidential physicals are conducted in the beginning of the year; Trump's last planned physical was in February 2019. At the time, Dr. Sean Conley said Trump was in "very good health overall," but had gained four pounds since February 2018 and was taking a higher dosage of medication used to treat high cholesterol.

In November, Trump made an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where the 73-year-old underwent what was later described as an "interim checkup." Conley called the visit "routine" and said it was only kept highly secretive due to "scheduling uncertainties." White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham claimed Trump had a "free weekend" and decided to "begin portions of his routine annual physical exam." Presidents do not normally break their physicals up into segments several months apart. Catherine Garcia

November 20, 2019

At the center of the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump's Ukraine dealings is the nearly $400 million in congressionally allocated security aid that Trump ordered withheld from Kyiv for still-unclear reasons. House Democrats are investigating whether Trump was using the $250 million in Pentagon funds or $141 million in State Department aid as leverage to force Ukraine's president to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.

Trump's Republican allies argue that there was no quid pro quo — aid for investigations — because the Trump administration lifted its hold on the money Sept. 11. "Ukraine in fact received the aid and there was no investigation into the Bidens," Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) said during Tuesday's impeachment hearings.

"But $35.2 million — earmarked for grenade launchers, secure communications, and naval combat craft — has not left the U.S. Treasury," the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday, citing Pentagon spending documents and lawmakers. And the Pentagon isn't saying why it has not sent Ukraine the money. Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Carla Gleason told the Times only that the remaining $35 million will be disbursed "over the next several weeks."

Democratic lawmakers say the Defense Department is stonewalling them, too. "We've raised the question and we have not received an answer," said Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Committee's readiness subcommittee. "We're going to have to find out why." Senate Democrats wrote Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Monday arguing that "speeding the delivery of this critical aid, which Congress specifically appropriated to improve the security of Ukraine, is important to affirm our commitment to Ukraine in the wake of the chaotic, undisciplined, and deeply concerning approach the administration has taken toward our important partner."

Congress approved the funds a year ago, but because the White House kept them on ice until right before the fiscal year ended Sept. 30, lawmakers gave the Pentagon another year to spend the $250 million. Peter Weber

June 19, 2019

It's a wonder no one figured this out sooner.

Marcus Epstein has a history of associating with far-right groups and white nationalists while writing racially provocative pieces across conservative sites. Yet over the past two years, he seemingly dropped that history as he adopted the name "Mark Epstein" and wrote op-eds for The Wall Street Journal, The Hill, Forbes, and other publications — and the Journal has a very odd explanation for how it happened, BuzzFeed News reports.

Epstein previously worked for former Colorado congressmember Tom Tancredo, who espoused xenophobic views himself, and founded what BuzzFeed News calls a "nativist political club" with white supremacist Richard Spencer in the mid-2000s. Under his full name, Epstein also wrote a series of provocative, race-related op-eds for the anti-immigration website VDare.

But on the Journal's website, Mark Epstein is only identified as an "antitrust attorney and freelance writer" and largely writes in opposition to big tech regulation. Epstein gets that designation because that's the way "we know Mark Epstein," the Journal said in a statement to BuzzFeed News, adding that "we are not aware that he has written under any other byline." A spokesperson for The Hill said "we would never knowingly post material from a racist writer and have no information identifying this writer as such." Forbes, meanwhile, said Epstein's byline appeared "without permission as a co-author on one of our contributor’s posts" and that it would take Epstein's post down for further review.

Epstein explained the pseudonym to BuzzFeed News as a way to "move past the media-internet driven outrage culture" surrounding his past actions, including a dismissed 2007 misdemeanor assault charge. He also said he has "never been white nationalist nor held their beliefs." Read more at BuzzFeed News. Kathryn Krawczyk

April 19, 2019

Today in wild misinterpretations: Russia is somehow claiming that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report — specifically intended to outline the evidence regarding Russia's interference in the 2016 election — didn't uncover "a single piece of evidence" pointing to illegal meddling.

Mueller, of course, bolstered U.S. intelligence conclusions by stating Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a "sweeping and systematic fashion." Mueller determined that President Trump's campaign did not criminally coordinate to aid in the interference, but the report plainly lays out that interference occurred. Reuters reports that Russia’s foreign ministry dismissed the findings on Friday, breezing past the evidence that showed the Kremlin working to find Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails, the Russian troll farm that waged a social media disinformation campaign, and the contact between Russian operatives and Trump campaign officials that sought to push Russian influence in 2016.

"The report confirms the absence of any arguments to the effect Russia allegedly intervened in the U.S. election," claimed Georgy Borisenko, the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s North America Department in Russia's news outlet TASS. "Not a single piece of evidence is there. The authors of the report have in fact confessed they have nothing to report." Mueller may have something (like a couple hundred pages) to say about that. Summer Meza

March 11, 2019

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) built her political career on fighting sexual misconduct. But that push apparently didn't extend to her own office, one former aide claims.

As the 2020 candidate continued to push for Congress to adopt her bill to curb internal harassment last summer, an aide resigned after saying the senator ignored her claims of sexual harassment by a more senior staffer. Gillibrand's office investigated and "found evidence" of the senior aide's "inappropriate comments," but didn't fire him, Politico reports.

The anonymous aide, a woman in her mid-20s, tells Politico the harassment from longtime Gillibrand aide Abbas Malik started when he was told he'd be supervising her. "A decade her senior and married," Abbas "repeatedly made unwelcome advances" toward the younger staffer, she tells Politico. The anonymous woman also said Malik "regularly made crude, misogynistic remarks in the office," which several former Gillibrand staffers backed up.

Yet despite the aide detailing all of this in a lengthy resignation letter obtained by Politico, Malik kept his job. Gillibrand's office says it did investigate the claims, but Politico says it "left out key former staffers." In a statement to Politico, Gillibrand's office said its first probe didn't uncover evidence that met "the standard for sexual harassment."

After seeing Politico's findings, Gillibrand's office started a new probe into Malik's behavior and found what it called "never-before reported and deeply troubling comments allegedly made by" him. The office dismissed him last week. Malik did not respond to a request for comment. Read more at Politico. Kathryn Krawczyk

January 15, 2019

President Trump's attorney general pick may have just served Democrats cause for concern.

William Barr faced the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, hearing from a line of Democrats concerned about the protection of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) explicitly asked whether Barr has received any "nonpublic information about Mueller's investigation" from the White House. But Barr changed up Feinstein's language in his response, saying "I don't recall getting an confidential information."

Earlier in the hearing, Barr acknowledged discussing Mueller's probe into the Trump campaign's potential involvement with Russian election interference with the president. But he said those discussions were "not in any particular substance."

Democrats are worried that an attorney general might interfere with the special counsel's probe, especially considering Barr once issued a memo criticizing an aspect of Mueller's investigation. Barr did ensure in his opening statement that he'd allow Mueller to "to complete his work" and make any results of the probe public, providing they are "consistent with the law." Kathryn Krawczyk

October 29, 2018

Fox News' Brian Kilmeade has a new simile for the migrant caravan headed toward the United States: They're just like unvaccinated children.

On Monday's Fox & Friends, Kilmeade said one of his biggest concerns about the group, still hundreds of miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, is the "diseases" the migrants could bring. "I mean, there's a reason why you can't bring a kid to school unless he's inoculated," Kilmeade said. He then wondered why those who want to block the caravan from entering are seen as "hardhearted," even though "we already give 40 to 50 percent of our taxable income to the government for social programs."

But "we can't have countries' entire populations come in" to America, Kilmeade continued, because keeping some people out is "part of the reason why America's America." There are an estimated 3,000-4,000 migrants in the group of mostly Honduran migrants, of the country's population of over 9 million. Watch the whole segment below. Kathryn Krawczyk

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