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February 24, 2020

Billionaire Tom Steyer is facing some criticism over his spending in South Carolina, a state where his Democratic presidential campaign is making some legitimate headway.

Some people have even accused him of trying to buy votes from the state's African-American voters, which Steyer and many others have adamantly denied, The New York Times reports. One thing that's been particularly scrutinized is the Steyer campaign's rental agreement with a company owned by Jennifer Clyburn Reed, the daughter of Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African American in Congress whose endorsement is considered key in South Carolina. Since October, the Steyer campaign has paid more than $40,000 to the company to rent one of its properties as its state headquarters in Columbia, South Carolina. A California-based bank founded by Steyer, meanwhile, has loaned $1 million to a Columbia-based bank that has one of Clyburn's sons-in-laws on its board.

The campaign has brushed off the accusations of trying to procure political favor from the Clyburn family, arguing Steyer is simply committed to hiring local organizers and investing in local businesses to get his grassroots operations running. "The question isn't why Tom is doing this," Steyer spokesman Benjamin Gerdes said in a statement. "The real question is why isn't every other candidate doing it?"

The politically-active Reed called the accusations of vote-buying "disturbing" and seemed a bit annoyed that people think she merely serves as a surrogate for her father. "I'm an adult," she told the Times. "There is no connection. My father has his business and I have mine. We do not vote the same way."

Besides, it's probably all a moot point — both Reed and Clyburn seem likely to back former Vice President Joe Biden. Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

November 6, 2019

House Democrats released hundreds of pages of transcribed impeachment depositions Tuesday, including testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and a key player in President Trump's Ukraine policy. Sondland, who testified two weeks ago that he did not recall U.S. military aid for Ukraine being conditioned on Kyiv opening investigations on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, changed his testimony in a "supplemental declaration" submitted Monday.

Sondland declared Monday that he did in fact tell a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that "resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anticorruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks." He said Trump had not directly told him to offer this quid pro quo, but there was no other "credible explanation for the suspension" of the military aid. Five other administration officials have described a similar no-cash-unless-investigation scheme in their testimony.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Tuesday that he isn't going to read any of the transcripts being released by House impeachment investigators, including Sondland's. "I've written the whole process off," he told CBS News. "I think this is a bunch of B.S." That's too bad, because Graham had some questions that Sondland's testimony might answer.

Graham also told Axios' Jonathan Swan in October that "if you could show me that, you know, Trump actually was engaging in a quid pro quo, outside the phone call, that would be very disturbing." And Graham isn't the only Trump supporter who would be disturbed if he read the revised testimony from Sondland, a Trump donor seen as more loyal to the president than the career diplomats and national security officials whose testimony he is now corroborating.

You can, of course, find something both "off the rails wrong" and not impeachable. Peter Weber

June 4, 2019

After months of speculation over her whereabouts, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, was spotted Tuesday in the audience of the country's mass games in Pyongyang.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency showed video of Kim Yo Jong sitting with her brother, his wife, and other top officials, The Associated Press reports. Kim Yo Jong was last seen in public on April 12, when she attended a meeting of the Supreme People's Assembly.

Due to their close relationship and her high position in North Korea's ruling party, it seemed strange that she did not accompany her brother on his trip to Russia in April. Last week, a South Korean newspaper reported that after Kim Jong Un's February summit in Hanoi with President Trump flopped, Kim Yo Jong was told to keep a low profile. The paper also reported that five top North Korean officials were executed after being accused of spying for the United States, and others were banished to camps for political prisoners or condemned to forced hard labor.

Kim Yong Chol was one of the men who was reportedly sent away, but he was seen at the mass games and at a concert over the weekend. Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang told AP it's likely Kim Yo Jong was just taking a break from being in the public eye, and had she been disciplined for her role in the failed summit, she would not have attended the Supreme People's Assembly meeting in April. Catherine Garcia

April 16, 2019

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's new boss may have hired him because of his "excellent relationship" with several government departments, but Zinke says there's no conflict at all with him now working for a mining exploration and development company.

"I don't lobby," Zinke told The Associated Press. "I just follow the law, so I don't talk to anybody on the executive side or influence [anyone]." The Department of the Interior is responsible for the management and conservation of the country's land, water, wildlife, and energy. When Zinke stepped down as secretary in December, he was the subject of several investigations, including one involving his connection to a real estate deal with a company regulated by the Interior Department.

In his new role at Nevada-based U.S. Gold Corp, Zinke is a consultant and board member, earning $100,000 annually. The company's CEO, Edward Karr, told AP he's "excited to have Secretary Zinke move us forward" on two pending mining projects, including one in Nevada on land administered by the Bureau of Land Management; BLM is under the Interior Department.

President Trump signed an executive order in 2017 that prohibits executive-branch appointees from lobbying their former agency for at least five years after exiting the department, AP notes, and there are also criminal statutes banning certain communications between former senior federal officials and their old agencies for one to two years. Catherine Garcia

April 9, 2019

The Trump Organization has been known to hire undocumented workers at its many resorts and hotels. As The New York Times reports, this includes President Trump's "Winter White House," the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, where most of the undocumented workers are from Central American countries and serve as groundskeepers and maintenance workers on the club's golf courses.

But, the Times notes, as the White House ramps up efforts to curb immigration into the U.S., the resort is undergoing a "quiet effort to eliminate" its undocumented workforce. Several of these workers said they had worked at the resort and other golf courses for multiple years and were once employed directly by the Trump properties. However, the Trump Organization recently started transferring those work crews to a staffing company in West Palm Beach, which has been subsequently firing them.

The Times reports that in late February, Jeff Payer, the superintendent of Trump's favorite golf course, Jupiter, called seven maintenance workers who said they did not have legal immigration papers into his office. Payer reportedly told them they were being transferred to Barnett Management, but that they would keep their jobs. Yet by early March, a Barnett representative told the employees that only those with the proper paperwork could stay.

Read more at The New York Times. Tim O'Donnell

January 25, 2019

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday declined to answer a key question about the indictment of the president's longtime adviser, Roger Stone, insisting the whole thing has nothing to do with President Trump.

Stone's indictment released Friday alleges that in July 2016, a senior official in the Trump campaign "was directed" to contact Stone to find out whether WikiLeaks, which Stone had an intermediary with, would be publishing more hacked emails that would damage the Hillary Clinton campaign after the initial release of hacked emails from Democratic officials. This left open the question of whether it may have been Trump himself who directed the move.

But in an interview with CNN on Friday, Sanders argued that Stone's indictment has "nothing to do with the president." When asked whether Trump directed anyone to contact Stone, Sanders declined to answer, saying, "I'm not an attorney" and repeating that "the specific charges that have been brought against Mr. Stone don't have anything to do with the President.”

CNN's John Berman asked this question twice more in two different ways, but Sanders continued to dodge it. Watch Sanders' appearance on CNN below. Brendan Morrow

January 18, 2019

The bombshell BuzzFeed News story suggesting President Trump directed his attorney to lie to Congress barely got any coverage on Fox News Friday morning — other than when a Trump ally came on to dismiss the source.

Former congressman Newt Gingrich laughed through a Fox & Friends interview, dismissing BuzzFeed as the "equivalent of those tabloids you buy at the grocery store on the way out that introduce you to Martians and tell you the story of three stars who had anguished lives that you never knew about."

Gingrich also said that the allegations in the story could not possibly be true because Trump would not be "dumb enough" to lie to Congress.

The Fox & Friends hosts themselves didn't really talk about the story much. As Media Matters' Bobby Lewis points out, the story didn't even get mentioned until more than 40 minutes into the show. It came up as part of a brief news report, which was framed entirely around Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani's response. Giuliani had questioned the report's accuracy by suggesting Michael Cohen shouldn't be believed, even though Cohen wasn't actually the story's source.

During their interview with Gingrich, though, the hosts certainly didn't sound like they were giving the story much credence, with Steve Doocy asking "who are these law enforcement officials" quoted in the story. Doocy also emphasized that the reporter "never actually saw with his own two eyes ... that material." Watch a portion of the Gingrich interview below. Brendan Morrow

December 13, 2018

President Trump on Thursday attempted to downplay the significance of his former lawyer and "fixer" Michael Cohen's three year prison sentence.

In an interview with Fox News, Trump claimed that Cohen only did "very low-level work" for him and that he did "more public relations than he did law." Trump also repeated the defense he mounted on Twitter earlier in the day: that he "never directed" Cohen "to do anything wrong" and that if Cohen violated the law, that's his fault. But Trump contends the campaign finance charges against Cohen were not criminal and that they were brought "to embarrass me."

Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison on Wednesday in part for violating campaign finance laws by arranging for the National Enquirer's publisher to "catch and kill" a woman's story about an alleged affair with Trump; the tabloid's publisher says this was done for the express purpose of protecting the Trump campaign. But Trump told Fox News that he doesn't "think" a payment was ever actually made to the National Enquirer; he can be heard in a recording discussing the payment with Cohen.

Trump's attempt to paint Cohen, who was his personal lawyer for over a decade, as a "low-level" employee brings to mind his similar dismissal of Paul Manafort after the former campaign chairman was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. "He worked for me for a very short period of time," Trump said of Manafort at the time, per Reuters.

Trump also said that he usually hires "very good people" but that in the case of Cohen, hiring him was a "mistake." Watch Trump's interview with Fox News below. Brendan Morrow

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