strong words
April 11, 2019

A former Watergate prosecutor on Wednesday accused Attorney General William Barr of assisting the White House in a cover-up.

Nick Akerman, former Watergate assistant special prosecutor and MSNBC legal analyst, came to this conclusion after Barr told the Senate that he believes spying on President Trump's 2016 campaign "did occur." Barr later said that he is "not saying that improper surveillance occurred," but that he is concerned it did and plans to investigate.

"This is just all part of the White House's cover-up," Akerman responded. The best evidence of a cover-up, he argued, is the fact that Barr wouldn't say on Wednesday whether he has spoken with the White House about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report. "The reason that you see the White House changing course here is because Barr has told them what's in the report," Akerman alleged. "Somebody there has relayed to Trump what it is. This is all part of one big cover-up."

Trump has insisted he has not seen the full Mueller report, saying Wednesday he has not read it — and "I don't care." The Justice Department previously said the White House had not been briefed on the full report, but Barr would not say as much Wednesday. Barr also indicated he does "not intend" at this stage to send Congress the full, unredacted report, and Akerman predicted the public version will be so full of color-coded redactions it will "look like the New York subway system map." Brendan Morrow

February 22, 2018

President Trump's plan to arm teachers to prevent school shootings like the one in Parkland, Florida, has an important opponent: actual teachers.

In a statement Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said her union's position is firm, even among teachers who are gun owners: "Teachers don't want to be armed, we want to teach. We don't want to be, and would never have the expertise needed to be, sharp shooters; no amount of training can prepare an armed teacher to go up against an AR-15."

She had some practical questions, too:

How would arming teachers even work? Would kindergarten teachers be carrying guns in holsters? Is every classroom now going to have a gun closet? Will it be locked? When you have seconds to act when you hear the code for an active shooter, is a teacher supposed to use those seconds getting her gun instead of getting her students to safety? Anyone who pushes arming teachers doesn't understand teachers and doesn't understand our schools. Adding more guns to schools may create an illusion of safety, but in reality it would make our classrooms less safe. [Randi Weingarten]

Read the full statement here. Kelly O'Meara Morales

February 7, 2018

White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter resigned Wednesday, after reports surfaced that he had physically abused two of his ex-wives. Porter denied the allegations — detailed by ex-wives Colbie Holderness and Jennifer Willoughby to the Daily Mail and The Intercept this week — but resigned anyway, saying he "will not further engage publicly with a coordinated smear campaign."

As Porter's resignation rippled through Washington, the White House defended their man. White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Porter "someone of the highest integrity and exemplary character," while Chief of Staff John Kelly said Porter was "a friend, a confidante, and a trusted professional."

This was a line too far for CNN's Jake Tapper, who opened Wednesday's The Lead with a pointed message. "There are basic lines of decency," Tapper said, "and we continue to see [President Trump's] presidency eroding these lines."

Invoking Trump's defense of some white nationalists at a rally in Virginia last year as "very fine people," as well as the president's endorsement of former Senate candidate Roy Moore, who was credibly accused of sexual assault of minors, Tapper questioned the administration's moral compass: "To this list … the White House has now added someone accused by two ex-wives of spousal abuse."

Tapper said the White House's defense of Porter was just "a further erosion of standards of what I thought we'd all agreed was not okay, not acceptable, not moral." He continued: "The White House is sadly no longer considered a place of the highest standards in the land, but rather a place where our national standards are being degraded."

Watch below. Kelly O'Meara Morales

November 13, 2017

A fifth woman on Monday accused Roy Moore, the Republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, of sexually harassing her when she was a teenager and he a district attorney in his early 30s. Represented by attorney Gloria Allred, Beverly Young-Nelson became the latest woman to accuse Moore of inappropriate conduct, saying that when she was 16 years old, Moore tried to sexually assault her in his car after offering her a ride home from the restaurant where she worked, one Moore frequented.

Young-Nelson said that after she fought back, Moore "gave up," and threatened her that no one would believe her story if she told anyone. "You're just a child," Young-Nelson quoted Moore as saying. "I am the district attorney of Etowah County. And if you tell anyone about this, no one will ever believe you."

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — the arm of the party tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate — said Monday that if Moore refuses to withdraw from the election and wins the seat, senators should vote to expel him from the chamber because "he does not meet the ethical and moral requirements of the United States Senate."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier Monday that he believes the women who have accused Moore, and that the former judge should "step aside" from the race. The special election is Dec. 12. Read Gardner's full statement below. Kimberly Alters

July 25, 2017

On Tuesday, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) returned to the Senate floor for the first time since he was diagnosed with brain cancer, and he was greeted by a bipartisan standing ovation. McCain came back to Washington just in time to to cast his yes vote on Senate Republicans' motion to proceed on debating the House-passed health-care bill.

Though Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided on the health-care issue — no Democrats voted in favor of the motion to proceed, while all but two Republicans supported it — Politico's Dan Diamond reported that a "parade" of Democrats went over to hug McCain.

After the voting wrapped up and the motion to proceed passed, however, McCain took the floor for a general speech that betrayed his simple "aye" vote on the bill. Though McCain voted in favor of the motion to proceed, he made clear that he would "not vote for the bill as it is today." "It's a shell of a bill right now, we all know that," McCain said, adding that it "seems likely" that "this process ends in failure." He scolded his party for "getting nothing done" because "we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle."

McCain's critical speech also extended to President Trump. "Whether or not we are of the same party, we are not the president's subordinates," McCain said. "We are his equal." Catch a snippet of McCain's speech below, and read it in full here. Becca Stanek

January 13, 2017

President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration will be the first Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) skips in his nearly 30 years in Congress. And it's not because Lewis has prior obligations — it's because he doesn't see "this president-elect as a legitimate president."

In an interview for Meet the Press, Lewis said Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election completely undermined the legitimacy of Trump's win in his eyes. "I think the Russians participated in helping this man get elected," Lewis said. "And they helped destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton."

He said that while he believes "in forgiveness" and in "trying to work with people," he's having a hard time looking past his belief that "there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get him elected." "That's not right. That's not fair," Lewis said. "That's not the open democratic process."

Watch the interview below. Becca Stanek

April 27, 2015

The debate over Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical magazine that was attacked by terrorists in January, re-entered the spotlight today, after six prominent authors announced that they would not attend the Pen American Center's annual gala in May because the magazine would be awarded the foundation's Freedom of Expression Courage Award. The authors — who include Michael Ondaatje, Teju Cole, and Rachel Kushner — are reportedly uncomfortable with celebrating a magazine that is best known for its attacks on Islam.

The controversy has spread beyond the rarefied air of the literary award circuit to reignite debates about freedom of expression and religious tolerance. A polite example of this back-and-forth can be found at The Intercept, which has published a letter to PEN by the writer Deborah Eisenberg questioning the award, and a response by PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel defending it.

But others have been less civil, most prominently Salman Rushdie, who was famously the subject of an Iranian fatwa calling for his death. He asserted on Twitter that the objecting writers are "six pussies."

He later told The New York Times, "If PEN as a free speech organization can't defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name. What I would say to both Peter [Carey] and Michael and the others is, I hope nobody ever comes after them." Ryu Spaeth

October 18, 2014

Researchers presented a new study at a White House conference on "bridging the word gap" Thursday, and their findings challenged the decades-long belief that when it comes to teaching children language skills, the key is more words.

"It's not just about shoving words in," Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University and the study's lead author, told The New York Times. "It's about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects…That is the stuff from which language is made."

The new findings build on a 20-year-old education study which set the standard for practices to help lower-income children catch up with their more affluent peers. In that study, researchers discovered that children from wealthier families would hear 30 million more words than their poorer counterparts before ever setting foot in school. Thus began a push for programs and reminders to parents: Talk, talk, talk.

While even that 1995 study noted the importance of tone and variety of vocabulary used with children, researchers say the new findings hammer home the idea of quality over quantity. The study's authors found that the type of communication parents used with their two-year-old children accounted for 27 percent of the kids' variation in language skills one year later.

"When we talk about gaps, our natural tendency is to talk about filling them,"Dr. Hirsh-Pasek said. But, "you need to have the foundation there first if language isn't going to just roll off the child's back and become background noise." Sarah Eberspacher

See More Speed Reads