Sen. Lamar Alexander Called Trump’s National Emergency To Build A Wall A “Constitutional Crisis”


WASHINGTON — Sen. Lamar Alexander has come out against Trump’s state of emergency on the southern border, possibly becoming the crucial fourth Republican needed for Congress to formally rebuke the president.

Trump declared the state of emergency in order to divert billions of dollars toward building a border wall. If Alexander joins Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Thom Tillis, there will be enough votes, including Democrats, to pass a resolution to end the state of emergency.

Alexander argued Thursday that the founders of the country rejected the concept of a king who can set taxes and spending on his own and said these powers must remain with Congress.

“Separation of powers is a crucial constitutional imperative that goes to the very heart of our freedom,” he said.

Alexander also warned that if Trump sets this precedent, future Democratic administrations will use emergency powers to advance their agenda.

“I support what the president wanted to do on border security but I do not support the way he has been advised to do it. It is unnecessary and unwise to turn a border crisis into a constitutional crisis,” said Alexander.

Despite his clear condemnations, after his speech Alexander would not confirm that he will vote for the resolution to end the state of emergency, noting that the Senate has two weeks to go on bringing this up.

“I learned a long time ago in the United States Senate, it’s not wise to announce how you’ll vote on a vote you may never have to take,” he said.

Alexander told reporters he had not spoken to anyone at the White House about his opposition, but provided a copy of his speech to the administration and to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before he spoke Thursday.

Democrats in the House passed this resolution earlier this week with the support of 13 Republicans, and the Senate must hold a vote on it within the next couple weeks.

Trump will almost certainly veto it if it is passed through Congress. White House adviser Stephen Miller signaled Trump would veto the resolution, telling Fox News earlier this month, “obviously the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” To override the veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, which is likely out of reach.

Still, the vote will put many Republican senators in an awkward position. Several of them have objected to the president using a state of emergency to access funds not approved by Congress. But most Republicans are wary of crossing the president, and McConnell has been diligent about blocking votes that would do so. For months he has blocked a vote on a bipartisan bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

But because this is a privileged resolution already passed by the House, McConnell, who supports the national emergency, cannot stop a vote from occurring.

Sen. Chuck Grassley acknowledged that Republicans aren’t happy about having to vote on the disapproval resolution. Both he and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told reporters that Republicans had tried to come up with alternatives to the vote, but had run into procedural issues. “You’re caught between a need for border security and agreeing with what the president wants to do, but not how he wants to do it,” Grassley said.

Trump’s state of emergency declaration was immediately challenged in the courts. Republicans have warned the legal battle could drag past the end of Trump’s current term in office.



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House Intelligence Committee Wants To Question Allen Weisselberg, The Trump Organization’s Chief Financial Officer


WASHINGTON — The House Intelligence Committee plans to question Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, following testimony on Wednesday that suggested he has information relevant to hush money payments to women during the 2016 campaign and other fraudulent activity the Trump Organization may have been involved in.

“The Committee anticipates bringing in Mr. Weisselberg,” a Democratic aide told BuzzFeed News. The committee’s plans were first reported by the Daily Beast.

Weisselberg was brought up multiple times Wednesday during Michael Cohen’s hearing before the House Oversight Committee, the only of multiple appearances Cohen has made on Capitol Hill this week that was public. Cohen is President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer and has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress. Weisselberg was reportedly granted immunity by federal prosecutors last year in the investigation into Cohen, and his signature appears on a check Cohen provided to the committee as evidence. Cohen told lawmakers the check was part of a reimbursement for payments he made to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who allegedly had an affair with Trump, to prevent her from taking her story public during the 2016 campaign.

Following the hearing, Oversight Committee chair Elijah Cummings told reporters he spoke with California Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, adding that there would be “a number of things that he’s going to be able to use from our hearing for his hearing.”

There’s reason to believe that the Oversight Committee will also take interest in talking to Weisselberg itself. Asked if the committee would bring in Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. following the hearing, Cummings said, “we probably will,” adding that there are areas the committee has to be cautious of looking into in order to avoid interfering with work done by special counsel Robert Mueller and the Southern District of New York.

On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that Cummings said anyone Cohen had named would likely be called in to testify.

Spokespeople for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is also investigating Russian election interference, declined to say whether the panel wants to interview or had already interviewed Weisselberg.

Members had several questions about Weisselberg’s work for Trump in Wednesday’s hearing that could preview the kinds of information the House Intelligence Committee will seek from him.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Cohen if, to his knowledge, Trump had ever provided inflated assets to an insurance company, to which he responded affirmatively. When she followed up to ask who else knew that Trump did that, Weisselberg was among those Cohen named.

Ocasio-Cortez also asked about an October 2018 New York Times report that said Trump participated in tax fraud to increase his own wealth. Cohen said he didn’t know if that report was accurate, but when Ocasio-Cortez followed up to see who would know the answer to questions about the report, Cohen again pointed to Weisselberg.

California Rep. Ro Khanna, another member of the Oversight Committee, questioned Cohen about payments he received from the Trump Organization. He asked Cohen about the check Weisselberg and Donald Trump Jr. signed.

“Payments like this check resulted in numerous false statements in the books and records of the Trump Organization. And it’s important for the American public to understand this. Nothing to do with collusion. This is financial fraud, garden-variety financial fraud. It was disguised as a payment for legal services to you,” Khanna said to Cohen.

“I just want the American public to understand that solely apart from Bob Mueller’s investigation, there is garden-variety financial fraud, and your allegation and the explosive smoking gun document suggests that the president, his son, and his [chief financial officer] may be involved in a criminal conspiracy.”

Weisselberg has worked for the Trump organization for more than 40 years, and initially worked for Fred Trump, Trump’s father. He has remained a constant fixture in Trump world in the decades since he first fell into the family’s orbit, and is so close to the now-president that in a 2016 Wall Street Journal profile, a former Trump employee said, to describe the relationship between Weisselberg and Trump, “If Donald had a cold, he [Allen] would sneeze.”

The White House declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not immediately return a request for comment.

Tarini Parti contributed reporting to this story.





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Sen. Lamar Alexander Called Trump’s National Emergency To Build A Wall A “Constitutional Crisis”


WASHINGTON — Sen. Lamar Alexander has come out against Trump’s state of emergency on the southern border, possibly becoming the crucial fourth Republican needed for Congress to formally rebuke the president.

Trump declared the state of emergency in order to divert billions of dollars toward building a border wall. If Alexander joins Republican Sens. Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Thom Tillis, there will be enough votes, including Democrats, to pass a resolution to end the state of emergency.

Alexander argued Thursday that the founders of the country rejected the concept of a king who can set taxes and spending on his own and said these powers must remain with Congress.

“Separation of powers is a crucial constitutional imperative that goes to the very heart of our freedom,” he said.

Alexander also warned that if Trump sets this precedent, future Democratic administrations will use emergency powers to advance their agenda.

“I support what the president wanted to do on border security but I do not support the way he has been advised to do it. It is unnecessary and unwise to turn a border crisis into a constitutional crisis,” said Alexander.

Despite his clear condemnations, after his speech Alexander would not confirm that he will vote for the resolution to end the state of emergency, noting that the Senate has two weeks to go on bringing this up.

“I learned a long time ago in the United States Senate, it’s not wise to announce how you’ll vote on a vote you may never have to take,” he said.

Alexander told reporters he had not spoken to anyone at the White House about his opposition, but provided a copy of his speech to the administration and to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell before he spoke Thursday.

Democrats in the House passed this resolution earlier this week with the support of 13 Republicans, and the Senate must hold a vote on it within the next couple weeks.

Trump will almost certainly veto it if it is passed through Congress. White House adviser Stephen Miller signaled Trump would veto the resolution, telling Fox News earlier this month, “obviously the president is going to protect his national emergency declaration.” To override the veto requires a two-thirds majority in both the House and the Senate, which is likely out of reach.

Still, the vote will put many Republican senators in an awkward position. Several of them have objected to the president using a state of emergency to access funds not approved by Congress. But most Republicans are wary of crossing the president, and McConnell has been diligent about blocking votes that would do so. For months he has blocked a vote on a bipartisan bill to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

But because this is a privileged resolution already passed by the House, McConnell, who supports the national emergency, cannot stop a vote from occurring.

Sen. Chuck Grassley acknowledged that Republicans aren’t happy about having to vote on the disapproval resolution. Both he and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told reporters that Republicans had tried to come up with alternatives to the vote, but had run into procedural issues. “You’re caught between a need for border security and agreeing with what the president wants to do, but not how he wants to do it,” Grassley said.

Trump’s state of emergency declaration was immediately challenged in the courts. Republicans have warned the legal battle could drag past the end of Trump’s current term in office.



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Ayanna Pressley Fought To Get Her Party’s Attention In 2018. Now Democrats Running For President Are Fighting For Hers.


“I’m not sure that they all realize that she could be the person who starts the avalanche of support that could make someone the president of the United States.”

Posted on February 28, 2019, at 2:23 p.m. ET




Nurphoto / Getty Images

Rep. Ayanna Pressley listens as Michael Cohen testifies before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

Ayanna Pressley was one of the most surprising congressional candidates of 2018, upsetting a longtime Democratic incumbent in one of last year’s most closely-watched primaries. Now, as she cultivates a national profile that reflects the political yearnings of a movement of black women in the Democratic Party, candidates are engaging in a high-stakes fight for her backing in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Pressley may not be as famous as House colleagues like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is busy wresting power from more senior lawmakers through a combination social media virality and headline-grabbing proposals. But the backing of the first black American woman to be elected both to Boston’s City Council and to Congress in her state’s history is certain to get the attention of the black women set to have an enormous impact on 2020’s nomination process.

“Ayanna has done something in Massachusetts twice that no one who looks like her has done before, so when she says or does something as important as endorsing a presidential candidate it will get our attention as black women,” said A’Shanti F. Gholar, the national political director for Emerge America, which trains and encourages Democratic women to run for elective office. “We have to deal with a lot stress as black women. Whether it be in our daily lives’ work or dealing with people in our community. So when you see another black woman who is able to achieve what she has, we know that she had to fight, she couldn’t be scared or back down against people who told her that that office was not for her. That alone is going to get people’s attention and make them want to be in the room with her.

“We see her and say, ‘Yep, she’s a real one.’”

“We see her and say, ‘Yep, she’s a real one.’”

Symone D. Sanders, who had a top role in Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign, told BuzzFeed News that she’s convinced the Democrat in the presidential race who most effectively excites and mobilizes black women is going to be the party’s nominee.

“But the question for the political operations of these candidates and the candidates themselves is whether or not they understand what an endorsement from Ayanna Pressley actually represents,” she said, echoing forecasters’ belief that black women will have even more of a say in the election than they did in 2016. “I’m not sure that they all realize that she could be the person who starts the avalanche of support that could make someone the president of the United States.”

Two sources familiar with Pressley’s thinking, including a top aide, said that while she has not made an endorsement decision, she’s not ruling anyone out. The 2020 race features her home state senator, Elizabeth Warren, with whom she enjoys a close relationship, and two black senators, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, who are courting Pressley. (Other campaigns did not return requests for comment.)


Scott Eisen / Getty Images

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pressley talk at a rally also attended by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jay Gonzalez on Sept. 9, 2018 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In interviews with a half-dozen current and former Pressley staffers about the 2020 race, a loose portrait emerges of a woman who at her core is motivated to, as she said in her first floor speech, “lift the voices of the unheard.”

Booker, known for being a regular at meetings of the Congressional Black Caucus, has been in contact with Pressley, according to someone familiar with the communication. Pressley and Booker had a “great” constructive conversation during the annual legislative conference of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, the source said. Both are interested in legalizing marijuana in a way that promotes justice for black people and creates pathways for greater inclusion for black entrepreneurs.

While Booker and Harris have rolled out endorsements from home-state politicians, Warren has so far not released a similar show of support from Massachusetts Democrats, like Pressley.

Pressley and Warren have relationship that goes back years: She was one of the first significant state Democrats to back Warren’s 2012 Senate campaign to unseat Scott Brown. Once Warren was the nominee, Pressley served as a surrogate. According to two sources with knowledge of matter, Warren faced internal pressure from inside the party to endorse incumbent Mike Capuano over Pressley in last year’s House primary, but cited her close relationship to both of them as the reason she elected to stay out of the race. After Pressley won, she and Warren traveled to Georgia to campaign for Stacey Abrams.

.@AyannaPressley fights tirelessly for young people, families, and immigrant communities. Her leadership and bold vision is exactly what we need in Congress. #BlackHistoryMonth

Pressley’s political team has been in touch with elected officials of color like Massachusetts State Rep. Russell E. Holmes, who said in an interview with BuzzFeed News that Warren has deep relationships in the community, but his constituents are interested in seeing a presidential ticket with Harris and Joe Biden. “It’s not like Ayanna owes anyone in Washington anything,” he said. “So she should take her time.”

Pressley has been content flying a bit under the radar in Washington compared to the more famous House freshmen, reflecting her disinclination to allow her own popularity as one of 2018’s instant sensations to obscure the work she’s doing for her constituents. Pressley, who turned 45 this month, declined an interview for this story, but said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that while her main priority is “the important work to be done in Congress and on behalf of the people of the Massachusetts 7th” district, that “it couldn’t be any clearer that electing a Democrat in 2020 is critical, and I look forward to doing everything I can to make that a reality.”

Almost as soon as she became a serious threat to Capuano in last year’s primary, Pressley felt the force of resistance to her candidacy in the Democratic Party: EMILY’s List, which wants to elect pro-choice women to office, named her its 2015 recipient of the Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award, but declined to endorse her in the primary; the political arm of the Congressional Black Caucus endorsed her opponent, as did former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, citing how Capuano had taken a chance on him when he was unknown.

For Pressley, though, thinking through 2020 is about more than her endorsement or who the nominee is. The two aides familiar with Pressley’s thinking said she’s strategizing about ways to push her party in a new direction, away from the conventions that defined who is electable, and cast Capuano as a sexagenarian avatar of the Democrats’ political malaise.

Pressley’s commitment to move her party to adopt new rules and ways of doing things reflect the politics of #BlackWomenLead, a black-led movement within the party. The movement, while critiquing Trump’s moral leadership, wants to emphasize what Democrats are pushing for and reorient the party’s voter outreach efforts more fully around people of color. It wants the party to reward black women’s partisan loyalty with power, and institutionalize plans that would create more Ayanna Pressleys, especially given how much more difficult it is for black women candidates to raise money. The movement also wants to frame black women’s work for the Democratic Party as a morally-principled, intergenerational force of resistance that helped build and preserve American democracy, rather than just blind loyalty for Democrats to take for granted.

That was the substance of Pressley’s address to a closed-door meeting of top Democratic Party donors in Washington late last year, which was first reported by BuzzFeed News. Pressley has expressed both in private and in public that there are lessons from her race she believes are necessary to adopt in order for the party to win in 2020. Pressley said in the meeting that Democrats have to be honest about their shortcomings — and grapple with both the question of whether the lives of black Americans matter only in election years, and why, as an institution, the party has failed to support insurgent candidates like her.

Since getting to Washington, Pressley has modeled a legislative style that recalls Shirley Chisholm’s populism and courage as the first black woman ever elected to Congress. (Pressley scored the congressional office that had once belonged to Chisholm; knowing that she was her idol, Katie Hill of California, after being given the office, wanted her to have it.) Along with Eleanor Holmes Norton, Pressley sponsored legislation ensuring protections for low-wage federal contract workers who were not guaranteed back pay after last month’s government shutdown. Her first floor speech was a sharp, one-minute rebuke of “the occupant of the White House” that has been viewed well over a million times.

.@RepPressley “I rise today in opposition to the occupant of the White House…I see right through you and so do the American people.”

According to a top aide, Pressley is watching how the 2020 candidates deal with her fight against the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration enforcement policies. Disturbed by the separation of children from their families at the border, Pressley led a group of lawmakers that included Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib in a letter to colleagues calling for stronger oversight of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The group of lawmakers is calling for cuts in funding to both agencies, and an end to mechanisms that enable the Trump administration to ramp up detention programs. Pressley, who sits on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, was one of 19 House Democrats to vote no on a government funding compromise, citing an increase in funding for DHS.

Most of her posts on social media show her actually working, or are crafted to let her constituency in on the insidery, day-to-day details of what it’s like to be a member of Congress. She calls her legislative apparatus, in Boston and in Washington, an “organization,” and is trying to build a pipeline of leaders who will find their footing as a members of the organization.

Even though she’s only been in office for a little over a month, Democrats are excited about what she could mean for the future of their party.

“Ayanna will be a key endorsement in the 2020 presidential race, both because she reflects the growing power of the next generation of progressive black women in the Democratic Party and because she’s one heck of a campaigner,” said Yvette Simpson, the CEO of Democracy for America. “The grit, determination, and raw political talent it takes to credibly take on, let alone beat, a nearly 20-year Democratic incumbent in a state like Massachusetts would be a tremendous asset to just about any Democrat running for president.”

“Black women are going to have a tremendously important role in 2020,” Karine Jean-Pierre, the chief public affairs officer for the progressive advocacy group MoveOn. “We are the Democratic Party’s most reliable constituency and more than ever before we’re demanding a seat at the table that reflects that reality. Any Democrat hoping to win the nomination or the general election is going to need to be able to persuade and inspire black women to turn out.”

Pressley’s shown that she can inspire outside of traditional politics — a picture she posted of herself on Twitter in glasses after she ran out of contacts went viral, with women responding with pictures of themselves in glasses. The picture and the replies became a Twitter Moment.

So. I ran out of lenses & had no choice but to wear these in public, something I never, ever do, although I’ve been rockin’ bifocals since 2nd grade. Ran into a mom who asked me to post this pic for her 9yr old who hates her new glasses. Paging @LaurenUnderwood @RashidaTlaib @AOC

“The success of Ayanna Pressley and others in the 2018 midterm has changed the way America views black women’s leadership,” said co-founder Kimberly Peeler-Allen, the co-founder of Higher Heights for America, which founded #BlackWomenLead in 2011. “Black women on the ticket are able to galvanize a wide variety of voters that are needed to build a winning coalition. The opportunity to have more than one black woman discussed in broad circles as a candidate for president or vice president of the United States is a huge step forward to ensure that America’s 23 million black women’s voices, votes, and leadership matter in the political sphere.”





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Andrew Wheeler, A Former Coal Lobbyist, Is Trump’s EPA Chief


The Senate just confirmed Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to run the Environmental Protection Agency. The Thursday afternoon vote, 52 to 47, was largely along party lines.

Wheeler’s formal addition to President Donald Trump’s cabinet has been a long time coming. He has been serving as the EPA’s acting administrator for about seven months, since Trump’s former agency head Scott Pruitt resigned last July amid multiple ethics investigations.

Trump announced he was tapping Wheeler for the top agency position in November, saying he had “done a fantastic job” in the temporary role.

Under Wheeler’s watch, the agency has pushed the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda. This includes proposing to freeze car mileage standards; replacing Obama’s signature climate rule, the Clean Power Plan, with a weaker rule for limiting coal plant carbon pollution; and easing other air pollution standards for new coal plants.

The EPA under Wheeler has also continued to fill its science advisory boards with controversial figures, including climate denier John Christy.

The agency has also been slow to enforce environmental rules under Trump, according to a review by the watchdog group Environmental Integrity Project, including completing fewer inspections and evaluations, cutting enforcement staff, opening fewer criminal cases, and referring fewer civil cases to the Department of Justice compared to the Obama administration.

Many Republicans have praised Wheeler’s leadership. On Wednesday, Sen. John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, said Wheeler “has led efforts to issue common sense regulatory proposals” at the agency. According to Barrasso, 63 agricultural and forestry groups wrote a letter in support of Wheeler’s nomination.

In a break from her party, however, Sen. Susan Collins from Maine said Wednesday she opposed Wheeler’s bid because “the policies he has supported as Acting Administrator are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change to our nation.”

Democrats and environmental groups have also been critical of Wheeler’s close industry ties, rule rollbacks, and views on climate change. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island on Thursday called Wheeler a “slightly cleaned up version of Scott Pruitt.”

In response to climate questions at his confirmation hearing in January, Wheeler said: “I would not call it the greatest crisis” but added: “I would call it a huge issue that needs to be addressed globally.”

Before joining the EPA last year, Wheeler worked for law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, where he lobbied for the coal mining company Murray Energy Corporation, as well as other energy companies, on environmental regulations. Before becoming a lobbyist, he worked as a Senate staffer for more than a decade, working on environmental and energy issues. And prior to that, he worked at EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics.

Wheeler was also the president of the Washington Coal Club in 2016, and worked on energy and environmental issues on Trump’s campaign as a volunteer that same year, according to records he submitted to Congress that were released in a Freedom of Information Act request to the Sierra Club.





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Cory Booker Says His Fight To Legalize Pot Is About “Restorative Justice” For Communities Hit By The War On Drugs


Sen. Cory Booker is reintroducing legislation that would legalize marijuana, expunge possession convictions, and invest in communities hit hardest by the United State’s war on drugs.

“I think we’re calling on people to be about justice, not just about adult use, which I support,” Booker said Thursday on BuzzFeed News’ AM to DM. “But to do that and not correct what has been a bigoted impact, a drug war that’s been a war on people, that over-incarcerated the poor, over-incarcerated minorities, over-incarcerated veterans.”

The Marijuana Justice Act, which was first introduced in 2017, would make marijuana legal at the federal level by removing it from the list of controlled substance. The bill would also reach farther than any current marijuana legislation by clearing convictions related to marijuana possession.

“We need to be about restorative justice,” Booker added. “That means reinvesting in those communities that have been hurt by the war on drugs. That means expunging the records of people who have been unjustly convicted of things that two of the last three presidents have admitted to doing, doing things that so many members of Congress have admitted to doing.”

Booker, who recently announced that he is running for president, is joined by four other presidential candidates in the Senate who are co-sponsoring the bill: Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Booker said the bill would also incentivize states to rethink their approach on marijuana laws and how their policies impact low-income communities and communities of color.

Booker explained that he’d never smoked marijuana because he feared what might happen if he were caught possessing marijuana.

“I grew up with two parents who were really concerned that their young black kids were going to encounter a justice system that they knew was not fair,” Booker explained. “From the earliest ages I was just schooled by parents, ‘you’re an athlete, you’ve got so much going for you, your margins for doing things that are illegal are a lot thinner,’ and I feel that and I’ve seen that.”

In a recent interview on The Breakfast Club, Harris re-affirmed that she supported marijuana legalization after backing Booker’s bill in 2017 and said that she had smoked weed while she was in college.



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Fake Black Voter Bots Could Sideline Real Black Voices In 2020


Black activists fear that their legitimate concerns about Democratic candidates for president in the 2020 primary are now being drowned out online by a spiraling argument about who is and isn’t fake.

Activists trying to spread information or opinions on Twitter about specific candidates have been shouted down by other activists who say the hashtags they’re using are overrun by bots, Russians, or trolls — a fight made only more complicated by the actual presence of bad actors across the platform.

“There are real black people criticizing these candidates rightfully, but there are also fake accounts out there just looking to take advantage of any tension they can find in the community,” Shireen Mitchell, the founder of Stop Online Violence Against Women, told BuzzFeed News.

Like others, she said she’s concerned that hysteria over bots could push conversations spurred by real activists aside. “Everybody is a ‘bot’ now and no one can have a real conversation,” she said.

Concerns about fraudulent social media accounts aren’t new — disinformation spread by trolls or foreign actors perforated the 2016 campaign. But black activists on Twitter are now on opposing sides of a fight about whether the early conversations and criticism of black candidates like Kamala Harris and Cory Booker have been driven by bad-faith trolls and foreign actors looking to sow discord while pretending to be black voters online.

Activists are worried social media companies have not done enough since 2016 to clean up their platforms and to authenticate real profiles, letting some movements get subsumed by fights over reality. They also say they fear that when the companies do start taking the threats seriously, they may silence real concerns in the process.

At the center of the current controversy is the American Descendants of Slaves (ADOS) movement, a nativist political movement founded by Antonio Moore and Yvette Carnell, who say they’ve been talking and posting about it since 2015. They say they’ve worked to advocate for black Americans who descend from enslaved people brought to the United States during the transatlantic slave trade.

As the presidential campaign begins, activists who follow the movement say they’ve worked to push black presidential candidates to embrace policy that would directly affect the lives of black voters who are American descendants of slavery. Some of that work has specifically targeted Harris for her prosecutorial record during her time as California’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney.

Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, is not a descendant of American slaves, and ADOS activists have questioned if she understands what they say are their specific needs and concerns.

A group of women who have been working since 2014 to identify Twitter disinformation campaigns and trolls blackfishing — or fraudulently posing as black on the platform — say the ADOS hashtag has become a prime target for bad actors to hijack to spread criticism and disinformation about candidates in the same way that Russian trolls in 2016 posed as black Americans to exasperate real concerns about Hillary Clinton’s record and to astroturf existing social movements like Black Lives Matter.

“It’s not an all-encompassing group, but in our small communities, we started noticing these accounts purporting to be black, that’s where this started,” said I’Nasah Crockett, a black woman who has worked to identify accounts purporting to be black. “We saw it in GamerGate, we saw it in the 2015–2016 election cycle, and we’re seeing it again coming in another wave.”

Mitchell, who helped expose a concerted effort of trolls posing as black women on Twitter in 2014 under the YourSlipIsShowing hashtag, appeared on a segment of Joy-Ann Reid’s MSNBC show earlier this month to warn viewers of signs of a troll account during a segment called “How to spot a Russian bot on Twitter,” specifically calling out the ADOS movement.

“A lot of the ones that are pretending to be black people and black women in particular, who are focusing on black identity, have these aspects in the way they’re talking about language,” Mitchell said on the show.

“There’s a new hashtag and/or identity that’s in their bios called ADOS or DOS, which is standing for descendants of slaves,” she said. “It’s the indication that they are someone who is born as a descendant in the United States who’s representing black America and has the vernacular and the language that people would believe is someone who is a part of our community, who’s either debating about Kamala or debating about Booker because that’s who just announced, and saying ‘we know who’s black in America.’”

Since Mitchell’s segment, some ADOS followers have started tweeting videos under a NotABot hashtag. In one, an older woman stands in a kitchen to give a message to anyone who doubts she, or the movement, is real. “This video is for the gatekeepers and the agents who are upset because we won’t blindly support the anointed one. Well if you mad honey, you better scratch your ass and get glad,” the woman says in the video. “ADOS is not going anywhere. I am not a bot.”

In another video, an ADOS member tweeted at Reid’s show and Mitchell, inviting them to meet in person. “I’m like 20 minutes away from DC. If you want to meet me and talk about the ADOS movement, I have no problem doing so.”

Some Twitter users still doubt the authenticity of some of the accounts tweeting about the movement. One user account questioned if she’d have to mute #ADOS and posted a screenshot of an account created in 2009. “This might be important,” the user said. “I saw a warning the other day that the new bot movement is old accounts that have been dormant. This account was created in 09 but just started tweeting literally 15 mins ago.”

Five minutes later, the account in question shared a video to prove the person behind it was real. “So apparently I’m a Russian bot,” the man says. “Apparently because I use the hashtag ADOS, which I am, that makes me a Russian bot. Whatever.”

Carnell, Moore, and activists associated with the ADOS movement have fiercely rebuked the accusations that trolls have latched onto their movement’s hashtag, comparing the allegations to McCarthyism and the FBI’s attempts to subtly discredit Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

“To claim that this movement comes back from Russians is a disgrace. What this is is a smear campaign to suppress our voices to ask what these candidates’ ADOS agenda is going to look like,” Moore told BuzzFeed News. “Black America won’t vote blindly this time, you’ve got to understand that ADOS have been shut out of a country they built with their own bodies and we’re being shut out on the sidelines right now.”

“We don’t have bots, we have real black people,” he said. “The danger of these accusations is that if Facebook and YouTube latches on to this and tries to undermine our ability to have a black political dialogue. That’s our main concern.”

Mitchell and Crockett both agree that the ADOS movement wasn’t started by outside actors, but say they’ve seen the online conversations within the movement be infiltrated by what they believe are people using digital blackface to elevate criticism at Booker and Harris while real ADOS activists are simultaneously having conversations about the candidates.

“I’d say the common theme among trolls like this is that they capitalize on fissure points and pre-existing tension points. They come in and observe where the fault lines are and then go from there,” Crockett said. “Right now, it’s coalescing around the #ADOS movement. It wasn’t started by Russian bots or other trolls, but it’s been infiltrated by people that are obviously not black.”

“These accounts will latch onto topics related to crime, social justice, and the black community,” Mitchell added. “The bots are looking for tension points they can get into and candidates like Kamala give entities like this food for fodder. Every black candidate is going to go through this.”

Crockett and Mitchell’s broader concerns have already been backed up. Earlier this month, Twitter suspended two accounts — @WillisJermane and @Copmala, which tweeted footage of Harris and criticized her record, though not under the ADOS hashtag. Even though both accounts had a small number of followers, they managed to successfully drive a week of conversation about Harris’s prosecutorial record by amplifying footage from a 2010 speech she gave about truancy.

Twitter told CNBC that the accounts had been suspended for “impersonation” and that the @WillisJermane account — which described itself as a “southern black who knows his rightful place: owning the means of production with my multi-racial, LGBTQ+, anti-war, working class brothers and sisters” and tweeted support for politicians like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — was suspended in part for creating 50 accounts that tweeted the same message and hashtag in an attempt to get that hashtag to trend.

In archived versions of the account from late January, the person behind it called on followers to unearth more footage of candidates and shared clips of Harris and Booker multiple times — one of which was retweeted 11,000 times and got 20,000 likes.

Both the ADOS activists and the researchers trying to weed out trolls believe social media companies need to do more to get bot accounts off their platforms, and they criticized Twitter for not verifying users to make sure that they’re accurately portraying themselves online.

“The blanket solutions that Twitter and Facebook came up with to deal with this problem aren’t working,” Mitchell said, arguing that social media platforms don’t have adequately diverse moderation staffs to keep up with the nuances of accounts that are doing facetious-at-best portrayals of black Americans. “They don’t have the framework and haven’t put enough energy into fixing this. Until we get there, we’ll never get to the bottom of this. It’ll continue to morph and we may never know what’s real.”

“The bots are better at exploiting weaknesses that the platforms can’t keep up with,” Crockett said.

Carnell and Moore agreed that the platforms aren’t able to keep up with verifying real users and said that Twitter needs to do better.

“To have this kind of communication and to not have some kind of verification process sets up [and] undermines the ability to have real conversations,” Moore said.

A spokesperson for Twitter did not respond to a request for comment. ●





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Insist He’s Lying About Not Having Begged For A White House Job


President Donald Trump’s loyalists — including his two adult sons and top Republicans in Congress — are zeroing in on his former personal attorney Michael Cohen’s claim Wednesday that he never wanted to work at the White House, in order to cast doubt on his entire congressional testimony that included many damaging moments for Trump.

In a roughly seven-hour hearing, Cohen called the president, who was in Vietnam for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, “a racist … a conman … and a cheat,” laying out the details of the Trump Moscow project that’s under investigation, and the hush money payments he said he was directed to make by the president. Cohen substantiated many points of his testimony with documents.

But when questioned by Republicans if he had turned against Trump because he did not get a White House job, Cohen repeatedly said he never wanted to work in the administration anyway. “I did not want to go to the White House,” he said during the hearing.

At least half a dozen sources close to Trump said they either heard from Cohen directly or secondhand before Trump was inaugurated that he wanted a job at the White House. None of those sources was able to provide any evidence — emails or text messages from Cohen — to back up the claim. They also said that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were responsible for Cohen staying in New York as other loyalists moved to the administration. (The Daily Beast reported in July 2018 that Cohen was bragging to his friends he expected to be named chief of staff.)

In their sentencing memo, prosecutors also brought up Cohen telling people he was getting a top administration position. “During and after the campaign, Cohen privately told friends and colleagues, including in seized text messages, that he expected to be given a prominent role and title in the new administration,” the memo states.

A former campaign official said it was common to hear about Cohen begging for a White House job, adding, “if you’re a Democrat, you’re happy there’s no concrete anything” yet that’s publicly surfaced to prove that point. “I think this is honestly a win for them and the administration overall.”

Several others in Trump’s orbit also tweeted during the hearing that they remembered Cohen begging for a job in the administration. North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, who is close to the president, asked the House Oversight Committee to include copies of those tweets in the congressional record.

Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking member on the committee, kicked off that line of questioning within the first few minutes of the hearing. “You didn’t get brought to the dance,” he said.

Cohen refuted the insinuation. “Sir, I was extremely proud to be personal attorney to the President of the United States of America,” he said. “I did not go to the White House. I was offered jobs. I can tell you a story of Mr. Trump reaming out Reince Priebus because I had not taken a job where Mr. Trump wanted me to, which is working with Don McGahn at the White House general counsel’s office.”

“What I said at the time, and I brought a lawyer in who produced a memo as to why I should not go in — because there would be no attorney–client privilege,” Cohen said.

While the president remained largely quiet during the hearing (it was late Wednesday night in Vietnam), Trump’s allies, including his sons, ran a rapid response–type operation on Twitter. Grilling Cohen on his claim he did not want to work at the White House is part of their strategy to portray him as a “convicted liar” who cannot be considered a credible witness. Republicans also repeatedly brought up the fact that Cohen was already going to prison for lying to Congress.

Besides Cohen’s claim regarding the White House job, Republicans also questioned him repeatedly on whether he was interested in a book or movie deal or if he could get a reduced sentence based on his testimony.

Most Republicans did not, however, ask specific questions related to the president, his company, and the investigations surrounding them.

The president’s two eldest sons seized on Cohen saying he did not want a White House job, with Donald Trump Jr. going as far as to say that he would testify under oath that Cohen lied about not wanting to work at the White House. The president’s elder son tweeted at least 15 times about that claim alone during the hearing.

A former White House official said the hearing wouldn’t change minds. “The real danger for Trump with this hearing is the oxygen it will take up in the coming days.”

More specifically, on Cohen’s claim about not wanting a White House job, the official said: “You have to use the weapons you have at your disposal. It’s thin gruel, but what else really do they have?”



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House Passes Landmark Gun Control Bill To Expand Background Checks, But Trump Has Vowed To Veto It


The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would vastly expand background checks, but it will likely be blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump.

The bill passed 240–190 with eight Republicans joining most Democrats to support it.

Before the vote, Republicans proposed an amendment to the bill to require Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials be notified any time an undocumented immigrant attempted to purchase a firearm. Typically, last-minute amendments from the minority party are voted down, but 26 Democratic members voted with Republicans to pass the amendment.

It was a rare and embarrassing loss for the Democratic majority and appeared to be unexpected, as party leaders huddled over what to do next. The party ended up voting for the bill to pass it despite the amendment.

The House is expect to pass another bill on Thursday to close the so-called Charleston loophole that allows a gun sale to be completed if a background check is not completed within three days. Taken together, these two pieces of legislation would be the most significant gun control reforms in many years.

But the bills are expected to stall in the Senate. Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham has already said he will not hold hearings on the background check legislation. President Trump has also said he would veto the bills because they impose unreasonable requirements on gun owners.

There have been several attempts to take up gun control in Congress in recent years as a string of shootings across the country, at schools, churches, and concerts, focused public attention on the issue. Congress ultimately did not pass any new gun restrictions, but in 2018 did pass a bill to improve data entry to the national background checks system.

The House bill passed Wednesday would expand mandatory background checks to nearly all gun sales. Currently, federally licensed firearm dealers must perform background checks on a customer before selling a firearm, but about one in five gun sales are exempt from background checks. These are private sales, online sales from nonlicensed dealers, and sales at gun shows through what’s known as the gun show loophole.

The bill would expand background check requirements to most private sales, though firearm transfers between immediate family members would still be exempt.

The bill to be voted on Thursday would give authorities more time to perform background checks. It is inspired by the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, shooting where white supremacist Dylann Roof killed nine people inside a black Methodist church.

Roof had been arrested for possession of narcotics and should not have been able to purchase the .45-caliber handgun he used in the attack. But the background check system was rife with data problems and could not be immediately completed. After three days, the background check remained incomplete and the dealer transferred the gun to Roof, as is legally allowed.

Federal laws still allow firearm dealers to adopt this “default proceed” policy, whereby the sale goes through if the background check is not completed within three days.

FBI data show that in 2017, 1 in 10 background checks were hit with a delay. There were 6,000 cases where investigators realized only after the three-day window that the buyer should have been rejected from purchasing a firearm. This includes over 1,000 successful gun sales to people convicted of domestic violence offenses, 500 gun sales to people who were fugitives, and 120 gun sales to people currently under a restraining order for domestic violence.

While Graham is so far refusing to pick up either bill at the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has said the committee will study “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to seize an individual’s guns if they are deemed to be an imminent threat. Several states have passed red flag laws in recent years.



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The Chief Justice Joined The Liberal Justices In Allowing A Death Row Inmate’s Dementia Claim To Move Forward


WASHINGTON — Alabama cannot execute Vernon Madison if his dementia prevents him from rationally understanding why he is to be put to death, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined his more liberal colleagues Wednesday in the 5–3 decision, clarifying how the Constitution limits the execution of people with mental illness.

The court held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of any mentally ill person who “cannot understand the societal judgment underlying his sentence” — regardless of the underlying cause. In Madison’s case, his lawyers argued that the Alabama court had only considered whether delusions, and not his dementia, were sufficient to prevent his execution.

“The Eighth Amendment doesn’t care about the particular diagnosis — schizophrenia, dementia, or something else entirely,” Justice Elena Kagan announced for the court from the bench. “If a person suffering from any mental disorder — dementia included — is unable to rationally understand why the state wants to execute him, then the Eighth Amendment doesn’t allow the execution.”

The court stopped short of ruling that Alabama cannot execute Madison, however, instead sending the case back to the Alabama court for further consideration of Madison’s competency to be executed in light of Wednesday’s ruling.

The court ruled against the claim that first brought Madison’s case before the justices. His lawyers initially had argued that Madison’s execution should be prohibited because he no longer remembered committing the crime — his 1985 killing of a police officer.

The court held that the lack of a memory about the crime alone is not sufficient to bar execution because, as Kagan wrote for the court, “a person lacking such a memory may still be able to form a rational understanding of the reasons for his death sentence.”

Kagan was joined by Roberts, as well as justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor, in her decision for the court.

Justice Samuel Alito, joined by justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch, dissented, arguing that the court’s decision “makes a mockery of [court] rules,” noting that Madison’s initial argument — and the argument under which the court granted review in his case — solely focused on that question of whether a person who no longer remembers their crime can be executed.

When Madison’s lawyers “abandoned” that argument to focus instead on the issue of the lower court’s treatment of Madison’s dementia, Alito wrote, Madison’s case before the justices should have been dismissed.

Alito continued that, regardless of that, he would not side with the court’s majority because, in his view, “there is little reason to think” the Alabama court actually made “an erroneous distinction between dementia and other mental conditions.”

Justice Brett Kavanaugh had not yet been confirmed as a justice when the arguments were held in the case and did not participate in Wednesday’s decision.

The importance of Roberts’ vote in death penalty cases — and more broadly — has been on full display this month, with Roberts casting the key vote to allow another execution in Alabama to proceed on Feb. 7 over a strong dissent from Kagan that was joined by the three other more liberal justices. Less than two weeks later, however, Roberts joined the more liberal justices — again over the objection of Alito, Thomas, and Gorsuch — in sending a Texas death-penalty case back to the Texas courts because “it is easy to see,” Roberts wrote, that the state court there had “misapplied” the standards for assessing intellectual disability in death-penalty cases.



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