May 25, 2018

Lawmakers are forbidden from using their congressional staff for anything other than official political duties, which means running personal errands is definitely a no-no. That apparently didn't stop Rep. Tom Garrett (R-Va.) and his wife, Flanna, whose former staffers told Politico they had to do everything from unload groceries to fetch Garrett's daughters from Scottsdale, a three-hour drive away.

The congressional staffers were even asked to take care of the Garretts' dog Sophie, a Jack Russell-Pomeranian mix that IJR says "comes to the D.C. office every other day."

Staffers were expected to watch the dog during office hours, and one aide did so over a weekend. Several aides said the couple would sometimes seem to forget the dog was in the office. When that happened, at the end of the day, aides were responsible for transporting it back to Garrett's Washington apartment.

One source said the dog occasionally defecated on the floor and aides had to clean up the mess. [Politico]

The Garretts denied their ex-staffers' claims, telling Politico: "It is easy to spread untruths and even easier to exaggerate and imply wrongdoing when none exists." Jeva Lange

May 25, 2018
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When Donald Trump announced he was running for president in 2015, he also set the tone for how he would speak about immigration. "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best," he told the crowd, going on to describe immigrants as criminals and "rapists," although "some, I assume, are good people." Recently Trump has come under fire again for his language, calling MS-13 gang members "animals."

The Washington Post on Thursday published a new revealing anecdote about how Trump joked in private about immigrants to his staff last year:

The night before Trump delivered his first speech to Congress in February 2017, he huddled with Jared Kushner and [Stephen] Miller in the Oval Office to talk immigration. The president reluctantly agreed with suggestions he strike a gentler tone on immigration in the speech.

Trump reminded them the crowds loved his rhetoric on immigrants along the campaign trail. Acting as if he was at a rally, he then read aloud a few made up Hispanic names and described potential crimes they could have committed, like rape or murder. Then, he said, the crowds would roar when the criminals were thrown out of the country — as they did when he highlighted crimes by illegal immigrants at his rallies, according to a person present for the exchange and another briefed on it later. Miller and Kushner laughed. [The Washington Post]

A third official disputed the story, telling the Post that Trump never made up Hispanic names to make a point about "crowd enthusiasm for crackdowns on criminal aliens." Read more about Trump's approach to immigration at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange

May 21, 2018

Fox News host Pete Hegseth gave a big ol' shrug at the mention of more than 50 Palestinians who were killed by Israeli gunfire on the Gaza Strip earlier this month while protesting the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Speaking with Ed Henry and Abby Huntsman over the weekend, Hegseth dismissed his co-hosts' claims that there "could be some innocent Palestinians, including children, who were killed" by saying they were shot "because Hamas told them to go to the front of the line."

"Okay, but there are some innocent people who died," insisted Henry. "Caught in the crossfire, children, whatever it is, let's just point that out."

"Ehhh!" Hegseth said with an exaggerated shrug.

Even Huntsman, who attempted to moderate the two sides, jumped in to contribute that "a human being is a human being." Watch the moment below. Jeva Lange

May 18, 2018

On Friday afternoon, the suspect in a shooting that left at least eight people dead at a Texas high school was identified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis. While there are few details yet about Pagourtzis, the tragedy at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, has already sparked willful disinformation operations — such as the one noticed by Caroline Orr:

Orr is what the National Observer calls "one of the most incisive and compelling observers on Trump, Russia, and the propaganda wars now consuming world attention," and she observed that the Santa Fe shooting is "quickly gaining traction in Russian-linked influence networks":

"This is definitely not the first time we've seen a disinformation operation trying to link a shooter to antifa," Orr said, noting there was a similar response after the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting last year.

The fake Facebook account is also a startling example that the social media giant is still struggling to prevent trolls and bots from using the site to sow chaos. Read more via Caroline Orr. Jeva Lange

May 14, 2018

The lawyer representing adult film star Stormy Daniels has threatened to sue journalists if they do not "stop with the hit pieces," a screenshot of one correspondence shared by The Daily Caller's Peter J. Hasson shows. The warning by attorney Michael Avenatti came after The Daily Caller published an article digging into Avenatti's past, including allegations that he never paid for $160,000 worth of coffee from a supplier while he owned Tully's.

The article also noted Avenatti's preference for high-profile cases like going up against Jim Carrey. "I know this guy; he doesn't care about anybody but himself," one person who worked with Avenatti told The Daily Caller reporters.

The email sent to Hasson by Avenatti has the subject line "Cut it Out" and begins by saying the conversation is "off the record." Hasson notes that "of course [those] aren't terms I agreed to since it was an uninvited email." In the message, Avenatti writes: "If you and your colleagues do not stop with the hit pieces that are full of lies and defamatory statements, I will have no choice but to sue each of you and your publication for defamation." Avenatti adds: "This is the last warning."

CNN's Ryan Lizza reacted to Avenatti's threat by tweeting that The Daily Caller's article "seems fair and well-reported to me" and added that "this is the sort of intimidation tactic, suggesting a complete contempt for what reporters do, that someone like Michael Cohen would use." The New York Times' Nick Confessore wrote that "the piece in question seems like a reasonably straightforward dig through public records." Read the email below. Jeva Lange

May 9, 2018

The supreme leader of Iran isn't happy with President Trump.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed discontent with Trump over the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal in a Wednesday tweet.

Trump announced Tuesday that the U.S. would leave the Iran deal, which lessened economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran's commitment to curbing its nuclear program. Khamenei called Trump "shallow and ludicrous," but said he wasn't surprised at the decision to leave the deal.

Somewhat ominously, Khamenei vowed that Iran would remain strong in the face of coming U.S. sanctions, recalling that the nation had survived tough treatment from previous administrations. "Iranian nation is persistent while former U.S. presidents passed away and [Iran] is still standing," he wrote. "This man's corpse will also be worm food while [Iran] stands strong."

Lawmakers in Iran have vigorously protested Trump's withdrawal, burning a U.S. flag in parliament and saying that Trump "does not have the mental capacity to deal with issues." Khamenei, for his part, has written several tweets condemning Trump's "lies" and "threats" and argued that the U.S. has been unnecessarily cruel towards Iran. Summer Meza

May 2, 2018
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Ukraine has frozen a number of investigations into President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, seemingly out of fear that the White House could potentially retaliate, The New York Times reports. The cases stem from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, which Trump has slammed as a "witch hunt," with Ukraine's decision to freeze the probes coming amid the sale of Javelin anti-tank missiles from the U.S. to Kiev.

"In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials," explained Volodymyr Ariev, a member of Parliament who is close to Ukraine President Petro O. Poroshenko. "We shouldn't spoil relations with the administration."

Manafort has been charged with conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to launder money. Ukraine investigators had been following four cases involving Manafort and his consulting work for the former president of Ukraine. One case, for example, involved possible money laundering: a payment of $750,000 to Manafort from a shell company in Ukraine.

Ukraine receives heavy support from the U.S., in addition to military sales like the Javelin deal. The U.S. gives Kiev some $600 million in bilateral aid every year, the Times points out. Brian Klaas of the London School of Economics reacted to the Times' report, tweeting: "This story has enormously worrying implications and raises the question whether Trump's administration is effectively bribing Ukraine to not cooperate with Mueller in exchange for weapons sales." Jeva Lange

April 25, 2018

The United States has dropped to the 45th spot in the World Press Freedom Index, down two places due in part to President Trump, the organization writes. "A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters as 'enemies of the people,' the term once used by Joseph Stalin," the organization responsible for the list, Reporters Without Borders, writes as part of its justification.

There are 180 countries evaluated annually on press freedom by Reporters Without Borders, which notes a "growing animosity" worldwide towards journalists. "Hostility towards the media, openly encouraged by political leaders, and the efforts of authoritarian regimes to export their vision of journalism pose a threat to democracies," the World Press Freedom Index says in summary of 2017.

Norway is in first place on the list for the second year in a row, followed by Sweden. North Korea is in last place at 180th, with Russia (148), Turkey (157), and China (176) close behind.

"The U.S.'s decline in press freedom is not simply bad news for journalists working inside the country; the downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level," adds Reporters Without Borders. "'Fake news' is now a trademark excuse for media repression, in both democratic and authoritarian regimes." Read the full details of the findings via Politico here. Jeva Lange

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