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May 25 2017 3:41 PM

Fourth Circuit Upholds Travel Ban Injunction, Saying It “Drips with Religious Intolerance”

On Thursday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a district court’s nationwide injunction against President Donald Trump’s second travel ban by a 10–3 vote. The decision ensures that individuals from the six Muslim-majority countries targeted by the ban will continue to be allowed into the United States. Like the district court, the 4th Circuit found that the travel ban discriminates against Muslims in violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.

In his majority opinion, Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote that the travel ban “drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination,” thereby violating “one of our most cherished founding principles—that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another.” While Gregory acknowledged that “Congress granted the President broad power to deny entry to aliens,” he insisted that this power “cannot go unchecked when, as here, the President wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation.”

That harm, Gregory explained, includes not only the separation of myriad Muslim families, but also the “marginalization and exclusion” of Muslims across the country. In court, the Trump administration has asserted that anti-Muslim animus did not motivate either of the president’s travel bans. Judges, lacking expertise in national security issues, also typically defer to the decisions of the political branches in the realm of immigration. But, Gregory noted, courts may closely scrutinize immigration actions if their justifications seem designed to disguise illegality. Examining all of the now-familiar evidence—Trump’s anti-Muslim statements, his proposal for a literal Muslim ban, “his subsequent explanation that he would effectuate this ban by targeting ‘territories’ instead of Muslims directly”—Gregory declared that “the government’s national security purpose was proffered in bad faith.”

May 25 2017 11:53 AM

Candidate Who “Body Slammed” Reporter for Asking Question Made His Fortune in Corporate Customer Service

Republican Greg Gianforte, a candidate in Thursday's special House election in Montana, was cited overnight for misdemeanor assault after an incident in which Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs and other witnesses say Gianforte slammed Jacobs to the floor and struck him more than once after Jacobs asked him a question about the American Health Care Act that he didn't want to answer. In addition to being a potentially legally and politically troublesome act for Gianforte to have committed, it's also an ironic one: The candidate, it turns out, made a fortune in the world of modern corporate customer service by telling businesses how to answer questions.

Specifically, Gianforte was the founder of a company called RightNow Technologies, which he launched in 1997 and sold to Oracle in 2012. The company's business involved making and selling the software—including the voice-automated menus we all know and love—that companies like Sprint and AIG use to operate call centers. Inside the industry, Gianforte wrote and spoke frequently about the importance of making sure that every person seeking information from a given company receives a respectful, helpful response. From a piece he wrote in 2007:

The strength of a company’s brand and its bottom-line business performance depend on how well it understands and responds to customers. To deliver excellent customer experiences, it’s essential to actively listen and respond to your customers as they’re communicating with you.
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Gianforte has published multiple papers about the importance of answering questions. In 2009 he told a conference audience that his company's goal was to "rid the world of bad experiences," noting that the rise of online media allows individuals whose inquiries have been handled poorly to amplify their grievances. "This is a new and unique problem that didn't exist five years [ago] in terms of the impact it can have on organizations," Gianforte. Incidentally, the audio recording of Gianforte's apparent attack on Jacobs has already been played on YouTube more than 1.3 million times.

May 25 2017 11:13 AM

Another Ally Wonders if the U.S. Government Can Be Trusted With Classified Information

Another week, another intelligence-sharing scandal. British intelligence officials are reportedly furious that information shared with the United States about the investigation into the Manchester bombing was leaked to the media. Prime Minister Theresa May says she plans to tell Donald Trump—who she is seeing at a NATO summit in Brussels today—that "intelligence that is shared between our law enforcement agencies must remain secure.” And police investigating the attack say they will no longer share information about the investigation with the United States after detailed photos from scene of the attack were published by the New York Times yesterday. The name of the bomber, Salman Abedi, was also leaked to the U.S. media just hours after the attack. It’s unclear who is leaking, but that hasn’t stopped this from becoming a tense moment between allies.

All other U.S.-UK intelligence is still being shared as normal, according to the BBC, but it seems possible that recent events will make British officials think twice about that. In March, British intelligence officials forcefully denied allegations, made by Fox News pundit Andrew Napolitano and then repeated by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, that the UK had helped Barack Obama wiretap Donald Trump during the 2016 election, calling them “utterly ridiculous.” Then came this month’s report that President Trump had disclosed classified information about ISIS provided by another ally—reportedly Israel—in a conversation with Russia’s foreign minister. This undoubtedly raised questions for other allies about whether the U.S. can be trusted to keep things secret.

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Britain and the United States are members of Five Eyes, perhaps the world’s closest most important intelligence-sharing alliance, founded between five English-speaking countries after World War II. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, another Five Eyes member, defended the practice of intelligence sharing today in the wake of the Manchester controversy, saying “the track record has shown that collaboration and cooperation between allies, friends and partners has saved lives and keeps all of our citizens safe.” But if events like these continue, the future of the alliance seems murky at best.

At this point, it’s not clear where Times reporter C.J. Chivers got the crime scene photos he analyzed in his story or who the officials that leaked Abedis’ name against the wishes of Manchester police were. Unlike the disclosure to the Russians, this one may not have been Trump’s fault, directly at least. To some extent, it may even serve his preferred narrative that leaks to the media are a bigger problem than, well, anything he’s been accused of.  On Thursday, he ordered the Justice Department to launch an investigation into the leaks.

But a government whose executive branch is cavalier with how it treats classified information and whose intelligence services are openly feuding the executive branch, is not necessarily a government you want to share sensitive secrets with.

May 25 2017 2:06 AM

Montana Republican Cited for Assaulting Reporter on Eve of Special House Election

Republican congressional candidate Greg Gianforte has been cited for misdemeanor assault after allegedly attacking Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs on Wednesday at Gianforte's campaign headquarters in Bozeman, Montana, the local county sheriff has announced. Gianforte is running against Democrat Rob Quist in Thursday's special election to fill Montana's only House seat, which was vacated by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

According to both the Guardian and a national Fox News crew that witnessed the event, Jacobs approached Gianforte on Wednesday at about 5 p.m. local time while holding a tape recorder to ask him a question about the American Health Care Act. Gianforte—a 55-year-old software executive who, per the Guardian itself, was upset with the publication's previous coverage of his campaign—declined to answer. When Jacobs continued questioning him, the candidate, in the words of Fox News' report, "grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground." Jacobs described the incident as a "body slam." Both Jacobs and Fox News say Gianforte also struck Jacobs with his hands more than once.

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Gianforte's campaign released a statement accusing Jacobs of provoking the altercation:

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Screen shot/Twitter

The Fox News account, however, states that while Jacobs was holding a recorder toward Gianforte, "at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression." Audio of the incident—posted at the top of this piece—doesn't capture Jacobs being asked to leave or lower his recorder, but does seem to indicate that Gianforte suddenly escalated the situation while Jacobs was questioning him in a relatively sedate tone of voice.

Polls in Montana open Thursday at 7 a.m. No recent public polling is available, but reports say that privately conducted polls have shown Gianforte leading Quist by a single-digit margin. Montana allows early voting, and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that 259,312 ballots have already been cast out of a total of 699,207 registered voters in the state. Polling guru Nate Silver, however, notes that early voters tend to be "committed" individuals who are less likely than day-of voters to be persuaded by late-breaking events such as one of the candidates (allegedly) choking and punching a reporter for asking a question about health care. Both the Billings Gazette and the Missoulian, the papers based in the state's two largest cities, have revoked their endorsements of Gianforte in the hours since Wednesday's incident.

May 24 2017 10:55 PM

Republican Candidate in Montana Accused of Body Slamming and Punching Reporter for Asking Questions

Update, 10:45 p.m.: A crew from Fox News at the scene not only refutes Gianforte’s version of events, but gives greater detail on what appears to have been an even more violent exchange than reporter Ben Jacobs first described. Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, who was preparing for an interview with Gianforte on Special Report with Bret Baier, writes that she and her crew were chatting with the GOP candidate before the interview was set to begin when Ben Jacobs approached.

During that conversation, another man — who we now know is Ben Jacobs of The Guardian — walked into the room with a voice recorder, put it up to Gianforte's face and began asking if him if he had a response to the newly released Congressional Budget Office report on the American Health Care Act. Gianforte told him he would get to him later. Jacobs persisted with his question. Gianforte told him to talk to his press guy, Shane Scanlon. At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him. Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of "I'm sick and tired of this!"
Jacobs scrambled to his knees and said something about his glasses being broken. He asked Faith, Keith and myself for our names. In shock, we did not answer. He then said he wanted the police called and went to leave… To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff's deputies.
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Original Post: On the eve of a special election to fill Montana’s lone House seat, Republican candidate Greg Gianforte lost his cool while being interviewed by reporters at his Bozeman, Montana headquarters when, out of the blue, Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs says Gianforte body slammed him.

It’s unclear what exactly set Gianforte off, but the race in the GOP stronghold to fill the seat of Ryan Zinke, who was selected to run the Interior Department, is far closer than expected and appears to be setting up as a referendum on President Trump and the GOP health care plan. “Democrat Rob Quist, a folk singer and first-time candidate, has raised more than $6 million for his campaign, including $1 million in the past week alone as energized Democratic donors pour online cash into political causes this year,” according to Politico. “Quist hopes that enthusiasm also contributes to an outsize turnout — as it did in special elections in Kansas and Georgia earlier this year—for the oddly scheduled Thursday election, happening just before a holiday weekend.”

Jacobs was quizzing Gianforte about the latest developments on the Republican health care plan when the GOP candidate went after him. “I’m sick and tired of you guys,” Gianforte said. “The last guy who came here did the same thing. Get the hell out of here. Get the hell out of here. The last guy did the same thing. Are you with the Guardian?” After apparently throwing Jacobs to the ground, Gianforte was then ushered out by aides and Jacobs reported the incident to local police.

Here’s how BuzzFeed reporter Alexis Levinson, who was also present during the incident, described it:

“This happened behind a half closed door, so I didn’t see it all, but here’s what it ooked like from the outside – Ben walked into a room where a local tv crew was set up for an interview with Gianforte. All of a sudden I heard a giant crash and saw Ben’s feet fly in the air as he hit the floor. Heard very angry yelling (as did all the volunteers in the room) – sounded like Gianforte...”

According to Levinson, local authorities took witness statements following the incident. Gianforte left the even without speaking to the press; it’s unclear if he was interviewed by police.

Here’s how the Gianforte campaign played it:

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs told the Guardian by phone from the back of an ambulance. “This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

May 24 2017 7:13 PM

Today's Impeach-O-Meter: Drip ... Drip ... Drip ...

 

In the tradition of the Clintonometer and the Trump Apocalypse Watch, the Impeach-O-Meter is a wildly subjective and speculative daily estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump leaves office before his term ends, whether by being impeached (and convicted) or by resigning under threat of same.

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The noose got a little bit tighter today, as unnamed (of course!) intelligence sources leaked to the New York Times that the U.S. intercepted conversations last summer in which Russian officials discussed trying to influence Trump advisers Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. "Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn," the Times writes. "Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort."

So, we know that Trump campaign advisers had financial ties to figures in Russia. We know Russia tried to sabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign. And now we know—but only sort of, since we're relying on anonymous leaks by individuals of unknown motivation here—that the Russians who sabotaged the Clinton campaign wanted to exert influence on the Trump advisers with ties to Russia. But did they actually do it? Was there collusion? We don't know. We just don't know!

Still, enough drips will eventually fill the bucket, as old spies (probably) say. Today we'll raise our likelihood juuuust a little.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images, Win McNamee/Getty Images, Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images, Drew Angerer/Getty Images, and Peter Parks-Pool/Getty Images.

May 24 2017 6:27 PM

CBO Says Trumpcare Would Screw Old People, Trigger Premium Spike Before Midterm Elections

House Republicans who voted for the American Health Care Act have already been taking heat from constituents who are worried that it will leave them uninsurable or cripple them financially, and the unpopularity of the AHCA is one reason Democrats have been getting big ideas about taking back the House. Wednesday afternoon, the Congressional Budget Office released its estimate of how the insurance market would be affected if the AHCA became law, and two of the projections it makes in particular stand out as dangers for Republicans from an immediate electoral perspective.

The first is that the CBO says that the AHCA—which, to put it in broad strokes, cuts taxes on wealthy individuals and reduces the amount that the government spends on health care for everyone else accordingly—will be particularly rough on low-income individuals between the ages of 51 and 64. (You become eligible for Medicare at age 65.)

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Those are long-term estimates of what would happen once all the AHCA components are enacted. The short term, though, doesn't look good either, as the CBO also projects that the bill would cause premiums in the "nongroup market"—for insurance purchased individually on state exchanges—to jump significantly right away.

H.R. 1628, as passed by the House, would tend to increase such premiums before 2020, relative to those under current law— by an average of about 20 percent in 2018 and 5 percent in 2019, as the funding provided by the act to reduce premiums had a larger effect on pricing.

Seventy-four percent of voters in the most recent election said health care was a very important issue to them. Older voters also famously vote at much higher rates than younger ones. 2018 is going to be an interesting year!

May 24 2017 5:44 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Katy Perry's "Sinister" Reaction to Manchester

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A daily roundup of the biggest stories in right-wing media.

A number of conservative outlets ran posts Wednesday on Katy Perry’s comments about the Manchester bombing. “I think the greatest thing we can do now is unite as people, as fan bases, all of it,” she said in a radio interview. “Whatever we say behind people's backs, the Internet can be a little bit ruthless as far as fan bases go but I think that the greatest thing we can do is just unite and love on each other. No barriers, no borders, we all just need to co-exist."

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At the Blaze, Matt Walsh called Perry’s remarks “vapid,” “ridiculous,” and “sinister”:

[W]hen she tells us to respond to these tragedies with “love,” she means only that we ought not do anything to actively stop it from happening again. Instead, we should throw our hands up in loving surrender, and if more of us are brutally slaughtered, well, that’s a price Katy Perry is willing to pay.
Of course, the most egregious hypocrisy is in the bit about “borders and barriers,” which are the two things left wing celebrities always point to as the cause of all misery and strife on the planet. Yet Katy Perry scolds us for our “borders and barriers” from the security of her private estate, protected around the clock by walls and gates and a security detail.

On Fox & Friends, Michelle Malkin condemned Perry for her ignorance about the threat posed by “Islamic imperialists.” “It is just more of that sort of limousine, Gulfstream liberal mindset of these celebrities who just do not operate in any sense of reality.”

Perry responded to Malkin on Twitter, saying that her remarks had been taken out of context.

The comments of another pop star drew praise from conservative outlets. Morrissey, the former frontman of the Smiths, criticized the political response to the attack in a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday. “Theresa May says such attacks ‘will not break us’, but her own life is lived in a bullet-proof bubble, and she evidently does not need to identify any young people today in Manchester morgues,” he wrote. “Also, "will not break us" means that the tragedy will not break her, or her policies on immigration.”

Townhall’s Cortney O’Brien was impressed: “He is clearly not interested in hearing what his country's elites have to say.”

“Morrissey’s statement on the Manchester attack is as clear as anything he has ever written,” the Federalist’s David Marcus wrote. “People want to kill us, and while politicians live safe and sound the people live under the threat of terror. This terror has a name, whether we are willing to say it or not.”

In other news:

Rush Limbaugh voiced nagging concerns about Trump’s Middle East trip on his radio show:

[F]olks, what Trump’s doing with the Saudis and Islam is not consistent with the Trump on the campaign trail. It just isn’t. Think of it what you will, but it isn’t consistent. The Saudi Arabians were public enemy number one. Iranians maybe a close second or a tie. We spent too much money giving arms and so forth to the Saudis. It was not gonna happen anymore, America first. We were not gonna be engaging in this kind of thing, and here we are doing it.

And at National Review, Ben Shapiro predicted that anti-Trump furor will pay off for the Democrats:

All they need to do is tear down Republicans and then wait for either a major bill to pass or a major mistake for them to hang their hats on. That’s why it’s so important for Republicans to pass legislation that makes a difference — not deeply unpopular third-rail politics like Obamacare repeal, but tax cuts, for example. And that’s why it’s absolutely foolish for Republicans to assume that because Trump retains popularity among his base, his behavior with regard to the firing of FBI director James Comey won’t haunt him in future elections.

How will Shapiro and other conservative writers react to the newly released CBO score? We'll see tomorrow.

May 24 2017 5:28 PM

Virginia Governor Pardons Undocumented Immigrant’s Traffic Offense to Stop Deportation

Liliana Cruz Mendez is a married mother of two who lives in Falls Church, Virginia. She is also undocumented, having fled to the United States from El Salvador in 2006. For years, Cruz Mendez has checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials periodically without incident. Last Thursday, however, ICE agents detained her during a routine check-in, announcing plans to deport her back to El Salvador.

Cruz Mendez’s detention outraged her community and so incensed Virginia Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe that he is now attempting to intervene. On Wednesday, McAuliffe pardoned Cruz Mendez of the minor traffic violation that ICE appears to be using to justify her deportation. (She was found guilty of driving without a license, a misdemeanor, in 2013.) McAuliffe’s pardon alone will not prevent Cruz Mendez’s deportation. But, the governor noted, it may influence the decision of the immigration judge who ultimately decides her case.

Gubernatorial intervention into deportation disputes is unusual, but it may become more common in the Trump era. As the fight over “sanctuary cities” demonstrates, state-level Democratic officials are moving to protect undocumented immigrants as the Trump administration cracks down on them. Under the Obama administration, ICE was required to focus its deportation effort on serious criminals. Trump, though, loosened these limitations, allowing the agency to go after undocumented immigrants who have committed minor crimes or no crimes at all. His administration has also ramped up enforcement efforts, targeting vulnerable individuals like victims of domestic abuse, sometimes even arresting them at courthouses.

May 24 2017 5:11 PM

The CBO Says Trumpcare Won’t Cover Everybody With Pre-Existing Conditions

One of the ways that the Trump administration and House Republican leaders won key conservative members' votes for the American Health Care Act was by adding a provision that would allow states to waive Obamacare regulations limiting how much insurers can charge individuals with pre-existing conditions. Republicans insisted that a different provision in the bill—funding for "high-risk pools"—would ensure that no one with such a condition would lose coverage under their plan. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office review of the bill released Wednesday afternoon says otherwise. Here's the money quote regarding what's projected to happen in states that waive the Obamacare rules:

... as a consequence, the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, and people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all—despite the additional funding that would be available under H.R. 1628 to help reduce premiums. As a result, the nongroup markets in those states would become unstable for people with higher-than-average expected health care costs. That instability would cause some people who would have been insured in the nongroup market under current law to be uninsured.
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The CBO projects that one-sixth of the U.S. population lives in states where the situation described above would play out.

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