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James Comey in middle of political fray over Donald Trump and Russians

FBI Director James Comey is again in a familiar spot these days – the middle of political tumult.

As a high-ranking Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, he clashed with the White House over a secret surveillance program. Years later as head of the FBI, he incurred the ire of Hillary Clinton supporters for public statements on an investigation into her emails. Now, Comey is facing new political pressure as White House officials are encouraging him to follow their lead by publicly recounting private FBI conversations in an attempt to dispute reports about connections between the Trump administration and Russia.

It’s an unusual position for a crime-fighting organization with a vaunted reputation for independence and political neutrality. Yet Comey, the former top federal prosecutor in Manhattan who later became deputy attorney general of the United States, is known for an unshaking faith in his own moral compass.

“I’m not detecting a loss of confidence in him, a loss of confidence in him by him,” said retired FBI assistant director Ron Hosko, noting the broad recognition that “these are very tumultuous, polarized, angry, angry times.”

The latest flare-up occurred Friday, when White House officials told reporters that chief of staff Reince Priebus had asked top FBI officials to dispute media reports that Donald Trump‘s campaign advisers were frequently in touch with Russian intelligence agents during the election. The officials said the FBI first raised concerns about New York Times reporting but told Priebus the bureau could not weigh in publicly on the matter. The officials said Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and Comey instead gave Priebus the go-ahead to discredit the story publicly, something the FBI has not confirmed.

As the FBI declined to discuss the matter, pressure mounted on Comey to either counter or affirm the White House’s account. Even the Trump administration urged him to come forward, which as of Friday was not happening.

“Politicized assertions by White House chief of staff Priebus about what may or may not be the findings of an FBI investigation are exactly the wrong way for the public to hear about an issue that is of grave consequence to our democracy,” Sen. Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement. “The American people deserve real transparency, which means Director Comey needs to come forward, in an open hearing, and answer questions.”

The push on Comey to publicly discuss the bureau’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is especially acute given his statements in the run-up to Nov. 8 that many Democrats believe cost Clinton the election. He detailed the results of the FBI’s investigation at an unusual July news conference, testified on it for hours on Capitol Hill and alerted Congress less than two weeks before Election Day that the FBI would be reviewing new emails potentially connected to the case.

But it’s not clear that Comey, now in the fourth year of a 10-year term, will be swayed by any public hand-wringing. People who have worked with the FBI director describe him as holding strong personal convictions.

As deputy attorney general, he confronted White House officials in the hospital room of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft in an effort to quash the reauthorization of a counterterrorism surveillance program.

When nominating Comey for FBI director in 2013, President Barack Obama praised him for his “fierce independence and deep integrity.” Comey stood apart from the administration on a few occasions after that, including when he floated the possibility that police concerns over being recorded on video were causing officers to pull back and contributing to an uptick in homicides, a viewpoint the White House refused to endorse.

His decision to announce the FBI’s recommendation against criminal charges in the Clinton email case was made without any notice to the Justice Department, and his notification to Congress about the new emails was not supported by department leaders, including Attorney General Loretta Lynch.

Decisions that reach the desk of the top leadership of the FBI are generally not easy, said Robert Anderson, a retired FBI executive assistant director.

“The director of the FBI is a hard job, even when it’s an easy day or nothing’s in the newspaper,” Anderson said. “By the time it makes it up to Jim, it’s all hard at that point.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Donald Trump embraces legacy of Andrew Jackson

It was an ugly, highly personal presidential election.

An unvarnished celebrity outsider who pledged to represent the forgotten laborer took on an intellectual member of the Washington establishment looking to extend a political dynasty in the White House.

Andrew Jackson‘s triumph in 1828 over President John Quincy Adams bears striking similarities to Donald Trump‘s victory over Hillary Clinton last year, and some of those most eager to point that out are in the Trump White House.

Trump’s team has seized upon the parallels between the current president and the long-dead Tennessee war hero. Trump has hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office and Trump’s chief strategist, Stephen Bannon, who has pushed the comparison, told reporters after Trump’s inaugural address that “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.”

Trump himself mused during his first days in Washington that “there hasn’t been anything like this since Andrew Jackson.”

It’s a remarkable moment of rehabilitation for a figure whose populist credentials and anti-establishment streak has been tempered by harsher elements of his legacy, chiefly his forced removal of Native Americans that caused disease and the death of thousands.

“Both were elected presidents as a national celebrity; Jackson due to prowess on battlefield and Trump from making billions in his business empire,” said Douglas Brinkley, a professor of history at Rice University. “And it’s a conscious move for Trump to embrace Jackson. In American political lore, Jackson represents the forgotten rural America while Trump won by bringing out that rural vote and the blue collar vote.”

The seventh president, known as “Old Hickory” for his toughness on the battlefield, gained fame when he led American forces to a victory in the Battle of New Orleans in the final throes of the War of 1812. He did serve a term representing Tennessee in the Senate, but he has long been imagined as a rough and tumble American folk hero, an anti-intellectual who believed in settling scores against political opponents and even killed a man in a duel for insulting the honor of Jackson’s wife.

Jackson also raged against what he deemed “a corrupt bargain” that prevented him from winning the 1824 election against Adams when the race was thrown to the House of Representatives after no candidate received a majority in the Electoral College. Even before the vote in November, Trump railed against a “rigged” election and has repeatedly asserted, without evidence, widespread voter fraud prevented his own popular vote triumph.

Jackson’s ascension came at a time when the right to vote was expanded to all white men — and not just property-owners — and he fashioned himself into a populist, bringing new groups of voters into the electoral system. Remarkably, the popular vote tripled between Jackson’s loss in 1824 and his victory four years later, and he used the nation’s growing newspaper industry — like Trump on social media — to spread his message.

Many of those new voters descended on Washington for Jackson’s 1829 inauguration and the crowd of thousands that mobbed the Capitol and the White House forced Jackson to spend his first night as president in a hotel.

Once in office, he continued his crusade as a champion for the common man by opposing the Second Bank of the United States, which he declared to be a symptom of a political system that favored the rich and ignored “the humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves.”

Jackson, as Trump hopes to do, expanded the powers of the presidency, and a new political party, the new Democratic party, coalesced around him in the 1820s. He was the first non-Virginia wealthy farmer or member of the Adams dynasty in Massachusetts to be elected president.

“The American public wanted a different kind of president. And there’s no question Donald Trump is a different kind of president,” Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this past week. “He’s now comparing himself to Andrew Jackson. I think it’s a pretty good, a pretty good comparison. That’s how big a change Jackson was from the Virginia and Massachusetts gentlemen who had been president of the United States for the first 40 years.”

But there are also limits to the comparison, historians say.

Unlike Jackson, who won in 1828 in a landslide, Trump lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million ballots. Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2008 biography of Jackson, “American Lion,” said Jackson was “an outsider in style but not in substance” and his outlandish public pronouncements would often be followed by hours of deep conversations and letter-writing hashing out political calculations.

“He was a wild man during the day but a careful diplomat at night,” said Meacham, who said it was too early to know whether Trump, like Jackson, “had a strategy behind his theatrics,” and whether Trump had the ability to harness the wave of populism that has swept the globe as it did in the 1820s.

“The moment is Jacksoninan but do we have a Jackson in the Oval Office?” Meacham asked.

Trump’s appropriation of Jackson came after his victory. Trump never mentioned Jackson during the campaign or discussed Jackson during a series of conversations with Meacham last spring

But it is hardly unique for a president to adopt a previous one as a historical role model.

Barack Obama frequently invoked Abraham Lincoln. Dwight Eisenhower venerated George Washington. Jackson himself had been claimed by Franklin Roosevelt and his successor, Harry Truman, both of whom — unlike Trump — interpreted Jackson’s populism as a call for expanded government, in part to help the working class.

There could be other comparisons for Trump. A favorable one would be Eisenhower, also a nonpolitician who governed like a hands-off CEO. A less favorable one would be Andrew Johnson, a tool of his party whose erratic behavior helped bring about his impeachment.

Trump’s embrace could signal an about-face for Jackson’s legacy. Historians have recently soured on the slave-owning president whose Indian Removal Act of 1830 commissioned the forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States. More than 4,000 died along their journey west, a brutal march that became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Jackson’s standing had fallen so much that in 2015, when the U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace Alexander Hamilton on the $10 bill with Harriet S. Tubman, the outcry in defense of the Founding Father — in part due to the success of the Broadway musical that tells his story — was so loud that the government changed course and opted to remove Jackson from the $20 instead.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Top Bernie Sanders surrogate Nina Turner to speak in St. Pete next month

Former Ohio state Senator Nina Turner, who became a national cable news star as a top surrogate for Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential campaign, will be speaking in St. Petersburg in March.

The 49-year-old Cleveland native served on the Cleveland City Council from 2005-2008. She resigned her seat that year to accept an appointment to the Ohio Senate in 2008. She won a full term in 2010, before losing a contest for Ohio Secretary of State in 2014.

Recently there has been a movement to draft her to run for Governor of Ohio in 2018.

Last year Turner became a prominent supporter of Sanders campaign. After he lost the Democratic nomination for president to Hillary Clinton, Turner admitted that she was considering an offer to run for vice president on the Green Party’s national ticket, but ultimately opted to stay within the Democratic Party.

Turner will speak at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7 at the United Methodist Church Allendale at 3803 Haines Rd. N. St. Petersburg. To purchase tickets, go to movetobuild.us.

For GOP, a dimmed zeal for investigations in Donald Trump era

The Republicans’ ardor for investigations and oversight, on display throughout the Obama administration, has cooled off considerably with Donald Trump in the White House.

Each day seems to bring a new headache or near-crisis from Trump, the latest being the departure of his national security adviser under questionable circumstances involving Russia.

Yet if there is a line too far, at which point Republicans will feel duty-bound to call for an independent investigation of their president or his administration, Trump hasn’t crossed it yet.

Democrats are clamoring for a full-scale probe of the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, including demanding to know what Trump knew, and when, about Flynn’s pre-inauguration conversations with a Russian ambassador about U.S. sanctions. White House press secretary Sean Spicer disclosed that Trump was told in late January that Flynn had misled Vice President Mike Pence about those conversations.

Rather than go along with Democrats’ call for an independent outside investigation, Senate Republicans insisted Tuesday that the Intelligence Committee could look at the circumstances as part of an existing probe into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

“The Intelligence Committee is already looking at Russian involvement in our election and they have broad jurisdiction over the intel community writ large and they can look at whatever they choose to,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., adding that “it’s highly likely they’d want to take a look at this episode as well.”

The intelligence panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, told reporters that “aggressive” oversight would continue “privately. We don’t do that in public.”

House Republicans were even less interested, with some shrugging off Democrats’ calls for an investigation entirely. Rep. Devin Nunes of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that the “real crime” is how Flynn’s phone conversations were leaked, echoing a complaint Trump himself made over Twitter.

“I think the situation has taken care of itself” in light of Flynn’s resignation, House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, told reporters. That’s a far different stance toward potential wrongdoing by the executive branch than Chaffetz took last year, when House Republicans issued more than 70 letters and subpoenas aimed at investigating Democrat Hillary Clinton over a period of less than three months after the FBI announced criminal charges weren’t warranted related to her use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Chaffetz did turn his attention to a different Trump administration matter later Tuesday, sending a letter to the White House seeking information about Trump’s discussion of a North Korea missile launch while dining al fresco with the Japanese prime minister at a resort in Florida.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., went so far as to counsel publicly against spending too much time investigating the White House, saying that doing so could only be counterproductive at a moment when the GOP faces a daunting legislative agenda on Capitol Hill.

“I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” Paul said in an appearance on Fox News Radio’s “Kilmeade and Friends.” ”We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do like repealing Obamacare if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

The relatively hands-off stance of the GOP toward the Trump White House angers Democrats, who are powerless to do much except fume from the minority in both chambers of Congress.

“Do you hear the silence? This is the sound of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero,” Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, top Democrat on the Oversight Committee, complained at a news conference Tuesday. “That is what it sounds like when they abdicate their duty under the Constitution. We’ve been asking for months for basic oversight.”

The GOP’s lack of enthusiasm about investigating the Trump White House comes as Capitol Hill Republicans struggle to come to terms with a new administration that has been engulfed in upheaval after upheaval. Republicans are trying to focus on their agenda despite the distractions. And for now, they appear to have concluded, going easy on Trump is the best way to achieve their goals, including confirming a Supreme Court justice and passing a new health care law and other legislation they want the president to sign.

“We know full well that there are issues that are going to come up on a daily basis that we’re going to get asked about and have to respond to,” said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 3 Senate Republican, “but we’re interested in repealing and replacing Obamacare, reforming the tax code, reducing the regulatory burden on businesses, confirming a Supreme Court justice, getting these Cabinet nominees through — that’s what our agenda is right now.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The new civics course in schools: How to avoid fake news

Teachers from elementary school through college are telling students how to distinguish between factual and fictional news — and why they should care that there’s a difference.

As Facebook works with The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and other organizations to curb the spread of fake and misleading news on its influential network, teachers say classroom instruction can play a role in deflating the kind of “Pope endorses Trump” headlines that muddied the waters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

“I think only education can solve this problem,” said Pat Winters Lauro, a professor at Kean University in New Jersey who began teaching a course on news literacy this semester.

Like others, Lauro has found discussions of fake news can lead to politically sensitive territory. Some critics believe fake stories targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton helped Donald Trump overcome a large deficit in public opinion polls, and President Trump himself has attached the label to various media outlets and unfavorable reports and polls in the first weeks of his presidency.

“It hasn’t been a difficult topic to teach in terms of material because there’s so much going on out there,” Lauro said, “but it’s difficult in terms of politics because we have such a divided country and the students are divided, too, on their beliefs. I’m afraid sometimes that they think I’m being political when really I’m just talking about journalistic standards for facts and verification, and they look at it like ‘Oh, you’re anti-this or -that.'”

Judging what to trust was easier when the sources were clearer — magazines, newspapers or something else, said Kean senior Mike Roche, who is taking Lauro’s class. Now “it all comes through the same medium of your cellphone or your computer, so it’s very easy to blur the lines and not have a clear distinction of what’s real and what’s fake,” he said.

A California lawmaker last month introduced a bill to require the state to add lessons on how to distinguish between real and fake news to the grade 7-12 curriculum.

High school government and politics teacher Lesley Battaglia added fake news to the usual election-season lessons on primaries and presidential debates, discussing credible sites and sources and running stories through fact-checking sites like Snopes. There were also lessons about anonymous sources and satire. (They got a kick out of China’s dissemination of a 2012 satirical story from The Onion naming Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive.)

“I’m making you guys do the hard stuff that not everybody always does. They see it in a tweet and that’s enough for them,” Battaglia told her students at Williamsville South High School in suburban Buffalo.

“It’s kind of crazy,” 17-year-old student Hannah Mercer said, “to think about how much it’s affecting people and swaying their opinions.”

Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy pioneered the idea of educating future news consumers, and not just journalists, a decade ago with the rise of online news. About four in 10 Americans often get news online, a 2016 Pew Research Center report found. Stony Brook last month partnered with the University of Hong Kong to launch a free online course.

“To me, it’s the new civics course,” said Tom Boll, after wrapping up his own course on real and fake news at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University. With everyone now able to post and share, gone are the days of the network news and newspaper editors serving as the primary gatekeepers of information, Boll, an adjunct professor, said.

“The gates are wide open,” he said, “and it’s up to us to figure out what to believe.”

That’s not easy, said Raleigh, North Carolina-area teacher Bill Ferriter, who encourages students to first use common sense to question whether a story could be true, to look at web addresses and authors for hints, and to be skeptical of articles that seem aimed at riling them up.

He pointed to an authentic-looking site reporting that President Barack Obama signed an order in December banning the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. A “.co” at the end of an impostor news site web address should have been a red flag, he said.

“The biggest challenge that I have whenever I try to teach kids about questionable content on the web,” said Ferriter, who teaches sixth grade, “is convincing them that there is such a thing as questionable content on the web.”

Some of Battaglia’s students fear fake news will chip away at the trust of even credible news sources and give public figures license to dismiss as fake news anything unfavorable.

“When people start to distrust all news sources is when people in power are just allowed to do whatever they want, said Katie Peter, “and that’s very scary.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Pasco GOP official in trouble after social media posts go national

Pasco County Republican Executive Committee Secretary Bill Akins is under fire  after a story about his history of pushing out racist jokes and conspiracy theories on social media was published Sunday by the Washington Post.

The reason that the previously little-known local Republican even earned the interest of the Post was because of what happened on Saturday at Congressman Gus Bilirakis raucous town hall meeting in New Port Richey. That’s where Akins told a crowd of mostly supporters of the Affordable Care Act that it was a fact that they would face “death panels” at the age of 74 under the legislation.

“Death Panels” were often mentioned by Tea Party activists at town hall meetings back in 2009 when the ACA was initially being discussed. PolitFact called the term the “Lie of the Year” in 2009.

As soon as Akins finished pronouncing “panel,” the crowd erupted into arguably the loudest amount of jeering from the two hour meeting.

“OK, children. Alright, children,” Akins stated, mocking the crowd in an exchange that was repeatedly by CNN and MSNBC on Saturday.

Akins apparently deleted all of his posts on his Facebook page on Saturday night, after the story by the Post’s Dave Weigel went live. The earliest posts now available to see on his page go back to 2011.

Among the controversial statements that Akins made included comparing black protesters to monkeys, accusing former President Barack Obama of being a foreign-born Muslim, and that Bill and Hillary Clinton had potential trial witnesses against them murdered.

He claimed that former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia might have been murdered, that “Climate Change” is a globalist hoax, and that Nancy Pelosi is mentally handicapped.

The Pasco County GOP Facebook page was filled with angry responses on Sunday.

“Rep Bilirakis SR was a truthful and honorable man,” wrote Chris Perfusion Clay. “The present Representative (who used to be my Representative until they gerrymandered again) makes a fool of himself by agreeing with a delusional Bill Akins. Mr Akins Facebook page is an example of why Republicans are seen as seriously problematic.”

Pasco County State Committeeman Bill Bunting said the revelation about Akins social media history was a definite “black eye for us, no question about it.”

At the town hall, Akins identified himself as being the Secretary of the Pasco REC. He was only recently elected to that post.

Akins did not return our request for comment on Sunday afternoon. Nor did Republican Party of Florida Chairman Blaise Ingoglia.

How can we respect the presidency, when Donald Trump clearly doesn’t?

When President Harry S. Truman threatened in December 1950 to punch out a Washington Post music critic who had panned his daughter’s singing, he wrote the letter in his own hand, affixed his own postage stamp, and did not make it public. Neither did the Post.

But America knew all about it once it had leaked to the Washington News.

“It seems to me that you are a frustrated old man who wishes he could have been successful,” the president wrote …”Some day I hope to meet you. When that happens, you’ll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!”

Public reaction was divided. Some people, Republicans especially, said that what Truman did was terrible. Others, fathers especially, applauded him for sticking up for his daughter.

Actually, the critic, Paul Hume, was a young man, 34, only three years into what became a long and acclaimed career at the Post. When they finally did meet, years later at Truman’s home in Independence, Missouri, they played the piano together.

Truman’s outburst comes to mind with the news of the very public way in which Donald Trump and his shrill White House shill, Kellyanne Conway, reacted to news of a department store chain, Nordstrom, dropping Ivanka Trump‘s branded merchandise.

The so-called president used his personal and White House Twitter accounts to denounce the company for treating his daughter “unfairly.” Conway was on Fox “News” the next day urging people to “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.

“I’m going to give a free commercial here. Go buy it today everybody, you can find it online,” Conway said.

That goes way, way beyond what Truman did, and is far, far worse. Truman involved public resources only to the extent that he was living in the White House when he wrote the letter, and he did not pitch his hissy fit in public. Trump and Conway are using their bully pulpit—a term that they obviously misunderstand—to promote his daughter’s private business. And although Trump as president is exempt from ethics rules that prohibit that, Conway clearly is not.

Those rules—with which Conway, as a lawyer, ought to be familiar–forbid any executive branch employee from using the office “for his own private gain, for the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise, or for the private gain of friends, relations, or persons with whom the employee is affiliated in a nongovernmental capacity.”

At least one formal complaint has already been lodged with the Office of Government Ethics.

And here’s what the chief ethics counsel to President George W. Bush, Richard W. Painter, said about it, quoted in The New York Times:

“The events of the past week demonstrate that there is no intent on the part of the president, his family, or the White House staff to make meaningful distinctions between his official capacity as president and the Trump family business.”

Trump’s staff, he noted, “instead of trying to push him back on this, they’re jumping in this and shilling for the businesses alongside him.”

Can we count on Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, to law down the law to Trump?

Perhaps when pigs are piloting 747s.

There are doubtlessly a lot of people who aren’t bothered by any of this. They’re those who either voted for the new regime, knowing and liking what it would be, or weren’t concerned enough to go and vote. They seem to include the Republicans running the Senate, which has yet to deny Trump anything.

But for the rest of us, which I think is a majority, this is the question:

How can we be expected to respect the office of president when its occupant doesn’t respect it himself?

The regime’s abuse of public office for private gain is far from the worst of it. Trump’s relentless attacks on the media and, now, the judiciary are the worst of it.

None of his predecessors, not even Richard Nixon, were so persistently thin-skinned, petulant, and heedless of the stature the presidency needs and deserves. Trump’s bombastic, childish, vainglorious outbursts are diminishing not only him, but the office.

If it were just about him being a crybaby, that would be bad enough.

But what he is doing—with calculation and malice, and no doubt with Steven Bannon’s encouragement—is to poison the public’s mind against the only two nonpartisan institutions, the courts and the media, that are willing and able to stand in the way of his abuses of power and his incipient dictatorship.

As it happens, the war on the media is a monumental act of ingratitude. Trump wouldn’t be in the White House had television not fawned on his every act and outrage as a candidate, had the newspapers not contrived to put his picture on every Page 1, had the media been willing earlier to call him out on his falsehoods, and had it not given him, in effect, a free ride against Hillary Clinton by portraying her, falsely, as his equal in sleaze.

Trump understood, as they did not, that it did not matter what they said about him so long as they said it.

Now it matters. It matters a lot. The case for impeachment already exists, and it is building hour by hour, day by day.

___

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the Tampa Bay Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina.

 

Florida ‘crossover’ congressional districts give Democrats glimmer of hope in 2018

Democrats could be in for more election woes in 2018, according to a new post from political blog Sabato’s Crystal Ball.

In the post, author Kyle Kondik gives a rundown of the 2016 cycle’s “crossover” congressional seats – districts that voted for one party on the congressional level, and another for president.

There were 26 such seats in the 2012 cycle, and 2016 saw an increase to 35.

A dozen of the crossover seats sent a Democrat to Congress and backed Republican Donald Trump for president, while the remainder, including Florida’s 26th and 27th Congressional Districts, voted a Republican into Congress while backing Democrat Hillary Clinton for president.

Despite the jump in crossover seats, Kondik writes that the Clinton versus Trump election may not be an “accurate gauge” of these seats true partisan leans, and says most of the districts are “more competitive on paper than in practice.”

On the whole, the crossover seats picked up by Democrats had a much narrower vote than the seats picked up by Republicans, and one Democrat, Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, didn’t even face a major party opponent.

When it comes to Florida’s two crossover seats, CD 26 Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo had the benefit of running against “scandal-tarred” former Rep. Joe Garcia, while and CD 27 Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen consistently polled ahead of Trump throughout the election cycle.

Kondik called Ros-Lehtinen one of the GOP’s “most skilled incumbents” and noted that she is the incumbent in the most Democratic-leaning seat any Republican holds, which bodes well for the Republican Party.

Kondik also said the GOP has a much firmer grasp on their Congressional seats than Democrats did in 2010, when Republicans won the midterm election by a landslide. Democrats lost 48 House seats, and their majority, in that cycle.

“Republicans today are only about half as overextended, and it’s an open question as to whether Democrats can legitimately contend for many of these Clinton-Republican seats,” Kondik said.

Donald Trump’s assertions echo site filled with tales of dark plots

President Donald Trump‘s assertion that the media often fails to cover terrorist attacks is false, but he’s hardly alone in making the claim. The statement is just the latest by Trump to echo a website known for trafficking in dubious allegations of plots and cover-ups.

“You’ve seen what happened in Paris and Nice. All over Europe it’s happening. It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even being reported. And in many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn’t want to report it. They have their reasons and you understand that,” Trump said in a speech to military commanders at Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base Monday.

That allegation was quickly disproven by numerous articles and broadcast clips detailing many of the very attacks the White House said had been overlooked or underreported. But versions of the same accusation have long gone unquestioned on Infowars, a website run by former public access cable host Alex Jones.

“Scandal: Mass media covers up terrorism to protect Islam,” a headline on Jones’ site alleged last July. “Fake news: Mainstream media whitewashes Islamic terror in Berlin,” proclaimed another, last December.

There’s no evidence that Trump gets his information from the site. But Trump voiced his admiration for Jones when the Infowars host interviewed him in December 2015.

“Your reputation is amazing,” then-candidate Trump told Jones. “I will not let you down. You will be very impressed, I hope, and I think we’ll be speaking a lot.”

Jones responded: “I hope you can uncripple America…”

Days after the election, Jones said that Trump had called him to “thank your viewers, thank your listeners for standing up for this republic.”

Jones, whose site has alleged that the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting was a hoax and that the September 11, 2001, terror attacks involved the federal government, is “America’s leading conspiracy theorist,” said Mark Fenster, author of “Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in America.”

Such allegations have always had their believers, but those who traded in the tales mostly existed on the fringes, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a University of Pennsylvania professor specializing in political communication.

“You weren’t watching it. I wasn’t watching it. Certainly our political leaders weren’t watching it,” she said. But the internet has given organs devoted to such claims more visibility and acceptability. Jones’ YouTube channel has nearly 2 million subscribers.

With Trump, the country has a leader who repeats such allegations as if they are plausible, said Fenster, a professor of law at the University of Florida. Political campaigns sometimes see candidates make vague references to dark forces, but for a sitting president to regularly engage in an “unfiltered set of allegations” is well beyond the norm, Fenster said.

Trump’s allegations about the media and those made on Infowars are just the latest to echo one another. Their shared assertions include:

— President Barack Obama may not have been born in the United States.

It’s hard to know where these allegations originated, but Infowars has been making the “birther” argument for years, alleging that documents showing Obama was born in Hawaii were fake.

“Shocking new birth certificate proof Obama born in Kenya?” asked an Infowars headline in August 2009. “New Obama birth certificate is a forgery,” said another, in April 2011.

The latter was shortly after Trump appeared on the television show “The View,” in March 2011, during which he falsely said that nobody from Obama’s childhood remembered him, and that he was obligated to prove his birth in Hawaii. “Why doesn’t he show his birth certificate?” Trump said. Last September, Trump said he accepted that Obama was born in the U.S.

— Thousands of Muslims in New Jersey celebrated after 9/11.

Trump was criticized after a November 2015 political rally in which he said that “thousands and thousands of people were cheering” in New Jersey when the World Trade Center came down. Questioned afterward, Trump insisted that he had seen the celebrations on television that day.

There’s no evidence such celebrations took place. But accounts of Muslims cheering terrorist attacks have been a repeated theme on Infowars.

“I live in Jersey and Trump is right: Muslims did celebrate on 9/11 in NJ… We saw it!” headlined an article in November 2015. Soon afterward, the site ran another story, “Exclusive: Radical U.S. Muslims celebrate, shoot fireworks after terrorist attack,” featuring an anonymous man who said that on the night of the Paris attacks he heard people celebrating four or five blocks away from his home outside Detroit.

— Millions of people voted illegally for Hillary Clinton.

Trump won the presidency with an Electoral College victory despite losing to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. He has said he was cheated out of a rightful win in the popular vote.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” the president said on Twitter on November 27. Numerous state elections officials, many of them Republicans, said there is no evidence of widespread voting fraud. But Trump ordered an investigation.

His allegations have been echoed, if not preceded, on Infowars, which alleged widespread voter fraud well before Election Day.

“Dead people and illegal immigrants are being registered to vote all over America,” the site headlined in early October.

In mid-November, Infowars posted a story headlined: “Report: Three million votes in presidential election cast by illegal aliens.” The story cited a Texas businessman, Greg Phillips, who claimed to have compiled a list of 3 million illegal votes by non-citizens. On January 27, Trump Tweeted that he was looking forward to seeing Phillips’ evidence. “We must do better!” Trump wrote.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Charlie Crist wants Trump administration to look into voter suppression, disenfranchisement

Democrats skeptical about President Trump‘s repeated claims of voter fraud in last November’s election are now challenging him to add voter suppression and disenfranchisement into his administration’s upcoming investigation.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Trump told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that Vice President Mike Pence will be in charge of a commission to probe what he believes was voter fraud in the election, despite a consensus among state officials, election experts — and both Democrats and Republicans — that voter fraud is extremely rare in the U.S.

“I’m going to set up a commission to be headed by Vice President Pence and we’re going to look at it very, very carefully,” Trump told O’Reilly in an interview taped Friday.

Seizing on that, Congressman Charlie Crist and 75 other Democrats are signing on to a letter originally penned by Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, Alabama’s Terri Sewell and Washington’s Derek Kilmer calling for an evaluation of state voter restrictions in Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida. Those states bar individuals with past felony convictions from voting unless they are able to meet a burdensome clemency requirement. This law has led to the disenfranchisement of an estimated 1.5 million Floridians. 

“Unsubstantiated voter fraud claims are being used as cover to enact policies aimed at disenfranchising certain voters — something Floridians are all too familiar with,” said Crist, the first-term St. Petersburg Democrat. “Voter suppression efforts are an attack on our democracy. I will fight to protect access to the voting booth, including for nonviolent former felons. It’s a matter of civil rights and fundamental fairness.”

“Voter suppression efforts are an attack on our democracy,” Crist added. “I will fight to protect access to the voting booth, including for nonviolent former felons. It’s a matter of civil rights and fundamental fairness.”

Clearly upset about the fact that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by more than 2.8 million votes, Trump has steadfastly maintained that if it weren’t for voter fraud, he would have won the popular vote on November 8.

Despite that refrain, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday show that while election fraud does occur, “there is no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election.”

Trump’s focus seems intent only on looking at what happened in November, so the Democrats call for a look into other voting issues will unlikely find a sympathetic audience. Nevertheless, it gives them the opportunity to get out their beliefs that there are sustained, legalized measures in place currently that intentionally suppress the vote.

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