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Dec. 2 2017 10:17 PM

ABC News Suspends Brian Ross Over Mistaken Report About Michael Flynn

ABC News made it clear Saturday night that it was taking the huge mistake by investigative reporter Brian Ross seriously, suspending him for four weeks without pay. The move came after Ross corrected a bombshell report claiming Donald Trump had instructed Michael Flynn to contact Russian officials during the campaign. A few hours after that report that shook up Washington Friday and made markets plunge briefly, ABC clarified the instruction from Trump came after he was elected president and had to do with, among other things, figuring out how to best combat ISIS in Syria.

ABC at first seemed to try to downplay the mistake, calling it a clarification, before upgrading that to a correction. On Saturday night, the network went even further, calling it a “serious error.” The full statement reads:

We deeply regret and apologize for the serious error we made yesterday. The reporting conveyed by Brian Ross during the special report had not been fully vetted through our editorial standards process. As a result of our continued reporting over the next several hours ultimately we determined the information was wrong and we corrected the mistake on air and online.
It is vital we get the story right and retain the trust we have built with our audience –- these are our core principles. We fell far short of that yesterday. Effective immediately, Brian Ross will be suspended for four weeks without pay.

One of the first to celebrate the news was Trump, who took to Twitter to congratulate the network. “Congratulations to @ABC News for suspending Brian Ross for his horrendously inaccurate and dishonest report on the Russia, Russia, Russia Witch Hunt,” Trump wrote. “More Networks and ‘papers’ should do the same with their Fake News!”  

Journalism ethics experts said ABC’s mistake would only help Trump and his allies make the case against mainstream media. “This error plays right into the hands of people who callously try to say that news media all just lie,” Kathleen Culver, the director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told the New York Times. “This is the kind of thing you can see being brought up again and again and again at appearances by the president, where he will take one situation in which something was wrong, and blow that out into a condemnation that all news media are fake.”

It didn’t take long after the ABC announcement for the White House’s head of social media, Dan Scavino, to call the network “fake news” on Twitter.

Others took the opportunity to remind the world that Ross has a history of getting things wrong. Ari Fleischer, who was press secretary for President George W. Bush, wrote on Twitter about the time he “explicitly told ABC News not to go with the anthrax story because it was wrong.” The network didn’t seem to care and “Brian Ross went with it anyway,” Fleischer added, referring to a 2001 story that tied Iraq to an anthrax attack in the United States.

ABC News employees speaking anonymously told CNN that there was lots of embarrassment at the network about the mistake. "It makes me cringe," one employee said. "This is not what any networks needs when people are so quick to say 'fake news' to you. It makes me sick to my stomach."

Ross did not protest ABC’s decision and instead took to Twitter to note that his “job is to hold people accountable,” which is why “I agree with being held accountable myself.”

Dec. 2 2017 5:18 PM

Did Trump Just Admit to Obstructing Justice on Twitter?

President Donald Trump had been unusually quiet on Twitter about the bombshell news that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian officials. That changed on Saturday, when Trump took to his favorite social media outlet to say Flynn had "nothing to hide." But in doing so, Trump may have admitted to something that could get him in trouble in the future because his tweet suggested he knew Flynn had lied to the FBI when he fired him.

“I had to fire General Flynn because he lied to the Vice President and the FBI,” Trump tweeted. “He has pled guilty to those lies. It is a shame because his actions during the transition were lawful. There was nothing to hide!”

The first part of the tweet immediately raised eyebrows. Why? Because it would suggest Trump knew more about Flynn's lies than what he has said publicly. When Trump fired Flynn on Feb. 13 he only said it was because his then-national security adviser had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. The Washington Post revealed news that Flynn had lied to the FBI as well three days after he was fired. More importantly though, it would suggest Trump knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI when he asked then-FBI chief James Comey to go easy on Flynn on Feb. 14. That is at least what Comey told Congress in June.

“The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, 'He is a good guy and has been through a lot’,” Comey said in his written testimony to Congress. “He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, 'I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go’.”

The Washington Post is reporting that it was Trump’s lawyer, John Dowd, who drafted the tweet and not the president himself. The Post explains why that’s important:

Its authorship could reduce how significantly it communicates anything about when the president knew that Flynn had lied to the FBI, but also raises questions about the public relations strategy of the president's chief lawyer.
Two people close to the administration described the tweet simply as sloppy and unfortunate.

That revelation though didn’t stop critics from questioning how much Trump knew about Flynn’s lies to the FBI and whether he tried to obstruct justice. "If that is true, Mr. President, why did you wait so long to fire Flynn?” asked Rep. Adam Schiff in a tweet. “Why did you fail to act until his lies were publicly exposed? And why did you pressure Director Comey to "let this go?”

Rep. Ted Lieu of California was even more direct and apparently couldn’t contain his shock, deciding to tweet using capital letters: “THIS IS OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE,” he wrote.

Walter Shaub, the former head of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics, flat out said that any other president could have lost his job over the tweet. “Before we slipped into an alternate universe of unabashed corruption, this tweet alone might have ended a Presidential administration,” Shaub wrote.

Dec. 2 2017 1:00 PM

Poll: Democratic Candidate Gains Slight Edge Over Moore in Alabama Senate Race

With less than two weeks to go before the highly anticipated special election in Alabama that will select the next senator, it’s looking like things are too close to call. A new Washington Post/Schar School poll published Saturday shows that 50 percent of likely voters support Democratic candidate Doug Jones, compared to 47 percent who back Roy Moore for the Dec. 12 contest. That is well within the poll’s 4.5-point margin of error, but the survey does show that the allegations of sexual misconduct have severely hurt the Republican candidate who was once seen as the favorite to easily win the race.

When it comes to standards of personal moral conduct, a majority of likely voters — 53 percent — believe Jones has higher standards than Moore. Only one third of likely voters say Moore has higher standards. Despite these opinions though, it seems clear Alabama voters aren’t sure what to think about the allegations against Moore. Only 35 percent of likely voters say they believe Moore made unwanted advances on teenage girls when he was in his 30s, while 37 percent say they are unsure or have no opinion and 28 percent say they don’t think he actually did that.

Not surprisingly, women are more likely to find the allegations against Moore to be credible and, in turn, are also more likely to support Jones. The Democratic candidate leads by 18 points with women while Moore is ahead by 15 points among men, according to the survey.

If Moore loses the election, the Republican majority in the Senate will narrow to 51-49. Despite the allegations against Moore though, polls still show the Republican candidate is the favorite to win the race with the RealClearPolitics average of polls putting Moore ahead by 2.5 points.

Dec. 2 2017 11:50 AM

Trump Insists He Isn’t Worried That Michael Flynn Is Cooperating With Mueller Probe

It seems nothing was going to get President Donald Trump out of his celebratory mood after Senate Republicans passed their tax bill. The commander in chief talked to reporters Saturday and for the first time briefly referred to the news that his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. When reporters asked whether the president was worried about what Flynn could tell special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump didn’t hesitate: “No, I am not.”

Why is Trump so free of worry? “What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion" he said. "There’s been absolutely no collusion so we’re very happy.”

Part of Trump’s confidence may have come from the fact that ABC News backtracked on what had been by far the most explosive report regarding Flynn’s guilty plea. ABC News’ Brian Ross shook up Washington when he reported that Flynn would testify that Trump had “directed him to make contact with the Russians” during the presidential campaign. That would have been huge news because Trump has repeatedly denied knowledge of any contact between campaign workers and Russian officials. But late on Friday ABC News corrected the record with a key detail that changed everything. Turns out Flynn will say that Trump told him to contact Russian officials during the transition to figure out how the two countries could best work together in Syria to fight ISIS.

Dec. 2 2017 2:28 AM

Senate Republicans Pass Their Massive Tax Bill

"It's Miller time!"

So said one of the several dozen Republican senators who stayed on the floor to watch Vice President Mike Pence call the vote around 1:50 a.m. late Friday night. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Republicans' signature tax bill, passed the Senate 51-49, picking up all Republican votes except for Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker's. There were hugs on the floor, awkward ones. There were cheers from several of the men huddled around Maine Sen. Susan Collins when she voted for it. Democrats, meanwhile, had all left the floor immediately after voting.

It had been a long day.

Republicans had the votes hours before they had the bill. The Senate floor was mostly quiet Friday afternoon and into the night as debate time went on and on, in order to buy Republicans time to finish writing the final product. That included a slew of major last-minute changes, including a nearly $150 billion provision to preserve a $10,000 property tax deduction to win over Collins. In order to cover that and other adjustments, the bill preserves much of the alternative minimum tax, which it had previously repealed.

Other changes fell into the less-than-statutory realm of handshake agreements. Collins presented a signed letter from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that he would never, ever allow automatic spending cuts triggered by pay-as-you-go law to go into effect. (Perhaps Collins could use the letter as tinder to get her fireplace going when she returns to the Maine winter?) And Arizona’s Jeff Flake claimed he got a “firm commitment” from leaders and the White House to secure a “permanent” deal protecting DACA recipients. Marc Short, the White House’s legislative director, subsequently described that “firm commitment” as a pledge to “include him in our talks.” Given the high regard in which President Trump holds Flake, the retiring senator is sure to be a decisive figure in those talks.

Around 6:30, when Democratic offices began receiving updated versions of the 479-page text, tweets emerged of pages in the text with hasty, handwritten adjustments. Democrats were quick to make a thing of it. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the minority whip, hammed up his struggles to divine the handwritten text in the margins of page 257. He asked for it to be entered into the congressional record, but then noted that doing so would require “translators and interpreters.” Similar gimmicky treatments magically appeared simultaneously on the social media feeds of nearly every Democratic senator. Democrats also devoted a lot of attention throughout the debate to a specific carve-out Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey had included to help the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan. In the final amendment vote later in the night, a Democratic amendment to strip the carve-out succeeded.

Once the vote-a-rama—a lightning round series of votes on amendments before final passage—began, the major question mark was an amendment offered by Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. It would have expanded the refundability of the child tax credit, to help the working poor and middle class, by slightly raising the corporate tax rate from the bill’s original level. The decision for Democrats was: Move the policy in a direction to their liking, or instead keep Democratic fingerprints off of the bill? Though some centrist Democrats voted for it, most voted against it. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was closely watching the vote, nudging members to vote “no.” The amendment fell, 29–71. Democrats chose to let Republicans own the bill in its entirety.

Elsewhere, a Ted Cruz amendment to expand the use of 529 education savings accounts got stuck at a 50–50 vote. It was held open until Vice President Mike Pence arrived to break the tie in the amendment’s favor. The wealthy and upper-middle class can now more easily use tax-preferenced vehicles for sending their children to private K-12 schools.

The bill now theoretically will head to a conference committee to mesh it with the House bill. Or the House will just try to save time by passing the Senate bill.

Neither bill is popular.

They don't care.

Dec. 1 2017 9:06 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Who Cares About Michael Flynn?


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

Conservatives responded to the news that former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI on Friday. At National Review, Andrew McCarthy downplayed the importance of the development:

Understand: If Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador had evinced the existence of a quid pro quo collusion arrangement — that the Trump administration would ease or eliminate sanctions on Russia as a payback for Russia’s cyber-espionage against the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic party — it would have been completely appropriate, even urgently necessary, for the Obama Justice Department to investigate Flynn. But if that had happened, Mueller would not be permitting Flynn to settle the case with a single count of lying to FBI agents. Instead, we would be looking at a major conspiracy indictment, and Flynn would be made to plead to far more serious offenses if he wanted a deal — cooperation in exchange for sentencing leniency.
To the contrary, for all the furor, we have a small-potatoes plea in Flynn’s case — just as we did in Papadopoulos’s case, despite extensive “collusion” evidence. Meanwhile, the only major case Mueller has brought, against former Trump-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and an associate, has nothing to do with the 2016 election. It is becoming increasingly palpable that, whatever “collusion” means, there was no actionable, conspiratorial complicity by the Trump campaign in the Kremlin’s machinations.

National Review’s David French agreed. “[A]t the end of the day, we may well end up with multiple senior members of the administration facing prison time for covering up no crime and no collusion, just contacts,” he wrote. “If that’s justice, it’s a form of justice that will leave no one standing on the political high ground and partisans on both sides seething with rage and bitterness.”

The Daily Wire’s Frank Camp told jubilant liberals to cool it. “Perhaps Flynn has dirt on members of the Trump administration or the president himself; perhaps his plea will lead to damaging information coming to light,” he wrote. “ ‘Perhaps’ is also an easy word to toss around, and in the end, it amounts to pure speculation. So progressives might want to hold off on the ticker tape parade.” The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro predicted that the investigation could be advancing toward a “massive political conflagration” even absent evidence of collusion:

If there is no underlying crime — if this is sheer incompetence followed up by lying to the FBI about sheer incompetence, all based on anger at flimsily-sourced charges of Russian collusion — we could quickly find ourselves in a scenario where President Trump seeks to pardon those around him, fire Mueller, and then be put up for impeachment by Democrats — all without any proof of actual criminal wrongdoing with regard to Russia. That would turn into a massive political conflagration. We’d have a scandal about a scandal about nothing.
We don’t know yet, of course. But everyone ought to wait before declaring that there’s no there there, or that there is certainly a bombshell buried in Robert Mueller’s files.

In other news:

There was ample commentary about Thursay’s acquittal of Jose Garcia Zarate, the undocumented immigrant who killed Kate Steinle. Ben Shapiro criticized the verdict:

Zarate was charged with second-degree murder, but jurors were allowed to consider the possibility of involuntary manslaughter.
The second-degree murder charge required the prosecutors to argue that Zarate had intent and that he was playing some sort of mental “Russian roulette” before shooting. That’s a stretch, given that the bullet bounced off the pavement before killing Steinle. But involuntary manslaughter requires no such intent. In California, involuntary manslaughter is a killing without malice, without intent to kill, but with reckless disregard for human life. The distinction between involuntary manslaughter and excusable accident is participation in either an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or a lawful act involving a high degree of risk of death or great bodily injury.
In order for the defense to prevail, they had to argue that Zarate simply found the gun lying around, picked it up like an idiot, and then accidentally fired the gun; afterward, he threw the gun in the bay because the noise scared him. That’s not believable in the slightest. In fact, the jury even acknowledged that Zarate was guilty of felony possession of the firearm, which had been stolen days before from a federal agent. It's hard to imagine why he committed a crime in possessing the firearm but not in firing it recklessly.

At RedState, Sarah Rumpf wrote a lengthy defense of the acquittal that also examined the impact of the political rhetoric surrounding the case:

The prosecutors were under tremendous political pressure. People wanted Kate Steinle’s killer’s head on a platter, even before Donald Trump ever tweeted her name.
So it’s not that surprising that “San Francisco prosecutors told the jury that Garcia Zarate intentionally brought the gun to the pier that day with the intent of doing harm, aimed the gun toward Steinle and pulled the trigger,” as the Chronicle reported, adding that the Assistant District Attorney also “spent much of the trial seeking to prove the gun that killed Steinle couldn’t have fired without a firm pull of the trigger.”
This seems to be a classic example of prosecutorial overreach.They pushed hard for a first degree murder verdict, which requires not only proving that the defendant killed the victim, but that he did it intentionally, and that it was premeditated (planned or thought out beforehand).

Hot Air’s Allahpundit homed in on the question of  Garcia Zarate’s presence in the country. “The point, simply, is that Zarate shouldn’t have been here in the first place,” he wrote. “Steinle should be alive because Zarate had no right to be present in the United States (and in fact has been deported no fewer than five times previously). But for his decision to break the law by crossing the border, there’s no shooting, accidental or not. That’s why Americans are outraged that he got to skate on her death.”

Dec. 1 2017 8:04 PM

Senate Republicans Scribbled Changes Into the Tax Bill and Democrats Aren’t Having It


On Friday evening, the text of the Senate tax bill was finally released to the public: nearly 500 pages with multiple sections ambiguously crossed out or subject to modifications written in largely illegible handwriting.


Senate Democrats have sounded off about this on Twitter:


On the Senate floor, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said that in the copy of the bill he’d received, parts of the handwritten text on one page had been cut off at the margin:

We’re not even teaching cursive in a lot of schools anymore, but someone on the staff knew it enough to try. The problem is, they wrote it in cursive along the margin here -- it’s about subchapter S corporations and how much tax they pay and what they don’t pay. I defy anybody to read it, because the problem was, when they copied it, they chopped off lines. So there aren’t full sentences here. They’re just kind of like little phrases and words. This is your United States Senate at work. This is what happens when you push through a bill late at night, desperate to pass it, without really stopping to ask yourself, "Will this really make us a stronger nation?”

A vote on the bill is expected later tonight.

Dec. 1 2017 7:41 PM

This Might Be the Worst Story of Killing a Mouse We’ve Ever Heard (Please Tell Us Yours)

The White House has a vermin problem, The Hill revealed yesterday, and it’s not just the occupant of the Oval Office. Maintenance reports reveal there are “mice in the situation room and the White House Navy mess food service area” (as well ants in John Kelly's office and cockroach infestations in multiple places).

Sounds like the White House could use a little help. As it happens, just this week Slate’s Jordan Weissmann asked our company Slack for advice on disposing of a live mouse caught in his apartment. Turns out everyone has a mouse story of varying degrees of ick and awful—perhaps none as bad as that of our culture editor Forrest Wickman.

Share your craziest mouse story in the comments, and perhaps the White House will take the advice (or perhaps wisely not). Here are ours.

Dec. 1 2017 6:38 PM

Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold Used Taxpayer Dollars to Settle a Sexual Harassment Complaint   

Congress’ sexual harassment woes worsened this week with a Politico report that names Texas Rep. Blake Farenthold as the one member of the House of Representatives who, in the past five years, used taxpayer dollars from an Office of Compliance account to settle a sexual harassment case against his office. Farenthold joins Rep. John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken in the list of sitting federal legislators accused of sexual harassment.

In the national moment of reckoning with sexual misconduct, Congress’ convoluted sexual harassment policies—both the House and the Senate recently mandated anti-sexual-harassment training—have come under scrutiny, as have recently revealed records showing that the Office of Compliance had paid out more than $17 million in employment settlements since 1997. The little-known Office of Compliance, which was created by Congressional Accountability Act of 1995 amid a sexual misconduct scandal that ended in Sen. Bob Packwood’s resignation, is the legislative branch’s version of a human resources department.

According to the Politico report, Rep. Gregg Harper, the chairman of the House Administration Committee, told his GOP colleagues Friday that only one House office had used Office of Compliance funds to resolve a sexual harassment complaint in the past five years; that settlement totaled $84,000. And while Farenthold’s office refused to confirm whether it was the office in question, Politico reports that the settlement went to the Texas Republican’s former communications director Lauren Greene, who in 2014 filed a suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that alleged sexual harassment, discriminatory behavior, and a hostile work environment. The filing detailed, for example, that Farenthold had told an assistant that he had “sexual fantasies” about Greene and shared details about his sex life with Greene. Greene also complained about “hostile” behavior by Chief of Staff Bob Haueter and then was dismissed from her position shortly after. At the time, Farenthold and Greene drafted a joint statement, which they ultimately never released; in it, Farenthold said that he “adamantly denies that he engaged in any wrongdoing.”

Settlement aside, Farenthold has a track record of sexist behavior. This summer, he used casually violent rhetoric (“clearly tongue in cheek,” he later said)  when criticizing a female Republican lawmaker opposing a GOP bill to repeal Obamacare (left unnamed but clearly Sen. Susan Collins), saying, “If it was a guy from south Texas, I might ask him to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.” (A hot mic later captured Collins’ sharp-tongued response.) Farenthold also notably dismissed President Trump’s crude Access Hollywood comments as “locker room talk” before fumbling a hypothetical question about whether the statement “I really like raping women” would be enough to prompt him to disavow Trump. Farenthold subsequently apologized for and clarified his response to the hypothetical.

The $84,000 payout, however, is only a fraction of the taxpayer money that went toward congressional settlements in 2014; that year, the Office of Compliance doled out $806,450 for other types of complaints. Members of Congress can tap into other funds to reach settlements, such as Conyers’ use of his own office’s money to resolve a claim in 2015.

As an official who promotes a “crackdown on waste, fraud, and the abuse of federal dollars,” Farenthold is engaging in some serious hypocrisy to use constituents’ money to pay for his own or his employees’ alleged indiscretions. One way to prevent such unseemly spending? Refraining from behavior that might result in a sexual harassment complaint.

Dec. 1 2017 5:22 PM

Today’s Impeach-O-Meter: ABC’s Brian Ross Has a Lot Riding on This One (Update: Yep, He Boned It)

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.

Update, 8 p.m.: Ross has indeed issued a "clarification"—he now says Trump told Flynn to get in touch with Russia after the 2016 election but before the January inauguration. This means ABC's story no longer contradicts Trump officials' claims about campaign contacts with Russia or suggests that Trump is being investigated personally for potential collusion acitivities. (Contacts with foreign officials during the transition are not illegal in and of themselves.)

Original post, 5:22 p.m.: So, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to a single charge of lying to the FBI and is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. That's big news on its own, but would be especially big if, as ABC's Brian Ross reported Friday, Flynn is ready to testify that Donald Trump told him to establish communication with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign.

This would blow up about a hundred Trump camp denials that there was coordinated high-level campaign contact with Russia, and would suggest that Russia-related actions personally undertaken by Trump in 2016 (as opposed to merely the actions of his top lieutenants and/or family members) are under law enforcement scrutiny.

But, but, but: Ross issued his report this morning, and no other outlet has yet confirmed it. He also has a history of reporting breaking news that doesn't turn out to be true. At this point, the only person who knows whether Brian Ross's report is accurate is Michael Flynn.

Well, Michael Flynn and his attorneys. And Robert Mueller and the prosecutors who work for him. And probably other people who work in a support staff capacity for those individuals. The point is that we don't know yet. Or do we? (We don't.)

Today’s meter is up one point because it's trying not to get ahead of itself.

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.