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Aug. 23 2016 12:13 AM

Melania Trump Hires Lawyer That Bankrupted Gawker Who Threatens to Sue Everyone but Gawker

The media scrutiny of Donald Trump has intensified since the convention and that scrutiny has spilled over, dousing the rest of the Trump family of late. Melania Trump, for example, has had her immigration status when she first came to the U.S. questioned by Politico and has beefed up her legal might in response, initiating legal action against the U.K.’s Daily Mail tabloid newspaper for recently publishing a story claiming she worked as an escort nearly two decades ago. Melania has accused the British tabloid along with Politico, among others, of “making false and defamatory statements.” This is surely not the first time those words have been uttered by a Trump employee with a law degree, but perhaps most significantly, Melania has hired Los Angeles–based attorney Charles Harder, the lawyer at the center of Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel’s successful crusade to take down Gawker, to represent her.

Here’s Harder’s statement about the legal action:

Mrs. Trump has placed several news organizations on notice of her legal claims against them, including Daily Mail among others, for making false and defamatory statements about her supposedly having been an ‘escort’ in the 1990s. All such statements are 100% false, highly damaging to her reputation, and personally hurtful. She understands that news media have certain leeway in a presidential campaign, but outright lying about her in this way exceeds all bounds of appropriate news reporting and human decency.”

Donald Trump threatens to sue most people out of sheer muscle memory, so it’s unclear if the latest move by Melania Trump amounts to much more than bluster borne out of a realist Trumpian worldview in dealing with the media. Trump already appeared to be at DEFCON 1 in his dealings with the press, but the hiring of Harder, who shopped for plaintiffs, including Hulk Hogan, to sue Gawker for millions in order to exact retribution for Peter Thiel, will likely be interpreted as an unwelcome escalation by media outlets that continue to struggle for access to the Republican candidate for president of the United States.

Aug. 22 2016 9:48 PM

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe Restores Voting Rights to 13,000 Felons

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Monday restored voting rights to 13,000 felons in the state who have completed their sentences, as part of his ongoing battle with the state Legislature over a larger legal push to allow roughly 200,000 more individuals convicted of felonies to vote. In April, the Democratic governor signed an executive order that would enfranchise felons who, by Virginia law, must personally apply to the governor to be able to vote upon the completion of their sentences. Republicans sued to stop the move saying the blanket restoration of voting rights amounted to executive overreach and the Virginia Supreme Court agreed, invalidating the move.

McAuliffe has framed the move as an effort to restore basic fairness and restore rights to individuals who have served their terms. “Virginia is one of 10 states that do not automatically restore rights upon completion of a felony sentence and one of only four states that require an application by the felon and action by the governor, according to the McAuliffe administration, which cited research showing one of every five African-Americans of voting age in Virginia has lost the right to vote,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Republicans, however, saw the move by the longtime Clinton ally as an attempt to boost Democrats, particularly Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances in the state come November. Adding felons to the voter roll has the potential to boost the state’s registered voters by nearly 4 percent, according to the Times-Dispatch. Sloppy implementation of the initial executive order didn’t help McAuliffe’s case; more than 100 sex offenders still in prison and several convicted killers on probation elsewhere slipped through the cracks.

Aug. 22 2016 5:37 PM

Good News! Wisconsin Can’t Reinstate Its Unconstitutional Voting Restrictions.

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit refused to block a lower court decision invalidating large chunks of Wisconsin’s Republican-sponsored voting restrictions. The ruling effectively ensures that Wisconsin’s most burdensome new voting laws will not be in effect during the 2016 election, unless the Supreme Court intervenes—an extremely remote possibility. With this denial, the 7th Circuit joins a growing list of federal courts that are willing to question the impact of voting restrictions on minorities’ constitutionally protected right to vote.

The 7th Circuit’s refusal to stay the lower court’s ruling is especially remarkable in light of that decision’s broad holding. In his ruling, U.S. District Judge James D. Peterson barred Wisconsin from enforcing a significant rollback on early voting—especially on days favored by black voters—along with more stringent components of the voter ID provision. Peterson found that these measures placed an undue burden on citizens’ right to vote and violated the First, 14th, and 15th amendments, as well as the Voting Rights Act. He also found that a Wisconsin law that slashed hours for in-person absentee voting intentionally discriminated on the basis of race, a serious charge against the state Legislature. In one startling passage, Peterson slammed Republican legislators for their “preoccupation with mostly phantom election fraud,” an obsession that “leads to real incidents of disenfranchisement, which undermine rather than enhance confidence in elections, particularly in minority communities.”

Earlier this month, the same panel of judges that refused to stay Peterson’s ruling agreed to stay a different judge’s decision softening other elements of Wisconsin’s voter ID requirements. The order would have allowed voters unduly burdened by the law to sign an affidavit instead of presenting ID. In its ruling, the 7th Circuit found that the district court hadn’t differentiated between individuals for whom the ID requirement presents a “substantial obstacle to voting” and those who could easily get an ID but don’t want to “make the effort.”

As election law expert Rick Hasen notes, the same panel’s willingness to let Peterson’s ruling stand is rather revealing. Even for these conservative-leaning judges, it seems, Wisconsin’s race-based early voting cuts go beyond the pale. And thanks to their willingness to peer beyond the Legislature’s laughably pretextual justifications for disenfranchisement, thousands more Wisconsin voters will be able to cast their ballots this November.

Aug. 22 2016 5:33 PM

Today’s Trump Apocalypse Watch: Pivoting a Full 360 Degrees

The Trump Apocalypse Watch is a subjective daily estimate, using a scale of one to four horsemen, of how likely it is that Donald Trump will be elected president, thus triggering an apocalypse in which we all die.

It's quite well-known that the people around Donald Trump have a habit of claiming he's cleaned up his act just before he goes and pursues some or other self-destructive personal vendetta. It was nonetheless striking to see just how quickly Trump's most recent "pivot" was derailed. Trump's new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has been working less than a week; she went on TV this weekend to declare that Trump doesn't engage in "personal insults." What did Trump do this morning? He got mad at the hosts of Morning Joe for criticizing him and responded by insinuating that they are having an affair.

Trump criticized "Joe" co-host Mika Brzezinski in highly personal terms, calling her "off the wall, a neurotic and not very bright mess!"
He also implied that Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough have been secretly dating. He called them "two clowns."

Doesn't get much more personal or insulting than that! Pivot: halted. Our danger level remains low.

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Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons

Aug. 22 2016 4:15 PM

No, a 12-Year-Old Is Not Running a Trump Field Office

Donald Trump’s campaign organization has been woeful--from his shambolic showing in the delegate selection process towards the end of the primaries to his tardiness now in setting up campaign offices in key swing states. But are things really this bad?:

Aug. 22 2016 2:37 PM

Arizona Man Arrested for Murdering Roommate After Threatening on Twitter to Murder Roommate

Here's a tweet that a 21-year-old Arizona man named Zachary Penton sent on Friday.

And here's the headline on a story that an Arizona ABC affiliate posted Sunday.

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Screenshot/ABC15

Penton had, in past years, tweeted a number of times about the difficulty of finding roommates. And then there was this:

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What a (bizarre and terrible) world.

Aug. 22 2016 1:38 PM

Donald Trump Isn’t Flip-Flopping on Deportations. He’s Playing Both Sides.

Donald Trump on Monday denied a weekend’s worth of speculation that he is considering softening his hard-line support for the mass deportation of the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. “No, I'm not flip-flopping,” he told Fox News. In his next breath, however, the GOP nominee made clear that his current plan remains a work in progress. “We want to come up with a really fair but firm answer,” he said. “That's—it has to be very firm. But we want to come up with something fair.”

Trump’s comments came after BuzzFeed, Univision, and the Washington Post all reported that, during a Saturday meeting with his newly announced Hispanic advisory council, Trump appeared open to allowing some undocumented immigrants to remain in the country legally. Trump’s own team then fanned those flip-flopping flames on Sunday, most notably when his brand new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, told CNN that it was “to be determined” whether Trump still supports using a “deportation force” as part of immigration plan.

On one hand, the frenzy over Trump’s potential reversal is understandable. Trump has made his deportations-and-wall-building immigration plan a centerpiece of his campaign, and the mere suggestion that it might not be set in stone is stunning. Trump is allergic to policy specifics, but on the topic of mass deportations he’s been remarkably clear for the past 12 months:

  • “All criminal aliens must be returned to their home countries,” declared his original policy statement on immigration, which was released last August (and remains live on his website Monday).
  • “They have to go,” Trump said on Meet the Press that same weekend when asked whether he would deport any immigrant in the country illegally.
  • “We’re rounding ‘em up in a very humane way, in a very nice way,” he said the following month on 60 Minutes.
  • “You're going to have a deportation force, and you're going to do it humanely,” Trump said on Morning Joe in November.
  • “We have at least 11 million people in this country that came in illegally," Trump said during a Republican debate in February. “They will go out. They will come back—some will come back, the best, through a process. They have to come back legally."

So if he were to actually to be shifting his position away from rounding up 11 million people and forcibly removing them from the country, this would be a big deal. But on the other hand, this also appears to be just more of the same vagueness and lack of specificity from Trump. As my colleague Isaac Chotiner put it last week after Trump’s foreign policy speech, the celebrity businessman doesn’t have policy ideas as much as he has moods. “Trump’s policies may loosely cohere into some sort of familiar ideology,” Chotiner wrote, “but his campaign and his ideas all basically exist within his head.” Fortunately for Trump, though, those vague policy notions also exist somewhere else, too: inside the heads of his supporters, who are willing to hear two contradictory statements from their candidate of choice and then simply choose the one they like best and discard the other.

This wouldn’t be the first time that Trump has attempted to use that dynamic to his advantage, either. Consider how he tried to cloud the conversation around his Muslim ban to ease the concerns of those Republicans who thought his original proposal went too far—such as his eventual vice presidential nominee Mike Pence—without fundamentally changing it. What originally was a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” is now a ban on people from “areas of the world where there’s a proven history of terrorism against the United States,” a category that Trump refuses to define, allowing his supporters to draw their own conclusions from his Islamophobic remarks.

Trump knows what he’s doing. As he put it last summer when fielding a question about the lack of policy specifics in his immigration plan: “I don’t think the people care. I think they trust me. I think they know I’m going to make good deals for them.” Even while being frustratingly inconsistent on the specifics, then, Trump has actually been remarkably consistent when it comes to his overarching promises: He isn’t actually making any.

Aug. 22 2016 11:32 AM

Whoa, Check Out This Crazy/Terrifying Glass-Bottomed Bridge in China

Look at this [expletive] bridge!

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China Daily Information Corp/Reuters

It is 984 feet off the ground and has a glass bottom!

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Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

It's also 1,410 feet long, which means that it takes about 5 to 10 minutes to cross, which means 5 to 10 minutes in which you could, at any moment, plummet to a grisly death!

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Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty Images

My God, why is this guy hitting the bridge with a sledgehammer? He's going to get us all killed!

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China Daily Information Corp/Reuters

The glass death terror bridge is located in China's Zhangjiajie National Forest. Here's another nearby attraction:

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VCG/Getty Images

Note to self: DO NOT EVER VISIT CHINA'S ZHANGJIAJIE NATIONAL FOREST, YOU WILL FALL OFF A MOUNTAIN.

Aug. 21 2016 5:49 PM

Clinton Campaign Manager Wonders Whether Trump “Is Just a Puppet for the Kremlin”

Hillary Clinton’s campaign made it clear on Sunday that just because Paul Manafort has stepped down as Donald Trump’s campaign manager, that doesn’t mean they will be letting up in their efforts to tie the Republican candidate to Russian interests. In what looked to be at least partly a way to dodge questions about the Clinton Foundation, Hillary Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook essentially accused Donald Trump of being a Kremlin puppet. Mook said on ABC News’ This Week that there are still “real questions” about Trump’s connections to Moscow, even after Manafort’s departure.

“Paul Manafort has been pushed out, but that doesn't mean that the Russians have been pushed out of this campaign,” Mook said. “The hand of the Kremlin has been at work in this campaign for some time.”

Clinton’s campaign manager went on to say that it was time for Trump “to explain to us the extent to which the hand of the Kremlin is at the core of his own campaign.” These are all questions that could be answered if the Republican candidate were more transparent about his finances. “There’s a web of financial interests that have not been disclosed,” he said. “And there are real questions being raised about whether Donald Trump himself is just a puppet for the Kremlin in this race?”

Mook’s questions about Trump’s continuing ties with Russia follow the same line as the DNC, which issued a statement calling attention to similar questions after Manafort’s resignation on Friday:

Despite today’s latest staff shake-up, Donald Trump’s campaign still maintains strong ties to Russia and pro-Kremlin elements. At least a half-dozen of Trump’s remaining aides have Russian connections, and let’s not forget about his own financial interests in the region, as well as his repeated praise for Putin.

Rather than clear up the issue, Trump’s campaign has chosen to respond to the questioning about his Russia ties by pointing the finger at Clinton, saying the media are ignoring her links to Russia. “Clinton’s close ties to Putin deserve scrutiny,” reads the headline of an Aug. 15 news release. Still, many of Trump’s claims failed to tell the full story, particularly because it failed to point out that many of the reports mentioned in Trump’s attack were written during Clinton’s stint as secretary of state.

Aug. 21 2016 4:25 PM

Trump Doubles Spending With a Focus on Marketing, Still Far Behind in Ground Game

Donald Trump spent a lot of money to raise money last month. The Republican candidate spent $18.5 million in July, more than doubling the previous month. But it turns out much of that went to fundraising efforts and not into building the type of on-the-ground operations in battleground states that have traditionally been needed to win the presidency. Almost half of the campaign’s spending in July went to Giles-Parscale, a web-design and marketing firm that doesn’t have much experience in national politics. The firm’s president does have experience working with Trump though; he is the digital director of Trump’s presidential campaign and has worked with the candidate’s real estate business since 2011.

Another eyebrow-raising item from the campaign’s financial disclosure form is how Trump paid $20,000 to the consulting firm of Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager he fired in June but later continued to call on for advice.* Yet despite a few highly paid consultants, spending on payroll remained weak, and there were no suggestions that the candidate had spent money to boost his presence in battleground states. That may very well change in the next report, considering Trump’s campaign said it had hired dozens of more people starting on Aug. 1.

Even if it doubled from the previous month, Trump still falls far short of Hillary Clinton, who spent $38.2 million in July in part to maintain a staff of 703, compared to Trump’s 83. And it isn’t that Clinton is some sort of big spender. Trump falls behind other nominees in recent elections, too. In July of 2012, for example, President Obama’s campaign spent almost $59 million, compared to Mitt Romney’s $33 million. And four years before that, Obama had spent $57 million, compared to Sen. John McCain’s $32 million.

*Correction, Aug. 23, 2016: This post originally misspelled Corey Lewandowski’s last name.

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