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May 26 2017 12:50 AM

Alleged Reporter Assailant Greg Gianforte Is Going to Congress. Good Job, Montana.

Republican Greg Gianforte won Montana’s special election on Thursday, according to projections from multiple news outlets.

The news comes a little more than 24 hours after the former failed gubernatorial candidate allegedly assaulted a reporter for the Gaurdian by bodyslamming him in front of witnesses while being recorded by audiotape. Gianforte’s account of the alleged attack—that Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was actually the one who forced both of them to the ground after hounding the candidate with a recording device—was contradicted by multiple eyewitnesses. Those witnesses from a local Fox News team said “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him” and then started punching him. Gianforte was cited for misdemeanor assault.

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With about 78 percent of the vote counted, the billionaire tech CEO was leading by roughly 34,000 votes, or a little more than 7 percent. It’s worth noting that the election day vote totals could not likely have changed the outcome of the race, in which two-thirds of the votes were cast early.

If the numbers hold, Democrats might actually consider it an encouraging sign nationally. Gianforte and his affiliated Super PACs outspent Democratic opponent and country music performer Rob Quist and his Super PAC supporters by about $5 million. Donald Trump won his race against Hillary Clinton this past fall in the state by 20 points, while Ryan Zinke—the Republican whose seat is being filled after he left Congress to become Trump’s Interior Secretary—won his contest by just under 16 points.

So you’re looking at about a +13 point swing for the Democrats from November’s presidential tally, and a nearly +9 point swing from last year’s Congressional race. That was not enough for Democrats to take a seat they haven’t won in 20 years, but it is consistent with a recent pattern in this year’s special elections of large swings towards the Democrats. Last month in a deep-red Kansas district, Democrats experienced a 24-point swing. (They still lost the race in an incredibly unfavorable district.)

Meanwhile, Georgia’s 6th—much more favorable territory for Democrats—votes next month in a run-off election. The Democratic candidate in that race leads according to the most recent polling and took the plurality of votes in the first round. Still, at a some point just seeing positive national trends isn't going to be good enough for Democrats and they are actually going to need to put a win on the board. The Georgia run-off between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel will take place on June 20. Close will not cut it for Democrats in that race, if they want to have a real signal that the unpopularity of the Trump administration is actually translating at the polls and that 2018 will put the House of Representatives in play.

May 26 2017 12:19 AM

Today's Impeach-O-Meter: Not Randomly Attacking People Is Apparently Not His Gianforte

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.

Montana's suddenly violent special House election appears set to end with victory for Republican and amateur wrestler Greg Gianforte. From what we know so far, though, Gianforte is probably only going to be winning his race by a margin in the high single digits. That's not great for the Republican Party given that it's held this House seat since the '90s in elections that haven't gotten closer than 11 points since 2000. Trump won the state in November, meanwhile, by 20 points. A straight-out Republican loss would have been extremely bad news for the party's 2018 outlook and, by extension, for Trump's chances of paying for his many heinous crimes. Tonight, then, is merely regular bad news. We're not going to raise our percentage likelihood over it, but those scoring at home should consider our 35 percent to be a more solid and robust 35 percent than yesterday'.

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 25 2017 8:19 PM

FBI Russia Investigation Reportedly Now Focusing Inside the White House on Jared Kushner

The FBI investigation into President Trump’s Russia ties has been inching closer to the White House and, on Thursday, according to the Washington Post and NBC News, Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner is now a focus of the ongoing probe. Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, is the first person currently serving in the administration known to be considered a focal point of the FBI inquiry. While former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort are both formally considered subjects of the FBI investigation, the level of scrutiny Kushner is under is more preliminary.

The FBI investigation is looking into Russian meddling in the election and potential collusion with Trump and his associates, but it is also looking to see if any financial crimes have been committed. Kushner appears to fall under both categories as a person of interest. Kushner comes from a billion-dollar real estate family and served as a senior adviser, perhaps the president’s closest counselor, on the campaign as well as in the White House. Kushner has not been accused of any wrongdoing, but two meetings in particular have piqued investigators' interest.

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In December 2016, in the middle of the Trump transition, Kushner held meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and banker Sergey Gorkov, a graduate of Russia’s spy school and now-chairman of the Russian government-owned bank Vnesheconombank, which has been under U.S. sanction since July 2014. After the meeting with Kislyak in New York, which Michael Flynn also attended, Kushner dispatched his deputy to meet again with the Russian ambassador. Later in December Flynn spoke to Kislyak over the phone about new Obama-led sanctions on Russia, which led to Flynn later losing his job as national security adviser.

To make matters murkier, last month, the New York Times reported that Kushner omitted those meetings from his top-secret security clearance forms, which require individuals to disclose all meetings with foreign officials over a seven-year period. Along with the Russians, the Times reported that Kushner failed to mention dozens of meetings with other government officials from other countries in the lead up to Trump’s inauguration. Kushner’s attorneys have said it was an oversight and have offered to file an amended form.

“In addition to the December meetings, a former senior intelligence official said FBI agents had been looking closely at earlier exchanges between Trump associates and the Russians dating to the spring of 2016, including one at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington,” according to the Post. Trump, as the presumptive Republican nominee, met with the Russian ambassador in April 2016 at a VIP reception at the Washington, D.C. hotel ahead of speech where Trump promised to improve relations with Russia.

May 25 2017 5:36 PM

Why You Shouldn't View the Montana Race as a Referendum on Bodyslamming Reporters

Regardless of who ultimately wins Montana's special election on Thursday, observers are sure to figure Republican candidate Greg Gianforte's assault of a reporter on election eve into their analysis. Certainly, the incident could well have an impact on late voting. But no one should draw the conclusion that Montana voters shrugged about the alleged bodyslam if Gianforte wins, or assume that Quist wouldn’t have had a prayer without it if Gianforte loses.

As FiveThirtyEight's Harry Enten pointed out on Thursday morning, as many as two-thirds of the state's ballots may have already been cast early. It's true that the assault could make a difference on remaining voters, but the important thing is that the race was always going to be close. Internal GOP polls reportedly showed that Gianforte led by only 2 to 4 points in the race's closing days. If those numbers are reflected in the final outcome, that would be a big deal. As Enten wrote:

The state hasn’t elected a Democrat to the House since Pat Williams won re-election in 1994, and Zinke won re-election by 16 points in 2016. Indeed, there are 120 other Republican-held House districts that lean more Democratic than Montana. Even a close Gianforte win (say, by 10 points or less) would be consistent with a national environment that heavily favors Democrats. A Gianforte loss would likely set off panic among Republicans and signal to them that being associated with Trump (as Gianforte has tried to be) is toxic. Trump’s approval rating in ruby red Montana is probably under 50 percent, and it's even worse nationally.
If Gianforte wins by only a small margin or loses, it would be consistent with the three previous special election results so far this year. While Republicans haven't lost a race that a House Republican won in 2016, the Democratic candidates have, on average, outperformed expectations by 16 points.
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Gianforte's attack and the response to it will indeed say much about this particular moment in American—and especially Republican—politics. But, with a large majority of the votes already cast, its significance to the actual final tally should not ultimately be overstated. It would be a shame if this one bizarre incident overshadowed the deeper dynamics behind what could well be a bellwether race.

May 25 2017 5:25 PM

The Bad Countries, According to Donald Trump

Today, Donald Trump reportedly called Germany, a close American ally, “bad, very bad!” for selling too many cars in the United States. Here are the other countries Donald Trump says are bad.

Bad countries:

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Germany (“bad, very bad”)

Belgium (hellhole)

Canada (very unfair to our dairy farmers)

Iran

North Korea

ISIS

Formerly bad countries that are now good:

Formerly okay country that’s bad now:

Syria

Country he calls bad now , but you can tell his heart’s not in it:

Russia

The worst country:

Mexico

May 25 2017 5:16 PM

Today in Conservative Media: Yeah, Gianforte Assaulted a Reporter, but Rob Quist Has Herpes

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

On his show Thursday, Rush Limbaugh delved into Republican House candidate Greg Gianforte’s assault on Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, which occurred in Montana on Wednesday night:

[L]adies and gentlemen, I must do something. I must join the chorus of people condemning what happened out there. This manly, obviously studly Republican candidate in Montana took the occasion to beat up a pajama-clad journalist, a Pajama Boy journalist out there.
The story is he grabbed his neck and threw the guy to the ground because the journalist was being insolent and disrespectful and whiny and moany and accusatory. And the manly, studly Republican simply didn’t realize that on the big stage you can’t do this kind of stuff and kicked the guy’s ass to the ground. This cannot be accepted. This must be condemned. I wonder how many people in Montana are now gonna vote for the guy, though?
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Limbaugh later brought up a story published last week by PJ Media titled “Mont. Dem. Rob Quist Silent on Genital Herpes in Tax Evasion Case,” about a 1994 medical malpractice suit filed by Quist over a gallbladder operation. “When people look into it, they find that he is a typical leftist,” Limbaugh said. “He’s whiny, he likes to sue everybody, and he’s got herpes.”

At RedState, Jay Caruso condemned the defenses of Gianforte’s behavior from conservatives like Laura Ingraham and Brent Bozell. “What happened here is another example of tribal politics getting in the way of reason,” he wrote. “There is never an excuse for a politician to assault a reporter for asking questions.” RedState’s J. Cal Davenport attributed the incident to a “lack of seriousness” in the Republican Party and contemporary politics writ large. “Liberals punch people and set fire to tires in order not to provide a platform to views they don’t like too, so violence as a solution to ideological challenges is largely the order of the day in American politics,” he wrote. “Without a doubt, it is a pervasive problem across the spectrum.”

In other news:

Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru of National Review wrote a piece on the false populism of the Trump presidency thus far:

The major legislation on the agenda so far — the health-care and tax bills — is shaping up about how you’d expect in any Republican administration. Action on trade has been underwhelming. Trump pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but Ted Cruz, too, said he opposed the deal. (So did Hillary Clinton, for that matter.) Measures being taken against imports of Canadian timber and Chinese steel, both longtime sore spots, are well within the bounds of the policy of past administrations. Trump puts more emphasis on immigration enforcement than his primary-campaign rivals would, but the three positions that made him so distinctive on immigration — the Wall, a Muslim ban, and mass deportation — are proving more difficult to implement than he thought or were left along the wayside during the general election.
In short, the Trump administration hasn’t created a new populist departure in American politics; it hasn’t even — as some of us hoped — nudged Republican policymaking in a more populist direction to better account for the interests of working-class voters. The early months of the Trump administration have proven to be populism’s false start.

And at Breitbart, Ben Kew sounded the alarm about advertisers ditching Sean Hannity following pressure from the “activist left.” “Companies including Cars.com, Peloton, and Leesa Sleep have all given in to pressure to cease advertising on the show over Hannity’s pursuit of now retracted claims made by Fox News that murdered DNC employee Seth Rich had contact with Wikileaks before his death,” he wrote. The piece quotes tweets from Hannity yesterday alleging that George Soros and others were behind attempts to silence him. On Twitter, Hannity reassured viewers that his upcoming absence from the show is a planned holiday:

May 25 2017 5:10 PM

Sean Hannity’s Advertisers Are Bailing on His Show Like Rats Jumping off a Sinking Conspiracy Theory

Sean Hannity is stuck in a ratings slump and has spent the last week or so promoting unverifiable claims made by hustlers and phonies about the unsolved July 2016 murder of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. Police believe Rich may have been killed during an attempted robbery; Hannity believes that the 27-year-old was targeted for death by Hillary Clinton and George Soros because he was passing DNC emails to WikiLeaks. Law enforcement authorities and Rich's family say there is no evidence of any of this, and the Rich family has implored Hannity to stop defaming and speculating about their late son, but the host is insisting he will continue to pursue the non-story because he believes (in a giant and fallacious logical leap) that it would prove there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

While Hannity's show has never been the domain of responsible, reasoned analysis, the uniquely foul spectre of a TV blowhard gratuitously prolonging the suffering of a dead young man's parents—and perhaps the general atmosphere of failure and sexual degeneracy pervading Fox News as a whole at the moment—have convinced a number of advertisers to announce that they'll no longer run ads on Hannity's show:

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  • Cars.com
  • Casper
  • Crowne Plaza
  • Leesa Sleep
  • Peloton
  • Ring.com
  • USAA

The well-connected Democratic activist organization Meda Matters is among the groups pressuring remaining advertisers to drop the host. Hannity will not be appearing on air tonight or tomorrow, but he and the network both say he's merely taking a Memorial Day vacation which has nothing to do with recent controversies. We'll see!

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.

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