President Trump and the White House have vehemently denied renewed accusations of Trump's sexual misconduct, with Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders telling reporters Monday that "the president has denied [all] of these allegations, as have eyewitnesses." How, exactly, eyewitnesses can confirm that something didn't happen has been a bit of a head-scratcher, though:
#SarahSanders: I didn't know a witness could testify to seeing what didn't happen.
— Nora Sheffield (@LNoraSheffield) December 12, 2017
Nevertheless, Sanders promised reporters Monday: "In terms of the specific eyewitness accounts … there have been multiple reports, and I'd be happy to provide them to you after the briefing has completed."
While Sanders hasn't delivered a list just yet, the White House is known to have eyewitnesses — two, for at least 13 separate allegations. Jessica Leeds claimed Trump groped her on an airplane, but a man named Anthony Gilberthorpe said he was also on the plane and that "Leeds was the aggressor," The Washington Post writes. There are questions surrounding Gilberthorpe's claim, though, as he "has a history of making unproven claims, including that he had once regularly provided underage boys to members of Britain's Parliament for sex parties."
In another case, Natasha Stoynoff claims Trump forcibly kissed her at Mar-a-Lago, and The Washington Post reports that five people heard her story around the time of the alleged event. While the White House did not technically present an eyewitness rebuttal, "a longtime family butler who came into the room after the incident said that nothing seemed unusual."
The America First Project, a self-described super PAC of attack dogs for President Trump's agenda, sent a 12-year-old girl from Virginia to interview Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore in a move described by Bustle as "somewhat questionable." Moore is accused of having pursued, and in one case assaulted, teenage girls as young as 14.
The America First Project's Jennifer Lawrence says in the video that "after everything that's happened in this Alabama Senate race up until this point, we thought it was important … to bring Millie [March] here to show that there's a wide range of people who support Judge Roy Moore." It's not the first time the young interviewer, Millie March, has appeared in an America First Project video — her rave review of Trump's agenda at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) went viral last February.
March wanted to know if Moore would help Trump build the wall, what issues are important to Alabama voters, and what characteristics make a good senator. Some parts went better than others:
This part of this ad definitely has potential to get taken out of context....
Millie March: "Which age groups are supporting Roy Moore right now?"
Moore campaign manager: "I wish I could say it was the 11 - 12 year olds right now..."https://t.co/TUaMswAhov
— Alana Abramson (@aabramson) December 10, 2017
Watch the full interview below. Jeva Lange
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) on Thursday announced his intention to resign "in the coming weeks" after two more women came forward Wednesday to allege he had inappropriately touched them. The senator's phrasing, though, immediately stood out to some:
This is a pretty striking speech from Franken. Says he'll resign "in the coming weeks" but strongly defending himself nonetheless.
— Pete Schroeder (@peteschroeder) December 7, 2017
#Breaking Franken to resign in the coming weeks. Doesn’t say when
— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) December 7, 2017
One theory that emerged was that Franken is potentially waiting for the results of the Alabama Senate race, in which the Republican candidate, Roy Moore, is accused of pursuing and assaulting teenage girls. The Alabama special election will be held next week, on Dec. 12.
Looks like Franken is trying to temporize: "In the coming weeks" he'll resign? He's hoping that Roy Moore wins and is seated, and he'll be able to reverse his resignation.
— Steven F. Hayward (@stevenfhayward) December 7, 2017
I doubt it for many reasons, but the cynical read would be that "in the coming weeks" is Franken buying time to see if circumstances somehow change
— Steve Kornacki (@SteveKornacki) December 7, 2017
Franken made a point to allude to Moore in his speech, too. "I am aware of the irony that I am leaving while ... a man who has preyed on underage girls is running for the Senate with the full support of his party," he said. Watch Franken's remarks here at The Week. Jeva Lange
Within minutes of NBC News announcing that it had terminated longtime host Matt Lauer over allegations of "inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace," President Trump responded to the news on Twitter:
Wow, Matt Lauer was just fired from NBC for “inappropriate sexual behavior in the workplace.” But when will the top executives at NBC & Comcast be fired for putting out so much Fake News. Check out Andy Lack’s past!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 29, 2017
Trump has been inconsistent in his belief of women who have accused powerful men of sexual misconduct. Trump shared his disturbance over allegations against Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), for example, but has seemingly backed Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, who is accused of sexually assaulting and harassing teenage girls.
Trump faces sexual harassment allegations himself, and was famously caught on an Access Hollywood video making vulgar comments about women and bragging about groping and kissing them without consent. Recently, Trump has been reported as attempting to sow disbelief about the authenticity of that tape, despite having admitted to making the comments in a 2016 apology video. As some people have pointed out, NBC News owns Access Hollywood. Jeva Lange
Lawyers for President Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, have ended an agreement to share information with Trump's lawyers about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling, The New York Times reported Thursday, citing four people involved in the case.
Trump's lawyers reportedly believe the move could mean Flynn is cooperating with Mueller's team. Lawyers sometimes pull out of such information-sharing agreements when their clients start negotiating deals with prosecutors.
Flynn had ties with Moscow before he joined Trump's campaign, and the White House has been preparing for his possible indictment since Mueller's team filed charges in October against Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, campaign aide Rick Gates, and former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos. Read more about what this means for the Mueller investigation at The New York Times. Jeva Lange
Frontrunner for top Census Bureau position once wrote a book explaining 'Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America'
The Trump administration is close to naming a Republican professor whose work has been used to support GOP redistricting efforts as deputy head of the Census Bureau, Politico reports. The rumors of Thomas Brunell's impending appointment are concerning to many voting rights advocates because as deputy head, he would not require Senate confirmation and therefore could not be blocked. After the resignation of former Census Director John Thompson in June, and Trump's failure to nominate anyone for permanent director in his wake, Brunell could become the most powerful permanent official in the agency.
If indeed appointed, Brunell's decisions ahead of the 2020 Census would theoretically shape the future of American elections: "There are tons of little things he could be doing to influence what the final count looks like," a former high-ranking official in the Commerce Department explained to Politico. "The ripple effect on reapportionment would be astounding."
What's more, Brunell has little obvious experience for the job, having no background in statistics or in government, as the position's appointees typically do. In addition to a Ph.D. in political science, Brunell is the author of a 2008 book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America. In it, he argues:
…[P]artisan districts packed with like-minded voters actually lead to better representation than ones more evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, because fewer voters in partisan districts cast a vote for a losing candidate. He has also argued that ideologically packed districts should be called "fair districts" and admits that his stance on competitive elections makes him something of an outlier among political scientists, who largely support competitive elections. [Politico]
The former director of the Census-tracking organization Census Project, Terri Ann Lowenthal, said if the rumors of Brunell's appointment are true, "it signals an effort by the administration to politicize the Census. It's very troubling." Read more about Brunell at Politico. Jeva Lange
The Trump Organization and family failed to make inquiries into who was purchasing condos in the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City, instead accepting money from a range of shady clients including members of the Russian mafia and drug cartel money launderers, an NBC News/Reuters investigation found. "I had some customers with questionable backgrounds," said Brazilian real estate salesman Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who sold hundreds of units in the building beginning in 2006 but now lives as a fugitive due to an unrelated money-laundering scheme. "Nobody ever asked me," Ventura added. "Banks never asked. Developer didn't ask and [the] Trump Organization didn't ask. Nobody ask, 'Who are the customers, where did the money come from?' No, nobody ask."
Former Panamanian financial crimes prosecutor Mauricio Ceballos put it more bluntly, calling the Trump Ocean Club "a vehicle for money laundering."
Although the Trump Organization was not the developer for the building, it did license its brand and it operates the hotel and receives a cut of the condo sales. President Trump continues to make money from the project, earning $13.9 million over the last three years. In the words of Ventura, the Ocean Club was Ivanka Trump's personal "baby." NBC News writes that while there is "no indication that the Trump Organization or members of the Trump family engaged in any illegal activity, or knew of the criminal backgrounds of some of the project's associates," a willingness to turn a blind eye could nevertheless get the Trumps in trouble with U.S. law.
Panama constitutional law professor Miguel Antonio Bernal said there are hundreds of buildings in Panama City like the Trump Ocean Club that are used for money laundering. "There are more than 500 buildings like this," he explained. "But this — the difference of this — is that this has the name of the actual president of the United States." Read the full investigation here. Jeva Lange
Trump's private businesses are fighting to earn money from foreign governments, and taxpayers are footing the bill
Taxpayers are covering the six-figure salaries of at least 10 Justice Department lawyers and paralegals that are working on defenses of President Trump's private businesses, USA Today reports. Government lawyers are working on four lawsuits and making the case that it is not unconstitutional for Trump's businesses to earn money from foreign officials or governments while he is in the White House.
"We've never before had a president who was branded and it's impossible to divorce from that brand," argued Stuart Gerson, who served in the Justice Department under former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. "It's blurring the lines because it's so unusual. I can't think of a precedent where another civil division lawyer has been called on to defend the president under these circumstances."
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has argued in Trump's defense: "It's the responsibility of the Department of Justice to defend the Office of the Presidency in carrying out its activities against charges that are not deemed meritorious," he recently said. "We believe that this is defensible and we've taken the position that our top lawyers' believe is justified."
While Trump is also using private attorneys to defend his businesses from the lawsuits, USA Today calls the "free government attorneys … a bargain," noting that private lawyers cost $500 to $1,000 in Washington, D.C. and New York. Of course, the government attorneys aren't free for taxpayers: There is not an official number from the government on what the legal teams cost, but payroll records put the range between $133,000 and $185,000 a piece. Jeva Lange