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Derick Dirmaier

Derick Dirmaier is the Director of Product and Creative Development at TPM. Contact him at derick@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Timmy

Mick Mulvaney, in his battle with Leandra English over the acting directorship of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, asked staff to forward “additional communications from her … in any form” to the Wall Street watchdog’s general counsel. It looks like somebody did, and today he is upset. This is an annotation. You can put anything here, including links and images

New White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci speaks to members of the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 21, 2017. (Photo by Oliver Contreras) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***(Sipa via AP Images) In a Tuesday email to CFPB staff obtained by TPM, Mulvaney apologized for having to reiterate that he is the true acting director and told staff to disregard emails or instructions from English:

I understand that Ms. English sent out at least one additional email today wherein she purports to be the Acting Director.

Consistent with my email from yesterday, please disregard any emails sent by, or instructions you receive from, Ms. English when she is purporting to act as the Acting Director.

I apologize for having to send this instruction again. And I feel terrible about you folks being put in this position, as I understand it can be both confusing and disruptive. However, I hope we won’t have any more misunderstandings moving forward.

Please feel free to reach out to me here or in person if you have any questions.

Thanks very much.

Mick M.
Acting Director

English has filed suit seeking both a temporary injunction and a restraining order against Mulvaney to prevent him from assuming the acting directorship of the government agency, which the very conservative former South Carolina congressman has often criticized.  U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly heard arguments on Monday in Englishs case in Washington but did not immediately hand down a ruling; he is expected to do so Tuesday.

Mulvaney, who was appointed as purported acting director by President Donald Trump, is still serving as director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation may be heading toward a major turn, if recent hints that former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn is cooperating with the probe pan out.

Flynn — who departed the White House after revelations that he obscured his contacts with Russian officials — became a top Trump ally when the real estate mogul’s campaign still seemed like a long shot. The retired general remained a crucial figure through the transition and early days of the administration.

There are now signs that the special counsel may be in the process of flipping Flynn, with news that his legal team has stopped collaborating with President Trump’s, as well as reports that Flynn’s lawyer met with Mueller’s team Monday. Such moves aren’t guarantees that Mueller has turned Flynn — let alone turned Flynn against President Trump or his inner circle. Yet Flynn would be an extremely valuable witness to Mueller, perhaps more valuable than the other campaign figures who have been swept up in Mueller’s investigation.

There are a handful of known examples placing Flynn in the middle of Trump world interactions with Russian figures — interactions the White House has sought to downplay. Then there is Trump’s continued loyalty to Flynn, who was fired in February — a loyalty that raises a flag for former prosecutors.

“Trump’s not the type of guy who goes out of the way for anybody. Why would he be so concerned about Flynn and saying such nice things about Flynn?” Nick Akerman, an assistant Watergate prosecutor, told TPM.

“So what is it that Flynn knows and who is it that Flynn knows it about? Is it Trump? Is it Kushner? Is it Don Jr.? Is it all of the above?” Akerman said.

It may be many months before we know exactly what Flynn has to offer Mueller — or if any offer is even being made. But there are plenty of reasons to believe his cooperation could be problematic for Trump and his inner circle.

Kushner’s ‘Backchannel’ Idea

Flynn was present at a Dec. 1 Trump Tower meeting where Kushner reportedly  proposed to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that they set up a backchannel for  transition team communications with Moscow.

Since the meeting and the backchannel idea were initially reported, Kushner has pushed back on claims of impropriety. In a statement to congressional investigators, Kushner said that Kislyak had bought up having his “generals” brief Flynn on working with the U.S. in Syria.

“I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn,” Kushner said. “The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration.”

The meeting, which the White House only acknowledged in March after media reports about it, is one of a series of examples of Trump associates not disclosing their contacts with Russians during and after the campaign.

Pre-Inauguration Sanctions Talk With Russia

What ultimately led to Flynn’s White House ouster was previously undisclosed contacts he had with Russian officials before the inauguration, including one conversation where he reportedly discussed sanctions the Obama administration was imposing on Russia in late December.

The White House’s story about Flynn’s sanctions-related conversation with Kislyak changed drastically as the details about it were reported. Most notable perhaps was the stern denial by Vice President Mike Pence in January that sanctions were discussed.

A GOP Operative’s Hunt For Clinton’s Emails

The veteran GOP operative who launched a freelance campaign to obtain emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s personal server during the 2016 race boasted of support from two key backers: Flynn and his son, Michael Flynn Jr.

In recruiting emails to computer security experts, the operative, Peter W. Smith, said Flynn’s consulting firm was assisting his effort to obtain the emails, which Smith told the Wall Street Journal he understood were likely hacked by Russian operatives.

A British security analyst contacted by Smith said their communications made it “immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn and his son well.”

Smith, who died in May, name-dropped other Trump campaign officials he claimed were working with him, including former chief White House strategist Steve Bannon and White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, in a recruiting document. Both have denied any involvement.

White House Knowledge Of Flynn’s Other Foreign Dealings

Senior transition and White House officials were warned on multiple occasions about Flynn’s work for foreign governments.

Vice President Mike Pence was informed about Flynn’s lobbying on behalf of Turkey in a November 2016 letter from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD); Flynn reportedly notified transition team chief lawyer-turned-White House counsel Don McGahn that he was under federal investigation for that work weeks before inauguration; and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates told McGahn in late January that Flynn was “compromised with respect to the Russians.”

Yet Flynn stayed in office for 18 days after Yates’ urgent warning, and the White House has insisted he was fired only for lying to Pence about his contacts with Russians.

So what did White House officials know about Flynn’s foreign dealings and when exactly did they learn it?

Trump Runs Interference For Flynn With Comey

At an infamous Feb. 14 meeting, the day after Flynn was fired, Trump reportedly said to then-FBI Director James Comey: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy.”

Trump has denied making this request, which Comey testified before Congress that he took as “a direction” that left him “stunned.” The former FBI director has turned over to Mueller contemporaneous memos he kept of his one-on-one conversations with Trump.

Comey also said the President never inquired about any other investigation.

This spring, Flynn reportedly assured associates he would remain loyal to the President and made the remarkable admission that Trump told him to “stay strong” during the investigation. Former prosecutors warn that such ongoing conversations could be portrayed as witness tampering.

Possible Policy Quid Pro Quo

Flynn accepted hefty sums to smear a Muslim cleric loathed by Turkey’s government, and reportedly offered to spirit him out of the country for even more money. But did he take additional steps during the transition or administration on Turkey’s behalf?

Flynn brought Bijan Kian, his Flynn Intel Group partner who spearheaded the anti-cleric lobbying contract, onto the transition team to advise on national security issues. Kian is now reportedly a subject of Mueller’s investigation.

As McClatchy reported, just days before inauguration, Flynn put a hold on a military operation to retake the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa that Turkey opposed because it relied on assistance from Syrian Kurdish forces.

The Trump administration ultimately approved the plan weeks after Flynn was fired.

Akerman, the former Watergate prosecutor, said that Flynn’s decision held off the invasion “for a long period of time, putting people’s lives in jeopardy.”

“It really is pretty outrageous, so what did Trump know about that? And about [Flynn’s] involvement with Turkey?” Akerman asked.

The Trump Campaign’s Other Russia Shenanigans

Where Flynn fits in with the other areas of reported contacts between Trump campaign associates and Kremlin-linked figures is still an open question.

Flynn is not among the campaign officials identified in court documents about campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos’ own Russia-related contacts. Another foreign policy adviser Carter Page, in testimony to the House Intel Committee, denied communications with Flynn, though he did tell other campaign officials about a 2016 trip to Moscow. And The Atlantic’s report on private messages between Donald Trump Jr. and Wikileaks’ Twitter account did not include Flynn among the campaign officials Trump Jr. informed about his Wikileaks contacts.

If Flynn has more to add about those shenanigans, it could be useful to Mueller as well.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate Budget Committee has advanced a sweeping tax package to the full Senate, handing GOP leaders a victory as they try to pass the nation’s first tax overhaul in 31 years.  The previous overhaul, during Ronal Reagan's presidency, was a largely bipartisan effort. This one is anything but.

The committee voted 12 to 11 to advance the bill. Two committee Republicans had said they were considering voting against the measure. But after President Donald Trump personally lobbied Republican senators at the Capitol Tuesday, the committee passed the bill with little fanfare other than a few protesters who tried to disrupt the committee meeting.

GOP leaders hope to have the full Senate take up the bill later this week. The tax package blends a sharp reduction in top corporate and business tax rates with more modest relief for individuals.

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Pence spoke at a New York City event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the United Nations vote that led to the founding of the state of Israel.a

Trump in June backed off a campaign pledge on the embassy move as his Mideast envoy sought to reinvigorate peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The White House said at the time that the president was only delaying — not abandoning — his campaign pledge to relocate the embassy.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — After Hurricane Maria damaged tens of thousands of homes in Puerto Rico, a newly created Florida company with an unproven record won more than $30 million in contracts from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide emergency tarps and plastic sheeting for repairs.

Bronze Star LLC never delivered those urgently needed supplies, which even months later remain in demand by hurricane victims on the island.

According to an exclusive Associated Press report, FEMA eventually terminated the contracts, without paying any money, and re-started the process this month to supply more tarps for the island. The earlier effort took nearly four weeks from the day FEMA awarded the contracts to Bronze Star and the day it canceled them.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans remain homeless, and many complain that the federal government is taking too long to install tarps. The U.S. territory has been hit by severe rainstorms in recent weeks that have caused widespread flooding.

It is not clear how thoroughly FEMA investigated Bronze Star or its ability to fulfill the contracts. Formed by two brothers in August, Bronze Star had never before won a government contract or delivered tarps or plastic sheeting. The address listed for the business is a single-family home in a residential subdivision in St. Cloud, Florida.

One of the brothers, Kayon Jones, said manufacturers he contacted before bidding on the contracts assured him they could provide the tarps but later said they could not meet the government’s requirements. Jones said supplying the materials was problematic because most of the raw materials came out of Houston, which was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey. He said he sought a waiver from FEMA to allow him to order tarps from a Chinese manufacturer and for more time, but FEMA denied the request.

FEMA canceled the contracts Nov. 6, Jones said. The government notified his brother and him a few days later that it would seek $9.3 million in damages unless they signed a waiver releasing the U.S. from any liability. The brothers agreed.

“We were trying to help; it wasn’t about making money or anything like that,” Jones said.

FEMA awarded the company two contracts Oct. 10 to provide 500,000 tarps and 60,000 rolls of plastic sheeting. More than a half dozen others also bid, but FEMA said it could not provide details about their bids.

“The award of a government contract to a company with absolutely no experience in producing the materials sought obviously raises very bright red flags,” said Dan Feldman, professor of public management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at City University of New York. “I would hope and assume that the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security would begin immediately to take a very hard look at this process.”

A FEMA spokesman, Ron Roth, said the agency’s review process was “somewhat expedited” after Hurricane Maria to respond as quickly as possible to the emergency. But he said the agency did perform its due diligence.

“Submissions from potential contractors are objectively evaluated, and a contract is awarded based on the highest-rated submission,” Roth said.

Such “best value” competitive solicitations take into account past performance and a contractor’s ability to deliver as well as price, said Alan Miller, an attorney who spent 22-years advising federal contracting officials until retiring last year.

“In every circumstance, regardless of the award, whether it’s $400 to the local stationery company for envelopes, or it’s $400 million for a construction contract, the contracting officer is required to make a responsibility determination,” Miller said. “Does this company have the infrastructure; do they have the inventory processes, the production processes, the financial capability, for performing the work?”

Nine bids were received on the first contract for plastic sheeting and eight bids on the second contract for tarps. Roth said Star was determined to be the most qualified.

“FEMA’s initial technical evaluation determined Bronze Star could do the jobs based on their proposals, which confirmed that they could meet the product specifications and delivery dates,” he said.

Kayon Jones, the co-owner of Bronze Star, served in the U.S. Navy from 1997 to 2000, finishing his duty as a seaman storekeeper on the USS Gettysburg, a guided missile cruiser. The contract solicitation gave preference to veteran-owned companies. According to Navy records, Jones was never awarded a Bronze Star, a medal earned by service members who serve heroically in combat.

In an interview, Jones told The Associated Press he picked the name because he has another company with the word star in it. He said his brother, who is also listed on state incorporation documents for the business, served in the Army and is disabled. Army records show Jones’ brother also didn’t receive a Bronze Star, and it provided no evidence of a service-related injury. Richard Jones did not respond to multiple calls and requests through his brother for comment.

“My brother and I, we are both veterans, so we just came up with a name to do business,” Kayon Jones said. “We’re not saying we have a Bronze Star or anything.”

The day after FEMA canceled the Bronze Star contract, it awarded a contract to OSC Solutions Inc. for plastic sheeting for Hurricane Maria victims. The West Palm Beach, Florida-based company has roughly two decades of federal contracting experience and has produced such supplies multiple times.

The FEMA spokesman, Roth, acknowledged the contract problems delayed delivery of tarps to Puerto Rico but said anyone who needs a tarp should now be able to get one.

More than 93,000 tarps have been sent to distribution centers on the island and now are available to cover homes, Roth said. The Army Corps of Engineers’ “Blue Roof” program has provided 11,000 more reinforced tarps installed on homes by contractors.

To date, roughly $88 million in federal money has been awarded to four contractors, including Bronze Star, for tents and tarps, records show. The rescinded contracts with Bronze Star account for 35 percent of the total.

Michael Byrne, Puerto Rico’s FEMA coordination officer, estimated that at least 60,000 blue roofs are needed across the island. About 350 are installed each day, though he said that is expected to increase.

“One of the limiting factors is the availability of the material,” Byrne said.

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WASHINGTON (AP) — North Korea abruptly ended a 10-week pause in its weapons testing Tuesday by launching an unidentified missile into the sea, South Korean, Japanese and U.S. officials said, in a move that shuts the door for now on the possibility of a diplomatic opening.

Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the U.S. and South Korean militaries were analyzing the launch data from the missile, which was fired from an area in Pyongsong, a city close to North Korea’s capital. In response, it said South Korea conducted a “precision-strike” drill, without elaborating.

Map shows missile ranges of North Korea’s arsena; 2c x 2 3/4 inches; 96.3 mm x 69 mm;

The launch is North Korea’s first since it fired an intermediate range missile over Japan on Sept. 15, and appeared to shatter chances that the hiatus could lead to renewed diplomacy over the reclusive country’s nuclear program. U.S. officials have sporadically floated the idea of direct talks with North Korea if it maintained restraint.

A week ago, the Trump administration declared North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, further straining ties between governments that are still technically at war. Washington also imposed new sanctions on North Korean shipping firms and Chinese trading companies dealing with the North.

North Korea called the terror designation a “serious provocation” that justifies its development of nuclear weapons.

Early Wednesday in Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga echoed the claims from Seoul that North Korea fired an unidentified missile. He said it landed in the Sea of Japan, possibly within 200 nautical miles of the Japanese coast. He called the provocation unacceptable and said Tokyo has filed a strong protest.

In Washington, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that President Donald Trump was briefed on the situation “while missile was still in the air.”

Trump didn’t address the launch when asked about it while visiting the Capitol on Tuesday.

The Pentagon’s initial response was to call it a “probable” missile launch. Col. Rob Manning, a spokesman, said the Defense Department assessing the situation and has no further information to provide, including what kind of missile may have been launched.

Trump has ramped up economic and diplomatic pressure on the North to prevent its development of a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the U.S. mainland.

Tuesday’s launch came as the U.S. discussed with South Korea next steps on North Korea. The South’s top nuclear negotiator Lee Do-hoon was in Washington for talks with his Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy.

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The focus of former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s tangle of business dealings with Turkey is one man: Fethullah Gulen, an ailing septuagenarian Muslim cleric who lives in a Pennsylvania compound.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about the hundreds of thousands of dollars Flynn received to produce negative PR materials about Gulen and about Flynn’s alleged discussions with Turkish officials about forcibly removing him from the U.S.

What’s received less attention is why Turkey would take such extraordinary steps to take down the aging cleric, and why President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government thought Flynn would be able to facilitate them.

The former top U.S. intelligence official’s well-compensated work for Turkey is just one tentacle of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s sprawling investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. But it speaks directly to the central question of how foreign actors may have attempted to influence the actions of top Trump campaign figures.

TPM spoke to five Turkey experts to get a sense of Erdogan’s anti-Gulen crusade in the U.S., and how Flynn fit into those schemes.

Why is Turkey so desperate to discredit Gulen?

Flynn is hardly the first American that Turkey has used to lend credence to Erdogan’s campaign against the man he believes orchestrated a failed July 2016 coup against him. In the past few years, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has launched a lobbying blitz in the U.S. aimed at discrediting Gulen and his Hizmet, or “service,” movement.

Firms like Amsterdam & Partners and Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, receive lucrative contracts to paint the cleric—who promotes a moderate, pro-market version of Islam through a worldwide network of well-funded schools and charitable institutions—as a suspect actor bent on undermining Turkey’s democracy. This effort has been aided by anti-Islam groups like ACT! for America and outlets like Breitbart News, which routinely characterize Gulen as the head of a “shadowy and corrupt cult.

Aaron Stein, a Turkey expert at the non-partisan Atlantic Council, told TPM that Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law and Turkey’s energy minister, is “behind” these lobbying efforts. Albayrak attended a Sept. 19, 2016 meeting with Flynn Intel Group, where discussions of removing Gulen from the U.S. were reportedly first raised.

“There is documented evidence that he oversees efforts within the United States through cut-out organizations to funnel money to lobbyists and PR firms who try to change the narrative on Gulen,” Stein said of Albayrak. “That definitely happens.”

Experts caution that there are legitimate concerns about financial misdeeds by some Gulen-linked institutions and about the secretive ways in which the cleric leverages political influence in Turkey through his network. But they say that Erdogan’s crusade against Gulen, who has lived in the U.S. since 1999, is primarily about self-preservation.

The two men were political allies until about 2010, when Erdogan’s consolidation of power prompted what former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey James Jeffries described to TPM as a “series of ever more dramatic confrontations.” By 2013, these involved politically-motivated prosecutions of Erdogan allies by Gulen-linked prosecutors and a subsequent purging of Gulenists from the judiciary.

Why hasn’t the U.S. extradited the cleric?

In an Election Day editorial in The Hill penned on behalf of his Turkish lobbying client, Flynn described Gulen as a “shady Islamic mullah” behind the coup attempt who should immediately be turned over to “our NATO ally.”

This closes mirrors Turkey’s stance on how “perplexing and deeply frustrating” it is that the U.S. has not yet turned over the man who “masterminded” the effort to overthrow Erdogan’s government.

The actual narrative is not so clear. Experts told TPM evidence that the U.S. Justice Department helped gather suggests that Gulenists played a significant role in the coup, but that Turkey has failed to prove that he was personally behind it. The attempted putsch was most likely the work of a coalition of groups, they said.

David Tittensor, an Australian religion professor who authored a book on the Gulen movement, said the evidence “didn’t meet the standard to initiate an extradition and warrant process” through the U.S. State Department and judicial system. Some of the alleged Gulen-linked coup plotters say they were tortured or that their confessions were forced, Tittensor noted.

He said the impasse with the DOJ could have prompted officials to hold secret talks with Flynn.

“Possibly the fact that these kind of talks were happening speaks to the lack of an evidence base that has been provided thus far and that they were looking for an alternative in order to get what they want, which is to get Gulen out of the U.S. and back to Turkey,” Tittensor said.

Flynn pushed Turkey’s line on Gulen in exchange for cash

Flynn was forced to belatedly register as a foreign agent earlier this year for accepting $530,000 from Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin to produce negative PR materials about Gulen.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly investigating Flynn Intel Group’s work for Alptekin, who has close ties to Erdogan’s government. Mueller’s team is also reportedly probing two alleged meetings in New York between Turkish officials and Flynn about forcibly removing Gulen from the U.S.

Former CIA Director Jim Woolsey told the Wall Street Journal that he was startled by the plans to “whisk” Gulen away that he heard at the first meeting on Sept. 19, 2016, which was attended by Alptekin, Turkey’s energy and finance ministers, and members of Flynn Intel Group.

Discussions of a $15 million payout for Flynn and of possibly “transporting Mr. Gulen on a private jet to the Turkish prison island of Imrali” did not unfold until the second discussion in December, according to the Journal’s reporting.

Both sides have stridently denied that any such discussions occurred.

What if Turkey gets its wish?

Gulen is currently the “pawn in the middle” of U.S.-Turkey relations, as George Washington University international affairs professor Scheherazade Rehman put it, and it’s not clear that Erdogan wants his return as much as he professes to.

For one, Gulen’s presence here provides negotiating leverage, as Jeffries, the former U.S. ambassador, pointed out.

“It gives them a good talking point to put the U.S. under pressure,” Jeffries said. “And the Turks like that, that’s how they do foreign policy.”

Though Jeffries said the Turkish people and government do want answers for the coup, which resulted in the deaths of some 300 people, other experts noted that Gulen’s return through traditional legal channels, which remains unlikely, could undermine the Erdogan administration’s account of how the coup unfolded.

“If he comes back then that will force an actual trial,” said Josh Hendrick, a Loyola professor on Islamic political identity who wrote a book on Gulen. “It will force a ‘prove it.’ All the inconsistencies in the narrative could come out.”

Erdogan has used the coup as cover to fire and jail his political opponents and consolidate power.

Did Flynn try to advance the extradition?

Not long after Trump and Flynn entered the White House, the FBI was reportedly asked to conduct a new review of Turkey’s extradition request. Though NBC reported that the FBI turned it down because there was no additional evidence to alter the Obama administration’s assessment of it, it remains unclear if Flynn or State Department officials made the request.

When questioned on the matter by House Judiciary Committee member Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) at a hearing this week, Attorney Jeff Sessions said only that he knew the “Turkish government continued to press the federal government” on Gulen’s return and that though his department “had a role to play in that,” he was unable to discuss it.

The Atlantic Council’s Stein said it was not necessarily surprising that a new administration would want a review of such a sensitive situation.

“What is noteworthy is the reasons why they asked for it,” he said. “Was Mike Flynn on the take and was he fulfilling a contractual quid pro quo?”

Correction: This piece has been updated to correct an editing error. Erdogan, not Gulen, has used the coup as cover to fire and jail his political opponents and consolidate power.

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Republicans in Congress and President Trump are actively exploring a new target in their ongoing campaign against the Affordable Care Act: the individual mandate.

For weeks, Trump has been pushing GOP legislators to include a provision repealing the mandate in their already-unwieldy tax reform package, and while the policy is not yet in the text of the bill, Republicans in the House and Senate are fighting to insert it. Should that fail, the Trump administration reportedly has an executive order in the works to dismantle as much of the mandate as possible—though he wouldn’t be able to completely eliminate it with a stroke of his pen.

Regardless of whether mandate is undermined by legislative or executive action, doing so would further roil the Affordable Care Act’s individual marketplace, which has already been kneecapped by a host of budget and policy changes this year. It would sow more chaos in an open enrollment period already hampered by misinformation public confusion.

Here are five points to keep in mind as the mandate becomes the next piece of Obamacare to come under fire:

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The full transcript of Carter Page’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee released Monday night sheds some new light on his contacts with Russian officials and how he relayed those conversations to the Trump campaign.

Though much of what Page discussed had previously been leaked to the press or discussed by other Trump campaign advisers, the 243-page transcript yielded some key new information.

For the first time, Page acknowledged that he had a “private conversation” with Russia’s deputy foreign minister during a July 2016 trip to Moscow. He also told lawmakers that he communicated with members of the Trump campaign about what he would say in a speech he delivered during that visit, contradicting previous statements about making the trip in his capacity as a private citizen.

The transcript of Page’s testimony, which was made public by his request, also lays bare the frustration felt by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers who tried to keep the questioning on track.

Some highlights from Page’s meandering, nearly eight-hour-long interview are below.

Page confirmed Trump campaign altered Ukraine platform

The Trump campaign has quibbled about the extent of its involvement in softening the language on Ukraine in the GOP platform during the Republican National Convention, but Page confirmed that staffers were directly involved.

“As for the Ukraine amendment, excellent work,” Page wrote in a July 14, 2016 email to fellow Trump aide J.D. Gordon and several others.

Page said the email reflected his “personal opinion” and denied personally having any involvement in the change, which removed language promising that the U.S. would provide “lethal defensive weapons” to the Ukrainian army to fend off Russian military intervention. The revised text instead offered “appropriate assistance.”

Though Gordon and others on the campaign have strenuously denied involvement, Texas delegate Diana Denman previously told TPM that he halted the national security committee’s discussion of her original amendment to “clear it with New York.” Denman said this was the only amendment set before the committee that she recalled Trump staffers intervening to table.

Like Papadopoulos, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge

Like George Papadopoulos, the Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian connections, Page seemed to overstate his insider knowledge about Russian politics.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) pressed Page to account for an email he sent after his July 2016 trip to deliver a speech at Moscow’s New Economic School promising campaign staffers “some incredible insights and outreach” he received from “a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

It turns out those “insights” were gleaned from watching TV.

Page told Schiff that all he meant to convey in that email was that he would pass on “general things that I learned from listening to speeches” and “watching Russian TV in my few days in Moscow.”

Schiff replied, “This is not what you conveyed to the campaign.”

Page also notified campaign staffers that he would “speak alongside the chairman and CEO of Sberbank,” one of Russia’s largest financial institutions, during that visit. He told the committee that the Sberbank CEO “didn’t actually show up at all.”

Page proposed having Trump travel to Russia

In another similarity to Papadopoulos, Page thought it would be a good idea for Trump to travel to Russia in the middle of the campaign, despite scrutiny of the GOP candidate’s friendly rhetoric towards Russia.

In a May 16, 2016 email to Gordon and fellow campaign adviser Walid Phares, Page suggested that Trump could “raise the temperature a little bit” by traveling to Russia in his stead, and that he would be “more than happy to yield this honor to him.”

Page told the committee he did not know that Papadopoulos was separately pushing a Trump trip to Russia, and that he was “envisioning” a visit akin to Barack Obama’s well-received 2008 trip to Germany as a Democratic presidential candidate.

Lawmakers from both parties seemed frustrated by the rambling conversation

Throughout the interview, Page repeatedly provided more information than lawmakers requested or insisted that he’d had no contact with a certain individual only to double-back and say he may have actually met them in passing. These rhetorical tics seemed to grate on his questioners.

Schiff, in particular, repeatedly told Page that he was “not asking” for the answers he provided. He chided the former Trump aide for responding to questions about his Russia contacts with answers about Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and Page’s own writings on lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) was similarly withering in an exchange in which he asked Page to define the words collusion, coordination and conspiracy. When Page replied that all seem to refer to “things you shouldn’t be doing,” Gowdy cracked that “you can coordinate lunch,” and continued to push the point until Page provided straight answers.

CNN reported that lawmakers described Page’s testimony as occasionally confusing and contradictory.

The campaign tried to distance itself from Page

Towards the end of his marathon testimony, Page revealed that the Trump campaign and transition tried to sever ties with him early this year as the FBI investigation was ramping up.

Page divulged that he received letters in January from the campaign’s law firm, Jones Day, instructing him not to “give the wrong impression that you’re part of the administration or the Trump campaign.”

Page said he had never misstated his relationship to the campaign, and only spoke to the media “to try to clear up this massive mess which has been created about my name.”

Trump staffers apparently tried to cut off these conversations with the press. Page said he had his first and only conversation with Steve Bannon in mid-January, when the former White House chief strategist contacted Page to tell him it was “probably not a good idea” for him to appear on MSNBC.

Page told lawmakers he understood Trump staffers’ concerns and lamented that he was “the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign.”

Trump staffers apparently tried to cut off these conversations with the press. Page said he had his first and only conversation with Steve Bannon in mid-January, when the former White House chief strategist contacted Page to tell him it was “probably not a good idea” for him to appear on MSNBC.

Page told lawmakers he understood Trump staffers’ concerns and lamented that he was “the biggest embarrassment surrounding the campaign.”

 

 

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House Republicans unveiling their 429-page tax reform bill Thursday morning promised it would bring simplicity and prosperity to all.

“On net, everyone’s better off,” Rep. David Brat (R-VA) enthused to reporters in the hallway outside the room where lawmakers were briefed on the bill.

But like the current tax system, the House GOP plan would have winners and losers.

The draft released Thursday lowers the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent, nearly doubles the standard deduction, and keeps a loophole for hedge fund managers that President Trump had promised to eliminate. 

To partially make up the cost, the proposal gets rid of a host of deductions—including those for medical expenses, moving expenses, hiring veterans, investing in poor neighborhoods, alimony, employee achievement awards, adoptions, the interest paid on student loans, most electric cars, and state and local taxes—while putting new limits on several others, like the interest paid on home mortgages.

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) urged his colleagues and the press not to sweat these details. “I’m looking at the plan overall,” he said. “If you pick out a part and only look at one thing, one thing could look great, but the elimination of other things might diminish the importance of that. Or something might look bad, but when you see the other benefits people get, it could be okay.”

Yet a firestorm of criticism began to ignite as soon as details of the plan began to leak out earlier this week, with major outside organizations on the left and right announcing their opposition to the bill. Here are the five most controversial provisions tucked into the text that could doom Republicans’ top legislative goal.

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LiveWire