Month: December 2017

Judge Denies Rick Gates’s Request To Leave His House To Celebrate New Year’s Eve

Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates leaves federal court on Dec. 11 in Washington, DC.

Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

Rick Gates, the defendant in one of the cases brought by special counsel Robert Mueller against associates of President Trump, will not be able to leave his house to ring in the new year.

A seemingly exasperated US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson denied his Thursday request to travel with his family for New Year’s Eve events in a short, terse order on Friday.

“After all of that,” Jackson wrote of the repeated prior requests regarding holiday travel filed by Gates, “defendant Gates filed yet another motion, with a new plan for New Year’s celebrations . . . Given the untimely filing of the current motion, it will be denied.”

Read the order:

Read the order:

Appeals Court Rules That Trump’s Third Attempt At His Travel Ban Still Violates Federal Law

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President Trump’s third attempt at implementing his travel ban — issued via a September proclamation — again violates federal law, a panel of the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled on Friday.

The court, however, will keep Friday’s ruling on hold pending the outcome of any Supreme Court review sought by the Justice Department.

The 9th Circuit ruled in a lengthy decision that “the Proclamation’s indefinite entry suspensions constitute nationality discrimination in the issuance of immigrant visas,” a ruling the panel concluded shows the challengers — including the state of Hawaii — had shown a likelihood that they would succeed in their lawsuit.

The court, which heard arguments earlier this month, narrowed the district court’s prior injunction — which barred all enforcement of the travel ban against people from the six majority Muslim nations affected — to people from those six nations with “a credible bona fide relationship with the United States.”

Those affected are people from Chad, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. Although North Korea and Venezuela also are included in the president’s latest proclamation, the district court injunction did not halt enforcement of the ban against those from those countries, so they are not at issue in Friday’s decision.

Because the underlying injunction itself is stayed pending the outcome of any petition for certiorari — under a prior Supreme Court order — the 9th Circuit likewise ruled that its Friday decision will remain stayed “pending Supreme Court review.”

The case, as with other prior iterations of the ban, was considered before Judges Michael Daly Hawkins, Ronald Gould, and Richard Paez. The opinion was issued per curiam, or for the court, and not under the name of a specific judge.

In issuing their decision, the court ruled solely on the basis that Trump’s order violated the Immigration and Nationality Act’s nondiscrimination provision — and that the president “lacks independent constitutional authority to issue the Proclamation” under current circumstances.

Because it ruled on the statutory issue, the panel also held that “we need not and do not consider th[e] alternate constitutional” argument made by the challengers that the ban violates the Establishment Clause as a type of religion-based discrimination.

That issue — and Trump’s tweets on the topic — were front and center in the other appellate arguments held on the third attempt at the travel ban. The US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard its arguments en banc, or before the full court, two days after the 9th Circuit’s arguments. The 4th Circuit is yet to issue its decision.

Friday’s opinion was not issued without a hitch. A little more than an hour after the 9th Circuit’s press office sent out the decision, the court sent a follow-up notice that the first opinion had been withdrawn and replaced. The ultimate resolution did not change, although there were slight changes made throughout the opinion.

It was not immediately clear all of the distinctions, but the first paragraph of the opinion, for example, was changed from stating that that court was addressing Trump’s effort to bar “over 150 million nationals of six Muslim-majority countries” to “over 150 million nationals of six designated countries.”

Jeff Sessions Cuts 25 “Guidance Documents,” Including Some Obama-Era Anti-Discrimination Guidance

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

The Justice Department wiped a wide swath of “guidance documents” off the books on Thursday, withdrawing 25 documents — including one addressing integration of people with disabilities in state and local government programs and another on standards for assessing citizenship status discrimination.

The Justice Department, in announcing the move, stated the 25 documents were “unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper.” Several — though not all of them — were issued during President Barack Obama’s administration.

The move follows a February executive order from President Donald Trump seeking a broad review of regulatory actions across the federal government and a follow-up November memo from Attorney General Jeff Sessions focused on guidance documents — which the department criticized as being used to “evad[e] required rulemaking processes” too often.

“[A]ny guidance that is outdated, used to circumvent the regulatory process, or that improperly goes beyond what is provided for in statutes or regulation should not be given effect,” Sessions said in a statement on Thursday. “That is why today, we are ending 25 examples of improper or unnecessary guidance documents identified by our Regulatory Reform Task Force led by our Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand.”

The Justice Department formally announced that Sessions was withdrawing the more than two dozen “guidance” documents following a Washington Post report on the decision earlier Thursday evening.

The department did not state why each of the 25 were specifically selected to be withdrawn.

Ten of the withdrawn documents relate to the Americans With Disabilities Act; six are documents issued by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the remaining nine cover a range of topics — including a 2016 Obama-era effort highlighted in the Post’s reporting “that asked local courts across the country to be wary of slapping poor defendants with fines and fees to fill their jurisdictions’ coffers.”

One of the withdrawn ADA documents addressed the application of the “integration mandate” in the part of the ADA addressing state and local governments. The chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights, Catherine Lhamon, criticized the move on Twitter.

Another withdrawn Obama-era document was a 2012 letter that provided “some general guidelines regarding compliance with the anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act” regarding legal permanent residents.

The news comes as President Trump continues to focus on cutting regulations — along with this week’s passage of the tax bill and judicial confirmations — as key accomplishments in his first year in office.

According to the list provided by the Justice Department on Thursday evening, the following “guidance documents” have been withdrawn in 2017:

  1. ATF Procedure 75-4.
  2. Industry Circular 75-10.
  3. ATF Ruling 85-3.
  4. Industry Circular 85-3.
  5. ATF Ruling 2001-1.
  6. ATF Ruling 2004-1.
  7. Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).
  8. Northern Border Prosecution Initiative Guidelines (2013).
  9. Juvenile Accountability Incentive Block Grants Program Guidance Manual (2007).
  10. Advisory for Recipients of Financial Assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice on Levying Fines and Fees on Juveniles (January 2017).
  11. Dear Colleague Letter on Enforcement of Fines and Fees (March 2016).
  12. ADA Myths and Facts (1995).
  13. Common ADA Problems at Newly Constructed Lodging Facilities (November 1999).
  14. Title II Highlights (last updated 2008).
  15. Title III Highlights (last updated 2008).
  16. Commonly Asked Questions About Service Animals in Places of Business (July 1996).
  17. ADA Business Brief: Service Animals (April 2002).
  18. Prior Joint Statement of the Department of Justice and the Department of Housing and Urban Development Group Homes, Local Land Use, and the Fair Housing Act (August 18, 1999).
  19. Letter to Alain Baudry, Esq., with standards for conducting internal audit in a non-discriminatory fashion (December 4, 2009).
  20. Letter to Esmeralda Zendejas on how to determine whether lawful permanent residents are protected against citizenship status discrimination (May 30, 2012).
  21. Common ADA Errors and Omissions in New Construction and Alterations (June 1997).
  22. Common Questions: Readily Achievable Barrier Removal and Design Details: Van Accessible Parking Spaces (August 1996).
  23. Website guidance on bailing-out procedures under section 4(b) and section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (2004).
  24. Americans with Disabilities Act Questions and Answers (May 2002).
  25. Statement of the Department of Justice on Application of the Integration Mandate of Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Olmstead v. L.C. to State and Local Governments’ Employment Service Systems for Individuals with Disabilities (October 31, 2016).

Appeals Courts Deny Trump Admin’s Request To Delay Jan. 1 Trans Military Recruits Start Date

Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images

A federal appeals court denied the Trump administration’s request to halt a Jan. 1 start date for allowing transgender military recruits, a decision announced in a brief ruling on Thursday.

The order from the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit brings the question closer to the Supreme Court, where the Justice Department could now turn in a last-ditch effort to stop transgender people from being allowed to join the military if they meet certain conditions starting in the new year.

The case, Stone v. Trump, is one of several challenging President Trump’s transgender military ban order, which itself came out of his July morning tweets announcing his position on the topic.

Asked for comment on the ruling and whether the Justice Department would ask the Supreme Court for a stay, Justice Department spokesperson Lauren Ehrsam wrote, “We disagree with the Court’s ruling and are currently evaluating the next steps.”

On Friday, the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit issued an order in a separate but similar case also denying the administration’s request for a delay to the Jan. 1 start date.

“In the balancing of equities, it must be remembered that all Plaintiffs seek during this litigation is to serve their Nation with honor and dignity, volunteering to face extreme hardships, to endure lengthy deployments and separation from family and friends, and to willingly make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives if necessary to protect the Nation, the people of the United States, and the Constitution against all who would attack them,” the DC Circuit panel wrote.

This issue making its way through the courts on a somewhat expedited basis currently is the specific question of transgender military recruits. The other parts of Trump’s order — about retention and promotion of current service members who are transgender and about surgery coverage — also are enjoined currently, and that litigation will continue in the new year, but the accession question must be resolved because the start date for that, prior to Trump’s ban, was to be Jan. 1.

The latest stage in this process began on Nov. 27, when US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the Pentagon could not move the Jan. 1 deadline for allowing transgender recruits. On Dec. 11, the judge ruled against the Trump administration again — denying a request for a partial stay of her earlier order. The Trump administration appealed to the DC Circuit.

At the same time, two other similar cases led to similar injunctions against Trump’s ban — one in Maryland and another in the state of Washington. In both cases, the Trump administration has asked the district court judge to clarify their ruling to allow the Pentagon to move the Jan. 1 date or to issue a partial stay of that part of the injunctions. They also appealed both cases, to the US Courts of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and 9th Circuit, respectively.

Although the one case was pending before the DC Circuit, it was the 4th Circuit that issued the first appellate ruling on the subject, stating, without more explanation, that “the court denies the motion for administrative stay and partial stay pending appeal” in Thursday’s order.

The 4th Circuit panel hearing the request was made up of Judges Diana Motz, Albert Diaz, and Pamela Harris. Motz was nominated to the bench by President Clinton, and Diaz and Harris by President Obama. Their order came two days after challengers to the ban submitted in court a Dec. 8 Defense Department memorandum laying out the department’s policies for allowing transgender recruits — and the conditions they must meet — starting on Jan. 1.

The DC Circuit panel hearing that request was made up of Judges Judith Rogers, David Tatel, and Patricia Millett.

Later still on Friday, a federal district court in California — hearing yet another challenge to the ban — issued a fourth injunction against the ban. Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled that the “Plaintiffs have demonstrated their Equal Protection claim will likely succeed on the merits.”

Read the relevant court documents from all three cases:

Inauguration Protesters Found Not Guilty On All Charges In Jury Trial

Police pursue demonstrators in Washington, DC, on Jan. 20, 2017.

AP / Mark Tenally

A jury on Thursday found six defendants not guilty on all charges they were facing in connection with Inauguration Day protests in Washington, DC.

This was the first trial for the nearly 200 defendants still facing charges in connection with anti-Trump demonstrations on Jan. 20 that turned violent.

The verdict is a victory not only for the six defendants and their lawyers, but for other defense attorneys, anti-Trump activists, and free speech advocates who had criticized the mass arrests and prosecution as examples of government overreach and who worried the case signaled a new era of criminalizing political dissent.

“The jury thoughtfully distinguished First Amendment rights from criminal conduct,” Steven McCool, one of the defense lawyers, told BuzzFeed News in an email. “They vindicated the constitutional rights of these defendants and all of us.

Asked about the verdict, one of the defendants, Alexei Wood, told BuzzFeed News in a text message: “Fuk them so hard.”

More trials for other defendants are scheduled throughout 2018. A question going forward will be if the acquittal prompts the government to drop any cases or charges or if prosecutors will press ahead as planned. In a statement, however, the US Attorney’s Office suggested it planned to move forward with the remaining pending charges against other defendants.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia believes that the evidence shows that a riot occurred on January 20, 2017, during which numerous public and private properties were damaged or destroyed. This destruction impacted many who live and work in the District of Columbia, and created a danger for all who were nearby,” per the statement. “The criminal justice process ensures that every defendant is judged based on his or her personal conduct and intent. We appreciate the jury’s close examination of the individual conduct and intent of each defendant during this trial and respect its verdict. In the remaining pending cases, we look forward to the same rigorous review for each defendant.”

The next trial is scheduled to begin in March.

Police arrested 234 people on Jan. 20, charging them with rioting. A grand jury later returned an indictment that included charges for rioting and property destruction.

Over the following months, prosecutors dropped charges against 20 people, and reached plea deals with 20 others. Only one person, Dane Powell, has pleaded guilty to a felony charge; the rest admitted to misdemeanors. Powell is also the only person so far to receive a sentence of jail time — he was sentenced to four months.

The first trial — for Jennifer Armento, of Philadelphia; Michelle Macchio, of Asheville, N.C.; Oliver Harris, of Philadelphia; Brittne Lawson, of Aspinwall, Pa.; Christina Simmons, of Cockeysville, Md.; and Alexei Wood, of San Antonio, Texas — started in mid-November.

The jury began deliberating on Dec. 15. The six defendants faced seven charges: Five felony counts of property destruction, along with two misdemeanor counts of engaging in a riot and conspiracy to riot. The felony charges carry maximum penalties of 10 years in jail and a $25,000 fine. The misdemeanors have maximum penalties of 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

The defendants initially faced an additional felony charge for inciting a riot, but Judge Lynn Leibovitz dismissed that count at the end of the trial. Leibovitz denied a motion from the defense to dismiss the rest of the charges as well, though.

The defendants are being tried in small groups, but the government still had to prove the charges against each defendant as an individual. The first group included people who said they were serving as medics and others who said they were participating in anti-Trump demonstrations but didn’t participate in or support the violence. According to the government, the property destruction was valued at more than $100,000. Wood said he was at the protests as an independent journalist, and press freedom advocates have raised concerns about his prosecution.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sent a letter on Thursday to DC US Attorney Jessie Liu expressing concern about how one of the prosecutors presented information to the jury about Wood’s knowledge of terminology about protest strategies and his lack of official press credentials in arguing he committed a crime.

“While journalists of course are not above the law and have no right to incite a riot or engage in acts of assault or vandalism, being near a newsworthy event is no crime for anyone, reporters included,” the committee’s executive director Bruce Brown wrote.

There was no evidence presented at the first trial that any of the six defendants were the ones who broke windows on Jan. 20. The prosecution’s theory was that they were all still criminally responsible because they were there to support the rioters. The defense countered that under the First Amendment, people exercising their free speech rights weren’t required to leave a protest just because someone near them was violent; they argued that the government hadn’t shown evidence that the individual defendants were at the demonstration that day in order to back up the bad actors.

Defense lawyers, anti-Trump activists, and free speech advocates had been watching the first trial as a test of the prosecution and defense strategies in these cases — and in any future cases involving arrests of protesters — going forward.

“Today’s verdict reaffirms two central constitutional principles of our democracy: first, that dissent is not a crime, and second, that our justice system does not permit guilt by association. We hope today’s verdict begins the important work of teaching police and prosecutors to respect the line between lawbreaking and constitutionally protected protest,” Scott Michelman, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU of the District of Columbia, said in a statement. “We hope that the U.S. Attorney’s Office gets the message and moves quickly to drop all remaining changes against peaceful demonstrators.”

The ACLU earlier this year filed a civil lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department alleging they used excessive conduct in responding to the protests on Jan. 20 and making arrests. That case is pending.

Supreme Court Rules The Trump Administration Doesn’t Need To Turn Over DACA Documents At This Time

Yuri Gripas / Reuters

The Supreme Court on Wednesday tossed out a trial court’s order that the Trump administration turn over internal documents relating to the decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), ruling that other issues must first be resolved before even considering whether such an order is appropriate.

In an unsigned opinion with no noted dissents, the Supreme Court ordered the district court hearing the challenges to the Trump administration’s DACA decision to first consider whether the decision of then-Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elaine Duke to rescind DACA is reviewable and, if it is, whether the district court has jurisdiction to hear the case in light of restrictions in the Immigration and Nationality Act.

“Either of those arguments, if accepted, likely would eliminate the need for the District Court to examine a complete administrative record [by obtaining the additional documents],” the ruling stated.

Even if the action is reviewable and the court has jurisdiction, the opinion continued, further litigation would be necessary because “the District Court may not compel the Government to disclose any document that the Government believes is privileged without first providing the Government with the opportunity to argue the issue.”

The Supreme Court noted that Wednesday’s ruling “does not suggest any view on the merits of respondents’ claims or the Government’s defenses.”

The Justice Department took the case to the Supreme Court on Dec. 1, and the court granted a temporary stay while the justices considered the Justice Department’s request.

Read the ruling:

Read the ruling:


As Justice Department Fights Transgender Service, Memo Shows The Military Is Preparing For New Recruits

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Military officials have had a policy in place for “processing transgender applicants for military service” since Dec. 8, a new memorandum shows.

The document, made public by lawyers challenging the ban on Tuesday night, comes as the Justice Department continues to fight in court to put off a Jan. 1 deadline for the Pentagon to start allowing transgender military recruits.

The memorandum, signed by Navy Capt. David Kemp, was submitted on Tuesday in exhibits in all three of the cases challenging President Trump’s military ban that are pending currently before appellate courts.

It was first submitted by Washington state’s lawyers in the litigation out of that state currently before the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and subsequently filed in the cases out of Maryland and DC before the US Courts of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and DC Circuit, respectively.

The policy applies to all United States Military Entrance Processing Command personnel and activities, per the memo, and lays out the process for moving forward to allow transgender recruits who meet specific criteria laid out in the memo.

“The guidance thus further contradicts the government’s claim here that ‘the military will “not be adequately and properly prepared to begin processing transgender applicants” by January 1,'” Paul Wolfson, one of the lawyers in the DC-based case, wrote in the filing to the DC Circuit.

In filings on Wednesday morning, the Justice Department responded, claiming the Dec. 8 memorandum shows the “military is scrambling to comply” with the courts’ injunctions and submitting a Dec. 19 “clarifying” memo in which the Justice Department asserted that “the military established a framework for providing responses to medical inquiries from recruiters ‘[d]ue to the complexity of this new medical standard.'”

Justice Department appellate attorney Catherine Dorsey continued, “Obviously, it would be preferable to thoroughly train recruiters, rather than point them to a medical hotline. In short, our armed forces should not be prejudiced by attempting to do all that they can to comply with a court order on a rushed deadline.”

Read the memo:

Read the memo:


LINK: This Transgender Man Is Trying To Enlist In The Military On Jan. 1. Trump Is Trying To Stop Him.

The Man Who Invented The Republican Internet — And Then Sold It To Far-Right Nationalists Overseas

The video quickly catches your eye, with bold, flashing numbers against a bloodred background. As sinister music charges toward a dramatic finish, a warning about thousands of “foreign Islamists” roaming freely about the country creeps across the screen.

Marine Le Pen, the right-wing candidate who in May lost her bid for president in France, closed her campaign with this message, seen by more than 1.5 million Facebook users. The ad had a theatrical look and feel unusual to European politics, but one quite familiar to Americans.

And that’s because Americans made it.

Vincent Harris, whose namesake Austin, Texas–based firm has deep ties to US Republicans, has positioned himself as a digital guru for Le Pen and other far-right leaders overseas against a backdrop of spiking nationalism, ethnic division, and anti-globalism. It’s an odd trajectory for someone who once seemed on his way to being the GOP’s super-consultant of the future.

Harris taught Mike Huckabee how to talk to bloggers. Sharpened tea party–insurgent Ted Cruz into a national brand. Created memes for Mitch McConnell, the dullest of senators. Evangelized for the phone over television. Along the way he became, in the words of one publication, “The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet.” And he did it all before his 27th birthday.

But now, as he approaches 30, Harris has fallen into a bit of a slump at home. He bet on the wrong 2016 presidential candidate. Pissed off one of his top clients. Disappeared from Donald Trump’s campaign within days for reasons no one seems to understand. As 2017 ends, his highlights are accounts that make even some of his friends and admirers uncomfortable.

Far-right National Front party leader Marine Le Pen answers to journalists at the Federation of Vaucluse during a press conference on Oct. 8, 2017, in Carpentras in southern France.

Anne-christine Poujoulat / AFP / Getty Images

With Harris Media’s assistance, Le Pen’s National Front — a party that has struggled to distance itself from Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitism — has ridden anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments to more mainstream success. More recently, and most alarmingly to many who respect Harris’ talents, the firm’s efforts for Alternative für Deutschland helped nationalists win seats in Germany’s parliament for the first time in more than half a century. It’s a party that can’t seem to shake its Nazi roots. At one rally earlier this year in support of AfD, attendees chanted that they would “build a subway” to Auschwitz for political opponents.

“I doubt,” one former Harris Media employee told BuzzFeed News, “that many people started working there to work for neo-Nazis.”

German voters had never seen a campaign quite like the one Harris Media took online for AfD. One piece branded Chancellor Angela Merkel as the “oathbreaker” for accepting refugees. Another involved a Facebook post with stark, bloody tire tracks charging that Merkel’s policies have resulted in Islamic terrorist attacks across Europe. By using social media–targeting tactics that have been standard in recent US campaigns, the firm found an audience receptive to AfD’s message. AfD cultivated an alliance of like-minded voters and created a safe, comfortable place to indulge in right-wing nationalism that had long been treated as taboo in the country. Merkel’s party prevailed in the September elections, but AfD won enough votes to become Germany’s third most popular party.

“I doubt,” one former employee said, “that many people started working there to work for neo-Nazis.”

How did Harris go from The Man Who Invented the Republican Internet to The Man Who Helped the Radical Fringe Find Its Voice Overseas? It’s a question that the man who once gladly submitted himself to such publicity seems uneager to answer. He declined repeated requests to be interviewed on the record for this story, agreeing only to review questions submitted by email. He responded to those questions with an emailed statement.

“Harris Media’s domestic client work is stronger than ever; during the past 24 months, we have served American candidates at every level and won numerous awards for groundbreaking efforts,” Harris wrote. “Our continued success in the US has led to opportunities around the world in the some of the world’s largest and most important democracies, where we have assisted a diverse set of candidates and parties across the political spectrum. As we grow both domestically and internationally, we remain focused on providing creative digital approaches to reaching and persuading distracted voters in today’s digital-first media environment.”

Harris’ friends see a young entrepreneur who is fascinated by international affairs and recognizes an opportunity to grow his business in countries where political leaders see value in US-style digital tactics. “I think he’s genuinely committed to serving the conservative movement in the US and countries around the world,” said William McBeath, director of training and marketing at the Manning Centre, a Canadian organization that promotes conservative politics and counts Harris among the featured speakers at its annual networking conference.

Disgruntled ex-employees and dissatisfied ex-clients are less charitable. Success, these critics say, went to Harris’ head. They describe a transformation into a bro CEO, the kind who would rather be at Burning Man than in the trenches of a big race. (One senator, unhappy that Harris was dumping too much high-level work on inexperienced staff, fired Harris Media less than three months before Election Day last year.) And they believe that, though Harris initially pursued foreign campaigns as a lucrative niche to fill, the more objectionable accounts might be increasingly necessary to the firm’s survival.

“Some of us did question these campaigns, these candidates, and what they stand for,” said one former Harris Media employee, who, like many of the more than 12 ex-staffers and former clients interviewed for this story, requested anonymity to speak candidly about their experiences. “I think this latest adaptation is all of these foreign campaigns. I don’t think their reputation in the United States is favorable. They’ve burned so many bridges.”

Others believe that Harris, as one of the best in a practice area with few established specialists, remains influential and in demand in US politics. But there are questions about how long he can maintain that status the deeper he gets involved overseas. Some point to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who disappeared from the domestic political scene for years while making millions working for authoritarian figures in Eastern Europe.

“Manafort got very wealthy offering those services, so far be it from me to predict whether someone like Vincent who takes on these types of clients will suffer consequences or not — that remains to be seen,” Tim Miller, a Republican communications consultant who was active last year in anti-Trump efforts, told BuzzFeed News. “There’s a reason that Manafort wasn’t involved in US politics for decades before somebody with no standards and no interest in vetting like Donald Trump came around. Candidates who want to make sure their image and their advisers are in line with their values weren’t hiring.”

Delegates of the right-wing AfD vote ‘No’ during the AfD federal congress at the Hannover Congress Centrum on Dec. 2, 2017, in Hanover, Germany.

Alexander Koerner / Getty Images

The full scope of Harris’ work abroad — what countries, how much, or how little on behalf of one party or another — isn’t clear.

Harris, in an email and on a résumé he posted online, has said he’s done work (though with little elaboration on what kind of work) for candidates in Madagascar and training projects in Belgium, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Canada. Some of the efforts were on behalf of the International Republican Institute, a pro-democracy group in the US chaired by Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Several former employees said certain foreign accounts exist under nondisclosure agreements, while others — like Le Pen in France — are proudly described on Harris Media’s website.

Regardless, the work abroad started more than five years ago. The Arab Spring unleashed political revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa — it also opened Harris’ eyes to international expansion opportunities.

After the fall of president Hosni Mubarak in 2011, Harris traveled to Egypt to assist with election training. As he tells it, his work with persecuted Coptic Christians reinforced to him the power of the internet as a democratic equalizer. “This group of people in Egypt,” Harris said during a September presentation at the Asian Conference for Political Communication in Singapore, “can coordinate now through Facebook and actually build a strong political alliance, whereas before their power was dissolved amongst the larger majoritarian populations.”

The projects for Le Pen and AfD have pushed Harris Media’s work deeper into Euroscepticism and the hardcore nativism often associated with it.

From there, he began jumping into more foreign efforts. In 2015, he signed on with Israel’s Likud Party and the reelection campaign for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a move that fit Harris’ evangelical conservative politics, in which Israel’s importance is deeply ingrained. The timing of his hiring fueled speculation that he was a favor from some of his conservative clients back home. “I have not spoken to Senator Cruz or to Mitch McConnell about my job here,” he told the Jerusalem Post at the time. “My Israeli work is completely separate from my work in the US, so what is being reported is not true. I love Israel, and I am excited to be here to help the Likud and the prime minister use digital media in an effective and forward-looking manner.”

The firm also hooked up briefly in 2014 with the UK Independence Party, right-wing populists who, two years later, would back the Brexit campaign to leave the European Union. Harris Media notes the former client prominently on its website, and its involvement with UKIP has been lumped in with its more recent efforts in France and Germany, though Harris describes it today as minor development work. (Officials with UKIP and its former leader, Nigel Farage, told BuzzFeed News they had never heard of Harris or the firm.)

Though Likud and UKIP are complicated, involvement in British and Israeli politics isn’t necessarily so unusual for American political operatives. But work in other parts of Europe and in other parts of the world is less common.

Two former employees said the firm recently assisted Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who last month was sworn in for a second term after a disputed election and election do-over marred by violent clashes. Harris would not confirm or deny that Kenyatta was a client.

The projects for Le Pen and AfD have pushed Harris Media’s work deeper into Euroscepticism and the hardcore nativism and hostility to foreigners that’s often associated with it. Right-wing groups once on the fringes of political activity now are feeding off increasingly mainstream fears surrounding an influx of migrant refugees from war-torn nations across the Mediterranean Sea — and off anger over EU policies addressing the crisis.

There also are public safety concerns, amplified by anti-Islamic sentiment that Harris Media seems OK with stoking, as the firm did in the Facebook video for Le Pen. And in Harris, AfD found a partner for a provocative campaign that also pushed boundaries on the print side. One poster, highlighting the backsides of two women at the beach, called for bikinis over burqas. Another, featuring a pregnant woman, asked: “New Germans? We’ll make them ourselves.” Harris Media’s anti-Merkel messaging online was just as attention grabbing, though the firm’s pitch to use a “Germany for Germans” campaign reportedly was too much for the client, mindful of the Nazi echo.

“To me, this is bigger than personal attacks. To me, the internet spreads democracy. To me, the internet gives democracy.”

While Le Pen lost the presidential election in France, her National Front asserted its growing political presence. AfD made historic gains. For Harris, both were opportunities to show how, with his expertise, fringe movements and minority parties can compete with the establishment. In a way it was as fundamentally simple as herding people together on social media and making them feel comfortable confessing their unpopular opinions. But this is a potential gold rush for enterprising US consultants. Antiestablishment leaders looking for an edge will pay good money for Americanized tactics. “They didn’t have contacts at Facebook, Twitter, or Google before we came in,” Josh Canter, a Harris Media operative who was based in Berlin for the German elections, told Bloomberg Businessweek in September.

At the Singapore conference in September, several weeks before the German elections, Harris acknowledged the mean and divisive political culture that feasts online. “But to me, this is bigger than feelings,” he said. “To me, this is bigger than personal attacks. To me, the internet spreads democracy. To me, the internet gives democracy.”

A few moments later in the speech, a video of which Harris posted to his personal website, he mused, “Do we remember how it was before the internet, y’all?”

Vincent Harris in his office.

Drew Anthony Smith

Harris was an early adopter of the internet as a political tool.

As a high school student in Northern Virginia, he launched to chronicle happenings in local politics. At first, he published anonymously. “He had to,” said Sean Connaughton, who at the time was a Prince William County supervisor. “I think if anyone knew it was a 16-year-old putting this stuff up, no one would have paid attention to it.”

Even after Harris outed himself, Connaughton said, some suspected he was merely a front for Connaughton or for Rep. Tom Davis, then the area congressman. Harris had volunteered for both, even climbing into a smelly old elephant costume to represent his Republican patrons at parades. ( remains live after all these years, but the most recent post is from March. The content has become more of a self-promotional vehicle for Harris, and links to early entries lead to error pages.)

Harris went pro in college, at Baylor University, where he was known among classmates as a devout Christian conservative — the kind of kid who asked you to share a favorite Bible passage. From Waco, Texas, he signed on to 2008 campaigns for the state’s then-junior senator, John Cornyn, and for presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee. He sold both on a unique strategy: talking to political bloggers like him. For Huckabee, who lacked the money to wage a big ad campaign, such exposure was valuable. The former Arkansas governor staged a surprise win in the Iowa caucuses that year. Cornyn cruised to a second term.

“We called him Blogger Boy,” said John Drogin, a Republican strategist who worked for Cornyn’s reelection campaign at the time. “Back in 2008, it was a slightly different digital landscape.”

“Vincent was really a pioneer of his craft and found his voice in the midst of a field that was unknown.”

In The Lead-Up To Doug Jones’ Win, Groups Actually Spent Millions Trying To Mobilize Black Voters

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Doug Jones couldn’t have won in Alabama without black voters. National and local Democratic groups knew that — and spent millions trying to turn those voters out.

And even though the Alabama race may be an outlier, some of those groups now hope that the victory is a blueprint for the party in the South — where a few thousand votes could make a huge difference — as they try to pick up more House seats and governor’s mansions.

In the weeks before Jones’ victory, there were preemptive concerns that Democrats had not done enough to turn out black voters, some of whom were, at best, unenthused about Jones. Those worries proved unfounded: While some white rural and suburban voters stayed home with the infamous Roy Moore on the ballot, black people in Alabama punched above their weight — comprising 29% of voters in the election despite only accounting for around 27% of the state’s population, according to exit poll data. Black women, in particular, voted for Jones in near solidarity at 98%.

An array of Democratic groups poured money and time into Alabama: the NAACP, the Democratic National Committee, Priorities USA Action, and newer groups like BlackPAC (which, along with its coordinated arm, spent more than $2.1 million in the state). BlackPAC also knocked on nearly 500,000 doors and spoke with more than 120,000 people about issues surrounding the election, Executive Director Adrianne Shropshire told BuzzFeed News.

The organization also partnered with groups organizing in black churches and engaging millennial black voters.

Shropshire believes that to win in the South, Democrats need to up their game of engaging black voters. “We know that there are real opportunities for progressives to win in the south and we know that there are opportunities coming up. Whether it’s Stacey Abrams in Georgia or Andrew Gillum in Florida there are opportunities to support progressive candidates,” Shropshire said, referring to the competitive governors’ races in Georgia and Florida.

Next year, there could also potentially be a competitive Senate race in Tennessee and — more promising — House races across the South.

Although BlackPAC isn’t quite ready to say where they’ll be focusing their efforts next, Priorities USA said they’re looking to support candidates in Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan, and Arizona, and they’re eyeing gubernatorial races in the South.

Priorities USA, the best-known Democratic super PAC and which backed Hillary Clinton in 2016, spent $1.5 million dollars alongside Senate Majority PAC during the Alabama special election. The majority of that ($1 million) was specifically spent on mobilizing black voters, the chairman of Priorities USA, Guy Cecil, told BuzzFeed News.

Priorities USA emphasized traditional voter mobilization — education efforts about the date of the election and polling places. They also crafted an education effort that catered to younger voters online about the “extremist and racist” statements previously made by Moore.

Cecil told BuzzFeed News that Priorities USA learned lessons that Democrats should embrace ahead of the 2018 elections. “Democrats need to expand key demographics that they want to mobilize in black groups and other communities of color if they want to increase turnout,” he said.

The overall question of black turnout continues to loom large for Democrats’ national ambitions. Voter participation was down somewhat in 2016, which people have attributed to everything from President Obama no longer being on the ballot to voting rules making it more difficult for black communities to vote, to Hillary Clinton not holding the same kind of appeal as Obama and Democratic failures to motivate and focus on issues important to black voters.

This year, Democratic turnout has exploded, especially in states where Republicans have a significant edge, like Alabama. National Democratic groups have also invested: Earlier this fall in Virginia, liberal billionaire Tom Steyer financed a narrow effort that targeted students at black colleges and universities in the state. In the final week of his campaign, Jones campaigned heavily with prominent black Democrats, including Sen. Cory Booker and former governor Deval Patrick. The DNC also played a more reserved role in Alabama, quietly spending $1 million on the race and dispatching over 30 aides.

Meanwhile, in addition to the efforts from national progressive groups, the Alabama NAACP also put together an initiative to mobilize voters by educating them about the special election and the proper IDs required to vote. The group says members called every voter who hadn’t participated in an election since former president Obama was on a ballot to encourage them to participate in the election.

“We had a lot at stake here in Alabama from health care and education to voter suppression which is crippling a lot of people here so we had to get people informed early,” Jerry Burnet, Alabama NAACP state political action chair, told BuzzFeed News.

Shropshire believes there’s a shift happening in how the Democratic Party courts black voters and that the model could work in other southern states if the party engages with black voters early and invests in the infrastructure to assist local black and progressive organizations. It’s particularly important to fund groups already organizing voters in those communities and to continue educating voters about the obstacles they might face at the polls.

“I think the degree to which we can address the voter suppression tactics we’ll see greater participation and part of the reason [Tuesday] was so amazing was that 29% of the electorate did all of that in spite of that, and Alabama voters really did win both for themselves and for the country,” Shropshire said.

Key Officials Push Back Against Trump Campaign’s Claim That A Federal Office Illegally Turned Over Emails To Special Counsel

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

A lawyer for the Trump transition team on Saturday accused a federal agency of illegally and unconstitutionally turning over thousands of emails to the Special Counsel’s Office.

Specifically, the General Services Administration (GSA) turned over emails written during the transition — the period between Election Day 2016 and Inauguration Day 2017 — and the Trump campaign is claiming in a letter that the decision to do so violated the law.

Officials with both the Special Counsel’s Office and GSA, however, pushed back against the Trump campaign lawyer’s claims in the hours after the letter was issued.

Fox News first reported the existence of the letter, following an Axios report about the emails having been obtained by Special Counsel’s Office.

The GSA — which is responsible under law for providing the presidential transition with office space, supplies like phones and laptops, and “” emails — was instructed after President Trump had taken office to preserve records from the transition in connection with ongoing investigations.

In the seven-page letter, which was sent to congressional committee leaders on Saturday, a lawyer for the Trump campaign, Kory Langhofer, wrote, “We understand that the Special Counsel’s Office has subsequently made extensive use of the materials it obtained from the GSA, including materials that are susceptible to privilege claims.”

According to the letter, the Mueller investigation requested, in a pair of August letters, “the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials” for nine transition team members working on “national security and policy matters” and four other “senior” transition team members.

Langhofer argues in the letter that the decision by GSA officials went against what he calls “the GSA’s previous acknowledgement concerning” the Trump campaign’s “rightful ownership and control of” transition team materials.

Langhofer claims the production of transition materials to the Special Counsel’s Office by GSA violated “GSA’s duties to” the Trump campaign, a Presidential Transition Act requirement that “computers or communications services” to the transition team be “secure,” and the Fourth Amendment. (At the same time, however, Langhofer makes clear he believes the current law should be changed “to protect future presidential transitions from having their private records misappropriated by government agencies.”)

The letter also makes a specific claim about communication between the government and the campaign — that Richard Beckler, then the general counsel of the GSA, “acknowledged unequivocally to [the Trump campaign’s] legal counsel” in a June 15 discussion that the Trump campaign “owned and controlled” emails, and that “any requests for the production of PTT [Presidential Transition Team] records would therefore be routed to legal counsel for [the Trump campaign].”

Langhofer puts much of the blame for the move on a career government employee, GSA Deputy Counsel Lenny Loewentritt, who he says was present for those assurances. (Beckler “was hospitalized and incapacitated” in August, according to the letter, and has since died.)

“Career GSA staff, working with Mr. Loewentritt and at the direction of the FBI, immediately produced all the materials requested by the Special Counsel’s Office — without notifying TFA [Trump for America] or filtering or redacting privileged material,” Langhofer writes.

In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News on Saturday night, Loewentritt — whose LinkedIn represents that he has worked at the agency since 1972 — disputed the claims made in the letter sent by the Trump campaign.

“Beckler never made that commitment,” he said of the claim that any requests for transition records would be routed to the Trump campaign’s counsel.

Specifically, Loewentritt said, “in using our devices,” transition team members were informed that materials “would not be held back in any law enforcement” actions.

Loewentritt read to BuzzFeed News a series of agreements that anyone had to agree to when using GSA materials during the transition, including that there could be monitoring and auditing of devices and that, “Therefore, no expectation of privacy can be assumed.”

Loewentritt told BuzzFeed News that the GSA initially “suggested a warrant or subpoena” for the materials, but that the Special Counsel’s Office determined the letter route was sufficient.

As to whether the Trump campaign should have been informed of the request, Loewentritt said, “That’s between the Special Counsel and the transition team.”

Asked about Langhofer’s letter and Loewentritt’s statements — and after publication of this story — a spokesperson for the Special Counsel’s Office, Peter Carr, told BuzzFeed News, “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”

Read the Trump campaign lawyer’s letter:

Read the Trump campaign lawyer's letter: