Brett Bachman

Intra-party Dem rift plays out on cable shows as AOC blasts colleagues for feeding 'right-wing vitriol'

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backtracked her criticism of fellow Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., during an interview on CNN Sunday — just minutes before Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, appeared on the same show to blast Pelosi and her colleagues for amplifying the "right-wing vitriol" focused on Omar.

The growing intra-party rift started with a tweet last week from Omar, which said, "We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban."

The comment sparked fierce backlash on both sides of the aisle, with many taking offense to any comparison between the U.S. and Israel to the two terrorist groups. A bipartisan group of 12 Jewish Congresspeople first released a statement saying the tweet was "as offensive as it is misguided," before Pelosi and House Democratic leaders piled on with a rare statement of their own.

"Drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all," the statement read.

But several of Omar's Democratic colleagues also rushed to her defense, including AOC, who said the comment was taken out of context. She also pointed out that the tweet came in the form of a question to State Anthony Blinken, to discuss methods of recourse for innocent victims of Israeli and Afghan government violence.

The Minnesota Democrat later clarified the remarks, saying she was in "no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems."

Pelosi thanked her for the statement and later told CNN's Dana Bash during an interview on the network's Sunday morning show, "State of the Union," that she considered the incident to be over.

"Let me just say this. We did not rebuke her," Pelosi said, waving off the subject. "What I'm saying is, end of subject. [Omar] clarified, we thanked her, end of subject."

But later in the segment during a separate interview with Ocasio-Cortez, it became clear that the subject was still raw for progressive representatives, who have borne the brunt of recent right-wing criticism and threats since the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.

"This whole hubbub started with right-wing news outlets taking what [Omar] said out of context," Ocasio-Cortez told Bash. "And when we feed into that, it adds legitimacy to a lot of this kind of right wing vitriol. It absolutely kind of increases that target. And as someone who has experienced that, you know, it's very difficult to communicate the scale and how dangerous that is."

Investigators reportedly approaching Trump Org. as if it were a mafia family

Prosecutors appear to be treating their investigation of former President Donald Trump's business empire as if it were a mafia family, according to several reports out this week.

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance is likely considering criminal charges centered around the idea that the Trump Organization is a "corrupt enterprise" under a New York state racketeering statute resembling the federal RICO law — an abbreviation for the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which was passed in 1970 to crack down on pervasive organized crime — several legal experts and former prosecutors told Politico.

"No self-respecting state white-collar prosecutor would forgo considering the enterprise corruption charge," longtime New York City defense attorney Robert Anello said. "I'm sure they're thinking about that."

The law, known colloquially as "little RICO," kicks in if prosecutors can establish that an organization or business has committed at least three separate crimes — a "pattern of criminal behavior," in legal parlance. A sentence under the statute can result in up to 25 years in prison — with a mandatory minimum of one year.

Vance has even hired a veteran mob prosecutor and expert in white-collar crime, Mark Pomerantz, to bolster his team, the New York Times reported in February.

Trump himself has a long history with several prominent New York City mob families — building his signature Trump Tower in Manhattan with help from a concrete company run by Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno and Paul Castellano, who at the time were bosses of the Genovese and Gambino families, Business Insider reported.

And just like in the investigations that put Salerno and Castellano behind bars, it appears prosecutors are hoping to rely on the testimony of "family" members like Trump Organization CFO Alan Weisselberg, one of the company's longest-tenured employees. His former daughter-in-law, Jennifer Weisselberg, is cooperating with Vance's investigation and says she believes her ex-husband's father will flip on Trump due to his age and aversion to spending any time in prison.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who recently agreed to join forces with Vance on her separate investigation of Trump's business dealings, has also forced Trump's son, Eric, to sit for a deposition interview, according to the New York Times.

But the decision to pursue racketeering charges carries its own risks, and many legal experts say prosecutors are better off seeking straightforward indictments on specific crimes that are easier to litigate.

"Why overcharge and complicate something that could be fairly simple?" Jeremy Saland, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan DA's office, told Politico. "Why muddy up the water? Why give a defense attorney something that could confuse a jury and be able to crow that they beat a charge in a motion to dismiss?"

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, and blasted the investigations as politically inspired "witch hunts."

Meet the anti-legalization GOP Congresswoman cashing in on marijuana stocks

Rep. Virginia Foxx, a North Carolina Republican with an influential post on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, has spent her Congressional career advocating against the legalization of marijuana — while also loading up on hundreds of thousands of dollars in marijuana-industry stocks ahead of crucial votes on key federal decriminalization measures, Salon has learned.

Foxx, 77, has made at least six investments in Altria, one of the world's largest tobacco companies and a leader in the burgeoning U.S. cannabis industry, since September of last year, according to financial disclosure reports.

The purchases, which have not previously been reported, likely make her the largest holder of marijuana-related stocks in Congress, according to a report from Unusual Whales, a market research firm. It's impossible to say for certain, however, because members of Congress are not required to disclose the exact amounts of their investments.

The trades are especially newsworthy for their timing: beginning just a few months before the U.S. House of Representatives passed the the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment & Expungement Act (MORE) in December, which would serve to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level — a key goal of advocates who say the drug's current status as a controlled substance represents a key roadblock to full legalization. Foxx voted against the measure.

Her investments raise concerns over the ethical problems members of Congress create when trading individual stocks within an industry their actions have the potential to influence.

"This is so obviously a conflict of interest, I'm just not sure what else I can say, really," Richard Painter, a former White House ethics attorney under President George W. Bush and University of Minnesota law professor, told Salon. "It brings into question her credibility as a lawmaker."

Rep. Foxx's office did not respond to a request for comment.

The MORE Act ultimately wasn't taken up for a vote in the then-Republican-controlled Senate, effectively killing the measure. It was reintroduced in the House Friday by Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York, and has a greater chance of success given the Senate's new Democratic majority.

At least four of Foxx's investments in marijuana-industry stock came between the initial MORE Act vote in December and Friday. In all, records show she has purchased somewhere between $79,000 and $210,000 in Altria stock. It remains unclear whether she is currently holding these investments — though no sales have been reported.

Legalization has been a hot-button issue for the North Carolina representative, whose inflammatory public statements on the matter have been staunchly against several initiatives spearheaded by House Democrats.

"Democrats can't get their minds off pot bills, and they think it's more important than: Supporting small businesses, Safely reopening schools, Protecting the livelihoods of Americans," she wrote on Twitter. "No wonder their majority is shrinking. They're so far removed from reality."

"What are Republicans fighting to protect? Jobs," she wrote in another tweet on President Joe Biden's COVID-19 relief bill. "What are Democrats fighting to protect? Pot. What a joke."

Though her marijuana-related investments likely dwarf other members, she is far from the only Congressperson to cash in on the budding sector — at least 20 House members and six Senators have reported either purchases or sales of industry stocks since 2020, records show.

Two other representatives are notable for their significant investments in cannabis over the past year: Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, and Rep. Brian Mast, R-Florida.

Rep. Yarmuth, a co-sponsor of the MORE Act with a powerful post as chairman of the House Budget Committee, takes the record for most diversified marijuana industry portfolio in Congress — with November investments in Canopy Growth Corporation, Aurora Cannabis, and Tilray, as well as February pickups in the same three companies, public disclosures show. He has also reported past investments in at least three other industry stocks, according to Unusual Whales: Cronos Group, Altria and Anheuser-Busch, whose primary business is not in marijuana but has made several recent high-profile ventures into the arena. Yarmuth remains one of the staunchest defenders of legalization in Congress.

Rep Mast was one of only five Republicans who voted to approve the MORE Act — but not before purchasing between $15,000 and and $50,000 in Tilray, the Canadian cannabis giant, disclosure reports reveal. Mast is a U.S. Army veteran who lost both his legs during an explosion in Afghanistan. He has generally supported more research into the effects of legalization and said during a town hall in 2016 that he is a "proponent for alternative forms of medicine."

Why QAnon content 'evaporated' online

New social media policies meant to limit the spread of QAnon conspiracies online appear to be working, new research shows.

The study, conducted by the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensics Lab, found that QAnon conspiracy-related phrases "evaporated" from both mainstream and alternative social media sites, like Parler and Gab, following high-profile moderation efforts from companies like Facebook, Google and Twitter.

In the place of a widespread Q following that grew to incredible size during the Trump presidency — a number of the Jan. 6 rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol were QAnon believers — the movement is now "a cluster of loosely connected conspiracy theory-driven movements that advocate many of the same false claims without the hallmark linguistic stylings that defined QAnon communities during their years of growth," according to the researchers, Jared Holt and Max Rizzuto.

They analyzed more than 40 million mentions of 13 widely known QAnon catchphrases and related language, including "WWG1WGA" (Where we go one we go all), "the storm," "great awakening," "trust the plan," "save the children," "Pizzagate." Their usage began in earnest last March as the COVID-19 pandemic first barrelled through the U.S. and peaked during last summer's racial justice protests — spiking again before Jan. 6 and dropping precipitously in the days following the insurrection, presumably due to the moderation changes at major social media firms.

For example, Twitter told CBS News in March that it had banned as many as 150,000 accounts for promoting Qanon conspiracies since January. Axios reported around the same time that YouTube had removed 30,000 videos promoting similar content, while its parent company, Google, banned ads on its platforms referencing Jan. 6 or even the 2020 election. Facebook implemented a fact-checking program to place warnings on posts with false or misleading information — though to what extent the warnings were used on Qanon content is still unclear. Last year, Facebook did announce a wide-ranging initiative to ban Q-related accounts.

Holt and Rizzuto do note some alternative explanations for the drop in QAnon-related content following the Capitol riot, including an extended silence from Q, who inspired the original conspiracy, self-censorship of well-known phrases in order to evade social media moderation and the dispiriting impact of Trump's loss on Q followers, who were some of the former president's biggest fans.

Perhaps most surprising were the downstream effects of mainstream social media moderation on alternative sites with little to no oversight — researchers concluded that more right-wing friendly Parler and Gab did not absorb the displaced Qanon activity from banned users of the more mainstream sites.

"Concerted content moderation works," Paul Barrett, deputy director of the NYU Stern Center for Business and Human Rights, told Axios Wednesday about the study. "When they put their minds to it, the mainstream platforms can have a very big effect on marginalizing or eliminating toxic content."

'Evil lunacy': GOP lines up to blast Marjorie Taylor Greene's comparison between mask wearing, Holocaust

One of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's fellow Republican congressmen denounced her recent comments comparing mask wearing to the Holocaust, saying the Georgia representative's statements were "beyond reprehensible."

Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., made the comments during an interview with Dana Bash on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.

"Well, first off, any comparisons to the Holocaust it's beyond reprehensible," he said. "I don't even have words to describe how disappointing it is to see this hyperbolic speech that, frankly amps up and plays into a lot of the anti-Semitism that we've been seeing in our society today. Vicious attacks on the streets of New York and in Los Angeles."

Greene made her initial statement during an interview earlier this week on Real America's Voice, a right-wing cable news network.

"You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany," Greene said when asked about mask policies. "And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about."

Other Republicans in both houses of Congress also lined up over the weekend to denounce their colleague for the hyperbolic statement. Rep. Liz Cheney, who was recently ousted from her GOP leadership role for contesting former President Donald Trump's false claims of election fraud, tweeted "This is evil lunacy."

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Illinois, also tweeted his denunciation of Greene's comments: "Absolute sickness."

It's the latest flare-up over the first-term congresswoman's incendiary and often bizarre public statements. Green was booted from all her committee assignments in February over past comments on social media calling for violence against Democrats and her endorsement of elements of the Qanon conspiracy theory (though she claims to no longer believe in it as a whole).

Greene later defended her statements in a local news interview.

"I stand by all of my statements, I said nothing wrong," she said.

Why Sen. Rand Paul says he will not get COVID-19 vaccine

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., one of the foremost right-wing critics of the U.S. COVID-19 response, now says he will not get vaccinated against the virus.

The ultimatum came during an interview with WABC 770 AM radio host John Catsimatidis, during which the Kentucky libertarian called it a "personal decision" informed by his previous bout with COVID-19 during March 2020.

"Until they show me evidence that people who have already had the infection are dying in large numbers, or being hospitalized or getting very sick, I just made my own personal decision that I'm not getting vaccinated because I've already had the disease and I have natural immunity now," Paul said.

The statement from Paul, an ophthalmologist by trade, flies in the face of official recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, which encourages vaccination for people who have already contracted the virus. Researchers are still trying to determine how long natural immunity lasts — with some reports suggesting that the body's protection can wane after as few as 90 days.

Paul has engaged in several public flare-ups with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, over guidance that Paul sees as overly strict. Fauci, for his part, has pointed out that the speed at which we vaccinate individuals is also the speed with which the country will return to normal.

During his interview Sunday, Paul compared the strong CDC recommendation for COVID-19 vaccination to "Big Brother," a reference to the dystopian surveillance state in George Orwell's novel 1984.

"Are they also going to tell me I can't have a cheeseburger for lunch? Are they going to tell me that I have to eat carrots only and cut my calories?" Paul added. "All that would probably be good for me, but I don't think big brother ought to tell me to do it."

As of Sunday, 38.9 percent of all Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC.

'Begging for oversight': Meet the Republican congressman cashing in on the rise of cryptocurrency

Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., made history last month as the first congressman to cash in on the cryptocurrency Dogecoin's wild ride — making two purchases between $1,000 and $15,000 each, according to public disclosure forms.

The investments added to Green's already hefty crypto portfolio, which contains Basic Attention Token, CELO, EOS, Etherium, and Stellar Lumens, according to an analysis compiled by Unusual Whales, a market research startup. He's one of only three U.S. representatives known to have invested in the burgeoning technology.

Given the fact that discussions over industry regulation are currently ongoing, such an investment by a sitting member of Congress is "entirely inappropriate," says Richard Painter, a former White House ethics attorney under President George W. Bush and University of Minnesota law professor.

"It boggles my mind that this is allowed," Painter told Salon. "We have conflict of interest laws that govern executive branch officials in charge of regulation. Why is it that legislators are treated any differently?"

Green's office declined to comment for this report.

The stalwart conservative began his career as an Army physician, and he was known during his time in the Tennessee Legislature for helping end the state's income tax program and pushing the well debunked theory that vaccines were causing widespread autism in American children. Green's recent cause célèbre has been opposition to "critical race theory," introducing a bill this month to ban diversity training and antiracist lessons from being taught in military service academies.

Since his first Dogecoin purchase on April 1, when it was sitting near $0.06, the dog-themed digital currency has gone on an incredible ascent, doubling in value to $0.12 by the time Green made his second acquisition two weeks later on April 14.

Dogecoin, which was initially created in 2013 as a joke, was trading for as low as $0.01 earlier this year before a renaissance fueled by high-profile endorsements from the likes of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Food Network star Guy Fieri, fitness guru Jillian Michaels, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and KISS frontman Gene Simmons, among many others. Doge traded for as much as 0.72 cents on May 7.

It also appears Green cashed out at least some of his investment at the right time, offloading $1,000 to $15,000 on May 11 — just days after Musk's appearance on SNL reportedly sent the cryptocurrency crashing. At the time Green sold, Doge was trading for about $0.50 — a whopping 733% increase from his first purchase on April 1.

Since then, Dogecoin has continued to fall, and was sitting near $0.34 as of Friday afternoon.

Green's crypto obsession is relatively recent, beginning with two purchases of $1,000 to $15,000 each in Basic Attention Token and CELO in March, disclosure documents show. He also purchased another $1,000 to $15,000 each in EOS, Etherium, and Stellar on April 13.

It remains unclear whether the congressman still holds the investments today — though no sales have been reported.

The purchases come as Congress and other federal regulatory agencies weigh how to go about oversight of the relatively new industry, which has been plagued from its inception by volatility, criminal connections and even outright manipulation, experts say.

"This has been something that's begging for some oversight," Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., chair of the Intelligence Committee, told Bloomberg this week.

The efforts have been plagued by older legislators, who by their own admission don't know much about the technology.

Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R.-Wyo., and Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R.-Va., have both disclosed investments in Bitcoin, perhaps the best known cryptocurrency. Lummis, who took office earlier this year, told Fox News that one of her first priorities was to explain Bitcoin to her colleagues — though even she admits an uphill battle.

"I'm still in learning mode," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said of the technology in an interview with Bloomberg recently. "As we all are."

'Outrageous': Georgia heads for yet another long-shot 2020 election review

A Georgia county appears headed for another review of last year's presidential election results — the latest in a long string of increasingly long-shot attempts by Trump allies to uncover seemingly nonexistent voter fraud and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 election.

This most recent review in Atlanta-area Fulton County cannot change the state's results — which were certified earlier this year and have withstood several recounts already — but plaintiffs in the lawsuit that spurred the review say they're still seeking evidence of fraud and improper counting by election officials.

A Georgia judge agreed to unseal more than 145,000 absentee ballots as a part of the inquiry, but crucially decided to keep physical copies in possession of Fulton County officials, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The move is seemingly a play to avoid the bizarre, headline grabbing antics of Trump loyalists in Arizona who have subjected hundreds of thousands of ballots from metropolitan Maricopa County to a series of incredibly strange tests: scans with ultraviolet light to uncover nonexistent watermarks and forensic analysis seeking the presence of bamboo fibers (evidence of their source in "Asia"), for example.

Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero, who is handling the case, said the ballots will likely be scanned to produce high-resolution images that the plaintiffs, nine Georgia voters, will be able to review. They are seeking evidence that large numbers of the ballots were printed by machines and not filled out by voters themselves. These claims have been thoroughly debunked — the AJC points to expert testimony rebutting such claims, a full hand recount that failed to uncover any evidence of widespread fraud in Georgia, and analysis from Trump's own Attorney General and election security head.

Fulton County Commission Chairman Robb Pitts blasted the review in a statement.

"It is outrageous that Fulton County continues to be a target of those who cannot accept the results from last year's election," Pitts, a Democrat, wrote. "The votes have been counted multiple times, including a hand recount, and no evidence of fraud has been found.

"The fact remains that Fulton County safely and securely carried out an election in the midst of a public health crisis."

The nine plaintiffs have agreed to pay for the review

CNN's Chris Cuomo comes under fire over revelation that he counseled his brother on misconduct allegations

In the days after several women accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, his brother, the CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, joined a series of calls with senior members of the elder Cuomo's staff and others to strategize how the governor should respond, according to a report.

The 50-year-old cable host advised his brother to remain defiant and not resign, several sources told The Washington Post. At one point, the CNN star even reportedly used the phrase "cancel culture" to describe the situation.

The news is a stunning departure from commonly accepted journalistic norms, which state that those involved with reporting the news should not personally be involved in the events they are covering.

CNN admitted in a statement that Chris Cuomo participated in the strategy calls for his brother, and called his involvement a "mistake."

"Chris has not been involved in CNN's extensive coverage of the allegations against Governor Cuomo — on air or behind the scenes, in part because, as he has said on his show, he could never be objective. But also because he often serves as a sounding board for his brother," the statement reads.

"However, it was inappropriate to engage in conversations that included members of the Governor's staff, which Chris acknowledges. He will not participate in such conversations going forward."

Prior to Thursday's news, Chris Cuomo had already come under fire in 2020 for a series of softball interviews with his brother, one of the most powerful politicians in the country, as his state became the epicenter of a global COVID-19 pandemic. The coverage gave CNN a huge ratings boost.

"Obviously I love you as a brother, obviously I'll never be objective, obviously I think you're the best politician in the country," he said during one of the conversations.

It was later revealed that the younger Cuomo also benefited directly from his sibling's powerful perch in Albany, receiving preferential COVID-19 testing at his Hamptons home from top state officials in charge of the state's pandemic response.

CNN said it will not discipline Chris Cuomo as a result of the news.

'Why should anybody believe a word you say?' Chuck Todd battles Dan Crenshaw over GOP's slide into Trumpism

It was an unusually contentious Sunday morning on NBC's "Meet the Press" as host Chuck Todd sparred with Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, over reporting on the continued falsehoods being pushed by former President Donald Trump about the 2020 election.

"Why should anybody believe a word you say if the Republican Party itself doesn't have credibility?" Todd asked at one point.

The action really heated up when Todd pointed out that the actions of certain Republicans, like Crenshaw's support for a failed lawsuit that would effectively have tossed out legitimate election results in several swing states, are then weaponized by Trump and spun into a false narrative of unsecure elections.

Just yesterday, the former president released several diatribes lashing out against fellow GOP leaders, including Mitch McConnell and Mike Pence, for not doing more to help him stay in power and overturn last November's election results. "As our Country is being destroyed, both inside and out, the Presidential Election of 2020 will go down as THE CRIME OF THE CENTURY!" he wrote.

Crenshaw, who earlier in the show said that questions over the legitimacy of the 2020 election should be dropped, countered Todd by saying, "You guys in the press love doing this. And I get it, the press is largely liberal."

Todd interjected: "Don't start that. There's nothing lazier than that excuse."

"I'm not going to take the bait," Crenshaw said.

"I'm not trying to bait you" Todd replied.


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