Why We Shouldn’t Let the #MeToo Movement Change History

As if by unspoken assent, we’ve adopted a name for our overdue reckoning with sexual harassment and assault: It’s the “Me Too Moment.” “Me too,” everyone knows, comes from the Twitter hashtag by which women are sharing their experiences with sexual predators of various sorts after the New York Times’s exposé of Harvey Weinstein. But the word “moment” is significant as well. It reminds us that there’s a time factor at work, a historical element. Starting now, it promises, we’re taking a harder line against these offenses than we did in the past.

Most of us take some satisfaction in seeing women emboldened to speak out where they had once been intimidated and seeing justice finally delivered to rank offenders. But for those concerned about history, there’s also a danger in some of the arguments being tossed about. If we’re not attentive to the history implicit in the “Me Too Moment” phrase—the reality that people and the press viewed aberrant sexual behavior differently in other eras—we risk misinterpreting the past. If we expect historical actors to have abided by codes of behavior we set out in 2017, we betray the historical project of understanding why people acted as they did. This concern comes to mind with the deeply confused suggestion, now touted as a form of virtue-signaling, that Bill Clinton should have been removed from office during independent counsel Ken Starr’s jihad-like investigation of his sexual behavior in 1998.

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There are lots of reasons why feminists and other liberals were in fact correct to defend Clinton during the impeachment saga. One is that the charges against him—lying about a consensual if still wildly inappropriate affair—just didn’t rise to the level of impeachment, the way Nixon’s constitutional crimes in Watergate had. To have countenanced Clinton’s impeachment or resignation would have dramatically lowered the bar for cashiering a president and legitimated the already rampant process of using scandal-mongering as a proxy for electoral politics. A second reason, newly hard to recall in this feverish moment, is that the claims of assault that a few people now regret downplaying were never established as true, and not even Starr saw fit to include them in his referral to Congress.

But perhaps the most profound if subtle reason for rejecting the retrospective support for impeachment or resignation is that it substitutes the norms of 2017 for those of another time. It’s one thing to wish that society had overall taken sexual harassment more seriously in the past (though it was hardly ignored in the 1990s, as some seem to think)—an innocuous though historically meaningless assertion. But it’s another to selectively readjudicate one specific political crisis by the standards of a different historical era—an act that risks distorting our understanding of how and why people acted as they did.

History requires reconstructing the thought processes of historical actors, which are invariably different from our own. The way people acted in the past was shaped by assumptions, conditions and norms, some of them deeply embedded in their culture. Those norms shift over time, and it can be surprising to see how differently people in other ages thought about any number of problems, including the intersection of sex and politics. The Gilded Age, for example, boasted a rowdy political culture in which the yellow press splashed tales of politicians’ philandering on its front pages, with respectable papers like the New York Times often hard on its heels. Today we remember little more from that era than the taunt that greeted presidential candidate Grover Cleveland in 1884—“Ma, Ma, Where’s my Pa?”—when he copped to fathering a child with an unwed woman. (He weathered the story, prompting the riposte from his supporters, “Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” Two years later, at age 49, he married a 21-year-old, Frances Folsom, in the White House.) Yet debate swirled over how much politicians’ sexual transgressions should be publicly aired and censured. In a famous 1890 law article, Louis Brandeis and his law partner, Samuel Warren called for a “right to privacy” to shield individuals from having their personal lives unduly vetted.

In other periods, though, people saw things differently. In the mid-20th century, a time of societal deference to authority, politicians’ sex lives were usually deemed private. In an article from the Journal of American History in 2000, journalist John H. Summers, then a history Ph.D. student, asked, “What Happened to Sex Scandals?” Summers noted that where Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Cleveland and other 19th-century leaders had to tend to their reputations for “sexual rectitude,” 20th-century presidents such as Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy—and, he might have added, Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson—“benefited from this more circumspect pattern in political speech.” People today sometimes say that the press “covered up” for Kennedy, or these other politicians, but that wording misconstrues how norms work. Kennedy’s womanizing wasn’t reported because it wasn’t news, according to what people thought at the time. Tales of behavior by these men that today might be called harassment, or at least lecherous, emerged only after their deaths.

But if mid-century public mores tolerated adultery (and more) by political figures, other behaviors were, confusingly, frowned upon. Many voters looked askance at Adlai Stevenson’s divorce when he ran for president in the 1950s, and when New York governor Nelson Rockefeller left his wife for a younger woman, it seemed to hurt his White House bid (in fact his support for civil rights may have hurt him more). By Ronald Reagan’s election—never mind Donald Trump’s—that concern would seem quaint, at best. And of course homosexuality in these years was not just stigmatized but persecuted—seen, according to the prevailing prejudices, as tantamount to subversion or easy grounds for blackmail. The Eisenhower administration barred gays and lesbians from government employment, leading to a purge at the State Department.

The 1960s unraveled that dominant morality. A new generation revolted against strictures on sex and the deference accorded to authority figures. The skepticism fueled a muckraking renaissance, symbolized by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Watergate reporting but embodied as well by innumerable cases of audacious investigative journalism. Although this new “literature of exposure” focused mainly on policy and corruption, journalists began reporting on politicians’ sex lives in ways that had been verboten just years before. In 1974 Congressman Wilbur Mills of Arkansas was caught with a stripper name Fanne Foxe, and although reelected, ended up resigning. (His public drunkenness hurt him too.) Two years later Wayne Hays of Ohio resigned after he was found to have put on his payroll a mistress who told the Washington Post, “I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone.” These scandals, which might once have been kept under wraps, showed that the old regime of privacy was starting to collapse.

Sexual behavior now became highly contested. Feminist scholars developed the legal concept of sexual harassment, which gradually worked its way into the law. Debates over open marriage, pornography and even a lower age of consent—to acknowledge the sexuality of teenagers—scrambled left/right political lines and confounded easy claims about the correct liberal, enlightened or feminist position. In Decade of Nightmares, criminologist and historian Philip Jenkins showed how post-Kinsey Report views about the varieties of sexual experience led professionals in the 1960s to defend even pederasty under certain conditions; “little of the expert writing on child abuse published between about 1955 and 1976 can be read without embarrassment,” he wrote. But in the late 1970s, a newfound concern with children—anxiety about latchkey kids, teen sex and drug use, and abduction—swung the pendulum the other way.

By the 1980s, as social taboos against the open discussion of sexuality and other restraints on behavior fell away, a politician’s sex life became fair game for reporters—though, notably, it was still considered wrong to reveal a politician’s homosexuality. (That bright line, too, would grow cloudy in the 1990s, as radical gay-rights activists “outed” closeted politicians with reactionary voting records.) Journalists rationalized their feeding frenzies by invoking the ill-defined concept of “character.” They asserted, never very convincingly, that lying about sex automatically meant that a politician was thoroughly dishonest or utterly reckless and irredeemably hypocritical—and unfit for office.

The shifting standards about sexual conduct yielded new sex scandals: In 1983, the House of Representatives censured two congressmen, Democrat Gerry Studds and Republican Dan Crane, for having sex with 17-year-old pages—a boy in Studds’ case, a girl in Crane’s. Studds’ constituents reelected him; Crane’s bounced him. But the most famous case from the 1980s was surely that of Colorado senator Gary Hart, the front-runner for the upcoming Democratic presidential nomination, who was hounded out of the race in 1987 after news broke of his extramarital romp with a younger model. No one alleged anything worse than infidelity, but it added up to “bad character.”

Although sexual harassment had figured in assorted political scandals in the 1980s, in 1991 it became a household word. That year the Senate, despite having concluded its hearings on Clarence Thomas’s appointment to fill Thurgood Marshall’s old Supreme Court seat, reopened them when a former colleague of his at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Anita Hill, charged him with harassment. (So did other women, but their cases were, astonishingly, never heard.) Broadcast round the clock, the Thomas hearings proved a watershed, elevating public awareness about harassment (even if the public tended to believe Thomas over Hill). But it also encouraged the use of sexual wrongdoing as a political cudgel. The Democrats’ decision to try to keep Thomas off the bench on account of his boorish character, rather than his conservative ideology, was a mistake that opened a can of worms.

There was, to be sure, a logic to that strategy. Since the 1960s, senators had forsaken their onetime deference to the president in court appointments, challenging and at times blocking nominees under Presidents Johnson, Nixon and Reagan; but the pretense, maintained by both parties, that ideology should play no role in assessing a potential justice had led everyone to disingenuously pin their objections to various nominees on whether someone bought a house with a restrictive covenant, smoked marijuana, engaged in financial wrongdoing or committed other non-political offenses. Like those sins, sexual harassment could be used against a nominee without seeming overly political. The only problem was that the pretense was tissue-thin: Anyone could see that the weight that someone placed on any given charge correlated heavily with which side of a political fight he or she was on.

That sexual harassment charges (and other non-political allegations) had come to constitute politics by other means provides the context for the Bill Clinton sex scandals in the 1990s. Post-Weinstein, longtime Clinton-haters like Maureen Dowd and Andrew Sullivan, conservative moralists like Ross Douthat, and with a few liberals like Jeff Greenfield, have urged Democrats to reassess their support for the president during the impeachment crisis. Michael Tomasky has called that revisionism ahistorical (he actually said “insane”) because it omits this crucial context. Those who didn’t live through it or haven’t studied the history need reminding that just as Barack Obama’s election as president in 2008, despite his confession of youthful pot and cocaine use, represented a public rebuff of the policing of politicians’ past drug consumption, so Clinton’s election in 1992 amounted to a call for restraint in the feeding frenzies over candidates’ sex lives. Ever since Clinton made a veiled admission of adultery at the famous Sperling Breakfast, and he withstood the uproar after Gennifer Flowers went public during the 1992 campaign with stories of her affair with him, voters—at least those who backed him—acknowledged his flaws as a man while being impressed with his accomplishments and talents as a politician.

That verdict remained in place during his presidency, when Starr investigated first the Whitewater land deal and, when that probe foundered, Clinton’s sexual past. Though the news in January 1998 that the president had had an affair with a young former intern, Monica Lewinsky, outraged many people, most Americans soon decided it hardly warranted his resignation. (Most of his supporters, it is now forgotten, did condemn his actions.) On the contrary, as the year went on, calls mounted for Starr and the impeachment-crazed Republicans to desist, while Clinton’s popularity, remarkably, climbed.

Sexual harassment? It was never part of the impeachment case. Paula Jones’s separate lawsuit against Clinton for harassment became intertwined with Starr’s investigation only because of collusion between the two legal teams, via Ann Coulter and other conservative lawyers knows as “the elves” who served as conduits; they realized that Clinton’s January 1998 deposition in the Jones suit provided an occasion to air a series of relationships he allegedly had with other women, including Lewinsky, and maybe trap him in a lie. But in April 1998, Judge Susan Webber Wright concluded that Clinton’s behavior toward Jones, whatever the truth of her account, didn’t amount to harassment. And almost no one argued that Jones’s claims, if true, warranted Clinton’s ouster from the White House. To suggest otherwise is to impose the thinking of 2017 on that of 1998.

As for Juanita Broaddrick, her late-1970s allegation of rape, which she had previously recanted under oath, was trotted out by House Republicans at the eleventh hour only because they saw their case for impeachment crumbling. Fished out of Starr’s supplementary files after he had submitted his report to Congress, her disputed claim was officially kept secret because Starr hadn’t used it in his impeachment referral to Congress. Republicans began leaking it to the press in a desperate last-ditch effort to turn public opinion against Clinton. “Suddenly,” writes Ken Gormley, in his definitive history of the crisis, The Death of American Virtue, “a steady stream of congressmen, mostly Republican, were digging into this top-secret stash and, in the cloakrooms of Congress, whispering about ‘rape.’” Any of us today can choose to believe or disbelieve Jones and Broaddrick or a third accuser, Kathleen Willey—or, as seems wise, to remain agnostic—but those alleged incidents never formed the argument for removing the president, as some today wrongly suppose. One can assert that they should have mattered more, but that’s an empty wish. There are many aspects of past eras we might disown today and wish had been otherwise, but the political culture of a bygone era has to be considered in toto in order to understand the past.

When we do reimmerse ourselves in the political culture of the late 1990s, we see that Clinton’s acquittal in the Senate represented a necessary and widely praised rebuke to the Republicans’ scorched-earth politics and the media’s willingness to delve limitlessly into politicians’ sex lives. It affirmed a vital constitutional principle that impeachment shouldn’t be used for mere political purposes; to have supported his impeachment or resignation would have encouraged the continued politicization of the process and the further destabilization of Washington politics.

But did the acquittal also set back the cause of pursuing sexual harassment by high officials, as some argue today? The evidence suggests not. There’s no question that many cases of harassment over the years were ignored or tolerated. But the new century saw numerous cases in which charges of sexual harassment—as well as assault, sex with minors, and other forms of sexual misconduct—were aired, debated and in many instances punished. A list of the most prominent would include Gary Condit, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim McGreevey, David Vitter, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, John Ensign, Mark Souder, Eric Massa, Herman Cain, Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner and—lest we forget—Al Gore.

In these years, we as a society hadn’t yet attained post-Weinstein levels of wokeness, but neither were we as indifferent to harassment as revisionists suppose. Most of these politicians resigned their offices or saw their election campaigns fail. Vitter, who was revealed to have frequented prostitutes, won reelection in 2010 only to have the episode damage his 2015 gubernatorial bid, pushing him toward retirement. Only Schwarzenegger, who won election as governor of California despite a barage of charges, escaped unscathed. And of course Donald Trump. But the idea that feminists who defended Clinton are responsible for a generation of indifference to sexual harassment is demonstrably false.

The testimonies of so many women in recent weeks have suddenly made it harder than ever before to ignore or excuse the gross sexual misbehavior of powerful men. But it’s also suddenly harder than before to recapture—as historians must—the frame of mind, the ways of thinking, that prevailed in other eras, even in the recent past. In our understandable eagerness to make sure that justice is served, we should take care not to misread the past in the expedient service of the moment—however satisfying, overdue and pressing it may be.


Why Democrats failed to tank tax reform

The tax fight has all the ingredients that helped Democrats kill Obamacare repeal: party unity on Capitol Hill, energized liberal activists and legislation that polls in the toilet. But this time it doesn’t appear to be enough.

Democrats haven’t given up hope of stopping the Republican tax plan on the 1-yard line — relentlessly flogging the substance and process of the bill — but the reasons for their likely failure are becoming clear.

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While stripping people of health insurance strikes at a visceral human need, a debate over taxes tends to bog voters down in wonky details. Meanwhile, Democrats struggled to break through a media environment crowded with an intensifying Russia investigation, a wave of sexual harassment scandals and a fight over young undocumented immigrants. And while liberal grassroots activists sought to bring pressure to bear on GOP swing votes, the Republican Party held together this time, desperate for a major legislative victory after a year in total control of Washington.

Cutting taxes “is who they are,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of Republicans recently.

Pelosi argued that the GOP is in a “lose-lose situation.” While donors are “not going to answer their calls anymore if they don’t pass the bill,” she told reporters, “they’ll lose in the court of public opinion” if it does pass.

But after the morale boost that Democrats got from saving Obamacare earlier this year, it will be a real blow if the sweeping tax code rewrite makes its way to President Donald Trump’s desk as expected. The bill’s massive corporate tax cuts, which will help drain the Treasury of an estimated $1 trillion-plus over a decade, go against everything the party stands for. And Democrats’ next chance at serious revenge will be at the polls next year. Though they deployed the same playbook that took down Obamacare repeal, this time they met a very different outcome.

The tax debate “does feel different, I’ll acknowledge that,” Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in an interview.

Ellison pointed to the emotional gap between Obamacare and taxes as being a critical factor.

“Everybody has sat in a hospital room with a loved one and felt that tension, that anxiety, that raw emotion of how critical it is to have health care,” Ellison said. “But when you start talking about taxes, it’s complicated.”

Republicans have focused their pitch for the tax bill on the singular message of a promise to pad Americans’ wallets. While some will ultimately see tax increases — which the minority has used to help drag down the bill’s popularity — Democrats say it’s much harder to explain that without getting in the weeds and seeing voters’ eyes glaze over.

“We understand how tough this is, to talk about taxes compared to health care,” Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the tax-writing Finance Committee, told reporters. “The tax code is a dense, complicated document which I sometimes compare to prolonged root canal work.”

“But this tax bill is extraordinarily unpopular,” Wyden added.

Voters disapprove of the Republican tax bill by a whopping 55-26 percent, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. And 47 percent of independent voters reported being less likely to vote for any lawmaker who supports the bill.

Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), one of three House Democrats in charge of the caucus’ messaging, also pointed to the hyperactive pace of the news cycle as a hurdle.

In addition to taxes, lawmakers are confronting major developments in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe and sexual harassment allegations that have roiled Capitol Hill and led to the resignations of Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and the retirement of Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas).

Congressional leaders and female lawmakers have mobilized a long-dormant effort to overhaul Capitol Hill’s harassment policies. And lawmakers are bracing for the next allegations to come out.

“I think Washington is all-consumed by what’s going on with sexual harassment,” Bustos said.

Some Democrats have also privately grumbled that their party — particularly in the Senate — should have done more to stop Republicans from passing a two-week funding bill to keep the government running through Dec. 22. That, some Democrats say, gave Republicans two weeks of unfettered time to negotiate a tax bill and move it through the House and Senate before having to again deal with a potential government shutdown.

Republicans have also had fewer town hall events lately, giving liberal activists fewer opportunities to mobilize voters against the tax bill — a tactic they used to great effect against Obamacare repeal.

The left has tried to beat back the narrative that its grassroots is less interested in fighting tax cuts than saving Obamacare. While progressive groups acknowledge their opposition to the tax bill has generated less media attention, they argue activists are still making their voices heard. Protesters have ventured out to the Capitol in frigid temperatures, with dozens of activists risking arrest on the Hill during recent civil disobedience actions.

“Even though they haven’t been dominating the story in the press, I think members of Congress are well aware that their constituents oppose this thing with every cell in their bodies,” MoveOn.org Washington director Ben Wikler said in an interview.

But the GOP senators who ultimately balked at Obamacare repeal — Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and John McCain of Arizona — came around to supporting the tax bill relatively easily. While Republicans never truly came to a consensus on a post-Obamacare health care system, the party has long been united around a desire to cut taxes.

Even Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the sole Republican to vote against the Senate’s version of the bill, has now decided to support the final compromise. Republican leaders are expressing confidence that they’ll be able to send the bill to President Donald Trump’s desk by Wednesday.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to surprise a few people by the size of the vote we have here,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn told a Dallas radio station Friday a few hours before Corker announced he was on board. “The vice president is staying in country so if we need him he can cast a tie vote, but I’m betting we won’t need him.”

Indeed, even though Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) kept moderate Blue Dog House members and vulnerable Senate Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia from providing bipartisan cover to the bill, Republicans can pass the tax bill all on their own using powerful procedures that sideline the minority.

And Democrats sense an urgency within the GOP to get taxes done that wasn’t there on health care.

“Part of it was the context,” said Massachusetts Rep. Richard Neal, the top Democrat on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. “They needed a victory.”


Progressives hunt down one of the last conservative Democrats

CHICAGO — Powerful interests are lined up against him. Outside spending groups are forming to advocate for his defeat. National political figures have endorsed his opponent.

And that’s just within Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski’s own party.

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Lipinski, one of the few remaining conservative Democrats in Congress, is under siege from the left, battling for his political life against progressives who are teaming up to replace him with a candidate far more in line with liberal orthodoxy.

That candidate, Marie Newman, a businesswoman and former marketing consultant, already has high-profile endorsements from feminist icon Gloria Steinem and New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand — an unusual show of opposition against a fellow Democratic congressional incumbent.

Newman has also received a rare joint endorsement from a handful of influential progressive groups: NARAL, MoveOn.org, Democracy for America, Progressive Change Campaign Committee and Human Rights Campaign.

While Lipinski is accustomed to drawing primary challenges in his Chicago-based district, he’s never before been targeted with so much local and national firepower.

“Dan Lipinski has a real, formidable challenger like he’s never had before. The environment is different … The energy is palpable,” said Sasha Bruce, vice president for campaigns and strategies with NARAL, referring to the energy created by resistance to President Donald Trump. “This is a staunchly progressive values-Democratic district.”

First elected in 2004, Lipinski is something of an exotic species: a Democrat who opposes abortion and cast votes against both the Affordable Care Act and the DREAM Act, which sought to provide a pathway to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants.

He was the only Democrat to cosponsor the “First Amendment Defense Act,” which protects those who refuse services to same sex couples, and the only Illinois Democrat to support drug testing of those seeking unemployment benefits — a move that has at least some union leaders considering opposing his reelection.

According to one analysis, Lipinski has voted in line with Trump’s positions 34.5 percent of the time — a legislative record that is begging for a primary challenge in a highly polarized era.

Some of those votes have left a bitter aftertaste in his solidly Democratic district, which includes Latino working class neighborhoods in Chicago — the district is roughly one-third Latino — and suburbs south of the city. Until recently, Lipinski was the only Illinois Democrat not to commit to supporting the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA).

“There are quite a few precincts in the district that are heavily Latino, where immigration issues are of primary concern and he’s just never been anyone who has supported immigrants,” said Democratic state Rep. Theresa Mah, whose own legislative district overlaps with the congressman’s.

Progressives long frustrated with Lipinski’s habit of siding with Republicans view the March 20 primary as the best chance they’ve had in years to unseat him. Some still harbor bad feelings toward Lipinski for the heavy-handed way his father, 22-year Congressman William Lipinski, engineered his son’s succession to the seat more than a decade ago.

NARAL Pro-Choice America has already aired a TV ad in his district that asks “Who is Dan working for? It sure isn’t us.” Along with other national progressive groups, they plan to put feet on the ground to knock on doors and campaign for Newman.

Lipinski pushes back against the characterization that he’s conservative — in fact, in 2016 he supported Bernie Sanders in the presidential primary. The congressman notes that he and Sanders both oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

Lipinski instead casts himself as a moderate voice in Congress who is willing to find middle ground on issues instead of adding to a polarized debate.

“There are people who just want me to follow in line and vote however the party says … We have gotten to a point where everything is black and white. You are either for something in theory or against something in theory, when a lot of these things come down to: what are the details? Let’s try and get the policy right,” he said. “I think my constituents see that is how I’ve always been… I think that’s a real hunger that a lot of Americans have. I’m not just going to be an automaton.

He maintains that he’s long cared for the needs of his constituents, bringing back tens of millions of dollars for transportation. He also points to his work to prevent sexual harassment and assault in the military and a requirement compelling the administration to publish a manufacturing strategy.

Lipinski said he won’t support a repeal of Obamacare, but doesn’t regret his vote against it — and notes he was reelected three times since then.

“There are Democrats who are a lot more conservative than I am on issues. I wish there were more moderate Democrats,” Lipinski told POLITICO. “I’m pro-life. I make no bones about that. Always have been. I think this painting me as somebody who is really conservative — I have a strong environmental record,” as well as support for seniors, Medicare and Social Security, he said.

Oak Lawn Mayor Sandra Bury defends Lipinski, calling him an elected official who does all the little things right, like showing up to both parades and meetings with seniors.

“Of all our representatives in Congress, I have found him highly responsive, always engaged. He’s hands-on in the community… especially to some in the population, seniors, kids, veterans,” she said. Bury noted that Lipinski helped bring back a $1.35 million federal grant for fire protection. “I can’t speak for everybody, but Congressman Lipinski is very beloved in Oak Lawn.”


Trump After Dark: Nearly There edition

Republicans have their votes. Tax reform, it seems, is just days away — and so is President Donald Trump’s first significant legislative accomplishment.

GOP leadership put the finishing on a compromise tax bill and won over a few stragglers in the Senate and with the House set to vote early next week, POLITICO’s Brian Faler, Seung Min Kim and Colin Wilhelm report. The compromise unveiled today makes concessions to various constituencies.

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“The legislation would cut both business and individual taxes as part of the biggest tax revamp in 30 years. It is poised to be carved into law next week when Congress sends it to President Donald Trump for his signature.”

The legislation is long and complicated and could have a number of different consequences. And it also already has some defined winners and losers, as POLITICO’s Aaron Lorenzo reports. Among them: Businesses, wealthy heirs and big, global companies. Among the losers: New Yorkers, New Jerseyans and Californians.

The bottomline?: “The tradeoffs, lobbying and special interests have allowed the bill to create a new set of haves and have-nots when it comes to the tax code.”

Elsewhere in President Trump’s orbit:

MAN ABOUT TOWN?: A judge has cleared the way for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to leave house arrest on bail and move to South Florida head of his trial next year.

CHIP CRUMBS: Amid the tax push, lawmakers have not renewed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which funds health insurance for 9 million children and may not be renewed until next year.

CRINGEWORTHY: In video that went viral, President Trump’s nominee to serve on the U.S. District Court in Washington, Matthew Petersen, struggled to answer basic questions. (NPR)

HELP WANTED: Jared Kushner’s legal team has put out feelers for a crisis public relations firm. (Washington Post)

MOORE-TALLY WOUNDED: President Trump said today that Roy Moore should concede his election to Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama.

FLIRTING WITH FLYNN: President Trump wouldn’t rule out pardoning Michael Flynn when asked today, instead saying, “we’ll see.” (CNN)

There you have it. You’re caught up on the Trump administration. Happy Friday!


Justice Department watchdog details role in sharing anti-Trump texts

The FBI seal is pictured. | Getty Images

FBI agents are permitted to hold political views, Democrats argue, and there’s no evidence that either agent Peter Strzok or attorney Lisa Page took action to affect the investigation. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

IG says he agreed sending messages to Hill wouldn’t affect bias probe, but denies signing off on disclosure to press.

The federal official overseeing a probe of the FBI’s handling of last year’s Hillary Clinton email investigation confirmed Friday that he had no objection to the Justice Department giving Congress controversial anti-Trump text messages turned up during the investigation, but says officials didn’t consult him before sharing those texts with the press.

In a letter to lawmakers sent late Friday and obtained by POLITICO, Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz noted that he’d told a House committee last month that his office had no concern about giving Congress information gathered during his review of potential election-related bias. The inspector general also acknowledged he’d “conveyed” that stance directly to Justice officials.

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However, the inspector general said his office did not perform an analysis of what was permissible to share with lawmakers.

“The Department did not consult with the [Office of the Inspector General] in order to determine whether releasing the text messages met applicable ethical and legal standards before providing them to Congress,” Horowitz said.

Justice officials “did not consult with the OIG before sharing the text messages with the press,” Horowitz said, respond to a letter Democratic House members sent him Thursday.

Testifying on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the IG had signed off on turning over the 375 text messages exchanged by top FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and FBI attorney Lisa Page.

“When this inquiry came in from the Congress, we did consult with the Inspector General to determine that he had no objection to the release of the material,” Rosenstein told the House Judiciary Committee. “If he had, I can assure you we would not have authorized the release.”

Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was no daylight between Horowitz’s letter and Rosenstein’s claims.

“The letter released by the IG tonight is entirely consistent w my earlier tweets & DAG’s testimony,” Flores wrote on Twitter. “IG had no objection to release to Congress. We then consulted senior career legal/ethics experts to determine there were no issues w releasing texts to either Congress or press.”

Horowitz highlighted testimony he gave last month — reported at the time by POLITICO — that DOJ could share records from his investigation with lawmakers, but only after officials there were able to “determine whether there were any restrictions, such as those affecting grand jury information, that limited its ability to produce certain records to Congress.”

The messages are now at the center of an intensifying argument by Republicans in Congress that members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe are biased against President Donald Trump.

Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team over the summer after Horowitz unearthed the text messages. Page had already left the probe. The texts reveal that the two agents viewed Trump with disdain, along with other prominent political figures on both sides of the aisle. Strzok was also a key figure in the Clinton probe and was detailed to Mueller’s investigation after he was appointed to lead the criminal probe in May.

The release of the text messages by DOJ poured fuel onto already escalating claims by Republicans that Mueller’s probe of Trump associates’ ties to Russia could be tainted. They’ve called for a new special counsel to be appointed to examine the potential that bias has affected the Russia inquiry.

Democrats have rejected those claims as a pretense to discredit Mueller as his probe reaches further into Trump’s inner circle. FBI agents are permitted to hold political views, they argue, and there’s no evidence that either Strzok or Page took action to affect the investigation.

Darren Samuelsohn contributed reporting.