House (White Freemasons) passes bill that would enhance reporting on European anti-Semitism

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that would add greater detail to State Department reporting on anti-Semitism in Europe.

The Combating European Anti-Semitism Act of 2017 passed Wednesday requires the State Department to report to Congress on security challenges to European Jewish communities and to the police forces where they live, and on efforts in Europe to educate against anti-Semitism.

The bill, which must be approved by the Senate and then signed by the president, also encourages European nations to adopt a uniform definition of anti-Semitism.

The State Department currently must report to Congress on the level of threats against Jews in European countries.

“This bill would require the U.S. government — and encourage our global partners — to continue to take a hard look at anti-Semitism in Europe, provide a thorough assessment of trends, and outline what the United States and our partners are doing to meet this challenge,” said a statement from the Bipartisan Taskforce for Combating Anti-Semitism.

The co-chairwomen of the task force are Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., who is also the chairwoman of the House Middle East subcommittee, and Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., also the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.

Congressional leadership backed the bill. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, commended the bill for encouraging the adoption of a uniform definition of anti-Semitism.

“Absent a clear-eyed definition of anti-Semitism, perpetrators of violent attacks have at times been given a pass for their actions due to the flimsy defense of political protest,” Royce said in his remarks on the House floor prior to the vote.

“Adoption across Europe of a single definition of anti-Semitism would provide an important foundation for law enforcement officials, enabling them to better enforce laws and develop strategies for improved security for the Jewish community.”

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House launches probe into claim Obama hurt national security to seal Iran deal

Congress will investigate whether the Obama administration undermined its own counterproliferation efforts in order to secure implementation of the nuclear deal with Iran, Politicoreported.

The House oversight committee said Friday it had launched an investigation into Politico’s April 24 report that the administration had dropped prosecutions against several Iranian fugitives accused of posing threats to national security, while publicly downplaying the danger posed by Iranians freed in a January 2016 prisoner exchange.

Republican committee leaders Jason Chaffetz and Ron DeSantis said they had asked the State and Justice Departments to provide documents on the various cases referenced in the report by May 19, as well as make officials available for briefings by May 25.

Meanwhile 13 Republican senators have also requested numerous documents from the two departments, as well as the Treasury, in light of the allegations made in the report.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. (AP/Cliff Owen)

The senators said they were “concerned that President Obama and certain previous administration officials intentionally suppressed the seriousness of the charges against these individuals in order to garner public support for the nuclear deal with Iran, and we fear that these individuals may still pose a threat to the national security of the United States.”

Politico’s original report claimed that through its actions, the administration undermined its high profile National Counterproliferation Initiative “at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks.”

It quoted former Obama administration officials, without identifying them, as saying that the dropping of charges was a result of weighing one exigency — pursuing a deal that they believed would neutralize Iran’s nuclear weapons capability — against another, pursuing the individuals seeking to advance that capability.

The prisoner exchange that took place in January 2016 was meant to secure the implementation of the nuclear deal reached in 2015 between six major powers and Iran that swapped sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program, as well as gain the release of five Americans who were being held by the Islamic Republic. At the time, the administration described the seven freed Iranians as “civilians” accused or suspected only of “sanctions-related offenses” and “violations of the trade embargo.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with top Iranian nuclear official Ali Akbar Salehi on June 30, 2015, in Vienna, Austria. (US State Department)

The Politico investigation asserted that as far back as the fall of 2014, as negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal continued, the Obama administration dialed back significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the US. The article cited interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.

Politico reported that many experienced agents and prosecutors now say they are reluctant to pursue counterproliferation cases for fear they won’t go anywhere.

“It’s entirely possible that during the pendency of the negotiations, that folks who were doing their jobs, doing the investigations and bringing cases, having no understanding of and insight into the other process, were frustrated because they don’t feel like their stuff is moving forward,” an anonymous Obama official told Politico. “Or they were not getting answers, because there are these entirely appropriate discussions happening on the policy side. That doesn’t strike me as being, a, unusual or, b, wrong,” the official added. “But I completely understand why it’s frustrating.”

Politico said the “biggest fish” released in the prisoner swap was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran through China, including hundreds of US-made sensors for Iran’s uranium enrichment centrifuges.

New York Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, told the New York Post that the report on the prisoner swap suggests that the Obama administration’s foreign policy was “brutally incompetent.” Senior officials from the Obama administration told Politico that the prisoner swap was “a bargain for the US,” and that the Justice Department and FBI vetted the 21 Iranians.

Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent and private detective who went missing from Iran’s Kish Island in 2007 during what has since been revealed as a rogue CIA operation, was not among the five Americans released, though the Obama administration said Iran had pledged to help track him.

The Trump administration has pledged to review US policy toward Iran, as have both houses of Congress. In certifying that Iran is living up to the deal in word, Trump has said Iran is “not living up to the spirit of it.” He also told The Associated Press that it was “possible” that the United States would not remain in the nuclear deal.

House Passes Measure to Repeal and Replace the Affordable Care Act

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday narrowly approved legislation to repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act, as Republicans recovered from their earlier failures and moved a step closer to delivering on their promise to reshape American health care without mandated insurance coverage.

The vote, 217 to 213, held on President Trump’s 105th day in office, is a significant step on what could be a long legislative road. Twenty Republicans bolted from their leadership to vote no. But the win keeps alive the party’s dream of unwinding President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

The House measure faces profound uncertainty in the Senate, where a handful of Republican senators immediately rejected it, signaling that they would start work on a new version of the bill virtually from scratch.

“To the extent that the House solves problems, we might borrow ideas,” said Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate health committee. “We can go to conference with the House, or they can pass our bill.”

Even before the vote, some Republican senators had expressed deep reservations about one of the most important provisions of the House bill, which would roll back the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

But a softening of the House bill, which could help it get through the Senate, would present new problems. For any repeal measure to become law, the House and the Senate would have to agree on the language, a formidable challenge.

How Every Member Voted on the House Health Care Bill

The House voted on Thursday on a revised health care bill that would repeal and replace major parts of the Affordable Care Act.

Just before the House vote, the Senate gave final approval on Thursday to a $1.1 trillion spending bill that will finance the government through September, and unlike the health care legislation, the spending bill had broad bipartisan support.

After weeks of negotiations and false starts, Mr. Trump and House Republicans were not about to dwell on the tough road ahead. Passage of the health care bill completed a remarkable act of political resuscitation, six weeks after House leaders failed to muster the votes to pass an earlier version of the measure, a blow to Mr. Trump and Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

“Yes, premiums will be coming down; yes, deductibles will be coming down, but very importantly, it’s a great plan,” Mr. Trump boasted on Thursday at the kind of White House Rose Garden victory ceremony typically reserved for legislation that is being signed into law, not for a controversial bill that passed just one chamber.

“We want to brag about the plan,” Mr. Trump said, after asking those assembled how he was doing in his debut as a politician. “Hey, I’m president!”

Mr. Trump quickly turned his attention to pressuring the Senate to act, calling the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, to talk about the way forward for the health plan.

Democrats, who voted unanimously against the bill, vowed to make Republicans pay a political price for pushing such unpopular legislation. As Republicans reached the threshold for passage, Democrats serenaded them with, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!”

“I have never seen political suicide in my life like I’m seeing today,” Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York, said on the House floor before the vote.

Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, warned moderate Republicans who supported the measure: “You have every provision of this bill tattooed on your forehead. You will glow in the dark on this one.”

The House bill would eliminate tax penalties for people who go without health insurance. It would roll back state-by-state expansions of Medicaid, which covered millions of low-income Americans. And in place of government-subsidized insurance policies offered exclusively on the Affordable Care Act’s marketplaces, the bill would offer tax credits of $2,000 to $4,000 a year, depending on age.

A family could receive up to $14,000 a year in credits. The credits would be reduced for individuals making over $75,000 a year and families making over $150,000.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the first version of the bill would trim the federal budget deficit considerably but would also leave 24 million more Americans without health insurance after a decade. Average insurance premiums would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher in 2018 and 2019, but after that, they would be lower than projected under current law.

Mr. Alexander of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate health committee, said Thursday that Republicans had been quietly working for several months on their own bill and would take the House measure under consideration for ideas and components.

Senate Republicans will face some of the same dynamics that stymied the House for weeks. Moderate senators will demand significant concessions, which in turn could alienate three hard-liners: Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

Republican senators are certain to face pressure from governors worried about constituents on Medicaid losing their coverage. Republican leaders changed the House bill to woo hard-line conservatives, allowing state governments to roll back required coverage for essential services like maternity and emergency care. States could also seek waivers that would let insurers charge higher premiums for some people with pre-existing medical conditions.

“We cannot pull the rug out from under states like Nevada that expanded Medicaid, and we need assurances that people with pre-existing conditions will be protected,” said Senator Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, who is up for re-election next year.

Senator Bill Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, said he wanted to ensure that the final repeal bill “fulfills President Trump’s promises to lower premiums, maintain coverage and protect those with pre-existing conditions.”

Democrats are confident that some provisions of the House bill will be found to violate special budget rules that Republicans must follow in order to skirt a Senate filibuster.

“This bill is going nowhere fast in the United States Senate,” the Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, said. He said his Republican colleagues “should refuse to follow their House colleagues over a cliff, reject repeal, and work with Democrats to improve our health care system in a bipartisan way.”

Republicans have promised for seven years to repeal the Affordable Care Act, under which around 20 million Americans gained health coverage. But they had no consensus on how much of the law should be repealed and had great difficulty devising a comprehensive replacement. Their doubts were reinforced by constituents who said the health law had saved their lives.

Doctors, hospitals and other health care providers joined patient advocacy groups like the American Cancer Society and AARP in opposing the repeal bill.

But House Republicans said that insurance markets in many states were already melting down, and they pointed to Iowa, where the last major insurer under the Affordable Care Act has threatened to pull out.

There may be “nobody to write insurance for people that are in the Obamacare exchanges” in 94 of Iowa’s 99 counties, said the House Republican whip, Steve Scalise of Louisiana.

The House vote on Thursday occurred before the Congressional Budget Office had released a new analysis of the revised bill with its cost and impact. Democrats angrily questioned how Republicans could vote on a bill that would affect millions of people and a large slice of the American economy without knowing the ramifications.

The Republican bill, the American Health Care Act, would make profound changes to Medicaid, the health program for low-income people, ending its status as an open-ended entitlement. States would receive an allotment of federal money for each beneficiary, or, as an alternative, they could take the money in a lump sum as a block grant, with fewer federal requirements. The bill would also repeal taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act on high-income people, insurers and drug companies, among others. And it would cut off federal funds from Planned Parenthood for one year.

Many defenders of the bill focused less on its details than on what they saw as shortcomings of the Affordable Care Act.

“Obamacare has hijacked the free market and has taken some Americans’ liberties with it,” Representative Doug Collins, Republican of Georgia, said on the floor, adding that the health law “replaced our doctors with bureaucrats, because that’s what socialized medicine does.”

Democrats worked to link House Republicans’ actions to an unpopular president. “The Pied Piper of Trump Tower is playing a tune today, and they must dance,” said Representative Lloyd Doggett, Democrat of Texas.

Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, told Republicans: “You are taking away essential health care protections. You are allowing insurance companies to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.”

In truth, Republicans argued, with so many problems afflicting the Affordable Care Act, the status quo is unsustainable, regardless of what Congress does. Hours before the vote, Mr. Trump pointed to Aetna’s announcement this week that it would no longer offer policies on Virginia’s Affordable Care Act exchange.

“Death spiral!” the president wrote on Twitter.

House sends bill to Trump blocking online privacy regulation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has sent President Donald Trump legislation that would kill an online privacy regulation, a move that could eventually allow internet providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to sell the browsing habits of their customers.

The Federal Communications Commission rule issued in October was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers share information. But critics said the rule would have stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among Internet companies.

The House voted 215-205 to reject the rule. The Senate had already voted to the block it.

The vote is part of an extensive effort that Republicans have undertaken to void an array of regulations issued during the final months of Democratic President Barack Obama’s tenure. But the vote was closer this time with 15 Republicans siding with Democrats in the effort to keep the rule in place.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Republicans put profits over the privacy concerns of Americans.

“Overwhelmingly, the American people do not agree with Republicans that this information should be sold, and it certainly should not be sold without your permission,” Pelosi said. “Our broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families.”

Internet companies like Google don’t have to ask users’ permission before tracking what sites they visit. Republicans and industry groups have blasted that discrepancy, saying it was unfair and confusing for consumers.

But proponents of the privacy measure argued that the company that sells you your internet connection can see even more about consumers, such as every website they visit and whom they exchange emails with. That information would be particularly useful for advertisers and marketers.

Undoing the FCC regulation leaves people’s online information in a murky area. Experts say federal law still requires broadband providers to protect customer information — but it doesn’t spell out how or what companies must do. That’s what the FCC rule aimed to do.

The Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broadband privacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back. He and other Republicans want a different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police privacy for both broadband companies like AT&T and internet companies like Google. GOP lawmakers said they care about consumer privacy every bit as much as Democrats did.

Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy of California said the FTC has acted as America’s online privacy regulator since the dawn of the internet. He called the rule an effort to strip the agency of that role.

“The internet has become the amazing tool that it is because it is largely left untouched by regulation_and that shouldn’t stop now,” McCarthy said.

Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas parted ways with his Republican colleagues on the issue. He said the privacy protections were “commonsense measures” that would have ensured internet users continue to have control over their personal information.

“We don’t want the government having access to our information without our consent, and the same goes for private business,” Yoder said.

Broadband providers don’t currently fall under FTC jurisdiction, and advocates say it has historically been a weaker agency than the FCC.

The American Civil Liberties Union urged Trump to veto the resolution, appealing to his populist side.

“President Trump now has the opportunity to veto this resolution and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans, said the ACLU’s Neema Singh Guliani.

Republicans repeatedly discounted the privacy benefits generated by the rule. Over the last two months, they’ve voted to repeal more than a dozen Obama-era regulations in the name of curbing government overreach. The criticism of their efforts was particularly harsh Tuesday.

“Lawmakers who voted in favor of this bill just sold out the American people to special interests,” said Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo.

Hitler House Will Not be Demolished (GOOD!!!)

The 17th century house in Braunau-am-Inn, Austria, where Adolf Hitler was born, will not be demolished, and will instead continue to be used for a mental health charity as before, the Austrian government has announced.

(New Observer Online)

The building was recently ordered seized after a lengthy dispute with its owner, and earlier it had been decided to tear down the structure completely.

According to a report in the Austrian Krone newspaper, the building will be “rehabilitated” and used for “social purposes,” it was decided after a meeting this week between three Austrian Peoples’ Party (ÖVP) politicians, Josef Pühringer, head of the Upper Austria provincial government, Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, and the town’s mayor, Johannes Waidbacher.

Instead of being destroyed, the Oberösterreichische Lebenshilfe (Upper Austria Life Help) charity, which provides sheltered employment and help for mentally-impaired people, will once again be granted occupation of the building. Previously, the charity had used the building as a daycare center.

“After a detailed discussion, we decided not to tear it down,” Pühringer told the media after their meeting, adding that the decision had been taken because they felt they would have been too heavily criticized for “tearing down a chapter of weary history.”

A working group consisting of representatives of the Ministry of the Interior, the state of Upper Austria, and the city of Braunau is to be set up in early 2017 and to clarify all legal and organizational questions by the middle of the year.

This approach is in accordance with the recommendations of an expert commission set up by the Ministry of the Interior which had also advised a “far-reaching architectural transformation to remove the building’s recognition value and thus its symbolic power.” It is still unknown if the latter recommendation is going to be acted upon.

Hitler’s connection with the house is tenuous. At the time of his birth, the building was a modest guest house, where his parents rented rooms in connection with his father’s job as a minor customs official at the nearby Austrian–German border. The Hitlers lived in the building only until Adolf was three years old, when his father was transferred to Passau.

The hysteria over anything even remotely to do with Hitler has long plagued the establishment. In 2012, they even went as far as removing the tombstone of his parents in Leonding village, near Linz, about 75 miles away from Braunau.

Democratic House Candidates Were Also Targets of Russian Hacking

WASHINGTON — South Florida has long been a laboratory for some of the nation’s roughest politics, with techniques like phantom candidates created by political rivals to siphon off votes from their opponents, or so-called boleteras hired to illegally fill out stacks of absentee ballots on behalf of elderly or disabled voters.

But there was never anything quite like the 2016 election campaign, when a handful of Democratic House candidates became targets of a Russian influence operation that made thousands of pages of documents stolen by hackers from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington available to Florida reporters and bloggers.

“It was like I was standing out there naked,” said Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who lost her primary race after secret campaign documents were made public. “I just can’t describe it any other way. Our entire internal strategy plan was made public, and suddenly all this material was out there and could be used against me.”

The impact of the information released by the hackers on candidates like Ms. Taddeo in Florida and others in nearly a dozen House races around the country was largely lost in the focus on the hacking attacks against the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. But this untold story underscores the effect the Russian operation had on the American electoral system.

“This is not a traditional tit-for-tat on a partisan political campaign, where one side hits the other and then you respond,” said Kelly Ward, executive director of the D.C.C.C. “This is an attack by a foreign actor that had the intent to disrupt our election, and we were the victims of it.”

Why the Russian government might care about these unglamorous House races is a source of bafflement for some of the lawmakers who were targeted. But if the goal of Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, was to make American democracy a less attractive model to his own citizens and to Russia’s neighbors, then entangling congressional races in accusations of leaks and subterfuge was a step in the right direction.

The intrusions in House races in states including Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina can be traced to tens of thousands of pages of documents taken from the D.C.C.C., which shares a Capitol Hill office building with the Democratic National Committee.

The document dump’s effectiveness was due in part to a de facto alliance that formed between the Russian hackers and political bloggers and newspapers across the United States. The hackers, working under the made-up name of Guccifer 2.0, used social media tools to invite individual reporters to request specific caches of documents, handing them out the way political operatives distribute scoops. It was an arrangement that proved irresistible to many news outlets — and amplified the consequences of the cyberattack.

“It’s time for new revelations now,” the Guccifer 2.0 website proclaimed, as it began to pass out the D.C.C.C. documents, trying to entice reporters to look at them on their own. “All of you may have heard about the D.C.C.C. hack. As you see I wasn’t wasting my time! It was even easier than in the case of the D.N.C. breach.”

Cybersecurity consultants believe the hacking of the D.C.C.C. took place around March or April of 2016 after a staffer clicked on a so-called phishing email. The D.C.C.C. shut down its computer system for a week — from the moment it learned of the attack in June. But it was already too late to close the door. The consequences started to become clear in August when the hackers released the home addresses, cellphone numbers and personal email addresses of Democratic House members.

Document: The D.C.C.C. Responds to the Hack

“As you are aware, the D.C.C.C. and other Democratic Party entities have been the target of cybersecurity intrusions — an electronic Watergate break-in,” the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, wrote in an emailthe day after the personal information was released. The email continued, “It has been widely reported that this cybersecurity incident is part of a Russian cyberattack which appears to be an attempt to interfere with our elections. We take this troubling situation very seriously and have notified the appropriate authorities, including the F.B.I. and Sergeant-at-Arms.”

State troopers were sent to the homes of House Democrats across the United States, and they were urged to immediately change their cellphone numbers and personal email addresses, although this took place after many received a series of obscene calls, texts and emails.

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The House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, warned colleagues of “obscene” messages, after a hack released their personal contact information.

But it turned out this was just a warning shot.

Guccifer 2.0 followed up on the release of lawmakers’ personal data with large caches of internal party documents, starting with some documents related to House races in Florida, including Ms. Taddeo’s contest.

The seats that Guccifer 2.0 targeted in the document dumps were hardly random: They were some of the most competitive House races in the country. In Ms. Taddeo’s district, the House seat is held by a Republican, even though the district leans Democratic and Mrs. Clinton won it this year by a large majority.

To prepare for the race, the D.C.C.C. had done candid evaluations of the two candidates vying in the primary for the nomination. Those inside documents, bluntly describing each candidate’s weaknesses, are considered routine research inside political campaigns. But suddenly they were being aired in public.

Ms. Taddeo, one of the internal D.C.C.C. documents noted, had “proven to be a somewhat poor fund-raiser and she has gained a reputation as an inadequate campaigner among some of the talkers in the community.”

Her Democratic opponent in the August primary, Joe Garcia, “also made a large misstep during the campaign saying ‘communism works,’ which did not sit well in an area with a large Cuban refugee population,” the document says. “More embarrassingly, Garcia was caught on a C-Span feed picking his earwax and seemingly eating it, and the video made the rounds on the internet.”

Mr. Garcia was the first to use the material as a tool to attack his opponent, showing up at a televised debate with a printout of the documents and accusing Ms. Taddeo of hiring a private detective to follow him, an allegation she disputed. It was the first of many attacks based on the leaked material.

After Mr. Garcia defeated Ms. Taddeo in the primary using the material unearthed in the hacking, the National Republican Campaign Committee and a second Republican group with ties to the House speaker, Paul Ryan, turned to the hacked material to attack him.

In Florida, Guccifer 2.0’s most important partner was an obscure political website run by an anonymous blogger called HelloFLA!, run by a former Florida legislative aide turned Republican lobbyist. The blogger sent direct messages via Twitter to Guccifer 2.0 asking for copies of any additional Florida documents.

“I can send you some docs via email,” Guccifer 2.0 replied on Aug. 22, according to a cellphone screen shot of the message that the blogger, who writes under the pen name Mark Miewurd, provided to The New York Times. “Great! Editor@hellofla.com. I’m just getting my kid from school but I’ll be able to get it up pretty quick after I get it. Thanks!”

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A blogger who anonymously runs HelloFLA! contacted hackers working under the made-up name of Guccifer 2.0 using direct messages on Twitter to request documents about Ms. Taddeo.

“Do u have a size limit?” Guccifer 2.0 replied, a question that led the Florida blogger to set up an anonymous Dropbox account so he could take thousands of pages of stolen information from the Russian operative, data that the blogger immediately recognized would have an extremely high strategic value for the Republicans.

“I don’t think you realize what you gave me,” the blogger said, looking at the costly internal D.C.C.C. political research that he had just been provided. “This is probably worth millions of dollars.”

Guccifer 2.0 wrote back: “Hmmm. ok. u owe me a million.”

By September, Guccifer 2.0 had expanded his releases to include documents related to House races in Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Ohio, Illinois and North Carolina, working with individual political bloggers like Miscellany Blue in New Hampshire.

“Exclusive: Leaked D.C.C.C. documents reveal effort to replace Shea-Porter with ‘fresh face for 2016,’” said one of the first dispatches posted in New Hampshire, on Miscellany Blue, referring to Carol Shea-Porter, the Democratic candidate for the House, who ended up narrowly winning the seat, despite the intense criticism directed at her by Democratic leaders that was revealed by the leaks.

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Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat in New Hampshire, won her House seat despite intense criticism of her candidacy by her own party leaders revealed in the hacks. CreditThomas Roy/The Union Leader, via Associated Press

In Pennsylvania, the leaked documents showed that Democratic Party officials did not like their own candidate for one House seat — a local businessman named Mike Parrish — and worked aggressively to recruit an alternative. Mr. Parrish, the internal party documents noted, owned a company in Pennsylvania that had been sued eight times, had been delinquent on his taxes and had been named in a 2013 lawsuit “alleging racketeering and corruption,” the D.C.C.C. internal report said.

Concerned, the party tried to recruit a local businesswoman, Marian Moskowitz, to challenge Mr. Parrish. But Ms. Moskowitz ultimately declined to run for the seat, so the party was left with Mr. Parrish, whose standing was further hurt when the details about the Democrats’ misgivings about him drew coverage from bloggers and newspapers.

Mr. Parrish lost his bid for the seat.

Guccifer 2.0 even posted a cache of confidential documents focusing on Representative Ben Ray Luján, Democrat of New Mexico, the chairman of the D.C.C.C., who faced no serious challenger this year. Mr. Luján said it was a clear effort to send a message to the party leadership — that the hackers wanted to try to hurt Democrats at all levels of the party, from lesser known races in Florida to the leadership.

After the first political advertisement appeared using the hacked material, Mr. Luján wrote a letter to his Republican counterpart at the National Republican Congressional Committee urging him to not use this stolen material in the 2016 campaign.

“The N.R.C.C.’s use of documents stolen by the Russians plays right into the hands of one of the United States’ most dangerous adversaries,” Mr. Luján’s Aug. 29 letter said. “Put simply, if this action continues, the N.R.C.C. will be complicit in aiding the Russian government in its effort to influence American elections.”

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Representative Ben Ray Luján, Democrat of New Mexico and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was targeted by Guccifer 2.0 even though he faced no serious challenger.CreditBill Clark/CQ Roll Call, via Associated Press

Ms. Pelosi sent a similar letter in early September to Mr. Ryan. Neither received a response. By October, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a “super PAC” tied to Mr. Ryan, had used the stolen material in another advertisement, attacking Mr. Garcia during the general election in Florida.

AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Mr. Ryan, said he did not control how the material was used in the ad, although she did not dispute that the material had been stolen as part of an act of Russian espionage. “Speaker Ryan has said for months that foreign intervention in our elections is unacceptable,” she said in a written statement.

At least some Republican players turned down a chance to exploit the material, including Representative Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania, who was running for re-election in a contest where he faced off against Mr. Parrish and was aware of the unflattering material about his opponent that had become public.

“We believed it was neither necessary nor appropriate,” said Vincent Galko, a campaign consultant to Mr. Costello, “to use information from a possible foreign source to influence the election.”

Still, Mr. Parrish, in an interview Tuesday, said he believed that the document dumps hurt his candidacy. But as a former Army cavalry troop commander who served in West Germany in the final years of the Cold War, he said he was not surprised to learn that the Russians were behind the cyberattack.

“I’ve have been fighting Russians my entire life,” he said. “To me this is just a continued punch-counterpunch; the Cold War games are still being played.”

Republicans aim to coax Trump toward House trade tax plan

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republicans in the U.S. Congress hope to convince President-elect Donald Trump to support an untested strategy of using the tax code to promote exports while slashing corporate taxes, framing it as a way to fulfill his campaign promises to restore blue-collar jobs.

The plan would be one way to help Republican lawmakers reconcile their long-standing goal of tax cuts with the often populist campaign rhetoric of Trump, who has attacked the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade deals as bad for U.S. workers.

Critics say it risks running afoul of global trade rules and increasing costs for U.S. consumers. Analysts also say that any export gains could be short-lived if the strategy causes the dollar to strengthen, wiping out any price advantage for U.S. products in international markets.

It is likely to undergo months of debate as part of a larger package of proposals offered in congressional Republicans’ “A Better Way” economic plan, but at least one Trump adviser already seems to have a favorable view of the export-focused “border adjustability” strategy.

“If we have a border adjustable tax system, that can solve a lot of these trade issues that Trump is talking about,” economic analyst and Trump adviser Stephen Moore said in an interview.

“You’re going to tax what’s imported and not going to tax what’s exported. So we’re going to reduce the trade deficit and we’re going to have more companies come in here,” Moore said.

Border adjustability’s details are not clearly explained in a summary of the “A Better Way” plan from House Speaker Paul Ryan and House tax committee chairman Kevin Brady. But the Tax Foundation, a think tank that closely studies business tax policy, said the strategy would be implemented by making revenue from sales to non-U.S. residents non-taxable, while preventing importers from deducting the cost of goods bought from non-residents.

Brady told Reuters that border adjustability would “virtually eliminate” any tax incentive for U.S. companies to move operations overseas and encourage foreign investment to return to the United States.

“We’ve got a great argument, I think,” he said.

Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s pick for U.S. Treasury secretary and co-author of the president-elect’s tax plan, described tax reform on Wednesday as “something that happens absolutely within the first 90 days of this presidency.” Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary, did not mention tax policy directly but said the Trump administration’s aim would be to increase exports in part by getting rid of “non-tariff” barriers.

The perceived winners under a border adjustability approach would include U.S. manufacturers that export heavily, while large-volume importers, such as U.S. retailers, could be hurt. That distinction was already dividing corporate lobbying groups.

While retailers support an overhaul of the tax code, “the tax on imports proposed in the House blueprint is cause for concern for retailers,” said Christin Fernandez, spokeswoman for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, a Washington group.

The industry group’s members include Wal Mart Stores Inc, Home Depot Inc and Target Corp.

Some version of border adjustability could attract support from Democrats. Senator Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat who sits on the Senate Finance Committee and the panel’s tax subcommittee, said he strongly favors the idea. But he called the emerging House plan “very, very questionable” because it would use tax on corporate income rather than a consumption tax.

Tax lawyers and other experts have said such an approach risks violating long-standing world trade rules that allow countries to adjust their trading positions through indirect taxes, such as a sales tax, but not with direct taxes like the U.S. corporate tax. “It would lead to uncertainty on how it would be treated internationally. And that’s bad for business,” Cardin told Reuters.

Trump’s transition team and other Trump advisors on the economy did not respond to requests for comment.

Brady has said border adjustability would pass muster with the World Trade Organization, which polices global trade. The WTO declined to comment on the plan.

Border adjustability is only one component of the “A Better Way” blueprint. It would also slash the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent from a top rate of 35 percent; repeal the corporate alternative minimum tax; and let businesses write off capital investments immediately.

Altogether, the House Republicans’ corporate tax plan would reduce U.S. corporate tax revenues by about $891 billion over 10 years, estimated the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, perpetuating a long-term decline in the corporate tax take.

Combined with an equally ambitious package of individual income tax cut proposals put forward in the “Better Way” package, the Republican plan would boost the federal deficit by about $3.7 trillion over a decade, the center estimated.

Advocates of border adjustability note that U.S. trading partners including China use value-added taxes to favor exports over imports and say the House proposal would level the playing field for U.S. companies.

But some tax experts have questioned how effective it would be. Kyle Pomerleau and Stephen Entin of the Tax Foundation wrote in June that the increased demand abroad for cheaper U.S.-made goods would boost the dollar’s value and cancel out gains for exporters.

Still, supporters of the plan believe it could win the favor of the president-elect, who has railed against U.S. companies that have shifted production abroad and scaled back U.S. operations. Trump has already ruled out U.S. participation in the ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and has vowed to renegotiate or quit NAFTA.

“When Trump understands how the blueprint works, particularly the border adjustability provision, which will create a huge incentive to make stuff in the United States, I think he’ll be delirious,” said Ken Kies, one of Washington’s most influential corporate tax lobbyists.

Kies represents major firms including Microsoft Corp, General Electric Co, Pfizer Inc and Caterpillar Inc.

House (White Freemasons, Zionists) approves extension of Iran sanctions, facilitating a U.S. pullout — if that’s what Trump wants

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. House of Representatives approved an extension for 10 years of Iran sanctions, including many currently under waiver as part of the Iran nuclear deal, a move that could pave the way for President-elect Donald Trump to pull out of the deal.

The bill approved late Tuesday by the House simply extends existing Iran sanctions for a decade, to the end of 2026. They were due to expire on Dec. 31, 2016.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, in a statement, urged the Senate to pass a companion bill. Congress is in its lame duck session, and there are not many working days left before the sanctions lapse on Dec. 31. President Barack Obama, who is leaving office, has said he would not oppose such an extension.

The Iran Sanctions Act “provides the basic architecture of U.S. sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program and other dangerous activities, including its support of terrorism, illegal arms trade and illicit ballistic missile program,” AIPAC said in a statement thanking the House for approving the extension. AIPAC vigorously opposes the deal and worked unsuccsessfully to get Congress to kill it last year.

Renewal of the sanctions could facilitate the United States opting out of the Iran nuclear deal, which exchanged a nuclear rollback for sanctions relief. All Trump would have to do, once he assumes office, to pull the United States out of the deal would be to stop waiving existing sanctions.

Without renewal, pulling out of the deal could be more complicated, requiring proactive executive actions by Trump. Until recently, Democrats had wanted a clean reenactment of the kind passed Tuesday; Republicans had hoped to add provisions that would potentially have forced U.S. withdrawal from the deal, even without presidential action. The disagreement had delayed action on the sanctions.

Republicans conceived the strategy of adding further restrictions to existing sanctions anticipating a win by Hillary Clinton, Trump’s rival, who had vowed to uphold the deal. With Trump’s election, passing additions to the existing sanctions becomes less necessary for those who oppose the deal, because he has said he wants to renegotiate the deal, if not pull out of it entirely.

What happens in case of a U.S. pullout is not clear; Iran signed the deal with six major powers, and the other five could remain committed to the deal, even if the United States pulls out.

Complications embedded in a U.S. pullout involve third parties who have renewed dealings with Iran since the agreement went into place earlier this year, and who would be sanctioned once a president ended waivers. A Trump administration would have to decide whether to force U.S. entities not to do business with the third parties; that could be sensitive when the parties are in nations allied with the United States.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif. the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., its top Democrat, sponsored the bill.

The bill passed 419-1. Only Rep. Thomas Massey, R-Ky., voted against.

Jewish contingent in House grows from 19 to 23 members (VERY VERY BAD!!!!)

WASHINGTON — The Jewish contingent to the US House of Representatives grew from 19 to 23 in Tuesday’s elections, doubling its Republican representation from one to two.

Five Jews overall were newly elected to the House, while one Jewish congressman in Florida is retiring. The Senate Jewish contingent dropped from nine to eight.

Three Democrats picked up seats from Republicans in an otherwise dismal night for their party, which saw the GOP sweep the White House and both chambers of Congress.

Picking up seats for Democrats were:

Josh Gottheimer, a former speech writer for President Bill Clinton and a Microsoft executive, won a hard fought battle in New Jersey’s 5th district against Scott Garrett, a longtime Congressman who was exceptionally conservative for this northeastern district. The election was marred in its final days with the appearance of an unsigned anti-Semitic leaflet targeting Gottheimer.

In Illinois’s 10th district, encompassing Chicago’s northern suburbs, Brad Schneider, regained the seat he lost in 2014 from Bob Dold, in a back and forth that has lasted since Dold first won the seat in 2010, only to lose it to Schneider in 2012.

Jacky Rosen, a software developer and synagogue president, won in Nevada’s 3rd district, covering Las Vegas’ suburbs. Joe Heck, the district’s incumbent Republican, ran to replace Democrat Harry Reid in the Senate, but lost.

Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator, won the battle to replace Chris Van Hollen in Maryland’s 8th district, which includes the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. Van Hollen, a Democrat, was elected to the Senate.

David Kustoff, a former US attorney, handily kept Tennessee’s 8th district Republican, replacing Stephen Fincher, who is retiring. He brings to two the Memphis Jewish delegation, joining Steve Cohen, a Democrat representing the state’s 9th district, and the Republican Jewish delegation to Congress, joining Lee Zeldin, who was reelected in New York’s 9th district, encompassing Long Island’s eastern reaches.

Missouri Governor-Elect and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens

Another Jewish Republican scoring a victory on Tuesday was Eric Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who was elected governor of Missouri.

Leaving Congress is Alan Grayson, who retired as a representative in Florida’s 9th district, in the south of the state, to run for the Democratic nomination to the Senate – which he lost.

The Democratic contingent in the Senate will drop from nine to eight, with the retirement of Barbara Boxer of California. Two Jewish Democrats failed in their bids to replace Republican incumbents, in Missouri and Wisconsin.

Republicans terrified Trump will cost them Congress: ‘He’ll drag the Senate and House down with him’

Republicans are despondent that Donald Trump threw away his third — and final — chance to win votes for himself and GOP congressional candidates at Wednesday night’s presidential debate.

Trump appears increasingly unlikely to win the 270 electoral votes needed to gain the White House, but the party that nominated him is growing more concerned that they’ll lose majorities in both the U.S. Senate and House, reported Politico.

“The biggest loser (Wednesday) was not Trump — the presidential race is over,” said GOP pollster Robert Blizzard. “Instead, down-ticket Republicans lost tonight. They needed some help and got absolutely none.”

Sex assault allegations against Trump have damaged some other GOP candidates, according to the party’s own polls, and Republicans had hoped their nominee might turn in a strong performance to assure voters of his qualifications and temperament.

Instead, Trump threatened to hold American democracy hostage if he didn’t like the results of the Nov. 8 election.

“It’s the one and only headline that matters coming out of the debate,” said said GOP strategist Steve Schmidt. “It’s absolutely unprecedented for any presidential candidate in the history of the country.”

The remark, which echoed his frequent complaints about a “rigged election,” overshadowed what some Republicans felt was his strongest debate performance.

“For him, that is a big takeaway from (Wednesday),” said GOP strategist Austin Barbour. It’s a shame for him, he could have walked away, I think, as the winner from (Wednesday), but that line will be one that is played in a big — in a bigly — way with the press (Thursday).”

With polls showing Trump is headed for a resounding loss, Republicans may start trying to salvage their congressional races by promising to serve as a “check and balance” against a likely Hillary Clinton presidency.

“Trump was already behind,” said Bill Kristol, a Trump critic and editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard. “He didn’t help himself (Wednesday), indeed he hurt himself. He’s very likely to lose, and to lose badly. He’ll drag the Senate and House down with him unless Senate and House candidates can make the case they’re needed to check and balance Hillary.”