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Kidnapping Plot Against Whitmer Becomes Part of Michigan Politics – The New York Times

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BAY CITY, Mich. — The fallout from a failed domestic terrorism plot to overthrow Michigan’s state government and kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has quickly become embedded in state politics and the presidential race in a key swing state during the final weeks of the campaign.

Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat who was targeted by an armed group whose alleged members have been arrested, said on Sunday that she remained worried about the presence of right-wing groups in her state, as well as President Trump’s reluctance to condemn them.

“I do believe that there are still serious threats that groups like this group, these domestic terrorists, are finding comfort and support in the rhetoric coming out of Republican leadership in the White House to our state house,” she said in an appearance on the CBS show “Face the Nation.”

Lee Chatfield, a Republican from northern Michigan and speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, sent a letter to Ms. Whitmer on Saturday, chastising her for not informing the Legislature about the plot, which included talk of storming the state Capitol.

“The plot by these terrorists was against us, too,” he wrote. “You knew, and we weren’t even given a warning. We had people working in the building every day doing essential work, and their lives matter, too.”

Mr. Chatfield also criticized the way she had spoken about the president and Republican leadership.

“It’s time to tone down the partisan rhetoric and turn the heat down as you’ve said. Will you do the same for President Trump?” he asked. “You’ve arguably been his biggest critic this year in the country. You even fundraised this week off this plot, now making it political, which is sad.”

But Mr. Trump also has been especially critical of Ms. Whitmer all year, derisively calling her “That Woman from Michigan” and “Half-Whitmer,” and urging supporters to “Liberate Michigan!” after protesters armed with military-style rifles criticized her policies for managing the pandemic. After the terror plot was revealed, he tweeted that Ms. Whitmer “has done a terrible job.” And he complained that instead of thanking him for the federal action in foiling the plot, “she calls me a White Supremacist.”

The F.B.I. and state authorities have arrested 13 men, including two ex-Marines, whom they accused of being involved in the plot, and charged them with a variety of crimes, including conspiring to commit kidnapping and providing material support to terrorist activities.

Through confidential informants and undercover agents, federal authorities detailed how some of the men had staked out Ms. Whitmer’s vacation home in northern Michigan and planned to detonate a bomb to divert law enforcement away from that home. The plot also targeted other elected officials and members of law enforcement.

Ms. Whitmer has drawn fierce criticism from anti-government and conservative groups for strict lockdown measures she imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Most of the restrictions have been lifted, and the Michigan Supreme Court ruled last month that her use of the executive orders was unconstitutional. At least two of the men arrested had attended armed protests at the Capitol in April and May.

Credit…Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, said in a telephone interview Sunday afternoon that Ms. Whitmer had no obligation to tell others about the terror plot.

“This was a highly strategic operation with a lot of moving parts, and that would be up to law enforcement to inform people who needed to know. She received the information confidentially and had she done what he suggested, she could have jeopardized the lives of federal and state law enforcement agents,” she said of Mr. Chatfield’s letter. “One person talking to the wrong individual could have cost numerous law enforcement officers their lives.”

Legislative Republicans have denounced the terror plot, but some in the party have been highly critical of Ms. Whitmer because of how she handled the coronavirus pandemic in Michigan.

Republican state House candidate Paul Smith, a Republican running for a Macomb County legislative seat, wrote on Facebook that the terror plot was a “totally bogus sham. These citizens never did anything illegal. Law enforcement is employed to punish people who COMMIT crimes, not people the Governess simply HATES.”

Mr. Chatfield and state Rep. Jason Wentworth, who runs the House Republican campaign committee, disavowed Mr. Smith on Saturday.

“Paul Smith’s conspiracy theories and hateful remarks do not represent our values. That is why the House Republican Campaign Committee is not supporting him and will not spend one dime to get him elected,” they said in a statement.

But Mr. Smith isn’t the only Republican who made light of the plot. Sheriff Dar Leaf, of Barry County in Western Michigan, said in a television interview Thursday that the scheme may have just amounted to a “citizen’s arrest.” Mr. Leaf, who has been a vocal critic of Ms. Whitmer’s shutdown orders and has said he won’t enforce the rules she imposed, shared a stage with one of the suspects at an anti-lockdown meeting in May that also featured the State Senate majority leader, Mike Shirkey, a Republican.

“A lot of people are angry with the governor, and they want her arrested. So are they trying to arrest or was it a kidnap attempt?” he asked. He later said his words were misunderstood.

Ms. Nessel said Sheriff Leaf’s comments were terrifying.

“To think that there is a group of sheriffs out there who truly believe that it’s appropriate for armed gunmen to perpetrate a citizens’ arrest should alarm us all,” she said. “Logic seems to have really escaped us. Come January, I hope we see a change in circumstances.”

It’s unclear how much the incident will affect voters at a time most have already made their minds up, but some operatives said it could pose one more hurdle for Mr. Trump and Michigan Republicans.

Ed Sarpolus, an independent political consultant and pollster, said the kidnapping plot could help to solidify turnout from some Democratic voters who are concerned about white supremacy but were not particularly swayed by either candidate during the presidential debate.

“I would say in some quarters it makes some excitement to get out and vote because it’s like, ‘There he goes again,’” Mr. Sarpolus said of Mr. Trump.

John Truscott, a Republican political consultant and press secretary to former Gov. John Engler, said the kidnapping plot had shocked Republican and Democratic politicians alike, and had been widely condemned.

“It’s not even a political thing, it’s just the right thing to do as leaders,” he said. “And pretty much all of the Republican leaders I’ve seen have come out strongly against it.”

Still, he said, “I think it makes it easier for Democrats to play up on the vitriol that’s out there. Even though in most places it’s on both sides, it seems to get labeled on the right a little bit more.”

Kathleen Gray reported from Bay City, Mich., and Lucy Tompkins from New York.

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Trump administration vetted stars' politics for planned ad blitz promoting U.S. president's virus response – CBC.ca

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Public relations firms hired by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services vetted political views of hundreds of celebrities for a planned $250-million US ad blitz aimed at portraying U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus outbreak in a positive light, according to documents released Thursday by a House committee.

A political appointee at the department suggested creating a government-funded campaign to rival the Second World War icon Rosie the Riveter, according to the documents, and taglines such as “Helping the president will help the country.”

None of the celebrities agreed to participate — they may not have known they were being vetted — and the campaign has been put on hold.

Director Judd Apatow believes Trump “does not have the intellectual capacity to run as president,” according to notes made on a list of names of more than 200 celebrities compiled by one of the firms.

Singer Christina Aguilera “is an Obama-supporting Democrat and a gay-rights supporting liberal,” the document says, and actor Jack Black is “known to be a classic Hollywood liberal.”

A public service announcement by comedian George Lopez was “not moving forward due to previous concerns regarding his comments regarding the president,” according to the documents.

The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House oversight and reform committee.

The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million US on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 228,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

Pushback from federal employees

While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesperson Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesperson for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.

WATCH | Trump claims he is now immune to COVID-19:

U.S. President Donald Trump has claimed he now has immunity to COVID-19 before he heads for a series of swing-state rallies as polls put him behind Joe Biden with just over three weeks before election day. 2:03

Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.

According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of sound bites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the president will help the country.”

The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during the Second World War against Germany.

“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.

The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.

The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.

The ad blitz planned by the Department of Health and Human Services was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesperson Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House oversight chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, a Democrat from New York, and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar.

“This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”

Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.

“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Celebrities backtracked 

Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.

HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health-care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.

The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.

In an Instagram video post, actor Dennis Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”

Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.

Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”

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Bipartisan Politics | Politics and Public Affairs – Denison University

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But the ties that bind these four individuals are stronger than most. They, and several other Big Red alumni, are connected through Forbes Tate Partners, a bipartisan, full-service government and public affairs advocacy firm, founded by Forbes and his partner Dan Tate.

In today’s divisive political landscape it might be difficult to imagine that colleagues from opposite sides of the aisle can be, well, collegial. But according to Forbes, who has worked on Democratic campaigns since Al Gore’s presidential bid, that’s the whole point.

“People forget about the moderate factions in politics — and that’s where real work can be done,” says Forbes. So it made sense to build a firm that could work well with both parties and provide positive results for everyone.

And the work has become more complicated. “Lobbying has changed,” he says. “It’s not as much who you know – though that still matters. Today, you have to run a full-fledged campaign with traditional PR, social media, news updates. You have to make sure the people back home see the reason for what you are doing, to create that support before you move forward.”

So how did all these Denisonians find their way to Forbes Tate? You can credit another Denison tie, the Hilltoppers men’s a cappella group. Forbes was a member of the popular campus group, and several years ago a student Hilltopper reached out to him, struggling to figure out what to do for the summer. Forbes’ impulsive response, “Why don’t you come here?” became the beginning of an internship program that has brought scads of students from Denison’s hill to Capitol Hill.

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US vetted stars' politics to showcase Trump virus response – CKPGToday.ca

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The names were among the spreadsheets, memos, notes and other documents from September and October released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The firms’ vetting came as political appointees planned to spend more than $250 million on a confidence-building campaign surrounding the virus, which has killed more than 227,000 people in the United States and is a core issue in the presidential race between Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.

While government public health campaigns are routine, the ad blitz planned by HHS was mired from the start by involvement from department spokesman Michael Caputo, a fierce loyalist and friend of Trump with little experience in the field. In September, a spokesman for Caputo said he was taking a medical leave from HHS as he battled cancer.

Trump, a Republican, has repeatedly minimized the dangers of the coronavirus, even as the nation is in its third wave of infections, with tens of thousands of cases reported each day.

According to one memo compiled by a subcontractor to Atlas Research, one of the firms hired by HHS, Caputo suggested a series of soundbites and taglines for the campaign, including “Helping the President will Help the Country.” The notes say that Caputo wanted the campaign to be “remarkable” and to rival Rosie the Riveter, the character who symbolized women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II against Germany.

“For us, the ‘enemy’ is the virus,” Caputo said, according to the memo.

The documents also show pushback from some of the federal employees leading the work, who removed Caputo from an email chain and thanked one of the contractors for dealing with a “challenging” environment.

The Democrat-led Oversight panel said Caputo was overstepping his bounds, interfering in work that is supposed to be done by contract officers at the department and politicizing what is supposed to be nonpartisan.

“Of course, it is completely inappropriate to frame a taxpayer-funded ad campaign around ‘helping’ President Trump in the weeks and days before the election,” said House Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Reps. James Clyburn of South Carolina and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, both subcommittee chairmen, in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “This theme also ignores the reality that more than 220,000 Americans have died from coronavirus — a fact that should not be whitewashed in a legitimate public health message.”

Azar put the entire project on hold earlier this month, telling the Oversight subcommittee led by Clyburn that it was being investigated internally.

“I have ordered a strategic review of this public health education campaign that will be led by our top public health and communications experts to determine whether the campaign serves important public health purposes,” Azar told the subcommittee, which is investigating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Because public health policy around the coronavirus pandemic has become so politically polarized, it’s unclear how well a confidence-building campaign from the government would play.

HHS officials acknowledge a major challenge to any campaign would involve finding trusted intermediaries to make the pitch to average Americans. On health care matters, people usually trust doctors first, not necessarily celebrities. And Trump has alienated much of the medical establishment with his dismissive comments about basic public health measures, such as wearing masks.

The 34-page “PSA Celebrity Tracker” compiled by Atlas Research and released by the committee does not say whether the celebrities were aware they were even being considered or if they had agreed to participate. The report says that no celebrities are now affiliated with the project but a handful did initially agree to participate.

Singer Marc Antony, who has been critical of Trump, pulled out after seeking an amendment to his contract to “ensure that his content would not be used for advertisements to re-elect President Trump.”

Actor Dennis Quaid also initially agreed and then pulled out, according to a document from Atlas Research. In an Instagram video post last month titled “No good deed goes unpoliticized,” Quaid said he was frustrated that a taped interview he did with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, for the campaign was portrayed in the media as an endorsement of Trump.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Quaid said, noting that the interview was still available on his podcast.

Antony and Quaid were among just a few celebrities who were approved for the campaign, according to the documents. Others included TV health commentator Dr. Oz and singer Billy Ray Cyrus.

“Spokespeople for public service campaigns should be chosen on their ability to reach the target audience, not their political affiliation,” the letter from the Democrats reads. “Yet, documents produced by the contractors indicate that the Trump Administration vetted spokespeople based on their political positions and whether they support President Trump.”

___

Associated Press writer Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar contributed to this report.

Mary Clare Jalonick, The Associated Press

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