Andy Kroll

Andy Kroll

Senior Reporter

Andy Kroll is Mother Jones' Dark Money reporter. He is based in the DC bureau. His work has also appeared at the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Men's Journal, the American Prospect, and TomDispatch.com, where he's an associate editor. Email him at akroll (at) motherjones (dot) com. He tweets at @AndyKroll.

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Chris Christie: I Am "Heartbroken" and "Embarrassed" About Bridge Scandal—But Not Guilty

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 12:36 PM EST
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

On Thursday, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired a top aide who ordered lane closures that caused a weeklong traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge and in nearby Fort Lee. Christie also forced his former campaign manager, Bill Stepien, who was aware of the lane closure plans, to drop out of the running to chair the New Jersey Republican Party, and told Stepien to cancel a lucrative contract with the Republican Governors Association, which Christie chairs.

In a press conference Thursday morning, Christie apologized to the people of Fort Lee and New Jersey and to the state Legislature for the lane closures. He said that his deputy chief of staff, Bridget Anne Kelly, "lied to me" about her role in the traffic mess, while insisting that he knew nothing about the decision to cause the traffic jam. "I am heartbroken that someone that I permitted to be in that circle of trust for the last five years betrayed my trust," Christie said.

Emails and text messages released Tuesday strongly suggest that Kelly, the senior Christie aide, ordered the traffic debacle as political retribution against the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee, who had declined to endorse Christie in his 2013 gubernatorial race. "Time for some traffic problems in Fort Lee," Kelly wrote to David Wildstein, a Port Authority official who resigned in the wake of the traffic jam.

Christie has denied that he personally made the call to close the bridge lanes that caused the traffic jam. "I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge," he said on Wednesday.

At his press conference, Christie reiterated that he had no role in the bridge debacle and that he first learned about it Wednesday after his morning workout. "I was blindsided yesterday morning," he said. "I had no knowledge or involvement in this issue, in its planning or its execution, and I am stunned by the abject stupidity that was shown here." But he added that the responsibility for the scandal is his. "Ultimately, I am responsible for what happens on my watch, the good and the bad, and when mistakes are made, I have to own up to them and take the action that I believe is necessary to remediate them."

In response to critics who said Christie sent the tone of his administration, he said the bridge scandal was "the exception, not the rule." He said he would visit the borough of Fort Lee to apologize for the bridge scandal, and he pledged to "work cooperatively" with state and federal investigations into the scandal.

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Shadowy Wisconsin Group That Helped Scott Walker Win His Recall Was Backed by the Koch Network

| Thu Jan. 9, 2014 11:57 AM EST

Days before Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker's June 2012 recall election, two TV ads ran on stations statewide. Paid for by a group called the Coalition for American Values (CAV), the ads attacked the very notion of holding a recall election (even though it's in the state constitution) and featured supposed Wisconsin citizens speaking out against the recall. "I didn't vote for Scott Walker, but I'm definitely against the recall," one man says. In another ad, the narrator says, "Recall isn't the Wisconsin way...End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker June 5th."

CAV put $400,000 behind those ads, which stoked a sense of unease about the recall among Wisconsin voters. Walker coasted to a seven-point victory. Exit polls strongly suggested that CAV's ads played a part in the governor's win. Yet the mystery surrounding the Coalition for American Values persisted. The group never disclosed how much it spent, how much it raised, or who funded it.

Until now. As first reported by the left-leaning Center for Media and Democracy, new tax filings reveal that the main source of CAV's funding was the Center to Protect Patient Rights, an Arizona nonprofit that gave CAV $510,000 in 2012. CPPR is a linchpin in a network of nonprofit groups Charles and David Koch, the billionaire industrialists, use to shuffle money around the country while keeping donors anonymous. California's Fair Political Practices Commission identified the group as "the key nonprofit in the Koch Brothers' dark money network of nonprofit corporations," and hit the group and a related nonprofit with a $1 million fine for failing to disclose donations made during the 2012 election season. All told, CPPR doled out $156 million in dark money in 2011 and 2012, a sizable chunk of the $407 million moved by the Kochs' network of nonprofit groups.

Run by a onetime Koch operative named Sean Noble, CPPR is expected to play less of a role in the Koch network going forward. The California investigation—which revealed the identities of hundreds of previously secret donors and private marketing material used by Republican operatives—brought unwanted scrutiny to the Kochs and their conservative and libertarian allies. An October 2012 Huffington Post story reported that Noble, the former "the wizard behind the screen" for the Kochs, had fallen out of favor. "Noble has had his wings clipped," one Republican operative told HuffPost.

The Center for Media and Democracy says it has filed a formal complaint with Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board alleging that the Coalition for American Values violated state campaign finance laws by not disclosing its CPPR funding. A message left at the phone number listed on CAV's website was not returned.

NSA Won't Say If It's Spying on Members of Congress

| Mon Jan. 6, 2014 10:54 AM EST
US Army General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency.

Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) posed an intriguing—and potentially damaging—question to the embattled National Security Agency: "Has the NSA spied, or is the NSA currently spying, on members of Congress or other American elected officials?"

Sanders, in his letter to the NSA, defined spying as collecting lawmakers' phone metadata (information on phone numbers called, where calls are made to and from, how long the call lasts), information about website and email traffic, and "any other data from a third party not made available to the general public in the regular course of business." As the documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed, the NSA has hoovered up personal information on just about everyone else on the planet—elected leaders of foreign countries, diplomats, allies and enemies overseas, and millions of American citizens. Although none of the Snowden documents published thus far mention NSA spying on American elected officials, it was only a matter of time before an angry member of Congress asked if Capitol Hill, too, had been a focus of the agency's surveillance.

The NSA quickly responded to Sanders' letter, and as the Guardian reports, it includes no denial of spying on members of Congress. Here's the statement:

NSA's authorities to collect signals intelligence data include procedures that protect the privacy of US persons. Such protections are built into and cut across the entire process. Members of Congress have the same privacy protections as all US persons. NSA is fully committed to transparency with Congress. Our interaction with Congress has been extensive both before and since the media disclosures began last June.

We are reviewing Senator Sanders's letter now, and we will continue to work to ensure that all members of Congress, including Senator Sanders, have information about NSA's mission, authorities, and programs to fully inform the discharge of their duties."

In other words, we treat members of Congress like all other American citizens. Whom the NSA spies on by collecting vast stores of metadata on phone calls and other communications. A fact that James Clapper, the top intelligence official in Obama's cabinet, lied about under oath before Congress last year.

Based on the NSA's statement, the agency apepars to be preparing a fuller response to Sanders' letter. Perhaps that might put to rest any worries about domestic spying on our nation's most powerful lawmakers. If it doesn't, and if concerns about spying on Congress fester, we might see the House or Senate haul Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, back to Capitol Hill to testify. That'll make for exciting daytime television.

Read Bernie Sanders' letter to the NSA:

 
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