Stephanie Mencimer

Stephanie Mencimer

Reporter

Stephanie works in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. A Utah native and graduate of a crappy public university not worth mentioning, she has spent the last year hanging out with angry white people who occasionally don tricorne hats and come to lunch meetings heavily armed.

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Stephanie covers legal affairs and domestic policy in Mother Jones' Washington bureau. She is the author of Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue. A contributing editor of the Washington Monthly, a former investigative reporter at the Washington Post, and a senior writer at the Washington City Paper, she was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2004 for a Washington Monthly article about myths surrounding the medical malpractice system. In 2000, she won the Harry Chapin Media award for reporting on poverty and hunger, and her 2010 story in Mother Jones of the collapse of the welfare system in Georgia and elsewhere won a Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.

Will Clarence Thomas Recuse Himself on Health Care Reform?

| Tue May 31, 2011 10:11 AM EDT

Following a time-honored Washington tradition of dumping required but embarrassing information on a Friday night before a major holiday, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas finally released the details of his wife's income from her year or so working for the tea party group Liberty Central, which fought President Obama's health care reform law. His new financial disclosure form indicates that his wife, Virginia, who served as Liberty Central's president and CEO, received $150,000 in salary from the group and less than $15,000 in payments from an anti-health care lobbying firm she started.

The disclosure was apparently prompted in part by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who had been needling Thomas (including on Twitter) for months to disclose how much money his wife earned from Liberty Central. That's because challenges to Obama's health care reform law are likely to end up before the Supreme Court sooner rather than later, and if Thomas and his wife benefited from her income working against the bill, the justice has an enormous conflict of interest in hearing any legal challenge. Thomas had failed to disclose Virginia's income on his financial disclosure forms for 20 years; under pressure from Weiner and others, he had recently amended old disclosures to reflect hundreds of thousands of dollars she had earned working for the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank that also opposed Obama's health care plan.

But, up until now, Thomas had not revealed how much money his wife made from her controversial Liberty Central work. When Virginia Thomas decided to take a high-profile role in the organization, she was immediately criticized because of the potential that her job might compromise her husband's independence on the bench. Eventually, she was forced to step down (a move also apparently prompted by her bizarre October phone call to Anita Hill, the woman who'd accused her husband of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearing). When she left the organization, she created a new consulting firm, Liberty Consulting, which also did anti-health care reform lobbying. Justice Thomas finally released the details of her compensation Friday night, but the disclosure, and Weiner's triumphant press release announcing the move, were largely overshadowed by Weinergate.

Over the weekend, Weiner's Twitter account was allegedly hacked and Tweeted a photo of a near-naked man to a college student. Conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart published the photo on his site, Big Government, and the feeding frenzy was furious enough to ensure that Thomas' news barely saw the light of day. Still, if and when health care reform makes its way to the Supreme Court, Thomas will have a much harder time making his conflict of interest go away. 

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A New Birther Conspiracy Theory: Trump Tricked Us

| Fri May 27, 2011 7:29 AM EDT

On Wednesday night, the conservative news outlet WorldNetDaily published a story in which prominent birther Jerome Corsi claimed that Donald Trump had told him that President Barack Obama's recently released birth certificate was a fake. We asked Trump about that, and he told Mother Jones that he had done no such thing. After our story ran Thursday, WND editor Joseph Farah seemed shocked that Trump would try to put distance between himself and Corsi, author of the new book Where's the Birth Certificate?. In a WND story, Farah casts doubt on the "leftist Mother Jones" story, puzzling why Trump would say, as he told Mother Jones, that he had not even read Corsi's book. After all, Farah writes, Trump had asked for an advance copy. From WND:

Farah wonders aloud why Trump would ask for a copy of a book he had no intention of reading—even going to the extent of having his organization sign a non-disclosure agreement to get an early electronic copy. "If he wasn't going to read the book, why go to the trouble of requesting a PDF copy and having your representative sign an NDA [non-disclosure agreement] for it?" asked Farah. "Was his intent all along to violate the NDA and give it to someone else? Was his intent other than what he represented to us—to go to school on the eligibility issue? Trump needs to explain himself to someone other than Mother Jones. That doesn't sound like good faith to me."

Farah and Corsi can't understand why Trump might not want to continue the fight over Obama's citizenship, so they seem to have cooked up yet another conspiracy theory: someone else put Trump up to it. Trump couldn't have been persuaded by the long-form birth certificate that Obama released in April, or the mountains of other evidence that prove that the president was born in Hawaii. No, Farah writes, Trump must be in league with nefarious forces trying to undermine the birthers:

I have strongly begun to suspect that Trump had other motives than seeking the truth about Obama. I think he was pumping Corsi for information for some other purpose than being on the right side of history.

In a recent on-air conversation, Corsi and conspiracy theorist/talk show host Alex Jones suggested that Trump was now scheming with the White House—and perhaps had been plotting with the Obama crowd all along. They speculated that Trump had been bought off, pointing out that his retreat from birthersm and his attacks on GOP 2012 contenders suspiciously coincided with NBC's renewal of his reality show, Celebrity Apprentice. Somehow, the pair said, the government had given money to NBC that ended up with Trump. (They didn't provide details.). Corsi did note, though, that when he recently told Trump that it looked as if Trump's political loyalties had been purchased by the other side, the billionaire developer told him that for him, the NBC money was "chump change."

Trump must be ruing the day he got in bed with these people. He's gone from being their champion to being their target. Perhaps he'll be the subject of Corsi's next book.

Trump: Birther Jerome Corsi Got it Wrong

| Thu May 26, 2011 11:11 AM EDT

This week, leading birther Jerome Corsi, the author of the new book, Where's the Birth Certificate? The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible To Be President, claimed Donald Trump told him that President Barack Obama's recently released long-form birth certificate is a forgery. In a story published by WorldNetDaily, Corsi said that Trump told him that he'd gotten his own computer expert to take a look at the document and that this expert concluded it was computer-generated. WND's article made it seem that Trump was getting back into the birther business.

But Trump says Corsi's not telling the truth.

In a statement to Mother Jones, Trump said:

I am proud of the fact that I was able to get President Obama to release his birth certificate. President Clinton couldn’t do it, Senator McCain couldn’t do it—no one else could do it! Frankly, many people were surprised that it took so long for this to happen. Is his birth certificate legitimate? I hope it is for the good of the country, but that’s for experts to determine—not me. I have not read the book written by Jerry Corsi nor did we discuss whether or not the birth certificate was computer generated or in any way fabricated. I merely asked him how his book was doing and wished him good luck.

During an on-air conversation with conspiracy theorist/talk show host Alex Jones—which was posted within the WND story on Trump's supposed comments—Corsi discussed at length his conversation with Trump. Not once did Corsi mention that Trump had said he doubted the authenticity of the document. In fact, Corsi noted that he had pressed Trump to publicly question the document and to demand a forensic investigation of the original record (as opposed to the electronic version released by the White House). "Trump didn't seem interested in any of that," Corsi told Jones. Corsi noted that Trump was also not enthusiastic about Corsi's latest birther-related pursuits: encouraging the filing of criminal charges claiming the birth certificate was forged, and chasing down supposed leads showing birth records related to Obama in Kenya were destroyed. Corsi repeatedly complained about Trump dropping the birther ball. Corsi also said that he had told Trump that it "sure looks like you dropped out" of the birther crusade because he received "a big payment" from NBC, referring to the renewal of Celebrity Apprentice. Jones and Corsi discussed the possibility that Trump is now in league with the Obama White House—plotting against birthers and Republicans.

That Corsi's claims about this particular phone call seem a little shaky is not surprising. He also wrote, among other things, Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, a book about Kerry's war record in Vietnam that was roundly criticized for factual inaccuracies. At various times, Corsi has claimed that 9/11 was an inside job; that President George W. Bush intended to create a "North American Union" with a single currency for Canada, the United States, and Mexico; and that Democratic politicians are helping the Iranian mullahs, who are trying to obtain nuclear weapons. 

The WND story also seemed a bit at odds with Trump's public comments in response to Obama's release of his long-form birth certificate. In April, as he did today, Trump took credit for forcing Obama's hand after making the document a centerpiece of his short-lived presidential campaign. "I am really honored, frankly, to have played such a big role in hopefully getting rid of this issue," he said.

Trump, who had briefly been the most prominent figure to take up the birther cause, stopped talking about the issue after Obama released his birth certificate (and, of course, after Obama made Trump and his birther fixation the butt of several jokes at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner). Corsi, though, has an explanation for that. According to WND, Trump told Corsi that just because he wasn't talking about the birth certificate after the April release didn't mean that he was satisfied with the document. The story says Trump told Corsi: "I always said I wanted to know if it was real."

WND has used the Trump-Corsi conversation to draw attention to its own extensive "case" about why the birth certificate must be a forgery, citing various experts on such issues as "kerning" (the squishing together of letters that can only be done with a word processor, not a typewriter). WND has posted an annotated version of the document, highlighting all the alleged fakery. Appending Trump's name on the story, of course, is simply a way of trying to keep the issue alive, and to sell some books. WND reportedly printed 200,000 copies of Where's the Birth Certificate?

It's clear that this conservative news outlet that has made a franchise out of questioning the president's citizenship is nowhere near ready to let it go. In fact, Corsi claims that he knew the White House would be releasing a forged birth certificate weeks before Obama made public the long-form document—and that he didn't publicize that information because he wanted the White House to fall into his trap. And Corsi has tried to keep Trump involved. Michael Cohen, Trump's spokesman, says that Corsi has repeatedly called Trump's office "to provide Mr. Trump with information on the birth certificate issue, even after Mr. Trump publicly stated that the president had publicly released his birth certificate and that it's time to move on to more important issues."

The WND article was headlined, "You're forged! Trump declares Obama's birth certificate fake." This fact-free ploy might cause Corsi to hear Trump's famous catchphrase—that is, if Corsi can ever get the billionaire developer on the phone again.

UPDATE: Here's WorldNetDaily's response to Mother Jones.

A Tea Party Legal Battle...Over a Google Group

| Thu May 26, 2011 5:00 AM EDT

Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest tea party umbrella groups in the country, has proven once again that there's no issue too piddly for it to go to court over, at least when it comes to protecting its "brand." The group has waged legal battles against tea party Internet radio hosts, activists selling tea party T-shirts, and even a lone rural conservative who had the nerve to put the words "tea party" and "patriots" on his website. It's recently been battling in a Georgia court over a sparsely populated Gooogle group.

The case got it start in 2009 in a dispute with former board member and current Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer. TPP kicked Kremer off its board after she defied orders and went on a bus tour with Tea Party Express, TPP's rival. Then, TPP went to court and won a restraining order barring Kremer from using the Tea Party Patriots name, trademark, domain name, and especially its most valuable asset—its email list. She counter-sued for slander and also opposed TPP's trademark application, on the grounds that she put the term into circulation months before TPP was incorporated.

The case has dragged on now for nearly two years. In early May, TPP was back in court claiming Kremer had violated the original restraining order. A Georgia judge agreed and found her in contempt of court for failing to turn over control of a Tea Party Patriots Google group, as well as apparently for suggesting in public that she was one of TPP's original founders without noting that she's no longer affiliated with the group. A May 18 order (PDF) requires Kremer to relinquish control of the Google group to TPP posthaste and to correct the record about her affiliation. (See Kremer do just that with Stephen Colbert here.)

The fact that TPP is spending its members' donated money fighting over control of a listserv doesn't reflect well on the group. After all, the Google group activity has dwindled to a handful of kooky contributors who spend their time arguing about whether Obama's birth certificate is really real and which Marxist Communist policies Obama is pushing at the moment. It's hardly property worth fighting for. Ultimately, TPP's litigiousness seems more designed to bankrupt Kremer than to wrest control over its crumbling grassroots empire.

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