Judge blocks release of blueprints for 3D-printed guns
By MARTHA BELLISLE and MATTHEW DALY
Wednesday, August 1
SEATTLE (AP) — A federal judge on Tuesday stopped the release of blueprints to make untraceable and undetectable 3D-printed plastic guns as President Donald Trump questioned whether his administration should have agreed to allow the plans to be posted online.
The company behind the plans, Austin, Texas-based Defense Distributed, had reached a settlement with the federal government in June allowing it to make the plans for the guns available for download on Wednesday.
The restraining order from U.S. District Judge Robert Lasnik in Seattle puts that plan on hold for now. “There is a possibility of irreparable harm because of the way these guns can be made,” he said.
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson called the ruling “a complete, total victory.”
“We were asking for a nationwide temporary restraining order putting a halt to this outrageous decision by the federal government to allow these 3D downloadable guns to be available around our country and around the world. He granted that relief,” Ferguson said at a news conference after the hearing. “That is significant.”
Eight Democratic attorneys general had filed a lawsuit Monday seeking to block the settlement. They also sought the restraining order, arguing the 3D guns would be a safety risk.
Congressional Democrats have urged President Donald Trump to reverse the decision to publish the plans. At a news conference Tuesday, Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said that if Trump does not block sale, “Blood is going to be on his hands.”
Trump said Tuesday that he’s “looking into” the idea, saying making 3D plastic guns available to the public “doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
Trump tweeted that he has already spoken with the National Rifle Association about the downloadable directions a Texas company wants to provide for people to make 3D-printed guns. The guns are made of a hard plastic and are simple to assemble, easy to conceal and difficult to trace.
“We don’t agree with President Trump very much,” Washington state Assistant Attorney General Jeff Rupert told Lasnik, “but when he tweeted ‘this doesn’t make much sense,’ that’s something we agree with.”
After a years-long court battle, the State Department in late June settled the case against Defense Distributed.
The settlement, which took gun-control advocates by surprise, allowed the company to resume posting blueprints for the hard-plastic guns at the end of July. Those plans were put on hold by the Seattle judge’s decision.
During the hearing in Seattle, Eric Soskin, a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department, said they reached the settlement to allow the company to post the material online because the regulations were designed to restrict weapons that could be used in war, and the online guns were no different from the weapons that could be bought in a store.
Since the weapons “did not create a military advantage,” he told the judge, “how could the government justify regulating the data?”
But Rupert said a restraining order would keep the plans away from people who have learned about the technology and want to use it to get around gun laws.
Hours before the restraining order was issued, Democrats sounded the alarm, warning about “ghost guns” that can avoid detection and pose a deadly hazard.
The company’s website had said downloads would begin Wednesday, but blueprints for at least one gun — a plastic pistol called the Liberator — have been posted on the site since Friday. A lawyer for the company said he didn’t know how many blueprints had been downloaded since then.
Outrage over the administration decision is putting gun control back into the election-year political debate, but with a high-tech twist.
The president seemed to express surprise. He said on Twitter he was looking into the idea of a company providing plans to the public for printing guns, and he said it “doesn’t seem to make much sense!”
Democrats agreed and said Trump had the power to stop it.
Some Republicans also expressed concern.
“Even as a strong supporter of the Second Amendment — this is not right,” Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski tweeted, linking to a news story on the guns.
The NRA said in a statement that “anti-gun politicians” and some members of the news media wrongly claim that 3D printing technology “will allow for the production and widespread proliferation of undetectable plastic firearms.”
In truth, “undetectable plastic guns have been illegal for 30 years,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s political arm. A federal law passed in 1988 — crafted with NRA support — bars the manufacture, sale or possession of an undetectable firearm.
Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley made much the same point, saying the administration supports the law against wholly plastic guns, including those made with a 3D printer.
But Democrats called the law weak and said gun users can get around it by using weapons with a removable metal block that the gun doesn’t need in order to function.
Democrats filed legislation that would prohibit the publication of a digital file online that allows a 3D printer to manufacture a firearm. Democrats also filed a separate bill to require that all guns have at least one non-removable component made of metal so they can be discovered by metal detectors.
People can use the blueprints to manufacture plastic guns using a 3D printer. But industry experts have expressed doubts that criminals would go to the trouble, since the printers needed to make the guns can cost thousands of dollars, the guns themselves tend to disintegrate quickly and traditional firearms are easy to come by.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey in Washington and Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this story.
Promoting voter ID, Trump says ID needed to buy groceries
By KEN THOMAS and JILL COLVIN
Wednesday, August 1
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — President Donald Trump wrongly claimed that shoppers need to show photo identification to buy groceries and accused Democrats of obstructing his agenda and his Supreme Court nominee during a raucous rally aimed at bolstering two Florida Republicans ahead of the state’s primary.
Trump, addressing thousands of supporters Tuesday night in one of the nation’s top electoral battlegrounds, also mounted a rigorous defense of his trade agenda, accusing China and others of having “targeted our farmers.”
“Not good, not nice,” he told the crowd as tensions with China continue to escalate, adding: “You know what our farmers are saying? ‘It’s OK, we can take it.” The Trump administration last week announced plans for $12 billion in temporary aid to help farmers deal with retaliatory tariffs from U.S. trading partners in response to Trump’s policies.
The freewheeling rally lasted more than an hour and included numerous attacks on the media, as well as one glaring false claim. Trump was railing against the idea of non-citizens voting and advocating stricter voting laws when he claimed that IDs are required for everything else, including shopping.
“If you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card, you need ID,” he said at the event at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa. “You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture.”
A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about when the billionaire president last bought groceries or anything else himself. Photo IDs are required for certain purchases, such as alcohol, cigarettes or cold medicine.
The comment came as Trump waded into Florida Republican politics, picking sides as he embraced U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis in a competitive primary for governor and backed the Senate campaign of his longtime ally, Gov. Rick Scott.
“We have to make sure Rick Scott wins and wins big,” Trump told the crowd. “It’s time to vote Bill Nelson out of office.”
Trump, who is seeking Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court in the fall, also made the case that voters need to elect more Republicans, pointing to Democratic opposition to his pick.
Democrats “don’t want to give Trump any victory,” he said. “They will do anything they can to not help the Trump agenda.”
Trump has publicly threatened to shut down the federal government over his push to overhaul the nation’s immigration system and fund his signature border wall, though officials say he has privately assured staff he wouldn’t provoke a fiscal crisis before midterms. The president avoided making an outright reference to a government shutdown during the rally, saying, “We may have to do some pretty drastic things” unless Democrats support his agenda.
Instead, he spent much of the rally highlight strong economic numbers and praising DeSantis as “a tough, brilliant cookie.” He predicted DeSantis will win against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the state’s Aug. 28 Republican primary.
Trump, who makes frequent trips to Florida and his private Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago club, criticized Nelson’s policies and claimed the only time he sees the senator is “five months before every election.”
“After a while, you forget who’s the senator,” Trump said.
Scott didn’t join Trump at the rally but appeared with him at an earlier round-table event.
DeSantis has tied his campaign for governor directly to Trump, appearing on Fox News more than 100 times to talk about federal issues and defend the president. DeSantis has campaigned with Fox’s Sean Hannity and Donald Trump Jr. and uses humor in a new ad to show his alliance with the president, teaching one of his two children to “build the wall” with blocks.
Putnam, a state agriculture commissioner and former congressman, has run a more traditional campaign for governor, barnstorming the state with campaign events aimed at building upon his family’s deep ties to the state.
Trump, in railing against the idea of allowing non-citizens to vote in some elections, said at the rally, “Only American citizens should vote in American elections.”
He also advocated for requiring voters to present photo identification, even though Florida already has such a law on the books.
“The time has come for voter ID like everything else,” Trump said, before making his claim about groceries.
“It’s crazy,” he added, “but we’re turning it around.”
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KThomasDC
Opinion: Democrats’ Partisan ‘Paper Chase’ to Keep Kavanaugh off the Court
By Michael Graham
When George H.W. Bush nominated David Souter to become a Supreme Court justice, the New Hampshire judge had been on the federal bench for a total of three months. Souter was confirmed by a vote of 90-9 with the support of 46 Democrats.
When Donald Trump nominated Judge Brett Kavanaugh in July, he had been on the D.C. Federal Court of Appeals approaching 13 years. And yet Democrats are demanding that there be no vote at all until they can access millions of documents from the Bush White House during Kavanaugh’s time as White House staff secretary.
David Souter had virtually no record as a federal judge for senators to evaluate (he’d spent most of his career overseeing state courts in New Hampshire). Kavanaugh, on the other hand, has written more dissents alone than the total number of cases Souter handled in his entire federal career. And yet in Kavanaugh’s case, Democrats insist they don’t know enough about him to make an informed decision.
“It’s ridiculous,” says Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow at the Meese Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation. “Democrats know more about Judge Kavanaugh and his judicial approach than the vast majority of judges they’ve sent to the Supreme Court.”
As evidence, Spakovsky notes that, prior to Kavanaugh, 26 D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges were elevated to the Supreme Court. Kavanaugh has served on that court longer than 70 percent of them. “He’s written more than 300 opinions, he’s had 11 of his dissents later adopted by the Supreme Court. He literally laid out his judicial philosophy in a speech here at the Heritage Foundation last fall. There is no ‘secret’ Brett Kavanaugh,” Spakovsky says.
But does that mean that the Democrats’ only motive is partisanship? Is it really out of line for them to ask to see a nominee’s work product from his pre-judicial days?
No, says Adam J. White, research fellow at the Hoover Institute and professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School.
“It’s not uncommon for the opposition party to request, or even demand, records from the nominee’s work in the executive branch. Republicans wanted to see files from Elena Kagan’s time in the Obama administration and Democrats sought documents from John Roberts’ Reagan White House days.”
But, White says, not all requests are equal. “The difference is that Kavanaugh was the White House staff secretary, which means nearly all the paperwork that crossed his desk involved his minimal input. Democrats and Republicans should reach a deal to disclose the White House files that contain more than just de minimis input by Kavanaugh.”
Spakovsky argues that all the additional documents are irrelevant — other than as a source for a fishing expedition to find something controversial that crossed Kavanaugh’s desk and derail his nomination. They’re irrelevant because Kavanaugh’s judicial philosophy is both clear and clearly established in his record without them.
And, Spakovsky adds, conservatives should be happy about that.
“Think about Justice Kennedy,” Spakovsky says. “Some conservatives like to bash him, but the fact is he was very good (from a conservative standpoint) on many issues: The First Amendment, the Second Amendment — he even voted against Obamacare, remember?”
“But when it came to social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, Kennedy had a form of judicial schizophrenia. It wasn’t just that he voted for liberal outcomes. He actually changed the way he approached the law and the cases. For many on the right, the complaint about Kennedy wasn’t that he stopped being conservative. It’s that he wasn’t being consistent.”
Spakovsky predicts Kavanaugh won’t have the same problem. “Even when he has outcomes I don’t like, he follows a consistent legal approach,” Spakovsky says.
And this may be the heart of the Democrats’ opposition. During the Supreme Court term that just ended, there were 19 cases decided by 5-4 votes. Justice Kennedy was one of the five in every single case.
Replacing him with a justice who more closely hews to a conservative view of jurisprudence, one that doesn’t change even when the issue before the court is politically polarized or culturally divisive, may mean more of those 5-4 votes may deny Democrats the political outcomes they want.
Spakovsky points out that Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Court of Appeals was held up for three years by Democratic opposition. There were two full hearings on his appointment, in 2004 and in 2006. His opponents had repeated opportunities to demand these same documents from his White House days and deny him a vote if they truly believed the records were vital.
“They had three years to look into Kavanaugh — immediately after he left the White House — and they didn’t bother with these staff secretary documents,” Spakovsky says. “The problem isn’t that they don’t know his record. They do. It’s the outstanding record of a brilliant judge in the mainstream of American judicial philosophy. There is no legitimate reason to vote against him,” Spakovsky says.
“That’s why they’re still looking.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Michael Graham is political editor of NH Journal. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Trump criticized for not leading effort to secure elections
By DEB RIECHMANN
Wednesday, August 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — As alarms blare about Russian interference in U.S. elections, the Trump administration is facing criticism that it has no clear national strategy to protect the country during the upcoming midterms and beyond.
Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the administration’s response as fragmented, without enough coordination across federal agencies. And with the midterms just three months away, critics are calling on President Donald Trump to take a stronger stand on an issue critical to American democracy.
“There’s clearly not enough leadership from the top. This is a moment to move,” said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “I don’t think they are doing nearly enough.”
Various government agencies have been at work to ensure safe voting. The FBI has set up a Foreign Influence Task Force and intelligence agencies are collecting information on Russian aggression.
But Trump himself rarely talks about the issue. And in the nearly two years since Russians were found to have hacked into U.S. election systems and manipulated social media to influence public opinion, the White House has held two meetings on election security.
One was last week. It ran 30 minutes. (Trump reportedly went to play golf afterwards.)
The meeting resulted in no new presidential directive to coordinate the federal effort to secure the election, said Suzanne Spaulding, former undersecretary of homeland security who was responsible for cyber security and protecting critical infrastructure.
“Trump’s failure to take a leadership role on this, up until this (National Security Council) meeting, misses an opportunity to send a clear message to states that this is a very serious threat,” Spaulding said. “We did not get out of this NSC meeting a comprehensive, interagency strategy. It was each department and agency working in their silos.”
Garrett Marquis, a spokesman for the NSC, said the government response is robust. He said NSC staff “leads the regular and continuous coordination of the whole-of-government approach to addressing foreign malign influence and ensuring election security.”
At a cybersecurity summit on Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence said he was confident officials could prevent further meddling by foreign agents.
“We will repel any efforts to interfere in our elections,” he said.
Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said government agencies are “doing a lot of good work, but nobody knows about it.” He lamented Trump’s contradictory statements about whether he accepts the U.S. intelligence assessment that Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election.
“What I think he needs to do is lead this nation to make sure the 2018 election is protected,” Graham said recently on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” ”He needs to be the leader of the movement — not brought to the dance reluctantly. So, I hope he will direct his government, working with Congress, to harden the 2018 election before it’s too late.”
The debate over safeguarding U.S. elections comes as evidence of cyber threats piles up. Facebook announced Tuesday that it has uncovered “sophisticated” efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to influence U.S. politics on its platforms.
The company said it removed 32 accounts from Facebook and Instagram because they were involved in “coordinated” political behavior and appeared to be fake. Nearly 300,000 people followed at least one of the accounts.
Earlier this month, Microsoft said it discovered that a fake domain had been set up as the landing page for phishing attacks by a hacking group believed to have links to Russian intelligence. A Microsoft spokesman said Monday that additional analysis has confirmed that the attempted attacks occurred in late 2017 and targeted multiple accounts associated with the offices of two legislators running for re-election. Microsoft did not name the lawmakers.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has said Russian hackers tried unsuccessfully to infiltrate her Senate computer network in 2017.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., who is not running for re-election, told The Associated Press on Monday that someone contacted her office “claiming to be an official from a country.”
A frequent critic of Russia, Shaheen said she didn’t know if Moscow was behind the email received in November but had turned the matter over to the FBI.
Shaheen said another senator had been targeted besides McCaskill. “It’s my understanding that there is, but I don’t want to speak for other senators,” she said. When asked if it was a Democratic senator, Shaheen nodded yes.
“People on both sides of the aisle have been beating the drum for two years now about the need for somebody to be accountable for cybersecurity across the government,” Shaheen said.
National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said U.S. intelligence officials continue to see activity from individuals affiliated with the Internet Research Agency, whose members were indicted by U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller. Coats said they create new social media accounts disguised as those of Americans, then use the fake accounts to drive attention to divisive issues in America.
In the Obama administration, synchronizing federal agencies’ work on election security would have likely been the job of the White House cybersecurity coordinator. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, abolished the post in May to remove a layer of bureaucracy from the NSC flow chart.
Under the current structure, the point man for election security is Rear Adm. Douglas Fears. Trump tapped Fears in early June as his deputy assistant to the president and homeland security and counterterrorism adviser.
Fears oversees the election security and other portfolios of the NSC’s Cybersecurity Directorate and coordinates the federal government’s response to disasters.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen says cyber threats are “an urgent, evolving crisis.”
“Our adversaries’ capabilities online are outpacing our stove-piped defenses,” Nielsen said Tuesday. “In fact, I believe that cyber threats collectively now exceed the danger of physical attacks against us. This is a major sea change for my department and for our country’s security.”
Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick, Matthew Daly, Zeke Miller, Colleen Long and Lisa Mascaro in Washington and Matt O’Brien in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.
Facebook finds ‘sophisticated’ efforts to disrupt elections
By BARBARA ORTUTAY and MARY CLARE JALONICK
Wednesday, August 1
NEW YORK (AP) — Facebook elevated concerns about election interference Tuesday, announcing that it had uncovered “sophisticated” efforts, possibly linked to Russia, to manipulate U.S. politics and by extension the upcoming midterm elections.
The company was careful to hedge its announcement; it didn’t link the effort directly to Russia or to the midterms, now less than a hundred days away. And its findings were limited to 32 apparently fake accounts on Facebook and Instagram, which the company removed because they were involved in “coordinated” and “inauthentic” political behavior.
But official Washington connected those dots anyway, not least because the reported activity so closely mirrored Russian influence campaigns during the 2016 presidential election. Nearly 300,000 people followed at least one of the newly banned accounts and thousands expressed interest in events they promoted.
“This is an absolute attack on our democracy,” said Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, which Facebook had briefed in advance. Warner expressed “pretty high confidence” that Russia was behind the assault.
A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Facebook had informed his office that “that a limited group of Russian actors has attempted to spread disinformation using its platform and that the affected groups are affiliated with the political left.”
The identified accounts sought to “promote divisions and set Americans against one another,” wrote Ben Nimmo and Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab in a blog post Tuesday. The nonprofit is working with Facebook to find and analyze abuse on its service.
The perpetrators, Facebook noted, have been “more careful to cover their tracks” than in 2016, in part because of steps Facebook has taken to prevent abuse over the past year. For example, they used virtual private networks and internet phone services to mask their locations, and paid third parties to run ads on their behalf.
After it became clear that Russia-linked actors used social media to try to influence the 2016 U.S. election, Facebook has escalated countermeasures intended to prevent a repeat. It has cracked down on fake accounts and tried to slow the spread of fake news and misinformation through outside fact-checkers. The company has also announced new guidelines around political advertisements, requiring disclosure of who paid for them and keeping a database.
Facebook has ramped up spending on these and other measures, so much so that it finally spooked investors with a forecast of lower profitability last Wednesday. Facebook’s shares promptly dropped almost 20 percent and haven’t recovered.
While the company would not say who is behind the efforts, Facebook said it uncovered links between the accounts it just deleted and those created by Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 influence effort.
For example, the Atlantic Council’s researchers noted “language patterns that indicate non-native English and consistent mistranslation, as well as an overwhelming focus on polarizing issues.” The accounts seemed focused on building up an online audience and moving it to offline events, such as protests.
The earliest page was created in March 2017. Facebook says more than 290,000 accounts followed at least one of the fake pages. The most followed Facebook pages had names such as “Aztlan Warriors,” ”Black Elevation,” ”Mindful Being,” and “Resisters.”
Facebook didn’t provide detailed descriptions of those pages. But their names parallel those of 2016 groups established by Russian agents to manipulate Americans with particular ethnic, cultural or political identities. That effort targeted people with both liberal and conservative leanings.
This time, though, the pages Facebook found focused “exclusively at engaging and influencing the left end of the American political spectrum,” according to the Atlantic Council researchers.
Facebook says the pages ran about 150 ads for $11,000 on Facebook and Instagram, paid for in U.S. and Canadian dollars. The first ad was created in April 2017; the last was created in June 2018.
On a Tuesday conference call, Facebook executives declined to say much more, including whether the pages spanned a range of political opinion and whether the accounts mentioned specific candidates or politicians.
California Rep. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said more work needs to be done before the midterm elections.
“Foreign bad actors are using the exact same playbook they used in 2016,” he said. They are “dividing us along political and ideological lines, to the detriment of our cherished democratic system.”
The intelligence panel is planning to hold a hearing in early September with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and an executive from Google.
President Donald Trump has offered mixed messages on Russian interference, at times even calling it a “hoax.” After appearing to question whether the Russians would try again to interfere earlier this month, he acknowledged last week in a tweet that the midterms were a likely target. But he said that Democrats, not his fellow Republicans, would be the ones supported by Russia.
On Tuesday, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said that Trump “has made it clear his administration will not tolerate foreign interference in our electoral process from any nation state or other malicious actors.”
Jalonick reported from Washington. AP White House correspondent Ken Thomas contributed to this story from Air Force One.
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