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Christina Wilkie
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Christina Wilkie is a national reporter at The Huffington Post based in Washington D.C., where she covers politics and policy. Prior to joining HuffPost in 2011, Wilkie wrote the "In the Know" column for The Hill. She is a graduate of Trinity College and held staff positions at The Brookings Institution and The Aspen Institute before pursuing journalism. Wilkie can be reached at christina.wilkie@huffingtonpost.com.

Entries by Christina Wilkie

HuffPost Will Cover Donald Trump As 'A Buffoon And Dangerous,' Even If He's The Nominee

(1) Comments | Posted April 26, 2016 | 10:29 AM

As Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump tries to reinvent himself as a more moderate candidate, HuffPost editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington told CNN Tuesday why it is more important than ever...

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How Donald Trump Could Spin His Fraud Lawsuits On The Campaign Trail

(0) Comments | Posted April 25, 2016 | 2:31 PM

If Bill Clinton can do it, so can Donald Trump. That's the argument that the Republican presidential front-runner debuted on Friday in a legal defense against allegations that his now-defunct Trump University committed fraud.

In a motion to dismiss a California lawsuit, Trump's lawyers argued that when Trump used the...

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Trump Institute Fired Veteran For 'Absences' After He Was Deployed To Afghanistan

(1) Comments | Posted April 21, 2016 | 12:19 PM

Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump has been vocal about the need to take care of U.S. veterans. He's said that if elected, he'll "put our service men and women on a path to success as they leave active duty."

But that's not what the Trump Institute, a get-rich-quick real estate seminar, did for Richard Wright, a senior master sergeant in the Air Force reserves who worked for the company in 2006 and 2007. Wright was deployed to Afghanistan in the spring of 2007. When he came home to his job, the Trump Institute fired him. "All of your absences," Wright's boss at the Trump Institute told him, had forced the company to "reevaluate your position with the Trump Institute." It is a violation of federal law to penalize an employee for absences caused by military service.

When Wright accepted a job at the Trump Institute in December 2006, he thought he'd be working directly with Trump.

"Having a chance to work with him was a dream come true," Wright, now 48, said of Trump in an email to The Huffington Post. 

Dozens of former customers of the Trump Institute and Trump University, a real estate instruction program, have also described being told that Donald Trump was personally overseeing the programs that bore his name, and that instructors were "hand-picked by Mr. Trump." Judging from the information on the Trump Institute's (now defunct) website, it's easy to see why:

It was only after Wright started the job that he realized Trump had little to do with the day-to-day operations of the Trump Institute.

Trump provided his name, along with his image, his reputation, his video endorsements and his promises to help the Trump Institute lure potential customers and employees. But like many of the hundreds of businesses and real estate projects that have borne Trump's name, the Trump Institute was actually a joint venture between Trump and an outside company -- in this case, a Florida-based business called National Grants Conferences. Trump was paid franchise fees, but the details of his profits from the schools are a well-guarded secret.

Michael and Irene Milin, NGC's founders, spent decades in the get-rich-quick business before linking up with Trump. NGC promised to teach its clients how to access millions of dollars in "free money" from the government. In reality, NGC seminars were little more than elaborate sales pitches for yet more NGC events, and the company, which has since been dissolved, had a long history of legal troubles and fraud investigations that spanned multiple states.

NGC's free-money seminars provided the framework for the Trump Institute's signature offering, the Donald Trump Way to Wealth Seminar. Trump Institute clients paid as much as $35,000 to learn the "Donald Trump Way To Wealth," and to receive coaching from mentors like Wright.

In the clip below, from an infomercial that appears to date to 2006, Trump tells potential customers how important it is that they enroll in the Trump Institute. He also hits on the woman interviewing him.

That same year, the Trump Institute hired Wright as a tele-consultant (or "mentor," in Trump parlance). His job was to speak on the phone with clients who had purchased "memberships" in the Trump Institute, and give them advice about investing in real estate.

On paper, Wright and his fellow mentors were technically employed by Xylophone, LLC, a foreign limited liability company controlled by Irene Milin. But to the outside world, they were working for the Trump Institute.

Two months into the job, Wright was called up for active duty, and in early February 2007, he wrote to his boss, Jay Shavin, to say he would be deployed to Afghanistan starting around March 1.

In Afghanistan, Wright was assigned to the 451st Air Expeditionary Group at Kandahar Airfield, near the country's southern border with Pakistan. Wright was awarded three different medals for outstanding service in the six weeks he was overseas.

Wright arrived home to Florida on Monday, April 16, 2007. He asked his boss to approve two personal days for him to get his bearings, do laundry and so on.

Before Wright left for Afghanistan, he had approximately 40 different clients whom he was advising on how to buy real estate "the Trump Way." Like the other Trump Institute mentors, Wright was promised commissions on his clients' deals -- $250 each time a client bought property and rented it out "using Trump methods," and $750 each time a client bought and then sold a property, a process known as "flipping."

In his first week back home, Wright emailed some of his clients to let them know he was "back safe and sound," according to court documents.

On Monday, April 23, Wright got this note from Shavin:

I specifically told you NOT to contact your old clients. Jeff was in the office when we had the discussion. I also emphatically stated that you were not to contact your old clients. You are so concerned about your closings that do not exist, that your employment is in jeopardy. I told you that I put your former client into a deal that has not closed and would give it to you.

It is apparent that you do not listen to instructions. You are to report to my office tomorrow before you do anything. You have been here less than three months (deducting your time off for the Air Force Reserve). I find it insulting that you would make a request to be paid for time you did not work and/or personal time you did not earn.

You are still on probation. With all of your absences and inability to adhere to specific instructions, you force me to reevaluate your position with the Trump Institute.

Wright replied, in part: "I don't think your previous comments were called for or appropriate. I am a good mentor & have always been a team player & do not appreciate being spoken to that way."

"You needn't be offended by my remarks," Shavin wrote back. "Your employment is hereby terminated."

In subsequent emails, Shavin denied that Wright was fired because of his time in Afghanistan. He also said that any further emails from Wright would be considered "harassment."

A year later, Wright sued the Trump Institute and its parent company, Xylophone, for wrongful termination under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. That law, passed in 1972, requires that military service members called up to active duty from civilian jobs "be restored to the job and benefits you would have attained if you had not been absent due to military service." Under the law, the burden falls on the employer to prove that it did not fire a service member for absences related to his or her military service.

The Trump Institute ultimately reached a settlement with Wright that forbids him from talking about the case. Shavin died in 2014. Lyn Miller, another former Trump Institute employee, said Shavin was "a knowledgeable and awesome guy."

Alan Garten, executive vice president and general counsel of the Trump Organization, provided a statement to HuffPost when asked about Wright's experience.

"The Trump Institute was a licensee of Trump University and was not owned or controlled by Mr. Trump or any of his companies," Garten said. "As such, Mr. Trump had nothing whatsoever to do with the employment of any of the Trump Institute’s employees or mentors, had no involvement in the development or enforcement of any of the Trump Institute’s employment policies and has no knowledge of this matter. Mr. Trump has always been a great supporter of the men and women who have served in this country’s armed forces and has devoted much of his campaign to improving the lives of veterans."

Trump's attempts to distance himself from the companies that paid him money and bore his name haven't shielded him from lawsuits over their conduct.

In 2013, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued Trump and Trump University for civil fraud. Included in his case filings were scores of complaints from Trump Institute clients. In California and New York, Trump University is facing allegations of fraud, and in the California case, the company faces a class action lawsuit with more than 5,000 plaintiffs.

HuffPost attempted to contact the Milins multiple times at the number listed for their charitable organization, the Milin Family Foundation, but there was never any answer.

Wright doesn't blame Trump for his firing, even though the Trump Institute bore Trump's name, benefited from Trump's endorsement and paid money to Trump in franchise and licensing fees.

"He was really just the name on the box & had nothing to do with the inner workings of the company," Wright said in an email to HuffPost. "At the time I really needed a job & I loved what I was doing."

This fall, Wright, who still invests in real estate, hopes to vote for Donald Trump for president.

"I am a HUGE Trump fan and supporter and think he would make an excellent leader," he said. Trump "is saying all the things that politicians have been afraid to say over the years. That is why they are nervous and siding against him. He threatens what they have worked so hard to build. As a veteran, I LOVE that he is wanting to make America great again."

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the...

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Donald Trump Will Get 'The Raccoons Out Of The Basement,' Says Top Surrogate

(0) Comments | Posted April 20, 2016 | 10:31 AM

Carl Paladino, the honorary co-chair of Donald Trump's New York campaign, compared the current government to a "raccoon" in need of "an exterminator" in an interview Wednesday.

Speaking to NPR following...

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Bernie Sanders Stumbles On Guns And Sandy Hook Families

(0) Comments | Posted April 14, 2016 | 10:30 PM

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) struggled to explain his position Thursday on whether Sandy Hook families should be able to hold the manufacturer of the AR-15 gun used in the 2012 massacre liable in a wrongful death lawsuit.

...
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Sandy Hook Families' Lawsuit Against Gun Companies Clears Big Hurdle

(0) Comments | Posted April 14, 2016 | 3:43 PM


Families who lost loved ones in the 2012 Sandy Hook school massacre can proceed with their wrongful-death lawsuit against Bushmaster Firearms International, manufacturer of the AR-15 rifle used to kill 20 children and six adults, a Connecticut Superior Court judge ruled on Thursday. 


In a...

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'The Trump Effect': Hatred, Fear And Bullying On The Rise In Schools

(0) Comments | Posted April 13, 2016 | 1:47 PM


WASHINGTON - It was only a matter of time before kids started picking up the aggressive, divisive language that's become a hallmark of the 2016 presidential campaign.


According to a new report by the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center titled "

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Donald Trump Has An Ace To Play Against Fox News

(2) Comments | Posted April 3, 2016 | 9:32 PM

When Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump launched a crusade against Fox News and its star anchor, Megyn Kelly, last summer, many political insiders saw the move as the beginning of the end of Trump's...

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Ben Carson Defends Trump's Flip-Flop On Abortion And Only Makes Trump Look Worse

(1) Comments | Posted March 31, 2016 | 12:02 PM

Former Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson thinks he knows why Donald Trump floundered so badly on the question of abortion this week: It's because Trump wasn't warned that the question was coming.

...
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Donald Trump Huddles With GOP Leaders In Attempt To Repair Relations

(1) Comments | Posted March 31, 2016 | 10:24 AM

Donald Trump met Thursday afternoon with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and other party leaders in Washington. The meeting came as a surprise to many -- it was not announced ahead of time, and the agenda wasn't...

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Trump Lawyers Claim He's Under 'Continuous' IRS Audit

(0) Comments | Posted March 30, 2016 | 9:09 PM

As the political press focused on Donald Trump's contradictory statements about abortion Wednesday, his campaign quietly released an unusual letter from his tax lawyers claiming the businessman has been under "continuous examination" by the IRS since 2002.

...
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Female Conservative Media Stars Call On Trump To Fire Campaign Manager

(0) Comments | Posted March 30, 2016 | 1:41 PM

A group of influential female journalists, including many conservative media stars, called on Republican front-runner Donald Trump Wednesday to fire his campaign manager.

Corey Lewandowski has been charged with battery following a physical altercation with reporter Michelle...

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Donald Trump: Reporter's Pen Could Have Been 'A Little Bomb'

(0) Comments | Posted March 29, 2016 | 10:47 PM


Donald Trump on Tuesday night offered America a new menace to be afraid of: a reporter with a pen. 


Trump, speaking at a CNN town hall event, said former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields had been holding a pen when she approached him with a question earlier this...

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Donald Trump Withdraws His Pledge To Support The GOP Nominee

(4) Comments | Posted March 29, 2016 | 9:55 PM

Republican front-runner Donald Trump said Tuesday he doesn't plan to honor his pledge to support the party's nominee for president if it's not him. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Trump's rivals, also backed...

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Donald Trump Uses Textbook Victim-Blaming To Attack Female Reporter

(2) Comments | Posted March 29, 2016 | 4:38 PM

WASHINGTON -- Donald Trump on Tuesday unleashed a new line of attack against former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, just hours after Corey Lewandowski, Trump's campaign manager, was charged with battery in connection with an altercation with the...

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Trump Campaign Manager Charged With Battery Of Reporter He Called ‘Delusional'

(1) Comments | Posted March 29, 2016 | 11:10 AM

Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, was charged with battery Tuesday following an incident in which he allegedly grabbed a reporter, Michelle Fields, at a campaign event earlier this month. 

Lewandowski turned himself in to...

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Lockdown Lifted After Shooting At U.S. Capitol

(0) Comments | Posted March 28, 2016 | 2:52 PM

A lockdown of Capitol Hill was lifted Monday afternoon after gunshots were reported in the Capitol Visitor Center.

Officers shot and wounded a man they identified as Larry Dawson just before 3 p.m., after he...

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Ted Cruz Accuses Donald Trump Of Planting 'Garbage' Affair Story

(0) Comments | Posted March 25, 2016 | 1:47 PM

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Friday lashed out at Donald Trump, accusing the billionaire of enlisting "his friends at the National Enquirer and his political henchmen to do his bidding." 

The tabloid published a story earlier this week claiming that Cruz had extramarital affairs with five women. Cruz...

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Black Donald Trump Supporters Get Cozy With White Nationalist

(0) Comments | Posted March 24, 2016 | 3:53 PM

They've become two of the most beloved Donald Trump supporters on the campaign trail: Diamond and Silk, or Lynette "Diamond" Hardaway and Rochelle "Silk" Richardson.

The sisters, who now act as Trump's surrogates, have appeared on his behalf at numerous rallies, touted Trump on TV news shows and won lavish praise from the candidate himself. In their YouTube videos and media appearances, Diamond and Silk rail about the perils of immigration. They support the border wall and the mass deportations and the ban on Muslims that Trump has proposed, despite criticism that Trump's platform is racist and unconstitutional. 

This week, Diamond and Silk took their iconoclastic schtick a step further when they sat down for an interview with white nationalist, Holocaust denier and fellow Trump supporter John Friend. The show was broadcast on American Free Press, a website that calls itself "independent, populist, and pro-White" and promotes racist and anti-Semitic views and conspiracy theories. 

The two sisters, prompted by Friend, accused immigrants of demanding services and civil rights and somehow depriving Americans of those things. 

"It's time for the American people to be taken care of," said Silk in the interview, first reported by Media Matters. "It's time for somebody to look out for the American people, and that's what we love about Donald Trump. Everybody wants to be mad at Donald Trump, but at least he listens to the American people." 

When he's not interviewing other Trump supporters, Friend writes a blog, The Realist Report, where he spouts racist and anti-Semitic views. He also cites Hitler and Goebbels as his inspirations. 

"The only real, authentic kind of Americans there are, considering the racial group that settled, built, founded, and developed this once great nation, are those of White European descent," he wrote recently. 

Friend has said that intermarriage between races will result in "white genocide." But he kept his views on race under wraps during the interview with Diamond and Silk and agreed with most of what they said. 

"People are tired of being under- or unemployed. We need to bring back good jobs, opportunities for people to be gainfully employed," said Silk. "People are tired of his divide in our country. It’s time to bring back spirit, it’s time to unite. Remember, this is the United States, not the Divided States, so it’s time for us to come together.” 

HuffPost has reached out to the sisters to ask how they feel about speaking with a man who openly calls white people the only "real" Americans.

This is not the first time that a prominent white nationalist and anti-Semite has engaged one of Trump's surrogates for an interview. Earlier this month, Trump's son Donald Trump Jr. spoke to the white nationalist James Edwards about his father's immigration platform. Edwards was able to interview Trump Jr. because he was broadcasting his radio show from inside a Trump rally. 

Editor's note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the...

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GOP Senator Touts Work For Company That Allegedly Sold Faulty Helmets To Army

(0) Comments | Posted March 24, 2016 | 2:57 PM

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman is touting his work on behalf of ArmorSource, a manufacturer of protective headgear based in his home state, in a new re-election ad this week. The Republican lawmaker recalls how he intervened on behalf of ArmorSource to make sure the company had the chance to bid on a federal contract to make helmets for U.S. troops.

What the ad doesn't say is that earlier this month, ArmorSource paid $3 million to settle allegations that helmets it previously sold to the U.S. military "did not conform to contract requirements and failed to meet contract performance standards." According to the U.S. Department of Justice, the helmets "failed ballistic safety tests."

A whistleblower lawsuit alleged that ArmorSource delivered faulty helmets from 2006 to 2009. After problems emerged, the Army began recalling the headgear in May 2010. Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan that year were told to trade in their ArmorSource helmets for ones made by a different company.

ArmorSource blamed the helmet failure on a subcontractor, Federal Prison Industries (also known as UNICOR), that uses inmate labor to produce a wide range of products.  

Three years after the helmet recall, Portman intervened to make sure that ArmorSource was allowed to bid for another major helmet contract with the Department of Defense. The company won the contract, and Portman took credit for helping.

But as the senator was speaking up for ArmorSource, the company was still fighting the whistleblower lawsuit related to the faulty helmets. The Justice Department chose to join that suit -- a step that can help pressure companies into settling. 

An ArmorSource spokeswoman distinguished the two contracts. "The settlement in question and the lightweight advanced combat helmet (LWACH) are two entirely separate contracts," she said. "The LWACH is the helmet for which Senator Portman ensured fair and open competition. The Department of Defense is the sole entity responsible for awarding the LWACH contract. Of all vendors awarded LWACH contracts, and there were three, ArmorSource is the only one who was able to pass all of the Army’s ballistic testing requirements.”

A spokesman for Portman's campaign responded to HuffPost's request for comment with a statement attacking former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, the senator's Democratic challenger in this fall's election. The statement did not address the ad or explain why Portman chose to intervene on behalf of ArmorSource. Portman is currently polling neck and neck with Strickland, making the Ohio Senate race one of the most closely watched in the nation.

"Equipment that fails to meet performance standards not only cheats taxpayers, but can put lives at risk,” said Benjamin Mizer, head of DOJ’s Civil Division, in announcing the settlement on March 7. Contractors "must deliver on their promises, especially when the safety and security of our troops is on the line,” said Monte Cason of DOJ's Office of the Inspector...

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