Matt Schlapp accuser files a second suit against top conservative operative


Among other things, the suit accuses Wren of using the plaintiff’s name in tweets and saying he was fired from multiple jobs “for lying and unethical behavior” and for “being a habitual liar.” An attorney for the plaintiff on Jan. 12 sent Wren a letter demanding a retraction of statements she had made about the plaintiff on Twitter, according to the complaint, but Wren “continued to maliciously post statements about Mr. Doe.”

While the plaintiff has been terminated from multiple jobs — including from one last week — his attorney states in the filing that the plaintiff has not lost jobs because he was a liar or unethical.

Wren’s tweets “have placed Mr. Doe into contempt, ridicule, and disgrace within the community,” the complaint states.

The plaintiff is seeking more than $500,000 in damages from Wren.

Wren did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The suit adds another chapter to a political and legal saga that has affected Republican campaign operations and conservative activists, of which Wren is an increasingly influential one.

The plaintiff, a former Herschel Walker campaign staffer, first shared with the Daily Beast his account of Matt Schlapp allegedly sexually assaulting him after a campaign event for the Senate candidate. In a subsequent lawsuit, he provided more details about the alleged incident.

According to the suit, the alleged assault took place in October while Schlapp was in Georgia stumping for Walker. The men went for drinks in Atlanta, where they returned after the staffer drove Schlapp back from a campaign event Oct. 19. The plaintiff accused Schlapp of “aggressively fondling” his “genital area in a sustained fashion” while he was “frozen with fear and panic,” according to the original lawsuit filed Jan. 17.

Schlapp has denied the charges and, through a lawyer, suggested he may counter-sue the plaintiff.

The plaintiff sued Matt Schlapp for both sexual battery and defamation. In addition, he sued Mercedes Schlapp for defamation. Wren was named in the first lawsuit, but was not listed as a defendant.

The plaintiff filed both the suit against the Schlapps and the one against Wren as John Doe, since he says he is a victim of sexual assault. In addition to the more than $500,000 in damages he is seeking from Wren, the plaintiff is seeking more than $9 million from the Schlapps. The couple are prominent Republican commentators. Matt Schlapp chairs the American Conservative Union, which hosts the influential CPAC confab. Two ACU board members have released a statement of support for Schlapp.

The lawsuit against the Schlapps has not stopped CPAC’s largest annual event from going on as planned. The CPAC gathering, scheduled for March 1 through 4 at Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland, is slated to feature Trump and other top GOP figures as speakers.

Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.


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Pfizer reports record revenue, expects Covid-19 vaccines to be commercialized later this year


In its 2022 fourth-quarter earnings call, company executives said that they expect sales of Covid-19 vaccines to decrease, in part because they still have shots that the government purchased last year to distribute.

The decline in revenue also comes in part because an estimated 24 percent of the population will receive a Covid-19 vaccine this year, down from 31 percent in 2022 as fewer people comply with federal recommendations.

“Fewer people are expected to receive their primary doses,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said. “And for the most part only those who are older or at higher risk are expected to continue receiving more than one booster per year.”

Pfizer expects to account for about two thirds of Covid vaccinations, and Bourla estimated about 102 million shots of its vaccine, called Comirnaty, would be distributed this year. The company is not expecting any new Covid variants that would prompt more people to get vaccinated.

The company also noted that the U.S. government had previously purchased a set number of Covid-19 vaccines; but moving forward, there will be less demand once the vaccine is sold on the commercial market.

Company executives did not mention how much they plan to charge for their Covid products on the commercial market but have previously stated it would be somewhere between $110 and $130 per dose. Moderna, which also makes an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, has floated a price of $110 to $130 per dose.

On Monday, the White House announced that it would end the Covid-19 emergency declarations in May. And last week, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee discussed the steps it would need to take for a simplified Covid-19 vaccine regimen as it moves toward a model of managing the virus on a yearly basis, similar to the way flu shots are developed and administered.

Pfizer has its sights set on future iterations of Covid-19 vaccines, which it expects will be needed as immunity wanes as the virus continues to mutate.

“We expect to see an increase in Covid-19 vaccination rates assuming the successful development and approval of a Covid-flu combination product,” Bourla said, noting that about half of eligible adults receive a flu shot annually.

Other products in the pipeline: Pfizer also noted that it expects to launch its RSV vaccine for adults 60 and older this year. The FDA said Tuesday that it would convene its external vaccine advisory committee to discuss its application in late February.

The company is also developing an mRNA-based flu vaccine and an mRNA-based shingles vaccine.


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DeSantis targets ‘ideological’ programs in proposed university changes


DeSantis earlier this month laid the groundwork for this proposal by launching an initial probe for data on how much state funding flows to diversity, equity and inclusion programs — as well as critical race theory — at state colleges and universities, giving the first indication that these services could be on the chopping block this year. Diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, encompasses a breadth of policies and programs promoting the representation and participation of different groups in schools, which can include ages, ethnicities, genders, religions, cultures and sexual orientations.

After universities responded to his request and spelled out at least $34.5 million in spending toward diversity and similar programs, DeSantis pledged to “eliminate all DEI and CRT bureaucracies” statewide. That appears to put at risk positions at colleges such as the University of Florida’s chief diversity office, which develops and coordinates “inclusive excellence” strategy and initiatives across UF and supports compliance with federal Affirmative Action regulations.

“No funding, and that will wither on the vine,” DeSantis said Tuesday.

Officials alongside DeSantis claimed Tuesday that DEI programs are a “lie” that are harming students by limiting discourse and restricting debate among students. They criticized universities in other states such as California and Illinois that require applicants to sign diversity and equity statements as a commitment to those principles.

“We are rejecting mistakes that other states are making,” said State University System of Florida Chancellor Ray Rodrigues.

DeSantis has sought to reshape Florida’s colleges and universities into more conservative-leaning institutions. He recently appointed six new trustees to the board of the Sarasota-based New College, a small liberal arts college, and last year, his chief of staff helped former Nebraska GOP Sen. Ben Sasse navigate the University of Florida application process to become the flagship university’s new president.

DeSantis also wants Florida lawmakers to give university presidents and trustee boards power to call for a review of a tenured faculty member at any time. The Legislature in 2022 passed a law clearing a path for the state university system’s Board of Governors to adopt rules requiring tenured faculty to take part in a “comprehensive” review every five years. Now, DeSantis wants to expand that policy.

Additionally, DeSantis is pushing to give university presidents more authority in faculty hiring decisions. The Republican governor also suggested spending $100 million in state cash to recruit “highly qualified” faculty at universities.

DeSantis also said that the state is preparing to send more funding toward New College of Florida, which is could soon be getting a curriculum and faculty overhaul. He said that Florida lawmakers are set to consider a $15 million budget allocation for new faculty and scholarships at the school in the coming weeks. He also wants a recurring $10 million to bring in faculty at New College.

“You’re not spending the money on DEI bureaucracies, you’re spending the money on bringing really good people in that are going to be able to teach our university students,” DeSantis said. “I think that makes much more sense from a financial perspective and it’s much more mission-oriented in terms of what we’re trying to do.”


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Dems’ new primary calendar nabs support from Southern DNC members


“The past few elections have made it abundantly clear that the South is the new Democratic battleground, and by starting the presidential nominating process in South Carolina and incorporating Georgia into the early lineup, our party will only strengthen its commitment to these critical voters,” the statement reads in part. “The road to the White House runs through the South, and this calendar will ensure that the Democratic nominee is fortified for the general election.”

The statement is another sign of Democratic Party leaders smoothing out the path for Biden’s plan ahead of Saturday’s vote. The changes would remove Iowa and its caucuses from their longtime first-place status and challenge New Hampshire’s place as the first primary, though it would still be behind just one other state in South Carolina.

There’s still some pushback from New Hampshire Democrats about their new position in the order — splitting the second place slot with Nevada, ahead of new early states Michigan and Georgia. And a few Democrats, including Bernie Sanders’ former campaign manager Faiz Shakir, have raised concerns about putting South Carolina, a solidly red state, in first place.

In an op-ed, Shakir suggested putting North Carolina first, but North Carolina Democrats did not apply to be a part of the early window and one of North Carolina’s DNC members, John Verdejo, signed on to the statement of support for South Carolina.


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DeSantis snaps back at Trump: I got reelected


DeSantis has made similar remarks in the past, but his Tuesday comments show he’s willing to engage and defend against a rising stream of attacks from his one-time ally who boosted him to the governor’s mansion back in 2018.

Trump over the weekend made campaign appearances in New Hampshire and South Carolina where he told reporters that DeSantis would be “disloyal” if he ran for the Republican nomination and he knocked DeSantis’ record on Covid-19.

DeSantis is a rising conservative star who is seen as one of the biggest potential obstacles to Trump winning a third go-round as the Republican nominee for president. DeSantis’ star has been buoyed by his decision to veer away from lockdowns earlier than most states — but not all — and his insistence on opening schools back up to in-person learning. He leaned into his record as a prime argument to Florida voters who re-elected him in a nearly 20-point victory over Democratic nominee Charlie Crist.

DeSantis has also waded into cultural issues such as race and gender identity that also brought him widespread criticism and attention.

Trump so far is the only major GOP candidate in the race, although many others are mulling 2024 White House runs. DeSantis will likely jump into the race later this year — possibly in May — after the annual session of the Florida Legislature.

Trump also contended that DeSantis was “trying to rewrite history” regarding his handling of the pandemic, including the governor’s decision to allow lockdowns during the first months as well as his aggressive early push for people to get vaccinated. DeSantis has since pivoted and now is viewed as a vaccine skeptic, especially after he asked for the creation of a grand jury to look at any “wrongdoing” associated with vaccines.

Trump has begun to paint DeSantis, however, as another Republican establishment candidate, including taking shots at him because he is on good terms with former GOP Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who Trump mocked and chased out of the 2016 race for president.


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Biden says he will talk with Zelenskyy after rejecting Kyiv request for jets


President Biden answered a question Tuesday about Ukrainian requests for additional U.S. weapons by saying he is “going to talk” to his counterpart in Kyiv, a pledge that came one day after his flat “no” when he was asked about America sending fighter jets to Ukraine.

En route to New York for an event highlighting domestic infrastructure legislation he signed in late 2021, Biden was asked by reporters if he had spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recently and what he would tell him about requests for further military aide in Ukraine’s war effort against Russia. Biden said only that he would talk to Zelenskyy and did not elaborate further.

Tuesday’s comments followed Biden’s initial rejection a day earlier of talk that the U.S. might supply Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets. POLITICO reported Monday that there have not yet been any serious, high-level discussion about F-16s for Kyiv.


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Dems name new members to combat GOP investigations — including Schiff


Democrats will get their first test run on pushing back against Republicans on the panel, chaired by McCarthy-antagonist-turned-ally Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), on Wednesday during the committee’s first hearing, centered on the border. In addition to investigations, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee will be at the forefront of any impeachment inquiries, as Republicans have called for forcibly removing Mayorkas over his handling of the border.

Meanwhile, several new freshmen members have joined the Oversight Committee, including Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), who was counsel to House Democrats during the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump.

The panel’s Democrats also named Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to serve as vice ranker, a possibility reported by POLITICO last week. It’s a move that could be highly significant if Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) has to miss hearings as he undergoes cancer treatment.

The new members “have come from all over America to fight for their communities. Now they join the Democrats on the Oversight and Accountability Committee — the ‘Truth Squad’ — to conduct thorough and fact-based oversight to ensure an effective, efficient, and accountable American government that delivers for the American people,” Raskin said in a statement about Democrats’ line up.

Republicans on the Oversight Committee have vowed to investigate dozens of areas within the Biden administration. But they’ve signaled panel Republicans’ main focus will be targeting President Joe Biden himself, primarily by delving into Hunter Biden’s business dealings and other members of the Biden family; the coronavirus pandemic, including federal government directives and the “origins” of the virus; the border, and the 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And the panel includes some of the House GOP’s most right-leaning members, including Reps. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the chair of the House Freedom Caucus.

Democrats still need to pick their members for a Republican-run select subcommittee that will look into the “weaponization” of the federal government, a concession McCarthy made to conservatives in order to secure the speakership.

McCarthy unveiled the GOP picks for the panel last week, naming 11 Republicans plus Jordan to lead the sweeping committee — more members than expected. The House is expected to pass a resolution expanding the size of the subcommittee, which would proportionally boost the number of Democratic seats.


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Mitch Daniels opts against a run for the Senate


“Maybe I can find ways to contribute that do not involve holding elective office. If not, there is so much more to life,” Daniels added. “People obsessed with politics or driven by personal ambition sometimes have difficulty understanding those who are neither.”

Daniels’ decision marks the end of a monthslong flirtation with a return to electoral politics after a stint as president of Purdue University. And it limits the likelihood of a costly and messy Republican primary, one that would have pitted a conservative fixture of the Reagan era against a sharp-elbowed MAGA upstart in Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), who has announced his candidacy for the Senate.

Daniels said he had considered running on a pledge to serve just one six-year term.

“I would have returned any unspent campaign funds to their donors, closed any political accounts, and devoted six years to causes I think critical to the long-term safety and prosperity of our country,” he said.

In his statement, Daniels said he would have focused on safety net programs, national security in the face of a “would-be superpower” in China and securing the border without foreclosing on broader immigration reform.

“And I would have tried to work on these matters in a way that might soften the harshness and personal vitriol that has infected our public square, rendering it not only repulsive to millions of Americans, but also less capable of effective action to meet our threats and seize our opportunities,” he said.

This is the second time Daniels has turned down a chance to join that chamber: In late 1988, he declined Gov Robert Orr’s offer to fill the vacancy created by Dan Quayle’s ascent to the vice presidency. Daniels also famously turned down a 2012 presidential bid, citing concerns of his wife and daughters.

Braun’s seat, however, had special meaning to Daniels and his allies. He helped the late Sen. Dick Lugar first capture the seat in 1976 before serving as his chief of staff for five years. Daniels then ascended to oversee all national Senate races as the executive director of the Republican Party’s campaign arm.

Lugar would later lose the seat after being defeated by Richard Mourdock in the GOP primary in 2012. Former Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly would beat Mourdock later that fall. But Braun would then go on to defeat Donnelly in 2018.

Daniels was always somewhat unlikely to take a non-executive role that would have him shuttling to D.C. Still, a small circle of Daniels advisers had gone so far as to recruit a potential campaign manager and had begun preparing paperwork for him to file for a run. Last Wednesday, Daniels made the rounds in Washington, visiting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Meanwhile, Banks huddled with Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) and Donald Trump Jr. at the Capitol Hill Club — a GOP power hub.

“My one tour of duty in elected office involved, like those in business before and academe after it, an action job, with at least the chance to do useful things every day,” Daniels said. “I have never imagined that I would be well-suited to legislative office, particularly where seniority remains a significant factor in one’s effectiveness, and I saw nothing in my recent explorations that altered that view.”

Even before announcing, Daniels faced attacks from Trump world painting him as a RINO. The deep-pocketed Club for Growth also sought to keep him out of the race with a small statewide ad buy blasting his record. Daniels, who never ran a negative ad in his two gubernatorial campaigns in the 2000s, would have found himself in a very different political climate today.

Daniel’s decision doesn’t entirely clear the path for Banks. Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-Ind.) has not yet decided whether to run. But the Republican who emerges from the primary is heavily favored to win in the deep-red state.


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NATO’s new secretary-general, same as the old one? – POLITICO


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With war raging in Europe, the race to find NATO’s next chief is on. 

Jens Stoltenberg was a steady hand as Western capitals rushed to help Ukraine push back invading Russian troops. But as his term expires in September, speculation is growing over who might succeed him. 

Could it be a woman? Someone from Eastern Europe?

Moscow’s war greatly complicates the decision, which requires consensus among the leaders of NATO’s 30 member countries.

The next secretary-general must play a tough balancing act in encouraging capitals to continue supplying weapons to Ukraine and building up NATO’s own defenses — all while formally staying out of the conflict. Few pass muster for this highly sensitive role. 

The “overall feeling,” said one senior NATO diplomat, is that it is “time for fresh air.”

But the allies may end up playing it safe after all, and sticking with Stoltenberg.

The Stoltenberg card 

A senior European diplomat summed up the buzz around names in three tiers, ranked by intensity of chatter.

An extension of Stoltenberg’s term is the most-mentioned option. 

A second tier includes Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas and British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace

A third group of less frequently mentioned names, the diplomat said, consists of Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė, Slovakia’s President Zuzana Čaputová and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen of Germany.

Jens Stoltenberg was a steady hand as Western capitals rushed to help Ukraine push back invading Russian troops. But as his term expires in September, speculation is growing over who might succeed him | Valeria Mongell/AFP via Getty Images

Since all of NATO’s secretaries-general have thus far been male, there is pressure within the ranks to appoint a woman. 

“Time for a female Sec Gen,” said the senior NATO diplomat. “If men try to hold their positions forever, fair representation of women will never have a chance.” 

And some allies have pushed for more regional diversity. Stoltenberg, who has held the job since 2014, is a former Norwegian prime minister. His most recent predecessors were Danish, Dutch and British. 

The current secretary-general’s term was quickly extended last March after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many officials now believe that another extension for Stoltenberg, even if short, is a serious possibility. 

The longtime leader is seen as a safe pair of hands. Despite some delegations preferring to see a fresh face soon, Stoltenberg is still perceived as a rare senior official who can keep his cool — and stick to the script — in even the gravest of crises. 

“Stoltenberg wants to stay,” said the senior NATO diplomat.

But giving Stoltenberg a short extension could make a future replacement decision collide with the EU’s own top jobs competition in 2024, not to mention the upcoming U.S. presidential election — an outcome some allies would prefer to avoid.

A NATO spokesperson declined to elaborate on Stoltenberg’s future aspirations. Asked in December about the issue, the current secretary-general told the BBC: “My focus now is on my responsibilities.”

“I don’t speculate,” he added, “about what will happen after my tenure.” 

The eastern front 

Some see candidates from Eastern Europe as particularly suitable.

Already before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there was momentum for the alliance to select a secretary-general from the east. Some officials in the region argue that the war has since strengthened the case for someone from a country like Estonia or Lithuania. 

Slovakia’s Zuzana Čaputová ticks both boxes as a female eastern candidate, though her name is mentioned less often in alliance circles | Pool photo by Adrian Dennis/Getty Images 

“For years, the countries of the eastern flank have been warning about Russia’s threat,” said an official from the Baltics. 

The region’s countries, the Baltic official said, were front-runners in boosting military spending and pushing the alliance to improve its defenses. 

“It would be very logical and sobering,” the official continued, “to have someone who is experienced in dealing with Russia and who understands Russia’s logic and mentality, to lead the North Atlantic Alliance.”

Slovakia’s Čaputová ticks both boxes as a female eastern candidate, though her name is mentioned less often in alliance circles. 

A spokesperson for Čaputová said she was focused on her current job, but said the possibility of a Slovak being floated for the NATO post was “a strong reflection of our foreign and security decisions.” 

Another figure possibly in the running is Klaus Iohannis, Romania’s president. But he could face obstacles from neighboring Hungary, and opposition from those who would prefer a female candidate. 

Some western capitals, however, would not support such candidates at the moment, seeing the alliance’s east — and the Baltic states in particular — as too hawkish when war is raging next door. 

Estonia’s Kallas herself has played down expectations, telling local media in November that “the likelihood of an offer like this being made” is “extremely low.” 

The Western option 

Western NATO countries are for some allies a reliable fallback source for possible leadership. 

Wallace, Britain’s defense secretary, is well respected and has previously said that NATO would be a “nice job.” However, numerous European capitals — in particular Paris — are expected to object to a London name and insist on an EU candidate. 

One possible compromise being floated in Brussels is yet another secretary-general from the Netherlands. Dutch politicians have traditionally been a popular choice for the role, previously holding the post for three terms covering 21 years in the past six decades.

The Dutch are seen as serious on defense but not as hawkish as the Baltics — and the names of current Prime Minister Rutte, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Sigrid Kaag and Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren are all circulating as possible candidates. 

Asked about the speculation, Rutte said he wanted to “leave politics altogether and do something completely different.” The two Dutch ministers did not express interest in the job. 

Commission President von der Leyen, a former German defense minister, is a female candidate who could gain support from western capitals nervous about the prospect of a leader from the eastern flank, but it’s unclear whether she is interested in the role. “We never comment on such speculations,” said a Commission spokesperson. 

Although her reputation in security circles is mixed, von der Leyen is seen as a strong possible candidate regardless — if the timing aligns and she does not get a second term as European Commission president. 

Other female politicians floated include Canada’s widely respected Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland and Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly. Nevertheless, officials say, as the alliance focuses on boosting its defenses, Ottawa’s low defense spending and non-European status mean that a Canadian is unlikely to get the job. 

Amid all the speculation, some within the alliance dismiss the breathless names game. 

“This is more a basket of names that came to anybody’s mind,” said a second senior European diplomat, adding: “My guess: Stoltenberg.” 

Jacopo Barigazzi and Cristina Gallardo contributed reporting.


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