TIME Immigration

Immigration Activists Try to Ramp up Pressure on Obama Again

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers remarks from the Brady Press Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 2014.
President Barack Obama delivers remarks from the Brady Press Room at the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 17, 2014. Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

With 10 months passed since the Senate passed comprehensive immigration reform, with the House unlikely to follow before midterm elections, activists are calling on President Obama to exercise executive authority on deportations

For months now, the pattern has been the same. Immigration activists, frustrated with inaction, latch onto some small glimmer of hope: a new campaign to pressure the powerful, or an approving remark by someone who can break the legislative stalemate. Each time the prospect of progress fades as quickly as it appeared.

In the 10 months since the Senate passed a comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration law, it has become abundantly clear that the GOP-controlled House won’t follow suit before November’s midterm elections. A report last week that House Speaker John Boehner was “hellbent” on passing an immigration overhaul in 2014 was swiftly shot down by his spokesman. “Nothing has changed,” said the spokesman, Brendan Buck.

With reform stalled in the House, immigration reformers have once again ratcheted up pressure on President Barack Obama. They hope to convince Obama to take executive action to slow the tide of deportations.

A memo released Monday by the AFL-CIO outlines the steps it believes the Obama Administration can take to ease the impact of immigration enforcement on immigrant families. The memo comes as Jeh Johnson, Obama’s new secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, conducts a review of the Administration’s enforcement policies. The document calls for DHS to take four concrete steps: granting work permits to certain undocumented immigrants; reclaiming federal authority over enforcement policy from the states; reforming the removal process; and protecting undocumented workers who file workplace grievances. (Read the full memo here.)

Obama has repeatedly resisted calls for him to use executive authority. He says he lacks the discretion to make the changes activists have sought—an argument that many top Democrats reject. “The only way to truly fix it is through congressional action. We have already tried to take as many administrative steps as we could,” Obama said in a news conference last week.

But with House Republicans refusing to budge, proponents of reform on both sides of the aisle have warned that Obama will act if Congress won’t. Exercising executive authority to ease deportations, the top concern of Hispanic groups, could help mend fraying ties with Latino voters and nudge them toward the polls before November elections that look grim for Democrats. Obama has made a similar move in the past: In the summer of 2012, with his reelection hanging in the balance, Obama signed an order that granted relief from deportations for certain young adults who had been brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

“I’m convinced that if we don’t get it done by the August break, the president, who is feeling a lot of pressure from having not done anything on immigration reform, will feel that he has to act through executive action,” Florida Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart told the Washington Post last week.

Obama is staying coy about his intentions. “We’re going to review it one more time,” Obama said last week of the DHS review, “to see if there’s more that we can do to make it more consistent with common sense and more consistent with I think the attitudes of the American people, which is we shouldn’t be in the business necessarily of tearing families apart who otherwise are law-abiding.”

For activists still searching for signs of hope, the answer seemed to contain a warning to Republicans: Help fix the broken immigration system, or the President will do it without you.

TIME 2016 Election

Inside Ben Carson’s Conservative Marketing Machine

Dr. Ben Carson, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting in National Harbor, Md., on March 8, 2014.
Dr. Ben Carson, professor emeritus at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference annual meeting in National Harbor, Md., on March 8, 2014. Susan Walsh—AP

The group encouraging a retired surgeon to run for president is raking in cash

A little-known group devoted to drafting a retired doctor into the 2016 presidential race is raking in millions.

The National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee raised $2.4 million over the past three months, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission, outpacing far more prominent rivals. Carson, a 62-year-old retired neurosurgeon and political commentator, has never run for elected office. And there are few signs the fundraising boomlet has changed his mind. Running for office “has never been something that I have a desire to do,” Carson told TIME last month. The draft committee has no affiliation with the prospective candidate himself.

So how is a political neophyte with little campaign infrastructure, scant interest in the presidency and no real chance of winning helping raise all that cash?

As Michael Scherer and I explained in a feature story last month, Carson’s acolytes have tapped into the lucrative world of conservative direct marketing. His money-making machine has followed a well-honed formula: renting and expanding email lists, beseeching supporters for cash through email and the postal service, and then reinvesting big chunks of the proceeds in ever more appeals to activists. Once it cranks into gear, the machine is tough to stop. And its methods can be successful whether or not the cause is viable.

The hub of Carson’s fundraising drive is in an office park in northern Virginia, where the direct-mail wizard Bruce Eberle oversees a constellation of companies that raise money for clients. Eberle, an old lion of the conservative marketing world, has had decades of success connecting GOP activists and causes. It has sent more than two million pieces of mail on behalf of Carson, Tammy Cali, the president of Eberle Associates, told TIME last month. The response has exceeded anybody’s expectations.

Some conservatives have qualms about these tactics, noting they siphon cash and energy from activists’ limited supply. But there is no question that direct mail is working wonders for Carson’s political profile. Part of that is due to the appeal of the surgeon from Baltimore, who became famous for pioneering a method to successfully separate the heads of conjoined twins—and whose bootstrap tale and searing rhetoric delights conservatives. The Draft Carson committee likes to tell supporters that the African-American doctor is the only prospective GOP candidate who can win enough black votes to retake the White House.

But a large part of the success is due to the Eberle machine, which is filling its own coffers as it touts Carson’s chances. And the push to draft the doctor will only intensify. By the end of 2014, the Draft Carson committee expects to raise up to $8 million from 150,000 donors, director Vernon Robinson told TIME last month.

You can read the full story on Carson’s conservative fundraising machine works here.

TIME 2014 Election

Romney Plugs Establishment Candidate in Key GOP Primary

The former GOP presidential nominee touts Rep. Mike Simpson in a hotly contested Idaho primary

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has launched an unprecedented effort to defend vulnerable pro-business incumbents in Republican primaries this year, is enlisting a big gun to boost its favored candidate in Idaho.

In a new Chamber ad, former presidential nominee Mitt Romney touts his support of Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, an establishment Republican facing a difficult May 20 primary.

Romney endorsed Simpson last year, but this is his first foray into television ads in the 2014 cycle. “You can take it from me,” Romney says in the spot. “The conservative choice for Congress is Mike Simpson.” While the former Massachusetts governor wouldn’t normally be the ideal arbiter of conservatism is a red-state primary, Romney has special cachet in the eastern Idaho district, which has a high concentration of Mormons.

This is the third ad the Chamber has cut on behalf of Simpson. The incumbent is trying to fend off a challenge from Bryan Smith, an attorney who boasts the backing of the antitax Club for Growth. The Club is also spending heavily in the race—earlier this week, it released an ad of its own, slamming Simpson for backing the Wall Street bailout.

The district has long been viewed as ground zero for the national battle playing out between big business and the Tea Party in this year’s GOP primaries.

TIME States

The Armed Rebellion on a Nevada Cattle Ranch Could Be Just the Start

Protesters gathered at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle that were seized from rancher Cliven Bundy was being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada, April 12, 2014.
Protesters gathered at the Bureau of Land Management's base camp, where cattle seized from rancher Cliven Bundy was being held, near Bunkerville, Nevada, April 12, 2014. Jim Urquhart—Reuters

The Feds may have set a troubling precedent by allowing a Nevada rancher and his band of armed followers to win a standoff with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The rancher refused to pay more than $1 million in fines for letting his cows graze on government land

It could have been a catastrophe. For several days last week, hundreds of angry protesters faced off with federal workers on an arid ranch near Bunkerville, Nev. Militiamen squatted among the sagebrush and crouched on a highway overpass, cradling guns and issuing barely veiled threats at the government officials massed behind makeshift barricades. The specter of a violent standoff hung over the high desert.

The hair-trigger tension seemed at odds with the arcane origins of the dispute. Twenty years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to clear privately owned cattle off this patch of public land to protect the endangered Mojave Desert tortoise. Dozens of ranchers left. Cliven Bundy stayed.

Rancher Cliven Bundy poses at his home in Bunkerville, Nevada, April 11, 2014.
Rancher Cliven Bundy poses at his home in Bunkerville, Nevada, April 11, 2014. Jim Urquhart—Reuters

Bundy, 68, has refused to recognize federal authority over the land, or to pay the feds for allowing his cattle to graze there. Those accumulated fees and fines now total more than $1 million, according to the government. Armed with fresh court orders, the government moved last week to impound a few hundred of the rancher’s cows.

Bundy balked, and the far right-wing media sounded a clarion call for his cause, casting the standoff as a flashpoint in a broader struggle against federal oppression. A cavalry of patriots arrived, bearing weapons and a seemingly bottomless grudge against the government.

On April 12, BLM retreated, abandoning the round-up amid “serious concerns” over the safety of federal employees. The cattle “gather is over,” BLM spokesman Craig Leff says. No shots were fired; no blood was spilled. Bundy declared victory in the Battle of Bunkerville. His supporters festooned a nearby bridge with a hand-lettered sign reading: “The West Has Now Been Won!”

For the government, it is not yet clear what was lost. The decision to de-escalate the situation was a wise one, according to officials familiar with the perils posed by such confrontation. “There was no need to have a Ruby Ridge,” says Patrick Shea, a Utah lawyer and former national director of BLM, invoking the bloody 1992 siege at a remote Idaho cabin, which became a rallying cry for the far right. Shea praises BLM’s new director, Neil Kornze, for defusing the conflict and skirting the specter of violence. There are plenty of ways for the government to recoup the money Bundy owes, Shea says, from placing liens on his property to collecting proceeds when the cattle go to slaughter. When you have been waiting a generation to resolve a dispute, what’s another few weeks?

But prudence may also set a dangerous precedent. Having backed down from one recalcitrant rancher, what does BLM do the next time another refuses to abide by the law? “After 20 years and multiple court orders to remove the trespass cattle, Mr. Bundy owes the American taxpayers in excess of $1 million,” Kornze said in a statement. “The bureau will continue to work to resolve the matter administratively and judicially.” A BLM spokesman would not say what those remedies might be, and declined to make officials available to explain how the agency may treat similar situations in the future.

The government’s legal case against Bundy is strong. It has been winning courtroom battles against the rancher since 1998, and over the past two years has obtained court orders requiring Bundy to remove his cattle from public lands. This month’s roundup was a long-threatened last resort, and Bundy’s success in spurning it could spark copycat rebellions.

“I’m very concerned about that, as I’m sure others are,” says Bob Abbey, a former BLM director and state director for Nevada. Nearly all ranchers whose animals graze on public land are in compliance with federal statutes, Abbey says. But “there always is a chance that someone else may look at what happened with Mr. Bundy and decided to take a similar route.”

Especially since Bundy has become something of a folk hero for people who resent federal control of the old American frontier. The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of land, including about 60% of the territory across a swath of 12 Western states. About 85% of the land in Nevada is managed by the feds.

Bundy, whose ancestors have inhabited the disputed land since the 19th century, rejects this arrangement. The rancher, whose family did not respond to multiple interview requests from TIME, says he does not recognize federal authority over Nevada’s public land. “I abide by all state laws,” he said in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times. “But I abide by almost zero federal laws.” He has warned that the impoundment of his cattle would spark a “range war,” and said in a court deposition that he would attempt to block a federal incursion, using “whatever it takes.”

Likeminded libertarians in the West have resurrected the spirit of the so-called Sagebrush Rebellion, a 1970s-era movement to transfer control of federal lands to the states. Demar Dahl, an Elko County, Nev., commissioner and longtime friend of Bundy, says the rancher is willing to pay the back fees he owes (though both dispute the amount) to the county or to the state, but not the federal government. “He says the federal government doesn’t have the authority to collect the fees,” Dahl says. “You can call him bullheaded. He’s a strong and moral person. He decides what needs to be done and how, and where he stands.”

To Bundy’s supporters, the legal proceedings are nothing but a land grab. And some of them believe government invoked the protection of the desert tortoise as a pretext. This line of thinking holds that Nevada Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic leader whose former aide, Kornze, now runs the BLM, wants to requisition the land so that his son and Chinese investors can build a lucrative solar farm. At the same time, the left sees in the resistance the ubiquitous hand of the Koch brothers, whose main political outfit, Americans for Prosperity, has rallied support for Bundy.

While the protesters have mostly dispersed, the standoff “isn’t over,” Reid declared Monday. And local officials know just how close they crept to a cataclysmic incident. “That was as close to a catastrophe as I think we’re ever going to see happen,” Dahl says.

The high drama seemed to stoke a sense of theatrics in the protesters. At a press conference on April 14, they invoked battles against the British and shouted quotes from the Scottish revolutionary William Wallace, memorialized in the Hollywood blockbuster Braveheart. The men who rode to Bundy’s defense got to play the hero in the movies of their minds; the threat is that the next climax doesn’t have a peaceful ending.

Bundy “would probably rather be a martyr than a profitable rancher,” says Shea, the former BLM director. “Eventually, you have to draw the line. We go through these sad episodes where fanaticism has to be brought under legal control. And inevitably, somebody is killed.”

TIME 2014 Election

Tea Party Divided In Nebraska Republican Senate Race

Ben Sasse
Ben Sasse, Republican congressional candidate from Nebraska Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

How the Cornhusker State primary explains the Republican Party's challenge in 2014

Elections are like any other job hunt: the key to getting selected is often to have the right people vouch for you. Intelligence and experience are wonderful attributes in a campaign. But if your opponent boasts connections to powerful people with fat wallets, all the town halls and policy papers in the world may not win you a ticket to Washington.

For Republican primaries candidates, some of the most coveted recommendations come from the cadre of national conservative groups whose money and reputation can lift an unknown challenger. Of all the conservative upstarts running in 2014, Ben Sasse of Nebraska has been among the best at winning their support.

Sasse, the 42-year-old president of Nebraska’s Midland University, has piled up endorsements from groups like Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, as well as from boldface names like Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee and House GOP star Paul Ryan. The endorsements have boosted Sasse in a competitive Republican primary to succeed retiring Republican Senator Mike Johanns.

Sasse needed it. His top competitor in the May 13 primary, former state treasurer and Navy aviator Shane Osborn, has the tacit support of key party power brokers, include Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. When FreedomWorks—the biggest national conservative group to endorse Osborn—abruptly threw its support to Sasse in late March, the decision seemed to cement Sasse’s stature as the Tea Party choice.

But things are never so simple in the great Gordian knot of Republican politics.

On April 8, a coalition of 52 Nebraska conservatives released a letter stating that Sasse wasn’t their guy. Sasse is “NOT the choice of conservative, libertarian, and tea party movement activists and group leaders in Nebraska,” they wrote. “We are disappointed with the way DC organizations are telling Nebraskans what the Tea Party in Nebraska thinks.”

In fact, the collection of national endorsements may count as a strike against Sasse back home, explains Faron Hines, a pest management technician from Thayer, Neb., and a member of the York County Tea Party. “All of his endorsements are from out of state. Those big national groups don’t represent the people of Nebraska,” says Hines, who hasn’t endorsed a candidate but says he’s learning toward Osborn. “That isn’t the Nebraska way, and that does rile a few people. Who is he going to represent when he gets to Washington?”

Sasse’s supporters dismiss the letter as an effort to stanch the momentum of a surging candidate. “It’s obviously from Osborn,” says an adviser with one of the national groups backing Sasse. “They needed to do something.”

Osborn’s support is real: one recent poll showed him with a 35% to 24% edge. But Sasse has Tea Party support on the ground as well. (Two days after the missive against Sasse, more than 100 Nebraska conservatives signed a second letter singing his praises.) “Yes, we have support outside the state,” says Tyler Grassmeyer, Sasse’s campaign manager. “But we also have the most support inside the state.”

The race has emerged as a proxy fight for the factions battling to control the GOP. Both leading candidates have relied heavily on out-of-state fundraising. According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, Sasse has netted 59% of his $1.4 million from outside Nebraska and Osborn garnered 68% of the $939,000 he has raised from groups outside the Cornhusker State. The inverse is true of the race’s other two Republicans, who are lagging behind in the polls.

Once the national groups who egged on the government shutdown backed Sasse, the Republican Establishment ramped up their efforts in the opposite direction. McConnell has declared war on the Senate Conservative Fund, which is backing the Republican leader’s primary opponent. When Sasse asked to sit down with McConnell last fall to ease tensions, the meeting didn’t go too well. And while the Republican senate committee is officially neutral, they are helping Osborn behind the scenes with donors, say sources familiar with those discussions.

This is the flip side of winning powerful friends: you inherit their enemies as well.

TIME Congress

House Republicans vs. Lerner: Questions About the IRS Targeting Scandal

A TIME guide to the controversy over IRS targeting

A panel of House Republicans voted on Thursday to hold former IRS official Lois Lerner in contempt of Congress, citing her refusal to answer questions about the agency’s targeting of conservative organizations for special scrutiny.

The 21-12 vote by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been probing the alleged abuse since the scandal erupted last spring, broke along party lines: each of the panel’s Republicans voted to censure Lerner, while the Democrats on the committee opposed the resolution. The vote comes a day after Republicans on a separate committee formally requested the Department of Justice to open a criminal investigation of Lerner.

Like most political dramas, the ongoing outrage over the agency’s targeting of conservative groups sits at the intersection of legitimate concern and political opportunism. Since it can be difficult to separate one from the next, here is TIME’s handy guide to the so-called IRS scandal and the woman who has been made its public face:

Who is Lois Lerner?

Lerner, 63, used to run the IRS division in charge of reviewing applications from groups seeking tax-exempt status. Last May, she revealed at a legal conference that the IRS had inappropriately flagged conservative groups for special review, slowing down their application process. Republicans were incensed. Lerner was placed on paid leave as the brouhaha intensified. She retired in September.

What did Lerner do?

According to Republicans, Lerner used her position as head of the relevant IRS division to improperly influence the agency’s policy, singling out conservative groups—including influential outfits like Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS—for special scrutiny. According to an investigation conducted by the House Committee on Ways and Means, 83% of the roughly 300 organizations whose applications for tax-exempt status were snarled held conservative views. While the division of Exempt Organizations was pursuing conservative groups like Crossroads, it appeared to ignore the actions of left-leaning counterparts like Priorities USA.

The panel alleges that Lerner displayed “extreme bias” toward conservative groups while “turning a blind eye” toward similar liberal organizations, made misleading statements during a Treasury Department investigation of the matter and may have disclosed confidential taxpayer information. Documents disclosed during the probe show that Lerner made a remark (perhaps in jest) in a January 2013 email about finding at a job at a top liberal social-welfare organization.

What does Lerner say about this?

Lerner was the first person to publicly acknowledge that the IRS behavior was “inappropriate.” Since then, she hasn’t said much. Called for testimony before the House Oversight Committee last May, she made an opening statement in defense of her actions. “I have done nothing wrong,” she said. Then she invoked the Fifth Amendment, and has since refused to testify.

Why is she being held in contempt?

Republicans argue that Lerner’s decision to speak in her own defense, albeit briefly, last year waives her Fifth Amendment privileges. Lawyers are split on whether this interpretation of the Fifth Amendment is accurate. But the GOP decided to hold her in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

What happens next?

The matter could go before the full House, which would be expected to approve a resolution holding Lerner in contempt.

Will she face criminal charges?

It’s unclear. It is unlikely the Department of Justice will be inclined to prosecute Lerner. It has rarely done so in the past. Democrats believe the campaign against Lerner is a partisan witchhunt, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder—who was held in contempt by the House in 2012 in connection with an investigation into the so-called Fast and Furious case—seems particularly unlikely to cave to the Congressional GOP. Congress could also ask a judge to enforce the subpoena. But it would be a time-consuming process that would almost certainly outlast this Congress.

Alternately, House Republicans could resort to a dusty gambit known as “inherent contempt” to put Lerner in jail. According to a Congressional Research Service report:

Under the inherent contempt power the individual is brought before the House or Senate by the Sergeant-at-Arms, tried at the bar of the body, and can be imprisoned or
detained in the Capitol or perhaps elsewhere. The purpose of the imprisonment or other sanction may be either punitive or coercive. Thus, the witness can be imprisoned for a specified period of time as punishment, or for an indefinite period (but not, at least by the House, beyond the end of a session of the Congress) until he agrees to comply.

In other words, Lerner could theoretically be held until January 2015. Republicans have not publicly ruled out the inherent contempt option, but it seems highly unlikely. The last such case appears to have been in 1935.

So what’s the likeliest option?

House Republicans continue making political hay of the issue in the run-up to November’s elections, in an attempt to highlight what they say is the Obama Administration’s systematic abuse of power. Lerner stays silent. The issue goes nowhere—but doesn’t go away. And the much-needed crackdown on political groups masquerading as social-welfare organizations becomes ever more unlikely.

TIME Chris Christie

Christie’s Lawyers Clear Him Of Wrongdoing After Inquiry

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to local residents of Belmar, New Jersey.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks to local residents of Belmar, New Jersey, March 25, 2014. Mike Segar—Reuters

A two-month investigation by a team of lawyers hired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has determined he wasn't at fault for the lane closure scandal last year

An extensive investigation by Chris Christie’s lawyers tentatively cleared the New Jersey governor of wrongdoing in connection with the lane closure scandal that has tainted his presidential prospects.

“Our investigation found that Governor Christie did not know of the lane realignment beforehand and had no involvement in the decision to realign the lanes,” according to the authors of the report, which was released Thursday morning. “Once the Governor became aware,” the report said, “he made appropriate inquiries and even convened a special meeting of his senior staff on December 13, 2013, demanding to know whether any of them were involved in this decision, only to be lied to.”

The inquiry was conducted by lawyers at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, which Christie’s office retained in January. The $1 million review combed public and private emails and text messages. The lawyers, led by Gibson, Dunn partner Randy Mastro, interviewed Christie, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno and more than 70 Christie aides and appointees at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It came at a cost to taxpayers of $650 per hour.

The report suggests Christie behaved appropriately upon learning the truth about the lane closures that took place on the New Jersey side of the George Washington Bridge last September. The report asserts Christie’s public accounting of what he knew about the lane closures “rings true.”

In a press conference to unveil the report on Thursday, Mastro said the report was “vindication” of Christie’s public comments about the matter. “We found that Gov. Christie had no knowledge beforehand of the George Washington Bridge realignment idea, and that he played no role whatsoever,” Mastro said.

The document places the blame for the incident on a tight circle of culprits, led by Bridget Kelly, a member of the governor’s senior staff. It provides a fuller picture of the scope of the scheme, as well as the subsequent cover-up by Kelly.

“We have not found any evidence of anyone in the Governor’s Office knowing about the lane realignment beforehand or otherwise being involved, besides Bridget Kelly,” the attorneys concluded. “Whatever motivated [Port Authority official David] Wildstein and Kelly to act as they did, it was not at the behest of Governor Christie, who knew nothing about it.”

The report has significant limitations, not least because of the lawyer’s ties to the Christie Administration. In addition, the three people at the heart of the scandal—Kelly, a former Christie deputy chief of staff; Bill Stepien, his two-time campaign manager; and Wildstein, who supervised the lane closures—all declined to participate in the probe.

According to the report, during a private dinner in December Wildstein told Christie’s press secretary that he had previously mentioned the lane closures to the governor. “Wildstein said this as he reiterated that the lane realignment was his idea and a legitimate traffic study,” the report notes.

Though Mastro defended the inquiry as “thorough and exhaustive,” the lawyers acknowledge the report has holes. In particular, lingering questions remain over the precise motivation of Wildstein and Kelly for closing the lanes. Media reports have suggested that the lanes were closed as retribution for Democratic Fort Lee, N.J. Mayor Mark Sokolich declining to endorse Christie for re-election. However, Christie and Sokolich have both raised questions about that theory.

Christie’s office hopes the report will help put the controversy behind him, though there are ongoing legislative and criminal inquiries into the lane closure scandal. Christie is sitting down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer Thursday in his first television interview since his two-hour press conference after the emails were revealed.

The 345-page report also examined Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer’s allegation that Guadagno had threatened to withhold Hurricane Sandy recovery aid over a development project. Zimmer and Hoboken officials declined to speak with the lawyers, but they concluded her “allegations are unsubstantiated and, in material respects, demonstrably false” regardless.

Democrats have called the report a sham in advance of its release, pointing to the fact that Mastro is a confidant of Christie ally and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

“The report released today is nothing more than a taxpayer-funded PR blitz to give Christie a crisis management talking point before all the facts are even known,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Michael Czin said in a statement. “While numerous questions remain about Bridgegate, we do know that Christie created a culture in his office that led to the lane closures. Following the closures, Christie’s government office, campaign staff and Port Authority officials conspired in a months-long effort to cover up the damage that was done by their petty actions.”

Mastro defended his impartiality in the press conference, noting that he has defended many local Democratic politicians and that subsequent probes would reveal any inaccuracies in his firm’s report. “This is a search for the truth, and we believe we have gotten the truth,” he said. “We believe we got it right, and we will ultimately be judged by that.”

The review recommends several changes to Christie’s gubernatorial office, including restricting the use of personal email for state business and eliminating the intergovernmental affairs office held by Kelly and Stepien before her. The attorneys also called on Christie to appoint an Ombudsperson and a Chief Ethics Officer within his office to prevent similar situations in the future. Additionally, they called on Christie to work with the State of New York to consider reforms to the bi-state Port Authority.

The full report is below:

TIME Supreme Court

Business Lobby Ignores Hobby Lobby

Hobby Lobby
Ed Andrieski—AP

Social conservatives have been up in arms over Obamacare's requirement that businesses provide employees no-cost contraceptives coverage, but the party's business wing has been largely quiet on the issue as it heads to the High Court

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday will tackle a pair of court cases that straddle some of the most charged topics in American politics. The cases could have ramifications for issues such as religious liberty, contraception, gay rights, employment discrimination, health-care reform and corporate personhood. In this smorgasbord of wedge issues, there’s something for every political faction to love or loathe — but some of the groups with the most at stake have been curiously silent.

The cases brought by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores based in Oklahoma City, and Conestoga Wood, a cabinet-maker from Pennsylvania, test the question of whether for-profit corporations can invoke the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom to avoid the so-called contraceptive mandate in Obamacare. Hobby Lobby is owned by observant Christians who signed a pledge to run their business by religious principles. It closes up on Sundays, eschews racy products and pipes Christian music through its shops. In a similar vein, Conestoga Wood is owned by a family of conservative Mennonites who operate their business in accordance with their religious beliefs.

The plaintiffs filed suit against the Obama administration, objecting to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies provide employees no-cost insurance coverage for contraceptives. The companies contend that certain forms of contraception, such as the so-called “morning-after pill,” violate religious prohibitions against abortion. The Court’s decision is expected to come in June.

Since the issues are explosive, it’s no surprise the case has come with substantial fanfare. It generated more than 80 amicus briefs from concerned parties—among the highest tallies ever, according to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Women’s rights organizations, religious groups and atheist coalitions are all using Tuesday’s oral arguments to launch a lobbying blitz.

That’s why it’s so surprising that America’s leading business lobbies have remained silent on the matter. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a frequent player in Supreme Court litigation, opted not to join the legal debate over the two cases. Asked whether it had an opinion, Rachel Parker, director of legal communications for the Chamber’s litigation arm, declined to answer. “We didn’t file [a brief] in this case and generally don’t discuss the specifics for why we do [or] do not get involved in a particular case,” Parker says. The National Federation of Independent Business, another conservative association, did not respond to TIME’s inquiry about whether it took a position on the case.

These influential lobbying outfits may be opting to sit out a case with major implications for their members because many businesses see its electrified politics as a threat to future profits. Aaron Katz, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP, represents a coalition of nearly two dozen corporate and criminal law professors who reject Hobby Lobby and Conestoga’s arguments that secular, for-profit corporations can invoke the religious protections afforded to their owners. The group argues that shareholders who choose to organize themselves as a corporation do so in order to get certain benefits, such as shielding themselves from personal liability. That decision establishes a separation between the corporation and its owners that the Court’s rulings in cases like Citizens United do not erase. “The shareholders cannot decide it suits them on one day to be a corporation,” Katz says, “then turn around on day two and say it benefits us for the corporation to take on our personal identities.”

But even executives who may sympathize with Hobby Lobby or object to the contraception mandate may be leery of jumping into a debate with the potential to alienate their customers, incense their workforce or embroil corporate boards in controversial disputes. “This is one of those situations where businesses realize they can’t isolate, ostracize or do things to offend their employees or customer base,” Katz says. “Hobby Lobby may win this case, but they could lose customers because of it. I’m not sure how many other businesses want to take that risk.”

The case also presents challenges for the Republican Party, whose base is studded with both influential religious groups and their business counterparts. Social conservatives have made the court cases a battle cry, and several dozen GOP lawmakers have sided with the plaintiffs on First Amendment grounds. That includes the nation’s top elected Republican, House Speaker John Boehner, who released a statement Monday afternoon urging the Court to “reverse this attack on religious liberty and reaffirm our founding principles.”

But much of the business-oriented Republican establishment, as well as the GOP’s political committees, have been relatively quiet about the case. The National Republican Congressional Committee, which has made Obamacare the centerpiece of its messaging campaign for the upcoming midterm elections, did not respond to a question from TIME about its position on the contraception mandate.

The legal challenge to the contraception mandate “highlights just another problem with Obama’s one size fits all solution to healthcare,” says Kirsten Kukowski, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee. “It infringes on the free exercise of religion guaranteed by our constitution.” But beyond that statement, the RNC has not done much to bring the case to the public’s attention.

The Republicans’ decision to downplay the challenge serves to underline the tension within the party’s base. While religious conservatives are determined to fight and refight wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage, much of the GOP establishment is eager to move past divisive debates and focus on broadening the party’s appeal to an evolving electorate. Religious freedom is a cause for the former faction and a tricky topic for the latter. Only a month ago, Arizona’s Republican Governor Jan Brewer was torn between the two camps when her state legislature passed a bill that would have allowed the state’s business owners to deny service to gay and lesbian customers on the basis of their religious beliefs. Under pressure from business interests, Brewer ultimately opted to veto the bill.

TIME Newsmaker Interview

Interview: Rick Santorum Eyes 2016

Rick Santorum takes the stage to speak during day two of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md.
Rick Santorum takes the stage to speak during day two of the Conservative Political Action Conference at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in National Harbor, Md., March 7, 2014. Lexey Swall—GRAIN for TIME

In an interview with TIME, the former Pennsylvania senator who finished second to Romney in 2012 says he's sure he would have defeated Obama had he won the GOP nomination. He also previews some of the themes he might emphasize should he run for president in 2016

Two years after finishing second to Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican presidential primary, Rick Santorum sounds like he’s ready to try again.

In a wide-ranging interview with TIME on Thursday, the former Pennsylvania senator said he was sure he would have defeated Barack Obama had he won the Republican nomination, panned the President’s foreign policy (“what he’s done is start a nuclear arms race”) and offered a preview of a potential 2016 message that might help Republicans connect with “the average guy.”

Santorum, a longtime social-issues warrior who won 11 primary and caucus states two years ago, said he won’t have to talk as much about them if he runs again, because his conservative positions are well known to the GOP’s base. “This time around I don’t have to go out and prove by bona fides on being a conservative,” he says. “I can focus in on how I differentiate myself from the rest of the field and how I think we can develop a winning message for the fall.”

Even Santorum’s current gig as CEO of the Christian movie company Echolight Studios serves, in some ways, as preparation for another try at the GOP nomination. “I’m a storyteller. I see this in some respects as refining my craft,” he says. “Reagan did it the other way, right?”

Below are excerpts of the conversation, condensed and edited for clarity:

Have you gotten the itch to get back into politics?

Absolutely. I can’t sit here and watch our country decline in stature as dramatically as it has in the last five years and not be concerned about the future of America. I just look at the overall culture of the country and see a lot of people who are fearful, don’t believe that good times are coming, feel like there are people out there left behind. That’s a very dangerous thing for a democracy.

With regard to Crimea, what would you do differently than Obama?

It’s really important to understand this situation didn’t happen overnight. This was five years in the making. Year one, we pull our missile defense system out of Poland and the Czech Republic. So we send a signal: we’re going to reset with Russia, and Putin is going to work with us. What do we get for that? Virtually nothing.

So you go through a whole variety of other things—from what we did in Iran during the revolution, which was nothing; turning our back on Mubarak; what we did in Syria. I would not have drawn a red line on chemical weapons. I thought it was a mistake to do it. But he did. And he didn’t follow through. He punted to Putin. What we’ve seen over time is the President serially deferring, backing away from red lines or lines in the sand, saying that the US needs not to be involved in all these things. You send a signal.

This president has singlehandedly elevated Vladimir Putin from a babysitter over a bunch of oligarchs to a world leader who’s now grabbing territory with no consequence. What can you do now given this? Well, you can try to repair an image, to show you mean what you say and you will stand by the countries that we have promised to stand by. We have not done so in Ukraine. So now what do you think if you’re Lithuania, Estonia, Poland? What do you think if you’re Georgia? You think the U.S.’s commitments aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. And as a result of that, you start having to make deals with the devil. And then things really get out of hand.

Here’s a president whose main goal is stopping nuclear proliferation, to get a deal with the Russians, which was a bad deal that gave the Russians a decided edge in nuclear weapons – that was his big thing, START II. And what he’s done is start a nuclear arms race because the U.S. is not standing by its commitments.

It’s not only Barack Obama who has been advocating a more cautious foreign policy. It’s also Republicans.

Agreed. You’ve seen me out there taking on the Paul faction. I did during the campaign. I took on Ron Paul at debate after debate on Iran, on Pakistan. I see the Rand Paul wing of the Republican Party for what it is: allied with Barack Obama’s foreign policy. I think that’s a very serious threat to our own security.

How do you convince the young voters this faction is reaching out to that this is the wrong course?

What we have to do is have the people who believe in the conservative message go out and articulate a positive vision for the country based on those principles. You can deliver a positive message for the country on national security without saying we need to be in a war in every country. Which of course we can’t do, and we wouldn’t. But that doesn’t mean we need to disengage. There’s a cost to disengagement.

There was a lot of soul-searching within the party after Romney lost. What’s the best thing the GOP has done since, and what has been the worst?

In both cases, Obamacare. The objective of focusing on Obamacare is the right thing; the tactics [that led to the shutdown] were not well thought-out. And the problem is it created a division within the Republican Party that doesn’t do us any good. It created a black hole right before their black hole, which was the implementation of Obamacare. Why would you create that moment right before it becomes apparent to the American public that you were right?

Do you think you would have beaten Obama?

Without a doubt.

Why?

Because I would have been able to attract the voters in the states that mattered. Romney would probably do better than me in New Jersey and California and New York. But I’d do better in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Virginia—in the states that were going to decide the election. Look at how we did in Ohio in the primary. We got outspent by huge amounts. I didn’t run a single ad in the Cleveland market, and we still almost beat him in Ohio.

If you ran again in two years, how would you do things differently?

I’d raise a lot more money. We’d have to have a stronger team, and a stronger fundraising base. [In 2012,] I had to establish myself in the conservative world as sort of the authentic conservative across the board, including moral and cultural issues. A lot of people didn’t know that much about me and my positions on those issues. So I had to, on occasion, talk about it. And of course any time I did, there’s Santorum out there talking about social issues.

By the time it got down to me and Romney, I talked mostly about Obamacare on the campaign trail. But I was able to talk more about the blue-collar stuff, energy and manufacturing. Things like that really started to create some momentum for us. But by then, I was the social conservative candidate, the alternative to Romney. And what I said and the policies that I put forward, they just didn’t get any coverage. This time around I don’t have to go out and prove by bona fides on being a conservative. I can focus in on how I differentiate myself from the rest of the field and how I think we can develop a winning message for the fall.

What’s your sense of the 2016 field?

I’m the guy that sat there last time and watched seven people go to the top of the pack and fall.

There might be twelve this time.

You know what, they can get to the top of the pack and fall too. One of the things I know is that when I got to the top of the pack I didn’t fall. I ran out of money, and I ran out of time. And the forces were against me. It’s tough running against City Hall.

The amazing thing, here we are looking at 2016, and many of the national polls don’t even put my name on the list. They review the candidates, and I’m not included on the list of people who they look at, which I sort of get a kick out of. It’s sort of been my strength over the course of my political career that I’m always underestimated. Always. The Democrats did that for a long time and I won four straight races. And now it’s happening on the Republican side.

What lessons does Pope Francis offer to conservatives?

There have been a lot of people who have been led astray, doctrinally and otherwise, by the liberalism of the Church, the scandals within the Church. And what Francis is saying is look, what they just need to hear is the good news. They need to hear that God loves them, and that here’s the Gospel and the Gospel’s for you. And so he’s tried to focus his message on the average guy. And so I think that’s a good message for Republicans.

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