Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #936 The Making of Donald Trump (Top Banana Republic), Part 5

Dave Emory’s entire life­time of work is avail­able on a flash dri­ve that can be obtained HERE. The new dri­ve is a 32-giga­byte dri­ve that is cur­rent as of the pro­grams and arti­cles post­ed by ear­ly win­ter of 2016. The new dri­ve (avail­able for a tax-deductible con­tri­bu­tion of $65.00 or more.) (The pre­vi­ous flash dri­ve was cur­rent through the end of May of 2012.)

WFMU-FM is pod­cast­ing For The Record–You can sub­scribe to the pod­cast HERE.

You can sub­scribe to e‑mail alerts from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can sub­scribe to RSS feed from Spitfirelist.com HERE.

You can sub­scribe to the com­ments made on pro­grams and posts–an excel­lent source of infor­ma­tion in, and of, itself HERE.

This broad­cast was record­ed in one, 60-minute seg­ment.

making-of-trumpthinkbignkickassIntro­duc­tion: In the after­math of the ascen­sion of Don­ald Trump to the Pres­i­den­cy, we are doing some­thing unprece­dent­ed in the long his­to­ry of For The Record. Ear­li­er in 2016, award-win­ning jour­nal­ist David Cay John­ston pub­lished a very well-writ­ten and researched, yet rel­a­tive­ly short and com­pact biog­ra­phy of Don­ald Trump–The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump (Melville House [HC]; copy­right 2016 by David Cay John­ston; ISBN 978–1‑61219–632‑9.)

For some weeks, we have been–and will be–reading most of the book into the record, to pro­vide peo­ple with a mea­sure against which to eval­u­ate not just “The Don­ald,” as his first wife Ivana called him, but our soci­ety, its insti­tu­tions and its cit­i­zens. We can’t rec­om­mend strong­ly enough that lis­ten­ers buy this book, read it and use what­ev­er means avail­able to spread the word about it. (We note that nei­ther Mr. Emory nor any of the sta­tions that air this pro­gram get mon­ey from this book, its pub­lish­er or author.)

Although we orig­i­nal­ly planned to read the whole book into the record, the accel­er­a­tion of events demands cov­er­age and we will be turn­ing to as much of those devel­op­ments as we can high­light, under the cir­cum­stances.

The broad­cast begins with anoth­er read­ing of the poem Be Angry at the Sun by Robin­son Jef­fers.

“Be Angry at the Sun” by Robin­son Jef­fers

That pub­lic men pub­lish false­hoods
Is noth­ing new. That Amer­i­ca must accept
Like the his­tor­i­cal republics cor­rup­tion and empire
Has been known for years.

Be angry at the sun for set­ting
If these things anger you. Watch the wheel slope and turn,
They are all bound on the wheel, these peo­ple, those war­riors.
This repub­lic, Europe, Asia.

Observe them ges­tic­u­lat­ing,
Observe them going down. The gang serves lies, the pas­sion­ate
Man plays his part; the cold pas­sion for truth
Hunts in no pack.

You are not Cat­ul­lus, you know,
To lam­poon these crude sketch­es of Cae­sar. You are far
From Dan­te’s feet, but even far­ther from his dirty
Polit­i­cal hatreds.

Let boys want plea­sure, and men
Strug­gle for pow­er, and women per­haps for fame,
And the servile to serve a Leader and the dupes to be duped.
Yours is not theirs.

This fifth and final install­ment of the series ref­er­ences the sub­stance of an arti­cle that embod­ies the enor­mous and fun­da­men­tal flaw in our polit­i­cal and civic process: a poll short­ly before the elec­tion found that most of the prospec­tive vot­ers polled felt that Trump was more hon­est and trust­wor­thy than Hillary Clin­ton. As our read­ing of John­ston’s excel­lent book unfolds, the grotesque, spec­tac­u­lar­ly fal­la­cious char­ac­ter of this per­cep­tion will become uncom­fort­ably clear. Don­ald Trump is cur­rent­ly track­ing as the more hon­est of the two pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates in a poll, although fact-check­ing of his state­ments dur­ing the cam­paign have shown he’s lied sev­er­al times. The lat­est ABC News/Washington Post track­ing poll reports that 46 per­cent of like­ly vot­ers believe he is the more hon­est and trust­wor­thy can­di­date, while 38 per­cent believed it was Hillary Clin­ton. This marks the biggest gap between the two can­di­dates in five ABC News/Washington Post polls that asked the ques­tion, begin­ning in May.”

In the pre­vi­ous pro­gram, we opined that we all, in a sense, are enrolled in Trump Uni­ver­si­ty. By the same token, we could all be said to be play­ing the board game Trump: The Game. ” . . . . Then there’s his Monop­oly-like board game. When Trump and exec­u­tives from Mil­ton-Bradley intro­duced Trump: The Game in 1989, the devel­op­er sur­prised every­one by declar­ing those roy­al­ties would go to char­i­ty, too. Mil­ton-Bradley took Trump at his word. It also fig­ured it might improve sales, which were weak, if peo­ple real­ized their pur­chas­es would not enrich a pre­sumed bil­lion­aire but go to char­i­ty. Its tele­vi­sion ads told poten­tial buy­ers: ‘Mr. Trump’s pro­ceeds from Trump: The Game will be donat­ed to char­i­ty.’ . . . Trump has said he made $808,000 and that the mon­ey was donat­ed to his Don­ald J. Trump Foun­da­tion. . . . At the time, I spent a day call­ing New York and New Jer­sey char­i­ties try­ing to find any dis­clo­sures of gifts made by Trump. . . . But call after call pro­duced noth­ing. . . .”  (The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump; p. 17.)

Trump appeared to have won over a major­i­ty of vot­ing mil­i­tary vet­er­ans and a poll of active-duty ser­vice mem­bers indi­cat­ed that most pre­ferred Trump. Trump him­self avoid­ed mil­i­tary ser­vice dur­ing the Viet­nam War. ” . . . . Don­ald turned eigh­teen in 1964, when the death toll in Viet­nam was ris­ing fast. He got four stu­dent defer­ments and one med­ical defer­ment, after his doc­tor wrote that he had a bone spur in his foot. Which foot? a jour­nal­ist asked years lat­er. Trump said he could not recall. . . .” (The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump; pp. 131–132.)

In the fall of 2015, Trump boy­cotted a GOP pri­ma­ry cam­paign debate because Meg­yn Kel­ly was to be the on-air host. Trump instead went to an event on the Bat­tle­ship Iowa muse­um to what he mis­rep­re­sent­ed as a major vet­er­ans orga­ni­za­tion. ” . . . . Trump instead went to the Bat­tle­ship Iowa, now a muse­um at anchor in Long Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, to deliv­er what his cam­paign said would be a major address on nation­al defense. Trump praised the spon­sor of the event, Vet­er­ans for a Strong Amer­i­ca, and told the audi­ence that ‘hun­dreds of thou­sands’ of peo­ple belonged to the orga­ni­za­tion. There were evi­dent­ly two relat­ed orga­ni­za­tions, both non­prof­its, though Trump and his host nev­er made that clear to the audi­ence on the ship or watch­ing on tele­vi­sion. One was a char­i­ty, the oth­er one of those dark mon­ey polit­i­cal groups that have expand­ed since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Cit­i­zens Unit­ed deci­sion, enabling mon­ey from undis­closed sources to influ­ence elec­tions. A quick inter­net check would revealed to the Trump cam­paign that the IRS had revoked the non­prof­it sta­tus of Vet­er­ans for a Strong Amer­i­ca due to their fail­ure to file required dis­clo­sure reports. A char­i­ty dis­clo­sure orga­ni­za­tion, Guidestar, report­ed that it had no record of any board of direc­tors, Every indi­ca­tion point­ed to Vet­er­ans for a Strong Amer­i­ca being a one-man enter­prise run by a South Dako­ta lawyer named Joel Arends, whose oper­a­tion was under inves­ti­ga­tion for sus­pect­ed elec­tion impro­pri­eties in Ari­zona and Texas. Reporters lat­er learned the orga­ni­za­tion had thir­ty dol­lars in the bank and debts ten times that size. None of this was in line with Trump’s pro­mo­tion of the group’s immense size, influ­ence, and good works. . . .” (The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump; pp. 135–136.)

Next, the pro­gram high­lights how Trump pro­motes him­self and his projects using The Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Hos­pi­tal­i­ty Sci­ences. Trump, his daugh­ter Ivan­ka, his son Don­ald, Jr., the chief oper­at­ing offi­cer of the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion (Don­ald Cala­mari) and Trump’s but­ler Antho­ny Senecal are major fig­ures in this orga­ni­za­tion. The main fig­ure in the orga­ni­za­tion is Joseph Cinque, aka “Joey No Socks” or “The Prep­py Don.” ” . . . If those sound like names that might be asso­ci­at­ed with a fig­ure involved in orga­nized crime, it’s because they are. New York police with a search war­rant knocked on the door of Cinque’s Park Avenue South apart­ment in 1989. Cinque declined to let them in. The police applied a bat­ter­ing ram. Inside the apart­ment they found a trove of stolen art, includ­ing two Marc Cha­gall prints val­ued at $40,000. they had been tak­en in an art gallery heist. Cinque made a deal to plead to a mis­de­meanor, but pros­e­cu­tors scrapped the plea bar­gain after Cinque was seen talk­ing to John Got­ti, the ‘dap­per don’ who became head of the Gam­bi­no crime fam­i­ly by arrang­ing the mur­der of his pre­de­ces­sor Paul Castellano–one of the secret own­ers of the com­pa­ny that sup­plied con­crete for many Trump build­ings.

“Got­ti told Cinque that he would ‘take care of the DA,’ an appar­ent ref­er­ence to Anne Hey­man, the pros­e­cu­tor who had offered the plea bar­gain. . . . Hey­man ordered a more thor­ough inves­ti­ga­tion of Cinque. She alleged that the inves­ti­ga­tion showed that Cinque ‘was deal­ing drugs out of his apart­ment and fenc­ing stolen art-work.’ Hey­man also said that Cinque’s apart­ment on Cen­tral Park South appeared to be a retail out­let for stolen cloth­ing, includ­ing Armani suits and silk shirts. In 1990, Cinque plead­ed guilty to a felony: receiv­ing stolen prop­er­ty. . . .” (The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump; p. 158.)

Anoth­er inter­est­ing, close asso­ciate of Don­ald Trump was Felix Sater, who changed the spelling of his name, adding an extra “T” to avoid being rec­og­nized on inter­net search­es. ” . . . ‘Sat­ter’s’ name appears with just one ‘T’ in a host of places. There’s the deed to his home for exam­ple. It is also spelled with only one ‘T’ on New York State court papers from his 1991 felony con­vic­tion for stab­bing a man in the face with the stem of a mar­gari­ta glass. The name Sater with one ‘T’ also appears on fed­er­al court papers in a $40 mil­lion orga­nized crime stock swin­dle he con­fessed to in 1998, a scheme that ben­e­fit­ed him as well as the Gen­ovese and Gam­bi­no crime fam­i­lies. The stock swin­dle involved fake stock bro­ker­age firms using high-pres­sure tac­tics to get naive peo­ple to buy worth­less shares from Sater and his mob friends. . . .” (The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump; p. 162.)

Trump’s close asso­ciate Felix Sater was able to escape seri­ous legal ret­ri­bu­tion by going to work for the CIA. ” . . . . There is every indi­ca­tion that the extra­or­di­nar­i­ly lenient treat­ment result­ed from Sater play­ing a get-out-of-jail free card. Short­ly before his secret guilty plea, Sater became a free­lance oper­a­tive of the Cen­tral Intel­li­gence Agency. One of his fel­low stock swindlers, Sal­va­tore Lau­ria, wrote a book about it. The Scor­pi­on and the Frog is described on its cov­er as ‘the true sto­ry of one man’s fraud­u­lent rise and fall n the Wall Street of the nineties.’ Accord­ing to Lauria–and the court files that have been unsealed–Sater helped the CIA buy small mis­siles before they got to ter­ror­ists. He also pro­vid­ed oth­er pur­port­ed nation­al secu­ri­ty ser­vices for a report­ed fee of $300,000. Sto­ries abound as to what else Sater may or may not have done in the are­na of nation­al secu­ri­ty. . . .” (The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump; p. 165.)

The last text read­ing con­cludes with dis­cus­sion of Trump’s unsa­vory real estate deals. Lur­ing unwary buy­ers in with the pres­ti­gious Trump brand name, ‘The Don­ald” left a great many of them high and dry when the truth emerged about what was real­ly going on. In this sense, too, we are ALL investors in the Trump brand name, and like­ly to receive the same treat­ment as his unwary real estate cus­tomers.

A Baja Cal­i­for­nia (Mex­i­co) project is typ­i­cal of Trump’s method­ol­o­gy and oper­a­tions in this regard. ” . . . . A June 2007 newslet­ter noti­fied buy­ers that con­struc­tion was under­way. The next month, the Trump Baja News report­ed, ‘our new and excit­ed home­own­ers now are part of an elite group of vaca­tion home­own­ers who own prop­er­ty devel­oped by one of the most respect­ed names in real estate, Don­ald J. Trump.’ Three months lat­er, in Octo­ber, when Wall Street crashed under the weight of the tox­ic mort­gages and oth­er Baja real estate projects fal­tered, the same newslet­ter car­ried a mes­sage ‘From the desk of Ivan­ka Trump.’ Ivan­ka assured the buy­ers that their invest­ment was sound. ‘Though it may be rue that some of Baja’s devel­op­ments could slow down, these mar­ket con­di­tions sim­ply do not apply to Trump Ocean Resort–or any oth­er Trump devel­op­ment,’ she wrote.

“Two months lat­er, in Decem­ber 2007, the newslet­ter advised buy­ers of new­ly dis­cov­ered geo­log­i­cal prob­lems afflict­ing the build­ing site. A few months lat­er, in March 2008, anx­ious buy­ers received calls or let­ters. Con­struc­tion loans had been approved, would be fund­ed short­ly, and work would be under­way. This was nine months after buy­ers had been told in writ­ing that con­struc­tion had already begun. Still, con­struc­tion did not pro­ceed.

“All of these pro­mo­tions, sales pitch­es, and newslet­ter updates cre­at­ed the impres­sion that Trump was the builder and the devel­op­er, words he used. The buy­ers lat­er said they bought in because Trump was the devel­op­er or builder. That under­stand­ing then changed abrupt­ly.

“The worst news arrived two before Christ­mas 2008. What had been described as a part­ner­ship between ‘the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion, Don­ald J. Trump,’ and the oth­er peo­ple and com­pa­nies involved was described in a new way. Nei­ther Trump nor the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion were invest­ment part­ners in the Trump Ocean Resort. They were not the devel­op­ers, either. They had mere­ly licensed the use of the Trump name. . . .” (The Mak­ing of Don­ald Trump; pp. 169–170.)

It is grue­some­ly iron­ic that the bulk of Trump’s scam­ming revolves around his real estate empire. It was, of course, the col­lapse of the real estate mar­ket that led to the finan­cial col­lapse of 2008.

 

Discussion

12 comments for “FTR #936 The Making of Donald Trump (Top Banana Republic), Part 5”

  1. Since ‘con­flicts of inter­est’ is already one of the main themes of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, it’s prob­a­bly worth not­ing that if any Trump prop­er­ties end up get­ting an award from the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Hos­pi­tal­i­ty Sci­ences (AAHS), there’s a con­flict of inter­est involved. As far as Trumpian con­flicts of inter­est go at this point it’s one of the least impor­tant con­flicts of inter­est we can imag­ine. And yet, unlike most of Trump’s con­flicts of inter­est that he does­n’t seem ashamed of at all, Don­ald Trump does­n’t appear to be very open about the con­flicts of inter­est with the AAHS. In fact, when­ev­er you men­tion the AAHS he sud­den­ly goes all senile and for­gets almost all of his ties to the orga­ni­za­tion. How odd. Maybe that has some­thing to do with the mob ties:

    Yahoo News

    A con­vict­ed felon hand­ed Don­ald Trump a ‘one-of-a-kind bronze eagle award’ on New Year’s Eve

    Hunter Walk­er, Nation­al Cor­re­spon­dent
    Jan­u­ary 3, 2017

    When Don­ald Trump addressed rev­el­ers at the annu­al New Year’s Eve bar at his Mar-a-Lago club in Flori­da on Sat­ur­day, he was stand­ing next to Joe Cinque, a con­vict­ed felon with rumored Mafia ties. Video pub­lished by the Palm Beach Dai­ly News showed Cinque beam­ing as the pres­i­dent-elect gave brief remarks about his agen­da.

    “Your tax­es are com­ing down, reg­u­la­tions are com­ing off, we’re going to get rid of Oba­macare,” Trump said as Cinque pumped his fists in the air.

    Cinque is the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Hos­pi­tal­i­ty Sci­ences, an orga­ni­za­tion that hands out Star Dia­mond awards to restau­rants, hotels and busi­ness­es. The orga­ni­za­tion has exten­sive links to Trump.

    Accord­ing to the AAHS Face­book page, Cinque was at Mar-a-Lago to present Trump with “a One-of-a-Kind bronze Eagle award.” Pic­tures on the group’s page showed Trump being giv­en a large stat­ue of a fly­ing eagle as Cinque stood by his side.

    Pri­or to his work in the hos­pi­tal­i­ty indus­try, Cinque had col­or­ful past. In 1995, he was pro­filed by New York mag­a­zine. That arti­cle, which was writ­ten by John Con­nol­ly, said that Cinque had been “shot three times and left for dead” in 1980, in an inci­dent Cinque described as a “rob­bery.” In the sto­ry, Con­nol­ly wrote that unnamed offi­cials said it was “more like­ly a hit.” Con­nol­ly also not­ed that Cinque “used to be friends with John Got­ti” and was known by the nick­names “Joey No Socks” and “the Prep­py Don.” The New York arti­cle also chron­i­cled how, in 1989, “Cinque was arrest­ed on felony charges; police had retrieved a gallery’s worth of stolen art from his apart­ment.” Cinque lat­er plead­ed guilty to felony charges in that case. Cinque was also accused of crim­i­nal behav­ior in excerpts of a ram­bling, nov­el­is­tic mem­oir pub­lished on a per­son­al web­site by Richard Lawrence Dom­broff, a for­mer high pro­file plas­tic sur­geon who was con­vict­ed of defraud­ing patients in 1987 and was con­vict­ed on fraud charges again in 2003 for alleged­ly oper­at­ing a finan­cial scam.

    Yahoo News reached out to Cinque, the AAHS and Trump’s pres­i­den­tial tran­si­tion team for this sto­ry. None of them respond­ed to our requests for com­ment.

    The AAHS has described Cinque as a fix­ture at Trump’s annu­al Mar-a-Lago New Year’s Eve fetes.

    Yahoo News report­ed on Cinque’s rela­tion­ship with Trump in May of last year. The arti­cle high­light­ed a 2015 blog post on the Star Dia­mond web­site that said Cinque “has been attend­ing Mr. Trump’s par­ty for the past 16 years” and “has become dear friends with the Trump fam­i­ly.” That blog post has since been delet­ed. The Star Dia­mond site also fea­tured pic­tures of Cinque stand­ing next to Trump in Mar-a-Lago’s ball­room and on stage at the Flori­da club pre­sent­ing the future pres­i­dent-elect with anoth­er tro­phy in 2014.

    Despite their clear con­nec­tions, Trump denied being famil­iar with Cinque when speak­ing in May to Yahoo News.

    “I don’t know him. I just find him to be a very nice man, and I don’t know his back­ground. I real­ly don’t,” Trump said of Cinque.

    He repeat­ed­ly stressed that he didn’t know Cinque “well.”

    Trump pre­vi­ous­ly held one of the top three posi­tions on the AAHS’ board of trustees. Archived ver­sions of the organization’s Web page show that Trump was list­ed as its “ambas­sador extra­or­di­naire” from at least 2013 until June 2015, when he launched his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. But Trump told Yahoo News he “wasn’t involved” with AAHS and implied his title was large­ly cer­e­mo­ni­al.

    “I think I might have been on some­thing, ambas­sador extra­or­di­naire, you know. I nev­er went to a meet­ing or any­thing,” Trump said.

    How­ev­er, Trump’s ties to Cinque’s group didn’t end with his title. Mem­bers of Trump’s fam­i­ly and mul­ti­ple exec­u­tives at his real estate com­pa­ny, the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion, have also been list­ed on the academy’s board of trustees, which selects award win­ners. AAHS gave Star Dia­mond awards to many Trump prop­er­ties.

    Hand­ing out these Star Dia­mond awards, which the acad­e­my has called the “most pres­ti­gious emblem of achieve­ment and true qual­i­ty in the world today,” is the organization’s cen­tral activ­i­ty. As “ambas­sador extra­or­di­naire,” Trump’s sig­na­ture adorned the Star Dia­mond plaques along with two oth­er board mem­bers, Cinque and trav­el agent Bill Fis­ch­er.

    ...

    ““I don’t know him. I just find him to be a very nice man, and I don’t know his back­ground. I real­ly don’t,” Trump said of Cinque.”

    LOL! Oh look, anoth­er indi­vid­ual with mob ties that Trump just sort of kind of knows, but does­n’t real­ly know that well...despite cel­e­brat­ing New Years Eve with the guy. And despite once hold­ing the num­ber three posi­tion on the AAHS board of trustees. And despite his fam­i­ly and employ­ees also serv­ing on the board. This Joe Cinque must be some sort of recluse....just hang­ing out at home with stolen art all day or some­thing.

    Still, you would think Trump would know Cinque a lit­tle bet­ter than he claimed to know him. After all, it’s not like Cinque has­n’t been attend­ing Trump’s New Years Eve par­ties since 1999:

    Yahoo News

    How a con­vict­ed felon nick­named ‘Joey No Socks’ cov­ered Don­ald Trump in stars

    Hunter Walk­er, Nation­al Cor­re­spon­dent
    May 20, 2016

    It’s about as Trump as a moment gets. There was the Don­ald at his new golf club in the rolling Scot­tish dunes. He was hold­ing a mas­sive, gleam­ing, gold-col­ored plaque the venue “The Best Golf Course World­wide.” Trump, the real estate mogul and now the pre­sump­tive Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, wore a hat with his name on it and a mas­sive grin.

    The gaudy plaque Trump car­ried that day in 2013 was a Star Dia­mond award dis­trib­uted by the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Hos­pi­tal­i­ty Sci­ences — a group that turns out to have exten­sive ties with Trump.

    Joseph Cinque, the academy’s pres­i­dent and CEO, per­son­al­ly pre­sent­ed the award to Trump in Scot­land. It was one of many sim­i­lar hon­ors Cinque has bestowed upon him in the past decade. Cinque, who has been described by the acad­e­my as one of Trump’s “dear friends,” is also a con­vict­ed felon who report­ed­ly sur­vived a mur­der attempt, was asso­ci­at­ed with the infa­mous mob boss John Got­ti and went on to earn the nick­names “Joey No Socks” and “the Prep­py Don.”

    Trump recent­ly held one of the top three slots on the organization’s board of trustees, with the osten­ta­tious title of “Ambas­sador Extra­or­di­naire.” Mem­bers of Trump’s fam­i­ly and mul­ti­ple exec­u­tives at his com­pa­ny, the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion, have also sat on the academy’s board of trustees, which selects award win­ners. Cinque runs the acad­e­my out of his apart­ment on Cen­tral Park South in Man­hat­tan, just blocks from Trump Tow­er.

    In a con­ver­sa­tion with Yahoo News on Thurs­day morn­ing, Trump denied he had any involve­ment with the rat­ings group, which has bestowed numer­ous five- and six-star rat­ings on his prop­er­ties.

    “I mean, I receive awards from dif­fer­ent places some­times, but I’m not involved in it. How am I involved in it?” said Trump.

    Trump indi­cat­ed he didn’t know much about the academy’s board of trustees — on which he, two of his sons and mul­ti­ple mem­bers of his orga­ni­za­tions have served. He also claimed he doesn’t know Cinque well.

    “He may have set up a board of trustees. I don’t know. I don’t know that my sons are involved with that, actu­al­ly,” Trump said, adding, “But he’s a very nice man. I don’t know him well. I don’t know him well, but I have found him over the years to be a very nice man.”

    The academy’s cen­tral activ­i­ty is hand­ing out Star Dia­mond awards, which it has called the “most pres­ti­gious emblem of achieve­ment and true qual­i­ty in the world today.” Tro­phies are giv­en out to a wide vari­ety of busi­ness­es and indi­vid­u­als, with a focus on lux­u­ry trav­el and restau­rants. Pre­sent­ing plaques and hold­ing awards cer­e­monies are the only activ­i­ties described on the organization’s web site, which boasts that its awards give “a visu­al seal of approval by accred­it­ed insti­tu­tion.” The acad­e­my site brags that the Star Dia­mond is a “hand­craft­ed plaque” that “denotes qual­i­ty and lux­u­ry” and that patrons to a busi­ness will “notice” when one is “promi­nent­ly dis­played.”

    The acad­e­my is one of many play­ers in what indus­try experts describe as a crowd­ed land­scape of trav­el rat­ings agen­cies with ques­tion­able stan­dards and meth­ods.

    In addi­tion to the plaques, the acad­e­my also offers Star Dia­mond “desk plates,” “lapel pins” and “cuf­flinks.” And it boasts of oth­er “ben­e­fits” promised by the foun­da­tion, such as send­ing out a press release announc­ing the award, to gen­er­ate media cov­er­age. The acad­e­my also pub­lish­es a mag­a­zine and a direc­to­ry that pro­motes the win­ners.

    Even though a major func­tion of the acad­e­my is to gen­er­ate press for award recip­i­ents, the orga­ni­za­tion is cur­rent­ly in media black­out mode. Yahoo News called the academy’s head­quar­ters at Cinque’s apart­ment. A woman who answered said, after real­iz­ing she was on the phone with a reporter, that Cinque would “not com­ment” on any sto­ry. She said she didn’t want to know any more about the rea­son for the call and sug­gest­ed con­tact­ing the academy’s lawyer.

    ...

    In an angry email response, acad­e­my attor­ney Andrew Langsam threat­ened Yahoo News with legal action if it were to dis­cuss decades-old news reports detail­ing accu­sa­tions about the academy’s rat­ings prac­tices, Cinque’s crim­i­nal record and his alleged ties to the mob.

    “We are not amused by this clear attempt to sul­ly the Acad­e­my, Mr. Cinque and any of his friends or con­tacts. You will be held ful­ly liable for any con­se­quences,” Langsam wrote.

    ...

    For his part, Trump said he would “under­stand” if the acad­e­my, a non­po­lit­i­cal group, had to cut ties with him. At the same time, he repeat­ed­ly stressed that he “wasn’t involved” with the group and sug­gest­ed that his title was large­ly cer­e­mo­ni­al.

    “I think I might have been on some­thing, Ambas­sador Extra­or­di­naire, you know. I nev­er went to a meet­ing or any­thing,” Trump said.

    Langsam, the academy’s attor­ney, wrote:“I do not believe that Mr. Trump has any cur­rent rela­tion­ship to The Acad­e­my.”

    In addi­tion to his past role at the acad­e­my, Trump has had a long per­son­al rela­tion­ship with Cinque. One post on the Star Dia­mond web­site fea­tures an arti­cle on a par­ty Trump held at his Mar-A-Lago club on the last night of 2014.

    “Joseph Cinque, Pres­i­dent of The AAHS, has been attend­ing Mr. Trump’s par­ty for the past 16 years,” the arti­cle said. “It is some­what of a new Years Eve tra­di­tion for him and of course, he has become dear friends with the Trump fam­i­ly.”

    Cinque pre­sent­ed Trump with a Star Dia­mond “life­time achieve­ment award” at that bash. The arti­cle fea­tures mul­ti­ple pho­tos of Cinque beam­ing along­side Trump and his fam­i­ly. Trump reg­u­lar­ly has Cinque present him with awards at his events. Mul­ti­ple pho­tos on the acad­e­my site show Trump proud­ly award­ing and receiv­ing Star Dia­mond plaques. An acad­e­my pro­mo­tion­al video fea­tures a clip of Trump, one of his build­ings and a shot of Cinque stand­ing in front of one of Trump’s pri­vate planes.

    “It’s a great hon­or for me to wel­come you to the Star Dia­mond award,” Trump declares in the clip.

    Anoth­er Trump event with a Cinque cer­e­mo­ny was a birth­day par­ty the real estate mogul held for him­self at one of his fad­ing Atlantic City casi­nos in 2006. Trump and Cinque flashed smiles as they stood between guests, press and a bank of new Play­boy slot machines. They were accom­pa­nied by actress Pamela Ander­son.

    ...

    While the acad­e­my gen­er­al­ly hands out five-star awards, at least two of Trump’s prop­er­ties, the Scot­tish golf course and Mar-a-Lago, have been award­ed six-star hon­ors by the acad­e­my.

    In his email to Yahoo News, Langsam, the academy’s attor­ney, declined to reveal the cri­te­ria the orga­ni­za­tion uses to deter­mine an insti­tu­tion has earned six rather than five stars. How­ev­er, he stressed that the dis­tinc­tion is mean­ing­ful and employed all-caps let­ter­ing to empha­size this point.

    “There is a def­i­nite dif­fer­ence between FIVE STAR DIAMOND AWARD and SIX STAR DIAMOND AWARD, not the least of which is a star,” Langsam wrote. “The inter­nal con­sid­er­a­tions and delib­er­a­tions of the Acad­e­my are high­ly con­fi­den­tial and not ‘news.’ This is not the public’s nor your busi­ness.”

    The acad­e­my clear­ly keeps a tight lid on its inner work­ings.

    ...

    ““Joseph Cinque, Pres­i­dent of The AAHS, has been attend­ing Mr. Trump’s par­ty for the past 16 years,” the arti­cle said. “It is some­what of a new Years Eve tra­di­tion for him and of course, he has become dear friends with the Trump fam­i­ly.””

    Huh. And note that this is from an arti­cle put out by the AAHS in ref­er­ence to the 2014 par­ty, imply­ing that Cinque has been attend­ing this annu­al event since 1999. But Trump appar­ent­ly does­n’t know him very well:

    ...
    In a con­ver­sa­tion with Yahoo News on Thurs­day morn­ing, Trump denied he had any involve­ment with the rat­ings group, which has bestowed numer­ous five- and six-star rat­ings on his prop­er­ties.

    “I mean, I receive awards from dif­fer­ent places some­times, but I’m not involved in it. How am I involved in it?” said Trump.

    Trump indi­cat­ed he didn’t know much about the academy’s board of trustees — on which he, two of his sons and mul­ti­ple mem­bers of his orga­ni­za­tions have served. He also claimed he doesn’t know Cinque well.

    “He may have set up a board of trustees. I don’t know. I don’t know that my sons are involved with that, actu­al­ly,” Trump said, adding, “But he’s a very nice man. I don’t know him well. I don’t know him well, but I have found him over the years to be a very nice man.”
    ...

    Keep in mind that Trump was issu­ing these denials to Yahoo News back in May. And then, of course, he invit­ed Cinque to the 2016 New Years par­ty only to deny this rela­tion­ship again in ear­ly 2017. So it looks like deny­ing knowl­edge of Trump’s ties to Joey “No Socks” Cinque is going to be a fun new New Years tra­di­tion for the Trump fam­i­ly. And Amer­i­ca.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 9, 2017, 7:55 pm
  2. Some­one leaked two pages of Don­ald Trump’s 2005 tax returns to David Cay John­ston. While it demon­strat­ed that Trump had to pay the Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax that year — the tax set up to ensure the wealthy can’t use tax loop­holes to pay almost noth­ing in tax­es — oth­er than that we did­n’t real­ly learn much from the leak. And that imme­di­ate­ly raised the same ques­tion in a num­ber of dif­fer­ent quar­ters: Did Don­ald Trump just leak his own tax return?:

    CNN

    Did Don­ald Trump leak his own tax return?

    By Z. Byron Wolf and Josi­ah Ryan
    Updat­ed 12:12 PM ET, Wed March 15, 2017

    (CNN)Who knows who leaked two pages of Don­ald Trump’s tax return.
    But the leak, such as it is, does no harm to the Pres­i­dent. It shows he actu­al­ly paid income tax­es — at least in 2005. Whether the Pres­i­dent had paid income tax­es recent­ly had actu­al­ly been some­thing of an open ques­tion.

    The jour­nal­ist that pub­lished two pages from Don­ald Trump’s 2005 tax return says he does­n’t know who pro­vid­ed the doc­u­ments; he got them in the mail.

    “Yes,” Pulitzer Prize-win­ner David Cay John­ston replied when CNN anchor Pop­py Har­low asked him if he thought the two pages, which show Trump paid $38 mil­lion in tax­es on more than $150 mil­lion in income that year, could have been sent by the Pres­i­dent him­self.

    “Don­ald has a long his­to­ry of leak­ing things about him­self and doing it indi­rect­ly and direct­ly,” John­ston told Har­low and Chris Cuo­mo. “So it’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty.” He pub­lished the returns on his web­site DCReport.org

    The White House has hit back hard against the pub­li­ca­tion, call­ing it ille­gal in a pre-emp­tive state­ment Tues­day night. Then Pres­i­dent Trump him­self weighed in Wednes­day morn­ing on Twit­ter, sug­gest­ing John­ston was­n’t being forth­right.

    “Does any­body real­ly believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, ‘went to his mail­box’ and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!” tweet­ed the Pres­i­dent.

    ...

    Leak leaves many ques­tions about Trump’s income sources

    Trump did­n’t men­tion that The New York Times, when it report­ed Trump claimed $916 mil­lion in loss­es in 1995, which could have shel­tered him from tax bills for many years, sim­i­lar­ly received those more polit­i­cal­ly dam­ag­ing doc­u­ments in the mail.

    The tax shel­ter cre­at­ed by those loss­es could cre­ate for some inter­est­ing return if Trump offi­cial­ly or the mys­te­ri­ous leak­er were to pro­vide return for oth­er years. Addi­tion­al­ly, the details of Trump’s return would be instruc­tive, too, answer­ing ques­tions about his char­i­ta­ble giv­ing, if any, specifics about the loss­es he claimed — $105 mil­lion in 2005 despite his tax bill, and more.

    It is clear from evi­dence in law­suits that there are years in which Trump paid no fed­er­al income tax­es — some­thing he bragged about dur­ing a debate with Hillary Clin­ton.

    “That makes me smart,” he said on the debate stage, although he lat­er clar­i­fied to CNN’s Jim Acos­ta that he had paid income tax­es.

    Trump had long said he would­n’t release his income tax­es because he is under some kind of long-stand­ing fed­er­al audit. More recent­ly, aides have said he might not release them at all. After all, he won the elec­tion.

    But as Jef­frey Toobin point­ed out on CNN Tues­day night, the ques­tions about Trump’s tax return have only grown more fas­ci­nat­ing as ques­tions have arisen about his cam­paign and busi­ness ties to Rus­sia. Trump has denied cur­rent busi­ness con­nec­tions to Rus­sia, but he also denied the cam­paign aides had any con­tact with Rus­sians in the lead-up to the cam­paign.

    ...

    Con­ve­nient tim­ing

    News of the tax return and the fact that he did pay mil­lions in tax­es also pro­vid­ed a detour from ques­tions about ties to Rus­sia, the frag­ile health reform leg­is­la­tion he has pushed with House Speak­er Paul Ryan, but which is in deep per­il on Capi­tol Hill and scruti­ny of his stun­ning claims that for­mer Pres­i­dent Oba­ma wire­tapped him dur­ing the cam­paign.

    Anoth­er inter­est­ing ele­ment of the sto­ry is that Trump has list­ed large-scale tax reform as one of his major leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties. Repub­li­cans are sup­posed to take up that issue after pass­ing the first leg of their Oba­macare repeal plan — assum­ing they can pass it.

    Repeal­ing or fix­ing the Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax is sure to be on the table as Repub­li­cans go about their goal of low­er­ing tax rates for most Amer­i­cans. That’ll be a more com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tion for Trump to have with every­day Amer­i­cans now that he can say he’s paid the tax, too.

    And it’s a big rea­son whey Democ­rats, who have called repeat­ed­ly in the past for the release of Trump’s rax returns, have warned the release of these two pages is a dis­trac­tion from more impor­tant mat­ters.

    “Don­ald has a long his­to­ry of leak­ing things about him­self and doing it indi­rect­ly and direct­ly,” John­ston told Har­low and Chris Cuo­mo. “So it’s a pos­si­bil­i­ty.” He pub­lished the returns on his web­site DCReport.org”

    Did Trump real­ly leak his own not-too-hor­ri­ble tax returns to David Cay John­ston? If so, he must have been filled with extra lev­els of mis­chie­vous glee after doing that and then call­ing John­ston a reporter “who nobody ever heard of” and sug­gest­ing the whole thing was “Fake News!”:

    ...
    The White House has hit back hard against the pub­li­ca­tion, call­ing it ille­gal in a pre-emp­tive state­ment Tues­day night. Then Pres­i­dent Trump him­self weighed in Wednes­day morn­ing on Twit­ter, sug­gest­ing John­ston was­n’t being forth­right.

    “Does any­body real­ly believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, ‘went to his mail­box’ and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!” tweet­ed the Pres­i­dent
    ...

    So that’s all part of why there’s so much spec­u­la­tion that Trump leaked his own returns. But note the pos­si­ble down­side of doing so: the one big thing we learned from the returns is that with­out the Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax Trump would have paid almost noth­ing. And repeal­ing the Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax is very much on the Trumpian agen­da:

    ...
    Anoth­er inter­est­ing ele­ment of the sto­ry is that Trump has list­ed large-scale tax reform as one of his major leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties. Repub­li­cans are sup­posed to take up that issue after pass­ing the first leg of their Oba­macare repeal plan — assum­ing they can pass it.

    Repeal­ing or fix­ing the Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax is sure to be on the table as Repub­li­cans go about their goal of low­er­ing tax rates for most Amer­i­cans. That’ll be a more com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tion for Trump to have with every­day Amer­i­cans now that he can say he’s paid the tax, too.
    ...

    So will the Trump/GOP plans to repeal the Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax go more smooth­ly if Trump can say that he him­self has paid the tax? Maybe, although is seems like it might not actu­al­ly be super help­ful for that upcom­ing Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax repeal debate for Trump to point out that with­out the AMT he would have paid almost noth­ing in tax­es in 2005. Espe­cial­ly since, as the arti­cle below points out, anoth­er part of Trump’s tax reform pack­age involves slash­ing tax­es on “pass through” income and it was the heavy use of “pass through” income that would have made Trump’s tax bill for 2005 so very, very low if it was­n’t for the Alter­na­tive Min­i­mum Tax Trump wants to elim­i­nate:

    Vox

    Don­ald Trump’s tax plan would’ve near­ly wiped out his 2005 tax bur­den

    Updat­ed by Dylan Matthews
    Mar 14, 2017, 11:20pm EDT

    The two pages of Don­ald Trump’s 2005 tax return released by vet­er­an tax jour­nal­ist David Cay John­ston and MSNBC’s Rachel Mad­dow leave a lot of ques­tions unan­swered. But there are two things the doc­u­ment makes clear:

    1. Trump was able to claim huge amounts of “neg­a­tive income,” which sub­stan­tial­ly reduced his ordi­nary income tax bur­den.
    2. He paid $38 mil­lion in total fed­er­al income tax­es on an income of $153 mil­lion only because of the alter­na­tive min­i­mum tax, a tax pro­vi­sion Trump now wants to repeal as pres­i­dent.

    Trump lists about $152.7 mil­lion in income for the year, most of it real estate income, busi­ness income, and cap­i­tal gains, on the 1040 tax form. Less than $1 mil­lion of his income came in the form of ordi­nary wages. But under “oth­er income” he lists $103.2 mil­lion in neg­a­tive income — that is, mon­ey he lost in that year or past years on busi­ness ven­tures.

    ...

    Trump’s com­pa­nies are “pass-throughs” that don’t pay cor­po­rate income tax and whose income is instead dis­persed to share­hold­ers, who are in turn taxed on it. So car­ry­ing for­ward busi­ness loss­es or depre­ci­at­ing assets would affect Trump’s per­son­al returns.

    If Trump were allowed to use all this neg­a­tive income to off­set his $152.7 mil­lion in income, his tax bill would’ve been a mere $5.3 mil­lion, for an effec­tive tax rate of less than 3.5 per­cent. That’s a real­ly shock­ing­ly small tax bill, and a symp­tom of how investors with lots of pass-through income can face much low­er tax bills than peo­ple with ordi­nary wage income.

    How­ev­er, Trump wasn’t allowed to claim all that neg­a­tive income. That’s because of the alter­na­tive min­i­mum tax, a pro­vi­sion that has exist­ed in some form since 1969 and is meant to lim­it the use of deduc­tions, exclu­sions, cred­its, and oth­er pro­vi­sions by wealthy tax­pay­ers to reduce their tax bur­den. The AMT added $31.3 mil­lion to his total tax bill, bring­ing his over­all effec­tive tax rate to about 25 per­cent.

    We don’t exact­ly know why the AMT hit him so hard. The White House said in a state­ment that the neg­a­tive income was due to “large scale depre­ci­a­tion for con­struc­tion.” The AMT has dif­fer­ent depre­ci­a­tion rules than the reg­u­lar income tax code, which in some cas­es can reduce the amount you can deduct.

    Putting all that togeth­er, there’s still a lot we don’t know. But one thing is clear: TTrump has pro­posed a tax plan that would have made his tax bill much, much low­er.

    Trump has a lot to gain from his own tax plan

    Trump, like most Repub­li­cans, wants to elim­i­nate the AMT alto­geth­er. The tax tends to hit rich, but not uber-rich, peo­ple hard (think fam­i­lies mak­ing around $400,000 a year), and that’s a con­stituen­cy the GOP cul­ti­vates assid­u­ous­ly. But Trump is an unusu­al uber-rich per­son, with a huge AMT lia­bil­i­ty. This pro­pos­al would have giv­en him, per­son­al­ly, $31.3 mil­lion in 2005 alone.

    Just as cru­cial­ly, Trump has pro­posed dra­mat­i­cal­ly slash­ing tax­es on pass-through income, even more than he wants to cut income tax­es in gen­er­al. Rather than sub­ject­ing this income to cur­rent income tax rates, or even the low­er indi­vid­ual tax rates that Trump pro­posed, his first tax plan pro­posed to set the same rate that he’d have cor­po­ra­tions pay: a mere 15 per­cent.

    Giv­en that the top per­son­al tax brack­et in 2005 was 35 per­cent, Trump’s plan would’ve halved his mar­gin­al tax rate that year and then some. Peo­ple with income from wages, or cap­i­tal gains, wouldn’t have got­ten a break this large. It was reserved for peo­ple with com­pa­nies struc­tured like the Trump Cor­po­ra­tion.

    In mid-Sep­tem­ber, sources at the cam­paign sug­gest­ed they were aban­don­ing this plan. That made sense; the cut cost $1 tril­lion over 10 years, and served no obvi­ous pol­i­cy pur­pose oth­er than per­son­al­ly enrich­ing Don­ald Trump. But at the same time, the cam­paign was also telling a small-busi­ness group, the Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Inde­pen­dent Busi­ness, that the pass-through cut was still a go, earn­ing NFIB’s endorse­ment in the process. When the New York Times’s Binyamin Appel­baum reached out to the Trump cam­paign, they were vague but sug­gest­ed that the pass-through cut was there to stay.

    Trump isn’t alone on this plan, either. House Speak­er Paul Ryan and House Ways and Means Chair Kevin Brady haven’t pro­posed a rate as low as 15 per­cent, but they have said they want a top rate of 25 per­cent on pass-through income, which also would’ve been a sub­stan­tial tax cut for Trump in 2005. Their tax plan would also elim­i­nate the AMT.

    All of which is to say that the return unveiled on The Rachel Mad­dow Show sug­gests Repub­li­can tax reform efforts won’t just ben­e­fit Don­ald Trump the way they ben­e­fit all rich peo­ple. He would be helped an unusu­al amount, owing to the par­tic­u­lars of his tax sit­u­a­tion, with his high AMT bur­den and large amount of pass-through income.

    “All of which is to say that the return unveiled on The Rachel Mad­dow Show sug­gests Repub­li­can tax reform efforts won’t just ben­e­fit Don­ald Trump the way they ben­e­fit all rich peo­ple. He would be helped an unusu­al amount, owing to the par­tic­u­lars of his tax sit­u­a­tion, with his high AMT bur­den and large amount of pass-through income.

    So that all points towards one pos­si­ble angle Trump could use to sell the pub­lic on his tax plan: Sure, he’s going to slash tax on the rich but the biggest tax cuts, at least in terms of cuts in the rates paid, aren’t going to “the rich”, in gen­er­al. The biggest tax cuts are going to Don­ald Trump. So don’t wor­ry your lit­tle pro­le nog­gin about those Trump tax cuts. That’s just more aw-shucks fun that comes with Trump being Trump!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 15, 2017, 2:18 pm
  3. While it would be under­stand­able if one assumed that Kellyanne Con­way is mar­ried to an alter­na­tive ver­sion of real­i­ty, it turns out she actu­al­ly has a hus­band. And it sounds like he might be get­ting a new job and quite an impor­tant one too: #DrainTheSwamp:

    The New York Times

    Kellyanne Conway’s Hus­band Is Trump’s Choice for Key Jus­tice Post

    By JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS
    MARCH 18, 2017

    WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Pres­i­dent Trump has select­ed George T. Con­way III, the hus­band of his coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way, to head the civ­il divi­sion of the Jus­tice Depart­ment, peo­ple famil­iar with the deci­sion said on Sat­ur­day, plac­ing him in charge of a cru­cial office charged with defend­ing Mr. Trump’s con­tentious trav­el ban and law­suits alleg­ing that his busi­ness activ­i­ties vio­late the Con­sti­tu­tion.

    Mr. Con­way, 53, would lead a depart­ment of about 1,000 lawyers that has vast reach across the gov­ern­ment, han­dling issues like nation­al secu­ri­ty and con­sumer pro­tec­tion and enforc­ing fed­er­al pro­grams and the actions of the pres­i­dent him­self.

    A White House spokes­woman declined to com­ment on a per­son­nel mat­ter, and the Jus­tice Depart­ment did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to requests. The peo­ple famil­iar with Mr. Trump’s deci­sion con­firmed it on the con­di­tion of anonymi­ty because they were not autho­rized to pre-empt an impend­ing announce­ment. The choice was first report­ed by The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    If con­firmed, Mr. Con­way would imme­di­ate­ly be in charge of rep­re­sent­ing Mr. Trump in the legal chal­lenges — which are wide­ly expect­ed to reach the Supreme Court — over his exec­u­tive order bar­ring peo­ple from six pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim coun­tries from enter­ing the Unit­ed States.

    ...

    It would also fall to Mr. Con­way to over­see Mr. Trump’s defense in a pend­ing law­suit charg­ing him with vio­la­tions of the Constitution’s Emol­u­ments Clause, which bans fed­er­al office­hold­ers from accept­ing gifts or pay­ments from for­eign gov­ern­ments, because of the prof­its his hotels and resorts receive from for­eign offi­cials who are cus­tomers.

    Before he was inau­gu­rat­ed, Mr. Trump’s per­son­al lawyers argued that the clause did not bar “fair-mar­ket-val­ue trans­ac­tions,” like pay­ing for hotel rooms. But the law­suit, filed by Cit­i­zens for Respon­si­bil­i­ty and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton, a lib­er­al watch­dog group on gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, con­tends that the clause does bar such trans­ac­tions.

    It is like­ly that Mr. Trump will face addi­tion­al legal chal­lenges regard­ing pos­si­ble con­flicts of inter­est stem­ming from his vast real estate and busi­ness empire, from which he has refused to divest.

    Installing Mr. Con­way to lead the civ­il divi­sion means that defend­ing the pres­i­dent from such chal­lenges will become a fam­i­ly affair for the Con­ways. Ms. Con­way, a staunch loy­al­ist who ran the final months of Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, has been a fre­quent pres­ence on tele­vi­sion news pro­grams pro­mot­ing the president’s agen­da and dis­miss­ing crit­i­cism of his style and record.

    Her zeal on Mr. Trump’s behalf has some­times land­ed her at the cen­ter of con­tro­ver­sy, such as when she claimed that the White House was enti­tled to put for­ward “alter­na­tive facts” about the crowd size at his inau­gu­ra­tion, and in a sep­a­rate inter­view a few weeks lat­er, referred to a ter­ror­ist attack in Bowl­ing Green that nev­er occurred. Last week, she appeared to sug­gest that Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma might have spied on Mr. Trump through a microwave. Ms. Con­way lat­er clar­i­fied that she was speak­ing in gen­er­al about pos­si­ble means of sur­veil­lance, not about Mr. Oba­ma, and Sean Spicer, the White House press sec­re­tary, said she had been jok­ing.

    Mr. Con­way had been a con­tender for the job of solic­i­tor gen­er­al for the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, but Mr. Trump announced this month that the job would go to Noel J. Fran­cis­co.

    ...

    While there is a law against nepo­tism in gov­ern­ment, it would not affect the Con­ways. It says that no pub­lic offi­cial can hire a fam­i­ly mem­ber — includ­ing one relat­ed by mar­riage — to serve in an agency or office over which he or she has author­i­ty. Ms. Con­way would have no direct author­i­ty over her hus­band were he to be con­firmed, nor would the reverse be true.

    Installing Mr. Con­way to lead the civ­il divi­sion means that defend­ing the pres­i­dent from such chal­lenges will become a fam­i­ly affair for the Con­ways. Ms. Con­way, a staunch loy­al­ist who ran the final months of Mr. Trump’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, has been a fre­quent pres­ence on tele­vi­sion news pro­grams pro­mot­ing the president’s agen­da and dis­miss­ing crit­i­cism of his style and record.”

    Oh good­ie. The fam­i­ly that brought us “alter­na­tive facts” is going to be head­ing up the gov­ern­men­t’s cam­paigns to divorce us from real­i­ty in the defense of every­thing from the Mus­lim ban(s) to the Trump’s moun­tain of con­flicts of inter­est:

    ...
    If con­firmed, Mr. Con­way would imme­di­ate­ly be in charge of rep­re­sent­ing Mr. Trump in the legal chal­lenges — which are wide­ly expect­ed to reach the Supreme Court — over his exec­u­tive order bar­ring peo­ple from six pre­dom­i­nant­ly Mus­lim coun­tries from enter­ing the Unit­ed States.

    ...

    It would also fall to Mr. Con­way to over­see Mr. Trump’s defense in a pend­ing law­suit charg­ing him with vio­la­tions of the Constitution’s Emol­u­ments Clause, which bans fed­er­al office­hold­ers from accept­ing gifts or pay­ments from for­eign gov­ern­ments, because of the prof­its his hotels and resorts receive from for­eign offi­cials who are cus­tomers.

    Before he was inau­gu­rat­ed, Mr. Trump’s per­son­al lawyers argued that the clause did not bar “fair-mar­ket-val­ue trans­ac­tions,” like pay­ing for hotel rooms. But the law­suit, filed by Cit­i­zens for Respon­si­bil­i­ty and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton, a lib­er­al watch­dog group on gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion, con­tends that the clause does bar such trans­ac­tions.

    It is like­ly that Mr. Trump will face addi­tion­al legal chal­lenges regard­ing pos­si­ble con­flicts of inter­est stem­ming from his vast real estate and busi­ness empire, from which he has refused to divest.
    ...

    So which alter­na­tive fact is going to be the alter­na­tive-fact-of-choice for George Con­way when defend­ing the inevitable Trump con­flicts-of-inter­est law­suits requires bury­ing real­i­ty under a pile of alter­na­tive real­i­ty? That there’s no con­flict of inter­est? That it’s com­plete legal even if there is a con­flict of inter­est (sad­ly, that one isn’t as alter­na­tive as one might hope)?

    How about “What’s good for Gen­er­al Motors Trump is good for Amer­i­ca, so any Trumpian con­flicts of inter­est are actu­al­ly in Amer­i­can inter­ests.” That’s the kind of alter­na­tive real­i­ty that could come in extreme­ly handy. Handy for the law­suits, but also jus­ti­fy­ing the Trump pol­i­cy agen­da in gen­er­al.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 19, 2017, 2:01 pm
  4. You know how Don­ald Trump was all excit­ed about how he found that legal loop­hole that means the Pres­i­dent can’t have a con­flict of inter­est. Yeah, it looks like Ivan­ka found a loop­hole of her own...along with a new office in the West Wing. And a secu­ri­ty clear­ance. And while the White House is admit­ting that this new arrange­ment does noth­ing to absolve her the many inher­ent con­flicts of inter­est that come with this new arrange, she total­ly promis­es not to abuse it. So it’s total­ly ok. Yep:

    Politi­co

    Ivan­ka Trump set to get West Wing office as role expands

    The first daugh­ter will not, how­ev­er, become a gov­ern­ment employ­ee, rais­ing ethics ques­tions.

    By Annie Karni

    03/20/17 05:56 PM EDT

    Ivan­ka Trump, who moved to Wash­ing­ton say­ing she would play no for­mal role in her father’s admin­is­tra­tion, is now offi­cial­ly set­ting up shop in the White House.

    The pow­er­ful first daugh­ter has secured her own office on the West Wing’s sec­ond floor — a space next to senior advis­er Dina Pow­ell, who was recent­ly pro­mot­ed to a posi­tion on the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil. She is also in the process of obtain­ing a secu­ri­ty clear­ance and is set to receive gov­ern­ment-issued com­mu­ni­ca­tions devices this week.

    In every­thing but name, Trump is set­tling in as what appears to be a full-time staffer in her father’s admin­is­tra­tion, with a broad and grow­ing port­fo­lio — except she is not being sworn in, will hold no offi­cial posi­tion and is not pock­et­ing a salary, her attor­ney said.

    Trump’s role, accord­ing to her attor­ney Jamie Gore­lick, will be to serve as the president’s “eyes and ears” while pro­vid­ing broad-rang­ing advice, not just lim­it­ed to women’s empow­er­ment issues. Last week, for instance, Trump raised eye­brows when she was seat­ed next to Angela Merkel for the Ger­man chancellor’s first offi­cial vis­it to Trump’s White House.

    As her role in the White House grows — a role that comes with no play­book — Trump plans to adhere to the same ethics and records reten­tion rules that apply to gov­ern­ment employ­ees, Gore­lick said, even though she is not tech­ni­cal­ly an employ­ee. But ethics watch­dogs imme­di­ate­ly ques­tioned whether she is going far enough to elim­i­nate con­flicts of inter­est, espe­cial­ly because she will not be auto­mat­i­cal­ly sub­ject­ed to cer­tain ethics rules while serv­ing as a de fac­to White House advis­er.

    “Hav­ing an adult child of the pres­i­dent who is active­ly engaged in the work of the admin­is­tra­tion is new ground,” Gore­lick con­ced­ed in an inter­view on Mon­day. “Our view is that the con­ser­v­a­tive approach is for Ivan­ka to vol­un­tar­i­ly com­ply with the rules that would apply if she were a gov­ern­ment employ­ee, even though she is not.” A spokes­woman for Ivan­ka Trump said her role was signed off on by the White House counsel’s office, and the con­flict issues were “worked through” with the office of gov­ern­ment ethics. A White House spokes­woman did not respond to a request for com­ment about the unique arrange­ment.

    Peo­ple close to Ivan­ka Trump said that she sees noth­ing unusu­al about the arrange­ment — it’s sim­ply how she has worked with her father for years, as a senior offi­cial at the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion and as Don­ald Trump’s part­ner on “The Appren­tice.”

    But in the White House, the unprece­dent­ed arrange­ment for a child of the pres­i­dent has raised new ques­tions about poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est — and about why Ivan­ka Trump can’t sim­ply join the admin­is­tra­tion as a gov­ern­ment employ­ee. Her hus­band, Jared Kush­n­er, serves as an offi­cial senior advis­er in the White House and was sworn in, but his hir­ing also raised ques­tions of whether it vio­lat­ed anti-nepo­tism laws. The Jus­tice Depart­ment ruled that those laws applied only to agency appoint­ments.

    Ivan­ka Trump still owns her epony­mous fash­ion and jew­el­ry brand, even though she stepped down from her posi­tion at the com­pa­ny ahead of her father’s inau­gu­ra­tion. She is also pub­lish­ing a book, “Women Who Work,” which is due out in May.

    “I will con­tin­ue to offer my father my can­did advice and coun­sel, as I have for my entire life,” Trump said in a state­ment. “While there is no mod­ern prece­dent for an adult child of the pres­i­dent, I will vol­un­tar­i­ly fol­low all of the ethics rules placed on gov­ern­ment employ­ees.”

    The arrange­ment, how­ev­er, was greet­ed with more ques­tions about what free­doms Trump was try­ing to pre­serve for her­self — and why.

    “They’re not say­ing she’s going to vol­un­tar­i­ly sub­ject her­self to ethics rules to be nice,” said Norm Eisen, the for­mer ethics czar in the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion. “There’s recog­ni­tion that they’re in very uncer­tain ter­ri­to­ry here. The bet­ter thing to do would be to con­cede she is sub­ject to the rules. It would cre­ate some out­side account­abil­i­ty, because if she can vol­un­tar­i­ly sub­ject her­self to the rules, she can vol­un­tar­i­ly un-sub­ject her­self to the rules.”

    Under the new rules, Trump has divest­ed her com­mon stock, tech invest­ments, invest­ment funds — and they will all appear on Kushner’s 278 finan­cial dis­clo­sure form, required by all Cab­i­net nom­i­nees. Bloomberg News report­ed on Mon­day after­noon that Trump and Kush­n­er sold as much as $36.7 mil­lion in assets to com­ply with fed­er­al ethics rules, accord­ing to the Office of Gov­ern­ment Ethics.

    But when it comes to divest­ing from her busi­ness, how­ev­er, Gore­lick admit­ted there is no way to make it a con­flict-free zone.

    “The one thing I would like to be clear on: we don’t believe it elim­i­nates con­flicts in every way,” Gore­lick said. “She has the con­flicts that derive from the own­er­ship of this brand. We’re try­ing to min­i­mize those to the extent pos­si­ble.”

    Gore­lick argued that the area is murky because out­stand­ing con­tracts with third par­ty ven­dors mean that Ivan­ka Trump can­not sim­ply close her busi­ness — those ven­dors could con­tin­ue using her brand. She also can’t sell the busi­ness, her attor­ney argued, because the buy­er would have the right to license her name and poten­tial­ly cre­ate oth­er eth­i­cal issues.

    Instead, Trump will be dis­tanc­ing her­self, as much as pos­si­ble, from the day-to-day oper­a­tions of the Ivan­ka Trump brand and con­vey her inter­ests to a trust.

    The trust, Gore­lick said, will be con­trolled by her broth­er-in-law, Josh Kush­n­er, and her sis­ter-in-law, Nicole Mey­er, who will be pro­hib­it­ed from enter­ing the brand into any agree­ments with for­eign coun­tries or agen­cies. Ivan­ka Trump has appoint­ed Abi­gail Klem to serve as pres­i­dent of her com­pa­ny, over­see­ing the day-to-day oper­a­tions, and pro­hib­it­ed the com­pa­ny from using her image to sell the brand. The first daugh­ter, how­ev­er, will retain veto pow­er to kill any deals that would be “unac­cept­able from an ethics per­spec­tive.”

    Gore­lick, a for­mer deputy attor­ney gen­er­al in the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion, will also serve as the out­side ethics advis­er to the trustees. The busi­ness will also be pro­hib­it­ed from using her image to mar­ket the brand.

    Under the trust, her attor­neys said, Ivan­ka Trump will receive only the infor­ma­tion she needs for dis­clo­sure require­ments and to facil­i­tate com­pli­ance with con­flict of inter­est and impar­tial­i­ty rules.

    As for the mon­ey she will make from her book, Trump is plan­ning to donate the roy­al­ties and net pro­ceeds to char­i­ties that focus on women in the work­force, with the help of a donor-advised fund.

    ...

    “Trump’s role, accord­ing to her attor­ney Jamie Gore­lick, will be to serve as the president’s “eyes and ears” while pro­vid­ing broad-rang­ing advice, not just lim­it­ed to women’s empow­er­ment issues. Last week, for instance, Trump raised eye­brows when she was seat­ed next to Angela Merkel for the Ger­man chancellor’s first offi­cial vis­it to Trump’s White House”

    Look­ing like a clan of sleazy klep­to­crats is appar­ent­ly worth it so Ivan­ka can be the “eyes and ears” from her dad. And now any gov­ern­ment or pri­vate lob­by­ist who wants to influ­ence Don­ald Trump offi­cial­ly knows that Ivan­ka can not only poten­tial­ly relay the mes­sages to her dad but also has the per­son­al influ­ence to poten­tial­ly per­suade her dad and can do so with­out vio­lat­ing ethics rules (appar­ent­ly). And sure, it was obvi­ous before this recent arrange­ment that Ivan­ka was a path to Trump. It just was­n’t obvi­ous if going through Ivan­ka to lob­by Trump would put Ivan­ka in some sort of con­flict of inter­est sit­u­a­tion. Well, that’s all cleared up now, isn’t it?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 21, 2017, 2:33 pm
  5. Check out the new Trumpian inno­va­tion on the clas­sic “shake­down”. As one might expect, Don­ald Trump’s anti-immi­grant cam­paign rhetoric had a lot of for­eign­ers inter­est­ed in immi­grat­ing to the US con­cerned that the doors would be shut­ting soon if he came to pow­er. And this includ­ed wealthy for­eign­ers who would be able to access the exist­ing US poli­cies that essen­tial­ly allow some­one to buy cit­i­zen­ship to the US in exchange for large invest­ments in the US (it’s sup­pose to cre­ate jobs). Well, as the say­ing goes, when one door clos­es, anoth­er one opens. But in this case it’s the threat of that immi­gra­tion door clos­ing that’s open­ing up a whole new door of oppor­tu­ni­ty. Specif­i­cal­ly, an oppor­tu­ni­ty for the Kush­n­er clan to make rather shady sales pitch to poten­tial investors: if you invest in the Kush­n­er fam­i­ly projects, you’re total­ly going to be guar­an­teed the right to pur­chase US cit­i­zen­ship. And who knows when Trump is going to sud­den­ly reverse that immi­gra­tion loop­hole so you bet­ter act [invest in Kush­n­er clan projects] soon!:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    In a Bei­jing ball­room, Kush­n­er fam­i­ly push­es $500,000 ‘investor visa’ to wealthy Chi­nese

    By Emi­ly Rauha­la and William Wan
    May 6, 2017

    BEIJING — The Kush­n­er fam­i­ly came to the Unit­ed States as refugees, worked hard and made it big — and if you invest in Kush­n­er prop­er­ties, so can you.

    That was the mes­sage deliv­ered Sat­ur­day by White House senior advis­er Jared Kushner’s sis­ter Nicole Kush­n­er Mey­er to a ball­room full of wealthy Chi­nese investors in Bei­jing.

    Over sev­er­al hours of slide shows and pre­sen­ta­tions, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Kush­n­er fam­i­ly busi­ness urged Chi­nese cit­i­zens gath­ered at a Ritz-Carl­ton hotel to con­sid­er invest­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in a New Jer­sey lux­u­ry apart­ment com­plex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa.

    The poten­tial investors were advised to invest soon­er rather than lat­er in case visa rules change under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. “Invest ear­ly, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speak­er said.

    The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immi­grate to the Unit­ed States.”

    And the high­light of the after­noon was Mey­er, a prin­ci­pal for the com­pa­ny, who was intro­duced in pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als as Jared’s sis­ter.

    The event under­scores the extent to which Kushner’s pri­vate busi­ness inter­ests have the poten­tial to col­lide with his pow­er­ful role as a top offi­cial in his father-in-law’s White House, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to Chi­na, where Kush­n­er has become a cru­cial diplo­mat­ic chan­nel between Bei­jing and the new admin­is­tra­tion.

    While Kush­n­er has report­ed divest­ing from ele­ments of the fam­i­ly busi­ness, includ­ing the spe­cif­ic project that his sis­ter pitched in Bei­jing, the ses­sion Sat­ur­day demon­strat­ed that the com­pa­ny is per­ceived as enjoy­ing close ties to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. Ethics laws pro­hib­it gov­ern­ment offi­cials from prof­it­ing per­son­al­ly from their pub­lic-sec­tor work.

    Watch­dogs and ethics experts on Sat­ur­day crit­i­cized the Bei­jing event as an attempt to cash in on Kushner’s new­found prox­im­i­ty to pow­er.

    “It’s incred­i­bly stu­pid and high­ly inap­pro­pri­ate,” said Richard Painter, the for­mer chief White House ethics lawyer in Pres­i­dent George W. Bush’s admin­is­tra­tion, who has become a vocal crit­ic of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. “They clear­ly imply that the Kush­n­ers are going to make sure you get your visa. ... They’re [Chi­nese appli­cants] not going to take a chance. Of course they’re going to want to invest.”

    Among the wealthy elites in Chi­na, fam­i­ly, busi­ness and pol­i­tics are all deeply inter­twined. Every branch of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, every province and city often oper­ate as a fief­dom for those in pow­er, allow­ing lead­ers spe­cial, lucra­tive access to pol­i­cy, land and gov­ern­ment con­tracts. There is even a name for sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion sons and daugh­ters of wealthy busi­ness exec­u­tives and gov­ern­ment offi­cials — such as Ivan­ka Trump and Jared Kush­n­er — who have access to pow­er through fam­i­ly ties. They are called “fuer­dai.

    The EB‑5 immi­grant investor visa pro­gram that Mey­er dis­cussed Sat­ur­day allows rich for­eign investors who are will­ing to plunk down large invest­ments in U.S. projects that cre­ate jobs to apply to immi­grate to the Unit­ed States.

    Bloomberg News report­ed in March 2016 that the pro­gram has been used to the ben­e­fit both the Trump and Kush­n­er fam­i­ly busi­ness­es. Before join­ing the White House, as chief exec­u­tive of his family’s real estate com­pa­ny, Jared Kush­n­er raised $50 mil­lion from Chi­nese EB‑5 appli­cants for a Trump-brand­ed apart­ment build­ing in Jer­sey City, accord­ing to the report.

    Blake Roberts, an attor­ney at the Wilmer­Hale law firm who serves as Kushner’s per­son­al coun­sel, said: “Mr. Kush­n­er divest­ed his inter­ests in the One Jour­nal Square project by sell­ing them to a fam­i­ly trust that he is not a ben­e­fi­cia­ry of, a mech­a­nism sug­gest­ed by the Office of Gov­ern­ment Ethics. As pre­vi­ous­ly stat­ed, he will recuse from par­tic­u­lar mat­ters con­cern­ing the EB‑5 visa pro­gram.”

    The EB‑5 pro­gram has been crit­i­cized by mem­bers of Con­gress from both par­ties who have said the pro­gram in essence sells visas to the wealth­i­est for­eign­ers.

    The pro­gram has been extreme­ly pop­u­lar among rich Chi­nese, who call it the “gold­en visa” and are eager to get their fam­i­lies — and their wealth — out of the coun­try. The fact that some use it to move their mon­ey out ille­gal­ly, how­ev­er, has made the pro­gram unpop­u­lar with the Chi­nese author­i­ties.

    The pro­gram was launched with the goal of secur­ing invest­ment and cre­at­ing jobs. But instead, in recent years, many real estate devel­op­ers have used the pro­gram as a source of cheap financ­ing by using for­eign investors, espe­cial­ly from Chi­na, for flashy projects in Man­hat­tan and oth­er city cen­ters.

    A Gov­ern­ment Account­abil­i­ty Office repor in 2015 found the EB‑5 pro­gram car­ried a high risk of fraud, was rife with coun­ter­feit doc­u­men­ta­tion and had “no reli­able method to ver­i­fy the source of the funds of peti­tion­ers.”

    Since Don­ald Trump became pres­i­dent, rumors have cir­cu­lat­ed among the wealthy of the world about the future of the EB‑5 pro­gram, giv­en Trump’s repeat­ed vows to crack down on immi­gra­tion and the increased con­gres­sion­al scruti­ny of EB-5s. That has sent many high-rolling for­eign­ers flock­ing to apply.

    The pro­gram, how­ev­er, is espe­cial­ly pop­u­lar in Chi­na, with esti­mates in recent years show­ing that more than 80 per­cent of EB‑5 visas were issued to Chi­nese investors.

    Saturday’s event in Bei­jing was host­ed by the Chi­nese com­pa­ny Qiaowai, which con­nects U.S. com­pa­nies with Chi­nese investors. Qiaowai is work­ing with the Kush­n­er com­pa­ny to secure fund­ing for Kush­n­er 1, the New Jer­sey project pre­sent­ed to investors, also known as One Jour­nal Square. Pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als tout the build­ings’ prox­im­i­ty to Man­hat­tan and note that the project will cre­ate more than 6,000 jobs.

    “This project has sta­ble fund­ing, cre­ates suf­fi­cient jobs and guar­an­tees the safe­ty of investors’ mon­ey,” one descrip­tion reads.

    Although there was no vis­i­ble ref­er­ence to Trump, the mate­ri­als not­ed the Kush­n­er family’s “celebri­ty” sta­tus.

    ...

    Kushner’s per­son­al finan­cial dis­clo­sure form reflects that he divest­ed his inter­est in K One Jour­nal Square LLC. The form described the asset as unde­vel­oped real estate in Jer­sey City. Because the asset was already divest­ed, Kushner’s fil­ing does not reflect its esti­mat­ed val­ue. But he did report between $1 mil­lion and $5 mil­lion in income con­nect­ed to the project.

    At Saturday’s event, attendee Wang Yun, a Chi­nese investor, said the Kush­n­er family’s ties to Trump were an obvi­ous part of the project’s appeal.

    “Even though this is the project of the son-in-law’s fam­i­ly, of course it is still affil­i­at­ed,” Wang said.

    Wang rea­soned that the link to Trump would be a boon if the pres­i­den­cy goes well but could be dis­as­trous if it does not: “We heard that there are rumors that he is the most like­ly to be impeached pres­i­dent in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. That’s why I doubt this project.”

    Many of the peo­ple who attend­ed the event declined to be inter­viewed, cit­ing pri­va­cy con­cerns, or were blocked by orga­niz­ers from speak­ing to the news media.

    Although the event was pub­licly adver­tised in Bei­jing, the hosts were excep­tion­al­ly anx­ious about the pres­ence of reporters.

    Jour­nal­ists were ini­tial­ly seat­ed at the back of the ball­room, but as the pre­sen­ta­tions got under­way, a pub­lic-rela­tions rep­re­sen­ta­tive asked The Wash­ing­ton Post to leave, say­ing the pres­ence of for­eign reporters threat­ened the “sta­bil­i­ty” of the event.

    At one point, orga­niz­ers grabbed a reporter’s phone and back­pack to try to force that per­son to leave. Lat­er, as investors start­ed leav­ing the ball­room, orga­niz­ers phys­i­cal­ly sur­round­ed atten­dees to pre­vent them from giv­ing inter­views.

    Asked why reporters were asked to leave, a PR per­son who declined to iden­ti­fy her­self said sim­ply, “This is not the sto­ry we want.”

    “Over sev­er­al hours of slide shows and pre­sen­ta­tions, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Kush­n­er fam­i­ly busi­ness urged Chi­nese cit­i­zens gath­ered at a Ritz-Carl­ton hotel to con­sid­er invest­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in a New Jer­sey lux­u­ry apart­ment com­plex that would help them secure what’s known as an investor visa.”

    It looks like we can add “sell­ing Amer­i­can cit­i­zen­ship for pri­vate prof­its” to the list of Don­ald Trump’s con­flicts of inter­est. Of course, we can remove it from the list if Trump does actu­al­ly reverse the “EB‑5” cit­i­zen­ship pro­gram that makes this pos­si­ble. But giv­en all the mon­ey the Trump/Kushner clans can make, why would Trump reverse the EB‑5 pro­gram? It’s part of what makes the shake­down tech­nique so inter­est­ing with respect to Trump’s nativist base: As long as wealthy for­eign­ers take the Kush­n­ers up on their “do this soon before the pol­i­cy is reversed!” offer, there’s no incen­tive for Trump to reverse the pol­i­cy and restrict immi­gra­tion which make it one form of cor­rup­tion Trump’s base might actu­al­ly care about:

    ...
    The poten­tial investors were advised to invest soon­er rather than lat­er in case visa rules change under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. “Invest ear­ly, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speak­er said.

    The tagline on a brochure for the event: “Invest $500,000 and immi­grate to the Unit­ed States.”

    And the high­light of the after­noon was Mey­er, a prin­ci­pal for the com­pa­ny, who was intro­duced in pro­mo­tion­al mate­ri­als as Jared’s sis­ter.

    ...

    Since Don­ald Trump became pres­i­dent, rumors have cir­cu­lat­ed among the wealthy of the world about the future of the EB‑5 pro­gram, giv­en Trump’s repeat­ed vows to crack down on immi­gra­tion and the increased con­gres­sion­al scruti­ny of EB-5s. That has sent many high-rolling for­eign­ers flock­ing to apply.
    ...

    “The poten­tial investors were advised to invest soon­er rather than lat­er in case visa rules change under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. “Invest ear­ly, and you will invest under the old rules,” one speak­er said.”

    The clock is tick­ing! That’s the mes­sage from the Kush­n­ers to wealthy Chi­nese investors and it appears to be a mes­sage they’re tak­ing seri­ous­ly. And as long as they keep tak­ing the threat seri­ous­ly that clock is like­ly going to con­tin­ue tick­ing. Mon­ey winds the clock.

    And while we only have reports of solic­i­ta­tions like this to Chi­nese investors, as Josh Mar­shall notes below, per­haps the biggest angle if this entire sto­ry is that we can be pret­ty damn sure that the Trump/Kushner clans are well aware that the clock is tick­ing on their giant oppor­tu­ni­ty to make as much mon­ey from the Trump pres­i­den­cy as pos­si­ble and there­fore, while we only have reports about sales pitch­es like this going on in Chi­na, it’s undoubt­ed­ly the tip of the ice­berg:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    Edi­tor’s Blog

    A Few Thoughts on the Trump/Kushner Fam­i­lies’ Pres­i­den­cy Cash Bust Out

    By Josh Mar­shall
    Pub­lished May 8, 2017 10:26 am

    You’ve prob­a­bly heard that the Kush­n­er fam­i­ly was caught over the week­end lit­er­al­ly sell­ing visas to immi­grate to the Unit­ed States in exchange for fund­ing a $150 mil­lion dol­lar New Jer­sey real estate project. The sale itself is actu­al­ly legal. It’s part of a high­ly con­tro­ver­sial and wide­ly abused pro­gram which pro­vides visas to for­eign nation­als in exchange for $500,000 invest­ments in US projects which by cer­tain stan­dards are judged to cre­ate jobs in impov­er­ished or eco­nom­i­cal­ly dis­tressed parts of the Unit­ed States. It’s become a wide­ly abused vehi­cle for real estate devel­op­ers look­ing to fund lux­u­ry devel­op­ment projects.

    Set­ting that con­tro­ver­sy aside, what sets this apart of course is that Jared Kush­n­er is the most senior advi­sor to the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, as well as being the President’s son-in-law. While nom­i­nal­ly step­ping aside from his fam­i­ly busi­ness, his fam­i­ly is in Chi­na open­ly trad­ing on the Kush­n­er family’s ties to Pres­i­dent Trump to rake up mon­ey. As much and as quick­ly as pos­si­ble. Kushner’s sis­ter Nicole actu­al­ly led the pre­sen­ta­tion. Reporters from the Times and the Post were on hand at the pre­sen­ta­tion in Bei­jing (where they were able to get in) and at a sec­ond in Shang­hai (where they weren’t.)

    Trump – as well as the Kush­n­er family’s con­nec­tion to him – was explic­it­ly invoked as the “key deci­sion mak­er” in get­ting the visas. A Times reporter post­ed this pic­ture of  the pre­sen­ta­tion to Twit­ter, which I’ve marked up to iden­ti­fy the peo­ple in the slide …

    [see amus­ing­ly anno­tat­ed pic]

    This is need­less to say, the most open and fla­grant kind of mon­e­tiz­ing of the Pres­i­den­cy – as bad as any­one could have imag­ined from the con­joined Trump/Kushner fam­i­lies. The fact that this ‘nation­al­ist’, ‘crack down on ille­gal immi­gra­tion’ White House is con­nect­ed to cash for visas activ­i­ties like this just adds a lay­er of oily crust to the cor­rup­tion.

    The most impor­tant part of this sto­ry, how­ev­er, is what’s not stat­ed. The Post and the Times caught wind of this event and sent reporters. Do we think this is the only case of the Trump and Kush­n­er fam­i­lies doing this? I think we can fair­ly assume that the effort to cash in is under­way and in over­drive in numer­ous coun­tries around the world and in every way pos­si­ble. We see hints and shreds of evi­dence pop­ping up – Ivan­ka Trump secur­ing numer­ous trade­marks for her com­pa­ny in Chi­na. Even more reveal­ing, many of the hints emerge first in the for­eign press or by chance in indis­creet brag­ging on social media. This tells us that the US press is hard pressed to mon­i­tor it – under­stand­ably, it’s a large world! With zero dis­clo­sure, pri­vate meet­ings and a whole world to rake mon­ey, inevitably most of it is tak­ing place out­side of our view.

    ...

    “The most impor­tant part of this sto­ry, how­ev­er, is what’s not stat­ed. The Post and the Times caught wind of this event and sent reporters. Do we think this is the only case of the Trump and Kush­n­er fam­i­lies doing this? I think we can fair­ly assume that the effort to cash in is under­way and in over­drive in numer­ous coun­tries around the world and in every way pos­si­ble. We see hints and shreds of evi­dence pop­ping up – Ivan­ka Trump secur­ing numer­ous trade­marks for her com­pa­ny in Chi­na. Even more reveal­ing, many of the hints emerge first in the for­eign press or by chance in indis­creet brag­ging on social media. This tells us that the US press is hard pressed to mon­i­tor it – under­stand­ably, it’s a large world! With zero dis­clo­sure, pri­vate meet­ings and a whole world to rake mon­ey, inevitably most of it is tak­ing place out­side of our view.”

    Yes, it seems like a safe bet that the Trump/Kushner clans’ efforts to cash in is under­way and in over­drive in numer­ous coun­tries around the world and in every way pos­si­ble. A very safe bet. And that leads us to anoth­er inter­est­ing twist in this Trumpian ‘bust out’: As we saw one poten­tial Chi­nese investor remark in the above arti­cle, invest­ing in a Trump fam­i­ly project is clear­ly appeal­ing as long as Trump has a suc­cess­ful pres­i­den­cy. But if it gets impeached or is oth­er­wise a dis­as­ter? Well, those invest­ments might be so tempt­ing any­more:

    ...
    At Saturday’s event, attendee Wang Yun, a Chi­nese investor, said the Kush­n­er family’s ties to Trump were an obvi­ous part of the project’s appeal.

    “Even though this is the project of the son-in-law’s fam­i­ly, of course it is still affil­i­at­ed,” Wang said.

    Wang rea­soned that the link to Trump would be a boon if the pres­i­den­cy goes well but could be dis­as­trous if it does not: “We heard that there are rumors that he is the most like­ly to be impeached pres­i­dent in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. That’s why I doubt this project.”
    ...

    “We heard that there are rumors that he is the most like­ly to be impeached pres­i­dent in Amer­i­can his­to­ry. That’s why I doubt this project.”

    So as we can see, when Don­ald Trump straight up assert­ed that pres­i­dents can’t have a con­flict of inter­est and the “for­eign emol­u­ments clause” of the con­sti­tu­tion does­n’t apply to him, he was­n’t sim­ply pro­tect­ing him­self from poten­tial impeach­ment while send­ing an “I’m open for busi­ness” sig­nal to the world. He was also send­ing anoth­er impor­tant sig­nal: “I’m open for busi­ness, and my open­ness for busi­ness isn’t going to be bad for your busi­ness when you invest in my busi­ness.” Impeach­ment clos­es a lot of doors of busi­ness oppor­tu­ni­ty when the pri­ma­ry prod­uct you’re sell­ing is an open door to pow­er.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 8, 2017, 7:28 pm
  6. The dis­as­trous and cru­el fed­er­al cleanup effort (or lack of effort) in Puer­to Rico fol­low­ing Hur­ri­cane Maria appears to have expe­ri­enced a new dis­as­ter. Or, at least, there are “sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns” about a pos­si­bly dis­as­trous con­tract signed to restore elec­tric­i­ty to the island after almost all pow­er was knocked out and remains knocked out a month lat­er.

    What’s the new pos­si­ble dis­as­ter? Well, unlike the dis­as­trous response to Hur­ri­cane Kat­ri­na, which was large­ly blamed on a lack of action by FEMA under the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion, the sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about the dis­as­ter response this time are actu­al­ly being expressed by FEMA...and a whole lot of oth­er peo­ple: So it turns out that the $300 mil­lion con­tract to restore Puer­to Rico’s elec­tri­cal grid was award­ed an obscure Mon­tana-based util­i­ty com­pa­ny, White­fish Ener­gy, that just so hap­pens to be owned by a num­ber of big Trump donors and just so hap­pens to be based in White­fish, Mon­tana, the home town of the Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke.

    Also, White­fish ener­gy is a two year old com­pa­ny that had two employ­ees before get­ting the con­tract. So it’s basi­cal­ly a mid­dle-man that appears to serv­er no pur­pose oth­er than to skim prof­its from this mas­sive rebuild­ing oper­a­tion and this egre­gious con­tract is for one of the most impor­tant ele­ments of the rebuild­ing effort: elec­tric­i­ty. Hence the con­cern from FEMA and basi­cal­ly any­one else who has heard about this con­tract and isn’t pro-cor­rup­tion:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    Livewire

    FEMA Has ‘Sig­nif­i­cant Con­cerns’ About $300 Mil­lion Deal With Util­i­ty Com­pa­ny

    By Nicole Lafond
    Pub­lished Octo­ber 27, 2017 10:40 am

    The Fed­er­al Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency (FEMA) is look­ing into how a con­tract between Puer­to Rico and a tiny pow­er com­pa­ny — whose CEO and part­ner are friend­ly with the Trump admin­is­tra­tion — was pro­cured, accord­ing to a state­ment.

    A small util­i­ty com­pa­ny in Mon­tana signed a $300 mil­lion con­tract with the Puer­to Rico Elec­tric Pow­er Author­i­ty (PREPA) to restore elec­tric­i­ty to the U.S. ter­ri­to­ry. The deal raised eye­brows after the Weath­er Chan­nel report­ed that the com­pa­ny, White­fish Ener­gy Hold­ings, is report­ed­ly financed by major donors to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and has ties to the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

    In its state­ment Fri­day, FEMA clar­i­fied that it was not involved in hir­ing the com­pa­ny to restore pow­er to the island and hasn’t pro­vid­ed any reim­burse­ment to the PREPA yet for its con­tract with White­fish.

    “Based on ini­tial review and infor­ma­tion from PREPA, FEMA has sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns about how PREPA pro­cured this con­tract and has not con­firmed whether the con­tract prices are rea­son­able,” the state­ment said. “FEMA is present­ly engaged with PREPA and its legal coun­sel to obtain infor­ma­tion about the con­tract and con­tract­ing process, includ­ing how the con­tract was pro­cured and how PREPA deter­mined the con­tract prices were rea­son­able.”

    ...

    White­fish Ener­gy is based in Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or Ryan Zinke’s home­town, and Zinke is friend­ly with the company’s CEO. A part­ner at White­fish was also a major Repub­li­can donor. He gave a total of $74,000 to var­i­ous Trump groups and anoth­er $30,700 to the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee, the Dai­ly Beast report­ed.

    Both the gov­er­nor of Puer­to Rico and the may­or of the U.S. territory’s capi­tol city have spo­ken out about the con­tract, with San Juan May­or Car­men Yulin Cruz call­ing for an inves­ti­ga­tion into the con­tract, spark­ing a Twit­ter war with the com­pa­ny, which lat­er apol­o­gized for its com­ments.

    Puer­to Rico Gov. Ricar­do Rossel­lo on Wednes­day asked the Depart­ment of Home­land Security’s inspec­tor gen­er­al to con­duct a review of the con­tract pro­cure­ment and told ABC News there would be “hell to pay” if any cor­rup­tion is uncov­ered in the audit.

    Just two years old, White­fish only had two full-time employ­ees before being award­ed the con­tract, ABC News report­ed.

    FEMA state­ment on White­fish Ener­gy: “FEMA has sig­nif­i­cant con­cerns with how PREPA pro­cured this con­tract” pic.twitter.com/rMHkzDxqKS— NBC News (@NBCNews) Octo­ber 27, 2017

    ———-

    “FEMA Has ‘Sig­nif­i­cant Con­cerns’ About $300 Mil­lion Deal With Util­i­ty Com­pa­ny” by Nicole Lafond; Talk­ing Points Memo; 10/27/2017

    White­fish Ener­gy is based in Sec­re­tary of the Inte­ri­or Ryan Zinke’s home­town, and Zinke is friend­ly with the company’s CEO. A part­ner at White­fish was also a major Repub­li­can donor. He gave a total of $74,000 to var­i­ous Trump groups and anoth­er $30,700 to the Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee, the Dai­ly Beast report­ed.

    White­fish just hap­pens to be the Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Zinke’s home time, the CEO is friend­ly with Zinke, and is also a major GOP donor. And it had just two employ­ees before get­ting the con­tract and had only exist­ed for two years:

    ...
    Just two years old, White­fish only had two full-time employ­ees before being award­ed the con­tract, ABC News report­ed.
    ...

    Oh what a coin­ci­dence.

    It’s also worth not­ing that white nation­al­ist White House advi­sor Stephen Miller also calls White­fish his home town, which might actu­al­ly be a coin­ci­dence although it prob­a­bly did­n’t hurt the deal’s chance.

    Giv­en all that, there’s bound to be some sort of audit of White­fish Ener­gy’s con­tract. So what might audi­tors find? For­tu­nate­ly we already know because a copy of the deal was obtained by a report­ed. And, lo and behold, the con­tract pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from review­ing labor costs or prof­its relat­ed to the com­pa­ny’s relief efforts. Yep, a no-audit rule is what the audi­tors are going to find:

    The Hill

    White­fish Ener­gy con­tract bars gov­ern­ment from audit­ing deal

    By John Bow­den — 10/27/17 08:48 AM EDT

    A deal reached between the gov­ern­ment and a small Mon­tana ener­gy com­pa­ny locat­ed in Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke’s home­town pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from review­ing labor costs or prof­its relat­ed to the com­pa­ny’s relief efforts in Puer­to Rico, accord­ing to a leaked copy of the con­tract.

    A copy of the deal obtained by reporter Ken Klip­pen­stein reveals that the gov­ern­ment isn’t allowed to “audit or review the cost and prof­it ele­ments” under the agree­ment, allow­ing the com­pa­ny greater dis­cre­tion and secre­cy for how it spends the $300 mil­lion to restore pow­er to the island. Puer­to Rico is rebuild­ing after two major hur­ri­canes wiped out most of the island’s elec­tri­cal grid.

    White­fish con­tract states, “In no event shall [gov­ern­ment bod­ies] have the right to audit or review the cost and prof­it ele­ments.” Wow. pic.twitter.com/dIyQXb6AK0— Ken Klip­pen­stein (@kenklippenstein) Octo­ber 27, 2017

    White­fish signed the deal with the Puer­to Rico Elec­tric Pow­er Author­i­ty (PREPA), which also pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from mak­ing “any claim against Con­trac­tor relat­ed to delayed com­ple­tion of work.”

    Incred­i­ble: White­fish con­tract states Puer­to Rican govt “waives any claim against Con­trac­tor relat­ed to delayed com­ple­tion of work.” pic.twitter.com/k4wWxrLFq2— Ken Klip­pen­stein (@kenklippenstein) Octo­ber 27, 2017

    White­fish has been the tar­get of heavy crit­i­cism over ques­tions as to why the small com­pa­ny, which only had two full-time employ­ees when the storm struck, was select­ed for such a lucra­tive gov­ern­ment con­tract to help clean up the island.

    Two House com­mit­tees and a fed­er­al watch­dog have all opened inves­ti­ga­tions into the deal. San Juan May­or Car­men Yulín Cruz has called for the deal to be void­ed and inves­ti­gat­ed after rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the com­pa­ny feud­ed with her on Twit­ter and asked her if she want­ed them to stop work­ing.

    “We’ve got 44 line­men rebuild­ing pow­er lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep work­ing?” White­fish Ener­gy tweet­ed to the may­or Wednes­day.

    “They are threat­en­ing not to do their job which frankly is quite irreg­u­lar for a com­pa­ny hired to the work for the pub­lic sec­tor,” she tweet­ed in response.

    “The con­tract should be void­ed right away and a prop­er process which is clear, trans­par­ent, legal, moral and eth­i­cal should take place,” Cruz added in com­ments to Yahoo News.

    Repub­li­cans on the House Nat­ur­al Resources Com­mit­tee have also raised ques­tions about the scope of the deal.

    “The size and terms of the con­tract, as well as the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the contract’s for­ma­tion, raise ques­tions regard­ing PREPA’s stan­dard con­tract award­ing pro­ce­dures,” Reps. Rob Bish­op (R‑Utah) and Bruce West­er­man (R‑Ark.) wrote Thurs­day.

    White­fish said Thurs­day that it wel­comes the inves­ti­ga­tions.

    ...
    ———-

    “White­fish Ener­gy con­tract bars gov­ern­ment from audit­ing deal” by John Bow­den; The Hill; 10/27/2017

    “White­fish said Thurs­day that it wel­comes the inves­ti­ga­tions.”

    You have to love that: White­fish said it wel­comes inves­ti­ga­tions into the con­tract that sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly blocked audits. They clear­ly have noth­ing to hide.

    And you also have to love this pro­vi­sion: the gov­ern­ment can’t do any­thing if the work isn’t done on time:

    ...
    White­fish signed the deal with the Puer­to Rico Elec­tric Pow­er Author­i­ty (PREPA), which also pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from mak­ing “any claim against Con­trac­tor relat­ed to delayed com­ple­tion of work.”
    ...

    Well, giv­en the “no-audit” rule, a rule seem­ing­ly designed to make sure White­fish can make as much prof­it as pos­si­ble, it does seem pret­ty rea­son­able to assume that there’s going to be delays. So it makes sense to include a pro­vi­sion that pro­hibits the gov­ern­ment from mak­ing “any claim against Con­trac­tor relat­ed to delayed com­ple­tion of work.” At least, it makes sense if you’re a hor­ri­bly cor­rupt per­son who is active­ly plan­ning on keep­ing a dev­as­tat­ed island in the dark for as long as pos­si­ble to make as much mon­ey as pos­si­ble.

    So what has Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Zinke said about this? Pret­ty much what you would expect: that he had noth­ing to do with the award­ing of this con­tract and that “attempts by the dis­hon­est media or polit­i­cal oper­a­tives to tie me to award­ing or influ­enc­ing any con­tract” are “com­plete­ly base­less”. In oth­er words, this is all a mas­sive coin­ci­dence accord­ing to Zinke.

    And while it is tech­ni­cal­ly true that Puer­to Rico’s pub­lic util­i­ty is the enti­ty that made the actu­al deci­sion to hire White­fish — they say that White­fish’s lack of a demand for a down­pay­ment helped them get the deal because the util­i­ty is cur­rent bank­rupt — it’s also basi­cal­ly a slap in the face of all the peo­ple who vot­ed for “Drain­ing the swamp” to act like the com­pa­ny’s ties to Zink and the GOP would­n’t have influ­enced this deci­sion. That’s how ‘The Swamp’ works. But that’s the sto­ry — that this is all a coin­ci­dence and White­fish got the con­tract on the mer­its of its bid — and we’re all expect­ed to believe it.

    #DrainTheSwamp

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 27, 2017, 3:08 pm
  7. Check out Pres­i­dent Trump’s lat­est shiny object he’s decid­ed to start play­ing with in pub­lic: threat­en­ing (once again) to change the libel laws to make it eas­i­er for him to sue news out­lets over neg­a­tive cov­er­age:

    USA Today

    Trump puts fed­er­al libel law on 2018 agen­da, esca­lat­ing com­plaints against media

    Gre­go­ry Korte and David Jack­son,
    Pub­lished 1:04 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2018 | Updat­ed 5:06 p.m. ET Jan. 10, 2018

    WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Trump renewed his call for a fed­er­al libel law on Wednes­day, say­ing peo­ple who are sub­ject to false and defam­a­to­ry accu­sa­tions should have “mean­ing­ful recourse” in fed­er­al courts.

    “Our cur­rent libel laws are a sham and a dis­grace, and do not rep­re­sent Amer­i­can val­ues or Amer­i­can fair­ness,” Trump said at a Cab­i­net meet­ing Wednes­day, say­ing the issue was on his admin­is­tra­tion’s 2018 agen­da. “You can’t say things that are false — know­ing­ly false — and be able to smile as mon­ey pours into your bank account. We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the Amer­i­can peo­ple want to see is fair­ness.”

    It’s not a new pro­pos­al for the pres­i­dent, who threat­ened to “open up our libel laws’’ dur­ing his cam­paign for pres­i­dent as he pushed back against unfa­vor­able sto­ries. This time, the pro­pos­al comes a week after the pub­li­ca­tion of a tell-all book about the White House that por­trayed Trump in unflat­ter­ing terms.

    Trump’s pri­vate lawyers have threat­ened law­suits, send­ing cease-and-desist let­ters to the book’s author and pub­lish­er — and to for­mer White House strate­gist Steve Ban­non, who coop­er­at­ed with author Michael Wolff, who was pre­vi­ous­ly a colum­nist for USA TODAY.

    In the Unit­ed States, libel and defama­tion are large­ly gov­erned by state law, but with­in the restric­tions of the First Amend­ment. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that pub­lic fig­ures — like the pres­i­dent — must clear a high hur­dle in order to prove defama­tion.

    At the cab­i­net meet­ing Wednes­day, Trump also com­plained about tele­vi­sion news cov­er­age of his nego­ti­a­tions with mem­bers of Con­gress on Wednes­day. He claimed that net­work news anchors were com­pli­men­ta­ry of his han­dling of the meet­ing — even send­ing Trump let­ters telling him so — before net­work boss­es weighed in.

    ...

    ———-

    “Trump puts fed­er­al libel law on 2018 agen­da, esca­lat­ing com­plaints against media” by Gre­go­ry Korte and David Jack­son; USA Today; 01/10/2018

    ““Our cur­rent libel laws are a sham and a dis­grace, and do not rep­re­sent Amer­i­can val­ues or Amer­i­can fair­ness,” Trump said at a Cab­i­net meet­ing Wednes­day, say­ing the issue was on his admin­is­tra­tion’s 2018 agen­da. “You can’t say things that are false — know­ing­ly false — and be able to smile as mon­ey pours into your bank account. We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that. And I think what the Amer­i­can peo­ple want to see is fair­ness.””

    “We’re going to take a very, very strong look at that.” That was Trump’s very, very con­fused look at the top­ic of chang­ing libel laws. And it was far from his first look at this top­ic so you would think that some­one would have informed him at this ponte­d­ing that libel and defama­tion are large­ly gov­erned by state law:

    ...
    In the Unit­ed States, libel and defama­tion are large­ly gov­erned by state law, but with­in the restric­tions of the First Amend­ment. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that pub­lic fig­ures — like the pres­i­dent — must clear a high hur­dle in order to prove defama­tion.
    ...

    But that does­n’t mean the libels laws can’t be changed. It just means that Trump him­self can’t do it. He either needs the Supreme Court to do it by rein­ter­pret­ing the First Amend­ment of the Con­sti­tu­tion, or he needs all the states to get togeth­er and do it with a Con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment:

    The New York Times

    Can Libel Laws Be Changed Under Trump?

    By SYDNEY EMBER
    NOV. 13, 2016

    When Don­ald J. Trump said in Feb­ru­ary that he would “open up our libel laws” if he became pres­i­dent to make it eas­i­er to sue news orga­ni­za­tions for unfa­vor­able cov­er­age, the dec­la­ra­tion sent shock waves through the media world.

    But could he actu­al­ly do it?

    The sim­ple answer is yes, but it would be com­pli­cat­ed. And assum­ing the estab­lished pro­ce­dures to change laws hold, it would also be extreme­ly dif­fi­cult.

    Libel is a mat­ter of state law lim­it­ed by the prin­ci­ples of the First Amend­ment. Pres­i­dents can­not direct­ly change state laws, so Mr. Trump would effec­tive­ly have to seek to change the First Amend­ment prin­ci­ples that con­strain the country’s libel laws. There are two poten­tial ways he could do this, accord­ing to legal experts. One route is through the Supreme Court. The oth­er is through the Con­sti­tu­tion itself.

    The Supreme Court estab­lished the First Amend­ment prin­ci­ples that gov­ern the country’s libel laws in 1964, with its unan­i­mous deci­sion in New York Times v. Sul­li­van. In that rul­ing, the court said that pub­lic offi­cials had to prove that false state­ments were made with “actu­al mal­ice,” mean­ing news orga­ni­za­tions had to have know­ing­ly pub­lished a false­hood or pub­lished it with “reck­less dis­re­gard of whether it was false or not.”

    The stan­dard, lat­er extend­ed to include pub­lic fig­ures, set a high bar for libel and meant that peo­ple like Mr. Trump — both a pub­lic fig­ure and soon-to-be pub­lic offi­cial — would have a very, very dif­fi­cult time win­ning a libel law­suit.

    If Mr. Trump were to seek to change the libel laws, he would have to get the Supreme Court to over­turn the rul­ing in Times v. Sul­li­van and sub­se­quent cas­es built on it, or at least chip away at either the def­i­n­i­tion of “actu­al mal­ice” or the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of a pub­lic offi­cial or pub­lic fig­ure, said San­dra S. Baron, a senior fel­low at Yale Law School’s Infor­ma­tion Soci­ety Project and for­mer exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Media Law Resource Cen­ter.

    “A change in those laws would require the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States tak­ing a new look at what it pre­vi­ous­ly decid­ed and mak­ing changes,” Ms. Baron said. “I think there’s very lit­tle, quite can­did­ly, he could do short of get­ting the Supreme Court to over­rule New York Times v. Sul­li­van.”

    The Supreme Court could over­turn the rul­ing, but it would not be easy. For one thing, libel and the pro­tec­tion of free speech are not, by nature, lib­er­al ver­sus con­ser­v­a­tive issues. Even if Mr. Trump appoints a con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tice (or two) who sup­port mod­i­fy­ing First Amend­ment prin­ci­ples, these jus­tices would not nec­es­sar­i­ly find them­selves in the major­i­ty.

    ...

    The con­ser­v­a­tive chief jus­tice William H. Rehn­quist, for instance, wrote the deci­sion in a case in 1988 that extend­ed rules pro­tect­ing crit­i­cism of pub­lic fig­ures as free speech. In the case, the Supreme Court over­turned an award in favor of the Rev. Jer­ry Fal­well, a well-known preach­er, who had sued Hus­tler mag­a­zine over a par­o­dy ad that por­trayed him as hav­ing tak­en part in a drunk­en tryst with his moth­er.

    Short of over­turn­ing Times v. Sul­li­van com­plete­ly, the Supreme Court could roll back relat­ed deci­sions. The court, how­ev­er, has not shown much inter­est in libel law in a long time, legal experts say.

    “There has been no active effort by the con­ser­v­a­tive wing of the Supreme Court to over­turn the prin­ci­ples of New York Times v. Sul­li­van,” Ms. Baron said. “The court has not tak­en a libel case in a very long time, and there did not appear to be a major­i­ty of the court, and that includes the con­ser­v­a­tives, who were active­ly seek­ing to over­turn the prin­ci­ples of New York Times v. Sul­li­van.”

    Mr. Trump could also try to change libel laws by seek­ing to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion itself. Alter­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, which is rarely attempt­ed, would be ardu­ous, cer­tain­ly, but not impos­si­ble.

    “It’s hard to imag­ine that gain­ing a lot of trac­tion,” Ms. Baron said. “But you know, we live in unpre­dictable times.”

    Of course, Mr. Trump has been under­es­ti­mat­ed before, so it is pos­si­ble that he could muster the sup­port to change libel laws. But even if Mr. Trump were able to have Times v. Sul­li­van over­turned, states, par­tic­u­lar­ly those with a major media pres­ence like New York and Cal­i­for­nia, could effec­tive­ly make the pro­tec­tion avail­able as a mat­ter of state law.

    The ques­tion is whether Mr. Trump would ben­e­fit from chang­ing libel laws. Fil­ing a law­suit would open him up to dis­cov­ery, which could lay bare details he might rather keep pri­vate. It should be not­ed, how­ev­er, that Mr. Trump has a his­to­ry of fil­ing libel law­suits, though he has nev­er won in pub­lic court, accord­ing to a recent report. (Even if the libel laws do not change, Mr. Trump could con­tin­ue to threat­en news orga­ni­za­tions with law­suits.)

    There is also the pos­si­bil­i­ty that loos­en­ing libel laws could affect him in unex­pect­ed ways.

    “Chang­ing the laws to make it eas­i­er to sue would essen­tial­ly be used to harm him,” said George Free­man, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Media Law Resource Cen­ter and a for­mer assis­tant gen­er­al coun­sel of The New York Times. “He’s more like­ly to be a libel defen­dant than a libel plain­tiff.”

    ———-

    “Can Libel Laws Be Changed Under Trump?” by SYDNEY EMBER; The New York Times; 11/13/2016

    “Libel is a mat­ter of state law lim­it­ed by the prin­ci­ples of the First Amend­ment. Pres­i­dents can­not direct­ly change state laws, so Mr. Trump would effec­tive­ly have to seek to change the First Amend­ment prin­ci­ples that con­strain the country’s libel laws. There are two poten­tial ways he could do this, accord­ing to legal experts. One route is through the Supreme Court. The oth­er is through the Con­sti­tu­tion itself.”

    Chang­ing either the inter­pre­ta­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion or the actu­al word­ing of the Con­sti­tu­tion. That’s what would be required to pro­tect Trump’s ego from neg­a­tive words.

    Are such her­culean changes pos­si­ble? Yes, it’s pos­si­ble, just not very like­ly. Because even if Trump man­aged to appoint a bunch of new con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tices, there’s no guar­an­tee that they’ll be on board with Trump’s view on libel law :

    ...
    If Mr. Trump were to seek to change the libel laws, he would have to get the Supreme Court to over­turn the rul­ing in Times v. Sul­li­van and sub­se­quent cas­es built on it, or at least chip away at either the def­i­n­i­tion of “actu­al mal­ice” or the char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of a pub­lic offi­cial or pub­lic fig­ure, said San­dra S. Baron, a senior fel­low at Yale Law School’s Infor­ma­tion Soci­ety Project and for­mer exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Media Law Resource Cen­ter.

    “A change in those laws would require the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States tak­ing a new look at what it pre­vi­ous­ly decid­ed and mak­ing changes,” Ms. Baron said. “I think there’s very lit­tle, quite can­did­ly, he could do short of get­ting the Supreme Court to over­rule New York Times v. Sul­li­van.”

    The Supreme Court could over­turn the rul­ing, but it would not be easy. For one thing, libel and the pro­tec­tion of free speech are not, by nature, lib­er­al ver­sus con­ser­v­a­tive issues. Even if Mr. Trump appoints a con­ser­v­a­tive jus­tice (or two) who sup­port mod­i­fy­ing First Amend­ment prin­ci­ples, these jus­tices would not nec­es­sar­i­ly find them­selves in the major­i­ty.
    ...

    And note that the one far-right Supreme Court Jus­tice Trump has already appoint­ed, Neil Gor­such, does­n’t appear to share Trump’s views on libel.

    So Trump would need like some sort of Supreme Court mass exo­dus at this point to pull this off from the courts. But even if the Supreme Court did reverse its ear­li­er Times v. Sul­li­van rul­ing, that would still leave it to the states to decide the issue. And it’s hard to imag­ine states like Cal­i­for­nia and New York sud­den­ly adopt­ing a Trumpian view on these mat­ters:

    ...
    Of course, Mr. Trump has been under­es­ti­mat­ed before, so it is pos­si­ble that he could muster the sup­port to change libel laws. But even if Mr. Trump were able to have Times v. Sul­li­van over­turned, states, par­tic­u­lar­ly those with a major media pres­ence like New York and Cal­i­for­nia, could effec­tive­ly make the pro­tec­tion avail­able as a mat­ter of state law.
    ...

    That just leaves chang­ing the con­sti­tu­tion itself. And it would have to be a change that pre­vents states from hav­ing a say in the mat­ter:

    ...
    Mr. Trump could also try to change libel laws by seek­ing to amend the Con­sti­tu­tion itself. Alter­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, which is rarely attempt­ed, would be ardu­ous, cer­tain­ly, but not impos­si­ble.

    “It’s hard to imag­ine that gain­ing a lot of trac­tion,” Ms. Baron said. “But you know, we live in unpre­dictable times.”
    ...

    Yeah, it is indeed pret­ty hard to imag­ine a request by Trump to change the con­sti­tu­tion to amend the First Amend­ment to make it hard­er to crit­i­cize him is going to gain a lot of trac­tion.

    But let’s not for­get some­thing rather impor­tant about any con­ver­sa­tion about amend­ing the US Con­sti­tu­tion: rad­i­cal­ly amend­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion has been a far-right goal for years and they are steadi­ly get­ting clos­er and clos­er to get­ting the chance to do exact­ly that:

    Alter­Net

    We Are Now One State Clos­er to Hav­ing a Cor­po­rate-Dom­i­nat­ed Con­sti­tu­tion­al Con­ven­tion

    With the addi­tion of Wis­con­sin, right-wingers pro­mot­ing a Con­sti­tu­tion­al Con­ven­tion have 28 states; they only need six more.

    By Steven Rosen­feld / Alter­Net
    Novem­ber 9, 2017, 11:28 AM GMT

    While Democ­rats on Wednes­day were feel­ing encour­aged and empow­ered by Tuesday’s coast-to-coast rejec­tion of Trump­ism, Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors who con­trol Wis­con­sin did what the GOP does best in elec­tions: vot­ed to rig the sys­tem to favor their agen­da. Only this time the tar­get wasn’t vot­er sup­pres­sion; it was the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion.

    On Tues­day, the Wis­con­sin Leg­is­la­ture vot­ed to call for what’s known as an Arti­cle V con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ven­tion, becom­ing the 28th state to do so in recent years. Thir­ty-four states are need­ed, accord­ing to the nation’s found­ing doc­u­ment, to launch a process that would open up the foun­da­tion of American’s rights and laws to revi­sion.

    “Sad­ly, this is not fake news,” said Com­mon Cause pres­i­dent Karen Hobert Fly­nn. “The specter of an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion to rewrite the Con­sti­tu­tion remains one of the most alarm­ing threats to our democ­ra­cy that nobody has ever heard of before.”

    “The deep-pock­et­ed spe­cial inter­est groups behind this effort to call a con­ven­tion are not like­ly to stop with a sin­gle amend­ment when there are no rules to pre­vent open­ing up the Con­sti­tu­tion to a full rewrite in a run­away con­ven­tion,” Fly­nn explained. “The effort to call the con­ven­tion is fund­ed by wealthy spe­cial inter­est groups like the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil that have long pushed for a broad leg­isla­tive agen­da in the states, and it is hard to imag­ine then not foist­ing that agen­da on the Con­sti­tu­tion itself through unelect­ed and unac­count­able del­e­gates to the con­ven­tion.”

    Revis­ing the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion is not the only big idea that has sur­faced fol­low­ing 2017’s Elec­tion Day. On Wednes­day morn­ing, the New York Times endorsed the nation­al pop­u­lar vote com­pact, where states agree to award all of their Elec­toral Col­lege votes for the next pres­i­dent to who­ev­er wins the nation­al pop­u­lar vote. (In 2016, that was Hillary Clin­ton, by near­ly 3 mil­lion votes. So far, 10 states and the Dis­trict of Colum­bia have signed on, pledg­ing 165 of the 270 Elec­toral Col­lege votes need­ed.)

    Har­vard Law pro­fes­sor Lar­ry Lessig, who dubi­ous­ly called for an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion a half-dozen years ago to reform the nation’s cam­paign finance sys­tem, has anoth­er big idea that would shake up the elec­toral process in unpre­dictable ways. His non-prof­it, EqualCitizens.US, has sued to real­lo­cate Elec­toral Col­lege votes by con­gres­sion­al dis­trict instead of the cur­rent win­ner-take-all sys­tem that exists in 48 states. (Maine and Nebras­ka split up their Elec­toral Col­lege votes.)

    But an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion is clos­er to real­i­ty than either the nation­al pop­u­lar vote or Lessig’s Elec­toral Col­lege reshuf­fling (even though two states, Min­neso­ta and Vir­ginia, saw law­mak­ers intro­duce 2017 leg­is­la­tion to reap­por­tion these votes; both stalled). In the past three years, 12 red-run states have called for an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion (Geor­gia, Alas­ka, Flori­da, Alaba­ma, Ten­nessee, Indi­ana, Okla­homa, Louisiana, Ari­zona, North Dako­ta, Texas and Mis­souri). Mean­while, four blue states (Delaware, New Mex­i­co, Mary­land and Neva­da) that pre­vi­ous­ly vot­ed for a con­ven­tion, under the assump­tion it would only be con­cerned with bal­anc­ing the fed­er­al bud­get, rescind­ed that ear­li­er vote because of fears a con­ven­tion would become a run­away train.

    These offen­sive moves by the right and defen­sive moves by the left show the prospect of an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion is not just anoth­er fan­ci­ful idea, but is mov­ing clos­er to some­thing the nation may even­tu­al­ly face. Before 2017’s Elec­tion Day, the next six states tar­get­ed by pro­po­nents were Ken­tucky, Ida­ho, Min­neso­ta, Mon­tana, South Car­oli­na and Vir­ginia, accord­ing to Com­mon Cause’s back­ground memo. Virginia’s elec­tion of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nor, and the par­ti­san major­i­ty of its low­er House of Del­e­gates still unknown (due to bal­lots that are still being count­ed), damp­ens the near­er-term pos­si­bil­i­ty of reach­ing 34 states.

    But no one should under­es­ti­mate the Repub­li­cans. The GOP, more so than Democ­rats, have kept their eyes on longer-term polit­i­cal prizes. They did that with par­ti­san ger­ry­man­ders in 2011 to lock down red super­ma­jor­i­ty leg­is­la­tures and U.S. House del­e­ga­tions. The Supreme Court is now review­ing a chal­lenge to Wisconsin’s extreme ger­ry­man­der. It’s no coin­ci­dence that it vot­ed Tues­day to call for a fed­er­al con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ven­tion. (In New York State on Tues­day, vot­ers reject­ed a call for a state con­ven­tion to revise the state con­sti­tu­tion, but approved a pro­pos­al to seize pen­sions from cor­rupt politi­cians.)

    The rhetoric from those call­ing for a fed­er­al con­ven­tion is sim­plis­tic, giv­en the stakes, com­plex­i­ty and chaos of the con­se­quences. From the mid-1970s until three or four years ago, the call for a con­ven­tion was to rein in fed­er­al spend­ing via a bal­anced bud­get amend­ment, said Jay Rieken­berg, a cam­paign strate­gist at Com­mon Cause. But today, pro­po­nents are talk­ing about more sweep­ing reforms, which becomes an open-end­ed invi­ta­tion to revise the Con­sti­tu­tion to accom­mo­date vir­tu­al­ly every right-wing goal that can­not be adopt­ed through state leg­is­la­tures or Con­gress.

    “The mes­sag­ing change we are see­ing com­ing out of the con­ven­tion of states [the main advo­ca­cy group] is forc­ing the con­ser­v­a­tives to talk dif­fer­ent­ly about this,” Rieken­berg said. “The con­ven­tion of states folks talk about how sim­ple this is; this is all about tak­ing back pow­er from Wash­ing­ton.”

    “The con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment has basi­cal­ly made this a long-term strat­e­gy,” he con­tin­ued. “They had a lot of momen­tum between 2011 and maybe Mon­day night. They need six states… Four are firm­ly in Repub­li­can hands.”

    Vir­ginia and in Min­neso­ta are the like­ly near-term excep­tions, where Democ­rats either gained pow­er on Tues­day or may do so in 2018. But as far-fetched as an Arti­cle 5 con­ven­tion sounds, the unknowns asso­ci­at­ed with it should prompt notice. It could be a run­away con­ven­tion. It could be a bonan­za for spe­cial inter­ests. There are no cer­tain con­ven­tion rules laid out in the Con­sti­tu­tion or a rat­i­fi­ca­tion process. There’s no guar­an­tee par­tic­i­pants would be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the elec­torate.

    ...

    Repub­li­cans have done many things to rig the rules of elec­tions this decade, from ger­ry­man­der­ing to a deep cat­a­log of vot­er sup­pres­sion tac­tics. While Democ­rats and Inde­pen­dents were vot­ing Tues­day to reject Trump­ism, the GOP in Wis­con­sin inten­tion­al­ly ignored the pub­lic and moved to rewrite the Con­sti­tu­tion. Take heed.

    ———-

    “We Are Now One State Clos­er to Hav­ing a Cor­po­rate-Dom­i­nat­ed Con­sti­tu­tion­al Con­ven­tion” by Steven Rosen­feld; Alter­Net; 11/09/2017

    “On Tues­day, the Wis­con­sin Leg­is­la­ture vot­ed to call for what’s known as an Arti­cle V con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ven­tion, becom­ing the 28th state to do so in recent years. Thir­ty-four states are need­ed, accord­ing to the nation’s found­ing doc­u­ment, to launch a process that would open up the foun­da­tion of American’s rights and laws to revi­sion.

    28 states down, 6 to go. That’s the sta­tus of the right-wing dri­ve to open up the US Con­sti­tu­tion to a “con­ven­tion of the states”. A con­ven­tion that could allow for ANY changes to the Con­sti­tu­tion.

    So would the peo­ple behind the con­ven­tion of the states dri­ve actu­al­ly want a big change to the libel laws too? Well, ask your­self this: would the Koch broth­ers and oth­er far-right oli­garchs back­ing the Amer­i­can right-wing be inter­est­ed in stronger libel laws? It seems like the answer is an obvi­ous “YES!!!!! Of course they would!!!!” Well, those are the peo­ple back­ing this dri­ve:

    ...
    The deep-pock­et­ed spe­cial inter­est groups behind this effort to call a con­ven­tion are not like­ly to stop with a sin­gle amend­ment when there are no rules to pre­vent open­ing up the Con­sti­tu­tion to a full rewrite in a run­away con­ven­tion,” Fly­nn explained. “The effort to call the con­ven­tion is fund­ed by wealthy spe­cial inter­est groups like the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil that have long pushed for a broad leg­isla­tive agen­da in the states, and it is hard to imag­ine then not foist­ing that agen­da on the Con­sti­tu­tion itself through unelect­ed and unac­count­able del­e­gates to the con­ven­tion.”
    ...

    And note now active this dri­ve is today. 12 GOP-run states have called for such a con­ven­tion in the past three years alone:

    ...
    But an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion is clos­er to real­i­ty than either the nation­al pop­u­lar vote or Lessig’s Elec­toral Col­lege reshuf­fling (even though two states, Min­neso­ta and Vir­ginia, saw law­mak­ers intro­duce 2017 leg­is­la­tion to reap­por­tion these votes; both stalled). In the past three years, 12 red-run states have called for an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion (Geor­gia, Alas­ka, Flori­da, Alaba­ma, Ten­nessee, Indi­ana, Okla­homa, Louisiana, Ari­zona, North Dako­ta, Texas and Mis­souri). Mean­while, four blue states (Delaware, New Mex­i­co, Mary­land and Neva­da) that pre­vi­ous­ly vot­ed for a con­ven­tion, under the assump­tion it would only be con­cerned with bal­anc­ing the fed­er­al bud­get, rescind­ed that ear­li­er vote because of fears a con­ven­tion would become a run­away train.

    These offen­sive moves by the right and defen­sive moves by the left show the prospect of an Arti­cle V con­ven­tion is not just anoth­er fan­ci­ful idea, but is mov­ing clos­er to some­thing the nation may even­tu­al­ly face. Before 2017’s Elec­tion Day, the next six states tar­get­ed by pro­po­nents were Ken­tucky, Ida­ho, Min­neso­ta, Mon­tana, South Car­oli­na and Vir­ginia, accord­ing to Com­mon Cause’s back­ground memo. Virginia’s elec­tion of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic gov­er­nor, and the par­ti­san major­i­ty of its low­er House of Del­e­gates still unknown (due to bal­lots that are still being count­ed), damp­ens the near­er-term pos­si­bil­i­ty of reach­ing 34 states.
    ...

    And note how the back­ers for this are increas­ing­ly talk­ing about “sweep­ing reforms”, which is EXACTLY the kind of sit­u­a­tion where some­thing like a libel law change could be snuck in with­out too much atten­tion because it will just be one of many ‘sweep­ing reforms’ freak­ing every­one out. A mas­sive Con­sti­tu­tion­al over­haul done by and for the bil­lion­aires run­ning the GOP is a key ele­ment of the far-right’s long-term strat­e­gy for main­tain­ing a grip on pow­er, and it’s hard to imag­ine a few amend­ments that make it hard­er to say any­thing neg­a­tive about the oli­garchy isn’t part of the that strat­e­gy:

    ...
    The rhetoric from those call­ing for a fed­er­al con­ven­tion is sim­plis­tic, giv­en the stakes, com­plex­i­ty and chaos of the con­se­quences. From the mid-1970s until three or four years ago, the call for a con­ven­tion was to rein in fed­er­al spend­ing via a bal­anced bud­get amend­ment, said Jay Rieken­berg, a cam­paign strate­gist at Com­mon Cause. But today, pro­po­nents are talk­ing about more sweep­ing reforms, which becomes an open-end­ed invi­ta­tion to revise the Con­sti­tu­tion to accom­mo­date vir­tu­al­ly every right-wing goal that can­not be adopt­ed through state leg­is­la­tures or Con­gress.

    “The mes­sag­ing change we are see­ing com­ing out of the con­ven­tion of states [the main advo­ca­cy group] is forc­ing the con­ser­v­a­tives to talk dif­fer­ent­ly about this,” Rieken­berg said. “The con­ven­tion of states folks talk about how sim­ple this is; this is all about tak­ing back pow­er from Wash­ing­ton.”

    “The con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment has basi­cal­ly made this a long-term strat­e­gy,” he con­tin­ued. “They had a lot of momen­tum between 2011 and maybe Mon­day night. They need six states… Four are firm­ly in Repub­li­can hands.”

    Vir­ginia and in Min­neso­ta are the like­ly near-term excep­tions, where Democ­rats either gained pow­er on Tues­day or may do so in 2018. But as far-fetched as an Arti­cle 5 con­ven­tion sounds, the unknowns asso­ci­at­ed with it should prompt notice. It could be a run­away con­ven­tion. It could be a bonan­za for spe­cial inter­ests. There are no cer­tain con­ven­tion rules laid out in the Con­sti­tu­tion or a rat­i­fi­ca­tion process. There’s no guar­an­tee par­tic­i­pants would be rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the elec­torate.
    ...

    “The con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment has basi­cal­ly made this a long-term strategy...They had a lot of momen­tum between 2011 and maybe Mon­day night. They need six states… Four are firm­ly in Repub­li­can hands.”

    28 down, 6 states to go, with 4 of those 6 states firm­ly in GOP hands. THAT’s the real­i­ty when it comes to assess­ing the fea­si­bil­i­ty of Trump’s libel law change, along with any oth­er Con­sti­tu­tion­al change he might fan­cy.

    So while Trump’s pub­lic ram­bling about chang­ing the libel laws might be the lat­est shiny object he threw out there for us all to mar­vel at, it’s the kind of shiny object that could eas­i­ly become one of the shiny bul­lets in a hail of bul­lets the right-wing is get­ting ready to fire at any of the Con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­tec­tions the Amer­i­can pub­lic has left. It’s a remind that Trump’s seem­ing­ly insane ram­blings are some­times rel­a­tive­ly sane with­in the con­text of our utter­ly insane polit­i­cal con­text.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 10, 2018, 4:20 pm
  8. Fol­low­ing the sur­prise announce­ment by Supreme Court Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy that he would be retir­ing next month, one of the imme­di­ate­ly ques­tions is what exact­ly moti­vat­ed Jus­tice Kennedy to make a move that basi­cal­ly becomes his lega­cy. Espe­cial­ly after he said his rea­son was to “spend more time with his fam­i­ly,” which is pret­ty much the default rea­son giv­en in these sit­u­a­tions when you don’t want to give the real rea­son. And if you’re a mem­ber of Supreme Court who vol­un­tar­i­ly steps down when some­one like Trump is pres­i­dent who is guar­an­teed to replace you with a far right ide­o­logue, that becomes your lega­cy.

    So what was it that moti­vat­ed Antho­ny Kennedy to choose to hitch his lega­cy to Trump? Well, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, it turns out the Trump fam­i­ly has been cozy­ing up to Kennedy from the begin­ning of Trump admin­is­tra­tion and the Trump and Kennedy fam­i­lies actu­al­ly have a his­to­ry with each oth­er. Specif­i­cal­ly, it turns out that Antho­ny Kennedy’s son, Justin, spent over a decade at Deutsche Bank and even­tu­al­ly became Deutsche Bank ’s glob­al head of real estate cap­i­tal mar­kets. And it was dur­ing Justin’s time at Deutsch Bank that the bank became the key lender for Trump after US banks start­ed shun­ning him. Justin also report­ed­ly worked close­ly with Trump on his real estate projects dur­ing his time at Deutsche Bank. That’s right, Antho­ny Kennedy’s son was basi­cal­ly Trump’s banker at Deutsche Bank:

    The New York Times

    Inside the White House’s Qui­et Cam­paign to Cre­ate a Supreme Court Open­ing

    By Adam Lip­tak and Mag­gie Haber­man
    June 28, 2018

    WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Trump sin­gled him out for praise even while attack­ing oth­er mem­bers of the Supreme Court. The White House nom­i­nat­ed peo­ple close to him to impor­tant judi­cial posts. And mem­bers of the Trump fam­i­ly forged per­son­al con­nec­tions.

    Their goal was to assure Jus­tice Antho­ny M. Kennedy that his judi­cial lega­cy would be in good hands should he step down at the end of the court’s term that end­ed this week, as he was rumored to be con­sid­er­ing. Allies of the White House were more blunt, warn­ing the 81-year-old jus­tice that time was of the essence. There was no telling, they said, what would hap­pen if Democ­rats gained con­trol of the Sen­ate after the Novem­ber elec­tions and had the pow­er to block the president’s choice as his suc­ces­sor.

    There were no direct efforts to pres­sure or lob­by Jus­tice Kennedy to announce his res­ig­na­tion on Wednes­day, and it was hard­ly the first time a pres­i­dent had done his best to cre­ate a court open­ing. “In the past half-cen­tu­ry, pres­i­dents have repeat­ed­ly been dying to take advan­tage of time­ly vacan­cies,” said Lau­ra Kalman, a his­to­ri­an at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­bara.

    But in sub­tle and not so sub­tle ways, the White House waged a qui­et cam­paign to ensure that Mr. Trump had a sec­ond oppor­tu­ni­ty in his administration’s first 18 months to ful­fill one of his most impor­tant cam­paign promis­es to his con­ser­v­a­tive fol­low­ers — that he would change the com­plex­ion and direc­tion of the Supreme Court.

    When Mr. Trump took office last year, he already had a Supreme Court vacan­cy to fill, the one cre­at­ed by the 2016 death of Jus­tice Antonin Scalia. But Mr. Trump dear­ly want­ed a sec­ond vacan­cy, one that could trans­form the court for a gen­er­a­tion or more. So he used the first open­ing to help cre­ate the sec­ond one. He picked Jus­tice Neil M. Gor­such, who had served as a law clerk to Jus­tice Kennedy, to fill Jus­tice Scalia’s seat.

    And when Jus­tice Gor­such took the judi­cial oath in April 2017 at a Rose Gar­den cer­e­mo­ny, Jus­tice Kennedy admin­is­tered it — after Mr. Trump first praised the old­er jus­tice as “a great man of out­stand­ing accom­plish­ment.”

    “Through­out his near­ly 30 years on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Trump said, “Jus­tice Kennedy has been praised by all for his ded­i­cat­ed and dig­ni­fied ser­vice.”

    That was an over­state­ment. Jus­tice Kennedy is reviled by many of Mr. Trump’s sup­port­ers for vot­ing to uphold access to abor­tion, lim­it the death penal­ty and expand gay rights. Con­ser­v­a­tives have called for his impeach­ment. James C. Dob­son, the founder of Focus on the Fam­i­ly, once called Jus­tice Kennedy “the most dan­ger­ous man in Amer­i­ca.”

    Mr. Trump him­self said he want­ed to appoint jus­tices who would over­rule Roe v. Wade, the 1973 deci­sion estab­lish­ing a con­sti­tu­tion­al right to abor­tion. Jus­tice Kennedy has vot­ed to reaf­firm Roe’s core hold­ing. And Mr. Trump has not hes­i­tat­ed to crit­i­cize far more con­ser­v­a­tive mem­bers of the Supreme Court, notably Chief Jus­tice John G. Roberts Jr.

    “Jus­tice Roberts turned out to be an absolute dis­as­ter, he turned out to be an absolute dis­as­ter because he gave us Oba­macare,” Mr. Trump said in 2016, pre­sum­ably refer­ring to Chief Jus­tice Roberts’s votes to sus­tain Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s health care law.

    ...

    Then, after Jus­tice Gorsuch’s nom­i­na­tion was announced, a White House offi­cial sin­gled out two can­di­dates for the next Supreme Court vacan­cy: Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia Cir­cuit and Judge Ray­mond M. Keth­ledge of the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Cir­cuit, in Cincin­nati.

    The two judges had some­thing in com­mon: They had both clerked for Jus­tice Kennedy.

    In the mean­time, as the White House turned to stock­ing the low­er courts, it did not over­look Jus­tice Kennedy’s clerks. Mr. Trump nom­i­nat­ed three of them to fed­er­al appeals courts: Judges Stephanos Bibas and Michael Scud­der, both of whom have been con­firmed, and Eric Mur­phy, the Ohio solic­i­tor gen­er­al, whom Mr. Trump nom­i­nat­ed to the Sixth Cir­cuit this month.

    One per­son who knows both men remarked on the affin­i­ty between Mr. Trump and Jus­tice Kennedy, which is not obvi­ous at first glance. Jus­tice Kennedy is book­ish and abstract, while Mr. Trump is earthy and direct.

    But they had a con­nec­tion, one Mr. Trump was quick to note in the moments after his first address to Con­gress in Feb­ru­ary 2017. As he made his way out of the cham­ber, Mr. Trump paused to chat with the jus­tice.

    “Say hel­lo to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Spe­cial guy.”

    Mr. Trump was appar­ent­ly refer­ring to Jus­tice Kennedy’s son, Justin. The younger Mr. Kennedy spent more than a decade at Deutsche Bank, even­tu­al­ly ris­ing to become the bank’s glob­al head of real estate cap­i­tal mar­kets, and he worked close­ly with Mr. Trump when he was a real estate devel­op­er, accord­ing to two peo­ple with knowl­edge of his role.

    Dur­ing Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s most impor­tant lender, dis­pens­ing well over $1 bil­lion in loans to him for the ren­o­va­tion and con­struc­tion of sky­scrap­ers in New York and Chica­go at a time oth­er main­stream banks were wary of doing busi­ness with him because of his trou­bled busi­ness his­to­ry.

    About a week before the pres­i­den­tial address, Ivan­ka Trump had paid a vis­it to the Supreme Court as a guest of Jus­tice Kennedy. The two had met at a lunch after the inau­gu­ra­tion, and Ms. Trump brought along her daugh­ter, Ara­bel­la Kush­n­er. Occu­py­ing seats reserved for spe­cial guests, they saw the jus­tices announce sev­er­al deci­sions and hear an oral argu­ment.

    Ms. Trump tweet­ed about the vis­it and post­ed a pho­to. “Ara­bel­la & me at the Supreme Court today,” she wrote. “I’m grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach her about the judi­cial sys­tem in our coun­try first­hand.”

    If the over­tures to Jus­tice Kennedy from the White House were sub­tle, the warn­ings from its allies were blunt. Last month, Sen­a­tor Charles E. Grass­ley of Iowa, the Repub­li­can chair­man of the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, went on Hugh Hewitt’s radio pro­gram to issue an urgent plea..

    “My mes­sage to any one of the nine Supreme Court jus­tices,” he said, was, “‘If you’re think­ing about quit­ting this year, do it yes­ter­day.’”

    Mr. Grass­ley said speed was of the essence in light of the midterm elec­tions in Novem­ber. “If we have a Demo­c­rat Sen­ate,” he said, “you’re nev­er going to get the kind of peo­ple that are strict con­struc­tion­ists.”

    Inter­me­di­aries pressed the point with Jus­tice Kennedy pri­vate­ly, telling him that Don­ald F. McGahn II, Mr. Trump’s White House coun­sel, would in all prob­a­bil­i­ty leave after the midterms. Mr. McGahn has been a key archi­tect Mr. Trump’s suc­cess­ful efforts to appoint wave after wave of con­ser­v­a­tive judges, they said, and his absence would com­pli­cate a Supreme Court con­fir­ma­tion.

    There is noth­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly unusu­al in urg­ing old­er jus­tices to retire for par­ti­san rea­sons. Dur­ing the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, promi­nent lib­er­als called for Jus­tice Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg to retire so that Mr. Oba­ma could name her suc­ces­sor.

    Jus­tice Kennedy wait­ed until the last day of the term to announce his retire­ment. The move dis­ap­point­ed lib­er­als who had hoped that he would not want Mr. Trump to name his suc­ces­sor. But the jus­tice, say­ing he want­ed to spend more time with his fam­i­ly, betrayed no hes­i­ta­tion.

    His depar­ture is a tri­umph for Mr. Trump, who has tak­en par­tic­u­lar sat­is­fac­tion in his judi­cial appoint­ments. Nam­ing jus­tices and judges is eas­i­er than forg­ing leg­isla­tive com­pro­mis­es, and Mr. Trump under­stands that his judi­cial appoint­ments rep­re­sent a lega­cy that will long out­last his pres­i­den­cy.

    Replac­ing Jus­tice Scalia with anoth­er con­ser­v­a­tive did not alter the basic ide­o­log­i­cal bal­ance of the court. But replac­ing Jus­tice Kennedy, who for decades held the deci­sive vote in many of the court’s close­ly divid­ed cas­es, would give Mr. Trump the oppor­tu­ni­ty to move the court sharply to the right.

    Jus­tice Kennedy vis­it­ed the White House on Wednes­day to tell Mr. Trump of his retire­ment and to deliv­er a let­ter set­ting out the details. Its warm open­ing words — “My dear Mr. Pres­i­dent” — acknowl­edged a cor­dial rela­tion­ship between the two men, as well as the suc­cess of the White House’s strat­e­gy.

    ———-

    “Inside the White House’s Qui­et Cam­paign to Cre­ate a Supreme Court Open­ing” by Adam Lip­tak and Mag­gie Haber­man; The New York Times; 06/28/2018

    “Their goal was to assure Jus­tice Antho­ny M. Kennedy that his judi­cial lega­cy would be in good hands should he step down at the end of the court’s term that end­ed this week, as he was rumored to be con­sid­er­ing. Allies of the White House were more blunt, warn­ing the 81-year-old jus­tice that time was of the essence. There was no telling, they said, what would hap­pen if Democ­rats gained con­trol of the Sen­ate after the Novem­ber elec­tions and had the pow­er to block the president’s choice as his suc­ces­sor.”

    Yep, con­vinc­ing Jus­tice Kennedy to step down has appar­ent­ly been a Trump project from the very begin­ning of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion:

    ...
    There were no direct efforts to pres­sure or lob­by Jus­tice Kennedy to announce his res­ig­na­tion on Wednes­day, and it was hard­ly the first time a pres­i­dent had done his best to cre­ate a court open­ing. “In the past half-cen­tu­ry, pres­i­dents have repeat­ed­ly been dying to take advan­tage of time­ly vacan­cies,” said Lau­ra Kalman, a his­to­ri­an at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­bara.

    But in sub­tle and not so sub­tle ways, the White House waged a qui­et cam­paign to ensure that Mr. Trump had a sec­ond oppor­tu­ni­ty in his administration’s first 18 months to ful­fill one of his most impor­tant cam­paign promis­es to his con­ser­v­a­tive fol­low­ers — that he would change the com­plex­ion and direc­tion of the Supreme Court.

    When Mr. Trump took office last year, he already had a Supreme Court vacan­cy to fill, the one cre­at­ed by the 2016 death of Jus­tice Antonin Scalia. But Mr. Trump dear­ly want­ed a sec­ond vacan­cy, one that could trans­form the court for a gen­er­a­tion or more. So he used the first open­ing to help cre­ate the sec­ond one. He picked Jus­tice Neil M. Gor­such, who had served as a law clerk to Jus­tice Kennedy, to fill Jus­tice Scalia’s seat.

    And when Jus­tice Gor­such took the judi­cial oath in April 2017 at a Rose Gar­den cer­e­mo­ny, Jus­tice Kennedy admin­is­tered it — after Mr. Trump first praised the old­er jus­tice as “a great man of out­stand­ing accom­plish­ment.”

    “Through­out his near­ly 30 years on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Trump said, “Jus­tice Kennedy has been praised by all for his ded­i­cat­ed and dig­ni­fied ser­vice.”
    ...

    The lob­by­ing even start­ed before the Trump admin­is­tra­tion, with Ivan­ka Trump vis­it­ing the Supreme Court as a guest of Jus­tice Kennedy a week before Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion:

    ...
    About a week before the pres­i­den­tial address, Ivan­ka Trump had paid a vis­it to the Supreme Court as a guest of Jus­tice Kennedy. The two had met at a lunch after the inau­gu­ra­tion, and Ms. Trump brought along her daugh­ter, Ara­bel­la Kush­n­er. Occu­py­ing seats reserved for spe­cial guests, they saw the jus­tices announce sev­er­al deci­sions and hear an oral argu­ment.

    Ms. Trump tweet­ed about the vis­it and post­ed a pho­to. “Ara­bel­la & me at the Supreme Court today,” she wrote. “I’m grate­ful for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to teach her about the judi­cial sys­tem in our coun­try first­hand.”
    ...

    The lob­by­ing also includ­ed choos­ing peo­ple who had clerked for Jus­tice Kennedy for fed­er­al court posi­tions, as well as two of the peo­ple on Trump’s list of can­di­dates to replace Kennedy on the Supreme Court:

    ...
    Then, after Jus­tice Gorsuch’s nom­i­na­tion was announced, a White House offi­cial sin­gled out two can­di­dates for the next Supreme Court vacan­cy: Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh of the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Dis­trict of Colum­bia Cir­cuit and Judge Ray­mond M. Keth­ledge of the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Cir­cuit, in Cincin­nati.

    The two judges had some­thing in com­mon: They had both clerked for Jus­tice Kennedy.

    In the mean­time, as the White House turned to stock­ing the low­er courts, it did not over­look Jus­tice Kennedy’s clerks. Mr. Trump nom­i­nat­ed three of them to fed­er­al appeals courts: Judges Stephanos Bibas and Michael Scud­der, both of whom have been con­firmed, and Eric Mur­phy, the Ohio solic­i­tor gen­er­al, whom Mr. Trump nom­i­nat­ed to the Sixth Cir­cuit this month.
    ...

    But per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant source of the Trump fam­i­ly’s influ­ence with Jus­tice Kennedy comes from the fact that Kennedy’s son, Justin Kennedy, was Trump’s banker at Deutsche Bank:

    ...
    One per­son who knows both men remarked on the affin­i­ty between Mr. Trump and Jus­tice Kennedy, which is not obvi­ous at first glance. Jus­tice Kennedy is book­ish and abstract, while Mr. Trump is earthy and direct.

    But they had a con­nec­tion, one Mr. Trump was quick to note in the moments after his first address to Con­gress in Feb­ru­ary 2017. As he made his way out of the cham­ber, Mr. Trump paused to chat with the jus­tice.

    “Say hel­lo to your boy,” Mr. Trump said. “Spe­cial guy.”

    Mr. Trump was appar­ent­ly refer­ring to Jus­tice Kennedy’s son, Justin. The younger Mr. Kennedy spent more than a decade at Deutsche Bank, even­tu­al­ly ris­ing to become the bank’s glob­al head of real estate cap­i­tal mar­kets, and he worked close­ly with Mr. Trump when he was a real estate devel­op­er, accord­ing to two peo­ple with knowl­edge of his role.

    Dur­ing Mr. Kennedy’s tenure, Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s most impor­tant lender, dis­pens­ing well over $1 bil­lion in loans to him for the ren­o­va­tion and con­struc­tion of sky­scrap­ers in New York and Chica­go at a time oth­er main­stream banks were wary of doing busi­ness with him because of his trou­bled busi­ness his­to­ry.
    ...

    “Say hel­lo to your boy...Special guy.”

    Yeah, Justin Kennedy is indeed a “spe­cial guy”. He was appar­ent­ly Trump’s banker, or at least “worked close­ly” with Trump. That’s ‘spe­cial’, in its own way.

    But that’s not the only finan­cial tie between Justin Kennedy and the Trump clan. After Kennedy left Deutsche Bank in 2009 he went on to become co-CEO LNR Prop­er­ty LLC. And it turns out that LNR Prop­er­ty saved Jared Kush­n­er’s 666 Fifth Avenue prop­er­ty back in 2011:

    Medi­um

    The Kennedy, Kush­n­er, and Trump Con­nec­tion: A Curi­ous Con­ver­sa­tion and A Busi­ness Deal

    by C’Zar Bern­stein & Gabe Rusk
    Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty
    March 1st, 2017

    A few moments after his first address to Con­gress on Feb­ru­ary 28th, Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump left the podi­um and began to work the crowd as he left the House Cham­ber. The Pres­i­dent made his way to the five mem­bers of the Unit­ed States Supreme Court in atten­dance. Seat­ed by senior­i­ty, Trump began with Jus­tice Kagan on the right and even­tu­al­ly made his way to Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy. A curi­ous and con­cise con­ver­sa­tion took place between the two. To the best of our abil­i­ties, here is a tran­script of the con­ver­sa­tion picked up on cam­era:

    Kennedy: [Inaudi­ble]

    Trump: Very nice, thank you, and com­ing from you. And say hel­lo to your boy. Spe­cial guy.

    Kennedy: Your kids have been very nice to him.

    Trump: Well, they love him and they love him in New York. He’s a great guy. (Point­ing to Chief Jus­tice Roberts) Good swear­ing-in. You’ve got a good guy.

    [Link to video.. Read­ers can lis­ten for them­selves at 5:15 remain­ing]

    ...

    Quick­ly after the twen­ty-sec­ond exchange was caught via CSPAN a few #appel­latetwit­ter detec­tives began to spec­u­late what rela­tion­ships Kennedy’s chil­dren and Trump’s might have. Was this a “col­lo­qui­al” back and forth or was there more of a his­to­ry between the two fam­i­lies? This was not the first time that Jus­tice Kennedy and the Trumps had inter­act­ed. Just last week at the invi­ta­tion of Jus­tice Kennedy, Don­ald Trump’s daugh­ter and for­mer busi­ness­woman Ivan­ka Trump vis­it­ed the High Court with her daugh­ter to attend a Supreme Court argu­ment. Accord­ing to reports, Kennedy and Ivan­ka had met at the con­gres­sion­al lunch after the inau­gu­ra­tion. Once again many in the com­mu­ni­ty were intrigued at the ges­ture and spec­u­lat­ed that the move might have an under­ly­ing mean­ing beyond mere kind­ness. Vir­tu­al­ly every­one agreed that the lat­ter was sure to be true. A sim­ple answer to a sim­ple ques­tion. Last night’s brief exchange between Kennedy and POTUS reignit­ed those con­ver­sa­tions. This time we dis­cov­ered that there is more to the sto­ry: There may be a Kennedy, Kush­n­er, and Trump busi­ness con­nec­tion.

    Jus­tice Kennedy has two very suc­cess­ful sons in their own right, Gre­go­ry and Justin Kennedy. Gre­go­ry Kennedy, a Stan­ford Law grad­u­ate (a Stan­ford man like his father), was named CEO of Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advis­ers in Octo­ber of 2016. Accord­ing to his LinkedIn page: Dis­rup­tive Tech­nol­o­gy Advi­sors is a “Los Ange­les based mer­chant bank with an exclu­sive focus on mid to late stage growth com­pa­nies.” While Gre­go­ry Kennedy is like­ly based out of New York City, at first glance, there is no pub­lic, pro­fes­sion­al, or per­son­al con­nec­tion between him or his com­pa­ny and any of the Trumps or their hold­ings. The same might not be said of his broth­er Justin.

    Justin Kennedy, a grad­u­ate of UCLA and Stanford(again like his father), has spent his career in the world of bank­ing, invest­ment, and, inter­est­ing­ly, real estate. In par­tic­u­lar, from 2010–2013 Justin Kennedy was the co-CEO of LNR Prop­er­ty LLC with Tobin Cobb. In the world of high-stakes NYC real estate it would be fair­ly improb­a­ble that the Trump or Kush­n­er groups, mono­liths in their own right, would not have min­gled or done busi­ness with the LNR at some point in time. We were not sur­prised, there­fore, to dis­cov­er that there is a like­ly con­nec­tion. Here’s what we know:

    Accord­ing the New York Times, in 2007 Kush­n­er Com­pa­nies pur­chased “an alu­minum-clad office tow­er in Mid­town Man­hat­tan, for a record price of $1.8 bil­lion.” At the time the NYT wrote that this deal was “con­sid­ered a clas­sic exam­ple of reck­less under­writ­ing. The trans­ac­tion was so high­ly lever­aged that the cash flow from rents amount­ed to only 65 per­cent of the debt ser­vice.” The Times con­tin­ues:

    “As many real estate spe­cial­ists pre­dict­ed, the deal ran into trou­ble. Instead of ris­ing, rents declined as the reces­sion took hold, and new leas­es were scarce. In 2010, the loan was trans­ferred to a spe­cial ser­vicer on the assump­tion that a default would occur once reserve funds being used to sub­si­dize the short­fall were bled dry. But the sto­ry may yet have a hap­py end­ing for Kush­n­er, a fam­i­ly-owned busi­ness that moved its head­quar­ters from Florham Park, N.J., to 666 Fifth, its first major acqui­si­tion in Man­hat­tan.”

    Who came to the res­cue? None oth­er than LNR Prop­er­ty, the com­pa­ny whose CEO at the time was Justin Kennedy. Accord­ing to the NYT and the Real Deal, Mr. Kush­n­er and LNR “reached a pos­si­ble agree­ment with LNR Prop­er­ty, a firm spe­cial­iz­ing in restruc­tur­ing trou­bled debt and which over­sees the mort­gage, that would allow him to retain con­trol of the tow­er by mod­i­fy­ing the terms of the $1.2 bil­lion mort­gage tied to the office por­tion of the build­ing.” A spokesman for Mr. Kush­n­er told the Wall Street Jour­nal in March of 2011 that “[t]he Kushner’s are ready and will­ing to invest more mon­ey into the prop­er­ty as soon as they can come to mutu­al­ly sat­is­fac­to­ry terms with the ser­vic­ing agent.” In that same arti­cle Kushner’s father-in-law and the future Pres­i­dent com­ment­ed on the nego­ti­a­tions with Justin Kennedy’s com­pa­ny. Speak­ing about the deal, Trump told the WSJ that Kush­n­er is “a very smart young man…I think it (loan rene­go­ti­a­tions) will come out well for him and every­body.” At this point there is no doubt that there was a direct busi­ness rela­tion­ship between LNR and Kush­n­er Com­pa­nies at the time Justin Kennedy and Jared Kush­n­er were both CEO. Even the future Pres­i­dent was aware of the deal and com­ment­ed on its respec­tive mer­its. (That being said, it is not impos­si­ble that Jared Kush­n­er and Justin Kennedy did not meet in con­nec­tion with the spe­cif­ic deal in ques­tion; how­ev­er, giv­en the stakes involved it does seem more than like­ly that the two CEO’s would have inter­act­ed as nego­ti­a­tions were being con­duct­ed.)

    The con­nec­tions between Kush­n­er, Kennedy, and Trump do not end there. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, in 2011, the year in which some of these nego­ti­a­tions took place, Justin Kennedy for the first time was ranked on the New York Observer’s 100 Most Pow­er­ful Peo­ple in New York Real Estate at #36. Don­ald Trump clocked in at #12. The New York Observ­er was owned at the time by none oth­er than Jared Kush­n­er him­self.

    All of this is to say there is a pos­si­ble web of per­son­al and pro­fes­sion­al rela­tion­ships between the Trump fam­i­ly and the Kennedy fam­i­ly. To our knowl­edge, Justin Kennedy has nev­er donat­ed to the Trump cam­paign, but we know that he is often a loy­al Repub­li­can donor like his broth­er Gre­go­ry. Accord­ing to FEC dis­clo­sures, Justin Kennedy has donat­ed gen­er­ous­ly to the pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns of John McCain, Mitt Rom­ney, Jeb Bush, and Mar­co Rubio. Trump, to our knowl­edge, is notice­ably absent. Despite the fact that we found no obvi­ous pub­lic polit­i­cal sup­port by Justin Kennedy for the Pres­i­dent, there are ques­tions left for us to answer. The Jus­tices and their fam­i­lies are now often under strict pub­lic scruti­ny in terms of how they might influ­ence pol­i­tics out­side of the High Court. Just this month Jus­tice Thomas’s wife Gin­ni Thomas faced back­lash for appar­ent polit­i­cal orga­niz­ing on behalf of the Pres­i­dent. Dur­ing the cam­paign, Jus­tice Ginsburg’s fer­vent neg­a­tive com­ments about then-can­di­date Trump were per­ceived as par­ti­san and unac­cept­able by jour­nal­ist, jurist, and politi­cian alike. The actions of the Jus­tices and their respec­tive fam­i­lies remain impor­tant bal­anc­ing tests for the pub­lic in terms of the rela­tion­ship between the Court and the rest of gov­ern­ment. What does this poten­tial and curi­ous con­nec­tion mean for that con­ver­sa­tion?

    The osten­si­ble rela­tion­ship between Mr. Kush­n­er and Mr. Kennedy would explain the exchange between Pres­i­dent Trump and Jus­tice Kennedy. It would, for exam­ple, explain why, in the words of the Pres­i­dent, ‘they love him.’ It would also fur­ther explain why Jus­tice Kennedy invit­ed Ivan­ka Trump to the Supreme Court. After all, Jus­tice Kennedy him­self acknowl­edged that the President’s ‘kids have been very nice’ to his son. Obvi­ous­ly, there­fore, there is some kind of friend­ly rela­tion­ship. Ques­tions abound. We know what the Justice’s son may have done for Mr. Kush­n­er, but what did the President’s chil­dren do for Justin Kennedy? How have they been nice to him? Evi­dent­ly Jus­tice Kennedy knows, and this may have had an impact on his opin­ion of the Trumps in gen­er­al and the Pres­i­dent in par­tic­u­lar. This is per­haps a sig­nif­i­cant cause of con­cern for those who hope that Jus­tice Kennedy will try and hold out until after Trump is replaced by a Demo­c­rat. Time will tell.

    ———-

    “The Kennedy, Kush­n­er, and Trump Con­nec­tion: A Curi­ous Con­ver­sa­tion and A Busi­ness Deal” by C’Zar Bern­stein & Gabe Rusk; Medi­um; 03/01/2017

    “Justin Kennedy, a grad­u­ate of UCLA and Stanford(again like his father), has spent his career in the world of bank­ing, invest­ment, and, inter­est­ing­ly, real estate. In par­tic­u­lar, from 2010–2013 Justin Kennedy was the co-CEO of LNR Prop­er­ty LLC with Tobin Cobb. In the world of high-stakes NYC real estate it would be fair­ly improb­a­ble that the Trump or Kush­n­er groups, mono­liths in their own right, would not have min­gled or done busi­ness with the LNR at some point in time. We were not sur­prised, there­fore, to dis­cov­er that there is a like­ly con­nec­tion. Here’s what we know:”

    Yep, not only was Justin Kennedy Trump’s lead banker at Deutsche Bank, but he went on to basi­cal­ly save Jared Kush­n­er in 2011 when LNR prop­er­ty came to the res­cue of Kush­n­er’s trou­bled 666 Fifth Avenue prop­er­ty. And Justin Kennedy just hap­pened to be CEO of LNR at the time:

    ...
    Accord­ing the New York Times, in 2007 Kush­n­er Com­pa­nies pur­chased “an alu­minum-clad office tow­er in Mid­town Man­hat­tan, for a record price of $1.8 bil­lion.” At the time the NYT wrote that this deal was “con­sid­ered a clas­sic exam­ple of reck­less under­writ­ing. The trans­ac­tion was so high­ly lever­aged that the cash flow from rents amount­ed to only 65 per­cent of the debt ser­vice.” The Times con­tin­ues:

    “As many real estate spe­cial­ists pre­dict­ed, the deal ran into trou­ble. Instead of ris­ing, rents declined as the reces­sion took hold, and new leas­es were scarce. In 2010, the loan was trans­ferred to a spe­cial ser­vicer on the assump­tion that a default would occur once reserve funds being used to sub­si­dize the short­fall were bled dry. But the sto­ry may yet have a hap­py end­ing for Kush­n­er, a fam­i­ly-owned busi­ness that moved its head­quar­ters from Florham Park, N.J., to 666 Fifth, its first major acqui­si­tion in Man­hat­tan.”

    Who came to the res­cue? None oth­er than LNR Prop­er­ty, the com­pa­ny whose CEO at the time was Justin Kennedy. Accord­ing to the NYT and the Real Deal, Mr. Kush­n­er and LNR “reached a pos­si­ble agree­ment with LNR Prop­er­ty, a firm spe­cial­iz­ing in restruc­tur­ing trou­bled debt and which over­sees the mort­gage, that would allow him to retain con­trol of the tow­er by mod­i­fy­ing the terms of the $1.2 bil­lion mort­gage tied to the office por­tion of the build­ing.” A spokesman for Mr. Kush­n­er told the Wall Street Jour­nal in March of 2011 that “[t]he Kushner’s are ready and will­ing to invest more mon­ey into the prop­er­ty as soon as they can come to mutu­al­ly sat­is­fac­to­ry terms with the ser­vic­ing agent.” In that same arti­cle Kushner’s father-in-law and the future Pres­i­dent com­ment­ed on the nego­ti­a­tions with Justin Kennedy’s com­pa­ny. Speak­ing about the deal, Trump told the WSJ that Kush­n­er is “a very smart young man…I think it (loan rene­go­ti­a­tions) will come out well for him and every­body.” At this point there is no doubt that there was a direct busi­ness rela­tion­ship between LNR and Kush­n­er Com­pa­nies at the time Justin Kennedy and Jared Kush­n­er were both CEO. Even the future Pres­i­dent was aware of the deal and com­ment­ed on its respec­tive mer­its. (That being said, it is not impos­si­ble that Jared Kush­n­er and Justin Kennedy did not meet in con­nec­tion with the spe­cif­ic deal in ques­tion; how­ev­er, giv­en the stakes involved it does seem more than like­ly that the two CEO’s would have inter­act­ed as nego­ti­a­tions were being con­duct­ed.)
    ...

    And that is going to be Jus­tice Kennedy’s ulti­mate lega­cy: bail­ing out the Trump clan. Or at least that should be his lega­cy since what­ev­er good he did on the court is about to get wiped out by his replace­ment.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 29, 2018, 2:41 pm
  9. This is one of those ‘birds of feath­er’ kinds of sto­ries: It turns out Trump’s com­merce sec­re­tary, Wilbur Ross, might actu­al­ly have a more scan­dalous his­to­ry of grift­ing employ­ees and busi­ness part­ners than Pres­i­dent Trump. Maybe. That’s a tough com­pe­ti­tion. Still, whether or not Ross is big­ger grifter than Trump, the fact that we even have to won­der is an indi­ca­tion that the US com­merce sec­re­tary is a world class grifter:

    Forbes

    New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Busi­ness Point To Pat­tern Of Grift­ing

    Dan Alexan­der
    Forbes Staff
    Aug 7, 2018, 06:00am

    A mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar law­suit has been qui­et­ly mak­ing its way through the New York State court sys­tem over the last three years, pit­ting a pri­vate equi­ty man­ag­er named David Stor­p­er against his for­mer boss: Sec­re­tary of Com­merce Wilbur Ross. The pair worked side by side for more than a decade, even­tu­al­ly at the firm, WL Ross & Co.—where, Stor­p­er lat­er alleged, Ross stole his inter­ests in a pri­vate equi­ty fund, trans­ferred them to him­self, then tried to cov­er it up with bogus paper­work. Two weeks ago, just before the start of a tri­al with $4 mil­lion on the line, Ross and Stor­p­er agreed to a con­fi­den­tial set­tle­ment, whose exis­tence has nev­er been report­ed and whose terms remain secret.

    It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a man like Ross, who Forbes esti­mates is worth some $700 mil­lion, might steal a few mil­lion from one of his busi­ness part­ners. Unless you have heard enough sto­ries about Ross. Two for­mer WL Ross col­leagues remem­ber the com­merce sec­re­tary tak­ing hand­fuls of Sweet’N Low pack­ets from a near­by restau­rant, so he didn’t have to go out and buy some for him­self. One says work­ers at his house in the Hamp­tons used to call the office, claim­ing Ross had not paid them for their work. Anoth­er two peo­ple said Ross once pledged $1 mil­lion to a char­i­ty, then nev­er paid. A com­merce offi­cial called the tales “pet­ty non­sense,” and added that Ross does not put sweet­en­er in his cof­fee.

    There are big­ger alle­ga­tions. Over sev­er­al months, in speak­ing with 21 peo­ple who know Ross, Forbes uncov­ered a pat­tern: Many of those who worked direct­ly with him claim that Ross wrong­ly siphoned or out­right stole a few mil­lion here and a few mil­lion there, huge amounts for most but not nec­es­sar­i­ly for the com­merce sec­re­tary. At least if you con­sid­er them indi­vid­u­al­ly. But all told, these allegations—which sparked law­suits, reim­burse­ments and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 mil­lion. If even half of the accu­sa­tions are legit­i­mate, the cur­rent Unit­ed States sec­re­tary of com­merce could rank among the biggest grifters in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.

    Not that he sees him­self that way. “The SEC has nev­er ini­ti­at­ed any enforce­ment action against me,” Ross said in a state­ment, fail­ing to men­tion the $2.3 mil­lion fine it levied against his firm in 2016. The com­merce sec­re­tary also not­ed that one law­suit against him got dis­missed, with­out say­ing it is cur­rent­ly going through the appeals process. Ross con­firmed set­tling two oth­er cas­es, includ­ing the recent one against Stor­p­er, but declined to offer addi­tion­al details.

    Those who’ve done busi­ness with Ross gen­er­al­ly tell a con­sis­tent sto­ry, of a man obsessed with mon­ey and unteth­ered to facts. “He’ll push the edge of truth­ful­ness and use what­ev­er pow­er he has to grab assets,” says New York financier Ash­er Edel­man. One of Ross’ for­mer col­leagues is more direct: “He’s a patho­log­i­cal liar.”

    Wilbur Ross fig­ured out at some point that mon­ey, or the aura of it, trans­lates into pow­er. Forbes has pre­vi­ous­ly doc­u­ment­ed how Ross seem­ing­ly lied to us, over many years, launch­ing him­self onto, and then high­er on, our bil­lion­aire rank­ings, at one point even lying about an appar­ent multi­bil­lion-dol­lar trans­fer to fam­i­ly mem­bers to explain why his finan­cial dis­clo­sure report showed few­er assets than he claimed. “What I don’t want,” Ross said, “is for peo­ple to sud­den­ly think that I’ve lost a lot of mon­ey when it’s not true.”

    ...

    From Ross’ van­tage point, Trump offered the per­fect exit. The future cab­i­net secretary’s pri­vate equi­ty funds were underperforming—one on track to lose 26% of its ini­tial val­ue and anoth­er two drib­bling out mediocre returns—and the accu­sa­tions were start­ing to pile up. Rough­ly two months before the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the SEC announced WL Ross was pay­ing a fine and refund­ing $11.9 mil­lion it alleged­ly skimmed from its investors, includ­ing inter­est. The scheme was com­plex. Like oth­er pri­vate equi­ty firms—including sev­er­al that coughed up mon­ey to the SEC around the same time—WL Ross derived much of its rev­enue from man­age­ment fees charged to its investors. With funds as large as $4.1 bil­lion, man­age­ment fees of 1.5% could alone bring in more than $60 mil­lion a year for Ross’ firm—serious mon­ey.

    But WL Ross promised that it would give its investors some­thing like a rebate. For exam­ple, when Ross and his col­leagues got cer­tain fees for work­ing on deals, they were sup­posed to give at least 50% of that mon­ey back to investors. But, accord­ing to SEC inves­ti­ga­tors, the firm gave back less than it sug­gest­ed it would and pock­et­ed the dif­fer­ence, lead­ing the feds to con­clude Ross’ firm broke laws that pro­hib­it defraud­ing and mis­lead­ing clients. WL Ross paid the big set­tle­ment but nev­er admit­ted guilt.

    Accord­ing to the feds, WL Ross charged some of those inap­pro­pri­ate fees in the years before the com­merce sec­re­tary sold his firm to Invesco for $100 mil­lion up front and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of anoth­er $275 mil­lion down the road. That meant that when Ross cashed out, he pre­sum­ably did so at big­ger val­u­a­tion than he deserved. In a state­ment, Ross sug­gest­ed that Invesco nev­er clawed any of that mon­ey back. “The terms of the sale of my busi­ness in 2006 remain unchanged,” he said. Invesco declined to com­ment.

    There is more to the sto­ry. Accord­ing to five for­mer WL Ross employ­ees and investors, the firm was also charg­ing its investors on mon­ey that it had lost. Here’s how it worked: If WL Ross made an invest­ment of, say, $100 mil­lion that declined dra­mat­i­cal­ly, in the final years of the fund the firm was sup­posed to charge man­age­ment fees on the actu­al val­ue of the invest­ment, not the $100 mil­lion start­ing point. How­ev­er, WL Ross alleged­ly con­tin­ued col­lect­ing fees on the amount invest­ed, tak­ing more than it deserved. WL Ross was alleged­ly even charg­ing fees on one invest­ment that was essen­tial­ly worth­less. When approached about the dis­crep­an­cy, Wilbur Ross ini­tial­ly insist­ed his firm was cal­cu­lat­ing the fees cor­rect­ly, accord­ing to some­one famil­iar with those dis­cus­sions. “There are all sorts of fee issues,” says an investor, “but it was just the most egre­gious that I’ve seen.”

    Ross also alleged­ly skimmed mon­ey by serv­ing on cor­po­rate boards of his firm’s port­fo­lio com­pa­nies. Again, the rule was that a por­tion of the fees that WL Ross employ­ees got for serv­ing on such boards was essen­tial­ly sup­posed to be hand­ed back to investors as rebates. Instead, Ross’ firm did not give back enough, accord­ing to ex-col­leagues. Ross “was like a kid in a can­dy store,” says one of his for­mer employ­ees. “He pil­fered it.”

    Ross is now attempt­ing to dis­tance him­self from the man­age­ment fee issues. “No reg­u­la­to­ry agency has ever assert­ed such charges or any oth­er charges against me and there is no basis for any such alle­ga­tions,” he said in a state­ment.

    Eight for­mer employ­ees and investors, how­ev­er, said Ross pre­sum­ably knew about the issues. And for­mer WL Ross employ­ees add that the costs were far greater than the $14.2 mil­lion announced by the Secu­ri­ties & Exchange Com­mis­sion. A 2015 annu­al report for Invesco, WL Ross’ par­ent com­pa­ny, dis­closed that the com­pa­ny had paid anoth­er $43 mil­lion over the last two years in reim­burse­ments and reg­u­la­to­ry expens­es con­nect­ed to its pri­vate equi­ty busi­ness. Sec­re­tary Ross has large­ly avoid­ed scruti­ny around those pay­ments because the report does not explic­it­ly tie them to his for­mer firm. Four for­mer employ­ees who worked there, how­ev­er, told Forbes the $43 mil­lion was con­nect­ed to WL Ross.

    With the investors’ claims appar­ent­ly behind him, Ross now faces a line­up of alle­ga­tions from his for­mer col­leagues, who say he robbed them of mon­ey as well. Such accu­sa­tions are noth­ing new for Ross. In 2005, for­mer WL Ross vice chair­man Peter Lusk sued the future com­merce sec­re­tary for $20 mil­lion, ulti­mate­ly alleg­ing that he had tried to cut him out of his inter­ests. The exec­u­tives reached a set­tle­ment in 2007, which for­mer WL Ross employ­ees say cost rough­ly $10 mil­lion. Asked to com­ment on the suit, Ross respond­ed, “The Lusk case end­ed with mutu­al con­fi­den­tial­i­ty require­ments.”

    Three years ago, Stor­p­er launched what became a $4 mil­lion law­suit against both his for­mer employ­er, WL Ross, and for­mer boss, the com­merce sec­re­tary, alleg­ing that Ross stole his inter­ests. Attor­neys for Ross admit­ted in court fil­ings that one of his com­pa­nies took Storper’s inter­est and real­lo­cat­ed part of it to the com­merce sec­re­tary. But Ross’ lawyers also insist­ed all of that was allowed under inter­nal agree­ments. “Sim­ply put,” they wrote, “this law­suit is a per­son­al vendet­ta against Mr. Ross.” After a judge reject­ed attempts to pre­vent the case from going to tri­al, just days before the jury selec­tions the two sides agreed to set­tle.

    What makes it all more than a typ­i­cal “he-said, she-said” dis­pute is the num­ber of sim­i­lar com­plaints against Ross. A third for­mer WL Ross employ­ee, Joseph Mullin, filed a $3.6 mil­lion law­suit in Decem­ber 2016, say­ing WL Ross funds “loot­ed” his inter­ests “for the per­son­al ben­e­fit of Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.—and attempt­ed to con­ceal their mis­con­duct through opaque and mis­lead­ing tax state­ments and dis­clo­sures.” A New York State court dis­missed that case in Feb­ru­ary on tech­ni­cal grounds, say­ing Mullin, who left WL Ross in 2007, wait­ed too long to file it. He is now appeal­ing.

    Stor­p­er and two oth­er for­mer high-rank­ing exec­u­tives at WL Ross filed yet anoth­er law­suit against the com­merce sec­re­tary in Novem­ber, alleg­ing that he and his firm charged at least $48 mil­lion of improp­er fees, then pock­et­ed the mon­ey. It was a slow siphon­ing rather than a one-time heist, accord­ing to the law­suit. Pri­vate equi­ty firms typ­i­cal­ly col­lect man­age­ment fees—those 1.5% charges—only from their out­side clients. But the law­suit alleges that Ross and his firm seem­ing­ly charged cur­rent and for­mer com­pa­ny exec­u­tives as well. It would be like a restau­rant own­er telling his employ­ees that they can eat for free—while tak­ing the meal mon­ey out of their pay­checks. In a state­ment to Forbes, Ross called the case “with­out mer­it.” He moved to dis­miss it in Feb­ru­ary, but the suit remains active.

    A look at old ver­sions of WL Ross’ web­site reveal the mag­ni­tude of the tur­moil. Of the top sev­en firm lead­ers list­ed on the 2006 web­site, none of them have the same roles today. Ross is now lead­ing the com­merce depart­ment, Wendy Ter­amo­to serves as his chief of staff and Stephen Toy is the new co-head of WL Ross. Mean­while, the majority—consisting of Stor­p­er, Mullin, David Wax and Pamela Wilson—are all active­ly wag­ing legal bat­tles against their for­mer boss, Wilbur Ross.

    In a pres­i­den­tial cab­i­net plagued by eth­i­cal prob­lems, it can be easy to for­get about Wilbur Ross. Most of the atten­tion tends to cen­ter around obvi­ous abus­es, like Scott Pruitt get­ting a $43,000 sound-proof booth in his office or Tom Price wast­ing $341,000 on jet trav­el. But while Ross’ antics are more com­pli­cat­ed, they involve far more mon­ey.

    On Novem­ber 1, 2017, Ross signed a sworn doc­u­ment, attest­ing that he had divest­ed all the assets he promised he would. That was not true. The com­merce sec­re­tary in fact still owned some­where between $10 and $50 mil­lion worth of stock in WL Ross’ par­ent com­pa­ny, Invesco. Ross sold his shares a month lat­er, bank­ing at least $1.2 mil­lion more than he would have if he sold in May, when he ini­tial­ly promised to divest. By false­ly claim­ing he got­ten rid of the shares ear­li­er, Ross also put him­self in legal jeop­ardy, since it is a crime to lie to fed­er­al offi­cials. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Ross, a sophis­ti­cat­ed investor, claimed the com­merce sec­re­tary did not lie but instead failed to real­ize he owned the shares.

    Ross also said he did not know he had a $73,000 stake in a com­pa­ny named Air Lease, which he final­ly sold in June—more than a year after he promised he would. And he admit­ted to short­ing stock of Sun Ban­corp, say­ing he hoped to can­cel out an inter­est he mis­tak­en­ly thought he owned but in fact did not. “For any head of any pri­vate equi­ty firm that I know of, includ­ing like [Carlyle’s David] Ruben­stein or [Blackstone’s Stephen] Schwarzman—these guys know what they own. It’s their whole busi­ness. It’s their whole life,” says an investor in WL Ross’ funds, terming the com­merce secretary’s expla­na­tion “ridicu­lous.”

    A top offi­cial in the fed­er­al Office of Gov­ern­ment Ethics scold­ed Ross in a let­ter last month, say­ing that his fail­ure to divest cor­rod­ed pub­lic trust. Accord­ing to the let­ter, anoth­er ethics offi­cial searched Ross’ cal­en­dars to see if the com­merce sec­re­tary broke the law by tak­ing actions to ben­e­fit his per­son­al hold­ings, find­ing no evi­dence that he had. One day lat­er, how­ev­er, Forbes revealed that Ross had pre­vi­ous­ly dined, in the White House, with the CEO of a busi­ness in which the com­merce sec­re­tary secret­ly held an inter­est. After the report, Sen­a­tor John Thune, a Repub­li­can from South Dako­ta, asked the inspec­tor gen­er­al of the Com­merce Depart­ment to take a sec­ond look.

    Thune is not the only sen­a­tor mak­ing noise about Ross’ finances. In June, two sen­a­tors and a con­gress­man asked the Secu­ri­ties & Exchange Com­mis­sion to launch an insid­er trad­ing inves­ti­ga­tion of Ross, based on rev­e­la­tions that Ross short­ed at least $100,000 in Putin-linked Nav­i­ga­tor Hold­ings, soon after being told about a forth­com­ing exposé on his con­nec­tion to the com­pa­ny. The minus­cule scale—the trade seem­ing­ly bol­stered Ross’ wal­let by $3,000 to $10,000—makes the blun­der that much more vex­ing.

    Four­teen Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gress­men have also called on the inspec­tor gen­er­al to inves­ti­gate Ross’ poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est. After assur­ing sen­a­tors dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he would be over­ly cau­tious on eth­i­cal mat­ters, Ross spent the major­i­ty of his first year in office as a busi­ness part­ner to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, while he nego­ti­at­ed U.S.-China trade rela­tions. He also wait­ed to get rid of a stake in a Cypri­ot bank report­ed­ly tied up in the Robert Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion. And he took months to divest an inter­est in a for­eign car parts man­u­fac­tur­er whose indus­try he is now inves­ti­gat­ing.

    The cen­tral mat­ter in all of Ross’ legal issues is his own cred­i­bil­i­ty. “Lying on an ethics dis­clo­sure form, to Con­gres­sion­al and Sen­ate com­mit­tees, and false­ly report­ing com­pli­ance with an ethics plan, is nei­ther ‘com­mon­place’ nor part of the accept­ed rough-and-tum­ble world of pol­i­tics,” David Stor­p­er, Ross’ for­mer right-hand man, argued in a court fil­ing. “They are just lies.” Adds anoth­er one­time col­league: “This is a pub­lic ser­vant who can’t tell the truth.”

    ———-

    “New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Busi­ness Point To Pat­tern Of Grift­ing” by Dan Alexan­der; Forbes; 08/07/2018

    “It is dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a man like Ross, who Forbes esti­mates is worth some $700 mil­lion, might steal a few mil­lion from one of his busi­ness part­ners. Unless you have heard enough sto­ries about Ross. Two for­mer WL Ross col­leagues remem­ber the com­merce sec­re­tary tak­ing hand­fuls of Sweet’N Low pack­ets from a near­by restau­rant, so he didn’t have to go out and buy some for him­self. One says work­ers at his house in the Hamp­tons used to call the office, claim­ing Ross had not paid them for their work. Anoth­er two peo­ple said Ross once pledged $1 mil­lion to a char­i­ty, then nev­er paid. A com­merce offi­cial called the tales “pet­ty non­sense,” and added that Ross does not put sweet­en­er in his cof­fee.”

    Yes, it’s dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a man as wealthy as Wilbur Ross would be accused by so many peo­ple of scam­ming them. Unless you’ve heard enough sto­ries about Ross. Or Don­ald Trump. Or any of the oth­er wealthy grifters asso­ci­at­ed with with Trump admin­is­tra­tion who seem to lack the abil­i­ty to not try to extract as much wealth was pos­si­ble from every­one around them at every oppor­tu­ni­ty (Tom Price, Scott Pruitt, etc). After you’ve heard the many oth­er sto­ries about this admin­is­tra­tion’s grifters, the sto­ry of Wilbur Ross becomes not just believ­able but to be expect­ed at this point.

    Although, even by Trump team stan­dards, the sto­ry of Ross is a doozy:

    There’s the accu­sa­tions by David Stor­p­er, a pri­vate equi­ty man­ag­er who used to work for Ross, that Ross stole Stor­per’s inter­est in the pri­vate equi­ty fund for him­self. An accu­sa­tion that was qui­et­ly set­tle with a con­fi­den­tial­i­ty set­tle­ment a cou­ple of weeks ago. and that was just one of the many accu­sa­tions dis­cov­ered by Forbes that puts the total grift at some­where around $120 mil­lion:

    ...
    A mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar law­suit has been qui­et­ly mak­ing its way through the New York State court sys­tem over the last three years, pit­ting a pri­vate equi­ty man­ag­er named David Stor­p­er against his for­mer boss: Sec­re­tary of Com­merce Wilbur Ross. The pair worked side by side for more than a decade, even­tu­al­ly at the firm, WL Ross & Co.—where, Stor­p­er lat­er alleged, Ross stole his inter­ests in a pri­vate equi­ty fund, trans­ferred them to him­self, then tried to cov­er it up with bogus paper­work. Two weeks ago, just before the start of a tri­al with $4 mil­lion on the line, Ross and Stor­p­er agreed to a con­fi­den­tial set­tle­ment, whose exis­tence has nev­er been report­ed and whose terms remain secret.

    ...

    There are big­ger alle­ga­tions. Over sev­er­al months, in speak­ing with 21 peo­ple who know Ross, Forbes uncov­ered a pat­tern: Many of those who worked direct­ly with him claim that Ross wrong­ly siphoned or out­right stole a few mil­lion here and a few mil­lion there, huge amounts for most but not nec­es­sar­i­ly for the com­merce sec­re­tary. At least if you con­sid­er them indi­vid­u­al­ly. But all told, these allegations—which sparked law­suits, reim­burse­ments and an SEC fine—come to more than $120 mil­lion. If even half of the accu­sa­tions are legit­i­mate, the cur­rent Unit­ed States sec­re­tary of com­merce could rank among the biggest grifters in Amer­i­can his­to­ry.

    Not that he sees him­self that way. “The SEC has nev­er ini­ti­at­ed any enforce­ment action against me,” Ross said in a state­ment, fail­ing to men­tion the $2.3 mil­lion fine it levied against his firm in 2016. The com­merce sec­re­tary also not­ed that one law­suit against him got dis­missed, with­out say­ing it is cur­rent­ly going through the appeals process. Ross con­firmed set­tling two oth­er cas­es, includ­ing the recent one against Stor­p­er, but declined to offer addi­tion­al details.
    ...

    Forbes also dis­cov­ered that the many peo­ple they inter­viewed who have worked with Ross con­sid­er him to be a a man obsessed with mon­ey and with only a loose rela­tion­ship to facts. This is both total­ly unsur­pris­ing giv­en the array of accu­sa­tions against him, and the­mat­i­cal­ly appro­pri­ate giv­en who Ross cur­rent­ly works for:

    ...
    Those who’ve done busi­ness with Ross gen­er­al­ly tell a con­sis­tent sto­ry, of a man obsessed with mon­ey and unteth­ered to facts. “He’ll push the edge of truth­ful­ness and use what­ev­er pow­er he has to grab assets,” says New York financier Ash­er Edel­man. One of Ross’ for­mer col­leagues is more direct: “He’s a patho­log­i­cal liar.”

    Wilbur Ross fig­ured out at some point that mon­ey, or the aura of it, trans­lates into pow­er. Forbes has pre­vi­ous­ly doc­u­ment­ed how Ross seem­ing­ly lied to us, over many years, launch­ing him­self onto, and then high­er on, our bil­lion­aire rank­ings, at one point even lying about an appar­ent multi­bil­lion-dol­lar trans­fer to fam­i­ly mem­bers to explain why his finan­cial dis­clo­sure report showed few­er assets than he claimed. “What I don’t want,” Ross said, “is for peo­ple to sud­den­ly think that I’ve lost a lot of mon­ey when it’s not true.”
    ...

    But in addi­tion to scam­ming his co-work­ers, there’s also all the investors he appar­ent­ly scammed. In fact, it was just two months before Trump’s elec­tion that Secu­ri­ties and Exchange Com­mis­sion (SEC) announced that Ross’s com­pa­ny, WL Ross, had to pay a fine and refund $11.9 mil­lion it alleged­ly skimmed from investors. And because some of this scam­ming hap­pened before Ross sold his firm to Invesco and the scam­ming made WL Ross look more prof­itable than it actu­al­ly was, this scam of the WL Ross investors dou­bled as a scam against Invesco. It’s pro­duc­tiv­i­ty from the grifter per­spec­tive:

    ...
    From Ross’ van­tage point, Trump offered the per­fect exit. The future cab­i­net secretary’s pri­vate equi­ty funds were underperforming—one on track to lose 26% of its ini­tial val­ue and anoth­er two drib­bling out mediocre returns—and the accu­sa­tions were start­ing to pile up. Rough­ly two months before the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, the SEC announced WL Ross was pay­ing a fine and refund­ing $11.9 mil­lion it alleged­ly skimmed from its investors, includ­ing inter­est. The scheme was com­plex. Like oth­er pri­vate equi­ty firms—including sev­er­al that coughed up mon­ey to the SEC around the same time—WL Ross derived much of its rev­enue from man­age­ment fees charged to its investors. With funds as large as $4.1 bil­lion, man­age­ment fees of 1.5% could alone bring in more than $60 mil­lion a year for Ross’ firm—serious mon­ey.

    But WL Ross promised that it would give its investors some­thing like a rebate. For exam­ple, when Ross and his col­leagues got cer­tain fees for work­ing on deals, they were sup­posed to give at least 50% of that mon­ey back to investors. But, accord­ing to SEC inves­ti­ga­tors, the firm gave back less than it sug­gest­ed it would and pock­et­ed the dif­fer­ence, lead­ing the feds to con­clude Ross’ firm broke laws that pro­hib­it defraud­ing and mis­lead­ing clients. WL Ross paid the big set­tle­ment but nev­er admit­ted guilt.

    Accord­ing to the feds, WL Ross charged some of those inap­pro­pri­ate fees in the years before the com­merce sec­re­tary sold his firm to Invesco for $100 mil­lion up front and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of anoth­er $275 mil­lion down the road. That meant that when Ross cashed out, he pre­sum­ably did so at big­ger val­u­a­tion than he deserved. In a state­ment, Ross sug­gest­ed that Invesco nev­er clawed any of that mon­ey back. “The terms of the sale of my busi­ness in 2006 remain unchanged,” he said. Invesco declined to com­ment.
    ...

    Beyond that, WL Ross was appar­ent­ly charg­ing its investors on mon­ey that it lost due to bad invest­ments:

    ...
    There is more to the sto­ry. Accord­ing to five for­mer WL Ross employ­ees and investors, the firm was also charg­ing its investors on mon­ey that it had lost. Here’s how it worked: If WL Ross made an invest­ment of, say, $100 mil­lion that declined dra­mat­i­cal­ly, in the final years of the fund the firm was sup­posed to charge man­age­ment fees on the actu­al val­ue of the invest­ment, not the $100 mil­lion start­ing point. How­ev­er, WL Ross alleged­ly con­tin­ued col­lect­ing fees on the amount invest­ed, tak­ing more than it deserved. WL Ross was alleged­ly even charg­ing fees on one invest­ment that was essen­tial­ly worth­less. When approached about the dis­crep­an­cy, Wilbur Ross ini­tial­ly insist­ed his firm was cal­cu­lat­ing the fees cor­rect­ly, accord­ing to some­one famil­iar with those dis­cus­sions. “There are all sorts of fee issues,” says an investor, “but it was just the most egre­gious that I’ve seen.”
    ...

    Then Ross neglect­ed to refund the por­tion of his man­age­ment fees that he was sup­posed to give back to investors from the mon­ey he earned while serv­ing on the cor­po­rate boards of WL Ross’s port­fo­lio com­pa­nies:

    ...
    Ross also alleged­ly skimmed mon­ey by serv­ing on cor­po­rate boards of his firm’s port­fo­lio com­pa­nies. Again, the rule was that a por­tion of the fees that WL Ross employ­ees got for serv­ing on such boards was essen­tial­ly sup­posed to be hand­ed back to investors as rebates. Instead, Ross’ firm did not give back enough, accord­ing to ex-col­leagues. Ross “was like a kid in a can­dy store,” says one of his for­mer employ­ees. “He pil­fered it.”

    Ross is now attempt­ing to dis­tance him­self from the man­age­ment fee issues. “No reg­u­la­to­ry agency has ever assert­ed such charges or any oth­er charges against me and there is no basis for any such alle­ga­tions,” he said in a state­ment.

    Eight for­mer employ­ees and investors, how­ev­er, said Ross pre­sum­ably knew about the issues. And for­mer WL Ross employ­ees add that the costs were far greater than the $14.2 mil­lion announced by the Secu­ri­ties & Exchange Com­mis­sion. A 2015 annu­al report for Invesco, WL Ross’ par­ent com­pa­ny, dis­closed that the com­pa­ny had paid anoth­er $43 mil­lion over the last two years in reim­burse­ments and reg­u­la­to­ry expens­es con­nect­ed to its pri­vate equi­ty busi­ness. Sec­re­tary Ross has large­ly avoid­ed scruti­ny around those pay­ments because the report does not explic­it­ly tie them to his for­mer firm. Four for­mer employ­ees who worked there, how­ev­er, told Forbes the $43 mil­lion was con­nect­ed to WL Ross.
    ...

    And then there’s the rest of the alle­ga­tions by his for­mer col­leagues: There’s for­mer WL Ross vice chair­man Peter Lusk who sued Ross after alleg­ing Ross tried to cut him out of his inter­ests in addi­tion to the law­suit by Stor­p­er who also alleges Ross stole his inter­ests:

    ...
    With the investors’ claims appar­ent­ly behind him, Ross now faces a line­up of alle­ga­tions from his for­mer col­leagues, who say he robbed them of mon­ey as well. Such accu­sa­tions are noth­ing new for Ross. In 2005, for­mer WL Ross vice chair­man Peter Lusk sued the future com­merce sec­re­tary for $20 mil­lion, ulti­mate­ly alleg­ing that he had tried to cut him out of his inter­ests. The exec­u­tives reached a set­tle­ment in 2007, which for­mer WL Ross employ­ees say cost rough­ly $10 mil­lion. Asked to com­ment on the suit, Ross respond­ed, “The Lusk case end­ed with mutu­al con­fi­den­tial­i­ty require­ments.”

    Three years ago, Stor­p­er launched what became a $4 mil­lion law­suit against both his for­mer employ­er, WL Ross, and for­mer boss, the com­merce sec­re­tary, alleg­ing that Ross stole his inter­ests. Attor­neys for Ross admit­ted in court fil­ings that one of his com­pa­nies took Storper’s inter­est and real­lo­cat­ed part of it to the com­merce sec­re­tary. But Ross’ lawyers also insist­ed all of that was allowed under inter­nal agree­ments. “Sim­ply put,” they wrote, “this law­suit is a per­son­al vendet­ta against Mr. Ross.” After a judge reject­ed attempts to pre­vent the case from going to tri­al, just days before the jury selec­tions the two sides agreed to set­tle.

    What makes it all more than a typ­i­cal “he-said, she-said” dis­pute is the num­ber of sim­i­lar com­plaints against Ross. A third for­mer WL Ross employ­ee, Joseph Mullin, filed a $3.6 mil­lion law­suit in Decem­ber 2016, say­ing WL Ross funds “loot­ed” his inter­ests “for the per­son­al ben­e­fit of Wilbur L. Ross, Jr.—and attempt­ed to con­ceal their mis­con­duct through opaque and mis­lead­ing tax state­ments and dis­clo­sures.” A New York State court dis­missed that case in Feb­ru­ary on tech­ni­cal grounds, say­ing Mullin, who left WL Ross in 2007, wait­ed too long to file it. He is now appeal­ing.
    ...

    And those are just two of the many for­mer col­leagues wag­ing legal bat­tles against Ross:

    ...
    Stor­p­er and two oth­er for­mer high-rank­ing exec­u­tives at WL Ross filed yet anoth­er law­suit against the com­merce sec­re­tary in Novem­ber, alleg­ing that he and his firm charged at least $48 mil­lion of improp­er fees, then pock­et­ed the mon­ey. It was a slow siphon­ing rather than a one-time heist, accord­ing to the law­suit. Pri­vate equi­ty firms typ­i­cal­ly col­lect man­age­ment fees—those 1.5% charges—only from their out­side clients. But the law­suit alleges that Ross and his firm seem­ing­ly charged cur­rent and for­mer com­pa­ny exec­u­tives as well. It would be like a restau­rant own­er telling his employ­ees that they can eat for free—while tak­ing the meal mon­ey out of their pay­checks. In a state­ment to Forbes, Ross called the case “with­out mer­it.” He moved to dis­miss it in Feb­ru­ary, but the suit remains active.

    A look at old ver­sions of WL Ross’ web­site reveal the mag­ni­tude of the tur­moil. Of the top sev­en firm lead­ers list­ed on the 2006 web­site, none of them have the same roles today. Ross is now lead­ing the com­merce depart­ment, Wendy Ter­amo­to serves as his chief of staff and Stephen Toy is the new co-head of WL Ross. Mean­while, the majority—consisting of Stor­p­er, Mullin, David Wax and Pamela Wilson—are all active­ly wag­ing legal bat­tles against their for­mer boss, Wilbur Ross.
    ...

    Oh, and then there’s all the grift­ing he did after become com­merce sec­re­tary. Like promis­ing he was divest assets and not doing it:

    ...
    In a pres­i­den­tial cab­i­net plagued by eth­i­cal prob­lems, it can be easy to for­get about Wilbur Ross. Most of the atten­tion tends to cen­ter around obvi­ous abus­es, like Scott Pruitt get­ting a $43,000 sound-proof booth in his office or Tom Price wast­ing $341,000 on jet trav­el. But while Ross’ antics are more com­pli­cat­ed, they involve far more mon­ey.

    On Novem­ber 1, 2017, Ross signed a sworn doc­u­ment, attest­ing that he had divest­ed all the assets he promised he would. That was not true. The com­merce sec­re­tary in fact still owned some­where between $10 and $50 mil­lion worth of stock in WL Ross’ par­ent com­pa­ny, Invesco. Ross sold his shares a month lat­er, bank­ing at least $1.2 mil­lion more than he would have if he sold in May, when he ini­tial­ly promised to divest. By false­ly claim­ing he got­ten rid of the shares ear­li­er, Ross also put him­self in legal jeop­ardy, since it is a crime to lie to fed­er­al offi­cials. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for Ross, a sophis­ti­cat­ed investor, claimed the com­merce sec­re­tary did not lie but instead failed to real­ize he owned the shares.

    Ross also said he did not know he had a $73,000 stake in a com­pa­ny named Air Lease, which he final­ly sold in June—more than a year after he promised he would. And he admit­ted to short­ing stock of Sun Ban­corp, say­ing he hoped to can­cel out an inter­est he mis­tak­en­ly thought he owned but in fact did not. “For any head of any pri­vate equi­ty firm that I know of, includ­ing like [Carlyle’s David] Ruben­stein or [Blackstone’s Stephen] Schwarzman—these guys know what they own. It’s their whole busi­ness. It’s their whole life,” says an investor in WL Ross’ funds, terming the com­merce secretary’s expla­na­tion “ridicu­lous.”

    A top offi­cial in the fed­er­al Office of Gov­ern­ment Ethics scold­ed Ross in a let­ter last month, say­ing that his fail­ure to divest cor­rod­ed pub­lic trust. Accord­ing to the let­ter, anoth­er ethics offi­cial searched Ross’ cal­en­dars to see if the com­merce sec­re­tary broke the law by tak­ing actions to ben­e­fit his per­son­al hold­ings, find­ing no evi­dence that he had. One day lat­er, how­ev­er, Forbes revealed that Ross had pre­vi­ous­ly dined, in the White House, with the CEO of a busi­ness in which the com­merce sec­re­tary secret­ly held an inter­est. After the report, Sen­a­tor John Thune, a Repub­li­can from South Dako­ta, asked the inspec­tor gen­er­al of the Com­merce Depart­ment to take a sec­ond look.

    Thune is not the only sen­a­tor mak­ing noise about Ross’ finances. In June, two sen­a­tors and a con­gress­man asked the Secu­ri­ties & Exchange Com­mis­sion to launch an insid­er trad­ing inves­ti­ga­tion of Ross, based on rev­e­la­tions that Ross short­ed at least $100,000 in Putin-linked Nav­i­ga­tor Hold­ings, soon after being told about a forth­com­ing exposé on his con­nec­tion to the com­pa­ny. The minus­cule scale—the trade seem­ing­ly bol­stered Ross’ wal­let by $3,000 to $10,000—makes the blun­der that much more vex­ing.
    ...

    And then there’s the fact that Ross remained a busi­ness part­ner of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment while he nego­ti­at­ed US-Chi­na trade rela­tions:

    ...
    Four­teen Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­gress­men have also called on the inspec­tor gen­er­al to inves­ti­gate Ross’ poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est. After assur­ing sen­a­tors dur­ing his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing that he would be over­ly cau­tious on eth­i­cal mat­ters, Ross spent the major­i­ty of his first year in office as a busi­ness part­ner to the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, while he nego­ti­at­ed U.S.-China trade rela­tions. He also wait­ed to get rid of a stake in a Cypri­ot bank report­ed­ly tied up in the Robert Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion. And he took months to divest an inter­est in a for­eign car parts man­u­fac­tur­er whose indus­try he is now inves­ti­gat­ing.

    The cen­tral mat­ter in all of Ross’ legal issues is his own cred­i­bil­i­ty. “Lying on an ethics dis­clo­sure form, to Con­gres­sion­al and Sen­ate com­mit­tees, and false­ly report­ing com­pli­ance with an ethics plan, is nei­ther ‘com­mon­place’ nor part of the accept­ed rough-and-tum­ble world of pol­i­tics,” David Stor­p­er, Ross’ for­mer right-hand man, argued in a court fil­ing. “They are just lies.” Adds anoth­er one­time col­league: “This is a pub­lic ser­vant who can’t tell the truth.”
    ...

    “This is a pub­lic ser­vant who can’t tell the truth.”

    Yep, this is a pub­lic ser­vant who can’t tell the truth and can’t stop grift­ing every­one around him act­ing as the com­merce sec­re­tary for a boss who can’t tell the truth and can’t stop grift­ing every­one around him. It would be the per­fect posi­tion for Ross if, like so many grifters assume, life is just a joke and a race to grab as much as you can and noth­ing actu­al­ly mat­ters.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 8, 2018, 2:56 pm
  10. Fol­low­ing the slew of ter­ri­ble legal news for Pres­i­dent Trump this week, Mar­tin Lon­don, the attor­ney for for Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro Agnew who knows a thing or two about the per­ils of pres­i­dents fac­ing inves­ti­ga­tions and impeach­ment, just issued some rather omi­nous advice to Pres­i­dent Trump: resign now to save your skin because it’s only going to get worse:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    News

    Spiro Agnew Lawyer: Trump Should Resign To Save ‘Skin’ Of Him­self, Fam­i­ly

    By Nicole Lafond
    August 24, 2018 11:26 am

    The lawyer for for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro Agnew is advis­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump to “con­sid­er resign­ing” to save his “skin” and pro­tect his fam­i­ly.

    Mar­tin Lon­don wrote the advice in a Time Mag­a­zine op-ed Thurs­day and fol­lowed up with an appear­ance on “Morn­ing Joe” Fri­day, sug­gest­ing a pres­i­den­tial res­ig­na­tion might be the best move for Trump to make because “it’s only going to get worse.”

    “We already have every­body, you know — the rats are leav­ing the ship. He’s lost [Rick] Gates, [George] Papadopou­los, [Michael] Cohen, [Michael] Fly­nn, now [David] Peck­er,” he said on “Morn­ing Joe” Fri­day, list­ing the slew of for­mer Trump advis­ers who have flipped on the Pres­i­dent. “He’ll prob­a­bly lose (Allen) Weis­sel­berg and oth­ers from the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion. And we don’t know a quar­ter of what’s in the pock­et of the pros­e­cu­tor.”

    Lat­er on Fri­day morn­ing, The Wall Street Jour­nal report­ed that Weis­sel­berg, Trump Orga­ni­za­tion CFO, had been grant­ed immu­ni­ty by fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors in their inves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s for­mer lawyer Michael Cohen.

    Agnew resigned less than a year before Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon left office and plead­ed no con­test to fed­er­al tax eva­sion charges to avoid charges of cor­rup­tion. Lon­don, who rep­re­sent­ed Agnew dur­ing the scan­dal, said it would be best for Trump to get out while he has the chance.

    “If he has any inter­est at all in not only sav­ing his skin, but the skin of his child, his chil­dren, his son-in-law, his grand­chil­dren, his daugh­ter — this is a time when he’s got to seri­ous­ly think about that. Now, is he capa­ble of that, of seri­ous think­ing? Frankly, I doubt it,” he said.

    “If he’s going to be advised by peo­ple like clown (Rudy) Giu­liani and peo­ple who don’t know that the truth is truth, then he’s not going to get any­where,” he con­tin­ued. “The nation­al inter­est is what drove the Agnew res­ig­na­tion.”

    ———-

    “Spiro Agnew Lawyer: Trump Should Resign To Save ‘Skin’ Of Him­self, Fam­i­ly” by Nicole Lafond; Talk­ing Points Memo; 08/24/2018

    “We already have every­body, you know — the rats are leav­ing the ship. He’s lost [Rick] Gates, [George] Papadopou­los, [Michael] Cohen, [Michael] Fly­nn, now [David] Peck­er...He’ll prob­a­bly lose (Allen) Weis­sel­berg and oth­ers from the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion. And we don’t know a quar­ter of what’s in the pock­et of the pros­e­cu­tor.”

    The rats are leav­ing the ship. That was the warn­ing from a guy who knows first hand how a pres­i­den­cy can unrav­el.

    It was a par­tic­u­lar­ly omi­nous warn­ing when Mar­tin warned that Trump Org CFO Allen Weis­sel­berg would prob­a­bly be one of those rats jump­ing ship soon along with oth­ers from the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion. Because if any­one is going to be famil­iar with Trump’s decades of shady and cor­rupt deal­ings, it’s going to be some­one in Weis­sel­berg’s posi­tion. And Weis­sel­berg has worked for the Trump fam­i­ly for over four decades. And it was an omi­nous­ly pre­scient pre­dic­tion too, because we just got news today of Weis­sel­berg coop­er­at­ing with pros­e­cu­tors and get­ting immu­ni­ty:

    Reuters

    Pros­e­cu­tors grant Trump Orga­ni­za­tion CFO immu­ni­ty in Cohen probe: WSJ

    Karen Freifeld
    August 24, 2018 / 10:10 AM / Updat­ed

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors have grant­ed immu­ni­ty to the Trump Organization’s chief finan­cial offi­cer in an inves­ti­ga­tion involv­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s for­mer per­son­al lawyer, Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Jour­nal report­ed on Fri­day.

    The CFO, Allen Weis­sel­berg, was called to tes­ti­fy before a fed­er­al grand jury ear­li­er this year, the news­pa­per report­ed.

    A coop­er­a­tion deal between Weis­sel­berg and pros­e­cu­tors could be dam­ag­ing to the pres­i­dent giv­en the executive’s long­time role in Trump’s busi­ness affairs. Weis­sel­berg has worked for the Trump fam­i­ly for more than four decades, includ­ing as trea­sur­er for the Don­ald J. Trump Foun­da­tion.

    A spokes­woman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Man­hat­tan, which has been lead­ing the Cohen probe, declined to com­ment, as did the White House. The Trump Orga­ni­za­tion did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for com­ment. Alan Futer­fas, an out­side lawyer for the orga­ni­za­tion, also did not imme­di­ate­ly respond to a request for com­ment.

    Cohen — who arranged hush-mon­ey pay­ments short­ly before the Novem­ber 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to at least two women who said they had had sex with Trump — on Tues­day plead­ed guilty to cam­paign finance vio­la­tions and oth­er charges. He said in court that Trump direct­ed him to arrange the pay­ments.

    Such pay­ments could be con­sid­ered ille­gal cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions under fed­er­al elec­tion law, accord­ing to experts.

    Two exec­u­tives at Amer­i­can Media Inc, which pub­lish­es the Nation­al Enquir­er, a super­mar­ket tabloid report­ed­ly involved in mak­ing the pay­ments, have also been grant­ed immu­ni­ty in the inves­ti­ga­tion, Van­i­ty Fair mag­a­zine report­ed. The exec­u­tives are com­pa­ny Chief Exec­u­tive David Peck­er, a long­time Trump friend, and Dylan Howard.

    Cohen men­tioned Weis­sel­berg on a secret record­ing that Cohen made in Sep­tem­ber 2016 and which was aired on CNN last month. On the record­ing, Cohen and Trump appeared to dis­cuss reim­burs­ing Amer­i­can Media for a pay­ment to for­mer Play­boy mod­el Karen McDou­gal, who has said she had a year­long affair with Trump. Trump has denied there was an affair.

    On the record­ing, Cohen is heard say­ing, “I’ve spo­ken to Allen Weis­sel­berg about how to set the whole thing up.”

    McDou­gal sold her sto­ry to Amer­i­can Media for $150,000 in August 2016 but it was nev­er pub­lished by the Nation­al Enquir­er, a prac­tice known as “catch and kill” aimed at sup­press­ing poten­tial­ly dam­ag­ing sto­ries.

    Trump has also denied hav­ing sex with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clif­ford.

    Rudy Giu­liani, a lawyer for the pres­i­dent, has said the pay­ment to McDou­gal and a $130,000 pay­ment to Daniels were a per­son­al mat­ter and were not sub­ject to cam­paign finance law.

    The Trump Orga­ni­za­tion is the umbrel­la group for dozens of Trump busi­ness­es, includ­ing real estate devel­op­ment, man­age­ment of hotels and golf cours­es, and pro­duc­tion of the real­i­ty tele­vi­sion shows “The Appren­tice” and “Celebri­ty Appren­tice.”

    ...

    The Cohen inves­ti­ga­tion was referred to fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors in New York by U.S. Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller, who is look­ing into Russ­ian inter­fer­ence in the 2016 elec­tion and pos­si­ble coor­di­na­tion between Trump’s Repub­li­can cam­paign and Russ­ian offi­cials.

    Trump has repeat­ed­ly denied there was coor­di­na­tion between Moscow and his cam­paign, and has labeled the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.” Moscow has denied it med­dled in the elec­tion. U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies con­clud­ed that Rus­sia did inter­fere.

    ———-

    “Pros­e­cu­tors grant Trump Orga­ni­za­tion CFO immu­ni­ty in Cohen probe: WSJ” by Karen Freifeld; Reuters; 08/24/2018

    “A coop­er­a­tion deal between Weis­sel­berg and pros­e­cu­tors could be dam­ag­ing to the pres­i­dent giv­en the executive’s long­time role in Trump’s busi­ness affairs. Weis­sel­berg has worked for the Trump fam­i­ly for more than four decades, includ­ing as trea­sur­er for the Don­ald J. Trump Foun­da­tion.”

    Knowl­edge of four decades of Trump fam­i­ly deal­ings. That’s what Weis­sel­berg has to offer to pros­e­cu­tors. It’s pret­ty remark­able. Although it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that Weis­sel­berg appears to be specif­i­cal­ly coop­er­at­ing with the fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tion of Michael Cohen. It’s not part of #TrumpRus­sia. At least not yet.
    But this inves­ti­ga­tion of Cohen is still an indi­rect inves­ti­ga­tion of Trump because it’s an inves­ti­ga­tion of the role Cohen played in arrang­ing the hush-mon­ey pay­ments to for­mer Play­boy mod­el Karen McDou­gal in Sep­tem­ber of 2016 in order to keep her sto­ry of an affair with Trump out of the news. And that sit­u­a­tion — pay­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars to silence some­one who could dam­age a cam­paign — poten­tial­ly qual­i­fies as a cam­paign finance vio­la­tion.

    And this news of Weis­sel­berg’s immu­ni­ty deal comes just after we learn that Michael Cohen is coop­er­at­ing with pros­e­cu­tors along with David Peck­er, the own­er of Amer­i­can Media Inc., which pub­lish­es the Nation­al Enquir­er. Both Peck­er and Weis­sel­berg are men­tioned in the audio tape of Cohen talk­ing to Trump about set­ting up the hush mon­ey pay­ments. So pret­ty much every­one known to be involved with the pay­off of Karen McDou­gal is coop­er­at­ing with pros­e­cu­tors at this point except Trump:

    ...
    Cohen — who arranged hush-mon­ey pay­ments short­ly before the Novem­ber 2016 U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion to at least two women who said they had had sex with Trump — on Tues­day plead­ed guilty to cam­paign finance vio­la­tions and oth­er charges. He said in court that Trump direct­ed him to arrange the pay­ments.

    Such pay­ments could be con­sid­ered ille­gal cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions under fed­er­al elec­tion law, accord­ing to experts.

    Two exec­u­tives at Amer­i­can Media Inc, which pub­lish­es the Nation­al Enquir­er, a super­mar­ket tabloid report­ed­ly involved in mak­ing the pay­ments, have also been grant­ed immu­ni­ty in the inves­ti­ga­tion, Van­i­ty Fair mag­a­zine report­ed. The exec­u­tives are com­pa­ny Chief Exec­u­tive David Peck­er, a long­time Trump friend, and Dylan Howard.

    Cohen men­tioned Weis­sel­berg on a secret record­ing that Cohen made in Sep­tem­ber 2016 and which was aired on CNN last month. On the record­ing, Cohen and Trump appeared to dis­cuss reim­burs­ing Amer­i­can Media for a pay­ment to for­mer Play­boy mod­el Karen McDou­gal, who has said she had a year­long affair with Trump. Trump has denied there was an affair.

    On the record­ing, Cohen is heard say­ing, “I’ve spo­ken to Allen Weis­sel­berg about how to set the whole thing up.”
    ...

    But here’s per­haps the most omi­nous part of this week’s legal news for Trump: Accord­ing to peo­ple close to Cohen, one of the fac­tors that made Cohen decide to become a coop­er­at­ing wit­ness is that he knew that David Peck­er has already giv­en infor­ma­tion about those hush mon­ey pay­ments to pros­e­cu­tors. In oth­er words, if Peck­er already flipped, Cohen may not have seem much val­ue in not flip­ping. And this kind of dynam­ic is undoubt­ed­ly going to be in play for all of the var­i­ous peo­ple in Trump’s cir­cle. The more they see the oth­er peo­ple in the mess flip, the eas­i­er it is to ratio­nal­ize their own flip:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    News

    Cohen Fueled To Flip By AMI Tes­ti­mo­ny And To Pro­tect Wife, Please His Father

    By Nicole Lafond
    August 23, 2018 9:54 am

    While Michael Cohen’s attor­ney main­tains that he agreed to work with Cohen over his inter­est in telling the truth about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Cohen was appar­ent­ly fueled to flip by more per­son­al inter­ests, The Wall Street Jour­nal report­ed Wednes­day night.

    Accord­ing to peo­ple close to Cohen and peo­ple famil­iar with pros­e­cu­tors’ work who spoke to WSJ, fam­i­ly played a big role in Cohen’s deci­sion. Cohen was report­ed­ly con­cerned that his wife could be impli­cat­ed along­side him in charges asso­ci­at­ed with his finan­cial wrong­do­ings because she filed tax­es joint­ly with him. He also was moti­vat­ed by his father’s inter­ests, accord­ing to WSJ. Cohen’s father, Mau­rice Cohen, is a Holo­caust sur­vivor.

    “Mr. Cohen’s father urged him not to pro­tect the Pres­i­dent, say­ing he didn’t sur­vive the Holo­caust to have his name sul­lied by Mr. Trump,” in the WSJ’s words.

    Cohen report­ed­ly also knew that David Peck­er, the head of Amer­i­can Media Inc., the com­pa­ny that pub­lish­es the Nation­al Enquir­er, had giv­en pros­e­cu­tors infor­ma­tion about the arrange­ments Cohen made with women who alleged affairs with Trump. Peck­er report­ed­ly gave pros­e­cu­tors infor­ma­tion about Trump’s knowl­edge of the pay­ments as well.

    On top of all that, Cohen was angered by Trump’s efforts to dis­tance him­self from his for­mer “pit bull” and the fact that the Pres­i­dent had stopped help­ing him pay his legal fees after the FBI raid­ed his home, hotel and office this spring.

    ———-

    “Cohen Fueled To Flip By AMI Tes­ti­mo­ny And To Pro­tect Wife, Please His Father” by Nicole Lafond; Talk­ing Points Memo; 08/23/2018

    “Cohen report­ed­ly also knew that David Peck­er, the head of Amer­i­can Media Inc., the com­pa­ny that pub­lish­es the Nation­al Enquir­er, had giv­en pros­e­cu­tors infor­ma­tion about the arrange­ments Cohen made with women who alleged affairs with Trump. Peck­er report­ed­ly gave pros­e­cu­tors infor­ma­tion about Trump’s knowl­edge of the pay­ments as well.”

    So it’s look­ing like Trump knew about that cam­paign finance vio­la­tion and there’s going to be plen­ty of wit­ness­es will­ing to tes­ti­fy about it. And then there’s the pay­off to Stormy Daniels, for which there’s also prob­a­bly plen­ty of evi­dence. Will that be the thing that ends up push­ing Trump to resign? Pay­offs to a Play­mate and a porn star? While that might not seem like­ly giv­en every­thing we’ve seen about Trump, there’s one thing to keep in mind regard­ing this par­tic­u­lar case: Of all the pos­si­ble crim­i­nal charges against Trump that could pos­si­bly cause him to leave office, resign­ing due to a hush pay­ment to a for­mer Play­mate and porn star is eas­i­ly the most hon­or­able of the exit strate­gies avail­able. It’s either that or pros­e­cu­tors con­tin­ue the #TrumpRus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion and see where that goes.

    And it’s not like Trump or any of his base (actu­al­ly cares that he cheat­ed on his wife and slept with these women. If any­thing, he’s prob­a­bly proud of this sto­ry and his base prob­a­bly loves him all the more for it. So if Trump was, for what­ev­er rea­son, look­ing for an exit strat­e­gy, this actu­al­ly rep­re­sents an excuse for Trump to leave office on a sort of high note. It may be a high note only for some­one like Trump, but Trump is Trump. The image of a guy sleep­ing with porn stars and Play­mates is the kind of brand he’s been cul­ti­vat­ing for years.

    It would cer­tain­ly be sur­pris­ing if Trump decid­ed to resign. But it would be less sur­pris­ing if he decid­ed to resign over this par­tic­u­lar issue com­pared any of the oth­er legal threats fac­ing the pres­i­dent. And he would still have a fawn­ing base that his busi­ness­es could keep milk­ing for years to come. Maybe. It kind of depends on how many oth­er pay­offs of this nature are lin­ger­ing out there and whether or not any of them involve some­thing more than sim­ply pay­ing off Play­mates and porn stars.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 24, 2018, 2:41 pm
  11. Per­haps the biggest loom­ing ques­tion head­ing into the 2018 US mid-terms was whether or not the Democ­rats would take con­trol of the House. It seemed like­ly, but not a sure bet. With the Repub­li­can par­ty demon­strat­ing a mas­tery of vot­er sup­pres­sion, ger­ry­man­der­ing, and oth­er vote rig­ging tech­niques and dirty tricks, even when it seems like it’s a good bet that the Democ­rats will win it’s still a high­ly ten­u­ous good bet. But, in the end, the Democ­rats man­aged to get 4 mil­lion more over­all votes than the Repub­li­cans in the House races and took con­trol of that cham­ber with a 25 seat advan­tage. It may not have been a full ‘Blue Wave’ giv­en the loss­es in the Sen­ate, but it was about as close as one could have rea­son­ably hoped for giv­en the cir­cum­stances.

    So now the biggest loom­ing ques­tions going for­ward are all about inves­ti­ga­tions, with the most imme­di­ate ques­tions cen­tered around the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion, which is fre­quent­ly assumed to be close to com­ing to a con­clu­sion. And not just the obvi­ous inves­ti­ga­tions sur­round­ing the Mueller probe but all the oth­er poten­tial inves­ti­ga­tions, like finan­cial deal­ings with for­eign gov­ern­ments, cor­rupt cab­i­net offi­cials. And fol­low­ing the block­buster NY Times report last month detail­ing the his­to­ry of tax fraud at the heart of the Trump fam­i­ly busi­ness empire, sim­ply tak­ing a look at Trump’s tax returns is now an arguably urgent task for Con­gress.

    Relat­ed to that, there’s the ques­tion of the fate of Attor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions, who Trump has been aggres­sive­ly trolling and open­ly encour­ag­ing to step down ever since Ses­sions recused him­self from over­see­ing Mueller’s probe. Well, we already got an answer on what’s going to hap­pen to Jeff Ses­sions: He’s out. Ses­sions was fired today and is being replaced with his chief of staff, Matthew G. Whitak­er, as act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al.

    So Rod Rosen­stein is no longer over­see­ing the Mueller probe, which makes it all the more like­ly that we’ll be see­ing the results of that probe soon­er rather than lat­er. Espe­cial­ly since Whitak­er has been open­ly advo­cat­ing for lim­it­ing the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion or even end­ing it.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, Whitak­er argued last year in an op-ed on CNN that the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion crossed a ‘red line’ when it began look­ing into Don­ald Trump’s finances.

    Around the same time, Whitak­er argued on twit­ter that the evi­dence heard by Mueller’s grand jury would prob­a­bly nev­er be made pub­lic, which many have point­ed out looks to be a poten­tial argu­ment for seal­ing the find­ings of Mueller’s probe from the pub­lic for­ev­er. And these pub­lic procla­ma­tions by Whitak­er appeared to be part of pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign by Whitak­er to get the job of White House coun­sel.

    So it’s look­ing like we could see the rapid wrap­ping up of Mueller’s probe with no pub­lic dis­clo­sure of those find­ings (or lack of find­ings), turn­ing it all into a giant polit­i­cal Rorschach test:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    Muck­rak­er

    A His­to­ry Of New Act­ing AG Whitaker’s War On The Mueller Probe

    By Josh Koven­sky
    Novem­ber 7, 2018 3:39 pm

    Matthew Whitak­er, Jeff Ses­sions’ chief of staff who will take over as act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al with his boss’ ouster, has been an out­spo­ken advo­cate of lim­it­ing — or even end­ing — the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion.

    In an August 2017 op-ed pub­lished on the CNN web­site, the for­mer fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor argued that Mueller had come “dan­ger­ous­ly close” to cross­ing a “red line” in the inves­ti­ga­tion by look­ing at Trump’s per­son­al finances and those of his busi­ness.

    “It does not take a lawyer or even a for­mer fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor like myself to con­clude that inves­ti­gat­ing Don­ald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls com­plete­ly out­side of the realm of his 2016 cam­paign and alle­ga­tions that the cam­paign coor­di­nat­ed with the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment or any­one else,” Whitak­er wrote. “That goes beyond the scope of the appoint­ment of the spe­cial coun­sel.”

    Whitak­er added in the piece that “it is time for [Rod] Rosenstein…to order Mueller to lim­it the scope of his inves­ti­ga­tion.”

    It appeared to be part of a sum­mer 2017 cam­paign by Whitak­er — then report­ed­ly on the short­list to replace Don McGahn as White House coun­sel — to por­tray him­self as a hard­lin­er on the Mueller probe.

    In June 2017, Whitak­er appeared on a CNN pan­el on the Mueller probe.

    “What will get Repub­li­cans worked up is if we have a Depart­ment of Jus­tice in chaos,” Whitak­er said on the pan­el. “We’ve already heard rumors on the wind about Ses­sions’ tenure, so sud­den­ly we could have a Pres­i­dent that under­stands that if I con­trol the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, I con­trol this inves­ti­ga­tion.”

    Whitak­er also had an active Twit­ter pres­ence, at times indi­cat­ing sym­pa­thy with those call­ing for an end to the inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Worth a read–“Could Trump Fire Mueller? It’s Com­pli­cat­ed”. https://t.co/sG2igd5qkJ via @politicomag— Matt Whitak­er ???? (@MattWhitaker46) August 4, 2017

    ...

    In anoth­er tweet, Whitak­er appears to sug­gest a way of keep­ing Mueller’s find­ings under wraps indef­i­nite­ly. The fol­low­ing tweet could open up a path to seal­ing any report that Mueller pre­pares rely­ing on grand jury evi­dence from the pub­lic.

    Arti­cle is cor­rect, it will be very dif­fi­cult to ever see evi­dence dis­cov­ered by #Mueller grand jury inves­ti­ga­tion https://t.co/aNKBmi5xI2— Matt Whitak­er ???? (@MattWhitaker46) August 17, 2017

    Whitak­er also took a hard line against sup­posed “leak­ers” inform­ing the press about details in the Rus­sia probe.

    ———-

    “A His­to­ry Of New Act­ing AG Whitaker’s War On The Mueller Probe” by Josh Koven­sky; Talk­ing Points Memo; 11/07/2018

    “In an August 2017 op-ed pub­lished on the CNN web­site, the for­mer fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor argued that Mueller had come “dan­ger­ous­ly close” to cross­ing a “red line” in the inves­ti­ga­tion by look­ing at Trump’s per­son­al finances and those of his busi­ness.”

    As has long been obvi­ous, it’s not the inves­ti­ga­tion into poten­tial Russ­ian col­lu­sion that has Trump the most con­cerned. It’s inves­ti­ga­tions into Trump’s wild­ly cor­rupt busi­ness past and per­son­al finances (like tax fraud) that has him freaked out. Those are the con­cerns Whitak­er was echo­ing in the op-ed last year:

    ...
    “It does not take a lawyer or even a for­mer fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor like myself to con­clude that inves­ti­gat­ing Don­ald Trump’s finances or his family’s finances falls com­plete­ly out­side of the realm of his 2016 cam­paign and alle­ga­tions that the cam­paign coor­di­nat­ed with the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment or any­one else,” Whitak­er wrote. “That goes beyond the scope of the appoint­ment of the spe­cial coun­sel.”

    Whitak­er added in the piece that “it is time for [Rod] Rosenstein…to order Mueller to lim­it the scope of his inves­ti­ga­tion.”
    ...

    That same month, Whitak­er tweet­ed about how the pub­lic will prob­a­bly nev­er be allowed to see the evi­dence Mueller’s probe bases its find­ings, which could be used as a means of keep­ing the entire report sealed from the pub­lic:

    ...
    In anoth­er tweet, Whitak­er appears to sug­gest a way of keep­ing Mueller’s find­ings under wraps indef­i­nite­ly. The fol­low­ing tweet could open up a path to seal­ing any report that Mueller pre­pares rely­ing on grand jury evi­dence from the pub­lic.

    Arti­cle is cor­rect, it will be very dif­fi­cult to ever see evi­dence dis­cov­ered by #Mueller grand jury inves­ti­ga­tion https://t.co/aNKBmi5xI2— Matt Whitak­er ???? (@MattWhitaker46) August 17, 2017

    ...

    Keep in mind that if it turns out the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion has basi­cal­ly no com­pelling evi­dence of ‘Russ­ian col­lu­sion’, but still lots of evi­dence of oth­er wrong­do­ings by the Trump team (or attempt­ed col­lu­sion, like the Don Jr. and the infa­mous Trump Tow­er meet­ing), hav­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion results sealed from the pub­lic could be an out­come that both sides would find prefer­able.

    Final­ly, Whitak­er has called for going after “leak­ers” in the gov­ern­ment who have been involved with leak­ing details of the Rus­sia probe:

    ...
    Whitak­er also took a hard line against sup­posed “leak­ers” inform­ing the press about details in the Rus­sia probe.

    And this desire to take a hard line against leak­ers could end up play­ing a cen­tral role in Don­ald Trump’s attempts to defend him­self against Demo­c­ra­t­ic inves­ti­ga­tions. How so? Well, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle cov­er­ing Don­ald Trump’s post-mid-terms reac­tion today makes clear, Trump’s planned defense is to go on offense with inves­ti­ga­tions of his own. Yep, he actu­al­ly tweet­ed out this morn­ing that if the House Democ­rats decide to inves­ti­gate him, he’s going to inves­ti­gate them in retal­i­a­tion. Although it appeared to be a threat agains the Sen­ate Democ­rats: “If the Democ­rats think they are going to waste Tax­pay­er Mon­ey inves­ti­gat­ing us at the House lev­el, then we will like­wise be forced to con­sid­er inves­ti­gat­ing them for all of the leaks of Clas­si­fied Infor­ma­tion, and much else, at the Sen­ate lev­el”:

    USA Today

    Pres­i­dent Trump touts ‘mag­ic’ Sen­ate wins, threat­ens House Democ­rats
    David Jack­son and John Fritze, USA TODAY Pub­lished 6:55 a.m. ET Nov. 7, 2018 | Updat­ed 11:02 a.m. ET Nov. 7, 2018

    WASHINGTON – While tout­ing Repub­li­can wins in the Sen­ate, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump spent the post-elec­tion Wednes­day morn­ing threat­en­ing to inves­ti­gate Democ­rats who won con­trol of the House and are now threat­en­ing to inves­ti­gate him.

    “If the Democ­rats think they are going to waste Tax­pay­er Mon­ey inves­ti­gat­ing us at the House lev­el, then we will like­wise be forced to con­sid­er inves­ti­gat­ing them for all of the leaks of Clas­si­fied Infor­ma­tion, and much else, at the Sen­ate lev­el,” Trump said dur­ing an ear­ly morn­ing tweet storm.

    “Two can play that game!” he added.

    The pres­i­dent also sched­uled a news con­fer­ence Wednes­day to dis­cuss what he called “our suc­cess in the Midterms!”

    Democ­rats, mean­while, began plan­ning their takeover of the House in Jan­u­ary, includ­ing increased over­sight of Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion.

    “We’ll fill in the gaps on the Rus­sia inves­ti­ga­tions,” said Rep. Eric Swal­well, D‑California, a mem­ber of the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, speak­ing on NBC’s “Today” show. “The Amer­i­can peo­ple will see his (Trump’s) tax returns, not because of any voyeuris­tic inter­est, but because they should know if he is cor­rupt.”

    In a series of oth­er ear­ly-morn­ing tweets, Trump took cred­it for GOP vic­to­ries in close races on Elec­tion Day while blam­ing loss­es on Repub­li­cans who shunned his sup­port.

    “Those that worked with me in this incred­i­ble Midterm Elec­tion, embrac­ing cer­tain poli­cies and prin­ci­ples, did very well,” Trump said in one tweet. “Those that did not, say good­bye!”

    Trump raised ques­tions about the Rus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion by Spe­cial Coun­sel Robert Mueller, cit­ing an NBC News exit poll that found slight­ly more vot­ers opposed the probe than sup­port it. The tweet marked the first time Trump has tweet­ed about the inves­ti­ga­tion in weeks.

    “You mean they are final­ly begin­ning to under­stand what a dis­gust­ing Witch Hunt, led by 17 Angry Democ­rats, is all about!” Trump wrote.

    He also attacked the news media, say­ing in one post that any “pun­dits or talk­ing heads” who do not give the Trump team “prop­er cred­it for this great Midterm Elec­tion” are just “FAKE NEWS!”

    If the Democ­rats think they are going to waste Tax­pay­er Mon­ey inves­ti­gat­ing us at the House lev­el, then we will like­wise be forced to con­sid­er inves­ti­gat­ing them for all of the leaks of Clas­si­fied Infor­ma­tion, and much else, at the Sen­ate lev­el. Two can play that game!— Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Novem­ber 7, 2018

    Those that worked with me in this incred­i­ble Midterm Elec­tion, embrac­ing cer­tain poli­cies and prin­ci­ples, did very well. Those that did not, say good­bye! Yes­ter­day was such a very Big Win, and all under the pres­sure of a Nasty and Hos­tile Media!— Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Novem­ber 7, 2018

    The pres­i­den­t’s news con­fer­ence is set for 11:30 a.m. EST at the White House.

    New­ly empow­ered House Democ­rats said they would pur­sue new health and jobs leg­is­la­tion along with increased over­sight of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

    “We will get to work on Day One cre­at­ing jobs rebuild­ing our infra­struc­ture, bring­ing down the cost of pre­scrip­tion drugs and crack­ing down on any politi­cian who abus­es their pub­lic office,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D‑Rhode Island, co-chair of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Pol­i­cy and Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mit­tee.

    Democ­rats said their tar­gets range from accused eth­i­cal laps­es by mem­bers of the Cab­i­net to alle­ga­tions that Trump’s cam­paign worked with Russ­ian hack­ers to influ­ence the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

    In his NBC inter­view, Swal­well said, “We will look at the cash­ing in of access to the Oval Office and that has been con­cern­ing and his finan­cial entan­gle­ments over­seas.”

    Trumpo was not spe­cif­ic about his threat to counter-inves­ti­gate the Democ­rats. In recent weeks, he has accused them of improp­er­ly leak­ing infor­ma­tion about then-Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Kavanaugh.

    Some crit­ics said Trump’s threat does­n’t bode well for work­ing togeth­er on leg­is­la­tion.

    Matthew Miller, a spokesman for the Jus­tice Depart­ment under Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma, not­ed that Trump is think­ing of dis­miss­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Jeff Ses­sions. Amid those reports, Miller tweet­ed: “Trump threat­ens crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tions of his polit­i­cal crit­ics. Things are going just as expect­ed.”

    The pres­i­dent did­n’t direct­ly address the out­come that rep­re­sents a seis­mic shift in nation­al pol­i­tics: the Demo­c­ra­t­ic takeover of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Democ­rats picked up dozens of seats on Tues­day, includ­ing many in dis­tricts Trump won in 2016.

    Instead, on Twit­ter, he played up Repub­li­can vic­to­ries.

    Trump post­ed a quote from sup­port­er and writer Ben Stein sug­gest­ing the results showed the pres­i­dent has “mag­ic com­ing out of his ears” because the GOP expand­ed its Sen­ate major­i­ty by win­ning races in Indi­ana, North Dako­ta and Mis­souri.

    Min­utes lat­er, Trump tweet­ed a quote he evi­dent­ly heard from a Fox Busi­ness Net­work anchor indi­cat­ing his stand­ing with Repub­li­cans in Con­gress should increase because of the blitz of cam­paign­ing he con­duct­ed in the run-up to Tues­day’s elec­tion. The anchor wrote that suc­cess­ful Repub­li­cans owed Trump their careers.

    “There’s only been 5 times in the last 105 years that an incum­bent Pres­i­dent has won seats in the Sen­ate in the off year elec­tion. Mr. Trump has mag­ic about him. This guy has mag­ic com­ing out of his ears. He is an aston­ish­ing vote get­ter & cam­paign­er. The Repub­li­cans are.........— Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Novem­ber 7, 2018

    “Thanks,” Trump added in a tweet. “I agree!”

    Trump was engag­ing in a well-worn tra­di­tion for pres­i­dents to reflect on and spin the out­come of midterms – an effort all but cer­tain to con­tin­ue lat­er Wednes­day. Past pres­i­dents have acknowl­edged their loss­es in par­tic­u­lar­ly col­or­ful lan­guage.

    .@DavidAsmanfox “How do the Democ­rats respond to this? Think of how his posi­tion with Repub­li­cans improves-all the can­di­dates who won tonight. They real­ize how impor­tant he is because of what he did in cam­paign­ing for them. They owe him their polit­i­cal career.” Thanks, I agree!— Don­ald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) Novem­ber 7, 2018

    ...

    Trump offi­cials said they have pre­pared for the prospect of a Demo­c­ra­t­ic House. One strat­e­gy, they said, would be to focus on items han­dled by the Repub­li­can-run Sen­ate, a list that includes trade agree­ments and judi­cial nom­i­na­tions.

    Pres­i­den­tial coun­selor Kellyanne Con­way said Trump man­aged to avoid an Oba­ma-like “shel­lack­ing,” and now he will try to work with Democ­rats on issues of com­mon inter­est like immi­gra­tion and infra­struc­ture.

    As for House inves­ti­ga­tions of Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion, Con­way said they will deal with them as they come up.

    She also hint­ed at legal chal­lenges to House sub­poe­nas.

    Asked what would hap­pen, for exam­ple, if the House Democ­rats seek Trump’s tax returns, Con­way said: “We’ll talk to the lawyers about that – we’ll see what hap­pens.”

    ————-

    “Pres­i­dent Trump touts ‘mag­ic’ Sen­ate wins, threat­ens House Democ­rats” by David Jack­son and John Fritze; USA TODAY; 11/07/2018

    “While tout­ing Repub­li­can wins in the Sen­ate, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump spent the post-elec­tion Wednes­day morn­ing threat­en­ing to inves­ti­gate Democ­rats who won con­trol of the House and are now threat­en­ing to inves­ti­gate him.

    Mutu­al­ly Assured Inves­ti­ga­tions. That appears to be the strat­e­gy the Trump White House is going with at this point. Inter­est­ing­ly, he specif­i­cal­ly talked about inves­ti­gat­ing the leaks of “Clas­si­fied Infor­ma­tion, and much else,” at the Sen­ate lev­el. And while Trump’s counter-inves­ti­ga­tions will pre­sum­ably include leaks relat­ed to the Mueller probe, he’s also been accus­ing Democ­rats of improp­er­ly leak­ing infor­ma­tion about then-Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Kavanaugh. So the whole Kavanaugh nom­i­na­tion could end up being pub­licly relit­i­gat­ed in some man­ner, which seems like an extreme polit­i­cal risk for the GOP but that’s the threat Trump is mak­ing:

    ...
    “If the Democ­rats think they are going to waste Tax­pay­er Mon­ey inves­ti­gat­ing us at the House lev­el, then we will like­wise be forced to con­sid­er inves­ti­gat­ing them for all of the leaks of Clas­si­fied Infor­ma­tion, and much else, at the Sen­ate lev­el,” Trump said dur­ing an ear­ly morn­ing tweet storm.

    “Two can play that game!” he added.

    ...

    Trumpo was not spe­cif­ic about his threat to counter-inves­ti­gate the Democ­rats. In recent weeks, he has accused them of improp­er­ly leak­ing infor­ma­tion about then-Supreme Court nom­i­nee Brett Kavanaugh.
    ...

    Democ­rats in the House, how­ev­er, are already pledg­ing to reveal the pub­lic Trump’s tax returns, which, again, might be thing Trump fears most at this point:

    ...
    Democ­rats, mean­while, began plan­ning their takeover of the House in Jan­u­ary, includ­ing increased over­sight of Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion.

    “We’ll fill in the gaps on the Rus­sia inves­ti­ga­tions,” said Rep. Eric Swal­well, D‑California, a mem­ber of the House Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee, speak­ing on NBC’s “Today” show. The Amer­i­can peo­ple will see his (Trump’s) tax returns, not because of any voyeuris­tic inter­est, but because they should know if he is cor­rupt.”
    ...

    We appear to be head­ing towards a remark­able peri­od of bipar­ti­san inves­ti­ga­tions for Wash­ing­ton: both par­ties are going to inves­ti­gate each oth­er.

    Beyond that, the White House is indi­cat­ing that it’s going to be putting up legal chal­lenges against any House sub­poe­nas, includ­ing sub­poe­nas for his tax returns. So while it’s pos­si­ble Trump’s tax returns will indeed be made pub­lic, we can’t rule out the pos­si­bil­i­ty that there’s going to be an exec­u­tive branch block­ade on that infor­ma­tion which will no-doubt trig­ger more calls for more inves­ti­ga­tions:

    ...
    As for House inves­ti­ga­tions of Trump and his admin­is­tra­tion, Con­way said they will deal with them as they come up.

    She also hint­ed at legal chal­lenges to House sub­poe­nas.

    Asked what would hap­pen, for exam­ple, if the House Democ­rats seek Trump’s tax returns, Con­way said: “We’ll talk to the lawyers about that – we’ll see what hap­pens.”
    ...

    Like the Mueller report, Trump’s tax returns — which are cur­rent­ly a Rorschach test — could end up remain­ing Rorschach test. A known unknown with con­tents we can only spec­u­late about.

    In relat­ed news, Trump called CNN an “ene­my of the peo­ple” again dur­ing his press con­fer­ence today when he was asked by CNN’s Jim Acos­ta if Trump was con­cerned about indict­ments com­ing from Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tion (starts at about 1:35 in clip). It’s a reminder that, while Trump appears poised to ramp up his attacks as part of his defense strat­e­gy, the tar­gets of those ramped attacks aren’t going to be lim­it­ed to the Democ­rats (or nec­es­sar­i­ly car­ried out by Trump).

    So if you feel like the ‘Trump unchecked’ peri­od of Trump’s time in office was doing incal­cu­la­ble dam­age of the US polit­i­cal sys­tem and soci­ety, just wait for the ‘cor­nered tax-cheat­ing ani­mal with its back against wall’ years.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 7, 2018, 4:41 pm
  12. There was a rather inter­est­ing recent poll out of Quin­nip­i­ac about US vot­er atti­tudes about impeach­ing Pres­i­dent Trump vs crim­i­nal­ly charg­ing him: 61% of vot­ers did not sup­port impeach­ment com­pared to 33% who do. But when it comes to the issue of whether or not Pres­i­dents are immune from crim­i­nal charges in office, 69% of vot­ers say there should be no immu­ni­ty, 57% believe Trump com­mit­ted crimes before his inau­gu­ra­tion, 55% say the Mueller Report did not clear the Pres­i­dent of wrong­do­ing, and vot­ers are split 45% to 45% over whether or not Trump has com­mit­ted crimes while in office. So while the Amer­i­can pub­lic does­n’t appear to be very keen on see­ing Trump impeached at this moment, they appear to be ok with charg­ing him for crimes that a major­i­ty think he has com­mit­ted.

    While this is the kind of poll that will obvi­ous­ly shape the Democ­rats’ deci­sion over whether or not to pur­sue impeach­ment inquiries at this point, part of what makes the polls so inter­est­ing in the con­text of the 2020 elec­tion is that it appears to point towards an ongo­ing strong vot­er revul­sion of gen­er­al cor­rup­tion and a desire to see that cor­rup­tion addressed. In oth­er words, it strong­ly points towards an ongo­ing ‘drain the swamp!’ sen­ti­ment, which was iron­i­cal­ly one of Trump’s cen­tral 2016 slo­gans.

    And that’s the kind of vot­er sen­ti­ment that makes the fol­low­ing pair of arti­cles extreme­ly inter­est­ing head­ing into the 2020 elec­tions: it turns out Trump’s Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary, Elaine Chao, is just bla­tant­ly cor­rupt. Cor­rupt in exact­ly the kinds of ways that are very easy for vot­ers to under­stand. The kind of clas­sic Wash­ing­ton DC backscratch­ing cor­rup­tion that many vot­ers feel should be crim­i­nal. And the part­ner in Chao’s cor­rup­tion is lit­er­al­ly her hus­band, Mitch McConnell, who is cur­rent­ly the most unpop­u­lar Sen­a­tor in the coun­try and also hap­pens to be the Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader.

    So what’s the bla­tant cor­rup­tion? Well, Chao did her hus­band a favor. The kind of favor that no oth­er Sen­a­tor received: Chao assigned one of her top aides, Todd Inman, to be the point man for advis­ing McConnell and local Ken­tucky offi­cials on how to sub­mit grants to the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion for infra­struc­ture projects. No oth­er Sen­a­tor received this kind of spe­cial assis­tance and no oth­er Sen­a­tor is in as dire need of this kind of spe­cial assis­tance because, again, Mitch McConnell is wild­ly unpop­u­lar in his home state (36% approval, 50% dis­ap­proval accord­ing to cur­rent polls). And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, McConnell is up for reelec­tion in 2020 and his cam­paign appears to be heav­i­ly geared towards empha­siz­ing exact­ly these kinds of fed­er­al­ly fund­ed infra­struc­ture projects. So the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion is giv­ing her hus­band, the most pow­er and unpop­u­lar Sen­a­tor in the nation, spe­cial help to ensure that his state gets the fed­er­al­ly fund­ed infra­struc­ture grants that will most help him win reelec­tion. That’s about as clas­si­cal­ly cor­rupt as it gets and is the­mat­i­cal­ly very in keep­ing with the nepo­tism that has been a sig­na­ture part of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion

    And as we’ll see in the sec­ond arti­cle below, Chao has anoth­er total­ly bla­tant cor­rup­tion issue that all vot­ers will rec­og­nize as being exact­ly the kind of ‘swamp’ cor­rup­tion they want­ed to see end­ed: Start­ing in 2016, Chao joined the board of Vul­can Mate­ri­als, an Alaba­ma-based sup­pli­er of rock aggre­gate used in road con­struc­tion and build­ing projects. Vul­can is fre­quent­ly men­tioned as one of the stocks that would ben­e­fit most from a big increase in fed­er­al infra­struc­ture spend­ing. The stock jumped 20 per­cent since Feb­ru­ary alone after Trump pledged to do a big infra­struc­ture pro­gram dur­ing his State of the Union address. This arrange­ment was obvi­ous­ly a an eth­i­cal prob­lem after Chao became Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary in 2017. So Chao agreed to “a cash pay­out for all of my vest­ed deferred stock units” that would hap­pen by April of 2018 to address clear con­flict of inter­est. Sur­prise! She did­n’t. A finan­cial dis­clo­sure report released this month by Mitch McConnell revealed that Chao had some­where between $250,000 and $500,000 in Vul­can stock. Why did she have this stock in 2019 after pledg­ing to cash out of her stock options a year ago? Because Vul­can decid­ed to pay Chao for her stock options with stock instead of cash. That’s the expla­na­tion. No expla­na­tion is giv­en for why she did­n’t just go ahead and sell the stock instead of hold­ing onto it and main­tain­ing the con­flict of inter­est. Pre­sum­ably she had an inter­est in main­tain­ing that con­flict of inter­est.

    So Trump’s Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary is giv­ing her hus­band, the most hat­ed and pow­er­ful Sen­a­tor in the coun­try, spe­cial assis­tance to ensure his pet projects get the fed­er­al grants need­ed for him to cam­paign on his abil­i­ty ‘bring home the bacon’ and win reelec­tion in 2020. Snd she also kept stock in the com­pa­ny expect­ed to be one of the biggest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of fed­er­al infra­struc­ture spend­ing. That seems like the kind of sto­ry that would res­onate with vot­ers upset with ‘the swamp’:

    Politi­co

    Chao cre­at­ed spe­cial path for McConnell’s favored projects

    A top Trans­porta­tion offi­cial helped coor­di­nate grant appli­ca­tions by McConnell’s polit­i­cal allies.

    By TUCKER DOHERTY and TANYA SNYDER

    06/10/2019 05:02 AM EDT

    The Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment under Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao des­ig­nat­ed a spe­cial liai­son to help with grant appli­ca­tions and oth­er pri­or­i­ties from her hus­band Mitch McConnell’s state of Ken­tucky, paving the way for grants total­ing at least $78 mil­lion for favored projects as McConnell pre­pared to cam­paign for reelec­tion.

    Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stat­ed in an email to McConnell’s Sen­ate office that Chao had per­son­al­ly asked him to serve as an inter­me­di­ary, helped advise the sen­a­tor and local Ken­tucky offi­cials on grants with spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for McConnell — includ­ing a high­way-improve­ment project in a McConnell polit­i­cal strong­hold that had been twice reject­ed for pre­vi­ous grant appli­ca­tions.

    Begin­ning in April 2017, Inman and Chao met annu­al­ly with a del­e­ga­tion from Owens­boro, Ky., a riv­er port with long con­nec­tions to McConnell, includ­ing a plaza named in his hon­or. At the meet­ings, accord­ing to par­tic­i­pants, the sec­re­tary and the local offi­cials dis­cussed two projects of spe­cial impor­tance to the riv­er city of 59,809 peo­ple — a plan to upgrade road con­nec­tions to a com­mer­cial river­port and a pro­pos­al to expe­dite reclas­si­fy­ing a local park­way as an Inter­state spur, a move that could per­suade pri­vate busi­ness­es to locate in Owens­boro.

    Inman, him­self a long­time Owens­boro res­i­dent and one­time may­oral can­di­date who is now Chao’s chief of staff, fol­lowed up the 2017 meet­ing by email­ing the river­port author­i­ty on how to improve its appli­ca­tion. He also dis­cussed the project by phone with Al Mat­ting­ly, the chief exec­u­tive of Daviess Coun­ty, which includes Owens­boro, who sug­gest­ed Inman was instru­men­tal in the process.

    “Todd prob­a­bly smoothed the way, I mean, you know, used his influ­ence,” Mat­ting­ly said in a POLITICO inter­view. “Every­body says that projects stand on their own mer­it, right? So if I’ve got 10 projects, and they’re all equal, where do you go to break the tie?”

    “Well, let’s put it this way: I only have her ear an hour when I go to vis­it her once a year,” he added of Chao and Inman, a long­time Blue­grass State oper­a­tive who had worked as McConnell’s advance man. “With a local guy, he has her ear 24 hours a day, sev­en days a week. You tell me.”

    The cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the Owens­boro grant and anoth­er, more lucra­tive grant to Boone Coun­ty, high­light the eth­i­cal con­flicts in hav­ing a pow­er­ful Cab­i­net sec­re­tary mar­ried to the Senate’s leader and in a posi­tion to help him polit­i­cal­ly. McConnell has long tout­ed his abil­i­ty to bring fed­er­al resources to his state, which his wife is now in a posi­tion to assist.

    Chao’s des­ig­na­tion of Inman as a spe­cial inter­me­di­ary for Ken­tucky — a priv­i­lege oth­er states did not enjoy — gave a spe­cial advan­tage to projects favored by her hus­band, which could in turn ben­e­fit his polit­i­cal inter­ests. In such sit­u­a­tions, ethi­cists say, each mem­ber of a cou­ple ben­e­fits per­son­al­ly from the suc­cess of the oth­er.

    “Where a Cab­i­net sec­re­tary is doing things that are going to help her hus­band get reelect­ed, that starts to rise to the lev­el of feel­ing more like cor­rup­tion to the aver­age Amer­i­can. … I do think there are peo­ple who will see that as sort of ‘swamp behav­ior,’” said John Hudak, a Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion schol­ar who has stud­ied polit­i­cal influ­ence in fed­er­al grant-mak­ing.

    In fact, days after launch­ing his 2020 reelec­tion cam­paign McConnell asked Owensboro’s may­or to set up a lun­cheon with busi­ness and polit­i­cal lead­ers at which the sen­a­tor claimed cred­it for deliv­er­ing the grant.

    “How about that $11 mil­lion BUILD grant?” McConnell asked the crowd rhetor­i­cal­ly, accord­ing to the Owens­boro Times. He then recalled his role in secur­ing ear­li­er grants to the city, adding, “It’s done a lot to trans­form Owens­boro, and I was real­ly hap­py to have played a role in that.”

    McConnell’s role — along with Chao’s and Inman’s — was also cel­e­brat­ed by local offi­cials when the $11.5 mil­lion grant was approved — to much local fan­fare in Decem­ber 2018.

    “First­ly, we are thank­ful that we had such good asso­ci­a­tions built with Sen. McConnell and the U.S. Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion because with­out them it wouldn’t have hap­pened,” declared Owens­boro May­or Tom Wat­son, stand­ing along­side three oth­er local offi­cials at a news con­fer­ence cel­e­brat­ing the grant award.

    “We’re just real­ly grate­ful and thank­ful to Sen. McConnell and Sec­re­tary Chao and our own Todd Inman,” added Mat­ting­ly.

    Owens­boro wasn’t the only ben­e­fi­cia­ry of Inman’s assis­tance. He also com­mu­ni­cat­ed with McConnell’s office about mul­ti­ple requests from coun­ty exec­u­tives to meet with Chao to speak about poten­tial projects in Ken­tucky, accord­ing to emails which, like the oth­ers, were obtained under the Free­dom of Infor­ma­tion Act by the watch­dog group Amer­i­can Over­sight.

    One of those exec­u­tives, Boone Coun­ty Judge/Executive Gary Moore, met with Chao in Decem­ber 2017. Moore’s request, a $67 mil­lion dis­cre­tionary grant to upgrade roads in rur­al Boone Coun­ty, anoth­er McConnell strong­hold north­east of Louisville, was ulti­mate­ly approved in June 2018.

    ...

    Inman said in a state­ment, “I’m proud to work for the Sec­re­tary and it’s an hon­or to work at the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion, espe­cial­ly as this Admin­is­tra­tion is pri­or­i­tiz­ing infra­struc­ture invest­ments and meet­ing with peo­ple from all 50 states to dis­cuss their needs. Our team of ded­i­cat­ed career staff does an out­stand­ing job eval­u­at­ing hun­dreds of appli­ca­tions for these high­ly com­pet­i­tive grant pro­grams, a thor­ough process devel­oped well before this Admin­is­tra­tion.”

    The Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, through a spokesper­son, said that “No state receives spe­cial treat­ment from DOT,” not­ing that Ken­tucky is 26th in pop­u­la­tion and 25th in DOT mon­ey in the Trump years. Of 169 grants award­ed dur­ing Chao’s tenure, the spokesper­son said, Ken­tucky received five.

    “The eval­u­a­tion process, which is well known, orig­i­nates with ded­i­cat­ed career staff thor­ough­ly review­ing appli­ca­tions before senior review teams are involved,” the spokesper­son said. “This eval­u­a­tion takes thou­sands of hours across our dis­cre­tionary grant pro­grams. Sim­i­lar­ly, a team of career staff han­dles cost-ben­e­fit and project readi­ness review. Dis­cre­tionary grant pro­grams are com­pet­i­tive and based on mer­it and how well the projects align with selec­tion cri­te­ria.”

    Nonethe­less, one for­mer career offi­cial who was involved in the grant review process under mul­ti­ple admin­is­tra­tions, said that once the find­ings of the pro­fes­sion­al staff are pre­sent­ed to the secretary’s office, pol­i­tics often plays a role in who gets the mon­ey.

    Putting a thumb on the scale for a favored project, the offi­cial said, “is real­ly, very com­mon, I would say across par­ties.”

    “It’s always going to be polit­i­cal,” the for­mer offi­cial, who spoke with­out attri­bu­tion for fear of reprisals, added. “We have a mer­it-based process that we essen­tial­ly ignore, [and] it’s real­ly detri­men­tal to meet­ing nation­al trans­porta­tion needs and hav­ing peo­ple feel like the process is worth engag­ing in.”

    Vir­ginia Can­ter, a for­mer White House asso­ciate coun­sel under Pres­i­dents Barack Oba­ma and Bill Clin­ton and cur­rent ethics coun­sel for the Cit­i­zens for Respon­si­bil­i­ty and Ethics in Wash­ing­ton, said show­ing polit­i­cal favoritism in award­ing grants vio­lates eth­i­cal stan­dards. And when a poten­tial ben­e­fi­cia­ry is a spouse, there’s an extra lev­el of con­cern.

    “There’s a stan­dard for gov­ern­ment employ­ees; they’re expect­ed to be impar­tial,” said Can­ter. “When you have a spouse who’s the head of an agency and the oth­er spouse is a lead­ing mem­ber of Con­gress — and their office is refer­ring mat­ters to the depart­ment, and they’re flag­ging things from donors, from peo­ple with par­tic­u­lar polit­i­cal affil­i­a­tions, who are quote-unquote ‘friends’ — it rais­es the ques­tion of whether the office, instead of being used pure­ly for offi­cial pur­pos­es, is being used for polit­i­cal pur­pos­es.

    “The fact that they’re both in these very impor­tant posi­tions gives them the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be watch­ing out for each other’s polit­i­cal and pro­fes­sion­al inter­ests,” Can­ter said. “Any­time a mem­ber of Con­gress can bring home fund­ing to his or her com­mu­ni­ty it could make a dif­fer­ence. It shows the mem­ber is being respon­sive.”

    McConnell, for his part, did not address ques­tions about poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est in deal­ing with his wife’s depart­ment, instead tout­ing his own clout.

    “Every sin­gle day, Ken­tuck­ians from across the Com­mon­wealth con­tact me with their con­cerns,” he told POLITICO in an emailed state­ment. “As Sen­ate Major­i­ty Leader and a senior mem­ber of the Appro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee, I am able to ensure that these issues — both large and small — are part of the nation­al dis­cus­sion. Ken­tucky con­tin­ues to punch above its weight in Wash­ing­ton, and I am proud to be a strong voice for my con­stituents in the Sen­ate.”

    * * *

    In his polit­i­cal career, McConnell has often tout­ed spe­cif­ic grants as proof of his under­stand­ing of com­mu­ni­ty needs.

    McConnell has long had a spe­cial rela­tion­ship with Owens­boro, whose loca­tion on a bend of the Ohio Riv­er had once made it an ide­al hub for man­u­fac­tur­ing and agri­cul­ture. At the begin­ning of McConnell’s Sen­ate career in the late 1980s, the decline of the tobac­co indus­try and the rise of shop­ping malls far from the city cen­ter left Owensboro’s down­town dot­ted with board­ed-up store­fronts and emp­ty streets that had once bus­tled decades ear­li­er.

    As McConnell rose to pow­er in the nation­al Repub­li­can Par­ty in the 1990s and 2000s, he secured funds for Owens­boro, earn­ing him good­will that helped him sur­vive a close elec­tion in the 2008 Demo­c­ra­t­ic wave. But after con­gres­sion­al Repub­li­cans banned ear­marks in 2011, McConnell was forced to find oth­er ways to bring fed­er­al resources back home.

    Today, Owensboro’s grow­ing down­town stands as a sym­bol of his suc­cess. City land­marks, street signs and plaques tout the senator’s role in help­ing revi­tal­ize down­town, espe­cial­ly along the city’s impres­sive new river­front esplanade.

    McConnell’s involve­ment with Owens­boro began in earnest after 2003, when then-Owens­boro May­or Way­mond Mor­ris and future may­or, Ron Payne, vis­it­ed McConnell at his Wash­ing­ton office and showed him a pho­to­graph of the erod­ing river­bank. The next year, the city reded­i­cat­ed a por­tion of the river­front as “McConnell Plaza” and used more than $1 mil­lion in city funds to build a river­side park with ample green space, wind­ing brick paths and out­door seat­ing for events like the town’s annu­al bar­be­cue fes­ti­val.

    The city’s court­ing paid off in July 2005, when McConnell phoned new may­or, Tom Wat­son, and explained that he had secured $40 mil­lion in fed­er­al funds to over­haul the river­bank.

    “Final­ly, at the end I said, ‘Can I ask you one ques­tion? Did you say $40 mil­lion?’” Wat­son told POLITICO. “And he laughed and hung up. I was stunned.”

    Owens­boro used the fed­er­al wind­fall as seed mon­ey for an ambi­tious over­haul of the entire river­front, bor­row­ing tens of mil­lions of addi­tion­al dol­lars to bring it to fruition over the next sev­er­al years.

    A river­walk with pavil­ions and cas­cad­ing foun­tains was installed, anchored on one end by a mas­sive and elab­o­rate­ly designed play­ground named the best in the world by Land­scape Archi­tects Net­work — com­plete with over­sized arti­fi­cial tree sculp­tures, climb­ing walls, a con­ces­sion stand, free Wi-Fi and rub­ber turf. A near­by plaque mark­ing the playground’s reded­i­ca­tion gives “spe­cial thanks to Sen­a­tor Mitch McConnell.”

    At the oth­er end, a sparkling 184,000-square-foot con­ven­tion cen­ter was erect­ed at a cost of more than $50 mil­lion dol­lars — rough­ly twice the town’s ini­tial bud­get for the project — in a bid to bring large con­ven­tions and oth­er busi­ness to the down­town area. In stark con­trast, a rust­ing one-sto­ry auto repair shop sits across the street, a reminder of the ear­li­er decay.

    McConnell’s sup­port for Owens­boro did not end at the river­front. May­or Wat­son recalled tak­ing McConnell on a tour of the town’s aging H.L. Neblett Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter, when sud­den­ly water leaked through the roof, hit­ting McConnell’s ear and trick­ling down his shirt. Wat­son turned to the sen­a­tor and sug­gest­ed that the cen­ter need­ed a new roof. McConnell replied that it need­ed a new build­ing — and then secured $3 mil­lion for ren­o­va­tions when he returned to Wash­ing­ton.

    City offi­cials also cred­it McConnell for serv­ing Owensboro’s inter­ests on nation­al issues, includ­ing fed­er­al sub­si­dies that kept air­lines fly­ing to Owensboro’s region­al air­port, as well as more recent efforts to legal­ize hemp as an agri­cul­tur­al com­mod­i­ty — a poten­tial replace­ment for the city’s dying tobac­co trade.

    After step­ping down for sev­er­al years to focus on his pros­thet­ics busi­ness, Wat­son was reelect­ed as may­or in 2016. By then, the city’s river­front invest­ments were begin­ning to pay off. The down­town revi­tal­iza­tion project mit­i­gat­ed the effects of the Great Reces­sion in Owens­boro and helped the city out­pace Ken­tucky and Unit­ed States over­all in employ­ment growth.

    The city was still eye­ing more projects to build on the ear­li­er invest­ments, but Owensboro’s remain­ing debt and scarce state resources lim­it­ed the avail­able fund­ing options. Once again, the town turned to the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment for sup­port.

    “The only mon­ey that’s still being cir­cu­lat­ed comes from Wash­ing­ton,” Wat­son explained.

    In par­tic­u­lar, the city want­ed to widen and improve a sec­tion of Ken­tucky High­way 331 that con­nect­ed the port’s riv­er and rail ship­ping facil­i­ties to the fed­er­al high­way sys­tem. Local home­own­ers and dri­vers com­plained that the highway’s two nar­row lanes and lim­it­ed sight­lines throt­tled capac­i­ty and put local res­i­dents at risk.

    In the post-ear­mark era, offi­cials saw the fed­er­al Depart­ment of Transportation’s grant pro­grams as their best bet to secure more funds, and believed their project had the mer­it to win in a com­pet­i­tive eval­u­a­tion process. But suc­cess elud­ed them.

    The city sub­mit­ted its first grant appli­ca­tion dur­ing the final months of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, under a freight and high­way improve­ment pro­gram called FASTLANE. But after a tech­ni­cal review by career DOT staff, the city’s appli­ca­tion was passed over in favor of oth­er projects.

    Accord­ing to Mat­ting­ly, local offi­cials were unde­terred and saw Chao’s appoint­ment as Trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary — and Owens­boro local Todd Inman’s new role as direc­tor of oper­a­tions in her office — as a valu­able con­nec­tion mov­ing for­ward.

    Back in Wash­ing­ton, Inman encour­aged that per­cep­tion. In a Feb­ru­ary 2017 email to McConnell’s chief of staff, he wrote, “The Sec­re­tary has indi­cat­ed if you have a Ky-spe­cif­ic issue that we should flag for her atten­tion to please con­tin­ue to go through your nor­mal chan­nels but feel free to con­tact me direct­ly as well so we can mon­i­tor or fol­low up as nec­es­sary.”

    Owens­boro sub­mit­ted a sec­ond grant appli­ca­tion in the first year of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion under the department’s INFRA grant pro­gram — the new administration’s suc­ces­sor to FASTLANE — which was like­wise unsuc­cess­ful. Weeks before that appli­ca­tion was due, McConnell’s office emailed mem­bers of Chao’s staff with the Owens­boro River­port Author­i­ty CEO’s con­tact infor­ma­tion, request­ing tech­ni­cal assis­tance for the riverport’s grant appli­ca­tion. Derek Kan, Chao’s under­sec­re­tary for pol­i­cy, for­ward­ed the request to his deputy, who con­firmed that they were fol­low­ing up.

    Final­ly, in 2018, the river­port resub­mit­ted a third time under the department’s BUILD pro­gram, a com­pet­i­tive infra­struc­ture grant pro­gram that began under the Oba­ma administration’s eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus law. This time, the appli­ca­tion was suc­cess­ful. City offi­cials held a Decem­ber news con­fer­ence in front of a Christ­mas tree in City Hall announc­ing the $11.5 mil­lion fed­er­al award.

    Four months lat­er, as McConnell pre­pared to launch his reelec­tion cam­paign, he called May­or Wat­son and asked him to pull togeth­er a group of polit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers at the river­port to tout his role in get­ting Owens­boro the grant award, Wat­son said. On April 22, with­in days of offi­cial­ly launch­ing his 2020 cam­paign, the Sen­ate major­i­ty leader stood inside a river­port build­ing and cel­e­brat­ed his achieve­ments.

    “I can’t tell you how excit­ing it is for me to see what the river­front has spawned,” McConnell told the assem­bled crowd. “Not only the project itself, but all around it.”

    * * *

    Inman, who is 48, grew up in Mar­shall Coun­ty, Ky., about a two-hour dri­ve from Owens­boro. Soon after grad­u­at­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­sis­sip­pi in 1993, he moved to Owens­boro, where he ran a small insur­ance busi­ness from 1994 to 2017, accord­ing to his LinkedIn page.

    He also became involved in Repub­li­can pol­i­tics, run­ning unsuc­cess­ful­ly for may­or of Owens­boro in 2004 and doing advance work and event plan­ning for statewide GOP can­di­dates. He worked on McConnell’s cam­paigns in 2008 and 2014 and then became the deputy state direc­tor for Don­ald Trump’s 2016 cam­paign in Ken­tucky.

    Two days after Trump’s inau­gu­ra­tion, Inman excit­ed­ly announced his new job in the admin­is­tra­tion in a Face­book post picked up by local media.

    “It’s with great hon­or but also sad­ness that on Fri­day I accept­ed a Pres­i­den­tial appoint­ment to work for the Hon­or­able Elaine L. Chao as a Direc­tor in the cab­i­net of the Unit­ed States Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion,” Inman wrote, accord­ing to the local radio sta­tion WBKR. “While this means I must leave my fam­i­ly friends and busi­ness in Owens­boro it is hum­bling to know I can be of ser­vice to our coun­try ... I look for­ward to the com­ing years of help­ing to sup­port the sec­re­tary in her lead­er­ship of the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion … ”

    His first post­ing was as direc­tor of oper­a­tions, from which he helped steer requests for grant assis­tance from McConnell’s office — at Chao’s direc­tion, accord­ing to the emails.

    “Cab­i­net mem­bers are known to be pref­er­en­tial to their own home state,” said Hudak, the Brook­ings schol­ar who has stud­ied polit­i­cal influ­ence in fed­er­al grant-mak­ing, adding that they tend to pri­or­i­tize the home states of con­gres­sion­al lead­ers as well, “so you can have a sort of dou­bling effect.”

    “There’s noth­ing ille­gal about her steer­ing those funds to her husband’s home state, and her home state, as long as things are above­board,” Hudak said. “The ques­tion though is, how do you deal with con­flicts of inter­ests? And this is a clear con­flict. ... Even if it’s not legal­ly so, these are polit­i­cal offices, so the optics of this are impor­tant. In a busi­ness set­ting, you would put fire­walls up to pre­vent those types of bad optics.”

    McConnell, how­ev­er, is mak­ing no effort to hide his influ­ence as he ramps up his reelec­tion effort. Though the Blue­grass State is heav­i­ly Repub­li­can, he, like sen­a­tors of both par­ties who take on nation­al lead­er­ship posi­tions, knows he is both a prime tar­get for out-of-state donors and vul­ner­a­ble to charges that he has lost touch with his con­stituents.

    New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic leader in the Sen­ate, has per­son­al­ly urged Marine vet­er­an and for­mer fight­er pilot Amy McGrath to run against McConnell, say­ing the GOP leader “is more vul­ner­a­ble now than ever before.”

    At the grass­roots lev­el, Ken­tucky radio host Matt Jones has indi­cat­ed he might be pre­pared to run as a pop­ulist Demo­c­rat against McConnell, a tar­get of fre­quent barbs on his huge­ly pop­u­lar sports show.

    “What has Mitch McConnell done to help Ken­tucky?” Jones asked in a POLITICO inter­view. “Mitch McConnell has been a mas­ter — a mas­ter at help­ing wealthy busi­ness inter­ests get wealth­i­er. If there is a rich guy Hall of Fame, he should be in it.”

    McConnell’s answer to these crit­i­cisms is clear: He’s used his influ­ence to deliv­er on Kentucky’s pri­or­i­ties.

    “All 100 sen­a­tors may have one vote,” McConnell told the Lex­ing­ton Her­ald-Leader last year, “but they’re not all equal. Ken­tucky ben­e­fits from hav­ing one of its own set­ting the agen­da for the coun­try.”

    ———-

    “Chao cre­at­ed spe­cial path for McConnell’s favored projects” by TUCKER DOHERTY and TANYA SNYDER; Politi­co; 06/10/2019

    Chao’s aide Todd Inman, who stat­ed in an email to McConnell’s Sen­ate office that Chao had per­son­al­ly asked him to serve as an inter­me­di­ary, helped advise the sen­a­tor and local Ken­tucky offi­cials on grants with spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for McConnell — includ­ing a high­way-improve­ment project in a McConnell polit­i­cal strong­hold that had been twice reject­ed for pre­vi­ous grant appli­ca­tions.

    Elaine Chao’s tasked her own aide, Todd Inman, to help her hus­band and local Ken­tucky offi­cials get grants with spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for McConnell. It’s that spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance that makes this extra cor­rupt. Because it was guar­an­teed that Ken­tucky would receive some sort of fed­er­al grant, but there are a lot of dif­fer­ent projects com­pet­ing for that mon­ey. Chao ensured the projects select­ed were the ones favored by her hus­band, the most hat­ed and pow­er­ful Sen­a­tor in the coun­try. As Al Mat­ting­ly, the chief exec­u­tive of Daviess Coun­ty, described it, some­one has to break the tie between com­pet­ing projects. Inman helped ensure that it was the projects favored by her hus­band that won these tie-break­er deci­sions, thus help­ing him polit­i­cal­ly. Help he des­per­ate­ly needs if he’s going to be reelect­ed in 2020. It’s all pret­ty swampy. Espe­cial­ly since no oth­er state got this priv­i­lege:

    ...
    “Todd prob­a­bly smoothed the way, I mean, you know, used his influ­ence,” Mat­ting­ly said in a POLITICO inter­view. “Every­body says that projects stand on their own mer­it, right? So if I’ve got 10 projects, and they’re all equal, where do you go to break the tie?”

    “Well, let’s put it this way: I only have her ear an hour when I go to vis­it her once a year,” he added of Chao and Inman, a long­time Blue­grass State oper­a­tive who had worked as McConnell’s advance man. “With a local guy, he has her ear 24 hours a day, sev­en days a week. You tell me.”

    The cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the Owens­boro grant and anoth­er, more lucra­tive grant to Boone Coun­ty, high­light the eth­i­cal con­flicts in hav­ing a pow­er­ful Cab­i­net sec­re­tary mar­ried to the Senate’s leader and in a posi­tion to help him polit­i­cal­ly. McConnell has long tout­ed his abil­i­ty to bring fed­er­al resources to his state, which his wife is now in a posi­tion to assist.

    Chao’s des­ig­na­tion of Inman as a spe­cial inter­me­di­ary for Ken­tucky — a priv­i­lege oth­er states did not enjoygave a spe­cial advan­tage to projects favored by her hus­band, which could in turn ben­e­fit his polit­i­cal inter­ests. In such sit­u­a­tions, ethi­cists say, each mem­ber of a cou­ple ben­e­fits per­son­al­ly from the suc­cess of the oth­er.

    “Where a Cab­i­net sec­re­tary is doing things that are going to help her hus­band get reelect­ed, that starts to rise to the lev­el of feel­ing more like cor­rup­tion to the aver­age Amer­i­can. … I do think there are peo­ple who will see that as sort of ‘swamp behav­ior,’” said John Hudak, a Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion schol­ar who has stud­ied polit­i­cal influ­ence in fed­er­al grant-mak­ing.
    ...

    And note how McConnell fea­tured the Owens­boro projects in his 2020 cam­paign launch. The city first tried to get these grants in 2016 and failed. They tried again in 2017 and still failed. But the third time was a charm and in Decem­ber 2018 the grant was accept­ed. Four months lat­er McConnell used this city as part of his ini­tial cam­paign launch activ­i­ties and is mak­ing his abil­i­ty to bring fed­er­al dol­lars to Ken­tucky a cen­tral mes­sage of his cam­paign. He’s lit­er­al­ly cam­paign­ing on being extra swampy:

    ...
    The city sub­mit­ted its first grant appli­ca­tion dur­ing the final months of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, under a freight and high­way improve­ment pro­gram called FASTLANE. But after a tech­ni­cal review by career DOT staff, the city’s appli­ca­tion was passed over in favor of oth­er projects.

    Accord­ing to Mat­ting­ly, local offi­cials were unde­terred and saw Chao’s appoint­ment as Trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary — and Owens­boro local Todd Inman’s new role as direc­tor of oper­a­tions in her office — as a valu­able con­nec­tion mov­ing for­ward.

    Back in Wash­ing­ton, Inman encour­aged that per­cep­tion. In a Feb­ru­ary 2017 email to McConnell’s chief of staff, he wrote, “The Sec­re­tary has indi­cat­ed if you have a Ky-spe­cif­ic issue that we should flag for her atten­tion to please con­tin­ue to go through your nor­mal chan­nels but feel free to con­tact me direct­ly as well so we can mon­i­tor or fol­low up as nec­es­sary.”

    Owens­boro sub­mit­ted a sec­ond grant appli­ca­tion in the first year of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion under the department’s INFRA grant pro­gram — the new administration’s suc­ces­sor to FASTLANE — which was like­wise unsuc­cess­ful. Weeks before that appli­ca­tion was due, McConnell’s office emailed mem­bers of Chao’s staff with the Owens­boro River­port Author­i­ty CEO’s con­tact infor­ma­tion, request­ing tech­ni­cal assis­tance for the riverport’s grant appli­ca­tion. Derek Kan, Chao’s under­sec­re­tary for pol­i­cy, for­ward­ed the request to his deputy, who con­firmed that they were fol­low­ing up.

    Final­ly, in 2018, the river­port resub­mit­ted a third time under the department’s BUILD pro­gram, a com­pet­i­tive infra­struc­ture grant pro­gram that began under the Oba­ma administration’s eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus law. This time, the appli­ca­tion was suc­cess­ful. City offi­cials held a Decem­ber news con­fer­ence in front of a Christ­mas tree in City Hall announc­ing the $11.5 mil­lion fed­er­al award.

    Four months lat­er, as McConnell pre­pared to launch his reelec­tion cam­paign, he called May­or Wat­son and asked him to pull togeth­er a group of polit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers at the river­port to tout his role in get­ting Owens­boro the grant award, Wat­son said. On April 22, with­in days of offi­cial­ly launch­ing his 2020 cam­paign, the Sen­ate major­i­ty leader stood inside a river­port build­ing and cel­e­brat­ed his achieve­ments.

    “I can’t tell you how excit­ing it is for me to see what the river­front has spawned,” McConnell told the assem­bled crowd. “Not only the project itself, but all around it.”

    ...

    “Cab­i­net mem­bers are known to be pref­er­en­tial to their own home state,” said Hudak, the Brook­ings schol­ar who has stud­ied polit­i­cal influ­ence in fed­er­al grant-mak­ing, adding that they tend to pri­or­i­tize the home states of con­gres­sion­al lead­ers as well, “so you can have a sort of dou­bling effect.”

    “There’s noth­ing ille­gal about her steer­ing those funds to her husband’s home state, and her home state, as long as things are above­board,” Hudak said. “The ques­tion though is, how do you deal with con­flicts of inter­ests? And this is a clear con­flict. ... Even if it’s not legal­ly so, these are polit­i­cal offices, so the optics of this are impor­tant. In a busi­ness set­ting, you would put fire­walls up to pre­vent those types of bad optics.”

    McConnell, how­ev­er, is mak­ing no effort to hide his influ­ence as he ramps up his reelec­tion effort. Though the Blue­grass State is heav­i­ly Repub­li­can, he, like sen­a­tors of both par­ties who take on nation­al lead­er­ship posi­tions, knows he is both a prime tar­get for out-of-state donors and vul­ner­a­ble to charges that he has lost touch with his con­stituents.

    New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Demo­c­ra­t­ic leader in the Sen­ate, has per­son­al­ly urged Marine vet­er­an and for­mer fight­er pilot Amy McGrath to run against McConnell, say­ing the GOP leader “is more vul­ner­a­ble now than ever before.”

    At the grass­roots lev­el, Ken­tucky radio host Matt Jones has indi­cat­ed he might be pre­pared to run as a pop­ulist Demo­c­rat against McConnell, a tar­get of fre­quent barbs on his huge­ly pop­u­lar sports show.

    “What has Mitch McConnell done to help Ken­tucky?” Jones asked in a POLITICO inter­view. “Mitch McConnell has been a mas­ter — a mas­ter at help­ing wealthy busi­ness inter­ests get wealth­i­er. If there is a rich guy Hall of Fame, he should be in it.”

    McConnell’s answer to these crit­i­cisms is clear: He’s used his influ­ence to deliv­er on Kentucky’s pri­or­i­ties.

    “All 100 sen­a­tors may have one vote,” McConnell told the Lex­ing­ton Her­ald-Leader last year, “but they’re not all equal. Ken­tucky ben­e­fits from hav­ing one of its own set­ting the agen­da for the coun­try.”
    ...

    Ok, so that was all pret­ty swampy, but not as swampy as the next sto­ry. Because it’s hard to imag­ine some­thing more quin­tes­sen­tial­ly swampy as the Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary own­ing stock in a major sup­pli­er of road con­struc­tion and oth­er build­ing projects. Which is exact­ly what hap­pened, despite Chao’s pledges to elim­i­nate this bla­tant con­flict of inter­est:

    The New York Times

    Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Failed to Sev­er Finan­cial Ties to Con­struc­tion Com­pa­ny

    By Eric Lip­ton
    May 28, 2019

    WASHINGTON — Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Elaine Chao failed last year to cash out her stock options in one of the nation’s largest sup­pli­ers of high­way con­struc­tion mate­ri­als, despite a promise she had made to do so in a signed ethics agree­ment when she joined the Trump admin­is­tra­tion.

    Ms. Chao had served for about two years on the board of direc­tors of the com­pa­ny, Vul­can Mate­ri­als, an Alaba­ma-based sup­pli­er of rock aggre­gate, which is used in road con­struc­tion and many oth­er build­ing projects. The board posi­tion paid Ms. Chao $110,000 plus $151,000 in stock options in 2016, accord­ing to a fil­ing by the com­pa­ny.

    As part of her ethics agree­ment, Ms Chao said that by April 2018 she would take “a cash pay­out for all of my vest­ed deferred stock units” from Vul­can, effec­tive­ly end­ing her finan­cial rela­tion­ship with the com­pa­ny.

    But a finan­cial dis­clo­sure report released this month by her hus­band, Mitch McConnell, the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can who is the Sen­ate major­i­ty leader, showed that Ms. Chao had some­where between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of Vul­can stock. She owned this stock because in April 2018 Vul­can paid her for her stock options in the company’s stock instead of cash, the com­pa­ny said in a state­ment. Details of her con­tin­ued own­er­ship of Vul­can stock were report­ed on Tues­day by The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    A Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment offi­cial said in a state­ment that the only change was that Ms. Chao was paid in stock rather than cash and that there was no ethics vio­la­tion because Ms. Chao con­tin­ued to recuse her­self from any agency deci­sions direct­ly relat­ed to the com­pa­ny.

    Vul­can is fre­quent­ly men­tioned as one of the stocks that would ben­e­fit from any big increase in fed­er­al infra­struc­ture spend­ing, and the company’s stock price has risen about 20 per­cent since Feb­ru­ary after Pres­i­dent Trump, in his State of the Union address, pledged to push for a “great rebuild­ing of America’s crum­bling infra­struc­ture.” Mr. Trump’s nego­ti­a­tions with Democ­rats on an infra­struc­ture pack­age broke down last week, in part because of objec­tions from Repub­li­cans about the poten­tial costs.

    Vul­can gen­er­al­ly con­tracts direct­ly with high­way builders in indi­vid­ual states, not the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, which often helps finance road con­struc­tion projects.

    “It is unfor­tu­nate that mem­bers of the news media have attempt­ed to sub­sti­tute their opin­ions for the deci­sions of senior career ethics offi­cials of the depart­ment, who have deter­mined there is no con­flict of inter­est as the sec­re­tary remains dis­qual­i­fied from mat­ters direct­ly involv­ing the com­pa­ny men­tioned,” the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment said in a state­ment. “In her ethics agree­ment, the sec­re­tary agreed to resign from her board posi­tion and not par­tic­i­pate in mat­ters with a direct and pre­dictable impact on Vul­can Mate­ri­als, which she has fol­lowed.”

    Robert Weiss­man, the pres­i­dent of Pub­lic Cit­i­zen, a non­prof­it ethics group, said pol­i­cy deci­sions Ms. Chao makes — even if they do not direct­ly affect any con­tracts the com­pa­ny might hold with the agency — could still ben­e­fit the com­pa­ny in a sig­nif­i­cant way, espe­cial­ly any infra­struc­ture pro­gram that increased road and high­way con­struc­tion. Vul­can makes crushed stone, sand and grav­el as well as con­struc­tion mate­ri­als, includ­ing asphalt and ready-mixed con­crete.

    “The Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has a lot to do with the build­ing of roads in Amer­i­ca, and the sec­re­tary ought not to be on both sides of the deal,” Mr. Weiss­man said. “Why didn’t she just cash out?”

    Ms. Chao is not the first Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial to face ques­tions about assets still being held after join­ing the gov­ern­ment. Com­merce Sec­re­tary Wilbur Ross and Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin have both faced their own ques­tions about still-owned stakes in com­pa­nies that might have some finan­cial ties to the agen­cies they over­see.

    ...

    ———

    “Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Failed to Sev­er Finan­cial Ties to Con­struc­tion Com­pa­ny” by Eric Lip­ton; The New York Times; 05/28/2019

    ““The Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion has a lot to do with the build­ing of roads in Amer­i­ca, and the sec­re­tary ought not to be on both sides of the deal,” Mr. Weiss­man said. “Why didn’t she just cash out?”

    Why didn’t she just cash out? It’s a pret­ty big ques­tion. Because it’s not like Chao and McConnell aren’t already wealthy. Did they real­ly need to keep the stock in Vul­can Mate­ri­als to ben­e­fit from a price rise? It’s almost like it’s cor­rup­tion on prin­ci­ple:

    ...
    Ms. Chao had served for about two years on the board of direc­tors of the com­pa­ny, Vul­can Mate­ri­als, an Alaba­ma-based sup­pli­er of rock aggre­gate, which is used in road con­struc­tion and many oth­er build­ing projects. The board posi­tion paid Ms. Chao $110,000 plus $151,000 in stock options in 2016, accord­ing to a fil­ing by the com­pa­ny.

    As part of her ethics agree­ment, Ms Chao said that by April 2018 she would take “a cash pay­out for all of my vest­ed deferred stock units” from Vul­can, effec­tive­ly end­ing her finan­cial rela­tion­ship with the com­pa­ny.

    But a finan­cial dis­clo­sure report released this month by her hus­band, Mitch McConnell, the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can who is the Sen­ate major­i­ty leader, showed that Ms. Chao had some­where between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of Vul­can stock. She owned this stock because in April 2018 Vul­can paid her for her stock options in the company’s stock instead of cash, the com­pa­ny said in a state­ment. Details of her con­tin­ued own­er­ship of Vul­can stock were report­ed on Tues­day by The Wall Street Jour­nal.

    ...

    And note how the Trans­po­ra­tion Depart­ment is try­ing to spin this by empha­siz­ing that Chao had recused her­self of all agency deci­sions direct­ly relat­ed to com­pa­ny. This, of course, ignores the real­i­ty that a com­pa­ny in Vul­can’s posi­tion does­n’t need direct help (unlike Chao’s hus­band). As long as there’s a boost in fed­er­al spend­ing on roads and oth­er build­ing projects it’s more or less guar­an­teed that Vul­can is going to ben­e­fit from that which is why the stock jumped 20 per­cent in Feb­ru­ary after Trump retout­ed his plans for a big fed­er­al infra­struc­ture project. Plus, it’s not like the con­trac­tors com­pet­ing for these projects don’t know that Chao is an investor in Vul­can so when they decide on which com­pa­ny to choose for sup­ply­ing the mate­ri­als new roads and con­crete they’re going to know that going with Vul­can will be smiled upon at the Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion:

    ...
    A Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment offi­cial said in a state­ment that the only change was that Ms. Chao was paid in stock rather than cash and that there was no ethics vio­la­tion because Ms. Chao con­tin­ued to recuse her­self from any agency deci­sions direct­ly relat­ed to the com­pa­ny.

    Vul­can is fre­quent­ly men­tioned as one of the stocks that would ben­e­fit from any big increase in fed­er­al infra­struc­ture spend­ing, and the company’s stock price has risen about 20 per­cent since Feb­ru­ary after Pres­i­dent Trump, in his State of the Union address, pledged to push for a “great rebuild­ing of America’s crum­bling infra­struc­ture.” Mr. Trump’s nego­ti­a­tions with Democ­rats on an infra­struc­ture pack­age broke down last week, in part because of objec­tions from Repub­li­cans about the poten­tial costs.

    Vul­can gen­er­al­ly con­tracts direct­ly with high­way builders in indi­vid­ual states, not the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment, which often helps finance road con­struc­tion projects.

    “It is unfor­tu­nate that mem­bers of the news media have attempt­ed to sub­sti­tute their opin­ions for the deci­sions of senior career ethics offi­cials of the depart­ment, who have deter­mined there is no con­flict of inter­est as the sec­re­tary remains dis­qual­i­fied from mat­ters direct­ly involv­ing the com­pa­ny men­tioned,” the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment said in a state­ment. “In her ethics agree­ment, the sec­re­tary agreed to resign from her board posi­tion and not par­tic­i­pate in mat­ters with a direct and pre­dictable impact on Vul­can Mate­ri­als, which she has fol­lowed.”

    Robert Weiss­man, the pres­i­dent of Pub­lic Cit­i­zen, a non­prof­it ethics group, said pol­i­cy deci­sions Ms. Chao makes — even if they do not direct­ly affect any con­tracts the com­pa­ny might hold with the agency — could still ben­e­fit the com­pa­ny in a sig­nif­i­cant way, espe­cial­ly any infra­struc­ture pro­gram that increased road and high­way con­struc­tion. Vul­can makes crushed stone, sand and grav­el as well as con­struc­tion mate­ri­als, includ­ing asphalt and ready-mixed con­crete.
    ...

    Again, why on earth would Chao hold onto this stock giv­en what a hor­ri­ble look it is? She could­n’t pos­si­bly have need­ed the mon­ey that bad. Well, let’s not for­get that Trump famous­ly declared that the Emol­u­ments Clause doen’t apply to him because “Pres­i­dents can’t have a con­flict of inter­est,” result­ing in the sit­u­a­tion where for­eign gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions now inten­tion­al­ly make expen­sive stays at Trump hotels in order to cur­ry favor with the admin­is­tra­tion. So who knows, maybe Chao was just fol­low­ing Trump’s lead.

    As we can see, the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion was giv­ing spe­cial assis­tance to her pow­er­ful, yet loathed, hus­band so his pet projects in his home state would receive fed­er­al grants and he could cam­paign on his mas­tery of ‘the swamp’ at the same time she vio­lat­ed her con­flict of inter­est pledge and kept stock in of the com­pa­nies best posi­tioned to ben­e­fit from a major fed­er­al infra­struc­ture spend­ing. It seems like the kind of sit­u­a­tion that should ani­mate vot­ers who fool­ish­ly took Trump seri­ous­ly when he pledged to ‘drain the swamp.’

    On the plus side, there does­n’t appear to actu­al­ly a real infra­struc­ture plan thanks to GOP oppo­si­tion in Con­gress to any mean­ing­ful invest­ments in pub­lic projects. So thanks to the GOP’s pol­i­cy malfea­sance it looks like Chao’s abil­i­ty to ben­e­fit from this stock will be some­what lim­it­ed.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 12, 2019, 2:51 pm

Post a comment