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For The Record  

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

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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

20 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
  13. Oh look at that: Deutsche Bank mag­i­cal­ly lost all of Trump’s tax returns. What exact­ly hap­pened to those tax returns is unclear, but accord­ing to fil­ings with a fed­er­al court last week, Deutsche Bank does­n’t have Trump’s tax returns. This despite cur­rent and for­mer Deutsche Bank exec­u­tive hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly told the New York Times that the bank had por­tions of both Trump’s per­son­al and cor­po­rate tax returns.

    Deutsche Bank’s new claims about lack­ing Trump’s tax returns emerged after media out­lets asked the US Court of Appeals for the Sec­ond Cir­cuit of New York last month to unseal a let­ter from Deutsch Bank that iden­ti­fied two mem­bers of the Trump fam­i­ly whose tax returns were in Deutsch Bank’s pos­ses­sion. The court denied that request last week after assert­ing that Deutsche Bank already told the court that “the only tax returns it has for indi­vid­u­als and enti­ties named in the sub­poe­nas are not those of the pres­i­dent.”

    The let­ter the media out­lets were try­ing to get unsealed was relat­ed to one of many law­suits cur­rent­ly under­way that involve attempts to get access to Trump’s tax returns. Fol­low­ing the Demo­c­ra­t­ic takeover of the House, a num­ber of con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees issue law­suits request­ing Trump’s tax infor­ma­tion. In this case it’s the House Intel­li­gence and Finance com­mit­tees that sub­poe­naed both Deutsche Bank and Cap­i­tal One for Trump’s tax doc­u­ments. Trump sued both banks to pre­vent them from turn­ing com­ply­ing with the sub­poe­nas and that’s what’s get­ting ham­mered out in court.

    It media requests for the Deutsche Bank let­ter hap­pened after the appeals court judges request­ed a writ­ten answer to the ques­tion of whether Deutsche Bank had copies of Trump’s tax returns. Deutsche Bank released a part­ly redact­ed let­ter say­ing it did have at least draft ver­sions of some of the tax returns cov­ered by the con­gres­sion­al sub­poe­na. That let­ter, com­bined with the pre­vi­ous reports from cur­rent and for­mer Deutsche Bank exec­u­tives made it sound like a sure bet that the bank would have those returns. But it appears that *poof* the doc­u­ments are all gone:

    The New York Times

    Deutsche Bank Does Not Have Trump’s Tax Returns, Court Says

    By David Enrich
    Oct. 10, 2019

    If inves­ti­ga­tors are going to get their hands on Pres­i­dent Trump’s tax returns, they will have to find them some­where oth­er than Deutsche Bank.

    The Ger­man bank — which for near­ly two decades was the only main­stream finan­cial insti­tu­tion con­sis­tent­ly will­ing to lend mon­ey to Mr. Trump — has told a fed­er­al appeals court that it does not have the president’s per­son­al tax returns, the court said on Thurs­day.

    Demo­c­ra­t­ic-con­trolled con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees issued sub­poe­nas to Deutsche Bank this year for finan­cial records relat­ed to the pres­i­dent, his com­pa­nies and his fam­i­ly. Mr. Trump sued the bank, which became his main lender after a string of bank­rupt­cies cost oth­er banks hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars, to block it from com­ply­ing.

    That lit­i­ga­tion is work­ing its way through the fed­er­al courts. Last month, The New York Times and oth­er media out­lets asked the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Sec­ond Cir­cuit in New York to unseal a let­ter from Deutsche Bank that iden­ti­fied two mem­bers of the Trump fam­i­ly whose tax returns the bank pos­sess­es.

    On Thurs­day, the court reject­ed the request. Part of the rea­son, it said, was that Deutsche Bank had informed the court that “the only tax returns it has for indi­vid­u­als and enti­ties named in the sub­poe­nas are not those of the pres­i­dent.”

    Cur­rent and for­mer bank offi­cials pre­vi­ous­ly told The Times that Deutsche Bank had por­tions of Mr. Trump’s per­son­al and cor­po­rate tax returns. The bank col­lect­ed at least some of those tax records in 2011, when Deutsche Bank’s pri­vate-bank­ing arm — which caters to the ultra-wealthy — took on Mr. Trump as a client. The returns and oth­er finan­cial doc­u­ments were reviewed by a num­ber of bank exec­u­tives, accord­ing to the cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials.

    Deutsche Bank relied on the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed in the tax returns and oth­er finan­cial doc­u­ments to approve a series of loans to Mr. Trump in ear­ly 2012 in con­nec­tion with his Doral golf resort in Flori­da and his Chica­go sky­scraper.

    Over the ensu­ing years, Deutsche Bank’s pri­vate-bank­ing arm con­tin­ued lend­ing to Mr. Trump, includ­ing $170 mil­lion in 2014 to con­vert the Old Post Office build­ing, a few blocks from the White House, into a hotel. By the time Mr. Trump was sworn in as pres­i­dent, he owed the bank more than $300 mil­lion, mak­ing it his largest cred­i­tor.

    It is unclear when Deutsche Bank stopped retain­ing Mr. Trump’s tax returns. A for­mer senior bank exec­u­tive, who said he had seen the returns, said the nor­mal prac­tice was for Deutsche Bank to keep such mate­ri­als on file.

    Troy Gravitt, a Deutsche Bank spokesman, said the bank was “com­mit­ted to coop­er­at­ing with autho­rized inves­ti­ga­tions.”

    Break­ing with decades of pres­i­den­tial prece­dent, Mr. Trump has refused to pub­licly dis­close his fed­er­al tax returns, and Democ­rats are keen to obtain the doc­u­ments, believ­ing they are cru­cial to unlock­ing his close­ly guard­ed finan­cial secrets. Mr. Trump is fight­ing those efforts.

    Mr. Trump’s lawyers sued Deutsche Bank and anoth­er lender, Cap­i­tal One, to block them from com­ply­ing with sub­poe­nas that were issued in April by the House Intel­li­gence and Finan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tees.

    The Finan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has said it wants to know whether Mr. Trump helped Rus­sians and oth­er for­eign real estate buy­ers laun­der mon­ey through his prop­er­ties, and the Intel­li­gence Com­mit­tee is try­ing to deter­mine whether Mr. Trump’s finan­cial deal­ings made him sub­ject to for­eign influ­ence. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have argued the sub­poe­nas have no legit­i­mate leg­isla­tive pur­pose.

    Dur­ing one hear­ing, judges from the appeals court asked the banks’ lawyers whether they had copies of Mr. Trump’s returns, and request­ed a writ­ten answer. Deutsche Bank released a part­ly redact­ed let­ter say­ing it did have at least draft ver­sions of some returns cov­ered by the sub­poe­nas, prompt­ing the news media requests for the infor­ma­tion to be unsealed.

    ...

    Anoth­er con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee and the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney have sub­poe­naed Mr. Trump’s account­ing firm, Mazars USA, for his tax returns. Mr. Trump has sued to block those sub­poe­nas as well; on Mon­day, a fed­er­al judge sided with the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attorney’s office, but Mr. Trump’s lawyers quick­ly appealed.

    The House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee asked the I.R.S. this year to hand over six years of Mr. Trump’s returns. The Trea­sury Depart­ment has refused that request.

    ———-

    “Deutsche Bank Does Not Have Trump’s Tax Returns, Court Says” by David Enrich; The New York Times; 10/10/2019

    “Cur­rent and for­mer bank offi­cials pre­vi­ous­ly told The Times that Deutsche Bank had por­tions of Mr. Trump’s per­son­al and cor­po­rate tax returns. The bank col­lect­ed at least some of those tax records in 2011, when Deutsche Bank’s pri­vate-bank­ing arm — which caters to the ultra-wealthy — took on Mr. Trump as a client. The returns and oth­er finan­cial doc­u­ments were reviewed by a num­ber of bank exec­u­tives, accord­ing to the cur­rent and for­mer offi­cials.

    All indi­ca­tions, up until now, were that Deutsche Bank did indeed pos­sess those tax returns. After all, the bank relied on that infor­ma­tion to issue its loans to Trump. And accord­ing to for­mer senior exec­u­tives, the nor­mal pro­to­col is to keep those doc­u­ments. So some sort of abnor­mal pro­to­col is now in effect for Deutsche Bank’s Trump doc­u­ments:

    ...
    Deutsche Bank relied on the infor­ma­tion pro­vid­ed in the tax returns and oth­er finan­cial doc­u­ments to approve a series of loans to Mr. Trump in ear­ly 2012 in con­nec­tion with his Doral golf resort in Flori­da and his Chica­go sky­scraper.

    Over the ensu­ing years, Deutsche Bank’s pri­vate-bank­ing arm con­tin­ued lend­ing to Mr. Trump, includ­ing $170 mil­lion in 2014 to con­vert the Old Post Office build­ing, a few blocks from the White House, into a hotel. By the time Mr. Trump was sworn in as pres­i­dent, he owed the bank more than $300 mil­lion, mak­ing it his largest cred­i­tor.

    It is unclear when Deutsche Bank stopped retain­ing Mr. Trump’s tax returns. A for­mer senior bank exec­u­tive, who said he had seen the returns, said the nor­mal prac­tice was for Deutsche Bank to keep such mate­ri­als on file.
    ...

    And note that this par­tic­u­lar legal fight just involves sub­poe­nas from the House Intel­li­gence and Finance com­mit­tees. There’s also the sub­poe­nas by the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee for Trump’s tax returns from the IRS, which the Trea­sury Depart­ment is refus­ing to hand over. And then there’s the sub­poe­nas by the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney and the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee to Trump’s account­ing firm, Mazars USA, for his tax returns. So if Trump man­ages to keep his tax returns out of the hands of inves­ti­ga­tors he’s going to have to win a lot of court cas­es going for­ward:

    ...
    Anoth­er con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee and the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney have sub­poe­naed Mr. Trump’s account­ing firm, Mazars USA, for his tax returns. Mr. Trump has sued to block those sub­poe­nas as well; on Mon­day, a fed­er­al judge sided with the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attorney’s office, but Mr. Trump’s lawyers quick­ly appealed.

    The House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee asked the I.R.S. this year to hand over six years of Mr. Trump’s returns. The Trea­sury Depart­ment has refused that request.
    ...

    And all those ongo­ing oth­er law­suits are part of what makes it unlike­ly we’ve heard the last of Deutsche Bank’s sud­den claims of no Trump tax returns. The House Intel­li­gence and Finance com­mit­tees pre­sum­ably aren’t the only enti­ties try­ing to get those doc­u­ments from Deutsche Bank. Plus, it all looks so shady that there’s undoubt­ed­ly even more intense spec­u­la­tion about what’s revealed in those doc­u­ments because at this point even Deutsche bank exec­u­tives agree the only plau­si­ble expla­na­tion is that Deutsche Bank destroyed its copies of the tax returns

    Newsweek

    DEUTSCHE BANK MIGHT HAVE DESTROYED PHYSICAL COPIES OF TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS, CLEANSED SERVERS, CLAIMS FORMER EXECUTIVE: REPORT

    BY SHANE CROUCHER ON 10/11/19 AT 5:00 AM EDT

    A for­mer Deutsche Bank exec­u­tive who reviewed Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s tax returns report­ed­ly said it is “not nor­mal” that the insti­tu­tion no longer holds copies of those records.

    Trump for many years relied on Deutsche Bank for loans to sus­tain his real estate busi­ness when many oth­er insti­tu­tions would not lend to him because of his rocky finan­cial his­to­ry.

    The pres­i­dent is accused by some, includ­ing his for­mer attor­ney Michael Cohen, of manip­u­lat­ing the val­ue of his assets to either secure finance or reduce his tax bill.

    He has bro­ken with recent prece­dent for pres­i­dents and refused to release pub­licly all of his recent tax returns, despite pres­sure to do so.

    Con­gress is inves­ti­gat­ing Trump’s finances and attempt­ing to get hold of his tax returns from Deutsche. But the bank told the 2nd US Cir­cuit Court of Appeals that it did not hold them.

    David Enrich, finance edi­tor at The New York Times, post­ed to Twit­ter a screen­shot of his con­ver­sa­tion with the unnamed exec­u­tive in which they expressed sur­prise that Deutsche told a fed­er­al appeals court it did not have the pres­i­den­t’s tax returns any­more.

    “Holy f**k,” the exec­u­tive wrote, per the screen­shot. “The cir­cum­stance could be that they returned any phys­i­cal copies or destroyed any phys­i­cal copies under an agree­ment with a client and cleansed their servers. Not nor­mal though.”

    ...

    At a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing in Feb­ru­ary, Trump’s for­mer fix­er Cohen—who went to prison for tax fraud, cam­paign finance vio­la­tions, and lying to Con­gress in past testimony—said the pres­i­dent reduced his real estate bills by arti­fi­cial­ly devalu­ing his assets, com­mit­ting tax fraud.

    More­over, Cohen said Trump inflat­ed his assets to insur­ance com­pa­nies. He said the evi­dence could be found on Trump’s tax returns.

    On Mon­day, a fed­er­al judge ruled that Trump’s accoun­tant Mazars USA should hand his tax returns and oth­er finan­cial records over to inves­ti­ga­tors at the Man­hat­tan Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office.

    They are prob­ing the hush pay­ments to porn stars alleg­ing affairs with the pres­i­dent. Trump’s lawyers attempt­ed to block the Man­hat­tan DA’s sub­poe­na of Mazars for eight years of the pres­i­den­t’s finan­cial records.

    Judge Vic­tor Mar­rero wrote in his 75-page rul­ing that the case pre­sent­ed by Trump’s attor­neys was “repug­nant to the nation’s gov­ern­men­tal struc­ture and con­sti­tu­tion­al val­ues” for sug­gest­ing that the pres­i­dent, his fam­i­ly, busi­ness­es, and asso­ciates are “above the law.”

    ———-

    “DEUTSCHE BANK MIGHT HAVE DESTROYED PHYSICAL COPIES OF TRUMP’S TAX RETURNS, CLEANSED SERVERS, CLAIMS FORMER EXECUTIVE: REPORT” bY SHANE CROUCHER;

    ; 10/11/2019

    ““Holy f**k,” the exec­u­tive wrote, per the screen­shot. “The cir­cum­stance could be that they returned any phys­i­cal copies or destroyed any phys­i­cal copies under an agree­ment with a client and cleansed their servers. Not nor­mal though.”

    Not nor­mal. That’s the response from an unnamed Deutsche bank exec­u­tive. We can add that to the list of “not nor­mal” response to ques­tions about Trump’s tax returns.

    So that’s one of lat­est twists regard­ing the ongo­ing quests by mul­ti­ple inves­tiga­tive teams to get Trump’s tax returns. But it’s not the lat­est twist and far from the only twist last week. Last Mon­day, a fed­er­al appeals court ruled that Mazars USA had to turn the tax doc­u­ments over to the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney’s office, although that rul­ing was giv­en an emer­gency appeal. Then, last Fri­day, there was a rul­ing in the law­suit by the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee to get Trump’s tax returns from Mazars USA. Trump’s lawyers were argu­ing that the sub­poe­nas were invalid because they were inves­ti­gat­ing poten­tial crim­i­nal con­duct of the pres­i­dent and that can only be done under the aus­pices of a for­mal impeach­ment inves­ti­ga­tion. But the judges ruled that the sub­poe­na by the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee was­n’t focused on deter­min­ing pres­i­den­tial wrong­do­ing but instead was for the pur­pose of assess­ing the fit­ness of leg­is­la­tion intend­ed to address poten­tial prob­lems with­in the Exec­u­tive Branch and the elec­toral sys­tem.

    So both of the sub­poe­nas involv­ing Mazars USA were ruled in favor of the inves­ti­ga­tors last week. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, this lat­est rul­ing leaves the Trump admin­is­tra­tion with an inter­est­ing dilem­ma: request a rul­ing by the full fed­er­al appeals court, or try to take it to the Supreme Court for an emer­gency rul­ing:

    Bloomberg

    Trump Records Must Be Giv­en to the House, Appeals Court Says

    By Andrew M Har­ris and Bob Van Voris
    Octo­ber 11, 2019, 9:07 AM CDT
    Updat­ed on Octo­ber 11, 2019, 5:30 PM CDT

    * Rul­ing comes days after blow to Trump in sep­a­rate N.Y. case
    * Appeals court rejects claim sub­poe­nas lacked leg­isla­tive point

    Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, under siege from House Democ­rats weigh­ing impeach­ment, suf­fered a sting­ing blow as a fed­er­al appeals court upheld a sub­poe­na order­ing his accoun­tants to pro­vide Con­gress with his finan­cial records.

    The rul­ing, by a divid­ed three-judge pan­el of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Wash­ing­ton, means Trump will lose con­trol of his long-secret finan­cial records at Mazars USA LLP unless the full court recon­sid­ers the deci­sion or the U.S. Supreme Court blocks it.

    In their 2–1 deci­sion, the judges reject­ed argu­ments made by lawyers for the pres­i­dent that the House Over­sight and Reform Com­mit­tee had no legit­i­mate leg­isla­tive rea­son to seek the infor­ma­tion.

    “Dis­putes between Con­gress and the pres­i­dent are a recur­ring plot in our nation­al sto­ry,” U.S. Cir­cuit Judge David Tatel wrote in the majority’s 66-page opin­ion. “And that is pre­cise­ly what the Framers intend­ed.” He quot­ed the late Supreme Court Jus­tice Louis Bran­deis, who said that the pur­pose of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers was “to save the peo­ple from autoc­ra­cy.”

    The rul­ing, which doesn’t take effect for at least sev­en days, comes short­ly after a fed­er­al judge in New York reject­ed Trump’s chal­lenge to a sep­a­rate, state sub­poe­na requir­ing Mazars to turn over Trump’s tax fil­ings and oth­er finan­cial records to New York pros­e­cu­tors — though the pres­i­dent won a last-minute delay pend­ing an emer­gency appeal.

    Read the judges’ opin­ions here

    Friday’s major­i­ty opin­ion called the House sub­poe­na “a valid exer­cise of the leg­isla­tive over­sight author­i­ty because it seeks infor­ma­tion impor­tant to deter­min­ing the fit­ness of leg­is­la­tion to address poten­tial prob­lems with­in the Exec­u­tive Branch and the elec­toral sys­tem.” The court said the doc­u­ment demand “does not seek to deter­mine the President’s fit­ness for office.”

    Trump, the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion and the president’s three old­est chil­dren have stead­fast­ly refused to sur­ren­der their records to Con­gress. Armed with the papers, Demo­c­ra­t­ic law­mak­ers say, they could bet­ter explore any con­flicts of inter­est in the exec­u­tive branch and whether the pres­i­dent has vio­lat­ed the Constitution’s emol­u­ments claus­es.

    “There’s a lot of spec­u­la­tion, but it seems that the account­ing firm has tax returns and oth­er doc­u­ments that will show Pres­i­dent Trump and his fam­i­ly and asso­ciates involved in all sorts of deals,” Wash­ing­ton lawyer David Dors­en, who served as assis­tant chief coun­sel to the U.S. Senate’s Water­gate Com­mit­tee in the 1970s, said in an inter­view. Law­mak­ers will want to know whether doc­u­ments show “pay­offs to peo­ple in Rus­sia, Ukraine and else­where,” he said.

    “That would be an enor­mous, enor­mous fac­tor in what’s going on now,” Dors­en said.

    Trump’s lawyers could ask the full appeals court to con­sid­er the rul­ing, which might drag out the process, or go straight to the Supreme Court for an emer­gency review of the deci­sion.

    “We are eval­u­at­ing the opin­ion and review­ing all options, includ­ing appeals,” said Jay Seku­low, a lawyer for Trump.

    U.S. Cir­cuit Court Judge Neo­mi Rao, who was named to the bench by Trump, dis­sent­ed from the opin­ion by Tatel and Patri­cia Mil­lett, both appointees of Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dents. She said Con­gress can inves­ti­gate alle­ga­tions of ille­gal con­duct against the pres­i­dent only as part of an impeach­ment process and not through its leg­isla­tive pow­er.

    “Allow­ing the Com­mit­tee to issue this sub­poe­na for leg­isla­tive pur­pos­es would turn Con­gress into a rov­ing inqui­si­tion over a co-equal branch of gov­ern­ment,” she wrote.

    The court’s deci­sion is “a trav­es­ty,” said John East­man, a pro­fes­sor at Chap­man University’s Fowler School of Law. He said he sees a com­mit­tee chair­man act­ing on a par­ti­san mis­sion and not a for­mal impeach­ment process, and said the rul­ing would have “long-term reper­cus­sions on our con­sti­tu­tion­al sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers and basic notions of due process.”

    East­man said an impeach­ment pro­ce­dure requires a vote of the whole House and pre­dict­ed that the Supreme Court would “put the brakes on this, absent a for­mal ini­ti­a­tion of an impeach­ment pro­ceed­ing.”

    “Con­gress has broad sub­poe­na author­i­ty when act­ing pur­suant to its leg­isla­tive pow­ers,” he said, “but this is Con­gress act­ing as pros­e­cu­tor in an impeach­ment pro­ceed­ing that has not been for­mal­ly launched.”

    Congress’s demand for the busi­ness records came before it began its impeach­ment inquiry. That lat­er probe was trig­gered by a whistle-blower’s claim that Trump had asked Ukraine’s pres­i­dent to inves­ti­gate Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Biden and, in a quid pro quo, held back mil­i­tary aid Con­gress had appro­pri­at­ed to resist Russ­ian influ­ence in the region.

    But the dis­clo­sures made pos­si­ble by Friday’s rul­ing pose fur­ther risks for the pres­i­dent if they raise new ques­tions about him, his finances or his com­pa­nies.

    The court said the evi­dence sought by the sub­poe­na was suf­fi­cient­ly tied to the sub­ject of the House committee’s inves­ti­ga­tion, and reject­ed Trump’s argu­ment that the real pur­pose of the sub­poe­na was to deter­mine whether he has vio­lat­ed the law — a law enforce­ment func­tion that belongs to the exec­u­tive branch, not to Con­gress.

    The major­i­ty also not­ed that Con­gress wasn’t seek­ing pres­i­den­tial records and ques­tioned whether Trump, who sued in his indi­vid­ual capac­i­ty to block the sub­poe­na, “car­ries the man­tle of the Office of the Pres­i­dent” in the case.

    “Indeed, for six of the eight years cov­ered by the sub­poe­na, Pres­i­dent Trump was mere­ly Mr. Trump or Can­di­date Trump,” the two judges wrote.

    They reject­ed argu­ments that the House vio­lat­ed its own rules by allow­ing the com­mit­tee to issue the sub­poe­na with­out the author­i­ty of the full body.

    “Con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees have broad pow­er to inves­ti­gate and sub­poe­na,” said Dors­en, the Wash­ing­ton lawyer. “Courts don’t like to sec­ond-guess that when there’s no clear vio­la­tion of indi­vid­ual rights.”

    In her dis­sent, Rao wrote that “the most impor­tant ques­tion is not whether Con­gress has put forth some legit­i­mate leg­isla­tive pur­pose, but rather whether Con­gress is inves­ti­gat­ing sus­pi­cions of crim­i­nal­i­ty or alle­ga­tions that the Pres­i­dent vio­lat­ed a law.” She said the House “may not use the leg­isla­tive pow­er to cir­cum­vent the pro­tec­tions and account­abil­i­ty that accom­pa­ny the impeach­ment pow­er.”

    The major­i­ty warned that the log­ic of Rao’s dis­sent “would reorder the very struc­ture of the Con­sti­tu­tion” and “impose upon the courts the job of order­ing the ces­sa­tion of the leg­isla­tive func­tion and putting Con­gress to the Hobson’s Choice of impeach­ment or noth­ing.”

    Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Eli­jah Cum­mings, chair­man of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee, said in a state­ment the rul­ing was “a fun­da­men­tal and resound­ing vic­to­ry for Con­gres­sion­al over­sight, our Con­sti­tu­tion­al sys­tem of checks and bal­ances, and the rule of law.”

    Break­ing with four decades of pres­i­den­tial tra­di­tion, Trump has declined to make his detailed finan­cial records pub­lic. Act­ing in his per­son­al capac­i­ty, he sued in April to stop Mazars from hand­ing over his records after they had been sub­poe­naed by the House com­mit­tee. He lost in fed­er­al dis­trict court in May and appealed.

    The Mazars case is one of sev­er­al test­ing Congress’s pow­er to obtain a sit­ting president’s finan­cial records in the name of over­sight. Among them, a fed­er­al appeals court in New York is weigh­ing a sim­i­lar request for records from Trump’s bankers at Cap­i­tal One Finan­cial Corp. and Deutsche Bank AG. The pres­i­dent is also embroiled in law­suits with the House Ways and Means Com­mit­tee, which is try­ing to get six years of Trump tax records from the U.S. Inter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice.

    Friday’s rul­ing in favor of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee could mark the start of a nation­al reck­on­ing if the pres­i­dent were to defy the sub­poe­na after los­ing all his appeals, said William How­ell, a pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go.

    The rul­ing brings a mea­sure of clar­i­ty, How­ell said, but “in a strange way it also puts us one step clos­er to a full-blown con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Trump Records Must Be Giv­en to the House, Appeals Court Says” by Andrew M Har­ris and Bob Van Voris; Bloomberg; 10/11/2019

    Friday’s major­i­ty opin­ion called the House sub­poe­na “a valid exer­cise of the leg­isla­tive over­sight author­i­ty because it seeks infor­ma­tion impor­tant to deter­min­ing the fit­ness of leg­is­la­tion to address poten­tial prob­lems with­in the Exec­u­tive Branch and the elec­toral sys­tem.” The court said the doc­u­ment demand “does not seek to deter­mine the President’s fit­ness for office.””

    Trump’s defense basi­cal­ly came down to, “this sub­poe­na is an attempt to impeach Trump with­out open­ing a for­mal impeach­ment inquiry.” That appears to be the legal ques­tion the Trump team is try­ing to get the case to hinge on. And while a major­i­ty of the judges dis­agreed with that argu­ment, the Trump team is going to have the option of tak­ing its case to the full appeals court or going straight to the Supreme Court. Note that the legal expert, John East­man, who expressed his dis­may at the rul­ing and pre­dict­ed the Supreme Court will halt the sub­poe­nas hap­pens to be a mem­ber of the arch-con­ser­v­a­tive Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety. Now, that does­n’t mean East­man’s pre­dic­tions aren’t valid. Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety mem­bers prob­a­bly have a pret­ty good idea of how the Supreme Court will rule on mat­ters giv­en the pro­found role the Fed­er­al­ist Soci­ety plays in choose Repub­li­can Supreme Court nom­i­nees. But it’s impor­tant to keep in mind that he’s far from an unbi­ased observ­er on these mat­ters and clos­er to a polit­i­cal hack, albeit a hack with like­ly valid insights into how the Supreme Court might rule:

    ...
    The rul­ing, by a divid­ed three-judge pan­el of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Wash­ing­ton, means Trump will lose con­trol of his long-secret finan­cial records at Mazars USA LLP unless the full court recon­sid­ers the deci­sion or the U.S. Supreme Court blocks it.

    In their 2–1 deci­sion, the judges reject­ed argu­ments made by lawyers for the pres­i­dent that the House Over­sight and Reform Com­mit­tee had no legit­i­mate leg­isla­tive rea­son to seek the infor­ma­tion.

    ...

    Trump’s lawyers could ask the full appeals court to con­sid­er the rul­ing, which might drag out the process, or go straight to the Supreme Court for an emer­gency review of the deci­sion.

    “We are eval­u­at­ing the opin­ion and review­ing all options, includ­ing appeals,” said Jay Seku­low, a lawyer for Trump.

    U.S. Cir­cuit Court Judge Neo­mi Rao, who was named to the bench by Trump, dis­sent­ed from the opin­ion by Tatel and Patri­cia Mil­lett, both appointees of Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­dents. She said Con­gress can inves­ti­gate alle­ga­tions of ille­gal con­duct against the pres­i­dent only as part of an impeach­ment process and not through its leg­isla­tive pow­er.

    “Allow­ing the Com­mit­tee to issue this sub­poe­na for leg­isla­tive pur­pos­es would turn Con­gress into a rov­ing inqui­si­tion over a co-equal branch of gov­ern­ment,” she wrote.

    The court’s deci­sion is “a trav­es­ty,” said John East­man, a pro­fes­sor at Chap­man University’s Fowler School of Law. He said he sees a com­mit­tee chair­man act­ing on a par­ti­san mis­sion and not a for­mal impeach­ment process, and said the rul­ing would have “long-term reper­cus­sions on our con­sti­tu­tion­al sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers and basic notions of due process.”

    East­man said an impeach­ment pro­ce­dure requires a vote of the whole House and pre­dict­ed that the Supreme Court would “put the brakes on this, absent a for­mal ini­ti­a­tion of an impeach­ment pro­ceed­ing.”

    “Con­gress has broad sub­poe­na author­i­ty when act­ing pur­suant to its leg­isla­tive pow­ers,” he said, “but this is Con­gress act­ing as pros­e­cu­tor in an impeach­ment pro­ceed­ing that has not been for­mal­ly launched.”
    ...

    And that’s all part of why law pro­fes­sor William How­ell sees this rul­ing as both bring­ing a mea­sure of clar­i­ty but also bring­ing the US one step close to a full-blown con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis:

    ...
    Friday’s rul­ing in favor of the House Over­sight Com­mit­tee could mark the start of a nation­al reck­on­ing if the pres­i­dent were to defy the sub­poe­na after los­ing all his appeals, said William How­ell, a pro­fes­sor of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go.

    The rul­ing brings a mea­sure of clar­i­ty, How­ell said, but “in a strange way it also puts us one step clos­er to a full-blown con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis.”
    ...

    Will the Supreme Court rule that Con­gress can’t inves­ti­gate pos­si­ble wrong­do­ing by a pres­i­dent unless its part of a for­mal impeach­ment hear­ing? We’ll see but that’s one poten­tial path to a full-blown con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis. Or maybe Trump will just refuse to com­ply with court approved sub­poe­nas even after the Supreme Court approves it. That would be anoth­er pret­ty clear con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis. It’s pre­sum­ably going up to the Supreme Court to decide which con­sti­tu­tion­al cri­sis its going to spark when it even­tu­al­ly rules on these mat­ters.

    So that loom­ing Supreme Court deci­sion will be some­thing to watch...along with watch­ing to see if Deutsche Bank con­tin­ues to get away with the destruc­tion of Trump’s tax doc­u­ments.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 14, 2019, 2:17 pm
  14. Amer­i­can legal the­o­ry expe­ri­enced a pair of attempt­ed mug­gings over the past 24 hours that were notable for being egre­gious even by the debased stan­dards of the mod­ern Repub­li­can Par­ty: First, on Tues­day evening on Fox News, Pres­i­dent Trump’s for­mer Act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al, Matt Whitak­er, made a rather stun­ning asser­tion in rela­tion to the ongo­ing impeach­ment inves­ti­ga­tion of Trump over the Ukrain­ian quid pro quo shake­down scheme. Accord­ing to Whitak­er, abuse of pow­er is not some­thing the pres­i­dent can be impeached over because it’s not a crime:

    Salon

    “Abuse of pow­er is not a crime,” Trump’s for­mer act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Matthew Whitak­er claims
    Fact check: Impeach­ment arti­cles against both Bill Clin­ton and Richard Nixon cov­ered “abuse of pow­er”

    Igor Derysh
    Octo­ber 23, 2019 3:18PM (UTC)

    Invok­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion, for­mer act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Matthew Whitak­er claimed that “abuse of pow­er is not a crime” as he rushed to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s defense after the nation’s top envoy to Ukraine tes­ti­fied to Con­gress that Trump had with­held mil­i­tary aid in order to pres­sure Ukraine to inves­ti­gat­ing his polit­i­cal oppo­nents.

    “I’m a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor and what I know is this is a per­fect time for pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings where you would say show us your evi­dence,” he told Ingra­ham. “What evi­dence of a crime do you have? So the Con­sti­tu­tion — abuse of pow­er is not a crime.

    Act­ing Ambas­sador Bill Tay­lor tes­ti­fied Tues­day to Con­gress that mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine was con­tin­gent on a pub­lic announce­ment of a Ukrain­ian inves­ti­ga­tion into the Bidens and the 2016 elec­tion. Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz told NBC News after the tes­ti­mo­ny that the only con­clu­sion from Taylor’s rev­e­la­tions is that “the pres­i­dent abused his pow­er.”

    Whitak­er appeared on Lau­ra Ingraham’s Fox News show to defend the pres­i­dent.

    “Let’s fun­da­men­tal­ly boil it down,” he said on the right-lean­ing net­work. “The Con­sti­tu­tion is very clear that there has to be some pret­ty egre­gious behav­ior, and they can­not tell the Amer­i­can peo­ple what this case is even about.”

    How­ev­er, as The New York Times point­ed out in their explain­er of the impeach­ment process, the Con­sti­tu­tion allows Con­gress to remove pres­i­dents who com­mit “trea­son, bribery or oth­er high crimes and mis­de­meanors.” The term “high crimes and mis­de­meanors” refers specif­i­cal­ly to “an abuse of pow­er by a high-lev­el pub­lic offi­cial” and “does not nec­es­sar­i­ly have to be a vio­la­tion of an ordi­nary crim­i­nal statute.”

    In fact, one of the arti­cles of impeach­ment against for­mer Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton was for abuse of pow­er. The House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives also vot­ed to approve an arti­cle of impeach­ment for abuse of pow­er against for­mer Pres­i­dent Richard Nixon.

    The issue has already come up in Demo­c­ra­t­ic delib­er­a­tions on how to pro­ceed with their impeach­ment inquiry. A source famil­iar with the party’s strat­e­gy told NBC News that Speak­er of the House Nan­cy Pelosi, D‑Calif., has pushed for an arti­cle of impeach­ment for “abuse of pow­er,” because it is the umbrel­la under which “this all fits to con­nect it and help the pub­lic under­stand.”

    ...

    Pelosi is also con­sid­er­ing a sep­a­rate arti­cle of impeach­ment for obstruc­tion or con­tempt of Con­gress in response to the administration’s refusal to coop­er­ate with the probe and Con­gress’ sub­poe­nas.

    House lead­ers are cau­tious, because the release of the Mueller report showed that the Russ­ian effort in the 2016 elec­tion was “excep­tion­al­ly com­pelling but too hard to digest,” for­mer DOJ offi­cial Chuck Rosen­berg told NBC News. “The abuse of pow­er nar­ra­tive is much sim­pler.”

    Neal Katyal, a for­mer act­ing solic­i­tor gen­er­al, told the net­work that an arti­cle of impeach­ment for “abuse of pow­er” in rela­tion to Ukraine was “exact­ly cor­rect.”

    “The phrase cap­tures the cen­tral evils of what Trump did in Ukraine,” he said, “and keeps the sto­ry focused there — and not on dis­tract­ing sideshows.”

    ———-

    ““Abuse of pow­er is not a crime,” Trump’s for­mer act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Matthew Whitak­er claims” by Igor Derysh; Salon; 10/23/2019

    ““I’m a for­mer pros­e­cu­tor and what I know is this is a per­fect time for pre­lim­i­nary hear­ings where you would say show us your evi­dence,” he told Ingra­ham. “What evi­dence of a crime do you have? So the Con­sti­tu­tion — abuse of pow­er is not a crime.”

    This is where we are. Pres­i­dents can abuse pow­er with impuni­ty. That’s the view of Trump’s for­mer Act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al. And notice that this line of argu­ment is com­ing out right now specif­i­cal­ly because it appears that the Democ­rats are plan­ning on focus­ing on an abuse of pow­er nar­ra­tive for the ongo­ing impeach­ment inves­ti­ga­tion:

    ...
    Act­ing Ambas­sador Bill Tay­lor tes­ti­fied Tues­day to Con­gress that mil­i­tary aid to Ukraine was con­tin­gent on a pub­lic announce­ment of a Ukrain­ian inves­ti­ga­tion into the Bidens and the 2016 elec­tion. Rep. Deb­bie Wasser­man Schultz told NBC News after the tes­ti­mo­ny that the only con­clu­sion from Taylor’s rev­e­la­tions is that “the pres­i­dent abused his pow­er.”

    Whitak­er appeared on Lau­ra Ingraham’s Fox News show to defend the pres­i­dent.

    ...

    The issue has already come up in Demo­c­ra­t­ic delib­er­a­tions on how to pro­ceed with their impeach­ment inquiry. A source famil­iar with the party’s strat­e­gy told NBC News that Speak­er of the House Nan­cy Pelosi, D‑Calif., has pushed for an arti­cle of impeach­ment for “abuse of pow­er,” because it is the umbrel­la under which “this all fits to con­nect it and help the pub­lic under­stand.”

    ...

    House lead­ers are cau­tious, because the release of the Mueller report showed that the Russ­ian effort in the 2016 elec­tion was “excep­tion­al­ly com­pelling but too hard to digest,” for­mer DOJ offi­cial Chuck Rosen­berg told NBC News. “The abuse of pow­er nar­ra­tive is much sim­pler.”

    Neal Katyal, a for­mer act­ing solic­i­tor gen­er­al, told the net­work that an arti­cle of impeach­ment for “abuse of pow­er” in rela­tion to Ukraine was “exact­ly cor­rect.”

    “The phrase cap­tures the cen­tral evils of what Trump did in Ukraine,” he said, “and keeps the sto­ry focused there — and not on dis­tract­ing sideshows.”
    ...

    So that was the first legal mug­ging com­ing from the Repub­li­cans in defense of Trump. The pres­i­dent can’t be impeached for abuse of pow­er. End of sto­ry.

    The sec­ond legal the­o­ry mug­ging did­n’t involve the #UkraineGate inves­ti­ga­tion. Instead, it was a legal argu­ment put for­ward by Trump’s legal team in the ongo­ing law­suit by the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney’s office to get Trump’s tax returns from his long-time account­ing firm Mazars USA. As part of Trump’s legal argu­ment against Mazars turn­ing over those tax doc­u­ments, Trump’s lawyers have been argu­ing that the Con­sti­tu­tion pre­vents a sit­ting pres­i­dent from being indict­ed and also pre­vents crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion or “process” from being applied to the pres­i­dent.

    So Man­hat­tan Dis­trict Attor­ney Gen­er­al Coun­sel Car­rey Dunne raised the point that this legal argu­ment sounds a lot like Trump’s infa­mous claim about being so loved by his sup­port­ers that he could shoot some­one on 5th Avenue and would­n’t lose their sup­port. So Dunne asked the court, “If he did pull out a hand­gun and shoot some­one on Fifth Ave...would the local police be restrained? ... Would we have to wait for impeach­ment?” The judges lat­er raised this exact same ques­tion to Trump’s lawyers and their answer was no, Trump could not be inves­ti­gat­ed and there was noth­ing local author­i­ties could do about it if he pulled a gun out and shot some­one on 5th Avenue:

    Talk­ing Points Memo

    We Have Now Arrived At The Log­i­cal End­point Of Trump’s Immu­ni­ty Argu­ment

    By Josh Koven­sky
    Octo­ber 23, 2019 2:02 pm

    NEW YORK — I wasn’t expect­ing laugh­ter in court today.

    But at the Sec­ond Cir­cuit Court of Appeals in Man­hat­tan, there were sti­fled chor­tles as per­son­al attor­neys for Pres­i­dent Trump final­ly arrived at the log­i­cal des­ti­na­tion of their argu­ment that he is immune not only from pros­e­cu­tion – but from inves­ti­ga­tion.

    It came in Trump’s appeal chal­leng­ing a state grand jury sub­poe­na for finan­cial records from his long­time account­ing firm, Mazars USA.

    Man­hat­tan Dis­trict Attor­ney Gen­er­al Coun­sel Car­rey Dunne told the appeals court that Trump was act­ing as if the law did not apply to him, and was try­ing to have it both ways by assert­ing exec­u­tive pro­tec­tions over an inves­ti­ga­tion that con­cerned his pri­vate busi­ness.

    Trump attor­ney William Consovoy had argued that not only does the Con­sti­tu­tion pre­vent a sit­ting pres­i­dent from indict­ment, but it also pre­vents crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion or “process” from being applied to the head of state.

    Dunne brought up Trump’s famous state­ment when he caught fire dur­ing the 2016 Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry, say­ing, “I could stand in the mid­dle of 5th Avenue and shoot some­body and I wouldn’t lose any vot­ers.”

    “If he did pull out a hand­gun and shoot some­one on Fifth Ave,” Dunne asked, “would the local police be restrained?”

    “Would we have to wait for impeach­ment?” he added.

    If the judges were moved by Dunne’s argu­ment, it wasn’t imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous. The trio – com­posed of Demo­c­rat-appoint­ed Chief Judge Robert Katz­mann, Judge Den­ny Chin, and Judge Christo­pher Droney – stayed typ­i­cal­ly stone-faced.

    But when Consovoy retook the podi­um with his boom­ing voice and some­what bil­ious affect, field­ing more ques­tions from the court, he dou­bled down on his argu­ment that con­gres­sion­al, fed­er­al, and state bod­ies are for­bid­den from inves­ti­gat­ing a sit­ting Pres­i­dent.

    Judge Chin raised Dunne’s point. He asked Consovoy for his “view on the Fifth Avenue exam­ple.”

    “Local author­i­ties couldn’t inves­ti­gate, they couldn’t do any­thing about it?” he asked.

    “No,” replied a vis­i­bly annoyed Consovoy amid sti­fled chor­tles.

    “Noth­ing could be done? That’s your posi­tion?” Chin repeat­ed.

    “That is cor­rect, that is cor­rect,” Consovoy respond­ed, before qual­i­fy­ing it by say­ing that a pres­i­dent could be pros­e­cut­ed after leav­ing office. He also con­ced­ed that doc­u­ments could be gath­ered in the course of such an inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Ear­li­er in the hear­ing, Judge Droney had asked Consovoy whether the argu­ments he made about Trump’s immu­ni­ty from state-lev­el inves­ti­ga­tion would also apply to a sim­i­lar fed­er­al probe. To be clear, Vance did not sub­poe­na Trump direct­ly – rather, he issued a sub­poe­na to a third-par­ty hold­er of Trump’s finan­cial records as part of an inves­ti­ga­tion into the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion.

    But Consovoy said that the fed­er­al exam­ple was only slight­ly dif­fer­ent, in part because “the attor­ney gen­er­al exer­cis­es con­trol over all” of the sep­a­rate U.S. attor­neys offices, as opposed to each indi­vid­ual state gov­ern­ing itself.

    “That may not always be true,” Droney replied, appar­ent­ly refer­ring to the South­ern Dis­trict of New York’s recent activ­i­ties.

    Consovoy did not address that direct­ly, but lat­er laud­ed Man­hat­tan fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors for their past treat­ment of Trump. He told the appeals court that pre­vi­ous probes had been “han­dled with sen­si­tiv­i­ty” appro­pri­ate to the office.

    ...

    ———–

    “We Have Now Arrived At The Log­i­cal End­point Of Trump’s Immu­ni­ty Argu­ment” by Josh Koven­sky; Talk­ing Points Memo; 10/23/2019

    “Trump attor­ney William Consovoy had argued that not only does the Con­sti­tu­tion pre­vent a sit­ting pres­i­dent from indict­ment, but it also pre­vents crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion or “process” from being applied to the head of state.”

    The pres­i­dent can’t be indict­ed or even inves­ti­gat­ed. That’s the argu­ment from Trump’s lawyers for why Trump’s tax returns should­n’t have to be turned over to the Man­a­hat­tan Dis­trict Attor­ney’s office. The argu­ment was so expan­sive that it includes open mur­der on the streets:

    ...
    Dunne brought up Trump’s famous state­ment when he caught fire dur­ing the 2016 Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry, say­ing, “I could stand in the mid­dle of 5th Avenue and shoot some­body and I wouldn’t lose any vot­ers.”

    “If he did pull out a hand­gun and shoot some­one on Fifth Ave,” Dunne asked, “would the local police be restrained?”

    “Would we have to wait for impeach­ment?” he added.

    If the judges were moved by Dunne’s argu­ment, it wasn’t imme­di­ate­ly obvi­ous. The trio – com­posed of Demo­c­rat-appoint­ed Chief Judge Robert Katz­mann, Judge Den­ny Chin, and Judge Christo­pher Droney – stayed typ­i­cal­ly stone-faced.

    But when Consovoy retook the podi­um with his boom­ing voice and some­what bil­ious affect, field­ing more ques­tions from the court, he dou­bled down on his argu­ment that con­gres­sion­al, fed­er­al, and state bod­ies are for­bid­den from inves­ti­gat­ing a sit­ting Pres­i­dent.

    Judge Chin raised Dunne’s point. He asked Consovoy for his “view on the Fifth Avenue exam­ple.”

    “Local author­i­ties couldn’t inves­ti­gate, they couldn’t do any­thing about it?” he asked.

    “No,” replied a vis­i­bly annoyed Consovoy amid sti­fled chor­tles.

    “Noth­ing could be done? That’s your posi­tion?” Chin repeat­ed.

    “That is cor­rect, that is cor­rect,” Consovoy respond­ed, before qual­i­fy­ing it by say­ing that a pres­i­dent could be pros­e­cut­ed after leav­ing office. He also con­ced­ed that doc­u­ments could be gath­ered in the course of such an inves­ti­ga­tion.
    ...

    We’ve gone from Nixon’s “When the pres­i­dent does it, that means it is not ille­gal,” to Trump’s “When the pres­i­dent does it, it does­n’t mat­ter if it’s ille­gal.”

    So let’s review: accord­ing to for­mer Act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al, the pres­i­dent can’t be impeached for abuse of pow­er because abuse of pow­er isn’t a crime and only seri­ous crimes can be the basis for impeach­ment. And accord­ing to Trump’s lawyers, the pres­i­dent can’t be inves­ti­gat­ed for any crimes at all. Pre­sum­ably impeach­ment is the only option when faced with pres­i­den­tial crimes under these legal the­o­ries. Which rais­es the ques­tion: so if Trump shoots some­one on 5th Avenue, would that rise to the lev­el of an impeach­ment-wor­thy high crime and mis­de­meanor in the eyes of Repub­li­can lawyers, or would Repub­li­cans come up with some new legal loop­hole for why shoot­ings aren’t impeach­able? At this point that’s a very open ques­tion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 23, 2019, 2:41 pm
  15. Here’s a sto­ry about a court case that could end up shed­ding some light on the alleged sui­cide of for­mer head of Deutsche Bank’s U.S. Pri­vate Wealth Man­age­ment divi­sion, Thomas Bow­ers, who hap­pened to be the per­son who over­saw a num­ber of con­tro­ver­sial loans giv­en to Don­ald Trump by the bank: A fed­er­al appeals court, the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Sec­ond Cir­cuit, just ruled that Deutsche Bank must turn over detailed doc­u­ments about Pres­i­dent Trump’s finances to two House con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees that sub­poe­naed the bank for those doc­u­ments. The sub­poe­nas also include any infor­ma­tion the bank might have about sus­pi­cious activ­i­ty in Trump’s account.

    Recall how, back in June, mul­ti­ple anony­mous Deutsche Bank staff whistle­blow­ers claimed both Trump and Jared Kush­n­er had trans­ac­tions that set off com­put­er sys­tems designed to detect illic­it activ­i­ty in 2016 and 2017, but the bank chose not to report this to gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors. Then, in Octo­ber, we learned that Deutsche Bank told the the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Sec­ond Cir­cuit that the bank does not pos­sess Trump’s tax doc­u­ments, prompt­ing a for­mer exec­u­tive to sug­gest the bank may have inten­tion­al­ly destroyed the doc­u­ments. So there’s pre­sum­ably quite a bit of infor­ma­tion on illic­it activ­i­ty that Deutsche Bank could end up hand­ing over to House inves­ti­ga­tors, but the bank may have already destroyed that evi­dence.

    This lat­est rul­ing by the appeals court is bound to be appealed and expect­ed to even­tu­al­ly be heard by the Supreme Court. Don’t for­get that for­mer Supreme Court Jus­tice Antho­ny Kennedy’s son, Justin Kennedy, head­ed up Deutsche Bank’s com­mer­cial real estate group which made Trump a num­ber of loans Trump’s account at the bank was moved over to the Pri­vate Wealth Man­age­ment divi­sion. It would be inter­est­ing to know how that per­son­al tie to Kennedy might impact Brett Kavanaugh­’s rul­ings on the mat­ter giv­en that he’s Kennedy’s hand-picked suc­ces­sor on the court. But Kavanaugh seems like a sure bet to rule in Trump’s favor any­way so this prob­a­bly won’t make a dif­fer­ence.

    As the arti­cle notes, there are already two oth­er sim­i­lar cas­es involv­ing Trump’s finan­cial doc­u­ments before the Supreme Court. So we’ll see if the Supreme Court comes to Trump’s res­cue, which, at this point, is real­ly a ques­tion of whether or not John Roberts comes to Trump’s res­cue:

    The New York Times

    Trump Los­es Appeal on Deutsche Bank Sub­poe­nas

    A fed­er­al court rul­ing is a vic­to­ry for House Democ­rats who are inves­ti­gat­ing Pres­i­dent Trump’s rela­tion­ship with the Ger­man bank

    By David Enrich

    Dec. 3, 2019
    Updat­ed 1:14 p.m. ET

    A fed­er­al appeals court said Tues­day that Deutsche Bank must turn over detailed doc­u­ments about Pres­i­dent Trump’s finances to two con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees, a rul­ing that will most like­ly be appealed to the Supreme Court.

    ...

    Demo­c­ra­t­ic-con­trolled con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tees issued sub­poe­nas to two banks — Deutsche Bank, long Mr. Trump’s biggest lender, and Cap­i­tal One — this year for finan­cial records relat­ed to the pres­i­dent, his com­pa­nies and his fam­i­ly. Mr. Trump sued the banks to block them from com­ply­ing.

    ...

    Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Jay Seku­low, said in a state­ment that “we are eval­u­at­ing our next options includ­ing seek­ing review at the Supreme Court of the Unit­ed States.” He called the con­gres­sion­al sub­poe­nas “invalid as issued.”

    Mr. Trump has sev­en days to seek a fur­ther delay from the high court before the banks must com­ply.

    Mr. Trump, who broke with decades of tra­di­tion by refus­ing to release his tax returns dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, has already turned to the Supreme Court in an effort to fend off oth­er gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tions into his per­son­al finances. Two oth­er cas­es, involv­ing the dis­clo­sure of his tax returns to the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney and to a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee, are await­ing action by the court.

    But the requests for doc­u­ments from Deutsche Bank are notable because of the breadth of finan­cial infor­ma­tion they could pro­vide about Mr. Trump and his busi­ness deal­ings.

    Deutsche Bank became Mr. Trump’s main lender after a string of bank­rupt­cies and loan defaults cost oth­er banks hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars; over the past two decades, the Ger­man bank lent him and his com­pa­nies a total of well over $2 bil­lion. The bank’s files would most like­ly con­tain a rich trove of doc­u­ments includ­ing details about how he made his mon­ey, who his part­ners have been, the terms of his exten­sive bor­row­ings and oth­er trans­ac­tions.

    The sub­poe­nas, issued in April by the House Finan­cial Ser­vices and Intel­li­gence com­mit­tees, sought near­ly a decade’s worth of tax returns and oth­er finan­cial doc­u­ments that the banks obtained from Mr. Trump, his fam­i­ly and his com­pa­nies. The sub­poe­nas also demand­ed infor­ma­tion about any sus­pi­cious activ­i­ties that Deutsche Bank detect­ed in Mr. Trump’s accounts.

    Inves­ti­ga­tors for the two com­mit­tees are hop­ing the mate­ri­als will shed light on any links Mr. Trump has had to for­eign gov­ern­ments and whether he or his com­pa­nies were involved in any ille­gal activ­i­ty, such as mon­ey laun­der­ing for peo­ple over­seas.

    The com­mit­tees have also said the infor­ma­tion is impor­tant to their attempts to craft leg­is­la­tion. Mr. Trump’s lawyers have argued that the sub­poe­nas served no legit­i­mate leg­isla­tive pur­pose and were over­ly broad. Spokes­men for the com­mit­tees had no imme­di­ate com­ment on Tues­day.

    The rul­ing by the Unit­ed States Court of Appeals for the Sec­ond Cir­cuit con­tained one caveat: The low­er court must con­sid­er whether and how the banks dis­close a lim­it­ed set of sen­si­tive per­son­al infor­ma­tion that would have no bear­ing on the gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tions. Such infor­ma­tion could include checks that were writ­ten by Mr. Trump or his com­pa­nies to cov­er employ­ees’ med­ical expens­es.

    But, the court ruled, the pre­sump­tion should be in favor of hand­ing over more doc­u­ments, not few­er. “Many doc­u­ments facial­ly appear­ing to reflect nor­mal busi­ness deal­ings will there­fore war­rant dis­clo­sure for exam­i­na­tion and analy­sis by skilled inves­ti­ga­tors assist­ing the com­mit­tees to deter­mine the effec­tive­ness of cur­rent reg­u­la­tion and the pos­si­ble need for improved leg­is­la­tion,” the court wrote.

    The rul­ing con­clud­ed: “The com­mit­tees’ inter­ests in pur­su­ing their con­sti­tu­tion­al leg­isla­tive func­tion is a far more sig­nif­i­cant pub­lic inter­est than what­ev­er pub­lic inter­est inheres in avoid­ing the risk of a chief executive’s dis­trac­tion aris­ing from dis­clo­sure of doc­u­ments reflect­ing his pri­vate finan­cial trans­ac­tions.”

    The deci­sion is the lat­est this year by a fed­er­al court to uphold the broad pow­ers of Con­gress to inves­ti­gate the pres­i­dent.

    In two sim­i­lar cas­es, the pres­i­dent has asked the Supreme Court to over­rule low­er courts and to block attempts to review his finances. Last month, the Supreme Court issued a tem­po­rary stay relat­ed to a sub­poe­na that the House Over­sight and Reform Com­mit­tee issued in April. Mr. Trump has also filed a peti­tion seek­ing review of a request from pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan who are seek­ing infor­ma­tion from his account­ing firm, Mazars USA.

    ———-

    “Trump Los­es Appeal on Deutsche Bank Sub­poe­nas” by David Enrich; The New York Times; 12/03/2019

    “The sub­poe­nas, issued in April by the House Finan­cial Ser­vices and Intel­li­gence com­mit­tees, sought near­ly a decade’s worth of tax returns and oth­er finan­cial doc­u­ments that the banks obtained from Mr. Trump, his fam­i­ly and his com­pa­nies. The sub­poe­nas also demand­ed infor­ma­tion about any sus­pi­cious activ­i­ties that Deutsche Bank detect­ed in Mr. Trump’s accounts.

    Any infor­ma­tion about sus­pi­cious activ­i­ties detect­ed in Trump’s accounts. That sure would be use­ful for inves­ti­ga­tors. Too bad the bank appears to have sus­pi­cious­ly lost that infor­ma­tion. Per­haps a few court rul­ings will help the bank sud­den­ly it again. But that like­ly won’t hap­pen until the Supreme Court rules on the case. And if this case does make it to the Supreme Court, it’s going to join two oth­er cas­es involv­ing House sub­poe­nas for Trump’s tax returns from Mazars USA:

    ...
    Mr. Trump, who broke with decades of tra­di­tion by refus­ing to release his tax returns dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign, has already turned to the Supreme Court in an effort to fend off oth­er gov­ern­ment inves­ti­ga­tions into his per­son­al finances. Two oth­er cas­es, involv­ing the dis­clo­sure of his tax returns to the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney and to a con­gres­sion­al com­mit­tee, are await­ing action by the court.

    ...

    The deci­sion is the lat­est this year by a fed­er­al court to uphold the broad pow­ers of Con­gress to inves­ti­gate the pres­i­dent.

    In two sim­i­lar cas­es, the pres­i­dent has asked the Supreme Court to over­rule low­er courts and to block attempts to review his finances. Last month, the Supreme Court issued a tem­po­rary stay relat­ed to a sub­poe­na that the House Over­sight and Reform Com­mit­tee issued in April. Mr. Trump has also filed a peti­tion seek­ing review of a request from pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan who are seek­ing infor­ma­tion from his account­ing firm, Mazars USA.
    ...

    Also recall that it was dur­ing the court hear­ing on the fight over the Mazars USA doc­u­ments that Trump’s legal team lit­er­al­ly argued that pres­i­dents can­not be inves­ti­gat­ed for any­thing while in office — which was the basis for the sub­poe­na by the Man­hat­tan dis­trict attor­ney’s office that’s seek­ing those doc­u­ments in an inves­ti­ga­tion of poten­tial crim­i­nal wrong­do­ing — and that Trump lit­er­al­ly could shoot some­one on 5th Avenue and not be arrest­ed. So while these cas­es involv­ing Trump’s finan­cial doc­u­ments might seem like they pri­mar­i­ly deal with the ques­tion of whether or not pres­i­dents should be forced to reveal their tax returns, at least one of the cas­es involves the ques­tion of whether or not pres­i­dents can be inves­ti­gat­ed for any­thing at all, even shoot­ing peo­ple on 5th Avenue. Which, again, is also part of the grim con­text of the recent ‘sui­cide’ of Thomas Bow­ers.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 3, 2019, 3:53 pm
  16. Here’s a sto­ry that dove­tails nice­ly with the grow­ing ‘Cheater in Chief’ theme of the sto­ries about Trump in recent months. Sto­ries like Trump cheat­ing out a COVID vac­cine approval or attempt­ing to pre­emp­tive­ly dele­git­imize the upcom­ing elec­tion by break­ing the US Postal Sys­tem and claim­ing mass vot­er fraud against him:

    The issue of Trumps busi­ness prac­tices and ques­tions over his real net worth are back in the news fol­low­ing a New York Times report over the week­end that revealed Trump paid just $750 in fed­er­al income tax­es in 2016 and 2017 and often paid $0 in oth­er years. Yep, that’s all the guy paid. And as for­mer Trump biog­ra­ph­er, Tim O’Brien, describes in the fol­low­ing piece, it’s been some­thing of an open secret that Trump has long paid almost noth­ing in tax, mak­ing this more of an ‘oldie but good­ie’ sto­ry, but it’s nev­er been con­firmed before. O’Brien’s lawyers pre­vi­ous­ly got to view some of Trump’s old­er tax returns as part of a defama­tion law­suit Trump him­self lev­eled against O’Brien over O’Brien 2006 book “Trump Nation”. Trump claimed in the suit that O’Brien mis­rep­re­sent­ed Trump’s busi­ness prac­tices and low­balled the val­ue of his for­tune. That made the issue of Trump’s for­tune part of the law­suit and as a result O’Brien’s lawyers got to see some of those tax returns. And while O’Brien isn’t allowed to dis­cuss the specifics of those returns, he has pub­licly stat­ed in the past that he sus­pects the rea­son Trump has long refused to release his tax returns is because of it would basi­cal­ly val­i­date O’Briend’s claims while also reveal­ing the scope of for­eign sources of income that Trump relies on. Those for­eign sources include over $421 mil­lion in loans that Trump has per­son­al­ly guar­an­teed that are report­ed­ly com­ing due over the next sev­er­al years. And that includes a $300 mil­lion loan to Deutsche Bank.

    So we’re now learn­ing that Trump paid almost noth­ing in fed­er­al income tax­es while he heav­i­ly indebt­ed to for­eign enti­ties and this was the case while he has been pres­i­dent. As O’Brien points out, the aver­age mid­dle class fam­i­ly mak­ing $75,000 pay clos­er to $14,000 in fed­er­al income tax­es. So Trump paid like 5 per­cent of what a mid­dle class fam­i­ly paid. It’s not a great look. Trump also paid rough­ly $400 mil­lion less in com­bined fed­er­al income tax­es over the last 20 years than than his bil­lion­aire peers (or alleged peers) who paid the aver­age tax rate which rais­es obvi­ous ques­tions about tax shel­ter­ing and oth­er finan­cial crimes. But in what is per­haps the worst pos­si­ble com­par­i­son, O’Brien points out that when Trump paid $750 in fed­er­al tax­es in 2017 that was the same year he paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush mon­ey:

    Bloomberg Opin­ion

    Trump’s Tax­es Show He’s a Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Threat
    What trade-offs would a pres­i­dent with this lev­el of indebt­ed­ness be will­ing to make to save face?

    By Tim­o­thy L. O’Brien
    Sep­tem­ber 28, 2020, 4:00 AM CDT
    Cor­rect­ed Sep­tem­ber 28, 2020, 4:37 AM CDT

    In a tour de force of hard won report­ing, the New York Times has put numer­i­cal cloth­ing on what we’ve known about Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump for decades — that, at best, he’s a hap­haz­ard busi­ness­man, human bill­board and ser­i­al bank­rupt­cy artist who gorges on debt he may have a hard time repay­ing.

    The Times, in a news sto­ry pub­lished Sun­day evening that dis­closed years of the president’s tax returns, also put a lot of cloth­ing on things we didn’t know. Trump paid just $750 in fed­er­al income tax­es in 2016, the year he was elect­ed pres­i­dent, and the same amount the fol­low­ing year, when he entered the White House. In many years recent­ly he hasn’t paid any­thing at all. He has played so fast and loose with the tax­man that he’s entan­gled in an audit. He paid his daugh­ter Ivan­ka lush con­sult­ing fees that he deduct­ed as a busi­ness expense even though she helped him man­age the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion. And he’s tak­en ques­tion­able tax write-offs on every­thing from get­ting his hair coifed to man­ag­ing his per­son­al res­i­dences.

    Step away from the tragi­com­ic taw­dri­ness and grift that the tax returns define, how­ev­er, and focus on what they reveal about Trump as the most pow­er­ful man in the world and occu­pant of the Oval Office.

    Due to his indebt­ed­ness, his reliance on income from over­seas and his refusal to authen­ti­cal­ly dis­tance him­self from his hodge­podge of busi­ness, Trump rep­re­sents a pro­found nation­al secu­ri­ty threat – a threat that will only esca­late if he’s re-elect­ed. The tax returns also show the extent to which Trump has repeat­ed­ly betrayed the inter­ests of many of the aver­age Amer­i­cans who elect­ed him and remain his most loy­al sup­port­ers.

    I have some his­to­ry with Trump and his tax­es. Trump sued me for libel in 2006 for a biog­ra­phy I wrote, “Trump­Na­tion,” claim­ing the book mis­rep­re­sent­ed his track record as a busi­ness­man and low­balled the size of his for­tune. He lost the suit in 2011. Dur­ing the lit­i­ga­tion, Trump resist­ed releas­ing his tax returns and oth­er finan­cial records. My lawyers got the returns, and while I can’t dis­close specifics of what I saw, I imag­ine that Trump has always refused to release them because they would reveal how robust his busi­ness­es and finances actu­al­ly are and shine a light on some of his for­eign sources of income. The Times has now solved that prob­lem for us.

    Accord­ing to the Times, Trump has about $421 mil­lion in debts which he has per­son­al­ly guar­an­teed and which are com­ing due over the next sev­er­al years. This is con­sis­tent with ear­li­er report­ing about how much debt he car­ries, a chunk of which could be gleaned from the per­son­al finan­cial dis­clo­sures he is required to file with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. But Trump’s over­all indebt­ed­ness is greater than the Times tal­ly, I believe.

    Russ Choma report­ed in Moth­er Jones last sum­mer that Trump’s debts were near­ly $500 mil­lion and would come due in rel­a­tive­ly short order, pres­sur­ing the president’s finances. But Trump’s debts are even big­ger than that, and he’s worked hard to keep them hid­den for decades. Dan Alexan­der, a senior edi­tor at Forbes, has been cov­er­ing Trump’s busi­ness inter­ests since 2016 and has a new book out about the president’s finan­cial con­flicts of inter­est, “White House Inc.” Alexan­der, in a help­ful tal­ly he shared Sun­day evening, esti­mates Trump’s total indebt­ed­ness to be about $1.1 bil­lion. Now that’s more like it.

    Trump has been blovi­at­ing about being worth $10 bil­lion ever since he entered the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, a fig­ure that sim­ply isn’t true. He’s worth a frac­tion of that amount, and the larg­er his indebt­ed­ness becomes, the more strain it puts on his assets. The Covid-19 pan­dem­ic has tak­en a par­tic­u­lar­ly bru­tal toll on the sec­tors in which the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion oper­ates — real estate, trav­el and leisure. If Trump is unable to meet his debt pay­ments, he’s either going to have to sell assets or get bailed out by a friend with funds. Trump has nev­er liked to sell any­thing, even when it’s hem­or­rhag­ing mon­ey. So if he’s tempt­ed to save him­self by get­ting a hand­out, that makes him a mark.

    ...

    Trump’s own his­to­ry of avoid­ing tax pay­ments – and often pay­ing noth­ing — is the oth­er issue that should alarm the president’s sup­port­ers. Trump and the Repub­li­can Par­ty engi­neered a mas­sive tax cut in 2017 that large­ly ben­e­fit­ted the most afflu­ent Amer­i­cans and the largest cor­po­ra­tions in the U.S. Now we learn that the pres­i­dent who pushed a tax cut that didn’t deliv­er the eco­nom­ic stim­u­lus he claimed it would, but feath­ered the nests of the most priv­i­leged, has rarely paid tax­es in recent years.

    Trump paid $750 in tax­es the year he was elect­ed! That’s way less than the $130,000 in hush mon­ey he paid Stormy Daniels. In 2012, Trump crit­i­cized Barack Oba­ma for “only” pay­ing $161,950 in tax­es. That’s a lot more than $750 too! And it’s a lot more than the $0 in tax­es Trump fre­quent­ly paid.

    Trump even paid far less than his real­ly wealthy bud­dies. As Times reporter David Leon­hardt not­ed, “Over the past two decades, Mr. Trump has paid about $400 mil­lion less in com­bined fed­er­al income tax­es than a very wealthy per­son who paid the aver­age for that group each year.” It’s even more trou­bling when you com­pare Trump’s tax pay­ments to an Amer­i­can house­hold earn­ing about $75,000 in 2016. Those folks paid about $14,000 in fed­er­al income tax­es — which is also a lot more than $750.

    Any­one buy­ing Trump’s tripe about look­ing out for the lit­tle guy while he occu­pies the White House, or who takes their lives in their hands attend­ing one of his Covid-19-defy­ing cam­paign ral­lies, should bear in mind one of the many things the Times’s report­ing sub­stan­ti­ates: The pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States is in it only for him­self, and he’s laugh­ing all the way to the bank. And he’s laugh­ing at you, too.

    ———–

    “Trump’s Tax­es Show He’s a Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Threat” by Tim­o­thy L. O’Brien; Bloomberg Opin­ion; 09/28/2020

    Due to his indebt­ed­ness, his reliance on income from over­seas and his refusal to authen­ti­cal­ly dis­tance him­self from his hodge­podge of busi­ness, Trump rep­re­sents a pro­found nation­al secu­ri­ty threat – a threat that will only esca­late if he’s re-elect­ed. The tax returns also show the extent to which Trump has repeat­ed­ly betrayed the inter­ests of many of the aver­age Amer­i­cans who elect­ed him and remain his most loy­al sup­port­ers.”

    It’s not just a tawdry sto­ry of crim­i­nal finan­cial shenani­gans. It’s a sto­ry about the US pres­i­dent hav­ing mas­sive non-trans­par­ent finan­cial oblig­a­tions to for­eign inter­ests that are com­ing due soon which is a sto­ry with clear nation­al secu­ri­ty impli­ca­tions. And as O’Brien notes, one of the dynam­ics of this sit­u­a­tion is that the more these prob­lems with his finances are pub­licly revealed the more strained his assets become. It under­scores how hyp­ing the size of his for­tune may not have just been feed­ing Trump’s ego but could be nec­es­sar­i­ly for keep­ing his lenders sat­is­fied, which, in turn, rais­es ques­tions about whether or not he’s been mis­rep­re­sent­ing his assets to those lenders too. It also rais­es the ques­tion of what kind of nation­al secu­ri­ty risk Trump would pose after leav­ing office...all those nation­al secrets in his head are prob­a­bly worth a lot of mon­ey, espe­cial­ly to for­eign inter­ests:

    ...
    Accord­ing to the Times, Trump has about $421 mil­lion in debts which he has per­son­al­ly guar­an­teed and which are com­ing due over the next sev­er­al years. This is con­sis­tent with ear­li­er report­ing about how much debt he car­ries, a chunk of which could be gleaned from the per­son­al finan­cial dis­clo­sures he is required to file with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment. But Trump’s over­all indebt­ed­ness is greater than the Times tal­ly, I believe.

    ...

    Trump has been blovi­at­ing about being worth $10 bil­lion ever since he entered the 2016 pres­i­den­tial race, a fig­ure that sim­ply isn’t true. He’s worth a frac­tion of that amount, and the larg­er his indebt­ed­ness becomes, the more strain it puts on his assets. The Covid-19 pan­dem­ic has tak­en a par­tic­u­lar­ly bru­tal toll on the sec­tors in which the Trump Orga­ni­za­tion oper­ates — real estate, trav­el and leisure. If Trump is unable to meet his debt pay­ments, he’s either going to have to sell assets or get bailed out by a friend with funds. Trump has nev­er liked to sell any­thing, even when it’s hem­or­rhag­ing mon­ey. So if he’s tempt­ed to save him­self by get­ting a hand­out, that makes him a mark.
    ...

    But per­haps the best exam­ple of the amoral nature of Trump’s finances is the fact that the year he paid $750 in fed­er­al income tax­es in 2017 was the same year he paid Stormy Daniels $130,000 in hush mon­ey. The aver­age mid­dle class fam­i­ly mak­ing $75,000 would have paid $14,000 in fed­er­al income tax­es that year:

    ...
    Trump paid $750 in tax­es the year he was elect­ed! That’s way less than the $130,000 in hush mon­ey he paid Stormy Daniels. In 2012, Trump crit­i­cized Barack Oba­ma for “only” pay­ing $161,950 in tax­es. That’s a lot more than $750 too! And it’s a lot more than the $0 in tax­es Trump fre­quent­ly paid.

    Trump even paid far less than his real­ly wealthy bud­dies. As Times reporter David Leon­hardt not­ed, “Over the past two decades, Mr. Trump has paid about $400 mil­lion less in com­bined fed­er­al income tax­es than a very wealthy per­son who paid the aver­age for that group each year.” It’s even more trou­bling when you com­pare Trump’s tax pay­ments to an Amer­i­can house­hold earn­ing about $75,000 in 2016. Those folks paid about $14,000 in fed­er­al income tax­es — which is also a lot more than $750.
    ...

    Pay­ing $130,000 in hush mon­ey to a porn star he was secret­ly hav­ing an affair with the same year he paid $750 in fed­er­al income taxes...while serv­ing as the pres­i­dent fol­low­ing a his­tor­i­cal­ly dirty elec­toral vic­to­ry. That’s the guy run­ning for reelec­tion prepar­ing to inval­i­date the upcom­ing elec­tion so he can just stay in office as the undu­ly elect­ed ‘Cheater in Chief’.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 28, 2020, 2:17 pm
  17. One of the more remark­able and dis­turb­ing ‘tal­ents’ that Pres­i­dent Trump unde­ni­ably pos­sess­es is the abil­i­ty to suc­cess­ful­ly spin just about any scan­dal — whether it’s scan­dalous com­ments or scan­dalous actions — as some sort of act of ‘own­ing the libs’. What­ev­er Trump does, no mat­ter how scan­dalous, can be jus­ti­fied as long as left-wingers are pub­licly upset about it. In fair­ness, it’s not so much a tal­ent of Trump’s along as it is a col­lec­tive tal­ent of the entire con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment at this point.

    So it’s going to be very inter­est­ing to see whether or not the fol­low­ing wild­ly scan­dalous devel­op will end up get­ting the ‘own­ing the libs’ treatment...because there’s prob­a­bly going to be a lot of left-wing out­cry over this sto­ry if the Trump admin­is­tra­tion actu­al­ly does what it looks like it’s about to do. Along with out­cry from the Pen­ta­gon and any­one wor­ried about how this is going impact the US mil­i­tary’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions infra­struc­ture:

    It appears that the Trump admin­is­tra­tion has some last minute loot­ing in mind that is so egre­gious there’s a bunch of anony­mous senior Trump admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials who are now talk­ing to the press about it. Weeks before the elec­tion. That’s how bad this is. Specif­i­cal­ly, the Trump White House is push­ing to grant a no-bid con­tract to lease the Defense Depart­men­t’s mid-band spec­trum — fre­quen­cies in the 1 GHz – 6 GHz range seen as ide­al for 5G telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works — to a com­pa­ny with polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed own­ers. Egre­gious­ly polit­i­cal­ly con­nect­ed own­ers. Karl Rove and Peter Thiel.

    The hope behind the project is that the Defense Depart­men­t’s mid-band spec­trum can be shared with the com­mer­cial space for 5G pur­pos­es with­out dis­rupt­ing the US mil­i­tary’s telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions needs. The Riva­da bid would be for 350 mega­hertz of spec­trum and is esti­mat­ed to be worth $22.5 bil­lion. The project is char­ac­ter­ized by one anony­mous senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial as, “the biggest hand­off of eco­nom­ic pow­er to a sin­gle enti­ty in his­to­ry.” The biggest hand­off of econ­o­my pow­er to a sin­gle enti­ty in his­to­ry in a no-bid con­tract to Karl Rove and Peter Thiel. That should prob­a­bly ‘own the libs’ pret­ty effec­tive­ly.

    It sounds like the pres­sure cam­paign to fast track Rivada’s “Request for Pro­pos­al” (RFP) in a way that would pre­clude a com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process inten­si­fied in Sep­tem­ber and is being led by White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows act­ing at Trump’s behest. Newt Gin­grich is already report­ed­ly involved in the lob­by­ing process to make this hap­pen.

    It’s not exact­ly sur­pris­ing the Peter Thiel would be the recip­i­ent of Trump’s largess, why Karl Rove? It’s not like Rove has been par­tic­u­lar­ly close to the Trump White House this whole time. Well, while Rove may not have the kind of gen­er­al cachet he used to with the Repub­li­can base, there’s one par­tic­u­lar demo­graph­ic where Rove con­tin­ues to be very influ­en­tial: Repub­li­can Mega-donors. As we’ve seen, Rove remains a key fig­ure in the con­tem­po­rary world of Repub­li­can mega-donors and that gives him very real clout with any Repub­li­can politi­cian in need of that mega-donor mon­ey. And if there’s one Repub­li­can in des­per­ate need of mega-donor mon­ey right now it’s Don­ald Trump...because his own cam­paign has appar­ent­ly already blown through its $1 bil­lion cash trove (large­ly through insid­er-self-enrich­ment) and the cam­paign is now des­per­ate­ly short on cash. That’s report­ed­ly the motive for the Riva­da deal...getting all that Rove mega-donor mon­ey for the Trump cam­paign. The libs are going to be livid when they hear about this.

    Addi­tion­al­ly, it sounds like the Pen­ta­gon is resist­ing the plan because its not actu­al­ly con­vinced that Riva­da has the tech­nol­o­gy that would allow the Pen­ta­gon to safe­ly lease out this spec­trum space with­out poten­tial­ly dis­rupt­ing US mil­i­tary readi­ness. Yep. So after loot­ing its own cam­paign, the Trump White House is how try­ing to loot the US mil­i­tary’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions spec­trum so he can get more cam­paign mon­ey to loot. Those libs that care about mil­i­tary readi­ness are go to be sooooo pissed. Will any Repub­li­cans share in that out­rage? We’ll see, but lib tears can be quite deli­cious:

    CNN

    Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials alarmed by White House push to fast track lucra­tive 5G spec­trum con­tract, sources say

    By Jake Tap­per, Anchor and Chief Wash­ing­ton Cor­re­spon­dent

    Updat­ed 7:33 PM ET, Tue Octo­ber 20, 2020

    Wash­ing­ton (CNN) Senior offi­cials through­out var­i­ous depart­ments and agen­cies of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion tell CNN they are alarmed at White House pres­sure to grant what would essen­tial­ly be a no-bid con­tract to lease the Depart­ment of Defense’s mid-band spec­trum — pre­mi­um real estate for the boom­ing and lucra­tive 5G mar­ket — to Riva­da Net­works, a com­pa­ny in which promi­nent Repub­li­cans and sup­port­ers of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump have invest­ments.

    The pres­sure cam­paign to fast track Rivada’s “Request for Pro­pos­al” (RFP) by using author­i­ties that would pre­clude a com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process inten­si­fied in Sep­tem­ber, and has been led by White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows, who was act­ing at Trump’s behest, sources with knowl­edge tell CNN. To push his case, Mead­ows has some­times used as his proxy an indi­vid­ual iden­ti­fied by sources in the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions indus­try as a top finan­cial man­age­ment offi­cial in the US Army.

    Sources tell CNN that Trump was encour­aged to help Riva­da by Fox News com­men­ta­tor and vet­er­an GOP strate­gist Karl Rove, a lob­by­ist for, and investor in, Riva­da.

    Untold bil­lions are at stake. A gov­ern­ment auc­tion of 70 mega­hertz of spec­trum in August went for more than $4.5 bil­lion. The Riva­da bid would be for 350 mega­hertz of spec­trum — five times that amount.

    Rove denied to CNN that Riva­da is seek­ing an RFP or any non-com­pet­i­tive process. “If we were offered a no-bid con­tract we would turn it down,” he told CNN. “The tech­nol­o­gy should stand on its own.”

    Denials notwith­stand­ing, informed sources tell CNN that the White House is unques­tion­ably pres­sur­ing the Pen­ta­gon to approve what would like­ly be, in the words of one senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial, “the biggest hand­off of eco­nom­ic pow­er to a sin­gle enti­ty in his­to­ry,” and to do so with­out full exam­i­na­tion of the impact on nation­al secu­ri­ty and with­out a com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process.

    Craig Mof­fett, a high­ly regard­ed Wall Street ana­lyst of the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sec­tor, con­clud­ed in a Octo­ber 7 research paper: “The whole sto­ry smacks of crony­ism at best and reeks of ‘the swamp’ at worst.”

    “Spec­trum is intense­ly valu­able,” Rove told CNN. “God is not invent­ing any more. There is a finite amount of spec­trum avail­able to car­ry wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

    Newt Gin­grich, the for­mer Repub­li­can speak­er of the House and not­ed Trump sup­port­er, has also been advo­cat­ing for the Pen­ta­gon to share its 5G net­work with com­mer­cial users, and doing so in a way that has left insid­ers under the impres­sion that he lob­bied for Riva­da. Gin­grich tells CNN he “nev­er advo­cat­ed for Riva­da” specif­i­cal­ly and “did all of it pro bono as a cit­i­zen.”

    When asked direct­ly for a com­ment about alarm that the White House was pres­sur­ing offi­cials to offer Riva­da the RFP, a White House offi­cial told CNN that “the White House has not tak­en a posi­tion in favor of any com­pa­ny over anoth­er with regard to 5G spec­trum” and insist­ed that “con­ver­sa­tions are ongo­ing but it is still pre-deci­sion­al. Regard­less, what­ev­er deci­sion is ulti­mate­ly made will be a result of best cost/benefit for the tax­pay­er, not any polit­i­cal rea­sons.”

    ...

    A spokesman for Riva­da denies that the com­pa­ny is pur­su­ing a non-com­pet­i­tive RFP. “Absolute­ly not,” Riva­da spokesman Bri­an Car­ney told CNN. “We have always advo­cat­ed for a com­pet­i­tive process.”

    Trump’s top eco­nom­ic advis­er, Lar­ry Kud­low, has been argu­ing against any­thing but free mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion for the mid-band spec­trum, which is seen as ide­al for 5G because it can car­ry loads of data while also trav­el­ing sig­nif­i­cant dis­tances. For years, Trump seem­ing­ly agreed with Kud­low. Yet some­thing changed come elec­tion time, sources tell CNN, and the Pres­i­dent began push­ing Mead­ows to help Riva­da.

    Informed sources spec­u­late that Trump may have been try­ing to cur­ry favor with Rove, who has nev­er been a reli­able mem­ber of the MAGA team but remains a pow­er­ful fundrais­ing force and strate­gist in GOP pol­i­tics.

    A more benign inter­pre­ta­tion might be that the Pres­i­dent and Mead­ows are focused on hav­ing 5G net­works spread as quick­ly and safe­ly across the US and have been frus­trat­ed with Pen­ta­gon and Fed­er­al Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion time­lines and bureau­cra­cy.

    Pen­ta­gon resis­tance

    Pen­ta­gon lead­ers are resist­ing the move, sources tell CNN, since they are con­cerned that this is being rushed with­out thor­ough­ly vet­ting the impact it could have on mil­i­tary readi­ness. Pen­ta­gon lawyers have told the White House that their depart­ment has no author­i­ty to issue RFPs for the pur­pose of leas­ing or sell­ing off its spec­trum, and they think that to do so in the man­ner the White House is push­ing would be a com­plete devi­a­tion from nor­mal rules and reg­u­la­tions.

    Even if the Pen­ta­gon had the author­i­ty to do this, and did­n’t have qualms about doing it in a non-com­pet­i­tive way, sources say that Pen­ta­gon offi­cials are unsure that Riva­da has the abil­i­ty to lease the spec­trum for com­mer­cial use while also pre­serv­ing the US mil­i­tary’s abil­i­ty to use the spec­trum for mil­i­tary exer­cis­es and the defense of the coun­try

    Riva­da offi­cials are pub­licly con­fi­dent about their abil­i­ty to do both. But that con­fi­dence is not shared by many key play­ers in this process. One Pen­ta­gon offi­cial told CNN that while Riva­da believes it has the best solu­tion for shar­ing the spec­trum, the Pen­ta­gon has­n’t vet­ted that asser­tion, so it would be pre­ma­ture to ask the com­pa­ny for an RFP, which would be “an absolute gold mine” if award­ed, the offi­cial said.

    FCC offi­cials have also been stunned at the White House­’s push, both at its attempt to do this using oth­er agen­cies instead of their inde­pen­dent com­mis­sion, and the attempt to do so with­out respect­ing the nor­mal inde­pen­dent bid­ding process.

    Con­cern on Capi­tol Hill

    Both Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill are con­cerned. House Ener­gy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man Rep. Frank Pal­lone Jr., Demo­c­rat of New Jer­sey, and the chair of the rel­e­vant sub­com­mit­tee, Rep. Mike Doyle, Demo­c­rat of Penn­syl­va­nia, recent­ly request­ed more infor­ma­tion about whether “the White House has instruct­ed DoD to pro­ceed imme­di­ate­ly to a Request for Pro­pos­al (‘RFP’) in order to move for­ward toward a nation­al 5G net­work.”

    “Accord­ing to press accounts, sev­er­al polit­i­cal oper­a­tives or lob­by­ists with close ties to Pres­i­dent Trump or his staff...are push­ing for the seis­mic shift in spec­trum pol­i­cy con­tem­plat­ed by the RFI. These reports also sug­gest these Repub­li­can oper­a­tives are work­ing for the ben­e­fit of a spe­cif­ic com­pa­ny, Riva­da, Inc., which has long cham­pi­oned a nation­al net­work that Riva­da would con­struct and oper­ate using its shar­ing tech­nol­o­gy,” Pal­lone and Doyle wrote.

    It’s not just Democ­rats who have raised red flags. At the end of Sep­tem­ber, Sen. John Thune, Repub­li­can of South Dako­ta, along with 18 oth­er GOP sen­a­tors, protest­ed any poten­tial move which would not “rely on pri­vate indus­try and mar­ket forces to fos­ter mul­ti­ple, facil­i­ties-based 5G net­works” but rather push “nation­al­iz­ing 5G and exper­i­ment­ing with untest­ed mod­els for 5G deploy­ment.” The GOP law­mak­ers did not men­tion Riva­da by name.

    Failed effort to win first respon­der con­tract

    Riva­da Net­works is a pri­vate­ly-held com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­ny that has won gov­ern­ment con­tracts in the past. Among its investors is Peter Thiel, the not­ed tech ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist bil­lion­aire and Trump sup­port­er. Spokes­peo­ple for Thiel did not respond to a request for com­ment.

    Beyond the enthu­si­asm of Rivada’s investors and lob­by­ists, many admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials are con­fused as to why Riva­da is even being con­sid­ered for the lucra­tive con­tract.

    In 2016 and 2017, the com­pa­ny pur­sued a nation­wide pub­lic safe­ty con­tract, First Respon­der Net­work Author­i­ty, los­ing out to AT&T. (AT&T is the par­ent com­pa­ny of CNN, but no one affil­i­at­ed with this sto­ry has com­mu­ni­cat­ed with any­one at AT&T in any way about this sto­ry.) Riva­da appealed that deci­sion, which a fed­er­al court reject­ed.

    “The grounds on which we were turned down was that we did not charge first respon­ders enough,” Rove said.

    That’s not how the court would put it. In her 2017 rul­ing, Judge Elaine Kaplan said that due to “Rivada’s finan­cial sit­u­a­tion and the restric­tions in the solic­i­ta­tion, there was an unac­cept­ably high like­li­hood that the banks might invoke those con­di­tions, leav­ing Riva­da with­out the finan­cial capac­i­ty to even begin per­for­mance on the con­tract.”

    The court also not­ed that First­Net had assessed that Riva­da “possesse(d) few capa­bil­i­ties, staff, or finan­cial resources”; did “not itself have mate­r­i­al expe­ri­ence in...building and oper­at­ing a nation­wide wire­less net­work”; and lacked any expe­ri­ence in “super­vis­ing a project of the size and scope” of the nation­wide pub­lic safe­ty broad­band net­work.

    “We think that the eval­u­a­tion com­mit­tee in First­Net erred because it judged Riva­da Net­works as a stand­alone enti­ty bid­ding for First­Net,” Car­ney told CNN, not­ing that Riva­da was work­ing with a con­sor­tium of sev­er­al large com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies. But Riva­da Net­works did­n’t bid on First­Net. Riva­da Mer­cury, a con­sor­tium joint­ly owned by Riva­da, Har­ris, Fujit­su and Black & Veatch (IIRC) bid on First­Net.”

    Speed­ing the process

    Ear­li­er this year, Mead­ows asked Pen­ta­gon lead­er­ship to exam­ine what could be done to free up some of this 5G spec­trum for auc­tion by the FCC, and chief infor­ma­tion offi­cer Dana Deasy was assigned to the task, accord­ing to sources.

    This task, which would nor­mal­ly take around 15 months, was fast-tracked to take only 15 weeks. In August, the White House and Pen­ta­gon announced plans to free up for auc­tion 100 mega­hertz band of spec­trum. In Sep­tem­ber the FCC pro­posed a plan for doing so, with a sched­uled auc­tion end-date of Decem­ber 2021.

    This process is being done by the book, observers note, albeit extreme­ly quick­ly. Sep­a­rate­ly, in Sep­tem­ber the Pen­ta­gon issued a Request for Infor­ma­tion about what should be done with a band of spec­trum that Riva­da has its eyes on. The due date for the RFI respons­es was Mon­day.

    Beyond that, and less trans­par­ent­ly, is the push by the White House to force the Pen­ta­gon to hand over con­trol of this mid-band spec­trum to Riva­da, sources tell CNN.

    “Some­thing is real­ly fishy about this,” a senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial told CNN.

    ...

    ———–

    “Admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials alarmed by White House push to fast track lucra­tive 5G spec­trum con­tract, sources say” by Jake Tap­per; CNN; 10/20/2020

    “The pres­sure cam­paign to fast track Rivada’s “Request for Pro­pos­al” (RFP) by using author­i­ties that would pre­clude a com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process inten­si­fied in Sep­tem­ber, and has been led by White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows, who was act­ing at Trump’s behest, sources with knowl­edge tell CNN. To push his case, Mead­ows has some­times used as his proxy an indi­vid­ual iden­ti­fied by sources in the telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions indus­try as a top finan­cial man­age­ment offi­cial in the US Army.”

    This is a ‘Trump White House’ scan­dal. It’s very direct­ly a Trump scan­dal. At least that’s the case if Trump is the one who ordered White House chief of staff Mark Mead­ows to pur­sue this. And who else could have pos­si­bly ordered Mead­ows to do so oth­er than Trump?

    And note how Trump was appar­ent­ly pre­vi­ous­ly on board with sup­port­ing the nor­mal com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process. But some­thing appears to have changed his mind...right around elec­tion time:

    ...
    Sources tell CNN that Trump was encour­aged to help Riva­da by Fox News com­men­ta­tor and vet­er­an GOP strate­gist Karl Rove, a lob­by­ist for, and investor in, Riva­da.

    ...

    Trump’s top eco­nom­ic advis­er, Lar­ry Kud­low, has been argu­ing against any­thing but free mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion for the mid-band spec­trum, which is seen as ide­al for 5G because it can car­ry loads of data while also trav­el­ing sig­nif­i­cant dis­tances. For years, Trump seem­ing­ly agreed with Kud­low. Yet some­thing changed come elec­tion time, sources tell CNN, and the Pres­i­dent began push­ing Mead­ows to help Riva­da.

    Informed sources spec­u­late that Trump may have been try­ing to cur­ry favor with Rove, who has nev­er been a reli­able mem­ber of the MAGA team but remains a pow­er­ful fundrais­ing force and strate­gist in GOP pol­i­tics.
    ...

    And based on an August auc­tion of 70 mega­hertz of spec­trum for $4.5 bil­lion, and the esti­mate that the Riva­da con­tract would be worth 5 times that much, we can put a rough val­u­a­tion of $22.5 bil­lion or so, mak­ing this, in the words of one anony­mous senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial, “the biggest hand­off of eco­nom­ic pow­er to a sin­gle enti­ty in his­to­ry”. Even the FCC was report­ed­ly stunned:

    ...
    Untold bil­lions are at stake. A gov­ern­ment auc­tion of 70 mega­hertz of spec­trum in August went for more than $4.5 bil­lion. The Riva­da bid would be for 350 mega­hertz of spec­trum — five times that amount.

    Rove denied to CNN that Riva­da is seek­ing an RFP or any non-com­pet­i­tive process. “If we were offered a no-bid con­tract we would turn it down,” he told CNN. “The tech­nol­o­gy should stand on its own.”

    Denials notwith­stand­ing, informed sources tell CNN that the White House is unques­tion­ably pres­sur­ing the Pen­ta­gon to approve what would like­ly be, in the words of one senior admin­is­tra­tion offi­cial, “the biggest hand­off of eco­nom­ic pow­er to a sin­gle enti­ty in his­to­ry,” and to do so with­out full exam­i­na­tion of the impact on nation­al secu­ri­ty and with­out a com­pet­i­tive bid­ding process.

    ...

    FCC offi­cials have also been stunned at the White House­’s push, both at its attempt to do this using oth­er agen­cies instead of their inde­pen­dent com­mis­sion, and the attempt to do so with­out respect­ing the nor­mal inde­pen­dent bid­ding process.
    ...

    And that his­toric eco­nom­ic hand­off just hap­pens to present a poten­tial­ly very seri­ous mil­i­tary vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. Because pri­or­i­ties:

    ...
    Pen­ta­gon lead­ers are resist­ing the move, sources tell CNN, since they are con­cerned that this is being rushed with­out thor­ough­ly vet­ting the impact it could have on mil­i­tary readi­ness. Pen­ta­gon lawyers have told the White House that their depart­ment has no author­i­ty to issue RFPs for the pur­pose of leas­ing or sell­ing off its spec­trum, and they think that to do so in the man­ner the White House is push­ing would be a com­plete devi­a­tion from nor­mal rules and reg­u­la­tions.

    Even if the Pen­ta­gon had the author­i­ty to do this, and did­n’t have qualms about doing it in a non-com­pet­i­tive way, sources say that Pen­ta­gon offi­cials are unsure that Riva­da has the abil­i­ty to lease the spec­trum for com­mer­cial use while also pre­serv­ing the US mil­i­tary’s abil­i­ty to use the spec­trum for mil­i­tary exer­cis­es and the defense of the coun­try

    Riva­da offi­cials are pub­licly con­fi­dent about their abil­i­ty to do both. But that con­fi­dence is not shared by many key play­ers in this process. One Pen­ta­gon offi­cial told CNN that while Riva­da believes it has the best solu­tion for shar­ing the spec­trum, the Pen­ta­gon has­n’t vet­ted that asser­tion, so it would be pre­ma­ture to ask the com­pa­ny for an RFP, which would be “an absolute gold mine” if award­ed, the offi­cial said.
    ...

    Keep in mind that the mil­i­tary is only going to become increas­ing­ly reliant on telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion infra­struc­ture over time as defense sys­tems becom­ing increas­ing­ly con­nect­ed and auto­mat­ed. Just imag­ine how ‘owned’ the libs would be if this stunt ends up cre­at­ing vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties the var­i­ous remote-con­trolled and auto­mat­ed mil­i­tary drone tech­nolo­gies of the future. That could be some extreme ‘own­ing’.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 24, 2020, 4:00 pm
  18. The recent should-be-mega-scan­dal (that no one seems to care about) over the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s push to lease chunks of the Pen­tagon’s spec­trum out for 5G com­mer­cial uses to a com­pa­ny affil­i­at­ed with Karl Rove and Peter Thiel, seem­ing­ly in order to cur­ry the favor of Rove’s GOP mega-donor net­work to raise mon­ey for Trump’s cash-strapped reelec­tion cam­paign, rais­es a lot of ques­tions. Urgent ques­tions about what types of oth­er swampy ‘favors’ might Trump be engaged in right now in order to raise those funds. Ques­tions about not just the nature of those favors but the iden­ti­ty of those recip­i­ents.

    And since the 2016 Trump cam­paign was so ready and will­ing to solic­it a range of for­eign assis­tance in the elec­tion (like the Saudi/UAE Psy Group offer), when we ask about who the Trump cam­paign might be court­ing for some cam­paign-cash-for-favors quid pro quo we have to extend that to for­eign donors.

    So it’s worth not­ing anoth­er should-be-mega-scan­dal (that no one seems to care about) that was recent­ly revealed about the 2016 elec­tion that involved pre­cise­ly this sce­nario: for­eign donors back­ing a last-minute injec­tion of cam­paign cash into the Trump cam­paign.

    Specif­i­cal­ly, it was revealed that the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion includ­ed a pre­vi­ous­ly unknown inves­ti­ga­tion into what appeared to be an Egypt­ian state-owned bank back­ing Trump’s per­son­al injec­tion of $10 mil­lion into his cam­paign 11 days before the 2016 elec­tion right when Trump inject­ed $10 mil­lion into his own cam­paign. Egypt­ian Pres­i­dent Abdel Fat­tah el-Sisi hap­pened to be the first for­eign leader to call and con­grat­u­late Trump after he won.

    The inves­ti­ga­tion into this trans­ac­tion start­ed in the FBI after Trump won the elec­tion and was lat­er trans­ferred to the Mueller team. No charges ulti­mate­ly came out the inves­ti­ga­tion but, as we’re going to see, the inves­ti­ga­tors were also very suc­cess­ful­ly blocked by both the Egypt­ian bank and, lat­er, by fed­er­al judges that blocked inquiries into Trump’s finances that would have helped clar­i­fy the nature of this trans­ac­tion.

    The par­tic­u­lar mem­ber of the Trump cam­paign investors were report­ed­ly most inter­est­ed in was Trump’s for­eign pol­i­cy advis­er Walid Phares. But it sounds like Steve Ban­non and Steve Mnuchin could have played a role. In Sep­tem­ber of 2016, Trump met with pres­i­dent el-Sisi, where the two hit it off. Ban­non appar­ent­ly played a role in set­ting up that meet­ing. Ban­non also told inves­ti­ga­tors that Trump was ini­tial­ly resis­tant to cut­ting his cam­paign a $10 mil­lion last minute check. But Trump was talked into it by future Mnuchin and Jared Kush­n­er. Mnuchin described the mon­ey as a “cash advance,” accord­ing to Ban­non, and Trump even­tu­al­ly agreed to wire the mon­ey. It does­n’t sound like Ban­non con­nect­ed that $10 mil­lion cash advance from Trump to the $10 mil­lion from the Egypt­ian bank, but since Ban­non, Mnuchin, and Kush­n­er were involved in these dis­cus­sions over the $10 mil­lion they want­ed Trump to inject into his cam­paign it seems very plau­si­ble they were involved with any arrange­ments involv­ing Egypt.

    So not only is there com­pelling evi­dence that a for­eign gov­ern­ment made a last-minute injec­tion into the 2016 Trump cam­paign, there’s also evi­dence that Trump got away with it, which is all the more rea­son we have to ask if a cash-strapped Trump cam­paign is doing it again:

    CNN

    Exclu­sive: Feds chased sus­pect­ed for­eign link to Trump’s 2016 cam­paign cash for three years

    By Kate­lyn Polantz, Evan Perez and Jere­my Herb
    Updat­ed 8:59 PM ET, Wed Octo­ber 14, 2020

    Wash­ing­ton (CNN) For more than three years, fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors inves­ti­gat­ed whether mon­ey flow­ing through an Egypt­ian state-owned bank could have backed mil­lions of dol­lars Don­ald Trump donat­ed to his own cam­paign days before he won the 2016 elec­tion, mul­ti­ple sources famil­iar with the inves­ti­ga­tion told CNN.

    The inves­ti­ga­tion, which both pre­dat­ed and out­last­ed spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s probe, exam­ined whether there was an ille­gal for­eign cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion. It rep­re­sents one of the most pro­longed efforts by fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors to under­stand the Pres­i­den­t’s for­eign finan­cial ties, and became a sig­nif­i­cant but hid­den part of the spe­cial coun­sel’s pur­suits.

    The inves­ti­ga­tion was kept so secret that at one point inves­ti­ga­tors locked down an entire floor of a fed­er­al cour­t­house in Wash­ing­ton, DC, so Mueller’s team could fight for the Egypt­ian bank’s records in closed-door court pro­ceed­ings fol­low­ing a grand jury sub­poe­na. The probe, which closed this sum­mer with no charges filed, has nev­er before been described pub­licly.

    Pros­e­cu­tors sus­pect­ed there could be a link between the Egypt­ian bank and Trump’s cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion, accord­ing to sev­er­al of the sources, but they could nev­er prove a con­nec­tion.

    It’s not clear that inves­ti­ga­tors ever had con­crete evi­dence of a rel­e­vant bank trans­fer from the Egypt­ian bank. But mul­ti­ple sources said there was suf­fi­cient infor­ma­tion to jus­ti­fy the sub­poe­na and keep the crim­i­nal cam­paign finance inves­ti­ga­tion open after the Mueller probe end­ed.

    CNN learned of the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion from more than a dozen sources famil­iar with the effort, as well as through hints in pub­lic records, includ­ing new­ly released court doc­u­ments and Mueller wit­ness inter­view sum­maries, called 302s, that CNN and Buz­zfeed obtained through law­suits.

    In a court fil­ing last month, the Jus­tice Depart­ment con­firmed that when the spe­cial coun­sel’s office shut down in 2019, Mueller trans­ferred an ongo­ing for­eign cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion inves­ti­ga­tion to pros­e­cu­tors in Wash­ing­ton. Some of CNN’s sources have con­firmed that the case, which Mueller cryp­ti­cal­ly called a “for­eign cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion” probe, was in fact the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion.

    The probe was con­firmed this week by a Jus­tice Depart­ment senior offi­cial who respond­ed to CNN’s queries: “The case was first looked at by the Spe­cial Coun­sel inves­ti­ga­tors who failed to bring a case, and then it was looked at by the US attor­ney’s office, and career pros­e­cu­tors in the nation­al secu­ri­ty sec­tion, who also were unable to bring a case. Based upon the rec­om­men­da­tions of both the FBI and those career pros­e­cu­tors, Michael Sher­win, the act­ing US attor­ney, for­mal­ly closed the case in July.”

    Part of what drew inves­ti­ga­tors’ ini­tial inter­est in the mat­ter was intel­li­gence, includ­ing from an infor­mant, that sug­gest­ed there could have been mon­ey from an Egypt­ian bank that end­ed up back­ing Trump’s last-minute injec­tion of $10 mil­lion into his 2016 cam­paign, accord­ing to two of the sources.

    Among the chief ques­tions pros­e­cu­tors sought to answer and appar­ent­ly nev­er did was whether Trump was sup­port­ed by or was indebt­ed to a for­eign pow­er.

    The inves­ti­ga­tion even went as far as the US Supreme Court, the only time dur­ing the two-year Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion a dis­pute went to the high court. The jus­tices ulti­mate­ly declined to hear the case.

    Yet nei­ther the spe­cial coun­sel’s office, nor pros­e­cu­tors who car­ried on the case after Mueller, got a com­plete pic­ture of the Pres­i­den­t’s finan­cial entan­gle­ments. Pros­e­cu­tors in Wash­ing­ton even pro­posed sub­poe­naing finan­cial records tied to Trump, before top offi­cials final­ly con­clud­ed this sum­mer they had reached a dead end, the sources said.

    As aggres­sive as Mueller’s office was — charg­ing mul­ti­ple Trump advis­ers for obstruc­tion, gain­ing coop­er­a­tors, indict­ing Rus­sians for elec­tion-relat­ed malfea­sance and doc­u­ment­ing attempts by the Pres­i­dent to obstruct jus­tice — the spe­cial coun­sel has faced crit­i­cism, includ­ing from one of its own pros­e­cu­tors, for not tak­ing bold enough inves­tiga­tive steps to gain access to the Pres­i­den­t’s finances.

    Jason Miller, a senior advis­er to the Trump 2020 cam­paign, said in response to CNN’s ques­tions, “Pres­i­dent Trump has nev­er received a pen­ny from Egypt.”

    A spokesman for the Egypt­ian Pres­i­dent declined to com­ment.

    Egypt sus­pi­cions

    After Trump’s elec­tion win, the FBI began work­ing with pros­e­cu­tors in the DC US attor­ney’s office to inves­ti­gate the Egypt mat­ter, accord­ing to a per­son famil­iar with the office.

    “It was some­thing that looked inter­est­ing,” that per­son said. “We real­ly did­n’t do much work on it before turn­ing it loose.”

    In May 2017, after Trump fired FBI Direc­tor James Comey, Robert Mueller was appoint­ed spe­cial coun­sel, and he took on the case.

    Mueller’s pri­ma­ry task was to inves­ti­gate Russ­ian gov­ern­ment attempts to inter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion, which had con­sumed the polit­i­cal and inves­tiga­tive con­ver­sa­tions in the ear­ly days of Trump’s pres­i­den­cy. But Mueller’s man­date also allowed him to take on relat­ed crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tions, which in this case includ­ed anoth­er probe of poten­tial for­eign influ­ence con­nect­ed to the cam­paign.

    Accord­ing to a recent book by Andrew Weiss­mann, one of Mueller’s senior pros­e­cu­tors, the spe­cial coun­sel’s office con­sist­ed of three prin­ci­pal teams: one focused on for­mer Trump cam­paign chair­man Paul Man­afort, anoth­er on Rus­si­a’s elec­tion inter­fer­ence, and a third on the Pres­i­den­t’s attempts to obstruct jus­tice.

    But there was a fourth team, CNN has learned: one part­ly ded­i­cat­ed to inves­ti­gat­ing the Egypt mat­ter.

    Zainab Ahmad, a for­mer inter­na­tion­al ter­ror­ism pros­e­cu­tor, and Bran­don Van Grack, a nation­al secu­ri­ty and coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence spe­cial­ist, co-led it, accord­ing to sources. Pub­lic records also show they focused on cas­es sep­a­rate from oth­er tri­al attor­neys in the spe­cial coun­sel’s office and had senior titles equiv­a­lent to oth­er Mueller team lead­ers.

    Van Grack large­ly focused on the case against for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er Michael Fly­nn. Ahmad assist­ed Van Grack on Fly­nn then devot­ed her­self to the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion. Ahmad, when reached by CNN, would­n’t speak about her work in the spe­cial coun­sel’s inves­ti­ga­tion. She is now a lawyer in pri­vate prac­tice. Van Grack is now a Jus­tice Depart­ment pros­e­cu­tor over­see­ing for­eign lob­by­ing inves­ti­ga­tions, and did­n’t respond to a request for com­ment.

    Mueller’s team tried to under­stand both the $10 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion Trump gave to his cam­paign 11 days before the 2016 elec­tion and the Trump cam­paign’s ties to Egypt­ian Pres­i­dent Abdel Fat­tah el-Sisi, accord­ing to sources and redact­ed inter­view records released from the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion.

    In the clos­ing weeks of the 2016 cam­paign, Trump and Sisi met in New York dur­ing the Unit­ed Nations Gen­er­al Assem­bly. The Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date hit it off with the dic­ta­tor. Sisi said after­ward that Trump would “no doubt” be a strong pres­i­dent while Trump called the Egypt­ian leader “a fan­tas­tic guy” with whom he had “good chem­istry” — a notable dif­fer­ence from Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion pol­i­cy, which was reflect­ed in Hillary Clin­ton’s focus on Egyp­t’s human rights record dur­ing her own meet­ing with Sisi at the Gen­er­al Assem­bly.

    Sisi became the first for­eign leader to call and con­grat­u­late Trump after he won the elec­tion. At a 2019 G7 sum­mit, Trump called out, “Where’s my favorite dic­ta­tor?” as he await­ed the Egypt­ian Pres­i­dent, accord­ing to press reports.

    The last-minute ‘loan’

    By sum­mer 2017, Mueller’s office was han­dling the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion gin­ger­ly, with the team of pros­e­cu­tors and FBI per­son­nel often work­ing with­out shar­ing full details with the oth­er teams in the office, accord­ing to mul­ti­ple accounts of the office’s dynam­ics.

    CNN sent Mueller detailed ques­tions about the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion for this sto­ry. He declined to com­ment.

    One offi­cial famil­iar with the work said some inves­ti­ga­tors believed the Egypt inquiry pre­sent­ed a more direct avenue for Mueller’s team to exam­ine Trump’s finances, in part because it did not have an obvi­ous tie to Rus­sia.

    Div­ing into Trump’s finances, how­ev­er, was high­ly sen­si­tive — so much so that Mueller sus­pect­ed the Pres­i­dent would fire him if the White House learned his finances were being probed, cross­ing a so-called “red line” Trump set ear­ly in the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Yet under­stand­ing Trump’s finances was cru­cial to the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion — espe­cial­ly regard­ing the $10 mil­lion he gave to his cam­paign.

    Need­ing a final push before Elec­tion Day as the polls tight­ened in 2016, the Trump cam­paign was run­ning low on cash. Trump’s top cam­paign offi­cials scram­bled to con­vince Trump to inject mon­ey, accord­ing to mem­os of wit­ness inter­views from the inves­ti­ga­tion and con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous news reports.

    Trump lagged well behind a pledge he made to spend $100 mil­lion of his own mon­ey on his cam­paign. Less than two weeks before Elec­tion Day, Trump wrote his cam­paign a $10 mil­lion check, pub­licly call­ing it a loan. Cam­paign finance records showed it as his sin­gle largest polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tion, by far, and not one the cam­paign would reim­burse him for.

    Fed­er­al law enforce­ment offi­cials sus­pect­ed, in part because of intel­li­gence infor­ma­tion, that there was mon­ey mov­ing through the Egypt­ian bank that could con­nect to Trump’s cam­paign dona­tion, accord­ing to the sources. Yet untan­gling the web of Trump’s com­plex busi­ness inter­ests ulti­mate­ly remained out of reach.

    Cam­paign finance law pro­hibits for­eign polit­i­cal con­tri­bu­tions to cam­paigns for pub­lic office. A finan­cial tie between a sit­ting pres­i­dent and a for­eign coun­try could also have explo­sive nation­al secu­ri­ty con­se­quences.

    Mueller’s office pressed wit­ness­es to explain how the Trump-Sisi meet­ing in late 2016 came about. Ahmad, whose aims on the inves­ti­ga­tion were cloaked in secre­cy, was repeat­ed­ly present in inter­views touch­ing on both Trump’s $10 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to his cam­paign and the cam­paign’s ties to Egypt.

    For instance, in one wit­ness inter­view in Novem­ber 2017, Ahmad and the FBI pressed an unnamed for­mer staffer on the Trump cam­paign, tran­si­tion and Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil about Trump’s meet­ing with Sisi and her inter­ac­tions with Egypt­ian nation­als. Anoth­er wit­ness, accord­ing to the inter­view mem­os, spoke to inves­ti­ga­tors in August 2018 about the Trump-Sisi meet­ing and Egyp­t’s stance on US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions.

    Mueller’s team repeat­ed­ly asked wit­ness­es ques­tions about Trump for­eign pol­i­cy cam­paign advis­er Walid Phares and his ties to Egypt, after intel­li­gence point­ed them toward him. The New York Times first report­ed in June about the spe­cial coun­sel’s inves­ti­ga­tion into Phares’ sus­pect­ed role in an Egypt­ian influ­ence effort. It led to no charges. The FBI has not made pub­lic records that show Mueller’s team inter­view­ing Phares, though the for­mer Trump advis­er has said he spoke to inves­ti­ga­tors. Phares’ assis­tant declined to com­ment.

    In an ini­tial inter­view with the spe­cial coun­sel’s office, senior cam­paign offi­cial and White House advis­er Stephen Ban­non also dis­cussed his role in set­ting up the meet­ing between Trump and Sisi.

    In a ses­sion months lat­er, Ban­non was asked about Trump’s $10 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to his cam­paign, accord­ing to anoth­er recent release of Mueller’s inter­view mem­os.

    Ban­non explained to Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tors how Trump ini­tial­ly resist­ed cut­ting his cam­paign such a large check, and that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­n­er doubt­ed that Trump would do so, say­ing, “that was not going to hap­pen,” accord­ing to Ban­non. But Trump was talked into pro­vid­ing the last-minute mon­ey by future Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin and Kush­n­er, Ban­non said. Mnuchin described the mon­ey as a “cash advance,” Ban­non said, and Trump even­tu­al­ly agreed to wire the mon­ey. “Trump was con­vinced the cash would be there,” Ban­non said, accord­ing to the inter­view sum­ma­ry.

    A spokesper­son for Mnuchin at the Trea­sury Depart­ment con­firmed Ban­non’s descrip­tion of con­vinc­ing Trump to make the loan, and said that Mnuchin had no knowl­edge of how Trump had $10 mil­lion avail­able to him.

    Records of the spe­cial coun­sel’s office inter­views, which remain heav­i­ly redact­ed, do not make clear whether wit­ness­es were asked direct­ly about mon­ey con­nect­ed to Egypt. At the same time, inves­ti­ga­tors may have sought not to tip their sus­pi­cions to wit­ness­es — espe­cial­ly those like Ban­non who were close to the Pres­i­dent.

    ...

    Trump him­self nev­er had to answer ques­tions direct­ly about his $10 mil­lion cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion, in part because of the broad­ness of ques­tions sub­mit­ted to his lawyers to answer in writ­ing.

    Mueller asked the Pres­i­dent, “Did any per­son or enti­ty inform you dur­ing the cam­paign that any for­eign gov­ern­ment or for­eign leader, oth­er than Rus­sia or Vladimir Putin, had pro­vid­ed, wished to pro­vide, or offered to pro­vide tan­gi­ble sup­port to your cam­paign?” Trump wrote back in his writ­ten answers that he had “no rec­ol­lec­tion of being told dur­ing the cam­paign” of sup­port from a for­eign gov­ern­ment.

    Mys­tery court fight

    The Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion also led to one of the most secre­tive court pro­ceed­ings in Wash­ing­ton in years.

    Until now, the case was only known to be a fight over a grand jury sub­poe­na between the Mueller team and a for­eign gov­ern­ment-owned com­pa­ny.

    But CNN has learned the case was a fight over records from an Egypt­ian nation­al bank.

    In July 2018, the Mueller team issued a secret grand jury sub­poe­na for records to the Egypt­ian bank — spark­ing a months-long court fight fight that only grad­u­al­ly became pub­lic as it pro­gressed through the court sys­tem.

    Soon enough, the bank was argu­ing it should­n’t have to give Mueller records because it was inter­change­able with the for­eign gov­ern­ment that owned it. The US courts dis­agreed repeat­ed­ly, say­ing the com­pa­ny could­n’t be immune from the Mueller team sub­poe­na.

    At the time, the courts and Mueller’s team took extreme cau­tion to keep the mat­ter con­fi­den­tial. One judge, Beryl How­ell of the DC Dis­trict Court, wrote that the case dealt with “for­eign inter­fer­ence in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion and poten­tial col­lu­sion in those efforts by Amer­i­can cit­i­zens.”

    The fight was so close­ly guard­ed that it took months for the names of lawyers involved to emerge, only becom­ing pub­lic first through CNN report­ing then con­firmed by court records.

    Attor­neys who rep­re­sent­ed the bank in the sub­poe­na fight and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from their law firm, Alston & Bird, did not respond to CNN’s inquiries for this sto­ry.

    When the fed­er­al appeals court in Wash­ing­ton, DC, heard argu­ments in the case in Decem­ber 2018, secu­ri­ty cleared jour­nal­ists from an entire floor of the fed­er­al cour­t­house, allow­ing attor­neys involved in the case to enter and exit the build­ing and the court­room with­out being seen.

    CNN, how­ev­er, spot­ted Mueller team pros­e­cu­tors, includ­ing Ahmad, return­ing to the spe­cial coun­sel’s office min­utes after the hear­ing end­ed.

    The case even land­ed before the Supreme Court in ear­ly 2019. The high court ulti­mate­ly declined the com­pa­ny’s bid to block Mueller’s sub­poe­na in March 2019.

    Even then, how­ev­er, the stand­off between US pros­e­cu­tors and the Egypt­ian bank end­ed in a stale­mate.

    The bank had hand­ed over almost 1,000 pages of doc­u­ments to pros­e­cu­tors, trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish, accord­ing to redact­ed court records that were even­tu­al­ly released after the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion con­clud­ed. But that did­n’t sat­is­fy pros­e­cu­tors, either in the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion or the DC US attor­ney’s office.

    The bank’s lawyers pro­fessed it had “gone to great lengths to find and vol­un­tar­i­ly pro­duce doc­u­ments respon­sive to the sub­poe­na.”

    “What more could the Spe­cial Coun­sel want?” they asked, accord­ing to court tran­scripts.

    The fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors told the court they believed there must be more, and even the judge acknowl­edged gaps in the bank’s records.

    In the end, it was the bank’s word against the inves­ti­ga­tors. The court pro­ceed­ings end­ed with pros­e­cu­tors get­ting noth­ing more than what the bank was will­ing to turn over, and the bank was excused from hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in fines that had accrued for defy­ing the sub­poe­na.

    It appeared to be a dead end — and not jus­ti­fi­ca­tion enough for Mueller to keep his office open to fin­ish this case alone.

    ‘Con­tin­u­ing robust­ly’ after Mueller

    Inves­ti­ga­tors faced a cross­roads in ear­ly 2019 as Mueller final­ized his report. Deputy Attor­ney Gen­er­al Rod Rosen­stein and then-new Attor­ney Gen­er­al William Barr over­saw the end of Mueller’s probe and were briefed on inves­ti­ga­tions still ongo­ing, but they left it up to Mueller’s team and the FBI to deter­mine which unre­solved mat­ters should be sent to US attor­neys’ offices so Mueller’s office could close, accord­ing to sources briefed on the events.

    In late March 2019, short­ly after Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tion con­clud­ed, How­ell, over­see­ing final court pro­ceed­ings in the Egypt­ian bank’s sub­poe­na case, asked a pros­e­cu­tor point-blank if the inves­ti­ga­tion was over. “No, it’s con­tin­u­ing. I can say it’s con­tin­u­ing robust­ly,” David Good­hand of the DC US attor­ney’s office told the court.

    Anoth­er pros­e­cu­tor in the office told the judge the inves­ti­ga­tion, even after Mueller, was “very much a live issue” requir­ing “a great deal of resources, time and atten­tion by the gov­ern­ment,” accord­ing to a tran­script of a late March 2019 court hear­ing.

    For the past year and a half, the mat­ter was kept even qui­eter under Barr and three dif­fer­ent US attor­neys in Wash­ing­ton than it had been under Mueller.

    Behind the scenes the inves­ti­ga­tion hinged on whether pros­e­cu­tors, hav­ing been thwart­ed by the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment, had enough evi­dence to seek more infor­ma­tion relat­ed to Trump’s finances.

    At one point, pros­e­cu­tors want­ed to sub­poe­na Trump’s bank records, accord­ing to sources briefed on the inves­ti­ga­tion. The deci­sion to approve the sub­poe­na fell to US Attor­ney Jessie Liu in Wash­ing­ton, DC.

    Liu spent weeks por­ing over the inves­tiga­tive records before reject­ing the request, accord­ing to the sources. Liu told pros­e­cu­tors she did­n’t believe they had met the stan­dard need­ed to seek the records. The inves­ti­ga­tion stag­nat­ed, but Liu did­n’t close the case. She declined to com­ment for this sto­ry.

    It’s unclear how much activ­i­ty occurred after Liu reject­ed the sub­poe­na request. Pros­e­cu­tors who dis­agreed with her deci­sion believed it was now impos­si­ble to resolve ques­tions about Trump’s 2016 cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion. Liu told peo­ple in her office that if the inves­ti­ga­tion had pro­duced enough evi­dence, Mueller would have made the deci­sion to take addi­tion­al steps, accord­ing to sources.

    Liu’s tenure as US attor­ney came to an abrupt end in Feb­ru­ary, when she was pushed out after Repub­li­can law­mak­ers took aim at her over the han­dling of oth­er cas­es. Michael Sher­win, the cur­rent act­ing US attor­ney in DC, stepped into the job in May and reviewed the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Sher­win met with FBI inves­ti­ga­tors and coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence pros­e­cu­tors before decid­ing to close the case this sum­mer, sources briefed on the mat­ter said.

    Mueller’s for­eign cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion case

    Mueller and the Jus­tice Depart­ment have tak­en pains to keep qui­et that the inves­ti­ga­tion even exist­ed.

    The Mueller report does not men­tion the Egypt inves­ti­ga­tion. Though some parts of the report are still redact­ed, the large­ly pub­lic table of con­tents out­lines noth­ing that close­ly resem­bles descrip­tions of the case.

    Mueller dropped only one hint, list­ing it among 11 cas­es he inves­ti­gat­ed then trans­ferred to oth­er offices when his shop closed. For more than a year, the entry was redact­ed.

    Just last month, the Jus­tice Depart­ment lift­ed the redac­tion on this 11th case and said the case was closed.

    On paper, Mueller described the inves­ti­ga­tion with only three vague words: “For­eign cam­paign con­tri­bu­tion.”

    ————-

    “Exclu­sive: Feds chased sus­pect­ed for­eign link to Trump’s 2016 cam­paign cash for three years” by Kate­lyn Polantz, Evan Perez and Jere­my Herb; CNN; 10/14/2020

    “Part of what drew inves­ti­ga­tors’ ini­tial inter­est in the mat­ter was intel­li­gence, includ­ing from an infor­mant, that sug­gest­ed there could have been mon­ey from an Egypt­ian bank that end­ed up back­ing Trump’s last-minute injec­tion of $10 mil­lion into his 2016 cam­paign, accord­ing to two of the sources.

    An infor­mant and intel­li­gence. That’s the ini­tial basis for the inves­ti­ga­tion. We aren’t told who the infor­mant was or the nature of the intel­li­gence, but it’s pret­ty clear such a trans­ac­tion took place. The intense refusal of the Egypt­ian bank to coop­er­ate with the inves­ti­ga­tion is a pret­ty big clue some­thing tran­spired:

    ...
    In July 2018, the Mueller team issued a secret grand jury sub­poe­na for records to the Egypt­ian bank — spark­ing a months-long court fight fight that only grad­u­al­ly became pub­lic as it pro­gressed through the court sys­tem.

    Soon enough, the bank was argu­ing it should­n’t have to give Mueller records because it was inter­change­able with the for­eign gov­ern­ment that owned it. The US courts dis­agreed repeat­ed­ly, say­ing the com­pa­ny could­n’t be immune from the Mueller team sub­poe­na.

    ...

    The case even land­ed before the Supreme Court in ear­ly 2019. The high court ulti­mate­ly declined the com­pa­ny’s bid to block Mueller’s sub­poe­na in March 2019.

    Even then, how­ev­er, the stand­off between US pros­e­cu­tors and the Egypt­ian bank end­ed in a stale­mate.

    The bank had hand­ed over almost 1,000 pages of doc­u­ments to pros­e­cu­tors, trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish, accord­ing to redact­ed court records that were even­tu­al­ly released after the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion con­clud­ed. But that did­n’t sat­is­fy pros­e­cu­tors, either in the Mueller inves­ti­ga­tion or the DC US attor­ney’s office.

    The bank’s lawyers pro­fessed it had “gone to great lengths to find and vol­un­tar­i­ly pro­duce doc­u­ments respon­sive to the sub­poe­na.”

    “What more could the Spe­cial Coun­sel want?” they asked, accord­ing to court tran­scripts.

    The fed­er­al inves­ti­ga­tors told the court they believed there must be more, and even the judge acknowl­edged gaps in the bank’s records.

    In the end, it was the bank’s word against the inves­ti­ga­tors. The court pro­ceed­ings end­ed with pros­e­cu­tors get­ting noth­ing more than what the bank was will­ing to turn over, and the bank was excused from hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars in fines that had accrued for defy­ing the sub­poe­na.

    It appeared to be a dead end — and not jus­ti­fi­ca­tion enough for Mueller to keep his office open to fin­ish this case alone.
    ...

    And while it remains unclear who set up this arrange­ment between Trump and the mys­tery donor (that might be the gov­ern­ment of Egypt), it’s pret­ty clear that Steven Ban­non, Steve Mnuchin, and Jared Kush­n­er were some­how involved:

    ...
    In an ini­tial inter­view with the spe­cial coun­sel’s office, senior cam­paign offi­cial and White House advis­er Stephen Ban­non also dis­cussed his role in set­ting up the meet­ing between Trump and Sisi.

    In a ses­sion months lat­er, Ban­non was asked about Trump’s $10 mil­lion con­tri­bu­tion to his cam­paign, accord­ing to anoth­er recent release of Mueller’s inter­view mem­os.

    Ban­non explained to Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tors how Trump ini­tial­ly resist­ed cut­ting his cam­paign such a large check, and that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­n­er doubt­ed that Trump would do so, say­ing, “that was not going to hap­pen,” accord­ing to Ban­non. But Trump was talked into pro­vid­ing the last-minute mon­ey by future Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin and Kush­n­er, Ban­non said. Mnuchin described the mon­ey as a “cash advance,” Ban­non said, and Trump even­tu­al­ly agreed to wire the mon­ey. “Trump was con­vinced the cash would be there,” Ban­non said, accord­ing to the inter­view sum­ma­ry.

    A spokesper­son for Mnuchin at the Trea­sury Depart­ment con­firmed Ban­non’s descrip­tion of con­vinc­ing Trump to make the loan, and said that Mnuchin had no knowl­edge of how Trump had $10 mil­lion avail­able to him.

    Records of the spe­cial coun­sel’s office inter­views, which remain heav­i­ly redact­ed, do not make clear whether wit­ness­es were asked direct­ly about mon­ey con­nect­ed to Egypt. At the same time, inves­ti­ga­tors may have sought not to tip their sus­pi­cions to wit­ness­es — espe­cial­ly those like Ban­non who were close to the Pres­i­dent.
    ...

    And then there’s the ques­tion of what role Walid Phares may have played in this. As the fol­low­ing arti­cle from back in May describes, Phares had high-lev­el con­tacts in the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment and con­nec­tions to a deputy min­is­ter for edu­ca­tion. And when Trump met Pres­i­dent el-Sisi in Sep­tem­ber of 2016 it was Phares who took cred­it for that meet­ing:

    The New York Times

    F.B.I. Once Inves­ti­gat­ed Trump Cam­paign Adviser’s Ties to Egypt
    Inves­ti­ga­tors scru­ti­nized ties between Walid Phares and the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment. He was nev­er charged with a crime.

    By Adam Gold­man and Michael S. Schmidt
    Pub­lished May 28, 2020
    Updat­ed June 20, 2020

    WASHINGTON — The F.B.I. and the spe­cial counsel’s office inves­ti­gat­ed whether a for­mer Trump cam­paign advis­er secret­ly worked for the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment to influ­ence the incom­ing admin­is­tra­tion in the months before Pres­i­dent Trump took office, accord­ing to sev­er­al peo­ple famil­iar with the inquiry.

    The for­mer advis­er, Walid Phares, was one of five Trump cam­paign aides inves­ti­gat­ed over their ties to for­eign coun­tries. Robert S. Mueller III took over the inves­ti­ga­tions after he was appoint­ed spe­cial coun­sel in May 2017.

    The deci­sion to inves­ti­gate Mr. Phares was based on high­ly clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion, the peo­ple said. Inves­ti­ga­tors exam­ined the mat­ter for months but ulti­mate­ly brought no charges.

    Though Mr. Mueller’s pri­ma­ry man­date was to exam­ine Russia’s covert oper­a­tion to sab­o­tage the elec­tion and whether any Trump asso­ciates con­spired, sev­er­al Trump cam­paign advis­ers and tran­si­tion team mem­bers elicit­ed con­cerns at the F.B.I. because of their over­seas con­tacts and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that a vari­ety of for­eign gov­ern­ments might have been try­ing to secret­ly use the advis­ers to advance their agen­das.

    Mr. Phares declined to com­ment, as did a Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman.

    The C.IA. direc­tor at the time, Mike Pom­peo, was briefed on the inves­ti­ga­tion, sug­gest­ing that the agency might have obtained a tip from an Egypt­ian source that prompt­ed the F.B.I. inquiry, peo­ple famil­iar with it said.

    Mr. Phares joined the for­eign pol­i­cy team that Mr. Trump assem­bled in the spring of 2016 as his sur­prise ascen­dance to the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent prompt­ed the par­ty estab­lish­ment to open­ly ques­tion his lack of for­eign pol­i­cy expe­ri­ence. But the team was almost imme­di­ate­ly derid­ed as a col­lec­tion of fringe thinkers and unknowns.

    ...

    Per­haps the most promi­nent of the ear­ly Trump for­eign advis­ers, Mr. Phares fre­quent­ly appeared on Fox News to dis­cuss the dan­gers of Islam­ic ter­ror­ism and Shari­ah law. A Lebanese-born Maronite Chris­t­ian, he pre­vi­ous­ly served as an advis­er to Sen­a­tor Mitt Rom­ney, Repub­li­can of Utah, when he ran for pres­i­dent in 2012.

    J.D. Gor­don, a for­mer Pen­ta­gon offi­cial who worked for the Trump cam­paign as a nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, told inves­ti­ga­tors that he hired Mr. Phares for the for­eign pol­i­cy team. He said that Mr. Phares quit the cam­paign in May and then went to work as a Trump sur­ro­gate, adding that Jared Kush­n­er, the president’s son-in-law and senior advis­er, would not let Mr. Phares have a job in the admin­is­tra­tion. It was not clear why.

    The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion had been crit­i­cal of the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment, accus­ing Pres­i­dent Abdel Fat­tah el-Sisi’s admin­is­tra­tion of arbi­trary killings and polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed arrests in a crack­down on free­dom of expres­sion after he seized pow­er in a mil­i­tary takeover.

    Forg­ing new ties with Mr. Trump, who seemed less con­cerned with the country’s human right’s record, would have ben­e­fit­ed Mr. el-Sisi both polit­i­cal­ly and mil­i­tar­i­ly.

    Hints of the inves­ti­ga­tion into Mr. Phares have emerged in redact­ed spe­cial coun­sel doc­u­ments and in F.B.I. inter­view notes obtained by Buz­zFeed News in an open records law­suit. CNN also sued for the records.

    Mr. Phares had high-lev­el con­tacts in the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment and con­nec­tions to a deputy min­is­ter for edu­ca­tion, anoth­er Trump cam­paign offi­cial, Sam Clo­vis, told Mr. Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tors. Mr. Phares told Mr. Clo­vis that he had friends who could bro­ker meet­ings between the cam­paign and the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment, but Mr. Clo­vis reject­ed that idea, he said.

    Mr. Clo­vis and Mr. Phares had met with an Egypt­ian offi­cial at a hotel in George­town, accord­ing to Mr. Clo­vis, who could not recall the man’s name for inves­ti­ga­tors. Mr. Phares tried to set up anoth­er meet­ing with the offi­cial, but Mr. Clo­vis demurred.

    Anoth­er cam­paign offi­cial, Rick Dear­born, told inves­ti­ga­tors that Mr. Phares was involved in reach­ing out to Egypt on behalf of the cam­paign and had an “exist­ing rela­tion­ship” with the Egyp­tians.

    Then the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent, Mr. Trump met in Sep­tem­ber 2016 with Mr. el-Sisi. Mr. Phares took cred­it for that meet­ing, telling Mr. Trump’s daugh­ter Ivan­ka in an email short­ly before­hand that he had trav­eled to “Egypt last week, worked with them on the meet­ing between Pres­i­dent Sisi and your father.”

    “Great that the meet­ing will take place tomor­row,” Mr. Phares added in the email, accord­ing to con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tors. “This is a major vic­to­ry in for­eign pol­i­cy. It will gen­er­ate more votes.”

    Mr. el-Sisi vis­it­ed the White House a few months after Mr. Trump was elect­ed, the first vis­it by an Egypt­ian pres­i­dent to Wash­ing­ton since 2009. The pres­i­dent has embraced Mr. el-Sisi, bestow­ing val­i­da­tion on a strong­man who took pow­er in a mil­i­tary coup and has cracked down on dis­sent as he con­sol­i­dates pow­er.

    The spe­cial counsel’s report men­tioned Mr. Phares by name more than a dozen times. And this month, the Jus­tice Depart­ment released a copy of the memo signed by the for­mer deputy attor­ney gen­er­al Rod J. Rosen­stein that laid out the scope of Mr. Mueller’s author­i­ties. The memo cit­ed inves­ti­ga­tions into Mr. Fly­nn, Mr. Page, Mr. Man­afort and Mr. Papadopou­los. A fifth sec­tion was redact­ed.

    Mr. Rosen­stein was set to tes­ti­fy before Con­gress next week about the Rus­sia inves­ti­ga­tion.

    ————-

    “F.B.I. Once Inves­ti­gat­ed Trump Cam­paign Adviser’s Ties to Egypt” by Adam Gold­man and Michael S. Schmidt; The New York Times; 05/28/2020

    “Mr. Phares had high-lev­el con­tacts in the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment and con­nec­tions to a deputy min­is­ter for edu­ca­tion, anoth­er Trump cam­paign offi­cial, Sam Clo­vis, told Mr. Mueller’s inves­ti­ga­tors. Mr. Phares told Mr. Clo­vis that he had friends who could bro­ker meet­ings between the cam­paign and the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment, but Mr. Clo­vis reject­ed that idea, he said.”

    Did the guy who bragged about his abil­i­ty to bro­ker meet­ings between the Trump cam­paign and Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment play any role in the $10 mil­lion mys­tery trans­ac­tion? Seems like a rea­son­able sus­pi­cion. Espe­cial­ly since Phares took cred­it but arrang­ing Trump’s Sep­tem­ber 2016 meet­ing with el-Sisi:

    ...
    Mr. Clo­vis and Mr. Phares had met with an Egypt­ian offi­cial at a hotel in George­town, accord­ing to Mr. Clo­vis, who could not recall the man’s name for inves­ti­ga­tors. Mr. Phares tried to set up anoth­er meet­ing with the offi­cial, but Mr. Clo­vis demurred.

    Anoth­er cam­paign offi­cial, Rick Dear­born, told inves­ti­ga­tors that Mr. Phares was involved in reach­ing out to Egypt on behalf of the cam­paign and had an “exist­ing rela­tion­ship” with the Egyp­tians.

    Then the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for pres­i­dent, Mr. Trump met in Sep­tem­ber 2016 with Mr. el-Sisi. Mr. Phares took cred­it for that meet­ing, telling Mr. Trump’s daugh­ter Ivan­ka in an email short­ly before­hand that he had trav­eled to “Egypt last week, worked with them on the meet­ing between Pres­i­dent Sisi and your father.”

    “Great that the meet­ing will take place tomor­row,” Mr. Phares added in the email, accord­ing to con­gres­sion­al inves­ti­ga­tors. “This is a major vic­to­ry in for­eign pol­i­cy. It will gen­er­ate more votes.”

    Mr. el-Sisi vis­it­ed the White House a few months after Mr. Trump was elect­ed, the first vis­it by an Egypt­ian pres­i­dent to Wash­ing­ton since 2009. The pres­i­dent has embraced Mr. el-Sisi, bestow­ing val­i­da­tion on a strong­man who took pow­er in a mil­i­tary coup and has cracked down on dis­sent as he con­sol­i­dates pow­er.
    ...

    Did Phares bro­ker any last-minute high-lev­el meet­ings between the Trump cam­paign and the Egypt­ian gov­ern­ment, around 11 days before the elec­tion? That appar­ent­ly remains a mys­tery.

    What isn’t a mys­tery is that this inves­ti­ga­tion was clear­ly blocked and obstruct­ed every step of the way and inves­ti­ga­tors real­ly nev­er got to answer these ques­tions. The cov­er up worked. Which, again, is why we should real­ly be ask­ing these same kinds of ques­tions right now. We already know the Trump cam­paign has been mak­ing des­per­ate quid pro quo offers for cam­paign cash. That’s what the Rove/Rivada is all about. So how many for­eign gov­ern­ments were con­tact­ed by the 2020 Trump cam­paign about back­stop­ping some last-minute loans over the past month? It’s a sad­ly impor­tant ques­tion.

    And after these recent reports of this lap­par­ent­ly very suc­cess­ful influ­ence oper­a­tion by Egypt in 2016 that was eas­i­ly cov­ered up, how many for­eign gov­ern­ments are them­selves reach­ing out to the Trump cam­paign with sim­i­lar offers? Which fur­ther rais­es the ques­tion, if a for­eign gov­ern­ment approached Trump with offers of secret cam­paign cash, could he turn it down? Like, is he even psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly capa­ble of that? More sad ques­tions we urgent­ly have to ask.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 26, 2020, 4:42 pm
  19. Here’s the lat­est sto­ry that should be a mega-scan­dal and, in elec­tion years past, would arguably rise to the lev­el of an “Octo­ber Sur­prise” kind of explo­sive sto­ry that could reshape an elec­tion. But this is 2020 so it’s basi­cal­ly just been glossed over as just anoth­er Trump scan­dal in the long list of seem­ing­ly dai­ly Trump scan­dals. It’s also a sto­ry that gives is insight into the fir­ing of fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor Goef­frey Berman back in June, a scan­dalous move giv­en Berman’s numer­ous ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tions into Pres­i­dent Trump him­self:

    The New York Times just put out a new report on what appears to be a case of bla­tant an egre­gious mul­ti-year obstruc­tion of jus­tice effort orches­trat­ed direct­ly by Pres­i­dent Trump on behalf Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan for rea­sons that have yet to be elu­ci­dat­ed. All we know is that after con­ver­sa­tions with Erdo­gan, Trump sud­den­ly got direct­ly involved in the case and report­ed­ly ordered then-Attor­ney Gen­er­al Matt Whitak­er to get involved with shut­ting down the inves­ti­ga­tion, a role Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bill Barr took up when he replaced Whitak­er.

    So what is this inves­ti­ga­tion that Trump obstruct­ed on behalf of Erdo­gan? The inves­ti­ga­tion of Turkey’s state-owned Halk­bank. The inves­ti­ga­tion involves a gold-and-cash-for-oil sanc­tions-bust­ing scheme with Iran in 2012–2013 that appar­ent­ly involved a num­ber of peo­ple close­ly tied to Erdo­gan and his gov­ern­ment. It’s the kind of scan­dal that points to ties between Erdo­gan’s AKP Par­ty and Iran’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard (which is quite inter­est­ing in the con­text of Erdo­gan foment­ing of Syr­i­a’s civ­il war osten­si­bly to check Iran’s influ­ence in the region).

    The inves­ti­ga­tion pre­ced­ed the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and Erdo­gan him­self had repeat­ed­ly pressed the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion to end the inves­ti­ga­tion. Keep in mind that, at the time of these gold-for-oil trans­ac­tions, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Min­is­ter Ali Baba­can admit­ted that Turkey’s “gold exports [to Iran] end up like pay­ments for our nat­ur­al gas pur­chas­es.” So this is a case where Erdo­gan was try­ing to kill an inves­ti­ga­tion into some­thing that no one can real­ly dis­pute hap­pened. Instead, the Erdo­gan gov­er­ment called it a fab­ri­ca­tion cre­at­ed by US-based Fethul­lah Gulen and also assert that they were mis­led by the gold-trad­er involved, Turk­ish-Iran­ian gold trad­er, Reza Zarrab. Zarrab tes­ti­fied that the oper­a­tion had Erdogan’s knowl­edge and approval, as well as that of Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who now serves as Turkey’s finance min­is­ter.

    At one point, in August of 2016, when then-Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden was on a trip to Turkey, Biden told reporters dur­ing his final press con­fer­ence before leav­ing that, “If the pres­i­dent were to take this into his own hands, what would hap­pen would be he would be impeached for vio­lat­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers.” Erdo­gan was stand­ing at his side at that moment.

    Then Trump got elect­ed and things changed. Not right away, though. We’re told Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin ini­tial viewed the charges against Halk­bank as seri­ous and was back­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion. And by ear­ly 2018, con­vic­tions had been secured, includ­ing the con­vic­tion of the gold-trad­er who assert­ed that the whole gold-for-oil scheme had Erdo­gan’s knowl­edge and approval. Pros­e­cu­tors were also look­ing to expand the inves­ti­ga­tion into more fig­ures involved with the scheme, a poten­tial night­mare sce­nario for Erdo­gan.

    But pres­sure was build­ing against the case. Turkey hired the lob­by­ing firm of Bri­an D. Bal­lard, a lob­by­ist and Trump fund-rais­er. Bal­lard’s firm was paid $4.6 mil­lion over to years to lob­by on behalf of Turkey, includ­ing the Halk­bank mat­ter where the firm arranged for meet­ings and phone calls with the vice president’s office, the State Depart­ment, mem­bers of Con­gress and Jay Seku­low, one of Trump’s per­son­al lawyers. Yes, Turkey hired a Trump fund-rais­er to lob­by Trump’s per­son­al lawyer. Rudy Giu­liani and Michael Fly­nn — him­self a Turkey lob­by­ist — were also some­how involved with this effort although it’s unclear at this point what role they played.

    Ballard’s team argued that the Halk­bank case was a for­eign pol­i­cy mat­ter, and that the need to main­tain close rela­tions with Turkey, a NATO mem­ber, had to be tak­en into account. The argu­ment that the Halk­bank case was a mat­ter of US for­eign pol­i­cy that endan­gered rela­tions with Turkey appears to be one of the key argu­ments Trump him­self, and even­tu­al­ly Bill Barr, latched onto when jus­ti­fy­ing end­ing the case. So the key argu­ment by the lob­by­ing firm hired by Turkey was the same argu­ment under­ly­ing the Trump-led obstruc­tion of jus­tice scheme.

    It sounds like the par­tic­u­lar moment when the obstruc­tion of jus­tice first began was dur­ing a meet­ing between Erdo­gan and Trump at the G20 meet­ing in late 2018. Erdo­gan showed Trump a memo sum­ma­riz­ing their argu­ments for why the case should be dropped. Trumped skimmed the memo and said “Well, it looks con­vinc­ing to me,” accord­ing to John Bolton who was Trump’s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Advi­sor at the time. Bolton repeat­ed­ly describes what Trump did through­out this case as hav­ing the appear­ance of obstruc­tion of jus­tice.

    In mid-Decem­ber 2018, two weeks after G20 meet­ing, Trump and Erdo­gan spoke and Trump assured Erodgan the US gov­ern­ment and Halk­bank were close to a res­o­lu­tion, accord­ing to Bolton. Erdo­gan soon made a pub­lic announce­ment that he just spoke with Trump and was assured that the mat­ter would be tak­en care of, so we don’t just have to rely on Bolton’s word. Erdo­gan told the world about that call. Trump then asked Bolton to speak with then-act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Matt Whitak­er about the case. Bolton nev­er did so, although he does­n’t know if some­one else did.

    Bolton’s refusal to fol­low Trump’s orders isn’t the only instance where peo­ple sim­ply ignored orders they deemed to be inap­pro­pri­ate. On the same day of the phone call between Trump and Erdo­gan, the Jus­tice Depart­ment was in con­tact with the South­ern Dis­trict of New York team, then led by Geof­frey Berman, about get­ting their evi­dence against the bank and mak­ing a case for more pros­e­cu­tions. The plan with­in the Jus­tice Depart­ment at the time was appar­ent­ly to make a strong case against the bank in order to extract a con­fes­sion of wrong­do­ing and that’s it. No large fines. Whitak­er then inter­vened and asked for the case to be dropped entire­ly. The Jus­tice Depart­ment ignored him. That’s how inap­pro­pri­ate and obvi­ous­ly cor­rupt these orders were. Ignor­ing the orders of the senior Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cial was required for jus­tice in this case.

    A cou­ple of months lat­er, Bill Barr was giv­en the Attor­ney Gen­er­al spot and the Jus­tice Depart­ment tried to move the case for­ward again. We are told that the Turk­ish lob­by­ing effort was at that point lob­by­ing fig­ures in Trump’s cab­i­net includ­ing Mnuchin and Barr. At that point the South Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors and Halk­bank were still in dis­cus­sions, with the bank con­tin­u­ing to refuse any acknowl­edg­ment of wrong­do­ing. We’re going that pros­e­cu­tors felt at times that Halk­bank offi­cials felt they had all of the lever­age because of the rela­tion­ship between Trump and Erdo­gan. In mid-June 2019, Bill Barr met with Berman and tried to get the inves­ti­ga­tion dropped with­out any admis­sion of guilt, using the argu­ment that set­tle­ment with­out such an admis­sion would avoid a rift with an ally. Berman coun­tered that it was unac­cept­able and uneth­i­cal. Berman’s refusal cre­at­ed an impasse, because while Barr could block new crim­i­nal charges, only a judge could get the exist­ing charges dropped. Barr could­n’t do it him­self.

    So the case remained open. And then, in Octo­ber of 2019, the sit­u­a­tion sud­den­ly changed. Trump, fac­ing a major polit­i­cal back­lash of his own after he essen­tial­ly gave Erdo­gan the green light to invade Syr­ia and eth­ni­cal­ly cleanse the US’s Kur­dish allies, sud­den­ly felt the need to pub­licly act tough toward Erdo­gan, with threats of destroy­ing the Turk­ish econ­o­my. On Octo­ber 15, 2019, the Jus­tice Depart­ment sig­naled to the South­ern Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors that they could approve of charges against Halk­bank. That’s what was required for the cor­rupt­ed lead­er­ship of the Jus­tice Depart­ment to allow this case to go for­ward: Trump feel­ing the need to look tough after he between a US ally and caved to Erdo­gan’s eth­nic cleans­ing desires.

    Oh, but we’re not done. But there’s one last foot­note to the case. The kind of foot­note that real­ly sum­ma­rizes just how wild­ly scan­dalous this whole sit­u­a­tion is: Eight months lat­er, in June of this year, Geof­frey Berman was fired. Why? Well, the key rea­son cit­ed was his refusal to drop the case when Barr asked him. So that gives us at least part of the answer for why Berman was mys­te­ri­ous­ly fired this year: delayed ret­ri­bu­tion over Berman’s refusal to go along with Trump’s obstruc­tion of jus­tice scheme car­ry­ing out on behalf of a dic­ta­tor he was eager to please:

    The New York Times

    Turk­ish Bank Case Showed Erdogan’s Influ­ence With Trump

    New details of the Jus­tice Department’s han­dling of the accu­sa­tions against Halk­bank reveal how Turkey’s leader pres­sured the pres­i­dent, prompt­ing con­cern from top White House aides.

    By Eric Lip­ton and Ben­jamin Weis­er
    Oct. 29, 2020

    WASHINGTON — Geof­frey S. Berman was out­raged.

    The top fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor in Man­hat­tan, Mr. Berman had trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton in June 2019 to dis­cuss a par­tic­u­lar­ly del­i­cate case with Attor­ney Gen­er­al William P. Barr and some of his top aides: a crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tion into Halk­bank, a state-owned Turk­ish bank sus­pect­ed of vio­lat­ing U.S. sanc­tions law by fun­nel­ing bil­lions of dol­lars of gold and cash to Iran.

    For months, Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdo­gan of Turkey had been press­ing Pres­i­dent Trump to quash the inves­ti­ga­tion, which threat­ened not only the bank but poten­tial­ly mem­bers of Mr. Erdogan’s fam­i­ly and polit­i­cal par­ty. When Mr. Berman sat down with Mr. Barr, he was stunned to be pre­sent­ed with a set­tle­ment pro­pos­al that would give Mr. Erdo­gan a key con­ces­sion.

    Mr. Barr pressed Mr. Berman to allow the bank to avoid an indict­ment by pay­ing a fine and acknowl­edg­ing some wrong­do­ing. In addi­tion, the Jus­tice Depart­ment would agree to end inves­ti­ga­tions and crim­i­nal cas­es involv­ing Turk­ish and bank offi­cials who were allied with Mr. Erdo­gan and sus­pect­ed of par­tic­i­pat­ing in the sanc­tions-bust­ing scheme.

    Mr. Berman didn’t buy it.

    The bank had the right to try to nego­ti­ate a set­tle­ment. But his pros­e­cu­tors were still inves­ti­gat­ing key indi­vid­u­als, includ­ing some with ties to Mr. Erdo­gan, and believed the scheme had helped finance Iran’s nuclear weapons pro­gram.

    “This is com­plete­ly wrong,” Mr. Berman lat­er told lawyers in the Jus­tice Depart­ment, accord­ing to peo­ple who were briefed on the pro­pos­al and his response. “You don’t grant immu­ni­ty to indi­vid­u­als unless you are get­ting some­thing from them — and we wouldn’t be here.”

    It was not the first time Mr. Berman, the Unit­ed States attor­ney for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York, had fend­ed off attempts by top Jus­tice Depart­ment polit­i­cal appointees to dis­rupt the Halk­bank inves­ti­ga­tion.

    Six months ear­li­er, Matthew G. Whitak­er, the act­ing attor­ney gen­er­al who ran the depart­ment from Novem­ber 2018 until Mr. Barr arrived in Feb­ru­ary 2019, reject­ed a request from Mr. Berman for per­mis­sion to file crim­i­nal charges against the bank, two lawyers involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion said. Mr. Whitak­er blocked the move short­ly after Mr. Erdo­gan repeat­ed­ly pressed Mr. Trump in a series of con­ver­sa­tions in Novem­ber and Decem­ber 2018 to resolve the Halk­bank mat­ter.

    The president’s appar­ent eager­ness to please Mr. Erdo­gan has drawn scruti­ny for years. So has the scale and inten­si­ty of the lob­by­ing effort by Turkey on issues like its demand for the extra­di­tion of one of Mr. Erdogan’s polit­i­cal rivals, a Turk­ish reli­gious leader liv­ing in self-imposed exile in the Unit­ed States. Mr. Erdo­gan had a big polit­i­cal stake in the out­come, because the case had become a major embar­rass­ment for him in Turkey.

    At the White House, Mr. Trump’s han­dling of the mat­ter became trou­bling even to some senior offi­cials at the time.

    The pres­i­dent was dis­cussing an active crim­i­nal case with the author­i­tar­i­an leader of a nation in which Mr. Trump does busi­ness; he report­ed receiv­ing at least $2.6 mil­lion in net income from oper­a­tions in Turkey from 2015 through 2018, accord­ing to tax records obtained by The New York Times.

    And Mr. Trump’s sym­pa­thet­ic response to Mr. Erdo­gan was espe­cial­ly jar­ring because it involved accu­sa­tions that the bank had under­cut Mr. Trump’s pol­i­cy of eco­nom­i­cal­ly iso­lat­ing Iran, a cen­ter­piece of his Mid­dle East plan.

    For­mer White House offi­cials said they came to fear that the pres­i­dent was open to sway­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to advance a trans­ac­tion­al and ill-defined agen­da of his own.

    “He would inter­fere in the reg­u­lar gov­ern­ment process to do some­thing for a for­eign leader,” John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, said in a recent inter­view. “In antic­i­pa­tion of what? In antic­i­pa­tion of anoth­er favor from that per­son down the road.”

    In the case of Halk­bank, it was only after an intense for­eign pol­i­cy clash between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdo­gan over Syr­ia last fall that the Unit­ed States would pro­ceed to lodge charges against the bank, though not against any addi­tion­al indi­vid­u­als. Yet the administration’s bit­ter­ness over Mr. Berman’s unwill­ing­ness to go along with Mr. Barr’s pro­pos­al would linger, and ulti­mate­ly con­tribute to Mr. Berman’s dis­missal.

    ...

    This account is based on inter­views with more than two dozen cur­rent and for­mer Turk­ish and U.S. gov­ern­ment offi­cials, lob­by­ists and lawyers with direct knowl­edge of the inter­ac­tions. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment, Halk­bank and the White House declined to com­ment.

    Turkey had mount­ed an elab­o­rate influ­ence cam­paign in Wash­ing­ton to deal with Halk­bank. It pre­dat­ed Mr. Trump’s elec­tion but came to encom­pass a broad cast of play­ers, includ­ing Rudolph W. Giu­liani, the for­mer New York may­or; Michael T. Fly­nn, Mr. Trump’s first nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er; and Bri­an D. Bal­lard, a lob­by­ist and fund-rais­er for the pres­i­dent.

    After senior Turk­ish gov­ern­ment offi­cials lob­bied Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin and Mr. Trump, Mr. Mnuchin pressed the Jus­tice Depart­ment not to impose too large a fine on Halk­bank because Turkey could not afford it, two fed­er­al offi­cials said. Mr. Mnuchin’s office declined to com­ment on Halk­bank but added that the Trea­sury and Jus­tice Depart­ments “rou­tine­ly con­sult and coor­di­nate” on sanc­tions cas­es and fines.

    Mr. Bolton and oth­ers said they could not ful­ly explain why Mr. Trump seemed so deter­mined to please Mr. Erdo­gan.

    “This was a rela­tion­ship that was real­ly impor­tant for the Unit­ed States to han­dle,” said Fiona Hill, who over­saw pol­i­cy on Turkey and Europe for the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil under Mr. Trump. “And at every turn, the pres­i­dent kept leap­ing in, and he wasn’t fol­low­ing the strate­gic threads of the rela­tion­ship.”

    The Halk­bank Cam­paign

    Turkey’s lob­by­ing cam­paign had start­ed before Mr. Trump took office.

    Dur­ing a one-day vis­it to the coun­try in August 2016 by Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Turk­ish pres­i­dent pulled Mr. Biden aside under a tree for a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, accord­ing to an aide to the vice pres­i­dent on the trip.

    The inves­ti­ga­tion of Halk­bank, Mr. Erdo­gan claimed, was a “big con­spir­a­cy” insti­gat­ed by his rival Fethul­lah Gulen, a charis­mat­ic Mus­lim cler­ic. Mr. Gulen left Turkey in the late 1990s and moved to Penn­syl­va­nia, where, in Mr. Erdogan’s telling, he plot­ted an unsuc­cess­ful coup attempt just a month ear­li­er, accord­ing to a sum­ma­ry of the con­ver­sa­tion pro­vid­ed to The Times by the Biden aide.

    Mr. Erdo­gan asked Mr. Biden to remove Preet Bharara, then the U.S. attor­ney for the South­ern Dis­trict of New York. That office was in the ear­ly stages of an inves­ti­ga­tion into Halk­bank and had already indict­ed a Turk­ish-Iran­ian gold trad­er, Reza Zarrab, for help­ing to orches­trate the sanc­tions-eva­sion scheme.

    Mr. Erdo­gan also want­ed the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion to remove the judge over­see­ing Mr. Zarrab’s case in Man­hat­tan, the Biden aide said. And he want­ed Mr. Zarrab released and allowed to return to Turkey.

    Accord­ing to the Biden aide’s account, Mr. Erdo­gan said that if the Unit­ed States real­ly meant what it said about repair­ing rela­tions, the case need­ed to go away.

    Speak­ing to reporters before he left Turkey, Mr. Biden made clear that there were lim­its to what the Unit­ed States could or should do to address Mr. Erdogan’s requests, includ­ing any effort to extra­dite Mr. Gulen.

    “If the pres­i­dent were to take this into his own hands, what would hap­pen would be he would be impeached for vio­lat­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers,” Mr. Biden said, with Mr. Erdo­gan at his side.

    The Turk­ish pres­i­dent did not give up. He again raised Halk­bank with Mr. Biden dur­ing a vis­it to New York for the Unit­ed Nations Gen­er­al Assem­bly, and then twice in calls with Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma in the weeks before he left office in Jan­u­ary 2017, aides to Mr. Oba­ma and Mr. Biden said.

    In an inter­view, Mr. Bharara said he nev­er heard ques­tions about the Halk­bank inves­ti­ga­tion from any­one at the Oba­ma White House or the attor­ney general’s office.

    Mr. Trump’s elec­tion brought an imme­di­ate shift in Turkey’s out­reach effort.

    The Trump fam­i­ly had helped build Trump Tow­ers Istan­bul, a suc­cess­ful res­i­den­tial and retail com­plex that attract­ed Mr. Erdo­gan to its rib­bon-cut­ting in 2012.

    “I’ve got­ten to know Turkey very well,” Mr. Trump said in 2015. “They’re amaz­ing peo­ple, they’re incred­i­ble peo­ple. They have a strong leader.”

    In Turkey, there was con­fi­dence that Mr. Erdogan’s agen­da would now win atten­tion and sup­port at the high­est lev­els of the U.S. admin­is­tra­tion.

    ...

    Indict­ments and Tes­ti­mo­ny About Erdo­gan

    Once Mr. Trump took office, there were ear­ly hints that Mr. Erdogan’s mes­sage was get­ting through to the White House.

    The Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil asked the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment about a net­work of char­ter schools, part­ly fund­ed with fed­er­al mon­ey, that were said to be linked to Mr. Gulen, the Erdo­gan rival who was liv­ing in Penn­syl­va­nia. The agency was then asked if the mon­ey could be blocked, one offi­cial involved in the con­ver­sa­tions said. But Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment offi­cials resist­ed, say­ing they did not have the legal author­i­ty to stop the fund­ing.

    The White House encoun­tered a sim­i­lar lack of enthu­si­asm at the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty and the F.B.I., which received requests to inves­ti­gate Mr. Gulen and look for ways to per­haps force him out of the Unit­ed States, offi­cials involved in the efforts said. The F.B.I. declined to com­ment.

    In the mean­time, the effort by Turkey to resolve the Halk­bank case inten­si­fied.

    Records show that the bank and the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment paid Mr. Ballard’s lob­by­ing firm $4.6 mil­lion over two years for work on Halk­bank and oth­er mat­ters, includ­ing meet­ings and phone calls with the vice president’s office, the State Depart­ment, mem­bers of Con­gress and Jay Seku­low, one of Mr. Trump’s per­son­al lawyers.

    Mr. Ballard’s team argued that the Halk­bank case was a for­eign pol­i­cy mat­ter, and that the need to main­tain close rela­tions with Turkey, a NATO mem­ber, had to be tak­en into account.

    But the inves­ti­ga­tion by the fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan ground ahead. By ear­ly 2018, it had led to the indict­ments of nine defen­dants, includ­ing Turkey’s for­mer econ­o­my min­is­ter and three Halk­bank offi­cials, on charges such as bank fraud and mon­ey laun­der­ing relat­ed to the sanc­tions-eva­sion scheme.

    One defen­dant, Mehmet Hakan Atil­la, the bank’s deputy gen­er­al man­ag­er for inter­na­tion­al bank­ing, was tried and, in Jan­u­ary 2018, con­vict­ed.

    Mr. Zarrab, the gold trad­er, had plead­ed guilty and tes­ti­fied about how the scheme had relied on false doc­u­ments and front com­pa­nies, and how he had paid mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes to the econ­o­my min­is­ter and Halkbank’s gen­er­al man­ag­er.

    He also tes­ti­fied that the oper­a­tion had Mr. Erdogan’s knowl­edge and approval, as well as that of Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who now serves as Turkey’s finance min­is­ter.

    When Mr. Berman was appoint­ed U.S. attor­ney in Jan­u­ary 2018, pros­e­cu­tors were turn­ing their focus to the bank itself and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of charg­ing oth­ers involved in the scheme.

    Halkbank’s lawyers held repeat­ed talks in 2018 with Mr. Berman’s office over whether a “glob­al set­tle­ment” could be reached. But the two sides were far apart, accord­ing to peo­ple briefed on the meet­ings.

    The pros­e­cu­tors said they were pre­pared to allow the bank to avoid indict­ment if it agreed to pay a heavy fine, reform its oper­a­tions and make a series of admis­sions about its con­duct, the peo­ple who were briefed said.

    But the bank’s lawyers argued that Halk­bank and its exec­u­tives had done noth­ing wrong, that they had been deceived by Mr. Zarrab, and that his tes­ti­mo­ny was untrue. They said the bank would not make the required admis­sions.

    There were indi­ca­tions by then that Turkey’s argu­ments were being heard in Wash­ing­ton.

    At the Trea­sury Depart­ment, Mr. Mnuchin con­sid­ered the vio­la­tions Halk­bank had been accused of to be seri­ous — and he believed the U.S. gov­ern­ment was right to demand that the bank admit wrong­do­ing, accord­ing to one White House offi­cial involved in the nego­ti­a­tions.

    But Mr. Mnuchin raised con­cerns about how large a fine might be imposed on Halk­bank. The French bank­ing giant Société Générale agreed that same year to pay U.S. author­i­ties more than $2 bil­lion to resolve charges that it had vio­lat­ed U.Ssanc­tions against Cuba and bribed offi­cials in Libya, among oth­er accu­sa­tions.

    A fine on that scale would threat­en the future of Halk­bank, lob­by­ists and lawyers for the bank argued, as did top Turk­ish offi­cials in con­ver­sa­tions with mem­bers of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. One direct appeal to Mr. Mnuchin came from Mr. Albayrak, Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law.

    In 2018, Mr. Mnuchin reached out about the scale of a poten­tial fine to Jeff Ses­sions, the attor­ney gen­er­al at the time. Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials then asked South­ern Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors whether the size of the fine they were demand­ing was nego­tiable, one lawyer involved in the effort said. The response was affir­ma­tive: The amount was less impor­tant than secur­ing an admis­sion of wrong­do­ing.

    “We need an admis­sion of lia­bil­i­ty” was the mes­sage the Man­hat­tan pros­e­cu­tors sent back to Wash­ing­ton, accord­ing to two lawyers involved in the mat­ter.

    ‘Well, It Looks Con­vinc­ing to Me’

    On the sec­ond day of a trip to Buenos Aires in late 2018 for the annu­al Group of 20 gath­er­ing of world lead­ers, Mr. Trump met with Mr. Erdo­gan for talks intend­ed to be focused on issues like con­tin­ued ten­sions over Islam­ic State oper­a­tions in Syr­ia.

    But the con­ver­sa­tion quick­ly went off course.

    Mr. Erdo­gan made clear that he was frus­trat­ed with the con­tin­ued pes­ter­ing by South­ern Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors con­cern­ing Halk­bank, and he want­ed Mr. Trump to inter­vene to help wrap up the inves­ti­ga­tion, Mr. Bolton said in the inter­view.

    Mr. Erdo­gan hand­ed Mr. Trump a copy of a memo writ­ten by Halkbank’s lawyers explain­ing why Turkey believed the Jus­tice Depart­ment had mis­con­strued U.S. sanc­tions law. It argued that Halkbank’s trad­ing with Iran was not ille­gal, because it was large­ly based on trades of gold and food that were not in dol­lars and did not involve U.S. banks.

    Mr. Trump flipped through the memo quick­ly, Mr. Bolton said.

    “Well, it looks con­vinc­ing to me,” Mr. Trump said, accord­ing to Mr. Bolton, who also recount­ed the meet­ing in his recent book.

    By Mr. Bolton’s account, Mr. Trump also told Mr. Erdo­gan that he want­ed to replace the pros­e­cu­tors in Mr. Berman’s office in Man­hat­tan, whom Mr. Trump con­sid­ered to be holdovers from the Oba­ma era.

    Two weeks lat­er, in mid-Decem­ber 2018, Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdo­gan spoke by phone. The pres­i­dent began by assur­ing Mr. Erdo­gan that the gov­ern­ment and Halk­bank were close to a res­o­lu­tion, and Mr. Erdo­gan expressed his appre­ci­a­tion, accord­ing to Mr. Bolton.

    In Turkey around this time, Mr. Erdo­gan told reporters that Mr. Trump, in an ear­li­er con­ver­sa­tion about Halk­bank, had assured him that Mr. Trump “would instruct the rel­e­vant min­is­ters imme­di­ate­ly” to take care of the mat­ter.

    Mr. Bolton said in the inter­view that his con­cern, as he lis­tened to these con­ver­sa­tions, was that Turkey and Halk­bank now “had a direct chan­nel in the Oval Office — they weren’t going to nego­ti­ate in good faith” with the pros­e­cu­tors. “Why should they?”

    Mr. Trump asked Mr. Bolton to speak with Mr. Whitak­er, the act­ing attor­ney gen­er­al at the time, about the case — a move Mr. Bolton said he did not make, although he added that he did not know if some­one else from the White House did.

    On Dec. 14, the day of the tele­phone call between Mr. Erdo­gan and Mr. Trump, the Jus­tice Depart­ment noti­fied the South­ern Dis­trict that Mr. Mnuchin, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and the attor­ney general’s office would become more involved in the Halk­bank case, one Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cial said.

    The pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan had just draft­ed a memo for Mr. Whitak­er and Rod J. Rosen­stein, the deputy attor­ney gen­er­al, detail­ing why the Jus­tice Depart­ment should give them the author­i­ty to file crim­i­nal charges against the bank, two lawyers said.

    Mr. Rosen­stein was con­vinced that the evi­dence was com­pelling, per­haps even more so than in oth­er sanc­tions-eva­sion cas­es in which the Unit­ed States had charged banks, lawyers famil­iar with the inves­ti­ga­tion said. The memo from the pros­e­cu­tors also not­ed that the actions Halk­bank was accused of tak­ing were help­ing to sup­port Iran’s econ­o­my, which was anti­thet­i­cal to Mr. Trump’s for­eign pol­i­cy goal of tight­en­ing eco­nom­ic pres­sure on the coun­try.

    Mr. Rosen­stein urged Mr. Berman to come to Wash­ing­ton to present the South­ern District’s argu­ment to Mr. Whitak­er. The goal was not to file charges imme­di­ate­ly against the bank. Instead, the plan was to give the South­ern Dis­trict more lever­age to squeeze Halk­bank to accept a deferred pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment that includ­ed an admis­sion of wrong­do­ing.

    But Mr. Whitak­er, who declined requests for com­ment, had a long­stand­ing dis­dain for the South­ern Dis­trict, which has been called the Sov­er­eign Dis­trict for the way it guards its inde­pen­dence from Wash­ing­ton. In a book pub­lished this year, Mr. Whitak­er wrote that the South­ern Dis­trict always “dreamed up new ways to tor­ment Pres­i­dent Trump through­out my tenure at the Depart­ment of Jus­tice.”

    Mr. Berman arrived at the Jus­tice Depart­ment head­quar­ters and report­ed to Mr. Rosenstein’s office. But short­ly before the meet­ing was to begin, Mr. Rosen­stein was sum­moned to Mr. Whitaker’s office with­out Mr. Berman.

    Mr. Whitak­er told Mr. Rosen­stein that he did not want the case to move for­ward, and that he want­ed the mat­ter shut down, accord­ing to lawyers involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion. Mr. Whitak­er cit­ed con­cern that charges against the bank might result in a threat to U.S. forces in Syr­ia, a sug­ges­tion that oth­ers in the depart­ment said they found hard to under­stand.

    Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials decid­ed to ignore Mr. Whitaker’s edict, con­clud­ing that they most like­ly would out­last Mr. Whitak­er in the depart­ment, since he was serv­ing on an act­ing basis. They did not see appeas­ing Mr. Erdo­gan as suf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for clos­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion.

    ‘This Is Not How We Do Things at the South­ern Dis­trict’

    Mr. Barr was con­firmed as the new attor­ney gen­er­al in mid-Feb­ru­ary 2019, a few months after Mr. Whitak­er had pushed to end the case. The pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan were encour­aged that they might now get the charg­ing author­i­ty they want­ed.

    But Mr. Erdo­gan and his top advis­ers con­tin­ued to lob­by Mr. Trump and mem­bers of his cab­i­net, includ­ing Mr. Mnuchin and now Mr. Barr.

    One of the appeals came from Mehmet Ali Yal­cindag, a Trump fam­i­ly friend who had been close­ly involved in devel­op­ing the Trump tow­ers in Turkey and who now leads a Turkey‑U.S. busi­ness trade group. On a trip to Wash­ing­ton that April, he pressed admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials about the bank.

    Dis­cus­sions between Halk­bank and the South­ern Dis­trict con­tin­ued, accord­ing to lawyers involved in the case. But the bank main­tained its refusal to admit to wrong­do­ing and insist­ed on a deal that would end inves­ti­ga­tions and drop exist­ing charges.

    At times, the pros­e­cu­tors were left with the impres­sion that bank offi­cials felt they had all the lever­age because of the rela­tion­ship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdo­gan.

    In mid-June 2019, when Mr. Berman met with Mr. Barr in Wash­ing­ton, the attor­ney gen­er­al pushed Mr. Berman to agree to allow the Jus­tice Depart­ment to drop charges against the defen­dants and ter­mi­nate inves­ti­ga­tions of oth­er sus­pect­ed con­spir­a­tors, accord­ing to a for­mer depart­ment lawyer famil­iar with the ses­sion.

    Among the defen­dants with charges pend­ing were Halkbank’s for­mer gen­er­al man­ag­er, Suley­man Aslan, and Turkey’s for­mer econ­o­my min­is­ter, Mehmet Zafer Caglayan.

    The sug­ges­tion that the Jus­tice Depart­ment would offer Turk­ish offi­cials pro­tec­tion from crim­i­nal charges, even with­out their agree­ment to assist in the inves­ti­ga­tion, was unac­cept­able and uneth­i­cal, Mr. Berman argued, accord­ing to lawyers close to the inves­ti­ga­tion. Jus­tice Depart­ment pol­i­cy specif­i­cal­ly says that crim­i­nal con­duct by indi­vid­u­als is not resolved when a com­pa­ny admits wrong­do­ing.

    “This is not how we do things at the South­ern Dis­trict,” Mr. Berman told Mr. Barr, adding that he would not agree to such a move and that his office would not be part of it.

    Mr. Barr sought to per­suade Mr. Berman that the so-called glob­al set­tle­ment would enforce U.S. sanc­tions law and avert a rift with an ally in a volatile part of the world.

    Aykan Erdemir, a for­mer mem­ber of Turkey’s Par­lia­ment and a crit­ic of Mr. Erdo­gan, who was not part of the nego­ti­a­tions, said such a pro­pos­al by Mr. Barr would be a gift to Mr. Erdo­gan and crit­i­cal to his polit­i­cal stand­ing in Turkey by elim­i­nat­ing poten­tial crim­i­nal charges against mem­bers of his inner cir­cle.

    “That is the biggest prize that Erdo­gan could ever receive,” Mr. Erdemir said. “Erdo­gan was not try­ing to save the bank. He was try­ing to save his min­is­ters and save him­self.”

    The nego­ti­a­tions had reached an impasse. Mr. Barr had the pow­er to stop any new crim­i­nal charges. But to dis­miss any exist­ing cas­es, the fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan would need to seek judi­cial approval.

    Lawyers in the Jus­tice Department’s nation­al secu­ri­ty divi­sion took over the nego­ti­a­tions, but they also end­ed up frus­trat­ed, peo­ple briefed on the mat­ter said.

    In his recent book, Mr. Bolton said he had warned Mr. Barr in April 2019 about Mr. Trump’s pen­chant to “give per­son­al favors to dic­ta­tors.”

    In the inter­view with The Times, Mr. Bolton said he did not know the details of Mr. Barr’s inter­ven­tion in the Halk­bank nego­ti­a­tions. But he said he was dis­turbed by the tenor of the inter­ac­tion between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdo­gan relat­ed to Halk­bank.

    “It was so idio­syn­crat­ic, so per­son­al to Trump in the pur­suit of per­son­al rela­tion­ships, that it was very dan­ger­ous,” Mr. Bolton said. “And it does look like obstruc­tion of jus­tice.”

    Just how idio­syn­crat­ic became more appar­ent last Octo­ber, when Mr. Erdo­gan sent troops into Syr­ia. Mr. Trump, who had ini­tial­ly giv­en Mr. Erdo­gan the green light to do so, then faced an intense bipar­ti­san back­lash, lead­ing him with­in days to take a tougher line with Turkey, threat­en­ing eco­nom­ic reprisals.

    “You don’t want to be respon­si­ble for slaugh­ter­ing thou­sands of peo­ple, and I don’t want to be respon­si­ble for destroy­ing the Turk­ish econ­o­my — and I will,” Mr. Trump wrote to the Turk­ish leader on Oct. 9, 2019, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

    On Oct. 15, the Jus­tice Depart­ment gave the pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan approval to file charges against Halk­bank, a direct slap at Mr. Erdo­gan.

    The pros­e­cu­tors rushed to present evi­dence before a grand jury and secured a six-count indict­ment that same day charg­ing Halk­bank with mon­ey laun­der­ing, bank fraud and con­spir­a­cy to vio­late the Iran sanc­tions. So far, no addi­tion­al indi­vid­u­als have been charged.

    When the charges against the bank were announced, Mr. Berman said in a state­ment that the “bank’s auda­cious con­duct was sup­port­ed and pro­tect­ed by high-rank­ing Turk­ish gov­ern­ment offi­cials, some of whom received mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes to pro­mote and pro­tect the scheme.”

    In June, eight months after the indict­ment was returned, Mr. Trump fired Mr. Berman. Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials cit­ed his han­dling of the Halk­bank mat­ter, includ­ing his block­ing of the pro­posed glob­al set­tle­ment, as a key rea­son for his removal.

    ————

    “Turk­ish Bank Case Showed Erdogan’s Influ­ence With Trump” by Eric Lip­ton and Ben­jamin Weis­er; The New York Times; 10/29/2020

    The president’s appar­ent eager­ness to please Mr. Erdo­gan has drawn scruti­ny for years. So has the scale and inten­si­ty of the lob­by­ing effort by Turkey on issues like its demand for the extra­di­tion of one of Mr. Erdogan’s polit­i­cal rivals, a Turk­ish reli­gious leader liv­ing in self-imposed exile in the Unit­ed States.Mr. Erdo­gan had a big polit­i­cal stake in the out­come, because the case had become a major embar­rass­ment for him in Turkey.”

    While it may be a some­what con­vo­lut­ed sto­ry, there are two sim­ple facts at its core: Pres­i­dent Trump has repeat­ed­ly demon­strat­ed an appar­ent eager­ness to please Erdo­gan and Erdo­gan REALLY want­ed to see the case against Halk­bank dropped. Not just dropped with­out a big fine but dropped with­out any admis­sion of wrong­do­ing at all because that admis­sion alone would be deeply embar­rass­ing to Erdo­gan and his gov­ern­ment. Don’t for­get that a major part of Erdo­gan’s polit­i­cal appeal is wag­ing a kind of Sun­ni-based reli­gious war against the Shia gov­ern­ment in Tehran. Admit­ting to secret­ly help­ing Tehran bust sanc­tions for the self-enrich­ment of peo­ple close to Erdo­gan, includ­ing his son-in-law, real­ly is a giant embar­rass­ment.

    But this sto­ry isn’t just a giant embar­rass­ment for Erdo­gan. It SHOULD be a giant embar­rass­ment for Trump too. Not just from the obstruc­tion of jus­tice angle. There’s the fact that he was try­ing to pro­tect a bank that played a major role in under­cut­ting the pol­i­cy — eco­nom­i­cal­ly iso­lat­ing Iran — that is the cen­ter­piece of Trump’s own for­eign pol­i­cy. That’s quite a sig­nal for the Trump to to the banks of the world that might have sim­i­lar sanc­tion-bust­ing offers:

    ...
    The pres­i­dent was dis­cussing an active crim­i­nal case with the author­i­tar­i­an leader of a nation in which Mr. Trump does busi­ness; he report­ed receiv­ing at least $2.6 mil­lion in net income from oper­a­tions in Turkey from 2015 through 2018, accord­ing to tax records obtained by The New York Times.

    And Mr. Trump’s sym­pa­thet­ic response to Mr. Erdo­gan was espe­cial­ly jar­ring because it involved accu­sa­tions that the bank had under­cut Mr. Trump’s pol­i­cy of eco­nom­i­cal­ly iso­lat­ing Iran, a cen­ter­piece of his Mid­dle East plan.

    For­mer White House offi­cials said they came to fear that the pres­i­dent was open to sway­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem to advance a trans­ac­tion­al and ill-defined agen­da of his own.

    “He would inter­fere in the reg­u­lar gov­ern­ment process to do some­thing for a for­eign leader,” John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s for­mer nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er, said in a recent inter­view. “In antic­i­pa­tion of what? In antic­i­pa­tion of anoth­er favor from that per­son down the road.”
    ...

    And then there’s the fact that Rudy Giu­liani and Michael Fly­nn — him­self a lob­by­ist for the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment — were appar­ent­ly involved in this lob­by­ing cam­paign. Trump’s own fund-rais­er was hired by Turkey to lob­by Trump’s per­son­al attor­ney Jay Seku­low. The gang’s all here. The scan­dal gang, that is:

    ...
    Turkey had mount­ed an elab­o­rate influ­ence cam­paign in Wash­ing­ton to deal with Halk­bank. It pre­dat­ed Mr. Trump’s elec­tion but came to encom­pass a broad cast of play­ers, includ­ing Rudolph W. Giu­liani, the for­mer New York may­or; Michael T. Fly­nn, Mr. Trump’s first nation­al secu­ri­ty advis­er; and Bri­an D. Bal­lard, a lob­by­ist and fund-rais­er for the pres­i­dent.

    ...

    “This was a rela­tion­ship that was real­ly impor­tant for the Unit­ed States to han­dle,” said Fiona Hill, who over­saw pol­i­cy on Turkey and Europe for the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil under Mr. Trump. “And at every turn, the pres­i­dent kept leap­ing in, and he wasn’t fol­low­ing the strate­gic threads of the rela­tion­ship.”

    ...

    Records show that the bank and the Turk­ish gov­ern­ment paid Mr. Ballard’s lob­by­ing firm $4.6 mil­lion over two years for work on Halk­bank and oth­er mat­ters, includ­ing meet­ings and phone calls with the vice president’s office, the State Depart­ment, mem­bers of Con­gress and Jay Seku­low, one of Mr. Trump’s per­son­al lawyers.

    Mr. Ballard’s team argued that the Halk­bank case was a for­eign pol­i­cy mat­ter, and that the need to main­tain close rela­tions with Turkey, a NATO mem­ber, had to be tak­en into account.
    ...

    Adding to the scan­dalous nature is the fact that Joe Biden him­self pub­licly assert­ed in 2016 that if Barack Oba­ma did exact­ly what Pres­i­dent Trump even­tu­al­ly end­ed up doing — direct­ly inter­ven­ing in the case on Erdo­gan’s behalf — it was be an impeach­able offense. The com­mer­cials write them­selves. Except no one cares about by Trump’s stan­dards that’s is just anoth­er dai­ly scan­dal:

    ...
    Turkey’s lob­by­ing cam­paign had start­ed before Mr. Trump took office.

    Dur­ing a one-day vis­it to the coun­try in August 2016 by Vice Pres­i­dent Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Turk­ish pres­i­dent pulled Mr. Biden aside under a tree for a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion, accord­ing to an aide to the vice pres­i­dent on the trip.

    ...

    Accord­ing to the Biden aide’s account, Mr. Erdo­gan said that if the Unit­ed States real­ly meant what it said about repair­ing rela­tions, the case need­ed to go away.

    Speak­ing to reporters before he left Turkey, Mr. Biden made clear that there were lim­its to what the Unit­ed States could or should do to address Mr. Erdogan’s requests, includ­ing any effort to extra­dite Mr. Gulen.

    “If the pres­i­dent were to take this into his own hands, what would hap­pen would be he would be impeached for vio­lat­ing the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers,” Mr. Biden said, with Mr. Erdo­gan at his side.
    ...

    As a con­se­quence of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion’s refusal to heed to Erdo­gan’s demands, the case pro­ceed­ed for­ward under the Trump admin­is­tra­tion and end up secur­ing con­vic­tions by ear­ly 2018. Con­vic­tions that includ­ing the gold trad­er in the scheme who tes­ti­fied that the scheme has Erdo­gan’s knowl­edge and approval:

    ...
    But the inves­ti­ga­tion by the fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan ground ahead. By ear­ly 2018, it had led to the indict­ments of nine defen­dants, includ­ing Turkey’s for­mer econ­o­my min­is­ter and three Halk­bank offi­cials, on charges such as bank fraud and mon­ey laun­der­ing relat­ed to the sanc­tions-eva­sion scheme.

    One defen­dant, Mehmet Hakan Atil­la, the bank’s deputy gen­er­al man­ag­er for inter­na­tion­al bank­ing, was tried and, in Jan­u­ary 2018, con­vict­ed.

    Mr. Zarrab, the gold trad­er, had plead­ed guilty and tes­ti­fied about how the scheme had relied on false doc­u­ments and front com­pa­nies, and how he had paid mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes to the econ­o­my min­is­ter and Halkbank’s gen­er­al man­ag­er.

    He also tes­ti­fied that the oper­a­tion had Mr. Erdogan’s knowl­edge and approval, as well as that of Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law, Berat Albayrak, who now serves as Turkey’s finance min­is­ter.
    ...

    But despite those con­vic­tions in ear­ly 2018, Halk­bank refused to admit they did any­thing wrong even when the pros­e­cu­tors were offer­ing to drop the large fine in exchange for an admis­sion. All the pros­e­cu­tors want­ed in the end was ulti­mate­ly just an admis­sion of wrong­do­ing — an admis­sion of the obvi­ous — and that was too much. Because, again, that admis­sion was polit­i­cal­ly tox­ic for Erdo­gan:

    ...
    When Mr. Berman was appoint­ed U.S. attor­ney in Jan­u­ary 2018, pros­e­cu­tors were turn­ing their focus to the bank itself and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of charg­ing oth­ers involved in the scheme.

    Halkbank’s lawyers held repeat­ed talks in 2018 with Mr. Berman’s office over whether a “glob­al set­tle­ment” could be reached. But the two sides were far apart, accord­ing to peo­ple briefed on the meet­ings.

    The pros­e­cu­tors said they were pre­pared to allow the bank to avoid indict­ment if it agreed to pay a heavy fine, reform its oper­a­tions and make a series of admis­sions about its con­duct, the peo­ple who were briefed said.

    But the bank’s lawyers argued that Halk­bank and its exec­u­tives had done noth­ing wrong, that they had been deceived by Mr. Zarrab, and that his tes­ti­mo­ny was untrue. They said the bank would not make the required admis­sions.

    There were indi­ca­tions by then that Turkey’s argu­ments were being heard in Wash­ing­ton.
    ...

    But part of what makes this so scan­dalous is it’s not like the entire Trump admin­is­tra­tion was treat­ing this case in a bla­tant­ly cor­rupt man­ner. Trea­sury sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin was report­ed­ly con­vinced the Halk­bank vio­la­tions were seri­ous and an admis­sion of wrong­do­ing, at a min­i­mum, was appro­pri­ate. He was will­ing to drop the large fines...as long as there was that admis­sion. But that admis­sion could­n’t hap­pen:

    ...
    At the Trea­sury Depart­ment, Mr. Mnuchin con­sid­ered the vio­la­tions Halk­bank had been accused of to be seri­ous — and he believed the U.S. gov­ern­ment was right to demand that the bank admit wrong­do­ing, accord­ing to one White House offi­cial involved in the nego­ti­a­tions.

    But Mr. Mnuchin raised con­cerns about how large a fine might be imposed on Halk­bank. The French bank­ing giant Société Générale agreed that same year to pay U.S. author­i­ties more than $2 bil­lion to resolve charges that it had vio­lat­ed U.Ssanc­tions against Cuba and bribed offi­cials in Libya, among oth­er accu­sa­tions.

    A fine on that scale would threat­en the future of Halk­bank, lob­by­ists and lawyers for the bank argued, as did top Turk­ish offi­cials in con­ver­sa­tions with mem­bers of the Trump admin­is­tra­tion. One direct appeal to Mr. Mnuchin came from Mr. Albayrak, Mr. Erdogan’s son-in-law.

    In 2018, Mr. Mnuchin reached out about the scale of a poten­tial fine to Jeff Ses­sions, the attor­ney gen­er­al at the time. Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials then asked South­ern Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors whether the size of the fine they were demand­ing was nego­tiable, one lawyer involved in the effort said. The response was affir­ma­tive: The amount was less impor­tant than secur­ing an admis­sion of wrong­do­ing.

    “We need an admis­sion of lia­bil­i­ty” was the mes­sage the Man­hat­tan pros­e­cu­tors sent back to Wash­ing­ton, accord­ing to two lawyers involved in the mat­ter.
    ...

    Even the Trea­sury Depart­ment was demand­ing a polit­i­cal­ly embar­rass­ing admis­sion of wrong­do­ing. And then, in late 2018, Trump and Erdo­gan meet­ing dur­ing the G20 meet­ing in Buenos Aires. Trump has a quick glance at a memo Erdo­gan hand­ed to Trump about the case, Trump sim­ply states “Well, it looks con­vinc­ing to me”. Two weeks lat­er, Trump and Erdo­gan speak and the phone, and short­ly after that Trump asks John Bolton to speak with act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Matt Whitak­er to inter­vene in the case, and a new should-be impeach­able offense is born:

    ...
    On the sec­ond day of a trip to Buenos Aires in late 2018 for the annu­al Group of 20 gath­er­ing of world lead­ers, Mr. Trump met with Mr. Erdo­gan for talks intend­ed to be focused on issues like con­tin­ued ten­sions over Islam­ic State oper­a­tions in Syr­ia.

    But the con­ver­sa­tion quick­ly went off course.

    Mr. Erdo­gan made clear that he was frus­trat­ed with the con­tin­ued pes­ter­ing by South­ern Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tors con­cern­ing Halk­bank, and he want­ed Mr. Trump to inter­vene to help wrap up the inves­ti­ga­tion, Mr. Bolton said in the inter­view.

    Mr. Erdo­gan hand­ed Mr. Trump a copy of a memo writ­ten by Halkbank’s lawyers explain­ing why Turkey believed the Jus­tice Depart­ment had mis­con­strued U.S. sanc­tions law. It argued that Halkbank’s trad­ing with Iran was not ille­gal, because it was large­ly based on trades of gold and food that were not in dol­lars and did not involve U.S. banks.

    Mr. Trump flipped through the memo quick­ly, Mr. Bolton said.

    “Well, it looks con­vinc­ing to me,” Mr. Trump said, accord­ing to Mr. Bolton, who also recount­ed the meet­ing in his recent book.

    By Mr. Bolton’s account, Mr. Trump also told Mr. Erdo­gan that he want­ed to replace the pros­e­cu­tors in Mr. Berman’s office in Man­hat­tan, whom Mr. Trump con­sid­ered to be holdovers from the Oba­ma era.

    Two weeks lat­er, in mid-Decem­ber 2018, Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdo­gan spoke by phone. The pres­i­dent began by assur­ing Mr. Erdo­gan that the gov­ern­ment and Halk­bank were close to a res­o­lu­tion, and Mr. Erdo­gan expressed his appre­ci­a­tion, accord­ing to Mr. Bolton.

    In Turkey around this time, Mr. Erdo­gan told reporters that Mr. Trump, in an ear­li­er con­ver­sa­tion about Halk­bank, had assured him that Mr. Trump “would instruct the rel­e­vant min­is­ters imme­di­ate­ly” to take care of the mat­ter.

    Mr. Bolton said in the inter­view that his con­cern, as he lis­tened to these con­ver­sa­tions, was that Turkey and Halk­bank now “had a direct chan­nel in the Oval Office — they weren’t going to nego­ti­ate in good faith” with the pros­e­cu­tors. “Why should they?”

    Mr. Trump asked Mr. Bolton to speak with Mr. Whitak­er, the act­ing attor­ney gen­er­al at the time, about the case — a move Mr. Bolton said he did not make, although he added that he did not know if some­one else from the White House did.
    ...

    And on the very same day of that phone call between Trump and Erdo­gan, the Jus­tice Depart­ment noti­fied the South­ern Dis­trict that Mr. Mnuchin, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and the attor­ney general’s office would become more involved in the Halk­bank case. But it appears the Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials did still want to see the case move for­ward and want­ed to see the South Dis­tric­t’s case against the bank, large­ly for the pur­pose of gain­ing lever­age against the bank for the pur­pose of get­ting an admis­sion of guilt. Not a big fine. Just an admis­sion of guilt. And then act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al Whitak­er steps in and asks that the Jus­tice Depart­ment shut the case down. The Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials just ignore him. That’s how over-the-top this obstruc­tion of jus­tice is...it was so egre­gious the Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cial just ignore the act­ing Attor­ney Gen­er­al who was obvi­ous­ly work­ing on Trump’s behalf at that point:

    ...
    On Dec. 14, the day of the tele­phone call between Mr. Erdo­gan and Mr. Trump, the Jus­tice Depart­ment noti­fied the South­ern Dis­trict that Mr. Mnuchin, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and the attor­ney general’s office would become more involved in the Halk­bank case, one Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cial said.

    The pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan had just draft­ed a memo for Mr. Whitak­er and Rod J. Rosen­stein, the deputy attor­ney gen­er­al, detail­ing why the Jus­tice Depart­ment should give them the author­i­ty to file crim­i­nal charges against the bank, two lawyers said.

    Mr. Rosen­stein was con­vinced that the evi­dence was com­pelling, per­haps even more so than in oth­er sanc­tions-eva­sion cas­es in which the Unit­ed States had charged banks, lawyers famil­iar with the inves­ti­ga­tion said. The memo from the pros­e­cu­tors also not­ed that the actions Halk­bank was accused of tak­ing were help­ing to sup­port Iran’s econ­o­my, which was anti­thet­i­cal to Mr. Trump’s for­eign pol­i­cy goal of tight­en­ing eco­nom­ic pres­sure on the coun­try.

    Mr. Rosen­stein urged Mr. Berman to come to Wash­ing­ton to present the South­ern District’s argu­ment to Mr. Whitak­er. The goal was not to file charges imme­di­ate­ly against the bank. Instead, the plan was to give the South­ern Dis­trict more lever­age to squeeze Halk­bank to accept a deferred pros­e­cu­tion agree­ment that includ­ed an admis­sion of wrong­do­ing.

    ...

    Mr. Berman arrived at the Jus­tice Depart­ment head­quar­ters and report­ed to Mr. Rosenstein’s office. But short­ly before the meet­ing was to begin, Mr. Rosen­stein was sum­moned to Mr. Whitaker’s office with­out Mr. Berman.

    Mr. Whitak­er told Mr. Rosen­stein that he did not want the case to move for­ward, and that he want­ed the mat­ter shut down, accord­ing to lawyers involved in the inves­ti­ga­tion. Mr. Whitak­er cit­ed con­cern that charges against the bank might result in a threat to U.S. forces in Syr­ia, a sug­ges­tion that oth­ers in the depart­ment said they found hard to under­stand.

    Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials decid­ed to ignore Mr. Whitaker’s edict, con­clud­ing that they most like­ly would out­last Mr. Whitak­er in the depart­ment, since he was serv­ing on an act­ing basis. They did not see appeas­ing Mr. Erdo­gan as suf­fi­cient jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for clos­ing the inves­ti­ga­tion.
    ....

    A cou­ple months lat­er, Bill Barr replaces Whitak­er, with the case still open and pros­e­cu­tors hop­ing that Barr will be more amenable on the case. And then Turkey report­ed­ly starts lob­by­ing Barr, in addi­tion to Mnuchin and oth­er mem­bers of Trump’s cab­i­net. By mid-June 2019, Barr was try­ing to kill the inves­ti­ga­tion. With­out an admis­sion of wrong­do­ing. South­ern Dis­trict pros­e­cu­tor Goef­frey Berman con­tin­ues to resist and declares that his office won’t be par­tic­i­pat­ing in any attempts to drop the charges. Berman’s fate is sealed:

    ...
    Mr. Barr was con­firmed as the new attor­ney gen­er­al in mid-Feb­ru­ary 2019, a few months after Mr. Whitak­er had pushed to end the case. The pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan were encour­aged that they might now get the charg­ing author­i­ty they want­ed.

    But Mr. Erdo­gan and his top advis­ers con­tin­ued to lob­by Mr. Trump and mem­bers of his cab­i­net, includ­ing Mr. Mnuchin and now Mr. Barr.

    One of the appeals came from Mehmet Ali Yal­cindag, a Trump fam­i­ly friend who had been close­ly involved in devel­op­ing the Trump tow­ers in Turkey and who now leads a Turkey‑U.S. busi­ness trade group. On a trip to Wash­ing­ton that April, he pressed admin­is­tra­tion offi­cials about the bank.

    Dis­cus­sions between Halk­bank and the South­ern Dis­trict con­tin­ued, accord­ing to lawyers involved in the case. But the bank main­tained its refusal to admit to wrong­do­ing and insist­ed on a deal that would end inves­ti­ga­tions and drop exist­ing charges.

    At times, the pros­e­cu­tors were left with the impres­sion that bank offi­cials felt they had all the lever­age because of the rela­tion­ship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Erdo­gan.

    In mid-June 2019, when Mr. Berman met with Mr. Barr in Wash­ing­ton, the attor­ney gen­er­al pushed Mr. Berman to agree to allow the Jus­tice Depart­ment to drop charges against the defen­dants and ter­mi­nate inves­ti­ga­tions of oth­er sus­pect­ed con­spir­a­tors, accord­ing to a for­mer depart­ment lawyer famil­iar with the ses­sion.

    Among the defen­dants with charges pend­ing were Halkbank’s for­mer gen­er­al man­ag­er, Suley­man Aslan, and Turkey’s for­mer econ­o­my min­is­ter, Mehmet Zafer Caglayan.

    The sug­ges­tion that the Jus­tice Depart­ment would offer Turk­ish offi­cials pro­tec­tion from crim­i­nal charges, even with­out their agree­ment to assist in the inves­ti­ga­tion, was unac­cept­able and uneth­i­cal, Mr. Berman argued, accord­ing to lawyers close to the inves­ti­ga­tion. Jus­tice Depart­ment pol­i­cy specif­i­cal­ly says that crim­i­nal con­duct by indi­vid­u­als is not resolved when a com­pa­ny admits wrong­do­ing.

    “This is not how we do things at the South­ern Dis­trict,” Mr. Berman told Mr. Barr, adding that he would not agree to such a move and that his office would not be part of it.

    Mr. Barr sought to per­suade Mr. Berman that the so-called glob­al set­tle­ment would enforce U.S. sanc­tions law and avert a rift with an ally in a volatile part of the world.
    ...

    It was only after Trump him­self faced a major polit­i­cal back­lash after he gave Erdo­gan the green light to send troops into Syr­ia that pros­e­cu­tors were even­tu­al­ly allowed to bring charges against the bank. That’s what it took for Trump to allow the right thing to hap­pen: his own polit­i­cal per­il was required for the obstruc­tion of jus­tice to end. And then eight months lat­er, Berman is fired and the rea­sons giv­en were his refusal to drop the case. You can’t make this stuff up:

    ...
    Just how idio­syn­crat­ic became more appar­ent last Octo­ber, when Mr. Erdo­gan sent troops into Syr­ia. Mr. Trump, who had ini­tial­ly giv­en Mr. Erdo­gan the green light to do so, then faced an intense bipar­ti­san back­lash, lead­ing him with­in days to take a tougher line with Turkey, threat­en­ing eco­nom­ic reprisals.

    “You don’t want to be respon­si­ble for slaugh­ter­ing thou­sands of peo­ple, and I don’t want to be respon­si­ble for destroy­ing the Turk­ish econ­o­my — and I will,” Mr. Trump wrote to the Turk­ish leader on Oct. 9, 2019, with­out elab­o­rat­ing.

    On Oct. 15, the Jus­tice Depart­ment gave the pros­e­cu­tors in Man­hat­tan approval to file charges against Halk­bank, a direct slap at Mr. Erdo­gan.

    The pros­e­cu­tors rushed to present evi­dence before a grand jury and secured a six-count indict­ment that same day charg­ing Halk­bank with mon­ey laun­der­ing, bank fraud and con­spir­a­cy to vio­late the Iran sanc­tions. So far, no addi­tion­al indi­vid­u­als have been charged.

    When the charges against the bank were announced, Mr. Berman said in a state­ment that the “bank’s auda­cious con­duct was sup­port­ed and pro­tect­ed by high-rank­ing Turk­ish gov­ern­ment offi­cials, some of whom received mil­lions of dol­lars in bribes to pro­mote and pro­tect the scheme.”

    In June, eight months after the indict­ment was returned, Mr. Trump fired Mr. Berman. Jus­tice Depart­ment offi­cials cit­ed his han­dling of the Halk­bank mat­ter, includ­ing his block­ing of the pro­posed glob­al set­tle­ment, as a key rea­son for his removal.
    ...

    That’s our high­ly scan­dalous non-scan­dal. A should-be-mega-scan­dal scan­dal that, in the era of Trump, is just anoth­er sto­ry about egre­gious abus­es of pow­er com­pet­ing for atten­tion with all the scan­dalous sto­ries that come out on a seem­ing­ly dai­ly basis.

    And in this case, it’s a scan­dal that could have had an explo­sive and real­ly pos­i­tive impact on the dis­gust­ing ongo­ing reli­gious war with­in the glob­al Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty between Sun­ni and Shia. After all, Erdo­gan is one of the lead­ing fomenters of that rep­re­hen­si­ble and utter­ly amoral deep and vio­lenct reli­gious divide and the theoc­ra­cy in Tehran is his big Shia boo­gie­man. A boo­gie­man he and his inner cir­cle sold gold to in vio­la­tion of inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions for their own self-enrich­ment. This is way more than just a Trump scan­dal. The Mus­lim world could ben­e­fit immense­ly from see­ing Erdo­gan’s direct and cyn­i­cal role in this case exposed. But that isn’t hap­pen­ing. Because Trump is so scan­dalous we have scan­dal ADHD. No one sto­ry can get more than a moment of atten­tion, even for mega-sto­ries. Because there’s only so much time in the day, but seem­ing­ly end­less scan­dals.

    It’s all a reminder that when Steve Ban­non made his now noto­ri­ous state­ment in 2018 about how the “real oppo­si­tion is the media. And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with sh it,” that does­n’t just involve drown­ing the pub­lic with mis­in­for­ma­tion. A lot of the sh*t they are ‘flood­ing this zone with’ are real sh*tty scan­dals. And as long as they can drown the pub­lic’s mind in an end­less flood of real sh*tty scan­dals some­one like Trump can hope­ful­ly float his way to the top. Again.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 31, 2020, 4:33 pm
  20. It’s hard to come up with a sto­ry that ade­quate­ly cap­tures the sig­nif­i­cance of tomor­row’s elec­tion, when the US learns whether or not the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion Nation­al Night­mare Show gets renewed for a sec­ond sea­son. How can one prop­er­ly sum­ma­rize an admin­is­tra­tion that uses the chaos of its own self-cre­at­ed dai­ly scan­dals to dis­tract from those same scan­dals? That’s like some sort of black mag­ic stuff. Black mag­ic that requires the sac­ri­fice of pieces of Amer­i­ca’s soul to pow­er the spell.

    And that points towards one of the lessons that can sum­ma­rize at least part of the impact of the Trump expe­ri­ence on the Unit­ed States: a loss of inno­cence. Yes, the US was far from an inno­cent coun­try and born in the sin of slav­ery. But we nev­er real­ly knew for sure until now what would hap­pen if a politi­cian with the rhetor­i­cal skills of a car­ni­val bark­er and ethics of mob­ster secured the nom­i­na­tion of a major par­ty by turn­ing pol­i­tics into an up-is-down polit­i­cal cir­cus. Some­one who lies so open­ly and con­tin­u­ous­ly and defends it by declare that every­one else is actu­al­ly lying and they are is the only truth-teller. Some­one like that can not only win the pres­i­den­cy but almost entire­ly main­tain their psy­cho­log­i­cal grip on one of the two major par­ties for an entire four years. A grip so tight he can draw tens of thou­sands of sup­port­er to attend viral super-spread­er ral­lies. Ral­lies were show­ing a will­ing­ness to die for their leader is part of the appeal. A gen­uine sui­ci­dal death cult. That hap­pened. And is still hap­pen­ing. We did­n’t know that could hap­pen before. Now we do. Yes, the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion was cer­tain­ly a test of just how suc­cess­ful­ly a non-stop crim­i­nal admin­is­tra­tion could be, but even then there was an attempt to obscure the crim­i­nal­i­ty. With Trump we have the crimes all out in the open, proud­ly boast­ing of them as accom­plish­ments, and it worked. Pres­i­dent Trump suc­cess­ful­ly built and cul­ti­vat­ed and gen­uine death cult of per­son­al­i­ty built on a bed of bla­tant lies. We now know this is a very real pos­si­bil­i­ty because it’s our cur­rent real­i­ty. And there’s no take backs. This is now part of Amer­i­ca’s per­ma­nent record, whether or not Trump los­es or wins (more like­ly, ‘wins’ the elec­tion).

    So with that per­ma­nent loss of inno­cence in mind, per­haps the fol­low­ing sto­ry does a good job of sym­bol­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent­ing what Amer­i­ca did to itself over the last four years and might do to itself for anoth­er four years: Last week the Trump admin­is­tra­tion just final­ized the gut­ting of reg­u­la­tions pro­tect­ing the world’s last remain­ing tem­per­ate rain­for­est. The Ton­gass nation­al for­est in Alas­ka, dubbed the ‘lungs of the coun­try’, is now ‘open for busi­ness’ for log­gers. In addi­tion, a 2019 sci­en­tif­ic analy­sis showed that the Ton­gass absorbs more car­bon than any oth­er nation­al for­est, mak­ing it one of our nat­ur­al safe­guards against run­away cli­mate change. Yep, at the end of the ‘COVID’ elec­tion and a dai­ly super-spread­er Trump death cult ral­lies killing off his own base, the Trump admin­is­tra­tion man­aged to sneak in a rul­ing that will dec­i­mate Amer­i­ca’s ‘lungs’ and help give the world a real­ly nasty fever. You could do worse in terms of sym­bol­ism.

    The lift­ing of the pro­tec­tions was announce on Octo­ber 28, less than a week before Elec­tion Day. And while the tim­ing of the move so close to Elec­tion Day might make would sus­pect it was done to cur­ry votes in Alas­ka, it turns out it Alaskan pub­lic does­n’t actu­al­ly sup­port the move. In fact, back in Feb­ru­ary, the con­ser­v­a­tive polling firm Baselice & Asso­ciates, Inc. — which had pre­vi­ous­ly polled for the Trump/Pence until Trump fired them in 2019 for issu­ing polls unflat­ter­ing for Trump — found that a plu­ral­i­ty of Alaskan vot­ers, 49%, opposed lift­ing log­ging pro­tec­tions for the Ton­gass, with 43% sup­port­ing the move.

    So if Trump did­n’t lift these rules at the last minute to get more votes, why did he do it? Last minute cam­paign dona­tions from the log­ging indus­try, per­haps? Who knows, but he did it. Just snuck it in right at the last minute in a move almost entire­ly obscured from the Amer­i­can pub­lic by virtue of the fact that almost all of the media cov­er­age of Trump over the last week is under­stand­ably cov­er­age of his super-spread­er cam­paign ral­lies and reg­u­lar threats to not respect the results of the elec­tion.

    But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle notes, there’s anoth­er bit of poignant sym­bol­ism here: it turns out Ton­gass has the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of bald eagles. And as the arti­cle also notes, most of the lum­ber is going be export­ed to Chi­na and oth­er Pacif­ic Rim nations. Yes, the sym­bol of Amer­i­ca, the bald eagle, is get­ting its home chopped down for export. And all indi­ca­tions were that this was done at the behest of spe­cial inter­ests over pub­lic oppo­si­tion. An appar­ent cash-for-favors quid pro quo that treats the coun­try, and the future, like a fire sale. Again, you could do worse in terms of sym­bol­ism:

    The Guardian

    Trump to gut pro­tec­tions in Alaska’s Ton­gass for­est, the ‘lungs of the coun­try’

    Admin­is­tra­tion to per­mit log­ging in the world’s largest intact tem­per­ate rain­for­est

    Cas­sidy Ran­dall
    Wed 28 Oct 2020 14.43 EDT
    Last mod­i­fied on Wed 28 Oct 2020 19.24 EDT

    The Trump admin­is­tra­tion has announced it will lift pro­tec­tions in Alaska’s Ton­gass nation­al for­est, per­mit­ting log­ging in the world’s largest intact tem­per­ate rain­for­est.

    Experts call the Ton­gass the “lungs of the coun­try” and one of nation’s last remain­ing bul­warks against cli­mate change. Locat­ed on the south­ern coast of Alas­ka, it is made up of cen­turies-old west­ern cedar, hem­lock and Sit­ka spruce trees, and is home to immense bio­di­ver­si­ty, includ­ing the largest-known con­cen­tra­tion of bald eagles.

    “It’s iron­ic that this admin­is­tra­tion is try­ing to tout this president’s envi­ron­men­tal record when [Trump is] unwind­ing envi­ron­men­tal safe­guards all over the place,” said Ken Rait, project direc­tor of the Pew Char­i­ta­ble Trust, who two decades ago helped win the pro­tec­tions that Don­ald Trump is now undo­ing. “And lift­ing pro­tec­tions on the Ton­gass, the nation’s flag­ship for­est, is about the most egre­gious of all of them.”

    The administration’s deci­sion ignores over­whelm­ing pub­lic sup­port for keep­ing pro­tec­tions in place on the Ton­gass, includ­ing res­o­lu­tions from six south-east Alas­ka tribes and six south-east Alas­ka city coun­cils against lift­ing pro­tec­tions. Of the pub­lic com­ments solicit­ed on the plan, 96% were in favor of keep­ing pro­tec­tions in places.

    ...

    The Ton­gass has been safe­guard­ed since 2001 by a “road­less rule”, which pro­hibits road con­struc­tion, road recon­struc­tion and tim­ber har­vest­ing in des­ig­nat­ed areas of nation­al forests. It barred the con­struc­tion of roads on some 58.5m acres, and in addi­tion to the envi­ron­men­tal ben­e­fits, the rule was moti­vat­ed to pro­tect US tax­pay­ers from the costs of main­tain­ing a web of US For­est Ser­vice roads “long enough to go to the moon and most of the way back with no way to main­tain them”, said Rait.

    Tourism has soared, and the for­est sup­port some of the last pro­duc­tive wild salmon runs in the world, and a bil­lion-dol­lar com­mer­cial fish­ing indus­try. A 2019 sci­en­tif­ic analy­sis showed that the Ton­gass absorbs more car­bon than any oth­er nation­al for­est, on a lev­el with the world’s most dense ter­res­tri­al car­bon sinks in South Amer­i­ca.

    After a brief pri­vate meet­ing between the pres­i­dent and the Alas­ka gov­er­nor, Mike Dun­leavy, aboard Air Force One in June 2019, Trump ordered his admin­is­tra­tion to lift all pro­tec­tions from the for­est.

    Accord­ing to Rait, “between tax­pay­er expens­es and the fact that the major­i­ty of logs cut on the Ton­gass will be export­ed to Chi­na and oth­er Pacif­ic Rim nations, today’s deci­sion isn’t going to have robust eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits to any­one in this coun­try.”

    A recent report from the Cen­ter for Sus­tain­able Econ­o­my doc­u­ment­ed tax­pay­er loss­es of near­ly $2bn a year from fed­er­al log­ging pro­grams, large­ly due to the fact that demand for tim­ber has been flag­ging nation­al­ly.

    “The Ton­gass is America’s Ama­zon,” Adam Kolton, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Alas­ka Wilder­ness League, said in a state­ment. “This pres­i­den­tial­ly direct­ed move to gut road­less pro­tec­tions for our nation’s largest and most bio­log­i­cal­ly rich nation­al for­est is a calami­ty for our cli­mate, for wildlife and for the out­door recre­ation econ­o­my of south-east Alas­ka.”

    ———–

    “Trump to gut pro­tec­tions in Alaska’s Ton­gass for­est, the ‘lungs of the coun­try’” by Cas­sidy Ran­dall; The Guardian; 10/28/2020

    Experts call the Ton­gass the “lungs of the coun­try” and one of nation’s last remain­ing bul­warks against cli­mate change. Locat­ed on the south­ern coast of Alas­ka, it is made up of cen­turies-old west­ern cedar, hem­lock and Sit­ka spruce trees, and is home to immense bio­di­ver­si­ty, includ­ing the largest-known con­cen­tra­tion of bald eagles.

    So long, That’s a nice nest you bald eagles have there. And a nice nat­ur­al ‘lung’ your Amer­i­cans have there. Sure would be a shame if some­thing hap­pened to it.

    And now we get to find out if this move was just a warmup for what’s to come or one last round or loot­ing before Trump wan­ders off to wher­ev­er his heart takes him. Either way, immense per­ma­nent dam­age is going to be done to the Ton­gass as a con­se­quence of this rul­ing. And that’s why this sto­ry is such a trag­i­cal­ly sym­bol­ic sto­ry for our times. Whether or not more going to see four more years of mas­sive dam­age or if we’re see­ing the end of the Trump era, much of the dam­age that’s already been done isn’t reversible. This is per­ma­nent. When you clear cut an ancient for­est there’s no take backs. That’s irre­versible per­ma­nent dam­age. Kind of like hav­ing half the nation col­lec­tive­ly join a mad death cult. Some of that dam­age might be reversible, but you can’t join a death cult and expect to emerge ful­ly intact. Or nec­es­sar­i­ly alive.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 2, 2020, 5:19 pm

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