Trump’s Swamp

 

August 7, 2018
forbes.com
New Details About Wilbur Ross’ Business Point To Pattern Of Grifting

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.”

If even half of the accusations are legitimate, the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.

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.”

Such machinations now seem pathetic. But his billionaire status was not lost on another person obsessed with his net worth. Donald Trump termed Ross a “legendary Wall Street genius” and named him to his cabinet. “In these particular positions,” Trump explained to a crowd of supporters, “I just don’t want a poor person.”

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.”

NICK DESANTIS

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.

 

June 7, 2018
washingtonpost.com
Scott Pruitt’s abuses of power, ranked

The Scott Pruitt ethics saga is becoming comical. Even White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders could not suppress a wry smile this week when asked during a media briefing about the Environmental Protection Agency administrator’s enlistment of an aide to hunt for a secondhand mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

“I couldn’t comment on the specifics of the furniture used in his apartment . . . and certainly would not attempt to,” Sanders said, drawing laughter from reporters.

On Thursday, The Washington Post reported on another use of government resources to procure a luxury hotel item for Pruitt. In this case, the object of the Oklahoman’s desire was a moisturizing lotion available at the Ritz-Carlton.

Where does Pruitt’s taxpayer-funded effort to prevent dry skin rank among his other abuses of power? Here’s the definitive list:

1. The Chick-fil-A restaurant

Pruitt last year had his scheduler request a meeting with Chick-fil-A chief executive Dan Cathy to discuss “a potential business opportunity,” which turned out to be an opportunity for Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, to open a restaurant in the popular fast-food chain.

Scott Pruitt wound up speaking not with Cathy but instead with another company representative, and Marlyn Pruitt started but did not complete an application to become a Chick-fil-A franchisee. Though ultimately unsuccessful, the pursuit of a restaurant tops the list because it represents an attempt to use Scott Pruitt’s position to establish a personal profit stream that could continue long after his time in office.

Also, Pruitt’s defense — that “we need more of them in Tulsa, and we need more of them across the country,” as if trying to open a Chick-fil-A were some kind of public service — is particularly weak.

Jessica Smith

@JessicaASmith8

I asked Scott Pruitt a quick question about the reports he tried to help his wife become a Chick-fil-A franchisee.

“With great change comes, I think, opposition…I love, she loves [Chick-fil-A]”

2. The $50-per-night condo

For six months last year, Pruitt enjoyed one of the sweetest housing arrangements in Washington: a condominium on Capitol Hill that he could rent for the far-below-market rate of $50 per night, paying only when he was in town. Making bad appearances worse, the condo belonged to the wife of a lobbyist whose firm represents energy companies with interests in EPA decisions.

Pruitt’s deal seems antithetical to President Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra.

3. The raises

Early this year, two of Pruitt’s top aides received large raises: 52 percent in one case and 33 percent in the other. The White House had rejected such hefty pay increases, but the EPA used an obscure provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act to hand them out, anyway.

“I did not know about the pay raise,” Pruitt told Fox News, but three administration officials told The Washington Post that Pruitt endorsed the raises.

4. The $43,000 soundproof phone booth

For frivolity, this one is hard to beat. The Government Accountability Office determined in April that the pricey installation of a soundproof phone booth in Pruitt’s office violated federal spending laws, which require agencies to notify lawmakers if exceeding a $5,000 cap on furnishing, redecorating or otherwise making improvements to agency heads’ offices.

5. The first-class travel

Early in his tenure, Pruitt made a habit of flying first class while his aides sat in coach, inflating the EPA’s travel costs. Federal regulations require government travelers to “exercise the same care in incurring expenses that a prudent person would exercise if traveling on personal business . . . and therefore, should consider the least expensive class of travel that meets their needs.”

6. The lotion

Pruitt’s security detail cost $3.5 million in 2017, almost twice the annual price tag to protect his recent predecessors. The EPA justified round-the-clock security by saying Pruitt “has faced an unprecedented amount of death threats against him.” Pruitt, however, has sometimes used bodyguards for nonsecurity purposes. It was members of Pruitt’s security detail who carried out the search for his preferred moisturizer. Pruitt also has asked agents to pick up his dry cleaning.

7. The mattress

In the fall, Pruitt tasked his scheduler with the nongovernment mission of shopping for a discount “Trump Home Luxury Plush Euro Pillow Top” mattress. Pruitt also deployed the aide, Millan Hupp — one of the two to receive a big raise — to scout apartments in desirable Washington neighborhoods and to help arrange a family vacation to California so the Pruitts could watch the University of Oklahoma football team play in the Rose Bowl.

8. The $130 fountain pens

Pruitt’s expensive taste extends to writing implements. The EPA in August spent $1,560 on a dozen customized silver fountain pens emblazoned with the agency’s seal and Pruitt’s signature. An order from the Tiny Jewel Box, which bills itself as Washington’s “premier destination for fine jewelry and watches,” also included $1,760 worth of other high-end office supplies, such as personalized journals.

9. The dinner reservation

The New York Times reported in April that Pruitt has sometimes asked his security detail to turn on lights and sirens to clear traffic so that he can travel faster to the airport or dinner, as he did on one evening when running late for a reservation at the French restaurant Le Diplomate.

10. The mess hall

Last year, as Pruitt became a regular at the bargain-priced White House mess hall, the White House told agency chiefs of staff that Cabinet members should dine there only occasionally and not overuse their access to cheap eats, Politico reported. Pruitt, according to the report, “has been known to complain that EPA headquarters has no cafeteria of its own and no private dining quarters.”   Source

 

May 25, 2018
Pastemagazine.com
Pure Evil: The Government Lost Around 1,500 Refugee Children Who Are Now Vulnerable to Trafficking and Worse

Pure Evil: The Government Lost Around 1,500 Refugee Children Who Are Now Vulnerable to Trafficking and Worse

Remember when Donald Trump’s Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, said that the refugee children we are separating from their parents will “be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever”? This is what he meant by “or whatever.” Per the New York Times:

A top official with the Department of Health and Human Services told members of Congress on Thursday that the agency had lost track of nearly 1,500 migrant children it placed with sponsors in the United States, raising concerns they could end up in the hands of human traffickers or be used as laborers by people posing as relatives.

The official, Steven Wagner, the acting assistant secretary of the agency’s Administration for Children and Families, disclosed during testimony before a Senate homeland security subcommittee that the agency had learned of the missing children after placing calls to the people who took responsibility for them when they were released from government custody.

The children were taken into government care after they showed up alone at the Southwest border. Most of the children are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and were fleeing drug cartels, gang violence and domestic abuse, government data shows.

What else is there to say anymore? ICE is conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign while we separate children from their parents and stick them on what can only be defined as concentration camps on our military bases, where we have been unable to protect these kids from sexual assault. We’re not even making a concerted effort to reunite these children with their parents after deporting them, as the Houston Chronicle exposed:

Esteban Pastor hoped U.S. Border Patrol agents would free him and his 18-month-old son after they were arrested for crossing the southern border illegally last summer.

He had mortgaged his land in Guatemala to fund his sick toddler’s hospital stay, and needed to work in the United States to pay off the loan.

Instead agents imprisoned the 28-year-old in July for coming back into the country after having been deported, a felony. They placed the toddler in a federal shelter, though where, Pastor didn’t know. Three months later, in October, the father was deported — alone. His child, he said agents told him, was “somewhere in Texas.”

Unaccompanied minors who crossed the U.S.-Mexico border during a historic wave of migration earlier this decade were repeatedly beaten, sexually abused, and deprived of food and medical care by federal border agents, according to an American Civil Liberties Union report released Wednesday.

About 30,000 pages of documents obtained by the ACLU through an open-records lawsuit depict a gantlet of alleged mistreatment for the tens of thousands of children who arrived mainly from Central America between 2009 and 2014, during the Obama administration. Many were seeking asylum in the United States after fleeing death threats and violence in their homelands.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents allegedly used stun guns on the minors for amusement or punishment, kicked them and threatened to either rape or kill them. The ACLU report — which is based on emails, complaint forms and investigative reports — says agents routinely kept minors in detention cells with frigid temperatures, forcing them to sleep on concrete floors.

In 2014, Frontline uncovered more unconscionable incompetence from President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services:

In 2014, at least 10 trafficking victims, including eight minors, were discovered during a raid by federal and local law enforcement in Portman’s home state of Ohio. As FRONTLINE examined in the recent documentary Trafficked in America, HHS had released several minors to the traffickers. The committee said the case was due to policies and procedures that were “inadequate to protect the children in the agency’s care.”

This is America. If you ever wondered what you would have done during 1930s Germany, it’s whatever you’re doing right now.  Source

May 16, 2018
New Yorker
Missing Files Motivated the Leak of Michael Cohen’s Financial Records
A law-enforcement official released the documents after finding that additional suspicious transactions did not appear in a government database.

By 

Last week, several news outlets obtained financial records showing that Michael CohenPresident Trump’s personal attorney, had used a shell company to receive payments from various firms with business before the Trump Administration. In the days since, there has been much speculation about who leaked the confidential documents, and the Treasury Department’s inspector general has launched a probe to find the source. That source, a law-enforcement official, is speaking publicly for the first time, to The New Yorker, to explain the motivation: the official had grown alarmed after being unable to find two important reports on Cohen’s financial activity in a government database. The official, worried that the information was being withheld from law enforcement, released the remaining documents.

The payments to Cohen that have emerged in the past week come primarily from a single document, a “suspicious-activity report” filed by First Republic Bank, where Cohen’s shell company, Essential Consultants, L.L.C., maintained an account. The document detailed sums in the hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to Cohen by the pharmaceutical company Novartis, the telecommunications giant A.T. & T., and an investment firm with ties to the Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

The report also refers to two previous suspicious-activity reports, or sars, that the bank had filed, which documented even larger flows of questionable money into Cohen’s account. Those two reports detail more than three million dollars in additional transactions—triple the amount in the report released last week. Which individuals or corporations were involved remains a mystery. But, according to the official who leaked the report, these sars were absent from the database maintained by the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or fincen. The official, who has spent a career in law enforcement, told me, “I have never seen something pulled off the system. . . . That system is a safeguard for the bank. It’s a stockpile of information. When something’s not there that should be, I immediately became concerned.” The official added, “That’s why I came forward.”

Seven former government officials and other experts familiar with the Treasury Department’s fincen database expressed varying levels of concern about the missing reports. Some speculated that fincen may have restricted access to the reports due to the sensitivity of their content, which they said would be nearly unprecedented. One called the possibility “explosive.” A record-retention policy on fincen’s Web site notes that false documents or those “deemed highly sensitive” and “requiring strict limitations on access” may be transferred out of its master file. Nevertheless, a former prosecutor who spent years working with the fincen database said that she knew of no mechanism for restricting access to sars. She speculated that fincen may have taken the extraordinary step of restricting access “because of the highly sensitive nature of a potential investigation. It may be that someone reached out to fincen to ask to limit disclosure of certain sars related to an investigation, whether it was the special counsel or the Southern District of New York.” (The special counsel, Robert Mueller, is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. The Southern District is investigating Cohen, and the F.B.I. raided his office and hotel room last month.)

Whatever the explanation for the missing reports, the appearance that some, but not all, had been removed or restricted troubled the official who released the report last week. “Why just those two missing?” the official, who feared that the contents of those two reports might be permanently withheld, said. “That’s what alarms me the most.”

fincen said in a statement that it protects the confidentiality of sars “in order to protect both filers and potentially named individuals.” The statement added, “FinCEN neither confirms nor denies the existence of purported SARs.” Spokespeople for the special counsel’s office and the Southern District of New York declined to comment. Michael Cohen and his lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Banks are legally mandated to file suspicious-activity reports with the government in order to call attention to activity that resembles money laundering, fraud, and other criminal conduct. These reports are routed to a permanent database maintained by fincen, which can be searched by tens of thousands of law-enforcement and other federal government personnel. The reports are a routine response to any financial activity that appears suspicious. They are not proof of criminal activity, and often do not result in criminal charges, though the information in them can be used in law-enforcement proceedings. “This is a permanent record. They should be there,” the official, who described an exhaustive search for the reports, said. “And there is nothing there.”

Cohen set up the First Republic account for Essential Consultants in October, 2016, shortly before the Presidential election, in order to pay the adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, who performs under the name Stormy Daniels, a hundred and thirty thousand dollars in return for signing a nondisclosure agreement about her alleged affair with Donald Trump. First Republic’s compliance officers later began flagging Cohen’s transactions in the account as possible signs of money laundering. Among other potential violations, the documents cite “suspicion concerning the source of funds,” “suspicious EFT/ wire transfers,” “suspicious use of multiple accounts,” and “transaction with no apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose.” (A spokesperson for First Republic Bank declined to comment.)

By January of this year, First Republic had filed the three suspicious-activity reports about Cohen’s account. The most recent report—the only one made public so far—examined Cohen’s transactions from September of 2017 to January of 2018, and included activity totalling almost a million dollars. It alludes to the two previous reports that the official could not find in the fincendatabase. The first report that the official was unable to locate, which covered almost seven months, appears to have listed a little over a million dollars in activity. The second report that the official was unable to locate, which investigated a three-month period between June and September of 2017, found suspect transfers totalling more than two million dollars.

A substantial portion of this money seems to have ended up in Cohen’s personal accounts. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney filed a separate sar showing that, during that same three-month period, Cohen set up two accounts with the firm, into which he deposited three checks from his Essential Consultants account, two in the amount of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and one in the amount of five hundred and five thousand dollars. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney marked those transactions, which added up to more than a million dollars, as possible signs of “bribery or gratuity” and “suspicious use of third-party transactors (straw-man).”

Cohen appears to have misled First Republic repeatedly regarding the purpose of the Essential Consultants account. In paperwork filed with the bank, he said that the company would be devoted to using “his experience in real estate to consult on commercial and residential” deals. Cohen told the bank that his transactions would be modest, and based within the United States. In fact, the compliance officers wrote, “a significant portion of the target account deposits continue to originate from entities that have no apparent connection to real estate or apparent need to engage Cohen as a real estate consultant.” Likewise, “a significant portion of the deposits continues to be derived from foreign entities.” David Murray, a former Treasury official focussed on illicit finance, told me, “There are a ton of red flags here. The pattern of activity has indicators that are inherently suspicious, and the volume and source of funds do not match the account profile that was built when the account was opened.”

The report released last week highlights a payment from Cohen’s account to Demeter Direct, Inc. In publicly filed paperwork, Demeter Direct represents itself as a Korean food company. However, a Web site, since taken down, suggested that it was a global consulting firm. After the press began scrutinizing Cohen’s accounts, a man listed as Demeter Direct’s C.E.O., Mark Ko, told CNN that he served as an intermediary and translator in Cohen’s dealings with an aviation firm, majority-owned by South Korea’s government, called Korea Aerospace Industries. According to the First Republic report, the aerospace company paid Cohen a hundred and fifty thousand dollars in November of 2017, the same month President Trump visited South Korea. At the time, the company was lobbying for a controversial multibillion-dollar contract with the U.S. Air Force.

The report also shows how Cohen apparently used the Essential Consultants account for personal expenses. He seems to have used it to pay his American Express, A.T. & T., and Mercedes Benz bills, marking account numbers on the memo lines of his checks. He paid initiation fees and dues to the Core Club, a social club that the Times once described as a “portal to power.” He also cut himself multiple personal checks from Essential Consultants, amounting to more than a hundred thousand dollars, on top of the million he had already deposited into his Morgan Stanley accounts.

In many cases, the suspicious-activity reports highlight activity of potential interest to ongoing investigations, including that of the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Bank compliance officers noted eight payments from a company called Columbus Nova to Cohen’s account between January and August of 2017, totalling five hundred thousand dollars. The investigators wrote that Columbus Nova’s biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, whom they described as “reputed to be a longtime ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin.” The report also points out that Andrew Intrater, Vekselberg’s relative and the C.E.O. of Columbus Nova, donated more than three hundred thousand dollars to Trump-related causes. The report flagged the activity as suspicious “because the CEO’s company transferred substantial funds to the personal attorney of Trump at the same time the CEO reportedly donated substantial funds to Trump’s inauguration fund and joint fundraising committee for Trump’s reelection and the Republican National Committee.”

Other banks also noticed Cohen’s suspicious transactions and filed their own sars about his activity. Some of those show the banks piecing together the reasons for the transactions from news reports, citing articles from publications including the Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair about Trump, Russia, and secret election-season payments, including the payment to Clifford. One, filed by City National Bank, follows money paid to Cohen by Elliott Broidy, at the time the deputy finance chairman for the Republican National Committee. The report notes, “Broidy also owns a private security company, Circinus, which provides services to the U.S. and other governments. The company has hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with the U.A.E.” Broidy has said that Cohen and another lawyer, Keith Davidson, worked out a deal in which Broidy would pay $1.6 million to a former Playboy model he had impregnated. Broidy appears to have paid both lawyers for arranging the deal. The City National report shows that Broidy funnelled the payments through Real Estate Attorneys’ Group, a legal corporation. Broidy seems to have paid Davidson two hundred thousand dollars, and to have sent three payments, of $62,500 each, to Cohen—one to the Essential Consultants account and two to the account of Michael D. Cohen and Associates.

A representative for Broidy said that this description of the payments was “not correct,” and that “Mr. Broidy is not going to detail his payments for legal services to Mr. Cohen.” The representative added, “Mr. Broidy did not pay Mr. Davidson.” However, the City National report shows that on November 30, 2017, a wire of two hundred thousand dollars was received by the Real Estate Attorneys’ Group from Broidy. Then, on December 5, 2017, two hundred thousand dollars were transferred from Real Estate Attorneys’ Group to an account belonging to Keith M. Davidson and Associates.

Michael Avenatti, an attorney representing Clifford, who has released summaries of Cohen’s transactions on social media, said, “The Treasury Department should release all of the sars immediately to the American public.”

Suspicious-activity reports are kept strictly confidential, as a matter of law. “sars are secret, to protect the government and to protect financial institutions,” the former prosecutor told me. “I don’t think there’s a safe harbor for somebody who discloses it.” According to fincen, disclosing a sar is a federal offense, carrying penalties including fines of up to two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and imprisonment for up to five years. The official who released the suspicious-activity reports was aware of the risks, but said fears that the missing reports might be suppressed compelled the disclosure. “We’ve accepted this as normal, and this is not normal,” the official said. “Things that stand out as abnormal, like documents being removed from a system, are of grave concern to me.” Of the potential for legal consequences, the official said, “To say that I am terrified right now would be an understatement.” But, referring to the released report, as well as the potential contents of the missing reports, the official also added, “This is a terrifying time to be an American, to be in this situation, and to watch all of this unfold.”

May 14, 2018
National Review
China Contributing $500 Million to Trump-Linked Project in Indonesia

The Chinese government is extending a $500 million loan to a state-owned construction company to build an Indonesian theme park that will feature a Trump-branded golf course and hotels.

A subsidiary of Chinese state-owned construction firm Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) signed a deal last week with the Indonesian firm MNC Land to build an “integrated lifestyle resort,” as part of Beijing’s global influence-expanding “Belt and Road” infrastructure initiative.

The project will include a number of Trump-branded hotels, a golf course, and a residence. While the $500 million loan will not be directly allocated to any of the Trump-branded features, Beijing’s contribution of half the project’s total operating budget ensures the success of the broader theme-park venture.

The Trump properties are considered flagship elements of the theme park, according to MNC marketing materials, and internal documents obtained by Agency France-Presse show Trump’s sons have been directly involved in its planning.

Though negotiations began prior to Trump’s election and his pledge to cease engaging in new business dealings with foreign governments, the project raises questions about the extent to which the Trump organization is dependent on Beijing amid contentious trade negotiations with the U.S.

“Even if this deal is completely and entirely above board, it simply furthers the perception of impropriety” surrounding Trump’s business dealings, Christopher Balding, an economics professor at Shenzhen’s HSBC Business School, told AFP. “Especially with the potential trade war, this is not a good look….Critics will be entirely right to demand answers.”

Trump refused to divest his Trump Organization holdings upon taking office, much to the consternation of government-ethics experts, opting instead to place his holdings in a blind trust and hand over control of the business to his sons.

Vice Premier Liu He, China’s top economic official, is traveling to Washington this week to continue negotiations over the large trade deficit between the U.S. and China. Though negotiations have proved fruitless thus far, the administration has remained confident that Beijing will make significant concessions to avert the harsh tariffs the Trump administration has threatened to implement.  Source

May 13, 2018
Nytimes.com
Education Department Unwinds Unit Investigating Fraud at For-Profit

WASHINGTON — Members of a special team at the Education Department that had been investigating widespread abuses by for-profit colleges have been marginalized, reassigned or instructed to focus on other matters, according to current and former employees.

The unwinding of the team has effectively killed investigations into possibly fraudulent activities at several large for-profit colleges where top hires of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, had previously worked.

During the final months of the Obama administration, the team had expanded to include a dozen or so lawyers and investigators who were looking into advertising, recruitment practices and job placement claims at several institutions, including DeVry Education Group.

The investigation into DeVry ground to a halt early last year. Later, in the summer, Ms. DeVos named Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, as the team’s new supervisor.

Now only three employees work on the team, and their mission has been scaled back to focus on processing student loan forgiveness applications and looking at smaller compliance cases, said the current and former employees, including former members of the team, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retaliation from the department.

In addition to DeVry, now known as Adtalem Global Education, investigations into Bridgepoint Education and Career Education Corporation, which also operate large for-profit colleges, went dark.

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A team at the Education Department investigating for-profit schools has dwindled in size, and its inquiry into DeVry Education Group ground to a halt last year.CreditJ. Pat Carter/Associated Press

Former employees of those institutions now work for Ms. DeVos as well, including Robert S. Eitel, her senior counselor, and Diane Auer Jones, a senior adviser on postsecondary education. Last month, Congress confirmed the appointment of a lawyer who provided consulting services to Career Education, Carlos G. Muñiz, as the department’s general counsel.

The investigative team had been created in 2016 after the collapse of the for-profit Corinthian Colleges, which set off a wave of complaints from students about predatory activities at for-profit schools. The institutions had been accused of widespread fraud that involved misrepresenting enrollment benefits, job placement rates and program offerings, which could leave students with huge debts and no degrees.

Elizabeth Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, attributed the reduction of the group to attrition and said that “conducting investigations is but one way the investigations team contributes to the department’s broad effort to provide oversight.” She said that none of the new employees who had previously worked in the for-profit education industry had influenced the unit’s work.

She also said the team’s deployment on student loan forgiveness applications was an “operational decision” that “neither points to a curtailment of our school oversight efforts nor indicates a conscious effort to ignore ‘large-scale’ investigations.”

Aaron Ament, a former chief of staff to the office of the department’s general counsel who helped create the team under President Barack Obama, said it had been intended to protect students from fraudulent for-profit colleges. “Unfortunately, Secretary DeVos seems to think the colleges need protection from their students,” said Mr. Ament, who is now president of the National Student Legal Defense Network.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, also criticized the team’s new direction. Ms. DeVos has taken a number of actions to roll back or delay regulations that sought to rein in abuses and predatory practices among for-profit colleges — actions that Ms. Warren and other Democrats have said put the industry’s interests ahead of those of students.

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Ms. DeVos appointed Julian Schmoke, a former dean at DeVry, to supervise the investigative team.

“Secretary DeVos has filled the department with for-profit college hacks who only care about making sham schools rich and shutting down investigations into fraud,” Ms. Warren said.

DeVry did not respond to requests for comment, and Mr. Schmoke declined to be interviewed. Mr. Schmoke recused himself from matters involving DeVry, according to the department.

DeVry agreed to pay $100 million in 2016 to settle a separate Federal Trade Commission lawsuit alleging that it misled prospective students with ads about employment and salaries after graduation.

The Education Department announced a limited settlement with DeVry the same year after finding that the school could not substantiate claims that 90 percent of its alumni since 1975 were employed in their field of study within six months of graduating. But the investigative team continued to look into the institution’s job placement claims and other recruiting practices.

Ms. Hill confirmed the investigation, but said it had been suspended early last year before President Trump took office.

The former and current employees disputed Ms. Hill’s account, and said the group and its work had become an issue of contention during meetings with the Trump transition team. Several of the employees said that there had been a staff push to continue the investigation as recently as this year, with no result.

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Robert S. Eitel, a senior adviser to Ms. DeVos, formerly was a lawyer at for-profit schools the department was examining.

The group had also been looking into similar issues of recruiting and advertising at Bridgepoint and Career Education during the latter part of 2016, the employees said.

Ms. Hill declined to comment on those cases. “To preserve the integrity of investigations, program reviews and other enforcement activities,” she said, “the department’s practice is to neither confirm nor deny current or potential investigations.”

In a statement, Bridgepoint said the company was aware of a review beginning in 2015, but had “not been made aware of any investigation or involvement by the enforcement unit.” Career Education did not respond to requests for comment.

Bridgepoint has a high-profile connection in the Trump administration beyond the Education Department: It is a former client of Mercedes Schlapp, who is now the director of strategic communications at the White House.

Ms. Schlapp was a consultant for Bridgepoint at Cove Strategies, a lobbying and consulting firm she founded with her husband, Matt Schlapp. Bridgepoint said that it remained a Cove client.

The White House did not say whether Ms. Schlapp had recused herself from issues involving Bridgepoint and did not respond to a request to interview her. Mr. Schlapp said in an email that “Bridgepoint and other online institutions were persecuted by President Obama’s administration because they dared to bring innovation to the education market.”

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Diane Auer Jones, a senior adviser on postsecondary education, was an executive at a for-profit institution that was under scrutiny.Creditvia You Tube

He added, “I believe educational innovation and disruption are a fight worth having and it matches the President’s agenda of rolling back the excess of the Obama regulatory stranglehold.”

Mr. Eitel, the senior adviser to Ms. DeVos, last year recused himself from issues involving both Bridgepoint and Career Education, where he was previously a top lawyer.

Ms. Jones, the senior adviser on postsecondary education, has not recused herself from matters involving Career Education, where she previously worked, according to a list of recusals the department provided. The department did not say whether Mr. Muñiz had recused himself from issues involving the company.

Ms. Jones worked for about five years as a senior vice president at Career Education Corporation after serving as assistant secretary for postsecondary education for President George W. Bush. She joined the Trump administration early this year.

In a letter to Ms. DeVos last week, Ms. Warren and nine other Democratic senators called on the department to reveal the extent of Ms. Jones’s ties to the industry, suggesting she had a history of working “on behalf of bad actors.”

The department issued an extensive statement defending Ms. Jones, calling her background an “asset” that would advance the department’s goals. Ms. Jones has had “vast higher-ed experience in community colleges, research universities and for-profit colleges,” it said in the statement, adding that she had spent only a fraction of her career in the for-profit industry.

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Mercedes Schlapp, the White House’s director of strategic communications, with her husband, Matt. The Schlapps founded a consulting and lobbying firm where one of the for-profit institutions being investigated was a client.CreditAlex Wong/Getty Images

The investigative team emerged in the wake of Corinthian Colleges’ shutdown as the Obama administration faced criticism for providing loans to students attending other for-profit schools that had also been accused of illegal activity, substandard practices or predatory behavior. While not created expressly to focus on for-profit schools, the group directed its attention to those institutions because of their recruiting practices and the large amount of students they serve.

Separately, another group, the borrower defense unit, focused on forgiving loans for students at Corinthian and other schools where fraud had been identified. That group’s work all but came to a stop last year, but has recently gotten going again.

After Mr. Trump’s victory, some employees openly worried about the fate of the investigative unit, and policies quickly changed with the new administration, according to the current and former employees.

Communication with outside groups now required special approval, including with state attorneys general, who had been partners in identifying cases, and federal agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which had been aggressively monitoring a number of for-profit colleges. Without permission, team members could not contact schools or other parties to request documents, an essential part of making a case, which effectively halted investigative work.

Ms. Hill, the Education Department spokeswoman, said the department was “focused on weeding out bad actors” across higher education, “not capriciously targeting schools based on their tax status.”

In recent months, the three remaining team members have been looking at small cases and examining student requests for loan forgiveness, like one filed by Josue Perez.

Mr. Perez, 30, said he was persuaded by an admissions officer at Corinthian Colleges’ Everest Institute in the Boston area to take out a $5,000 loan to attend the school for massage therapy.

The officer told him, according to Mr. Perez, that the college would help him find a job when he graduated. But Mr. Perez never received the help, he said, and he still has not worked in the field. The loan has since tripled to more than $15,000, he said.

He has been waiting for more than a year for the Education Department’s decision on his claim to forgive the $15,000, he said. In the meantime, he worries about the department’s new direction.

“They’re basically removing the police force that keeps these colleges in check,” he said.

Danielle Ivory reported from Washington and New York, Erica L. Green from Washington and Steve Eder from New York. Elizabeth Williamson contributed reporting from Washington. Kitty Bennett contributed research.   Source

May 10, 2018
people.com
John McCain’s Family Outraged After White House Official Mocks Senator: ‘He’s Dying Anyway’

A White House official mocked Sen. John McCain‘s brain cancer diagnosisjust three weeks after the politician underwent surgery for an intestinal infection.

The remarks were made Thursday morning, one day after the Republican announced he opposed President Donald Trump‘s nominee for CIA director, Gina Haspel.

“It doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway,” Special assistant Kelly Sadler said during a closed-door meeting at the White House, according to The Hill.

The White House responded to the comments in a statement obtained by PEOPLE, saying, “We respect Senator McCain’s Service to our nation and he and his family are in our prayers during this difficult time.”

McCain’s wife, Cindy, 63, tweeted at Sadler on Thursday, writing, “@kellysadler45 May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren.”

The couple’s daughter and The View co-host, Meghan McCain, retweeted her mother’s message. Earlier on Thursday, she also shared a black and white photo of herself with her father in which she sat on his lap as a little girl.

Cindy McCain

@cindymccain

@kellysadler45 May I remind you my husband has a family, 7 children and 5 grandchildren.

 

#TBT – I’ve always wanted in on the action…. Love you so much Dad,” Meghan, 33, wrote, adding both a heart emoji and an American flag emoji.

McCain, 81, was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2017 after undergoing a surgery to remove a blood clot above his eye last summer. He was hospitalized in December to treat side effects related to his cancer therapy.

More recently, McCain underwent surgery in April after contracting an intestinal infection. Meghan shared an update about her father’s health, tweeting, “My father @SenJohnMcCain is in stable condition – he continues to inspire me everyday with his intense grit and determination. Thank you to the doctors at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix and to everyone who is praying for him.”

Meghan McCain

@MeghanMcCain

– I’ve always wanted in on the action…. Love you so much Dad. ♥️🇺🇸

Later on Thursday, Fox News host Charles Payne interviewed Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney on McCain’s opposition to Haspel, which was based in part due to her belief that torture works as a questioning method.

McInerney responded on the show saying that despite Haspel being unable to use torture since “it’s not legal” the method worked on McCain himself.

“The fact is, is John McCain — it worked on John,” McInerney said, referencing McCain’s time as a prisoner of war.

Leanne Naramore@LeanneNaramore

…Wow

Conversation on Fox about torture: “It worked on John [McCain]. That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John'” http://mm4a.org/Zat 

“That’s why they call him ‘Songbird John.’ The fact is those methods can work, and they are effective, as former Vice President Cheney said,” he continued. “And if we have to use them to save a million American lives, we will do whatever we have to.”

Payne issued an apology on Twitter after the segment aired, writing, “This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain.”

“At the time, I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment, and did not hear the comment,” he continued. “I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged.”

Charles V Payne

@cvpayne

My Apology to Senator McCain and his Family
“This morning on a show I was hosting, a guest made a very false and derogatory remark about Senator John McCain. At the time, I had the control room in my ear telling me to wrap the segment, and did not hear the comment.

Charles V Payne

@cvpayne

I regret I did not catch this remark, as it should have been challenged. As a proud military veteran and son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feelings about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country.”
Charles V. Payne

“As a proud military veteran and a son of a Vietnam Vet these words neither reflect my or the network’s feeling about Senator McCain, or his remarkable service and sacrifice to this country.”

On Tuesday, Meghan asked the public to stop speaking about her father’s funeral.

“It’s just insensitive and it’s not appreciated at the moment,” she said on The View, resuming her co-hosting role on the talk show after a long weekend at home in Arizona with her father.

“How’s Pop?” co-host Whoopi Goldberg asked.

RELATED VIDEO: Meghan McCain Talks About Her Father John McCain’s ‘Crazy Amazing Recovery’ from Brain Cancer

“He’s doing really good. Just making jokes, talking, standing, doing, you know, doing a great recovery. He has a great team around him,” Meghan replied.

After being diagnosed in July, McCain told PEOPLE that his daughter marrying Ben Domenech on Nov. 21 at the family’s ranch in Cornville, Arizona, was a dream come true.

“The thing in life you want more than anything else is for your kids to be happy,” the senator told PEOPLE exclusively. “And I’m confident that she will be. It was really a wonderful day.”

In the wake of the diagnosis, Meghan and Domenech, 36, made the decision to get engaged and quickly plan a wedding.  Source

May 10, 2018
money.cnn.com
AT&T confirms it paid Michael Cohen for consulting on Time Warner deal

AT&T hired Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to advise the telecom giant on its purchase of Time Warner among other issues, the company confirmed on Thursday.

Cohen was also hired to advise the company on Federal Communications Commission regulation and tax reform, an AT&T spokesperson told CNN.

The Washington Post reported earlier Thursday that internal AT&T documents pertaining to Cohen’s consulting deal indicated Cohen would “focus on specific long-term planning initiatives as well as the immediate issue of corporate tax reform and the acquisition of Time Warner.” Part of that time would be spent on “legislative policy development” and “regulatory policy development.”

On Tuesday AT&T confirmed that it had paid Cohen’s company Essential Consultants for “insights into understanding” the new administration.

A source close to AT&T said the contract between Cohen and AT&T specifically stated that the work was not to include lobbying.

Related: AT&T says it cooperated in Mueller probe

In an email sent to AT&T employees earlier this week, the company said that it had retained Cohen in early 2017 to advise on “regulatory reform at the FCC, corporate tax reform and antitrust enforcement” and that he did no legal or lobbying work.

AT&T has had multiple issues in front of government regulators, including changes to net neutrality rules and an $85 billion deal to purchase Time Warner, CNN’s parent company.

The FCC ultimately decided to lift the current rules on net neutrality, a decision that AT&T has generally supported. But the Justice Department sued to block AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner.

The arrangement between Cohen and AT&T was made public on Tuesday by Stormy Daniels’ lawyer, Michael Avenatti.

He alleged that AT&T made payments totaling $200,000 — $50,000 a month for four months — to the consulting company set up by Cohen shortly before the 2016 election. Cohen used that same company to pay Daniels $130,000 to keep her from speaking publicly about an alleged affair with Trump years prior. The White House says Trump denies the affair.

A source with knowledge of the matter told CNN on Thursday that AT&T actually paid Cohen $600,000 over the course of one year.

On Thursday FCC chairman Ajit Pai told reporters during a news conference that he had never received any inquiries from Cohen on net neutrality issues.

Sources familiar with the situation at the Justice Department told CNN that Cohen never contacted their antitrust division. One source familiar with DOJ’s thinking said the antitrust team finds it “ironic” that AT&T was paying Cohen in what they believe was an effort to politically influence the department’s decision while at the same time saying the department’s decision was being influenced by politics.

Before the trial began, AT&T and Time Warner considered using a “selective enforcement” defense, essentially arguing that the Justice Department was targeting their merger partly because Trump doesn’t like CNN. But the judge overseeing the case blocked AT&T and Time Warner’s request for discovery on communication logs between the Justice Department and the White House, and the companies ultimately dropped the defense.

The judge is expected to issue his ruling on the Justice Department’s lawsuit on June 12.

— CNN’s Brian Stelter contributed reporting.  Source

May 2, 2018
The Hill
Giuliani: Trump reimbursed Cohen for $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) said Wednesday that President Trump reimbursed his personal attorney Michael Cohen the $130,000 paid to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to stay quiet about their alleged affair.

Giuliani, who recently joined Trump’s legal team, told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that the payment was “perfectly legal” and was “not campaign money,” meaning the arrangement didn’t violate campaign finance law.

“It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation. They funneled through a law firm and the president repaid it,” Giuliani said.

“He didn’t know about the specifics of it as far as I know, but he did know about the general arrangement, that Michael would take care of things like this,” he said.

Hannity returned to the payment later in the interview, giving Giuliani an opportunity to clarify.

“That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do, out of his law firm funds or whatever funds, it doesn’t matter. The president reimbursed that over a period of several months,” Giuliani said.

Hannity then pressed Giuliani, saying he “distinctly” remembered that Cohen had made the payment on his own without discussing it with Trump.

“I don’t know, I haven’t investigated that. No reason to dispute that, no reason to dispute his recollection,” Giuliani replied.

“The fact is, just trust me, they’re going to come up with no violation there,” he said. “The payment was perfectly legal, all documented.”

Cohen has said that he made the payment, but that it was made with money out of his own pocket.

Trump admitted that Cohen had represented him in the arrangement with Daniels during an interview with “Fox & Friends,” but that he didn’t know about the payment.

Trump told reporters earlier this year that he didn’t know about the payment made to Daniels.

Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, is suing Trump over the nondisclosure agreement she signed in exchange for the $130,000 payment, claiming the deal is void because Trump never signed the document

She is also suing Cohen for defamation for suggesting that she lied about her alleged affair with Trump. Cohen is asserting his Fifth Amendment rights in the case.

FBI agents raided Cohen’s office last month, reportedly searching for records related to the payment to Daniels, among other things.   Source and videos here

April 25, 2018
nytimes.com
New Allegations Emerge Against Ronny Jackson as White House Digs In

“We’re still moving ahead as planned,” said Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s nominee to lead the Veterans Affairs Department. CreditMichael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

WASHINGTON — Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, the White House physician nominated to lead the Veterans Affairs Department, provided such “a large supply” of Percocet, a prescription opioid, to a White House Military Office staff member that he threw his own medical staff “into a panic” when it could not account for the missing drugs, according to a summary of questionable deeds compiled by the Democratic staff of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

A nurse on his staff said Dr. Jackson had written himself prescriptions, and when caught, he simply asked a physician assistant to provide him with the medication.

And at a Secret Service going away party, the doctor got intoxicated and “wrecked a government vehicle,” according to the summary.

The two-page document, distributed by committee Democrats, fleshes out three categories of accusations — prescription drug misuse, hostile work environment and drunkenness — that threaten to derail President Trump’s nominee. Committee staff members say the summary details the testimony of 23 current and former colleagues of Dr. Jackson, many of whom are still in the military.

An aide to Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the committee, said each allegation included in the document was based on information provided by two or more individuals.

The new details came as White House officials on Wednesday ratcheted up their public defense of Dr. Jackson, calling the charges of workplace misconduct “outrageous,” even as new episodes of questionable conduct surfaced.

Dr. Jackson told reporters at the White House that he had “no idea where that is coming from” but categorically denied the car accident. “I have not wrecked a car. I can tell you that,” he said, adding that “we’re still moving ahead as planned.”

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters earlier Wednesday afternoon that Dr. Jackson had been the subject of at least four background investigations, including by the F.B.I., during his time at the White House, which dates to 2006. None, she said, had turned up areas for concern, and Dr. Jackson had drawn praise from colleagues and presidents in each administration he worked for.

“None of those things have come up in the four separate background investigations that have taken place,” she said, referring to the recent allegations. “There’s been no area of concern that was raised for Dr. Jackson specifically.”

Photo

Senator Jon Tester of Montana, the top Democrat on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. One of his aides said that each allegation included in the document about Dr. Jackson’s conduct was based on information provided by two or more individuals. CreditMichael Reynolds/EPA, via Shutterstock

But when pressed, Ms. Sanders said she could not comment on the credibility of specific charges.

“These are new,” she said. “I can only speak to some of the personal accounts that those of us have, as well as the records that we have that are substantiated through a very detailed and thorough background investigation process.”

Among those new charges she did not address: During an overseas trip by the Obama administration in 2015, Dr. Jackson went out drinking, came back to the delegation’s hotel and began banging on the door of a staff member’s hotel room, according to an account shared with Mr. Tester. The noise was so loud that members of the Secret Service came to see what was happening and warned Dr. Jackson to be quiet so he would not wake the president, who was staying nearby.

The episode was first reported by CNN.

On another trip during Barack Obama’s presidency, White House staff members reached out to Dr. Jackson for medical reasons but found him passed out in his hotel room after a night of drinking, Tester aides said. The staff members took the medical supplies they were looking for without waking Dr. Jackson.

The document prepared by the Democratic staff of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee paints a picture of a medical office that was casual with the prescribing and distribution of drugs but terrorized by a mercurial boss, quick to anger. According to the summary, interviewed staff members described Dr. Jackson as “the most unethical person I have ever worked with,” “flat-out unethical” and “incapable of not losing his temper,” among other charges.

The document includes allegations that Dr. Jackson regularly distributed Ambien, a prescription sleep aid, to members of the White House staff and members of the news media flying on long overseas trips, as well as another prescription drug to promote wakefulness.

It says that the committee was told that physicians working with Dr. Jackson “felt uncomfortable and refused to be a part of the loose dispensing of drugs to current and former” White House staff members. It also states that Dr. Jackson “also had private stocks of controlled substances.”

The document says that the panel received testimony that the White House medical unit “had questionable record keeping for pharmaceuticals” and that the committee was told that Dr. Jackson would often account for pills only after distributing them.

Members of the committee continue to investigate the claims. But by Wednesday evening, the tone had shifted in the Senate.

“I see no realistic path forward for this nomination,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the committee. “He cannot lead this agency dragging all that baggage into the V.A. — even if he could have compensated for his lack of experience.”

Republicans were not ready to defend him.

“I think what the committee is doing right now is the proper due diligence, and it’s both Republicans and Democrats,” said Senator Dan Sullivan, Republican of Alaska.

Dr. Jackson had been scheduled to testify before the Senate panel on Wednesday, but its top Republican and Democrat announced on Tuesday that the session would be postponed to allow more time to investigate the claims.

Before the allegations about the Percocet emerged, Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, the committee’s chairman, said that he intended to hold a confirmation hearing for Dr. Jackson, but would first need to receive documents that he and Mr. Tester requested on Dr. Jackson’s time at the White House. To speculate on the nominee’s fate before then, he said, would be unfair.

“He deserves a hearing, and he’s going to get it,” Mr. Isakson said.

An aide to Mr. Tester said on Wednesday that other former colleagues of Dr. Jackson had reached out to the committee to share stories since details of its investigation became public.

The White House’s pushback — both in public and behind the scenes — was targeted toward the general allegations and not specific episodes, many of which appear to have occurred during the Obama administration.

Marc Short, the White House’s legislative affairs director, told reporters that the White House would be requesting a confirmation hearing. Dr. Jackson told reporters in brief comments on Tuesday that he was looking forward to testifying to respond to the charges against him.

Mr. Short pushed back against assertions that Dr. Jackson had casually doled out prescription drugs.

“Every year they come in and they do a review of the White House physician’s office on things like prescriptions,” Mr. Short told reporters. “And every year, they’ve said that he’s totally in compliance with what he’s been prescribing.”

On Capitol Hill, some Republican senators worried that Dr. Jackson was being asked to account for anonymous accusations that had not yet been fully vetted. Others were still awaiting access to the more detailed charges collected by Mr. Tester and others on the Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

“For us to hound somebody out just because somebody can make an accusation strikes me as unfair,” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, said before the Democratic memo emerged.

Mr. Cornyn defended Dr. Jackson’s reported distribution of Ambien and other drugs during long trips as nothing out of the ordinary. He said that because Dr. Jackson was a doctor, it was not a problem that he distributed the drugs, even without writing a prescription.

“On overseas travel, yeah, sure, people take Ambien to help them transition through time zones,” he said. “It’s pretty common, I’m led to believe.”   Source

April 25, 2018
Huffingtonpost.com
Trump’s Budget Director Admits He Spoke Only To Lobbyists Who Paid Him
Mick Mulvaney has been criticized for his cozy ties to the financial industry.

Mick Mulvaney, President Donald Trump’s budget director, raised eyebrows on Tuesday with an anecdote about his time in the House of Representatives.

We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” he said at the American Bankers Association conference in Washington, according to The New York Times. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”

Mulvaney, a Republican who represented a South Carolina district from 2011 through early 2017, said he also spoke with constituents even if they hadn’t paid him.

The newspaper reported that he was encouraging the industry to lobby lawmakers:

“Mr. Mulvaney said that trying to sway legislators was one of the ‘fundamental underpinnings of our representative democracy. And you have to continue to do it.’”

He has come under fire for his cozy ties to the financial industry, especially payday lenders. As the Times noted, he collected $63,000 from such lenders.

Since being named acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau last year (in addition to running the Office of Management and Budget), he had not taken any enforcement actions against payday lenders, banks or other financial firms until last week’s $1 billion fine against Wells Fargo.

He has also specifically moved to ease regulations on payday lenders.

During a Senate Banking Committee hearing earlier this month, someone dressed as Rich Uncle Pennybags (aka “The Monopoly Man”) sat behind him.  Source

 

April 23, 2018
cnn.com
Scott Pruitt: Tick, tick, tick…

Washington (CNN)Less than 48 hours after The New York Times published a lengthy front-page piece detailing Scott Pruitt’s long pattern of ethically dicey moves prior to being named EPA chief, the White House’s defenses of him are clearly softening.

Asked about the series of recent negative headlines on Pruitt, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders responded Monday: “We’re continuing to review a number of the reports that you’ve mentioned, and we’ll let you know if we have any changes on that front.”
Pressed later in the daily briefing on Pruitt, Sanders remained guarded.
“We’re reviewing some of those allegations,” she said again. “However, Administrator Pruitt has done a good job of implementing the president’s policies, particularly on deregulation, making the United States less energy-dependent and becoming more energy-independent. Those are good things. However, the other things certainly are something that we’re monitoring and looking at, and I’ll keep you posted.”
Amid that lukewarm statement of support, Bloomberg reported that White House officials “are cautioning Republican lawmakers and other conservative allies to temper their defense of Scott Pruitt, according to two people familiar with the discussions, in a sign that administration support for the embattled EPA chief may be waning.”
It’s somewhat remarkable that Pruitt is still around at all — given that the past two months have been dominated by stories ranging from Pruitt renting a room in an energy lobbyist’s house for $50 a night to two of his aides seeking to end-run the White House to secure raises. 
Trump hates when people who work for him get negative press. It’s why he jettisoned — among others — Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
Why hasn’t Pruitt joined that ignominious list yet? Because, as Sanders noted today, he is doing what Trump wants him to do at the EPA.
The Point: It feels like we are reaching critical mass on Pruitt. Trump may like what he is doing at EPA but the President H-A-T-E-S bad headlines. And Pruitt can’t seem to avoid those these days.  Source

April 19, 2018
cnn.com
Kris Kobach found in contempt of court by federal judge

Washington (CNN)A federal judge has found Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in contempt of court for failing to comply with court orders in a case challenging a controversial state proof-of-citizenship voting law.

The law, which took effect in 2013, required anyone who registers to vote in the state to provide documentation of US citizenship such as a birth certificate or a passport. It has been challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued in federal court that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act.
In May 2016, the same federal judge that has now found Kobach in contempt of court struck a blow to the law by ruling that Kansas could not require people to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote in certain circumstances.
In the ruling handed down on Wednesday, US District Judge Julie Robinson stated that the court found “clear and convincing evidence” that Kobach disobeyed court orders “when he failed to ensure that voter registration applications covered by the preliminary injunction order became fully registered.”
Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement, “the judge found that Kris Kobach disobeyed the court’s orders by failing to provide registered voters with consistent information, that he willfully failed to ensure that county elections officials were properly trained, and that he has a ‘history of noncompliance and disrespect for the court’s decisions.”
The Kansas secretary of state’s office did not immediately return a request for comment.
After President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, he appointed Kobach, a Republican, to help lead a voter fraud commission, which disbanded earlier this year. Trump has repeatedly made debunked assertions alleging voter fraud in the US. Earlier this month, the President claimed without evidence that the same person voted “many times” in California.
Kobach has also made unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud. In September 2017, Kobach stated that voter fraud took place in New Hampshire, a claim that the fact checker PolitiFact rated false.  Source
April 16, 2018

mcclatchydc.com
Trump businesses made millions off Republican groups and federal agencies, report says

 

April 1, 2018
nymag.com
501 Days in Swampland
A constant drip of self-dealing. And this is just what we know so far …

7 Of President Trump’s Dictatorial Tendencies

More than at any time in history, the president of the United States is actively using the power and prestige of his office to line his own pockets: landing loans for his businesses, steering wealthy buyers to his condos, securing cheap foreign labor for his resorts, preserving federal subsidies for his housing projects, easing regulations on his golf courses, licensing his name to overseas projects, even peddling coffee mugs and shot glasses bearing the presidential seal. For Trump, whose business revolves around the marketability of his name, there has proved to be no public policy too big, and no private opportunity too crass, to exploit for personal profit.

Nowhere has the self-enrichment been more evident than at his Washington hotel, which quickly filled up with the very lobbyists and swamp creatures Trump had railed against during his campaign. Oil companies, mining interests, insurance executives, foreign diplomats, and defense contractors all rushed to book their annual conferences at Trump’s hotels and resorts, where Cabinet members graciously addressed them. After hiking the nightly rate to $653 — 32 percent higher than other local luxury hotels — Trump collected $2 million in profits from the property during his first three months in office. By last August, the hotel’s bar and restaurant had hauled in another $8 million in revenue. And although Trump has pledged to give away any money his hotels earn from foreign governments, the plan contains a lucrative loophole: Employees at his hotels admit that they make no effort to identify guests who represent other countries, meaning that much of the foreign money spent at Trump’s properties flows directly into his own pockets. On March 28, a federal judge allowed a lawsuit to go forward that charges Trump with violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his D.C. hotel.

In fact, although Trump refuses to disclose the details of his myriad business operations, he continues to enjoy access to every dime he makes as president. Instead of setting up a blind trust to avoid conflicts of interest, as other presidents have done, Trump put his two grown sons in charge of his more than 500 business entities. His sons regularly brief Trump about how the enterprises are doing, enabling him to personally monitor how his decisions in office affect his bottom line. What’s more, only 15 days after this “eyes wide open” trust was set up, Trump amended the fine print to allow him to take money out of the operation any time he pleases. The loophole, buried on page 161 of the 166-page form, stipulates that any “net income or principal” can be distributed to Trump “at his request.” Far from putting his wealth in a blind trust, Trump asked the public for its blind trust, effectively sticking his money in a piggy bank in Don Jr.’s room that he is free to raid at any hour of the day or night.

Trump’s children are working hard to cash in on his time in office — especially with foreign investors. At taxpayer expense, they have flown to Uruguay, the Dominican Republic, Dubai, and India in search of licensing and real-estate deals, trading on the president’s influence in exchange for investments. But the biggest complication of Trump’s presidency — and the one he works hardest to keep secret — is the way his entire business operation is mired in massive debt. Rather than being independently wealthy, public records show, Trump and the business partnerships in which he is a leading investor owe big banks and foreign governments at least $2.3 billion — far more than his disclosure reports indicate. His largest single loan — for nearly $1 billion — is from a syndicate assembled by Goldman Sachs that includes the state-owned Bank of China. If either Trump or Jared Kushner, who tried to shake down Qatar’s finance minister for a loan, winds up needing to negotiate new terms on his ballooning debt, America could find itself being dictated to by a foreign government — all because the White House, thanks to Trump’s business model, has become a true House of Cards.

What follows is 501 days of official corruption, from small-time graft and brazen influence peddling to full-blown raids on the federal Treasury. Given how little Trump has disclosed about his finances, this timeline of self-dealing is undoubtedly only a fraction of the corruption that will eventually come to light. But as even this initial glimpse makes clear, Trump isn’t draining the swamp — he’s monetizing it. —David Cay Johnston

Trump’s Hotel in D.C.

Photo: Tony Millionaire

“The stars have all aligned. I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been.” —Eric Trump, speaking at the hotel

2016

12/7 Diplomats from Bahrain move the country’s National Day celebration from the Ritz-Carlton to the ballroom at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

2017

1/20 A watchdog group calls on the General Services Administration, a federal agency, to stop leasing the Old Post Office to Trump for use as the hotel. The agency’s ethics division, which reports to Trump, rules that the $180 million deal is fine.

1/23 Saudi Arabia holds a bash at the hotel after renting rooms for lobbyists for five months. Trump’s haul: $270,000.

2/25 The Kuwaiti Embassy, reportedly pressured by the Trump Organization, moves its National Day celebration from the Four Seasons to Trump’s hotel.

3/1 The National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association hosts a dinner at the hotel, drenched in Trump-branded coffee and wine.

3/22 The American Petroleum Institute holds its board meeting at Trump’s hotel, where it meets with EPA chief Scott Pruitt. A month later, Pruitt suspends drilling regulations.

5/1 Rates at the hotel jump to $653 per night, a price hike of 60 percent since Trump’s election.

5/21 A Turkish government council holds its annual conference at the hotel. The group’s chair founded the company that paid $530,000 to former national-security adviser Michael Flynn for lobbying work.

7/17 E-cigarette-makers hold their annual conference at the hotel. Ten days later, the FDA announces it will delay federal oversight of e-cigarettes until 2022.

8/11 A federal agency accidentally posts the hotel’s Q1 profits: $2 million.

9/13 Staffers for Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration, try to cover up the fact that she addressed a business lobbying event at the hotel, avoiding images of hotel signs bearing Trump’s name when posting photos of the event on Twitter.

9/28 The Fund for American Studies, a conservative organization, hosts a lunch at the hotel. The keynote speaker, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, thanks Trump’s staff for helping him get confirmed.

Rick Perry.

10/4 At its annual board meeting, the National Mining Association is addressed by three Cabinet members: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry. “Coal is fighting back,” Perry exults over breakfast with the country’s top mining executives. “Clearly the president wants to revive, not revile, this vital resource.” Five days later, the Trump administration announces the repeal of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which would have encouraged states to replace coal with wind and solar energy. The plan would have cut climate-warming pollution from coal plants by a third and saved taxpayers and consumers as much as $93 billion a year. The venue for the mining board’s meeting: the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

10/5 A commercial real-estate trade association hosts an awards gala at Trump’s hotel, sponsored by a roster of prominent lobbying agents.

10/11 The American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful conservative lobbying group with ties to the Koch brothers, announces that the venue for its 45th-anniversary gala will be Trump’s hotel. The group requests corporate sponsorships of up to $100,000.

2018

3/5 The Independent Petroleum Association of America holds a three-day lobbying event at the hotel.

3/28 A federal judge declines to stop a lawsuit that accuses Trump of violating the Constitution by accepting money from foreign governments at his hotel.

Mar-a-Lago

“The ornate Jazz Age house was designed with Old-World Spanish, Venetian, and Portuguese influences.” —From a state department promo online

2016

12/31 Mar-a-Lago hosts a New Year’s Eve party with Trump, priced at $525 a ticket. His take for the night: $400,000.

2017

1/1 The resort quietly doubles its initiation fee to $200,000 — a potential haul of $2 million. In return, club members get access to the president on a par with White House officials.

4/4 The State Department runs an online promotion for Mar-a-Lago, which is also picked up by embassy websites in England and Albania.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Alex Brandon/AP

4/6 Trump and Ivanka meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. That same day, China approves trademarks for three of Ivanka’s brands.

6/16 Financial-disclosure filings show that Trump’s revenues from the resort soared by 25 percent during his presidential run.

7/17 The administration increases the allotment of H2-B visas for foreign workers. Within days, Mar-a-Lago applies for 76 of the new visas — even though a local jobs agency has 5,100 applicants qualified to fill the openings.

11/10 The Republican Attorneys General Association, which has spent more than $75,000 at Trump’s properties in five months, holds a reception at Mar-a-Lago. It later forms a “working group” to partner with the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections.

12/9 Oxbow Carbon, a major energy company that would benefit from the Keystone XL pipeline, holds its annual holiday gala at Mar-a-Lago.

12/31 Trump boosts ticket prices for his New Year’s Eve bash to $750. Taxpayers foot the $26,000 bill for lights, generators, and tent rental.

2018

1/9 The Trump administration opens offshore drilling in all but one state: Florida, where oil and gas exploration could hurt business at Mar-a-Lago.

2/18 Reports reveal that Trump regularly solicits input from Mar-a-Lago members on everything from gun control to Jared Kushner’s favorability. Unlike other politicians, who are limited to asking the wealthy for campaign contributions, Trump has found a way to personally profit from selling access to the president.

2/26 An Israel-focused charity, the Truth About Israel, relocates its gala to Mar-a-Lago in appreciation of the president’s support for Israel.

Trump’s Other Properties & Investments

Trump’s resort in Miami. Photo: The Washington Post/The Washington Post/Getty Images

“The Clintons have turned the politics of personal enrichment into an art form for themselves. They’ve made hundreds of millions of dollars selling access, selling favors, selling government contracts.” —Donald Trump

2016

11/14 In a call with Argentina’s president, Mauricio Macri, Trump reportedly pushes for approval to build a Trump Tower in downtown Buenos Aires. Ivanka Trump, who oversees the family business with her brothers, sits in on the call.

2017

1/24 Trump signs an executive order to fast-track the Dakota Access Pipeline. He claims to have sold the stock he owns in the pipeline’s builders — as much as $300,000 — but offers no proof.

Photo: EnginKorkmaz/Getty Images

1/27 Trump issues the travel ban but leaves off Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt — countries where he has significant business interests. His company was paid as much as $10 million for use of his name on a tower in Istanbul, and he registered eight new businesses in Saudi Arabia during his campaign.

2/3 Trump, who owned as much as $5 million in bank stocks in 2016, orders the Treasury secretary to consider ways to roll back regulations on banks. The value of bank stocks soars nearly 30 percent during his first year in office.

2/14 Trump, who owned stock in large oil companies, allows oil companies to hide the payments they make to foreign governments in exchange for extraction rights. The move comes only two months after ExxonMobil, which lobbied for the concession, donated $500,000 to Trump’s inauguration.

2/21 Angela Chen, a consultant with ties to China’s ruling elite, buys a $16 million penthouse in a Trump-owned property.

2/28 Trump, who owns 12 golf courses in the U.S., rolls back a rule that limits water pollution by golf courses.

From left, Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Donald Trump, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

4/29 Overriding diplomatic concerns, Trump invites Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte to the White House. To gain favor with Trump, Duterte had appointed the president’s partner on the Trump Tower in Manila as his economic envoy to the U.S.

5/7 The Metals Service Center Institute, which is pushing the Commerce Department for steel tariffs, holds its annual conference at Trump’s resort in Miami.

5/16 The Republican Governors Association holds a conference at Trump’s golf club in Miami, where members strategize with corporate executives over how to persuade the new administration to dismantle environmental regulations and enact other business-friendly moves. Trump’s take for the conference: $400,000.

5/19 Trump proposes slashing HUD’s budget — but retains a subsidythat has poured more than $490 million into a housing complex in Brooklyn where Trump has a financial stake.

Lynne Patton. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

6/16 Lynne Patton, an event planner and friend of the Trump family with no experience in housing, is put in charge of the HUD region covering New York and New Jersey — giving her a senior position in the agency that disburses federal subsidies to a Brooklyn housing complex from which Trump made $5 million in 2016. (Patton recused herself from matters involving the complex, after a congressional committee sent a letter to HUD.)*

8/2 Activists protest against JPMorgan Chase, which lobbied to slash the corporate tax rate while paying Trump $1.5 million a year in rent at one of his office buildings.

9/19 Report reveals that the Pentagon spends $130,000 a month in rent at Trump Tower — more than twice as much as other tenants.

10/9 Trump International Hotel in Chicago hosts a two-day conference for the manufacturing industry.

10/10 An insurance-industry trade association holds its four-day annual conference at Trump’s resort in Miami.

10/16 GEO Group, the nation’s largest for-profit prison company, holds its annual conference at the Trump National Doral. The company poured $450,000 into Trump’s campaign and inauguration after Obama announced plans to end all federal contracts with private prisons. GEO also hired two of Jeff Sessions’s former aides, plus a former Trump Organization employee, as lobbyists. The investment paid off: A month after Trump took office, he ended the ban on private prisons. GEO received a $110 million contract to build a new immigration jail in Texas, plus $44 million a year to operate it. Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Prisons announced it would slash some 6,000 jobs and transfer more inmates to private facilities.

10/18 Defense contractor L3 Technologies holds its annual meeting at Trump National Doral. L3 depends on government largesse for 84 percent of its revenue.

10/19 In a break with tradition, Trump personally interviews candidates for U.S. attorney in the districts that cover most of his business dealings. For the New York position, he ultimately chooses one of his campaign donors.

11/7 Trump hawks his golf course during a major speech to South Korea’s legislature.

11/8 A payday-lender lobbying group announces it will hold its 2018 annual conference at the Trump National Doral. Two months later, the administration announces it is considering scrapping a rule that requires payday lenders to stop taking advantage of clients who cannot pay off their loans.

2018

1/2 A judge rules that Starrett City, a housing complex in Brooklyn that Trump owns a stake in, can be sold to private developers. The sale is expected to net Trump $14 million after the administration approves it.*

2/21 Mississippi awards $6 million in tax breaks to a new Trump-branded hotel.

Family & Friends

“The company and policy and government are completely separated. We have built an unbelievable wall in between the two.” —Eric Trump

2016

Stephanie Winston Wolkoff and Melania Trump. Photo: Clint Spaulding/WWD/REX/Shutterstock

11/13 While appearing on 60 Minutes to discuss her father’s election, Ivanka Trump wears a $10,800 bracelet from her jewelry company. After the interview, the company sends out a “style alert”promoting the bracelet to reporters.

12/6 Firm founded by Melania Trump’s friend and adviser Stephanie Winston Wolkoff receives $26 million for helping plan the inauguration.

2017

1/5 Eric Trump jets to Uruguay to check on an unfinished Trump condo tower. The trip costs taxpayers $97,830.

2/5 Eric Trump spends $200,000 in taxpayer money to jet to the Dominican Republic to push for a Trump-branded project. The deal — which would put Trump’s name on 17 high-rises — violates a Dominican height limit for new resorts. It also breaks Trump’s vow not to seek overseas deals during his presidency. The Dominican president personally approves the high-rises. “Here in the palace, the president’s thoughts are that this U.S. president is angry and we better not get in his way,” a former Dominican ambassador explains. “We don’t want to cross him.”

2/6 Melania’s lawyers, suing a British paper for libel, argue its reporting ruined her “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to monetize her position as First Lady by cashing in on “multi-million-dollar business relationships.”

2/9 Kellyanne Conway offers “free commercial” for Ivanka’s clothing line on Fox News: “Go buy it today, everybody.” Trump refuses to discipline her, defying recommendation of his own ethics agency.

2/18 Taxpayers pay $16,000 to provide security for Eric Trump and Donald Jr. during their trip to open a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai. The event is invitation-only.

3/3 Jared Kushner meets with the CEO of Citigroup, which is lobbying to loosen financial regulations. Citigroup subsequently lends Kushner’s company $325 million to develop a group of office buildings in Brooklyn.

3/9 Kushner fails to disclose his ownership of Cadre, a real-estate start-up. The firm’s value shot up by millions of dollars after he entered the White House.

3/20 Eric’s wife posts a photo on Instagram of the family’s weeklong ski vacation in Aspen. Taxpayers were charged $330,000 for security details and another $200,000 for luxury lodgings.

3/20 Ivanka, refusing to place her assets in a blind trust, sets up shop in the West Wing.

4/24 Kushner’s family tries to broker funding for his real-estate ventures with Qatar’s finance minister. The minister declines. A month later, Kushner supports diplomatic actions against Qatar.

5/4 State Department and Voice of America promote Ivanka’s book Women Who Work.

5/5 Trump extends fast-track visas for foreigners who invest $500,000 in U.S. properties. The next day, Kushner’s sister promises visas to Chinese investors if they put $500,000 into the family’s properties in New Jersey.

5/17 Kushner’s company is subpoenaed by federal prosecutors and the SEC for its promotion of the investment-for-visa program.

7/21 CNN finds that even after his family business apologizes for name-dropping Kushner at a marketing event in Beijing, it highlights his White House role in an online sales pitch to Chinese investors.

10/3 Kushner fined $200 for missing a disclosure deadline. To date, he has been forced to change his disclosure form 39 times for failing to mention potential conflicts of interest.

10/4 ProPublica investigation reveals that after Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance dropped a criminal investigation against Donald Jr. and Ivanka, their attorney arranged a fund-raiser on Vance’s behalf, donating $32,000 himself and raising at least $9,000 more.

11/1 Apollo Global Management lends Kushner’s real-estate company $184 million — triple the size of its average loan — after meeting with him in the White House. Six weeks later, the SEC drops investigation into Apollo’s finances.

12/3 Kushner is exposed for failing to disclose that his family’s foundation — which he led for nine years — funded an illegal Israeli settlement on the West Bank. Just before Trump took office, Kushner tried to sway a U.N. vote against an anti-settlement resolution.

2018

2/20 Donald Jr. tours India to sell Trump-branded homes; several newspapers run an ad promising a “conversation and dinner” with him — for an additional fee of $30,000.

Officials & Their Pals

“We are going to send the special interests packing.” —Donald Trump

2017

Steven Mnuchin. Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

1/19 During his confirmation as Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin fails to disclose a hedge fund he registered in the Cayman Islands to avoid paying federal taxes — the very thing he is supposed to collect as Treasury secretary.

1/24 During his confirmation as secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price fails to disclose an insider deal he got on $520,000 in stock in a biotech company. As secretary, he will be in a position to approve a drug the company has developed.

2/9 Reports reveal that a top White House aide, Chris Liddell, participated in meetings between Trump and the CEOs of 18 companies in which he held large amounts of stock — a possible criminal offense. The companies included Lockheed Martin, Walmart, JPMorgan Chase, and Dow Chemical.

Flynn seated beside Putin.

3/16 Congressional investigators reveal that Trump’s former national-security adviser Michael Flynn — who wanted to “rip up” American sanctions on Russia — failed to report $45,000 in fees he received from the Russian state media outlet RT.

4/14 The White House stops releasing logs of visitors, concealing trips made by lobbyists and corporate executives. In Trump’s first two months alone, by one estimate, more than 500 executives and foreign leaders made unrecorded visits to the White House.

6/29 HUD Secretary Ben Carson tours Baltimore — accompanied by prospective business associates being courted by his son. One administrator on the tour later offers Carson’s daughter-in-law a contract worth $500,000.

11/5 New reports reveal that during his confirmation hearings, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross failed to disclose that a shipping firm he owns a stake in has close ties to Vladimir Putin’s son-in-law. His new job puts him in charge of American trade policy with Russia.

12/18 Under pressure from watchdogs, EPA chief Scott Pruitt terminates a $120,000 contract for a firm he has worked with in the past to dig up information on EPA staffers who had criticized him or his policies.

12/22 “You all just got a lot richer,” Trump tells wealthy patrons at Mar-a-Lago hours after signing a massive tax giveway to the superrich. The bill saved Trump $15 million in taxes and Jared Kushner $12 milion. It also enriched much of Trump’s inner circle — including Linda McMahon, Betsy DeVos, Steven Mnuchin, and Rex Tillerson.

2018

Betsy DeVos. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

1/12 Performant Financial is one of only two companies awarded $400 million in contracts from the Education Department to collect on defaulted student loans. One notable former investor in Performant: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

1/31 CDC chief Brenda Fitzgerald is forced to resign over her purchase of stock in one of the world’s largest tobacco companies. She bought the shares a month after taking over the agency tasked with reducing tobacco use.

2/1 William Emanuel, a Trump appointee to the National Labor Relations Board, is investigated for a possible ethics violation after he votes on a case involving his former law firm. His tie-breaking vote would have made it harder for employees at franchises like McDonald’s to hold their parent companies accountable for labor-law violations, but the decision is thrown out because of his conflict of interest.

3/29 ABC News reports that EPA chief Pruitt spent much of his first year in Washington living in a townhouse co-owned by the wife of J. Steven Hart, a top energy lobbyist. Hart lobbied the EPA on several policies last year, including coal regulations and limits on air pollution.

Lobbyist & Other Sleaze

“We’re going to end the government corruption, and we’re going to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” —Donald Trump

2017

1/17 Scott Mason, a key member of Trump’s transition team, returns to lobbying — one of nine transition-team members to violate Trump’s pledge that he would bar such revolving-door moves for at least six months. One of Mason’s clients, Peabody Energy, later helps dream up a coal-industry bailout promoted by Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

1/23 Trump appoints Jeffrey Wood, a lobbyist for a coal polluter, to prosecute environmental crimes like coal pollution.

2/6 Lauren Maddox, who guided Betsy DeVos through her confirmation process for Education secretary, is hired by a for-profit law school to help restore its access to federal student loans. After paying $130,000 in lobbying fees, the school gets its wish: The Education Department agrees to reconsider its eligiblity for millions in loans.

Carl Icahn. Photo: CNBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

2/27 Billionaire Carl Icahn, an unpaid adviser to Trump, submits a regulatory proposal that would raise the value of his investment in an oil refinery. During Trump’s first six weeks in office, Icahn makes an extra $60 million on the deal.

4/12 Marcus Peacock, a policy expert in Trump’s budget office, takes a job lobbying the budget office for the Business Roundtable, which represents 200 of America’s largest corporations. Trump makes no move to enforce the five-year moratorium he vowed to place on such revolving-door moves.

5/19 Trump nominates K. T. McFarland, adviser who once siphoned off $14,000 in campaign funds for “personal use,” as ambassador to Singapore.

8/1 A top aide to EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who oversees federal grants worth hundreds of millions of dollars, receives permission to work as a consultant for private clients. Despite his influence over public policy, the identities of his clients will be kept secret.

8/15 Two Trump campaign operatives register a new lobbying firm, Turnberry Solutions, named after the Scottish town where Trump owns a golf club. Its first client, Elio Motors, hires it to help obtain government handouts.

10/17 Whitefish Energy, a Montana firm that employed the son of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is awarded $300 million in a no-bid federal contract to restore storm-battered Puerto Rico.

10/26 Trump nominates J. Steven Gardner, a coal-industry consultant, to oversee enforcement of strip-mining regulations. The Senate winds up rejecting the nomination.

Kirstjen Nielsen. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

11/8 Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s pick to head the Department of Homeland Security, was guided through her confirmation by a lobbyist whose clients compete for DHS contracts. Privatizing the “sherpa” role in confirmations — work long performed by government staffers — opens up a brazen new frontier in corruption. The lobbyist, Thad Bingel, oversaw the drafting of official policy memos and was included on emails between the DHS and the White House, enabling him to exploit internal information for private gain. Among Bingel’s clients is an Israeli defense contractor being paid $145 million by DHS to build part of Trump’s “virtual wall” along the Mexican border.

12/6 A photographer at the Department of Energy is fired after leaking a photo that shows Rick Perry receiving a confidential “action plan” from a coal magnate in March. The plan is a blueprint for the coal-industry bailout that Perry announced in September.

2018

1/12 Trump gives Kenneth Allen, a former mining executive who still profits from coal sales to the Tennessee Valley Authority, a seat on the TVA board.

Trump and Alex Azar. Photo: Bloomberg/Bloomberg via Getty Images

1/29 Alex Azar, a former lobbyist who worked his way up to the presidency of a drug company, is sworn in as secretary of Health and Human Services. Azar, whose company hiked the price of insulin and other drugs under his watch, is now in charge of making drugs more affordable.

2/12 Carl Icahn, who served as an unpaid adviser to Trump, sells $30 million in steel stocks just before Trump announces tariffs on steel imports.

2/18 Dina Powell, who advised Trump on foreign policy, returns to Goldman Sachs only two months after leaving the White House. At Goldman, she will focus on “enhancing the firm’s relationships” with some of the same foreign governments she advised Trump on.

3/2 Trump nominates Peter Wright, an attorney for Dow Chemical, to lead the EPA’s regulation of chemical spills. Dow has 100 polluted sites that Wright would be in charge of cleaning up.

Petty Graft

Photo: Tony Millionaire

“We are going to ask every department head to provide a list of wasteful spending projects we can eliminate.” —Donald Trump

2017

Eric Trump and Don Trump Jr. Photo: Phillip Chin/Getty Images for Trump Internati

2/28 The State Department spends $15,000 in taxpayer money for the grand opening of a Trump hotel in Vancouver, an event attended by Eric, Tiffany, and Donald Jr.

4/14 Trump jets to Mar-a-Lago via Air Force One at a cost to taxpayers of $142,380 per hour. For years, Trump heckled President Obama for taking vacations and golfing trips at government expense. If elected, he vowed, he would “rarely leave the White House, because there’s so much work to be done.” In fact, during his first three months in office, Trump’s taxpayer-funded flights to his private properties exceeded $20 million — on track to quickly surpass the amount Obama spent on travel during his eight years in office. Trump made more than 90 visits to his golf courses and played almost twice as much golf as Obama. His family joined in, requiring Secret Service agents to rack up an extra 4,054 days of taxpayer-funded travel to keep up.

5/16 Rick Perry and his staffers take a private jet to a small-business forum in Kansas City, at a cost to taxpayers of $35,000, rather than taking a nonstop flight to the airport 45 minutes away from the event.

6/2 David Shulkin’s chief of staff falsifies an email to suggest that the VA secretary needed to travel to Europe to receive an award. Shulkin’s 11-day trip with his wife, most of which was devoted to sightseeing, cost taxpayers $122,344.

6/7 Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief, spends $36,000 in taxpayer money to take a military plane to New York.

6/24 Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin marries Louise Linton and requests a military plane for their honeymoon to Europe — at a cost to taxpayers of $25,000 per hour.

6/26 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spends $12,375 in taxpayer money to fly home aboard a private flight from Las Vegas, where he hung out with a hockey team owned by his biggest campaign donor.

7/7 Zinke uses $6,250 in taxpayer money for a helicopter flight from Virginia to Washington, D.C. — a three-hour car ride — for a horse-riding date with Mike Pence.

8/4 HHS Secretary Tom Price takes a private jet at taxpayer expense to St. Simons Island, an exclusive resort where he owns land. The trip, like many of the 26 flights Price took on corporate jets, could have been accomplished with a routine commercial flight.

8/21 Mnuchin and his wife travel to Kentucky aboard a government plane, at a cost to taxpayers of $33,000, to watch the solar eclipse.

8/30 EPA chief Pruitt spends $43,000 to build a soundproof phone booth in his office, enabling him to hold secret conversations with lobbyists and corporate executives. The Government Accountability Office is investigating whether the move violated agency spending rules.

9/29 HHS Secretary Price is forced to resign over the nearly $1 million in taxpayer money he spent taking military planes and private jets, often to visit family and friends.

2018

Photo: © HICKORY CHAIR

2/27 HUD Secretary Ben Carson spends $196,000 on a dinette set and lounge furniture, exceeding the $5,000 legal limit for office improvements.

3/7 Zinke spends $139,000 to renovate his office doors at Interior.

*This story has been updated to clarify Lynne Patton’s authority within HUD, and the pending status of the sale of the Starrett City housing complex.   Source

 

April 16, 2018
CNN Politics
Judge OKs Cohen’s request for review of documents seized in raid

(CNN)A US judge said President Donald Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen could review materials seized when the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room last week for any communications with the President, but held off on deciding how prosecutors will ultimately be able to use the evidence.

In a hearing that lasted over two hours in a courtroom packed with reporters, Judge Kimba Wood declined to grant Cohen’s request to have an independent arbiter — or special master — review the documents and records. But she also did not immediately give prosecutors the go-ahead to have an independent or “taint team” of investigators review the seized material for items that could be covered by attorney-client privilege.
“I’m denying the motion for a (temporary restraining order) because it’s currently moot. The government is not accessing anything,” the judge declared. “With respect to a preliminary injunction, that, I think, is premature at this point. We have to wait and see what the volume is and how you can argue.”
Instead, the judge split the decision, ordering both sides to return with an estimate of the volume of evidence that could be covered by attorney-client privilege and then she would decide the expedient way of handling that review.
“I have faith in the Southern District US Attorney’s Office that their integrity is unimpeachable,” Wood said. “So I think that a taint team is a viable option.”
The judge said she would decide whether a special master would adjudicate what investigators can access, as requested by Cohen.
“In terms of perception of fairness — not fairness itself, but perception of fairness — a special master might have a role here,” Wood said. “Maybe not the complete role, but some role.”
The judge asked each side to provide four names as potential special masters, but made clear she has not made a final decision.
Cohen declined to comment on the ruling while leaving the courtroom.
Trump’s attorney Joanna Hendon said she and her client object to the appointment of a special master to review for privileged documents, arguing, “We don’t think a special master will adequately protect the privilege of the President.” The President’s attorneys proposed reviewing the records themselves to decide what needed to be excluded.
Cohen’s lawyer can share subsets of the material with Trump and the Trump Organization for their own privilege review.
Cohen’s lawyers have called the raid “completely unprecedented.”
“This is perhaps the most highly publicized search warrant in the history of recent American criminal jurisprudence. It is paramount that the review of Mr. Cohen’s data and documents be handled in such a way as to eliminate, as much as possible, even the ‘appearance of unfairness,’ ” they argued in a letter to Wood.
Stephen Ryan, an attorney for Cohen, said Trump Organization materials had been seized in the raid. He added that Cohen’s “life has been turned upside down.” Ryan also called the separate investigations by Congress and the special counsel into whether there had been collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign related to the 2016 election a “dry hole.”
Last week, prosecutors said in a court filing that they have been investigating Cohen for months “for criminal conduct that largely centers on his personal business dealings.” On Monday, a little more detail was shed on the still-sealed areas the government is investigating.
Prosecutor Thomas McKay told the judge during a sidebar session on Friday, “This is a fast-moving investigation. We are devoting a large amount of resources to the whole case but, in particular, to our filter team to get this review done very quickly.” The transcript of that exchange was released by the court Monday.
McKay told the court on Monday that 10 boxes of documents had been seized, as well as “hard drives, the electronic devices” with a lot more material.
McKay, without wanting to detail specific subjects, also noted that some matters pertain to documents from January 2013 and on other matters the dates were from “post-2011.”
Cohen’s lawyer said the search warrant also sought “five paragraphs” that dealt directly with “seeking the papers of the President of the United States” that were in Cohen’s possession, including material about the Trump Organization.
Prosecutors said Cohen appeared to have few clients other than the President and they had not uncovered any emails between the two, suggesting the potential risk of violating attorney-client privilege was slim.
In a letter submitted before Monday’s hearing, Cohen’s attorneys said he had 10 clients in 2017 to 2018 but that only three of them were regarding legal matters. The other seven were of a business consulting nature.
The letter identified two of the clients, Trump and former GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy, who has acknowledged paying $1.6 million to a Playboy model with whom he had an affair. After a lengthy back-and-forth, the judge ordered Cohen’s lawyers to identify the third client, who Ryan said had asked to remain confidential, and was told it was Fox News host Sean Hannity.
On his radio show Monday, Hannity said, “I never retained him in the traditional sense,” and that he believed his conversations about legal questions were confidential.
“I’ve known Michael a long, long time. Let me be very clear to the media. Michael never represented me in any matter. I never retained him in the traditional sense as retaining a lawyer. I never received an invoice from Michael. I never paid legal fees to Michael,” Hannity said.
“But I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective,” he added. “And I assume that those conversations were attorney-client confidential.”
Hannity added, “not one of any issue I ever dealt with Michael Cohen on ever, ever involved a matter between me and any third party.”
Fox News host Shepard Smith acknowledged Hannity’s connection to Cohen on the air Monday.
“We just spoke with his publicist here at Fox News, who says that he says they have been friends a long time, he never denied that he was his lawyer, that he did some legal work for him along the way, and that’s the extent of that,” Smith said.
The suggestion that Hannity wasn’t a serious client bolsters prosecutors’ assertion that Cohen had no clients other than Trump in recent years, which they argued meant the potential scope of privileged material would be narrow.
Cohen’s relationship to Broidy surfaced Friday when Broidy acknowledged Cohen had helped facilitate the $1.6 million payment to a former Playboy model who said she became pregnant from a relationship with Broidy. Broidy resigned from his position as deputy chair of the Republican National Committee on Friday when the payment became public.
Broidy admitted to the relationship in a statement but did not address whether he had impregnated the woman. He said Cohen reached out to him after being contacted by Keith Davidson, an attorney for the woman, and that he retained Trump’s lawyer “after he informed me about his prior relationship with Mr. Davidson.”
Davidson also represented former adult film actress Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, a former Playboy model. Both women claimed to have had affairs with Trump, who has denied the allegations, more than a decade ago.
The search warrant authorizing the Cohen raid indicated that prosecutors were looking into potential bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations, sources told CNN last week. The warrant also sought information that included payments allegedly made to keep Daniels and McDougal silent.
Daniels attended Friday’s hearing, entering at the end, and was directed to a metal folding chair along the wall of the courtroom. Her attorney, who was also present, did not speak during the hearing. She did address a throng of news cameras in front of the courthouse afterward.
“He has played by a different set of rules, or should we say no rules at all,” she said of Cohen. “He has never thought that the little man, or especially women, and even more, women like me, mattered. That ends now.”
“My attorney and I are committed to making sure that everyone finds out the truth and facts of what happened, and I give my word that we will not rest until that happens,” Daniels said.
This story has been updated.  Source

April 4, 2018
earther.com
A Running List of Wild Shit Scott Pruitt Hasn’t Been Fired For (Yet) [Updating]

Photo: AP

We will update this post as more scandals surface.

Scott Pruitt is a busy man. He’s incisively worked to undermine U.S. climate policies and implement rules favoring the industries he’s supposed to be regulating from his perch as head of the Environmental Protection Agency. He has also managed to squeeze an overwhelming number of deeply swampy scandals into his short tenure. Some have been one-offs, while others have metastasized into uber scandals

In an effort to catalog the growing hurricane of impropriety surrounding Pruitt, Earther has made you, dear reader and lover of government accountability, a handy list. None have been all-encompassing enough to get Pruitt fired—yet—but that may be because he’s so good at what he was brought in to do. And let’s not lose sight of that.

While the details of these scandals may induce rage, they’re only accoutrements to Pruitt’s systematic effort to dismantle environmentalregulations designed to protect human health and the environment. They don’t include his asinine views on climate change, filling advisory boards with industry insiders, or his stupid climate science “debate”. Put it all together, and it’s clear why there’s a first-of-its-kind campaign to oust him.

The round-the-clock security

In the first three months as EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt racked up $832,735.40 in costs for his 24/7 security detail. That’s more than double what his predecessors, Gina McCarthy and Lisa Jackson, spent in their first three months on the job according to E&E News, which adds up since Pruitt is the first EPA administrator to ever request a permanent security detail.

Of course Pruitt deserves to be protected, but his requests have at times appeared excessive. According to a letter from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) obtained by CNN, his detail traveled with Pruitt to the Rose Bowl to watch his beloved Sooners get whupped, and Disneyland. During a six-week period, Pruitt pulled up to 36 agents into protecting him, according to the letter. Those agents would normally be working on cases involving pollution and EPA-related crime.

I guess with the regulatory rollbacks, maybe there’s less work for them?

The luxury travel

In an administration rife with luxury travel scandals, Pruitt has still managed to stand out. He’s made the American public pony up $160,000 for travel internationally, including to promote natural gas in Morocco, which isn’t even his job. He’s also regularly charged the public thousands of dollars for first class flights across the U.S., including flight ranging from $1,172 up to $3,610 to attend conferences put on by the fossil fuel and chemical industries, which again, he is supposed to regulating.

Pruitt has claimed he has to fly first class because of “a very toxic environment politically, particularly around issues of the environment.” Indeed, a fellow traveler reportedly approached him in an airport and told him to “you’re fucking up the environment.” Which to be fair, yes.

But rather than answering for his policy choices to the public, he’s decided to seal himself off in first class. Oh, and his security detail often flew first class with him. 🙃

In early March, Pruitt said he would fly coach “on my very next flight.” No word on subsequent flights.

The private jet

Sometimes first class travel just isn’t luxurious, er safe, enough. Scott Pruitt’s team explored the possibility of leasing a private jet by the month at a cost of nearly $100,000 per month according to a report from theWashington Post. The idea nixed by advisers. Probably a good call.

The sweetheart condo deal

On the occasions when Pruitt wasn’t jet setting, he spent his first six months renting a bedroom for $50 per night—well below market rate for Capitol Hill—from a fossil fuel lobbyist’s wife. The scandal has exploded and includes such lurid details as Pruitt’s daughter crashing there during her summer internship, and Republican fundraisers held in the building. But the most damning part of the whole thing is the EPA signed off on a pipeline expansion for a company that was connected with the lobbyist linked with the condo.

If you think this looks like bribery, you’re not alone. Democrats have asked the EPA’s inspector general to investigate the arrangement and Republicans have called on Pruitt to step down. Even the White House has started an inquiry.

Update: It’s getting even sketchier. The original lease Pruitt had listed Steve Hart, the lobbyist, as the landlord. It was crossed out and his wife’s name was inked in according to the AP, which viewed the documents. (You can see for yourself over at the  Washington Post.)

Oh, and Pruitt frequently fell behind on his whopping $50 per night payments according to Politico.

Oh, and the EPA official who said it was above the board has now said, yeah, maybe not so much.

Oh, and one more thing. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-California) lived in the condo building at one point. She said rent runs $5,000 so yeah, that $50 per night thing is a sweet deal. In an interview with E&E News, she said, “This is not a petty story, this is a full-blown scandal.”

The soundproof room

Nothing weird about a public official installing a soundproof room in his office at a cost of $43,000, especially when the EPA already has a secure room to discuss sensitive or classified matters.

Sweeping for bugs and installing biometric locks

Also totally normal to spend thousands of dollars sweeping said office for bugs and purchasing biometric locks.

Refusing to release his schedule

Pruitt’s schedule has also been shrouded in secrecy, again representing a break from his predecessors. News organizations have gotten copies of it through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and it’s clear why Pruitt would want to keep it under wraps. His days are largely spent meeting with industry representatives and traveling to and from his home in Oklahoma. He started releasing a schedule late last year, due in part to an overwhelming number of FOIA requests.

Tons of unanswered FOIA requests

About those FOIA requests. There have been a lot of them. The EPA saw a 400 percent increase in FOIA requests last year compared to 2016, according to an analysis by the Project on Government Oversight. That same analysis showed Pruitt’s office has been particularly slow to respond, with 83 percent of cases still open vs. 21 percent agency-wide.

Giving out $120,000 for press opposition research

Pruitt has largely avoided the press outside of friendly, conservative outlets. But that hasn’t stopped him from trying to keep track of journalists. His office signed a $120,000 no-bid contract with a firm with a president billed as a “a master of opposition research” and senior vice president who took part in a campaign to shape negative opinions around Senator Elizabeth Warren through “scathing op-eds and online hot takes.” The news, first reported by Mother Jones, and ensuing firestorm around it caused the EPA to cancel the contract.

General press hostility

Even without an opposition research firm, Pruitt has largely fought against allowing the free press to cover him. The EPA press office attacked an AP journalist after he reported on Superfund sites flooded in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. And more recently, CNN reports Pruitt attempted to only allow Fox News to air his press conference on rolling back clean car rules.

Sketchy staffing

Trickle down corruption is real. The EPA has granted a waiver to John Konkus, one of Pruitt’s top aides, to freelance as a media consultant. The agency won’t say who his clients are, though.

Pruitt also gave two favored aids huge salary bumps of $56,765 and $28, 130 through a backdoor provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act after the White House told him not to. The Atlantic, which first reported the raises, quoted an anonymous EPA official as saying “this whole thing has completely gutted any morales I had left to put up with this place.” Which of course may just be the point.

Pre-EPA shadiness

It’s not like scandal is new for Pruitt. In his role as Oklahoma attorney general, he used a private email account to conduct state business, then lied about it in his Senate confirmation hearing.

And in a scandal that likely would’ve disqualified Pruitt from being nominated in any other administration, he once took fossil fuel industry talking points about fracking and slapped them right on Oklahoma state letterhead.

Devon Energy’s response? “Outstanding!”

Using sirens to get to dinner

Pruitt reportedly asked EPA officials to use the sirens and flashing lights to expedite his travel through Washington, D.C. traffic, a perk normally only afforded the president. This included on trips to the airport (where remember, he boarded first class flights) and dinner at Le Diplomate, which to be fair, has four stars and 2,351 reviews on Yelp. Sometimes you get hangry, I guess. And lest you think this was all necessary because he left more than enough time to get to dinner, the New York Times also helpfully notes “he often ran late.”

Reassigning or demoting officials who told him “no”

Do not say to no to Scott Pruitt if you like your job. During his reign at the EPA, he has pushed at least five officials aside who have said no to things on this insane list of scandals you are reading. The New York Times has an exhaustive report, and the list includes his former head of security who put the kibosh on the whole siren thing (transferred), a Trump appointee who pushed back on the $100,000 private jet lease (asked to resign), and another official who questioned other spending habits (on leave). The whole Times story is completely nuts and you should go read it now.

Bulletproof desk (wait wut?)

Admittedly, there is a lot of gun violence in America. But after installing biometric locks and getting 24/7 security, Pruitt didn’t feel safe enough, so he tried to get a bulletproof desk. Cost (along with another desk outside his office): $70,000. Instead he had a settle for a stand-up desk (gotta keep it healthy!) and a sitting desk that “employees gawked at the size and grandeur of…with some comparing it to the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.” Like I said, you need to read that Times story, which broke the news.

So many new things in a salacious letter

Kevin Chmielewsi, one of the staffers that Pruitt pushed aside for calling him out for his lavish spending, spoke with five Congressional Democrats about his experience with the administrator because, in his own words, what’s “right is right, and wrong is wrong.” The five Democrats sent letters to President Trump and Pruitt outlining what came out of those discussions. They corroborate much of what’s in this post and add new details. You should seriously read them in their entirety.

The new details include allegations that the sketchy raises were “100 percent Pruitt himself,” that the administrator frequently used the EPA as a travel agent to book events in places he wanted to visit, and that he spent well over the legal limit of $5,000 redecorating his office, including framing an 8×10 American flag. Oh, and that Pruitt let one of his favored aides book a first class ticket for the ill-fated Morocco trip for no reason, and then tried to get it retroactively approved. When Chmielewsi—serving as the deputy chief of staff for operations—resisted signing off in hindsight, he said Pruitt’s chief of staff asked him to resign or Pruitt would fire him. Oh, and Pruitt’s chief of staff also allegedly told Chmielewsi that “the nightmare is now yours” when he started his position. Prescient.

Having three (yes, three!) secret EPA email accounts

The Trump campaign? Very concerned about email transparency. The Trump administration? The Washington Post reports that Scott Pruitt had multiple, unlisted email accounts. That raises concerns that emails may have slipped through the cracks when answering Freedom of Information Act requests. The emails include pruitt.scott@epa.gov—a standard EPA account—as well as esp7@epa.gov, adm14pruitt@epa.gov and sooners7@epa.gov. Because I dunno if you’ve heard, but Pruitt loves him some University of Oklahoma sports.

Democrats are asking for a thorough review. I’m sure Republicans, who raised a ruckus over Obama’s first EPA administrator having two accounts and made Hillary Clinton’s emails a central part of the presidential race, will be down to get to the bottom of it.  Source

April 6, 2018
Christian Science Monitor
Is Trump draining the swamp – or is the water rising?

So far, the president’s efforts to ‘drain the swamp’ seem more focused on deregulation and shrinking the federal workforce than making sure his team adheres to the norms and rules of ethical behavior for government officials.

Donald Trump first uttered the rallying cry “drain the swamp!” just three weeks before the 2016 election. Promising to “make our government honest once again,” Candidate Trump unveiled a five-point proposal aimed at reining in the influence of lobbyists.

“Drain the swamp!” quickly became one of Mr. Trump’s central campaign promises – and one of the most popular chants at his rallies.

Today, experts on government ethics say, President Trump is presiding over one of the most ethically challenged administrations in modern history, especially this early on. Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is only the latest example of a cabinet member operating under a storm cloud. Most recently, Mr. Pruitt has been accused of an improper housing set-up connected to an energy lobbyist, unconventional pay raises to favored political appointees, and reassignment or demotion of senior staff who questioned his spending. His job reportedly hangs in the balance, amid mixed signals from Trump and his spokespeople.

Other Trump cabinet members have already gotten the heave-ho, after questionable spending came to light. Former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, fired last week, had faced criticism over travel expenses for a trip to Europe, including airfare for his wife, which he says he repaid. Mr. Shulkin, who had also served as an under secretary in the Obama administration, maintains he was let go because he resisted pressure from the Trump White House to privatize veterans’ health care.

All presidents deal to some extent with alleged wrongdoing by senior appointees, but “I have never seen anything like this,” says Scott Amey, general counsel for the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan government watchdog group.

Why is this happening, especially under an outsider president who swooped into Washington promising to change the way the capital operates?

One answer may center on what, exactly, Trump meant by “drain the swamp.”

Focus on deregulation

“We thought he was saying, ‘Hey, there’s going to be a new sheriff in town,’ and that he would do things differently with the revolving door [between government service and lobbying] and cleaning up ethics laws and regulations,” says Mr. Amey.

But so far, draining the swamp has been more about deregulation and shrinking the federal workforce, and less about strengthening or even adhering to the norms and rules of ethical behavior for government officials. Trump’s attacks on the media and on entrenched members of Congress – of both parties – have also tended to label them as members of the “swamp.”

Of the proposals in Trump’s original five-point plan, only one is fully in place: an executive order barring executive branch officials from lobbying for foreign governments or parties after they leave the administration.

The president’s own behavior has been important in setting the tone for his team, political analysts say.

Trump has yet to release his tax returns, defying the customary practice of modern presidents. He faces multiple lawsuits over his businesses and whether the income he derives from them violates the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which forbids the receipt of gifts from foreign countries. A federal judge ruled last week that one of the lawsuits can proceed. Trump’s business dealings are also under scrutiny as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the president colluded with the Russians or engaged in obstruction of justice.

Besides Pruitt and Shulkin, multiple Trump cabinet secretaries have found themselves in hot water: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have all faced questions about their use of taxpayer money. In addition, Trump’s first secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, was fired after just seven months on the job, following reports that he had spent $1 million in federal funds on private jet travel.

Not that members of the federal bureaucracy are above reproach. Former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired last month after the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility found he had leaked to the media and “lacked candor” under oath, charges he denies.

Question of experience

But the swarm of ethics allegations facing Trump’s team is unusual. It may well reflect the fact that Trump is new to public service and came into office under his own ethical cloud, says Mickey Edwards, a Republican from Oklahoma who served in Congress from 1977 to 1993, including a stint in the leadership.

“I think some of [Trump’s appointees] came in with a sense of, ‘We’re now the bosses, and we can get away with whatever,’ ” says Mr. Edwards, now a vice president at the Aspen Institute and author of the book “The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.”

Like Trump, some appointees entered the cabinet with no prior experience in public office. Secretary Carson, at HUD, was a renowned surgeon, and ran briefly for president in 2016, before becoming a prominent defender of Trump and then a cabinet secretary. The purchase of a $31,000 dining set for Carson’s HUD office set off an uproar last month; he has testified that he was not involved in the purchase, and canceled it.

Secretary Mnuchin, a former investment banker and film producer, faced criticism last fall when the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General found that seven flights he had taken on military aircraft had cost the federal government more than $800,000. The report stated that no laws were broken, but criticized the use of federal funds all the same.

But other Trump appointees came to the administration with extensive experience in government, either as members of Congress or in state government. All have previous experience working under governmental ethics rules. Before coming to Washington, Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma and before that, a state senator.

Kind words for Pruitt, but …

Both Carson and Mnuchin seem to have weathered their storms. But Pruitt may not. Trump still praises him publicly – he’s doing a “great job,” the president tweeted on Friday – but such kind words are no guarantee of job security. According to news reports, chief of staff John Kelly advised Trump last week to fire Pruitt, though Trump wasn’t ready to let him go at that point. Friday morning, Trump and Pruitt met.

The dilemma for Trump is that, as head of the EPA, Pruitt is doing exactly what the president wants – rolling back environmental regulations that he says have been holding back economic growth. Three Republican members of the House have called for Pruitt’s resignation. But prominent conservatives have defended him, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Senator Paul tweeted Thursday that Pruitt is “likely the bravest and most conservative member of Trump’s cabinet” and is needed to help Trump “drain the regulatory swamp.” Senator Cruz, in a tweet, blamed “Obama and his media cronies” for wanting to drive Pruitt out.

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh opened his show Thursday with a full-throated defense of Pruitt, blaming the liberal “deep state” for attacking the embattled EPA administrator. Mr. Limbaugh, with millions of listeners, has broad power to influence public discourse among Trump supporters.  Source

 

March 13, 2018  (To his credit – he left the swamp)
nytimes
ICE Spokesman Resigns, Saying He Could No Longer Spread Falsehoods for Trump Administration

A spokesman for United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned, saying that he could no longer “bear the burden” of spreading falsehoods on behalf of the Trump administration.

The spokesman, James Schwab, who had worked for the agency’s San Francisco Division, told news outlets Monday that his decision was prompted by false statements made by the agency on Feb. 27 and repeated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions last week.

The statements criticized the mayor of Oakland, Libby Schaaf, for her decision last month to warn city residents that a raid by federal immigration agents targeting roughly 1,000 people was imminent. The agency’s deputy director, Thomas D. Homan, said that Ms. Schaaf’s warning had helped “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats” to evade capture in the raid.

Mr. Sessions, in a visit to California last week, condemned Ms. Schaaf, a Democrat, and echoed the agency, asserting that her actions had allowed hundreds to escape.

“I asked them to change the information,” he told The Chronicle, referring to the 864 people to whom the statement alluded. “I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time and I quit.”

He explained that the enforcement agency would have been unlikely to capture all of the roughly 1,000 undocumented immigrants in the area that it had targeted, and that it was incorrect to identify those who were not detained as threats to public safety.

“We were never going to pick up that many people,” he said. “To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”

Mr. Schwab did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday. He resigned last week, according to CNN.

“I just couldn’t bear the burden — continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false,” he told CNN, adding that in his 16 years of experience in government he had never been asked to deflect when he knew something was inaccurate.

In a statement, Ms. Schaaf, whom President Trump criticized last week for alerting residents to the raid, praised Mr. Schwab “for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie.”

“Our democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard,” she added.

An official at the Department of Homeland Security, which includes ICE, briefed on the plans for the raid said last month that agents find only about 30 percent of their targets on average during large sweeps.

Mr. Schwab told CNN that he thought Ms. Schaaf’s actions were “misguided,” but that blaming her “for 800 dangerous people out there is just false.”

ICE responded to Mr. Schwab’s comments in a statement, saying, “Even one criminal alien on the street can put public safety at risk.”

“As Director Homan stated, while we can’t put a number on how many targets avoided arrest due to the mayor’s warning, it clearly had an impact,” the statement said. “While we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well.”

“If anyone wants to have a public argument over precisely how many dangerous criminal aliens eluded arrest because of the mayor’s irresponsible actions, we are happy to have that debate,” Sarah Isgur Flores, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said in a statement.

In a 2016 interview, Mr. Schwab told The Marion Press, his hometown paper in Michigan, that he joined the Army after high school and was deployed to Korea for four years. His service lasted until 2005, according to his LinkedIn page, and he later joined the Department of Defense, where he became a public affairs specialist in 2011. He also worked at NASA for several years before joining ICE.    Source

Feb 27, 2018
The Hill
Ben Carson spent $31K on dining set for his office

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spent $31,000 late last year on a new dining room set for Secretary Ben Carson’s office, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

The purchase included a custom hardwood table, chairs and a hutch. Officials bought the furniture a short time after a HUD staff member filed a complaint that Carson’s wife, Candy, pushed to redecorate the department’s offices.

Helen Foster, who filed the whistleblower complaint, claimed she was replaced in her role because she refused to fund a redecoration of Carson’s office. She alleged in the complaint that she was told to “find money” for the redecoration, despite it exceeding budgetary limits.

A HUD spokesman told the Times that Carson “didn’t know the table had been purchased” but does not intend to return it.

“In general, the secretary does want to be as fiscally prudent as possible with the taxpayers’ money,” HUD spokesman Raffi Williams told the newspaper.

HUD officials reportedly did not request congressional approval for the purchase. The Times noted that federal law requires approval from lawmakers “to furnish or redecorate the office of a department head” if it exceeds $5,000.

Meanwhile, HUD’s inspector general is reviewing the involvement of Carson’s family at the agency after some officials expressed concerns.

The officials reportedly expressed concerns that Ben Carson Jr., who is a local businessman, was inviting potential business associates to a HUD event, which “gave the appearance that the secretary may be using his position for his son’s private gain.”

The elder Carson has denied any conflicts of interest, but asked for an inspector general investigation following the report.  Source

Feb 14, 2018
abcnews.go.com
VA secretary improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets during $122,334 European work trip: Report

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin improperly accepted a gift of Wimbledon tickets during a work trip to Europe last summer in which he spent the majority of the time sightseeing, according to a blistering new report released by the VA‘s Office of Inspector General.

The 11-day trip to Copenhagen and London cost taxpayers at least $122,334, the report said. It also alleged that Shulkin’s chief of staff altered a document and misrepresented information to ethics officials that ultimately caused his wife’s airfare to be covered by taxpayer dollars.

Shulkin, his wife Dr. Merle Bari, senior VA leaders and a six-member security detail flew a commercial airline to Copenhagen in July to attend a day-and-a-half of meetings with Danish government and health care officials to discuss veterans issues, but also included a day of tourist stops.

The delegation then flew commercially to London to attend a veterans conference. But over half of the secretary’s six days there were spent sightseeing, including a trip on the London Eye, a river cruise down the Thames, and the Wimbledon tennis tournament, according to the report.

The IG report said that, in the process, a VA employee’s time was “misused as a personal travel concierge to plan tourist activities exceeding that necessary for security arrangements.”

Shulkin called the report “a direct assault on my spouse, my character and my unblemished record of service.”

“If you had properly considered my testimony and recognition of the facts of this case, however, I am confident that you would have concluded that I have conducted myself properly, ethically and inline with how I have always served the Veterans Administration,” he said.

In a thorough 16-page letter responding to the investigation, Shulkin’s attorneys raised “grave concerns” with the IG report, urging the IG not to release it in its current form without significant revisions.

“Your report presents a one-sided account of the circumstances surrounding the Secretary’s trip to Europe. It omits critical facts and pieces of evidence that contradict your chosen narrative and that make clear the Secretary has done nothing wrong,” the letter states, adding, “Your investigators have relied on interrogation techniques that have long since been recognized as unfair, unreliable, and abusive.”

But at least one Republican congressman is already calling for Shulkin’s resignation, saying it is “exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans.”

It’s exactly corruption and abuses like this that doesn’t help our veterans. @SecShulkin must RESIGN now. @realDonaldTrump ran on accountability, it starts here. VA chief Shulkin, staff misled ethics officials about Eurotrip, report – The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/veterans-affairs-chief-shulkin-staff-misled-ethics-officials-about-european-trip-report-finds/2018/02/14/f7fbc020-0c3a-11e8-8b0d-891602206fb7_story.html?utm_term=.cd16f0859dec 

Wife’s travel improperly paid for by the government

According to the report, Shulkin’s chief of staff Wright Simpson falsely represented to VA ethics officials the itinerary of the trip in order to have Shulkin’s wife approved as an “invitational traveler” — allowing her expenses to be covered by the VA.

VA ethics officials originally denied the designation for Bari, saying her presence on the trip would not serve a “sufficient government interest.” In response, Simpson said Shulkin would be receiving an award while in Copenhagen, “a criterion that would justify Dr. Bari’s travel at VA expense,” the report said.

When the ethics official reached out to Simpson for additional information about the award, the chief of staff forwarded emails exchanged with a trip coordinator about Shulkin’s itinerary in Denmark.

Those emails originally showed the coordinator telling Simpson, “We’re working on having a dinner at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in honor of SECVA, but that has not been confirmed by U.S. Embassy Copenhagen yet.”

But the IG found Simpson had altered the email forwarded to an ethics official to read, “We’re having a special recognition dinner at the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence in the honor of SECVA.”

That altered email led Bari to be approved as an “invitational traveler” because Shulkin appeared to be receiving an award. The VA ultimately paid more than $4,000 for her commercial airline ticket.

The IG found that Shulkin was not aware of Simpson’s alteration of official records, but did refer the matter to the Department of Justice, saying Simpson’s actions “may have violated federal criminal statutes.” However, DOJ has decided not to prosecute at this time.

Ultimately, Shulkin never received an award or special recognition during the trip, the report said.

Shulkin’s lawyers said he and his wife were prepared to pay for her travel, as they had done previously, and it was not until staff told the secretary that Bari’s travel could be reimbursed by the VA that he became aware of that possibility.

Secretary improperly accepted Wimbledon tickets

According to the report, Shulkin mischaracterized to VA ethics officials the relationship he and his wife had with the individual who gave them tickets to the ladies’ final tennis match at Wimbledon in London.

According to federal ethics rules, Shulkin could not have received the gift unless it met an exception — in this case, the “personal friendship” exception. But the report said Shulkin never should have characterized the person who gave him the tickets as a friend.

Shulkin and Bari received the tickets from and attended the match with Victoria Gosling, who served as the CEO of the 2016 Invictus Games, an international competition for wounded warriors.

The report stated that, at the time, Shulkin did not seek an opinion from the VA ethics counsel as to whether it was appropriate to accept the gift. It wasn’t until September, after the VA learned The Washington Post was working on a story about his attendance at Wimbledon, that Shulkin directed an expedited ethics review of his acceptance of the tickets.

During that review, Shulkin characterized Gosling as a friend of his wife, saying “there is no business relationship, but purely a social friendship between the two of them.” That response allowed the gift to be greenlit under the “personal friendship” exception by VA ethics officials.

But the report found that the relationship between Gosling and Bari should never have been called a friendship.

The IG attempted to make contact with Gosling at least 19 times between Dec. 15 and Jan. 24. She finally responded to an email on Jan. 30, calling Shulkin and Bari “friends of mine” and saying she offered them Wimbledon tickets “to thank them for their personal support to me whilst I was CEO Invictus Games Orlando.”

In a 26-minute interview with the IG on Feb. 6, Gosling confirmed Shulkin’s account that prior to attending the tennis match, the three individuals had only had contact during three official events in the United States.

Near the end of the interview, the IG investigators asked Gosling if she could recall the first name of Shulkin’s wife.

“After a long pause, Ms. Gosling was unable to recall Dr. Bari’s name, stating, ‘You actually — I think that kept throwing me. I’m actually having a genuine blank here.’ Ms. Gosling was unable to recall Dr. Bari’s name before the interview concluded,” the report said.

After reviewing Shulkin, Bari and Gosling’s relationship, the IG concluded that there was not enough evidence to meet the “personal friendship” exception. A VA ethics official told the IG that had she known this information at the time, she would not have granted a favorable opinion concerning the acceptance of the Wimbledon tickets.

Shulkin’s lawyers argued that the Wimbledon tickets would not violate federal gift restrictions because Gosling was not a “prohibited source” — someone who does business or seeks to do business with an official. The lawyers said Gosling offered Shulkin and Bari the tickets “out of friendship and not because of his official position,” adding that she does not do business with the VA.

They also alleged the IG of improperly questioning Gosling and criticized the report for not including a July inquiry Shulkin made into how much he would owe for using tickets that belonged to Gosling’s sister.

The lawyers also said that the report misrepresented the value of the Wimbledon tickets, citing their re-sale, not original, value.

They also took issue with how the IG prominently featured how Gosling could not remember Bari’s first name, saying it was something “designed to make headlines, not objectively report the facts.”

The lawyers noted that memory lapses happen frequently, citing how Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts forgot the oath of office during President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009.

Secretary directed VA employee to plan personal sightseeing

The IG found that Shulkin directed a VA employee to work with his wife in planning personal activities for the couple during the trip, resulting in the “misuse” of the employee’s official time.

The IG reviewed emails from the VA employee that showed the individual “made extensive use of official time for planning leisure activities,” effectively acting “as a personal travel concierge to the Secretary and Dr. Bari.”

“Personal activities planned for the Denmark trip included touring Amalienborg Palace for the Changing of the Guard; visiting Christiansborg Palace, Rosenborg Castle, and Frederiksborg Castle; taking a boat tour of Copenhagen from Nyhavn Canal; and shopping in Copenhagen. There was also an unplanned excursion across the border to Malmo, Sweden, for dinner on their last day, July 14,” the report said. “For the London trip, planned tourist activities included excursions to the Churchill War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, and Westminster Abbey; a Thames River cruise; and visits to St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower of London (including the Ceremony of the Keys), Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe, London Eye, and Windsor Castle.”

Shulkin’s lawyers said that emails from the VA employee who planned the tourist activities show he did so “on his own initiative.”

It wasn’t until the employee approached Shulkin with tourist information that he referred that employee to his wife, they said.

The lawyers also pointed out that Shulkin worked on official VA matters during periods of the trip’s itinerary labeled “scheduled leisure,” saying that even as the secretary was touring cultural sites, he took phone calls, answered emails and even gave a radio interview.

Last fall, after The Washington Post reported on details of Shulkin’s European trip, the VA decided to post all of the secretary’s travel itineraries on the VA website in the interest of transparency — making Shulkin the first cabinet secretary to publicly disclose travel details, according to the VA.

Trip cost taxpayers at least $122,334

In total, the 11-day trip cost taxpayers at least $122,334, with “personal conveniences” impacting its overall cost, the report said.

The IG found that the VA paid $1,733 in early hotel check-in fees for six rooms.

The commercial airline travel for the secretary’s chief of staff was modified, increasing the airfare from $1,101 to $4,041. But the IG said records are “insufficient to determine what justification, if any, was provided for this increased ticket price.”

In a response, the secretary’s office said it does not accept the IG’s recommendation that it repay Bari’s $4,312 in travel costs or the cost of the Wimbledon tickets and all other costs associated with that visit. The office says it will consult the VA’s Office of General Counsel to see if they think those costs should be repaid, but said the office needs more time to review the evidence presented by the IG.

In an interview with IG investigators, Shulkin called the European trip “immensely valuable to his work and the VA’s mission,” adding that to suggest it wasn’t “demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of the Secretary’s work and the VA’s mission.”

“Secretary Shulkin did nothing wrong in traveling to Europe to meet with, and learn from, America’s allies,” his lawyers said.   Source

Feb 14, 2018
Vanity Fair
WHY JEFF BEZOS IS DUMPING CASH INTO TRUMP’S SWAMP
Amazon’s lobbying spending in D.C. has massively increased in recent years. Now, under Trump, Bezos’s ability to buy friends may be more important than ever.

In the days before Donald Trump’s election, Amazon C.E.O. Jeff Bezos, one of Trump’s many Twitter punching bags, flippantly recommended an easy fix to the polarizing candidate: send him to space. “I have a rocket company,” he joked at Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit, referring to Blue Origin. “So the capability is there.” Yet in the intervening months, Bezos has kept a lid on his feistier side while Amazon coordinates the massive P.R. effort that is its search for a city to host its second headquarters—a deal that could be worth 50,000 jobs and a $5 billion regional investment. After the election, Bezos himself attended a summit with Trump and several tech leaders at Trump Tower. And before the inauguration, Bezos promised to hire 100,000 additional workers over the next year and a half.

Amazon has ballooned under Bezos, growing from a small e-commerce platform into an international corporation. As it’s expanded and diversified, Amazon has correspondingly ramped up its lobbying efforts. According to a new report from Bloomberg data, amount of money Amazon has spent on lobbying has increased more than 400 percent over the past five years—a trend that, under Trump, will likely become increasingly prevalent as tech companies fight to remain in Washington’s good graces.

Part of tech’s uptick in lobbying is a natural side effect of the industry’s maturation. As companies like Amazon seek bigger mergers and acquisition deals to stay growing, those deals will necessarily compound regulatory risk. The company has already attracted unwanted attention thanks to its $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods, which sent the stock prices of its brick-and-mortar competitors crashing when it was announced. Legislators like Cory Booker and Ro Khanna took notice of the massive deal: “This consolidation that’s happening all over the country is not a positive trend,” Booker said at the time. As Amazon creeps toward a trillion-dollar valuation, it could easily become an avatar for the trend toward consolidation and gigantism, attracting still more unwanted attention from lawmakers just as their attitude toward Big Tech turns sour.

Amazon’s renewed lobbying efforts began well before Trump, but given the current atmosphere, they’re likely to intensify; the president has made no secret of his dislike of the company— “Amazon is doing great damage to tax paying retailers,” Trump tweeted back in August, adding, “Towns, cities and states throughout the U.S. are being hurt – many jobs being lost!” When the company sought to acquire Whole Foods, observers feared that the president’s personal biases would come into play, as some believe they have in the AT&T-Time Warner deal. “For four days we were freaked out,” Gregg Lemkau, Goldman Sachs’s co-head of investment banking, told the audience at Goldman Sachs Tech and Internet Conference on Tuesday, referring to a rumor that Trump himself would personally intervene to stop the acquisition just before it went through.

Under the businessman president, Bezos’s ability to buy friends—and mansions next to his friends’ favorite daughters—may prove to be his most valuable business asset. Rather than draining the swamp, Trump has made those personal relationships more important than ever.

Source

Oct 24, 2017
nbcnews.com
Rep. Ted Lieu Trump’s Administration Hasn’t Drained the Swamp — It’s Become It

Everywhere you look in Washington today, you find examples of financial mismanagement.

Donald Trump ran for president on a promise to “drain the swamp.” I agreed with that particular statement. Unfortunately, he didn’t mean what he said. The recent actions of Trump and several White House officials prove this administration hasn’t drained the swamp — it has become the swamp.

But that doesn’t mean Congress can’t drain the swamp ourselves.

Everywhere you look in Washington, you can find examples of financial mismanagement. Tom Price resigned as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services at the end of September after racking up a huge bill from taxpayer-funded luxury-jet travel. As first reported by Politico, Price took hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of private jets on the government’s dime, including a $25,000 hour-long flight from D.C. to Philadelphia.

Like Price, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt apparently believe that taxpayer funds can be used for personal travel. Secretary Mnuchin flew with his wife on a government jet to Fort Knox in Kentucky, a trip that was auspiciously — or suspiciously, depending on your viewpoint —timed to the solar eclipse. Pruitt spent over $58,000 of taxpayer funds on noncommercial jet travel even though cheaper commercial options were available.

To stop this abuse, I introduced the Swamp Flyers Act last month, a bill that bans government officials from traveling on government-funded non-commercial planes unless there is a national security justification or no commercial flights are available. Officials would also be required to certify, under penalty of perjury, that no commercial flights were available. My bill protects the fundamental principle that public funds are meant for the public.  Source

Sept 29, 2017
usnews.com
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Also Used Taxpayer Money for Chartered Flights

The Interior Secretary is the fourth member of the Trump administration to use expensive private planes instead of commercial flights

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was found to have used taxpayer funds for expensive, private charter flights even when commercial options were available – the fourth member of the Trump administration identified as having done so.

Zinke and members of his staff flew on two chartered planes round trip from St. Croix and St. Thomas in the Caribbean on March 31, and he flew with several of his flew from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana on June 26, Politico reported Thursday. Read more


Sept 21, 2017
theatlantic.com
Trump Has Filled, Not Drained, the Swamp

There is no campaign promise that Donald Trump has failed to honor more flagrantly than his oft repeated pledge to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. He has violated the letter of his promise and trampled all over its spirit. His supporters ought to be furious. But few perceive the scale of his betrayal or its brazenness.

Are they skeptics of the Russia investigation?

Forget the Russia investigation. Even if no wrongdoing is proved on that matter, the Trump Administration’s behavior would still be epically swampy. A list of examples is clarifying:

Corey Lewandowski, who worked as Trump’s campaign manager, moved to Washington, D.C., and started a Beltway lobbying firm, where he accepted lots of money from special interests that were trying to influence Trump. Meanwhile, The New York Times reported, “Established K Street firms were grabbing any Trump people they could find: Jim Murphy, Trump’s former political director, joined the lobbying giant BakerHostetler, while another firm, Fidelis Government Relations, struck up a partnership with Bill Smith, Mike Pence’s former chief of staff. All told, close to 20 ex-aides of Trump, friends, and hangers-on had made their way into Washington’s influence business.”

  1. Trump promised that he was putting his sons in charge of his business empire, telling Americans, “I hope at the end of eight years I’ll come back and say, ‘Oh you did a good job.’” But Forbes talked with Eric Trump, who revealed he’d be giving his father at least quarterly updates. And ProPublicadiscovered fine print in the legal arrangements that allows Trump to draw money from his 400 businesses “any time, without disclosing it,” a far cry from a prior statement by Trump’s lawyers that he was “completely isolating himself from his business interests.”
  2. At the same time, “the administration has not been shy about hiring individuals who were once registered as lobbyists with the federal government. Data provided to The Washington Post by the liberal PAC American Bridge details the extent to which former lobbyists have made their way into the administration. Twenty work for the executive office of the president itself, including four ‘super-lobbyists’—ones who represented at least 10 different companies or organizations before coming to work for the government. What’s more, of the 74 lobbyists identified … 49 now work for agencies they used to lobby.”
  3. “A major construction company owned by the Chinese government was hired to work on the latest Trump golf club development in Dubai,” the Sacramento Bee reports, “despite a pledge from Donald Trump that his family business would not engage in any transactions with foreign government entities while he serves as president.”
  4. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is flying on private jets at taxpayer expense. He spent $60,000 in a single week. His predecessors flew commercial.
  5. The U.S. Coast Guard paid Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s exclusive Palm Beach resort, more than $1,000 for a two-night stay in a luxury room. “It is not clear whether the invoice stemmed from a one-time occurrence or represented one of many Mar-a-Lago rooms that have been booked at government expense for presidential aides or other officials since Trump took office,” The Washington Post reported. “Other agencies that likely have had regular presence at the club, such as the Secret Service, have declined to provide the Post information.”
  6. Trump is using money donated to the Republican National Committee to pay his personal lawyers.
  7. “As Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping dined on Dover sole and New York strip steak earlier this month,” The Guardian reports, “thousands of miles away in China a government office quietly approved trademarks that could benefit the U.S. president’s family. On the day the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump met the Chinese leader, China granted preliminary approval for three new trademarks for her namesake brand, covering jewelry, bags, and spa service.”
  8. The Washington Post found “the State Department spent more than $15,000 to book 19 rooms at the new Trump hotel in Vancouver when members of President Trump’s family headlined the grand opening of the tower in late February. The hotel bookings—which were released under a Freedom of Information Act request—reflect the first evidence of State Department expenditures at a Trump-branded property since President Trump took office in January.”
  9. People with business before the federal government are paying for rooms in Trump’s D.C. hotel. Vanity Fair reports examples including “the prime minister of Malaysia, who is the focus of a Justice Department corruption probe; the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry that wants more offshore drilling; an association of candymakers seeking federal help in an enduring dispute with the U.S. sugar industry; and a trade group for vape-shop owners and e-cigarette makers.”
  10. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a White House adviser, retains a stake in that hotel and receives an income stream from it.
  11. As Politico reported, “In May, Jared Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer pitched Chinese investors in Beijing on a Kushner development project in Jersey City, telling them that if they put at least $500,000 into the project they would be rewarded with EB-5 investor visas to immigrate to the United States. Kushner, whose role in the White House includes advising on China policy, stopped running his family’s company in January; but Meyer mentioned her brother by name at the Beijing event, reminding guests he was now serving in the White House and adding that the project ‘means a lot to me and my entire family.’”
  12. Despite a pledge to donate all profits from foreign entities to the U.S. Treasury to avoid conflicts of interest, Trump’s businesses now “say it would be ‘impractical,’ to require customers representing foreign nations to identify themselves,” Reuters reports, adding that “The Kuwaiti and Azerbaijani governments have already hosted events at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.”
  13. The BBC reports that “Philippines’ newest trade envoy to the United States is the same man who is building Trump Tower Manila. Like many of Trump’s branding projects, Mr Trump does not own the building himself, but licenses his name to the building in return for regular payments. Trump family members have previously promoted the project. The trade envoy/business partner reportedly flew to U.S. to hold a private meeting with Mr. Trump after the election.”
  14. According to ABC News, “Secretary Steven Mnuchin requested use of a government jet to take him and his wife on their honeymoon in Scotland, France, and Italy earlier this summer, sparking an inquiry by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General … Officials familiar with the matter said the highly unusual ask for a U.S. Air Force jet, which according to an Air Force spokesman could cost roughly $25,000 per hour to operate, was put in writing by the secretary’s office but was deemed unnecessary after further consideration.”
  15. Ousted former National Security Adviser “Michael Flynn informed the Trump administration that he was under investigation for secretly lobbying on behalf of Turkish interests—and the president decided to appoint him to one of the most powerful national security posts in the government, anyway,” New York Magazine recounted. “Flynn then used his short time in office to veto a plan for retaking the Islamic State’s de facto capital, despite the plan’s strong support from the Pentagon and Obama administration. The operation would have involved partnership with Syrian Kurdish forces—a prospect vehemently opposed by Turkey’s government.”
  16. Trump still hasn’t released his tax returns.

That list is highly incomplete. But already it is too much for the brain to take in all at once. Every item is a scandal in its own right. And an exhaustive list is all but impossible. To understand why, scroll through the Sunlight Foundation spreadsheet that aggregates Trump’s conflicts of interest. Probing all of them would take months.

Former President Jimmy Carter sold a peanut farm to avoid the appearance of one much less serious conflict. Trump chooses to put his business interests before the country’s interests. Despite repeating “drain the swamp” often, it was always just an opportunistic slogan for him.

“I told people the other day: ‘Drain the swamp,’ I don’t really like that expression,” he admitted to a Las Vegas campaign crowd last October. “I said, I don’t love that expression, so hokey … I hate to use this … it doesn’t work, right. And I said it two weeks ago to a big crowd, and the place went crazy. Then I said it a second time, and the place went even crazier. And then the third time, like you, they started saying it before I said it. All of the sudden, I decided, I love that expression; it’s a great expression.”

Now the emptiness of Trump’s words is borne out by his actions. The evidence is right there on public record, though Trump supporters who rely on Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, or Tucker Carlson for their news haven’t yet gotten the truth about the new swamp. But those who’ve read this far have gotten it. Why aren’t you furious yet? Source

Sept 14, 2017
HuffingtonPost
Steve Mnuchin Asked To Use Government Plane For His European Honeymoon
An Air Force jet could’ve reportedly cost taxpayers $25,000 per hour to operate.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin formally requested to use a government plane for his honeymoon to Scotland, France and Italy earlier this summer.

Travel on such an aircraft could’ve reportedly cost American taxpayers $25,000 per hour to operate.

ABC News was the first media outlet to report Mnuchin’s request, which occurred last month. The request was so unusual it sparked an “inquiry” by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General.

A spokesperson for the Treasury Department said Mnuchin’s request to use the plane for his honeymoon was originally made to ensure that the secretary would have a secure line with which to communicate as a member of the National Security Council. Once the department found a different way to ensure secure communication, the request was withdrawn.

“It is imperative that he have access to secure communications, and it is our practice to consider a wide range of options to ensure he has these capabilities during his travel, including the possible use of military aircraft,” a Treasury spokesman said in a statement to The New York Times.

The office is already looking into Mnuchin’s travel on an Air Force jet to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky last month; that trip just happened to coincide with the solar eclipse. Read more

August 24, 2017
breitbart.com
How Charlottesville Helped Drain the Swamp

Donald Trump’s decision to dissolve his two business advisory councils in the face of mass defections of corporate leaders and Wall Street titans was a clarifying moment for his presidency. Just as the president promised, he drained the swamp.
Ironically, the swamp was already draining itself as business leaders decided that they agreed with the mainstream media’s interpretation of Trump’s stance on the violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. The president had unequivocally condemned racism and white nationalism while adding that ‘alt-left’ violence was also deplorable. In response he was inaccurately accused of equating white supremacists with “protesters.”

The resignations made it clear that many of the “business leaders” could not be counted on for leadership if that involved standing against the wrath of the mainstream media.

And so the swamp was drained. Read more

August 31, 2017
theatlantic.com
What a New Trump Administration Hire Could Mean for For-Profit Colleges

The Trump administration has tapped Julian Schmoke, a former DeVry University administrator, to lead the Education Department’s student-aid enforcement unit. The move provoked complaints from critics who pointed out that DeVry recently settled several claims brought against it by regulators alleging it had engaged in some of the very abuses the unit is charged with eliminating.

Schmoke’s hiring was first reported by Politico on Tuesday evening, citing an internal email announcing the move. Schmoke, who most recently oversaw campus operations at a community college in Georgia, will be in charge of addressing allegations of illegal activities such as fraud by higher-education institutions.

DeVry, a for-profit college, has faced allegations that it was using deceptive recruitment tactics, misleading students about their career prospects, and distorting data provided to the federal government. The institution’s parent company arrived at settlements with several government entities, including the New York attorney general earlier this year and the Federal Trade Commission in late 2016, the latter of which amounted to $100 million. DeVry Education Group, the parent company, subsequently rebranded itself as Adtalem Global Education. Read more

August 30, 2017
The New York Times Magazine
How to Get Rich in
Trump’s Washington
His presidency has changed the rules of influence in the nation’s capital — and spawned a new breed of lobbyist on K Street.

As for so many other people, election night did not pan out quite the way Robert Stryk expected. Stryk began the night slumped in a Morton’s steakhouse in downtown Washington, tuning out the guests at his watch party to type out the campaign announcement of a buddy who — in the wake of Donald J. Trump’s all-but-certain defeat and the Republican Party implosion that was sure to follow — planned to make a long-shot bid for chairman of the Republican National Committee. He ended it by closing down the bar at the Mayflower Hotel, and after the race was called, giddily marching down Connecticut Avenue with his friends as they chanted, ‘‘Make America Great Again!’’

Stryk, who owned a lobbying firm so small it didn’t actually have an office, spent most of his time in California and owned a small vineyard in Oregon, and he had helped out the Trump campaign as a sort of informal West Coast hand. He was still reveling in Trump’s upset win two nights later, over a bottle of wine on the patio of the Four Seasons in Georgetown, when a chocolate Lab padded over to his table to sniff his crotch. Stryk and the dog’s owner got to talking about wine and cigars and finally, like most of the country, about Trump. It turned out that she worked for New Zealand’s Embassy in Washington. New Zealand’s prime minister still hadn’t connected with the new president-elect, she told Stryk — a diplomatic and political embarrassment. Stryk cocked an eye across the table. ‘‘What if I said I could get you the number of someone to call the president?’’ he asked her.

The following afternoon, Stryk found himself in a cab, headed for a meeting with New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser. Stryk was more than a little nervous. On the way over, he called a friend named Stuart Jolly, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who ran Trump’s field operation during the Republican primary and spent election night with Stryk at Morton’s. Jolly reached out to someone he knew in the Trump high command and delivered a cell number, but Stryk didn’t know if it would actually work. At the embassy, Groser invited him in, uncorked a bottle of pinot noir and called the prime minister to pass along the number. A week later, President-elect Trump was finally able to accept a congratulatory phone call. But even before the call went through, plans and possibilities were blooming in Stryk’s mind. ‘‘I said to myself: ‘This could be very, very interesting,’ ’’ he told me when I first met him this spring. ‘‘ ‘The world’s going to change.’ ’’ Read more

June 1, 2017
Washington Post
Politics Analysis
This is what Trump’s swamp looks like

President Trump readily admits that the whole “drain the swamp” thing wasn’t his idea.

“You know, I told people the other day ‘drain the swamp,’ I said I don’t really like that expression; this was two weeks ago,” Trump said during a campaign stop in Las Vegas in late October. “I said, I don’t love that expression, so hokey. I thought it was hokey. . . . I said I hate to use this, it’s sort of like, it doesn’t work right. And I said it two weeks ago to a big crowd, and I said it, and the place went crazy. Then I said it a second time, and the place went even crazier. And then the third time, like you, they started saying it before I said it. And all of the sudden, I decided I love that expression; it’s a great expression.”

He came to embrace the slogan. He never came to embrace the concept behind it.

Granted, which swamp was being drained was always a little vague. Was it career politicians? Career bureaucrats? Obviously it was lobbyists, given how often Trump disparaged the work of lobbyists, who, he said, he knew well from his work in the private sector. Trump even came up with a pledge that members of his administration would have to sign, aimed at preventing conflicts of interest.

On Wednesday, we learned that 17 members of his administration had been granted waivers allowing them to continue to interact with former clients. Trump isn’t the first president to issue such waivers; Barack Obama also issued 17 waivers — over the course of his two terms in office. Read more

January 2017
Draining the Swamp?
Here’s a look at how swampy Trump’s appointments are based on their lobbying and fundraising

In mid-October, Donald Trump unveiled a major campaign slogans: “Drain the swamp.”

“It’s become the hottest expression,” he said at a rally in New Hampshire.“If we win on November 8th, we are going to Washington, D.C.—when we win, OK—and we are going to drain the swamp.”

Trump used the term broadly to refer to what he called the “entire corrupt Washington Establishment,” including the outsized influence of lobbyists, political rewards for campaign donors and outright corruption.

Since becoming President-elect, however, Trump’s actions haven’t exactly lived up to his rhetoric, especially when it came to stocking his Administration.

While his Cabinet-level picks have been less traditional—a lot more billionaires and retired military officers than usual, for one thing—it’s clear that they are much more swampy as a whole than Trump pledged.

For one, the nominees are far from inexperienced in the ways of lobbying.

Eleven of his 19 Cabinet and Cabinet-level appointments announced so far have sat on the boards of corporations or organizations that have lobbied the federal government, spending a total of $497.5 million. (Most of that comes from Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, who headed ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute and was a member of the Business Roundtable when those groups spent a combined $368.4 million on lobbying.) Read more

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