Tuesday Reads: Investigations and Embarrassing Revelations as Trump Prepares SOTUPosted: February 5, 2019
Tonight Trump will give his state of the union address in the midst of multiple criminal and counterintelligence investigations into his campaign, his business, his inaugural fundraising, his violations of the emoluments clause, and his efforts to interfere with and obstruct investigations–have I left anything out?
As he prepares for his big moment, shocking news keeps breaking about his behavior in office and involvement with Russia during the campaign and transition. Here’s the latest.
Buzzfeed News releases Trump Org. documents on the Trump Tower Moscow project: Secret Files Show How Trump Moscow Talks Unfolded While Trump Heaped Praise On Putin.
As a candidate, Donald Trump had a lot of praise for Vladimir Putin — and no business, he kept insisting, in Russia. These documents tell a different story.
When Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and longtime fixer, testifies before Congress this week, one topic that is likely to be front and center is his work on Trump Moscow, the over-the-top luxury real estate venture he helped spearhead leading up to the election.
“The development, which was never built, has already become a focus for special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential collusion between Trump and Russia during the 2016 campaign. And when Cohen was convicted last November of lying to Congress, it was over his false testimony that the deal had fizzled in January 2016, well before Trump emerged as the Republican nominee.
BuzzFeed News is today publishing a cache of internal Trump Organization documents that lay bare the secret negotiations that continued long after Cohen claimed the deal had been abandoned. The documents, many of which have been exclusively obtained by BuzzFeed News, reveal that — despite Trump’s claim that the development was never more than a passing notion — the effort to get the tower built was long-running, detail-oriented and directly entwined with the ups and downs of his campaign.
As Trump went from rally to rally, vociferously denying any dealings in Russia, his representatives, Michael Cohen and his associate Felix Sater, worked with Trump Organization lawyers and even Ivanka Trump to push forward negotiations to build a 100-story edifice just miles from the Kremlin. The fixers believed they needed Putin’s support to pull off the lucrative deal, and they planned to use Trump’s public praise for him to help secure it. At the same time, they plotted to persuade Putin to openly declare his support for Trump’s candidacy. “If he says it we own this election,” Sater wrote to Cohen….
This large trove of nonbinding business agreements, architectural renderings, texts, emails, and plans for Trump to travel to Russia to meet Putin offer an unprecedented glimpse inside the negotiations to build the tallest tower in Europe — a deal Trump’s fixers hoped would “help world peace and make a lot of money.”
Read the documents at Buzzfeed.
Emptywheel wrote about one exchange between Cohen and Slater: The WaPo Scoop on the DNC Hack (Temporarily) Killed the Trump Tower Deal.
A Russian-born lobbyist who attended the controversial Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 received a series of suspicious payments totaling half a million dollars before and after the encounter.
Documents reviewed by BuzzFeed News show that Rinat Akhmetshin, a Soviet military officer turned Washington lobbyist, deposited large, round-number amounts of cash in the months preceding and following the meeting, where a Russian lawyer offered senior Trump campaign officials dirt on Hillary Clinton.
The lobbyist also received a large payment that bank investigators deemed suspicious from Denis Katsyv, whose company Prevezon Holdings was accused by the US Justice Department of laundering the proceeds of a $230 million Russian tax fraud.
The Trump Tower meeting and those who attended it have become a focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into whether the president’s campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. As part of that inquiry, banks were asked to pull financial information on the meeting attendees, and investigators at Wells Fargo handed over documents on Akhmetshin to the US RTreasury in 2017. Those records were passed to Mueller’s team, but Peter Carr, a spokesperson for the special counsel, declined to say whether the transactions are under investigation. Congressional investigators also requested the financial information from the Treasury Department.
Read the rest at the link above.
A wide-ranging subpoena served on the inaugural committee Monday seeks an array of documents, including all information related to inaugural donors, vendors, contractors, bank accounts of the inaugural committee and any information related to foreign contributors to the committee, according to a copy reviewed by The Washington Post.
Only U.S. citizens and legal residents can legally donate to a committee established to finance presidential inaugural festivities….
The subpoena — issued by the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York — indicates that prosecutors are investigating crimes related to conspiracy to defraud the United States, mail fraud, false statements, wire fraud and money laundering.
The subpoena also specifically seeks all communications with one donor, Los Angeles venture capitalist Imaad Zuberi, as well as the firm with which he is affiliated, Avenue Ventures. The company donated $900,000 to the inaugural committee, records show.
Read more at the WaPo.
We are getting closer to seeing Trump’s taxes. Paul Waldman at The Washington Post: We may finally see Trump’s tax returns, and Republicans are panicking.
Though they haven’t done it yet, Democrats are planning to utilize a law allowing the House Ways and Means committee to obtain any Americans’ tax returns to demand that the IRS turn them over. Once they have them, the committee can vote to release them to the entire House….
Legal experts make clear that the law is not ambiguous and the president can’t simply order the Treasury Department to keep his returns secret. So the administration’s plan seems to be to wage a PR battle while keeping the matter slogging through the courts for as long as possible — say, past November 2020.
While Trump’s refusal to release his returns — something every party nominee and president has done for the last half century — has been controversial since 2016, once Democrats demand the returns it will become an intense controversy playing out on television and the front pages of newspapers. That means that Republican officeholders will be forced to take a position, which they haven’t really had to do before. And they’ll be expected to defend the president’s refusal to allow the public to know where he’s getting money from, who he owes money to, and how far his financial interests extend.
According to Nancy Cook at Politico, the Trumpists have a plan to keep his tax information secret.
Trump’s Treasury Department is readying plans to drag the expected Democratic request for Trump’s past tax filings, which he has closely guarded, into a quagmire of arcane legal arguments.
At the same time, officials intend to publicly cast the request as a nakedly partisan exercise. The two-pronged scheme was developed by a handful of top political appointees and lawyers inside the department — with the ultimate goal of keeping the president’s past returns private, according to four people familiar with the administration’s approach.
The strategy will hinge on an argument that politically motivated Democrats will inevitably leak Trump’s tax information — a felony in and of itself — if the IRS hands over the documents. So because Democrats can’t be trusted to keep the documents private, they shouldn’t get them in the first place, officials will insist. Treasury officials have been waiting since early January for a top Democrat to make the request.
The battle between Treasury and the Democrats could plunge the country into yet another norm-breaking moment for the Trump presidency — with the fight stretching on for months and well into the 2020 campaign.
“What happens if the Treasury secretary just doesn’t answer or sends back a note saying we refuse to do what you are saying?” said George Yin, a former chief of staff on the House Joint Committee on Taxation, one of the three congressional committees involved in major tax issues on Capitol Hill. “To my knowledge, that has never happened. … We are essentially in uncharted territory if he refuses.”
It’s going to get ugly. Will all this take place with the 2020 election as background? That wouldn’t be good for Trump either.
Two more moves by House Democrats:
As for the speech tonight, Trump supposedly plans to call for “comity.” The Washington Post: Trump to call for ‘comity’ in State of the Union, but rivals scoff amid heightened political warfare.
Facing growing political head winds, President Trump on Tuesday will try to convince the nation that his presidency remains strong and viable in a State of the Union address that aides described as a sincere appeal to broaden his governing coalition.
But Trump is also expected to reaffirm his demand for Congress to support his hard-line immigration agenda and offer a robust defense of foreign policy initiatives that have engendered fierce criticism from Democrats who have asserted newfound power to try to blunt his agenda.
The dynamic suggests that any attempt from the usually truculent president to proffer a nod to bipartisanship and cooperation during his prime-time remarks is almost certain to be short-lived and viewed as duplicitous by his critics.
Trump “thrives on inflaming, and when he does otherwise, it seems inauthentic and unpersuasive,” said Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center who served as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.
Obviously, no one–even Republicans–will buy anything Trump has to say about national unity. I expect the speech to be pathetic and embarrassing, in contrast to many previous presidents’ SOTU speeches.
Now . . . what stories have you been following?