Tuesday Reads: Heatwave! And Other News

Good Morning!!

collioure-in-the-summer-by-henri-matisse-1905

Collioure in the Summer, by Henri Matisse

We’re having another heatwave here in the Boston area–four days of 90 degrees or more–with a high temperature today of 99 degrees. Thunderstorms are expected to break the heat tomorrow night, with temperatures in the 80s on Thursday. But that is nothing compared to what is happening in the Pacific Northwest. I talked to my sister in Portland, OR, yesterday, and she said the temperature was supposed to hit 115 degrees! She said her garden is dying even though she is soaking her plants every morning.

The New York Times: How Weird Is the Heat in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver? Off the Charts.

Heat waves and the “heat domes” that can cause them aren’t rare, but the recent weather that’s been smothering the Pacific Northwest has little precedent in at least four decades of record-keeping….

The heat has been not only widespread, but also intense, in some places surpassing previous records by double digits.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, this past weekend’s temperatures were far above norms for this time of year, and a town in British Columbia reached nearly 116 degrees, the highest recorded temperature for any place in Canada in its history. In Seattle, there have been only two other days in the last 50 years with temperatures in the triple digits: in 2009 and 1994.

The heat has resulted from a wide and deep mass of high-pressure air that, because of a wavy jet stream, parked itself over much of the region. Also known as a heat dome, such an enormous high-pressure zone acts like a lid on a pot, trapping heat so that it accumulates. And with the West beset by drought, there’s been plenty of heat to trap.

In Seattle, Portland and other areas west of the Cascades, hot air blowing from the east was further warmed as it descended the mountains, raising temperatures even more.

Martha Walter, American impressionist painter

Beach Scene by Martha Walter, American impressionist painter

Climate is naturally variable, so periods of high heat are to be expected. But in this episode scientists see the fingerprints of climate change, brought on by human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

Karin Bumbaco, Washington’s assistant state climatologist, said that any definitive climate-change link could be demonstrated only by a type of analysis called an attribution study. “But it’s a safe assumption, in my view, to blame increasing greenhouse gases for at least some portion of this event,” she said.

On a global average, the world has warmed about 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900. “When you have that warmer baseline, when you do get these extreme events it’s just going to get that much warmer,” she said.

This heat wave is also unusual because it occurred earlier than most. Those two previous triple-digits days in Seattle, for example, happened in late July, about 30 days later.

This one occurred just a few days after the summer solstice, which may have contributed to the extreme conditions. “The days are longer, and we’re not getting that cool-off at night,” she said.

Read more details at the NYT, with maps and charts.

The Washington Post: The Pacific Northwest heat wave is shocking but shouldn’t be a surprise.

More than three decades ago, in his seminal study predicting the course of human-caused climate change, NASA scientist Jim Hansen wrote that “temperature changes within several decades will become large enough to have major effects on the quality of life for mankind in many regions.”

Hansen used the analogy of “loaded dice” to describe how climate change would increase the likelihood of extremely hot weather in a given year while decreasing the chance of unusually cold weather.

Even before that, in 1979, the National Research Council published a study led by the late meteorologist Jule Charney that predicted serious global warming would evolve. “It appears that the warming will eventually occur, and the associated regional climatic changes so important to the assessment of socioeconomic consequences may well be significant,” the report said.

Since those prescient projections 30-to-40-plus years ago, heat waves all over the world have intensified. Heat domes, the sprawling zones of high pressure at high altitudes that essentially bake the air underneath them, have strengthened.

Claude Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse

Claude Monet, The Beach at Sainte-Adresse

During the European heat wave in 2003, blamed for 70,000 deaths, the average temperature was higher than any year since at least 1851. A study published in 2004 found human influence “at least doubled the risk” of a heat wave of that magnitude.

By 2010, when a historically intense heat wave killed 50,000 people in Russia, the risk of such an event was tripled due to climate change, according to a study published in 2012.

In 2016, a report from the National Academies of Sciences concluded that of the connections between human-caused climate change and extreme weather events, heat waves had among the most straightforward ties.

See also this excellent piece at Axios that summarizes a great deal of information about the heat wave. It’s much longer and more detailed than the usual Axios post: Pacific Northwest heat wave reaches astonishing peak  on Monday.

In other news, Axios analyzed traffic at “partisan” news sites and discovered big drops in clicks since Trump was ejected from the White House: Boring news cycle deals blow to partisan media.

In the months since former President Donald Trump left office, media companies’ readership numbers are plunging — and publishers that rely on partisan, ideological warfare have taken an especially big hit.

Why it matters: Outlets most dependent on controversy to stir up resentments have struggled to find a foothold in the Biden era, according to an Axios analysis of publishers’ readership and engagement trends.

By the numbers: Web traffic, social media engagement and app user sessions suggest that while the entire news industry is experiencing a slump, right-wing outlets are seeing some of the biggest plunges.

  • A group of far-right outlets, including Newsmax and The Federalist, saw aggregate traffic drop 44% from February through May compared to the previous six months, according to Comscore data.
  • Lefty outlets including Mother Jones and Raw Story saw a 27% drop.
  • Mainstream publishers including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Reuters dropped 18%.

App visits tell a similar story. Both right-leaning (including Fox News, Daily Caller) and left-leaning (including Buzzfeed News, The Atlantic) saw considerable average drops in app user sessions over this time period at 31% and 26%, respectively, according to Apptopia data.

  • Data from Sensor Tower shows that downloads of fringe-right social networking apps like MeWe, Rumble, Parler and CloutHub have also plummeted.

Engagement on social media has taken the biggest dive, according to data from NewsWhip.

  • Left-leaning and right-leaning publishers have seen social interactions on stories drop by more than 50%, while mainstream publishers have experienced a slightly more modest drop of 42%.

The big picture: Opposition media traditionally relies on traffic booms when a new party takes office, but right-wing outlets have seen some of the most precipitous declines in readership since a Democratic president took office.

Untitled and undated painting by Harold Newton

Untitled and undated painting by Harold Newton

Political news sites would get a big upsurge in hits if the Trump Organization is indicted in New York this week. The Washington Post: Trump attorneys meet with New York prosecutors to argue that his company should not be criminally charged over its business practices, By David Fahrenthold, Josh Dawsey, and Shayna Jacobs.

Attorneys for the Trump Organization met with New York prosecutors on Monday to argue that former president Donald Trump’s company should not be criminally charged over its business dealings, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

Previously, the prosecutors — working for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) and New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) — had set Monday as the last day for the organization’s lawyers to make their case.

After Monday’s session, spokespeople for both Vance and James declined to comment. No charges were announced on Monday. Vance has convened a grand jury in Manhattan to vote on potential indictments in the investigation, but so far, no person or entity connected to Trump has been charged. It remains possible that none will be. Those familiar with the investigation spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private meetings.

Trump issued a lengthy written statement Monday denouncing the prosecutors, saying they were seeking to punish him because of his politics. Trump did not specify what practices prosecutors were focused on, but said they were “things that are standard practice throughout the U.S. business community, and in no way a crime.” [….]

In interviews with Politico and the Associated Press on Monday, Trump’s attorney Ron Fischetti said he believed the charges would focus on whether the proper taxes were paid on benefits that the Trump Organization gave to its executives, such as free apartments or company cars. In a brief call with The Washington Post, Fischetti said he did not attend Monday’s meeting with prosecutors.

The Post previously reported that prosecutors view Weisselberg as a key potential witness in the ongoing investigations, but that they have become frustrated with what they view as a lack of cooperation from him. If Weisselberg was charged with crimes, he could face new pressure to offer testimony against his boss in exchange for a reduction in his legal risk.

I’ll end with two stories on the tragic building collapse in Florida.

John Singer SargentEn Route pour la peche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878

John Singer Sargent, En Route pour la peche (Setting Out to Fish), 1878

CNN: Letter sent months before deadly Florida collapse warned damage to condo building was accelerating.

A correspondence from the board president of Champlain Towers South, part of which unexpectedly crashed to the ground last week in Surfside, Florida, describes the progression of decay at the building since 2018 saying, “the observable damage such as in the garage has gotten significantly worse since the initial inspection.”

Board President Jean Wodnicki addressed the letter to neighbors April 9

“The concrete deterioration is accelerating. The roof situation got much worse, so extensive roof repairs had to be incorporated,” says the letter, acquired by CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”

Wodnicki further describes issues facing the building saying, “When you can visually see the concrete spalling (cracking), that means that the rebar holding it together is rusting and deteriorating beneath the surface.” [….]

The letter confirms what Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett has been saying all along, he said: “There was something very, very wrong at this building.

“Buildings in America just don’t fall down like this. This is a third-world phenomenon, not a first-world phenomenon. … I think from the perspective of a condominium association, which is just like a homeowner except bigger, they probably don’t grasp the intensity of the issue and probably just thought it was a pro forma sort of operation we have to get around to doing. Obviously, that was a fatal mistake.”

Miami Herald: Two days before condo collapse, a pool contractor photographed this damage in garage. (See photos at the link.)

There was nothing unusual about the lobby and pool area at Champlain Towers South condo, which looked clean and well maintained to a commercial pool contractor who visited the building last Tuesday, just 36 hours before half of the building unexpectedly collapsed. Then, he saw the basement-level garage.

At-The-Beach Edward Henry Potthast

At The Beach by Edward Henry Potthast

“There was standing water all over the parking garage,” the contractor, who asked not to be named, told the Miami Herald. He noted cracking concrete and severely corroded rebar under the pool.

He also took photos, which he shared with the Herald.

The contractor visited the condo building last week to put together a bid for a cosmetic restoration of the pool as well as to price out new pool equipment — a small piece of the multimillion-dollar restoration project that just was getting underway at the 40-year-old building.

While he had worked in the industry for decades and had “gone in some scary places,” he said he was struck by the lack of maintenance in the lower level. The amount of water at Champlain Towers seemed so unusual that the contractor mentioned it to a building staff member, Jose, who was showing him around.

“He thought it was waterproofing issues,” the contractor said of the staff member. “I thought to myself, that’s not normal.” He said Jose told him they pumped the pool equipment room so frequently that the building had to replace pump motors every two years, but he never mentioned anything about structural damage or cracks in the concrete above.

There’s much more at the link.

That’s it for me today. Please take care if you’re in one of the areas experiencing extreme heat.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Lots of News and Bookstore Cats

Kat's Book Nook, Bemidji, MN

Kat’s Book Nook, Bemidji, MN

Good Morning!!

Today is a pretty busy news day for a Saturday. The building collapse in Florida is looking worse the more we learn about it. The Delta variant is still in the news and looking more dangerous by the day. Trump will begin holding his revenge rallies tonight in Ohio and then continue his pity party in Florida over the Fourth of July Weekend. The Trump Organization may be criminally charged in New York next week. But the scariest news was broken last night in The New York Times by Trump whisperers Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman: Trump Aides Prepared Insurrection Act Order During Debate Over Protests

Responding to interest from President Donald J. Trump, White House aides drafted a proclamation last year to invoke the Insurrection Act in case Mr. Trump moved to take the extraordinary step of deploying active-duty troops in Washington to quell the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, two senior Trump administration officials said.

The aides drafted the proclamation on June 1, 2020, during a heated debate inside the administration over how to respond to the protests. Mr. Trump, enraged by the demonstrations, had told the attorney general, William P. Barr, the defense secretary, Mark T. Esper, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff, Gen. Mark A. Milley, that he wanted thousands of active-duty troops on the streets of the nation’s capital, one of the officials said.

Mr. Trump was talked out of the plan by the three officials. But a separate group of White House staff members wanted to leave open the option for Mr. Trump to invoke the Insurrection Act to call in the military to patrol the streets of the capital.

They decided it would be prudent to have the necessary document vetted and ready in case the unrest in Washington worsened or the city’s mayor, Muriel Bowser, declined to take measures such as a citywide curfew, which she ultimately put in place….

the new details about internal White House deliberations on a pivotal day in his presidency underscore the intensity of Mr. Trump’s instinct to call on the active-duty military to deal with a domestic issue. And they help to flesh out the sequence of events that would culminate later in the day with Mr. Trump’s walk across Lafayette Park to St. John’s Church so he could pose in front of it holding a Bible, a move that coincided with a spasm of violence between law enforcement and protesters camped near the White House.

Dragon's Lair Comics and Fantasy, Austin, TX

Dragon’s Lair Comics and Fantasy, Austin, TX

More details from the story:

…invoking the Insurrection Act, a rarely used authority allowing presidents to use active duty military for law-enforcement purposes, would have been a dramatic escalation. The act has only been invoked twice in the past 40 years — once to quell unrest after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and once during the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“We look weak,” Mr. Trump said, according to one of the officials. He complained about having been taken to the bunker below the White House on the night of May 29 when the barricade outside the Treasury Department was pierced. The New York Times had reported the bunker visit a day earlier, infuriating Mr. Trump….

Mr. Trump’s meeting with Mr. Barr, Mr. Esper and Mr. Milley was marked by his rage at being embarrassed on the world stage, according to two of the officials.

Mr. Trump grudgingly went along with their counsel not to deploy active-duty troops, according to the officials. Immediately after the meeting, Mr. Trump joined a call with governors around the country, some of whom were seeing protests increase in their states. Mr. Trump urged them to “dominate” the protesters, as he said the National Guard in Minnesota had.

Mr. Esper told associates that he was so concerned that Mr. Trump would deploy active-duty troops that he echoed the need for them to get control of their states, hoping he could encourage governors to deploy the National Guard to head off federal action. Using Pentagon terminology that he later told associates he regretted, Mr. Esper told the governors to “dominate the battle space,” a sentiment stemming from concern about Mr. Trump’s intentions.

On the upcoming Trump rallies, Asawin Suebsaeng writes at The Daily Beast: Trump’s Underlying Rally Message Is Clear: Fear Me.

Early this month, as Donald Trump delivered his keynote address to the North Carolina Republican Party’s annual convention, the former U.S. president noticed something: His greatest crowd-pleaser of the night didn’t come when he attacked President Joe Biden, trashed Dr. Anthony Fauci, or repeated his lies about the 2020 election being stolen from him. It came when he railed against critical race theory, declaring that it should be banned from being taught to schoolchildren and government staff….

otis-clementines-books-coffee Halifax, Nova Scotia where you can adopt a kitten

Clementine’s Books and Coffee, Halifax, Nova Scotia, where you can adopt a kitten

The coming days and months should prove no different, with Trump planning on delivering yet another red-meat-hurling speech on Saturday evening, with plenty of time devoted to dumping accelerant on the flames of the culture wars and asserting his continuedsolidified sway over the GOP.

But his return to the rally circuit also serves another purpose: scaring off potential competition for holding dominant power over the Republican Party, and keeping himself positioned as the 2024 GOP frontrunner.

“In [recent] conversations that I’ve had with him, he has said that he wants to be everywhere to remind people, not just Republicans, that he’s still in charge,” a person close to the former president said, paraphrasing Trump. “The message is a pretty straightforward one: I am still leading this party, and if you want to try to challenge me for that, it will get ugly.”

More details at the link.

The condo collapse in Florida looks to be a horrific tragedy, as rescue workers are found no survivors yesterday. The New York Times: Frustration Mounts in Search for Survivors of Condo Collapse Near Miami.

After an initial two rescues, only bodies had been recovered, three of them overnight. The number of people unaccounted for rose to more than 150 — dozens more than officials had estimated a day earlier — and their families were losing their last threads of hope.

Family members of the missing were asked to provide DNA swabs in case they were needed to identify remains. President Biden said federal mortuary services would be available if needed.

Underneath the parking garage of the exposed building at 8777 Collins Ave., search-and-rescue teams drilled through concrete and inserted probes with cameras to peer through the rubble. Specialized hearing devices alerted them to any sounds that could indicate a person was waiting for help — tapping, scratching, falling debris, twisting metal.

On Thursday, crews briefly heard the voice of a woman trapped somewhere under the wreckage, but it went silent before they could find anyone. On Friday, crews were still using dogs trained to sniff out the scent of a living person; the dogs that come later find cadavers.

From the outside, in the stifling humidity and amid intermittent thunderstorms, little of the tunneling work going on below could be seen. Heavy machinery arrived at the site on Thursday night, but some of the families of the missing wondered why they could not see more action atop the mountain of rubble.

“We’re frustrated because we feel as if they are alive,” said Toby Fried, a family friend of Harry Rosenberg, a man missing from Unit 212. “We offered to bring more manpower — professional searchers. There’s nobody to talk to. We are waiting. We want to help out.”

Jack at Copperfield's, Sonoma County, CA

Jack at Copperfield’s, Sonoma County, CA

More stories on this topic:

The New York Times: Engineer Warned of ‘Major Structural Damage’ at Florida Condo Complex.

The Washington Post: Before condo collapse, rising seas long pressured Miami coastal properties.

Could the Trump Organization really be indicted soon? CNN: Trump Organization could face criminal charges in New York as soon as next week.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office has informed lawyers for the Trump Organization that it could face criminal charges in connection with benefits it has provided to company employees, a Trump attorney confirmed Friday.

The charges, which could come as soon as next week, would likely involve allegations of a company effort to avoid paying payroll taxes on compensation it provided to employees, including rent-free apartments, cars and other benefits, a person familiar with the matter said….

Prosecutors are also likely to announce charges against Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, as soon as next week, people familiar with the matter said.

Weisselberg’s lawyers recently informed prosecutors that he would not cooperate in the investigation, the people said, although that could change in the future.

Weisselberg is under scrutiny for benefits he received, including a company-funded apartment and car. Prosecutors are also looking into similar benefits given to Matthew Calamari, the chief operating officer of the company. One source familiar with the matter said it’s possible he could also face charges.

Finally, the Delta variant of Covid-19 is spreading rapidly, and WHO recommends that fully vaccinated people should continue wearing masks to protect against it. CNBC: WHO urges fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks as delta Covid variant spreads.

The World Health Organization on Friday urged fully vaccinated people to continue to wear masks, social distance and practice other Covid-19 pandemic safety measures as the highly contagious delta variant spreads rapidly across the globe.

Isabel, Crescent City Books, New Orleans, LA“People cannot feel safe just because they had the two doses. They still need to protect themselves,” Dr. Mariangela Simao, WHO assistant director-general for access to medicines and health products, said during a news briefing from the agency’s Geneva headquarters.

“Vaccine alone won’t stop community transmission,” Simao added. “People need to continue to use masks consistently, be in ventilated spaces, hand hygiene … the physical distance, avoid crowding. This still continues to be extremely important, even if you’re vaccinated when you have a community transmission ongoing.”

The health organization’s comments come as some countries, including the United States, have largely done away with masks and pandemic-related restrictions as the Covid vaccines have helped drive down the number of new infections and deaths.


Thursday Reads: Accountability For The Trump Crime Family?

Arne Kavli

By Arne Kavli

Good Morning!!

We appear to be inching closer to the possibility that Trump and his minions could actually be prosecuted. It hasn’t happened yet, but news has broken over the past few days that suggests that real accountability could be coming for the Trump crime family.

Bill Chappelle, Andrea Bernstein, and Ilya Marritz at NPR: What We Know So Far About The Trump Organization Criminal Investigation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is investigating former President Donald Trump’s business, the Trump Organization, “in a criminal capacity,” her office says, ratcheting up scrutiny of Trump’s real estate transactions and other dealings.

The state attorney general is joining forces with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has been conducting a separate criminal inquiry into Trump’s business practices and possible insurance or financial fraud as well as alleged hush money payments to two women who said they had affairs with Trump before he became president….

Dorothy Weir Young, “Seated Girl Reading Newspaper,” 1930

Dorothy Weir Young, “Seated Girl Reading Newspaper,” 1930

The new collaboration between the state and local offices is an unusual event in itself: In New York, the attorney general and the district attorney have historically been rivals. But in this case, they’re working together.

Two assistant attorneys general have now joined the district attorney’s team of prosecutors. They’re all trying to unravel troves of complicated information, including millions of pages of tax returns and other documents related to how the Trump Organization operates in the U.S. as well as its sprawling international enterprises.

With the shift in focus from James’ office, we now know that both of these prosecution teams are making a determined and coordinated effort to sift through evidence of possible crimes.

Read the whole article. It’s a good summary of where things stand right now. Here’s the latest breaking news on the investigations:

The New York Times: Top Trump Executive Under Criminal Investigation Over Taxes.

The New York attorney general’s office has been criminally investigating the chief financial officer of former President Donald J. Trump’s company for months over tax issues, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The office of the attorney general, Letitia James, notified the Trump Organization in a January letter that it had opened a criminal investigation related to the chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, the people said. The investigators have examined whether taxes were paid on fringe benefits that Mr. Trump gave him, including cars and tens of thousands of dollars in private school tuition for at least one of Mr. Weisselberg’s grandchildren….

Auguste Macke woman reading

Auguste Macke, Woman reading

The focus on perks and Mr. Weisselberg overlaps with the Manhattan district attorney’s long-running criminal fraud investigation of Mr. Trump and his family business. The district attorney’s office has been investigating the extent to which Mr. Trump handed out fringe benefits to some of his executives, including Mr. Weisselberg, and whether taxes were paid on those perks, The New York Times previously reported.

In recent weeks, Ms. James’s office suggested to the company in a new letter that it had broadened the criminal investigation beyond the focus on Mr. Weisselberg, one of the people said. It was unclear how the inquiry had widened.

In general, fringe benefits — which can include cars, flights and club memberships — are taxable, though there are some exceptions. Companies are typically responsible for withholding such taxes from an employee’s paycheck….

In addition to the fringe benefits, Ms. James and the district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., have examined whether Mr. Trump’s company inflated the value of his properties to obtain favorable loans and lowered the values to reduce taxes.

More details from CNN: 

The New York attorney general’s office has opened a criminal tax investigation into top Trump Organization officer Allen Weisselberg, increasing the legal pressure on the long-time aide to former President Donald Trump, people familiar with the investigation say.

The pressure on Weisselberg is mounting from two directions with the attorney general looking into his personal taxes, while prosecutors in the district attorney’s office are digging into his role at the Trump Organization, his personal finances, and benefits given to his son Barry, a long-time employee of the Trump Organization.

Prosecutors are seeking to find leverage that could sway Weisselberg into cooperating with authorities, people familiar with the investigation said, potentially raising the legal stakes for Trump and his family. It’s a common tactic used by prosecutors to try to get individuals to “flip” to help build a case higher up the corporate ladder. Vance’s office is coordinating with James’ office on its criminal investigation into Weisselberg….

Mary Cassatt, woman reading

Mary Cassatt, Woman reading

The tax investigation into Weisselberg’s personal finances by New York attorney general Letitia James was opened several months ago and is being handled by a small unit within the office that has authority to bring criminal charges, people familiar with the investigation said.

Those investigators have been coordinating with prosecutors in the Manhattan district attorney’s office led by Cyrus Vance Jr, which has been investigating the Trump Organization, going through Trump’s tax returns, and recently has been examining perks the company gave to employees, Weisselberg’s finances, and benefits he and his son received, people familiar with the inquiry said.

And a bit more on the AG’s investigation from The New York Daily News: 

James’ office announced late Tuesday that her long-running civil investigation into Trump’s alleged financial wrongdoing had evolved into a full-fledged criminal inquiry, but did not spell out when or why that significant upgrade was made.

Duncan Levin — an attorney for Jennifer Weisselberg, the estranged daughter-in-law of a top Trump Organization executive — shed some light on that omission Wednesday, telling the Daily News that his client has been cooperating in the criminal component of James’ investigation since March.

“We’ve been aware of the attorney general’s criminal investigation for several months now, since March, and have been in touch with prosecutors in the criminal division and have provided them with evidence,” Levin said….

James’ exact line of criminal inquiry is unclear, but the fact that she’s conducting it with [New York District Attorney] Vance’s help suggests it could also be focused on allegations of fraud. A source familiar with the matter told The News that two assistant attorneys general from James’ office have been specifically tapped to spearhead coordination with Vance….

Jennifer Weisselberg, whose estranged father-in-law is Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime chief financial officer, has been asked by prosecutors from James’ criminal division about a Trump-owned Midtown apartment overlooking Central Park that she and her ex-husband lived in rent-free for years, Levin said.

Paritosh Sen, Woman reading a newspaper

Paritosh Sen, Woman reading a newspaper

Levin said his client has also provided James’ investigators with documents about her family’s finances.

Another key cooperator in both the James and Vance probes is former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who has met with the DA’s team nearly a dozen times.

James’ criminal announcement, Cohen said Wednesday, shows “the troubles for Donald Trump just keep on coming.”

“Soon enough, Donald and associates will be held responsible for their actions,” Cohen said. “Now that you see the [Manhattan] district attorney and the attorney general’s offices working in concert, I do believe that indictments will be issued shortly, and definitely before summer’s end.”

At The Atlantic, Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore, offers even more details on possible charges: The Country Is on the Cusp of a New Era.

Yesterday evening, New York State’s attorney general, Letitia James, announced, “We have informed the Trump Organization that … We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity.” According to The New York Times, James will be sending two of her office’s prosecutors to join the team of Cyrus Vance Jr., the Manhattan DA. With this news, Donald Trump, those around him, and the country as a whole inch closer to the prospect that a former president could face criminal charges, and possibly even prison time. The country has not been through anything like this before.

The ongoing investigation is sweeping. James began it as a civil investigation following the 2019 congressional testimony of Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, that the Trump Organization had lied about the value of its assets in order to secure loans and insurance and to reduce its tax liability. Her focus includes the Trump Organization’s valuation of Seven Springs, a 213-acre estate in Westchester County, which it used to claim a $21.1 million tax deduction for a conservation easement on the property in 2015. James is also looking into a $160 million loan on a property at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, which Trump personally guaranteed for $20 million, as well as “large portions of debt owed by the Trump Organization” relating to the Trump International Hotel and Tower, in Chicago, that were claimed as taxable income, and the valuation of Trump National Golf Club, in Los Angeles.

Vance’s municipal-level, criminal grand-jury investigation adds other areas of possible criminality to the scope of James’s state-level inquiry, including possible bank and tax fraud. Vance is also reportedly looking into hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and other women on Trump’s behalf—a maneuver that sent Cohen to jail for campaign-finance violations….

H1022-L209565179

By Arne Kavli

By law, grand juries operate in secret, but it’s publicly known that Vance has also subpoenaed Mazars USA LLP, Trump’s personal accounting firm, for financial records relating to the former president and his businesses. In July 2020, the Supreme Court rejected a bid to protect those records from disclosure on presidential-immunity grounds, and Vance finally obtained Trump’s returns in February of this year. Vance’s office has reportedly interviewed Cohen at least eight times, and Cohen has stated that: “Unfortunately for Trump, I have backed up each and every question posed by the district attorney’s office” with “documentary evidence.” Vance has also sought records from two of Trump’s largest creditors, Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital Corp, and from Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, which is attended by the grandchildren of the Trump Organization’s CEO, Allen Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family since 1973. In 2017, he became the only nonfamily member to serve with Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr., to manage the trust established to hold Donald Trump’s business assets while president.

According to the grandchildren’s mother, Jennifer Weisselberg, more than $500,000 in tuition was paid through checks signed by either Allen Weisselberg or Trump himself as part of compensation for Allen Weisselberg’s son, Barry, from 2012 to 2019. Vance’s office has been trying to get Allen Weisselberg to cooperate with the investigation.* He was also involved in reimbursing Cohen for the $130,000 payment made to Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election.

For her part, James has also subpoenaed the Trump Organization for records relating to “consulting fees” it paid to Ivanka Trump, in addition to documents regarding the various properties implicated in the investigation. In October, Eric Trump sat for a deposition by lawyers in James’s office. The Trump Foundation dissolved amid an investigation by James’s predecessor, Barbara Underwood, into whether it violated laws in connection with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and whether its charity work was otherwise legitimate.


Lazy Caturday Reads

Raining-cats-and-dogs

Good Morning!!

It’s raining cats and dogs outside my windows this morning, so I decided to illustrate this post with cats in and out of the rain. 

In just four days, Trump will be out of the White House and headed to Florida; and, according to the Wall Street Journal (via Raw Story), even the people working in the White House can’t wait until he’s gone.

According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the last days of Donald Trump’s tenure as president have found him still looking for any chance of remaining in office as demoralized staffers look forward to Inauguration Day bringing the era to a close.

The Journal notes that the president has asked for information on the Republicans in the House who voted for his impeachment last week and whether they are susceptible to being primaried in 2022 while still fuming about his election loss.

d62d3ff684ba7a48945811f5a8b94d56As regarding the ongoing articles of impeachment passed by the House, Trump is still searching for attorneys to defend him if it comes to a trial after White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and attorneys who represented him during his last impeachment have let it be known they won’t take part….

According to one aide close to the president, they just want it to be over.

“It’s complete shellshock,” they explained. “People are praying for the inauguration to come and to get Trump the hell out of there.”

So much winning.

Trump’s future business prospects aren’t looking so good either. Bloomberg: Trump’s Shambolic Empire Faces Long Odds for One More Comeback.

On the day Donald Trump was getting impeached in Washington, the lobby of his New York tower at 40 Wall St. was almost silent. Few footsteps smudged the shiny marble.

But up the dark and golden elevators, trouble was stirring in one of the billionaire’s most valuable properties. Inside one law office, two partners had clashed over whether to keep paying rent to a landlord who encouraged the Capitol’s deadly riot. On the 24th floor, a nonprofit that fights tuberculosis was exploring options for leaving. On the seventh, the Girl Scouts were figuring out how to break their lease.

And in the basement, vintage bank-vault doors that weigh more than 10 tons stood wide open. There, in a club room that Trump renovated, the news was playing on a jumbo television to an audience of empty armchairs just as Congress voted against him….

thumb-1920-709311The Trump Organization, run by sons Eric and Don Jr., was struggling with the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic even before their father incited a raid on Congress. Efforts to sell his Washington hotel were shelved, his office buildings were losing value amid a glut of space in Manhattan, and his golf courses were facing the reality that younger generations aren’t so interested.

Trump entered office worth $3 billion. Despite soaring stock prices and his own tax cuts, he will leave about $500 million poorer, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

His buildings are saddled with more than $1 billion in debt, most of it coming due in the next three years and more than a third of it personally guaranteed. Refinancing would mean finding lenders and corporations willing to work with history’s only twice-impeached ex-president.

Prosecutors in New York are salivating over the chances to prosecute the disgraced “president.” AP: NY prosecutors interview Michael Cohen about Trump finances.

New York prosecutors conducted an hourslong interview Thursday of Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, asking a range of questions about Trump’s business dealings, according to three people familiar with the meeting.

The interview focused in part on Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, his biggest and longest standing creditor, according to the three people, who weren’t authorized to discuss the investigation and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

The interview, at least the second of Cohen by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, comes amid a long-running grand jury investigation into Trump’s business dealings. District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has been waging a protracted legal battle to get access to the president’s tax records.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on Trump’s request for a stay and a further appeal after he leaves office Jan. 20.

Top-10-Images-of-Cats-Avoiding-The-Rain-1-510x384-1The New York investigation is one of several legal entanglements that are likely to intensify as Trump loses power — and any immunity from prosecution he might have as a sitting president — as he departs the White House….

The Republican president also faces a civil investigation, led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, into whether Trump’s company lied about the value of its assets to get loans or tax benefits. Cohen also is cooperating with that inquiry.

He previously told Congress that Trump often inflated the value of his assets when dealing with lenders or potential business partners, but deflated them when it benefited him for tax purposes.

Even in Scotland, people are looking for ways to investigate Trump. Read about it at The Scotsman: Leading QC says Scottish ministers can seek ‘McMafia’ order into Donald Trump’s finances.

Meanwhile, every day we learn more about the violent insurrection that Trump incited last week. One of the  most disturbing facts is how many law enforcement and active and former military people were involved. These are brief excerpts; I recommend following the links to read the full articles.

The Washington Post: Conspiracy theories and a call for patriots entice veterans at the Capitol.

A Washington Post analysis of individuals who breached the Capitol or were in the vicinity of the riots identified 21 people with some prior military service background. Of the 72 arrested or charged by state and federal authorities through Thursday morning, 11 have military backgrounds.

The military personnel and veterans involved in the demonstrations and riot at the Capitol range in age from 33 to 62. A handful of the veterans served in combat or with front-line infantry units in the Army and Marine Corps and spoke regularly of a coming revolution or the need for violent action to purge their country of unspecified enemies. Other veterans at the Capitol on Jan. 6 served for only short stints in the military or were focused more on clerical tasks than preparing for combat. Like many at the riots, they were swept up in conspiracy theories that have taken hold among some of Trump’s most fervent supporters and felt called to action by the president’s repeated insistence without evidence that the election had been stolen.

unnamedThe Pentagon hasn’t said how many active-duty troops or reservists are under investigation for any role in the protest or the riots, but homegrown militants and white supremacist groups have long targeted veterans for recruitment.

And some analysts who track extremist groups warn that the military has been slow to recognize the problem.

“They are behind in having the capacity to investigate these issues,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. “They don’t have the proper tools to identify symbols and tattoos and that kind of thing, so it has allowed it to fester for a really long time.”

The Los Angeles Times: Why veterans of the military and law enforcement joined the Capitol insurrection.

An Air Force veteran from Southern California and ardent conspiracy theorist bent on war against the government. An Army psychological operations officer at Ft. Bragg, N.C. A decorated, retired Air Force officer of 18 years from Texas who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 attracted a variety of far-right extremists who shared a devotion to President Trump and his insistence on a false belief that the November election had been stolen from him through fraud.

Many rioters also had something else in common as they sought to upend the government in an insurrection that bristled with Confederate flags, racist symbols and conspiracy theories: They were ex-members of the military and police or actively employed by the armed services and law enforcement.

“It’s an incredibly disturbing trend,” retired U.S. Army Col. Jeffrey D. McCausland, a professor of national security at Dickinson College and former dean at the U.S. Army War College, said in an interview. “These are people who are supposed to uphold the Constitution and the law, yet they were doing the exact opposite.”

Top-10-Images-of-Cats-Avoiding-The-Rain-9-510x395-1Gizmodo: Leaked Parler Data Points to Users at Police Stations, U.S. Military Bases.

Location data gleaned from thousands of videos posted on the social network Parler and extracted in the days before Amazon restricted access to app this week, reveal its users included police officers around the U.S. and service members stationed on bases at home and abroad.

The presence on Parler of active military and police raises concerns, experts said, about their potential exposure to far-right conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies enabled by the platform’s practically nonexistent moderation and its stated openness to hate speech. Military officials have long considered infiltration and recruitment by white supremacist groups a threat. Groups that endorsed a wide range of racist beliefs appear to have been operating openly on Parler, the experts said, with the de facto permission of its owners. The FBI has likewise raised concerns over law enforcement agents adopting radical views and being recruited—viewing their access to secured buildings, elected officials, and other VIPs as a singular threat.

Slate: Sheriffs Helped Lead This Insurrection.

On Jan. 6, Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb made a promise. Delivering a speech in Phoenix during the ongoing mob attack on the nation’s Capitol, Lamb accused former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton of unnamed crimes and repeated President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud. “Now I’m limited to what I can do as the sheriff, but if you live in Pinal County, I assure you I can fight for your freedom,” he said before exhorting his followers to “be vigilant” and to “fight for the Constitution, freedom, and the American way of life.” (The video has since been deleted from social media.)

In the past week, it’s become clear that many members of law enforcement from across the country participated in the siege on the Capitol. That includes former and current sheriffs and their deputies. Ex–Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway was at the Trump rally but says he didn’t march to the Capitol. He described the crowd as “a cross between tailgating at a football game and a NASCAR race—families, dogs, children. Everyone being nice. I mean, it was like a family reunion without some of the hatefulness you can find at family reunions. It was a very good crowd.”

Top-10-Images-of-Cats-Avoiding-The-Rain-10-510x334-1At least one current sheriff admits he was at the riot: Sheriff Chris West of Canadian County, Oklahoma, says he marched toward the Capitol building but did not enter. But long before Jan. 6, sheriffs have been helping to lay the groundwork for violence by the far-right movement. As political leaders in their communities, they have been sowing dissent at home, encouraging their own armed militias to prepare themselves to take back the government just as Lamb suggested.

Ninety percent of American sheriffs are white men, and in recent years they’ve become strongly affiliated with white supremacist groups. Across the country, sheriffs have declared that they will not enforce laws they deem “unconstitutional,” like COVID-19 public health orders or gun laws limiting weapons possession and permits. Their influence has only grown since the pandemic began, as mask wearing became affiliated with progressive liberals and a bare face was a sign of Trump support.

A few more reads about the Capitol attack:

David Graham at The Atlantic: We’re Just Finding Out How Bad the Riot Really Was.

The New York Times: Capitol Attack Could Fuel Extremist Recruitment For Years, Experts Warn.

Politico: Top FEMA official attended Trump’s ‘Stop the Steal’ rally.

NBC News: Online far-right movements fracture in wake of Capitol riot.

That’s all I have for you today. Have a nice long weekend, and please stop by and leave a comment if you have the time and inclination.


Thursday Reads: Trump Flubs Troop Visit and Other News

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

Good Afternoon!!

So Trump was finally shamed into visiting some troops in Iraq, and naturally everything about his visit was completely inappropriate. He acted as if he was a a campaign rally, bragging about his mythical accomplishments and telling bald-faced lies as usual.

Previous presidents have used these trips to praise soldiers and let them know that they are appreciated as well as to meet with local officials. Trump did none of that; and, as JJ noted yesterday, he revealed the classified location of Seal team troops and posted their faced on-line. On top of everything else, he autographed MAGA hats for troops who are forbidden from engaging in political activities.

Iraqi leaders were not happy.

Reuters: Iraqi lawmakers criticize Trump visit as blow to Iraqi sovereignty.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi political and militia leaders condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise visit to U.S. troops in Iraq on Wednesday as a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty, and lawmakers said a meeting between Trump and Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi was canceled due to a disagreement over venue.

The Book Keeper, by Nicole Gustafson

Sabah al Saadi, the leader of the Islah parliamentary bloc, called for an emergency session of parliament “to discuss this blatant violation of Iraq’s sovereignty and to stop these aggressive actions by Trump who should know his limits: The U.S. occupation of Iraq is over.”

The Bina bloc, Islah’s rival in parliament and led by Iran-backed militia leader Hadi al-Amiri, also objected to Trump’s trip to Iraq.

“Trump’s visit is a flagrant and clear violation of diplomatic norms and shows his disdain and hostility in his dealings with the Iraqi government,” said a statement from Bina.

CBS News: After Trump’s visit, Iraqi lawmakers demand U.S. withdrawal.

Baghdad — Iraqi lawmakers Thursday demanded U.S. forces leave the country in the wake of a surprise visit by President Donald Trump that politicians denounced as arrogant and a violation of Iraqi sovereignty.

Politicians from both blocs of Iraq’s divided Parliament called for a vote to expel U.S. troops and promised to schedule an extraordinary session to debate the matter.

“Parliament must clearly and urgently express its view about the ongoing American violations of Iraqi sovereignty,” said Salam al-Shimiri, a lawmaker loyal to the populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Containing foreign influence has become a hot-button issue in a year that saw al-Sadr supporters win the largest share of votes in May elections. Al-Sadr has called for curbing U.S. and Iranian involvement in Iraqi affairs.

The moron-in-chief can’t get anything right.

CNN: Troops bringing Trump hats to sign may violate military rule.

Seuss-Scape, by Nicole Gusafson

Video footage and the written report of Trump’s visit with service members in Iraq showed the President signing “Make America Great Again” hats and an embroidered patch that read “Trump 2020.”

But troops’ requests for the autographs could brush up against Department of Defense guidelines for political activities.

Those guidelines say that “active duty personnel may not engage in partisan political activities and all military personnel should avoid the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement of a political candidate, campaign, or cause.”

The Daily Beast: Trump Takes a War-Zone Victory Lap—and Trips.

This should have been a victory lap for a president hailed by the military for letting them loose to attack ISIS, unconstrained by the reluctance and micromanagement of the Obama administration. But President Donald Trump has just announced the U.S. would be leaving the job to Turkey, deserting Kurdish and Western coalition allies, and abandoning the field of battle to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Russia, and Iran.

“We’re no longer the suckers, folks,” President Donald Trump told a group of about 100 troops, most of them special operators, in an unannounced holiday visit to al-Asad Airbase, in northern Iraq. He added that other countries can no longer expect the U.S. to do their fighting, unless they are willing to pay for it. “The United States cannot continue to be the policeman of the world,” he said….

“In Syria, Erdogan said he wants to knock out ISIS, whatever’s left, the remnants of ISIS,” Trump told reporters on the trip.  “And Saudi Arabia just came out and said they are going to pay for some economic development, which is great; that means we don’t have to pay.”

But what of the French and British allies the U.S. has left behind in Syria to keep up the fight? Does that mean they are the suckers left holding the bag? Or the Kurdish militia groups that did most of the fighting, and dying, to drive out the so-called Islamic State, now left to the tender mercies of sworn enemy Turkey?

The president was unrepentant, explaining that he gave “the generals” multiple six-month “extensions” to get out of Syria. “They said again, recently, can we have more time? I said, ‘Nope.’ You can’t have any more time. You’ve had enough time. We’ve knocked them out. We’ve knocked them silly,” he said. “Others will do it too. Because we are in their region. They should be sharing the burden of costs and they’re not.”

But the decision hasn’t sat well with many in the special-operations community Trump was addressing, as they’ve known many of these Kurdish fighters for years, and risked life and limb on joint missions together well before the ISIS fight.

In other news, it’s looking more and more like the Trump Organization could end up being indicted in New York. Perhaps that will force Trump out even if the Republicans protect him from impeachment.

NBC News: Probe of Trump’s charity could crash ‘like a Mack Truck’ into his real estate empire.

The Trump Foundation and the Trump Organization shared much more than President Donald Trump’s last name.

And that’s why, experts said, the New York state investigations into the charity could envelop the president’s namesake business.

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

“Nothing but overlap here. It all was held so tightly by he and his family members,” NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor, told NBC News.

“I don’t think there will be any investigative daylight between what the New York state authorities and investigators are looking into with respect to the foundation vs. the organization vs. anything else involving business dealings that have the name ‘Trump’ attached to them,” he said, predicting that the foundation investigation will “crash through (the Trump Organization) like a Mack Truck.”

Wouldn’t that be fun to watch? A bit more:

Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor and NBC News/MSNBC legal analyst, said that because some of the same people alleged by the state attorney general of persistent illegal activity in running the charity are also involved with the president’s business, there is reasonable justification in broadening the investigation.

“It is likely that the investigation into the Trump Foundation has sufficiently overlapped with the Trump Organization that (state) investigators would be justified in extending their investigation into the Trump Organization,” he said.

The foundation itself had no employees, instead relying on Trump Organization staffers to cut its checks. Prior to taking office in 2017, Trump turned over day-to-day control of his business to his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer. Both sons were among the charity’s board members, while Weisselberg was listed as its treasurer.

Meanwhile Trump is trying to use the government shutdown to post pone the emoluments case against him in Virginia.

Politico: Trump lawyers, citing shutdown, ask court for delay in emoluments case.

Lawyers for President Donald Trump are invoking the government shutdown to seek a delay in a court case over claims that Trump is illegally profiting from business his Washington hotel does with foreign countries.

Illustration by Nicole Gustafson

Justice Department attorneys representing Trump asked a federal appeals court on Wednesday to postpone indefinitely all further filings in an appeal related to a suit that the governments of Maryland and Washington, D.C., filed over Trump’s alleged violation of the Constitution’s ban on foreign emoluments.

The government’s brief is not due until Jan. 22, but DOJ lawyers asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Va., to put the appeal on ice until the shutdown ends.

“The Department does not know when funding will be restored by Congress,” Justice lawyers wrote. “Absent an appropriation, Department of Justice attorneys and employees are prohibited from working, even on a voluntary basis, except in very limited circumstances, including ‘emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property’. … Undersigned counsel for the Department of Justice therefore requests a stay of briefing on the President’s mandamus petition until Congress has restored appropriations to the Department.”

I don’t understand why the DOJ is defending Trump for illegally profiting from his office.

If you have some extra time today here are two long reads on immigration to check out.

A long read from ProPublica: He Drew His School Mascot — and ICE Labeled Him a Gang Member. How high schools have embraced the Trump administration’s crackdown on MS-13, and destroyed immigrant students’ American dreams.

Another long read from The Washington Post: When death awaits deported asylum seekers. Ronald Acevedo waited eight months for asylum in Arizona. Days after he was deported, he was found dead in the trunk of a car.

What else is happening? What stories have you been following?