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….

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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?


Lazy Saturday Reads: #tRump – Bull in a China Shop

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Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening with my brother’s family–they invited me for a birthday dinner and family movie. Unsurprisingly, while I wasn’t paying attention for a few hours the president-elect did massive damage to U.S. foreign policy, overturning decades-long policies on China. And it appears this wasn’t about policy but about enriching the #tRump family business.

Ann Gearan at The Washington Post: Trump speaks with Taiwanese president, a major break with decades of U.S. policy on China

President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan’s president, a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia and a breach of diplomatic protocol with ramifications for the incoming president’s relations with China.

The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since before the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.

The exchange is one of a string of unorthodox conversations with foreign leaders that Trump has held since his election. It comes at a particularly tense time between China and Taiwan, which earlier this year elected a president, ­­­Tsai Ing-wen, who has not endorsed the notion of a unified China. Her election angered Beijing to the point of cutting off all official communication with the island government.

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It is not clear whether Trump intends a more formal shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan or China. On the call, Trump and Tsai congratulated each other on winning their elections, a statement from Trump’s transition office said….

A statement from the Taiwanese president’s office said the call lasted more than 10 minutes and included discussion of economic development and national security, and about “strengthening bilateral relations.”

Trump claimed the call was initiated by Taiwan’s president, but that was a lie, NBC News reports:

BEIJING — A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan’s leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday.

Trump — who lambasted China throughout the election campaign and promised to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods — tweeted that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him.

“Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. “Both are in line with Taiwan’s national interest.”

He added that the call had not been a surprise.

Apparently the call was carefully planned and scheduled by Trump staffers. It was also reported that bomb-thrower John Bolton was seen at Trump tower yesterday. Could he have helped instigate this?

After the media reported foreign policy experts’ heads exploding, Trump defensively tweeted again.

China was apparently on the phone with the White House right after the news broke, and they have now filed a complaint with the U.S. about this breach of diplomacy. The Guardian:

China has lodged “solemn representations” with the US over a call between the president-elect, Donald Trump, and Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

Trump looked to have sparked a potentially damaging diplomatic row with Beijing on Friday after speaking to the Taiwanese president on the telephone….

The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically ruled island which Beijing regards as a breakaway province – in the late 1970s after the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.

Since then the US has adhered to the “One China” principle, which officially considers the independently governed island to be part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a statement on Saturday: “It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing China.”

Geng added: “This is a fact that is generally recognised by the international community.”

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#tRrump is a real bull in a china shop, so to speak. But what was his real goal in talking to Taiwan? Think Progress: Trump’s unusual phone call is great for his business, dangerous for America.

Trump is mixing his business with the presidency. Today was a stark illustration that the combination is extremely dangerous — to Americans and the world.

The Financial Times, citing three sources, reports that Trump called Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan, on Friday. The call is a symbolic breach of the United States’ “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the only government and which has been in place since 1972.

The call will antagonize China and risks “opening up a major diplomatic dispute with China before he has even been inaugurated.”

The incident is raising eyebrows because the Trump Organization, in which Trump plans to maintain ownership as president, is actively seeking new business opportunities in Taiwan. The Shanghaiist reported on the Trump Organization’s interest last month:

A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September, expressing interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia, Taiwan News reports.With the review process for the Aerotropolis still underway, Taoyuan’s mayor referred to the subject of the meeting as mere investment speculation. Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect’s second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.

#tRump is trying to turn our country into a wholly owned subsidiary of the #tRump organization.

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In just the past couple of days, Trump has bumbled through bizarre phone calls with Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte. Do you supposed #tRump even knows that China, Pakistan and sworn enemy India have nukes?

The Atlantic: Lessons From Trump’s ‘Fantastic’ Phone Call to Pakistan.

This week, the U.S. president-elect spoke with the Pakistani prime minister and, according to the Pakistani government’s account of the conversation, delivered the following message: Everything is awesome. It was, arguably, the most surprising presidential phone call since George H.W. Bush got pranked by that pretend Iranian president.

Pakistan, Donald Trump reportedly told Nawaz Sharif, is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president. Sharif was described as “terrific.” Pakistanis “are one of the most intelligent people,” Trump allegedly added. “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” ….

Like their problems with India?

It’s unclear how accurate the Pakistani government’s record of the discussion is, though the language does have a Trumpian ring to it (Trump’s transition team released a much more subdued summary of the call). But what’s surprising about the account is how disconnected it is from the current state of affairs. Everything is not awesome in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The two countries are the bitterest of friends. They have long clashed over the haven that terrorist groups have found in Pakistan and over U.S. efforts, including drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, to kill those terrorists. Pakistan, a nation with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, is the archenemy of India, another nuclear-armed state and a critical U.S. ally. U.S. officials see Pakistan—with its weak political institutions and suspected government support for militant groups in Afghanistan and the contested territory of Kashmir—as an alarming source of regional instability. The suspicion is mutual: Just a fifth of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States. Trump himself has argued that Pakistan “is probably the most dangerous” country in the world, and that India needs to serve as “the check” to it.

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The reports also provoked a caustic response from the Indian government, which opposes U.S. mediation in its border dispute with Pakistan. “We look forward to the president-elect helping Pakistan address the most outstanding of its outstanding issues: terrorism,” a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said. And, ultimately, they forced Pakistani officials to backpedal after initially publicizing the conversation. “Our relationship with the United States is not about personalities—it is about institutions,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified. In other words, a brief, breezy conversation had real reverberations on the subcontinent.One lesson of the phone call is that words matter, especially in international relations where information is patchy, things get lost in translation, rhetoric is often interpreted as policy, and a government’s credibility is only as good as its word. (Think of all the people in the United States puzzling over what policies Trump will pursue as president; now imagine trying to do that from Islamabad or New Delhi.)

 

And now Pakistan is sending an envoy to meet with the #tRump bumblers. The Indian Express reports:

Pakistan has decided to send an envoy to the US to hold meetings with Donald Trump’s transition team, two days after a “productive” telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the President-elect. Pakistani Prime Minister’s special assistant for foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi will visit the US this weekend to meet officials of the Trump transition team.

Fatemi’s meeting with officials of Trump transition team was confirmed by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US. “Besides meeting members of the transition team, Fatemi will meet officials of the outgoing Obama administration,” said Jilani.

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Huffington Post: Donald Trump Praises Philippines Deadly Drug War And Invites Leader To White House.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump praised Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte for his war on drugs that has left thousands dead, Duterte said on Saturday after the two held a phone conversation in which Trump also invited Duterte the White House.

“He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well … in my campaign and he said that … we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in a statement. Duterte has conducted a severe crackdown on drugs in the country, where police and vigilante groups have killed thousands.

Trump’s brief chat with the firebrand Philippine president follows a period of uncertainty about one of Washington’s most important Asian alliances, stoked by Duterte’s hostility towards President Barack Obama and repeated threats to sever decades-old defense ties.

The call lasted just over seven minutes, Duterte’s special advisor, Christopher Go, said in a text message to media, which gave few details. Trump’s transition team had no immediate comment.

So #tRump is on the record supporting mass murder now. Awesome.

Two more links to check out:

The New York Times: How Trump’s Calls to World Leaders Are Upsetting Decades of Diplomacy.

The Washington Post: Donald Trump keeps confirming fears about his diplomatic skills.

Isn’t there anyone who can do something about this monster before he destroys our country and/or blows up the world? We are so screwed.

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