Editor’s Note: Welcome to the latest installment of Norms Watch, our series tracking both the flouting of democratic norms by the Trump administration and the erosion of those norms in reactions and responses by others. This is our collection of the most significant breaks with democratic traditions that occurred from July 14-July 21, 2017.
THE TRUMP-RUSSIA CONNECTION
The list of attendees at a Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaigners and Russians grows, Trump and Putin meet a second time, and Mueller’s investigation expands to finances as Trump expresses his discontent.
Trump Jr., Manafort and Kushner Met With Russian-American Lobbyist and Accused Money Launderer In Trump Tower
Although Donald Trump Jr. promised last week to be “transparent” as he released copies of emails that showed he attended a meeting after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton as part of “Russia and its government’s support” for Trump, he did not reveal the identities of all present, disclosing only Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, and British pop manager Rob Goldstone.
One attendee not mentioned by Trump Jr. is Rinat Akhmetshin, a Kremlin-connected lawyer and Soviet army counterintelligence veteran who holds both American and Russian citizenship. He has been accused by some U.S. critics of having links to Russian spy services, and at the time of the June 2016 meeting he was lobbying against the Magnitsky Act, which imposes sanctions on Russia for human rights violations. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked why Akhmetshin was not registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.
Another attendee Trump Jr. overlooked is Ike Kaveladze, a U.S.-based employee of a Russian real estate company who has been the subject of a congressional inquiry into Russian money laundering in U.S. banks. The accusations arose out of his time as president of International Business Creations, a Delaware Corporation. Kaveladze was never charged, and he described the inquiry as “another Russian witch hunt in the United States.” His attorney told the Washington Post he attended the meeting as the representative of Aras and Emin Agalarov, Russian developers who hosted the Moscow Miss Universe pageant in 2013. [ref]Test.[/ref]
The revelations in the news media about the different people in attendance follow Trump Jr.’s shifting explanations for the meeting, which he initially characterized as “primarily” about adoptions, and repeated denials from Trump aides that campaign officials had contact with Russians ahead of the election. The meeting was also attended by Veselnitskaya’s translator Anatoli Smorchornov.
The Senate Judiciary Committee[ref]Test 2.[/ref] has called Trump Jr. and Manafort to testify publicly next week. Kaveladze has reportedly agreed to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Kushner will testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed-door session on Monday.
Trump Asks Advisers About Pardon Powers
Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the Russia investigation, the Washington Post reports.
Trump Says He Wouldn’t Have Hired Jeff Sessions If He’d Known He Would Recuse
“Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump told the New York Times in an interview this week. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.” Attorney general Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in light of his involvement in Trump’s presidential campaign and revelations that he had previously undisclosed meetings with Russians. Responding to the interview, Sessions said he would continue to serve “as long as that is appropriate.”
POTUS attack on Russia recusal reveals yet again his violation of the essential independence of DOJ, a bedrock principle of our democracy.
— Sally Yates (@SallyQYates) July 20, 2017
Ryan J. Reilly at the Huffington Post writes, “Trump’s comments to The New York Times indicate he either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the normal limits on the relationship between the White House and the Justice Department. And that has a lot of DOJ alums from both sides of the aisle worried.” Former acting attorney general Sally Yates (whom Trump fired) tweeted that “POTUS attack on Russia recusal reveals yet again his violation of the essential independence of DOJ, a bedrock principle of our democracy.”
Trump Assails Mueller Investigation, Citing Conflicts of Interest
In the same New York Times interview, Trump suggested special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was tainted by conflicts of interest. “Mr. Trump said Mr. Mueller was running an office rife with conflicts of interest and warned investigators against delving into matters too far afield from Russia,” write reporters Peter Baker, Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman. “Mr. Trump never said he would order the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, nor would he outline circumstances under which he might do so. But he left open the possibility as he expressed deep grievance over an investigation that has taken a political toll in the six months since he took office.” Trump also noted that he interviewed Mueller to replace James Comey as FBI Director, suggesting that was a conflict. AP reports that Trump’s legal team is looking into potential conflicts of interest among Mueller’s investigative team.
Trump cannot define or constrain Mueller investigation. If he tries to do so this creates issues of constitutional and criminal dimension.
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) July 21, 2017
Mueller’s Investigation Reportedly Expands to Businesses
Bloomberg reports that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation has expanded to look into a broad range of transactions involving businesses run by Trump and his associates. The report followed comments by Trump to the New York Times that Mueller would be crossing a line if he started looking into Trump’s businesses. The matters Mueller is examining include Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s 2008 sale of a Florida property to a Russian oligarch. The expanded investigation is reportedly incorporating work done during a money laundering probe last year by since-fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.
Mueller Investigates Possible Money Laundering By Manafort
The Wall Street Journal reports that Mueller is also investigating possible money laundering by Paul Manafort, as are the Senate and House intelligence committees. Manafort spent years working for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine, and then served as Trump’s presidential campaign manager for about three months. The New York attorney general and Manhattan District attorney are also investigating his real-estate transactions.
Manafort Was In Debt To Pro-Russia Interests By As Much As $17 Million Before Joining Trump Campaign
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort appears to have been in debt to pro-Russia interests by as much as $17 million before he joined the campaign, the New York Times reports. Manafort had previously spent years working in Ukraine and investing with a Russian oligarch, and he kept bank accounts in Cyprus, where financial records filed last year revealed the debt. The money appears to have been owed by Manafort-connected shell companies. The Cyprus documents were certified by an accounting firm as accurate in December 2015, several months before Manafort joined the campaign. A spokesman for Manafort said the documents were “stale and do not purport to reflect any current financial arrangements.” In 2015, the Russian oligarch, Oleg V. Deripaska, claimed in a Virginia court complaint Manafort and his partners owed him $19 million related to a failed investment in a Ukrainian business.
Trump’s Lawyer Blames Secret Service For Trump Jr. Meeting
Defending Trump Jr. on television over the weekend, Trump’s personal lawyer Jay Sekulow said: “Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.” A spokesperson for the agency said that “Donald Trump Jr. was not under Secret Service protection in June 2016.” Greg Jaffe at the Washington Post writes that it is “highly unlikely that the Secret Service…would have any influence over who the president or his children chose to meet during a presidential campaign.” Sekulow’s comment drew criticism, including from former Bush homeland security adviser Frances Townsend, who tweeted: “Ok let’s try to deflect blame & throw those in @SecretService who protect @POTUS @realDonaldTrump @FLOTUS & family under the bus.”
No U.S. Translator at Undisclosed Second Trump-Putin G-20 “Adoption” Discussion
Trump had a second, previously undisclosed conversation with Russian president Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit this month, the White House has confirmed. The conversation took place hours after the pair’s official meeting on July 7, which ran over two hours, at a dinner for leaders and their spouses. Unusually, the two relied on Putin’s translator, and there is no official American record of the meeting. (Leaders were only permitted to bring one interpreter to the dinner, and Trump went with a Japanese interpreter – leaving him without a Russian speaker.) White House spokesman Michael Anton said the conversation was casual and should not be described as a “meeting”. Political scientist and columnist Ian Bremmer said he spoke with two people who attended the dinner, who said that Trump and Putin spoke for nearly an hour and that Trump was “very animated”. In response to the story, Trump tweeted: “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is ‘sick.’ All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!” In an interview with the New York Times, Trump said he and Putin talked “about adoption”, suggesting the conversation went beyond mere pleasantries. Putin banned American adoptions of Russian children in 2012, in response to Magnitsky Act sanctions on Russian accused of human rights abuses.
Republicans who cross Trump may have to worry about their political futures.
Trump Appears To Threaten Careers of Senators
“Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump said of Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), as Heller sat beside him at a lunch Trump hosted for the GOP Senators to talk health care on Wednesday. Heller represents a swing state and is one of the most vulnerable Republican senators. On June 24, Heller announced that he could not support the Republican health care bill. CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes, “Make no mistake about what Trump is doing in that moment. He’s “joking” but, as everyone knows, he’s not. He’s delivering a threat to Heller.” The comment came days after it was reported that Trump had personally spoken to three potential primary opponents of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a Trump critic up for re-election in 2018. At the same GOP lunch, Trump also appeared to threaten Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), who dealt an apparently fatal blow to the health bill this week by walking away from it. Philip Bump at The Washington Post writes that this is “not a great threat” and “a bit toothless” as both will hold their seats until 2022 – two years past when Trump faces re-election.
Republican National Committee Reportedly Weakens Support For N.J. Gubernatorial Candidate Over Trump Disloyalty
The Republican National Committee believes the Republican candidate for New Jersey governor Kum Guadagno has not been loyal to Trump and is providing only minimal support to her campaign, NJ.com reports. An RNC insider told the website that Trump is “unhappy with anyone who neglected him in his hour of need,” referring to Guadagno’s public criticism of Trump in the wake of the Access Hollywood tape. In the tape, Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women. Guadagno tweeted in response: “No apology can excuse away Mr. Trump’s reprehensible comments degrading women. We’re raising my 3 boys to be better than that.”
Ohio State Treasurer and Senate Candidate Expresses Support For Alt-Right Figure
— Josh Mandel (@JoshMandelOhio) July 20, 2017
Alt-right blogger Mike Cernovich is best known for propagating the ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory and regularly tweets false information. He has also led an attack on low-profile members of the public service. Now the Republican treasurer of Ohio and Senate candidate Josh Mandel has tweeted an endorsement of Cernovich, saying “Sad to see [the Anti-Defamation League] become a partisan witchhunt group targeting people for political beliefs. I stand with @Cernovich & @JackPosobeic.” The tweet was in response to a Medium post Cernovich wrote critiquing the ADL, a group which fights anti-Semitism.
Republican Senate candidate backs alt-right over ADL https://t.co/SNH9ozVn7G
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) July 20, 2017
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity meets for the first time, after personal information of critics is published online.
Voter Fraud Commission Posts Critics’ Personal Details Online
The White House published a tranche of public comments received by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, without redacting any of the personal information contained in the emails. Some emails put online included not just names, but email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, and places of employment. Ironically, many of the comments were complaining about the commission’s request for personal voter information from the states, and its plans to post the information publicly. One such email published by the White House containing the sender’s name and home address person said: “This request is very concerning … The federal government is attempting to get the name, address, birth date, political party, and social security number of every voter in the country.” Of the 112 pages of emails released, only two were positive. In most cases, it appears the individuals whose comments were published were not aware they would be shared. The emails were sent to the email address the administration asked secretaries of state to send data files to.
Kobach Says “We May Never Know” If Trump Won Election And If Clinton Won Popular Vote
The voter fraud commission’s vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has told MSNBC that “we may never know” if Hillary Clinton won the 2016 presidential election popular vote. Clinton won that vote by nearly 3 million votes. Trump has previously attempted to cast doubt on the validity of some votes cast for Clinton, without evidence. Kobach said: “We will probably never know the answer to that question. Because even if you can prove that a certain number of votes were cast by ineligible voters, for example, you wouldn’t know how they voted.” Asked by anchor Katy Tur whether the “votes for Donald Trump that led him to win the election” were also in doubt, Kobach replied “absolutely.” Kobach denied the commission was a pretext to delegitimize Clinton’s popular vote win. “That is not the reason the commission exists,” he said. “It’s not to justify, to validate or invalidate what the president said in December or January about the 2016 election. The commission is to look at the facts as they are, and go where the facts lead us on voter fraud and threats to the integrity of our elections.”
Me: So are the votes for Donald Trump that led him to win the election in doubt as well?
KOBACH: Absolutely. https://t.co/tmpBQiFlXM
— Katy Tur (@KatyTurNBC) July 19, 2017
Seven Lawsuits Challenge Voter Fraud Commission
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund is challenging the commission, alleging that it “was formed with the intent to discriminate against voters of color in violation of the Constitution.” Others are arguing that the panel violates government transparency laws.
Nearly 150,000 Attempts To Penetrate South Carolina’s Voter-Registration System on Election Day
A post-election report by the South Carolina State Election Commission reveals that on Election Day 2016, there were nearly 150,000 attempts to penetrate the state’s voter-registration system. Alexa Corse at the Wall Street Journal writes, “And South Carolina wasn’t even a competitive state. If hackers were that persistent against a state that President Donald Trump won comfortably, with 54.9% of the vote, it suggests they may have targeted political swing states even more.” Most attempted intrusions seemed to come from automated computer bots rather than individuals hackers, and South Carolina saw no evidence that any penetration succeeded. The report follows earlier revelations that in Illinois, hackers accessed approximately 90,000 voter records, after hitting the State Board of Elections 5 times per second for 24 hours per day from late June until August 12, 2016. There is evidence that 21 states were potentially targeted by hackers, the acting deputy undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at the Department of Homeland Security told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last month.
Kobach Sued Over Alleged Hatch Act Violation
Kobach has used his role on the voter fraud commission to promote his campaign for Kansas governor in the 2018 election and solicit donations, according to a lawsuit filed by a legal group. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has called for an investigation into whether Kobach has violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from directly supporting candidates.
FOREIGN POLICY AND NATIONAL SECURITY
Tillerson’s old company is hit with a fine for undermining Russia sanctions, and the lack of ambassadors continues to stymie foreign policy.
Exxon Mobil Fined For Violating Russia Sanctions While Tillerson Was CEO
Exxon Mobil has been fined $2 million for violating U.S. sanctions on Russia while Rex Tillerson, now secretary of state, was CEO of the oil company. “Exxon Mobil demonstrated reckless disregard for U.S. sanctions requirements,” the Treasury Department said in a report announcing the penalty. The violation happened when presidents of its American subsidiaries did business with an individual whose assets were blocked, and Exxon did not voluntarily disclose the business. In response, Exxon has sued Treasury in an attempt to stop the fine.
Amazing: a major company is suing the U.S. government over a fine for conduct that took place when a sitting cabinet secretary was its CEO https://t.co/RYzjZykbQE
— Yeganeh Torbati (@yjtorbati) July 20, 2017
UAE Foreign Minister Confirms Trump Visit Triggered Qatar Blockade
The United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Anwar Gargash said this week that Trump’s “very, very successful” visit to the Gulf in May helped to trigger the UAE’s June 5 decision – alongside Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain – to blockade Qatar. The cutting of diplomatic, trade and transportation ties came two weeks after Trump left the region. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been attempting to mediate the dispute, and the State Department has said it is “mystified” by the Gulf states’ failure to provide evidence for their claims against Qatar.
Top U.S. Army Commander In Europe Complains Of Lack Of Ambassadors
“It hurts not having ambassadors,” the top U.S. Army commander in Europe, Lieutenant General Ben Hodges, told POLITICO this week, complaining that it hampers the ability to carry out American policy. Hodges pointed particularly to Germany, where U.S. Army Europe is headquartered. The Trump administration has not nominated an ambassador to France, Germany or the European Union – or to Austria, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Hungary, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland or to United Nations posts in Geneva, Rome and Vienna. Ambassadors to NATO, the U.K., Italy, Belgium, Portugal, the Czech Republic and the Holy See are awaiting Senate confirmation. The slow pace in appointing ambassadors is due to a range of factors, including insufficient planning, opposition by Democrats, and the unwillingness of career Republican officials to serve Trump.
Japanese First Lady May Have Feigned Inability To Speak English To Avoid Trump
In an interview with the New York Times Wednesday, Trump said the Japanese first lady – who he was seated next to at the G20 dinner at which he spoke with Putin – did not speak English. “So, I was seated next to the wife of Prime Minister Abe…and she’s a terrific woman, but doesn’t speak English,” Trump said reporter. “Like, nothing, right? Like zero?” reporter Maggie Haberman asked. “Like, not ‘hello,’” he answered. Trump cited the awkward silence from Abe in explaining his decision to go over to where his wife Melania was seated, next to Putin. Yet Akie Abe has spoken English many times in public and appears to be fluent. In any case, Trump brought a Japanese interpreter with him to the dinner. Leaders were only permitted to bring one interpreter to the dinner, which is why Trump did not rely on an American interpreter when speaking with Putin, instead going through Putin’s interpreter.
THE PRESS AND PUBLIC DISCOURSE
The White House’s practice of giving off-camera briefings continues unabated.
White House Persists With Off-Camera Briefings
The White House continued its trend of off-camera briefings this week. The practice of banning live audio and video coverage of briefings began last month. The last on-camera briefings took place on June 29. On Wednesday, a journalist broke the White House’s rules, streaming audio live from deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ briefing. The reporter’s actions “are the first known instance of a reporter disregarding the White House restrictions on recording, which have frustrated reporters and news networks,” The Hill reports.
The White House press briefing today will be at 2:15PM ET. It will be off-camera.
The last on-camera press briefing was June 29.
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) July 20, 2017
Trump Accuses Media of “Distorting Democracy”
Trump continued his denigration of the news media over the weekend, this time in response to the coverage of his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer last year. On Sunday morning, Trump tweeted that the “#Fake News” was “DISTORTING DEMOCRACY in our country!” His tweet referred to “phone unnamed sources & highly slanted & even fraudulent reporting”. Another tweet read, ““HillaryClinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media?”
Reebok Mocks Trump After Brigitte Macron Comment
A sneaker company has emerged as an unlikely Trump critic, with Reebok mocking the president’s remark to French first lady Brigitte Macron that she was “in such good shape – beautiful.” In a graphic shared on social media, Adidas-owned Reebok suggested there was only one appropriate situation to make that kind of comment: when you “find a forgotten action figure from your youth, unscathed after decades, in your parents’ basement.” Bloomberg describes the intervention as “a rare example of a consumer brand dipping its toes into politics and diplomacy,” and says it “shows how marketers are shedding some of their reluctance to touch on sensitive issues as Trump rewrites the rules of political discourse.” The Reebok response comes after Nike criticized Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and praised diversity in the wake of the travel ban.
WHITE HOUSE AND ADMINISTRATION
HHS and the Interior Department take a political turn, campaigning against Obamacare and appearing to disfavor those who speak out on climate.
HHS Appears To Take Public Stance Against Obamacare
The Health and Human Services Department (HHS), which is in charge of administering the program, appears to be taking an anti-Obamacare stance publicly. Margot Sanger-Katz writes at The New York Times, “The press office for the department can be counted on to send a news release each time there is bad news about insurers leaving markets around the country, often describing the health law’s structure as ‘collapsing.’ It has been publishing vaguely sourced maps each week, highlighting in red the regions of the country where it says no insurers are willing to sell health plans next year.” Trump has said that Republicans should “let Obamacare fail” and then reform health care.
This probably isn't the first time HHS has produced nakedly political propaganda as an official document, but it's exceptionally shameless. https://t.co/eZpP8ACpbt
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) July 3, 2017
A report from the Daily Beast this week also suggested that the Trump administration had spent taxpayer dollars originally meant to encourage enrollment in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “on a public relations campaign aimed at methodically strangling it.” The strategy includes the use of social media and video testimonials, aimed at swaying public opinion against Obamacare. So far, 23 videos have been released depicting individuals claiming to have been harmed by Obamacare which were reportedly shot in the department’s internal studio. “Funding for those videos would come from the Department’s ‘consumer information and outreach’ budget, which was previously used for the purposes of advertising the ACA and encouraging enrollment,” the Daily Beast reports. The department’s website has also been adapted to display information critical of the law. Congressional Democrats have written to authorities, including the HHS’ inspector general and the comptroller general of the Government Accountability Office, requesting an investigation of the department’s actions.
HHS Analysis Uses Questionable Methodology To Find Cruz Amendment Would Lower Premiums
This week, HHS analysis found that a proposal by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx.) to allow insurers to sell plans that don’t comply with Obamacare regulations would lower premiums and boost enrollments. In a departure from tradition, Republicans had said they may rely on the HHS analysis over any analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. POLITICO reports that there are significant issues with the HHS analysis, including that it offers little insight into its calculations, and that it compares the costs for a 47-year-old under Obamcare to a 40-year-old under a Cruz-amended Obamcare – “an apples-to-oranges comparison that also doesn’t take any of the effects of the Senate GOP’s own health care bill into account.”
HHS looks at a sky that everyone else says is blue and calls it yellow. https://t.co/zKtPtgbecm
— Dan Diamond (@ddiamond) July 19, 2017
In response to the analysis, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in a statement that she had “never seen this level of propaganda from the [Department]. Its analysis of the Cruz amendment stands in stark contrast to the conclusions of our nation’s economists, the insurance industry and a wide range of health experts.”
Dianne Feinstein is not a fan of the HHS analysis of the Cruz Amendment pic.twitter.com/yFVEUQOYjy
— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) July 19, 2017
The White House has assailed the calculations of the independent CBO, which were unfavorable to the Republican plan.
the President of the United States is explicitly trying to undermine trust in the government he leads https://t.co/IHqApTX0KL
— John Harwood (@JohnJHarwood) July 20, 2017
Glacier National Park’s Climate Expert Kept From Meeting Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg
Days before Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg visited Glacier National Park in Montana’s northern Rockies, the Trump administration removed two of the park’s top climate experts from the delegation showing him around, the Washington Post reports. The Interior Department made the call to pull the park superintendent, a climate expert, and a research ecologist from the tour, on which Zuckerberg was looking at melting ice fields affected by climate change. Both experts have spoken about the role climate change is playing in melting the ice sheets. The park staff were instructed not to post anything about Zuckerberg’s visit on social media. Research ecologist Daniel Fagre of the U.S. Geological Survey who was to share expertise on climate change’s role in shrinking glaciers in the reason, said to the Post, “I literally was told I would no longer be participating,” saying he was given no reason for the cancellation.
In The Face Of Questions About Russia Connection, Kushner Retains Security Clearance
Jared Kushner’s actions, including failing to initially disclose his contacts with Russian officials, would be enough to cost most people their security clearances, people familiar with the process have told Politico. “They would lose their job immediately,” said Danielle Brian, who is executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. However, although the FBI makes a recommendation about whether to grant security clearance, the ultimate decision-making power lies with the president.
White House Announcement of Nominee For Russia Ambassador Misspells His Name
The White House announced this week that it would nominate John Huntsman as ambassador to Russia. The nominee’s name is Jon Huntsman.
Remarkable how often this WH puts out documents with misspellings & other basic errors. A sign of overall sloppiness, low standards, chaos. https://t.co/FpPeClMV7I
— Deepak Gupta (@deepakguptalaw) July 18, 2017
Government Climate Scientist Says He Was Demoted For Climate Change Views
A scientist and former head policy adviser at the Interior Department says the Trump administration reassigned him to an “accounting office” for speaking out on climate change. Joel Clement was director of the Department’s Office of Policy Analysis for much of the Obama administration, including advising on Arctic issues. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, he writes that he believes he was retaliated against for “speaking out publicly about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities”, describing himself as a whistleblower.
CORRUPTION AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
The outgoing ethics watchdog chief says America is in a “crisis” as the Trump Organization benefits from the Trump campaign, the U.S. military pays above market rate for space in Trump Tower, and Trump promotes Trump properties.
Trump Campaign Pays Thousands to Trump Corporation
Between April and June, the Trump re-election campaign paid nearly $90,000 to the Trump corporation for legal consulting and $120,000 in rent for offices at Manhattan’s Trump Tower. The Trump campaign had not previously reported payments for legal fees to Trump entities, the Washington Post reports, although reimbursements for services like rent, air travel and hotel expenses had been disclosed. Wired reports that since Trump’s inauguration, his campaign fund has spent about $600,000 at Trump-owned properties.
Small Tech Startup Part-Owned by Kushner’s Brother Gets Seat At White House Table
Among tech companies, including the likes of Apple and Microsoft, invited to a White House roundtable to discuss tech policy with Trump last month was a lesser-known small startup called OpenGov. The Wall Street Journal reports that OpenGov is part-owned by Thrive Capital, a venture-capital firm run by Joshua Kushner – Jared Kushner’s brother. Of the 18 tech companies to be represented at the roundtable, OpenGov was the only small firm. Jared helped to organize the event, but an employee in his innovation office denied Jared suggested the invitation. Jared was on the board of Thrive Capital until January, and owned stakes in the company which he sold to his brother. Kathleen Clark, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis, told the Journal that this situation “seems like a textbook example of cronyism in action.”
Kushner Overlooks $250,000 in Israeli Bonds
Jared Kushner recently filed an amended disclosure form, which reportedly discloses assets he neglected to disclose in his original March filing. Those omissions include up to $250,000 of Israeli government bonds he sold earlier this year, and an art collection he jointly owns with wife Ivanka Trump.
“Close To A Laughingstock”: Outgoing Government Watchdog Chief Says U.S. Is In Ethics Crisis
The disregard Trump and his administration have shown for ethics has made the U.S. “pretty close to a laughingstock,” the outgoing head of the Office of Government Ethics told the New York Times. Shaub called for legal reforms to bolster the power of his office that he had previously mostly not considered necessary, including mandating the disclosure of tax returns and giving the office power to subpoena records. Shaub cited Trump’s frequent visits to his properties during his presidency, saying that they create “the appearance of profiting from the presidency.” Responding to the criticism, White House spokeswoman Lindsay E. Walters said Shaub was “not interested in advising the executive branch on ethics”, but instead in “grandstanding” and lobbying for more expansive powers.
We are in an ethics crisis. https://t.co/sa3ngRb9oy
— Walter Shaub (@waltshaub) July 17, 2017
Trump Tweets Promote U.S. Golf Open Tournament At Trump Property
Over the weekend, Trump tweeted eight times about the U.S. Women’s Open golf tournament, which he attended at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Trump has spent nearly every weekend of his presidency at a Trump-owned property, golf course or hotel, attracting criticism for using the presidency to promote his properties to his own benefit.
U.S. Military Pays $130,000 Each Month For Trump Tower Space
A military office supporting the White House is leasing property in New York’s Trump Tower to the tune of over $130,000 a month – but Trump hasn’t spent a night in New York since his inauguration. Documents revealing the lease were released under freedom of information laws, but the owner of the space the government is renting is redacted. A Pentagon official reportedly wrote in a letter that the space is owned privately by someone unaffiliated with the Trump Organization, and the department sees no way in which Trump can benefit from the rent. The Wall Street Journal reports that the lease puts the space far above market rate for similarly sized apartments in the same market, and makes it one of the most expensive residential rentals in Manhattan. The White House Military Office provides medical, communications and other services that need to be close to the president at all times. Other agencies have their own expenses arising from Trump’s many properties and large families. For example, the Secret Service requested an additional $25.7 million in 2018 to cover its expenses in protecting Trump in New York.
Questions are raised by congressional aide’s relationships with Russian lobbyists.
Congressional Aide Ousted From Committee Role Due To Russia Relationships
One of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher’s (D-Calif.) top aides, Paul Behrends, has been ousted from his position as staff director for the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee chaired by Rohrabacher, following reports highlighting his relationships with pro-Russia lobbyists. Rep. Rohrabacher visited Russia last year, where prosecutors gave him anti-Magnitsky Act materials. Behrends accompanied him on the trip. “Paul Behrends has done a terrific job for me and the committee,” Rohrabacher said in a statement on Wednesday. “I have not heard anything to the contrary. I am looking forward to discussing this with the committee leadership. I am sure we will work this out.” Rep. Rohrabacher had planned last year to screen a feature-length pro-Kremlin propaganda film, which assails the Magnitsky Act’s namesake, in a House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Europe hearing, but was blocked by the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). The Russian lawyer whose meeting with Donald Trump Jr. has come under scrutiny since it was revealed last week, Natalia Veselnitskaya, was one of those handling the movie’s worldwide promotion.
Image: Alex Wong/Getty