Sat 17 Nov, 2018 04:33 am
The Republican Party is now Trump's Corruption Party.
Here's how to fix the GOP and DC.
Published Aug. 30, 2018
A basic and fundamental building block of our democracy — the principle that our government should represent the people — is currently under withering attack. President Donald Trump promised as a candidate that he would drain the swamp in Washington. But the damning news about Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen proves that, from the very beginning, Trump's inner circle and campaign leadership were stocked with criminals.
And since he has assumed office, a significant and growing number of Americans have increasingly recognized that the president, the members of his administration and Republicans at large have betrayed their trust. They say overwhelmingly that Trump has failed to set a high moral standard for his presidency and they have saddled top Trump administration officials with record low marks on ethics. They now see the Republican Party in its true light: as the Party of Corruption.
Our new research shows that more than 70 percent of the public want our government to take a more active role in solving the greatest issues confronting our nation. At the same time, more than 85 percent also say the federal government primarily serves the interests of large corporations, the wealthy, and campaign contributors.
Suspicious and unscrupulous behavior
It should come as no surprise that this crisis of confidence has worsened under the Trump administration. Just consider a small sample of their many suspicious and unscrupulous actions that have been performed by Trump’s allies since he entered the White House: Rep. Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for president, was recently arrested for allegedly perpetrating an insider trading scheme while on the board of a foreign pharmaceutical company. Rep. Duncan Hunter of California, the second congressman to endorse Trump, was indicted last week for illegally using campaign funds for personal enrichment.
Tom Price resigned as Health and Human Services secretary after spending $400,000 in federal money on private jet travel. Scott Pruitt stepped down as Environmental Protection Agency administrator amid a dizzying list of abuses. And Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, has confessed that while serving in Congress, he only met with lobbyists after they ponied up a donation.
Yet it is not only the abuse of taxpayer dollars (or the rampant appearance of public corruption under Trump) that is eroding faith in our political institutions. Americans understand that Washington’s pernicious system of back-scratching produces policies that hurt working- and middle-class families. They know our elected officials are beholden to the corrupting power of their donors — that they prioritize the interests of the top 1 percent by writing laws which mainly benefit these same donors.
The recent Republican Party tax cuts perfectly illustrate why such fears are completely justified. Even as Republicans struggle to sell their signature legislative achievement, they are reaping huge benefits from the law by collecting millions in donations from the rich donors and corporate interests who received its enormous handouts.
What’s clear is that the public is fed up with the status quo in Washington, and that this anger is transforming our politics. In many campaigns, we’re seeing that incumbency in Congress is a hindrance, not a help. Democratic candidates have successfully rallied support while rejecting donations from corporate political action committees — from Conor Lamb’s shocking win in Pennsylvania to Beto O’Rourke’s surging momentum in his race to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.
That is why, moving forward, bold political reforms must be central to the Democratic Party’s platform. Fortunately, there are three concrete steps our government can take to dramatically curb the insidious influence of donors and special interests.
Rein in the lobbyists and special interests
First, lobbyists should be barred from fundraising on behalf of members of Congress. This would end the kind of pay-to-play behavior embraced by the likes of Mulvaney, and prevent well-connected special interests and donors from playing the role of puppeteer in shaping the policy agendas of elected officials. Democrats in both chambers have already included such a ban as part of a sweeping proposal designed to strengthen our country’s ethics laws, reform our system of campaign finance, and empower American voters.
Second, members of congressional committees should not be allowed to accept campaign contributions from the same industries they are entrusted with overseeing. Until two weeks ago, Collins sat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and was responsible for regulating health care companies — even as he allegedly orchestrated an insider trading scheme involving a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Our current system gives too many businesses the chance to exploit potential conflicts of interests by donating to politicians willing to put personal gain over the common good.
Third, members of Congress should be prohibited from sitting on the boards of for-profit companies — whether in a paid or unpaid capacity — or from owning individual stocks in such entities. Sen. Elizabeth Warren included this type of prohibition in the expansive anti-corruption package she introduced last week. Her rules would finally stop many lawmakers from abusing their official positions for financial gain.
These three proposals can be part of a new movement to exterminate the culture of corruption festering in Washington under Trump, and take the first critical steps toward restoring the strength of our democracy. Voters are demanding that Congress dismantle the stranglehold special interests hold over too many elected officials, and put power back into the hands of the people. It is time for America's leaders to answer their call.
Adam Schiff's multifaceted plan to corner Trump on the money trail.
Published November 24, 2018
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has some big plans next year when he takes the chairmanship of the House Intelligence Committee from Devin Nunes.
When Democrats take control of the House in January, Schiff will be able to do more than simply vent his frustration with the investigatory ventures prioritized by the outgoing GOP majority. Through a series of declarations and reports about an effort to gear up for brand new inquiries, one thing is clear about Schiff's plans: He's got his sights set on President Trump.
Among the projects to which Schiff is ready to commit are:
-- Schiff told the Washington Post that he plans to investigate the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, and furthermore Trump's dismissal of the CIA's high-confidence conclusion that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was behind the plot. “We’ll look at what the intelligence community assessments are at any given time,” Schiff told the Post's liberal columnist Greg Sargent. “Then it will be quite clear whether the president is relying on the intelligence community and our best source of information or whether the president is representing something very different.” He further stated Trump's financial ties to Saudi Arabia would be of top interest. "There are a whole set of potential financial conflicts of interest and emoluments problems that Congress will need to get to the bottom of," Schiff added.
-- Even before the 2018 midterm elections, Schiff was pledging to rekindle the intelligence panel's Russia investigation, which wrapped up earlier this year, finding no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Schiff signaled that he and his Democratic allies would revive the probe, which they have long argued ended prematurely, and signaled that he aims to discover if Russia has any financial leverage over Trump. “The president has sought to keep that off limits, but if that’s the leverage Russians pose that’s a real threat to our country,” he said.
-- To this end, the Daily Beast reported this week that the Democrats in the House Intelligence Committee are seeking to hire money-laundering and forensic accounting experts to investigate Trump’s financial dealings. The potential hires would delve into unanswered financial questions pertaining to Trump and Russia. Schiff has expressed interest in Trump’s relationship with Deutsche Bank, which last year agreed to pay hundreds of millions to settle allegations that it helped Russians engage in money-laundering.
-- Schiff wants to examine whether Trump has tried to use "the instruments of state power to punish the press,” particularly the Washington Post and CNN. At issue is reporting that said Trump pushed the postmaster general to raise postal rates on Amazon, whose founder, Jeff Bezos, owns the Post. Schiff also wants to know if Trump tried to block AT&T’s merger with Time Warner as a form of retribution against CNN, which he regularly derides as "fake news." “It is very squarely within our responsibility to find out,” Schiff recently told "Axios on HBO."
-- Speaking broadly about the House under Democratic control, Schiff said earlier this month that his party plans to challenge the appointment of acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who came in after the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In an op-ed, Schiff called for Whitaker to recuse himself from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russian investigation, which he had criticized in the past. “The president and Whitaker should heed this warning: The new Democratic majority will protect the special counsel and the integrity of the Justice Department," Schiff wrote.
Meanwhile, Trump has left little doubt that he won't sit idly by and let Schiff, with his impending elevation to chairman, have free rein to investigate without a fight.
Last weekend, Trump referred to the congressman as "Adam Schitt," which bore a close resemblance to an expletive, as he reacted to Schiff's criticism of Whitaker's appointment.
"So funny to see little Adam Schitt (D-CA) talking about the fact that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker was not approved by the Senate, but not mentioning the fact that Bob Mueller (who is highly conflicted) was not approved by the Senate!" Trump tweeted.
Firing back at Trump's taunt, Schiff said, "Wow, Mr. President, that’s a good one. Was that like your answers to Mr. Mueller’s questions, or did you write this one yourself?"
Trump fails to end New York lawsuit over his charity.
Published November 24, 2018
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state judge rejected U.S. President Donald Trump's request to dismiss a lawsuit in which New York's attorney general accused him of misusing his namesake foundation to advance his 2016 presidential campaign and his businesses.
The decision issued Friday by Justice Saliann Scarpulla of the state supreme court in Manhattan is a rebuke to the Republican president, whose lawyer had accused Attorney General Barbara Underwood, a Democrat, of "pervasive bias" for suing.
Scarpulla said the U.S. Constitution did not immunize Trump from the lawsuit, and Underwood could pursue claims alleging breach of fiduciary duty, improper self-dealing, and misuse of assets belonging to the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
Underwood sued Trump and his adult children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka on June 14, after a 21-month probe that she said uncovered "extensive unlawful political coordination" between the foundation and Trump's campaign.
The White House was not immediately available for comment. Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the defendants, said the decision meant only that the case would go forward.
"As we have maintained throughout, all of the money raised by the Foundation went to charitable causes to assist those most in need. As a result, we remain confident in the ultimate outcome of these proceedings," Futerfas said in an email.
The lawsuit alleged, among other things, that Trump wrongly ceded control to his campaign of about $2.8 million donated to the foundation in a 2016 Iowa fundraiser for military veterans.
Other challenged expenses included $100,000 to settle a dispute involving Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, and $10,000 for a portrait of Trump that was later hung at one of his golf clubs.
In her 27-page decision, Scarpulla called New York's lawsuit "replete" with allegations that foundation funds were misused, including at Trump's direction.
She also said the state sufficiently alleged that Trump's actions were willful and intentional, citing allegations that he and his campaign arranged for the foundation to cut checks, helping generate "vote-getting publicity that Mr. Trump would have otherwise paid for himself."
The defendants have been trying to dissolve the foundation, and for this reason Scarpulla refused to issue an injunction barring the Trumps from running it.
Underwood welcomed Scarpulla's decision.
"The Trump Foundation functioned as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump's business and political interests," Underwood said in a statement. "There are rules that govern private foundations - and we intend to enforce them."
New York's lawsuit sought to dissolve the foundation, recoup $2.8 million and ban the Trumps from leadership roles at charities.
Trump faces many investigations, and many lawsuits by Democratic-led or Democratic-leaning states including New York.
He has used Twitter to call Underwood's lawsuit a concoction by "sleazy New York Democrats," and pledged not to settle.
A top House Democrat just vowed a 'deep dive' on Saudi dealings — including financial ties to Trump.
Published November 24, 2018
Democrats will investigate President Donald Trump's financial ties to Saudi Arabia as part of a "deep dive" on the kingdom when majority control of the House changes hands in January, the lawmaker in line to become chairman of the House Intelligence Committee said in a Washington Post interview published Friday.
"There are a whole set of potential financial conflicts of interest and emoluments problems that Congress will need to get to the bottom of," Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told Greg Sargent, a liberal columnist for the paper. "Certainly if foreign investment in the Trump businesses is guiding U.S. policy in a way that's antithetical to the country's interests, we need to find out about it."
Trump has repeatedly said he has no financial interests in Saudi Arabia, but he has also boasted about making millions of dollars from the Saudis . Indeed, business from Saudi-based customers helped buoy revenue this year at Trump namesake hotels in New York and Chicago, according to a Washington Post report.
A spokesman for Schiff did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for further comment on the lawmaker's interview with the Post. A representative for the White House also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Schiff's statements.
Schiff's remarks on his party's plans to investigate Trump's ties to the Saudis came amid the president's response to the death of Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi royal family who was killed inside the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul in October.
Multiple outlets reported last week that the CIA concluded with high confidence that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing. But Trump, in a lengthy, combative statement Tuesday that was full of political slogans and exclamation points, asserted that the U.S. stands with Saudi Arabia as a crucial ally as the Trump administration pursues its economic and national security goals.
On the question of whether the crown prince knew in advance about the slaying, Trump said: "Maybe he did and maybe he didn't!"
The president appeared to go even further to defend the young Saudi leader on Wednesday, telling reporters outside his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida that the crown prince "denies it vehemently." Trump added: "I hate the crime, I hate the coverup. I will tell you this: The crown prince hates it more than I do."
Saudi Arabia initially insisted that Khashoggi, who had entered the consulate in Turkey on Oct. 2 and was never seen outside it again, had left voluntarily shortly after he arrived. But as the evidence mounted — and a crescendo of criticism from international leaders intensified — the kingdom eventually admitted that Khashoggi had been killed, calling it "an unfortunate accident."
To be sure, the Trump administration on Nov. 15 announced sanctions under the Magnitsky Act against 17 people alleged to have been involved in the killing.
Schiff told the Post's Sargent that the Intelligence Committee will be looking into what U.S. intelligence services knows about Khashoggi's death, as well as Trump's response to it. Schiff said House committees will probe Trump's international financial ties with Saudi Arabia and other nations — although it is yet unclear which committees will take on what tasks.
The lawmaker said the "deep dive" on Saudi Arabia will also touch on the U.S. relationship to the kingdom in general, as well as the Saudi-led war in Yemen and the stability of the Saudi royal family.
Schiff is one of Trump's most prominent critics on Capitol Hill and in the media, as well as one of the most vocal defenders of special counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He is poised to lead the Intelligence Committee as chairman when the next Congress convenes Jan. 3.
Schiff has already signaled his intention to revive and expand the panel's own probe of Russian election meddling, which Democrats claim was prematurely concluded by the Republican majority. The Intelligence Committee's investigation, led by staunch Trump ally Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., found "no evidence" of coordination between Trump's 2016 campaign and the Kremlin.
Feds plan unusual appeal in emoluments suit vs. Trump
Published December 2, 2018
The Justice Department is planning an unusual appeal to stop the governments of the State of Maryland and the District of Columbia from using a federal lawsuit to demand access to information about whether President Donald Trump is using his luxury Washington hotel to unconstitutionally profit from his office.
Last month, U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte turned down Trump’s request for permission to seek an appeal of early rulings in the case that went against him. Now, federal government lawyers say they plan to appeal anyway, using a rarely invoked process that can block a wayward judge from pressing on with a course of action alleged to be illegal or improper.
On Friday, the Justice Department informed Messitte that the federal government plans to try to get the Richmond-based 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to halt the case.
“The Solicitor General of the United States has authorized the filing in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit of a petition for writ of mandamus against this Court’s orders declining to dismiss the case and to certify an interlocutory appeal, as well as an application for a stay of District Court proceedings pending resolution of the mandamus petition,” Justice Department attorneys wrote.
Lawyers for Maryland and Washington, D.C.. have asked the judge to open a six-month discovery period where they could take depositions from witnesses, demand records and issue written questions focused on how the Trump International Hotel’s business has benefited from Trump’s election as president.
The attorneys general of D.C. and Maryland have said they may seek “limited discovery” from Trump directly, but will try other sources of information first.
The suit, filed in June, alleges that Trump is violating two “emoluments” clauses in the Constitution by using his Pennsylvania Avenue hotel to reap financial dividends from his presidency. One provision covers business with foreign governments. The other prohibits federal officials from profiting from financial relationships with individual states.
The Trump Organization has pledged to donate to the U.S. Treasury any profits from hotel business with foreign governments. However, there is little transparency about how those amounts are calculated.
In his ruling last month denying Trump permission to appeal in the case, Messitte also noted that while lawyers representing Trump in the emoluments case were complaining that litigation would be a distracting burden for the president, the president regularly threatens to sue those he feels aggrieved by.
“It bears noting that the President himself appears to have had little reluctance to pursue personal litigation despite the supposed distractions it imposes upon his office,” the judge wrote.
Earlier this year, Messitte — an appointee of President Bill Clinton — issued an opinion turning down arguments from Justice Department attorneys that Maryland and D.C. lacked legal standing to pursue the emoluments issue against Trump. The judge also rejected arguments from Trump’s lawyers that the Constitution’s definition of emoluments includes only direct payment for official services and excludes all private business transactions.
Messitte, who sits in Greenbelt, had indicated he planned to issue an order opening discovery in the case Monday. Without some intervention by the 4th Circuit, the first formal exchange of information would likely be due within a week.
A similar suit against Trump brought by Democratic lawmakers cleared an initial hurdle in federal court in Washington , while a pair of suits filed in New York were thrown out by a judge there. That decision is on appeal.
Judge greenlights subpoenas in Trump Hotel lawsuit
Published December 3, 2018
A federal judge on Monday said lawyers for Maryland and Washington, D.C., can begin issuing subpoenas in a lawsuit that accuses President Donald Trump of using his luxury hotel in Washington to unconstitutionally profit from his political office.
The attorneys general in Maryland and Washington say they plan to serve as many as 20 companies and government agencies with subpoenas by mid-day Tuesday. It’s the first time a lawsuit alleging a president violated the Constitution's emoluments, or anti-corruption, clauses has advanced to the discovery stage.
A similar suit against Trump brought by Democratic lawmakers cleared an initial hurdle in federal court in Washington, while a pair of suits filed in New York were thrown out by a judge there. That decision is on appeal. None of those cases has proceeded to the discovery stage yet.
The Justice Department on Friday said it would try to halt the attorneys general case with an appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, but by Monday night, it had yet to file anything in that court. The department said it plans to seek a writ of mandamus, a process that would halt the legal proceedings as illegal or improper.
A DOJ spokeswoman declined to comment on the decision Monday. There was no immediate word on when the Fourth Circuit appeal would be filed.
Subpoenas will be issued to state and federal government agencies and to customers and competitors of the Trump International Hotel, located just down the street from the White House, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said. If Justice Department lawyers do seek to stop the case, he said he was confident the delay would be temporary.
“They have a very high burden to win on a writ of mandamus, I don’t think they can meet that standard here,” Frosh told Politico. “They’ve done everything they possibly can to stop us from getting discovery.”
D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine called the Constitution‘s emoluments clauses “our nation’s original anti-corruption laws.”
A spokeswoman from the Trump Organization, Amanda Miller, did not respond to a request for comment. The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The suit, filed in June 2017, accuses Trump of violating two emoluments clauses of the Constitution, which limit the president’s ability to receive financial benefits from states and foreign governments.
The Trump Organization says it is donating to the U.S. Treasury profits from hotel business with foreign governments, but it hasn’t explained how those amounts are calculated.
Messitte, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, rejected earlier arguments from Justice Department attorneys that Maryland and D.C. lacked legal standing to pursue the emoluments case. He also ruled against Trump’s lawyers' argument that the emoluments clauses exclude private business transactions. Last month, he denied Trump’s request for an appeal in the case.
Lawyers from Cohen Milstein, Gupta Wessler, and the non-profit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, are assisting Racine and Frosh on the litigation.
Trump Organization served with subpoenas for business records
Published December 5, 2018
Subpoenas have been served on the Trump Organization and a dozen linked entities in a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump's ongoing business ties while in office.
The office of District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine said Wednesday that it "can confirm that all of the Trump Organization entities have been served." Additionally, subpoenas are being served to the state of Maine, the attorney general's office said.
The lawsuit by DC and Maryland claims Trump is in violation of the Constitution's ban on emoluments, or payments, from foreign or domestic government entities to the President because of his continued interest in the Trump International Hotel.
DC and Maryland have said the Trump International Hotel's operations put other nearby hotels and entertainment properties at a competitive disadvantage, and that the Trump hotel got special tax concessions. The hotel won its lease on federally owned property before Trump's election.
A federal judge set in motion the schedule for DC and Maryland attorneys general to begin collecting evidence in the case. The plaintiffs say they also plan to subpoena 18 entities that compete with the Trump Hotel.
The Justice Department has signaled it may challenge the evidence-gathering process.
The case is proceeding just as the Trump Organization prepares for a flurry of investigations from House Democrats once they take control of Congress in January.
The Trump Organization has not responded to requests for comment on the case.